Repentance and forgiveness

Greetings to my Anabaptist brothers and sisters. Thank you for having me and thank you for coming. It is a righteous joy to be together. I live only 45 minutes from here in a city called Lancaster, which some of you may have heard of and many of you may even be staying this week. I truly feel like I am able to say “Welcome!” and I mean it. I am so pleased that this has happened in my community. I remember going to Zimbabwean 2003 for Mennonite World Conference Assembly and the joy of being around such a diverse group of believers. It felt as a family reunion for me.

I am the son of Dale Ressler and Dorca Kisare who were both raised in the homes of Mennonite pastors, my father in the state of Ohio in the USA and my mother in the North Mara region of Tanzania. They met when my father was a missionary to Tanzania. I am not only biracial but binational. While they never have this category for me on the census, I would love some day to have a box to check that says: “Suba-Luo-Swiss-German-Tanzanian-American-Anabaptist-Mennonite.” What I want you to notice is that I put Mennonite in there. Some like to use this term “ethnic Mennonite” by which they mean those of biological descent from the area in Europe where Anabaptism first gained attention. While my father’s side does trace back there my mother’s does not. Yet I am ethnic Mennonite on both sides.

For all the racial and cultural difference in a Suba-Luo-Swiss-German-Tanzanian-American-Anabaptist-Mennonite background, mine is unified not just in Christ but in a particular influenced understanding of Christ and the call to Christ. In that way I am unicultural. As Shant already spoke to this morning, there are many people from many places here this morning. I want to say that we have many father’s names and many mother’s places but we all share one thing and that is an Anabaptist history and thought. We are all ethnically Anabaptist for we carry that version of Christ with us wherever we go to visit or live, and that Anabaptism becomes our new core identity.

I am grateful to have had the MWC Deacons Commission invite me to speak on this day because it is so important that we focus on this theme in today’s world. Walking in autonomy and community is not an easy task. Around the world, Christianity faces many challenges. Some places, people are killed and harassed for faith in Jesus. Other places, churches are splitting apart because they cannot agree with fellow believers. In some places, doors are closing as believers grow smaller and older. I am interested in how the Anabaptist church can regain its confidence and become boldly prophetic again.

This morning, I have meditated on Matthew 23:1–29 (NRSV).

“‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...’ (v.13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). ‘Woe to you, blind guides,…’ (v.16).”

This is today’s church, brothers and sisters. Many of us have become Pharisees and scribes so well versed in the Bible’s scriptures that we have words without meaning. For instance, being a Christian in the United States today is more about image than substance. One must hold the right (popular) views. One must act the correct (popular) ways. One must say they believe the right (popular) things. What ends up happening is that we protect ourselves and our power and our privilege by creating an us-versus-them. We do not let in newness and we water down our own uniqueness.

Many Mennonites have abandoned their pacifism in the United States, wanting to fit in with American Christianity. So we remain silent even though we are the world’s biggest dealer of weapons with the largest military and the most destructive economic, environmental and foreign policies. The inside of the cup is dirty. Yet, what you see spoken about in pulpits and in the news is the sins of others, how someone else’s cup outside is dirtier than our own.

In our lust for comfort and power, we have made the church about individuals over God’s Kingdom. We have forgotten how sin is not just an individual thing but one of the whole community as well. Woe unto us for we have chosen to take the power of Jesus Christ and selfishly used it for our own gain to keep out others who are different from us, so we can feel more righteous.

It is the role of the Deacon’s Commission to help our churches support one another. I believe the church can best accomplish this through vulnerability. We must support one another not by pointing out the other’s sins but by acknowledging our own. This is difficult and unnatural without Jesus Christ calling us to it. I would like to demonstrate and invite you to join me. Repenting is not just apologizing, though, or seeking forgiveness. Repentance is acknowledging that I have done wrong, I have sinned, and choosing to turn away from that action, that lifestyle.

The communal sins I share by being American are different than those I share by being Tanzanian. I cannot apologize for anyone but myself, so I invite you to think of how you have unfairly gained.

I invite you to join when I say these words “We repent and seek forgiveness. Lord, lead us forward.”

Jesus, I confess that capitalism has benefit me more than others and too often I have neglected your call for me to share my abundance with those who have less. I confess that this is only for material gain without concern for those who suffer.

We repent and seek forgiveness. Lord, lead us forward.

Jesus, I confess that we have chosen destruction over construction, bombs over bread. I have remained silent to violence by the state and by my neighbours against one another for fear of discomfort.

We repent and seek forgiveness. Lord, lead us forward.

Jesus, I confess that the church has benefit me by rejecting to welcome others. This only weakens the Kingdom when there are those who want to be a part of it. We have chosen comfort over choosing Christ’s children.

We repent and seek forgiveness. Lord, lead us forward.

Jesus, I confess that the Bible and prayer is too often used as a weapon to narrow the gate instead of widening the path. We make those with difficult questions wait too long and ignore for too long those who you send to bring us better understanding.

We repent and seek forgiveness. Lord, lead us forward.

The world is rapidly changing. Technology moves at a speed we cannot believe. The countries which were once powerful are not so powerful anymore. The systems of justice and the systems of economy have seen the cracks they were built with becoming canyons. Too often, the Christian church at large has only seen leadership as gaining political power and then forced its beliefs on others. This caused many sins which the church participated, greatest perhaps in the last century was colonialism. As we move into this new century, we must learn to listen to one another. We must see the value in the missioned as much as the missionary. We must learn to grow together. I look forward to how the church will grow together as peers instead of planters and plants, unequal in power and influence.

It is always a challenge to balance autonomy and community. At times, it feels more natural to say autonomy versus community. But we grow through our diversity. Although we only know our autonomy, seeing how we are different from the larger community, there is no value in autonomy if we do not suspend our individual prioritization to benefit the community with our uniqueness. This is true both of us as individual peoples in our church societies and our individual churches in this world conference.

Thank you for having me to speak this morning; Asante SanaMunguatubariki, which is Swahili for thank you, and may God bless us.

—Kevin Ressler is a bi-cultural/bi-racial individual with a Tanzanian mother, American father. He has an MDiv and a degree in justice, peace and conflict studies.


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