On Sunday, October 28, 2007 we at Emmanuel Mennonite Church celebrated "Mennonite Heritage Sunday." The message was actually a drama, about the trial of Michael Sattler, based on actual transcripts of his trial in 1527, and his last letter to his disciples, which can be downloaded by clicking here: Download Sattlerdrama.doc Included in the service of worship were some vignettes of God’s work through our Anabaptist ancestors and modern-day partners. Here are some of them:
GETTING OFF THE FENCE
When, in Holland, 1535, Father Menno Simons got word of the armed revolt and deaths of so many peasant rebels nearby, one of whom may have been his brother, Pieter, he knew, in his heart of hearts, that he bore some responsibility for that dreadful, violent event. Like them, he had read the Bible for himself and had come to believe that the state churches had buried the simple gospel underneath layers of tradition and corruption. Unlike them, he had not made a break from the state church. Indeed, he continued to enjoy an easy life and a secure future as a priest in the very church that had put these rebels to death, despite sharing much of their faith in secret. But one thing he did not share with either the state church or the rebels was a belief in violence as a way to protect the kingdom of God, or to promote it. His exhaustive study of the Bible convinced him that the Sword of the Word was only tarnished by the sword of the world. If newly enlightened and liberated disciples of Christ were to avoid either the dangers of despair and compromise, or of violence, someone would have to teach them the better way of Jesus. And the only person he could see who could do that was himself. He soon thereafter made his break with the state church,went immediately into hiding, along with the believers whom he shepherded between the dangers of violent revolution and compromise with the state churches. They were soon to bear his name in shame, as wanted crimimals: "Menists," or "Mennonites.” The words of hymn # 407 in our Hymnal: A Worship Book , “We Are People of God’s Peace,” were penned by Menno Simons.
ENEMY AT THE GATES
When the angry mob of peasants showed up at the gates of St. Peter’s Benedictine monastery with torches, pitchforks and swords, on a cold, dark night in Switzerland, in 1523, the abbot, Brother Michael Sattler didn’t need to be told why they were ready to sack the monastery and kill them all. They were weary of the heavy taxes which the monks were charged to collect. Despite his fear, Sattler remembered the Rule of St. Benedict which says to welcome everyone who comes to your door as though he were Christ himself. Benedict made no exception for guests with swords, torches and pitchforks. So he invited them in, fed them, heard their complaints, and knew that they were right: simple brothers of Christ were to share their wealth with the poor, not demand it from them. That was not Michael’s only misgiving about this unholy alliance of state and church. Within a short time, Michael would be found among the peasants, not as a monk meeting warlike peasants, but as a Bible teacher and pastor in the way of peace. We shall shortly hear his story.
In the dungeon of Passau, Southern Germany, many Anabaptists were kept for trial, punishment, and sometimes for execution. Someone must have smuggled in some paper to these prisoners, and someone must have smuggled them out, for there exists a collection of fifty-one poems and songs of theirs, made into hymns, a collection now called the Ausbund. Many of these are quite serious poems about holding up under persecution, in the face of death. Others are quite joyful celebrations of God and his faithfulness. Amish home congregations use this collection as their hymnal today. Hymn #314 in our Hymnal: A Worship Book, “The Word of God,” is from this collection, the Ausbund, with the words written somewhere between 1535 and 1545.
THE UYO STORY
Ever since the missionaries first brought the gospel to Africa, churches have also grown spontaneously among the Africans, by Africans, with African cultural characteristics. Such a network began in the vicinity of Uyo, in Nigeria, in the 1950’s. But they soon realized that they needed help in learning the Bible, and that this help would have to come from outside. So one month, the leaders of these churches decided they would be Methodists, and wrote to the Methodist mission agency, asking for Bible teachers. No response came back. Then for another month, they were Presbyterian. Again, no response. They even tried being Mormon. Still no help. Then someone had heard of Mennonites. So they wrote them. Soon, two Mennonite missionaries, Ed and Irene Weaver, appeared on their door steps, and that began a long history of Mennonite missionary work among African-Initiated churches, in countries like Botswana, South Africa, Togo, Benin and Lesotho, often on the understanding that these churches will not join the Mennonites and become Mennonite, but that they will be partners in a cause bigger than any one denomination: the kingdom of God. Such work continues to today. From this partnership comes the very last song we will sing today.
THIS IS MY TRAVEL PERMIT
In 1984, when the Derg, the Communist government of Ethiopia, proclaimed a curfew and travel restrictions, it was, in part, to keep pastors and evangelists such as Fikru Zekele from doing exactly what they caught him doing: traveling to visit and encourage the believers of the secret, underground cells of the Meserete Kristos Church, our Mennonite partners in Ethiopia. He was forced to sit across the desk from a government official, who placed his pistol on the desk top to frighten him, and who asked him, with his voice full of contempt, “Where is your travel permit?” knowing full well that he wouldn’t have one, and would therefore be liable to imprisonment or even execution? Fikru reached into his jacket, pulled out his Bible, laid it on the official’s desk, opened it to Matthew 28: 19-20 and read “’All power and authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me. Therefore, go into the world and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you.’ That,” Fikru said, “is my travel permit.”
by Mathew Swora