A Journey Forward toward love, hope and liberation

Seth, Theresa and family. Photo by The Commoneer.

Seth Thomas Crissman is a follower of Jesus, an educator, a musician and a pastor in the Mennonite Church. He’s lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia for 12 years (though he still says “western Pennsylvania” when people ask where he’s from). Seth enjoys helping churches partner together to better share God’s love in their local neighborhoods. Seth loves learning and teaching about Jesus and God’s overwhelming love. He is a songwriter and musician for the Harrisonburg, Virginia-based Walking Roots Band, and he gets very (very, very!) excited any time he gets a chance to lead others in music and share God’s Love with others. Seth is married to Theresa Peachey Crissman whom he leads with and learns from everyday and they are parents to three children. The Crissman family are long term missionaries in the Shenandoah Valley with Virginia Mennonite Missions. 

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” — Mark 1:15

As I have been preparing to help lead the music at MennoCon19 this summer, I have been thinking about my high school experience. I think I had the stinkiest locker in my entire high school. Keep in mind that by the time I entered high school, my reputation already had a three-year incubation period from middle school. I’d forget an apple in my locker or a half-consumed bottle of chocolate milk along with some sort of carbohydrate that was four to six weeks past it’s “best by” date and voila! Super stinky locker! Of course these habits spilled into my 1989 Chevy Celebrity Eurosport when I finally started driving, because there were a lot more places for perishables to perish, and I had a bad habit of leaving things and forgetting them.

The thing with rotting food stashed underneath several textbooks, miscellaneous shirts and coats shoved into the bottom of a locker is that you can’t smell it at first. But that smell is not going away on its own. As time passes, the prospect of clean up is an increasingly grisly proposition.

Adults are just as guilty of the “super stinky” as I was as an adolescent. Yes, there are fewer lockers involved, but letting the funky and nasty stew is something adults do all the time. We let the nasty and funky sit because dealing with it would mean:

  • admitting that things have gotten pretty funky (which, in the case of my locker as well as most of our other stuff, is already painfully obvious to those around us).
  • investing the work and time to set things right. We may even need help from others around us because things have gotten so bad.

And then the time would come to put things right. A friend would help me clean out my locker (yes I had/have pretty spectacular friends), or I would be forced to clean out my locker by the administration. Amazingly, removing the decaying, putrid food made my locker smell a lot better. It functioned better and I was much more inclined to use my locker.

We need to learn some new patterns for how we relate to each other in the church (as well as how we relate to folks outside the church).

Maybe we can all already smell it, but we have some funky, smelly and down right nasty patterns going on right now. We have too often rejected Christ’s call to love each other and those around us, instead adopting alternative paradigms that have snuffed out the light-witness of the church.

But just like with my locker, the further entrenched we get into the funky pattern the harder it is to change it. But it’s time.

Theresa (Peachey Crissman) and I are teachers who have plied our trade in local public schools over the last 10 years. We also job share to help a dozen or so churches work together to give and receive God’s love in the context of relationships through Kids Clubs here in Virginia. It is beautiful work full of beautiful people who are, all together and through each other, experiencing the liberating love of God. Week in and week out, we see the need for God’s loving and liberating work in our own lives and in the communities of which we are a part. We see the need for congregations to embody the steadfast love of God.

In Mark 1:15, Jesus proclaims that the time has come, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

God-with-us brings good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4, Isaiah 61) and sends the church forth to be the hands and feet of God’s liberating work.

This is what being the church is all about. As sent ones, we are empowered with surprising hope and steadfast love by the Prince of Peace.

God is bringing freedom and liberation and we’re so stuck in our smelly ways of relating to each other that we’re missing it. We need to admit what is already painfully obvious to the world around us: we have some stuff that needs to go and it is going to take work and time to put things right. We have carried the name of Christ, but forgotten (or rejected) his mandate to love each other. And it seriously stinks. Hatred for our brothers and sisters in Christ, members of this body, spoils the message of hope we are trying to share with others. We need to Journey Forward together and begin practicing loving each other.

This Good News that Jesus talks about in Mark 1 (and Luke 4) is God’s good news. God is the one putting things right and inviting us to join in.

So this is my prayer: I pray that God would meet us in our stinkiness. I pray that this summer at convention, God would bring us together so we can be shaped by the Holy Spirit as we read Scripture, pray, listen, sing and worship together. And then, I pray that God would send us, equipped with surprising hope and steadfast love, to return to our families, our churches and our communities.

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