Better Together: The collective encounter of Jesus

2015 6 5 Sarah BixlerSarah Ann Bixler deeply loves Mennonite Church USA and its commitment to God’s healing and hope. She has served throughout Mennonite Church USA in education, youth ministry, curriculum writing and conference leadership. Sarah is currently a Master of Divinity student at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Benjamin, and their three children. Sarah is the director of the junior youth program for KC2015.

I am one of those 30-somethings formed by high-energy Mennonite youth conventions. I have vivid memories from Philadelphia ’93, where I first encountered the Mennonite world beyond my Lancaster enclave. There were so many Mennonite young people from so many places!

Despite the differences in our appearance and language, we shared a common name – Mennonite.

And this term by which I was identified for 12 years took on a richer meaning when placed in the context of thousands of youth gathered for Mennonite convention.

In my adult years, I’ve returned to convention year after year. As a youth pastor I brought high schoolers to four conventions. I volunteered with community life in Pittsburgh and served as a conference delegate in Phoenix. This year I am directing the junior youth program. In all of these settings, I experienced new perspectives on the Mennonite church and the reason we gather, Jesus Christ.

And I realized that we are better together than we are by ourselves.

Now, 22 years after my first convention, I find myself just as eager for Kansas City as I was in my youth. Every two years is barely often enough to be reminded – and inspired – that I am only a small part of what it means to be Mennonite. The church is much, much bigger than me, my congregation and my conference, and we need each other to best understand God’s vision for who we are and who we are called to become.

Since the church’s beginning, believers have discovered that they need one another to be the church. The convention theme, On the Way, comes from Luke 24. Throughout this chapter, Jesus’ followers are gathered together – and it is in this collective context where they experience Jesus’ presence. First, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women witness the empty tomb. Next, Cleopas and another disciple walk with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples gathered in Jerusalem.

In these communal encounters of the risen Christ, Jesus’ earlier words are proven: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20).

His followers discover that Jesus is present in a powerful way among them, ushering in his kingdom in their midst.

Convention is a place to encounter Jesus among one another. Jesus is with us in youth worship, adult delegate sessions, junior youth games and children’s singing. We come to understand him better, often in new and surprising ways, when we are with others.

When I come to convention, I find out that I don’t exclusively define what it means to be Mennonite.

God shapes our common identity as we collectively experience the living presence of Jesus.

In this context, God’s Spirit calls us out of ourselves and toward a common vision. Only God can draw together people from such different backgrounds and experiences, and unite us as followers of Christ under the Mennonite moniker.

Come, Lord Jesus, among us Mennonites in Kansas City!

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