Signs of God's Kingdom now: witnessing Jesus' work among the Mennonites in Iowa
I recently spent four days ministering at Sugar Creek Mennonite Church in Wayland, Iowa. There I witnessed varied signs of Jesus’ Kingdom coming together here & now in ways rare & desperately-needed in North America.
Sugar Creek is a historic peace church in the Anabaptist tradition. They believe in Jesus’ teaching on love of neighbor and enemy alike—which works itself out in lavish potlucks, barn raisings and other community-oriented good deeds and a commitment to resisting war.
Over 20 of Sugar Creek’s members were conscientious objectors in WWII-- an unpopular outworking of following Jesus in choosing to love and pray for (rather than kill) national enemies. Like many peace churches, living out Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is a high priority. Nathan, the pastor, had invited me to share on dimensions of discipleship less known & practiced by his congregation--the gifts of the Holy Spirit & healing prayer.
Right after the morning service in the lineup for the potluck I had my first surprise, prepping me for the next three evening sessions. A woman in her early 80s who walked with a cane was complaining of knee pain and her fears of a knee replacement. I offered to pray for her there in the line, and after flexing and testing it she said in amazement that the pain had completely gone away. Wow, I’d never seen someone that old have their knee healed!
That night I shared my own spiritual journey and invited people who desired more of the Spirit to come forward for prayer. The last time I’d given this talk in Stockholm nearly the whole church had come forward. This time I awkwardly stood there as nobody budged except to go out the back doors. Finally a man timidly approached and said: “well, why not, I supposed I would want more of the Holy Spirit” and asked me to pray for him. I blessed him and prayed for his back too. I later heard that someone had commented: “doesn’t he know we are Mennonites?”
Fortunately I had done an exercise where I had people with pain raise their hands and asked those in the pews around them lay hands on them and pray for their healing. I also had prayed for an older man who used a walker and complained of mental confusion and imbalance after a stroke.
A few people lingered, and eventually asked for prayer. The first three or four people apologized before stating what they wanted prayer for, speaking near identical refrains: “I know that we get our healing when we die, but….” -- clearly a tendency towards under-realized eschatology. I was perplexed by Sugar Creek’s brand of selective embracing of Jesus’ teaching & practice—and they proved themselves open to stepping into greater expectation of Jesus healing and liberation in this life.
It turned that that in the narthex that first night the man with the walker who’d had the stroke was meeting the people coming out of the sanctuary, without his walker!, saying excitedly that he was almost completely better. I just got word that at his last physical therapist session a few days ago he was told he didn’t need to come back—and that he’s back to his normal state before the stroke.
Monday and Tuesday nights were well-attended as many of the people who had been prayed for by others the night before were relieved of their pain. The word had gone out and people in need of healing were bringing family members and friends--- and we ended up praying for a lot more people. One man with 4th stage lymphoma just wrote me saying his blood test showed such dramatic improvement at his appointment three days after prayer that chemotherapy has been called off for the time being and he doesn’t need to come back for a checkup until February.
People laughed when I pointed out that Jesus didn’t encourage the masses to wait until they died to receive their healing—even in the 1st century when life-expectancy was so low & people didn’t have to wait so long to die! And yet I realized as older people kept reporting being healed that my low expectation for God to heal people with normal aches and pains of aging was being challenged. Jesus’ ministry of healing & deliverance, his embrace of the excluded, love of enemies & proclamation of the Good News of the reign of God must all be pursued with expectation for this life—even though God’s Kingdom will not be fully realized until the next.