Hipps Calls Mennonites to ‘Higher Virtue’
Shane Hipps, a former Porsche strategic planner turned pastor, challenged thousands of Mennonites in a joint worship service on Monday night to model “the higher virture, which is the virtue of reconciliation.”
Hipps, a teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., challenged the audience to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” in the midst of a polarized world. He drew on the convention text, 2 Corinthians 5, with reconciliation at its heart.
He deconstructed the Greek word that is generally translated as “reconciliation” as meaning “against difference.” He described reconciliation as a rain drop falling into the ocean. “At the moment the drop hits the ocean the distinct identity is included in something much, much bigger,” he said.
Hipps explained that the Mennonite Church attracted him because of its distinction. “Identity is formed by distinction and the Mennonites do that brilliantly,” he said.
As thousands gathered before the opening of the first worship session of the 2011 Convention, a contagious anticipation spread.
The energy built: excited youth, sponsors and delegates flooded into the youth worship hall. At 6:55 p.m. the lights dimmed and the Emmaus Stomp Group passionately welcomed everyone to worship.
Ervin Stutzman, the executive director of Mennonite Church USA, said, “We are here to celebrate Jesus,” and with that, a thunderstorm joined in with the roar of the applause. The theme for the evening was “Focus on the Cross.”
“We are coming from so many places, literally and figuratively, and we want to focus on Christ who unites us,” Sue Hall, a worship leader, said earlier in the day. “We want to focus on what we have in common.”
Ted and Company continued the theme of unity with a comedic skit recounting the early church’s argument about what would distinguish the new church. In closing, they reminded the worshippers that Jesus’ greatest commandment was for us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Ted Swartz then asked, “Can it be that simple?”
In his message, Hipps used the image of cells dividing in a body as an example of healthy growth. When cells forget to stop dividing, however, they become cancerous. “At this point they become literally too much of a good thing,” he said.
“I believe that we are witnessing the potential of too much of a good thing in the Mennonite Church,” he said.
Speaking of all human endeavors, he said, “No matter what the issue is, people naturally fall into two distinct camps: the camp of justice and the camp of purity.”
Those in the camp of purity feel they are the last remnant in a depraved world and need to defend themselves. Those in the camp of justice also feel oppressed, restricted by the way things have been. “Both sides can’t fathom how the others can’t see their side,” he said. “Both sides feel like the victim.”
“The problem,” said Hipps, “is that the emotions of justice and purity: anger, fear, and hurt are innate to us. They come naturally. Justice and peace are categories of the world; when you have categories, suddenly you have colors, and when you have colors, you have tribal warfare.”
“Of all the traditions that I believe the world has ever known,” he said, “the Mennonites are the one group who have rooted their entire way of faith in love of enemy. That is the primary love behind reconciliation.”
“If there is any community of faith that can possibly model for the world what it means to begin to show reconciliation, it is the Mennonites,” said Hipps. “Love of enemy and reconciliation are the bread and the butter of the Mennonite Church. Now someone make me a sandwich.”