Paul’s letter from jail declaring his thanksgiving for Christ and prayers for discerning how to live a life to the glory and praise of God.
This Sunday Rachel told the story of Tabitha, in Acts 9:36-43, but from the perspective of one of Tabitha’s widowed friends in Joppa. Tabitha shows how our whole life can be defined by little resurrections, little renewals of life, little affirmations that death, sin, division and brokenness do not have the last word. Her story serves as an invitation for all of us to practice resurrection; inviting in the outcast, lifting up the poor and lowly, and doing all this through the power of Yeshua, whom we now call Jesus.
Claire Unruh provided the sermon this Sunday based on the story of Paul and Silas’s imprisonment recounted in Acts 16:16-34. They were jailed after casting out a demon in a slave girl.
Claire used the story as a springboard to recount other stories of people who have been imprisoned because of their beliefs as conscientious objectors to war or the death penalty. Standing up to and resisting systems of violence is a way to bring light and change in our world.
Melissa preached from Acts 9:1-19 about Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. However, it wasn’t only Saul who had an unexpected experience with Jesus. God involves Ananias in Saul’s conversion, even though he really wasn’t needed. Ananias also needs to be able to see. Saul is turned from a predator to a liberator, but Ananias converted too. Turning to his former enemy, Ananias calls Saul “brother.”
This was “holy humor” Sunday and Melissa started out her message with a joke before getting into the story told in John 20:19-31. Just as Jesus met Thomas, Jesus meets us where we’re at. Faith is not something you come to on your own. It takes many different forms and in every single one of them, doubt is part of the mix.
The most foolish thing we believe is that you were created for no other reason than for love. You do not have to do anything at all to be loved. We’re utterly convinced that when you are confused and you can’t quite get your beliefs in line, when your head and heart collide, that Jesus is making a way to you. You don’t need to do anything at all to be loved. You don’t have to earn your way to some great reward. But’s that’s ridiculous! Or at least that’s what the world thinks.
Prior to Melissa’s sermon on this Easter Sunday, Pam read the poem, “Christ as a Gardener” by Andrew Hudgins.
Mary returns to the tomb Jesus had been laid in after she and the two disciples found it empty. She’s weeping. Then she sees these angels. Then there’s this gardener. He had to have been there all along, hadn’t he? She’s begging him to tell her what he saw. “Where is the body of Jesus?!?” She can’t see it’s him…until he says her name. “Mary.” And her eyes are opened.
We wait beside tombs, because that is where he says he’ll show up. Where love leads us back, without reason, and often without hope. God will show up where there is nothing left but devastation, where there is no way out or where no one else is coming. It’s here, waiting here, where our grief at the pain inflicted by the world will break open. And we’ll discover the one who is there calling us by name. Jesus is there, who makes contact.
On this Palm Sunday Melissa told us about the Alexamenos graffito. Due to some technical issues, the beginning of her sermon is cut off.
Jesus isn’t interested in re-imagining the structures or reinforcing nationalism. Instead, the whole world has gone after him, as it says in the Gospel of John. Jesus has come for the world. Liberation isn’t just for Israel or the Jews; it’s for everyone. That looks like failure in our world. A failure of too much love. Love expanding to those we may not want to be loved.
We’re challenged to take a little time this week to search out our lives to find where we’ve made Jesus too small, where we’ve made something–or someone–unredeemable. Because when we return next week, it will be Easter!
Crucifixions were a common thing during Roman rule. They served not so much as death penalties as they were a form of social control. Bodies on crosses were strategically placed at crossroads to remind the people of the power of Rome to crush their dreams for freedom. In that way, they were more like the lynchings that took so many black men’s lives in the Jim Crow south than they were modern forms of capital punishment. “Every cross is a lynching tree, and every lynching tree is a cross,” wrote James Cone. Jesus’ trial was like so many trials of black men during that era: a sham.
Pilate plays a pivotal role in the trial, even though he was just trying to find middle ground, going between the religious officials and Jesus. He was just trying to do his job. Something many of us try to do as we navigate our circumstances.
Rachel brought the sermon based on John 18:17-27, reflecting on the oft-told story of Peter denying he knew Jesus, his teacher. Peter was later able to take the experience of his failure, look at it with God’s eyes, and use it to imagine something new. She links the charcoal fire they were gathered around in this story, with the charcoal fire over the lake where Peter is redeemed by Jesus and told to “feed my sheep.”
This is the liturgical season for us to collectively face what we’re capable of, for us to examine the ways we are and who God is. For us to take an honest look at our failures. A time to gently, carefully and deliberately open up ourselves to God’s loving judgement, to God’s eyes, so that God can bury all that is within us that keeps us from God.
John 13:1-17 – Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet
The rituals of the Christian life are ordinary things made extraordinary for a moment. Jesus has a knack for this, taking what is ordinary and turning it back for us to look at it again: song, bread, water, wine.
As we anticipate the coming of Holy Week in a few weeks, Melissa invites us into a patient act of love. Consider making space in your life to get into the story that unfolds, to trace it through the week in the people you see around you, to take time off to live it out.
John 11:1-44 – The Death of Lazarus
Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a time for prayer as we anticipate with sorrow Jesus’ death. This year Ash Wednesday was marked by the death of 17 students and teachers at the High School in Parkland, Fl. The Ash Wednesday cross contains ashes representing death. Melissa reminds us that the same oil is used to mark us as Christians when we are baptized. The scripture recounts Lazarus’ death and resurrection. A resurrection that allows us to believe in a new world where we are safe in God’s light. A world where we no longer fear death.
Melissa contrasted last Sunday’s Gospel of John passage with this week’s from John 4:1-42. Last week Nicodemus came and left in the cover of darkness. It takes him time to process his experiences with Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well encounters Jesus and soon after boldly proclaims to the people around her, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” We’re shown not a right and wrong way to encounter Jesus, but two human lives, two stories. We’re shown that being in this life of being drawn near to God looks like many things, and that we too will be, and need, many stories like these.
Today’s message came out of John 3:1-21. Nicodemus wasn’t quite ready to trust Jesus yet, approaching him at night. He asks what he must do to enter the kingdom. Jesus’ initial responses are rather nebulous. Then we hear what is maybe the best known verse in the Bible. Melissa helps unpack it all.
In John’s gospel, we see bringing about the kingdom happens here and now, not in some eternal future.
In the Bible, belief is not a matter of checking off a box in your mind. Belief in God is a matter of trust.