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.
Melissa brought the sermon today, based on John 2:13-25. Jesus coming onto the scene means a radical departure from every common expectation about worship and economics and the places where they meet. We’re reminded by this passage in John, as well as by many of the old testament prophets like Zechariah and Nehemiah, that we have a long history of getting comfortable with bad practices as worshipers of God.
This Sunday was Worldwide Communion Sunday. Our Anabaptist sister churches worldwide have offered us astounding examples of radical welcome that shake us outside the boundaries of respectability and law abiding. They remind us of a stark alternative to the rampant nationalist and xenophobic ideologies that have gripped so many here in the U.S. These churches have shown us what it means to follow after the one who flips over tables. They show us that following Jesus will not allow us to fly under the radar, to stay respectable, to play along by the rules any more.
Hans brought the message from John 2:1-11, the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Jesus performed this miracle and “revealed his glory” to the disciples and the others at the party who heard about what he had done. Kind of a strange first act to show the glory of God.
“Glory” is the humanly-accessible way that God’s awesomeness, God’s light, God’s joy is revealed. These “random acts” are what make up the Gospels, showing ordinary life being lived, but with Jesus.
We are called to invite Jesus to be our guest, to go where God leads us, and to show God’s glory.
We had the privilege of having Kyle Kentopp provide the sermon this Sunday. Kyle is a Master of Divinity candidate at Yale Divinity School where he is training to become a minister in the United Church of Christ. Kyle understands his experience as a transgender individual as being inseparably intertwined with his faith journey as a Christian and focuses his academic and ministerial work on transgender rights and education.
Kyle’s message was based on John 1:35-51, the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. Christ saw them, recognized them, and made space for who they were and the gifts that each of them brought to his ministry. Jesus didn’t expect them to be a perfect carbon copy of himself. They were transformed, so that their inherently placed gifts and talents could be used for the participation in the movement of God on earth. Simon being renamed to Peter captures that transformation best.
Zinith Barbee brought the sermon on this New Year’s Eve Sunday. The scripture was from John 1:19-34.
“When I read the New Testament, the best I can do is insert myself into its stories. Where Jesus holds audience, I look for the guy in the crowd that is just like me.”
“What does it mean to follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century? To me this question felt as weighty as Menno Simons asking what it meant to follow Jesus as an Anabaptist in the 16th century.”
Where do you insert yourself into the New Testament story? What did you go out to see?
God invites us to hear the cry of an infant. We are welcomed, never forced to see the whole of God’s love hangs on the cry of a baby born into poverty. A love that reaches for every nameless child kidnapped by the Bocha Haran, every Muslim killed at prayer by a bomb, every kid in this country whose parents have been deported. In the crackling heat of creation, when the forces of God’s creative wind and energy and power are pressed down into the life of a child, we are invited to see the world and to love it.
The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, or Joy Sunday.
We focused our attention on Mary, the mother of Jesus, through the depictions of Mary displayed on the front table from many of our nativity scenes. Melissa opened her message, based on Luke 1:26-38, 46-56, by talking about her visit to Duke Chapel to see the life-sized paper doll depictions of Mary on display. They included the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Byzantine Theotokos, and Madonna and Child of Soweto.
She also showed the cartoon by Everett Paterson called José y Maria, a modern-day down-and-out couple outside of a gas station convenience store searching for a place to stay.
Mary, the first priest, born into poverty, a patriarchal culture that considered women property, the female body a dirty curse. A young woman pressed in on every side. And an angel says that she is favored. Looked upon as one with worth, a life that has been noted, that, though it matters to no one else, matters to God.
When our belief grows thin due to the vagaries of the world, remember that Mary was there, at the beginning and at the end. “She is always here, bearing witness to all of it–to the grace and the terror, to the injustice and the hope.”
This second Sunday of Advent Melissa preached from Ezekiel 37:1-14, the story of the valley of dry bones. She tells the story of Lila and of Mansour Omari, artfully weaving all three stories together.
Perhaps the Bible is written in our blood. Our life scraped out onto these scraps of a story. Our deepest fears. Our violence. Our desires for vengeance. Our helplessness. Our need. Our world of exile and war. And hope…and hope…and hope…. Always coming back to life. Bone to bone, covered with our flesh; mine and yours. A body called alive.
Jon Mark preached from Daniel 3, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refusing to bow down to the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had created. Before he preached, there was a dramatic telling of the scripture passage. Jon Mark also referenced a Russian Orthodox image depicting the three young men in the furnace.
This story, along with others in the old testament, show us that the Lord is a God of grace. There is death, but there is also grace.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego exemplify non-violent resistance against Nebuchadnezzar’s self-appointed godhead.
Jon Mark tied the story in with the season of Advent by encouraging us not to think the Christmas or Easter are the “only” significant religious holidays just because a majority of the nation is Christian. When we think that everyone is just like us, we make the same mistake as Nebuchadnezzar not understanding why these three would stand up to him and his order to bow down.
Melissa brought the sermon based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14. “You’re going to live here and you’re going to die here,” is not what those taken from Jerusalem and living in exile in Babylon wanted to hear. They ended up being changed by their neighbors in the process of living among them.
Our faith is tied up in the flourishing of our neighbors. As we live out our faith, the boundaries between “us” and “them” fade in and out of view. While it’s easier to build up our own tribe than to be enmeshed in the lives of those around us, our wholeness is bound up in the wholeness of others we encounter.
When it comes to the end of the story though, we will discover we are not Judah. We are Babylon. We are here today as a Gentile people, grafted into the life of God’s chosen people because God made the boundary between God’s people and those of us outside the covenant porous. In Jesus’ body and blood, we have been brought here.
Joy brought the sermon this morning based on Isaiah 9:1-7, a passage often reserved for Advent season. Isaiah was talking about King Hezekiah, the 13th king of Judah, rather than the coming of Jesus as we typically interpret it.
God’s wild spirit has been bringing light into the world since the beginning of time. Isaiah, along with many other old testament characters, dared to believe in the light that can bring about a new world.
Mike Martin, director of RAW Tools from Colorado Springs, brought the message as part of RMC’s Guns to Garden Tools event. He shares how RAW Tools got started and how Jesus lived out a life of nonviolence, putting into practice the concept of beating swords into plowshares from Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3.
In church today we had 3,000 lights strung in the front, commemorating the more than 3,000 deaths by gun violence reported in North Carolina last year.
On this All Saints Day, Melissa preached from 1 Kings 5:1-5 & 8:1-13 about the new temple of God the Israelites built under Solomon’s rule. The priests tried to contain God in the temple, just as we try to contain God. We try to domesticate God, but God spills out all over the world and cannot be contained.