In the 37 times that Jesus describes the reign of God in the Gospels, not once is the kingdom of God like a kingdom of earth. Each time, Jesus tells them stories. Over and over again he roots the liberation of God in ordinary life, in what happens around us, not in throne rooms with princes and crowns but in baking bread and sowing seeds.
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.
The Foolishness of God’s Senseless Love – April 8, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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!
The Whole World Has Gone After Him – March 25, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
Melissa changed up the format a little this Sunday for her sermon. Speaking from John 19:1-16a about Jesus’ trial and condemnation to death, she provided an introduction then invited the congregation to help answer the age-old question, “Why did Jesus die?” There have been multiple perspectives or understandings of why Jesus was crucified. We interpret scripture together in community.
In the Gospel of John we see that Jesus dies not for our sins but because of our sins. He refuses to protect himself from the world. Jesus is love, and the world kills him for it.
A Conversation about Jesus’ Death – March 18, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
Before Melissa’s sermon, we listened to Billie Holiday’s rendition of the haunting song “Strange Fruit.” The sermon was based on John 18:28-40, about Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate.
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.
The Banality of Evil – March 11, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
The Fire of God’s Love – March 4, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
Making the Ordinary Extraordinary – Feb. 25, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” – Feb. 18, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
The Well Woman & Nicodemus – Feb. 4, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
Born of Water & Spirit – Jan. 28, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
Radical Communion – Jan. 21, 2018 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.
Happy Hour with Jesus – Jan. 14, 2017 Raleigh Mennonite Church Sermons
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.