The Power of Touch

June 24th, 2015 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

April 12, 2015

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Biblical Testimony: John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Contemporary Testimony: an excerpt from The Easter of Our Senses by Nancy Rockwell

It is not death that gives Christ’s Easter life its power.  Nor is it death that authenticates Jesus’ journey onto the cross or into Easter.    Love’s redeeming work is the focus upon which we are to be fixed – the cooking of breakfasts, the sharing of anguishing news along the road, the moment of greeting in the garden.

For many, his wounds remain a fixation…As if violent wounds were a fiction in human experience rather than a routinely common occurrence born of human hate.  In our belief, they are sometimes worshipped with a fixation that insists on a superlative degree of torture detail here, a unique reality which denies the gospels’ claim that Jesus died a routinely common death administered to slaves and the very poor.

How much of each night’s news is fixation upon the gory details – the power of death.  And survival, never detailed very much, is greeted as an escape from death’s power rather than the power of love’s redemptive work.  Love’s work is nice, in our estimation, but does not have the fascinating power of death. Thomas, whose name means twin, stands alone in the gospel.  Perhaps we are his twin, each of us standing in his shoes, asking to touch the wounds in which life became unsustainable, more inclined toward knowing the power that fascinates us, than the power that liberates us.

Finishing the Story

June 24th, 2015 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

Easter Sunday, April 5

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Biblical Testimony: Mark 16:1-8

16When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

Contemporary Testimony: An excerpt from The Secret in the Dark by Frederick Buechner

The way the Gospel writers tell it, in other words, Jesus came back from death not in a blaze of glory, but more like a candle flame in the dark, flickering first in this place, then in that place, then in no place at all. If they had been making the whole thing up for the purpose of converting the world, presumably they would have described it more the way the book of Revelation describes how he will come back again at the end of time with “the armies of heaven arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” and his eyes “like a flame of fire, and on his head many diadems” (19:14, 12). But that is not the way the Gospels tell it. They are not trying to describe it as convincingly as they can. They are trying to describe it as truthfully as they can. It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened, and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling. They tell it as softly as a secret, as something so precious, and holy, and fragile, and unbelievable, and true, that to tell it any other way would be somehow to dishonor it. To proclaim the resurrection the way they do, you would have to say it in whispers: “Christ has risen.” Like that.

 

Taking the Call

December 4th, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Ronal Nicholas

August 31, 2014

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Biblical Testimony (Torah):                  Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.

Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.… I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is God’s name?’ what shall I say to them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM .… Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.…Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

Biblical Testimony (Gospel):             Matthew 16:21-27

[After he had asked the first disciples who people were saying he was and who they thought he was], Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”  But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.”

Contemporary Testimony:  from St. John Vianney (1786-1859)

“Love for our neighbor consists of three things: to desire the greater good of everyone; to do what good we can when we can; to bear, excuse, and hide other’s faults.”

Round Up Ready

December 4th, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

July 20, 2014

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Biblical Testimony: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Contemporary Testimony: from The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew by Barbara Brown Taylor

Hear another parable of the wheat and the weeds. One afternoon in the middle of the growing season, a bunch of farmhands decided to surprise their boss and weed his favorite wheat field. No sooner had they begun to work, however, than they began to argue—first about which of the wheat-looking things were weeds and then about the rest of the weeds. Did the Queen Anne’s lace pose a real threat to the wheat, or could it stay for decoration? And the blackberries? They would be ripe in just a week or two, but they were, after all, weeds—or were they? And the honeysuckle—it seemed a shame to pull up anything that smelled so sweet.

About the time they had gotten around to debating the purple asters, the boss showed up and ordered them out of his field. Dejected, they did as they were told. Back at the barn he took their machetes away from them, poured them some lemonade, and made them sit down where they could watch the way the light moved across the field. At first, all they could see were the weeds and what a messy field it was, what a discredit to them and their profession, but as the summer wore on they marveled at the profusion of growth—tall wheat surrounded by tall golden rod, ragweed, and brown-eyed Susans. The tares and the poison ivy flourished alongside the Cherokee roses and the milkweed, and it was a mess, but a glorious mess, and when it had all bloomed and ripened and gone to seed the reapers came.

Carefully, gently, expertly, they gathered the wheat and made the rest into bricks for the oven where the bread was baked. And the fire that the weeds made was excellent, and the flour that the wheat made was excellent, and when the harvest was over the owner called them all together—the farmhands, die reapers, and all the neighbors—and broke bread with them| bread that was the final distillation of that whole messy, gorgeous, mixed-up field, and they all agreed that it was like no bread any of them had ever tasted before and that it was very, very good. Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

Jonah’s Journey

December 4th, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

July 6, 2014

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Biblical Testimony: A retelling of the Jonah story by Frederick Buechner found in “Peculiar Treasures”

When God ordered Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them there to shape up and get saved, the expression on Jonah’s face was that of a man who has just gotten a whiff of trouble in his septic tank. In the first place, the Ninevites were foreigners and thus off his beat. In the second place, far from wanting to see them get saved, nothing would have pleased him more than to see them get what he thought they had coming to them.

It was as the result of a desperate attempt to get himself out of the assignment that he got himself swallowed by the whale instead; but the whale couldn’t stomach him for long, and in the end Jonah went ahead, and with a little more prodding from God, did what he’d been told. He hated every minute of it, however, and when the Ninevites succumbed to his eloquence and promised to shape up, he sat down under a leafy castor oil plant to shade him from the blistering sun and smouldered inwardly. It was an opening that God could not resist.

God caused the castor oil plant to shrivel up to the last leaf, and when Jonah got all upset at being back in the ghastly heat again, God pretended to misunderstand what was bugging him.

“Here you are, all upset out of pity for one small castor oil plant that has shriveled up,” God said, “so what’s wrong with having pity for this whole place that’s headed for Hell in a handcart if something’s not done about it?”.

Contemporary Testimony: an excerpt from The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself by Dan Clendenin

We know that in some sure and certain way God loves all people equally. But the parable of…Jonah who complained about God’s tender love for Israel’s bitter enemy Nineveh, remind us that God somehow has a special love for the least, for those whom we normally exclude, reject, and even hate. The geography of divine grace that embraces Nineveh…confounds our puny and parsimonious human metrics that complain about instead of celebrate divine generosity.

Pride Sunday: Focus on Our Family

December 4th, 2014 by MMiller

Open & Affirming Justice Group

June 29, 2014

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Contemporary Testimony: Audre Lorde, self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” would have turned 80 (Feb. 2014) had cancer not taken her in 1992. Here’s what she said about family in 1975, from Conversations With Audre Lorde

I think that some of the taboos that we suffer under now, that a family must be made up of male/female plus children, all locked into a kind of an authoritarian, blind, give or take, I think that that will hopefully disintegrate. I think that if we begin to think of families in a wider context, groups of people relating to each other in a give-and-take manner, then our definitions of families will broaden so that we have groups of people, sustain groups, support groups, in whatever period of life, whatever time, what ever place, right, that come together and remain. I think families, in that sense, human beings, are basically social and we will always find some way of grouping together, and our children need to be protected. 

Biblical Testimony: Isaiah 54:2—4a

Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations
and will settle the desolate towns.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace.

Dreaming New Dreams

June 21st, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

June 8, 2014

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Contemporary Testimony: an excerpt from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.

 

Biblical Testimony:                           Acts 2:1-6, 12-18

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘“In the last days it will be,” God declares, “that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”’

A Call to Protest

June 21st, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

June 1, 2014

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Contemporary Testimony:  excerpts from Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Biblical Testimony:                              Genesis 22:1-14

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of God called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “God will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of God it shall be provided.”

 

Easter Sunday

June 21st, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

April 20, 2014

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Biblical Testimony:                              Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Contemporary Testimony:        “No Time to Linger” by Suzanne Guthrie,                                           The Christian Century, March 22, 2005.

Love. And love and mourning and emptiness and faithfulness drive us to the tomb with our myrrh. Not to expect a miracle, but to witness to a grieving world. To simply be there, in the dark. Thomas Merton, another prophet and master of prayer, describes what happens at this place of darkness: “Love gives an experience, a taste of what we have not seen and are not yet able to see. Faith gives us a full title to this treasure which is ours to possess in the darkness. Love enters the darkness and lays hands upon what is its own!”

But in this world you cannot cling to love. You cannot hold or hoard it. In a suffering world, there is no time to linger in the sacred moment. Instead, every love must transfigure into ever-widening circles of compassion. This love must go out to the ends of the earth with the message of hope. “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.”

New Commandments

June 21st, 2014 by MMiller

Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller

February 23, 2014

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Biblical Testimony:  Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect.

Contemporary Testimony: Matthew’s gospel is a summons to another kind of life….The call is to a self-conscious difference in conduct, attitude, and lifestyle. While Leviticus is filled with rules for holiness, many of which we commonly judge to be problematic in the extreme, our reading leads to the conclusion that authentic holiness, commensurate with God’s own holiness consists in generous attentiveness to the poor and getting one’s mind off one’s self for the sake of the neighbor…. The call is away from self-preoccupation and from punctilious scruples often associated with “holiness” and toward the needs of the neighborhood…. Abundant life is given to those whose conduct is in sync with the good purposes of God.

Jesus again radicalizes the old commandments. The old command is to limit vengeance to what is symmetrical (“eye for an eye”), but Jesus breaks the cycle of vengeance by forbearance. Whereas Leviticus commands “love of neighbor,” Jesus pushes to “love your enemy.” Clearly the people around Jesus walk to a different drummer, in a generosity and graciousness that defy a world of fear and anger and hate.