A May 2020 Newsletter can be found on the MAGAZINE page (under the MORE tab) of the church website. This is in place of what would normally be the church magazine.
So Much Leaven
April 20, 2020
Jesus told them, “The realm of heaven is like yeast...” - Matthew 13:33
87% of what Jesus had to say was about choosing how to react to your feelings. Have an enemy you hate? Choose to act lovingly toward them. That sort of thing. In the language of 90s-era pop psychology, it’s about moving our choices from our reptile brains up into our human ones; from brain stem fight-or-flight up to prefrontal cortex complexity.
So I have reminded myself in the grocery store many a time lately. Only taking the one package of butter we need, not an extra just in case. Refusing to stock up beyond the two weeks’ worth of supplies the CDC recommends in case of quarantine.
Then I noticed the store was out of yeast.
Never mind, I thought. I have plenty at home. Still, I double-checked Amazon. None. Same at King Arthur Flour, SAME ON THE ENTIRE INTERNET. Never mind that there is plenty of bread at my local supermarket. My heart started to race.
I began compulsively checking Amazon. When finally a third-party seller had a package of two one-pound bags available, I pounced. Only after the transaction was complete did I remember I had found some food-grade yeast for sale from a laboratory supply shop the day before and ordered a one-pound bag.
I had become a hoarder of leaven.
We all go a little reptile-brained once in a while, especially these days. It’s OK. It’s also never too late to hitch your thinking back up into the ole prefrontal cortex. Which is to say, it’s never too late to act like a Christian. So:
I’m sorry I bought all the yeast. If you need some, just LMK. I’ll mail it to you, free.
Lord, bless and prosper the sourdough starter I made “just in case” while I was panic-buying the yeast. Er, I mean, please make me generous and calm and high-minded. Amen
April 19, 2020
Written by Marchae Grair
So the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” - John 20:25 (NIV)
I was in a severely emotionally abusive relationship. My abuser constantly made me question reality by lying to me to convince me that what I experienced never happened.
After I left that relationship, it was especially difficult for me to trust anyone.
That’s why I empathize with the disciple so many of us know as “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas’ scepticism often results in people claiming he had no faith. Yet few people get curious if other disciples had ever proven themselves as untrustworthy to him.
As an emotional abuse survivor, I know a healthy amount of scepticism can be lifesaving. If I hadn’t started to question my ex’s stories, I wouldn’t have realized how they were manipulating me. When I demanded proof for things I hadn’t seen, it ultimately rescued me from a relationship that was destroying my emotional health.
As headlines about COVID-19 appear with rapid fire and officials give varying guidance, I’m hesitant to judge people who find themselves sceptical of leaders, questioning if the newest advice will be irrelevant an hour later. After years of a gaslighting administration, I think nationwide scepticism should be expected.
Thomas eventually saw Jesus and knew the other disciples were telling the truth.
Perhaps our calling in this moment isn’t to point fingers at the sceptics but to create a world where truth and love are so ever-present that sceptics no longer have to question if God is with us.
Thank you for giving me something to believe in. Amen.
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He Called My Name
April 18, 2020
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me…” - John 20:16 (NRSV)
There’s a difference between resurrection as a doctrine, and resurrection as word addressed to us, with our name on it.
We may sing the Easter hymns dutifully, even enthusiastically. But it is more often in the dark nights and the lonely places, like a deserted garden early the morning, amid grief and confusion, that it becomes personal. When we hear our name called.
The disciples (two of them) had come and gone. But Mary lingered. Mary stayed, seeing everything and seeing nothing. Then he (the one she thought was a gardener) spoke her name, “Mary!” And then she turned, which doesn’t only mean she turned around to see who was talking. It means she turned from death to life, from doubt and confusion to faith.
She had heard him call her name. He was a gardener, after all, a gardener of souls, and it was time for hers to bloom.
Perhaps you too have heard your name called, by One who spoke so powerfully to you that you too knew yourself summoned from death to life. It might have happened in church. It might have been on a hike. It might have been as you looked into the eyes of someone you loved. It might have been at the birth of a child or as thunder and lightning heaved the heavens. And it might have been in the depths of a pandemic.
Note this: called by name changes everything. But you don’t stay there. “Don’t cling to me,” he told Mary. Let me go, and you too must go. With every call comes a commission, a task. That’s the way it is with this God. Every turning moment turns us outward, toward the journey, toward others who need us, toward the world that needs us.
In this hard time, speak to us O Lord, call us by name. Break us open and make us new. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book, Useful Wisdom: Letter to Young (and Not So Young) Ministers is available from Wipf and Stock. You can read and sign up for his blog at www.anthonybrobinson.com.
Last of All, Also to Me
April 17, 2020
Written by Mary Luti
Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day; then he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters. Last of all, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called one, because I persecuted the church of God. - 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, excerpts
Whenever we’re recognizing people for something and coming to the end of our list, we’ll often say “Last, but not least…” We don’t want anyone feeling minimized for bringing up the rear. But last often feels like least anyway, especially when you’re standing alone on the playground after the captains have chosen up sides.
Nobody loves being last. And if Paul had been a different kind of leader, he might’ve played fast and loose with the story to make himself look better. He could’ve claimed he was first, not last; an early adopter, not a clueless latecomer.
But Paul wasn’t ashamed of being the very last appointment on Jesus’ calendar. And not only the last, but also the least. The least admirable, the least likely, the least deserving—a persecutor of the church who slipped in under the wire only because of the most merciful of mercies.
Hundreds saw Christ ahead of him, but for Paul being first would never be as precious or as decisive as having been so vastly loved, so kindly salvaged, so turned around on the Damascus road.
Last of all, he says, not ashamed but amazed. Last and least, he appeared to me. Even to me.
Which is to say, even to us all.
We too are latecomers, O living Christ, and undeserving. Yet you come to us also. Even to us, with healing, pardon, and peace. Praise to you, and glory!
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April 16, 2020
Written by Rachel Hackenberg
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
- Psalm 16:5-6 (NRSV)
My preferred cup is venti-sized, with a green mermaid on the side. I know what people say about her, of course. I know what people say about those of us who love her and visit her often. I’m clear about her impact on my wallet. But still I appreciate the comfort of her constancy and the satisfaction of enjoying the hot caffeinated beverages she provides.
In these days when nothing is constant, a single cup of constancy feels luxurious, even miraculous.
Most of us don’t long for the whole world to be ours. We don’t crave constant praise from acolytes who guard our egos from injury. We aren’t consumed by the desire to have the entire banquet of life focused on us all the time. We aren’t under false illusions that fate is obligated to keep us happy.
We simply long for one cup that pours out joy. For one portion that we can share. For one lot that includes love.
Perhaps that’s a lot to ask. Enjoying a drink from Starbucks is an easier longing to satisfy.
But it’s a satisfaction that fades quickly, leaving me wanting more.
The psalmist proclaims that one cup can be sufficient. One portion can be satisfying. One lot – one life – is no more and no less than what God promises. Just one – not two or three or five or all. Just one. And these limits are good. These limits are godly. These limits are ours to choose, and they are sufficient.
Even now, God, my heart cries out for more. More constancy. More comfort. More triumph. Definitely more coffee. Test my longings, reveal my cravings, and remind me of what is truly needed.
April 15, 2020
I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. I am chastened severely, but God has not given me over to death. - Psalm 118:17-18 (NIV)
April 15th is a special day to me.
On April 15th, 2013, the Boston Marathon was being run. It is one of the oldest peaceful international competitions in the world, and it is the best-attended sporting event in New England by a wide margin. The church I served at that time, Old South Church, sits a quarter of a block from the finish line of the Boston Marathon. We would celebrate the marathon every year and do it to the nines. Hundreds of runners would come to our service for a blessing the day before the marathon.
In 2013, however, the marathon was cut short by a pair of bomb blasts. The days that followed involved a city-wide manhunt; it was the first time I heard the phrase “shelter in place.” People were frightened. Their sense of what was normal was shattered.
Afterward, people had a lot of questions.
Would the traditions of the marathon survive? Would the celebratory spirit of the race continue? The following year, 2014, we had our answer: the race was never the same.
It was much more wonderful.
The largest field of runners ever applied. World-class runners (always the toast of the town) shared the spotlight with ordinary people like Carlos Arredondo who had heroically saved people’s lives by rushing into danger. The traditions that were dearest became dearer still.
That is the resurrection power of God – life triumphing over death is glorious beyond compare.
Resurrecting God, breathe your hope into us today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.
What's in Your Closet?
April 14, 2020
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. - Colossians 3:14 (NRSV)
The night before the first day of school was an important one in our household growing up. My siblings and I divvied up the bulk school supplies our parents bought, scraping our names into pencils and rearranging folders in our trapper keepers. Once we finished precisely filling our backpacks to the smallest pocket, the final, most important task for the night was to plan the perfect outfit for the next-grade-up debut.
Sometimes our clothes were new. Most times they were just new to us, having been handed down from an older sibling or handed over from a different family. Either way, the excitement was there in spending time in front of full-length mirrors to be sure that when we stepped off the bus and into our new classrooms, we felt as good as our night-before reflections appeared to us.
If these physical clothes of varying values meant so much to us then (and, admittedly, even now I care how I look on my first day of anything), imagine how much more so if we took the time to clothe ourselves with Love. No physical accessories could complete our outfits in the harmonious ways that accessible and affordable Love can!
All this physical distancing lately makes this a splendid time to go through my literal and metaphorical closets to make sure that how I clothe myself reflects who and whose I know myself to be.
We give you thanks for the colourful and sensible and wild and practical and cute and comfortable and edgy and warm and unique and uniform ways you wrap us in your Love. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Rev. Phiwa Langeni is the Founder/Director of Salus Center (the first LGBTQ Resource & Community Center in Lansing, MI) and Pastor of Salus Center UCC & First Congregational UCC - Ypsilanti. They are a parent, speaker, writer, transitional coach, designer, and low-key fashion head.
This Is Not the End
April 13, 2020
So 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. - Mark 16:8 (NRSV)
“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.” - Matthew 28:10 (NRSV)
Mark ended his masterpiece of a gospel on a cliffhanger – a resurrection with question marks. Luke, Matthew and John, writing later, embellished the story, adding multiple appearances and new miracles by the risen Jesus. Maybe they had better intel than Mark. Maybe they created fiction for a people craving hope. Or maybe they had a lived experience of a Christ who kept showing up, shaping and saving their lives.
A double-thousand years later, we pick up these four stories and find our own resurrections in them, every year. The original Easter story has still never ended. It goes on, in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.
When the humans I love are facing hard times, which seems to be all the time these days, I am fond of lifting up the modern proverb: “Everything turns out alright in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”
We will not all survive the current apocalypse. We will not all be raised from our sickbeds or our tombs. Some of us will lose jobs or businesses we have spent a lifetime building. Marriages that might have made it otherwise, absurdly pressured by quarantine, will end in divorce.
But after all of these endings, there will be new beginnings – some of them visible, tellable; others beyond the veil of earthly death.
Easter is not a history lesson with a tidy ending, but an invitation to look past death in all its disguises. After every death, new things get born. You may sometimes have a year of Good Fridays, but Easter will always arrive. It is as inevitable as sunrise after the long night.
God, your servants didn’t write four resurrection stories, but eight billion. We are all little gospels, still being told. Thank you for telling us. Amen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church, Standing Naked Before God, and her newest baby, Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World.
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