July 7 | Reverse Revenge

Text: Genesis 4:8-26, Matthew 18:21-22Speaker: Joel Miller

In the beginning, the first woman and the first man had two sons, and the older brother killed the younger.  That’s a very brief summary of the story we know as Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve.    As an origin story of the human family, it’s a cautionary tale about our tendency toward violence.  And since we all share a common ancestor, it’s a reminder that all violence is a family affair. 

The story takes on another layer if we consider that in Hebrew Cain, the farmer, is a play on the word meaning “production” – as in growing and acquiring stuff.  And Abel, the shepherd, means “emptiness” – as in open, spacious, non-investment in permanence.  Production and Emptiness are two different ways of being in the world.  And, two different forces within us.  Check your Google calendar to see if one is dominating the other.  Production and Emptiness are siblings.  They can co-exist in peace.  But in this story, they don’t.  Cain kills Abel.  Production kills Emptiness.  So it was in the beginning, and evermore has been up to our time. 

But…the blood of Abel, the slain brother, cries out from the ground to the Lord, who hears the cry, and visits the scene of the crime to have a talk with Cain. 

If you were here last week, this is review.  It was a first attempt at addressing some of the issues raised in the congregational survey for summer worship themes.  In this case, Peace, Violence, and Land.  If you weren’t here last week, today’s sermon will be kind of like watching the movie Inside Out 2 without seeing the original.  It can work as a stand-alone, but probably makes more sense having watched the first.  But since you’re here today, with the…

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June 30 | The Land Keeps the Score

Texts: Genesis 4:1-12

Peace, Violence, and Land.

Back in May I asked for input for summer worship themes. I was curious to hear thoughts on what questions we should be asking together.  What should we be talking about?  What’s on your mind?  Many thanks to those of you who responded. 

One constellation of ideas that emerged had to do with peace, violence, and land.  There were mentions of pacifism; Jesus and the early Anabaptists relating to political authorities; Promised Land and Chosen People.  White Christian Nationalism.  The horrors in Gaza and the horrors in the Bible often used to justify such horrors.  Overall, it was nice to see you wanted to take a break from heavier topics and enjoy some light summer fare.  I always knew what this congregation really wanted was cotton candy for the soul.        

Well, it is the 4th of July this Thursday, with the greatest aspirations and contradictions of our nation on full display regarding peace, violence, and land.  There’s something very powerful about origin stories, like the ones we tell around this holiday of independence.  They give us our bearings and tell us who are, how to act, what to aspire toward.  So I offer, this week and next, a companion origin story that has some things to say about peacefulness, violence, and land.  It’s not directly about those topics mentioned, but hopefully gives some footing for all of them.    

It’s a story we’ve heard before.  I know this because Katrina just read it to us.  Maybe you heard about it even before that.  It’s a story about the beginning of the human race, so it has a pretty broad audience in mind.  It’s an old story, so it doesn’t know anything about White Christian Nationalists or America or Anabaptists or even Jesus.  It’s not a happy story,…

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June 23 | The Kin(g)dom of God: Appalachia Build Trip Reflection

Texts: Matthew 13:31-35, 44-48; Luke 17:20-21Speaker: Mark Rupp

The Kin-dom of God is like…a wise Gardener who had many children. While these children were very young, the Gardener went away, leaving three stewards in charge. 

One of these stewards was very smart and had spent a lot of time learning from the wise Gardener, so this steward taught the children all the things the Gardener had said about how to care for the Garden. Some of the children became like this steward, and over time they even began studying the things the first steward had written about the Gardener. And they declared this to be the most important work of tending the Garden. 

The second steward was very passionate and creative, spending lots of time marveling at the wisdom of the Gardener and the wonder of the Garden. This steward wrote marvelous songs to sing in the Garden and created rituals to help the children remember the Gardener. Some of the children became like this steward, and over time they wrote even more songs and created new beautiful ways to remember and honor the Gardener. And they declared this to be the most important work of tending the Garden. 

The third steward was very strong of body and skillful with the work of the hands, and used this strength to build structures to support the growth of the Garden in the ways the Gardener had done. Some of the children became like this steward, adding their strength to the work of building up the Garden, and over time they added new structures to support its growth and walls to protect its fruit. And they declared this to be the most important work of tending the Garden. 

As time went by, the Gardener remained gone and the three original stewards passed on their wisdom to the…

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June 16 | Queering Our Horizons

Sermon: Katelyn Amstutz

Ruth 1:16-18; Acts 4:32-35

Once upon a time, there was a girl. This girl lived with her father and stepmother, but her stepmother was jealous of her great beauty. As the girl grew up she became even more beautiful, and her stepmother mistreated her. Something happened between them; perhaps the girl was banned from going to the ball, perhaps she was killed by an apple, but the girl needed to be rescued, and there was a handsome prince who showed up just as she needed him, who married her, took her away from her family, and they had children and lived happily ever after.

My freshman year of college at Bluffton University I took an advanced writing class on Fairytale literature. Professor Susan Carpenter kindly let me and my best friend into the class despite neither of us fulfilling any of the requirements. At the time, I was obsessed with fairytales; I loved reading original fairytales, retellings of fairytales, and rewriting them. The fact that I’ve begun this sermon with a fairytale should maybe tell you that I haven’t moved on from that. What I learned from Susan Carpenter was that fairytales are always about the fears and anxieties of the people telling them: warnings about being careful or kind, about the grossness of going through puberty, but also reassuring children who lost their mother to childbirth that their stepmothers might feel evil, but their lives too could have a happy ending. Fairytales are also about the possible: what could be, and what we can imagine the world to be like.

I’m sure we delved into it at the time, but I didn’t think until later about what kind of anxieties caused the happy ending my beloved fairytales proposed to be a nice heterosexual marriage and children.

Earlier this year I read…

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June 9 | Outdoor Service | Reflections

Dan Halterman

Joel in 2017 opened a sermon describing himself as “a pastor in the Mennonite creek of the Christian stream of the human river of spiritual wisdom traditions.” 

Even though Google is unaware of any “Mennonite River,” “Mennonite Creek,” or “Mennonite Ditch,” I’ll get back to this.

Matthew 5:45 says God causes his rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.  That’s you and me.  I’m taking liberties to commingle that about rain and the fates of seeds in the Parable of the Sower:

The Lord causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust…that’s us.  Some falls on leaves or other surfaces and promptly evaporates back into the atmosphere.  Some falls on hard surfaces, roofs, parking lots, roads, and quickly runs off, cleansing the surfaces of accumulated oil and gas from vehicles, dirt, dust, animal feces and animal carcasses, litter – icky stuff – and transfers it directly to streams as the so-called “first flush.”  Some falls on vegetated land, dissolving nutrients in the soil waiting to be shared with plant roots and rises to the light again through the wonder of photosynthesis that lifts soil water through capillary action – an inch above the soil into a radish leaf or hundreds of feet to the top of a giant redwood.  Other water mingles with its kin in the moist soil and percolates further by gravity, being cleansed, and becomes ground water that may be pumped through a well supplying a home or multiple huge wells feeding a public water system serving Dayton and Montgomery County.  Other water may encounter an impermeable layer and emerge to light again later as a spring or seep pulled by gravity to join a stream – with the other water that the Lord has equally shared with the just and the unjust. …

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