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Today in the Mission Yearbook

APCE preacher: Radical love can revive us like rain brings the desert back to life


The Rev. Melanie Marsh of Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami preaches during the Annual Event’s second day

March 14, 2024

Photo by Jordan Whitt via Unsplash

There may be no place thirstier for life than the desert after a long period of no rain, the Rev. Melanie Marsh said during the second day’s worship service at APCE’s Annual Event held in St. Louis and online. Marsh used a National Geographic clip to demonstrate rain’s dramatic effect on the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park southeast of Los Angeles.

“There are times when our spirits feel as desolate as this desert,” said Marsh, transitional pastor at Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami. When it rains in the California desert, “the rain doesn’t water just the Joshua trees and nothing else. The rain brings new life at every level. Every species is awash in the waters of life.” Something similar happens to us when “God’s radical love” rains down on our desolate souls, she said.

In Isaiah 35, Marsh’s preaching passage, the prophet talks about “a Holy Way where no one will go astray,” she pointed out. Why a path? “Maybe it’s because Isaiah recognized God does not like to work alone,” she said. “God calls us to walk beside them in the work of restoration.”

Radical love is not some belief we hold inside us, she said. “It is a practice. It is communal and it restores life for us and others around us.”

The Rev. Melanie Marsh

While attendees heard more the next day about Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Marsh invited those in worship to imagine “what it would be like to be a people who were despised.” Maybe Jesus singled her out in a crowd of people “because Jesus could see she wasn’t actually the problem.” All kinds of people “have been dying of thirst — a thirst to belong, a thirst to be known as people created in the image of God and beloved by God.”

In the case of the Samaritan woman, radical love “breaks in and transforms a stranger from an enemy tribe from an outcast into an evangelist,” Marsh said. “At that point, living water starts to fall like rain on everyone in the story. The whole community starts to heal by her healing. They are redeemed by her redemption. All Jesus had to do was stand with a stranger in her place of suffering.”

We, too, are “called to stand in that desert of injustice with those who are suffering in it,” Marsh said. “The world of wealth and power doesn’t want us to see how connected we all are. We need to pull back the curtain on that system.”

Isaiah’s vision “is only possible for each of us only insofar as it is possible for all of us,” she said. “That’s my job and your job — to go back into our world and find those points of connection. If you find yourself feeling thirsty for life, look to your neighbor, a stranger, your enemy, and care for them. Love them. It’s only in this way we will satisfy our thirst for life and rediscover abundant life, which is certainly possible for us all if we seek it together.”

Worshipers offered applause following Marsh’s sermon, then took communion together. They also sang under the leadership of Hugh Donnelly and Beth Mueller. The Rev. Jenny McDevitt created the liturgy used throughout worship at the Annual Event.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Melanie Marsh of Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami preaches during at APCE Annual Event

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Donna Costa, Food Service Manager, Stony Point Conference Center, Presbyterian Mission Agency 
Amalia Cottrell, Archive Technician, Presbyterian Historical Society 

Let us pray

God of Justice, we thank you for your unfailing love. We strive to reflect your love through our thoughts, our decisions and our actions. Strengthen us as we learn to serve our people who have been oppressed. Show us the way to let the oppressed go free as Jesus of Nazareth declared. As Jesus is our witness. Amen.