There are shadows within us. Yes, there is also a burning flame, an Inner Light as the Quakers call it, the image of God in us. But the shadows are there. We’ve been exploring them throughout Lent. Morton Kelsey, a priest and psychologist, puts it this way, “Each of us has underneath our ordinary personality, which we show to the public, a cellar in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see.” (From Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Orbis Books.) In this dimly lit cellar are many half shapes — the unloved, rejected, despised parts of ourselves — and from these parts emanate shadowy emotions — fear, shame, jealousies, regrets and grievances, deep sorrows, an anger that can erupt out of seemingly nowhere.
As we begin this holy week, reality feels anything but holy. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. What good news is there for us in the Palm Sunday story? How can we wave palm branches and shout hosanna when our hearts are heavy with grief? It feels as though we are already in the thick of the passion story, as we sit with the violence of these recent weeks.
We grieve the senseless violence in Boulder, snuffing out 10 lives. And we grieve a society that breeds paranoia and isolation while allowing guns to be so easily accessible. We grieve the deep shadows of Christianity that repress sexual expression while fetishizing women of color. We grieve the tragic loss of life in Atlanta and the ongoing violence targeting our Asian American and Pacific Islander siblings.
This is the fourth sermon in a Lenten series entitled “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.”
The year is 1989. The setting is the White House. Ronald Reagan is offering his farewell address after 8 years in office. “The Great Communicator,” as he was called, waxes eloquently:
The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the shining “city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim – an early “Freedom Man.” He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace – a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.
This is the third sermon in a Lenten series entitled “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.” The scripture was excerpts from Isaiah 1.
You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive (members) of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight. You know all this because you believe in Q.
This is the second sermon in a Lenten series called “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.” This sermon is based on Romans 7:15-24.
It’s now the fourth week of February. Can you even remember the new years’s resolutions you may have made eight weeks ago — much less succeeded in doing them? Maybe you gave up on resolutions a long time ago because you realized it was pretty pointless. I read in January that 80% — or maybe it was 95% — of new years’ resolutions fail.
This is the first sermon in our Lent series, “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.”
I have a confession to make. A few months ago, I became aware that the 20th anniversary of my tenure as pastor here was coming up. It felt important to me to mark that anniversary in some way, but I also knew that probably no one else in the congregation knew this anniversary was coming. So in a recent pastoral staff meeting, I kind of sheepishly said to Joanna and Pat that my 20th was coming and that I kind of wanted some acknowledgement of it. It didn’t have to be a big deal, I said — in fact, I didn’t want a big deal — but just some acknowledgement.
I was surprised at how hard it was for me to ask for this. I felt this shame creeping up in me as I made the request. And I even felt the shame during the week before the celebration Sunday, as I heard little glimmers of what was going to happen and knew it was going to be quite a bigger deal than I had anticipated.
Note: I am going to be calling Jesus “Joshua” in this sermon, which is what our friend Elias Ramer — who is both a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and of our community — calls him. (You may know Elias Ramer as Andrew Ramer.) “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Yeshua,” which would have been Jesus’ name in Hebrew. “Yeshua” translated into English is Joshua.
I have before, in sermons, confessed to you my and Patrick’s love of horror movies. Not slasher flicks, I hate those — horror movies. Zombies, vampires, and all manner of supernatural weirdnesses. Our latest find was “Host,” a movie made completely during COVID where all the actors are on their own Zoom screens, trying to outlive a demon that they have conjured during an online seance.
I’ve talked to a few of you this past week, and all of you said you were surprised at the emotion that came over you as you watched the Inauguration on Wednesday. For many of you, Joe wasn’t your guy, nor was Kamala your “gal.” Many of you, and I include myself in this, believe Joe is far from the radical change we need in this country, and we are committed to pushing his Administration to make those changes. And yet, that ritual of watching him and Kamala being sworn in was calming and grounding and relieving for many of us after an intense two weeks, after a very intense two months, after an unrelentingly intense four years. I think many of us felt that we could take a deep breath again. Many of us felt part of something bigger than us, something that had the potential, the promise, of bringing us closer to our deepest dreams of justice, of healing, of hope for the future.
That was a lot of heavy lifting for one hour-long ritual.
Rev. Hassan was our guest preacher on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday 2021. Rev. Hassan is the pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Calif. He is a powerfully gifted preacher and Christian educator whose message is rooted in the African American prophetic tradition. He is a community organizer who has toiled for decades in low-wealth communities of color for social justice. Read more of his bio here.
Claim: Jesus and Dr Martin Luther King Jr were inconvenient heroes
I. We Re-Call Dr Martin Luther King Jr with Dr Vincent Harding
A. A Chaplin of the Empire
B. A prophet of justice
II. The shape of prophetic ministry
Not the Dream in Washington, but the Sermon on the Mount
Greatly honored are the destitute
Greatly honored are the mourners
Greatly honored are the humbled
Greatly honored are the those who are famished and parched for justice
Greatly honored are those who show mercy
Greatly honored are the pure in heart
Greatly honored are the peace makers
Greatly honored are those who have been persecuted for the sake of justice
Greatly honored are you when you put your honor on the line for Christ’s sake
We made it! It’s 2021! Finally! I mean it was the strangest New Years Eve ever, but that’s how 2020 rolled. I imagine we rang in the new year in lots of creative ways. For example, I did handstands with some friends over Zoom. With the new year under our belt, we move into the season of Epiphany.
Within the Christian tradition Epiphany celebrates the Light of divine revelation. It is a revealing of Divine presence with all people. The visit of the magi is a sign of God’s presence in all places, as they came from far away to honor a baby messiah. They were guided by a great light in the heavens to find a light-bearer. This revealing of the light-bearer we call Jesus, also revealed the shadows of the reality in which he lived.
This is the fourth sermon in an Advent series entitled “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born”
Luke 1:26-38, 44-55
I used to regularly attend a meditation community in Oakland, and my favorite service was the one on Saturday at 5 p.m. The service leader would refer to this service as a hinge point in the week, as we ended the week just completed and were on the cusp of heading into Sabbath and the new week. My favorite part of this “hinge” service was when the leader would ask us to reflect silently on the week that just was — its high points, its low points, its joys, its sorrows, its anxieties. And then the leader would light a little charcoal and put a spoonful of incense on it, which would cause smoke to waft up into the air and a quite lovely scent to permeate the room. (I realize for those with chemical sensitivities, this would not have been so lovely.) In that quiet, darkened room, as we watched the smoke rise, we would pray together from Psalm 142: “May our prayer rise before you, like incense.” And I would have an almost physical sense of some weight lifting off of me. Whatever had happened that week, it was now done, out of my control. I was giving the week to God and praying that God would do with it what She would.
It’s the third Sunday of Advent, which is traditionally the Sunday to rejoice in our waiting, and a pink candle is often lit to symbolize this. So far this advent we have talked about what it means to live in kairos time, which is the new age of liberation. This new age is always at odds with the old age of domination. We’ve also reflected on how we’re not just waiting for a baby to be born, but we’re expecting a spirit-filled movement of liberation, and we’re a part of it! We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
The question this Sunday is about how we’re witnessing or testifying to that movement. Later in the sermon I will actually make space for us to share out where we see the new age of liberation breaking forth right now. So you can be thinking of examples.
Our gospel text this morning begins thus, “Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through this testimony everyone might believe.” In this telling of the story John is not emphasized as the baptizer, instead he is the witness. He is testifying to the Light.