By Joanna Shenk
A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a loved one in which they asked me if I thought holiness and righteousness were important… or if I valued them as a Christian. I can’t remember exactly how they said it, but it was said in a way that assumed I probably didn’t think they were important. I explained to them that it was frustrating to be asked the question in that way because it put me on the defensive… like I needed to prove something to them. To their credit, they understood and agreed it made for better conversation if they asked me how I understand holiness and righteousness or what has been my journey with those things.
By Sheri Hostetler
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Jesus tells three parables about seeds in Matthew 13 in order to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like. The “kingdom of heaven” is Jesus’ main teaching, and parables are one of the main ways he teaches about the kingdom of heaven. So, these parables in Matthew 13 are the heart of Jesus’ teaching.
Last week, we looked at the mustard seed parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its shade.” I like that parable because I’m a gardener and a tree-lover. And, yup, you plant a seed and within five years it grows into a sequoia 20 feet high. This happened, right outside my house, so I know it’s true. Sure enough, the crows that I love settle in its branches in the late afternoons, and it provides shade for my son when he’s outside throwing frisbee with his friends and they get hot. Since we are also organic matter, I believe what is true of seeds and trees is also true of us. We plant something small and it can grow into something large that can sustain life. Read more
By Sheri Hostetler
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46
Something is collapsing. People on both the right and the left believe our political order is falling apart, which could be (depending on your point of view) a cataclysm or the opening we need to create something more just. Just the fact that Trump could be elected suggests that something has already collapsed. At the recent Mennonite convention in Orlando, I talked to my friend Cindy Lapp, who is pastor of Hyattsville Mennonite Church just outside of D.C., and she told me that it’s exhausting living there right now. Everyone is on edge, she said, because everything is chaotic. No one knows what’s going to happen.
By Addie Liechty
My experience at the Mennonite Church USA conference was…many things. As some of you know, I signed up for this task in the midst of break up grief/mania. I was dumped and the reason given was irreconcilable differences in regard to religion. My check-list for processing through this break-up reads like this:
By Joanna Shenk
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
I had a hard time getting out of bed yesterday morning. I was feeling the weight of a lot of things and wondered if it was futile and disingenuous to write a sermon that offered hope. I wasn’t feeling hopeful. I was feeling more like the title to the most recent Metallica album, “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.” The bad guys keep winning. Vulnerable people are endlessly oppressed. And it seems like so many people don’t even have a moral consciousness to appeal to.
The whole moral consciousness thing is something I’ve having an internal argument with Vincent Harding about currently. I’m turning my extended interviews with him into a book and therefore have been immersed in his writing and thought. I continue to be amazing at the faith he has in people to choose transformation. He believed that with love, encouragement and an openness to questions, people could change. To the end of his life he was calling people to their highest human potential and calling this country to its highest potential.
What I’ve been saying to him now is, “Do you still believe that or have we crossed the point of no return? Have we finally proved we’re really only capable of self-destruction?”
By Sharon Heath
When Nathan Yergler emailed asking me to speak today, he asked, “What are you aligned with? To what or whom are you loyal? To what or whom are you committed?”
With what am I aligned? I am aligned with the gay community. The Rainbow Flag is my flag. Even when I find the behavior of some members of my community to be a tad embarrassing, they’re my people and that’s all there is to it. Believe it or not, I am also aligned with the Mennonite church. Some Mennonites drive me crazy, and I have declined to be involved either on the conference or denominational level because of the hostility of so many to gay people, but these, too, are my people, and I am deeply committed to strengthening this denomination. I just want other people to do it!
By Logan Rimel
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, God, my strength and my Redeemer.
Good morning. Some of y’all are probably wondering who on earth I am, and that’s fair. I attended Sunday services here somewhat irregularly for several months about a year and a half ago. I fell a little in love with this community, but unfortunately work and living circumstances have made it difficult for me to cross the Bay on Sunday mornings. But still, I’ve been very happily a part of the East Bay discipleship group for the past several months, and maintain my deep fondness for First Mennonite. When Sheri asked if I would give a reflection on Pride Sunday, I jumped at the chance to get back here.
By Joanna Shenk
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
When I read through the lectionary passages for this Sunday, the words from 1 Peter jumped right out at me. They were different than the other New Testament texts that told the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. On Ascension Sunday, which is today, we celebrate the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and anticipate the coming of the Spirit. Next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost which marks the Spirit’s presence among us.
So this week in the Christian calendar we’re in liminal space. It’s the space between Jesus leaving and the Spirit coming. It’s perhaps a time when Jesus’ disciples were saying, “Well, he’s gone. That’s disappointing and a little scary. What do we do now?”
By Sheri Hostetler
Full disclosure: I had already decided that I wanted to preach on John 14:1-11 and out of curiosity, I went back through previous sermon to see if I had ever preached on that passage before. Indeed I had, three years ago. I read through the sermon and uncharacteristically decided that I liked it AND wanted to preach it again (with changes, of course). I checked this impulse out with Sharon, who affirmed giving this sermon another airing. So, if you want your money back, speak to me at the end of the sermon…
My Mom and Dad are both practical people who plan ahead, and so, for years before my Mom died of Lewy Body Dementia in May 2014, I knew that I would be giving the reflection, on behalf of my siblings, at her memorial service. And for years, I have known what I would say: All of us kids – my two brothers and myself – knew there was nothing we could ever do or not do, nothing we could ever be or not be that would cause Mom to love us any less. We always knew that she loved us, unconditionally. During his turbulent teen years, my brother Phil would come home in the middle of the night, drunk or high at least some of the time, and Mom would wake up – if she had even gone to sleep – and sit with him, sometimes for hours, talking about whatever Phil wanted to talk about. “Some parents of that time,” he said, “ might have thrown me out of the home or at least chastised me when I walked in at 2 a.m. Not Mom. I never felt any judgment from her. Only her concern and care for me.”
By Joanna Shenk
Early in the morning of May 1st, 10 people from First Mennonite Church of San Francisco joined with approximately 100 others to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building and create a beautiful street mural.
Our goal was to express solidarity with immigrants who are caught in the clutches of ICE and/or facing deportation. We wanted to bring awareness to this injustice and saw May 1st, International Workers’ Day, as a good opportunity.
By Benjamin Bolaños
Play Corrido de Cesar Chavez
That’s called Corrido de Cesar Chavez. It’s Tex-Mex Mariachi style music. And I hate it. Not the lyrics but the music. I really really do. German Polka music in Mexico? Not really my thing. However, regardless of my lack of affinity for this type of music, it does evoke strong memories for me. I’ve been running away from Mariachi music for a long time. Or at least I thought I was. But it’s not really Mariachi music that I’ve tried to keep at arm’s length. It’s what it culturally represents for me. It anchors me to a time, place, a history I’ve battled with internally, again and again. The music has power over my identity and the path I forged for myself: Latino, Hispanic, Salvadoran, Mexican, immigrant, the migrant worker, the outcast, outsider, the great unwashed, the spic, the illegal…. All labels used to define my identity. See, that music, its harsh melody, that accordian noise, reminds me of those labels. They are like chains to me, a prison, a monolithic omnipotent force that you cannot ever escape, forever shackled to my being, my mind and soul. But assimilation, to belong, was the other power force. Assimilation was the antithesis, the remedy, and the medicine to those labels, to the music. Assimilation meant opportunity and a sure way out. It was the language of the powerful. Read more
By Sheri Hostetler
We are created in the image of God. Inside each of us is a radiant wholeness that seeks to be expressed in our human form. Thus, we have the mystery of the Incarnation. That mystery is not just that God became flesh in Jesus but that God — this radiant wholeness — seeks to become flesh in each of us. Jesus’ calling was to show us that it was possible to be whole within this human form, to show us the way.
And so he started like each of us do — a small, powerless being in a large and often overwhelming world. The bulwark against this world is our parents or guardians. They are the ones who, hopefully, protect us, feed us, comfort us when the inevitable overwhelm happens. Quickly, we learn that these people, these gods, expect certain behaviors of us. We are given smiles when we do the right thing, frowns and possibly “consequences” when we don’t. Soon, others enter the picture — teachers, peers — and they, too, have their expectations, as does the larger society. We learn what parts of us are desirable and what are not. The undesirable parts are stuffed into our shadow, that long, black bag we all carry behind us. They become the “not me.”