Sermon: While You Were Sleeping

 

Mark 4:26-34, Ezekiel 17:22-24

Every young kid growing up during Jesus’ time would have been familiar with the prophecy from Ezekiel that Diego just read.  Our kids recite Kendrick Lamar lyrics; those kids recited this prophecy — that God was going to take this small, vulnerable group of people and make something great of them. In the Bible, political kingdoms are often likened to trees or branches, so the people of Israel are the tender sprig from the top of the lofty cedar that God is going to plant on a high mountain. No longer would they be easily and often invaded, at the mercy of the massive superpowers surrounding them. Not only would be they be self-governing, autonomous, free – they would be more than that. They would be beacons of hope to others of the goodness of life lived under God’s reign. They would like be a noble cedar planted on a mountain that bore fruit and provided shelter for many creatures. Ezekiel’s’ stirring prophecy with that stirring image ends with these stirring words: I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it. 

But almost 600 years later, God’s promise still has not been fulfilled. The people of Israel have lived under a series of oppressive regimes. Throughout the centuries, revolutionaries and small armies have risen up, had small victories against these oppressors, but no one has been completely successful. Throughout the centuries, the people of Israel have tried to be faithful – tried to keep the commandments, tried to keep their end of the covenant – they fail, of course, but they keep trying. But God doesn’t seem to be fulfilling this promise to make of them a great nation, a noble cedar. It must have been so easy to fall into despair. To believe that their small acts of resistance or faithfulness didn’t stand a chance in the face of the largeness of their oppression. To believe that nothing they did really mattered, that their actions were bearing no fruit. 

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Reflections: Discipleship Group Sharing

This two reflections were given on Sunday, June 10, by members of our San Francisco and East Bay Discipleship Groups. Our Discipleship Groups are small groups that meet monthly to learn about and practice following in the way of Jesus.

San Francisco Discipleship Group Reflection

By Amy Bolaños

I called the patient’s name in the waiting room. A man in his mid-50s, unshaven, in tattered hat and clothes, stood up abruptly and walked brusquely toward me, barely acknowledging me as I greeted him and led him back to the exam room where I would take his blood pressure, review his medications and prepare him for his visit with the doctor. The tough, guarded look in his eyes, as well as his agitated body language, warned me to keep my voice and body language calm and to notice my safe and quick exit route from the room. As soon as I asked him how he was doing today, he launched into a barrage of threats to the stranger on the street who had just stolen his belongings. He hadn’t planned to come to the clinic today, but 30 minutes ago he was mugged by another man.

He had just picked up his medications from the pharmacy a few days ago, and they were in the bag that was stolen. “The meds aren’t going to do him any good! They’re for my heart! I hope he eats them all and it kills him!” The patient then began a 5-10 minute loud, angry monologue listing ways in which he planned to carry out revenge on this man. “I’ll find him, and when I do I’ll rip his face off! I’ll smash his head in!” etc. I just sat and listened to him vent his anger. When I could get a word in, I validated his pain and anger, trying to imagine experiencing such violence myself and the emotions it would bring up for me. I also reassured him that we would be able to help him replace his medications.

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“Walk, Bike, Scooter, BART, and Muni” to Worship Day at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco

Sunday, March 3, 2018, was First Mennonite Church of San Francisco’s third annual participation in a Bay Area event known as “Walk and Bike to Worship Week”.  First Mennonite’s participation included scootering and riding mass transit as well as walking and biking.  The program at First Mennonite Church was organized and facilitated this year by Kenda Horst and Karen Kreider Yoder.  Participants were awarded stickers showing participation and awarded entry in a raffle to win prizes that included Ford GoBike annual membership; Walk SF T-shirt and membership; and a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition T-shirt and membership.  Participants were invited to a picnic at the Conservatory of Flowers following worship.  One of the goals of the walking, biking, and transiting to worship event was to SAVE THE PLANET.  A show of hands during the worship service on Sunday showed that around three dozen congregants walked, biked, or transited to First Mennonite Church services on March 3rd.  Thank you Kenda and Karen for organizing this event! – Jim Musselman, for FMCSF Green Team

 

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Pictured before church:  Karen Kreider Yoder, Kenda Horst, Joanna Shenk, Jim Musselman, Miriam Menzel.  Photo by Alan Hilton-Nichol.

 

Scent Policy, Continued

Greetings, community. Almost two years ago, our congregation adopted a scent policy and we have been living into it since then. The policy states: “First Mennonite Church of San Francisco would like all services  to be accessible to those with chemical sensitivities. Please refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, and scented products. This is also the policy of FMCSF’s host, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.” 

Sheri was musing to Pat and Joanna recently that in her 18 years of ministry here she has not come across an issue that has brought up as much resistance, skepticism and even conflict as this scent policy. And so, with this blog post, we hope to address several points related to this policy, in the hopes of furthering greater clarity, communication and awareness: Read more

Sermon: You Must Be Born Again

John 3:1-17

“The pages around this passage are the ones where many Bibles show signs of most usage.” That’s how one Bible scholar referred to this passage we just heard from John 3, and I loved it for its understatement. For this passage contains the central sound bites of the Bible for many Christians. There is, of course, John 3:16, a verse forever linked to face-paint wearing people at sporting events waving a sign with this verse on it for the TV cameras. I’m wondering how many of you can say it by heart? For many Christians, it is the entire distillation of the Gospel message in a nutshell.  And then there is the central metaphor of the passage — that of being “born again.” Being born again is the central point of the Christian life for many Christians. In fact, a recent survey showed that almost 30% of Americans identify as “born again Christians” — more, actually, than identify as evangelicals.

What does being “born again” mean for these 30%?  Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — which usually means believing in Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Which means believing a certain set of beliefs about Jesus — that he is God’s Son and his death on the cross has wiped out our sins, so we can now be right with God if we believe these things and have a personal and intimate experience of Jesus.

I’m here to say today that those Christians are right — being born again is the most important part of being a follower of Jesus. But (you knew there was going to be a but), let’s talk about how that metaphor could be meaningful and helpful for our journey.  I’m indebted to New Testament scholar Marcus Borg’s book The Heart of Christianity for these ideas.

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Sermon: At-one-ment

 

 

Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21

I took Patrick to a medical appointment on Monday and was talking with a staff person there that I have gotten to know over the years. She knows I’m a Mennonite, and she told me that she had just listened to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast about Mennonites. I decided to listen to it as Patrick was in his appointment. It was Gladwell’s story about Chester Wenger — the 96-year-old ordained Mennonite pastor who was stripped of his credentials for marrying his gay son back in 2014. It was a story that made front page news in papers and websites across the country. 

Gladwell knows Mennonites. He grew up in a Mennonite community in Canada, his parents joined a Mennonite church, his brother is married to a Mennonite minister. And he’s trying to explain to his podcast listeners who Mennonites are.  He’s trying to explain Mennonites to non-Mennonites. And this is what he says (4:14 in podcast):

Let me start with a few more words about Mennonites because what Wenger did makes no sense unless you understand the world that he inhabits. The theologian Palmer Becker has a lovely phrase to describe the Mennonite way, “Jesus is the center of our faith, community is the center of our lives, reconciliation is the center of our work.”

It’s hard to explain to an outsider how seriously the Mennonites take these three things Jesus, community, and reconciliation. 

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Sermon: Uncomfortable Love

I John 4:7-21

As I was preparing for this sermon, I felt like a rather insistent jukebox kept playing in my head. And didn’t I just date myself there? What I meant to say was: A rather insistent Spotify playlist kept playing in my head. The main song was, of course, “All you need is Love.” That wouldn’t stop. But also: “Precious Love” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. And even the song from the hit Broadway musical “Oliver”: “Where is love?”

Small wonder that the hits kept coming because love is the universal hunger of the human heart. Infants who are given food and shelter and warmth but who are not given loving touch, who are not bonded with another person, often do not thrive and may not even survive. As my friend Rolene told me when I was pregnant with Patrick, “Just love him unconditionally for three to five years and you basically can’t mess him up.” (Thank God we could stop at age 5.) As we get older, the search for love will drive us to many things — jealousy, rage, cosmetic surgery, early 80s soft rock. (Air Supply’s “I’m all out of love” plays.)

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Sermon: Following Jesus to Jerusalem

By Sheri Hostetler

This is the last sermon in a Lenten series called “Capitalism: A Bible Study.” Much of this sermon draws heavily from the first chapter of Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem. I have tried to note when I am quoting directly from this chapter.

Mark 11:1-11

In our tradition, this Sunday — called Palm Sunday —  is the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year.  All over the world, followers of Jesus re-enact this Bible story we just heard. Like us, they process into sanctuaries and wave something green and shout or sing “Hosanna.”  So, let’s just be clear that those processions — as well as ours — bear very little resemblance to what happened that day. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this, but let’s be clear about what that actual procession would have been like.

First, Jesus’ procession was a procession of poor people. Jesus himself was a poor person from the poor village of Nazareth and his followers were poor people from the peasant class. Jesus directed his message about the kingdom of God mainly to this group of poor people.  The peasant class of Jesus’ day was a large group that included not only agricultural laborers but the rural population as a whole. About 90% of the population at that time was rural, living on farms or in villages and small towns. This rural population was the primary producer of the society’s wealth. There was no industry back then; “manufacturing” was done by hand by artisans, who were also a part of the peasant class. So, almost all food and goods — the wealth of society — were produced by the peasant class.

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Children’s Story: Jesus’ Parade into Jerusalem

By FMCSF Youth Group

Note: Our church’s youth group rewrote the Gospel stories for each Sunday of Lent and then presented them as children’s stories during worship.

Palm Sunday, March 25

Mark 11:1-11

This is a story that a guy named Mark wrote about Jesus. He wrote the story in a way that highlighted the kind of leader Jesus was. Mark wanted to show the difference between Jesus’ movement and other military and political groups who had power.

In this story Jesus and his friends were on their way to Washington DC to confront the powerful leaders there. They knew it was going to be difficult. They also had to decide how they were going to enter the city. The way that they entered the city would communicate to the people there what their movement was about.

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Children’s Story: Zacchaeus and Jesus

By FMCSF Youth Group

Note: Our church’s youth group rewrote the Gospel stories for each Sunday of Lent and then presented them as children’s stories during worship.

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18

Luke 19:1-10 (Jesus and Zacchaeus)

While traveling with his poor people’s movement, Jesus and his friends, had a protest march in Manhattan, New York. Manhattan is one of the biggest places for business and trade in the United States.

A man there was named Zacchaeus and he was the biggest property owner in Manhattan. Since he owned so much property he was able to charge high rent because people had very few other options. This made him very rich.

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Sermon: Zacchaeus, Redistribution and Salvation

By Joanna Shenk

This is the fifth sermon in a Lenten series called Capitalism: A Bible Study.

Luke 19:1-10

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Clarence Jordan Symposium in Americus, Ga. The symposium marked 75 years since the founding of Koinonia Farm, which was the first interracial community in the South. Clarence Jordan was one of the founders of Koinonia and he was a friend Dr. Vincent Harding.

Those who joined the community committed to four principles of community life:

1. Treat all human beings with dignity and justice
2. Choose love over violence
3. Share all possessions and live simply
4. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources

When the community was founded in the 1940s it was unlawful for black people and white people to sit down together in Georgia. They could be standing next to each other, but they couldn’t sit down to share a meal or conversation or anything. In the 1950s the community got a lot of threats, their produce stand was dynamited and they experienced the terror of drive-by shootings at the hands of white neighbors.

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Children’s Story: Jesus and Gerasene Demoniac

By FMCSF Youth Group

Note: Our church’s youth group rewrote the Gospel stories for each Sunday of Lent and then presented them as children’s stories during worship.

Third Sunday of Lent, March 4

Mark 5:1-17 (Jesus and the demoniac)

After spending time traveling the suburbs surrounding Washington DC, Jesus decided to take the train all the way to the other side of the country–to the Bay Area. None of his friends were from there and they were a little afraid to go.

After an exhausting trip, they arrived at Jack London Square in Oakland. Jesus’ friends noticed a few homeless encampments nearby and a bunch of parking lots. As soon as they walked off the train this crazy guy, who had cuts and bruises all over his body, started running toward them. He was yelling and moving around and jumping up and down as he approached.

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