Sermon: Heaven and Hell?

This sermon was given on “Throwback Sunday,” an annual Sunday where we take a look at problematic theological ideas with which many of us may have grown up.

I’m giving this sermon from Walnut Creek, Ohio, where I am visiting my family. This is where I grew up. This was the place that taught me about Jesus and the Bible and community and living simply… and this is also the place that taught me about heaven and hell. 

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Sermon: Divine resilience

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Psalm 34:1-8

I want to begin my sermon today with a mini “breaking open the word.” We’ll just do one round reflecting on what words or phrases jump out as you hear the text? I will also put it in the chat box.

I will bless the Divine always;
praise will continually be on my lips!
My soul will boast about YHWH—
let the oppressed hear it and be glad!
Glorify the Divine with me,
and let us exalt God’s Name together!
I sought the Lord, who answered me
and freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to the Divine are radiant,
and their faces are never covered with shame.
The poor called out; YHWH heard
and saved them from all their troubles.
The angel of God encamps around those 
who revere God, and rescues them.
Taste and see how good God is!
Happiness comes to those who take refuge in the Divine. 

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Sermon: In the Boat

Jesus lulls a storm – Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41

Years ago, my friend Becky and her husband Jon were sailing on a large lake in New Mexico. Jon was an experienced sailor, and when they began their day, it was sunny and hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. No rain was in the forecast. It was a very typical New Mexico day. 

And then, just that suddenly, the winds began. High winds. Winds that rocked the boat, tipping it over onto its sides. Jon said, “We’ve got to head in.” They immediately sprang into action, manning and womaning the sails, trying to use the winds to steer their boat into shore. The winds got worse and became chaotic, blowing in different directions. “Let’s put the sails down,” said Jon. Still, the winds buffeted them, and the boat swamped and capsized. They fell into the water, holding onto the boat. Still, the winds. “It got really scary,” Becky told me. But, someone in another boat, battling the storm themself, came over and rescued them.

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Sermon: Accompanied by the good shepherd

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

It is good to be back home and with you all this morning… One of the greatest joys of my time with family was getting to know my bouncy three year old nephew Henry. I spent a week with him in Cincinnati and then took him with me for most of a week to my parents house in Goshen, along with his 7 older cousins. During these weeks Henry’s vocabulary exploded. 

He has an especially interesting vocabulary since my brother Andy speaks only to him in Russian. While in Goshen, I was also his go-to adult. We spent a lot of time playing together since he was sometimes overwhelmed by all the energy and attention of the older cousins. 

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Sermon: What Not to Pack on a Journey

Mark 6:7-13

What kind of a traveller are you? Are you someone who fits everything into one neat carry-on bag or do you check luggage plus tote as much on-board as possible? In my minds’ eye, I am the former. Except for those years when Patrick was a young child and I had to haul a car seat onto the plane plus a bag full of toys to engage him during a five-hour flight plus flight plus snacks and drinks plus diapers (oh, the horror!), except for those years, I aspire to travel light.  The problem is, I am also what someone called a “defensive packer.”  I want to be prepared for whatever might happen or whatever I might feel like doing or whatever I might feel like wearing. What if it rains? What if I want to go bird watching and I need binoculars? What if those shoes give me blisters? What if those earrings don’t go with that outfit? (Again, the horror.)

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Pride Sunday sermon

Our Pride Sunday sermon was given by guest preacher Rachael Weasley, who is planting a queer-centered, activist Mennonite church in Bellingham, Washington, called Community of Hope. For a description of Community of Hope, please check out their Facebook page.

Hi there!  I’m Rachael Weasley, and I’m so glad to be worshipping with you today.   I felt moved to accept the invitation despite the short amount of time to prepare, so I appreciate your grace.  I’m currently a church planter, pastoring a brand-new queer, activist Mennonite church: and we’re called Community of Hope.  A little about me: I graduated from Oberlin with a BA in music history and theory in 2005, and got my master of divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary.  I got involved with grassroots organizing in Chicago for racial and economic justice, which inspired me to write my first album of gender-inclusive Taize-style songs called Songs of Contemplation for Activists and Christians.  I now have two albums of sheet music and my second album of recordings is set to be released later this year!

I actually lived in Alameda during middle school and high school, so when I met Sheri through our work with the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery, I had to do a bit of reminiscing about the town and about the Bay Area.  I haven’t lived in the area since I was 18 but it definitely still gives me that hometown feeling.  So thank you for letting me join you there today, even if it’s over Zoom.  

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The Kingdom of God is Like a Blackberry Bush

Mark 4:30-34

I’m in my backyard this morning, so I can introduce you to my blackberry bush. When Jerome and I moved to this house and began redoing the backyard, our next-door neighbor offered us canes (or shoots) from his blackberry bush.  It was an old bush — probably close to 50 years old — and I loved the idea of having this hardy survivor of the past five decades in our garden. And so we planted those spindly little canes and — voila! — we got this. We have been enjoying delicious blackberries ever since. So have the birds and the occasional raccoon that makes its way onto the roof of our garage and gets to the blackberries from above. Birds don’t find shelter, as in making nests, in our blackberry, but they do hang out there sometimes.

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Sermon: The Automatic Earth

The photos above is of an Amish farm near Sheri’s home in Ohio. This sermon is based on Mark 4:26-34.

I loved reading Frog and Toad stories to Patrick when he was young. And my favorite Frog and Toad story was the one we just heard. If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I would say that the overfunctioner in me — especially the overfunctioning parent in me — recognized myself in Toad.  My Inner Toad believes that it is not enough to plant a seed (or birth a child) and sit back and let the organic mystery of growth happen. My Inner Toad believes that I have to do things — many things — to make this mystery happen. I have to hover over my seed and anxiously watch it. Is it growing yet? Why not?  If I yell louder, will that result in growth? Oh no! Why is my seed delayed in growing, according to the unrealistic timeline I have set for it? Something is wrong and certainly requires my intervention.  Let’s read a book or go online or consult an expert. Just like Toad convinces himself that his seed is afraid to grow, I’ll come up with some story about why my seed isn’t growing and then focus all my efforts around that story. All this work and worry will exhaust me.  It is such hard work.

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Sermon: Practicing Sabbath

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Deut. 5:12-15

Growing up there were things I always expected to happen (or not happen) on Sundays. My Mom would tune the radio to the Christian program called Sunday Praise while we were getting ready for church. Then we would all pile into the van and tumble out at church, taking our usual spot in the front row. After church we would have a home-cooked meal and maybe a guest would join us. I think in the afternoon we usually played board games or did something as a family (we did have a TV, so TV watching was always off the table). No one went to the store because shopping was not allowed. The day would conclude with lots of stovetop popcorn for dinner.

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Sermon: The Right-Sized Self

Isaiah 6:1-8

This past weekend, I spent four days in Death Valley, homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone. We were celebrating the 80th birthday of a dear friend, who said she wanted to go somewhere where she could gaze at stars. And so I googled, “Where is the best place to stargaze in California?” and Death Valley National Park instantly came up. So, off we went to Death Valley, nine hours each way by car. As we drove into the park at around 5pm on Thursday, with sore backs and hips from so much sitting, we couldn’t see much. It was very windy and the views were obscured by veils of dust. I think we may have all been wondering if it was really worth the drive. Surely there were stargazing spots a bit closer to the Bay Area? 

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Sermon: Prophesy to the bones

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Happy Pentecost! I imagine that most of us are familiar with the Pentecost story as told in Acts. It’s an exciting one, with wind and fire and miracles! The disciples are hiding away and then the Holy Spirit, like a rushing wind, fills the room they are in. The Spirit, like a fire, empowers them to share the good news of the resurrection publicly, and in many different languages and throngs of people join their movement. Christians often talk about Pentecost as the birth of the church. 

Last time I preached on Pentecost, two years ago, I learned about the Jewish holiday Shavuot. This holiday, observed seven weeks after Passover, was the reason why people from so many places were in Jerusalem. Shavuot is a celebration of God giving the Torah to the Hebrew people at Mt. Sinai. It is a celebration of Divine revelation. 

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Sermon: Not of this World

This sermon was presented along with a slide show, which provided a lot of the “text” for the sermon. I have tried to include as many links to these images as I can; feel free to imagine the rest!

John 17:6-19

It has been fun to hear people’s reaction to this passage from John this week. That reaction can be summed up in one word: Huh?  You may have felt that yourself when you just heard it. I mean, it sort of sounds profound, but it doesn’t really make sense. It reminds me of the opening lyrics from the song “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles: 

I am he as you are he as you are me

and we are all together

Huh?

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