On the morning that I had set aside to begin this sermon, I kept not getting to it because I kept getting news of people dying. One was Kent Barnes’ father, who death was somewhat expected and was, in many respects, a mercy. But another one was Karen Bennett’s brother-in-law, who had gone into surgery for a minor operation and died a few days later, for reasons that are still unclear. He was 68. I had met Mike when I officiated Karen and Peter’s wedding and at the memorial service for Karen’s father. Mike was a physically big man with an even bigger presence, the kind of presence we call “commanding.” I told Karen that I couldn’t remember his face, but I remembered how much energetic space he took up during the reception after the memorial. “That’s Mike,” Karen said. And she paused. “It’s implausible that he’s not here anymore.”
I think every death is an implausibility. My experience is that even when someone dies expectedly as opposed to unexpectedly, even when you know their death is going to happen and have been praying for this mercy, when they actually die, you say to yourself, “What just happened? They were here and now they’re not? That’s implausible.”
This sermon was preached on All Saints Day.
Selections from Isaiah 40
We are made from this earth. God took the dust of the ground — adamah in Hebrew — and breathed into it to make us — adam. And one day, we return to it. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Our name — human — comes from the same root as humus, which means soil, specifically, the most fertile kind of soil made up of decomposed leaves and organisms, the kind of soil made up of dead things, the kind of soil in which something living can be grown.
To paraphrase Carl Jung, “Only that which can die is that which can be truly alive.”
On the last Sunday of October, many Mennonite churches in the United States observe Mennonite Heritage Sunday, a day set aside to remember the gifts that our spiritual ancestors have bequeathed to us. Our Anabaptist ancestors participated in one of the biggest religious, social and economic upheavals in European history. The 1500s were a time when the structures that had governed society for centuries were being actively challenged and dismantled by the masses, who were seeking to transform these economic and political and religious structures to be more egalitarian and just. It was an apocalyptic time, a time of violence and fear and hope and vision when the world truly seemed to be ending and something new truly seemed to be happening. Sound familiar?
Our social context today is similarly apocalyptic — a time of transformation, when centuries-old structure are failing and something new is desperately trying to be born. Our service today will look at how we in this church are participating in the many moments for transformation swirling around us. Kate Irick, Jim Lichti and Helen Stoltzfus will be offering reflections on that theme, which follow.
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
This is the fifth sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Scripture excerpts from Judges, Samuel and Kings
In the sermon today we have another great sweep of scripture to cover: Judges, 1 and 2 Sameul and 1 and 2 Kings. In the Hebrew bible these books are known as the former prophets and they are understood to be a theological commentary on the events leading up to destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC and the Babylonian exile.
These books explain why things happened the way they did. They are not a historical account. I’ve also realized in writing this sermon that I’m reflecting less on specific prophets and specific kings, and more on the scope of these prophetic books and how they reflect on the transition of Israel, from a tribal confederacy to a united and then divided monarchy.
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
This is the fourth sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Scripture excerpts from Exodus – Joshua (see below)
We have a lot of ground to cover today so we’ll be reading excerpts from scripture throughout the sermon. The scope of the sermon is Exodus through Joshua… Suffice it to say this sermon wins the hot mess award for our series this fall.
Last week Sheri talked about the promise God made to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. “Being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re God’s pampered favorite child and you can throw tantrums and steals toys and treat everyone around you like crap. It means you’ve been chosen for a divine purpose and that God has blessed you for that purpose.”
Members of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco joined thousands who marched in the Global Climate Strike and March in San Francisco on Friday, September 20, 2019. It was a great day of Global Solidarity as marchers and protesters joined an estimated 4 million protesters or more, worldwide, to demand solutions to the Worldwide Climate Crisis.
Here are some of the First Mennonites at the Strike and March who marched and carried First Mennonite Church’s “Solidarity” banner:
And the following picture shows the First Mennonite Church banner amidst the tumult of thousands of marchers and protesters heading down Market Street in San Francisco:
-Submitted by Jim Musselman, for the Green Team and Climate Justice Group of FMCSF.
This is the third sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Before we continue telling the story of the Bible, I want to say about how I think of story. Stories do not have to be literally true to be profoundly true. Stories do not have to be factual to tell us the truth about the human condition and our relationship to the Sacred. When I approach Bible stories, I often think of a saying that has been attributed to a Native American storyteller: “Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.” We listen to these stories again and again to try to find the truth in them and to orient our lives by that truth.
And so… We started our series on the story of the Bible two Sundays ago with — creation! It was good, very good. A beautiful garden abundantly filled with life! Humans created in the image of God! And then, last Sunday: the fall. Humans — desiring to be like God — go beyond God-given limits and broken relationships result, with God, ourselves, each other and creation.
This is the second sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17; 3:1-24
We are going to do a Bible Study much like I remember preachers doing when I was growing up. Like those “olden times,” this will be easier if you have the text in front of you. So: Did you bring your Bible like I told you to? If not, do you want a hard copy? Joanna can pass them out. Or, you can go to biblegateway.com and type in the scripture reference exactly as it appears in the order of worship.
While you’re doing that, I’m going to give a bit of introduction to our story for today. Last Sunday, we began the story of the Bible with the story of the creation of the world. In that story, we learned of a world created not from an act of horrific violence — as in the Babylonian creation story — but through the intentional creativity of God. Our world was created good; it is not intrinsically violent or evil. The God who created this world is both transcendent — that is, independent of the creation — but also immanent, a deity who desires relationship with us and who is very present in this world. And, last, we said that we are created in the image of this Creator, which means that we, too, are powerful, creative and made for mutual relationship.
This is the first sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”
Imagine you are an ancient Babylonian. You’re going about your daily business of whatever it is that ancient Babylonians did — harvesting crops, carving stones for the ziggurats. Imagine the kind of world you live in if this is your creation story?
The world was born from the freshwater god Apsu and the saltwater goddess Tiamat. From their union, other gods are born. But these god children are noisy, and their parents are not getting any sleep. This enrages the father Apsu, who decides to kill his children. But before he can carry out his plan, his children discover his plot and kill him instead. Their mother, Tiamat, is furious that her children have killed her husband, and she declares war against them. Terrified of their murderous parent, the divine children choose a young warrior god, Marduk, to lead them against Tiamat and her few loyal offspring. He agrees, but only if he can be named king of the gods if he succeeds. A bloody battle ensues, and Marduk kills Tiamat, dismembers her body and fashions the heavens from her body parts.
In a moment of whimsy, Marduk then decides to form a human being out of the blood of another god he had killed. These lowly creatures are created for one purpose only: to be slaves to the gods so that the gods may enjoy lives of leisure. (This summary of the Enuma Elish comes from Linda MacCammon’s book Liberating the Bible: A Guide for the Curious and the Perplexed.)
Before we even begin to talk about our story for today, I want to provide some context because there are anti-Semitic land mines in this text. I asked Andrew Ramer to comment, and here are his eloquent words:
The first thing to bear in mind when hearing these verses is that all of the characters in them, every single one of them, are people who today are labeled Jews. These verses explore an internal conversation between two groups of Jews in one community, who disagree about how to observe the Sabbath.
This is our second annual “Throwback Sunday,” where we look at a theological concept that many of us might have grown up with and where we also engage in gastronomic rituals that many of us may have grown up with. This year, we’re having a jello salad extravaganza! And I’ll be talking about eternal life. I also have to say that this passage from John is written in a context where the Jews who follow Jesus and the Jews who don’t are starting to have much more conflict and hostility between them, and you can hear that antagonism in much of John and certainly in the passage we just heard. Let’s remember these words from John are not justification for anti-Semitism today; how could they be? They are recording an intra-Jewish conflict, for the most part.
So, for many of us who grew up in church, that last verse we heard read— John 3:16 — was the most important verse in the Bible. It summarized the essence of our faith: that we are sinners who should be condemned to death because of our sin. But God, out of love for us, decided to send a substitute — his Son, Jesus, who was sacrificed on our behalf. And now, if we believe in Jesus – believe that Jesus is God’s son and believe in his saving work on the Cross – then we can avoid the fiery pits of hell and go to heaven after we die and be there with our beloveds in the faith who have died before us. We can have eternal life. Sound about right?
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
It felt like a punch to the gut to learn about another shooting in this country yesterday in El Paso. And then this morning while preparing for worship to learn about Dayton. And this follows less than a week after the tragedy in Gilroy at the Garlic Festival, which is very close to home. A member of our congregation had attended the festival the day before the shooting.
Lord have mercy. These are difficult times. What words of hope are there? What words of comfort in the face of loss and trauma?
I’ve found some solace immersed in the Psalms and reflecting on God’s steadfast love. In the NRSV the first verse is translated to include the word “steadfast.” It reminded me this week of a song I learned in childhood: