Sermon: Fractals and Murmurations

This sermon is the first in our Advent Series, “Embracing Our Chaotic, Fertile Reality,” which is based in prophecies from Isaiah as well as the wisdom of a modern-day prophet, adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy. We used this wonderful children’s book, which describes fractals so both children and adults can understand them.

Isaiah 2:1-5

I was walking my dog about two weeks ago at night, and I noticed that someone already had a fully decorated fake Christmas tree in their picture window, and a couple of houses were already lit up with multi-colored strings of lights. I live on Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda, where we take Christmas seriously, but even I was “too much, too soon.” Promotions for stocking stuffers have been appearing on Amazon since Halloween. And the catalogs — even the ones I thought I had opted out of via the Catalog Choice website — have been arriving for weeks, the ones showing families wearing matching flannel PJs sipping hot cocoa in front of their Christmas tree.

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Sermon: The kingdom of God is a weed + children’s story

by Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Mark 4:30-32

I am connected. I am connected to my body, to the Spirit and to the earth. I am earth. 

Those are the intentions I chose for myself while on the wilderness vigil last month. For four days and four nights I was alone in the woods without food. Seven others were also keeping vigil on the same piece of land, spread out, but within whistle distance if anything unexpected happened. We also had a team of five people keeping watch over the land and available for support if we vigilers were in need.  

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Meditation: All Saints Day

You can find an audio and video recording of this meditation here.

Luke 6:17-26

Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad and rejected. Woe to you who are rich, satiated, happy and popular. You’ll get yours. Boom. That’s the Gospel for today in a nutshell, right?

Is this text really telling us that we’re bad if we are financially and emotionally doing okay, even that God is going to get us back for all our ill-gotten wealth and health? And, furthermore, just what does this passage have to do with day in which we remember our loved ones who have died, other than the brief mention of those who mourn?

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Reflections on Mennonite Heritage Sunday

This year on Mennonite Heritage Sunday, we asked three people from our community to reflect on what was going on in the story of the church and the story of their own lives when they first arrived in our community. Jennifer Graber reflected from 30 years ago, Ann Speyer from 20 years ago, and Jonathan Hershberger from 10 years ago. Video and audio of the reflections can be found here.

Jennifer Graber’s reflection:

In June 1993, my husband Kevin and I moved to the Bay Area for him to begin his neurology residency at Stanford and for me to complete my pediatric residency there. We came to visit in March that year and on Sunday attended FMCSF. We recall being warmly welcomed by a small group of earnest young Mennos, some of whom invited us out for dim sum after church. John Flickinger, Doug Basinger and Dan Flickinger took us to Yank Sing in downtown SF. It was delicious, exciting and, when the bill came, horrifying to us poor residents. The divided bill would have come to $16 per person. As we were contemplating this, our new friends quickly paid, ever generous as they always are. When we moved out in June we returned to church in San Francisco, which was then meeting at the Dolores Street Baptist church on the corner of Dolores and 15th St (where a lovely newish condo building now stands). The next Sunday, that building had burned down and the church had to find a new place to meet. 

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Reflections from Discipleship Group members

This year’s Discipleship Group has been reading and discussing Sarah Augustine’s book The Land is not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. This Discipleship Group planned on Indigenous Peoples’ Day Service on October 9, and what follows are two reflections offered by members of our Discipleship Group during that service.

From Kylie McCarthy:

The Land is Not Empty has challenged my worldview and cosmology. It has helped me see from a different perspective and paradigm. I find myself asking many questions, sitting with intense sadness and feeling despair at the atrocities that have been inflicted upon a beautiful people and sacred land. I feel the burning fire for restorative justice. Questions arise: What is the collective path forward? What individual steps can be taken?

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Sermon: Weaving the Fabric of the Future

Back to the Basics: Reintroducing the Church to Itself

Matthew 10:1-5, 7-13

During this series, we are reweaving the story of our church after the unraveling of the pandemic and so many losses. This has been holy work, this mending of the fabric of our community. We have listened to sacred stories from our wise ones about who we’ve been, and what we’ve endured. Those stories seem to me like the warp of a fabric or textile, those long strands that form the basic structure of it. (I invite you to look at the photo on the cover of your order of worship to see what I’m talking about.) And, last Sunday, we listened to sacred testimonies about who we are now, what we offer to each other and the world.  Those stories seemed to me like the weft of a textile, the colorful strands that weave in and out of the warp to form beautiful and creative patterns. 

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Sermon: Labor, Justice and Mennonites

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Psalm 146

About a decade ago when I was visiting some friends in Pittsburgh, they suggested we go for a walk around the beautiful grounds of the Henry Clay Frick estate. As we walked the grounds I began to feel sick to my stomach. I wondered, what did this Frick guy do to have over 20 cars and handfuls of carriages, plus a village of houses and a private bowling alley, in the early 1900s?

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Sermon: There is No Seating Chart in the Kindom of God

Luke 4:1, 7-14

Sigmund Freud supposedly said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Known for finding the deeper layers of meaning in everything — especially layers of meaning related to sexual hangups— Freud was saying that sometimes a cigar isn’t a symbol of anything — it’s just a cigar! — rather than what it might more obviously symbolize in Freud’s world. 

However, in the Bible, a meal is never just a meal. It is never just a casual get together. It has layers of deep meaning. Who you eat with and who you don’t eat with say almost everything about your worth, your status — where you are in the pecking order. And who you eat with and who you don’t say almost everything about your identity, whether you are you an insider or outsider, to what group you belong.  In fact, meals have been microcosms of the larger social order throughout much of history. According to the historian Ingrid Rowland, where you eat, what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat and who you eat with all suggest something about your identity, your community and certainly your social status. (Dan Clendenin’s summary here.)  Food has, thus, she says, often been the “all sufficient metaphor for power.” Who has power, and who doesn’t.  And what kind of power “builds or destroys human community” (Clendenin). So it’s probably no wonder that the Bible is constantly talking about food and eating and dining and drinking. 

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Sermon: A Reflection on Abortion and Faith

This sermon was given by Anna Rich, a lawyer and member of our congregation. An audio version of the sermon is available here. (The audio begins at about the second paragraph below.)

Intro—Why I Am Doing This

Several months ago, right after the Supreme Court issued its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Sheri mentioned that in all of the time she’s been at First Mennonite Church, we’ve never actually talked about abortion as a congregation.  I’m up here this morning because I have a leading that our collective silence on this topic does not necessarily come from a healthy place.  Silence certainly doesn’t help us to have difficult conversations when we, or our friends and family, are faced with the common occurrence of an unplanned pregnancy. 

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Sermon: Keep Your Lamps Lit

Luke 12:32-40

So, here we are — in the dog days of summer.  We are in the hot, sultry days that (according to Wikipedia) happen during the rising of the star system, Sirius, also know as the “Dog Star.” Greek astrology connected this time of year with heat, drought, thunderstorms, mad dogs and lethargy. 

We’re lucky here in the Bay Area. While most of the rest of the country has been suffering from true dog day weather, we generally don’t have such uncomfortable weather here. We definitely have drought, but at least it’s not the 90-degree, 90% humidity weather that I remember growing up in in Ohio. Since many of you have lived elsewhere, I bet you know what I’m talking about. During the dog days, I would feel a little drugged, like I had taken a mild sedative. My brain felt like I was aways just waking from or about to fall asleep. 

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Sermon: Pentecost 2022, The Spirit that Reconnects Us

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Acts 2:1-18

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

Pentecost is in keeping with that history of Divine revelation within the Jewish tradition. The Spirit rushed into that room where the disciples were hiding to call them out of fear and isolation. The presence of the Spirit was a Divine revelation that the disciples could continue walking in the way of Rabbi Jesus even though he was no longer there to guide them. 

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Sermon: Set Free + Children’s Story

Acts 16:25-34 

Our lectio divina group, which meets on Tuesday mornings, has been going through the book of Acts, and I’m getting reacquainted with these amazing stories from the earliest days of the founding of Christianity. Actually, that’s not the right way to say it. At this point, Christianity is still very much a movement within Judaism. The rupture between Judaism and Christianity had not yet happened; it’s still decades in the future. At the beginning, these Jewish disciples of Jesus are doing what the risen Christ told them to do earlier in Acts: that they should be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the process of being witnesses, Gentiles or non-Jews are also joining the Jesus movement. 

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