Sermon: Practices of Darkness

Matthew 2:1-22

For four weeks during Advent, we dwelt in the dark. We encouraged each other to rest there, to embrace it as fertile and magnificent. As the place from which new birth comes.

And then, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary was awakened by an angel, who told her she would birth the Divine into the world. And then, we said on Christmas Eve: The Divine Child has been born! Glory to God in the highest!  We ended our Christmas Eve service with this benediction: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.” 

And then, today on Epiphany, we sing: “Arise your light has come!” And we tell the story of the coming of the light of Christ to all people through the story of the magi that we just heard. The story is meant to say: Even non-Jews, even these strangers from the East, these astrologers (who practiced magical arts that were seen as dangerous to Jewish people of the time) even they see the star in the sky and know that a Divine Light has come into the world.

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Sermon: Being a Gift to the World

“The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

This is the last sermon in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Luke 1:26-55 (excerpts)

There’s a painting of this Scripture we just heard that I particularly love. It’s called “The Annunciation,” which is the name for when Gabriel comes to Mary and announces that she will give birth to Jesus. It was painted by the African-American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1898. It shows a very ordinary looking Mary, sitting on her bed. Her blankets look like they were flung off in a flurry of confusion and haste, implying that Mary had been awakened in the middle of the night from her sleep. While the disarray speaks to the shock of the angel’s appearance — who is depicted here as an intense, golden pillar of light — Mary’s face doesn’t show fear.  Instead, she looks directly at the angel, curious, perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the intense glory of the angel, but engaged. She is ready, open, receptive.

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Sermon: The Humility of Rest

This is the third sermon in an our Advent series entitled “Rhythms of Rest.”

As the book of Job begins, the title character is living the ancient Hebrew equivalent of the American Dream. He has a big family; he’s got health and wealth; he’s got the respect of his peers; he’s highly regarded as a morally righteous, spiritually pious person. He’s ticking all the boxes. 

And then, Satan enters the picture. (I can’t help but think of the church lady character played by Dana Carvey on SNL whenever I say the word “Satan” out loud.) Don’t think of Satan here as the guy with horns. Satan in Scripture is more like the prosecuting attorney of heaven, who is supposed to keep tabs on humans and then report back to God on them. Satan says to God, “Yeah, this guy Job is righteous, but only because you’ve given him all the goodies — family, wealth, respect. Take all that away, and he will curse you.” So God agrees to let Satan prosecute his case against Job. And everything is taken from Job — his family, his wealth, his health, the respect of his peers. Thus, setting up the perennial question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

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Sermon: The Fertile Darkness

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This sermon is the second in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Genesis 1:1-5, 2:1-3

Having moved to the East Bay from San Francisco this spring, one of the things Eric and I are most excited about is having a yard in which to grow and tend plants. We’ve also recognized we needed wisdom in this process since neither of us have experience gardening in the Bay Area climate. So this past May we invited Dolores to come over and help us get to know the plant life in our yard. It was fun to walk around the front and back yards with her noting the plants and trees, and us dreaming about what else could be planted. 

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Sermon: Hiberation

This sermon is the first in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Psalm 63:1-8

This past summer, I was sitting in my backyard when I felt the sun on my face. Not an uncommon occurrence when one is sitting outside, but I don’t normally feel the sun on my face when I sit in that part of the yard because a tree is usually shading me. So, I looked up and noticed that that tree had far fewer leaves than usual because of the drought, and the ones that were there looked wilted, like they were barely hanging on. The foliage was sparse enough that quite a bit more sunlight was coming through the canopy, thus — sun on my face. I immediately got up and watered the tree, and I did this a couple more times over the next few days, but it was no use. The tree needed not to be in a “dry and weary land where there is no water,” to quote our Psalmist. It needed a season of life-giving rains.

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Sermon: Many the Gifts of Creation, Same Spirit, One Call

“The Peaceable Kingdom — the Last Supper” by Jan Wall

By Jim Brenneman

Scripture Litany: Psalm 104:24;1Corin.12:4-5; Col.1:15-23

How many are your works O, Lord, Creator of the Universe! In wisdom you have made them all; the whole cosmos is full of your creatures.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

How many are your works O, Lord, Creator of the Universe! In wisdom you have made them all; the whole cosmos is full of your creatures.

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and inhim all things hold together. . .For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven.

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Sermon: Untangling the Knots Within

The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4

Mark 12:38-44

So, I got myself all knotted up as I was preparing for this sermon. Ask Chris and Ann. I sent them this rather long, wind-y email on Tuesday telling them what a hot mess my sermon prep had been so far. Here’s why: This story has traditionally been used to encourage people to give as sacrificially and generously as the poor widow. It was a story that might be brought out during the pledging time of year to subtly shame middle-class congregations into digging deeper. If the poor widow can give her all, can’t you up your pledge this year? (Yes, I’m aware we are in pledge season ourselves. I promise I didn’t choose this passage for that reason — it popped up in the lectionary for this Sunday!)

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Sermon: Running Our Race

Excerpts from Hebrews 11 and 12

A few weeks ago, I went to my first cross country meet ever, to watch Patrick run.It was a beautiful October day. We were in Castro Valley, at a school up in the hills with this amazing three-bridge view of the Bay. What’s not to love? 

Well, the cross country course, as I found out later. It was by far the most challenging course of the season. I heard one runner from Alameda High, who had already completed her run, say to her friends as another run was about to begin: “They have no idea what awaits them.”

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Sermon Response on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

After Sarah Augustine’s powerful sermon at our Indigenous Peoples’ Day service, Kinari Webb responded with an invitation and challenge to our community to join her in donating any money we make off of extractive industries, like mining, toward a full-time salary for Sarah. 

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Sermon: Covenanting Together

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Exodus 19:3-5 

If someone had told me a couple weeks before church retreat that not only would we be dealing with pandemic restrictions, like needing to wear masks indoors but that we’d also not have electricity for the first 24 hours of retreat and that I’d be the only pastoral staff person present, I probably would have thought cancellation a good choice. 

However, as retreat approached and unfolded I had a strong sense of anticipation and inner calm. I felt a confidence in our community that we would rise to whatever challenges came our way and would create a beautiful weekend together. And that’s exactly what happened. 

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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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