Sermon: Shadow Dancing

This is the first sermon in our Lent series, “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.”

Matthew 4:1-11

I have a confession to make.  A few months ago, I became aware that the 20th anniversary of my tenure as pastor here was coming up. It felt important to me to mark that anniversary in some way, but I also knew that probably no one else in the congregation knew this anniversary was coming. So in a recent pastoral staff meeting, I kind of sheepishly said to Joanna and Pat that my 20th was coming and that I kind of wanted some acknowledgement of it. It didn’t have to be a big deal, I said — in fact, I didn’t want a big deal — but just some acknowledgement.

I was surprised at how hard it was for me to ask for this.  I felt this shame creeping up in me as I made the request. And I even felt the shame during the week before the celebration Sunday, as I heard little glimmers of what was going to happen and knew it was going to be quite a bigger deal than I had anticipated. 

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Sermon: Possessed

Mark 1:21-28

Note: I am going to be calling Jesus “Joshua” in this sermon, which is what our friend Elias Ramer — who is both a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and of our community — calls him. (You may know Elias Ramer as Andrew Ramer.) “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Yeshua,” which would have been Jesus’ name in Hebrew. “Yeshua” translated into English is Joshua.

I have before, in sermons, confessed to you my and Patrick’s love of horror movies. Not slasher flicks, I hate those — horror movies. Zombies, vampires, and all manner of supernatural weirdnesses. Our latest find was “Host,” a movie made completely during COVID where all the actors are on their own Zoom screens, trying to outlive a demon that they have conjured during an online seance.

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Introduction to Communion on Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday

Acts 2:42-47

I’ve talked to a few of you this past week, and all of you said you were surprised at the emotion that came over you as you watched the Inauguration on Wednesday. For many of you, Joe wasn’t your guy, nor was Kamala your “gal.” Many of you, and I include myself in this, believe Joe is far from the radical change we need in this country, and we are committed to pushing his Administration to make those changes. And yet, that ritual of watching him and Kamala being sworn in was calming and grounding and relieving for many of us after an intense two weeks, after a very intense two months, after an unrelentingly intense four years. I think many of us felt that we could take a deep breath again. Many of us felt part of something bigger than us, something that had the potential, the promise, of bringing us closer to our deepest dreams of justice, of healing, of hope for the future.

That was a lot of heavy lifting for one hour-long ritual.

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Sermon: An Inconvenient Hero

By Rev. Kamal Hassan

Rev. Hassan was our guest preacher on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday 2021. Rev. Hassan is the pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Calif. He is a powerfully gifted preacher and Christian educator whose message is rooted in the African American prophetic tradition. He is a community organizer who has toiled for decades in low-wealth communities of color for social justice. Read more of his bio here

Luke 4:22-30

Claim: Jesus and Dr Martin Luther King Jr were inconvenient heroes

I. We Re-Call Dr Martin Luther King Jr with Dr Vincent Harding

A. A Chaplin of the Empire

B. A prophet of justice

II. The shape of prophetic ministry

Not the Dream in Washington, but the Sermon on the Mount

Greatly honored are the destitute

Greatly honored are the mourners

Greatly honored are the humbled

Greatly honored are the those who are famished and parched for justice

Greatly honored are those who show mercy

Greatly honored are the pure in heart

Greatly honored are the peace makers

Greatly honored are those who have been persecuted for the sake of justice

Greatly honored are you when you put your honor on the line for Christ’s sake

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Sermon: Called to be light-bearers

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Matthew 2:1-12

We made it! It’s 2021! Finally! I mean it was the strangest New Years Eve ever, but that’s how 2020 rolled. I imagine we rang in the new year in lots of creative ways. For example, I did handstands with some friends over Zoom. With the new year under our belt, we move into the season of Epiphany. 

Within the Christian tradition Epiphany celebrates the Light of divine revelation. It is a revealing of Divine presence with all people. The visit of the magi is a sign of God’s presence in all places, as they came from far away to honor a baby messiah. They were guided by a great light in the heavens to find a light-bearer. This revealing of the light-bearer we call Jesus, also revealed the shadows of the reality in which he lived. 

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Sermon: Overshadowed

This is the fourth sermon in an Advent series entitled “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born”

Luke 1:26-38, 44-55

I used to regularly attend a meditation community in Oakland, and my favorite service was the one on Saturday at 5 p.m. The service leader would refer to this service as a hinge point in the week, as we ended the week just completed and were on the cusp of heading into Sabbath and the new week.  My favorite part of this “hinge” service was when the leader would ask us to reflect silently on the week that just was — its high points, its low points, its joys, its sorrows, its anxieties. And then the leader would light a little charcoal and put a spoonful of incense on it, which would cause smoke to waft up into the air and a quite lovely scent to permeate the room. (I realize for those with chemical sensitivities, this would not have been so lovely.) In that quiet, darkened room, as we watched the smoke rise, we would pray together from Psalm 142: “May our prayer rise before you, like incense.” And I would have an almost physical sense of some weight lifting off of me. Whatever had happened that week, it was now done, out of my control. I was giving the week to God and praying that God would do with it what She would.

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Sermon: Testifying to the Light

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

John 1:6-8, 19-28

It’s the third Sunday of Advent, which is traditionally the Sunday to rejoice in our waiting, and a pink candle is often lit to symbolize this. So far this advent we have talked about what it means to live in kairos time, which is the new age of liberation. This new age is always at odds with the old age of domination. We’ve also reflected on how we’re not just waiting for a baby to be born, but we’re expecting a spirit-filled movement of liberation, and we’re a part of it! We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. 

The question this Sunday is about how we’re witnessing or testifying to that movement. Later in the sermon I will actually make space for us to share out where we see the new age of liberation breaking forth right now. So you can be thinking of examples. 

Our gospel text this morning begins thus, “Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through this testimony everyone might believe.” In this telling of the story John is not emphasized as the baptizer, instead he is the witness. He is testifying to the Light.

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Sermon: We Are The Ones

This sermon, by Joanna Lawrence Shenk, was given on the Second Sunday of Advent during our worship series, “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born.” The scripture text is Mark 1:1-8.

We are the ones being born. I love this thought put forward by Worship Committee in planning our Advent series. It’s also beautifully depicted on our bulletin cover. Amidst the chaos of our world, we are claiming new birthings of Spirit, and we are joining in that birthing process. So if we are the ones being born this Advent, does it follow that we are also the ones we have been waiting for? 

I’m sure many, if not all of us, have heard this iconic statement, attributed to the Jamaican American poet and educator June Jordan in her 1978 piece titled “Poem For South African Women.” This statement also appeared in a Hopi Elders’ Prophecy in the year 2000. Sweet Honey in the Rock put it to music. Books have been written by that title, and it was something the late Vincent Harding would remind people of often in their movement work. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

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Sermon: Beyond Fear and Hyper-Vigilance

This sermon, by Sheri Hostetler, was given on the First Sunday of Advent during our worship series, “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born.” It’s based on Mark 13:24-37.

Jerome and Patrick adopted DeeDee because when they walked through the kennels at the animal shelter in Alameda, the only dog that wasn’t jumping up and down and barking madly was DeeDee. Instead, DeeDee sat there calmly, looking up at them with her liquid brown eyes. I thought 6-year-old Patrick and his father had been going to the shelter on an exploratory mission, just to try on the thought of adopting a dog in, say, a month or two. Instead, Patrick called me from the shelter and said: “Mommy, her name is DeeDee, and I love her.”

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Letter to Gov. Newsom on fracking

The Climate Action Group — with the approval of the congregation — recently sent this letter to Gov. Newsom asking him to ban fracking. While we wrote on behalf of our congregation, please feel free to send our governor your own individual letter!

Governor Gavin Newsom

1303 10th Street, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Newsom:

In our battle to stop the rise in global warming, which you have noted is a major cause of California’s catastrophic wildfires, it is imperative that we reduce carbon emissions. You can help enormously with that by banning fracking of fossil fuels in California. For us to reach our goal of zero carbon emissions, we must act promptly and dramatically to stop further mining and extraction of fossil fuels, both in California and around the world. You have the power to do this in California. We urge you to ban fracking in California today.

Banning fracking would not only help us keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground and reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, it would also stop the wasteful use of enormous amounts of fresh water required for fracking. And according to reports documented by 350.org, oil companies are permitted to resell post-fracking contaminated water for agricultural use, which then contaminates food sold to consumers. Fracking contaminates not only water but also the air and the land. These consequences of fracking remain largely out out of sight for most Californians; as usual, it is the low-income and non-white populations living in proximity to fracking operations that are forced to live with the consequences of these risks.

Governor Newsom, it’s time to ban fracking in California to reduce carbon emissions to stop the onslaught of global warming, move toward a more judicious use of California’s precious water resources, protect the consumers of California’s agricultural products, and serve all sectors of California’s population — not just the oil and agricultural elites.

On behalf of the congregants of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco –

Sheri Hostetler, Lead Pastor and David Wieand, Chair of the Governing Council

Sermon: What Are We Called to Do and Who Are We Called to Be?

I Thessalonians 5:1-11

“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters and siblings, you do not need to have anything written to you.” (I Thess. 5:1) 

What is the time we are in right now? What is our season? The answer is not winter. Even though it really feels like winter. And yes, everybody I know back in the Midwest is laughing at me as I say that. Paul — the author of this passage— is not referring to seasons of the year when he talks about the “times” and the “seasons.” Paul is using the Greek word kairos for both of these words, and kairos has a very different meaning than the other word ancient Greeks used for time, chronos. Chronos, as is probably obvious, refersto chronological or sequential time. Kairos refers to a proper or opportune time for action. Kairos time means the right time, the crucial time to act. When someone in our culture says, “It’s go time,” that might capture some of the meaning of the word kairos.

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Outreach Committee 2020: Relief, Reimagining, Rebirth

By Outreach Committee

Background: Over the last couple years the Outreach Committee has begun the practice of drafting a vision document to highlight the work of our congregation in the world. Part of our role as a committee is to take a step back and notice all of these efforts and hold them up for others to see. This year our vision document is titled “Relief, Reimagining, Rebirth” as we look at the ways our congregation has been responding to the multiple crises we have faced and are facing. 

If you are interested to see our past documents, which are connected the FMCSF Core Values and Practices, you can find them here:

Outreach Committee 2017: Strategies and Tactics

Outreach Committee 2018: Mennofesto

Relief, Reimagining and Rebirth resonate with the Outreach committee as we examine the work of FMCSF in the world during this time. 

At present we know that so many people are hungry, scared they will lose their homes, and terrified for the health of their loved ones, due to covid, air quality or ongoing social isolation. Many people, within our congregation and beyond it, need immediate relief to buy food, pay rent, get medical care, or experience human connection. 

Also during this time, we are having to learn new ways of being. Teachers, children and young adults are reimagining the foundations of education in their schools and universities. All of us who are isolated, but especially vulnerable populations, will need to reimagine our social connections during physical distancing.

Reimagining our existence during this pandemic is scary because it is a recognition that we are living in a new reality. And at the same time, reimagining in this new reality also presents us with many hopeful, creative and transformative possibilities. 

Like our new zoom church services, we need to reimagine every part of our lives as we live them now, for however long that will be. We need to reimagine housing in an equitable way (especially for those on the streets), an economic system that values the most vulnerable (including creation), how we work together, and even right now, how we endure the reality of wildfires and lack of fresh air.

What we hope for most as a faith community is rebirth from this societal upheaval. We hope that during this time of deep need, these months of contemplation and isolation, each of us — and our community of faith collectively — are building the capacity to dream of and work towards a different world than the one we left. We want a rebirth of our economy and society that removes the faultlines and divisions laid bare by the crisis. We want a rebirth that awakens everyone to the interconnectedness of all people. We want a rebirth into the beloved community.

Our work at this time must encompass all stages. Relief, reimagining, and rebirth are all happening simultaneously and are all of equal value to our present moment and our future existence. Below is a non-comprehensive list of what our community is already doing in these three stages. We invite you to contemplate where you are drawn to put your energy at this moment.

Relief: 

Maria Elena Fund

Sharing Fund

Go Fund Me for Ross

Providing meals

Sojourner Truth Deacon’s Fund

Funds for undocumented people

Making masks

Prayer

Working to get out the vote and end voter suppression

Seeking economic justice through saying Yes to Prop 15 and No to Prop 22

Reimagining: 

Making masks for every occasion!

Neighborhood Care Groups

Virtual Church Life (which has included increased accessibility, among other things)

Reparations Procession

Supporting rent strikes

Demanding hotels be made available to people on the streets

Questioning housing as a commodity and advocating to keep seniors in their homes

Rebirth: 

Giving reparations 

Advocating for mental health response professionals as an alternative to policing

Supporting efforts to defund the police (presence at George Floyd rallies, etc.)

Claiming democracy and preparing to stop a coup if necessary 

Winning housing subsidies for seniors in SF

We celebrate all these efforts of relief, reimagining and rebirth among us! We recognize that we’re not all drawn to the same actions or efforts, and that is the beauty of being part of the community. Know that any work that gives relief to those in need now, reimagines how we live during this pandemic, or lays the groundwork for the rebirth of our society is valuable at this moment, right now. The idea that we will return fully to the world before, can and should be put to rest because it is not possible or desirable. We want a new world, a world closer to God’s kingdom, to replace that old world. And now is the best time to start building it.