Imagine yourself in the forest that we just heard about during Children’s Time. What do you think you’d be noticing if you were in the forest? Maybe the sound of birds or the height of the trees? Maybe the skittering of the squirrels, rustling the leaves as they bound across branches? Maybe you’d notice the pinecones strewn across the path or a mushroom popping up under some ivy? Maybe you would notice the smell of leaves or of an eucalyptus tree nearby?
Since I’m about to give our version of the “State of the Union” address typically given by U.S. presidents, I thought I’d check out last year’s State of the Union address to get a sense of the similarities and differences between that ritual and ours. Similarities? People come in late for that event, too. And, it’s hard to get people to stop talking to each other and get started. Nancy Pelosi has to bang that gavel, hard, several times. Maybe our worship leaders should do that? As for differences: Joanna or I don’t normally get introduced — “Ladies and gentleman, the pastors of FMCSF!” — and then we don’t walk into the sanctuary as you all stand and clap. Why doesn’t that happen? And you don’t keep standing and applauding once we step up to the podium, such that we have to say, “Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much” as a way of quieting you down and then when we say that you clap even louder and start cheering, and we stand there, humbly. And this clapping and cheering keeps happening again and again throughout the speech. Again, why not?
To tell you the truth I’m tired of these one day holidays that we, as a country, adore year after year, from President’s day, Caesar Chavez day, Indigenous People’s or Columbus Day and of course MLK day. It’s not because I do not value what they represent or that I don’t believe in justice or equality or progress. I’m tired of them because I find them to be frankly trite. Every January we celebrate MLK day. Every February we celebrate President’s day. Every October we celebrate Indigenous People’s day. AndI hear the same thing about that person or event each year. Particularly, the symbol of MLK has been lost for me since I know the story and I also know I get a day off. I get a day for each of these holidays. I also know if I need a new car, there will be MLK deals for a ford or a toyota. Or MLK deals at the shopping center. In his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman calls this symbol draining (see chapter 10). The more you hear and see the symbol, the more it loses its efficacy and since we live in a consumer-oriented society, the more that symbol is usurped by consumerist values. MLK holiday has been taken over by the system.
This sermon is the third 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.
There is so much beauty and abundance in this passage from Isaiah. They are words written for a community in exile, longing for home. It’s a vision of the fertile path that they will tread as they make their return. And they were not just words of hope for the Hebrew people in Babylon, they were words repeated generation after generation, reminding the people of the liberating way of life made possible by YHWH – the Divine presence dwelling with them.
When we reroot these words in their context, among the people for whom they are written located in a specific geographic region, it becomes even more clear why Isaiah’s words were associated with the birth of Jesus/Yeshua in first century Palestine.
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.
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.
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.
You can find an audio and video recording of this meditation here.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.