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:
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
We do what’s possible and God does what’s impossible. That is the actual title of my sermon, it was just too long for the bulletin.
One of my favorite places these days is the Faith in Action office located at the corner of Folsom and Cesar Chavez. I walk in the door saying “Hola, como esta?” and giving hugs and kisses all around the table. I’m usually one of the only people in the room that doesn’t speak Spanish but that hasn’t gotten in the way of getting to know these neighbors. And thankfully someone is always gracious enough to translate for me.
At a Faith in Action meeting this week we began by answering the question: Where have you sensed the Spirit of God in our work together?
Reflections by Sharon Heath, Andrew Ramer and Bart Shulman
A Story Of Liberation
by Sharon Heath
Every year at Passover, Jews remember and re-tell the story of their slavery in Egypt and how God rescued them from bondage and brought them into freedom. The ritual retelling of the Passover Story is called a Seder. What I am about to tell you is the story of the passage from bondage to freedom of gay men and lesbians in the U.S. It is our Passover Story.
As I look around this room this morning, I’m struck by the fact that very few of us can remember how it was before Stonewall. Many of us have lived in San Francisco so long, or were born so recently, that we can barely believe that the Love that Will Not Shut Up was ever the Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name! So I want to tell you a short story about How It Used to Be and How It Changed.
The other day, I walked the dog in my neighborhood on a morning that was just right. It wasn’t too hot and it wasn’t too cold. It was just right. The sun was warm on my skin, the birds were singing, flowers were blooming. And then, I saw him: a thin man in his early 20s, standing in the middle of the street on this just right morning, barefoot, tattered, talking to himself, arms waving above his head like he was fending off a swarm of bees. As I walked near him, he turned an eye to me, and the look he gave me was wild. I had no idea what he was going to do next, what vision he was seeing as he looked at me. I found myself glad that my little guard dog DeeDee with me. As I turned the corner onto another street, I looked back and saw that he was taking off his clothes, still standing in the middle of the street. I wanted to help him — he was some mother’s son, not much older than my own — but I was afraid to and didn’t know how.
By Karen Kreider Yoder
FMCSF’s Green Team gave this “Earth Moment” on June 2, 2019.
If we cannot acknowledge the problem and mourn, we cannot change our actions and heal the Earth.
When I was a young girl in the 1960s, humans began producing plastic. Since then, our plastic use has grown steadily.
From 2000 to 2010, humans produced more plastic than ALL the plastic produced until then.
Plastics are so durable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, “Every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-21
There is so much going on in this text that it’s hard to know where to start this sermon:
- with the violent wind
- or flames of the Spirit
- or people speaking in other languages
- or the prophetic words from Joel, with their apocalyptic imagery…
So I will start at the very beginning, “When the day of Pentecost had come.”
What was Pentecost to the Jewish people who were gathered? We know what Christians say about it. That it’s the birthday of the church, but it was a holiday long before Christianity existed.
I’m reading a book in which the author, Cheryl Strayed, talks about working with poor, white middle school girls who were deemed not just “high risk” but “highest risk” by the school they attended. These girls had had the roughest of lives before they were even technically teenagers. Poverty, incarceration, missing or drugged-out or abusive parents. They girls told her, as Strayed put it, “ghastly, horrible, shocking, sad, merciless things. Things that would compel me to squint my eyes as I listened, as if by squinting I could protect myself by hearing it less distinctly… Endless stories of abuse and betrayal and absence and devastation,” many of which were still happening. She told the girls that what was happening to them was not okay. It was unacceptable. It was illegal. And that she would call someone and that someone would intervene and this would stop. It never did. Not once did a police officer or a child protective service worker ever come and help any of the girls during the year that Strayed worked with them. Finally, Strayed asked a child protective services worker why no one came, and she explained that there wasn’t enough money to go around and so they had to do triage. They would intervene quickly with a child under the age of 12, but for those over that age, they put their name on a long list of children whom they hoped they could check up on someday when there was enough money to do so. The woman told Strayed that it would be better if the girls ran away from home, because there was more funding for runaways.
By Jim Musselman
FMCSF’s “Green Team” gave this “Earth Moment” on Sunday, May 19.
Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old high school student who lives in Sweden. She is a climate activist who has organized an international school strike to fight climate change. Greta gave a speech about climate in London on April 23rd. Here are a few things she said:
We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing. Now we probably don’t even have a future any more… You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to… Around the year 2030 … we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.
And please note that these calculations are depending on inventions that have not yet been invented at scale, inventions that are supposed to clear the atmosphere of astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide.
By Sheri Hostetler
Psalm 23, Acts 9:36-43
Our story from Acts takes place in Joppa, a coastal town about 35 miles west of Jerusalem. It is now a suburb of Tel Aviv. Dorcas, or Tabitha (the Hebrew version of her name) — actually, I’m going to call her Tabitha because I can’t get this middl-school snicker out of my mind whenever I hear the name Dorcas. Tabitha is one of the main disciples of a small community of Jewish followers of Jesus that has formed in Joppa. Tabitha was devoted to good works and acts of charity, the text says; she was a beloved person in this community, caring for the most vulnerable by making garments for them. Today, in our world of fast fashion, we might not realize what a big deal this was. Clothing back then was major expense — one cloak might cost more than half of the annual wages of a poor person. Tabitha was seriously into the redistribution of wealth by giving widows and poor people clothing.