By Joanna Shenk
Mark 1:4-11, this version also read in addition to the NRSV
I was in high school when I first learned the word “Epiphany.” At my school we had a Spring Arts Day each year, where the high school grades competed against each other in various categories: vocal, instrumental and theatrical performance, as well as poetry, prose and visual art. My sophomore year the theme of Spring Arts Day was “epiphany” so that’s how I learned the word.
I was involved in the 10th grade vocal performance in which we sang a medley from Les Mis. Our grand finale was from the song “Do You Hear the People Sing?” I’m guessing some of you are familiar with the words, but if not, here are the first few stanzas:
By David Brazil
Good morning, and thank you for your hospitality. Let’s pray.
As you’ve heard, my name is David Brazil; I’m the organizer for the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy and I co-pastor a house church in Oakland called the Agape Fellowship. I’m also a poet, translator, editor, curator, and a community organizer beyond my professional work.
But of all the things I can say about myself, what I really want to talk about today is that I am a Christian. I’m an adult convert to Christianity, baptized in 2014, and so I am still on the beginning of a walk that many of you have been on for many years, or for your whole lives. (In fact, I don’t really know if I was baptized as an infant, since my parents passed away before I thought to ask, so I might well be an Anabaptist!) My professional work is interfaith, and my co-pastor and I describe Agape as a “Christian-interfaith” house church. So I often have to be very thoughtful about how I speak about my Christian faith, especially given the many wounds that imperial Christian hegemony continues to inflict.
By Joanna Shenk
A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a loved one in which they asked me if I thought holiness and righteousness were important… or if I valued them as a Christian. I can’t remember exactly how they said it, but it was said in a way that assumed I probably didn’t think they were important. I explained to them that it was frustrating to be asked the question in that way because it put me on the defensive… like I needed to prove something to them. To their credit, they understood and agreed it made for better conversation if they asked me how I understand holiness and righteousness or what has been my journey with those things.
By Joanna Shenk
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
I had a hard time getting out of bed yesterday morning. I was feeling the weight of a lot of things and wondered if it was futile and disingenuous to write a sermon that offered hope. I wasn’t feeling hopeful. I was feeling more like the title to the most recent Metallica album, “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct.” The bad guys keep winning. Vulnerable people are endlessly oppressed. And it seems like so many people don’t even have a moral consciousness to appeal to.
The whole moral consciousness thing is something I’ve having an internal argument with Vincent Harding about currently. I’m turning my extended interviews with him into a book and therefore have been immersed in his writing and thought. I continue to be amazing at the faith he has in people to choose transformation. He believed that with love, encouragement and an openness to questions, people could change. To the end of his life he was calling people to their highest human potential and calling this country to its highest potential.
What I’ve been saying to him now is, “Do you still believe that or have we crossed the point of no return? Have we finally proved we’re really only capable of self-destruction?”
By Joanna Shenk
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
When I read through the lectionary passages for this Sunday, the words from 1 Peter jumped right out at me. They were different than the other New Testament texts that told the story of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. On Ascension Sunday, which is today, we celebrate the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and anticipate the coming of the Spirit. Next Sunday we celebrate Pentecost which marks the Spirit’s presence among us.
So this week in the Christian calendar we’re in liminal space. It’s the space between Jesus leaving and the Spirit coming. It’s perhaps a time when Jesus’ disciples were saying, “Well, he’s gone. That’s disappointing and a little scary. What do we do now?”
By Joanna Shenk
Early in the morning of May 1st, 10 people from First Mennonite Church of San Francisco joined with approximately 100 others to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building and create a beautiful street mural.
Our goal was to express solidarity with immigrants who are caught in the clutches of ICE and/or facing deportation. We wanted to bring awareness to this injustice and saw May 1st, International Workers’ Day, as a good opportunity.
By Benjamin Bolaños
Play Corrido de Cesar Chavez
That’s called Corrido de Cesar Chavez. It’s Tex-Mex Mariachi style music. And I hate it. Not the lyrics but the music. I really really do. German Polka music in Mexico? Not really my thing. However, regardless of my lack of affinity for this type of music, it does evoke strong memories for me. I’ve been running away from Mariachi music for a long time. Or at least I thought I was. But it’s not really Mariachi music that I’ve tried to keep at arm’s length. It’s what it culturally represents for me. It anchors me to a time, place, a history I’ve battled with internally, again and again. The music has power over my identity and the path I forged for myself: Latino, Hispanic, Salvadoran, Mexican, immigrant, the migrant worker, the outcast, outsider, the great unwashed, the spic, the illegal…. All labels used to define my identity. See, that music, its harsh melody, that accordian noise, reminds me of those labels. They are like chains to me, a prison, a monolithic omnipotent force that you cannot ever escape, forever shackled to my being, my mind and soul. But assimilation, to belong, was the other power force. Assimilation was the antithesis, the remedy, and the medicine to those labels, to the music. Assimilation meant opportunity and a sure way out. It was the language of the powerful. Read more
By Joanna Shenk
Sixth Sunday of Lent — “Soul Journey: Joyful is the Dark”
This is a familiar story for our congregation. We act it out every year. There’s lots that could be said about it. What words, images or phrases come to mind for you when you think about the Palm Sunday procession story?
We could explore how it was an embodiment of political satire. Jesus entering one side of Jerusalem on a donkey (and a foal!) and Caesar entered on the other side with chariots and horses. We could talk about the fickleness of the crowd, shouting “hosanna” one day and “crucify him” the next. We could talk about the chaos that’s inevitable when a city is packed full of people for a festival celebration.
As you may guess though, I’d like to focus on something else today. I’d like to look at the context surrounding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his clarity about what he was facing and it’s implications for soul work.
By Addie Liechty
(cross-posted from https://addieswriting.wordpress.com/)
Fifth Sunday of Lent — “Soul Journey: Joyful is the Dark”
The language of the soul is not one of words. It is one that speaks in symbols. In Christianity our main symbol is the cross. Personally, I have never felt very connected to this symbol. I have distanced myself from it as it has become wedded to Christian hegemony causing much harm all over the world. In our country’s history the confederate flag “X” is a derivative of the cross, after all. In my own genealogical history, the cross was likely utilized when hunting down and killing many of my anabaptist ancestors. In my lifetime, the cross has been used as a symbol that alienates me from Christianity and even the Mennonites due to my queerness. I would venture to say that there is no one in this room that has not been harmed, in some way, by the cross. Aside from that, when I think of it, I see those bloody images of an agonizing Jesus and the whole of it just feels violent. So, for most of my recent life, I have buried this image and much preferred the symbology of angels and hearts. When I picture the archetype of a Bible thumping, queer hating pastor, he is holding a bible or a cross, not a heart (although, trading the cross for the heart in my imagination is rather amusing and it takes some of the power out of it)
By Joanna Shenk
Third Sunday of Lent — “Soul Journey: Joyful is the Dark”
The passage that we just heard is the longest recorded conversation we have between Jesus and another person in scripture. And it’s pretty interesting, right? Although it was culturally taboo for the two of them to be talking, the Samaritan woman had no lack of things to say. She wasn’t even afraid to challenge Jesus about his weird idea of living water.
At the same time, we see some frustrating themes that run through scripture: Jesus, the man, shows up with magical powers to help a poor, oppressed woman. Additionally, the woman is probably of questionable moral standing and Jesus is Mr. Sinless who stoops to her level and we praise him for being such a liberating guy. Obviously Jesus doesn’t have any needs either. The whole “drink of water” thing is just a ploy, right, to start the conversation? Jesus gets all the points and the woman gets to be grateful that this man chose to liberate her.
That’s the interpretation I’ve generally adhered to until writing this sermon. Clearly there are some liberating elements but it still perpetuates patriarchy even if it’s benevolent and the idea that some people are saviors and others need saving.