Sermon: Waiting with Presence & Patience

Second Sunday of Advent: “Dreams, Signs and Wonders”

Luke 1:5-25

For four years while Jerome was getting his Ph.D., we lived on the grounds of and worked at Piedmont Community Church. One of our co-workers had these things she’d say over and over again — many of us do — and one of them was this thing she’d always say whenever we were talking about solid, dependable, ordinary folks who were respected by others. She’d say, “They’re good people. Good people.” You might be charismatic or rich or incredibly talented. You might be a CEO (there were plenty of them in Piedmont) or a high-powered attorney in San Francisco, but only a certain type of person earned the title “good people” from my co-worker. It was her highest praise.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are “good people.” The author of Luke goes out of his way to establish their “good people” cred. They “lived blamelessly,” says the text, which meant they kept all 613 mitzvoth or commandments of the Jewish faith. What’s more, Zechariah is a priest and Elizabeth is a descendent of priests. Elizabeth shares the same name as that of the wife of Aaron, Israel’s first priest. This might all sound rather “posh,” as the Brits would say, but it wasn’t. There were supposedly 18,000 priests in Israel at this time, divided up in 24 different sections. There were so many priests that each priest was only on “active duty” two separate weeks a year at the Temple in Jerusalem. These priests were like reserve foot soldiers — set aside for intermittent service, respected but not particularly distinguished.

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Sermon: Waiting with a Sense of Promise

First Sunday of Advent: “Dreams, Signs and Wonders”

Luke 21:25-36

We don’t like to wait. It’s almost a cliche to say it, but it’s true. Almost every technological change that has occurred during my lifetime has been an effort to reduce our need to wait.  We used to have to wait so much more. Do I sound like a cliche of somebody who’s getting older? I remember anticipating for months annual TV Christmas specials like a “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Once I watched them, I’d have to wait another 12 months for them to be aired again. Now, we can instantly call up those shows on Netflix or Amazon. About once or twice a year, we’d order new clothes from Sears. To do that, we’d have to drive to the small Sears catalog storefront in Millersburg, where you would fill out a form in triplicate with your order.  You’d wait about three weeks, and then you’d get a call that your order had come in, and then you’d drive to Millersburg again to pick up the package. Now, I press a button on a screen and a day later, a package arrives on my porch. When I used to wait for the school bus to pick me up, I waited. I didn’t look at Instagram or listen to music or text my friends. When you used to call somebody and they weren’t home — now, you digital natives may have to pay close attention here — you’d have to put down the phone and wait until you thought they might be home to call them again. Because there weren’t any answering machines or voice mails and there certainly weren’t phones you carried around in your pocket. I could on and on.

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Sermon: These Stones Will Fall

Mark 13:1-8

By Sheri Hostetler

About a month ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) released another landmark report saying that, yes, climate change is really happening and we’re already seeing the effects of just one degree Celsius of warming and those effects are bigger than we even thought they were going to be. Droughts are more devastating, hurricanes are more damaging, wildfires are more intense and frequent. We know what this is doing to people and other living things from Yemen to Puerto Rico to Paradise, California. 

Because these effects are bigger and happening more quickly than scientists thought they would, the report said we need to keep warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, not the 2 degrees originally agreed upon by world leaders in 2015. This half degree of difference could make a world of difference. It could leave our children with a planet that sort of looks like our own. There will be big environmental challenges and changes with 1.5 degree Celsius warming — there are already with 1 degree. But with 2 degree Celsius, we’re talking more about the end of the world as we know it, especially for the poor and vulnerable. Says Debra Roberts, the co-chair of an IPCC working group: “(1.5 degrees Celsius) is a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now.”  

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Sermon: The Fourth Day

Earlier this week, I was on my weekly morning walk with my friend when — for some reason — we began talking about plastic flowers. I think it was because the Beverly’s crafts store had closed down in Alameda several months ago, and we were regretting not having a fabric store in town anymore and then we got curious about who bought all of those plastic flowers that took up the entire front part of the store. I told my friend of all the folks I know back home who buy plastic flowers and said they would have been able to keep Beverly’s in business.

“But my Mom,” I continued, “she never liked plastic flowers. Instead, she grew her own flowers that she dried and made into arrangements. And she got so good at it that she started her own dried flower business called Bev’s Everlastings.” “That’s so cool,” my friend said. “How did she preserve the flowers?” “I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea.” And just like that…. my grief hit. I realized, in that instant, that I will never know how my Mom dried her flowers. Because I can’t ask her. Because she died four years ago. Such a simple question for which there will never be an answer. 

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Sermon: The Isness of Mennonites

A sermon preached by Thomas Merton (as channelled by Pat Plude) at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. For a link to this sermon with footnotes, please click here.  

Introduction by Sheri Hostetler:  A few years back, we did a series that resonated with many of you on the archetypes of the warrior, monk and mystic. We said that while we may gravitate toward one of these archetypes, to be a faithful follower of Jesus, we ultimately need to embody all of them. Thomas Merton has long been one of my spiritual teachers because he did faithfully embody all of them. He was literally a monk, a Trappist monk, at Gethsamani Abbey in Kentucky. He was a mystic with a deep connection to the Source of life, which he experienced in prayer and ritual but also in nature and music. And he was a prophet. Without leaving his Abbey, he became a powerful public prophet, speaking out against the war in Vietnam and militarism and violence in general and standing up on behalf of racial equality.

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Feelings List

During our “Speaking the Truth in Love” series, we talked about the importance of sharing our feelings rather than our thoughts (or judgments) when speaking our truth. It is sometimes difficult to figure out the two, however! This Feelings List from the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication chapter can be very helpful with that. You can find out more about their work at www.baynvc.org. The List is used with permission.

Education Hour: Saying What You Mean

Much of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.Intro:

Don’t try to internalize all this information — you can’t all at once. Take the one piece that really makes sense to you and run with it. Obviously, in the flow of a conversation we’re not able to think through all this. But the purpose of doing this is to train. Just like we do with any other task. 

Quote: “Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations, but fall to our level of training.”  (Bruce Lee)

When we are trying to learn how to play an instrument, we slow things down — we play scales, we learn the fingering.  All this is meant to give you a structure to practice with when you have the time and space. It develops your capacity to do it in real life within the flow of a conversation.

Why Am I Talking?  Read more

Sermon: Speaking the Truth

This the final sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Stefan and Jacob, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon.

So, we have started with ourself in this series. We have looked at our conflict styles. We talked about the importance of being present when in conflict so that we can access the wisdom of our emotions and our senses and our neofrontal cortex. We have cautioned against jumping over the net to tell stories about the other person’s motivations and intentions. And then last Sunday, Pat and Joanna talked about the “listening” aspect of speaking the truth in love — how to make space for and receive someone else’s truth. Finally, on this last Sunday of a series called “Speaking the Truth in Love,” we get to speak.

But what should we say? What do we really want to communicate? What is authentically true for us — and what is going to give us the best chance of getting our needs met?  Our first impulse in a charged situation is often to speak out of our reactivity. For instance, our impulse might be to spew our emotions and initial judgements:

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Education Hour: Transformative Listening

Most of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.

To come from curiosity and care, to understand, means to be able to listen. It feels good to be listened to! To be heard. This is absolutely universal. Listening is usually where the bottleneck happens in a conversation. It’s not in the fluency or skill of our speech. Listening well can take us really far in a conversation. If we really know how to listen, we can help clean up a mess or de-escalate a conversation.

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Education Hour: Strengthening Healthy Intentions and Attention

Most of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.

Intention is the motivation or inner quality of heart behind our words and actions. Where we’re coming from in a dialogue is going to determine where things go.  We can say the same words with very different intentions.

Intention is not: I want to get there on time. That’s a goal. Intention is where we are coming from inside, rather than a specific outcome or goal. Our intention determines the way the conversation is going to go — perhaps even more than the actual words I’m using. There’s a big difference in the quality of my conversation with my husband when we are in conflict if I come into the conversation with an intention of trying to restore connection between us than when I come into the conversation with an intention of blaming him or judging him or “making him see the light.”  If our intention is off, other people feel it. They can tell if we are coming in with an intention that’s perhaps unconsciously set on blame or judgement or control or subtle coercion or defensiveness. They can also feel it if we come into a conversation with the intention to understand or another healthy intention like openness or collaboration or patience.

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Sermon: Do Not Make Room for the Devil

This the third sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Chris and Ann, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon. 

Ephesians 4 (selections)

So, before we dive into this topic of “not making room for the devil,” I want to do a quick review of where we’ve been up until now. At retreat, we looked at different conflict styles, which are based on the fight, flight and freeze response that gets activated when we are under stress. These are biological, hard-wired responses, as Kevin Graber so helpfully reminded us. We said that all of these responses to conflict may be called for at times, so we’re not placing a value judgment of “bad” on them. 

But in this series, we are trying on another response to conflict, one that is less biological, hard-wired reaction than learned response. We’re calling it “speaking the truth in love,” and it’s a combination of both authenticity and care; speaking our truth with care and respect for the other person. Indeed, I believe this learned response — speaking the truth in love — is a spiritual discipline, one that we are called to as followers of Jesus. I also believe it is one of the most powerful and transformative spiritual disciplines we can learn. Like any discipline, any skill, it’ll take some time to learn it and we’ll need to practice it. And we will get better, over time, at it if we do.

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Education Hour: Leading with Presence

Our “Back to the Basics” series this year is “Speaking the Truth in Love.” During our Education Hours, we are focussing on building skill and capacity for having difficult conversations.

This first Education Hour delves into the skill of “Leading with Presence.” I heard of some difficulties people were having with the content of this Education Hour, and so I’m also including some further clarifications about that presentation below. If you have difficulties with any presentation or sermon, please let us know! We can’t learn and grow as a community unless the “shared pool of meaning” is enlarged by all of our feedback. 

Also… Throughout this series, we are mostly referring to situations where we are in conflict with people with whom we already have a relationship of some trust and safety — a spouse, a sister, a parent, a good friend, and (we hope) people within this community. In fact, one of the impetuses for doing this series is to build skill around “speaking the truth in love” within this community.  Though many of these “speaking the truth in love” principles and practices might also apply to conversations with people with whom we have less trust or safety or where there is a large difference in power, we are not primarily referring to these sorts of conversations within this series.

In last Sunday’s Education Hour, I defined “presence” as an “embodied awareness of our direct sensory, mental, and emotional experience.” When we are present, we are better able to stay in the room when conversations get heated and not spin off into “fight, flight or freeze” responses. (See the “Conflict Styles” blog post.) We are also able to be more aware of the wisdom of our senses, emotions and intellect, which gives us more information about ourselves and others and also gives us more choice about how we respond. The more present I am able to be when conflict arises, the better I am able to be authentic to my truth and also be open to the other person’s experience. Read more