Reflection: Discipleship Group Sharing

This is one of two reflections given on Sunday, June 10, from members of our San Francisco and East Bay Discipleship Groups. Our Discipleship Groups are small groups that meet monthly to learn about and practice following in the way of Jesus.

By Amy Bolaños

I called the patient’s name in the waiting room. A man in his mid-50s, unshaven, in tattered hat and clothes, stood up abruptly and walked brusquely toward me, barely acknowledging me as I greeted him and led him back to the exam room where I would take his blood pressure, review his medications and prepare him for his visit with the doctor. The tough, guarded look in his eyes, as well as his agitated body language, warned me to keep my voice and body language calm and to notice my safe and quick exit route from the room. As soon as I asked him how he was doing today, he launched into a barrage of threats to the stranger on the street who had just stolen his belongings. He hadn’t planned to come to the clinic today, but 30 minutes ago he was mugged by another man.

He had just picked up his medications from the pharmacy a few days ago, and they were in the bag that was stolen. “The meds aren’t going to do him any good! They’re for my heart! I hope he eats them all and it kills him!” The patient then began a 5-10 minute loud, angry monologue listing ways in which he planned to carry out revenge on this man. “I’ll find him, and when I do I’ll rip his face off! I’ll smash his head in!” etc. I just sat and listened to him vent his anger. When I could get a word in, I validated his pain and anger, trying to imagine experiencing such violence myself and the emotions it would bring up for me. I also reassured him that we would be able to help him replace his medications.

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Scent Policy, Continued

Greetings, community. Almost two years ago, our congregation adopted a scent policy and we have been living into it since then. The policy states: “First Mennonite Church of San Francisco would like all services  to be accessible to those with chemical sensitivities. Please refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, and scented products. This is also the policy of FMCSF’s host, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.” 

Sheri was musing to Pat and Joanna recently that in her 18 years of ministry here she has not come across an issue that has brought up as much resistance, skepticism and even conflict as this scent policy. And so, with this blog post, we hope to address several points related to this policy, in the hopes of furthering greater clarity, communication and awareness: Read more

Sermon: You Must Be Born Again

John 3:1-17

“The pages around this passage are the ones where many Bibles show signs of most usage.” That’s how one Bible scholar referred to this passage we just heard from John 3, and I loved it for its understatement. For this passage contains the central sound bites of the Bible for many Christians. There is, of course, John 3:16, a verse forever linked to face-paint wearing people at sporting events waving a sign with this verse on it for the TV cameras. I’m wondering how many of you can say it by heart? For many Christians, it is the entire distillation of the Gospel message in a nutshell.  And then there is the central metaphor of the passage — that of being “born again.” Being born again is the central point of the Christian life for many Christians. In fact, a recent survey showed that almost 30% of Americans identify as “born again Christians” — more, actually, than identify as evangelicals.

What does being “born again” mean for these 30%?  Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — which usually means believing in Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Which means believing a certain set of beliefs about Jesus — that he is God’s Son and his death on the cross has wiped out our sins, so we can now be right with God if we believe these things and have a personal and intimate experience of Jesus.

I’m here to say today that those Christians are right — being born again is the most important part of being a follower of Jesus. But (you knew there was going to be a but), let’s talk about how that metaphor could be meaningful and helpful for our journey.  I’m indebted to New Testament scholar Marcus Borg’s book The Heart of Christianity for these ideas.

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Sermon: At-one-ment

 

 

Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21

I took Patrick to a medical appointment on Monday and was talking with a staff person there that I have gotten to know over the years. She knows I’m a Mennonite, and she told me that she had just listened to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast about Mennonites. I decided to listen to it as Patrick was in his appointment. It was Gladwell’s story about Chester Wenger — the 96-year-old ordained Mennonite pastor who was stripped of his credentials for marrying his gay son back in 2014. It was a story that made front page news in papers and websites across the country. 

Gladwell knows Mennonites. He grew up in a Mennonite community in Canada, his parents joined a Mennonite church, his brother is married to a Mennonite minister. And he’s trying to explain to his podcast listeners who Mennonites are.  He’s trying to explain Mennonites to non-Mennonites. And this is what he says (4:14 in podcast):

Let me start with a few more words about Mennonites because what Wenger did makes no sense unless you understand the world that he inhabits. The theologian Palmer Becker has a lovely phrase to describe the Mennonite way, “Jesus is the center of our faith, community is the center of our lives, reconciliation is the center of our work.”

It’s hard to explain to an outsider how seriously the Mennonites take these three things Jesus, community, and reconciliation. 

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Sermon: Uncomfortable Love

I John 4:7-21

As I was preparing for this sermon, I felt like a rather insistent jukebox kept playing in my head. And didn’t I just date myself there? What I meant to say was: A rather insistent Spotify playlist kept playing in my head. The main song was, of course, “All you need is Love.” That wouldn’t stop. But also: “Precious Love” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. And even the song from the hit Broadway musical “Oliver”: “Where is love?”

Small wonder that the hits kept coming because love is the universal hunger of the human heart. Infants who are given food and shelter and warmth but who are not given loving touch, who are not bonded with another person, often do not thrive and may not even survive. As my friend Rolene told me when I was pregnant with Patrick, “Just love him unconditionally for three to five years and you basically can’t mess him up.” (Thank God we could stop at age 5.) As we get older, the search for love will drive us to many things — jealousy, rage, cosmetic surgery, early 80s soft rock. (Air Supply’s “I’m all out of love” plays.)

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Sermon: Following Jesus to Jerusalem

By Sheri Hostetler

This is the last sermon in a Lenten series called “Capitalism: A Bible Study.” Much of this sermon draws heavily from the first chapter of Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem. I have tried to note when I am quoting directly from this chapter.

Mark 11:1-11

In our tradition, this Sunday — called Palm Sunday —  is the beginning of the holiest week of the Christian year.  All over the world, followers of Jesus re-enact this Bible story we just heard. Like us, they process into sanctuaries and wave something green and shout or sing “Hosanna.”  So, let’s just be clear that those processions — as well as ours — bear very little resemblance to what happened that day. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do this, but let’s be clear about what that actual procession would have been like.

First, Jesus’ procession was a procession of poor people. Jesus himself was a poor person from the poor village of Nazareth and his followers were poor people from the peasant class. Jesus directed his message about the kingdom of God mainly to this group of poor people.  The peasant class of Jesus’ day was a large group that included not only agricultural laborers but the rural population as a whole. About 90% of the population at that time was rural, living on farms or in villages and small towns. This rural population was the primary producer of the society’s wealth. There was no industry back then; “manufacturing” was done by hand by artisans, who were also a part of the peasant class. So, almost all food and goods — the wealth of society — were produced by the peasant class.

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Children’s Story: The Rich Man

By FMCSF Youth Group

Note: Our church’s youth group rewrote the Gospel stories for each Sunday of Lent and then presented them as children’s stories during worship.

Second Sunday of Lent, Feb. 25

Mark 10:17-31, (Jesus and the rich guy)

Narrator 1: Last week we heard a story about Jesus’ first sermon, where he talked about coming to bring good news to poor. This was good news for him too, since he was a poor person. You may remember that we described him an unemployed person from Detroit, Michigan who lost his job when his factory closed.

Narrator 2: In this story he and his friends are about to get on a Greyhound bus, but then they hear this really loud noise above them. All the sudden it gets really windy in the Greyhound parking lot. They look up and what do they see?!? It’s a helicopter coming in for a landing! “What in the world?!?” they say to each other.

Narrator 1 : The helicopter lands and out walks Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world. He walks right up to Jesus and says:

Bill Gates: “Hello brilliant teacher and movement founder, what would it take for me to join your movement?”

Narrator 1: He tried to impress Jesus, by calling him “brilliant” and “a founder,” because he expected Jesus to say the same thing to him and be so happy he wanted to join the movement.

Jesus: But instead of being impressed Jesus said, “No person is brilliant. Only the creator of the universe is brilliant.” Then he went on, “in terms of joining the movement, you know the commandments.”

Bill Gates: “You’re right, and I have kept them all. I even give BILLIONS of dollars to charity.”

Jesus: Jesus looked lovingly at Bill and then he continued. “I’m not just asking that you give away billions of dollars, I’m asking that you stop making money through companies that exploit people and the environment and learn to follow the leadership of poor people. Then you will understand what my movement is about… it’s about treasure not related to money.

Narrator 1: Bill was shocked at Jesus’ words and was also shocked that Jesus hadn’t congratulated him for being a good person. He got back in his helicopter with a heavy heart because he wasn’t ready to do what Jesus had instructed.

Jesus: Jesus’ friends were also surprised that he had been so hard on Bill Gates. Jesus could tell, so he went on. “It’s really hard, nearly impossible, for people with lots of money to understand what our movement is about. They don’t understand that their wealth depends on other people being poor. They are so used to being the experts and telling people what to do that they aren’t able to follow the lead of poor people. Let me put it another way, it’s as hard for a rich person to understand our movement as it is for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle.”

Narrator 1: Everyone laughed at that. It’s a funny image. A camel… trying to fit through the hole in a needle. Have you ever tried to thread a needle?? And, in addition to the funny image, Jesus was also referencing a very small doorway that was called the “eye of the needle.” The doorway was so small that a camel would literally need to crawl through it. Camels aren’t known to crawl.

You could also say it’s as hard for a rich person to join the movement as:

–giving up screen time for a WHOLE year
–or a T-rex dabbing
–or an elephant twirling on a fidget spinner
–or, finding affordable housing in the Bay Area
It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard to imagine happening.

Jesus: “With God’s power though,” Jesus said, “it is possible.” Then he continued talking to his friends. He said, “I know you have given up a lot to be part of this movement. And I want you to remember that what you have given up–homes, cars, money, property, family relationships–you will get all of that back 100 times over as we continue to share together. As a community we have so much abundance through our sharing. Who would have thought that giving everything away would make you truly rich?”

Narrator 1: So Jesus, like we said, was radical and said things that people thought were weird. He was a poor person who was teaching other poor people and together they were creating a movement to change the world. He called the movement the “kingdom of God.” The movement was about being in healthy relationships with each other and working together for justice. It was about sharing, about everyone having enough food and everyone having a home and being free.

Kingdom Story: The Diggers

By Tree

During our series on “Capitalism: A Bible Study,” we invited people in our congregation to tell a short story on what the Kingdom of God looks like on earth. This story was told by Tree on Feb. 25, 2018.

When I heard that the topic for Lent was going to explore Capitalism and the Bible, I thought that information about Gerrard Winstanley and the English Diggers or True Levelers should be included, and suggested that to Sheri and Joanna. Later, Sheri asked me to share a “mini-story” about the Diggers and what they mean to me.

In 1967 during the summer of love, I hitchhiked to San Francisco to visit my sister who lived in the Haight Ashbury. She wasn’t home, so I wandered down to the Panhandle in Golden Gate Park and hung out. I was hungry and at some point a big flatbed truck arrived with Country Joe and the Fish singing “one two three four what are we fighting for” (an anti-Vietnam war song that I loved), and the Diggers came out with spaghetti and fed us all.

The Diggers were a group of people in the early sixties who took their name from the English Diggers of 1649 who believed in a world that was free of private property and buying and selling. The San Francisco Diggers mainly fed people every day in the park, but also started free stores, free medical clinics, and the Haight Ashbury Switchboard.  Today on bus stops you might see advertising for a Free City in reference to City College being free now. That was the last name and vision of the Diggers, the Free City Collective.

Visiting the Haight during that time and getting fed by the Diggers actually changed my life dramatically. I returned to San Francisco in 1970 to start my own Digger-like free meal program in the park and in the process of figuring how to do that I met a group of people who lived in an intentional community or commune, who loved my idea and offered to help me.  I wound up living with them for 20 years and have stay connected with them still after 48 years.

We lived communally and shared all things in common, including money. I learned more about the San Francisco Diggers, who left behind a rich history. Gerrard Winstanley and his radical Christianity, which was influenced by the early Anabaptistists, won over my heart.  Long before the Occupy movement or Standing Rock, the English Diggers occupied the common lands in England and started planting the land with vegetables and inviting others to come work together and eat bread together. It was such a radical yet simple idea that it was put down within 6 months (they were also pacifists and didn’t fight back when attacked). I am still inspired by both Digger movements and continue to believe in doing things for free… buy if you must, but don’t sell.  I also embrace Gerrard Winstanley’s spiritual belief that God created the earth for all to share…a common treasury.  I owe it all to that one meal in the park with the Diggers; it was like the Last Supper, it was that special.

Sermon: The Underside of Capitalism

By Sheri Hostetler

This is the second sermon in a Lenten series called “Capitalism: A Bible Study.”

Mark 10:17-31

I will start right off by saying that this sermon is going to be about the “underside of capitalism.” It’s going to be about violence and exploitation and suffering. It’s going to be about what we generally don’t talk about in this country, where it’s often assumed that capitalism is the best economic system ever and that anyone who thinks otherwise is nuts or godless or naive. I will also say that this is a complicated topic, and I enter it with some trepidation. There are libraries that could be filled just with books written about capitalism by people who make wildly divergent claims about it.

I also want to say that I think capitalism has brought about some good things. I am not in the “capitalism is all evil all the time” camp. Karl Marx himself believed that capitalism — despite its many problems — had the great virtue of immensely increasing the productivity of labor to the degree that society could finally overcome the scourges of scarcity and necessity. Capitalism has greatly increased economic growth and standards of living. It has lifted many people out of poverty to the point that more people today die of diseases related to overeating  — like diabetes and heart disease — than to starvation. Others celebrate the dynamism, freedom and creativity that capitalism unleashes.

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Sermon: Sabbath Economics

By Sheri Hostetler

This is the first sermon in a Lenten series called “Capitalism: A Bible Study.”

Luke 4:14-21

I’ve heard the saying, “We must read the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other” attributed to about five different people throughout my life. But no matter who said it or even how cliched it may seem due to excessive repetition, it’s still true. If we believe that the Bible contains wisdom that can offer illumination, critique and feedback to our world as we know it, then we have to be two-handed readers. We have to read the Bible and we have to let the Bible read us.

But how often do most First World Christians bring the wisdom of the Bible to bear on our economic system, other than, perhaps, what often amounts to platitudes about sharing with the needy or about being good stewards of our wealth? According to Biblical scholar Ched Myers — who has written extensively on the “Biblical economy” and whose thought forms much of my sermon for today — we can’t even understand the Bible if we don’t understand the standard of  “economic justice that is woven into its warp and weft. Pull this strand,” Myers says, “and the whole fabric (of the Bible) unravels.” (All quotations are from The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics.) Scripture actually becomes unintelligible to us if we can’t or won’t read it economically.

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Children’s Story: Jesus’ First Sermon

By FMCSF Youth Group

Note: Our church’s youth group rewrote the Gospel stories for each Sunday of Lent and then presented them as children’s stories during worship.

First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 18
Luke 4:16-21, “Jesus’ first sermon”

Narrator 1: Before we get started with the story, I want to tell you a little bit about Jesus. He was a radical guy, some would say a quirky dude. He was poor and didn’t come from a powerful or famous family. Not everyone agreed with him or could accept what he had to say. He was kinda like Robin Hood or Martin Luther King Jr. or Mr. Incredible. No matter what, he did what was right—that’s integrity.

Narrator 2: In this story, Jesus shows up in his hometown—Detroit, Michigan. Jesus was unemployed. He used to work at a car factory until the factory closed. After that he was hitch-hiking around the country for awhile. One weekend he got a ride to Detroit with a truck driver and decided to go to his home congregation for a worship service.

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Article: Singing for Justice 2