Sermon: The Unquenchable Fire

This sermon is the second in an Advent series entitled “Spanning the Space Between.”

Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12

A few years back, Jennette arranged a camping trip to Lake Tahoe for our church. It had been awhile since I’d been there, and I was surprised and saddened by the sight of so many dead pine trees. Instead of seeing one long swath of green over the mountainsides, there were whole chunks of forest that were brown with dead trees, and other chunks that were a mottled mix of green and brown. In fact, tree die-off is happening all over our western forests, from the Yukon all the way to Mexico.

Why is this happening? On the surface, the culprit is drought and insects, particularly the bark beetle. As our climate warms, winters shorten and droughts in western forests intensify, weakening trees, which then makes them easy prey for the beetles. But the real culprit may actually be that there’s not enough fire.  Scientists and forest managers now believe that decades of suppressing forest fires in the interest of protecting private property has resulted in forests that have too many trees in them. It used to be that fires would happen about every 10 to 15 years, which kept the forest from getting overcrowded. Such forests could better sustain periods of drought because there wasn’t so much competition for water and other resources.  But suppressing fire produces too many trees that are then all more susceptible to drought and bark beetles. In addition, fire suppression paradoxically produces bigger and more violent fires because there’s so much more fuel to burn in an overcrowded forest.  We need fire. It’s destructive; it’s dangerous; it’s hard to control; it’s scary. But we need it.  

Continue reading

Keep Awake, Therefore

This sermon is from the first Sunday of our Advent series, which has as its theme “Spanning the Space Between”

Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44

We had a discussion last Sunday during Education Hour about the holidays — how we feel about them and where they are in tension with our values. It turns out the holidays are deeply unsettling for many of us: the consumerism and the destruction to our planet and its people that it represents, the compulsion to be merry when we are lonely or grieving or just don’t feel merry, the consumerism, the pressure of family rituals that are no longer life-giving or meaningful, the consumerism. 

And then, there are others of us who love Christmas. I count myself among them. While acknowledging all of the above, I also think we as northern hemisphere dwellers need this kind of winter festival. Long before there was a Christmas or even Christians, people held festivals of light around the winter solstice. To people without benefit of our scientific knowledge, this time of weakening daylight could be a time of fear: Would the sun — the giver of all life —  return? It the sun did not return, or if it returned only incompletely, they would die. And so ancient peoples would hold festivals to honor the sun, to encourage it to come back quickly. They lit bonfires on the hills, decorated groves of oak trees with candles  – all to drive away the darkness of fear and uncertainty and usher in the light.

Continue reading

Reflections on “Trusting Provision”

Matthew 6:25-34

On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, Philip McGarvey and Tree gave reflections on what it means to live a life of trusting provision, trusting that our needs will be provided for — by the Divine, by the land, etc.

The first reflection is by Philip:

Dear friends,

I’m writing to you from the south slope of our mountain up in the redwood forest where I’ve lived since last April.  My feet are propped up on a dying madrone, and my head is leaned back against a fir.  There are a lot of birds making noise today.  I laid here all morning for my mind to slow down enough for words to come.  I was asked to write something about land and food.  It is hard for me to know what to say.

Continue reading

Sermon: How to Survive an Apocalypse

Luke 21:5-19

On the morning that I had set aside to begin this sermon, I kept not getting to it because I kept getting news of people dying. One was Kent Barnes’ father, who death was somewhat expected and was, in many respects, a mercy. But another one was Karen Bennett’s brother-in-law, who had gone into surgery for a minor operation and died a few days later, for reasons that are still unclear. He was 68. I had met Mike when I officiated Karen and Peter’s wedding and at the memorial service for Karen’s father. Mike was a physically big man with an even bigger presence, the kind of presence we call “commanding.” I told Karen that I couldn’t remember his face, but I remembered how much energetic space he took up during the reception after the memorial. “That’s Mike,” Karen said. And she paused. “It’s implausible that he’s not here anymore.” 

I think every death is an implausibility. My experience is that even when someone dies expectedly as opposed to unexpectedly, even when you know their death is going to happen and have been praying for this mercy, when they actually die, you say to yourself,  “What just happened? They were here and now they’re not? That’s implausible.”

Continue reading

Sermon: On Impermanence

This sermon was preached on All Saints Day.

Selections from Isaiah 40

We are made from this earth. God took the dust of the ground — adamah in Hebrew — and breathed into it to make us — adam. And one day, we return to it. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Our name — human — comes from the same root as humus, which means soil, specifically, the most fertile kind of soil made up of decomposed leaves and organisms, the kind of soil made up of dead things, the kind of soil in which something living can be grown. 

To paraphrase Carl Jung, “Only that which can die is that which can be truly alive.”

Continue reading

Reflections on Mennonite Heritage Sunday

On the last Sunday of October, many Mennonite churches in the United States observe Mennonite Heritage Sunday, a day set aside to remember the gifts that our spiritual ancestors have bequeathed to  us. Our Anabaptist ancestors participated in one of the biggest religious, social and economic upheavals in European history. The 1500s were a time when the structures that had governed society for centuries were being actively challenged and dismantled by the masses, who were seeking to transform these economic and political and religious structures to be more egalitarian and just.  It was an apocalyptic time, a time of violence and fear and hope and vision when the world truly seemed to be ending and something new truly seemed to be happening. Sound familiar? 

Our social context today is similarly apocalyptic — a time of transformation, when centuries-old structure are failing and something new is desperately trying to be born. Our service today will look at how we in this church are participating in the many moments for transformation swirling around us. Kate Irick, Jim Lichti and Helen Stoltzfus will be offering reflections on that theme, which follow.

Continue reading

FMCers March in Sept. 20 Global Climate Strike!

Members of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco joined thousands who marched in the Global Climate Strike and March in San Francisco on Friday, September 20, 2019. It was a great day of Global Solidarity as marchers and protesters joined an estimated 4 million protesters or more, worldwide, to demand solutions to the Worldwide Climate Crisis.

Here are some of the First Mennonites at the Strike and March who marched and carried First Mennonite Church’s “Solidarity” banner:

IMG_3591

And the following picture shows the First Mennonite Church banner amidst the tumult of thousands of marchers and protesters heading down Market Street in San Francisco:

FMCSF at Climate Strike, SF, Sept 20 2019

-Submitted by Jim Musselman, for the Green Team and Climate Justice Group of FMCSF.

Sermon: Re-creation – Community and Covenant

This is the third sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”

Genesis 11:27-12:9

Before we continue telling the story of the Bible, I want to say about how I think of story. Stories do not have to be literally true to be profoundly true. Stories do not have to be factual to tell us the truth about the human condition and our relationship to the Sacred. When I approach Bible stories, I often think of a saying that has been attributed to a Native American storyteller: “Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.” We  listen to these stories again and again to try to find the truth in them and to orient our lives by that truth.

And so… We started our series on the story of the Bible two Sundays ago with — creation! It was good, very good. A beautiful garden abundantly filled with life! Humans created in the image of God!   And then, last Sunday: the fall. Humans — desiring to be like God — go beyond God-given limits and broken relationships result, with God, ourselves, each other and creation. 

Continue reading

Sermon: The Fall

This is the second sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”

Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17; 3:1-24

We are going to do a Bible Study much like I remember preachers doing when I was growing up. Like those “olden times,” this will be easier if you have the text in front of you. So: Did you bring your Bible like I told you to? If not, do you want a hard copy? Joanna can pass them out. Or, you can go to biblegateway.com and type in the scripture reference exactly as it appears in the order of worship.

While you’re doing that, I’m going to give a bit of introduction to our story for today. Last Sunday, we began the story of the Bible with the story of the creation of the world. In that story, we learned of a world created not from an act of horrific violence — as in the Babylonian creation story — but through the intentional creativity of God. Our world was created good; it is not intrinsically violent or evil. The God who created this world is both transcendent — that is, independent of the creation — but also immanent, a deity who desires relationship with us and who is very present in this world. And, last, we said that we are created in the image of this Creator, which means that we, too, are powerful, creative and made for mutual relationship. 

Continue reading

Sermon: Creation

This is the first sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”

Genesis 1-2:4

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.)

Continue reading

Sermon

Luke 13:10-17

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.

Continue reading

Eternal Life

John 3:1-16

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?

Continue reading