This is the first sermon in our Lent series, “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.”
I have a confession to make. A few months ago, I became aware that the 20th anniversary of my tenure as pastor here was coming up. It felt important to me to mark that anniversary in some way, but I also knew that probably no one else in the congregation knew this anniversary was coming. So in a recent pastoral staff meeting, I kind of sheepishly said to Joanna and Pat that my 20th was coming and that I kind of wanted some acknowledgement of it. It didn’t have to be a big deal, I said — in fact, I didn’t want a big deal — but just some acknowledgement.
I was surprised at how hard it was for me to ask for this. I felt this shame creeping up in me as I made the request. And I even felt the shame during the week before the celebration Sunday, as I heard little glimmers of what was going to happen and knew it was going to be quite a bigger deal than I had anticipated.
Note: I am going to be calling Jesus “Joshua” in this sermon, which is what our friend Elias Ramer — who is both a member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and of our community — calls him. (You may know Elias Ramer as Andrew Ramer.) “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Yeshua,” which would have been Jesus’ name in Hebrew. “Yeshua” translated into English is Joshua.
I have before, in sermons, confessed to you my and Patrick’s love of horror movies. Not slasher flicks, I hate those — horror movies. Zombies, vampires, and all manner of supernatural weirdnesses. Our latest find was “Host,” a movie made completely during COVID where all the actors are on their own Zoom screens, trying to outlive a demon that they have conjured during an online seance.
I’ve talked to a few of you this past week, and all of you said you were surprised at the emotion that came over you as you watched the Inauguration on Wednesday. For many of you, Joe wasn’t your guy, nor was Kamala your “gal.” Many of you, and I include myself in this, believe Joe is far from the radical change we need in this country, and we are committed to pushing his Administration to make those changes. And yet, that ritual of watching him and Kamala being sworn in was calming and grounding and relieving for many of us after an intense two weeks, after a very intense two months, after an unrelentingly intense four years. I think many of us felt that we could take a deep breath again. Many of us felt part of something bigger than us, something that had the potential, the promise, of bringing us closer to our deepest dreams of justice, of healing, of hope for the future.
That was a lot of heavy lifting for one hour-long ritual.
This is the fourth sermon in an Advent series entitled “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born”
Luke 1:26-38, 44-55
I used to regularly attend a meditation community in Oakland, and my favorite service was the one on Saturday at 5 p.m. The service leader would refer to this service as a hinge point in the week, as we ended the week just completed and were on the cusp of heading into Sabbath and the new week. My favorite part of this “hinge” service was when the leader would ask us to reflect silently on the week that just was — its high points, its low points, its joys, its sorrows, its anxieties. And then the leader would light a little charcoal and put a spoonful of incense on it, which would cause smoke to waft up into the air and a quite lovely scent to permeate the room. (I realize for those with chemical sensitivities, this would not have been so lovely.) In that quiet, darkened room, as we watched the smoke rise, we would pray together from Psalm 142: “May our prayer rise before you, like incense.” And I would have an almost physical sense of some weight lifting off of me. Whatever had happened that week, it was now done, out of my control. I was giving the week to God and praying that God would do with it what She would.
This sermon, by Sheri Hostetler, was given on the First Sunday of Advent during our worship series, “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born.” It’s based on Mark 13:24-37.
Jerome and Patrick adopted DeeDee because when they walked through the kennels at the animal shelter in Alameda, the only dog that wasn’t jumping up and down and barking madly was DeeDee. Instead, DeeDee sat there calmly, looking up at them with her liquid brown eyes. I thought 6-year-old Patrick and his father had been going to the shelter on an exploratory mission, just to try on the thought of adopting a dog in, say, a month or two. Instead, Patrick called me from the shelter and said: “Mommy, her name is DeeDee, and I love her.”
The Climate Action Group — with the approval of the congregation — recently sent this letter to Gov. Newsom asking him to ban fracking. While we wrote on behalf of our congregation, please feel free to send our governor your own individual letter!
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Governor Newsom:
In our battle to stop the rise in global warming, which you have noted is a major cause of California’s catastrophic wildfires, it is imperative that we reduce carbon emissions. You can help enormously with that by banning fracking of fossil fuels in California. For us to reach our goal of zero carbon emissions, we must act promptly and dramatically to stop further mining and extraction of fossil fuels, both in California and around the world. You have the power to do this in California. We urge you to ban fracking in California today.
Banning fracking would not only help us keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground and reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, it would also stop the wasteful use of enormous amounts of fresh water required for fracking. And according to reports documented by 350.org, oil companies are permitted to resell post-fracking contaminated water for agricultural use, which then contaminates food sold to consumers. Fracking contaminates not only water but also the air and the land. These consequences of fracking remain largely out out of sight for most Californians; as usual, it is the low-income and non-white populations living in proximity to fracking operations that are forced to live with the consequences of these risks.
Governor Newsom, it’s time to ban fracking in California to reduce carbon emissions to stop the onslaught of global warming, move toward a more judicious use of California’s precious water resources, protect the consumers of California’s agricultural products, and serve all sectors of California’s population — not just the oil and agricultural elites.
On behalf of the congregants of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco –
Sheri Hostetler, Lead Pastor and David Wieand, Chair of the Governing Council
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters and siblings, you do not need to have anything written to you.” (I Thess. 5:1)
What is the time we are in right now? What is our season? The answer is not winter. Even though it really feels like winter. And yes, everybody I know back in the Midwest is laughing at me as I say that. Paul — the author of this passage— is not referring to seasons of the year when he talks about the “times” and the “seasons.” Paul is using the Greek word kairos for both of these words, and kairos has a very different meaning than the other word ancient Greeks used for time, chronos. Chronos, as is probably obvious, refersto chronological or sequential time. Kairos refers to a proper or opportune time for action. Kairos time means the right time, the crucial time to act. When someone in our culture says, “It’s go time,” that might capture some of the meaning of the word kairos.
Every Thursday, I go for a walk with my neighbor. On one of our recent walks, she was telling me how her father, in his retirement, had written family histories for both her parents’ lineages — so, his father’s and mother’s families — and also his wife’s parents’ families. In essence, he had produced four books of family history. Now my neighbor told me she had actually never read the books. She’d paged through them and thought she’d get to them someday, but had never actually gotten there yet.
This is the last sermon in a Back to the Basics series on “Who’s Got a Place at the Welcome Table?”
Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:6-8
Jonathan Hershberger’s story:
Every morning, during third period at Central Christian High School in Northeast Ohio, we convened for chapel. One Spring morning, a visiting pastor spoke of secret sins – and that we never know what someone may be struggling with. As he spoke, he slowly removed pieces of his crisp, clean suit, revealing tattered clothes underneath. On my drive home that afternoon, I silently obsessed over his words, my own secret sin, and contemplated whether I would attend the same speaker’s workshop the next day – on the Christian Response to Homosexuality. My carpooler – a good friend who attended my church – sat with me, blissfully unaware.
This is the second sermon in our “Back to the Basics” series on “Who’s Got a Place at the Welcome Table?”
Psalm 62: 5-12
Ben Bolaños’ story:
Fremont, Ohio. 1985-86.
There are moments in your life where time slows down. A snapshot of an event imprinted in successive images. Do you know what I mean? Here’s mine. Image — A 13 year old Latino boy, holding a short dowel connected to a roll of thick, coarse string and standing in a row of tomato plants, slumped over as if fatigued. Image — Bending down and tautly tying the string across rows of lonely wooden poles supporting the plants. Over and over. Image — looking up to the sun glaring down. Hot. Thirsty. Time? Don’t know. Imag — Hands, calloused, pain, back. pain. Image — He looks over and sees the head migrant worker telling him to redo that row. “!Oye, mas apretado!” (tighter) Image — Hand gently pressed on shoulder. “Mijo, we don’t get paid for loose string. Me entiendes?” (you understand me). “Si Tony. Perdon” (Yes, Tony. sorry).
That was me, the boy. I was introduced to hard work and a simple faith by Tony, a migrant worker and devout Christian, loyal and steadfast. He was part of my father’s church, and my father adored him so much that he entrusted Tony to take me under his wings and work the way the poor always have — with their hands, bound to an unyielding faith to a God that provides and heals. There was no choice. A simple faith. My parents? Educated. One trained as a sociologist, the other a theologian. I was middle class, or so I thought. For myself, I was stuck between the poor, the simple and the complicated. In others words, I did not belong to either. I could not fully relate to my migrant friends nor was I entirely accepted in the white academic culture of school. Image — A poor white girl walks up to me and coolly says, “Your lips are big. You’re a N———.” Image — I laugh at her stupidity. I was better than her..
This is the first sermon in our Back to the Basics series entitled “Who’s Got a Place at the Welcome Table?” The image is “The Trinity” or “The Hospitality of Abraham,” an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century.
So many people contributed to the ideas in this sermon: Many of them are named, but some of them aren’t – so I want to also thank Joanna Shenk, Pat Plude and planning committee member Ben Bolaños as additional contributors to the ideas in this sermon.
Shalom Mennonite Church in Tucson is one of our sibling congregations in Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference. Becca, whom some of you know, is now an active member there, and Tina Schlabach, their co-pastor, did a trauma training here a few years back. I also work closely with their other co-pastor, Carol Rose, on the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. Shalom fascinates me because, recently, in the space of about one year, they went from being a largely middle-class white Mennonite congregation to being a multi-class, multicultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual church.
“Throwback Sunday” is an annual Sunday when we revisit theological ideas some of us may have grown up with and see if those ideas have relevance for us now. The illustration above is fromthe Codex Gigas, dating to the early 13th century.
How many of you believed in Satan when you were young? How many of you believed he was active presence in the world, ready to ensnare you in something decidedly not good? And how many of you still believe that some kind of being or entity or reality like Satan exists and is active in the world?