This is the first sermon in our Back to the Basics series on “Speaking the Truth in Love.”
Ephesian 4 (selections)
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at the dinner table with your mother, son, uncle, partner, friend, co-worker… let’s just settle for partner in this example. (This example is adapted from the book Caring Enough to Confront: How To Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace by David Augsburger):
The kids are acting up at dinner, clearly driving you crazy.
Chris: I’m so sick of this. I can’t take it anymore. Sit down. Shut up. Eat your dinner. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
Ann: Smooth move, Dad. Just like your father.
This information was presented at our annual retreat on Saturday morning. It is from Oren Jay Safer’s online course “Mindful Communication” and, mostly, David Augsburger’s book, Caring Enough to Confront: How to Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace.
When the going gets tough, we tend to default to habitual conflict styles based on a “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress. All of these conflict styles have their place; they are not necessarily “wrong.” But, in this series we are trying to increase our repertoire of responding to conflict by getting beyond our habitual styles and learning how to “speak the truth in love.”
Competitive confrontation or “I’ll get them.” This correlates with the “fight” stress response. In this style we push full steam ahead with aggressive behavior. We are not really willing to do dialogue. In our mind, someone is clearly right (us) and someone is clearly wrong (you), and it’s my duty to put you right. We’re pushing for our own way so much that we can’t see or are unwilling to see another’s point of view. Examples of this are plastered all over social media, the comments section of the Internet, and talking head talk shows on cable. In this style, we attempt to meet our own needs at any cost, through control, dominance or coercion. Read more
I Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Just as there are fundamental physical laws of the universe — like “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — there are fundamental political laws. Like: when a people feel threatened — whether that’s because they’re struggling economically or there’s lots of social change or because they feel unsafe, due to crime or acts of terrorism— they will often look for a scapegoat. When we get frightened, we start looking suspiciously at anyone who seems “other.” This is why it can be so scary to be an ethnic or racial or religious minority, or an lgbtq person, or a woman during bad times. Just ask anyone who was a Muslim living in this country after 9/11. Or ask any immigrant from Mexico right now.
This sermon was part of our church’s response to Mennonite Church USA’s request that congregations interact with the Renewed Commitments document and provide feedback to the denomination. We also met during adult Education Hour to discuss the document.
I admit that I wasn’t feeling it when the Mennonite Church USA — the denomination of which we are a member – asked congregations to provide feedback on these Renewed Commitments that you just heard. This is a bit of a Pavlovian response for me. I hear the words “Mennonite Church USA” and I instantly tune out. This comes from years of feeling like I or those I love were being marginalized by the denomination — our voices discounted, our pain not acknowledged, our insights not welcomed. It comes from years of listening to church pronouncements or reading church documents that seem so vague and lukewarm and middle ground that I just instantly turn off my brain when another one comes along because I don’t expect anything real or relevant to come from them. For too many years, it seemed to me that leadership didn’t want to honestly address the conflicts tearing the church apart, and so we avoided issues in the name of “respectful dialogue.” This ended up making both progressives and conservatives angry and unhappy.
Selection from Hebrews 9-10
When my Mom was dying, I would sing hymns to her. Her church didn’t use the blue hymnal we use, so I would sing from the “red hymnal,” the one that came before the blue hymnal. I would start at the front and begin singing the hymns I remembered from growing up: “Holy God, we praise thy name.” And “Come thou almighty king.” She liked those front-of-the-book hymns okay, but after a few of them she would indicate, with a small flick of her finger (since she couldn’t speak by this point) that I was to continue paging through to the back of the hymnal where the “Gospel Songs” section began.
These were the old-time hymns she particularly loved. Truth to be told, these are some of my favorite hymns, too. Please sing along if you know them: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the earth again shall stand.” And “Oh Lord, my God! When I awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made.” However, there were many hymns in that Gospel Songs section that were… less favorites of mine. These are the ones I call the “bloody hymns,” the ones focussed on how the blood of Jesus saves us. One of my Mom’s favorites was “Marvelous Grace.” I won’t sing it — although I bet some of you can — but I will read its first two verses and chorus because it summarizes so well the theology of “blood atonement”:
A sermon given by guest preachers Ched Myers and Elaine Enns on July 29, 2018 (tenth Sunday after Pentecost).
Elaine: Ched and I are delighted to be with you all this weekend, celebrating the wedding of Pastor Joanna and Eric yesterday, and this morning having the opportunity to circle around the Word here at First Mennonite. We join with you in blessing the newlyweds in their life and ministry together. We bring greetings from Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, and small gifts expressing our solidarity with two issue for which we share deep concerns with you: Watershed Discipleship and Indigenous Justice.
When Joanna invited us to speak this morning, she encouraged us to sing as well as preach, so we are mixing in a few songs. We would like to open this morning’s theme with a call and response song that we learned from the Wilderness Way Community in Portland, Oregon.
Song: “Come Gather Round”
Come gather round my friends
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Come you who hunger, Hunger for justice
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Sabbath and jubilee
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Mark 4:26-34, Ezekiel 17:22-24
Every young kid growing up during Jesus’ time would have been familiar with the prophecy from Ezekiel that Diego just read. Our kids recite Kendrick Lamar lyrics; those kids recited this prophecy — that God was going to take this small, vulnerable group of people and make something great of them. In the Bible, political kingdoms are often likened to trees or branches, so the people of Israel are the tender sprig from the top of the lofty cedar that God is going to plant on a high mountain. No longer would they be easily and often invaded, at the mercy of the massive superpowers surrounding them. Not only would be they be self-governing, autonomous, free – they would be more than that. They would be beacons of hope to others of the goodness of life lived under God’s reign. They would like be a noble cedar planted on a mountain that bore fruit and provided shelter for many creatures. Ezekiel’s’ stirring prophecy with that stirring image ends with these stirring words: I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.
But almost 600 years later, God’s promise still has not been fulfilled. The people of Israel have lived under a series of oppressive regimes. Throughout the centuries, revolutionaries and small armies have risen up, had small victories against these oppressors, but no one has been completely successful. Throughout the centuries, the people of Israel have tried to be faithful – tried to keep the commandments, tried to keep their end of the covenant – they fail, of course, but they keep trying. But God doesn’t seem to be fulfilling this promise to make of them a great nation, a noble cedar. It must have been so easy to fall into despair. To believe that their small acts of resistance or faithfulness didn’t stand a chance in the face of the largeness of their oppression. To believe that nothing they did really mattered, that their actions were bearing no fruit.
This two reflections were given on Sunday, June 10, by 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.
San Francisco Discipleship Group Reflection
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.)