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

Sermon: God/Mother

By Sheri Hostetler

I have referenced Elizabeth Johnson’s book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse throughout this sermon. This is the third in an Advent series called “Wings, Wisdom and Womb: Dwelling in our Feminine Divine.”

When Patrick was young, he loved the book, Mama, Do You Love Me? And no wonder! In it, a daughter tries to find the limits of her mother’s love. And again and again, the mother assures her child that there is nothing — nothing — the child could do that would separate her from her love. Set in an Alaskan Inuit village, the girls asks, “What if I put salmon in your parka? Or what if I threw water on the lamp?” “Then,” mother says, “I would be mad, but I would still love you.” “What if I turned into a musk ox?” “Then,” the mother says, “I would very sad, but I would still love you.”

Patrick would often ask his own questions. “What if I kicked the cat?” (Actually, that’s not forgivable, Patrick, as you well know.) Or, the absolute worst: “What if I killed someone?” “Then,” I said, “I would be very very sad, so sad my heart break, but I would still love you. I will always think you are beautiful and precious because I love you.”

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Sermon: Christ/Sophia

By Sheri Hostetler

Proverbs 8 (excerpts), Wisdom of Solomon 7:29-30

I have referenced Elizabeth Johnson’s book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse throughout this sermon. This is the second in an Advent series called “Wings, Wisdom and Womb: Dwelling in our Feminine Divine.”

A few years after I graduated from seminary with a degree in feminist liberation theology, over 2,000 feminist theologians and church folks and ministers gathered in Minneapolis for what turned out to the most controversial ecumenical church event in decades.  Unfortunately, I was not there. I do love a good controversy. I wanted to go, but I was still way too in debt paying off seminary. As it turned out, I missed the feminist theological event of the last decade or three. “The Re-Imagining Conference” — held in 1993 — caused tidal waves across the Protestant religious landscape because it did what its title said it would do. It re-imagined Christianity, placing diverse women’s experiences at the center of theology and also placing the Feminine Divine at the center of the worship and ritual life of the conference.

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Sermon: Spirit/Shekinah

By Sheri Hostetler

This is the first sermon in an Advent series on “Wings, Wisdom and Womb: Dwelling in our Feminine Divine.”  I am very much indebted to Elizabeth Johnson’s book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse throughout this sermon. I also consulted Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb’s book She Who Dwells Within: Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism.

Is it possible that She has been there from the very beginning of time, from the start of all that is, and we didn’t see Her? Let’s hear the familiar words from Genesis 1: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). How many times have we read the beginning of our creation story and did not have eyes to see Her?

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Sermon: The Day of the Lord

 

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, Psalm 90:1-11, Thessalonians 5:1-11

Imagine the scene, if you will: It’s a Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting in my upstairs office with my nice hot cup of tumeric ginger tea beside me. My purring cat is asleep on my lap, and I’m snuggly and warm in my fake-sheepskin-lined slippers on this rainy morning. I turn to the lection passages for this Sunday, still a little sleep-fogged, hoping to find a word of truth and wisdom for me to preach on. The lectionary is a daily three-year cycle of scripture readings, and it always includes at least four readings — one from Hebrew Scriptures, one Psalm, one from the Gospels and one from one of the other books of the New Testament.  I decide to read each of these four passages out loud, as a way of more fully taking them in. This is the first one I read:

Helen reads Zephaniah in a passionate, heated manner.

That woke me up!  I think somewhere in the middle of reading that passage the cat jumped off my lap. The wrath and venom in it was so over the top that by the time I got to “their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung” I was laughing. Maybe a little nervously, but laughing.

Next. Psalm 90 starts out promising — in fact, the first two verses of this psalm served as the scripture for our 25th anniversary celebration in 2000, which marked my first Sunday of  being the pastor here.

Helen reads the Psalm starting out warm and comforting and then getting increasingly worked up.

No wonder we didn’t use the rest of that psalm for our 25th anniversary celebration. By now, I’ve taken off my fake-sheepskin slippers. It’s getting hot in here, and I’m still not sure I’ve heard a word of wisdom. At least, not a word of easy wisdom.

Next. I turn to I Thessalonians, Paul’s letter to one of the first Gentile communities he established in Greece. I Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament, written about 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, during a time when Paul and other followers of Jesus are awaiting what they think will be Jesus’ imminent return, when he will come to judge the world:

Helen reads I Thessalonians 5:1-3

Clearly, there would be no escape from the theme of judgement and wrath. I’m not going to read the Matthew passage, but it ends with this verse:

Helens reads: “As for this worthless slave, throw him in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Enough said.

What do we do with these passages in Scripture — and there are many — that speak to the judgment and anger of God? Specifically, what do we do with this idea of the Day of the Lord, which is directly referenced in both the Zephaniah and Thessalonians passages and forms the context for the others? The Day of the Lord is The Big Day, the Judgment Day at the end of time when God or Christ will judge all people — and some will go to heaven and some will go to the weeping and gnashing of teeth place. It’s when God’s anger against human wickedness and God’s judgement against it will finally, fully come to pass.

And this Judgement Day, this Day of the Lord is not a peripheral idea in the Bible, even though I confess that I sometimes want to regard it as one, as I think many liberal Christians do.  As one encyclopedia of Christian theology says, “Few truths are more often or more clearly proclaimed in Scripture than that of the general judgement.” The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures constantly refer to it; in the New Testament, the coming of Christ as the Judge of the world is often mentioned. Jesus himself not only foretells the event but graphically portrays it in his teaching. The Apostles give a prominent place to it in their writings. The book of Revelation is all about it.  What’s more, the encyclopedia continues, “The belief in the general judgment has prevailed at all times and in all places within the Church. It is contained as an article of faith in all the ancient creeds.” We don’t say the Apostles Creed in this church but it is an example of one of those ancient creeds that is still said every Sunday in many Christian churches and it includes this line: “He ascended into heaven. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” You can’t go to an old church in Europe and not see this Final Judgement depicted in often gruesome detail on some painting or sculpture or stained glass window. Like the painting on the cover of the order of worship, which was was painted in the 1400s by a German artist. You can’t really see this, but the folks on the left are the ones sent happily to heaven at the last judgement and the folks on the right are the ones who are engaging in the aforementioned weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What’s more, this idea of a Last Judgment is found in all Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — as well as some other religions. And, it’s not just a relic of less enlightened times. There are many people in the world today who steadfastly believe in a Last Judgement in which infidels will be judged and punished and the faithful will be glorified. Because of the prevalence of this idea across cultures and its persistence over time, depth psychologists would say that the Last Judgment is an archetypal image in the human psyche — that is, it is a powerful image or idea that occurs over and over again in our religions, mythologies. and stories. It’s a kind of universal symbol, like the Great Mother, or the Wise Old Man, or the Tree of Life. One that keeps showing up in our collective psyche and that has layers of psychological meaning around it.

So what could this Last Judgment mean, psychologically speaking? I am serendipitously  reading a book by the depth psychologist Edward Edinger, who has written several books interpreting the Bible from that perspective. (This one was from The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament.) He says that the Last Judgement archetype refers to a “major encounter between the ego and the Self in which the former experiences a devastating insight into its defects… It is the experience of being seen by an Other often symbolized by the eye of God. The image of widespread destruction refers to those aspects of the personality which are not grounded in psychic reality and therefore cannot survive transpersonal scrutiny. If, in this encounter, the ego holds, it is followed by an enlargement of the personality”

Let’s unpack that, shall we?

“Last Judgement refers to a major encounter between the ego and the Self in which the former experiences a devastating insight into its defects… It is the experience of being seen by an Other often symbolized by the eye of God.” We talked about ego during our Lenten series on the soul. The ego is basically our everyday conscious, “ordinary” self. The ego builds and protects our sense of identity and esteem; it helps us regulate ourselves and control our impulses; it also helps us adapt to our environment — to fit in with where we are, to “play by the rules” so that we get affirmation and approval from our social world. It’s good and important to have a strong, healthy ego. The ego is also the part of us, however, that gets really attached to the idea that it is in control, that it’s the captain guiding the ship.  It does not like it when it realizes that this is not the case. Our ego is also the part of us that does not like to acknowledge there may be shadow parts of ourself — aspects of ourself that our ego has repressed as “not me,” as “evil” or “bad.” Those parts of ourself that we often had to repress to win acceptance from our family and peers. Those parts of the collective shadow that live in us — including the “isms” and phobias (racism, homophobia, etc.). We aren’t usually conscious of what is in our shadow, and all sorts of mischief and mayhem can result when we unknowingly project it outward onto others or become possessed by it or repress it to the detriment of our physical and psychological health and wholeness.

For the “Self” in this quote, think of it as the Divine Spark in us that constantly calls us to greater wholeness and consciousness of what is not yet conscious. If you want, you could also call it Spirit or Soul or Truthas long as it has a capital letter at the beginning of it. An encounter with this Capital Letter Force is an experience of being seen for who we really are, including our shadow stuff — our pettiness, our woundedness, our complicity in untruth and injustice. It is an experience of being seen in our sin, a word that means those ways in which we miss the mark, the ways in which we are not in alignment with God or Spirit or Soul. As the Psalmist says, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.” There’s that Divine Eye, that penetrating gaze. As such, this encounter will feel like a judgment because it is a judgement. If you have ever felt a burning sense of appropriate shame or guilt, or remorse, or contrition, then you have had the experience of being seen and judged for your “defects,” for the ways in which you have missed the mark.  And it can be a devastating experience for the ego.

“The image of widespread destruction refers to those aspects of the personality which are not grounded in psychic reality and therefore cannot survive transpersonal scrutiny.”  I’m not exactly sure what Edinger means by “not grounded in psychic reality” but I hear it as those aspects of our personality that are not grounded in truth — not grounded in the truth of who we actually are, and not grounded in the truth of our Divine call. We can easily be swayed by other people’s agendas for our life; we can easily adapt or twist ourselves to meet others’ expectations and our own need for affirmation and approval. And we live within a system in which it is easy to be asleep to the truth — where we can be swept up in behaviors, attitudes, and economic and political systems that are “destructive for ourselves and others, without knowing it.” These ways in which we are grounded in untruth need to be brought under what Edinger calls “transpersonal scrutiny” or what we might call God’s Way or God’s Law or God’s Justice or God’s Truth.

“If, in this encounter, the ego holds, it is followed by an enlargement of the personality.” In other words, if our small self, our ego, can bear up under the scrutiny of this judgment, then we will be enlarged — more whole. When Jesus calls us to be “perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect” in Matthew, the word perfect should really be translated as complete or whole. We are called to be whole, as God is whole, as Jesus is whole — the human one who shows us how to be fully alive and aware in these bodies. We are called to the truth of ourselves, to the truth of our world — including our shadow, our defects (if you will), our limitations, and also, our unexpected power and beauty.

If we are on this path of awakening, of enlargement, then there are words of comfort for us, rather than words of wrath. Listen to the full passage from I Thessalonians, after Paul says: “There will be no escape” from the judgement of the Day of the Lord:

But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day (of judgement) to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

So, may we be children of the day, awake to the truth of who we are and of our world. May we endure the day of our judgement when it comes and welcome it as the wake-up call it that it is. May we encourage and build each other up, as indeed we are doing. Amen.