The Kingdom of God is Like a Blackberry Bush

Mark 4:30-34

I’m in my backyard this morning, so I can introduce you to my blackberry bush. When Jerome and I moved to this house and began redoing the backyard, our next-door neighbor offered us canes (or shoots) from his blackberry bush.  It was an old bush — probably close to 50 years old — and I loved the idea of having this hardy survivor of the past five decades in our garden. And so we planted those spindly little canes and — voila! — we got this. We have been enjoying delicious blackberries ever since. So have the birds and the occasional raccoon that makes its way onto the roof of our garage and gets to the blackberries from above. Birds don’t find shelter, as in making nests, in our blackberry, but they do hang out there sometimes.

Continue reading

Sermon: The Shadow Truth of QAnon

This is the third sermon in a Lenten series entitled “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.” The scripture was excerpts from Isaiah 1.

You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive (members) of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight. You know all this because you believe in Q.

Continue reading

Sermon: Possessed

Mark 1:21-28

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.

Continue reading

Introduction to Communion on Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday

Acts 2:42-47

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.

Continue reading

Sermon: Overshadowed

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.

Continue reading

Sermon: Class and the Welcome Table

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..

Continue reading

Sermon: Who’s Got a Place at the Welcome Table?

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.

Continue reading

Black Lives Matter: Three Week Challenge from Youth Group (Part Three)

By FMCSF Youth Group

Hey Congregation!

Third and final week. We decided to create this challenge as a way for you all to incorporate small practices of staying informed and educated, taking part in actions, and supporting local Black owned businesses in your daily lives. This last week is a fun one and we encourage you all to take part, even if you have not been as involved in the past weeks.

We did not receive quite the number of participants in last week’s challenge that we were hoping for but we really appreciate those of you who did take the time to send an email. We would still like to hear from you if you do decide to write an email this week for the Anti Police Terror Project. If you would prefer to write a physical letter you can bring up concerns from the link and address the letter to the Oakland Mayor’s office at:
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza #3, Oakland, CA 94612
Or San Francisco’s mayor’s office at:

1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl #200, San Francisco, CA 94102

Continue reading

Sermon: Hoping for the unseen

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Romans 8:12-25

The last couple weeks I’ve been reading Vincent Harding’s book, “There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America.” I chose the book’s cover as our bulletin illustration this morning. I’ve had it on my shelf for years. In the midst of the uprisings and the surging Black Lives Matter movement, I decided now was time to read it.

What I’ve found in its pages is one the most compelling narratives I’ve ever read. I think part of the reason I hadn’t picked up the book until now was because I was afraid it would be too heavy. I remembered talking with Vincent Harding’s niece, Gloria, soon after he died. She reflected that when he was working on “There is a River” in the late 70s that there were days when he would cry unconsolably. She had been there with him as his typist while he worked.

Continue reading

Black Lives Matter: Three Week Challenge from Youth Group (Part Two)

By FMCSF Youth Group

What’s Up Congregation!
 

We are now beginning our second week of the youth group’s three-week Black Lives Matter challenge. This week is a little more hands-on, as we are inviting you to write emails in collaboration with the Anti Police-Terror Project. APTP has been a part of the movement to defund the Oakland Police Department for the last five years. 

Steps to taking action: 
  1. Click on the category labeled “News” near the top of the page 
  2. A dropdown menu should now show a category titled “Current Campaigns” for you to click on
  3. There should be a big red button for you to click on that says “Learn More” 
  4. Now click on the option to “Take Action! Email the Mayor And City Council Now” 
  5. IF YOU’RE NOT FROM OAKLAND, follow this link and then scroll down until you find the list of cities and states and click on your city or the city nearest you. (If an Oakland email pops up, you can close it out and then find your own location.)
  6. From this website, there should be an option to “Send email” 
  7. Now you can begin to write your email! We strongly encourage you to modify the generic email already provided for you with your own words.

Once you have sent the email, please contact us so we can get a final tally of community participation. You can contact Twyla or Patrick.

As an addition to last week’s challenge, we are adding a link with resources for movies and books by and about Black Queer people, recognizing their centrality to the Black Lives Matter movement and in struggles for justice in the past.

We greatly appreciate your participation and please remember to let us know when you have finished. These emails really do make a difference but only when we all work together.
Stay safe,

Patrick, Twyla, and the youth group

Menno Youth 4 Black Lives

Sermon: Pride Sunday 2020

By Stefan Baumgartner

John 2:13-22

Spirit who connects every being, move in our midst this day.

Welcome to Pride Sunday!  I’m so happy to be with you today.

My name is Stefan Baumgartner. My pronouns are he/him.

I want to begin my reflection with a quote by Marsha P. Johnson,

“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

As a gay, white, cisgender man,

I am indebted to trans folks and queer women of color. 

Continue reading

Call to Action: Juneteenth 2020

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

These words were prepared for Faith in Action Bay Area’s Latinx-led Juneteenth solidarity action, “Black Lives Matter: Praying and Working to Create Healthy and Stable Communities,” held in Daly City, CA on June 19, 2020.

We are living through a long overdue nationwide awakening to the reality of state sponsored white supremacist violence against Black and Brown bodies. White supremacy, embodied in racist institutions, policies, and cultural ideals, is an original sin of our country. African-Americans suffer from discrimination and unequal access to employment, housing, education, and health care. This systemic injustice is clear in San Francisco where only 3% of the population is Black, but 37% of those living on the street are Black. 

Continue reading