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 Cordes, 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.
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
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.
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.
Click on the category labeled “News” near the top of the page
A dropdown menu should now show a category titled “Current Campaigns” for you to click on
There should be a big red button for you to click on that says “Learn More”
Now click on the option to “Take Action! Email the Mayor And City Council Now”
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.)
From this website, there should be an option to “Send email”
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.
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.
We now come to a time of sharing communion together. Communion is about affirming our connection to the body, within the Christian tradition, we talk about the body of Christ and being that body together. We recognize that our collective body is in pain. We want to lift up that prayer of pain and lament as we prepare our hearts and spirits for Communion.
This is a prayer that I wrote with help from Pat and Sheri and my friend Mark Van Steenwyk who lives in Minneapolis. Other churches across the country are also praying this prayer with us today.
God of the enslaved and God of the crucified, meet us in our anger, our despair and our grief at another Black life suffocated by the enduring violence of white supremacy in this country.
Meet us with the fire of your Holy Spirit sent to renew the world. May this fire refine our vision, separating truth from lie, separating an uprising born of enduring oppression from state-sponsored, white supremacist violence.
Meet us with your justice embodied by Yeshua and the prophets, who overturned tables, disrupted the status quo, and unflinchingly spoke truth to power. Amplify our cries for justice as we say the names of precious lives lost:
(bell tolls after each name)
May the fire of the Holy Spirit ignite transformation and healing. We pray for a righteous revolution—a society that no longer oppresses Black bodies. Where Black struggle isn’t exploited for white prosperity. Where the powerful are torn from their thrones and the people can live in beloved community.
This is the message of Pentecost: that God is birthing a new world.
Come Holy Spirit, birth the new world in the shell of the old.
Preaching a sermon on mutual aid to a Mennonite church is like teaching a class on video games to kids who have PS4s. What exactly is there to say? We know this stuff already. We have an innate sense that mutual aid is important and we’ve been doing it, so we’re good, right? And this is supposed to be a short service, so why even preach a sermon at all?
I have asked these questions while thinking about this sermon, and here’s my conclusion. One reason it’s important to intentionally reflect on mutual aid in these times, is so that it becomes an articulated central practice of our lives together, and not just an idea we feel good about.
Here we are, on the road to Emmaus. It’s Easter Sunday, but this day isn’t called that yet. It’s two days after our beloved teacher was brutally murdered, and resurrection is the last thing on our mind. Yeshua (the Hebrew name for “Jesus”) is dead, as far as we know, and he’s staying dead. We have no reason to think otherwise, despite the fantasies of some of the women in our group.
Note: During this sermon, I will be using the Hebrew names for Mary Magdalene and Jesus.
John 20: 1-18
Easter begins while it is still dark. Before the sun came up, Miryam of Magdala sets off on foot. There’s no light yet — not enough, anyway, to know if you’re on the right path. Not enough to avoid the stones or roots you might trip on as you walk. Not enough to know if there might be danger just ahead. And in this version of the Easter story, she’s alone. A socially distanced woman, walking in the dark. That’s dangerous in any time and place. She’s probably walking fast, to avoid that danger, and to ward off the morning chill. Her feet crunch on the ground as she walks.
This is the fifth sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.”
During this season of Lent, we are on a journey into the unknown, where much has been stripped away from us. It’s a journey that’s lonely, as we are isolated from others, and the path forward is dimly lit, at best. It’s a time when there are possibilities for justice to break through oppression and possibilities that inequality will become even more death dealing than it already is.
Fifty two years ago yesterday Dr. King was assassinated and one year earlier in his powerful Beyond Vietnam speech he called for a radical restructuring of society. This is a radical restructuring we need now more than ever, as 1,000s of people are forced to live on the street in San Francisco and 10s of 1,000s across this state, in the midst of a global pandemic. Their vulnerability illustrates the death dealing nature of our economic system, and the callousness of political calculations, weighing their lives against a budget’s bottom line.