Sermon: How to Survive an Apocalypse

Luke 21:5-19

On the morning that I had set aside to begin this sermon, I kept not getting to it because I kept getting news of people dying. One was Kent Barnes’ father, who death was somewhat expected and was, in many respects, a mercy. But another one was Karen Bennett’s brother-in-law, who had gone into surgery for a minor operation and died a few days later, for reasons that are still unclear. He was 68. I had met Mike when I officiated Karen and Peter’s wedding and at the memorial service for Karen’s father. Mike was a physically big man with an even bigger presence, the kind of presence we call “commanding.” I told Karen that I couldn’t remember his face, but I remembered how much energetic space he took up during the reception after the memorial. “That’s Mike,” Karen said. And she paused. “It’s implausible that he’s not here anymore.” 

I think every death is an implausibility. My experience is that even when someone dies expectedly as opposed to unexpectedly, even when you know their death is going to happen and have been praying for this mercy, when they actually die, you say to yourself,  “What just happened? They were here and now they’re not? That’s implausible.”

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Reflections on Mennonite Heritage Sunday

On the last Sunday of October, many Mennonite churches in the United States observe Mennonite Heritage Sunday, a day set aside to remember the gifts that our spiritual ancestors have bequeathed to  us. Our Anabaptist ancestors participated in one of the biggest religious, social and economic upheavals in European history. The 1500s were a time when the structures that had governed society for centuries were being actively challenged and dismantled by the masses, who were seeking to transform these economic and political and religious structures to be more egalitarian and just.  It was an apocalyptic time, a time of violence and fear and hope and vision when the world truly seemed to be ending and something new truly seemed to be happening. Sound familiar? 

Our social context today is similarly apocalyptic — a time of transformation, when centuries-old structure are failing and something new is desperately trying to be born. Our service today will look at how we in this church are participating in the many moments for transformation swirling around us. Kate Irick, Jim Lichti and Helen Stoltzfus will be offering reflections on that theme, which follow.

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Sermon: Exodus, law and conquest

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the fourth sermon in a series called “The Story of the Bible: A Hot Mess and a Healing Journey.”

Scripture excerpts from Exodus – Joshua (see below)

We have a lot of ground to cover today so we’ll be reading excerpts from scripture throughout the sermon. The scope of the sermon is Exodus through Joshua… Suffice it to say this sermon wins the hot mess award for our series this fall.

Last week Sheri talked about the promise God made to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. “Being chosen doesn’t mean that you’re God’s pampered favorite child and you can throw tantrums and steals toys and treat everyone around you like crap. It means you’ve been chosen for a divine purpose and that God has blessed you for that purpose.”

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Sermon: Amos and the impossible

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Amos 8:1-12

We do what’s possible and God does what’s impossible. That is the actual title of my sermon, it was just too long for the bulletin.

One of my favorite places these days is the Faith in Action office located at the corner of Folsom and Cesar Chavez. I walk in the door saying “Hola, como esta?” and giving hugs and kisses all around the table. I’m usually one of the only people in the room that doesn’t speak Spanish but that hasn’t gotten in the way of getting to know these neighbors. And thankfully someone is always gracious enough to translate for me. 

At a Faith in Action meeting this week we began by answering the question: Where have you sensed the Spirit of God in our work together?

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Sermon: Elisha’s Soup Kitchen–Sabbath Economics in Hard Times

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

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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: Zacchaeus and Jesus

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.

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18

Luke 19:1-10 (Jesus and Zacchaeus)

While traveling with his poor people’s movement, Jesus and his friends, had a protest march in Manhattan, New York. Manhattan is one of the biggest places for business and trade in the United States.

A man there was named Zacchaeus and he was the biggest property owner in Manhattan. Since he owned so much property he was able to charge high rent because people had very few other options. This made him very rich.

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Sermon: Zacchaeus, Redistribution and Salvation

By Joanna Shenk

This is the fifth sermon in a Lenten series called Capitalism: A Bible Study.

Luke 19:1-10

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Clarence Jordan Symposium in Americus, Ga. The symposium marked 75 years since the founding of Koinonia Farm, which was the first interracial community in the South. Clarence Jordan was one of the founders of Koinonia and he was a friend Dr. Vincent Harding.

Those who joined the community committed to four principles of community life:

1. Treat all human beings with dignity and justice
2. Choose love over violence
3. Share all possessions and live simply
4. Be stewards of the land and its natural resources

When the community was founded in the 1940s it was unlawful for black people and white people to sit down together in Georgia. They could be standing next to each other, but they couldn’t sit down to share a meal or conversation or anything. In the 1950s the community got a lot of threats, their produce stand was dynamited and they experienced the terror of drive-by shootings at the hands of white neighbors.

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Sermon: Capitalism and the Self

By Joanna Shenk

This is the third sermon in a Lenten series called “Capitalism: A Bible Study.”

Mark 5:1-17

Wednesday was an intense day for me. It began with a trip to the San Francisco County Jail which is located in San Bruno. A friend of mine, Ellen, teaches classes there and invited me to speak about my new book and Vincent Harding. I figured Dr. Harding would be pleased that my first “official” book talk was in a jail. He was always encouraging people to be in conversation and relationship across lines of difference.

It was my first experience going to that jail and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When Ellen picked me up at BART she said there would be 48 men in the class that day. I hadn’t anticipated that many, but was up for the task. I had sent some readings earlier in the week and she said the men were really interested to learn more about Vincent Harding and also about Mennonites.

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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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