By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
Today my sermon is an experiment in imaginative storytelling. I’m going to retell the story of Jesus’ birth and the visit of the wise people. In my story I’m going to bring to life Tree’s drawing of the holy family in a tent on the streets of San Francisco and what it means for our understanding of Epiphany in this time and in this place.
This sermon is the third in an Advent series on “Spanning the Space Between.”
Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11
I recently saw a photograph of last spring’s “super bloom” of California wildflowers. It looked like someone took a palette of paints and dumped them over the desert hills — purples, oranges, yellows, blues. Supposedly the bloom was so colorful that it could be seen from space. To make it even more crazily colorful, millions of painted lady butterflies showed up because of the bloom, filling the skies. I had never seen anything like it, and it made me upset that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to see this super bloom in person. Because super blooms don’t come around very often! You need a long rainy season but not just that. Super blooms tend to be more super after several years of drought because some seeds need to lie dormant for awhile to truly erupt into a super bloom. As one writer said, “Hard, undesirable conditions over many years seem to pave the way for the stunning explosion of a super bloom.”
This sermon is the second in an Advent series entitled “Spanning the Space Between.”
Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12
A few years back, Jennette arranged a camping trip to Lake Tahoe for our church. It had been awhile since I’d been there, and I was surprised and saddened by the sight of so many dead pine trees. Instead of seeing one long swath of green over the mountainsides, there were whole chunks of forest that were brown with dead trees, and other chunks that were a mottled mix of green and brown. In fact, tree die-off is happening all over our western forests, from the Yukon all the way to Mexico.
Why is this happening? On the surface, the culprit is drought and insects, particularly the bark beetle. As our climate warms, winters shorten and droughts in western forests intensify, weakening trees, which then makes them easy prey for the beetles. But the real culprit may actually be that there’s not enough fire. Scientists and forest managers now believe that decades of suppressing forest fires in the interest of protecting private property has resulted in forests that have too many trees in them. It used to be that fires would happen about every 10 to 15 years, which kept the forest from getting overcrowded. Such forests could better sustain periods of drought because there wasn’t so much competition for water and other resources. But suppressing fire produces too many trees that are then all more susceptible to drought and bark beetles. In addition, fire suppression paradoxically produces bigger and more violent fires because there’s so much more fuel to burn in an overcrowded forest. We need fire. It’s destructive; it’s dangerous; it’s hard to control; it’s scary. But we need it.
On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, Philip McGarvey and Tree gave reflections on what it means to live a life of trusting provision, trusting that our needs will be provided for — by the Divine, by the land, etc.
The first reflection is by Philip:
I’m writing to you from the south slope of our mountain up in the redwood forest where I’ve lived since last April. My feet are propped up on a dying madrone, and my head is leaned back against a fir. There are a lot of birds making noise today. I laid here all morning for my mind to slow down enough for words to come. I was asked to write something about land and food. It is hard for me to know what to say.
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.”
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.
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.”
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
By Joanna Shenk
This is the fifth sermon in a Lenten series called Capitalism: A Bible Study.
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.