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.

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Sermon: Pledging Allegiance to Interdependence

I John 4:7-8, 11-12, 17-21

I just got back from a two-week “staycation,” and… it was wonderful. Every morning, I woke up and said: “Soul, what do you want to do today?” And then, I mostly did that. So, I gardened and I read and I cooked. One day, my soul even wanted to do my taxes. And, surprisingly to me, my soul also wanted to do some deep family history via my DNA. Years ago, I got my DNA tested through ancestry.com, and it turns out you can download your DNA sequence from Ancestry and then upload it into these different programs (at a place called GEDmatch) that will tell you all sorts of interesting things about your genetics. For instance, one program estimated that about 40% of my DNA comes from ancient European hunter gatherers, about 40% comes from Near Eastern farmers (from what is now Turkey) who migrated into Europe some 9,000 years ago and about 15% of it comes from horse-riding herders from the Russian steppes who migrated to (or colonized?) Central Europe about 4,000 years ago. One program revealed that an archaic snippet of my DNA matches that of a man who lived in western Siberia 45,000 years ago. Other tests revealed that about 6% of my DNA matches that of Sephardic Jews — Jewish people who lived in Portugal and Spain prior to being expelled in 1492. A lesser percentage of my DNA hails from India and about 1% is tied to Nigeria in Africa, the continent from which all of us come.

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Sermon: “In Action – Reclaiming the Rebel Soul of our Mennonite Forebearers

By Helen Stoltzfus

I am sitting in a Direct Action training with 12 other Extinction Rebellion members.  Pre-COVID.  Extinction Rebellion – or XR – as it is called, is a climate activist group that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to raise awareness about the climate crisis and halt our march toward extinction of life.

We are getting trained on the rules of nonviolence, which include not harming property and making sure our speech is nonviolent – which includes treating everyone — police, bank tellers, security guards – with respect.   “I know this,”  I think to myself.

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Pentecost Sermon: Rewild Us Again

Acts 2:1-21 & the children’s story book Wild by Emily Hughes

At the end of our story from last week, we left Yeshua’s disciples in an Upper Room, praying together. Yeshua — the Hebrew name for Jesus — had just left them  — again. After being with his community for 40 days after his Resurrection, he is taken up into heaven but not before telling them to wait in Jerusalem for the big event — they were going to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” he promised. The Holy Spirit here is Divine power, what I call the Spirit of Life, a resurrecting Power that works within human beings and creation to bring about the realm of God on earth, a realm that is always in contrast to the systems of death that have been so evident this past week.

So, the disciples wait, together, praying constantly. We talked last week about what this constant prayer might have looked like. I believe that this “constant prayer” is important to what happens in today’s story, because it tilled the soil of their soul, such that they were able to receive the spiritual empowerment we’re going to hear about today.

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Sermon: Growing Up

Acts 1:1-14

Note: In this sermon, I use the Hebrew version of Jesus’ name, Yeshua.

So, I read some good news earlier this week. There’s a vaccine against coronavirus that is in the very earliest stages of its development, and it appears — so far — to be safe and effective. Of course, it’s only been tested on eight people, and it has to go into clinical trials where thousands of people will be tested. But the manufacturer, Moderna, said that if those trials go well, the vaccine could be available for widespread use by the end of this year or early next year. 

I know there’s a lot that can go wrong in clinical trials. And Moderna has since been pretty heavily criticized for putting forth such a rosy and aggressive timeline. And I know that even if this drug works out and is available by the end of this year, it could be months after that before I or others I know get vaccinated. Still, I allowed myself a bit of an indulgence upon reading this news: I imagined a world without coronavirus. I imagined being back at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav with you all at worship, bathed in that golden morning light, together. I imagined what it would be like to sing that first hymn together, after so many months — maybe years — of not doing so, and I saw myself crying with joy, along with many of you, not able to even get through the first stanza without breaking down. And I imagined myself saying, “Okay, let’s sing that first verse again, until we can get through it without crying.” 

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Sermon: Mutual Aid: Reclaiming what’s natural

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Acts 2:42-47

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.

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Sermon: Burning Hearts and Breaking Bread

Luke 24:13-32

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.

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Easter Sermon: Signs of New Life

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.

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Reprint: The Earth is Telling Us We Must Rethink Our Growth Society

The following article about “Rethinking Our Growth Society” by William E. Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia, is reproduced here with the express written consent of Professor Rees. Our FMCFS Climate Action Group is studying these kinds of articles to more fully understand the predicament we are facing and possible solutions.

Why COVID-19 previews a larger crash. What we must do to save ourselves.

William E. Rees, 6 Apr 2020   /   Published by TheTyee.ca April 6 2020. See https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/04/06/The-Earth-Is-Telling-Us-We-Must-Rethink-Our-Growth-Society/

As the pandemic builds, most people, led by government officials and policy wonks, perceive the threat solely in terms of human health and its impact on the national economy. Consistent with the prevailing vision, mainstream media call almost exclusively on physicians and epidemiologists, financiers and economists to assess the consequences of the viral outbreak.

Fair enough — rampant disease and looming recession are genuine immediate concerns; society has to cope with them.

That said, we must see and respond to the more important reality.

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Sermon: A Time to Grow Our Souls

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the fourth sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.”

John 15:1-17

Over the last week elders have been on my mind. Elders who are made vulnerable by the spread of COVID-19. Elders in San Francisco who Faith in Action is organizing people to call. Elders in my family and in the families of friends. I’ve also been thinking of elders who have passed on and what wisdom they would have for us right now.

The title of the sermon today comes from a quote by the late Grace Lee Boggs, who was an elder and visionary movement leader from Detroit. In the midst of challenges and insurmountable odds she would say, “This is the time to grow our souls.” I feel that and I know I need that.

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Sermon: The Sacred Way

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.” 

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Sermon: The Unquenchable Fire

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.  

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