This past weekend, I spent four days in Death Valley, homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone. We were celebrating the 80th birthday of a dear friend, who said she wanted to go somewhere where she could gaze at stars. And so I googled, “Where is the best place to stargaze in California?” and Death Valley National Park instantly came up. So, off we went to Death Valley, nine hours each way by car. As we drove into the park at around 5pm on Thursday, with sore backs and hips from so much sitting, we couldn’t see much. It was very windy and the views were obscured by veils of dust. I think we may have all been wondering if it was really worth the drive. Surely there were stargazing spots a bit closer to the Bay Area?
This sermon, by Geoff Martin, is a follow-up to our Earth Day service of April 25.
Psalm 96:11-13, 1 John 2:15-17
On Christmas Day, 1996, I tore open the wrapping on my first CD player—top-loading with a double cassette deck and detachable speakers. Later that day, from my grandparents, my first CD, called Seltzer, a Christian Rock sampler album containing the era’s biggest acts.
One of my favorite tracks was by a band named Johnny Q. Public. In the images of the group, they wore fur lined jackets and rocked unkempt hair. And always: JESUS. in red block letters across a white T-shirts. I played that one song over and over. And in a fortuitous bit of luck, I found out months later that Johnny Q. was booked for the closing concert at an end-of-summer bible camp my friend and I were heading to in Northern Ontario.
Earth Day Reflections presented Sunday, April 25, 2021, by Elaine Miller, Miriam Menzel, George Lin, Stephanie Stevens and Jim Musselman.
Who are among our great cloud of witnesses? Who are the ancestors in our memories, our spirit and our blood? My cloud of witnesses includes family, those gone before, AND representatives from the six kingdoms of life: Animals, plants, fungi and 3 distinct types of microorganisms. In other words, we were, and we are family with fish, redwoods, mushrooms, algae, and bacteria. We are all intimately connected and mutually reliant. We are all sacred.
Growing up we lived in a freshly minted neighborhood with two little lollipop trees in each brand-new front yard. Every Sunday we drove about 1/2 hour to a small Mennonite Church. I would spend that drive through central Ohio, looking out the window at the endless cornfields, scraped, plucked and tended by giant machines working non-stop except in Winter. The Ohio I knew was city, suburb and farmland with an occasional pocket of older trees.
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.
The Climate Action Group — with the approval of the congregation — recently sent this letter to Gov. Newsom asking him to ban fracking. While we wrote on behalf of our congregation, please feel free to send our governor your own individual letter!
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Governor Newsom:
In our battle to stop the rise in global warming, which you have noted is a major cause of California’s catastrophic wildfires, it is imperative that we reduce carbon emissions. You can help enormously with that by banning fracking of fossil fuels in California. For us to reach our goal of zero carbon emissions, we must act promptly and dramatically to stop further mining and extraction of fossil fuels, both in California and around the world. You have the power to do this in California. We urge you to ban fracking in California today.
Banning fracking would not only help us keep the remaining fossil fuels in the ground and reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, it would also stop the wasteful use of enormous amounts of fresh water required for fracking. And according to reports documented by 350.org, oil companies are permitted to resell post-fracking contaminated water for agricultural use, which then contaminates food sold to consumers. Fracking contaminates not only water but also the air and the land. These consequences of fracking remain largely out out of sight for most Californians; as usual, it is the low-income and non-white populations living in proximity to fracking operations that are forced to live with the consequences of these risks.
Governor Newsom, it’s time to ban fracking in California to reduce carbon emissions to stop the onslaught of global warming, move toward a more judicious use of California’s precious water resources, protect the consumers of California’s agricultural products, and serve all sectors of California’s population — not just the oil and agricultural elites.
On behalf of the congregants of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco –
Sheri Hostetler, Lead Pastor and David Wieand, Chair of the Governing Council
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 withyou 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.”
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.