There are shadows within us. Yes, there is also a burning flame, an Inner Light as the Quakers call it, the image of God in us. But the shadows are there. We’ve been exploring them throughout Lent. Morton Kelsey, a priest and psychologist, puts it this way, “Each of us has underneath our ordinary personality, which we show to the public, a cellar in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see.” (From Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, Orbis Books.) In this dimly lit cellar are many half shapes — the unloved, rejected, despised parts of ourselves — and from these parts emanate shadowy emotions — fear, shame, jealousies, regrets and grievances, deep sorrows, an anger that can erupt out of seemingly nowhere.
As we begin this holy week, reality feels anything but holy. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. What good news is there for us in the Palm Sunday story? How can we wave palm branches and shout hosanna when our hearts are heavy with grief? It feels as though we are already in the thick of the passion story, as we sit with the violence of these recent weeks.
We grieve the senseless violence in Boulder, snuffing out 10 lives. And we grieve a society that breeds paranoia and isolation while allowing guns to be so easily accessible. We grieve the deep shadows of Christianity that repress sexual expression while fetishizing women of color. We grieve the tragic loss of life in Atlanta and the ongoing violence targeting our Asian American and Pacific Islander siblings.
This is the third sermon in a Lenten series entitled “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.” The scripture was excerpts from Isaiah 1.
You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive (members) of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight. You know all this because you believe in Q.
This is the second sermon in a Lenten series called “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.” This sermon is based on Romans 7:15-24.
It’s now the fourth week of February. Can you even remember the new years’s resolutions you may have made eight weeks ago — much less succeeded in doing them? Maybe you gave up on resolutions a long time ago because you realized it was pretty pointless. I read in January that 80% — or maybe it was 95% — of new years’ resolutions fail.
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.
I’ve talked to a few of you this past week, and all of you said you were surprised at the emotion that came over you as you watched the Inauguration on Wednesday. For many of you, Joe wasn’t your guy, nor was Kamala your “gal.” Many of you, and I include myself in this, believe Joe is far from the radical change we need in this country, and we are committed to pushing his Administration to make those changes. And yet, that ritual of watching him and Kamala being sworn in was calming and grounding and relieving for many of us after an intense two weeks, after a very intense two months, after an unrelentingly intense four years. I think many of us felt that we could take a deep breath again. Many of us felt part of something bigger than us, something that had the potential, the promise, of bringing us closer to our deepest dreams of justice, of healing, of hope for the future.
That was a lot of heavy lifting for one hour-long ritual.
This is the fourth sermon in an Advent series entitled “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born”
Luke 1:26-38, 44-55
I used to regularly attend a meditation community in Oakland, and my favorite service was the one on Saturday at 5 p.m. The service leader would refer to this service as a hinge point in the week, as we ended the week just completed and were on the cusp of heading into Sabbath and the new week. My favorite part of this “hinge” service was when the leader would ask us to reflect silently on the week that just was — its high points, its low points, its joys, its sorrows, its anxieties. And then the leader would light a little charcoal and put a spoonful of incense on it, which would cause smoke to waft up into the air and a quite lovely scent to permeate the room. (I realize for those with chemical sensitivities, this would not have been so lovely.) In that quiet, darkened room, as we watched the smoke rise, we would pray together from Psalm 142: “May our prayer rise before you, like incense.” And I would have an almost physical sense of some weight lifting off of me. Whatever had happened that week, it was now done, out of my control. I was giving the week to God and praying that God would do with it what She would.
This sermon, by Sheri Hostetler, was given on the First Sunday of Advent during our worship series, “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born.” It’s based on Mark 13:24-37.
Jerome and Patrick adopted DeeDee because when they walked through the kennels at the animal shelter in Alameda, the only dog that wasn’t jumping up and down and barking madly was DeeDee. Instead, DeeDee sat there calmly, looking up at them with her liquid brown eyes. I thought 6-year-old Patrick and his father had been going to the shelter on an exploratory mission, just to try on the thought of adopting a dog in, say, a month or two. Instead, Patrick called me from the shelter and said: “Mommy, her name is DeeDee, and I love her.”
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters and siblings, you do not need to have anything written to you.” (I Thess. 5:1)
What is the time we are in right now? What is our season? The answer is not winter. Even though it really feels like winter. And yes, everybody I know back in the Midwest is laughing at me as I say that. Paul — the author of this passage— is not referring to seasons of the year when he talks about the “times” and the “seasons.” Paul is using the Greek word kairos for both of these words, and kairos has a very different meaning than the other word ancient Greeks used for time, chronos. Chronos, as is probably obvious, refersto chronological or sequential time. Kairos refers to a proper or opportune time for action. Kairos time means the right time, the crucial time to act. When someone in our culture says, “It’s go time,” that might capture some of the meaning of the word kairos.
Every Thursday, I go for a walk with my neighbor. On one of our recent walks, she was telling me how her father, in his retirement, had written family histories for both her parents’ lineages — so, his father’s and mother’s families — and also his wife’s parents’ families. In essence, he had produced four books of family history. Now my neighbor told me she had actually never read the books. She’d paged through them and thought she’d get to them someday, but had never actually gotten there yet.
This is the last sermon in a Back to the Basics series on “Who’s Got a Place at the Welcome Table?”
Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:6-8
Jonathan Hershberger’s story:
Every morning, during third period at Central Christian High School in Northeast Ohio, we convened for chapel. One Spring morning, a visiting pastor spoke of secret sins – and that we never know what someone may be struggling with. As he spoke, he slowly removed pieces of his crisp, clean suit, revealing tattered clothes underneath. On my drive home that afternoon, I silently obsessed over his words, my own secret sin, and contemplated whether I would attend the same speaker’s workshop the next day – on the Christian Response to Homosexuality. My carpooler – a good friend who attended my church – sat with me, blissfully unaware.
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..