Second Sunday of Advent: “Dreams, Signs and Wonders”
For four years while Jerome was getting his Ph.D., we lived on the grounds of and worked at Piedmont Community Church. One of our co-workers had these things she’d say over and over again — many of us do — and one of them was this thing she’d always say whenever we were talking about solid, dependable, ordinary folks who were respected by others. She’d say, “They’re good people. Good people.” You might be charismatic or rich or incredibly talented. You might be a CEO (there were plenty of them in Piedmont) or a high-powered attorney in San Francisco, but only a certain type of person earned the title “good people” from my co-worker. It was her highest praise.
Zechariah and Elizabeth are “good people.” The author of Luke goes out of his way to establish their “good people” cred. They “lived blamelessly,” says the text, which meant they kept all 613 mitzvoth or commandments of the Jewish faith. What’s more, Zechariah is a priest and Elizabeth is a descendent of priests. Elizabeth shares the same name as that of the wife of Aaron, Israel’s first priest. This might all sound rather “posh,” as the Brits would say, but it wasn’t. There were supposedly 18,000 priests in Israel at this time, divided up in 24 different sections. There were so many priests that each priest was only on “active duty” two separate weeks a year at the Temple in Jerusalem. These priests were like reserve foot soldiers — set aside for intermittent service, respected but not particularly distinguished.
First Sunday of Advent: “Dreams, Signs and Wonders”
We don’t like to wait. It’s almost a cliche to say it, but it’s true. Almost every technological change that has occurred during my lifetime has been an effort to reduce our need to wait. We used to have to wait so much more. Do I sound like a cliche of somebody who’s getting older? I remember anticipating for months annual TV Christmas specials like a “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Once I watched them, I’d have to wait another 12 months for them to be aired again. Now, we can instantly call up those shows on Netflix or Amazon. About once or twice a year, we’d order new clothes from Sears. To do that, we’d have to drive to the small Sears catalog storefront in Millersburg, where you would fill out a form in triplicate with your order. You’d wait about three weeks, and then you’d get a call that your order had come in, and then you’d drive to Millersburg again to pick up the package. Now, I press a button on a screen and a day later, a package arrives on my porch. When I used to wait for the school bus to pick me up, I waited. I didn’t look at Instagram or listen to music or text my friends. When you used to call somebody and they weren’t home — now, you digital natives may have to pay close attention here — you’d have to put down the phone and wait until you thought they might be home to call them again. Because there weren’t any answering machines or voice mails and there certainly weren’t phones you carried around in your pocket. I could on and on.
By Sheri Hostetler
About a month ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) released another landmark report saying that, yes, climate change is really happening and we’re already seeing the effects of just one degree Celsius of warming and those effects are bigger than we even thought they were going to be. Droughts are more devastating, hurricanes are more damaging, wildfires are more intense and frequent. We know what this is doing to people and other living things from Yemen to Puerto Rico to Paradise, California.
Because these effects are bigger and happening more quickly than scientists thought they would, the report said we need to keep warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, not the 2 degrees originally agreed upon by world leaders in 2015. This half degree of difference could make a world of difference. It could leave our children with a planet that sort of looks like our own. There will be big environmental challenges and changes with 1.5 degree Celsius warming — there are already with 1 degree. But with 2 degree Celsius, we’re talking more about the end of the world as we know it, especially for the poor and vulnerable. Says Debra Roberts, the co-chair of an IPCC working group: “(1.5 degrees Celsius) is a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now.”
Earlier this week, I was on my weekly morning walk with my friend when — for some reason — we began talking about plastic flowers. I think it was because the Beverly’s crafts store had closed down in Alameda several months ago, and we were regretting not having a fabric store in town anymore and then we got curious about who bought all of those plastic flowers that took up the entire front part of the store. I told my friend of all the folks I know back home who buy plastic flowers and said they would have been able to keep Beverly’s in business.
“But my Mom,” I continued, “she never liked plastic flowers. Instead, she grew her own flowers that she dried and made into arrangements. And she got so good at it that she started her own dried flower business called Bev’s Everlastings.” “That’s so cool,” my friend said. “How did she preserve the flowers?” “I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea.” And just like that…. my grief hit. I realized, in that instant, that I will never know how my Mom dried her flowers. Because I can’t ask her. Because she died four years ago. Such a simple question for which there will never be an answer.
A sermon preached by Thomas Merton (as channelled by Pat Plude) at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. For a link to this sermon with footnotes, please click here.
Introduction by Sheri Hostetler: A few years back, we did a series that resonated with many of you on the archetypes of the warrior, monk and mystic. We said that while we may gravitate toward one of these archetypes, to be a faithful follower of Jesus, we ultimately need to embody all of them. Thomas Merton has long been one of my spiritual teachers because he did faithfully embody all of them. He was literally a monk, a Trappist monk, at Gethsamani Abbey in Kentucky. He was a mystic with a deep connection to the Source of life, which he experienced in prayer and ritual but also in nature and music. And he was a prophet. Without leaving his Abbey, he became a powerful public prophet, speaking out against the war in Vietnam and militarism and violence in general and standing up on behalf of racial equality.
This the final sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Stefan and Jacob, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon.
So, we have started with ourself in this series. We have looked at our conflict styles. We talked about the importance of being present when in conflict so that we can access the wisdom of our emotions and our senses and our neofrontal cortex. We have cautioned against jumping over the net to tell stories about the other person’s motivations and intentions. And then last Sunday, Pat and Joanna talked about the “listening” aspect of speaking the truth in love — how to make space for and receive someone else’s truth. Finally, on this last Sunday of a series called “Speaking the Truth in Love,” we get to speak.
But what should we say? What do we really want to communicate? What is authentically true for us — and what is going to give us the best chance of getting our needs met? Our first impulse in a charged situation is often to speak out of our reactivity. For instance, our impulse might be to spew our emotions and initial judgements:
This the third sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Chris and Ann, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon.
Ephesians 4 (selections)
So, before we dive into this topic of “not making room for the devil,” I want to do a quick review of where we’ve been up until now. At retreat, we looked at different conflict styles, which are based on the fight, flight and freeze response that gets activated when we are under stress. These are biological, hard-wired responses, as Kevin Graber so helpfully reminded us. We said that all of these responses to conflict may be called for at times, so we’re not placing a value judgment of “bad” on them.
But in this series, we are trying on another response to conflict, one that is less biological, hard-wired reaction than learned response. We’re calling it “speaking the truth in love,” and it’s a combination of both authenticity and care; speaking our truth with care and respect for the other person. Indeed, I believe this learned response — speaking the truth in love — is a spiritual discipline, one that we are called to as followers of Jesus. I also believe it is one of the most powerful and transformative spiritual disciplines we can learn. Like any discipline, any skill, it’ll take some time to learn it and we’ll need to practice it. And we will get better, over time, at it if we do.
This is the first sermon in our Back to the Basics series on “Speaking the Truth in Love.”
Ephesian 4 (selections)
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at the dinner table with your mother, son, uncle, partner, friend, co-worker… let’s just settle for partner in this example. (This example is adapted from the book Caring Enough to Confront: How To Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace by David Augsburger):
The kids are acting up at dinner, clearly driving you crazy.
Chris: I’m so sick of this. I can’t take it anymore. Sit down. Shut up. Eat your dinner. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
Ann: Smooth move, Dad. Just like your father.
I Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Just as there are fundamental physical laws of the universe — like “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — there are fundamental political laws. Like: when a people feel threatened — whether that’s because they’re struggling economically or there’s lots of social change or because they feel unsafe, due to crime or acts of terrorism— they will often look for a scapegoat. When we get frightened, we start looking suspiciously at anyone who seems “other.” This is why it can be so scary to be an ethnic or racial or religious minority, or an lgbtq person, or a woman during bad times. Just ask anyone who was a Muslim living in this country after 9/11. Or ask any immigrant from Mexico right now.
This sermon was part of our church’s response to Mennonite Church USA’s request that congregations interact with the Renewed Commitments document and provide feedback to the denomination. We also met during adult Education Hour to discuss the document.
I admit that I wasn’t feeling it when the Mennonite Church USA — the denomination of which we are a member – asked congregations to provide feedback on these Renewed Commitments that you just heard. This is a bit of a Pavlovian response for me. I hear the words “Mennonite Church USA” and I instantly tune out. This comes from years of feeling like I or those I love were being marginalized by the denomination — our voices discounted, our pain not acknowledged, our insights not welcomed. It comes from years of listening to church pronouncements or reading church documents that seem so vague and lukewarm and middle ground that I just instantly turn off my brain when another one comes along because I don’t expect anything real or relevant to come from them. For too many years, it seemed to me that leadership didn’t want to honestly address the conflicts tearing the church apart, and so we avoided issues in the name of “respectful dialogue.” This ended up making both progressives and conservatives angry and unhappy.
Selection from Hebrews 9-10
When my Mom was dying, I would sing hymns to her. Her church didn’t use the blue hymnal we use, so I would sing from the “red hymnal,” the one that came before the blue hymnal. I would start at the front and begin singing the hymns I remembered from growing up: “Holy God, we praise thy name.” And “Come thou almighty king.” She liked those front-of-the-book hymns okay, but after a few of them she would indicate, with a small flick of her finger (since she couldn’t speak by this point) that I was to continue paging through to the back of the hymnal where the “Gospel Songs” section began.
These were the old-time hymns she particularly loved. Truth to be told, these are some of my favorite hymns, too. Please sing along if you know them: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the earth again shall stand.” And “Oh Lord, my God! When I awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made.” However, there were many hymns in that Gospel Songs section that were… less favorites of mine. These are the ones I call the “bloody hymns,” the ones focussed on how the blood of Jesus saves us. One of my Mom’s favorites was “Marvelous Grace.” I won’t sing it — although I bet some of you can — but I will read its first two verses and chorus because it summarizes so well the theology of “blood atonement”:
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