Sermon: State of our Union

Matthew 4:17-23

Since I’m about to give our version of the “State of the Union” address typically given by U.S. presidents, I thought I’d check out last year’s State of the Union address to get a sense of the similarities and differences between that ritual and ours. Similarities? People come in late for that event, too. And, it’s hard to get people to stop talking to each other and get started. Nancy Pelosi has to bang that gavel, hard, several times. Maybe our worship leaders should do that? As for differences:  Joanna or I don’t normally get introduced — “Ladies and gentleman, the pastors of FMCSF!” — and then we don’t walk into the sanctuary as you all stand and clap. Why doesn’t that happen? And you don’t keep standing and applauding once we step up to the podium, such that we have to say, “Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much” as a way of quieting you down and then when we say that you clap even louder and start cheering, and we stand there, humbly. And this clapping and cheering keeps happening again and again throughout the speech. Again, why not?

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Mothers: Lamentation, Resistance, and Change (MLK Day Sermon)

2 Samuel 21: 1-14

By Benjamin Bolaños

To tell you the truth I’m tired of these one day holidays that we, as a country,  adore year after year, from President’s day, Caesar Chavez day, Indigenous People’s or Columbus Day and of course MLK day.  It’s not because I do not value what they represent or that I don’t believe in justice or equality or progress.  I’m tired of them because I find them to be frankly trite.  Every January we celebrate MLK day.  Every February we celebrate President’s day.  Every October we celebrate Indigenous People’s day.   AndI hear the same thing about that person or event each year. Particularly, the symbol of MLK has been lost for me since I know the story and I also know I get a day off. I get a day for each of these holidays.   I also know if I need a new car, there will be MLK deals for a ford or a toyota.  Or MLK deals at the shopping center.  In his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman calls this symbol draining (see chapter 10).  The more you hear and see the symbol, the more it loses its efficacy and since we live in a consumer-oriented society, the more that symbol is usurped by consumerist values.  MLK holiday has been taken over by the system.  

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Sermon: Fractals and Murmurations

This sermon is the first in our Advent Series, “Embracing Our Chaotic, Fertile Reality,” which is based in prophecies from Isaiah as well as the wisdom of a modern-day prophet, adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy. We used this wonderful children’s book, which describes fractals so both children and adults can understand them.

Isaiah 2:1-5

I was walking my dog about two weeks ago at night, and I noticed that someone already had a fully decorated fake Christmas tree in their picture window, and a couple of houses were already lit up with multi-colored strings of lights. I live on Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda, where we take Christmas seriously, but even I was “too much, too soon.” Promotions for stocking stuffers have been appearing on Amazon since Halloween. And the catalogs — even the ones I thought I had opted out of via the Catalog Choice website — have been arriving for weeks, the ones showing families wearing matching flannel PJs sipping hot cocoa in front of their Christmas tree.

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Meditation: All Saints Day

You can find an audio and video recording of this meditation here.

Luke 6:17-26

Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sad and rejected. Woe to you who are rich, satiated, happy and popular. You’ll get yours. Boom. That’s the Gospel for today in a nutshell, right?

Is this text really telling us that we’re bad if we are financially and emotionally doing okay, even that God is going to get us back for all our ill-gotten wealth and health? And, furthermore, just what does this passage have to do with day in which we remember our loved ones who have died, other than the brief mention of those who mourn?

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Reflections on Mennonite Heritage Sunday

This year on Mennonite Heritage Sunday, we asked three people from our community to reflect on what was going on in the story of the church and the story of their own lives when they first arrived in our community. Jennifer Graber reflected from 30 years ago, Ann Speyer from 20 years ago, and Jonathan Hershberger from 10 years ago. Video and audio of the reflections can be found here.

Jennifer Graber’s reflection:

In June 1993, my husband Kevin and I moved to the Bay Area for him to begin his neurology residency at Stanford and for me to complete my pediatric residency there. We came to visit in March that year and on Sunday attended FMCSF. We recall being warmly welcomed by a small group of earnest young Mennos, some of whom invited us out for dim sum after church. John Flickinger, Doug Basinger and Dan Flickinger took us to Yank Sing in downtown SF. It was delicious, exciting and, when the bill came, horrifying to us poor residents. The divided bill would have come to $16 per person. As we were contemplating this, our new friends quickly paid, ever generous as they always are. When we moved out in June we returned to church in San Francisco, which was then meeting at the Dolores Street Baptist church on the corner of Dolores and 15th St (where a lovely newish condo building now stands). The next Sunday, that building had burned down and the church had to find a new place to meet. 

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Sermon: Weaving the Fabric of the Future

Back to the Basics: Reintroducing the Church to Itself

Matthew 10:1-5, 7-13

During this series, we are reweaving the story of our church after the unraveling of the pandemic and so many losses. This has been holy work, this mending of the fabric of our community. We have listened to sacred stories from our wise ones about who we’ve been, and what we’ve endured. Those stories seem to me like the warp of a fabric or textile, those long strands that form the basic structure of it. (I invite you to look at the photo on the cover of your order of worship to see what I’m talking about.) And, last Sunday, we listened to sacred testimonies about who we are now, what we offer to each other and the world.  Those stories seemed to me like the weft of a textile, the colorful strands that weave in and out of the warp to form beautiful and creative patterns. 

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Sermon: There is No Seating Chart in the Kindom of God

Luke 4:1, 7-14

Sigmund Freud supposedly said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Known for finding the deeper layers of meaning in everything — especially layers of meaning related to sexual hangups— Freud was saying that sometimes a cigar isn’t a symbol of anything — it’s just a cigar! — rather than what it might more obviously symbolize in Freud’s world. 

However, in the Bible, a meal is never just a meal. It is never just a casual get together. It has layers of deep meaning. Who you eat with and who you don’t eat with say almost everything about your worth, your status — where you are in the pecking order. And who you eat with and who you don’t say almost everything about your identity, whether you are you an insider or outsider, to what group you belong.  In fact, meals have been microcosms of the larger social order throughout much of history. According to the historian Ingrid Rowland, where you eat, what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat and who you eat with all suggest something about your identity, your community and certainly your social status. (Dan Clendenin’s summary here.)  Food has, thus, she says, often been the “all sufficient metaphor for power.” Who has power, and who doesn’t.  And what kind of power “builds or destroys human community” (Clendenin). So it’s probably no wonder that the Bible is constantly talking about food and eating and dining and drinking. 

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Sermon: A Reflection on Abortion and Faith

This sermon was given by Anna Rich, a lawyer and member of our congregation. An audio version of the sermon is available here. (The audio begins at about the second paragraph below.)

Intro—Why I Am Doing This

Several months ago, right after the Supreme Court issued its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Sheri mentioned that in all of the time she’s been at First Mennonite Church, we’ve never actually talked about abortion as a congregation.  I’m up here this morning because I have a leading that our collective silence on this topic does not necessarily come from a healthy place.  Silence certainly doesn’t help us to have difficult conversations when we, or our friends and family, are faced with the common occurrence of an unplanned pregnancy. 

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Sermon: Keep Your Lamps Lit

Luke 12:32-40

So, here we are — in the dog days of summer.  We are in the hot, sultry days that (according to Wikipedia) happen during the rising of the star system, Sirius, also know as the “Dog Star.” Greek astrology connected this time of year with heat, drought, thunderstorms, mad dogs and lethargy. 

We’re lucky here in the Bay Area. While most of the rest of the country has been suffering from true dog day weather, we generally don’t have such uncomfortable weather here. We definitely have drought, but at least it’s not the 90-degree, 90% humidity weather that I remember growing up in in Ohio. Since many of you have lived elsewhere, I bet you know what I’m talking about. During the dog days, I would feel a little drugged, like I had taken a mild sedative. My brain felt like I was aways just waking from or about to fall asleep. 

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Sermon: Set Free + Children’s Story

Acts 16:25-34 

Our lectio divina group, which meets on Tuesday mornings, has been going through the book of Acts, and I’m getting reacquainted with these amazing stories from the earliest days of the founding of Christianity. Actually, that’s not the right way to say it. At this point, Christianity is still very much a movement within Judaism. The rupture between Judaism and Christianity had not yet happened; it’s still decades in the future. At the beginning, these Jewish disciples of Jesus are doing what the risen Christ told them to do earlier in Acts: that they should be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the process of being witnesses, Gentiles or non-Jews are also joining the Jesus movement. 

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Easter Sermon: Jesus, Unbound + Children’s Story

“Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ” by Janet McKenzie.

John 20:1-18

Early in the morning, around 5am, Mary Magdalene walks alone to the tomb where Jesus’ body lay. She has barely slept since Friday, when she watched — watched! — her teacher, her best friend, her soulmate, brutally murdered. The whole time she stood there, looking up at him, trying to communicate through her presence the unbreakable bond between them, that she was with him, he was not alone, she was there.

This was the person in whom she had experienced the most powerful embodiment of the Lifeforce, Creator, God. And this was the person who had helped her connect to that Lifeforce. Because of him, the veils had fallen away and she saw. She saw the glory of God, the radiant life energy that bursts forth from every branch, every stone, every flower, every person, from her. She felt it inside of her. She had never known herself to be so alive, and so loved, completely, just as she was. She had seen what that aliveness and that love can do — how it can empower an oppressed community, help them imagine new worlds, take big risks, do new things.

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Sermon — Thomas Merton: The One Thing Necessary + Children’s Story

Trappist Fr. Thomas Merton in an updated photo at the hermitage at Gethsemani Abbey (CNS/Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University)

This is the fifth sermon in our Lenten series on the Christian mystics called “A Voice to Call Us Home.” An audio version of the sermon is available here.

Luke 10:38-42

It came as a surprise to me when, in my early 30s, I felt drawn to becoming a monk. I was, by then, partnered with Jerome and so knew I wasn’t going to really be a monk, but I felt drawn to that life — to its simplicity, to the silence, the solitude, to the focus on what mattered. I was blessed during that time to find Hesed, an urban monastery in Oakland started by a female Benedictine monk that was devoted to the practice and teaching of Christian meditation. I became an oblate, or a committed member, of Hesed. As part of my commitment, I took vows, just like monks do. One of my vows was to what is called, in Latin, conversatio morum — ongoing conversion throughout one’s life, ongoing receptivity to transformation by the Spirit of God— which is really the one thing necessary, to quote Jesus from our scripture for today.  Throughout this time, the monk Thomas Merton was my spiritual guide, a man so completely unlike me but someone whom also longed for the one thing necessary, who had also taken a vow of conversatio morum.

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