The Kingdom of God is Like a Blackberry Bush

Mark 4:30-34

I’m in my backyard this morning, so I can introduce you to my blackberry bush. When Jerome and I moved to this house and began redoing the backyard, our next-door neighbor offered us canes (or shoots) from his blackberry bush.  It was an old bush — probably close to 50 years old — and I loved the idea of having this hardy survivor of the past five decades in our garden. And so we planted those spindly little canes and — voila! — we got this. We have been enjoying delicious blackberries ever since. So have the birds and the occasional raccoon that makes its way onto the roof of our garage and gets to the blackberries from above. Birds don’t find shelter, as in making nests, in our blackberry, but they do hang out there sometimes.

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Sermon: The Automatic Earth

The photos above is of an Amish farm near Sheri’s home in Ohio. This sermon is based on Mark 4:26-34.

I loved reading Frog and Toad stories to Patrick when he was young. And my favorite Frog and Toad story was the one we just heard. If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I would say that the overfunctioner in me — especially the overfunctioning parent in me — recognized myself in Toad.  My Inner Toad believes that it is not enough to plant a seed (or birth a child) and sit back and let the organic mystery of growth happen. My Inner Toad believes that I have to do things — many things — to make this mystery happen. I have to hover over my seed and anxiously watch it. Is it growing yet? Why not?  If I yell louder, will that result in growth? Oh no! Why is my seed delayed in growing, according to the unrealistic timeline I have set for it? Something is wrong and certainly requires my intervention.  Let’s read a book or go online or consult an expert. Just like Toad convinces himself that his seed is afraid to grow, I’ll come up with some story about why my seed isn’t growing and then focus all my efforts around that story. All this work and worry will exhaust me.  It is such hard work.

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Sermon: The Right-Sized Self

Isaiah 6:1-8

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? 

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Sermon: Not of this World

This sermon was presented along with a slide show, which provided a lot of the “text” for the sermon. I have tried to include as many links to these images as I can; feel free to imagine the rest!

John 17:6-19

It has been fun to hear people’s reaction to this passage from John this week. That reaction can be summed up in one word: Huh?  You may have felt that yourself when you just heard it. I mean, it sort of sounds profound, but it doesn’t really make sense. It reminds me of the opening lyrics from the song “I am the Walrus” by the Beatles: 

I am he as you are he as you are me

and we are all together

Huh?

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Sermon: In the World, but…? Earth Week pt.II


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

  1. Opening

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.

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Earth Day Reflections

Earth Day Reflections presented Sunday, April 25, 2021, by Elaine Miller, Miriam Menzel, George Lin, Stephanie Stevens and Jim Musselman.

Elaine Miller

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. 

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Sermon: Christ Has Descended! Alleluia!

Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10

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. 

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Sermon: Hosanna! Meet us here

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Mark 11:1-11

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. 

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Sermon: The Shadow Truth of QAnon

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.

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Sermon: The Good We Want to Do and the Shadow that Keeps Us From It

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.

Why do we not do the good we want to do?

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Sermon: Possessed

Mark 1:21-28

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.

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Introduction to Communion on Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday

Acts 2:42-47

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.

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