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..
This is the first sermon in our Back to the Basics series entitled “Who’s Got a Place at the Welcome Table?” The image is “The Trinity” or “The Hospitality of Abraham,” an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century.
So many people contributed to the ideas in this sermon: Many of them are named, but some of them aren’t – so I want to also thank Joanna Shenk, Pat Plude and planning committee member Ben Bolaños as additional contributors to the ideas in this sermon.
Shalom Mennonite Church in Tucson is one of our sibling congregations in Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference. Becca Cordes, whom some of you know, is now an active member there, and Tina Schlabach, their co-pastor, did a trauma training here a few years back. I also work closely with their other co-pastor, Carol Rose, on the Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition. Shalom fascinates me because, recently, in the space of about one year, they went from being a largely middle-class white Mennonite congregation to being a multi-class, multicultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual church.
“Throwback Sunday” is an annual Sunday when we revisit theological ideas some of us may have grown up with and see if those ideas have relevance for us now. The illustration above is fromthe Codex Gigas, dating to the early 13th century.
How many of you believed in Satan when you were young? How many of you believed he was active presence in the world, ready to ensnare you in something decidedly not good? And how many of you still believe that some kind of being or entity or reality like Satan exists and is active in the world?
This is the second of an occasional sermon series entitled “How to Survive a Pandemic”
As you know, I made the difficult decision recently to fly to Ohio to officiate my nephew’s outdoor wedding and also to see my 91-year-old father, who lives in an assisted living apartment in a Mennonite retirement community. There was no official visiting policy at the time I was there, ever since the governor of Ohio mandated a lockdown of those sorts of facilities. However, my wily Dad had worked out an unofficial visiting policy with staff, where he would stand on an outdoor second floor balcony and we would be 20 feet below him. No chance of us expelling COVID-laden droplets or aerosols up that far.
This is the first in an occasional sermon series entitled “How to Survive a Pandemic.”
Genesis 32: 22-31
Imagine, if you will, that when you were in your early 20s, you and your mother devised a plot to cheat your twin out a portion of his inheritance. You’ve never really gotten along with this twin sibling. You’re very different. He’s a person of action, a hunter; he likes to be out and about, having his adventures. You prefer to stay at home, hanging out with your Mom. You’re her favorite.And, let’s face it, you’re a bit smarter than your sibling. You’ve actually tricked him out of some of his inheritance before. It was pretty easy to do. But you know that your sibling is your father’s favorite — and your father is the one who will decide who gets the rest of the inheritance. So, you and your Mom cook up this scheme to defraud your twin — and it works.
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.
We are in a moment of historic reckoning with our country’s legacy of white supremacy and racial injustice. And I am so glad that we as a community are coming to this moment having already done so much good work together as a community. Building on our decades-long work for LGBTQ justice, we began in earnest five or six years ago to educate ourselves about other systems of oppression and to locate ourselves within those systems. Matt Alexander, an organizer with Faith in Action who has done an Education Hour here and has been to several of our services, has said that among the predominantly white congregations with whom he works, we are at the leading edge of being an anti-racist, anti-oppression church, a church that’s really working on racial and economic justice.