Sermon: Practices of Darkness

Matthew 2:1-22

For four weeks during Advent, we dwelt in the dark. We encouraged each other to rest there, to embrace it as fertile and magnificent. As the place from which new birth comes.

And then, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary was awakened by an angel, who told her she would birth the Divine into the world. And then, we said on Christmas Eve: The Divine Child has been born! Glory to God in the highest!  We ended our Christmas Eve service with this benediction: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.” 

And then, today on Epiphany, we sing: “Arise your light has come!” And we tell the story of the coming of the light of Christ to all people through the story of the magi that we just heard. The story is meant to say: Even non-Jews, even these strangers from the East, these astrologers (who practiced magical arts that were seen as dangerous to Jewish people of the time) even they see the star in the sky and know that a Divine Light has come into the world.

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Sermon: Being a Gift to the World

“The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

This is the last sermon in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Luke 1:26-55 (excerpts)

There’s a painting of this Scripture we just heard that I particularly love. It’s called “The Annunciation,” which is the name for when Gabriel comes to Mary and announces that she will give birth to Jesus. It was painted by the African-American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1898. It shows a very ordinary looking Mary, sitting on her bed. Her blankets look like they were flung off in a flurry of confusion and haste, implying that Mary had been awakened in the middle of the night from her sleep. While the disarray speaks to the shock of the angel’s appearance — who is depicted here as an intense, golden pillar of light — Mary’s face doesn’t show fear.  Instead, she looks directly at the angel, curious, perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the intense glory of the angel, but engaged. She is ready, open, receptive.

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Sermon: The Humility of Rest

This is the third sermon in an our Advent series entitled “Rhythms of Rest.”

As the book of Job begins, the title character is living the ancient Hebrew equivalent of the American Dream. He has a big family; he’s got health and wealth; he’s got the respect of his peers; he’s highly regarded as a morally righteous, spiritually pious person. He’s ticking all the boxes. 

And then, Satan enters the picture. (I can’t help but think of the church lady character played by Dana Carvey on SNL whenever I say the word “Satan” out loud.) Don’t think of Satan here as the guy with horns. Satan in Scripture is more like the prosecuting attorney of heaven, who is supposed to keep tabs on humans and then report back to God on them. Satan says to God, “Yeah, this guy Job is righteous, but only because you’ve given him all the goodies — family, wealth, respect. Take all that away, and he will curse you.” So God agrees to let Satan prosecute his case against Job. And everything is taken from Job — his family, his wealth, his health, the respect of his peers. Thus, setting up the perennial question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

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Sermon: Hiberation

This sermon is the first in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Psalm 63:1-8

This past summer, I was sitting in my backyard when I felt the sun on my face. Not an uncommon occurrence when one is sitting outside, but I don’t normally feel the sun on my face when I sit in that part of the yard because a tree is usually shading me. So, I looked up and noticed that that tree had far fewer leaves than usual because of the drought, and the ones that were there looked wilted, like they were barely hanging on. The foliage was sparse enough that quite a bit more sunlight was coming through the canopy, thus — sun on my face. I immediately got up and watered the tree, and I did this a couple more times over the next few days, but it was no use. The tree needed not to be in a “dry and weary land where there is no water,” to quote our Psalmist. It needed a season of life-giving rains.

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Sermon: Many the Gifts of Creation, Same Spirit, One Call

“The Peaceable Kingdom — the Last Supper” by Jan Wall

By Jim Brenneman

Scripture Litany: Psalm 104:24;1Corin.12:4-5; Col.1:15-23

How many are your works O, Lord, Creator of the Universe! In wisdom you have made them all; the whole cosmos is full of your creatures.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

How many are your works O, Lord, Creator of the Universe! In wisdom you have made them all; the whole cosmos is full of your creatures.

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and inhim all things hold together. . .For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven.

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Sermon: Untangling the Knots Within

The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4

Mark 12:38-44

So, I got myself all knotted up as I was preparing for this sermon. Ask Chris and Ann. I sent them this rather long, wind-y email on Tuesday telling them what a hot mess my sermon prep had been so far. Here’s why: This story has traditionally been used to encourage people to give as sacrificially and generously as the poor widow. It was a story that might be brought out during the pledging time of year to subtly shame middle-class congregations into digging deeper. If the poor widow can give her all, can’t you up your pledge this year? (Yes, I’m aware we are in pledge season ourselves. I promise I didn’t choose this passage for that reason — it popped up in the lectionary for this Sunday!)

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Sermon: Running Our Race

Excerpts from Hebrews 11 and 12

A few weeks ago, I went to my first cross country meet ever, to watch Patrick run.It was a beautiful October day. We were in Castro Valley, at a school up in the hills with this amazing three-bridge view of the Bay. What’s not to love? 

Well, the cross country course, as I found out later. It was by far the most challenging course of the season. I heard one runner from Alameda High, who had already completed her run, say to her friends as another run was about to begin: “They have no idea what awaits them.”

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Sermon: Heaven and Hell?

This sermon was given on “Throwback Sunday,” an annual Sunday where we take a look at problematic theological ideas with which many of us may have grown up.

I’m giving this sermon from Walnut Creek, Ohio, where I am visiting my family. This is where I grew up. This was the place that taught me about Jesus and the Bible and community and living simply… and this is also the place that taught me about heaven and hell. 

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Sermon: In the Boat

Jesus lulls a storm – Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41

Years ago, my friend Becky and her husband Jon were sailing on a large lake in New Mexico. Jon was an experienced sailor, and when they began their day, it was sunny and hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. No rain was in the forecast. It was a very typical New Mexico day. 

And then, just that suddenly, the winds began. High winds. Winds that rocked the boat, tipping it over onto its sides. Jon said, “We’ve got to head in.” They immediately sprang into action, manning and womaning the sails, trying to use the winds to steer their boat into shore. The winds got worse and became chaotic, blowing in different directions. “Let’s put the sails down,” said Jon. Still, the winds buffeted them, and the boat swamped and capsized. They fell into the water, holding onto the boat. Still, the winds. “It got really scary,” Becky told me. But, someone in another boat, battling the storm themself, came over and rescued them.

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Sermon: What Not to Pack on a Journey

Mark 6:7-13

What kind of a traveller are you? Are you someone who fits everything into one neat carry-on bag or do you check luggage plus tote as much on-board as possible? In my minds’ eye, I am the former. Except for those years when Patrick was a young child and I had to haul a car seat onto the plane plus a bag full of toys to engage him during a five-hour flight plus flight plus snacks and drinks plus diapers (oh, the horror!), except for those years, I aspire to travel light.  The problem is, I am also what someone called a “defensive packer.”  I want to be prepared for whatever might happen or whatever I might feel like doing or whatever I might feel like wearing. What if it rains? What if I want to go bird watching and I need binoculars? What if those shoes give me blisters? What if those earrings don’t go with that outfit? (Again, the horror.)

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Pride Sunday sermon

Our Pride Sunday sermon was given by guest preacher Rachael Weasley, who is planting a queer-centered, activist Mennonite church in Bellingham, Washington, called Community of Hope. For a description of Community of Hope, please check out their Facebook page.

Hi there!  I’m Rachael Weasley, and I’m so glad to be worshipping with you today.   I felt moved to accept the invitation despite the short amount of time to prepare, so I appreciate your grace.  I’m currently a church planter, pastoring a brand-new queer, activist Mennonite church: and we’re called Community of Hope.  A little about me: I graduated from Oberlin with a BA in music history and theory in 2005, and got my master of divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary.  I got involved with grassroots organizing in Chicago for racial and economic justice, which inspired me to write my first album of gender-inclusive Taize-style songs called Songs of Contemplation for Activists and Christians.  I now have two albums of sheet music and my second album of recordings is set to be released later this year!

I actually lived in Alameda during middle school and high school, so when I met Sheri through our work with the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery, I had to do a bit of reminiscing about the town and about the Bay Area.  I haven’t lived in the area since I was 18 but it definitely still gives me that hometown feeling.  So thank you for letting me join you there today, even if it’s over Zoom.  

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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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