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, 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.
I just got back from a two-week “staycation,” and… it was wonderful. Every morning, I woke up and said: “Soul, what do you want to do today?” And then, I mostly did that. So, I gardened and I read and I cooked. One day, my soul even wanted to do my taxes. And, surprisingly to me, my soul also wanted to do some deep family history via my DNA. Years ago, I got my DNA tested through ancestry.com, and it turns out you can download your DNA sequence from Ancestry and then upload it into these different programs (at a place called GEDmatch) that will tell you all sorts of interesting things about your genetics. For instance, one program estimated that about 40% of my DNA comes from ancient European hunter gatherers, about 40% comes from Near Eastern farmers (from what is now Turkey) who migrated into Europe some 9,000 years ago and about 15% of it comes from horse-riding herders from the Russian steppes who migrated to (or colonized?) Central Europe about 4,000 years ago. One program revealed that an archaic snippet of my DNA matches that of a man who lived in western Siberia 45,000 years ago. Other tests revealed that about 6% of my DNA matches that of Sephardic Jews — Jewish people who lived in Portugal and Spain prior to being expelled in 1492. A lesser percentage of my DNA hails from India and about 1% is tied to Nigeria in Africa, the continent from which all of us come.
I am sitting in a Direct Action training with 12 other Extinction Rebellion members.Pre-COVID.Extinction Rebellion – or XR – as it is called, is a climate activist group that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to raise awareness about the climate crisis and halt our march toward extinction of life.
We are getting trained on the rules of nonviolence, which include not harming property and making sure our speech is nonviolent – which includes treating everyone — police, bank tellers, security guards – with respect. “I know this,”I think to myself.
Acts 2:1-21 & the children’s story book Wild by Emily Hughes
At the end of our story from last week, we left Yeshua’s disciples in an Upper Room, praying together. Yeshua — the Hebrew name for Jesus — had just left them— again. After being with his community for 40 days after his Resurrection, he is taken up into heaven but not before telling them to wait in Jerusalem for the big event — they were going to be “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” he promised. The Holy Spirit here is Divine power, what I call the Spirit of Life, a resurrecting Power that works within human beings and creation to bring about the realm of God on earth, a realm that is always in contrast to the systems of death that have been so evident this past week.
So, the disciples wait, together, praying constantly. We talked last week about what this constant prayer might have looked like. I believe that this “constant prayer” is important to what happens in today’s story, because it tilled the soil of their soul, such that they were able to receive the spiritual empowerment we’re going to hear about today.