Sermon: Growing Up

Acts 1:1-14

Note: In this sermon, I use the Hebrew version of Jesus’ name, Yeshua.

So, I read some good news earlier this week. There’s a vaccine against coronavirus that is in the very earliest stages of its development, and it appears — so far — to be safe and effective. Of course, it’s only been tested on eight people, and it has to go into clinical trials where thousands of people will be tested. But the manufacturer, Moderna, said that if those trials go well, the vaccine could be available for widespread use by the end of this year or early next year. 

I know there’s a lot that can go wrong in clinical trials. And Moderna has since been pretty heavily criticized for putting forth such a rosy and aggressive timeline. And I know that even if this drug works out and is available by the end of this year, it could be months after that before I or others I know get vaccinated. Still, I allowed myself a bit of an indulgence upon reading this news: I imagined a world without coronavirus. I imagined being back at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav with you all at worship, bathed in that golden morning light, together. I imagined what it would be like to sing that first hymn together, after so many months — maybe years — of not doing so, and I saw myself crying with joy, along with many of you, not able to even get through the first stanza without breaking down. And I imagined myself saying, “Okay, let’s sing that first verse again, until we can get through it without crying.” 

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Reflection: Reclaiming the Embodied Mystery of Pregnancy, Birth, and Sustaining New Life

By Claire H.

In the early days of being pregnant, the mystery of creating a new life inside of me welled up in moments throughout the days. I was filled with hope that these cells would indeed grow into a life, knowing this gradual process so often ends abruptly. Slowly, very slowly, this hidden mystery became real.

But, the sacred mystery became distant as I rounded into the second trimester of my pregnancy. Amidst blood draws and ultrasounds, I felt like my medical record number was trying to claim my entire identity. The medical system reduces us down to 15-minute visits with doctors who order tests and procedures, who dictate exactly how much weight we should or should not be gaining.

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Sermon: Mutual Aid: Reclaiming what’s natural

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Acts 2:42-47

Preaching a sermon on mutual aid to a Mennonite church is like teaching a class on video games to kids who have PS4s. What exactly is there to say? We know this stuff already. We have an innate sense that mutual aid is important and we’ve been doing it, so we’re good, right? And this is supposed to be a short service, so why even preach a sermon at all?

I have asked these questions while thinking about this sermon, and here’s my conclusion. One reason it’s important to intentionally reflect on mutual aid in these times, is so that it becomes an articulated central practice of our lives together, and not just an idea we feel good about.

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Sermon: Burning Hearts and Breaking Bread

Luke 24:13-32

Here we are, on the road to Emmaus. It’s Easter Sunday, but this day isn’t called that yet. It’s two days after our beloved teacher was brutally murdered, and resurrection is the last thing on our mind. Yeshua (the Hebrew name for “Jesus”) is dead, as far as we know, and he’s staying dead. We have no reason to think otherwise, despite the fantasies of some of the women in our group.

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Easter Sermon: Signs of New Life

Note: During this sermon, I will be using the Hebrew names for Mary Magdalene and Jesus.

John 20: 1-18

Easter begins while it is still dark. Before the sun came up, Miryam of Magdala sets off on foot. There’s no light yet — not enough, anyway, to know if you’re on the right path. Not enough to avoid the stones or roots you might trip on as you walk. Not enough to know if there might be danger just ahead. And in this version of the Easter story, she’s alone. A socially distanced woman, walking in the dark. That’s dangerous in any time and place. She’s probably walking fast, to avoid that danger, and to ward off the morning chill. Her feet crunch on the ground as she walks.

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Sermon: God in the Darkness

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the fifth sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.”

During this season of Lent, we are on a journey into the unknown, where much has been stripped away from us. It’s a journey that’s lonely, as we are isolated from others, and the path forward is dimly lit, at best. It’s a time when there are possibilities for justice to break through oppression and possibilities that inequality will become even more death dealing than it already is.

Fifty two years ago yesterday Dr. King was assassinated and one year earlier in his powerful Beyond Vietnam speech he called for a radical restructuring of society. This is a radical restructuring we need now more than ever, as 1,000s of people are forced to live on the street in San Francisco and 10s of 1,000s across this state, in the midst of a global pandemic. Their vulnerability illustrates the death dealing nature of our economic system, and the callousness of political calculations, weighing their lives against a budget’s bottom line.

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Sermon: A Time to Grow Our Souls

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the fourth sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.”

John 15:1-17

Over the last week elders have been on my mind. Elders who are made vulnerable by the spread of COVID-19. Elders in San Francisco who Faith in Action is organizing people to call. Elders in my family and in the families of friends. I’ve also been thinking of elders who have passed on and what wisdom they would have for us right now.

The title of the sermon today comes from a quote by the late Grace Lee Boggs, who was an elder and visionary movement leader from Detroit. In the midst of challenges and insurmountable odds she would say, “This is the time to grow our souls.” I feel that and I know I need that.

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Sermon: Resistance

This is the third sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.”

John 15:1-17

Back in the mid-1990s, I was on retreat at a small retreat house near Carmel run by Catholic nuns. It was one of the the first retreats I had ever done, and it wasn’t a “programmed” retreat. It was me, at a house with three Catholic sisters, trying to figure out what it meant to be on retreat. I was in my early 30s, and I was in a kind of crisis. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still hadn’t landed in a satisfying vocation, and I felt adrift in the universe. 

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Sermon: Abide in Me

This is the second sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.” 

John 15:1-17

When I was growing up, we went to outdoor tent revivals put on by Helen’s uncle, George Brunk. Growing up in an isolated Amish-Mennonite farming community, we didn’t have ready access to live theater or dance clubs. Plus, all the drama and ecstasy you would want was more than present at George Brunk’s tent revival meetings. I can still smell the sawdust put down on the hay fields to keep the dust under control; I can still see hundreds of my neighbors gathered on a May evening, under the bright light of a string of bare bulbs, the dark fields right outside; and I can feel the powerful Spirit that was present when George Brunk spoke. Brunk was an amazing preacher. Helen gets her gift of drama genetically. With his thunderous voice and imposing presence, you could easily believe God was speaking directly through him. When he gave the altar call at the end of each evening, droves of people would get up out of their seats and, with tears in their eyes, walk to the front of the tent to dedicate or re-dedicate their lives to God. 

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Sermon: Naming and Claiming Spirit and Power as our Own

This is the first sermon in our Lenten series on “Spirit and Power.” 

John 15:1-17

Have you ever had the experience, sitting with people in meditation or worship, where you felt this energy in the room or within yourself, like some bigger Spirit or bigger Power was present?

Have you ever been pierced by beauty  — El Capitan at sunset, the eyelashes on a child’s face, a piece of music that you had to listen to over and over again?

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Scripture Reflections

This Sunday, two members — Kenda Horst and Jim Lichti — offered reflections on a lectionary passage of their choice.

Reflection on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 — Kenda Horst

First, a short preamble: After I said yes to Sheri, I sat down at my computer and, seeing the blank screen, thought to myself: “What did I just do?” That said, I actually did consider Sheri’s invitation, however briefly, before saying “yes.”

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Sermon: The Foolish Wisdom of God

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

This year in discipleship group we’re reading the book “Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice,” and reading the book of Romans. It’s my first experience with the writings of Paul in quite awhile and it has been illuminating in a number of ways. The authors of Romans Disarmed make the case that Paul’s revolutionary message has been co-opted by the forces of imperial Christianity. In the book they challenge followers of Jesus to re-examine Paul’s writings and reclaim them as an invitation to resist empire and demand justice.

Last week during discipleship group we discussed how we orient ourselves to reading Romans. Because, one might argue, since the book doesn’t address empire explicitly, any interpretation with that lens is unnecessarily politicizing the text. So we clarified that it’s true that Romans is not talking about empire. It’s talking through empire. Empire is the context not the content. With empire as the backdrop, Paul is talking about faith in Christ as salvation for all humanity, and rooted in the Jewish tradition.

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