Our lectio divina group, which meets on Tuesday mornings, has been going through the book of Acts, and I’m getting reacquainted with these amazing stories from the earliest days of the founding of Christianity. Actually, that’s not the right way to say it. At this point, Christianity is still very much a movement within Judaism. The rupture between Judaism and Christianity had not yet happened; it’s still decades in the future. At the beginning, these Jewish disciples of Jesus are doing what the risen Christ told them to do earlier in Acts: that they should be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the process of being witnesses, Gentiles or non-Jews are also joining the Jesus movement.
This is the fifth sermon in our Lenten series on the Christian mystics called “A Voice to Call Us Home.” An audio version of the sermon is available here.
It came as a surprise to me when, in my early 30s, I felt drawn to becoming a monk. I was, by then, partnered with Jerome and so knew I wasn’t going to really be a monk, but I felt drawn to that life — to its simplicity, to the silence, the solitude, to the focus on what mattered. I was blessed during that time to find Hesed, an urban monastery in Oakland started by a female Benedictine monk that was devoted to the practice and teaching of Christian meditation. I became an oblate, or a committed member, of Hesed. As part of my commitment, I took vows, just like monks do. One of my vows was to what is called, in Latin, conversatio morum — ongoing conversion throughout one’s life, ongoing receptivity to transformation by the Spirit of God— which is really the one thing necessary, to quote Jesus from our scripture for today. Throughout this time, the monk Thomas Merton was my spiritual guide, a man so completely unlike me but someone whom also longed for the one thing necessary, who had also taken a vow of conversatio morum.
My husband, Jerome’s, brother was a commercial fisherman. About twice a month, he would depart from Boston and head out to Georges Bank, often traveling several days to get there. It was hard physical labor, and they’d work almost 24/7, with very little sleep. They were tired and wet and cold a good part of the time. Jerome almost joined his brother working on the boat one summer, and I think he might have been glad he managed to find another job. Fishing is hard, exhausting work, even with all the technology fisherpeople have at their disposal.
So, it’s not difficult for me to imagine the physical and emotional exhaustion of the fishermen from our story. They have been up all night, throwing their heavy, wet nets into the water again and again and again. Each time they pull up their rope nets, the somewhat salty water of the Sea of Galilee irritates the cuts and scrapes they undoubtedly have on their hands and bodies. And each time they pull up the nets, they are empty. What would they eat? What would their families eat? And once on shore, they can’t yet lay their wet, weary bodies down and sleep. They have to mend the nets. Fishing is hard, exhausting work, then and now.
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!)
After Sarah Augustine’s powerful sermon at our Indigenous Peoples’ Day service, Kinari Webb responded with an invitation and challenge to our community to join her in donating any money we make off of extractive industries, like mining, toward a full-time salary for Sarah.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.”