This sermon is the first in our Advent Series, “Embracing Our Chaotic, Fertile Reality,” which is based in prophecies from Isaiah as well as the wisdom of a modern-day prophet, adrienne maree brown, author of Emergent Strategy.We used this wonderful children’s book, which describes fractals so both children and adults can understand them.
I was walking my dog about two weeks ago at night, and I noticed that someone already had a fully decorated fake Christmas tree in their picture window, and a couple of houses were already lit up with multi-colored strings of lights. I live on Christmas Tree Lane in Alameda, where we take Christmas seriously, but even I was “too much, too soon.” Promotions for stocking stuffers have been appearing on Amazon since Halloween. And the catalogs — even the ones I thought I had opted out of via the Catalog Choice website — have been arriving for weeks, the ones showing families wearing matching flannel PJs sipping hot cocoa in front of their Christmas tree.
This year’s Discipleship Group has been reading and discussing Sarah Augustine’s book The Land is not Empty: Following Jesus in Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. This Discipleship Group planned on Indigenous Peoples’ Day Service on October 9, and what follows are two reflections offered by members of our Discipleship Group during that service.
From Kylie McCarthy:
The Land is Not Empty has challenged my worldview and cosmology. It has helped me see from a different perspective and paradigm. I find myself asking many questions, sitting with intense sadness and feeling despair at the atrocities that have been inflicted upon a beautiful people and sacred land. I feel the burning fire for restorative justice. Questions arise: What is the collective path forward? What individual steps can be taken?
Back to the Basics: Reintroducing the Church to Itself
Matthew 10:1-5, 7-13
During this series, we are reweaving the story of our church after the unraveling of the pandemic and so many losses. This has been holy work, this mending of the fabric of our community. We have listened to sacred stories from our wise ones about who we’ve been, and what we’ve endured. Those stories seem to me like the warp of a fabric or textile, those long strands that form the basic structure of it. (I invite you to look at the photo on the cover of your order of worship to see what I’m talking about.) And, last Sunday, we listened to sacred testimonies about who we are now, what we offer to each other and the world. Those stories seemed to me like the weft of a textile, the colorful strands that weave in and out of the warp to form beautiful and creative patterns.
Sigmund Freud supposedly said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Known for finding the deeper layers of meaning in everything — especially layers of meaning related to sexual hangups— Freud was saying that sometimes a cigar isn’t a symbol of anything — it’s just a cigar! — rather than what it might more obviously symbolize in Freud’s world.
However, in the Bible, a meal is never just a meal. It is never just a casual get together. It has layers of deep meaning. Who you eat with and who you don’t eat with say almost everything about your worth, your status — where you are in the pecking order. And who you eat with and who you don’t say almost everything about your identity, whether you are you an insider or outsider, to what group you belong. In fact, meals have been microcosms of the larger social order throughout much of history. According to the historian Ingrid Rowland, where you eat, what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat and who you eat with all suggest something about your identity, your community and certainly your social status. (Dan Clendenin’s summary here.) Food has, thus, she says, often been the “all sufficient metaphor for power.” Who has power, and who doesn’t. And what kind of power “builds or destroys human community” (Clendenin). So it’s probably no wonder that the Bible is constantly talking about food and eating and dining and drinking.
So, here we are — in the dog days of summer. We are in the hot, sultry days that (according to Wikipedia) happen during the rising of the star system, Sirius, also know as the “Dog Star.” Greek astrology connected this time of year with heat, drought, thunderstorms, mad dogs and lethargy.
We’re lucky here in the Bay Area. While most of the rest of the country has been suffering from true dog day weather, we generally don’t have such uncomfortable weather here. We definitely have drought, but at least it’s not the 90-degree, 90% humidity weather that I remember growing up in in Ohio. Since many of you have lived elsewhere, I bet you know what I’m talking about. During the dog days, I would feel a little drugged, like I had taken a mild sedative. My brain felt like I was aways just waking from or about to fall asleep.
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.