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 Cordes, 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.
Third and final week. We decided to create this challenge as a way for you all to incorporate small practices of staying informed and educated, taking part in actions, and supporting local Black owned businesses in your daily lives. This last week is a fun one and we encourage you all to take part, even if you have not been as involved in the past weeks.
We did not receive quite the number of participants in last week’s challenge that we were hoping for but we really appreciate those of you who did take the time to send an email. We would still like to hear from you if you do decide to write an email this week for the Anti Police Terror Project. If you would prefer to write a physical letter you can bring up concerns from the link and address the letter to the Oakland Mayor’s office at:
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza #3, Oakland, CA 94612
Or San Francisco’s mayor’s office at:
1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl #200, San Francisco, CA 94102
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 now beginning our second week of the youth group’s three-week Black Lives Matter challenge. This week is a little more hands-on, as we are inviting you to write emails in collaboration with the Anti Police-Terror Project. APTP has been a part of the movement to defund the Oakland Police Department for the last five years.
Click on the category labeled “News” near the top of the page
A dropdown menu should now show a category titled “Current Campaigns” for you to click on
There should be a big red button for you to click on that says “Learn More”
Now click on the option to “Take Action! Email the Mayor And City Council Now”
IF YOU’RE NOT FROM OAKLAND, follow this link and then scroll down until you find the list of cities and states and click on your city or the city nearest you. (If an Oakland email pops up, you can close it out and then find your own location.)
From this website, there should be an option to “Send email”
Now you can begin to write your email! We strongly encourage you to modify the generic email already provided for you with your own words.
Once you have sent the email, please contact us so we can get a final tally of community participation. You can contact Twyla or Patrick.
As an addition to last week’s challenge, we are adding a link with resources for movies and books by and about Black Queer people, recognizing their centrality to the Black Lives Matter movement and in struggles for justice in the past.
We greatly appreciate your participation and please remember to let us know when you have finished. These emails really do make a difference but only when we all work together.
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.
These words were prepared for Faith in Action Bay Area’s Latinx-led Juneteenth solidarity action, “Black Lives Matter: Praying and Working to Create Healthy and Stable Communities,” held in Daly City, CA on June 19, 2020.
We are living through a long overdue nationwide awakening to the reality of state sponsored white supremacist violence against Black and Brown bodies. White supremacy, embodied in racist institutions, policies, and cultural ideals, is an original sin of our country. African-Americans suffer from discrimination and unequal access to employment, housing, education, and health care. This systemic injustice is clear in San Francisco where only 3% of the population is Black, but 37% of those living on the street are Black.
We now come to a time of sharing communion together. Communion is about affirming our connection to the body, within the Christian tradition, we talk about the body of Christ and being that body together. We recognize that our collective body is in pain. We want to lift up that prayer of pain and lament as we prepare our hearts and spirits for Communion.
This is a prayer that I wrote with help from Pat and Sheri and my friend Mark Van Steenwyk who lives in Minneapolis. Other churches across the country are also praying this prayer with us today.
God of the enslaved and God of the crucified, meet us in our anger, our despair and our grief at another Black life suffocated by the enduring violence of white supremacy in this country.
Meet us with the fire of your Holy Spirit sent to renew the world. May this fire refine our vision, separating truth from lie, separating an uprising born of enduring oppression from state-sponsored, white supremacist violence.
Meet us with your justice embodied by Yeshua and the prophets, who overturned tables, disrupted the status quo, and unflinchingly spoke truth to power. Amplify our cries for justice as we say the names of precious lives lost:
(bell tolls after each name)
May the fire of the Holy Spirit ignite transformation and healing. We pray for a righteous revolution—a society that no longer oppresses Black bodies. Where Black struggle isn’t exploited for white prosperity. Where the powerful are torn from their thrones and the people can live in beloved community.
This is the message of Pentecost: that God is birthing a new world.
Come Holy Spirit, birth the new world in the shell of the old.
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.
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.
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.