Sermon: The Shadow of American Exceptionalism

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the fourth sermon in a Lenten series entitled “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.” 

Matthew 5:13-15

The year is 1989. The setting is the White House. Ronald Reagan is offering his farewell address after 8 years in office. “The Great Communicator,” as he was called, waxes eloquently:

The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the shining “city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important, because he was an early Pilgrim – an early “Freedom Man.” He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat, and, like the other pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.

I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace – a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.

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Sermon: Shadow Dancing

This is the first sermon in our Lent series, “Shadow Dancing: Pulling Back the Veil.”

Matthew 4:1-11

I have a confession to make.  A few months ago, I became aware that the 20th anniversary of my tenure as pastor here was coming up. It felt important to me to mark that anniversary in some way, but I also knew that probably no one else in the congregation knew this anniversary was coming. So in a recent pastoral staff meeting, I kind of sheepishly said to Joanna and Pat that my 20th was coming and that I kind of wanted some acknowledgement of it. It didn’t have to be a big deal, I said — in fact, I didn’t want a big deal — but just some acknowledgement.

I was surprised at how hard it was for me to ask for this.  I felt this shame creeping up in me as I made the request. And I even felt the shame during the week before the celebration Sunday, as I heard little glimmers of what was going to happen and knew it was going to be quite a bigger deal than I had anticipated. 

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Sermon: An Inconvenient Hero

By Rev. Kamal Hassan

Rev. Hassan was our guest preacher on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday 2021. Rev. Hassan is the pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Calif. He is a powerfully gifted preacher and Christian educator whose message is rooted in the African American prophetic tradition. He is a community organizer who has toiled for decades in low-wealth communities of color for social justice. Read more of his bio here

Luke 4:22-30

Claim: Jesus and Dr Martin Luther King Jr were inconvenient heroes

I. We Re-Call Dr Martin Luther King Jr with Dr Vincent Harding

A. A Chaplin of the Empire

B. A prophet of justice

II. The shape of prophetic ministry

Not the Dream in Washington, but the Sermon on the Mount

Greatly honored are the destitute

Greatly honored are the mourners

Greatly honored are the humbled

Greatly honored are the those who are famished and parched for justice

Greatly honored are those who show mercy

Greatly honored are the pure in heart

Greatly honored are the peace makers

Greatly honored are those who have been persecuted for the sake of justice

Greatly honored are you when you put your honor on the line for Christ’s sake

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Sermon: Called to be light-bearers

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Matthew 2:1-12

We made it! It’s 2021! Finally! I mean it was the strangest New Years Eve ever, but that’s how 2020 rolled. I imagine we rang in the new year in lots of creative ways. For example, I did handstands with some friends over Zoom. With the new year under our belt, we move into the season of Epiphany. 

Within the Christian tradition Epiphany celebrates the Light of divine revelation. It is a revealing of Divine presence with all people. The visit of the magi is a sign of God’s presence in all places, as they came from far away to honor a baby messiah. They were guided by a great light in the heavens to find a light-bearer. This revealing of the light-bearer we call Jesus, also revealed the shadows of the reality in which he lived. 

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Sermon: Testifying to the Light

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

John 1:6-8, 19-28

It’s the third Sunday of Advent, which is traditionally the Sunday to rejoice in our waiting, and a pink candle is often lit to symbolize this. So far this advent we have talked about what it means to live in kairos time, which is the new age of liberation. This new age is always at odds with the old age of domination. We’ve also reflected on how we’re not just waiting for a baby to be born, but we’re expecting a spirit-filled movement of liberation, and we’re a part of it! We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. 

The question this Sunday is about how we’re witnessing or testifying to that movement. Later in the sermon I will actually make space for us to share out where we see the new age of liberation breaking forth right now. So you can be thinking of examples. 

Our gospel text this morning begins thus, “Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through this testimony everyone might believe.” In this telling of the story John is not emphasized as the baptizer, instead he is the witness. He is testifying to the Light.

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Sermon: We Are The Ones

This sermon, by Joanna Lawrence Shenk, was given on the Second Sunday of Advent during our worship series, “Wilderness and Womb: We are the Ones Being Born.” The scripture text is Mark 1:1-8.

We are the ones being born. I love this thought put forward by Worship Committee in planning our Advent series. It’s also beautifully depicted on our bulletin cover. Amidst the chaos of our world, we are claiming new birthings of Spirit, and we are joining in that birthing process. So if we are the ones being born this Advent, does it follow that we are also the ones we have been waiting for? 

I’m sure many, if not all of us, have heard this iconic statement, attributed to the Jamaican American poet and educator June Jordan in her 1978 piece titled “Poem For South African Women.” This statement also appeared in a Hopi Elders’ Prophecy in the year 2000. Sweet Honey in the Rock put it to music. Books have been written by that title, and it was something the late Vincent Harding would remind people of often in their movement work. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

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Outreach Committee 2020: Relief, Reimagining, Rebirth

By Outreach Committee

Background: Over the last couple years the Outreach Committee has begun the practice of drafting a vision document to highlight the work of our congregation in the world. Part of our role as a committee is to take a step back and notice all of these efforts and hold them up for others to see. This year our vision document is titled “Relief, Reimagining, Rebirth” as we look at the ways our congregation has been responding to the multiple crises we have faced and are facing. 

If you are interested to see our past documents, which are connected the FMCSF Core Values and Practices, you can find them here:

Outreach Committee 2017: Strategies and Tactics

Outreach Committee 2018: Mennofesto

Relief, Reimagining and Rebirth resonate with the Outreach committee as we examine the work of FMCSF in the world during this time. 

At present we know that so many people are hungry, scared they will lose their homes, and terrified for the health of their loved ones, due to covid, air quality or ongoing social isolation. Many people, within our congregation and beyond it, need immediate relief to buy food, pay rent, get medical care, or experience human connection. 

Also during this time, we are having to learn new ways of being. Teachers, children and young adults are reimagining the foundations of education in their schools and universities. All of us who are isolated, but especially vulnerable populations, will need to reimagine our social connections during physical distancing.

Reimagining our existence during this pandemic is scary because it is a recognition that we are living in a new reality. And at the same time, reimagining in this new reality also presents us with many hopeful, creative and transformative possibilities. 

Like our new zoom church services, we need to reimagine every part of our lives as we live them now, for however long that will be. We need to reimagine housing in an equitable way (especially for those on the streets), an economic system that values the most vulnerable (including creation), how we work together, and even right now, how we endure the reality of wildfires and lack of fresh air.

What we hope for most as a faith community is rebirth from this societal upheaval. We hope that during this time of deep need, these months of contemplation and isolation, each of us — and our community of faith collectively — are building the capacity to dream of and work towards a different world than the one we left. We want a rebirth of our economy and society that removes the faultlines and divisions laid bare by the crisis. We want a rebirth that awakens everyone to the interconnectedness of all people. We want a rebirth into the beloved community.

Our work at this time must encompass all stages. Relief, reimagining, and rebirth are all happening simultaneously and are all of equal value to our present moment and our future existence. Below is a non-comprehensive list of what our community is already doing in these three stages. We invite you to contemplate where you are drawn to put your energy at this moment.

Relief: 

Maria Elena Fund

Sharing Fund

Go Fund Me for Ross

Providing meals

Sojourner Truth Deacon’s Fund

Funds for undocumented people

Making masks

Prayer

Working to get out the vote and end voter suppression

Seeking economic justice through saying Yes to Prop 15 and No to Prop 22

Reimagining: 

Making masks for every occasion!

Neighborhood Care Groups

Virtual Church Life (which has included increased accessibility, among other things)

Reparations Procession

Supporting rent strikes

Demanding hotels be made available to people on the streets

Questioning housing as a commodity and advocating to keep seniors in their homes

Rebirth: 

Giving reparations 

Advocating for mental health response professionals as an alternative to policing

Supporting efforts to defund the police (presence at George Floyd rallies, etc.)

Claiming democracy and preparing to stop a coup if necessary 

Winning housing subsidies for seniors in SF

We celebrate all these efforts of relief, reimagining and rebirth among us! We recognize that we’re not all drawn to the same actions or efforts, and that is the beauty of being part of the community. Know that any work that gives relief to those in need now, reimagines how we live during this pandemic, or lays the groundwork for the rebirth of our society is valuable at this moment, right now. The idea that we will return fully to the world before, can and should be put to rest because it is not possible or desirable. We want a new world, a world closer to God’s kingdom, to replace that old world. And now is the best time to start building it.

Sermon: On being a good guest

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk and Pat Plude

Luke 14:15-24

I want to bring your attention to our prayer of confession, written for this series. Especially the second and third lines: We offer what we can at our welcome table. We become guests at the welcome table of others.

So far in the series we’ve been talking about our welcome table and its limits. Today I’m going to focus on why it’s important to be guests at the welcome table of others and how that relates to power. 

I want to begin with a story that takes place a few years back. The setting is a capoeira weekend conference/festival I attended with my dear friend, Sarah. Sarah had been practicing capoeira for a couple years and she was eager for me to get to know that community too. 

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Black Lives Matter: Three Week Challenge from Youth Group (Part One)

By FMCSF Youth Group

The youth group is inviting you all to take part in a three week challenge based around the Black Lives Matter movement. Each week we will send out an email with a new theme and a small activity for everyone to participate in. These activities will be safe and accessible for people to do at home or with minimal contact, as we are mindful of people’s concerns through these times.

Menno Youth 4 Black Lives

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Reflection: Where I Find God

This reflection was given by Patrick Baggett, a high school freshman, during our annual Youth Sunday.

When I think of where I find God in my life, I usually think of two different feelings I have that define God for me. One of those is when I am completely at peace. I usually find this kind of peace in the water, when I’m swimming, snorkeling, or even boogie boarding. My Mom always refers to me as a “water baby,” whatever that means. She says this because ever since we went to Panama when I was five (where Mom did Chris and Carla’s wedding), she’s seen that I really love the water, especially ocean water, and I tend to agree with her.

It’s a different type of feeling when I’m in the water. The ocean is so vast, and I feel so small, held by something much bigger than me. I recall one time when my family was in Crete for another wedding my mom was doing, this time Kearstin and Sophie’s. I remember we went to this one beach where the waves were so calm, and me and my Mom were just floating on the water with our snorkels on face down, looking at all the rocks swell on the ground beneath us, while the steady waves pushed us up and back and up and back.

Another way I find peace in the ocean is when I am boogie boarding or body surfing. I am aware that many other people might find this experience to be exciting or even scary, but I find it peaceful. I think I find it peaceful because the ocean feels like it’s carrying me and supporting me, and the power of the waves aren’t overwhelming me. it’s a power I’m able to be a part of. The ocean, I think, is a very good metaphor for God. Like the ocean, the powerful God surrounds and supports me, and the power of this God doesn’t overwhelm me. Instead, it allows me to participate in something much bigger and more powerful than myself. 

Another place where I find God is when I feel most alive. One of these instances is when I am playing a competitive basketball game — not just a casual pickup games with my friends, but a game that actually counts for something. The higher the stakes, the more alive I feel. Some people would find that more pressure comes with the higher stakes. I’m not saying I don’t feel pressure, but when the crowd is really loud and when people are either chanting for you or against you, I feel like I feed off the energy of the crowd and play much better.  I actually feel like I feed off the negative energy more than the positive.This is especially apparent when playing against a hostile crowd, like when my freshman basketball team played at Encinal High School, our cross-town rival. I started the game off with a three, and from that point on I heard stuff like “#10 can’t shoot” from the Encinal crowd. I really feel like this propelled me to have a much better game. 

I also feel alive when playing with my band. Again, the crowd is the main contributor to that feeling. We could be playing terrible, but if the crowd is into it, that gives us more energy to play much better and give a good performance. There’s just something about being up on that stage that I can’t describe. I wish we could play in front of thousands of people nightly. I feel like this is very similar to when I am playing basketball, as I’m feeding of the crowd’s energy both times. 

When I think about it, my love for playing basketball and performing is very similar to being in the ocean. It’s all about participating in something bigger than I am. And I guess that’s what the experience of God is for me, too.

 

 

 

Children’s Story: A Story About a Baby

By Maggid Andrew Ramer (author of author of Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud)

Once, a very long time ago and very far away, a woman named Miriam was pregnant, very pregnant. It was a bad time, with a very bad king, and pregnant as she was, the woman and her husband Joseph had to leave their home. They were poor. The land was hilly, the roads were rocky, and it was hard for her to sit all day in the heat, on their old old donkey, bumping up and down, up and down, as Joseph led them on their way. 

Days and days and days later, they arrived at a village where some of Joseph’s family had once lived, but all of them had died, and being refugees, no one would offer them a place to stay, till an old woman quietly told them that they could sleep in her barn. And that was where Miriam gave birth to a little baby boy who she and Joseph decided to name Joshua, after the follower of Moses who once helped to lead their people home.

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Reflection: Welcome to the Department of Self-Worth

This is a reflection written by Carmen Pauls Wiens — a shorter version of which she shared with us on Sunday, April 19, as part of our Eastertide sharing on where we see “signs of the new world.” It is based on the Gospel passage for that, SundayJohn 20:19-29.

On March 13 when San Jose Unified closed the school doors, our world became suddenly much smaller and much bigger.  The Financial Times article by Arundhati Roy which came out recently, speaks of the “Pandemic Portal” inviting us to think clearly and critically in this moment, to leave behind what we know is not working and walk through the portal into a new day carrying only what we know will truly sustain us.  I have an increasingly clearer picture of what I will carry through the portal, not because of Arundhati Roy’s take on it, but because of my connection to this community we share, and the way in which the messages articulated by Sheri, Joanna and others since the day our church went digital have so powerfully met me exactly at the point of my fear and my curiosity.

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