Sermon: The Wisdom and Limits of Emotions

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Excerpts from Ephesians 4

Thank you Diego, for that reading. I wish we would had time to hear the entire chapter of Ephesians 4 because it’s chock full of wisdom for discipleship. Paul was writing to the Ephesians as a prisoner due to his association with Jesus’ revolutionary movement. He was writing to the Ephesians who were a largely Gentile community and therefore experiencing more social privilege than he was as a Jewish person in the Roman empire.

He was calling them to ethical living which was personal, communal and political. “The calling to which they had been called” as the church was to deep personal and political maturity. “To grow up” the text says “into Christ.” As a part of Jesus’ movement they were called to be, as Ched Myers puts it, “a social experiment in reconciliation between ethnically, politically and culturally alienated groups.”

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Presentation: Conflict Styles

This information was presented at our annual retreat on Saturday morning. It is from Oren Jay Safer’s online course “Mindful Communication” and, mostly, David Augsburger’s book, Caring Enough to Confront: How to Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace.

When the going gets tough, we tend to default to habitual conflict styles based on a “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress. All of these conflict styles have their place; they are not necessarily “wrong.” But, in this series we are trying to increase our repertoire of responding to conflict by getting beyond our habitual styles and learning how to “speak the truth in love.”

Competitive confrontation or “I’ll get them.” This correlates with the “fight” stress response. In this style we push  full steam ahead with aggressive behavior. We are not really willing to do dialogue. In our mind, someone is clearly right (us) and someone is clearly wrong (you), and it’s my duty to put you right. We’re pushing for our own way so much that we can’t see or are unwilling to see another’s point of view. Examples of this are plastered all over social media, the comments section of the Internet, and talking head talk shows on cable. In this style, we attempt to meet our own needs at any cost, through control, dominance or coercion. Continue reading

Sermon: Revolutionary Bible Study

By Joanna Shenk

Amos 7:7-15

A few weeks ago I was in northern Indiana for a Shenk family reunion with Eric and the kids. It was the first time I had seen some of my extended Shenk family in a couple years. We had a lot of fun playing games in intergenerational groups, like kickball, super big boggle and ultimate frisbee.

One thing that I love about my Shenk family is our storytelling. My grandpa Shenk (who is passed on) and his four children constantly tell stories about us when we’re together. It could be stories of when I was a kid and the funny things I’d do. Or stories about my uncles and aunt when they were kids. Or stories about ancestors further back. Whatever the conversation, it often ends with the recollection of a family story.

This kind of storytelling instilled in me a strong sense of identity when I was young and carries through today. I know who my family is and what they value and I know what it means to carry on that identity. Through the work of differentiation I am also able to decide how I want to carry on that legacy in a way that’s authentic to my journey.

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“Walk, Bike, Scooter, BART, and Muni” to Worship Day at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco

Sunday, March 3, 2018, was First Mennonite Church of San Francisco’s third annual participation in a Bay Area event known as “Walk and Bike to Worship Week”.  First Mennonite’s participation included scootering and riding mass transit as well as walking and biking.  The program at First Mennonite Church was organized and facilitated this year by Kenda Horst and Karen Kreider Yoder.  Participants were awarded stickers showing participation and awarded entry in a raffle to win prizes that included Ford GoBike annual membership; Walk SF T-shirt and membership; and a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition T-shirt and membership.  Participants were invited to a picnic at the Conservatory of Flowers following worship.  One of the goals of the walking, biking, and transiting to worship event was to SAVE THE PLANET.  A show of hands during the worship service on Sunday showed that around three dozen congregants walked, biked, or transited to First Mennonite Church services on March 3rd.  Thank you Kenda and Karen for organizing this event! – Jim Musselman, for FMCSF Green Team

 

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Pictured before church:  Karen Kreider Yoder, Kenda Horst, Joanna Shenk, Jim Musselman, Miriam Menzel.  Photo by Alan Hilton-Nichol.

 

Scent Policy, Continued

Greetings, community. Almost two years ago, our congregation adopted a scent policy and we have been living into it since then. The policy states: “First Mennonite Church of San Francisco would like all services  to be accessible to those with chemical sensitivities. Please refrain from wearing perfume, cologne, and scented products. This is also the policy of FMCSF’s host, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.” 

Sheri was musing to Pat and Joanna recently that in her 18 years of ministry here she has not come across an issue that has brought up as much resistance, skepticism and even conflict as this scent policy. And so, with this blog post, we hope to address several points related to this policy, in the hopes of furthering greater clarity, communication and awareness: Continue reading

Children’s Story: The Rich Man

By FMCSF Youth Group

Note: Our church’s youth group rewrote the Gospel stories for each Sunday of Lent and then presented them as children’s stories during worship.

Second Sunday of Lent, Feb. 25

Mark 10:17-31, (Jesus and the rich guy)

Narrator 1: Last week we heard a story about Jesus’ first sermon, where he talked about coming to bring good news to poor. This was good news for him too, since he was a poor person. You may remember that we described him an unemployed person from Detroit, Michigan who lost his job when his factory closed.

Narrator 2: In this story he and his friends are about to get on a Greyhound bus, but then they hear this really loud noise above them. All the sudden it gets really windy in the Greyhound parking lot. They look up and what do they see?!? It’s a helicopter coming in for a landing! “What in the world?!?” they say to each other.

Narrator 1 : The helicopter lands and out walks Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world. He walks right up to Jesus and says:

Bill Gates: “Hello brilliant teacher and movement founder, what would it take for me to join your movement?”

Narrator 1: He tried to impress Jesus, by calling him “brilliant” and “a founder,” because he expected Jesus to say the same thing to him and be so happy he wanted to join the movement.

Jesus: But instead of being impressed Jesus said, “No person is brilliant. Only the creator of the universe is brilliant.” Then he went on, “in terms of joining the movement, you know the commandments.”

Bill Gates: “You’re right, and I have kept them all. I even give BILLIONS of dollars to charity.”

Jesus: Jesus looked lovingly at Bill and then he continued. “I’m not just asking that you give away billions of dollars, I’m asking that you stop making money through companies that exploit people and the environment and learn to follow the leadership of poor people. Then you will understand what my movement is about… it’s about treasure not related to money.

Narrator 1: Bill was shocked at Jesus’ words and was also shocked that Jesus hadn’t congratulated him for being a good person. He got back in his helicopter with a heavy heart because he wasn’t ready to do what Jesus had instructed.

Jesus: Jesus’ friends were also surprised that he had been so hard on Bill Gates. Jesus could tell, so he went on. “It’s really hard, nearly impossible, for people with lots of money to understand what our movement is about. They don’t understand that their wealth depends on other people being poor. They are so used to being the experts and telling people what to do that they aren’t able to follow the lead of poor people. Let me put it another way, it’s as hard for a rich person to understand our movement as it is for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle.”

Narrator 1: Everyone laughed at that. It’s a funny image. A camel… trying to fit through the hole in a needle. Have you ever tried to thread a needle?? And, in addition to the funny image, Jesus was also referencing a very small doorway that was called the “eye of the needle.” The doorway was so small that a camel would literally need to crawl through it. Camels aren’t known to crawl.

You could also say it’s as hard for a rich person to join the movement as:

–giving up screen time for a WHOLE year
–or a T-rex dabbing
–or an elephant twirling on a fidget spinner
–or, finding affordable housing in the Bay Area
It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard to imagine happening.

Jesus: “With God’s power though,” Jesus said, “it is possible.” Then he continued talking to his friends. He said, “I know you have given up a lot to be part of this movement. And I want you to remember that what you have given up–homes, cars, money, property, family relationships–you will get all of that back 100 times over as we continue to share together. As a community we have so much abundance through our sharing. Who would have thought that giving everything away would make you truly rich?”

Narrator 1: So Jesus, like we said, was radical and said things that people thought were weird. He was a poor person who was teaching other poor people and together they were creating a movement to change the world. He called the movement the “kingdom of God.” The movement was about being in healthy relationships with each other and working together for justice. It was about sharing, about everyone having enough food and everyone having a home and being free.

Sermon: The Day of the Lord

 

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, Psalm 90:1-11, Thessalonians 5:1-11

Imagine the scene, if you will: It’s a Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting in my upstairs office with my nice hot cup of tumeric ginger tea beside me. My purring cat is asleep on my lap, and I’m snuggly and warm in my fake-sheepskin-lined slippers on this rainy morning. I turn to the lection passages for this Sunday, still a little sleep-fogged, hoping to find a word of truth and wisdom for me to preach on. The lectionary is a daily three-year cycle of scripture readings, and it always includes at least four readings — one from Hebrew Scriptures, one Psalm, one from the Gospels and one from one of the other books of the New Testament.  I decide to read each of these four passages out loud, as a way of more fully taking them in. This is the first one I read:

Helen reads Zephaniah in a passionate, heated manner.

That woke me up!  I think somewhere in the middle of reading that passage the cat jumped off my lap. The wrath and venom in it was so over the top that by the time I got to “their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung” I was laughing. Maybe a little nervously, but laughing.

Next. Psalm 90 starts out promising — in fact, the first two verses of this psalm served as the scripture for our 25th anniversary celebration in 2000, which marked my first Sunday of  being the pastor here.

Helen reads the Psalm starting out warm and comforting and then getting increasingly worked up.

No wonder we didn’t use the rest of that psalm for our 25th anniversary celebration. By now, I’ve taken off my fake-sheepskin slippers. It’s getting hot in here, and I’m still not sure I’ve heard a word of wisdom. At least, not a word of easy wisdom.

Next. I turn to I Thessalonians, Paul’s letter to one of the first Gentile communities he established in Greece. I Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament, written about 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, during a time when Paul and other followers of Jesus are awaiting what they think will be Jesus’ imminent return, when he will come to judge the world:

Helen reads I Thessalonians 5:1-3

Clearly, there would be no escape from the theme of judgement and wrath. I’m not going to read the Matthew passage, but it ends with this verse:

Helens reads: “As for this worthless slave, throw him in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Enough said.

What do we do with these passages in Scripture — and there are many — that speak to the judgment and anger of God? Specifically, what do we do with this idea of the Day of the Lord, which is directly referenced in both the Zephaniah and Thessalonians passages and forms the context for the others? The Day of the Lord is The Big Day, the Judgment Day at the end of time when God or Christ will judge all people — and some will go to heaven and some will go to the weeping and gnashing of teeth place. It’s when God’s anger against human wickedness and God’s judgement against it will finally, fully come to pass.

And this Judgement Day, this Day of the Lord is not a peripheral idea in the Bible, even though I confess that I sometimes want to regard it as one, as I think many liberal Christians do.  As one encyclopedia of Christian theology says, “Few truths are more often or more clearly proclaimed in Scripture than that of the general judgement.” The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures constantly refer to it; in the New Testament, the coming of Christ as the Judge of the world is often mentioned. Jesus himself not only foretells the event but graphically portrays it in his teaching. The Apostles give a prominent place to it in their writings. The book of Revelation is all about it.  What’s more, the encyclopedia continues, “The belief in the general judgment has prevailed at all times and in all places within the Church. It is contained as an article of faith in all the ancient creeds.” We don’t say the Apostles Creed in this church but it is an example of one of those ancient creeds that is still said every Sunday in many Christian churches and it includes this line: “He ascended into heaven. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” You can’t go to an old church in Europe and not see this Final Judgement depicted in often gruesome detail on some painting or sculpture or stained glass window. Like the painting on the cover of the order of worship, which was was painted in the 1400s by a German artist. You can’t really see this, but the folks on the left are the ones sent happily to heaven at the last judgement and the folks on the right are the ones who are engaging in the aforementioned weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What’s more, this idea of a Last Judgment is found in all Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — as well as some other religions. And, it’s not just a relic of less enlightened times. There are many people in the world today who steadfastly believe in a Last Judgement in which infidels will be judged and punished and the faithful will be glorified. Because of the prevalence of this idea across cultures and its persistence over time, depth psychologists would say that the Last Judgment is an archetypal image in the human psyche — that is, it is a powerful image or idea that occurs over and over again in our religions, mythologies. and stories. It’s a kind of universal symbol, like the Great Mother, or the Wise Old Man, or the Tree of Life. One that keeps showing up in our collective psyche and that has layers of psychological meaning around it.

So what could this Last Judgment mean, psychologically speaking? I am serendipitously  reading a book by the depth psychologist Edward Edinger, who has written several books interpreting the Bible from that perspective. (This one was from The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament.) He says that the Last Judgement archetype refers to a “major encounter between the ego and the Self in which the former experiences a devastating insight into its defects… It is the experience of being seen by an Other often symbolized by the eye of God. The image of widespread destruction refers to those aspects of the personality which are not grounded in psychic reality and therefore cannot survive transpersonal scrutiny. If, in this encounter, the ego holds, it is followed by an enlargement of the personality”

Let’s unpack that, shall we?

“Last Judgement refers to a major encounter between the ego and the Self in which the former experiences a devastating insight into its defects… It is the experience of being seen by an Other often symbolized by the eye of God.” We talked about ego during our Lenten series on the soul. The ego is basically our everyday conscious, “ordinary” self. The ego builds and protects our sense of identity and esteem; it helps us regulate ourselves and control our impulses; it also helps us adapt to our environment — to fit in with where we are, to “play by the rules” so that we get affirmation and approval from our social world. It’s good and important to have a strong, healthy ego. The ego is also the part of us, however, that gets really attached to the idea that it is in control, that it’s the captain guiding the ship.  It does not like it when it realizes that this is not the case. Our ego is also the part of us that does not like to acknowledge there may be shadow parts of ourself — aspects of ourself that our ego has repressed as “not me,” as “evil” or “bad.” Those parts of ourself that we often had to repress to win acceptance from our family and peers. Those parts of the collective shadow that live in us — including the “isms” and phobias (racism, homophobia, etc.). We aren’t usually conscious of what is in our shadow, and all sorts of mischief and mayhem can result when we unknowingly project it outward onto others or become possessed by it or repress it to the detriment of our physical and psychological health and wholeness.

For the “Self” in this quote, think of it as the Divine Spark in us that constantly calls us to greater wholeness and consciousness of what is not yet conscious. If you want, you could also call it Spirit or Soul or Truthas long as it has a capital letter at the beginning of it. An encounter with this Capital Letter Force is an experience of being seen for who we really are, including our shadow stuff — our pettiness, our woundedness, our complicity in untruth and injustice. It is an experience of being seen in our sin, a word that means those ways in which we miss the mark, the ways in which we are not in alignment with God or Spirit or Soul. As the Psalmist says, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.” There’s that Divine Eye, that penetrating gaze. As such, this encounter will feel like a judgment because it is a judgement. If you have ever felt a burning sense of appropriate shame or guilt, or remorse, or contrition, then you have had the experience of being seen and judged for your “defects,” for the ways in which you have missed the mark.  And it can be a devastating experience for the ego.

“The image of widespread destruction refers to those aspects of the personality which are not grounded in psychic reality and therefore cannot survive transpersonal scrutiny.”  I’m not exactly sure what Edinger means by “not grounded in psychic reality” but I hear it as those aspects of our personality that are not grounded in truth — not grounded in the truth of who we actually are, and not grounded in the truth of our Divine call. We can easily be swayed by other people’s agendas for our life; we can easily adapt or twist ourselves to meet others’ expectations and our own need for affirmation and approval. And we live within a system in which it is easy to be asleep to the truth — where we can be swept up in behaviors, attitudes, and economic and political systems that are “destructive for ourselves and others, without knowing it.” These ways in which we are grounded in untruth need to be brought under what Edinger calls “transpersonal scrutiny” or what we might call God’s Way or God’s Law or God’s Justice or God’s Truth.

“If, in this encounter, the ego holds, it is followed by an enlargement of the personality.” In other words, if our small self, our ego, can bear up under the scrutiny of this judgment, then we will be enlarged — more whole. When Jesus calls us to be “perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect” in Matthew, the word perfect should really be translated as complete or whole. We are called to be whole, as God is whole, as Jesus is whole — the human one who shows us how to be fully alive and aware in these bodies. We are called to the truth of ourselves, to the truth of our world — including our shadow, our defects (if you will), our limitations, and also, our unexpected power and beauty.

If we are on this path of awakening, of enlargement, then there are words of comfort for us, rather than words of wrath. Listen to the full passage from I Thessalonians, after Paul says: “There will be no escape” from the judgement of the Day of the Lord:

But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day (of judgement) to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

So, may we be children of the day, awake to the truth of who we are and of our world. May we endure the day of our judgement when it comes and welcome it as the wake-up call it that it is. May we encourage and build each other up, as indeed we are doing. Amen.

Sermon: Must Antifa Bear the Cross Alone?

By David Brazil

Matthew 16:21-28

Good morning, and thank you for your hospitality.  Let’s pray.

As you’ve heard, my name is David Brazil; I’m the organizer for the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy and I co-pastor a house church in Oakland called the Agape Fellowship.  I’m also a poet, translator, editor, curator, and a community organizer beyond my professional work.

But of all the things I can say about myself, what I really want to talk about today is that I am a Christian.  I’m an adult convert to Christianity, baptized in 2014, and so I am still on the beginning of a walk that many of you have been on for many years, or for your whole lives.  (In fact, I don’t really know if I was baptized as an infant, since my parents passed away before I thought to ask, so I might well be an Anabaptist!)  My professional work is interfaith, and my co-pastor and I describe Agape as a “Christian-interfaith” house church.  So I often have to be very thoughtful about how I speak about my Christian faith, especially given the many wounds that imperial Christian hegemony continues to inflict.

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Children’s Story: King Neb Gets Burned

By D. Byram

This story is called,

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Get Arrested …

but Nebuchadnezzar gets BURNED!

Before I start, let me just say that any city named Babylon is bound to be number ten on the top ten most touristy places to visit in central-wherever we are.  Anyways, the King of Babylon, this dude named Nebuchadnezzar, was very full of himself. I guess he wanted everyone to know that because one day he decided to make a huge statue of himself in the town square, right in front of the Starbucks.  The point of the statue was to make everyone kneel down and worship it when the marching band played.  And if you didn’t, well, how to put this delicately? You get tossed into a roaring fire.

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Sermon: A Single, Holy, Living Sacrifice

By Sheri Hostetler

Romans 12:1-8

During our communion litany, we say together a prayer that ends with this line: “Made one in Christ and one with each other, and one with all creation – we offer these gifts and with them ourselves.”  There’s actually five additional words to this prayer —  “and with them ourselves, a single, holy, living sacrifice.” Sometimes I take out those five words “a single, holy, living, sacrifice” and sometimes I don’t. I wonder how many of you notice this. Actually, sometimes I take those words out of my copy of the prayer and forget that I left it in your version of the prayer that’s in the order of worship. That’s not so bad. But sometimes, I take it out of your version and leave it in mine. That’s a bit more embarrassing, when I alone am saying “a single, holy, living…” Actually, the people that do the litany with me up here are usually reading off of my copy, so — ha ha.

Obviously, I have some ambivalence toward those words — a single, holy living sacrifice — words that come directly from our reading for today. Sometimes, I am put off by the violence of them and I just can’t use them.  The image of an innocent lamb or goat being slaughtered on an altar? No, I do not want to bring that image into this space. The story where Abraham thinks God is asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and he ties him to the altar and has the knife above his head before God says, “Just kidding!’? No, thank you. I’ve always thought of that story as one of the Bible’s “texts of terror,” the feminist Biblical scholar Phyllis Trible’s phrase for those scripture stories that seem to divinely sanction violence.

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Reflection: Listening to Other People’s Voices, “Arts Sunday 2017”

By Lisa Hubbell

What I’ve been given to say today is about listening to other voices.

If this were a Quaker meeting, we would all settle back into silence, to give more time for Shannon’s words to sink in and work on us, along with whatever God guides us to pay attention to in that time. I’d like to take a brief moment to do that.

….

That is one of the ways I’ve learned over time to listen more deeply to other people’s voices. Lately, I’m learning to notice how much space I take up with my own voice. It humbles me to confront this.

I am a person both of creativity and of privilege. I was raised a Quaker girl in California in the ’60s, by white activist parents with Ph.D.s. Given that, I was encouraged to express myself and speak up more than most people, even if I got in trouble for it a lot of the time. Continue reading

Article: “Addressing Claims of ‘Reverse Oppression”

Did you know? Sarah Matsui writes an occasional column for The Mennonite as part of their “New Voices” series, which features the writing of young adults. Here is here most recent column, which takes on the idea that including marginalized people in the church “oppresses” those opposing that inclusion:  SeptNV.