Sermon: Hoping for the unseen

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Romans 8:12-25

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.

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Race, Church and Change

Mark 12:28-34a

We are in a moment of historic reckoning with our country’s legacy of white supremacy and racial injustice. And I am so glad that we as a community are coming to this moment having already done so much good work together as a community. Building on our decades-long work for LGBTQ justice, we began in earnest five or six years ago to educate ourselves about other systems of oppression and to locate ourselves within those systems. Matt Alexander, an organizer with Faith in Action who has done an Education Hour here and has been to several of our services, has said that among the predominantly white congregations with whom he works, we are at the leading edge of being an anti-racist, anti-oppression church, a church that’s really working on racial and economic justice.

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

By FMCSF Youth Group

What’s Up Congregation!
 

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. 

Steps to taking action: 
  1. Click on the category labeled “News” near the top of the page 
  2. A dropdown menu should now show a category titled “Current Campaigns” for you to click on
  3. There should be a big red button for you to click on that says “Learn More” 
  4. Now click on the option to “Take Action! Email the Mayor And City Council Now” 
  5. 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.)
  6. From this website, there should be an option to “Send email” 
  7. 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.
Stay safe,

Patrick, Twyla, and the youth group

Menno Youth 4 Black Lives

Sermon: Pledging Allegiance to Interdependence

I John 4:7-8, 11-12, 17-21

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.

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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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Sermon: Pride Sunday 2020

By Stefan Baumgartner

John 2:13-22

Spirit who connects every being, move in our midst this day.

Welcome to Pride Sunday!  I’m so happy to be with you today.

My name is Stefan Baumgartner. My pronouns are he/him.

I want to begin my reflection with a quote by Marsha P. Johnson,

“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

As a gay, white, cisgender man,

I am indebted to trans folks and queer women of color. 

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Call to Action: Juneteenth 2020

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

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. 

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Sermon: “In Action – Reclaiming the Rebel Soul of our Mennonite Forebearers

By Helen Stoltzfus

I am sitting in a Direct Action training with 12 other Extinction Rebellion members.  Pre-COVID.  Extinction Rebellion – or XR – as it is called, is a climate activist group that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to raise awareness about the climate crisis and halt our march toward extinction of life.

We are getting trained on the rules of nonviolence, which include not harming property and making sure our speech is nonviolent – which includes treating everyone — police, bank tellers, security guards – with respect.   “I know this,”  I think to myself.

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Litany for Pentecost 2020

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

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)

George Floyd 

Ahmaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor

Mario Woods

Michael Brown

Eric Garner

Philando Castile

Sandra Bland

Stephon Clark

Trayvon Martin

Oscar Grant

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.

AMEN.

Pentecost Sermon: Rewild Us Again

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.

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Sermon: Growing Up

Acts 1:1-14

Note: In this sermon, I use the Hebrew version of Jesus’ name, Yeshua.

So, I read some good news earlier this week. There’s a vaccine against coronavirus that is in the very earliest stages of its development, and it appears — so far — to be safe and effective. Of course, it’s only been tested on eight people, and it has to go into clinical trials where thousands of people will be tested. But the manufacturer, Moderna, said that if those trials go well, the vaccine could be available for widespread use by the end of this year or early next year. 

I know there’s a lot that can go wrong in clinical trials. And Moderna has since been pretty heavily criticized for putting forth such a rosy and aggressive timeline. And I know that even if this drug works out and is available by the end of this year, it could be months after that before I or others I know get vaccinated. Still, I allowed myself a bit of an indulgence upon reading this news: I imagined a world without coronavirus. I imagined being back at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav with you all at worship, bathed in that golden morning light, together. I imagined what it would be like to sing that first hymn together, after so many months — maybe years — of not doing so, and I saw myself crying with joy, along with many of you, not able to even get through the first stanza without breaking down. And I imagined myself saying, “Okay, let’s sing that first verse again, until we can get through it without crying.” 

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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.