Sermon: Mysticism of the Beguines

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the second sermon in our Lenten series on Christian mysticism called “A Voice To Call Us Home. A children’s story on Beguine Marguerite Porete, written by Beverly Walsh, follows this sermon. An audio version of the sermon is available here.

Luke 10:38-42

I imagine many of us have heard this Mary and Martha story (yes?) along with a message about the importance of being more like Mary (sitting at Jesus’ feet) and less like Martha (anxiously making food in the kitchen). So I want to try out a contrasting interpretation today… listen to the passage again, making note of any differences:

As they were on their way, Jesus came to a village where a woman named Martha received him. She had a sister called Mary, who also was one who sat at the Lord’s feet, always listening to his words. But Martha was constantly torn apart concerning much ministry. She suddenly approached Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister regularly leaves me to minister alone? Tell her therefore that she may give me a hand.”

But Jesus answered her saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and agitated concerning much, but only one thing is needed: For Mary has chosen good and it will not be taken away from her.”

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Story: How I Became A Mystic

During our Lenten series on Christian mysticism called “A Voice to Call Us Home,” people at First Mennonite shared a story or a reflection related to the theme. This reflection is by Karin Holsinger, who gave it on the first Sunday of Lent, March 6.

This is the story of how I became a mystic…

I was raised, like I imagine some of you also may have been, in a Mennonite home that was rather suspicious of mystics and monks—mystics appearing to dwell outside of reason and rationality and monks appearing to shirk concern for the poor and suffering.

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Sermon: Born to be Mystics + Children’s Story on the Desert Fathers & Mothers

This is the first sermon in our Lenten series on Christian mysticism called “A Voice To Call Us Home. A children’s story on the Desert Fathers and Mothers, written by Beverly Walsh, follows this sermon.

Luke 4:1-13

So, what do you think of when you hear the word “mystic”? What word or phrase or image comes immediately to your mind? I’m not looking for something thoughtful here, just your gut response, your first response. It’s OK if it’s not a positive association. What was that word or phrase?

Growing up in an Amish-Mennonite community in the Midwest, I never heard the word “mystic.” When I did first hear of it, I thought it referred to people who would go into a cave for years to commune with God, or a guru from India who meditated constantly or a monk or nun who would experience religious ecstasies when praying the rosary or some such thing. In short: A mystic was kind of this exotic other. It didn’t apply to anyone I knew and certainly not to myself. 

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Sermon: Love Your Enemies

The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7

Luke 6:27-36

Does this passage ever get any easier?  It was challenging to the people who first heard it, in Jesus’ day. It was challenging to the early Anabaptists, our spiritual ancestors, who nevertheless took it seriously and made “enemy love” one of the bedrock principles of their countercultural faith.  It was challenging to my pacifist Amish Mennonite community, who tried to live it out in a variety of courageous and very imperfect ways. And it is challenging to me. When I read this passage earlier this week, I thought: “Seriously, Jesus? This is what you’re asking of us?  During out Tuesday morning lectio divina, someone said something like, “This passage feels like one mountain after another that I am being asked to climb. I climb one and then I see another in the distance, and then another.” In other words, tiring and maybe impossible.

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Sermon: Saying Yes to Impossible Abundance

Sun Ra. Photographer uncredited on the publicity photo itself; most likely Francis Ing, who is credited for the photography on Astro Black. Originally published as a publicity photo included with the 1973 press kit for The Magic City reissue. In its originally distributed form, the photograph was printed and published without a copyright notice. Photo retouched by uploader based on high-res scans., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99369969.

The link to the audio of the sermon is here.

Luke 5:1-11

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.

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Sermon: Untamed Love

I Corinthians 13 

An audio version of this sermon can be found here.

This passage from I Corinthians is in danger of domestication due to overuse. Known as the “love passage,” I suspect many of you have heard it read at a fair number of weddings. And, in fact, I have preached on this passage at a fair number of weddings. And little wonder. It offers a profound message about the kind self-giving love that must form the foundation of any long-term commitment. 

But because of its association with matrimony, this passage also is in danger of being too narrowly applied to our lives. In fact, this passage resists all domestication, all attempts to contain it. It is like fire. This passage is talking about a love that will jump fences and cross freeways and send sparks soaring. It is a love that does not want to be confined to one relationship in your life — it wants to burn in every relationship  — in your relationship to your self, in your relationship to all living beings on this earth, human and more than human, in your relationship to the Creator and the creation.  According to Paul, who wrote this passage to the church he planted in the city of Corinth,  this love is the whole point of what he called life in Christ and what we might call following Yeshua (Jesus). 

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Sermon: Divine invitations

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Psalm 19:1,7-10,14

19:1 The heavens are telling of your glory, O God; and the skies display your handiwork.
19:7 Your law, YHWH is perfect, reviving the soul; your rule is to be trusted, making wise the simple;
19:8 Your purposes, O God, are just, rejoicing the heart; your commandments are clear, enlightening the eyes;
19:9 holding you in awe, YHWH, is purifying; your decrees are steadfast and all of them just. 
19:10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.
19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer.

Last Sunday we received a powerful word from Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, exhorting us to a reorientation of our bodies and beings as we seek justice. This reorientation “means breathing in new patterns,” she said, “and sometimes literally finding new air. Justice begins with a state of heart.”

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Sermon: “What must I do to be antiracist?” On Bodies, Breathing and Being for Racial Justice

By Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, offered on MLK Sunday 2022

Mark 10:17-22

“Whiteness has psychological advantages that translate into material returns” (54)

“As I move through my day, racism just isn’t my problem. While I am aware that race has been used unfairly against people of color, I haven’t been taught to see this problem as any responsibility of mine; as long as I personally haven’t done anything I am aware of, racism is a nonissue. This freedom from responsibility gives me a level of racial relaxation and emotional and intellectual space that people of color are not afforded as they move throughout their day (55) 

-Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility”

In the past two years and counting, we have been confronted with the reality of our bodies, our being and our breath in ways that we have not been challenged to face before. The necessity of our breathing for living is, in a factual way, not new to us. All animals, humans included, need to breathe in some way or another in order to keep moving about. And yet, at the same time, the finiteness of our breath, the vulnerability of our breath and, conversely, the taken for granted nature of our breath and our bodies is being revealed to us in very visceral and quite tangible ways in these days. It is the fact of our breathing that brings us all to this moment, to worship, here, to today and now. It is also the fact of our breathing that makes it intensely difficult for me to be with you in person safely: that is keeping us apart.

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Sermon: Practices of Darkness

Matthew 2:1-22

For four weeks during Advent, we dwelt in the dark. We encouraged each other to rest there, to embrace it as fertile and magnificent. As the place from which new birth comes.

And then, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, Mary was awakened by an angel, who told her she would birth the Divine into the world. And then, we said on Christmas Eve: The Divine Child has been born! Glory to God in the highest!  We ended our Christmas Eve service with this benediction: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it.” 

And then, today on Epiphany, we sing: “Arise your light has come!” And we tell the story of the coming of the light of Christ to all people through the story of the magi that we just heard. The story is meant to say: Even non-Jews, even these strangers from the East, these astrologers (who practiced magical arts that were seen as dangerous to Jewish people of the time) even they see the star in the sky and know that a Divine Light has come into the world.

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Sermon: Being a Gift to the World

“The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

This is the last sermon in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Luke 1:26-55 (excerpts)

There’s a painting of this Scripture we just heard that I particularly love. It’s called “The Annunciation,” which is the name for when Gabriel comes to Mary and announces that she will give birth to Jesus. It was painted by the African-American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1898. It shows a very ordinary looking Mary, sitting on her bed. Her blankets look like they were flung off in a flurry of confusion and haste, implying that Mary had been awakened in the middle of the night from her sleep. While the disarray speaks to the shock of the angel’s appearance — who is depicted here as an intense, golden pillar of light — Mary’s face doesn’t show fear.  Instead, she looks directly at the angel, curious, perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the intense glory of the angel, but engaged. She is ready, open, receptive.

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Sermon: The Humility of Rest

This is the third sermon in an our Advent series entitled “Rhythms of Rest.”

As the book of Job begins, the title character is living the ancient Hebrew equivalent of the American Dream. He has a big family; he’s got health and wealth; he’s got the respect of his peers; he’s highly regarded as a morally righteous, spiritually pious person. He’s ticking all the boxes. 

And then, Satan enters the picture. (I can’t help but think of the church lady character played by Dana Carvey on SNL whenever I say the word “Satan” out loud.) Don’t think of Satan here as the guy with horns. Satan in Scripture is more like the prosecuting attorney of heaven, who is supposed to keep tabs on humans and then report back to God on them. Satan says to God, “Yeah, this guy Job is righteous, but only because you’ve given him all the goodies — family, wealth, respect. Take all that away, and he will curse you.” So God agrees to let Satan prosecute his case against Job. And everything is taken from Job — his family, his wealth, his health, the respect of his peers. Thus, setting up the perennial question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

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Sermon: The Fertile Darkness

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This sermon is the second in our Advent series, “Rhythms of Rest.”

Genesis 1:1-5, 2:1-3

Having moved to the East Bay from San Francisco this spring, one of the things Eric and I are most excited about is having a yard in which to grow and tend plants. We’ve also recognized we needed wisdom in this process since neither of us have experience gardening in the Bay Area climate. So this past May we invited Dolores to come over and help us get to know the plant life in our yard. It was fun to walk around the front and back yards with her noting the plants and trees, and us dreaming about what else could be planted. 

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