Sermon: A Reflection on Abortion and Faith

This sermon was given by Anna Rich, a lawyer and member of our congregation. An audio version of the sermon is available here. (The audio begins at about the second paragraph below.)

Intro—Why I Am Doing This

Several months ago, right after the Supreme Court issued its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Sheri mentioned that in all of the time she’s been at First Mennonite Church, we’ve never actually talked about abortion as a congregation.  I’m up here this morning because I have a leading that our collective silence on this topic does not necessarily come from a healthy place.  Silence certainly doesn’t help us to have difficult conversations when we, or our friends and family, are faced with the common occurrence of an unplanned pregnancy. 

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Sermon: Keep Your Lamps Lit

Luke 12:32-40

So, here we are — in the dog days of summer.  We are in the hot, sultry days that (according to Wikipedia) happen during the rising of the star system, Sirius, also know as the “Dog Star.” Greek astrology connected this time of year with heat, drought, thunderstorms, mad dogs and lethargy. 

We’re lucky here in the Bay Area. While most of the rest of the country has been suffering from true dog day weather, we generally don’t have such uncomfortable weather here. We definitely have drought, but at least it’s not the 90-degree, 90% humidity weather that I remember growing up in in Ohio. Since many of you have lived elsewhere, I bet you know what I’m talking about. During the dog days, I would feel a little drugged, like I had taken a mild sedative. My brain felt like I was aways just waking from or about to fall asleep. 

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Sermon: Pentecost 2022, The Spirit that Reconnects Us

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Acts 2:1-18

A few years ago when I preached on Pentecost, I shared about the Jewish holiday Shavuot. This holiday, observed seven weeks after Passover, is the reason why people from so many places were in Jerusalem. Shavuot is the celebration of God giving the Torah to the Hebrew people at Mt. Sinai. It is a celebration of Divine revelation. 

Pentecost is in keeping with that history of Divine revelation within the Jewish tradition. The Spirit rushed into that room where the disciples were hiding to call them out of fear and isolation. The presence of the Spirit was a Divine revelation that the disciples could continue walking in the way of Rabbi Jesus even though he was no longer there to guide them. 

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Sermon: Set Free + Children’s Story

Acts 16:25-34 

Our lectio divina group, which meets on Tuesday mornings, has been going through the book of Acts, and I’m getting reacquainted with these amazing stories from the earliest days of the founding of Christianity. Actually, that’s not the right way to say it. At this point, Christianity is still very much a movement within Judaism. The rupture between Judaism and Christianity had not yet happened; it’s still decades in the future. At the beginning, these Jewish disciples of Jesus are doing what the risen Christ told them to do earlier in Acts: that they should be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the process of being witnesses, Gentiles or non-Jews are also joining the Jesus movement. 

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Sermon: Guided Meditation on Psalm 23

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Psalm 23

This beloved psalm contains so many vivid images. I wonder about the ones that stick out to you, maybe a phrase you noticed in childhood or an image that has become meaningful to you over the years? 

I know for me I was confused by the first two lines as a kid. The translation I grew up with was “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I understood it as God being a shepherd but for some reason I don’t want God as my shepherd. Anyone else with me? 

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Easter Sermon: Jesus, Unbound + Children’s Story

“Mary Magdalene with Jesus, the Christ” by Janet McKenzie.

John 20:1-18

Early in the morning, around 5am, Mary Magdalene walks alone to the tomb where Jesus’ body lay. She has barely slept since Friday, when she watched — watched! — her teacher, her best friend, her soulmate, brutally murdered. The whole time she stood there, looking up at him, trying to communicate through her presence the unbreakable bond between them, that she was with him, he was not alone, she was there.

This was the person in whom she had experienced the most powerful embodiment of the Lifeforce, Creator, God. And this was the person who had helped her connect to that Lifeforce. Because of him, the veils had fallen away and she saw. She saw the glory of God, the radiant life energy that bursts forth from every branch, every stone, every flower, every person, from her. She felt it inside of her. She had never known herself to be so alive, and so loved, completely, just as she was. She had seen what that aliveness and that love can do — how it can empower an oppressed community, help them imagine new worlds, take big risks, do new things.

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Sermon: The Prophetic Mysticism of Wendsler Nosie Sr.

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the sixth sermon in our Lenten series on the Christian mystics called “A Voice to Call Us Home.” 

Luke 19:28-40

On this Palm Sunday and final Sunday of our series on mysticism, we turn to a contemporary mystic, Wendsler Nosie Sr. So far in the series, all of the mystics we’ve learned about have been Christian. This Sunday we expand beyond the Christian tradition, recognizing the mysticism in many other spiritual paths. Wendsler Nosie Sr. is also the only one of the mystics in our series who is still living.

Wendsler is a person who sees the connections between things. He sees the oneness. He sees the oneness of colonialism from its very beginnings far beyond this continent. He sees the oneness of the web connecting diverse peoples in the spiritual effort to resist and dismantle it. And he sees the power of prayer to make people one as they protect that which is sacred, no matter the cost. 

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Sermon — Thomas Merton: The One Thing Necessary + Children’s Story

Trappist Fr. Thomas Merton in an updated photo at the hermitage at Gethsemani Abbey (CNS/Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University)

This is the fifth sermon in our Lenten series on the Christian mystics called “A Voice to Call Us Home.” An audio version of the sermon is available here.

Luke 10:38-42

It came as a surprise to me when, in my early 30s, I felt drawn to becoming a monk. I was, by then, partnered with Jerome and so knew I wasn’t going to really be a monk, but I felt drawn to that life — to its simplicity, to the silence, the solitude, to the focus on what mattered. I was blessed during that time to find Hesed, an urban monastery in Oakland started by a female Benedictine monk that was devoted to the practice and teaching of Christian meditation. I became an oblate, or a committed member, of Hesed. As part of my commitment, I took vows, just like monks do. One of my vows was to what is called, in Latin, conversatio morum — ongoing conversion throughout one’s life, ongoing receptivity to transformation by the Spirit of God— which is really the one thing necessary, to quote Jesus from our scripture for today.  Throughout this time, the monk Thomas Merton was my spiritual guide, a man so completely unlike me but someone whom also longed for the one thing necessary, who had also taken a vow of conversatio morum.

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Sermon: Rosemarie Freeney Harding: Mothering, Movement, and Mysticism + Children’s Story

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

This is the fourth sermon in our Lenten series on the Christian mystics called “A Voice to Call Us Home.”

“In the beginning there was the Word; the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. The Word was present to God from the beginning. Through the Word all things come into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being. In the Word was life, and that life was humanity’s light—a Light that shines in the darkness, a Light that the darkness has never overtaken.

Then came one named Rosemarie, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through her testimony everyone might believe in our oneness. She herself wasn’t the Light; she only came to testify about the Light—the true Light that illumines all humankind.” – John 1:1-8 (adapted)

Rosemarie Freeney Harding was a witness to the Light. In her memoir, Remnants, co-authored with her daughter Rachel Elizabeth Harding, she writes of her encounter with the Light. 

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Sermon: All Shall Be Well? + Children’s Story on Julian of Norwich

This icon of Julian of Norwich was painted by Brother Robert Lentz

This is the third sermon in our Lenten series on Christian mysticism called “A Voice to Call Us Home.”

Isaiah 55:1-3, 6-9

We don’t know much about the woman called Julian of Norwich. We don’t actually even know her name. “Julian” is the name of the church where she lived for much of her adult life, St. Julian’s in Norwich, England. But we know a lot about her mystical experiences, because Julian was the first woman to write a book in English (or the first woman whose book survived into our time). Called Revelations of Divine Love, her book was about the 16 mystical visions she received in 1373. 

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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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