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.

 

 

 

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: Reclaiming the Embodied Mystery of Pregnancy, Birth, and Sustaining New Life

By Claire H.

In the early days of being pregnant, the mystery of creating a new life inside of me welled up in moments throughout the days. I was filled with hope that these cells would indeed grow into a life, knowing this gradual process so often ends abruptly. Slowly, very slowly, this hidden mystery became real.

But, the sacred mystery became distant as I rounded into the second trimester of my pregnancy. Amidst blood draws and ultrasounds, I felt like my medical record number was trying to claim my entire identity. The medical system reduces us down to 15-minute visits with doctors who order tests and procedures, who dictate exactly how much weight we should or should not be gaining.

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Sermon: Mutual Aid: Reclaiming what’s natural

By Joanna Lawrence Shenk

Acts 2:42-47

Preaching a sermon on mutual aid to a Mennonite church is like teaching a class on video games to kids who have PS4s. What exactly is there to say? We know this stuff already. We have an innate sense that mutual aid is important and we’ve been doing it, so we’re good, right? And this is supposed to be a short service, so why even preach a sermon at all?

I have asked these questions while thinking about this sermon, and here’s my conclusion. One reason it’s important to intentionally reflect on mutual aid in these times, is so that it becomes an articulated central practice of our lives together, and not just an idea we feel good about.

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Sermon: Burning Hearts and Breaking Bread

Luke 24:13-32

Here we are, on the road to Emmaus. It’s Easter Sunday, but this day isn’t called that yet. It’s two days after our beloved teacher was brutally murdered, and resurrection is the last thing on our mind. Yeshua (the Hebrew name for “Jesus”) is dead, as far as we know, and he’s staying dead. We have no reason to think otherwise, despite the fantasies of some of the women in our group.

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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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Easter Sermon: Signs of New Life

Note: During this sermon, I will be using the Hebrew names for Mary Magdalene and Jesus.

John 20: 1-18

Easter begins while it is still dark. Before the sun came up, Miryam of Magdala sets off on foot. There’s no light yet — not enough, anyway, to know if you’re on the right path. Not enough to avoid the stones or roots you might trip on as you walk. Not enough to know if there might be danger just ahead. And in this version of the Easter story, she’s alone. A socially distanced woman, walking in the dark. That’s dangerous in any time and place. She’s probably walking fast, to avoid that danger, and to ward off the morning chill. Her feet crunch on the ground as she walks.

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Reprint: The Earth is Telling Us We Must Rethink Our Growth Society

The following article about “Rethinking Our Growth Society” by William E. Rees, professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia, is reproduced here with the express written consent of Professor Rees. Our FMCFS Climate Action Group is studying these kinds of articles to more fully understand the predicament we are facing and possible solutions.

Why COVID-19 previews a larger crash. What we must do to save ourselves.

William E. Rees, 6 Apr 2020   /   Published by TheTyee.ca April 6 2020. See https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/04/06/The-Earth-Is-Telling-Us-We-Must-Rethink-Our-Growth-Society/

As the pandemic builds, most people, led by government officials and policy wonks, perceive the threat solely in terms of human health and its impact on the national economy. Consistent with the prevailing vision, mainstream media call almost exclusively on physicians and epidemiologists, financiers and economists to assess the consequences of the viral outbreak.

Fair enough — rampant disease and looming recession are genuine immediate concerns; society has to cope with them.

That said, we must see and respond to the more important reality.

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