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). 

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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. 

Continue reading

Sermon: Hiberation

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

Psalm 63:1-8

This past summer, I was sitting in my backyard when I felt the sun on my face. Not an uncommon occurrence when one is sitting outside, but I don’t normally feel the sun on my face when I sit in that part of the yard because a tree is usually shading me. So, I looked up and noticed that that tree had far fewer leaves than usual because of the drought, and the ones that were there looked wilted, like they were barely hanging on. The foliage was sparse enough that quite a bit more sunlight was coming through the canopy, thus — sun on my face. I immediately got up and watered the tree, and I did this a couple more times over the next few days, but it was no use. The tree needed not to be in a “dry and weary land where there is no water,” to quote our Psalmist. It needed a season of life-giving rains.

Continue reading

Sermon: Many the Gifts of Creation, Same Spirit, One Call

“The Peaceable Kingdom — the Last Supper” by Jan Wall

By Jim Brenneman

Scripture Litany: Psalm 104:24;1Corin.12:4-5; Col.1:15-23

How many are your works O, Lord, Creator of the Universe! In wisdom you have made them all; the whole cosmos is full of your creatures.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

How many are your works O, Lord, Creator of the Universe! In wisdom you have made them all; the whole cosmos is full of your creatures.

Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and inhim all things hold together. . .For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven.

Continue reading

Sermon: Untangling the Knots Within

The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4

Mark 12:38-44

So, I got myself all knotted up as I was preparing for this sermon. Ask Chris and Ann. I sent them this rather long, wind-y email on Tuesday telling them what a hot mess my sermon prep had been so far. Here’s why: This story has traditionally been used to encourage people to give as sacrificially and generously as the poor widow. It was a story that might be brought out during the pledging time of year to subtly shame middle-class congregations into digging deeper. If the poor widow can give her all, can’t you up your pledge this year? (Yes, I’m aware we are in pledge season ourselves. I promise I didn’t choose this passage for that reason — it popped up in the lectionary for this Sunday!)

Continue reading

Sermon: Running Our Race

Excerpts from Hebrews 11 and 12

A few weeks ago, I went to my first cross country meet ever, to watch Patrick run.It was a beautiful October day. We were in Castro Valley, at a school up in the hills with this amazing three-bridge view of the Bay. What’s not to love? 

Well, the cross country course, as I found out later. It was by far the most challenging course of the season. I heard one runner from Alameda High, who had already completed her run, say to her friends as another run was about to begin: “They have no idea what awaits them.”

Continue reading

Sermon Response on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

After Sarah Augustine’s powerful sermon at our Indigenous Peoples’ Day service, Kinari Webb responded with an invitation and challenge to our community to join her in donating any money we make off of extractive industries, like mining, toward a full-time salary for Sarah. 

Continue reading