Sermons For These Times
Beyond COVID fears and family drama, many US Americans wonder: how can you square the Thanksgiving extravaganza and the reality of Indigenous experience — including genocide and land theft? In today’s readings Jesus stands before Pilate to testify to the truth. His faithful witness leads us through our doubts and dilemmas to a highly nuanced grasp of truth. We can’t deny history, but we can construct a more just future and witness to a complex truth. We can extend our tables and expand our minds, to celebrate Thanksgiving, as well as Native American Heritage Day.
Yesterday in the brilliant fall colors and dazzling warm light of Los Altos we buried my friend Jim McKnight in the columbarium of our old church. Jim and I had a strange relationship. He is my parent’s age. We first met when he was in his fifties and full of wisdom. And yet he had just been ordained the year before and so he didn’t know what I did about running churches.
One of my most vivid Pandemic memories Pandemic involved shopping for survival supplies at Smart and Final in the Outer Richmond. Raise your hand if you remember doing something like this. At that point we didn’t feel confident that grocery stores would remain open or that there would be enough food. Do you remember those lists of disaster supplies on the Internet (tarps, water storage containers, tools for turning off the gas, etc.). One included a shovel for burying bodies in the backyard.
One of my favorite congregants, is a surly lifelong westerner. Despite his PhD in Chemistry he speaks plainly and does not beat around the bush. He once said, “Why is the church always asking for money.” I love my friend, but he is a challenging friend. For decades Bob never went to church with his wife Mary, but after her death he never missed a Sunday.
The sermons below are listed by date, with the most recent at the top. You may also use the search tool to browse our sermon archive. Our sermons can also be found as a podcast on the platform of your choosing. If the particular sermon you’re looking for isn’t in the database, please feel free to contact us.
We have a lot of questions for God and God seems to have a lot to tell us. But the bible is full of questions from the all-knowing God and from Jesus directed toward us. The divine questions are aimed straight at our distress, lament, pain, avoidance, pride and fears. Our answer might best be action.
How do you know if Christianity is true? Proving that there is a personal God or heaven, the trinity or the divinity of Christ might be difficult. Arguing that our religion is the best religion seems silly. I’d much rather hear about what I can learn from other religions than debate their relative deficiencies.
Instead I want to ask about perhaps the central teaching in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is talking about status and its meaning in our life. Quite simply is it better for us as individuals and a society when people use power to dominate others, or should they act in Jesus’ words like “servants.” This question concerns every aspect of our social life. You can see it built into our material world.
- I want to begin with two things I love about San Francisco and what they say about our history. The first is Victorian houses. Between 1850 and 1900 about 40,000 of them were built in San Francisco.[i] The writer Thomas Aidala writes that the, “city was put together out of buildings that roar with fun, that never… take themselves so seriously that they forget to smile.”[ii] Victorian houses were built using the latest technology.[iii] They were thoroughly modern and made to look old. They were mostly sold to working and middle class people. Despite all the changes in real estate markets they still feel like eccentric mansions for ordinary people.
Should Christians be communists? That is, do the New Testament authors expect followers of Jesus to live in communities in which most property is shared? Not to spoil the surprise but I think the answer to this is yes. My sermon today comes in three chapters. The first is on poverty in America. The second is on the way of Jesus concerning wealth. The last section concerns what we might practically do.
- Harry Edwards was the professor of the first class I attended in college. A famous sociologist who specializes in sports, he had been the architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights which led to the black power salute protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He knew personally all the most famous Black activists from the newspapers and he taught us about them with wisdom and passion.
Professor Edwards was probably the best looking professor I’ve ever had. He dressed stylishly. Standing at 6 foot 8 inches tall and 240 pounds he didn’t have an ounce of fat on his frame. They say education is wasted on the youth. I had no idea how fortunate I was to study with him and I am embarrassed that I don’t think to wonder where he came from.[i]
This fall I found out. I read his autobiography The Struggle that Must Be. In it he describes just one evening in December 1953 to give readers an impression of the poverty experienced by Black people in East St. Louis. In those days eight children lived in his household. At the time his parents were constantly away working and the children pretty much raised themselves with the oldest, Lois at age 12, frequently missing school to care for her younger siblings.
[i] I did know enough to realize that Professor Edwards was helping friends of mine who were athletes.
Becoming the Greatest (in Proverbs and Mark)
“A capable wife who can find?… She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31).
On my dresser I have a faded snapshot. Because my grandmother’s hands were shaking as she held the camera it is blurry too. It shows my grandfather with a crisp white shirt and a tie sitting on the brick steps leading into their house with my four year old self in short pants and a collared shirt, leaning on his leg, sheltered in his right arm.
For a moment I want you to remember your own three year old self and the way someone took care of you just because you are inherently lovable and people could see that more clearly back then. Hold on to this memory. Remember this feeling.
Our topic today is the question of how we should live. Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato taught about this and if you think we have a settled answer, you should talk to the neuroscientist Lisa Miller. She will be my guest on the Forum this Wednesday night.
Dr. Miller characterizes this as, “an age of unprecedented mental anguish.” More than half of the respondents on the National Survey on Drug Use reported binge drinking within the last month. “Thirty-one percent of American adults will develop a full-blown anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.” The World Health Organization reports that 264 million people on the planet are depressed including 17 million American adults. We are in an epidemic of burn-out, chronic stress, trouble concentrating and connecting, loneliness and isolation. You can see this written on the faces of the people around us on the New York subway or our SF Muni.[i]
Miller makes two observations. First from her work in psychiatric units she saw that really we have only two ways of treating depression. First, there is psychotherapy which often searches for examples of childhood trauma that can end up leaving a patient feeling like merely a victim of her past. Second there are medications. Second, she noticed from statistical regression analysis of survey data that people whose mother dese seem to be 80% less likely to suffer from depression.
“I’m a scientist not a theologian,” she writes. She does not put herself forward as a theologian writing about the nature of God, but she strongly believes that we are by nature spiritual creatures and that ignoring this causes terrible suffering. How are we to live? Saying that spirituality matters isn’t enough. What will our spiritual life look like?
Recently I did a short video message on a New York Times article which misrepresented the role of atheism and faith on campus at Harvard University.[ii] A couple of atheists came out of the woodworks and confronted me. One in particular claims that God is just like Santa Claus and the Bible is a terrible book because of its treatment of genocide, rape, murder, etc.