Posts by The Rev. Dr. Joanne Whitt

Bring Christ

Lesson: Acts 17:22-31

The apostle Paul had been traveling through the Mediterranean world with Silas, spreading the good news about Jesus. Their routine was to start at the local synagogue, where Paul would argue about the scriptures with anyone who came along. Paul was good at this; he could argue for three straight weeks, if necessary, and sometimes did.[1] Sometimes the people were receptive. Sometimes they weren’t. Paul was used to leaving a town in a hurry if he had to. Just before our story this morning, his stay in Thessalonica ended abruptly when the local folks made it abundantly clear he was no longer welcome. His friends whisked him out of town to safety, and sent him off to Athens, saying they’d catch up with him later.[2]

While he was waiting in Athens, Paul had a chance to see the sights. For some reason, he was “deeply distressed,” even outraged, by the statues of the Greek gods.[3] Probably it was the deeply monotheistic sensibility of a man born a Jew. So he was itching for argument, and he went first to the synagogue, but he also argued in the marketplace. Now, the Athenians practically invented argument, and Luke, who wrote Acts, reports that the Athenians were always looking for the latest idea. While some of the Greeks who heard Paul in the marketplace thought he was babbling nonsense,[4] others invited him to the join them on the Areopagus, the place of debate. They politely asked Paul to clarify his views.[5] That’s where we pick up the story this morning. Read more →

Marin’s Best Kept Secret

Lesson: Matthew 5:14-16

If you google “Marin’s best kept secret” you’ll find lists of things you’ve probably already heard of, especially if you’ve been in Marin a few years. Things like the statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones in Imagination Park, and Phoenix Lake. The one thing I came across I actually hadn’t heard of was “the hippie tree” in Tiburon. It’s a big eucalyptus up the hill from St. Hillary’s School, with a wooden swing. How does a swing turn a tree on a hillside into a “hippie tree”? Beats me. Maybe that’s the part that’s the secret.

There are, in fact, bigger secrets in Marin than the hippie tree or Phoenix Lake. Like this congregation, for instance. Oh, I know we’re not literally secret. We’re right here on the corner of Kensington at Ross and Mariposa big as life. Although – I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but you have to be standing right on Kensington looking at the front of the sanctuary to know this is First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo. There are no signs on Ross or Mariposa that would give you a clue what we are – or welcome you in – and we need to fix that. And you’ve probably noticed that we’re tucked away back here in this sleepy neighborhood. I’ve told people who’ve been in Marin for years what church I pastor, and they have no clue where it is until I say, “You know those castle-like buildings on the hill in San Anselmo? Well, down the hill from that.” Read more →

Day by Day

Lesson: Acts 2:42-47

My first thought, when I hear this passage in Acts, is, “OK, well, that communal living thing lasted for about – what – a day?” In fact, there are still a few Christians who model their economic lives after these verses in Acts. My mother was from Alberta, Canada, and her sister married a farmer near the Saskatchewan border. One year when we visited my aunt’s farm, we were invited to the nearby Hutterite colony. The Hutterites have no personal property. Everything is owned in common by the community. They’re “plain;” that is, men have beards, women cover their heads, and they use almost no decoration, like the Amish – but unlike the Amish, they are not at all opposed to technology. They have a website.  And they’re exceptionally successful farmers, in part because they use the latest farming technology.[1]

But the Hutterites’ success is the exception. Only three chapters later in Acts, things get ugly. A husband and wife defraud the Jerusalem community by pretending to turn over all their property, when in fact they’re holding back some of it.[2]   After that, the commune idea seems to go out the window because it’s not mentioned again in the New Testament.

Still, this description of the early church draws us in because it’s dripping with joy and hope. This is a, “You should have seen it!” or “You should have been there” story. The people devote themselves to learning from the disciples – presumably about Jesus and his teachings. They spend time in prayer. They see signs and wonders; they feel awe. Two aspects of their life together are mentioned not once, but twice: fellowship, and breaking bread together. Read more →

The News from San Anselmo 2017

Lesson: John 20:19-34

Note: On the Sunday after Easter, we celebrate Holy Humor Sunday by presenting worship in radio show format, “A San Anselmo Home Companion” (our thanks to Garrison Keillor). The sermon or proclamation of the Word is this work of fiction, “The News from San Anselmo.”

It’s been a quiet week in our hometown of San Anselmo, nestled against the edge of the Marin hills.  We’re in the peak of Northern California’s version of the “Super-bloom.”  Poppies, lupine, Douglas iris, the exceedingly rare Tiburon Mariposa lily, and loads of ordinary but lush mustard cover the hills, still green because, wonder of wonders, it keeps on raining.  You won’t hear many folks in Marin complain, unless they have allergies.  Then they won’t stop complaining. Earlier this month, Jerry Brown proclaimed that the drought is over, but scientists say it’s too early to parade in our rain, so to speak.  It takes a long time to recover from the worst dry spell in 450 years. Just ask Zac Efron or Meg Ryan.

It isn’t just the wildflowers that are putting on a crazy show.  San Anselmo is in full bloom, too.  A walk through the neighborhood right now reminds me of walking past the fragrance counter at Macy’s: you’re bombarded with scents whether you like it or not.  Except instead of too much patchouli, we get wisteria, jasmine, Mexican sage.  These are the fragrances that wafted through the late afternoon air as Rachel walked Sparky, her aging black Lab, over to Bouick Field a couple of weeks ago.  She wasn’t listening to a podcast, as she usually did.  She needed a break from the juggernaut of the 24-hour news cycle.  She’d sworn off Facebook multiple times since the election but it was sort of like driving past a car wreck.  It’s hard not to look. Read more →

We Rise

Lesson: Colossians 3:1-4 (from The Message); Matthew 28:1-10

I heard a true story last week about a priest. It was Easter morning mass. The priest went to the pulpit and said, “You’ve heard the story. Think about it.” And then he sat down.

It’s tempting. How do you explain a story that defies explanation? I realize the question on many minds this morning is, “Did the resurrection really happen? Was Jesus raised from the dead?” I get it. Even though we all joined in saying, “Christ is risen!” in our call to worship, I know that if I asked you to be as honest as possible in answering the question, “Do you believe in the resurrection?” we’d get about 250 different answers on a spectrum ranging from, “Yes, absolutely,” to “No way” and everything in between.

Matthew’s version of Easter morning doesn’t make it any easier. Of all the Gospels, Matthew’s version probably wins the prize for “least believable.” Only Matthew has the earthquake, a bookend to the earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death.[1] The earthquake announces the angel, who really knows how to make an entrance. His appearance is “like lightening”[2] – I picture him sort of sizzling and popping with power, radiating danger; I’d cast Chris Hemsworth in the role, so just picture Thor in dazzling white clothing.[3] In the other gospels, the tomb was already open when the women arrive, but this buff angel rolls back the stone right then and there, as the women look on. Jesus is gone; apparently, the stone was no obstacle for him. The angel sits on the stone, crossing his angelic arms, and glances over at the security guards – only Matthew mentions these guards[4] – who are in some sort of terror-induced coma. You see the irony: the living look dead and the dead are alive? The angel doesn’t speak to them. His assurances are for the women only: “You don’t need to be afraid.” Read more →

April 15

Week 6:  Maintaining and Increasing Biodiversity

Learn about WildCare, and advocate for wildlife protection in Marin:

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April 14

Week 6:  Maintaining and Increasing Biodiversity

Rethink your lawn. Replace part or all of your front lawn grass with flowering plants, which provides food and habitat for bees and other wildlife. Native flowers, in particular, help feed your bees and are uniquely adapted to our region. Visit the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website for more:

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April 13

Week 6:  Maintaining and Increasing Biodiversity

Install a birdfeeder, birdhouse or bat box.  You can make these yourself from recycled materials.  For example:

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April 12

Week 6:  Maintaining and Increasing Biodiversity

Do not use weed killer (i.e., Round-up) or non-organic fertilizers on your property.  They negatively impact both land and marine wildlife.

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April 11

Week 6:  Maintaining and Increasing Biodiversity

Don’t trim your hedges or trees this week.  Trim them in the autumn, not the spring, when foliage is needed by all sorts of nesting critters.

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