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Sept. '10--Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Sep 14, 10:38pm
Sept. '10--Pastor's Pen

 . .. but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:26)

As we prepared to launch our capital campaign, Renewing our Spirit, Restoring Our Buildings, I realized I was not sure what the word “renewal” meant.  Were we using it correctly?  So I looked in the dictionary and the Bible.  The dictionary said:  to make new or like new; to take up again; to reaffirm, to restore physical or emotional vigor; to replenish. When the word was used in the Bible (“renewal” would be a translator’s choice for a Hebrew or Greek word)  it also had the meaning of reaffirming, restoring and replenishing the spiritual life and commitment of a people to God. 

That is, indeed, what we’re doing at Summit.  We’re not reinventing ourselves, or taking a radical change in course – there’s no need to.  When I arrived here two years ago, I found a church with a solid identity and sense of mission, a healthy church with excellent ministries.  But I also detected some weariness.  People were busy with many tasks, but often feeling disconnected from the spiritual calling that brought them here (a common situation, I might add, in small congregations with generous hearts and big buildings).  Many people were speaking of the need for “renewal.”  So, while we planned for the capital campaign (also, in shorthand, “The Renewal Campaign”) we also re-focused our vision for the future through discussions at retreats, potlucks and board meetings. 

And we are seeing signs of renewal!  In strong summer worship attendance; in the restoration of our youth group (an historically strong ministry of Summit, as evidenced by the many young people in our leadership who grew up here); in new leadership and excitement around evangelism; in the growth of Elder Diner and REACH; in exciting events planned for the fall; in the way folks have cared for each other recently in trying times; in the generous response to our call to “pay forward” 2010 pledges; and – last but not least – in the early financial commitments we’ve received to restore our building, perhaps the “weariest member” of the Summit community.  We have reason to be encouraged.

But these are only the signs of renewal—Isaiah reminds us that renewal comes not from our own efforts but from waiting on the Lord.  It’s through worship, prayer, Bible study, and other ways of opening ourselves to God’s presence that we find the strength to “mount up with wings like eagles” and deepen our commitment to Christ and his church.  So as you plan events, teach Sunday School, consider your financial commitment, and attend board meetings, I encourage you to wait on the Lord.  Come to worship every Sunday; take time each day for prayer; attend Bible study or read scripture on your own (please see me if you would like help with this) and find quiet times to simply be in the presence of God.

Grace and Peace,

 Rev. Cheryl Pyrch 

8/10 Sermon--"Are Faith and Science at Odds?" by Rob MacGregor by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 26, 8:25pm
8/10 Sermon--"Are Faith and Science at Odds?" by Rob MacGregor

 Quote from Richard Dawkins, outspoken atheist:  “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.  Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence….  Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.”

 In contrast:  Henry Morris, a leading creationist:  “Evolution’s lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field.  It follows inevitably that evolutionary thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere . . . When science and the bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.”

 Why is there this struggle between scientific thinking and religious faith?

 Goes back at least to Galileo and the early astronomers who realized that the earth rotated around the Sun and not the reverse.  Such thinking seemed to say that the Bible’s description of the earth and heavens was wrong!  Then, the period known as the Enlightenment – 18th century – progressively challenged simple use of God and his direct intervention in the world to explain how things worked.  The Enlightenment’s thinkers and experimenters advanced humanity’s knowledge of how things work.  Note that it’s HOW (more later).  This seemed to explain away the need for a superpower to create and maintain the world as we see it.  Traditional thought took the Biblical account as literal description of how things came to be, and so many Christian thinkers fought scientific discoveries as blasphemous.  Issues came to a head with Darwin’s writings in the mid to late 19th century, and evolutionary theorists like Huxley created “social Darwinism” – which argued strongly that there was no need to believe in a God to explain things anymore. 

 So, it appears that battle lines are drawn – proposing the choice between scientific discovery and literal interpretation of the Bible on the other.  In particular, kids are often taught the simple Bible stories of creation, and then are introduced to geology, biology, evolutionary thought, etc in college and believe that they have to choose between the two!  I believe that this is a false dichotomy.  The Bible teaches that God is Truth, and so it must be that a search for truth in explaining the universe and its mechanisms should be consistent with a search for God.

 Let me give you some personal history:  I was a choir boy for 11 years, knew the Episcopal liturgy by heart, was a regular in the young people’s group in HS.  But in college – realized that I didn’t believe because it didn’t drive my thinking or actions.  Put off decision while leading a life denying God’s existence (and coincidently responsibility to try to obey him!)  In Med school, seeing death and dying made me start to wonder if what we see and can prove scientifically was all there was.  Recall that the scientific method is a powerful tool for learning how things work – but science doesn’t address the question of WHY things are the way they are.  The existentialist says that they just ARE, and there is no reason – “no exit from the human dilemma”.  This may be true but is not very satisfying to the heart.  So I said that I was open to exploring the Christian world view, and started going to church to hear the Christian answers.  The real breakthrough was recognizing that my approach was “of course God doesn’t exist, and so where are the holes in the Christian description.”  When I reluctantly admitted that it was at least remotely possible that He Did exist (1 in 10-26th or so), and then how did the Biblical description hang together, things changed.

 As an evolutionary biologist and geologist, I thought the idea of a young earth was preposterous, but reading the Genesis description, I was surprised that the writer had the sequence right. . . . .  I then started to view the Bible as a description of a relationship – between creator and created – and couched in terms that were understandable to humans 4-5,000 years ago.  How believable or relevant would molecular dynamics be to shepherds on a hillside? 

 I came to believe that evolution – evidence for which seems overwhelming – was the mechanism that God used to develop life in the diversity that we see today.  Some theologians believe that diversity came from events called “special creation” by God, whereas I have no problem with His using nature’s laws to evolve things over millions of years.  Some also talk about “Intelligent design”, in which God’s specific intervention in time -  circumventing the “laws” of nature, is what brought us to our present state.  I believe that this can never be completely be disproven.  But I refer you to a book which all college kids should read:  Francis Collins’ The Language of God”.  Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and a first-rate scientist who headed the Human Genome Project which recently worked out the complete human genetic code!  He started as an agnostic, but became increasingly impressed with the need for “Why” answers, not just “how” descriptions.  This led him to faith, which he describes very convincingly in the book.

 Recall the 8th psalm:  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  One of my agnostic Jewish med school classmates was dazzled by the intricacy of life, and told me that he thought that the modern psalmist would use an electron microscope, aimed the opposite way, to be dazzled by nature – which we believe was created via the mechanism of evolution.

 

  Just one more thought, unrelated to the science/faith issue.  This may not be theologically sound, but is how I deal with the contrasting images of God as loving creator vs. vengeful judge:  He has created us and has given us a blueprint that makes life work:  when we follow it, things will work;  but we as a species have chosen not to use the directions, and so catastrophe  occurs.  When it does, is God punishing us?  No, he’s begging us to follow the blueprint:  if you jump into the water, you’ll get wet.  When it happens is He punishing us with wetness? 

7/18/10 Sermon: Easily Distracted -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 25, 8:14pm
7/18/10 Sermon: Easily Distracted -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 18, 2010

Luke 10: 38-42

 

Easily Distracted

 

 It's hard to throw a dinner party - even a small one -  that's completely fair. No matter how much you and your spouse, partner, roomate, sister, or parent, may divvy up the chores and plan in advance, it always seems like someone has more fun and someone has more work.  Someone is cavalier about their tasks, and someone makes sure things get done.  Someone holds court in the living room while someone makes sure the crudite is restocked.  Someone gets to watch the game while someone takes the hot pockets out of the oven. Now I've been to some good parties at Summit so some of you may have hosting down to a science, or take turns being the worker bees. Sometimes it's more fun to be busy in the kitchen - depending on the guest list - and some of us like being the martyr. But more often then not, dinner parties aren't fair, which is why this scripture is so powerful - and infuriating - two thousand years after Martha laid the table.

 

 The story begins well.  Jesus has entered a certain village, and Martha welcomes him into her home.  We - the readers of Luke's gospel - know Martha is doing exactly what she should.  Not long before he came to the village, Jesus had sent out 70 disciples to cure the sick and exorcise demons in various towns and places.  He had told them to carry no purse or bag; for when they entered a house, if anyone there shared the peace, the disciples were to stay, eating and drinking whatever was provided.  "The laborer," Jesus said, "deserves to be paid." So Martha is doing the right thing -- and when she gets no help from her sister, we can appreciate her frustration. Granted, she shouldn't have triangulated Jesus into this sibling conflict.  She should have asked to speak with Mary privately in the kitchen.  But still, when Jesus says that Mary has chosen "the better part" that doesn't seem fair. If everyone chose to sit at his feet, who would care for Jesus and his disciples, when they entered their houses with no purse and no bag?  Mary's already having the fun -- why does she get the praise, too? 

 

 But this is not an ordinary dinner party and Jesus is not an ordinary guest.  Unlike our friends, it's unlikely Jesus would have been talking about the Phillies, gossiping about neighbors, or sharing the latest jokes.  We don't know what he did say to Mary -- we can only speculate - but if the Biblical record is any indication, it wasn't light conversation. Perhaps he was repeating some of what he said in his sermon on the plain, since Mary probably missed that.  Perhaps  he was telling her about the woe coming to those who were full (as Martha bustled in the kitchen) for they would be hungry, or the woe coming to those laughing now, for they would mourn and weep.  Perhaps he was instructing Mary to love her enemies or turn the other cheek.  Perhaps he telling her that nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed.  He may have told the parable of the sower or the good samaritan, or he may have been telling her that he was going to be betrayed into human hands.  Of course, he may have told a funny story or talked about the weather.  Whatever he said would have been relevant for Mary, and it would have been good news.  But it was doubtless challenging, like all those other words of Jesus that Luke has recorded in his gospel. Mary might have been uncomfortable.  For all we know, she may have been dying for an excuse to go back into the kitchen -- but afraid of offending such a great teacher and important guest. She may have chosen the better part -- but it doesn't mean she was having more fun. 

 

 

 And so we have to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying when he tells Martha that there is need of only one thing, and that Mary has chosen it. He isn't saying (I don't think) that practical hospitality is unimportant -- after all, he's accepting it, and he and his disciples depend on it to travel and spread the good news. But he's observed that Martha is distracted by many things --  whereas Mary is focused, focused on him and on his teaching.  He's noticed that Martha is worried, but Mary, we may hope -- even if she's feeling challenged  - is not.  Jesus's words to Martha sound like a rebuke, but they're also an invitation:  an invitation to let go of the worry, to stop thinking about all those different things that are distracting her, and to focus on the one thing that is needful:  listening to the Word. Sitting at this feet.  Martha may join them - but Jesus won't let this be taken away from Mary.

 

 

 Now we may be tempted to stop here.  To draw the conclusion that listening to the Word -- Bible study, worship and prayer -- is the one needful thing, that all those tasks we cross off our to-do list are ultimately not as important. Historically, this scripture has been used to lift up the contemplative life, to argue for it's superiority over a life of action.  But there's a problem with this:  nearly all the words of Jesus that have been handed down to us, in all the gospels, are full of action items.  From feeding the hungry and visiting those in prison, from helping people on the side of the road to loving our enemies, from healing those who are sick to making disciples of all nations, Jesus calls us to "do," not just to listen.  You may remember the parable we read just a few weeks ago, of the man who built his house on rock and the man who built his house without a firm foundation.  The man who built his house on rock was like one who hears the words of Jesus and acts on them; when a flood arises his house stands.  But the one who hears but does not act is like the one who built his house on the ground without a firm foundation, and when the floods came great was its ruin.  Jesus is not telling us to listen like Mary and to stop acting like Martha:  Jesus calls us to do both.  At the same time.

 

 

 That's our challenge. To act, but to listen first and to keep listening, so that everything we do may be grounded in God's Word.  This holds for our church life as well as our individual lives, and it ain't easy. The demands of running the church:  recruiting for Sunday School and Coffee Hour, balancing the budget, renting the offices, planning the Barbeque and setting up the sound system can easily become unmoored from God's word, worrisome distractions rather than joyful tasks.  They gain a life of their own, and we either forget how they witness to Christ, or perhaps they no longer do but we just can't see it because we're too busy.  On the other hand, Worship, Bible Study and Prayer can become times where we only seek personal peace.  They become an oasis from the demands of the world rather that a place where we also hear God's call to enter into it.  We become hearers only of the Word, not doers.  [Just to editorialize:  as a church, like most churches, I think we're more inclined to the first rather than the second]. 

 

 

 It's a challenge.  But the Holy Spirit is there to help us, and together we can do what we couldn't do alone.  Through prayer:  for the church and for each other.  Through coming together in worship and Bible study so that our work is in service to the Word, always guided by Christ.  And, also - through taking turns in the kitchen, and the Sunday School and the Board Room and the garden -- because, when all is said and done, Martha did have a point.  In this dinner party that we are giving in Christ's name, we want to be as fair as we can.  For then we will welcome people with joy, reflecting the joy and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who welcome all to the feast that he has prepared. 

 

 

This sermon is indebted to the commentary by the Rev. Cynthia Jarvis in Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 264).

 

  

7/11/10 Sermon: Mercy Required -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 12, 7:57pm
7/11/10 Sermon: Mercy Required -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 11, 2010

Deuteronomy 30: 9-14; Luke 10: 25-37

 

Mercy Required

 

 The lawyer in this story we call "the Good Samaritan" asks Jesus two questions:  the first is "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"; the second is,  "Who is My Neighbor?" My memory may not be reliable, but I believe every sermon I've heard or preached, and every Sunday School lesson I've listened to or taught has focused on the question of "who is my neighbor?" It wasn't until I read this passage for about the 10th time this week, that I even noticed first question:  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  And it wasn't until then that I realized it was the question Jesus answered in his final words, "Go, and do likewise."

 

 

 There are good reasons why we tend to focus on the neighbor rather than eternal life.  In this global village, when putting gas in our car and food on our table effects people across the world;  when the family in the house next to us may speak a different language; and when war and terror are truly world-wide, the question of who we're called to love and how is an urgent one. The image of the Samaritan showing mercy to "the other" draws us in.  On the other hand - and of course I can't speak for everyone - we tend to be less interested, or less comfortable, with the question of who inherits eternal life and how we can be counted in that number.  I had a professor who used to say, "Scratch a Presbyterian and find a Universalist," and I think she's right:  it's hard for many of us to imagine the God of love rewarding some people with heaven and punishing others with hell. It's also hard, as a (quasi) scientific people who know more about the stars and planets and what's beyond them than our ancestors, to imagine "eternal life" as a place to which we're destined.  And protestants have always been uneasy with the idea that we can gain eternal life by doing -- we call that works righteousness.  Whatever the reason, the question of "What must I do to inherit eternal life" is often neglected in teaching on this scripture.

 

 

 And, to be fair, it's not clear the lawyer is asking it sincerely; Luke says he wanted to "test" Jesus.  But Jesus answers seriously.  In true rabbinic and progressive education style, he asks the man to think about what he already knows, to reflect on the question himself.  "What is written in the Torah," says Jesus.  "How do you read it?"  The lawyer quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus:  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind:  and your neighbor as yourself."  This was not an original answer. Many teachers - including Jesus - summed up the law that way. Those words were not linked in the Bible to an explicit promise of eternal life.  But the answer made sense - the ways of God are eternal, to inherit eternal life one must walk in those ways.  The psalms speak often of this.  "The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish," says the first psalm. "See if there be any wicked way in me," prays the psalmist in 139, "and lead me in the way everlasting."  It's God's path of love and mercy towards the neighbor that will last forever;  the ways of the wicked will perish, no matter how powerful they may seem now . So Jesus assures the lawyer:  "you have given the right answer.  Do this, and you will live." 

 

 

 

 But then the man  - perhaps looking for an out - asks for the definition of neighbor.  Jesus doesn't answer directly, but instead tells a story of someone who demonstrated love of neighbor.  And here's the surprise: this man was a heretic.  The Samaritans claimed to worship the God of Israel, but they worshipped on Mt. Gerezim; not in Jerusalem, the holy city.  They read the Torah, the first five books of the scripture,  but they didn't accept the words of the prophets or read the psalms.  The Samaritans didn't worship in the right way and they didn't read the right scriptures.  But in this parable, it was the Samaritan who showed mercy, the Samaritan who was the neighbor, the Samaritan who would inherit eternal life. Not the priest are the Levite, men of impeccable religious pedigree who led Israel in proper worship. Jesus may be suggesting that deeds of mercy trump correct religious practice:  and in this he's echoing Israel's prophets. "I cannot endure your solemn assemblies," says Isaiah, speaking for God:  "your appointed festivals have become a burden to me; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed." Show mercy like the Samaritan, says Jesus: then you shall live.

 

 

 "What must we do to inherit eternal life?"  The church has given a different answer than the one that Jesus gave the lawyer.  The church has always upheld the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor, but it has also taught that eternal life comes through belief in Jesus Christ.  And Jesus does call us to faith in him: most famously, in the gospel of John he says that "God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."  We who do believe in him can trust in those promises. But the church has been divided on whether faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life:  and [I think] in this story, Jesus opens the door for the possibility that it's not -- if the Samaritan could inherit eternal life, why not the Hindu or Muslim, even, perhaps, the atheist, or agnostic [who claim not to love God]? The Samaritan's beliefs didn't prevent him from showing mercy; he was a model for the lawyer who knew the Torah so well.  Just as the Samaritan's kindness was deep and wide, the mercy of God is surely deeper and wider than we think:  wide like the sea, and broader than the measures of our mind. Who knows the many loving people, of all times and places, of all religions and none, who will also inherit eternal life.

 

 

  A final thought.  Eternal life may be sounding like a reward anyone can get for doing good deeds, or a bribe to get us to love our neighbor.  It may be sounding something we can earn, an error the early reformers warned us against.  But eternal life is life with God, a life following in God's ways, here on earth now and in whatever future may be in store for us.  It's an assurance that the  the love we show, for God and neighbor, will finally overcome the evil and suffering in the world. So when we feel discouraged, and  wonder if acts of mercy do any good -- and we're especially prone to doubts, I think, when it comes to neighbors far away -- sending money to Haiti, demonstrating against the war -  we can remember that love of God, and kindness towards neighbor, is the road everlasting.  The way that will endure, the way that we can trust and to which we are called.  And it's also the way where we are bound to find all kinds of people, people we didn't expect, inheritors, like us, of life eternal.  

7/04/10 Sermon: Our Waters and Their Waters--Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 7, 9:13pm
7/04/10 Sermon: Our Waters and Their Waters--Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 4, 2010

2 Kings 5: 1-19a

 

Our Waters and Their Waters

 

 When I lived in Brazil, I would sometimes have the opportunity to sing their national anthem.  Like ours, the lyrics are a bit obscure, but there's one line that always jumped out at me and made me smile:  "Nossas bosques tem mais vida," or, roughly translated, "Our Woodlands Have More Life"  (another line said, "our prairies have more flowers.")  It's a common form of national pride to think that even nature is better within the boundaries of our own country.  I like the lyrics of "America, the Beautiful,"  because it doesn't make that claim, but when we sing it, especially on the fourth of July, I'll bet many of us are secretly or subconsciously thinking "Our skies have more spaciousness" or "Our plains have more fruit." Praising God for the beauty and goodness of one's country is a good thing; but there is a fine and easily crossed line between gratitude and pride.  A pride that may lead us to believe God has given us a special blessing.

 

 

 "Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?" This is the question that Naaman asks, in anger, when Elisha, the prophet who was supposed to cure him, told him to wash in the Jordan. Naaman knew the Jordan couldn't have any healing powers: Naaman was the commander of the Army that defeated Israel not long before in it's battle with Syria.  His country had a superior army -- surely it had superior waters. Naaman had been hoping that Elisha had a special relationship with his God that would allow him to cure Naaman.  But Elisha didn't even come out to meet him.  Even though Naaman was the commander of Syria's army.  Even though he had arrived at Elisha's doorstep only after visiting Elisha's King.  Even though he had arrived with horses and chariots, bearing many gifts.  It's no wonder he was angry when Elisha merely sent a messenger.  It's no wonder he fell back on some good patriotic outrage  -- a refuge not only of scoundrels but of all of us -- and said, "Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them, and be clean?"

 

 

 

 But fortunately for Namaan, he didn't let his national pride get the better of him.  Naaman was a listener:  he had listened to an Israeli slave girl in his household, and now he listened to his servants.  "If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult," they said, "would you not have done it?  How much more, when all he said to you was, "Wash, and be clean?"  So Nathan went to the Jordan and dipped in seven times, and he was clean.  And since Nathan was also a humble and generous man, he returned to Elisha, the man of God. He offered Elisha a gift, and made a confession of faith: "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel." Israel may have been an enemy nation, a two-bit country that Aram had conquered, but Naaman could see beyond that, and recognize holiness when he encountered it.  Now, Naaman was a concrete thinker.  He also shared the ancient understanding that Gods belonged to places, so he asks Elisha if he may have two mule-loads of Samarian earth, to worship the God of Israel at home. Naaman was also political, so he asks for pardon in advance:  he knows that he will need to accompany his master, the King of Aram, to the temple of the God of Rimmon. Elisha tells him:  "Go in Peace," and Naaman does. 

 

 So here we have it:  the God of Israel is also the God who healed the commander of the army  of Israel's enemy.  And - at least in this story - the God of Israel is not a jealous God.  Naaman may go in peace, even if he'll  need to go to the temple of Rimmon with his master.  Now, there are many places in the Bible - old and new testament (esp. Revelation) - where God is portrayed as a warrior God. But here the God of Israel is  a God of all peoples who reaches out beyond Israel, a God of grace and compassion. Jesus will refer to this miracle when he preaches his first sermon at Capernaum.  He'll point out that at the time of Elisha there were plenty of lepers in Israel, but God healed Naaman the Syrian. He'll get folks hopping mad for saying this -- some will try and throw him off a cliff!  Then and now, we don't always like to be reminded that God is the God of all peoples.  We may say we believe it, but our songs asks God to shed his grace on us.  We ask God to bless America -- and often don't add, "and other  nations, too."

 

 And we must confess that national pride does more than get in the way of healing, or odd lyrics in our national anthems. It can lead to greater evils of war and conquest -- and no country is exempt.  It's not just pride in the nation state which can lead to trouble -- so can the related prides of race and religion. When we think that our waters are better than their waters, or when we think our people are better than theirs -- violence and war often follows .  In fact, we may like their waters -- and think we deserve to have them!

 

-------------------o-------------------

 

 "America the Beautiful," was written by a woman named Katherine Lee Bates,  a professor of English literature at Wellesley College. According to Wikipedia, the first draft of "America the Beautiful" was written the summer of 1893; she wrote it after going on a trip to "Pike's Peak" in the Rockies of Colorado, where she was teaching that summer.  This is what she says:

 

One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.

 

 The sea length expanse she saw was, "America," but it had only recently become so.  Until the 1860s, much of what became Colorado state still belonged to the Native Americans; many had already been pushed from their ancestral homes, but by treaty with the United States, it was still Indian land.  But in 1858 Gold was discovered near Pike's Peak, and people from all over invaded the Colorado territory to seek gold and silver.  The Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians living there were pushed off even further. Some of them continued fighting in the hills; others sued for peace.  Among those seeking to settle were a group that camped at Sand Creek, not far from Pike's Peak.  But the fact they had surrendered didn't matter. On November 29th, 1864, under orders of the Colorado governor, a Colonel John Covington -- who was also a Methodist minister, he was called the "fighting preacher"  - led 700 men of the Colorado Regiment into the settlement  where they slaughtered about 150 people, many of the women and children.  This massacre -- which was investigated by Congress - led to even more violence.  It was an "incident" in one of the last of the Indian wars which allowed America to stretch from sea to shining sea. In this case, it was not a matter of "my waters are better than your waters." It was a matter of "my people are better than your people," and Christian God is better than your heathen gods, so we can take your waters.  And the people who thought that were not especially evil or greedy or privileged.  But national pride led Americans -- mostly white Christians - to believe they had a manifest destiny to take over the land.  It's hard to imagine what would have happened if those Christians had really understood God to be the God of all peoples.  It's hard to imagine if what would have happened if they had truly understood God as the God of all nations -- but that's the world we're called to imagine.

 

 

 The fourth of July is a day to remember, with gratitude, the founding of the nation and the gifts that our forbears gave us and that have been blessings to the world -- and there are many. It's also a day to remember  - with both gratitude and sadness - the sacrifices, and the courage, of men and women who have fought for liberty in this country -- not just in wars, but in the civil rights and labor and other liberation movements.  But it's also good to remember that Independence Day is not a Christian holiday, especially in it's more prideful expressions.  Our God is the God of all people, including those who worship differently:  in the Christian faith, there's no room for national pride. Our waters are not better than their waters. They're all God's waters. 

 

 

 

 

I'd like to end with a prayer, a hymn, called  "This Is My Song."  It was written by a young man named Lloyd Stone (1912-1993)  using the Finlandia melody composed by Jean Sibelius.  Finlandia was a patriotic symphony and patriotic Finnish words have been written for it, but these words were written in 1934, just before that giant bloodletting, east and west, fueled by national and racial pride of all kinds.

 

 

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

 

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.

 

 Amen. 

6/27/10 Sermon: The Service of Song--Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 7, 9:12pm
6/27/10 Sermon: The Service of Song--Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 27, 2010

Celebration of the Ministry of Gayl Koster

Psalm 150; 1 Chronicles 6: 31-48

 

The Service of Song

 

 This passage is not in the lectionary.  The genealogies of the men David put in charge of the service of song don't have the same meaning for us today as they did for those Israelites 3000 years ago.  But the fact that we have this chronicle of Israel's music directors in the Bible  (and it's not the only one) tells us how important music was in Israel's worship.  Psalm 150, [the first lesson] the final psalm in the psalter, the last word, tells Israel to praise God with trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, dance, strings, pipe and cymbals.  Music is also important in the New Testament: Paul instructs the Ephesians to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord in their hearts, giving thanks to God at all times. In the book of Revelation, in John's vision of heavenly worship, all creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them sing with full voice a new song unto the lamb of God. In keeping with this biblical witness, the church has sung and played instruments throughout its history.  We've recognized that music is a gift from God; when we offer music in worship it's an expression of our gratitude, no less than the offerings we put in the plate.  Music opens our hearts to the Holy Spirit; it's been called prayer without words.  When we make beautiful music in a spirit of love, we witness to the beauty and love of God.

 

 But music has also made the church nervous  - especially in the Reformed tradition, of which Presbyterians are a part.  John Calvin, the father of the Reformed Church, worried that organs and elaborate arrangements would obscure the message of the gospel and encourage a mindless, frivolous worship displeasing to God.  Calvin approved of singing, but only of the psalms - because they were biblical - in simple arrangements.  Karl Barth, a 20th century Reformed theologian, also supported singing, but was suspicious of instrumental music. He thought that in practice instruments were cover for poor congregational singing, and besides without the proper words to direct our hearts and minds, where might that music lead? "There is [also] the difficulty," Barth said, "that we cannot be sure whether the spirits invoked with the far too familiar sounds of instruments are clean or unclean spirits.  In any case (Barth continues), there should be no place for organ solos in the church's liturgy, even in the form of the introductory and closing voluntaries which are so popular."  The Presbyterian Church's current Directory of Worship encourages music as long as it's not for entertainment, but also gives this word of warning about all artistic expressions:  "when they call attention to themselves, or are present for their beauty as an end in itself, they are idolatrous."  In other words, if we're too caught up in the beauty of the arts, we may confuse the creation with the creator.  (Book of Order PC(USA); Introduction to the Reform Tradition by John Leith)

 

 These dangers are real. We may find ourselves loving the music rather than God, with all kinds of mischief following.  Especially in churches with many professional musicians, striving for excellent music can become the goal --  rather than the means to praise God.  Worship can feel like a concert, with worshipers critically evaluating each piece, with singers feeling like performers, and the less talented excluded. Or - and this can happen in any church - we become so attached to the music we like, we can't tolerate change.  We resist including songs or styles more meaningful to others --  music has been the cause of many a church fight. Thomas Long calls music the nuclear reactor of congregational worship:  it's where much of the radioactive material is stored, where energy is generated and - alas -  where congregational meltdown is most likely to occur.  In one clergy advice book I read they had a list of things that ministers faced in terms of stress, and getting a new hymnal ranked above not making payroll! Music can be a powerful siren song -- using it in worship carries risk.  (Thomas Long, Beyond the Worship Wars)

 

 But following our Lord Jesus Christ carries risk.  If we invite someone to church or talk to them about our love of God, we risk being rebuffed or looked at strangely. If we take a public stand against injustice, we risk conflict, and in some cases we may even risk persecution.  When we put  money in the offering plate we risk not having enough for ourselves.  When we pray, we risk not getting what we ask for - along with the disapointment and doubt that comes with it -- and we also risk getting what we ask for.  When we reach out to care for someone who is sad or grieving, we risk being touched by their sadness or grief.  And when we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God, when we offer the gift of music that God has given to us, we risk falling in love with the music rather than with God.  When we play the organ, especially those dangerous preludes and postludes, we risk attracting unclean spirits.  But those are risks we're called to take because we worship a God of beauty, love and justice.  We're not called to play it safe.

 

  And that is why a faithful, Christ-centered, spiritually grounded music director like Gayl Koster is such a blessing. Gayl has brought us music that supports and illumines the Word -- not music that brings attention to itself.  Gayl strives for excellence by choosing music, rehearsing the choirs, and tending the organ with care.  But she never loses sight of the reason for music in worship: when things don't go according to plan, when singers don't show up or the organ is tempermental,  Gayl responds with grace, and love (and humor) reflecting the grace and love of Christ and helping us to reflect it, too.  And her service to the church does not begin and end with music: as an active and caring member of Summit, her ministry reaches into all areas of our church life.  We are so grateful for  Gayl's ministry of music.  We are grateful she'll remain a member of Summit. And we're grateful for the service of song, by which we glorify God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen. 

6/06/10 Sermon: Word in Action--Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 7, 9:11pm
6/06/10 Sermon: Word in Action--Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 6, 2010

Isaiah 55: 10-13; Luke 6: 39-49

 

Word in Action

 

 Luke ends his sermon on the plain with this parable of two housebuilders.  Now, if I was playing fast and loose with scripture I might say this story shows that Jesus would support our capital campaign.  The campaign we're launching this fall to restore our buildings by replacing the roof to make it rain-worthy; by bolstering the tower to make it wind-worthy; and by pointing and repairing the walls so the church will stand and not fall.  And I do believe Jesus would support our capital campaign - insofar as he takes positions on these kinds of things - for it's from this building that we proclaim the good news of God's grace, welcome elder friends for food and fellowship, and invite youth into relationships with adults who care about them. 

 

 

 But this parable is not about our capital campaign.  Nor is it about houses or churches, at least not directly.  It's about what we do or don't do when we hear the Word of God --  especially the Word of God as it comes to us in those things that Jesus tells us to do. Hard things, things he spoke about earlier in the sermon:  loving our enemies, praying for those who abuse us, turning the other cheek, lending while expecting nothing in return, neither judging nor condemning, forgiving.  Hard things because they go against our inclinations:  our inclination to respond likewise when we're hurt; to hold on to what we have;  to point fingers at others; to lend with hope of profit; and to pray mostly for ourselves, our loved ones, and those less powerful than we are. But they're also hard because it's not always clear what Jesus is telling us to do.  Turning the other cheek surely doesn't mean accepting abuse: but then what does it mean?  When Jesus tells us "do not judge," surely he's not saying we can't point out right from wrong, or speak out against injustice.  Yet the line between judging and truth-telling, between condemning and being prophetic is a fuzzy one:  we're not always sure which is which. But Jesus, knowing all that, still tells us to act.  He warns that to hear only is like building a house without a foundation.  A house that will fall as soon as the river rises and the flood comes. 

 

 

 I think most people would agree that the foundation of any solid relationship, the bedrock that allows it to withstand change, hardship, conflict, or loss, is trust. Relationships can weather all kinds of challenges if they're built on trust -- and great is their ruin when they're not. That's true in a marriage - and the reason why trust broken by infidelity can be one of the hardest things for a couple to overcome.  That's true for the relationship between pastor and congregation, between friends, between colleagues, between children and parents, between elected officials and those who elect them.  It's also true in our relationship with Jesus.  And the way we learn to trust Jesus, and the way we show ourselves to be trust-worthy, is to act on his words.  When we act, we're trusting that the words of Jesus are true and life-giving, even if they're counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, or counter-practical.  When we act on his words not knowing for sure they are his words, not certain if we've discerned rightly, we show another kind of trust:  a trust that even if we get it wrong, Christ is beside us still, forgiving us, guiding us, bringing us back on track.  We show a trust that allows us to take risks and make mistakes.  It's this trust - trust in his instruction and his love - that allows us to do the work Jesus calls us to do.  To be his disciples, not just his fans. It's this trust, built through the hearing and the doing of his words, that allows us to build our relationship with Christ with a foundation, on a rock. But if we hear only -- not willing to commit, watching to see which way the wind blows, fearful of making a misstep  -- then our relationship with Christ is not built on a solid foundation.  The floodwaters can knock it right down.  (That's not to say it can't be rebuilt better the next time.  We worship a God of second chances).

 

 

 In the past few months the leadership of Summit has been trying to discern what Jesus is telling us to do in the midst of a budget crisis, a crisis brought on by office vacancies in that part of the building we rent to non-profits, non-profits who have been facing crises of their own.  And it hasn't been crystal clear what Jesus is telling us to do.  We've struggled with the question of how to be faithful to Christ and reflect his grace to the staff, the tenants, and all who we welcome into the building, neighbors near and far.  We've tried to discern how to be faithful to our mission, the mission we believe Christ has called us to, both short term and long term, here in the building and beyond.  You've seen the plan that the Session approved;  you'll be voting on a piece of it this morning.  It may not be crystal clear to you, either, what Jesus is telling you, and telling us to do.  I'm sure it will be a very interesting conversation (I'll be here for the beginning, to introduce the motion and answer any questions you may have of me.  But for the most interesting part of the discussion I'll be in the yard with Deborah and the kids). But this I believe:  that however the congregation votes and the Session acts, as long as it's done prayerfully, listening for Christ's word through the Holy Spirit, we'll be growing in relationship to Christ.  Growing in trust and faith, building our house on a firm foundation. For Christ is trustworthy.

 

 

 And now we go to the table.  The table to which Christ invites us; where we act on his words to eat and drink in remembrance of him.  The table where, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we're united with Christ and the communion of all the saints.  At the table where we give thanks to God for God's love and many blessings, and where we are strengthened for service and love. Let us come to the table.

 

  

5/30/10 Sermon: Rejoicing in the Inhabited World--Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 7, 9:10pm
5/30/10 Sermon: Rejoicing in the Inhabited World--Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

May 30, 2010

Wisdom 8: 1-4, 26-36

 

Rejoicing in the Inhabited World

 

 The first question that comes to many people's minds when they hear this passage is "Who is She?"  "Who is Sophia, or Wisdom, this female who has been with God since the beginning?" Priests and Rabbis, scholars and others have come up with many possibilities.  Some say she's simply a metaphor for one of God's attributes:  that the writer is playfully imagining the wisdom of God as a woman who created all things with God and still speaks to humankind.  Others have said, she's not just a figure of speech, but a kind of angelic force.  Historically, the church has claimed that Sophia is a description of the 2nd person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ -- pointing to the Gospel of John who says that Christ, or the Word, was in the beginning with God and through him all things came into being.  (Historically, the church has glossed over the very interesting fact that she's a female, but feminist scholarship is changing that). Others look at what she does and say this is a description of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In Jewish thought she's been identified with the Torah --  not just the law in the ten commandments, but all of God's instruction to us.  But there's no "correct" or definitive answer to the question of "who is Sophia?" -- which is OK, because none of these possibilities keep us from listening to her.  So I invite you to take your pick, choose your favorite, as we listen to Sophia speaking to us in Proverbs.

 

 

 Sophia says that her cry is to all who live, and the writer of Proverbs says she can be found nearly everywhere:  on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates in the front of the town. No one is excluded from her counsel because of their native intelligence or lack of it:  simple ones can learn prudence; those who lack intelligence can acquire it.  She tells us that she only speaks what is true, righteous and straight:  that nothing wicked, crooked or twisted comes from her mouth.  She says she was with God from the beginning of  creation as a "master worker"; that she was daily God's delight, rejoicing in God's inhabited world and delighting in the human race. She then tells us, her children, to listen to her.  She gives no specific instructions here, and surely her instructions are different for each situation.  But she promises that if we listen we will be happy, or blessed; that if we find her we will find life; but if we miss her we will injure ourselves.  If we hate her, we love death.

 

 

 As we watch the catastrophe of Deepwater Horizon unfold, we may wonder:  are we a people who love death and hate wisdom?  Along the way towards this disaster, at different times and places, and at so many different levels, we see people closing their ears to the voice of Sophia.  There were the men on the rig and their superiors who made the decision to use a risker type of cement casing because it made the "best economic case" (NYT, 5/26);  then there was the decision to replace the heavy drilling fluid with lighter seawater; and there were the men performing the pressure tests and either misreading or ignoring the warning signs, decisions made under pressure to save time and money.  But the directors on the rig and their immediate superiors are not the only ones who "missed" wisdom's voice; and we must admit her voice is often clear only in retrospect.  There's the profit-maximizing drive of the corporate world, the leaders of British Petroleum, Transocean and Halliburtun (and all kinds of other companies) who treat recklessness as a virtue, especially when the risks are borne and the messes cleaned up primarily by others. There were the folks of the Minerals Management Service and their "cozy relationship" - Obama's words - with the oil companies that gave BP the waiver for an environmental study. There's President Obama, who has admitted that his administration was lax in regulation of BP; and there are previous administrations and congresses, especially the Bush administration, who courted the disaster by doing its best to undermine environmental regulations. 

 

 

 But we can't just point fingers at the immediate and most powerful players, although responsibility does increase with power.  We must widen the circle of foolishness to include all of us:  for we use oil as though there's no tomorrow.  We fill up our cars and turn on our boilers and eat food which depends on oil-based fertilizers. Oil which we'll get from somewhere, whether it's the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska, Iraq or Iran, Nigeria, Mexico or Chad.  Places that are even more vulnerable to spills and disasters, that have even weaker environmental regulations.  Lisa Margonelli says we've been importing our oil and exporting our spills.  Spills that will get worse as oil gets harder and harder to dig up.  In the words of Michael Klare we're in an era of "tough oil" -- oil that will continue to spill and leak, even if we're very very careful.  We may feel we have no choice - as we climb in our cars to go to work or the supermarket - and in the short run that's true. But most of us have been awfully quiet and complacent about the bind we're in and the danger we're facing.  We shut out Wisdom's voice.  (Michael Klare, The Nation, 5/18/10; Lisa Margonelli, NYT, 5/1/10)

 

 

 And if we continue on this path of fossil fuel dependence, we'll see more injury, and more death.  On the Deepwater Horizon we saw the tragic death of those 11 workers -- workers who have a tough job even when everything is going smoothly.  We're seeing the death of fish and plankton, marsh grasses, oysters and crabs, brown pelicans and lesser egrets -- and much more death is coming towards us, in the future and hidden in the depths of the ocean. We see the injury faced by fisherpeople and all who live on the coast, many who will lose their livelihoods and who are still struggling from Katrina. And the Deepwater Horizon is only one piece of the picture:  one piece of the death and injury to all creation that will rise as temperatures climb, ice melts, oceans warm and hurricaines intensify.  Dependence on oil, and gas and coal also leads to death and injury in wars and violence around the globe, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Columbia and the Nigeria.  Oil is not the only cause of these wars, but the drive to control oil has been has been behind much of the violence done in our name. We do seem to love death and hate wisdom. 

 

 

 And why is it?  Why is it so hard for us to listen to wisdom, to choose prudence, to acquire intelligence?  In the case of our fossil fuel addiction, profits and pleasures keep many people from listening.  We may fear change, of not having enough if we listen to wisdom. We may fear judgement.  Maybe we can't imagine the alternatives or feel inadequate to the challenge so we refuse to hear the straight truth that comes from wisdom's mouth. Perhaps it's confusion, because there are so many other voices clamoring for attention:  so many lies and falsehoods that are nonetheless very attractive, from the advertisements that tell us our cars will bring us love, to the so-called skeptics who tell us global warming is a hoax and we can go on with business as usual. So we continue our alliance with folly and death.

 

 

 But Wisdom cries out to us.  Even in the midst of our collective foolishness, her call is inviting. She calls so all can hear.  We don't need to be a member of the elite or go to college. We hear her voice in all kinds of places: in scripture and the teachings of the church, but also in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; in the articles and photographs of journalists who tell us what is happening in the Gulf, in arctic, and on equatorial glaciers.  We hear wisdom speak to us in the words of the people who live on the frontiers of climate change and know the damage first had. We can hear her in the work of those seeking to harness energy from the wind and the sun.  We can hear her in the voices of our children, who are often better recyclers than we are. Wisdom speaks so all can hear:  those who are simple and those who smart, those who have intelligence and those who need to acquire it; those who do well on standardized tests and those who don't. Sophia is very democratic.

 

 

 Sophia is also loving. She rejoices in the inhabited world:  the ocean with their fish and their whales, their bacteria and their coral leaves; the caves with their bats and spiders; the mountains with every bird and tree; the cities with their people and their pets.  She delights in us:  not just the more virtuous among us, but the whole human race. She seeks to bless us with material comforts, yes -- riches and honor are with her, she says, enduring wealth and prosperity, if not the excess we know now.  She seeks to bless us with happiness:  happy are those who keep my ways, she says, happy are those who listen to me.  And she promises life: whoever finds me finds life, she says -  and obtains favor from the Lord.  Listening to wisdom may mean sacrifice, it may mean change, it's not a guarantee of a suffering-free life.  But it is the path of blessedness, for Sophia is God's wisdom.  The same God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, who loves and forgives us, who has made us in God's image and who promises to be our advocate through the Holy Spirit. 

 

 

 

 

 So let's stop being so fearful.  Let's listen to Sophia, to find ways to live and rejoice in this inhabited world.  It will mean change:  sharing more, using less. It will mean study and discernment, as we learn more about our world and how to care for it.  It will mean standing up against some powerful forces, fighting for environmental legislation and regulation so that wisdom is given pride of place in the way we live and govern ourselves.  It will mean justice, for Wisdom tells us:  "I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice." Wisdom calls to us:  will we listen?  Will we choose life over death? 

 

  

5/23/10 Sermon: Visions and Dreams -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 7, 9:09pm
5/23/10 Sermon: Visions and Dreams -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

May 23, 2010

Acts 2: 1-21, Pentecost

 

Visions and Dreams

 

 One question that we often ask children is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This is considered a perfectly polite question, for we assume every child has an answer --  that they have a dream or a vision of their life as a grown-up.  And they usually do.  They may answer by naming a career – a teacher, doctor, helicopter pilot. They may say they want to be a mommy or daddy, a princess or pro football player.  Their answers are shaped by class and family circumstances, but we encourage all children to think big, to have a dream and work towards it.  Indeed much of what we try to do as teachers or parents is to equip children to follow their dream, to fulfill their potential, to achieve. And it's not only children who dream.  We adults have dreams, too. Perhaps we've stopped dreaming about a new career or having children, but instead we have a dream vacation, a dream kitchen, a dream relationship, a dream for retirement.  Those dreams can be wonderful, even generous - we may dream of helping others, or we may have dreams for our children or grandchildren. But whether big or small, deep or shallow, altruistic or not, these dreams tend to be about ourselves or our loved ones. We may have dreams for the world, too, but for most of us - there are exceptions -  those visions are less detailed and we think about them less.  We try and do good and follow Jesus but few of us center our lives around a world vision.  Following our own dreams seems challenge enough; we haven't been raised or encouraged to think globally. It's been said over and over  but it's worth repeating:  we're an individualistic society.  And it shows in our visions and dreams.

 

----------------------------------------

 

 On the day of Pentecost  - Luke tells us - the disciples were all together in one place (not in their own living rooms, in front of their own computers). There was the 12,  including Mathias who had replaced Judas, and possibly the women disciples and brothers of Jesus. And suddenly from heaven their came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and on everyone a a tongue rested. And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.  At this sound a crowd gathered -- a crowd of devout Jews from every nation under heaven, and they each heard in their own language:  the Parthians heard what was spoken in Parthia,  Phrygians heard in whatever language was spoken in Phrygia, and so on. The crowd was amazed.  The people looked at each other and said.  :  what does this mean?  But some sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."  {I never got that -- why the skeptics would think that drinking could lead you to speak a new language  -- until  . . . ]

 

 So Peter speaks up.  What you're seeing, he says, is what God spoke about through the prophet Joel:  the time when God would come and redeem God's people, bring justice throughout the world, and pour out God's Spirit on all flesh; when old men would dream dreams, and young men would see visions,  and sons and daughters would prophesy, and everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved. Peter goes on to tell the crowd of Jesus of Nazareth, his crucifixion and resurrection.  He tells them about the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, and how God promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who are baptized.  Luke says that Peter testified with many arguments and exhortations and that he was so convincing about three thousand people were baptized that day. 

 

 So we hear Peter's sermon, his proclamation of good news in Jesus Christ, and his insistence that the Holy Spirit is at work in this outpouring by the disciples.  But we don't know what the other disciples SAID in all those  languages, what they said to those from every nation under heaven. Luke says they spoke of God's deeds of power; they weren't speaking of their personal dreams or visions but of what they saw God doing in the world:  in God's justice, and forgiveness, and redemption for all people.  And it's just as well we don't have their exact words --  for they they would not have been able to capture everything that the Spirit was saying through them, and we might have tried to make them timeless words for all people to be taken at face value.  We might have stopped listening for the Spirit to speak through us.  But it's still speaking -- or speakin' - as my stole that is missing a g says -  and we need to listen.

 

 Under the guidance of our capital campaign consultant, the Renewal committee has been working on the draft of a "vision statement" for the church, to use in the brochures and website and other literature for the stewardship campaign.  This statement will be a vision of the mission and ministry of the church over the next 5 years or so, and will be grounded in the mission statement but a bit more specific and anchored in this moment of our history.  It will lift up why we're doing the campaign -- to fulfill our vision for the mission and ministry of this church, for which we need the new roof --  the new roof itself not being the point.  So we've been drawing on the mission study you did to call me, and potluck discussions and leadership retreats and asking for input from boards and committees, so we can craft a vision statement that speaks for the church and which we hope is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

 

 And I must say, we've been struggling.  Asking for money is going to be the easy after this.  We've been struggling because it's hard to write anything by committee.  Anyone who's done it knows what I mean.  We're struggling because we're not used to thinking collectively; we each see our own piece best. But mainly we're struggling because visions just don't lend themselves to vision statements.  Don't get me wrong - this vision statement is important and will be helpful.  But our vision of God's will for the church in the next five years,  inspired - we hope - by the Holy Spirit, is much broader, deeper, messier, and exciting than any statement  we'll come up with for the campaign.  That's fine -- we just need to remember that our vision statement will only point us toward the vision and dream to which God is calling us.

 

 So our vision statement might say: "provide a nurting and safe environment in which young people can learn more about Jesus,"  But our vision might be something like:

 

That as children learn the stories of Jesus, and pray and sing together, they'll feel his love, and have someone to bring their worries to, especially if they don't have love at home, or if they're burdened by many worries.  Our that our youth, who are now faced with so many choices and so many confusing messages about their future, may hear the call to love God and neighbor above the call to acquire more things, to get into the best college, or to escape those pressures through alcohol or drugs.  A vision we have for all young people, everywhere.

 

Or our vision statement might say something like "increase our support of community groups helping people in need, like the Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry" But our vision might be that we will work for the upbuilding of God's kingdom, where no one has to worry about having enough food at the end of the month, or a safe place to call home, or medical care when they're sick. 

 

 Or vision statement might say:  provide a welcoming supportive home for the spiritual growth and fellowship for everyong wishing to participate in our worshipping community; but our vision might be more like:

 

 In a world where from the moment we wake up to the time we go to sleep we're told to be disatisfied with what we have and to want more and better,  we will offer praise and thanksgiving to God, and learn to live a life shaped by gratitude rather than greed.  Or ---in a world where so many of us are burdened by guilt and shame we can't find joy in their lives, at worship we'll proclaim and hear of forgiveness through Christ, and find our lives renewed.  Or -- in a world where we think mostly about ourselves, we'll pray and learn to care for people across the world, and for all creation. And of course, we will invite neighbors and friends to join us.

 

And neighbors and friends will want to join us because however wonderful our private dreams or our visions of our life might be, they are nothing compared to the vision of a world transformed through the love of God in Jesus Christ.  A world where people from every nation under heaven, of every faith and culture, will live together in peace, caring for one another and God's creation.  A vision that the Holy Spirit calls us to make our own.

  

Evan Meyer's Rice Pilau by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 1, 9:52pm
Evan Meyer's Rice Pilau

  A few additional notes.  I know it seems like a lot of butter, but
the rice really soaks it up.  I sometimes substitute olive oil and
margerine for at least some of the butter.  I have never tried this
with almonds; I just always use cashews (cashew pieces work better
than whole nuts).  If you like spicy food, feel free to increase the
quantities of the spices.  The raisins nicely provide a balance to any
increased spiciness.
  If you make this, I hope you will tell me how it comes out.  Enjoy!

  --Evan 

Summer '10 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 1, 9:05pm
Summer '10 - Pastor's Pen

This week the Renewal Capital Campaign Committee made their first official “ask” of the campaign.  The elected leaders of the church were invited to dinner at the MacGregor’s, where – after being softened up by Mary’s Turkey with Cranberry Chutney, Angela’s Special Salmon, and a Honey Ham – they heard more about the campaign, read helpful and handsome materials,  and were given pledge cards to take home, prayerfully consider, and fill out by July 15.  

To begin the evening, we paired up to reflect on various Bible passages that were related to stewardship.  The passages were provocative but  – sadly – none of them contained a formula to help us figure out what to put on those pledge cards. Some of them spoke of the creation of the world, others were hymns of praise, and others told stories or gave instructions about money and possessions which seemed unrealistic, dangerously utopian, contrary to some other Bible passage or just plain unappealing. As one person put it, “in our group we kept looking for reasons why this passage didn’t apply to us – and we found them!” Despite our resistance, however, reflecting on scripture deepened our conversation and opened our hearts.

Centering our lives on God’s Word in scripture is no easy task. If we took all of it “literally” women wouldn’t speak in church, slaves would still be with their masters, even more violence would be done in God’s name, and we’d have to dismiss the scientific understanding of evolution.  We’d also be confused, as much of scripture –literally– contradicts itself.  On the other hand, when we recognize the role of human beings in its creation, interpret it in its historical and literary context, look at every passage in light of the whole Bible and recognize that God’s Word needs to be interpreted anew in every time and place (all good things) we run another risk. We risk using the complexity of scripture as an excuse to ignore it or dismiss its demands. I believe that all of us  – liberals and conservatives, literalists and scholars, Presbyterians and Pentecostals -  tend to read scripture in the same way.  We quote the passages that seem to support our views and ignore the others. We take the easy road! (Matt. 7:13).

But we aren’t left to face the challenge of interpreting the Bible alone.  We have the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit – which is why we pray for illumination every Sunday and why prayer should accompany all our reading.  We also have each other, for the Holy Spirit works through the holy catholic church:  through fellow members of our Bible class, through the community of biblical scholars and theologians, and through the voices of Christians past and present, from every corner of the globe.  We won’t all agree on what God is telling us, but together we will come closer to understanding it. And then the Holy Spirit will give us the strength and courage to not only hear God’s word, but to obey it.

So this summer I encourage you to read scripture.  I invite you to look at the passages on stewardship; you may find them on our website and they are listed above in the left corner.  I invite you to read the Gospel of Matthew, from start to finish, and then join the “Matthew in Depth” Bible study that begins on September 15th.  You will not understand, agree with, or like everything you read.  But (in the words of June Cairns, who led our discussion) the Bible offers comfort when we need comfort and challenge when we need challenge.  Blessings on your summer reading!

 Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch 

May '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 1, 11:05pm
May '10 -- Pastor's Pen

Pentecost 2010

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

As you know from the letter that accompanies this SHOUT, the Session - in consultation with the Trustees – has made some difficult financial decisions which (I dare say) have troubled our hearts and even left them a bit afraid.  Troubled because it means we’ll be giving less to those in need through our benevolences – something we know is central to our mission as a church.  Troubled because we’ve made salary cuts to dedicated staff.  Troubled because we’ll need to do more with less in the REACH program, our outreach to neighborhood youth.  And fearful because hard decisions around money always bring up anxiety:  about our own finances, the future of the church, and harmony in the congregation.  And so it’s always been:  when Jesus said these words to his disciples, he knew that they would be only the first generation of troubled and fearful hearts.

But this is the season of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which Jesus promises will both teach us and remind us of what he has said, including the promise of his peace to the church.  This peace is not an assurance that we can avoid conflict; that everything will turn out the way we wish; or that we will always make the right decisions. But it is an assurance that the church is in Christ’s hands, and that the peace of Christ is always there for us, especially when we’re facing unusual challenges.  

I believe the Session made a faithful and wise decision in making the cuts to our budget.  I also believe that if we listen to our troubled hearts they can lead us into deeper paths of faithfulness:  in our personal stewardship, in our commitment to the mission and ministry of the church, in our care and concern for one another.  But we needn’t let anxiety or fear govern our life together.  We can keep our hearts and minds in the peace of Christ, remembering that Christ gives his peace abundantly. And there are signs of Christ’s peace everywhere at Summit:  at worship and in the new faces we see there, in the renewed nurture of our youth and children, in the care people show one another, in our outreach programs, in the energy and excitement around the Renewal Campaign, which will put us on stronger financial footing.  For these things we can be thankful, as we seek to be ever more faithful disciples of our risen Lord.

 Grace and Peace,

Cheryl 

4/11/10 Sermon: The Other Signs, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 19, 10:16pm
4/11/10 Sermon: The Other Signs, Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 11, 2010 (Second Sunday of Easter)

John 20: 19-31; Revelation 1: 1-8

 

The Other Signs

 

 This is the second Sunday of Eastertide, the eight weeks when we celebrate the raising of Jesus from the dead.  You could make a convincing argument that believing in the resurrection is harder in this time and place than it's ever been. We're an educated, scientifically minded people who believe in the rules of nature.  We may not know or understand them very well ourselves, and scientists are always revising their theories, but we trust the natural world can be explained, and are skeptical of  miracles whether reported in the Bible or elsewhere.  We're also more aware then ever that people around the world have different beliefs about God and life.  We may wonder:  why should we believe that Christ rose from the dead rather than that God spoke through Mohammed?  (To give one example). And it's not just people in different countries or cultures who have different beliefs.  100 years ago, even 50 years ago, most people in Mt. Airy who weren't Jewish were Christian.  Believing in the resurrection - or at least claiming to - was mainstream.  Today, being a Christian is still respectable - we're not marginalized or considered a cult - but we're more likely than our parents or grandparents to face questions from friends and neighbors about our beliefs.  It's no longer the "default" option. Most importantly, the resurrection was supposed to signal the victory of good over evil, life over death --- yet evil and death still  have a firm grip on the world.  There's beauty, love and goodness too, and in many ways humans have made progress  -- but between countless genocides, nuclear warheads, environmental destruction, poverty, and brokenness of all kinds -- in our world and in our lives - it's hard to argue from the evidence that love and justice won a decisive victory 2000 years ago.  It's no wonder, nor is it a crime, that we have doubts.

 

 But we aren't the only ones who have found it hard to believe in the resurrection.  The writers of the scriptures this morning might argue that theirs was the hardest time in which to believe.  It's true they didn't have to face the challenge of an enlightened scientific mindset.  Ancient peoples believed that gods and spirits, good ones and bad ones, controlled the world  - but it didn't follow they believed someone could rise from the dead.  It was just as incredible for them. We might also imagine that since they lived closer to first-hand witnesses it might have been easier for people to believe  - but 50 years after the death of Christ, those witnesses were gone. And our multicultural community is not unique:  the world they knew was geographically smaller, but no less diverse:  different peoples who believed all kinds of different things were neighbors. Christianity had lots of competition; and it wasn't yet a respectable option, but rather a cult or a Jewish heresy. And they had no New Testament, no institutional Church to give "legitimacy" to their claim  -- the Christian communities were still young and often, it seems, fighting. Finally, the world they saw looked a lot like the world 50 years before when Jesus was killed.  Rome still ruled, hunger, suffering and death still abounded.  If anything things were worse, with the Roman - Jewish war and destruction of the temple.  It's no wonder Thomas had doubts, and many others like him.

 But the writers of our scriptures believed it a matter of life and death that people believe in the resurrection, that Christians hold fast to their faith. So they wrote, for those they knew and for those, like us, who would come after, who could no longer see, hear or touch Jesus.  In his gospel, John writes of the many signs Jesus did, before and after his death, hoping that as we hear them we'll also experience them.*  Signs in which Jesus relates to and touches those he loves.  One of those signs was to come to Thomas, who needed to see the wounded Jesus, just as his friends had seen him.  Jesus comes to him, with no condemnation, so he may not doubt but believe; just as Jesus will also come to Peter and other disciples on the beach for a picnic. John also writes of the times Jesus showed his glory when he changed water to wine and healed the blind man or told the woman at the well everything she had ever done.  John knows it will still be hard for us to believe;  Jesus says, "blessed are those, also, who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  It's John's hope that through the signs written in his book, all may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name.  

 The writer of Revelation addresses a different kind of doubt.  His vision answers the question of why the world is just as evil as it's always been, and why the Christians of his time were suffering so.  The answer is straightforward: it's not over yet.  Christ will come back to finish what he begun:  Look!  says, John, "he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him." Evil still appears to rule, but that's an illusion:  the Lamb of God will return and put everything under its feet.  John's vision of what will happen when Christ returns is full of so much violence and suffering that it may sow more doubt that belief in us today.  But  his vision gave hope to those early, persecuted Christians. It helped them believe in the Risen Christ in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.  And we don't have to believe John's vision will literally come true to trust in the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the true ruler of the kings (and presidents and tyrants) of the earth, that the Lord God is the Beginning and the End, and that one day we will see that this good and just God has triumphed over evil, suffering and death. 

 So we have these testimonies, these writings, to bring us to belief in Jesus Christ.  But we know they don't work magic, or everyone who read them would become a Christian.  They don't automatically answer our questions or resolve our doubts.  They don't "prove" that Christ rose from the dead, and they couldn't. But if we listen to scripture we open a pathway for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who gives us the gift of faith.  The gift of faith in the risen Christ that opens our eyes to the other signs of Christ's presence in the world; to the other signs not written in John's book because they're happening now, in our time. One of those signs, I believe, is the signing of a nuclear treaty with Russia and the President's Nuclear Posture Review that came out this week. It's not everything we might hope for:  it doesn't renounce all uses of nuclear weapons.  But for the first time, we promise not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear powers, and we say they are "fundamentally" if not solely for self defense. It's the beginning of repentance,  a first step in turning from the insanity of nuclear weapons towards a safer world.  The outpouring of donations to Haiti in the days after the earthquake, and the good work of so many people there - Haitians and foreigners - is a sign,  even though the continued suffering and injustice in that country could lead us to doubt the Risen Christ.  And the signs need not be so grand in scale.  Maybe you have seen one of those other signs in the mending of a relationship, in the physical or emotional healing of a loved one; in a sense of peace that has come when anxiety or depression threatened to overwhelm you.  Perhaps you've seen one of the other signs in days of sobriety, in the beauty of these days. Or perhaps you've heard Christ speak to you, have felt his presence, and have known his peace. All signs that Christ has risen.

 And when we have trouble believing in those signs, when we doubt that Christ has risen because of the mess we see in the world or in our owns lives,  we can remember the story is not finished, we are not finished, the world is not finished. That the resurrection is a promise  we can trust in those other signs, those other signs of God's love, forgiveness, and justice, that one day we will see in all their fullness. 

  *See Sandra Schneiders, "That You May Believe," 

4/4/10 Sermon: Turning to Joy, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 19, 10:15pm
4/4/10 Sermon: Turning to Joy, Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 4, 2010 - Easter Sunday

Luke 24: 13-49

Turning to Joy

I used to teach 5th grade in a New York City K-5 public school, and every June we'd have a graduation ceremony for the 5th graders.  The ceremony would vary from year to year, but one thing remained non-negotiable, by order of the principal.  The graduates were to memorize and sing the Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts."  You probably know the tune - Aaron Copeland used it in his ballet Appalachian Spring; a quartet played it at the Obama inauguration.  These are the words:

 

 Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

 And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

 When true simplicity is gain'd,

 To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,

 To turn, turn will be our delight,

 Till by turning, turning we come round right.

 

 I always thought it interesting that a Jewish principal in a fervently secular, progressive, public school would choose this hymn. Nothing is said about God or Christ, but it's a religious song. The Shakers were a zealous Christian sect who worshiped in song and dance.  It's in a number of Christian hymnals. But as far as I know, no teachers or families  - all of us firm believers in the separation of church and state - objected.

 I think there were no objections because it was the perfect song for our fifth graders.  It spoke of the gift of simplicity to children whose lives were already way too complicated. Complicated by competition: to get into a good junior high, to look good and have the right sneakers, to win in soccer, to get in the top percentile in standardized tests. Complicated by things:  toys, clothes, TVs, video games, computers.  Complicated by breakneck schedules with afterschool art and yoga and tutoring and lots of homework.  Complicated by brokenness or financial struggles:  two parents in two homes, having to move from one place to place. Complicated by choices  -- from where they wanted to go for junior high to what brands they wanted of almost everything.

 It was also the perfect song for our graduates because it spoke of coming down where they ought to be, in the place just right.  We knew that in middle and high school they'd be tempted into places that were just wrong: places with drugs and alcohol.  Places with sex way too early.  Places with bullying and violence and crime.  Places of too much sadness, anxiety or depression.

 And it was the perfect song for us, the adults in their lives.  For the complicated lives they led were  modeled on our own.  The wrong places we feared for them were places that we knew. But like parents and teachers everywhere, we wanted better for our children.  So we taught them this song about turning, turning to the place just right, a place of true simplicity, a valley of love and delight.  A turning we longed for, but found very hard to do.

 

  -----------------

 When the risen Christ returned to the apostles he did many things with them.  He walked and talked with them on the road to Emmaus.  He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.  He showed them his hands and his feet, he broke bread with them, he ate fish.  And then he told them the message they were to proclaim, as it was written in the scriptures:  repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.  He didn't tell them to proclaim the resurrection;  telling that story would be part of their witness, but that wasn't the point.  They were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins  in his name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. That was the good news. 

 And in the Bible, repentance means turning, turning to God. It doesn't mean remorse, although sorrow and regret may be part of that turning. It doesn't mean letting go of bad habits and adopting good ones, like getting sober and coming to church, although such changes may come with repentance. It simply means turning, turning to God. 

 But that turning is hard when we're burdened with guilt or shame.  We fear we'll be judged and found wanting, and that God will turn from us; so Jesus also tells them to proclaim forgiveness. The assurance that we'll be welcomed and loved by God, no matter what we've done or haven't done.  We may need to make amends or restitution, we may have done things that other people can't forgive and we'll to live with that: but we are forgiven. 

 And this is the new thing:  they were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of Christ. In the name of the one who died, dashing the hopes of all who thought he'd redeem Israel, but who was alive again, breaking bread and discussing the scriptures with them. They were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of one who was nailed to a cross, but who came back and showed them his hands and his feet.  They were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of the one who was laid in the tomb, but then was found among the living.

 The resurrection of Christ assures us that no matter how hopeless things seem, no matter how complicated our lives, no matter how deep we've dug ourselves into wrong places, turning is possible, forgiveness awaits us, and the joy that comes with it.  For Christ rose from the dead. Christ is alive.  Anything is possible! 

  Friends, listen to this invitation of the risen Christ. Christ invites us and our children to turn to him, and to receive the gift of new life in his name.  This new life is a simple life.  Not in terms of simple answers.  Not necessarily in terms of stuff or schedules, although it may be. But this new life is simple in its focus on the Word of God, and on God's command to love God and neighbor. Christ invites us, and helps us, to turn from our complicated lives full of striving for status and money, achievements and stuff.  Christ invites us to turn from those wrong places in our lives and in our collective lives that are full of violence and pain, greed and destruction. Christ invites us to turn to the place just right, a valley of love and delight.  Christ invites us to turn and in that turning will be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come round right. Amen. 

3/28 Sermon - Betrayals Major and Minor, Cheryl Pyrch by Anonymous on Apr 19, 10:13pm
3/28 Sermon - Betrayals Major and Minor, Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 28, 2010

Luke 22: 14-23

 

Betrayals Major and Minor

 Jesus said, "But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table."  Twelve hands on the table - (let's assume everyone has a hand on their lap) in addition to Jesus.  Twelve pairs of eyes, looking around at each other.  Twelve voices asking one another, "which one of us could it be who would do this?"

 Because we've heard the whole  story, we know the answer:  Judas!  As all the other disciples were wondering who it could be, wondering perhaps, if they could be the one, Judas must have been thinking of his conversation with the chief priests and officers of the temple police.  The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, and Judas had offered to find a way to hand Jesus over to them. They were greatly pleased, Luke tells us, and agreed to give him money.  So while Jesus was passing around the bread and the cup, while the disciples were looking at each other with suspicion, Judas might well have been pondering how he'd betray Jesus to the authorities when no crowd was present.  Later that evening, he would lead a crowd to Jesus at the Mount of Olives, and would approach Jesus to betray him with a kiss. The chief priests and temple police took him away to be tried, and he would be crucified by the Romans.  After his death, according to Luke, Judas felt no remorse and did no repentance; he brought a field with the money he was given.  It was in that field that Judas suddenly swelled up and burst open in the middle, with all his guts falling out - a field that became known to the residents of Jerusalem as the field of blood.  Other gospel writers have a slightly different take on Judas, but in Luke's telling it's a fitting end to a villain who handed Jesus over to a terrible and agonizing death. 


 But although Judas may have been the one to hand Jesus over to the authorities, his is not the only hand on the table that will betray Jesus.  There's also Peter. Peter tells Jesus at dinner that he's ready to go with him to prison and to death.  But Jesus knows otherwise:  he tells Peter that the cock will not crow the next morning until Peter has denied him three times.  And Peter does deny Jesus. After he's arrested, Peter follows from a distance, and then joins others at a fire in the courtyard of the house of the High Priest, where Jesus is being held.  Over the course of the night, three people will look at Peter in the firelight and say "this man also was with them."  And three times Peter will say, Woman, I am not, or Man, I do not know what you are talking about! After his third denial the cock crows -- and Luke says that at that moment Jesus turned and looked at Peter.  At the friend and disciple who now claimed not to know him .

 

 But Judas and Peter are not the only hands at the table to betray Jesus. The 10 others?  Once Jesus is arrested, they disappear. They don't even go with Peter to the courtyard. Perhaps they were in the crowd that followed Jesus to the place where he was crucified, or perhaps they were among the acquaintances who stood at a distance, watching these things, but Luke doesn't name them.  Whether they were standing by watching, or hiding in their houses, their inaction, their silence, would betray Jesus.  They didn't even try to recover his body -- Joseph of Arimathea, a righteous member of the Council, would do that.  Nor would they try and find where he had been laid, or bring ointments or spices for his burial -- the women would do that: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James. The 10 others?  They abandoned him.


 So, with those twelve hands on the table, we see the full spectrum of betrayal.  From knowingly sending a friend to torture and death; to publicly denying him; to hiding and remaining silent.  We don't know what drove the disciples to act this way.  Luke says that Satan entered into Judas, and we know he got money for his deed; but that doesn't explain why Judas let Satan in, why he turned in the first place.  Was it simply greed?  Did he become disillusioned with his Jesus and decide he was a blasphemer - was this a principled betrayal?  Or, was Judas just a pawn in some grand scheme of God as some people - not Luke - have suggested?  We're told even less about Peter's state of mind or the others, although it's easy enough to guess. Fear, perhaps, for their life or freedom.  More likely they just feared the shame and humiliation of being identified with a person under suspicion.  They probably told themselves there was nothing they could do, that they were better off, even Jesus was better off, if they lay low.  We know about those kinds of rationalizations.  We make them ourselves, all the time.

 

 But even if we knew the motives of every disciple, even if we could explain the psychological factors behind not only their betrayals but our betrayals, from major to minor, from the glaringly evil to the merely hurtful -- we'd be left with the question.  Why do human beings do this?  Why is it that we betray our spouses and cheat on taxes and spend money on luxuries when neighbors in Haiti or in Philadelphia go hungry?  Why is it we continue to fill up our gas tanks or throw away cell phones with hardly a thought to the harm we're doing creation?  Why is it that parents abuse their children?  Why are human beings so sinful and rebellious, why is there so much sin and suffering in this world that God called good?

 

 No theologian, no philosopher, no poet, no biblical scholar, has come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. People have proposed theories  -- from original sin to the claim that evil is only an illusion, but no one has come up with an answer that satisfies the longing, and the agony, in that question. On this side of eternity we can only see in a mirror dimly. But as Christians we do say this:  That when God created human beings that could and would betray each other, when God created a world that included suffering, God didn't just sit back and watch. God didn't leave the suffering for others. 


 We proclaim that God suffered, in the passion and death of Christ. Not just in a God-like way, whatever way we may imagine that to be: virtual rather than physical, empathetic rather than first hand, distant rather than close-up. We proclaim that in Jesus on the cross God suffered as human beings suffer: human beings who are physically tortured and hurt, human beings who know the hate of enemies and the betrayal and abandonment of friends. God suffered as a human being because Jesus was human. But at the same time we insist Jesus the Christ was God -- God didn't delegate that suffering to a human being, a human son separate from God's self.  God did more than have sympathy pains. God took that suffering into God's very self. 

 

 This claim of a suffering God has led to more questions and counter questions, answers and theories about why God did this and what it accomplished.  These theologies of atonement, of pardon and sacrifice,  are helpful and enlightening although no single one is fully satisfactory: again, now we see through a mirror dimly.  But the church everywhere has agreed on this:  that God in Jesus Christ went to the cross out of love.  That Christ came to us in love, and suffered and knew betrayal, out of love.  In the words of Paul, the proof of God's amazing love is this:  while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  

 

 My prayer, for you and for me, is that we can sense, that we can feel and trust in that love, as we follow Jesus to the cross.  Next Sunday, on Easter, we'll proclaim that death and suffering is not God's final word. In the Easter season and beyond we'll talk about how we are called to respond to the good news of the resurrection, to grow in faith and hope and goodness, so we're not mired in sin.  But on this Palm Sunday, and in the coming week, we just stand in awe before this fact: God loves us enough to eat at table with Judas and Peter, and all those other hands who would betray him, including our own.  What wondrous love is this. 

April '10 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 8, 7:44pm
April '10 - Pastor's Pen

The Great Fifty Days

 

One of the challenges in preparing for the Easter Service is picking only three hymns.  Like Christmas, the hymns for this festive day are among the most beautiful in the tradition; but unlike Christmas (happily) they have not been blaring from mall speakers for weeks on end.  They're inviting, joyful, and  singable:  especially when the church is full, as it is on Easter Sunday. This year I let go of "The Day of Resurrection!" to include "The Strife Is O'er" - but it was a tough decision!

 

Of course, there's no rule saying we can't sing 4 or 6 hymns on Easter, but there's also no reason to cram them in.  For the good news, as you may know, is that Easter is a 50 day celebration, not a one-day blow out.  We have eight Sundays to celebrate, wonder, and explore the meaning of the resurrection, the central tenant of our faith.  This year the lectionary takes us through provocative  passages in the book of Acts, the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation as we ask, "What does it mean that 'Christ is Alive?'" (Hymn #108).  The final Sunday of Easter, May 23rd this year, is also the Day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church - a day which has wonderful hymns of its own.

 

So this year we'll be singing Easter hymns beyond that first Sunday, and occasionally an Easter hymn may even pop up on some other Sunday of the year.  For on every Sunday, even during Lent, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, as we remember his life and death.  Every Sunday we affirm our belief that the risen Christ has inaugurated a new creation and is with us still. So, although there are hymns best reserved for that first Sunday in Easter - we won't sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in Advent or Lent or August - it's liturgically correct to sing of Christ's resurrection at any time of the year.  On what Sunday would these words not apply?

 

Now let the heavens be joyful, Let earth the song begin,

Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is there-in;

Let all things seen and unseen Their notes of gladness blend,

For Christ the Lord is risen, Our joy that hath no end.

 

 Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch 

03/21/10 Sermon: While We're Here, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:09pm
03/21/10 Sermon: While We're Here, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 21, 2010

John 12: 1-8

 

While We're Here

 

 I'm going to begin on a somber note.  Alone among creatures, all human societies  - in the past, present and everywhere in the the world -  have ways to take care of those who have died.*  Public rituals, burials and cremations, are very different, but, unlike animals, we don't let the dead lie where they fall.  Except when we have to, such as in a war.  Or after earthquakes.  Or in plane crashes over the sea.  And when such disasters occur, the inability of survivors to care for their loved ones makes those events especially tragic or evil.  Caring for the body of one who has died, or arranging for its care, no matter how simple or elaborate, is an important way we show respect,  honor, and love.

 

 Mary and Martha showed that care for their brother Lazarus when he died.  They had his face and hands and feet bound with strips of cloth.  They placed him in a tomb - a cave - and rolled a stone in front of it. They mourned, and many came to their home to console them. Jesus also came.  Mary and Martha had sent for him days earlier, when Lazarus was ill, but he delayed, so Jesus came to Bethany four days after Lazarus was laid in the tomb.  When Martha heard he had arrived, she went out to meet him; she then went back and called her sister Mary, telling her that Jesus was there, and calling for her.  When Mary saw Jesus she knelt at his feet and said the same thing that Martha had said to him:  "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  She wept, those who came with her wept, and Jesus also began to weep, for he loved Lazarus, as he loved Mary and Martha.  Then Jesus asked where they had laid him, and they brought him to the tomb.  He told them, "Take away the stone."  But Martha, who knew the care that had been taken with his body, and also knew what would happen if the tomb were opened, said, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."  But Jesus insisted, so they rolled away the stone.  Then Jesus called for Lazarus and the dead man came out, still bound in strips of cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

 

 And there he now was - alive, sitting at the dinner table.  Back from the dead because of Jesus, who was also at table with them, the guest of honor.  Martha served - we can only imagine the kind of feast they must have made  - and then Mary got up.  She took a pound of costly perfume, made of nard, nard that had come all the way from Nepal or Kashmir. She knelt down and anointed his feet, and wiped them with her hair, as Jesus would wipe the feet of his disciples with a towel days later.  A bold move, yes.  Extravagant, yes.  And loving.  Mary would have known about the threat on Jesus's head. She knew that after Jesus had raised Lazarus some of the leaders wanted to put him to death and had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so they might arrest him.  Instead, Mary and Martha took him into their home and Mary annointed him with precious and costly oil.  A perfume that would fill the house ---- stronger - maybe - than the stench that would fill the tomb.  She showed him honor, respect, love.  A passion strong as the grave. 

 

 But Judas didn't get it, or didn't want to get it, or didn't want to show that he got it --  that Jesus would soon be gone and Mary's anointing would be one of the last things she could do for him. Judas would betray Jesus, he'd tell the authorities where he was.  So he said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?"  It's  a good question.  It's a question John knew others would ask, for he makes haste to tell us that Judas didn't really care for the poor, that he was just asking because he wanted to steal the money from the common purse.  But the motives of Judas aside, it remains a good question, a question we still ask in all kinds of circumstances:  Why spend so much money on wedding, or a funeral, when that money could go to the poor?  Why restore the windows or the organ when there is so much suffering in the world?  Why costly perfume or luxury of any kind when others do not have enough food? 

 

 Jesus answered him, "Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."  You always have the poor with you ---  How often those words have been remembered! With these words, many luxury-loving people, ordinary but preoccupied people, and people who want to hold on to their privilege,  have breathed a sigh of relief.  See -- even Jesus says it.  We'll always have the poor with us.  There's not that much we can do.  It may even be God's will.  At the very least there's no rush  -- they'll still be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.  We can spend money on other things -- costly perfume, luxuries, beautiful things, especially when they're used for God's house. 

 

 The trouble is, none of those people, and they include us at least some of the time,  knew their Bible.  They didn't know that Jesus is quoting Moses.  That while he was telling them to leave Mary alone, as he accepted her gift, he was also reminding them of God's commandment regarding the poor.  Just before they were to enter the promised land, Moses gave instructions to the people on behalf of the Lord. Every seventh year, he said, you are to grant a remission of debts.  You're to wipe the slate clean with anyone in your community who owes you money.  And then he says this (Deuteronomy, 15: 7-11). 

 

 "If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.  You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.  Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.  Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  Since there will never case to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land." 

 

 So the words of Jesus to Judas are not as simple as they seem.  He wasn't taking sides on some eternal debate on giving to the poor vs. expensive gifts.  Yes, he was gratefully accepting Mary's costly and extravagant gift of love.  He was acknowledging her silent prophesy -- that he would soon die, that it was the time for his anointing.  He affirmed that Mary had made the right choice;  But he was also reminding them, and us, that as long as there are people in need on the earth, as long as the poor are with us, God calls us to be open-hearted and open-handed.  It's  a double commandment:  to love God through extravagant gifts of beauty and love: in worship, and in the way we love and care for one another.  But to also obey God's commandment to be generous and open-hearted with all who are in need, all of the time.  We can do both. 

 

 And both are urgent.  They are urgent because this is the time we have been given:  our time, on this earth. This is the time we've been given to love God with all our heart and mind and strength; and also to love our neighbor. Mary understood the urgency of the hour.  She had just known the loss of her brother and although he was back, she knew it was only a reprieve.  So she didn't hold back.

 

 Phil Ochs was a songwriter who wrote folk and protest ballads in the 60s and 70s.  He died at a young age, by suicide. I believe he was an atheist.  But he wrote what I think is a faithful song on the urgency of loving and singing and giving during our time on this earth.  In matters of love, and beauty and justice.  He begins: 

 

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone

And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone

And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone

So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here . . . . .

 

In the song he lists the things that he guesses he'll have to do while he's here:  the pleasures of love, breathing the bracing air, seeing the golden of the sun and dancing with delight; but also doing his share, adding his name to the fight, singing louder than the guns. 

 

We believe that when we're gone, we'll be united with God in Christ:  but while we're here, Christ calls us to love and to give, to God and to neighbor. Generously.  Extravagantly.  And with no time to waste.

 

Please join me in prayer: 

 

 

 *McCann, "Burial" in the New Interpreter's Bible. 

03/14/10 Sermon: Party Invitations, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:08pm
03/14/10 Sermon: Party Invitations, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 14, 2009

Luke 15: 1-32

 

Party Invitations

 

 I'll be reading a bit more than the lesson printed in the bulletin, which is the parable know as the Parable Son.  I'll be reading all of chapter 15 and invite you to think about it as one long parable with three examples: I'll call it the parable of three parties. . . . .

 

 

 Three parties, all celebrating the finding and return of something that's been lost:  a disoriented sheep brought back to the comfort of the flock.  A much needed coin that fell between the cushions, found. A prodigal son, homesick and hungry, is back.  Friends and neighbors, family and slaves, are called together to rejoice, just like the angels in heaven. When the son returned, there was even music, dancing and a fatted calf.  But there was also someone who declined the invitation.  The older brother was angry:  he was the good son, he stayed at home, he worked hard and obeyed his father, but he was never even given a young goat to celebrate with his friends, or so he said. How come his disobedient, lazy brother got a party?  Was this a reward for bad behavior or did his father just love the younger brother more? The brother that had lost half the property and was now coming back.  Oh, no, the older son wasn't going to celebrate the return of that irresponsible sibling who had a hold on his father's heartstrings and maybe still his pocketbook.  So the older son refused to go in.

 

 

 

 In the other two parties we don't hear about anyone declining their invitation, but I'll bet some folks did.  (I'm playing now . . )  Like the woman's neighbor who only had five coins. She'd find something better to do than rejoice with that woman who had more coins than she did. Or the woman's sister in law who always kept her house neat and clean; she didn't have to spend time searching for lost coins, they were always in their place. Why encourage the bad behavior of her messy and disorganized -in-law by going to the party?  Or the man with 50 sheep who hoped the lost sheep of his neighbor would wander into his pasture -- he didn't want to celebrate it's return. Or the neighbor who had 150 sheep who never got lost because he did his job and kept his eye on them.  That careless neighbor first lost one and then left the 99 to fend for themselves -- it's a wonder they didn't all take off.  A perfect example of declining standards in animal husbandry. Go to his party?  No thank you.  He would go mend his fence. 

 

 

 

 In Caroline Knapp's memoir of her struggle with alcohol called Drinking: a Love Story, she talks about being at her sister's wedding when she was still drinking heavily.  "I hated weddings," she says.  "I hated birth announcements, and I hated reading chipper little entries about my peers in the "class notes" section of my college alumni bulletin, and I quietly loathed people who got job promotions or bought new houses or relocated to swell new cities.  Events like that were irrefutable pieces of evidence to me, indications, that all around me people were getting on with their lives, while I seemed to stand still, immobile.  My sister's wedding, of course, was a particularly striking indication. . . . . Traditionally, there were two routes to approval in my family:  you went to medical school  . . . or you got married.  In the course of a week my sister - my twin - had done both and I felt like she was sailing across the finish line before I'd even made it out of the gate."  Caroline Knapp couldn't refuse the invitation to her sister's wedding, but she wasn't going to rejoice.

 

 

 Refusing an invitation -- most of us have done it at some point or another and not just because we're shy, or tired.  We've all stayed home from a party, angry that there even was one, grumpy if we had to go. We don't always want to rejoice in the blessings, or achievements, or the homecoming, of others. If we're like the older brother (and as a first born who became a pastor you know who I identify with), we may feel that rejoicing in the return of a reckless sibling mocks our obedience, our efforts to do the right thing, to be always responsible. If we're struggling financially, or if we sacrifice to live within our means, we may feel that the restored fortune of a neighbor is unfair, that we're the deserving ones, not them.  Or, when we're the prodigal, like Caroline Knapp, we may resent celebrating the blessings and joys of the "good" sister or the obedient brother. There are many understandable reasons to be a party refusenik.  Those scribes and pharisees speak for most of us, at some time or another, when they ask why Jesus has dinner parties for tax collectors and sinners.

 

 

 And underneath party refusal is often a fear:  a fear that the return of a long-lost brother means less love for us.  A fear that more money or more sheep or more health insurance for a neighbor -- even when they don't have much  - will mean less money or less sheep or less healthcare or less security for us.  A fear that life is a race, with a start and a finish,  and that if someone else gets ahead it means we'll lose.  How can we rejoice in someone being found, if it means that we'll suffer loss?

 

 

 When the older brother refused to come in, the father went out - like he went out to the younger brother - and pleaded with him. After hearing his older son's complaint, he offered this reassurance:  "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."  My love for you is so deep, the father is saying, that everything I have also belongs to you.  There will always be enough:  enough food, enough money, enough love.  "You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." 

 

 

 Those are words for us, too.  And if we can believe that, if we can trust that in God there is no yours or mine, that God does not withhold, that there's truly enough, we'll have more joy in our lives.  We'll be able to rejoice when a wayward brother or sister returns, because we won't be worried about being consigned to the basement.  We'll be able to rejoice in more for others, because we won't assume that means less for us.  Now, trusting in God's abundance doesn't mean we can burn all the coal or drill all the oil we want.  It doesn't mean there are no limits to this earth and we can continue to throw-away stuff and pollute without thinking:  after all, the son's dissolute living came to an end.  The woman kept track of her coins, the man cared for each of his sheep.  It doesn't mean we have to rejoice in the granting of Wall Street bonuses, because trusting in God's abundance means that many - including us - have to stop grasping for more than we need.  It means opening our hearts and our hearts.

 

 

 But if we can trust in God's abundance, our life will be filled with rejoicing.  Not just for blessings that come our way, but for the blessings that come to others:  not just for new life that we know, but for new life and hope for others.  "But," says the father, "we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found."  Let's except the invitation to that party, and to the many others that God offers us. 

 

 

  

03/07/10 Sermon: Eat, Drink and Repent, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:06pm
03/07/10 Sermon: Eat, Drink and Repent, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 7, 2010

Isaiah 55: 1-9; Luke 13: 1-9 

 

Eat, Drink and Repent

 

 As Jesus was talking with the crowds, people were sharing the terrible news:  Pontius Pilate, the Roman military governor of Judea, had killed some Galileans who had come to Jerusalem to make the customary sacrifices in the temple;  their blood had been mingled with the blood of their animal sacrifices. Also on the mind of the crowd was a catastrophe at the Tower of Siloam, which had fallen and killed 18 people. We know nothing more about these events than these few words in Luke's gospel, but as people shared the news, some must have wondered -- as people do - if the "innocent" victims weren't so innocent after all, if they had done something to bring on their suffering. We know about that kind of speculation.  We recently heard Pat Robertson explain the suffering of the Haitian people by claiming they made a pact with the devil 200 years ago. We've also heard loved ones ask, "what have I done to deserve this?"  when they face illness or misfortune - maybe we've asked that question ourselves.  But when Jesus heard this kind of talk he challenged them. "Do you think," he said,  "that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  No, I tell you.  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them - do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others? No, I tell you. Jesus wasn't going to blame the victim. But then he adds a warning:  "but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." 

 

 Inspired partly by the lectionary, I've started reading a book called, "Why buildings fall down," by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori.  The authors look at buildings, bridges and dams that have fallen across the centuries and discuss the flaws, the structural weaknesses, that led to their collapse.  In these case studies there's usually an event that starts the disaster:  an earthquake, lightning, an explosion or bomb  -  but engineering, design or construction mistakes play a part as well.  (You know that we're starting a capital campaign here at Summit so that the Summit Tower doesn't become a case study in the revised edition). The authors never suggest that buildings fall down to punish people -- but they often trace falls to some human error that involves an ethical or moral lapse.  It may be the hubris of an architect or engineer who takes a design risk; or the greed or desperation of builder who cuts corners to keep construction costs down; or carelessness on the part of residents or caretakers or inspectors.  The lapses are not usually malicious or egregious, they may be collective or individual, but they're widespread.  In the last sentence of the book, after discussing technological advances, the authors point out that such improvements alone cannot guarantee a decrease of building failures and may even increase them.  "Only a deeper consciousness of our human and social responsibilities," they say, "can lead to the construction of safer buildings."

 

 In other words, only our collective repentance.  (It's collective repentance, not just in building design but in the world economic order,  that will lead to the construction of safer buildings and less suffering in Haiti).  It's this universal sin, and our universal need to turn from it, that Jesus is referring to when he says to the crowds that "unless you repent, you will all perish."  Many think that Jesus is talking about the day he'll return and we'll all face judgement, with some folks perishing in the fires of hell, and others gaining eternal life; the early church thought that day would be coming soon. Others believe that Jesus is speaking of a judgement that we will each face upon our deaths, making the need to repent always urgent, since we don't know when that will come. But whether or not we believe in heaven and hell, in our generation this warning has another, urgent, meaning.  For if we do not repent, if we do not turn from sinful paths that we're on, we may well all perish:  from nuclear war, or climate change --  or some tragic combination of the two.  This warning of Jesus - I think of it more as a desperate, loving plea - could not be more urgent. 

 

 The trouble is, the threat of future disaster, or even, sadly, the knowledge of other people's suffering - doesn't motivate many of us to turn to God or give up our grievous ways.  The thought of judgement may even make us want to dig in our heels.  So here is where Isaiah speaks.  In today's scripture, God invites us to repentance:  but a repentance of eating and drinking, not sackcloth and ashes.  A repentance of mercy and delight, not punishment or pain. "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor that which does to satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear and come to me, that you may live."

 

 God calls us to repent by inviting us to a banquet.  A banquet with no admission and no ticket price, where everyone is welcome and where money and wealth don't matter.  A banquet where everyone has enough food, rich food and good food, not the junk food we usually eat.  A banquet where no one is thirsty, for there's plenty of clean water, nourishing milk, and wine. A banquet where even the wicked are invited:  "let the wicked forsake their way," says Isaiah, "and the unrighteous their thoughts, let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, who will abundantly pardon." A banquet where everyone is at the same table; there's no children's table in the family room or servant's table in the kitchen.  But to get to the banquet we have to accept the invitation;  we need to repent.

 

 What does that repentance, that turning, look like for you?  Perhaps it means inclining your ear and listening carefully to God:  through disciplined prayer and reading of scripture; by listening more attentively to those you love;  by listening to those crying out for help, for justice and peace:  in Haiti, in Philadelphia, in Afghanistan.  Perhaps repentance means no longer spending money for that which is not bread, whether it's the latest in clothes or electronics, in cars or in kitchens; it may mean giving more of that money away.  Perhaps it means no longer laboring for that which does not satisfy - not necessarily quitting your job, but no longer laboring for status, or things you don't need.  It may mean leaving work that is ethically or morally compromising, and finding something more satisfying, even if it's less glamorous or secure.  It may mean simply doing more of God's work:  here at in ministries of the church,  or in other works of compassion or justice.  It might mean forsaking wicked ways:  drinking and drugging. The easy, wicked way of indifference to suffering that many of us take. The wicked wasteful ways that are woven so deeply into our lives. It may mean leaving behind unrighteous thoughts:  old hates and resentments, all those isms.  And if we were to all repent, together, here at Summit and in the wider world, what an even more wonderful world this would be. 

 

 Repentance is a journey. It's not a one time decision or an act with a beginning and an end.  It's a turning to God that grows deeper, and wider, the more we practice it. It's a turning that will bring us joy and delight and it's also a turning we cannot delay.  The warm invitation from Isaiah and the urgent warning of Jesus are not a good cop/bad cop routine; they are calls to repentance from the same God, the God who loves us, the God who will abundantly pardon, but also the God who cannot stand by as we countenance suffering and put the earth in peril. A God who wants no one to perish.

 

 

 And we can begin by coming to the Lord's table, where we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Everyone is invited  -- to eat and drink, without money and without price; to receive God's grace, the God who abundantly pardons.  To be strengthened for the journey, and for doing the work of God in this world.  Come, for the the Lord has prepared a place for you and for me. 

 

  

02/28/10 Sermon: Setting Our Mind on the Right Things, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:05pm
02/28/10 Sermon: Setting Our Mind on the Right Things, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

February 28, 2010

Philippians 3:17-4:1

 

Setting our Mind on the Right Things

 

 The writer of this letter, the apostle Paul, is famous among Christians and non-Christians, but he has a mixed reputation.  The church has always treasured his writings:  our understanding of God's  grace in the face of our sin owes a lot to Paul. But he also has a reputation for being judgmental and arrogant.  For being anti-women, anti-gay, anti-sex.  And passages like this one don't help.

 

 So let's admit right away there's much in this reading that's off-putting.  Paul begins by telling his brothers and sisters to imitate him,  to observe those who live by his example. He's just finished talking about how he's imitating Christ, so he's pointing to Christ as the model.  But still, he sounds arrogant --  claiming to do an especially good job of following Jesus. It gets worse when he talks about those he says are living as "enemies of the cross of Christ."  Their end is destruction, he says: their god is their belly; their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  He is being judgmental:  and he's talking about fellow Christians, not pagans or Jews.  We don't know who these "enemies of the cross" were; we can only guess at what they were preaching or doing.  We may have rather liked them; certainly, to predict their destruction is harsh.  And when Paul uses the phrase "the body of our humiliation" it doesn't sound like he appreciates the flesh.  Arrogant, judgmental, anti-body:  that's the Paul we don't like. 

 

 Of course, there's more to Paul than this passage, but there's more to this passage than appears at first reading. If we stand back and try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who first heard it, I think we'll also discover a word for ourselves.  First, some background:

 

 Paul was one of the first apostles, but he never knew Jesus of Nazareth.  As he tells us earlier in this letter, he was a devout Jew, educated in Torah - the Bible - and the traditions of Israel.  He had heard about those followers of Jesus among his fellow Jews, who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead.  Paul believed that to be a wrong-headed, even dangerous movement, so he persecuted the church. But then he had some kind of sudden, mystical conversion.  Paul doesn't say much about it, but in the Book of Acts, written by Luke, it says Paul was blinded by a light from heaven on the road to Damascus and three days later he was baptized.  From there he went out among all kinds of people, Jews and Gentiles, in Jerusalem and beyond.  He proclaimed the Gospel and began house churches in many cities, the city of Philippi, in present day Greece, among them.  He then wrote letters to these "churches" from afar, greeting people by name, asking for prayers, giving practical advice and theologizing.  We think Paul wrote these letters 20 to 30 years after the death of Jesus and that they were read out loud when people gathered. Paul's preaching also got him in trouble with the Roman authorities and he spent time in jail; this letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. 

 

 These Philippian Christians would have been a small, beleaguered group (I know we sometimes feel like a small and beleaguered group, but they really were!).  They didn't have a church building or hymnbooks or stained glass windows, much less endowments or capital funds. They believed the good news of Jesus and the resurrection but they didn't have the gospels or any other writings of the "New Testament":  Mark, Matthew, Luke and John weren't even written yet.  They had scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, but they weren't sure how to interpret them in the light of Christ; it was a subject of much debate and controversy.  To complicate matters, Gentiles, who had worshipped the Greek and Roman gods, were now joining the church. There were divisions, there was conflict. Everyone was trying to figure it out:  what did it mean to follow Jesus?  What did it mean to imitate Christ? 

 

 A lot hinged on the answer.  A lot hinged on the answer because people would know Christ through the lives of his followers:  they didn't have bibles or tracts to hand out, or a church with community programs that folks could join. A lot hinged on the answer because the early Christian movement was always in danger of collapse: between persecutions and or people falling away the assemblies were struggling, even with all those new converts. A lot hinged on the answer because most of the early disciples believed Jesus would come back in their lifetimes and judge how faithful they had been.  A lot hinged on the answer because if they got it wrong, they'd be betraying the one who loved and died for them. A lot hinged on the answer because if got it right, they could save souls and change the world. 

 

 So getting it right was a matter of grave importance:  for themselves and for the church of Christ.  It's true that even in the early days congregations included people with different points of view who accomodated each other --  we see that, also, in Paul's letters. But passions ran high on all sides, so when Paul called those rival Christians "enemies of the cross"-  he wouldn't have been considered out of line.  Those early disciples believed the cross had friends and enemies, and they weren't afraid to say so. Name-calling was acceptable church behavior, especially if it brought people over to the right side. 

 

 Name-calling is still acceptable church behavior in some circles, but more often it's not considered appropriate. Many of us have more of a "live and let live" attitude about Christians who live or believe differently than we do.  More humility about whether we know the "Christian" way or whether there even is one Christian way. We've seen 2000 years of church growth, church fighting and institutional survival. We've had 2000 years to see the church make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and 2000 years of biblical interpretations we've had to rethink.  We may disagree with what other Christians doe or think, but few of us are willing to call them "enemies of the cross" and are uncomfortable when Paul does so.

 

 

 Which is good.  Humility and forbearance are good. Faithful Christians disagree on what is right. But there's a danger:  a danger that our humility, our willingness to allow that there are many ways to be a Christian, can veer into indifference.  Into an attitude that "anything goes," or that moderation in all things is always preferable. For a lot still hinges on the answer of what it means to follow Christ. How we live our lives does matter.  And here is where we need to listen to Paul. 

 

 When Paul warns the Philippians about the many who "live as enemies of the cross of Christ," he describes a way of life that sounds uncomfortably like our own.  "Their end is destruction, their god is the belly; their glory is in their shame, and their minds are set on earthly things." I wonder if there's every been another culture where people are so obsessed with earthly things:  what we will eat and wear, where we will live.  What we will put in our home; what we will drive, or do for entertainment.  Of course all people and cultures think about these things, but our minds are set on gaining, or buying, things far beyond our needs.  It's true that even with too much of most things we don't have enough job or food security, enough health care or good schools for all.  But still:  in a society where the vast majority of people are Christians, our minds are set on earthly things. Our god is not just the belly, but all that gives us pleasure and status.  Lifestyle is our idol. And we're learning that the current American lifestyle is not sustainable.  That if we keep it up our end will be destruction - and we'll take other people and creatures down with us.

 

 So let's listen to what Paul says about imitating him, and about imitating Christ to whom he points. We're not going to be able to imitate Christ by leaving the same carbon footprint that Jesus left on this earth -- that time is long gone.  But we can follow Jesus in other ways:  in his preaching of good news to the poor -- which means preaching, and doing, justice. In his healing ministry, in his feeding of the hungry, in his eating with outcasts.  In the way he spoke up for what was right, even at risk to his life.  In his generosity -  something especially hard for us who like to hold on to our money. 

 

 Our situation is very different than those of the Philippian Christians.  Rather than being a small, beleaguered movement, Christians, as a whole, are the most powerful people in the world.  We have a history that changes how we hear, and should hear, this words of Paul.  But we still face that same question:  what does it mean to imitate Christ?  A lot still hinges on that answer.  It's not a matter of anything goes.  So let us stand join in imitating Christ and recognize that we may have some repenting to do.

 

 This is not an easy task.  So I'll end with some encouraging words from Paul, writing to the Philippians but whose words speak also to us:  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

 

  

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