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10/24/10 Sermon: "Altogether Now" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:39pm
10/24/10 Sermon: "Altogether Now" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 24, 2010

Psalm 65


Altogether Now


People are theological creatures.  Whatever our beliefs, whether we're Christians or Atheists, Hindu or Bahai, we're built to ask questions about God. Is there one God, or many or none?  Who is God and what is God like?  What does God do?  Atheists may ask:  why do people believe in a God that doesn't exist?  These questions lead to other questions, and books and pamphlets and tomes have been written to try and answer them. The most learned theologians tell us that the immortal, invisible God only wise cannot be fully captured in words, even when they're words from the Bible.  But words point to God, they illumine, they reveal, especially - we believe - when they're words from scripture.  So people of all faiths and beliefs read their sacred books, think, write, and talk about God.


Two things seem to happen when we do this.  The first and perhaps the most common is that we argue:  Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Christians with other Christians, Muslims with other Muslims;  and so on.  Now theological discussion, even argument, is holy work.  It helps us  better understand and honor God - we hope.  It's important that we testify to what we believe and that we're not afraid to disagree. Jesus had lots of theological discussions that got very heated, even among friends.  The trouble comes when we're tempted to condemn those who disagree with us.  We may do out of loyalty to God or from a desire to protect others. Speaking falsely about God can lead people astray and even hurt them -- blasphemy is a real sin, one we doubtless commit more often than we know.  And sometimes heresies have to be named:  when the Evangelical German Church in Nazi Germany criticized the so-called "German Christians" who were following Hitler, they did the right thing.  But more often, our righteous condemnations don't honor God. They divide rather than unite us.  At their worst they lead to violence.  

The Presbyterian Church (USA) - our denomination - has book called the Book of Confessions. It's a collection of creeds and statements of faith, from the Apostles Creed of the early church to the 1985 Brief Statement of Faith that we often read in worship.  These confessions are meant to be guides for our faith and life, interpreted carefully in the context of their time and place.  I"m going to read from the Second Helvetic Confession, written for the church by a Swiss pastor named Heinrich Bullinger in 1561. He's just written a statement on God, His Unity and Trinity, and has this to say about those who disagree (5.019): 

Heresies.  Therefore we condemn the Jews and Mohammedans, and all those who blaspheme that sacred and adorable Trinity.  We also condemn all heresies and heretics who teach that the Son and Holy Spirit are God in name only, and also that there is something created and subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that there is something unequal in it, a greater or a less, something corporeal or corporeally conceived, something different with respect to character or will, something mixed or solitary, as if the son and Holy Spirit were the affectations and properties of one God the Father, as the Monarchians, Novatians, Praxeas, Patripassions, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Aetius, Macedonius, Anthropomorphites, Arius, and such like, have thought.  (If you have no idea who or what he's talking about, don't worry. The point he's making is those folks are wrong, and we condemn them!) 

There are other passages like that in the confessions, and, indeed, when we start talking about God it's easy to go down that road of passionate condemnation.  But something else can also happen.  Something wonderful.  We fall into praise, in spite of ourselves.  This is also from the Helvetic Confession, just a few lines earlier: 

God is one.  We believe and teach that God is one in essence or nature, subsisting in himself, all sufficient in himself, invisible, incorporeal, immense, eternal, Creator of all things both visible and invisible, the greatest good, living, quickening and preserving all things, omnipotent and supremely wise, kind and merciful, just and true.  (5.0105). Yes, when we talk about God, how can we keep from singing?

Our scripture this morning, Psalm 65 is a song of pure praise. It's sung to God,  but it also answers the question:  who is God? much like a formal confession or statement of faith would do.  Remember what the psalmist says: God is the one:


-who answers prayer 

-who forgives our transgressions, when deeds of iniquity threaten to overwhelm us

-who chooses us and brings us near

-who delivers us with awesome deeds

-who is the hope of all the ends of the earth and the farthest seas

-who established the mountains and is girded with might

-who silences the roaring of seas and waves, and the tumult of the peoples

-who gives signs to those who live at the earth's farthest bounds.

-who makes the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy

-who visits the earth and waters it, greatly enriching it

-who provides the people with grain

-who waters the earth's furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers.

-who blesses growth and crowns the year with bounty; God's wagon tracks overflow with riches.


This is our God;  to whom all praise is due.  And as the psalmist praises God, and calls us to praise, he notes that we aren't the only ones singing.  The pastures of the wilderness overflow; the hills gird themselves with joy.  The meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain. The hills and the pasture, the meadow and the flocks can't explain the trinity;  they can't expound on scripture.  But  the pasture also doesn't argue with the meadow.  The hill does not condemn the valley;  the flocks don't criticize the pasture. Instead, they do what God has made all creatures to do:  they shout and sing together for joy.  

 We can learn from the rest of God's creation.  As we continue to wrestle with theological questions, as we listen and speak, debate and even argue,  let's remember what all that talk is ultimately for:  to praise God. Let's not forget our ultimate calling, a calling we share with those near to us and those at the ends of the earth, with those who share our faith and those who do not; with those who think like us and those we may be tempted to condemn.  A calling with share with all of creation, the creation that speaks without words but whose praise resounds throughout the earth.  So that all things now living, may unite in thanksgiving, to God in the highest, hosanna and praise.  Amen. 

10/17/10 Sermon: "Faith on Earth" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:38pm
10/17/10 Sermon: "Faith on Earth" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 17, 2010

Luke 18: 1-8


Faith on Earth

 This week, the world celebrated the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile who had been trapped underground for two and a half months. When they were first discovered deep in their underground shelter 17 days after the accident, they were beginning to starve; rescuers were worried most about their physical condition.  After sending down food, medicine, and instructions, the men gained in strength, they even began exercising and putting back weight; no one was seriously ill. But it could still be months before they were freed - if the rescue was successful - so those above began worrying more about their morale.  Would they keep up their spirits, or would they lose heart, and give up?  It's not that the living condition were so terrible.  They had plenty to eat and drink,  hot meals expertly and lovingly were sent down the long tube.  The men could send and receive notes from their loved ones; after they were found they had electricity and rudimentary lighting:  they could watch movies and soccer games.  They knew the world was praying for them, they had rosaries and bibles, magazines and journals. They were cramped, but they had room to move and even tunnels to run in. And they had each other:  they kept an amazing solidarity throughout their ideal  (parenthetically, Chilean miners - and the Chilean working class - has a long history of courage and solidarity). But the miners - and the world - didn't know how it was going to end. Perhaps shifting rocks would bury them again; maybe the rescue capsule would get stuck, or the shaft would collapse. Any one of them could get seriously ill; perhaps only some of them would make it.  And although every day brought them closer to rescue every day was also another day of uncertainty and fear.  The not-knowing  must have been  hard to bear -- the days and weeks long and stressful. But they did not lose heart: they prayed, they took care of each other, and sent and received messages from their loved ones.  They were an example of faith on earth.


 These past two weeks have also been a time of mourning, as we learned of several gay teens - or teens who were perceived to be gay - who killed themselves in recent months after being threatened and harrassed by their peers.  Peers who learned messages of hate or fear through family, or churches, or TV or any other number of places.  In response to these suicides, a number of gay/lesbian/queer adults have made videos, where they speak to kids who may be depressed or fearful saying, "it gets better." Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire made one of the videos, but the most moving one that I saw - and one that now has media attention - is by Joel Burns, a city council member in Forth Worth, Texas, who told his story at a City Council meeting. He said that as a son of a methodist church pianist and a cowboy named butch, living in a small Texas town, he had a certain image of who he should be.  As he became older he had feelings that did not fit with that image, but for a while it was OK:  he was well liked if sensitive, a band dork and basketball player, and although he was teased like all kids he could handle it. But one day, he said, he was confronted by a gang of older boys who called him a faggot, roughed him up and told him he deserved to die.  He went home ashamed, humiliated, and confused, certain there must be something terribly wrong with him that he could never reveal to anyone. He said he went home and he was about to tell what happened on that day -- but then stopped himself and said it was too hard, that he also didn't want his parents to bear the pain of hearing what happened. (In a later interview he indicates it was some kind of suicide attempt).  But at the city council meeting he skips ahead, and tells of meeting his husband and the love and support he now knew from his parents and friends.  On the video he says he would like to go back and show that 13 year old boy, the one who was in such despair on that day, that,as he put it, "the story doesn't end where I didn't tell it," and he wants to tell other teens, too, that the story can end very differently than how they may be imagining it.  That things will get better.  To not lose heart.  


 The story of the Chilean miners, and the story Joel Burns, are stories that ended well.  The miners were rescued; Joel Burns found love and acceptance even in Forth Worth, Texas.  In the faith and mutual support of the miners,  in the hard work of the rescuers; in the courage of the adults who have told their stories publicly we can see, as Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is among you."  They are stories to inspire us, and help us keep heart.  But we know not all stories end well.  Not all miners are rescued:  since 2000, about 33 miners have been killed each year in Chile. 34 miners have been killed in West Virginia this year.  Not all struggling teens find love or happiness when they are older, even if they are able to sidestep that extreme despair that leads to suicide.  We know this in our own lives: prayers are not always answered, at least in the way we ask.  Things may get better but then new losses come, often one right after the other. And when we look at the suffering in the world around us, it may seem that the tragedy and evil far outweighs the good:  The holocaust.  A century of wars, each bringing greater destruction than the last.  Children still dying of hunger and thirst around the world. The threat of nuclear war and global warming which will bring catastrophes we can barely imagine if we don't do something about it soon.  It's so easy to lose heart.  To stop praying and to stop acting; to hunker down in our private lives, to be concerned with only those close to us, to watch lots of TV. We are not always rescued. It doesn't always get better. 


 It is to this reality, and to this hopelessness, that Jesus speaks in our scripture today. He knows how easy it will be for the disciples to lose heart when he is gone. The good news of the resurrection will give them hope, but things will also remain much the same.  Unjust judges will continue to ignore widows and orphans.  Rome will continue to rule Palestine.  The disciples will continue to fall ill, lose loved ones -- the world, full of suffering and death, is not going to change overnight. There will be times of joy, times when the Kingdom of God will seem to be among them, but those times will pass and it will seem that God is not listening to, or caring about, God's people. They will wonder if God will ever respond to their prayers, if God will bring justice to the earth or salvation to God's people.

 kSo Jesus tells this parable of the widow and the unjust judge.  The story of the persistent widow who kept going to that judge who neither feared God nor respected the people. The story of that judge who gave her justice, because he was getting worn out. Jesus is not saying God is an unjust judge, or like an unjust judge. But Jesus knows that God may seem that way in the face of so much unanswered prayer, in the face of so much waiting, in the face so much suffering.  But, Jesus says, if even this unjust Judge will give justice to the widow, how much more so will our just and compassionate God respond to your prayer. How much more quickly will God bring justice to the earth, the God who has taken the side of widows and orphans throughout Israel's history. Jesus also reminds the disciples that he, the Son of Man, will return.  Not necessarily in our lifetimes here on earth --  but in God's time, where a thousand years are like a morning gone.  We do not know the day or hour and we also do not know how God will ultimately bring final justice and salvation and healing to God's created order -- that will remain a mystery until it comes.  But Jesus assures us it will happen. Things will get better.  All will be rescued. 


 In the meantime, we have instructions. Keep praying!  Don't lose heart! Look at that widow -- she kept coming back. She didn't take no for an answer.  She didn't give up.  She kept insisting on justice, even though it looked like it would never come.  So it should be with us:  praying, seeking justice for all God's children, caring for God's world, trusting that all will be well.

10/10/10 Sermon: "The Right Amount" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:37pm
10/10/10 Sermon: "The Right Amount" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 10, 2010

Luke 12: 22-34


The Right Amount


 By now I hope you've  all received the letter from the Renewal Campaign Committee asking you to prayerfully consider increasing your stewardship pledge for 2011 by 1% of your household income; and to prayerfully consider giving 4% of your household income each year, for three years, to the capital campaign for the restoration of our buildings. 

 It may be the first letter you've received from Summit asking you to consider giving a specific percentage of your income to the church.  I'd like you to know that the letter you received was the not first draft.  The first draft was different.  I helped to write it back in August -- both because we trying to get a lot done at once, and because I thought I could lend just the right pastoral touch.  So the first draft didn't start out asking for money in the first sentence.  We asked about your summer.  We hope it was relaxing. We talked about how wonderful it was to see the Sunday School starting up again.  We thanked all who brought in goodies for the delicious reception that launched the capital campaign. And what about those Phillies, we said . . . . even I know that Mark Halliday pitched a no-hitter the other day . . . . . although that's only because I was sitting next to Sean Forman at a Trustees meeting when the news came in.


 Then, about halfway down the page or so, we came round to the subject of your pledge - and our pledge.  We asked that for the 2011 stewardship pledge,  please consider giving 10-15% more than what you gave last year, so we could make the budget.  And, we said, we've been told that in a capital campaign like ours we should ask you to consider giving 4% of your income each year for three years.  But really, we said, the idea is to give a percentage of your income so 4%,  6%,  or 3%, 2%, 1%, .008%,  - whatever you give is fine.  All gifts are gratefully received. We loaded on some more spiritual sounding phrases before signing off halfway down the second page.  OK, I'm exaggerating.  We didn't really talk about the Phillies.  It was a very nice letter.


 But before we sent it out we remembered our capital campaign consultant - the Reverend Nancy Muth.  She suggested we have her look over any letters we sent out.  So we e-mailed it to her, thinking she might have some helpful tweaks, a magic phrase or two.  And she emailed back in bold, capital letters, STOP THE PRESSES!!!!! First of all, she said, no one is going to wade through all that verbiage, especially if you have a brochure in there.  Second, stop apologizing!  As soon as you say it's just fine to give 1% of your income to the capital campaign, no one's going to consider 4% -- would you?  It's biblical, she said, to encourage people to give 10% of their income overall. It's the right thing to do to ask people to give a percentage of their income, in proportion to what they've been given.  So get it down to one page and be direct! I'm exaggerating again. She was much more diplomatic.  But the Renewal Committee followed her advice, so the letter you got from Don and Mary was purified of my pastoral interference -- and as I've reflected on it, that's a good thing. I'm going to talk about why.


 I'll start with numbers, including that word I'm sure you've heard before -- the tithe.  Tithe is another word for 10%,  or one-tenth.  Now, you've heard it said that the Bible mandates we should give 10% of our income back to God -- presumably through the church.  You can passages in the Bible to support that.  When  Abraham won a victory over his foes, he promised to give God, through the priest, one-tenth of everything. In the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers there are several references to tithes - of grain, sheep and cattle as well as other offerings.  It seems tithing was the practice - or at least the theory - in ancient Israel, and it's been a teaching of the church for centuries.  But I"m not convinced it's a biblical mandate, and I'm not a strict preacher of the tithe.  First, I'm not a biblical literalist. In Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - as well as in Paul's letters and the gospels -- there are plenty of instructions  we don't and shouldn't take at face value, instructions shaped by the time and place in which they were given. There's no reason the tithe should be exempt, especially since it's not a clear, repeated, instruction -- it didn't make the 10 commandments.  I'm also not a strict preacher of the tithe because Jesus never told his disciples to tithe - at least as far as we know. He said they should give away all their possessions.  Several times.  On time (in Luke) he emphasizes the all (14); other times, it's implied. In the book of Acts, it says the early believers held all things in common, and gave to each as they had need.  Indeed, when one of them sold property and tried to hold back some of the money -only some -  he got in big trouble. Like fall down dead trouble. It's true that when Zeccheus the tax colletor told Jesus he would sell half of his possessions and give the money to the poor Jesus was happy  -- but Zeccheus also promised, to pay back 4x whatever he had defrauded of anyone. Going back to the prophets doesn't help.  They didn't preach the tithe, or some moderate portion. Isaiah didn't say if you bring a few extra cans of food on Sunday to the food pantry or cook a dinner for homeless families twice a year you're good -- he said to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless into your house. No, I'm not convinced that tithing is a biblical mandate  -- but given what could be interpreted as the biblical mandate - I'll take it! And for most American Christians,  tithing is a challenging but realistic goal.  Challenging  because most of us give much less:  Presbyterians, on average, give about 2% of their income to charity,  about half to the church and half to their colleges or the Red Cross or other groups (Passing the Plate) Of course, some give much more but others give nothing at all.  So tithing is a challenge, but  - we have so much - it's doable!  Perhaps not right away. Most people who tithe - or more -  say that it took time to get there, maybe years of increasing their giving and re-arranging their spending.  And losing a job or a medical emergency can get in the way of our best intentions.  I'll also admit that tithing is not asking the same of everyone.  It's more equitable than simply asking people to increase their pledge, because those who gave very little won't give much more; it's certainly better then everyone giving a flat amount.  But it's what economists would call regressive:  Someone who gives $20,000 out of a $200,000 income still has plenty; whereas a family giving $2,000 out of a $20,000 income may have to really struggle. But these reservations aside, 10% is a good number:  a benchmark to keep in mind for our overall giving as we prayerfully consider increasing our 2011 stewardship pledge by 1% of our household income and as we prayerfully consider giving 4% of our income each year to the capital campaign. (By the way, Deborah Merritt.  Also, you may be receiving a call . . . please accept! 


 But now I want to stop talking about numbers and look at today's scripture.  Jesus is talking to his disciples about money, greed and possessions -- and he's just told a parable about a greedy, rich fool.  But Jesus is truly pastoral - not just afraid to ask for money.  He knows that his disciples aren't holding on to their money simply because they're greedy.  He knows they're not holding onto their stuff  because they love luxury or could care less about anyone else.  They're holding on to what they have because they're worried. They're afraid.  Afraid that one day they won't have enough to eat or enough clothes to wear.  We know about that worry and that fear.  And once that fear starts taking hold  it seems like we can never accumulate too much because anything could happen:  illness, tornadoes, terrorists, the collapse of the stock market.  So Jesus encourages the disciples - and us - to trust in God.  Do not worry about your life, he says - and do not be afraid: : consider the ravens.  Consider the lilies of the field. He's not promising that God will simply send money from heaven.  He's not promising that God will make us prosperous.  I also don't think Jesus is saying, "forget about your emergency fund!" or "stop saving for retirement!" But he is saying:  Trust that if you seek to follow God, you will be OK.  You can let go.  So sell your possesions.  Give alms.  I would add, consider the tithe.


 And then he makes a promise about that giving:  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. That may seem more like a fact than a promise - I'm sure you've observed that in your our life.  When we invest a lot of money in something we care about it and often take better care of it -- we become attached as our hearts follow our money.  This happens with cars, houses, education, all kinds of things - and Jesus assures us it's the same thing with giving alms.  Putting our treasure where we believe God wants it to be will lead our hearts there, too.  It's a spiritual discipline. When we give money to the church, we become invested in the mission and ministry of the church, we care about it more.  The same is true for other gifts:  It's very hard for me to say this, but not all of your giving should be in your pledge to Summit.  I encourage you to make it a priority , but the people of Haiti and Pakistan and the Gulf Coast need our help -- so please also give to the One Great Hour of Sharing. A portion of what you pledge also goes to mission beyond the church, but it's also OK to give directly to groups working for peace, environmental justice, or education  --  all working towards God's purposes.  And this is the promise that Jesus makes:  when we give more generously, according to what we've received and what we're able to do, we lead more joyful lives.  We lead more joyful lives because we are putting them in service to God. I'm convinced of that and I've seen it in my life.  The invitation to give is an invitation to joy.  An invitation to center our lives where they belong.


 In the capital campaign we've been saying that our buildings are a tool for ministry, and I would add that our money is a tool of conversion:  first, and foremost, of our own, as we seek to follow God more closely; but also for the world, as we hope and pray that our offerings may help bring about a world that more closely resembles the kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace, and justice and love.  Please join me in prayer: 

10/03/10 Sermon: "Until That Day" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:36pm
10/03/10 Sermon: "Until That Day" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 3, 2010

2 Timothy 1: 1-13

Until That Day

 Shortly after I graduated from college I spent two years in Brazil, in a small university city. It was a wonderful experience:  I made good friends, saw beautiful places and learned a lot.  But it was also lonely and often hard.  I had gotten a job through friends, and I had people to welcome me and help me settle in, but I was basically on my own.  Especially that first year, as I was learning the language and finding my way,  I was homesick. I yearned for friends and family.  So letters from home meant a lot -- decades later I remember how I could barely contain the excitement and joy I felt when I saw a letter in the mailbox. I knew that when I opened it I'd find words of encouragement, news and gossip.  There was always something to make me laugh.  Reading them lifted my spirits  and helped me feel close to those far-away friends.  In this age of cell phones, e-mail,  notecards and relatively cheap long distance rates -- let alone facebook and twitter - it's hard to convey - or even remember - what letters were like. (I'm not that old but I feel like I'm talking about the horse and buggy days). Letters didn't come every hour or even every day.  Writing them took time.  You had to choose what you would say.  Perhaps for those reasons letters could be deeply meaningful.

 The scripture this morning is such a letter.  It may not seem that way when we read it in church.  We don't know Paul or Timothy and it was written nearly 2,000 years ago in a very different world.  It was a personal letter and also meant to be read out loud to the congregation  --- but when we hear it from the pulpit we tend to hear it as a sermon. But if we read between the lines we can see that Timothy - and his congregation - must have been yearning for such a letter, and grateful to receive it. For it seems Timothy was having a hard time. Paul encourages Timothy to "rekindle" the gift of God that he received when Paul laid hands on him -- in baptism or ordination --  so perhaps Timothy was tired, wavering in faith, burned out.  Paul, gently, reminds Timothy that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice -  so perhaps Timothy was feeling fearful, or timid. Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed, as he, Paul, was not -- and Timothy may well have been ashamed that his friend and mentor was in prison.  Paul tells Timothy to hold to sound teaching, suggesting that Timothy may have been tempted by teachings that promised an easier road.  We don't know the details.  But we do know that to be a Christian in those early days would have been hard and lonely. Most people thought those Jesus followers were crazy:  claiming that some Jewish faith healer executed by the Romans was the savior of the world, risen from the dead, more powerful than any emperor, offering forgiveness of sins as though he were God.  Surely many folks thought Christians were deluded, claiming the Kingdom of God was at hand when anyone could see that the Kingdom of Rome was still ruling with a brutal hand and when pain, violence, and hunger were as terrifying as ever. Those early disciples often had to break old ties and leave behind their way of life - it was hardly a path to social acceptance. It was hard to be in the early church because those Christians were divided among themselves - arguing and walking away from each other even more than we do.  And they faced the daily struggles that all people faced:  keeping body and soul together, finding enough to eat and a safe place to stay; back-breaking work;  losing loved ones through death or other kinds of separation. No wonder Timothy was discouraged.  He must have hungered for a letter from his mentor and friend.

 And Paul's encouraging words can be summed up like this: you are not alone.  First, Paul says, remember that I'm praying for you, night and day, grateful to God for your faith.  I too, Paul says, long to see you:  then I will be filled with joy.  Paul then reminds Timothy of his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois.  A sincere faith lived in them, says Paul, and I'm sure it lives in you, too. Remember them. Paul goes on to mention nineteen other people: Christians in different cities and congregations, all seeking to be faithful. Paul's mention is not always favorable and his news is not always good. Alexander is a jerk, says Paul (in Greek), keep away from him. Trophimus is ill.  But Claudia sends greetings! How welcome and interesting that news of other Christians (dare we call it gossip?) must have been to Timothy and his  community. But most important,  says Paul, God is with you.  The gift of God is within you, I laid hands on you myself, and that gift is a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  You don't need to depend on your works to save you, for God calls us with a holy calling, according to God's purpose and grace. And remember the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And if you need to suffer for proclaiming God's word, says Paul, remember that I suffer with you:  but we shouldn't be ashamed, for God is trustworthy.  We will see it on that day.  The Holy Spirit is living in us.  

 This letter was written to Timothy and his congregation, but here in the Bible it's a word of encouragement for us, too. We face different challenges than those early Christians, but it's also hard for us to lead faithful lives.  Even in the midst of the congregation we may feel lonely, or weary and discouraged by all the work. Being a Christian today in this country isn't dangerous the way it was for Timothy - especially when we're timid about it.  It's still, in may ways, a road to social acceptance, not social ostracism.  But we also have friends and family shaking their heads at our claim that a man who was killed 2,000 years ago is also the source of divine forgiveness and everlasting life, one with God the creator.  We're also tempted by other teachings and activities. Teachings, for example,  that sidestep God and encourage us to just live up to our potential and do the right thing. We, too, face daily struggles:  even in our comfortable and affluent lives we know we could lose our jobs and our homes.  We suffer loss of loved ones through death or estrangement, our inner demons threaten to undo us, our bodies betray us. And we face global challenges that Timothy and his congregation could not have dreamed of.  The widening gap between rich and poor.  Climate change and a nuclear warheads that both threaten to end life as we know it and wipe out civilizations -- I know I'm sounding hysterical but it's true.  And we have a ten-year deadline.  No wonder we also feel discouraged, fearful and wavering in our faith.  So Paul's words are for us, too:  We are not alone.  We have the faith of our ancestors to rest in.  Our ancestors who built this building, our parents and grandparents who may have raised us in faith, all those saints who have gone before us - not necessarily Christians -  leading holy lives of love. We also have the company of Christians in every corner of the globe, millions of names we don't know and couldn't pronounce: God has called us together in one church, with one holy calling, according to God's purpose and grace.  And as we follow that calling -  proclaiming God's love and loving one another;  caring for creation, seeking justice and peace -- we can remember that it doesn't all depend on our works.  God is trustworthy and will bring all together on that day.

  And we not only have the Word in scripture to encourage us.  We have the Word in sacrament -- the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Holy communion that unites us with Christ in the bread and in the cup.  Holy communion that unites us with all the faithful who have gone before us -- those we've loved and those we've never known.  Holy Communion that unites us with Christians across the globe, including those we disagree with or who live very different lives.  We are not alone.  So come to the table:  be strengthened to live out your Holy call.  And remember:  God has give us the Holy Spirit, which lives within us.  

9/26/10 Sermon: "Rich Christians in an Age of Advertising" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:34pm
9/26/10 Sermon: "Rich Christians in an Age of Advertising" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

September 26, 2010

Luke 16: 19-31; 1 Timothy 6: 6-19


Rich Christians in an Age of Advertising


 The story of the rich man and Lazarus is one of several places in the Bible where we are warned - or comforted  - of a coming great reversal.  A turning of the tables.  During their lifetimes, the rich man dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day; Lazarus, the poor man, lay at his gate, covered with sores, and longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table. At their deaths, Lazarus is in the blessed company of Abraham and the angels; the rich man is tormented in Hades. When the rich man asks for relief, Abraham tells him:  "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones," says Mary when she is pregnant with Jesus, "and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."  The prophet Isaiah cries out:  "Tell the innocent how fortunate they are, for they shall eat the fruit of their labors. Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them." The stories and prophesies are not predictions of what is destined to happen:  the fate of the rich man would have been different if he had listened to Moses and the prophets.  And the Bible also speaks of a future where no one goes hungry and all the nations are healed.  But these stories of a great reversal tell us news we need to hear:  good news, but sobering.  God cares about the poor.  God cares about the poor, and holds the rich responsible. Therefore, justice and care for the poor  needs to be at the center of our Christian discipleship.  Ron Sider's book,  "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" addresses that.  A 2010 title might be:  "Rich Christians in an Age of Climate Change" -- for there is no better example of where the rich and relatively rich have caused the problem  -- granted,  unintentionally -- but where the poor will suffer first and foremost.  More than ever, we need to listen to Moses and the Prophets and Jesus.

 But those are not the titles of my sermon today, and I will not be preaching on what theologians call God's "preferential option" for the poor, at least from now on. My topic is God's care and concern for the rich and those who want to be rich (which I think can safely include all of us) --  and the advice Paul has for them in the letter to Timothy. Advice that may be the most counter-cultural - counter to our culture - in scripture.  "There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment," says Paul:  "for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." How counter to the 100s even thousands messages we receive each day -  depending on how you count.  Messages that say we we should not be content with what we have.  Messages  that come through television commercials, ads in the newspapers and on the sides of facebook pages; email messages, billboards and building signs, product placements in films & TV shows, environmentally friendly shopping bags that advertise stores, radio announcements, catalogues in the mail, and so on.  By definition these ads encourage us to be discontent with what we have, because their purpose is to sell us something we don't have.  These things-  home products, food products, clothing, experiences, and so on -  aren't necessarily evil. They may even be good, or necessities or sorts.  Buying them keep the wheels of our economy turning so people have jobs.  But advertisements - and the culture they shape, and the economy they fuel  -  teach us to be discontented. Even if we get rid of our TVS and turn our eyes from the billboards, we hear those messages.  It's he sea we swim in:  there's no such thing as too much. Having more - or at least new and improved - is the road to contentment.  There's only gain in gain. No wonder nearly all of us wish to be rich - or at least a little richer.

 But what a false road that is.  As Paul says, "those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." Doesn't that sound like it was written in 2010!  In the last decade especially those consumer desires tempted many of us to overspend, encouraged and enabled by banks and credit card companies.  When the bubble burst and the banks encountered near-ruin and destruction - because of their harmful desires -  we saw the result:  people losing homes and jobs or facing oppressive debt -- including people who spent only modestly. But more often the ruin and destruction we face from these desires is more subtle.  It's the ruin that comes from disappointed hopes, from chasing something that's not real. For everything that's advertised to us promises more than it can deliver.  That snazzy red sports car that promises to recover lost youth.  The beautiful bedroom set or luxurious bed that promises a happy marriage or a cure for insomnia; those pictures of shiny new kitchens inhabited by happy children who eat their vegetables -- to name a few big ticket items that have even become cliches. But it's not only big ticket- items that make big promises.  I"m wondering if you remember that ad campaign from the coca-cola many years back.  The one that suggested drinking coke would bring world peace:  "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." But as we know, our body ages and dies no matter how great our car; couples get divorced in the most well-appointed homes, often arguing over the cost of the bedroom set;  anxious people have sleepless nights on the thickest of mattresses;  children whine about their dinner even in kitchens with sub-zero refrigerators.  And everyone drinking coke hasn't led to harmony between nations  -- only to a rise in the worldwide incidence of diabetes. Yes, Paul says, in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

 So Paul's words to Timothy also apply to us:  shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith of the faith; take hold of eternal life -- a life to which you were called and to which you made the good confession. As for those in this age who are rich, says, Paul, command them not to be haughty,  or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  They are to do good, to be rich in good words, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is really life.

 The life that is really life:  that is the life that God promises us, if we can turn from our idolatry of possessions and lifestyle and place our hopes on the one true God.  The one true God whose love is steadfast; the one true God whose son cbame to us, and in whom there is always forgiveness; the one true God in whom there is eternal life, and who does not disappoint. This God does not call us to a life of deprivation, God wants us to rejoice in the created world:  as Paul says, this one true God provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  But enjoying what God has richly provided for us in this wonderful creation is different than loving our stuff or setting our hopes on a bigger house, a better salary, or a more comfortable lifestyle.  It means learning the meaning of enough; it means letting go of our attachment to household and other idols.  It's hard; it's journey for all of us; it's extremely counter-cultural; but it is the way to the life that is really life, a life God wishes for all of us, rich and poor.

 So let's listen to what Paul advises those of us who in this present age are rich:  to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. And if we truly and deeply learned to do those things:  Lazarus would not lie hungry at our gate.  Everyone can have enough. Humility, good works, sharing, generosity, worship of the one true God: this is the foundation of for the life that is really life, for us and for all people. May we all gain it. 

Join me in prayer.  We praise you, Oh God, you who are  the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  You alone have immortality and dwell in unapproachable light; to you be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Oct. '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 8:09pm
Oct. '10 -- Pastor's Pen

On September 28th the New York Times published the results of a phone survey that asked 3,400 Americans 32 questions about the Bible, world religions (including Christianity), and constitutional principles regarding religion and public life.  Few people did well on the test.  Atheists and agnostics scored highest, followed by Jews and Mormons.  Protestants of all kinds lagged behind – as well as people who said they were “nothing in particular.”

The results neither surprised nor alarmed me (I don’t place much stock in phone surveys) but I had to smile at the reaction of Charles Silverman, President of American Atheists. “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

 Well said!  Giving a person a Bible outside the context of a living faith community is an effective (if not foolproof) way to turn them away from church or synagogue.  Much of the Bible is impossible to understand and/or boring, at least on first reading. Along with beautiful poetry and inspiring stories, both Testaments are full of violence (often attributed to God) and instructions that would be immoral if taken at face value – such as Paul’s admonitions to slaves to stay with their masters and women to be silent in church.  Although the Holy Spirit moves where it will, the words of the Bible, when read in isolation, are not likely to bring people to God. 

This may be why God didn’t rain down Bibles from heaven.  Instead, the Spirit worked through faithful people seeking to understand the Word of God as it was revealed to them through experiences, visions, the words of others and encounters with Jesus Christ.  The stories, the commandments, the letters and the prophesies were first spoken, then written, then interpreted time and again, by followers of Yahweh and disciples of Christ.  The Bible makes Christians and Jews rather than atheists when it’s read in a loving, prayerful and intellectually honest community; when Bible believers do justice and show kindness; and when it’s proclaimed in joyful worship. 

As we begin the Sunday School year I’m especially grateful to the teachers who will be nurturing our children and young people in the Word.  And may the Word be shown in the faithfulness of our lives, so that when we give our daughters and sons a Bible, it becomes for them a living Word.  A Word that brings them to God.

Grace and Peace,

 Rev. Cheryl Pyrch 

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!




 "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.



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!


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,


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. 

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