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|02/21/10 Sermon: Bible Quiz, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:04pm|
|02/21/10 Sermon: Bible Quiz, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
February 21, 2010
I'm going to ask you to think back for a minute. Have you ever taken a test where you felt that how you did would determine the direction of your life? Perhaps it was the SAT, the college entrance examination you took in high school; or a licensing exam for a trade; the exam for American citizenship; the GRE or LSAT or GMAT or other grad school exam; a job test. Most likely, you couldn't take anything with you into that exam: no books, no notes, no coffee, no cellphone. (If you took it in the dark days before cellphones and lifelines you may not have known what you were missing). Maybe you had a couple of #2 pencils or a bottle of water, perhaps a calculator or some tools. But when you took the test you had to rely on what you had inside: your memory, your imagination, your intelligence. If you were a believer when you took this test you may have prayed - not only for inspiration and the right answers, but for the strength to make it through that fate-full test.
In our scripture today, Jesus takes such a test. He's just been baptized in the Jordan river. The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved." Jesus will now be examined to see if he knows what it means to be the Son of God.* His examiner is the devil, waiting for him in the wilderness. Jesus has nothing with him: no scrolls, no papyrus notes, no food. He must rely on the Spirit, who has led him into the wilderness, and on what he knows: the Word of God, written in the scriptures, that he has studied from his youth.
The examination begins. It starts slowly: the first question is a warm-up. "If you are the Son of of God," says the devil, "command this stone to become a loaf of bread." We can imagine the answers that Jesus might have considered; a mental multiple-choice list. Choice #1 would have been to take the stone and turn it into bread. After sll, he was famished, he hadn't eaten for 40 days. Surely God didn't mean for him to die of hunger in the desert! If he took the stone and ate the bread, he'd have strength for the days ahead. He would also show the devil that he was the Son of God. Maybe the devil would even surrender, and come over from the dark side. Jesus must have been tempted, but he didn't choose that answer. Maybe he considered answer #2. That would be to take the stone from the hands of the devil, and then bop him over the head with it! He was a scrawny little thing! Jesus was the Son of God, he could kick that pitchfork out of his hand. Yes, it would be violent. It would mean killing a living creature. But the end justifies the means. Jesus was the Son of God, he had to defend humanity - and imagine a world, with no devils filled. He must have been tempted; it may have seemed like the right answer. But then Jesus remembered the scriptures -- how the Lord God led the people in the wilderness for forty years, in order to humble them, (it says in the Bible) testing them to know what was in their hearts, and whether or not they would keep the commandments. God humbled them by letting them hunger, and then feeding them with manna, [that weird stuff] with which neither they nor their ancestors were acquainted. God did this to make them understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:2-3) Then Jesus knew. That was the answer. So he said, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"
Then the devil ups the ante. In an instant, he shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, past, present, future. And the devil says to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus must have thought hard about that one: would "yes," be the right answer? If all the glory and authority of every kingdom in the world was given over to the Son of God, he could rule with justice and love and the kingdom of God could be established on earth. So what if he had to worship the devil; it would be a private matter between him and Satan. His religion was his own business, and God would understand that he worshipped the devil in order to do good, do build a world where no one was hungry or homeless. Besides, Jesus may have thought, he wouldn't have to worship the devil forever. If he had authority over all the kingdoms in the world he would command every army, every intelligence agency, every information-gathering, picture taking, GPS directing satellite circling the globe. He could track the devil down in the most remote Afghan cave and starve him out. Jesus must have been tempted to say yes. But then Jesus remembered scripture. He remembered when Moses was speaking to the people before they entered the promised land. The land of milk and honey, where they would eat their fill and have their own kingdom after hungering in the wilderness for 40 years. And Moses told them that when they got there to take care that they didn't forget the Lord, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Moses had said to them, "It is the Lord your God you shall fear; and only him shall you serve." (Deut. 6:13) Then Jesus knew the right answer. He told the devil, "it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
The comes the hardest, the trickiest question. The devil has figured out that Jesus looks to scripture for answers. His Bible is marked and underlined, he obeys the Word of God. So the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the temple, and the devil quotes scripture: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against the stone." Jesus would have recognized that psalm [ the 91st psalm, that we just read this morning), surely he prayed it often. Jesus would have remembered that it begins "You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty." Yes, Jesus, must have thought: that's me, living in the shelter of the most high! He would have remembered the rest of the psalm, where it says that said God's faithfulness is a shield and a buckler, that under God's wings he would find refuge. Yes, he may have thought, surely God would command the angels concerning him, to guard him in all his ways. On their hands they would lift him up, so that he would not dash his foot against a stone - the scripture said so. So perhaps the right answer was to throw himself off the temple: when the angels caught him it would show everyone not only that he was the Son of God, but that God's Word was trustworthy.
How tempting that must have been. But then, perhaps just before he was about to jump, Jesus must have heard the Spirit whisper, saying: yes, the scriptures are God's word but not every interpretation is Godly. Those words in the psalm are not God's literal words to you as you stand on the tower. Search the scriptures more diligently and more deeply. Listen more closely for the Word of God as it comes to you through them. . . . . . . . And then Jesus remembered. He remembered the rest of what Moses said when he was speaking to the people before they entered the promised land. He warned them, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah." To tell you the story: at Massah, in the wilderness, they were thirsty and complained against Moses and said "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our livestock with thirst?" They quarreled and tested the Lord, saying "Is the Lord among us or not?" At Massah, God relented. Moses struck a rock and water burst forth, showing the people God was among them. But later, when they were about to enter the promised land, Moses told them, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, like you did at Massah." So then Jesus knew the answer. It was not for him to test the Lord by making God "prove" to the devil or anyone else that he was the Son of God. So Jesus answered. He told the devil, "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" The examination was over - for now. The devil departed from him until an opportune time.
The examination in the wilderness showed Jesus - and the devil, and the world - what it meant to be the Son of God. He would not be a Messiah that would overthrow the Roman Empire. He would not rule kingdoms of this world. He would not fight evil with violence. He would not turn stones to bread or perform other miracles so he could be satisfied -- although he would multiply loaves to feed others. Being the Son of God did not mean performing superhuman feats, flying from towers so God could show his might and his favor. Being the Son of God meant total obedience. Obedience to God's Word in Scripture, interpreted through the Holy Spirit. That obedience would lead Jesus into a life of teaching, healing, eating with sinners, preaching good news to the poor, calling all to repentance. That obedience would take him to the cross. That's the direction his life would take.
Lent, traditionally, is a time of testing for us as well, a time of self-examination. Not necessarily a time to make a self-inventory of all our sins or to embark on a course of self improvement. But a time to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be a beloved child of God, and a disciple of Christ? Am I truly following him? There are no simple answers. It's not a pass/fail test nor is there a grade or score. You're allowed to bring chocolate into the examination, although I'd advise against alcohol, as that tends to garble any message from the Holy Spirit. But it is an examination that could change the direction of our life, in big ways or small.
And to help us take that test, we, too, have the Bible. We, too, have the company of the Holy Spirit, who opens our minds to the scriptures and is with us in whatever wilderness we may be wandering in. So I invite you, I invite myself, to a Lenten journey of scripture reading and prayer. You may have a written devotional, or you may meditate on the lectionary. You may choose to read one of the gospels from start to finish. Come to the Wednesday evening bread and broth or to Thursday morning prayer. Most important, come to worship every Sunday. Come to worship where we listen for God's Word in Scripture, open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and ask God's guidance as we seek to follow Christ.
*See commentary by Arland J. Hultgren in "Working Preacher," www.workingpreacher.org, of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.
|02/14/10 Sermon: A Life of Awe, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:04pm|
|02/14/10 Sermon: A Life of Awe, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
February 14, 2010
A Life of Awe
This week you may have seen an article in the New York Times, written by John Tierney, about a study done by two professors at the University of Pennsylvania. They were researching the question: what kind of news travels fastest among people? They weren't interested in how gossip spreads, but information: what do we share most often? Good news or bad news, practical tips, surprising facts? Why, as they put it, do some news stories travel like wildfire while others languish?
Their theory was that we're most likely to share two kinds of news. First, we're likely to share stories with useful information, perhaps in the hope of getting useful information in return: so we pass on a report about snow conditions on Lincoln Drive or a story about antioxidants in blueberries. But they also thought we're likely to share stories that bring up strong emotions, in order to share those feelings with other people. They were curious about one emotion in particular: the feeling of awe. The authors note [I'm quoting]: "People who have had epiphanies through drug use or religious experience . . seem to have a deep need to talk about them or proselytize." So they wondered: do we have a need to share other kinds of awe-inspiring news?
Their answer was yes, and this is how they tested their hypothesis: they analyzed the kinds of articles most frequently emailed by readers of the New York Times online. (If you've ever read the New York Times online you may have noticed that you can email articles and that there's a box on the side with a list of "most frequently emailed articles.") I'm not going to explain how they did the study except to say it's complicated, they had to control for many things, and they had to hire lots of graduate students. But they discovered that articles which inspired awe were among the most frequently emailed. Articles on paleontology or cosmology: dinosaurs, stars, galaxies, black holes. Also articles about microscopic awe-inspiring things: RNA, how deers see. Also articles about courageous, awe-some people. Articles, that, in the words of the authors, "brought up an emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something bigger than themselves." In the face of something bigger than ourselves, they found, we want to share the news.
Peter, James and John didn't have email. (It's hard to believe because it seems like email has been around forever!). But they had awe-inspiring news to share. They had gone up on a mountain to pray with Jesus - an ordinary experience, it seems, for they were fighting sleep. But because they stayed awake they saw that the face of Jesus changed - just like the face of Moses had changed when he saw God on Mt. Sinai. His clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and the disciples saw the glory of the Lord as he spoke with those great prophets, long gone. Peter wanted to keep them all on the mountain, to make dwelling places for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. But then a cloud came and overtook them. A terrifying cloud, a cloud from which they heard the voice of God. An awe-some experience.
When it was all over, when they came down from the mountain, at first they kept silent. Perhaps they didn't trust what they had seen, and wondered if it had even happened: after all, here was Jesus, with them like always. Yes, he was doing miracles: healing, expelling demons, multiplying loaves and catching fish. But still, he was a person like them, eating and drinking, doing those other bodily things that human beings do which we don't talk about in church. (And I wasn't thinking about sex.) Did they really seem him in glory or had they imagined it? Had they been sleeping? So they kept silent; it was only after Jesus died, after they saw the risen Christ, that they knew they had seen Jesus transfigured on that mountain. Then they had to tell others that awe-filled news.
The psalmist also wants to share news that is awe-inspiring: The Lord is King. God sits enthroned upon the cherubim; the Lord is great in Zion and exalted above all peoples. This Mighty King, says the psalmist, is a lover of justice who has established equity, make no mistake, even if we don't see it clearly now: let the peoples tremble. This mighty King, says the psalmist, also spoke with Moses and Aaron and Samuel, answering when they called, forgiving them while avenging their wrongdoings. Hear the news, and be in awe: the Lord our God is holy.
Awe-some, awe-inspiring, even awe-ful news. The disciples told it far and wide, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth; we email. And there's another difference. The professors at Penn hypothesize that we share awe-some news because we want friends and colleagues to share our feelings of awe, with the hope that shared feelings wil lead to deeper connections with each other. That may be. But the psalmist, and Peter and James and John had a different, and deeper, purpose for sharing their news. They told their story, they prayed the psalm, so that all who heard would worship, praise and listen to God. "Let them praise your great and awesome name," says the psalmist. "Extol the Lord our God, worship at his footstool. Worship at God's holy mountain." "This is my beloved son, my chosen one," said God's voice from the cloud: "Listen to him." They spread this awe-some news not to share feelings but to awaken us to God's glory and to call us to respond: in praise, worship, obedience.
But we're tone-deaf in this day and age. We've done so much to shield ourselves from moments when we might be awed by something greater than ourselves, when we might awaken to the holiness of God. We keep so busy. We fill our lives with clutter: cyber clutter and TV clutter, clutter in our house, on our calendars. We work on controlling things and go from one task to the next, even in church. (Story about Rutgers) How many of us, when the snow fell this week stood in awe before God's creation - and I'm not talking about a quick glance out the window to notice that the snow was pretty. How many of us stood in awe before we thought about digging out the car? How many of us praised God for the beauty of snow on the branches and evergreen trees, for the peace of the falling snow, for the magnificence of her handiwork?
Or let's think about Haiti. I know people have been following the news, and praying and giving money. And I know we've been wrestling with questions about how God could create a universe where earthquakes occur. But how many of us - as we considered the grave injustices underneath so much of the suffering in Haiti - how many of us stood in awe of the God who is a lover of justice and who is exalted above all peoples? The psalmist said, "let the people tremble," and Thomas Jefferson said, "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever." As we see what is happening in Haiti, how many of us tremble before the God? A forgiving God who is nonetheless an avenger of wrongdoing and who executes justice and righteousness? Have we listened - wholeheartedly listened to and followed, the words of Jesus: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and love your neighbor as yourself?
When I read the Times article this week, I followed a link to the study I've been talking about, "Social Transmission and Viral Culture" - by Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman. As you can probably tell by the title it wasn't an awe-inspiring article, though interesting. As I said before, the authors looked to psychological explanations for why we send certain kinds of news, and they suggest people send awesome articles to share that feeling of awe and make connections with other people. They may be right, but I hope that's not the whole story. I hope people are also emailing these articles because they sense something holy in the stories of stars and galaxies and dinosaurs, in the stories of remarkably good or courageous people and in the stories of the wonders we can see under a microscope. I hope people send them because they sense that which is greater than themselves, and are feeling called to respond. For awe is not just a feeling: it's the awareness of God. It's the awareness of a mighty, just and holy God. A life lived in awe is a life awake to God, a God who calls us to respond: in praise, worship, and obedience.
|March '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 11, 8:47pm|
|March '10 -- Pastor's Pen|
Once a Roman Catholic colleague mentioned to me that she recently played “hooky” on a Holy Day of Obligation (a non-Sunday Holy Day, like Christmas or Good Friday). She said this was the first time she had missed a Sunday Mass or Day of Obligation without a compelling reason – such as illness or injury. I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or appalled, but she explained to me that in Roman Catholic teaching, attendance at the Divine Liturgy each week is considered an obligation. Indeed, missing it voluntarily used to be considered a "mortal" sin—meaning you were supposed to confess it to a priest before receiving communion.
The Catholic church has always been softer in practice than theory regarding church attendance – my friend assured me there were lots of pastoral loopholes - but the idea that we have an obligation to worship is different than most 21st century mainline Protestant thinking. Most of us think of church attendance as voluntary: something we do to be spiritually fed or inspired, but if we choose to do something else – a walk in the woods, brunch with friends, time in the office – there’s nothing sinful or irresponsible about it, as long as we haven’t signed up to be a greeter.
There are many historical and cultural reasons for this American Protestant shift, some of them theologically sound. God is not keeping an attendance chart, planning to send us to Hell if we sleep in one too many Sundays. But we also have something to learn from our Roman Catholic neighbors, who remind us that worship is communal, public testimony, part of the commitment we make to God and to each other when we affirm our baptism. From the Catholic Catechism:
 Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
What a lovely theological statement. Of course, many people at Summit do come each Sunday. Some of you have spoken eloquently at the Renewal potlucks on the importance of worship attendance for the life of the church and as a witness to those seeking to be faithful. I also realize that work keeps some of you away involuntarily, and as someone paid to come to worship I have no soapbox to stand on! But in this season of Lent, I encourage all of us to keep the Sabbath holy by renewing a commitment to weekly attendance, and to continue into the Easter season . . . and beyond. We will find many blessings in store.
Grace and Peace,
|01/17/10 Sermon: A New Name -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:44pm|
|01/17/10 Sermon: A New Name -- Cheryl Pyrch||Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
January 17, 2010
Isaiah 62: 1-5
A New Name
These words from the book of Isaiah were first spoken and written about 2500 years ago, at a terrible time for Israel. The nation lay in ruins. The Babylonians had conquered the last of the territory once ruled by King David. Jerusalem was in a shambles, the temple destroyed, the leaders in exile, the people destitute. Being so long ago, there's a lot we don't know about that time. We can only guess at the number dead or exiled. We don't know a lot about Babylonian rule. But we know that for the people of Jerusalem, it was a catastrophe. It was a catastrophe because of the death, destruction and hunger: but it was also a catastrophe because of the questions it raised about their God. Why had God allowed this disaster? Had God abandoned them? Or was their God weak and worthless? It was a catastrophe because of the shame, their loss of standing among the nations: Isaiah says that Jerusalem has been named "Forsaken" (capital F) and her land "Desolate." In the book of Lamentations, also written in the exile, the writer claims that Jerusalem had become a mockery, all who honored her now despised her. Derided by the nations, bewildered by the disaster, the people of Jerusalem struggled to understand. Was it a punishment, they wondered, for their worship of other gods? For disobeying the law, for neglecting orphans and widows or other kinds of wrongdoing? The prophets had warned them. Were they doomed forever to be a lonely city, bound in servitude to others?
In our scripture today Isaiah says no, and offers words of comfort. God has not abandoned Jerusalem; she will be vindicated. Nations who now call her Forsaken will soon see she is really named God's Delight is In Her; the land that people now call Desolate will be called Married. All the kings will see your glory, says Isaiah; your vindication will shine out like the dawn and your salvation like a burning torch. Jerusalem will again be renown throughout the earth. Israel may be suffering now, but that is not God's final word: God has sworn that those who now garner the grain and labor for wine that's taken by others will soon eat and drink it in God's holy courts. And indeed, the leaders soon returned from exile: Israel would continue to struggle and know foreign rule, it was not yet the Day of the Lord or the coming of the Messiah, but the temple was rebuilt, and the people saw God's faithfulness.
This week Haiti, and her capital Port-au-Prince, suffered a disaster surely on the order of Jerusalem's. We've all seen the heartbreaking pictures of suffering and destruction. As we've watched the tragedy unfold, we've also heard people talking about Haiti. The most notorious comment, predictably, came from the evangelist Pat Robertson. On his show the 700 Club he explained why Haiti had experienced this disaster. I'm quoting: "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti that people may not want to talk about. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever . . . and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other."
[As an aside, when I was watching clips from the 700 club, I saw interviews with the leader of their relief organization, “Operation Blessing,” and was impressed. I was also surprised to hear that they are coordinating their relief efforts through “Partners in Health,” and organization which Summit supports and which comes from a very different political perspective. I think it shows that on the ground in the face of need Christians can work together – and be known by our love].
The comment was roundly - and rightly - condemned. Even the young woman with him on the show seemed a bit stunned. But it didn't come out of nowhere. It was a striking example in long tradition – inside and outside the church - of blaming victims for tragedy. That tradition comes out of a theological problem: if God is loving, just and powerful, why is there so much suffering, especially in the natural order? I think it's bad theology to point to the sins of the stricken and see it as punishment from God, but faithful people have done so, from the prophets to Christians struggling with their own illnesses, even - according to one report I read - from some Haitians after the earthquake. Such explanations can come from honest theological wrestling with a question that has no good answer.
But Robertson's comment also comes out of another, less honorable tradition: that of Haiti bashing. That story about a pact with the devil began when Haitian slaves freed themselves with the first successful slave revolt in the New World and struck fear into the hearts of slave owners everywhere. More recently, people point to Haiti's terrible poverty and environmental destruction, and shake their heads. David Brooks, in a column for the NY Times this week, dismissed centuries of slavery, colonialism, foreign military occupation (ours) and their niche in the world economic order to lay the blame for poverty on Haitian child rearing practices and a culture of poverty.[i] Others shake their heads at the violence and political corruption in the country, overlooking our long complicity in it. And then there's voudou: thanks to Hollywood, a religious faith held by millions of people worldwide has been reduced to a grade-B horror movie script that portrays it as the source of all kinds of evil. And then there were the hurricaines. And now the earthquake. The nations look at Haiti and they see a nation called Forsaken. They see a land called Desolate.
But the words of Isaiah echo across the centuries to say the nations are wrong. One can imagine Isaiah speaking today: “For Haiti's sake I will not keep silent; and for the sake of Port-au-Prince I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the rulers your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” Just as God assured Israel that her ruin was not a sign of abandonment or a badge of shame, we can trust that God is standing with Haiti, that God has not left the land. The suffering of Haiti's people is not what defines Haiti and it will not be the last word. One day justice will come: the greed of the powerful - inside and outside Haiti - the violence among nations, the sinfulness of the world, will be reversed. People will see that Haiti's suffering does not come from a deficiency in her people. And Haiti will have a new name among the nations, her true name, "God's Delight is in Her."
So what is our call, in this meantime in which we live? It's to get ourselves in line with God's purposes. To witness to God's compassion, justice and love. First, with prayer. Second, by being generous. With our money. Third by seeking to better understand Haiti and the root causes of her people's suffering, which are complex, with plenty of responsibility to go around and in which we share. And then to work for justice, to change those systems that underlie poverty and violence, as we turn our hearts to God and all God’s people.
Today is the day we remember the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King devoted his life to fighting racism and poverty, so it's fitting to acknowledge that racism fuels the Haiti bashing that we hear, and underlies much of her suffering. I'd like to end with a quote from his speech "Beyond Vietnam," given at Riverside Church in April of 1967:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
Let us pray:
[i] David Brooks, “The Underlying Tragedy,” New York Times, January 14, 2010. Mr. Brooks has a more nuanced view then I’m presenting here, but I believe I’m summarizing his basic argument accurately: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15brooks.html?scp=2&sq=david%20brooks%20column&st=cse
|01/10/10 Sermon: Called By Name -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:43pm|
|01/10/10 Sermon: Called By Name -- Cheryl Pyrch||Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
January 10, 2010
Baptism of the Lord Sunday
Isaiah 43: 1-7
Luke 15: 21-22
Called By Name
In the opening of the movie "Precious," we hear a school bell ring followed by the voice of the main character: "My name is Claireece Precious Jones." We soon learn that she goes by "Precious," and we also learn that no one who calls her by that name means it. She's not precious to her father, who rapes her and has gotten her pregnant for a second time. She's not precious to her mother, who beats and verbally abuses her. She's not precious to her classmates, who only see someone big, too big to be attractive in their eyes. She's not precious to the principal of her school, who shames her for being pregnant and for being left back so many times (although the principal will also help her). And we know she's not precious to much of the world, the world we also live in, the world that will only see a poor, obese, Black, pregnant, near-illiterate teenager and not care much what happens to her. The pain and power of the movie lies in the longing of Precious to be called by her name - not mocked by it. And the hope and power of the movie comes as Precious finds people who see her for who she is ---- and for whom she becomes precious in their sight.
When Isaiah speaks to the people Israel, they are a people who also long to be called by name and fear they might have lost it. They thought their name was Israel, that they were Yahweh's people, but then they were conquered by the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. The walls of Jerusalem were torn down, the city laid waste, the temple destroyed, the leaders of the people banished. They were hungry and desolate, suffering under Babylonian rule. What had happened? Had God abandoned them? Were they no longer God's people? Or had their God been unable to stand up to the Gods of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon? That would be worse -- for then Yahweh would be a worthless god, hardly the creator of the universe. Or perhaps God was disciplining them - as the prophets insisted - for their oppression of the poor and neglect of the widow or for their idolatry. They didn't know, but they did know that God, who they thought had chosen them to be a blessing to the peoples of the earth, had gone AWOL. Or so it seemed.
But then God, through Isaiah, speaks to them: Do not be afraid. I have called you by name, and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold." And the people did return to Jerusalem: King Cyrus of Persia kicked out the Babylonians; the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild their city and their temple.
What a comfort these words of Isaiah must have been, as the people waited for their liberation. How beautiful they are now. They're a declaration of love, an assurance of pardon: a promise to be always with Israel, especially in times of trouble. But in the midst of these promises you may have noticed some troubling words, where God seems to be taking part in some kind of hostage exchange. "Because you are precious in my sight," God says, "I give people in return for you; nations in exchange for your life; I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you." It's not clear what that means. There's no mention of violence against those nations. It seems to be another time when God is saying prepare for a great reversal. And we could understand if long-suffering Israel began to indulge in a few revenge fantasies, imagining that as God's most favored nation, they would now be on top, and that Egypt and Seba and Ethiopia, along with a few others, might be at the bottom. If so, God offers a gentle corrective. Through Isaiah, God says : "bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the ends of the earth -- everyone who is called by my name; whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." Everyone who God formed and made. That would be everyone. Israel belongs to God, but God does not belong to Israel. God is creator and redeemer of the whole earth.
As Christians and inheritors of God's promises through and with Israel, we believe in the creation and the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. We believe that God, who promised to gather and redeem all who he formed and made, calls us by name in baptism. Just as God called Israel. Just as God called Jesus by name -- beloved son --in his baptism. Just as God called Mary, that other poor pregnant teenager, and Zaccheus, the rich, short tax collector, and Simon Peter, the unlucky fisherman. In baptism God calls us by name and is with us as we pass through the waters or walk through the fire. Calls us by name, and honors and loves us. We are precious in God's sight.
One challenge of the baptized life is to really believe that. You'd think it would be easy - who doesn't want to believe that they're loved? - but it's not. We hear so many competing messages: from the world around us, our families, the voices in our heads. Those voices may say were too ugly or poor or incompetent, too slow or heavy or weak to be loved, even by God. Clareece Precious Jones heard only such messages, and she says it made her feel worthless. Or maybe those messages tell us that we're pretty hot stuff: successful, smart, handsome; dressing well, money in the bank, winning in sports -- we hear praise from all quarters and start to believe it's real. We hear the world telling us how precious we are, so we don't hear God calling our name. Either way (and most of us hear both messages), we lose sight of who we really are -- precious in God's sight because God made and formed us, not because of anything we've done or anything we haven't.
Another challenge of the baptized life is to remember that although we belong to the God, God does not belong to us . That God is the creator and redeemer of the universe; others are also precious in God's sight.
You'd think that would be easy, but it's not. We get so much satisfaciton in thinking that we're favored. It's so eary to enlist God in our causes, or to think that our comfort and happiness matter above all. It's so easy to ignore, or deny the needs and suffering of others, both near us and far away. So easy to forget that to honor and love God, we need to remember that other people - other creatures - are precious in God's sight, and to act accordingly.
So as we welcome Jamie and Joy into the baptized life, as we remember the baptism of our Lord, and as we remember our own baptisms, we celebrate that God has called us by name: that we are precious in God's sight -- but that we're not the only ones. May we all learn to live into that baptismal call.
|12/24/09 Sermon: When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:42pm|
|12/24/09 Sermon: When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing -- Cheryl Pyrch||Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
December 24, 2009
Luke 2: 1-20
When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing
When Luke wrote that Augustus ordered "all the world" to be registered, the world he knew was the Roman Empire and a bit beyond - not the world we know, the world we've seen from space. Later, when Luke traces the family tree of Jesus back to Adam he counts 75 generations – hardly the 200 thousand years or so that humans have been around, depending on when you start counting in the complicated history of our evolution. We see the world and ourselves differently than Luke, because of the stories that scientists tell us. The stories of the creation of the earth four and a half billion years ago -- with ice ages and dinosaurs, and practically no life on it at all for its first 2 billion years. Scientists tell us that if we imagine the lifespan of earth from it's beginning until now as a 24 hour day, mammals appeared twenty minutes ago -- and humans have been around for about 30 seconds. Astronomers tell us that our solar system is only one of many in the galaxy of the milky way, which is only one galaxy among billions: and if we imagine the milky way as the size of the United States, our solar system is the size of a quarter (NASA website). These stories are fantastic, stranger than fiction, unbelievable: but true. Not necessarily in all their details: scientists will be the first to say our understanding of the universe is constantly changing. Not every scientist is right, or even honest: they're human. And we know science can be used for good or evil. But the scientific community has proven itself trustworthy in matters of science. We should listen to them.
But it's hard. It's hard because what they tell us is mind-boggling: the math alone is staggering. It's hard because sometimes they tell us things we don't want to hear. They tell us that not only our bodies are fragile and vulnerable – which we know - but human life itself is fragile: that if we want human beings and other living creatures to continue on this earth we'll need to change our ways now. And it's hard because the more we learn about the height and the depth and the length of the universe, the smaller we know ourselves to be. We wonder: our lives and our loves, our beliefs, those things we hold most dear: what do they matter in a universe with billions of galaxies, when we’re only a dot on a quarter in a galaxy the size of the United States? What do our commitments mean when all great civilizations have risen and fallen within the last 30 seconds of the earth's 24 hour lifespan? When we ponder, in our hearts, what scientists tell us, the knowledge is too wonder-ful for us: unsettling, disturbing. So most of us become science deniers, in fact if not theory. We enjoy the benefits of science and technology, while closing our ears to what scientists tell us about the earth and the stars and all that lies beyond. And sometimes, as Christians, we use our stories - of Adam and Eve, of Jesus, of the end times - to argue against the scientific ones.
But there's no need. For this is what the Christmas story says, and what we proclaim the year round: that the creator of those billions of galaxies came to dwell on this earth with us. During the reign of Augustus, in an Empire long gone. As an infant, with no protective or magical powers. To an unremarkable family: Mary's family tree was not worth mentioning. In a time like our own, full of frightened politicians: they would eventually kill Jesus. Our Christian story also says that angels - historically unverifiable, scientifically unprovable angels - came to shepherds, shepherds living in the fields with nothing between them and the vast night sky - to tell them the news. The news that born this day is a savior, Christ the Lord; a savior for us, we who spin on this tiny planet in this huge universe. The angels told them that God wills peace on this earth, no matter how many other planets and stars and galaxies God has: and that God favors us, all people, no matter how brief our time on earth. The angels told the shepherds and they tell us that the creator of the universe comes to us in love.
Now THAT is mind-boggling. And if we can receive this good news, if we can hear the song of the angels, then perhaps we can find the heart to love God back, and to care for each other and all creation as God loves us. Perhaps we can find the courage to listen to what the scientists are telling us. Perhaps we can find the will and way to peace on earth: so that one day the whole world may give back the song which now the angels sing.
|10/18/09 Sermon - You Are My Witness - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:41pm|
|10/18/09 Sermon - You Are My Witness - Cheryl Pyrch||Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
October 18, 2009
You Are My Witnesses
(Preached on the 125th Anniversary Celebration of Summit Presbyterian Church)
Halloween is just around the corner, the season for witches, goblins -- and ghosts. Since the children have gone to Sunday School I can say this: ghosts are not those white, amoeba-like creatures we see in cartoons. That's a fiction adults have created so they can have a fall-back Halloween costume when Spiderman or Princess Leia is sold out. Ghosts also are not - and it's important to say this since All Saints Day follows Halloween -- ghosts are not loved ones who've passed on that we still talk to, whose presence we feel: when the man in the song says, "Good night, Irene," he's not talking to a ghost, but to his wife whom he loves and misses. Ghosts are dead people who have come back, usually with unfinished business, to haunt houses and graveyards. If we catch a glimpse of them - in a mirror, perhaps - they usually look like themselves, fully clothed but softer, and transparent. We don't often see them, though. They prefer to remain invisible so they can do those things that ghosts do: slam a door in another part of the house; type invisibly on a computer screen; move the salt shaker from one side of the table to the other. Ghosts usually spook people, but they can be friendly or come with messages. . . Sometimes, when I'm giving a children's sermon and trying to explain Jesus - always a bad idea - I'll say something like Jesus died, but then he was alive again and came back to his friends. He's still with us now, even though we can't see him or touch him. And I think to myself: I'm describing a ghost. A kind and gentle ghost who may comfort them when they're scared, but a ghost, nonetheless.
The disciples knew that the resurrected Jesus was not a ghost. He did some of the things that ghosts do: He would appear suddenly to them while they were talking, and just as suddenly disappear. They couldn't hold onto him and show him to other people - like Pontius Pilate or King Herod - and say, see? He's back. But they knew he was alive, for he presented himself to them by many convincing proofs. He ate with them -- and we all know that ghosts don't need to eat or have any interest in food. He showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him -- for, as Jesus pointed out, "a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." He was alive! Luke tells us that the resurrected Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures, talked about the Kingdom of God, and enjoyed broiled fish and bread.
It was amazing. But as day followed day of Bible study, theological discussion, and eating the disciples must have wondered: is this it? It was lovely to have Jesus with them again, but did God raise him from the dead only to spend more time with his friends? Wasn't he going to do more than talk? So as the 40th day of his return approached, they gathered up their courage. Forty was an important number in God's time: it rained 40 days and 40 nights on the ark. The people of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus spent 40 days fasting before he began to preach and heal. If anything more was going to happen, it would happen then. So they gathered up their courage to ask the question: their most fervent hope, the question that mattered to the whole people of God, not just their small circle: Was this the time he would restore the kingdom to Israel? Was this the time when he who rose from the dead would throw off the Roman yoke and liberate his people, restoring the reign of David? This question mattered not only to the people of Israel but to the whole world. For it was with the restoration of Israel that all the nations would come to worship on God's Holy Mountain. It was with the restoration of Israel that nations would beat their swords into plowshares and the wolf would lie with the lamb. "Lord," they asked, "is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"
And then Jesus said something that must have disappointed them: "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority." In other words: no. This was not the time. But before they could fully take that in, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven - their jaws undoubtedly dropped - two men in white robes suddenly appeared. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." Then they got it. He had gone in a cloud and would come in the clouds. We think that's odd and primitive: we know there are hundreds of billions of galaxies so we search for the metaphorical meaning. But the disciples didn't need to search. They knew the vision of the prophet Daniel. They knew what coming on the clouds meant: that one like a human being would come in power and glory and everlasting dominion. That the arrogant and evil empires of the world would fall away under the reign of God. And they remembered what Jesus had said: that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, power to be his witnesses. Witnesses in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Witnesses to all he had done and taught. Witnesses to the power of God who raised him from the dead and lifted him into heaven. Witnesses that the risen Christ was no ghost, limited to talking with his friends or moving the salt shaker, ready to return to the abode of the dead when he tired of those games. Witnesses that in the Risen Christ, at a time that was not for us to know, the glory and power of God would triumph.
Two thousand years later, we are a world in peril. A peril those first disciples could not have imagined, even in their perilous world. Thousands of nuclear weapons are on hair-trigger alert around the globe. Weapons much bigger than those dropped on Hiroshima, weapons our presidents and generals have considered using in nearly every war: the next one may well be the war to end all wars. The arctic ice is melting and as the earth warms even conservative scientists worry about a tipping point that could start a chain of unstoppable catastrophes, possibly ending human life on this earth. And always, neighbors near and far are in peril: from hunger, homelessness, car bombs and guns. And I wonder: why aren't we in the streets? Why aren't we meeting in each other's homes every night planning ways to stop the madness. Why aren't we all rappelling from bridges with signs that say "Danger, Climate Destruction Ahead!" or chaining ourselves to fences?
There are many reasons, but surely one of them is that it all just seems too much. The danger is so great, the scenarios mind-boggling; the solutions so complex and hard to agree on; the powerful so strong and rich, our resolve so weak. We feel powerless. And it's no wonder we feel powerless over the fate of the earth: we're powerless over alcohol! We're powerless in the face of our grief, our depression, our busy schedules. We're powerless over that piece of chocolate cake on the second shelf in the fridge. Making it through our life with some decency and order may seem all we can manage. So for many of us, signing an online petition or writing a modest check to the peacemaking fund is the limit of our activism.
But we, the church, have been given power: power through the Holy Spirit. Power to be witnesses. Witnesses to all that Jesus did and taught about loving our neighbor and our enemy, healing the sick, bringing down the mighty from their thrones and raising up the lowly. Witnesses to the Risen Christ, who overcame death with life and ascended into heaven; witnesses to the power of Christ that assures us the biggest stockpile of fully-loaded, radioactive, longest-range missles can be turned into plowshares. Witnesses to the power of Christ that assures us the wolf can lie down with the lamb and be led by a child; that human beings aren't destined to extract every drop of oil from the sea or burn every piece of coal in the ground, choking the planet and life on it. Witnesses to the power of God that assures us that in a world of billionaires and bailouts the hungry can be filled with good things. Witnesses that in a time and period that is not ours to know, love will finally win over indifference, peace over violence, wisdom over folly.
And so we're called to witness. To turn to the work of proclaiming the Risen Christ, until he comes again. By cooking a meal or bringing cans of food to church. By offering hospitality to homeless families, calling on someone who is sick, welcoming a visitor, teaching children. By upping the ante, and joining with others inside and outside the church for a little street action -- and Summit has done that, I read about it in the history! It doesn't mean telling people not to worry about nuclear catastrophe because God will intervene before it's too late. It doesn't mean telling people that even if the world descends into chaos, Christ will come at the 11th hour to rescue Christians. It means proclaiming that the good we do will not be in vain, the justice we achieve will stand in eternity, the love we share will endure.
And when such a witness seems daunting we can remember that we've been given power as the church, not as Cheryl or Charles, Anne or Don. We've been given this power as the church so that together we can be nourished by the Holy Spirit, scripture, tradition and reason. We've been given this power as the church so we can comfort and encourage one another, rejoicing in our diversity and joining together in service to others. We've been given this power as the church, so we can be fearless. We've been given this power as Summit Church, 125 years strong, here at Westview and Greene, but also as the holy, catholic church, stretching across time and space.
And when the Spirit feels weak, the power lacking; when the necessary work of repairing the roof, organizing the coffee hour, dealing with L & I inspectors and finding teachers for the Sunday School threatens to overwhelm us, we know what to do: start praying. Pray like Peter and John, and James and Andrew and Philip and Thomas and Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James and those certain women including Mary the mother of Jesus. Start praying joining our prayers with P'Nai Or, the congregations around us, with the holy catholic church, with people of hope everywhere: start praying and keep on praying, so we may be witnesses to the power, and love, of God.
|January '10 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:39pm|
|January '10 - Pastor's Pen|| Praying Together
When do we pray? As a congregation we pray on Sunday when we praise God in song, confess our sins, share joys and concerns for ourselves and the world, and seek to be guided by scripture. We begin and end committee and board meetings with prayer. We pray together before Elder Diner and potlucks. As pastor, I pray with people at the hospital and in my office and over the phone, usually at times of heightened grief, joy or anxiety. I know many of you pray daily, guided by devotions from the Upper Room or other publications. Families may pray before meals and parents with children at bedtime.
But, as typical liberal/mainline Protestants, most of us don’t come easily to prayer, especially with each other. We lack the prayer books of more liturgical traditions or the outspoken piety of evangelical churches. Praying together, especially out loud, can feel awkward or intrusive. I may be wrong (and please tell me if I am), but I’m guessing few people at Summit pray with each other outside of Sunday worship or meetings.
But prayer is our primary mission and reason for being called into the Church. Good works are vital expressions of discipleship, but good works can also be done outside of the Church. Our faith draws us into community, but wonderful communities are also created outside of churches and other religious institutions. Prayer is a special calling of the Church (and Synagogue, Mosque and Temple). People of faith are called to come before God on behalf of the world, giving thanks and praise, interceding for others, and petitioning for help. That is our holy calling.
So we (the Session) invite you to more prayer. Every Thursday morning, at 8:00 in the pastor’s office, we’ll pray together for half an hour. We won’t talk about prayer and we won’t do business. We will simply pray, finding our way from week to week as we learn ways to pray together for our church, the world, and for each other. You are welcome to come every week or when you are able. You may share concerns or pray silently and you may come and go quietly as needed. We will not have a “leader” and we will see where the Spirit leads us. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
Grace and Peace,
|December '09 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 9, 3:02pm|
|December '09 - Pastor's Pen|
I am writing this “Pastors Pen” the day that the architectural firm Runyan & Associates gave us their assessment of what needs to be done to keep our buildings safe and beautiful: from bolstering the tower to replacing the roof to repointing the stonework to keep it in place. It was a long and expensive list – at least at first glance. I was relieved to hear the architects say that not everything needs to be done right away. I was glad to hear that many other historic churches are facing these problems and finding solutions. And I was heartened to remember that we’re not in this alone: our friends at Partners for Sacred places are ready with sound advice and - if we qualify - financial aid. Nonetheless, it was sobering news, and I wondered if I was the only one who felt a bit overwhelmed!
But then I had the blessing of meeting with people who were interested in joining Summit Church and I was reminded of why we are taking on the challenge of restoring our space. To worship God and reach out to people who are longing to hear God’s Word, find community and serve others. To witness to the resurrection at the time of death, in a space that reflects the beauty and peace of God. To teach our children the Christmas story and see their joy in being in the pageant. To welcome teens for basketball, conversation and games – a record number have been coming this fall. To have a kitchen and parlor from which to cook and invite elders from the community to fellowship each week. To have a place for the community to dance, do karate, paint, write, hold meetings, play and sing. To offer space for the P'nai Or congregation to worship and study. Truly God is in this place.
We have heard from the architects. Our next step is to develop a plan that will support the mission of the church. Every decision we make about our buildings will be guided by the question: how will this support our mission? And as the Trustees and Session develop this plan we’ll be seeking YOUR input, questions and guidance. All members and friends will be invited to potluck suppers in the new year to talk in small groups, so we may refine our vision for the church and develop a restoration plan that supports it. I’m looking forward to these conversations and to discerning together how we can best serve God in this place.
Grace and Peace,
|Stewardship Moment for Mission II -- Peggy MacGregor by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 23, 10:01am|
|Stewardship Moment for Mission II -- Peggy MacGregor|
This is our second Minute for Mission related to the Stewardship Drive. I’d like to spend a little time talking about Summit’s mission and how it is tied to this building.
A few weeks ago there was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about First Presbyterian Church in Germantown and the decisions they are making about the needs in their neighborhood and the concerns they have about overdrawing on their $5 million endowment.
I thought ‘Wow! I wish we had a $5 million endowment to worry about and then I thought, why don’t we? In fact, why doesn’t Summit have any endowment? So I talked with a few people and read some of Mercer Tate’s Mission on the Hill, and this is part of what I found:
Summit Church has always been on mission in one way or another and they have given everything to this mission. When they first started meeting as a Sunday school and decided to become a church, individual donations from the congregation built what is now Fellowship Hall. The congregation grew and they decided to add another building – our sanctuary. At the same time they raised the money for the building, they were spending 50% of their general budget on benevolence, mostly at that time to foreign missionaries. The church went on doing this for many years, even while adding the parish hall and the manse. Summit really gave of itself completely over the years up through the 50’s – half to foreign missions and half to the buildings to minister locally.
Harder times followed as times changed and church membership declined (as it did all over the country), but Summit has never stopped being on mission, although it looks different. Now, our official benevolence budget is 10% of our general funds and it is directed locally. For example, one of the groups we support with money, food, and time is the Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry, which right now is looking for special Thanksgiving donations which you will see in your bulletin, and they need to be in by November 22.
Our unofficial benevolence budget consists of all we have done to take care of and to open to the wider community these buildings which were scrimped and saved for and carefully built by so many people who came before us. Although we don’t need beautiful stone buildings to come together with a caring pastor and staff to create a Christian community of worship, praise, prayer, learning, and service, because Summit is here today 100 children can be cared for five days a week, and 200 children from neighboring communities can also come to take dancing lessons five days a week. Because Summit is here, 50-60 teenagers can come for basketball, food, and friendship every other Friday night, and there are hopes to make it every Friday night. Because Summit is here, 25 neighborhood elders can have a hot lunch every Tuesday.
Because Summit is here, a small Jewish congregation can meet together two days a week, Mt. Airy Learning Tree can have nine of their classes here, and Girl Scouts, Weavers Way, West Mt. Airy Neighbors, and other community groups can meet. On our third floor, seven non-profit businesses, which serve hundreds of people, can have their offices here. And in addition to all this, each week at least 15 other groups use different spaces here – sometimes there can be 3 different groups using the parlor on one day, and some nights there are 6 things going on between 4:30 and 9 PM.
Because Summit is here, 58 people have full or part-time jobs, 600-700 adults and children are in and out of the building each week, and some of these people are serving hundreds of other people all across the state and the country.
I have come to realize that these buildings are the endowment left to us by those who came earlier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us a yearly return of an extra 5% to spend; in fact we underwrite the expenses of many of the groups who use our buildings, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to be here. I feel good that in the long tradition of Summit Church we have used this endowment to give freely to many in our community, even or especially to some of those who would never think of going to church. We have given quietly and often in such a manner that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I hope you will treasure this long ministry and prayerfully consider how you can continue to contribute to it.
By Peggy MacGregor
|Stewardship Moment for Mission I -- Rob Roy MacGregor by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 23, 10:00am|
|Stewardship Moment for Mission I -- Rob Roy MacGregor|
Three weeks from today, the Session will be asking each of us to commit financial resources to the running of our collective household, named Summit Presbyterian Church. This request for support is called a “Stewardship commitment”.
What is stewardship? Well, it’s the act of functioning as a Steward. The dictionary defines a steward as one who manages and administers property and/or financial affairs of another; one who is in charge of the household of another; and stewardship is having accountability for something that belongs to someone else. Historic examples of this position include Prince John who took over stewardship of England while Richard the Lion-Hearted was off to the crusades and then a captive in the middle east, but relinquished the crown when Richard returned. More contemporary, some of us may have been stewards of our aging parents’ affairs, or for a brother or sister overseas in the military. The key element here is the idea of acting on behalf of another’s best interest, without a feeling of ownership.
The Christian world view teaches that we are stewards of the resources which God has put under our control: brains, athletic ability, musical gifts, carpentry, chef skills, ability to earn and accumulate money and property, and so on. These are rightly called “Gifts” - from God, to be managed in His stead. David’s prayer at the beginning of the Temple construction describe our relationship to God’s gifts:
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
For everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Wealth and honor come from you;
You are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Everything comes from you,
and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
So, what does that mean for us as Christians, and as members of the Summit family? Like all families, and family businesses, we have a number of expenses: our programs such as Christian Education including REACH, Evangelism and Growth activities, Benevolence giving managed by the Deacons, Elder Diner, the music program (including organ and piano maintenance), etc. Also there are utilities, building upkeep, insurance, taxes, salaries, etc. For this current year the total cost to run the church was slightly less than $350k. Because we operate as a community center as well, the budget was supported by almost $180k of rental income. Stewardship pledges and collections came to a bit more than 160k. Now, if we have 40 giving units, that would be an average of $4,000 each, or about $75 a week, $300 a month. Obviously God has granted each of us different gifts and talents, and so some Summit family members have more financial resources to offer to support the family, while others have more talents and time to contribute. I’m telling you all this just to help you to realize that families don’t function without resources - including money.
In the next few weeks we will talk a bit about Summit as a Mission on the Hill, about all of the activities that our Summit family supports, and what next year’s budget is projected to be. And we will be asked to recognize our responsibility to support the family and to make a realistic but generous pledge toward the 2010 budget - Summit’s 126th year of mission.
By Rob MacGregor
|Ben Labaree by Janet Trousdale on Nov 22, 6:44pm|
|Ben Labaree||Dear Jean, So sorry to hear about Ben. I've thought of you often through the years. I will be in touch later. Love from the rest of the Trousdale's also. Warmest best wishes. Janet|
|November '09 Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 18, 1:58pm|
|November '09 Pastor's Pen|
How Do We Say Thank You?
Throughout the history of the church, Christians have argued over the role of "works," or deeds, in salvation. To simplify, one side (while acknowledging that it is Christ who saves) has held that actions matter, that good works or lack of them can lead to eternal salvation or damnation. This side upholds the importance of following God's commands and loving neighbor, but at its most extreme turns into "works righteousness": the idea that we can earn our way into heaven through good behavior, in a sense saving ourselves. The other side (while acknowledging we should do good works) has insisted that salvation belongs solely to God, that we can't "control" God, or make God save us through our deeds. This side upholds the grace and power of God in Christ, but at its most extreme turns into the doctrine of double predestination: people are chosen to be saved or damned before they're born, and nothing they do can change that. Reform churches who follow John Calvin (such as Presbyterians!) have tended to err in that direction.
There's no easy way to resolve the tension between grace and works, but happily most Christians - in all churches - live somewhere in the middle. We know we're capable of doing good, that our actions matter, that we can't expect to side with evil or be indifferent to neighbors without consequences. At the same time, we recognize that we're dependent on God's grace not only for salvation but also for the good we do. That our tendency to sin is so stubborn, even the most virtuous among us are always in need of forgiveness and help.
The good news is that God's forgiveness is always there. That Christ stands waiting, in love, to guide us back on the right path. So how do we say thanks? Through word and song and prayer, especially in worship together. But also - completing the circle - through good works. Good works are the concrete expression of our thanks, and are irrepressible when we're grateful. The "Thanksgiving Hymns" at the back of our hymnal testify to this connection between gratitude and works, between saying thanks and rendering thanks through deeds of love and service: "Lord, teach us all an attitude that thanks You all our days, a love that shows our gratitude through deeds that live our praise." (#556)
This month we offer thanksgiving through prayer and song but also through deed, by bringing food to the Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry and by making a financial pledge for the work of the church. Please bring cans of food and other non-perishables through the month of November, and on the 22nd, I invite everyone to come with their pledge card and a frozen turkey! (Or at least a box of brownie mix).
Grace and Peace,
|October '09 Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 14, 12:53pm|
|October '09 Pastor's Pen|
In the Mission Study that Summit undertook to prepare for a new pastor, membership growth was listed as both a top goal and the biggest challenge facing the congregation in the years ahead. In leadership retreats and congregational surveys, membership growth was seen as a "must" to ensure financial stability, develop programs for children and youth, and to reach out to the community. The report noted the decline in membership over the last century, the plateau in the last 25 years (better than many peer churches, which have seen declines!) and the hope that this could be reversed in the years ahead.
There's no denying the numbers and the facts: we need more people to ensure financial stability if we're to care for our building and develop programs at this corner of Westview and Greene. However, there's also no denying the fact that few people will (or should) join a church to care for the building and develop programs! People will join the church if they hear the good news and are drawn the by Spirit - a joint human and divine effort known as evangelism. Church growth and increased pledging may be happy consequences of evangelism, but - strictly speaking - membership growth is not the church's mission. The church's mission is to share the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, evangelism has a bad name among some of us, much of it deserved. At Session last month we shared our associations with the word and aggressive classmates, threatening sermons and disrespect for other faiths immediately came to mind. But when we recalled positive experiences of evangelism - where we had been on the receiving end of the good news - examples came just as quickly: from classmates who talked about their faith or invited us to worship, to people who offered to pray for us, to Christians who gave a warm welcome when we walked into church, to older neighbors who taught us about Jesus and loved us as children. We are all at Summit because at some point we were "evangelized."
At Session we've begun a year-long process of discussion, study and planning on evangelism. We'll be seeking ways to share the gospel that are true to our understanding of God and neighbor. We'll be talking about it in on committees, and inviting the congregation into the conversation. We'll seek to share the good news wider and farther -- and then see where the Spirit leads us. I believe it will be an exciting adventure, that Summit has “what it takes” to evangelize successfully: a life centered in worship and prayer, and – in Paul’s words to the Ephesians (3:7) – a community rooted and grounded in love. There is so much good news to share about Jesus Christ and Summit Presbyterian Church!
Grace and Peace,
|Ray of Light Blues Band by Monica on Oct 13, 12:40pm|
|Ray of Light Blues Band||Hi - I attended the BBQ this past year - which was delicious! I thought the Ray of Light Blues Band was awesome and would like to know how I can get in touch with them? I have an event that I would like to consider hiring them to play at and I'm wondering if they have a website or something similar? If anyone has any information regarding this group I'd greatly appreciate you sending it my way. Thanks so much, can't wait until next years BBQ.|
|Sept. 09 Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Sep 18, 12:36pm|
|Sept. 09 Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch|
September: the beginning of a new school year. As a teacher, I always looked forward to setting up my classroom, learning the names of new students, and planning curriculum. I may have been exhausted when we ended in June, but I always began the year excited, optimistic, and curious about what lay ahead. Students were also excited. I taught most of my students two years in a row, and I noticed that even children who had struggled the year before would return eager and hopeful. I was amazed at how often the blessing of a new beginning allowed children (and teachers) to right relationships, blossom academically, or discover a passion. Every September brought new anxieties and challenges, too, but we faced them with energy and creativity.
September is the beginning of a new "program year," at church. Sunday School and Bible study begins; the choirs learn new anthems; the Elder Diner and REACH programs start a year of programming, recipes and outreach; the Deacons plan ways to lead us in caring and service. This year we also have the adventure of celebrating our 125th anniversary, and new officers begin their work. It's an exciting time.
The new school and program year also reminds us that in Christ, every month is September: that at any time of the year (or month or day) we're invited to accept the blessing of a new beginning. We're invited to accept the love and forgiveness offered in Christ so we can let go of that part of the past that weighs us down. We're invited to turn to a life of deeper faith and commitment. That may be as simple as coming to worship every Sunday or saying a prayer of thanksgiving each morning. It may mean coming to a Bible class, joining a committee, welcoming new folks at coffee hour. It may mean volunteering to host a homeless family or bringing in food each month for the crisis ministry. It may mean forgiving someone close to you or asking forgiveness. The possibilities are rich and endless!
As we gather together after summer travels and rest, I hope and pray that we may all feel that back-to-school excitement and hope. I'm looking forward to my second year at Summit, and remain grateful that the Spirit brought us together.
Grace and Peace,
|8/16/09 Sermon: A Listening Heart--Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 18, 6:03pm|
|8/16/09 Sermon: A Listening Heart--Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
August 16, 2009
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
A Listening Heart
I have a friend whose daughter graduated from 8th grade this year. Melissa's an intelligent person, but she's always struggled in school and gotten so-so grades. But this year, something clicked. To her surprise and my friend's, she was on the honor roll the first quarter. And the second and the third. My friend, being both amazed and pleased, in an unguarded moment, told Melissa that if she made the honor roll for the fourth quarter she would get her a laptop. So that fourth quarter, Melissa made sure to do her homework and listen to her teacher. She wanted to learn and was enjoying school more, but there's no denying the thought of the laptop spurred her on. She had what we call an ulterior motive.
The country is in the middle of a debate about healthcare. On all sides people are claiming that their plan would be the best one: that it would help the most people, that it would be fiscally responsible, that it would be the most just or efficient. Although some folks are deliberately spreading lies and misinformation, most people sincerely believe the plan they support would be the best for the nation. But everyone also has a personal stake, a personal interest, in the debate: medical care they like or don't; a job in a hospital or with an insurance company; profits or potential profits from the health industry; a good insurance plan or no way to pay a doctor. For all of us, our self-interest - or what we perceive as our self interest - is likely to influence the plan we believe would be best for everyone. That's not necessarily a bad thing - what's best for us could be best for all - but self-interest can also distort our understanding. At the very least, we must confess to mixed motives for supporting one side or another.
And it's not just in school, or in politics, that it gets complicated. Jesus said to make disciples of all nations, and I know that both the Summit and Mount Airy congregations have made evangelism - what we also call church growth - a top mission priority. And for good reason: we believe that Jesus saves. That Jesus Christ saves us from hopelessness and despair. That through Christ we have forgiveness and eternal life. In the church we find purpose, and love, and we want other people to hear this good news and share in our joy. But we also can't help thinking -- and I include myself in this - that if we had more members, we'd have more money to repair the roof. More money to fix the tower More people to teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, make the coffee and help us meet the budget. Now, if you're a visitor, I hope that doesn't scare you. We really are faithful, vital loving communities that want to welcome you. But I'm going to be upfront: if you're looking for purity, you won't find it here. (Or at First Germantown or Chestnut Hill for that matter).
It's complicated in the Bible, too. In our scripture today God appears to Solomon in a dream and and tells him to ask for whatever he wants. Solomon asks for wisdom. He asks for wisdom, he says, so he may govern God's people with an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil. There's nothing in this passage to suggest that Solomon had any other motive for asking: indeed, God - who would know - is pleased with Solomon's request, and tells Solomon it will be granted. In church teaching this prayer has been held up as a model. Solomon's wisdom is legendary. The riches and honor he also received from God are seen as a consequence of Solomon's upright heart, not something he was angling for.
But if we step back and read what comes before and after this passage, we may wonder. When Solomon makes his humble petition, recognizing that he has been given the throne by God and claiming to be like a little child, he leaves out the part about how he killed his brother and a few other people to consolidate his power. Solomon also makes no mention of the fact that he's been worshipping God in the so-called high places, something he wasn't supposed to do because the ark was in Jerusalem. But then, Solomon had built his own palace before he got around to building the temple. The Biblical historians note other problems: he enslaved people to complete his over-the-top building projects. He made political marriages with hundreds of wives and concubines and later in life he turned his heart to their Gods. Given his mixed record, we may wonder if there wasn't some calculation in this prayer. There was a well-honored teaching that wisdom would bring honor and prosperity. Even if Solomon was sincere, did he think - maybe on some subconscious level - that if he asked for wisdom the riches would follow? They certainly did. The wisdom God gave brought untold wealth to Solomon and his kingdom. You may know the story of the Queen of Sheba, who came to test Solomon with hard questions after she heard of his wisdom. The Bible doesn't say what hard questions this forerunner to the host of Do You Want to be a Millionaire asked, but apparently Solomon answered so well there was no spirit left in the queen. His answers inspired her to a frenzy of gift-giving - gold and more gold, spices, precious stones, almug wood, lyres and harps. (Solomon gave her some stuff, too.) (1 Kings 10:1 ff) Yes, Solomon asked for wisdom so he could rule with discernment -- but did he have other motives? We may well be suspicious.
We can't say what was in Solomon's heart, but we can say this: whatever mixed motives may have been behind that prayer, God responded. God invited Solomon to speak; and when he asked for wisdom, it was granted. As long as Solomon followed God's way and used his God-given wisdom, God blessed Israel and other peoples. The Bible says all the nations came to hear Solomon's proverbs and songs; it says he also spoke of trees and animals, and birds and reptiles and fish - an early scientist. Solomon kept all the tribes of Israel together, and he built a magnificent temple that was the center of Israel's worship for centuries. Solomon's disobedience towards the end of his reign angered God, but his lack of purity - religious and moral - did not stop God from using his reign for good.
And we can be thankful, for that is how God deals with us as well. We're called to purity. We're called to strive for a clean heart and clear conscience. We're called to discern God's will - what is right and good - from other motives that may drive us. But thank God we don't have to achieve purity before God loves us, responds to us, and uses us for God's purpose. Our desire to be a better student or worker may have more to do with getting a reward or a raise then doing God's will, but that doesn't stop us from achieving. Our political commitments may grow more out of self interest than love of neighbor, and we always have to be asking that, but that won't stop God from using us to reform our health system. Our evangelism and other mission is almost always entwined with other motives besides doing God's will. We act out of yearnings for power, or approval, for desires to hold onto the people and buildings that mean so much to us. We need to be vigilant, to try and discern our will from God's. But our mixed motives don't stop us from being Christ's church. God uses us to spread the good news anyhow. Indeed, if Christ had waited for the church to be pure, pure in its desires and actions, it would still be a tiny tiny sect in the Middle East. So as we pray for wisdom: as we pray for a thankful heart and a discerning mind; let us also thank God for loving and using us in the meantime.
The commentaries by Choon-Leong Seow (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. III, Nashville: Abingdon, 1994) and Kathryn Schifferdecker (www.workingpreacher.org) were use din preparing this sermon.
|8/09/09 Sermon: Words of Grace -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 10, 11:38am|
|8/09/09 Sermon: Words of Grace -- Cheryl Pyrch||
Summit Presbyterian Church
August 9, 2009
Words of Grace
I've been here about a year and I don't believe you've ever heard me talk about heaven as a place: what it might be like or who, exactly, would be there. I shy away from such speculation because there's not much about it in scripture. There's talk of judgement and salvation, and there are visions of the end-times -in the book of Revelation especially. But in neither the Old or New Testament is there a detailed description of the place where God dwells we call heaven. Also, in our age of space exploration and Hubble telescopes we can no longer think of heaven simply as a giant playground above the clouds. But today, I'd like to picture, to imagine, just a little corner of heaven. The little corner that contains the water cooler -- you know what I mean, the kind almost every office has. Where folks stand around and talk. Mostly about other people. Mostly about other people they know -- friends and co-workers and family. And this is my question: if Jesus Christ were hanging around the water cooler, not with people but with heavenly colleagues such as cherubim and seraphim and angels and archangels - what might he talk about?
He could talk about the friends and disciples he knew when he walked the earth as Jesus of Nazareth. Peter and James and John, Thomas and Philip and Matthew. He'd have lots of information to share with his heavenly friends. He could talk about how he first met Simon Peter and James and John when they were fishing and how, really - they weren't very good fishermen. They'd put down their nets night after night but they didn't know how to do it right and they kept coming up empty. He could joke that it was a good thing he called them to fish for people instead. (Luke 5: 1-11). He could talk about how, underneath all their piety, the disciples were actually social climbers. Always arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, who would get to sit at Jesus' right hand. Christ could also confide to his friends that for all their arguing over who was at the top of the class, none of the disciples were especially bright: he told them again and again who he was and what was going to happen to him but they just didn't get it. He could also gossip about his women friends. He could tell the story about going to dinner at Mary and Martha's house and how Martha was one of those martyr types -- a cook who wouldn't let anyone else into her kitchen but then would complain that she had to do everything herself. He could also talk about his family. About how his mother and his brothers just didn't appreciate his gifts or vocation. He could tell them how they thought he was crazy and tried to bring him home when he was teaching in the synagogue -- but that he had created his own family, thank you. And if Christ were to regale the cherubim with these entertaining stories -- if they nodded their heads and laughed appreciatively -- Christ might be tempted to even start a few rumors. About Mary Magdalene being a prostitute. Or about the money problems Judas had that led him to betray Jesus for a few pieces of silver.
Yes, Jesus Christ could tell all kinds of stories, stories about his friends and disciples, stories which stretched the truth just a bit and got in a laugh or two. And if he did who could blame him? After all, they abandoned him in his hour of need. They couldn't even stay awake in the garden to pray with him, and Peter -- who promised to stand by him - denied him three times. Who could blame Jesus for being angry, even bitter, over all that was done to him and the cowardice of his friends? And who could begrudge Christ a little fun -- for we know how fun it is to talk about other people - who could begrudge him a little fun around the water cooler when all was said and done.
And of course, the risen Christ wouldn't need to confine himself to talk about people he knew thousands of years ago. He could also talk about us! He knows enough: he's read every e-mail we've written. He's heard everything we've said to our mother, he knows what we've done in bed. He knows everything we've thrown in the trash and exactly what's in our bank account. He knows our daydreams and the way we turn our eyes from homeless people and skip newspaper articles about global warming. If the risen Christ were to talk about us around the water cooler, he'd have lots of material. And if he was critical, or stretched the truth a bit, who could blame him? In Matthew it says that what we do to the least of these we do to Christ -- or not: feeding the hungry (or not), visiting the sick (or not), welcoming the stranger (or not). So who could blame Christ for being angry over our failings? Who could object if he were critical, or talked about us with some bitterness, or at the very least indulged in a bit of fun at our expense?
But Christ doesn't do that. Christ doesn't talk about us that way - at the heavenly water cooler or anywhere else. How do we know? We know because even from the cross, Christ prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." We know because after he was dead and buried, he came to Mary in the garden, called her by name, and asked her gently why she was crying. We know because he came to the other disciples when they were a huddled, frightened mess and rather than berating them, he said, "Peace be with you." And when Thomas came later and said he'd only believe Jesus was alive if he could see the mark of the nails in hands, Jesus came back. He didn't mock Thomas for wanting evidence: he showed him his wounds. We know Jesus doesn't talk about us that way because when Christ rose from the dead he didn't return to punish anyone or seek revenge. Instead, he ate with his friends. He met two disciples on the road to Emmaus and broke bread with them and opened their minds to the scripture. One morning on the beach he made breakfast for Peter and the others, a breakfast of broiled fish and bread. And after he spoke these grace-ful words of peace and forgiveness and wisdom to his disciples, he entrusted them with a mission: to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins. To tell friend and foe alike of God's love. A love we know in the presence of the risen Christ, and in the blessing of his forgiveness. A love that we, too, are called to proclaim.
So, therefore, says Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians: be imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love as Christ loved us. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us. Put away bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. Put away falsehood, and instead let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of with one another. Be angry, but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger or make room for the devil. Let no evil come out of your mouths, says, Paul, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
Speaking words that give grace to those who hear. What a challenge of the Christian life! It's challenging because it means speaking the truth. It means taking the time to discern true from false - which is not always be easy - and acknowledging when we're wrong. Speaking the truth may mean challenging someone else and risking their anger. It also hard to speak the truth in a way that builds up and gives grace, especially when we're angry. It’s challenging to speak words of grace because of our anger. Be angry says Paul – and there's plenty of room for anger in the Christian life; we’re called to be angry on behalf of ourselves and others. But do not let that anger become a reason to sin, says Paul: to spread falsehood, to slander, to hurt, whether we're arguing with our spouse, reprimanding our children, or speaking out at a meeting. Choosing words that are grace-full is also challenging because it means letting go of the satisfaction we get from stretching the truth about other people - saying something that's basically accurate but that slanders rather than builds up: gossip at the water cooler often falls into that category. And it’s challenging because we also have to choose words that are truthful and grace-filled in public life -- unlike much of the talk we heard this week from opponents of Obama's healthcare plan.
Speaking words of grace; challenging, but possible, because of Christ’s words of grace to us. His words of love and forgiveness to the disciples and to us despite everything we've done and haven't done. His words of truth - which may be hard to hear - but which are spoken only to build us up. His words of grace and confidence in us, entrusting us with the message of the gospel. So let us be imitators of God, in our lives and as a church, living in love as Christ loves us.
|8/02/09 Sermon: Real Food -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 7, 12:43pm|
|8/02/09 Sermon: Real Food -- Cheryl Pyrch|
August 2, 2009
Summit Presbyterian Church
This summer, groups of college students from around the country have been meeting in regional conferences to plan for something they call the "Real Food Challenge." Their goal is to get their college dining halls to start buying and serving "real food"; their hope is that within 10 years 20% of the food on college campuses will be "real." (www.realfoodchallenge.org)
What do they mean by real food? They mean food that at least bears a resemblance, or can trace it's ancestry back, to a living thing found in nature: blueberries, carrots, rice, chicken -- as opposed to, say, twinkies, american process cheese food product spread, skittles or pringles. Unlike those yummy items, real food is healthy. But that's only a beginning. Real food, they say, is food that's ethically produced and fairly traded: food where the farmer who grew it and the workers who brought it to the table, both here and abroad, are treated justly. Food where animals that we milk - or eat - are treated humanely. Real food is sustainably produced and transported: grown without chemical pesticides, leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible. As many of you know, real food is sold at the weaver's way coop on Carpenter's Lane, where you can find coffee that's fairly traded or vegetables that are grown locally without pesticides. (An interesting factoid for visitors: Weaver's Way began at Summit church)
The real food challenge, according to these young activists, is not merely about changing our diets or shopping ethically. It's an organizing focus for bringing about a more just world: a world where tomato pickers have a decent wage and slaughterhouse workers have health care; a world where no one goes hungry, and where people have a say in their government. A world with an economy where all people - as well as animals and plants- can flourish. Increasing the demand for real food, their thinking goes, will encourage and and support these just practices; with other groups, the students also work for change in agricultural policy. I'm sure there are many differences within the movement on strategy, and you or I may have differences with their approach. But as Christians we share their vision of a just world. The students don't use this word, but a world fed by real food would be a world grounded in love. Jesus showed us a glimpse of such a world when he fed the 5,000 and everyone had as much as they wanted. Isaiah speaks of it when he says that on God's holy mountain the Lord will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wines, and wipe away tears from all faces.
In our reading this morning, the crowd hunts Jesus down because he had fed them. Five thousand people had followed him up a mountain, and when they were hungry Jesus gave them bread and fish. He started with only five barley loaves and two fish but all had enough, with twelve baskets left over. Those original five loaves and two fish would not have been "real food" by standards of the real food challenge. The loaves and fishes were not artificial or sprayed with pesticides, but the Roman Imperial food system was not just or equitable. The crowd who followed Jesus would have been used to having much of their food taken away to feed soldiers or the wealthy in the cities; those who grew the barley or caught the fish or even baked the bread were likely poorly treated. But Jesus took that food, he gave thanks, and he transformed it: it became a sign of God's abundant love. God's abundant, life-giving love for every person.
But according to John, the people didn't get it. They didn't see the sign: they just knew Jesus had given them enough bread to eat their fill and they wanted to stay close to the source. Who can blame them? Those of us who never go hungry shouldn't cast stones at anyone who misses a sign because of a growling belly. And Jesus knew they had to be fed; it's no accident this sign was done with food. But when they come to him again, he tells them he offers even more: more than the bread they need but which perishes, whether it's a barley loaf or manna in the wilderness. He offers them life that will satisfy their deepest hunger and direst thirst. Tfheir hunger for love and healing and for a purpose guided by God. Their thirst for forgiveness and acceptance. Jesus offers them this life, life nourished by the love that has come down from heaven in him. Come to me, Jesus says, so you may know this love, this love that stretches into eternity because it comes from God.
Jesus offers us this life, too. Jesus calls us to trust in him so we may be fed with the love of God that goes beyond our need for barley loaves or fish and other food that we eat. Jesus invites us to the table, where he transforms this bread and wine so it becomes a sign of his love and indeed his very presence. What theologians, coincidentally, call his "real" presence.
Now it would be easy to take a wrong turn here and say that because Jesus is the true bread from heaven, the other kind isn't that important: we shouldn't be chasing after it. It would be easy to draw the lesson that believing in Jesus is spiritual, and eating or worrying about the bread that perishes is not. It would be easy to see communion as a time for us to receive the love of Jesus the bread that we eat simply as a means to this end. But we would be wrong. When Christ transforms this bread and this wine, he does so no only so we may enjoy his presence and feel in love. He also transforms this bread and wine so that we may go out and share that love. We're invited to partake of Christ's real presence in the bread and wine so we can be strengthened to go out and accept the real food challenge. The challenge to work for a world where workers and farmers are treated fairly and animals humanely; where everyone has enough; where we live respectfully with creation; a world that is just and sustainable. We may do it in ways other than joining the real food movement, but we're all called. We're called to repair the world so that the bread we grow and share with one another may be as "real" as the bread we eat today. Bread that reflects the love and justice of God in Jesus Christ. So now let us come to that table.
|07/09 Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 10, 10:47pm|
|07/09 Pastor's Pen||June is a month of transitions and rites of passage–graduations, leaving home, getting married. Christians my age and older may remember another June (or May) rite of passage - that of first communion. Those raised in the Roman Catholic church may have gone to reli- gious education classes on weekday afternoons, and remember get- ting a pretty white dress or first suit before taking communion at age six or seven at a special mass. Those of us raised as Protestants are more likely to have had our first communion at the time of confirmation and profession of faith at twelve or thirteen – after completing a class where we tried our best to drive the teacher bananas.
There was wisdom to this approach. Taking our first communion at a special service after lengthy preparation helped us come to the sacrament with reverence. By having first communion as the endpoint of a class we could focus on the biblical stories, prayers and teachings that help make it meaningful. And for those of us who were older, we could begin to wrestle with the questions related to communion that theologians have asked for centuries: what does it mean that Christ died for us? How exactly is Christ with us in the Lord’s Supper?
But there were also problems with that practice. There was the danger of believing communion was something we “earned” after graduating from class. Those of us who took communion at thirteen had no time to let the sacrament shape and nurture us before the siren songs of adolescent rebellion and the freedom to sleep in (since confirmation meant we were adult members who could decide not to go to church) drew us away from Sunday worship. And it could lead to the misunderstanding that communion was not really “effective” until one could explain Christ’s atonement or presence in the bread and the wine. For these and other reasons, over the past 40 years most Protestant churches who baptize infants have begun welcoming even young children to the table.
I admit to having been skeptical of childhood communion, however, until my first year out of seminary. I was sitting with Sarah, age five, in the first row. Sarah had not been attending church long, and as the bread and wine was passed down the aisle she turned and watched intently over the back of the pew. She then whispered to me, in an awed voice, “Everybody gets some.” Sarah was years away from being able to explain the Lord’s Supper but she understood one central truth: everyone gets fed. Of every race and clan, the stuffed and the hungry, Harvard graduates and the developmentally delayed, gay and straight, men and women, the homeless and the rich, grown-ups and children —Christ’s grace comes to all.
Not every five or even seven year old is ready for communion. Some show no interest and are best left to draw on the pew cards snuggled next to their parents, or to receive a blessing by coming forward. But for those who are, we’re called to welcome and prepare them: by bringing them to worship, teaching them stories of Jesus, answering questions, praying for and with them. This fall, by decision of the Session, Summit will begin a more intentional invitation of children to the table. We’ll prepare them (and us) through children’s sermons and Sunday School, books and discussions with families. Children will stay in worship so they may watch and learn, be with us in community, and – when parents feel they’re ready – partake of bread and wine. And we will all be fed.