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6/21/09 Sermon: Do You Not Care? -- Cheryl Prych by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 2, 9:26pm
6/21/09 Sermon: Do You Not Care? -- Cheryl Prych Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 21, 2009

Mark 4:35-41

Do You Not Care?

 Simon and Andrew, John and James had not known Jesus long.  But after he passed by their boats and called them to follow - and they had, they still weren't sure why - it had been a whirlwind. Their first stop had been the synagogue where he astounded everyone with his teaching; for he taught with authority, not as one of the scribes.  While they were there a man with an unclean spirit came in  -that always made everyone nervous - and  the demon had cried from out of the man and named Jesus as a holy one of God.  When Jesus said,  "Be silent and come out of him," and the demon left, with a loud cry and convulsion, they were amazed.  Everyone began spreading the word: here was someone who taught with authority.  Someone who had power over unclean spirits.  Someone who could set the possessed free.



 Right after that visit to the synagogue they had retreated to Simon and Andrew's house.  There they found that Simon's mother in law was in bed with a fever.  Fevers were dangerous, very frightening.  They told Jesus at once - this teacher with authority and power over the unclean spirits.  Could he also heal?  Heal someone they loved?  Jesus came and took her by her hand and lifted her up -- and the fever left her.  [And she immediately started serving them.  After all, there was company in the house].



 And so it went.  He continued throughout Galilee, preaching the message and casting out demons.  Everyone was searching for him. The disciples remembered when a man with leprosy, who came begging on his knees, said to Jesus, "if you choose, you can make me clean."  They saw how moved Jesus was. He stretched out his hand and said, "I do choose.  Be made clean!"  And the man was healed.  After that they had no rest.  Jesus went home to Capernaum but the word got out and so many gathered around there wasn't even any room for them near the front door.  At that point some people came carrying a paralyzed man, and let him down through the roof so he could reach Jesus.  Jesus had assured the man his sins were forgiven and to take up his mat, and walk.  And he did.  Never had they seen anything like that.



 And then there was the man with the withered hand - the one who Jesus saw in the synagogue on the sabbath.  Everyone was looking at Jesus to see what he would do.  Would he heal the man that day, breaking the law about work on the sabbath, or would he wait?  No one cared about the man with the withered hand.  They just wanted to watch the show-down between Jesus and the Pharisees.  And Jesus had looked around at them with anger.  He was grieved at their hardness of heart.  He restored the man's hand.  He would get in trouble for that.




 But he didn't just heal people, and free them from demons:  he cared about folks that everyone else disliked or avoided.  He invited Levi, the tax collector, to follow him.  The others weren't so sure about that but Jesus went to Levi's home, and ate with other tax collectors and sinners. Later he chose them, the twelve, and named them apostles, to be with him, to proclaim the message and to also have authority to cast out demons.  He taught them in parables and explained what they meant.  He called them - and his other followers - his mother and his brothers. They were family.



 So what was it with his sleeping in the middle of this great windstorm?  The boat was swamped, they were terrified.  Did he not care that they were perishing??  Everyone, everyone, knew what to do when a storm came up.  You bailed for your life.  All hands on deck. But Jesus was sleeping in the midst of this noise and this chaos.  On a cushion.  In the back of the boat.  Did he not care for his own life, or for theirs?  Was he really the compassionate healer they thought him to be, the teacher with authority, their friend and brother, or was he some kind of imposter --  in cahoots with demonic forces, ready to let them them all perish in the sea?  So they woke him, they woke him and said, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  And he did wake up.  He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace!  Be still!"  Then the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.  They weren't expecting that.  They were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"  For he had said to them, "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"


 Why are you afraid . . . . . . We all have our personal, customized list of phobias, from natural disasters to more psychologically-based terrors. And we should. The world's a dangerous place and we're vulnerable creatures.  We fear physical pain, illness and death.  We fear financial hardship; loss of a spouse or job;  public shame.  We fear for ourselves and for those we love.  Millions in this world know daily the fear that comes with hunger, violence, homelessness. The windstorms keep coming. God doesn't stop those - at least not consistently - and no amount of faith can change that. 



  We also fear that no one cares.  Or that there will come a point in our life when no one cares. That no one will help us bail when our boat starts sinking or that we could go overboard with no one noticing.  That "no one" includes God;  for most of us, even the most faith-filled, there are times when God seems absent, when Jesus seems to be sleeping if he's even on the boat at all. Times when we ask, "Do you not care that I am perishing?"



 When Jesus stilled the storm, he showed them who he was; one whom even the wind and sea obeyed, sent from the one who brought order to the watery chaos at the beginning of creation.  And when he rebuked the wind and calmed the sea he also answered their question:  yes, I do care.



 The faith Jesus calls us to is not a faith that God will calm every storm:  cure us of every illness, vanquish every evil or fix all that is wrong in the world right now.  The faith Jesus calls us to is the faith that God cares.  The faith that God's grace and healing and justice surround us, even though now we see only in part.  The faith that - in the words of the Psalm Henry just read -  God does not forsake those who seek God; that God does not forget the cry of the afflicted; that the needy shall not always be forgotten nor the hope of the poor perish forever. Yes, Jesus assures us, the Jesus that calmed the storm and rose from the dead, God cares. It may seem that we are perishing, but we are being saved.  That is the faith we are called to.



 And as people who are being saved, we're called to witness to God's care:  by caring for each other, and for brothers and sisters around the world.  Through prayer and preaching, through ministries of hospitality, through speaking out for what is right and just. God cares for 
6/14/09 Sermon: Ambassadors of Christ -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 2, 9:24pm
6/14/09 Sermon: Ambassadors of Christ -- Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 14, 2009

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Ambassadors of Christ


 We all keep them.  Those lists of grievances:  things people have done to us, ways we have been hurt, beginning in childhood and ending this morning.  Some of the items on those lists may be grave hurts:  abuse in childhood, a partner's unfaithfulness, being kicked out of a home or being fired unjustly from a job.  We may struggle all our lives with damage from those traumas.  Our anger may be a constant companion and we may not find it possible to forgive, no matter how much we pray or read the Bible.  Other things on that list may be minor irritations, but still worth noting.  Those lists can come in handy.  For example, when we're arguing with a spouse or a parent and it looks like they may be right, that we may need to do something differently or even apologize, that's a good time to pull out the list.  To find something on it they did to us that's totally unrelated, but for which they still feel guilty, and to quietly mention it.  It's a pretty reliable way to paralyze your opponent and to avoid change, problem solving or reconciliation.  (At least until they catch on).



 Most of us keep another kind of list as well.  That's a list of things we've done to others, little things and big things, things done in anger or ignorance, with malicious intent or without meaning to.  Things we've done in the privacy of our home, as well as things we've collectively allowed to happen, like wars of aggression or a dangerous change in the climate.  The guilt and shame we feel in looking at that list can paralyze us.  It can keep us from reaching out to others or making things right or living our life with joy and gratitude.  That list can haunt us even more than that other list we keep.



 In this dense and even confusing passage I just read from Paul's letter, he has good news for the world: God is not keeping any list. Of course, God knows and remembers the wrongs we have done and the wrongs done to us.  God is not indifferent to evil and on judgement day a merciful God will in some loving way hold us all accountable.  But God is not keeping a list to use against us:  to punish or shame us or to keep us from being reconciled with God.  And this is how we know, says Paul (I'm interpreting):  God came to us Christ. Jesus lived among us and suffered terrible wrongs:  betrayal, abandonment and denial from friends; torture, public humiliation and death from his enemies.  But Christ rose from that death.  Christ came back - alive! - and ate and drank with his disciples, as well as with strangers.  Christ chooses to be with us still, through the Holy Spirit.  His resurrection and his continued presence with us are the assurance that his suffering and death have not been put on a list to be flung back in our faces.  On the contrary, says Paul:  in Christ God was reconciling the world to God's self, not counting their trespasses against them.  And Christ died for all, says Paul.  Not just for the soldiers who nailed him on the cross, or for Judas and Peter; not just for the chief priests and scribes, or for Pontius Pilate --  and not just for Christians.  But for each and every one of us who have done wrong, in big ways or small.  For all of us who have been complicit in evil.  For let's face it:  what happened to Jesus was not an isolated incident.  The suffering he knew was terrible, but commonplace:  thousands of others were crucified.  If anything, in the past two thousand years we've perfected methods of torture.  We now have weapons of mass destruction.  God mourns our sin, but none of that is being put on a list to be used against us, to bar us from reconciliation with God:  as Paul says elsewhere, nothing  - hardship, distress, death nor life, height nor depth nor anything else in all creation -- including any thing that we have done -  can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.



             As ambassadors for Christ, we're entrusted with this message. This message of reconciliation in Jesus Christ, this good news that God is not counting our wrongdoing against us.  But ambassadors do more than bring messages.  Ambassadors also do the work of diplomacy.  And so we have been entrusted not just with the message, but with the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation in our homes and neighborhoods and workplaces; reconciliation in the world.  Reconciliation that heals divisions, restores relationships, and brings peace.  Reconciliation does not mean shutting up to keep the peace, or saying sorry but carrying on business as usual.  It doesn't mean letting oppression stand or being naive in the face of evil. Reconciliation means truth telling and doing justice; it's the fruit of those things, the end goal.  But our goal it must be.



 The United Nations has declared 2009 the International Year of Reconciliation [2009 is also the International Year of Natural Fibres; since they can have an important place in the economy of poor people.  2008 was the International Year of the Potato, as well as the International Year of planet earth.  I like that the UN has international years of reconciliation for multiple intelligences:  for concrete, practical, types, the potato; for abstract and big-pictures types, reconciliation and the planet earth!]  This year, the UN General Assembly also elected Daniel D'Escoto Brockmann as its President this year.  D'Escoto was the foreign minister in the Sandinista Government in Nicaragua, from 79 to 91; he's also a Jesuit priest.  This is from his acceptance speech: 



The United Nations has officially designated 2009 as the International Year of Reconciliation. Let us fully heed that call. Reconciliation does not oblige us to forget the past; that would be impossible. What reconciliation obliges us to do is prevent memories of past outrages from becoming obstacles to our unity from now on. We must there- fore be careful not to wear each other down through futile recriminations.



 In other words, we have to let go of our lists.  We have to let go of those lists we use against families and friends, co-workers and neighbors.  We have to let go of those lists we use against ourselves and those lists we use against nations -- such as the list that has 9/11 on it.  That doesn't mean we forget 9/11.  It doesn't mean we say "that's OK" to Al Queda and do nothing, or that we don't try and stop terrorism and bring the perpetrators to justice (and I know that's complicated).  But it does mean we stop using 9/11 against the people of Afghanistan, and it certainly means we stop using it against the people of Iraq.  It means we stop using 9/11 against those in the Muslim world with grievances against us, refusing even to listen. It means we stop using 9/11 as the reason to build even more guns and bombs, while ignoring those who are hungry. God, who is a God of justice, does not use our many sins against us; as ambassadors for Christ we must do likewise.  Then we'll be preaching and doing the work of reconciliation.



 I'd like to end by praying the words of Paul


Gracious and Eternal God,


We are grateful for your reconciling work through Jesus Christ and that you do not count our trespasses against us. We are grateful that you have entrusted us with the message and ministry of reconciliation;  give us the grace to be ambassadors for Christ. We ask these things in his name,  Amen.


Sermon: Mission Impossible -- June 7, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 10, 8:49pm
Sermon: Mission Impossible -- June 7, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 7, 2009

Matthew 28: 16-20

Mission Impossible

Matthew ends his gospel with these words.  They've become famous:  we call this passage "the great commission" and people quote it when talking about the importance of evangelism or of sending missionaries overseas. This scripture is also read on Trinity Sunday because of Jesus' instructions to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and his statement that all authority on heaven and earth has been given to him.  It's a passage that points to the triune God - even though that doctrine developed later - so we read it often.

It's for these reasons that this passage can make some Christians uncomfortable.  Jesus said to make disciples of all nations.  We're all Christians because of that  - and grateful -  but we also know the dark side of that history:  the crusades, missionaries paving the way for imperial armies who killed people and destroyed their cultures, certain televangelists.  We may wonder:  in this pluralistic world, is God calling us to make disciples of ALL nations?  And then there's the Trinity. We worship the Father, Son and Holy Ghost - or Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit  - but even those of us  who've been to seminary are hard put to explain how the three are one God.  As people who value reason we may wonder - does it makes sense? These are very interesting questions.  I'm not going to talk about them today. But I raise them to point out that when we hear these words, we hear them with 2000 years of  church history behind us:  two thousand years of church councils, missionaries, Christian states, Holy wars and theological debates. 

How might these words have fallen on the ears of those eleven raggedy men?  The last time they had seen Jesus he was dead: killed like so many others by Roman soldiers, a painful and degrading death.  According to Matthew, the whole crowd had turned against Jesus as the eleven had drawn back into the shadows, with Peter denying him three times.  A Roman soldier and a few others saw miraculous signs when Jesus died thought he must have been a son of God,  but nearly everyone else was hostile.  The eleven disciples must have been frightened and discouraged, certain it was all over. So who knows what they thought when two of the women  - Mary and Mary - ran up to them and said that they had seen Jesus, that he had been raised from the dead and met them on the road, and told them he wanted to meet the eleven in Galilee. I'll bet those men were skeptical - two thousand years later we're still fighting the stereotype of hysterical women -  - but they went. They went to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And they saw him; and fell down and worshipped.  Jesus told them that all authority in heaven and on earth -- the full authority of God - had been given to him. And then - then -  he gave them their task:  go make disciples of all nations.  Baptize them.  And then tell those disciples you've baptized everything I've commanded you.

Did the disciples quake when they heard these words?  How could they possibly make disciples of all nations?  They were eleven among millions.  They were Galileans, country boys, fisherman and unpopular tax collectors.  Illiterate.  They only spoke Aramaic - they neither read not wrote Greek, the language of the educated, international, cosmopolitan class.  They had no cash reserves, no travel allowance. All nations? How could they even make disciples of their friends and neighbors?  They had no "proof."  To all appearances, Jesus was a failure, he had few fans among the Romans or religious leaders. And even for those who might believe, who might want to be baptized, how could they tell them everything that Jesus had commanded -- he had said so much, and they hadn't been taking notes. They had each other, but that was a mixed blessing, given how much time they spent  bickering over who was the greatest.  They had no house of worship.  And they had their own doubts to wrestle with - for even when they worshipped him on that mountain, some doubted.  It was an impossible mission:  an impossible mission, what was Jesus thinking. But the risen Christ promised those disciples he would be with them to the end of the age. And here we are.  Disciples of Christ  in the nation of the United States of America, in the city of Philadelphia, over 2000 years later.

Yesterday the officers of the church met for a retreat. We spent time in Bible study.  We did an exercise where we listed all the assets of Summit - the people and talents and skills we have, the building and money, assets in the community - and we thought of how they might work together for good.  We also talked about the challenge of tending to a beautiful but aging building and different ways we might meet that challenge.  We learned a lot, we have more to talk about, and we had fun  - but there's no question, the work of the church can feel overwhelming. The paths ahead of us can seem daunting.  And that's true for every church:  big or small, urban or suburban, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic.  But the risen Christ promises to be with us, to the end of the age.

Those eleven disciples probably died before Matthew's gospel was written 40 or 50 years after these events took place. When the eleven evangelized the good news was spread person by person or through letters. The eleven would have heard about people in different cities of the Roman Empire who were baptized; they may have done some traveling.  They would have passed on the teachings of Jesus as best they could.  They would have felt the power of the Holy Spirit and maybe even seen crowds of people convert.  But the numbers of Christians would still have been small in the many and diverse peoples of the Roman Empire.  The disciples also would have seen people fall away from the faith, and been in fights over money and worship -- even in Luke's idealized account of the early church in the book of Acts we hear of those fights.  And at the end of their lives did they wonder - not knowing what would come after - if they fulfilled their mission? But we can hope they remembered that Jesus said he would be with them until the end of the age -- not just the end of their lives, but the end of the age, when he would come again.  And hopefully they would have known that was enough. 

For it is enough.  Christ is with us and with those who came before and come after us -- leading, guiding, caring for his church of every age, helping us to fulfill that mission impossible.  We can't do it all and we can't always do what we want. We'll make mistakes, we'll be wrong, we won't always demonstrate the reign of God in our life together.  We definitely won't see the fruits of all that we do.  But with Christ, who is always with us, we dare not set limits on our mission as the church, not only here at Summit but also as the holy catholic church.  Those first disciples didn't, nor have the saints before us.    

Sermon: Witness in Action -- May 31, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 10, 8:47pm
Sermon: Witness in Action -- May 31, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

May 31, 2009 - Pentecost

Acts 2: 1-21, etc.


Witness in Action


Earlier this month I was called for jury duty here  in Philadelphia (they found me very fast).   I was picked to be a juror at the trial of a young man for aggravated assault and attempted murder.  The jury selection was on Friday, and when we reported on Monday we were brought to the courtroom, sat in the jury box, but then told we could go home.  The judge explained that the case had been dismissed without prejudice because the witness could not be located.  When we heard that we shifted in our seats.  Someone asked if the witness was in danger.  The prosecuting attorney immediately barked out "we don't know" but the judge said only that he could not be located and they thought he had just decided not to participate.  The judge reminded us that everyone was to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  

When we were told the case was dismissed, my first reaction - and I believe that of my peers - was, "yay!"   We could go back to our routines.   We wouldn't have to work after hours or miss any paychecks.  We didn't have the responsibility of making a decision that would dramatically change someone's life:  we wouldn't risk sending an innocent man to jail or setting a guilty one free. But was this missing witness really good news?  We could only speculate - with imaginations fueled by too many episodes of law and order - why the witness was missing.  Perhaps it was a gang feud and he had been intimidated - frightened into fleeing or going underground.  Perhaps he had initially lied to the police and then decided to disappear rather than fess up.  Perhaps he just began to doubt what he had seen or heard and was reluctant to get involved.  Who knows?  But if the accused was guilty, no justice was done:  the assaulted man would be neither vindicated nor safe.  If the accused was innocent, suspicions would linger, even if he had never been arraigned and the case was dismissed without prejudice.  If he was neither guilty nor innocent, if it was a grey area, there was no witness to shed light on behalf of the victim or the accused.  A witness that could not be located wasn't good.  Justice couldn't be done; as far as we knew, no reconciliation accomplished.


According to Luke, when Jesus rose from the tomb on Easter morning he came to his disciples and spent 40 days among them:  eating and drinking, instructing them in the scriptures, speaking about the Kingdom of God.  He told the eleven and those with them that they would be witnesses:  witnesses to his resurrection and all he said and did.  Witnesses sent to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins:  in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:1-8).   After he left them and ascended into heaven, they were in the temple continually praising God.  When they were gathered together on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to witness.   They witnessed first in words:  speaking in languages they didn't even know so people from all nations could understand the good news.   Peter gave his first sermon. Later, they witnessed in action.  They witnessed as they broke bread together and said prayers, as they shared possessions, healed the sick and brought food to the hungry.  They began their proclamation in Jerusalem, and then traveled to towns and cities throughout the Roman Empire - the end of their known earth -  proclaiming the message even when threatened or thrown in jail.  They began to change the world.  They were witnesses that could be located.


As the church, we're also called to be witnesses to Christ, sent out to proclaim God's love fearlessly to all.  Can we be located?  The literal answer is: easily.  We have a building with a tower you can see from far away.  We have an address, 6757 Greene St. at the corner of Westview; we have a sign; we have a phone number.  Anyone even a little familiar with church life knows they can find us here on Sunday mornings, shake our hands, sing hymns, hear a sermon and talk to us.  We can also be located on the web; we have a homepage, we can be emailed.  But a church doesn't have to own a building or be on the internet to be located:  for thousands of years congregations have gathered in houses and tents, at town squares or rented auditoriums.  The disciples at Pentecost met at the temple; it was many years before Christians built houses of worship.  We can also be located in what's called the church dispersed:  as Christians in schools and offices, at homes and in malls, on juries and on facebook.   But whether as the church gathered or the church dispersed, it's not hard to find us:  we can be located.


So maybe the real question is:  are we witnesses?  Of course, we are:  we're witnesses when we worship, when we teach our children Bible stories and show the love of God with teenagers who come play basketball on Friday nights.  We're witnesses when we share a meal at Elder Diner and invite others into the fellowship; we're witnesses when we visit one another in the hospital, bring food to the pantry and offer our space to neighborhood groups.  We're also witnesses when we try to follow Christ in our daily lives, when we treat the people we know with kindness and love.  But -  either as the Church gathered or the church dispersed, are we the witnesses we could be?  


Our families and friends may know we come to church, but do we talk with them about Jesus or invite them to worship?  God calls us to do justice, to speak truth to power, to seek liberation for the oppressed.  But how often - as the church gathered or dispersed -  do we write letters to congress, take to the streets, organize with our neighbors or even vote?   Christ calls us to share from our abundance, but how much do we give to others, through the church or otherwise  -- is it anywhere near a tenth of our income?  We're here because we know, or have glimpsed the risen Christ:  but are we disciplined in prayer and study so we may grow in faith? 


I'm not taking us through this Pentecost litany to make us feel inadequate.  Any congregation would have to confess it's not the church it could be.   It's hard to witness:  it takes courage to talk with others about faith or take a political stand; it takes time and energy to do the work of the church; it takes discipline and humility to always keep Christ in front of us as we live out our vocations.  We have doubts to struggle with and millions of other things vying for our attention.  If it were totally up to us, we'd be lame witnesses indeed -- known more for inaction than action, missing in action rather than witnesses in action.


But today we thank God that it's not all up to us.  Christ has given Christ's church the gift of the Holy Spirit:  the same Spirit that filled those first disciples with joy and allowed them to speak across  barriers of language.  The same Spirit that helps us to discern where we're called and what we're called to do - as the church gathered, or the church dispersed.  The same Spirit that opens our eyes to possibilities we couldn't have imagined, the same Spirit that opens the words of scripture to us.  The same Spirit that comforts us when we're discouraged, that makes God's grace known to us in difficult times. The Spirit that gives us courage to witness to the risen Christ, in word and deed especially on difficult, or controversial issues like the war in Iraq, sexuality, the destruction of the environment.  The Spirit that allows us to be witnesses who can be located, so that when it's time to do justice, work for reconciliation, and preach hope, we will be there.

Sermon: Not What We Think -- April 12, 2009, Easter Sunday-Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 10, 8:42pm
Sermon: Not What We Think -- April 12, 2009, Easter Sunday-Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 12, 2009  (Easter Sunday)

John 20: 1-18; 1 Cor. 15: 3-11

Not What We Think

 When Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb, while it was still dark, she saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  She didn't go in to inspect.  There could only be one explanation:  grave robbers.  Grave robbers strong enough to roll aside the stone and carry away the body.  Grave robbers who might have known that Jesus had been wrapped in a hundred pounds worth of precious burial spices.  Grave robbers who could still be lurking in the dark morning.  So she ran.  She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, and she told them what she saw - or thought she saw:  They had taken the Lord out of the tomb.  She didn't know who "they," were, but their intentions could only be evil.  They had violated Jesus's grave - something right in keeping with the terrible events of the past three days. A desecrated tomb was only the final insult to their teacher who had been arrested, tried, tortured and killed in a most public and gruesome way.  Not knowing where the body of Jesus lay - not knowing the condition it was in -  was only one more layer of grief for Mary and all who loved Jesus.  But Mary knew that's how the world was.  Pain, grief, death.

Then Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, ran to the tomb.  The other disciple - who reached the tomb first - may also have been spooked.  He bent down to look into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings lying there but he didn't go in.  Peter, coming behind him, went into the tomb, and saw something odd: the cloth that had been on Jesus' head was not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  What a strange thing for the thiefs to have done!  Why leave the linen wrappings at all, why not just take the body away as quickly as possible?  Then the other disciple also came into the tomb; and although John says he saw and believed, it's not clear what what he believed:  perhaps, simply, that the body had been taken.  [After all, you can't always believe the report of an hysterical woman]. John tells us that neither Peter nor the other disciple yet understood the scripture, that Jesus must be raised.  So they left.  They returned to their homes with nothing to proclaim but more sad news concerning the death of their teacher.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.  Weeping, she bent down to look inside.  It was then she saw the two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying.  You might think that two angels in white would be a clue to Mary that things were not as she thought.  But she's still caught up in her grief.  When the angels ask her why she's weeping, she repeats what she told the disciples, although now she just speaks for herself:  They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.  Then she turns, and sees --- Jesus.  But she knows it can't be Jesus, so her mind quickly creates an alternative explanation:  it's the gardener.  And then, still struggling to make sense of all this, she wonders if the gardener might have taken the body and could tell her where Jesus is.  We can see some cognitive dissonance here, some attempt to account for the strange things that she's seeing - the linen cloths, the angels, Jesus. But she's not yet ready to let go of what she knows, or she thinks she knows - that Jesus is dead, his body has been stolen, his friends will be forever haunted by this violation of his grave.  For  Mary knew that was life:  pain, grief, death.

And then Jesus calls her name.  He calls her name and she turns to him.  It's then that she's able to see that it's not what she thought.  The grave had not been robbed.  The gardener had not taken the body away.  Jesus was in front of her:  alive, there for her to see and even touch.  Talking to her, giving her instructions, telling her where he was going.  Not to the underworld, not to the ground, but to God.  To his God and to her God.  Jesus had died, but death was not the end, for him or for her. Pain and grief were not the final words about life - or the world.  So Mary went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."  We don't know if they believed her, but Jesus also came to them later, that evening, and showed them his hands his side.  They, too, could see the world was not as they thought.  Jesus was alive.  Pain, grief and death were not the final words. 


When we're depressed - whether it's a matter of feeling temporarily blue  or something more serious - it's easy to fall into a negative thinking pattern, a pessimism about the past as well as the future.  When we're depressed we may think: I've never really been a success at anything - I probably never will be.  Or I've never really been in love, I'll bet I won't find it.  Or, I've never actually been happy - I don't think I can be. Friends may point out our successes, our periods of happiness and the people who love us, but confronting someone who's depressed with the facts - the linen wrappings - usually doesn't help.  Depression is  powerful, even more so if it's a clinical depression.  It colors a person's perceptions.  When we're depressed, the world can seem a dark and hopeless place despite evidence to the contrary.  Professional intervention may be needed:  medication, therapy, a combination of the two.  The good news is that treatment can be effective: people emerge from depressions and perceive themselves and their world in a more hopeful light. 

But pessimism and hopelessness are not only a matter of perception.  The world is full of suffering.  Our losses are enormous:  broken relationships, the death of loved ones, failing health, layoffs, a sheriff's sale.  For many in the world, losses such as these are compounded by daily, grinding, hardship:  backbreaking work or no work, too little food, the barest of shelters, the constant threat of bombs or gunfire.  On the macro level, when we look at history, we can point out progress:  more people live comfortably, the evils of sexism and racism have been named, tyrannies have been overthrown.  But we can just as easily point to the genocides of the 20th century, the dangers of nuclear war and global warming, the threat of AIDS.  Few people would deny there's good in the world:  but evidence can easily be marshaled to prove the world is ruled by evil forces.  That to be without hope is realistic.  A world, where, to all appearances, we creatures all end up in the same place:  dead.  Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  Mary didn't need to be depressed to assume that an empty tomb could mean only one thing.  A stolen body, wicked thieves, unending grief. 

So Jesus intervened.  Christ came to her.  Christ came to her so she would not be deceived by appearances.  Christ came to her so she could see that the world was not as she thought. Death was not the endpoint. Evil did not rule the day.  Christ came to Mary so she could see the world as it really was.  A world under the reign of God, even though Rome was still in control.  A world stretching into eternity, even though Mary was surrounded by death.  A world held in love, even though Mary had just witnessed so much hate and cruelty.  This is the Christian claim.  The world is not what we think. 

When Jesus came to Mary, she went immediately to the disciples to tell them what she had seen.  We learned this morning that Christ also came to Paul, and to the disciples and many other apostles. We can't historically verify these resurrection appearances. It's possible Jesus came to Mary in a way that a bystander could not have detected.  But we don't have to prove them historically, because Christ also comes to us.  Not necessarily in conversation or in a clear vision, although many Christians say they have met Jesus that way.  Christ may also come to us through the power of the Holy Spirit as we know it in worship, in scripture, in community, in the beauty around us. But make no mistake, Christ is alive:  alive to tell us that death is not the end, that hope is not misplaced, that evil does not ultimately rule. That is our claim.

   One final note.  The resurrection appearances as we have them in the gospels are personal, intimate, encounters.  The risen Christ does not appear to national assemblies or royal courts:  he appears to Mary and Thomas and Peter and Cleopas.  So Christians can be forgiven, perhaps, for often acting as though the salvation Christ offers is purely personal.  That it's about each one of us being with God in heaven after our death.  That it's about having hope and finding love in our personal circle of family and friends and church; that it's about our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Christ does redeem each of us personally.  But we should not be misled by the intimate nature of the resurrection appearances.  God has a vision that's much grander than individual tickets to heaven.  Jesus spoke about that vision to his disciples, and God also spoke of it through the prophets.  God's purposes have not been completed, the vision has not yet been fulfilled, but the resurrection of Jesus is a sign that it will be.  So on Easter Sunday, in addition to the stories of the empty tomb and other appearances, the church has another lectionary reading, from the prophet Isaiah.  This reading reminds us that Christ has risen for the whole world, that death has been overcome for everyone, not just people who come to church. Listen for the word of God in Isaiah 25: 

 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples

 a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,

 of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained    clear.

 And God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast    over all peoples,

 the sheet that is spread over all nations;

 God will swallow up death forever.

 Then then Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,

 and the disgrace of the people God will take away from all the    

 For the Lord has spoken. 

This is the living word of God.  Thanks be to God.


Pastor's Pen June 2009 -- Chery Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 8, 11:16pm
Pastor's Pen June 2009 -- Chery PyrchOne Holy Catholic Church

Every first Sunday of the month, when we celebrate communion and recite the Apostles Creed, you may puzzled by the line "I believe in  . . . . the holy catholic church." Aren't we Presbyterians? And does it make sense to say we "believe" in the church?  Don't we believe in God in Christ, with church being the way we live out that belief?
The answer  is both yes and no.  Yes, we are Presbyterians  - the Presbyterian Church (USA) branch of Presbyterians, to be precise.  That makes us distinct from Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Mennonites, African Methodist Episcopalians, and Lutherans -- to name just a few of the churches we find in this small corner of the globe. 

As the Summit Presbyterian Church, on the corner of Westview and Greene, we are also distinct from other churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA). But in the Apostles Creed, we confess there is a catholic (in the sense of universal) church called together by Christ.  A church that - for all the differences in theology, worship, and ministries among particular congregations and denominations  - is one body.  One body of Christ, one church, stretching across time and space with one call:  to proclaim the gospel in word and deed.
We must confess that as Christians we've always had trouble believing and living out this creed.  Most denominations teach that Christ cannot be "divided," that there is indeed one catholic church. But most churches (including Protestants) disagree on who belongs to that church!  Arguments over theology and politics, and differences arising from historical circumstances, have led most Christians to draw a line around the "true" church, declaring some self-professing Christians inside and others outside.  (This may seem like simple intolerance until we remember the state-sponsored churches of Nazi Germany). The ecumenical movement has sought to bridge these differences through dialogue and joint mission projects, with limited but important success.
It's also hard to live out that creed for more practical reasons.  Like people in most congregations (including pastors), when we think of "church" we think of a particular church  -  in our case, Summit:  the people we care about, the building, the history that we're celebrating this year. I imagine that most people of Summit think of themselves as members of Summit, first; members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) a distant second; and members of the church universal (another way to speak of the holy catholic church) third. 

That hierarchy is understandable - we are concrete creatures, and what makes Summit unique is important.  But the Apostles Creed challenges us to reverse the order:  to think of ourselves first and foremost as part of the holy catholic church, sent into the world to bring the good news of God's love and forgiveness, concern for the poor, and desire for justice -- with Summit being a particular expression of that church universal, but always in service to it.
This Sunday, we will celebrate Pentecost, also known as the "birthday" of the church.  We celebrate the giving of Christ's Holy Spirit to it, which enabled people divided by nation and language to understand each other and share the good news. We'll also be holding our Annual Congregational Meeting, when we'll be discussing the work and the joys of our particular congregation. It's fitting that we should celebrate both together:  remembering and confessing that through the Spirit we are one holy catholic church, bound together in Christ (appearances sometimes to the contrary!) while committing ourselves to "be church" as faithfully as we can in our particular time and place, here at Summit Presbyterian. 

Grace and Peace,


Sermon: Our Hearts and Our Treasure -- May 17, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 18, 9:33pm
Sermon: Our Hearts and Our Treasure -- May 17, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

May 17, 2008

Luke 12: 22-34


"Our Hearts and Our Treasure"


This is the third - and last, for now- sermon in a series on money.  On the first Sunday, our text was the first commandment:  the call to worship God alone, and it's warning against idolatry. I preached that we're called to be grateful for the material blessings of this world - both God's creation and the stuff we make from it - without crossing the line into idolatry, into trusting money (and what it can buy) to give our lives meaning and value.  That sermon was a bit on the abstract side.  Last Sunday, our scripture was life among the early believers in the book of Acts, where all who had land and possessions sold them and shared the proceeds, so none were  in need.  I preached that God is calling us to work towards such a world.  That was a macroeconomic sermon, looking at the big picture. This Sunday the rubber hits the road.  I'm going to talk about us and our money:  the money in our wallets and bank accounts and coming (we hope) in the next paycheck.  As disciples of Christ, what should we do with it? 


My first suggestion, of course, is "give it to Summit." We'll put it to good use! We have a youth program to run and a building to heat and a preacher to pay. (I know that last item gives me a little credibility problem when asking for money). But you know and I know the answer is not that simple.  We also have to save for retirement and car repairs, go to the dentist, buy school supplies, pay the mortgage. We have family members who need help, toys of various kinds for children and grown-ups, a trip to the beach, our morning coffee, the cell phone bill and other good causes asking for support.  How do we manage, and choose, among all these different demands and enticements?


I'm going to, first, describe how most of us do choose - not how we should.  Most of us, when we're being vigilant, our getting and spending tends to be what I'd call semi-conscious:  we look at price tags, record deposits and count change without understanding how all those transactions add up or fit together.  Other times, we spend as though we're sleepwalking, waking up to wonder where in the world did it all go. I know there are exceptions and I admire you.  But I think most of us don't  have an accurate, reality-based understanding of how much we spend each month or year on food and clothing, movies and phones, gas and pet care.  Few of us could say with precision how much we're worth financially. We may know the parameters:  our gross annual salary, monthly rent, child support, the money in a savings account.  But we don't necessarily stay within them or know the details.  I say this with confidence, first, from personal experience:  on months when I've carefully tracked my earning and spending I've always been shocked! (Who knew I could have bought a Manhattan co-op with all the money I spent on orders of General Tso's Chicken?) But I look at friends and acquaintances and see I'm not unique.  I read the statistics on credit card debt and bankruptcies and know I'm one among millions. 


In the New York Times Magazine today there's an article called, "My Personal Credit Crisis."  (It's been on the internet since Wednesday. I didn't write my sermon this morning). It's written by a financial reporter for the Times, and in it he recounts his personal journey to financial ruin by way of sub-prime mortgages and credit card debt. By his own admission, he's the last one that should have gotten caught up in the madness:  As a Times reporter, he covered financial crises around the world.  He wrote stories on the rise in what he calls the go-go mortgages.  But, as he put it, the money was there and he was in love.  Newly divorced and remarried, he and his wife bought a half-million dollar house with a loan that would never have been approved under the old rules, as over half his income went to alimony and child support and his wife was unemployed.  He chronicles how they were soon broke, then amassed huge credit card debts, then headed for foreclosure.  Stunned, even this financial expert had trouble explaining how the train wreck happened.  But a wreck it was, and reading his story one can sense how excitement and anxiety about a new marriage -- and a wish to continue living an upper-middle class suburban life - led to it. His story is unusual for the depth and speed into which they got into trouble.  His story is unusual in that he wasn't duped by lenders -- he knew exactly what a "liar's mortgage" was.  His story is unusual in that the sales from his new book might help them recover.  But his story was typical when it came to decision-making around money. He wasn't guided by reason or an informed weighing of the options.  He wasn't guided by his stated values.  His spending wasn't calculated, tracked or even understood.  It was driven by deep and primal feelings:  Anxiety.  Being in love.  Anxiety. 


We all know something about that, especially the anxiety.  Around money, it may be the anxiety about retirement or getting ill that makes us feel we can never save enough.  Anxiety combined with love that wants the "best" for our children, even when we can't afford it. Anxiety about losing a job or health insurance - a reality-based worry for all of us.  Anxiety about any number of things that lead us to go shopping as a way to self-soothe.  The anxiety that leads us to put off paying our bills or opening our bank statements. Our anxiety doesn't necessarily get us into debt.  It can also lead to a supersized retirement fund or denial of our wealth. But when we're anxious, it's hard to look at the truth of how we live and what we spend.  It's hard to discern what God is calling us to do with our money because we're too frightened to listen. 


Jesus knew nothing of sub-prime mortgages, credit cards, the thousands of temptations to spend that we face each day, or the complex financial instruments of our mature capitalist economy.  But he understood anxiety, including the anxiety that fuels greed.  So he tells the crowd a parable.  A rich man had land that produced abundantly. It produced so abundantly he ran out of storage space.  So he built bigger barns in order keep all the grain for himself.  Then he planned to relax - to eat, drink and be merry.  That may not seem like such an evil or foolish plan, but Jesus says that night his life was demanded of him.  The grain was no longer his.  And because he had been so busy storing up treasure for himself he hadn't been rich towards God. Jesus doesn't say exactly what he meant by that but we can guess:  the man didn't share with neighbors.  He didn't give his workers a raise.  He didn't contribute to earthquake relief or give to the synagoguge.  So therefore, Jesus, says, do not worry about your life, about what you will eat or what you will wear.  Consider the ravens and the lilies who neither toil nor spin, but even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. God takes care of them; will God not also take care of you? 


But what does it mean to consider the lilies, to trust in God's providence?  I don't think it means that that we kick back and let God take care of everything, waiting for money to fall from the sky.  We can consider what we'll eat and wear.  We have to work and plan for how we'll take care of our children, our parents, ourselves.  But it does mean letting go of the worry that makes us want to hedge against every possible disaster, storing up all we can for ourselves.  It  mean trusting that if the economy goes even further south, God will be with us and we'll find a way somehow. It also doesn't mean:  stop worrying, put it on the mastercard, it will all work out. God will intercede with the collection agencies.  It does mean letting go of the fear that if we take an honest look at our finances we won't be able to bear the shame of past mistakes or present debt.  It means letting go of the belief - and the anxiety that comes with it - that our worth can be measured by our salaries, our portfolios, our houses, our possessions.  It means trusting in God's love and care for us no matter what we've done, no matter what's happened to us, now matter how much wealth we have or don't have. 


When we trust God, when we let go of our anxiety and take an honest, clear-headed look at our financial lives, we open up room. Room for healing and change or maybe even starting over. Room to share more with others. Room to live more simply,  so we can sustain human life on this earth and care for creation.  Room to direct our money, our hearts, our actions, and our prayers all to the same place:  to the worship and glory of God.  To the building of a just and peaceful world, where we can worry less because there's more security and care in our common life.  We're called to be rich towards God in all ways:  in our words and our actions, with our hearts and our minds, our whole lives  -- and also, yes, with our money. May God give us the peace, and the courage, to do so. 

Sermon: Making the World Go Round -- May 2, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 6, 10:05pm
Sermon: Making the World Go Round -- May 2, 2009, Cheryl PyrchCheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
May 2, 2009
Exodus 20:1-6; Isaiah 55: 1-3
Making the World Go Round
 Today begins a three-week sermon series on money and faith.  I thought of preaching this series for a few reasons.  The Bible talks a lot about money, or - if not money per se - wealth and poverty.  The prophets prophesize about it, almost every parable  Jesus tells has something to do with it, it's an underlying theme in Old Testament stories, and the apostles lecture us about it in their letters. God must think it's important.  I also know that money is on our minds.  Some of us think about it more obsessively than others, but in a culture where we see or hear about 3500 advertisements a day,*  it's hard not to think about it - or about the things it can buy.  And, of course, nearly everyone's worried about it in this economic crisis.  (Finally, I had preached on money before and hoped one of my old sermons would be good enough to use again.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case!) It's hard to talk about money. First of all, it's a vast and slippery subject.  Money is concrete:  we can count it and hold it in our hands - but when you try and figure out what those bills and coins stand for, it gets complicated.  When we talk about money, are we really talking about the stuff it can buy, the power it can wield, or the consumer society it greases and runs?  It's also hard to talk about money because it's such a sensitive subject. Few of us are at peace with it:  we may be anxious about having enough.  We may be ashamed of having less than most people we know, or more.  We may have credit card debts or medical bills we're  scared to even think about.  We may long for it so we can have more security, or vacations, or stuff in our house or things for our children.  We may be angry or resentful of folks who have more. We may feel guilty when we think of people who have less, especially people in dire poverty.  And most of us just don't seem to understand where it goes!  We're confused. It's no wonder we talk so little about it, in church or outside of it, even though it's so important in our lives. So I thought I'd start by chiseling away at a very broad and basic question:  what relationship is God calling us to have with money, with our stuff, with wealth? Around the time Jesus was born there was a movement, or school of thought, we call gnostiicism - some early Christians were influenced by them.  Gnostics believed that all matter was evil:  our bodies, the world of nature, stuff.  They looked around and saw that all living things died.  They saw that people did terrible things to each other, that the world was full of pain.  This messy, painful, evil world, they believed, must not be God's intention  -- and they had an elaborate cosmology, or mythology which explained how an evil, lesser god had taken over from the true God and created the world as we knew it.  Money, and the stuff it could buy, couldn't be "good" or desireable  -- the goal of the gnostic was to transcend this physical world through a special, secret knowledge, and to enter the purely spiritual realm. (I'm giving you the Reader's Digest version of gnosticism). This mistrust of the physical world is not something exclusive to gnostics:  even today, many believe that the physical world, especially money and sex, is dirty, and that being spiritual means separating yourself from it as much as possible.  When we look around at the evil and pain in the world, we can understand why such a viewpoint is attractive. But that's not what the church has taught.  The church has always taught that God created the world, and called it Good -- we heard that scripture last week. Jesus came to us in flesh and blood, showing that we can't separate the material from the spiritual world, with one being evil and the other being good.  Jesus enjoyed this world:  he ate and drank with his friends, he attended wedding receptions where he turned water to wine.  He even chose bread and wine  as a way to be present with us today, as special vehicles of God's grace.  We don't need to separate ourselves from the material world, including money, and the stuff it can buy:  there's nothing fundamentally evil about it.  Indeed, we can be - and should be -  grateful for the material blessings that we enjoy.  Material blessings of food, clothing, shelter. The material blessing of enough money and the stuff it can buy so that we don't need to be preoccupied with mere survival, with our next meal.  Material blessings that give us time and space to create art, to have parties, to enjoy baseball games, to take walks in the woods.  Material blessings that we should wish for all people.  We're called to be grateful, not to despise money and the things it can buy. We're called to be grateful for material blessings -  but not to worship them.  Here's where our scripture comes in, and here's where it gets especially tricky for us. It's easy for us not to worship money in the sense of creating a money tree that we would bow down before and sing hymns to.  But if we define worship more broadly and more accurately:  as placing ultimate trust in the one we worship, we're in trouble when it comes to money.  It may say "in God we trust" on a dollar bill, but that's an example of protesting too much. Recently Citibank had a "live richly" campaign.  You may remember those billboards - they were at every bus stop in New York - that advertised everything money couldn't buy, and the dangers of thinking otherwise:  People with fat wallets are not necessarily more jolly.  Holding shares shouldn't be your only form of affection.  He who dies with the most toys is still dead.  Funny how nobody every calls it warm, soft, cash. Be independently happy. People make money, not the other way around.  Don't wait until someone says, "Your money or your life," to remember that they are two different things. Those were the billboards:  but, of course, citibank was selling money. It was trying to get us to buy their financial services:  credit cards, savings accounts, loans of various kinds. The real message was something like this:  if you give your money to us, you will be jolly, and happy, and have someone with whom to share you affection.  If you give your money to us -  you'll be showing that you know your money and your life are two different things.  You'll be the kind of person that doesn't try to buy happiness.  Trust us.  Open a checking account. This is the scary part:  they got away with it.  It was considered a successful campaign, and even won various awards.  They got away with it because even when we know better, even when we say the opposite, it's so easy for us to believe that money can make us whole and happy.  That what we wear or have in our house, what we do with our disposable income really does express or define who we are.  That financial success or failure is a reflection of our character. That if we're able to purchase a certain house, or buy a certain car, or go to certain places we'll be the person all those advertisements say we will be. It's so easy for us to believe that we can find meaning in shopping.  After all, that's what we're told - or tell ourselves - 3500 times a day. So that is our challenge:  to accept with gratitude money and what it can buy, and to use it for good without trusting in it.  It's a lifelong challenge that we need to face together, for the temptation to idolize it is so powerful in our world where money is so powerful.  For when we trust in money and what it can buy, it brings trouble.  We begin to crave it, which blinds us to the needs of others and to the destruction of creation. We let it dictate how we feel about ourselves, so that the loss of a job or money in an account does demoralize us.  We become so invested in it it becomes the sensitive subject that brings ups such intense feelings we can barely talk about it.  It brings trouble, because it is a false God. The words of scripture are God's response to our idol worship. The first commandment frames it more as a warning combined with a promise:  worship only me - I'm a jealous God - but I will also show you steadfast love, to the thousandth generation.  And the words of Isaiah are a compassionate invitation.  After all, God knows how hard it is to resist such idol worship, especially in this day and age.  Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.  You that have no money, come, buy an eat.  I am the one who will give you rich food. And so we come to the table of Christ.  To be reminded that it is God who satisfies our hunger, it is the Word of God that satisfies our thirst. (Rodney Clapp, "Why the Devil Takes Visa," Christianity Today 40, Oct 7, 1996: 20)

Deacon's Corner -- May 2009 by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 27, 10:18pm
Deacon's Corner -- May 2009Every month, the Deacon’s Benevolence Committee meets and decides where to award the monies. We give you a report each year, but that just tells you organizational names and dollar

amounts. This month, we thought we’d give you an idea, from the thank you letters we receive, what our recent dollars have accomplished.

“Thanks to your generosity, the Presbyterian Disaster Relief fund was able to bring hope to people who were in need of food, shelter and safety in 20 countries and 40 presbyteries that experienced earthquakes, flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and warfare.”

The Good Shepherd Mediation Program tells us that “your generosity helps strengthen our Victim-Offender conferencing and our Juvenile Offender Diversion Program.”

The HMS school for Children with Cerebral Palsy used our gift to assist in providing equipment and services not available through tuition reimbursement.

The C.W. Henry school principal says “we are greatly moved by your generosity considering the times. The gift will be used for a variety of things that directly affect our students including help covering the cost of class trips for those who can’t afford them, graduation costs, and additional practice books our students need.”

Our gift to the Whosoever Gospel Mission helped it reopen the dormitory and restart the New Life Rehabilitation and job Readiness Program for homeless men.

Our donation to the Friends of the Free Library “will help to engage citizens and draft solutions to save the entire library system that.”

Summit’s gift will help the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia “provide pre-and after-school child care programs and a variety of activities in the arts, recreation and sports.”

These are just some of the good works done with Summit dollars for the greater glory of God. Know that one tenth of the Summit pledge budget is tithed to Benevolences and the Deacons take seriously the responsibility of managing it-- through the work of our Committee chair Michelle Emery.  If you want to help in the decision making—please join us at 7pm the third Thursday of each month.

Pastor's Pen May 2009 -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 27, 10:00pm
Pastor's Pen May 2009 -- Cheryl Pyrch As I sit at my desk on a beautiful April Day, I’m looking at the May preaching schedule with both excitement and trepidation.  Rather than following the lectionary, for the first three weeks I’ve promised a series on the subject of money – or, more broadly – money and possessions, poverty and wealth, giving and spending.  My excitement comes from my conviction that exploring our relationship to money and the biblical witness on it is a path of spiritual growth and challenge – as well as comfort and joy.   My trepidation comes from knowing that money is a source of anxiety, shame and confusion for all of us, especially in these tough times.  So I wonder:  will anyone come to church in May, especially when the beautiful weather beckons?  Or will we (I) set a record low for attendance.

I’m hoping an outline of my thinking will reassure you and perhaps encourage you to invite friends.  Please know that my fascination with this subject stems from the fact it’s an “area of growth” (to put it euphemistically) in my own life, so I have no intention of haranguing anyone.  I also believe that Christian teaching on money –  as diverse and contradictory as it can be – is good news that can bring us closer to God.

May 3:  “Making the World Go Round.” Exodus:  20: 1-6; Isaiah 55: 1-3.  In our culture, money is a powerful force.  We’re both tempted and pressured to define ourselves and find meaning in life through what we earn and own. What relationship are we called to have with everything money can buy?

May 10:  “Neither Poverty nor Riches.” Proverbs 30: 7-9; Acts 2: 43-47.  The biblical writers celebrated the blessings of wealth, but also saw danger and suffering in having too much or too little. In a world that’s still divided between the haves and have-nots, what vision does God have for us?

May 17:  “Our Hearts and our Treasure.” Mark 10: 17-22; Luke 12: 22-34.  Every dollar we receive has claims upon it – to spend, to give, to save. How can we follow Christ in the way we handle money?

After worship, I’ll invite all who are interested to pick up coffee and snacks and join me in the parlor for a conversation about the sermon. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and questions as we explore this topic together. 

Grace and Peace,


P.S. I haven’t forgotten that May 10 is Mother’s Day – this month we’ll be celebrating and speaking of subjects other than money as well!

Sermon: Everything of Every Kind -- April 26, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 26, 9:49pm
Sermon: Everything of Every Kind -- April 26, 2009, Cheryl PyrchCheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
April 26, 2009
Earth Day Sunday
Psalm 148; Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Everything of Every Kind
 When I taught fourth grade, we often studied animals.  As part of that study we'd ask what certain animals had in common with each other.  Some animals had feathers:  we call them birds.  Some animals, produce milk:  we call them mammals.  Some animals have gills:  we call them fish, and so on.  We'd then broaden it to ask what all animals had in common -- what made an animal an animal? All animals breathe in their way, all animals eat plants or other animals; animals move.  We'd then ask what did animals have in common with other living things - what made them living things?  They needed oxygen, they depended on the sun.  We could go further:  what did living and non-living things - water, rocks, coal -  have in common? Atoms and molecules: ultimately all are made of the same "stuff." But it never occurred to me - and not just because we can't preach religion in public schools - it never occurred to me that what we all had in common - all things now living and not  - was a call to worship God. 

That's what the psalm claims and does:  it calls not only human beings, kings and peoples, men and women, young and old, but heavenly beings; not only the earth, but the sun and the moon and the stars; not only sea monsters, wild animals and cattle, creeping things and flying birds, but mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  It calls to worship not only every thing of every kind but also weather phenomena:  fire and hail, snow and frost and stormy wind.  And it's not only in this pslam we hear this universal call:  in others oceans are called to roar, the floods to clap their hands, the fields to exult and the hills to sing together for joy.  (96:11-12).  All creatures of our God and King, with us lift up your voice and sing. 

But how, we may ask - being a rational, inquiring people - do creatures - especially non-living ones - lift up their voice and sing?  We're the only creatures who can open a hymnal, we're the only ones who can pray, read the Bible, preach and bring our offerings to God.  Even if we take a broad view of worship to include service to God and love of neighbor, that's a human prerogative:  as far as we know, no other creatures are conscious of their creator or know what it means to be a neighbor.  (Not that all humans do!). 

Thomas Merton says that a tree gives glory to God by being a tree.  For in being what God means it to be it's obeying God,  . . "consenting" to God's creative love.  It's expressing an idea in God so a tree imitates God by being a tree. My words now: a tree praises God, a tree worships God, by being a tree.  The poet Christopher Smart,  in the 18th century, wrote this about his cat:  (there are some odd words in the poem but I think you'll get the gist).

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry. 
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life. 

A cat worships God by being a cat and brisking about the life.
We're called to care for creation not only as a matter of survival.  Not only as a matter of justice.  Not only for our grandchildren and not only in gratitude for the beauty, food and other blessings of God. We're called to care for creation - if I may put it in secular terms - under the First Amendment.  For the sake of freedom of worship:  so trees can be trees and cats can be cats and fish can be fish and rocks can be rocks and mountains can be mountains.  And all can give glory to God. 

Now you may be thinking:  that can't simply mean live and let live.  After all, isn't part of being a mouse being prey for a cat?  Isn't part of being a plant being food for other creatures?  Isn't part of being a tree being cut down so people can build houses or keep warm by the fire?  And the answer is yes:  death and change and even violence - creatures forcibly serving other creatures - is part of God's creation.  But there's a difference between creatures serving and even dying for one another as part of God's created order and the way we size up each and every kind of God's creatures to see how we may use them:  not only for our survival,  but to give us pleasure or make us money.  There's a difference between being a o-creator with God and working within creation to support and better human life -- and exploiting and destroying that creation.  It's not an easy line to draw.  But I have another poem!  (You know I don't often read poems or quote extensively from other people in my sermons.  But on Earth Day Sunday I thought I'd model "reusing.")

 This is a song.  It was written by an Australian named Leon Rosselson although I heard it through a recording by the singer Charlie King, who Americanized the lyrics (and I've adapted too). I will admit there's an undertone of vengeance in  the song, but we're not to take it literally. And some Earth Day Trivia:  Australians call Fish Sticks Fish Fingers.  And a confession:  I enjoy fish sticks.'

Whoever Invented the  [Fish Stick] (Leon Rosselson)  Whoever invented the [fish stick]  ought to be transmogrified.  Skinned mashed and boxed, into uniform blocks,  then covered all over, from collar to socks,  and frozen and finally fried. Because who'd do that to a fish, finning its way through the seas, Colours in harmony, perfectly poised, riding its flying trapeze. Whoever invented the National Enquirer,  ought to be cut down to size.  Pulped and reduced to a nauseous juice,  and dried out and flattened 'til ready for use,  Then covered in newsprint and lies. Because who'd do that to a tree raising its head to the sky Rooted in centuries, telling tall tales, breathing a green lullaby. Whoever invented the [soldier or terrorist],  ought to be licked into shape.  Toughened and trained, 'til the body's a cane  'til the arms are a chain, 'til the nerves feel no pain,  'til obedience rules and encircles the brain,  With walls so he'll never escape.

 Because who'd do that to a child, jumping with joy and desire. Floating in fantasies, drowning in dreams, Brimming with feelings of fire. It's one thing to catch a few fish and cook them for breakfast with your disciples on the beach. It's one thing to fish wisely and judiciously to fry fish for the many:  it's another thing to empty the oceans of cod to make fish sticks. It's one thing to cut down a tree to make worship bulletins (although we may want to consider how many trees we've been cutting down); it's another thing to cut down a tree to write a torture memo. It's one thing to take the bones of our ancestors and the ancestors of all living creatures  - that's what oil and coal are  - to bring light and warmth and food and books to all - and quite another to lop off the tops of mountains - in mountaintop removal mining that they do in Appalachia - to fuel every desire of the wealthy and relatively wealthy, so we threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. And it's one thing to take a young person, and train and toughen and discipline them and order their lives so they may learn to read and do math and create beauty, build houses and lift boxes:  it's another to train and toughen them so they can kill and be killed. So this is our task:  to celebrate and care for God's creation so trees may be trees, fish may be fish, mountains may be mountains, cats may be cats oceans may be oceans:  and people may be the people God has intended us to be.  So that all creatures - everything of every kind - can lift up their voices and sing:  Alleluia. 

*From New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1961); cited in Gabe Huck, Gail Ramshaw, et al., An Easter Sourcebook:  The Fifty Days (Chicago:  Liturgy Training Publications, 1988).

Sermon: The Coming Kingdom -- April 5, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 8, 7:09pm
Sermon: The Coming Kingdom -- April 5, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 5, 2009  - Palm Sunday

Mark 11: 1-11

The Coming Kingdom

 What was the crowd thinking?  The many people who threw their cloaks on the road, and the others who spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields.  They went ahead and behind Jesus as he rode on a colt, shouting "Hosanna," which means, "save us," or "help us!"  They also shouted, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David, Hosanna in the highest heaven."  These words they shouted were scripture, a few words from a psalm that we echoed in our call to worship this morning.  Who did they think Jesus was?  What did they expect him to do?  What was their hope?


 I can tell you the answer I learned in Sunday School and other various and sundry places.  The crowds hoped that Jesus was the Messiah who would liberate them from Roman rule.  That he would lead a military revolt, get rid of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, and restore the House of David over the kingdom of Israel. The crowds were disappointed, this theory goes, when Jesus failed to do this.  They were ready to turn on him when he was brought before Pilate, shouting "crucify him!"  The crowds didn't get it, this theory goes:  Jesus was not that kind of messiah.  They didn't understand what it meant when Jesus rode in on a young, unbroken, colt.  This was not the triumphant entrance of a military leader, but the humble entrance of a different kind of king. A king who would save through his death on a cross, through his teaching and healing, through his hospitality to sinners and outcasts.  They couldn't see the new thing that God was doing.





 This explanation has been popular for many reasons.  It's true that Jesus didn't fit many people's idea of a Messiah:  although there were so many schools of thought and competing groups among Jews of that time we really can't say there was a common understanding of the Messiah. It's also true that some  people were fighting the Romans; perhaps some in the crowd and were disappointed when Jesus didn't join them.  And it's true that Jesus was a different kind of king.  But it's also true this theory about the crowd -  who became identified with non-believers  -makes followers of Jesus look good.  They could see that Jesus came as the prince of peace, loving and non-violent, whereas "the crowd" placed their faith in futile, armed resistance.  There are variations on this theme. I'm not going to go into the harm it has often done.  But one problem with this theory is it doesn't fit the story as Mark tells it.



  In Mark's gospel, the crowd who greeted Jesus was not looking for a military hero.  They would only have heard this about him:  that he was a teacher.  A teacher who told parables, who interpreted scriptures, and who got into heated arguments with other teachers, such as scribes and pharisees. They would have also heard that he healed sick people, exorcised demons, and fed thousands from a few loaves of bread.  They would have heard that he had stilled a storm and proclaimed the kingdom of God was at hand. They would have heard nothing about his organizing the masses - because he didn't.  They would have heard nothing about his military exploits - because he didn't have any. They greeted a teacher and a healer.  It's to this person they shouted "save us!" It's to this person they shouted: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."  It was a teacher of the scriptures who inspired them to cry, "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!"  A kingdom, we can suppose, where Rome no longer ruled.  A kingdom where the poor did not serve the rich, where children did not die from hunger, where people were not crucified.  A kingdom where the sick were healed, the grieving were comforted, where wisdom was honored.  What faith, what hope, those crowds must have had in the proper teaching of the word of God - and in the one who taught it! And when Jesus taught in the temple, said Mark, the crowds were spellbound.  They delighted in his teaching.  They delighted in his teaching and must have hoped that the kingdom was coming soon.



 But then Jesus was killed at the hands of the Romans.  Crucified, as were many other Jews and non-Romans, often for political offenses.  According to Mark and the other gospel writers, the religious leaders also played a part, although we have to take this with a grain of salt, as they're not objective historical accounts.  At his death, those who greeted him as he entered Jerusalem were doubtless disappointed, grieved and angry.  Their hopes in the teacher were dashed.  Most among the crowd doubtless moved on, accepting his death and remaining faithful to the God of Israel through Torah and synagogue.  But there were others who experienced the Risen Christ.  Appearances said it was all over, but they encountered the living Christ so they proclaimed otherwise!  They continued to look to this teacher from Galilee, now the Risen Christ, for help and for salvation.  They looked to the Risen Christ, through the holy spirit, to interpret the word of God in Scripture. They looked to the Risen Christ to bring about God's reign:  partially, now, when justice is done and mercy practiced; and ultimately, in the future, when Christ will come again.  They continued to insist, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord."





 We are the heirs of those followers, and it is to the Risen Christ that we look.  But we must first travel the road that they did.  Today, we greet Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.  But in the days ahead we will follow him through his suffering, through his trial, through his last supper with the disciples and through the betrayal of his friends.  We will have to face his death, to see that to all appearances, the hopes that he raised when he entered Jerusalem were dashed.  And it is then that we will be prepared to hear of the miracle of the resurrection, and to go greet Jesus again, as the crowds did so long ago.


Sermon: Drawn to God -- March 29, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 30, 6:33pm
Sermon: Drawn to God -- March 29, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Summit Presbyterian Church

March 29, 2009

Jeremiah 31: 31-34; John 12: 20-33


Drawn to God


 Our reading today begins just after Jesus entered Jerusalem.  It was the festival of the passover and a great crowd was there.  In those days, before the city was destroyed, people came to Jerusalem to worship in the temple on the high holy days. And when the crowd heard that Jesus was coming, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord - the King of Israel."  Jesus got this welcome, John tells us, because the people heard that he had raised a person from the dead.  Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days when Jesus called him out.  The crowd that had seen that sign continued to testify.  And the Pharisees had to admit to one another, "Look, the world has gone after him!"


 Among those from the world who went after him were some Greeks. John didn't mean Greek Jews, but rather Greek gentiles, outsiders -  although they may have been seekers who went to synagogue, studied Torah and worshipped at the temple.  These Greeks wanted to see Jesus.  So  they went to the disciple with a Greek name - Philip - who then went to Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip went to Jesus and told him.


 Jesus might have responded in an ordinary way that everyone could understand.  He might have said:  tell them to meet me at the southwest corner of the temple at 4:30.  He might have said, tell them to come to my Bible study tomorrow morning. He might have said, tell them I'm sorry, but I don't have time to see them.  My mission is to the people of Israel.  He might have said, sure. Philip, bring me to them. 


 But he didn't respond in an ordinary way that everyone could understand. (He does that often in the gospel of John). Instead, he started talking about death.  His death and the death of others.  First he says the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified -- which might have sounded like great news, until he started talking about that grain of wheat needing to fall into the earth and die.  He then said some will lose their life --  all those who love it.  Others, he says, will gain eternal life -- but only after losing their life by hating it.  Jesus confesses that his soul is troubled as he approaches the hour;  but that when his hour comes, when he is lifted from the earth, he will draw all people to himself.  Just in case we didn't get it, Johns spells it out:  He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 



 The Greeks said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" -- and Jesus said "When I die, I will draw all people to myself."  Jesus did die.  In the weeks ahead we'll remember his death.  We'll remember his last meal with the disciples, his arrest, his trial before the religious authorities and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  We'll remember how the imperial soldiers beat him.  We'll remember how he was raised on a cross and buried in a tomb.  On Easter we'll celebrate his rising from the dead.  For the 50 days of Easter tide, we'll tell stories of the early church, stories of how the death and resurrection of Jesus drew people to him, drew people to God.  On Pentecost we'll celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, when people from all the world could hear the good news in their own language.  Indeed:  when Jesus died and rose from the grave he drew people to himself, and still draws people to himself.  Lost people, suffering people, confused people.  People like us.  The single grain that fell to the earth has born much fruit.


 But we may have a question about something Jesus said.  He said he would draw "all" people to himself.  But has he?  First, there are the millions - billions - who do not, or have not believed in Jesus if they've even heard about him.  Hindus in India, Muslims in Indonesia, American atheists, Chinese communists, most Europeans who no longer claim to be even nominally Christian. They may be loving, kind, justice-loving people dedicated to serving others  - people who seem to have the law of God written on their hearts - but they are not drawn to Jesus Christ.  Or we may wonder about folks who profess Christ but do not seem to serve him:  did Jesus draw them to God?  To pick an example from the past:  what about all those Crusaders?  The mobs and the church leaders who led them, indiscriminately killing Jews, Muslims, and each other?  Christians have brought us other crimes against humanity:  the genocide of American Indians, for example.  We may also wonder about ourselves:  drawn to God sometimes, but repelled at others -- or so it feels.  We may wonder about ourselves when we think of the way we love our lives - not [necessarily] in thankful praise, but in a grasping, each-man-for-himself kind of way.  We may wonder - and worry- about people we love who seem to be on the wrong track.  When Jesus was raised up, did he bring ALL people to himself?


 On the face of it, the answer would seem to be no.  The answer would seem to be that Jesus has drawn only some:  professing Christians only, and not necessarily all of them.  But we have to confess that we are seeing a very small part of the picture.  We don't really know all that God is doing - or will be doing -  in our hearts and in the hearts of others. We also don't know what wonders God will work with us after we die.  We don't know what kind of powerful work God may be doing on the other side, to draw all people to God's self.  God's not finished with us.  God was not finished with Jesus when he died and  God will not be finished with us even when we die. God is not finished with us as individuals, as unique, beloved children. God is not finished with the nations. God is not even finished with creation.  So, we can hope, we can trust, that in the space of eternity, God will draw all people to God's self; and as Christians we may profess that all drawn through Jesus Christ as a member of the triune God. (But I need to add --  if we say that Buddhists, for example, may be surprised when they see God through the face of Christ, we have do admit that we could be in for some surprises, too.  If we think we're going to go to heaven and find everyone standing around the altar singing our favorite Presbyterian hymns, we may be disappointed!).


 When the Greeks asked, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus," and Jesus responded by talking about death, he spoke the truth.  To see Jesus, to come to  full faith in Christ, we have to look at death.  We have to look at Jesus dying on the cross. We have to look at Jesus dying on the cross so we can celebrate his resurrection from that death and the hope that gives us. We have to face our own deaths.  We have to face the "little deaths" that we know even as we are alive on this earth.  The little deaths of those allegiances, or distractions, that get in the way of our seeing Christ. Our allegiance to money or possessions, for example, or a desire for power or comfort or whatever it is that keeps us from seeing Jesus.  (I think that's what Jesus meant by losing, or even hating, our own lives).  And we will each have to face our own deaths, because it is only through death that we will see Christ, and see God, in all God's fullness.  That is the promise of God in Jesus Christ:  that it is through death we see life.  As we near Holy week, let's be unafraid to look on the death of Jesus, and our own deaths, because that is the way we will see Jesus.

Pastor's Pen April 2009 -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 28, 9:39pm
Pastor's Pen April 2009 -- Cheryl PyrchIn April we observe the most liturgically solemn week of the year when we remember the suffering and death of Christ.  On Palm/Passion Sunday we follow Jesus as he enters Jerusalem and rides towards his death.  On Thursday night we remember his last supper with the disciples, as we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion and read the account of his trial and crucifixion in the darkening sanctuary.  On Friday we stand at the foot of the cross, listening to Jesus’ last words as the different gospel writers remember them, and reflecting on their meaning for us.

On Saturday, most of us will take a break from church and decorate eggs, sneak some chocolate a day early, or cook for Easter dinner. But around the world, many Christians will be at church holding vigil that night:  waiting for Christ to pass from death to life, keeping watch as he lay in the tomb, staying awake during his “short sleep,” in the words of St. Augustine. The Easter Vigil is a service of light -  new Christians are baptized and others renew their baptismal vows. Salvation history is recounted in readings from the Old and New Testament.  It is both a solemn and joyful service, as Christians ponder the mystery of the resurrection.

For historical reasons, few Presbyterian Churches hold an Easter Vigil -  it’s a recent “renewal” of an ancient practice. But I encourage you, in the midst of preparations, to take time on Saturday evening for quiet prayer and reflection in the spirit of a vigil, perhaps reading an account of the passion and the resurrection from your favorite gospel, preparing for our celebration the next  morning.  And you may also enjoy, and find helpful, this song from the Shaker tradition.  It was not written for the Vigil (I’m quite certain they didn’t observe it!),  but may it serve to awaken our souls, so we are ready to welcome Christ on that “great and glorious day.” 

 Wake up, wake up, ye sleepy souls,

And be alive and don’t be dead,

There is no time to sleep I say,

Now in this great and glorious day.

Don’t be sleeping there so sound,

Get up yourselves and stir around.

For if you want to keep awake,

Arise and give a mighty shake.

Shaker Song

19th Century


Grace and Peace,


Deacons Corner -- April 2009 by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 28, 9:36pm
Deacons Corner -- April 2009Most of the Deacon’s activities this month have been oriented in giving Summit service opportunities. Margaret and Chelsea have committed our church to be co-hosts to the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (NPIHN) homeless families for the week of March 29- April5. This involves making and serving dinner for the families and providing an adult (or 2) to sleep over with them. This is really heeding Christ’s call to work for the poor! At press time, we have 2 people signed up to provide dinners for each night, but still need a couple of people for the overnight stay. You would have your own sleeping facilities, and would be responsible for locking up at night, and getting everyone up and out by 7am the next morning. We are really proud of the Summiteers who have volunteered and hope to get the couple more needed. Remember, in Christ words “Whatever ye do for the least of these—ye do for me.” This is truly a great opportunity to serve Christ!!!

Deacon Anne Glass is coordinating the Easter flowers effort with the help of Deacon Hector Badeau. Let them know if you can help in transporting flowers or in watering them. 

Sermon: Born from Above -- March 22, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch by Anonymous on Mar 22, 6:34pm
Sermon: Born from Above -- March 22, 2009, Cheryl Pyrch Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 22, 2009

John 3: 1-16


Born from Above


Welcoming a baby - into the world, into a family, into the church - is always moving.  First, there's the loveliness of every baby, just as they are:  their wide eyes, their smile and laughter, their sweetness when they're sleeping - and also when they're crying.  Welcoming an older child is equally emotional - with the energy, the questions and thoughtfulness that every child brings.  Welcoming children is also exciting because of our hope for their future.  Their lives are ahead of them.  The possibilities seem endless:  what will they become?  Who will they love?  What kind of work will they do and where will they live? What place will they have in our lives and in the world?  For example, maybe Antonio will grow up to be a barber who lives in Los Angeles with three wonderful children and he'll coach their soccer teams. Or maybe he'll become a professor of chemisty in Michigan, work on a cure for cancer, and become a gourmet cook!  Perhaps Angel will be a track star in high school and go to college in North Carolina, or maybe she'll stay closer to home, raise a family and become the first woman mayor of Philadelphia.  I'm just making this up.  Anything could happen!  We could spend days imagining the possibilities! [I know there are scary possibilities, too, but today it's OK to put those fears aside]  When we imagine their future it can give us such a strong feeling of hope --  for them and for us and for the world they will bless.  Especially when they're as blessed as Angel and Antonio:  with loving parents who love them, wonderful sisters, doting grandparents, lots of aunts and uncles and cousins to play with.  With a church home to learn the stories of Jesus and know God's love.  With the chance to go to school every day, to learn ballet on the weekend, to have enough to eat. Truly, their births and their baptisms are a cause for joy.


But perhaps, along with the joy and excitement, you may feel a twinge of sadness - for yourself - or even envy.  After all, we don't have our whole lives ahead of us.  As adults we know the possibilities are no longer endless, if they ever were.  There are things we'll never do and never be. Opportunities lost.  Loves gone.  Paths not taken. When we're in a happy time in our lives, it's pretty easy to make peace with our past, and with the limits to our future.  Even the sad times we've known, the mistakes and the losses, can be seen as working out for the best. We're glad not to have unlimited choice ahead of us and birthdays are happy occasions.  But if we're facing a tough time:  grieving the loss of a loved one or a relationship, looking for work, struggling with health issues; if we're feeling trapped and don't know how we'll get out of it; if we're in some kind of danger or burdened with guilt for something we did or didn't do, angry with those who have mistreated or betrayed us -- then it can be hard to make peace with our past. Hard to see the hope in our future.  Easy to look at people younger than us - not just babies - and to think that they're really lucky.  They still have lots of time.  All of us long, at some point or another, for do-overs.  A chance to start anew.


I wonder if Nicodemus felt that longing when he came to visit Jesus at night. When he came to Jesus in the darkness and said, "Rabbi, we know that your are a teacher from God; for no one one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Nicodemus doesn't say why he came --  perhaps he was hoping for wisdom or comfort or guidance. Jesus answered him by seeming to change the subject - he does that a lot in the gospel of John - and saying something totally opaque. Something hard to understand.  He says, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.  Now, here it gets a little complicated. The Greek words that have been translated "born from above" could just as easily be translated as "born again." And apparently that's how Nicodemus understood Jesus. So he said, "How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"  Nicodemus knew that was impossible.  You're only born once.  That's your chance.  A grown man or woman isn't able to start all over again in their mother's womb.  So Jesus says more about this kind of birth: it's a birth of water and spirit, he says, of flesh and spirit.  It's mysterious, like the wind that blows but we don't know where it comes from or where it goes.  Nicodemus, understandably, is still confused.  Still skeptical:  "How can these things be?"  He knows we're born once and that's it.  There's no do-over.


 Nicodemus didn't understand that Jesus is making a promise here.  A promise of something miraculous when we trust in him.  A promise that we can be born again, that we can begin anew.  Not in the literal way that Nicodemus imagines -- and I for one, am glad we don't need to go through the birth canal again.  Not in the literal way we may fantasize about:  to wake up one morning and find we have a new life, with debts magically erased or jobs restored or old loves back with us.  (The movie "Family Man," made a few years ago, was something like that).  But Jesus promises that we can be born again and saved - through his work on the cross and in the resurrection, just like- in our first lesson - the  people who looked at the serpent that Moses raised up on the cross were saved. 


What does  being "born again" look like?  For some Christians it means a dramatic, sudden moment of conversion, when they can point to their life before and after and say that nothing was the same.  That they were lost -  to drugs or alcohol, to sin or despair or all kinds of wrongdoing - and then they were found.  That they suddenly knew the love and forgiveness of Jesus and were able to turn their lives around, no longer imprisoned by shame or guilt or compulsion. Other Christians will talk about being born again as something gradual or occasional, more stop and go, one step forward and two steps back.  They may talk about growing up in the church and having that sense of being born anew in different times of their life:  when they felt a depression lift, or when they were able to let go of long-standing anxiety or guilt.  They may talk about being born again when they had a child, or reconciled with family or found purpose in a new job or commitment.  Or when they felt God's presence in prayer and nothing was the same even though their lives were outwardly the same.  There are as many ways of being born-again as there are believers in Jesus Christ:  but the thing we all share, the thing we all know, deep down, is that this new start doesn't come from our will-power or virtue or effort. It comes from above, in a mysterious, inexplicable way.  Like the wind, which comes from we don't know where and we don't know where it goes, but we're grateful.  Such is the nature of God's grace.


In baptism we celebrate this promise of Jesus that we can be born again, over and over.  That in our baptism we've been marked as Christ's own forever, and through his grace we can find new life and hope even in very dark times. We may no longer have the infinite possibilities ahead of us that babies seem to have. There are times we may feel stuck and wonder when we will be born anew.  But in celebrating Antonio's and Angel's baptisms we're reminded that God's grace does break through to us in the most unlikely times and ways, no matter what our age and condition. That we can trust in God's promise.  And for that we give thanks. 


Sermon: Consider Your Call -- Cheryl Pyrch -- March 15, 2009 by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 15, 1:50pm
Sermon: Consider Your Call -- Cheryl Pyrch -- March 15, 2009

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 15, 2009

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Consider Your Call


 Today's reading comes from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to a church in the Greek city of Corinth.  In those early days of the church, letters from Paul were read out loud in the congregation to teach and encourage, and Paul often addressed the challenges facing that particular church. So when scholars or preachers read these letters today, we do some detective work.  We try and figure out what was going on in that particular church by gathering clues from the letter.  Because, for example, Paul spends a lot of time talking about sexual immorality in this letter, we suspect - we don't know but we suspect - that they had some pretty wild parties in Corinth. We can also deduce that there was a lot of conflict in congregation. There were tensions at the communion table between those who came hungry and those who had plenty.  There was disagreement on what was lawful or unlawful to eat.  There were disputes over speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts.  It seems that questions of status, and power, and right knowledge were at the center of the congregation's life, causing division within it. 

 It is to this divided and fractious congregation that Paul writes. And he reminds them of a basic, shocking truth of the gospel:  that God didn't reveal God's self in a way that anyone expected.  God's good news didn't come through a powerful statesman, an accomplished religious scribe, an eloquent debater or a renown philosopher.  God was revealed through a lowly one of the world: a humble Jew of Galilee who didn't even speak Greek - the language of educated people - and who was killed on a cross as a failed and foolish pretender to power.  He was killed by that weapon of the Roman state meant to humiliate the prisoner and frighten the people.  God chose one who was weak and low and despised says Paul, in his dramatic way, to shame the powerful and wise and strong.  Paul seems to be playing a zero-sum game here, raising up the weak and lowly and those who are being saved at the expense of the powerful and wise and those who are perishing.  But he lands us all in the same place:  God has done this, he says, so no one may boast in the presence of God.  So that neither the strong nor the weak, the wise or the foolish, the Jew or the Greek, can claim the advantage - but that all the glory, and all the boasting, belong to God. 



 A pastor friend once told me a poignant story about a conversation she had with a member of her church near the end of his life, when he was ill. The man had been a deacon in the church, on and off, for over 40 years --- most of his adult life.  He was reflecting on that  when he began crying.  And he said, "I guess I just wasn't Session material." 

   We don't know for sure why he was never elected an elder.  But my friend had a guess.  The church was a large one in the suburbs, with many professionals and successful business people in the congregation. The man was a blue-collar worker, perhaps with a high school diploma. In that church, as in many churches, Elders on the Session were professionals or businesspeople.  They were among the more educated in the congregation.  It's a pattern followed by many churches - not so much at Summit in case you're getting nervous about where this is going - but it's common.  There are good reasons for this:  the Session is in charge of religious education, so it helps to have people with formal education on that board.  The Session is ultimately in charge of the finances, so it helps to have people with knowledge of the banking and financial system on it. Likewise, when there's a Board of Trustees commissioned to handle the property, it's good to have people who know something about boilers and negotiating leases.  When the deacons are commissioned with ministries of hospitality, they need people of a warm and compassionate nature who know how to cook.  But there's a danger in this typecasting. In our world, people with degrees or wealth, with knowledge of finance and real estate - especially if they have money and real estate -  have more power. They have more status and respect - and if they're white or male that power is magnified.  Therefore, if those are the only people on Session or Trustees, we're likely to give more status and respect to those boards, perhaps even power beyond their elected authority. On the other hand, the traditional work of the deacons - hospitality and cooking, caring for - not curing -  the sick, sympathetic listening, feeding the hungry -  is accorded less status in the world. Deacons and their work are often held in lower esteem. (It's worthy noting that much of the work of the deacons has historically been women's work.  And despite progress and exceptions, women have less status and power than men.  It's no accident that deacons were the offices open to women in the church). 

 Now, like I said, this is less true at Summit than it is at many churches.  I've been impressed, looking through the annual reports, at how much people rotate among the boards - that folks who are deacons now have been trustees and vice versa.  But in our status conscious, class driven society, we have to be vigilant:  and I include myself here, as pastors tend to be the worst offenders in this regard.  There's always a danger that in our church life we'll reflect the hierarchy and the power relations that exist in our world -- and the esteem and respect that go with them.  There's always a danger that we'll violate the law of love and honor some of God's people more than others.  The rich more than the poor, the highly educated more than the less educated, men more than women, whites more than blacks.  There's always a danger that we'll forget God revealed God's self through one who was weak and low and despised in the world -  a crucified Jew in the Roman Empire. There's always a danger we will give the message that so hurt the man who was never elected an elder - that some people are more valuable than others.  I should add that danger plays itself out on the other end as well.  People who are wealthy or powerful  - or perceived as such - may wonder if they're being welcomed, or elected to office, for their spiritual leadership and love of God --  or for their pledge. There's always a danger that we'll forget no one can boast in the presence of God.  To God belongs all the glory and the boasting.


 The Nominating Committee will soon begin its work.  This is the committee that will present a slate of possible elders, deacons and trustees to be elected by the congregation at the annual meeting in June.  They'll be asking everyone for suggestions - and it's perfectly appropriate to suggest yourself.  But when you consider your call - or  the call of someone else - consider the unexpected.  Consider someone you might not have thought to be deacon material or session material at first glance - and our witness will be stronger for it.  Not only will we be counter-cultural.  Not only will we witness to God's leveling love.  But we'll be opening another avenue for the Holy Spirit to speak to us -- and it's more practical. It's great to have teachers and principals on the Christian Education Committee.  But it's also helpful to have people who can say, "let me tell you what happens when non-professionals take the children to Sunday School."  It's necessary to have people who are comfortable with numbers on the finance committee,  but some of those charities who invested with Bernie Madoff might have avoided trouble if they had non-experts on their boards to keep asking: tell me again how you make that much money each year without doing anything?  It's important to have people informed and passionate about social justice on the deacons, but it's also helpful to have someone who likes to keep their eye on the church budget. Now, of course, it's possible to have formal education, budget-mindedness and compassion all in one person - but most of us are a little more lopsided.  We also want to enjoy the work - some people who like the hands on work of the deacons might consider a term on session as a jail sentence.  But as we consider our own call and the call of others, for elected office or for any kind of church service, let's move out of our comfort zone.  After all, most of the church's work and mission doesn't depend on any expertise.  It depends on willing hands, an open heart, careful thought and prayer. 

 And our work on a church board or committee is only one part of our call.  We are called, in all of our life, both inside and outside the church, to live in a way that gives glory to the God who chose what is weak and despised and of no account in this world.  We're called to honor all people, regardless of wordly condition.  We're called to stand with those who are poor, in jail, or otherwise looked down upon by the world.  We're called to witness to the Kingdom, where all the boasting, and all the glory, belongs to God.


The commentaries by J. Paul Sampley in the New Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002) and Richard Carlson at were used in the preparation of this sermon.

March 2009 - Pastor Cheryl Pyrch's Letter by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 13, 1:03am
March 2009 - Pastor Cheryl Pyrch's Letter

A few years ago in New York City, subway riders (or at least this subway rider) were mesmerized by a new ad campaign called "Everybody Loves a Quitter." The NYC Department of Health had plastered subway cars with bright posters of smiling parents and children, couples embracing and jovial friends. Underneath the slogan would be the testimony: someone saying how happy and proud they were that their mother/son/spouse/friend had quit smoking. The power of the campaign came, of course, from the reversal of that old saying, the one your mother or father may have intoned when you threatened to drop off a team or stop playing the piano: "Everybody Hates a Quitter."

In our time and place, even more than a quitter, everybody hates a loser. "Loser" is a epithet: a harsher insult than one with four letters, a worse date than a cad or a rogue. Perhaps that's because loss brings so much pain: loss of a friend or parent or spouse, loss of a home or job, loss of health or strength or sight, loss of status or self-esteem, loss of a way of life. We want to steer clear of losers. We're afraid they'll contaminate us - like the lepers of old - bringing us more loss with its grief, shame and sadness. And don't we have enough?

But over and over in the scriptures for Lent and Holy Week, we are reminded that God loves a loser. God's beloved son was a loser: a convicted criminal, poor, abandoned by his friends, then killed in a shameful, brutal and public way. We are tempted to gloss over this, turning the Ressurection into a kind of last-quarter interception that brings the trailing home team (Christians) to glory. Or, more recently, we've worried that a focus on the cross glorifies - even sanctions - suffering and oppression, and so we turn our eyes. But the scriptures are clear: Jesus was a loser by any human standard. He was intimately acquainted with grief.

I do not believe that God wills or wishes suffering. But unlike us fearful and sinful mortals, God loves a loser; God even became a loser in Christ Jesus to be in solidarity with us. As followers of Christ, we are also called to love losers (including ourselves), and to face with courage the loss such love will bring. Loss that comes when we give our hearts to others, share our treasure, and stand with those in danger or need. Loss and pain is not the end of the story - the Ressurection is a sure sign of that - but they are part of the Christian life, a life of love for all God's children and all God's creatures. "For those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:35)

Grace and Peace,


Sermon: Loving and Losing -- Cheryl Pyrch -- March 8, 2009 by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 9, 10:11pm
Sermon: Loving and Losing -- Cheryl Pyrch -- March 8, 2009

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 8, 2009

Mark 8: 31-38

Loving and Losing


 In 1954, an African American couple, Andrew and Charlotte Wade, were looking for a house to buy in Louisville, Kentucky.  They wanted a modest, ranch-style house with a yard for their two children.  They looked in the "Negro Section"; but decent houses were hard to find.  When they tried to buy in white areas, they were refused. The Wades then had an idea:  to ask a white couple to buy a house and transfer ownership.  After going to a few friends, who said no for various reasons, they asked Carl and Anne Braden.  The Bradens were only casual acquaintances, but they were active in organizations opposed to segregation so the Wades hoped they might say yes.  The Bradens did, and they bought a house chosen by the Wades in a small, new, all-white development right across the city line. The Bradens transferred ownership to Andrew and Charlotte and the Wade family moved in soon after. 



 Neither the Wades nor the Bradens did this as a kind of political protest.  The Wades wanted a house; they hoped, of course, that their action would make it easier for other black families to live where they chose, but their goal was to live in a stone style ranch house in the suburbs.  They expected trouble.  They knew they might never become friends with their new neighbors, and it was not their intention to force that. But they also thought trouble would die down and they could settle in.  The Bradens were more naive.  According to Anne Braden - whose book about the incident is my source - she and her husband Carl barely gave the decision a second thought:  they were against segregation, and when anyone asked them to do something to oppose it they said yes.  As Anne said in retrospect: "Louisville's race relations, such as they were, had always been quiet.  There had been no open clashes.  One man wanted a house.  We were helping him get it.  It seemed a small thing."*



 It turned out to be no small thing and plenty of trouble followed.  When the Wades moved in a white mob gathered at their house, and at the house of the Bradens.  Both couples received constant, hostile phone calls.  In that first week men burned a cross next to the Wade house, drive-by shooters fired into it;  someone broke their front window by throwing a stone with a threatening note. The police offered little protection; many were friends of the hostile white neighbors. Supporters of the Wades took turns staying in the house with them.  A committee was formed to support the Wades.  Most of their supporters were African American, with the exception of a few dedicated white activists. Liberal white Louisville - including many on record opposing segregation - distanced themselves from the Wades and the Bradens. They criticized the Bradens for being dishonest and exercising poor judgement, of upsetting things, of moving too fast.  Anne approached the white ministers in town for support; many claimed to be sympathetic but weren't willing to take a public stand. Six weeks later the house was bombed at 1:00 in the morning.  Miraculously, no one was hurt - the Wades were up late, on the other side of the house from where the dynamite had been planted underneath the bedrooms, and their child was with grandparents. But the Wades could no longer live in the wrecked house, although they and their allies kept up a defiant around the clock presence. The police investigated the bombing in a half-hearted way.  In the course of the grand jury investigation the prosecutor came up with a remarkable theory:  that the Bradens or their friends had bombed the house themselves, to stir up trouble, and that it was "communistic inspired." Shortly, the Bradens and several other white supporters were indicted on charges of sedition -- rebellion against the government. Carl Braden was tried first.  There was no real evidence of sedition, but he had books by Karl Marx and other disreputable folks on his bookshelf.  That was enough to give him a fifteen year sentence.



 To make a long story short, Carl Braden never served time.  Andrew Wade and the Bradens organized national support - both legal and financial -  for the appeal, and eventually charges against all the defendants were dropped. That was a relief, but when Anne Braden wrote her book in 1958 - and  the epilogue in 1999 - she could not claim total victory.  The Wades were never able to live in their house; Louisville remains a largely segregated city, for all the progress that's been made. Anne was grateful for the way the struggle propelled her and her husband into a life of even deeper activism, and had no regrets.  But she names the losses. The trauma was hard on both families, especially the children.  Anne had a miscarriage in the midst of it.  The Bradens were ostracized for decades by much of the white community, including friends and liberals.  Anne had already learned not to talk politics with her parents, but buying the house estranged them further.  Anne points out that all their trouble, she and Carl were still protected by white privilege.  The arrests were so shocking because they were used to having police on their side. The, on the other hand, Wades might have been killed; it was their house that was bombed.  Andrew Wade also ran an electrical contracting business with his father that was devastated by the publicity. Banks refused to lend to large customers and smaller customers were scared off. The courageous stand of the Wades and the Bradens did lead to change.  But it came at a cost.



 Jesus said to his disciples and to the whole crowd:  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." 



 This is one of the most challenging passages in scripture, challenging to interpret and challenging to live.  It's often been misunderstood:  used to suggest that people should accept their suffering or oppression as the will of God, as in "that's your cross to bear."  (or, "that's my cross to bear.").  Although that can be said or heard in a way that is comforting, it does not conform with the actions of Jesus:  he spent his whole ministry fighting suffering and oppression.  Healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, exorcising demons, feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcast; suffering in itself could not have been the cross he meant.  Sometimes this passage has led people to seek martyrdom, in the hopes that literally, losing one's life now would mean eternal life later.  But to seek martrydom in exchange for reward later is a kind of works-righteousness that has no place in Christian teaching.  Recently, scholars have suggested that when Jesus said the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, he didn't mean "must" in the sense of it being God's plan or will.  It meant "must" in the sense of being inevitable, given the message Jesus preached of another kingdom where all were included and the poor and raised up, given the threat that message posed to all the powers, especially the Roman state.**  It was inevitable, this interpretation goes, that the state would react at some point by crucifying Jesus and forcing him (or another victim) to carry his cross on the way to his execution. Inevitable, in this sinful world, that such preaching would lead to opposition.



 Jesus denied himself -  not for the sake of suffering or for a reward in eternity - but in the service of love, and justice.  His suffering was a tragic consequence of a life and a word that threatened, and frightened, those who exercised power over life and death of their subjects.  Jesus is warning his disciples, and the crowds, that following him could be dangerous for them as well, dangerous to the point where they could lose their life for the sake of the gospel.  In this sense we can say the Wades and the Bradens carried their cross.  Not, thankfully, on the way to their deaths.  Not in the sense of a mute and uncomplaining acceptance of suffering.  But they risked their lives, and much in their lives, for the sake of love.  For the sake of a more just world where all would live in equality. The risked their lives, and faced loss for the sake of the gospel: the gospel of God's love for all people. 



 Anne Braden was a lifetime Episcopalian from Alabama.  In her book she reflects on her upbringing in the church and how the teachings of Jesus and her experience led her to oppose segregation for the sake of both blacks and whites. These are her words in 1958 language:



 The passage from the Bible that impressed me the most deeply in my early religious training was the one from Christ's story of the Last Judgment:  For I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat, I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and yet took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not . . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."  I thought about that passage a great deal; it worried me almost constantly.  And it woud have been hard not to worry about it in those days, for this was the 1930s and there was hunger everywhere.  The people I knew tried I think, according to their lights to practice what Christ taught.  My family did.  They fed many people who were hungry.  Sometimes my mother, growing weary of it, would turn away one of the beggars who came to our door and that would cause me a sleepless night worrying for fear she was going to hell; but most generally she fed them.  Especially, she and my father made sure that the Negro family who worked for us from time to time were not hungry or shelterless or naked.  If they were short of money to pay the rent, my father provided the money.  The family was always clothed because they got our castoff clothes after they were too faded and old for us to want them any more.  But something happened to me each time I looked at the Negro girl who always inherited my clothes.  Sometimes she would come to our house with her mother, wearing one of the dressed I had discarded.  The dresses never fitted her because she was [bigger] than I was.  She would sit in a straight chair in our kitchen waiting for her mother, because of course she could not sit in one of our comfortable chairs in the living room.  She would sit there looking uncomfortable, my old faded dress binding her at the waist and throat.  And some way I knew that this was not what Jesus meant when he said to clothe the naked." 



 Anne Braden knew that what Jesus meant was something more demanding.  Something more radical than well-intentioned charity.  Something more deeply loving and just.  Something more costly.  Something that would demand her life - not her death - but her life -  and something that would bring loss.  As it would demand the lives , and bring loss, for many others. 



 Jesus demands more of us, too.  As we cling to the values of a broken world (as we often say in our prayer of confession) it's often hard to see where or how. We can so easily be blind to the injustice and suffering that surrounds us.  But Jesus warns us -  discipleship does demand our lives, and it may well mean loss.  We aren't called to seek glory in suffering or in martyrdom. But we are called to take risks and face loss in the service of love, for the sake of the gospel. May we pray for the wisdom and courage to do so. 





*Anne Braden, The Wall Between:  with a new epilogue, forward by Julian Bond (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press, 1999; first published by Monthly Review Press, 1958). 



**See Brian K. Blount and Gary W. Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), p. 147, quoting Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: a Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 1988).
Sermon: With the Wild Beasts -- Cheryl Pyrch -- March 1, 2009 by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 9, 10:10pm
Sermon: With the Wild Beasts -- Cheryl Pyrch -- March 1, 2009

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 1, 2009

Mark 1: 9-15


With the Wild Beasts


 One of the main questions Christians have pondered, from the beginning of the church, is : "How is Jesus like us, and how is Jesus different?  How is Jesus human, and how divine? The first disciples and all who have come after agree that he was a human being:  or at the very least he appeared to be a human being.  He came out of his mother in the usual way - even if the manger and the shepherds were NOT usual. He walked and talked and ate and slept and could touch and be touched.  He suffered, died and was buried. The first disciples and all who have come after also agree that he was divine, or, at the very least had a special relationship to God.  He was a powerful healer and exorcist.  He performed signs and  miracles:  from changing water into wine to multiplying loaves to calming storms and walking on water. Most importantly, he rose from the dead: and then came back to talk and eat with his disciples before ascending into heaven. Christians have had trouble describing, precisely, how he was both human and divine, both God and Man.  In the early centuries, church council after church council was called to hammer out the details.  The bishops would, literally, beat each other up over this - once a bishop was murdered. (I should say that although the nature of Christ was the ostensible issue there were also other power politics involved!). On one end of the spectrum, some Christians have said that Jesus only appeared to be human:  that he was God in human form, but didn't really suffer or die:  or that's what some Christians have been accused of believing.  On the other end, some have said that Jesus was a great prophet and teacher, inspired by God and revealing God's will in a unique way, but not himself God:  or that's what some Christians have been accused of believing.  Most Christians, and churches, though, have held that Jesus the Christ is both:  both human and divine, both God and a Palestinian Jew of the first century. We still debate the hows and whys. When pushed we have to say "It's a mystery!"  But most Christians - not necessarily everyone here in this sanctuary  -- but most Christians and most churches have claimed what we say in the Nicene Creed: "God from God and Light from Light" but also "truly human."


 Our scripture today is the story we read every year on the first Sunday in Lent, the forty days before Easter when we prepare to follow Jesus to the cross and celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  It's the story of Jesus in the wilderness immediately following his baptism and before his public ministry. Mark's version is very short.  When Matthew or Luke tell the story, Satan tests Jesus with a series of questions, or dares, and Jesus passes with flying colors.  But Mark says simply that the Spirit immediately drove Jesus into the wilderness; he was there for forty days; he was tempted by Satan; he was with the wild beasts; and angels waited on him.  Mark gives no detail.  He trusts that these few words are all we need.  Mark knows we can fill in the gaps from our experience of wilderness, temptation, of wild beasts and angels.  We can imagine what that very human experience of being tested in the wilderness was like since we so often find ourselves there.


 The first thing to say about the wilderness is that when we're facing the wilderness in our life, we're alone.  When we're facing hardship, our sins and our failings, suffering from loss and confusion -  in a certain sense our struggle is a solitary one.  We may have friends or family or church or therapists or peers to support us -- and that's a huge blessing.  We may learn that other people face similar struggles and we may talk with them or join forces, which is a comfort and a help. We always have God by our side - more on that later.  But in a certain sense, we face our temptations, our tests with Satan, by ourselves. Only we can face our fears; only we can feel our pain (a popular saying to the contrary), only we can stop our drinking; only we can cry our tears or work through our grief.  As we sang in the hymn, we have to walk that lonesome valley by ourselves. Jesus had to walk that lonesome valley by himself, too, at the beginning of his ministry as well as the end; he was driven into the wilderness without any human company.  New Testament scholar Sarah Heinlich points out* that the loneliness of God's servant is a theme throughout Mark's gospel; and that we see it here in these opening verses.  A very human loneliness.


 We also know what it's like to be tempted - or tested as it's often translated - by Satan, even if we don't believe in Satan as a creature.  Sometimes that testing can be  a temptation to do something that's pleasurable or fun but that hurts us - or others - in the long run:  eating things we shouldn't.  Gossiping.  Drinking.  Spending money we don't have. Or, on a graver note, it may be a temptation to do something that will keep us from facing the consequences of our actions, or facing reality  -- lying.  Hiding.  Pointing fingers.  We always face the temptation to do nothing in the face of evil, a temptation we usually give into.  The list could go on:  every day we are tested, lured off of God's path.  Jesus, too, was tempted; Mark does not tell us the specifics, but he knew that very human struggle.


 Jesus was also with the wild beasts.  He may have been the Son of God but he was on the ground - not in a palace or a fort - he was on the ground without protection from wild animals, dangerous beasts that could tear him from limb to limb.  Now, being the modern, urban creatures that we are, for the most part we don't worry about animal predators.  But we know about physical danger and what it's like to be vulnerable.  We know what it's like to fall ill physically or lose a job or an apartment. In Philadelphia we may face violence on the streets; people around the world face bombs and hunger and gunfire every day. Sometimes those wild animals may also be psychological or emotional:  wrestling with our sin - whether it's cowardice or arrogance or greed or indifference or whatever it is that separates us from God --  can feel like dangerous wrestling with a wild animal. In the wilderness, Jesus also knew danger.  The danger that comes with being human.


 So in the wilderness Jesus knew the human experience of loneliness, temptation and danger.  He went through what we go through  But his experience in the wilderness was also different from ours; it was an experience of divine presence.  Mark does not say Jesus was divine, but if we listen and look carefully, we see clues. Unlike us, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, but he did not succumb to Satan's charms.  Mark does not give us the dialogue, but we know the tradition that's been handed down:  Jesus was tempted but he resisted; he was tested, but he passed. Mark also says Jesus was "with" the wild animals:  not that he fought them, or captured them or hid from them.  He was with them.  So although wild animals are dangerous, and Jesus faced that danger, it seems he was with them peaceably,** in a foretaste of what it will be like on that day when the lion lies down with the lamb, or the child is able to put her hand over the snake's den.  And Mark tells us the angels waited on him. We may also know help from angels, but here they are signs of divine favor. 



 Before our prayer of confession this morning, I read words from the letter to the Hebrews that are often used to lead us into the prayer: "Remember that our Lord Jesus can sympathize with our weakness, since in every respect he was tempted as we are, yet without sin." Tempted as we are.  Knowing what it was like to be in the wilderness, to face the loneliness, the temptation and the danger that we know in the face of our own sin and that of others.  Because he knows it, he can sympathize with us:  we don't need to feel ashamed, or frightened, of anything that we bring before God in Christ Jesus, no matter what we are facing or what we have done.  Jesus has been in the wilderness, too.  We can approach his throne of grace with boldness.


 But Jesus is also without sin.  Not because he's a better human being, more virtuous or disciplined or spiritual.  We don't have to measure ourselves against him, feeling bad when we fall short.  (Which is good -- because who would want to come before such a being?) But because in Jesus there is no separation between the human being and God.  No rebellion against God's will.  In Jesus there is the power of the Divine, the power of God's grace, the power of forgiveness; so when we approach Christ's throne, the throne of grace, we know that we are approaching God. A God who knows, intimately, our experience of sin, alienation and loneliness; but also a God who is God, and can grant us mercy, grace and peace.


 During Lent, we are called to look upon, and follow Jesus; to direct our eyes to the one who has been in the wilderness and can sympathize with our weakness, but who now sits upon the throne of grace, ready, and able, to help us in our time of need. So let us look and follow Jesus, and be thankful.



**Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 535.

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