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6/22/14 Sermon: "The Twins: Faith and Doubt" - Evan Meyer by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 24, 12:05pm
6/22/14 Sermon: "The Twins: Faith and Doubt" - Evan Meyer

The Twins:  Faith and Doubt

 

 I like to do the cryptograms in the newspaper.  You know, those puzzles that are usually sentences about 10 words long, and look like a message made by a spy, in secret code, with different letters standing for the actual letters in the words.  As a young adult, I was too intimidated to tackle those puzzles, thinking that they were just too hard.  Then, one day my younger sister said that she did them all the time.  Suddenly, they didn’t seem so hard, after all.  Armed with confidence, I tried and discovered that I could do them pretty well. The cryptograms in the Inquirer are often inspirational sayings by famous persons, so sometimes when you solve the puzzle, you also wind up with a quotation that is food for thought.  One quotation I learned this way went like this:  “Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is part of faith.”  I had to look up who said it, and actually there are a few people who said something like this, including St. Augustine and the theologian Paul Tillich.

 

 “Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is part of faith.”  This was comforting to me because, if there is anything worse than having doubts about God, it’s then feeling guilty because you have those doubts.  You know, we don’t talk about doubt too much in church.  There’s a lot of certainty, not too much uncertainty.  The song goes, “I know that my redeemer liveth” not “I’m pretty sure—most of the time—that my redeemer is probably out there somewhere.” 

 

 Now, when the Christian Ed committee was planning the picnic that we are going to have right after church today, Cheryl mentioned that she could not be here today, and then suggested that the committee lead the service this week.  Then she asked if I would do the sermon.  I said, “Sure”-- a little uncertainly.  Then she asked if I wanted to provide all the hymns, lessons, prayers, confession, etc., for the bulletin.  I think my “sure” this time had a little squeak to it.

 

 But there’s that idea of ‘confidence’ again.  Or you could call it ‘faith in yourself.’  This came up in another context just the other day.  I volunteer as an English teacher at the Nationalities Service Center, a nonprofit that works with immigrants and refugees.  Just the other day when I was there, I was talking to my friends Ellen and Yanina.  Ellen is the head of the Center’s Education Department, and Yanina is a student, who also led a Spanish class for volunteers that I took, so if we have any Spanish-speaking visitors:  “El cuarto de baño esta por al pasillo, a la dereche.”  Yanina, who is from Argentina, is not fluent in English, and is studying to take the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which will require her to understand and answer questions about passages in English, and she was saying that she was nervous about it.  But Ellen told her that a lot of taking that test is just having confidence.  Just having confidence.  A lot of things are like that.  Confidence and faith can be defined the same way:  in spite of not knowing and not having proof and even having doubt -- going ahead anyway.  Doubt is part of faith.

 

 Now one of the things I enjoy about Summit is that nearly every Sunday there is a theme for the service, reflected in the sermon.  You have probably noticed that the sermon each week usually reflects on the second Scripture reading for the day, and you may have noticed that the first Scripture reading also is relevant to the same idea.  But what I did not notice, until just a few months ago, was that it’s apparent that Cheryl and Ryan and the Worship Committee usually put together a worship service where one central idea from that Scripture is reflected throughout the service:  in nearly all the hymns, and also the Affirmation of Faith and the Confession, the pastor’s prayer after joys and concerns, and elsewhere.

 

 So I set out to do the same.  For a theme, I thought back to my youth. Like a lot of us, I was not raised as a Presbyterian.  We were Episcopalians.  Episcopalians being very nearly Catholics (but not, thanks to Henry VIII), most Episcopal churches are named after saints.  Ours was St. Thomas. Are you seeing the theme, yet?  Yes, Doubting Thomas.  It was interesting that our church was named after Thomas, because the story of Doubting Thomas fascinated me as a child: He needed to put his fingers in the holes in Christ’s body?  Really?  He was a disciple!  They were men of God—didn’t they all know who Christ was?  Didn’t they just believe by their nature?

 

 But maybe that’s the lesson.  The disciples were just common people, fishermen that Jesus plucked from their fishing boats and so forth.  They weren’t some kind of angels on earth.  I think the disciples are meant to remind us that we can be like them.  Just as they had doubts, argued among themselves, failed Jesus in some ways (Peter denied him three times; Judas betrayed him), and so forth, so too do we.  But also, therefore, just as these common men had the same failings and weaknesses as we have, they also were followers of Christ.  And therefore, we can be followers of Christ.

 

 As I was thinking about this theme of doubt and faith in the days after I agreed to do this sermon, I got inspiration in an unexpected place. I was driving up to Kilian’s to get some Sunday School supplies, and listening to Terry Gross on National Public Radio.  Terry was interviewing the comedian Louis CK.  Terry played a short skit that Louis CK did on faith and doubt.  Louis said he doesn’t know whether there is a God or not, but that he really doesn’t get people who think that they know that there isn't a God--

 

That's a weird thing to think you can know. "Yeah, there's no God!" "Are you sure?" "Yeah -- No, there's no God!" "How do you know?" "Because I didn't see him!" "How do you --? There's a VAST universe! You can see for about a hundred yards when there's not a building in the way! How could you possibly --? Did you look everywhere? Did you look in the downstairs bathroom, where he goes sometimes?" "I haven't seen him!" "Yeah, well, I haven't seen "Twelve Years a Slave" yet, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist! I'm just gonna wait until it comes on cable!"

 

Louis CK’s monologue reminded me that it’s human and natural to be skeptical of unseen things and demand proof.  Yet it is also important to go forth with confidence and faith in matters of importance, where proof is not to be had.

 

 

 But how to reflect this theme in an entire worship service?  As I said, there’s not a lot of discussion of doubt and agnosticism in the standard repertoire of hymns, prayers, calls to worship, etc.  But we managed to fit some in today.  As Devin said in the Call to Worship, “most of the world did not recognize him.”  Thomas did not recognize him.  Mary Magdalene did not recognize him; she thought he was the gardener.  Two disciples didn’t recognize him on the road to Emmaus, until he later broke bread with them.  Then the Scripture says “He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” When Jesus is telling parables, there are many references to the disciples not understanding what the lesson is.  We learn from Scripture that Jesus had the ability to cloud minds or to open minds. In the Gospel of John, just before he ascended to Heaven, it is written:  “Then he opened their minds to understand the scripture.”  These followers are the mirrors of our frailties, that we, in a sense, prefer our wills to God’s and make “hesitating witness,” as we confessed in the Confession today.  We fail to recognize Our Lord--our minds can be closed to his word. That is why we need to “trust in God to guide us”—as we sang in our first hymn.

 

 In the Second Reading from John today, we are told Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”  After Thomas acknowledges him as Lord, Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Now, some have interpreted Jesus’ last words there as a rebuke to Thomas for not believing at the first.  But commentators smarter than me have pointed out that Thomas was not the only disciple who doubted.  Luke tells us that, when an angel at the empty tomb tells the women that Christ is risen “they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.”  Luke continues:  “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they (the apostles) did not believe them (the women).”  Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself.  Looking for evidence.  Looking for the living among the dead.  Did you look in the downstairs bathroom?  Wrong place.

 

 Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  Proof for Thomas came in seeing that the risen Christ is the same one who was wounded, by examining the very wounds. 

 

 Christ’s wounds even come into our language.  The Third Commandment forbids us to take the name of the Lord in vain, and trying to obey that commandment and not say “God” or “Jesus” in a curse, has led to many creative euphemisms:  ‘Gosh,’ ‘Jeez,’ and I think even the desire not to call on “Holy Mary” led to the saying “holy mackerel.”  Shakespearean scholars may note that in the 17th century people swore to Christ’s wounds but—to obey the 3rd Commandment—left off the name of God or Christ.  So, for example, you can find in Shakespeare the curse “Snails” which is a contraction of “God’s nails.”  And a more common one that you may have heard is “Zounds”—which is a contraction of “God’s wounds.”

 

 It is not surprising that much of our faith focuses on Christ’s wounds, for we are all wounded in some way.  Yet, as Devin assured us in the Assurance of Pardon, “by his wounds you have been healed.”  In some ways, Christ’s wounds define our relationship to him.  It is interesting to me that the sign for Jesus in sign language is this [show].  That’s what Thomas wanted to see.  The reason I chose “Were You There?” for our second hymn today is that you weren’t there, clearly.  Yet Thomas was there, and he still doubted.  Sometimes we doubt the evidence of our own eyes.  [show tube][1]  Sometimes we see holes in our palms when they aren’t there.  The story in John’s Gospel says that Thomas was called “the Twin.”  The Bible doesn’t say who the other twin was.  Maybe it is us.

 

 We can’t demand to see Christ’s wounds, and what would it prove anyway?  Even in my moments of greatest doubt, I like to think of what I learned about proofs in math class in high school.  This is my rudimentary understanding:  Mathematics has theorems of how certain mathematical functions work, and mathematicians spend a lot of time proving those theorems.  Mathematical proofs are based on certain self-evident principles, called axioms.  Axioms are so basic that they cannot be proven. They are just assumed to be true.  For example, one axiom is that if two numbers are equal to a third number, then the first two must be equal to each other.  Pretty obvious.  Can’t prove it, but the whole system of mathematics depends on axioms being true.  Just can’t do math without that assumption.  To me, God is like an axiom.  I can’t prove that God exists, but everything I do depends on accepting that truth. 

 

 You know, when someone comes to Summit and asks to become a member, they meet with the Session, and Cheryl usually asks them to tell the Session about their “faith journey.”  Faith.  Journey.  Both of those words speak of uncertainty.  And we are all always on a journey.  Always seeking. We just need to have confidence to keep going forward.  Faith.  Faith that passes all understanding.  And, as the hymn we are about to sing says, walk by that faith and not by sight.

 

…..

Gracious God, we, your wounded and flawed people, have faith that the proof of your amazing love is this:  that you gave your son to suffer and die for us on the cross.  In his wounds, we are healed.  Amen.

 

 

 

 Evan Meyer

 Summit Presbyterian Church

 

[1] [In the Children’s Message earlier, I demonstrated this optical illusion:  if you roll up your bulletin and make a tube of it, then hold it next to your right hand and up to your left eye, keeping both eyes open and relaxed—it appears that you have a hole in your hand.] 

Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch - Nov. 2013 by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 22, 4:56pm
Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch - Nov. 2013

The Holy Family

 

 Small congregations often refer to themselves as a "church family" and we do it often at Summit. It's a fitting metaphor, even a model. We love and care for each other the way families do at their best - or we try to. We're bound together by something beyond our personal affection for each other (or lack thereof); although we "choose" a church, we don't choose everyone who's in it, just as we don't choose our families. We divide the work as a family divides chores, and as Rob pointed out in his Moment for Mission, we even budget something like a family. We also use it to emphasize the warmth of a church home. Just as "love makes a family" it can make a church family as well.

 There are dangers to thinking of ourselves as a family, however. The entrance bar to most families is high - marriage, birth, adoption - and can be intimidating to outsiders. Families can be clannish, and put their needs above the greater good. Families also have unspoken rules and subtexts and secrets which can take decades for members to uncover, often at their peril. And, sadly, violence and abuse can be hidden in families, families who may present an admirable front to the world. For these reasons, some folks prefer the bland but less provocative term "church community."

 But Jesus talked about the church as a family. In Matthew 12:47-50, someone tells Jesus, "‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ . . . Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’" In Luke he goes even further to stress the primacy of discipleship - and by extension the church family - over loyalty to other families or anything else: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26).

 Despite these strong words, Jesus was not anti-family. He was born into a family, a faithful but young family bearing the stigma of a pre-wedding pregnancy, when he could just as easily have shown up on a doorstep. According to Luke, his mother and brother continued his ministry as members of the early church and according to John, Jesus creates a new family from the cross, when he commends his mother and the beloved disciple to one another. In Advent and Christmas as we remember the Holy Family -- Jesus, Mary, Joseph - it's a time to offer support and blessing to families inside and outside the church. Through the Thanksgiving food drive and the Angel tree. Through prayer, support and advocacy for families whose food stamps are being cut, who have members in prison, who have lost someone to gun violence. Through giving money to help families who are facing devastating losses in the Philippines. Through celebrating the pageant with our children, and by remembering those families who have lost someone dear to them. By being a "church family" in the very best sense of the word.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

7/21/13 Sermon: "Turning Our Feet" - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 6, 5:04pm
7/21/13 Sermon: "Turning Our Feet" - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 21, 2012

Proverbs 4: 10-27; Matthew 5: 1-12

 

Turning our Feet

 

 "Listen to me!" - may be the three most common words - after I love you - spoken by parents to children, teachers to students, aunts to nieces and grandparents to grandchildren. Sometimes they're said calmly, sometimes sternly, sometimes they come out as an aggravated yell -- but they're always urgent, because we always have something important to say. We've been around the block; we know what we're talking about. Whatever they may think as they roll their eyes, we have better advice than their friends or some celebrity on TV or the internet. And it's our job to share that wisdom.

 

 "Listen, children, to a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching." Generation after generation, parents have instructed their children, as this speaker in proverbs was instructed by his father: "When I was a son with my father, tender, and my mother's favorite, he taught me, and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth." The words differ from family to family and the details change from century to century. Three thousand years ago in Israel a father may have warned against eating pork, moving a neighbors boundary marker and stealing sheep, as well as sex before marriage, disrespect for parents, lying, or falling in with the wrong crowd. Today a mother is more likely to warn her child against eating junk food, taking drugs or stealing ipods, as well as sex before marriage (or at least until they're older) disrespect for parents, lying or falling in with the wrong crowd. In Proverbs we hear the same love and anxiety and repetition that we hear when we talk to our own children (especially the repetition): We say: don't follow the crowd or do things just because your friends are doing it: if your friend said to jump off a cliff, would you do it? Proverbs says: "Keep hold of instruction; do not let go, guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on." "Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil."  

 

 In proverbs, the father also makes promises. "Do not forsake wisdom, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you." "Hear my child, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. . . . When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble." "Keep my commandments, and live." Promises, promises -- we make them too: if you study and do well in school, you'll have a good career; if you keep away from drugs and avoid the wild crowd, you can get a good job and support a family. Call it faith, call it optimism, call it denial, these promises are not in our power to keep. It's true that wisdom and doing the right thing have a protective affect - kind of like lowering our cholesterol and exercising has a protective effect against heart disease. But even when children are keeping their gaze straight before them and keeping our words in their heart, mental illness can strike; a car can hit them in the road; a disease can fell them, drugs or alcohol; they can lose their job or their marriage or fall into debt. Even when when they are keeping straight the paths of their feet, swerving neither to the right or the left between their father's home and the 7-11, evil can come chasing them. I'm not saying that George Zimmerman is evil, or even that he intended evil - and we'll never know precisely what happened that evening - but some combination of racism, gun-idolatry, cowboy envy, bad law and plain old folly -- (in Proverbs folly and evil are close cousins) - all those evils ran after Trayvon, before and after his death.

 

 And so Trayvon's parents are left to mourn, to lean on the Lord, and to wonder: how long, Oh Lord, must we bear pain, and have sorrow in our heart all day long? (Psalm 13) How long, Oh Lord, wonder all who believe in the equality of God's children, how long will you hide your face from us? The moral arc of the universe may bend towards justice, but it's way too long. It's way too long and too many people are trying to straighten it: by insisting we're in a post-racial world; by striking down the voting rights act; by defunding city schools, by taking away food stamps, by being fearful and timid and defensive - I'm speaking to us white people now - rather than students of history and listeners and doers of justice. How long, O Lord, and how dare you speak to us in proverbs, when the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful . . . . when there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing. (That's also the Bible, Ecclesiastes).  

 

 When Jesus spoke to his disciples, and the crowds, on that mountain, he knew their anguish and their questions. They were no strangers to oppression and mourning, to hunger and persecution. Jesus also made promises. Promises that were in his power to keep, indeed, promises he's keeping now: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. It may not feel that way, but sorrow will not last forever and blessed are those who love enough to grieve a loss. 

 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness -- it may seem like these days they're not even getting crumbs, but they will be filled.  

 Blessed are the peacemakers -- now they may be called terrorist sympathizers, but they will be called children of God.  

 Blessed are the meek -- I thought of those families in India this week, the children poisoned because when you're that poor you never throw out containers, you use them to store other things - they will inherit the earth.  

 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy - and God knows we all need it. These promises are for the future, for the age to come when the heavenly city will descend from the clouds and tears will be no more. They're promises for eternal life, when Jesus takes us to the dwelling place he has prepared. But they're also promises for the here and now. Christianity is not the opiate of the people, telling everyone to wait for the pie in the sky bye and bye. The Kingdom of God is not yet, but also here. We see glimpses of it, sometimes more than a glimpse. In progress made in racial justice, as the President pointed out on Friday. In kind words of welcome to the stranger, in family love, in people joining across faith and nation to care for the earth or to work peace or to stand for justice. We see it in the joy of friendship and the fellowship of the church.

 

 And it's in that blessed place, where the church is called to live, trusting in these words of Jesus. Comforting those who mourn - in our church family, but also beyond. Seeing the meek for who they are -- heirs of the earth, joint heirs with Christ Paul might say. Working for peace, in our culture of guns and drones and bombs. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness -- when so many are hungry, when the changing climate threatens everyone but especially the poor, and when racism is still a clear and present danger. This is the life to which the church is called, as hard as it may be and as imperfectly as we may do it. Or returning to Proverbs, the church is called to see all God's children as her children: African American children in Detroit, white suburban children in Grosse Pointe, children weaving carpets in Pakistan, children taking SATs in Massachusetts. The church is called to not only instruct them in the ways of wisdom and righteousness - and to help parents and teachers do so -- but also to protect their path, turning the feet of evil away. So that all of God's children may live.  

7/14/13 Sermon: "Holy Speech" - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 6, 5:03pm
7/14/13 Sermon: "Holy Speech" - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

Proverbs 

July 14, 2013

 

Holy Speech

 

 As most of you know, my 6-year old, antiquated, no bells and whistles cell phone broke last week, so I had to buy a new one. First I went to the phone store, where I was greeted by an array of phones, from the most basic – a large-keyboard flip phone – to the most delicate smartphones which allow you to answer email, find your way to Idaho, listen to music, film videos and surf the web – among other delights. I was clear with the salesperson – I thought – that I didn’t want to pay more on my monthly bill, that I didn’t need internet or email. But when asked, I said I’d consider a smartphone so I’d have the capacity to do those things later on if I wanted to. Well, many many words later: words from her I didn’t understand that made me feel old; words from me that she didn’t seem to understand that made me wonder if she wasn't very bright – many words later I arrived at the cash register with an iphone 4 in my hand. But there I realized that indeed my salesperson was very bright for I came very close to buying a phone that would require me to spend an extra $30 a month. She lost interest when I said I only wanted a basic phone, and I discovered that while there were such phones on display, there were none in the store to buy! So although I was impressed with the salesperson, and sympathetic – I’m sure she was only following instructions – I had to conclude that in the sales pitch she was - to paraphrase Proverbs 14:25 -- “a false witness speaking deceitfully!”

 

 So next I went online where I found a basic phone and decided to switch carriers. But then I had to choose a new plan and was confronted with that set of existential questions: How many anytime minutes do I need? How many texts do I write (or read) each day? What's more important in those late night “free” hours, talking with family and friends -- or sleeping? I was tempted to check “unlimited” talk and text, but I also remembered the warnings against excess speech in Proverbs, 10:19: “When words are many transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.” Or “The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of fools brings ruin near,” -- and then there’s the famous warning of James on the dangers of the tongue. So I decided not to give mine free rein, and chose a plan with limits. (If I had children or traveled a lot I would have chosen differently).

 These biblical warnings on foolish and harmful speech are over 2,000 years old, but they’re more relevant today than ever. Foolish babbling or "a tongue that curses those who are made in the image of God" (James) has even more power in the age of smart-phones, email, twitter and Facebook. When James said “how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!" he had no idea how big a fire could be set with a tongue empowered by technology. We know the horror stories: the politicians whose careers have ended because of a careless text or email; the teenagers whose rash words on the internet have led to hurt, shame or even jail; and then there's that pesky “reply to all" key. Indeed, in the age of Facebook when a post goes to hundreds of “friends,” and emails can go vial, truly the “prudent are restrained in speech.” And just as the sages of ancient Israel who collected these proverbs were especially concerned with teaching the young, in this smart-phone age we must teach our children well - especially when their brains haven't matured enough to understand the eternal and pandemic nature of cyber communication. It’s well for us to teach them Proverbs, chapter 22, verse 23: To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.

 Now to keep our children and ourselves out of trouble, we may be tempted to play it very safe: to post only about our breakfast on Facebook; to email only to set up meetings; to never twitter and tweet; to listen and look too long before speaking, to choose silence more often than not. But in Proverbs, and in James, "silence" is not the alternative to babbling, cursing, or false witness. Silence is not the alternative to gossip, lying, or rash and hurtful words. Silence is not the alternative to foolish speech; the alternative is wise and truthful speech, a speech that grows from righteousness. Such speech brings healing and life, comfort and encouragement. Listen to these biblical proverbs: "the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life; "the tongue of the wise brings healing." "Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up." "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." "One who gives an honest answer, gives a kiss on the lips." (24:26). Wise and righteous speech is important between friends and family, and also in a classroom, in a courtroom, in the halls of congress: Proverbs: "A truthful witness saves lives, but one who utters lies is a betrayer." James reminds us that we praise God and proclaim the gospel in speech (as well as deeds). After warning that the tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison, James then says, "with it we bless the Lord and Father." He doesn't think that's right -- how can it be that blessing and cursing come from the same tongue -- but it does. But we do bless the Lord with our words. We tell the story of Jesus and his love.

 

 But here's the catch. It's not only the foolish who court danger with their speech. It's not only the foolish who get into trouble when they speak up. So do the righteous, the kind, the loving, the faithful (which we all are, at least some of the time). Holy speech is full of risk. Think of the risk, and sometimes the danger, in these words: "I love you." "Will you marry me?" "The war in Iraq (or Vietnam, or Afghanistan) is wrong." (or right, depending on where you are saying it.) "Climate change is real and humans are causing it (climate scientists have been hounded for saying those words)" "Racism is still alive and well, even among people of good intentions, like here at Summit." "I believe Jesus rose from the dead." -- Or – perhaps in a different church:,"I believe the resurrection is revealed metaphor.”

 

 So what are the risks? We risk making mistakes – unwittingly hurting friends, ourselves, strangers. James put it well, earlier in his letter: Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle . . . [but] all of us make many mistakes. We say clumsy things at funerals. We say racist things when we talk about race, we say sexist things when we talk about gender. We preach bad theology and give wrong directions. 

We risk rejection when we extend ourselves with our words, in love that may not be requited: "Will you play with me?" or "would you like to go out to dinner with me tomorrow night?" or "Would you like to come with me to church?" 

 We risk conflict, and sometimes even persecution, when we speak truth, including political and gospel truths. I don’t know how many of you had a chance to read the obituary of Alan Thomson that’s on our bulletin board. Alan was persecuted for his Holy speech, his proclamation of the gospel of peace and reconciliation in a time of cold and hot wars, fear and anti-communist fervor. The world’s prisons are filled with people who have spoken out against injustice, or who have said truthful words about their leaders. But Jesus never promised us a safe life. The words of Jesus were used against him. He went to the cross. Following him is a potentially dangerous undertaking, if we're serious.

This past week, Toshi Seeger, the wife of folksinger Pete Seeger, died at age 91 (Pete Seeger is 94). Pete Seeger is known for his words: often provocative words of peace, justice, truth telling -- from knee-deep in the big muddy to this land is your land to Oh Sacred World, Now Wounded. His words brought him success and joys, but they also got him into trouble. He took risks. Now Toshi was behind the scenes -- not known for her public words, but rather for her organizing and practical support. But a few years ago, in a concert in NY, Peter Seeger sang some words that Toshi had written in 1954. They're additional verses to "Turn, Turn, Turn," -- that wonderful song by Pete Seeger set the words of Ecclesiastes to music. Like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes is another book of Wisdom in the Bible, and Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3 begins: For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to weep, and a time to laugh, and so on. . . including the last line, a time for war, and a time for peace . . that Pete Seeger changed to a time of war and a time of peace. And verse &: a time to be silent and a time to speak. 

 Toshi wrote verses for their children, who were 6 and 8 years old. I thought I’d end with them in her honor, because they're pleasant words, sweet like honeycomb, and good for the soul: 

 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to dress and a time to eat; a time to sit and rest your feet; a time to teach, a time to learn, a time for all to take their turn. A time to cry and make a fuss; a time to leave and catch the bus; a time for quiet, a time for talk, a time to run and a time to walk. A time to get a time to give, a time to remember, a time to forgive; a time to hug and a time to kiss, a time to close your eyes and wish. A time for dirt, a time for soap, a time for tears a time for hope; a time for fall a time for spring, a time to hear the robin sing.

 Proverbs 15:23: To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone, and a word in season, how good it is!

 

7/7/13 Sermon: "Mend Our Every Flaw" - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 6, 5:02pm
7/7/13 Sermon: "Mend Our Every Flaw" - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Since we just celebrated the fourth of July. 

Political patriotic proverbs from the left and from the right and from the middle.

Democracy exalts a nation; despots are a burden to any people. 

Liberty exalts a nation; taxes are an offense to any people. 

Liberty exalts a nation; mass incarceration is a reproach to any people. 

Territory exalts a nation; land lost is a reproach to any people. 

Economic growth exalts a nation; recessions are a humbling of any people.

Wealth exalts a nation; taxes are a reproach to any people.

Oil exports exalt a nation; dependency is a reproach to any people.

Nuclear weapons exalt a nation; except when they belong to other people.

Military victories exalt a nation; fatalities are a reproach to any people.

Equality exalts a nation; poverty is a reproach to any people. Justice exalts a nation; poverty is a reproach to any people.

 

6/16/13 Sermon - Showing the Love - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 6, 5:00pm
6/16/13 Sermon - Showing the Love - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 16, 2013

Luke 7:36-50

Showing the Love

 The title that comes before this passage in my Bible (and all those titles are put in by editors, they're not in the scripture itself) says, "A Sinful Woman Forgiven." That's true, and a perfectly fine title, but another one could be, "A Profile in Courage." Think about what she did! Everyone knows she's a "sinner" -- which could mean she's a prostitute, or it could mean she's transgressed in some other public way. She's heard that Jesus is eating at the house of Simon, a Pharisee, a respected and devout member of the community. She wouldn't expect to be welcomed at that house, but she goes anyway and enters uninvited. She has with her an alabaster jar of ointment -- alabaster jars of ointment were expensive, so she may have gotten it at some sacrifice. And she stands at the feet of Jesus (who would have been reclining next to the table, she wouldn't have crawled underneath). Now customs and rules about bodily etiquette were different in first century Palestine, especially when it came to feet. (You touched them more!) But even for first century Palestine what she did next was weird. She started weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, rubbing his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with ointment. She was definitely crossing boundaries and being inappropriate. The dinner guests must have been shaking their head, wondering if she had totally lost it. But apparently she didn't care. She cared about showing Jesus her love. A love that came from knowing Jesus loved her, that she was forgiven for whatever she had done. A love that came from knowing she was accepted -- no longer defined only as a "sinner." A love she couldn't contain or control -- she probably didn't intend to weep at his feet. A great love, in the words of Jesus. A love that gave her great courage. A love that was affirmed when Jesus told her to go in peace. A love that Simon didn't seem to notice.

 For Simon, too, was focused on Jesus. But Simon was evaluating him. Simon thought that by letting the woman touch him Jesus must not be a prophet. A prophet would know who she was - even if they had never met. A prophet would keep himself ritually clean, and wouldn't let such a woman touch him. Now, to give Simon credit he didn't shame the woman or throw her out. Simon addressed Jesus respectfully and may have even by convicted by what Jesus said. But Simon held back. He wasn't a sinner in any public or dramatic way. He offered Jesus appropriate - if not generous - hospitality. Simon was measured and careful and cautious and watching, wondering, I'm sure, what others were thinking. Possibly aware of his sin deep down but hiding it from God and himself. Keeping silent, like it says in the psalm, clinging to his position as a faithful student of the law, wasting away through his groaning, not able or willing to acknowledge the extent of his sin. And therefore not knowing the joy of forgiveness or the happiness of those whose transgression is forgiven, in whose spirit there is no deceit. And therefore not loving so much.

 What would happen if we were more like that woman and less like Simon? Fully trusting in the love and forgiveness of God in Christ right now. That is there. For all of us. What would happen if we cared only about showing our love and our gratitude, and stopped worrying about what other people thought of us.

 Our economy might take a nosedive. So much of our spending - even when we're not social climbers - comes out of insecurity, wanting to project a certain image to others and to ourselves.  

 We might all start acting a bit more unconventionally -- less anxious to please others and fit in.  

 We'd start caring more for one another -- in big ways and small, globally and locally. For that's what Jesus calls us to do. That's how we show our love for God.

 And we'd know the peace and liberation that comes from truly believing we're forgiven and accepted. From laying down the burden of guilt for whatever we've done or been.

 It's hard to fully trust in the grace of Christ. It's a life-long, prayerful journey. But this is the good news: when we do, as that brave woman shows us, we can stop caring so much about what other people think -- because the love of Christ is enough. When we trust in God's forgiveness, which knows no bounds - as that brave woman shows us - we can let go of our shame, and stop caring so much about what other people think. That doesn't mean we stop caring about other people -- that's one way we show our love. It doesn't mean we stop listening to other people, including things they may say about us that we need to hear -- because that's part of the caring, part of the loving and turning towards God. But when we can bring our guilt, and sin before God, and trusting the forgiveness of Christ, a burden is lifted. But we can be bolder. More courageous. More loving. Sitting - metaphorically - at the feet of our savior.

Summer 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 8, 12:10pm
Summer 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch

A word in season, how good it is!

A Summer Sermon Series on Proverbs

The warm, long days of summer - lying on a beach, hiking in the woods, or just enjoying a glass of iced tea on the porch after work – have never seemed the best days to finally read Nietzsche or review Biblical Hebrew. Likewise, summer Sundays don’t seem the best mornings to preach on Paul’s understanding of the relationship of grace and works to salvation, or to explore different doctrines of the atonement. So this July, I’ll preach on proverbs in the Bible – short sayings on daily life and the ways of world. Most will come from the book of Proverbs (which we’ve enjoyed reading at Wednesday Bible Study this spring) but I’ll also look at proverbs in the New Testament. Although short and pithy, as the Wisdom of God they can lead us into deep and refreshing spiritual waters. 

July 7: Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34). On this Fourth of July weekend, we’ll reflect on what makes for true national greatness and cause for celebration. We’ll also sing American the Beautiful (as always) and lift up our country and its leaders in prayer. 

July 14: Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18). There are many biblical proverbs on the relationship of words – and silence - to peace and violence, wisdom and folly, righteousness and evil. These proverbs resonate in new ways now that the words we say are multiplied and amplified through email, blogs, Facebook, Smart Phones, and Twitter. Is it true that “the prudent are restrained in speech?” 

July 21: Better is a little with righteousness than a large income with injustice. (Proverbs 16.8). The biblical proverbs often extol the virtue of hard work and the prosperity that can come with it. But they also teach that money isn’t everything – or even an important thing – and that wealth can be a snare as well as a blessing. We’ll reflect on some of these contradictory and fascinating teachings on money , wealth and poverty.

July 28: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.  (Proverbs 13:12). Proverbs also speak on the ways of the heart – and the nature of joy and sadness. Written thousands of years ago they could have been written today, and will help us think about the heart’s true home.

I look forward to seeing you in the parlor this summer. And when you’re traveling, I encourage you to worship elsewhere -- your witness will be needed and welcomed wherever the body of Christ is gathered. It’s also fun to see how other people do it! 

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl

 

June 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 31, 4:59pm
June 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch

A New Design

This past year, after many reports, conversations, debates, meetings, surveys and lots of hard work by a small group of saints, the Presbytery of Philadelphia voted for a “New Design” of our life together. Representatives from the 200+ Presbyterian churches in the area re-organized and renamed committees, sadly ended programs and let go of staff, and imagined new ways of working together. 

This New Design – like most re-organizations – was both forced upon us and freely chosen. The impetus for change was a drop in dues and mission giving from churches, as well as a New Form of Government, approved by Presbyteries across the country, that allowed for more local decision-making in both Presbyteries and congregations. This is not the first re-organization of the Presbytery and Philadelphia is not alone – Presbyteries around the country are in various degrees of upheaval as the PC(USA) deals with declining membership, infrastructure overhang from the last century, and new theological challenges and mission fields.  

The most striking change in the New Design is that we’ll be meeting less often as a full Presbytery, and more often as regional commissions – smaller groups of diverse but geographically linked churches. Summit is in the Northwest Regional Commission, which includes not only our city neighbors (Oxford, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Germantown Community, First Germantown, Oak Lane, Cedar Park, East Falls, and several Roxborough churches) but also Ambler, Church on the [Plymouth Meeting] Mall, Valley Forge, First Norristown and others. We’re having our first NW Regional meeting at Oxford Church on Sunday, June 2nd, from 3-5, and it will include worship, an introduction to the new design, and – most important – a potluck picnic. I’m on the leadership team of the Commission, and helped plan the event. All are welcome – not just clergy and elders. I think it will be interesting and energizing, as we pray, talk and eat together!

I think it’s fair to say we’re not sure where we’re going with the New Design. We’ll have to pray a lot and rely on the Spirit to guide us in the months and years ahead. But I’m excited about the chance to become better acquainted with other churches, and to explore ways we might work together. It’s an opportunity to step off our congregational islands, learn more about our Presbyterian neighbors, make friends, and – hopefully – strengthen our collective mission. A mission which remains constant no matter what the design: to worship the Lord with gladness, to proclaim the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, to care for one another and nurture our children in faith, to work for justice and to serve “the least of these.” 

There are many ways to get involved! Let me know if you’d like to learn more.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl

May 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 14, 4:53pm
May 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch

I’m two weeks back from my study leave at a clergy retreat sponsored by the Board of Pensions (called CREDO) and am still abuzz with all I learned and received there. CREDO is a program designed to help pastors renew their body & spirit and encourage self-care. At a beautiful lakeside center in the mountains of North Carolina we heard presentations on vocation, spirituality, health and finances. We talked and prayed in small groups. We worshiped every day – without having to plan! We took walks and enjoyed wonderful food – I especially liked the spicy breakfast sausages and my first experience of banana pudding, a heart-stopping southern specialty. We could detect some tension between the various CREDO goals – lectures on healthy eating followed by comfort lasagna and chocolate cake – but the leaders managed to both pamper us “where we were” and encourage us to do better. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, although returning to Mt. Airy as spring was springing made for a soft landing.

During the week we each created a CREDO plan, a set of goals touching on the different areas we explored. This is one of my goals, and I ask your prayers to keep it: to dwell more deeply in the Word. To pray and reflect on scripture outside of sermon and class preparation. To read books of the Bible from start to finish (rather than in lectionary snippets). To do this I’m exploring different routines in my morning devotions and setting aside 15 minutes during the day for prayer and reflection, away from the phone and computer. I’m also planning two library days a month, to read those books on theology, ecclesiology and church history that have been beckoning from my bookshelves. Not days “off” – I’d still answer email and be around for evening meetings – but days to study. I trust such time will help my preaching (the well is in danger of running dry) but only indirectly. I’m trying to avoid the “moral hazard” of preaching where all scripture, reading and life is seen only for its utilitarian value for next Sunday’s sermon!

I was also given much to think about in terms of leadership and discernment, and I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I also have a few self-improvement goals, beginning with diet – what else? My resolution is simple: to eat only homemade desserts, for the purpose of turning sweets back into a treat rather than a staple. I had the opportunity to put this resolution into practice on my first day back, when I could *only* have a generous slice of German Chocolate Cake (made by Sandy Dorsey) and two different chocolate/nut cookies (made by Dave Rupp) at Elder Diner. Those treats, along with returning to a job I love, made for a soft landing indeed.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl

April 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 9, 11:19am
April 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch

April 2013 -

A few months ago, at a meeting of the Social Justice and Environment committee (also known as the Saving the World Committee, or SWC for short) Gayl Koster read an op-ed piece from the Inquirer called “Our Tiny Enclave,” written by Paul Halpern, Professor of Physics at University of the Sciences. The op-ed pointed to several scientific discoveries: the vast, nearly unimaginable size of the universe, the amazing diversity of life on earth, and the overwhelming genetic commonality among human beings. Dr. Halpern suggested that these truths, and an appreciation of the science on which they’re based, might inspire us to work together for peace on this fragile planet.

We on the SWC loved the article, and commissioned Gayl to contact Dr. Halpern to see if he might speak at Summit. She found out that he knew Summit, would be delighted to visit, and was also a member of Mishkan Shalom, our neighboring synagogue in Roxborough. So (consulting Session) we invited him to speak at our Sunday Earth Day service, and also invited Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Mishkan Shalom to join us.

Before saying yes, Dr. Halpern wanted an assurance that he wouldn’t have to speak about religion, but could stick with his area of expertise! We said yes, but that may raise some questions for you: Does a scientist belong in the pulpit, even for one day? Shouldn’t we speak about religious truth on Sunday morning, and save science for the classroom or at least an after-church forum? Are the two really compatible?

These are good questions, as science and religion often seem at loggerheads. They ask different questions. Their methods of inquiry, testing and discernment are different, and their methods can’t be combined (as “creationists” suggest) without creating a mess of falsehoods that does a disservice to both. But they are compatible. For as Christians we believe in one God, creator of the heavens and earth, giver of curiosity, shaper of intellect. We believe that God is revealed primarily through Jesus Christ as attested in scripture, but also that God is revealed in the handiwork of creation, and that God speaks through the Holy Spirit in diverse and manifold ways. We needn’t be afraid of the truths that science reveals – and may find that insights from both science and religion can unite us in a common purpose: working together to care for this wonderful planet and all life upon it.

So on Sunday, April 21st, we will celebrate the resurrection, as we do every Sunday. We’ll also celebrate and give thanks for the gift of science, and pray for peace on earth. The final verse of our final hymn – For the Fruit of All Creation – says it best:

 For the harvests of the spirit, Thanks be to God.

 For the good we all inherit, Thanks be to God.

 For the wonders that astound us, For the truths that still confound us,

 Most of all that love has found us, Thanks be to God. 

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl

March 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 6, 2:36pm
March 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch

The Session is getting ready for company. At its March meeting, members from Collenbrook United Church in Drexel Hill will join us to share what it has meant for their congregation to be a "More Light" church (www.mlp.org), and how they came to join the group. In April, members of The First Presbyterian Church of

Philadelphia in Center City will talk about their experience with the Covenant Network of Presbyterians (www.covnetpres.org). The Session has invited them in order to better understand what it would mean to take a formal stand on the welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people. All are welcome to join the Session on March 14th and/or April 18th at 7:30 to hear our guests. The Session is considering a recommendation that Summit join one (or both) of these advocacy organizations, although no decision will be made without full congregational discussion. This series follows the sermon and bible study that we did with guest Dr. Byron Shafer in November.

I'm excited to meet our guests. Not only to learn about More Light Presbyterians or the Covenant Network, but to hear the stories of two neighboring churches. With all of us committed to worshipping in our own congregations on Sunday, and with otherwise busy schedules, church members have little chance to simply talk with each other. Presbytery meetings
gather folks from all over, but the business agenda is always long and full. How interesting it will be to hear the stories of two different churches and how they came to commit to a particular mission. Please RSVP to me or Angela if you would like to join us. We will have decaf and treats!

As we continue our Lenten journey and prepare to celebrate Easter it is a good time to remember that we are one church, the Church Universal, even as we worship and carry out mission in particular congregations. We differ in many wonderful ways, but share in the hope of the Risen Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl

 

2/10/13 Sermon: 'A Glimpse of Glory' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Feb 11, 1:09pm
2/10/13 Sermon: 'A Glimpse of Glory' - Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

February 10, 2013

Luke 9: 28-36

A Glimpse of Glory

 The disciples had eight days to brood. Eight days to brood over those sayings of Jesus: the saying that predicted his great suffering and death. The saying that the disciples needed to deny themselves to follow him. The saying that those who want to save their life will lose it. The saying that Jesus would be ashamed of all those who were ashamed of him. Jesus also said he would be raised and come in glory - but the disciples couldn't have known what that would mean. On balance, with eight days and nights for their anxiety to mount, and being more familiar with shame than glory, those disciples probably weren't in the most cheerful state of mind when they climbed the mountain with Jesus.

 Luke says they were weighed down with sleep. Perhaps they were simply tired, or they may have been frightened and depressed, wanting to escape through sleep. But they managed to fight it off, and when they were fully awake they saw Jesus praying. He was different. The appearance of his face had changed and his clothes were dazzling white; he was in glory. Then, suddenly, two men began speaking with him, but not just any two men . Moses and Elijah, those great prophets of Israel, also in glory. Two prophets who would have assured the disciples that Jesus was the messiah of God, that his coming did fulfill scripture. Luke says the prophets were speaking to Jesus about his departure -- his journey to Jerusalem and all that he was to suffer and accomplish there. We don't know what instructions or what tender words of reassurance they may have been giving him. But the disciples saw them. Who could blame Peter for wanting to stay there, for his offer to build three dwellings. Jesus may have wanted to stay too, to continue talking with Moses and Elijah. He couldn't talk with his disciples about all that was ahead of him. They couldn't understand.

 But before anyone could build a dwelling, God overshadowed them with a cloud and the disciples were terrified again. God spoke from the cloud to say, "this is my son, my chosen one, listen to him," and then it was over. They came down the mountain. And once they were down in the valley they were back in the thick of it. Jesus predicted his suffering and death again. The disciples bickered among themselves. Jesus had stern words for them. The opposition to Jesus began to build. There were also joys and successes - healings and miracles - but it was a hard road to Jerusalem and it ended badly with the death of Jesus. Those were dark days right after the crucifixion. Perhaps the memory of this vision helped them to hang on, gave them hope that it wasn't over yet. This vision of Jesus transfigured.

 Several times in the gospels Jesus warns his followers to "stay awake!" In Matthew and Mark, he tells the disciples to "stay awake" so they may be prepared for his coming again, for the salvation and judgement of God. When he tells them to stay awake there's an element of warning and danger. He tells a parable of the foolish bridesmaids who fall asleep and get shut out of the banquet. He tells another one about a householder who fails to stay awake is robbed in the night. Jesus also tells his disciples to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemene, while he waits to be arrested. But in this story , we - all of Jesus's disciples - are encouraged to stay awake for another reason. A reason that doesn't have to do with warning and danger. A reason we may find even more compelling. We're encouraged to stay awake so we don't miss a glimpse of the glory of God. So we don't miss a sign of hope, or reassurance or of the majesty of God. Signs that can sustain us at the bottom of the mountain where we live from day to day.

 Such glimpses of Glory are just that -- fleeting. We may have trouble believing or trusting them later. But God provides them. They may happen on top of a mountain, or any place of beauty - as the psalmist says, the heavens tell of the glory of God. They may happen in prayer, or when we wake up anxious in the middle of the night, and sense God's presence or comfort. They may come in a moment shared with someone we love, or in worship. They may come when we see the face of Christ in a stranger, or in an act of love or justice. Those moments seem trite when we try to describe them, but it was not just those first disciples who could see the glory of Christ. God provides them to us, too.

 But the trick is to keep awake, spiritually awake, especially when we're not in the best state of mind, when we're frightened or depressed. Prayer is the first way to do that -- but we don't have to be champion prayers, even attempts at prayer keep us awake. I find it reassuring that the disciples weren't praying when they saw Jesus glorified, they were watching him pray. We also keep spiritually awake by keeping our eyes and ears open to the beauty around us. By opening our hearts to family, and neighbors and strangers in need. By remembering to give thanks. By reading scripture, by caring for those we love and our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we enter Lent, just one new discipline -- coming to bread and broth, reading scripture with a devotional, saying grace at meals - can be a practice in wakefulness.

 Keep awake, therefore! For we do not know the day, or the hour, when we may catch a glimpse of God's glory. 

 

2/3/13 Sermon - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Feb 11, 1:09pm
2/3/13 Sermon - Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

February 3, 2013

Luke 4: 16-30

 I’m going to start with last week’s reading. It takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not long after he was baptized and spent 40 days in the wilderness. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus had returned to Galilee and began teaching in the synagogues there. Luke says he was praised by everyone.

 Listen to the Word of God, Luke 4: 16-22

 If Jesus had just stopped there, it would have been such a nice day. He could have shaken hands with everyone as they made their way to the coffee hour, basking in compliments. Mary and Joseph could have enjoyed some well-deserved moments of parental pride, as people congratulated them on their well-spoken son. Folks could have talked about the sermon over their danish: Didn’t Jesus bring the words of Isaiah to life? Wasn’t it thrilling when he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing? Maybe he'll be the one to lead us into that blessed day when Israel is freed” For this humble assembly in hardscrabble Nazareth would have heard Isaiah's words as good news. Their synagogue would have included poor people and those who were blind. The people were suffering under Roman rule and dreaming of a Free Israel. If Jesus had ended his sermon there, they would have been comforted and inspired. They might even have been energized for a mission project.  

But Jesus didn’t stop there. He kept going. And this is what he said next:

 Luke 4: 23-30

 So it wasn’t such a nice day. There they were – stranded on the top of the hill, wondering what happened to that son of Joseph. We don’t know what they did next, but they must have been confused. Upset that their plan had been foiled (but also relieved, for when mob actions get out of hand everyone’s sorry afterwards). But how did things turn so quickly? We must admit - Jesus was provocative, if not downright insulting. Perhaps he sensed that they heard the good news to be only about them, or about them first and foremost -- after all, they were the hometown. They had raised him. They deserved his loyalty, and maybe even some preferential treatment – especially since they didn't get it from anyone else, as the Jerusalem elites looked down on Nazareth. But Jesus says they aren’t going to get it. They can’t look to Capernaum and expect him to do the same thing in Nazareth. He points out that God worked through outsiders in the time of Elijah and Elisha. He implies God will do so again. Jesus knows that once he says those words, he can say good-bye to that hometown welcome. Prophets are never accepted in their hometowns. Prophets are always called beyond them.

So they drove him out of the town and tried to throw him off a cliff. We, the church, can identify with that. We try to get rid of Jesus, too. Since he's not with us in flesh and blood we can't take him to a bridge over the Schuykil; we must use other means. So we say "yes" to his teachings while passively resisting them. Or we soften what he says so that "bringing good news to the poor" begins and ends with a modest donation to One Great Hour of Sharing. The particular message that enrages or distresses us may be different from the one that angered those Nazoreans. (Athough Christians have also always been perturbed by the thought that God may be blessing and working through others). But Jesus raises our hackles. I believe the church in the United States has been trying to get rid of the Jesus who keeps saying we need to lose our life to gain it, for the church hasn't wanted to let go of those trappings of respectability and power that it enjoyed 60 years ago, when everybody went to church. Judging from all our stuff, we don't like it when Jesus says sell what you have and give your money to the poor. I don't know about you, but his instruction to turn the other cheek makes me wanna punch someone.

What Kind of Church Are We? Are we be the kind of congregation that can stay in the pew until the end of the challenging sermon that Jesus is giving (not to be confused with my sermon). Are we the kind of church that can get beyond our anger and grief at a difficult message and still talk - even argue - with Jesus at the coffee hour? Are we the kind of church that actually seeks to follow Jesus? Or do we try and throw him off a cliff?

Like all churches, I believe we're both. When we have our annual meeting today, we'll hear about ministries and read financial reports that reflect faithful discipleship and stewardship. Much faithful discipleship and stewardship. But I believe that in the coming months and years and decades we'll need to work through some some rage and grief as we listen to Jesus. As the climate changes, as inequality grows, as our infrastructure grows older -- both this church building and the infrastructure in our country - Jesus will be calling us to change. To let go of what we consider our "life" - whether it's money, possessions, beliefs we cherish, or certain ways of doing things.  

And that will be hard. But it will also be joyful. For there's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than following Jesus. There's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than turning away from idols and growing in the love of God. There's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than sharing in the life of Christ. As we will do at the table this morning. As we do every time we worship, and care for one another. As we do when we find Christ in service to others, and proclaim God's love fearlessly to all. 

1/27/13 Sermon: 'The Power of the Word' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Feb 11, 12:02pm
1/27/13 Sermon: 'The Power of the Word' - Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8: 1-12

 

The Power of the Word

 

 A number of years ago I was the reader of the New Testament lesson at a friend's wedding in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the Friday night rehearsal, we were going through our paces. Kids were running around, the pastor was telling people where to stand, the musicians were doing a run-through. It was then my turn to "practice" the reading -- I believe it was Corinthians 13. I read the scripture, and when I looked up I saw that everyone in the sanctuary was standing and looking at me. At first I thought I'd done something wrong, but when I finished the pastor went back to stage directing, people started talking and I realized that this must be what Lutherans do - or at least Lutherans in Kenosha, Wisconsin. When the New Testament is read, everyone stands and looks at the reader. And sure enough, at the wedding, the congregation stood and looked at me when I read. And in the Sunday morning worship service, everyone stood and looked at the reader of the gospel. I'm not suggesting we do that here. But I thought of those Lutherans when I read this passage from Nehemiah about a worship service and the reading of the Word before the people.

 It was the people who wanted to hear the Word. The service wasn't scheduled by Ezra the scribe or Nehemiah the governor. All the people gathered together in the square and told Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses. He did so accordingly, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up. When Ezra blessed the Lord, all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands, bowing their heads and worshipping the Lord with their faces to the ground. And then, while the people remained in their places, all those lay teachers -- Levites whose names I didn't try to pronounce - helped the people understand the law. They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that people understood the reading.

 And then all the people wept. It doesn't say why they wept. Perhaps they wept because they saw how far their lives had strayed from the commandments of God. Perhaps they wept because they were so moved by the stories of God's faithfulness to God's people. Perhaps they wept because they were finally back in Jerusalem, the Holy City. Protected by a sturdy wall they had spent months restoring. Worshipping in the temple they had rebuilt on the ruins of the old. Finally at home, hearing those familiar words. We don't know why they wept, but Nehemiah, Ezra, and those who taught the people all said the same thing: "This day is Holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared (in other words, pack styrofoam clamshells for shut-ins) for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." And so they did -- all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

 This is the good news of this reading: God has given us a Word we can understand. God has not left us to our own devices. God has not completely shrouded God's self in mystery. God has not abandoned God's creation, leaving us alone, without guidance or instruction. God has given us a Word that tells us how to live. A Word that tells us of God's grace and forgiveness, and that holds out hope and comfort. A Word that assures us peace, justice and love will prevail. We receive this Word in scripture; we receive it through the living Word, the risen Christ; we receive it through the Holy Spirit. Because of God's Word, we don't have to wonder who we are or what we're to do with our lives. We're children of God. Called to love and care for one another, to work for justice and peace. Called to care for creation, and to share the gospel - to render our lives as thanksgiving to God. God is speaking, in a Word we can understand. If we truly believed this, if we fully trusted in the Word, we would also be weeping and rejoicing, day after day and Sunday after Sunday.

 I'll admit -- it's not as easy as Nehemiah makes it sound. Even with the help of preachers and teachers God's Word is not self-evident. The scriptures speak of people long ago, in cultures that are opaque to us. It's not always clear how the world of the Bible connects with our world, what "laws," if any, we should apply literally, who we should see as a model and who is actually a negative example. Some of the stories move and comfort us, but others are downright appalling. We often can't agree on what God is saying, even on important matters like war and sex. 

 But our understanding doesn't need to be complete. It doesn't need to be perfect and it will always be provisional. But God has given us gifts so that we can understand enough for our joy and salvation and the life of the church. The gifts of intelligence, imagination, and love. The gift of each other to share interpretations. The gift of the Holy Spirit, which illumines the Scripture for us. The gift of the living Word in Jesus Christ, the example of his life. 

 This Lent, the worship committee, the Session, invites you, invites us, to go deeper into the Word. To make our ears attentive to the law and the gospel, just as that congregation was in Jerusalem was so many centuries ago. We can start with a devotional I mention in the announcements. Its a simple one, that suggests one scripture passage each day from one of the four gospels. There is an interpretation of the passage, not the final or only interpretation, but a paragraph to explore the reading, followed by a short prayer. You may also take an Upper Room Magazine - many people in the congregation have told me how helpful it is. You may simply want to read the gospel of Luke from start to finish, and I can suggest a study guide. We will also have a list of other readings. Our Wednesday bread and broth will focus on prayer, prayer which is essential for understanding God's Word. And of course come to church, where we read the Bible together, and I offer an interpretation, aided by scholars - not a final word by any means but a starting point I hope, for your thinking and prayer. God's promise is sure. God's Word - in the Bible and in Christ - can be understood. It may make us weep, but it will also give us strength and joy in the Lord. 

12/02/12 Sermon: 'The Days Are Surely Coming' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 28, 4:30pm
12/02/12 Sermon: 'The Days Are Surely Coming' - Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 2, 2012 (Advent I)

Jeremiah 33: 10-16; 21: 25-36

The Days Are Surely Coming

 The days between Thanksgiving and New Year's are a time of high drama for many of us. There's the family drama. The fights at the Thanksgiving table. Children having temper tantrums, teenagers getting high and college students flunking out. There may be talk about breaking up or divorce -- that seems to happen more around Christmas. There's the drama of end-of-year exams, end-of-year accounting, end of year spending. There's drama at work, and the shock and pain when people are let go this time of year, which happens a lot. There's the drama inside ourselves, as feelings of joy and gratitude, but also of loss and grief or envy are heightened. There's also the drama of the Christmas pageant, and the joy that comes this time of year with new romances, family reunions, excited children. But good or bad, this time before Christmas is intense. It can be overwhelming. I have a wise friend, a pastor, who says she gets all her Christmas shopping and card writing done before Thanksgiving, and she clears her calendar in December as much as possible, because she knows pastoral stuff is going to happen. 

 In our scripture today, Jesus tells us that whatever our personal dramas, we're all part of an even bigger drama: the redemption of the world. This drama began when God first called a people, but a new Act opened with the birth of Jesus and the drama will end when Christ comes again in power and glory. The biblical witnesses describe that great day in different ways. Jeremiah speaks about the restoration of Israel, when in a place that is waste, without human beings or animals, there shall again be pasture for shepherds resting their flocks, flocks that will again pass under the hands of the one who counts them -- and a righteous branch will spring up, which Christians have understood to mean Jesus. (I must say this prophesy sounds like a a post-climate disaster restoration). Isaiah foretells the day when all creation will live together in peace, when lions will lie down with lambs, and when people will study war no more; we sang of that day in our hymn. John the Baptist quotes Isaiah when he says that every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low, for the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. And in the final book of the Bible, Revelation, we have John's vision of the new Jerusalem, when death will be no more and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. We don't when that day will come, but Jesus assures his disciples it will come with cosmic signs and wonders. All our other dramas will be gathered up or overshadowed with the Advent of the Son of Man, when even the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

 This is good news. It may not seem that way. First, it's just hard to believe. It seems like science fiction without the science, and if we do believe it we have to acknowledge it's a matter of faith. We can't predict the how or when. It also may not seem like good news for Jesus says this Advent will bring confusion, and judgement, -- people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. But we can trust that it's good news, because we worship a God of love. A love we see in the birth, life, death and the resurrection if Jesus Christ. The love of a God who came to earth as a vulnerable child when God could have stayed safely ensconced in the heavens. The love of a God who was tempted as we are, knowing joy and sorrow, even though God could have been content just to have made us. The love of a God who suffered under Pontius Pilate, even though, as the creator of the universe, God could have left all the suffering to his creatures. The love of a God who raised Jesus from the dead and did not let the sin of Pilate or of anyone else have the last word. And God will not let our sin be the last word about us. For Christ came to save the world, not to condemn it.

 Which puts all our holiday drama in perspective. It's not that our struggles don't matter. It's not that our pain isn't real. It's not that all our problems will be solved. But the days are surely coming, when, in the words of Christian mystic Julian of Norwich all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. That's our Advent hope. As we wait for those days we are to pray and keep alert so we can see the signs and wonders of God's love coming to us even now (the kingdom of God is here but not yet). We're to guard that our hearts don't get weighed down with the dissipation and drunkenness that inevitably comes with holiday drama. We're to guard that our hearts don't get weighed down with the worries of this life, even if we can't help but worry. Because our redemption, and the redemption of the world, is drawing near.

12/09/12 Sermon: 'Sharing in God's Grace' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 28, 4:28pm
12/09/12 Sermon: 'Sharing in God's Grace' - Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 9, 2012 - Advent II

1 Philippians 1: 3-11

Sharing in God's Grace

 "And this is my prayer," says Paul, "that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."

 This prayer, which is the lectionary for the day, is one of the prayers that we looked at in our Wednesday night adult study this fall, "Prayers of the Bible." I think I speak for the group when I say that we all liked the first half of this prayer. It's a prayer we'd want Paul to pray for us, a prayer we can say for each other, a prayer for the church: that our love overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight, to help us determine what is best -- or as the Jerusalem Bible translates it, to help us discern what is of value. Who doesn't yearn to overflow with love, grow in insight and knowledge, and to be able to determine what is best?

 But the second half of the prayer was a different story. We felt a little queasy about a prayer to become "pure" and "blameless." No one is pure and blameless - as it says in another part of the Bible, if we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Few of us can escape at least some blame for problems in this world. We could still pray for purity, but the trouble is, when the church has sought purity it's often gotten into trouble or done blame-worthy things. Churches have split, wars have been fought and people executed in struggles for theological purity. I remember seeing, in a church in Prague, a statue of Athanasius -- one of the fathers of the church - standing over Arius -- one of the heretics - with a spear at his throat. Now, Athanasius didn't actually kill Arius, but it wasn't an edifying statue. Crusades for moral purity have also been problematic. Often they've been used to exclude those already stigmatized -- such as unmarried mothers or gays and lesbians. So, as progressive 21st century Christians, rather than praying to be pure and blameless, we're more comfortable praying to be better. For slow but steady spiritual growth, with lots of allowances for setbacks. 

 

 But Paul, and John the Baptist, and Malachi, insist on purity. John proclaims that the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. He warns that the one more powerful than he will come with a winnowing fork in his hand, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire. The prophet Malachi warns that the messenger of the covenant is like a refiner's fire and a fuller's soap, who will purify the descendents of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Who can stand the day of his coming? But Paul, and John and Malachi are also clear that we don't purify ourselves and it doesn't happen on our timetable -- perhaps not even in our lifetimes. John offers a purifying baptism of repentence with water, but it's the one coming after him who baptizes with spirit and fire, and who carries the winnowing fork. It's not Malachi, but the messenger to come who is is like a refiner's fire. And Paul says that the one who began a good work among us will bring it to completion -- but not until the day of Jesus Christ. These prayers and hopes for a purified people are prayers and hopes for the future. A future when nothing stands between God and God's people, including our sin. That future may be coming into the present, but it's not here yet. 

 But with that set, maybe we're setting our hopes too low. We can't achieve purity and shouldn't claim to, but we can hope and pray for the kind of transformation that brings us closer to a pure and blameless life. The kind of transformation that comes when we abound in love, and share in the grace of God. The kind of transformtion that comes from Christ working within us and among us now, even as we must wait for that day when we may stand pure and blameless before him. I believe there are signs of such transformations all around us, inside and outside the church. I would call the re-election of President Obama such a sign. I'm not saying that God wanted Obama to be elected (we don't know that). Nor am I saying that the President is always right, or that the Democratic party has all the answers. I'm also not saying his election means we've won the struggle against racism, which still has a deep grip on this country. But being African American didn't keep Obama from being elected twice. Coming out in favor of gay marriage didn't keep him from being elected -- I'm still pinching myself on that one. For in my lifetime (and I'm not that old) legal segregation was alive and well, and no one knew any gay people. We have grown, in love and knowledge and insight. As a pastor I see the grace of God transforming lives in people doing the hard work of sobriety, emerging from depression, reconciling with family, caring for loved ones under the most difficult circumstances. I've seen lives not just improved, but changed, turned around.

 So let's raise our hopes as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Our hopes for our lives, for our world, for the church. Standing before Jesus pure and blameless is only in God's power -- who must work on us after our death. But the coming of Christ now brings overflowing love, knowledge and insight as we share in God's grace. A love and grace that is more powerful than the demonic forces in our world and our lives. A love and grace that is moving towards completion. 

Please join me in prayer; Oh God who is coming to us in love and grace: may our love overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight, so that in the day of Christ we may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God." Amen.

11/25/12 Sermon: 'The Lamb King' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 28, 4:28pm
11/25/12 Sermon: 'The Lamb King' - Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

November 25, 2012

John 18: 33-38

 

The Lamb King

 

 (Preface to reading: As you may know, Roman Catholic and many Protestant Churches use a lectionary, a cycle of scripture readings, for preaching and worship. The lectionary we use has three different, year-long cycles of readings from the Old and New Testament. Each year's cycle begins on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on the Sunday before Advent -- which is this Sunday. On this Sunday the scriptures always call us to reflect on the Christian claim that the Risen Christ, who ascended into heaven, now reigns over heaven and earth -- we call it Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. So, the first reading from the Book of Daniel is a vision of one like a human being coming at the end of time to rule and to judge; the choir sang an anthem on King David's last words; and I'll be reading from the trial of Jesus before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, where Jesus is sentenced to death, and where Pilate asks him if he's a King. I give you that long explanation so you won't be wondering why, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I'm reading from the trial of Jesus! Listen for the Word of God as it comes to us in the Gospel of John, Chapter 18, verses 33-38):

 Chris Hedges is a journalist who covered wars in El Salvador, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Gaza and Bosnia. After 12 years of reporting from the battlefield he wrote a book called "War is a Force That Gives us Meaning." In this book he speaks of the attraction, even the addiction, of war. "The enduring attraction of war is this," he says, "Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living." In war there's excitement, power, a chance to rise above our station. "War is a drug," he says, "one I ingested for many years." But, he also says, war is peddled by mythmakers. It can only be waged with lies, myths and more lies. Lies told us by the state, myths taught us by historians, myths dispatched by reporters and written by novelists; lies in the pictures taken by filmmakers and all other bearers of culture. There's the myth of the soldier hero, courageously rushing forward with no thought for his own safety, defending all that is noble and good; so different from the fearful, traumatic, smelly and haunting experience of most soldiers, including highly decorated ones. There's the myth of the nation - whose people are strong and good, who are only victims and never aggressors when it comes to violence. There are the lies that leaders tell us about how the war is going; the hidden coffins, the phony body counts. There are cheerful news stories of "our" soldiers, while the charred bodies of enemy soldiers and dead families remain invisible. There are the lies about the "enemy" - that they commit nothing but atrocities, and they are so, so different from us. And there are lies about the cause itself -- important lies, because as Hedges points out, "the sanctity of the cause is crucial to the war effort." And it's not just the military and the government, writers and artists, teachers and historians that peddle myths -- so does the church, and the synagogue, and the mosque - we who claim to be doing God's will. In the midst of all this lying, Hedges points out, truth tellers are silenced, dissenters are jailed or killed, and when the war is over people don't want to talk about it, in victory or defeat. Now Hedges is not a pacifist, he insists that sometimes we have to intervene, to take the less immoral side, as not all sides are morally equivalent -- but in his observation, all sides depend on myths and lies. 

 "Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth." With this answer Jesus puts Pilate, and us, on notice. We may say that Jesus is a king; we may celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday and Crown him with Many Crowns. But he's not a King like Pilate, who has little respect for the truth -- or little hope of finding it. He's not a King like all our warrior kings. He's not a king who leads soldiers to kill and be killed, based on a lie about weapons of mass destruction. He's not a King who orders the dropping of atomic bombs, based on the myth of an enemy who will always fight to the death and never surrender. He's not a King who sends troops to defend the oilfields of Kuwait, based on a myth of liberating the country. He is not a king like any earthly king, or emperor or president or prime minister or dictator that wages war to gain power. Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth. The truth that there is no glory in killing, rape, death and destruction. The truth that God does not call for violence in God's name: not the violence of the crusade or the jihad. The truth that we are all sinners, but everyone of us is also a beloved child of God, even Osama Bin Laden. The truth that our enemies are very much like us. And Jesus doesn't only testify to the truth about war, or climate change, or other planet-threatening issues. Jesus testifies to the truth about our personal lives: our drinking, our infidelities of all kinds, our finances, our fears. Jesus also testifies to the truth of God's grace and forgivness. To the truth of God's strength, God's healing comfort, God's hope. Jesus testifies to the truth of God's coming, of God's ultimate victory on that day of peace, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the Bosnian with the Serb, the Israeli with the Palestinian, the American with the Iranian. 

 Jesus says that all who belong to the truth listen to his voice. So in this Christ the King Sunday, our call is to listen for his voice, to discern the truth. We may celebrate Christ the King Sunday, as long as we remember that Jesus is King only in the sense that Christ's reign of love, justice and peace is ultimately more powerful than any earthly kingdom and that to speak of a "Christian nation" is to commit blasphemy. We may crown him with many crowns, as long as we remember that we are crowning him the Lord of love, of peace, and of eternity. We may even sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" as long as we remember that we're only to be metaphorical soldiers. Soldiers in the sense that the Christian faith is a force that gives our life meaning, drawing us together in love. As long as we remember that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (I'm quoting Paul, now, Ephesians 6:12.) And as long as we remember we're only going AS to war -- never OFF to war in the name of Christ. For Jesus came into this world not to tell lies but to testify to the truth: the truth of God's love, the truth of God's justice, the truth of God's peace. 

Dec. 12 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 28, 4:25pm
Dec. 12 - Pastor's Pen

One of the things that surprised me when I lived in Brazil (in the early 80s) was how many people didn’t like Carnival, the pre-Lenten mardi gras festival. Brazil’s carnival is world-renown for the Rio and Sao Paulo parades, with their fabulous costumes and impressive samba schools, but all towns and cities have celebrations. Carnival is a time to get together with family and friends, enjoy music, food, and yes, drink (although it’s not as rambunctious as it’s reputed to be). Brazilians tend to be proud of this national extravaganza, and some spend months planning for it. But not everyone is enthusiastic. “I hate Carnival,” my roommate would say, rolling her eyes, and she wasn’t alone. The hoopla. The social pressure (Where are YOU going to spend Carnival?). The expense. The mess. The noise. The enforced gaiety. The exhaustion. To the Carnival Grinch, Lenten fasting was a relief!

The North American counterpart to Carnival is Christmas, and for some this is their least favorite time of year. The hoopla. The social pressure (too many party invitations - or worse – none). The expense. The traffic. The enforced gaiety and family togetherness. The exhaustion. Christian activists lobby to put the Christ back in Christmas, but often that means encouraging people to say “Merry Christmas” at the mall. You don’t need to be a Grinch to find January a relief.

But it’s easier to step out of the Christmas craziness that we think (although harder for parents than the rest of us). Turn off the TV – poof! Throw catalogs and flyers in the recycle bin before reading. Don’t give a party (unless you really want to). It’s OK to decline invitations. Although I doubt he’d object, Jesus didn’t tell us to put up lights, decorate a tree, make five varieties of cookies or buy presents. These activities may be lovely, but they’re not needful. 

The only thing needful is to come to church. Listen to scripture, pray, sing Advent and Christmas hymns, give generously to the poor. You may take a name from the giving tree or prepare goodies for a goody bag for the Whosoever Gospel Mission. If you’d like to help decorate the church, wonderful – bring a modest dish to the potluck on December 14th. Help us welcome guests at the coffee hour Christmas Eve. But mainly, come to worship. And invite friends! Worship is the best open house they’ll attend this season.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

Commandments for a Hot Planet April 22, 2012 by evan jr. on Apr 25, 8:01pm
Commandments for a Hot Planet April 22, 2012

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 22, 2012

Exodus 20:1-7

Commandments for a Hot Planet (II - Sabbath)

 

 If we were to take a poll and ask what is the most attractive commandment, what commandment would you most enjoy keeping, which one do you think is the kindest and gentlest, I suspect most people would say remember the sabbath. The other commandments may be good for us and our neighbors, and in keeping them there is great reward, but they don't seem as pleasurable. Imagine truly resting from 6 days of work -- paid or unpaid work, factory work or keeping house, desk work or working in the dirt. No punching in, no dealing with the public, no shopping, no laundry, no cooking, no committee meetings, no driving. Imagine just resting -- talking with friends and family, taking a walk, reading a mystery, hanging out with the kids, eating food prepared beforehand -- one day every week after six days of work. (I feel like I'm getting pornographic) And worship, of course, for the commandment is to keep the day holy. Worship, but not writing the sermon, rehearsing the choir or making coffee -that would have to be set up the day before. Imagine -- all the people resting on one day.

 

 

 But, as much as we may dream of keeping the sabbath, very few Christians do, even in a modified form. There are many reasons for this stretching back to the early church -- although our forbears would be shocked at how far we've come from a day of rest. (Jesus, by the way, did keep the sabbath -- he just argued, like any good rabbi - on the exceptions that were to be made). It's easiest to keep the sabbath when everyone's doing it -- and we don't live in such a world. Many Americans don't worship the God of the ten commandments, and even strict sabbath-keepers among us observe it on different days. There's no universal shut-down. People are called into work on Sundays and Saturdays. Orthodox Jews and others may find ways to schedule around that -- but it's hard to do on a large scale. But it's not just our jobs or the secular world which makes it hard to keep the sabbath. Depending on how you define work, sabbath keeping may also rule out fun stuff that we and our kids would like to do, such as going to the movies or an amusement park. Keeping the sabbath also demands a lot of organization. 

 

 

 And there's another reason. Many of us feel guilty when we're not working. There's so much to do! Not just the work we do at our paid jobs, although many folks do some paid work 7 days a week. But also the work that we do to help our families, to keep our house, to support good causes, to get our degrees and to keep the church going. A full day of rest doesn't feel ethical -- let alone practical. Could God really be commanding us to rest for a whole day? Shouldn't we be serving others instead, fighting for justice, or at least plowing through our to-do list?

 

 

 

 But if we look carefully at this commandment, we see that God is commanding the Sabbath as a way to do justice, and care for others. For God commands a day of rest for everyone: not just the landowner, but the slave. Not just the Israelites, but the resident aliens among them -- who may have no religious scruples about working, but who need a day of rest as much as anyone else. Even the animals get to keep the sabbath -- donkeys and oxs get to be donkeys and oxs, rather than plows or pack animals. On this day, all are at rest. No one is exploited for the sake of another. The sabbath isn't primarily about taking care of ourselves, or storing up energy; it's a day to reflect the divine image, the image in which all human beings were equally created. It's a day to reflect the divine which created for six days, declared it good, and then rested.

 

 And as the planet gets hotter, resting has an even deeper ethical dimension. For most of the "work" we do requires not just our energy, but energy from deep within the earth: oil, gas, coal. To work we turn on lights, drive, cook, power up computers, get factories humming, transport stuff. The 24-hour, seven-day a week production and shopping cycle of our world spews a lot of greenhouse gas into the air: threatening our eco-systems, and the plants and animals in them. Endangering the poor of the world, who face more droughts and floods and less food. Robbing our children and grandchildren of the riches we know if creation if we don't change our ways. A day of rest is one way to slow this down.

 

 

 I can't in this sermon, give practical advice on practicing the sabbath. I'm a terrible model and I don't have kids or other complicating factors. But I can say this: don't feel guilty about resting. Don't feel guilty about taking a break from work for low-carbon sabbath time such as nap-taking or reading, walking or talking with a friend face to face. Sabbath keeping is not just about you -- or me. It's about restoring creation as well as our selves, it's about inching the world towards justice and peace, it's about reflecting the divine image. We may not be able to observe the sabbath together, as a gathered, rested community outside of worship. And of course all sabbath keeping has exceptions -- the Bible has lists of them. But on this warming planet, a rest from getting and spending, from using and producing, is a holy calling.

 

 

 And as this planet heats up, the sabbath commandment reminds us there's another group that needs to rest, to rest in peace, eternally. And those are the dead from ancient times. I'm not talking about our human ancestors, but about the dead dinosaurs and ancient plants and animals that now fuel our world. You may not realize this -- I didn't until I was about 45 - but coal and oil and gas are the remains of plants and animals who lived millions of years ago. Coal and oil isn't just black stuff in the rock family, We're digging up the dead when we mine fossil fuels. That was OK for a while -- I believe such fuels were a gift to be used - but no longer. We've got to move toward the abundant energy of the sun and the wind, the waves and the heat from within the earth if we're to be good stewards. We need to let those ancient dinosaurs rest in peace. 

 

 

 So how do we remember the sabbath on a hot planet? We worship the God who rested after creating the world and declaring it good. We rest from our labor, and from our intense burning of fossil fuels, and make sure that all other people have a chance to rest, too. We seek to reflect the divine image: an image in which we are all people are created equally in the image of God, and all equally deserving of the abundant energy, food and beauty in God's creation. 

Easter Fear, Easter Joy April 8, 2012 by evan jr. on Apr 25, 7:59pm
Easter Fear, Easter Joy April 8, 2012

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 8, 2012

Mark 16: 1-8

 

Easter Fear, Easter Joy

 

 "They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." These are the last words that Mark wrote in his gospel that began: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God." It's a strange ending. So strange that early scribes who copied Mark's gospel added endings of their own -- you can read them in your Bibles. These endings include appearances of the Risen Lord to his disciples, and the proclamation of the good news throughout the world. These endings make sense. They make sense logically, because the women must have broken their silence or no one would know about their visit to the tomb. They make sense theologically, because the last word in the good news of Jesus Christ is not fear, but joy. "That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright," says the hymn, and it was, for Jesus had conquered death. "Let shouts of Holy Joy outburst," we just sang, "Alleluia, Alleluia."

 

 

 So the last word is joy but it seems Mark didn't get that memo. Oh, maybe he didn't mean to end there - something could have happened when he was on the final chapter. His dog could have eaten the last page. But in the gospel we have, he ends with the silence and fear of the three women. Three women who loved Jesus. Three women who had the courage to go to the tomb (unlike their bretheren). Three women who then fled the tomb, seized by terror and amazement, so frightened they couldn't speak. But sometime later, outside of Mark's telling -- perhaps in Galilee, as the Angel promised - they met Jesus, and their tongues were loosened. Or the Holy Spirit moved within them and they realized the empty tomb was good news. We don't hear about that moment of conversion, the happy reunion with tears and embraces, the moving from silence to speech. And it's good that Mark didn't tell us, because if he had we had we may have forgotten how frightened the women were. We may have forgotten how slow they were to believe.

 

 We may not have realized how much those first witnesses were like us. Frightened, and saying nothing to anyone about the things that scare us most. That new pain in our leg, the results of a medical test. A child who seems to be losing their way. Conflict with family or friends. Gun-toting citizens who think some people just look dangerous or who don't care who gets caught in the crossfire. Climate change. War. All kinds of dangers, all kinds of pain, all manner of powers and principalities that frighten us into silence.

 

 But it's in those places of fear and silence that the risen Lord comes to us, too. Offering the comfort of his Holy Spirit as we struggle with pain and illness. Promising to be there when two or three are gathered in his name, so there's nothing we can't talk about. Granting us hope and courage as we face the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced. Assuring us that when we leave this mortal coil, we have everlasting life in him. Inviting us to turn to him, and to trust in his love. Do not be alarmed, said the angel -- Christ is not here, he has been raised!


 You may remember, beginning in the 80s, a poster used by AIDS activists that had a lavender triangle on it and the words Silence=Death. Those words referred to the silence of people with AIDs who were - understandably - afraid to speak up, given they were already stigmatized. They referred to the silence of the gay community, which was still largely closeted. They referred to the silence of good but fearful people: people frightened of getting AIDS, people frighted of being associated with people who had AIDS. And they referred to the silence of the Reagan administration. These posters urged people to break their silence. It took a while, but as more people started speaking and taking action, things changed. Attitudes changed, programs were begun, money was spent, lives were saved. There's still much work to do around AIDS, there's still much suffering, but the breaking of silence - by many different kinds of people - led to life. 


 The women, while they were silent and fearful, still remained in the shadow of the crucifixion. When they fled in terror, saying nothing to anyone, they still had one foot in the tomb. But once they starting speaking, everything changed. Once they began sharing their story of the empty tomb, of the angel and the good news, they entered into the joy of discipleship. Once they trusted in the Risen Christ, they had new life. 


 If silence=death, Sharing=joy. Sharing Christ's love by caring for one another = equals joy. Sharing the forgiveness we know in Christ by forgiving one another = joy. Sharing in the mission of Christ's church by serving the least of these and standing up for justice = joy. Sharing in worship, prayer and song = joy. Sharing the news that Christ has risen, that death and suffering does not have the last word = joy. So, along with those three women, let's joyfully share the good news: Christ has Risen, Christ has risen indeed! Alleluia, Amen.

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