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|3/25/16 Good Friday Service by Donna Williams on Aug 12, 8:03am|
|3/25/16 Good Friday Service|
Oxford Presbyterian Church
Joint Good Friday Service
March 25, 2016
Luke 23: 39-43
Several years ago a parishioner asked me to play a song by Kris Kristofferson at her funeral, called “Why me Lord?” Why me Lord, it begins, What have I ever done to deserve even one of the blessings I’ve known. Why me Lord?, it continues, What did I ever do? That was worth love from You and the kindness You’ve shown.” I listened to the song for the first time after her death, and was startled at the word “blessing” — which, of course, is what the songwriter intended, knowing that most of us only ask, Why me Lord? when we’re facing loss, or misfortune, or suffering. We ask “what did I do?” and either search our past for the crime which explains it, or - understandably - feel angry at God. For we like to believe that if we’re going to church and keeping away from drugs and doing our best to treat people well, we deserve a good life. A good job, a good marriage, well-behaved children (hah!), a nice home. The cosmetic firm L’Oreal knew this, when they sold hair coloring with the tagline “you’re worth it,” a variation on the them of “you deserve it.”
Of course, we can also go in the other direction, feeling we don’t deserve any blessings. Especially if we’ve been abused as children, or never knew the love of a parent, it can be hard to shake the belief that we’re undeserving of love, forgiveness, or success. If we’ve committed a grave wrong, we may feel that we should be paying for it the rest of our lives. And if we stop expecting anything good we often do things to fulfill that expectation, in a downward spiral of poor choices. Most of us, I think, are a confused mixture: sometimes feeling we deserve the good and sometimes the bad, ricocheting between shame and entitlement, two sides of the same coin, and underneath it all a desire for control. We want to feel the good or bad is up to us. So we ask, “Why me Lord?” when things don’t go the way we think they should.
But not everyone. Not the Penitent thief, as the second criminal is often called. He didn’t ask, “Why me Lord?” The Lord was right next to him — it was a good opportunity — but the criminal already knew, or thought he knew why. His deeds put him on the cross : he tells the other criminal their punishment is just, that they deserve what they’re getting. So he doesn’t ask Jesus why me: instead, he rebukes his fellow criminal. He then asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And so, through the centuries, people have held up the “penitent thief” as a model: even the worst of sinners, this interpretation goes, will receive mercy if they turn to Christ and ask forgiveness. Now, that’s true: even the worst of sinners will receive mercy if they turn to Christ and ask forgiveness. But I’d like to stop the action here just for a minute. These three men are being tortured. Crucifixion was cruel and unusual punishment by anyone’s definition. The pain was excruciating. It went on for hours, often days. It was public. Men were hung naked — the pictures are wrong — and death could come in any number of horrible ways. The crucified didn’t have calm conversations. If anything, they screamed. Their bodies were usually left on the cross, denied a proper burial, something very important to people in the ancient world. Now some of them may have committed heinous crimes. But we know from the trial of Jesus that the Roman justice system hardly ensured “due process”: and those who were guilty may have been guilty of a crime like escaping slavery and stealing bread. Or they might have been guilty of leading a rebellion, killing Roman soldiers, a crime that would have made them heroes if they had been on the Roman side. Tens of thousands were crucified by the Romans — and the Romans weren’t the only people to use this punishment. It doesn’t matter what they did: no one, no one, no one, deserves to be crucified. It breaks my heart to hear the criminal talk about himself that way.
So when Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” I don’t think he’s simply assuring the penitent thief — or us - that we will be saved if we turn to Jesus, although we will be. Jesus is telling the crucified man that his pain, and his death, is not the last thing that he will know. For he’s not getting what he deserved. Torture is not the will of God. Jesus assures us, from the cross, that God’s will is stronger than Rome. God’s will is to welcome people to paradise because God’s love is greater than anything we may do. Including taunting Jesus when we are in excruciating pain. Because we don’t get what we deserve, at least in this life. Yes, our actions have consequences, good and bad, and we need to take responsibility for that. And yes, for protection and order we need a criminal justice system. And yes, everyone “deserves,” if we use that word, food to eat, a safe home, freedom. And yes, I do believe we’ll be judged by the one who is both merciful and just. But we are neither blessed nor cursed according to our “deserving”; we are simply loved. Loved by one who, in solidarity with us, did not get what he deserved. Loved by one, who, in his teaching and healing sought to bring wholeness and peace to all peoples —and call us to do the same. Loved by one, who, today and forever, will be with us in paradise — the paradise we glimpse here on earth, the paradise we will know when we see Christ face to face. The paradise all peoples will know when Jerusalem descends from the heavens, and the tree of life is planted by the living stream, with leaves for the healing of the nations. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
|3/24/16 Tenebrae Service by Donna Williams on Aug 12, 8:02am|
|3/24/16 Tenebrae Service|
Summit Presbyterian Church
March 24, 2016
Several years ago a minister came before the New York City Presbytery to be examined for a call. (For those of you who aren’t up on Presbyterian polity, when an ordained minister - also called a Teaching Elder - is called to a position in a different Presbytery, the new Presbytery is required to question him or her on their faith and then vote on whether to let them take the job). Her statement of faith was a perfectly fine Presbyterian statement, except for the paragraph on Holy Communion. She had neglected to say anything about the special nature of the bread and wine or the presence of Christ in the sacrament. It sounded suspiciously Baptist. In Baptist understanding, communion is a time to remember the last supper and the sacrifice of Christ, but the bread and wine are strictly symbols, and in no way embody the presence of Christ, let alone turn into his body and blood. (And if you’re thinking, uh oh, I may be a Baptist when it comes to communion, don’t worry, most of us are, even those of us who are Roman Catholic — but that’s another discussion). Anyhow, a couple of senior ministers from the big churches stood up and questioned her. She didn’t seem to understand where they were coming from — it’s hard when you’re up there - so she didn’t respond in a way that satisfied them. Other ministers tried to give her the answer by asking how was Christ present in communion (by the way, just in case you’re ever examined before Presbytery, you should say that in the Lord’s Supper we encounter the “real presence of Christ”). Anyhow, this back and forth went on for some time before the examination was arrested. She was admitted, but by a narrow vote.
Now, I agree it’s important for Presbyterian ministers to understand the Reformed theology of communion — at least kind of — so the questions weren’t inappropriate. And although I imagine she found the experience traumatic, it wasn’t like we burned her at the stake, which is what Christians used to do with folks who didn’t preach the correct doctrine on this issue. But it’s worth noting that in our scripture this evening, or in any of Paul’s letters, he has no interest in the exact nature of the elements, or in the metaphysical way in which Christ is present. Paul has bigger fish to fry.
Paul’s concerned about the way Corinthians treat each other when they come together for the Lord’s supper. Reading between the lines, and knowing what we do about the customs of that time, this is what scholars think those early suppers were like. The communion meal would be held in the home of a wealthier member. His friends, members of his social class, would be invited to come first, and would enjoy plenty of good food at a table in an inner room. Others — slaves, servants and folks of modest means — would come later, after they had finished their duties at home. They would be relegated to the outer rooms, and not served dinner. Probably everyone then came together for a ritual with bread and wine, but by then some would be stuffed, others would be hungry. A few may had too much wine to know what was happening, we can imagine it was all a bit disheveled. It would be humiliating for the poor and the hungry as they stood near their social betters. In this matter, said Paul, I do not commend you.
Paul reminds them what was handed on: that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, began with thanks, — even as he faced death. He then gave himself fully, without reservation, to his friends, as he broke the bread and poured the wine. There was no plates piled high with food while others were passed over. No hoarding, no shaming, no good seats and bad seats — all were gathered at the Passover table, even the one who was to betray him. The meal and all that followed was love poured out. Jesus was fully aware of what lay ahead, and still was the host. That’s the meal they’re to remember, and that’s the love they’re to reflect.
So later in the letter, after stern warnings against eating the bread or drinking the cup in an unworthy manner, Paul gives some practical advice: when you come together, wait for one another. If you’re too hungry to wait, eat at home, rather than in front of your sister or brother who has none. Social distinctions have no place at the table.
We can take it a step further. Just as we’re to reflect the broad and deep love of Christ at the table, we’re invited to extend that table to the world. So that one day no one will go hungry while another is full. So that one day no one will be humiliated for having nothing while others engage in excess. So that we can eat the bread and drink the wine without our theological differences getting in the way of coming together and treating each other with respect and kindness. So that one day all peoples may give thanks together: for the abundance of creation, for the blessing of God’s love, for the gift of God’s grace that we know through the real presence of Christ who is with us in our eating and our drinking, on this Holy Night and always.
|3/1/15 Sermon: A High and Human Calling - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 3, 3:38pm|
|3/1/15 Sermon: A High and Human Calling - Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
March 1, 2015
Matthew 9: 35-38
A High and Human Calling
When I was in seminary I spent a summer in Berea, Kentucky in a program to help students learn more about Appalachia and the joys and challenges of rural ministry. I lived on a dairy farm for a while and also visited a number of small family tobacco farms. I learned something about the growing of tobacco. I learned that most farmers are caught in a moral dilemma. They know that tobacco is poison. They know it hurts their families and those who harvest it; but quitting or switching is no easy matter. Tobacco farming is labor-intensive but can be done on small plots; most farms in that area were too small to cultivate other crops commercially. (On one farm a young man who stayed in the family business was primarily farming organic vegetables; but he kept a small plot of tobacco to subsidize the vegetables). It was also hard to let go of a way of a way of life, a culture, that had sustained their families for decades; folks were grieving. I also learned something about the way you grow and process tobacco. I learned there’s a narrow window of time in which to harvest it. It has to be harvested after the leaves are large enough to be worthwhile, but before an early frost, a storm, or some other problem hurts the crop. There are decisions to be made about exactly when to plant and harvest, decisions which involve judgment, experience and luck – for the weather is not predictable. When it’s time to harvest, it’s urgent. Folks drop everything to get it in the crop and there’s a job for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest – farmers showed us pictures of themselves standing on stools to work with tobacco leaves, when they were as young as five. By 1997, when I was there, most young people had left the countryside. They knew there was no future in farming. Extended family and neighbors simply weren’t there to help. Workers from Mexico came for the harvest – folks struggling even harder than the small tobacco farmers -- but everyone worried that there wouldn’t be enough people to get the crop in.
After this short time in Appalachia, I had a deeper appreciation for the harvest parables in the Bible. The disciples would have gotten it: when the harvest is plentiful, there’s no time to waste. All hands on deck! Everyone has a part to play. Work hard and fast or the crop may waste on the vine or be ruined in a hailstorm and then everyone’s in trouble. Pray that you have enough workers.
In scripture, harvest parables have an eschatological dimension. (Eschatological is the theological word for the end of times and final judgment). Christ will be coming to separate the wheat from the tares. Christ will gather the wheat into the barn, and bind the weeds into bundles to be burned. Christ will be coming at the harvest, this line of interpretation goes, to separate the faithful from idolators, the righteous from the disobedient, and so we must go forth and proclaim the good news, urging all to believe in Christ and follow in his way, before the great and terrible day of the Lord.
But these parables aren’t only about the final judgement. We don’t even have to believe in a final sorting to understand the urgency in them. We don’t have to believe that some folks are going to heaven and others to hell to appreciate the urgency of going out into the field and proclaiming the gospel, in word and in deed. Jesus told the disciples this parable because he had compassion on the crowd. They were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd. The need was urgent. People were hurting: suffering from disease and sickness, battling all kinds of demons. They were losing hope: burdened by guilt, by overseers, taxes, poverty. Jesus had been teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. But even he couldn’t do it alone: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” he says. And then — in the next paragraph - he summons the twelve disciples and gives them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and also authority to cure every disease and every sickness. He then sends them out. The harvest was plentiful; the laborers were ready.
And so it is for us, too. The harvest is plentiful and the time is now. The return of Christ and the full redemption of the world is probably a long ways off, no one knows that day or hour. But for the child who is hungry now, in Germantown or Bangladesh, the need is urgent. For the young man in prison, in despair about his future, the need is urgent. For young people in danger of going to prison, and their families, the need is urgent — for ways to avoid it and for a more just system. For the older person who is lonely, yearning for friendship, the need is urgent — there may not be much time left. For children and families pulled this way and that by school demands or financial troubles, by the internet, by peer pressures — the need is urgent — for stability, for community, for guidance. For nations on the brink of war, such as our own, the need is urgent — for diplomacy, for peaceful solutions. For refugees from Syria, or Mexico, the need is urgent — the need for freedom and safety. And finally, for creation, for those who are poor around the world and for future generations, the need is urgent — the need to turn from fossil fuels and the greed and fear that keeps us clinging to them — so that future harvests - future harvests of wheat and vegetables — may indeed be plentiful. Everywhere the need is urgent: for hope, for new life, for a helping hand, for justice, for peace.
And just as Jesus called and equipped the disciples, Christ calls and equips us. To proclaim and teach the Word, so all may hear the invitation to forgiveness and new life in Christ, and hear God’s instructions for abundant life. Christ equips us to help and heal those who are hurting, in body, mind and spirit: through prayer, through loving community, through the sharing of our treasurer. Christ calls and equips us to cast out unclean spirits: the unclean spirits of greed and violence, of envy and hate, or ignorance and prejudice, so we may live in a world where peace and justice reign. It’s a high and human calling — angels can’t do it. Christ needs hearts and heads and hands on earth to gather the harvest.
Today we give thanks to God for calling and equipping some among us for what we call the “ordered ministries” of the church, serving as deacons and elders — and in our congregation, also trustees. We’re grateful for their gifts; we’re grateful for their willingness to come to meetings, to make tough decisions, to organize things so the church may grow and thrive. But it’s not just officers who are called and equipped: we all are. Some among us may be called to pray or comfort those who are grieving; others to teach our children; others to offer hospitality at the coffee hour or Elder Diner; others to lead the congregation in song; others to work with young people at REACH; others to witness against gun violence or racism or mass incarceration (or climate change). And some of us may not feel called to do any of those things — but we do them anyway. For the harvest is plentiful; the need is great; the time is short.
And now . . . .
|2/22/15 Sermon: Lent is For Learning - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 3, 3:38pm|
|2/22/15 Sermon: Lent is For Learning - Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
February 22, 2015
Psalm 25 - Lent 1
Lent is For Learning
If you’re a college student, or know of someone who is, you may be familiar with a site called rateyourprofessors.com On this site, students rate their professors for helpfulness, clarity, easiness and something called “hotness.” They also post comments. I never had a reason to look at it and I’m opposed to using the internet to publicly praise or shame, but recently my curiosity got the better of me. So I looked up a friend who’s a college professor. I’d heard her laugh about the site and she even quoted it once, so I figured she wouldn’t mind. My friend had a solid “B” rating, and the comments were revealing. Positive ratings generally spoke about how you could get a good grade if you followed her instructions; negative ratings said it was hard to get a good grade because she was bad prof, and sadly but predictably, the better someone’s grammar, punctuation and spelling, the more likely they were to rate my friend highly. There were also helpful tips for anyone thinking of taking her class: be on time, do the reading, “TURN OFF YOUR CELLPHONE!!!!” (all caps, lots of exclamation points). Some of the students on rateyourprofessors - I browsed a bit - spoke about the excitement of learning and the expertise of their teachers. But most spoke about their professors in terms of how easy (or not) it was to get good grades. It’s understandable — we tell students scores matter more than anything else from a very early age. Most college students are in debt and need the degree. But it’s a limited view of teachers and students and learning.
It’s also very different from the way the psalmist speaks about her teacher, the Lord. The psalmist praises God as trustworthy, able to protect her from shame. She praises God as merciful, and ask that he remember her, not her transgressions or the sins of her youth. She trusts that God will lead her in the truth, that God’s paths are steadfast love and faithfulness; that God teaches the humble what is right. It may seem odd: talking about God’s love and mercy in the same breath as talking about God as a teacher, but the two are connected. As a 2nd grade teacher I knew that children learned best when they felt safe, loved, and cared for, at home and in school. Shame and anxiety impedes learning. Of course, in a safe, caring classroom or home there are rules and deadlines and consequences for misbehavior or not doing homework. Not learning also has consequences, and we have to be honest about that. But honesty is different than trying to motivate children through ridicule, or standardized test scores or a rigid tracking system that tells some students they’ll never make it. Learning can be hard; it requires courage and trust; we learn better when we know we’re loved and protected. You wouldn’t know that listening to some preachers, who seem to think we learn best through threats of hellfire and damnation. But the psalmist is wiser: she knows God’s teaching cannot be separated from God’s mercy and love.
The psalmist also has a different view of learning and of her role as a student than your typical rateyourprofessor user. She begins by saying she lifts up her soul to God. She trusts in God, she waits for God, she asks to be led in what is right and true. Although she says later in the psalm that those who follow the way of God will prosper, that’s not her focus. Her desire is to learn: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” She promises to listen for God, to pray, to wait patiently and to approach God with humility, recognizing that there’s much she doesn’t know and that she’s often strayed. She offers her life to God; she longs to be his student.
Now, in comparing ratemyprofessor with psalm 25 I”m not suggesting that college students should think of their professors as God. Nor is this a sermon on educational reform or the problems with standardized testing — although I’m always ready to talk about that. But this is the first Sunday in Lent, and this psalm offers us an alternative way to think about our Lenten journey. Lent is a season of repentance, of turning. Often we “give something up” that’s getting in the way of our relationship with God. It could be something sinful, that we hope to keep abstaining from beyond Lent — such as unkind gossip. Or maybe it’s giving up something pleasureable, such as sweets or alcohol, that will help us learn what it’s like to do without and to focus on God instead. Some folks like to add something during Lent, a prayer discipline or volunteer work or weekly giving beyond their pledge. In my Ash Wednesday sermon I encouraged us to attend to communal disciplines: worship and Bible study. But a third way to conceptualize our Lenten journey is to ask: what can I learn in these 40 days that will help me in my Christian journey?
This way of thinking about Lent opens up exciting and rewarding possibilities — for learning is exciting and rewarding, and maybe we should think about Lent more like the first day of Kindergarten rather than the first day of a difficult diet and exercise regime. I had fun thinking of possibilities. One project could be to learn more about the life of Christ by reading or re-reading a gospel from start to finish. (This year we’re reading Mark and it’s the shortest gospel if you wanted to start there). On Wednesday nights we’ll learn what Barbara Brown Taylor says about Sin and the lost language of Salvation, to better discern what God may be saying. A Lenten project could be learning a prayer discipline that will help open your heart and mind to the promptings of the Spirit. It could be learning to make some new vegetarian or even vegan dishes, for good stewardship of both health and planet. It could mean learning something about the world — a piece of history, or more about a troubling issue, because understanding God’s path includes understanding God’s world as best we can.
And as we embark on this learning adventure,it helps us to remember that the wideness of God’s mercy is like the wideness of the sea. That God’s paths are steadfast love and faithfulness. Christ will not meet us on judgement day with standardized test scores. We don’t need to fear failure as we seek to learn more, nor do we need to let past failures burden us with regret and keep us from God. In those 40 days with the wild beasts we can be sure Jesus learned much, just as the people of Israel received God’s instruction in the wilderness. In this season of Lent may we good students, allowing ourselves to be schooled in God’s ways.
|2/18/15 - Hidden in Plain Sight - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 3, 3:37pm|
|2/18/15 - Hidden in Plain Sight - Cheryl Pyrch|
February 18, 2015
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Hidden in Plain Sight
Lent is here, which means it’s the time many of us choose a personal spiritual discipline that we hope will bring us closer to God, perhaps by letting go of something we desire a little too much. I came up with my 2015 Lenten disciple the other night as I was fighting my desire to stay up late and watch another episode of “The Good Wife,” on Amazon Prime. For those of you who watch TV in real time rather on the computer, you may not realize that on the computer you can find out what happens next right away, by watching day after day or even hour after hour. So, no binge-watching of “The Good Wife” for 40 days: no watching of “The Good Wife” at all - I’ll have to wait until Easter Sunday to find out whether Callinda kills her husband, who we only learned existed about 5 minutes before she loaded her gun. This discipline fits the Lenten criteria of a promise to God which will be hard to keep, and theoretically opens up space in my life for prayer or study. Last year my discipline was more traditional: a fast from meat. This also had an ethical dimension, as eating meat is very ecologically expensive (carbon and water intensive) and most of us should eat less of it. I called my Lenten diet “Vegan with Loopholes.” No meat, eggs or dairy except for the half in half in my coffee, or when I was served meat or cheese, because accepting hospitality trumps my diet, and of course Sundays are always feast days not fast days so then was it better to eat the leftovers during the week so that nothing was wasted — you can see I ate a lot of meat over the 40 days.
Now by sharing these personal disciplines with you I am violating the clear teaching of Jesus not to practice (or talk about) piety before others in order to be seen (or heard) by them: whether it’s praying, or fasting, or the giving of alms. But I’m not the only one: people now share their Lenten disciplines on Facebook. Last year several of my Facebook friends were decluttering their house for Lent: 40 days, 40 drawers or closets or corners cleared out. Now fasting, turning off the TV and decluttering are all worthy practices. They can open up space or time in our lives for God, especially if we practice them with integrity. But those personal practices also may tempt us with external rewards: such as a “like”on Facebook, the 21st Century equivalent of praying on a street corner to be seen by others. Or by the losing of weight (something people in the first century never tried to do). Or by a tidy house (few people in the first century had possessions they could throw out). We know, as followers of John Calvin, that we have mixed motives for everything and our sinful natures may make it impossible to practice a spiritual discipline solely for the reward of nurturing our relationship with God. But are there disciplines we can practice that have fewer extrinsic rewards? What might the 21st century equivalent be of praying in our room or fasting with oil on our head?
Most of us heard, in elementary school, the story of the mystery of the purloined letter, first told by Edgar Allan Poe. A man has stolen a letter from an acquaintance that he’s using it to blackmail her. She hires detectives to find it: so they go to the suspect’s house and search high and low, looking behind bookshelves, tearing up floorboards, and so on without success. But the hero of the story goes to the house and finds it the letter casually placed with the week’s mail, disguised just a little — hidden in plain sight among all the other letters. The other detectives didn’t see it when they saw it because it was unremarkable.
One way to pray, or to give alms, or to fast without being seen, is to do so in the company of other prayers, givers and fasters. One way to practice our piety without sounding a trumpet and without receiving praise is to do it with others who are also practicing their piety in the same way, so no one gets to boast. The people in church who see you in church are also in church so no one gets extra credit. And frankly, people who aren’t in church generally aren’t impressed with people who are — which is fine. Coming to church these days also doesn’t bring much in the way of extrinsic rewards: some treats at coffee hour. Friendship — although caring for one another in Christian friendship is arguably a form of worship. Of course, this does not apply to pastors and organists who are rewarded with a paycheck for coming to worship, but for most folks it’s more rewarding — in the worldly sense — to sleep in or go out to brunch. The reward for coming to church, for worship or Bible study, is the one given by God: not a ticket to heaven, but a chance to commune with God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
So if you’re still looking for a Lenten discipline, I suggest coming to church: Every Sunday. Now if you’re here for an Ash Wednesday service chances are you already do that, but it bears repeating: come to church, every Sunday. In addition, both of our congregations offer another chance to practice our piety together during Lent. At Summit we have soup and study suppers at 6:30 on Wednesday evenings. We’re reading the book, “Speaking of Sin,” by Barbara Brown Taylor and anyone from First Church is warmly welcomed — let me know after the service and I’ll order a book. I also noticed that here at First Church you have Bible study at 11:30 — which is the perfect time for anyone at Summit who’s not able to come on Wednesdays to study the word, for we begin our service just 15 minutes before yours and that gives anyone at Summit time to come join you at First Church. And give, generously, to the One Great Hour of Sharing — perhaps by saving for it throughout Lent, giving up some other spending so you may give your alms. And giving to the One Great Hour of Sharing is practically like giving in secret because no one except the financial secretary will know what you’ve given — your envelope will be one among many, hidden in plain sight.
So, if you find an individual Lenten practice helpful, do it. Now is the time. But don’t neglect to practice your piety before others and with others. You will not receive the admiration of others: but your heavenly Father, our God, will see you, and you will see her, and so our hearts will be where they belong.
|Christmas Reflection 12/24/14 by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 8, 7:04pm|
|Christmas Reflection 12/24/14|
Peace on Earth
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors.”
As suddenly as they appear, the angels are gone. The shepherds don’t linger in the field to marvel about the heavenly host – they’re too preoccupied with getting to Bethlehem. Luke doesn’t describe them. So in the years since, artists and musicians and writers have filled in the details. The heavenly host – the Greek word is army - becomes a choir. The angels hover on wings. Often, especially among painters of the Hallmark school, they’re blond girls. (That’s not in the text). The words of the angels have also been debated: Peace on earth, goodwill toward men? Peace on Earth, goodwill among people? or – as our translation has it – on earth peace among those whom God favors? That could mean, I think it does mean the whole earth, allowing that God favors all God’s creatures.
My favorite extra-biblical vision of these angels comes from the hymn we just sang. Its author, Edmund Hamilton Sears, was a Unitarian minister. He was considered a conservative Unitarian because he believed in the divinity of Christ; but he was considered a very liberal Protestant, and critics of this hymn have pointed out that he doesn’t mention Jesus. But the truth he tells – what he gets right -- is that the angels haven’t stopped singing. “Still through cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled, and still their heavenly music floats O’er all the weary world.” Just as the birth of Jesus is not in the past only, but happens again and again when Christ is born in our hearts and in the world; and just as the teachings of Jesus are not ancient lessons only, bound to their place and time, but living words for us; and just as the resurrection wasn’t a miracle for those first disciples only, but one we also know, as we encounter the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit; so still, the angels sing.
We have trouble hearing them. It’s hard to believe they’re even there, as we look at this world where peace – a just peace - is so elusive. There’s a fourth verse to this carol that our hymnal leaves out. It’s not well known and the editors might have thought it too harsh for Christmas. But left-out verses are often the best, and usually the most subversive, so I’ll recite it now: “Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; Beneath the angel-strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and man, at war with man, hears not the love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”
These words were written in 1849. You could argue that the world has only become noisier with woes of sin and strife. There have been victories, there has been progress, but the wrong keeps rolling on. Hamilton Sears was an abolitionist, and he saw the end of slavery – but its legacy is still with us. Warfare has become even more brutal; since 1849 we’ve added trench warfare, carpet bombing, nuclear weapons, and drones to our repertoire; our weapons of mass destruction have put the whole earth in peril. And then there’s the climate –- changing because of our heedless ways. A catastrophe that promises more violence, if we don’t heed the warnings. Will we ever hush the noise to hear the angels sing?
What the hymn also gets right, the truth it tells, is that the angels will keep singing and their song will win out. That the days are hastening on when peace shall o’er all the earth its ancient splendors fling. Our psalm describes that day: the day when Lord will come to judge the earth with righteousness and the people with equity and truth. On that day the earth will rejoice; the seas will roar and the fields exult; the trees of the forest will sing for joy. On that day, as Isaiah has said, swords will be turned into plowshares and nations will learn war no more. On that day all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire; for a child has been born for us. A child who lived among us, and died from human sin and strife, but was not bound by death. Showing us that sin and strife, violence and death, will not have the last word.
In the meantime, we’re called to join the angels in their love-song of peace and joy. To join them with our voices, and also with our lives, working for that day of peace whose coming is sure. Joining the multitude of heavenly host, so much more multitudinous than Hallmark cards suggest. Joining the choir which includes the young and old, men and women, peoples of every tribe and race and nation. Joining the choir which includes the powerful who have been pulled from their thrones and the lowly who have been lifted up: the whole world, heaven and nature, giving back the song which now the angels sing.
|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] 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.
Summit Presbyterian Church
 [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,
|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|
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|
Summit Presbyterian Church
July 14, 2013
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|
Summit Presbyterian Church
June 16, 2013
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,
|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,
|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,
|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,
|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.
Grace and Peace,
|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|
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|
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|
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.