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A Fellowship Complete April 15, 2012 by evan jr. on Apr 25, 7:56pm
A Fellowship Complete April 15, 2012

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 15, 2012

1 John 1:1 - 2:2

 

A Fellowship Complete

 

 What is the miracle of Easter? The main miracle, the one you're probably thinking of, is that Jesus rose from the dead. That when the women went to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away and Jesus gone. Angels dressed in white told them that Jesus had been raised and would appear to the disciples and the gospels have several accounts of these appearances: Jesus came to Mary Magdalene in the garden, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple met Jesus on the road to Emmaus; the eleven met Jesus on a mountain in Galilee; Jesus came twice to a house in Jerusalem where the disciples were huddled in fear, and he also met them on a beach. [Taking a break to hear a word from our sponsor, our next Bible Study in May . . . ] Christians have wondered, over the years, if the body of Jesus actually rose from the grave, and what that body was like. The gospels aren't clear. Jesus encourages the disciples to touch his wounds, to see that he has flesh and bones, and he eats bread and fish with them. But he can also go through doors, disappear in an instant, and keep his followers from recognizing him. However we may "explain" the resurrection - as body, as spirit, as a spiritual body or even as a vision of the disciples - the first miracle of Easter is that Jesus rose from the dead. The scriptures testify to that.

 

 But our scriptures today, on this second Sunday of Easter, speak of another Easter miracle. And that's the miracle of the transformed life, the new life, that followers of Jesus had with each other. A different kind of community than they had before. A fellowship in the risen, living Christ. In our first reading from Acts, Luke says that the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul. No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. So great was the grace upon them all, says Luke, that there was not a needy person among them. Now if we were making a list of hard-to-believe miracles, I'd put that above the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Or the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Or the turning of water into wine. Anyone who's watched toddlers in a sandbox, or read about the Soviet Union's five-year plans, or observed our own 1% vs. 99% knows how hard it is for people to share, how hard it is for us to put the needs of others before our own comfort. But according to Luke, the early church did. It also grew in numbers and in spirit. Their life together had been transformed.

 

 John speaks of that miracle in a different way: as a divine fellowship that followers of Jesus now have with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. A fellowship where they live in the light of God, walking as Jesus walked. A fellowship, John says later in the letter, where disciples love one another, not only in word and speech but in truth and action (3:18). Now John recognizes this fellowship has not reached perfection. Followers of Jesus still fall into sin: "If we say that we have no sin," says John, "we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." But, miraculously, Jesus Christ brings us back into light when we fall into the darkness. "If we confess our sins," continues John, "Christ who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Jesus restores us to this fellowship divine where our joy may be complete.

 

 Last Sunday the Inquirer had an article called "Debating the Resurrection." It beings by saying: "It is not easy being Christian, what with doing unto others, loving your enemies, turning the other cheek. Yet the far greater challenge is to accept without doubt the core belief evinced in the Easter story — that Jesus rose bodily from the dead."

 

 I don't know about that. I think it's the opposite. It's not easy accepting without doubt the core belief evinced in the Easter story -- that Jesus rose bodily from the dead - even when we define "bodily" very loosely. Yet the far greater challenge is doing unto others, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek. The far greater challenge is believing in the second miracle: that in fellowship with with Christ our life together can be transformed - as a church and in the world. That we're no longer bound to the ways of sin and death. That, through the grace of the Risen Christ, we can live in a world where there's no needy person among us. We can learn to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We can bring about a world where racism has lost its grip, where all children are loved, where justice is not bought, where we pray for our enemies rather than bomb them, and where we live in a way that allows our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to have enough. Believing in this second miracle doesn't require us to suspend our belief in the "laws of nature." It doesn't require us to think unscientifically. But I think it requires an even greater a leap of faith!

 

 And that leap of faith begins with our life together here at Summit. Faith that if we seek to follow Jesus, the light of Christ will guide us in decisions: about our mission, the tower, money. Faith that if we love one another as Christ loves, there will be no needy one among us: no one needy in terms of food, or companionship, in terms of comfort or care. Faith that when we sin -- against God and one another, knowingly or unknowingly, by things we do or things we don't do - Christ will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. A faith that our life together, as Summit church, can be transformed through love. A love that begins here, but that does not stop at the door; for as John says, Christ died not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world. And in that love -- for God in Christ, for each other and for the world -- our joy may be complete. 

April '12 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 6, 4:01pm
April '12 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch

 

PASTOR’S PEN

 

Forgiven! John 21: 1-19 

 

In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus appears three times to his disciples. The third time, Simon Peter and seven other disciples have had a poor night of fishing when Jesus appears on the beach at daybreak. They did not recognize him; nonetheless, they obey this strange man who tells them to drop their nets on the right side of the boat and they bring up a miraculous catch of fish. When one of the disciples recognizes Jesus, Peter does something strange: he gets dressed (he was fishing naked) and jumps in the water. It may be that Peter was his usual impulsive self, trying to get to Jesus as soon as he could. Or it may be that Peter was his usual impulsive self, hoping to cover up and hide from Jesus. Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of his arrest, arguably the worst-behaved disciple next to Judas. He may have had mixed feelings about seeing Jesus again!

 

But Jesus invites Peter and the other disciples to a breakfast of grilled fish, and when they finished Jesus had a question for Peter: "Do you love me more than these?" Peter says, yes! and Jesus tells him, "feed my lambs." This exchange happens two more times -- corresponding to the three times Peter denied Jesus - and then Jesus says to Peter, "follow me." So Peter does, and gets on with the work of "feeding the lambs," or leading the people of God and spreading the good news. Peter never said, "I'm sorry," and Jesus never said, "You're forgiven." But that's what happened.

 

In our Lenten series on forgiveness, we've talked about how feelings of shame or guilt can get in the way of apologizing, repenting and repairing relationships. They drag us down and tempt us to hide and avoid conflict. They keep us from hearing and following God's call. Jesus, through the cross and resurrection, invites us to lay this burden down. To remember that we are forgiven and loved, no matter how many times we've denied God or hurt others. But this forgiveness also comes with a requirement - to change our ways, to follow Jesus, to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

 

 This combination of grace and call is especially helpful to remember when we're facing tough issues or having difficult conversations in our family or communal life. Around money. Race. Marital betrayals. Sexuality. The direction of the church. Thank God, Christ has Risen! We can trust in the grace he offers. We can listen, learn and turn, following Jesus into new life and furthering Gods' kingdom of justice, peace and love.

Grace and Peace,

 

 

Cheryl

Feb. '12 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 5, 8:28pm
Feb. '12 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

Less often than the yearly blooming of the daffodils, but more often than the appearance of Halley's Comet, a question comes up at Sum-mit: on balance, is the building serving our mission or has our mis-sion become serving the building? Should we consider ministry else-where? We last looked at this question a few years ago at leadership retreats and congregational potlucks. The discussions were lively and opinions varied, but the congregation decided to stay in the building and restore it. The success of the capital campaign reflected Summit's commitment to both responsible stewardship and to mission on this corner of Westview and Greene.

So the question would seem settled, at least for the next decade. But it came up again at Session this past month in response to developments of the past year. The tower repair was more expensive than anticipated, due to unexpected and rapid deterioration of the tower after the initial bids. The Trustees are still awaiting a proposal for the last stage of the repair (and will get a second opinion) but the final cost is likely to be $200,000 more than originally planned. We also did not receive an anticipated $65,000 from Part-ners for Sacred Places, when they suspended their grant program because of the recession. Finally, care for the building has required much time and energy from the congregation. Do we need to re-assess?

We shared this conversation with the Trustees and were told that, when all capi-tal campaign pledges are received, we should have enough (pending the final proposal) to finish the tower, replace the sanctuary roof and do the priority pointing. This is good news. We will have addressed the urgent needs of the sanctuary with this capital cam-paign. Work remains to be done in the future on the entire plant, but the added expenses have not put us in an emergency situation.

So the Session will wait for the final proposal on the tower, and then enter into prayerful discernment. It may be that we'll continue in our current mission and ministry, with no further discussion of the building for the time being. It may be we'll consider a new direction while staying put, such as a congregation-wide focus on evangelism. Or we may want to explore other options. Please be assured that no new direction will be ex-plored, much less decided on, without extended prayer, conversation and discern-ment with the entire congregation. The only decision that's been made is to discuss our future openly and with as much honesty and courage as we can muster. I'm confident that the Spirit will help us discern God's call, and that - wherever it leads - it will be a call to exciting and joyful ministry.

In the meantime, the Session is grateful for the extraordinary work of the Trus-tees and the Renewal Campaign Committee. Addressing the building needs has allowed us to remain a vital and healthy congregation, with strong ministry in Mt. Airy. The Ses-sion also encourages everyone to stay current (or pay ahead) their capital campaign pledge, and to approach any of us with thoughts or questions. I remain thankful to be pastor of this wonderful congregation, and I ask your prayers: for this particular church and for the church universal, that we may witness faithfully to the gospel and proclaim God's love for all.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

Christmas Day 2011 Sermon - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 5, 8:50pm
Christmas Day 2011 Sermon - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 25, 2011

John 1: 1-14

Do You See What I See?

 A few weeks ago I went looking in the neighborhood for Christmas Cards. It wasn't easy to find them in walking distance of Summit, or even at the closest CVS or Barnes & Nobles. There were Holiday cards - lovely drawings of birds and trees and polar bears - Santa Claus cards and Peace cards. Now, I like holiday cards and buy them since many of my friends aren't Christians. (This isn't going to be a War on Christmas sermon). But especially as a pastor, I wanted to send religious Christmas cards to fellow Christians. And in my limited search I found a limited selection which were - frankly - pretty cheesy. In the assortment I bought some were unsendable: drawings of the Holy Family in Hello Kitty style or other cutsie pictures. Others were fine, with pictures of Bethlehem from a distance, or they just had stars and symbols. Others weren't offensive - they tried to show the nativity in a realistic if soft light - but they had a generic, sub-Hallmark, funny color quality that just didn't do justice to the Word that was in the beginning, and was with God and was God -- and that became flesh and lived among us.

 But even the highest quality, most elegant Marcel Shuman or Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas cards aren't quite right. For we claim that in the manger was not only the flesh and blood son of the flesh and blood Mary, but the light of light, true God of true God, -- the creator of the universe. And no painting or stained glass window, even done by the most brilliant artist, can portray the Divine One who is beyond our imagining. Many Christians, through the centuries, have said it's even sinful to try, and some have gone around smashing statues and stained glass windows to make their point. Historically, Presbyterians have been among those Christians suspicious of the visual arts. They thought pictures of Christ were misleading, even blasphemous, unable to do justice to the majesty of God, leading worshippers astray. "Although Christ assumed human nature," it says in the Second Helvetic Confession of , "yet he did not on that account assume it in order to provide a model for carvers and painters." But other Christians have argued that God assumed human nature so that we could see, and touch, and know God in a new and intimate way, and that pictures of Jesus are not only appropriate but important testimony to God with us. Of course no picture or statue will be a close likeness of the human Jesus, let alone the Divine Christ. Most often, the Holy Family looks like the family of the artist. But -argue supporters of paintings and statues - images of Jesus can point us to both the divine and human Christ, they can be used by God to strengthen faith. Although even the strongest supporters of nativity scenes may draw the line at the marshmallow-kitty kat-kitchen timer-and veggie tale nativities that are circulating on facebook. (Google 27 worst nativity scenes)

 John is pointing, with words rather than pictures, to the divine and human Jesus. It's hard for us to grasp, -- The Word who was with God from the beginning, the light of all peoples, and who also become flesh and lived among us. Most of us shortchange one or the other in our devotional lives, in our thoughts, in our prayers. We may think of Jesus mainly as a human teacher, a brilliant interpreter of the law, while keeping God a separate creator and sustainer of the universe. Or perhaps we're drawn to the cosmic Christ, judge of the living and the dead at the end of time, and neglect the Jesus who picnickcd on the beach or fell asleep on a boat. Or we adore the Jesus in the manger without expecting Christ to come again in glory. Or we have a close, intimate relationship with Jesus, but we don't look to him as creator and sustainer of the universe and it's galaxies. This (practical heresy) is understandable. The fully human fully divine Jesus does not make sense- could Jesus really steer the stars in their courses while he was in diapers? It certainly can't be proved in any way. In the eyes of faith it is, but it remains a mystery. 

 But it's a mystery that John invites us to believe in and trust. For in this mystery is the key to God's love. Christ, who was in the beginning with God, who was with God, who was God . . . . . also came to live among us as a vulnerable, human being, feeling pain and love as we do, tempted just we are. God came to us in Christ so that we might know God, and become children of God. So that through the love and forgiveness of Jesus, we might know God's grace. So that through the teaching and life of Christ we might know God's truth. So that through the light of Christ, the light of the world, we might be led out of all the dark places - of despair and violence, hard-heartedness and pain. And for this we rejoice on Christmas morning. We rejoice in word, we rejoice in song, and we rejoice in what we can see: the beauty of creation and the image of Jesus among us, in nativity scenes and pictures of the holy one. Fully human but also fully divine. Fully for us and for our salvation.

Christmas Eve Sermon 2011 - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 5, 8:49pm
Christmas Eve Sermon 2011 - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

 

Summit Presbyterian Church

 

December 24, 2011

 

Luke 2: 1-20; Titus 2: 11-16

 

 

 When the shepherds came to Mary and Joseph they made known what the angel had told them about the child: that they would find him in Bethlehem, lying in a manger and wrapped in bands of cloth. That he was a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. That his birth was good news of great joy for all the people. That they needn't be afraid. 

 

 Luke says that Mary treasured these words, and pondered them in her heart. She must have added them to the words she had heard about her son from the Angel Gabriel: that he would be great, and called the son of the most High. That God would give him the throne of David, and his kingdom would have no end. Gabriel had also said, that, she Mary, was favored by God. Which might have come as a surprise since she was poor, young, and unexpectedly pregnant. 

 

 Mary also had - and would have - words of non-angels to treasure. When pregnant Mary had visited her pregnant relative Elizabeth, Elizabeth's baby in utero leapt for joy - leading Elizabeth to tell Mary, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb." A few days after the shepherds' visit, Mary and Joseph took their newborn to the temple to be dedicated. A holy man named Simeon proclaimed that in Jesus he saw the salvation of God, prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the people Israel. The elderly prophet, Anna, who lived in the temple, praised God when she saw him and spoke about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 

 

 

 How did Mary imagine the future for her firstborn son, as she pondered all these words that had been spoken about him? She may have pictured Jesus climbing the throne in Herod's palace, with the Roman army in retreat, along with their local collaborators. She may have imagined visiting heads of state, her son honored even among the gentiles. She may have imagined herself as queen mother, favored not only by God, but by the people. And she must have imagined peace and prosperity for the people of Israel, and other nations, under the reign of her son, the hungry filled with good things and the lowly lifted up. 

 

 

 She probably didn't imagine a crucifixion. A painful, and shameful death, with none of his friends, even, willing to bear witness. She probably didn't imagine such a humble life for him, a traveling teacher and healer. She probably didn't imagine Rome stronger than ever, the Jewish rebellions crushed, the hungry still empty and the rich still full of good things. Surely, after these words, she expected Jesus to outlive her, as children should. As her son breathed his last breath and the stone was rolled against the tomb, what did Mary make of those angelic words from that night long ago?

 

 

 We can only imagine, for Luke doesn't say. After the birth and childhood of Jesus, he seems to lose interest in Mary. She's not listed among the followers or opponents of Jesus as he teaches and heals in Galilee. She doesn't appear that last week in Jerusalem. She's not one of the women to discover the empty tomb, nor does Jesus show himself to her. But Mary appears one more time in Luke's telling, in the Book of Acts. Luke says that after the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and they saw him lifted into heaven, they were in an upper room, constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.

 

 Nothing went for Mary's son the way the angels led her to expect. He never ascended a throne and was executed as a criminal. Most folks didn't know who he was, and they didn't call him great. His disciples reported they saw him alive again, but she had only their word, and every reason to fear those were idle tales. Yet she remained faithful. She didn't turn from God to emperor worship or a mystery cult. She didn't cling to the past, building a nativity scene in her living room as a memorial. She gathered with her fellow disciples. She devoted herself to prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit and for God's future to unfold. Despite all she had been through, she still trusted in the words she heard that night. The words that promised salvation for all and peace on earth. 

 

 

 Our joyful challenge, at Christmas and always, is to trust, like Mary, in the good news the angels proclaimed. To believe that Christ saves, especially when it feels like we're drowning in grief, addiction, pain or loneliness. To hope for peace on earth, even though we live in a world of nuclear weapons. To insist the hungry can be filled with good things, even though we live in a time ravaged by greed. To trust that things are not as they seem, that even in the brokenness of this world, Christ lives and works among us - where there's love and healing; where justice is done; where peace is restored. The reign of Christ is yet to come in all it's fulness; but Jesus is here on this Holy Night, and God's promises are also for us. As Paul said in his letter to Titus: the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, even as we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

 

 

 May we wait in faith, and hope, and love. Amen. 

12/11/11 Sermon: 'Who Are We' - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 5, 8:48pm
12/11/11 Sermon: 'Who Are We' - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 11, 2011

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

 

Who are We?

 

 The John who baptized people in the Jordan river remains a bit of a mystery. The four gospels describe him differently. In Luke he's a cousin of Jesus and the angel Gabriel announces his birth to his father Zechariah. It's the story of another miraculous birth, since Zechariah's wife Elizabeth was barren. In Luke John not only baptizes but teaches people to share their coats and their food -- and threatens judgement if they don't. Mark and Matthew say nothing about John's birth and have him appear suddenly in the wilderness, wearing a coat of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey. Matthew, Mark and Luke report that John baptized Jesus, and that he was put in prison and executed by King Herod. Matthew tells the story of his beheading at Herod's birthday party. 

 

 John - the writer of our gospel, also called John the evangelist (all these Johns in the gospels get very confusing!) has none of these details about John the baptizer's life. John the evangelist just wants to clarify who John was in relation to Jesus. He was a man, sent by God, a witness to testify to the light- the light that was life in Jesus Christ. The evangelist tells of a conversation between John and other religious Jews who didn't who John was - or who he claimed to be. Leaders in Jerusalem, and the Pharisees, sent priests and Levites to ask questions. The questions may seem hostile -- but they're perfectly appropriate. It was a time of diversity and turmoil in the Jewish community, with different schools of thought and practice often suspicious of one another, with charlatans as well as sincere would be messiahs and teachers. "Who are you?," they asked John. 

 

 John begins by saying what he is not. He is not the Messiah. All kinds of folks were claiming to be God's annointed, or to know God's plan, each with their own followers. But John says right away, "I am not the Messiah." They asked if he was Elijah. Elijah was a prophet of old, a healer and miracle worker, a messenger and defender of God against false prophets. At the end of his life he had not died and been buried in the usual way, but had been taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. It was said he would return before the day of the Lord, turning the hearts of the parents to their children and children to their parents. According to the other gospels, John had a lot in common with Elijah: he dressed like Elijah (the camel's hair), ate like Elijah (those locusts), and hung out at the Jordan just like Elijah. Indeed, in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says John is Elijah. But not here: John says he is not Elijah. John also says he is not the prophet -- the prophet that Moses said God would raise up, like him, to speak God's truth - a prophet some were expecting. Finally, John says who (or what) he is: a voice crying out in the wilderness, "make straight the way of the Lord," as the prophet Isaiah said. His questioners ask why he's baptizing folks, but John ignores their question, and speaks of Jesus. "Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me." The next day John says that he saw the Holy Spirit rest on Jesus, and the day after he points Jesus out to his own disciples, who follow Jesus. John's role is to witness, to point others to Jesus.

 

 We're fourteen days away from Christmas. In this country - and most places around the world - everyone knows that. Atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, people of all faiths, beliefs and ages - know that Christmas is coming. And nearly everyone also knows that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. They may not celebrate the birth themselves, but they know that Christians do. So it would be natural for folks to be wondering: who are they? Who are these people who celebrate the birth of Jesus and who have gotten the whole world caught up in it? Who are we?

 

 Let's take a page from John and start by saying who we're not. We're not a global advertising agency, commissioned by makers of toys, bathrobes, kitchen appliances, kindles, jewelry, gloves, mugs, ties, chocolates, ipods. We can understand why people might think that. Christmas is the occasion for an orgy of shopping, and Christians shop just as much- if not more- than others. Some Christians even protest if department stores say "Happy Holidays" rather than Merry Christmas -- as though shopping were the reason for the season. I do believe Jesus would be turning in his grave over that, if he were still in it.

 

 We're not a civic organization, a place for folks to gather and work on neighborhood issues or raise money for good causes. We can understand why people might think that. We sometimes work on neighborhood issues and raise money for good causes. And 50 years ago, people joined churches not only to worship, but because it was the thing to do. The way to meet your neighbors, make business connections, find friends and activities for your children. Congregations built buildings like this one to accomodate their many members and programs. Those days are gone. And although churchgoers were surely as faithful then as now, it's just as well joining a church is no longer the default option. We're not a civic organization.

 

 We're not an arm of the state, or a political party. We can understand why people might think that. Christians of all political persuasions - rightly - speak out and organize on issues of justice, peace and morality. So far no one's been president who doesn't at least claim to be a practicing Christian. Presidential candidates campaign on the promise that schools and government offices will become places to celebrate Christmas and pray to Jesus, presumably for the benefit of both. But Jesus was executed by the state for crimes against it. We're not an arm of the state or a mouthpiece for any political party.

 We are also not - here at Summit - a community center. We can understand why people might think that. Our building is busy day and night with childcare and afterschool programs, dance classes, Weaver's Way meetings, Girl Scouts and Martial Arts. Worthy organizations have offices here. Our building functions as a community center. And leasing our space is good stewardship, helpful to the community and appreciated by the many who use it. But our center is not the community. Our center is Christ.

 b2 3So who are we? What do we say to those who come to us, seeking an answer? The answer is both simple and hard to explain: we're disciples of Christ who witness to his light. The light of Christ which brings hope, peace, joy and love to a hurting and broken world -- as we remind ourselves when we light the Advent candles each week. The light of Christ, who in his very first sermon, preached those words from Isaiah that we read this morning: the spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has annointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. We're witnesses to the light of the Christ who came to us in the manger, healed the sick, taught the faithful, explained the scriptures, fed the hungry, spoke truth to power and forgave (and forgives) sins. Who died for us and who was raised from the dead to be with us in his Spirit. Now as witnesses to that light we may be called to rent offices, pray for the government, address neighborhood issues and even buy Christmas presents -- and I'm glad to see that the tags on our angel tree are almost gone. But none of those things define who we are, none of them are the reason we're called into the church. We are followers of Christ who point others to him. Disciples seeking to make his path straight. As Christmas approaches, may we remember and reflect and be true to who we are. Please join me in prayer:

Church by luois on Dec 22, 8:15pm
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Dec, '11 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 4, 8:51pm
Dec, '11 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

Christmas Day Worship
When Christmas last fell on a Sunday - in 2006 - the media had a field day when they realized that a number of evangelical mega-churches were not holding Christmas Day services. The New York Times interviewed pastors who said they were instead en-couraging "family observances," pointing out that hundreds of volunteers and staff are needed to pull off the huge services at such churches and that after a long Christmas Eve Saturday families needed time together. Commentators clucked their tongues at these consumer-oriented churches. Christmas is one of the holiest days of the year! How could Christmas Day services be "cancelled"? There was a gleeful edge to these questions, since that was the year many evangelicals launched campaigns against de-partment stores that wished their patrons "Happy Holidays."
Although it was satisfying for wee liberal kirks like Summit to see the mega churches take a hit, it was unfair and theologically unsound to criticize them for their lack of Christmas Day services. As we know -- being one of them - many Protestant Churches have services only on Christmas Eve. Having no worship on Christmas Day is nothing new. Christmas itself is a latecomer to the Christian calendar; it was not widely observed until about 400 years after Jesus was born. American Protestant churches, especially, have been lukewarm towards the holiday. Puritans didn't like it because they thought it was unnecessary, idolatrous and too much like those English Roman Catholics who enjoyed 12-day celebrations. In Massachusetts, Christmas was outlawed from 1659 to 1681! Christmas has become a wonderful celebration of the incarnation among nearly all believers, but theologians consider it secondary to the celebration of the Resurrection -- since the birth of Christ takes on special meaning only in light of his resurrection and presence among us through the Spirit. The resur-rection that we proclaim on Easter and, indeed, every Sunday.
And this is where the scandal truly lay. The problem was not in canceling Christmas Day services. The scandal was in canceling a Sunday service. The earliest Christians designated Sunday as "the Lord's Day," both to keep the sabbath commandment and to proclaim the resurrection of the crucified Lord. It was on a Sunday - the first day of the week in the Jewish calendar - that the women discovered the empty tomb, and so it was on a Sunday that early Christians gathered for the Eucharist. With few excep-tions, churches in all times and places have insisted that the community gather every Sunday, so that no week is missed in keeping one day holy to proclaim the risen Christ and to give thanks to God. So this year we'll celebrate the resurrection on Sunday the 25th and remember the birth of Christ, as all good Christmas carols do: "Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings" -- Hark the Herald Angels Sing!
So -- I'll see you on December 25th. It's a Sunday!
Grace and Peace,

Nov. 11 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 21, 9:27am
Nov. 11 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

Talent at Summit

In stewardship season we talk about the giving of our treasure as a spiritual discipline, and also the importance of financial support for the mission and ministry of the church. But personal stewardship also involves time and talent, and the Session wishes to acknowledge (and thank) the congregation for those gifts as well. So I thought I'd make a "gratitude list" of talents that are hallmarks of Summit. The list is not exhaustive - there's not enough room. I'm naming no names, and there's no particular order, but everyone is in-cluded.

Cooking. Most churches can claim this talent, but Summit is unusual. From Elder Diner to the Barbeque, from REACH to coffee hour and Taste of Italy, Summit shows hospitality to those who often eat alone or can't cook for themselves. Through cooking Summit also welcomes visitors and raises money for mission.

Musical Gifts. Choir, handbells, solos, organ, piano and other instruments -- we give glory to God through beautiful music every Sunday.

Drawing, Painting and Graphic Design. Children's sermons, diagrams of the build-ing, glorious murals, goody bags and thank you cards from the Sunday School, pam-phlets, flyers, and the website -- people give of their talent in the visual arts.
Drama and Dance. From the Christmas Pageant to liturgical dance -- children, youth and adults alike.

Organizing and Encouraging. We have a number of leaders who bring people together to accomplish great things through those two talents -- both large events and the in-and-out of weekly worship and ministry.

Reading, Questioning, Research, Problem Solving. Lay reading, Bible Study, research on the environment and building restoration; number crunching and dealing with insur-ance, Summit members bring gifts of intellect, curiosity, insight and expertise.

Child Whisperers and a Passion for Youth. Our children like Sunday School! Teen-agers can't wait to come back to REACH after the summer, thanks to talents with young people that our adults bring.

Prayer and other Spiritual Gifts. Through prayer for the church, each other and the world; through the sharing of joys and concerns, cards, visits and kind and encouraging words people share of their talents and themselves.

Hands-on Compassion. Hosting families with NPIN, gathering food for the German-town Avenue Crisis Ministry, organizing the Christmas Gift Tree, advocating for the hungry -- members bring many talents to serve the least of these.

Humor and wit. Summit members are very funny. Really. In a good way.
For these talents, given to Summit and offered to God in prayer, the Session and I thank you and thank God. Through them we "proclaim God's love fearlessly to all!"

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

Oct. '11 Pastor's Pen, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 12, 3:51pm
Oct. '11 Pastor's Pen, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

One of the joys of cooler weather and returning to the sanctuary for worship is the return of hot coffee to the coffee hour! Getting a caf-feine fix and catching up with friends is a pleasure, but coffee hour is also an anxious time for many. Visitors wonder if anyone will ap-proach them, and often spend long, awkward minutes at the food table. Shy or modest people (most Summiteers) worry they won't be able to keep a conversation going with someone new. Folks with aging memories, including the pastor, wonder how many embar-rassing moments they'll have as they ask the names of people who have been members for decades. People responsible for lining up greeters or coffee hour hosts tense as they pre-pare to "recruit" people at the only time they're likely to see them during the week. And everyone wonders, when they see someone approach (especially if it's the pastor) whether they'll be asked to give up yet another evening for a committee meeting.

Coffee hour becomes a time of anxiety when we forget its purpose: to be the community Christ calls us to be, warmly welcoming new people in our midst, and tenderly caring for one another. It's a time to scan the room for someone we don't know, to introduce our-selves, to say how glad we are they're here, and to ask: What brought you to Summit? Are you from the area? What do you like to do when you're not at church? And what about those Phillies? * It's a time to express concern to people who have been absent for a while, or who have been on our prayer list. It's a time to ask children what they did in Sun-day School, and to talk with youth about their soccer team or new school. It's a time to say Happy Birthday. It's a time to offer the forgiveness that Christ offers us, when we're asked our name by someone we've talked to many times before.

But what about business? We all yearn for a business-free coffee hour, but anyone who's had to line up volunteers knows how hard it is to do that during the week, especially in this day of voice and e-mail screening. So this is my suggestion: when you enter the fellow-ship hall, after you've welcomed any visitors, go to a "recruiter" (or two)** and offer to host, cook, greet, or read. You will bring joy and gladness to their hearts, and then you'll be free to grab coffee and a cookie and welcome our Lord aright, as Christ comes to us in the face of neighbor, stranger, or friend.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl


*Questions generated by church officers at the 2011 Leadership Retreat.

Sept. '11, Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Sep 17, 4:35pm
Sept. '11, Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch

I’m writing this Pastor’s Pen on July 29th, before leaving for vacation. It’s the 11th hour with the debt crisis and it’s not clear what will hap-pen: default, a “compromise” that will cripple the country, or an agreement that will allow us to go forward, albeit with the poor or struggling being asked to make the greater sacrifice. I’m reminded of one of our readings this summer, when King Solomon asks God for wisdom: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to gov-ern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

Indeed, discerning between good and evil is the heart of wisdom: one can be an expert in the math, a political acrobat or an accomplished legislator, but without the abil-ity to discern the good and the courage to act upon it, all is foolishness. We can see that in our own lives as well as those of our leaders.

In a recent conversation with Mary Stoddart, she mentioned that she found inspiration in the writings of Peter Marshall. Dr. Marshall was a Presbyterian minister originally from Scotland who was Chaplain to the U.S. Senate from 1947 until his sudden death a few years later at age 46. Her comment led me to pull from my shelf a book of his prayers, prayers that are both eloquent and refreshingly blunt. One day he opened the Senate with this one: “If there be any here sulking as children will, deal with and enlighten him.”

I thought the prayer below especially timely. I’ve retained the original language, when elected leaders were all men:

Our Father, bless, we pray Thee, the leaders of this nation. Strengthen the cour-age of the representatives in congress assembled – sincere men who want to do the right, if only they can be sure what is right. Make it plain to them, O Lord. And then wilt Thou start them out on the right way, for Thou knowest that we are hard to turn.

Forgive them for the blunders they have committed, the compromises they have made. Give to them the courage to admit mistakes. Take away from us as a nation and as individuals that stubborn pride which, followed by conceit, imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism.

Save our leaders, O God, from themselves and from their friends – even as Thou hast saved them from their enemies. Let no personal ambition blind them to their oppor-tunities. Help them to give battle to hypocrisy wherever they find it. Give them divine common sense and a selflessness that shall make them think of service and not of gain. May they have the courage to lead the people of this Republic, considering unworthy the expediency of following the people.

Wishing you a restful end of the summer and save travel.

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

07/17/11 Sermon: 'Waiting for the Inheritance' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 29, 9:08am
07/17/11 Sermon: 'Waiting for the Inheritance' - Cheryl Pyrch

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 17, 2011

Romans 8: 12-25

 

Waiting for the Inheritance

 

 One of my guilty pleasures this summer was to watch, on Netflix, all seven episodes of Masterpiece Classic's "Downton Abbey" -- a soap opera that follows the lives of an aristocratic English family and their servants right before World War I. I call it a guilty pleasure because the politics of the show are somewhat reactionary - it's a romanticized view of the English Ruling class - and the costumes alone must have cost a fortune. (But guilt didn't stop me from watching it not just once but twice, as with all those English accents I couldn't understand half the dialogue the first time round ). The premise of the show is this: Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, is Lord of a huge estate -- a castle with enormous grounds - called Downton Abbey. But he has no son, only daughters, who cannot inherit. The estate must go to the next in line to receive his title, and as the show opens that's fine, because the next in line is a close cousin of the Earl whose son is already engaged to his eldest daughter. But also as the show opens, the cousins are killed in the sinking of the Titanic. The next heir is an obscure 3rd cousin once removed, a lawyer in Manchester named Matthew Crawley. No one at Downton Abbey has ever met Matthew, or even heard of him, so there's consternation on all sides. But Lord Grantham decides to make the best of it by inviting Matthew to the Abbey so he can groom him for the day he'll inherit. Matthew is a young man living a perfectly comfortable life with his mother - they have a cook, they don't do any cleaning - but it's a life far removed from the opulence and granduer of Downton Abbey. They're at breakfast when the post comes, and when Matthew tells his mother he's received a letter from Lord Grantham she asks, in surprise, "what on earth does he want?" Matthew replies: "he wants to change our lives." 

 

 And change their lives he does. They move into a house in the village near the Abbey, and the show follows their gradual adoption into the family. The Earl's oldest daughter complains that now her father has a son - and Matthew begins to learn the ropes of running this huge estate. It becomes his full-time job; he's given a valet (a personal servant) and learns how to treat him with the proper mix of grace and authority; he takes on responsibilities for tenants in the surrounding farms; and he and his mother slowly make their way into the affections of the Crawleys, although the resentments and power shifts of this new relationship fuel many subplots. Matthew is still waiting to inherit - title, money and land - but in the meantime his life has changed. He has a new purpose, a new family, new relationships with all the people - and the world - around him.

 

 In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul uses the language of inheritance to describe the new life that we have in Christ, through the Spirit. Our inheritance, [I think this is what Paul is saying] is freedom and glory as joint heirs with Christ. Freedom from the power of sin and death to destroy life; although we still experience both, through Christ we know forgiveness, and will inherit the glory of eternal life. That glory will not only be seen and known in our redeemed bodies, but in the redemption of the whole creation, a creation that is also waiting, and groaning. This freedom and glory is an inheritance we haven't yet received -- the sufferings of the present time are proof of that - but in the meantime, our lives are changed. The promise of this inheritance brings new purpose. It brings a new relationship with God, who through the spirit of adoption we may now call Abba, Father or Mother. It brings a new family in the church, a new relationship with all the people we encounter, and indeed with the whole creation. 

 

 So, although we'll only know God fully - as we are fully known - in the life after death, Christ brings us now into an intimate and loving relationship with the God who knew and shared our human life in Jesus, including suffering and death. A relationship that we're invited to nurture in prayer, in worship, in reflection on the life of Jesus and in study of God's word. A relationship that changes our lives as we experience healing in body, mind or spirit. A relationship that changes our lives as God comforts, strengthens, and enlightens us. A relationship that changes our lives as we're called to new purpose: caring for the least of these, giving more generously of our time and treasure, inviting others into God's love. A relationship that changes our lives as we're drawn into this new family the church, where we learn to pray and care for one another, through grief and illness as well as joy, building a community of love.

 

 And as we await our inheritance of eternal life, the whole creation waits with us. The redemption of creation has been described in the Bible as a time when God will wipe away all tears; when the lion will lie down with the lamb, when people will turn swords into plowshares; when the new Jerusalem will descend from the heavens, and the leaves of the tree of life will bring healing to all the nations. This redemption will bring judgement, but also peace, life and justice throughout the earth. We may have trouble believing in this inheritance: it seems even more incredible than an eternal life for souls in heaven. But like the inheritance of eternal life, the inheritance of a redeemed creation also changes our lives now. For if we're joint heirs with Christ, we need to start learning the ropes. We need to start learning how to live with enough and share what we have, for in the redeemed creation, children do not starve in Somalia while adults live in luxury around the world. We need to start learning how to make peace, for the in redeemed creation we can't reach for guns or bombs to get our way, or send young men and women to die in far off lands. We need to start learning how to welcome and celebrate the gifts of all peoples, because in the redeemed creation we won't have national borders and laws to keep people out. We need to start learning how to live in peace with all God's creatures, for in the redeemed creation the earth is not a commodity to be bought and sold, regardless of the people or plants or animals upon it. We're heirs of an inheritance that will come in the future -- but, like Matthew Crawley, we need to be preparing now.

 

 I"ve placed two kinds of inheritance side by side: but of course there are many differences between inheriting an English Manor and inheriting freedom and glory in a redeemed creation. This is one: Matthew Crawley can see his inheritance of Downton Abbey. He can survey the grounds, he can admire the chandeliers and the tapestries, he can wander through the dozens of rooms. He is often invited to the Abbey for meals, where he has a foretaste of the many banquets he will direct as the Earl of Grantham. We, however, cannot see our inheritance. It's yet to be revealed. O we see signs, and know it in part: in the beauty of this world and in its many blessings; in the love we share and in the victories for justice that we have seen even in our lifetimes. Every time we eat the bread and drink of the cup in Holy Communion, we share in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. But we can't yet see the redeemed creation: we have to wait for our inheritance in hope. In hope we were saved, says Paul, and who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

 

 And so we are called to wait for our inheritance: with patience, in hope, but not passively. For what on earth does God want? God wants to change our lives. 

 

 

 

07/03/11 Sermon: 'Will Power and God's Power' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 29, 9:07am
07/03/11 Sermon: 'Will Power and God's Power' - Cheryl Pyrch

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 3, 2011

Romans 7: 15-25

 

Will Power and God's Power

 

 I don’t believe in a devil with a long tail, horns and a pitchfork. You probably don't either. But imagining sin, or evil, as a devil - or an army of devils, also called demons - is a time-honored way for us to describe, and try to and understand the way evil that works in the world. CS Lewis wrote a funny and wise book called "The Screwtape Letters," in which a senior demon, named Screwtape, writes letters to his nephew, a junior demon named Wormwood, instructing him on how to lead his human astray. I read the book years ago so I don't remember the details, or the theology, but I remember enjoying it. So my apologies to C.S. Lewis, who I may be vaguely plagarizing, as I offer a few ways in which I think the devil gets a hold of us. I'll start by saying that while he may sometimes tempt us with fun and delicious things like ice cream and dancing, he has much bigger weapons in his arsenal. He is clever and powerful with many tricks up his sleeve. (Please excuse my non-inclusive language. We know that evil does nothave a gender, and that sin is neither male nor female). 

 

 

 First, he's a master of disguise. He has a way of disguising what is sinful as "ordinary" or even good. He can use our best intentions to recruit us to his cause. He takes advantage of the fact we have limited knowledge -- both of the world and of ourselves - so that even when we want to do the right thing, we're easily led astray. I'm not talking so much about mistakes we make in love - as parents, teachers, husband or wives - things that we would have done differently if we knew better. I'm talking about the way the devil can use our idealism for his own nefarious purposes. Since it's the fourth of July, I'll use patriotism as an example. Patriotism - at it's best - taps into our gratitude for the beauty of our country and our desire for the well-being of our neighbors. It can unite us and give us courage when we're facing a threat -- as it did in World War II. But just as easily, and more often, the devil uses it to further violence, to gain land or power at the expense of others, to silence those who might speak up for what is right --as in the Patriot Act. So when we rally round the flag we may will what is right, but we can end up doing the very thing we hate. Sowing war instead of peace. Encouraging the idolatry of nation rather than the worship of God. The devil knows how to wrap up evil so that it looks like good.

 

 

 Second, he can make his army look even bigger and more powerful than it is. He can overwhelm us with the numbers. Anyone who has tried to stop smoking or drinking knows how this works. The idea of of going 365 days a year - that's 525,600 minutes - year after year, with no cigarette or no beer can seem like climbing Mt. Everest without proper equipment. So, many who long to do what is right, who long to free themselves from an addiction, can't. It's too daunting, even when they try and think about it one day at a time. This holds true for collective addictions as well. When we think about our dependence on fossil fuels, and the problem of global warming, the math is intimidating: the parts per million of carbon dioxide that we have to stop spewing into the air, the number of coal plants that need to be shut down or wind turbines that need to be built, the number of ways rising temperatures can bring disaster -- the challenge seems too big. So we do what we do not want, polluting the air and wasting resources, continuing our dependence on oil and gas and coal, because it's too much. We feel hopeless. We retreat into denial, or apathy.

 

 Third, the devil can use God's law as a way for us to feel so much shame and guilt we're too depressed to do the right thing. We're so burdened by sins of omission or commission we don't have confidence we can do what God wants us to do. The church has often helped the devil in this regard. Historically, it's been good at shaming people, at reminding us of all the ways in which we don't do what Jesus instructed or what God commanded through Moses, threatening the fire and brimstone of judgement and underplaying God's mercy and forgiveness. The devil uses this preaching to his advantage by making us feel incapable of doing good - or, by convincing us those preachers are wrong, we aren't such big sinners after all, that we're good people doing the right thing most of the time and we really don't have that much to confess. And so evil lies close at hand.

 

 Paul did not believe in a devil with a long tail, horns, or a pitchfork. In all his letters he mentions Satan only in passing, and I'm not sure he would approve of talking about sin and evil as a creature separate from ourselves. But in the scripture we read this morning, Paul testifies to the power of sin and the power of evil. A power that is not part of his deepest self, but that he says dwells within him: a power that keeps him from doing the good that he wants, and indeed leads him to do they very thing he hates. Paul wants to do the will of God -- he delights in the law of God in his inmost self - but nonetheless is captive to the law of sin. "For I do not do the good I want," he says, "but the evil I do not want is what I do." Good intentions aren't enough. Will power is not enough. Paul may explain how that sin works it's power differently than I did. He would doubtless have a somewhat different list - not entirely different, I hope - of what he'd consider sinful acts. But captive he feels -- longing to do what is right but unable through mere desire, or intention, or will to do so. "Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? It's a question for all of us. For it is rescue that we need . . . . . . we can't free ourselves from the power of sin, the stranglehold of the devil, on our own. 

 

 And then Paul proclaims the good news: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, rescues him - and us. For as powerful as sin and evil are, Paul insists they do not have the last word. The death and resurrection of Christ is a sure sign that ultimately good will win over evil. When Christ went to the cross, the power of sin was broken -- even though it's not yet obvious, even though we are still living in the time of here but not yet. As followers of Christ we still struggle with sin - that can't be denied - but, Paul insists, in Christ we're no longer enslaved to it. We're no longer enslaved because the Spirit of Christ is with us. The spirit of Christ which helps us and guides us, as we seek to discern God's will through prayer and study. The Spirit of Christ that brings us together in the church, so that we can encourage each other to do what God calls us to do. The Spirit of Christ which offers us hope in the face of so much evidence that evil is winning, in the face of all those numbers. The Spirit of Christ which offers forgiveness and new life over and over again - so we can acknowledge guilt or wrongdoing without feeling worthless, without being weighed down or oppressed by it. As Paul says later in this letter to the Romans, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We don't have to rely on our will power or good intentions to do what God requires, together or alone. The grace of God is more powerful than our will, and more powerful than the one who would lead us astray. Twelve step programs recognize this when they make one of the steps relying on a higher power. That's what Paul calls us to do as well.

 So in our struggle to do the right we can do more than just say no to sin -- which we know doesn't work very well. We can say yes to God: in prayer, in worship, in listening of scripture. And we can say yes through receiving, with gratitude, the bread and wine, the body and blood that Christ offers us, the presence of Christ that is more powerful than any sin or evil that would claim us. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 

 

 

06/26/11 Sermon: 'Courageous Hospitality' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 29, 9:06am
06/26/11 Sermon: 'Courageous Hospitality' - Cheryl Pyrch

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 26, 2011

Matthew 10: 40-42

 

Courageous Hospitality

 

 When we read this passage without reading what comes before, it doesn't seem controversial. Jesus is talking with the disciples about the importance of hospitality: to , missionaries, to the prophets and the righteous - - and to the "little ones" -- which scholars tell us means disciples, not children. Jesus says that whoever welcomes them welcomes him, and - by extension - the one who sent him. He assures them such hospitality will be rewarded, even when it's something as simple as the giving of a cup of cold water. Now if there's one thing on which all Christians agree, it's that churches should be welcoming. If you click through church websites on the internet, almost every one of every size, every denomination and every theology has the word "welcome" on the front page. Now, even with the best of intentions most churches are not as welcoming as they claim -- it's not easy to practice hospitality - but this teaching of Jesus doesn't seem to be one of the more difficult, dangerous or kooky ones -- unlike praying for our enemies, turning the other cheek or giving away all our possessions.

 

 But these words are the last ones in a long set of instructions that Jesus gives to the 12 before sending them on a mission to proclaim the good news. And if we read the whole speech, we see that Jesus believes the mission will be dangerous, both for those who are sent out and for those who offer them shelter and food. Deborah read the first part of those instructions, and they get scarier. Jesus says he's sending them out like sheep in the midst of wolves; that they will be handed over to councils and flogged, that brother will betray brother to death, that children will rise against parents, and that the disciples will be hated by all because of his name. He encourages them not to fear those who kill the body and that whoever does not take up the cross and follow him is is not worthy. Just before he says whoever welcomes you welcomes me he says, "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." Welcome visitors! (Don't forget to join us for coffee hour).

 

 Now it may seem that Jesus is speaking only to the early church, the twelve disciples or the church of Matthew's time, a church that was living in the midst of chaos and suffering after the Jewish rebellion. The temple had been destroyed and the people scattered; many were killed, families were divided and the community was in conflict over what to do next. His words may also seem relevant to Christians in the days of Roman persecution, or to missionaries who faced suspicion and hostility in far-away lands. But we aren't persecuted by the state or by our co-religionists; we get tax breaks. To say you're a Christian and go to church isn't a risky undertaking, at least on the face of it. Granted, some people think we're naive or deluded. Going to worship means giving up a leisurely Sunday morning. And building up the church requires time, energy, and sacrifice. But it's a respectable thing to do, even required if you want to be President of the United States. It may not be the road to social advancement that it was 50 years ago, but joining a church is not dangerous.

 

 At least not immediately dangerous. For we can still get into trouble. Seeking to truly follow Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven and welcoming prophets and righteous persons can mean conflict, fear, loss, even danger. 

 

 Today is the Gay Pride March in New York City. Thousands of people - some of them not wearing a lot of clothes -will be marching down 5th Avenue or riding on elaborately decorated floats and dancing and singing to loud of music. Hundreds of groups have registered, including the Raging Grannies, Queers for Economic Justice, Mercy for Animals, the Brearly School (very swish), politicians galore, Broadway Bodies, Wells Fargo and Delta Airlines. The sidewalks will be lined with mostly supportive spectators and I imagine this year will be especially festive, as late on Friday night New York became the 6th state - along with the District of Columbia - to legalize same sex marriage. The grand marshals are Dan Savage and Terry Miller, who began the "It Gets Better" video project to counter teen suicides and bullying, and also the Reverend Pat Baumgarter, pastor of the Metroplitan Commmunity Church of New York City. The Presbyterians will be out in force, with an additional reason to celebrate, for this year the denomination got rid of language from the constitution that was used to bar Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people from ordination as ministers, deacons and elders. They'll be handing out cards to bystanders with the names and addresses of welcoming Presbyterian churches, and I'm sure they'll be celebrations well into the evening. I look forward to seeing the pictures on Facebook.

 

 But the march wasn't always this festive. It began as a civil rights demonstration in 1970, the year after the Stonewall riots. I've been told it was always fun, but the early marches were smaller, riskier, more political. After all, "Coming out" in 1970 could mean losing your job, alienating your parents, being attacked on the street or losing custody of your children. (Those things still happen, but less so). Coming out meant facing the condemnation of your church -- none of the established churches taught that being gay was to be fearfully and wonderfully made. In the Presbyterian Church, homosexuality was considered sinful by most everyone -- insofar as people talked about it -- and most GLBT church goers were in the closet, some more deeply and painfully so than others. In those days, to proclaim that homosexuality was part of God's good and created order, to proclaim that Christ loves gay and lesbians as they are and calls them into loving relationships, was not only controversial - it still is - but lonely. Such prophets and righteous people were few and far between and they didn't receive a wide welcome. They didn't face death or flogging, but they were brought before councils, they lost church jobs, pastors counseled them to change, and they were often told they'd be happier worshipping elsewhere. I'm sure they felt like sheep among wolves.

 

 But that didn't stop them from proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven was near. David Sindt was one of those early prophets. David was an ordained Presbyterian Minister and social worker who served as a pastor before working full time in the foster care field; in the early 70s he "came out" and remained active in the Presbyterian Church. On the floor of the General Assembly of 1973 - in a meeting of thousands of church leaders from all over the country, he stood up with a couple of friends and held up a hand lettered sign that said, "Is anyone else out there gay?" After that David couldn't get an ordained position - fortunately he had other work and loving family and friends - and sadly, he died of AIDS in 1986. Many remember his courageous act as the beginning of the conversation, and soon groups such as Presbyterians for Gay and Lesbian Concerns began their mission of proclaiming God's love for gay and lesbian people as they were. 

 

 Martha Juillerat and Tammy Lindhall were two closeted lesbian pastors serving rural churches in Missouri, in the Presbytery of the Heartlands. They began to "come out" in 1992 to families, friends and their church; and as they began to take part in dialogues around the Presbytery, they faced a "barrage of opposition" and even death threats. They lost their jobs and had to put aside their ordinations. Martha began a project called "Shower of Stoles" where she asked people to send in stoles representing GLBT ministers, elders, deacons or members of their churches. These stoles became a visible sign of the often invisible GLBT people serving the church, and most of them came with a story about the person, sometimes a hopeful one, but often a heartbreaking one of loss, loneliness and fear. Martha turned the stoles into an exhibition that traveled all over the country. She says that in giving up one ministry she discovered the best ministry she could ever hope to have. She found her life, but first she had to lose it for the sake of the gospel. (see Shower of Stoles online exhibition). 

 

 But it was not just Martha and Tammy, David and many others - Lisa Larges, Scott Anderson, Janie Spahr - who had to lose their lives to find them, but also the churches that welcomed them. Churches that joined the More Light movement, gave money to the Covenant Network, put up a rainbow flag or called lesbian pastors. And I'd bet every church that did so has known conflict, controversy and loss -- some more than others. When churches move towards that kind of welcome, especially when they sign on the dotted line by becoming "More Light," some people leave, others stop pledging, some withdraw. Many who leave or oppose such a step are faithful or deeply committed Christians. They might say that truly welcoming GLBT people means teaching the truth of God's intention for human sexuality, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sin. They might also say that in proclaiming their understanding of the gospel they also face opposition, conflict and loss -- and that's true, at least in certain circles. As an unrepentent lesbian I disagree with their position, but I also wonder if the King of Glory won't be most disappointed with those of us in the mushy middle (and I include myself most of the time). Those of us who believe that GLBT people should be welcomed and supported in their relationships, but who don't say it too often or too loudly because it makes people uncomfortable and could lead to a church quarrel. Or those of us - on the other end - who may be uncomfortable with gay marriage but don't want to say so and start an argument. I keep hoping this isn't true, but today's scripture lays it out: preaching and living the gospel is not for the faint-hearted or conflict avoidant. Summit knows this. From what you tell me, as a white church in the 50s, when Summit began welcoming African American members - however hesitantly - the church found controversy, conflict, loss of members and hardship -- both among those doing the welcoming and those brave disciples who crossed the threshold. You also tell me that Summit found its life in that time - but first it had to lose it for the sake of the gospel. We can think of other examples: Preaching forgiveness and the possibility of redemption for all when politicians are vying to build more prison, throw away the keys, and execute more people. Proclaiming and living a theology of "enough" in our consumer-driven world. Proclaiming God's call to welcome the stranger - for you were strangers in the land of Egypt - in a time of economic anxiety and hostile legislation. And none of those struggles for justice are over, including the ones against racism and homophobia. "Do not think I have come to bring peace to to the earth," says Jesus, Matthew 10:34, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (A metaphorical sword).

 

 I know. You're hot. I've already preached a longer sermon than usual. But I can assure you you're not nearly as hot as the people who will soon be marching in the gay pride parade, even though everyone is so grateful it's only going up to 80 today, another reason it will be such a festive year. Right now folks are beginning to gather at their assigned spots in midtown. They're scheduled step off in a couple of hours, but it will be three or four. They'll be sitting on concrete curbs with no shade from the midday sun. They'll then begin a three hour walk with many stops on steaming, black pavement. Some unfortunates will be in costumes, but even the most appropriately dressed will soon be hot, tired and thirsty. So by the time they reach the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York, at 11th Street and 5th Avenue, they'll be ready for a cup of cold water that members of the church will have ready for all the little ones, not just the Presbyterians. A cup of cold water - or two or three - provided by the Evelyn Davidson Water Project, named in the memory of a life-long activist, deacon, elder and trustee, wife of the pastor of the first More Light Church in the country, probably the first Presbyterian Church to formally declare "welcome" to Gay and Lesbian people. A cup of cold water for prophets and righteous ones, for missionaries and little ones, for all proclaiming the wideness of God's love on this glorious afternoon whatever their faith or belief. And all who drink and all who serve will enjoy a prophet's reward -- not only in heaven, but here on earth, in fellowship and joy, finding lives they thought were lost. For whoever welcomes you, said, Jesus, welcomes me, and the one who sent me. What a fellowship divine! 

Summer '11 Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 17, 9:37pm
Summer '11 Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

The temptation to skip church is always stronger in the summer, with its travel, heat and slower pace. But we’re called to observe the Sabbath in all seasons of the year, and this summer I encourage you to attend Sunday worship either at Summit or at a church where you may be traveling. For inspiration, I offer two readings: a letter to church leaders from a bishop of the early church, and a poem by Emily Dickinson. The first is encouragement to attend worship with the Body of Christ; the second – to worship at home. I hope you’ll do both! Wishing you the blessings of a restful and enjoyable summer.

Grace and Peace,

When you are teaching, command and exhort the people to be faithful to the assembly of the church. Let them not fail to attend, but let them gather faithfully together. Let no one deprive the Church by staying away; if they do, they deprive the body of Christ of one of its members!

For you must not think only of others but of yourself as well, when you hear the words that our Lord spoke: “Who does not gather with me, scatters” (Matt. 12:30). Since you are the members of Christ, you must not scatter yourselves outside the Church by failing to assemble there. For we have Christ for our Head, as he himself promised and announced, so that “you have become sharers with us.”

Do not, then, make light of your own selves, do not deprive our Savior of his members, do not rend, do not scatter his Body! The Didascalia of the Apostles – Second Century

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

 

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.

 

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last-

I’m going, all along. Emily Dickinson 

June '11 Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jun 11, 7:10pm
June '11 Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch

 

Decisions, Decisions 

 

In the Book of Acts, 1: 15-26, in between the stories of the Ascension (read this year on June 5th) and Pentecost (June 12th) we find the Minutes of a Meeting among the disciples. The eleven had important business to take care of. Judas had resigned, so they had a Vacancy to fill on the Apostleship Board. Acting as a Committee of the Whole, they proposed two candidates: Justus and Matthias. As far as we know they conducted no interviews, did no background checks and contacted no references. Instead, they prayed: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

 

Then it gets really interesting: rather than waiting for God to speak to them through a discussion, a vote, or a voice in their hearts, they cast lots – the ancient equivalent of drawing straws. Discerning God’s will through casting lots was a long-standing tradition in ancient Israel, but it seems odd to us. We consider it a game of chance or an impartial way of assigning an unpopular (or favorite) task. The disciples, however, trusted that -- with prayer -- God would guide them with this concrete sign. And when the lot fell on Matthias, he was added to the eleven disciples.

I’m not suggesting that we fill board vacancies through the drawing of straws (as attractive as that may sound to the Nominating Committee). I’m not suggesting anyone make important life decisions by pulling petals off daisies. But perhaps we have something to learn from this story: that God does not always speak to us through an epiphany, or through a feeling at the time of prayer. God’s will for us may unfold through the concrete details of our everyday lives, in ways that surprise us. And if we miss the signs (and how often we do!) there’s always a way back, and often many paths we can take that are pleasing to God.

 

The important part is the prayer. Luke says the early apostles, including the women, “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” May we ground ourselves in prayer like them, both in our own lives and in our life together. 

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch

05/15/11 Sermon: 'Wanting and Needing' -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 29, 2:21pm
05/15/11 Sermon: 'Wanting and Needing' -- Cheryl Pyrch

 

Cheryl Pyrch - Summit Presbyterian Church

May 15, 2010 - Psalm 23

Wanting and Needing

Some scripture is easier to preach than other scripture. Before I began preaching I always thought the most difficult scripture to preach would be those passages we call "difficult texts." Those places in the Bible where God or Jesus appears cruel, prejudiced or violent, or when teachers and prophets give unenlightened instructions. In the gospel of John, for example, when Jesus calls his opponents - John calls them "the Jews" - children of the devil. Or in the book of Samuel, when the Lord tells Saul, " Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” Or when Paul instructs slaves to obey their masters and women to obey their husbands. I could go on. It's easy to find difficult texts in the Bible. And those passages are hard to preach, but the task of the preacher is clear: to try and hear what God is saying through the scripture, and to wrestle and even argue with it until you discern the good news. The challenge is not so much to come up with a sermon as it is to tame one. No, I've found the most difficult passages to preach are the ones that are just plain beautiful. Beautiful, clear, well-loved. What more is there to say than "listen to the Word of God"? The 23rd psalm is one such passage.

 

 But before you get too excited, and start thinking oh, maybe we'll get to coffee hour early today, I do have a few things to add to God's Word. Some clarifications. Because there may be one or two things about this psalm that have always bothered you. First, the psalmist compares herself - and by extension, us - to sheep, and some folks don't like that. We don't think sheep are intelligent or spiritual - although people who study them disagree. We don't know them very well, encountering them most often at the dinner table. But the Bible was written by people who lived with sheep and herded sheep. They naturally used sheep and shepherds as metaphors. So in the Bible, religious leaders, kings, and God are often compared to shepherds --- and their people compared to sheep. It makes sense: shepherds protect sheep, make sure they have enough food and water, and guide them through thickets and fields. Jesus, in John's gospel, talks about himself as the good shepherd; the prophet Ezekiel criticizes the shepherds of Israel for being poor leaders (Ez 34) ; and Isaiah and other psalmists talk about God as the shepherd (40:11). Indeed, the fourth Sunday of Easter is called "Shepherd Sunday," and every year the lectionary gathers readings from the old and new testaments that refer to sheep and shepherds. Being a sheep is not an insult.

 

 You may also be bothered - as I was - by the line where the psalmist says to God, "you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies." It may seem like the psalmist is gloating, or that God is punishing his enemies by laying out a banquet that they can't have, encouraging envy and jealousy. But if we keep the metaphor of the shepherd in mind, thinking of God, or Christ, as both shepherd and host, we find another meaning. Sheep were often in the presence of their enemies - lions and wolves lying in wait - so it was the presence of the shepherd that allowed them to eat in safety and to eat their fill. So it's another way for the psalmist to speak of God's protection and provision even in the face of those dangers that would destroy us.

 

 For this we're thankful and the psalm can be read as a psalm of thanksgiving: for God's protection and provision; for God's restoration and renewal; for God's guidance and comfort. Especially in those times when we're enjoying green pastures and quiet waters, when our cup overflows with good things and we know it, the 23rd psalm is a way to give thanks. It's a way to acknowledge that all good gifts come God, and that it's Christ who leads us in the right paths, keeping us safe, giving us comfort, protecting us from danger. But most often we read or hear this psalm when we're not feeling especially thankful. We go to it in times of drought, when the grass is brown and the creekbed dry. We read it in times of danger, when our enemies seem close -- even if those enemies are only the thoughts in our heads. We especially read it in times of mourning, when our cup seems full of grief and sadness. When we pray it in those times it's also a psalm of yearning, of yearning for God's presence, comfort, and guidance-- and also a psalm of trust. A statement of confidence that even though there may not seem to be much goodness and mercy in our lives right now, it's coming behind us. It's a psalm of faith.

 

 So this is my sermon: Listen to the Word of God in the 23rd psalm -- and memorize it, if you haven't already. Memorize it so that whether you're feeling thankful or lost, you can say it. So that wherever you are, at home or away, you can say it. So you can say it in times of stress or boredom, before going about your day or as you go to sleep. And you may find - as I have - that the psalm itself becomes the green and restful grass; that the psalm itself becomes a comforting staff and an overflowing cup. You may find that simply saying the words from your heart and picturing them in your mind restores your soul and feeds you as though you were at a banquet table. You may find that reciting the psalm leads you on the right path and eases your fear. Try it. You may wish to memorize the NRSV translation, the one in your pew bible and the translation closest to the Hebrew; or you may wish to memorize the beloved King James Version, or any other one. My hope is that the psalm will become a sacrament for you, a means for God's grace to enter into your life, in the greenest pastures and in the darkest valleys. I'll end with the King James Version. You may join me if you know it:

 

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

 

 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

 

 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.

 

 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 

 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

 

 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

 

 

Amen.

 

05/08/11 Sermon: 'Cut to the Heart' -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 29, 2:20pm
05/08/11 Sermon: 'Cut to the Heart' -- Cheryl Pyrch

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

May 8, 2011

Acts 2: 14a, -42b

Cut to the Heart

 There's a question that human beings ask no matter where they live, when they were born, or what language they speak. It comes up whenever bad things happen to good people-- and mostly bad things happen to good people. That question is: who's responsible?" Who's to blame when a child dies, when famine hits, when the earth shakes, when cancer strikes or the economy tumbles? Who's responsible? The answers are just as different as the situations, but there are some standard, cross-cultural ones. God is often held responsible - or the gods. If God created the universe, sends rain to fall and sun to shine (or not) -- surely bad things that happen are ultimately under divine control. Especially in times of natural disaster or personal illness people often point to the divine. Another common answer to the question, "who's responsible?" is the victim. This takes many forms: I won't list them. Often blaming the divine and blaming the victim go together: when we believe God is responsible for suffering (and most of us point to God at one point or another) also want to give God a good reason for inflicting it. So we search the lives of victims - including ourselves - to see where a foolish choice or misbehavior led to ruin. Another cross cultural answer to the answer of "who's responsible?" is the bad guy: the evil one, man or woman, the demon in human form. Often it's plural - those bad guys -- and they're almost always from across the sea or of a different tribe. Usually, we disagree on "who's responsible." It's often hard to tell, and it's often, "all of the above." After all, God created an earth with tectonic plates; victims often make foolish choices; there are evil-doers in this world -- and it gets even more complicated. Asking "who's responsible" may be necessary if we're to combat or relieve suffering. We need to understand how it comes about - but the answers are often elusive and divisive. 

 9/11 was something of an exception to that. People disagreed over the secondary or underlying causes of that tragedy: some suggested that our nation's arrogance, our imperial muscle-flexing fueled the anger that led to Al Queda; others suggested it was our freedom that made people jealous. Some pointed to Islam; others to fundamentalism of any kind. Some people thought George Bush and his cronies orchestrated the attacks for political gain; George Bush blamed Saddam Hussein. Jerry Falwell claimed that homosexuals were responsible for somehow forcing the hand of God to discipline us. But despite these differences nearly everyone agreed on one thing, including the few who cheered the fall of the towers: Osama Bin Laden was the single person with the greatest responsibility for those 3,000 deaths. He may have been a villian or a hero, but Osama Bin Laden was the man. So there was a certain unity in the world-wide response. Some people questioned if he should have been captured rather than killed; others protested that the US violated Pakistan's sovereignty; the relatively few Al Queda supporters vowed revenge. But most people agreed that an evil-doer was stopped: few people in this country at least were saddened by his death, except insofar as any death may sadden, or the whole situation is sad. Indeed, the main question, especially for people of faith, has been: should we celebrate?

 Most religious leaders solemly said, "no." Oh, some said oh don't be so pious, self-righteous and hypocritical. God's hand was in it (Faith in Family; Rick Warren). but most religious leaders called for sober reflection. Most agreed that we could be relieved, thankful that evil had been stopped, even grateful to the Navy Seals, but they objected to dancing in the streets. The prophet Ezekiel was widely quoted, who said God takes, "no pleasure in the death of wicked people," preferring only that they "turn from their wicked ways so they can live." I was struck by a statement made by Albert Mulher, the president of the flagship Southern Baptist Seminary. Rev. Mohler was one of the architects of the right-wing takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. He's a fundamentalist, opponent of women's ordination, hater of all things homosexual, someone I never thought I'd never quote approvingly in a sermon but today I'm going to. Here he is speaking about the celebrations in the street: "Such celebration points to the danger of revenge as a powerful human emotion. Revenge has no place among those who honor justice . . . . The reason for this is simple, - God is capable of vengeance, which is perfectly true to his own righteousness and perfection - but human beings are not. We tend toward the mismeasure of justice when it comes to settling our own claims." My favorite quote came form a Buddhist: Ethan Nichtern, director of a buddhist teaching center in New York: "My initial reaction is like everyone else's - this is a good thing . . . But Buddhism says there is no monster that exists on his own, without cause. And that every living thing is sacred, including monsters. So I would chalk this up as one of the most intensely confusing moments for Buddhists so far in the 21st century." I'd say it's an intensely confusing moment for Christians as well, or at least this Christian.

 On most Sundays when there's a public event I feel called to comment on, the lectionary just doesn't apply -- any attempt to make a connection beween them twists the text (not that I've been above that). But this Sunday I don't believe that's the case. The lectionary speaks to the moment. 

 According to Luke, Peter is preaching to a crowd of fellow Jews: hundreds if not thousands of them. He's telling them of Jesus Christ, and in his sermon he asks the question: who killed Jesus? (It's not the focus of his sermon, but he asks it). In the passage we just read, Peter refers to "this Jesus whom you crucified," but earlier he says more. "This man," he says, "handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law." So God had something to do with it; the Roman state did the actual deed, but Peter is also saying they share in the responsibility. Most of the folks in that crowd could have said, "what do you mean, I did it? I never even heard of this Jesus of Nazareth. I live in Phrygia. Or I came from Pamphylia" Others might have said "No. I watched the crucifixion with sadness. I had nothing to do with anything some of our chief priests and elders did." Others could have pointed out that the Roman governor was in charge, and it really didn't matter what the Jews wanted -- the Roman governor held the cards. And they would have been right. "They" did not kill Jesus, just as "the Romans" didn't either, even though the crucifixion was ordered and carried out by Pilate and his soldiers. Tragically, Peter's words - and other words in the New Testament - combined with plain old ignorance and sinfulness - were used by Christians for centuries to blame "the Jews" for the death of Jesus. Most churches have since repudiated that teaching, saying that "The Jews" were not responsible for killing Jesus, neither the Jews of that time nor the Jews, as a group of any other time, and that in fact God has not revoked God's promises to Israel. But that came later: through the centuries, Christians blamed "Jews" for killing Christ, and also blamed them for just about everything else. The plague, famine, all kinds of misfortunes that haunted Europe. They punished them accordingly with pogroms, ghettos, and more. Now, there were also times when Christians and Jews lived in harmony, but anti-Jewish Christian teaching caused much harm. In this case, asking "who's responsible," led to payback and vengeance with tragic results. 

 But back in those early days after the resurrection, when Peter was speaking as a brother, when there were not yet "Christians" and "Jews," an "us" and a "them" the crowd who heard Peter didn't protest - at least according to Luke. He says they were "cut to the heart," and asked Peter, "Brother, what should we do?" We don't know exactly what caused them to ask that question. Something about the story of Jesus, of his death and resurrection, touched them and made them want to make a change. And Peter tells them: repent, and be baptized, so your sins will be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And this promise is for you, for your children, and for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him. Peter doesn't offer a threat, he offers a promise. He preached the opposite of that circle of violence and blame that so often comes when we ask "who's responsible?" He preached turning and new life in Christ. 

 On the occasion of Osama's death, we can listen to Peter. Repent. Recognize that we live in a broken world. Even when we're "innocent" we're sinful, complicit in suffering even if we don't mean to be. Turning from God, harboring fear or vengeance in our hearts, certain that we know things when we don't, indifferent or apathetic in the face of evil and suffering. But we can turn to God in Christ and know forgiveness, and not be governed or controlled by sin. We don't have to be oppressed by guilt or remain stuck in the cycle of violence, forever seeking revenge. Jesus suffered and was killed but Christ came back alive to offer forgiveness and new life. To offer peace rather than war, love rather than hate. Even as Christians we have trouble believing that. We can be just as vengeful in the name of our God as others in theirs. Indeed, the two wars that our country has entered into since 9/11 have killed thousands, including many just as "innocent" as those killed on 9/11, whose families have grieved just as much. But it doesn't have to be the case for us or our children. Instead, we can live into our baptism and turn from the ways of death. 

 My favorite statement on the death of Bin Laden comes from the Vatican. 

 

"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred"

 

 So - let's look at the death of Osama Bin Laden as an occasion for the further grow of peace and not of hatred. Between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Between neighbors, between families; Between the United States and Iraq and Afghanistan. There is another way, and we can see it in the life of Jesus and we can live it through the power of the Holy Spirit. A way of peace, not war. 

05/01/11 Earth Day Sermon: 'Every One Precious' -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 29, 2:19pm
05/01/11 Earth Day Sermon: 'Every One Precious' -- Cheryl Pyrch

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

Earth Day Sunday - May 1, 2011

Luke 15: 1-10; Acts 2: 43-47

 

Every One Precious

 

 We just heard two of the most familiar parables of Jesus. Jesus often spoke in parables: stories or sayings that compare one thing to another. The Greek word "parabole" means, literally, to cast alongside; a parable casts one thing alongside another. In our scripture today Jesus compares the rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents with the rejoicing of a shepherd (and his friends and neighbors) over a lost sheep that's found; and with the rejoicing of a woman (with her friends and neighbors) over a lost coin that's found. Jesus is comparing something unknown to them -- the goings-on in heaven - with something familiar: a shepherd finding a sheep or a woman finding a coin. The joy they know when those lost things are found, Jesus teaches, is like the joy God knows when a sinner repents, and comes back to God. 

 

 

 The challenge for us in understanding these parables - thousands of years later - is that the situations so familiar to those first listeners aren't familiar to us. We don't have first-hand experience with them. Most of the parables talk about farming, herding or fishing. For us city dwellers who - at most - fish only for recreation, herding, farming and fishing are something we know about only through stories or movies - and of course farming and fishing were different back then. The examples in the parables are also unfamiliar to us because technology has changed. To refer to another parable, in these days of cheap and easy electricity we don't know what it means to make sure you have enough oil to keep your lamp burning - so we aren't properly scandalized when those five foolish bridesmaids leave their oil at home. But it's not just that we're city dwellers rather than country dwellers, or that we live in a high-tech rather than a low-tech age. Our "heads" are different. We think and feel differently about things.

 

 

 Let's go back to sheep and coins. In that time and place, finding a lost sheep or a lost coin would have been a cause of deep relief, rejoicing and celebration. Sheep and coins were not easy to come by - they were highly valued and always needed. A sheep or a coin could make the difference between food and hunger; between clothing and rags; in some cases, surely, between life and death. Every sheep and every coin counted. Every one was precious. So when a sheep was lost, a shepherd would search high and low until it was found. (I should say that scholars argue whether a competent shepherd would leave 99 sheep in the wilderness so what is Jesus saying, but the parable assumes the 99 righteous sheep are safe). Likewise, when a coin was lost, any woman would use precious oil to light a lamp in her small windowless house, so she could sweep and search carefully until it was found. And then every one would celebrate! 

 

 

 It's not like that for us. Thinking first about sheep, how little we value each one! Few of our sheep or cows or chickens can even wander -- they're crammed in on factory farms where it's accepted - as the cost of doing business - that a good number will die from disease or smothering. In a way that's efficient - we have cheap meat - but no sheep or chicken or cow in that system is precious and ultimately it's wasteful. Thinking of other animals, how many are lost on the path to extinction and we don't even know it! Scientists calculate that if we continue heating the planet as we're now doing, a third of all plant and animal species could be extinct in the next 100 years (Rough Guide to climate change, 147, citing Nature 2004 article and IPPC report) . Now, extinctions are part of creation, they happened even when humans weren't around; but because of our activity we're losing plants and animals at breakneck speed, at a speed that could lead to system-wide collapse - and most of us don't even notice the loss. 

 

 

 Let's think about coins: we seldom even look for lost ones anymore - they stay in our couches forever. Granted, coins are less valuable now, but we also lose track of the bills in our wallets or the numbers on our bank statements. Even when we're struggling - and in this recession many people don't have enough - there's so much waste built into the way we live that we're casual about all sorts of things. Water. Gas. Food. Electricity. Clothes. We're attached and accustomed to many material things in our lives, but we don't value them or even notice when they're lost. And because we don't know what it means to find lost things and rejoice, we can't fully hear what Jesus is saying about how very precious every person is in the sight of God. We don't get the way God rejoices - along with all the angels in heaven - when a lost person is found. The parable loses its punch. 

 

 

 Now, there are people in the world today - many people - who understand how relieved and overjoyed the shepherd and the woman would be. There are many people in the world today - even here, but especially in places like Bangladesh and Ethiopia - who carefully guard not only every sheep but every grain of rice and every piece of bread and every single coin. But still they go hungry, or have no safe place to sleep, or have no care when they're sick. And when we step back, we can see that our accumulation of stuff, our high spending life-style keeps other people from having enough. It's not the only reason for poverty. But each day, as we learn more about the limits of our earth and the limits of our atmosphere, we see that using more than our share - both in the past and today - leaves too little for others. Too little for the poor of the earth, and too little for our children and grandchildren. We've lost our way. 

 

 

 It's time to start listening to these parables backwards. Because each person in this world is precious in God's sight, we need to start taking care of those sheep and keeping track of those coins. Not so we can eat more lamb or buy more things -- but so we can make do with less and have more to share with others. So we can live more lightly on the earth and leave enough for everyone. So we can protect the diversity of plants and animals on this planet, for our children and grandchildren. We may think of frugality as tightening up and not being generous, but really, it's about opening our hearts, broadening and deepening our love for God's creation and all who live in it. And it's something we need to do not just in our own homes and in our own lives. We need to care for those sheep and keep track of those coins in our government policies and in our laws -- because so much of the waste in our country goes beyond what we do in our homes or what we buy in the store. We need to care for those sheep and those coins so that all will have enough -- children in Camden, farmers in Bangladesh, sheep herders in the Sahel, seal hunters in the Arctic. And if we're able to repent from our wasteful ways, those ways which separate us from God, creation and neighbors we know this: that there will be rejoicing in heaven. For every one of us is precious in the eyes of God. 

May '11 Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 5, 8:30pm
May '11 Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch

 

Rolling Away the Stone – Together

For my Easter children’s sermon I asked the construction workers on our tower to place one of the heavy stones from our building in a child’s red wagon. I then rolled the wagon before the children and asked them to try and lift it – assuming they couldn’t, since I hadn’t been able to, even though I lift weights at Fitlife. I wanted to point out that the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb was very heavy. The first one or two children who tried indeed couldn’t budge it, but once they moved in as a group they began lifting it from the wagon. I quickly stopped them – I had a children’s sermon to save- amending my message to say it was hard to lift the stone, but not impossible!

In remembering the Easter story, it’s easy to think of the rolling away of the stone as one of the “proofs” of the resurrection, as something that only could have been done by an angel or the risen Christ. But none of the gospel writers understood it that way. In Mark and Luke, the women come to the tomb with spices to anoint the body, trusting that someone will help them roll away the stone. In John, Mary assumes “they” have rolled it away and laid the body elsewhere. In Matthew, Pilate sends soldiers to seal the stone and guard the tomb because he knows the disciples could easily move it. The rolling away of the stone is not the miracle: it’s the empty tomb and the appearance among them of the risen Christ. But still, removing the stone was important. Then the women could they see that “he is gone”; then they could speak with the angels; then they were able to recognize the risen Christ when he appeared among them. Rolling away the stone opened the way for faith.

What heavy stones do we have in our lives that keep us from seeing the empty tomb and the risen Christ? We may be so weighed down with grief, anxiety, or depression that we lose touch with the Spirit and no longer feel God’s comfort. Or perhaps we’re so overwhelmed with problems in our lives – with family, money, or work – that we see no way out and lose hope in the risen Lord. Or perhaps the problems facing humankind seem so big and intractable we no longer have faith in the possibility of God’s justice or peace, and retreat into inaction or cynicism. 

Sometimes, those stones suddenly lift, as though an angel came down and moved them. But more often, we need to help each other move them away. Through prayer, worship and study; caring for one another; and working together in mission. When we come together as a church – as the children came together to lift that stone – we can move those burdens away, and help each other see the empty tomb and experience the joy of the resurrection. And we can proclaim together: Christ is risen, indeed!

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

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