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4/4/11 Sermon: 'Living in the Light' by Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 17, 12:07pm
4/4/11 Sermon: 'Living in the Light' by Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 3, 2011

Ephesians 5: 8-14

 

Living in the Light

 

 This passage is from a letter written to encourage new followers of Christ in the city of Ephesus, although the letter made its way to many towns and cities in the Greek and Roman world. Christians in that ancient world weren't necessarily persecuted, but they were a beleaguered minority, and the temptation to fall back into old ways of worship and old ways of life was strong.  So don't, Paul tells them.  Your old ways are the ways of darkness.  Indeed, Paul says in our passage, "you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, for it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly -  but live as children of light, for the fruit of the light will be found in all that is good and right and true." 

 

 

 Light and dark, good and evil, purity and impurity, in Christ or alienated from God --  this is how the writer of Ephesians sees the world, and not just the world but the cosmos.  On one side is God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, creator of all things, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name, and who has a plan for the fullness of time (1:3, 10, 3:9); on the other, the devil, and cosmic powers of this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (6:1). The letter (which I love) speaks of cosmic battles and blessings, spiritual warfare and peace.  In Paul's vision of the church and the world there's little grey or half light and no half measures.  Ephesians is the letter where Paul says to put on the whole armour of God to fight the wiles and the devil.  In our passage Paul tells the disciples to live as children of light --  but not to "let live" those in darkness. "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness," he says,  "but instead expose them." 

 

 

 Paul's words may inspire us,  but they may also make us uncomfortable.  There's danger in seeing the world in such stark terms, especially when we believe we're children of light and others are of the dark.  Indeed, if you were sneaky and read the verses before the lectionary in your pew bible you may have squirmed, for Paul has some harsh words for those taking part in unfruitful works. "Be sure of this," he says, "that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolator) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." In those words we may hear the strident voices of contemporary preachers judging and condemning those they consider sexually impure or irredeemably rich. We know how easy it is for the church to fall into moral or spiritual arrogance, and to be mistaken.  Church teachings have often, unwittingly, lent strength to the forces of darkness, even some of the teachings in this letter. Later in Ephesians Paul tells wives to be subject to their husbands and slaves to obey their earthly masters with fear and trembling and singleness of heart. Now, Paul also instructs husbands to love their wives and for masters to stop threatening their slaves, but his words have been used in recent centuries - and years -  to justify slavery or the subordination of women. So as we look at our messy, diverse church and world, the image of light and darkness may seem too harsh or too simple.

 

 

 Until we really think about it. I don't think people can be put into categories of good or evil (and Paul doesn't either, by the way -- he says later that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh). But there are forces of darkness and evil in our world, and of light and grace -- and the fruits they bear are very different.  Some of those forces are personal - we find them in ourselves and our neighbors and in loved ones.  Others are global - threatening peoples and the planet, although the personal and the global are connected and overlap. Among personal demons, alcohol addiction is one of the darkest, as anyone caught up in it can testify.  It's not that people who are addicted are evil - far from it - and it's not that alcohol itself is evil, but the powers of darkness can bring the two together with lots of suffering.  Conversely, if you've ever been to a twelve-step meeting and heard the truth telling that exposes the unfruitful works of addiction, you've seen the light, and the grace, and the love that comes from such testifying -- and the new life that comes with sobriety, even with all it's struggles and setbacks. Thinking globally, I believe professional climate deniers are taking part in unfruitful works of darkness.  When I say climate deniers I'm not talking about those of us who have trouble wrapping our heads around the idea of global warming when it's snowing in April, which it did.  But the professionals  --  public relations experts working for industry organizations, and others,  are surely engaged in unfruitful works of darkness as they hack into emails, twist people's words and bandy about lies as our civilizations careens toward disaster.  I'm not saying they're evil, and they may believe they're doing the Lord's work -- but their deeds cry out for exposure.  Conversely, scientists who quietly and steadfastly report their findings and tell is like they see it -- despite all kinds of harrassment  - are walking in the light.  You may identify different forces of darkness and light, of evil and good, but it is a cosmic battle. 

 

 

 But the forces of evil and good, light and darkness,  are not locked in an unending struggle; Paul assures the Ephesians, and us, that in the fullness of time God in Christ will gather up all things in heaven and earth.  And although we're called to take sides, it's not our battle to win (or lose), for the light that shines in the darkness is not our own -- it's God's light, and it's only in the Lord that we live and walk in the light.  Most important, the light shined upon those deeds of darkness we're called to expose is not for judgement, condemnation and death.  It's for transformation. Listen again to Paul's words:  "everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  'Therefore it says, Sleeper, awake!  Rise form the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Just as the Ephesian Christians who were darkness, according to Paul, but became light in the Lord, so the light of Christ can transform anything and anyone and raise them from death and sin - -including us.  And although the writer of Ephesians may not have agreed with this, I am sure the light of Christ shines outside of the church, among people and in places we may not suspect, including non-Christians, bringing them into God's light and love as well.

 

 

 

 

 So as this cosmic battle wages, what do we do?  Paul is clear, as he says in verse 10:  "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord."  Prayer, study, communal discernment -- trying to find out what is pleasing to the Lord and doing it.  Taking no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but living in the light, the light that will someday reach all the dark places, in heaven and on earth.

 

  

3/27/11 Sermon: 'Hearing for Ourselves' by Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 17, 12:05pm
3/27/11 Sermon: 'Hearing for Ourselves' by Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 27, 2011

John 4

 

Hearing for Ourselves

 This conversation that Jesus has with the woman at the well is one of the longest dialogues from any gospel, and it's not easy to follow.  Jesus and the Samaritan woman often seem to be talking at cross-purposes, and the conversation takes some mystifying turns.  We aren't told what the woman and Jesus are thinking during their talk; we can only imagine.  I'd rather not try and guess what Jesus was thinking, but I do wonder: what was going through the woman's mind? 

 

 When she came to the well in the heat of the day, she saw a tired Jewish man, with no bucket and no water jar. He asked for a drink -- and although she didn't refuse, she seemed puzzled, perhaps wary:  why didn't he get it, that Jews and Samaritans didn't mix it up, that men didn't talk to lone women at wells.  "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? I can't imagine his answer was reassuring: If only she knew better, said this man without a bucket, she'd realize he was God's great gift to humankind, that she should be asking him for a drink, for he had living water. At this point she might have been getting nervous, if not downright frightened -- the two of them alone at this well -- but she's polite, if guarded. "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"  The man replies that the water he gives will leave her never thirsty, that it will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

 

 Now, we know that Jesus is Jesus, that what he says is true, and many commentators think that with her next sentence the woman shows that she's beginning to understand, even if she's taking his words n literally. But the woman still only knows that this tired, thirsty, Jewish man who asked for for a drink is promising her a miraculous spring of water that will make her live forever.  So I'm inclined to think she's humoring him, the way a hostage negotiator might go along with the crazy person waving a gun:  "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

 

 But then the conversation gets really interesting.  Jesus says to her, "Go, call you husband, and come back," and she replies -  "I have no husband" He then says:  "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true!"  Here's the turning point. It's here that Jesus reveals himself to be not a heat-crazed simpleton talking nonsense, but a man who knows her  past -  a past of pain and loss and shame - and who still wants to talk with her.  This revelation sheds a different light on their conversation up to now. He knows everything she's ever done -- perhaps he does have water that will lead to eternal life.  So they continue, talking about true worship, and the Messiah, and the day he will come, when Jesus declares, "I am he" and their conversation ends with the return of the disciples.  The woman is in such a rush to get back to the city she leaves her water jar:  she's not sure who she's seen or heard, but she wants others to see and hear, too:  "Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

 The woman's testimony must have been powerful, because it says that many from that city believed in him because of it -- even though she was still not sure herself. So the people  invite Jesus to stay with them, which he does for two days; it says many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."

 

 They heard for themselves.  But what exactly?  We're not privy to the conversations that Jesus had with the lonely sheepherder, or the overworked farmer, or the sick woman, or the confused young man, or any other citizen of that Samaritan city he may have talked. But if they heard what the woman at the well heard, it was not an exposition of scripture, a prediction of his passion & resurrection, or some obtuse theological doctrine.  If they heard what the woman at the well heard, they heard that Jesus knew everything they had ever done, and still offered the spring of living water that would never leave them thirsty.  No  matter what skeletons they had in their closet, no matter what follies the committed in their youth, no matter what their criminal justice record, no matter the level of indifference or betrayal they had showed loved ones, no matter their addictions, Jesus offered acceptance, salvation, a spring of living water gushing up into eternal life. 

 

  On Sundays when we recite the Apostles or Nicene Creed, it may seem that the hardest thing to believe as a Christian is that Mary was a virgin, or that Jesus was fully human, fully God, or that he descended into hell and ascended into heaven; or that Christ will come again in glory.  In reading scripture, it may seem that the hardest thing to believe is that Jesus turned water to wine, calmed the sea, or raised Lazarus from the dead or appeared in flesh to the disciples after he was buried.  But the hardest, and most important thing to believe as a Christian is that Jesus knows everything we have ever done, and loves us still.  That God in Christ knows our equivalent of the five husbands and one boyfriend and still invites us to drink of the living water.  It's  the miracle of forgiveness and acceptance that the woman of Samaria testified to -- and it's this miracle that we're invited to hear for ourselves and believe. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  That forgiveness calls us to new life and right living -  Christ is not indifferent to sin and evil in the world and in us, but first comes acceptance, forgiveness, and the invitation to trust in Christ.  To drink of the water that will never leave us thirsty, the living water that will gush up to eternal life.  Such is the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! 

3/20/11 Sermon: 'Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?' by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 17, 12:04pm
3/20/11 Sermon: 'Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?' by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 20, 2011

Psalm 46; Mark 4: 31-45

 

Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?

 

 For most of us, this has been an ordinary week.  Not for the Knowles family, who lost their beloved Cora.  Not for others of us, perhaps, who have faced unusual sorrows or joys in recent days.  But for most of us, it's been an ordinary week with ordinary challenges and anxieties; and with those ordinary joys and pleasures we so often take for granted.  But most of us have also been following the extraordinary and unfolding tragedy in northeast Japan.  The earthquake that toppled buildings but whose epicenter was in the sea; the tsunami that followed, flattening everything in its path; and the fires and meltdown at the nuclear plant, with the release of its silent and invisible poison. And, as always, when we see natural and human-made disasters like these, we ask:  where is God?  How could God allow - or inflict - so much suffering?  It's hard to defend God after such calamities:  if the creator of the universe couldn't prevent the earth from shaking or hold back the sea, why do we say God is powerful and mighty?  And if God created and ordered the world to include such terrible pain and loss how can we claim that God is love? 

 

 

 I don't know of any passage in scripture or of any theologian who gives a logical, fully satisfactory answer to those questions; we don't understand all the ways of God or evil in this world. But our psalm today gives another kind of answer.  It's not a theological treatise or an apologetic defense of God.  It's a confession of faith. Where is God, when the earth changes and the mountains shake in the heart of the sea?  Where is God when the waters roar and foam, and the mountains tremble with the tumult?  Where is God, when the nations are in an uproar and the kingdoms totter? The psalmist answers: with us.  The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  God is in the midst of the city, which shall not be moved; and God will help it when the morning dawns.  The psalmist may have been thinking of Israel and Jerusalem when he spoke of "us" -- but we can see that a God who makes wars cease to the ends of the earth is a God who is with all peoples. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 In the letter of the Hebrews it says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  That's why this psalm is a confession of faith, for it's not an observation of the world in front of our eyes. In the world we see and measure, cities were moved, literally:  houses and boats and ships were transplanted, and pulverzied, by the waters.  The New York Times reported that some parts of Japan moved 13 feet eastward, and the earth tilted ever so slightly on its axis.  God did not protect from death those who perished in the tsunami, and it's hard to detect God's present help in the worsening situation at the nuclear reactors, or in the blizzard that covered the region, or in the mounting number of dead and missing, leaving so many to grieve.  The world we see is much like the world of the psalmist: a world of disasters and hardships, shaking mountains and devastated cities.  But that didn't deter him or her; he is so confident of God's present help and future victory that he speaks of it as though it's already happened.  God utters God's voice and the earth melts.  Come behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations God has brought on the earth, God makes wars to cease . . . . Chaos and destruction may seem to have the upper hand; but God is exalted among the nations and in the earth.  The assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.  A confession of faith.

 

 

 Such faith is a leap and ultimately a gift from God.  But God gives us signs to help bring us to that faith. We see the signs in our own life.  A sense of God's presence in a time of difficulty;  healing from physical illness, or in finding peace or love after a period of grief or loneliness.  We see signs in the world when justice is done or damaged places restored; things do get better. And of course we see a sign of God's ever present help and exaltation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In our gospel reading today Jesus gave such a sign to his disciples.  They are crossing to the other side of the sea of Galilee, when a windstorm threatens to sink their boat, and presumably the other boats with them.  Jesus is asleep on a cushion, so the disciples wake him and ask, "Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?"  He awakens and assures them that that yes, he does care:  he rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, Peace!  Be still!"  The wind and the sea obey him; a sign to not only calm their fears, but to strengthen them in faith.  A sign that not only their teacher but God cares, for it is God alone who calms the sea. A sign that one day God will still all the waters and bring peace to earth.  A sign for them -- and for us.

 

 

 

 

 But those signs may not be enough, or always enough, to bring us to faith, so we also have prayer.  Prayer for faith, for trust in God. God knows such faith does not come easily - it certainly didn't for the disciples.  So we have psalms such as this one to help us.

 

 

 

 Out of that faith grows more prayer:  prayer for all in trouble. For all who have lost loved ones an homes in Japan; for those crowded in shelters, grieving and hungry; for the heroic workers at the nuclear plants.  We pray for the the people of Libya, of Haiti -- still struggling from their even deadlier earthquake.  We pray for our country, that the day may come soon when our wars have ceased. 

 

 

 Out of that faith also comes generosity:  for when we trust that God is with us, we don't need to hoard our money, depending only on ourselves for safety and security.  We can give freely to those in need.

 

 

 Out of faith also comes the courage and hope to come together with peoples around the world.  To prepare for coming disasters and to try and prevent them, since disasters are also brought on by climate change, war and other acts of people. If we trust that God is exalted in the earth we might be tempted to sit back and let God take care of things -- but that's not what we've been told to do.  Jesus, Moses and the prophets all commanded us to love our neighbor, to take the side of the poor, the widow and the orphan; to help the person on the side of the road.  Faith allows us to do that work without feeling discouraged, knowing that it's not in vain. 

 

 

 Pray, give, act. That is our call in the face of tragedy; our call anchored in the faith that God is and will be there.  It's the faith of the psalmist.  A faith that also claims,  at a time and in a way we cannot know, all creation will be redeemed:  including those tectonic plates and roaring oceans.  On that day, all wars will cease and all waters will make glad the cities of God.  May that day come speedily! 

 

  

April '11 Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 11, 9:02pm
April '11 Pastor's Pen -- Cheryl Pyrch

Holy Week

During Holy Week – which begins on Palm Sunday - we remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, and follow him through his suffering and death.  At the Service of Shadows (Tenebrae) on Thursday night, we reflect on the last supper, serve communion and listen to the story of the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus as we slowly extinguish the lights in the sanctuary. On Friday, we gather together with other churches at noon to reflect on the “seven last words” of Jesus as they come to us in the different gospels.

Relatively few people come to Holy Week services. It can be hard to take off work and weeknights are difficult for families with young children. Some folks hesitate to come to worship that is somber and even mournful, as we read the scriptures that describe the crucifixion. It may seem enough to “know” that Jesus died, and to wait for the celebration of Easter Sunday.

But I encourage you to come and experience the mystery of our Christian faith.  The mystery that out of suffering, God brought redemption; that out of death,  God brought life.  This mystery is not something that can be fully understood. Explanations of why Christ suffered and died and how that helps us - his atonement – are many, and the church has never settled on one. But we don’t need to explain it to be able to feel sorrow over the death and suffering of Jesus and of the death and suffering in our world still.  We don’t need to explain it to experience the hope and joy of his resurrection, and the hope and joy we know through the grace of God today.  

So I hope to see you during Holy Week.  If you are not able to make Thursday night/Friday noon services, Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church (8855 Germantown Ave) has a service on Friday at 8:00 p.m.; First Germantown (35 W. Chelten Ave.) has one on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Grace and Peace,  

Cheryl

March '11 -- Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 6, 2:15pm
March '11 -- Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

Talking about Sexuality

This month the Presbytery will be talking about sexuality, as it prepares to vote on an amendment to the Book of Order (see inside article).  The debate is likely to follow familiar lines.  People who believe we should to keep the constitution the way it is will point out that in the Bible homosexuality is condemned whenever it’s mentioned.  Others will argue that many things condemned in scripture we now accept as “clean” (and vice-versa), recognizing that the timeless Word of God can’t be identified with the words of the Bible, even as we depend on those words to hear God speaking. Some  people will point to centuries of tradition; others will point to centuries of reform.  People will speak from personal experience on all sides.  But however the Presbyteries vote, we’ll be left with the question:  How does Christ call us to live out our sexuality?  What is faithful Christian teaching in this time and place?

It’s the question that underlies our debate on ordination standards, but it’s one we have trouble addressing directly.  There are many reasons for that, but one is obvious: nearly everyone feels vulnerable when it comes to sexuality. Sexuality is a source of joy, pleasure and intimacy, but it can also be a source of harm.  It may bring up feelings of anger, hurt, envy, shame --- yikes!  No wonder we don’t want to talk about it.

But it’s important that we do, because sexuality is a gift from God that we’re called to receive with gratitude and joy.  It’s another aspect of the “stewardship of creation”: just as we seek to be good stewards of the natural world around us, of our money, buildings and health, we’re called to be good stewards of our sexuality.  To use it in a way that cherishes the image of God in all people and that never stoops to violence or coercion.  To use it in a way that builds up the other, rather than tearing down.  To use it in a way that reflects the grace, justice and love of our Lord “made flesh.” 

We may differ on the details  - and the big stuff. Discussion of sexuality is bound to bring up conflict.  But as followers of Jesus Christ we needn’t be afraid.  In Christ there is the wisdom and courage we need to discern God’s path, and forgiveness when we go astray. In Christ we see the advent of God, when love and justice will reign and all people will know sexuality as a “valley of love and delight.”  

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

  

01/23/11 Sermon: "What's Your Story?" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 30, 8:11am
01/23/11 Sermon: "What's Your Story?" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

January 23, 2011

Psalm 40

 

What's Your Story?

 

 "The Lord drew me up from the desolate pit, and out of the miry bog,"  says the psalmist. He - or she -  doesn't say what kind of desolate pit or miry bog he was caught in.  It was written before the days of Oprah or the modern memoir so we don't know the details of his unhappy past.  But we know the desolate pits and miry bogs that people fall into now, and we can be sure there were ancient equivalents. There's the desolate pit of grief:  when someone we love dies.  When we lose a job, savings, a home or a marriage. There's the desolate pit of loneliness, anxiety or depression, when we feel isolated even in the midst of people.  There's the desolate pit of illness, when we're in a dark hole of pain and fear. There's the miry bog of addiction -- to alcohol or drugs, shopping or the internet.  There's the miry bog of  unwise choices - -- when we wake up and realize we've made promises we can't keep, scary creditors are leaving messages on the phone, or we're caught in a mess of lies that we've been telling our partner. This psalm is one of the psalms of King David:  although it was probably not written by David, it could have been! For David knew desolate pits and miry bogs, many of his own making:  adultery, murder, being hunted down by enemies, the deaths of his child and closest friend, the loss of power.  And he was a chosen one of God.

 But whatever the nature of his suffering, the psalmist waited for the Lord. In our english translations it says "I waited patiently" but scholars agree in Hebrew there's an urgent longing in that waiting --  one scholar says it should be translated "I waited impatiently." And then something happened.  Perhaps he recovered from an illness.  Perhaps a burden of grief or anxiety or depression finally lifted. Perhaps he reconciled with a loved one, or was able see clearly a path he had to take.  But whatever happened, the Lord drew him up from the desolate pit.  God drew him out of the miry bog where he was sinking, and set his feet upon a rock, making his steps secure.  God then put a new song in his mouth, a song of praise.  So the psalmist sings God's praise, proclaiming the wondrous deeds that God has done.  He gives himself to the Lord, saying "Here I am" and delights in the will of God.  He doesn't keep secret the turn his life has taken,  and tells the glad news of God's deliverance in the great congregation. Happy are those, says the psalmist, who trust in the Lord. 

 And the story might have ended there:  a sinner lost, then found, who annoys everyone around him by constantly talking about it while singing God's praises. But it doesn't end there.  At the close of the passage you may have sensed the mood shifting, when the psalmist says, "Do not O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever."  Listen to the rest of psalm 40, verses 12-17:

 

 For evils have encompassed me without number;

 my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see;

 they are more than the hairs of my head,

 and my heart fails me.

 

 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;

 O Lord, make haste to help me.

 Let all those be put to shame and confusion

 who seek to snatch away my life;

 let those be turned back and brought to dishonor

 who desire my hurt.

 Let those be appalled because of their shame 

 who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"

 

 But may all who seek you

 rejoice and be glad in you;

 may those who love your salvation

 say continually, "Great is the Lord!"

 As for me, I am poor and needy,

 but the Lord takes thought for me.

 You are my help and my deliverer;

 do not delay, O my God.

 

 

 Do not delay, O my God.  We're back full circle.  Waiting for the Lord, overcome by sin, encompassed by evil,  poor and needy, surrounded by enemies, real or imagined.  It's not a happily every after ending:  but isn't this the life of faith? At some time in our life, God's grace lifts us up and we can feel our feet stepping onto a firm foundation.  We're grateful, we're converted, we have nothing but praise for God.  But then life begins to look a lot like it it always did.  The same demons, the same ways of sinning, the same struggles, come to challenge us, and even some new ones:  a new diagnosis, a new problem with our kid.  That experience of God's grace may seem a distant memory.  We know we've been saved, things are different, but we're still waiting:  waiting for God, waiting for relief, waiting for grace.  And we may not be waiting patiently. 

 

 So what are we to do? How do we keep from getting discouraged and remain faithful?  The psalms offers an answer:  keep singing.  Remember the wonders that God has done, in our life and in the world, even as we wait for help.  Sing God's praises in times of joy and sorrow, sickness and health, in times of peace and times of worry. The psalmist is overcome with evil and iniquity, but he still says  "may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation, say continually, "Great is the Lord!" He is poor and needy, but he praises the God who takes thought for him, his help and deliverer. This new song itself, sustains him, this new song put into his mouth by God, as well as the open ear he has been given and the law written on his heart.  This new song is not just a song to speak or sing with words -- and I know some of you out there feel you can't sing --  it's a  song we live by seeking to do God's will, and by living with gratitude for the blessings we do know.  And in those times of personal struggle, when we're waiting for God to show up and make Gods self known in our lives, we can sing of God's wondrous deeds in the world:  in the beauty and abundance of creation, in healing that we witness in others, in the life and death of Jesus and in the risen Christ.  We can thank God for an honest psalm in the Bible!

 

 The Irish band "U2" - whose lead singer is named Bono-  has a song based on this psalm called "40."  (Does anyone know it?  I only know about it because it was mentioned in a popular book for preachers on the lectionary.  I'll bet I'm not the only preacher in the country who's talking about U2).  Well, I youtubed the U2 version, and indeed, the words are taken straight form the psalm:

 

I waited patiently for the Lord

He inclined and heard my cry

He brought me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay

 

I will sing, sing a new song

I will sing, sing a new song . . . .

 

He set my feet upon a rock

And made my footsteps firm

Many will see

Many will see and fear

 

I will sing, sing a new song.

 

 But then they ask a question that's not in the psalm: 

 

How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?

How long...how long...how long...

 

 The psalmist would say:  as long as we have breath and life.  And we're not only to sing the song, but we're to teach it to our children and to sing it in the community, so that those who come after us, "people yet unborn" will sing.  The peoples will praise you, it says in psalm 45, forever and ever.  God's praise endures forever, it says in psalm 111.  But it's not just here on earth the scripture speaks of eternal praise to God.  In heaven we'll continue God's praise -- from John's vision in the book of Revelation, and in the hymn we often sing:  and the saints adore you, casting their golden crowns  upon the glassy sea, singing "Holy, Holy, Holy,"  "When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun," say the author of Amazing Grace, "we'll no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."  In the joy of eternal life, when our waiting is over, we'll still sing praises to God.

 

 How long to sing this song?  As long as God shall live.  For this new song is not something of our creation, a human response to God's blessings.  This new song is a gift from God, put into our mouths to bring us joy and peace and to put our feet on rock.

 So we sing to say thank you.  We sing so others know of God's salvation and to give them hope.  We sing because God has created us for praise, and in it we find our deepest joy and peace.  We sing with our voices, and with our hands and with our lives.  Telling our stories; singing our songs, proclaiming God's love fearlessly to all.

 

Jan. '11 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 7, 12:15pm
Jan. '11 - Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

What is Preaching?

Thomas Long, in his book The Witness of Preaching, says that most preachers are guided by several images of who the preacher is and what he or she does. One is that of the Herald, who proclaims the Word of God through the sermon, “like a king through the mouth of his herald” (Karl Barth’s words), trying to keep himself out of the way.  Another is that of the Pastor, called to address people’s concerns and help them make sense of their lives in light of the gospel.  A third is that of Storyteller, sharing the story of the Bible and the Christian faith, allowing that story to work its power.  A fourth – suggested by Long -  is one of a Witness, telling the truth, as best she can, about what she has seen or heard of God in Christ.  The images both complement and compete with one another, and most pastors (including this one) see themselves as a mixture of all four, with some images stronger than others, depending on the preacher and the Sunday.

But however we see ourselves, Christian preachers are called to listen for God’s Word in scripture, even on Sundays when we may be preaching on a creed or contemporary issue and the Bible is in the background.  When we listen for the Word in scripture, Long points out that we do not go to the Bible alone.  We listen with our own questions, concerns and prejudices, certainly – that’s unavoidable and as it should be.  But we do, and should, come with more: with tools and knowledge gained from the community of scholars; with an understanding of our theological heritage; with an awareness of our culture and of the needs of the world; and of course, with lots of prayer and a reliance on the Holy Spirit.  We’re also called to go to the Bible with the questions and concerns of those to whom we’ll be preaching, for we go on behalf of the church – both the congregation and the universal church.

Most weeks, I have to imagine the questions, reactions, and concerns you may bring to the text, based on my life among you. And most weeks --  I confess – my personal questions shape my preaching, and I just hope they’re shared by some of you.  But starting on Wednesday, January 12th, at 7:30, you’ll have a chance to share with me (and vice versa) questions, concerns and reactions to the scripture for the coming Sunday.  We’ll also hear what scholars have to say and we’ll pray with it.  I won’t be able to address everyone’s particular concern or question each week, but I’m sure the shared conversation will make us more receptive to the Word, both in the preaching and the hearing.  And based on past Bible studies, I know it will be interesting and fun!  I hope you’ll be able to join us. 

 Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch 

Dec. 10 -- Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 23, 5:06pm
Dec. 10 -- Pastor's Pen, Cheryl Pyrch

The other day I was walking down the street when I encountered a woman with two cats.  As I stopped to pet and chat, she said they were “rescues” and told me the story of their abandonment as kittens, their journey to the animal shelter and their adoption into her home.  I was reminded that it’s only recently we’ve started using “rescue” as a noun to describe a dog or a cat, as in “How cute!  Is he a rescue?”  

It still seems a funny way to describe pets, but I’ve decided it’s a useful theological way to describe human beings. As Christians, we proclaim that we’re all “rescues” :  lost but now found, bound but now free, drowning in sin but saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We may not always feel like rescues. If we’re in good health, successful, and otherwise satisfied we may not think we need to be saved.  In times of pain, struggle and doubt we may not believe that we’ve been rescued.  And the church has always had trouble explaining exactly how God saves through Christ, and how that salvation works for non-Christians. But still, we confess it.  In the words of the Nicene Creed: for us and for our salvation Christ came down from heaven.

And at Christmas we proclaim it joyously in song:  

“Good Christian friends, rejoice  -  Christ was born to save!” 

“Silent Night, Holy Night  . . . .  Christ our Savior is born.” 

 “Down in a lowly manger, the humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn.”

So -  go tell it on the mountain!  And come let us adore him, on Christmas and every day of the year.

 Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch 

Nov. '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 3, 10:39pm
Nov. '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Cheryl Pyrch

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
have taken off my sackcloth
clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
Omy God, I will give thanks to you forever.

 Psalm 30, v. 11-12

 

Psalm 65, the reading for Sunday, October 24, was a psalm that called all people and creation to praise God.  As I was preparing the sermon, I thought of all the things that keep us from praising or giving thanks:  taking things for granted, a sense of entitlement, greed, indifference, too much worry. All of these are sins – or at least shortcomings – and I almost preached a sermon on repenting from them and turning to praise. But then I remembered grief, perhaps the most powerful emotion that makes it hard for us to praise God. Grief over the loss of a loved one, a marriage, health or ability, a home or job. But grief is no sin.  On the contrary,  grief  – at least in most cases – is a sign of obedience.  We mourn only those people and things we have loved, and God calls us to love, deeply and passionately. Indeed, mourning is a kind of praise, as we remember with thanksgiving who or what we have lost.

As we head towards winter and the holidays approach, it is a time of both mourning and praise. On All Saints Sunday (November 7th this year) we remember with sadness those who have died while we thank God for the Communion of Saints that draws us together in eternal life. At Thanksgiving we give thanks for God’s many blessings, while mourning those who are no longer at the table.  And as we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, we mourn Christmas’s past and those we have loved who are no longer here. For many people this is the hardest time of year, even amid the celebrations. 

But God also promises that grief softens over time, even if it never leaves completely.  Psalm 30 praises God for that.  It reminds us that weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Grief must take its course, but peace and healing  comes in time. So as we prepare for the joyous celebrations of the coming season, let’s also remember to hold each other in prayer, as we give thanks for the bonds that hold us  together, and for God’s love that surrounds us. 

 

 Grace and Peace, 

Cheryl Pyrch

10/24/10 Sermon: "Altogether Now" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:39pm
10/24/10 Sermon: "Altogether Now" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 24, 2010

Psalm 65

 

Altogether Now

 

People are theological creatures.  Whatever our beliefs, whether we're Christians or Atheists, Hindu or Bahai, we're built to ask questions about God. Is there one God, or many or none?  Who is God and what is God like?  What does God do?  Atheists may ask:  why do people believe in a God that doesn't exist?  These questions lead to other questions, and books and pamphlets and tomes have been written to try and answer them. The most learned theologians tell us that the immortal, invisible God only wise cannot be fully captured in words, even when they're words from the Bible.  But words point to God, they illumine, they reveal, especially - we believe - when they're words from scripture.  So people of all faiths and beliefs read their sacred books, think, write, and talk about God.

 

Two things seem to happen when we do this.  The first and perhaps the most common is that we argue:  Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Christians with other Christians, Muslims with other Muslims;  and so on.  Now theological discussion, even argument, is holy work.  It helps us  better understand and honor God - we hope.  It's important that we testify to what we believe and that we're not afraid to disagree. Jesus had lots of theological discussions that got very heated, even among friends.  The trouble comes when we're tempted to condemn those who disagree with us.  We may do out of loyalty to God or from a desire to protect others. Speaking falsely about God can lead people astray and even hurt them -- blasphemy is a real sin, one we doubtless commit more often than we know.  And sometimes heresies have to be named:  when the Evangelical German Church in Nazi Germany criticized the so-called "German Christians" who were following Hitler, they did the right thing.  But more often, our righteous condemnations don't honor God. They divide rather than unite us.  At their worst they lead to violence.  

The Presbyterian Church (USA) - our denomination - has book called the Book of Confessions. It's a collection of creeds and statements of faith, from the Apostles Creed of the early church to the 1985 Brief Statement of Faith that we often read in worship.  These confessions are meant to be guides for our faith and life, interpreted carefully in the context of their time and place.  I"m going to read from the Second Helvetic Confession, written for the church by a Swiss pastor named Heinrich Bullinger in 1561. He's just written a statement on God, His Unity and Trinity, and has this to say about those who disagree (5.019): 

Heresies.  Therefore we condemn the Jews and Mohammedans, and all those who blaspheme that sacred and adorable Trinity.  We also condemn all heresies and heretics who teach that the Son and Holy Spirit are God in name only, and also that there is something created and subservient, or subordinate to another in the Trinity, and that there is something unequal in it, a greater or a less, something corporeal or corporeally conceived, something different with respect to character or will, something mixed or solitary, as if the son and Holy Spirit were the affectations and properties of one God the Father, as the Monarchians, Novatians, Praxeas, Patripassions, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Aetius, Macedonius, Anthropomorphites, Arius, and such like, have thought.  (If you have no idea who or what he's talking about, don't worry. The point he's making is those folks are wrong, and we condemn them!) 

There are other passages like that in the confessions, and, indeed, when we start talking about God it's easy to go down that road of passionate condemnation.  But something else can also happen.  Something wonderful.  We fall into praise, in spite of ourselves.  This is also from the Helvetic Confession, just a few lines earlier: 

God is one.  We believe and teach that God is one in essence or nature, subsisting in himself, all sufficient in himself, invisible, incorporeal, immense, eternal, Creator of all things both visible and invisible, the greatest good, living, quickening and preserving all things, omnipotent and supremely wise, kind and merciful, just and true.  (5.0105). Yes, when we talk about God, how can we keep from singing?

Our scripture this morning, Psalm 65 is a song of pure praise. It's sung to God,  but it also answers the question:  who is God? much like a formal confession or statement of faith would do.  Remember what the psalmist says: God is the one:

 

-who answers prayer 

-who forgives our transgressions, when deeds of iniquity threaten to overwhelm us

-who chooses us and brings us near

-who delivers us with awesome deeds

-who is the hope of all the ends of the earth and the farthest seas

-who established the mountains and is girded with might

-who silences the roaring of seas and waves, and the tumult of the peoples

-who gives signs to those who live at the earth's farthest bounds.

-who makes the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy

-who visits the earth and waters it, greatly enriching it

-who provides the people with grain

-who waters the earth's furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers.

-who blesses growth and crowns the year with bounty; God's wagon tracks overflow with riches.

 

This is our God;  to whom all praise is due.  And as the psalmist praises God, and calls us to praise, he notes that we aren't the only ones singing.  The pastures of the wilderness overflow; the hills gird themselves with joy.  The meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain. The hills and the pasture, the meadow and the flocks can't explain the trinity;  they can't expound on scripture.  But  the pasture also doesn't argue with the meadow.  The hill does not condemn the valley;  the flocks don't criticize the pasture. Instead, they do what God has made all creatures to do:  they shout and sing together for joy.  

 We can learn from the rest of God's creation.  As we continue to wrestle with theological questions, as we listen and speak, debate and even argue,  let's remember what all that talk is ultimately for:  to praise God. Let's not forget our ultimate calling, a calling we share with those near to us and those at the ends of the earth, with those who share our faith and those who do not; with those who think like us and those we may be tempted to condemn.  A calling with share with all of creation, the creation that speaks without words but whose praise resounds throughout the earth.  So that all things now living, may unite in thanksgiving, to God in the highest, hosanna and praise.  Amen. 

10/17/10 Sermon: "Faith on Earth" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:38pm
10/17/10 Sermon: "Faith on Earth" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 17, 2010

Luke 18: 1-8

 

Faith on Earth

 This week, the world celebrated the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile who had been trapped underground for two and a half months. When they were first discovered deep in their underground shelter 17 days after the accident, they were beginning to starve; rescuers were worried most about their physical condition.  After sending down food, medicine, and instructions, the men gained in strength, they even began exercising and putting back weight; no one was seriously ill. But it could still be months before they were freed - if the rescue was successful - so those above began worrying more about their morale.  Would they keep up their spirits, or would they lose heart, and give up?  It's not that the living condition were so terrible.  They had plenty to eat and drink,  hot meals expertly and lovingly were sent down the long tube.  The men could send and receive notes from their loved ones; after they were found they had electricity and rudimentary lighting:  they could watch movies and soccer games.  They knew the world was praying for them, they had rosaries and bibles, magazines and journals. They were cramped, but they had room to move and even tunnels to run in. And they had each other:  they kept an amazing solidarity throughout their ideal  (parenthetically, Chilean miners - and the Chilean working class - has a long history of courage and solidarity). But the miners - and the world - didn't know how it was going to end. Perhaps shifting rocks would bury them again; maybe the rescue capsule would get stuck, or the shaft would collapse. Any one of them could get seriously ill; perhaps only some of them would make it.  And although every day brought them closer to rescue every day was also another day of uncertainty and fear.  The not-knowing  must have been  hard to bear -- the days and weeks long and stressful. But they did not lose heart: they prayed, they took care of each other, and sent and received messages from their loved ones.  They were an example of faith on earth.

 

 These past two weeks have also been a time of mourning, as we learned of several gay teens - or teens who were perceived to be gay - who killed themselves in recent months after being threatened and harrassed by their peers.  Peers who learned messages of hate or fear through family, or churches, or TV or any other number of places.  In response to these suicides, a number of gay/lesbian/queer adults have made videos, where they speak to kids who may be depressed or fearful saying, "it gets better." Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire made one of the videos, but the most moving one that I saw - and one that now has media attention - is by Joel Burns, a city council member in Forth Worth, Texas, who told his story at a City Council meeting. He said that as a son of a methodist church pianist and a cowboy named butch, living in a small Texas town, he had a certain image of who he should be.  As he became older he had feelings that did not fit with that image, but for a while it was OK:  he was well liked if sensitive, a band dork and basketball player, and although he was teased like all kids he could handle it. But one day, he said, he was confronted by a gang of older boys who called him a faggot, roughed him up and told him he deserved to die.  He went home ashamed, humiliated, and confused, certain there must be something terribly wrong with him that he could never reveal to anyone. He said he went home and he was about to tell what happened on that day -- but then stopped himself and said it was too hard, that he also didn't want his parents to bear the pain of hearing what happened. (In a later interview he indicates it was some kind of suicide attempt).  But at the city council meeting he skips ahead, and tells of meeting his husband and the love and support he now knew from his parents and friends.  On the video he says he would like to go back and show that 13 year old boy, the one who was in such despair on that day, that,as he put it, "the story doesn't end where I didn't tell it," and he wants to tell other teens, too, that the story can end very differently than how they may be imagining it.  That things will get better.  To not lose heart.  

 

 The story of the Chilean miners, and the story Joel Burns, are stories that ended well.  The miners were rescued; Joel Burns found love and acceptance even in Forth Worth, Texas.  In the faith and mutual support of the miners,  in the hard work of the rescuers; in the courage of the adults who have told their stories publicly we can see, as Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is among you."  They are stories to inspire us, and help us keep heart.  But we know not all stories end well.  Not all miners are rescued:  since 2000, about 33 miners have been killed each year in Chile. 34 miners have been killed in West Virginia this year.  Not all struggling teens find love or happiness when they are older, even if they are able to sidestep that extreme despair that leads to suicide.  We know this in our own lives: prayers are not always answered, at least in the way we ask.  Things may get better but then new losses come, often one right after the other. And when we look at the suffering in the world around us, it may seem that the tragedy and evil far outweighs the good:  The holocaust.  A century of wars, each bringing greater destruction than the last.  Children still dying of hunger and thirst around the world. The threat of nuclear war and global warming which will bring catastrophes we can barely imagine if we don't do something about it soon.  It's so easy to lose heart.  To stop praying and to stop acting; to hunker down in our private lives, to be concerned with only those close to us, to watch lots of TV. We are not always rescued. It doesn't always get better. 

 

 It is to this reality, and to this hopelessness, that Jesus speaks in our scripture today. He knows how easy it will be for the disciples to lose heart when he is gone. The good news of the resurrection will give them hope, but things will also remain much the same.  Unjust judges will continue to ignore widows and orphans.  Rome will continue to rule Palestine.  The disciples will continue to fall ill, lose loved ones -- the world, full of suffering and death, is not going to change overnight. There will be times of joy, times when the Kingdom of God will seem to be among them, but those times will pass and it will seem that God is not listening to, or caring about, God's people. They will wonder if God will ever respond to their prayers, if God will bring justice to the earth or salvation to God's people.


 kSo Jesus tells this parable of the widow and the unjust judge.  The story of the persistent widow who kept going to that judge who neither feared God nor respected the people. The story of that judge who gave her justice, because he was getting worn out. Jesus is not saying God is an unjust judge, or like an unjust judge. But Jesus knows that God may seem that way in the face of so much unanswered prayer, in the face of so much waiting, in the face so much suffering.  But, Jesus says, if even this unjust Judge will give justice to the widow, how much more so will our just and compassionate God respond to your prayer. How much more quickly will God bring justice to the earth, the God who has taken the side of widows and orphans throughout Israel's history. Jesus also reminds the disciples that he, the Son of Man, will return.  Not necessarily in our lifetimes here on earth --  but in God's time, where a thousand years are like a morning gone.  We do not know the day or hour and we also do not know how God will ultimately bring final justice and salvation and healing to God's created order -- that will remain a mystery until it comes.  But Jesus assures us it will happen. Things will get better.  All will be rescued. 

 

 In the meantime, we have instructions. Keep praying!  Don't lose heart! Look at that widow -- she kept coming back. She didn't take no for an answer.  She didn't give up.  She kept insisting on justice, even though it looked like it would never come.  So it should be with us:  praying, seeking justice for all God's children, caring for God's world, trusting that all will be well.

10/10/10 Sermon: "The Right Amount" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:37pm
10/10/10 Sermon: "The Right Amount" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 10, 2010

Luke 12: 22-34

 

The Right Amount

 

 By now I hope you've  all received the letter from the Renewal Campaign Committee asking you to prayerfully consider increasing your stewardship pledge for 2011 by 1% of your household income; and to prayerfully consider giving 4% of your household income each year, for three years, to the capital campaign for the restoration of our buildings. 


 It may be the first letter you've received from Summit asking you to consider giving a specific percentage of your income to the church.  I'd like you to know that the letter you received was the not first draft.  The first draft was different.  I helped to write it back in August -- both because we trying to get a lot done at once, and because I thought I could lend just the right pastoral touch.  So the first draft didn't start out asking for money in the first sentence.  We asked about your summer.  We hope it was relaxing. We talked about how wonderful it was to see the Sunday School starting up again.  We thanked all who brought in goodies for the delicious reception that launched the capital campaign. And what about those Phillies, we said . . . . even I know that Mark Halliday pitched a no-hitter the other day . . . . . although that's only because I was sitting next to Sean Forman at a Trustees meeting when the news came in.

 

 Then, about halfway down the page or so, we came round to the subject of your pledge - and our pledge.  We asked that for the 2011 stewardship pledge,  please consider giving 10-15% more than what you gave last year, so we could make the budget.  And, we said, we've been told that in a capital campaign like ours we should ask you to consider giving 4% of your income each year for three years.  But really, we said, the idea is to give a percentage of your income so 4%,  6%,  or 3%, 2%, 1%, .008%,  - whatever you give is fine.  All gifts are gratefully received. We loaded on some more spiritual sounding phrases before signing off halfway down the second page.  OK, I'm exaggerating.  We didn't really talk about the Phillies.  It was a very nice letter.

 

 But before we sent it out we remembered our capital campaign consultant - the Reverend Nancy Muth.  She suggested we have her look over any letters we sent out.  So we e-mailed it to her, thinking she might have some helpful tweaks, a magic phrase or two.  And she emailed back in bold, capital letters, STOP THE PRESSES!!!!! First of all, she said, no one is going to wade through all that verbiage, especially if you have a brochure in there.  Second, stop apologizing!  As soon as you say it's just fine to give 1% of your income to the capital campaign, no one's going to consider 4% -- would you?  It's biblical, she said, to encourage people to give 10% of their income overall. It's the right thing to do to ask people to give a percentage of their income, in proportion to what they've been given.  So get it down to one page and be direct! I'm exaggerating again. She was much more diplomatic.  But the Renewal Committee followed her advice, so the letter you got from Don and Mary was purified of my pastoral interference -- and as I've reflected on it, that's a good thing. I'm going to talk about why.

 

 I'll start with numbers, including that word I'm sure you've heard before -- the tithe.  Tithe is another word for 10%,  or one-tenth.  Now, you've heard it said that the Bible mandates we should give 10% of our income back to God -- presumably through the church.  You can passages in the Bible to support that.  When  Abraham won a victory over his foes, he promised to give God, through the priest, one-tenth of everything. In the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers there are several references to tithes - of grain, sheep and cattle as well as other offerings.  It seems tithing was the practice - or at least the theory - in ancient Israel, and it's been a teaching of the church for centuries.  But I"m not convinced it's a biblical mandate, and I'm not a strict preacher of the tithe.  First, I'm not a biblical literalist. In Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - as well as in Paul's letters and the gospels -- there are plenty of instructions  we don't and shouldn't take at face value, instructions shaped by the time and place in which they were given. There's no reason the tithe should be exempt, especially since it's not a clear, repeated, instruction -- it didn't make the 10 commandments.  I'm also not a strict preacher of the tithe because Jesus never told his disciples to tithe - at least as far as we know. He said they should give away all their possessions.  Several times.  On time (in Luke) he emphasizes the all (14); other times, it's implied. In the book of Acts, it says the early believers held all things in common, and gave to each as they had need.  Indeed, when one of them sold property and tried to hold back some of the money -only some -  he got in big trouble. Like fall down dead trouble. It's true that when Zeccheus the tax colletor told Jesus he would sell half of his possessions and give the money to the poor Jesus was happy  -- but Zeccheus also promised, to pay back 4x whatever he had defrauded of anyone. Going back to the prophets doesn't help.  They didn't preach the tithe, or some moderate portion. Isaiah didn't say if you bring a few extra cans of food on Sunday to the food pantry or cook a dinner for homeless families twice a year you're good -- he said to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless into your house. No, I'm not convinced that tithing is a biblical mandate  -- but given what could be interpreted as the biblical mandate - I'll take it! And for most American Christians,  tithing is a challenging but realistic goal.  Challenging  because most of us give much less:  Presbyterians, on average, give about 2% of their income to charity,  about half to the church and half to their colleges or the Red Cross or other groups (Passing the Plate) Of course, some give much more but others give nothing at all.  So tithing is a challenge, but  - we have so much - it's doable!  Perhaps not right away. Most people who tithe - or more -  say that it took time to get there, maybe years of increasing their giving and re-arranging their spending.  And losing a job or a medical emergency can get in the way of our best intentions.  I'll also admit that tithing is not asking the same of everyone.  It's more equitable than simply asking people to increase their pledge, because those who gave very little won't give much more; it's certainly better then everyone giving a flat amount.  But it's what economists would call regressive:  Someone who gives $20,000 out of a $200,000 income still has plenty; whereas a family giving $2,000 out of a $20,000 income may have to really struggle. But these reservations aside, 10% is a good number:  a benchmark to keep in mind for our overall giving as we prayerfully consider increasing our 2011 stewardship pledge by 1% of our household income and as we prayerfully consider giving 4% of our income each year to the capital campaign. (By the way, Deborah Merritt.  Also, you may be receiving a call . . . please accept! 

 

 But now I want to stop talking about numbers and look at today's scripture.  Jesus is talking to his disciples about money, greed and possessions -- and he's just told a parable about a greedy, rich fool.  But Jesus is truly pastoral - not just afraid to ask for money.  He knows that his disciples aren't holding on to their money simply because they're greedy.  He knows they're not holding onto their stuff  because they love luxury or could care less about anyone else.  They're holding on to what they have because they're worried. They're afraid.  Afraid that one day they won't have enough to eat or enough clothes to wear.  We know about that worry and that fear.  And once that fear starts taking hold  it seems like we can never accumulate too much because anything could happen:  illness, tornadoes, terrorists, the collapse of the stock market.  So Jesus encourages the disciples - and us - to trust in God.  Do not worry about your life, he says - and do not be afraid: : consider the ravens.  Consider the lilies of the field. He's not promising that God will simply send money from heaven.  He's not promising that God will make us prosperous.  I also don't think Jesus is saying, "forget about your emergency fund!" or "stop saving for retirement!" But he is saying:  Trust that if you seek to follow God, you will be OK.  You can let go.  So sell your possesions.  Give alms.  I would add, consider the tithe.

 

 And then he makes a promise about that giving:  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. That may seem more like a fact than a promise - I'm sure you've observed that in your our life.  When we invest a lot of money in something we care about it and often take better care of it -- we become attached as our hearts follow our money.  This happens with cars, houses, education, all kinds of things - and Jesus assures us it's the same thing with giving alms.  Putting our treasure where we believe God wants it to be will lead our hearts there, too.  It's a spiritual discipline. When we give money to the church, we become invested in the mission and ministry of the church, we care about it more.  The same is true for other gifts:  It's very hard for me to say this, but not all of your giving should be in your pledge to Summit.  I encourage you to make it a priority , but the people of Haiti and Pakistan and the Gulf Coast need our help -- so please also give to the One Great Hour of Sharing. A portion of what you pledge also goes to mission beyond the church, but it's also OK to give directly to groups working for peace, environmental justice, or education  --  all working towards God's purposes.  And this is the promise that Jesus makes:  when we give more generously, according to what we've received and what we're able to do, we lead more joyful lives.  We lead more joyful lives because we are putting them in service to God. I'm convinced of that and I've seen it in my life.  The invitation to give is an invitation to joy.  An invitation to center our lives where they belong.

 

 In the capital campaign we've been saying that our buildings are a tool for ministry, and I would add that our money is a tool of conversion:  first, and foremost, of our own, as we seek to follow God more closely; but also for the world, as we hope and pray that our offerings may help bring about a world that more closely resembles the kingdom of God, a kingdom of peace, and justice and love.  Please join me in prayer: 

10/03/10 Sermon: "Until That Day" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:36pm
10/03/10 Sermon: "Until That Day" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 3, 2010

2 Timothy 1: 1-13

Until That Day

 Shortly after I graduated from college I spent two years in Brazil, in a small university city. It was a wonderful experience:  I made good friends, saw beautiful places and learned a lot.  But it was also lonely and often hard.  I had gotten a job through friends, and I had people to welcome me and help me settle in, but I was basically on my own.  Especially that first year, as I was learning the language and finding my way,  I was homesick. I yearned for friends and family.  So letters from home meant a lot -- decades later I remember how I could barely contain the excitement and joy I felt when I saw a letter in the mailbox. I knew that when I opened it I'd find words of encouragement, news and gossip.  There was always something to make me laugh.  Reading them lifted my spirits  and helped me feel close to those far-away friends.  In this age of cell phones, e-mail,  notecards and relatively cheap long distance rates -- let alone facebook and twitter - it's hard to convey - or even remember - what letters were like. (I'm not that old but I feel like I'm talking about the horse and buggy days). Letters didn't come every hour or even every day.  Writing them took time.  You had to choose what you would say.  Perhaps for those reasons letters could be deeply meaningful.


 The scripture this morning is such a letter.  It may not seem that way when we read it in church.  We don't know Paul or Timothy and it was written nearly 2,000 years ago in a very different world.  It was a personal letter and also meant to be read out loud to the congregation  --- but when we hear it from the pulpit we tend to hear it as a sermon. But if we read between the lines we can see that Timothy - and his congregation - must have been yearning for such a letter, and grateful to receive it. For it seems Timothy was having a hard time. Paul encourages Timothy to "rekindle" the gift of God that he received when Paul laid hands on him -- in baptism or ordination --  so perhaps Timothy was tired, wavering in faith, burned out.  Paul, gently, reminds Timothy that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice -  so perhaps Timothy was feeling fearful, or timid. Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed, as he, Paul, was not -- and Timothy may well have been ashamed that his friend and mentor was in prison.  Paul tells Timothy to hold to sound teaching, suggesting that Timothy may have been tempted by teachings that promised an easier road.  We don't know the details.  But we do know that to be a Christian in those early days would have been hard and lonely. Most people thought those Jesus followers were crazy:  claiming that some Jewish faith healer executed by the Romans was the savior of the world, risen from the dead, more powerful than any emperor, offering forgiveness of sins as though he were God.  Surely many folks thought Christians were deluded, claiming the Kingdom of God was at hand when anyone could see that the Kingdom of Rome was still ruling with a brutal hand and when pain, violence, and hunger were as terrifying as ever. Those early disciples often had to break old ties and leave behind their way of life - it was hardly a path to social acceptance. It was hard to be in the early church because those Christians were divided among themselves - arguing and walking away from each other even more than we do.  And they faced the daily struggles that all people faced:  keeping body and soul together, finding enough to eat and a safe place to stay; back-breaking work;  losing loved ones through death or other kinds of separation. No wonder Timothy was discouraged.  He must have hungered for a letter from his mentor and friend.

 And Paul's encouraging words can be summed up like this: you are not alone.  First, Paul says, remember that I'm praying for you, night and day, grateful to God for your faith.  I too, Paul says, long to see you:  then I will be filled with joy.  Paul then reminds Timothy of his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois.  A sincere faith lived in them, says Paul, and I'm sure it lives in you, too. Remember them. Paul goes on to mention nineteen other people: Christians in different cities and congregations, all seeking to be faithful. Paul's mention is not always favorable and his news is not always good. Alexander is a jerk, says Paul (in Greek), keep away from him. Trophimus is ill.  But Claudia sends greetings! How welcome and interesting that news of other Christians (dare we call it gossip?) must have been to Timothy and his  community. But most important,  says Paul, God is with you.  The gift of God is within you, I laid hands on you myself, and that gift is a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  You don't need to depend on your works to save you, for God calls us with a holy calling, according to God's purpose and grace. And remember the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And if you need to suffer for proclaiming God's word, says Paul, remember that I suffer with you:  but we shouldn't be ashamed, for God is trustworthy.  We will see it on that day.  The Holy Spirit is living in us.  


 This letter was written to Timothy and his congregation, but here in the Bible it's a word of encouragement for us, too. We face different challenges than those early Christians, but it's also hard for us to lead faithful lives.  Even in the midst of the congregation we may feel lonely, or weary and discouraged by all the work. Being a Christian today in this country isn't dangerous the way it was for Timothy - especially when we're timid about it.  It's still, in may ways, a road to social acceptance, not social ostracism.  But we also have friends and family shaking their heads at our claim that a man who was killed 2,000 years ago is also the source of divine forgiveness and everlasting life, one with God the creator.  We're also tempted by other teachings and activities. Teachings, for example,  that sidestep God and encourage us to just live up to our potential and do the right thing. We, too, face daily struggles:  even in our comfortable and affluent lives we know we could lose our jobs and our homes.  We suffer loss of loved ones through death or estrangement, our inner demons threaten to undo us, our bodies betray us. And we face global challenges that Timothy and his congregation could not have dreamed of.  The widening gap between rich and poor.  Climate change and a nuclear warheads that both threaten to end life as we know it and wipe out civilizations -- I know I'm sounding hysterical but it's true.  And we have a ten-year deadline.  No wonder we also feel discouraged, fearful and wavering in our faith.  So Paul's words are for us, too:  We are not alone.  We have the faith of our ancestors to rest in.  Our ancestors who built this building, our parents and grandparents who may have raised us in faith, all those saints who have gone before us - not necessarily Christians -  leading holy lives of love. We also have the company of Christians in every corner of the globe, millions of names we don't know and couldn't pronounce: God has called us together in one church, with one holy calling, according to God's purpose and grace.  And as we follow that calling -  proclaiming God's love and loving one another;  caring for creation, seeking justice and peace -- we can remember that it doesn't all depend on our works.  God is trustworthy and will bring all together on that day.

  And we not only have the Word in scripture to encourage us.  We have the Word in sacrament -- the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Holy communion that unites us with Christ in the bread and in the cup.  Holy communion that unites us with all the faithful who have gone before us -- those we've loved and those we've never known.  Holy Communion that unites us with Christians across the globe, including those we disagree with or who live very different lives.  We are not alone.  So come to the table:  be strengthened to live out your Holy call.  And remember:  God has give us the Holy Spirit, which lives within us.  

9/26/10 Sermon: "Rich Christians in an Age of Advertising" -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 10:34pm
9/26/10 Sermon: "Rich Christians in an Age of Advertising" -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

September 26, 2010

Luke 16: 19-31; 1 Timothy 6: 6-19

 

Rich Christians in an Age of Advertising

 

 The story of the rich man and Lazarus is one of several places in the Bible where we are warned - or comforted  - of a coming great reversal.  A turning of the tables.  During their lifetimes, the rich man dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day; Lazarus, the poor man, lay at his gate, covered with sores, and longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table. At their deaths, Lazarus is in the blessed company of Abraham and the angels; the rich man is tormented in Hades. When the rich man asks for relief, Abraham tells him:  "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones," says Mary when she is pregnant with Jesus, "and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."  The prophet Isaiah cries out:  "Tell the innocent how fortunate they are, for they shall eat the fruit of their labors. Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them." The stories and prophesies are not predictions of what is destined to happen:  the fate of the rich man would have been different if he had listened to Moses and the prophets.  And the Bible also speaks of a future where no one goes hungry and all the nations are healed.  But these stories of a great reversal tell us news we need to hear:  good news, but sobering.  God cares about the poor.  God cares about the poor, and holds the rich responsible. Therefore, justice and care for the poor  needs to be at the center of our Christian discipleship.  Ron Sider's book,  "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" addresses that.  A 2010 title might be:  "Rich Christians in an Age of Climate Change" -- for there is no better example of where the rich and relatively rich have caused the problem  -- granted,  unintentionally -- but where the poor will suffer first and foremost.  More than ever, we need to listen to Moses and the Prophets and Jesus.

 But those are not the titles of my sermon today, and I will not be preaching on what theologians call God's "preferential option" for the poor, at least from now on. My topic is God's care and concern for the rich and those who want to be rich (which I think can safely include all of us) --  and the advice Paul has for them in the letter to Timothy. Advice that may be the most counter-cultural - counter to our culture - in scripture.  "There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment," says Paul:  "for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." How counter to the 100s even thousands messages we receive each day -  depending on how you count.  Messages that say we we should not be content with what we have.  Messages  that come through television commercials, ads in the newspapers and on the sides of facebook pages; email messages, billboards and building signs, product placements in films & TV shows, environmentally friendly shopping bags that advertise stores, radio announcements, catalogues in the mail, and so on.  By definition these ads encourage us to be discontent with what we have, because their purpose is to sell us something we don't have.  These things-  home products, food products, clothing, experiences, and so on -  aren't necessarily evil. They may even be good, or necessities or sorts.  Buying them keep the wheels of our economy turning so people have jobs.  But advertisements - and the culture they shape, and the economy they fuel  -  teach us to be discontented. Even if we get rid of our TVS and turn our eyes from the billboards, we hear those messages.  It's he sea we swim in:  there's no such thing as too much. Having more - or at least new and improved - is the road to contentment.  There's only gain in gain. No wonder nearly all of us wish to be rich - or at least a little richer.

 But what a false road that is.  As Paul says, "those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction." Doesn't that sound like it was written in 2010!  In the last decade especially those consumer desires tempted many of us to overspend, encouraged and enabled by banks and credit card companies.  When the bubble burst and the banks encountered near-ruin and destruction - because of their harmful desires -  we saw the result:  people losing homes and jobs or facing oppressive debt -- including people who spent only modestly. But more often the ruin and destruction we face from these desires is more subtle.  It's the ruin that comes from disappointed hopes, from chasing something that's not real. For everything that's advertised to us promises more than it can deliver.  That snazzy red sports car that promises to recover lost youth.  The beautiful bedroom set or luxurious bed that promises a happy marriage or a cure for insomnia; those pictures of shiny new kitchens inhabited by happy children who eat their vegetables -- to name a few big ticket items that have even become cliches. But it's not only big ticket- items that make big promises.  I"m wondering if you remember that ad campaign from the coca-cola many years back.  The one that suggested drinking coke would bring world peace:  "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony." But as we know, our body ages and dies no matter how great our car; couples get divorced in the most well-appointed homes, often arguing over the cost of the bedroom set;  anxious people have sleepless nights on the thickest of mattresses;  children whine about their dinner even in kitchens with sub-zero refrigerators.  And everyone drinking coke hasn't led to harmony between nations  -- only to a rise in the worldwide incidence of diabetes. Yes, Paul says, in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

 So Paul's words to Timothy also apply to us:  shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of faith of the faith; take hold of eternal life -- a life to which you were called and to which you made the good confession. As for those in this age who are rich, says, Paul, command them not to be haughty,  or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  They are to do good, to be rich in good words, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is really life.

 The life that is really life:  that is the life that God promises us, if we can turn from our idolatry of possessions and lifestyle and place our hopes on the one true God.  The one true God whose love is steadfast; the one true God whose son cbame to us, and in whom there is always forgiveness; the one true God in whom there is eternal life, and who does not disappoint. This God does not call us to a life of deprivation, God wants us to rejoice in the created world:  as Paul says, this one true God provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  But enjoying what God has richly provided for us in this wonderful creation is different than loving our stuff or setting our hopes on a bigger house, a better salary, or a more comfortable lifestyle.  It means learning the meaning of enough; it means letting go of our attachment to household and other idols.  It's hard; it's journey for all of us; it's extremely counter-cultural; but it is the way to the life that is really life, a life God wishes for all of us, rich and poor.

 So let's listen to what Paul advises those of us who in this present age are rich:  to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. And if we truly and deeply learned to do those things:  Lazarus would not lie hungry at our gate.  Everyone can have enough. Humility, good works, sharing, generosity, worship of the one true God: this is the foundation of for the life that is really life, for us and for all people. May we all gain it. 

Join me in prayer.  We praise you, Oh God, you who are  the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.  You alone have immortality and dwell in unapproachable light; to you be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

Oct. '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Oct 25, 8:09pm
Oct. '10 -- Pastor's Pen

On September 28th the New York Times published the results of a phone survey that asked 3,400 Americans 32 questions about the Bible, world religions (including Christianity), and constitutional principles regarding religion and public life.  Few people did well on the test.  Atheists and agnostics scored highest, followed by Jews and Mormons.  Protestants of all kinds lagged behind – as well as people who said they were “nothing in particular.”

The results neither surprised nor alarmed me (I don’t place much stock in phone surveys) but I had to smile at the reaction of Charles Silverman, President of American Atheists. “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

 Well said!  Giving a person a Bible outside the context of a living faith community is an effective (if not foolproof) way to turn them away from church or synagogue.  Much of the Bible is impossible to understand and/or boring, at least on first reading. Along with beautiful poetry and inspiring stories, both Testaments are full of violence (often attributed to God) and instructions that would be immoral if taken at face value – such as Paul’s admonitions to slaves to stay with their masters and women to be silent in church.  Although the Holy Spirit moves where it will, the words of the Bible, when read in isolation, are not likely to bring people to God. 

This may be why God didn’t rain down Bibles from heaven.  Instead, the Spirit worked through faithful people seeking to understand the Word of God as it was revealed to them through experiences, visions, the words of others and encounters with Jesus Christ.  The stories, the commandments, the letters and the prophesies were first spoken, then written, then interpreted time and again, by followers of Yahweh and disciples of Christ.  The Bible makes Christians and Jews rather than atheists when it’s read in a loving, prayerful and intellectually honest community; when Bible believers do justice and show kindness; and when it’s proclaimed in joyful worship. 

As we begin the Sunday School year I’m especially grateful to the teachers who will be nurturing our children and young people in the Word.  And may the Word be shown in the faithfulness of our lives, so that when we give our daughters and sons a Bible, it becomes for them a living Word.  A Word that brings them to God.

Grace and Peace,

 Rev. Cheryl Pyrch 

Sept. '10--Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Sep 14, 10:38pm
Sept. '10--Pastor's Pen

 . .. but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:26)

As we prepared to launch our capital campaign, Renewing our Spirit, Restoring Our Buildings, I realized I was not sure what the word “renewal” meant.  Were we using it correctly?  So I looked in the dictionary and the Bible.  The dictionary said:  to make new or like new; to take up again; to reaffirm, to restore physical or emotional vigor; to replenish. When the word was used in the Bible (“renewal” would be a translator’s choice for a Hebrew or Greek word)  it also had the meaning of reaffirming, restoring and replenishing the spiritual life and commitment of a people to God. 

That is, indeed, what we’re doing at Summit.  We’re not reinventing ourselves, or taking a radical change in course – there’s no need to.  When I arrived here two years ago, I found a church with a solid identity and sense of mission, a healthy church with excellent ministries.  But I also detected some weariness.  People were busy with many tasks, but often feeling disconnected from the spiritual calling that brought them here (a common situation, I might add, in small congregations with generous hearts and big buildings).  Many people were speaking of the need for “renewal.”  So, while we planned for the capital campaign (also, in shorthand, “The Renewal Campaign”) we also re-focused our vision for the future through discussions at retreats, potlucks and board meetings. 

And we are seeing signs of renewal!  In strong summer worship attendance; in the restoration of our youth group (an historically strong ministry of Summit, as evidenced by the many young people in our leadership who grew up here); in new leadership and excitement around evangelism; in the growth of Elder Diner and REACH; in exciting events planned for the fall; in the way folks have cared for each other recently in trying times; in the generous response to our call to “pay forward” 2010 pledges; and – last but not least – in the early financial commitments we’ve received to restore our building, perhaps the “weariest member” of the Summit community.  We have reason to be encouraged.

But these are only the signs of renewal—Isaiah reminds us that renewal comes not from our own efforts but from waiting on the Lord.  It’s through worship, prayer, Bible study, and other ways of opening ourselves to God’s presence that we find the strength to “mount up with wings like eagles” and deepen our commitment to Christ and his church.  So as you plan events, teach Sunday School, consider your financial commitment, and attend board meetings, I encourage you to wait on the Lord.  Come to worship every Sunday; take time each day for prayer; attend Bible study or read scripture on your own (please see me if you would like help with this) and find quiet times to simply be in the presence of God.

Grace and Peace,

 Rev. Cheryl Pyrch 

8/10 Sermon--"Are Faith and Science at Odds?" by Rob MacGregor by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 26, 8:25pm
8/10 Sermon--"Are Faith and Science at Odds?" by Rob MacGregor

 Quote from Richard Dawkins, outspoken atheist:  “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.  Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence….  Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.”

 In contrast:  Henry Morris, a leading creationist:  “Evolution’s lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field.  It follows inevitably that evolutionary thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere . . . When science and the bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.”

 Why is there this struggle between scientific thinking and religious faith?

 Goes back at least to Galileo and the early astronomers who realized that the earth rotated around the Sun and not the reverse.  Such thinking seemed to say that the Bible’s description of the earth and heavens was wrong!  Then, the period known as the Enlightenment – 18th century – progressively challenged simple use of God and his direct intervention in the world to explain how things worked.  The Enlightenment’s thinkers and experimenters advanced humanity’s knowledge of how things work.  Note that it’s HOW (more later).  This seemed to explain away the need for a superpower to create and maintain the world as we see it.  Traditional thought took the Biblical account as literal description of how things came to be, and so many Christian thinkers fought scientific discoveries as blasphemous.  Issues came to a head with Darwin’s writings in the mid to late 19th century, and evolutionary theorists like Huxley created “social Darwinism” – which argued strongly that there was no need to believe in a God to explain things anymore. 

 So, it appears that battle lines are drawn – proposing the choice between scientific discovery and literal interpretation of the Bible on the other.  In particular, kids are often taught the simple Bible stories of creation, and then are introduced to geology, biology, evolutionary thought, etc in college and believe that they have to choose between the two!  I believe that this is a false dichotomy.  The Bible teaches that God is Truth, and so it must be that a search for truth in explaining the universe and its mechanisms should be consistent with a search for God.

 Let me give you some personal history:  I was a choir boy for 11 years, knew the Episcopal liturgy by heart, was a regular in the young people’s group in HS.  But in college – realized that I didn’t believe because it didn’t drive my thinking or actions.  Put off decision while leading a life denying God’s existence (and coincidently responsibility to try to obey him!)  In Med school, seeing death and dying made me start to wonder if what we see and can prove scientifically was all there was.  Recall that the scientific method is a powerful tool for learning how things work – but science doesn’t address the question of WHY things are the way they are.  The existentialist says that they just ARE, and there is no reason – “no exit from the human dilemma”.  This may be true but is not very satisfying to the heart.  So I said that I was open to exploring the Christian world view, and started going to church to hear the Christian answers.  The real breakthrough was recognizing that my approach was “of course God doesn’t exist, and so where are the holes in the Christian description.”  When I reluctantly admitted that it was at least remotely possible that He Did exist (1 in 10-26th or so), and then how did the Biblical description hang together, things changed.

 As an evolutionary biologist and geologist, I thought the idea of a young earth was preposterous, but reading the Genesis description, I was surprised that the writer had the sequence right. . . . .  I then started to view the Bible as a description of a relationship – between creator and created – and couched in terms that were understandable to humans 4-5,000 years ago.  How believable or relevant would molecular dynamics be to shepherds on a hillside? 

 I came to believe that evolution – evidence for which seems overwhelming – was the mechanism that God used to develop life in the diversity that we see today.  Some theologians believe that diversity came from events called “special creation” by God, whereas I have no problem with His using nature’s laws to evolve things over millions of years.  Some also talk about “Intelligent design”, in which God’s specific intervention in time -  circumventing the “laws” of nature, is what brought us to our present state.  I believe that this can never be completely be disproven.  But I refer you to a book which all college kids should read:  Francis Collins’ The Language of God”.  Collins is the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and a first-rate scientist who headed the Human Genome Project which recently worked out the complete human genetic code!  He started as an agnostic, but became increasingly impressed with the need for “Why” answers, not just “how” descriptions.  This led him to faith, which he describes very convincingly in the book.

 Recall the 8th psalm:  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?  One of my agnostic Jewish med school classmates was dazzled by the intricacy of life, and told me that he thought that the modern psalmist would use an electron microscope, aimed the opposite way, to be dazzled by nature – which we believe was created via the mechanism of evolution.

 

  Just one more thought, unrelated to the science/faith issue.  This may not be theologically sound, but is how I deal with the contrasting images of God as loving creator vs. vengeful judge:  He has created us and has given us a blueprint that makes life work:  when we follow it, things will work;  but we as a species have chosen not to use the directions, and so catastrophe  occurs.  When it does, is God punishing us?  No, he’s begging us to follow the blueprint:  if you jump into the water, you’ll get wet.  When it happens is He punishing us with wetness? 

7/18/10 Sermon: Easily Distracted -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 25, 8:14pm
7/18/10 Sermon: Easily Distracted -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 18, 2010

Luke 10: 38-42

 

Easily Distracted

 

 It's hard to throw a dinner party - even a small one -  that's completely fair. No matter how much you and your spouse, partner, roomate, sister, or parent, may divvy up the chores and plan in advance, it always seems like someone has more fun and someone has more work.  Someone is cavalier about their tasks, and someone makes sure things get done.  Someone holds court in the living room while someone makes sure the crudite is restocked.  Someone gets to watch the game while someone takes the hot pockets out of the oven. Now I've been to some good parties at Summit so some of you may have hosting down to a science, or take turns being the worker bees. Sometimes it's more fun to be busy in the kitchen - depending on the guest list - and some of us like being the martyr. But more often then not, dinner parties aren't fair, which is why this scripture is so powerful - and infuriating - two thousand years after Martha laid the table.

 

 The story begins well.  Jesus has entered a certain village, and Martha welcomes him into her home.  We - the readers of Luke's gospel - know Martha is doing exactly what she should.  Not long before he came to the village, Jesus had sent out 70 disciples to cure the sick and exorcise demons in various towns and places.  He had told them to carry no purse or bag; for when they entered a house, if anyone there shared the peace, the disciples were to stay, eating and drinking whatever was provided.  "The laborer," Jesus said, "deserves to be paid." So Martha is doing the right thing -- and when she gets no help from her sister, we can appreciate her frustration. Granted, she shouldn't have triangulated Jesus into this sibling conflict.  She should have asked to speak with Mary privately in the kitchen.  But still, when Jesus says that Mary has chosen "the better part" that doesn't seem fair. If everyone chose to sit at his feet, who would care for Jesus and his disciples, when they entered their houses with no purse and no bag?  Mary's already having the fun -- why does she get the praise, too? 

 

 But this is not an ordinary dinner party and Jesus is not an ordinary guest.  Unlike our friends, it's unlikely Jesus would have been talking about the Phillies, gossiping about neighbors, or sharing the latest jokes.  We don't know what he did say to Mary -- we can only speculate - but if the Biblical record is any indication, it wasn't light conversation. Perhaps he was repeating some of what he said in his sermon on the plain, since Mary probably missed that.  Perhaps  he was telling her about the woe coming to those who were full (as Martha bustled in the kitchen) for they would be hungry, or the woe coming to those laughing now, for they would mourn and weep.  Perhaps he was instructing Mary to love her enemies or turn the other cheek.  Perhaps he telling her that nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed.  He may have told the parable of the sower or the good samaritan, or he may have been telling her that he was going to be betrayed into human hands.  Of course, he may have told a funny story or talked about the weather.  Whatever he said would have been relevant for Mary, and it would have been good news.  But it was doubtless challenging, like all those other words of Jesus that Luke has recorded in his gospel. Mary might have been uncomfortable.  For all we know, she may have been dying for an excuse to go back into the kitchen -- but afraid of offending such a great teacher and important guest. She may have chosen the better part -- but it doesn't mean she was having more fun. 

 

 

 And so we have to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying when he tells Martha that there is need of only one thing, and that Mary has chosen it. He isn't saying (I don't think) that practical hospitality is unimportant -- after all, he's accepting it, and he and his disciples depend on it to travel and spread the good news. But he's observed that Martha is distracted by many things --  whereas Mary is focused, focused on him and on his teaching.  He's noticed that Martha is worried, but Mary, we may hope -- even if she's feeling challenged  - is not.  Jesus's words to Martha sound like a rebuke, but they're also an invitation:  an invitation to let go of the worry, to stop thinking about all those different things that are distracting her, and to focus on the one thing that is needful:  listening to the Word. Sitting at this feet.  Martha may join them - but Jesus won't let this be taken away from Mary.

 

 

 Now we may be tempted to stop here.  To draw the conclusion that listening to the Word -- Bible study, worship and prayer -- is the one needful thing, that all those tasks we cross off our to-do list are ultimately not as important. Historically, this scripture has been used to lift up the contemplative life, to argue for it's superiority over a life of action.  But there's a problem with this:  nearly all the words of Jesus that have been handed down to us, in all the gospels, are full of action items.  From feeding the hungry and visiting those in prison, from helping people on the side of the road to loving our enemies, from healing those who are sick to making disciples of all nations, Jesus calls us to "do," not just to listen.  You may remember the parable we read just a few weeks ago, of the man who built his house on rock and the man who built his house without a firm foundation.  The man who built his house on rock was like one who hears the words of Jesus and acts on them; when a flood arises his house stands.  But the one who hears but does not act is like the one who built his house on the ground without a firm foundation, and when the floods came great was its ruin.  Jesus is not telling us to listen like Mary and to stop acting like Martha:  Jesus calls us to do both.  At the same time.

 

 

 That's our challenge. To act, but to listen first and to keep listening, so that everything we do may be grounded in God's Word.  This holds for our church life as well as our individual lives, and it ain't easy. The demands of running the church:  recruiting for Sunday School and Coffee Hour, balancing the budget, renting the offices, planning the Barbeque and setting up the sound system can easily become unmoored from God's word, worrisome distractions rather than joyful tasks.  They gain a life of their own, and we either forget how they witness to Christ, or perhaps they no longer do but we just can't see it because we're too busy.  On the other hand, Worship, Bible Study and Prayer can become times where we only seek personal peace.  They become an oasis from the demands of the world rather that a place where we also hear God's call to enter into it.  We become hearers only of the Word, not doers.  [Just to editorialize:  as a church, like most churches, I think we're more inclined to the first rather than the second]. 

 

 

 It's a challenge.  But the Holy Spirit is there to help us, and together we can do what we couldn't do alone.  Through prayer:  for the church and for each other.  Through coming together in worship and Bible study so that our work is in service to the Word, always guided by Christ.  And, also - through taking turns in the kitchen, and the Sunday School and the Board Room and the garden -- because, when all is said and done, Martha did have a point.  In this dinner party that we are giving in Christ's name, we want to be as fair as we can.  For then we will welcome people with joy, reflecting the joy and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who welcome all to the feast that he has prepared. 

 

 

This sermon is indebted to the commentary by the Rev. Cynthia Jarvis in Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 264).

 

  

7/11/10 Sermon: Mercy Required -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 12, 7:57pm
7/11/10 Sermon: Mercy Required -- Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 11, 2010

Deuteronomy 30: 9-14; Luke 10: 25-37

 

Mercy Required

 

 The lawyer in this story we call "the Good Samaritan" asks Jesus two questions:  the first is "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"; the second is,  "Who is My Neighbor?" My memory may not be reliable, but I believe every sermon I've heard or preached, and every Sunday School lesson I've listened to or taught has focused on the question of "who is my neighbor?" It wasn't until I read this passage for about the 10th time this week, that I even noticed first question:  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  And it wasn't until then that I realized it was the question Jesus answered in his final words, "Go, and do likewise."

 

 

 There are good reasons why we tend to focus on the neighbor rather than eternal life.  In this global village, when putting gas in our car and food on our table effects people across the world;  when the family in the house next to us may speak a different language; and when war and terror are truly world-wide, the question of who we're called to love and how is an urgent one. The image of the Samaritan showing mercy to "the other" draws us in.  On the other hand - and of course I can't speak for everyone - we tend to be less interested, or less comfortable, with the question of who inherits eternal life and how we can be counted in that number.  I had a professor who used to say, "Scratch a Presbyterian and find a Universalist," and I think she's right:  it's hard for many of us to imagine the God of love rewarding some people with heaven and punishing others with hell. It's also hard, as a (quasi) scientific people who know more about the stars and planets and what's beyond them than our ancestors, to imagine "eternal life" as a place to which we're destined.  And protestants have always been uneasy with the idea that we can gain eternal life by doing -- we call that works righteousness.  Whatever the reason, the question of "What must I do to inherit eternal life" is often neglected in teaching on this scripture.

 

 

 And, to be fair, it's not clear the lawyer is asking it sincerely; Luke says he wanted to "test" Jesus.  But Jesus answers seriously.  In true rabbinic and progressive education style, he asks the man to think about what he already knows, to reflect on the question himself.  "What is written in the Torah," says Jesus.  "How do you read it?"  The lawyer quotes from Deuteronomy and Leviticus:  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind:  and your neighbor as yourself."  This was not an original answer. Many teachers - including Jesus - summed up the law that way. Those words were not linked in the Bible to an explicit promise of eternal life.  But the answer made sense - the ways of God are eternal, to inherit eternal life one must walk in those ways.  The psalms speak often of this.  "The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish," says the first psalm. "See if there be any wicked way in me," prays the psalmist in 139, "and lead me in the way everlasting."  It's God's path of love and mercy towards the neighbor that will last forever;  the ways of the wicked will perish, no matter how powerful they may seem now . So Jesus assures the lawyer:  "you have given the right answer.  Do this, and you will live." 

 

 

 

 But then the man  - perhaps looking for an out - asks for the definition of neighbor.  Jesus doesn't answer directly, but instead tells a story of someone who demonstrated love of neighbor.  And here's the surprise: this man was a heretic.  The Samaritans claimed to worship the God of Israel, but they worshipped on Mt. Gerezim; not in Jerusalem, the holy city.  They read the Torah, the first five books of the scripture,  but they didn't accept the words of the prophets or read the psalms.  The Samaritans didn't worship in the right way and they didn't read the right scriptures.  But in this parable, it was the Samaritan who showed mercy, the Samaritan who was the neighbor, the Samaritan who would inherit eternal life. Not the priest are the Levite, men of impeccable religious pedigree who led Israel in proper worship. Jesus may be suggesting that deeds of mercy trump correct religious practice:  and in this he's echoing Israel's prophets. "I cannot endure your solemn assemblies," says Isaiah, speaking for God:  "your appointed festivals have become a burden to me; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed." Show mercy like the Samaritan, says Jesus: then you shall live.

 

 

 "What must we do to inherit eternal life?"  The church has given a different answer than the one that Jesus gave the lawyer.  The church has always upheld the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor, but it has also taught that eternal life comes through belief in Jesus Christ.  And Jesus does call us to faith in him: most famously, in the gospel of John he says that "God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."  We who do believe in him can trust in those promises. But the church has been divided on whether faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life:  and [I think] in this story, Jesus opens the door for the possibility that it's not -- if the Samaritan could inherit eternal life, why not the Hindu or Muslim, even, perhaps, the atheist, or agnostic [who claim not to love God]? The Samaritan's beliefs didn't prevent him from showing mercy; he was a model for the lawyer who knew the Torah so well.  Just as the Samaritan's kindness was deep and wide, the mercy of God is surely deeper and wider than we think:  wide like the sea, and broader than the measures of our mind. Who knows the many loving people, of all times and places, of all religions and none, who will also inherit eternal life.

 

 

  A final thought.  Eternal life may be sounding like a reward anyone can get for doing good deeds, or a bribe to get us to love our neighbor.  It may be sounding something we can earn, an error the early reformers warned us against.  But eternal life is life with God, a life following in God's ways, here on earth now and in whatever future may be in store for us.  It's an assurance that the  the love we show, for God and neighbor, will finally overcome the evil and suffering in the world. So when we feel discouraged, and  wonder if acts of mercy do any good -- and we're especially prone to doubts, I think, when it comes to neighbors far away -- sending money to Haiti, demonstrating against the war -  we can remember that love of God, and kindness towards neighbor, is the road everlasting.  The way that will endure, the way that we can trust and to which we are called.  And it's also the way where we are bound to find all kinds of people, people we didn't expect, inheritors, like us, of life eternal.  

7/04/10 Sermon: Our Waters and Their Waters--Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 7, 9:13pm
7/04/10 Sermon: Our Waters and Their Waters--Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 4, 2010

2 Kings 5: 1-19a

 

Our Waters and Their Waters

 

 When I lived in Brazil, I would sometimes have the opportunity to sing their national anthem.  Like ours, the lyrics are a bit obscure, but there's one line that always jumped out at me and made me smile:  "Nossas bosques tem mais vida," or, roughly translated, "Our Woodlands Have More Life"  (another line said, "our prairies have more flowers.")  It's a common form of national pride to think that even nature is better within the boundaries of our own country.  I like the lyrics of "America, the Beautiful,"  because it doesn't make that claim, but when we sing it, especially on the fourth of July, I'll bet many of us are secretly or subconsciously thinking "Our skies have more spaciousness" or "Our plains have more fruit." Praising God for the beauty and goodness of one's country is a good thing; but there is a fine and easily crossed line between gratitude and pride.  A pride that may lead us to believe God has given us a special blessing.

 

 

 "Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?" This is the question that Naaman asks, in anger, when Elisha, the prophet who was supposed to cure him, told him to wash in the Jordan. Naaman knew the Jordan couldn't have any healing powers: Naaman was the commander of the Army that defeated Israel not long before in it's battle with Syria.  His country had a superior army -- surely it had superior waters. Naaman had been hoping that Elisha had a special relationship with his God that would allow him to cure Naaman.  But Elisha didn't even come out to meet him.  Even though Naaman was the commander of Syria's army.  Even though he had arrived at Elisha's doorstep only after visiting Elisha's King.  Even though he had arrived with horses and chariots, bearing many gifts.  It's no wonder he was angry when Elisha merely sent a messenger.  It's no wonder he fell back on some good patriotic outrage  -- a refuge not only of scoundrels but of all of us -- and said, "Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them, and be clean?"

 

 

 

 But fortunately for Namaan, he didn't let his national pride get the better of him.  Naaman was a listener:  he had listened to an Israeli slave girl in his household, and now he listened to his servants.  "If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult," they said, "would you not have done it?  How much more, when all he said to you was, "Wash, and be clean?"  So Nathan went to the Jordan and dipped in seven times, and he was clean.  And since Nathan was also a humble and generous man, he returned to Elisha, the man of God. He offered Elisha a gift, and made a confession of faith: "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel." Israel may have been an enemy nation, a two-bit country that Aram had conquered, but Naaman could see beyond that, and recognize holiness when he encountered it.  Now, Naaman was a concrete thinker.  He also shared the ancient understanding that Gods belonged to places, so he asks Elisha if he may have two mule-loads of Samarian earth, to worship the God of Israel at home. Naaman was also political, so he asks for pardon in advance:  he knows that he will need to accompany his master, the King of Aram, to the temple of the God of Rimmon. Elisha tells him:  "Go in Peace," and Naaman does. 

 

 So here we have it:  the God of Israel is also the God who healed the commander of the army  of Israel's enemy.  And - at least in this story - the God of Israel is not a jealous God.  Naaman may go in peace, even if he'll  need to go to the temple of Rimmon with his master.  Now, there are many places in the Bible - old and new testament (esp. Revelation) - where God is portrayed as a warrior God. But here the God of Israel is  a God of all peoples who reaches out beyond Israel, a God of grace and compassion. Jesus will refer to this miracle when he preaches his first sermon at Capernaum.  He'll point out that at the time of Elisha there were plenty of lepers in Israel, but God healed Naaman the Syrian. He'll get folks hopping mad for saying this -- some will try and throw him off a cliff!  Then and now, we don't always like to be reminded that God is the God of all peoples.  We may say we believe it, but our songs asks God to shed his grace on us.  We ask God to bless America -- and often don't add, "and other  nations, too."

 

 And we must confess that national pride does more than get in the way of healing, or odd lyrics in our national anthems. It can lead to greater evils of war and conquest -- and no country is exempt.  It's not just pride in the nation state which can lead to trouble -- so can the related prides of race and religion. When we think that our waters are better than their waters, or when we think our people are better than theirs -- violence and war often follows .  In fact, we may like their waters -- and think we deserve to have them!

 

-------------------o-------------------

 

 "America the Beautiful," was written by a woman named Katherine Lee Bates,  a professor of English literature at Wellesley College. According to Wikipedia, the first draft of "America the Beautiful" was written the summer of 1893; she wrote it after going on a trip to "Pike's Peak" in the Rockies of Colorado, where she was teaching that summer.  This is what she says:

 

One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.

 

 The sea length expanse she saw was, "America," but it had only recently become so.  Until the 1860s, much of what became Colorado state still belonged to the Native Americans; many had already been pushed from their ancestral homes, but by treaty with the United States, it was still Indian land.  But in 1858 Gold was discovered near Pike's Peak, and people from all over invaded the Colorado territory to seek gold and silver.  The Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians living there were pushed off even further. Some of them continued fighting in the hills; others sued for peace.  Among those seeking to settle were a group that camped at Sand Creek, not far from Pike's Peak.  But the fact they had surrendered didn't matter. On November 29th, 1864, under orders of the Colorado governor, a Colonel John Covington -- who was also a Methodist minister, he was called the "fighting preacher"  - led 700 men of the Colorado Regiment into the settlement  where they slaughtered about 150 people, many of the women and children.  This massacre -- which was investigated by Congress - led to even more violence.  It was an "incident" in one of the last of the Indian wars which allowed America to stretch from sea to shining sea. In this case, it was not a matter of "my waters are better than your waters." It was a matter of "my people are better than your people," and Christian God is better than your heathen gods, so we can take your waters.  And the people who thought that were not especially evil or greedy or privileged.  But national pride led Americans -- mostly white Christians - to believe they had a manifest destiny to take over the land.  It's hard to imagine what would have happened if those Christians had really understood God to be the God of all peoples.  It's hard to imagine if what would have happened if they had truly understood God as the God of all nations -- but that's the world we're called to imagine.

 

 

 The fourth of July is a day to remember, with gratitude, the founding of the nation and the gifts that our forbears gave us and that have been blessings to the world -- and there are many. It's also a day to remember  - with both gratitude and sadness - the sacrifices, and the courage, of men and women who have fought for liberty in this country -- not just in wars, but in the civil rights and labor and other liberation movements.  But it's also good to remember that Independence Day is not a Christian holiday, especially in it's more prideful expressions.  Our God is the God of all people, including those who worship differently:  in the Christian faith, there's no room for national pride. Our waters are not better than their waters. They're all God's waters. 

 

 

 

 

I'd like to end with a prayer, a hymn, called  "This Is My Song."  It was written by a young man named Lloyd Stone (1912-1993)  using the Finlandia melody composed by Jean Sibelius.  Finlandia was a patriotic symphony and patriotic Finnish words have been written for it, but these words were written in 1934, just before that giant bloodletting, east and west, fueled by national and racial pride of all kinds.

 

 

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

 

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.

 

 Amen. 

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