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4/4/10 Sermon: Turning to Joy, Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 19, 10:15pm
4/4/10 Sermon: Turning to Joy, Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 4, 2010 - Easter Sunday

Luke 24: 13-49

Turning to Joy

I used to teach 5th grade in a New York City K-5 public school, and every June we'd have a graduation ceremony for the 5th graders.  The ceremony would vary from year to year, but one thing remained non-negotiable, by order of the principal.  The graduates were to memorize and sing the Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts."  You probably know the tune - Aaron Copeland used it in his ballet Appalachian Spring; a quartet played it at the Obama inauguration.  These are the words:

 

 Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,

 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

 And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

 When true simplicity is gain'd,

 To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,

 To turn, turn will be our delight,

 Till by turning, turning we come round right.

 

 I always thought it interesting that a Jewish principal in a fervently secular, progressive, public school would choose this hymn. Nothing is said about God or Christ, but it's a religious song. The Shakers were a zealous Christian sect who worshiped in song and dance.  It's in a number of Christian hymnals. But as far as I know, no teachers or families  - all of us firm believers in the separation of church and state - objected.

 I think there were no objections because it was the perfect song for our fifth graders.  It spoke of the gift of simplicity to children whose lives were already way too complicated. Complicated by competition: to get into a good junior high, to look good and have the right sneakers, to win in soccer, to get in the top percentile in standardized tests. Complicated by things:  toys, clothes, TVs, video games, computers.  Complicated by breakneck schedules with afterschool art and yoga and tutoring and lots of homework.  Complicated by brokenness or financial struggles:  two parents in two homes, having to move from one place to place. Complicated by choices  -- from where they wanted to go for junior high to what brands they wanted of almost everything.

 It was also the perfect song for our graduates because it spoke of coming down where they ought to be, in the place just right.  We knew that in middle and high school they'd be tempted into places that were just wrong: places with drugs and alcohol.  Places with sex way too early.  Places with bullying and violence and crime.  Places of too much sadness, anxiety or depression.

 And it was the perfect song for us, the adults in their lives.  For the complicated lives they led were  modeled on our own.  The wrong places we feared for them were places that we knew. But like parents and teachers everywhere, we wanted better for our children.  So we taught them this song about turning, turning to the place just right, a place of true simplicity, a valley of love and delight.  A turning we longed for, but found very hard to do.

 

  -----------------

 When the risen Christ returned to the apostles he did many things with them.  He walked and talked with them on the road to Emmaus.  He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.  He showed them his hands and his feet, he broke bread with them, he ate fish.  And then he told them the message they were to proclaim, as it was written in the scriptures:  repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name.  He didn't tell them to proclaim the resurrection;  telling that story would be part of their witness, but that wasn't the point.  They were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins  in his name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem. That was the good news. 

 And in the Bible, repentance means turning, turning to God. It doesn't mean remorse, although sorrow and regret may be part of that turning. It doesn't mean letting go of bad habits and adopting good ones, like getting sober and coming to church, although such changes may come with repentance. It simply means turning, turning to God. 

 But that turning is hard when we're burdened with guilt or shame.  We fear we'll be judged and found wanting, and that God will turn from us; so Jesus also tells them to proclaim forgiveness. The assurance that we'll be welcomed and loved by God, no matter what we've done or haven't done.  We may need to make amends or restitution, we may have done things that other people can't forgive and we'll to live with that: but we are forgiven. 

 And this is the new thing:  they were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of Christ. In the name of the one who died, dashing the hopes of all who thought he'd redeem Israel, but who was alive again, breaking bread and discussing the scriptures with them. They were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of one who was nailed to a cross, but who came back and showed them his hands and his feet.  They were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of the one who was laid in the tomb, but then was found among the living.

 The resurrection of Christ assures us that no matter how hopeless things seem, no matter how complicated our lives, no matter how deep we've dug ourselves into wrong places, turning is possible, forgiveness awaits us, and the joy that comes with it.  For Christ rose from the dead. Christ is alive.  Anything is possible! 

  Friends, listen to this invitation of the risen Christ. Christ invites us and our children to turn to him, and to receive the gift of new life in his name.  This new life is a simple life.  Not in terms of simple answers.  Not necessarily in terms of stuff or schedules, although it may be. But this new life is simple in its focus on the Word of God, and on God's command to love God and neighbor. Christ invites us, and helps us, to turn from our complicated lives full of striving for status and money, achievements and stuff.  Christ invites us to turn from those wrong places in our lives and in our collective lives that are full of violence and pain, greed and destruction. Christ invites us to turn to the place just right, a valley of love and delight.  Christ invites us to turn and in that turning will be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come round right. Amen. 

3/28 Sermon - Betrayals Major and Minor, Cheryl Pyrch by Anonymous on Apr 19, 10:13pm
3/28 Sermon - Betrayals Major and Minor, Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 28, 2010

Luke 22: 14-23

 

Betrayals Major and Minor

 Jesus said, "But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table."  Twelve hands on the table - (let's assume everyone has a hand on their lap) in addition to Jesus.  Twelve pairs of eyes, looking around at each other.  Twelve voices asking one another, "which one of us could it be who would do this?"

 Because we've heard the whole  story, we know the answer:  Judas!  As all the other disciples were wondering who it could be, wondering perhaps, if they could be the one, Judas must have been thinking of his conversation with the chief priests and officers of the temple police.  The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, and Judas had offered to find a way to hand Jesus over to them. They were greatly pleased, Luke tells us, and agreed to give him money.  So while Jesus was passing around the bread and the cup, while the disciples were looking at each other with suspicion, Judas might well have been pondering how he'd betray Jesus to the authorities when no crowd was present.  Later that evening, he would lead a crowd to Jesus at the Mount of Olives, and would approach Jesus to betray him with a kiss. The chief priests and temple police took him away to be tried, and he would be crucified by the Romans.  After his death, according to Luke, Judas felt no remorse and did no repentance; he brought a field with the money he was given.  It was in that field that Judas suddenly swelled up and burst open in the middle, with all his guts falling out - a field that became known to the residents of Jerusalem as the field of blood.  Other gospel writers have a slightly different take on Judas, but in Luke's telling it's a fitting end to a villain who handed Jesus over to a terrible and agonizing death. 


 But although Judas may have been the one to hand Jesus over to the authorities, his is not the only hand on the table that will betray Jesus.  There's also Peter. Peter tells Jesus at dinner that he's ready to go with him to prison and to death.  But Jesus knows otherwise:  he tells Peter that the cock will not crow the next morning until Peter has denied him three times.  And Peter does deny Jesus. After he's arrested, Peter follows from a distance, and then joins others at a fire in the courtyard of the house of the High Priest, where Jesus is being held.  Over the course of the night, three people will look at Peter in the firelight and say "this man also was with them."  And three times Peter will say, Woman, I am not, or Man, I do not know what you are talking about! After his third denial the cock crows -- and Luke says that at that moment Jesus turned and looked at Peter.  At the friend and disciple who now claimed not to know him .

 

 But Judas and Peter are not the only hands at the table to betray Jesus. The 10 others?  Once Jesus is arrested, they disappear. They don't even go with Peter to the courtyard. Perhaps they were in the crowd that followed Jesus to the place where he was crucified, or perhaps they were among the acquaintances who stood at a distance, watching these things, but Luke doesn't name them.  Whether they were standing by watching, or hiding in their houses, their inaction, their silence, would betray Jesus.  They didn't even try to recover his body -- Joseph of Arimathea, a righteous member of the Council, would do that.  Nor would they try and find where he had been laid, or bring ointments or spices for his burial -- the women would do that: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James. The 10 others?  They abandoned him.


 So, with those twelve hands on the table, we see the full spectrum of betrayal.  From knowingly sending a friend to torture and death; to publicly denying him; to hiding and remaining silent.  We don't know what drove the disciples to act this way.  Luke says that Satan entered into Judas, and we know he got money for his deed; but that doesn't explain why Judas let Satan in, why he turned in the first place.  Was it simply greed?  Did he become disillusioned with his Jesus and decide he was a blasphemer - was this a principled betrayal?  Or, was Judas just a pawn in some grand scheme of God as some people - not Luke - have suggested?  We're told even less about Peter's state of mind or the others, although it's easy enough to guess. Fear, perhaps, for their life or freedom.  More likely they just feared the shame and humiliation of being identified with a person under suspicion.  They probably told themselves there was nothing they could do, that they were better off, even Jesus was better off, if they lay low.  We know about those kinds of rationalizations.  We make them ourselves, all the time.

 

 But even if we knew the motives of every disciple, even if we could explain the psychological factors behind not only their betrayals but our betrayals, from major to minor, from the glaringly evil to the merely hurtful -- we'd be left with the question.  Why do human beings do this?  Why is it that we betray our spouses and cheat on taxes and spend money on luxuries when neighbors in Haiti or in Philadelphia go hungry?  Why is it we continue to fill up our gas tanks or throw away cell phones with hardly a thought to the harm we're doing creation?  Why is it that parents abuse their children?  Why are human beings so sinful and rebellious, why is there so much sin and suffering in this world that God called good?

 

 No theologian, no philosopher, no poet, no biblical scholar, has come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. People have proposed theories  -- from original sin to the claim that evil is only an illusion, but no one has come up with an answer that satisfies the longing, and the agony, in that question. On this side of eternity we can only see in a mirror dimly. But as Christians we do say this:  That when God created human beings that could and would betray each other, when God created a world that included suffering, God didn't just sit back and watch. God didn't leave the suffering for others. 


 We proclaim that God suffered, in the passion and death of Christ. Not just in a God-like way, whatever way we may imagine that to be: virtual rather than physical, empathetic rather than first hand, distant rather than close-up. We proclaim that in Jesus on the cross God suffered as human beings suffer: human beings who are physically tortured and hurt, human beings who know the hate of enemies and the betrayal and abandonment of friends. God suffered as a human being because Jesus was human. But at the same time we insist Jesus the Christ was God -- God didn't delegate that suffering to a human being, a human son separate from God's self.  God did more than have sympathy pains. God took that suffering into God's very self. 

 

 This claim of a suffering God has led to more questions and counter questions, answers and theories about why God did this and what it accomplished.  These theologies of atonement, of pardon and sacrifice,  are helpful and enlightening although no single one is fully satisfactory: again, now we see through a mirror dimly.  But the church everywhere has agreed on this:  that God in Jesus Christ went to the cross out of love.  That Christ came to us in love, and suffered and knew betrayal, out of love.  In the words of Paul, the proof of God's amazing love is this:  while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  

 

 My prayer, for you and for me, is that we can sense, that we can feel and trust in that love, as we follow Jesus to the cross.  Next Sunday, on Easter, we'll proclaim that death and suffering is not God's final word. In the Easter season and beyond we'll talk about how we are called to respond to the good news of the resurrection, to grow in faith and hope and goodness, so we're not mired in sin.  But on this Palm Sunday, and in the coming week, we just stand in awe before this fact: God loves us enough to eat at table with Judas and Peter, and all those other hands who would betray him, including our own.  What wondrous love is this. 

April '10 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 8, 7:44pm
April '10 - Pastor's Pen

The Great Fifty Days

 

One of the challenges in preparing for the Easter Service is picking only three hymns.  Like Christmas, the hymns for this festive day are among the most beautiful in the tradition; but unlike Christmas (happily) they have not been blaring from mall speakers for weeks on end.  They're inviting, joyful, and  singable:  especially when the church is full, as it is on Easter Sunday. This year I let go of "The Day of Resurrection!" to include "The Strife Is O'er" - but it was a tough decision!

 

Of course, there's no rule saying we can't sing 4 or 6 hymns on Easter, but there's also no reason to cram them in.  For the good news, as you may know, is that Easter is a 50 day celebration, not a one-day blow out.  We have eight Sundays to celebrate, wonder, and explore the meaning of the resurrection, the central tenant of our faith.  This year the lectionary takes us through provocative  passages in the book of Acts, the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation as we ask, "What does it mean that 'Christ is Alive?'" (Hymn #108).  The final Sunday of Easter, May 23rd this year, is also the Day of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church - a day which has wonderful hymns of its own.

 

So this year we'll be singing Easter hymns beyond that first Sunday, and occasionally an Easter hymn may even pop up on some other Sunday of the year.  For on every Sunday, even during Lent, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, as we remember his life and death.  Every Sunday we affirm our belief that the risen Christ has inaugurated a new creation and is with us still. So, although there are hymns best reserved for that first Sunday in Easter - we won't sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in Advent or Lent or August - it's liturgically correct to sing of Christ's resurrection at any time of the year.  On what Sunday would these words not apply?

 

Now let the heavens be joyful, Let earth the song begin,

Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is there-in;

Let all things seen and unseen Their notes of gladness blend,

For Christ the Lord is risen, Our joy that hath no end.

 

 Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch 

03/21/10 Sermon: While We're Here, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:09pm
03/21/10 Sermon: While We're Here, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 21, 2010

John 12: 1-8

 

While We're Here

 

 I'm going to begin on a somber note.  Alone among creatures, all human societies  - in the past, present and everywhere in the the world -  have ways to take care of those who have died.*  Public rituals, burials and cremations, are very different, but, unlike animals, we don't let the dead lie where they fall.  Except when we have to, such as in a war.  Or after earthquakes.  Or in plane crashes over the sea.  And when such disasters occur, the inability of survivors to care for their loved ones makes those events especially tragic or evil.  Caring for the body of one who has died, or arranging for its care, no matter how simple or elaborate, is an important way we show respect,  honor, and love.

 

 Mary and Martha showed that care for their brother Lazarus when he died.  They had his face and hands and feet bound with strips of cloth.  They placed him in a tomb - a cave - and rolled a stone in front of it. They mourned, and many came to their home to console them. Jesus also came.  Mary and Martha had sent for him days earlier, when Lazarus was ill, but he delayed, so Jesus came to Bethany four days after Lazarus was laid in the tomb.  When Martha heard he had arrived, she went out to meet him; she then went back and called her sister Mary, telling her that Jesus was there, and calling for her.  When Mary saw Jesus she knelt at his feet and said the same thing that Martha had said to him:  "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  She wept, those who came with her wept, and Jesus also began to weep, for he loved Lazarus, as he loved Mary and Martha.  Then Jesus asked where they had laid him, and they brought him to the tomb.  He told them, "Take away the stone."  But Martha, who knew the care that had been taken with his body, and also knew what would happen if the tomb were opened, said, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."  But Jesus insisted, so they rolled away the stone.  Then Jesus called for Lazarus and the dead man came out, still bound in strips of cloth.  Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

 

 And there he now was - alive, sitting at the dinner table.  Back from the dead because of Jesus, who was also at table with them, the guest of honor.  Martha served - we can only imagine the kind of feast they must have made  - and then Mary got up.  She took a pound of costly perfume, made of nard, nard that had come all the way from Nepal or Kashmir. She knelt down and anointed his feet, and wiped them with her hair, as Jesus would wipe the feet of his disciples with a towel days later.  A bold move, yes.  Extravagant, yes.  And loving.  Mary would have known about the threat on Jesus's head. She knew that after Jesus had raised Lazarus some of the leaders wanted to put him to death and had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so they might arrest him.  Instead, Mary and Martha took him into their home and Mary annointed him with precious and costly oil.  A perfume that would fill the house ---- stronger - maybe - than the stench that would fill the tomb.  She showed him honor, respect, love.  A passion strong as the grave. 

 

 But Judas didn't get it, or didn't want to get it, or didn't want to show that he got it --  that Jesus would soon be gone and Mary's anointing would be one of the last things she could do for him. Judas would betray Jesus, he'd tell the authorities where he was.  So he said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?"  It's  a good question.  It's a question John knew others would ask, for he makes haste to tell us that Judas didn't really care for the poor, that he was just asking because he wanted to steal the money from the common purse.  But the motives of Judas aside, it remains a good question, a question we still ask in all kinds of circumstances:  Why spend so much money on wedding, or a funeral, when that money could go to the poor?  Why restore the windows or the organ when there is so much suffering in the world?  Why costly perfume or luxury of any kind when others do not have enough food? 

 

 Jesus answered him, "Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."  You always have the poor with you ---  How often those words have been remembered! With these words, many luxury-loving people, ordinary but preoccupied people, and people who want to hold on to their privilege,  have breathed a sigh of relief.  See -- even Jesus says it.  We'll always have the poor with us.  There's not that much we can do.  It may even be God's will.  At the very least there's no rush  -- they'll still be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.  We can spend money on other things -- costly perfume, luxuries, beautiful things, especially when they're used for God's house. 

 

 The trouble is, none of those people, and they include us at least some of the time,  knew their Bible.  They didn't know that Jesus is quoting Moses.  That while he was telling them to leave Mary alone, as he accepted her gift, he was also reminding them of God's commandment regarding the poor.  Just before they were to enter the promised land, Moses gave instructions to the people on behalf of the Lord. Every seventh year, he said, you are to grant a remission of debts.  You're to wipe the slate clean with anyone in your community who owes you money.  And then he says this (Deuteronomy, 15: 7-11). 

 

 "If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.  You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.  Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.  Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  Since there will never case to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land." 

 

 So the words of Jesus to Judas are not as simple as they seem.  He wasn't taking sides on some eternal debate on giving to the poor vs. expensive gifts.  Yes, he was gratefully accepting Mary's costly and extravagant gift of love.  He was acknowledging her silent prophesy -- that he would soon die, that it was the time for his anointing.  He affirmed that Mary had made the right choice;  But he was also reminding them, and us, that as long as there are people in need on the earth, as long as the poor are with us, God calls us to be open-hearted and open-handed.  It's  a double commandment:  to love God through extravagant gifts of beauty and love: in worship, and in the way we love and care for one another.  But to also obey God's commandment to be generous and open-hearted with all who are in need, all of the time.  We can do both. 

 

 And both are urgent.  They are urgent because this is the time we have been given:  our time, on this earth. This is the time we've been given to love God with all our heart and mind and strength; and also to love our neighbor. Mary understood the urgency of the hour.  She had just known the loss of her brother and although he was back, she knew it was only a reprieve.  So she didn't hold back.

 

 Phil Ochs was a songwriter who wrote folk and protest ballads in the 60s and 70s.  He died at a young age, by suicide. I believe he was an atheist.  But he wrote what I think is a faithful song on the urgency of loving and singing and giving during our time on this earth.  In matters of love, and beauty and justice.  He begins: 

 

There's no place in this world where I'll belong when I'm gone

And I won't know the right from the wrong when I'm gone

And you won't find me singin' on this song when I'm gone

So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here . . . . .

 

In the song he lists the things that he guesses he'll have to do while he's here:  the pleasures of love, breathing the bracing air, seeing the golden of the sun and dancing with delight; but also doing his share, adding his name to the fight, singing louder than the guns. 

 

We believe that when we're gone, we'll be united with God in Christ:  but while we're here, Christ calls us to love and to give, to God and to neighbor. Generously.  Extravagantly.  And with no time to waste.

 

Please join me in prayer: 

 

 

 *McCann, "Burial" in the New Interpreter's Bible. 

03/14/10 Sermon: Party Invitations, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:08pm
03/14/10 Sermon: Party Invitations, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 14, 2009

Luke 15: 1-32

 

Party Invitations

 

 I'll be reading a bit more than the lesson printed in the bulletin, which is the parable know as the Parable Son.  I'll be reading all of chapter 15 and invite you to think about it as one long parable with three examples: I'll call it the parable of three parties. . . . .

 

 

 Three parties, all celebrating the finding and return of something that's been lost:  a disoriented sheep brought back to the comfort of the flock.  A much needed coin that fell between the cushions, found. A prodigal son, homesick and hungry, is back.  Friends and neighbors, family and slaves, are called together to rejoice, just like the angels in heaven. When the son returned, there was even music, dancing and a fatted calf.  But there was also someone who declined the invitation.  The older brother was angry:  he was the good son, he stayed at home, he worked hard and obeyed his father, but he was never even given a young goat to celebrate with his friends, or so he said. How come his disobedient, lazy brother got a party?  Was this a reward for bad behavior or did his father just love the younger brother more? The brother that had lost half the property and was now coming back.  Oh, no, the older son wasn't going to celebrate the return of that irresponsible sibling who had a hold on his father's heartstrings and maybe still his pocketbook.  So the older son refused to go in.

 

 

 

 In the other two parties we don't hear about anyone declining their invitation, but I'll bet some folks did.  (I'm playing now . . )  Like the woman's neighbor who only had five coins. She'd find something better to do than rejoice with that woman who had more coins than she did. Or the woman's sister in law who always kept her house neat and clean; she didn't have to spend time searching for lost coins, they were always in their place. Why encourage the bad behavior of her messy and disorganized -in-law by going to the party?  Or the man with 50 sheep who hoped the lost sheep of his neighbor would wander into his pasture -- he didn't want to celebrate it's return. Or the neighbor who had 150 sheep who never got lost because he did his job and kept his eye on them.  That careless neighbor first lost one and then left the 99 to fend for themselves -- it's a wonder they didn't all take off.  A perfect example of declining standards in animal husbandry. Go to his party?  No thank you.  He would go mend his fence. 

 

 

 

 In Caroline Knapp's memoir of her struggle with alcohol called Drinking: a Love Story, she talks about being at her sister's wedding when she was still drinking heavily.  "I hated weddings," she says.  "I hated birth announcements, and I hated reading chipper little entries about my peers in the "class notes" section of my college alumni bulletin, and I quietly loathed people who got job promotions or bought new houses or relocated to swell new cities.  Events like that were irrefutable pieces of evidence to me, indications, that all around me people were getting on with their lives, while I seemed to stand still, immobile.  My sister's wedding, of course, was a particularly striking indication. . . . . Traditionally, there were two routes to approval in my family:  you went to medical school  . . . or you got married.  In the course of a week my sister - my twin - had done both and I felt like she was sailing across the finish line before I'd even made it out of the gate."  Caroline Knapp couldn't refuse the invitation to her sister's wedding, but she wasn't going to rejoice.

 

 

 Refusing an invitation -- most of us have done it at some point or another and not just because we're shy, or tired.  We've all stayed home from a party, angry that there even was one, grumpy if we had to go. We don't always want to rejoice in the blessings, or achievements, or the homecoming, of others. If we're like the older brother (and as a first born who became a pastor you know who I identify with), we may feel that rejoicing in the return of a reckless sibling mocks our obedience, our efforts to do the right thing, to be always responsible. If we're struggling financially, or if we sacrifice to live within our means, we may feel that the restored fortune of a neighbor is unfair, that we're the deserving ones, not them.  Or, when we're the prodigal, like Caroline Knapp, we may resent celebrating the blessings and joys of the "good" sister or the obedient brother. There are many understandable reasons to be a party refusenik.  Those scribes and pharisees speak for most of us, at some time or another, when they ask why Jesus has dinner parties for tax collectors and sinners.

 

 

 And underneath party refusal is often a fear:  a fear that the return of a long-lost brother means less love for us.  A fear that more money or more sheep or more health insurance for a neighbor -- even when they don't have much  - will mean less money or less sheep or less healthcare or less security for us.  A fear that life is a race, with a start and a finish,  and that if someone else gets ahead it means we'll lose.  How can we rejoice in someone being found, if it means that we'll suffer loss?

 

 

 When the older brother refused to come in, the father went out - like he went out to the younger brother - and pleaded with him. After hearing his older son's complaint, he offered this reassurance:  "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."  My love for you is so deep, the father is saying, that everything I have also belongs to you.  There will always be enough:  enough food, enough money, enough love.  "You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." 

 

 

 Those are words for us, too.  And if we can believe that, if we can trust that in God there is no yours or mine, that God does not withhold, that there's truly enough, we'll have more joy in our lives.  We'll be able to rejoice when a wayward brother or sister returns, because we won't be worried about being consigned to the basement.  We'll be able to rejoice in more for others, because we won't assume that means less for us.  Now, trusting in God's abundance doesn't mean we can burn all the coal or drill all the oil we want.  It doesn't mean there are no limits to this earth and we can continue to throw-away stuff and pollute without thinking:  after all, the son's dissolute living came to an end.  The woman kept track of her coins, the man cared for each of his sheep.  It doesn't mean we have to rejoice in the granting of Wall Street bonuses, because trusting in God's abundance means that many - including us - have to stop grasping for more than we need.  It means opening our hearts and our hearts.

 

 

 But if we can trust in God's abundance, our life will be filled with rejoicing.  Not just for blessings that come our way, but for the blessings that come to others:  not just for new life that we know, but for new life and hope for others.  "But," says the father, "we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found."  Let's except the invitation to that party, and to the many others that God offers us. 

 

 

  

03/07/10 Sermon: Eat, Drink and Repent, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:06pm
03/07/10 Sermon: Eat, Drink and Repent, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 7, 2010

Isaiah 55: 1-9; Luke 13: 1-9 

 

Eat, Drink and Repent

 

 As Jesus was talking with the crowds, people were sharing the terrible news:  Pontius Pilate, the Roman military governor of Judea, had killed some Galileans who had come to Jerusalem to make the customary sacrifices in the temple;  their blood had been mingled with the blood of their animal sacrifices. Also on the mind of the crowd was a catastrophe at the Tower of Siloam, which had fallen and killed 18 people. We know nothing more about these events than these few words in Luke's gospel, but as people shared the news, some must have wondered -- as people do - if the "innocent" victims weren't so innocent after all, if they had done something to bring on their suffering. We know about that kind of speculation.  We recently heard Pat Robertson explain the suffering of the Haitian people by claiming they made a pact with the devil 200 years ago. We've also heard loved ones ask, "what have I done to deserve this?"  when they face illness or misfortune - maybe we've asked that question ourselves.  But when Jesus heard this kind of talk he challenged them. "Do you think," he said,  "that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  No, I tell you.  Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them - do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others? No, I tell you. Jesus wasn't going to blame the victim. But then he adds a warning:  "but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." 

 

 Inspired partly by the lectionary, I've started reading a book called, "Why buildings fall down," by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori.  The authors look at buildings, bridges and dams that have fallen across the centuries and discuss the flaws, the structural weaknesses, that led to their collapse.  In these case studies there's usually an event that starts the disaster:  an earthquake, lightning, an explosion or bomb  -  but engineering, design or construction mistakes play a part as well.  (You know that we're starting a capital campaign here at Summit so that the Summit Tower doesn't become a case study in the revised edition). The authors never suggest that buildings fall down to punish people -- but they often trace falls to some human error that involves an ethical or moral lapse.  It may be the hubris of an architect or engineer who takes a design risk; or the greed or desperation of builder who cuts corners to keep construction costs down; or carelessness on the part of residents or caretakers or inspectors.  The lapses are not usually malicious or egregious, they may be collective or individual, but they're widespread.  In the last sentence of the book, after discussing technological advances, the authors point out that such improvements alone cannot guarantee a decrease of building failures and may even increase them.  "Only a deeper consciousness of our human and social responsibilities," they say, "can lead to the construction of safer buildings."

 

 In other words, only our collective repentance.  (It's collective repentance, not just in building design but in the world economic order,  that will lead to the construction of safer buildings and less suffering in Haiti).  It's this universal sin, and our universal need to turn from it, that Jesus is referring to when he says to the crowds that "unless you repent, you will all perish."  Many think that Jesus is talking about the day he'll return and we'll all face judgement, with some folks perishing in the fires of hell, and others gaining eternal life; the early church thought that day would be coming soon. Others believe that Jesus is speaking of a judgement that we will each face upon our deaths, making the need to repent always urgent, since we don't know when that will come. But whether or not we believe in heaven and hell, in our generation this warning has another, urgent, meaning.  For if we do not repent, if we do not turn from sinful paths that we're on, we may well all perish:  from nuclear war, or climate change --  or some tragic combination of the two.  This warning of Jesus - I think of it more as a desperate, loving plea - could not be more urgent. 

 

 The trouble is, the threat of future disaster, or even, sadly, the knowledge of other people's suffering - doesn't motivate many of us to turn to God or give up our grievous ways.  The thought of judgement may even make us want to dig in our heels.  So here is where Isaiah speaks.  In today's scripture, God invites us to repentance:  but a repentance of eating and drinking, not sackcloth and ashes.  A repentance of mercy and delight, not punishment or pain. "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor that which does to satisfy?  Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear and come to me, that you may live."

 

 God calls us to repent by inviting us to a banquet.  A banquet with no admission and no ticket price, where everyone is welcome and where money and wealth don't matter.  A banquet where everyone has enough food, rich food and good food, not the junk food we usually eat.  A banquet where no one is thirsty, for there's plenty of clean water, nourishing milk, and wine. A banquet where even the wicked are invited:  "let the wicked forsake their way," says Isaiah, "and the unrighteous their thoughts, let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, who will abundantly pardon." A banquet where everyone is at the same table; there's no children's table in the family room or servant's table in the kitchen.  But to get to the banquet we have to accept the invitation;  we need to repent.

 

 What does that repentance, that turning, look like for you?  Perhaps it means inclining your ear and listening carefully to God:  through disciplined prayer and reading of scripture; by listening more attentively to those you love;  by listening to those crying out for help, for justice and peace:  in Haiti, in Philadelphia, in Afghanistan.  Perhaps repentance means no longer spending money for that which is not bread, whether it's the latest in clothes or electronics, in cars or in kitchens; it may mean giving more of that money away.  Perhaps it means no longer laboring for that which does not satisfy - not necessarily quitting your job, but no longer laboring for status, or things you don't need.  It may mean leaving work that is ethically or morally compromising, and finding something more satisfying, even if it's less glamorous or secure.  It may mean simply doing more of God's work:  here at in ministries of the church,  or in other works of compassion or justice.  It might mean forsaking wicked ways:  drinking and drugging. The easy, wicked way of indifference to suffering that many of us take. The wicked wasteful ways that are woven so deeply into our lives. It may mean leaving behind unrighteous thoughts:  old hates and resentments, all those isms.  And if we were to all repent, together, here at Summit and in the wider world, what an even more wonderful world this would be. 

 

 Repentance is a journey. It's not a one time decision or an act with a beginning and an end.  It's a turning to God that grows deeper, and wider, the more we practice it. It's a turning that will bring us joy and delight and it's also a turning we cannot delay.  The warm invitation from Isaiah and the urgent warning of Jesus are not a good cop/bad cop routine; they are calls to repentance from the same God, the God who loves us, the God who will abundantly pardon, but also the God who cannot stand by as we countenance suffering and put the earth in peril. A God who wants no one to perish.

 

 

 And we can begin by coming to the Lord's table, where we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  Everyone is invited  -- to eat and drink, without money and without price; to receive God's grace, the God who abundantly pardons.  To be strengthened for the journey, and for doing the work of God in this world.  Come, for the the Lord has prepared a place for you and for me. 

 

  

02/28/10 Sermon: Setting Our Mind on the Right Things, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:05pm
02/28/10 Sermon: Setting Our Mind on the Right Things, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

February 28, 2010

Philippians 3:17-4:1

 

Setting our Mind on the Right Things

 

 The writer of this letter, the apostle Paul, is famous among Christians and non-Christians, but he has a mixed reputation.  The church has always treasured his writings:  our understanding of God's  grace in the face of our sin owes a lot to Paul. But he also has a reputation for being judgmental and arrogant.  For being anti-women, anti-gay, anti-sex.  And passages like this one don't help.

 

 So let's admit right away there's much in this reading that's off-putting.  Paul begins by telling his brothers and sisters to imitate him,  to observe those who live by his example. He's just finished talking about how he's imitating Christ, so he's pointing to Christ as the model.  But still, he sounds arrogant --  claiming to do an especially good job of following Jesus. It gets worse when he talks about those he says are living as "enemies of the cross of Christ."  Their end is destruction, he says: their god is their belly; their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.  He is being judgmental:  and he's talking about fellow Christians, not pagans or Jews.  We don't know who these "enemies of the cross" were; we can only guess at what they were preaching or doing.  We may have rather liked them; certainly, to predict their destruction is harsh.  And when Paul uses the phrase "the body of our humiliation" it doesn't sound like he appreciates the flesh.  Arrogant, judgmental, anti-body:  that's the Paul we don't like. 

 

 Of course, there's more to Paul than this passage, but there's more to this passage than appears at first reading. If we stand back and try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who first heard it, I think we'll also discover a word for ourselves.  First, some background:

 

 Paul was one of the first apostles, but he never knew Jesus of Nazareth.  As he tells us earlier in this letter, he was a devout Jew, educated in Torah - the Bible - and the traditions of Israel.  He had heard about those followers of Jesus among his fellow Jews, who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead.  Paul believed that to be a wrong-headed, even dangerous movement, so he persecuted the church. But then he had some kind of sudden, mystical conversion.  Paul doesn't say much about it, but in the Book of Acts, written by Luke, it says Paul was blinded by a light from heaven on the road to Damascus and three days later he was baptized.  From there he went out among all kinds of people, Jews and Gentiles, in Jerusalem and beyond.  He proclaimed the Gospel and began house churches in many cities, the city of Philippi, in present day Greece, among them.  He then wrote letters to these "churches" from afar, greeting people by name, asking for prayers, giving practical advice and theologizing.  We think Paul wrote these letters 20 to 30 years after the death of Jesus and that they were read out loud when people gathered. Paul's preaching also got him in trouble with the Roman authorities and he spent time in jail; this letter to the Philippians was written from a prison cell. 

 

 These Philippian Christians would have been a small, beleaguered group (I know we sometimes feel like a small and beleaguered group, but they really were!).  They didn't have a church building or hymnbooks or stained glass windows, much less endowments or capital funds. They believed the good news of Jesus and the resurrection but they didn't have the gospels or any other writings of the "New Testament":  Mark, Matthew, Luke and John weren't even written yet.  They had scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, but they weren't sure how to interpret them in the light of Christ; it was a subject of much debate and controversy.  To complicate matters, Gentiles, who had worshipped the Greek and Roman gods, were now joining the church. There were divisions, there was conflict. Everyone was trying to figure it out:  what did it mean to follow Jesus?  What did it mean to imitate Christ? 

 

 A lot hinged on the answer.  A lot hinged on the answer because people would know Christ through the lives of his followers:  they didn't have bibles or tracts to hand out, or a church with community programs that folks could join. A lot hinged on the answer because the early Christian movement was always in danger of collapse: between persecutions and or people falling away the assemblies were struggling, even with all those new converts. A lot hinged on the answer because most of the early disciples believed Jesus would come back in their lifetimes and judge how faithful they had been.  A lot hinged on the answer because if they got it wrong, they'd be betraying the one who loved and died for them. A lot hinged on the answer because if got it right, they could save souls and change the world. 

 

 So getting it right was a matter of grave importance:  for themselves and for the church of Christ.  It's true that even in the early days congregations included people with different points of view who accomodated each other --  we see that, also, in Paul's letters. But passions ran high on all sides, so when Paul called those rival Christians "enemies of the cross"-  he wouldn't have been considered out of line.  Those early disciples believed the cross had friends and enemies, and they weren't afraid to say so. Name-calling was acceptable church behavior, especially if it brought people over to the right side. 

 

 Name-calling is still acceptable church behavior in some circles, but more often it's not considered appropriate. Many of us have more of a "live and let live" attitude about Christians who live or believe differently than we do.  More humility about whether we know the "Christian" way or whether there even is one Christian way. We've seen 2000 years of church growth, church fighting and institutional survival. We've had 2000 years to see the church make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and 2000 years of biblical interpretations we've had to rethink.  We may disagree with what other Christians doe or think, but few of us are willing to call them "enemies of the cross" and are uncomfortable when Paul does so.

 

 

 Which is good.  Humility and forbearance are good. Faithful Christians disagree on what is right. But there's a danger:  a danger that our humility, our willingness to allow that there are many ways to be a Christian, can veer into indifference.  Into an attitude that "anything goes," or that moderation in all things is always preferable. For a lot still hinges on the answer of what it means to follow Christ. How we live our lives does matter.  And here is where we need to listen to Paul. 

 

 When Paul warns the Philippians about the many who "live as enemies of the cross of Christ," he describes a way of life that sounds uncomfortably like our own.  "Their end is destruction, their god is the belly; their glory is in their shame, and their minds are set on earthly things." I wonder if there's every been another culture where people are so obsessed with earthly things:  what we will eat and wear, where we will live.  What we will put in our home; what we will drive, or do for entertainment.  Of course all people and cultures think about these things, but our minds are set on gaining, or buying, things far beyond our needs.  It's true that even with too much of most things we don't have enough job or food security, enough health care or good schools for all.  But still:  in a society where the vast majority of people are Christians, our minds are set on earthly things. Our god is not just the belly, but all that gives us pleasure and status.  Lifestyle is our idol. And we're learning that the current American lifestyle is not sustainable.  That if we keep it up our end will be destruction - and we'll take other people and creatures down with us.

 

 So let's listen to what Paul says about imitating him, and about imitating Christ to whom he points. We're not going to be able to imitate Christ by leaving the same carbon footprint that Jesus left on this earth -- that time is long gone.  But we can follow Jesus in other ways:  in his preaching of good news to the poor -- which means preaching, and doing, justice. In his healing ministry, in his feeding of the hungry, in his eating with outcasts.  In the way he spoke up for what was right, even at risk to his life.  In his generosity -  something especially hard for us who like to hold on to our money. 

 

 Our situation is very different than those of the Philippian Christians.  Rather than being a small, beleaguered movement, Christians, as a whole, are the most powerful people in the world.  We have a history that changes how we hear, and should hear, this words of Paul.  But we still face that same question:  what does it mean to imitate Christ?  A lot still hinges on that answer.  It's not a matter of anything goes.  So let us stand join in imitating Christ and recognize that we may have some repenting to do.

 

 This is not an easy task.  So I'll end with some encouraging words from Paul, writing to the Philippians but whose words speak also to us:  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

 

  

02/21/10 Sermon: Bible Quiz, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:04pm
02/21/10 Sermon: Bible Quiz, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

February 21, 2010

Luke 4:1-13

 

Bible Quiz

 

 I'm going to ask you to think back for a minute.  Have you ever taken a test where you felt that how you did would determine the direction of your life?  Perhaps it was the SAT, the college entrance examination you took in high school; or a licensing exam for a trade; the exam for American citizenship; the GRE or LSAT or GMAT or other grad school exam; a job test.  Most likely, you couldn't take anything with you into that exam:  no books, no notes, no coffee, no cellphone.  (If you took it in the dark days before cellphones and lifelines you may not have known what you were missing). Maybe you had a couple of #2 pencils or a bottle of water, perhaps a calculator or some tools.  But when you took the test you had to rely on what you had inside:  your memory, your imagination, your intelligence.  If you were a believer when you took this test you may have prayed - not only for inspiration and the right answers, but for the strength to make it through that fate-full test.

 

 In our scripture today, Jesus takes such a test.  He's just been baptized in the Jordan river.  The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved." Jesus will now be examined to see if he knows what it means to be the Son of God.* His examiner is the devil, waiting for him in the wilderness.  Jesus has nothing with him: no scrolls, no papyrus notes, no food. He must rely on the Spirit, who has led him into the wilderness, and on what he knows:  the Word of God, written in the scriptures, that he has studied from his youth. 

 

 The examination begins.  It starts slowly:  the first question is a warm-up. "If you are the Son of of God," says the devil, "command this stone to become a loaf of bread."  We can imagine the answers that Jesus might have considered; a mental multiple-choice list.  Choice #1 would have been to take the stone and turn it into bread.  After sll, he was famished, he hadn't eaten for 40 days.  Surely God didn't mean for him to die of hunger in the desert!  If he took the stone and ate the bread, he'd have strength for the days ahead.  He would also show the devil that he was the Son of God. Maybe the devil would even surrender, and come over from the dark side. Jesus must have been tempted, but he didn't choose that answer. Maybe he considered answer #2.  That would be to take the stone from the hands of the devil, and then bop him over the head with it!  He was a scrawny little thing! Jesus  was the Son of God, he could kick that pitchfork out of his hand.  Yes, it would be violent.  It would mean killing a living creature.  But the end justifies the means.  Jesus was the Son of God, he had to defend  humanity -  and imagine a world, with no devils filled. He must have been tempted; it may have seemed like the right answer.  But then Jesus remembered the scriptures -- how the Lord God led the people in the wilderness for forty years, in order to humble them, (it says in the Bible) testing them to know what was in their hearts, and whether or not they would keep the commandments.  God humbled them by letting them hunger, and then feeding them with manna, [that weird stuff] with which neither they nor their ancestors were acquainted.  God did this to make them understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:2-3)  Then Jesus knew.  That was the answer.  So he said, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone.'"

 

 Then the devil ups the ante.  In an instant, he shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, past, present, future.  And the devil says to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."  Jesus must have thought hard about that one:  would "yes," be the right answer? If all the glory and authority of every kingdom in the world was given over to the Son of God, he could rule with justice and love and the kingdom of God could be established on earth.  So what if he had to worship the devil; it would be a private matter between him and Satan.  His religion was his own business, and God would understand that he worshipped the devil in order to do good, do build a world where no one was hungry or homeless.  Besides, Jesus may have thought, he wouldn't have to worship the devil forever.  If he had authority over all the kingdoms in the world he would command every army, every intelligence agency, every information-gathering, picture taking, GPS directing satellite circling the globe.  He could track the devil down in the most remote Afghan cave and starve him out. Jesus must have been tempted to say yes.  But then Jesus remembered scripture.  He remembered when Moses was speaking to the people before they entered the promised land.  The land of milk and honey, where they would eat their fill and have their own kingdom after  hungering in the wilderness for 40 years.  And Moses told them that when they got there to take care that they didn't forget the Lord, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  Moses had said to them, "It is the Lord your God you shall fear; and only him shall you serve." (Deut. 6:13) Then Jesus knew the right answer.  He told the devil, "it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" 

 

 The comes the hardest, the trickiest question.  The devil has figured out that Jesus looks to scripture for answers.  His Bible is marked and underlined, he obeys the Word of God.  So the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the temple, and the devil quotes scripture:  "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and "On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against the stone."  Jesus would have recognized that psalm [ the 91st psalm, that we just read this morning), surely he prayed it often. Jesus would have remembered that it begins "You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty."  Yes, Jesus, must have thought:  that's me, living in the shelter of the most high! He would have remembered the rest of the psalm, where it says that said God's faithfulness is a shield and a buckler,  that under God's wings he would find refuge.  Yes, he may have thought, surely God would command the angels concerning him, to guard him in all his ways.  On their hands they would lift him up, so that he would not dash his foot against a stone  - the scripture said so. So perhaps the right answer was to throw himself off the temple:  when the angels caught him it would show everyone not only that he was the Son of God, but that God's Word was trustworthy. 

 

 How tempting that must have been.  But then, perhaps just before he was about to jump, Jesus must have heard the Spirit whisper, saying:  yes, the scriptures are God's word but not every interpretation is Godly. Those words in the psalm are not God's literal words to you as you stand on the tower. Search the scriptures more diligently and more deeply. Listen more closely for the Word of God as it comes to you through them.  . . . . . . .  And then Jesus remembered.  He remembered the rest of what Moses said when he was speaking to the people before they entered the promised land. He warned them, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah."  To tell you the story:  at Massah, in the wilderness, they were thirsty and complained against Moses and said "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our livestock with thirst?"  They quarreled and tested the Lord, saying "Is the Lord among us or not?"  At Massah, God relented.  Moses struck a rock and water burst forth, showing the people God was among them.  But later, when they were about to enter the promised land, Moses told them, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test, like you did at Massah."  So then Jesus knew the answer.  It was not for him to test the Lord by making God "prove" to the devil or anyone else that he was the Son of God. So Jesus answered.  He told the devil,  "It is said, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" The examination was over - for now.  The devil departed from him until an opportune time.

 

 The examination in the wilderness showed Jesus - and the devil, and the world - what it meant to be the Son of God.  He would not be a Messiah that would overthrow the Roman Empire.  He would not rule kingdoms of this world.  He would not  fight evil with violence.  He would not turn stones to bread or perform other miracles so he could be satisfied -- although he would multiply loaves to feed others.  Being the Son of God did not mean performing superhuman feats, flying from towers so God could show his might and his favor.  Being the Son of God meant total obedience.  Obedience to God's Word in Scripture, interpreted through the Holy Spirit. That obedience would lead Jesus into a life of teaching, healing, eating with sinners, preaching good news to the poor, calling all to repentance.  That obedience would take him to the cross. That's the direction his life would take.

 

 

 Lent, traditionally, is a time of  testing for us as well, a time of self-examination.  Not necessarily a time to make a self-inventory of all our sins or to embark on a course of self improvement. But a time to ask ourselves:  what does it mean to be a beloved child of God, and a disciple of Christ?  Am I truly following him?  There are no simple answers. It's not a pass/fail test nor is there a grade or score. You're allowed to bring chocolate into the examination, although I'd advise against alcohol, as that tends to garble any message from the Holy Spirit.  But it is an examination that could change the direction of our life, in big ways or small. 

 

 And to help us take that test, we, too, have the Bible.  We, too, have the company of the Holy Spirit, who opens our minds to the scriptures and is with us in whatever wilderness we may be wandering in. So I invite you, I invite myself, to a Lenten journey of scripture reading and prayer.  You may have a written devotional, or you may meditate on the lectionary.  You may choose to read one of the gospels from start to finish. Come to the Wednesday evening bread and broth or to Thursday morning prayer.  Most important, come to worship every Sunday.  Come to worship where we listen for God's Word in Scripture, open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and ask God's guidance as we seek to follow Christ.  

 

 

  *See commentary by Arland J. Hultgren in "Working Preacher," www.workingpreacher.org, of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. 

02/14/10 Sermon: A Life of Awe, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 29, 8:04pm
02/14/10 Sermon: A Life of Awe, Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

February 14, 2010

Psalm 99

Luke 9:

A Life of Awe

 

 This week you may have seen an article in the New York Times, written by John Tierney,  about a study done by two professors  at the University of Pennsylvania. They were researching the question:  what kind of news travels fastest among people?  They weren't interested in how gossip spreads, but information:  what do we share most often?  Good news or bad news, practical tips, surprising facts?  Why, as they put it, do some news stories travel like wildfire while others languish? 

 

 

 

 

 Their theory was that we're most likely to share two kinds of news.  First, we're likely to share stories with useful information, perhaps in the hope of getting useful information in return:  so we pass on a report about snow conditions on Lincoln Drive or a story about antioxidants in blueberries.  But they also thought we're likely to share stories that bring up strong emotions, in order to share those feelings with other people.  They were curious about one emotion in particular: the feeling of awe.  The authors note [I'm quoting]:  "People who have had epiphanies through drug use or religious experience . . seem to have a deep need to talk about them or proselytize." So they wondered: do we have a need to share other kinds of awe-inspiring news?

 

 

 Their answer was yes, and this is how they tested their hypothesis: they  analyzed the kinds of articles most frequently emailed by readers of the New York Times online.  (If you've ever read the New York Times online you may have noticed that you can email articles and that there's a box on the side with a list of "most frequently emailed articles.")  I'm not going to explain how they did the study except to say  it's complicated, they had to control for many things, and they had to hire lots of graduate students. But they discovered that articles which inspired awe were among the most frequently emailed.  Articles on paleontology or cosmology:  dinosaurs, stars, galaxies, black holes.  Also articles about microscopic awe-inspiring things:  RNA,  how deers see. Also articles about courageous, awe-some people.  Articles, that, in the words of the authors,  "brought up an emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something bigger than themselves."  In the face of something bigger than ourselves, they found, we want to share the news.

 

 

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

 

 

 Peter, James and John didn't have email.  (It's hard to believe because it seems like email has been around forever!). But they had awe-inspiring news to share. They had gone up on a mountain to pray with Jesus - an ordinary experience, it seems, for they were fighting sleep. But because they stayed awake they saw that the face of Jesus changed - just like the face of Moses had changed when he saw God on Mt. Sinai.  His clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and the disciples saw the glory of the Lord as he spoke with those great prophets, long gone. Peter wanted to keep them all on the mountain, to make dwelling places for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.  But then a cloud came and overtook them.  A terrifying cloud, a cloud from which they heard the voice of God.  An awe-some experience.

 

 

 When it was all over, when they came down from the mountain, at first they kept silent.  Perhaps they didn't trust what they had seen, and wondered if it had even happened:  after all, here was Jesus, with them like always.  Yes, he was doing miracles:  healing, expelling demons, multiplying loaves and catching fish.  But still, he was a person like them, eating and drinking, doing those other bodily things that human beings do which we don't talk about in church.  (And I wasn't thinking about sex.) Did they really seem him in glory or had they imagined it? Had they been sleeping?  So they kept silent; it was only after Jesus died, after they saw the risen Christ, that they knew they had seen Jesus transfigured on that mountain.  Then they had to tell others that awe-filled news.

 

 

 The psalmist also wants to share news that is awe-inspiring:  The Lord is King.  God sits enthroned upon the cherubim; the Lord is great in Zion and exalted above all peoples.  This Mighty King, says the psalmist, is a lover of justice who has established equity, make no mistake, even if we don't see it clearly now:  let the peoples tremble.  This mighty King, says the psalmist, also spoke with Moses and Aaron and Samuel, answering when they called, forgiving them while avenging their wrongdoings.  Hear the news, and be in awe:  the Lord our God is holy.

 

 

 Awe-some, awe-inspiring, even awe-ful news.  The disciples told it far and wide, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth; we email.  And there's another difference. The professors at Penn hypothesize  that we share awe-some news because we want friends and colleagues to share our feelings of awe, with the hope that shared feelings wil lead to deeper connections with each other.  That may be. But the psalmist, and Peter and James and John had a different, and deeper, purpose for sharing their news.  They told their story, they prayed the psalm, so that all who heard would worship, praise and listen to God. "Let them praise your great and awesome name," says the psalmist.  "Extol the Lord our God, worship at his footstool.  Worship at God's holy mountain." "This is my beloved son, my chosen one," said God's voice from the cloud:  "Listen to him."  They spread this awe-some news not to share feelings but to awaken us to God's glory and to call us to respond:  in praise, worship, obedience.

 

 

 But we're tone-deaf in this day and age.  We've done so much to shield ourselves from moments when we might be awed by something greater than ourselves, when we might awaken to the holiness of God. We keep so busy.  We fill our lives with clutter:  cyber clutter and TV clutter, clutter in our house,  on our calendars. We work on controlling things and go from one task to the next, even in church.  (Story about Rutgers) How many of us, when the snow fell this week stood in awe before God's creation -  and I'm not talking about a quick glance out the window to notice that the snow was pretty.  How many of us stood in awe before we thought about digging out the car? How many of us praised God for the beauty of snow on the branches and evergreen trees, for the peace of the falling snow, for the magnificence of her handiwork? 

 

 

 Or let's think about Haiti.  I know people have been following the news, and praying and giving money. And I know we've been wrestling with questions about how God could create a universe where earthquakes occur. But how many of us - as we considered the grave injustices underneath so much of the suffering in Haiti -  how many of us stood in awe of the God who is a lover of justice and who is exalted above all peoples? The psalmist said, "let the people tremble," and Thomas Jefferson said,  "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."  As we  see what is happening in Haiti, how many of us tremble before the God?  A forgiving God who is nonetheless an avenger of wrongdoing and who executes justice and righteousness? Have we listened - wholeheartedly listened to and followed, the words of Jesus:  blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and love your neighbor as yourself? 

 

 

 When I read the Times article this week, I followed a link to the study I've been talking about, "Social Transmission and Viral Culture" - by Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman.  As you can probably tell by the title it wasn't an awe-inspiring article, though interesting.  As I said before, the authors looked to psychological explanations for why we send certain kinds of news, and they suggest people send awesome articles to share that feeling of awe and make connections with other people.  They may be right, but I hope that's not the whole story.  I hope people are also emailing these articles because they sense something holy in the stories of stars and galaxies and dinosaurs, in the stories of remarkably good or courageous people and in the stories of the wonders we can see under a microscope.  I hope people send them because they sense that which is greater than themselves, and are feeling called to respond.  For awe is not just a feeling:  it's the awareness of God. It's the awareness of a mighty, just and holy God.  A life lived in awe is a life awake to God, a God who calls us to respond: in praise, worship, and obedience. 

 

  

March '10 -- Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 11, 8:47pm
March '10 -- Pastor's Pen

Once a Roman Catholic colleague mentioned to me  that she recently played “hooky”  on a Holy Day of Obligation (a non-Sunday Holy Day, like Christmas or Good Friday). She said this was the first time she had missed a Sunday Mass or Day of Obligation without a compelling reason – such as illness or injury. I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or appalled, but she explained to me that in Roman Catholic teaching, attendance at the Divine Liturgy each week is considered an obligation.  Indeed, missing it voluntarily used to be considered a "mortal" sin—meaning you were supposed to confess it to a priest before receiving communion.

 

The Catholic church has always been softer in practice than theory regarding church attendance – my friend assured me there were lots of pastoral loopholes - but the idea that we have an obligation to worship is different than most 21st century mainline Protestant thinking. Most of us think of church attendance as voluntary:  something we do to be spiritually fed or inspired, but if we choose to do something else – a walk in the woods,  brunch with friends, time in the office – there’s nothing sinful or irresponsible about it, as long as we haven’t signed up to be a greeter.

 

There are many historical and cultural reasons for this American Protestant shift, some of them theologically sound.  God is not keeping an attendance chart, planning to send us to Hell if we sleep in one too many Sundays.  But we also have something to learn from our Roman Catholic neighbors, who remind us that worship is communal, public testimony, part of the commitment we make to God and to each other when we affirm our baptism. From the Catholic Catechism: 

 

[2182]  Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church.  The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity.  Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation.  They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

What a lovely theological statement. Of course, many people at Summit do come each Sunday. Some of you have spoken eloquently at the Renewal potlucks on the importance of worship attendance for the life of the church and as a witness to those seeking to be faithful. I also realize that work keeps some of you away involuntarily, and as someone paid to come to worship I have no soapbox to stand on!  But in this season of Lent, I encourage all of us to keep the Sabbath holy by renewing a commitment to weekly attendance, and to continue into the Easter season  . . . and beyond. We will find many blessings in store.

 

 Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch 

01/17/10 Sermon: A New Name -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:44pm
01/17/10 Sermon: A New Name -- Cheryl PyrchCheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

January 17, 2010

Isaiah 62: 1-5

A New Name

 These words from the book of Isaiah were first spoken and written about 2500 years ago, at a terrible time for Israel.  The nation lay in ruins.  The Babylonians had conquered the last of the territory once ruled by King David.  Jerusalem was in a shambles, the temple destroyed, the leaders in exile, the people destitute. Being so long ago, there's a lot we don't know about that time.  We can only guess at the number dead or exiled.  We don't know a lot about Babylonian rule.  But we know that for the people of Jerusalem, it was a catastrophe. It was a catastrophe because of the death, destruction and hunger:  but it was also a catastrophe because of the questions it raised about their God.  Why had God allowed this disaster? Had God abandoned them?  Or was their God weak and worthless?  It was a catastrophe because of the shame, their loss of standing among the nations: Isaiah says that Jerusalem has been named "Forsaken" (capital F) and her land "Desolate."  In the book of Lamentations, also written in the exile, the writer claims that Jerusalem had become a mockery, all who honored her now despised her. Derided by the nations, bewildered by the disaster, the people of Jerusalem struggled to understand.  Was it a punishment, they wondered, for their worship of other gods? For disobeying the law, for neglecting orphans and widows or other kinds of wrongdoing?  The prophets had  warned them. Were they doomed forever to be a lonely city, bound in servitude to others? 

 In our scripture today Isaiah says no, and offers words of comfort.  God has not abandoned Jerusalem; she will be vindicated.  Nations who now call her Forsaken will soon see she is really named God's Delight is In Her;  the land that people now call Desolate will be called Married.  All the kings will see your glory, says Isaiah; your vindication will shine out like the dawn and your salvation like a burning torch. Jerusalem will again be renown throughout the earth.  Israel may be suffering now, but that is not God's final word:  God has sworn that those who now garner the grain and labor for wine that's taken by others will soon eat and drink it in God's holy courts. And indeed, the leaders soon returned from exile:  Israel would continue to struggle and know foreign rule, it was not yet the Day of the Lord or the coming of the Messiah, but the temple was rebuilt, and the people saw God's faithfulness.

 

 This week Haiti, and her capital Port-au-Prince, suffered a disaster surely on the order of Jerusalem's.  We've all seen the heartbreaking pictures of suffering and destruction.  As we've watched the tragedy unfold, we've also heard people talking about Haiti.  The most notorious comment, predictably, came from the evangelist Pat Robertson.  On his show the 700 Club he explained why Haiti had experienced this disaster. I'm quoting:  "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti that people may not want to talk about.  They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever . . .  and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out.  You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other." 

[As an aside, when I was watching clips from the 700 club, I saw interviews with the leader of their relief organization, “Operation Blessing,” and was impressed.  I was also surprised to hear that they are coordinating their relief efforts through “Partners in Health,” and organization which Summit supports and which comes from a very different political perspective.  I think it shows that on the ground in the face of need Christians can work together – and be known by our love].

 The comment was roundly - and rightly - condemned.  Even the young woman with him on the show seemed a bit stunned.  But it didn't come out of nowhere.  It was a striking example in long tradition – inside and outside the church - of blaming victims for tragedy.  That tradition comes out of a theological problem:  if God is loving, just and powerful, why is there so much suffering, especially in the natural order? I think it's bad theology to point to the sins of the stricken and see it as punishment from God, but faithful people have done so, from the prophets to Christians struggling with their own illnesses, even - according to one report I read - from some Haitians after the earthquake.  Such explanations can come from honest theological wrestling with a question that has no good answer.

 But Robertson's comment also comes out of another, less honorable tradition:  that of Haiti bashing.  That story about a pact with the devil began when Haitian slaves freed themselves with the first successful slave revolt in the New World and struck fear into the hearts of slave owners everywhere.  More recently, people point to Haiti's terrible poverty and environmental destruction, and shake their heads. David Brooks, in a column for the NY Times this week, dismissed centuries of slavery, colonialism, foreign military occupation (ours) and their niche in the world economic order to lay the blame for poverty on Haitian child rearing practices and a culture of poverty.[i] Others shake their heads at the violence and political corruption in the country, overlooking our long complicity in it. And then there's voudou:  thanks to Hollywood, a religious faith held by millions of people worldwide has been reduced to a grade-B horror movie script that portrays it as the source of all kinds of evil.  And then there were the hurricaines.  And now the earthquake. The nations look at Haiti and they see a nation called Forsaken.  They see a land called Desolate.

 But the words of Isaiah echo across the centuries to say the nations are wrong.  One can imagine Isaiah speaking today: “For Haiti's sake I will not keep silent; and for the sake of Port-au-Prince I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.  The nations shall see your vindication, and all the rulers your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.”  Just as God assured Israel that her ruin was not a sign of abandonment or a badge of shame, we can trust that God is standing with Haiti, that God has not left the land.  The suffering of Haiti's people is not what defines Haiti and it will not be the last word. One day justice will come:  the greed of the powerful - inside and outside Haiti - the violence among nations, the sinfulness of the world, will  be reversed. People will see that Haiti's suffering does not come from a deficiency in her people.  And Haiti will have a new name among the nations, her true name, "God's Delight is in Her."

 So what is our call, in this meantime in which we live? It's to get ourselves in line with God's purposes.  To witness to God's compassion, justice and love.  First, with prayer.  Second, by being generous.  With our money. Third by seeking to better understand Haiti and the root causes of her people's suffering, which are complex, with plenty of responsibility to go around and in which we share. And then to work for justice, to change those systems that underlie poverty and violence, as we turn our hearts to God and all God’s people.

 

Today is  the day we remember the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King devoted his life to fighting racism and poverty, so it's fitting to acknowledge that racism fuels the Haiti bashing that we hear, and underlies much of her suffering.  I'd like to end with a quote from his speech "Beyond Vietnam," given at Riverside Church in April of 1967:

 

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

 

 Let us pray: 

  



[i] David Brooks, “The Underlying Tragedy,” New York Times, January 14, 2010.  Mr. Brooks has a more nuanced view then I’m presenting here, but I believe I’m summarizing his basic argument accurately:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15brooks.html?scp=2&sq=david%20brooks%20column&st=cse

01/10/10 Sermon: Called By Name -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:43pm
01/10/10 Sermon: Called By Name -- Cheryl PyrchCheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

January 10, 2010

Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Isaiah 43: 1-7

Luke 15: 21-22

 

Called By Name

 In the opening of the movie "Precious," we hear a school bell ring followed by the voice of the main character:  "My name is Claireece Precious Jones."  We soon learn that she goes by "Precious," and we also learn that no one who calls her by that name means it.  She's not precious to her father, who rapes her and has gotten her pregnant for a second time.  She's not precious to her mother, who beats and verbally abuses her.  She's not precious to her classmates, who only see someone big, too big to be attractive in their eyes.  She's not precious to the principal of her school, who shames her for being pregnant and for being left back so many times  (although the principal will also help her). And we know she's not precious to much of the world, the world we also live in, the world that  will only see a poor, obese, Black, pregnant, near-illiterate teenager and not care much what happens to her. The pain and power of the movie lies in the longing of Precious to be called by her name - not mocked by it. And the hope and power of the movie comes as Precious finds people who see her for who she is ----  and for whom she becomes precious in their sight.

 

 

 When Isaiah speaks to the people Israel, they are a people who also long to be called by name and fear they might have lost it.  They thought their name was Israel, that they were Yahweh's people, but then they were conquered by the Assyrian and Babylonian armies.  The walls of Jerusalem were torn down, the city laid waste, the temple destroyed, the leaders of the people banished.  They were hungry and desolate, suffering under Babylonian rule.  What had happened? Had God abandoned them?  Were they no longer God's people?  Or had their God been unable to stand up to the Gods of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon? That would be worse -- for then Yahweh would be a worthless god, hardly the creator of the universe.  Or perhaps God was disciplining them - as the prophets insisted - for their oppression of the poor and neglect of the widow or for their idolatry. They didn't know, but they did know that God, who they thought had chosen them to be a blessing to the peoples of the earth, had gone AWOL.  Or so it seemed. 

 

 

 But then God, through Isaiah, speaks to them:  Do not be afraid. I have called you by name, and you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.  Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold." And the people did return to Jerusalem:  King Cyrus of Persia kicked out the Babylonians;  the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild their city and their temple. 

 

 

 What a comfort these words of Isaiah must have been, as the people waited for their liberation.  How beautiful they are now.  They're a declaration of love, an assurance of pardon: a promise to be always with Israel, especially in times of trouble. But in the midst of these promises you may have noticed some troubling words, where God seems to be taking part in some kind of hostage exchange.  "Because you are precious in my sight," God says, "I give people in return for you; nations in exchange for your life; I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you." It's not clear what that means.  There's no mention of violence against those nations.  It seems to be another time when God is saying prepare for a great reversal.  And we could understand if long-suffering Israel began to indulge in a few revenge fantasies, imagining that as God's most favored nation, they would now be on top, and that Egypt and Seba and Ethiopia, along with a few others, might be at the bottom. If so, God offers a gentle corrective.  Through Isaiah, God says : "bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the ends of the earth -- everyone who is called by my name; whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."  Everyone who God formed and made.  That would be everyone.  Israel belongs to God, but God does not belong to Israel.  God is creator and redeemer of the whole earth.

 

 

 As Christians and inheritors of God's promises  through and with Israel, we believe in the creation and the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.  We believe that God, who promised to gather and redeem all who he formed and made, calls us by name in baptism.  Just as God called Israel.  Just as God called Jesus by name -- beloved son --in his baptism. Just as God called Mary, that other poor pregnant teenager, and Zaccheus, the rich, short tax collector, and Simon Peter, the unlucky fisherman.  In baptism God calls us by name and is with us as we pass through the waters or walk through the fire.  Calls us by name, and honors and loves us.  We are precious in God's sight. 

 

 

 One challenge of the baptized life is to really believe that.  You'd think it would be easy - who doesn't want to believe that they're loved? -  but it's not.  We hear so many competing messages:  from the world around us, our families, the voices in our heads.  Those voices may say were too ugly or poor or incompetent, too slow or heavy or weak to be loved, even by God.  Clareece Precious Jones heard only such messages, and she says it made her feel worthless. Or maybe those messages tell us that we're pretty hot stuff:  successful, smart, handsome; dressing well, money in the bank, winning in sports  -- we hear praise from all quarters and start to believe it's real.  We hear the world telling us how precious we are, so  we don't hear God calling our name. Either way (and most of us hear both messages), we lose sight of who we really are -- precious in God's sight because God made and formed us, not because of anything we've done or anything we haven't.

 

 

 Another challenge of the baptized life is to remember that although we belong to the God, God does not belong to us . That God is the creator and redeemer of the universe; others are also precious in God's sight.

 

You'd think that would be easy, but it's not.  We get so much satisfaciton in thinking that we're favored.  It's so eary to enlist God in our causes, or to think that our comfort and happiness matter above all.  It's so easy to ignore, or deny the needs and suffering of others, both near us and far away.  So easy to forget that to honor and love God, we need to remember that other people - other creatures - are precious in God's sight, and to act accordingly.

 

 

 So as we welcome Jamie and Joy into the baptized life, as we remember the baptism of our Lord, and as we remember our own baptisms, we celebrate that God has called us by name: that we are precious in God's sight -- but that we're not the only ones. May we all learn to live into that baptismal call. 
12/24/09 Sermon: When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing -- Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:42pm
12/24/09 Sermon: When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing -- Cheryl PyrchCheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 24, 2009

Luke 2: 1-20

When Scientists Speak and Angels Sing

 

 When Luke wrote that Augustus ordered "all the world" to be registered, the world he knew was the Roman Empire and a bit beyond -  not the world we know, the world we've seen from space.  Later, when Luke traces the family tree of Jesus back to Adam he counts 75 generations – hardly the 200 thousand years or so that humans have been around, depending on when you start counting in the complicated history of our evolution.  We see the world and ourselves differently than Luke, because of the stories that scientists tell us. The stories of the creation of the earth four and a half billion years ago -- with ice ages and dinosaurs, and practically no life on it at all for its first 2 billion years.  Scientists tell us that if we imagine the lifespan of earth from it's beginning until now as a 24 hour day, mammals appeared twenty minutes ago -- and humans have been around for about 30 seconds.  Astronomers tell us that our solar system is only one of many in the galaxy of the milky way, which is only one galaxy among billions:  and if we imagine the milky way as the size of the United States, our solar system is the size of a quarter (NASA website). These stories are fantastic, stranger than fiction, unbelievable:  but true.  Not necessarily in all their details:  scientists will be the first to say our understanding of the universe is constantly changing.  Not every scientist is right, or even honest:   they're human.  And we know science can be used for good or evil.  But the scientific community has proven itself trustworthy in matters of science.  We should listen to them.

 

But it's hard.  It's hard because what they tell us is mind-boggling:  the math alone is staggering.  It's hard because sometimes they tell us things we don't want to hear.  They tell us that not only our bodies are fragile and vulnerable – which we know - but human life itself is fragile:  that if we want human beings and other living creatures to continue on this earth we'll need to change our ways now.  And it's hard  because  the more we learn about the height and the depth and the length of the universe, the smaller we know ourselves to be.  We wonder:  our lives and our loves, our beliefs, those things we hold most dear:  what do they matter in a universe with billions of galaxies, when we’re only a dot on a quarter in a galaxy the size of the United States?  What do our commitments mean when all great civilizations have risen and fallen within the last 30 seconds of the earth's 24 hour lifespan?  When we ponder, in our hearts, what scientists tell us, the knowledge is too wonder-ful for us:  unsettling, disturbing. So most of us become science deniers, in fact if not theory. We enjoy the benefits of science and technology, while closing our ears to what scientists tell us about the earth and the stars and all that lies beyond.  And sometimes, as Christians, we use our stories -  of Adam and Eve, of Jesus, of the end times - to argue against the scientific ones.

 

But there's no need.  For this is what the Christmas story says, and what we proclaim the year round: that the creator of those billions of galaxies came to dwell on this earth with us.  During the reign of Augustus, in an Empire long  gone.  As an infant, with no protective or magical powers.  To an unremarkable family:  Mary's family tree was not worth mentioning.  In a time like our own, full of frightened politicians:  they would eventually  kill Jesus. Our Christian story also says that angels - historically unverifiable, scientifically unprovable angels - came to shepherds, shepherds living in the fields with nothing between them and the vast night sky - to tell them the news.  The news that born this day is a savior, Christ the Lord;  a savior for us, we who spin on this tiny planet in this huge universe.  The angels told them that God wills peace on this earth, no matter how many other planets and stars and galaxies God has:  and that God favors us, all people, no matter how brief our time on earth. The angels told the shepherds and they tell us that the creator of the universe comes to us in love. 

 

Now THAT is mind-boggling.  And if we can receive this good news, if we can hear the song of the angels,  then perhaps we can find the heart to love God back, and to care for each other and all creation as God loves us.  Perhaps we can find the courage to listen to what the scientists are telling us.  Perhaps we can find the will and way to peace on earth:  so that one day the whole world may give back the song which now the angels sing. 
10/18/09 Sermon - You Are My Witness - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:41pm
10/18/09 Sermon - You Are My Witness - Cheryl PyrchCheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

October 18, 2009

Acts 1:1-14

You Are My Witnesses

(Preached on the 125th Anniversary Celebration of Summit Presbyterian Church)

 

 Halloween is just around the corner, the season for witches, goblins --  and ghosts.  Since the children have gone to Sunday School I can say this:  ghosts are not those white, amoeba-like creatures we see in cartoons. That's a fiction adults have created so they can have a fall-back Halloween costume when Spiderman or Princess Leia is sold out.  Ghosts also are not - and it's important to say this since All Saints Day follows Halloween -- ghosts are not loved ones who've passed on that we still talk to, whose presence we feel:  when the man in the song says, "Good night, Irene," he's not talking to a ghost, but to his wife whom he loves and misses.  Ghosts are dead people who have come back, usually with unfinished business, to haunt houses and graveyards.  If we catch a glimpse of them - in a mirror, perhaps - they usually look like themselves, fully clothed but softer, and transparent.  We don't often see them, though.  They prefer to remain invisible so they can do those things that ghosts do:  slam a door in another part of the house; type invisibly on a computer screen; move the salt shaker from one side of the table to the other. Ghosts usually spook people, but they can be friendly or come with messages. .  .  Sometimes, when I'm giving a children's sermon and trying to explain Jesus - always a bad idea - I'll say something like Jesus died, but then he was alive again and came back to his friends.  He's still with us now, even though we can't see him or touch him.  And I think to myself: I'm describing a ghost.  A kind and gentle ghost who may comfort them when they're scared, but a ghost, nonetheless. 

 The disciples knew that the resurrected Jesus was not a ghost.  He did some of the things that ghosts do:  He would appear suddenly to them while they were talking, and just as suddenly disappear. They couldn't hold onto him and show him to other people - like Pontius Pilate or King Herod - and say, see?  He's back.  But they knew he was alive, for he presented himself to them by many convincing proofs.  He ate with them --  and we all know that ghosts don't need to eat or have any interest in food.  He showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him -- for, as Jesus pointed out, "a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."  He was alive!  Luke tells us that the resurrected Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures, talked about the Kingdom of God, and enjoyed broiled fish and bread. 

 It was amazing.  But as day followed day of Bible study, theological discussion, and eating the disciples must have  wondered:  is this it?  It was lovely to have Jesus with them again, but did God raise him from the dead only to spend more time with his friends? Wasn't he going to do more than talk? So as the 40th day of his return approached, they gathered up their courage.  Forty was an important number in God's time:  it rained 40 days and 40 nights on the ark.  The people of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness.  Jesus spent 40 days fasting before he began to preach and heal.  If anything more was going to happen, it would happen then. So they gathered up their courage to ask the question: their most fervent hope, the question that mattered to the whole people of God, not just their small circle:  Was this the time he would restore the kingdom to Israel?  Was this the time when he who rose from the dead would throw off the Roman yoke and liberate his people,  restoring the reign of David?  This question mattered not only to the people of Israel but to the whole world.  For it was with the restoration of Israel that all the nations would come to worship on God's Holy Mountain. It was with the restoration of Israel that nations would beat their swords into plowshares and the wolf would lie with the lamb.  "Lord," they asked, "is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"

 And then Jesus said something that must have disappointed them:  "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority." In other words:  no.  This was not the time.  But before they could fully take that in, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven - their jaws undoubtedly dropped - two men in white robes suddenly appeared.  "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  Then they got it.  He had gone in a cloud and would come in the clouds.  We think that's odd and primitive:  we know there are hundreds of billions of galaxies so we search for the metaphorical meaning.  But the disciples didn't need to search.  They knew the vision of the prophet Daniel.  They knew what coming on the clouds meant: that one like a human being would come in power and glory and everlasting dominion.  That the arrogant and evil empires of the world would fall away under the reign of God. And they remembered what Jesus had said:  that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, power to be his witnesses.  Witnesses in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Witnesses to all he had done and taught.  Witnesses to the power of God who raised him from the dead and lifted him into heaven.  Witnesses that the risen Christ was no ghost, limited to talking with his friends or moving the salt shaker, ready to return to the abode of the dead when he tired of those games. Witnesses that in the Risen Christ, at a time that was not for us to know, the glory and power of God would triumph. 

 

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

 Two thousand years later, we are a world in peril. A peril those first disciples could not have imagined, even in their perilous world. Thousands of nuclear weapons are on hair-trigger alert around the globe. Weapons much bigger than those dropped on Hiroshima, weapons our presidents and generals have considered using in nearly every war:  the next one may well be the war to end all wars.  The arctic ice is melting and as the earth warms even conservative scientists worry about a tipping point that could start a chain of unstoppable catastrophes, possibly ending human life on this earth. And always, neighbors near and far are in peril: from hunger, homelessness, car bombs and guns.  And I wonder:  why aren't we in the streets?  Why aren't we meeting in each other's homes every night planning ways to stop the madness.  Why aren't we all rappelling from bridges with signs that say "Danger, Climate Destruction Ahead!" or chaining ourselves to fences? 

 There are many reasons, but surely one of them is that it all just seems too much.  The danger is so great, the scenarios mind-boggling;  the solutions so complex and hard to agree on;  the powerful so strong and rich, our resolve so weak.  We feel powerless.  And it's no wonder we feel powerless over the fate of the earth:  we're powerless over alcohol! We're powerless in the face of our grief, our depression, our busy schedules. We're powerless over that piece of chocolate cake on the second shelf in the fridge. Making it through our life with some decency and order may seem all we can manage.  So for many of us, signing an online petition or writing a modest check to the peacemaking fund is the limit of our activism.

 But we, the church, have been given power: power through the Holy Spirit.  Power to be witnesses.  Witnesses to all that Jesus did and taught about loving our neighbor and our enemy, healing the sick, bringing down the mighty from their thrones and raising up the lowly.  Witnesses to the Risen Christ, who overcame death with life and ascended into heaven;  witnesses to the power of Christ that assures us the biggest stockpile of fully-loaded, radioactive, longest-range missles can be turned into plowshares.  Witnesses to the power of Christ that assures us the wolf can lie down with the lamb and be led by a child; that human beings aren't destined to extract every drop of oil from the sea or burn every piece of coal in the ground, choking the planet and life on it.  Witnesses to the power of God that assures us that in a world of billionaires and bailouts the hungry can be filled with good things.  Witnesses that in a time and period that is not ours to know,  love will finally win over indifference, peace over violence, wisdom over folly. 

 And so we're called to witness.  To turn to the work of proclaiming the Risen Christ, until he comes again. By cooking a meal or bringing cans of food to church.  By offering hospitality to homeless families, calling on someone who is sick, welcoming a visitor, teaching children.  By upping the ante, and joining with others inside and outside the church for a little street action -- and Summit has done that, I read about it in the history!   It doesn't mean telling people not to worry about nuclear catastrophe because God will intervene before it's too late. It doesn't mean telling people that even if the world descends into chaos, Christ will come at the 11th hour to rescue Christians.  It means proclaiming that the good we do will not be in vain, the justice we achieve will stand in eternity, the love we share will endure. 

 

 And when such a witness seems daunting we can remember that we've been given power as the church, not as Cheryl or Charles, Anne or Don.  We've been given this power as the church so that together we can be nourished by the Holy Spirit, scripture, tradition and reason. We've been given this power as the church so we can comfort and encourage one another, rejoicing in our diversity and joining together in service to others.  We've been given this power as the church, so we can be fearless.  We've been given this power as Summit Church, 125 years strong, here at Westview and Greene, but also as the holy, catholic church, stretching across time and space. 

 And when the Spirit feels weak, the power lacking;  when the necessary work of repairing the roof, organizing the coffee hour, dealing with L & I inspectors and finding teachers for the Sunday School threatens to overwhelm us, we know what to do:  start praying. Pray like Peter and John, and James and Andrew and Philip and Thomas and Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James and those certain women including Mary the mother of Jesus. Start praying joining our prayers with P'Nai Or, the congregations around us, with the holy catholic church, with people of hope everywhere:  start praying and keep on praying, so we may be witnesses to the power, and love, of God. 

January '10 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 27, 5:39pm
January '10 - Pastor's Pen Praying Together

When do we pray?  As a congregation we pray on Sunday when we praise God in song, confess our sins, share joys and concerns for ourselves and the world, and seek to be guided by scripture. We begin and end committee and board meetings with prayer.   We pray together before Elder Diner and potlucks.   As pastor, I pray with people at the hospital and in my office and over the phone, usually at times of heightened grief, joy or anxiety. I know many of you pray daily, guided by devotions from the Upper Room or other publications.   Families may pray before meals and parents with children at bedtime.

But, as typical liberal/mainline Protestants, most of us don’t come easily to prayer, especially with each other. We lack the prayer books of more liturgical traditions or the outspoken piety of evangelical churches. Praying together, especially out loud, can feel awkward or intrusive.  I may be wrong (and please tell me if I am), but I’m guessing  few people at Summit pray with each other outside of Sunday worship or meetings.

 

But prayer is our primary mission and reason for being called into the Church. Good works are vital expressions of discipleship, but good works can also be done outside of the Church.  Our faith draws us into community, but wonderful communities are also created outside of churches and other religious institutions.  Prayer is a special calling of the Church (and Synagogue, Mosque and Temple).   People of faith are called to come before God on behalf of the world, giving thanks and praise, interceding for others, and petitioning for help.  That is our holy calling.

So we (the Session) invite you to more prayer.  Every Thursday morning, at 8:00 in the pastor’s office, we’ll pray together for half an hour.  We won’t talk about prayer and we won’t do business.  We will simply pray, finding our way from week to week as we learn ways to pray together for our church, the world, and for each other.   You are welcome to come every week or when you are able.  You may share concerns or pray silently and you may come and go quietly as needed.  We will not have a “leader” and we will see where the Spirit leads us.  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  (Romans 8:26)

Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl

December '09 - Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Dec 9, 3:02pm
December '09 - Pastor's Pen

I am writing this “Pastors Pen” the day that the architectural firm Runyan & Associates gave us their assessment of what needs to be done to keep our buildings safe and beautiful:  from bolstering the tower to replacing the roof to repointing the stonework to keep it in place. It was a long and expensive list – at least at first glance. I was relieved to hear the architects say that not everything needs to be done right away.  I was glad to hear that many other historic churches are facing these problems and finding solutions.  And I was  heartened to remember that we’re not in this alone:  our friends at Partners for Sacred places are ready with sound advice and  - if we qualify - financial aid. Nonetheless, it was sobering news, and I wondered if I was the only one who felt a bit overwhelmed!

 

But then I had the blessing of meeting with people who were interested in joining Summit Church and I was reminded of why we are taking on the challenge of restoring our space. To worship God and reach out to people who are longing to hear God’s Word, find community and serve others. To witness to the resurrection at the time of death, in a space that reflects the beauty and  peace of God.  To teach our children the Christmas story and see their joy in being in the pageant.  To welcome teens  for basketball, conversation and games – a record number have been coming this fall.  To have a kitchen and parlor from which to cook and invite elders from the community to fellowship each week.  To have a place for the community to dance, do karate, paint, write, hold meetings, play and sing.  To offer space for the P'nai Or congregation to worship and study. Truly God is in this place.

 

We have heard from the architects.  Our next step is to develop a plan that will support the mission of the church. Every decision we make about our buildings will be guided by the question:  how will this support our mission? And as the Trustees and Session develop this plan we’ll be seeking YOUR input, questions and guidance.  All members and friends will be invited to potluck suppers in the new year to talk in small groups, so we may refine our vision for the church and develop a restoration plan that supports it. I’m looking forward to these conversations and to discerning together how we can best serve God in this place.

Grace and Peace,


Cheryl Pyrch

Stewardship Moment for Mission II -- Peggy MacGregor by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 23, 10:01am
Stewardship Moment for Mission II -- Peggy MacGregor

This is our second Minute for Mission related to the Stewardship Drive.  I’d like to spend a little time talking about Summit’s mission and how it is tied to this building. 

A few weeks ago there was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about First Presbyterian Church in Germantown and the decisions they are making about the needs in their neighborhood and the concerns they have about overdrawing on their $5 million endowment.

I thought ‘Wow!  I wish we had a $5 million endowment to worry about and then I thought, why don’t we?  In fact, why doesn’t Summit have any endowment?  So I talked with a few people and read some of Mercer Tate’s Mission on the Hill, and this is part of what I found:

Summit Church has always been on mission in one way or another and they have given everything to this mission.  When they first started meeting as a Sunday school and decided to become a church, individual donations from the congregation built what is now Fellowship Hall.  The congregation grew and they decided to add another building – our sanctuary.  At the same time they raised the money for the building, they were spending 50% of their general budget on benevolence, mostly at that time to foreign missionaries.  The church went on doing this for many years, even while adding the parish hall and the manse.  Summit really gave of itself completely over the years up through the 50’s – half to foreign missions and half to the buildings to minister locally.

Harder times followed as times changed and church membership declined (as it did all over the country), but Summit has never stopped being on mission, although it looks different.  Now, our official benevolence budget is 10% of our general funds and it is directed locally.  For example, one of the groups we support with money, food, and time is the Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry, which right now is looking for special Thanksgiving donations which you will see in your bulletin, and they need to be in by November 22.

Our unofficial benevolence budget consists of all we have done to take care of and to open to the wider community these buildings which were scrimped and saved for and carefully built by so many people who came before us.  Although we don’t need beautiful stone buildings to come together with a caring pastor and staff to create a Christian community of worship, praise, prayer, learning, and service, because Summit is here today 100 children can be cared for five days a week, and 200 children from neighboring communities can also come to take dancing lessons five days a week.  Because Summit is here, 50-60 teenagers can come for basketball, food, and friendship every other Friday night, and there are hopes to make it every Friday night.  Because Summit is here, 25 neighborhood elders can have a hot lunch every Tuesday.

Because Summit is here, a small Jewish congregation can meet together two days a week, Mt. Airy Learning Tree can have nine of their classes here, and Girl Scouts, Weavers Way, West Mt. Airy Neighbors, and other community groups can meet.  On our third floor, seven non-profit businesses, which serve hundreds of people, can have their offices here.  And in addition to all this, each week at least 15 other groups use different spaces here – sometimes there can be 3 different groups using the parlor on one day, and some nights there are 6 things going on between 4:30 and 9 PM. 

Because Summit is here, 58 people have full or part-time jobs, 600-700 adults and children are in and out of the building each week, and some of these people are serving hundreds of other people all across the state and the country.

I have come to realize that these buildings are the endowment left to us by those who came earlier.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us a yearly return of an extra 5% to spend; in fact we underwrite the expenses of many of the groups who use our buildings, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to be here.  I feel good that in the long tradition of Summit Church we have used this endowment to give freely to many in our community, even or especially to some of those who would never think of going to church.  We have given quietly and often in such a manner that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.  I hope you will treasure this long ministry and prayerfully consider how you can continue to contribute to it.

 

By Peggy MacGregor

Stewardship Moment for Mission I -- Rob Roy MacGregor by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 23, 10:00am
Stewardship Moment for Mission I -- Rob Roy MacGregor

 Three weeks from today, the Session will be asking each of us to commit financial resources to the running of our collective household, named Summit Presbyterian Church.  This request for support is called a “Stewardship commitment”. 

 What is stewardship?  Well, it’s the act of functioning as a Steward.  The dictionary defines a steward as one who manages and administers property and/or financial affairs of another;  one who is in charge of the household of another;  and stewardship is having accountability for something that belongs to someone else.  Historic examples of this position include Prince John who took over stewardship of England while Richard the Lion-Hearted was off to the crusades and then a captive in the middle east, but relinquished the crown when Richard returned.  More contemporary, some of us may have been stewards of our aging parents’ affairs, or for a brother or sister overseas in the military.  The key element here is the idea of acting on behalf of another’s best interest, without a feeling of ownership.

 The Christian world view teaches that we are stewards of the resources which God has put under our control:  brains, athletic ability, musical gifts, carpentry, chef skills, ability to earn and accumulate money and property, and so on.  These are rightly called “Gifts” - from God, to be managed in His stead.  David’s prayer at the beginning of the Temple construction describe our relationship to God’s gifts:

 

 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power

and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

 For everything in heaven and earth is yours.

 Wealth and honor come from you;

 You are the ruler of all things.

 In your hands are strength and power

to exalt and give strength to all.

 Everything comes from you,

and we have given you only what comes from your hand.

 

 So, what does that mean for us as Christians, and as members of the Summit family? Like all families, and family businesses, we have a number of expenses:  our programs such as Christian Education including REACH, Evangelism and Growth activities, Benevolence giving managed by the Deacons, Elder Diner, the music program (including organ and piano maintenance), etc.  Also there are utilities, building upkeep, insurance, taxes, salaries, etc.  For this current year the total cost to run the church was slightly less than $350k. Because we operate as a community center as well, the budget was supported by almost $180k of rental income.  Stewardship pledges and collections came to a bit more than 160k.  Now, if we have 40 giving units, that would be an average of $4,000 each, or about $75 a week, $300 a month.  Obviously God has granted each of us different gifts and talents, and so some Summit family members have more financial resources to offer to support the family, while others have more talents and time to contribute.  I’m telling you all this just to help you to realize that families don’t function without resources - including money. 

 In the next few weeks we will talk a bit about Summit as a Mission on the Hill, about all of the activities that our Summit family supports, and what next year’s budget is projected to be.  And we will be asked to recognize our responsibility to support the family and to make a realistic but generous pledge toward the 2010 budget -  Summit’s 126th year of mission.

 

By Rob MacGregor
Ben Labaree by Janet Trousdale on Nov 22, 6:44pm
Ben LabareeDear Jean, So sorry to hear about Ben. I've thought of you often through the years. I will be in touch later. Love from the rest of the Trousdale's also. Warmest best wishes. Janet
November '09 Pastor's Pen by Chelsea Badeau on Nov 18, 1:58pm
November '09 Pastor's Pen

How Do We Say Thank You?

 

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have argued over the role of "works," or deeds, in salvation.  To simplify, one side (while acknowledging that it is Christ who saves)  has held that actions matter, that good works or lack of them can lead to eternal salvation or damnation.  This side upholds the importance of following God's commands and loving neighbor, but at its most extreme turns into "works righteousness": the idea that we can earn our way into heaven through good behavior, in a sense saving ourselves. The other side (while acknowledging we should do good works) has insisted that salvation belongs solely to God, that we can't "control" God, or make God save us through our deeds.  This side upholds the grace and power of God in Christ, but at its most extreme turns into the doctrine of double predestination: people are chosen to be saved or damned before they're born, and nothing they do can change that. Reform churches who follow John Calvin (such as Presbyterians!) have tended to err in that direction.

 

There's no easy way to resolve the tension between grace and works, but happily most Christians  - in all churches - live somewhere in the middle. We know we're capable of doing good, that our actions matter, that we can't expect to side with evil or be indifferent to neighbors without consequences.  At the same time, we recognize that we're dependent on God's grace not only for salvation but also for the good we do.  That our tendency to sin is so stubborn, even the most virtuous among us are always in need of forgiveness and help.

 

The good news is that God's forgiveness is always there.  That Christ stands waiting, in love, to guide us back on the right path.  So how do we say thanks? Through word and song and prayer, especially in worship together.  But also - completing the circle - through good works. Good works are the concrete expression of our  thanks, and are irrepressible when we're grateful.  The "Thanksgiving Hymns" at the back of our hymnal testify to this connection between gratitude and works, between saying thanks and rendering thanks through deeds of love and service:  "Lord, teach us all an attitude that thanks You all our days, a love that shows our gratitude through deeds that live our praise."  (#556)

 

This month we offer thanksgiving through prayer and song but also through deed, by bringing food to the Germantown Avenue Crisis Ministry and by making a financial pledge for  the work of the church.  Please bring cans of food and other non-perishables through the month of November, and on the 22nd, I invite everyone to come with their pledge card and a frozen turkey!  (Or at least a box of brownie mix).

 

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

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