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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8: 1-12

 

The Power of the Word

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 2, 2012 (Advent I)

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

The Days Are Surely Coming

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 9, 2012 - Advent II

1 Philippians 1: 3-11

Sharing in God's Grace

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

November 25, 2012

John 18: 33-38

 

The Lamb King

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 22, 2012

Exodus 20:1-7

Commandments for a Hot Planet (II - Sabbath)

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 8, 2012

Mark 16: 1-8

 

Easter Fear, Easter Joy

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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


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


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


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

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 15, 2012

1 John 1:1 - 2:2

 

A Fellowship Complete

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

PASTOR’S PEN

 

Forgiven! John 21: 1-19 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Grace and Peace,

 

 

Cheryl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 25, 2011

John 1: 1-14

Do You See What I See?

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl Pyrch

 

Summit Presbyterian Church

 

December 24, 2011

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

December 11, 2011

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

 

Who are We?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talent at Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 17, 2011

Romans 8: 12-25

 

Waiting for the Inheritance

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

July 3, 2011

Romans 7: 15-25

 

Will Power and God's Power

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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