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|6/16/13 Sermon - Showing the Love - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Aug 6, 5:00pm|
|6/16/13 Sermon - Showing the Love - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
June 16, 2013
Showing the Love
The title that comes before this passage in my Bible (and all those titles are put in by editors, they're not in the scripture itself) says, "A Sinful Woman Forgiven." That's true, and a perfectly fine title, but another one could be, "A Profile in Courage." Think about what she did! Everyone knows she's a "sinner" -- which could mean she's a prostitute, or it could mean she's transgressed in some other public way. She's heard that Jesus is eating at the house of Simon, a Pharisee, a respected and devout member of the community. She wouldn't expect to be welcomed at that house, but she goes anyway and enters uninvited. She has with her an alabaster jar of ointment -- alabaster jars of ointment were expensive, so she may have gotten it at some sacrifice. And she stands at the feet of Jesus (who would have been reclining next to the table, she wouldn't have crawled underneath). Now customs and rules about bodily etiquette were different in first century Palestine, especially when it came to feet. (You touched them more!) But even for first century Palestine what she did next was weird. She started weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, rubbing his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with ointment. She was definitely crossing boundaries and being inappropriate. The dinner guests must have been shaking their head, wondering if she had totally lost it. But apparently she didn't care. She cared about showing Jesus her love. A love that came from knowing Jesus loved her, that she was forgiven for whatever she had done. A love that came from knowing she was accepted -- no longer defined only as a "sinner." A love she couldn't contain or control -- she probably didn't intend to weep at his feet. A great love, in the words of Jesus. A love that gave her great courage. A love that was affirmed when Jesus told her to go in peace. A love that Simon didn't seem to notice.
For Simon, too, was focused on Jesus. But Simon was evaluating him. Simon thought that by letting the woman touch him Jesus must not be a prophet. A prophet would know who she was - even if they had never met. A prophet would keep himself ritually clean, and wouldn't let such a woman touch him. Now, to give Simon credit he didn't shame the woman or throw her out. Simon addressed Jesus respectfully and may have even by convicted by what Jesus said. But Simon held back. He wasn't a sinner in any public or dramatic way. He offered Jesus appropriate - if not generous - hospitality. Simon was measured and careful and cautious and watching, wondering, I'm sure, what others were thinking. Possibly aware of his sin deep down but hiding it from God and himself. Keeping silent, like it says in the psalm, clinging to his position as a faithful student of the law, wasting away through his groaning, not able or willing to acknowledge the extent of his sin. And therefore not knowing the joy of forgiveness or the happiness of those whose transgression is forgiven, in whose spirit there is no deceit. And therefore not loving so much.
What would happen if we were more like that woman and less like Simon? Fully trusting in the love and forgiveness of God in Christ right now. That is there. For all of us. What would happen if we cared only about showing our love and our gratitude, and stopped worrying about what other people thought of us.
Our economy might take a nosedive. So much of our spending - even when we're not social climbers - comes out of insecurity, wanting to project a certain image to others and to ourselves.
We might all start acting a bit more unconventionally -- less anxious to please others and fit in.
We'd start caring more for one another -- in big ways and small, globally and locally. For that's what Jesus calls us to do. That's how we show our love for God.
And we'd know the peace and liberation that comes from truly believing we're forgiven and accepted. From laying down the burden of guilt for whatever we've done or been.
It's hard to fully trust in the grace of Christ. It's a life-long, prayerful journey. But this is the good news: when we do, as that brave woman shows us, we can stop caring so much about what other people think -- because the love of Christ is enough. When we trust in God's forgiveness, which knows no bounds - as that brave woman shows us - we can let go of our shame, and stop caring so much about what other people think. That doesn't mean we stop caring about other people -- that's one way we show our love. It doesn't mean we stop listening to other people, including things they may say about us that we need to hear -- because that's part of the caring, part of the loving and turning towards God. But when we can bring our guilt, and sin before God, and trusting the forgiveness of Christ, a burden is lifted. But we can be bolder. More courageous. More loving. Sitting - metaphorically - at the feet of our savior.
|Summer 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jul 8, 12:10pm|
|Summer 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch|
A word in season, how good it is!
A Summer Sermon Series on Proverbs
The warm, long days of summer - lying on a beach, hiking in the woods, or just enjoying a glass of iced tea on the porch after work – have never seemed the best days to finally read Nietzsche or review Biblical Hebrew. Likewise, summer Sundays don’t seem the best mornings to preach on Paul’s understanding of the relationship of grace and works to salvation, or to explore different doctrines of the atonement. So this July, I’ll preach on proverbs in the Bible – short sayings on daily life and the ways of world. Most will come from the book of Proverbs (which we’ve enjoyed reading at Wednesday Bible Study this spring) but I’ll also look at proverbs in the New Testament. Although short and pithy, as the Wisdom of God they can lead us into deep and refreshing spiritual waters.
July 7: Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. (Proverbs 14:34). On this Fourth of July weekend, we’ll reflect on what makes for true national greatness and cause for celebration. We’ll also sing American the Beautiful (as always) and lift up our country and its leaders in prayer.
July 14: Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18). There are many biblical proverbs on the relationship of words – and silence - to peace and violence, wisdom and folly, righteousness and evil. These proverbs resonate in new ways now that the words we say are multiplied and amplified through email, blogs, Facebook, Smart Phones, and Twitter. Is it true that “the prudent are restrained in speech?”
July 21: Better is a little with righteousness than a large income with injustice. (Proverbs 16.8). The biblical proverbs often extol the virtue of hard work and the prosperity that can come with it. But they also teach that money isn’t everything – or even an important thing – and that wealth can be a snare as well as a blessing. We’ll reflect on some of these contradictory and fascinating teachings on money , wealth and poverty.
July 28: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12). Proverbs also speak on the ways of the heart – and the nature of joy and sadness. Written thousands of years ago they could have been written today, and will help us think about the heart’s true home.
I look forward to seeing you in the parlor this summer. And when you’re traveling, I encourage you to worship elsewhere -- your witness will be needed and welcomed wherever the body of Christ is gathered. It’s also fun to see how other people do it!
Grace and Peace,
|June 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 31, 4:59pm|
|June 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch|
A New Design
This past year, after many reports, conversations, debates, meetings, surveys and lots of hard work by a small group of saints, the Presbytery of Philadelphia voted for a “New Design” of our life together. Representatives from the 200+ Presbyterian churches in the area re-organized and renamed committees, sadly ended programs and let go of staff, and imagined new ways of working together.
This New Design – like most re-organizations – was both forced upon us and freely chosen. The impetus for change was a drop in dues and mission giving from churches, as well as a New Form of Government, approved by Presbyteries across the country, that allowed for more local decision-making in both Presbyteries and congregations. This is not the first re-organization of the Presbytery and Philadelphia is not alone – Presbyteries around the country are in various degrees of upheaval as the PC(USA) deals with declining membership, infrastructure overhang from the last century, and new theological challenges and mission fields.
The most striking change in the New Design is that we’ll be meeting less often as a full Presbytery, and more often as regional commissions – smaller groups of diverse but geographically linked churches. Summit is in the Northwest Regional Commission, which includes not only our city neighbors (Oxford, Mt. Airy, Chestnut Hill, Germantown Community, First Germantown, Oak Lane, Cedar Park, East Falls, and several Roxborough churches) but also Ambler, Church on the [Plymouth Meeting] Mall, Valley Forge, First Norristown and others. We’re having our first NW Regional meeting at Oxford Church on Sunday, June 2nd, from 3-5, and it will include worship, an introduction to the new design, and – most important – a potluck picnic. I’m on the leadership team of the Commission, and helped plan the event. All are welcome – not just clergy and elders. I think it will be interesting and energizing, as we pray, talk and eat together!
I think it’s fair to say we’re not sure where we’re going with the New Design. We’ll have to pray a lot and rely on the Spirit to guide us in the months and years ahead. But I’m excited about the chance to become better acquainted with other churches, and to explore ways we might work together. It’s an opportunity to step off our congregational islands, learn more about our Presbyterian neighbors, make friends, and – hopefully – strengthen our collective mission. A mission which remains constant no matter what the design: to worship the Lord with gladness, to proclaim the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, to care for one another and nurture our children in faith, to work for justice and to serve “the least of these.”
There are many ways to get involved! Let me know if you’d like to learn more.
Grace and Peace,
|May 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on May 14, 4:53pm|
|May 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch|
I’m two weeks back from my study leave at a clergy retreat sponsored by the Board of Pensions (called CREDO) and am still abuzz with all I learned and received there. CREDO is a program designed to help pastors renew their body & spirit and encourage self-care. At a beautiful lakeside center in the mountains of North Carolina we heard presentations on vocation, spirituality, health and finances. We talked and prayed in small groups. We worshiped every day – without having to plan! We took walks and enjoyed wonderful food – I especially liked the spicy breakfast sausages and my first experience of banana pudding, a heart-stopping southern specialty. We could detect some tension between the various CREDO goals – lectures on healthy eating followed by comfort lasagna and chocolate cake – but the leaders managed to both pamper us “where we were” and encourage us to do better. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, although returning to Mt. Airy as spring was springing made for a soft landing.
During the week we each created a CREDO plan, a set of goals touching on the different areas we explored. This is one of my goals, and I ask your prayers to keep it: to dwell more deeply in the Word. To pray and reflect on scripture outside of sermon and class preparation. To read books of the Bible from start to finish (rather than in lectionary snippets). To do this I’m exploring different routines in my morning devotions and setting aside 15 minutes during the day for prayer and reflection, away from the phone and computer. I’m also planning two library days a month, to read those books on theology, ecclesiology and church history that have been beckoning from my bookshelves. Not days “off” – I’d still answer email and be around for evening meetings – but days to study. I trust such time will help my preaching (the well is in danger of running dry) but only indirectly. I’m trying to avoid the “moral hazard” of preaching where all scripture, reading and life is seen only for its utilitarian value for next Sunday’s sermon!
I was also given much to think about in terms of leadership and discernment, and I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I also have a few self-improvement goals, beginning with diet – what else? My resolution is simple: to eat only homemade desserts, for the purpose of turning sweets back into a treat rather than a staple. I had the opportunity to put this resolution into practice on my first day back, when I could *only* have a generous slice of German Chocolate Cake (made by Sandy Dorsey) and two different chocolate/nut cookies (made by Dave Rupp) at Elder Diner. Those treats, along with returning to a job I love, made for a soft landing indeed.
Grace and Peace,
|April 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 9, 11:19am|
|April 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch|
April 2013 -
A few months ago, at a meeting of the Social Justice and Environment committee (also known as the Saving the World Committee, or SWC for short) Gayl Koster read an op-ed piece from the Inquirer called “Our Tiny Enclave,” written by Paul Halpern, Professor of Physics at University of the Sciences. The op-ed pointed to several scientific discoveries: the vast, nearly unimaginable size of the universe, the amazing diversity of life on earth, and the overwhelming genetic commonality among human beings. Dr. Halpern suggested that these truths, and an appreciation of the science on which they’re based, might inspire us to work together for peace on this fragile planet.
We on the SWC loved the article, and commissioned Gayl to contact Dr. Halpern to see if he might speak at Summit. She found out that he knew Summit, would be delighted to visit, and was also a member of Mishkan Shalom, our neighboring synagogue in Roxborough. So (consulting Session) we invited him to speak at our Sunday Earth Day service, and also invited Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Mishkan Shalom to join us.
Before saying yes, Dr. Halpern wanted an assurance that he wouldn’t have to speak about religion, but could stick with his area of expertise! We said yes, but that may raise some questions for you: Does a scientist belong in the pulpit, even for one day? Shouldn’t we speak about religious truth on Sunday morning, and save science for the classroom or at least an after-church forum? Are the two really compatible?
These are good questions, as science and religion often seem at loggerheads. They ask different questions. Their methods of inquiry, testing and discernment are different, and their methods can’t be combined (as “creationists” suggest) without creating a mess of falsehoods that does a disservice to both. But they are compatible. For as Christians we believe in one God, creator of the heavens and earth, giver of curiosity, shaper of intellect. We believe that God is revealed primarily through Jesus Christ as attested in scripture, but also that God is revealed in the handiwork of creation, and that God speaks through the Holy Spirit in diverse and manifold ways. We needn’t be afraid of the truths that science reveals – and may find that insights from both science and religion can unite us in a common purpose: working together to care for this wonderful planet and all life upon it.
So on Sunday, April 21st, we will celebrate the resurrection, as we do every Sunday. We’ll also celebrate and give thanks for the gift of science, and pray for peace on earth. The final verse of our final hymn – For the Fruit of All Creation – says it best:
For the harvests of the spirit, Thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit, Thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us, For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all that love has found us, Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
|March 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Mar 6, 2:36pm|
|March 2013 - Pastor's Pen - Cheryl Pyrch|
The Session is getting ready for company. At its March meeting, members from Collenbrook United Church in Drexel Hill will join us to share what it has meant for their congregation to be a "More Light" church (www.mlp.org), and how they came to join the group. In April, members of The First Presbyterian Church of
Philadelphia in Center City will talk about their experience with the Covenant Network of Presbyterians (www.covnetpres.org). The Session has invited them in order to better understand what it would mean to take a formal stand on the welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people. All are welcome to join the Session on March 14th and/or April 18th at 7:30 to hear our guests. The Session is considering a recommendation that Summit join one (or both) of these advocacy organizations, although no decision will be made without full congregational discussion. This series follows the sermon and bible study that we did with guest Dr. Byron Shafer in November.
Grace and Peace,
|2/10/13 Sermon: 'A Glimpse of Glory' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Feb 11, 1:09pm|
|2/10/13 Sermon: 'A Glimpse of Glory' - Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
February 10, 2013
Luke 9: 28-36
A Glimpse of Glory
The disciples had eight days to brood. Eight days to brood over those sayings of Jesus: the saying that predicted his great suffering and death. The saying that the disciples needed to deny themselves to follow him. The saying that those who want to save their life will lose it. The saying that Jesus would be ashamed of all those who were ashamed of him. Jesus also said he would be raised and come in glory - but the disciples couldn't have known what that would mean. On balance, with eight days and nights for their anxiety to mount, and being more familiar with shame than glory, those disciples probably weren't in the most cheerful state of mind when they climbed the mountain with Jesus.
Luke says they were weighed down with sleep. Perhaps they were simply tired, or they may have been frightened and depressed, wanting to escape through sleep. But they managed to fight it off, and when they were fully awake they saw Jesus praying. He was different. The appearance of his face had changed and his clothes were dazzling white; he was in glory. Then, suddenly, two men began speaking with him, but not just any two men . Moses and Elijah, those great prophets of Israel, also in glory. Two prophets who would have assured the disciples that Jesus was the messiah of God, that his coming did fulfill scripture. Luke says the prophets were speaking to Jesus about his departure -- his journey to Jerusalem and all that he was to suffer and accomplish there. We don't know what instructions or what tender words of reassurance they may have been giving him. But the disciples saw them. Who could blame Peter for wanting to stay there, for his offer to build three dwellings. Jesus may have wanted to stay too, to continue talking with Moses and Elijah. He couldn't talk with his disciples about all that was ahead of him. They couldn't understand.
But before anyone could build a dwelling, God overshadowed them with a cloud and the disciples were terrified again. God spoke from the cloud to say, "this is my son, my chosen one, listen to him," and then it was over. They came down the mountain. And once they were down in the valley they were back in the thick of it. Jesus predicted his suffering and death again. The disciples bickered among themselves. Jesus had stern words for them. The opposition to Jesus began to build. There were also joys and successes - healings and miracles - but it was a hard road to Jerusalem and it ended badly with the death of Jesus. Those were dark days right after the crucifixion. Perhaps the memory of this vision helped them to hang on, gave them hope that it wasn't over yet. This vision of Jesus transfigured.
Several times in the gospels Jesus warns his followers to "stay awake!" In Matthew and Mark, he tells the disciples to "stay awake" so they may be prepared for his coming again, for the salvation and judgement of God. When he tells them to stay awake there's an element of warning and danger. He tells a parable of the foolish bridesmaids who fall asleep and get shut out of the banquet. He tells another one about a householder who fails to stay awake is robbed in the night. Jesus also tells his disciples to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemene, while he waits to be arrested. But in this story , we - all of Jesus's disciples - are encouraged to stay awake for another reason. A reason that doesn't have to do with warning and danger. A reason we may find even more compelling. We're encouraged to stay awake so we don't miss a glimpse of the glory of God. So we don't miss a sign of hope, or reassurance or of the majesty of God. Signs that can sustain us at the bottom of the mountain where we live from day to day.
Such glimpses of Glory are just that -- fleeting. We may have trouble believing or trusting them later. But God provides them. They may happen on top of a mountain, or any place of beauty - as the psalmist says, the heavens tell of the glory of God. They may happen in prayer, or when we wake up anxious in the middle of the night, and sense God's presence or comfort. They may come in a moment shared with someone we love, or in worship. They may come when we see the face of Christ in a stranger, or in an act of love or justice. Those moments seem trite when we try to describe them, but it was not just those first disciples who could see the glory of Christ. God provides them to us, too.
But the trick is to keep awake, spiritually awake, especially when we're not in the best state of mind, when we're frightened or depressed. Prayer is the first way to do that -- but we don't have to be champion prayers, even attempts at prayer keep us awake. I find it reassuring that the disciples weren't praying when they saw Jesus glorified, they were watching him pray. We also keep spiritually awake by keeping our eyes and ears open to the beauty around us. By opening our hearts to family, and neighbors and strangers in need. By remembering to give thanks. By reading scripture, by caring for those we love and our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we enter Lent, just one new discipline -- coming to bread and broth, reading scripture with a devotional, saying grace at meals - can be a practice in wakefulness.
Keep awake, therefore! For we do not know the day, or the hour, when we may catch a glimpse of God's glory.
|2/3/13 Sermon - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Feb 11, 1:09pm|
|2/3/13 Sermon - Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
February 3, 2013
Luke 4: 16-30
I’m going to start with last week’s reading. It takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not long after he was baptized and spent 40 days in the wilderness. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus had returned to Galilee and began teaching in the synagogues there. Luke says he was praised by everyone.
Listen to the Word of God, Luke 4: 16-22
If Jesus had just stopped there, it would have been such a nice day. He could have shaken hands with everyone as they made their way to the coffee hour, basking in compliments. Mary and Joseph could have enjoyed some well-deserved moments of parental pride, as people congratulated them on their well-spoken son. Folks could have talked about the sermon over their danish: Didn’t Jesus bring the words of Isaiah to life? Wasn’t it thrilling when he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing? Maybe he'll be the one to lead us into that blessed day when Israel is freed” For this humble assembly in hardscrabble Nazareth would have heard Isaiah's words as good news. Their synagogue would have included poor people and those who were blind. The people were suffering under Roman rule and dreaming of a Free Israel. If Jesus had ended his sermon there, they would have been comforted and inspired. They might even have been energized for a mission project.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He kept going. And this is what he said next:
Luke 4: 23-30
So it wasn’t such a nice day. There they were – stranded on the top of the hill, wondering what happened to that son of Joseph. We don’t know what they did next, but they must have been confused. Upset that their plan had been foiled (but also relieved, for when mob actions get out of hand everyone’s sorry afterwards). But how did things turn so quickly? We must admit - Jesus was provocative, if not downright insulting. Perhaps he sensed that they heard the good news to be only about them, or about them first and foremost -- after all, they were the hometown. They had raised him. They deserved his loyalty, and maybe even some preferential treatment – especially since they didn't get it from anyone else, as the Jerusalem elites looked down on Nazareth. But Jesus says they aren’t going to get it. They can’t look to Capernaum and expect him to do the same thing in Nazareth. He points out that God worked through outsiders in the time of Elijah and Elisha. He implies God will do so again. Jesus knows that once he says those words, he can say good-bye to that hometown welcome. Prophets are never accepted in their hometowns. Prophets are always called beyond them.
So they drove him out of the town and tried to throw him off a cliff. We, the church, can identify with that. We try to get rid of Jesus, too. Since he's not with us in flesh and blood we can't take him to a bridge over the Schuykil; we must use other means. So we say "yes" to his teachings while passively resisting them. Or we soften what he says so that "bringing good news to the poor" begins and ends with a modest donation to One Great Hour of Sharing. The particular message that enrages or distresses us may be different from the one that angered those Nazoreans. (Athough Christians have also always been perturbed by the thought that God may be blessing and working through others). But Jesus raises our hackles. I believe the church in the United States has been trying to get rid of the Jesus who keeps saying we need to lose our life to gain it, for the church hasn't wanted to let go of those trappings of respectability and power that it enjoyed 60 years ago, when everybody went to church. Judging from all our stuff, we don't like it when Jesus says sell what you have and give your money to the poor. I don't know about you, but his instruction to turn the other cheek makes me wanna punch someone.
What Kind of Church Are We? Are we be the kind of congregation that can stay in the pew until the end of the challenging sermon that Jesus is giving (not to be confused with my sermon). Are we the kind of church that can get beyond our anger and grief at a difficult message and still talk - even argue - with Jesus at the coffee hour? Are we the kind of church that actually seeks to follow Jesus? Or do we try and throw him off a cliff?
Like all churches, I believe we're both. When we have our annual meeting today, we'll hear about ministries and read financial reports that reflect faithful discipleship and stewardship. Much faithful discipleship and stewardship. But I believe that in the coming months and years and decades we'll need to work through some some rage and grief as we listen to Jesus. As the climate changes, as inequality grows, as our infrastructure grows older -- both this church building and the infrastructure in our country - Jesus will be calling us to change. To let go of what we consider our "life" - whether it's money, possessions, beliefs we cherish, or certain ways of doing things.
And that will be hard. But it will also be joyful. For there's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than following Jesus. There's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than turning away from idols and growing in the love of God. There's no deeper joy, no greater comfort, than sharing in the life of Christ. As we will do at the table this morning. As we do every time we worship, and care for one another. As we do when we find Christ in service to others, and proclaim God's love fearlessly to all.
|1/27/13 Sermon: 'The Power of the Word' - Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Feb 11, 12:02pm|
|1/27/13 Sermon: 'The Power of the Word' - Cheryl Pyrch|
Summit Presbyterian Church
January 27, 2013
Nehemiah 8: 1-12
The Power of the Word
A number of years ago I was the reader of the New Testament lesson at a friend's wedding in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At the Friday night rehearsal, we were going through our paces. Kids were running around, the pastor was telling people where to stand, the musicians were doing a run-through. It was then my turn to "practice" the reading -- I believe it was Corinthians 13. I read the scripture, and when I looked up I saw that everyone in the sanctuary was standing and looking at me. At first I thought I'd done something wrong, but when I finished the pastor went back to stage directing, people started talking and I realized that this must be what Lutherans do - or at least Lutherans in Kenosha, Wisconsin. When the New Testament is read, everyone stands and looks at the reader. And sure enough, at the wedding, the congregation stood and looked at me when I read. And in the Sunday morning worship service, everyone stood and looked at the reader of the gospel. I'm not suggesting we do that here. But I thought of those Lutherans when I read this passage from Nehemiah about a worship service and the reading of the Word before the people.
It was the people who wanted to hear the Word. The service wasn't scheduled by Ezra the scribe or Nehemiah the governor. All the people gathered together in the square and told Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses. He did so accordingly, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up. When Ezra blessed the Lord, all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands, bowing their heads and worshipping the Lord with their faces to the ground. And then, while the people remained in their places, all those lay teachers -- Levites whose names I didn't try to pronounce - helped the people understand the law. They read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that people understood the reading.
And then all the people wept. It doesn't say why they wept. Perhaps they wept because they saw how far their lives had strayed from the commandments of God. Perhaps they wept because they were so moved by the stories of God's faithfulness to God's people. Perhaps they wept because they were finally back in Jerusalem, the Holy City. Protected by a sturdy wall they had spent months restoring. Worshipping in the temple they had rebuilt on the ruins of the old. Finally at home, hearing those familiar words. We don't know why they wept, but Nehemiah, Ezra, and those who taught the people all said the same thing: "This day is Holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared (in other words, pack styrofoam clamshells for shut-ins) for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." And so they did -- all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
This is the good news of this reading: God has given us a Word we can understand. God has not left us to our own devices. God has not completely shrouded God's self in mystery. God has not abandoned God's creation, leaving us alone, without guidance or instruction. God has given us a Word that tells us how to live. A Word that tells us of God's grace and forgiveness, and that holds out hope and comfort. A Word that assures us peace, justice and love will prevail. We receive this Word in scripture; we receive it through the living Word, the risen Christ; we receive it through the Holy Spirit. Because of God's Word, we don't have to wonder who we are or what we're to do with our lives. We're children of God. Called to love and care for one another, to work for justice and peace. Called to care for creation, and to share the gospel - to render our lives as thanksgiving to God. God is speaking, in a Word we can understand. If we truly believed this, if we fully trusted in the Word, we would also be weeping and rejoicing, day after day and Sunday after Sunday.
I'll admit -- it's not as easy as Nehemiah makes it sound. Even with the help of preachers and teachers God's Word is not self-evident. The scriptures speak of people long ago, in cultures that are opaque to us. It's not always clear how the world of the Bible connects with our world, what "laws," if any, we should apply literally, who we should see as a model and who is actually a negative example. Some of the stories move and comfort us, but others are downright appalling. We often can't agree on what God is saying, even on important matters like war and sex.
But our understanding doesn't need to be complete. It doesn't need to be perfect and it will always be provisional. But God has given us gifts so that we can understand enough for our joy and salvation and the life of the church. The gifts of intelligence, imagination, and love. The gift of each other to share interpretations. The gift of the Holy Spirit, which illumines the Scripture for us. The gift of the living Word in Jesus Christ, the example of his life.
This Lent, the worship committee, the Session, invites you, invites us, to go deeper into the Word. To make our ears attentive to the law and the gospel, just as that congregation was in Jerusalem was so many centuries ago. We can start with a devotional I mention in the announcements. Its a simple one, that suggests one scripture passage each day from one of the four gospels. There is an interpretation of the passage, not the final or only interpretation, but a paragraph to explore the reading, followed by a short prayer. You may also take an Upper Room Magazine - many people in the congregation have told me how helpful it is. You may simply want to read the gospel of Luke from start to finish, and I can suggest a study guide. We will also have a list of other readings. Our Wednesday bread and broth will focus on prayer, prayer which is essential for understanding God's Word. And of course come to church, where we read the Bible together, and I offer an interpretation, aided by scholars - not a final word by any means but a starting point I hope, for your thinking and prayer. God's promise is sure. God's Word - in the Bible and in Christ - can be understood. It may make us weep, but it will also give us strength and joy in the Lord.
|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|
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|
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|
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,
|Commandments for a Hot Planet April 22, 2012 by evan jr. on Apr 25, 8:01pm|
|Commandments for a Hot Planet April 22, 2012|
Summit Presbyterian Church
April 22, 2012
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|
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!
|A Fellowship Complete April 15, 2012 by evan jr. on Apr 25, 7:56pm|
|A Fellowship Complete April 15, 2012|
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|
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,
|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,
|Christmas Day 2011 Sermon - Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Jan 5, 8:50pm|
|Christmas Day 2011 Sermon - Rev. 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|
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.