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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

June 26, 2011

Matthew 10: 40-42

 

Courageous Hospitality

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

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

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

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

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –

I keep it, staying at Home –

With a Bobolink for a Chorister –

And an Orchard, for a Dome –

 

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –

I just wear my Wings –

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton – sings.

 

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last-

I’m going, all along. Emily Dickinson 

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

 

Decisions, Decisions 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch - Summit Presbyterian Church

May 15, 2010 - Psalm 23

Wanting and Needing

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

May 8, 2011

Acts 2: 14a, -42b

Cut to the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

Earth Day Sunday - May 1, 2011

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

 

Every One Precious

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Rolling Away the Stone – Together

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

4/24/11 Easter Sermon: 'Rolling Away the Stone' by Rev. Chreyl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 28, 8:15pm
4/24/11 Easter Sermon: 'Rolling Away the Stone' by Rev. Chreyl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday - Matthew 28: 1-11

 

 

Rolling Away the Stone

 

 The body was safe.  Joseph of Arimethea was the first to see to it.  The evening of Jesus's death he went directly to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who had ordered the crucifixion, and asked for it. Pilate ordered it to be given  him, so Joseph wrapped the body of Jesus in a clean linen cloth and lay it in a tomb he had just made for himself.  We have no reason to think Joseph was expecting to need the tomb anytime soon. Perhaps as a man of means he was planning ahead, thinking of his family, wanting to make sure it was done right. But he lay Jesus there instead, and rolled a great stone to the door.  No animals could get in now. No curious passers-by would stick their heads in.  The stone would discourage vandals or grave robbers, even if it couldn't stop a determined thief.  It was what he had planned for his burial. He went away.

 

 

 But the body was not still safe enough for some other folks.  According to Matthew - and every gospel tells it differently -  the Pharisees and chief priests had heard that Jesus told his followers he would rise again after three days. So they worried  the disciples would steal the body and lay it elsewhere so they could claim Jesus had risen and then lead even more people astray. So opponents of Jesus also went to Pilate.  They asked if he would make the tomb more secure.  Pilate told them to take a guard of soldiers to keep watch - he wouldn't have wanted any more trouble from those disciples either.  And the soldiers not only stood guard; they found a way to seal the stone.  Now the body was safe. 

 

 But all those busy men were only thinking of traffic into the tomb.  No one was thinking about the other direction, of Jesus coming out, even though the claim Jesus made that he would rise from the dead had spread to the ears of the authorities.  But Joseph wasn't thinking about it. Either he hadn't heard what Jesus said or he was educated, sober and prudent enough not to give creedence to such crazy talk-- he knew the dead stayed dead.  So he went away once the stone was in place. Pilate and the chief priests weren't thinking about it – they were sure Jesus was a pretender to the throne of David, an imposter or an ordinary troublemaker for the Empire - if anything, this talk about rising from the dead proved it.  We might have expected the disciples to be waiting and wondering-- Jesus had told them directly, more than once, that he would suffer and die but then rise again. But either they didn’t understand, they didn't remember, or they didn't believe it. They scattered as soon as Jesus was arrested;  none of the 12 even followed him to the cross or looked for his tomb.  They may have grieved, despaired, gotten angry or felt abandoned, but they weren't waiting for Jesus.  And the women were not expecting him to come back, either.  They were at the crucifixion, looking on from a distance; and when Joseph buried Jesus they were also there, sitting opposite the tomb.  But Matthew tells us they went at dawn to see the tomb - not to see Jesus. To remember and grieve him, yes, but not to see him.

 

 

 

 

 But when they arrrived, the earth suddenly shook. An angel descended from heaven and rolled away the stone, sitting on it.  The guards fainted, but he declared to the women that Jesus was not there: they could see for themselves. Jesus had left the tomb! The reality of his death hadn't kept him in.  The great stone, heavy as it was, hadn't kept him in.  The guards and their latest tomb-sealing technology hadn't kept him in. The body was no longer safe.  It was on the loose!  On the loose to show that God's power was greater than the power of death.  On the loose to show God's justice was greater than that of the Empire,  with all it's death-dealing justice machinery.  On the loose to show that God's grace was greater than the lack of faith or understanding on the part of his disciples.  On the loose to show that God's forgiveness was greater than the betrayal and abandonment of Jesus' friends. On the loose to show that God's love was greater than the grief and sadness of the women at the tomb. And so the women left the tomb with fear and great joy and met that body on the road. "Greetings," it said, and told them not to be afraid.  And the women were filled with great joy.

 That body is still on the loose.  Yes, the body of Jesus - with the feet that the women took hold of - is gone.  We say it ascended into heaven, although Luke is the only gospel writer who even tries to explain how that happened.  The Body of Jesus is gone, but the Body of Christ is not.  The Body of the Risen Christ is still on the loose.  In the church - we hope and pray - and anywhere else the Holy Spirit may choose to work.  Giving hope and comfort to those who mourn, assuring them of eternal life with God.  Giving courage and strength to those tortured and imprisoned by the Empires of our own day, including our own,  proclaiming that God's power is greater than that of any nation, no matter how heavily armed.  The Body of Christ is on the loose, standing in solidarity with those who hunger and thirst, and blessing those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, until all have enough. The Body of Christ is on the loose, granting us faith and trust in God even as we wrestle with doubts and questions.  The Body of Christ is on the loose, filling troubled hearts with joy and gladness, grounding us in love, drawing us together with each other and with all faiths and families of this fragile and beautiful earth. 

  The body of Christ is on the loose and the body of Christ is not safe.  It's on the loose in the most dangerous places and among the most disreputable folks.  Although God's ultimate victory is assured, demonic powers are still wreaking havoc from pole to pole - standing against them can be dangerous.  And the Risen Christ makes risky, unreasonable demands - from giving away our money to loving our enemies.  We sometimes try and push Jesus back into the tomb.  We proclaim a Christ that only cares about our personal salvation, or we proclaim a prosperity gospel,  or we proclaim that Christ is dead and no intelligent person would believe in such a crazy thing anyway.  But we can't do it.  The power of God is greater.  God's grace and love breaks through any stone we may try and place in front of it.  Christ is Risen!  Alleluiah!  Amen. 

4/22/11 Good Friday Sermon: 'It Is Finished' by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 28, 8:14pm
4/22/11 Good Friday Sermon: 'It Is Finished' by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Community Good Friday Service

April 22, 2011

Oxford Presbyterian Church

“It is Finished”

 A few years ago a movie came out with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman called “The Bucket List.”  Nicholson and Freeman are cancer patients who’ve been given 6 months to live.  They put together a list of things they’d like to do before they “kick the bucket”  and start off on an adventure of “extreme experiences”:  jumping out of airplanes, riding a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, driving racecars, eating caviar – before reconciling with family and spending time at home. The critics didn’t like it much but it was a box office success and it inspired a bucket-list industry on Google.  You can now find websites with bucket lists from all kinds of people, as well as post your own. 

 

 Even without seeing the movie (I haven’t, although I’ve heard it’s good) –  many of us have a “dream list”  - even if it's only in our heads - of things we’d like to do or see in our lifetime.  Our lists may be less spectacular and less expensive than the Freeman-Nicholson one,  but probably no less interesting.  Ones I’ve read online include: read Pride & Prejudice, go ice fishing, visit the 7 continents, lose weight, get married, buy a beach house, have 2 children, learn to spin yarn,  teach Sunday School and grow in Christ.  Our lists may look like shopping lists or travel itineraries; they may include spiritual disciplines or self-improvement regimes.  The goals may be altruistic or hedonistic, they may be faith-oriented. relationship-oriented, money-oriented, or all of the above.  But no matter how different our “life lists”  they all have something in common.  But no matter how different, reflect the belief that a life well-lived is one where we’ve fulfilled our potential or used our gifts (more or less); achieved goals; followed our dreams and had many experiences. The bucket list vision of a well lived life recognizes our time is limited and precious, and that we should make the most of it.  It requires a degree of freedom and wealth.  It’s a vision – I think – most of us in our culture hold, even if the particulars are very different.

 

 According to John, the last words of Jesus were, “It is finished”  or “It is accomplished.”  As you’re heard the other preachers say, in John Jesus is in control when he goes to the cross, and he’s in control when he dies.  He didn’t struggle for a last breath:  he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  He knew his hour had come – he had nothing left on any list.  His life was a perfect life, but it was a quiet one by our standards.  Yes, he raised Lazarus from the dead, made a blind man see and a lame man walk, fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish and walked on water.  But he spent most of his time in conversation:  with a woman at a well, with other rabbis in the temple, with his disciples before he washed their feet. As far as we know, he never traveled outside of Palestine,  He never married, or planned a wedding – although he provided wine for one.  He never had children.  He might have been a carpenter, although John doesn’t say so, only Mark.  He knew scripture but probably didn’t go to school and had no degrees.  He would have had a monotonous diet, probably didn't play sports, and owned very few possessions. His life was simply to do the will of the one who sent him, completing the work he was given. And when it was finished, it was finished.

 

  As we survey the cross, we see the life we’re called to lead. It’s not to see all there is to see, although travel may be a gift we enjoy.  It’s not to seek after new and rich experiences, although God may lead us to unexpected places.  It’s not to acquire money or possessions, nor is it to see how little we can live on in a quest for purity. It’s not even to have a family, make friends, or volunteer in a soup kitchen, even though we may do those things as we grow in love.  Goal setting has its place, but there’s only one thing that needs to be on our bucket list:  to do the will of the one who loves us.  To do the will of the one who died for us, the one who was raised for us, the one who reigns in power for us and the one who prays for us. May we learn to seek only that. 

4/21/11 Sermon: 'The Great Unwashed' by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 28, 8:13pm
4/21/11 Sermon: 'The Great Unwashed' by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday - John 13: 1-17, 34b

 

The Great Unwashed

 

 "You do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand."  Jesus tells this to Peter as he begins to wash his feet, and since that evening disciples of Christ have offered many interpretations of what he was doing - many different interpretations. One is that it's an act of humble service that we're called to emulate:  Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline (that we read during Lent) calls this the Ministry of the Towel.  And/or it's an invitation to intimacy with Christ, and therefore with God (Perkins);  some churches say it's a ritual of purification, for those sins we've committed after baptism; others, that it's a sign of welcome into the church family.  Some churches - such as the Church of the Brethren  -  believe that Jesus ordered it to be done, along with baptism and communion; but most churches interpret it as an example of service, a symbol of fellowship with Christ, and do it only on Maundy Thursday with volunteers.  Some churches know even that would be pushing it.

 

 So, we don't fully understand or agree on what it means - partial understanding has to be enough.  But scholars and theologians agree on this:  it was an unusual, even shocking thing for Jesus to do.  It was shocking because people either washed their own feet --  a host would provide water to guests  - or slaves and servants did it. Masters did not wash the feet of their servants, Rabbis did not wash the feet of their students, Lords did not wash the feet of their disciples.  So Peter was scandalized when Jesus bent down.  Only when Jesus said Peter could have no share with him unless his feet were washed, did Peter agree.  But Jesus went further:  if he, as their teacher and Lord, became a washer of feet, they must also wash one another's feet.  Perhaps that would put a stop to their bickering about who was greatest. But just in case they thought Jesus was turning the tables, just in case that thought that in this brand-new day slaves were now to become masters, or that students were to rise above their teachers, or that pigs werel to become farmers -  if you remember Animal Farm - he points out that servants are not greater than their masters, nor messengers greater than the one who sent them. Everyone is part of the great unwashed.  Everyone in Christ is called to be a foot-washer. As Richard Foster put it, Jesus didn't just reverse the pecking order, he got rid of it.  

  So the commandment to wash each other's feet is not only an instruction about what we're to do. It's a message about who we are.  Equal before God.  Different, yes, but utterly, absolutely equal.  And if we're tempted to think that God must still do some ordering of human worth, if we're tempted to think that God must have some hierarchy of value based on how we behave, or based on what we believe -- we need to remember that Jesus didn't skip Judas.  Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him, and in John he even told him to go do it -- but only after washing his feet.  This is the new commandment:  Love one another, said Jesus, as I have loved you.  Amen. 

4/17/11 Sermon: "Help!" by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 28, 8:11pm
4/17/11 Sermon: "Help!" by Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 17, 2011

Psalm 118; Matthew 21: 1-11

"Help!"

 The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem was a big deal.  Matthew says there were large crowds, both ahead of Jesus and behind.  People were spreading their cloaks on the road, making a way for the donkey, the colt, and its rider; others were running before Jesus with newly cut branches, which they also placed on the road.  Children were underfoot - they would later sing of Jesus in the temple -  and the disciples must have enjoyed the attention and acclaim their teacher was receiving. The cloaks and the branches were signs of honor -- it was the way you greeted kings.  Everyone knew Jesus was not a king like Herod or the Roman Emperor:  he had no retinue, no army, no wealth;  he rode on a donkey, not the stallion of a commander-in-chief.  But they had hopes he was another kind of royalty, anointed by God, the Messiah who would save and redeem Israel.  There were signs.  He taught as one with authority (7:28); he cured many who were sick or blind; he  even healed a girl everyone thought was dead (9:25).  He had fed the people till they were full with only a few loaves.  Zechariah had prophesied that God's Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a donkey; and everyone knew the Messiah would descend from the Mt. of Olives.  So the people shouted:  Hosanna!  Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 


 But this was not a simple celebration.  This wasn't a royal wedding, it wasn't the inauguration of a newly elected president, it wasn't a ticker-tape parade for the Phillies. This was more like the arrival on the campaign trail of a candidate on whom people were placing their most fervent hopes and expectations:  hopes and expectations that no ordinary human being could fulfill. Hopes that Israel would be freed from Roman rule and the house of David restored.  As Evan pointed out, many  assumed that required the sword; some were undoubtedly dreaming of vengeance. But the messianic hope of Israel was never just about national power.  It was a hope for the healing of the world.  That the eyes of the blind would be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; and the tongues of the speechless sing for joy (Is 35:5, ff.)  It was a a hope for peace among the nations, when swords would turn into plowshares.  It was a hope for justice, so that the poor would no longer be sold for a pair of sandals or the righteous for silver  (Amos 5:24). It was even a hope for natural world:  that the wilderness and dry land would be glad, the desert rejoice and blossom.  This entrance was not a simple celebration and "Hosanna" was not a simple word of praise.  It was also a cry for help:  Hosanna means "Save us."  (New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2).  Those who greeted Jesus were longing for rescue; and when he rode in on that donkey and the colt it looked like he was the one sent by God to bring it.

 

 But it didn't take them long for the people to lose their hope in Jesus. For a few days he astounded the crowds with his teaching, but as soon as it became clear the authorities were moving in, people began falling away. Judas was first, after a dinner at Simon's house.  A woman had come in and poured an alabaster jar of costly ointment on his head; when the disciples protested, Jesus noted that she was preparing him for his burial.  It was at this point -- when Jesus clearly was not going to be claiming victory  - that Judas went to the chief priests for his 30 pieces of silver.  On the night of his arrest, the other disciples began to lose heart.  They couldn't stay awake with him as he prayed, and when the police came, they fled.  Peter followed Jesus at a distance, but only to deny knowing him by anyone who asked.  After the trials, by the time Pontius Pilate sentenced him to death, the crowd had also turned.  They were no longer shouting "Hosanna."  When Pilate asked them who he should free, Barrabas or Jesus, they told him to free Barrabas and crucify Jesus.  Even the bandits crucified on either side of Jesus taunted him.


 How, we wonder, could everyone have turned so quickly?  How could the disciples who traveled, studied and shared meals with him leave him so unceremoniously in his hour of need?  How could the crowd who met him with Hosannas on Monday turn on him by Friday?  Our answers to those questions - I should say the church's answers over the years - have been loaded with judgment.  Judas has become a symbol of  greed that trumps loyalty or love:  his name now means one who betrays another under the guise of friendship.  Peter and the disciples have been condemned as weak and fearful, even as many Christians have identified with them.  Historically, the church has been harshest on the crowds, following Matthew's portrayal of them, seeing them as eager for the death of Jesus, even bloodthirsty, with the power to intimidate Pilate. This judgement has been the most tragic, because the church, historically, has also identified "the crowds" with "the Jews" - not only the Jews of that time but of all time.  Jews were blamed not only for the death of Jesus, but for just about everything else -- making Holy Week a very frightening time for Jews.  The churches have repented from that teaching -- although it lingers.  The church is now more faithful to the whole of scripture and to what happened historically - only the Romans had the power to kill Jesus and not all the Jews were even involved. But still - we judge the crowds as fickle.

 

 But  these judgements are Monday morning quarterbacking.  They've been made after the Sunday resurrection, where with the eyes of faith we can see the faithfulness of Jesus. But on that Thursday evening and Friday morning, the crowd and disciples might have felt like they were the ones who had been betrayed.  For if Jesus were truly God's anointed,  he would not have been arrested.  He wouldn't  have stood before them, facing death.  God would have protected him.  God would have given him the power to overthrow the Roman tyrants, he could have saved himself from the cross.  If Jesus were truly the prophet Moses foretold,  he would have gathered the dispersed of Israel, restoring their homes and their fortunes, bringing peace and righteousness.  Clearly that wasn't happening;  the Romans were still in charge, the city was still in turmoil, the people were still suffering.  Jesus was just one more person to raise their hopes and dash them, another "Messiah"  who was either deluded or a pretender.  Their cries for help, they must have thought, had fallen on deaf or duplicitous ears. No wonder they fled.  No wonder they turned.  

 Yes, Jesus was betrayed by a disciple, deserted and denied by those he loved. Many in the crowd who supported him on Sunday withdrew their support by Friday.  He was executed by the Roman state - one among many - and was unjustly condemned by the religious leadership. Jesus was born and died in a sinful world.  But for those followers who turned form him were not merely greedy or hard-hearted; they were caught in sin born of ignorance, confusion, disappointment. Jesus had compassion on them.  God responded with grace and hope, with the resurrection that we celebrate next Sunday and every Sunday. 

 As we reflect on the passion of Jesus this week, let's also look with compassion on those who betrayed or deserted him.  On Judas -- who, according to Matthew, repented.  As soon as the chief priests handed Jesus over to Pilate, Judas tried to return the silver and persuade them of Jesus' innocence  -- and when he couldn't make restitution, hanged himself.  On the disciples, who must have wondered if he was really sent from God.  On the crowds:  whose cries for help were not answered, as far as they could tell.  And also - what kind of choice was that -- would it have been better if they had said to execute Barrabas.  And on the men crucified with Jesus, who would have been in terrible pain and fear themselves. 

  And if we can learn compassion on those fearful disciples and fickle crowds, we may find more compassion for ourselves.  For we, too, turn from God,  especially when it seems that God has not answered prayer, or not answered in a way we can understand.  We, too, betray Christ -- through small cruelties, through indifference to those in need, or lack of action.  We neglect prayer, we stew in anger, especially when Christ seems to be absent, in the face of suffering we don't understand.  We turn from God, But God does not turn form us. We desert Jesus, but Christ does not desert us. Christ has compassion on us, and offers forgiveness and new life So, we too, can join our voices with the crowd, saying "Hosanna! in the highest heaven."  

4/10/11 Sermon: 'Behind the Store' by Cheryl Pyrch by Chelsea Badeau on Apr 17, 12:07pm
4/10/11 Sermon: 'Behind the Store' by Cheryl Pyrch

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 10, 2011

John 11: 1-45

Behind the Stone

"Unbind him, and let him go."  After these words the story of the raising of Lazarus, the story of snatching him back from death, could have taken a number of different turns.  Many people saw Lazarus come from the tomb, they all could have been convinced that Jesus was Lord, the giver of life, the granter of immortality.  They all might have gone out telling others, bringing yet more people to see him.  Jesus could have opened more tombs, quelling doubts and convincing the multitude that "everyone who lived and believed in him would never die." Lazarus could have gone on a speaking tour, as Jesus continued to heal every sickness and give life to all the dead bones, until no one - or almost no one - doubted his power, his mandate from God, his divinity. He could have created a kingdom with all peoples living forever under his beneficent reign -- except, perhaps, those few too stubborn or independent to believe in him, even if it meant they would go to the grave. The one who raised Lazarus could have saved himself from the cross, established his undisputed authority on heaven and earth, conferred immortality on all who believed, and put hewers of tombs and makers of burial cloths out of business.  Such a  kingdom on earth would have created logistical difficulties  -- but with God nothing is impossible. 

 

 

 But that's not the turn the story took. According to John, when Lazarus was raised, many believed, but others weren't so sure:  they told the Pharisees back in Jerusalem what he had done.  The Pharisees called a council for they were worried -- not only that people would follow Jesus, but that the movement would provoke the Romans to come in and destroy the temple and the nation. So some began plotting against him and gave orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him. A few days after Lazarus was raised, Martha and Mary held a dinner for Jesus, with Lazarus at table with them.  At this dinner Mary anointed Jesus with costly perfume - for his burial, he said - and later that week Jesus was crucified by the Roman government.  Like thousands of others who died on the cross before and after, he was laid in a tomb. The story might have ended there - with no one believing in Jesus as the giver of life -  but Mary Magdalene and Peter and the Beloved Disciple found the tomb empty on the first day of the week.  Jesus showed himself to Mary, and then to the twelve; and John wrote his gospel, he said, so we may believe.

 

 

 

 

And so we do, we who have accepted the raising of Lazarus as a sign. But what do we  believe about the life that Jesus promises when he says I am the resurrection and the life?  It's clearly not a life without death - that comes to all, including Jesus and including Lazarus, who at some point died again.  God chose not to confer a simple immortality through Jesus, a life on earth that would never end. It's also not a life that confers earthly power.  Jesus himself rejected such power: when he was tempted in the desert by Satan and again at the end of his life, when he refused to take up the sword.  It's a life to which all are invited, but it's not forced upon us.  Faith is a gift but no one is compelled to believe in Jesus; and we can't say that God may not offer other ways to choose life.  But we can say this:  the life offered through Jesus is life offered in love.  Jesus loved Lazarus, and Mary and Martha.  Jesus wept when he saw Mary and was deeply disturbed in spirit, even though he knew Lazarus would be back with them soon.  It was dangerous for Jesus to stay in Bethany, but Jesus stayed anyway, to eat at table with Mary and Martha and Lazarus, in the dinner they held for him. The life Jesus offered them began with their relationship; it didn't wait for their deaths.  It was a life and a love strong enough that Martha and Mary came out to meet Jesus after Lazarus died, even though he had delayed his coming.

 

 

 

 And although it's not a life without death, it's a life and a love powerful enough to overcome death.  It was powerful enough to overcome death's four-day grip on Lazarus in the darkness behind the stone; we can be confident  it's powerful enough to overcome the death of anyone we love, and our own, even if we can only imagine what that eternal life is like.  As a life that begins now, it's also powerful enough to overcome the death and darkness in our lives.  Powerful enough to overcome the death and darkness of our spirit that comes from grief, or depression, anxiety and loneliness.  It's powerful enough to overcome  the large scale death that we inflict on each other, through war and violence, greed and neglect. It's powerful enough to overcome the death and destruction from disasters of all kinds.  It's power is not fully apparent to us now.  Death and darkness may seem to be gaining ground and claiming victories. But the raising of Lazarus was a sign --- a sign of a love stronger than the grave, a sign for those who were there and for us.  We're invited to trust in that love, whether or not we believe in the miracle of this particular sign - and not all Christians do believe - butu we are invited to trust in that love, and in the one who is the resurrection and the life. 

 

  

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

April 3, 2011

Ephesians 5: 8-14

 

Living in the Light

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

  

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 27, 2011

John 4

 

Hearing for Ourselves

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

March 20, 2011

Psalm 46; Mark 4: 31-45

 

Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

  

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

Holy Week

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,  

Cheryl

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

Talking about Sexuality

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch

  

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

Cheryl Pyrch

Summit Presbyterian Church

January 23, 2011

Psalm 40

 

What's Your Story?

 

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

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

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

 

 For evils have encompassed me without number;

 my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see;

 they are more than the hairs of my head,

 and my heart fails me.

 

 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;

 O Lord, make haste to help me.

 Let all those be put to shame and confusion

 who seek to snatch away my life;

 let those be turned back and brought to dishonor

 who desire my hurt.

 Let those be appalled because of their shame 

 who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"

 

 But may all who seek you

 rejoice and be glad in you;

 may those who love your salvation

 say continually, "Great is the Lord!"

 As for me, I am poor and needy,

 but the Lord takes thought for me.

 You are my help and my deliverer;

 do not delay, O my God.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I waited patiently for the Lord

He inclined and heard my cry

He brought me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay

 

I will sing, sing a new song

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

 

He set my feet upon a rock

And made my footsteps firm

Many will see

Many will see and fear

 

I will sing, sing a new song.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

What is Preaching?

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

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

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

 Grace and Peace,

Cheryl Pyrch 

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

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

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

And at Christmas we proclaim it joyously in song:  

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

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

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

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

 Grace and Peace,

 

Cheryl Pyrch 

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