Wednesday, June 07, 2017

wandering about...

I'm slowly getting to know people and programs in my new parish, and today I thought I'd try to get to know the actual place. The Church of Scotland operates on a geographic/territorial parish system, so there's a defined area that is "ours" (so to speak). So this afternoon, while the sun was shining, I set out with a map of the parish to go for a walk. I walked around the boundaries of the parish, and also many of the interior streets. Here's what I noticed:

* a friend refers to the area as a "leafy suburb" and someone else referred to it today as "old money".... it definitely does have that feel about it...lots of trees, and big houses--mansions, really--(I suspect mostly subdivided into flats), and high walls separating the homes/estates from the streets. And yet there's a surprising number of apartment blocks that could clearly use some work, and also a bunch of small homes or row houses that are clearly subdivided into a lot of small flats. So there may very well be old money, but also struggle, at least with the maintenance of physical buildings.

* I was briefly lost on the campus of a hospital, which was more like a large estate than any hospital I've ever been in.

* Many of the houses have lovely details, like stamped stone or decorate ironworks holding up the gutters.

* At one point I turned a corner and there was a clear view of the castle (which is not in the parish, haha).

* There's a grocery store where almost everything is organic and where the cost of your plastic bag is donated to Save The Children. It's tucked in a neighbourhood...which reminded me that, unlike in the US, mixed-use space is common, and I love it. I love that you can, theoretically anyway, live and work and shop in the same three-block radius. It's so convenient to be able to pop to the grocery store in a 3-minute walk. Or to find an Indian restaurant in the midst of the houses on the block.


* There is a cemetery that has some notable people buried in it....including this gem of church history:

Most of the graves have a surprising amount of information on them, including people's professions, hometowns, favourite things, family members, and who knows what else. But not Chalmers, which I think is fascinating.



 * I was briefly lost, though not for long (thwarted by train tracks), and I also walked to the bus and then home from the ice cream store where I had the bus drop me off, which accounts for maybe 3,000 steps and 30 or so minutes....the rest of these are from my parish exploration today:


* There is a general election tomorrow and I saw a SHOCKINGLY small number of placards for candidates or parties. Compared to elections in the US, the campaigning seems very low-key. I'm not being bombarded with internet ads, there are no signs out in neighbourhoods, and only the occasional window will contain a sign with a name or a party symbol. Honestly, it would be easy to forget there's an election tomorrow, actually. 
This is true not just in the church neighbourhood, but my own as well--I see hardly anything. I have encountered people with tables/tents/clipboards/materials on the sidewalks around town, and of course people are talking about it (and their views) in nearly every conversation, and naturally it's on the news--but seriously: it's amazing how different the atmosphere is the day before an election than it would be in the USA. I can't even describe how strange that is. There's a lot at stake in this election, but the overall feel in the air is nowhere near as frantic or earth-shattering as I've experienced before.

* This is what I came home to:

looking toward Fisherrow Harbor (on the left) and Portobello

* The kitties got a new condo/cave/scratching post today. I'm hoping it'll give them someplace to go when the sun comes up (at 3:30am) and they want to get in the closet....because between their attempts to open the closet door and their throwing of all my clothes on the floor, i can't take the noise anymore. Especially at 4am. :-)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Crazy cat lady

The rules of the condominium association where I lived for the past 10.5 years specifically state that each unit cannot be home to more than 2 pets...and I've often said that rule was the only thing standing between me and crazy cat lady territory. I love my meows, and it wouldn't be hard for me to take in rescues until my home was overrun.

But two is a perfect number, really. And these two cats are so great...tonight, they even BOTH came out to snuggle and be petted by Nikki, which is so unusual! Generally only Ollie comes out to play, and Andrew hides. But both got some attention today.

Their move was as smooth as I could have hoped. They were picked up in the morning on moving day, and the driver texted me when they'd been checked in at the airport to tell me that all was well and they'd behaved beautifully--no yowling or carsickness or anything. They were well cared for throughout their journey from Chicago to Frankfurt, where they stayed overnight, and then from Frankfurt to Edinburgh. I received photos and text updates at each stop. They were delivered by a kind driver who carried them into the house. Air Animal was great at every step of the way, from planning to vet visits and paperwork to travel day to follow up, and I would recommend them to anyone.

Once the meows got here, they hid for a while...and then they came out to explore a bit...and now they are as settled as can be. They still both seem to prefer to be in the closet or between the bed and the wall during the time I'm not at home, but when I am home they sit on the couch, or snuggle on my lap, or sleep next to me on the bed. They are eating and drinking and using their new litter box. Both of them  have figured out how to get up on the kitchen counter, which is a new development--Andrew has never been a good jumper, so it's fascinating to see him exploring higher-up space than he has before. Today Ollie learned that she can still drink from the bathroom sink, as she has done every day for the past ten years. And I just saw Andrew play with the little mouse that was in the carrier with him on the way over, after days of neglect on the living room floor.

This wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of dozens of people. To all of you who donated to the GoFundMe to get them here, who shared the link, who prayed for them...thank you. From the bottom of my purr-ful heart, I am so grateful for your help. I can't imagine living here without them, and I know that their safe journey is the result of your open hearts and hands. Thanks. :-)



Andrew's favorite "hiding" spot

she's never been in the kitchen sink before, but this one's so awesome she can't help herself

checking out the dreaded carriers, before I put them away


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vegetarian haggis

In the lead up to moving, I was frequently asked about being vegetarian in Scotland.

"Won't you have to start eating fish?"

"It's such a meat-and-potatoes place, how will you be vegetarian?"

"Isn't the food there awful?"

"What about haggis?"

I often respond with the simple reality: a) though of course fish & chips and haggis are a thing, food in the UK has dramatically improved in the past 15 or so years, having moved toward a sustainable/local foodie-type culture; b) Edinburgh is one of Europe's most veggie-friendly cities. I can name about five vegetarian or vegan restaurants off the top of my head (that would be 4 more than all of McHenry County, IL), and the vast majority of restaurants in general list their vegetarian things on their own menu section, or they label everything so you can tell what's safe. And there are a lot of options, not just a side salad! Even the local chip shop has falafel! **

I went to one of these vegetarian restaurants just today, in fact.

There's a more foundational point here though, which is:
I've moved here, I'm not vacationing (though there's plenty to make it feel like holidays, including the sunny weather!)...which means that nearly all of my meals will be ones I cook myself. I live in a flat, with a kitchen. I have been stocking it with pots and pans, pantry staples (oil, legumes, rice and pasta, etc), and tons of fresh local veggies. There's a bakery just two blocks away, and a lovely little greengrocer in the high street that gets a variety of veggies and cheeses delivered each day, and a ton of supermarket options ranging from Aldi to Tesco to the (slightly strange but weirdly awesome) frozen food store.

So...yes, it'll be just as easy to be vegetarian here as it was in Crystal Lake. Perhaps easier, even, since when I *do* eat out, there are more choices.

What I have noticed in a week of grocery shopping is this: everything is clearly labeled as to where it comes from, so I also have a much easier time choosing food that doesn't have to travel thousands of miles to my plate. Which is not to say I'll never eat anything that wasn't grown on this island (because hello, avocado is delicious!) but it does make many of my everyday shopping choices more clear, and I'm all about informed decisions, especially where food is concerned!

And now it's time for some pasta with kale and marinara, some wine, and then some Belgian chocolates. Because, well...compared to going all the way to the USA, Belgium - Scotland is basically local, right? ;-)


**Full disclosure: c) there is such a thing as vegetarian haggis, and it's still not good.
And also d) potatoes are my favorite food, so no problem there. ;-)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It's Been One Week...

...since I moved to Scotland!
Ok, it's not catchy for singing purposes like the BareNakedLadies, but still, it's pretty darn exciting.

A friend asked a few days ago if it felt real or like I was on holiday, and I have to admit that there are aspects of the past week that are pretty vacation-esque, and I have to keep reminding myself that I live here.
Like, for instance, I live about three doors down from the beach.
And I also ate out in restaurants a lot for several days in a row.

But then there are other things, like picking up my residency card, making appointments at the bank, hanging my laundry on the line, learning how to use the four--FOUR--garbage/recycling/composting bins, getting a local phone number, and perusing all my local grocery options that feel pretty distinctly like moving in.

In the run up to moving, everything was so busy and stressful (except for all the fun I had on my "farewell tour" seeing friends and getting to 90% of my favorite things) that I barely had time to think. This past week has been full of breathing space I haven't had in I don't know how long. I have walked on the beach, wandered shops, sat in cafes, read books, snuggled kitties, googled absurd things, and Facetimed with friends and family who are now 8-11 time zones away, and who I haven't had time to talk to in months.

I am already experiencing the spirit of hospitality and generosity that I've known and loved about Scotland for a long time--from kind neighbors to smiling people out on the sidewalk to helpful workers at the mobile phone store to new colleagues I met over evening meals during General Assembly. And the more relaxed pace of life is already evident as well. Not to say no one is busy or that everyone is friendly--just that it feels different somehow.

Of course, my first day at my placement is Thursday, and I could end up very busy very soon, so I won't be making any big generalizations while I'm still in much-needed-days-off mode!

The sun comes up early, and stays up late...there's an Indian restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a bakery, and an ice cream shop within a five minute walk from my flat...the cats seem happy...I've made risotto in my pressure cooker...I'm meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow...it's been sunny and warm since i got here...basically, at the moment anyway, life is good.

part of the stress of the days before the move: I had WAY more stuff than I intended/anticipated. Thanks to the great desk agent for Iceland Air, and to the free luggage trollies at Glasgow Airport, I managed, and everything got here in one piece.

this is my street, as seen from the beach. I live in that building that sits closer to the road, in the centre.

so many shells--from perfectly whole to nearly-sand, and everything in between
doesn't this log beg to be sat on for deep thoughts? It's about five minutes down the beach from my house.

the mouth of the River Esk...a river which has more swans than I've ever seen in one place



the panoramic of my street and the beach, from the promenade

Andrew's favourite new hiding spot is between the bed and the wall

this is the lounge (living room) in my adorable tiny seaside flat. Thanks Nikki! It's gorgeous, and exactly one-person sized...with a beautiful new paint job, a new kitchen, and lots of great ambience. 

from today's walk on the prom as the tide was coming in...


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

If This Table Could Talk--a sermon on Luke 24, on my last day at PCOP

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
If This Table Could Talk…v.2
Luke 24.13-48 (CEB)
23 April 2017, NL3-33, Easter 2 (Open), Last Day at PCOP

On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.
He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.
He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them.
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”


There is long-standing wisdom among pastors that trips are often the mountaintop experiences in our faith journeys—both for young and older. Whether the trip is for mission work or pilgrimage or to the zoo or on retreat almost doesn’t matter, because it’s the bus ride that makes all the difference—as long as we’re willing to leave the iPad off, anyway. We may play games or sing songs or learn about what we’re passing, we may nap or snack or just chat. It’s on the bus that we get to know each other differently as we traverse unfamiliar landscapes—both outside the windows and inside ourselves. It’s on the bus that we hear one another’s stories and tell our own, weaving in and out until we are a tapestry of community, learning what it means to be part of this family.

I think that wisdom may have originated in this morning’s scripture reading. Compared to how far most of us travel every day, it doesn’t sound like a long journey—just seven miles. But that’s a couple of hours of walking at a pretty decent pace. If you’re talking while walking, caught up in grief and uncertainty, it might take even longer. In any case, it’s a road trip of sorts, and like every good road trip it includes good stories, good food, and an unexpected twist.

It had been a wild ride for Jesus’ friends and followers—from listening to him teach to seeing him heal to being a part of the mystery. Every day their hopes were raised, their expectations soared, their minds and hearts overflowed. But then it all came crashing down, in ways so horrible they couldn’t even have imagined it. For the one who was to redeem to become the one on the cross was inconceivable. And yet, there it was. For the body to be missing, for women to know what they are talking about, for the horror to continue rather than to be able to put this sad ending to rest—all inconceivable. No wonder that when the stranger fell into step with them, they couldn’t see that he was indeed the only one who truly knew what had happened in these days.

One of the things that made crucifixion work as a method of torture and control was not just the awful physical reality, but the shame. It was so great that when someone was crucified, they were erased. Bodies were usually left on the cross until they disintegrated or were picked over by animals, and then the person was never spoken of again. They disappeared from history. Family and friends were so shamed by the association, so afraid they’d be next, that they’d never mention the name or the incident. Crucifixion wasn’t just death, it was annihilation. For this story to go on, the friends of Jesus risked everything. This wasn’t just silly choose-your-own adventure storytelling on a road trip. This was a life-or-death story, and they chose to continue to tell it, even to a stranger.

We rarely think of stories this way. The word “story” has come to mean something that’s frivolous or not true or unimportant. But the reality is that stories may be the only thing that matters—if we lose our story, we lose ourselves. It’s one of the ways culture works—we have shared stories that tell us who we are. But even behind that, we have a God who is a master storyteller, and the day we lose sight of the narrative is the day we descend into hell, just as the crucified one did the day he was erased from the earth. But his is a story that won’t stop, that can’t be held back, that shows through even when we do our darnedest to erase or white out, and the disciples were still telling the story, even at risk of their own lives.

That story carried them through a whole road trip. Sometimes they told it, sometimes the stranger did. It was comforting and healing, but it was also learning who they were and what it meant to be a part of this family. No wonder their hearts were burning within them—they were finally coming to understand how this whole community thing works. They offered each other their shattered dreams, their grief, their hopes, their fears, their reality…and they were truly heard and known like never before—they were found by grace. This is what it means to be the community of Jesus’ friends—to share our reality and to hold those stories, to really know one another, as we walk along the road.

They asked him in for dinner, of course. The only place stories fit even better than a road trip is around a table. If our tables could talk, they would tell of laughter and tears, bad jokes and bad days, celebrations and sorrows. Next to water marks and spaghetti stains and bread crumbs they hold memories of homework, of dinner disasters and family feasts, of shouting matches and romance, of love and war and everything in between. The tables in this church would tell stories of cake, celebrating new life and new journeys; of ice cream sundaes made by guests with nowhere else to go; of really really really long meetings; of potlucks that never turn out to be entirely salad or dessert; of careful study and deep prayer; of meatballs and school kits and more collating of paper than we ever thought possible; of new forms of worship and of a hundred projects that seemed like a good idea at the time. The table is where we are fed with more than just food. We listen and we tell, and we learn who we are, our place in the family and the world.

And this table—this table is where it all comes together. This table’s story is the basis for all others. It’s at this table that the stranger became the host. It’s at this table that joy and disbelief and proof and wonder all mix together. It’s at this table that the breathless story of two disciples mingles with the hope of a great cloud of witnesses, and passes through the ages. If this table could talk, it would tell of feast overcoming famine. It would tell of the hard work of growing trust in the midst of fear. It would tell of doubt and faith joining with wheat and grape to make something unbelievable. This is the table where eyes are opened. This is the table where God’s big story meets our story, and we are strengthened to live in a world where nothing will ever be the same. This is the table where we listen and tell and learn who we are and what it means to be part of this family in this world. This is the table where we are fed by grace.

And what does this table teach us?

It teaches us who is invited—everyone, faithful and faithless, broken and healed. It teaches us who is loved—for God so loved the whole world. It teaches us what true abundance looks like—enough for everyone. It teaches us to taste and see that God is good. It teaches us how to accept hospitality, and how to offer it. It teaches us that stories endure for a reason, and that the word and the bread together feed us as the people of God.

At this table, we see that it is possible for a simple meal to be a feast. We see that God is not far away waiting for us to get it right, but traveling our road trips and sitting at our tables, giving us new eyes and new hearts and new stories and new recipes. We see our brothers and sisters as God does—beloved, worthy, beautiful—rather than as different, old or young, troublemaker or saint. We see that we are part of something bigger than our imaginations, spanning time and geography with a story and a loaf of bread.

This feast is our practice room. Here we receive so that we can learn how to give. We come to be changed, so we can see that the table of God’s community, the communion of story and bread, is every table—starting here. And from here, we follow by grace, because our story is joined to God’s story, our body is joined to Christ’s body, and our hearts burn with the Spirit.

May it be so. Amen. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

fake news vs. good news: a sermon for Easter

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Fake News v Good News
Luke 24.1-12
16 April 2017, Easter Day, NL3-32

Today’s scripture reading comes from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 24, and can be found on page ___ of your pew Bible if you wish to follow along.
At noon on Friday, the day had become dark, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, Jesus breathed his last. His twelve male disciples had already fled in fear, but the women stood nearby and watched until the end. It was both the first day of Passover and the day before the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council of Jewish elders, had taken Jesus’ body and laid it in his own family tomb. Luke tells us that the women who had followed Jesus through his ministry in Galilee and Judea went with Joseph, and they saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid and the tomb sealed. Then they returned to their lodgings, and prepared spices and ointments. The next day was the Sabbath, and they rested according to the commandment.


But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.



I sometimes think that Easter is the hardest day of the Christian calendar. It is without question the most important day, when Christ was raised from dead and so the power of God’s love was proven to be greater than even the worst humanity could do.

But sometimes it’s still awfully hard. For one thing, “we do not have language large enough for the reality we have now entered.”[1] The resurrection of Jesus changed everything—the world can never be the same. But I’m not sure that now, thousands of years later, we think much about that. It’s so commonplace that we have become used to the domesticated Jesus. We have carefully contained God in words—lots and lots of words, sometimes big fancy ones—and therefore carefully put God exactly where we’d like to keep him (because this God is always a him) safely out of our way. We are no longer shocked by the idea that God would become a human being, let alone one who would be killed by the state and then raised from the dead. And we have often dismissed Jesus’ teaching as nice stories and good ideas that can’t really be applied in modern life.

We have far more words now than at any time in human history, and yet we still can’t quite express just what God is up to. No matter how many fancy words we create or borrow, we just don’t have language expansive enough to describe God, love, or resurrection, without confining Christ in our limited human ideas. And if there’s one thing we learn from Easter, it’s that Jesus cannot be confined. He is out of the tomb, alive in the world, no matter what we think or say about that.

From the beginning, he’s been turning things upside down. His mother Mary, on meeting the angel, declared that God had filled the empty with good things and lifted up the poor…and brought down the powerful and sent the rich away empty-handed. Jesus’ first sermon nearly got him thrown off a cliff, as he proclaimed that his job on earth was to bring sight to the blind, release to the captive, healing for the lame, and relief to the debtor—and that God’s love was for those outside the chosen people as much as it was on those inside. At the end, God in the flesh absorbed all the violence we could throw at him, and he didn’t return a word of it. And then the end turned out not to be an end at all, but a new beginning that is beyond belief.

As if all of that weren’t difficult enough to find adequate words for, there’s also the reality we live in every day, which looks very little like the kingdom of God. Think of all the things that have happened in the world just in the past couple of months. Political turmoil throughout this nation and others, children gassed in Syria, missiles shot from US Navy ships, a shooting at a school in California, the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan, posturing in North Korea, bombs in Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt, landslides in Colombia…a complete list would take an entire sermon to recite.

No wonder more than a million people watched April the pregnant giraffe give birth yesterday morning. We could use some joy and new life! We live in a world that almost seems to be starved for good news.

The women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning could use some good news. They didn’t expect any, though. They’d been waiting…waiting…waiting in the valley of the shadow of death. They saw where Jesus’ body was laid on Friday afternoon, and then they had to leave him there, carrying their sorrow with them throughout the Sabbath. All the other disciples had hidden themselves, fearing the long arm of the Empire and the mob mentality that had gripped the leaders and crowds during Jesus’ trial. When at long last the sun set on that terrible day, and rose on a day when nothing would ever be okay again, and they survived waiting the whole Sabbath day for it to set and rise again, then finally the women went out, bearing the burden of loss along with the spices and ointments for a proper burial. The first rays were just peeking over the horizon when they arrived, unable to wait another moment. When they got there, the stone was rolled away from the door, the tomb was open.

So, naturally, they went in. But the body was not there.

The women were confused, and rightly so. They’d watched him be put there, and the door closed, a final end to their friendship and their hope.

In the midst of their confusion, two dazzling messengers appeared, and without so much as a “do not be afraid” preamble, said: why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has been raised. Remember what he told you.

They remembered. The pieces came together in their minds, as they remembered all he had said and done, and they went back to tell the others—what? Tell them what?

There’s no way to tell this story that doesn’t sound crazy. Jesus back from the dead? The men listened to them as if they are hysterical in all the worst stereotypical senses of the word. They called the story ridiculous nonsense, a load of crap. No matter what the women thought they experienced, it’s not possible—the others, who had been hiding away in the locked room, knew this for sure even without having been there. I imagine Mary and Joanna and Susanna and Mary Magdalene standing there, as many women have done in our lives, with joy turning to frustration as they realize they will not be believed, that they are being written off as silly deluded women making up stories to ease their own pain, as they realize that there are no adequate words, because this is a thing that doesn’t happen. It is beyond belief. The truest good news in the history of humanity has been labeled fake news.

Peter, at least, went to look. He didn’t go in, though. Even though he could really have used some good news about now, he stood outside the tomb and looked in, and then went home again and locked the door. Seeing was not believing.

But what if it’s true?

What if it’s true, that the tomb was open, and Jesus was alive, somewhere out in the world?

What if it’s true, that all it takes to experience resurrection is to remember what he told us?

What if it’s true, that all the fractured pieces of our own lives, our own communities, could be  re-membered, put back together with unbelievable grace as the glue?

What if it’s true, that God’s love is the most powerful thing in the universe?

What if it’s true, that the Christ who is alive is the same one who reached out to sinners, ate dinner with outcasts, touched lepers, called some of the dimmest bulbs on the tree to be his disciples, and really believed we could do it when he taught us things like “love your enemies” and “welcome the stranger” and “blessed are the poor” and “come, follow me”?

What if it’s true, that grace is a gift and not something we have to earn?

What if it’s true, that death does not have the last word, that darkness cannot overcome the light?

The truth will set us free…free from the need to prove ourselves, free from our impulse toward violence, free from fear of those who are different from us.

The truth will set us free…free to love as we have been loved, free to reach out and welcome as if we are Christ’s hands and feet, free to be changed and so to change the world.

We live in a world so full of bad news and fake news—like the idea that God’s love is only for some, that you have to be good enough to get into heaven, that human vengeance is the same as divine justice, that my skin is safe but Jesus’ brown skin makes him suspect, that violence can lead to peace—all of this exclusion and superiority is what closes us off, separates us from each other, from ourselves, and from God’s true good news. But remember: the tomb is open! We may not have language large enough to tell the story of God’s unfettered redeeming grace, rolling away the stone and leaving the tomb empty, but that only means that we’ll have to use our whole lives—music and dance and art and poetry; relationships and work and everyday choices and voting levers. The world needs us to walk right in to the empty tomb, and then walk right out again to share what we have to offer, the truly good news: Christ is alive, love wins, and nothing will ever be the same.

Thanks be to God. Amen.



[1] https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-the-conversational-nature-of-reality/

Monday, April 10, 2017

What Would Jesus Do? A sermon for Palm Sunday

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
What Would Jesus Do?
Luke 19.29-44
9 April 2017, NL3-31, Palm Sunday (are you all in?)

Today’s scripture reading is from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 19, beginning at verse 29, and can be found on page ___ of your pew Bible if you wish to follow along.
For many weeks now, we have been walking with Jesus as he set his face toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem was, and still is, the most important city for the Jews. It was home to around 500,000 people, contained palaces for the king and for the Roman officials who might need to visit to keep order, and of course the Temple was there, at the city’s highest point. Jerusalem is so important that one always goes “up” to Jerusalem, and “down” from Jerusalem, no matter the direction one is traveling. In today’s reading we find Jesus east of the city, approaching the Mount of Olives (which is of similar elevation as the Temple Mount), on his way up to Jerusalem for the final week of his earthly ministry.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’ So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
   who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
   and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’


Try for a moment to picture the scene of that first Palm Sunday, as Luke tells it. What do you notice happening? (multitude of disciples…no Hosannas, no palms…stones shouting out…praising God for all the deeds of power they had seen)

The last parade I attended was the Cubs World Series victory parade—which was amazing, with energy and cheering and singing. My friends and I made early morning guesses about how many times we would hear the song “Go Cubs Go” and then we kept a count throughout the day. There were throngs of people, and they really did seemingly spontaneously burst into song.

Palm Sunday wasn’t exactly a victory parade, though. The Roman empire was well known for victory marches, and some scholars even say that it’s likely Pilate arrived in Jerusalem with a show of strength around the same time Jesus arrived riding on a donkey. The Palm Sunday procession was more of a protest march than a victory parade, intentionally different from what Pilate or the Emperor would have done. So I think back to protests I’ve attended over the years—to the women’s march a few months ago, for instance—and how multitudes of people moved through the streets, sometimes chanting rhymes that became something of a mantra, and sometimes just chatting to each other along the way about things that are important enough to draw us out of our comfortable beds and into the crowded streets.

Each of those experiences in the streets of Chicago were very different. The atmosphere and the sense of purpose in the group were clear both times, one a long-awaited celebration, the other a day of passionate concern.

Twice, I have visited Jerusalem and walked the path down from the Mount of Olives, and up to Jerusalem and its Temple. Both times, I happened to walk that street right behind a large group of Israeli soldiers, in army uniforms and carrying large weapons. To say it was jarring to read the story of the Prince of Peace while walking behind a dozen rifle-carrying soldiers would be an understatement. That’s now the image I have in my mind when I picture the scene…and I wonder what would have happened, if those who ordered Jesus to silence his disciples had that kind of backup when he refused.

Everyone in the city would have known what they were seeing. From the very beginning, Jesus has said that today, in our hearing, while we are together in his presence, scripture is being fulfilled. He found a donkey colt and so even more scripture was fulfilled—that the Messiah would enter the holy city riding on a donkey. People around him were chanting and singing “blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” and talking about all the miracles and healings and teaching he had done. No one could have missed the meaning behind this protest, especially at a time when the Empire was sweeping into the city with their own display of power and might, their own understanding of keeping the peace.

So the Pharisees ordered him to stop it. It’s dangerous to be part of a crowd in these days, and this crowd looks an awful lot like treason, with words like “peace” and “king” ringing off the stone walls of the city. But Jesus knows there is no way to stop the good news, because God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. God’s voice will be heard, even if the stones themselves have to do the shouting. The ground itself cries out for justice and for peace, for an end to bloodshed and fear, for a world of hope and love, where scripture is fulfilled and the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the poor are lifted up in the year of jubilee.

Jesus knows that the power of the Empire is the power of violence, which relies on silencing the voices of the other—voices of the oppressed, voices of dissent, voices of pain or grief. That was never more true than in the act of crucifixion—a torture designed to be so shameful that the one facing it would be left to decompose and his family would never speak of him again. Crosses lined the roads of the Roman Empire, testament to the power of violence.

But Jesus refused to give violence that power. Even if everyone else’s voice is cut off, God’s will still speak—through stones if necessary.

And Jesus knows it will be necessary. He knows the day is coming when even his most fervent supporters and closest disciples will fall silent under the weight of fear and betrayal. He sees that so many of us will choose being peace lovers rather than peace makers, as the quote on the bulletin says. We will say the words, but we can’t seem to see our way to the work of peace. We too fall silent, for many personal reasons ranging from party loyalty to fear of retribution to belief that we can’t make a difference and everything in between, and our silence is what gives the empire its power to enforce its own version of peace through violence.

And Jesus wept over Jerusalem, looking across the valley at the Temple, at the thousands of residents and pilgrims, at the multitudes of disciples cheering around him and the Pharisees with their angry and scared faces… “if you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” If only we could see what Jesus sees, and understand his teaching and his life and his path…if only we could walk the way, the truth, and the life.

I can imagine Jesus’ tear-streaked face today, looking across the world at all the ways we have openly decided not to care for each other, the ways we have made war as if it will lead to peace, the ways we have believed that peace can exist without justice or hope, the ways we have turned inward seeking our own security and left God’s creation and God’s children to fend for themselves. God’s heart breaks in Syria, in Yemen, in the Sudan, in Palestine, in Colombia, in Mexico, in the halls of our shockingly segregated schools and prisons, in Egypt. I hear Jesus’ voice, thick with emotion and maybe shaking a little with sobs: “if you had only recognized the things that make for peace.” And I think of all the pretty words I’ve said, the hymns we sing and the token offerings we make, and I wonder: what are the things that make for real peace? What would it take for us to be peacemakers, not just peace lovers?

Kierkegaard wrote that many of us have fallen into the trap of admiring Jesus, like fans on the roadside during a parade, rather than following Jesus[1]. We aren’t called to be just fans, like of our favorite team or band. We’re called to follow—to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to do what he did. To be a disciple is to pattern our lives on the one we trust, not only to think his teaching is good and important. The word disciple comes from the word discipline—to follow Jesus is a discipline, a practice, of trying to be like him. Kierkegaard wrote that admirers remain detached, not seeing that the thing we admire has a claim on us, and so we fail to become like what we admire. The fan uses plenty of words about how they love and treasure Jesus and his teaching…but it never reaches beyond words. The follower, though, tries with all their heart to be like Jesus, even if that means changing behavior or activity or life.

On that first Palm Sunday, there were plenty of fans, lots of admirers. And some naysayers, of course, who were at least open about their desire to silence the living Word. The trouble is that fans want silence too, as soon as the Word begins to speak about things that challenge their own beliefs, security, or plans. They’re just sneakier about how they seek that silence, using the threat of waning popularity or safety or money as their preferred tool. Remember that even the fans mostly deserted Jesus or turned against him as that first Holy Week went on and his challenge to the government and religious leaders became more clear. But the stones will still shout, no matter how silence is achieved. God has things to say, and they are things we need to hear, to see, to recognize—about peace and justice, love and grace, hope for the future, passion for the kingdom of God to come here on earth as it is in heaven.

As we enter this holiest of weeks, I encourage you to listen for what the stones are saying. As we walk this journey to Jerusalem, consider whether we do so as fans, or as followers. As a Holy Week practice, I think we should ask ourselves frequently “what would Jesus do?” It sounds cheesy, but it is as relevant a question as ever. When reading or hearing a news story, ask “what would Jesus do?” When we see a neighbor, or a co-worker, or another driver on the expressway, ask “what would Jesus do?” When we come to church, or read our email, or get out our offering envelopes, ask “what would Jesus do?” In small moments and big decisions, there’s the question: how would Jesus see this? how would he respond? what words or feelings or actions or prayers or offering or gesture would be most like Christ?

And then…here’s the catch. Try to do what he would do. After two seasons of reading Luke’s gospel straight through, we know Jesus’ mission: to feed, to free, to heal, to lift up, and to change the system that keeps people down. This can be the day that we recognize the things that make for peace—and not just that we see them, but that we do them. We can work to make our behavior line up with the pattern he set with his life, death, and resurrection. This Holy Week we will learn yet again that violence can never drive out violence, death can never drive out death, hate can never drive out hate, apathy can never drive out apathy, fear can never drive out fear…only love can do that.

May we be all in with Jesus.
Amen.






[1] http://www.plough.com/en/topics/culture/holidays/easter-readings/followers-not-admirers