Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Five: bible faves

Today's Friday Five is about the Bible! You may play right here in the comments, or if you write a blog post, link it here.

Since we just finished reading the Bible in 90 Days, this is particularly current/relevant/awesome. :-)

1. What is your favorite Bible verse? Isaiah 55.8 "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, says the Lord..."

2. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Isaiah for sure! If I had to pick from the NT I'd choose Mark, every time.

3. What is your favorite story from the Hebrew Scriptures? Today I think I'd go with Zelophehad's Daughters (from Numbers 27), or perhaps the widow who feeds Elijah and her jar of meal never runs out (1 Kings 17).

4. What is your favorite story from the Christian Scriptures? Mark 2, where the four people bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus and dig through the roof to get him in, and Jesus looks at them, sees their faith, and heals their friend.

5. What verse do you wish people would quote less often? John 3.16. Seriously? That's the best we can do? I might have to start sneaking in something like "1 John 3.16-17" just because it's so much better, and a subtle enough difference that people might not notice until later, and maybe they'll look it up. Or just noting lots of other 3.16s (both letters to Timothy have great chapter 3-verse-16, for instance...).

Bonus: What is your favorite obscure fact or verse or story or thing about the Bible? I don't know if this is my favorite or not, but I think it's my favorite thing I learned this summer when preaching through really strange things during the Bible in 90 Days...Jephthah says to his daughter that he has made a vow and he is therefore required to fulfill it. That's not true. I would never have noticed this if we hadn't just read the Torah a couple of days before, but: in the midst of all the lists of punishment for not fulfilling a solemn vow, there are provisions for what to do if a vow turns out to require something illegal (child sacrifice, for instance), and also monetary offerings that can be made if a sacrifice is impractical. So Jephthah's daughter was sacrificed to his ego and his just-enough-knowledge-to-be-dangerous, not to his vow. #thatllpreach

Thanks for playing!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Starry Night--a sermon on Abraham and God in Genesis 15

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Starry Night
Genesis 15.1-6
18 September 2016, NL3-2, H1-2 (In God We Trust)


When God called Abram and Sarai to leave their home in Ur and go to a new land, they went without question, believing God’s promise of descendants as numerous as grains of sand, trusting that God would use them to bless the whole world. When the camp grew too large for the land to sustain all the herds and people, Abram’s nephew Lot took his part of the family and animals, and went to settle in another area. During a war between Canaanite tribes, Lot was kidnapped by raiders. Abram took his men and went to battle the hostile tribe, rescuing Lot and all his family and their possessions. Abram then refused to take any of the spoils of war, returning home having received only a blessing from the high priest of the area where Lot lived. We pick up the story from there, in Genesis 15, which can be found on page __ in your pew Bible if you’d like to follow along.

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.


They did all the right things.

They married and built a life—by most accounts a successful life with many animals and people, though no children, which meant Sarah was considered a failure.
They heard God’s call and followed—God said “go” and they went, without knowing where or why exactly.
They believed God’s promise—land, heirs too numerous to count, blessing for the world.
They looked out for their family, rescuing nephew Lot and the others who’d been captured in battle.
But still…a fairly major part of the picture was missing.

There were no children.

That part of the promise where God said Abram and Sarai would be a great nation, with so many descendants they would fill the whole earth…it was not only not fulfilled, it was impossible. They were in their 80s now, and their life and future were less secure than ever.

They probably thought about it every day. They’d done everything right, followed all the directions…perhaps they even went back over their memories, year by year, wondering where they’d gone wrong to end up in this situation. How did they get to this point, where all they’d worked for would be left to a slave because there were no children to inherit? They never thought this was how it would turn out.

And now here’s God, promising yet again “your reward shall be very great.” And I can practically hear Abraham’s sarcastic “thanks a lot, God”…because what good is a great reward if there’s no one to pass it on to? There’s no one to remember when he’s gone, no one to carry on the legacy of promise or even just of hard work. So there’s no point in collecting more stuff or more wealth, because soon it will all be over anyway. What can God possibly give that would matter to someone whose family has no future?

I suspect many of us have had some variation of this feeling—wondering if all the work we’ve put in might be for nothing. Maybe because life just hasn’t gone according to plan. Maybe because there’s no next generation to pick up the things that have been important to us. Maybe because we’re struggling in ourselves, wondering if God’s promise is really true, or if that really was God’s call we followed or some other voice.

One of my favorite things about this story is how blunt Abram is. He barely lets God get a word in edgewise as the accusing words tumble out—“what will you give me? You promised children, but there are none. I had to come up with someone to put in my will, because you didn’t.” He point blank says that God has fallen down on the job, has broken the promise, and that has real consequences. He doesn't mince words, or try to be nice, or flatter God…he just says what he’s feeling.

And God answers him. God doesn’t gloss over Abram’s worries or frustration or grief, and doesn’t just reiterate the previous promise as if Abram hadn’t heard the first time. There are no platitudes or clich├ęs here. God meets Abram right where he is—sad and angry and tired and confused.

And there, with Abram’s accusation hanging in the air between them, God ushers Abram out of the tent and points him to the starry night.
Van Gogh's vision of the starry night
(http://www.wikiart.org/en/vincent-van-gogh/the-starry-night-1889)
After speaking specifically to the Eliezer question, God lifts Abram’s eyes out of the swirling vortex of despair he’d thought his way into, and told him to look at the swirling expanse of the universe instead. Abram looked up and saw light that came from thousands of years ago, shining in the sky. He saw the milky way, like a carpet runner across the sky. He saw millions and millions of stars…each placed there by the same God who was now speaking with him.

Think for a moment about the starry night sky. We can’t see it very well here, but even though we have obscured it with our own lights, it’s still there. Thousands of generations have passed since that light began to move toward us. And there is nothing we can do to stop it from twinkling for a thousand more generations after us.

Look into the sky, God says—try to count. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
That is what I have in mind for you.

God answers Abram, not with the pragmatic solution he’d hoped for, but with the gift of insight into God’s plan—which is far bigger than anything we can count or imagine. The practical part of the answer comes later, well after they try to take matters into their own hands and force God’s promise to their timetable. But along the way, every night, there’s the reminder: God’s intention is as long lasting as the stars, and as vast as the universe, and there is nothing we can do to stop it shining.

This answer seems to have worked for Abram, at least for the night. He cleared the air with God, and he caught a glimpse of God’s vision, and he trusted God’s word.

And then comes this little line: Abram trusted God, and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. Remember that righteousness means to-be-in-right-relationship—so Abram trusted God, and God put Abram into right relationship with him.

But I learned this week that the Hebrew is actually kind of vague here. The translation we read today adds a word to clear it up, but in reality, it’s unclear. We read through the lens of the letter to the Hebrews, and assume it was the Lord who reckoned righteousness to Abram. On its own, the Hebrew simply says “and he reckoned it to him as righteousness”…and who is “he” and who is “him” is ambiguous. So there are some who say that it was Abram who reckoned God righteous—believing God was someone trustworthy and caring and real with whom he could be in right relationship.

Or perhaps it works both ways. God worked on Abram, and Abram worked on God, and between the two of them trust built up, and their relationship grew and matured. After all, a right-relationship will never be static, and it will certainly never be one-sided, or dishonest or inauthentic. Abram was painfully honest, and God listened and responded. Not the practical but shallow response Abram wanted right at that moment, but the response he needed to keep moving toward God’s goal. Together, Abram and God trusted each other.

And starry night after starry night, God’s promise is true, and God’s presence is real, and God’s compassion can never be extinguished…whether we worry about our future or our past, what we have done right and what we have done wrong, when we and God trust each other, it will be reckoned as righteousness. With God, all things are possible.

May it be so. Amen.







Wednesday, August 31, 2016

following the thread of grace

Over the summer, we read the Bible in 90 Days. It was awesome. During worship on the Sunday after we finished reading, we had a "Tour Through Scripture"--each of the following verses were written down on notecards (one book's quote per card), and then we read them aloud, with each person in the room reading a card. In order, obviously (the cards were numbered, too...). Then I encouraged people to take their notecard with them, to put it on the mirror or to carry it around and to use it to memorize the verse, and to use it as a lens through which to look at life for the rest of the year. Where does this snippet of scripture seem to shed light, or give a different perspective, or remind me, etc?

There really is evidence of God's grace, love, and forgiveness all throughout the Bible, in spite of the common misconception that the Old Testament is all wrath and judgment and the New is all love and light. There's plenty of all of those to go around in all 66 books. But this particular tour follows one of the many threads of grace, from "In the beginning..." to "Amen."



Tour Through Scripture: Tracing a Thread of Grace
(for the closing worship service after we finished the Bible in 90 Days, 2016)

Genesis 1.1-4
Exodus 3.14-15 (or 34.6)
Leviticus 19.9-10, 18
Numbers 6.22-27
Deuteronomy 16.16b-17 & 26.10b-11
Joshua 5.13-15 (or 24.13-14b)
Judges 2.18
Ruth 1.16-17
1 Samuel 3.8b-10 (or 7.10-12)
2 Samuel 24.24-25
1 Kings 8.15-21
2 Kings 4.42-44
1 Chronicles 16.8-15
2 Chronicles 34.28b-32
Ezra 7.27-28b
Nehemiah 9.5-8
Esther 9.20-22
Job 42.1-5
Psalm 73.24-26
Proverbs 3.13-15, 19-20
Ecclesiastes 3.10-11
Song of Songs 8.6-7a
Isaiah 25.6-9
Jeremiah 31.1-3
Lamentations 3.22-26
Ezekiel 37.26-27
Daniel 10.11-12, 18-19a
Hosea 11.3-4, 9
Joel 2.12-13
Amos 5.14-15
Obadiah 12, 20a, 21
Jonah 4.10-11
Micah 4.1-5 (or 7.18-20)
Nahum 1.15
Habakkuk 3.17-19
Zephaniah 3.9, 19-20a
Haggai 2.5-7
Zechariah 8.7-8
Malachi 3.6a, 17
Matthew 22.37-40
Mark 2.16-17 (or 4.21-23)
Luke 24.9-12
John 15.12-13, 16
Acts 10.28, 34, 36
Romans 5.1-2
1 Corinthians 1.27-30
2 Corinthians 4.15
Galatians 5.13-14
Ephesians 1.18-19a (or through 23)
Philippians 2.12-13
Colossians 2.2-3
1 Thessalonians 1.2-4
2 Thessalonians 1.11-12
1 Timothy 4.7b-8
2 Timothy 1.9-10
Titus 2.11-14
Hebrews 10.23-25 (or 4.12)
James 1.17-18
1 Peter 4.8-11 (or 1.20-21)
2 Peter 3.8-9
1 John 3.2
2 John 5-6
3 John 4-5
Jude 20-21
Revelation 22.1-6, 20-21


*note: many of the cards used the Common English Bible translation. Some used the NRSV. Very occasionally I might have used something else if I liked the way it flowed, from a memorization perspective, but the vast majority were CEB. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Grace Is Enough--a sermon on Galatians 4

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Grace Is Enough
Galatians 4.1-7, 21-5.1
21 August 2016, P2-6 (overflowing: trust)


Paul founded churches throughout the Roman province of Galatia—in modern day Turkey—during both his first and second missionary journeys. At some point after he moved on to other places, another group of missionaries arrived. These missionaries insisted that Gentiles who wished to follow Christ must also become Jews—they needed to be circumcised and to follow the Law of Moses. Paul had taught that this was unnecessary because salvation is about God’s action in Jesus Christ. The conflict within the church about this question was intense and volatile, Christians fighting with each other about the correct way to be a Christian or a church. The question of how to get into a right relationship with God was, and still is, an important question, and Paul addresses it by reminding the church of God’s promise and Christ’s work. The scripture reading from Galatians 4 can be found on an insert in your bulletin if you wish to follow along.

....
My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
‘Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married.’
Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? ‘Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.’ So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

~~~~~~~~

This is a pretty confusing passage of scripture. There’s a reason it’s never in the lectionary. I may have been over ambitious in choosing it, because frankly I just don’t like it very much. I wish Paul and chosen another way of making his point--one that wouldn’t be so easily misinterpreted. But he didn’t, so let’s refresh our memory of the story of Sarah and Hagar and Isaac and Ishmael...

Sarah and Abraham had been promised a child, but they were very old and there was no sign of this promise being true, so Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham as a secondary wife, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Meanwhile, eventually Sarah did become pregnant and Isaac was born, just as God had promised. But Sarah’s jealousy got the better of her and she threw Hagar and Ishmael out, insisting they had no part in the inheritance that God was giving to Isaac. Out in the desert, God and Hagar had a conversation in which God promised Hagar that Ishmael would also father a great nation. In their later years, Ishmael and Isaac reunited at Abraham’s funeral.

It’s a story that hurts—God’s chosen people act in self interest and hate, excluding those they don’t like. In the end, God is good, but in the midst of the story that isn’t at all clear to Hagar, who is being abused by her mistress, seemingly with God’s consent. Why would Paul choose this story as a way to illustrate his teaching? The idea of “driving out the slave woman and her child” is, frankly, horrifying to our modern sensibilities. And even in the context of its original story, when Sarah kicked out Hagar and Ishmael, it was a selfish and fear-based action, not based in trusting God at all. And in using this allegory, Paul runs the risk of being misunderstood as saying that Jews are not God’s chosen people anymore, they should be driven out because they don’t have any share in the promise the way Christians do.

So, to be clear: he isn’t saying that. This is not a letter directed at a conflict between Christians and Jews, advocating that Christians are superior. This is a conflict between Christians and Christians, about what rules they have to follow in order to be saved.

The missionaries who had arrived sometime after Paul left Galatia were insistent that those who were not already Jews must become Jews in order to follow Jesus. They refused to allow uncircumcised people into the church’s worship or fellowship, saying they had to first commit to following the Law of Moses.

These are the people Paul compares to Hagar and Ishmael, who must be driven out. They are teaching that our actions are what influences God’s choice to love us. Hagar and Ishmael represent the part of the story where human beings take matters into their own hands, trying to force God’s promise to come true right now, rather than trusting God to follow through. To be circumcised and attempt to follow the law would be to declare that there is something human beings can or must do to be adopted into God’s family.

But, Paul says, the law cannot save…and indeed, the law cannot even truly be kept. It represents an attempt to earn God’s favor, which is impossible. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more or less. We are freed from trying to make our own way, and instead can live secure in the knowledge that through Christ, we are indeed beloved children of God. We can trust that we don’t have to be enough, because grace is enough.

It’s hard to imagine a church Paul started—founded on grace and inclusion, on the good news that when God looks at us, God sees us through the lens of Christ and his faithfulness—it’s hard to imagine them falling for this false teaching that they must do something to earn that grace. Paul made two trips to Galatia, teaching and modeling this new way of life and community that is possible because of what God has done. Why wouldn’t they trust the grace of God?

Though we might ask ourselves the same question. We are just as prone to falling into the trap of believing we have to do something to earn grace. It may not be circumcision anymore, but there are plenty of Christians who teach that we must all keep the laws of Moses…or at least, the ones they think are important. There are those who insist that we have to say the right words, or go to the right place, or have the right friends, or vote the right way, or exclude the right people, or else we aren’t really Christian. Even those of us who most firmly believe that grace is a gift and salvation is 100% God’s choice and God’s work still sometimes find ourselves thinking we have to be good in order for God to truly love us. It’s hard work to trust that grace is enough when everything else in life depends so much on our own choices and behavior, when our whole society is based around earning and deserving. It’s much easier to believe in ourselves, to trust that we are doing the right things, or at least that we’re sorry for doing the wrong things, than it is to trust the promise that Christ has set us free to be loved and to love. We want to do something, by which we mean we want to control something.

But Paul is emphatic on this point. “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Even the subconscious belief that we need to be good enough or that we need to do enough to be saved is slavery to the law, and we are people of grace. We are heirs of the promise, in the line of Isaac—the child born without any help from people, on God’s timeline and for God’s purpose. The promise is true, and we cannot change the reality that God’s love is for us, no matter what we have done.

For freedom Christ has set us free! Our lives are a reflection of our gratitude for all God has done for us, not an attempt to earn our way into heaven. “Freedom is a gift, not an achievement.”* And it is a gift that God has chosen to give us through Christ, from whom we have all received grace upon grace. Can we trust that grace is enough?

May it be so. Amen.




*New Interpreter's Bible, volume ___, page 310

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Shape of Life--a sermon on John 21

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
The Shape of Life
John 21.1-17, 25
14 August 2016, Pentecost 2-5 (overflowing: love)

The Gospel according to John is the last of the four gospels to be written—perhaps as much as 30 to 40 years after Mark wrote. John tells the story of Jesus from a cosmic perspective, looking at the big picture from before time until the end of time. It is a story primarily of God’s action—God’s word become flesh, God drawing people into relationship through Christ, God painting a picture of what life in the kingdom is like.
Today’s reading is from the very end of John, the epilogue in chapter 21. After Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning, he appeared three times to his other disciples, and this is the third of those encounters. It provides a nice bookend to Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, and it names disciples who were also named in the beginning, so the story ties the whole gospel together as one narrative. Just as the opening chapter of the gospel sets the stage, so the closing chapter reviews all the themes that John wants us to remember as we go to live as disciples. If you’d like to follow along, you can find the reading on an insert in your bulletin.

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’
But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.


~~~~~

Over the course of my life so far, I estimate that I have had somewhere around 6,200 family dinners. Every night when I was growing up, each of us would take our seats—the same one every night—with my mom closest to the kitchen, of course. We would eat dinner and talk about stuff, and whenever one of us talked with our mouths full my parents would flick us on the cheek, or if we put our elbows on the table then we’d get a little flick of the elbow instead. My brother and I took turns being in charge of setting or clearing the table, helping with cooking and helping with clean up. And in addition to learning table manners, we heard and created family stories, absorbed values, and were shaped, night after night, into the people we have become.

At the time, it didn’t seem like anything special. It was just the way things were—every night, around the same time, we’d be at the table eating and talking and learning and sharing. And if someone else was at the house—friends or neighbors or family, whether just visiting for the afternoon or staying for the summer—they would have a place set for them too. Occasionally something would come up—baseball practice, orchestra rehearsal—and we would shift the time, but it was a rare thing to not eat together.

I couldn’t tell you now about the topics of conversation, or what we ate every day, or which tablecloth was out on any given night. All those nights, whether they involved chicken cordon bleu or hamburger helper, conversation about school or sports or hopes and dreams, run together into one picture of love and belonging and understanding what is expected of me as a part of the family. What seemed so ordinary has turned out, in retrospect, to be perhaps the most special and formative part of my growing up years.

I’ve been thinking about formative experiences because of something I read about this conversation between Jesus and Peter. Here they are, on the beach near the place where Jesus had previously fed a crowd of more than 5000 people with just a few loaves and fishes, and he has done it again, turning their scarcity into abundance and then feeding them with bread and fish baked over a campfire. Peter’s cloak was probably still damp from his excited hundred-yard-dash in the water from the boat to shore—so eager to see Jesus that he was caught in between his desire to be properly clothed to meet the rabbi and his desire to be there rightnow.

It had been at least a few weeks since that Easter morning encounter with Mary Magdalene in the garden, and Jesus had since appeared to his disciples two other times. This third time held all the marks of being final—a completion of their time together. It was early in the morning, just like that first Easter, when Jesus found them in the midst of their emptiness. After a night of nothingness, there was suddenly an abundance of fish in the exact number that many people think was the number of known countries at the time, symbolizing the disciples fishing for people across the whole world. Jesus had fed them, just as he always did.

And then the after-breakfast conversation. Three times, Jesus asks Peter—do you love me more than the other disciples do? He calls Peter by name, and Peter recognizes the good shepherd’s voice and proclaims his love…but for Jesus, just saying “yes, I love you” isn’t quite enough. He wants to see love as alive as he is, so he gives Peter a task. And Peter, really, stands in for all of us as he hears Jesus’ command: to put our faith into practice. As one scholar said, “to love Jesus is to shape one’s life according to Jesus’ life.” [1]

If you love me, Jesus says, your life should look like mine. The shape of your days should match the shape of my love. Having been found and fed, now you follow.

How do we shape our lives to look like Jesus’ life?

The shape of Jesus’ life is the shape of the cross. Just as the cross reminds us of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it also reminds us how he lived his life, and gives us a shape on which to model our lives. When Jesus said that we are to love God with all our mind, soul, heart, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, he drew for us a cross of vertical relationship and horizontal relationship.

Throughout the gospels we see Jesus constantly connected to God the creator—he goes off by himself to pray, nurturing that connection. Throughout the book of John especially, Jesus repeatedly says that anything he does comes from the Father, and the people who come to him are called first by God. He shows us what it means to love God with every fiber of our being.

At the same time he also models how to love our neighbor. He reaches out and touches people who are sick or unclean. He gathers together the hungry and feeds them. He goes out to the edges of society, and beyond, showing people how much God cares for them.

And we, who love Jesus, are to do the same. To draw the shape of our lives—not just our thoughts or feelings, but the way we live and move through the world—in the same shape Jesus did: simultaneously vertical and horizontal.

At the center of this shape is Christ, standing on a hillside or on the beach or in a kitchen, handing us the bread of life, showing us what this relationship looks like. The meals Jesus shares with people are an expression of his relationship with them, and that is still true. When we share a meal with our neighbors, we also share it with Christ. Every table is a reminder of God’s grace and abundance, and an opportunity to be formed and re-formed until our lives look more like Jesus’.

So what are the formative experiences of our Christian life? How are we formed—shaped—to live a life that looks like Christ’s?

At the family dinner table. Here, where Christ is the host, over and over again we hear the stories, we absorb the ethos, we come to understand how much we are loved and how we belong. We practice including strangers, and stretching to have enough for everyone, and being amazed at how much is provided. Sometimes it’s a fancy and special holiday or occasion, and most of the time it’s just the regular 6000 nightly dinners whose specialness may only be seen when we look at them all together, seeing how that pattern of life shapes us into who we are—children of God, growing into life with Christ, reaching up and reaching out, overflowing with love.

May it be so. Amen.



[1] New Interpreter's Bible, volume __, p. 864

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lovable--a sermon on Hosea 14

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Lovable
Hosea 14.1-9
31 July 2016, P2-3 (overflowing: healing)

The prophet Hosea lived in the mid-700s BC, and most of his words were directed toward the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the years leading up to being conquered by the Assyrian Empire. His poetry is full of metaphors, puns, and plays-on-words that aren’t always obvious to us in English. Most of Hosea’s book uses the metaphor of family to talk about God and God’s people. The covenant relationship between God and humans is like a marriage, or like a parent and child. It hurts when family members turn away, or when they behave in ways so contrary to the values we hold dear. That’s true for God too—God’s heart is grieved by the way God’s family has behaved. But because this family is formed by God’s covenant love, even after all Hosea’s message of condemnation, every poem ends with healing and hope. Today we are reading the last chapter of the book, Hosea 14 verses 1 through 9.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
‘Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, “Our God”,
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.’

I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me.

Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.

~~~~~~

Many of us are so accustomed to thinking of the Old Testament as being all anger and destruction, or boring repetition of names we can’t pronounce, that we forget that the same God we know in Christ is also God in the Old Testament. This summer as we have been reading, we’ve had lots of weeks where it felt like the body count was the most abundant thing about the people’s experience of God, or where we couldn’t see our way to grace through the litany of the different imaginative ways people have found to worship other gods.

But then we stumble on passages like this one. There are more of them than we think—it may be a sentence here and there, or a poem or paragraph in the midst of a frighteningly long recital of battles, but they’re there. Throughout scripture—from beginning to end—the beauty of God’s unending love is woven in.

Today, at the end of the book of the prophet Hosea, we get this beautiful image—God’s healing love will flow so freely that the people will blossom, their roots will grow deep, they will be fruitful and flourishing like olive trees and grape vines. God will be the dew refreshing the plants each morning, the shade under which they will dwell secure. Here, in the very last verses of a prophet who spoke such hard words just a few chapters ago, is the unconditional love, healing, and restoration that we know God to be.

And these images—blossom like the lily, beauty like the olive tree, roots like the forests of Lebanon, flourishing like a garden—are traditional images. They come from stories like the blessing that Isaac gave to Jacob and from poetry like the Song of Songs. Hosea isn’t the first to relay this promise from God—his words echo the same story God has been telling through Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Miriam and Ruth and Naomi and Esther and Job and Josiah and Jeremiah and thousands of others, from the beginning.

In fact, the way God speaks in the middle of today’s reading: “I will heal…I will love…I will be like the dew…”—all those “I will”s are the same word as the word God takes as a name when speaking to Moses at the burning bush. “I am who I am”…or “I will be who I will be.” Here we see who God will be: healer, lover, provider. There in God’s name, revealed in Exodus chapter 3, is the reality that Hosea now reveals to the people, and to us: that through all the things we might do, God will be who God will be—and God chooses to be faithful to the covenant, even when God’s covenant partners aren’t. God chooses to forgive, even before we come forward with our confession. God chooses to seek us out, over and over, never giving up on compassion and love.

And eventually, we are found by grace…again and again. As the people are called to confess at the beginning of the chapter—when we look to human powers and systems to save us, God will find us with grace. When we build up military might and rely on it for our strength, God will find us with grace. When we turn to the idols we have made, whether in the form of statues or systems, money or ideals, God will find us with grace, and will breathe new life into us, giving us what we need to walk in the ways of the Lord.

God knows that we will stumble, and that we will need finding again. We sometimes forget that reality, and we think we can be righteous and faithful on our own. We rely on our willpower, and we castigate ourselves and each other for not living up to the rules. We create systems that tell us if we are being good enough or not, and rewards and punishments that we draw out of context from scripture and apply to the afterlife, or to the prosperity or hardship we experience in this one. But God tells us the truth in verse 8: “your faithfulness comes from me.”

If we are able to be faithful, it is because God is faithful.

We love because God first loved us.

Or, as Desmond Tutu said at the top of the bulletin today: God says “you are lovable because I love you.”

Not because we made ourselves lovable. Not because we said the right words or did the right things. We are lovable because God loves us. Because God is love.

Yes, God is angry in some of these stories we have read this summer. But as many of us know, anger is rarely the primary emotion—it’s the symptom of something else. The book of Hosea offers us a possibility: that anger is part of God’s grief. God longs for the kind of relationship with the creation that is founded on mutual care, on justice and peace, on love. That’s the basis of the covenant—God has demonstrated love and care for us, has enacted justice and offered peace…and our side is supposed to be to do the same. Because we have been loved, we are to love others. Because we have been cared for, we are to care for others. Because we have experienced justice and peace, we are to create it for others. God is longing for a world where what God offers to us then overflows through us into the whole world.

When that doesn’t happen, God grieves. And sometimes that looks like anger—calling us to account for the ways we have held up the streams of living water, hoarding them for ourselves or diverting them for other uses, and for the times when we have attributed God’s blessings to ourselves or to other gods of our own design and so have failed to be grateful and to pass them on. But through the angry moments, there is a deeper truth: God has no intention of giving up on God’s people. God is faithful, and it is from God that we learn to be faithful too.

God’s promise is true: God’s care for us extends from roots to blossoms, cultivating us in faith, hope, and love until we flourish like the garden of Eden. We are found by grace, healing overflows, forgiveness is already real, and we are constantly being restored as partners in God’s covenant. We are lovable, because we are loved.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

things I didn't want to learn...

Today I learned what a stress fracture looks like on an x-ray.*

I could have done without this knowledge, especially when looking at an x-ray of my own leg.

It appears that my usual approach of "walk it off" was never going to work...so now I will spend the next eight weeks sitting even more than I have been the past eight weeks. grr.

That means I won't be able to run the fall half marathon. And it means I'm now accepting suggestions for non-weight bearing exercise I can do (at home) instead, so that when I *am* back to running, it won't be like starting from couch-potato...even though I will need to be practically the definition of couch potato for two months.**

Also, if anyone wants to contribute to my "summer of sitting" amazon fund, I have a really long list of books I want to read. hahahahahahahaha.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some comfort foods to eat. Because obviously if I can't exercise, I should instead plan to drown my sorrows in cheese and ice cream...


*it looks like a little bubble almost, wider than it is deep of course, just an arch of fibers separating from the edge of the bone. Now that I have seen it, I kind of think that's what it feels like, actually.

**It's probably not a running injury, just an exacerbated-by-running injury, so let's not go down the "maybe you should quit running" path.