Saturday, July 31, 2010

life storage--a sermon for Ordinary 18C

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
life storage
Luke 12.13-21
1 August 2010, Ordinary 18C

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’


Okay, be honest: who’s uncomfortable already, before I even start talking?
It just seems like we should get that little fact out of the way—we’re uncomfortable when it comes to talking about money, material goods, and all that other stuff that we all really like to have and some of which we even need…and we’re especially uncomfortable talking about it in church.

Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable. He talks more about money and possessions than about any other topic, and basically nothing he says about it makes us feel any more comfortable—“sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.” “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Today’s is probably the least offensive of the bunch: “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions…beware of storing up treasures for yourself but not being rich toward God.”

I’ll never forget my first experience in a Presbyterian church—I’ve told the story before, I think, of being hired to play the special music and hearing my very first sermon, which was about that story where Jesus tells the man to sell everything and come follow him…and the pastor said, “Jesus doesn’t mean that WE have to sell all our possessions and give away all our money.”
In my literal teenage mind, I wrote off the church then and there…it was obviously full of hypocrites who were more concerned about maintaining their own wealth than about following Jesus. God obviously has a sense of humor, since 15 years later I’m standing here, trying to think of ways I can make the story easier without resorting to the same words I heard that pastor say.

The thing is, Jesus does say those things. And they do matter, and they are just as important now as they were 2,000 years ago, and they DO apply to us, whether we want to think they do or not. And the other thing is: the church IS full of sinners, people who struggle with what it means to follow Jesus in the midst of all the other things of life. That’s what it means to be human, and a big part of what it means to be a Christian—that we work together to try to figure all this stuff out, we hold each other accountable when we fail, and we support each other in good and bad times.

Here, I think, is a way for us to think about the story Jesus tells. For the most part, actually, this doesn’t seem like a story of a foolish man, it seems like the story of a wise and practical man who wants to be a good steward of the bounty his land has produced, storing up for the winter or for a lean year, preparing so he can be self-sufficient, providing for his needs in the future.

Did you notice anyone else in the story?

I didn’t. The man uses exclusively “I” language—11 times—and never once mentions anyone else—whether a family, a community, a synagogue, a village, or even a friend.

Here is where the trouble comes—not with the bounty itself, nor even in the idea of storing things for the future, but in the fact that he kept it to himself. He didn’t share his joy with his village, he didn’t ask for suggestions in what to do with the excess, he didn’t make an offering or leave part for the poor, he didn’t turn to his community for accountability and sharing and challenge and joy and hope. He turns instead to himself and decides that because he has all this wealth, he is self-sufficient.

Well…newsflash. No one is self-sufficient. No matter how much money you have, no matter how big your harvest, no matter how big a storage unit you have, no one is self-sufficient. And when we start to believe that—when we believe we can store up our lives, when what or how much we have becomes a defining factor in who we are—then we are in danger of being full of plenty of things, but not rich toward God, the provider, the giver of every good gift. We’ll have so filled up with the good life that we miss out on Abundant Life.

The thing about Abundant Life is that it happens in community—God did not create people to be alone, but to be part of a community as vibrant and filled with love and challenge as the Trinity is. When we try to go it alone, when we believe we can be self-sufficient, when we put more trust in our cultural dream of a big house and lots of toys, then we are acting more like the rich fool and less like people who follow Christ. When we have storage unit companies called “Life Storage” alongside people who live on the streets and children who go to bed hungry, then we are as a culture and as a church acting more like the rich fool and less like people who follow Christ. And, dare I say it, when we bristle at these stories and the conversations about money and stewardship, and we go home fuming that Jesus would dare to talk about something so personal and so private…we may be acting more like the rich fool and less like people who follow Christ. We forget, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that we are dependent on God for everything—breath and life and everything else, none of it is truly “ours.”

There is actually a term for this—for those of us (and yes, sometimes I’m one of these people too!) who are perfectly willing and able to claim belief and love and all that stuff…as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with what we do and how we live outside of our church personas. The term is “practical atheism”—we may believe all we want, but in practice we often act like God has no claim on who we are and how we go about our lives and, in the case of this story, what we do with our stuff and how we use our resources.

Just as the love of God penetrates into everything we are and everything we do, so the challenge of Jesus worms its way into every nook and cranny of our lives—from how we manage our money to how we treat each other to how we vote to how we handle accountability and joy and sharing. The good news for us is that the strength of the Holy Spirit also blows its way through every aspect of our lives, empowering us to live as followers of Christ in every moment, every decision, every action. The Spirit forms us for community and moves among us so we can be the people God has called us to be. At the risk of sounding a little like that pastor I remember from years ago, I’ll even suggest that we are called not to merely become poor, but to become Generous…and so find ourselves rich toward God.

May it be so.
Amen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

fireflies

yes, the song. the one that's crazy overplayed but I still love for reasons unknown.

"you would not believe your eyes if ten million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep."

You're right, you wouldn't--unless you happen to be out among the corn and soybean fields in mid-summer, and then you'd find that there really ARE ten million fireflies lighting up the world with their teardrop shaped glitter. And you might just stand and stare...unless you're driving, in which case you might slow down to stare and the people behind you will be very annoyed until they too stop watching you and glance to the side of the road to see just how very cool that is.

Whatever, that's not dangerous--you'd be driving very slow. it's fine.

Anyway, it's super cool--this is one of my favorite times of year, because whenever you're out at dusk there's just glitter hovering over every grassy or soybeany or corny patch of ground. You can't get a picture of this, no matter how hard you try--you just have to experience it as fully as possible and then hope that experience will tide you over 'til next summer.

Tonight I also saw a hundred frogs hopping across the road, and a BEAUTIFUL sunset, and a bat! I hope the bat did not eat one of the fun and flighty lightning bugs... :-)




Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Five: Decisions, Decisions


Songbird writes over at RGBP:
Since I've been in the midst of a discernment process, I've done a lot of reflecting on how we make decisions. But don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to reveal a dark story about a poor decision, or a self-flagellating story about an embarrassing one. Let's keep it simple and go with five word pairs. Tell us which word in the pair appeals to you most, and after you've done all five, give us the reason why for one of them.

Here they are:

Try not to pull on the big cat's tail when you answer. :-)





1) Cake or Pie: PIE! Wait...cake with fruity or creamy filling between layers and buttercream frosting! wait...mixed berry pie..apple pie...boston cream pie...PECAN PIE!! umm...YES.
2) Train or Airplane: I love the idea of trains, and if we could get our American train act together the way Europe has, definitely train. Until then, airplane. Unless we're talking about very short trips, like from my house into Chicago (1:23 by train, can't really fly there...). :-)
3) Mac or PC: MAC!! We've had Macs since the Apple IIe when I was in 7th grade. I defected briefly in seminary but I'm back with an apple vengeance.
4) Univocal or Equivocal: mostly equi-vocal, but sometimes you just gotta be univocal, sadly.
5) Peter or Paul: Peter!

I'm a 7 on the Enneagram--I don't like to close off options, and I'm petrified of making a decision that might not make me as happy as the other one would have...you don't want to go to an all-vegetarian restaurant with me because I'll have to order most everything on the menu so we'll be there all day. LOL.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

picnic

I kind of feel like I want to combine several of the one-word project prompts into one, but it seems that would not be in the spirit of the exercise, so I'm going to try to go with just one at a time. And on a sunny day like today, a day when I'm still finishing up with post-mission trip stuff, a day when I'm looking forward to new things, a day when it's absolutely gorgeous outside and I am stuck in my office trying to get stuff done, a picnic is just the thing.

In southern Louisiana last week we had a picnic, sort of, almost every day. Three days we ate at our worksite, balancing on random pieces of furniture or paint buckets, holding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on our dust or paint covered hands. The other two days we went to a local park and had picnics at picnic shelters, sitting at picnic tables, surrounded by grass and plants and wildlife and water...and across the street from a sno-ball (snowcone) stand. yes, life is good.

At these picnics, the youth in my group discovered something that I can't believe they didn't know about me before: when I get tired of peanut butter and jelly (which happens about halfway through the first sandwich), I like to make sandwiches out of cheese and chips. wheat bread, whatever condiments are handy (mustard and mayo are best), some cheese (american cheese will do--which is good, since that's what we had--though I did have swiss and american one day), and whatever kind of chips I have. Some days I put Sun Chips, some days baked Ruffles cheddar and sour cream, some days baked lays (plain)...but always cheese and chips. It's so delicious! Crunchy yet sandwichy, a fun mixture of flavors, easily held together with no need to reach into the chip bag while your sandwich falls apart in the other hand...and PERFECT for the vegetarian in your life who wants to have a sandwich but only has meat and cheese and chips on hand.
I learned to do this at a church picnic many years ago--the first church picnic that Fourth Presbyterian held at the "new" (especially then!) Chicago Avenue site--back when it was just a parking lot awaiting a building, not a thriving community garden. We had this picnic there, and there was Not.A.Single.Vegetarian.Thing at the whole picnic. So I had a hotdog made of chips instead of hotdogs--bun, ketchup, potato chips...mmmmm.....and ever since, chip sandwiches have been my picnic food of choice.

Well, I still eat peanut butter and jelly sometimes (I even packed my own no-high-fructose-corn-syrup-no-sugar-no-chemical jam to take with me to Louisiana...and two of us ate the whole jar!). But it's not quite a picnic without a chip sandwich.

Monday, July 12, 2010

this week..

...i'm over here. check it out.

Monday, July 05, 2010

puppy

Before I tell you a story, you should know that I tend to use the word "puppy" to talk to or about any dog, no matter the dog's age or size. I think there's probably a bit of puppy in every grown dog, just like there's a child inside every grown up person--the question is whether we let it out.

So today, the 5th of July, was the Crystal Lake 4th of July Parade.
...
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I don't understand either, so don't ask.

My friend Cecily is out of town for the long weekend, camping with her family in the Wisconsin Dells. So I get to take care of Bonnie, her adorable puppy...who is, umm, an unknown age. Probably older-ish. I'm not sure what kind of dog Bonnie is, but I do know she looks a lot like a bichon-frisee, but isn't one. She's very loving, very funny, and very good.
Anyway, the last few parades I've been to (well, okay, Memorial Day and 5th of July, for the past 3.5 years) have lasted around 30 minutes. And they begin just 2 blocks from Cecily's house. So I thought I'd pick up Bonnie and we'd walk over to the beginning of the parade route (literally right where the various groups stage and then enter the route) and watch the parade.

Our first spot lasted only a few minutes because there was a boxer puppy (a young one) nearby who just Could.NOT.Contain.Himself and wanted to come play/eat bonnie every few seconds, and his owner was *clearly* annoyed that we had taken up residence only 8 feet away. So we moved across the street, where I sat on a curb and let Bonnie run as far as her leash would take her (about 6 feet). There was a great dane nearby, but not close enough to be interesting or interested. There were also two small dogs (one VERY small and yappy) but they were interested in each other, though Bonnie wanted desperately to join in their fun. And so Bonnie frolicked, made friends with some small children, and did that thing where she burrows her face into the grass and rolls around. I watched the parade, which was a typical small town 4th (5th) of July parade--a truck carrying the community band, trucks carrying the praise bands of various local churches (including one church that, I'm pretty sure, doesn't even use a band in any of their worship services), trucks carrying people who work at local businesses, girl scouts, library workers doing drill-team-esqu routines with book carts, local high school pom squads, the Jesse White tumbling team and the South Shore Drill Team, the local drum line, etc. It's a good time. But pretty soon I noticed that I'd consumed my entire bottle of water, Bon-pup was getting restless, and there were still an unknown number of acts lining up in the staging area.

The parade ended up being over an hour long. Bonnie was so tired and hot that I had to carry her partway home (much to the amusement of the police officer, who stared at me as I walked down the street with the 12 pound dog in my arms). And, of course, I have a RAGING sunburn. Because what fun is a parade without an unexpected sunburn?

I will say that I think I had more fun at the parade with Bonnie the lovely white puppy than I ever have by myself. She was fun to watch, fun to see kids interact with, and cute to carry home. Thanks, Bonnie, for a good afternoon. Hope you got a good nap and lots of water!


Sunday, July 04, 2010

missionaries--a sermon for Ordinary 14 C

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
missionaries
Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
4 July 2010, Ordinary 14C

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’
The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’



There’s a lot going on in church life these days—and it’s pretty exciting! Yesterday I came home from a conference of 40 young clergy women of all different denominations and even from around the world—a conference during which we learned, we shared, we ate, we laughed, we cried, we sang, we made random art, and we encouraged each other on our journeys. Last night, around 11:30pm, the PCUSA General Assembly began its bi-annual meeting by electing a new moderator named Cindy Bolbach, from National Capital Presbytery. The 6 candidates for moderator gave speeches, answered questions, and then waited while the assembly worked through a bunch of technical issues and 5 rounds of voting before finally getting a majority for the only candidate who is an elder, not a pastor, and who talked insightfully and succinctly about issues like how we empower youth and young adults as church leaders. Next Sunday, seven of our high school youth, along with two adults, will head down to the Gulf Coast to work on houses, making them habitable for people forced out five years ago by Hurricane Katrina. A month from now, we’ll be feeding people right here in our church parking lot again. And, as you heard earlier, in just three weeks we’ll be meeting a candidate who might be the one God is calling to be our next head of staff. It’s a busy and exciting time to be the Church, the Body of Christ.

In the midst of all these goings-on, we have this story—a story of people going out into the world to do what Jesus calls them to do. A story of people learning what it means to live the gospel. A story of being the church, even outside the walls and at 2:33 on Thursday afternoon.

In this story, you might have noticed something startling. The 70 are traveling even lighter than the people who get to use the black-diamond-expert-traveler lane at the airport. No bag, no sandals, no extra clothes, no food, no money. Instead they have only the peace of Christ and some encouragement to practice what they preach. They talk about reliance on God, about the importance of community, about the good news of healing and wholeness for all, about the value of hospitality…and now they get to practice. So out they go, into the world, to receive the hospitality they would normally be giving, to experience life without a quid-pro-quo foundation, to wander with no agenda in mind other than to meet people where they are and prepare them to encounter the living God.

This is a little bit different from the ways we normally conceive of Being Church. We have this tendency, at least in this country, to equate being the church with going to church. Our culture, our tradition, and our history has taught us that church is a place where certain things happen or is a vendor of services—a place where we get what we want. So we go to a church that has great children’s programming, wonderful music, or fabulous education or fellowship opportunities. We equate going to church with Sunday morning worship and maybe Wednesday evening choir practice, but that’s about it. Church is about electing a moderator to do business, about the pastor in the pulpit, or maybe about short term mission trips.

But Jesus shows us here that this is not what church is. Those are things that The Church does, yes—but the church is not a building or a pastor or a program, the church is US, the people, the Body of Christ! So wherever we go, there the Body of Christ is. And Jesus commissions people to be the Body of Christ out in every town—in homes, in village squares, in marketplaces, in schools, in offices, in any place where people spend their time.

Think about the places you spend time—at work, whether you’re a teacher, an office manager, an administrator, an IT worker, a full time parent, a student. You probably go to work, to the grocery store or mall, to friends’ houses, to the drugstore and restaurants and maybe even the farmer’s market or the pool or the parade or facebook. In every place you go, you are the Body of Christ. In every interaction you have, every relationship and connection you are a part of, you have a mission: to let people see the living God, whose very nature is love. Whether you do it through teaching or learning, through building things or engineering or making art or answering phones and emails or any other type of work; whether you spend your time online or in person with others or even mostly alone2—your mission is to participate in what God is doing in the world. There’s plenty of work for all the laborers in the field. Mission isn’t just for missionaries in Africa or people who run food pantries or sit on mission committees—we’re all missionaries, every day! And we’re missionaries who travel light—we don’t need special equipment or special skills, we don’t need a masters degree or to speak several obscure languages. All we need, we have been given: The peace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Here at the table, we remind ourselves of these gifts—gifts that carry us out into the world to be the Body of Christ, gifts that nourish and empower us to do the work we have all been called to do, gifts that fill us up so that the love of God can overflow into the world.
Here at the table, we practice giving and receiving hospitality with no strings attached, we remember who is the true host of every meal, and we come together to share lives, stories, hopes, dreams, fears, and love.
Here at the table, we gather as a community to be re-made as the Body of Christ—in other words, we come to church so that we can BE the church.

May it be so. Amen.


~~~
after communion, instead of the traditional "prayer after communion" we had "Commissioning God's People"...

All of you have responded to God’s calling to ministry here at RCLPC and throughout this community. We have been fed together at this table, nourished by God’s word and by the feast of God’s heavenly banquet. Now we go out from this upper room to participate in God’s mission in every place we go—school and work, store and square, home and online. As we go to be the Body of Christ, we answer these questions:

In your life each day, will you walk the way of Christ and proclaim the gospel of God’s love for all people?

As Jesus reached out to heal and to love, will you reach out in compassion?

As Jesus took time for every person who came to him, will you make time to build relationships with the people who cross your path?

As Jesus prayed for God’s guidance and strength, will you turn to God for help?

As Jesus sent disciples out two by two, will you work with the people around you to help bring in the kingdom of God?

Will you support each other with your prayers, welcome people warmly when they come into this community, and help and encourage one another as we seek to encounter the living God together?

Let us pray together.
Faithful God, you have called us to serve you with our lives, promising to be with us always. You have filled us to overflowing with every good gift, even with your very life. Give us strength and wisdom, compassion and courage, so that in everything we do, we may be witnesses to your grace. Bind us to you with the faith, hope, and love of the gospel; lead us on Your way; and bring us together again. Amen.

Friends, we are now commissioned as missionaries in every place that we go, every thing that we do, and every relationship we are part of. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the spirit of Christ, always giving thanks to God. Amen!

Friday, July 02, 2010

after the official conference...

...comes the unofficial conference. The one where we read, write, talk, send stuff back and forth, write more, talk more, and drink some wine to go with all that. The one where smaller groups of us go out for dinner and talk about life, how we'll transition back to the places we live and work (where there aren't many of us to be found to share a glass of wine!). Last night a group of 5 young clergy women from different traditions and different parts of the country gathered for dinner at Woodfire Grill (where the chef is that guy from Top Chef). We enjoyed an evening in a private room, laughing, telling stories, drinking some wine, and eating incredible food. We talked about ways to continue our fellowship and support of one another as we return home...and about perhaps having a little "retreat" that will just happen to coincide with my 30th birthday. :-) We had a serious church-dork moment in which we moved, seconded, discussed, and voted on becoming a covenant/affinity group...and even appointed someone to see if there's any way to get financial support for this fabulous group. We called ourselves "Wine and the Word"--suitably vague that we can cover fellowship, sacraments, writing, reading, and scripture all at once. :-)

Now Amy and I are working on our book proposal--we are very close to being ready to submit! :-) Thank goodness for Java Monkey (and their free wireless), for laptop computers, for good friends, and for the opportunity to gather with such fabulous people who inspire and challenge and covenant to support.