Saturday, September 25, 2010

Investment 101--a sermon for Ordinary 26C

Rev. Teri Peterson
RCLPC
Investment 101
Jeremiah 32.1-3a, 6-15
26 September 2010, Ordinary 26C

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was imprisoned in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had imprisoned him.
Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.


I have to confess that, in spite of my sermon title, I don’t know very much about investing. The things I know are, in no particular order: that it involves money, usually large amounts; that the purpose of investing is both to support a company and to make money for myself, preferably lots of money for myself; that we should work to invest responsibly with companies that we trust and that don’t engage in activity or policy we find horrible…and that for many people that last point is optional.
So I’m probably the last person who should be talking about the basics of investing—I need to take that class, not teach it! Except that I think our usual investment strategies and portfolios are missing something—something that Jeremiah might be able to help us out with.
Now I know, you’re all sitting out there thinking that Jeremiah, and especially this story, is even harder to understand than the finer points of finance. Between the hard-to-pronounce names and the fuzzy historical details, the significance of a story like this is easily lost on us. We can barely make out what just happened, let alone why it was an important enough story to be told 2600 years later.

Here’s what happened: Jeremiah was in prison for doing his job well—for speaking the word of God to the people in power. The Babylonian army was camped all around Jerusalem and was using all the surrounding villages and fields to feed the troops. Jeremiah’s cousin came and offered him the deal of a lifetime—to buy a piece of prime real estate smack in the middle of the siege, a piece of real estate conveniently located under the tents and weapons of the Babylonian army. And Jeremiah, never one to pass up a good opportunity for symbolic action and metaphor, paid his cousin actual money for this piece of worthless land.

This is not unlike a Palestinian farmer buying a piece of land from his neighbor—a piece of land that just happens to be located under an Israeli settlement.

Or, if we leave the land part of the story behind for a moment, it’s a little like a conservation worker trying to save the pandas, even though the numbers don’t look good and the bamboo forests are being cut down and the people are moving further and further into the panda habitat.

Or like the architects who designed, and the patrons who financed, and the laborers who built, those cathedrals in Europe—cathedrals that took an average of 150 years—three lifetimes, or 4-5 generations of workers—to build.

The thing all of these people have in common is a vision—a vision of a future that others can’t always see, a vision for life in all its fullness, a vision of the kingdom of God. And they have invested themselves—their time, their imagination, their money, their energy—in that vision.

Just a few chapters ago, God reminded Jeremiah that God has a vision for the people—a vision for a future of hope. But if we really believe this—if we really believe that God keeps promises, that the promise is for a future of hope, that Christ came that we might have life in all its fullness, that the Spirit moves among us bringing life and light and hope, that God is widening the circle of grace even more than we can imagine, or (to use the words of the song we just sang a few minutes ago), “In you, O Lord, I put my trust” / “My hope is in no other save in Thee”…why aren’t we investing too? We’ve even been given investment guidelines: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength—in other words, with everything we are, everything we have, everything we do. This is an all-or-nothing investment strategy, one in which we put God, not ourselves, at the top of our portfolio list. We invest in God’s future of hope, not in securing our own futures. And Jeremiah shows us what that looks like—we put our money where we say our faith is. If we believe that God has a future of hope in store, that houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought, that occupying armies will leave and peace and justice will one day rule, that abundant life is possible and even desirable for every part of God’s creation…if we believe that God’s covenant is for real and we are a part of it, then it’s time to invest. It’s time to spend our money, our time, our reputations, our energy, our creativity, our resources, all our capital, on showing that we believe these things to be true. Because without investment, businesses don’t grow—and in this sense the kingdom of God is a little like a business. When we pray “your kingdom come” that must mean that we want it, so it’s time to back the words up with actions and resources.

Now, unlike most of our investments, the purpose of this one isn’t to improve our own lot in life, to ensure our own security, or make ourselves wealthy. We may not even see the returns on this investment. Like the architect who never saw his cathedral realized in his lifetime, we are people who invest in something that may be a ways down the road. Jeremiah told the scribe to put the deeds in earthenware jars so they might last a long time—and Jeremiah never saw that field in his lifetime. The Palestinian farmer who holds onto the deeds for his land on the other side of the separation barrier may never see his fields or olive trees again, but he has hope. The conservationists may never see the day pandas are successfully reintroduced in the wild, but they work in hope. The patrons and architects and laborers may never see their sanctuary, their refuge, their symbol of God’s presence finished, but they know it will be important for others they’ll never meet. But, as Oscar Romero points out, we are workers, not master builders, so we may never see the end results. We are prophets, and investors, in a future not our own—God’s future of hope.
May we be faithful workers, for the building up of God’s kingdom.
Amen.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Five--music!

Over at RGBP, MaryBeth writes:
Music is a part of the human experience, and part of religious traditions the world over. It is evocative and stirring, and many forms of worship are incomplete without it.

Our title comes from a quote popularly attributed to St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice." A little Googling, however, indicates that Augustine didn't say exactly that. In fact, what he said just doesn't fit well onto a t-shirt. So we'll stick with what we have.

"Singing reduces stress and increases healthy breathing and emotional expression. Singing taps into a deep, age-old power available to all of us. When we find our
voice, we find ourselves. Today, sing like you mean it." And let's talk about the role music plays in your life and worship.

1) Do you like to sing/listen to others sing? In worship, or on your own (or not at all?)
YES and YES and YES! :-)

2) Did you grow up with music in worship, or come to it later in life? Tell us about it, and how that has changed in your experience.
Since I didn't grow up in the church, no...I didn't grow up with music in worship. However, I did grow up a Camp Fire Girl, and we had our own rituals that included plenty of music...and my mom was a Camp Fire Girl before me and sang all the time...and we had plenty of music in my house! And some of those Camp Fire Girl songs still make appearances every now and then...

3) Some people find worship incomplete without music; others would just as soon not have it. Where do you fall?
I believe music is required...for me. I also believe worship isn't about me. So while "Sing to the Lord a new song" is one of the most important commandments, in my opinion, I also work really hard on at least wondering what my neighbor in the pew might need to worship more fully...so a range of worship experience, style, etc is important.

4) Do you prefer traditional music in worship, or contemporary? That can mean many different things!
Okay, so I used to be THE BIGGEST FAN of traditional worship (old hymns, organ, brass, professional level choir, nothing else) and THE BIGGEST HATER of "contemporary" worship. BUT...I have come to believe that a) all worship is contemporary and traditional in its own ways, and b) we have painted "contemporary worship" with this praise-chorus-brush that is not always true. I think we often think of contemporary worship the same way that the unchurched world thinks of Christians...we've been painted with the Religious-Right-Conservative-Politics-Megachurch brush which is not at all the way most Christians are. The same is true of contemporary worship music--it is not all the way we have stereotyped it (some is, it's true, but some Christians are like the stereotype too).
So: I like both. It's possible (we do it, in fact) to have contemporary worship music that is not IMeIMeIMe, not 7-11, not Jesus-is-my-boyfriend. It's possible to have traditional worship that is those things (I come to the garden, anyone?). Again, worship isn't about me, but it is about full expressions of who we are before God, and about communities worshipping together...and sometimes that means putting aside our stereotypes of what "worship" is. We have songs at our 830 ("alternative" aka with-a-band) service that I absolutely adore. We are able to bring in Carrie Newcomer or The Indigo Girls or David LaMotte. We sing hymns written in the 16th century and hymns written last week. We have words of the psalms, Calvin's words, David Crowder's words, and words written by members of our congregation. We have bluegrass, organ, singer-songwriter, gospel, jazz, spirituals, and edgy rock (one of our slogans is actually "from Bach to Rock"). The style is irrelevant as long as the purpose is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.

5) What's your go-to music ... when you need solace or want to express joy? A video/recording will garner bonus points!
I generally turn to the female indie singer-songwriters...the Indigo Girls, Carrie Newcomer...or to Mozart's 23rd piano concerto...though sometimes you just have to have a little Styx, you know?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

emancipation....but not yet.

today is the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. 150 years later, we still have work to do.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

forgetful

Tonight on my way home I thought of something I wanted to blog about.

By the time I got home through a raging thunderstorm and drove through my flooded street, then got inside my house and sat down on the couch with my computer, I couldn't remember.

Then I couldn't keep my eyes open and accidentally napped for almost an hour, including a dream about Anna.

So...sorry, I still can't remember what I planned to blog about, but I'm sure it was riveting.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Amen.

This article is asking a good question--why can we focus on debt relief, AIDS, war, Haiti/Katrina/tsunami/oil spill, and climate change but consistently miss the 25,000 people dying every day of hunger?

25,000 people a day...that's NINE MILLION, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND people a year.

The article quotes someone who says it's criminal negligence...yeah. That's putting it mildly. How do we live with ourselves?

And how do people of faith finally get our act together, stop fighting, and put some concerted pressure on governments and other systems to do something about this--not just by sending more food aid (which generally helps prop up our own unsustainable agriculture) but by working SERIOUSLY for development and system change? This is bigger than a mission trip, bigger than the 30 Hour Famine, bigger than the Offering of Letters, bigger than child sponsorship. Those are all good things, and they do make a difference, but we need something bigger. 9,125,000 people this year are depending on us.

This is one of those (many) moments when I wish I had more community organizing training...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

rain

Usually I am sort of against rain, on philosophical principle. I mean, I get that it's necessary for plants to grow and stuff (and I do love me some fresh-from-the-garden food, including zucchini that seem to double in size after a night of rain), but in terms of mood and productivity, rain is a big downer for me. I dislike rain pretty intensely...which strongly suggests that Seattle was never really the place for me (ha!), and I'm constantly saying to people that I hope never to move back there. At the same time I'd be perfectly willing to move to Portland or Scotland, where it also rains a lot, so maybe there's something else going on there...

Anyway, today it's gray and it's supposed to rain a good portion of the day. This means a couple of things: 1. it will hopefully help cool us down just a tad, and break the humidity ickiness we've had going on; 2. Guinness is not going for a walk today.

Guinness is a Kerry Blue Terrier, feisty and gorgeous and hilarious. He owns my friends Laura and Bruce, who are on vacation in Hawaii, which is why I get to go to Guinness' house and feed him and take him for walks and watch him scarf up baby carrots more enthusiastically than treats. Guinness is a very spirited walker...by which I mean he walks me more than the other way around. So while we could cover the mile loop pretty quickly, doing it in the rain just doesn't sound terribly appealing. It's more likely that I'll attach him to the lead in the backyard and let him run around out there in the rain by himself.

On the bright side, rain will also wash off Guinness' back deck, where he insists on peeing while I'm hooking him to the lead or even to his leash if we're going for a walk. It's better than being so excited he pees in the house, but only by a little. I've been hosing the deck down, but a solid rain will probably do more good.

So there you have it--dogsitting has helped me see the light, and I can now say one good thing about rain. :-)

Hopefully the sun will be back tomorrow.