Sunday, February 06, 2011

the way--a sermon

Rev Teri Peterson
the way
Psalm 25.1-10, Micah 6.6-8
6 February 2011, Ordinary 5A (text for 4A)

In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.
I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame, 

but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
Show me your ways, LORD,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior, 

and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, LORD,
your great mercy and love, 

for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways; 

according to your love remember me,
for you, LORD, are good.
Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the LORD
are loving and faithful 

toward those who keep the demands
of his covenant.

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? 

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?


This morning I have a confession to make. I spent this week not particularly interested in writing a sermon. Instead, much like last week, I’ve been glued to the news, watching and reading everything coming out of Egypt. I’ve been waiting to hear from my friends and colleagues and students, hoping and praying for justice and peace…and I’ve been disappointed and frightened that the peaceful revolution turned violent. I’ve watched as protestors have camped out in the square downtown, as the army has been cheered through the streets, as the police first disappeared entirely and then came back with guns and rocks. I’ve laughed hysterically and yet with hope and awe at videos and interviews that show protestors picking up trash from the streets of Cairo, and shed tears at the video from a friend showing bullet holes in the windows of the church where I worshipped and preached. I’ve waited anxiously as internet and cell phone service was cut off, and then been one of those people trying to get through when it came back on. I’ve followed the news on al-jazeera, twitter, facebook, cnn, blogs, and anywhere else that’s publishing or broadcasting. And thinking of the people of Egypt has consumed my time and my energy for the past two weeks in ways I would never have imagined. So I want to tell you about some of these people who have been on my mind this week. People like Naadia and Marsa, who kept our house and made sure we stayed out of trouble and helped us with all kinds of things from shopping to cleaning to cooking.
Like Sabray,
my taxi driver, and his family who offered not just a way around the city but also hospitality and love, even though we lived such different lives and were of different religions. Like the people who took care of us and made sure we had enough fruit and vegetables to eat, who found us great treats and great prices nearly every day.
Like my Arabic teacher Ashgan, who helped me communicate and always had a smile even when I was so slow sounding out words or writing my own name.
Or Mehir, the gatekeeper at the school, who greeted us, gave us directions, rescued me from more than one sticky situation, helped us find our way, and was always good for a late-night conversation or a joke or story over a glass of mango juice.
I’ve been thinking of my students—girls who are now in the 6th grade and whose futures are being fought for in the streets of Cairo…I’ve especially been thinking of the troublemakers from Class C, Ireny, Nourhan, Maria, and Sandy, and wondering what they are doing now as their classes are disrupted and their country is in turmoil around them.
Or the teenagers in my English class, girls who are now in college, many of them at universities near Tahrir Square.
And of course there are the students and teachers and families of Fairhaven. I still haven’t heard anything from them, but we continue to pray that they are okay.
I think of the teachers I worked with at the Ramses College for Girls—6 women who gave their lives to first graders,
and of the congregations pastored by my friends from the protestant seminary. And I think a lot about Martha Roy, who is now 98 years old and has been in Egypt for most of her life. She’s seen a lot of change in that country, and she’s done a lot of good. She taught, built schools, helped run clinics, and transcribed the music of the Coptic liturgy so it could be preserved and studied and used outside of Egypt. As late as her 93rd birthday she was still playing the organ every Friday and Sunday for the St. Andrews United Reformed Church downtown, the one that was damaged by looters. She lives in the nursing-home wing of a hospital a few blocks from Tahrir Square, and no one seems to have heard anything about her. As I think about and pray for Martha, I can’t help but worry about her even though this is hardly her first revolution.

Egypt is changing, and I think it’s safe to say that no matter what happens in the politics, the country will never be the same. The hopes and dreams of generations of people are on the line…millions are praying for a way forward, but that way seems unclear.

As I talked with the confirmation class about these two scripture texts, we wondered together how we find the way. How do we discover the path we are supposed to follow? There are a lot of options, a lot of possibilities, and often they’re all good. Sometimes we look for the way by following our friends or our families, sometimes by taking facebook quizzes or reading our horoscopes, sometimes by being so perfect that God will be forced into helping us, sometimes by just going along with the flow and avoiding the subject entirely. Sometimes we even read Scripture and pray and discern in our church community. We prayed this psalm together—“show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.” And then we flipped over to Micah and read that “God has shown you what is good—to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

It often seems that our prayer for God to teach us or show us goes unheeded…we flounder around in our own ways, confused or worried or detached, looking for a burning bush or a flash of light. We say we put our hope in God, that we want to walk God’s path if we could just find it…and here’s the prophet Micah pointing us to the path laid out before us. And then we call to mind the example of Jesus, who directed us to love others as he loves us…and the path still seems unclear. I think we often prefer the unclarity, because it’s a hard road to walk. This road requires us to both realize and act: to realize that we have been given everything we need to travel this journey—freely God has given God’s own self to us, in life and in death and even at this table; and to act on love, justice, mercy, and humility. Our first reaction to hearing these things is always “but HOW do we do that?” much like the man who asked Jesus “but who IS my neighbor?” I’m reminded of Stephen Colbert, in a show near Christmastime, who said that we are going to have to start either openly pretending that Jesus is as selfish as we are, or acknowledge the things he commanded us and then admit that we don’t want to do it.

I think we know what we are called to do…and we know how to do it. We know that in our everyday lives we can love as we have been loved, we can give as freely as we have received, we can build community and feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. We can work to change systems, we can lobby and vote and pray and even protest, we can be beacons on the path of justice and mercy that God has shown us. The question is whether we’ll choose that path, or another, or whether we’ll be too consumed by looking back at where we’ve been to move down any path at all.

I want to leave you with one more picture. This picture has been widely distributed since it was taken on Thursday, and it’s a perfect example of people who have so freely received grace upon grace…giving out of that abundance, acting without fear, and doing justice together. This is downtown Cairo, during noontime prayers. Thousands of Muslims are gathered to pray, and they are vulnerable. Or they would be, if not for the ring of Christians who have joined hands, standing between those praying and the mob intent on violence.

May we too do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.



  1. I loved this sermon. Very moving. It will touch the hearts of your congregation.

  2. Beautiful. The pictures really moved me.

  3. Teri, love, love , love this.. It's a message I want to hear - from someone who has been there. Bless you.x

  4. Teri, this is soooo good- faithful - face-full - the stories brought it together with the texts. touched my heart.

  5. It may be worth considering that God is not bound by our understanding of time. God is eternal, with no beginning and no end. God is always with us!

  6. I'd like to tell you that I just visited RCG yesterday. You do not know me, but I recall seeing you during my senior year at RCG. I read what you wrote and I hope that this would put you at ease. The school is fine and is still the same, running smooth as silk.