Saturday, March 30, 2013

Amazed--a sermon for Easter

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Amazed
Luke 24.1-12
31 March 2013, Easter!

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

Yesterday afternoon I heard a story on the radio of a young man whose grandmother was dying. He’d had a conversation with her that made him question his assumptions about God. While he was at work, he decided to put God to the test. He told God that he was going to throw a golf ball, and if it hit a cabinet at the other end of the 50 yard garage, then he would believe forever. If the ball missed, he was done with the whole God thing.

This young man threw the golf ball, and it hit a grate just a few feet in front of him and ricocheted all the way to the back wall behind him. He walked slowly toward the cabinet at the other end of the room, in shock that his assumptions had been so decisively confirmed—and yet still wondering how this could be. Was everything his grandmother told him a lie? Was her life a lie? What now, now that God was proved wrong? Is that it?

Suddenly he heard something something moving along the floor…as he looked around, he saw it was the golf ball, rolling its way around carts and drains all the way from the back wall 50 yards away. As he watched, that ball rolled straight up to the cabinet and hit it smack in the center—as he put it “more middle than I thought was middle.”

He thought he knew how the story was going to turn out. I’m not saying God won the bet this young man made, but I am saying that God is all about surprises.

Jesus’ friends had already been surprised by how their story had turned out. They were following someone they thought was the Messiah, someone who taught with authority and told great stories and did amazing things, someone who convinced people to share scarce resources and welcome the outcast and ask hard questions. The last few days had all gone horribly wrong—though in a predictable kind of way. If you say things that threaten people in power, then often bad things will happen to you in return. People really like to keep hold of their power, and some will go to any length to tighten their grip. In their heart of hearts, the disciples knew that this was coming. They knew that it was the end for their friend, their movement, and probably for them.

So that morning, it had to be the women. They’re the ones who could risk being unclean from touching a body, because they don’t get to participate in rituals that require purity anyway. They take up their spices and oils, say goodbye to the scared group of men hiding away in their upper room, and trudge down to the grave. They know what to expect—to struggle rolling away the stone, to smell the scent of death, to work hard to ease stiff limbs even through their tears.

But something is different…the stone is already rolled away, there’s no death hanging in the air. Instead they are admonished by dazzling strangers to “Remember.” Remember what he told you? Remember who he is? Remember who you are? And when they put the pieces together, they run back to tell the others—this story has not gone according to our plan. We didn’t think it was possible, but…

And the men hiding in the upper room…they scoff. They dismiss. They insist this story is nothing but garbage, useless twittering of mindless women. The word we hear as “idle tale” is the Greek word “lairos” which means something much more crass…it’s the stuff you collect from your cows for fertilizer on your crops. It’s gross, it’s waste. They know how the world works—someone dies, and that’s it. When someone dies by crucifixion, you don’t even talk about them anymore, out of shame and fear that you might be next. It’s over.

But then Peter…always Peter, the one who asks the most questions, who gives us an example of both wholehearted love and wholehearted foolishness, decides to just double check. When he arrives at the tomb and finds that the women weren’t full of it, he too puts the pieces together and is amazed.

Amazed.

What better word to describe what has just happened? The world has just been turned upside down. What kind of story is this, where golf balls hit their target even after moving the wrong direction, a story where dead people don’t stay dead?

Did you notice that not one person in this story thought this would happen? No one expected it. Most of them don't believe it when they first hear about it either. But God did it anyway. It turns out that our intellectual belief matters not at all to how this story turns out. Whether we believe it or not, God is doing a new thing. This is a story for doubters, for those behind the curve, for those who aren’t sure, for those who wonder. This is a story for people who don’t know what to look for, but want to look anyway. This is a story for those who are ready to throw a golf ball at a target 50 yards away. Because what matters is not that we think the right things—what matters is that when God does this new thing right in front of our eyes, we take notice, and then we tell the story.

The women at the tomb put the pieces together and ran back to tell the others. The other disciples responded with scorn.

Sounds just like the two responses most of us have to seeing God’s new thing.

Sometimes we see and respond right away, rushing out to tell others, gathering in community to ask questions about what this all means, wondering together not about the answers, but about how to live in this new reality. Then we try it out--and sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail, but we work together to figure it out and seek God and be faithful.

Sometimes we see and insist it can’t be this way, because we already know how this story goes.

But whatever we know, or think we know, God doesn’t wait for us to understand or believe or follow—God does it. Jesus is raised from the dead before anyone thinks that’s possible. This is how God has always worked—act first, call second. God brought the people out of Egypt, then showed them how to live as God’s people. Here again is the same story—God’s love broke through even a sealed tomb, and then we’re told how to live in response: come together to share the story, to remember—re-Member, put back together, to seek faithfully even without all the answers, to love one another as we have been loved.

God is doing a new thing, whether we believe or see or understand…are we willing to be amazed?

May it be so.
Amen.


Roots

It's so intriguing that the word for the last day of lent is also the wot that has been my church's focus for the season. We have spent the season thinking about what it means to be rooted in love so we can grow in faith. The cross has, slowly each week, transformed into the tree of life. We have deepened our roots through spiritual practices. We have gotten more grounded, in the hopes that we might live lives worthy o our calling, bearing fruit. And now on day 40, photo a day asks for roots. We have those.








day 40!

Friday, March 29, 2013

far

I wanted to take a picture of the moon tonight. Not only because it's far far away, but also because it was incredibly gorgeous--sort of like a harvest moon, it's just a day or two past full, orange and heavy in the sky. When I saw it, it was hugging the horizon as if it didn't quite want to let go and rise all the way. Seriously, beautiful.

I don't know if you've ever tried to take a picture of the moon with your iPhone, but let's just say: it's too far away for that.
And there was actually a split second when I wondered if there was someplace I could drive to get a better picture...you know, closer.

umm, no. You cannot drive closer to the moon.

Now the moon is rising--I catch glimpses through the trees outside my house--and it is no longer orange, no longer strangely large. It's normal sized and normal white now.

But for a while, it was huge, and burnt orange, and amazing.

and it's Good Friday today, and I'm sure there's a metaphor there somewhere, about seeing something and not being able to get closer, but wanting to hold on to it anyway...



day 39 of Lent photo-a-day...in use-your-imagination format.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

cup

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a terrible day.

But in the details of life, it kind of was.
I'd been looking forward to one particular aspect of the day...a food aspect. I spent the whole week anticipating how good it would be, ready for that one taste and texture combination that would take me back to another place, another time.
I was ready.
It was not.
I figured the special would sell out, so I got there early.
Too early.
I couldn't wait...I work 45 minutes away from this restaurant, after all, and I had other things on the day's agenda. So I had to let go of the dream, the anticipation, the setting of the taste buds, and hope for another day instead.
I cried in my car as I drove away.
Yes, it's possible that was really about something else, but seriously, in the moment it was all about the food, or lack thereof.

The day could only go up from there, really. And it did. There were many good things about the day, some of which were not overshadowed by my intense lunch disappointment.

And on a day like today, all you can really do is drink your glass of wine from a nice safe cup--the kind of cup that doesn't tip over when you balance it on the arm of the couch (so you don't have to reach for it while you cuddle up in the blankets with a book). The kind of cup that isn't susceptible to the vibrations of the always-in-motion cat. The kind of cup that's solid and predictable and in no way disappointing.


day 38 of Lent photo a day...Maundy Thursday

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

help

She's helping, can't you tell?
helping me get off the couch and...work out, cook, clean, read...
helping me write a sermon for sunday, prayers for liturgy link, and to edit a meditation for tomorrow...

....
or, you know, helping me take a rest from the strangely pervasive idea that I can do everything.

Being pinned to the couch isn't all bad, especially when it comes via a furry purry friend.

She's a big help.


day 37 of lent photo a day...what on earth am I going to blog about next week??

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

light

Winter in the upper midwest is dark.

Spring is not supposed to be, and we do have that whole Daylight Saving business (and I'll admit it's nice that it's light out when I leave work), but it this year it's been pretty cloudy-dark too. You know, what with all the snow that keeps falling all the freaking time.

But today as I was driving home, light broke through. And it was glorious! By the time I got home it was full-on sunny. At one point in the drive I was wishing for the ability to take photos and drive at the same time because there were totally god-rays coming down over a little pond....
And now I'm looking at a beautiful full moon out my window--so bright and clear it's lighting the night.

I got to drive toward the sunshine. aaaaaah...nice.
day 36 of Lent photo a day

Monday, March 25, 2013

rejoice

It's a little weird to see the word "rejoice" come up before Easter, but there you go. Here at the beginning of Holy Week, what causes you to rejoice?
My church and I have been making lists of things we're grateful for--every day last week, and some of us have continued the practice this week. That's a reason to rejoice, but one that's hard to capture in a photo!
I was tidying up my house a little because tomorrow morning my Domestic Goddess (who is a SERIOUS reason to rejoice!) will arrive very early to clean up after my craziness. I turned around and spied these alabaster beauties on the shelf, and remembered a beautiful day spent with wonderful people. We rejoiced greatly that day, and I rejoice remembering them. (if this was facebook, I would tag them...instead, you'll just have to know who you are, Karla/David/kids/Jennifer/Sarah!)
These also remind me to hold my Egyptian friends in prayer--they could use some rejoicing, some of the new life Easter promises, some of the beauty held in this bowl.


day 35 of Lent photo a day

Sunday, March 24, 2013

blessed

This is my pantry.
Even when I think I have nothing to eat and I'm starving, the reality is quite the opposite. I mean, how much more opposite could it be? I'm blessed to have a packed pantry and the skill to turn it into something delicious. Since scripture says we are blessed to be a blessing, that probably means I should cook for more than just me, more often!


5th Sunday in Lent photo a day

Saturday, March 23, 2013

restore

There's nothing quite like the scent of lavender. I love it. It's so relaxing yet rejuvenating. Lately I've been just dabbing a little on the back of my neck, so I catch a little of the scent throughout the day (and it gets rubbed off on my scarf, too, making winter slightly more bearable as it drags on and on and on...). When I go to my favorite spa, I always beg them not to make me take the "scent-sory" journey--I just want lavender. It restores my soul.


day 34 of Lent photo a day.

Cheerleaders and Naysayers--a sermon for Palm Sunday

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Cheerleaders and Naysayers
Luke 19.28-40
24 March 2013, Palm Sunday C

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

~~~

Many of us have spent this past week trying to see the world through different lenses—trying to see what God is doing in our midst. The prophet asked us “do you not perceive it?” and sometimes our answer has been “no”—but we keep trying. We’ve made lists of things for which we are grateful, we’ve tried to keep our eyes open to new things, we’ve prayed for open hearts and open minds. We’ve met together in parishes and as leadership teams, and looked intently at our church and our world trying to see what God sees.

And now we come to this day, to a procession that looks to us for all the world like a parade of joy and excitement, the beginning of something big. Even though we know how this story is going to turn out, we find ourselves lining the streets of Jerusalem, waving branches and cheering like children, shouting for Jesus to finally become the king we’ve always wanted. Come in! Take over! Make life better!

In Jesus’ day, the Messiah was expected to be a warrior king, who would use his power to oust the Romans and restore the rightful way of things. He would cleanse the nation of corruption and set them back on the right track. He would be the one who took the country back.

But even as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on his colt, Pilate, symbol of all that is wrong with the world, accompanied by a legion of the formidable Roman army, comes sweeping into the city, ready to keep the peace for Passover—by any means necessary. When the most powerful military in the world takes up residence in your city, it’s probably a bad time to stage a protest that involves words like “king” and “peace.” Or it’s a very good time, depending on your perspective.

And, as we learned last week, it’s all about perspective!

There are of course plenty of cheerleaders in this crowd following Jesus. Luke tells us there’s a multitude of disciples—so probably not just 12, but a bunch. It’s likely the women who’ve been so faithful throughout Jesus’ ministry were there, and probably some townspeople, and who knows how many others. Seeing a man riding a colt would likely bring people out of their houses too, if for nothing else than the sheer novelty factor. Of course, novelty wears off fast when you recognize the symbolism that’s in front of you.

Since every Jewish boy learns the scriptures backward and forward, seeing a rabbi on the back of a donkey, with people shouting “Hosanna!” or “king!” or “peace!” all around him would instantly call up the prophets. Make no mistake: this is a carefully planned event on Jesus’ part. He’s staging a protest and wants to make sure everyone understands what is happening: that he is proclaiming himself to be the fulfillment of the scriptures, in opposition to the parade of powers on the other side of the city—all without ever saying a word himself.

No wonder there are so many cheerleaders in the crowd.

And no wonder the naysayers came out of the woodwork so fast.

The Pharisees, and others with a lot invested in the status quo, got the message right away. Their ability to maintain their power depends on their ability to stay in bed with the Roman governor and his puppet king, so they’re not amused by this display. “Tell them to be quiet!” they ask Jesus. Or maybe they even order him. Or maybe they plead. “Teacher—order them to stop!!” It’s dangerous enough to be a part of a crowd these days, but to be part of a crowd openly committing treason is a whole new level of danger. This kind of parade could bring the sword of Rome down on the whole population, not just those involved in it.

But Jesus knows there’s no stopping this news. Even if the disciples would shush, the very stones of the city would pick up their cry for justice, for peace, for righteousness, for hope.

And here is where the story’s deep irony becomes apparent. Because we know what is coming. We know that in just a few days, the disciples will in fact stop their praising and fall silent. Both the cheerleaders and the naysayers will disappear, leaving the One who called them to face the powers of this world by himself.

The way that violence works is, in part, by silencing. That was never more true than in the act of crucifixion—a torture designed to be so shameful that the one facing it would be left to decompose and his family would never speak of him again. Crosses lined the roads of the Roman Empire, testament to the power of violence.

But Jesus refuses to give violence that power. Even if everyone else’s voice is cut off, God’s will still speak—through stones if necessary. And on Friday, when this story comes to what seems to be an end, Jesus will not suffer silently. He won’t be a Messiah who breaks the power of the Empire with a sword—he will be a Messiah who breaks the power of the empire with a Word.

He will speak from the cross, reminding those who witness its horrors that he is a human being, beloved of God, not an object to be cast aside. It is so easy for us to dehumanize others, even Jesus, to make them into things we can play with or break or idolize—but Jesus refuses to be an object, no matter how convenient it might be for us.
Jesus will speak from the cross, insisting that those who use violence do not understand what they are doing—because this time it won’t work. It will be different. The powers of this world can never win, because we insist on using flawed tools. And we deceive ourselves if we insist that we would never do this. The reality is that we are constantly complicit in a system that would be just as quick to torture and kill the Son of God today as it was 2,000 years ago, because we continue to believe that violence can save us—or even, that violence has saved us. We continue to believe that our way is better than God’s way. We continue to believe that loving our enemies is impossible, that God belongs in the church building and nowhere else, that the goal of life is to have the most, no matter the cost.
Jesus will speak from the cross, forgiving the people even as he condemns the horror. Though even his cheerleaders will be nowhere to be found and his naysayers will be congratulating themselves at a distance—still we, who are both, will hear those words and wonder about God’s new thing.

And when there’s nothing left, Jesus will speak from the cross, proclaiming that God’s love has the final word…and when even he falls silent, the stones will cry out, shaking and breaking and waving their own branches and making the point: there is no stopping God.

We stand on the cusp of the Holiest of weeks. This is one of the few times when we so blatantly remind ourselves that the line between good and evil, between cheerleader and naysayer, between disciple and Pharisee, runs right down the center of every human heart. And ultimately, we all fall silent, because Jesus did not call us to be cheerleaders or naysayers, but disciples who live and speak good news in the midst of the world, ambassadors for God’s kingdom.

May the stones pick up the song until we can sing it again.

Amen.

Friday, March 22, 2013

alone

I may live alone, but my dad still takes care of me, especially at the holidays. He sends me a Christmas stocking, a valentine package, and an Easter basket! This year's Easter basket is pared down to just the good stuff (and the requisite package of purple peeps, for tradition's sake!).

Yes, I can eat those by myself. Don't worry. :-)

Thanks dad!


day 33 of Lent photo a day

Thursday, March 21, 2013

home

just inside the door...i'm home.

home is where you can get comfy--kick your shoes off, wear fuzzy socks, curl up on the couch, and relax. And, like most midwestern homes, shoes come off at the front door. Not only because it's comfier but also because my carpets don't need any help getting dirty. :-)

you can see that my house cleaner has been here, because most of the out-of-season shoes are hiding in the closet, and there's some semblance of order here...
day 32 of Lent photo a day

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beloved

I thought about reposting yesterday's pic because it included my beloved Fred, who has been sleeping with me for decades, on several continents. But I decided on a living breathing beloved, who also sleeps with me but is much furrier.

Ollie's favorite position is on my shoulder--she loves to be held, purring in my ear. She also sleeps on my shoulder fairly frequently. She's adorable and lovable and cuddly and wonderful, and she loves me right back.




day 31 of lent photo-a-day

friendship

I use the word "friends" a lot. I think it's because I'm secretly a Quaker in my inward heart.

(that's right, I secretly covet the hour of silence, or near-silence, listening together for the movement of the Spirit...along with all the justice and peace stuff, the spiritual life, and the cool history.)

Anyway, most of my emails begin with "hello friends," I often call meetings or gatherings to order with "good morning/evening friends," and I preface parts of the liturgy (especially around the confession) with "friends."

I was doing this before Facebook, just so you know. Now "friending" or "defriending" is a normal thing, and we say we have 600 friends even if we may not ever speak to them face to face.

Anyway, I've been thinking today about the word "friend" because, well, it was in the news.

When I call someone a "friend" (and what I think the word really means), it implies that we have some level of mutual relationship. We support each other in good times and bad. We look out for one another. We've got each other's backs. We're ready to call the ex-boyfriend names, cry and eat ice cream. We're prepared to support in various efforts at different kinds of discipline (weight-loss, Lent practices, becoming better people, etc). We're there to answer the phone, to laugh or gently rib, to send photos and eat fondue and who knows what else.

But that mutual relationship also involves a really important component: friends challenge each other. We don't just let the other person devolve into destructive behavior without calling it out. We don't sit by while they do something dangerous. We don't watch while they hurt themselves or others. We don't let bad behavior slide just because we're friends. Real friends are able to say what they think (speaking the truth in love, anyone?), knowing that we'll still be friends afterward. We don't just support blindly, we challenge each other to be our best selves.

When we are afraid to speak up about something a friend does with which we disagree, or about bad behavior we witness, then that's not really a friendship. It's not mutual. It's a shallow relationship based on making each other feel good without much basis in reality--the reality that all human beings are flawed, and sometimes we need accountability.

Accountability may not be popular, but we need it anyway. I need it, you need it, whole nations need it...and that's what friends are for.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

dream

My most accessible happy place...
I have lots of dreams. Sometimes they are memorable, other times not. Sometimes they are anxiety dreams, sometimes they are interesting, sometimes they are super obvious (thanks for a not-subtle subconscious!), sometimes they are multi-sensory, sometimes they wake me up. Other times they last only until I open my eyes and then they're gone, winging their way to the ether of my brain.

I also dream on this pillow while I'm awake but refusing to leave the comfort of the bed. I dream of what the world could be like. I dream of the future of the church. I dream of having cats that don't tell me they want fresh food by licking my forehead.

(day 30 of lent photo a day!)



Monday, March 18, 2013

rise

When they're ready, they rise to the top.

YUM.

I really love food. Good food is a joy and wonder in life. Of course, I'm also aware that I've gained weight during my stressful last few years, and I'd like to reverse that situation, so I'm paying attention to what I eat a little more than I have recently. I still eat what I like, and I still cook what I want, so I'm both watching how much I eat and being more intentional about skipping that stuff that's not that good anyway, it just fills you up in the right moment (aka, fast food--which I'm not eating for Lent anyway!).  May the good stuff rise to the top and the not-worth-it-stuff fall away.

portobello ravioli...yum.
day 29 of Lent photo a day (the count doesn't include Sundays!)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

new

last week I got a box from dad, and it has all kinds of new-to-me cookbooks from mom. I'm not really a baker, but who knows, I might just try something new. (and if not, I might be willing to turn them into new-to-YOU cookbooks!)

New recipes, new life for books off the shelf, new pictures to look at (and these are some gorgeous cookbooks, let me tell you!), new opportunities to try things out...


Fifth Sunday in Lent photo-a-day (when the lectionary text was "behold, I am doing a new thing--now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" perhaps a sign related to dough rising and becoming springy.)

Godvision--a sermon for Lent 5C

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Godvision
Isaiah 43.16-21, John 12.1-8
17 March 2013, Lent 5C

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

~~~~~~~

Has anyone here ever used the phrase “no pain, no gain”? It’s not one of my favorites, but it sort of sums up why we needed last week’s practice—to look honestly at how we spend our time, energy, and money, and ask whether that spending reflects the gospel and our calling as followers of Jesus. It’s all part of digging around the roots and making room for fertilizer to reach in. What was that experience like?

Last week the prophet Isaiah asked us “why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?” and called us to listen, that we may live. Part of that assessment is about clearing out the things that keep God’s love from entering our root system and bearing fruit on our tree of life. So now that we’ve made that assessment, the prophet calls us to leave the old behind and prepare for the new. In fact, he says, even now this new thing is happening. Even now—at this very moment, God is doing a new thing, right here in our midst and in the world around us.

Do we perceive it?

Perception is a funny thing. What we see, and how we interpret what we see, makes a huge difference in how we respond. For instance, at my very first horseback riding lesson, another person came in just to pet his horse. He stood cheek to cheek with the horse, cooing, and he called it his therapy. Meanwhile, I was standing five feet away from the horse I was supposed to be brushing, crying in fear. He saw happiness, I saw 1600 pounds of danger. That difference in perception changed how we acted toward the same animal.

There is a little three-leafed plant that covers the ground and is a nuisance in our beautiful grass lawns. But in that same little nuisance, St. Patrick saw the presence of God—the Trinity laid out for all to see, covering the ground with reminders of who God is.

One of my friends was out hiking one day and saw a bear in the distance. He froze, trying to decide whether to keep going or wait. After a few minutes he decided he had to keep walking or else stay on the trail forever, and soon discovered that the bear was actually an enormous rock. His perception was a little off, and he had to make a choice about how to respond.

I suspect many of us have had these experiences, seeing a shadow and interpreting it to be something much scarier than it really is. We know this is a common problem when it comes to seeing people—when we see people who look different from us, for example people of different skin colors or different body types or different fashion senses, we make assumptions about them. We may lock our doors as we drive through their neighborhoods, or assume they’re armed even if we have no evidence, or believe we know their morals or their sexuality or their line of work based only on what they wear and how they carry themselves. We live in a world where teenage boys with dark skin have to be taught never to run outdoors and teenage girls believe their self-worth comes from the size of their body.

Perception matters. Sometimes it life-or-death matters.

We have probably all also had the experience of change to familiar routines or spaces—when road construction forces a detour from our regular commute, or the preacher stands in a different place, or our favorite restaurant changes the menu. When change comes, what do we see? Do we see opportunity to experience a wider taste of life, to expand our worldview, to explore? Or do we clam up with fear and frustration? Maybe somewhere in between, depending on the situation! Perception matters.

What do we see, and how do we interpret? God promises some very unlikely things—that there will be water in the desert, a road in the wilderness; that wild animals that normally eat each other will live together; that people who might cause us to lock our doors will be the very neighbors we are called to love. Even now, God is doing a new thing—do we perceive it?

Mary does.

In two stories, in two separate gospels, Mary is the sister who sees. She sees Jesus for who he is—God, right there in the room with her. She doesn’t see just another wandering rabbi, or an eligible bachelor, or just another man demanding dinner. She sees God incarnate, love personified. In both stories, she responds to her perception in ways that upset other people. In Luke’s story, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens with all her being, which Martha can’t handle. And in today’s story from John, Mary again sits at the feet of Jesus, this time with the most valuable thing she has to offer. She pours her wealth out at Jesus’ feet, and Judas can’t handle it.

300 denarii was nearly a year’s wages. Imagine pouring out your salary for the year at the feet of Jesus.

Or are we more likely to be Judas in this situation, criticizing Mary’s extravagant generosity?

Isaiah says that we are “created for God’s praise.” In other words, when we perceive what God is doing, we are to respond with generous praise. Mary does exactly that.

Some in the gospel story respond to Jesus with disdain, others with fear, still others by asserting their own power or authority. Surely this is not what God meant by a new thing? There must be some mistake—we wanted to control it, we wanted it to be our way, we wanted to understand, we wanted God to act on our terms and our time.

Some in the story respond by following. Some respond by giving everything they have. Immanuel—God is with us! We wanted to know God’s presence—here he is. We wanted to see God face to face—here he is. We wanted to hear God’s word—here he is. We listen, we see, we turn and re-turn, and find ourselves with Godvision—with the lenses to see what God sees: a kingdom with so much potential, if only we will open our eyes.

When we perceive God’s new thing, and respond to it with praise and generosity, some will scoff. Prayer and worship and offerings and service rarely produce tangible things after all—so they’re not valued in our culture or economy, though they are the main currency of God’s economy. Some will ask why on earth we would do such a thing. Love, in our culture, is for those who deserve and earn it, not for sharing with everyone. People will wonder if we’ve gone out of our minds or if we’re being wasteful. But King David said it well: “I will not offer to God offerings that cost me nothing.” We cannot help but be generous when we encounter God among us. We cannot help but respond in praise when we see the amazing things God has in store. Every day, God is doing a new thing: in the creation, in our lives, in the life of the church. It springs forth, not just easing its way into our lives but bursting in full of color. Do we perceive it?

One way to enhance our perception is to change our perspective. If we always look at things in the same way, from the same angle, it can be hard to see God’s new thing. When we look from a new angle—from a different pew, for instance, or from the floor at Jesus’ feet rather than the kitchen door, we might find our sight and hearing improves. When we consciously try to approach things or people with a different attitude than usual, we might find our judgments are slower and our empathy grows. How might we change our perspective and see what new thing God is doing right now?

Well, there’s always the option of literally changing your perspective by trying out a different pew. Maybe next week you can choose to sit somewhere different and see how things look and sound and feel from a new place. There’s also the option of choosing to see through a particular lens—honing our Godvision. So for this week’s challenge, I suggest that we all try to look at the world through the lens of gratitude. Each day, make a list of 5-10 things that you are grateful for. Different things each day—no fair just copying the list! Post your gratitude list on the fridge, or the bathroom mirror, or on the steering wheel or the edge of the computer screen. Practice your gratitude lenses throughout the week, and find out if that helps you be more aware of what God is doing in your life. Feel free to share with us on Facebook the things you are grateful for—it helps us all to give thanks together!

And then, because both Isaiah and Mary show us that this is a two-part way of life, this week’s practice will also be two parts. During the week, be praying about how God is calling you to respond to this new enhanced Godvision. Perceiving God’s new thing is amazing and wonderful and important—and should lead to action. How will you embody praise and generosity in response to God’s amazing grace? Think of something concrete that you can put into practice during the Easter season. If you want some accountability, there’s a whole body of Christ here ready to help uphold, encourage, and challenge you to be faithful.

Behold: God is doing a new thing, pouring God’s own self out for us…and asks us to see and hear and partner in making the kingdom a reality. Even now it springs forth: the desert is fed by streams of water, the creation lives together in harmony, and we love our neighbors as we love ourselves—for God is in our midst. Do we perceive?

May it be so. Amen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

surround

St. Patrick's Day is a big deal in Chicagoland. A BIG deal. Basically because it's an excuse to drink a lot, starting very early in the morning. People flood downtown for the parade, to see the river dyed bright green, and to drink at every pseudo-Irish pub in the city. And the suburbs. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the mob trying to get on the train at every stop.

I hopped down to Palatine and joined some PCOP members for the parade and lunch. During lunch, the room was surrounded by a bagpipe band. That's right, a whole band of pipers and a few drummers proceeded to play several pieces in this little room while we snacked on such Irish classics as fried cheese curds and french fries.

obviously, we were sitting on the perimeter of the room, so could see only half the band's faces and the backs of the other half.

Day 28 of lent photo-a-day.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Five: tech!

Over at RGBP Jan is having an old-school experience, with no internet!! How do we survive? (lol)

In anticipation of the withdrawal, she left us with some questions about our own dependence on technology...

1. What types of technologies, like cell phones, computers, tvs, etc., do you routinely use? How frequently? 
Let's see...I use my phone and laptop a LOT. Like most of the day. I also have a kindle, which gets used pretty darn frequently! And while I own a tv, it doesn't get any channels--it's purpose is for DVDs and Wii, both of which get used less than I might like.

 2. What social media and/or games do you like to play? How often? On which device do you occupy yourself? Which method of social media do you prefer?
Facebook is my big time-suck, for sure. I also tweet, and read blogs. I like to play Words With Friends, but sometimes I get busy and forget to check it, which leads to losing games via forfeiting, because after a few days the game quits for you. :-(
I spend most of my time with my MacBook Pro, but also use my phone for quite a few things now that I have a smart one.

 3. Do you separate online activities between home and work? Or is it all the same everywhere?
The only thing I really keep at work is my work email--I often shut my email program down on my days off, and I don't have work email on my phone. Everything else is everywhere.

 4. Do you have a smart (or I-) phone? 
I resisted for a long time, because the cost was too high--both the bills AND the cost of being constantly connected. I got an iPhone as a Christmas gift, and the monthly bill is actually just a few dollars more than what I was paying before...though the cost of being constantly connected still remains to be calculated. I will say that there are several things that are a ton better with a smartphone, and I'm enjoying it.

 5. What do you wish you had--or do not have--in relation to these devices?
hmmm....I wish I had more self control about facebook. There's so much interesting stuff going on, so many links to click and articles to read and photos to enjoy and people to catch up with etc etc etc that it feeds my voracious brain...but that all takes time that I could also be doing something else.

 Bonus: What is the difference between your attitude towards these means of technology and a generation older or younger than you?
I suspect my attitude toward technology is right in line with my generation, by which I mean that I'm comfortable using it and I understand the benefits of using it in a variety of ways that drive older people nuts, but I also see the value of turning it all off and reading a book or going for a walk without my phone and that makes younger people squirm. :-)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Go

These are what I like to see.

Now that I'm a commuter, I spend a lot more time contemplating traffic lights than I used to. Sometimes they seem to be plotting against me, other times they're just a part of the scenery as I pass by. I know why they're important, but there's just something about that little green circle that makes me so much happier than a red one. ;-)

I also like to see metaphorical green lights--to try new things, think outside the box, meet new people, follow a rabbit trail, and imagine what might be. Go!


day 26 of Lent photo a day

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

water

I have been working hard on giving up pop. There have been periods of my life marked by serious Dr. Pepper addiction...and I'm trying not to drink it anymore. Or at least not too much. The other day I did give in and run through the drive thru for a fountain DP. But water is so much better for you.
So, to compensate for the loss of that fizzy feeling, this is what I drink (in addition to a large amount regular water, of course) :


day 25 of lent photo a day

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

silence

an evening of centering prayer in the sanctuary...looking toward the cross as it becomes the tree of life.


day 24 of lent photo a day

Monday, March 11, 2013

ate, happy

I took a picture yesterday, but it wasn't what I really wanted...because I was too tired to spend the time making dinner last night. DST kicked my behind. So today you get a photo that illustrates both yesterday's and today's words. I ate this, and it is a happy thing.

this vegan tater tot casserole is nearly 500 calories per serving, but every one of them is worth it. So much delicious.

it does have actual vegetables in it--I used some I froze last year: broccoli, peppers, onions, etc--and a homemade potato corn chowder as the base. Just add meatless ground and tater tots, bake and...voila. yum.

(confession: I ate more after taking this picture.)


4th Sunday and Day 23 of the Lent photo-a-day challenge, all in one photo...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Aisle 40--a sermon for the middle of Lent (text 3C)

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Aisle 40
Isaiah 55.1-9, Luke 13.6-9
10 March 2013, Lent 4C (texts Lent 3C)

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

… 
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”


In this parable of Jesus we have the image that is the inspiration for our Lent—a tree whose roots need care so that it can grow into its purpose: bearing fruit. We’ve spent the season nurturing our roots and exploring different ways of being rooted in God’s love. We’ve gotten ourselves rooted in God’s word and God’s promise, and we’ve practiced the rituals that help us draw closer to God. Last week our challenge was to pray the Lord’s Prayer at each meal—did anyone try that out? What was that experience like?

I confess that sometimes I found it awkward. It’s a much longer prayer than most of my meals see. And connecting “give us this day our daily bread” to whatever meal was about to eat was a constant reminder that not everyone has access even to bread or clean water, let alone to the delicious meal sitting in front of me. My daily bread is an abundance others can’t even imagine.

And yet Isaiah paints us a picture of a God who promises abundance beyond all our imagining—the richest of feasts, without paying for it. A lifetime and then some in God’s care, without earning a moment of it. A relationship with a God whose thoughts so outpace my own lofty goals that I can’t even fathom how God works. Which is obvious, because I can’t fathom a free feast like this lasting for long!

We live in a world of incredible abundance. We have stores packed to the gills with things we don’t need but still want, foods to tempt every palate, and homes designed for comfort and retreat. And yet…still we want and seek more. And maybe we wonder if this is the Abundant Life Jesus promised…or if the abundance we find in Aisle 40 might actually be masking our poverty of spirit. Are we the ones the prophet calls out for spending our money and labor for things that do not satisfy?

It’s a hard question to think about, but it needs to be asked. Do we spend ourselves and our resources for things that do not feed our relationships with God, for things that do not advance God’s kingdom? Do we put our attention everywhere except for the part of our lives that could help us bear fruit? Could it be that when God says “my thoughts are higher than your thoughts” God is referencing our tendency to accumulate stuff and satisfy our immediate desires rather than looking toward the bigger picture and what is really needful?

We all know that when we see an iceberg, we see only about 10% of it. 90% of the iceberg is below the surface. While the above-to-below ground ratio is a little different for a tree, the ratio still holds when it comes to nurturing the tree. You’ll notice that in Jesus’ parable the gardener doesn’t say “let me pet the branches and spray the leaves”—he needs to dig around the roots and put fertilizer on the ground. He needs to nurture the part of the tree we can’t see, because that’s where the tree gets its food and its strength. Nurturing those roots may mean exposing them a little bit. It may mean dealing with manure, which is smelly and difficult work, gross to think about, but is the best food in the long run. If the roots aren’t strong and healthy, and if they don’t have anything good to eat, they can’t pass the nutrients and water to the rest of the tree and the tree can’t become what it’s made to be: fruit bearing.

I’m reminded of a science experiment I did in fifth grade. I carefully painted two pots, filled them with soil, and planted bulbs. Just as the shoots began to appear, I started watering one of them with one of my favorite things as a kid: red kool-aid. The other one I watered normally. To my surprise, the kool-aid plant stopped growing and was just a withered shoot until the end of the experiment. Fed only with sugar and red number 40, it never grew into the flower it was meant to become. The other grew up and was a beautiful pot of flowers that brought color to our classroom for weeks.

We talked about this fig tree parable in the session meeting last week, and our most persistent question was some variation on “why hadn’t the gardener paid attention to the tree before now?” We had a lot of potential answers to that question, but the reality boils down to just one thing: he didn’t, and the owner noticed. The tree, designed to be part of God’s abundant promise, was maybe fed by the wrong thing, or left to do its own thing because it looked fine…but either way, it was neglected.

Which leads me straight to a hard question: what are we neglecting? Or what roots are being fed with empty calories rather than God’s good, but harder, way?

Has worry, or insistence on getting our way, or focus on one thing, blinded us to God’s abundance? Have our roots been fed by self-reliance rather than by God’s love and grace? What is it, in our own lives or in our church, that needs some TLC in order to bear fruit?

Because one thing we know for sure is that Love is who God is and what God does. Abundantly, beyond our imaginations! If something needs loving care, we know where to put our roots. Isaiah tells us that all we need to do is incline our ears—to seek God and listen. Put our roots out into God’s living water of grace and soak it up. Give our fig tree’s roots some attention and find not just leaves, but fruit that nourishes and sustains and brings hope.

This is hard to do in our over-filled world. We have so much that it can be difficult to look past our material privilege to recognize our gospel poverty. But the prophet’s question, and the vineyard owner’s question, ring in our ears: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread? Why does this tree not produce fruit?

So this week we have a hard challenge. Sometime during this week, make an honest inventory of the ways you spend your resources—your time, your energy, your money. It doesn’t sound fun, but in order to tend our roots we have to know what else is taking our attention. When you have a list, spend some time talking to God about it. Does the list of the ways you spend yourself reflect God’s promise and God’s call? Does the 10% of your life that we can see reflect roots in grace and love or in something else? How can you better nurture your roots in order to grow in faith?

I know this sounds presumptuous and awful and depressing and any number of other negative words. I also know that just as writing down the foods we eat can help us be healthier, looking honestly at how we spend our resources can help us see how to move toward who God calls us to be. If we don’t know where we are, we can’t move forward. If we never notice the lack of fruit, we can’t put our attention toward fertilizing the tree. If we insist on our thoughts and ways, we will always be blind to God’s thoughts and ways—which are so much grander, so much fuller, so much bigger, so much more hopeful and more beautiful and more loving…why would we not want that? Don’t settle for roots in shallow empty calorie soil when God has a dark rich nutritious feast just waiting for us to seek it out. Let’s put down roots in God’s abundance, in order to live out love.

May it be so. Amen.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Faithful

My cute honda civic has been a faithful first car, companion on many-a-trip, and has seen more meals, phone calls, ugly cries, loud laughs, vocal warm-ups, loud sing-alongs, and who knows what else than pretty much anything or anyone else in my life. A great 6-1/2 years so far: may there be many more.


day 22 of lent photo a day.

Friday, March 08, 2013

find

I was making soup tonight, and I couldn't find any rosemary. Now, the recipe didn't exactly call for rosemary, but when has a recipe ever constrained me?

As you can see, things are pretty easy to find in my spice cabinet. they're in alphabetical order, for goodness' sake. But I couldn't find rosemary anywhere.

Which could mean only one thing: I must have run out. How this is possible, I don't know. I stay pretty on top of the herb situation.

So of course I posted on facebook "how is it possible that I have run out of rosemary?"

a few minutes later I went back and this is what I found (the top window the part of the conversation that didn't fit on the screen) :


My friends are awesome. I may not find rosemary, but I did find a laugh.

Day 21 of Lent photo a day (apparently today was 2-photos-a-day!)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"no"...
...is what you should say to yourself when the question is "should I, wearing dark clothes, ride a bike with no lights or reflective stickers at night?"

Because the answer to the question "do you see the cyclist in this situation?" will almost always be "no" until really close to too late:


Seriously: just say no to riding unmarked bikes at night while wearing dark clothes.

Bonus: he wasn't wearing a helmet either.

no. just...no.

Day 20 of Lent photo a day: halfway there!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

shadow

okay, for the first (hopefully only) time this Lent, I'm going to use a photo I took at another time, rather than one I took today. My day was full of shadows, but none photographable. The shadows cast by candles in a sanctuary, by people walking a labyrinth, by bad behavior (whose shadows are always longer than good behavior--what is that about?), by doubt and by hope.

But today's photo is a reminder that though I may live in a frozen tundra, under feet and feet of snow, it's not so everywhere and won't always be so here...




Day 19 of Lent photo a day

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

night

every night of winter, this:


The heated mattress pad pre-heats my bed, so when I'm ready to climb in and snuggle up, it's all warm. Usually I turn it down to low when I get in, but for now it's heating up. Makes every night awesome.

And yes, I'm now one of those people for whom the excitement of "night" involves "going to bed." Because my bed is super comfy, and even more so when it's pre-heated, and because sleeping is amazing. I wish I could do more of it.

Day 18 of Lent photo-a-day.

Monday, March 04, 2013

bless

I've been burning the candle at both ends for a couple of weeks, and am beginning to feel it. I've been all sneezy the last couple of days, and have heard a lot of "bless you"s...and when I stopped to buy kleenex today I discovered that Trader Joe's has little inspirations on their tissue boxes. Since I live alone (well, with that cat you see in the background!), it's nice to have someonething say it. ;-)

That journal you see is where I've been writing prayers using the prompts that come each day from Rachel Hackenberg--that's certainly been a blessing during this Lent. And, really, if we're honest, the kitties (even the fluff monster who photo-bombed this pic!) are my daily blessing. They snuggle and purr and talk in their little meowy voices, and make my house a home.



Day 17 (not including Sundays!) in Lent photo a day

Why do we do that? a sermon for the middle of Lent (texts: Lent 4C)

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Why Do We Do That?
Joshua 5.8-12, Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32
3 March 2013, Lent 3C (4C text)


When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.
While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’



Here we are, at the midpoint of Lent. Last week we talked about looking for signs of God’s promise and God’s faithfulness, and on Wednesday we practiced looking at our doubts and challenges through the lens of God’s promise. Where did you see God’s faithfulness?
What was it like for you to be on the look-out for God’s promise this week?
How did you share that vision with others?

Keep your eyes peeled this week for the movement of the Spirit, and when you see, don’t just keep quiet, but share the good news! Keep putting photos and stories on our Facebook page, and sharing your joys and concerns so we can all be praying for new eyes to see God’s love every day.

One of the ways we learn to look is by practicing here at church. Communion and other rituals like it help us grow into the people of God, and they are important! I am often asked “why do we do that?” when it comes to various aspects of worship or of church life. Why are we still doing things that make no sense in a scientific world, or a digital world, or an individualistic world, or a capitalist world? Why do we do things that are hard for outsiders to understand? Why do we insist that some things deserve to be done over and over, though we live in a culture that values novelty?

The word “ritual” often gets a bad rap in our culture—it comes with a lot of baggage. But “ritual” doesn’t mean “rote and meaningless”—it means an action that is heavy with meaning, with symbols that point us to greater things, the way the table points us toward every table. We repeat these rituals because they help us make meaning in our lives, connecting the dots and reminding us who we are. We eat turkey and name our gratitude every November, and watch fireworks every July, because it connects us to our story as immigrants who make something of ourselves in the New World, with all its promise. We put up a tree and hang stockings because it connects us to stories of our childhood and to the practice of generosity that lives even in the darkest days. We put on green clothes and claim to be Irish not just for an excuse to party but also to connect us to a larger story that we desperately want to be a part of. To outsiders, these things are ridiculous, but for us they tell us who we are and what kind of community we should be.

In today’s reading from Joshua, we hear about two important rituals that the people of Israel had not observed between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. During those 40 years of wandering, they were learning to depend on God, learning who God is and who they are, finding their path into a new way of being. And now we find them, on the threshold of the land God promised many generations before, and the first thing they do is call up the two signs of God’s covenant with them: circumcision, marking them physically as God’s people, and the Passover, reminding them of God’s action in their lives. None of these people had come out of Egypt themselves—they had all been born in the wilderness. And yet they told the story of God’s power and might, of slavery and plagues and near-drowning, eating unleavened bread salted with tears. This ritual meal connected them to their roots—to their identity as the people God has redeemed, and to God’s identity as one who saves.

It’s possible that some of these people, two generations removed from the original event, thought this was bizarre and meaningless. Or that they felt unworthy of being part of God’s story. But probably not, because they saw themselves as part of a body, a community knit together by God’s promise, not as individuals who looked for God in their free time. We don’t hear about anyone staying away or not participating. They come together as a people to hear and enact who they are and who God is—and then they take their first steps into the promised land and find it is abundant and fertile and wonderful. And all of this is provided by God…they do not get it for themselves. In fact, if it had been up to them, they’d be back in Egypt making bricks without straw. But they remember now—and this is why the rituals were important. Just like the Deuteronomy reading we heard two weeks ago, this is about remembering that God is faithful, and calls us to faithfulness. The traditional ritual brought them back to themselves.

It’s much the same for the younger brother in Jesus’ story. He chooses to leave behind all that nonsense and go find his own way. Basically, he decides to be spiritual but not religious, to try to strike out on his own because he doesn’t need the community in order to live his life his way. But when it all goes wrong, the story tells us that “he came to himself” and then headed back for the community, with all its rituals and traditions and boundaries. He remembered who he was, and walked that long road home—only to discover that he would now be the beneficiary of one of those rituals that had seemed so stifling before.

While he was gone, and while the older brother is sulking outside, the family is broken—it’s missing a piece. Even as the celebration is happening, there’s still healing that needs to take place. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12 that if one member of the body suffers, all suffer together with it. If one member of our body is standing outside the door, angry and unwilling to come to the table, or if one member of our body is sitting in the pew, believing their voice isn’t pretty enough, we all suffer together. Withholding ourselves from these rituals of our tradition hurts both us as individuals and the body as a whole—we cannot practice hospitality or compassion or radical acceptance or forgiveness or sharing if we are not all here. Even if we do not understand what is happening, or even if we have doubts about how it all works, it’s important to be there, to at least allow the possibility of an experience of Grace. One of the beauties of these rituals is that sometimes they are so laden with meaning we can hardly stand it, and other times we may feel nothing…but no matter where we are on that spectrum today, we know that God is present and working in us and our community through these moments, making and re-making us into God’s people.

So what are some of these rituals that are so important, that help our roots grow and reach into God’s love? The most obvious is communion, of course—the meal that grows out of the Passover and the feast that welcomes home the prodigal. If you’d like to learn more about Passover, the First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights is hosting a Seder Dinner in a few weeks—check the bulletin for more info about how you can go and learn about this important tradition. Some other things that guide our roots to God’s living water include things like saying the Lord’s Prayer each week, sharing the peace of Christ with one another, and even singing. There aren’t many places in our culture where we can get together and sing anymore—the church is the keeper of an important tradition. When we sing, our whole bodies get in on the act of prayer and proclamation. The church has been singing since the very beginning. Of course, what we were singing was usually the psalms. This Lent we’ve been singing a psalm each week—reaching back to fine Presbyterian tradition. It used to be that we only sang psalms! While our repertoire is broader now, it’s still important to reach for the very first hymnal every now and then, joining our voices with centuries of faithful people around the world who have been singing the psalms together.

I’m sure you can think of many rituals that happen in church—everything from passing an offering plate to ensure we all have the opportunity to answer God’s call to generosity, to baptizing babies, to breaking bread together. On Wednesday we’ll be exploring some of them more deeply, so join us at 6:30! Every time we participate in these actions, we put our whole body to our faith. Faith isn’t only about what we think, or what we feel, it’s also about what we do. These roots run through hundreds or even thousands of years of faithfulness, connecting us to the great cloud of witnesses and reminding us, just as the Israelites were reminded on the verge of the promised land, and just as the brothers were reminded by their father, that we are God’s people. We have been chosen, and called, and equipped: with a way to practice God’s story in this room so we can live it outside this room.

So this week’s challenge is an easy one, relatively speaking. Take the ritual out of the sanctuary for a week. Whenever you have a meal, say the Lord’s Prayer. Not a quick and easy grace, but the whole Lord’s Prayer, every meal. See what happens when it’s connected to your daily bread. See how it feels to have Jesus’ words on your tongue several times a day. Notice your awareness of God’s presence when you are living with the words of the prayer beyond Sunday morning. Every meal, the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s see what happens if we move this ritual designed to remind us who we are as the people of God beyond the walls of the church building.

And when we’re in here, let’s practice God’s call through singing with gusto and praying fervently and washing and forgiving and hearing and eating. May those practices shape our lives. Amen.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Thirst

Some of the tools for quenching my thirst...

Though interesting that this is the prompt for a communion Sunday, when we remember Jesus' promise "Come to me and never be thirsty." So often we rely on these other tools, forgetting that we thirst not only for water but also for living water.


Saturday, March 02, 2013

Leave

What does the church need to do more often?
Leave.
We need to take our faith outside the doors, because too often we make a joyful noise in the sanctuary and stay silent the rest of the week.
Leave the building, and know that you don't go out alone. Nor do you leave Jesus in the sanctuary or the pastor's office--he's already out there waiting for you to come on out.


Day 16 of Lent photo a day

Friday, March 01, 2013

Prophet

This afternoon I watched the PBS special on the women's movement, "The Makers." It was pretty amazing. And to follow up on my post about being a feminist earlier this week, it makes sense to me for this image to illustrate today's word. Prophets are those who can see the world as God sees--a world of justice and hope for all people. The women who came before, and the people who continue to work for justice, are indeed prophets.


one of the last frames of the 3 hour special...awesome
Day 15 of the Lent photo-a-day challenge
Day