Sunday, July 16, 2017

Found Family--a sermon on Ruth

Rev. Teri Peterson
Marchmont St. Giles, Edinburgh
Found Family
Ruth (most of the book) (CEB)
16 July 2017

During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.
But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.
But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.
Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.
Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
So both of them went along until they arrived at Bethlehem.

They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field so that I may glean among the ears of grain behind someone in whose eyes I might find favor.”
Naomi replied to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went; she arrived and she gleaned in the field behind the harvesters. By chance, it happened to be the portion of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from the family of Elimelech.
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He said to the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you.”
And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
Boaz said to his young man who was overseeing the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?”
He answered, “She’s a young Moabite woman, the one who returned with Naomi from the territory of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean so that I might gather up grain from among the bundles behind the harvesters.’ She arrived and has been on her feet from the morning until now, and has sat down for only a moment.”
Boaz said to Ruth, “Haven’t you understood, my daughter? Don’t go glean in another field; don’t go anywhere else. Instead, stay here with my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that they are harvesting and go along after them. I’ve ordered the young men not to assault you. Whenever you are thirsty, go to the jugs and drink from what the young men have filled.”
Then she bowed down, face to the ground, and replied to him, “How is it that I’ve found favor in your eyes, that you notice me? I’m an immigrant.”
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here, eat some of the bread, and dip your piece in the vinegar.” She sat alongside the harvesters, and he served roasted grain to her. She ate, was satisfied, and had leftovers. Then she got up to glean.
Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her glean between the bundles, and don’t humiliate her. Also, pull out some from the bales for her and leave them behind for her to glean. And don’t scold her.”
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed what she had gleaned; it was about an ephah of barley. She picked it up and went into town. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She brought out what she had left over after eating her fill and gave it to her.
Thus Ruth stayed with Boaz’s young women, gleaning until the completion of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, shouldn’t I seek security for you, so that things might go well for you? Now isn’t Boaz, whose young women you were with, our relative? Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. You should bathe, put on some perfume, wear nice clothes, and then go down to the threshing floor. Don’t make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, notice the place where he is lying. Then go, uncover his feet, and lie down. And he will tell you what to do.”
Ruth replied to her, “I’ll do everything you are telling me.” So she went down to the threshing floor, and she did everything just as her mother-in-law had ordered.

In the morning, Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there. Just then, the redeemer about whom Boaz had spoken was passing by. He said, “Sir, come over here and sit down.” So he turned aside and sat down. Then he took ten men from the town’s elders and said, “Sit down here.” And they sat down.
Boaz said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has returned from the field of Moab, is selling the portion of the field that belonged to Elimelech. I thought that I should let you know and say, ‘Buy it, in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you won’t redeem it, tell me so that I may know. There isn’t anyone to redeem it except you, and I’m next in line after you.”
He replied, “I will redeem it.”
Then Boaz said, “On the day when you buy the field from Naomi, you also buy Ruth the Moabite, the wife of the dead man, in order to preserve the dead man’s name for his inheritance.”
But the redeemer replied, “Then I can’t redeem it for myself, without risking damage to my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself. You can have my right of redemption, because I’m unable to act as redeemer.”
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.
He was intimate with her, the Lord let her become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be blessed, who today hasn’t left you without a redeemer. May his name be proclaimed in Israel. He will restore your life and sustain you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you has given birth to him. She’s better for you than seven sons.” Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed. He became Jesse’s father and David’s grandfather.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yesterday afternoon I spent a few minutes perusing the website meetup.com. It’s a place where people can find groups that share interests—everything from walking to horror movies, sparkling wine to raw food, board games to a cappella singing, and so much more. There are multiple groups that offer people the chance to just go out for lunch of after-work drinks so they don’t have to get a table for one. Many groups here in Edinburgh say that they organize small events so that people can really get to know one another, rather than feeling lost in a crowd. There are hundreds of groups, and some have thousands of members. Nearly every group I clicked on said some variation of the same goal: to make friends.

This is something that comes up a lot when I talk to people my age—we don’t know how to make friends as adults, now that we don’t have the built-in community of a university residence hall or the familiarity of school friends, and most of us didn’t get married and have children right out of college. Our individualistic culture has left many people, of every generation, not just mine, lonely. We are longing for connection, common ground, people with whom we can laugh and cry and explore and learn and share and eat. 

That longing is where Naomi found herself after her husband and sons had died. She was alone, or thought she was. When she returned to her hometown she even told people not to call her Naomi anymore—because it means “pleasant”—but to call her Mara, which means “bitter.” Yet through all her lonely and sad days, a younger woman walked beside her on the road. Ruth, a foreigner and a generation younger, insisted on staying…and then not just staying by Naomi’s side, but going out to find friends for them both, building up a community once again, without even the internet to help.

I have probably read the book of Ruth a dozen times, and somehow have never noticed the sheer number of people in the cast of characters. We usually just focus on Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, and then move on to the fact that Ruth, a foreign immigrant, became the great-grandmother of King David and therefore ancestor of Jesus. But in addition to them, we find Boaz’s workers, and the womenfolk who work in the fields beside Ruth. There are ten men who witness to the scene at the city gate between Boaz and the other possible redeemer. There are women who surround Naomi at the end of the story, celebrating all that God has done, and are even the ones to name Ruth’s son. In just four short chapters, Naomi and Ruth go from being an unlikely pair—an older Israelite woman and a younger Gentile woman, alone in the world, vulnerable, outcast, dependent on the mercy of strangers—to being the center of a found family, brought together not by blood but by faithfulness. 

Ruth tells Naomi “where you go, I will go…your God will be my God…your people will be my people…” She has seen Naomi’s faith, and that inspires her own. And back in Bethlehem, it is Boaz’s faithfulness to God’s law in Deuteronomy that makes his field safe and prosperous for those in need to glean behind the workers. The women who gather round sing praise to God who has brought them together and made a new family where once there was only despair, starting with the simple love between two generations of women.

It’s a beautiful picture of what the church can be. What if the Body of Christ was where we found family? The connection people are looking for through meetup and Facebook is built in to our calling. The family of the church is bound together by faithfulness, across bounds of age and race and class, as we share where we have seen God at work, and give thanks together. The vulnerable are cared for, the privileged stand up for what is right, people in the midst of grief or trauma or stress are surrounded with support. In our baptismal vows we offer young people extra aunts and uncles and grandparents to nurture them, and those whose relatives live far away find people with whom to share their stories and wisdom. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep…we learn from one another, and lean on each other when we feel like we’re wandering in the wilderness, and offer our resources to those in need. Because God first loved us, we love…like family, for that is what we are.


May it be so. Amen.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Blinded--a sermon on 1 Samuel 3

Rev. Teri Peterson
Marchmont St. Giles, Edinburgh
Blinded
1 Samuel 3.1-21
2 July 2017

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.
The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.
Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.
Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”
(Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)
A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.
Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle! On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household—every last bit of it! I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about—how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.”
Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the Lord’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!”
“I’m here,” Samuel said.
“What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.
“He is the Lord, ” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.”
So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh because the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the Lord’s own word.

~~~~~~~~~

When I arrived at my first church as a brand new minister, I discovered that one of the things the church had been putting off doing until the new minister arrived was a confirmation class. They had 20 teenagers waiting, and no plan. Among my first tasks, therefore, was to recruit several teachers and at least 20 mentors who would work with these young people one-on-one. 

In making what felt like a hundred phone calls, I lost count of the number of adults who told me they were afraid to talk to children.

Afraid of what, I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps afraid that the teens would only know how to talk about mobile phones and video games? Worried that they didn’t know how to have a conversation without a script or curriculum? Or maybe afraid that the kids would have questions about God that they didn’t know how to answer? 

I wonder how Eli felt when Hannah dropped off Samuel at the temple, saying “this is the child I prayed for that day we last spoke—here, he’s dedicated to God, so take him in and teach him.” I wonder if he was afraid he wouldn’t have anything in common with a four year old, and wouldn’t be able to relate to him. Did he worry about how to talk about the God that Hannah had promised Samuel to serve?

Scripture doesn’t tell us much about people’s feelings or inner thought processes, but in this case I think it’s possible that Eli felt ill prepared for this task. His own sons were corrupt and he didn’t know how to set them right. And here, a few years after Hannah had left Samuel in the temple, we discover that in spite of his religious duties and his presence beside the ark of the covenant day and night, Samuel does not yet know the Lord, and God’s word has not been revealed to him.

It’s easy to do, isn’t it? To get so caught up in the tasks of the church that we never get around to knowing the Lord. And it’s easy to pass that on, too, as we inadvertently communicate that church or faith is an obligation grown ups bear, rather than a body, a relationship, a way of living, or a family where all are valued. Yet it is to Samuel that God speaks. Even though he doesn’t have the right education or credentials or anywhere near enough years of sitting in the pew or serving on a committee…even though he hasn’t yet been taught, even though to him God is more like a piece of furniture than a living Word…Samuel is still known, by name. God knows where to find him, and how to call him, and God waits patiently while Samuel learns how to be in this new relationship he didn’t even know to expect.

Eli has lost his sight—which, granted, was never particularly good in the first place. When he first met Hannah at prayer, what he saw was a drunken woman, rather than a person pouring out her heart to God. He could not see her, he could only see his assumptions about her. The same seems to be true when Samuel appears at his bedside at night…it takes three tries before reality breaks through. Perhaps he thought Samuel was too young, or too inexperienced, or too ignorant of God’s ways. I suspect many of us have thought the same when a young person has spoken up. Perhaps he was so used to doing things on his own without God that it didn’t occur to him that the Spirit’s voice could still speak. Maybe he was just tired—after all, his own sons were grown, so why did he now have to deal with teaching another round of Sunday School? Whatever the case, he was blinded, whether by his assumptions, his fear, his arrogance, or his apathy.

Once Eli begins to see, though, he becomes the mentor Samuel has needed. He passes on what he knows of prayer, and Samuel heeds his advice and runs back to his bed, probably practicing his lines as he made his way through the dark temple. When God stands at the foot of the bed again, Samuel is ready—or as ready as any of us ever can be. He responds to the voice calling his name, and he listens carefully for what the Lord has to say. 

What God has to say at this moment is actually a message for Eli. Perhaps Eli’s blindness extended also to his ability to hear the voice himself. Now, through the collaboration of mentor and student, elder and child, the word of the Lord was becoming known once again. Remember at the beginning of the story we heard that the Lord’s word was rare at the time…and by the end, God is appearing again and again and all the people are hearing the word. In between, a community develops between adult and young person in the house of the Lord.

A little while ago, I heard about a nursing home in Seattle that is also home to a preschool. Every weekday, the home is filled with small children running about, playing games, talking to residents, learning social skills and colors and counting. There are stories of residents with dementia suddenly speaking clearly when they encounter the group of children, and of older people becoming more lively when the children are present, and stories of children becoming accepting of a wide variety of abilities and adaptive devices. 

Similarly, in Denmark there is a home where university students live in the empty rooms, spending time with the elderly residents in lieu of paying rent. The students teach their neighbors how to use the computer, they play games and do puzzles, watch movies, eat meals, and hang out together. Both young and old say they love learning from each other and they are less lonely.

So much of our world is stratified by age—we separate out year by year, until we almost never spend time with people older or younger than ourselves, let alone people of different skin colors or religious backgrounds, which makes it much easier to see our assumptions or our fears, rather than to see people, let alone to see what God might be doing. It often feels like the word of the Lord is rare in our days, just as it was when Samuel was a child. But perhaps it’s that we haven’t learned to listen. What would happen if we purposely built relationships across all those lines of age and experience? If we learned to say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”—not just in our own beds at night, but also in the presence of our neighbors young and old? Eli and Samuel were able to put aside their blindness and their fear and learn from one another, and it was through their speaking and listening that God was revealed, not just to them but to the whole land.

We might find that we are asked questions we’ve never thought of before, or taught ways of knowing God we haven't encountered. We might discover a deeper faith as we pass on our experience. We might have to make room for other ways of understanding, or for a word from God we didn't particularly wish to hear…but isn't that always the risk when we say “speak, Lord”? We would definitely find that each of us is already known, and loved, and valued…and as we grow together, we will likely find ourselves standing on holy ground.

May it be so. Amen.





Wednesday, June 07, 2017

wandering about...

I'm slowly getting to know people and programs in my new parish, and today I thought I'd try to get to know the actual place. The Church of Scotland operates on a geographic/territorial parish system, so there's a defined area that is "ours" (so to speak). So this afternoon, while the sun was shining, I set out with a map of the parish to go for a walk. I walked around the boundaries of the parish, and also many of the interior streets. Here's what I noticed:

* a friend refers to the area as a "leafy suburb" and someone else referred to it today as "old money".... it definitely does have that feel about it...lots of trees, and big houses--mansions, really--(I suspect mostly subdivided into flats), and high walls separating the homes/estates from the streets. And yet there's a surprising number of apartment blocks that could clearly use some work, and also a bunch of small homes or row houses that are clearly subdivided into a lot of small flats. So there may very well be old money, but also struggle, at least with the maintenance of physical buildings.

* I was briefly lost on the campus of a hospital, which was more like a large estate than any hospital I've ever been in.

* Many of the houses have lovely details, like stamped stone or decorate ironworks holding up the gutters.

* At one point I turned a corner and there was a clear view of the castle (which is not in the parish, haha).

* There's a grocery store where almost everything is organic and where the cost of your plastic bag is donated to Save The Children. It's tucked in a neighbourhood...which reminded me that, unlike in the US, mixed-use space is common, and I love it. I love that you can, theoretically anyway, live and work and shop in the same three-block radius. It's so convenient to be able to pop to the grocery store in a 3-minute walk. Or to find an Indian restaurant in the midst of the houses on the block.


* There is a cemetery that has some notable people buried in it....including this gem of church history:

Most of the graves have a surprising amount of information on them, including people's professions, hometowns, favourite things, family members, and who knows what else. But not Chalmers, which I think is fascinating.



 * I was briefly lost, though not for long (thwarted by train tracks), and I also walked to the bus and then home from the ice cream store where I had the bus drop me off, which accounts for maybe 3,000 steps and 30 or so minutes....the rest of these are from my parish exploration today:


* There is a general election tomorrow and I saw a SHOCKINGLY small number of placards for candidates or parties. Compared to elections in the US, the campaigning seems very low-key. I'm not being bombarded with internet ads, there are no signs out in neighbourhoods, and only the occasional window will contain a sign with a name or a party symbol. Honestly, it would be easy to forget there's an election tomorrow, actually. 
This is true not just in the church neighbourhood, but my own as well--I see hardly anything. I have encountered people with tables/tents/clipboards/materials on the sidewalks around town, and of course people are talking about it (and their views) in nearly every conversation, and naturally it's on the news--but seriously: it's amazing how different the atmosphere is the day before an election than it would be in the USA. I can't even describe how strange that is. There's a lot at stake in this election, but the overall feel in the air is nowhere near as frantic or earth-shattering as I've experienced before.

* This is what I came home to:

looking toward Fisherrow Harbor (on the left) and Portobello

* The kitties got a new condo/cave/scratching post today. I'm hoping it'll give them someplace to go when the sun comes up (at 3:30am) and they want to get in the closet....because between their attempts to open the closet door and their throwing of all my clothes on the floor, i can't take the noise anymore. Especially at 4am. :-)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Crazy cat lady

The rules of the condominium association where I lived for the past 10.5 years specifically state that each unit cannot be home to more than 2 pets...and I've often said that rule was the only thing standing between me and crazy cat lady territory. I love my meows, and it wouldn't be hard for me to take in rescues until my home was overrun.

But two is a perfect number, really. And these two cats are so great...tonight, they even BOTH came out to snuggle and be petted by Nikki, which is so unusual! Generally only Ollie comes out to play, and Andrew hides. But both got some attention today.

Their move was as smooth as I could have hoped. They were picked up in the morning on moving day, and the driver texted me when they'd been checked in at the airport to tell me that all was well and they'd behaved beautifully--no yowling or carsickness or anything. They were well cared for throughout their journey from Chicago to Frankfurt, where they stayed overnight, and then from Frankfurt to Edinburgh. I received photos and text updates at each stop. They were delivered by a kind driver who carried them into the house. Air Animal was great at every step of the way, from planning to vet visits and paperwork to travel day to follow up, and I would recommend them to anyone.

Once the meows got here, they hid for a while...and then they came out to explore a bit...and now they are as settled as can be. They still both seem to prefer to be in the closet or between the bed and the wall during the time I'm not at home, but when I am home they sit on the couch, or snuggle on my lap, or sleep next to me on the bed. They are eating and drinking and using their new litter box. Both of them  have figured out how to get up on the kitchen counter, which is a new development--Andrew has never been a good jumper, so it's fascinating to see him exploring higher-up space than he has before. Today Ollie learned that she can still drink from the bathroom sink, as she has done every day for the past ten years. And I just saw Andrew play with the little mouse that was in the carrier with him on the way over, after days of neglect on the living room floor.

This wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of dozens of people. To all of you who donated to the GoFundMe to get them here, who shared the link, who prayed for them...thank you. From the bottom of my purr-ful heart, I am so grateful for your help. I can't imagine living here without them, and I know that their safe journey is the result of your open hearts and hands. Thanks. :-)



Andrew's favorite "hiding" spot

she's never been in the kitchen sink before, but this one's so awesome she can't help herself

checking out the dreaded carriers, before I put them away


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vegetarian haggis

In the lead up to moving, I was frequently asked about being vegetarian in Scotland.

"Won't you have to start eating fish?"

"It's such a meat-and-potatoes place, how will you be vegetarian?"

"Isn't the food there awful?"

"What about haggis?"

I often respond with the simple reality: a) though of course fish & chips and haggis are a thing, food in the UK has dramatically improved in the past 15 or so years, having moved toward a sustainable/local foodie-type culture; b) Edinburgh is one of Europe's most veggie-friendly cities. I can name about five vegetarian or vegan restaurants off the top of my head (that would be 4 more than all of McHenry County, IL), and the vast majority of restaurants in general list their vegetarian things on their own menu section, or they label everything so you can tell what's safe. And there are a lot of options, not just a side salad! Even the local chip shop has falafel! **

I went to one of these vegetarian restaurants just today, in fact.

There's a more foundational point here though, which is:
I've moved here, I'm not vacationing (though there's plenty to make it feel like holidays, including the sunny weather!)...which means that nearly all of my meals will be ones I cook myself. I live in a flat, with a kitchen. I have been stocking it with pots and pans, pantry staples (oil, legumes, rice and pasta, etc), and tons of fresh local veggies. There's a bakery just two blocks away, and a lovely little greengrocer in the high street that gets a variety of veggies and cheeses delivered each day, and a ton of supermarket options ranging from Aldi to Tesco to the (slightly strange but weirdly awesome) frozen food store.

So...yes, it'll be just as easy to be vegetarian here as it was in Crystal Lake. Perhaps easier, even, since when I *do* eat out, there are more choices.

What I have noticed in a week of grocery shopping is this: everything is clearly labeled as to where it comes from, so I also have a much easier time choosing food that doesn't have to travel thousands of miles to my plate. Which is not to say I'll never eat anything that wasn't grown on this island (because hello, avocado is delicious!) but it does make many of my everyday shopping choices more clear, and I'm all about informed decisions, especially where food is concerned!

And now it's time for some pasta with kale and marinara, some wine, and then some Belgian chocolates. Because, well...compared to going all the way to the USA, Belgium - Scotland is basically local, right? ;-)


**Full disclosure: c) there is such a thing as vegetarian haggis, and it's still not good.
And also d) potatoes are my favorite food, so no problem there. ;-)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It's Been One Week...

...since I moved to Scotland!
Ok, it's not catchy for singing purposes like the BareNakedLadies, but still, it's pretty darn exciting.

A friend asked a few days ago if it felt real or like I was on holiday, and I have to admit that there are aspects of the past week that are pretty vacation-esque, and I have to keep reminding myself that I live here.
Like, for instance, I live about three doors down from the beach.
And I also ate out in restaurants a lot for several days in a row.

But then there are other things, like picking up my residency card, making appointments at the bank, hanging my laundry on the line, learning how to use the four--FOUR--garbage/recycling/composting bins, getting a local phone number, and perusing all my local grocery options that feel pretty distinctly like moving in.

In the run up to moving, everything was so busy and stressful (except for all the fun I had on my "farewell tour" seeing friends and getting to 90% of my favorite things) that I barely had time to think. This past week has been full of breathing space I haven't had in I don't know how long. I have walked on the beach, wandered shops, sat in cafes, read books, snuggled kitties, googled absurd things, and Facetimed with friends and family who are now 8-11 time zones away, and who I haven't had time to talk to in months.

I am already experiencing the spirit of hospitality and generosity that I've known and loved about Scotland for a long time--from kind neighbors to smiling people out on the sidewalk to helpful workers at the mobile phone store to new colleagues I met over evening meals during General Assembly. And the more relaxed pace of life is already evident as well. Not to say no one is busy or that everyone is friendly--just that it feels different somehow.

Of course, my first day at my placement is Thursday, and I could end up very busy very soon, so I won't be making any big generalizations while I'm still in much-needed-days-off mode!

The sun comes up early, and stays up late...there's an Indian restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a bakery, and an ice cream shop within a five minute walk from my flat...the cats seem happy...I've made risotto in my pressure cooker...I'm meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow...it's been sunny and warm since i got here...basically, at the moment anyway, life is good.

part of the stress of the days before the move: I had WAY more stuff than I intended/anticipated. Thanks to the great desk agent for Iceland Air, and to the free luggage trollies at Glasgow Airport, I managed, and everything got here in one piece.

this is my street, as seen from the beach. I live in that building that sits closer to the road, in the centre.

so many shells--from perfectly whole to nearly-sand, and everything in between
doesn't this log beg to be sat on for deep thoughts? It's about five minutes down the beach from my house.

the mouth of the River Esk...a river which has more swans than I've ever seen in one place



the panoramic of my street and the beach, from the promenade

Andrew's favourite new hiding spot is between the bed and the wall

this is the lounge (living room) in my adorable tiny seaside flat. Thanks Nikki! It's gorgeous, and exactly one-person sized...with a beautiful new paint job, a new kitchen, and lots of great ambience. 

from today's walk on the prom as the tide was coming in...


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

If This Table Could Talk--a sermon on Luke 24, on my last day at PCOP

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
If This Table Could Talk…v.2
Luke 24.13-48 (CEB)
23 April 2017, NL3-33, Easter 2 (Open), Last Day at PCOP

On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him.
He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.
He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them.
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”


There is long-standing wisdom among pastors that trips are often the mountaintop experiences in our faith journeys—both for young and older. Whether the trip is for mission work or pilgrimage or to the zoo or on retreat almost doesn’t matter, because it’s the bus ride that makes all the difference—as long as we’re willing to leave the iPad off, anyway. We may play games or sing songs or learn about what we’re passing, we may nap or snack or just chat. It’s on the bus that we get to know each other differently as we traverse unfamiliar landscapes—both outside the windows and inside ourselves. It’s on the bus that we hear one another’s stories and tell our own, weaving in and out until we are a tapestry of community, learning what it means to be part of this family.

I think that wisdom may have originated in this morning’s scripture reading. Compared to how far most of us travel every day, it doesn’t sound like a long journey—just seven miles. But that’s a couple of hours of walking at a pretty decent pace. If you’re talking while walking, caught up in grief and uncertainty, it might take even longer. In any case, it’s a road trip of sorts, and like every good road trip it includes good stories, good food, and an unexpected twist.

It had been a wild ride for Jesus’ friends and followers—from listening to him teach to seeing him heal to being a part of the mystery. Every day their hopes were raised, their expectations soared, their minds and hearts overflowed. But then it all came crashing down, in ways so horrible they couldn’t even have imagined it. For the one who was to redeem to become the one on the cross was inconceivable. And yet, there it was. For the body to be missing, for women to know what they are talking about, for the horror to continue rather than to be able to put this sad ending to rest—all inconceivable. No wonder that when the stranger fell into step with them, they couldn’t see that he was indeed the only one who truly knew what had happened in these days.

One of the things that made crucifixion work as a method of torture and control was not just the awful physical reality, but the shame. It was so great that when someone was crucified, they were erased. Bodies were usually left on the cross until they disintegrated or were picked over by animals, and then the person was never spoken of again. They disappeared from history. Family and friends were so shamed by the association, so afraid they’d be next, that they’d never mention the name or the incident. Crucifixion wasn’t just death, it was annihilation. For this story to go on, the friends of Jesus risked everything. This wasn’t just silly choose-your-own adventure storytelling on a road trip. This was a life-or-death story, and they chose to continue to tell it, even to a stranger.

We rarely think of stories this way. The word “story” has come to mean something that’s frivolous or not true or unimportant. But the reality is that stories may be the only thing that matters—if we lose our story, we lose ourselves. It’s one of the ways culture works—we have shared stories that tell us who we are. But even behind that, we have a God who is a master storyteller, and the day we lose sight of the narrative is the day we descend into hell, just as the crucified one did the day he was erased from the earth. But his is a story that won’t stop, that can’t be held back, that shows through even when we do our darnedest to erase or white out, and the disciples were still telling the story, even at risk of their own lives.

That story carried them through a whole road trip. Sometimes they told it, sometimes the stranger did. It was comforting and healing, but it was also learning who they were and what it meant to be a part of this family. No wonder their hearts were burning within them—they were finally coming to understand how this whole community thing works. They offered each other their shattered dreams, their grief, their hopes, their fears, their reality…and they were truly heard and known like never before—they were found by grace. This is what it means to be the community of Jesus’ friends—to share our reality and to hold those stories, to really know one another, as we walk along the road.

They asked him in for dinner, of course. The only place stories fit even better than a road trip is around a table. If our tables could talk, they would tell of laughter and tears, bad jokes and bad days, celebrations and sorrows. Next to water marks and spaghetti stains and bread crumbs they hold memories of homework, of dinner disasters and family feasts, of shouting matches and romance, of love and war and everything in between. The tables in this church would tell stories of cake, celebrating new life and new journeys; of ice cream sundaes made by guests with nowhere else to go; of really really really long meetings; of potlucks that never turn out to be entirely salad or dessert; of careful study and deep prayer; of meatballs and school kits and more collating of paper than we ever thought possible; of new forms of worship and of a hundred projects that seemed like a good idea at the time. The table is where we are fed with more than just food. We listen and we tell, and we learn who we are, our place in the family and the world.

And this table—this table is where it all comes together. This table’s story is the basis for all others. It’s at this table that the stranger became the host. It’s at this table that joy and disbelief and proof and wonder all mix together. It’s at this table that the breathless story of two disciples mingles with the hope of a great cloud of witnesses, and passes through the ages. If this table could talk, it would tell of feast overcoming famine. It would tell of the hard work of growing trust in the midst of fear. It would tell of doubt and faith joining with wheat and grape to make something unbelievable. This is the table where eyes are opened. This is the table where God’s big story meets our story, and we are strengthened to live in a world where nothing will ever be the same. This is the table where we listen and tell and learn who we are and what it means to be part of this family in this world. This is the table where we are fed by grace.

And what does this table teach us?

It teaches us who is invited—everyone, faithful and faithless, broken and healed. It teaches us who is loved—for God so loved the whole world. It teaches us what true abundance looks like—enough for everyone. It teaches us to taste and see that God is good. It teaches us how to accept hospitality, and how to offer it. It teaches us that stories endure for a reason, and that the word and the bread together feed us as the people of God.

At this table, we see that it is possible for a simple meal to be a feast. We see that God is not far away waiting for us to get it right, but traveling our road trips and sitting at our tables, giving us new eyes and new hearts and new stories and new recipes. We see our brothers and sisters as God does—beloved, worthy, beautiful—rather than as different, old or young, troublemaker or saint. We see that we are part of something bigger than our imaginations, spanning time and geography with a story and a loaf of bread.

This feast is our practice room. Here we receive so that we can learn how to give. We come to be changed, so we can see that the table of God’s community, the communion of story and bread, is every table—starting here. And from here, we follow by grace, because our story is joined to God’s story, our body is joined to Christ’s body, and our hearts burn with the Spirit.

May it be so. Amen. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

fake news vs. good news: a sermon for Easter

Rev. Teri Peterson
PCOP
Fake News v Good News
Luke 24.1-12
16 April 2017, Easter Day, NL3-32

Today’s scripture reading comes from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 24, and can be found on page ___ of your pew Bible if you wish to follow along.
At noon on Friday, the day had become dark, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, Jesus breathed his last. His twelve male disciples had already fled in fear, but the women stood nearby and watched until the end. It was both the first day of Passover and the day before the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council of Jewish elders, had taken Jesus’ body and laid it in his own family tomb. Luke tells us that the women who had followed Jesus through his ministry in Galilee and Judea went with Joseph, and they saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid and the tomb sealed. Then they returned to their lodgings, and prepared spices and ointments. The next day was the Sabbath, and they rested according to the commandment.


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.



I sometimes think that Easter is the hardest day of the Christian calendar. It is without question the most important day, when Christ was raised from dead and so the power of God’s love was proven to be greater than even the worst humanity could do.

But sometimes it’s still awfully hard. For one thing, “we do not have language large enough for the reality we have now entered.”[1] The resurrection of Jesus changed everything—the world can never be the same. But I’m not sure that now, thousands of years later, we think much about that. It’s so commonplace that we have become used to the domesticated Jesus. We have carefully contained God in words—lots and lots of words, sometimes big fancy ones—and therefore carefully put God exactly where we’d like to keep him (because this God is always a him) safely out of our way. We are no longer shocked by the idea that God would become a human being, let alone one who would be killed by the state and then raised from the dead. And we have often dismissed Jesus’ teaching as nice stories and good ideas that can’t really be applied in modern life.

We have far more words now than at any time in human history, and yet we still can’t quite express just what God is up to. No matter how many fancy words we create or borrow, we just don’t have language expansive enough to describe God, love, or resurrection, without confining Christ in our limited human ideas. And if there’s one thing we learn from Easter, it’s that Jesus cannot be confined. He is out of the tomb, alive in the world, no matter what we think or say about that.

From the beginning, he’s been turning things upside down. His mother Mary, on meeting the angel, declared that God had filled the empty with good things and lifted up the poor…and brought down the powerful and sent the rich away empty-handed. Jesus’ first sermon nearly got him thrown off a cliff, as he proclaimed that his job on earth was to bring sight to the blind, release to the captive, healing for the lame, and relief to the debtor—and that God’s love was for those outside the chosen people as much as it was on those inside. At the end, God in the flesh absorbed all the violence we could throw at him, and he didn’t return a word of it. And then the end turned out not to be an end at all, but a new beginning that is beyond belief.

As if all of that weren’t difficult enough to find adequate words for, there’s also the reality we live in every day, which looks very little like the kingdom of God. Think of all the things that have happened in the world just in the past couple of months. Political turmoil throughout this nation and others, children gassed in Syria, missiles shot from US Navy ships, a shooting at a school in California, the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan, posturing in North Korea, bombs in Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt, landslides in Colombia…a complete list would take an entire sermon to recite.

No wonder more than a million people watched April the pregnant giraffe give birth yesterday morning. We could use some joy and new life! We live in a world that almost seems to be starved for good news.

The women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning could use some good news. They didn’t expect any, though. They’d been waiting…waiting…waiting in the valley of the shadow of death. They saw where Jesus’ body was laid on Friday afternoon, and then they had to leave him there, carrying their sorrow with them throughout the Sabbath. All the other disciples had hidden themselves, fearing the long arm of the Empire and the mob mentality that had gripped the leaders and crowds during Jesus’ trial. When at long last the sun set on that terrible day, and rose on a day when nothing would ever be okay again, and they survived waiting the whole Sabbath day for it to set and rise again, then finally the women went out, bearing the burden of loss along with the spices and ointments for a proper burial. The first rays were just peeking over the horizon when they arrived, unable to wait another moment. When they got there, the stone was rolled away from the door, the tomb was open.

So, naturally, they went in. But the body was not there.

The women were confused, and rightly so. They’d watched him be put there, and the door closed, a final end to their friendship and their hope.

In the midst of their confusion, two dazzling messengers appeared, and without so much as a “do not be afraid” preamble, said: why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has been raised. Remember what he told you.

They remembered. The pieces came together in their minds, as they remembered all he had said and done, and they went back to tell the others—what? Tell them what?

There’s no way to tell this story that doesn’t sound crazy. Jesus back from the dead? The men listened to them as if they are hysterical in all the worst stereotypical senses of the word. They called the story ridiculous nonsense, a load of crap. No matter what the women thought they experienced, it’s not possible—the others, who had been hiding away in the locked room, knew this for sure even without having been there. I imagine Mary and Joanna and Susanna and Mary Magdalene standing there, as many women have done in our lives, with joy turning to frustration as they realize they will not be believed, that they are being written off as silly deluded women making up stories to ease their own pain, as they realize that there are no adequate words, because this is a thing that doesn’t happen. It is beyond belief. The truest good news in the history of humanity has been labeled fake news.

Peter, at least, went to look. He didn’t go in, though. Even though he could really have used some good news about now, he stood outside the tomb and looked in, and then went home again and locked the door. Seeing was not believing.

But what if it’s true?

What if it’s true, that the tomb was open, and Jesus was alive, somewhere out in the world?

What if it’s true, that all it takes to experience resurrection is to remember what he told us?

What if it’s true, that all the fractured pieces of our own lives, our own communities, could be  re-membered, put back together with unbelievable grace as the glue?

What if it’s true, that God’s love is the most powerful thing in the universe?

What if it’s true, that the Christ who is alive is the same one who reached out to sinners, ate dinner with outcasts, touched lepers, called some of the dimmest bulbs on the tree to be his disciples, and really believed we could do it when he taught us things like “love your enemies” and “welcome the stranger” and “blessed are the poor” and “come, follow me”?

What if it’s true, that grace is a gift and not something we have to earn?

What if it’s true, that death does not have the last word, that darkness cannot overcome the light?

The truth will set us free…free from the need to prove ourselves, free from our impulse toward violence, free from fear of those who are different from us.

The truth will set us free…free to love as we have been loved, free to reach out and welcome as if we are Christ’s hands and feet, free to be changed and so to change the world.

We live in a world so full of bad news and fake news—like the idea that God’s love is only for some, that you have to be good enough to get into heaven, that human vengeance is the same as divine justice, that my skin is safe but Jesus’ brown skin makes him suspect, that violence can lead to peace—all of this exclusion and superiority is what closes us off, separates us from each other, from ourselves, and from God’s true good news. But remember: the tomb is open! We may not have language large enough to tell the story of God’s unfettered redeeming grace, rolling away the stone and leaving the tomb empty, but that only means that we’ll have to use our whole lives—music and dance and art and poetry; relationships and work and everyday choices and voting levers. The world needs us to walk right in to the empty tomb, and then walk right out again to share what we have to offer, the truly good news: Christ is alive, love wins, and nothing will ever be the same.

Thanks be to God. Amen.



[1] https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-the-conversational-nature-of-reality/