Sunday, December 10, 2017

Wild Promise—a sermon for Advent 2B

Rev. Teri Peterson 
Wild Promise
Isaiah 40.1-11, Mark 1.1-8
10 December 2017, Advent 2B text

Isaiah 40.1-11 (NRSV)
Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that she has served her term,
   that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
   double for all her sins. 
A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ 
A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
   And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
   their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
The grass withers, the flower fades,
   when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
   surely the people are grass. 
The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever. 
Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’ 
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him. 
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
   he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
   and gently lead the mother sheep. 

Mark 1.1-8 (NRSV)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’, 
John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’


When I was fifteen years old, I decided that I needed to read the Bible, from beginning to end. My family was not church-going, and I had never even been in a church for anything other than orchestra rehearsal at that point in my life. I had no concept of what the Bible was about. All I knew was that I was a musician and a lover of literature, and that I wanted to study both at university, and that I was missing out on understanding things because they so often referred to Bible stories I did not know.

So I began this project, finding a copy of the Revised Standard Version tucked away behind a shelf full of other books in my parents’ basement. I decided I would read five chapters each day, and more on weekends. I opened up the first pages, in secret under the covers after I was supposed to be sleeping, and fell headlong into a story that was more varied, more interesting, more boring, more beautiful, and more incredible than I had ever imagined. When I was finished—and I did finish!—I had a feeling that it was not just a story, it was somehow True with a capital T, even though I still didn’t understand how or why. I didn’t tell anyone what I had done for years, until after I had joined the church as a university student.

While I was reading, I found myself in love, particularly, with the prophet Isaiah. He has such a gift with isn’t every writer who can make declarations of doom and destruction sound beautiful, and his songs of promise and hope to people in exile all sound like...well, like they belong in Handel’s Messiah, which is because, of course, that is how so many of us know them. 

The gospel writers knew the stories we now call the Old Testament, and their telling of the life of Jesus is full of the kinds of references I knew I’d missed in other literature and music, too. I’m glad I read from “in the beginning” even though it was sometimes hard going. What I wish I had known, though, is that the Bible was originally written in languages that didn’t have punctuation. Instead, what we learn through punctuation is included in the grammar or sometimes within the words themselves, or it is just assumed. But that also means it can be easy to miss, or to understand in different ways. 

A great example is in our readings this morning. The prophet Isaiah says: “a voice cries out, ‘in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.’” And the gospel writers say “a voice cries out in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’” 

It seems such a simple sentence, but with different punctuation it can mean very different things. 

John the Baptiser was indeed a voice in the wilderness. He dressed strangely, worked alone, and spent his time outside the margins of society, calling us to see how we have made many crooked paths by following our own ways, and it’s time to come back to God’s way. People came out of their everyday lives to hear him, taking a day out by the river, and then they went back into town, to homes and families and routines, while he stayed out with his locusts and his camel hair. His task was a big one: to allow himself to be a conduit for a grace he could not understand, to prepare for the one who was coming next, not to be the star himself. Hopefully people were changed by their encounter with him, though it would be easy to dismiss his lone voice as the crazy fringe.

Meanwhile, in Isaiah, we hear the prophet speaking to the Israelites in exile. Having been torn from land, family, and Temple, they are far from home, and have been for decades. Two generations have grown up in this foreign land, marked by the loss of their family’s identity and purpose, yet formed by the reality in which they now live, with friends who speak another language and worship another God, land that is similar yet different, and expectations their grandparents don’t understand. The world feels more complicated than ever, with violence and competing voices and uncertainty at every turn. They are living in the wilderness, both spiritually and literally. Perhaps 537 BCE and 2017 have more things in common than we might expect.

And then the voice of the prophet speaks, words of comfort, yes, and also words of challenge, all tied up together. God is coming, he says! In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord. Out here, where you are now, away from everything familiar and holy and the wilderness, get ready because God is doing a new thing.

Not just one voice in the wilderness, where we can go to observe and then go back again to comfort and peace...this voice speaks to us in our wilderness, bringing us comfort and peace where we are, and calling us to look for God in our midst right here, right now. It’s amazing what a difference one comma can make, and how many stories can be hiding behind one seemingly simple sentence.

God’s people understand wilderness—they’ve been there before. They know it is a place of being lost, and of being found; a place of hardship and isolation, and also the place where God speaks in burning bushes. It is inhospitable, a place of hunger and thirst, and also the place where God provides manna from heaven and water from rocks. The wilderness is a place of separation, and also the place to build the road that will carry God and the people back together. 

In the wilderness, prepare the way, says the prophet. This is a way that will change the landscape, and doing the work together will change us, too. Just as the forty years between Egypt and the Promised Land was more about becoming God’s covenant people than it was about the actual route between two points on the map, so too this wilderness road is not just a construction project, it’s a spiritual and community building process. It will be some challenging and messy work, to prepare a road for God...and as Mary sang in her Magnificat, it will likely go against all the systems we live with, to level the field and to tear down the walls and to lay aside the things we think we know, to make room for God to do a new thing. 

The prophet knows we have difficulty with new things, and that we are prone to looking at a problem and assuming it’s too big, that our small effort can’t be worthwhile. People are like grass, fickle and fading. We can never manage this work. Our faithfulness fades away at the first sign of trouble, or we forget everything God has said before, if we ever knew it to begin with. We don’t like change, we’re tired, it’s too big a job, impossible.

But we all know God’s answer to our declaration that something is impossible, right?

For mortals, fading like the flower, it is impossible. But for God, whose word stands forever, all things are possible. And it is God who will walk this road, coming to us, not waiting for us to come under our own power. This is a wild promise—uncontainable, almost unbelievable, yet somehow True with a capital T, and it grows unlike anything else in the wilderness. Whether we are ready or not, whether the highway is finished or not, whether everyone believes or not, whether there is room in the inn or not, God is coming, to sit down in our midst and share our humanity, to walk the way with us, from the shadows into the daylight, to gather the lambs and feed the flock and lead us on into the kingdom. The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. Not just those who can afford a mountaintop view, not just those who can manage a day out by the riverside, not just those who have shiny wrapped gifts or fruitcake perfectly prepared, but all people. Even when we fade away under the scorching heat of the wilderness sun, or when we sink into the shadows of lengthening night and despair of light ever shining again, God’s promise of comfort and abundant life is still carrying across the sandy riverbeds and the stony hillsides and the crowded stables and the empty tomb, and it is still true, for the word of the Lord stands forever.

May it be so. Amen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Not *quite* fluent...

I have learned several languages in my life—some for speaking, some for reading. There are lots of aspects to learning a new language, from the basic vocabulary, to the different forms of verbs (and nouns, in some languages), to grammar rules, to pronunciation and inflection, etc.

There are also stages to learning a language.
There’s the stage when all you can do is say ridiculous things that bear no resemblance to conversation, because for some reason discussing the cat on the chair or under the table or whatever is the way to learn. (I’ve never quite understood this, but...yeah.)

There’s the stage when you can read relatively well but speaking is still a bit beyond your ability.

There’s the stage when you can speak decently, and though no one would mistake you for a native, they might mistake you for someone who can understand them if they speak back to you at their normal speed.

There’s the stage when you dream in the new language, and that’s usually a sign you’re headed for fluency.

When it comes to my Familiarisation process, I would say I’m somewhere between those last two stages. I feel like, as I try to work out things like Remembrance and Christingles and Watchnight, and to navigate the search process which is far more different from the PCUSA than I think most of us realise, I am at the stage of language acquisition where I can speak decently enough, but when someone starts talking to me I still have to spend a significant amount of energy translating to my native tongue before I can proceed in the conversation.

This is also true of basic life things like temperature (I’ve got my weather app on Celsius because it seems like I should be able to figure that out, but I’m definitely translating that to Fahrenheit in my mind when I want to know which coat to wear in the morning)...and cooking, where directions will say things like “use 200 ml of water to cook 40g of quinoa per serving” (I’m so glad I brought my American measuring cups in my suitcase, lol!)...etc.

So...all of that to say, I may look like I’m getting the hang of things, little by little, but I’m still translating inside my mind and that makes me slow to figure out what you’re talking about, or what I’m supposed to do next, or what to expect from the search process or communication norms or what “lay a wreath” means exactly, or which tunes the Christmas carols are sung to (hint: all different than they are in the US!), or how the order of worship is both the same and different from where I am right now and from all my previous experiences.

But my dreams are here, and use at least some of the language and images and culture, so I’m calling that a good sign. :-)

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Alternate reality--a sermon on the beatitudes

Rev. Teri Peterson
Alternate Reality
Matthew 5.1-12, Isaiah 25.6-10
5 November 2017

Isaiah 25.1, 6-10a (NRSV)
O Lord, you are my God;
   I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
   plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
   of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. 
And he will destroy on this mountain
   the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
   the sheet that is spread over all nations; 
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
   and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
   for the Lord has spoken. 
It will be said on that day,
   Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
   This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
   let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. 
For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain. 

Matthew 5.1-12 (NRSV)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Every year around this time I find myself drawn back to a novel I read several years ago. In it, the main character is a young man who loses his father, and begins to take his place in the family business—which happens to be the business of guiding people in their transition from this life to the next. It is a fantasy novel about our connections to those who have gone before, about how we remember and care for those we have lost, and how we understand death and life and love. I often re-read at least a bit of this novel around All Saints time, as it is full of beautiful reminders such as this: 
“You must learn to see death as something more than loss, more than absence, more than silence... You must learn to make mourning into memory…once a person takes leave of his life, they become so much more a part of ours. In death, they come to be in our keeping, so to speak. They find their rest within us. Thus, in remembrance, we are never alone and neither are they.”

At this time of year, full of remembering of those who have gone on ahead and joined the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, it helps me to think of those people we have lost as in our keeping, in some sense. When we remember, they live on, their lights still shine, and we can still know the blessing that comes from having loved and been loved.

In the novel, the main character is given a watch that helps him learn to see the world of the past—the imprints of those who have been here before, the spirits of those in need of help transitioning, even the buildings of the past. When he stops the hands of the watch, pressing his thumb down on the dial, he can see that there is far more to the world than just that we perceive with our preoccupied human eye. There is another layer, or many more layers, creating something of an alternate reality that is always here, but rarely visible.

It is, of course, just a novel, a fanciful gothic ghost story. But I think the idea that there’s more than what we can see, that there is an alternate reality separated by only a thin veil—I think that’s one way to describe the kingdom of God. Jesus said the kingdom of God was here, close at hand, and even within us…but we so rarely see it. 

Jesus described God’s kingdom reality in today’s gospel reading—a reading that is probably familiar to many of us, perhaps so familiar we miss that he is saying things that don’t really fit with the world we know. 

It can be tempting to turn the beatitudes into something like the gospel’s version of the Ten Commandments—telling us to behave in certain ways in order to receive a reward. If we are meek, we will inherit the earth. If we grieve, we will be comforted. But these are not commandments, not if-then statements encouraging us to do the right thing in order to earn God’s favour later. These are descriptive statements of reality in God’s kingdom—the way things are, if only we will see and participate.

The word we usually hear as “blessed” may be better translated as “greatly honoured” or even “enviable”. In a time and a culture based in honour and shame, it would have been very confusing for the disciples to hear Jesus describe people in shameful circumstances as honoured or enviable. Then, as now, it was hard to see the way Jesus sees.

Given that we more often envy those who have amassed great wealth and beautiful things, what would it mean for us to look with the eyes of Christ, and see those who are not just poor, but poor in spirit—lacking both physical and interior resources—as enviable? Jesus says “they are the ones who make up the kingdom of heaven.” More often than not they are pushed out of our kingdoms, overlooked, turned back at the borders, left on the streets, patronized…but in the alternate reality of Christ’s kingdom, they are valued citizens, whether we are willing to have them as citizens of our kingdoms or not. 

Can we even imagine a world where we honour the peacemakers and the meek, the ones who use their energy and their talents and their money to create wholeness for all, to seek the common good, to love their neighbour, do justice, work for reconciliation…rather than the usual ways we honour the powerful who so often turn to weapons of war and and words of provocation far more readily than they pursue peace?

Jesus speaks of those grieving so intensely that it feels as if grief has taken possession of their bodies, and says that God will come alongside, sit next to them and hold them in comfort. What would it look like if we were to honour the grieving, as opposed to wishing they would get over it and move on?

In this vision of God’s reality, we give the place of honour at the banquet to those who hunger and thirst for justice, for the world to be right, for a restoration of God’s order, not to those who have earned top marks in their class or climbed the corporate ladder or worn the best dress or made the best movie.

Remember that Jesus and the disciples had just been with the crowd of people seeking healing from diseases, pain, seizures, and all kinds of maladies. And the crowd was not just the people who were ill, but also their family and friends who longed for relief for their loved one as well as themselves. These are the people Jesus saw with eyes very different from our own.

And so Jesus takes the disciples up the hill, where they can still see the crowd, and describes for them an alternate reality—the kingdom of God, where honour and shame don’t play the same roles they do in our earthly kingdoms. In God’s vision, our concern is for the whole community, and we seek the good of our neighbours, we sit down beside them rather than having power over them, and we see that the right order for all relationships begins with God’s grace and flows through love. In this alternate reality, no one is alone, no one is hungry, no one lives with injustice or pain. As the prophet Isaiah described it, on this mountain God is so close at hand that God sits down beside us and wipes away every tear rolling down our cheeks, takes away shame, and spreads out a feast at a table longer than the eye can see.

Every so often, we get a glimpse of this kingdom. In the lives of faithful people we have known, in the love of friends and strangers, in the chance to help or to be helped. But what we really need, like the character in the novel, is something that can help us as we learn to see. He had his watch, though gradually he was able to see without it. What do we have that can offer us a window into the kingdom, so we can practice living in the truth of God’s reality in our midst?

One crucial tool is the scriptures—where we can return, over and over, to the descriptions of God’s reality, until we begin to see it everywhere we look, even when we are away from this building or away from our church family. When we let the word take root in us, it will have a way of showing us things we would not otherwise see, right alongside this world we inhabit every day. 

The words of the liturgy can be like touching the watch, too…they let us see the world as it truly is when we say “heaven and earth are full of your glory” or “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

And, of course, the communion table. When we gather around the table and receive the bread and wine, Calvin says we are lifted up to the heavenly banquet—we are given a peek into God’s real world, so ably described by the prophet: a table set with enough for everyone, people gathered from every corner of the earth, even people we would never invite to dinner in our homes, all celebrating the gift of God’s abundant life. At the table, we can taste and see that God is good. In the breaking of bread, our eyes are opened and we recognise Christ in our midst. Every time we eat and drink, we remember, and the life of Christ becomes a part of our own lives. It is a far more reliable thing than any pocket watch for helping us learn to see the great cloud of witnesses with us at every table, to see the people closest to God’s heart in our neighbours, and to see the reality of God’s love in places we would never expect. 

All these are not an end in themselves, but rather a gift that we can use to see. Once we have seen, we can then seek to live ever more fully in the reality of God’s kingdom, acting as if it is coming on earth as it is in heaven—because it is. And little by little, in the faithfulness of ordinary people, the world will be transformed, until all will know the truth that sets us free: that we are loved, whether we think we deserve it or not, and whether we think they deserve it or not, more deeply than we can possibly imagine.

May it be so.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

12 years....

Grief is weird.

Some years the end of October is a horrible nightmare of epic proportions. I cry constantly and have no ability to do anything other than wish I still had a mom.

This year I've just been exhausted. Eyelids heavy, brain slow-moving, unwilling to use energy for exercise or figuring things out, so sticking to routines, or recipes, or work I already know.

As I live through this new adventure, I wish I could talk to my mom about places I go, people I meet, possible jobs I read about. I wish I could go through the pro and con list of different options, and hear her advice about them. I love my friends and colleagues, both here and far away, and many of them have been great about patiently answering my questions and listening to my verbal processing, texting away at weird hours. But it isn't the same. And this is the time of year when I'm extra aware of how not-the-same it is.

The position I'm in is tiring anyway, as my colleague keeps reminding me though I resist--knowing my current place is temporary, trying to discern where I'm meant to be for the next period of my life and work, learning how to live without a backup credit card or easy access to things I'm used to (like Minute Rice, or bactine, or white vinegar by the gallon, or the books I packed in the crate and now wish I could thumb through, or the purple scarf I must have packed but really wish I had here). But it hasn't felt exhausting until now, when I'm in the thick of searching AND the thick of October-ness. Now is when I wish I could talk to her, and am brought up short every time with the fact that I never can.

So...yeah. This year I'm just tired. Needing a nap every day, going to bed early, sleeping in late, hoping my subconscious will let me catch a break from missing her.

This is also the time of year when I remind people to have someone take photos at their ordinations, because I have none from mine (11 years ago this past weekend). But I also don't have many photos of my mom, or of us together. So I'll add this reminder: take pictures of people you love. And allow yourself to have your photo taken with people you love, because one day they might want those, and they won't care if you didn't like your hair or thought you needed to lose five pounds, or whatever. They just want you.

Love you, mom, and miss you every day. Most of all today.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The priesthood of all believers--a sermon on Jeremiah 31

Rev. Teri Peterson
The Priesthood of ALL Believers
Jeremiah 31.31-34, Matthew 22.34-40
22 October 2017, Reformation Characters 3 (women writers)

Jeremiah 31.31-34 (NRSV)
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. 

Matthew 22.34-40 (NRSV)
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’


Today is the third in our four week series on characters of the Reformation—we’ve heard already about Martin Luther and John Calvin, and next week we’ll hear about the great John Knox…today we are going to encounter some people who are less well known.

If you take a look at the front of your order of service, you’ll see a photo of the Wall of Reformers in Geneva. The second figure from the left is Calvin, and the one on the far right is Knox. The other two are Genevan theologians who were instrumental in getting Calvin to Geneva, and helping him implement his reforms throughout the church and the city. Looking at these monumental figures, you might notice something: they’re all men with incredible beards.

Monuments like this may give the impression that one of the requirements for participating in the reforming of the church is to be male. But while culturally women’s roles were restricted in the 1500s, within the newly reformed church there were a number of women whose work was valuable, or even crucial, to this new thing that God was doing in their midst. Some of those women wrote and published, some did significant pastoral work, and some argued with these giants of theological history. 

One of the major changes Luther and Calvin brought about was a shift from priests who mediated God’s word and grace to the people, to what they called the “priesthood of all believers.” No longer was scripture limited to a select few, nor was prayer restricted to those who could say the right words in the right place in the right language no one else understood. Confession could be made directly to God, and forgiveness known through the Spirit, not just through a piece of paper purchased from the clergy. The idea that all people, regardless of their status or their educational background or their financial means, could access God was big news. It was a new age, as Jeremiah had said 2000 years before: no longer will there be some who know and some who don't—they will all know God. The covenant of God’s grace, the promise of God’s care, is written directly on our hearts…which means each one of us can know God, and love God, and serve God. From the least of them to the greatest, the prophet says, all will have the word within them…which also means all of us, from the least to the greatest, will be called to live out that word in the world, to do our best to love God with every fibre of our being and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Many of the women leaders during the Reformation understood the priesthood of all believers to mean that they too could and should learn and teach and lead, despite being second class citizens in the cultural and political realm. If it is true that all of us are capable of knowing God, even without reading Latin or being part of the church hierarchy, and all of us are called to faithfulness, then it must also be true that their experiences and their voices were as important to God and to the church as the men’s voices were.

In the early 1520s, Argula von Grumbach lived in Bavaria, where even owning Protestant literature, let alone discussing or distributing it, was illegal. She maintained a correspondence with Luther and his colleagues, and she read everything of Luther’s that was printed in German. She wrote open letters to important figures of her day, including the duke, the university president, and city officials. In these letters she offered solid theology grounded in scripture, as a foundation for understanding her experience. She defended the Protestant faith in the face of persecution from the authorities, and insisted that people in positions of power needed to be able to base their decisions in scripture, or to show from the Bible why she or other Protestant authors were wrong. One of her published letters went through fourteen editions in just two months, and in all she sold 30,000 copies of pamphlets and letters. 

Argula insisted on the priesthood of ALL believers—not just men, not just people with power in the worldly system, not just ordained ministers, but all believers. She knew the word of God backward and forward. It was written on her heart, and she knew that the Spirit was continuing to teach people far better than we could ever teach each other. Like Jeremiah, she felt the word of God burning in her bones and she had to speak—and she paid for it with the loss of her status, her livelihood, and her health. But still she wrote, until the printing presses were shut down specifically to stop her and other women from publishing any further Protestant literature!

Meanwhile, in Strasbourg, Katharina Schütz Zell became the most published female lay theologian of the time, an even better bestseller than her compatriot in Bavaria. She was the first woman to marry a minister, and her husband supported her in her ministry both close to home and to the larger world. In addition to ongoing correspondence with Luther, Calvin, and several others—correspondence in which she didn’t just ask for advice or teaching, but also offered her thoughts and her pastoral care to them—she also wrote pamphlets, traveled her parish caring for the poor and grieving and ill, and opened her home to any who had need of hospitality—including hosting many of the big names like Calvin and his colleagues. 

One historian says “The Zell’s house of theology and refuge became famous for the indiscriminate hospitality, humanitarian care, and peaceful mediating over theological disputes to be found within its walls. The Zell’s ecumenical and charitable spirit enabled them to host, entertain, debate with, and care for a colorful mix of personalities. Katharina showed “unstinted kindness to anyone who sought her help. Some people thought she was indiscriminate, if not downright heretical, in both her religious views and her charity.” (p105)

“Indiscriminate, or downright heretical, in her charity.” I can hear Jesus’ words echo through my mind: the first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind—with everything you have, and everything you are. And the second is like it, to love your neighbour as yourself. Regardless of the cost to her reputation, or to her household budget, Katharina loved her neighbour, welcoming them into her home, going into their homes to offer comfort or support or assistance, and encouraging people near and far to love God to the best of their ability, without worrying about whether they had enough money to be forgiven by a priest or whether they were good enough to earn God’s favour. She knew that God is love, and that grace extends to all of us, the least and the greatest, the good and the broken. We heard the prophet: God declares “I will be their God and they will be my people, and I will remember their sin no more.” The good news of God’s love is written on our hearts, or, as the Common English Bible translates it, God will engrave the word on our hearts. Not just a note dashed off in pencil, but engraved—both the covenant and the hearts on which it is engraved are precious, and permanent. We don’t need to worry that God will change God’s mind about forgiveness or grace—we are marked as Christ’s own, loved, forever.

Katharina considered herself a “church mother” and felt she’d been called to that role from a young age. When men in the church confronted her with societal expectations of women, she simply told them that God had called and equipped her, just as God calls and equips everyone for their task…and also, she was essentially behaving as a prophet, which is an office that can be borne by men and women, and does not conform to the usual ways of the world. Like Deborah, and Miriam, and Esther, and Ruth, and Mary, and the Samaritan Woman, and so many others, she was using her God-given gift to help others be faithful. It wasn’t an option for her to be silent when there were neighbours who needed to be loved. The same is still true, whatever our place in society or in the church: it isn't an option to be silent when we have neighbours that need to be loved.

These are just two of a host of women who lived out the truth of the priesthood of all believers. They, and many others, show us a glimpse of the kind of faithfulness anticipated by the prophet Jeremiah in the days of the new covenant. They don’t get their statues on the wall in Geneva or their portraits in Wittenberg, or even their names remembered in most of our churches, but they are more than just interesting historical tidbits from 500 years ago, or people who get glossed over in favour of the big name men. These women offer us a snapshot of what’s possible when we normal everyday people live as if we believe the good news. The church is not just reformed, but also always being reformed by the word of God, engraved on our hearts by the Spirit, calling us to love as we have been loved. Even when others wish we would be quiet, even when they shut down the printing presses to silence our voices, the truth is that each of us matters, our experience matters, we are all called and equipped by God, and it takes all of us together, from the least to the greatest, men and women, young and old, to be the faithful Body of Christ. 

May it be so. Amen.

*biographical information taken from Kirsi Stjerna's great book Women and the Reformation  (Blackwell Publishing, 2009).

Honourable mention (aka, I ran out of time!):

Marie Dentière “was one of the rare published female theological voices in the Reformation scene in general and among the French-speaking women in particular. She may have been the first Protestant writer to give an eyewitness account of the events in Geneva, and she was among the first women (if not the first) to articulate and defend Reformed theology in French.” She used “non-institutional ways to promote reform through writing and public preaching in taverns and on street corners” (p126)

Knew Hebrew and studied scripture…drew on strong OT women characters as well as the Samaritan woman and the women at the tomb for inspiration/proof of women's call and ability to preach.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Currently, I live about 50 yards from the beach. It's amazing, and I walk on the beach most days. Someone on Facebook described my photos as "the moods of my beach" and that seems about right...sometimes it's glowing:

And sometimes it's a little...well...moodier:

One night recently I was out walking and this tiny perfect pink shell caught my eye.

As you can see, the beach is not fine sand in this particular spot, but rather it is in various stages of becoming sand. Rocks and shells in many sizes, from complete to tiny fragments, being pounded by waves and rain and wind and people and dogs and horses and seagulls, until it becomes the kind of sand people think of when they think of a beautiful beach. The other side of the harbour has that kind of sand, but this side is more beautiful, I think, as you see a little more behind-the scenes of beach-making.
Anyway, I was looking at this shell, which was perfect, and pink on the inside, and gorgeous in every way, and pondering how it caught my attention in the midst of this particular beach. I picked it up to take home with me. I sent Julia a picture, and told her about it...and then I noticed that it wasn't in my hand anymore.
I had dropped it somewhere along the way.
I hadn't walked far or fast, as I was enjoying the beach and also texting (which normally I try not to do when I'm on the beach!). But still, it was gone.
I immediately tried to retrace my steps and figure out when I'd dropped it and if I could find it again. The tide was coming in, which changes the colours, and also, as you can see, finding one shell in this walk is easier said than done:

I looked and looked. I walked slowly, head down, bending over constantly. I tried to guess when it had slipped silently from my hand and back to its beachy home. I probably went over the same twenty feet of beach, in an 18-inch-wide swath, three times. My Fitbit must have thought I was insane. I looked until my back was beginning to get sore from hunching over, and until the water encroached on the very place I had been walking. 

While I was looking, I had several times I thought I found it. The first one was so similar I actually texted Julia that I'd found it (phew!)...but on looking more closely, I realised it wasn't the same shell. Then I started to find others that were obviously the same animal/type, but again, were not the same shell.

Eventually, I had three that were not the one I was looking for, and I couldn't stay out there any longer with no coat and the tide coming in. I debated: drop the three shells that weren't the perfect one I thought I wanted but had lost? Or take them home, as a reminder not to text on the beach?

As I walked home, three shells in hand, mild self-recrimination reverberating through my disappointment at having lost the shell I thought I wanted (even though just moments before I dropped it, I'd never even seen it before and didn't know I wanted it), I realised:

I'm embarking on a search process, hoping to find the church community God is calling me to spend the next portion of my life with. And sometimes it feels like sifting through thousands of really similar shells. And sometimes it feels like the one I really really wanted is lost to me. And sometimes it feels like every option has something not *quite* right. And sometimes I need to just be in the midst of it all, not distracted and letting things slip through my fingers.

And sometimes the three in my hand are beautiful, and perfect in their imperfection, and one of them could be just the thing.


Note: I'm literally at the very beginning of this in, today I worked on turning my PCUSA search paperwork into the type of CV that is expected here. I've not actually applied anywhere and I don't have any particular place in mind as yet, other than hoping God is calling me to someplace where I don't have to figure out how to afford a car...and also not-secretly hoping to stay somewhere near a beach, LOL.