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.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What do you see?

This summer at church we began doing a new thing. It started because there's no junior church/Sunday school in the summer. It's continuing because it's awesome.

We invite the children to come to the front (that part isn't new), and talk with them about the background to one of the scripture readings. It might be setting the scene, or remembering things we know about it, or looking at pictures of where it took place.
Then we ask them to listen for something--what's the problem, and who solves it? What four things does Jesus do with the bread? What are the names of the people in the story?
Then the liturgist comes forward and reads the scripture while the children stay in their place at the front--ideally, the liturgist stands in front of the group of children and reads sort of like story time, but sometimes they read from the lectern because it's easier to manage the paper/book and microphone and everything.
After the reading, we turn back to the kids and ask if they heard what they were listening for, and we talk about the story a bit.
Then we have some music, during which they could choose to stay there right at the front, sit in a pew with someone, or go to the children-space at the side, where there would be colouring sheets and activities related to the reading, and an adult to help them join in when it was time for the Lord's Prayer or a hymn. (Now that junior church is back in session, they go out at this point, though staying in this space is always an option for them.)

This has been working really beautifully, and engaging our young people (and our less-young people!) in how to listen to scripture being read, and to participate in worship more fully. They don't always sit still or quietly, and sometimes people grumble about reading a translation of scripture that is more understandable (over the summer we read from the CEB), but overall, it's been pretty great.

On the last day of the "generation to generation" series where we had been trying this out, we decided that the sermon would be an all-age experience where we would encourage the whole church to join in.

The text was a bit of Peter's sermon in Acts 2--the part where he quotes the prophet Joel about "your young will see visions and your elders will dream dreams."

We printed this picture on the cover of the order of service, and after the scripture reading we asked everyone to look at it and say what they saw.

Kids were all over this, of course, and pretty soon the grown-ups were also calling out what they saw in the cloud.

Then we showed them a paint splotch made by squirting colours of paint on half a paper and folding it in half to make a symmetrical image...and asked the same thing. It was a pretty easy one, especially since the church uses the Butterfly as its image, the name of its cafe, and as inspiration for naming all the children's programming.

And then we got this one. We looked at it from multiple angles, and saw a variety of things. What do you see?

I finished up by talking about how that first Pentecost morning, some people could only see what they expected--chaos, irritation, drunkenness. But some could see a new thing, a vision, a dream...and we can practice opening our minds and hearts to see God's handiwork, too. We could see a cloud. Or we could see a puppy, or a grandma knitting in a rocking chair, or a teddy bear and a chicken. We could see a messy splotch of paint, or we could see a dragon, or an elephant / whale / seahorse, or a pregnant woman with her hair in a ponytail. We could see children behaving badly when they're whispering and wiggling and getting up to move around, or we could see children who want to know Jesus and can't see over the person in front of them, who want to know what we're singing, who have prayers they haven't yet learned how to pray...and we could see a church ready to allow their visions to join with our dreams, to be a family where each member is valued no matter their age or ability.

What do you see?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It's a Mystery--a sermon on Ephesians 3

Rev. Teri Peterson
It's a Mystery
Luke 22.14-27
 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Ephesians 3.8-21
Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. 


Many of you have already learned this about me, but just in case there is still any doubt: I like to know things. I read, I watch documentaries, I go to museums, I ask a lot of questions…when I go out for a run, I don’t listen to music, I listen to a history podcast. When I was a child, I read the dictionary for fun. I’m one of those people, politically unpopular these days, who really values experts and likes to learn from them and even change my mind and my behaviour based on new facts they present. I think it’s important to read the most accurate translations of scripture and to keep up on what scholars are learning about language and history so we can know God’s word as fully as possible. I try to work out how pieces fit together and how systems work. I have a friend whose favourite word to describe me is “insufferable” because…well…I like to know things.

When I was new to faith and church, reading everything I could lay my eyes on, my minister told me one day “when you think you’ve got God figured out, what you’ve figured out is not God.” No matter how much we learn, read, study, or pray, we will never understand all there is to know about God, because God is so much more expansive, so much broader and deeper and longer and higher than our limited human minds can ever manage. 

And yet that is exactly what the author of Ephesians prays for: that the church, the body of Christ, might come to know the height, breadth, length, and depth of Christ’s love—love that surpasses knowledge.

Unfortunately, we humans seem to have an intense desire to know this thing that surpasses knowledge. Or more specifically, we want desperately to know just what is the exact height, breadth, length, and depth—what are the measurements, the boundaries of love? How big is it? Who is included in it? Where are the edges, and what do we do if we think we, or someone else, doesn’t fit the dimensions so carefully measured out? It’s as if we think the old adage “measure twice, cut once” can be applied to people—if we can just get the measurements right, then we’ll know who to cut out of our community and out of God’s community too. And those measurements always seem to look an awful lot like us, without much room for people who look, speak, act, or worship differently, and even less room for people who are not economically or politically useful to us.

Even more unfortunate is that the Church has, historically, been the one defining what it means to measure up, claiming that there are some who fall outside the boundaries of this love that just a few sentences ago was called unfathomable. We cannot quite manage to wrap our minds around the fact that the betrayer was at the table with Jesus, breaking the same bread and drinking the same cup. And so was Peter, who just hours after that first communion would deny even knowing Jesus, let alone sharing his table. And all those other disciples passed around the bread and cup with their running shoes on. By almost any standard we have set, they don’t measure up. And yet there they were.

I think it’s so interesting that when the disciples were discussing who could possibly do something so awful as betray him, they turned quickly from the painful self-examination into a discussion of who is greatest. It’s like they couldn’t manage just “I would never betray him” without following on with “because I’m the best.” I’m not sure what criteria they were using to grade their performance as disciples, but it was obviously not the same as that Jesus uses, since he had to interrupt them to remind them that what they think they know, what they think they have figured out, is not God. Instead, Jesus hands them a mystery: we all know that the one seated at the table is greater than the one who serves them, and yet he, Immanuel, God-with-us, is among us as one who serves. If we want to live into his greatness, if we want to grow up as the Body of Christ, we will find ourselves bringing together the greatest and the youngest, the servant and the leader, the Gentile and the Jew, the outsider and the insider. Not measuring or drawing borders, but rather allowing the height, depth, length, and breadth of God’s love to be unfathomable, beyond comprehension, and yet tangible, real, taking up space in our lives, in this world. 

Philosopher and theologian Diogenes Allen wrote that “Mysteries, to be known, must be entered into. For we do not solve mysteries, we enter into them. When a problem is solved, it is over and done with. We go on to other problems…But a mystery once recognised is something we are never finished with. It is never exhausted. Instead, we return to it again and again and it unfolds new levels to us.”

It is easy, I think, to get so caught up in knowing the right things, or solving the problem of how we can be loveable (or how they can be loveable), that we forget to experience God’s love. I can listen to a podcast about how language, culture, and brain synapses work together to make a joke funny, but that’s not the same thing as laughing until I can’t breathe at something a friend says. I’ve seen every documentary there is about how our food system works, but that knowledge pales in comparison to what I learned growing up on a farm. 

And so it is with love. 

When it comes to learning the true dimensions of love, there is no substitute for encountering the living God. Which is why it’s important that we put ourselves in the places where Christ has promised to reveal himself: at the table, in the word shared in community, and among the least and outcast and lonely. It is in practice that we are able to live into the mystery, and to experience beyond knowledge. 

It’s a mystery, how at the Lord’s table a tiny piece of bread and a sip of wine can feed our bodies and our souls, how we are lifted up and given a glimpse of Christ’s heavenly banquet, where even those we have marginalised are honoured guests. It’s a mystery how sharing this hour together can change the way we see and act during all the other hours of our lives. It’s a mystery how giving of ourselves and our resources can make us feel full. 

Ephesians says that when we have experienced this mystery, when we have come to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge, we will be filled with all the fullness of God. This is addressed to plural you, to the whole Church, the Body of Christ. Together, when we allow ourselves to experience the love of God in all its glorious breadth, length, height, and depth, we will find that the Church on earth becomes ever more what the Church in heaven already is, the dwelling place of God—who, remember, came among us as one who serves.

There is a video that makes the rounds of social media every now and then called “Twinkies with God.” In it, a young white American boy packs up his rucksack with Twinkies and apple juice, tells his mom he’s going to look for God, and heads out the door. He rides the subway and walks through the neighbourhood until he comes to a park bench, occupied by a middle-aged African-American woman who is homeless. He opens up his pack and offers her a Twinkie, which she accepts and begins to eat with glee. The two sit together, talking and laughing, eating Twinkies and drinking apple juice together in the park. When the boy goes home, his mother asks “did you find him?” And the boy replies “MOOOM, God is a woman and she has the most beautiful smile.” Meanwhile, the woman walks away and joins a friend sitting on the pavement with her sign and cup for change, who asks “why are you in such a good mood?” The woman answers “I just had Twinkies with God! He’s much younger than I expected.”

When we think we have God figured out, what we’ve figured out is not God. So may we come to know beyond knowledge, to love beyond borders, and find ourselves filled to overflowing with all the fullness of God, whose abundant life is more than we can ever ask or even imagine.