Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stony Silence--a sermon for Palm Sunday

This sermon is preceded (at 11:00, anyway) by an anthem which you can listen to here:
Ain't No Rock Gonna Shout For Me

Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Stony Silence
Luke 19.28-40
Palm Sunday C—April 1 2007

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

Oh, if these walls could talk. In the 135 years they’ve been standing here, they have heard and seen a lot of things. Imagine the stories they could tell—stories of joy and pain, births and deaths, pastors coming and going in memorable ways. Stories of tears and laughter, games of sardines and hours of worship, music from everywhere in the world with all kinds of accompaniment. Stories of life and death, of war and peace, of love and disagreement, of family and friends. These walls have stories to tell…and I suspect the walls of every one of our homes and schools has stories as well.

But isn’t it so much more interesting to hear them from people? To hear the nuances, the emotions, the memories. People tell stories with differing perspectives, with passion, with drama and with heart. The walls could tell the facts, relate the stories, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.

I imagine it’s the same with stones. The stones on the hillsides surrounding Jerusalem, the stones used to construct the city walls, the stones of the streets and the tombs, the stones of houses and the Temple—they have seen and heard a lot of things. The stories they could tell! Stories of Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac, stories of the great kings and prophets of Israel, stories of the everyday life of people for the past several thousand years—stories of life and love and pain and death and work and exile and food and family and religion. Stories of Jesus. Stories of Stephen and Paul and Peter. Maybe even stories of some of us who’ve walked those streets and hillsides. But would they be able to capture the whole story, the whole feeling, the whole experience? After all, they are just stones, or just walls. They stay put in one place—they can’t see all of my story or yours, they can only see what happens right here, where they are. The story is incomplete.

And yet, Jesus says that if people refuse to shout out, to praise, to sing of the deeds of power and the presence of God, the stones will take up the slack. If the people are silenced by the powers and principalities, the stones will be their voice. They don’t know the whole story, but they’ve been around longer than the people. They don’t have the same emotional attachment to the story, but they too were created by God for praise. They won’t be the same words of praise, but they’ll be praise nonetheless—God is able from stones to raise up witnesses and choruses to tell of the promises and mighty deeds of God.

It seems that, so far anyway, that hasn’t been necessary. On that day, so long ago, that we remember here today, this crowd of Passover Pilgrims ends up witnessing an parade, with disciples tossing coats in the mud and singing in a chant that made it sound like royal procession—raising their voices over the protests of the powers, raising their voices so the rocks could maintain their stony silence, raising their voices in praise of the One who not only came in the name of Lord, but IS the Lord.

Everyone loves a parade, of course. It’s hard not to get excited, not to get swept up in the music, the cheering, the dancing, the costumes, the floats and flowers and balloons. Standing on the sidewalk watching a parade is a time-honored way of celebrating—just think of Thanksgiving without the Macy’s parade, think of the Rose parade, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the royal processions of countries with kings and queens…even funeral processions are celebrations. In countries where parades not organized by the government are forbidden, people still create processions to mark momentous occasions. In Egypt weddings often turned into parades, full of cars decorated with flowers, horns honking, music blaring, and people cheering from the sidewalks and the apartment windows. People raise their voices and celebrate with parades around the world.

But this parade….this parade is a little different. It’s an impromptu parade, into a city swollen with Passover pilgrims. The people toss coats and tree branches in the mud to protect Jesus and his donkey from being spattered. They shout words like “Hosanna” and “king” and “highest heaven.” They turn this pilgrim’s progress into a royal procession, and there are those who disapprove. With a glare, the Pharisees break their stony silence to demand the silence of others. But Jesus, the one who gives a voice to people who need it, not the one who stifles those voices, simply says what many already know: if the people can’t or won’t speak, the stones will still shout out. They were created for praise too, they know the story too, they see what’s happening—you can’t silence this news. This good news will spread throughout the city, throughout the land, throughout the world…it’s much too late to stop it now.

Well, the Pharisees knew what they were hearing. They knew what it meant…treason. They thought they could stop the good news, but they can’t. Even now they try, but they can’t. Here we are, thousands of years later, shouting the same words, waving palms and throwing coats on the ground, and doing our best to continue proclaiming the good news. But it’s not always an easy task.

You see, the crowd dispersed, leaving Jesus alone with the Twelve. The Pharisees dispersed, too, to the halls of the Temple and the Palace. The stones were left to wonder what would happen next, waiting to hear it from their cousins on the other side of the city, on another hill. And when the time came to eat a meal together, there were only twelve to hear the story, to hear the charge, to wonder at the symbols and the strange nourishment that came from mere bread and wine. And when the time came to go on another procession, to join another parade, there were different people, fewer disciples still. But the story could not be silenced. The shouts may change, but the good news lives on. When the palm branches turn to crosses, when Hosanna turns to Crucify, the followers are the ones who are left. Not the fans , not the admirers, but the disciples. They are the ones who carry on the story so the rocks can maintain their stony silence. Jesus didn’t call groupies, he called disciples. He didn’t call for sidewalk-sitting parade watchers, he called for disciples to sing praises, to share good news. He didn’t call us into community just to wave palm branches, he called us into community to follow him to the cross, and on to the empty tomb and right into new life. He didn’t call us to this table to fill our mouths with food to keep us quiet, he called us to this table to fill our mouths with good news to be shared with the world. Coming to the table is part of enacting that good news—that there is abundant life for all, that God still heals sinners, that different people can be part of one family, that no one is an outcast.

Though the rocks can carry the tune, they can’t carry the whole story. If we are silent, the rocks will take our part—don’t let them. Come to this table to be nourished with both good food and good news, and let the songs of praise for God’s mighty deeds come from us, from our words and from our lives, not from the stones.

May it be so.


(1) adapted from from Kierkegaard’s Followers, Not Admirers, as seen here

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Five: Holy Week!!

as seen at RevGalBlogPals....Friday Five: Holy Week, Batman!

Well, the Clergy Superbowl is almost upon us, and so, I offer up this Friday Five (with apologies for the irreverent title):

1. Will this Sunday be Palms only, Passion only, or hyphenated?
Palms, palms, more palms, and some rocks.... (a la Luke 19.40). We have Thursday and Friday services that are pretty well attended, so this year no Passion story on Sunday. (we did have it the last two years, apparently...and we probably will again next year....)

2. Maundy Thursday Footwashing: Discuss.
Cool if people can get into it. It doesn't necessarily translate into our culture, though....I've mainly done it with youth, not in "regular" worship.

3. Share a particularly meaningful Good Friday worship experience. first ever Good Friday worship service was the evening choral service at Fourth Church in 1999. the choir presented the Poulenc Stabat Mater. It was beautiful, and I kept going back to that church. In fact, I was just there on Wednesday too....

4. Easter Sunrise Services--choose one:
a) "Resurrection tradition par excellence!"
b) "Eh. As long as it's sunrise with coffee, I can live with it."
c) "[Yawn] Can't Jesus stay in the tomb just five more minutes, Mom?!?"
umm, somewhere between a and b, but only once a year, people! (there was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we make the early-worshippers happy by having weekly sunrise services led by the Associate Pastor. hahahahah!!!) I admit that when I lived in the city, I loved going to the sunrise service on Oak Street Beach. standing on the beach having communion is really cool. But I stopped at Starbucks on my way to said beach every year.

5. Complete this sentence: It just isn't Easter without...
Jesus Christ is Risen Today, to Llanfair, hymn 123 in the Presbyterian Hymnal.

Bonus: Any Easter Vigil aficionados out there? Please share.
My favorite Easter Vigil experience was at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The Cardinal was presiding. I LOVE the telling of all of salvation history from "in the beginning." I just think it's dramatic and also really allows you to see the metanarrative.


That's right, evil.

For Carnival Cruise Lines to show a commercial all about wonderful cruises, with food and exotic locations and sun and sand and fun and pools and relaxing...while pastors who need sermons and bulletins and prayers and communion liturgies and communion servers and liturgists and brunches/dinners for four different Holy Week services, who need youth group plans, who have senior high fundraisers to prepare, who live in places where it was warm for a day or two before turning gray and cold are's evil.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


so it was warm and now it's cold again, but the grass is already green. How is that possible, that the grass is already green? Isn't it supposed to be brown and nasty still? I guess not.
It's really pretty.

Outside my house there is a couple...a very bright red bird couple. They are adorable--one sits in a leafless tree, above the bright green lawn, and sings and sings until the other comes, then they chase each other around from tree to tree, just winging their way through the air like there's nothing else to do in the world.

My cats love it.

(from inside the screen door, of course!)

Monday, March 26, 2007

I am random

  • Had an off day in worship today--accidentally talked to myself during the prayers of the people...which I was leading!
  • Those prayers of the people were my sole responsibility at church today. Spring Break = no Sunday School, no Youth Group, no Confirmation...and someone else did the Children's Time. Just prayers. Which I could not even do with either dignity or grace. Too bad.
  • Left church just after noon, like a normal person.
  • It was sunny and warm. I suddenly understood the attraction of Sunday Afternoon Drives. I live in a place where you could really do that--roll down the windows and drive through the country, enjoying the sun.
  • I didn't drive more than the 4.6 miles to my house. I went home, read, and slept.
  • I had a root beer float today. I just really felt like I needed one today--so perfect for the weather. It was literally perfect--a root beer float on my balcony in the sun.
  • I have cooked three meals in a row for myself. That's impressive for someone who didn't have any food in her house for more than two weeks.
  • Yesterday I heard an NPR story in which a congressman said that we need to pursue victory, not peace, in Iraq. Oh dear. the many things I want to say about that will not fit on the internet.
  • Yesterday I was at a Youth Specialties CORE training event. It was about helping hurting kids. The photos of the arms of kids who cut were heartbreaking. I am so grateful that no kids in my youth group are cutting. They have issues, sure, but they aren't relieving their pain by cutting up their arms and legs and hands. I don't think I came away with a really good action plan or anything for when these things come up in my ministry, but I did come away with a little more understanding. And, the best part about going to YS stuff, I came away with a bunch of books. When you attend an event, you get 20% off their resources, pay no shipping, and have instant gratification. It's pretty excellent.
  • Friday I had a real day off--it was awesome. I slept in, I read and napped the day away, I drove into the city and went to Taize at Fourth, I had a Mint Bliss sundae at Ghirardelli. Mint chocolate chip ice cream with dark chocolate hot fudge. Oh. My. God. It was so good. Then I hung out at Calum and Missy's, reading. They came home, we drank wine and talked until too late...then I slept but not well because I was so paranoid about oversleeping and missing the YS seminar in the morning. LOL--I ended up getting there early.
  • I have been reading The Memoirs of Cleopatra--a novel by Margaret George, who also wrote novels about Mary Queen of Scots and Mary Called Magdalene. It's fiction, of course, but extremely engaging fiction! I am really enjoying it.
  • I'm also reading Christianity for the Rest of Us. So far, it's pretty much right on.
  • My cats LOVE when I have the sliding glass doors open and they can chase things by climbing the screens. I too find this hilarious.
  • Is it any wonder I rambled in the prayers of the people today? So many things are swirling in my brain!!

Monday, March 19, 2007

"he died for our sins"

That was the common refrain at the Confirmation retreat while we talked about what made Jesus important.
This was very funny (and a little annoying) to me.
Why, you ask?
well, because the Bible Study unit we're working on is about Jesus' LIFE and TEACHING!

I finally told my group: Jesus died for 6 hours. He lived for 33 years. He was resurrected and has been hanging out "at the right hand of the Father" for about 1980 years (ish). And the only thing you can talk about is that he died for your sins? Which sins are you even thinking of?

It's great that the confirmands have a really good sense of forgiveness--I love that they feel forgiven and loved and covered by grace. What we're working on is seeing that Jesus LIVED for us and ROSE for us, not just died. (come on, Romans 8, come on!! You can help us!)

The group planning our worship at the retreat (which included communion) decided they wanted to do a baptism/footwashing-like forgiveness ceremony. During the silent prayer of confession, everyone used a red dry-erase marker to write a sin (or a reminder of a sin or other thing they feel guilty about) on the palm of their hand. We then passed around a bowl of water and each person washed the hand of the person next to them, saying the words "you are forgiven." (the text was Matthew 18.21-22, about forgiving someone 77 times, and also the forgive-and-you-will-be-forgiven thing.) At the end we said the "usual" declaration of forgiveness, ending with "know that you are forgiven and be at peace"--and then passed the peace. We sang Jesus Loves Me, then had communion together. It was actually a really beautiful 20-minute worship experience. I am really proud of each group planning devotions/worship and that we set aside 10-20 minutes three times during a 24 hour retreat. The youth seemed to really enjoy it too. I've had lots of positive feedback from parents already. Impressive since I just sent really tired kids home 13 hours before the Sunday thing started!

Other memorable moments...let's see....being asked if rock-climbing would be okay during their nature walks. when the response was no, being asked if "stone climbing" would be okay instead. ha! ....finding out that one of the youth stole the pinto beans of another youth (we were playing a game with them) in order to win....watching eighth graders get to know each other better....watching two people dive for the last cookie, both screeching as only teenage girls can as they grabbed for it (the cookies were REALLY good!)....having one of the moms drop the bag containing 2 dozen eggs (to be used to make breakfast) as we were packing the cars to, wishing that I had stuck to my original plan to have a two-night retreat.

and now, worn out from that and worship with Amazing Grace (twice) and youth Sunday planning and a baby shower and some time missing my mom really a lot, I must sleep. I was trying to stay awake until 9.30. My computer clock says 9.34. It's time for bed.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

less is more?

So I have not been writing much on here. This makes me sad, but is not unusual. Over the past five years my blogging habits have gone through ebbs and flows, like any other thing humans do.

One of the things a youth I met with today said really struck me as true, though. She said that she only writes poetry and songs when she's really happy or really sad. If she's in a normal (or vaguely blah) feeling place, she has trouble writing.

I wonder if I'm not writing as much because I'm feeling generally vague, tired, or something like that? I'm not having the extreme emotional ups and downs I've had in the past couple of years. I'm actually running on a fairly even keel, except for one particular frustration that I can't write about here. It's a new place, and kind of nice, actually. But it means I have to come up with something worthwhile in order to write. Because less is more, right? Or at least, if it's going to be less (volume/frequency) then there should be more (quality).

I am mildly ashamed to say that I abandoned my Lenten Discipline after only 7 days. I just haven't been able to keep that up while I've been sick AND working 50 + hour weeks. It seems that I may be feeling more emotionally balanced but my time is now out-of-whack! ACK! (hehe, rhyme.)

So that's my post for the day, along with this observation:

Every morning I eat my breakfast cereal on the couch, looking out the glass doors of my living room to the lawn. Now the snow has melted and I can see the lawn, which is nice. The last few days, my cats have been looking out the window instead of trying to get into my cereal bowl, because the birds have been hanging out on my balcony. this morning I watched some little birds play and sing while my cats stalked them mercilessly from behind the glass. It was a lovely sunny morning with my favorite cereal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Jason is here!
His birthday is tomorrow, and his surprise birthday present (worked out by me, his mom, his brother, and the pastor of his church) was/is a trip here to visit me and to have a birthday experience at the art institute's current special exhibit on Tuesday. yay! I am very excited, happy that it seems to have been a real surprise, and glad to see him. He is glad to be here, I think! He could hardly believe that I was able to pull off a surprise like this. I'm not always a good secret keeper, and I nearly told him everything several times, and nearly slipped up about fifty other times!

So anyway, happy birthday Jason! I hope you like your Birthday Surprise. :-) much love!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

caramel sauce

Have you ever noticed that if you heat up caramel ice cream topping, it smells like cotton candy? Now, I know that's because both caramel and cotton candy are nothing more than sugar with a little added sugar. But the cotton candy smell is so wonderful, you know? I just love it. It makes me feel like the ice cream I'm about to enjoy is at the minor league baseball stadium where I spent so many of my high-school summers. Not because I play baseball (So Far From It...just ask my fam), but because for all the summers I was in high school, and then some, we housed players who came to play for the Bears. (I chose Wikipedia on purpose over the official site, because wikipedia lists some notable former Bears, among them Peter Bergeron, who lived at my house, and Paul Konerko, who lived with a friend and currently plays for the White Sox, not so far from where I live...)

Now that I've gotten thoroughly off topic, what I really wanted to say was this: I love caramel ice cream topping. It makes me want to lick my bowl. Unfortunately, Andrew (feline, silver colored, approx. age 10 months) got to it first. but my house still has some cotton-candy smell lingering from the heated caramel sauce.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I'm thinking about a lot of things.
But I'm not sure I can write about them here.
Suffice it to say: my mind is in overdrive, I have no answers, and I might be getting myself in trouble with the "battles" I choose.

In other news: exciting and big things are happening next week! yay!

Thursday, March 08, 2007


too busy?

I realized today that in the five days I work I often work 51 or more hours. (51 is generally the minimum for a week.)

I realized yesterday that I have no evenings at home now--Sunday through Thursday I am at church at least until 8, more often 9 or even later. Last night I left at 9.45. Granted, I am teaching a short-term evening class and after Easter I'll have one evening free, but still. Do you know what it means to someone who loves to cook to have no evenings free?

I'm pretty sure that's not good.

I haven't had time to blog lately.

Next week I have some big stuff going on and probably won't have time to blog then either.

Is it bad if my Lenten discipline gets done a few days at a time instead of every day? (answer: yes. I know this. I'm working on it. But I need to get caught up, too...)

In other news, it's still cold outside. Very cold. I am really excited about next week. The big things of next week are pleasant things, I think. I'm also excited about the young women's preaching conference, about my Africa class, and about hearing Richard preach on Isaiah 55 this Sunday. I think Isaiah 55 is the best chapter in the entire Bible. If I could only read one chapter of the Bible ever again, I would choose that one. Girl scout cookies are in--I got my two boxes of Thin Mints and oh, they are good. We are collecting girl scout cookies to send to soldiers in Iraq. I am too selfish to give mine away. To any soldiers reading this: sorry, but we have loads of other boxes so I hope you get some.

That's all. I am going home soon...just one more person who "MUST" talk to me at the end of choir (in 18 minutes). Good times.

I think my kitties miss me. They have taken to scattering papers all over the house. I leave and the papers are in a stack on a shelf or table. I come home and they are all over the house...not just all over the living room, but all over the house. It's quite impressive, I must say.

The end, for today.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Doing Nothing? A Sermon for Lent 2 C/Celebration of Gifts of Women

Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Doing Nothing?
Psalm 27 (selected), Luke 10.38-42
Lent 2C, Gifts of Women

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

You’ve probably heard the phrase “behind every good man is a great woman.” The idea is, of course, that the man is the one out front, achieving and earning and being, while the woman is behind the scenes making sure everything is ready all the time: dinner’s cooked, house is clean, shirts are pressed, kids are fed. In the old-time-traditional church, this may have looked like the pastor being free to be holy while his wife and the women’s group made sure there were potlucks, that casseroles were taken to the sick, that the communion was set up, that the fellowship hall linens were pressed, that the windows were washed, that the sign was updated, that the newsletter was full of interesting tidbits, that the nursery was staffed and the Sunday school taught, and that everything ran smoothly.

Nowadays, of course, these things are not just women’s work—they’re the work of anyone who happens to be around to do them. And, of course, being the pastor isn’t just a man’s job anymore. In fact, last year the Presbyterian Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. And this year is the 98th year of the International Women’s Day, a day when people around the world both work for and celebrate women’s rights and gifts.

But in all this, whether men or women are doing the work in front of or behind the scenes, there’s a common denominator.


There is a lot of stuff to get done, after all. Windows need to be washed, bookshelves need to be built, classes need to be taught, lunches need to be cooked. Plus our culture has some expectations—chief among them that we don’t waste time. When we could be doing something and we’re not, we are wasting a precious commodity. When we’re awake, there’s work to be done. Otherwise, we’re lazy. There is an abundance of things to do—our lives are full to the brim with doing.

Martha’s life was full too. When people came to town, she knew what she had to do. She invited them in, and then she set about the abundance of tasks required of a good hostess—offering them drinks, washing their feet, cooking dinner, cleaning up, setting the table, and making them comfortable. Martha’s time was full to overflowing with things to do, while her slacker sister Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet, looking up adoringly, soaking up his teaching. Mary was wasting time while Martha was working hard, and that did not sit well with Martha.

But when Martha’s question came out, we could all hear the bitterness and the burnout. She’d been working so hard, all this time, and Mary was just lazy. Why couldn’t she be more helpful? Why did she insist on sitting there, doing nothing?

Martha, Martha. It turns out that one of them is indeed wasting time, but it’s not Mary. Martha is distracted by many things—she’s spending her time for things that are not valuable, she’s full to the brim and cannot hear what she’s being called to do, she cannot receive the teaching and grace and abundance of the Lord because she has filled herself with distractions.

Mary, on the other hand, has apparently made the better choice—to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. It looks like doing nothing, but it’s actually doing the thing that matters most. She, like the psalmist, seeks only one thing:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
Mary has set aside the false abundance, the work that always expands to fill the available time, the cultural expectations, and has chosen to take some Sabbath time, to be with the Lord, to learn, to seek, to receive.

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the object lesson in which a teacher takes a jar and puts rocks in, and asks if the jar is full. The students say yes. Then the teacher puts small pebbles in, and asks if the jar is full. The students say yes. Then the teacher pours sand in and asks if the jar is full. The students say yes. Then the teacher asks them whether, if he had put the sand in first, there would have been room for the big rocks? Of course not. The teacher then says that the rocks are the important things in life: God, relationships, yourself, and the sand is the busywork of life. The point has to do with not filling your life up with the inconsequential things first—the sand—because there won’t be room for the big important things—the rocks. It’s easy to fill up with the sand or the pebbles, squeezing out the rocks. That’s what Martha has done, and what Mary is trying not to do.

Perhaps Mary realized that only if she put the big things in first could she do the small things with grace and love. We can’t serve and serve and serve, give and give and give, work and work and work, without first being filled up. We just can’t sustain that much doing if we don’t take time to allow ourselves to be fed, to allow ourselves to be filled. If we try, we end up letting our bitterness and burnout escape in questions like Martha’s. No, first we have to let go of our false abundance, our jars filled with sand, and allow ourselves to be filled with God’s abundance, with grace and peace and love and mercy. Only when we sit with Jesus, and listen to him, and allow him to fill us with grace and peace, can we then go about our serving. Otherwise, we are filling ourselves with distraction rather than true service.

The trouble with letting go of the false abundance and allowing true abundance to come in is that it makes us look lazy or greedy, or sometimes both. But while prayer, worship, education, and meditation may look like doing nothing, they’re exactly the opposite. They are the things that feed us, that give us strength, the big rocks in our jars that ensure we have energy for the pebbles and the sand. The true abundance that comes only from God is worth clearing the sand for, worth sitting down for, worth leaving the dishes for! The psalmist says to wait for the Lord, to take courage—for we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living—we will taste and see that God is good, here and now.

One symbol of the abundance that God has for us can be found at this table. Here there is a joyful feast, here there is enough to go around, here all can be fed. This is a meal where you are offered as much as you want—Jesus offers abundant life right here at this table, and all are welcome. I love serving communion, and I especially love serving children. They always come up and take the biggest piece they can—even as many of you parents are telling them to take “just a little piece.” I love the idea that children know what this feast is about, they know that they are entitled to participate in the feasting. I think we tend to lose that as grown-ups—we take just a little piece as though that’s all we’re worthy of, or in case there isn’t enough. But this is the Lord’s table: there’s always enough. This is a time when we set aside those cultural understandings of scarcity and abundance, when we leave our false abundance behind, and we come to experience God’s abundance. Take a big piece! This is a feast—and someone else has prepared it and someone else is the host. All we do is sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy the meal, and go out strengthened to serve with glad and joyful hearts.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lent Day 7

(my Lenten discipline this year is to write a short devotion, without extra editing or excessive thought, on the coming Sunday's lectionary texts for each of the 40 days. Later I might go through and edit/rewrite, but for now these are first thoughts.)


Philippians 3.17-4.1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be confirmed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Citizenship in heaven. Sounds pretty great, right? It must be better than earthly citizenship. My American citizenship comes with a lot of rights and privileges—voting, driving, purchasing power…and extensive travel privileges as well. Imagine what heavenly citizenship must entail!
Glory, transformation, power…but it seems that Paul has in mind here not privileges but responsibilities. Apparently, citizenship in heaven means living according to the example set by Paul and his other communities. It means living differently, setting our minds not on earthly things, not allowing our bellies to be our gods.

It doesn’t sound like the problems of the church have changed much in the past dozen centuries or so…the culture still proclaims the belly as god (or money, or power…), still encourages us to look away from heaven at all the earthly goodies and the prestige we can find right here. And Paul still sits here and encourages us to look somewhere else—to the cross. Yes, we live on earth but our citizenship, along with our rights, privileges, and responsibilities, are elsewhere. So we live differently, following the Way of the Lord, standing firm.

Paul doesn’t say here what that Way is, but from his other writing we can infer that we shouldn’t be indulging our appetites unhealthily, we shouldn’t be placing stumbling blocks to the faith of others, we should help out other people, contribute to the needs of the saints, and we should be praying continually. Right after this Paul exhorts his listeners to rejoice in the Lord always. That sounds pretty different from the way the world works. Heavenly citizenship can be hard work!

Gracious God, we sometimes get so caught up in our everyday earthly lives that we forget where our real citizenship lies. Make us mindful of the rights and privileges we enjoy with our earthly citizenship, and make us mindful also of the responsibilities that come with the citizenship in your kingdom. Strengthen and encourage us to follow you, to stand firm, and to serve your people. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.