Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

May Christmas be happy and merry and joyful.

This week, the people of RCLPC handed out 13,000 pounds of food
and about 400 presents for children...

to anyone who came needing food or gifts.

No documentation, no explanations, just come and get food. There are 115 families out there having Christmas dinner and opening presents under their trees this morning because of our Wednesday spent out in the snow and sleet. Thanks, RCLPC, for being the church this week. This is what Christmas--the incarnation of God with us--looks like.

And now...I'm off to sunny SoCal for a week...back in 2010!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


so I know that the word "awesome" is often overused, and that many of us use it in a way that is much smaller than the word really is--full of AWE. Well, tonight I believe that my church family is AWEsome, as in full of and inspiring Awe.

Sometimes, life is hard. And life in community can be really hard. And things happen and people are difficult and our emotions and traditions and spirituality are all tied up in it all. And, more often than not, we neglect to tell people how much we appreciate them and how much they mean to us...until it's too late. Then they're gone and we're left telling an empty room or a hole in our hearts things we wish we had said earlier.

I am working really hard on telling people how great I think they are, how much I appreciate the time and energy and hard work they put in, how wonderful their attitudes and presence are. I'm also working really hard on holding people accountable when they aren't being great or when their attitude is hurtful to others--but that's actually a much harder and more intimidating task. I like positive reinforcement and put a lot of value on appreciation and love and hope.

Tonight I saw the church in action, with people caring for each other, doing the work of ministry, enjoying each others' company, listening and sharing and looking to a future of hope together. I also saw the wonder that is people appreciating each other and looking for ways to help one another out. And I felt so supported and held up and loved myself, too. So, elders and deacons and team members: thanks. I mean it. It's a joy to serve a church like this, even when things are tough, and especially when we are the church for one another. Awesome!

Friday, December 18, 2009


I like Advent.
I don't really like the preparations for Christmas that the rest of the world is doing...the forced cheer, the shiny bows, the tacky blow up santas, the shopping shopping shopping.
But I do like Advent.
I like that it forces a slowing-down, a reflective time, a sitting in the darkness. Our culture has usurped the dark, shining colored LED lights in it rather than allowing us to just be in the dark, or the dim, for a while. Not everyone's life is full of cheery lights. Not everyone's holiday is happy. Not every Christmas is merry. Some of us work hard to have those feelings on display, but behind that facade is sadness and loss and only the faintest glimmers of hope.

That's what Advent is about...the faint glimmer of hope in the darkness. So, for one more Sunday we will eschew the Christmas Carols and sing instead in minor keys, dark tones...songs of the world turning upside down and of the possibility for things to be different. The cheer will have to wait just one more Sunday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

more than a feeling--a sermon for advent 3C

Rev. Teri Peterson
more than a feeling
Zephaniah 3.14-20
13 December 2009, Advent 3C

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;

shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

O daughter Jerusalem! 

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,

he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;

you shall fear disaster no more. 

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;

do not let your hands grow weak. 

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,

a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing 

as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,

so that you will not bear reproach for it. 

I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth. 

At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes, says the Lord.

There are a lot of things in life that make me happy, and I’m not afraid to say them. I can often be heard saying things like “I am eating this piece of chocolate because it makes me happy” or “watching the San Diego Zoo panda cam makes me happy” or "this video on youtube makes me so happy I watch it every day."
There are lots of things that make me happy—I’m sure there are lots of things that make all of us happy! What are some things that make you happy?

It’s important to be thankful for these things—sometimes happiness is hard to come by in our world. There’s so much badness out there—freezing temperatures, people living by the train tracks, 10% unemployment, cancer, hungry children. Everyone needs some things that make them happy, even if they are small things. These small moments of happiness do add up, and all of that is a gift from God.

A few years ago there was a study of youth and spirituality, and one of the things the researchers discovered is that the vast majority of teens believe that God’s main purpose for their life is that they be happy. Very rarely did they mention anything that didn’t ultimately lead back to their own personal happiness—and the way to get there was to be pleasant and nice, to help people, and to believe. The journey of life and faith, with its accompanying good deeds and kind words, is meant to lead to happiness, and if it doesn’t then God should be abandoned for something that does lead to feeling happy.

This is the time of year when these kinds of undercurrents tend to come out in the open. There’s Christmas cheer everywhere, and we are supposed to feel happy and cheerful or else there must be something wrong with us. Those of us who wait for something more are deemed archaic, and those of us for whom the holiday season is hard for some reason—because we can’t afford the trappings of consumer Christmas, because we are far from family or friends, because we are trying to celebrate in the midst of grief and loss and missing people we love—are told to just sing some cheery songs, eat some cookies, and all will be well. Christmas is one time when not feeling happy is practically a crime against humanity.

Does anyone remember the opening of A Charlie Brown Christmas? It starts with a song…

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all that children call their favorite time of year…

And then Charlie Brown says:
I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.
Even Linus tells Charlie Brown that he should get over it and be happy!

The prophet Zephaniah, you’ll notice, doesn’t say anything about being happy. In fact, most of his short book—only three chapters—is about doom and gloom and the horror of being a people in exile, far from home, having lost everything. The Israelites had no reason to be happy, and every reason to be angry, sad, even despairing. And Zephaniah lets them have it, calling attention to their own shortcomings as partners in God’s covenant. But then, just at the end, he makes a sharp turn to what we read this morning: Rejoice and exult with all your heart! Do not fear! The way will be clear, the path will be straight…The Lord, your God, is in your midst! God will rejoice over you with gladness—God will burst into song because you have been renewed in love!

This isn’t just happiness—this isn’t just the feeling we get from a piece of chocolate or a TV special or the 12 days of Christmas that ends with Toto’s Africa. This is JOY—more than a feeling, it’s a state of being, a reality that is made possible because of God’s very presence, right here in our midst, and it will take up all our heart—all our being will rejoice and exult. And not only is God present, but GOD is rejoicing, God bursts into song, God celebrates! The people of God have a new sense of God’s love, and a new vision for passing that love along—and that is worthy of some singing! I can just hear God singing “I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart…”—because, remember, God’s heart is where the community of God’s people, the world God made…all of US…live. It is the home God is constantly calling us back toward. We will, once again, bring joy right into the heart of God, because God has brought joy right into our midst.

At the end of a Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is so frustrated…and then Linus explains what Christmas is all about. He walks out on stage and tells the same story we tell each Christmas Eve—shepherds minding their own business until angels come and bring them “tidings of great joy for all people—for unto you this day is born in the city of David, a savior, Christ the Lord.” God comes among us, and we get more than happiness—these are tidings of great joy, and the glory of God shines around, and even the angels rejoice. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

We are waiting and preparing and hoping and looking for something very different than what you can buy in the stores or get in a Christmas card or even a cheery carol. We are looking for Emmanuel—God-With-Us, the God who sits down in our midst to share our humanity, the God who will renew us in love and give us a vision for sharing that love with the world, so that we may be bearers not only of fleeing happiness, but of Joy to the world, for the Lord is come.

May it be so.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

More Than A Candle--a sermon for Advent 2C

Rev. Teri Peterson
more than a candle
Malachi 3.1-6
6 December 2009, Advent 2C

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.

I always think Advent is both the most wonderful and the most jarring season of the year. Outside, there are twinkle lights and blow-up Santas in the yard, while in here we have deep purple and a few candles. Out there are peppy songs about reindeer and snowmen and presents, and in here are songs in minor keys, songs about waiting, darkness, and promise. The commercials encourage us to buy more things, and the scriptures encourage us to shed things we don’t need and to make room for the One who is coming. Out there everything is saturated with forced Christmas cheer, and in here we have Malachi.

In spite of our consumer culture’s desperate attempt to make Christmas into a season that lasts from sometime in October until December 25, our faith tradition says we first must go through Advent—that waiting time, that preparation period, that reflection in the darkness. The Christmas of the Christian tradition begins when our consumer Christmas ends, and lasts 12 days. And so, just as we wouldn’t sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” during Holy Week, during Advent we wait for our favorite carols, we practice God’s presence in the darkness rather than rushing into the light, we hope for a day that has not yet arrived.

There are lots of ways to get ready for that day, of course. Some get ready by decorating the house, wrapping presents, baking cookies. Others get ready by reading Advent e-votionals, serving the hungry in our neighborhood, shopping from the Heifer Project catalog. However we prepare, I think what the prophet Malachi wants us to consider is that we have absolutely no idea what we are doing.

I know, we all say we’re getting ready to welcome the Christ-child, to see what new thing God will do among us. And there are time-honored ways of preparing and welcoming and looking. But, Malachi says, we seem to have forgotten something important. Our whitewashed version of what God among us would be like is really a fantasy. It’s not going to be Christmas-card perfection, it’s not going to be the beauty of one small candle burning in the dark—this is way more than a candle. This is the light of the world we’re talking about. This is a fire that burns so hot that injustice can’t stand it. This is messy and sometimes difficult. Our Christmas cards and nativity scenes and Macy’s windows don’t even begin to get at the reality of God-with-us. And, in spite of our best intentions, we can’t possibly begin to prepare for something like this.

There is a sort of motto of the Presbyterian church—Reformata, Semper Reformanda. It’s often translated “Reformed, and always reforming.” But the more accurate translation is actually “Reformed and always BEING reformed”—being re-formed, re-created, by the Spirit of God who is continually at work. I wonder if that motto might also apply to our advent season. We prepare the best we can, but what’s really important is that we are BEING prepared—God’s messenger is coming, the messenger who prepares us to be the living Temple so that God can enter and be brought to life again and again, right here among us and within us.

The preparation isn’t easy—it’s hard and painful and sometimes we might wonder if it’s worth it after all. The refining fire is not a pleasant place to sit, and I’d be willing to bet that none of us want to consider what it is within us—as individuals or as a community—that needs to be burned away. But we all have something—something that keeps us from housing the living God within us. And whatever that something is, when we are the ones being prepared for the coming of God-with-us, it will have to go, painful though it may be.

This wasn’t quite what any of us had in mind when we thought of preparing for Christmas, I’m sure. We like to be in control, to make the preparations ourselves. And we like for Christmas to be neat and tidy and full of good feelings and children singing Away in a Manger. But that’s not what God gave us. Instead, God gave us something we really needed—God’s own self among us, God’s image restored to wholeness right here, in the body of Christ and in the faces of those sitting in the pews with us today.

A few years ago, a group of women in a bible study were looking at this same verse we just read from Malachi, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:3), and they wondered what on earth it could mean. One of them decided to find out about the process of refining and purifying silver, and promised to report back at their next meeting. 

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. 

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities…

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy—when I see my image in it.”
Look around you. Go ahead—look into the faces of the people around you—they’re next to you, in front of you, behind you—take a moment and look at them. You may not know their stories—you may not even know their names—but you do know something very important. Right now, as you look at these people, you are seeing the image of God, the glory of God revealed. You are seeing someone who is called by God to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly together with the community of God’s people. You are seeing a reflection of love so deep it would come to live within us and sit inside the refiner’s fire with us, who will never let us go.

May we continue to be prepared by God’s spirit in the coming days.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Friday Five: do nothing edition

This is my kind of Friday Five--list 5 things you WON'T be doing to prepare for Christmas!

1. decorating. My cats climb, scratch, knock, and eat every last thing I bring in, so no trees, no ornaments, no ribbons, no nothing. My house looks like it does every other season--messy.

2. cookies. I don't like making christmas cookies (as I discovered when I made some for youth group last week), and I don't like to eat them either. If I buy some at the Cookie Walk, they'll just sit on my counter for weeks. Therefore, I will not be buying or making or eating any cookies. Unless someone pops a (free) gingerbread man on my desk--I'll probably eat him.

3. shopping. I don't like consumerism, I don't really enjoy shopping all that much, and I think the whole gift-giving thing at Christmas is a little out of control. I do love birthday presents! but Christmas is a different thing. This year I'm giving Kiva gift certificates and a Heifer gift. I haven't decided on an animal yet...but I'm contemplating a sheep and a goat. you know, for the funny factor. No one will know who got what.... ;-)

4. pre-emptively singing Christmas carols. I love Advent songs, and I love Advent...I won't be singing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve, and I'll sing them for a couple of weeks. :-) Now, this doesn't mean I won't pop in "Barenaked for the holidays" (the barenaked ladies) or Mary Chapin Carpenter's holiday CD, but I won't sing any traditional carols myself until Christmas Eve.

5. ummm....actually, now I'm not sure what the 5th thing is. Cleaning my house to get ready for company coming over? I don't plan to entertain this Advent season, partly due to no time and partly due to no time/energy to clean. :-)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

priceless--a sermon for ordinary 33B

Rev. Teri Peterson
1 Samuel 1.4-20
15 November 2009, Ordinary 33B

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year after year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?’
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.’
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, ‘How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.’ But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.’ Then Eli answered, ‘Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.’ And she said, ‘Let your servant find favour in your sight.’ Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshipped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’

This is going to be an odd thing for a pastor to say, and some of you may be shocked to hear it, but stick with me. Sometimes, I hate people. Not individuals, but people—the whole lot of us. I know, I know, hate is a strong word and is not to be used lightly, and I should say that I “intensely dislike” instead, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, I do hate people. I know that hate is not a part of what God intends for us or for this world, but while we strive for the more excellent way we are still broken people, so I’m willing to go ahead and confess this to all of you: I hate when we exclude others because they are different from us. I hate when we act in ways that are hurtful to our planet. I hate when we withhold love to prove a point. I hate when our expectations of ourselves and one another obscure who we are as children of God. These times make me want to ask why we can’t all just get along, everyone love everyone, sing in perfect harmony…come on people, now!

The beginning of this story brings all of that up for me. Hannah wants to have children, but can’t. And Peninnah has dozens, it sounds like, and taunts Hannah because of this difference. And Elkanah isn’t helping, since he clearly loves one of his wives more than the other, but also one wife is more valuable than the other, and those two things don’t line up. It almost seems as if the whole society is conspiring to bring Hannah into a deep depression. And they are, really, because she is worthless. Hannah is a woman without children—in her culture, she has no value, no meaning, no purpose. She’s just taking up space.

Thankfully, we no longer believe that about childless women. Those of us who either choose not to be parents or who can’t be parents though we might want to are still valued members of society, worthwhile members of families, and lead meaningful lives. But I suspect we do believe it about others in different situations. Our culture values work, for instance, and often those without work feel as though they contribute nothing—like they are worthless. Those who have no home to live in sometimes feel as though they have no value as people because they have no possessions of value. I would be willing to bet that we can each think of either a person or a category of people that we consider to be in some way lacking worth, lacking value, lacking purpose, taking up space.

That’s the place in which Hannah lives. Everyone around her knows what she is. She knows what she is, too—she’s a smart girl, she knows what people are saying and she has internalized the message of her society. So she does the only thing left for her to do—she takes her despair into the temple, at the height of a festival in which sadness is prohibited. Even here, she can’t bring herself to speak out loud—she moves her lips but her voice is silent. But in that silence, in that pleading, in that conversation, Hannah finds something. She renews her relationship with the God who is love, and she discovers that all she had thought, all she had believed, all she had wept over, was a lie.

That’s right, a lie. Hannah had been told a lie, she had bought into it, she had lived it for all of her adult life. And I would be willing to bet that many of us buy into this same lie—I know I certainly do sometimes. It’s hard not to—it’s sold to us every day, in most of our conversations, in all of our advertising, in many of our TV shows and movies, and sometimes even in our families and churches. And when I say it, you are all going to roll your eyes and say how obvious it was, but it’s still out there and we are still living it, even if subconsciously.

The lie is this: that our value, our worth, our purpose is determined by the things we have, the things we do, the job we perform, the family members we relate to, or anything else at all.

Pure and simple, it’s a lie. Your value, your worth, is determined by one thing and one thing only. You are a child of God. Period. You are loved beyond belief, valuable beyond measure, priceless, because God loves you. That’s it.

Does that mean that we don’t do wrong things sometimes? Does that mean we are perfect and wonderful and lovely at every moment? Does that mean we aren’t still broken, living in a world where love is often the last rather than first thought? No. But it does mean that we are not defined by those things. That is not who we are, not where we find our worth.

To discover our worth, we don’t need to bear children or do the right job or say the right things or live in the right neighborhood or wear the right brand of shoes or be little miss perfect all the time. All we need to find our worth is to renew our relationship with God, who made us and calls us, and who chooses us before we can even respond. That is the heart of our story.

The first question in one of our Presbyterian teaching tools is this: “who are you?” Normally we would answer “I’m Teri, I’m a pastor, I’m a cat owner, I’m a motherless daughter, I’m a friend, I’m a colleague, I’m a sister, I’m a musician…” and so on. But none of those are the answer. The answer is “I am a child of God.” That’s it. And that, friends, is the truth, and the good news of the gospel. Once we know this truth, we can join our newfound voices with Hannah’s and sing about the world being changed at last into the kingdom of God...

‘My heart exults in the Lord;

my strength is exalted in my God.

‘There is no Holy One like the Lord,

no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God. 

Those who were well-fed are begging for bread,
while the hungry are served second helpings.
The barren has a houseful of children,

but she who has many children is forlorn. 

God brings death and brings life,
brings down and raises up. 

God puts poor people on their feet again;
God rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope,
Restoring dignity and respect to their lives.
For the very structures of earth are God's;
God has laid out a firm foundation, and not by might does one prevail. 

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


it was the first time I didn't spend the entire day at home, eating comfort food and blogging and reading silly books.
I would have, but for a meeting I couldn't avoid, but somehow going and doing something (farmer's market, starbucks, meeting, a little work, playing video games with friends) that made life resemble a normal life--like the life I have on other days, like the life millions of people have every day, regardless of major milestones in my own was kind of good. maybe.
I still miss my mom. every day. and I still don't celebrate Halloween because it's not really fun any more. but yesterday was almost a normal day. almost.
I could see glimpses of what Isaiah talks about in the text we will hear in worship this morning:
And God will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
God will swallow up death forever.
I might be about to believe that again.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The birthdays since I became a real grown up (aka since graduating from a zillion years of consecutive schooling):

4 years ago today, I lived in Egypt and I spoke to my mother for the last time before she died.

3 years ago today, I was at the White Mountain Cooking School, learning many vegetarian yummies, with my fabulous friend Jennifer!

2 years ago today, David LaMotte was playing a concert right here at my own church, and it was completely amazing.

1 year ago today, my small group (which was supposed to be meeting and learning about Body Prayer and embodied spirituality) surprised me by giving me a beautiful gift and also taking me out for Mexican food instead of having a regular small group class.

Today, I received all the gifts that were on my wish list (new stainless steel saucepans, TWO snuggies (one for home and one for office), and a Wii!! And tonight I will have Mexican food (catered by an amazing local restaurant) and chocolate and cake with lots of great church people.

I am 29 today. Since I was born in 1980, I can do this: next year, I will turn 2010, and in 2011 I will turn 2011, and so on. I love it. :-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009


is the day that I will make a huge leap and get 10" of my hair cut off to send to Locks of Love.
5pm central time. pray for me and for Arthur (my hair guy). :-)


Saturday, October 17, 2009

be my best--a sermon for Ordinary 29B

Rev. Teri Peterson
be my best
Mark 10.35-45
18 October 2009, Ordinary 29B

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

You can’t always get what you want…hard words for a child of the 80’s, part of the first generation of girls to be told “you can be anything you want to be” with any real sense of truth to that statement. “You can be anything you want to be,” said my mother, who had been told that “girls aren’t marine biologists.” I’m not sure “preacher” was ever a line my non-churched family imagined for their little girl, but there you have it—you can be anything you want to be. Of course, that line was usually followed up with “you just have to work the hardest, do your best, try hard, be the best you can be.” In other words, you just have to be the Best…which of course means being better than everyone else.

There’s danger in being the best. Sure, it can open doors and you can be anything you want. It can also close the mind, making it hard to see when the things we’re seeking are not the things we ought to be doing.

James and John only wanted to be the best—the best disciples, with the best place of honor. And, since they knew that they could be anything they wanted to be, they just asked. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Jesus lets them tell him what it is they want him to do before going all Rolling Stones on them—“you can’t always get what you want.”

Part of me wants to go easy on James and John—after all, didn’t Jesus say, “ask and you shall receive”?? Aren’t we supposed to go to God with the deepest desires of our hearts? Aren’t we supposed to want to be the best, strive for the greater things, work toward that place of honor? What’s wrong with asking for what you want? Isn’t that sort of what prayer is about—asking God for things?

I’m pretty sure this is the sort of halfway understanding of prayer-as-magic that floats around in our nominally Christian western culture. When we pray, we ask God for what we want, and we hope God will do it or give it to us. The stereotypical version is the prayer for a parking space, but this is a pretty common approach in a lot of situations, I think. We ask God for peace, for comfort, for healing, for hope, for sunny days, for courage, for partners and friends and colleagues, for justice. And we hope that God will grant those things, at least at some point—though preferably sooner rather than later.

In some ways, it’s a little like we pray to a Jeez-O-Matic, a vending machine God. We press D-8 and we hope for Twix…and if Twix are not what come out, we try C-12 and E-4 and any other combination the vending machine offers, and some it doesn’t offer, hoping for the response we want. Taken to an extreme, this soon becomes a “what’s in it for me?” approach. Sure, I’ll come and follow you—what will you do for me? Yeah, I’ll think about helping my elderly neighbor, but…what’s in it for me? Yes, something needs to be done…but what good will it do me?

“We want for you to do for us whatever we ask of you….in Jesus’ name, Amen.”

But, as Bishop Will Willimon says, Jesus is not a technique for getting what we want out of God; Jesus is God's way of getting what God wants out of us.

While we are praying, asking God for things we want, talking to God about things that matter to us—often life-or-death things—God is also talking to us, in some ways praying to US to do these same things—to bring peace, to do justice, to have the courage to comfort hurting people, to offer hope to those in despair. We pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and that is also what God wants…and what God wants us to do. To live as transformed people who help build the kingdom of God right here on earth. Jesus came to show us God’s will, to be God’s voice and hands and feet…and then to call us, US! the Body of Christ—God’s very own hands and feet and voice and heart right here on earth, where the kingdom is nearby, at hand, coming even now.

We all know that we have to try our hardest and do our best and be all that we can be…but what does it mean to Be My Best in the kingdom of God? Jesus tells us—unlike the rest of the world, in the community of God’s people, in the body of Christ, in the kingdom of God, the greatest is the servant, the VIPs are the slaves of all. When we serve others, when we work for peace and justice, when we comfort the downtrodden and cry with the grieving and laugh with the joyful, when we help those in need, then we are the greatest. The lowest of the low are the ones who end up with the greatest place of glory. Being the best, in the sense of being better than others, won’t get us the place of honor. Instead, Jesus tells us to find our identity in him, to Come, Follow, to wash feet and feed the hungry, to have compassion, to heal. Then we will be our best—our best selves, fully the people God calls us to be. This is exactly what we need.

You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, October 16, 2009

it's almost my birthday!

Only a few more days.
So the question is...
when do I open all these????


Thanks Dad and grandma!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Columbus" Day

Dear Christopher Columbus,

You were lost. You didn't know where you had landed for months after you got "here" (which wasn't even "here" but islands hundreds of miles south of here, and which had already been "discovered"). You were greedy and cruel, and you exploited both people and land for your own personal gain (perhaps the only of your characteristics we have actually taken on as we celebrate you). Your sense of adventure was driven entirely by your desire to get rich. Your intellectual curiosity did not extend to actually caring about people or their context, only what they could do for you.

And for this, we take a day off school, the banks and post offices are closed, and we supposedly "celebrate"?

I think not.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the day off when I was a student, and I know there are people out there who don't get many holidays and are deserving of this one. It's YOU I don't think are deserving. There are hundreds of better people and better reasons to celebrate--people who have made the world a better place rather than laying groundwork for slavery, people who believed in and practiced justice that leads to peace, rather than exploitation that leads to violence and sickness and poverty, people whose faith led them to do amazing things that have advanced our civilization, our culture, and our sense of hope rather than destroying various parts of God's amazing creation.

But there YOU are, on the calendar, every year.

I hope you enjoy it. And I hope the justice, peace, love, and hope that so eluded people who crossed your path may find it, and find it soon.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

three years ago this weekend...

...I was preaching my first sermon as the associate pastor at RCLPC.

the text? Mark 10, where Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, and to "come, follow me." When the man went away saddened by this call, Jesus famously told his disciples that it was "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

I don't think that's very fair for a first sermon for a new pastor, do you?

I didn't either.

I preached it anyway (not well, but that's another story), partly because I am committed to the lectionary even when I hate it and partly because Richard basically told me to and partly because it was stewardship season and mainly because I think it holds words we need to hear.

In the three years since Mark's version of this story last appeared in the lectionary, I've preached somewhere in the realm of 60 other sermons--a lot, for an associate. Some are better and some are worse than that first one here. Most are shorter, since I've finally figured out that sometimes less is more when it comes to preaching (and because our worship schedule just Does.Not.Allow. for 2000 word sermons!).

Also in those three years I have prayed, celebrated communion in the sanctuary/fellowship hall/retreat center/home/park, baptised a bunch of babies, a couple of kids, and an adult. I've participated in the confirmation process of 25 youth. I've organized and led 3 retreats, 2 Thirty Hour Famines, 2 mission trips and 1 Montreat youth conference, and more lock-ins than I care to think about. I've listened to people (and given more advice than I should have), planned about 200 youth group meetings, had a dozen margaritas with the youth leaders, taught adult classes, searched for tons of new music for worship, welcomed 50-ish new members, said goodbye to dear friends who've moved on from this life, listened in about 50 choir rehearsals, sat in hospitals, sung silly songs with children, danced to energizers, played musical chairs, hoped for the best and prepared for the worst, sat in a distressing number of meetings, filled out a zillion building surveys, sent thousands of emails, set up a church facebook page, eaten hundreds upon hundreds of meals (and millions of calories, I'm sure!), dreamed big dreams and cried big tears.

And that doesn't even begin to get into it.

Many associate pastors stay only 3 years. Many first call pastors leave the ministry entirely during that same period of time. The latter is not me, and I hope and pray that the former isn't either. I love this place, I know I'm called to be here, and I look forward to the amazing work still to be done with amazing people.

I seem to have recovered well from that first (bad) sermon. May there be many more cycles of the lectionary still to come. And may the next three years include a slightly cleaner office than the past three...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

o'dark thirty

is right now.

This is the first Sunday when I have woken and readied and (probably, I haven't done it yet, but...) left in the dark.

I don't care what the calendar or the seasons say, it's winter.


Friday, October 02, 2009


This morning I heard a really interesting story on NPR. It seems that Elderhostel, the popular travel and edu-travel program for seniors, is changing its name because people don't like to be called "elders" and are embarrassed to admit that they went on an Elderhostel trip because it might make them seem old. Simultaneously, they insist that if the program allows younger people to come, they won't participate any more. "If the younger people come, I'm out. They'll make us feel old." anyone else seeing a problem? Or possibly a couple of problems?

How about that tired old complaint that young people are just not the same, that we don't listen to or learn from older people, that there's too much separation between generations and families and worldview and history and whatever else...

Gee, I wonder why.

I think this is like the church in a lot of ways. We want younger people, but not the change younger people bring and certainly not noise or movement from children during worship. We don't want to feel old/worn out/doddering/irrelevant/fading. We want to pretend that we aren't something that we are. And, of course, every group can say "we don't want *them* to come be with *us*..." and with the next breath lament the lack of new volunteers, new people in the pews, new families in the Sunday School.

Elderhostel has been renamed "Exploritas"...but it still doesn't make me want to do it, especially after this story. A rose by any other name...

Thursday, October 01, 2009


The weather is changing...well, as much as it can from a cold grey summer to a cold grey fall. It's chilly. The sky is covered in clouds. The wind is cool. The windows are not flung wide, they're just letting in a little fresh air. The kitties are snuggly. My closet can't keep up. It gets dark earlier and light later every day.

Yesterday there was a butterfly that hung out on the screen of my office window. She just sat there for about half an hour. I suspect there's also changing going on there.

The fall routine is beginning to settle in--with crazy busy weeks followed by crazy busier weekends. Youth group, confirmation class, Inquirers' Class, Sunday School, fellowship events, meetings, planning...the switch from summer to fall has seemed more difficult this year, but I'm not sure why. It just seems...more jarring than usual. Maybe because summer weather didn't come until right when the programming/calendar switch happened, so it felt like summer but the full calendar boxes said fall. who knows.

I like the changing of the seasons, I really do. But I could use some sunshine, and about an hour more sleep and three hours more working time every day. It's crazy hard to do the amount of work that needs to be done when it's cloudy all the time!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

One of Us--a sermon for Ordinary 26B

Rev. Teri Peterson
One of Us
Mark 9.38-50
27 September 2009, Ordinary 26B

John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
‘For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

I love the disciples, don’t you?—so human, they make it a little easier to be a follower of Jesus even when I don’t understand. Can’t you just imagine their internal monologues?

Really, Jesus? Are you sure?
Do you really want to say these things so close together—they’ll create an incomprehensible reading for Sunday mornings. Couldn’t you be a little more coherent, a little more obvious, a little more helpful? We’re having trouble following your train of thought, and we’ve been hanging out with you for almost a year now. For all the scholars’ talk about keywords—water and fire—that link these three sayings together, we don’t get it. We don’t understand the salt thing—can salt lose its flavor? Is that even possible, does it happen? And cutting? really? you want to encourage cutting? I just don’t think that’s a good idea. Then there’s this whole business of copyright infringement—there’s another guy out there using your brand without permission and without paying any royalties, and you’re just going to let it go on? Worse, you’re going to let it go on AND mess up the phrase we all like so much, which we all know is supposed to say “whoever isn’t with us is against us.” What is this “whoever isn’t against us is with us” nonsense? You know you can’t just let those people talk about you without the right credentials—it’s important to have the framed seminary diploma on the wall before leading a Bible study or teaching a class or praying or preaching or helping people!

We tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.

I mean, he’s a “them.” He’s not one of US…and no way is he qualified. He looks different, comes from outside Galilee, speaks with a funny accent, hasn’t finished school, and is taking our job! We tried to heal that boy yesterday…it didn’t really work out, of course…but then here’s this guy doing it with no problem? That doesn’t seem fair! Plus he’s not wearing the patented disciple sandals, and he’s using our logo without permission!

Whoever isn’t against us is with us.

Wait…does that mean you’re not going to stop him? Does that mean you’re going to allow the watering-down of the power we had in the brand name, the power of our name recognition, the power of our tight-knit group, the power of our elite education, the power of our status as your followers? You’re just going to let it spread like that, opening the boundaries and letting in anybody with gifts for ministry?

We tried to stop him, because he wasn’t one of us.

But you widened the circle and grace crept in, when we weren’t even looking. We were busy trying to preserve our power, our status, our prestige, while you were busy proclaiming the gospel.
We drew a circle that shut him out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But you and Love had the wit to win,
You drew a circle that took us all in.*

Well, that wasn’t what we were expecting. We thought we’d be commended for tightening the rules, for keeping the riff-raff out, for saving leadership for the ones we think are ready. We thought this was an exclusive club of followers, complete with matching t-shirts! And now you’re saying that’s not how it is? That anyone can get in, that those who are gifted by the Spirit can teach classes, give testimony, pray for healing, visit the sick, that people who look and act and talk different can still be a part of the body of Christ?

Well, Jesus, we may have to have a talk about this.

And then comes the most incomprehensible part of all—anyone who puts a stumbling block before a little one might as well drown, and any part of your body that causes stumbling should be cut off.

Umm, Jesus? This isn’t quite what we had in mind when we said we needed to talk. We were hoping you would be more clear and less, well, bloody. We just wanted to talk about the problem with the outsiders being let in, the clearly unfit and untested being given leadership roles, the “them” contaminating “us.”

Instead, we got a conversation about the body…it turns out we might not need any help contaminating “us." We know, we know, it’s part of our job as The Best Disciples Ever to help other along on their faith journeys, but we really do like to keep the outsiders out and the insiders in. We like for only the properly educated to teach us and we like the things we’ve always done to continue to be so—after all, we’ve been walking these dusty roads with you for months now! We like the feel, the ethos, the culture of our body, but it could be that sometimes parts of our body lead us down a wrong path, becoming barriers to our experience of grace and boundaries we won’t let grace cross.

When that happens—when negativity, exclusion, and pride are the defining characteristics—it’s time to cut them off. These things come from within, they are part of us, one of US…and these body parts hold us back from what God is calling us to be—salt.

Well, obviously. Salt.

Wait…what? Jesus…couldn’t we just have one thing go like we expect? Just one saying that makes sense, one teaching we can understand, one miracle we can explain?

Okay, we’ll work with you…this time. Salt—a wonderful flavoring and a good preservative. Too little and everything is bland—a little like a group of people who all look, talk, think, and act exactly the same. Too much and everything is bitter—a little like a group of people overcome with negativity, exclusivity, and pride. The right balance—peace within and without—is hard to find, but worth the effort.

And so the circle widens, encompassing ever more people with ever different gifts, bringing new flavors and new ideas and new energy to the body of Christ, until there is no “them”—only us.

May it be so.

*apologies to Edward Markam for some artistic license taken with his excellent poem.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

the business of church

I have been saying a lot lately that the Church is not a Business. Churches should not be run like businesses--there's a different mindset needed. And the business of the Church is not the same as the business of a Business. Corporations exist to sell stuff and make a profit. The church exists to proclaim good news, to (as John Buchanan put it at the beginning of A New Church for a New World) "keep alive the rumor that there is a God."
The problem, of course, is that most people (churched and unchurched, pastors and elders and deacons and lay people together) live in a world of corporations. We work for businesses, live/buy/sell in/from/to businesses--our whole lives in the West are centered around corporations. So for the church to be different is *really* hard. It's hard when we talk about money. It's hard when we talk about employees. It's hard when we talk about programming. It's hard when we talk about ethos/culture. It's just...well...difficult. To be people of grace, an organization of grace, in the midst of a world that is about producing and advancing and *earning* is hard. It takes a shift in mindset, in values, in vision...

The scripture we are working with for stewardship this year is a little obscure, but is obviously a part of my thinking these days. I think I'm only just beginning to open it, petal by petal..."For in Christ, every one of God's promises is a 'yes.'" (2 Corinthians 1.20a) And we are the body of Christ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I know

I know I'm a blog slacker. Sorry. Here's what I've been doing....

visiting Taliesin...

visiting the Modern Wing...

visiting Mo Rocca at Wait Wait Don't Tell Me...

Plus teaching Inquirer's Class, Confirmation Class, and Saving Jesus...getting Middle and High School Youth Groups running...preaching and leading worship...caring for people...going to meetings...watching Sicko and contemplating moving to either France or Norway...loving my local public library...petting my kitties...

it's been a busy month.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Out Loud--a sermon for Ordinary 24B

Rev. Teri Peterson
Out Loud
Mark 8.27-38
September 13 2009, Ordinary 24B

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

When Pastor Hani visited us this summer, I was reminded of something I learned while preaching in an Egyptian church a few years ago: In Egypt, “Christian” is just a label on a birth certificate, it doesn’t mean anything about who you really are. Protestant Christians in Egypt call themselves “believers” to distinguish from both the Coptic Orthodox and also from the Egyptian version of nominal cultural Christians, something like the “Christmas and Easter” type. Here it’s a vast percentage of Americans who say they “believe in God” but don’t participate in a community much.

In other words, lots of people say they’re Christians…but, like Peter, would prefer to keep that quiet.

Who do people say that Jesus is? Some say he’s a prophet, some say he’s a teacher, some say he’s a healer, some say he’s a good example.
But forget the gossip, the hearsay…who do YOU say that Jesus is?

It’s not an easy question in 21st century America. There’s a lot of temptation to use those other words—prophet, teacher, healer, example—and see our friends nod their heads in agreement, maybe even in relief that we haven’t turned out to be one of THOSE Christians. But Peter takes a stand, even as the other disciples are all doing the classic Presbyterian look-at-the-ground-avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs move. Peter looks Jesus right in the eye, then comes out and says it: Jesus is the messiah, the one we have waited for. He makes a classic statement of faith, telling Jesus and all the world what he believes. Or, rather, he tells us what he thinks. He knows, in his mind, that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who is to come, the one who will save us.

But, when Jesus begins to explain what that means…well, let’s just say Peter isn’t thrilled with this turn of events. It’s one thing for Jesus to teach crowds of people to be nice to each other, feed thousands of people with a miracle, heal the sick…it’s a totally different thing for him to go around saying, where people can HEAR, that his brand of lordship looks different than they expected. This is a lord who will be conquered, humiliated, killed, not one who will conquer and humiliate and kill others. This is a lord who will ask us to follow into the depths of despair, need, and pain so we can join him in bringing grace, peace, and love. This is a lord who calls us out of the darkness and into the light.

Lots of people say they’re Christians…but, like Peter, would prefer to keep quiet about what that means for our lives.

Jesus doesn’t keep many things on the down-low—he’s not afraid to say out loud things we would prefer to keep to ourselves. And the thing he says (loudly, I imagine!) to Peter is that saying it with your mouth or thinking it in your head are NOT the same thing as living it every day, in every action, every word, every thought, every relationship, every move.

Who do you say that I am? You are Son of God, Lamb of God, Word of God. King of Kings and Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace. Alpha and Omega, Immanuel, Rabbi. Savior, Messiah, Friend.

Okay, forget all the hearsay, all the gossip, all the words…who does your LIFE say that I am? who does your life say that YOU are?

This is a little harder…words are easy, as Peter discovered. We’ll confess with our mouths and believe in our minds and maybe even in our hearts, and yet we’ll walk past those who hunger; we’ll pollute the waters and not worry about those who are thirsty; we’ll ignore the stranger because they are just too different; we’ll think it’s a pity that some are cold but won’t offer our own coats; we’ll wish all could have health care but let complexity distract us from actually ourselves caring for the sick, we’ll stay away from prisons, not believing that those who have strayed can truly be redeemed…and we’ll try to forget what Jesus said in Matthew 25, that whatever we do to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely, we do to him.

We’re good at the words, at the belief part. But when it comes to putting that belief into action, living our faith, following Jesus wherever he’s leading us, we often have the same reaction as Peter. “Surely, you don’t mean that…and if you do, could you please be quiet about it? It’s very inconvenient, it gives the wrong impression, it isn’t fashionable.”

Many of us say we’re Christians…but, like Peter, we’d prefer to keep that in our heads, inside the church building, in our homes, in the book.

I think this is a little like what happens to Peter—he has all the right answers at first, but when push comes to shove and his lifestyle or his image is on the line, he gets defensive and wants to maintain his brand-name label. But when Jesus tells us what the life of a follower is like, it doesn’t seem to involve having the right answers, reading the right books, praying the right prayer, keeping up the right appearance, or even saying the right name. “follow me.” “stop worrying about what other people think of you.” “give everything away and come.” “take care of others.” “do justice, love kindness, be humble.” “take up your cross and follow me.”

Taking up the cross is not the same thing as wearing one on a silver chain around your neck. Following Jesus is not the same thing as reading about him. Being faithful is not the same as thinking the right things.

There is hard, but good, news for us here. The good news is that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God, we can’t earn it and we can’t pay for it. That means we can follow freely, unencumbered by the world’s expectations, that we don’t have to know everything or be perfect…all we need to do is follow where Jesus is leading.
The hard news is that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God, we can’t earn it and we can’t pay for it and we can’t hoard it for ourselves. Jesus may not be leading us where we thought we wanted to go, and what other people think really is important to many of us, so it’s easier to keep it all quiet, confined to an hour on Sunday and maybe a few words of thanks before dinner or before bed. If not joined with our lives, all our words and all our songs say nothing.

Our calling, as we enter a new year of worship, ministry, and mission together, is to sing it out loud with our lives, not only our words, to LIVE our faith every day, to follow, not only believe.

I believe we can live out loud together. May it be so.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

for your reading pleasure...

...this is one of the best posts in my long Google Reader list of posts made since I went offline yesterday. It's thought provoking and yummy looking all at the same time!

Okay, I'm going offline again so i can go enjoy the Maine sunshine! ta!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

gone visiting...

I've gone to see Maine! And at least one bloggy friend and one RL friend. And who knows what else!

back next week. Until then, talk amongst yourselves.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Owning Up--a sermon for Ordinary 19 but using the 18B text...

this is the first draft, aka "the one I had to get out of my system first." Rewrite to come Saturday evening...probably. possibly. maybe. or maybe I won't chicken out and I'll just preach this. or maybe I'll get braver and be more specific. who knows. feedback welcome in the comments.

Rev. Teri Peterson
Owning Up
2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a
August 9 2009, Ordinary 19B (18B text)

When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’
Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’

David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’

There aren’t many things I love more than a good story. On my day off you can often find me curled up on my couch with a novel or two…or three or four. All my favorite TV shows and movies are favorites because they do a good job telling a story. I love to listen to a good storyteller. Most of the things I love about church involve people telling their stories and hearing the stories of others. And, in case you were wondering, if I were stranded on a desert island with just one book for the rest of my life, I really would take the Bible, because it has so many different stories told from different perspectives with lots of great character development and some good action scenes too.

The best stories, in my opinion, are ones that make the reader feel a part of the plot, one of the characters—allowing us to get caught up in the narrative, transported to another place, far away from our own everyday lives and stresses. There’s action, there’s conflict, there’s adventure and wonder and fear and hopes and dreams…these are the makings of a great story, whatever media we use to tell it. In these kinds of stories, we get so caught up in what’s happening that we have real emotional responses, like anticipation or love or anxiety or anger. And when the credits roll or we turn the last page, there’s a little sense of loss, like we didn’t want to come back to this world quite yet.

Nathan’s story is a little like this. Nathan, a prophet, is a world-class professional storyteller. His job is to tell the king God’s story and God’s vision of David’s place in that story. It’s actually been going pretty well…until now. Now comes the make-or-break moment in the storytelling prophet’s career: the moment he has to tell a story the king won’t like.

David, you see, is a man who has everything. He has money and a big house and many wives, all the military power, all the good looks, all the charm. He’s the king, after all. But he seems to have forgotten something important: that when God calls a king, that doesn’t mean what you think it means. A king in Israel, a king called to lead God’s community of people, is different. He’s a shepherd, a leader by example, a man of God, not the power, money, and war-mongering monarch of other tribes. And a king in Israel is called and anointed, not born into his position—that’s how David, the youngest of the shepherd boys, got the job in the first place!

But all that is forgotten when he actually gets the power and the money. Gone is the man who once refused to take land for free, though he could since he was the king, because he refused to offer God offerings that cost nothing. In his place is the man who sees, wants, and takes. He saw Bathsheba bathing. He wanted her. He took her. When it looked like her husband would find out, he tried to trick Uriah into taking his wife back, but Uriah was an honorable man who refused to leave his army in the field alone while he enjoyed the comforts of home. Since that didn’t work, David had him killed, and now Bathsheba is another wife in David’s harem. See, want, take. That’s how it works when you have the title, the power, the money, the right skin color, the right gender, the right job.

Enter Nathan and his story, a story of the haves stealing from the have-nots, a story of extreme inhospitality, a story of injustice. Everything about us wants to scream, with David, that this is NOT FAIR!!! How could the man who had everything at his disposal take away the one thing that the other man had, the one thing that made him happy, the one thing that gave him comfort? How could the rich steal from the poor? How could the traveler and the neighbors stand by and allow this? It’s a story that we get caught up in, a story that tugs at our heartstrings and then rips them apart, a story we want to end differently. Why did this have to happen? What kind of person would do such a thing?


And suddenly it’s not just David’s story, it’s not just a story of a king misusing his power or misunderstanding his role…it’s our story.

YOU are the one who did this.

The prophet speaks directly to us, to all of us together, as a nation, as a culture, as The Church, as a congregation.

YOU are the one.

The prophet speaks directly to us, to each of us individually, to me and to you.

YOU are the one.

The one with the power and the resources. The one who took from others what you had already at your disposal, because it was convenient. The one who stood by and ignored the injustice going on next door. The one who used someone else for your own ends.

You are the one.

No one likes to be confronted with sentences like that. No one wants to hear the follow up either, where God says to us, “I gave you life, I gave you resources, I gave you air and earth and water and family and friends and love and so much more…and yet you despise me, you squander my gifts, you hoard them for yourself, you close your eyes and ears to the cries of my people that you are supposed to care for. And you do it in secret, behind closed doors, when no one can see, when you think it doesn’t make a difference, that you can’t do anything differently than the people around you, that it’s not your responsibility.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m cringing inside even as I say these things, because I hear the words spoken to me. I have said that things are not my problem, not my responsibility, too big for me to do anything about. I have despised the gifts God has given me, using them in ways that hurt rather than heal. I have neglected to even remember that everything I have is a gift from God, instead choosing to hold on so tightly you couldn’t pry things out of my hands or heart or mind—they’re MINE!

YOU are the one, God says to me, and to you, and to all of us together.

Then God says, “You do these things in secret, but I will bring them into the open.” And David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

He confessed. He brought these things out into the open himself. He owned up. He said, “I messed up. I did wrong. I distorted your image.”

Well…this is a lot harder for us than it seemed to be for David. We have a prayer of confession each week in worship, where we say here, in public, that we haven’t lived up to the vision God has for us as individuals or as a community. But when we get into specifics, like uneven distributions of power and wealth and resources, or our complicity in injustice, or the part we play in maintaining a status quo that serves us but not our neighbors, then we shy away. We get defensive. We remind each other that we can’t solve the problem or that we aren’t really as privileged and powerful as we might look. What we need is to confess, out loud, out in the open, that we have done things we ought not to have done, we have left undone things we ought to have done, we have been complicit in wrong.

When Nathan spoke truth to power, David’s response was, at first, simple: “I have sinned.”. Perhaps, instead of being defensive or passing the buck or sitting back thinking we can’t do anything, we too should start by recognizing the problem. We, in our choices, in our lives, in our speech, in our action, participate in injustice.

This is an uncomfortable topic for us. No one likes to be the one speaking truth to power or the one hearing it as truth spoken in love. We prefer to think of how Jesus died and rose again so we are free from sin…but reality is that we still do wrong things, we hurt people and ourselves and God’s creation, left in our care. We drive past injustice and avert our eyes, we take from those who have little to feed our own appetites, we neglect to show hospitality.

I don’t know a better story than the one Nathan told—maybe I could update it for the 21st century, but the ending would be the same…

We are the ones.

The good news is that healing begins when we own up, when we confess, when we bring things into the open so God’s light can shine in. May we be as courageous as Nathan and David.


Friday Five: hobbies and (gasp!) sports...

I haven't played the Friday Five in a long time, but since the sermon fairy is still MIA...

1. Is there a sport/ hobby that is more of a passion than a past-time for you?
reading. napping. sitting around. I love these things...and could do them all day for weeks if I were allowed.
To say that I am NOT sporty would be the understatement of both this and the last century. I have recently tried out ballet...I wouldn't call that a success though I'm not quite giving up yet. I practice yoga. I do indoor rock climbing sometimes. None of those are passions, though, they're definitely run-of-the-mill hobbies. Ditto walking (for exercise or to go places). Otherwise, it's all about the reading and napping and thinking. :-)

2. Outdoors or indoors?
INDOORS!!! I like the outside...and I like it to be outside. I can look at it from a window, or go out for short periods for some fresh air and sunshine, but mostly I like things I can do inside. No bugs, easier to control the temperature, comfy furniture, my it's easier to read inside. No need for sunglasses, no glare off the pages, no chance of getting a sunburn (which takes me about 8 minutes).
I do keep my windows and sliding glass doors open pretty much any time the temperature is above 60--does that count at all?

3. Where do you find peace and quiet?
Unless the weather is changing (causing the cats to go crazy!), inside my house. It's a pretty quiet place since I have no TV channels, no radio reception, and no other human beings who live here. I love to sit/lay on my couch or in my bed and just hang out.

4. A competitive spirit; good or bad, discuss...
Depends. I certainly have one, that's for sure. Don't ask my friends about my board game strategies...let's just say they involve WINNING, or else. ;-)

5. Is there a song a picture or a poem that sums up your passion ?
I don't know if this counts, but I have this canvas bag (I use it for groceries!) that says on the side: "books. cats. life is good." that pretty well sums it up!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

what is a spiritual practice?

Some of you may know that my friend Amy and I have been researching and working and are now finally getting around to writing some stuff for a new book on spirituality for a new generation/young adults. It's very fun to work on, even if it does mean sucking up all my procrastinating tendencies and actually doing stuff.

Well, recently (thanks to reverendmother) I stumbled upon a blog series at Godspace called "what is a spiritual practice?" Lots of different people are contributing essays on spiritual practices, including things like driving, washing the dishes, and yoga. So I thought I'd see if I could excerpt a bit of what I've been working on and send that in...

and here it is! An excerpt of a chapter titled "Between the Sheets" from a book with a title so tentative I'm not going to tell it to you right now...but don't worry, it's awesome.

Be sure to check out the other essays in this series too--they are really good!

Monday, August 03, 2009

how did this happen?

How did it get to be August when the vast majority of things I need to do this summer are still undone?

Things to do, in no particular order...

* watch the Saving Jesus dvd curriculum and decide if I want to use it. If not, find something else.
* get serious about lesson plans for this year's confirmation class. Granted, it's the same curriculum as two previous classes, but every class is different and this one will be no exception! Gotta at least plan a month or two to get my other adult teachers on board.
* finish the 4 books I'm reading and get started on the next 4 on the stack.
* visit elsa in maine! I've never been to Maine, so I'm very excited about this. I'm also very excited about seeing Elsa's new house, and maybe meeting Songbird, and maybe having better weather than here, and maybe relaxing for even a few minutes! yay elsa!
* clean my house before going to Maine, and set up a cat-sitter for that 5 days.
* preach this Sunday on last Sunday's David and Nathan text.
* youth group planning. for two groups.
* initiation planning--in the final stages now, but still with tons to do!
* get all the annual medical stuff out of the way BEFORE the program year starts. Ditto car stuff and cat vet stuff. I think Andrew has the same thing Ollie has--he has been suspiciously sneezing the last few days.
* make a schedule for Sunday adult ed, including the spiritual gifts class (taught by someone else) and the Inquirer's Class (taught by me, somehow).
* figure out a dream budget for the ministries I'm "in charge" of and also a practical one.
* dream up ways to help people in the church understand giving/stewardship as a spiritual and whole life issue, not a pledge-card-in-October issue.
* find more youth leaders.
* talk with the confirmation mentors RE their responsibilities and the schedule for classes.
* desperately attempt to actually EAT the stuff that comes in my CSA box and not be seduced by macaroni and cheese.
* figure out the possibilities of yoga, pilates, and ballet classes in the fall. (yes, I'm thinking of doing it again, hopefully better this time!)
* pray, a lot, for the PNC and the candidate who is perfect for us, who must be out there somewhere!
* visit people.
* write.
* catch up on months and months worth of magazines I'm behind on (including, but not limited to: Presbyterians Today, the Christian Century, the Outlook, Group Magazine).
* sleep.

yeah. I'm pretty sure this is going to be a busy month...with a great break in the middle!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

so exciting!!

Exciting news from the San Diego Zoo!!


I know this has been written about before, and better, but I'm thinking about it again now.

You know how when women act like men, they're called bitchy? Despite how progressive we think we are and how much we deny latent sexism of any kind, this still happens (I know, shocking, right?). Authoritative leadership by a man is authoritarian when done by a woman. Conversely, consensus-building type leadership (women-style) is weak when done by a man.

So, let me get this straight...pastors, who are members of session, are supposed to lead when they are men (they may be talked about as "always got his own way"--but not until after they leave!), but follow when they are women (or risk being told they are too pushy/directional/overbearing... to their faces).

As a pastor who has leadership gifts, I'm not okay with that. My leadership style combines the stereotypical masculine and feminine types, and flows pretty freely along that continuum. And I want to exercise my leadership gifts...and I don't want to be forced to do that in just one way.

There's a difference, of course, between exercising leadership in a particular context and being boxed in to a particular style...I like the first. Not the second.

that's all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

i know, I know

sorry. lots of unbloggables lately--and lots of stuff going on in general that just keeps me away from blogger, even though it's right there, smack in the center of my bookmark bar, mocking me.

so, in no particular order, some things.

* I love sunny days. I wish we had more of them.

* I love kale.

* I love hanging out with friends.

* I love pajama days.

* I love battlestar galactica. (season 4/4.5 are ahead! Yay for Amazon and good friends.)

* I love my kitties. I spent several minutes on Saturday afternoon taking funny cell phone pictures of Ollie trying to get milk out of a tall glass--when sticking her head in didn't work, she stuck her paw in (almost her whole leg was in the glass!) repeatedly and licked the milk off her paw. ha!

* I love sleeping in.

* I love inserting random Eddie Izzard quotes into everyday conversation and seeing if people notice.

* I love driving along with the windows down and the Indigo Girls blaring.

* I love reading books. I'm reading 4 books right now. I'll let you know if I finish any of them. And no, those 4 don't include books I'm reading/reviewing/thinking about for church. And none of them are the planned re-read of Harry Potter either. That can't start until I finish all 4 of these books.

* I love the idea of DVD based curriculum for adult education. I don't know if I'll love the practice, but I love the idea. Mainly because it sounds like less work for me along with better substance for the class. But we'll see, when said curriculum arrives, what I think after reviewing it.

* I love taking walks (you know, for exercise) between the farmer's market and Jenapea's.

that seems like enough for now...enough to make me happy, give me a little attitude adjustment, and get me ready for bed!!

Monday, July 06, 2009

and so I asked myself... I have anything to blog about today?

let's see, some random dots of randomness:

* i watched last night's fireworks display from my bed--it was clearly visible just over the house across the street. cool.
* Ollie is sneezing again in spite of the medicine...but I'm hoping that continued regular dosing (hard sometimes given my crazy work schedule) will make it go away.
* Andrew is just as furry as ever. and just as determined to lick my face when he's hungry, even if it is 2am. or 6am. or any other time when I'd prefer to be sleeping.
* it's sunny outside again.
* Yesterday's children's time was very long because I lost my train of thought and was unable to regain it even with repeating myself. Had no idea where I was going at all, even though I had carefully thought out the plan ahead of time. Awesome.
* I really need to stay on top of the whole dishes thing, but I just don't like to do dishes, and so I don't. They pile up in the sink until I need more bowls, then everything goes into the dishwasher overnight (off peak electricity time!).
* I am trying to figure out an opening for my "between the sheets" chapter in the spirituality for young adults book Amy and I are working on. (the chapter is about sleep as a spiritual practice--get your minds out of the gutter, sillies!) Once I have the opening, I think the whole thing will flow, but I obviously haven't found that opening yet because it's all still in my head.
* we are doing Sunday morning Taize soon (in two weeks, I think) and that's so fun and exciting and I get to put it all together today! woohoo!
* speaking of today, I guess I should get a shower and get my act together, eh? time to get moving...

Friday, July 03, 2009


the RCLPC Church Information Form is finally up! It's so exciting, I can barely contain myself!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

new experiences

I like to have new experiences. I'm interested in learning things, going places, meeting people, trying stuff out.

So, this summer, I thought I'd try a new experience, something I've always wanted to do but never have...I signed up for an adult ballet class.

I'll wait while my family members recover from snickering.

So this class, I thought, would be full of people who, like me, were beginners but didn't want to try to take a class with 3 year olds. Or at least people who were dancing for fun, not for a career. And maybe some exercise would happen, and I'd learn some basics, and maybe then I'd be brave enough to try out the adult class that happens at my local ballet studio during the regular school year.

This class is at a convenient time for me--Tuesday evenings. It didn't take much trouble to clear my Tuesdays, since my small group doesn't normally meet in the summer and we don't have Taize in the summer (normally those two things take up 3 of the 4 Tuesdays in any given month). It's only an hour and a half, for six weeks, for a mere 82 dollars. So I did it--I took the plunge and signed up for all 6 classes, I bought ballet shoes, and I went to class.

Last week was okay...not great, but it was my first time ever and I didn't understand most things but I could try them and I'm flexible and I generally think of myself as a fast learner so it was fine. A little of my enthusiasm waned when I discovered that there were professional dancers (and other advanced students) augmenting their workouts in this class, and that I was the only true beginner, plus maybe 3 or 4 others who were relative newbies. But I made it.

Yesterday, not so much. An hour into the class, I literally broke down and cried. That's right, I, an adult person, cried in ballet class because it was so overwhelming.

I'll freely admit that I brought a lot of stuff into class with me yesterday--I was tired, there's been lots of stress at work, etc--and that definitely played into this, but the pace and difficulty of the class were a part of it too. I stood there in the studio with 30 other people twirling and leaping around me and felt as though I am not good at anything--not my job, not friendships, not relationships, not ballet.

I know that's not true, but there you have it--ballet was the last straw.

On further reflection, I think the issue is that I've never not been good at something I *wanted* to do. The only other times I remember being really, obviously not good at something were softball (the summer after 8th grade--I don't think I've ever been so miserable) and calculus (junior year of HS, but I was taking my classes at the college by then so it was a college class).
Softball was something mom made me do, and I begged to be able to quit but was lectured about commitment, and I stuck it out even though I was terrible. I think my batting average was somewhere around .066. I was an okay pitcher, but if people hit the ball back at me, I would duck. I would rather have been reading in my room or even practicing the clarinet! PLUS, to add insult to injury, the uniforms were bright yellow and black. we looked like bumblebees.
Calculus was a class in school, something you did because it was part of schooling. And after I figured out that I really wasn't good at it (I failed a 3-question test with a 30%. That's right, I didn't even get one whole question correct) though I'd been good at basically every other class I'd ever taken, I worked harder and ended up with an A anyway.

But ballet--this is something I personally wanted and looked forward to. I intend to stick it out--4 more weeks to go--but at the moment it feels really hard and scary and overwhelming and also like something I will never be good at. Add that to some of the vibe from church right now and we have a recipe for staying home and eating mashed potatoes all summer, because if nothing else I can make mashed potatoes, darn it, and I AM good at that, I swear.

I'm thinking that for next summer's try-something-new experience I'll look into either horseback riding lessons (horses pretty much terrify me) or maybe a new language. Or maybe I'll stay home and read more books--I already know I'm good at that....