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. :-)