Sunday, April 25, 2010

Community of Hope--a sermon for Easter 4

Rev. Teri Peterson
Community of Hope
John 10.10b-16, Psalm 23
25 April 2010, Easter 4C, Day of Prayer for Colombia

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
he leadeth me beside the still waters;
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’

Many of you know that I just returned from a week away—and most of that week was spent at a seminar that took place on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. Sometimes the life of a preacher is hard, but someone has to do it! I spent the week with 20 other clergy women, discussing and practicing and receiving hospitality in all kinds of different ways. One day we decided to visit the Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island…but between 7 of us together we couldn’t quite figure out how to get there, until we heard a voice calling us across the road. The voice turned out to belong to a taxi driver named Uncle who agreed to take us the 30 miles to the park, wait with us all day, and bring us home again. Uncle also turned out to be an amazing tour guide, as he drove us out of the tourist area of Grand Bahama and toward the other side of the island. He pointed out Johnny Depp’s vacation home, random neighborhoods, lots more vegetation than we expected, and various other sights along the hour’s drive. Once we were in the park, we could hear his booming voice whenever we rounded a bend in the path and we knew he was still waiting for us. When we returned to the van we could hear his laugh echoing from the small building where he was playing cards with the park ranger. He sat with us and shared a traditional Bahamian lunch of conch fritters, beans and rice, and French fries, and when he figured it was time to head back he called us off the beach. In some ways, he was our shepherd, leading us to the places we wanted to go and showing us a glimpse—just a glimpse—of life on Grand Bahama, which is not all tourist markets and cruise ships and brightly painted shops. He offered us hospitality beyond what we could have expected, and we became a family for the day.

One of the most interesting things to do when traveling is to get out of the tourist area and see where you really are. Many of the places we love to visit—the Bahamas included—sell themselves to us as one thing while hiding something else. We rarely see real life when we take a shore excursion or spend a week in a resort—the real life outside the walls is messy and hard and often marked by poverty, which is not the stuff vacations are made of. But they are the stuff hospitality is made of.

Our call to offer and receive hospitality is not limited to interactions with people who look like us, talk like us, live like us, or even are people we like. If it were, we would be no more than a hired hand, who runs away at the first sign of danger—because that’s what we think, subconsciously, right? That those who are different are dangerous—dangerous to our way of life, to our economy, to our religion, to our political structure, to our worldview. But Jesus says “I have other sheep not of this fold…and I will call them, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” No running away, no welcome only for the spotless white sheep, no dividing the pasture—one flock, one shepherd.

And our shepherd is the God we know is Love—the one who prepares a table, invites all to come, leads us to green pastures and deep clean water, who provides the nourishment we need and a community to share it with.

Except I wonder what that can mean to people who don’t just walk through, but live in the valley of the shadow of death? How do people read this psalm, so beloved by many of us, when the reality of their life does not involve clean water, or green grass, or a table filled with food? How do the millions of people forced off their land read these words? People whose crops have been killed by aerial spraying meant for coca, or people whose children no longer feast on the fruits of many trees but instead scavenge the trash heaps of Bogota, of Khartoum, of Mexico City, of Cairo? What can “you lead me beside still waters” mean to a community whose stream was polluted by a mining company? How can we even begin to think about, let alone spiritualize, the Good Shepherd when there are so many people not just abandoned by the hired hand but then terrorized by the wolf and the thief?

I know it’s hard to try to read these, some of our favorite passages, from this other context. We are so used to our own context—where we are the people with economic and political power, where we have been culturally conditioned to think about green pastures and still waters and tables prepared in the context of funerals—where we’re supposedly talking about heaven. But we all know Christian faith isn’t truly about what happens after we die, it’s how we live into the kingdom of God here on earth—‘Your kingdom come.’ The last line of the psalm is more often translated, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Now. Here.

I don’t have any answers to the questions I’ve asked this morning. I don’t know how to think about the promise of green pastures, still waters, feasts, houses, or even one-flock-one-shepherd, in the midst of a world where children are murdered because their parents dare to speak out for peace, where people are driven from their land because of their ethnicity, where greed and violence seem more powerful than love and justice. The best I can do is to hope in that promise, and to do what I can to be a part of its fulfillment. I can leave the cruise ship or the resort and meet people where they are, I can love and accept people for who God made them to be, I can invite people to share their lives and mine, and I can accept invitations to cross the fences we’ve set up to separate the flock.

I read a story this week of a Colombian woman named Daira. When other members of the community council began to be murdered, she slept in a different place every night until the day she realized she had to flee. She says, “My dream was to stay there…in fact, I still dream that someday I will be able to return. I cannot stop dreaming, because if I stop dreaming then everything ends.”

Perhaps this is the word for us here—that we must continue to dream of a better world, to place our hope in the Good Shepherd, because if we stop dreaming, stop hoping, stop working for the kingdom, if despair takes hold, then everything ends. So may we be people of big dreams, people of God’s new community of hope.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

watch what you pray for

there is a prayer I learned from the Iona Community (I mean while I was living there many years ago):

O Christ the Master Carpenter,
who at the last through wood and nails
accomplished our whole salvation,
wield well your tools in the workshop of your world
that we who come rough hewn to your bench
may here be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hand.
We ask it for your own name's sake. Amen.

Now, setting aside the business where I'm not convinced that it was in fact through wood and nails that our salvation was accomplished (I'm more the empty tomb, less the on-the-cross, salvation kind of girl)...I love this prayer. and it comes to mind often...maybe more than once a day.

But here's the thing: who actually wants to be worked over like a piece of wood in the hands of a carpenter? Cuz while the end result may be a "truer beauty" or more usefulness, the process is, umm, hurty. there's cutting and pounding and lathing (is that even a word?).

So, I'm just saying--be careful what you pray for, cuz you might get it.

Monday, April 12, 2010


back when he actually worked, Richard used to say that the difficulty with being a pastor and also trying to be a scholar is that ministry in the church doesn't give you any time to think deep thoughts--you just get started thinking about something and then something comes up and you have to move on.

Come to think of it, he might have actually said that as one of the reasons he decided not to work anymore and go back and do the whole school thing (which is its own kind of work, blah blah blah).

Anyway, at the time I believe I thought something like "really? hmm. I need to think about confirmation class lesson..."


Well, it's official. I believe.

I have not been able to form more than one sentence worth of thought in months. I keep thinking "oh, I'll have to think about that later"...or "blog about that later" or "write that down later" or "look that up later" and then I move on to the voicemail/email/visit/phone/meeting/planning/preaching/whatever. And none of those thoughts ever get thought out, written down, researched, or anything. I have hundreds of half-thoughts swirling in my head and they are driving me insane. And, I think, they are hurting my ability to be a pastor. Because I'm annoyed by all these thought-gnats AND I can't focus on just one of them at a time WHICH MEANS there are all kinds of ideas that never come to fruition because I can't get past one sentence in my head before I have to move on.

I need a month just to think all these things. Then maybe I can get back to work. Maybe.

Since I don't have a month...I'll take a week on a cruise ship in the Bahamas, where you'll find me by the pool thinking with friends, colleagues, matriarchs, and some kind of drink that comes with an umbrella. That must count for four weeks sitting on my couch, right?

(hey, I never said I was an *introverted* thinker like Richard, just that I want to think! Extroverts think out loud!)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday Five: on the road

I haven't played the Friday Five, from RevGalBlogPals, in what feels like a hundred years, but this week is about one of my favorite things, so how could I resist???

1. When was your last, or will be your next, out of town travel?

Let's see, my last out-of-town trip was a quickie to Knoxville for my friend Jennifer's gorgeous wedding. I drove the 9:33 hours down on Friday afternoon, and came back Saturday night after the wedding. It was a wonderful trip, but too short.
My next trip will be one week from today!! I head out to Houston for another sure-to-be-lovely wedding, then on to the BE3 aboard Norwegian Sky. I've been dreaming about this trip all Lent, reading every word on the Norwegian Cruise Line website, even if it's not related. I've learned all kinds of not-that-useful things that have allowed me to daydream and fantasize about this cruise. it's how I survived the spring-that-was-winter.

2. Long car trips: love or loathe?

Hmm, it depends on where I'm going and who I'm with. I've made several cross-country car trips, with family, with friends, for moving, and for mission trips. one guess which is my favorite.

3. Do you prefer to be driver or passenger?

It depends. I like to be able to alternate driving so I can do other things (stare out the window, sleep, control the radio) but I also like to drive. So there you go.

4. If passenger, would you rather pass the time with handwork, conversing, reading, listening to music, or ???

I no longer read in the car--that had to stop about 8 years ago (sigh). I like to talk, nap, and control the radio (as previously mentioned). On this last trip I listened to a book on CD for the first time and found that engaging enough to make the long and late-night drives interesting. Normally I like to listen to NPR or NPR podcasts or the Indigo Girls.

5. Are you going, or have you ever gone, on a RevGals BE? Happiest memories of the former, and/or most anticipated pleasures of the latter?

Next week's is my first one! I'm very excited to meet people whose blogs I've been reading for years, to make new friends and catch up with old friends, and to get some sunshine and warm weather. Please, God, let there be sunshine and warm weather. I also look forward to the possibility of sitting down with Nanette and talking a little about her church and how that's happened. And, I have to admit, I also am looking forward to just being somewhere AWAY from here and letting my own self be fed/nurtured by great colleagues and a most-hours-of-the-day-and-night-buffet.

6. Bonus: a favorite piece of road trip music.

Well, when I was in high school my mom used to drive me 2.5 hours across the mountains for clarinet lessons every other week. We always timed our CDs so that the last thing we heard on the way home was the Styx Greatest Hits CD, and we always pulled into our parking spot at home as the last notes of Come Sail Away were fading away. It was our favorite song and it made every trip special, sort of like a ritual. If we didn't time it right, we felt weird. I still love to sing along with my CDs in the car--sometimes Come Sail Away, and sometimes another mutual favorite with my mom, though I didn't discover my own love of the Girls until after she was it is in original video, in all its 80's glory:

Monday, April 05, 2010

best shape ever!

I, like Amy, am working on getting into the best shape of my life this year. Let's not call it a goal...let's call it being healthy.

I have a Wii Fit (thanks dad!), and I love it, I play it every day except Sunday. On Monday morning, the Wii Fit asks me "so, too busy to work out yesterday, eh?" Well, yes. On Sunday I *am* too busy to work out. LOL. (sorry, that wasn't the point) Now that it's sunny, I can go for walks in the park near my house, too--yay! I've also been more careful about what I eat--I gave up fast food and pop for Lent (and I'm keeping them out until the cruise is over, due to the need-to-fit-in-my-dresses thing!).

So I did the monday-morning-body-test on Wii Fit, and discovered...that I've stayed the same. That's right, through last week's partying (Mexican food, margaritas), bad choices (bottled frappuccinos), and Easter (mmm, cadbury eggs--thanks dad!--ice cream, mashed potatoes, the biggest green bean casserole ever, and some wine...), I managed to keep the same weight and a slightly better center of balance. woohoo!

Two weeks to cruise! :-)

Happy Easter!

Today I...
...ate a Cadbury Egg from my easter basket (thanks dad!!!!!) for breakfast.
...also ate pancakes for breakfast, between services.
...made a HUGE mess on the floor of the sanctuary with communion bread crumbs (good thing we don't believe in transubstatiation).
...discovered that in Crystal Lake you can buy alcohol at the grocery store as early as 7am, even on Sunday (when I shopped on Friday I forgot the wine to cook Sunday dinner...)
...sang the Hallelujah Chorus.
...went for a walk in the SUNSHINE! and 72 degrees and saw:
* kids playing hide and seek outside in the trees and bushes around my house
* families flying kites in the park
* kids looking for tadpoles in the pond in the park
* people grilling out!
...made and ate seitan "pot roast" and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. yum. my beautifully toned upper arms approved for the sleeveless-top wearing by a 22 year old fashion critic.
...petted my kitties.
...watched some episodes of Angel.
...talked to an awesome friend for hours.

Good day.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Crazy Talk--a sermon for Easter 2010

Rev. Teri Peterson
Crazy Talk
Luke 24.1-12
4 April 2010, Easter

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine—or maybe remember!—the most outrageous thing a preacher could ever say. The most ridiculous, nonsensical, insane, crazy thing anyone could ever say…do you have something in mind? I read a few this week—for instance that a church in Texas was giving away cars and flat screen TVs as an incentive to come to Easter worship, or that the pope’s preacher compared criticism of the church to anti-semitism, or that the Jonas Brothers were providing musical entertainment for Easter Sunday at Saddleback Church in California. But I’m about to say out loud the single most shocking, ridiculous, crazy, outrageous thing anyone has ever heard, ever:

Why do you look for the living among the dead? Christ has risen.

Isn’t that insane? It’s clearly crazy talk, the ravings of a woman gone mad.

At least, that’s what the men—the disciples and other followers of Jesus—thought when the women came to share the news of the empty tomb, the dazzling messengers, and the message:
He is not here.

In our translation, which has been a little cleaned up for public consumption, it says “these words seemed to them an idle tale.” The word in Greek is lairos—garbage, lies, nonsense, manure…and those are still nicer than the real literal translation would be—imagine a card game sometimes called by two letters of the alphabet and you’ve got it.

The women, faithful followers of Jesus, disciples in their own right, wept the Sabbath away and came early on the first day of the week to perform the rituals of their faith…and found instead an empty tomb and a bright spark for their memory: remember how he told you? And when they did remember, and asked the other disciples to do the same, they were called liars and crazy people.

I don’t think we get this much anymore—resurrection is such a domesticated concept in our religion and culture, part of the story we hear over and over again, so equated with flowers that bloom every spring or butterflies breaking out of cocoons, that we miss how ridiculous it is, how impossible. Jesus was dead—really dead, no breathing, no heartbeat—and the tomb was sealed. And now he is alive, bursting out of the tomb into the world! And somehow we are supposed to believe that this is possible—that dead people don’t stay dead, that the world is changed, that our lives are turned upside down with crazy talk.

That’s right—our whole lives are turned upside down. Because Easter isn’t about intellectual knowledge or even about what we believe in our hearts. And Easter isn’t about our afterlife, living in heaven after we die. Easter is about LIFE—life abundant, lived right here, right now, on earth. Because Jesus is alive, we no longer hoard resources, since the enemy of abundance—death—has been conquered. Because Jesus is alive, we no longer do it on our own, making our own way alone in the world—Christ calls us into community. Because Jesus is alive, we know that this life, this body, this world, matter—enough that God refused to let it die. Because Jesus is alive, we can gather around the table together with all kinds of people and find Christ made known to us in the breaking of bread. The Word of God is living and is among us and within us, turning our lives upside down.

Remember, how he told you, and showed you, and lived among you? Remember how he fed the hungry, healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind? Remember how he told stories, ate with sinners and outcasts, and stood up to religious and political authorities who oppressed people? Remember how he followed God’s will, lived out God’s love, and taught us to do the same? Remember how he said, again and again, that nothing is impossible with God? These are the signs of life, the saving grace of God, the amazing and yet everyday Immanuel, God with us, made flesh, one of us, sharing our life. Even death cannot stop this kind of power.

In a world filled with despair, violence, hatred, grief, poverty, fear, and greed—in short, a world filled with death—Christ is ALIVE. And so we who join our names and our lives with Christ also live our eternal life starting right now! We, the people who make up the body of Christ, do something that looks ridiculous, that seems insane, that people have every reason to call crazy: we live resurrection. We invite the stranger to our table, we feed the hungry and heal the sick and welcome the outcast, we care for bodies, not just souls, we stand up to oppression and work for freedom, we insist on love and compassion rather than hate and revenge, we speak the word of God into everyday situations, we form God’s new community of hope—no matter what people think of us, no matter what they say about us, no matter who’s watching or listening, we live our life with Christ in the here and now, together.

In fact, I’ll even be the crazy preacher lady who says outrageous things and say that in every decision, every action, every word, we MUST proclaim that life, not death, has the final word; that light is stronger than darkness and love stronger than hate; that even in the midst of the world as we know it, nothing is as it seems, because God’s powerful love is at work in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

So, friends, (in the words of Wendell Berry) every day do something 

that won't compute. Love the Lord. 

Love the world. Work for nothing. 

Take all that you have and be poor. 

Love someone who does not deserve it.
Practice resurrection.

Christ is risen—he is risen indeed—and may that be so for the body Christ as well!