Monday, December 19, 2011

Grounded Joy--a sermon for Advent 3B

This was last week's sermon. I didn't love it when I wrote it, but the feedback has been such that I decided I'd better post it. Happy Advent.

Rev. Teri Peterson
Grounded Joy
Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11 (and the magnificat) (CEB)
11 December 2011, Advent 3B

With all my heart I glorify the Lord! 

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on me.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me blessed
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is the Lord!
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts
and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors.


The LORD God’s spirit is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and a day of vindication for our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for Zion’s mourners,
to give them a crown in place of ashes,
oil of joy in place of mourning,
a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the LORD to glorify himself.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins;
they will restore formerly deserted places;
they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.
I, the LORD, love justice; 

I hate robbery and dishonesty. 

I will faithfully give them their wage, 

and make with them an enduring covenant. 

Their offspring will be known
among the nations, 

and their descendants among the peoples. 

All who see them will recognize that they are a people blessed by the LORD.
I surely rejoice in the LORD; 

my heart is joyful because of my God, 

because he has clothed me with clothes of victory, 

wrapped me in a robe of righteousness like a bridegroom in a priestly crown, 

and like a bride adorned in jewelry. 

As the earth puts out its growth, 
and as a garden grows its seeds, 

so the LORD God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.

It’s that time of year again—when happiness and cheer abound! Everywhere you go there’s festive music playing, lights twinkling, and happy people urging us to buy from their store. There’s Christmas Spirit in the air—that strange scent combination of apple cider, pine, and molasses that somehow equals comfort even though it’s almost impossible to describe in any appetizing way. The bumper stickers and TV pundits are, as ever, reminding us to keep Christ in Christmas, some of them while wearing santa hats and reindeer antlers. All that’s missing is a little dusting of snow—but not too much—to brighten up the barren branches, and we’ll have the picture-perfect multi-sensory Christmas Card life. We can sing our glorias and finish our shopping and hang our stockings by the fire with care, breathing deeply all this Christmas Cheer that guards our spirits against the long winter.

But sometimes I feel like the cheer is forced on us, spread on so thick it’s clearly designed just to get us to stimulate the economy. It’s like the whole of our western culture, which is built on being nice and making ourselves happy, is suddenly on steroids, and if we’re looking for something beyond “happy” then we’re obviously deluded. And if for some reason we aren’t happy—whether we’re grieving, or struggling with depression, or wondering how to pay for all those Christmas presents, or hoping to have enough money for Christmas dinner, or just not feeling the cheer this year—then something must be wrong with us.

Around the world today churches are celebrating God’s promise of joy—which sounds a lot like happiness, right? Sometimes people use the words “joyful” “happy” and “blessed” almost interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same thing. On some websites you can indicate your mood at the time of your post, and one of the choices is “happy”—happiness as a temporary mood, probably based on any number of circumstances, like whether you had coffee this morning, whether a friend called or didn’t call, what kind of headlines you saw today, or whether there are interesting plans in your day. Happiness is one of those sort of basic-yet-shallow feelings—part of the sad-mad-glad trio that never gets any deeper than the surface. The kind of joy that these prophets express, and the kind of joy they call us to seek, isn’t just happiness. It’s not just a feeling, not just a cheerfulness brought out by the smell of cinnamon wafting down the hall or the thought of a jolly old elf bringing fun new toys.

So then…how do we get it? Some of us have a hard enough time summoning up happiness or cheer, and others of us trade on our cheerful dispositions. Many of us at this time of year are so frantically rushing around getting everything decorated and wrapped and baked that we don’t have time for any of it. I wonder, if we were truly honest with ourselves, how many of us would admit that we pretend to be happy even when we aren’t—at Christmas time or at any time—because we think that’s what people expect of us. Do we use our smiles to mask something missing deeper down? Do we keep working on happiness, hoping it will one day be enough?

I wonder how cheerful Mary and Joseph were, that first Advent. Mary, an unmarried teenager suddenly pregnant, and Joseph a man who’ll be supporting a family before he even pays for a wedding, both of them in a small village where everyone will know their scandal before lunch, and in a culture where Mary’s choice to say Yes to God could easily have gotten her killed. Yet in the midst of that, she sings this song—“My spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has done great things for me. He has fed the hungry and lifted up the lowly, and holy is his name.”

Or the prophet Isaiah, looking around at the ruined city his people were hoping to rebuild, trying to preach the word to people of fair-weather-faith, proclaiming that God has promised to plant them in fertile ground so they can grow into oaks of righteousness that glorify the Lord, offering a vision of justice and joy.

If anyone had reason to mask their fear with false cheer, it was these two. Yet in the face of both, they proclaim joy instead. As Margaret Aymer, an Old Testament Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center, told me yesterday, “Joy is an act of faithful subversion in a world that tells you to be scared and sad.” I would add that it’s also an act of faithful subversion in a world that tells you to cover up your true self with sad-mad-glad. Joy is well beyond anything our culture, our possessions, our country, our media, or even our relationships can give us. Joy comes from one place: from seeking God. And, interestingly, it seems that God has even shown us the way to joy. Did you hear it?

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to release the captives…to comfort the mourning…to rebuild, restore, renew…I the Lord love justice…”

Could it be that the way to know the joyful fruit of the Spirit is to practice? Not to look to the sky, anticipating something better; not to turn away from suffering because it’s depressing and ugly; but instead to get more grounded, to reach to our roots, to push down into the earth and let God grow in us like a seed…to live fully into our calling as the anointed ones, the body of Christ, made to bring grace to a world in need, to shine light into a world of darkness.

It seems so obvious as to be almost trite. We’ve all heard the stories before—some of us have even told them—of giving, serving, helping, feeding, and finding more joy there than in opening the presents under the tree. Looking into the eyes of a child receiving their only Christmas present, or handing a hungry family a Christmas dinner, or helping someone find their way through the food pantry for the first time, or visiting a jailed immigrant who wonders if they’ll ever see their family again, or looking at the photos of students in El Vaquero, Mexico finally getting running water in their school, or meeting a missionary, or praying for the person sitting next to you in the pew—these are all things we’ve done, and for many of us we’ve found more of the Spirit in them than in the malls or decorations. Is it possible that the way to joy—to the real Christmas Spirit—is through being more fully who God has called us to be, in the place God has called us? Is it possible that Christmas Joy comes from US being the site of God’s incarnation, God’s taking on flesh, God’s coming to be with us? Maybe when we bear Christ into the world, the way Mary bore Christ in her body, when we don’t just speak good news but ARE good news, when we are creators of justice, then we will also find joy—a joy that is beyond mere cheer, a joy that is grounded and growing, a joy that is subversive and holy.

May it be so.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

an anniversary spent with no internet

Living with grief is a strange thing.
Years, made up of months of weeks of days of hours
spent keeping busy
doing the job
getting things done
making people proud
proving you can do it
even when the person you most want to make proud
the only person you ever needed to prove anything to
is gone.
Every other anniversary (and many other days)
has been filled with reliving every moment of that day
and the days leading up to that day
wondering pleading crying
but not truly functioning, whatever other people might be able to see.
This year was different
a day in the muddle of days
in a place with no internet and no clock
where time stands still…
a day spent reading mystery novels with women detectives, just like she did
a day spent cooking, in a pot that once was hers, just like she did
a day spent, for the first time in six years,
just resting.
It seems counterintuitive—
we’re told to keep busy to keep our mind on other things to distract ourselves and move on
but that may not actually work
I thought a retreat would mean thinking more, obsessing more, crying more
but instead it meant rest,
and some relief—
relief from trying to hold it together,
relief from hiding the sobs,
relief from doing everything the best to make her proud.
This year was different.
No relentless memories of the phone call,
No wondering if the day would ever end,
No what-ifs about how the world might have been different,
No sobbing until throwing up.
Just…reading. cooking. rest. Finally.
I still miss her.
I still want to pick up the phone and find her on the other end.
I still want to go on those adventures we’re (in)famous for.
But maybe a little rest from all of that
was what I really needed on this year’s anniversary.

Monday, October 24, 2011

peace unity and purity

One of the ordination vows every officer at any level of the Presbyterian Church USA takes is to "further the peace, unity, and purity of the church." Sometimes, this vow has been used as a club to keep people out, sometimes it's been ignored, sometimes it's been misunderstood...most of the time, I think we generally fall into the ignoring camp in my congregation.
Until last week, anyway, when the personnel team asked me during my annual review about how this vow is reflected in my ministry.
Of course, part of me had an internal freak out, as in "do they think I'm a troublemaker?" And the other part of me (the rational part) thought "ummm......."

So, I answered the question, kind of, but what it really came down to was that no one was sure entirely what we even meant by these words, and what the words mean in the context of the local church (not just on a denominational level), and how they might apply to our congregational life. SO...what I ended up saying was something about how "unity" is not about uniformity, but about unity of purpose--that we are all here seeking the same goal: to follow Jesus, to be transformed for the transformation of the world, to participate in the mission of God in the world, etc...and "purity" is not about what our current American culture labels as pure but instead about purity of intention, purity of heart, purity of love for God and neighbor and enemy. But "peace"--this is the hard one. Peace, of course, is not just the absence of conflict (though after a conflict, a little absence feels pretty peaceful!) but also the presence of justice. Peacemaking is a big part of our call as Christians, and so creating conditions for justice and peace to flourish in the church is a large part of ministry.

Having said that, I went home from that meeting wondering if I had done a disservice to the role of pastor in regards to peace. Is the role of a pastor to make peace in a congregation? Or is it to disturb the peace, so the people of God can go out and work for justice and peace in the world? I wonder how often we use the word "peace" the same way we use the word "nice"--as a cover for shallow relationships and vague understanding, rather than as the Shalom God intends. Particularly in situations where the pastor has a lot of things to do, a lot of people to work with, programs to administrate, and saints to equip, it can be easier to avoid conflict in order to keep the "peace" than to challenge the status quo. It's often been said that our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable...and some of us do a better job and one side or the other of that coin, no doubt. But how often do we avoid one in favor of the other?

I'm contemplating giving myself a new title--because I think the church and world need more of these people, instead of people who will continue to live with the way things are. Plus, five years post-ordination, it's time to think about which aspect of my role I most live into right now (I keep hoping I'll identify most with "steward of the mysteries of God"...that'll probably be coming soon. LOL). Therefore, I will now consider myself The Reverend Teri Peterson, Disturber of the "Peace." (yes, with air quotes!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Learning Love--a sermon for Ordinary 30A

Rev. Teri Peterson
Learning Love
Matthew 22.34-40
23 October 2011, October 30A

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Do you know the cartoon “love is…”? It’s a daily one-panel drawing with the words “love is” at the top, and words finishing the sentence at the bottom, with drawings of people that slightly remind me of the Little Miss… girls. Every day since about 1970 there has been a different description of what love is. Among the descriptions from the past few days, we have things like “Love is…an open door” “Love is…not even noticing you forgot the picnic basket” “Love is…not wanting to say goodnight” and “Love is…taking that second chance.”

We might almost say that love is one of those words that has so many possible meanings that it often means nothing at all. For instance—do I love mashed potatoes the way I love my family? Do I love celebrating my birthday the way I love pursuing my calling? Do I love scotcharoos the way I love God? In the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, a teenage girl explains the difference between like and love: “I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack.” If all of those are love, what is love anyway?

Jesus probably had a similar problem—there are a lot of things “love” can mean. It helps, of course, if you speak a language with more nuance than English has in this case, and it helps if you live in a time with fewer material possessions and a culture that values people over things, and it helps if you are part of a religious system that tells you exactly what to do in every circumstance. So when asking which law was the greatest, the lawyer was asking Jesus to prioritize—among the 613 laws of the Torah, which one is most important? It’s a trick question, designed to force Jesus into heresy. But Jesus answers with the Shema—the Bible verse that every Jew would recite multiple times every day: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In other words—with your whole being, love God. Then he adds a verse from everyone’s favorite book, Leviticus: “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The word “love” here is agape—one of four choices in Greek. Others include eros (erotic love), storge (affection), and philia (brotherly love). Philia and Agape are both words that imply self-giving, sacrificial, unconditional, steadfast, loyal, all-in love. So when Jesus, or Paul, or Deuteronomy, or Leviticus, call us to love God with our whole being, they’re almost being redundant—the poetic repetition tells us they really mean it, every word. In fact, the latest English translation of the Bible ends this passage with the phrase “everything depends on these two commands.”

Everything depends on these.

I’m reminded of The Five Pillars of Islam, which are confessing your faith in God, prayer, fasting, giving, and pilgrimage. In other words—the whole of the Muslim faith is held up by these five practices. Not five beliefs, not five words to say, not five books to read, but five actions to do regularly. They might say that “everything depends on these.”

What would our five pillars of Christianity be? We probably share some in common with our Muslim brothers and sisters—confessing our faith in Christ, prayer, and giving are fairly obvious. We may even say fasting or pilgrimage too. But Jesus says there’s one big pillar, and all these things are more like supporting columns—our big pillar is to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

How does this foundation play out in our faith and life, though? Just as the five pillars of Islam are practices, not simply beliefs, this pillar Jesus lays before us is also a practice, not a belief. I can say that I love God, and I can claim to love my neighbor, but does that mean anything more than that I love mashed potatoes? How does my neighbor—or my enemy—know that I love them? How does my neighbor know that I love God? Just as the letter of James says: ‘faith without works is dead.’ Or, to put it in terms most of us know: talk is cheap. Christian faith is not cheap, nor is it just talk. It’s a way of life, a practice. And this way of life changes us, and changes the world. Or at least, it should. But there are a billion Christians in the world, and still the Black Eyed Peas can ask “Where is the Love?” and we just don’t have an answer. Love has been so watered down into a song or a tv show or a feeling easily transferable between people and possessions or a nice thing that doesn’t have much to do with God. But the love of God is not nice—just as Aslan is not a tame lion, the love of God is not tame, not for our own use, and not to make us feel good. Love calls us to action—it’s a verb.

So if love, as Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Jesus and Paul call us to, is more than a feeling and more than words, then how do we do it? How do we learn love? What does it mean in a world where we apply it to backpacks and shoes and food and people and God all in the same breath? We know that God is love, we know that we love because God first loved us, we know that we are called to love God and God’s creation—including people we know, people we don’t know, and even our enemies. But that’s all so much easier said than done.

Saint Francis de Sales, who lived in the 17th century, might be able to help us out with this. He says, “the only way of attaining that love is by loving. You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; and just so you learn to love God and people by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves. If you want to love God, go on loving God more and more. Begin as a mere apprentice, and the very power of love will lead you on to become a master in the art. Those who have made most progress will continually press on, never believing themselves to have reached their end; for charity should go on increasing until we draw our last breath.”

We learn to talk by making sounds…we learn to read by reading everything our eyes land on…we learn to ride a bike by riding up and down the street, picking ourselves up when we fall and getting back on…in other words, by being disciplined in our practice. By doing it over and over until we have mastered the skill. Could love be the same—we learn to love by being disciplined in our practice, taking every opportunity to practice loving God and loving others, picking ourselves up when we fall down, and trying again? Eventually the training will change us—just as you never forget how to ride a bike, you can never forget how to love. So let’s get out there and practice together, because everything depends on this.

May it be so.

Friday, October 21, 2011

oh yeah, it's my birthday....

I heart birthdays. Especially mine, but I like other people's too.

Today is my birthday. I'm 31. The sun has come out, the rain has gone, it's a balmy 57 degrees (brrrrr), and the leaves on the tree outside my window are bright red. The kitties are completely indifferent to my desire for them to sit on my feet and let me pet them. For some reason the dishes have not washed themselves, but I live in a house with dishes and food to cook in said dishes, so that's okay.

It's going to be a good birthday, I can tell.

Maybe later (or tomorrow, when I'm procrastinating on a sermon) I'll post today's RGBP Friday Five, which is also birthday-prompted, about 5 stages in my life. But for now, I gotta get moving because I have a big day planned! :-)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Friday Five on Saturday...home sweet home

I was away from home all day Friday, but I love these questions from Songbird over at RGBP, so I'm excited to play anyway!

1) Where was your first home?
I recently discovered that there was an apartment that I think was my first home, but I don't remember it. The first home I remember was a mobile home in Hubbard, OR. There was a very old man who was our neighbor. I lived in this home in this location until I was 8, and then in this home in another location (my grandparents' 40 acres outside Lebanon, OR) for another few years. While I remember the actual house well, and I remember a few things that happened there, I remember a grand total of nothing about that town, except that my school bus crossed railroad tracks.

2) Do you ever dream about places you used to live?
Sometimes I dream about my grandparents' house. Occasionally I have dreams about the house where my dad and brother still live. But mostly my dreams involve other buildings (church, former church, etc) or places I've never seen in real life, or intense distortions of places I have been (ie 3rd floor apartments, but you have to crawl through body-sized holes to get to the stairs, etc).

3) If you could bring back one person from your past to sit at your dinner table, who would you choose?
Hands down, my mom.

4) What's your favorite room in your current living space?
hmm...that's a hard call. I love the light in the living room in the mornings. I love my bed and the color of the walls and the artwork in my bedroom. I love the kitchen--not because it's a good kitchen, but because it's where the food is and the cooking happens!

5) Is there an object or an item where you live now that represents home? If not, can you think of one from your childhood?
I don't know...books, maybe? I'm always intrigued when there are no books in someone's home. Books make a place feel homey to me. The more books, the better! Also, cats. Where my cats are is home, I suppose.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I went to the farmer's market this morning, and even though I got home late tonight I decided I needed a little vegetable fix. I cooked up some kale, onions, and carrots and added them to leftover mostaccioli...even though it had a tomato sauce already, I added some multi-colored cherry tomatoes. Delicious!

In the process, I discovered the most delicious carrot I have ever eaten. Ever, in my whole life.

Family members and close friends will recall that I think carrots are disgusting. In fact, I think this about the vast majority of orange foods in the world (butternut squash being the exception).
However, I know carrots are good for you, so I decided to try to eat them. I've been trying to eat baby carrots with hummus, disguised them with ranch, and hidden them in salads. Hiding them in pasta is one of my favorite tricks. But today I tried a new kind of carrot, an heirloom variety called Atomic Red Carrots.

As soon as I heard the name from Troy, one of my favorite farmers at the market, I knew I had to have them.

The fact that they aren't orange on the outside helped too.

So I got the carrots home, sliced them up, and ate one before the rest went into the saute pan.

I have never said these words before, but it was kind of a spicy carrot! Not exactly what I was expecting, and not great but not terrible.
And then magic happened. When I sauteed them, they turned CRAZY red. And when I ate them, they were so sweet and delicious I thought I'd spilled honey (also from the market) into the pan. Seriously, the carrot tasted like beauty. I don't even think I can describe it.

I am a convert to the Atomic Red Carrot. I may never eat boring grocery store carrots again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Growing Up--a sermon for Ordinary 26A

The Rev. Teri Peterson
Growing Up
Exodus 17.1-7
25 September 2011, Ordinary 26A

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

I love to read. I read constantly—almost everything I can get my hands on. Novels, theology, blogs, news articles, church magazines, the Bible…I love stories. When my eyes or brain are too tired for reading, I listen to podcasts or radio dramas, I watch old movies or tv shows. In part this is because I like the escape—because I can find myself in the story somewhere. Sometimes I might identify with a particular character, or a situation, or sometimes even some part of the scenery. Sometimes I’m in the story because I’m so outraged at whatever is happening, or so sympathetic. Whatever the case, almost every time I can place myself in the story.
So I wonder today if we might try this out. I’m going to read this story again. I invite you to close your eyes and picture the scene, and see if you find yourself in the story.

(read scripture again)

Where were you in the story?

Some of us identify with the congregation of the Israelites—the people who want what we want, and we want it now. I have certainly fallen into this category often enough in my lifetime that I have actually had friends and family members just hold up cheese, in case I want it to go with my whine. We all whine from time to time. We all have needs that ought to be met—water, food, shelter, love, justice, healthcare. The Israelites were no different. Except that one chapter ago, when they were hungry, God fed them with bread and meat…and continued to do so every day, like clockwork, for the next 40 years. And except that two chapters ago, they were walking across the dry floor of the sea, then watching their persecutors drown as they tried to chase the fleeing Israelites. So maybe they were different—they had seen some amazing things, they were being directly provided for by God, and they were now following God toward the promise. What the promise was exactly, they probably weren’t sure. And who this God character is may still be a little unclear. After all, there wasn’t exactly time in the slave lifestyle to maintain a religion. Moses himself, while talking to the burning bush, had been concerned that no one would listen because they don’t know this God character—only when God gives a name, “I am who I am, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” does Moses even begin to think about agreeing to this crazy plan God has cooked up.
So the congregation of the Israelites can perhaps be forgiven for having their moments of toddler-style temper tantrums. They are people who have just been reintroduced to the God of their ancestors, people who are just beginning a journey with this God. In terms of their faith journey, their experience as God’s chosen people, their ability to trust God’s promise to provide for them, they are children who don’t understand why their every need is not immediately met, who will turn on the leader with the slightest provocation, who will have separation anxiety when Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God, and will demand to get their way but will never say thank you without being reminded.
Okay, so it’s not flattering to imagine ourselves in this role in the story. But sometimes it might be accurate. After all, we are a people whose culture is built on instant gratification. I’m the first to complain that we can’t seem to get the wireless internet signal to reach to the fellowship hall…because it would be so convenient if we could stream movies for youth group rather than having to plan ahead to get the DVD. And I know I’m not alone in my desire for convenience and quick service on my terms. There’s uproar every time facebook changes something. There’s some intense anger about the way Netflix will now have two separate websites—one for DVDs and one for streaming movies and tv shows—which means, gasp! we have to create two separate lists and go to two different sites to get what we want. There was an article yesterday about how Amazon warehouse employees are treated, constantly being required to increase their rate of work until they’re locating and packing up to four items a minute in the huge maze of a warehouse, all so we can get our items cheaply and immediately. We live in a 24 hour news cycle, a 24 hour advertising cycle, and a 24 hour buying cycle. There is no need to wait for anything—whatever we want, there’s a way we can get it right now. And if we don’t…
we complain.
The Israelites needed food and water. They were traveling with a God who had proved to be greater than their imaginations, but they still tested this God, requiring God to earn their trust. It takes time to change from persecuted slaves to the beloved community of God. It takes time to unlearn things, to undo the psychological and spiritual and physical damage, to learn new ways of being and doing. It takes time to grow up.

In the meantime, they blame Moses. If there’s no water, no food, no healthcare, no justice, no safety, it must be the leader’s fault. Why did he do this to us? Is he trying to kill us? Is this a plot to ruin the country, to put an end to our way of life, to get glory for himself at our expense?

But Moses doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he shows us that he’s been hanging out with this God for a while now. He’s had some time to get used to the idea of following God into apparently hopeless situations, and he knows that this complaining and whining and arguing and testing isn’t about him. He tries to turn the people’s attention to God, but that doesn’t work any more than it does with children. So he talks to God—he doesn’t respond to the sarcasm, the anger, the accusing words, he simply talks to God. Moses knows that he can’t create water…and he knows there is One who can. Moses knows that instant gratification isn’t the name of the game with this God—10 plagues, multiple stuttering audiences with the Pharaoh, a seemingly impenetrable ocean, and a vast expanse of desert are ample illustration that God is not interested in granting our most immediate desires at the expense of our deeper needs. But Moses also knows that without God, he can’t do anything except get himself killed by an angry mob.

But with God, all things are possible. Moses takes the leaders of the tribes, the elders of the congregation, and goes ahead, showing the way. Moses was a shepherd—he knew that sheep follow, they can’t be led from behind. This group of leaders goes ahead into the desert, and there they encounter the presence of God. There they experience God in a way they couldn’t imagine back in the camp. They know that God is with them—the question of the Lord’s presence among them is no longer a question. It’s a reality. With that knowledge, they can lead the people into the sure and certain hope that water, living water, is provided out of God’s gracious bounty. There is enough. In the presence of God, they grow up. Their faith journey is no longer just beginning—now they, with Moses, are leaders who know the way.

Moses isn’t a beginner at following God. His faith has matured as he’s spent time with God, known God’s presence, heard God’s voice, and seen God’s faithfulness. When the people complain, he knows that while the surface issue may even be as important as whether there is water to drink, it’s still just a surface issue—the real issue is the question of whether God is among us or not.

This is still the same question. There are lots of presenting problems in the life of a community—whether it’s our church, our nation, or our world. There are lots of important issues. There’s a lot of temptation to blame leaders, or to argue, or even for leaders to believe that it really is about them. But those are all toddler responses. It’s time for some growing up as we walk this faith journey. Yes, we are children of God, but that doesn’t mean we need to act like children. Paul writes about people young in faith and how he fed them with the spiritual equivalent of milk, but at some point it’s time to move on to solid food. Here’s our chance—to follow the example of Moses as we grow in grace. By creating that community of leaders, Moses found a way to spread the good news of God’s presence and God’s faithfulness, the life giving water of grace. It’s not just his word anymore—it’s the word of people whose faces are shining with the love and promise of God. The challenge for us now is whether we will join them.

May it be so.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I keep trying...

...and failing to write a blog post. I've started several and deleted them, or they're just languishing in my drafts. Sorry for the blog silence. It's not even for any particular reason, other than that I suppose I don't have much to say.

However, I did get a book contract from Chalice Press to write a book with my best friend Amy, so we are now feverishly writing a book! Sometimes drafts or sections of chapters may make appearances here for feedback, so watch for that.

The working title of the book is And Then We Just Got Really Busy: spirituality for a new generation. Send us good writing vibes!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dear Politicians...

...contrary to your apparent belief, you work for the country. Not just for those of us who live here now, not just those of us who voted for you, but for the country. And, because we live in a global society, working for our country also means thinking about the impact your decisions have on people around the world. This is not about you, this is about all of us together. That means that your job is to do things that will be in the best interest of the whole country in the long term. Not what will be best for you today, or your constituents today, or for your next election campaign.

So, if you wouldn't mind, put aside all your own crap, your ego, your ambition, and your pointless political posturing, and do your job. For all of us, and for our future.

In case you're too busy being interested only in your own gain and the "win" for your own ideological idiocy, I'll boil it down to one sentence. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU, SO STOP BEING DUMBASSES AND START GETTING SOME WORK DONE.

And for those of you who are claiming to be Christians...well, I have a lot of other words for you, but they all start with things you can find for yourself in the gospel according to Luke, or in the prophets (those are in the middle of that dusty book high up on your top book shelf...Amos is a good place to start, and is nice and short too).

You're welcome.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

making my brain tired

I think I've exhausted my brain with all the reading I've been doing. This is what happens when all your holds at the library come in at the same time.
I've obviously been in need of nourishing my imagination and having plenty of time just to sit around with piles of books. I don't get to do this very often, and when I do, I'm apparently a glutton for it. Surprise surprise. I'm a glutton for lots of things. books, ice cream, kitty snuggles...and we all know that when I get obsessed with something, I just go until the end. It's why I can watch whole seasons of tv shows (well, ok, *good* tv shows) in a weekend, or spend a day doing nothing but watching the Lord of the Rings, or playing facebook games until I'm perfect at them, or working until a whole program or idea is completely finished and ready for a whole year. I have a serious need to learn moderation.

I began the glut of library books with Mistress of the Art of Death (a book I received free from the library summer reading program!), and then its sequel The Serpent's Tale (which I started reading first, but a few pages in realized that it must be a second book--I was so glad to find I already owned the first book, thanks to my Reader's Quest prizes!). I kind of love this series and can't wait to see how the strong independent woman main character (a doctor from Salerno who lives in Tudor England) develops. She solves mysteries, refuses to be boxed in by cultural taboos, and is in general just super interesting. I like her a lot. I think there's a third book out, or will be soon...or at least I hope so!

I read two historical novels about the same time period and the same family (basically) by two different authors, which was a really interesting experience. Leonardo's Swans and The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi are both about life in Renaissance Italy, a period and location I haven't read many novels about. Big names (Lorenzo di Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, etc) are littered throughout the stories. Small names too, like Jewish families and illegitimate children and servants and priests and such. Both were engaging stories, and each portrayed their main characters (the d'Este princesses) in really different ways. In one, Isabella d'Este (who married into the house of Gonzaga) was a rabid collector of beautiful things, a woman who would do almost anything to get herself painted by Il Magistro (Leonardo). In the other, she was a cruel woman who would stop at nothing to have the power she wanted, including crushing the spirits of people around her. However, in both books she seems to be a hospitable woman, helping her friends in times of need. Interesting.

Murder of a Medici Princess, which I hoped would be in the same vein, was a disappointment--it looks like a novel, but it's actually a history. With that cover art and that kind of title, it seemed like it would be an awesome intrigue with mystery and romance and art, but..... :-( I skimmed, but it was not engaging and read like a textbook on an important family rather than a story. Which, I suppose, is what it is. But again, the cover and the title seem so misleading!

The Song of Hannah is a lovely little book about Hannah, Peninah. and Elkanah (and Samuel, of course). The cover says it's in the tradition of The Red Tent, and I suppose it kind of is. I liked this book a lot. I wouldn't call it the best written novel ever, but I still really enjoyed the way the author imagined the story of two childhood friends who become two wives of the same man. They're both literate girls, teaching local kids reading/writing/Torah. They both know about love and pain. They are such interesting characters, and their children become interesting characters, and the way their stories intersect with the story of's all very interesting. This is one flight of imagination I wish more people would take.

I just finished The Parrot's Theorem, which was such a different kind of book I thought my head might explode. It's about math, kind of. Well, mostly. It's a LOT of math. And I do mean A LOT. Equations, history, theorems, and whatnot. But there's a story in there too, a mystery and a found-family and a trip to Paris for my imagination. So that was awesome. I did guess the answer to the mystery about halfway through, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the second half of the book. I confess that I still don't remember/understand any more high-level math than I did when I started the book, but I know more of the history of math than I ever thought about before. It's always so bizarre to think about math-related things being "discovered." I mean, wasn't there always a number 1? well, no. Weren't there always equations that could be solved by balancing? Well, no...the whole business of learning the story behind math was interesting. I enjoyed this book a great deal, even if a lot of the actual mathematical stuff was well beyond me.

In between all that reading, I've also watched a few movies that we've been considering incorporating into the confirmation class curriculum. Let me just say: Karate Kid is so much more 80s than I remember it (which is not surprising, since, well, the last time I saw it was probably the early 90's), Legend of the Guardians was wonderful, and I think How To Train Your Dragon may be one of the cutest movies (and with the best message) ever.

And now, though I have three more books from the library here and another waiting to be picked up (and let's not even talk about the new books I got with the $100 worth of gift cards I still had hanging around when Borders announced they were closing!), I'm going to have to take a little break. I need some time to process, or to just go without any more intellectual stimulus. I can't decide whether to do that via mindless tv or just sitting around, or getting a coloring book and just playing with crayons, or playing the clarinet (a thing I'm doing sometimes now, though not very often), or what. I'm sure I'll be back to let the three of you who still read my blog know what I decided. ;-)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"what she thought was right"

The other night I watched the movie How To Train Your Dragon (which, by the way, was an awesome movie). The main premise underlying life in this little Viking village is that dragons are evil and need to be killed. No one questions this premise, they just kill dragons. They fight them when they appear in the village, they hunt them, they search for their nest so they can kill them. Of course, the premise turns out to be wrong....and how many innocent and loving creatures and people suffered because no one thought to ask a question?

A few weeks ago I re-watched a two-part Doctor Who episode in which we discover that there is a whole race of "homo reptilius" living many miles below the surface of the earth. They look pretty much like people except for having a sort of reptilian face and green skin. They have a culture, a civilization, science, art, government...but because they are different, a human woman kills one of them, derailing peace talks and the possibility of cross-cultural cooperation for generations. The woman was desperate, her son having disappeared into the under-earth, but she had been given specific instructions to keep the reptile woman safe. Instead she killed her, and the excuse was "she just did what she thought was right." but what she thought was right was wrong...I hear this phrase all the time-- "they just did what they thought was right." Usually it's an excuse made when something goes badly...its sister phrase is "that's just how s/he is..."

Well, too bad.
I'm officially putting this phrases on notice, because, honestly, it's ridiculous.

At what point do we not say "oh, you did your best" and instead say "but your understanding of right and wrong was WRONG."???

There is a reason Presbyterians believe in discernment through community. We don't interpret the biblical text in isolation, we don't follow our calling without checking it with others, we don't discern direction only within ourselves. Together we learn, we pray, we listen...and all of that time together searching for the Right Thing leads us to do the right thing when the moment comes. (at least, that's the hope.) We don't rely only on our own "what I thought." Because, as we have seen time and again, that so often leads us wrong.
The difficulty comes, of course, when the whole community (or lots of it) is wrong. We've seen this with slavery, racial injustice, gender inequality, LGBT discrimination...too often we have allowed "what I thought was right" to overwhelm the Spirit moving among us. Eventually, the arc of the universe bends toward justice (at least I hope...I believe, help my unbelief!). But as long as we keep doing only "what I thought was right" instead of what God calls us to do, our communities will continue to hurt people and the earth, to damage possibilities for new life, and to obstruct the Spirit--which is the last thing we could ever call "right."

and don't even get me started on how this plays out in our political discourse and process...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

a sermon for Ordinary 16A: What's a weed?

Rev. Teri Peterson
What’s a weed?
Matthew 13.24-30
17 July 2011, Ordinary 16A

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’

A few days ago, Harry Potter took to the big screen again, searching for (and finding) ways to root out evil in the world. As many of you know, when the wizards in the story enter their school, Hogwarts, they are first placed into a house. One by one each first year student sits on a stool in front of the entire student boy, and the Sorting Hat looks into them and declares to which group they belong—the group known for courage? For intelligence? For cunning? For compassion? Each new house member is greeted with cheers and applause. Everyone knows where they stand, where they belong—and where everyone else belongs.

It’s quite the temptation—to put people in categories, to declare who is good and who is bad, or at least more likely to be bad. It makes the world easier to understand, if everyone just fits into a nice little box—good, nice, disadvantaged, at-risk, poor, rich, liberal, conservative, wrong, right, American, foreign…we each act as a Sorting Hat all the time, putting people where we think they belong.

The trouble is—how do you tell? We don’t have all the information the Sorting Hat has—it can look into people, but we can only look at them. What happens when the boxes break down, or when something is not what it seems, or when something changes?

This week when I was reading about this story Jesus tells, I learned that the weed in question—it’s a specific weed, named in the Greek text—is darnel, or false wheat. It looks just like wheat until the ears mature…almost until harvest time, you cannot tell the two apart. Only when the grain matures can you see that the real wheat is heavy and bends over, while false wheat stands up straight and has a slightly darker color. In the meantime, while you’ve been watching the wheat grow, the false wheat has wrapped its roots around the roots of the real wheat, so pulling up one would pull up the other, or at least damage it. To add insult to injury, the fruit of false wheat is poisonous, and even a little mixed in can make a whole batch of flour toxic.

Nothing like upping the odds on a story, Jesus. Not only are there weeds, but they’re poisonous weeds…and not only are they poisonous, but you can’t tell what’s a weed and what’s legitimate crop until it’s almost too late. Fantastic. Makes you wish for a sorting hat for plants!

Even with all this complexity, the servants still want to go in and weed—to get rid of the stuff that’s not good enough, to pull out the bad even at the risk of damaging some of the good—wouldn’t it be better to get rid of a little good in order to save it all from being poisoned? But the master gardener instead says words every teenager longs to hear from their parents: just leave the weeds there. It always seems to me like the vast majority of time people spend gardening is actually spent weeding. But again, this particular weed would pull the wheat out too—which is often what happens, right? We work so hard at rooting out the undesirable elements that we damage the good things too. More than one family, more than one community, even more than one person has been ripped apart by weeding.

It makes you wonder why we are often still so intent on removing the people we consider to be weeds from our communities. It’s always someone, right—people lowering our property values, affecting our schools’ test scores, bringing crime with them, being a drain on the system, believing the wrong thing, liking the wrong kind of music, standing on the wrong side of important issues. Don’t we have to weed out the bad seeds, so they don’t affect the good seeds? But how do you know for certain what’s a weed? I’m reminded of the fact that the neighbors of people who commit crimes almost always say “I’m so surprised—he was such a nice guy” or some such thing. Or, conversely, as in the story of Harry Potter, there is surprise when someone we were so certain was a weed, so certain was evil, so certain was on the other side, working against all that is good…turns out to be on the good side after all, turns out to be some of the best wheat in the harvest.

Interestingly, this exact problem is one of the reasons Calvin wrote about the doctrine of predestination. He says that we do not get to choose—God’s grace is given to us as a gift, period. We can’t earn it, we can’t change it. That’s the good news part. The bad news part of predestination as Calvin wrote about it is that some people are weeds, and some people are wheat. But then the good news part again: it is not for us to decide who is wheat and who is weed, nor for us to worry about whether we are wheat or weed. The master gardener tells his servants to leave both and let God sort it out—which is what the idea of predestination does tells us too. We don’t get to judge others as weeds, nor ourselves as weeds—we grow together, we live under God’s grace together, we are intertwined, a community together. The question is not who is toxic and who is worthy of the soil. The question is not where we belong or what box we can put other people in. The question is: how can we live together to produce the best harvest?

Please understand—I am not advocating for allowing people to do bad things without consequences, or for perpetuating injustice because we’re just not sure. There is a place for discernment and for faithful kingdom work, but there is not a place for judging the worth of other beings with whom we share the field. So I am advocating—I think with Jesus—for reserving our judgment on what people are and where they belong. As Solzhenitsyn famously said, the line between good and evil does not run between us, but through every human heart. We all have the capabilities for wheat and weeds—and the only one who can change that is God.

In fact, change, transformation, is at the heart of the gospel story, isn’t it? Sure, in our world weeds do not become wheat (though apparently people eat dandelion greens, so weeds can become food, I suppose!). But interestingly, the same Greek word Jesus uses to describe the fruit of the false wheat is the one he uses when he calls Peter a stumbling block…and Peter turns from that toxic fruit into the rock on which the church is built, a guy who sometimes got it wrong, sometimes chose violence, sometimes helped keep people out…transformed into one who opened the doors of God’s grace wide, who taught and healed and brought hope, who helped spread good news even to those he once considered poison. And scripture is full of God surprising us—the last will be first, murderers become leaders, barren women become mothers of nations, blessed are the poor and meek and grieving, let the little children come. So…can God change false wheat into real wheat? I don’t know, but I have a suspicion the answer is yes. After all, if anyone—ANY ONE—is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything is made new. Maybe even the weeds, in the world and in our own hearts.

May it be so.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today I am kicking myself for choosing this week's gospel passage from the lectionary, rather than something else. I'm sure that when I read the other choices, they were all somehow more awful to contemplate, but really? Weeds and Wheat? ugh.

So far I have learned that the weeds in this passage (formerly translated "tares") are a specific kind of weed that looks just like wheat until almost harvest time, when the ears form.

And I have learned that doing parables for three weeks in a row is silly.

And I have learned that a lot of times, Jesus' witty stories don't make any sense.

When I was an intern at Church of the New Covenant, I preached once a month. I set myself a challenge at the beginning of the year: to preach at least one sermon on every major genre of biblical literature--"history", poetry, prophets, wisdom literature, parable, epistle, etc. When it came down to the day I had to choose the Revelation text in order to fulfill my personal challenge, I nearly decided to drop it because I felt like I'd been overly ambitious and I didn't *really* need to do that anyway....but I did it anyway. That sermon was terrible, but I did the work and I preached it anyway, even though at the time I thought it was crazy hard.

That's how I'm feeling about the parable this week. I mean, really...weeds and wheat? Really? I didn't set myself a challenge or anything, I just made what seemed at the time like perfectly reasonable worship planning choices...and I ended up with something crazy hard. Here's hoping the Spirit comes up with something to say before Sunday morning.

Reading up (through?) a Storm

So, the fact that I currently have about 20 books on hold at the library, 5 of which are available the next time I go (I tried to go tonight power at the library) and 1 of which is currently in my possession but is a sequel to another book I own but haven't read yet, combined with the fact that I had an actual day off this weekend combined with the fact that the crazy crazy storm of craziness, with its 75mph winds, knocked out power to basically everywhere except Panera, means I've been reading a lot.

The storm damage around town is insane. Trees are down everywhere (including in my backyard). The wind was ridiculous--it looked like a hurricane, with full trash cans (full!) being hurtled through the air, tree branch flying, recycling fluttering about...basically anything that wasn't in a garage was airborne. My power was out only 26.5 hours. There are some people still out, 36 hours later, though most people have had theirs restored by now. The ComEd people have been working like crazy, and utility workers from other states have come to help out--nearly 900,000 people were without power at the height of the outage. Driving around, you can see why. Trees have been toppled from the roots, power line poles are down, trees are on power lines, lines are just broken and hanging

So...reading. In the past few weeks, I've read...

The Meaning of Night (A Confession)--a book I didn't want to put down because I kept being surprised by plot twists and character revelations, though the writing style was sometimes tedious.

The Lace Reader--a book recommendation I saw on someone else's facebook page. It was pretty good. Outside my normal genre. The ending was a total surprise to me! I especially enjoyed the "quotes" at the top of each chapter, and how grief played out in the main character's life. And there was a pretty funny (and scarily accurate) quote about how Presbyterians have been trying to live down the PR disaster that is the label "Calvinism" for...ever.

Searching for God Knows What--I was sad that this was not as good as Blue Like Jazz. I really enjoyed BLJ and this was...not it. disappointing, overall, actually. A few worthwhile tidbits, but not enough for me to keep thinking or writing about it. I almost put the book down halfway through, but powered on...I wouldn't say that was a *bad* decision exactly, just that I wish I could have read the second half even faster than I did, because I have a lot of books to read right now and this one didn't top the list of things to spend time on.

Oh God Oh God Oh God!--a re-read for my awesome new book group. This time around I noticed that there aren't any single-young-women essays in this book, which made it feel odd. We had a really great discussion in book group, which cannot be summed up on the blog, so...y'all need to get your own awesome book groups and talk about these things too.

What's the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?--we are doing an online book group for church, and this is our first book. We're still in the first half (things we do not have to believe) and I find most of the things fairly obvious. I don't know if other people do, though--it's possible that some of these things are revelations for some. The second half of the book is things we apparently do need to believe. I can already tell from skimming the second half that I'm going to have some things to say about that half.

The New Interpreter's Bible--Luke volume. We're re-envisioning the confirmation class experience, and this year we'll be focusing on the gospel according to Luke. So, naturally, being a crazy overachiever, I decided that instead of *just* reading the gospel and the footnotes in the NIB Study Bible, I should read the commentary and reflection in the whole volume. um, this has turned out to be an unreasonable expectation of myself, and I had to abandon it only a couple chapters in. Now I'm only reading the reflections on each chapter, and will return to the commentary as we prepare for each individual lesson throughout the year.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday Five: summer livin'

Over at RGBP, Dorcas asks: So, what's up, Rev Gals and Pals? How are you spending your summer? (I know, some of you are in a different hemisphere and it may be chilly...sorry!) Are you experiencing fire or floods or tornados? Vacationing? Working harder than ever? Experiencing change? Longing for change?

Share five things that are happening in your life, personally or professionally or some of each, in this season of life.

Well, let's see...

I got a kale plant of my very own, in a pot, to grow on my deck. However, my deck was slated to be powerwashed and stained this week, so I had to keep the kale at church. I'm mildly concerned that it might die because there hasn't been anyone at church all week to water it. oh please don't let my kale be dead, please please please...

My deck was in fact powerwashed (at 7am Wednesday) and stained (at 7am Thursday) and now that I've opened the windows again my house smells like deck stain. ick.

I currently have 16 books on hold at the library. 3 have become available today...I'm hoping I have time to read them before the other 13 inevitably become available all at the same time!

We are currently experiencing perfect summer weather--blue skies, green trees, light breeze, 85 degrees, low humidity, great sun. I love it. I'm so hopeful that it will continue like this so I can enjoy the outdoors (well, on my level, which might involve walking instead of driving to the library, or reading outside instead of inside--not camping or anything like that, LOL!).

I've been working with a friend and fellow confirmation teacher on writing our own curriculum for the coming year(s). We are excited about how it's shaping up, though now we're to the hard part of actually putting real-live-lessons together, not just brainstorming the stuff we want to cover and imagining the vague format. Even so, we're loving it.

What are you up to this summer?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

new york and vermont

I've been traveling a lot this year. At least 5 or 6 days out of every month, I've been off someplace. in January it was Montreat for the Blaze. February and March, S3 at Columbia Seminary and the RevGal Big Event in the Caribbean. April, California to visit family. May, New York. June, Vermont. This month is my first month with no traveling since...November. And it will be my last month with no traveling until...March. So I need to get better about reporting my trips and getting pictures out into the blogosphere!

May was an awesome trip to New York to spend some time with my S3 group. We started out at the Unconference (at Stony Point Conference Center), which was a fantastic event. It takes all the best part of conferences (the late-night conversations in the lobby) and turns them into a whole conference. When that ended, we headed back to NYC to take in the sights (yes, that's the back of the statue of liberty--there were too many people near the window for me to get a picture of the front, and we were on our way to Ellis Island, not stopping here...) and to see a Broadway show (that's right, we saw the Book of Mormon--and it was FANTASTIC--it really is God's favorite musical, I swear. And mine.)--we did lots of fun things, enjoyed some sabbath, and talked about our project. It was a great week. I was sad to come home (and I had to come home earlier than the rest of the group, due to some work commitments).

Then in June I hopped off to Vermont for a few days with my fantastic friend Elsa. We got some amazing deals thanks to Travelzoo, so we wandered about in Vermont, visiting wineries and cheeseries and oohing and aahing over covered bridges, quaint little towns, babbling mountain brooks, and such. We also spent a day at the spa in our inn, which was pretty much the best day ever. And we ate a lot. And laughed and talked, and just generally had a good time. I like Vermont.

On our way from Boston to Burlington, we randomly found ourselves here: listening to the Book of Mormon soundtrack and singing along loudly to "All American Prophet" as we looked at the "polished granite shaft" memorializing this man who started the all-american religion. It was quite the find. We spent several hilarious minutes there. Unfortunately, there were no signs explaining the thing about the planets.
In Burlington we stayed in a B&B, we walked along the water and admired the mountains, we contemplated renting bikes (but decided against it in favor of winery tours), we visited a very random and very strange museum that's spread over a big farm and 39 buildings and has things you just do NOT expect to find in a replica of a victorian building next door to one of only 12 remaining round barns in Vermont. (a collection of impressionist art! seriously!) We ate cheese--the best smoked cheddar we've ever had (seriously, best ever). We tasted some of the worst wine I've ever had--I was literally dancing around the tasting room attempting to wipe the taste off my tongue. Then, on our way out of town, some much much better wine (I just got a notice that the bottles I bought have shipped, actually, and will be here next week!) and some incredible cheese (I'm a sucker for the triple cream, and for the super nice people who run this creamery!). We drove around via wine and cheese and covered bridge for a day and ended up in Woodstock, which is called The Prettiest Small Town In America for a reason--because it is.

While in Woodstock we hiked, we wandered, we spent time at the spa, and of course we tasted wine and cheese. We visited the Sugarbush Farm, where we tried much delicious cheese (sage cheddar! 8 year old cheddar! omg.) and maple syrup (both of which came home with me...mmm...cheese), and I also got to pet a baby cow called Oscar. I don't have this photo (Elsa?), but Oscar loved me. He kept licking my arm. He's a baby Angus whose mother rejected him, making his life doubly sad because he's parentless and because one day he'll be hamburger. But for now he was adorable. However, he also led to me doing some serious hand/arm washing, followed by arm sanitizing (haven't done that before, LOL!).

At the end of our trip we visited Simon Pearce, where we got to see a hydroelectric dam in action, watch pottery being made, and watch glass being blown! Apparently this is the only place still selling a full range of hand-blown glass materials. We started out by drooling over everything in the store, and contemplating setting up a registry even though neither of us is getting married. After watching the glass blowers for a while, we ate lunch in the restaurant and enjoyed some of the best food ever, while eating and drinking from the very products we had just seen being made. it was cool.

I didn't really want to come home from here either. Though I probably would go insane if I lived in a town like this, I love love loved vacationing here! I would definitely go back.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

summer love

I love the summer reading program at the Crystal Lake Library. First of all, it's open to grown ups. Second, the theme is always amusing. Third, you get awesome prizes just for reading.

So far this summer I have turned in two logs (15 hours each) and have scored:
a canvas tote bag
a free book
a free hot fudge sundae
a coupon for Yumz (the new frozen yogurt bar)
a free donut

When you finish a log you get to spin a giant wheel and see what your prize cool. I love spinning that wheel. I especially love that I get to spin it for doing something I would do anyway! Though I confess that I am more motivated to turn off facebook and open a book when I contemplate the prizes available.... :-)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Good Life--a sermon for Ordinary 14A

Rev. Teri Peterson
The Good Life
Matthew 11.25-30
3 July 2011, Ordinary 14A

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Well friends, we’ve made it—into the long green stretch of the church calendar. This time of year in the church is called Ordinary Time—which does not mean Boring Time! Here Ordinary means that this is not a season focused on a specific aspect of Jesus’ life—as Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter focus on the mystery of incarnation and salvation. Instead, the readings during Ordinary Time seek to show us what it means to be a Christian in the everyday, in the ordinary. In the northern hemisphere this is also the season of growing—and here in the church community we too focus on growing. Our paraments are green to represent life and creation growing and bearing fruit, and we look to our lives as Christians to see if they too are growing and bearing fruit.

There are an awful lot of agricultural metaphors going on here—greening, growing, bearing, yoking…next week there will be seeds and dirt, the following week there will be weeds as well as crops…which makes it hard, I think, to contemplate these scripture passages in our not-very-agricultural lives. Sure, some of us garden, but even so the vast majority of us have little experience of an agricultural mindset or of the practices that would have been obvious to a farmer in a traditional society like Jesus’. When Jesus talks in agricultural language, he’s speaking the language of the people. When we read his words, we have to work at what that might mean. A good example is right there on the cover of your bulletin—Kim and I had a discussion this week about whether most people would know what this is a picture of. A I thought it was obvious, but she thought it was confusing and looked vaguely like something else unless we added the scripture quote underneath. It’s a yoke, of course—a piece of equipment used to hitch two animals together and to a piece of equipment, such as a plow. But few people in our context see things like these outside of museums anymore—so much of our farming is done with machinery, and so few people are working the land, that a yoke is an antique, not an everyday, ordinary item.

For Jesus and the people in his community, the yoke had a double meaning. The most obvious is the one used for oxen or donkeys to do the farm work, but there are also words like those in Isaiah 58: “Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke?” A yoke is a system, often a system of bondage—whether that system is economic, political, or intellectual. Sometimes people are put under the yoke by an oppressive power, as the Israelites had been by the Babylonians, or as they were under the Romans. Sometimes the yoke is a choice—by choosing to follow a particular teacher, one took his yoke upon oneself. The yoke was the system of teachings, the philosophy, of the teacher. And sometimes a system that was supposed to be life-giving—like the Torah—is turned into an oppression, as we see with the wise and intelligent—the Pharisees and the scribes—who have made the good law of God into a religious and political system that oppresses people and needs to be broken.
So Jesus calls all of us who are caught in those systems, especially those who are weary of following all 613 laws to the letter and still wondering about the grace of God, especially those who believe God’s love has to be earned, to come to him and trade that yoke for another.

I always thought that the point of breaking the oppressive yoke was to be free. But we all know that isn’t exactly true—as a song we sang last week at 8.30 said, You Gotta Serve Somebody. The question is: will we be yoked to the letter of the law, yoked to the economic and political system, yoked to our possessions, yoked to our social status, yoked to our desires, yoked to our limited understanding of God, yoked to what we think the good life looks like….or will we come and slip into one side of a yoke where Jesus is on the other side, and partner with him in the work God has in mind for the world?

When a farmer has a new animal to train, he yokes that new animal together with an experienced one. That way the new animal learns the way while the experienced one carries most of the burden. Eventually the new animal becomes so experienced that he follows the way willingly, and finds the work easy, the burden light. His life is changed to follow a new direction.

Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us? Are we willing to take on his teachings, put them around our necks, and walk with him until we are so trained that our lives won’t go any other way? Are we willing to submit to this burden, knowing it means we cannot continue to pull our other burdens (however much those burdens may look like blessings)?

Submission is not a word I use lightly, but I think it’s what Jesus is asking for. We are being invited to come, to submit to a life that looks different from the one many of us would prefer. In the language just recently changed in our book of order, we are being asked to “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives.” All aspects of life…when we come to take the yoke of Jesus, we tether our life to his, we commit to learning from him, and it will change us. Do we want to be changed?

I know that sometimes I want to go my own way, dance to my own drummer, wander off into another field. Sometimes those other ways look more attractive—they look so inviting with their power, prestige, fame or fortune. They look like blessings, not burdens, and we pull away, looking longingly at the other yoke. And sometimes, frankly, I don’t want to work, I just want to lay down in the field and have a snack, and stay that way, leading a life of leisure forever, doing nothing—I mean, can’t God work the plan without me?

This is the part where Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. When we are being who God created us to be, when we are doing our part in God’s great scheme, and when we are partnered with Christ in his yoke (which is not the same thing as trying to get Christ to partner with us in OUR yoke!), the burden is indeed lighter. Life doesn’t get any easier—in fact, sometimes it’s harder—and pain and sorrow don’t disappear. But we have a partner who helps us pull the plow, who teaches us the way, who reminds us who God is and who we are, and who gives freely of himself in order that we might have strength for the journey. We do not submit to the yoke and get left alone—we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, and through water and bread we are refreshed and fed so that we can do the work God has for us in the world. So come, bring your burdens to God, lay them down, and take on the yoke of Christ instead. Let your life be tethered to his, so that you may be transformed, and so work for the transformation of the world.

May it be so.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

blog sabbath, accidentally and on purpose

I apparently stopped blogging for a while there. Sorry about that. Nothing in particular happened to cause that...I guess I just didn't have anything to say (or nothing to say that wouldn't get me into trouble!).

but now I'm going on vacation for a can find me on the Vermont Cheese Trail. Back next week. ta!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Jesus' Feet--a sermon for Easter 7A

Rev. Teri Peterson
Jesus’ Feet
Acts 1.6-14
5 June 2011, Easter 7A

When they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

This is one of those stories that makes those of us who plan worship actually consider the possibility of rigging up a pulley system that would allow Sherri to fly in and out of the sanctuary. Lucky for you (and for her!), we resisted the temptation. But really—what a strange story. It’s one of those stories that demands drama in the telling, and also one that requires us to suspend our disbelief the same way we would in a play or a movie. When I was new to the whole church thing, I remember looking at this story, then looking at my pastor, and wondering what on earth kind of crazy cult of nonsense I had gotten myself into. I mean….Jesus floated away into the sky? It’s almost enough to make me wish that the rapture had been predicted for yesterday instead of two weeks ago, because I could really use that story right now—it sounds almost normal compared to this.

But there it is, right there in the Bible…the opening scene of the book of Acts, which is filled with even more bizarre stories than this one. The full name of the book is “The Acts of the Apostles”—which sort of implies that this prelude we’re hearing now does in fact lead the apostles to do things other than stand around looking at the sky. Lots of people have said the book would be better called “Acts of the Spirit” because everything that happens in the book is a manifestation of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world and the new church…and that’s fair, but since Pentecost isn’t until next week, we have to focus a little bit.

But focus on what? The artwork and iconography depicting this story almost uniformly shows either a floaty Jesus levitating with his robes wafting on the breeze or pictures the disciples staring up at a random pair of feet.
Well, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but yes, I do think we should be focusing on Jesus’ feet.

Just not in the way the artwork shows.

This story begins with the disciples asking Jesus “is this the time you’ll do what we all know a Messiah is supposed to do, bringing down Rome and reinstating the proper political and religious systems of Israel?” In other words, they look at their leader and say “are you going to do your job or what?” We’ve all done this—looked at a leader and expected them to do something for us. We’ve looked at the President and wondered why he can’t solve the country’s, or the world’s, problems by himself. We’ve looked at doctors with “can’t you just fix it” eyes. We’ve looked at our pastors or our session or our deacons and wondered why they won’t just do all the ministries of the church, why they won’t be the Christian on behalf of all of us so we could go about our lives, why they can’t seem to continually offer everything we want by themselves. We’ve even stood on the mountain with Jesus and asked him this same question—“is this the time when you’ll make everything right again?”
But Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention, and rather than giving a yes or no answer to what they expect him to do, he tells them what he expects them to do. “You will be my witnesses,” he says, “throughout this promised land, and beyond, all the way to the edges of the earth—to every place you can imagine, and some you can’t imagine.”

If that was how Jesus answered my question, I would probably stand staring up at his disappearing feet too.
Though, come to think of it, that pretty much is how Jesus has answered most of my questions. Almost every time I read scripture, and nearly every time I ask God to do something in the world or in my life, the answer I hear is more like “what are you going to do about it?” and less like “why yes, I can’t believe I overlooked this problem—thank you so much for bringing it to my attention, I’ll get right on it!” And I suppose if even Jesus wouldn’t fix the world for us, and if even Jesus won’t agree to just be the Christian for all of us, then it’s time for us to let go of that understanding of faith, the one where God just does things for us like a cosmic butler, and start thinking differently. Faith is about more than looking at the sky, whether in fear or in hope.

Then along come the inevitable angels, asking why we’re standing looking up at the sky when there are plenty of footprints to follow right here on earth. After all, hadn’t Jesus been walking around everywhere and showing us what to do? Hadn’t he washed our feet and called us his friends? Perhaps it’s time to go down from the mountain and look for Jesus’ feet somewhere else.

So we walk, slowly at first, down the mountain…heavy with the second wave of realization that Jesus is not going to make everything better according to our specifications…and then heavier with the realization that somehow he had just given us the job of making the world a better place according to HIS specifications. That wasn’t how we meant for this all to turn out. So we head home and fortify ourselves for the work ahead. It’s a long way to the ends of the earth, after all.

Once the disciples got back to the upper room, they did what any good church would do—they had a prayer meeting and a potluck. Which, honestly, is pretty darn close to following in Jesus’ footsteps! He taught us to pray, he taught us to eat together, he taught us to offer hospitality. By gathering in that upper room, the disciples were preparing themselves to look for Jesus’ feet out in the world rather than up in the sky. As they gathered at the table, they told stories—stories they would go out and tell to anyone who would listen. They prayed together—filling their souls for the journey ahead. They ate together—nourishing their bodies and practicing for the many meals they would share as a foretaste of God’s kingdom. They sang—letting their voices ring out so that others might hear the good news of God’s deeds of power. And when the Holy Spirit wind comes rushing in on Pentecost, pushing them out of the upper room and out into the world to be Christ’s witnesses, to walk in his footsteps and to be his hands and feet, all that practice will pay off.

What does it look like to be Christ’s witness, to look for his feet, to the ends of the earth? It might look like being a storyteller at Vacation Bible School. It might look like making PADS lunches on Friday mornings. It might look like Kristen Bauman’s journey to work with children in Vietnam, or it might look like following her blog and praying for her and the people she will meet. It might look like a week spent on an Indian reservation, or a day spent stocking the shelves at the food pantry. It might look like being a confirmation mentor, or teaching Sunday School, or going on a mission trip. It might look like being the best teacher or nurse or engineer or designer or administrator you can be, knowing that each person you work with is made in the image of God.

But in every case, without exception, it will look like watching in the world, not in the clouds, for signs of Christ’s footsteps, and then showing those signs to others. It will look like joining with others in prayer and practice, including at this table and every other table. It will look like keeping your eyes open, and following the feet.

May it be so. Amen.