Sunday, November 29, 2015

Listen--a sermon for Advent 1

Rev. Teri Peterson
2 Kings 22.1-10, 23.1-3
29 November 2015, NL2-12, Advent 1 (Giving Voice to God’s Promise)

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.
 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, ‘Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. But no account shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.’
 The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.’ When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, ‘Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord.’ Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘The priest Hilkiah has given me a book.’ Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.
Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.

This fall, a church in Wales got a new pastor. As many new pastors have done, he spent some time poking around and cleaning out closets—we all know how dangerous that can be—and he found a first edition of the KingJames Bible, printed in 1611, tucked away in a cupboard.

Every parish church was required to have one, in order to enforce some sense of uniformity on the fledgling Church of England by ensuring that everyone was hearing the same authorized words. So it isn’t surprising that the church would have one…and it’s not entirely surprising that it would have been put away in a cupboard, either for safekeeping or because they got a new one as the technology of typesetting improved, making books easier to read and more portable.

But to still be in the cupboard 300 years later? It gives whole new meaning to the joke that church people never throw anything away.

The same thing happened to Josiah—he was a young man, probably new to reigning on his own without a regent or other adviser calling the shots. He ordered the Temple be cleaned out and rebuilt…and tucked away in a closet was a copy of Deuteronomy, the telling of God’s story and law. Deuteronomy begins with a recap of all the things God has done, and then commands us to love the Lord our God with everything we have and everything we are. It then proceeds to detail exactly how and why to do nearly everything, from planting crops to making lunch to taking over the promised land from the people who already lived there. It is meticulous in its instructions in taking care of the poor and the immigrant, in creating the new economy, and in what can and can’t be eaten. The book ends with a description of what will happen if God’s way is not followed…let’s just say that the word “curse” is used repeatedly.

This is the book that was fished out of the back of a cupboard in the falling-down Temple. When Shaphan the secretary read it to the king, and Josiah heard the story of God’s grace and the requirements of God’s law for the first time, he was immediately changed. He knew that he, and everyone else, needed to repent—to turn away from their path and follow God’s path instead. He didn’t waste a single minute in finding out what to do next—he sent messengers to the prophetess Huldah, who explained the text and what it meant for the nation and for Josiah. He told the builders to hurry up with the Temple repairs. And he called for a worship service.

Did you notice that’s what happened at the end of the story today? It is the classic Presbyterian service: Gather, Encounter, Respond. He called all the people of Judah, small and great, priest and commoner, and they went into the Lord’s house all together. They gathered in God’s name and were as one community with one purpose and one focus. He read the word to them—the whole book, from the story of what God had done through the instruction and the consequences. Together they listened for the word of the Lord. And then, having heard God’s word, they responded by making a covenant together to follow God’s way, to obey the instructions in the book and to be faithful only to God. It says that they promised to follow with all their heart and soul—to give everything to God.

It’s amazing what can happen when God’s word is heard.

In the next chapters, Josiah goes around the country taking down those golden calves that Jeroboam built in the story we heard a few weeks ago. The people destroy the altars and statues of other gods. All of the money, sex, and power that went into worshipping those other gods is destroyed—the gold is ground up and thrown away, the house of temple prostitution is burned, the priests are driven into hiding. The widows, orphans, and immigrants are cared for. The whole fabric of society is adjusted to this newly rediscovered reality. And all it took was for people to listen, and then to act on what they heard.

What would we hear if we listened to God’s word anew, as if for the first time? What would happen if we acted on what we heard?

God’s promise is the same throughout the whole story. Every scene begins with God’s action, loving and caring for creation and for people who never deserve it. And every page asks something of us—to listen, to speak, to persevere, to trust, to act. We have 65 more books than Josiah had, so it might take us a little longer to read, but the reality is that the story is the same: God loves, God creates, God calls, God saves, God commands, God helps…repeat. At each step, we have a choice: to listen and follow, or not.

The most crucial part of Deuteronomy comes right near the beginning, and the rest of the book is commentary on it: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”


The Hebrew word “hear” also means “obey”—if we truly listen, we cannot help but act.

Which is perhaps why we often resist listening. If we hear the story of the Other—the person who is homeless, the person with a disability, the person of a different skin color, the person who practices another religion, the person from another country—or the people that Deuteronomy would call “The immigrant, the orphan, and the widow”—in other words, the outsider, the powerless, the vulnerable…if we listen to them, we might actually hear them. And if we hear, we cannot help but act. The voice of God speaks through the stories of people, calling us to be faithful to the command to love our neighbor and our enemy, to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.

It is hard to listen. To hear the word of God in scripture, the word of God among us, the word of God within us—this kind of listening requires relationship. It requires that we listen without preparing our response. It requires time. And it requires willingness to be changed.

It is a challenge to hear the voice of God through the advertising, the demagogues, and the lies of our time. We live in a nation that shoots first and asks questions later…maybe. While we’ve been eating mashed potatoes and pie and playing games with our families, the news this week has been one horrifying day after another, from gunmen creating terror in Minneapolis and Colorado, to disbelief that enforcing the no-smoking-inside-the-restaurant rule would get a waitress killed, to seeing firsthand the callous way our neighbors, especially young men, have been treated by authorities. Discerning the Spirit in the midst of a culture that values some people more than others, tells us we are what we own, and has abandoned truth in favor of fearmongering is a full time job.

What would happen if we listened, as if for the first time?

We might hear God’s word in the cries of our brothers and sisters of color, whose pain echoes across centuries, begging for recognition as part of God’s beloved family, worthy of care.

We might hear God’s call in the pleas of our neighbors across the globe, longing to know if the children of Abraham will be blessed to be a blessing, or will keep the blessing for ourselves.

We might hear the taunts of enemies, trying their best to get us to abandon God’s commands and give in to their desire for fear and violence. And we might hear the voice of Jesus, commanding us to love our enemies, because they too are made in God’s image.

We might hear the Spirit, speaking to the church from the dusty cupboard where we’ve put her away for safekeeping, calling us to both hear and obey.

We might hear Love, calling us together as one community, focusing our attention on God, and giving us the courage to respond as faithful partners in God’s covenant.

We might hear commands that make us uncomfortable, that make us want to hide our pocketbooks and our calendars, because they will betray our true loves.

We might hear, over and over again, the encouragement to Be Not Afraid.

This Advent season, as we live in a world that values talking and bluster, we might just find that God’s promise is made new through the very act of listening.

May it be so.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

that time cooking dinner made me cry

It's been 10 years to the day (November 26, 2005) since my first visit to the pyramids of Giza (and Sakkara, and the temple/city at Memphis...but Giza is the part most people recognize).

It's been 10 years to the Fourth Thursday Of November since I returned to Egypt after my mom died--I went "home" when she died, and after a few weeks I went "home" to Cairo, where I celebrated Thanksgiving with the other North American mission personnel from at least three denominations. I even managed a green bean casserole, which was harder than it sounds.

Tonight I was making black beans and olives--which is so delicious, even though it sounds weird, so just stick with me--which was one of what might be called my mother's signature dishes. It's the thing most people still remember, even all these years later. I both miss and try to recreate lots of things she used to make--enchiladas, homemade refried beans, bagels (ok, I haven't tried those...hers were so good I just can't bring myself to do it). She decorated cakes and indulged curiosity brought on by cookbooks and later the advent of the internet.

But black beans and olives...seriously, people, delicious. With basically three ingredients:
green olives (with pimientos)
black beans
you can have so much goodness on your plate you won't even want to eat anything else.

(I did...I also had brussels sprouts, cooked Susan's way. So it was a Scott Sisters dinner at my house today.)

Anyway, while I was slicing what turned out to be a sort of obscene amount of olives, I was thinking about my mom. Which, who are we kidding, is what I do in the kitchen anyway. But then I started thinking about Thanksgiving, and how ten years ago I actually worked really hard to be back in Cairo by Thanksgiving, because a) I didn't want to miss the trip to the pyramids, and b) I couldn't imagine Thanksgiving in the US without my mom.

So while I was remembering that, and slicing more olives, and using my pressure cooker (thanks mom) to soak beans without waiting overnight, and I thought about all the people who made that possible. Laurie, in the Louisville office, who kept her AOL Instant Messenger open all the time and arranged my plane tickets within minutes of me asking. (and who sent flowers!) Beverly and Martha, who planned a beautiful service so I could have that before I went back. The congregation of Church of the New Covenant, where every single person stayed after Sunday worship for the extra service. My fellow YAVs, who tried their best in a very strange situation they didn't sign up for. The RevGals, who were virtually present at every time of day or night. (when blogger got comments, I lost all the comments I used to have when I had an add-on service for them, so you can't tell, but they were there, I promise.)

In general I feel like this October-November has been harder than others. I'm not sure if it's because it's a big milestone year, or if the early onset winter is ruining my coping skills, or having a knee injury (which she had a few of in her lifetime) or what. But I miss my mom a lot. All the time.

So I thought I'd just look in the drawer where I keep a few things. Nothing drastic, just a few pieces of paper.

Note to self: it's never just a few pieces of paper, even if it is. little space to sum up so much life lived in just 47 years

the card that came with flowers
Beverly preached a homily in the form of a letter from my mom to me, in response to this letter I wrote while she was dying thousands of miles away. This is the first time I've pulled it out of the drawer since she gave it to me, ten years ago November 20. I can barely even read it because just remembering it puts me into ugly-cry territory.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kingly Expectations--a sermon for Christ the King 2015

Rev. Teri C Peterson
Kingly Expectations
Isaiah 5.1-7, 11.1-5
22 November 2015, Christ the King, NL 2-11, Harvest 2-6 (Characters of Faith: Justice & Awe)

Let me sing for my beloved
   my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
   on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
   and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
   and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
   but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
   and people of Judah,
judge between me
   and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
   that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
   why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
   what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
   and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
   and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
   it shall not be pruned or hoed,
   and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
   that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
   is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
   are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
   but saw bloodshed;
   but heard a cry!

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

Here we are: the end of another liturgical year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year of telling the story of Christ, from waiting to birth to life and death and resurrection, to sending the Spirit to the church and sending the church into the world to be his body.

Though when we follow the Narrative Lectionary, it can feel like September is the start of a new year, because it’s when we start telling the story from Genesis—“in the beginning” all the way through the history of God’s people, the prophets and their calls to live according to God’s word, Jesus as the Word come to live with us, and the Spirit doing a new thing.

However we count the time, whether beginning with Advent the way it has for thousands of years, or in September the way it does in our schedule of weekly scripture readings, the point is the same: to help us be immersed in God’s story, to see how God has been at work so that we are better able to see how God is still at work now. It’s about organizing our lives on kingdom time, centered on God’s word, rather than all the other ways we could organize ourselves—by billable hours, chronological age, grade, salary schedules, or national holidays. All of those are secondary to our life lived on God’s time, which is why we follow a calendar that orients us to that different cycle.

We walk through these seasons, with symbols and colors that remind us and teach us, directing our attention always back to the source—the word of God, that was in the beginning and is now and ever shall be. And at the end of them all, the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, is today: Christ the King Sunday.

As a liturgical holiday, it’s fairly new—it was added to the calendar as a way to cap the year in 1925. Part of the reason for its creation was concern in the church about the rising tide of nationalism, which was dividing people and loyalties, creating hostility and violence. As the world fractured into nations that each had to be the best, that meant citizens of those nations had to find ways to see themselves above others, and political leaders were pushing simultaneous bravado and fear-mongering to maintain their own power in this new world of national pride—whatever the cost.

Into that moment, the church spoke with a new feast day: Christ the King Sunday—a day when we are explicitly reminded where our loyalty as God’s people lies, a day when we affirm our allegiance to God’s kingdom above any earthly nation, and we remember that neither we nor our political leaders have any say in who else God brings in to that kingdom.

And this is the day when the lectionary gives us this text from Isaiah—a word from God, spoken through a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah during about the same years that Hosea, whom we heard last week, spoke in the northern kingdom. The northern kingdom was about to fall to the Assyrians, but the southern kingdom still had a hundred years to try to get it right. Isaiah speaks in God’s voice, a love song to a people for whom God has done everything—planted and pruned, nurtured and watered and tended. Every way that the people could be provided for, God did. Every way they could experience God’s care and love, God did. And still, in spite of their experience of God’s love and generosity and grace and care and compassion, they did not bear good fruit. God expected sweet grapes, but got rotten grapes instead. God expected them to do justice, and they spilled each others’ blood instead. God expected them to have right relationships with one another, and all that rose to God’s ears were cries of distress.

The people, God’s treasured possession, recipients of amazing grace, still acted as if they were their own ultimate authority. They sought their own gain, they used people for profit, they trampled the poor and ignored the orphan. And worst of all, they neglected hospitality. Where they should have been a refuge, a vineyard garden that provided for all who would come, instead they worked only for themselves. The blood of others did not matter to them. They basically invented the phrase “collateral damage”—seeing people as expendable as they built more prosperity for themselves. Their relationships were unequal, they regarded themselves above others, and maybe even above God, if they ever thought about God at all in relation to their lives outside the Temple. They had no sense of awe and wonder, no understanding of a right relationship with God…and once awe is lost, justice follows close behind, because without awe of God then we are prone to elevating ourselves, our desires and our rules. We become so attached to our own kingdoms, we can’t see God’s.

And God is fed up. Just like last week, when we heard God’s exasperation, here it is again: “what more should I have done for my vineyard? why did this happen? I expected so much…now let it be broken down, overgrown, and trampled.”

God’s sadness permeates every word. “I have given you everything…I love you…I provide…why then do you act as if we’ve never met? How can you take what I offer, but then not offer it to others? I showed my face, I whispered my voice, I poured out my heart…and you just looked after yourselves.”

It isn’t hard to look around our world and feel God’s heartbreak. The very earth is groaning, and the people are crying out in distress, and justice seems far off. Many are concerned about their own well-being, even at the expense of others. Blood soaks the earth, and nations protect themselves with bravado and fearmongering, and the voice of God whispers and thunders and cries and prays: if you love me, love your neighbor as yourself. We need Christ the King Sunday today more than ever, reminding us that our human-made nations are not the kingdom of God, and are not the way God sees or judges.

In the midst of the destruction the people brought on themselves, in the midst of the disappointment and pain of our King’s expectations running up against the reality of human sin….”a shoot is coming out of the stump – there is growth again where something was cut down. The well-tended vineyard failed to produce righteousness and justice, but this little shoot, in an unexpected place, will embody God’s vision. God doesn’t need the whole vineyard – this shoot of new growth will do.”[1] 

Our King doesn’t need fancy pomp and circumstance, Christ our King needs only a seed. New life is always possible. Even when it feels like the destruction is inevitable and there is no hope of justice, even when we are so mired in our own reality that we can’t even see God’s reality and we would rather not let our kingdoms go—even then, a shoot can grow from a dead stump, a hint of green in a dark world, a word can be made flesh.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins.”

This is the One to whom we declare our allegiance, this is the One to whom we are loyal. He is the One who transcends our earthly borders and shows us a more excellent way—a way of faith, hope, and love. When all seemed lost, God worked with a tiny new vulnerable thing—a child, who would lead us all to true justice as he fled government violence, grew up poor, ate with sinners, gathered the outcast, called foreigners to follow him, died at the hands of the state, and turned the religious, political, and economic system upside down. Here is our King, loving, serving, and caring for the world with every breath. May we let our kingdoms go, so we can be faithful to his call.


[1] RevGalBlogPals Nov 17 2015, by Mary Austin

Friday, November 20, 2015

hot and cold, new and old...

This year I have spent an inordinate amount of money on my house. In the past 12 months I have needed (due to breaking or danger): a new washer & dryer, a new water heater, a new furnace/air conditioner, and new floors. It's a little out of control.

Of course, now basically my entire house is new and beautiful. My floor is amazing and I still, 9 months after it was installed, walk in every day and sigh with happiness (and relief). My water heater is not leaking and is in no danger of flooding my downstairs neighbor. My washer actually runs a whole cycle without me having to advance it myself, and it has different temperatures of water, and it doesn't leak from some mysterious place underneath! The dryer dries clothes without burning them. And I can control the temperature in my house via an app on my phone (the fancy thermostat comes "free" with a new furnace/ac unit)...and turning the heat on will not lead to CO poisoning.

All a win, if not for the checkbook.

In addition to those new things, I also got something so lovely yesterday. I opened a package from my grandma, which I anticipated held a bunch of recipes. It did...and also a super soft and warm and adorable fleece blanket with a kitten pattern. It has made me so happy for the last 24 hours.

And now, apparently, I'm done with that. Time to turn up the heat and look for a scarf, because the decidedly not-new cats have claimed the blanket, and the old blanket, and basically the whole couch.

This is my life.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Advent Candle Liturgies 2015

2015 Advent/Christmas Theme: Giving Voice to God’s Promise

Each week begins with a bit of the psalm for the day. This should be read by someone other than the person leading the “one” part of the candle liturgy. It is also perfectly okay to leave the psalm out if necessary or desired.

November 29 (Advent 1—2 Kings 22.1-10, 23.1-3: Listen // hope) Psalm 25.4-5

Reader: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, 
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

One:    In the beginning was the Word—
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
All:     Listen and hear—
God’s promise is true!
One:    The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
All:     Eternal and near at hand,
Already and not-yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
One:    Listen!
            Hear the covenant anew, giving voice to a future with hope.
~candle is lit~
   ~sung response~

December 6 (Advent 2—Isaiah 40.21-11: Speak // peace)  Psalm 126.2

Reader: Then our mouth was filled with laughter, 
             and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations, 
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

One:    In the beginning was the Word—
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
All:     Speak it loud and clear—
God’s promise is true!
One:    The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
All:     Eternal and near at hand,
Already and not-yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
One:    Do not hold back!
Speak out, giving voice to God’s peace that passes all understanding.
~candle is lit~
   ~sung response~

December 13 (Advent 3—Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13: Persevere // joy)  Isaiah 12.5-6

Reader: Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

One:    In the beginning was the Word—
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
All:     Persevere in hope, keep the faith—
God’s promise is true!
One:    The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
All:     Eternal and near at hand,
Already and not-yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
One:    Keep going!
Persevere in joy, giving voice to God’s presence yet again.
~candle is lit~
   ~sung response~

December 20 (Advent 4—Luke 1.5-24a, 57-80: Trust // love)  Luke 1.44-45

Reader: “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

One:    In the beginning was the Word—
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
All:     Trust the good news—
God’s promise is true!
One:    The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
All:     Eternal and near at hand,
Already and not-yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
One:    Trust in God!
Wait with faith, giving voice to Christ’s love for all.
~candle is lit~
   ~sung response~

December 24 (Christmas Eve—Glorify)  Psalm 96

Reader: O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

One:    In the beginning was the Word—
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
All:     Glorify the Lord with me—
God’s promise is true!
One:    The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
All:     Eternal and near at hand,
Already and not-yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
One:    Glory!
The Word is made flesh, giving voice to God’s promise yet again.
~candle is lit~
   ~sung response~