Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Currently, I live about 50 yards from the beach. It's amazing, and I walk on the beach most days. Someone on Facebook described my photos as "the moods of my beach" and that seems about right...sometimes it's glowing:

And sometimes it's a little...well...moodier:

One night recently I was out walking and this tiny perfect pink shell caught my eye.

As you can see, the beach is not fine sand in this particular spot, but rather it is in various stages of becoming sand. Rocks and shells in many sizes, from complete to tiny fragments, being pounded by waves and rain and wind and people and dogs and horses and seagulls, until it becomes the kind of sand people think of when they think of a beautiful beach. The other side of the harbour has that kind of sand, but this side is more beautiful, I think, as you see a little more behind-the scenes of beach-making.
Anyway, I was looking at this shell, which was perfect, and pink on the inside, and gorgeous in every way, and pondering how it caught my attention in the midst of this particular beach. I picked it up to take home with me. I sent Julia a picture, and told her about it...and then I noticed that it wasn't in my hand anymore.
I had dropped it somewhere along the way.
I hadn't walked far or fast, as I was enjoying the beach and also texting (which normally I try not to do when I'm on the beach!). But still, it was gone.
I immediately tried to retrace my steps and figure out when I'd dropped it and if I could find it again. The tide was coming in, which changes the colours, and also, as you can see, finding one shell in this walk is easier said than done:

I looked and looked. I walked slowly, head down, bending over constantly. I tried to guess when it had slipped silently from my hand and back to its beachy home. I probably went over the same twenty feet of beach, in an 18-inch-wide swath, three times. My Fitbit must have thought I was insane. I looked until my back was beginning to get sore from hunching over, and until the water encroached on the very place I had been walking. 

While I was looking, I had several times I thought I found it. The first one was so similar I actually texted Julia that I'd found it (phew!)...but on looking more closely, I realised it wasn't the same shell. Then I started to find others that were obviously the same animal/type, but again, were not the same shell.

Eventually, I had three that were not the one I was looking for, and I couldn't stay out there any longer with no coat and the tide coming in. I debated: drop the three shells that weren't the perfect one I thought I wanted but had lost? Or take them home, as a reminder not to text on the beach?

As I walked home, three shells in hand, mild self-recrimination reverberating through my disappointment at having lost the shell I thought I wanted (even though just moments before I dropped it, I'd never even seen it before and didn't know I wanted it), I realised:

I'm embarking on a search process, hoping to find the church community God is calling me to spend the next portion of my life with. And sometimes it feels like sifting through thousands of really similar shells. And sometimes it feels like the one I really really wanted is lost to me. And sometimes it feels like every option has something not *quite* right. And sometimes I need to just be in the midst of it all, not distracted and letting things slip through my fingers.

And sometimes the three in my hand are beautiful, and perfect in their imperfection, and one of them could be just the thing.


Note: I'm literally at the very beginning of this in, today I worked on turning my PCUSA search paperwork into the type of CV that is expected here. I've not actually applied anywhere and I don't have any particular place in mind as yet, other than hoping God is calling me to someplace where I don't have to figure out how to afford a car...and also not-secretly hoping to stay somewhere near a beach, LOL.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What do you see?

This summer at church we began doing a new thing. It started because there's no junior church/Sunday school in the summer. It's continuing because it's awesome.

We invite the children to come to the front (that part isn't new), and talk with them about the background to one of the scripture readings. It might be setting the scene, or remembering things we know about it, or looking at pictures of where it took place.
Then we ask them to listen for something--what's the problem, and who solves it? What four things does Jesus do with the bread? What are the names of the people in the story?
Then the liturgist comes forward and reads the scripture while the children stay in their place at the front--ideally, the liturgist stands in front of the group of children and reads sort of like story time, but sometimes they read from the lectern because it's easier to manage the paper/book and microphone and everything.
After the reading, we turn back to the kids and ask if they heard what they were listening for, and we talk about the story a bit.
Then we have some music, during which they could choose to stay there right at the front, sit in a pew with someone, or go to the children-space at the side, where there would be colouring sheets and activities related to the reading, and an adult to help them join in when it was time for the Lord's Prayer or a hymn. (Now that junior church is back in session, they go out at this point, though staying in this space is always an option for them.)

This has been working really beautifully, and engaging our young people (and our less-young people!) in how to listen to scripture being read, and to participate in worship more fully. They don't always sit still or quietly, and sometimes people grumble about reading a translation of scripture that is more understandable (over the summer we read from the CEB), but overall, it's been pretty great.

On the last day of the "generation to generation" series where we had been trying this out, we decided that the sermon would be an all-age experience where we would encourage the whole church to join in.

The text was a bit of Peter's sermon in Acts 2--the part where he quotes the prophet Joel about "your young will see visions and your elders will dream dreams."

We printed this picture on the cover of the order of service, and after the scripture reading we asked everyone to look at it and say what they saw.

Kids were all over this, of course, and pretty soon the grown-ups were also calling out what they saw in the cloud.

Then we showed them a paint splotch made by squirting colours of paint on half a paper and folding it in half to make a symmetrical image...and asked the same thing. It was a pretty easy one, especially since the church uses the Butterfly as its image, the name of its cafe, and as inspiration for naming all the children's programming.

And then we got this one. We looked at it from multiple angles, and saw a variety of things. What do you see?

I finished up by talking about how that first Pentecost morning, some people could only see what they expected--chaos, irritation, drunkenness. But some could see a new thing, a vision, a dream...and we can practice opening our minds and hearts to see God's handiwork, too. We could see a cloud. Or we could see a puppy, or a grandma knitting in a rocking chair, or a teddy bear and a chicken. We could see a messy splotch of paint, or we could see a dragon, or an elephant / whale / seahorse, or a pregnant woman with her hair in a ponytail. We could see children behaving badly when they're whispering and wiggling and getting up to move around, or we could see children who want to know Jesus and can't see over the person in front of them, who want to know what we're singing, who have prayers they haven't yet learned how to pray...and we could see a church ready to allow their visions to join with our dreams, to be a family where each member is valued no matter their age or ability.

What do you see?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

It's a Mystery--a sermon on Ephesians 3

Rev. Teri Peterson
It's a Mystery
Luke 22.14-27
 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Ephesians 3.8-21
Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen. 


Many of you have already learned this about me, but just in case there is still any doubt: I like to know things. I read, I watch documentaries, I go to museums, I ask a lot of questions…when I go out for a run, I don’t listen to music, I listen to a history podcast. When I was a child, I read the dictionary for fun. I’m one of those people, politically unpopular these days, who really values experts and likes to learn from them and even change my mind and my behaviour based on new facts they present. I think it’s important to read the most accurate translations of scripture and to keep up on what scholars are learning about language and history so we can know God’s word as fully as possible. I try to work out how pieces fit together and how systems work. I have a friend whose favourite word to describe me is “insufferable” because…well…I like to know things.

When I was new to faith and church, reading everything I could lay my eyes on, my minister told me one day “when you think you’ve got God figured out, what you’ve figured out is not God.” No matter how much we learn, read, study, or pray, we will never understand all there is to know about God, because God is so much more expansive, so much broader and deeper and longer and higher than our limited human minds can ever manage. 

And yet that is exactly what the author of Ephesians prays for: that the church, the body of Christ, might come to know the height, breadth, length, and depth of Christ’s love—love that surpasses knowledge.

Unfortunately, we humans seem to have an intense desire to know this thing that surpasses knowledge. Or more specifically, we want desperately to know just what is the exact height, breadth, length, and depth—what are the measurements, the boundaries of love? How big is it? Who is included in it? Where are the edges, and what do we do if we think we, or someone else, doesn’t fit the dimensions so carefully measured out? It’s as if we think the old adage “measure twice, cut once” can be applied to people—if we can just get the measurements right, then we’ll know who to cut out of our community and out of God’s community too. And those measurements always seem to look an awful lot like us, without much room for people who look, speak, act, or worship differently, and even less room for people who are not economically or politically useful to us.

Even more unfortunate is that the Church has, historically, been the one defining what it means to measure up, claiming that there are some who fall outside the boundaries of this love that just a few sentences ago was called unfathomable. We cannot quite manage to wrap our minds around the fact that the betrayer was at the table with Jesus, breaking the same bread and drinking the same cup. And so was Peter, who just hours after that first communion would deny even knowing Jesus, let alone sharing his table. And all those other disciples passed around the bread and cup with their running shoes on. By almost any standard we have set, they don’t measure up. And yet there they were.

I think it’s so interesting that when the disciples were discussing who could possibly do something so awful as betray him, they turned quickly from the painful self-examination into a discussion of who is greatest. It’s like they couldn’t manage just “I would never betray him” without following on with “because I’m the best.” I’m not sure what criteria they were using to grade their performance as disciples, but it was obviously not the same as that Jesus uses, since he had to interrupt them to remind them that what they think they know, what they think they have figured out, is not God. Instead, Jesus hands them a mystery: we all know that the one seated at the table is greater than the one who serves them, and yet he, Immanuel, God-with-us, is among us as one who serves. If we want to live into his greatness, if we want to grow up as the Body of Christ, we will find ourselves bringing together the greatest and the youngest, the servant and the leader, the Gentile and the Jew, the outsider and the insider. Not measuring or drawing borders, but rather allowing the height, depth, length, and breadth of God’s love to be unfathomable, beyond comprehension, and yet tangible, real, taking up space in our lives, in this world. 

Philosopher and theologian Diogenes Allen wrote that “Mysteries, to be known, must be entered into. For we do not solve mysteries, we enter into them. When a problem is solved, it is over and done with. We go on to other problems…But a mystery once recognised is something we are never finished with. It is never exhausted. Instead, we return to it again and again and it unfolds new levels to us.”

It is easy, I think, to get so caught up in knowing the right things, or solving the problem of how we can be loveable (or how they can be loveable), that we forget to experience God’s love. I can listen to a podcast about how language, culture, and brain synapses work together to make a joke funny, but that’s not the same thing as laughing until I can’t breathe at something a friend says. I’ve seen every documentary there is about how our food system works, but that knowledge pales in comparison to what I learned growing up on a farm. 

And so it is with love. 

When it comes to learning the true dimensions of love, there is no substitute for encountering the living God. Which is why it’s important that we put ourselves in the places where Christ has promised to reveal himself: at the table, in the word shared in community, and among the least and outcast and lonely. It is in practice that we are able to live into the mystery, and to experience beyond knowledge. 

It’s a mystery, how at the Lord’s table a tiny piece of bread and a sip of wine can feed our bodies and our souls, how we are lifted up and given a glimpse of Christ’s heavenly banquet, where even those we have marginalised are honoured guests. It’s a mystery how sharing this hour together can change the way we see and act during all the other hours of our lives. It’s a mystery how giving of ourselves and our resources can make us feel full. 

Ephesians says that when we have experienced this mystery, when we have come to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge, we will be filled with all the fullness of God. This is addressed to plural you, to the whole Church, the Body of Christ. Together, when we allow ourselves to experience the love of God in all its glorious breadth, length, height, and depth, we will find that the Church on earth becomes ever more what the Church in heaven already is, the dwelling place of God—who, remember, came among us as one who serves.

There is a video that makes the rounds of social media every now and then called “Twinkies with God.” In it, a young white American boy packs up his rucksack with Twinkies and apple juice, tells his mom he’s going to look for God, and heads out the door. He rides the subway and walks through the neighbourhood until he comes to a park bench, occupied by a middle-aged African-American woman who is homeless. He opens up his pack and offers her a Twinkie, which she accepts and begins to eat with glee. The two sit together, talking and laughing, eating Twinkies and drinking apple juice together in the park. When the boy goes home, his mother asks “did you find him?” And the boy replies “MOOOM, God is a woman and she has the most beautiful smile.” Meanwhile, the woman walks away and joins a friend sitting on the pavement with her sign and cup for change, who asks “why are you in such a good mood?” The woman answers “I just had Twinkies with God! He’s much younger than I expected.”

When we think we have God figured out, what we’ve figured out is not God. So may we come to know beyond knowledge, to love beyond borders, and find ourselves filled to overflowing with all the fullness of God, whose abundant life is more than we can ever ask or even imagine.