CLAIMING THE FUTURE

Luke 3:15-17— Christian Standard Bible

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out.” When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. As he was praying, heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”

waters of baptism

Luke 3:15-17
Claiming the Future

One step at a time
into a stream,
a lake, a tank,
feeling the wet of the water
as it soaks your clothing
drenches your skin,
lapping first at your ankles
and calves and hips and waist
— chest —
(sometimes not as an adult
and not remembered,
sometimes poured,
sometimes sprinkled),
but when remembered,
that fluttering
in your breast
as you realized the importance,
then flooding
your soul
with sacred wonder.
Baptism:
A Sacrament.
A choice.
A statement of hope.
A claim on membership.
A claim on God.
A claim by God.
A promise.
A last resort.
But a claim on your future
by you,
by God,
by the Church.
Water is just water
that we use,
until we remember
how holy and sacred it is,
and we walk in it
to be baptized.
And,
in the eyes of those around him,
Jesus walked into
the waters of the Jorden
just another young man
among others,
but he stepped out of those waters,
as do we,
called,
claimed,
affirmed as much, much more.
And what is it
you believe about your baptism?
And what is it
that you claim,
what changes have
those waters
of Baptism made in you?
Do they strengthen and nourish you?
Do they quench your thirst?
Do they affirm your life?
And what future
did your baptism claim for you?

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Advent & Christmas Reflections

Advent Candles #1

ADVENT 1 — DO NOT BE AFRAID

It is what the angel said, you know?
“Do not be afraid…”
I Wonder if this angel knows what it is to fear,
knows what it means to try to not be afraid
when the fear is sufficating you?
I wonder? Depending on your version,
in some form or another
the phrase, “Do not be aftaid,”
appears over 360 times in scripture.
That’s a lot of distress.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world depended on the answer.
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us and
angels keep telling us
to not be scared.
From God’s perspective,
God needs us for God’s work
because we are the only ones who can do it.
On the human’s (our) side,
that work is always life-altering, scary, hard,
and, as finite beings, really beyond our
skill-set and pay grade.
Still God keeps asking, we keep being afraid.
and God keeps sending angels
to tell us not to have anxiety attacks,
and, still, we keep saying, “Yes.”
But without us saying, “Yes,” there would be
no BIG stories, no myths, no great sagas,
no heros, no successes-writ-large, and
by extension, no hope, no salvation,
no joy, and certainly no Jesus
The Advent stories, the Christmas stories:
these are our stories.
These stories are about who we are, not so much about God.
I like that, but it does put some weight on my answer
when I am the one called.
A “Yes” or a “No” does indeed mean
the future of the whole world.

# # #

ADVENT 2 — PRAYING WITH MARY

Praying with Mary is a strange concept for many
Free Church Protestants. We say things like,
it sounds really Catholic,
we pray on our own, we don’t pray like that,
and I wonder, Why not?
The answer probably lies
somewhere between
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,”
and
“Asking a dead person to pray with me
seems really yucky, so why should I?”
Well, we, as Christians,
do believe that we are not alone in the cosmos,
and that there is life after death,
and many of us have had experiences
of Presence in one way or another
that many times we pretend we haven’t had,
but nonetheless know full well ocurred.
My point here is that
there is something that makes us bigger
when we pray with others.
So praying with Mary as she
prays a prayer that engages the Power of God
within the human condition,
the God which has raised up
and delivered and made whole
the least of the least,
is a powerful and life-changing way to pray.
So I ask can we pray with Mary,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”?
Can our souls do that? Can our spirits rejoice?
And then can we recognize
God’s power to change the conditions within the world?
This was Mary’s prayer of acceptance
to a world that would be forever changed by her Yes.
I think that it took an innordinate amount of courage for
her to pray that prayer. Can we find that courage
as well and pray with her, and how will our world be changed if we do?

# # #

ADVENT 3 — IMMIGRANTS AND SOJOURNERS

Long drives.
Destinations we know of,
but have never seen,
and to which we journey
with trepidation.
Feeling like strangers in places
where we should be welcomed
and embraced.
Stories of hope
morphing into dread.
Always leaving the known
for the unknown.
Pilgrims, caravans of the helpless,
praying for a welcoming that does
not happen but is turned
into hate and affliction.
Pregnant and turned away in a border town.
Pregnant and turned away in a Capital city.
Living lives at the whims of uncaring politicians
and hearts hardened to their plight.
Defying death by living in spite of threats,
aggression, Roman soldiers, border guards,
inhuman laws, shut doors, and hatred.
Settling into the filth and wreckage of living conditions
designed to stultify, beat down, smother the dream out of even
the greatest dreamer the world has ever known.
But stultifiers and dream-crushers lose in the end,
because the dream will not be silenced.
Whether asylem-seekers from Central and South America,
Africa, or the Middle-east,
be they Greek, Roman, Jew, Christian, or Galilean,
their salvation is at hand,
and they will be delivered—set free.
God has made promisses God’s people are commissioned to keep.
Set the captives free, lead the those in need to their salvation,
open the doors of a stable so the weary
sojourner can find rest, and
make a way for Jesus to find a safe haven.

# # #

ADVENT 4 — MESSENGERS

Who is that who comes to me?
What is this fearsome creature
who pauses before me?
What is it that this otherly being
is trying to tell me?
It/He/She, the apparation is gone now.
But I wonder what is it I have missed? What?
God sent angels, messengers,
joined by huge angelic choirs
to announce the coming of Jesus.
I have been on a tear this past week —
getting things ready for Christmas,
buying stuff, fixing stuff, getting stuff — stuff, stuff, stuff…
It comes to me that while I might think
I am ready for Christmas,
am I really? Is my heart ready? Is my soul ready?
Are my relationships road-worthy
for a four-week trip by donkey to Bethlehem?
And then, after all is said and done on Christmas morning,
have all my Advent preparations been worthless or worthy?
Have I seen and paid attention to the angels
standing by my busy path, and who call out to me:
“Here, right here is Jesus! This one, that one, those over there,
they will lead you to Bethlehem, if you will but let them.
They have an open room for you
if you will only have an open room your heart…”
And I pray this morning that I will meet and greet
the angels who come to show
me the way to Bethlehem
with grace and love.

# # #

CHRISTMAS EVE — LOVE

The child is birthed
and is held
and lives
and dies
and is raised
and is carried
and is re-birthed
as long as our hearts
are willing
to carry out
the cycle of
Hope
and Peace
and Joy
and Love
and Passion
and Glory.
And you know this already:
it is all God asks,
or expects,
you to do.
It is a nativity
of love
a claim upon
our hearts
and an eternal
statement that
love will always win.

“CHRISTMAS PRAISES”

Luke 1:13, 31; Luke 2:10
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.” “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” “Do not be afraid shepherds; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy for all the people.”

FEAR -- DN #32

When We are Afraid

Do Not Be Afraid
It is what the angel said, you know?
“Do not be afraid…”
I Wonder if this angel
knows what it is to fear,
knows what it means
to try to not be afraid
when the fear
is sufficating you?
I wonder?
Depending on your version,
in some form or another
the phrase,
“Do not be aftaid,”
appears over 360 times in scripture.
That’s a lot of distress
to be assuaged.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world
depended on an answer
by the one being reassured,
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us
with sacred presence
and hard questions,
and
angels keep telling us
to not be frightened.
From God’s perspective,
God needs us for God’s work
because we are
the only ones
who can do it.
On the human’s (our) side,
that work is always
life-altering,
scary,
hard,
and, as finite beings,
really beyond our
skill-set and pay grade.
Still God keeps asking,
we keep being afraid.
and God keeps sending
angels to tell
us not to have anxiety attacks,
and, still,
we keep saying,
“Yes.”
But without
us saying, “Yes,”
there would be
no BIG stories,
no myths,
no great sagas,
no heros,
no successes-writ-large,
and
by extension,
no hope,
no salvation,
no joy,
and certainly no Jesus
The Advent stories,
the Christmas stories:
these are our stories.
These stories
are about who we are,
not so much about God.
I like that,
but it does put some weight
on my answer
when I am the one asked to help.
There are times when a
“Yes” or a “No”
does indeed mean
the future of
the whole world.

THE SECOND COMING

Revelation 1:4-8 — Amplified Bible

John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace be granted to you and peace, inner calm and spiritual well-being, from Him Who is existing forever and Who was continually existing in the past and Who is to come, and from the seven Spirits that are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful and trustworthy Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who always loves us and who has once for all freed us, washed us, from our sins by His own blood, His sacrificial death — and formed us into a kingdom as His subjects, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the power and the majesty and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes nations of the earth will mourn over Him realizing their sin and guilt, and anticipating the coming wrath. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord God, “Who is existing forever and Who was continually existing in the past and Who is to come, the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all.”

 

The Second Coming

The Second Coming

The Second Coming
according to the writer
of the Book of Revelation,
is a mystical,
magical moment in the life
of the First Century
Christian Community.
It is a BIG story that contains
a Temple theology
of sacrifice and salvation,
direct quotes from God,
claims and statements of hope,
a new creation story
for the early Christian Community,
and of God’s unending love,
as well as accusations and jugements
for the ones
who are thought
to have murdered Jesus.
The writing style is what is termed,
apocalyptic,
which means,
writing that is about a catastropic
ending of the world.
It is a writing style that
is consistant of the older,
prophetic writings
found in the books of
Ezikiel, Joel, and Daniel.
The key point
in our Revelation text
is that,
while Jesus will indeed come again,
he is expected to come
in the lifetime of those reading
this book.
It was very exciting for them,
as they imagined
the joy they would feel
as they got to witness how
the very ones who killed Jesus
were going to get to see
for themselves the depravity
of their own actions
and be duly guilt-ridden
and terrified of the torturous end
God had planned for them.
The problem with all this is that
it didn’t happen then,
it didn’t happen later,
and if it happenes in the future,
it more than likely will not happen
anything like it is described here.
Yet, the Second Coming
is a key tennent of the Christian faith,
and while many of us
really do not understand
what it actually means
to make this claim,
or truly believe the
assertion in a literal way,
there are others
who hold to it nonetheless.
For me,
it means that for each of us
Jesus will come and be
present to/for us,
whether in the clouds,
or in our hearts,
in our history,
in our now,
or in our future.
Many of us have experienced
the second coming of Jesus
as we have endured suffering
and been delivered
in ways only explained
as a direct experience
of the presence of Jesus.
Will Jesus someday
come from the clouds in the sky
with the sound of a trumpet?
I don’t know.
But I do know
that Jesus has come for me
through the clouds of my doubt
and fear
and walked me
through my pain
and made me
a whole new creation,
and that is all I need to know.

CHANGED BY PRAYER

WELCOME ELDER, CHRISTIANE SWARTZ, who is a member of the Geyserville Christian Church. a Clinical Social Worker for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and preaches this Sunday.

Here in the Geyserville Christian Church we are experimenting with the idea of having a different Elder preach once a month as a way of sharing ministry and gifts.

#  #  #

1 Samuel 1:4-20 — The Message
Every year this man went from his hometown up to Shiloh to worship and offer a sacrifice to God-of-the-Angel-Armies. Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as the priests of God there. When Elkanah sacrificed, he passed helpings from the sacrificial meal around to his wife Peninnah and all her children, but he always gave an especially generous helping to Hannah because he loved her so much, and because God had not given her children. But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year. Every time she went to the sanctuary of God she could expect to be taunted. Hannah was reduced to tears and had no appetite. Her husband Elkanah said, “Oh, Hannah, why are you crying? Why aren’t you eating? And why are you so upset? Am I not of more worth to you than ten sons?” So Hannah ate. Then she pulled herself together, slipped away quietly, and entered the sanctuary. The priest Eli was on duty at the entrance to God’s Temple in the customary seat. Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried—inconsolably. Then she made a vow: Oh, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, If you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, If you’ll quit neglecting me and go into action for me By giving me a son, I’ll give him completely, unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.
It so happened that as she continued in prayer before God, Eli was watching her closely. Hannah was praying in her heart, silently. Her lips moved, but no sound was heard. Eli jumped to the conclusion that she was drunk. He approached her and said, “You’re drunk! How long do you plan to keep this up? Sober up, woman!” Hannah said, “Oh no, sir—please! I’m a woman hard used. I haven’t been drinking. Not a drop of wine or beer. The only thing I’ve been pouring out is my heart, pouring it out to God. Don’t for a minute think I’m a bad woman. It’s because I’m so desperately unhappy and in such pain that I’ve stayed here so long.” Eli answered her, “Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.” “Think well of me—and pray for me!” she said, and went her way. Then she ate heartily, her face radiant. Up before dawn, they worshiped God and returned home to Ramah. Elkanah slept with Hannah his wife, and God began making the necessary arrangements in response to what she had asked. Before the year was out, Hannah had conceived and given birth to a son. She named him Samuel, explaining, “I asked God for him.”

PRAYER AS A CHANGE OF COURSE

Prayer as a Change of Course

Changed By Prayer
by Christiane Swartz

Sometimes we feel invisible,
and our voice seems to make no sound.
I wonder how lonely it must have felt to be Hannah.
One of two wives…
they don’t tell us,
but probably the first wife,
the second wife becoming necessary
when Hannah could not have children
(in a time when that was considered to be the woman’s fault.)
Loved most by her husband,
but allowed anyway to be mercilessly bullied
by his other wife,
for not being able to have children.
It’s a special hell when we know our pain
is not even heard by another woman.
Her pain went unheard by her well-intentioned
but clueless husband,
who couldn’t seem to understand how his love
couldn’t possibly be worth more than ten sons
during a time when a woman’s
actual livelihood depended on her ability to bear children.
A husband who could not understand her tears
or how she wouldn’t want to eat
when he loved her so much he gave her extra portions.
Finally in desperation she leaves the meal,
goes to the sanctuary,
and turns to God in prayer,
where her pain is not only also invisible to the priest
but her intent misunderstood!
Her pain, her prayer made no sound,
and the priest admonishes her for being drunk
because he too could not see or understand her!
But pray she does.
And for me, the miracle in this passage
comes before God blessed her
with Samuel and many babies after that.
For me, the miracle was that after years of pain,
years of abuse,
years of her pain being misunderstood,
invisible and unheard,
she could still believe,
trust, and pray to God.
And that through the act of doing so,
she becomes somebody different.
The passage tells us that after she prayed,
she “went her way, ate heartily,
and her face was radiant.”
Radiant.
Radiant!
The act of praying changed her,
even when she had no idea what the outcome would be.
What is that happens then, when we pray?
Is it that we put our needs into words?
Is it in the act of sharing?
Is it in the acknowledgment that we are not alone,
that we are loved unconditionally?
I wonder if it is more than that?
If we believe that prayer is not a device to get us what we want,
as much as it is a means of bringing us to the point
where we will accept what God wants,
then this means the act of praying either out loud or quietly,
with or without words actually changes us.
Perhaps it reminds us that we can let go for a minute,
that we don’t have to be in charge of everything.
And in that moment we stop being invisible and voiceless
and remember that we are an important part of
something bigger than us.

THE WAY OF LOVE

Ruth 1:1-19 — The Message
Once upon a time—it was back in the days when judges led Israel— there was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem in Judah left home to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech; his wife’s name was Naomi; his sons were named Mahlon and Kilion—all Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They all went to the country of Moab and settled there. Elimelech died and Naomi was left, she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives; the name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. They lived there in Moab for the next ten years. But then the two brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, died. Now the woman was left without either her young men or her husband. One day she got herself together, she and her two daughters-in-law, to leave the country of Moab and set out for home; she had heard that God had been pleased to visit his people and give them food. And so she started out from the place she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law with her, on the road back to the land of Judah. After a short while on the road, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!” She kissed them and they cried openly. They said, “No, we’re going on with you to your people.” But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.” Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye; but Ruth embraced her and held on. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.” But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem the whole town was soon buzzing: “Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time!”

Labyrinth #1a

The Way of Love

THE WAY OF LOVE
I like the story of Ruth and Naomi
because it shows me
a model of profound
love and commitment
of one to another.
Many do this:
give up our lives to follow another.
That is love.
I know many couples
who take turns following the other
as they take jobs—
a leapfrog-sharing of
leading and following.
We choose
following,
leading,
staying,
standing,
trading,
supporting,
growing with,
holding to
each other
as we share
our lives and families and communities
in steadfast love and companionship.
Still, for me,
this story is one
that is more subjunctive
than
prescriptive or descriptive.
It is a what-could-be
story,
a how-love-could-be
story.
We will find out in later chapters
that it is also an etiological story,
or a story that explains
how something else
came to be.
It is also a story
about how I make my choices.
Do I make them out of love?
Do I make them out of convenience?
Do I make them out of habit?
Who will I,
who will you,
follow
like Ruth followed Naomi?
For me,
Naomi is a kind of god-like individual,
because the commitment
Ruth had to her
is akin
to the commitment I have,
or try to have,
to God.
It is a story that is echoed thousands
of years later by Peter
when, in John 6:68, he said to Jesus,
“Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know
that you are the Holy One of God.”
Words of true love
are always words
of eternal life.
I will listen for them.
And so like
Ruth with Naomi
or
Peter with Jesus,
I turn to God
and echo the same thought—
I have heard your words of love,
God,
I will follow,
where else can I go?

WHO ARE WE?

Mark 10:46-52 — New Revised Standard Version
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Transformation Detail #13

Transformation Series: Detail #13

WHO ARE WE?
What are we?
Just a couple of quick thoughts.
Last week I spoke
about speaking out,
naming injustice,
demanding to be heard.
The scripture for this week
demands that we make a choice.
Will we be the ones silencing
those who cry for justice,
or will we be the ones
who listen to the pain
and lead those
needy souls to
Jesus?
Will we tell the sightless
they cannot hope to see,
because, of course,
they are blind.
Will we tell the voiceless
to shut up,
stay silent,
and not make waves?
What will we choose to do?
What kind of a people are we,
anyway?
I have both stood with,
and stood against,
those who cry out for justice.
Commenter,
Kathryn Matthews,
tells us that
the disciples were so caught
up in their potential magnificence
that no one
speaks up for Bartimaus.
I too have missed my cues
as a follower of Jesus.
Caught up in the wonder
that is me,
I have turned an unhearing ear
away from the ones
crying out for justice.
For those times of indifference,
for those times of non-support
I am grievously sorry,
and I am determined
to do better as other chances
arise
to lead the hopeless
to the one who gives ultimate hope.
So who am I?
What am I?
What path do I follow?
I do my best,
now,
to be one who listens
to and for
the calls of the oppressed
and the downtrodden,
and to say
to those who cry out for justice,
“Take heart;
get up,
he is calling you,”
and help lead them
into their vision.
It is important to note
that at this time,
as theologian
Megan McKenna explains,
Jericho was a dangerous,
even violent,
place filled with bandits
but also with insurgents
who were skirmishing
with the Roman Empire.
Who are we,
and where do we hang out,
and are we willing
to stop and listen
even when
it is dangerous for us to do so?