IGNITING AN INNER POWER

Acts 2:1-21 — The Message
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! “
They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, They’re drunk on cheap wine.” That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy. I’ll set wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, Blood and fire and billowing smoke, the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, Before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous; And whoever calls out for help to me, God, will be saved.”

IGNITING THE FLAME

IGNITING AN INNER POWER

I think that we can take this story of Pentecost
both literally and metaphorically.
Well
maybe not too literally…
Literally,
in the sense that God
moved in their midst
and deeply
within their own spirits,
and they were so
radically changed
they became different
thinking-acting-speaking-living
persons.
Metaphorically,
in terms of the
image of fire
as a fundamental and
profound purification
of the
heart, mind, soul, and intention
of each person in that room.
I do not for
one minute believe
that God
overcame them,
or forced
this radical change on them,
in the sense that
a bully might force
someone to do something,
but in the sense of
setting free,
turning lose,
fanning a flame already burning,
yet hidden
deep within each of them.
I wonder what
great fires burn within each of us?
What candles
have we hidden?
What tiny sparks
flicker unseen
in our dreams?
What world-changing
event would we each,
and collectively,
foment
if the Spirit of God
fanned our respective flames?
In that small room,
on that day,
fierce prophets
were forged out of
a timid and fearful people,
and an enduring church
was created.
What dreams, secret passions,
unnammed desires
do we harbor?
What tremendous
events would be unleashed
by God’s flame
burning within us?

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REWARDS

Revelation 22:12-13 — The Message
“Yes, I’m on my way! I’ll be there soon! I’m bringing my payroll with me. I’ll pay all people in full for their life’s work. I’m A to Z, the First and the Final, Beginning and Conclusion.

Revelation 22:12-13 — New Revised Standard Version
“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Revelation 22:12-13 — New Testament for Everyone
‘Look! I am coming soon. I will bring my reward with me, and I will pay everyone back according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’

Transformation Detail #16

REWARDS

Rewards…
what does that mean?
Jesus is coming soon
and brings rewards
as some sort of payment
according to
some work we have done?
This reads like life
is like a competition,
a game on the mid-way,
or a job for which we get paid.
Paul thinks of life
as a race to be won.
Peter sees himself
as being on a
spreading-the-Good News
assignment,
for which payment
might be made.
But Paul
has defined Christian theology
by claiming salvation
is not by works
but by faith alone.
But then faith
becomes a work
in and of itself
and we are left
holding a bag-full of question marks.
Maybe what
the author of Revelation
is saying
is that Jesus
is the reward.
In my theological opinion
I am thinking
that the author,
AKA John of Patmos,
is deep in metaphor here,
but still holding
out carrots to
keep the Christian community on track.
Some would rightly hold that
God/Jesus is neither
the big sugar daddy in the sky
nor some sort of
heavenly purveyor of favors.
I think that there is truth in that
while cautioning that God
will not be defined
and we truly cannot say
anything conclusive
about God in terms
of God’s actions or character
except that God
is a God of Love.
So what are we left with
for understanding this claim
by the writer
of Revelation?
Here’s my take on it:
If Jesus was and is and will be,
then Jesus is always the reward itself—
back when, at a later date, and right now.

LISTENING-IMPAIRED CONVERSATIONS

Acts 16:9-15 — The Message
That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans. Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days. On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed! After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Listening

Listening-impaired Conversations
Acts 16:9-15

How hard it is
to be heard,
sometimes.
How hard it is
to hear.
It is like we have
a listening impairment
We all have something to say.
We all want what
we have to say
to be considered.
So most of the
time we just talk —
without listening,
without hearing,
without paying attention,
just talking,
a little louder
and talking,
with a little impatience,
talking,
talking,
talking.
Our ears
think
that they are hearing
to what the other is saying,
but our minds
hardly ever catch
the significance
of what it is
because we are talking
over,
through,
louder and faster.
As if
that will get us heard better.
So most of the time
we seem to fail as communicators,
fail as listeners…
But that is not
what happened with Lydia,
she actually listened to,
and heard,
what Paul had to say.
She didn’t try
and tell him
how he was not
saying exactly
what she believed,
or how
their prayer group
was better,
then talking over the top of him
to prove her point.
She listened.
We spend so much time
not listening,
that we assume
that God probably doesn’t
really listen,
either.
But God is better than us.
God does listen.
To every word we pray
and thought we think.
God really listens.

WHAT IF GOD IS FEMININE?

Isaiah 66:13 — “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Hosea 11:3-4 — “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 — “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Genesis 1:27 — “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”
Deuteronomy 32:18 — “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

What If

What if God Is Feminine?

I should state first off
that I do not think for one minute
that God has any gender.
The “It” pronoun is most
efficacious when accurately
speaking to, of, and about God.
Still, humans seem to have
the need to genderize the concept of God
and rely heavily on
making claims about God
that give them most comfort,
and the strongest sense of security.
There is nothing especially wrong with that,
except when we begin to believe
that our comfortable misconceptions
are how it actually is
and try to force others
to hold our own
not too well founded notions
of theology.
So let’s consider
the possibility that if God did have a gender
what it might be like if
that gender is feminine.
There are not many feminine images
for God in the Bible,
but there are some,
a few.
The five texts above
are a few of them —
maybe most of them.
It was a full-on patriarchy,
that ancient Hebrew community,
and it has profoundly
shaped our own culture.
Many of the Gods
they abhorred so deeply were female.
Many of the neighboring
religions expected/demanded
human sacrifice and whether
or not they were in fact
goddess traditions,
they were all conflated into
other/outsider/sinful/bad/abominations.
The writers of the Hebrew scriptures
defined themselves
by what they were not,
and they were not
like anything that they defined as
“other.”
But what if their
patriarchal testosterone packed
outlook on life
wasn’t exactly how it is?
What if they had defined
God as being
of a feminine nature,
instead of masculine?
Understanding that these folks
ran with a rough crowd
we still would get more texts
that read like those above,
and the Isaiah 49:23 reading that goes:
And kings shall
be your nursing fathers,
and their queens
your nursing mothers,
instead of the Hosea 13:16 text that reads:
Samaria shall
bear her guilt,
because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword,
their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
and their pregnant women ripped open.
Or Psalm 137:9: that reads,
Happy shall they be who take
your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
What would Christianity
look like if
instead of the male god of Abraham
we had the female God of Sarah,
nurturing, wisdom-filled,
forgiving, and loving?
I think it is what Jesus
tried to proclaim when he prayed
he could gather
Jerusalem,
read that humanity,
like a mother hen
gathering her chicks
to protect and nurture,
and was rejected.
Let’s be honest
for a second here,
wouldn’t we all rather
be gathered and held and loved and nurtured
by a loving mother God
than judged and condemned?
I believe we are—
loved and not condemned—by the way.
I also believe it goes against every
warring, violent thought we,
as a patriarchal culture,
hold so dear.
We are,
after all, humans
and we have a deeply embedded
violence as part of our
way of doing business.
Still.
Still.
Maybe if we worshiped a
god portrayed as a god
with a nature
of nurture and forgiveness
rather than a god portrayed as a god
of judgement and retribution
we might be a tad different.
Which is why I titled this
What If God is Feminine?
It is a question…

WELL, GET TO WORK!

John 20:19-23 — The Message
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

SUN

Well, Get to Work

Get to work, Lord?
Get to work?
But, on what?
There is so much to do.
So many needs.
How can I choose?
These are the thoughts that go
through my mind
when I read an admonition such as this.
Really? Really?
And yet,
if we take the directive seriously,
and I do,
we do not
need to take on the whole
aching, bleeding, festering, bruised
wound of the world.
To me this means
to be open
to the needs around us.
Pay attention
to our own interests.
Find the messes
that we can do something about,
and then
clean them up and see
it doesn’t happen next time.
And it is OK
if what we fix today
is not what we work on tomorrow.
We are called on to
engage in facilitating the healing
of the wounds arounds us,
but not all at once.
I have changed my priorities.
With earth day this last week
I remember
that for years environmental issues
were my hot topics.
I wrote my Master’s Thesis
to reflect on how God
and the environment
are interconnected,
and while they are
still high on my list of priorities,
I now focus more on helping
those around me with
their process of inner healing
and spiritual growth.
Still, the earth is all we really have,
and how we treat it
is telling of our relationship to God.
God did not so much create
all that is out of nothing
as
God created all that is
out of God’s own self.
That makes all that is:
us, we, them,
two leggeds, four leggeds, six leggeds, eight leggeds
soil, grasses, rocks, rain, sky
all part of God’s body.
We simply cannot
make claims to loving any person or being
and then trash that entity’s body.
If I say I love Cherie
and then beat her,
I am a violent liar.
Subsequently,
we cannot make claim that we love God
and then destroy vast portions of the earth
without giving lie to our claim.
We are all culpable, complicit,
in the earth’s destruction.
Love God — love God’s people and creatures and earth.
Figure out how to do that as best suites you.
Frederick Buechner in,
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC,
writes,
“The place God calls you to
is the place
where your deep gladness
and the world’s
deep hunger
meet.”
Think about your
deepest gladness,
your greatest joy,
the true desire of your heart.
Then
find what and who
you can best help with
that joy,
and get to work.
For, our deepest joy is
always discovered
at the heart
of God’s deepest need.

EASTER MORNING

John 20:1-18 — The Message
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?” “They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him, Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?” She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.” Jesus said, “Mary.”Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!” Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

Easter Morning - 2019

Easter Morning

After death.
After several nights of pain
and inexplicable grief.
After watching a friend,
family member, mentor, leader
die,
the disciples’ expectations
were confounded.
The unspeakable,
was said —
He is risen!
The unthinkable
was thought —
The tomb is empty!
The ultimate loss
was itself defeated —
Jesus was returned.
But don’t you think,
and I do, that the
bitterness
of their grief lingered
on their palates
for the rest of their lives?
Take a second.
Think of your own losses,
the grief
you endure,
the sorrow
that sings you to sleep,
that one piece of joy
out of all the joy you feel,
that you continue to lament in your heart of hearts.
We hardly ever speak about our grief,
or allow it to show,
but it is, nonetheless,
real and present
to every one of us.
I do know that you
know this deep kind of grief.
I know you know
that I also
know this deep kind of grief.
I believe that grief
is at the heart of the idea of Resurrection
as more of a looking-back event
than the reportage of a current one.
I have come to believe
that the glory of the Easter Morning Event
was first
discovered by Jesus’
loved ones many years later
at Table
while breaking bread
and pouring cup,
and sharing
with each other,
and that they experienced the miracle of Easter
in their memories
and stories and healings and sharings
as they gathered together
in his memory.
The song says that we serve a risen Savior,
and we do.
We are told that Jesus lives,
and he does.
We gather together here to sing,
to break bread,
to pour cup,
to remember
that because Jesus rose,
and will continue to rise
for us,
and within us all,
we can make sense of our grief.
For in our memory there is life,
in our memory there is healing,
and our memory
is like a road-sign on
our road through life.
Because he lives
in our remembering
we will all live,
we will all rise again,
we will all meet again
those we love
as we share our stories and lives.
Family gatherings,
school reunions,
random moments of storytelling,
breaking bread and
sharing cup at Communion,
in memory there is life.
And, in memory
grief will not win the day!

COME TO MY TABLE

Christiane Swartz is an elder at the Geyserville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Geyserville, CA. She is, with the other elders in a monthly rotation to preach. She is also a seminarian at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA, on a grant from the Disciples Seminary Foundation.

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.

Annie Strawberry

“Come To My Table”

One of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor, said,
“The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self- -to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control,
but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”

How easy this must be
with your friends who follow you,
worship your very breath and
fall all over themselves telling people how awesome you are!
But what about the ones you know will not stand by you?
What about the ones
you know will get you killed??!
Jesus knew he was going down. He had lots of options, presumably.
He could have run away. He could have battled.
He didn’t.
He could have, (and from a human standpoint arguably should have)
at least offloaded Judas, who he knew for days was going to betray him.
But Jesus didn’t live our way.
He did not offload Judas at all!
Instead,
he LOVED him. He INCLUDED him. He FED him.
…Jesus was outrageous like that.
They weren’t even extraordinary, his disciples. They were just NORMAL.
They were ordinary humans, with ordinary, flawed, human impulses.
But Jesus loved them. He had spent his whole life preaching about abundance
and unconditional love.
Especially in a time of such ruthless scarcity,
human impulse is to hoard things like food, money, material goods, power.
The breaking and sharing of bread was
actually countercultural!

So in the face of darkness… Jesus threw a dinner party!

He invited his friends. He insisted on serving them. And he did so much more
than just share a meal.

Jesus’ whole life was symbolized in the act of
giving thanks,
breaking bread,
pouring himself out for others,
sharing.
It is remarkable to me
that given all the choices Jesus had on his last night,
he chose to simply love his disciples and
give them
what they would need to survive what they did not know was coming,
a gift that would be a life raft in the days to come,
and thousands of years later with the same
fervent
relevancy.
The gift of understanding that eternal life and heaven
was not
some distant far off destination,
but that the very act of sharing, loving and forgiving would bring us renewed life
here and now.
The gift of understanding
that this would be what was needed
to fight against darkness.
It was more than an act of love.
It was an act of utter defiance against the dark powers,
against the establishment,
against oppression.
With all the powers he could choose from,
Jesus went to the cross trusting the power of sacrifice and love!

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

And so communion
is the continual living of a story of changing and transforming the world
not with force
but with the breaking of bread.
It is the thing that happens when we invite friends or strangers,
share food, laugh with them, cry with them, hear them.
Something nurturing, something forgiving, something healing.
Maybe not like a bolt of lightning
or even like an “aha” moment,
but like breath,
a sigh,
a soft place to land.
Strength. Hope. Inclusion. A light to drive out darkness.
It happens here in this church.
It happens when we show up to a friend’s house feeling
war-torn and road-weary
and they put a glass in our hand
and something home baked in front of us.
It’s what I pray my family finds at the end of their day
when we drag them to the dinner table and they allow us
to share in their laughter, joys, sorrows.
In these places, we are gifted with Home.
We are gifted with forgiveness.
We are reminded that we are enough, and that in the face of
darkness, aloneness, suffering or fear,
we can
courageously and outrageously
just
choose
love.