A Response to a Too Comfortable Interpretation

Luke 13:10-17 — The Message

He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God. The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.” But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?” When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.

Probabilities #3

A Response to a Too Comfortable Interpretation

Awhile ago someone posted
on Facebook
a pro-LGBTQ+ comment
having to do with
the United Methodist Church’s
recent stand against homosexuality,
and someone else posted
that homosexuality was a sin,
the Bible said so.
It was said
with such confidence
and innocence,
but supporting an attitude
of hate and exclusion
with which Christians have
become so
smugly comfortable.
To be precise
the texts
used in Leviticus and Deuteronomy,
are part of what is termed,
The Holiness Codes.
The same set of codes
that say:
“If a man lies with a male
as with a woman,
both of them have
committed an abomination;
they shall be put to death;
their blood is upon them.” (Lev, 18:22 & 20:13),
also states other
indictments and
judgements and
sentences.
Some concerning adultery (Lev, 20:10).
Others about cursing father and mother (Lev, 20:9).
Another,
“A man or a woman who is a medium
or a wizard shall be put to death;
they shall be stoned to death,
their blood is upon them.” (Lev, 19:31).
It seems that anything God
(or maybe tribal leaders more than God)
finds offensive
to the point of being
an abomination,
is a crime punishable by death.
“If a man marries both a woman and her mother,
that’s wicked.
All three of them must be
burned at the stake,
purging the wickedness
from the community. (Lev, 20:14)
A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel,
nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment;
for whoever does such things is abhorrent
to the Lord your God. (Deut 22:5)
You shall not wear clothes
made of wool and linen
woven together
(any mixed fabrics). Deut, 22:11)
Anyone “who practices divination,
or is a soothsayer, or an augur,
or a sorcerer,
or one who casts spells,
or who consults
ghosts or spirits,
or who seeks oracles from the dead,”
is an abomination. Deut, 18:10 & 11)
We read today
how when Jesus was attacked
about healing
someone on the Sabbath,
he countered with how
they fed and watered their livestock
on the Sabbath,
later he says that
they should mind their own business.
I think that this retort
by Jesus
is also good for the person who
uses ancient biblical
tribal law
to support their own discomfort
with other people’s lifestyles.
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!
And we should,
mind our own business,
because not one of us
is without some fault
that could be punishable
by some biblical code
and put to death.
If we want to hold our LGBTQ+
neighbors up to the fires of abomination,
we should first check out our clothing,
or our tendency
to claim ourselves as Aries, Capricorns, Leos,
or how we speak badly of others,
or whether we have
consulted a Tarot card lately
or the weekly Horoscope predictions.
We might just find ourselves
on the outskirts of our
respective villages
being stoned.

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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?

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Psalm 14 — New Revised Standard Version

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the Lord?
There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

And The Fools

And The Fools

Are the “Fools” Really Fools?

An apologetic for monotheism,
a denunciation of godlessness,
a blow to atheism:
this is one of the intentions
of this Psalm.
I meet people
every day who
deny every tenant of Christianity,
ridicule its existence,
and basically hate God.
But I have been thinking
lately that they might be right
in thinking this
because of the model
of Christianity
with which they have been presented.
Some notions that some Christians hold:
that there is a loving God
who will cast sinners
into a fiery hell,
that homosexuality
can be “cured” by repentance
and salvation,
a denial of science
and the scientific method,
judging that which is
uncomfortable
as a sin,
that claiming the name of
Jesus in some magical formula
is the only way to avoid hell,
that it is somehow OK
to fear and hate other races.
The list goes on and on,
and I wonder how anyone
could possibly be a Christian
if that was the only Christianity
they encountered—
until I remember that being a Christian
should be more about following Jesus
than about claiming Jesus,
and that Christianity
if it is based only upon
doctrine, theology, dogma, judgment, or fear
is faux, false, phony Christianity!
And those
who can’t buy into any of this
sham that masquerades as Christianity
are not fools to deny all of that — however,
they are missing out
on a lot of love and affirmation by doing so.
I do not,
will not,
believe in
or follow a God
or be part of a religion
that is either designed
to encourage and mollify our fears
for purposes of
by naming them as the “norm”
by which others might be judged,
or worship
at any altar built
upon the premise that it is
the only possible altar
at which God can conceivably be worshiped.
When Christianity is molded
around the words and deeds of Jesus
it is a system worthy of my worship.
When Christianity inflicts wounds
instead of facilitating healing,
it is not for me,
and neither is its God.
So I say to any
who think that the God
or the form of Christianity
they have encountered is
sick, or evil, or irrelevant
you are probably correct,
but I strongly suggest
that is not the only
form of Christianity out there.
There are entire communions and churches,
denominations even,
who actively seek to
walk Jesus’ path,
the one that loves unconditionally,
facilitates healing in the world,
affirms all, and welcomes all.
Such is the Jesus-centered Christianity I follow.

IF AS IF

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Mark 4:26-34, New Revised Standard Version He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does … Continue reading

WONDERS AND GLORY

Wonders and Glory

Psalm 19:1-4 — Common English Bible

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
their voices can’t be heard—
but their sound extends throughout the world;
their words reach the ends of the earth.

# # #

Wonders and Glory
Have you ever been absolutely
stunned by God?
I mean
brought-to-your-kneesflabbergasted,
flummoxed,
dumbfounded,
or
come to the abrupt conclusion
that God was in fact — God?
And then looked around yourself
with the realization
that the WOW that is God
dwells in all that is:
every living and breathing creature,
every grain of sand,
fleck of dust,
sparkle of starlight,
breath of life,
gasp of death,
cosmic motion,
lover’s smile,
or dreamer’s tear?
Have you ever
looked at a star,
blade of grass,
morning sunrise,
or heard the
call of a quail,
the breeze through meadow grass,
roll of thunder
and known,
I mean just known
that God is, was, will be
not just God,
but your God — forever?
Have you ever?
Evidently this psalmist did.
If it is possible
that you have never heard
or seen,
or forgotten you have,
I encourage you take the time,
pay more attention,
And let God blow your mind…

A RETELLING

A Place for Retelling

Deuteronomy 5:1 & 18:15-:16

Called to speak.
Called to listen.
Called and answered.
Called and chosen.
Threatened —
by God —
do it right or else!
This book
has an interesting history.
Deuteronomy is purportedly
a “lost” book
found
after the Exile of the
Hebrew people
to Babylon.
It had been hidden,
and turned up mysteriously,
then
“found”
by the new order of ruling priests.
It is full of laws,
holiness codes,
and or-elses from God.
The strong suspicion
by some biblical scholars
is that the
“finders”
actually
wrote it themselves
as a means of establishing their
own power and rightful leadership
in a community torn
apart by being exiled from,
then returned to,
their homes.
Homes that after 60 years
just did not exist anymore.
There is something powerful
here about this
re-construction of hope.
Something worth paying attention to
in the re-telling of old stories.
Remembering that these are the words of priests,
not so much Moses, or God,
we can then see
a desperate attempt by to build hope
and re-construct a sense of place,
of home.
The Hebrew people thought that they
needed these stories to build their
national and personal
self-worth.
This is revisionist history,
and in and if itself
is less than the best way to facilitate healing.
History happened.
Life happened.
Still there is something compelling
in re-telling a story with a different outcome.
Not to actually history,
but to change
how we can change our own outcome
with a different telling.
There is healing in imaging
ourselves surviving trauma
and emerging strong,
not wounded.
I am not promoting denial,
rather exploring a
re-storying where our victimhood
changes into strength and energy
and inner power
and strength.
What stories do we need for this?
How do we need to revision our old stories?
What do we need to hear
that bolster us
in times of distress,
when we feel dispossessed
out of luck,
unloved,
and short on hope?
Who will we listen to
in an age of “false news”?
Who has been called, chosen,
to tell us these stories
we need so desperately to hear?
Do we need stories of conquest?
Are we seeking stories of greatness?
Or,
is it a story of hope,
of love,
of salvation and
fulfilled promise
that we so desperately need to hear?
How would we re-write
our old stories
so they reflect
our own heart’s desire?