NOTHING

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 & 23 — New Revised Standard Version

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless…

NOTHING

NOTHING THAT IS NOT
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

There is a difference between
nothing and Nothing.
I mean a lowercase nothing
and a capitalized Nothing.
The kind of nothing that is
empty and desolate
and the kind of Nothing that
is deep and warm and
kind of sparkly.
One nothing is like a desert
prickly and dry and a barren wasteland.
The other lush and full
and verdant and fecund.
I am thinking about prayer.
Prayer as emptying.
Prayer as letting go.
Prayer as absolutely Nothing
Before I continue let’s
consider God for a bit.
How we pray depends entirely
upon our image of God.
So, what is your image of God?
What is mine?
Is one image of God better than another?
Thinking of God as a traffic director,
or a Santa Claus, or a Great Sugar Daddy,
or a dealer in physical commodities
who therefore doles out
alms, charity, handouts, subsidies,
stipends, welfare,
or quick fixes in times of disaster,
or physical healings,
or the goodies we most want,
may not be the most fruitful way to consider God
in terms of our spiritual growth.
Thinking of God as one who companions,
who walks with, who suffers with,
through Whom we gather
wisdom and insights
and in Whom we find solace and comfort
is another.
The Nothing of which I write comes
from this latter consideration of God.
Begging God for stuff and health and life
does not grow us.
This is praying from our brains
and it is a form of surface prayer.
Asking God to show us more of God
is a sure bet to discover the very
necessities we need.
Deep prayer is a means
to start learning about
and understanding and knowing God
at the deepest level of our souls.
We generally tend to think about God
in negative terms—
terrible things happen to me
because God wants me to learn a lesson.
God watches me and knows when I do wrong
and will punish me for it.
God killed God’s son so I can be saved
from a fiery hell that God has created
for us to go if we don’t follow God.
These are all ways that we create a God
that is untrustworthy and treacherous.
The Idea of God as a loving God
and as a God who actually cares for us
more than God cares for
God’s own weak and needy ego
takes a hit with this kind of
negative God-thinking.
In deep prayer we learn of a God
that is tender, nurturing,
generous, and patient.
We learn of a God that loves, just loves.
We also discover that this loving God
will transform us if we will learn to pray
without expectations, or demands.
If we will learn to come to God
with an open soul,
then this open soul
can learn and discover—God.
So how do we do that?
How can we learn to
pray without begging,
pray without expecting,
pray with an open soul?
Over the rest of October
I am going to answer these questions,
but for now I will offer that
the first step
in this kind of praying is
learning to sit in silence—
earn to love solitude.
The second step
is sit with patience before God.
The third step
is to trust God with our open souls.
The fourth step
is to learn to listen with our soul.
The last step
is to let go to our
preconceived notions of God.
The step after the last step
is to begin the steps again
understanding that there
really are no steps.

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THE CALL OF JEREMIAH

Welcome guest preacher, Christiane Swartz! She is a member and Elder in the Geyserville Christian Church. Christiane is also a Seminarian with Disciples Seminary Foundation and studying for a Master of Divinity at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA.

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Jeremiah 1:4-10 — New International Version

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiahs Call

Jeremiah spent over four decades preaching, and beseeching those around him to hear God’s message. F.o.r.ty. y.e.ar.s. “Trust God.” “Put down your false idols.” “Stop with your greed.” “Come back to God before things get really bad.”
He preached relentlessly, tirelessly, and with gusto. Why?
Because God called him.
You would think that kind of reference would come with a high regard, but no. For his efforts, Jeremiah was ridiculed, beaten and jailed repeatedly over four decades, thrown into a muddy cistern and left to die and ultimately rescued only to be stoned to death by his fellow countrymen.
And Jeremiah might have still been a teenager when he was asked, but he clearly wasn’t stupid. That did not look like a job description he wanted! “Uh…no,” he responded to God, “No THANK YOU.”
So God said, “Yes, I really really really want you to,” and whatever God said to Jeremiah was compelling enough that eventually, Jeremiah said yes.
Why ever would someone say yes to a life like that? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind serving God. Let me rescue cute kitties and duckies. Let me feed the poor and feel good about myself while my neighbors talk about how awesome I am! Let me hear another’s pain and offer words of caring and support to their grateful souls. I’m happy to help. There’s no reason for me to be miserable and abused for my efforts.
Right???
Not always, apparently. So I think this passage leaves me with more questions than answers. Was he predestined to that life? Did God PLAN that one person would live a quiet contented life knitting sweaters for goats in Nepal but Jeremiah would be stoned to death after a miserable existence of offering a message that no one seems to want to hear? How did he really know he was called? How did he understand what he was being asked to do with gifts he didn’t think he had? Could he have said no? Does God mastermind the process? Would God protect people God calls? Would God allow bad things to happen to them in the process? Or does God only agree to companion in ways that only God might understand? And why wouldn’t God just fix things God’s own self and not torture us with the bloody details? I’m not sure we get to know those answers. A mystery. These may seem like irrelevant questions. After all, who cares what happened 2600 years ago.
Right???

Except.

Except for the news headlines this week.
“…Threats to raise tariffs on Chinese goods to 30% amid escalating trade war.”
“Near the Amazon fires, residents are sick, worried, angry.”
“The planet’s lungs are burning.”
“Gay workers not covered by civil rights law…”
“Aid volunteer faces 20 years in prison for giving food and water to migrants near the border.”
“ICE detention centers preparing for longer average stays by migrant families.”
“Federal court rules that detained migrant children are entitled to toothbrushes and soap.”
“San Jose opens first affordable housing complex for the homeless.”
“…Christian fundamentalists are pouring dark money into Europe, boosting the far right.”
“Ship captain who faces prison time for migrant rescues refuses Paris bravery medal.”
“Mom who inspired millions in her fight to get a liver, dies at 39.”
“North Korea launches more short range missiles…”
“Colorado becomes the first state to cap insulin prices.”
“City council candidate: Keep town as white as possible.”
Kenya social media outrage saves Giraffe with bone tumor.”
Greed…false idols…distance from God…pain…grief…mistrust. It’s still around us everywhere. Not just this week. But last week. Today. Now.

And so are those who are called to somehow DO something about it and remind us who we are. I believe we are all called to do something. I don’t think it matters if we are a prophet or a poet or an activist or a dishwasher at the happy hen. There is a quote by William Tyndale that says, “There is no work better than another to please God: to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a [cobbler], or an apostle, all are one; to wash dishes and to preach are all one, as touching the deed, to please God.”
William Tyndale was an English scholar during the reformation who was burned at the stake for his efforts to translate the bible into English. Because he believed, as the Disciples of Christ do, that everybody should be able to read and understand the Bible for themselves.

So it would seem that none of us are really excused from asking the questions and living our own answer.

What are you being called to do?

Are you paying attention?

Will you pretend not to recognize God… like that acquaintance at the store we don’t really want to see, and duck into another aisle?

Will you trust that you are enough?

Will you say yes?

Hopefully we’re not being called to be stoned to death or burned at the stake whilst just trying to do the right thing.

But these are examples of people absolutely committed to the something- a hope, a dream, a promise, a belief- bigger than themselves.

What is that something?

How do we honor that possibility in our own lives?

(Christiane Swartz 8/25/19)

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.

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.

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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?

Image

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