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.

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?”

Get to Work

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 on today
is not what
we work on tomorrow.
We are called on
to engage in facilitating
the healing
of the wounds around 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
or small portions,
of the earth
without giving lie
to our claim.
We are all culpable
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.

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.

A CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE

Luke 15:1-3 — The Message
By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story. Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any. “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time. “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’ “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

HOW GOD WORKS

“A Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
Luke 15:1-32

The “Love”
about which Jesus
preaches,
demonstrates,
acts out,
lives out,
and
builds the kingdom,
is not your average
run-of-the-mill
kind of love.
It is not based
on human comfort
or expedience,
or some
esoteric notion
built upon a philosophical
(Augustinian, Melanchthonistic, Calvinistic,
dogmatic, systematic, or biblically correct
or any other) construct.
This love is lived in a
real-time
set of actions
that are based on
totally
non-human,
God-constructed values.
Humans,
of their own volition,
would hold back love as a condition
or prize
for abiding by
cultural, legal, or religious conformity.
We can demand that those to whom
we portion out love
do what makes us
comfortable
or keeps us safe,
but God gives love
out freely regardless of our
explanations of belief or non-belief.
God cares not a thing
about who we think
should acquire our love and mercy.
Humans want love to be earned
through right actions, fidelity,
good thoughts,
with all sorts of stipulations.
But love in not a commodity.
God just seems to arbitrarily
hand it out at will — to anyone.
Humans have the notion
that love needs to be earned,
deserved,
a merit-valued service
to be avariciously
allocated as warranted.
God’s idea of
love-giving
is a
lavishly squandering drenching of grace.
Those who see love
as a commodity are
continually confounded
by God’s notion of freely
giving love and showering grace,
even forgiveness,
on those they deem unworthy.
It seems many
would like permission
to judge and hate.
God’s notion of love
is not comfortable to many of us,
and we would like permission
to take revenge on our enemies.
This was particularly in
evidence when
the Death Penalty
was suspended not too long ago.
The shrieks for
vengeance and revenge were loud,
but they were neither
God’s voice
nor were they based
upon the unconditional love
Jesus taught and acted out.
We seem to be able to love
those who love us,
but it is almost,
if not impossible,
for us to love and forgive
an enemy.
It is a crazy little thing called love.
But it is not so crazy
to God.
It is crazy to humans
who have hardened their hearts
and turned a vengeful soul
to a gospel of love.
Love.
Love to all.
Love for everyone.
Love.
Just love.
Love.

BE NICE

Luke 6:27-38 — The Message
“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

Lessons

Lessons

Be Nice

Be nice, be kind,
don’t hurt others,
you don’t get to have revenge
and you have to, yes,
have to,
forgive.
Many confuse piety
and self-righteousness
with what Jesus asks of us.
To my thinking
that is wrongheaded,
because this text is the
central theme
in Jesus’ ministry and teaching.
Some think they
can pretend Jesus
expects certain
holy poses
from us.
They construct rules about
what is non-Christian
behavior,
telling us how they think
Christians
should look
and act
and exist
and all the ways
they have
defined correct “Christian” comportment.
I think this text is clear —
be kind!
That’s it.
That’s all.
We are challenged to let
the cup of our hearts
be so full of God
that we will overflow
the joy of
forgiveness and kindness,
over all the
meanness and cynicism
of the world.
We are urged
to give back joy for anger,
light for the dark,
forgiveness for harm,
love for hate,
peace for dissension,
hope for despair.
I believe we
are asked
to listen to
and hear in
all of the negativity
with which we are confronted,
not a perceived
attack upon us,
but the cries of the
broken heart of the world,
the wounded cry
in all broken, frightened,
hearts we meet,
for a chance
to offer healing.