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.

Advertisements

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.

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 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.

TRUSTING TO THE END OF THE JOURNEY

Luke 13:18-30 — The Message

Then he said, “How can I picture God’s kingdom for you? What kind of story can I use? It’s like a pine nut that a man plants in his front yard. It grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches, and eagles build nests in it.” He tried again. “How can I picture God’s kingdom? It’s like yeast that a woman works into enough dough for three loaves of bread—and waits while the dough rises.” He went on teaching from town to village, village to town, but keeping on a steady course toward Jerusalem. A bystander said, “Master, will only a few be saved?” He said, “Whether few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on your life with God. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires your total attention. A lot of you are going to assume that you’ll sit down to God’s salvation banquet just because you’ve been hanging around the neighborhood all your lives. Well, one day you’re going to be banging on the door, wanting to get in, but you’ll find the door locked and the Master saying, ‘Sorry, you’re not on my guest list.’ “You’ll protest, ‘But we’ve known you all our lives!’ only to be interrupted with his abrupt, ‘Your kind of knowing can hardly be called knowing. You don’t know the first thing about me.’ “That’s when you’ll find yourselves out in the cold, strangers to grace. You’ll watch Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets march into God’s kingdom. You’ll watch outsiders stream in from east, west, north, and south and sit down at the table of God’s kingdom. And all the time you’ll be outside looking in—and wondering what happened. This is the Great Reversal: the last in line put at the head of the line, and the so-called first ending up last.”

On the Way

TRUSTING TO THE END OF THE JOURNEY

Trusting to the end
of the journey
and not worrying about
how other people walk
with God.
We have our journey,
they have theirs.
I was brought up
to fear for
the eternity to come
for the “unbelievers”.
If I didn’t work
hard at getting them “saved”
then I would be culpable in
their eternal damnation.
I HAD TO GO OUT AND
BRING IN THE SHEAVES
AND SAVE SOULS
FOR JESUS!
That’s not
what I am reading here.
What I am reading
is for me,
and you,
to mind our own business.
What minding our own business
doesn’t mean
is to leave others
to their own suffering
because
they have brought it on
by choosing
to not follow Jesus.
What minding our business
does mean
is to live into the grace that we am given
in our own way
and allow others
to live into the grace
they are given
in their own way.
When Jesus speaks
of the Great Reversal,
he is saying that
our preconceived notions
of others,
and our attendant
biases and prejudices
are going to be thrown
in our faces,
and we will be aghast
at our own choices
in our judgements
of others.
Can we trust to the end
of our own journeys?
This is second Sunday of Lent.
This is our journey
towards the Cross.
This is that time,
where once a year,
our faith
invites us to hold
our own lives,
not someone else,
up to a magnifying glass and
check ourselves out.
Our question for today,
this week, is:
Do we have enough trust in God,
and in God’s process,
to quit judging others
by our very small and
very low standards
and let them grow
into grace by God’s very high
and very loving standards?
Can we trust it all
to the end of the journey?

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.

CLAIMING THE FUTURE

Luke 3:15-17— Christian Standard Bible

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

waters of baptism

Luke 3:15-17
Claiming the Future

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