RAGTAG & DISORGANIZED

Isaiah 11:1-10 — The Message

A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch. The life-giving Spirit of GOD will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-GOD. Fear-of-GOD will be all his joy and delight. He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

Disorganized Religion - flat - web

Ragtag and Disorganized

I am thinking about our journey,
as a church and as a people.
I am thinking how crazy
this journey seems to be at times.
Not just crazy,
but convoluted,
bendy/twisty,
and fairly obscure with
no signage to speak of,
and what there is of that being
fairly unreadable and in a language
with metaphors I’ve never,
ever, quite understood.
Still,
I was told that the way to all I pray for
(a heart in sync with God’s Spirit),
this path I am following,
is in actuality,
straight and narrow and really clear.
What’s up with that?
I have put quite a bit of thought into this,
“What’s up with that?” question
and I have concluded that what’s up
is that all the organization
that religions try to claim
is actually really disorganized
to the point of fragmentation
and those
who are self-tasked
with promoting faiths
and denominations and religious systems
in general are desperately
doing their best at trying to sell us rules
and concepts and gobs
of spiritual make-work,
and failing,
because they are just as full of fear
and as confused as those
they are trying to manipulate
to their way of thinking.
All in all their organizations
are wholly fictional,
and they are exactly
as disorganized as they pretend
not to be.
AND THEN
there is what I will term,
honest and intentional disorganized religion.
This faith-walk makes no pretence
of being organized and actually
follows the winding and convoluted path of Jesus
who ambled and rambled
around breaking
religious rules and dogmas and standards,
healing and setting free those so
bound in religious junk
they had given up on church
and in many cases, life itself.
I am on this path with Jesus.
There are no answers only mystery.
There is no dogma only desire.
There are no formulas for salvation only hope.
There is only a tender, fragile, green shoot
in a long dead stump—Jesus and us.
We have diverse spiritualities and goals,
and different spiritual languages.
We don’t want our leaders to
form us into their faith,
but to help and encourage
the fragile shoots that are us
to more deeply discover our own paths.
This is Disorganized Religion:
we are a ragtag and disorganized people
of faith gathered together
in Mystery and by Mystery
to pray together and be strong
as we share in each other’s
different faith-journeys and discoveries.
This is us.

RACISM 101b, White Fragility

Acts 10:34-36 “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.
Matthew 7:12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
Matthew 25:41-46 ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Racism 101b

WHITE FRAGILITY
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Speaking to the white people, here:
When did you first realize you were “white”?
When did you first realize that “whiteness”
had privilege just on the basis of “whiteness”?
It was May 26, 1966, for me.
My daughter, Shannon,
had been born the day before
and I had gone into a liquor store
to buy a box of cigars to pass out.
I turned away from the register and
saw there were six
black men looking at me,
and I had this overwhelming
sense of “whiteness,”
mixed in with a strong
portion of fear,
and I said,
“Hey, it’s a girl!!!”
and passed out some cigars.
They all grinned shook my hand,
took a cigar
and congratulated me.
I was still white when I walked out,
and they were still black,
but in some small way
I had been transformed by the experience.
I am white.
I am male.
I have a higher-than-average degree.
I have privilege
and access
and entitlement
and class status—
not because of me
but simply
because of the color of my skin.
Everyone
who has whiteness of skin
has this privilege—everyone—
and without really doing anything special,
except just being white.
It’s called “White Privilege,”
and it is something that
white people,
consciously or unconsciously,
feel we need to protect.
I have come to believe
that most white people
are addicted
to their own need
to maintain their white privilege
and the entitlements that
come with that privilege,
and we become nervous
and fearful when they are threatened.
We can all be in denial
about that statement
but let’s see if it is true.
This morning I am going to talk
about what is termed, “White Fragility.”
In her book by the same title,
Robin Diangelo states that it is the dynamic
by which white people control
or shut down
any conversation about race
that makes us uncomfortable
or afraid.
In a conversations
about Affirmative Action,
for example,
many times a white person
will shut it down by claiming
that Affirmative Action is just
another way to cheat the system.
Or a white person will attempt
to use the law to try to get
into a school because, of course,
their whiteness
ought to have a chance, too.
In talks about helping the poor
there are some who will attempt
to stop such talk
by proclaiming that people
of one race or another are
lazy, stupid,
and out to get their (the white person’s) share
in one way or another,
steal as much welfare
as they can from the system,
and claim that people of color
are getting more than their
fair share from the system.
Even not using birth control
and breeding more children
for that very purpose.
Many white people,
when seeing the news about
people of color marching,
or protesting, state
that they should just settle down
and let well enough alone.
I have heard white people say
that the “Black Lives Matter” movement is
just more people of color complaining
and think it should be
“all lives” matter, or
“white lives” matter,
or “blue lives” matter,
because people of color
are no better than whites,
never once understanding the real
issues that underly the protests.
Many people of a white complexion
express anger and confusion
when on Cinco de Mayo some Hispanics
fly Mexican flags,
saying that so doing is unamerican
and the flag-flyers ought to
go back to Mexico where they belong.
These are all expressions of White Fragility.
Again, White Fragility is the dynamic
that some white people use to
manipulate and control the conversations
around race in a way that
effectively shuts them down
so whites can feel safer in their whiteness.
White Fragility as a way to control
conversations about racism
is really about the desperation
of white people
who are afraid of losing their place
at a table that they own lock, stock, and barrel,
have complete control of,
even to the crumbs that fall on the floor,
and are still afraid of losing
even the crumbs.
Psychiatrist Gerald May suggests
that we humans are all true addicts
in every sense of the word,
and that an addiction
is not only about substances,
but is about anything that keeps us
from the grace and the pure love
that God has for us.
In this way we white people
can be understood to be addicted
to our whiteness.
It might be hard to admit
but our addiction to whiteness
is devastating
to us as a nation,
to people of color,
to our souls.
We cannot act out our fear
of losing our place at the table
and keep others from having a place there
without doing significant damage
to our own souls.
I believe that the last two texts
in our readings today,
Matthew 7:21
and
Matthew 25:41-46,
speak directly
to the consequences
of our White Fragility.
Not being recognized
by God is significant
to the health of our souls.
The ones who are the least—
the unentitled and unprivileged—
are the very ones
we whites are so afraid of
and fight so hard against
so we can maintain our white privilege.
In the end it is not about protecting
our privilege
or our entitlements,
but about making sure
we share them
with all who ask us to share.
I have had conversations about race,
where many times the retort
is that the notion of racism
is nothing more
than a liberal/progressive’s attempt
at being politically correct.
Just another
“snowflake whining
and trying to control the lives and freedoms
of true Americans.”
My response to that is this:
What you are so derogatorily terming
Political Correctness is, in actuality
offering another human being grace,
feeling empathy for someone else,
and I understand grace
as the ultimate healing
for our White Fragility.

RACISM 101a, how do we begin the undoing?

Micah 6:1-8 – New Revised Standard Version

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Undoing

How Do We Begin Undoing?
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

When I was in the 1st grade
I had two little friends.
I really liked them,
and played with them
every recess and at lunch.
They were black, but I did not know that—
they were just my friends.
My parents found out that
they were black and got very upset.
I was told that I had to tell them
that I couldn’t play with them anymore
because my mother said,
“they were not my kind.”
I didn’t understand, and felt sad,
but I did what I was told.
I remember that when I told them
I could see something change in their eyes,
and in that instant they went
from being my friends
to being my enemies.
I was brought up to be a racist,
but I refused.
It was a struggle.
It has many times been a painful process.
I once accused my parents of being racists,
and they became outraged, denying it,
vociferously proclaiming my wrongness.
I am not sure there are many racists
who will admit to being a racist,
or of acting in a racist fashion.
This is why racism is so hard to undo:
no one wants to own their racism.
It is still hard for me to own up to mine.
Yet, according to the information
I receive in the workshops I’ve attended,
racism is the state of our lives.
We all are racist to a degree.
It is not to be confused
with the kind of racism
that is vicious
and evil
and goes out of its way
to do harm,
but it is nonetheless insidious because
we are not conscious of it,
doing it and obviously being
a part of the problem instead of the solution.
There is no such thing as being “color-blind.”
The danger in denying our own racism
is that we will then act it out unknowingly
and harm others and ourselves through
our unthought-out words.
Racism is defined as
“prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism
directed against someone of a
different race
based on the belief that one’s
own race is superior,”
but it is more than that.
I would like to add my own definition.
Racism is when we look—
consciously or unconsciously—
at a person
of a different race than our own
and stereotype that person and discount
their validity as a human
based upon our own fear of that race,
our own fear of things and people
who are different,
or because we listen to and believe
gossip and false stories
about a particular race
told to us by people we think of as friends.
In this way racism becomes
cultural and endemic
to our personal meaning making,
to our culture and our institutions.
If you make assumptions about people
based upon their ethnicity
the assumptions are racist.
Thinking of a person of another color
as having a particular character flaw
because of their race,
is making a racist assumption.
In a very true sense,
if we think of our race
as special in any way,
and doing so gives us a feeling
of comfort or superiority,
we indeed are thinking and acting
in a racist fashion.
So, how do we undo the damage?
First we need to admit to it.
Second, we have to want to change.
Third, we must to be willing
to do the hard work of changing our
attitudes and thought processes.
We start paying attention to our thoughts and
the words that come out of our mouths.
We listen to what we say,
and think about how that might affect others.
We do not use race as a referent
when speaking of a person or group.
Always remember that the job of a Christian
is to do justice.
We are to love kindness
and to be kind.
Walking humbly
is looking at our own racism
and owning up to it.
It is to change how we think and speak
about others.
In a very real way
acts of racism
are acts that steal another’s humanity,
and when we steal another’s humanity
we are also losing
just a little of our own.

GOD WON’T FORGET, BUT HAVE WE?

Amos 8:4-7 – New Revised Standard Version
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying,
“When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Wall

GOD WON’T FORGET, BUT HAVE WE?

We all seem to learn
from what is written in the Bible.
Some of it is good
and healing and full
of love and grace.
Some of it is divisive
and ugly and full of hate.
Many Christians
seem to focus on what
Phillis Trible
refers to as the “Texts of Terror.”
She writes from
a feminist perspective,
I write from the
perspective of one
who reads this book
searching hopefully for grace.
But the book is compiled
in a way that has
grace almost
occluded and hidden
under so many layers
of tribal fear
and suspicion
that it seems easier
to preach politics and hate
from it
than to find passages
of true grace.
The book seems so
burdened with suspicion
of the other
and justification
for judgement and condemnation
that the grace
is usually missed.
Yet, here it is:
BE NICE
TO THOSE WHO
ARE POOR AND NEEDY!
DON’T BE CRUEL
TO THOSE YOU DEEM LESSER!
DO NOT CHEAT
SO YOU CAN MORE
IMPOVERISH
THE ALREADY
IMPOVERISHED!
There are some
who have taken passages
of this book
and twisted the words
so they become evil
and hurtful,
or they just plain
ignore the grace entirely.
How else do you explain
finding justifications
for locking asylum-seekers
out of our borders,
caging children,
using scripture
to justify white supremacy and nationalism,
and then having the audacity
to accuse those of us
who dare
to stand against them
as politicizing scripture,
as making our churches
into political churches.
Still God says
that we are to do
the opposite of fear.
We are to do
the opposite of hate.
We are to do
the opposite of finding
comfort from the unease
of those who beg,
yes beg,
for us to share
just a small portion
of the grace
we have been given.
Righteousness is not
piety
and nice pretty
spirituality.
Righteousness is
doing justice!
Let us not be accused
of forgetting
to pass on to others
the grace
we have been given.

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?

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.

THE FRAGRANCE OF LIFE

John 12:1-8 — The Message

Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them. Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

Potentiality #22

Potentiality #22

“The Fragrance of Life”

There’s a Mac Davis song from the 1970s,
“Stop and Smell the Roses,”
You’re gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t Stop and Smell the roses along the way.
Mary.
Mary with the expensive perfume.
A perfume used both
to cover the smell of death
and to celebrate life.
Mary
who just loves.
Mary
who unashamedly just gives her best,
and then gets shot down for it.
Mary,
your love is
true and lovely and perfect.
How many times
have our offerings of love
been misunderstood,
and shot down
by someone too needy to
understand love
or an offering of love?
How many times
have we shot down love?
A friend once bought
his lover
a very expensive bottle
of perfume.
His lover became
enraged
and said
she was not worth the price of it
and made him take it back.
He was brokenhearted,
devastated.
He kept asking me
what was so wrong
with his offering of love
that she would reject it.
You know,
in various ways
we do this
all the time to those
who love us,
and because we just
do not understand the nature of love,
we try to shoot down
their offerings of love.
Whether Judas
was actually the bad guy
he was made out to be
is neither here nor there.
The story
has him needy and greedy
and desperate for
what Mary offered Jesus—
I read this not so much as about the money,
but about the love behind the offering.
So he tries to wreck Mary.
He belittles her
act of love and tries
to elbow
his self-righteous posturing
between Mary
and her intention.
Jesus will have none of it.
He says,
“Let her alone!”
So beware of those who
would turn profound
acts of love into
insubstantial acts
of silliness or fool’s errands.
There is a lovely fragrance
to our lives
and our living,
and we should inhale it deeply.
It is to enjoy,
and to those who
will try to steal your dream,
to those who
would belittle your fragrant
offering of love,
to those who
would deny you
the loveliness of your story,
nothing stinks here
but the death
in their judgement.
LEAVE IT! STOP!
There are roses to smell.

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.

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.

JUBILEE: DISTRIBUTING THE LOVE

Luke 4:14-21 — Common English Bible

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

transformation detail #22

Jubilee: Distributing the Love

The Jewish people had waited
for the coming of the year of Jubilee —
that special year promised by God.
It was a year
for which they would save up,
putting aside
enough supplies the prior year
so they could live
a full year without working.
Like the weekly Sabbath,
it was full of regulations
and rules, so the people of God
could concentrate on God
instead of hand-to-mouth survival.
Captives were also freed.
Debts were to be forgiven
and written off by the lender,
properties that had been
passed down by birthright
and lost to indebtedness
were to be returned
to the original families.
It was a year of economic leveling.
It was a year of reestablishing equity
and redistributing of wealth among the people.
It was a year of which to dream,
but to avoid in real life
because it meant not only getting stuff back,
but giving stuff up.
Some claim it was celebrated
until the 6th Century BCE
and that the year of Jubilee
had not actually occurred since.
Jesus’ claim here
is that it is in him that the Jubilee is reinstated.
This is why I have come to see
that Christianity itself
should be,
if it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus
a system of leveling
of the economics of all societies.
I see Christianity as
distinct for Marxism and Socialism only
in that they are systems bereft of God,
or Jesus.
Functionally
and structurally there is not
a lot of difference in the systems.
Because Jesus IS the year of Jubilee
Christianity should be as well.
By extension,
as followers of Jesus,
WE are anointed
to be that year as well.
And as Jesus attempted,
we are to attempt
to free the captives and
forgive our debtors.
This is neither an abstract
concept nor is it a fiction,
it is our commission.
But you see,
it is easier to have our debts forgiven,
than to forgive a debt owed to us.
Redistribution of love,
of wealth,
of health,
of freedom,
of access and entitlement
becomes a messy endeavor
for many Christians
and is a concept
some think might
best left in the pages
of the Bible.
Nonetheless,
while we can’t do it all,
maybe even nothing at all,
we are called to try
to bring about
some part of this year
through the living of our lives.
To discover what part
of it we can do.
It is not just what
we are called to proclaim,
this is what we are asked
to attempt to
live out.

WATER TO WINE

John 2:1-11 — The Message

There was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.” Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.” Six earthen water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim. “Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did. When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!” This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

leaf & grape

John 2:1-11
Water to Wine

Water to wine.
From water to fine,
fine, wine.
This happens here in the
Alexander and Dry Creek valleys.
We get,
are getting,
rain—water,
and it is transformed
into fine wine.
Neither magic nor miracle,
but just how nature works.
The party-goers knew wine.
They could tell good
from incredible wine.
They knew what he did,
they didn’t know how he did it,
It was one of those WOW moments.
What are the WOW moments we have?
You know,
those moments
when something
we thought was not going to be fixable
got fixed,
and we are not sure how
it happened,
but there you are,
fixed.
Sometimes it is a secret
and broken
thing
deep within us,
that is hidden and obscure.
Something we never
allow to see the light of day,
lurking
in the shadows of
our subconscious.
A brokenness
and attendant shame
with which we
just seem to coexist.
And then,
healed,
gone
in a mysterious
way that can only be
attributed to God.
We are those earthen vessels
holding wash-water.
We hold that stale
water waiting
to be transformed.
Will we choose
to be transformed
into that incredible wine.
It means changed.
It means being different.
Have we been,
will we be,
do we dare be
transformed?

Advent & Christmas Reflections

Advent Candles #1

ADVENT 1 — DO NOT BE AFRAID

It is what the angel said, you know?
“Do not be afraid…”
I Wonder if this angel knows what it is to fear,
knows what it means to try to not be afraid
when the fear is sufficating you?
I wonder? Depending on your version,
in some form or another
the phrase, “Do not be aftaid,”
appears over 360 times in scripture.
That’s a lot of distress.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world depended on the answer.
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us and
angels keep telling us
to not be scared.
From God’s perspective,
God needs us for God’s work
because we are the only ones who can do it.
On the human’s (our) side,
that work is always life-altering, scary, hard,
and, as finite beings, really beyond our
skill-set and pay grade.
Still God keeps asking, we keep being afraid.
and God keeps sending angels
to tell us not to have anxiety attacks,
and, still, we keep saying, “Yes.”
But without us saying, “Yes,” there would be
no BIG stories, no myths, no great sagas,
no heros, no successes-writ-large, and
by extension, no hope, no salvation,
no joy, and certainly no Jesus
The Advent stories, the Christmas stories:
these are our stories.
These stories are about who we are, not so much about God.
I like that, but it does put some weight on my answer
when I am the one called.
A “Yes” or a “No” does indeed mean
the future of the whole world.

# # #

ADVENT 2 — PRAYING WITH MARY

Praying with Mary is a strange concept for many
Free Church Protestants. We say things like,
it sounds really Catholic,
we pray on our own, we don’t pray like that,
and I wonder, Why not?
The answer probably lies
somewhere between
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,”
and
“Asking a dead person to pray with me
seems really yucky, so why should I?”
Well, we, as Christians,
do believe that we are not alone in the cosmos,
and that there is life after death,
and many of us have had experiences
of Presence in one way or another
that many times we pretend we haven’t had,
but nonetheless know full well ocurred.
My point here is that
there is something that makes us bigger
when we pray with others.
So praying with Mary as she
prays a prayer that engages the Power of God
within the human condition,
the God which has raised up
and delivered and made whole
the least of the least,
is a powerful and life-changing way to pray.
So I ask can we pray with Mary,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”?
Can our souls do that? Can our spirits rejoice?
And then can we recognize
God’s power to change the conditions within the world?
This was Mary’s prayer of acceptance
to a world that would be forever changed by her Yes.
I think that it took an innordinate amount of courage for
her to pray that prayer. Can we find that courage
as well and pray with her, and how will our world be changed if we do?

# # #

ADVENT 3 — IMMIGRANTS AND SOJOURNERS

Long drives.
Destinations we know of,
but have never seen,
and to which we journey
with trepidation.
Feeling like strangers in places
where we should be welcomed
and embraced.
Stories of hope
morphing into dread.
Always leaving the known
for the unknown.
Pilgrims, caravans of the helpless,
praying for a welcoming that does
not happen but is turned
into hate and affliction.
Pregnant and turned away in a border town.
Pregnant and turned away in a Capital city.
Living lives at the whims of uncaring politicians
and hearts hardened to their plight.
Defying death by living in spite of threats,
aggression, Roman soldiers, border guards,
inhuman laws, shut doors, and hatred.
Settling into the filth and wreckage of living conditions
designed to stultify, beat down, smother the dream out of even
the greatest dreamer the world has ever known.
But stultifiers and dream-crushers lose in the end,
because the dream will not be silenced.
Whether asylem-seekers from Central and South America,
Africa, or the Middle-east,
be they Greek, Roman, Jew, Christian, or Galilean,
their salvation is at hand,
and they will be delivered—set free.
God has made promisses God’s people are commissioned to keep.
Set the captives free, lead the those in need to their salvation,
open the doors of a stable so the weary
sojourner can find rest, and
make a way for Jesus to find a safe haven.

# # #

ADVENT 4 — MESSENGERS

Who is that who comes to me?
What is this fearsome creature
who pauses before me?
What is it that this otherly being
is trying to tell me?
It/He/She, the apparation is gone now.
But I wonder what is it I have missed? What?
God sent angels, messengers,
joined by huge angelic choirs
to announce the coming of Jesus.
I have been on a tear this past week —
getting things ready for Christmas,
buying stuff, fixing stuff, getting stuff — stuff, stuff, stuff…
It comes to me that while I might think
I am ready for Christmas,
am I really? Is my heart ready? Is my soul ready?
Are my relationships road-worthy
for a four-week trip by donkey to Bethlehem?
And then, after all is said and done on Christmas morning,
have all my Advent preparations been worthless or worthy?
Have I seen and paid attention to the angels
standing by my busy path, and who call out to me:
“Here, right here is Jesus! This one, that one, those over there,
they will lead you to Bethlehem, if you will but let them.
They have an open room for you
if you will only have an open room your heart…”
And I pray this morning that I will meet and greet
the angels who come to show
me the way to Bethlehem
with grace and love.

# # #

CHRISTMAS EVE — LOVE

The child is birthed
and is held
and lives
and dies
and is raised
and is carried
and is re-birthed
as long as our hearts
are willing
to carry out
the cycle of
Hope
and Peace
and Joy
and Love
and Passion
and Glory.
And you know this already:
it is all God asks,
or expects,
you to do.
It is a nativity
of love
a claim upon
our hearts
and an eternal
statement that
love will always win.

“CHRISTMAS PRAISES”

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?

WHO ARE WE?

Mark 10:46-52 — New Revised Standard Version
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Transformation Detail #13

Transformation Series: Detail #13

WHO ARE WE?
What are we?
Just a couple of quick thoughts.
Last week I spoke
about speaking out,
naming injustice,
demanding to be heard.
The scripture for this week
demands that we make a choice.
Will we be the ones silencing
those who cry for justice,
or will we be the ones
who listen to the pain
and lead those
needy souls to
Jesus?
Will we tell the sightless
they cannot hope to see,
because, of course,
they are blind.
Will we tell the voiceless
to shut up,
stay silent,
and not make waves?
What will we choose to do?
What kind of a people are we,
anyway?
I have both stood with,
and stood against,
those who cry out for justice.
Commenter,
Kathryn Matthews,
tells us that
the disciples were so caught
up in their potential magnificence
that no one
speaks up for Bartimaus.
I too have missed my cues
as a follower of Jesus.
Caught up in the wonder
that is me,
I have turned an unhearing ear
away from the ones
crying out for justice.
For those times of indifference,
for those times of non-support
I am grievously sorry,
and I am determined
to do better as other chances
arise
to lead the hopeless
to the one who gives ultimate hope.
So who am I?
What am I?
What path do I follow?
I do my best,
now,
to be one who listens
to and for
the calls of the oppressed
and the downtrodden,
and to say
to those who cry out for justice,
“Take heart;
get up,
he is calling you,”
and help lead them
into their vision.
It is important to note
that at this time,
as theologian
Megan McKenna explains,
Jericho was a dangerous,
even violent,
place filled with bandits
but also with insurgents
who were skirmishing
with the Roman Empire.
Who are we,
and where do we hang out,
and are we willing
to stop and listen
even when
it is dangerous for us to do so?

PRESENTS TO THE POOR?

Esther 7 — The Message
So the king and Haman went to dinner with Queen Esther. At this second dinner, while they were drinking wine the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what would you like? Half of my kingdom! Just ask and it’s yours.” Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives. “We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn’t even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn’t have been worth bothering the king over.” King Xerxes exploded, “Who? Where is he? This is monstrous!” “An enemy. An adversary. This evil Haman,” said Esther. Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, spoke up: “Look over there! There’s the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai, who saved the king’s life. It’s right next to Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high!” So Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai. And the king’s hot anger cooled. Mordecai wrote all this down and sent copies to all the Jews in all King Xerxes’ provinces, regardless of distance, calling for an annual celebration on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as the occasion when Jews got relief from their enemies, the month in which their sorrow turned to joy, mourning somersaulted into a holiday for parties and fun and laughter, the sending and receiving of presents and of giving gifts to the poor.

Caring for the Weak

Holding Up The Weak

Presents to the Poor?

A major national celebration
because of a
decision that brought salvation
to the people of God.
It was a close call,
a near miss.
What would become the entire
Hebrew nation
was almost made extinct.
So yes,
a huge celebration.
But here is where
I discover the Spirit of God at work.
That same Spirit that
Jesus embodied so well,
and that dwells within us
if we will allow it to.
Right at the end of the call to
a celebration party,
Mordecai added
what I think is the heart
of the Hebrew understanding
of their forever obligation to God.
He created a holiday
for parties and fun and laughter,
and a time to give each other presents,
but also a time
to give gifts to the poor.
Caring for the poor
is a key theme throughout the Hebrew scriptures.
It is a key theme in Jesus’ message.
And it should be
a key theme for all of Christianity.
According to Hebrew scripture,
and Jesus’ teachings,
this taking care for the less fortunate
of our brothers and sisters
is the obligation
of those who have the ability to do so.
Another way to say this is that
speaking for and listening to,
the voiceless,
caring for the least of the least,
the spiritually/mentally/emotionally needy,
the sick,
the widows,
the orphans,
listening to abused women, men, and children,
is the obligation of the entitled.
It seems that when we
begin to think of salvation
as an event experienced
by only the individual we go wrong.
Because all of us
are affected by all national events,
our salvation
is also a community event,
and it should be a community
celebration
for the rich and the poor alike.
So yes, the poor,
the least — all those strangers who are not us
should be invited to the salvation party
and given gifts.
So when I hold the events
occurring in the Senate around
the Supreme Court fiasco this week
against scriptures such as these,
I find no evidence of God’s Spirit,
or God’s justice at work,
and I wonder what it will take
for the poor, the oppressed,
the voiceless, the weak
to be heard
by the entitled in this nation?

I WILL LIVE WHERE I WILL CHOOSE

2 Samuel 7:1-14 New Revised Standard Version
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

In My House

IN MY HOUSE

I Will Live Where I Will Choose

This reading presents an interesting idea.
David wants to build God
a house for God.
God wants nothing
of David’s idea,
not needing a house.
David wants God’s house
to look like it is the
home of the God of
a conquering king.
God is satisfied
living in a tent.
The idea is that God’s desire
for where to worship God,
has nothing
to do with humanity’s need
for design, style, pomp, flair, beauty,
or bragging rights.
Entire cathedrals
have been built on David’s premise.
Super-structures
made of glass and gold,
brick and stone,
taking generations and
entire livelihoods to construct.

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

A RISKY INVITATION

 

A Risky Invitation
Acts 2:1-21

Come Holy Spirit!
It sounds good,
like something a Christian should say,
Kind of churchy
in a remote sort of way
that is safe
because it probably doesn’t mean
too much
when you get right down to it.
I suppose if you thought that,
you’d be wrong in a way
that could be extremely unsafe.
Once the Holy Spirit comes on the scene
life seems to go south.
First of all the
Holy Spirit is understood
as the very active relationship
between Jesus
and the one he understood
as his divine parent.
This is the same Spirit
that fell upon the
chaos
of the waters of creation
and formed
them into matter and substance.
This is the same Spirit
that marched around Jericho
with the armies of Joshua
to bring down the walls.
The same Holy Spirit that
walked with Jesus
to the cross and beyond,
and the same Holy Spirit
that poured fire
on the disciples’ heads
in that upper room ̶ yeah,
that Holy Spirit.
And yet,
there is something truly compelling
about making that invitation.
Something full of possibility,
exciting,
dangerous,
smelling of perfume
and bitter herbs,
and the sweat of fear,
but joy as well,
and definitely something
fascinatingly holy
and sacred and mind-blowingly beautiful
and unspeakable
in the sense that
you will truly
see the face of God and live.
So,
come Holy Spirit,
let’s take a hike together
and discover
new and wonderful paths
and grace and beauty
and the kind of love
that only taking a divine risk
can possibly discover.

 

THE LIMITS OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

Genesis 17:1-7 — Contemporary English Version

Abram was ninety-nine years old when the LORD appeared to him again and said, “I am God All-Powerful. If you obey me and always do right, I will keep my solemn promise to you and give you more descendants than can be counted.” Abram bowed with his face to the ground, and God said: I promise that you will be the father of many nations. That’s why I now change your name from Abram to Abraham. I will give you a lot of descendants, and in the future they will become great nations. Some of them will even be kings. I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God.

I Can’t Imagine

The Limits of Human Imagination
Genesis 17:1-7

Can you name a few things that you
can’t quite
bring yourself to believe?
There are some people
who are totally credulous
and will believe
anything any friend might say:
that the Moonlanding was fake
and staged out
in the Arizona desert;
or the earth is flat;
that women are
not as smart as men
because their brains
are smaller.
Pick a nationality,
race, gender, social class,
and you’ve heard
some unfounded
and salacious garbage
about their character.
Rumors and gossip
always tell me
more about the individual
spreading them
than about
the ones at whom
they are aimed.
But here,
today,
we read about another kind of
unbelievable,
inconceivable
tale.
A story so implausible
and so far
beyond the imagination
the even the person
to whom it happened
found it hard to believe.
A ninety-nine year old
fathering a child?
Wow!
It was a promise kept by God.
It was beyond comprehendible,
but it came true,
and I am led to ask,
what promises has
God made to us?
what do we think of
people who claim
that God makes them promises?
Have we ever experienced
the unimaginable?
It is crazy, you know,
to think that God
would make us a promise.
It is still crazier
to think that God wouldn’t.
Can you bring yourself
to imagine God’s
promise of eternal life?
Can you imagine the healing
stories of Jesus
being real?
Can you imagine hope?
Can you even imagine
the consequences
of the sharing of
bread
and cup
at the Communion Table?
I think we should
be careful about the limits
we place
on our imaginations.

WHEN THE CALL IS FOR HEALING

©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
based on Mark 1:29-39

When the call
is for healing
the call
is not just to be healed,
but to heal others as well.
When the call
is for healing
the call
is not just to stop our own pain,
but to help ease the pain of another.
When the call
is for healing
the call
is not only to work at the healing of others,
but to take the time to let healing happen
for us as well.

When the call is for healing…

Called to heal;
called to be healed.
Called to be present to the process.
Called to be the process.
Called to hold the process.
Called give away the process.

When the call is for healing…

Still,
so many do not heed the call.
We want to help
others to become healed,
yet we
seem to stay unhealed.
We resent
being thought of as in need of healing.
We become angry
at the notion that we might be broken.
We resent being named.
We refuse to do
the work of our own restoration.
Why is it that
it is alright for Jesus to touch,
heal, renew, recreate,
step into another’s
history, space, life,
but it is meddling
when it comes to us?

When the call is for healing…

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?

CAN ANYTHING GOOD?

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, “Come, follow me.” (Philip’s hometown was Bethsaida, the same as Andrew and Peter.) Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding, can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.” When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.” Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.

Can Anything Good

Can Anything Good Come?

Can Anything Good?
John 1:43-51

Judgment and stereotyping,
regionalism, nationalism,
arrogance
and good,
old fashioned xenophobia,
right at the beginning of
Jesus’ ministry—
directed right at Jesus.
Credulous, bigoted, knuckleheads.
And those are the ones
who became his disciples!
WOW!
“You’ve got to be kidding,
can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Or Africa,
or Haiti,
or Mexico,
or San Salvador,
or, or, or?
Well the disciples found out,
didn’t they?
But what about us?
Are there those areas,
places, towns—
nations,
where we arbitrarily
discount
those who are living there?
I have heard many,
some of us even,
refer with ugly claims
to those who come from
the Res, Lake County, Nice,
anywhere other than Geyserville.
Meth heads,
crack heads,
trailer trash,
weirdoes.
That’s where the heroin addicts hang out.
Yet,
we are referring to human beings,
the ones
Jesus loves as much
as he does us,
those who carry the Christ
as do we,
deep in their beings.
The main difference
between us and
Jesus
is that he could look
into the hearts of all
and see nothing
but goodness and grace.
But do we not owe it
to ourselves and to others
to see that same
grace in all?
And if we did,
what might we discover?
Maybe that the Messiah
was walking alongside
of us
all along.
Now that would be
something to miss,
wouldn’t it?