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.

NOTHING

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

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

NOTHING

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

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

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?

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.

WHAT IF GOD IS FEMININE?

Isaiah 66:13 — “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Hosea 11:3-4 — “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 — “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Genesis 1:27 — “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.”
Deuteronomy 32:18 — “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

What If

What if God Is Feminine?

I should state first off
that I do not think for one minute
that God has any gender.
The “It” pronoun is most
efficacious when accurately
speaking to, of, and about God.
Still, humans seem to have
the need to genderize the concept of God
and rely heavily on
making claims about God
that give them most comfort,
and the strongest sense of security.
There is nothing especially wrong with that,
except when we begin to believe
that our comfortable misconceptions
are how it actually is
and try to force others
to hold our own
not too well founded notions
of theology.
So let’s consider
the possibility that if God did have a gender
what it might be like if
that gender is feminine.
There are not many feminine images
for God in the Bible,
but there are some,
a few.
The five texts above
are a few of them —
maybe most of them.
It was a full-on patriarchy,
that ancient Hebrew community,
and it has profoundly
shaped our own culture.
Many of the Gods
they abhorred so deeply were female.
Many of the neighboring
religions expected/demanded
human sacrifice and whether
or not they were in fact
goddess traditions,
they were all conflated into
other/outsider/sinful/bad/abominations.
The writers of the Hebrew scriptures
defined themselves
by what they were not,
and they were not
like anything that they defined as
“other.”
But what if their
patriarchal testosterone packed
outlook on life
wasn’t exactly how it is?
What if they had defined
God as being
of a feminine nature,
instead of masculine?
Understanding that these folks
ran with a rough crowd
we still would get more texts
that read like those above,
and the Isaiah 49:23 reading that goes:
And kings shall
be your nursing fathers,
and their queens
your nursing mothers,
instead of the Hosea 13:16 text that reads:
Samaria shall
bear her guilt,
because she has rebelled against her God;
they shall fall by the sword,
their little ones shall be dashed in pieces,
and their pregnant women ripped open.
Or Psalm 137:9: that reads,
Happy shall they be who take
your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
What would Christianity
look like if
instead of the male god of Abraham
we had the female God of Sarah,
nurturing, wisdom-filled,
forgiving, and loving?
I think it is what Jesus
tried to proclaim when he prayed
he could gather
Jerusalem,
read that humanity,
like a mother hen
gathering her chicks
to protect and nurture,
and was rejected.
Let’s be honest
for a second here,
wouldn’t we all rather
be gathered and held and loved and nurtured
by a loving mother God
than judged and condemned?
I believe we are—
loved and not condemned—by the way.
I also believe it goes against every
warring, violent thought we,
as a patriarchal culture,
hold so dear.
We are,
after all, humans
and we have a deeply embedded
violence as part of our
way of doing business.
Still.
Still.
Maybe if we worshiped a
god portrayed as a god
with a nature
of nurture and forgiveness
rather than a god portrayed as a god
of judgement and retribution
we might be a tad different.
Which is why I titled this
What If God is Feminine?
It is a question…

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.

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?”

SUN

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 today
is not what we work on tomorrow.
We are called on to
engage in facilitating the healing
of the wounds arounds 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 of the earth
without giving lie to our claim.
We are all culpable, complicit,
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.
Frederick Buechner in,
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC,
writes,
“The place God calls you to
is the place
where your deep gladness
and the world’s
deep hunger
meet.”
Think about your
deepest gladness,
your greatest joy,
the true desire of your heart.
Then
find what and who
you can best help with
that joy,
and get to work.
For, our deepest joy is
always discovered
at the heart
of God’s deepest need.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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”

Luke 1:13, 31; Luke 2:10
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.” “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” “Do not be afraid shepherds; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy for all the people.”

FEAR -- DN #32

When We are Afraid

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
to be assuaged.
It is almost as if the future
of the whole world
depended on an answer
by the one being reassured,
and so it does.
God keeps scaring us
with sacred presence
and hard questions,
and
angels keep telling us
to not be frightened.
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 asked to help.
There are times when a
“Yes” or a “No”
does indeed mean
the future of
the whole world.

THE SECOND COMING

Revelation 1:4-8 — Amplified Bible

John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace be granted to you and peace, inner calm and spiritual well-being, from Him Who is existing forever and Who was continually existing in the past and Who is to come, and from the seven Spirits that are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful and trustworthy Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who always loves us and who has once for all freed us, washed us, from our sins by His own blood, His sacrificial death — and formed us into a kingdom as His subjects, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the power and the majesty and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes nations of the earth will mourn over Him realizing their sin and guilt, and anticipating the coming wrath. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord God, “Who is existing forever and Who was continually existing in the past and Who is to come, the Almighty, the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all.”

 

The Second Coming

The Second Coming

The Second Coming
according to the writer
of the Book of Revelation,
is a mystical,
magical moment in the life
of the First Century
Christian Community.
It is a BIG story that contains
a Temple theology
of sacrifice and salvation,
direct quotes from God,
claims and statements of hope,
a new creation story
for the early Christian Community,
and of God’s unending love,
as well as accusations and jugements
for the ones
who are thought
to have murdered Jesus.
The writing style is what is termed,
apocalyptic,
which means,
writing that is about a catastropic
ending of the world.
It is a writing style that
is consistant of the older,
prophetic writings
found in the books of
Ezikiel, Joel, and Daniel.
The key point
in our Revelation text
is that,
while Jesus will indeed come again,
he is expected to come
in the lifetime of those reading
this book.
It was very exciting for them,
as they imagined
the joy they would feel
as they got to witness how
the very ones who killed Jesus
were going to get to see
for themselves the depravity
of their own actions
and be duly guilt-ridden
and terrified of the torturous end
God had planned for them.
The problem with all this is that
it didn’t happen then,
it didn’t happen later,
and if it happenes in the future,
it more than likely will not happen
anything like it is described here.
Yet, the Second Coming
is a key tennent of the Christian faith,
and while many of us
really do not understand
what it actually means
to make this claim,
or truly believe the
assertion in a literal way,
there are others
who hold to it nonetheless.
For me,
it means that for each of us
Jesus will come and be
present to/for us,
whether in the clouds,
or in our hearts,
in our history,
in our now,
or in our future.
Many of us have experienced
the second coming of Jesus
as we have endured suffering
and been delivered
in ways only explained
as a direct experience
of the presence of Jesus.
Will Jesus someday
come from the clouds in the sky
with the sound of a trumpet?
I don’t know.
But I do know
that Jesus has come for me
through the clouds of my doubt
and fear
and walked me
through my pain
and made me
a whole new creation,
and that is all I need to know.

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?

SPEAKING OUT AND NAMING INJUSTICE

Job 23:1-9 New Century Version

Then Job answered:
“My complaint is still bitter today.
I groan because God’s heavy hand is on me.
I wish I knew where to find God
so I could go to where he lives.
I would present my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn how he would answer me
and would think about what he would say.
Would he not argue strongly against me?
No, he would really listen to me.
Then an honest person could present his case to God,
and I would be saved forever by my judge.
“If I go to the east, God is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not see him.
When he is at work in the north, I catch no sight of him;
when he turns to the south, I cannot see him.

Calligraphy #27

Calligraphy #27

Speaking Out and Naming Injustice

The Job text
gives permission to
those who need to speak out
to do so.
It is the nature and purpose of Scripture
to legitimize
those injured
and dealt injustice
to name the injustice and to
call out the perpetrators.
The #METOO Movement has left many
scratching their heads,
and either angry and confused,
or wondering why go into all that now
and not just let all that ugliness alone?
The Black Lives Matter
Movement make some feel they need to shout,
“me too, my white life matters,
my blue life matters,”
never once listening
to why black lives
matter needs to be expressed
in the first place.
Three days ago was
National Coming Out Day,
and reading and listening to the
tragic/courageous/beautiful stories
also informed today’s reflection.
There are so many
who have never questioned seriously
who, what, and why they are,
and have simply and silently endured
the roles into which they have been placed,
and lived out the
expectations of others.
There seems to be safety
in not making waves,
and keeping peace among
family, friends, and those with whom we associate.
This is many times accompanied
by a deep fear that if we
do speak out,
if we do name ourselves,
if we voice the wrongs
we have experienced,
we will no longer be safe,
and will walk in harm’s way
from that moment on.
But there are many who can no longer live
in the dysfunction of silence,
and in their prisons of aloneness.
These courageous individuals
are compelled to
speak, name, identify
the wrongs by which they have been wounded —
and yes,
once they speak out,
they are no longer invisible,
and certainly, no longer safe.
They become judged,
sometimes shunned,
often targets for ridicule and shaming,
and even violence.
I thought of all this as
one friend after another
has come out,
or celebrated coming out
and publicly named
themselves
as victim/survivor/real persons/different/same
and stood firm in their fear,
only to discover that,
yes, many of their fears were
well founded,
but that also they were not alone.
Who are we?
What are we?
Why are we?
I suspect in some way,
if we are honest,
we can all identify
with those who speak out,
that we all have a story
we are afraid to tell,
and a naming that terrifies us to speak.
We all need safe
people and places
where we can speak and name,
where we can be
safe from judgment and not fear retribution,
but claim understanding,
and where people will just
hear us
and see us
and not try and fix us,
or claim that the victimization spoken
is just like what they have
experienced,
so as to co-opt even the speaker’s sorrow.
I would like to
think that in this place, here,
there is sanctuary,
and within each of us,
is a space so sacred
we can name ourselves and be safe.
A place where the Kingdom of Heaven
has come to be.

MAJESTY AND GLORY

Psalm 8 — New Revised Standard Version

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

GLORY

Majesty & Glory

For those of us old
enough to have been alive,
and to have survived,
the McCarthy Era,
or what has also been described
as The Great Fear,
and the years of rebellion
and chaos that followed,
what is now happening in our nation
seems uncomfortably
too familiar,
and I think,
Where is the Majesty and Glory
of our God?
Where can it possibly be?
Where can it be?
Today’s reading seems
trite and pale,
and like a poor substitute
for what I sense
I need this morning as
I pray with clenched teeth.
My heart feels bruised.
My soul feels a sense of betrayal.
And yet we are called on to praise
a God
that I vaguely sense
may have let us all down…
I am just a little grumpy
about that,
you know?
And I wonder,
Glory and Majesty, God?
Isn’t it really just tinsel and glitter—smoke and mirrors?
There are two celebrations
this week that might be
relevant for my struggle:
today is World Communion Sunday,
and Thursday, the 4th was the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
Both are pertinent to our own time.
St Francis stood
against the prevailing social structure
of his own time.
He stripped naked
in a public square
to visibly
reject the structural sin
of both culture and church.
His actions
healed both church and culture
for a time.
World Communion Sunday
is a call to Christian unity.
It, as did Francis,
calls us to come together
in love and unity,
to live out the values of the one
we know as Jesus,
and call our Christ.
Economic warfare,
culture warfare,
class warfare,
live fire-fights,
governmental choices
that steal both life and dignity
from the least
of the world’s least
cannot prevent
this God-of-majesty-and-glory,
who for some strange reason
known only to this God,
will work only through us,
God’s people.
This God will overcome
yet one more time
the assault on God’s bulwarks,
and God’s enemies
will yet one more time be silenced.
I’m tired,
I’ve been here before,
yet one more time,
I choose praise
over despair
and hope over doubt,
and because I do,
I also chose to stand
and to speak and to act,
and to not give up.

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?

FIRST? LAST?

Mark 9:30-37 — The Message
Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” They didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

Pt Lobos 2003 #5

Last and First

First?

A little attitude adjustment here.
Jesus’ followers
thought of him as the
Captain of the football team,
the Big-Man-On-Campus,
The King of Kool,
and they wanted to inflate their
impoverished selves
by ranking themselves
according to the
length of the shadow
cast by Jesus.
Jesus would have none of it.
and we learn an important rule
for the Christian Life:
you want to be first,
then try and be the best last you can be.
WOW! Last? Last? Really?
How many
have played the namedropping game?
You know,
the one where you
aggrandize yourself by mentioning
someone you consider important
so your listeners
will think you’re important, too?
Or, as they seem to be doing here,
elbowing and shoving
for an ever higher position
in the pecking order.
Jesus suggests
that we have it all wrong.
The place of one who follows him
is dead last.
instead of competing
to be a leader of all,
be a servant of all.
Be the lowest of the low.
Find your best
status in Jesus’ circle
in the very worst
standing possible.
It seems Christians
get the highest
ranking
from the lowest
classification.
It’s all backwards,
but that’s Jesus for you,
making our lives into parables
about
the kingdom…

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.

GIFTS, GIVING, TAKING CREDIT

 

Psalm 81:1-10 ̶̶ ̶̶ The Message

A song to our strong God!
a shout to the God of Jacob!
Anthems from the choir, music from the band,
sweet sounds from lute and harp,
Trumpets and trombones and horns:
it’s festival day, a feast to God!
A day decreed by God,
solemnly ordered by the God of Jacob.
He commanded Joseph to keep this day
so we’d never forget what he did in Egypt.
I hear this most gentle whisper from One
I never guessed would speak to me:
“I took the world off your shoulders,
freed you from a life of hard labor.
You called to me in your pain;
I got you out of a bad place.
I answered you from where the thunder hides,
I proved you at Meribah Fountain.
“Listen, dear ones—get this straight;
O Israel, don’t take this lightly.
Don’t take up with strange gods,
don’t worship the latest in gods.
I’m God, your God, the very God
who rescued you from doom in Egypt,
Then fed you all you could eat,
filled your hungry stomachs.

# # #

Hearing, Talking, Talking Action
Psalm 81:1-10

There is an apocryphal
story about a farmer who
was complimented on
the beautiful farm God had given him.
The farmer replied that,
yes, it was a beautiful farm, now,
but the person should have seen
the disrepair it was in
when God gave it to him.
In today’s text
we hear God’s gentle assurance.
Despite that the one
hearing God’s words
never thought they would
ever hear God speak at all,
God did heard their cry for help.
God set them free from slavery,
fed them and nurtured them.
Loved them.
However, God
saw a need to admonish them
to not stray off after false gods.
Really?
Wow, what a bunch of ingrates!
What silliness to snub the one
who had done so much for them!
But then
I wonder just how true
I am to this God
who rescues me,
bestows gifts on me,
and feeds my empty belly?
How many times
have I prayed for things
that I have ended up taking the credit for,
and not publically
thanking God?
Maybe I don’t worship
at the altar of some weird
god,
but I do seem to worship
at the altar
of my own pride.
I think there is a balance
between going
through life,
giving thanks to God
for every little thing,
constantly,
and never accepting any credit for anything,
with false humility,
and never having any accountability
for any actions,
and giving God
recognition
for our talents and gifts,
with a full understanding
of the hard work it took
on my part
to hone them into
the beautiful things
they have become.
God gives us gifts
every second
of the day
and we use them
as best we can,
and hopefully for God’s glory.
I think the balance in this
is to give God credit
for the gifts we have received,
but also accept credit
for our own work in the process.
Thinking back to the farmer,
what are the gifts God has given
you to do God’s work,
and what work
have you had to do
to make those gifts ready
for that work?