The Joy of My Heart

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Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. . . . Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.                                                     (Psalm 119:105,111)

 

I stand within a tradition that understands God’s Word – God’s Living Word – as active at the intersection of reading the Scriptures and guidance by the Holy Spirit. Just reading the Bible and applying our own human interpretation doesn’t make it God’s Word. That’s often where we go terribly wrong, with horrendous, even global, consequences. But when the Spirit shows up and works within our minds and hearts as we read, it becomes the Living Word of God, meant uniquely for us in each time and place. The Bible itself is not to be worshiped; it’s only a vehicle, when we let God’s presence come through.

When I was in my early teens, a preacher once referred to “the amazing coincidence of the Bible” – how it speaks afresh every time, when we read it while opening ourselves to the work of the Spirit.

I know, easier to say than to recognize in real life! I’ve never forgotten that, however, and it has held true all my life. As one minister colleague said years ago, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me so much – it’s the parts that I do understand!”

For me, reading the Bible isn’t a matter of looking for answers to life’s questions (as if I had the right questions to ask, anyway!) or of pulling out inspiring stories to live by. There’s a lot of blood and guts in the Bible, and loads of times in it when people blurred the focus of what God had in mind. Back then just as now, people struggled mightily to figure out what God was doing in their midst, and to get their lives on the right side of things. The deeper I allow myself to dive into Scripture texts, the more I feel God’s Word is getting through. . . .

I love how the psalmist says God’s Word “is my heritage forever.” It is a present reality, whenever I dare to sit with some Bible passage and ask the Spirit to strengthen me through the Scripture. Such open-to-God moments are not always comfortable, but they are truly “the joy of my heart!”

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

Resurrection Generosity

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Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

On this Easter Day, I was thrilled to read today’s meditation from www.generositymonk.com. He cited Franklin Brookhart about “Resurrection Gratitude and Generosity.”

“The resurrection of our Lord is the paradigm of the way God works,” says Brookhart. “Resurrection means fullness and abundance of life – all of life. . . .” This statement aligns with what I see in the world these days, as well as within us human beings: God entering into deadly places and transforming them into opportunities for new life. Whether it’s an addict’s turnaround to claim a new beginning, or people saving lives in the midst of the devastation of war, in all sorts of places God inspires and empowers us to choose life and give and receive generously out of who we are.

Brookfield continues, “I am convinced that resurrection gratitude is a key component to maturity in the spiritual life . . . – the resurrection generosity of God.” Resurrection generosity, yes! It’s the deep generosity of God, Who loves us so much that God shocks and invites us into new life. And it’s that quality of generous-hearted living to which we are called, in turn – receiving little resurrections time and again, and gratefully responding in the all the daily ways we can.

A joyous Easter to you!

Betsy Schwarzentraub

God the Artist

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Light ray from sun behind cloud blue“Great work, God!” called out Dr. Don Adams, prompting the conference audience to give a standing ovation in response to God’s artistry as Creator. That was many years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it, both because of its spontaneity and also because of its view of God as the ultimate Artist of life.

Years ago I preached on “God as Artist” at St. Paul’s UMC in Vacaville, CA. With that theme, the worship team invited everyone to bring in evidence of their creativity. And what a thrill it was! Some people had made jewelry; others had written poems, drawn or painted, or taken photographs. Some worked with wood, ceramics, or recycled materials; others brought pictures of their children, or evidence of a special event they had planned. They decorated the entire worship space with the array, covering tables and leaning against walls. God is an incredible Artist, and gives us gifts to be artists, as well!

So it’s not surprising that one article in the first issue of Catalyst magazine* caught my eye, about Patrisha Gill, Artist in Residence at City of Refuge UCC in Oakland, CA. “Creativity (is) evidence of the divine,” she says. “I don’t know if spirituality enhances creativity or vice versa, but I believe we’ve all been given gifts, and those gifts can be used to transform lives.” Already a musician, she is now learning to create sacred space for worship through her Master of Theological Studies using visual arts, video, music, dance, photography and the spoken word. She states, “I want to take the things that I learn here, add my imagination, and ask God to blow on that creation and bless it, so it lives and breathes to bless others.”

What a beautiful steward of art and life!

* – Catalyst: The Magazine of Pacific School of Religion, Spring 2016.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

The Gift of “Extra” Time

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The following was spoken by Heather Linsley, Worship Leader today, February 28th, in my home church. I share her words and prayers with her permission.     – Betsy Schwarzentraub

clockWritten by Heather Linsley

            For those of us who have secretly (or not so secretly) wished we had just one more hour in the day in which to get to the seemingly endless tasks on the To Do List done, here is not just an hour but a whole day! February 29th, leap day, the extra day that our astronomical community has given us in order to reposition the earth in its orbit around the Sun.

In looking for a few factoids to share with you about leap years, I discovered a wide range of traditions that various cultures have regarding the calendar. Our Gregorian Calendar is a pretty good one, only off by a day every 3,236 years, but the Iranian Calendar is only off by a day every 110,000 years. The Chinese Calendar, based on lunar cycles, gives us a whole leap month every three years. The Jewish or Hebrew Calendar also adds a whole month seven times with a nineteen-year period, calling those leap years Shanah Me’uberet, or “pregnant years.”

My point with all of this trivia is that no matter where you live or what your cultural or faith tradition, time plays a central role in our lives. But time is not determined by the whims of an individual, but rather by phenomena far outside human control, be it the oscillations of a Cesium atom, the rotation of the Earth, the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, or the Moon around the Earth. Let us pray. . . [Laughter from congregation] . . . No, seriously:

Prayer for Gathering

Lord, tomorrow we know the Earth will keep spinning and moving in its cyclical path around the Sun. Help us to claim just a few of those leap seconds for ourselves. Help us to “reposition” ourselves in our own orbit around You. Remind us that You are the force that guides us on our daily path, and You are the standard by which we measure our time on Earth. Amen.

Prayer for Offering

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of time, with all of these precious gifts. May we use these offerings to position You at the center of our faith community. May we be good stewards of the time You have given us and these financial gifts offered in Your name and the name of Your Son. Amen.

All Saints Day

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ICandles in glass jarst was a moving act of worship on Sunday, All Saints Day. People chose to come forward to light votive candles in memory of those who have inspired and helped shape their lives. I thought of my parents, mother-in-law, grandmother, two teachers and two mentors, all of whom have tried to “tame this wild beast” along the way. Each one of them shared powerful, positive lessons by the way that they lived.

Generous-hearted living is like a jewel with many facets. It embraces everything from how a person nurtures caring relationships to his or her fruitful use of time, involvement and advocacy. I’m filled with gratitude when I think about the God-trusting people who have come before us.

They remind me of this passage from Psalm 102: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to G_d;**  and all the families of the nations shall worship before God. For dominion belongs to G_d, and God rules over the nations.” May we live as such saints for those who will come after us!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

** – This term is a substitute for the personal name God gave to Moses, which literally means “He who begets or gives birth to all that is becoming or alive” (so biblical Hebrew linguist Frank Cross). Our Jewish sisters and brothers do not write or pronounce the name, to honor God.

Epiphany

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The worship season of “Epiphany” emphasizes the ways God’s being and presence are “manifest” or revealed in our lives. We think particularly of Jesus Christ himself as showing us Who God is. But there are countless other expressions of God, as well, including the Scriptures, all of creation, and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s actions around and within us.

But even this is not all. On Epiphany Sunday a year ago, our pastor said, “The commitments we make and how we go about keeping them make God more manifest, more tangible, more real, more present in this world.”

I keep pondering his statement, knowing it has everything to do with being a steward of the Good News. God is real whether we recognize the fact or not. But whenever we see people act justly and compassionately and follow-through on caring commitments, then we are able to see God more clearly at work in the world. Who we are and what we do can be a “manifestation” or “epiphany” of God.

May who you are and what you do shine brightly with the light of God’s love!

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

“Star Child”

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I was stunned by Carlton Young and Shirley Murray’s song, “Star Child,” in an Advent worshiLuminescent lightp service this month. Hope Publishing Company brought it out in 1994, but this was the first time I’d heard it, from the songbook The Faith We Sing.

It calls Jesus “Star-Child, earth-Child, go-between of God.” Then it identifies many “children” of all ages in different circumstances – those on the street and beaten down; those who’ve been used; those who are old and feeling lost; those spared, spoiled and always wanting more. For all these children of God, Jesus Christ, the “hope-for-peace Child,” comes down to earth, announcing that Christmas comes to everyone.

Particularly since my husband and I have come out to the country (almost ten years now), we have gotten to know and value people who have not been the “spared and spoiled.” Many are earnest, hard-working people who have never had health insurance, who put jobs together to make enough for an individual income, who don’t have retirement because they never had a chance to put non-urgent funds aside. Jesus Christ comes to each of these and more.

Maybe what’s different now is that I care. These are our friends, our neighbors. I want them to know that Jesus is their go-between, regardless of how they’re treated by others and whether they’re religious or not. How does this relate to stewardship? We are stewards of the gospel – the Good News – for all.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub