Easter ‘Sunrise’ Sermon

Easter Early Morning

This wondrous morning, we remember especially God’s victorious response to death’s three-day claim on Jesus. We remember Jesus’ resurrection. And we hope for God’s resurrection response to all claims evil has on us and on all people.

The Proclamation

3x Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed!

The Darkness Before

This past week, Holy Week, we have remembered Jesus’ story, from the Palm procession into Jerusalem, to his last meal with his disciples as he gave us the New Covenant, … to his arrest and his disciples deserting him, … to the questioning, the scapegoating and condemning crowds, … to his whipping, Peter’s denials, and the mocking of Jesus, … to his torture, and then his death and burial in an unused tomb. Rightfully so his followers are fearful; they hide behind locked doors. All of this is so horrendous and unbearable.

Except we know the next part of Jesus’ story, because we celebrate it each Sunday. We know that Jesus is Risen from the dead, back to life.

The Light

Even though all that evil played out against him and overwhelmed so many people and then even Jesus himself in death … Even so God defeats death.

Yet Holy Week leading to Easter is so much more than that: God did not just step in to defeat the death of Jesus. After all Jesus is not the first to come back from the dead. Death is apparently, – relatively speaking, – easily overcome, one person at a time. Lazarus steps out of his tomb with grave clothes still covering him. The young girl answers Jesus’ call Talitha cumi, and walks away from her death bed.

Today we remember that God does something much, much larger.

The story is more than one resurrection

The story is more than one resurrection. God defeats all evil. All death defeated.

It is not just laying down in one’s own bed and waking up the next morning in one’s own home. It is to be able to do this after living on the streets or in the woods for years, with no bed or home to call one’s own, and then one night having ones own bed to sleep in, in one’s own home.

It’s not just having three meals a day in the senior’s care centre and being able to give an CLWR offering for Easter, which will give meals to people starving in refugee camps who have fled genocide in their home countries. Rather it is as a child having only grass to eat on the walk out of Stalin’s drought in the Ukraine, and having survived years of hardships and hunger when there were no refugee camps. Then in one’s later years being able to make a donation that will feed others who now have no food.

It’s not just a love story of ‘girl gets guy’, and they waltz off into the sunset of life. It is growing up without friends as an immigrant, an outsider. Then evil being defeated means one finds love in the most unexpected place with the most unexpected person against the most unbeatable odds …
in the family of what once was one’s real enemies.

It’s not just Jesus coming back from the dead to live again, although that’s a bit terrific already. It’s Jesus having taken on all Evil and having taken on all the sins of every person who has and ever will live. It’s having taken on the penalties for all that sin along with the big penalty, death for every person. Then it is being brought back to live life. It’s having Jesus take on all that and having defeated it!

Home Run

Jesus’ story is not like just standing at home plate and hitting a home run out of the stadium. It’s standing at the plate, in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, with a full count, down three runs, bases loaded, with all your pitchers hurting, having been put up there in desperation by the manager. You will never be here again, ever, no matter if you play 1000 more games. Then …

That’s like Jesus’ story; his life, suffering, death and resurrection mean so much more than we are able to imagine. That’s like our story or rather we each have a variation of that as our own story.

Our Response

In Jesus’ and in our stories, God defeats all Evil and all death once and for all time.

Or sort of. God makes the promise visible to us, that one day, at the end of this world, new life will be given to all the dead. There will be a resurrection for everyone. That’s when God will put Evil to rest.

God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah took most of their life times before God’s time was right for them to have a child, long past normal time. God’s time to make this promise to us will come.

In the meantime, today we are God’s saints, not because we have done good things. Rather we are saints only because God takes us when we cannot do anything good. God makes us the people who think the thoughts, who say the words, who do the deeds of God’s perfect people. Jesus has pulled us from the grips of evil where we’ve put ourselves, from where we only deserve eternal death. From the darkest valley of the shadows of death Jesus has brought blessed things to us and out of us. These blessing give life abundant to others around us.

How do we respond to Gods’ work in and through us?

Our response can be to delve into Jesus’ story, again and again. Our response can be to learn more and more of God’s purpose for us, communicated by God from outside of time, beyond matter, from infinity. God has compressed God’s will into Jesus’ life story. God has funnelled it to us living inside of time, confined to bodies, living a finite existence. God communicates everything we need to know through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection story. Our response can be to engage with Jesus’ story again and again our lives long.

The Holy Spirit works in us to help us understand what we see and hear. The Holy Spirit works in us so that like Mary in the Garden, we recognize our shepherd’s voice and follow where he leads us.

Like Mary, we see angels but we may not know it. The Holy Spirit helps us fill in the blanks. Like Peter, we may hear the women’s story, even go to see for ourselves, and find the grave clothes neatly folded on the stone death bed. Yet we not understand what it is that we see, or rather what it is that we do not see. The Holy Spirit helps us comprehend the obvious but impossible: namely that God’s limitless creative power has just undone death through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Like the beloved disciple we may hear the women’s story, and see exactly what Peter sees, and we may believe that Jesus lives. The Holy Spirit helps us to grasp how we, as representatives of the human species, just caught a new glimpse of God’s will and our place in creation.

The Holy Spirit helps us continually change the rest of our lives, so that we live as one person in the whole fully changed human project.

We no longer need to compete with each other to succeed. God calls us to the acceptable fast during Lent, giving of ourselves so that others will have life abundant.

Then after Easter, God calls us to celebrate every day, not just how the light of Christ frees us, and how that changes the rest of our lives, but how we are to be Christ’s Light for others. Everyone’s life can be changed. God has a part in the creating the new creation for each of us.

Can we celebrate, even outright dance, the rest of our lives in Christ’s Light?

Yes, we can, if we choose, and not just because Jesus is for us, but because Jesus sends us to share that light with all people, especially those in desperate need around the world.

The Holy Spirit helps us celebrate life with the most difficult people in our lives, whether its a grouchy neighbour, a mean person we have to relate to again and again, a nice but nosy relative, a recalcitrant spouse, or a self-destructive friend.

Yes, we can celebrate and dance through the challenges that come our way, because the Holy Spirit inspires and guides us to understand more and more fully what it means that Jesus lived, taught, healed, suffered, died and is resurrected back to life!

Jesus lives!

Alleluia! For we can, no matter our past or future, live well.

Jesus lives!

Alleluia! For we can, no matter our past or future, bring life abundant to all people!

Amen!

Easter Later Service

Easter Morning Late

This wondrous morning we remember God’s victorious response to death’s three day claim on Jesus. We remember Jesus’ resurrection. And we hope for God’s resurrection response to all claims evil has on us and on all people.

Proclamation

With this profound hope we proclaim together three times:

Jesus Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen indeed!

The Darkness Before

This past Holy Week we have remembered Jesus’ story, from his triumphant procession into Jerusalem, to his last meal with his disciples as he gave us the New Covenant,

to his arrest, his disciples deserting him, and the questioning, … to the crowds scapegoating and condemning him, his flogging, and Peter’s denials, … to the soldiers mocking and torturing him.

Finally we remembered how Jesus died sooner than expected, nailed to a cross … abandoned even by God. His followers scattered and hiding, filled with fear for their lives.

We remembered how they buried him in a rock tomb.

Because the darkness, portrayed in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, is so deep, embracing everything, and so unbearably deadly, the next part of Jesus’ story is so much more than we can ever expect or comprehend, yet alone completely remember.

Every time we encounter it, we see how much more Jesus’ story is. The Light of Christ outshines such depths of darkness that we are dumbfounded, astounded and awestruck, …

if we listen carefully.

The Light

God did not just step in to defeat the death of Jesus. After all Jesus is not the first to come back from the dead. Lazarus steps out of his tomb with grave clothes still covering him. Jesus calls out Talitha cumi, and the young girl walks away from her death bed.

Jesus story is more than one resurrection

Jesus’ story is more than one more resurrection. With Jesus’ resurrection it’s all evil, all death defeated.

Home Run

Jesus’ story is not just standing at home plate and hitting a home run out of the stadium. It’s standing at the plate, in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, with a full count, down three runs, bases loaded, with all your pitchers used up. You’ve been put up there to bat in desperation by the manager. You are mostly recovered from a chemotherapy treatment three days ago and from surgery on your left shoulder last month. You’re no spring chicken at 65 years old. You will never be here again, ever, even if you beat cancer. There’s is no way you should be here. You just came back to visit the team on the bench.

Then you hit a home run to the utter astonishment of everyone and to the great benefit of a home city desperate for a team that would finally win.

Remember

Remember what Jesus has taught us, just as Jesus taught his first disciples. Remember Jesus’ story. It is also our story, or rather we each have a variation of that as our own story.

Every time we listen carefully we will be astounded and amazed at how God acts out God’s will with love and forgiveness, Grace and mercy, sacrifice and humility for us, and for all people, even our enemies.

What’s Next?

So what’s next for us?

It is easy to come to Easter worship, to be astounded by Jesus’ story and to bask in the music and words and movements of our celebration of life in the worship service and at breakfast. It’s easier yet to then once again walk back out into the world that keeps us occupied, forgetting what amazing things we’ve heard and seen. Who would believe us anyway if we told them someone came back from the dead to share God’s Word with us?

Isaiah’s New Heavens and New Earth

In the OT lesson from Isaiah for this morning, Isaiah speaks God’s words of promise to the exiles in Babylon. They’ve lost everything and been carted thousands of miles from home to be servants in a foreign land ruled by some not so nice people. They are not only servants, but they have years ago forgotten so much.

God creates new

God’s Word comes, not to fix things up, but to create a new heaven and a new earth. God’s words create, just as at the beginning of time. In the new creation we will no longer be God’s wayward people. Instead we will get to remain at home, cry to the Lord in joy and be a delight to God.

It is a Shalom vision of the Kingdom of God: there will be no weeping, no cries of distress.

New creation ends all suffering and need

In this world of Shalom, of God’s Peace, there is no homelessness, no hunger, no conflict or climate-change-displaced refugees. There are no untimely deaths, no violence or destruction or stolen lunches or unrewarded labour.

Even the dog-eat-dog order of the food chain will end. Predators and prey will live together in peace.

God’s new work in Jesus even more: perfect

Yet this vision in Isaiah is nothing compared to God’s work made clear in Jesus’ story that we have reflected upon this Lent and Holy Week.

In truth all things in God’s new creation will be re-created perfect.

Now we have only a foretaste of this new creation, a promise made in Jesus’ story.

Luke: Healing

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes that Jesus came to heal people, and with his death and resurrection to heal all creation.

As humans we often need healing. We often seek help and sometimes what ails us is dealt with. Even less frequently we even see that we are cured. When it comes to the wholeness of creation and our spirits we seem to be lost.

The brokenness of creation is more than we imagine. Our brokenness is more than we can imagine. The healing we need is so much more than we can imagine.

Healing, more than duct tape

It used to be that a good farmer could fix anything except the economy with bailing wire and pliers. Now days we use duct tape and plastic ties.

Which works out just fine until your life depends on the repair.

It’s like carabiners. There are so many kinds available today. I can get two for $1.25. And they work as key chains just fine. Until they do not, and my keys went missing because the cheap, carabiner I hung my keys on did not stay closed. Whoosh, click or slip and the key was goners. So now I use duct tape to hold the carabiner closed.

The fix when our lives depend on it

Which works just fine. But it would not be the fix needed if I were mountain climbing and hanging all my weight plus the stress of the wind blowing against me on that carabiner, tied by a rope into the rock face.

That kind of a carabiner cannot be a two-for-$1.25 purchase. For all the things we might be pleased to repair with duct tape and plastic ties, God asks so much more of us when it comes to our part in the new creation.

When we go through life, expecting that God just uses duct tape and plastic ties to heal creation, we miss out on the marvellous mystery, the eye-popping wonder, and the awe-filled power God uses to create a new heaven and earth for us, in us, and among us.

Sending

After Jesus’ resurrection, God sends us out to share the good news, to voice the prayers of compassion with those who suffer, and to be the hands of Christ that deliver the new creation to all people.

When we listen carefully, do diligently, remember remarkably, we will hear and see Jesus working in ways we hardly understand at first. We will be floored by the amazing tales Jesus has in mind for us to hear and even see for ourselves.

We ask that the Holy Spirit will help us watch carefully, listen intently, and pray fervently, that God’s new creation may come among also us. But most of all we ask that the Holy Spirit help us as we get ready to be bowled over. It not a small fix or even a big fix with duct tape. God creates a new world, a new universe, and even a new you and new me.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us through it.

Ready or not, the Holy Spirit will put us up to bat, with the bases load, in the bottom of the ninth, with the team needing us to hit a home run, and the world needing it even more.

Breath deeply and slowly. Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t forget ….

Christ is Risen!

And that’s just the start of God’s new creation.

God is about to use each of us in ways we could not dream of.

Amen

Good Friday Success

What was once alive, once green, once bright, is now in these days dead, withered and dark.

There is only a faint hint of days long distant in the most recent of times.

What is it to succeed

and leave a legacy?

To overrun others, destroying them with lies, in order to have more, in order to cover up one’s sins?

Or to suffer rumours and lies that destroy one’s reputation and finances leaving one homeless?

This day, Jesus answered God’s call to submit himself to death, a torturous death, and to die.

Did Jesus succeed? Did Jesus destroy others, or did he allow others to try to destroy him, and respond with grace and forgiveness?

If more of the world knew Grace and lived it well, more people would succeed …

in bringing the basics of life to others with their sacrifices.

The world may seem dark, especially in these days when we remember that God died, and remained so, for three days.

There is only the reflection in our memories of the light that has guided our paths. But there will be a great light, that will shine in every darkness, and bring justice, restitution, and new life to those who are destroyed by others lies.

And for those who have destroyed with lies … may God have mercy on them.

Good Friday Morning

Scapegoat No, Sacrifice Yes

This morning we remember Jesus’ last hours, as the soldiers, by Pilate’s orders, in response to the crowd’s demands, hung Jesus on the worst instrument of torture, the cross.

The characters

Remember the many characters in Jesus’ last hours. Judas, the soldiers, the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas, Pilate, Malchus, Peter, the crowd, Jesus’ Mother Mary, her sister Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and of course Jesus.

Our part

None of us were present in that horrific drama more than 2000 years ago. Yet we are characters in so many terrible dramas that have taken place in our own life times, dramas that are devastatingly so similar.

Girard, Scapegoating

The French Historian and Anthropological Philosopher Rene Girard identified the similarity that ties Jesus’ last days with our all too common dramas as a common human sin, scapegoating. Girard pointed out that we all greedily strive to have more than just the necessities of life. Thinking that life is a zero sum project (that there is not enough for everyone) we try to take from others so that we will have more. That’s greed. And greed eats at our souls.

What nearly always happens next is worse. Since we cannot tolerate that we would be mutually so terrible to those close to us, we together find an innocent bystander, someone vulnerable and uninvolved, someone who we do not know well and therefore can bring ourselves to not care what happens to them. Without any justification we project all our collective sin and guilt onto that person, condemn them, judge them, and ruin them. Working together we ease the unbearable conflict between us.

Like Joseph’s brothers in the Old Testament getting rid of the evidence of their horrendous sin against their own brother, we exile the innocent person. We’ve attached our sins to that person and then collectively forgotten about them and our sins, so that we can live together in peace. The darkness hides that our peace is bought at the price of an innocent bystander’s destruction.

We are exactly like the characters

In exactly this manner Judas, the high priests, the crowds, Pilate, and the soldiers condemn and kill Jesus. And we do this so often to other people today. We may not use crosses to crucify, because we want to be able to say we are not as bad as those who have gone before us. Instead we use gossip, innuendo, and rumours to ruin innocent people’s reputations, ruin them financially, and drive them from our communities.

Even when we are not Judas or soldiers or the crowd, or the high priests or Pilate, we stand too often with the crowds watching as another person’s reputation and finances are ruined. We watch and are too afraid to interfere. We are even entertained and reassured as if to say to ourselves, “all is well in the world if evil is uncovered in others and they are made to pay. We, though, are good enough for God.”

Jesus, Clear story of God’s intent: the last scapegoat

In truth Jesus came to be the last scapegoat, the last sacrifice needed to set us all free from all sins, especially these terrible sins of greed and scapegoating, of hiding from our own sins.

God led Abraham to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. But then God interrupts the sacrifice providing a goat instead for the ritual. God says: no more child sacrifice.

Likewise, God led Jesus to the cross, as the last scapegoat ever needed, and to give us Jesus’ life and death story so that we might learn more of God’s intention for us, which includes: no more scapegoats.

Jesus forgives those who betray, arrest, judge and crucify him. God calls us, instead of scapegoating innocent bystanders, to be that same forgiveness for all people.

Yet, we are still in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves, and we continue to sacrifice others instead of ourselves.

Today we are in the crowd again

Today we remember how we are just like that crowd again, as Jesus is raised on the cross to die a torturous death.

We beg for forgiveness … and time

We ask for forgiveness. We hope we will learn to stop sacrificing innocent people as scapegoats. We pray that God will intervene, transform our sins into blessings, and make God’s will clear also among us, in our words and through our actions.

Even so, we know we will continue to sin, so remembering Jesus’ story, we beg God for mercy, and forgiveness, …

and time for the amendment of our lives.

Amen

Meals and Nourishment

Maundy Thursday

Opener

A little wonder is not missing.

Tonight we remember Jesus’ last supper as he declared Gods’ New Covenant with us by offering his body, the bread of life, and his blood, the wine, to all people.

This Covenant is handed down to us, starting with the disciples present at Jesus’ last supper, to Paul, and through Paul to generations upon generations. Each handed Jesus’ story on to the next so that this Covenant of Life would be remembered and many lives could be lived in response to it. Jesus uses an ordinary meal.

Salad

There is nothing quite like an ordinary meal that begins with a crisp, fresh, green salad, with freshly squeezed lemon on top.

Perhaps you’d like to add salad dressing, cheese, croutons, or tomatoes.

Or perhaps you’d actually prefer a lot of tomato sauce, all on one big crouton with lots of cheese melted on top, with slices of pepperoni. Okay maybe a big pizza instead of a salad.

Just an ordinary, nourishing meal.

Setting of the Last Supper

Jesus knows he and his disciples are at great risk in Jerusalem. For days now he has taught in public and all has gone well. Jesus is ready for what must come. They will betray, torture and kill him. He has not given up, rather he has answered God’s call for him to suffer so that all people will know about God’s forgiveness for them.

On his last night he gathers to celebrate the Passover with his disciples. He makes sure that his disciples for generations to come will remember him and thereby know God’s Grace. Jesus uses two very common items of the meal, bread and wine, and instructs his disciples to remember him every time they eat bread and drink wine. It may sound like wine was a special component, but the water was not safe to drink, so, if one could, one drank wine instead.

Each meal, Everyone

Jesus directed all of us to remember him each time we eat bread and drink water or wine. The Church ritualized this meal and made it central in worship so that it would not be forgotten. Still we’ve taken this common meal, revered it, and reserved it for a special celebration held sometimes at most once a month. At times we’ve limited who can take part in the meal to just good people.

Regardless how we practice it, we do remember Jesus’ words, take it all of you. Whenever you eat and drink, do this in remembrance of me.

To drink

Most of our common meals today include something to drink: a cup of coffee or tea, or glass of water or even a good glass of fruit juice and spritzer to whet one’s appetite.

Meal to Remember and Learn from

Jesus made the New Covenant at their Passover Supper so that his disciples would take note. He gave us his words to ensure we would remember, even if we would not practice, what his words tells us.

Jesus intends that we remember and discover again God’s purpose for each of us. God gives us Jesus’ example to follow, giving up any privilege we have, humbling ourselves to serve others, sacrificing of ourselves so that all others will receive justice, freedom, food and homes, and everything else they need for the abundant life God intends for each of us. Jesus shows us how to forgive everyone always, even as he dies on the cross.

Vegetables

Most of us commonly have vegetables at our meal, green and dark coloured, maybe a variety of cut vegetables with a creamy cheese sauce on top.

Common Food Items, With Great Effects

Jesus does something very uncommon at his last Passover. He washes the feet of his disciples. It is a task for a servant. Today foot washing is not part of meal preparation, since we do not walk everywhere on dusty roads wearing sandals, and we do not recline to eat.

Eating and drinking, though, will remain common as long as humans live, ensuring that celebrating the Lord’s Supper may be common enough, as long as Christians remember and hand on what has been handed on to them.

Through the generations remembering Jesus’ Last Supper has held many families and churches together, kept many falsely incarcerated, exiled and oppressed people alive when they could not gather for worship. Along with our simple confession that Jesus is Lord, this meal has helped preserve the faith in many places many many times in history when all seeme lost. This meal of simple items has soothed the anxious souls of countless Christians through the generations.

Protein

The heart of our common meal comes down to some protein, perhaps a little roast beef, pork ribs, or chicken. Maybe a fresh fish from the lake via the grocery store, a handful of mixed nuts, or even eggs.

The New Covenant

At the heart of his last supper Jesus establishes God’s New Covenant with us. God has made covenants with the people before.

One of the first was the covenant with Noah, when God promised never again to wipe out creation with floods. It is marked by the rainbow in the sky.

Perhaps the greatest in the OT is God’s Covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham and Sarah descendants enough to make a great people and land for security and stability. This covenant is marked by the Passover meal recounting how God delivered our ancestors from slavery, bringing them through the wilderness into the Promised Land.

The New Covenant in Jesus’ blood poured out for us is God’s most complete communication of who God is, and how God relates to us with Grace and forgiveness made possible through God’s own sacrifice.

Dessert

To top off our common meal we’ll include a light fruit dish with coffee hagen daaz ice cream. OK too uncommon and too expensive. So maybe a slice of apple, cherry or pumpkin pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, not a five quart scoop. Just one simple scoop as a bit of a teaser, on top of a good meal, to help us remember the meal, for hours to come.

Until we grow hungry again the next day and start over feeding our bodies so that we might live.

For Each and Every Christian

God makes the New Covenant with each of us in our Baptisms with water and Word. God renews this covenant with all of us at each meal.

When we offer each person Christ’s body and Christ’s blood, we say Christ’s body given for you, and Christ’s blood shed for you.

We gather as a community to share Jesus’ meal with everyone. Jesus’ gifts, though, are not just generally available. They are very specifically for each of us, to heal the brokenness and suffering of each one of us, to nourish our spirits and to give each of us abundant life.

Tie the two together: our daily meals, Jesus’ Last Supper celebrated

There are common meals to nourish our bodies. We hope and work so that everyone has at least one of those each day. We humans also require meals to sustain our spirits.

There is no challenge, no work of the devil, no grip of sin, no enemy’s attack on us that is impossible for us to face, because we feed on the body and blood of God’s own Son. God’s Spirit in and through us is undefeatable, even by death.

After this his last supper, Jesus goes out to pray in Gethsemane, until the soldiers …

Tomorrow we continue our worship service with the next segment of God’s story given to us through Jesus’ life, remembered and handed on to us, so that we can hand it on to others, … so that all may have life abundant.

Lots of Heat, More Forgiveness

Spring Struggles to Break in as Large Flakes Cover the Once Bare Ground Again

My wood stove, set up to provide heat in the severe -40°C winter worked wonders. It even provided hot water for coffee in the morning and tea throughout the day. It was not without it’s challenges as the stove pipe got so hot that it melted the plastic tarps of the shelter around the stove.

Holy Week is our opportunity to remember and learn ever more from Jesus story. Jesus’ story is a life full of communication from God to us, in a way we can understand.

God tried to communicate to us with Word, creating a good creation. We messed it up, with trying to be smarter than we are and blaming others for the results. Kicked out of paradise we even became murderers, for a ‘good’ start.

God tried to communicate to us with the Law, we turned it into control of others.

God tried to communicate to us with the prophets, and we thought they were crazy, because they really were, trying to embody God’s Word does that to humans.

I rebuilt the damaged tarp sections, put in a heat shield and a remote thermometer. Now gets as hot as 70°C without problems.

God sent his Son, a full life story lived that we can learn. Jesus came to live, teach, heal, and do remarkable things like calming the chaos of the waters.

God exists beyond time, matter, limits. Now Jesus has all the limits of a human. Paul says it well: Jesus emptied himself of being other than human, and became limited as a human.

Why?

The real purpose of Jesus’ life was his death. That’s this week’s story.

No one really listened at first, and those that did usually got it all wrong. Listen to the parade as Jesus enters Jerusalem. They think that Jesus is God’s way of giving them control again of Jerusalem, maybe. That’s their hope.

Then things change.

The harsh winter slowly gives way to cool spring temperatures, and the 2000° C inside the furnace became way too hot in the shelter. Always the thermometer showed a max of 70°. It dawned finally on me that the thermometer could read no hotter than 70°C but the actual temperature could be much more!

Things change.

After the triumphant entry parade into Jerusalem, things go downhill fast and hard. Jesus is betrayed, deserted, tried, denied, whipped, condemned, mocked, tortured, abandoned, and murdered on a cross.

There is no greater measure of suffering.

God came to live and die exactly like this. Why?

God came to make clear: God understands our suffering, even if our measure seems to have an upper limit, God has no limits, God understands us, our pain, our sin, our suffering, our death.

God lived it to show us God’s intent for us.

As Jesus dies, he forgives those that mock, torture and kill him.

This is what God wants us to be to each other. Not sinners, destroyers, scape-goaters, or mockers, torturers, murderers, or chaos makers, not even people who cannot listen to others pain and suffering and not know what to do.

We know God knows our suffering.

In our suffering we experience what others suffer. We know what we most need when we suffer is forgiveness, love and not to be abandoned.

We learn this so that we can give God’s gifts of forgiveness, love and being present to others as they suffer.

God came as Jesus to show us God’s goodness and love for us has no limits. God’s forgiveness has no limits. We may not easily hear, listen or understand, but we have Jesus story handed from generation to generation. We can always learn more if we pay attention.

Jesus’ story is God’s new limitless thermometer by which we can measure what really goes on in this world. There’s lots of heat. There’s even more love, forgiveness, and compassion than we are ever capable of measuring.

This week, we remember, we listen as we can, we learn anew as we are able.

From Jesus story we know and trust, no matter what we do, what we succeed at or fail at, God understands our yearning, our chaos, our sufferings …

and God always loves, forgives and is present with us …

calling us to be exactly that for other people,

with Jesus as our model,

a model that has no limits.

Amen

A Short Walk

Three Stand Straight, Three Lean to the Light.

Tonight I took a short walk.

Around the sand roads and through the woods.

No bugs, lots of water spread across the low spots.

No great big, throny bushes, no green trees, and no crowds … in fact great solitude and quiet.

Just a walk around

a bit

near the sunset

before settling in as a guest of the Queen,

honoured chosen of my Lord,

on the shores of a small quite lake,

since the oil company bought it all up,

except a few pieces

which means the Queen still has a small plot

that she shares, by law, with a few homeless,

and quite a few wealthy land owners looking for

the gift of nature: health and joy.

There’s also enough detritus left around that proves there are a number of irresponsible beer drinking, condom throwing, and garbage dumping foolish visitors.

So I took a bag with me on my walk around to collect some of the detritus. Lots more, like the condoms, still lay strewn on the ground, things that I needed more than just one bag to be able to pick up and haul out for other fools.

Why does the Queen receive such fools?

Why does the Creator tolerate such fools?

Perhaps because one fool is pretty much like another, and all are fools in one way or another.

My call is to be a fool for Christ, so there is that.

And I took a quiet walk around tonight before enjoying a quiet night, with only a couple parking for hours, depositing another condom and toilet paper to found on a quiet morning walk before the full light of dawn.

Solitude is precious as are a good night’s sleep and the clear light of truth.

Why Jesus?

Why So Much Suffering?

The Wide View: God talking to us plainly, profoundly

Procession with Palms
Luke 19:28-40
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16 
Philippians 2:5-11 
Luke 23:1-49, The passion of the Lord

My wood furnace is setup for heat through the coldest -40° temperatures. Now with spring arriving, at more than 2000°C inside the stove and at the ceiling hotter than 70°C, the heat is too much. What works for one extreme definitely needs adjusting for other circumstances.

Today’s lessons all (except for the Processional Gospel) speak about suffering. Everyone sees more than enough suffering in a lifetime, suffering of one kind or another.

During Holy Week, starting today with the Passion stories, we hear about Jesus’ suffering. Easily enough we wonder why all this suffering. We mean for ourselves, but it’s Jesus’ suffering we read about. The question really is, why does God not come and save Jesus, and us while God is at it, from all the terrible sufferings that Jesus and we must endure. After all God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing. Certainly God could do this, could he not?

Our question about our suffering, and Jesus’, is really a small part of a much larger, problematic question concerning our faith that has plagued thinking followers of Jesus since the earliest days after Jesus’ death.

The question is ‘Why did Jesus have to suffer?’ Or before that, ‘Why did Jesus have to go to Jerusalem?” Or even before that ‘Why all of it? Why did God need to become a human? Why did God need to give up existing beyond time, outside of matter, and before even words or thoughts and become limited by time, body, and human thoughts and words? Why did Jesus, to use Paul’s words, empty himself to become a mere human?

First let’s look at the results of God becoming incarnate as Jesus and ending his life suffering on the cross.

Because of Jesus’ story you know beyond any doubt that all your sins are forgiven, that you are made right with God your Creator, that you deserve death yet you get life and life abundant. And all that applies to each of us. Then there’s the truly astoundingly awesome result of Jesus’ life: All of that applies to every human who ever lived.

The upshot of all that is that we humans do not need to strive to please God. God’s taken care of that. We can stand before God without fear, free from all the destructive actions that stem from unhealthy fear. We are free. We are free from all the guilt, the missteps, the risk of future missteps … we are free from all that would bind us, hold us back, and inhibit us.

What then are we free for? We are not free for our own selfish interests or pleasures that cost other people their lives.

We are free to sing out God’s praise.

We are free to declare Jesus is Lord with our tongues and actions. We are free to be Christ’s voice, feet, and hands, bringing the same news and the same abundant life to everyone on earth now and into the future.

Martin Luther named this freedom as a freedom to be slaves to Christ. Freedom from sin, and bondage to Christ’s way and will for us.

That is the result of Jesus living and dying as a human.

Now why? There are lots of answers, but the most profound is this:

How else is God to tell us about God’s will, God’s hope, God’s desire for us to be forgiveness for others?

The gulf between God and humans is incomprehensibly huge, by definition. We have a problem hearing God speak. Remember God is outside of time, matter, and any limit.

God spoke words to create the world, with us in it, and God said it was good.

Next thing you know we were messing with God’s goodness, turning the paradise into a competition to be smarter and blame the other. So we lost paradise and spiralled out of control … as murderers, just for starters.

Words cannot communicate to us clearly enough God’s intent for us.

So God gave us laws. We turned those into demands we placed on others to condemn and control them, to take life away from them, and to give us more of creation.

So God sent God’s only son. We have his story. It’s quite the story. We remember the most powerful events of it this week: Jesus’ triumphant entry on a lowly donkey into the capital Jerusalem run by Herod, controlled by Pilate. Leaders, present, try to minimize the stir and the inevitable collision. In response Jesus tells the religious leaders if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.

Yet fear permeates everyone around Jesus. The story continues with betrayal, desertions, denials, buck passing, flogging, mocking, disgrace, torture and death. The disciples become silent. As Jesus hangs on the cross, they are scattered, cowering in fear. God as a human dies.

As he dies Jesus the Son of God declares forgiveness even for those who torture and kill him. His followers retreat into hiding. Yet the faith grows and becomes codified and survives as a distinct religion, lodged in written Word and faithful people gathering to worship as often as possible.

God’s Son’s story is handed on from one generation to the next.

God gives us so much in one exemplary life, Jesus’ life, a life God encourages us to imitate as we hold the acceptable fast that brings justice, freedom, food, and homes to those without.

Jesus came that we would have and not lose this story, or the profound way it speaks about who God is and what God wishes for all people.

Jesus was truly human. He suffered as we suffer. This was not playacting. Jesus knew what it was to feel abandoned even by God.

As to our suffering, it’s like the wood furnace set to provide heat for the severe Canadian winter, which out of time or season overwhelms us and is as hot as hell (or so it seems.)

But it is precisely in our suffering that God teaches us how others suffer, and why it is so important that we not lose sight of God’s intent for us: that we sacrifice everything we can in order that all other people may have life abundant. In our suffering we most clearly encounter God’s Grace for us, and how it is meant to be shared with others.

The heat in due season, and our suffering taken on in order that others may live, give us the ability to survive even the most severe winter of the soul.

Jesus’ story is a story worth listening to, though so many people in the story do not listen at all. We pray we will not be one of them. Yet we are assured that no matter what, God forgives us, stays with us, and lives with us as if we had never sinned at all.

That is real freedom.

This week’s story is not one to celebrate with abandon. Jesus’ Passion is a sombre story to delve into, to remember and always learn more about.

God’s story in Jesus’ life story will never be done teaching us about the abundant life God has for us, each and all.

The Voice of God reflected everywhere after we know Jesus’ story:
God is Good, God is Gracious and we can be, too.

Amen

Midweek Lent 5 Reflection

Changing Our Plans

God Changes Our Plans

God’s Plans are Larger Than Ours

Tonight’s Theme
Our continuing theme for this Lent is from Isaiah 58, that we hold a fast acceptable to God, one that brings justice, freedom, food, and homes to those in need.
That combines with the weekly theme, always having to do with change, and tonight specifically we look at Changing Plans.

Lessons
Psalm 2
Isaiah 52:13-15
Mark 10:32-34

God’s Plans are Large Enough for Everything that Comes our Way.

Plans of Mice and [Wo]Men

We all have had plans. But God’s plans for us are larger. How many of us have planned our next steps as children moved out for jobs, university, trade school or full-time employment and even marriage. Then they rebound back home to recover before leaving again to make their way in today’s fast changing world.

The Lessons: God ‘Changes’ Plans OT vs NT God

Tonight’s readings seem to reflect an old tradition that God approached humans one way in Old Testament times. Then God changed his plans with Jesus.

In Psalm 2 God observes the nations conspiring against God and God’s anointed. God laughs at them and speaks to them with fury terrifying them, before warning them to serve the Lord in trembling submission or else God’s wrath will be quickly kindled against them and they will perish.

In comparison listen to the Gospel from Mark where God’s own people condemn the only Son of God to death. Then they hand him over to others who mock, spit on, flog and kill him.

The roles are reversed: God bears the fury and wrath of the people and in the end God perishes. It is as if instead of demanding obedience God finally figured out that humans could never stop sinning so God decided to bear the whole cost of forgiving their sins. Thereafter God asks, calls, entices, and inspires the people to do what is right and needs to be done.

Jesus reveals to us the heart of God

We know that Jesus came to teach, cure and care for people, and to die on the cross as the last sacrifice or scapegoat required. The cross on God’s heart becomes so undeniably visible with Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can only be astounded.

Even though we deserve nothing but death and void, God chooses to forgive our sins. God claims us as children, and we have the most meaningful work possible: to follow Jesus’ example of giving everything we are in order that others will have justice, freedom, food and homes.

Call to abundant life in response to Jesus

Our sacrifice may even hurt, yet this is what God created us to be and to do. This is God’s larger plan for us all so that we have life abundant. Abundant life has very little to do with abundant wealth, property, possessions, power and influence over others, or self-serving pleasures. Instead God calls us to sacrifice and to then celebrate God’s successes, when lost souls return to God. At times that is each of us.

We see more of God’s plan, God remains the same

The tradition that I accept is that God does not change God’s plan or approach to humans. Rather God was marked by the cross since the beginning of time as is witnessed to also in the OT, for example in tonight’s reading from Isaiah concerning the suffering servant. What certainly does change, and markedly, is who we people think God is. What changes is how we understand more and more of God’s larger plan for us.

Stuck with the ‘OT’ idea of God

Still we so often get stuck thinking that God demands and we have to obey; that as we merit we get rewarded with God’s protection or we perish by God’s fury, and the next generation starts all over learning to obey God or else.

Our plans vs God’s larger plans

In this view of God’s world, we must take control making worthwhile plans for ourselves. We plan for a great house, or job, or spouse, or children, or activities in retirement. Some even succeed with our plans.

God always has larger plans for us.

More than 7 decades ago a farm boy, inspired by a missionary visiting at his church, decided to become a missionary doctor. He worked his way through college, through a tour with the army in Korea, through medical school and reported to the church for service.

The church eventually sent him to Africa. The man planned to spend his life there with his wife and children. But God’s plan for him was larger.

The man got sick, was forced to return home to a family practice. God had larger plans for him and the man ended up studying again to become a pathologist. He set up a business in the ever-changing world of medicine, brought in a partner to expand and improve their services. Still God’s plan for him was larger.

On it went with God always moving the man about, even to Antarctica in the winter when he was 70, until at the age of 75 with his back crumbling, a double heart by-pass, and needing both knees and a hip to be replaced the man was ready to rest and stay home. But God’s plan for him was larger. The church sought him out to return to Africa to rebuild a medical delivery system that had fallen apart mostly due to corruption. Now in his 90’s he still travels six months of every year raising funds and the other six months he oversees the building of a children’s hospital in Zinga, TZ.

Sometimes God’s plan sees that we need to be rescued from disaster. I heard from another pastor about Sarah, who went to college in the States. Sarah met Jim, through campus ministry. They made great plans. He planned to be a surgeon and she a nurse. They both wanted lots of children. God seemed to agree with their plans as they married and both were accepted into their respective majors.

But Jim was drafted for Vietnam. He served as a medic and came back in a wheelchair with one arm and unable to have children. All their plans were taken from Jim and Sarah.

I’m not sure that was God’s plan for them, but God was there for them. Then Jim died suddenly one night, a hidden complication from his injuries.

Sarah changed plans and became a family doctor. She married a farmer and they had three wonderful children, now grown up with families of their own. God had a large enough plan for Sarah.

Sometimes the Devil has his way with our lives, but always God’s plans are larger.

Surprise

If we’ve thought God is vengeful, demanding, wrathful, and the warrior protector of us, then we may be in for a great surprise.

The CIA regime control

To protect US interests around the world the CIA often provided wet work and weapons to bring to and keep in power tyrannical dictators who do the US’s bidding and keep their people in line. It is a devil’s plan, in response to which God often brings in a larger plan.

CAI vs CIA

In Three Cups of Teaand Stones into Schools Greg Mortenson tells the story of the Central Asia Institute, the CAI, not to be confused with the CIA.

Mortenson’s project was born of a plan to change the world toward peace through providing schools and schooling to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The girls, who would likely become mothers, would then educate their daughters and their sons. We know education is the most crucial piece to help the poorest in the world make life better for themselves.

The Central Asia Institute was hardly perfect because Mortenson, raised in Tanzania, was unpredictable and spontaneous. He rarely operated on a clock or even a calendar. Still the CAI was an effective project that made a real difference in a real way: by sacrifice and through real education.

The idea of education for young girls was picked up by the CIA as a model for diffusing hostilities, to little effect. Hatred of the west runs deep.

Terrorists also adopted the plan, unfortunately with great success, destroying schools for girls and establishing madrassas for boys which taught hatred of the west, and trained them for terrorist attacks around the world.

In real life the devil has life destroying plans.

As we Grow, we see the appropriate fast for us

We grow and change. Our plans change as we grow. As we learn more of God’s larger plans for us, we can better be God’s agents of grace for the strangers, refugees, hungry, homeless, the oppressed, and all those suffering injustice. Yet often God’s large plans catch us off guard.

The challenge is to discern at this time a) what is God’s larger plan for us to bring life abundant to others, and b) what the devil is trying to do to our lives that takes life from us and others.

God is always there for us, no matter what plans we have, but God wants us to change our plans to better match Jesus’ model for our lives. Jesus’ model is about making the acceptable fast, the sacrifice so that others may have life abundant.

Amen

God’s New Thing, Our Celebration and Praise; Lent 5

Anxiety overcome by something worth celebrating!

Lazarus, Mary’s response of extravagance

In the Gospel story for this morning Jesus returns to Lazarus’ home for a meal. This is where Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Together with the disciples they share a meal.

Mary ‘wastes’ costly oil washing Jesus’ feet. For a blessing the oil would have been poured on his head. This, though, is just a foot washing, a practical kindness offered to guests.

Foot washing sandaled feet

People wore sandals. They walked the hot and dusty paths and road ways. On arrival for a meal, where everyone reclined around the table, feet washing refreshed the guest and removed the awful smell from the elite people’s animal waste that lay along the way.

Extravagance

Mary’s perfume was way too costly for the task – probably worth in excess of $50,000 in today’s funds. It was an extravagance which no common person could afford.

It was an extravagance Mary offered for the man who brought her brother back to life, for the teacher who carried the Kingdom of God around him, palpable to all who encountered him, for the man who, Mary believed from her pondering, was the Saviour, the Christ, God’s Son sent to fulfill God’s promises of old.

Objections

However one of the disciples objects to the extravagance, because he would have liked to have the proceeds from its sale put in the purse that he stole from. He wanted the extravagance for himself. Who knows what this disciple really wanted, or if anything would have been enough for him.

Real Fear of poverty

Given all the goodness of life and the luxuries we take for granted, there is always a part of each one of us that objects to such extravagances. For we have our hands in the cookie jar, and we want more. Poor people be … well … ignored, … and condemned to live lives we are so afraid our lives may become. We justify all kinds of deceit trying in vain to secure our place far from the poor.

Anxiety is us losing perspective of what is real and large, and what is not.

We have real cause, every day, to get lost in this and all sorts of anxiety. Our past is full of sins that should land us not just in the poor house, but out of the Kingdom of God. Instead Jesus comes to us, each day, starting by saying, do not be afraid!

What does Jesus have in store for us?

What does Jesus have in store for us?

OT God’s up to something again: something new

In the OT lesson for today Isaiah writes to the people in exile in Babylon that God is up to something again. Like they, we too often give up and stop looking for Christ’s light.

To the exiles and to us Isaiah repeats God’s words: Do not remember the things of our past. Yet remember that God is the one who brought us out of slavery, through the wilderness into the Promised Land. Free from the anxiety of our past that grips us at the roots, we can now look to the new work that God is about to begin.

God’s new thing: living water in the deserts

For the Creator and Re-creator is acting again: A new thing is about to become: water will flow in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Canada’s water

In Canada we have lots of fresh water. Of course there are plenty of small communities who have not had clean, fresh water for many decades. And a survey a few years ago estimated that between one-third and one-half of North Americans are mildly, chronically dehydrated. (Published by Dr. Susan Kleiner, dietician in Seattle-area, reported in Chatelaine April 2000.) Early signs of dehydration are fatigue and headaches. We need water. Yet when we turn on the taps and enjoy clean water, it is difficult to appreciate that we are not getting enough water or what it means not to have water.

Salt water, fresh water, living water

Imagine the drought driven dry desperation of thirst caught in an endless desert. It is worse for people who survive in life rafts after being shipwrecked at sea, who spend days on the ocean waters without fresh water. On the sea water is everywhere, but it cannot quench one’s thirst, it only makes it worse.

We are surrounded by so much fresh water, and yet we thirst for the living water that gives life. We are surrounded by luxuries the people of history could hardly imagine, powered by oil, technology, and seemingly magical realities. Yet we often deeply thirst for the meaning of life, for our place in it, for something to be and do that will fulfill what we were created to be. Our past is riddled with failures we hardly comprehend.

If it is as if our tongues were parched so dry that we could barely swallow because it hurts so much, and we know we deserve even worse.

Paul, Our Efforts = Nothing

Like Paul we try diligently to be the people that we think God wants and needs us to be. We may not be as successful as Paul. He was quite an accomplished man of God. But all that effort Paul counts as nothing, in order that, still striving to be the man of Grace that Christ called him to be, he might receive, not earn, but receive without merit, the Grace of God, the righteousness which is Christ’s. This righteousness is only Paul’s or ours as a gift through faith by Grace.

Christ’s Gifts = everything

Paul cannot own his righteousness, it is only a gift. He must leave behind all his struggle, straining, and striving to fulfill the law. Instead he strains forward to whatever Christ has in store for him. God has a whole lot in store for Paul. Most of it is challenging.

God’s Gift, flowing, living water

And when God acts with a shockingly new thing, then water flows, not just out of our taps in small trickles, not just clean, fresh water. The water of life flows in broad rivers, assuring us that the drought is done.

Praise for the water from all

How astounding it is to undeservedly receive water, flowing fresh water, the living water from God.

Does it really take so much to move our hearts, to make things different in our minds, hearts, and souls … so that we will forget the past failures and recognize the wonder of God’s gifts, the gifts so basic to life as even breath itself? All this just so that we might give God praise!

Drenched in the new largess of God, we should be barely able to contain ourselves. No matter what we need, God provides, so that we can and will live in praise of our Creator and Re-creator.

What does God have in store for us?

What has Christ in store for each of us? For all of us as a community of faith?

Lenten fast

This Lent Jesus has in mind for us a fast named in Isaiah 58 (from Ash Wednesday’s lessons), a sacrifice of all that is given us, so that those suffering from injustice will receive justice, so that the oppressed will be set free, so that those who hunger will have food, and those who have no homes will find homes in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, in our families of faith.

Celebration of Easter Coming

At the end of our fast, Jesus has in store for us a celebration that is so great nothing is too extravagant to be shared with those suffering injustice, those oppressed, those hungry, those homeless, who now are with us. This is the celebration of new life given to each of us.

Baptismal water promises

Just as Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, we receive the promise and assurance in the waters of our baptisms that we will be raised from the dead as well. We too, sinners though we be, will be brought into the New Jerusalem with all the saints of all times.

All will praise God

Even the despised jackals and hyenas will sing God’s praise. No matter how despised the animal, or the person, all will sing God’s praise. Even the reality denying ostriches, or similarly the people who stick their heads in the sand at the signs of danger … Even those who deny reality will be unable to deny Christ’s reality. When God does God’s new thing among us, the anxieties about our past will be gone and no one will be able to stop from singing God’s praise.

For this we were created, redeemed, made God’s children, and promised eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Smell the perfume of extravagant celebration, and sing as we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength.

As at Daybreak celebrate [extravagantly]

When God does this new thing, as at daybreak, the darkness will succumb to the rising dawn. Then the sol of creation begins anew to give purpose and hope for the hours to come. The Light will reach everywhere. The New Light will catch even the spider’s string [in the sermon photo.]

So … leaving behind all our anxieties, we can close our eyes having kept the watch,

For the Christ’s Light now keeps the darkness and danger at bay.

The hyenas of home are driven back into hiding. We will have challenges ahead, even more darkness to face, but Christ expects us to trust his promises, as we will then again wait for the dawn to return.

But for now…

Let the waltz begin.

Let the celebrations and our praise begin.

God’s Glory

Amen