Sermon Draft for Epiphany 2019
This is Life in the Darkness
It’s dark in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for first nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than other youth.
In Pinehouse, like many places around God’s creation, youth in desperate straights, often survivors of multiple suicide attempts, are finding that learning and practising photography brings light into the darkness. Photography is all about light: seeing light, catching light to tell a story. It also requires of the photographer to see the world in a different light, in the light of God’s beauty. Photography done well communicates real wonders. It often remains unnoticed, until the technical capabilities of photographer with camera and equipment in hand bring God’s beauty to the photo.
As the youth actively bring God’s beauty to their photos, they bring life and hope and light into the darkness of their own lives.
God’s ways unfathomable
Tim recently added a safety margin to his existence; wood heat. It is not without it’s risks. Fire is powerful. The wood stove, well furnace really, refurbished, with the outside shield freshly painted after years of abuse can provide heat, and how. With care Tim fired it up more than once with a decidedly small test fire, to ensure the draft worked, the smoke went up, and the dampers actually worked. There are explosive possibilities Tim wanted to ensure would not happen. Smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible. Less pollution, and more heat. Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. With diligent care Tim now supplements an insufficient propane furnace (which lasted only a year before needing to be replaced) with an overly sufficient HOT wood stove. Left wide open and fully stoked the wood furnace could probably melt itself to the ground, yet alone it’s shelter and it’s occupant.
In the relative comfort of my condo, visiting over New Year’s, Tim let his guard down. A simple candle sat on the coffee table. He set a simple portion of the newspaper absently to the side. Only a good sense of smell alerted him that someone must have put out the candle.
But no, looking up he saw the newspaper 1/4 engulfed in flame, which in a minute would have burned the table to the ground and possibly the condo with it.
Grabbing newspaper aflame in hand he smothered the flames with what was left of the newspaper, leaving ashes everywhere. But the condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.
Explosive fire from HOT HOT wood and smoke burning at 1000° degrees, all done safely. A small candle in the comfortably heated condo, with all the supports of a city all around. Why does God let a fire with the newspaper scare us so?
In the Gospel we hear of great things all at God’s hand: Wise men follow a star and bring gifts of wealth. Dreams warn them to return home safely and for Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt. But we know the rest. All those children in and around Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod. Why? Perhaps those Wise men were not so wise, going to Herod’s home town for directions?
We like to make our own ways, who we make friends with, who we care for, who we spend time with.
God surprises us:
In Isaiah, the prophet preaches to a group of returned Exiles. They find themselves in conflict with their relatives who never left. Those who stayed behind remember that they, and they alone, are God’s chosen people. The returnees want everyone included in God’s favour.
In Matthew the wise men come to honour Jesus, the king foretold by the star. They are not Jews. They are members of a completely different religion.
In Ephesians the central mystery of faith that the writer shares is that Christ is for all the Gentiles.
Mystery of Faith
We ask today, What about un-earnable unconditional Forgiveness. What about God’s Grace being a gift so that we are saved not because of what we do, say or think or even believe. It is just pure gift!
Of course we are included just as Jews may be. That’s old news. But in Paul’s time no one besides Jews were considered, until Paul. God chose him specifically to preach to the Gentiles. While the rest of the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, with Jews joining them, Paul travelled the Mediterranean, spreading the Gospel to everyone, especially Gentiles. It was dangerous to be a new Christian. They were targeted and killed. If Paul had not spread the Good News, the early church, contained only in Jerusalem, practised only by converted Jews, may easily have died off in the first few years.
After generations of God’s people claiming only they were chosen, and they held themselves apart as identifiably chosen, what is God up to letting in the Gentiles, us Gentiles?
When it comes to our God and our lives, we have a long wish list:
What we want
Even in today’s lessons we read how we want:
Light in the darkness, a resolution of the all ails of the human condition
Prosperity in Light and Glory.
Access to God and Power: God’s servant with authority.
We want OUR family together, sons home, daughters cared for (sexism) so we really want our children in town or close by, our grandchildren nearby, and relative prosperity to accompany us all, always, to make our paths smooth.
God’s Light vs. Our Darkness
God’s way, as history should fully teach us is Not at all about our power, not our wishes, not making our paths smooth.
Darkness is us not acknowledging God as God, Love as our commission, Evil as the necessary result, our participation in it as inevitable and unavoidable sinners. Darkness is us damning others for the evil that we and others suffer.
Real danger in life is not knowing the real power of God, present in various ways. God’s power is so powerful it is like a fully stoked furnace, in the guise of a candle flame, but capable of burning down the whole universe.
Still we choose to remain in darkness. We choose to not know the destruction of fright at injustice. Fright freezes us, or causes us to flee, or to stand and fight; all are choices in the face of obvious malfeasance that will sink us like an overheated candle melts in the midst of a condo consumed by fire.
We choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption. We’ve heard the stories of old, but they are very present today, perhaps worse than ever since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lie.
Like the denial of the destructive power of CO emissions. Now we have Global Warming run rampant. Environment Canada, reporting on the top ten stories of the past year warns that now the extremes of the past are the new norms. Without greater resilience than ever before needed, we will not survive the new extremes. Perhaps the overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.
In our darkness with light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvel of wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, even our own backyards.
In our darkness we may not acknowledge the futility of security sought in prosperity. Even though we live in boom and bust Alberta, we too often seek security in prosperity or wealth. We hoard wealth or we live lavishly. But prosperity and wealth can evaporate like water on an overheated wood furnace. It takes only a turn of a market, a corruption of an investor, a foreign or domestic attack, a new Storm, a bad health event for ourselves or a loved one. After all we are all dying after the age of 26 or so, our bodies literally falling apart. It’s normal for no one gets out of life alive.
The true Gospel, True Mystery, True Light, True Blessings
The true Gospel, for the Gentiles, given as a free gift, not earned by compliance to a set of rules or piety, is a true mystery. It brings the true light with true blessings to all who hear it.
We live not by prosperity but wholly by Grace. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace to all others. We are only lowly servants. Our only power is Christ’s Power of self-sacrifice, truth, and of bringing life to others.
As we are rulers we can be just rulers. Even as middle or low class citizens or guest, or even as homeless squatters, the Spirit uses us to be for others Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands.
We share what we have freely received without cost: we share Hope based on God’s promises. We share God’s forgiveness. We share God’s grace.
As any good photographer will tell you, light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty. We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as a fully stoked, left wide open, wood furnace.
Flame is flame. The Holy Spirit is the source of our light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder.
NASA celebrating when pictures come back from the other side of Pluto. Beyond expectations.
China: landed on the dark side of the moon, seeing images not seen before.