Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.
1 Peter 1:17
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.
Words of Grace For Today
Are we aliens, guests on earth, in exile?
So many people on earth today are not able to live in their home land. So many people are exiled by violence or political differences with those that rule with cruelty at home.
They are aliens, in exile, yet we recognize they belong on earth, or at least we sort of recognize them as residents of earth.
In all our lives there are times, like Advent, that are not times for themselves, but times of waiting or of transition, when we anticipate with great expectations that things will be different, better. We anticipate that we will eventually no longer just be aliens, but that this will be our land, our home land, our place and time that God promises us and all people will recognize that it is ours, by God’s Grace alone.
Covid 19 is in a second wave, much worse than the first, still ineptly dealt with by so many governments, like at home in Alberta where the government, ideologically, holds that the economy is more important than the individual lives of the residents in this province. Restrictions are finally set in place weeks too late and multitudes of degrees too slack. Trying to protect the economy the government sacrifices health care for almost everyone, making room for Covid cases in the hospitals. The government sacrifices lives of people who die from the infection. The government sacrifices the long term health of so many people who suffer debilitating organ damage though they survive the virus’s first attack.
The government does this because it’s political base is not in the cities, which are harder hit than the rural areas where it’s support is strongest.
The government does this because it’s political base is the business owners, not the workers. The government does this because it does not value essential workers like doctors and health care workers (who they have fought against to drastically cut their compensation over the last few years.) The government does this because it supports big business and oil industry. The small people, the scientific evidence, the best real path forward is not important. Instead of the best path forward, science and prevention and providing health care for everyone does not matter. What matters is the political moves that can be made in the confusion of Covid 19. Well, we got what the majority chose: a government that is unto itself and lies to maintain it’s power. We’ve got what we deserve.
Thankfully God does not leave it there.
God walks with us, in a foreign land, and in our home land. We are God’s people, all of us God’s creatures.
We may be in exile at home with a government that does not have our interests, yet alone survival, in mind. God will soon enough deliver us. We can wait, patiently, and prepare ourselves to receive God’s Son, as he was born millennia ago, and as he comes each day, and to await for his return.
We can wait to celebrate Christmas until Christmas proper. We can take to heart Advent as the time of waiting in wonder that it is.
The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Words of Grace For Today
Our Apostle’s Confession of Faith reads as the word concluding the second article about our faith in Jesus, Son of God, “from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”
It is common to imagine God’s judgment as a terrible day. Jesus, sitting at God’s right hand, judging all people, living and dead, may seem a bit less daunting to those who have received faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. For Jesus came to preach and teach, comfort and heal, and bring truth and salvation to all who believe in him.
That judgment may seem a long way off, sometime in the distant future, in some distant millennium when the earth comes to an end, perhaps when the sun collapses into itself and the explodes into a supernova consuming everything in the solar system.
As we enter Advent, with integrity as faithful Christians, waiting, preparing ourselves, waiting, yearning (as opposed to starting the Christmas celebrations already – early), we take time in this reflective, sombre, anticipatory and hope-filled time to notice how God already walks with us each day, how Jesus is present in all creation, and how the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us to be God’s children each day in new and surprising ways.
We notice also that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right before God. God justifies us, and God alone. There is also no human (or devil’s being) who can bring a valid charge against us, God’s chosen, elect, forgiven, justified, and sanctified children.
Oh, the world and many people in it will try, driven by the Devil’s evil ways, to charge God’s people. Corrupt courts will even try, convict and imprison innocent people, all in an attempt to exercise their corruption of power, as if it were absolute or final.
These corrupt people can only place themselves under God’s judgment, even in these days. They can do all sorts of damage to our lives on this earth, harm greatly a great number of people, especially the most vulnerable including children, and make many people’s lives miserable in many ways. They can attack the integrity of society, even the integrity of God’s earth. They cannot actually harm us before God. They cannot separate us from God’s love and blessings. They cannot do anything that God does not allow them to do, all in order that we humans are capable of loving one another.
(For love requires that it is chosen by the one who loves, which requires free choice. Therefore there must be something besides love that we can choose, which requires in turn that hate, sin and all sorts of evil be on the menu for us to choose from … and to suffer as we and others choose other than to love as God loves us, unconditionally.)
We can, in these blue days of Advent, know that God walks with us, and is for us in all ways; God justifies us! Nothing can separate us from God’s love; not Covid 19, injustice of any kind, or lack of the necessities of life.
Because God justifies us, we can be the people who reach out to administer to those in need, to heal the sick, and to share the power of the Holy Spirit with all people.
That power is not the power of force or might; it is as Jesus lived for us, the power of self-sacrificing love.
That brings us to each day, no matter how dark or bleak, sure that our future is in God’s gracious hands, driven to be God’s Grace for all we encounter.
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
Words of Grace For Today
When we are born, we are helpless infants. We require that someone provide care for us. A mother or replacement nursemaid can nurse us and give us nourishment. Today we have formula that can replace a mother’s milk, or some of it. Immunity cannot be received from formula.
A mother breast feeding a child is called nursing the child, or comforting the child. As demanding as breast feeding at all hours is, as a child grows fathers and mothers spend a good portion of their days providing for the child, well into adolescence so that they survive. Much of this care is comforting a child and good fathers are sometimes better at this than mothers, even good mothers. Fathers, even poor fathers are better at providing comfort than mothers who are a narcissists or a personality disordered persons.
Comfort is good, Fathers can be good, Mothers can be good. And all but the mentally ill can, but do not necessarily, provide comfort.
In our baptisms God adopts us as children. Jesus adopted the disciples as they joined his motley crew that travelled, taught, and healed the crowds of people. When Jesus is about to leave them, after being resurrected from the dead, he promises that he is not abandoning them.
More than enough people are totally messed up due to abandonment issues. Jesus does not do this to the disciples, nor to us. Jesus must leave, but he lives and he lives in and among us, God’s children. Jesus also promises to return.
We still wait, expectantly, for his return.
Advent is a special time when we should practice waiting for the Christ to return as we celebrate his upcoming birth. We jump right into pre-celebrating Christ’s birth and the hoopla of Christmas, all so that we can avoid remembering we still wait for Jesus to return!
We are an impatient people. We suffer greatly because of it. We forego the healing practice of waiting, waiting, and more waiting … with grateful hearts. We wait for Jesus to return, for Christmas to come. We do not claim we ‘possess’ Jesus; like ‘I’ve got Jesus in my heart’ or anywhere else. Jesus has got us, thank God; or there would be no way through even a day of the evil that people make for each other on earth.
Waiting, we remember how Jesus is with us, how Jesus has always got us, and has always gotten us.
That’s the comfort of God. The comfort of God is that God-Jesus-Holy Spirit is with us always, guiding, teaching, leading, healing us.
Parents can comfort us so much, even long after we’ve grown to be adults. As any parent of adult children can tell you, the parenting job does not get easier with time as the children age, rather it gets more complicated, more significant, and it requires wisdom.
Thankfully, with the fear and love of God as our beginning each day, we receive wisdom, slowly and sometimes we think insufficiently for the challenges. Yet God uses us to deliver God’s comfort, to our children, and to all of God’s children.
Comfort, comfort, comfort … we share as we have received: God is with us, Jesus has not abandoned us. Together we CAN wait, also for Christmas.
Perhaps the separation and challenges Covid 19 forces on us will teach us to wait, with patience … and to provide each other the comfort that surpasses all other: God’s comfort for God’s children.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
You know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
Words of Grace For Today
You have heard it said that whatever challenges do not kill you make you stronger.
You have heard it said that testing one’s faith produces endurance.
The first is phooey.
Covid 19 often does not kill the person infected, but there are a number of ‘long haulers’, the people who do not die, and they do not recover. Instead they suffer pain, fatigue and organ complications without end.
Covid 19 is not the only challenge that may not kill you fast, but it will almost make you wish it had.
Testing one’s faith is different. God gives us faith as a gift, and it grows as we face the challenges that life throws at us.
It is different when the challenges of life, more than Covid 19, bring our heart to throb, our strength fails, and the light of our eyes slip away from us.
It’s the beginning of the end of life, threatening our breath, our time, and our hope.
In this time of huge challenge, as life slips on a slippery banana peel on the edge of our graves, we discover exactly what our lives are made of, what our hope provides, and what our faith sustains.
If we think we can somehow go it alone, when our last foot flies into the air and our other foot only has a small grip on that slippery banana peel, it will be quite the surprise …
as God stands, firm on the ground, and catches us, so that our days do not come to a crashing halt.
It is hard to be humble when everything is going so well we can pretend we accomplish life on our own. It is easy to be humble when we can barely breathe, our arms and legs fail to move as we ask they would, and our eyes no longer distinguish between light and dark, colours and black, blessing and curse, and we experience how clearly it is that only by God’s Grace do we live, breath, move and see.
God’s presence with us in the best of times and the worst of times leaves us so humble that there is nothing else in us, but the breath we use to give God thanks. It is good to be so humbled as to give God praise for creating us.
Now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Words of Grace For Today
Whenever now is, where ever now is, it is always the time to give God thanks for everything in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Amidst the second wave gone bezerk in Alberta with new cases doubling in a week, contact tracing broken down, parties continuing, hospitals overwhelmed with Covid 19 cases shutting out other health care needs, and Covidiots running loose everywhere in town …
It is time to give God thanks for everything:
For every thing one has, or has at one’s disposal.
For every gift, skill, and talent one has.
For every minute of life one has.
For the air, water, food, clothing, shelter, meaningful labour, and love one has (maybe such as it is, or even some of the requirements of life may be missing).
For every challenge one faces, making the day’s efforts worthwhile.
For every thing of beauty one can see in creation, for this is God’s hand writ large for all to see.
And most of all, for forgiveness, adoption, redemption, and being transformed into saints even as we remain sinners, for this is life the way God created us to live it!
For every opportunity we have to extend God’s Grace to others with forgiveness and inspiration.
If not now, when?
For one cannot know how many more years, days, minutes one has of this life built on Grace.
Complacent self-indulgence will be punished, those who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Words of Grace For Today
To take hold of the life that is really life!
That is a proper ambition and motivation for any sentient being.
The Biblical stories and writings record so much about how humans have done wonderful and terrible things with the comforts of wealth.
We could learn much, for in today’s world more people enjoy more comforts than ever before in the history of humans, perhaps more than all humans collectively before. Yet there are also more humans today than ever before who do not have secure access (if access at all) to the basics necessities for life: clean air, clean water, nourishing food, adequate clothing, secure shelter, meaningful labour, and opportunity to love and be loved unconditionally.
Worse is that there are among us a select few, getting smaller and richer each year, who have more wealth than most of us could imagine.
The worst is that the gap between the few wealthy and the majority who do not have the basics is growing each year as well. The systems that are in place, the social contract that keeps barbarism at bay (or not in so many places around this globe today) or the barbarism that has replaced a social contract, and all the institutions that support either the social contract or barbarism, and even our individual attitudes and actions all feed that ever increasing gap. Shame on us all!
The biblical accounts and other accounts of the past make it no secret that this destructive inequity has been a plague among humans since the earliest days. Our striving to survive the hunt, whether hunting for food, or being hunted for food, translates in to us striving to survive by ‘hunting’ others in order to try to secure our future.
We simply cannot secure our futures. Every effort to do so is evil, and it destroys those striving to secure the impossible and those who pay the price for it to appear as if the future were secure.
Joseph is ruined. This Joseph is not just the foreigner put in charge of Potipher’s household, only to be imprisoned on false charges by Potipher’s wife, who then interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and is elevated to be in charge of everything of Pharaoh’s, the whole of Egypt. This Joseph then is a refuge for his family, including his brothers who jealously sold him into slavery. These families are the Hebrews who multiply and, feared by future Pharaoh’s are enslaved and put to hard labour. These slaves are Moses’ people, a Hebrew not-orphan, who is raised in Pharaoh’s home as his own son, who commits murder in response to the abuse by the guards of his own people, who flees to the wilderness. This Moses returns to bring Joseph’s descendants out of Egypt, into the Promised Land via the wilderness.
This Joseph is also every blessed country, community, and gathering of God’s people, which has been laid in ruins, while the rich and the collaborators have indulged themselves in luxury. These are the people who eat, drink, and are drunkedly merry, while God’s people are enslaved, oppressed, and disappeared. This Joseph is also the present day USA, polarized by millions who think Trump speaks anything like truth, which chews up and spits out the democratic social contract in ruins. This Joseph laid in ruins is also our own Alberta, where church leaders, community members, and witnesses are gathered to lie in court, and where the courts add to the lies to convict and condemn honest and innocent people, where children are taught that truth is expendable if money is to be gained or courts lied to. In today’s ‘Me-too’ nightmare men are targeted for ruin more easily than woman, but all false convictions and rulings against anyone contribute to the ruin of Joseph.
What are honest people to do?
We grieve the ruin of Joseph.
We do good, are rich in good works, generous, and ready to share what great or little we have been entrusted with.
First and last, and always, though, we remember: God’s Grace saves us anew each day. God calls us to be God’s instruments of Grace to give life abundant to the poor, outcast, strangers, and homeless.
God also chooses to save those who lay Joseph in ruins by Grace. God calls us also to be God’s instruments of Grace to give life abundant to those who try to secure their future with riches.
We, by Grace, help all people take hold of the life that is really life.
(Yes, by Grace we help even the Covidiots, who threaten our lives with their stupidity and recklessness, take hold of life that is really life.)
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
He said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?
Words of Grace For Today
The imagination runs wild, how the celebration would fill the universe, and our lives from bottom to top.
God’s victory … doesn’t look quite like we imagine. It’s the look of a double victory: first that justice is done, and truth wins out! Our enemies no longer can do us harm.
The second part of the double victory is that our enemies are forgiven, redeemed, and set free to reflect God’s Grace to all people.
This is the Light of Christ.
We do not put a lamp under a bushel, especially not in the dark evenings and mornings of winter as we approach Advent.
Neither is God going to put the Light of Christ, nor the fragile vessels that reflect it to the world, under a bushel, especially not in the dark days of … winter, or politicians who want to Gaslight the whole world by not acting responsibly in the face of Covid 19, or people drowning in other’s lies.
Christ’s Light is good, always, but especially in the dark days like today.
Pray that God’s double victory comes soon to our enemies, for the light of life is almost extinguished in the dark of winter.
Pray that God places the Light of Christ high over us, that all may see God’s justice, truth, and unconditional love.
For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Words of Grace For Today
The world values people that are high and mighty.
God values the contrite and humble. Jesus comes to redeem the world: as a physician comes to heal not the healthy, but those who are ill, Jesus comes to be with sinners, those the world does not value.
Some describe God’s attitude towards people, and towards us, as a preferential option for the poor.
However we describe God’s attitude to us, it is clear that while we favour power, might, wealth, and fame; God favours the outcasts, the marginalized, and the poor.
God works through the power of love, not the power of might, through the power of self sacrifice, not the power of sacrificing others. Instead of asking us to do what needs to be done, God rescues us from what binds us to sin, and enables us to do God’s work in this world for Christ.
The maker of the universe finds us so valuable, that God comes to be with us.
The rest is the old, old story, of Jesus and his love, already present at the beginning of the universe.
What a life God gives us, which through steps and missteps we find filled with love and renewal.
except they did not proclaim the Gospel when it was right there to be proclaimed,
so instead of being adversely effected by this let down, I decided to provide an outline or draft for a sermon worth preaching and hearing.
What is missing is the colour of the sunset and sunrise, the stories of heart and strength, the accounts of the saints in light, which guide us to embrace God’s Grace. Maybe I’ll find time to insert some.
The Gospel for this day: Matthew 35: 31-46
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
We might say: the End of Time, loved ones’ deaths or our judgment before Christ, or even the end of the church year provides clarification of what is truly important. Yet clarity is rarely the result of grief.
Rather grief, as the loss of one’s child (our losses that reflect God’s loss of Jesus) rips the innards of our lives right down to the foundation and leaves us totally discombobulated. Meaning and language and words do not organize. Chaos overtakes any order we used to have in our lives.
Clarity at the end of time, for loved ones, for ourselves, is not guaranteed. Rather it is rare.
Clarity about our judgment day reflected in the passage for today’s Gospel reveals that everyone (not denying their actions – a rather foolish attempt it would be before God)… everyone (all sheep and all goats) is surprised … because they did not see Jesus … in the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or in the imprisoned.
Any sane person is going to be frightened at the thought of facing Christ on our judgment day. Goats to the left into eternal perdition with the devil, and Sheep to the right into eternal life with Jesus.
And how is the determination made? It is determined by what we have done for the least of God’s people (all people.) Did we care for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned?
Whether we are motivated to do these things by love, by passionate compassion, or by anything else, matters not one iota!
On the simplistic reading of the passage, our eternal path is determined by what we have done or not done for the least of God’s people!
Still, in this profoundly misguided, disturbing, and Gospel-less reading of this passage of scripture, we MUST DO what is right, OR we end up with the goats on the left.
If that is the ultimate determination for all of us, we are all lost into perdition, for by our own confession as faithful Lutherans, we confess that we are all bound to sin (and cannot by our own do what is right – including, by whatever means, care for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or in the imprisoned. Therefore we are all lost into perdition – and great consternation or grand denial can be our only response to this passage. Surprise! When we thought we might get into heaven because we did a few things right, even profoundly right, instead we ALL get the goats path to perdition! That’s a hell of a surprise!
Thankfully our confession of faith is simpler and far more profound: We not only confess that we are all damned sinners. We also confess that we are God-made saints. That is we also confess that we are all saved (sorted out to be with the sheep) only by Faith through Grace (God’s gifts us faith!) and NOT by our works (by what we have done or do or will do!)
So how can we possibly read and respond to this passage, given our simple confession of faith: Everything relies on God’s Grace?
If left to our own deeds, we are all sorted with the goats. We all do not care for all the least of God’s people. Even if we think we did what God requires of us (whenever we saw Jesus, but we rarely saw Jesus at all), and even if we can throw evidence at the wall of judgment, nothing will stick, because we have already failed so many times in so many ways that nothing can make up for our wholesale sins. We all have failed, do fail and will always fail to see Jesus where Jesus surprises us with his presence!
Doch! We confess we are not left to be judged by our own deeds. Rather, Surprise! Jesus places his record in place of ours as we are judged. Therefore we will not know when we cared for the outcasts, provided for the poor, gave homes to the homeless, fed the hungry, gave clean water and drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, nursed the sick, or visited the imprisoned.
We will be sorted with the sheep, not because of what we have done or not done. We are sorted with the sheep because of how Jesus lived, and because Jesus gives us his record in place of ours!
It’s all grace! It’s all gift! Our judgment does not depend one iota on us and what we think, say, or do.
Instead it depends only on God, and God is sure, steadfast in unconditional love forever!
So, we are sorted with the sheep! Phew! We dodged an eternal bullet of damnation there!
So back to our cozy, mixed up, sinful lives?! Right! We are getting away with whatever we do, good and bad, heaven and hell that we create for others, great ambitions to do right and little follow through. Nothing really matters in the end or even now! Right!? So let us celebrate, eat, drink, and be merry in the days God gives us. Right!?
Once Jesus’ record is in place of our own, we are free.
And what are we free from? We are free from our sins strangling us, binding us, keeping us from recognizing we live not to provide for ourselves, but as Christ provides for us.
What are we free for:
We are free to recognize others’ needs, endless as they are. Empowered by Christ’s example of forgiveness for us and the renewed life we receive daily from Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can provide for others. We GET to care for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or in the imprisoned.
Gosh golly gee, for sure that’s passionate compassion. That is living to provide justice for all. That’s being transformed to embody Christ in this world.
As the wretched sinners that we are, we certainly are surprised that God gets us to do such good things!
Of course, it is not something we can do ourselves, or choose for ourselves. We cannot choose to be passionately compassionate, or live for justice, or be Christ embodied in the world! We simply cannot on our own choose to do what God requires of us in order that we can be saved at the day of our judgment.
Surprise! It is only possible because of God’s Grace for us!
Now that’s Good News, because anything that depends on us is wholly unreliable.
Doch, what relies solely on God is as sound as the music of the spheres, the music of the strings that make up the universe. It is as sound as God, our rock and salvation, the Creator, all powerful. So sure is our salvation and the gifts that enables us for, in spite of being sinners, we are also simultaneously God-made saints.
We get to reflect Christ’s Light in all our days!
That is the clarity that we receive and can reflect to others. It comes rarely as we face the end of times. More often it comes as a complete surprise, in the ordinary, mundane suffering and challenges of life. During Covid 19 there are more than enough of those to go around, and hit us from behind again in the second wave.
Even when it hits us again and again, what matters is the surprise of what Christ does for us, and by Grace through us for others.
What Christ does for us and through us is the only and the everything that is important. What Christ does determines our judgment day, and all of every day in all the universe! Now that is sweet music to our ears
as we sing, Take my life that I may be consecrated Lord to thee!