Lent 2, March 17, Citizens

Paul:

Writing to the Philippians Paul says we are citizens of heaven. What is it for us to be such citizens; to be citizens of the Kingdom of God?

Acceptable Fast

On Ash Wednesday we heard the call to fast this Lent with a fast that God desires, a fast that is not for us. It is a fast that brings justice and freedom in the face of injustice and oppression. It is a fast that brings food and homes to those who hunger and are homeless. It is a fast that brings Christ’s forgiveness, redemption and love to those who need it most.

Christchurch

After the horrible slaughter in Christchurch NZ during prayers at two mosques we remember God’s special concern for immigrants and refugees.

What kind of a fast do we hold for the victims of terrorism who lost their lives in the mosques this past week, and for the people the world over who without warning ended up watching this horror, all of which was intended to spread terror? The terror message was clear, but we say every refugee, every immigrant, every Muslin will be safe everywhere in this God’s creation. What kind of a fast says “God promises us it is so! We trust it is so!”

How do we know God promises so? How can we trust God’s promises?

Lawyer: Contract Terms

To explain the ritual in our OT lesson of the flames passing between the halves of the sacrificed animals, a pastor provided this in a text study:

He was in a Lawyer’s office signing a contract. The other party asked, “What if one of us fails to keep the contract? Will that be bad?”

The lawyer, who’d also studied theology, responded, “Well, you can try to settle it between yourselves. Or one of you can sue the other to have the courts settle it. It’ll be a mess.

“But in ancient times before paper and long before signatures people sealed an agreement by walking between the halves of animals sacrificed, halved, and laid out for the ‘signing’ ritual. It meant that if either party who walked between the halves failed to uphold their end of the agreement, they therewith allowed the other to literally and bloodily render them as were the animals.

“It made carrying out one’s agreements serious, and deadly if you did not.” (TL in a text study.)

OT – God makes covenant

God makes the Covenant with Abram in today’s OT lesson. Only God, in the form of the flames, passes between the halved animals. God gives his life as surety that God will fulfill the promises of descendants and land. Abram is just a by-stander, a free recipient of the promises.

Baptism Covenant

God also makes a one-sided covenant with each of us. In our baptisms God promises us forgiveness for all our sins, frees us, and then calls us to be Christ’s followers on God’s way, to be Christ’s hands, voice and presence of grace for every other sinner we meet.

God sends the Holy Spirit to surround us with a community of sinner-saints, just like us. The community are those we see in this place and time, and so many more we cannot see. We are surrounded by and connected to all sinner-saints from ancient times to the present and into the future to the end of time.

Spring Change as Chronos Time

In the past week people have reported signs of spring: song birds sing, owls hoot, geese arrive back, bees are out buzzing looking for pollen.

Time passes and the seasons change. We can look at a calendar and know that it is just about right, it’s March and spring starts showing itself around Edmonton.

God’s Time

Most contracts have very clear timelines, deadlines. God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah have none. They forget this and things go awry.

Abraham, Sarah, and most of us expect God to work with us in what the Greeks called calendar time, or chronos. The Greeks had a word for the time that God works with, the time when things are done at the right time. They called it kairos; the moment when it was the right time for something. Whenever God says is the right time, that’s the right time.

Ab & Sarah Mess Up

This is not the first time God makes Abram a promise. Years had passed since the first time. In those long years Abram and Sarai had not trusted God to act in God’s time. They tried to help God in their own time. They took so many shortcuts, passing Sarah off as Abraham’s sister, blackmailing their victims; Sarah offers her slave Hagar to Abraham; and Ishmael is born.

Each shortcut results in terrible disasters for everyone. God assures them Abraham’s heir is not Ishmael, nor any other child born in the household.

But God takes God’s own time … until when Sarah is way too old and Abraham is as good as dead, they finally have a child, Isaac. Then Sarah puts Hagar and Ishmael out in the desert to die in the dry heat. God cares for both, they survive their severe hardships, and Ishmael’s descendants grow greater in number than Isaac’s. Today the spiritual descendants of Ishmael are Muslims who worship in mosques around the world.

Jesus to Jerusalem

In this morning’s Gospel, the fear-filled Pharisees warn Jesus to turn back, for Herod will kill him.

Jesus will not respond to fear. Herod will not stop him. On God’s time Jesus takes a long calendar time to get to Jerusalem. Along the way he heals, teaches, blesses children, restores the outsiders, liberates the captives and tells stories of God’s grace and unending love. Jesus knows his end and purpose is to redeem all of Creation with his death in Jerusalem.

The Way, The Journey

In the early decades after Christ, Jesus’ followers were not known as Christians, but as followers of the Way. Everything about following Jesus is always about how we make our journey through life.

As followers of the Way, promised by God that we are children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus calls us, and the Holy Spirit equips us, to travel without either being driven by fear or using it against other people.

Together with the hosts of sinner-saints of all time we answer this call and participate in the fast that does not sacrifice others. Instead we take opportunities to heal, to bless children, to restore outsiders, to liberate the oppressed … and we tell stories of God’s grace and unending love.

There is no goal or end to our journey of following Christ. We practice following more faithfully season after season, year after year, waiting until God says that is enough practice, and God calls us home.

Marriage Counselling vs Fitness

That practice reminds me that marriage counselling has a 75% or higher failure rate. Partly because it looks intensely at why and how and raises awareness of how bad it is, how broken they are, how difficult healing is.

By comparison marriage fitness, rescues maybe no more marriages, but it rescues people.

The goal is not to reach marriage perfection, but to practice being the person you want to be with your beloved: to be loving by DOING loving things, thoughtful things, things that are wanted, actions that are real gifts to the other person, and to do these things on a very regular basis.

No guarantee is made this will save the marriage, but if it can be saved then maybe it’ll work. Regardless you will have become the person you want to be in a relationship. Along the way you will have learned that the process of being a loving person is what it is all about, not some ideal goal of a perfect relationship or expecting to find or train the perfect spouse.

CoG Fitness

As Children of God we also live with many other people and we bump up against each other in so many ways.

Like couples thinking that they need a perfect spouse or a perfect relationship in order to be in love with each other, Christians often, and Lutherans real often, behave as if they have to be perfect or rather that others in the congregation have to be perfect, or this has to be a perfect congregation and then God will bless us. … Not so!

God gives blessings for the journey that we make together.

Interim ministry: Practice is the Way

Each year counts, especially years of interim ministry. These are the years that we practice being the kind of people we want to be, the kind of Christians we want to be. And we keep it up, as a process until God calls us home.

About Time

About Time is a movie of men able to go back in time, and how, with great humour, different men in the family use and abuse this gift. The hero’s father has worked out that the real trick is to take life one day at a time, and then to go back and relive each day, with no fear, celebrating the little things, noticing how much you love people and love work and love play, … to immerse yourself fully in every moment with thanks and joy.

The hero does this and then takes it one step further. He chooses to never go back in time, but to enter each new day, as if it were the day relived for the joy of it. He savours each moment and person, each love and joy, and even each challenge and each of his failures … as precious.

This Lent, especially in response to events that could freeze us with fear, God calls us to live each precious day as the people we truly want to be. The Holy Spirit equips us to be citizens of heaven, God’s saints.

As we undertake fasts that bring justice and freedom, food and homes, and hope and safety to all who need them, we live assured of God’s promises. In God’s time all will be well.

During this interim the Holy Spirit inspires us to not waste even one day. We are on our way, practising being the saints God makes us sinners to be. This is God’s time, not our calendar time.

Sending

God’s promises are sure. The signs are everywhere if you look: the Holy Spirit is here inspiring us to see each day as God’s precious time, to be lived with thankful, joyful and hope-filled hearts as we practice being followers of the Way and citizens of heaven.

We are citizens of heaven.

Amen

Lent: A Fast for Justice – Seeing God

2019 Mar 15

See Reality, See Our Creator

The light of life, the light of Christ.

This Ash Wednesday the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 58 read in part :

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you,
  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

From this I choose for all of my Lent this theme:

What is the acceptable fast?

When fish became a common fast, Fridays one gave up other meats to eat only fish. It was indeed a matter of justice. It was designed to help struggling fishers by creating a larger market for their product.

Then it became a mark of piety, a proud mark of piety, that one could eat fish.

Always good works become meaninglessly banal and then a perversion of the original goodness.

Life is about remembering, and always being creative with purpose driving creativity.

So what is it this Lent that we give up, not for the giving up, but that others will have the basics of life!?;

so that the bonds of injustice will be loosened, the yokes will be untied, the oppressed will see freedom, every yoke of slavery and oppression will be broken, no one will hunger, go unclothed, or remain homeless.

Note that this is more than everyone will have shelter sufficient, which is more basic. This is that everyone will have a home. A home means among other things that one has a place marked for one as a unique individual, one has a place one belongs, is cared for, cares for others, and most of all where one can go in the best of times and the worst of times and the doors are open to one.

The Light from on High, the Light from Below: The Light of all Creation.

The light of beauty.

Technically, I am homeless, so I am sensitive to this issue.

By the grace of God and generosity of many different people, I have a home: a borrowed old 18’ camper, attached to a 9.5’x8’ tarp shelter on a trailer in which there is a rebuilt wood stove that provides heat sufficient even at -40°C. It just takes an awful lot of wood.

The challenge is I have no where to set up the camper and trailer, so I am a guest of the Queen on Crown Land, always temporarily.

Fortunately there are locations where this all works:

Oh and there are many other challenges including connecting the camper and the trailer-shelter, and setting up the arrangement for 14 days at a time. Then I have to tear it all down, pack it up, and move it off Crown land. That’s a lot of work and a lot of money in gasoline to move the trailer and the camper.

It takes at least two days to set up, and a day and a half to tear down, more when it’s colder than -15°C. In the deeper cold it is only possible if I get the wood heat going, and stoke the fire full blast, with doors still open and heat the inside up to 50°C so I have a place to warm up between stints of working outside, and a toasty place to warm up boots and gloves that I switch back and forth.

But it is my home such as it is, and for that I am thankful.

Financially I am hanging on by a thin thread. Though so far though I have not gone hungry, not that my diet has been the best all the time, and my health demands a pretty careful diet.

My situation is a result of others bearing false witness against me, which is injustice, raw and simple and very destructive … and obvious.

But I am not yoked, or enslaved, or oppressed as most would understand those terms. I am not unclothed. (That would bring one to a very quick end in the Canadian winter.)

And I am alive. Though challenged sometimes close to my capacity to meet the challenge, I live well.

That is a statement of resilience and faith, of seeing God at work when others seem oblivious.

At sunrise, as the wood smoke wafts up through the woods, especially as I start a new load in the furnace before the smoke gets hot enough to burn real cleanly, this reality bears witness to God’s presence, to Christ’s light, to the promise that God is here with me. In the wilderness and cold, in the solitude and quiet God is here as the wood furnace works to help me survive. Wonderfully the stove gives off what is needed for me to see the presence and power of the sunrise light even before it hits the solar panels sufficient to provide electricity to recharge the batteries.

The Light Undoubtedly Breaking In With Blessings

God blesses us that we may be blessings to others.

This Lent may our fasts be undertaken, not for us, but to bring to all justice, freedom, clean water and air, food and clothing, homes and meaningful labour, love and, most of all, hope.

Remember God’s promises.

Remember the victims in Christchurch.

Remember without fear.

Live well, that terror have no place among us.

What Land Do We Possess?

March 10, 2019
First Sunday in Lent, Year C

Opening question

What land do we possess, where have we settled, that does God continue to give to us, that continues to produce for us that we can share with others?

Ripples – not alone.

The land that God gives us each minute has ripple effects on us, which catch the light of Christ, resplendent.

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
 to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
 when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
  and your healing shall spring up quickly;
 your vindicator shall go before you,
  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

In Deuteronomy’s reading for today the promised land is possessed and settled. The land is survival and security, the land is yearly crops for food, for trade to provide for other needs, the land is status and a place to call home … sort of.

For the land is provided by God. It is not earned or deserved. God one sided promises it. God continues to give it each day.

Knowing our history is key to living life abundantly. We know history, not just to avoid repeating bad history, but to know the good of history, to know God’s story, and our place in it. To remember how much God has blessed us.

What is it for each of us that God promises and gives us to posses and settle, that provides us survival and security, that is a place to call home, to share with our family. A place from which we are known to be grounded and where we come from.

For a few of us it also includes land, literally, a piece of ground that we hold the title to. For most of us it is something else, a profession, a career, or a job that included a retirement plan of some kind that still produces some kind of an income for us. Or perhaps it is family before us or after us, who have provided or still provide for us, security, survival, a place to call home. Or perhaps it is our reputation, that brings us recognition, respect, and a sense of worth. Or perhaps it is our ability to make friends, or our ability to write, or produce art or music. Or it is our ability to listen, understand, and comfort others in duress.

This is the land that God is giving to us. The text makes the point that God’s giving us the promised land is ongoing, each day.

God sends Isaiah to tell us what our response is to be: Each year at harvest we give first fruits that this land has produced and we recite God’s history with us, how God delivered us, we who were in our past aliens, formerly hungry, once unclothed, used to be captives, once upon a time … before we are what we are now, we used to be those kind of people, if not in this generation then in our ancestors’ time. Now God gives us the land not because we are good, or pious, or righteous, but because the land remains God’s and God chooses to give it to us. Though we posses it and settle it the land is always God’s.

When we are done giving the first fruits then Isaiah reminds us that God wants us to celebrate that God’s land has produced again, and just as we once were outcasts, outsiders, or aliens, so also we celebrate with the outcasts, outsiders, and aliens in our midst. In Canada we call them immigrants or refugees, and others designated as outcasts, outsiders,
personae non gratae.

In today’s Gospel Jesus faces the Devil, the great deceiver. The Devil wants Jesus, hungry from fasting, to feed himself, claim power for himself, and prove for himself that God will save him.

The Devil tempts Jesus with everything for Jesus himself, just sacrifice the teensie, weensie little thing of worshipping Satan. The things the Devil offers are not bad in and of themselves. They become evil when they are hoarded for oneself, instead of provided to everyone!

The Devil tempts us with everything as though life were an if/then reality: if you serve the devil then you will succeed in life.

God assures us that life is not that way, not blessed life lived abundantly. Life lived abundantly is always an because/therefore reality:

because God blesses us therefore we can bless others.

Jesus knows clearly that the Devil is the great deceiver who perverts everything into a private if/then proposition. Jesus knows that bread is good for life, but not just for himself, rather for all people. Instead Jesus gives his life that others may eat and never be hungry.

Jesus knows that power is important, that it can save and destroy people. Jesus is not ready to take shortcuts to gain corrupt power, power promised by the great deceiver, power which is really nothing. Instead Jesus exercises God’s power by sacrificing himself so that all people may live. That’s real power.

Jesus knows clearly that people of faith trust God because of what God has done for them and that God promises to protect them. But to test God is something entirely different from trusting God.

Instead Jesus exposes the Devil’s false use of scripture. Jesus trusts that even as he faces the cross, the most horrific death known at the time, God’s angels will be on watch with him, as he sets right the chaos of the devil in all the universe for all people. Jesus demonstrates so clearly God’s grace and acceptance for everyone, so that we no longer have any real excuse to try to test God.

In Paul’s writings to the Romans Paul makes this very clear: salvation witnessed to by the confession of Jesus Christ on one’s lips and in one’s heart is not reserved for just some people. Jesus’ salvation is offered for everyone. The Holy Spirit can create faith in anyone. There is no closed club, or special skills required, or properly formed faith practices that make only certain people God’s children. God’s grace alone creates children of God. The Holy Spirit creates saints of sinners. God never stops giving to us what we need to be faithful. But the key is this: everything is dependent on God, not on us, not even on our responses.

God is in control. God continues to give land to us.

We get to respond, giving our first fruits and practising the fast that brings justice, freedom, clothes, food, and homes for those without. So we celebrate along with even the outsider, the outcast, and the alien all that God has done for us, through history and in these last days.

God’s Glory Shines, even when we forget.

Amen

Imagine: That Time Again

Imagine

That time again:

It’s that marvellous time in the morning. The light is broken through the darkness, the sun yet to shine is promised. All is quiet, except the contained roar of burning wood in the furnace, the left overs from the water heated for coffee cooling in the pan on the stove, and every once in a while a plastic container popping loudly as the freeze of last night (or perhaps still left over from the -32°C storage for a week while I was in surgery) is slowly pushed back by the flames conductive reach.

Earlier, before the light made the snow clear, an owl kept measure of the coming dawn with it’s ominous who, who, who. Who indeed has done all this?

Who is the owl calling to the end of life on this earth? There was an owl in this man’s drive, not a live one, but carved from wood. A sign, that stood for years; he was driven to take his own life by the woman he trusted most; she driven by an irrational fear that attached itself impromptu on whomever was close enough. The owl stood and still stands, a sign of a death not yet done.

Of course, life is never done with us until death harvests what is left of us.

In the quiet of the dawning day, not yet demanding so many things be finished, or progressed, or started, one can see the rhythm of the blessed goodness of life. A breath in, a breath out. A heartbeat on the left, then on the right. A cough from the wood heat smoke of yesterday still irritating the fragile, allergy-beaten sinuses.

This is the time that imagination sets the course of the day. Can you imagine forgiveness for one’s enemies who attacked and/or harmed you all your yesterdays? Can you imagine doing forgiveness, not just hoping it is what you’ve thought well enough to make real?

Can you see the temperature, so cold in the morning at -20°C, holding the frozen food frozen, the ice packs in the fridge cold to avoid fuel to keep a fridge cool, the frozen things frozen outside awaiting a later day for the ground to become soft? Or do you have to imagine the pain in your hands working out in this cold?

Can you see the sun creating electricity to store in the batteries to give you light, and then with time, you are able to create words of truth and freedom? Or are you afraid of the light, for it burns invisibly hot through one’s skin and eyes: therefrom grow cancers and cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration?

Can you imagine the sounds of squirrels chirping, wind breathing softly, kind voices greeting each other, preparing for the day’s tasks whatever they may be: school, work, ice fishing, travelling to deliver the goods? Or do you allow the haunt of yesterday’s abuse and lies run loose bouncing off every occasioned imagination and sound or light?

Just done, remember the soft warm feel of water with soap cleaning the breakfast dishes, and cool water rinsing away the suds.

Imagine Julian of Norwich’s words of hope realized in your coming days: all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.

Now, breathe in and out, the gifts of life here to share: clean air and water, food sufficient for all, clothing appropriate, shelter sufficient, meaningful labour, and love (given and received).

Now, the day calls. Make your way as you have been made able, to share what you’ve been given: blessings upon blessings, forgiveness, love, and hope.

It’s that time again:

Imagine!

Mysteries —

all kinds of
wonderful unknowables

There are so many things in life that remain a mystery.

As the sun rose after a bright moonlit night I kept working inside and missed the marvel of the sunrise through the trees.

Winter though provides little light above the trees, so even when I was able to emerge, this caught my eye. I moved easily to get my camera for this was far to complex a shot than possible with a simple cell camera which I also did not have on me.

Then as I mounted the steps to go inside I noticed the light change and with a panic that only a photographer can know too well, I ran to catch the light at play before it moved to something, somewhere else.

Back outside the light returned to play, and these two of the few I took surprised me nicely.

I went back to work after adding them to my desktop slideshow.

This evening they showed up for the first time, which brought me to decide to postpone sleep until they are up for others to enjoy.

The challenge is to find the right composition and play to show what caught my eye.

Here the lines are strong, though the mystery is less if at all.

.

.

.

Here the mystery lays fully in the frame.

There was no fog, as one can tell with a trained eye. This is smoke from the campfire burning up some junk wood and chainsaw chips, with the temperature just right that the smoke traversed quite a ways through the trees on its way to ‘freedom’ in the atmosphere.

Small mysteries include how people can possibly not understand what Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu demonstrated so diligently:

It is very difficult requiring great patience and diligence to throw off oppressive, racists, unjust rulers.

But if one simply replaces them with one’s own version of oppression, racism, and injustice
then one actually only takes a step deeper into greater difficulties for which one is then responsible:
Getting rid of one’s oppressors becomes a step deeper into oppression, from which one has less likelihood of getting free of, for one has deepened the cycle of revenge … and that can take more than generations to be free of.

Mandela and Tutu demonstrated that FRFEDOM from one’s oppressors only is possible if one finds a way free from being the oppressors first, last and all the way in between, which is so much more difficult than throwing off one’s oppressors!

Another small mystery is how it is that so many people think that their lies which ruin other people, are not seen as lies, and that there are terrible consequences, natural consequences and God wrought consequences for such injustice. Even people entrusted with great authority, or perhaps most of all, people entrusted with great authority seem to be oblivious to their own lie’s baldfaceness, and the unjust consequences to other people far beyond the persons they lie about, and the ruinous consequences to themselves. Lies rot a person from the inside until there is nothing left inside, until one is physically alive, but there is no soul left.

While God punishes people for their sins, or forgives them, But unless one repents (changes 180° the sin) the sinner suffers the sin more than anyone else.

Another small mystery of life is how people can think that doing nothing about lies and injustice are even options for life.

Bringing light to bear upon lies and injustice may seem to be costly, even one’s job, or peace, or reputation … but to do nothing in the face of lies leaves one rotting inside as badly as the liars and perpetrators of injustice.

One can look a far, or not so far, just south of the border, to see how destructive lies and ignoring them, can be. But one ought also to pay attention to what is happening in one’s own town: in the politics, the power plays, the wealth thrown around and cow towed to, the public officials, elected and appointed who are entrusted with maintaining good order and justice. Of course one also needs to start in one’s own family, and with one’s self.

The mystery of life for me has been how so many people whom I’ve met are so unaware of the themselves, as they hammer others down and about to make their way forward and upward through life. It’s as if kindness we completely unknown, honesty never heard of, and fairness and justice concepts that mean whatever gets me ahead at whatever cost.

The profound mystery is how light plays on all these self-deceptions, colouring the world ugly.

Except by Grace the colouring can be also a thing of beauty as one forgives and loves despite the cruelty focused at oneself and at others.

Forgiveness is not always possible: sometimes one needs to leave the judgement to God, and move on, not forgiving and fully remembering the sins, but not condemning. The sinners suffer their sins. God eventually judges them, no spin, no evidence hidden, no witnesses excluded — God knows all with or without evidence and witnesses. And since God exists beyond time the consequences of that judgement begins at one’s birth; thus sinners suffer their sins more than are punished for them.

As an ordained person, responsible and with authority to bring forgiveness to sinners, and also entrusted with the terrible authority to bind sins for God to judge, I have seldom done other than pronounce forgiveness, until the last few years. Now the injustice that I have been the brunt of, which is not limited to just me, but most men abused by women, falsely convicted in our courts … which forces me to estimate that more than 75% of men convicted of a crime against their spouse or partner are truly innocent; so pervasive is this turn. We used to hear that men without a thread of truth could bring their non-compliant wives to jail to be ruined or to mental institutions to be drugged out of their minds for decades. Now the system has changed: and it allows women, without truth, to bring their husbands and partners to jail and mental institutions.

These sins, that make this possible, that invite women to do this, as if this deals with the real abuse of women by men, and clearly ignores the real abuse of men by these women … these sins cannot be forgiven. They are bound for God to judge.

The rest of us need to work to bring light to these injustices, or we rot just like the perpetrators.

The small mystery, or not so small mystery, is why this takes so long for us to bring the light to bear upon such blatant sin?

Those are small to immense mysteries. They are dwarfed by the real mystery.

The real mystery is faith:

This coming Sunday we read: love your enemies.

How is that even possible?

The answer is simple and elusively complex.

Just do it!

But the prerequisite is that one knows two things at least:

That one does not deserve to be loved by God, not at all.

And that God still does love you, fully and without reserve or hesitation.

And the third thing to know is that God calls us to love our enemies as God has loved us.

They may not deserve it, but we are to love them anyway.

It’s a matter of faith.

Simple.

Simply impossible.

Simply possible for the Holy Spirit through us, since God makes us saints.

Blessings to Share, or Not

When he was a young adult Peter Kitundu met the missionary doctor in Kiomboi, TZ. With the help of that doctor Peter later travelled to MN for college and medical school. Peter met and married Mary and together they returned to Tanzania so Peter could fulfill his calling to serve as a medical doctor in his home country. Peter died a very old man having served his people ravaged by population explosion, droughts, famines, curable diseases and AIDS. Life expectancy in TZ was 46 years when Peter met the medical missionary. Now it is 67.

Today Paul reminds us that in Jesus’ resurrection God makes obvious that God loves us enough to give his only son, and that death does not have the last word. God’s Word is first and last.

With the first Word God created the world. God provided the necessities of life for all: clean air, clean fresh water, plenty of food, clothing as needed, shelter sufficient … and God said it all is good.

For generations we have perverted our unequal gifts from God into a measure of God’s blessing. We turned our having more than enough into an entitlement and a proof that God favours us and does not favour other people who do not have enough in order to survive.

While we can be that evil, God also provides for us the great wisdom that Jeremiah points us to. Like trees planted next to streams of flowing water God’s wisdom gives us endurance even through times of drought, times when around us all wisdom and truth evaporate.

In today’s Gospel Jesus provides some of this wisdom for us, a corrective to our perversion that our abundance is proof that we are blessed and the poor are not. Jesus proclaims that the poor are the ones who are blessed, that those who hunger are blessed, that those who mourn are blessed, that those who others revile are blessed.

Brian Rude receives guests in Central America, introducing them to Christians caught in desperate poverty. Even as the people who live there fear that they or their family members or their friends will be ‘disappeared’, these poor people worship with gratitude, these people celebrate exuberantly. Like the people in TZ, these Christians know how to love: more proof that God indeed blesses people who are poor, who are hungry, who mourn, who are reviled.

Still there are many times in history when we stubbornly refuse to accept what the Gospel teaches and Liberation Theology reminds us of: that God has a preferential option for the poor, that God blesses the poor more than the wealthy, who today are among the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth.

Instead we have turned Jesus’ blessing of the poor into an excuse not to work to provide justice also for them. We have said, mistakenly so, that the poor have earned their poverty and we have earned our wealth. That’s how God created us: we are privileged and they are lazy and deserve what they get, or rather they deserve that they do not get what they need to survive.

We have mistakenly said it in many and various ways: The poor will always be with us. Poverty and homelessness cannot be ended. There is not enough for everyone so some people will always go without. Life is a zero sum game.

We end it all by saying: we do not need to change how it is for them because God blesses them in their poverty, hunger, grief, and ruin.

As if knowing we would turn their blessings into our excuses not to love them Jesus adds a series of warnings for the rich people.

Woe to the rich, to the well fed, to the joyful, to those spoken well of, for they have received blessings, but in eternity God will not provide for them at all.

We like to forget these passages, or pretend that they do not apply to us. Yet in many and various ways there are those among us in every generation who remind us that our blessings are not ours to keep. They are meant to be shared with those who do not have enough.

Last week an amber alert garnered over 300 responses as they looked for a missing 11 year old girl. The calls were not about the girl. They were from people who felt entitled to use 911 to complain that the amber alert had been sent out after 11 pm and disturbed their sleep. These complaints almost kept the lines too busy for the helpful responses to get through; still the help was too late.

Dorothy Soelle, theologian d.2003 added 2 items to the list of the necessities of life. She added: meaningful labour, and love (both to be loved and the opportunity to love others.) We know that the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and those reviled often have great capacity to love; to love their neighbours as themselves, and to love even their enemies; and to love God with all their hearts, minds and strength. Jesus pronounced this blessing for the common people on the plain.

By comparison this is what most rich, well fed, joyful, those spoken well of are missing. They seem too often incapable of accepting God’s gift’s as blessings to share. Something obstructs their knowing how to love their neighbours or themselves, and especially how to love their enemies. They love the security their abundance provides so much that they have no room left to love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength … and that is the greatest curse of all. Without love, we are nothing.

Love, so profound that one loves one’s enemies, is only possible when we recognize that God first loves us, though we do not deserve it.

When we accept God’s undeserved love and blessings with gratitude, then we are able to graciously love others with this same unbounded love. We are able to share not only the over-abundance we have. By God’s Grace and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we are able to share the necessities of life with others even when that means we will share in their poverty, hunger, grief, and ruin of reputation.

Peter Kitundu’s legacy did not end with his death in 2011. His widow, Mary, and that medical missionary and numerous other people joined together to rebuild some of the basics of health care in TZ. Peter’s brother eventually convinced this group, who call themselves IHP-TZ (ihptz.org), to take 30 acres he had north of Dar es Salaam and build the first hospital for children in TZ. With funds raised by that medical missionary now in his 90’s, the local crew and visiting medical, construction, and all kinds of volunteers from around the world make the next part of the hospital a reality.

There is another true story, originally about an Appalachian family in the US. It is perhaps truer for us if told set in the north of AB.

A social worker is assigned a family that she finally finds in the wilderness far from any other people or road. When she arrives on snowmobile they treat her with great respect and honour offering her tea from the wood stove in the two room drafty log cabin. The father arrives home with a freshly shot moose while she assesses whether the young children ought to be in school. It is obvious to her that they are on the edge of survival. Satisfied that these people are providing a good education for their children she prepares to leave. The father wraps up a piece of moose meat as a gift for her. She starts to refuse it, appalled that she would take anything away from the little they have. Seeing her resistance the father with wisdom, welling up from ancient streams of truth, insists she accept their gift saying, “I know it looks like we are poor, but we are not poor. You are only poor if you cannot give something to others.”

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Having received so much, we each have so much to give, or not! Amen

Blessed are we all?

Peter Kitundu was a young adult when I first met him. A young child, living in Tanganyika, I met him because he was interested in medicine and my father, a medical missionary, was the only doctor around for days of travel. Peter later travelled to MN for college and medical school. Peter met and married Mary and together they returned to Tanzania so Peter could fulfill his calling to serve as a medical doctor in his home country. Peter died a very old man having served his people ravaged by population explosion, droughts, famines, curable diseases and AIDS.

Today Paul reminds us that as Christians we must believe in the resurrection, for this is central to God’s story made obvious for us in the life of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus died, tortured to death on a cross; but three days later he rose from the dead. In Jesus’ resurrection God makes obvious that God loves us enough to give his only son, and that death does not have the last word. God’s Word is the first and the last.

With the first Word God created the world. God provided the necessities of life for us: clean air, clean fresh water, plenty food, clothing as needed, shelter sufficient … and God said it all is good.

God blessed us with the necessities of life. God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others, sharing all the gifts we receive.

For generation upon generation we have turned our unequal gifts into a measure of God’s unequal blessing. In an evil perversion that only humans are capable of, we turned our having more than enough into an entitlement and a proof that God favours us and does not favour people who do not have enough in order to live well or even to survive.

While we can be evil, God also provides for us great wisdom that Jeremiah points us to: God provides wisdom for us like trees planted next to streams of flowing water. This wisdom gives us endurance even through times of drought, times when around us all wisdom and truth seem to evaporate in the heat of the time.

In today’s Gospel Jesus provides some of this wisdom for us, a corrective to our perversion of God’s gifts, our abundance, as proof that we are blessed and the poor are not. Jesus proclaims that the poor are the ones who are blessed, that those who hunger are the blessed, that those who mourn are blessed, that those who others revile are blessed.

Travelling decades ago to Central America, with a group visiting Christians caught in desperate poverty, I came to know that even in these desperate circumstances, many caused by my home country’s CIA’s interference, even as they feared that they or their family members or their friends would be ‘disappeared’ without cause, these people knew how to worship gratefully, these people knew how to celebrate exuberantly. These people were as profoundly joyful, despite everything else, as those around me as I grew up in Kiomboi TZ. These people taught me again that those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who mourn, those who are reviled are indeed blessed by God; blessed in ways I did not encounter at home in MN, or in CT and DE where I had studied.

Still there are many times in history, even in the present, when we stubbornly refuse to accept what the Gospel for today teaches us, what Liberation Theology teaches us, that God has a preferential option for the poor, that God blesses the poor more than us, we who (by all standards in today’s world and even more so compared to all people through history) are among the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth.

Instead we have turned the blessing of the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, those who are reviled, into an excuse not to work to provide justice also for them. We have said, mistakenly so, that the poor have earned their poverty and we have earned our wealth. That’s how God created us: we are privileged and they are lazy and deserve what they get, or rather they deserve that they do not get what they need to survive.

We have said it in many and various ways: The poor will always be with us. Poverty and homelessness cannot be ended. There is not enough for everyone so some people will always go without. Life is a zero sum game.

And on top of all that, we do not need to change how it is for them because God blesses them in their poverty, hunger, grief, and ruin.

As if knowing we would turn their blessings into our excuses not to love them Jesus adds a series of warnings for us rich people.

Woe to the rich, to the well fed, to the joyful, to those spoken well of, for they have received blessings, but in eternity God will not provide for them at all.

We like to forget these passages, or pretend that they do not apply to us. Yet in many and various ways there are those among us in every generation who have reminded us that our blessings are not ours to keep. There are those among us today who remind us God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others. We do not receive anything except what God graciously provides for us … and then this profound truth … God provides gifts of life to us only in order that we can share them equally with those who do not have the necessities of life.

There are those among us even today who remind us that our work is to provide justice, to provide care, to provide food, to end poverty. They remind us, with words and their actions, that God provides us with more than enough of the necessities of life only in order that we can and will share our abundance with those who do not have even the bare requirements to stay alive and live a full life.

Dorothy Soelle added to the list of the necessities of life. She added two things that everyone needs: meaningful labour, and love (both to be loved and the opportunity to love others.) We know that the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and those reviled often have a wonderful capacity to love; to love their neighbours as themselves, and to love even their enemies; and to love God with all their hearts, minds and strength. This is part of the blessing that Jesus promised to the common people on the plain, which is recorded in today’s Gospel.

By comparison this is what most rich, well fed, joyful, those spoken well of are missing. They find it almost impossible to share their wealth with others equitably, to know how to love their neighbours or themselves, and especially to love their enemies. They love having the goodness of this world but seem incapable of accepting it as a gift from God for them to share. They love their abundance and the security it provides so much that they have no room left to love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength … and that is the greatest curse of all.

Without love, we are nothing.

This kind of love, so profound that one loves especially one’s enemies, is only possible when we recognize that God first loves us, even when we do not deserve it at all.

When we accept God’s undeserved love and blessings with gratitude, then we are able to graciously love others with this same unbounded love. We are able to share not only the over abundance we have. By God’s Grace and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we are able to share the necessities of life with others even when that means we will share in their poverty, hunger, grief, and ruin of reputation.

Peter Kitundu’s legacy did not end with his death. His widow, Mary, and my father and his wife, and numerous other people joined together to rebuild the basics of health care in TZ. Peter’s brother eventually convinced this group, who call themselves IHP-TZ to take 30 acres he had north of Dar es Salaam and build the first hospital for children in TZ. Six month of the year my father and Paula fund raise in the US. Six months they are in Zinga helping the crew there and the visiting volunteers from around the world make the next part of the hospital a reality. Life expectancy was 46 years when I met Peter. Now it is 67.

There is a true story, originally about a family in the mountains of the eastern US. It is perhaps truer for us if told set in the north of AB.

A social worker receives a file for a family that she finally finds in the wilderness far from any other people or road. When she arrives on snowmobile they treat her with great respect and honour offering her tea from the wood stove in the two room drafty log cabin. The father arrives home with a freshly shot moose while she assesses whether the young children ought to be in school. It is obvious to her that they are on the edge of survival. She becomes satisfied that though abjectly poor, these people are providing a good education for their children. As she prepares to leave, the father wraps up a piece of moose meat as a gift for her. She starts to refuse it, appalled that she would take anything away from the little they have. The father sees her resistance and with wisdom, welling up from ancient streams of truth, he insists she accept their gift to her, “I know it looks like we are poor, but we are not poor. You are only poor if you cannot give something to others.”

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Having received so much, we each have so much to give!

Amen

Necessities of Life

to be blessed

Poverty, Blessings, Afterlife

Notes, Outline, Sketch

Outline 3

  1. Blessing as bodily requirements, from Creation onward
    1. God created, provided blessing upon blessing: clean air, clean water, food aplenty, clothing as needed, shelter sufficient,
    2. In many and various ways through the generations, people of God understood that these necessities of life were blessings from God.
  2. Mistakenly turned blessings from gifts into evidence, that only those with abundance are blessed, others not.
    1. Justified injustices, ignoring suffering, entitlement
  3. Luke: Blessing to the common people:
    1. poor, hungry, weep, reviled on J account
    2. This is the corrective that Liberation Theology brought/brings to any theology, entitlement theology, prosperity theology … which claims that abundance in this life is a sign of blessing and lack is a curse.
    3. The poor, hungry, mourning, reviled will receive all they need.
  4. We make another Mistake: turned on it’s head:
    1. that only those who lack are blessed and
    2. either that the rich are completely lost and unwelcomed in the KoG or
    3. that nothing in this world matters
    4. This last leads off again to
      • God will provide, rich need only enjoy for they are obviously blessed
      • poor, hungry, homeless, mourning, reviled deserve their circumstance,
        • others need do nothing to provide for their want.
  5. Luke woes:
    1. should keep prosperity gospel for persisting or the rich finding an excuse not to share their blessings with those in need:
    2. Woes: rich, full, laughing, spoken well of
    3. Afterlife: eternity
      • those without will be provided for in abundance
      • those with over abundance now, will have nothing
      • Corrective of Liberation Theology, God has a preferential option for the poor
  6. Then a further mistake we too often make:
    1. Since again all on this earth is nothing, everything that counts will be in life after death.
      • We can either suffer injustice quietly
      • or We can allow others to suffer injustices quietly
  7. Rather for Jesus, No excuse for injustices, for not sharing what we have with those in need
    1. God created, said it was good.
      • Good includes air, water, food, clothing, shelter
    2. God intends for all people to enjoy the basic necessities of life
      • those with over abundance: an extra responsibility to provide for those without.
      • Luke: ‘Or else, woe to them’ very real!
  8. What then is the blessing that Jesus provides to the common, poor, hungry, mourning, reviled people gathered on the plain?
  9. Dorothy Soelle provides an addition to the necessities of life:
    1. meaningful labour
    2. love: an ability to love and the opportunity to be loved.
    3. Jesus’s blessings, for those without air, water, food, clothing, shelter, is for the afterlife:
  10. More pointedly Jesus does not just promise that they will receive abundance, their fill, and laughter in the afterlife: they will receive it here in this life.
    1. Theirs is the KoG, here and now
      • They are blessed in ways beyond the physical necessities of life:
      • They are blessed perhaps with meaningful labour
      • They are blessed perhaps with the ability to love and to be loved, and to know it
        • People do not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God
      • That Word: calls us to a vocation: a meaningful work for our lives
      • That Word calls us to a love: a love as God gives to us: a love for neighbour, self, and all others: especially our enemies; and to love God with all our heart mind and strength.
  11. Common, Poor people on the plain are blessed, not just with the physical necessities of life, but the living water of life, water that never runs dry:
    1. which is to love God with all our hearts, minds and strength, ourselves, our neighbours, and especially our enemies
  12. What does this mean for us?
    1. Promise: God is for us: poor or rich, hungry or fed, mourning or joyful, reviled or spoken well of
    2. A Call to rich, fed, joyful, well-spoken of:
      • to be good stewards of blessings given us, they are for us to be able to share them with others
      • to provide care for the hungry, mourning, reviled
      • warning: that being rich can bring us to reject God’s claim on us.
  13. As always: God claims us as God’s children, not based on the abundance of our blessings, gifts given by God to us;
    1. God claims us, poor or rich, hungry or fed, just or unjust, loving or not,
    2. God claims us by Grace
  14. Question is how can we respond:
  15. Wise to know the water that we are planted into: the living water of Jesus, that Jesus gave the Samaritan woman at the well
  16. While other waters can dry up, and we are drying up qualifiers the world over with our over consumption, Jesus’s love, grace, and wisdom never run dry.
    1. And it always keeps surprising us: with change we do not welcome, with challenges we may not want
    2. but also with rewards we could not imagine were possible
    3. For with God all things are possible.

Poverty, Blessings, Afterlife

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Psalm 1

I Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6:17-16

Notes, Outline, Sketch

1 Cor makes obvious that Christians believe in life after death, and the center of our faith depends on Christ being raised from the dead, raised to life eternal, which we all will follow.

So life after death is there, as an undeniable part of this Sunday’s preaching, if not in the use, then in the avoidance of it.

These lessons raise the age-old conundrum:

What do God’s blessings look like, and whether we need to care whether we have luxury while billions suffer in poverty each day.

This is even more pronounced when one compares

Jesus’ Beatitudes in Luke

“Blessed are the poor!”

with Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

What is this Blessed?

What is this Woe?

A pronounced reversal of what one expects.

The prosperity Gospel, in it’s many variations, would hold that those who are able to enjoy the best the world has to provide are blessed by God. Their wealth is a clear sign that God blesses them.

Then those that have now, are not blessed, but rather warned of having nothing in the afterlife; and those who have nothing now, will have everything, for the Kingdom of God is theirs. [That is not completely accurate to the text, but rather a common misunderstanding of it.]

False Understandings/ Interpretations/ Applications

Justice is not needed now. Since everything really important is put off until after death then there is no need for justice now, since it all washes out in eternity: the people most disadvantaged will reap rewards in heaven and those who live well now will suffer in the afterlife.

Thus these aphorisms could be true :

(they are decidedly not true, not without a great deal of modifying
context at least)

and they would, if true, provide us justification for NOT making any fundamental changes that will put our lifestyles at risk:

The poor will always be with us.

The homeless will always be a problem to solve.

Poverty cannot be ended.

Being rich does not cut us off from God.

What is now in this world does matter.

Being poor is good. Being homeless is OK (except in the harsh winter.)

There will always be people who starve to death, even millions each year. It need not bother us.

To God it does not matter whether we or you or they are poor/rich, hungry/well-fed, homeless/ land&home renters or owners. What matters between us, you, or them and God is a spiritual matter which has nothing to do with wealth, luxury, or ownership.

Correct Understandings/ Interpretations/ Applications

Being poor still is unjust.

No one need go hungry. It’s not a matter of sufficient food, but of the will to distribute it equitably.

Homelessness can be ended, with dedicated, coordinated effort, at less cost than providing the very basics to homeless people.

And the real blessings are not what we typically chase, the chase often being what separates us from God.

Add the Jeremiah and Psalm about Wisdom

and now there is the possibility of a lively discussion.

Wisdom, real wisdom, is like a tree planted along side a river, that even in drought still draws water from the under-earth stream that still flows.

Well and good until today’s world. Today we’ve pumped qualifiers dry!

Huge rivers flow with greatly reduced flow, and still we squander water.

Hard to appreciate here in Canada where we have the most fresh water of anywhere in the world. We can squander it and not even notice. We do squander it regularly without noticiing.

Berlin: rinse dish, just so the suds flow (not off)because water is so precious … and expensive. They’ve learned to live using so little water that the sewer has problems flowing.

Other places in the world have not yet seen water systems, yet alone sufficient water for all the people.

In Canada, even, many first nation communities do not have water systems, or systems that provide clean water; and it has been known, denied, avoided, promised, and ignored for decades.

Consider the theme in Jeremiah and Psalm 1, that wisdom can guide us to understand that God and/or God’s law provide us blessing.

We need not trust in mere mortals, or flesh, or in our hearts turned our own way.

How does true wisdom help us understand God’s Blessings, Wealth and Poverty, and the churches’ commitment (or lack there of) to do justice!

There is no simple path through all this.

The questions raised are significant for any healthy faith community, to consider, to ponder, to use to adjust their perspective of God’s creation and as a guide for their own actions in this world.

What Does -36°C Look Like

Simple question, simple answer.

It looks like an old photographer with camera in hand, bathrobe bare legs exposed, stepping outside to catch the morning photo(s) for the day.

(I will spare you that selfie … and pretty much all selfies. I’ve never thought much of selfies, being even a reluctant model for myself when I was working with lighting and had no other model to practice on.)

This morning having emerged from the 45°C plus shelter for the wood stove I stepped brashly without a jacket or anything more than my bathrobe to dump the ashes from the fire.

Now that tray, usually a bit toasty, was HOT, so much so that even though I ran (I usually do not) this time it seared through my gloves before I reached the fire pit. It has to be dumped not anywhere since the hot coals that hide in the ash are very alive, passionate red, like some people I’ve known well. As I started to flip the ash tray over the heat hit a nerve and the leprechauns grabbed it out of my hands and threw everything into the snow: hot metal hitting cold snow with sizzles and pops – the tray warped!

Cold has it’s impact.

I grabbed the tray, flipped it to empty it fully, and dashed lively back into the 45°C heat. I did manage to notice the light of the sunrise poking a few holes in the coldscape.

Since I survived that I grabbed my camera, and stepped outside, again.

About the time I caught the first photo I started to feel the deep hard bite of below frostbite warning levels. By the time I made the third photo the bite had eased. Comfortable, and alarmed at how quickly it felt OK, I stretched through the five steps to through the door and thawed my nerves back to yelling painfully alive next to that HOT fire.

Words convey the cold.

But how to say it with a photo?

The best addled thought I had, given the bite I knew was coming, was to contrast the cold with the smoke of the hot fire.

So this shot: Not much there? Looks the same as -3.6°C or even +3.6C.

Yes, that red used to be a deck table leg and support: garbaged, recycled with the cutting wheel of a grinder, and re-purposed to support, minus two legs and the table support arms, a chimney.

Inside my brain started to work again, once thawed. Since the window had cleared of the thick frost present at my wake-up an hour earlier (a nice side benefit of wood heat that it is DRY) I decided the blatant visual was going to have to be the best effort for this early hour. The long end of the needle points halfway between 30 and 40 on the left side, the negative side of zero.

A Little Light, a Little ‘Warmer’ -35°C

The rest of the world that is to be seen from ‘my’ window is as beautiful as always on a clear snow covered winter day. Fresh snow. Solitude.

Things are looking up; it’s warmed up a degree, to -35°C