passages for this Sunday’s lessons are profoundly problematic.
Malachi promises that the day will come when arrogant and evildoers will be burned up entirely, stem to root. That is of course only Those, them, the others. And on that day We, us, those who revere God’s name, upon us (not them) the sun of righteousness will rise, with healing in it’s wings.
Thessalonians, either written by Paul or more likely a disciple of
Paul writing in his name (as was common and acceptable then,)
commands the readers to work for their food, and not be idle. And he
also commands that those who do not work should not eat! This
prescription to allow some people to starve has been used as
justification for all sorts of injustices worked against the poor.
Lukan passage deals with the end times, cautioning the listeners to
not be taken in by false prophets claiming to be the returned Christ.
Admonishing calm patience and faithfulness the passage ends with “By
your endurance you will gain your souls.”
in the dark cold wind of self-righteousness, what are we to do?
we do not use Psalm 98 this week.
a new song to the Lord,
who has done | marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy
arm have | won the victory. 2O
you have made | known your victory, you
have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
will judge the | world with righteousness
and the peo- |
ples with equity.
perhaps it is a good opportunity that we do not use the Psalm.
each text is filled with directions on what to do as Christians, even
prescribing what things we must do in order to receive Salvation, we
believe and hold firm the faith and tradition that is handed on to
us, namely: that we are saved by grace alone, not by the merit of our
interpret all scripture and spiritual thought through this lens: That
we are saved only by God’s act upon us, that we remain totally
sinners throughout our lives and at the same time God makes us,
through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for us, totally saints. This
is a gift imputed to us, not infused into us. This gift is effective
in us, yet does not overcome the sinner that we remain, until Christ
comes again, God reckons righteousness to us, and we become saints in
the light of Christ for ever. These precepts are paradoxical, and we
believe they hold the truth of God’s Grace for us that cannot
logically be expressed. Faith cannot be grasped and controlled. It
can only we experienced and enjoyed with awe, or rejected with
So what are we to make of these scriptural judgments of others and promises that we are not them, of the command that if we or others do not work we are not to eat, or the admonishments to earn our salvation?
choices are four:
We could preach the problematic parts as if they were the Gospel of Christ ignoring that they are destructive to faith and community.
We could ignore or pretend to ignore the problematic parts of the texts. Preaching on Psalm 98 alone would be an opportunity to take this route.
We could preach a reinterpretation of the passages so as to proclaim a faithful Word, a true witness to Christ, but not mention that we are interpreting the passages to bring Gospel out of them. OR
We can be clear about the need to re-interpret and proclaim that need along with a clear proclamation of the Gospel after we re-interpret these passages according to Luther’s Gospel within a Gospel: that we are saved by Grace through Faith and not by merit of our works.
are the days of colour and calm.
Cold Hard Facts of the Gospel have arrived with the cold and snow in
Preach as you will, but as for me and my empty “household”, the woods, squirrels and the occasional deer, we will enjoy God’s grace and preach it clearly, honestly, and profoundly as, as much as God gives me opportunity and energy to do so.
Of course, the squirrels really do not listen very well, and the deer have no patience, anxious as they are from hunters pursuits.
is clear from the lessons for this Sunday is that true discipleship
costly as those we remember today, the veterans who have sacrificed
to give us the possibility of the lives we now enjoy.
While we chafe under encouragements to tithe, giving 10% of the first fruits of all God gives us, our time, talents and resources, the call that claims us and the faith that is imputed to us demands not merely 10%. We chafe so brutally that we often demand no mention of tithing occur in our congregation, certainly not that we ask each other to work towards this small sacrifice, guilty as we are that we have never thought this possible for us ourselves. Always one hears how unjust this call is for those who are below the poverty line. Which is true sort of: 10% of an income of which 50% is spent on the bare necessities of life is challenging, but 10% of an income of which 110% or more is spent on the bare necessities of life is a challenge beyond respectable.
discipleship costs us 100%, and our avoiding a call for 10% gives
witness how weak our faith is practised in our lives.
the True Gospel is not that we must give 100%, or that we must give
even 10% for God’s grace to be effective in our lives and at the
end of time, effectively applied to us. What counts is still what God
does, not what we do.
Though it is problematic that we do not do what we readily could do, and instead we count on God’s Grace to save our neighbours from hunger, poverty, despair. Since Christ steps in for us sinners when we were lost (each day of our lives) why would we not strive with all our being to be Christ’s hands especially to our neighbours in desperate need!
But one can hardly preach that to people who refuse to be the hands of Christ, asking for the first 10% in good stewardship for their church. One does pray for them, and for one’s self: that we may all survive the winter, cold, hard, and brutal as it is … to be gracious with each other … soon, before it is too late.
pray that we may Guard the treasure of
faith entrusted to us, relying
on the Holy Spirit in all things!
This is life (challenges and
tragedy): I’d like to tell you it’ll be ok, I cannot honestly do
that: 100% death rate
probably have heard it said, “Do not take life too seriously. You
will never get out of it alive.”
like to tell you that the death rate for humans is less than 100%,
but that’d be dishonest.
It is the pain of death that rips our hearts and dreams right out of
us. It is the basic, most profound fear of each human. It drives us
to succeed, even by evil scheming, which
leads to eternal failure.
OT commonly claims that God blesses the faithful with material
successes. There is no end of advice on how
to be successful.
of my favourites is “Life is 10% what
happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
McEntire gives us: “To succeed in
life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny
the soccer star, offered all together:
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning,
studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing….”
Churchill pointed out that it’s always a process:“Success
is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue
Barrow said, “Music is 10%
exhilaration and 90% utter disappointment.” Many
will confirm this, and it seems success is like that as well: Despite
all our efforts to succeed most of our
efforts end in utter disappointment and only
the cream of the crop rise to the top. Or
as the lessons for today tell us, those who pursue evil schemes seem
to succeed in life’s pursuits, and
God does not bless the faithful with success.
Life’s challenges, tragedies,
defeats – We’d like to say that they are not what they are, but
they are what they are.
looming end of life at our own deaths, and the slim chance of
success, even when we follow the best advice, it would be great if
the church offered some kind of helpful advice to succeed in the face
of life’s tragedies, challenges and defeats. Too often it does, and
most often it is a false teacher who provides something other than
the sound teaching of the Gospel.
Spouse develops dementia
spouse develops dementia, and lives on but does not even know their
loved ones, we’d like to say that it will be OK, but it is not OK.
It’s a loss for which hardly anything can prepare us.
family member or friend becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, we’d
like to tell you that they need to go to AA or NA and you to Al-anon
and everything will be OK. It is so important to go to AA, NA or
Al-anon, but that’s only a small step. For the addict the rest of
life is one drink or fix away from the same devastating decline
towards death. Those close to the addict are invisibly drawn down the
same road as they fight to make the world right again. But attempting
that impossible task robs us of all the goodness of life. Al-anon
only helps us see the invisible road to disaster, even as we remain
one misstep from jumping or rolling right down that path again.
perhaps the worst tragedy hits and a child dies: We cannot tell you
that it was God’s will, and that everything will be OK. We can tell
you that most people agree that parents are not supposed to have to
bury their children. It’s a loss and tragedy that is beyond
Habakkuk pending defeat to Babylon
much more to say in the face of every challenge or tragedy, so do not
this is what especially the OT
lesson for today tells us. There will be destruction, violence,
strife, contention and justice that is perverted, and it will seem as
if God has deserted us. Besides
the breakdown of their nation’s integrity, the
prophet’s people faced inevitable defeat
by their powerful neighbours, Babylon and
Egypt. The Promised Land will be lost. They
will go into exile as slaves.
Worst of all,
their identity as God’s people in the Promised Land will disappear,
if it has not already.
The Prophet’s Complaint and Plea,
Posture (Standing, Waiting)
the prophet cries and pleads with God, how long must they wait for
God to save them from themselves and their
neighbours?! The prophet does not lie down
in resignation. Instead the prophet stands in wait for God’s
God’s Answer: a Vision, a Promise
answers with a vision in which all is put right. It may seem to take
too long, but in God’s time all will be done right!
That’s quite the promise. That promise is repeated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where it was instrumental in Martin Luther’s break through to understand that we are saved by Grace alone! Can we live abundantly in that promise, when we face challenges, losses and unimaginable tragedies, when we see creation rebelling against our abuses and we know success is rare and death is sure?
That’s much harder than following all that advice on how to be successful. We might well cry to God, “Help! Give us faith!”
Gospel prelude to today’s lesson:
the verses leading up to today’s Gospel Jesus has told the
disciples that they must forgive, and forgive and forgive without
end. The disciples see that as too hard.
They do not know how to succeed at this. So the disciples’ plead
with Jesus: “Increase our faith!”
answer Jesus tells them the smallest amount of faith is more than
sufficient. We know from Paul’s letters, especially Galatians,
reflecting Habakkuk’s words,
that faith is not up to us. It is a free gift that
God gives to us undeserving sinners. That
to us by Grace transforms everything in our
lives. We become
God’s children who act out that same Grace for everyone around us.
Turning Point: Christ abolishes death!
read in the Letter to Timothy how profound this transformation is:
“This grace was given to us in Christ
Jesus…, who abolished death
and brought life
to light through the gospel.”
is the power of God! In Christ Jesus death
is abolished. Our core identity becomes not how we live, not what we
do, not who we live with, nor even
for whom we live out our lives. Our core identity is established
again as it was at creation: we are God’s people by Grace alone. It
is what God does to us, not what we do, that gives
us our identity.
trust the promise that, even though we be overrun by a foreign power,
the Promised Land be taken from us, and we are scattered across the
face of the earth, we remain God’s people.
Waite, as an envoy for the Church of England, negotiated the release
of a number of hostages in the Middle East. Then during one
negotiation, he was kidnapped and held from 1987 to 1991. For
most of those five years he was isolated and blindfolded. It would
have been so easy to lose himself, his identity, his sanity. A key
component to his survival was daily Holy Communion. By himself, by
memory, he went through the service using the old words from the
English Book of Common prayer, even when he had no bread or water for
the elements. This Word of God reminded Terry who he was and it
reminded Terry who God was. It pulled him into communion with the
faithful of every time and place – day … by day … by day: he
was the one for whom Christ died, so that he might be forgiven and
live abundantly, even in captivity.
tiny bit of the faith, that Grace alone saves us, is enough for us to
extend that same forgiveness to everyone around us.
Facing Real Life, even Defeat, as God’s
even the smallest spark of that faith in us, death does not
have the final say in our lives. The treasure of
this grace-given-faith through
the generations overcomes
every challenge, tragedy and defeat. When
a spouse develops dementia, when a loved one becomes an addict, even
when a child dies, then we can trust that God carries us
onward in the world God made and said “It is Good!”
Everything taken: we remain God’s Children
can be taken from us. Like Paul, we can be imprisoned and even worse:
our reputations can be ruined, our church can be taken from us, our
livelihoods and ability to work can be taken from us, our freedom can
be taken from us. Still we will remain God’s children, for God
alone has made us God’s children. Nothing can take that from us.
Billboard of faith
billboard the Holy Spirit has engraved the Gospel of Jesus on our
foreheads with a cross, poured it into our hearts as love, and
kneaded it like leaven into our minds and actions, so that a runner,
or a fellow disciple in deep grief or having forgotten
Grace-given-Faith, will easily be able to see the treasure of
Christ’s Grace in our lives.
that Christ has defeated death and is raising us to new life, at the
end of each day, whether it was challenging or not, we will not
have chased after trite nor revered successes.
The Habit of Costly Faith Courageously Shared
Instead, having treasured Grace and forgiveness as a habit so that it comes easily to us, we will say: “We, faithful servants of Christ, have done only what we ought to have done! Though it cost us, like William Tyndale who was martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English, with the courage of the Holy Spirit we share with others the Grace that saves us.” …. [breathe!]
10% what happens to us, and 90% how wereact …
[breathe!] Yet it is 100%
what God does for us that counts!
1 Timothy 1:12-17
We want it Simple, But life is messy
We really do like it simple: we want everything black and white, either Good or Evil. There are good people and there are evil people. We are the good people. They are the evil people. God chooses us, not them. But life is much messier than that. We are all simultaneously God-made saints and self-made sinners.
We are all sinners
Bill of AA
In the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous, at many meetings a comfortably dressed and well-groomed man would enter, not as a person of importance expecting special respect and appreciation. He never even sat in the front with the regulars. Instead he would choose the back, the place where someone new was likely to be sitting – someone with the shakes –someone with an odour that he recognized. He knew that odour. He could find it in the back of his own closet at home. Reminded how he was once right there dying with that smell, he loved that man.
When the time came he would stand and introduce himself like everyone else at the meeting. “Hello. My name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.” He did not add that he was one of the co-founders of AA.
The back of our Closets
We all have ugly skeletons in the back of our closets that remind us how broken we really are. It is not easy to acknowledge what’s in the back of our closets, so we often say in confession: If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
The important truth is that we are self-made sinners.
Do we have to make it to God, Or does God come to rescue us?
How is it that we move from being sinners to being righteous before God? Of course we would like it to be simple, we just go to God, or God just comes to us. But real life is not that simple.
Huts on a deserted island
During a raging storm lightning struck a cruise ship disabling all communications and controls. Drifting far off course, hours later the ship struck a reef and sank off a deserted island. Having no end of conflict during the voyage due to outspoken beliefs the survivors sorted themselves on to the island according to their beliefs about God so as to avoid the ongoing conflicts.
The largest group built huts helter-skelter around the lovely sandy beaches. Most organized themselves in small groups, working terribly hard, some to build a raft to float back to civilization, some to build a communication system to call for help, some to make themselves as comfortable as possible. A small number of them simply did nothing but gather food and coconuts to make alcohol.
This disparate group from all religions, even agnostics, believed that they had to save themselves. God, if there was one the agnostics added, was not going to intervene. It was all up to them. They said they had great moral guides, but they did whatever they could get away with, so trouble constantly arose between them. They fought to prove that they had indeed done enough good to earn God’s favour. This large group lived like God did not exist at all, even though they said they believed in God, except the agnostics.
Alice and Double Predestination
Alice’s group built huts far from everyone else, facing a square yard for the kids and adults to walk in and meet in. The believed God was in charge of everything, including everything bad that happened. They wanted to have as little to do with the others as possible. They knew that God had saved them and not the others. They lived to prove God had chosen to save them. This group could not admit that they had ever done anything wrong, so they stuffed their closets full of old skeletons. In the dark they exercised those skeletons all too well, but when the sun shone they denied everything.
Inside Alice’s group a sub-group set up in their own corner. They believed as well that God had saved only them, that God was in charge of everything, including all evil, like their shipwreck. Instead of trying to prove God saved them they just gave up and did as little as possible. God was going to do what God was going to do and there was no way to change that. So why care about anything? They simply let life progress as it would. It was all up to God.
Martin Luther’s messy Single Predestination
A third large group believed that God alone could save them, but they still had freewill to choose to walk away from God. Few of them could precisely describe their beliefs. They built huts all around the island. This group constantly held joyous meals, celebrating that, when this member or that member had walked away from God, by Grace God had brought them back.
They were usually the kindest people, but they admitted, sometimes also as cruel as could be! They said God saved them many times each day, just because God chose to. They believed their life purpose was to extend God’s Grace to everyone. This group had people from all faiths, even Lutherans. They understood Evil came, not from God, but from humans choosing to turn away from God, as God created them to be able to.
They neither hid their sins nor tried to hide from sin. They just didn’t worry about or focus on their sins, yet they weren’t reckless with sin. They trusted God’s constant forgiveness, and worked to be God’s people of Grace.
Simultaneously Saints and Sinners and Golden Calves Galore
They accepted Luther’s paradox that all God’s people are simultaneously saints and sinners. They understood all too well that they had been right there next to Bill at the back of the room and, many times, at the bottom of their own Mt Sinai, building their own golden calf, so like Moses’ people had.
Golden Calf – God Changes God’s Mind
Moses’ people feared God had abandoned them. God became visible to Moses just 3000 yards away, but they did not dare venture up that steep trail. So they waited for Moses to come back, but he didn’t. They impatiently needed a god who would be available to them. So they collected their gold, melted it into an idol and worshipped their little godlet. Their false worship settled their anxiety, but it ate out their hearts and souls. God sees all this and asks Moses to leave him alone so that God’s wrath can burn hot and consume this perverse people. God goes so far as to tell Moses these are Moses’ people, whom Moses brought out of Egypt. That may be all true, of a sorts, so Moses reminds God that God has delivered the people, they are God’s people.
[May we never be in need of such boldness before God. But then if it need be, may we speak only the truth! And trust that God’s Grace will prevail also for us.]
Then God remembers God’s promises, and God changes God’s mind, from deserved annihilation to gracious forgiveness. God doesn’t smite the golden calf people. Instead they will stay in the wilderness for 40 years. The next generation will enter the promised land.
What are our ‘golden calves’?
What are our ‘golden calves’? How many times have we set up our own little godlets, not that far from the Altar of the Eucharist where God is visible and handed to us in the bread and wine?
It can be something as simple as the colour of the new carpet, the stewardship campaign we run, the prayers and music we can use in worship, or even who is welcome in ‘our’ church. In our daily lives our little godlets take on a variety that could more than fill all the stores and warehouses in the world.
God’s response to our sin
How does God respond when God sees all this? God remembers God’s promises, and chooses not to consume us with fury and wrath, which we deserve! Instead God changes God’s mind and does not smite us sinners as we worship our godlets of so great a variety.
Jesus eats with us, rejoices at our return
Instead Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, like us. And Jesus explains it like this: The shepherd loses one sheep of 100, leaves the 99 to find the lost one, and rejoices at it’s finding and celebrates with friends. The woman loses one coin, looks thoroughly for it, finds it, rejoices and calls friends to celebrate with her. So also as God all too often loses one of us to sin. God’s glory is not in smiting us out of existence, but in rescuing us. God delights and rejoices in bringing us home.
God comes all the way to us and through the sacrificial blood of Jesus reclaims us as holy saints. God makes us sinners into saints, and though we remain sinners we are simultaneously God-made saints.
What is it to live in God’s Promise to Rejoice at Forgiving Us Sinners?
How do we reflect our faith that Jesus came into the world to save sinners? Are we to sin all the more that God can continually delight in rescuing us! No, bound to sin and unable to free ourselves, we have all given God plenty of opportunity to save us and then to rejoice and celebrate our coming home.
We have no need to try to sin more. As much as God delights in our homecoming, God enjoys us most when we live at home with all the other saints in light.
We may want it simple, but there is never a simple answer to how to live Grace. It may sound simple: we sin, God saves us, everyone rejoices, repeat. That we repeat without end makes the cycle anything but simple. It is so far from simple, though it is profoundly joyous at each coming home.
It is not ever a treat to look in the back of our closets at all the godlets of our past, but when we do, and when we fully admit who we are as sinners, then God has already reclaimed us and is busy returning us home. The whole of heaven and all the saints celebrate our return. We, too, can rejoice. When others stray to worship their golden cafe godlets and God brings them home then we get to rejoice again.
We pray that we might learn to love each other, especially the ones sitting in the back barely in the door but here, shaking with ugly sin as we have all done. We pray that the Holy Spirit will teach us to love the one’s we think we cannot love, and to rejoice at each one God brings home.
Germany In the Fade is a movie about people choosing the
destruction of life. A German mother drops her young son off with her
husband at work so that she can make a visit. Leaving his office the
mother admonishes a young woman to lock up her new bike she’s just
left with a case on its rear carrier. When the mother returns the
police inform her that her husband, a German of Turkish descent, and
their young German-born son were killed by a fertilizer nail bomb.
The bike’s case held the bomb made by the perpetrator’s husband.
outcome of the trial seems obvious, but their lawyer creates
reasonable doubt; the bombers are acquitted. Captive to revenge the
grieving mother tracks the guilty-acquitted couple to a beach on the
ocean. There she kills them with a fertilizer nail bomb, and she
loses her life in the process.
movie denounces the rise of neo-Nazi killings. The first bomb was set
to kill as many non-native Germans as possible. More clearly it
demonstrates that, without the freedom of faith that calls us to
forgive, people choose to become captives to revenge. Revenge is a
two-edge sword that cuts everyone.
OT: As you enter the PL, Choose:
life or death, blessings or curses
comparison, living in God’s promise is a multi-sided blessing. As
God delivers God’s promise to Abraham and ushers the people across
the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses admonishes them to choose
God each day. Moses knows they will need to or they will fall under
the curses of other gods, including gods that people still choose
today. Living in the Promised Land does not mean that life will be
easy, obvious, or without dire peril. Nor does it mean that all
people are free. Today people are regularly enslaved as labourers
around the world and on the high seas as well as those forced into
the sex trade.
delivers us into the Promise. God will not take us out of the
Promised Land. As God’s children God frees us so that we always
have a real choice between Life and Death, between blessings and
curses, even when we do not see the choices clearly.
Promised Land has God brought us to, long ago, or maybe just
yesterday? What Blessings and Curses must we choose between?
first that God’s Promise delivered at our baptism is that we are
always God’s children, made righteous by Jesus’ sacrifice and
Grace. God gives us a choice, but it is not about receiving or
earning God’s Grace and our salvation. Our choice is how we live in
that Grace. Do we, guided and inspired by God’s Spirit, choose
blessings and life, or do we choose our own ways that lead to curses
and death for us and for others?
Break my Heart, (Set me on fire!)
well-known prayer … reads: “May my heart be broken by the
things that break the heart of God.” (World
Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce).
risk of praying this prayer is that God might just answer it with a
Holy Fire that sets our hearts on fire to bring blessings to every
human of the 7.7 plus billion whom we can possibly effect, starting
today, with those beside us, those we meet each step through each
day, and those we go out of our way to encounter, until everything in
our lives changes as we become the hands, voice and blessings of
Christ. We join the great cloud of witnesses to Christ’s love for
NT Philemon’s Real Story: Giving FREEDOM
second lesson for today we read part of the letter Paul wrote to
Philemon and his congregation. It is about an escaped slave,
Onesimus, the man who carries the letter to Philemon. Paul sends him
back to his master, Philemon, and lights a Holy Fire under Philemon.
slaves were crucified, a dire warning to any other slaves who tried
to escape. Anyone, through a terrible turn of fortune or war, could
become a slave. Becoming a freed slave was very, very rare.
Paul admonishes Philemon, with the congregation listening, to do the
rare but right thing, the good thing, the personally costly thing.
C.S. Lewis: Paint and Eggs, Stain and Get
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity called this the difference between paint, which merely covers the surface, and stain which soaks in deep to protect to the centre. Paul trusts that the Gospel daily seeps down into Philemon’s heart and strength. As with all Paul’s new converts in congregations spread so far, Paul nurtures the seeds of faith, like a mother hen sitting on her eggs. It is fine to be a fertilized egg, waiting to become something, but now it’s time to get cracking. It’s time for Philemon to show his colours and give Onesimus his freedom.
does God place before us
this day the choice of blessings gained by
sacrificing our rights
and privileges in
order that another human can live in freedom? What egg needs
to hatch in our lives bringing us into a new reality?
What choices does God give us today?
Route 44, Not Getting it Right
We may not get it right. We may be more like the 88 year old driver of the car the cop pulls over because it was going 44 kph on the highway where the speed limit is 110. When he approaches the car he notices that the four elderly passengers appear to be shocked into a daze, the air taken out of them.
officer warns the driver that it is dangerous to drive so far below
the speed limit. She responds that she was going exactly the speed
limit of 44 kph just like the sign said.
officer starts to answer sternly until the light bulb goes off for
him and he says: “No ma’am, the speed limit is 110 here. Though
this is highway 44.”
says the driver as it’s obvious the wheels are churning for her.
Then the officer asks, “Is everyone alright? They all seem shell
driver answers as it falls into place for her, “No, officer. Thank
you. Yes, they will be alright in a minute or two. You see, a few
miles back we turned off highway 169.”
Taking care of ourselves, our faith, and the promised land we live in is hardly simple. Sometimes it’s the most difficult thing in our lives to get right. When we make mistakes with the freedom Christ gives us, we often add a huge dose to the challenges the Devil tries to suck us into. The results can often scare the living daylights out of us, at least they should.
Luke: Know the Cost
today’s Gospel Jesus admonishes the crowd to know and prepare for
the cost of discipleship as they commit themselves to following him.
not Jesus’ way, but it is an example of the extreme commitment that
following Jesus will place on us. Nothing else can be more important
to us than following Jesus, nothing, not even love for family. Jesus
tells us to count the cost before we jump in, for the cost will be
more than any love or even all of our possessions. Better to count
the cost first and be prepared, than to run into a wall too high, or
a battle too big, and collapse in shame.
not unlike marriage. If we really knew what we were getting into
there are precious few of us who would be able to make such a
commitment. Fortunately, endorphins and hope help us commit to each
other in marriage. Its challenges are God’s way of bringing us to
understand God’s love for us.
fortunately, most of us are baptized as infants, a choice made for us
by our parents and sponsors, otherwise the high cost could stop many
of us. Yet the cost of discipleship is required for us to participate
in life overflowing with God’s blessings for which we are created!
White tells the story of Heddie Braun, a woman who lived the first
four years of her life in Norway and then emigrated to Little
was a powerful presence at the age of 88 with all of her 80 lbs. hung
on a 5’ 2” frame. On a cold fall evening Heddie was kidnapped
from her single-story home where she lived with Eddie, her blind
husband. The kidnapper cut power and telephone wires to the house,
entered through the backdoor, picked up Heddie and put her in the
trunk of his car. He drove her to his home, put chains on her legs
and hid her in a tiny trailer out back. For days Heddie was always
cold, she didn’t have her heart medicine, and she lost track of
time. A confusing ransom call was made on a disposable phone to her
grandson. It was a total failure.
time melted into a well-stirred soup, Heddie was not confused about
who she was and to whom she belonged. Held captive she knew Christ
made her free.
police identified the kidnapper. He had worked for the family, but
was now unemployed and desperate. At one time he had been a friend.
Heddie almost lost her foot to frostbite but she was tough and her foot was saved. Asked later how she stayed so strong, Heddie replied. “I’m Norwegian. The whole time I was in the trailer I remembered that my kidnapper was just a person like me. No matter what the cost I was going to choose life. It was so hard, harder than anything I’ve ever done, but I forgave him.” She turned to her grandson, “You have to forgive him, too.” (In Over Our Heads, pp. 14ff, Augsburg 2007, re-told TL and KAS)
So we pray
sets us free, so we pray: May our hearts be broken by the things that
break the heart of God.
joy be in choosing life, blessings, and freedom for all people.
As the loons haunt the dim dawn light with their forlorn wails as if begging for something close to truth to be recognized in the coming light, the not quite still lake undulates softly the moon caught in it’s liquid mostly-water.
There are many powerful and privileged people of luxury far beyond necessity or souls’ enjoyment who fear the light, not of a simple day’s dawn, but the Light that dawns as the Truth is revealed.
There are more people who look to this dawn of brilliant Truth with expectation of exoneration and finally, finally real justice through which real mercy is possible.
As so many have confessed through generation upon generation, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It certainly cannot be that God plays games with us like those in power, teasing us and tempting us just to catch us off guard. No, if who we trust to be God is God, creator all powerful and merciful, loving, forgiving and gracious, yearning to delight in our existence, our joys and even our sorrows that make up an abundant life, then certainly God plays no games with us concerning the Truth of who we are and what we have actually done; whether we acknowledge the Truth or we hide from it.
it is so much simpler than we want to acknowledge, when we want to
deceive ourselves. Like the water we too often want for wind to blow
the clear reflection of what we have done, so that no evidence of the
truth is discernible.
But the light will shine, and I for one, I, Tim Lofstrom, like I, Daniel Blake, eagerly wait the Light that will shine on the Truth. For I will be exonerated and those who have fabricated lies about me, bullied me, threatened my life, and sat in false judgment of me will be put to shame.
That which in them thrives on the darkness and falsehoods of their doings will be put to an end, as consumed by the fire of God’s judgment. Then our victory will be double, for not only will we be free, all of us falsely judged and destroyed by lies, but those who unjustly ruin and destroy us will be set free from the darkness that grips their whole unnatural being. Though little of them, who have given themselves to the Evil One, may survive as the kernels are separated from the chaff, still together we will bask in the Light, the Truth and the Grace which God delights in giving to us. Our collective shame will be ended.
this day we wait, as we wait for the rising of the sun to replace the
crescent moon which leaves darkness’ canopy pressing down on our
hearts, our hopes, and our joys.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 13:10-17, Jesus reaches out and sets a woman free from 18 years of being held hostage to an ailment, an illness. She is set free and can walk upright, humbly unimpeded by a body oppressed by dis-ease in God’s creation.
The woman and the people are over-joyed. She is free!
the temple priests have no joy because they are threatened. They have
not provided this freedom and therefore they are not celebrated. They
and the people now clearly know that the priests live in darkness and
the light has just burst the seams of reality in ‘their’ temple.
They use the law as a hammer against the Light, to no avail. The law, given to guide the people in freedom, is corrupted in their hands to become the hammer that strikes down faith, joy, and hope in all the people. They would treat animals better than the people needing God’s Grace. They try to maintain an order that provides them false power and oppresses people into the mud of life. But the Light shines brightly.
people rejoice in the healing of the woman.
priests, they who would claim dark power over others, are put to
shame. Their grip is loosened, if just for a few hours, days or
weeks. Not only is this woman free, but all the people bask in the
Light, sharing in this woman’s joy.
are you today?
Are you the woman, who after 18 years of suffering illness that consumes the essence of life right out of you, and yet leaves you a shell of a human still looking down at the daisies, wishing for freedom even if that freedom arrives on the other side of the grave?
Are you the people, who after generations of suffering the oppression of those who rule in darkness over them, are overjoyed that the Light has arrived for this woman, for they are caught also in its Light? Their oppressors are put to shame.
Are you the priest, the oppressors, who live in darkness, who are skilled at turning truths in to dark falsehoods? Are you one who plays with truth as an axeman cutting trees, with falsehoods chipping life out of your victims, over whom you claim power? Are you put to shame by the coming of the Light and Truth? Have you put yourself outside the delight of God, to whom the coming of the Light not only means shame but loss of most of who you have made yourself to be, against the yearnings of your creator?
Are you the hands of Christ, who understand that the perversions of the Law, perversions of God’s Grace even, can be healed with a word, a redeeming touch, with sacred oil, water and bread? Are you the one who God uses as a conduit, and instrument to set people free? Are you one, like so many in the great cloud of witnesses we inherit, who sacrifices the abundance of your life that others may simply live, knowing that God’s Light shines brightly even in our darknesses?
thing is certain: God’s Light will shine brightly! Not according to
our plans, but as God chooses.
As Isaiah. prophet of Exile awaited, survived and returned from, wrote of our simple ways and God’s mysteries of Grace:
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
As the loons haunt the dim dawn light with their forlorn wails as if begging for something close to truth to be recognized in the coming light, the not quite still lake undulated softly the moon caught by it’s liquid mostly-water.
are many powerful and privileged people of luxury far beyond
necessity or souls’ enjoyment who fear the light, not of a simple
day’s dawn, but the light that dawns as the truth is revealed.
There are more people who look to this dawn of brilliant Truth with expectation of exoneration and finally, finally real justice through which real mercy is possible.
When the Light comes we will have a double victory: for ourselves and for you, our oppressors.
The sermon is interspersed with snippets of music.
Jeremiah 23:23-29 Hebrews 11:29–12:2 Luke 12:49-56
We Cannot Interpret the Present
is it that Jesus says we do not know how to interpret the present
can forecast the weather so we know it will rain before the
clouds appear on the horizon, and we know days before the wind
starts it’ll be scorching hot or freezing cold. Can we really not
interpret the present time?
the Bringer of Peace?
looked to the stars, to see the number of descendants God promised
Abraham and Sarah. We’ve looked to Jesus on the cross and heard
that as we confess our sins and forgive others their sins Jesus
forgives us. We’ve listened and heard that Jesus blesses
have sung of Jesus bringing Peace Like a River, with it’s catchy
Peace Like a River
God Does Not Come In Monochrome
Brings Conflict, Fire, The Hammer of God
the lessons for today say, “Think again!” Jesus came not to bring
peace, but instead division. Jesus came to bring God’s Word of
fire. God’s word is a hammer that strikes the solid rock
foundations of our lives and shatters them.
Creation is no Monophony
Word is so much more like Beethoven’s 5th. It comes down
like a hammer in our hearts, pounding out any notion that what is to
come might be whimsical or easy. God sends Jesus, the Word made
flesh; and God means business.
5th opening ‘hammers’ and a phrases following
Not Come In Monotone
Enough to Communicate God’s Reality
moves our hearts stimulating in the same moment Joy, Grief and Hope
in us. How better to make sense of the harsh reality of these
lessons. Music, with the touch that harmonizes the spheres of the
universe, heals us and sets us right with God’s people and
creation: we thrive with music in our hearts. Like everything there
is of course Music that serves to break down creation, as at Jericho,
but we will leave that behind. But should we?
Creation is no Monodrama
and Between Us
says he comes not to bring peace, but division and conflict. God
means business, sending Jesus, who is as powerful as the Word that
created the universe, which separated the Light from the Darkness.
must respond. If we respond with faith, our lives are forever
changed. If we respond with disbelief, then our lives take another
path. Even with faith created in us we still remain sinners who do
not believe. Jesus brings conflict within each of us. Since Luke’s
time the Gospel has divided also families. Often in history if one
believed, one would be persecuted and killed. Those of us who believe
end up in conflict with those who do not.
have a Monopoly on Loving Us ALL
expensive. Faith still is as Jesus’ Love Catches Us.
was expensive among Luke’s readers. When Jesus creates faith in us
it still is.
music we know is not about our lives. We just get caught up in the
rhythm and dance our hearts out. ABBA’s Ma Ma Mia is such a piece.
Then Jesus comes, catches us, and suddenly we are not merely dancing
to the music. The music is our lives. We are caught by Love, Jesus’
love, and getting away is impossible … even though we know there
are consequences for letting this love reach us … yet again.
Ma Ma Mia
God Did Not
Create Us as Mono-mimetic
that We Remember God’s Name
yearns for us, just as God yearned for the false prophets to give up
on spreading their own dreams and deceptions as if they were God’s
Word. God yearns because these false dreams and deceptions capture
our hearts and minds and cause us to forget God’s name. What a
terrible thing to suffer. To forget God’s name. To not even know
one’s own creator, redeemer, and guide to an abundant life.
is like going to a classical concert without knowing what is on the
program and after a warm up to Mozart, being agitated, gurgitated and
served up on a platter of confusion by Hindemith’s [/Bartók’s]
God is more
than Polyphiloprogenitive, God is Poly-All
we find God in that music? According to Jeremiah God is not
far off, nor only near. God fills the entire universe; and yet we
forget God’s name because we listen to tempting, false words.
God sends someone to remind us that without God Our Blue Eyes are
Crying in the Rain, and we know that we’ve deserted love and left
our hearts as empty as a Monday Morning Church.
Crying in the Rain OR Monday Morning Church
People are Polychromatic, Polyphonic, Polyrhythmic, Poly- of ALL
God has not deserted us. We have a great cloud of witnesses
that tell us otherwise: From the Red Sea, to Jericho, to Rahab,
Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and to the prophets
God has made great things happen. But not all God’s people were
brought success or honour.
of God’s faithful die after they suffer shame, having lived
destitute, persecuted and tormented, wandering homeless the deserts
and mountains, living in caves and holes in the ground.
God provides for them all a better end, to live with us, in faith.
great cloud of witnesses to God’s Word, accompanies us each day, as
we persevere in the race put before us. Ours is not a race of our
choosing. God puts this race before us, and race we must.
People are Poly-therapeutic
Movie The Last Face: Living the life God gives us: for others
the movie The
Last Face, two doctors work
in Liberia and Sierra
Leone’s conflicts. Wren
is an idealist, fundraiser
organizer. Migel is an
realist, working on the front lines.
on the front lines with him, Wren falls in love with Migel and it
changes them forever, as love is wont to do. Then she has to choose
which one of six people will be given the last of their blood supply.
The other five will die. When they have to leave all six of them to
die as the conflict arrives the next day at their makeshift hospital,
Wren loses her nerve. It is impossible to make any difference. She
questions why they are there anyway. Why do these people have to live
lives beyond hopelessness to fully trusting not that he can make the
whole situation change, but that he can in one area if only
temporarily, one day at a time, one patient at a time, do what he is
able as a doctor.
protests the senselessness of helping people who will die just days
later in the conflict anyway. He responds: these people are given
this life to live. Yes, I can leave, fly out to a city with safety
and hot showers and a good bed. They cannot. I cannot change the life
they are given, but I can give them what I have to give.
People are Poly-Resilient
the race that God puts us into is so profoundly hopeless that we get
caught up in the blues, depression, or even life-threatening
hopelessness. For we see the circle of life that does not change for
the better for so many of God’s own people.
then we know that if we put our blues to song, and we sing them out,
they become our prayers, and by grace they lose their grip on us.
Song Sung Blue
Race for Us is not Monotonous
we struggle to meet the challenges of each day God’s powerful Word
accompanies us, not to make it easy for us, but to buck us up to do
the hard work in the race put before us.
in so many ways, including in the movie Forgiven, Bishop Desmond Tutu
struggled against so many detractors who threatened to sink the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission because it would expose the atrocities
they had contributed to. Tutu meets these challenges, not easily but
with Grace, determination, joy, love, condemnation and hope.
had killed people. People revenged the killings. People revenged the
killings revenging killings. And on it would continue, if kept in
secret, forever. But brought out into the open it gave people the
opportunity to forgive!
is God’s Music
forgiveness, which made S.A.’s future as a united country possible,
we experience the long lead up to Beethoven’s 9th
Symphony’s resolution in the Ode to Joy Chorus, ringing across the
stars and back into the depths of our hearts. Here we experience the
power of Grace, of Love, of Joy, mixed with struggle, loss, and grief
until it comes out in us as Hope.
Beethoven’s 9th lead up to Ode to
the Universe from Chaos, Making Harmonies: from Galaxies to Atoms,
from the Circle of Life to Emotions and Beauty.
us Polyphonic Lives in Harmony with God’s Universe
interpret the present time?
can we possibly interpret the present time? Only when we realize that
God is here for us, can we see clearly that just as the south wind
brings scorching heat and the north wind brings bleeping freezing
Cold, so God brings rainbows of challenges each and every day in the
race set before us just so that we can practice meeting everyone with
Forgiveness and Grace.
we can move from Misery to Happiness, giving God thanks for
everything with the music that brings us into harmony with God’s
Good Creation. So we sing: “Now Thank we all our God, with hearts
and hands and voices”
Now Thank we all our God, with hearts and hands
ago a friend lost his credit card so he phoned to get a new one.
After putting him on hold the man on the phone came back in his
Aussie accent, “No worries mate. We have you covered.” Which made
my friend start to worry. Did he miss something? What did they
have covered? If the card was maxed out it’d take years to pay it
something threatens our treasure, pulses quicken, blood pressure
rises and worries multiply.
Do Not Be
Afraid: powerful words
to Abram and starts with, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus speaks to his
disciples and often starts with, “Do not be afraid….” These are
not like the Aussie, ‘no worries mate’. These are powerful,
Real, Abuse of Fears
full of imaginary worries: a man reacts with that ancient instinct
from back when threats to our lives were around every tree. He
worries about his next meal even though his fridge, freezer and bank
account are quite full. Or the middle-aged woman who as a child
witnessed her mom being repeatedly abused by soldiers, and now
suffers a form of PTSD. She fears everyone who tries to care for her,
projecting her terror on to them and blaming them for anything bad
that happens, even if she is the one at fault.
besides Fear of God, which begins every journey with God for us
sinners, too often fear is real. Everywhere people die from the lack
of life’s basics: clean air and water, nourishing food, adequate
clothing, or sufficient shelter. War threatens lives. Refugees flea
only to be at the mercy of other countries. A few weeks ago, the
earth came close to being hit by an asteroid big enough to have the
effect of many nuclear bombs, landing us in a dark age, literally,
with the sun blocked by the fallout. If that’s not enough the
effects of climate change could make coastal cities uninhabitable by
2075 or earlier. Think Vancouver, Montreal, NYC, Miami, most of Micro
Indonesia and more!
corrupt would-be-leaders drum up fear in order to manipulate more and
more power from us until we have none left. Too often we fall for it
all and do senseless things to make ourselves feel safe, as if we
could get out of life alive.
bomb shelter needed
remembers fondly when their next door neighbours built a bomb shelter
… in 1959. She asked her Dad if they were getting one. He was a
military man and he said, “Believe me, you don’t need one.”
Back then that assurance meant to her that nothing bad would happen.
Years later she realized it meant that if the bombs fell, a shelter
was so inadequate it wouldn’t do her any good. (Ann
Brezendine Sermonshop 08)
Do Not be
Afraid, Pleasure to give KoG
comes with a fuller response: Do not be afraid! For it is God’s
good pleasure to give you the Kingdom! Here on earth we do not need a
bomb shelter. But in this world’s kingdoms our expectations of our
leaders often net us what we deserve, both good and bad. From that
there is no shelter, either.
3 am Fears
Harris, running her 3am Agenda, hopes to be the next US President. In
the face of fear politics gone amok, she tells people she will work
on those things that they worry about at 3 am.
about 3 am fears is that they can be real or imagined, but they
almost always are exaggerated and amplified so that they demand we
deal with them; or else they eat away at what’s left of our souls.
to Abram in a vision. And it may as well have been 3 am in his tent,
for Abram is consumed by worry that he has no son to be his heir.
Fear: shield and reward
comes with a promise: Do not be afraid. [Even at 3 am.] For God is
your shield and your reward will be great.
Sara’s Story: God’s work, timeline, not ours
Sara have cause for real fear. They left their home in Ur, traveled
great distances not knowing where to go, lived in tents, and
struggled to survive. Despite God’s Promises they still have no son
or land! Both are way too old to have a child. Is God against Abram
God says again, “Do not be afraid.”
think we know where our life is going. We only notice our error when
our plans tumble into the dust. Then, lost in the chaos, we can
listen, for God speaks right to us: “Do not be afraid.”
And there is MORE!
is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not
seen. Yet for Abram and Sara to trust God’s Word, given and so many
times not fulfilled, now requires more than any human can muster on
Do Not be
Afraid and More
and says, “Do not be afraid.” And then God creates faith in their
hearts, so they do not need to be afraid. As we listen we will
know these words and faith are also for us. And there is still
one more remarkable thing in this passage. God reckons this gift of
faith as righteousness for Abram. This is the same reckoning that
God does for us in our baptisms.
this reckoning? It is as though God has a spreadsheet.
each person’s name there is a bookkeeping of the events in that
person’s life with their positive and negative values and in
another column the value of that person’s relationship with God.
Because math can represent the entirety of creation, God totals it
all up into one number.
number is anything less than infinity, that person is not acceptable
to God. After a useless life on earth, God strokes the Smote Key on
the keyboard of eternity and they no longer exist (or something like
that. You get the idea.)
God deals with Abram differently. Even though God has placed
faith in Abram, God decides to ‘cheat’ with Abram’s
values and call it more than good enough. God places God’s own
infinite value, the infinity symbol (the lazy 8 laying on its
), as Abram’s total.
most remarkable is there is then NO event that can possibly subtract
enough from his value to God to change the end result: it will
remain, no matter what Abram does, as an infinite value. ∞
this mean for us?
this mean for us?
means is that for each of us at our baptisms God provides Jesus’
infinite value ∞ on our
reckoning sheet as our value to God.
not mean that God gives us everything we think we would want. God
does not give us an easy and comfortable life. Rather the opposite.
God keeps placing new challenges in front of us all through our
not mean that God gives us success, respect, or admiration. Rather
God lets us live rejected, as were the early Christians, and
dishonoured as was Jesus. The world sees us as fools working to bring
life abundant toothers.
There is a fools’ project, for instance, in Zinga north of Dar Es Salaam. A few people started with a bare piece of ground, with bare bank accounts. In a few years they want to turn that place into the first Children’s Hospital in Tanzania. They trust that a 91 year old doctor and his nurse wife, on fund raising tours in North America 6 months of every year, will raiseenough interest and personal commitment from enough people willing to provideenough money, materials and skills and expertise of all kinds to make it a reality. All with no promise of success.
Not as we imagine, not on our deadline
not promise us that God will provide what we think God’s will for
us is. Just because we once thrived, or because others still thrive,
does it mean that God promises we will thrive again, as we imagine.
God promises to be with us through our successes and our
failures. God promises to send us new visions of what God intends for
us. But God may not fulfill God’s promises to us on our timeline,
maybe not even for generations.
Treasure, Hearts, Delight, City or Woods
challenge for us, our whole lives, is not to make ourselves
good for God. Jesus steps in for us, gives us infinite value ∞
to God and says, “Do not be afraid.” And there is MORE.
delights that we live now and for eternity in God’s kingdom. We can
live well. All things can be well. All manner of things are well. And
there is still MORE.
prepares a city for us, or maybe a retreat beside pristine water.
City or retreat, God prepares a perfect home for us in the future,
listen and hear these words and know that they are for us: God
plans for our futures, and for eternity. We do not need to be afraid!
Delight, Reckoning, & Service
respond, by practicing being who we aspire to be, who God wants us to
be, putting our treasure in God, the only place where it is safe.
These are not the treasures of wealth, earthly security, power,
position, skills or abilities. Instead our treasure is to practice
reckoning to others infinite value ∞
and sharing God’s delight that others live in God’s kingdom. Our
treasure is to practice serving others, giving them the same grace
and love God first gives us.
We do not
need to be afraid, for our treasure from God cannot be taken from us,
nor subtracted from, not even at 3 am. Our treasure goes on to
infinity ∞, like the
stars in the sky.
When skiing in the mountains on a slope with
trees on it
I’ve taught more than a few people how to ski. Invariably we arrive on top of a slope where there are trees at least dotting the slope. The student looks with apprehension. I say respect the trees, but do not fear them. Do not look at them or you will head straight into one of them. Look at the snowy hillside between the trees where you want to ski.
Three Lessons full of Trees
OT: The self deluded Teacher Fool
We heard the Teacher in today’s first Lesson say:
Vanity of vanities! … All is vanity.
Our labour produces great results but our results are left to others, who may be wise or foolish.
It is tempting to think he may be right: that God has created, humans have worked, and nothing is worth anything. But the Teacher’s wisdom is a big forest of trees of hopelessness. Here God’s truth disappears like the misty fog evaporating with the rising sun. Then any lie can be presented as if true. Despair takes on all sorts of guises. Instead of being thankful, one demands more and more of things that cannot fill the empty void that should be one’s heart. This kind of life is at war with itself and the ensuing conflict and chaos allow one to hide from accountability, hope, love and even Jesus.
NT: The Different Life of Lists
In contrast the writer of Colossians reminds us that Christ raises us differently, into life free from what destroys us. The writer then presents us with lists of things to leave behind: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. Do not lie to one another. These are more trees to avoid.
exception would be passion, though as all God’s gifts, passion can
be abused and used as a destructive force in one’s own life and in
the early Christians, including the Colossians, expected Jesus to
return in their own lifetimes, their sense of urgency valued the
freedom of celibacy and devalued the ties of passion. But God created
passion as an important and healthy motivation for much of life
including marriage, parenting, care of the earth and the building of
a just society.
Gospel: Using Jesus for Greed
Today’s Gospel is a great parable within a parable: A man comes to use Jesus to get an inheritance from his brother, against the tradition of the time. Through the ages we human beings have more than perfected the use of Jesus or Religion to pound others down and try to feed our own greed. Greed is related to gluttony.
“A glutton is (a person) who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.”
(Wishful Thinking, F Buechner)
Gluttony and Greed kill us as we try to eat or possess more than we can stand. To teach us this, Jesus tells a parable of the pathetic wealthy man who after a great harvest, builds new barns to hold it and anticipates the remainder of his life as an easy retirement. But his possessions are the end of him. It’s all for naught!
Lots of Trees to Avoid
That gives us lots of trees to avoid. There is precious little of what we should aim for. It’s like skiing down a mountain and all we see are trees.
Where is Grace
So where is the Good News?
NT: Look above
The writer of Colossians points us to set our minds on things that are above. So looking up ever since we lived in caves we see the stars, the moon and the sun. Aided by the passionate drive of George Ellery Hale, and so many others, to see and learn more by building bigger and better telescopes in the last 100 years, what we see is astoundingly mind boggling. (E.g. see the documentary Journey to Palomar) Before, we knew the earth, one of nine planets, revolved around the sun. Now, we’ve seen numerous planetoids, one being Pluto, so there are only eight planets. We know our sun has a magnetic field, with flares that cause the northern lights and disrupt satellite communications. We know about galaxies, that most of the matter in the universe is invisible, that the universe is expanding and the universe is so, so much larger than we ever imagined! We have not found alien life, but in the immense expanse of the universe it is probable, if not guaranteed. We have seen God’s handiwork in the awesome expanse and workings of the universe and begun to understand their impact on our daily lives. Are these ‘the things above’ that we are to aim for? Maybe not, one would quickly say. But then perhaps we ought not be too quick to decide.
Rest of Scripture
With so many trees in our lessons, we look to the rest of Scripture and the Christian Church’s history, to guide us to the joy of life ‘skiing’, as it were, without hitting the trees.
We believe that God is Trinitarian. God is three in one. In part that means that the basic reality of God is that God is in relationship. We are created in God’s image, so we know we are created to be in relationship.
God Loves, We love
Luther taught that the core of the Gospel could be summed up in one short passage “ God so loved the world that God sent his only Son so that everyone believes in Jesus may have eternal life.” God loves – us … and the whole universe God created! In relationships we are to love one another and all of creation. The Teacher’s wisdom is folly because he ignores other people as God’s good creatures. Work is not to be hated, rather it is to be joyful and rewarding precisely because it provides for others, just as God has provided for us! The pathetic farmer in Jesus’ parable is consumed by his possessions because he has no sense that his bounty is a gift from God entrusted to him to be shared with others.
God’s Grace and Work
We know God’s Grace for us. We know that God comes to us, forgives us, makes us righteous before God, by Grace (in other words, as a gift that we do not earn!) We know that God does this first, then we can get down to living and working as God’s own children in this marvelous creation.
Riches with God
In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus points us ‘to build up riches with God’. It is easy to understand that our ‘riches with God’ are what God gives us, namely God’s Grace and all that flows from it.
Our work: Response, because … therefore
We know then our work is NOT to make ourselves good enough for God. Everything we do is to be a response to God’s Grace for us. Because God makes us Good, perfect before God, therefore we can fully engage in creation. We can be passionate about life and the goodness of creation, so that we can share the necessities of life and the wonders of the universe with ALL other people, in the present and for all generations to come. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes had no room for any passion for sharing the beauty of life with others. He had no passion to know that God’s love moved God to speak a word “Let there be Light,” and after 7 days to say, “it is good!” In the resulting blessed creation of order and beauty, we can be passionately engaged in the wonders of the universe. We can share this life with another person with the passion of a marriage. We can invest in friendships that carry us, our friends, and people around the world through the trials of life. Sharing God’s riches brings us to be so passionate about life that we can expend all of our lives striving to see and share our place in God’s awesome universe. For some of us that may mean building bigger and better telescopes. For all of us it means respecting but leaving behind the ‘trees’ of judgment, condemnation and lists, sharing instead God’s Grace with all people. We can choose to make justice a reality for each person.
Sharing God’s riches is possible for everyone. We could choose not to share God’s riches. But why would we?
Story: We Ain’t Poor by Florence Ferrier
In the story We Ain’t Poor! the Sheldons, a large family in the Appalachians, live in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. They receive inadequate assistance, yet they manage their meager income with ingenuity — and without complaint. One fall day the social worker “visits the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear, which strayed into their yard once too often. They canned it so that there would be meat even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high. The social worker reported: “Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but he said kindly and firmly. ‘Now you just have to take this. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t poor!’“[In astonished disbelief, the social work asked, ‘How can you say that?’] His answer proved unforgettable. “’When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.’”
(Gospel Notes 2001, Brian Stoffregen, reworked TL)
Look at the World all around you! … God has made us Rich and given us the ability to see more and more of the universe as God’s amazing creation … Can we say ‘We ain’t poor!’? Amen
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 Psalm 49:1-12 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
These are a number of thoughts collected about the lessons for this Sunday. Not really the sermon at all yet. But the challenges faced in finding a sermon when the lessons reflect heresies rejected by the Church, false wisdom, and admonitions of what not to be, but very little Gospel, Grace or … even Faith, Hope or Love.
When skiing in the mountains on a slope with trees on it Fear focuses one on the trees. But that is most likely going to get one right into a tree. One needs to focus on the good spaces between the trees where one wants to ski.
The Word for today: all of what we ought not to do? OT: the Wisdom, of a Fool, Disconnected from relationships NT: the Lists, hardly the freedom of Christ, and then Passion excluded, Passion which is God’s gift of fully engaging in life! Gospel: Greed, the thing that destroys life. Possessions, the things that overtake life.
The hints of Grace:
OT: nothing NT: seek things above clothed yourself with the new self, being renewed in the image of its creator in the renewal distinctions are gone, all are the same, Greek and Jew Gospel: Be rich (not in possessions) but towards God
What is Left?
Talk about the folly of each: the what we are not to be Bring to it our own assurance of God’s Grace: and how it applies to these foolishness, bad advice, and condemnation of being possessed by possessions. Bring to it our own sense of relationships as essential to human life, to the nature of God, i.e. Trinity, of accountability and responsibility to future generations
Seek Things above:
The Movie: The Journey to Palamor
The story of astronomical exploration through telescopes and our understanding of the universe: rate of expansion, quasars, galaxies, black matter, black holes, and on it goes. At one time Hale said the Wilson telescope would allow us to see the nature of the creator of the universe. Criticized: not to see the face of God Applauded: God’s handiwork is more marvelous than ever imagined. From the Earth being circled by lights (stars) and the sun and (planets) to the universe expanding out from one great explosion and the end of the universe coming when that explosion collapses on itself in b/trillions of years.
Thoughts about Each Lesson
OT: The self deluded fool
Vanities all that is is vanities
This supposedly wise man thinks he has it all well and good.
He says: Our toils produce and others enjoy it, who may be wise or foolish. He has no family, no friends, no community. This is a man who is a rock unto himself, He has laboured, and known great results, great wealth, great power, King of the people, enough that he identifies his being with the results of his labours and in his misguided wisdom he declares that God has created, man has worked, and nothing is worth anything more than the vapour of self-importance based on absolutely nothing at all.
The life with this fool’s perspective
What does this kind of life look like? It is a life where one makes oneself important. It is a life where God’s truth disappears into the vapours like the mists of the fog disappearing with the rising sun. And then anything that one wants can become the truth, or rather the lies that one believes are true. People are sacrificed. People do not count as people. They become stepping stones to make one succeed at whatever one counts that decade, that year, that month, that day as worth achieving. It is a life where despair takes on all sorts of guises, where one does not sacrifice to give other’s life. It is a life where instead of being thankful for what one has, one demands more and more of things that cannot fill the empty void that should be one’s heart and soul and full mind. It is a life that is at war with life itself. Where conflict and chaos allow one to hide from accountability or hope or love or … Jesus. It is a life that accepts that violence and vengeance are acceptable.
Story We Ain’t Poor
Florence Ferrier In the story We Ain’t Poor! a social worker in poverty-stricken Appalachia tells of her work with the Sheldons, a large family in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. The help they received was not adequate, yet they managed their meager income with ingenuity — and without complaint. One fall day the social worker “visited the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear, which strayed into their yard once too often. The meat had been processed into all the big canning jars they could find or swap for. There would be meat even during the worst of winter when their fuel costs were high. “Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but the giver met my unspoken resistance firmly. ‘Now you just have to take this. We want you to have it. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t poor!’“[The social work asked, ‘How can you say that?’] His answer proved unforgettable. “’When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.’” [Can we say] ‘We ain’t poor!’?
(Gospel Notes 2001, Brian Stoffregen, reworked TL)
NT: The Different Life: In Christ
In contrast to the wise king’s hopeless lack of vision in God’s creation, because he only knows himself, and does not let anyone into his own life, the writer of Colossians reminds us that Christ raises us differently into life free from what destroys us.
We can wonder that passion is somehow among the writer’s list of things that are to be left behind. Though if we remember that their expectations were that Jesus would return and the world would end, so leaving passion behind seemed a wise thing.
Living Now with Passion, Beauty
We know centuries later that the end may come at any time but we none the less must live so that the world is also filled with hope for our children and grandchildren, and generations after them. At creation God’s gifts includes passion. God’s gifts always include passion as a gift that binds us to one another. This is what the king had no room for. He had no passion to share the beauty of life with another person. He had no passion to know that God’s love and passion for creatures moved God to speak a word “Let there be Light.” From God’s simple words the whole of what is came into being. But chaos of the life that the king has found where everything is futile and vapours and vanity, that is what God took and with a word created non-chaos, creation. We live in that blessed creation of order and beauty.
It is not perfect, for God loved us enough to give us freewill. We choose, too often, not to love all creation with the passion that God put into those words: “Let there be Light!”. Each of us requires God’s great sacrifice of Jesus, God’s son, to redeem us, to make us good in God’s eyes. But then … then the whole of creation in all it’s order and beauty and passions and hope and loves transforms all that we see and know. Not just for ourselves, but for the next generation, and all the generations to come.
Story The Next Generations Ain’t Heavy
A family, in a country of a repressive government, were placed under house arrest. Under pressure from other nations, the parents were told they could leave the country, but that they could only take two hundred pounds with them. So the family began to argue about and sort through what to take: computers, cooking utensils, books, toys, clothing; what was most important? Finally they had decided. An official came to the door. “Are you ready?” “Yes, we’re ready. We’ve packed two hundred pounds.” The official asked, “Did you weigh the children?” Suddenly, computers, pots & pans, books, toys, clothing seemed absolutely worthless.
(Sharla Hulsey, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Sac City, Iowa reworked TL2001 reworked kas 2016)
Greed, It is a false passion that takes all the joys and hopes and dreams and real visions of the goodness of creation, denies them all, and tries to replace them with a thing, a quantity, a power, a gathering of wealth.
Greed is related to gluttony; it kills us as we try to possess too much. “A glutton is (a person) who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.”
(Wishful Thinking, F Buechner)
But the world is not good because one has money, or power, or anything else.
Ante-Greed, Sacrificial Labour and Love
The world God created is made of sacrificial love. Life sharing love. Labours for others, for the next generations. Time so precious for we only have so many days on this wonder-filled world. We have only so many minutes to share God’s own beauty with others. The world God created us to live in brings us a life of challenges, hopes, and dreams, some too often dashed, promises realized, or not. Always God calls us to see so far beyond all our possessions. We all get caught by them and they possess us. But Jesus lived, died and rose back to life, just so that we can see beyond what would capture and suffocate our hearts. We can see those things above. And seeing the things above we can know how precious God names all those things that are this earth, this world, this wonder.
What life? Choose!
What life do you want to live? A life of vanities, all is vapours, all is for nothing, for generations of fools will follow us. Or A life of dreams, passionate beauty, simple joys, shared so that they multiply and bring us all to hope, to hope that our labours will give the goodness of life to others, for generations to come.
Scratch Notes on Each Lesson
Scratch OT Thoughts
Vanity, also vapour. All is vanity: this is a BAD take on God’s good creation
Not Wisdom, Folly
This is not wisdom, this is stupidity, faithlessness, depression, self-based delusion of world-denying-God thoughts. This is in the Canon: one can only point out how wrong it is! The Teacher, when King, (probably NOT a king then a teacher!)
I saw all the deeds: This guy is pretentious. No human can see all the deeds done. From such a skewed take on his own reality and place in creation, he comes to the conclusion that ‘all is chasing after the wind.’ Tapes our fears This has a ring to it that seems true. We’ve all had the feeling that life is useless and labour the most useless part of it. It is tempting to think that it is right. It is tempting, but it is not right or healthy or wise or blessed, or anything worth much except to create fear in people instead of calm that feeds good labours that bring the fullness of life to oneself, one’s family, community, and to others, i.e. strangers, guests, sojourners, enemies.
Choice of Hate:
hated: well that is a choice of how to respond to the world, a bad choice, an against-God, faith, life choice. No wonder the ‘Teacher’ ends up thinking as he does!
To hate work
hated his toils: That is a choice, a choice of privilege and luxury. Hatred of the essential work to stay alive is a sure way to come to an abrupt and early end. Even despicable labour, if required for life, has a redeeming value. Tedious work today has the reward of a pay-cheque, which enables one to eat, have shelter, provide for one’s family. To love (boring) work Making work that is tedious nonetheless interesting is valuable skill of living well. It is a choice to learn it, it is a choice to refuse to learn it. Nearly everyone gets lots of opportunity to learn it. Only the decadent wealthy can skip that one!
Devolved Despair, ante-faith
The texts devolves into foolishness: despair and complaint that one’s labours can be such to provide for the next generation(s), though one cannot control whether they be wise or foolish who inherit the benefit of one’s labours. Where is this guy’s sense of community, of continuity, or existing through the results of his labours in a small way contributing to the future generations. All of this is not only missing, it is flat out bemoaned as possible! That is the essence of EVIL. To take what is blessing and make it cursed! He turns his heart to despair: this is the antithesis of faith! A choice.
Benefits of Labour
What do mortals get from their labours: they get meaning and life well lived and a legacy … and joy and hope, and the pleasure of seeing things accomplished that would not otherwise be if one did not labour! YES: our days are full of pain and vexation. Our nights full of minds that do not rest. For we worry when and how we do not need to, which produces no good results … BECAUSE we do not trust that God is at work in our labours as well! BECAUSE we turn from the blessing of God’s presence, and try to live on our own. And that kind of living, trying to live separate from God our creator, redeemer and inspirer/guide, is what leads to all sorts of EVIL starting with abandoning one’s heart to despair/Evil/hatred/vengeance/blindness: conflict, sexual misconduct, abuse, lies, wars, and destruction of creation and people. So the Teacher is right: abandon God (as if one could) and then all is just vanity, vapour, ethereal, false, empty, futile, meaningless … and all that is the basis of stupidity, not wisdom. So the guy is all screwed up, like us all.
Know our place: we are creatures and all of us will die, wise or foolish. Our riches can never make life good. Only God can do that for us. God has done that for us.
Scratch NT Thoughts
This psuedo pauline thought is treacherously deceptive: but there is a core that is healthy and helpful: Christ moves us beyond our Past There are things in our past, which Christ moves us beyond. Look above, to the heavens. See God’s truth, There are things that make for life, and redeemed by Christ, raised up with Christ we can live better (not good enough for God, for that we require Christ’s redemption first, foremost and throughout to the last).
Hidden to be revealed
The anticipation of Christ’s return: of us being hidden with Christ and revealed in Glory with Christ is wonderful and deceptive. Life as faithful that is secret is not full life. But at times that has been the only option forward for the faithful as forces would destroy them if they revealed themselves as Christ’s – see the Missionaries to Japan, the movie where they denounce Christ, even write tracts against Christianity, but in secret they continue to witness to their faith and those who in secret know what to look for, see their witness and their sacrifice. The ultimate sacrifice: giving up one’s faith to be faithful witnesses They sacrifice the ability to practice, profess and teach the faith. They spit on God, and on Jesus, they tread on the Bible. But they remain faithful! For outward practices are NOT faith.
Lists of ‘faith practices’
Christ is the ALL in ALL. All our whimpy attempts to reduce faith to a certain set of practices is vanity, all vanity, and a temptation to deny true faith in our hearts, minds, souls, families, churches, communities, nations, world, and in all of God’s creation. So the writer’s lists of what is left behind is … deceptive. There are things in the list that are destructive, and we can leave them behind if we wish a better, fuller life. Lists denounce Passion, But Passion is a gift from God Passion though! That is all wrong. Though passion can be embraced outside of faithful living and run amok. See Sodom and Gomorrah and, and and …. But passion as the full-hearted embracing of being a body in God’s creation, is truly one of the most precious gifts God made as part of creation. We like Luther, can embrace the mundane as sacred: beer is God’s gift, sexuality is dangerous to deny and a great joy to embrace in a marriage. The problem with making lists of acceptable behaviours and unacceptable behaviours is it is wrong headed: the destruction is in these, but the foolishness of thinking one can entirely free oneself from sin, or that telling others to is at all helpful, really … the foolishness is profoundly wrong headed and endangers not only oneself, but those to whom one would teach/demand these lists.
Be … Blessed
Be passionate, about God’s beautiful creation and all that is in it, that God has blessed us with short days to enjoy! Be free in Christ to move beyond selfishness, greed and … that is a list … so that one can live more fully. But always remember that one lives fully only because of Christ’s redemption, not because of one’s efforts to be good. Be free, be bold, be beautiful, and let God forgive your sin, and all the sin around you. Breathe the Spirit in. The vapours/vanity/supposed wisdom is actually blessed God present calling us forward out of our despair into the Light of creation.
Scratch Gospel Thoughts:
Using Christ to get ahead, get more, ahh we have more than perfected the use of God/Christ/Spirit/Religion to pound others down and try to get ahead.
More than abundance
Clear from Christ: life is much more/other than the abundance of possessions. For possessions are not a blessing; they possess one. They are as much an impediment to the fullness of life as any misappropriation of God’s good creation. The foolish man, like the ‘wise Teacher who despairs’, thinks only of himself. Good crops, bigger barns, security for the future of the community … all that is good! The cursed thought: Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
One’s own treasure, or God’s Gifts
That is the error of death: to think that one’s treasures are ‘for [one’s self]’ Fools who are already walking dead think their treasure is for themselves! Rather be rich towards God, well that takes no possessions, and even with many possessions it is possible, though the more one is possessed by possessions (the more one possesses one is possessed by them!) the greater the temptation is to find security in one’s own wealth, instead of in God’s mercy and grace!
Our hoarding gives others inability to live, at all.
Then one hoards and is greedy and one denies the ample production of creation which others need! Just to survive, yet alone live abundantly!
was an outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, the veracity of which God
could not establish without going there, yet men go to investigate,
while God remains to allow Abraham to speak with him,
bartering/negotiating/futilely bantering with God about the count of
righteous people needed to have God spare the cities.
conversation is presumptuous on Ab’s part. He acknowledges it. It’s
like talking to an angry King when bad news has just been delivered,
the King wants vengeance, and anyone interfering may likely get
caught in the unstoppable destruction that the King is in the middle
it’s not a King, its the all-knowing God, putting on a play of not
knowing? And an all-powerful God who can not only destroy in this
world and the next but condemn one to a torturous eternity.
got chutzpah, maybe foolishness, to spare.
argument is that the good should not perish with the evil.
responds to that, sort of, allowing that 10 good people in all of
Sodom and Gomorrah will cause God to relent.
GRACE, it takes goodness to get God to relent!
knows there is only one man, Lot, his wife (maybe) and his 2
daughters, so 3 maybe 4 good people in the cities, though the son in
laws are invited to leave as well and think that Lot is jesting. So
maybe 6, but really only 3.
did Abraham not negotiate down to 2?
God would have had to relent and allow the cities’ destruction of
so many people in their consuming depravity to continue.
evil is powerfully destructive, like a cancer, and God will stop it,
giving the few healthy an option to walk away alive.
the cities God saves generations who would have been sucked into the
cities’ evil vortex.
But it is not ‘Sin City’ where this kind of living continues through the generations until it is acceptable everywhere, as bush parties out of control, and in control continue to give witness to locally here. And parties, raves, and you name it in the cities continue worse than Sodom. Bonnyville and CL (put in your own cities) not excepted either! Depravity required people to participate for it to exist, and then evil flourishes. Evil is only tempered by the distinct efforts of a few good people to have life otherwise.
2nd Lesson Thoughts
Note: as today in Paul’s day and for generations afterwards, ‘philosophy’ did not indicate the thoughtful, logical, deep and profound thinking about life’s most pressing issues. Like today’s ‘spin’, ‘news’, self-help gurus gone amok, ‘walking back’ what actually was said into something else, and justice based on blatant lies, ‘philosophy’ meant rhetoric and sophistry completely disconnected from any ethic or moral restraint to uphold the truth, i.e. anything from a destructive cult to a full-out scam to way of approaching life which helped only the privileged few and ruined everyone else.
the urge to resist tempting heresies: philosophies, self-abasement,
worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a
human thought, ANYTHING that does not hold fast to Christ Jesus as
the head! From whom we all (the church) grow and are held together.
to depravity can come in all guises, some that look remarkably
respectable, acceptable, thoughtful.
teach us to pray like John’s disciples.
gives b/c of persistence if not for friendship.
is to be bartered and negotiated, and badgered until one receives
what one’s friends need.
need countless hoards, or at least one person, to pray relentlessly
to God for what I need: True Justice. Lies exposed. Shelter, food,
smiting of the corrupt people (or at least the corruption of the
people) that causes this for me and so many others.
pray ceaselessly, relentlessly that the Holy Spirit will invoke the
grime reaper (if not of people than of the corruption at the root of
this disaster for so many men, children and even women?!)
Or do I
only get the Holy Spirit to inspire me to forgive the unforgivable!?
This could be a Sunday of law and revenge. (Let’s make sure it is not.)
useless mercy, of relentless prayers, of making justice happen.
helping one, two or three people survive the destruction the
Christ Alone is our Rock and Salvation
Life turns out to be nothing like the image that I developed from my
experience. In my experience we were all somebodies, to each other,
and especially to God.
people in this world so often treat each other and themselves as if
they were nobodies.
experience: Mom and Dad who loved us all, children who lived and grew
reasonably, a home, at least rented, jobs and a good or at least
reasonable salary, or at least a paycheck every once in a while.
Inside the homes, sometimes, a bit of craziness, but nothing that
threatens life, health or happiness. And always one knew God’s
first lesson is all about that the world is full of things that are
quite different than my experience. It is not that people are held
captive to poverty and can barely survive. It is that they have
enough, and do not know the gift life is, nor what to do with it.
and Gomorrah are not healthy, and the hedonism the people pursue does
not provide happiness, just short term satisfaction bought at the
price of real happiness and health. And all their messing about
threatens any guest who enters their gates.
knows no way to heal the sickness of these two so depraved cities.
Abraham tries to barter with God. God allows Abraham’s foolish
petulance, even as God endures every foolish petition from us, even
our angry fist shaking if that’s what we need to do. God knows
everything. God knows that Sodom and Gomorrah need to be erased from
the face of the earth in order to stop their destruction, not of only
the people caught in them now, but into the future the generations
that would be caught in them, and all the sojourners and those who
think they might want to give the cities a try. God wants to save all
can bring everything and anything to God. So he barters, also because
Lot and his family live in those cities. For that they are offered a
chance to leave and be saved. Lot and his daughters make it out
alive, but the cost of the cities’ depravity has cost them dearly,
it sticks to them, and their future generations are only the result
of incest brought on by the daughters.
world is full of things that are quite different: these are very ugly
cities leaving very ugly scars on the three people who survive them.
surviving such terrible things is rarely to live well. One does not
live by bread, or mere survival.
in the Jewish Ghetto, with food severely rationed, lights a candle
every evening for prayers. When he has used up all their supply of
candles he takes a string, molds a bit of their meager ration of
butter around it, and lights it for prayers. His son challenges him,
why should their food be so consumed for a mere light. The father
responds, “Without food we can live a week. Without our faith we
could not live for even an hour.”
If you live a faithful life, you know you are a somebody, to others and to God. It’s when you live faithless that you treat yourself and others as nobodies, or as in Sodom and Gomorrah, as only bodies.
lived in many different places, in a variety of manners. I lived in a
missionary family in Africa. My father was a doctor, my mother a
nurse raising 5 children when we arrived and 7 when we left, my
father so sick they thought he had months to live if that.
plenty to survive on, but our toys were sticks. There were no extras,
and the flour always came with flies in it. Our faith brought us
there, and the faith of the people who were born there carried us
through many a challenging dark night.
in a city as a child, one of 9, with enough to live on, but no
extras, and we scraped for enough food and enough hand me down
clothes. I lived on a farm, where we had enough, including music
though the garden was an essential contribution to all 13 of us.
I lived as a student, with enough to survive on, though I ‘wasted’ precious money on a good stereo for music, because I’d seen how music could cure what could not otherwise be cured. I’ve lived out of a tent on route to a university where I could not understand the language. I’ve lived with a multimillionaire without knowing how great was his wealth.
happily in each place. But it was most difficult with the
millionaire, because he cheated and lied about everything, derided
and slandered others at each step, and hated the people poorer than
he was, especially the aboriginal peoples. They reminded him that he
came from a place where he was considered a nobody. So now he doesn’t
know how to treat other people other than as if they were nobodies.
disciples come to him and ask him to teach them to pray as John has
his disciples. They want to pray as if they are somebodies. Jesus
gives them what we’ve come to call the Lord’s Prayer. Then he
goes on to assure us that if we seek, we will find. If we ask, we
God is the one to yell at, be angry at, blame, and thrash. People are the ones who we need to treat with respect and care. There is a well grounded reason that the ten commandments include the prohibition to bear false witness against our neighbour. Our words can hurt people. Our lies are as effective as murder. God, on the other hand, can take anything we may want to throw his or her way.
does not say that if we ask for something, we will receive that
thing. Or if we seek some thing, God will give us that thing.
will always provide. God will always answer. God will always listen,
and respond. To most of our foolish prayers God answers with a simple
no. Sometimes we get a more spectacular NO. Every once in a while God
gives us a real kick in the pants, or a knock so hard we wonder where
it came from as we pick ourselves up off the ground. And a few times
God actually says yes to our good petitions.
without a home and I could tell you my sad story, pitifully played
out by so many people bearing false witness against me. But
astounding is the story of another person living without a home, who
I met weeks ago.
She lives with plenty of equipment to protect her from the environment, and to provide for her well-being beyond her safety. Neither drugs, alcohol, addictions, nor prayer brought her to live in the woods without a home.
took advantage, did not care if she was close to death. She got out,
barely and still has not healed. He still pursues her and bears false
witness against her and gets support from the justice system. She
functions, but has little faith left, though she knows that the
wilderness heals her most. He behaves as a nobody, treats her as a
nobody, and invites others to treat both of them as nobodies. One day
the light of Christ will shine the truth so clearly everyone will be
compelled to know it, to their shame for not admitting it sooner.
They will be somebodies, but some bodies, souls, and minds who God
deals with justly.
a lot of bull in the world; comes from the sinners, in us each and
world is full of things that are quite different than I have ever
imagined could be called living, some of it so ugly one wonders that
it can exist at all, that anyone can survive it. Yet out of the worst
ghettos God brings leaders and people who inspire others to waste
nothing that life offers, and to bring everything possible to as many
people as possible, so that all people can live well.
seem easy, or obvious, that we live out our faith. At least we go
through the motions. But there are challenges in every life, even the
ones that look so safe and healthy, so provided for in a solid home.
Even people who appear in the world’s terms to be SOMEBODIES, can
behave behind closed doors as if they and those close to them are
We come to realize that the words to the Colossians are not to be taken for granted:
to live your lives in [Christ], rooted and built up in him and
established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in
thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through
philosophy and empty deceit”
Philosophy mentioned then is quite different than most philosophy named today. Back then philosophy was more rhetoric and sophistry. Today’s equivalents abound as self-help gurus, or spinning events for the news, news that is no longer required to present a fair view of all sides of an issue, and the spin applied to events like seen in the US. No truth survives. That’s the warning given in Colossians.
too easy to give up on life in disgust for what stands as truth for
some people, for some causes (usually their own wealth or hedonistic
pleasures), or for some churches. Works Righteousness is always a
favourite, though it can be coloured with heavy condemnation of other
people making it drip with destruction. A friend joked in parody of
this attitude: “I have learned to accept my imperfections. It’s
other people’s imperfections that I find intolerable.”
View of God With Us
What Paul proclaimed, Jesus taught by example, and generations have managed to remind us of is that Grace alone saves us. We are somebodies only because God chooses to make us so.
We can work like mad to make the world better, but we cannot work to make ourselves better in God’s eyes. We are already made righteous by Christ. Thereafter we do the work of the righteous, often with no reward or even notice. Sometimes, as if we were nobodies, we get punished and are left to die as thanks for doing the right and good thing.
pray that God will turn this world around. We work like it depends on
us, and we relax knowing God intends for us to enjoy this creation
with God at our side. For with God at our side we are all somebodies.