For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, so that I may not cut you off.
2 Timothy 1:9
God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
Words of Grace For Today
It is a marvellous thing that God does for us, saving us and calling us (as God’s children) to a holy calling.
God does this for us.
We do not earn it, or deserve it. We can take no credit for it, not in the least.
With Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension we encounter God in a new way; yet God did not change to meet us in this new way, living the life of a human being. Indeed God’s Grace made so clear in Jesus’ story, was God’s Grace for us since the beginning of creation.
Why does God do this for us?
God does this because God chooses to do this; God defers God’s anger, restrains it toward us, so that we and the whole creation can sing God’s praise. Dead people do not sing. People who receive Grace have every reason to sing and sing at every opportunity!
Pastor Erin from Trinity Edmonton preached a sermon 15 November 2020 on Jesus’ parable of the talents given to three servants, and the condemnation of the servant who hid his talent in the ground, instead of investing it. Her point was that the traditional interpretation of this as a parable about ‘investing’ our gifts in order to return even more to God is wrong. Instead it is a parable about denouncing the greed and avarice of the owner that demands unfair use be made of millions given to the servants. The owner’s condemnation of the servant who ‘plants’ his owner’s talents in the ground is all wrong; in fact that servant rightly refused to participate in the avarice of using wealth against others to multiply one’s wealth. But Pastor Erin insisted, since the parable was told by Jesus long before capitalism it was not a parable against capitalism. She said the point of the parable was: we need to subvert systems that take advantage of poor people. We must tear down these systems and replace them with ways of being equitable and fair to all people.
Which is interesting if poorly stated. What’s missing is that as Lutherans we proclaim that we are saved by GRACE, and Grace alone. We are not save by what we do, or how we think rightly, or how we subvert unjust systems … nor MUST we do anything. Trouble is so many pastors are ready to ‘tell us’ what we ‘must do, think or believe.’
Worst of all, what Erin and others preach is simply another form of telling us what we must do in order to please Jesus and God and thereby earn God’s favour. It is a futile exercise in the ‘power’ of the office of ministry entrusted to a pastor. This is all Law, in the most destructive, subversive way: debunk traditional interpretation of scripture and then point to what Jesus ‘said’ with a parable (interpreted through one’s own eyes/history/perspective/drive/hates/self-chosen-life-purposes) we must do as Christians, so that people will make changes to the perverse and evil world order that we live under.
God, fortunately, does not wait for us to subvert unjust systems, as just as those actions may be; God acts first, not by overpowering or undercutting or destroying unjust systems and the people who support them and benefit from them. God acts by graciously forgiving, renewing and guiding us, all of us.
Therefore we are free to think differently about unjust systems, and in thinking differently we change how we interact with them; which forces the systems to change in response to us.
Jesus tells parables in such a way as to shock his listeners into imagining that something can be different, that God enables us to be different, that God enables us to be God’s Grace for all people. (That’s what any good sermon has at it’s core.)
God gives us ‘talents’ (i.e. gifts of a great variety) in an overabundant quantity and quality. Like money, we get opportunities to ‘invest’ our gifts in God’s kingdom. Our investing in God’s Kingdom (unlike investing in the unjust money systems humans always have had, which Jesus slams in his parable) reaps great increases in our gifts, of which we are only stewards All we are, have and can believe, think and do belongs to God. We ‘have’ it all only by Grace.
Wasting Grace by reducing life to what we must do, whether that is to believe the right things, to maintain a particular piety, or to work in whatever ways to subvert injustices, is a waste of the Grace given to us; it is like burying a great treasure in the ground, instead of using it to do God’s work in this world.
Why does God do anything for us? Why does God chose to exercise Grace for us?
Because God so chooses.
How can we respond?
By giving God thanks and praise!
Once we do that whole-heartedly, then God can use us in new ways to share God’s way of being, to share God’s Grace for everyone with everyone.
Why us? Because God so chooses! Despite our deserving only God’s anger.
Thanks be to God.
Now let us get on with giving God thanks and praise, by sharing Grace with all the people we meet … even if our pastor has forgotten the beginning and end of God’s Word is always GRACE.
In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, Fred Rogers helps Lloyd Vogel process his relationship with his father and re-connect with him after decades of cutoff on both sides…. It leaves us thinking we can’t change the past, but maybe we can give the story a different ending….** If only we could be just a bit better than we are, a lot less anxious, helping others trust God just a mite more, so that our stories could have a good ending. **adapted from Healthy Congregation Words by Rachel Tune, Pastor Wittenburg University***
Joy Sunday Contrasts with Advent Blues
the third Sunday of Advent, is the Sunday of Joy. Advent was
historically a time to prepare for Epiphany baptisms, a time to take
in Jesus’ costly journey of bringing faith to us. During the rest of
Advent we get ourselves alert, reflect on the cost of our faith,
prepare for, but wait patiently for, Christ’s coming and our
celebration that he has come, and is present.
out of step with the Lenten-like mood of waiting. Our wreath has one
pink candle among the blue candles of hope. In this season of waiting
to celebrate, how did the Joy Sunday and the pink candle get into the
mix? Except this contrast makes our Christmas joy that much more
Today we highlight the opposite of the rest of Advent, making our preparations and joy all that more vivid. Only blue on the dark black of the long nights won’t do, neither would all pink be great. If Advent were all joy, then it’d be hard to celebrate Christmas; it’d be as if we’d nibbled at the turkey, dressing and all, and gobbled up all the Christmas cookies for weeks. The celebration would be just more of the same, if anything were left for the feast. But on the dark background of real life, pink decorates blue spectacularly, and since it denotes God’s joy then the best pink would be hot-pink on deep sea blue rising to sky blue.
Today, though, we also remember that Christmas, more so because it’s supposed to be such a joyous time, can actually be the most painful, sorrowful, lonely and despairing time of the year. It can be all so blue. For this reason we offer Blue Christmas Services.
Insert here Niel Diamond singing Song Sung Blue YouTube – Song Sung Blueor your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues, or your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues.
The New Ending Needed
name of Jesus we can’t change the past, but we know
the story needs a different ending….
Biblical Images of Life Dried Up
of dried up creation abound in today’s lessons: wilderness, dry land,
desert … weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts … blind, deaf,
lame, speechless people … burning sand, thirsty ground, haunts of
jackals, dry grass … lions, ravenous beasts … sighing and
The New Ending, Possible?
the past. We can’t change the past, but can
we really give this story a
Dark, Cold Tunnel of Real Life
It’s dark. The sun rises but stays below the southern roof- or tree-tops. It’s cold. In the city it’s dipped into the minus teens. Not far away, on a little lake that’s as much home as anywhere, it’s been below -30⁰C and not over -15⁰ for days. Most everyone is affected, some a bit more as they struggle with mild to severe depression because of the lack of sunshine. Too often this season can seem like a cold, dark tunnel that we get thrust into, whether we choose it or not.
In Alberta now, after the oil bust of 2014 and lately Premier Kenny’s cuts, 20% of young men are unemployed. That does not count those who have given up trying to find work, or those who are back at school trying to increase their odds of finding a job (going in debt to do so), or those who have part-time jobs where they work pitifully few hours, so that it’s less a job, and more a hindrance to finding real work. Employers more cheaply employ 10 part-time workers 8 hours each week than 2 full-time employees 40 hours each.
real. These young men face hunger, homelessness, losing their
vehicles. Forget about having anything for health and dental care.
Chaplains in hospitals write up verbatims: formerly well-paid men are hounded by their spouse (or not-spouse) to bring home the same money for the pricey lifestyle they’ve spent themselves into. Turning to crime or not, the stress eats away at the men’s health. For some, physical or psychological violence at home puts them in the hospital. Women know the courts will likely believe any lie they tell and the men will be convicted and jailed, even when they are the victims.
The Booby-trapped Tunnel
The dark tunnel we find ourselves in can, in this or other ways, turn out to be full of traps set by people we would trust. People point us to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems a long ways off through the dark and dangerous cold.
The New Ending Beyond Us.
know full well we can’t change the past, but even
trying to give the story a different ending seems
Epidemic of Senior Loneliness
severity of the seniors’ epidemic of loneliness increases at
Christmas. 25% percent of seniors live alone often not by choice.
Living alone or not, an unknown number of seniors are severely
lonely, cut off from meaningful engagement in life. Loneliness
affects health and precipitates death as quickly as any disease. Two
of life’s necessities are missing: a meaningful contribution to life
and an ability to love and be loved.
are walls to stare at, perhaps paths to walk. But one is alone even
in crowds. Few reach out with kindness and understanding, and time.
Everyone has their own busy agenda to help them ignore the emptiness
Worse still are the seniors that experience elder abuse. Seniors can be more vulnerable than young children and become targets because they may appear to have wealth, and the taking appears to be easy. This month we collect for “No Room In the Inn” to create a safe place to which they can escape.
The Light in the Tunnel is a Train
The light they told us was at the end of the tunnel looks more and more like a train coming right at us in this dark tunnel and we cannot see any way out. We can’t move fast enough to find any emergency exit that may be somewhere out there.
The New Ending Only Hoped For
can’t change the past, and we only hope
we can give the story a different ending before it’s too late.
into this dark reality, our Advent Sunday of Joy is set as a stark
contrast to our Lenten-like Advent preparations.
Sunday is exactly like the Crocus named in the OT lesson. The first
flower of Spring, it pushes up and blossoms even while the snow and
morning frosts keep other plants at bay.
Similarly all the desolate images serve as the setting into which God comes and transforms creation. Cool streams flow in the wilderness, over the dry land, and on the burning sand bringing them to rejoice and blossom, with joy and singing. Weak hands are strengthened, feeble knees made firm, fear is met with encouragement, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and the speechless sing.
A highway is made upon which no lion or beast or thief prowls, and even a fool cannot go astray. Those redeemed by Christ will obtain joy and gladness. All sorrow and sighing will flee away. In a simple word, we and all creation are baptized in the water of God’s blessings. It is a marvellously new creation. We are made saints and set to live well in it!
God’s coming is already, and not yet. Like the farmer we wait patiently for the early and the late rains of God’s blessings to tumble down on us and through us. We do not grumble against each other, for grumbling against each other is caustic to life and for it we would be justly judged by the Judge at the door. There are no evidentiary rules, precedents, or arguments required. This Judge is omnipotent and all-knowing, and the judgments are fair, clearly so to all. Jesus’ every judgment is made to make life possible for all.
comes to set things right, to make people healthy, what is wrong is
set right. Jesus comes in poverty, born homeless in a cow barn. Jesus
comes to those least acceptable to the world of his day. Jesus comes
to the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor.
The Light in the Tunnel is Christ’s Light on God’s
Train Coming at Us!
turns out that the light at the end of the cold, dark
tunnel is a train coming right for us. Or
rather it is the Light of Christ barrelling down on us like a train.
This train is not loaded with oil, grain, lumber, or other goods.
first cars of this train have the Blue Hope of Advent spilling out in
endless streams over the landscape of God’s wonderful and broken
Hope is followed by cars as numerous as the stars spewing Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Inspiration, Gratitude, Generosity, Faith, Love in Action, and Love Universal and Unconditional. Look at all the colours streaming across the desolate landscape of our broken lives!
Light. Run to it. Dance to it. Sing for it with the deepest and
intends for us, even in our sadness and loneliness, to be overwhelmed
with the Goodness of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, the engine
of that train. It may be cold and dark outside but the pink of joy
covers the dark and decorates our blues.
God’s New Ending
We can’t change the past. And we cannot give the story a different ending. This Advent we remember, we do not have to. God has already given the story the best ending possible! What Joy!
wait, full of anticipation for the celebration of Christmas, marking
Jesus’ birth, proclaiming
Jesus’ presence now, and hoping for Jesus the Christ’s return!
We pray, Let us be the blessed “who do not let the Messiah [we] are expecting blind [us] to the Messiah who is standing right in front of [us]” (Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998]).
Our Response: We are the Pink in the Blues
reflect on joy, and its roots in the dark of misery, and its place
within the blues of Hope. The Holy Spirit makes us the streams of
cool water flowing in the deserts of life, the crocuses springing up
for those to whom Christ came. We are the patient, non-anxious,
gracious, kind, and generous ones. In us others see Christ
active for them even if the world frosts them out.
This is the ending to the story that God has for creation and all of us in it: that Christ came, that Christ comes, that Christ will come, and all of creation was, is and will be baptized with living water, transforming it and all of us. Therefore we follow Christ’s example: bringing real joy to those with SADS, the unemployed, the lonely, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor. This is the pink of our Advent Blues. It may not be more than a touch on the horizon in our preparations, nor need it be more. It is like the light at the end of the tunnel, giving us reason to Hope, even in the blues.
We are the pink of Adventfor those in need around us.
get ready to sing: Let me highlight with pink and blue a few words of
our hymn of the day:
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last! Furrows lie open for God’s creative task: this, the labour of people who struggle to see how God’s truth and justice sets [Blue:] everybody free.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Lord Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbours we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets [Pink:] us free.
Theme and Notes
pink contrast to the Blues of Advent, draws us to be God’s people to
bring transformation to those most in need.
*In the Pink: to be in the best of health; by Grace alone the best spiritual health.
***Wittenberg University is a private liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio. It has approximately 2,000 full-time students representing 37 states and 30 foreign countries.
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