Midweek Lent 5 Reflection

Changing Our Plans

God Changes Our Plans

God’s Plans are Larger Than Ours

Tonight’s Theme
Our continuing theme for this Lent is from Isaiah 58, that we hold a fast acceptable to God, one that brings justice, freedom, food, and homes to those in need.
That combines with the weekly theme, always having to do with change, and tonight specifically we look at Changing Plans.

Lessons
Psalm 2
Isaiah 52:13-15
Mark 10:32-34

God’s Plans are Large Enough for Everything that Comes our Way.

Plans of Mice and [Wo]Men

We all have had plans. But God’s plans for us are larger. How many of us have planned our next steps as children moved out for jobs, university, trade school or full-time employment and even marriage. Then they rebound back home to recover before leaving again to make their way in today’s fast changing world.

The Lessons: God ‘Changes’ Plans OT vs NT God

Tonight’s readings seem to reflect an old tradition that God approached humans one way in Old Testament times. Then God changed his plans with Jesus.

In Psalm 2 God observes the nations conspiring against God and God’s anointed. God laughs at them and speaks to them with fury terrifying them, before warning them to serve the Lord in trembling submission or else God’s wrath will be quickly kindled against them and they will perish.

In comparison listen to the Gospel from Mark where God’s own people condemn the only Son of God to death. Then they hand him over to others who mock, spit on, flog and kill him.

The roles are reversed: God bears the fury and wrath of the people and in the end God perishes. It is as if instead of demanding obedience God finally figured out that humans could never stop sinning so God decided to bear the whole cost of forgiving their sins. Thereafter God asks, calls, entices, and inspires the people to do what is right and needs to be done.

Jesus reveals to us the heart of God

We know that Jesus came to teach, cure and care for people, and to die on the cross as the last sacrifice or scapegoat required. The cross on God’s heart becomes so undeniably visible with Jesus’ death and resurrection that we can only be astounded.

Even though we deserve nothing but death and void, God chooses to forgive our sins. God claims us as children, and we have the most meaningful work possible: to follow Jesus’ example of giving everything we are in order that others will have justice, freedom, food and homes.

Call to abundant life in response to Jesus

Our sacrifice may even hurt, yet this is what God created us to be and to do. This is God’s larger plan for us all so that we have life abundant. Abundant life has very little to do with abundant wealth, property, possessions, power and influence over others, or self-serving pleasures. Instead God calls us to sacrifice and to then celebrate God’s successes, when lost souls return to God. At times that is each of us.

We see more of God’s plan, God remains the same

The tradition that I accept is that God does not change God’s plan or approach to humans. Rather God was marked by the cross since the beginning of time as is witnessed to also in the OT, for example in tonight’s reading from Isaiah concerning the suffering servant. What certainly does change, and markedly, is who we people think God is. What changes is how we understand more and more of God’s larger plan for us.

Stuck with the ‘OT’ idea of God

Still we so often get stuck thinking that God demands and we have to obey; that as we merit we get rewarded with God’s protection or we perish by God’s fury, and the next generation starts all over learning to obey God or else.

Our plans vs God’s larger plans

In this view of God’s world, we must take control making worthwhile plans for ourselves. We plan for a great house, or job, or spouse, or children, or activities in retirement. Some even succeed with our plans.

God always has larger plans for us.

More than 7 decades ago a farm boy, inspired by a missionary visiting at his church, decided to become a missionary doctor. He worked his way through college, through a tour with the army in Korea, through medical school and reported to the church for service.

The church eventually sent him to Africa. The man planned to spend his life there with his wife and children. But God’s plan for him was larger.

The man got sick, was forced to return home to a family practice. God had larger plans for him and the man ended up studying again to become a pathologist. He set up a business in the ever-changing world of medicine, brought in a partner to expand and improve their services. Still God’s plan for him was larger.

On it went with God always moving the man about, even to Antarctica in the winter when he was 70, until at the age of 75 with his back crumbling, a double heart by-pass, and needing both knees and a hip to be replaced the man was ready to rest and stay home. But God’s plan for him was larger. The church sought him out to return to Africa to rebuild a medical delivery system that had fallen apart mostly due to corruption. Now in his 90’s he still travels six months of every year raising funds and the other six months he oversees the building of a children’s hospital in Zinga, TZ.

Sometimes God’s plan sees that we need to be rescued from disaster. I heard from another pastor about Sarah, who went to college in the States. Sarah met Jim, through campus ministry. They made great plans. He planned to be a surgeon and she a nurse. They both wanted lots of children. God seemed to agree with their plans as they married and both were accepted into their respective majors.

But Jim was drafted for Vietnam. He served as a medic and came back in a wheelchair with one arm and unable to have children. All their plans were taken from Jim and Sarah.

I’m not sure that was God’s plan for them, but God was there for them. Then Jim died suddenly one night, a hidden complication from his injuries.

Sarah changed plans and became a family doctor. She married a farmer and they had three wonderful children, now grown up with families of their own. God had a large enough plan for Sarah.

Sometimes the Devil has his way with our lives, but always God’s plans are larger.

Surprise

If we’ve thought God is vengeful, demanding, wrathful, and the warrior protector of us, then we may be in for a great surprise.

The CIA regime control

To protect US interests around the world the CIA often provided wet work and weapons to bring to and keep in power tyrannical dictators who do the US’s bidding and keep their people in line. It is a devil’s plan, in response to which God often brings in a larger plan.

CAI vs CIA

In Three Cups of Teaand Stones into Schools Greg Mortenson tells the story of the Central Asia Institute, the CAI, not to be confused with the CIA.

Mortenson’s project was born of a plan to change the world toward peace through providing schools and schooling to girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The girls, who would likely become mothers, would then educate their daughters and their sons. We know education is the most crucial piece to help the poorest in the world make life better for themselves.

The Central Asia Institute was hardly perfect because Mortenson, raised in Tanzania, was unpredictable and spontaneous. He rarely operated on a clock or even a calendar. Still the CAI was an effective project that made a real difference in a real way: by sacrifice and through real education.

The idea of education for young girls was picked up by the CIA as a model for diffusing hostilities, to little effect. Hatred of the west runs deep.

Terrorists also adopted the plan, unfortunately with great success, destroying schools for girls and establishing madrassas for boys which taught hatred of the west, and trained them for terrorist attacks around the world.

In real life the devil has life destroying plans.

As we Grow, we see the appropriate fast for us

We grow and change. Our plans change as we grow. As we learn more of God’s larger plans for us, we can better be God’s agents of grace for the strangers, refugees, hungry, homeless, the oppressed, and all those suffering injustice. Yet often God’s large plans catch us off guard.

The challenge is to discern at this time a) what is God’s larger plan for us to bring life abundant to others, and b) what the devil is trying to do to our lives that takes life from us and others.

God is always there for us, no matter what plans we have, but God wants us to change our plans to better match Jesus’ model for our lives. Jesus’ model is about making the acceptable fast, the sacrifice so that others may have life abundant.

Amen

God’s New Thing, Our Celebration and Praise; Lent 5

Anxiety overcome by something worth celebrating!

Lazarus, Mary’s response of extravagance

In the Gospel story for this morning Jesus returns to Lazarus’ home for a meal. This is where Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. Together with the disciples they share a meal.

Mary ‘wastes’ costly oil washing Jesus’ feet. For a blessing the oil would have been poured on his head. This, though, is just a foot washing, a practical kindness offered to guests.

Foot washing sandaled feet

People wore sandals. They walked the hot and dusty paths and road ways. On arrival for a meal, where everyone reclined around the table, feet washing refreshed the guest and removed the awful smell from the elite people’s animal waste that lay along the way.

Extravagance

Mary’s perfume was way too costly for the task – probably worth in excess of $50,000 in today’s funds. It was an extravagance which no common person could afford.

It was an extravagance Mary offered for the man who brought her brother back to life, for the teacher who carried the Kingdom of God around him, palpable to all who encountered him, for the man who, Mary believed from her pondering, was the Saviour, the Christ, God’s Son sent to fulfill God’s promises of old.

Objections

However one of the disciples objects to the extravagance, because he would have liked to have the proceeds from its sale put in the purse that he stole from. He wanted the extravagance for himself. Who knows what this disciple really wanted, or if anything would have been enough for him.

Real Fear of poverty

Given all the goodness of life and the luxuries we take for granted, there is always a part of each one of us that objects to such extravagances. For we have our hands in the cookie jar, and we want more. Poor people be … well … ignored, … and condemned to live lives we are so afraid our lives may become. We justify all kinds of deceit trying in vain to secure our place far from the poor.

Anxiety is us losing perspective of what is real and large, and what is not.

We have real cause, every day, to get lost in this and all sorts of anxiety. Our past is full of sins that should land us not just in the poor house, but out of the Kingdom of God. Instead Jesus comes to us, each day, starting by saying, do not be afraid!

What does Jesus have in store for us?

What does Jesus have in store for us?

OT God’s up to something again: something new

In the OT lesson for today Isaiah writes to the people in exile in Babylon that God is up to something again. Like they, we too often give up and stop looking for Christ’s light.

To the exiles and to us Isaiah repeats God’s words: Do not remember the things of our past. Yet remember that God is the one who brought us out of slavery, through the wilderness into the Promised Land. Free from the anxiety of our past that grips us at the roots, we can now look to the new work that God is about to begin.

God’s new thing: living water in the deserts

For the Creator and Re-creator is acting again: A new thing is about to become: water will flow in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Canada’s water

In Canada we have lots of fresh water. Of course there are plenty of small communities who have not had clean, fresh water for many decades. And a survey a few years ago estimated that between one-third and one-half of North Americans are mildly, chronically dehydrated. (Published by Dr. Susan Kleiner, dietician in Seattle-area, reported in Chatelaine April 2000.) Early signs of dehydration are fatigue and headaches. We need water. Yet when we turn on the taps and enjoy clean water, it is difficult to appreciate that we are not getting enough water or what it means not to have water.

Salt water, fresh water, living water

Imagine the drought driven dry desperation of thirst caught in an endless desert. It is worse for people who survive in life rafts after being shipwrecked at sea, who spend days on the ocean waters without fresh water. On the sea water is everywhere, but it cannot quench one’s thirst, it only makes it worse.

We are surrounded by so much fresh water, and yet we thirst for the living water that gives life. We are surrounded by luxuries the people of history could hardly imagine, powered by oil, technology, and seemingly magical realities. Yet we often deeply thirst for the meaning of life, for our place in it, for something to be and do that will fulfill what we were created to be. Our past is riddled with failures we hardly comprehend.

If it is as if our tongues were parched so dry that we could barely swallow because it hurts so much, and we know we deserve even worse.

Paul, Our Efforts = Nothing

Like Paul we try diligently to be the people that we think God wants and needs us to be. We may not be as successful as Paul. He was quite an accomplished man of God. But all that effort Paul counts as nothing, in order that, still striving to be the man of Grace that Christ called him to be, he might receive, not earn, but receive without merit, the Grace of God, the righteousness which is Christ’s. This righteousness is only Paul’s or ours as a gift through faith by Grace.

Christ’s Gifts = everything

Paul cannot own his righteousness, it is only a gift. He must leave behind all his struggle, straining, and striving to fulfill the law. Instead he strains forward to whatever Christ has in store for him. God has a whole lot in store for Paul. Most of it is challenging.

God’s Gift, flowing, living water

And when God acts with a shockingly new thing, then water flows, not just out of our taps in small trickles, not just clean, fresh water. The water of life flows in broad rivers, assuring us that the drought is done.

Praise for the water from all

How astounding it is to undeservedly receive water, flowing fresh water, the living water from God.

Does it really take so much to move our hearts, to make things different in our minds, hearts, and souls … so that we will forget the past failures and recognize the wonder of God’s gifts, the gifts so basic to life as even breath itself? All this just so that we might give God praise!

Drenched in the new largess of God, we should be barely able to contain ourselves. No matter what we need, God provides, so that we can and will live in praise of our Creator and Re-creator.

What does God have in store for us?

What has Christ in store for each of us? For all of us as a community of faith?

Lenten fast

This Lent Jesus has in mind for us a fast named in Isaiah 58 (from Ash Wednesday’s lessons), a sacrifice of all that is given us, so that those suffering from injustice will receive justice, so that the oppressed will be set free, so that those who hunger will have food, and those who have no homes will find homes in our homes, in our neighbourhoods, in our families of faith.

Celebration of Easter Coming

At the end of our fast, Jesus has in store for us a celebration that is so great nothing is too extravagant to be shared with those suffering injustice, those oppressed, those hungry, those homeless, who now are with us. This is the celebration of new life given to each of us.

Baptismal water promises

Just as Jesus raises Lazarus back to life, we receive the promise and assurance in the waters of our baptisms that we will be raised from the dead as well. We too, sinners though we be, will be brought into the New Jerusalem with all the saints of all times.

All will praise God

Even the despised jackals and hyenas will sing God’s praise. No matter how despised the animal, or the person, all will sing God’s praise. Even the reality denying ostriches, or similarly the people who stick their heads in the sand at the signs of danger … Even those who deny reality will be unable to deny Christ’s reality. When God does God’s new thing among us, the anxieties about our past will be gone and no one will be able to stop from singing God’s praise.

For this we were created, redeemed, made God’s children, and promised eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Smell the perfume of extravagant celebration, and sing as we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength.

As at Daybreak celebrate [extravagantly]

When God does this new thing, as at daybreak, the darkness will succumb to the rising dawn. Then the sol of creation begins anew to give purpose and hope for the hours to come. The Light will reach everywhere. The New Light will catch even the spider’s string [in the sermon photo.]

So … leaving behind all our anxieties, we can close our eyes having kept the watch,

For the Christ’s Light now keeps the darkness and danger at bay.

The hyenas of home are driven back into hiding. We will have challenges ahead, even more darkness to face, but Christ expects us to trust his promises, as we will then again wait for the dawn to return.

But for now…

Let the waltz begin.

Let the celebrations and our praise begin.

God’s Glory

Amen

Changing Hearts

The ‘Final’ Version

Our Way Through the Waters, to God’s Glory

Psalm 119 starts: Happy are those whose way is blameless

Wouldn’t it be spectacular if we could change our hearts and follow all God’s laws and be blameless for the rest of our lives. We would be profoundly happy, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength! Nothing would defile us from within or from outside ourselves.

But we confess that we are all sinful and unable to free ourselves. Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther and many others have made it crystal clear that no one can be entirely blameless. If anyone were able to be blameless the whole course of human history would be changed.

What then can we do to change our hearts? Can we change our hearts of stone for healthy hearts filled with God’s Spirit?

Since 1967, when Bernard Christian transplanted the first human heart, we can have surgeons transplant our diseased hearts with new hearts. Heart transplant patients report it is more than just a physical experience. Something more changes, as another person’s heart gives them life. The other person has met an untimely death. The transplant patient carries on with life, for themselves and in a small yet noticeable way for the donor.

Though our meaning tonight for changing our hearts is hardly physically accurate, we are talking about changing the seat of our emotions, the centre of our wills, and the motive behind our thinking and doing.

First off this is a very complicated idea. Secondly it is nearly out of the realm of human possibility. We so often get it all wrong.

Once a well-heeled congregation decided to look outside themselves and do something really good for a poor neighbourhood nearby. After carefully looking through the neighbourhood they found a deserted chunk of land, filled with weeds, stones, and syringes. They decided it would make the perfect neighbourhood playground. They bought the land, and brought in topsoil, sod, and playground equipment. Then they headed to the community centre to invite the community to make use of it. The community leaders said only a very polite thank you.

“What’s wrong?” a congregation member blurted out.

“Well,” said one of the community leaders, “we had plans for that land. We had been saving money and applying for grants, gotten corporate sponsors, and invested in getting drawings made up. We were on track to break ground in 6 months. Our plans included a picnic area, a play area, community gardens and even a basketball court on one end.

“Now we’ll have to let all that go and enjoy the playground.”

We can try to fix the world with our privilege, power, and wealth. Or we can use our ears to listen to those in need, our minds to discern what the real issues are, and our hearts to empathize with their plight so that how we act will actually meet the real needs of the people we try to help.

There are things we can do to change our hearts, to change how we feel about another person, our situation in life, and the events that happen around us. While we cannot change our individual emotional responses to events, we can slowly, through diligent practice of habits, change the range of our emotions. We can over time move ourselves from a destructive, disengaged range of emotional responses, to a hope-filled, engaged range of emotional responses to the same kind of events. It takes lots of time, diligent work, and a motivation that only the Holy Spirit can maintain in us.

The first thing we can do is forgive others. We act as if the other has not sinned against us. We treat them special, even giving them gifts they really want. When we behave as if they were precious, they become precious to us again. In time we will realize, we have actually forgiven them.

Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we truly change our hearts. We need God to send people to help. Hearts change the course of our lives, and the course of our communities, our churches, our countries, and even the course of human history.

St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential of Christianity’s early thinkers, writers, preachers, and practitioners of faith, did not start out a Christian. Born of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he was denied baptism. He spent his youth as a Manichaean, and according to his own account lost himself in pleasures and wanton living. He was befriended by Ambrose, who he met since they both shared exceptional skills as orators. While Ambrose’s preaching was exceptional and his message was the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, it was Ambrose’s friendship that deeply affected Augustine’s heart and drew him to convert to Christianity. St. Augustine gave himself to the work of Christ on earth, ending his life serving as the Bishop of Hippo in north Africa, where he wrote and preached. Imperfect, rescued, and saved Augustine steered the course of Christianity to be the faith we recognize today. He also steered the Roman Empire towards Christianity.

Because there was one human, Jesus, who lived entirely blameless before God, the whole of human history is changed. Yours and mine, and each of our lives are inexorably changed toward God, toward life, and toward giving everything we have and are in order that others may know God’s Grace as well. Augustine was one piece of this course of history.

Our hearts inform and equip us to turn our lives in new directions. As the Holy Spirit moves our hearts to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, then we focus on faith, ideas, words, and actions which can affect others’ hearts with the same Grace that saves us each day.

We trust that God is always with us. We can be blameless and joyful therefore, not because we are perfect, but because Jesus steps in for us and we are reckoned to have Jesus’ blameless track record.

There is something spectacular to being the donor of Christ’s heart to those in need. It is to give to another the seat of our will and passion, the centre of our life, and to give our hearts to another in order that they may live, and that living they may have life abundant.

Have a heart. Have a change of heart. Because the Holy Spirit helps us surrender our hearts to the will, passion, and purpose of Jesus Christ, therefore we live, heart and all, as God calls and equips us to live.

We live as never before. We live the fast that is acceptable to God, the fast that through our sacrifice others receive justice, freedom, food, and homes.

Amen

Rough Draft: A Change of Heart, Lent 4 Midweek Reflection

This is really still way too rough, but here it is, as a way-point along the way. Before it is done it needs to be half as long, and more focused.

There’s work to be done on it.

Lenten Theme:
Isaiah 58:
A fast that is acceptable to God: sacrifice for justice, freedom, food, homes.

This week’s Theme:
Change of Heart

Lessons:
Ezekiel 36.22-28
Psalm 119. 1-16
Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Our Hearts are chaotic, reflecting so much of our lives, but they are not without the Light of Christ! We are never alone.

A Change of Heart

Happy are those whose way is blameless

Blameless No one!

Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther and many more Christian theologians and teachers have made it crystal clear that if anyone were to be able to be blameless the whole course of the human species would be entirely different. No one can be entirely blameless.

In fact we confess that we are all sinful and unable to free ourselves, that we require Jesus’ intervention of grace so that we can live in God’s promise that we are God’s children, God’s ambassadors of grace to all people.

Only Obey if written on our Hearts

The only way that we at all can obey God’s commandments and statutes is if through the Holy Spirit, they are emblazoned on our hearts, so that we can do no other than follow them.

Change Hearts: God does us right with God

Wednesdays after a soup supper we’ve looked at change of season, change of circumstance, change of habits, and today we look at changing our hearts.

The starting reminder is that this is not possible for us alone; and further that not our habits, nor our words, nor our thoughts, nor even our beliefs put us right with God. We never are right enough with God. God takes us in as Children, as recipients and bearers of Good News, as Ambassadors of Christ, as the voice, the hands, the feet, and the compassionate Grace of Jesus Christ for other people. God does it all, and then we get to respond, because the Holy Spirit equips us to respond.

We can practice responding, bathing ourselves first in reminders that we need the Holy Spirit to work in us, in order that our practice will be any good at all. Then we can set forth, practising all we can; Praying that the Holy Spirit will transform our feeble efforts into the real Grace of Jesus the Christ.

What can we do to change our hearts?

Transplants

Since 1967, when Bernard Christian transplanted the first human heart, we can have surgeons transplant our diseased heart with a new heart. Heart transplant patients report that having one’s heart changed is more than just a physical experience. Something more changes, as another person’s heart gives them life, a person that has met an untimely death. The patient carries on with life, for themselves and in a noticeable small way for the donor of the heart.

What is the heart to us? What exactly are we trying to change?

In many ways the heart is much more than it was thought to be in old Hebrew thought, or even in the thoughts concerning heart, mind and soul in Jesus’ day.

[fill in OT thoughts of heart, Greek thoughts of heart, compared to mind and soul, and compared to today: heart, the seat of emotion. Maybe maybe not?]

In many minds today the heart is the seat of emotion, of passion, of a person’s will. This may not match much of what we know about the physical anatomy of the human body and mind; but it is common in literature and in everyday thought.

Whether our understanding of the heart is accurate or not, this evening’s theme is precisely about more than changing just a physical heart. We are talking about changing that which is the seat of one’s emotions, the center of one’s own will, and the motive center behind one’s thinking and actions.

Nearly Impossible

To change the seat of emotions, the center of one’s will, the motives behind one’s thinking and actions is first off, a very complicated concept.

Secondly it is so much more complicated to accomplish. It is nearly out of the realm of human possibility, but not wholly.

So Many Efforts Miss

A well-heeled congregation decided to do something really good for a poor neighbourhood nearby. After carefully looking through the neighbourhood they found a deserted chunk of land, filled with weeds, stones, even the odd syringe. They decided it would make the perfect neighbourhood playground. They bought the land, brought in good topsoil, sod, and finally playground equipment. Then they headed to a community hall to “hand over” ownership. The community leaders said a very polite thank you, but seemed lacking in enthusiasm.

“What’s wrong?” a congregation member blurted out.

“Well,” said one of the community leaders, “we had plans for that land. We had been saving money and applying for grants with corporate sponsors, invested in getting drawings done and we were about 6 months from startup. It would have had a play area, community gardens and even a basketball court on one end.

“Now we’ll have to let all that go and enjoy the playground.”

But still we can start trying

There are things we can do to change our hearts, to change how we feel about another person, our situation in life, the events that happen around us. While we cannot change our individual emotional responses to events, we can slowly, through diligent practice of habits, change the range of our emotions that we experience. We can over time, encountering pretty much the same kind of events, move ourselves from a sad, downward unengaged emotional response to common enough events, to a hope-filled, engaged, even joy-filled emotional response to the same common events.

It takes lots of time, diligent work, and a motivation that is nearly without limit.

Holy Spirit is writing on our Hearts

And that is when we see that, though we may like to think we can accomplish such a change of heart, the Holy Spirit is required to change our hearts to be those of people to serve Christ and Christ’s people.

On the other hand if we ever would want to change our hearts away from God, then we need to fight off the Holy Spirit first. We need to fight against the Spirit to be able to think we taken even one step distance from God who has promised to be with us for life and beyond.

What we can do, forgive: act as if the other has not sinned against us. Treat them special, even. Give them gifts they really want. Behave that they are precious to us; they become precious, and then we realize, we have actually forgiven them. We’ve moved beyond the emotional load experienced when we remember what they have done to us. We still remember, but it is not an emotional drain. It is more and more like information that does not impact us.

Changing a Heart makes huge differences

In many ways we suffer what happens to our hearts.

But we can choose to set parameters for our hearts. We can choose the universe that our hearts operate in. Other people influence our hearts more than we will ever know.

We can try to fix the world with our privilege, power, and wealth. Or we can use our ears to listen to those in need, our minds to discern what the real issues are, and our hearts to empathize with their plight so that how we act will actually meet the real needs of the people we try to help.

St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential of Christianity’s early thinkers, writers, preachers, and practitioners of faith, did not start out a Christian. Born of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he was denied baptism. He spent his youth as a Manichaean, and according to his own accounts lost himself in pleasures and wanton living. He was befriended by Ambrose, who he met since they both shared exceptional skills as rhetoricians. It was Ambrose’s friendship that deeply effected St. Augustine’s heart. He converted to Christianity, was baptized, and ended his life serving as the Bishop of Hippo in north Africa, where he wrote and preached; and steered the course of Christianity to the faith we recognize today, as well as the Roman empire towards Christianity.

It is the heart that informs and equips us to turn our lives in a different direction, which can either be for ill or for the better. It is our hearts devoted to Christ, thankful for all Christ has done to give us breath and renewed life, which focus us on faith, ideas, words, and actions which can help others experience what we experience from Christ.

Hearts change the course of our lives, and the course of our communities, our churches, our countries, and even the course of human history.

Joyful and blameless; a gift

We trust that God is always with us. We can be blameless and joyful therefore, not because it is our track record, but because Jesus steps in for us and we are reckoned to have Jesus’ blameless track record.

One person, the Christ, was blameless, gifts his to us

Because there was one human who lived and lived entirely blameless before God, the whole of human history is changed, yours and mine, and each of our lives are inexorably changed toward God, toward life, and toward giving everything we have and are in order that others may know God’s grace as well.

Donor of a Heart; call to sacrifice so others may live with great hearts

There is something to being a human heart donor, besides that first one is on the other side of death. It is to give to another the seat of one’s will and passion, the center of one’s life, and to give it to another in order that they may live, and living may have life abundant.

Have a heart. Have a change of heart. Give your heart to living as God calls and equips you to live.

Surrender you heart to the will, passion, and purpose of Jesus Christ.

And live as never before: live the fast that is acceptable to God, the fast that through our sacrifice others receive justice, freedom, food, and homes.

Amen

Joshua, Paul, and the two Sons: Celebrate by Being …

As way of introductory words to explain Beale Street and ‘Justice’:

“Beale Street is a street in New Orleans, where my father, where Louis Armstrong and the jazz were born,” the quote reads in the opening shot of the movie. “Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the back neighborhood of some American city, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York. Beale Street is our legacy. This novel deals with the impossibility and the possibility, the absolute necessity, to give expression to this legacy.

“Beale Street is a loud street. It is left to the reader to discern a meaning in the beating of the drums.” James Baldwin

The actual street named Beale Street is located in Memphis. But there is a Beale Street in every city, in every town, in every rural place where people live. While the book/movies is about the racial realities of black discrimination, the injustice of false convictions run rampant in many places against many minorities. In Canada jails are filed with aboriginal peoples. In Alberta and elsewhere the discrimination has turned from <against women falsely accused by their men and then easily convicted> to <men falsely accused by their women and easily convicted without any real proof>. As were men in decades past, these women are encouraged and free to lie even under oath in court, with the courts also freely lying even in decisions to absolve women of their lies and to falsely convict men of things they have never done, and of things that often their women have done to the men. Our courts are no more just than any, ever. Capital punishment is not a sentence given by the judges; it is a sentence worked out by inmates and guards, and by countless people in the communities -not least the RCMP and Police and workers in the ‘Justice’ system, who may or may not believe the lies and false convictions, and who then, regardless, rob reputation, labour opportunities, and health from these innocent not-criminals.

Since the beginning of time people have lied to get ahead, to destroy others who are in their way, or just for the sport of it.

But the truth is known by God, and all will stand before God’s throne to be judged. While Grace is our hope, our proclamation, and God’s promise; there is also the promise that the oppressor, the unrighteous, the destroyers of others will face their end in God’s Judgment. There will be no witnesses needed, no testimony – false or not. God already knows everything.

We trust that what God judges will be gracious. We trust that those who stand against the truth somehow will be brought to stop.

But God is the judge, not us. not any of us

So we leave Justice in God’s hands, because humans botch it so consistently …

and we proclaim grace

and real hope.

Now for the sermon proper:

Lenten Theme
Isaiah 58
The acceptable fast brings justice, freedom, food and homes to those without
Lessons for this Sunday:
Joshua 5:9-12
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

If Beale Street Could Talk

One wonders how the world would be if indeed the streets could speak of the injustices that God’s people have suffered at the hands of God’s people. If indeed the disgrace of God’s people would be removed. If indeed the effects of all the sins of the people would be erased.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is a movie (adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same title) about a young black man ruined by the in-justice system. A young white man has made unrelenting advances on his fiancée in a store. He stands up for her, drives the white thug off, but not before a dirty cop tries unsuccessfully to arrest the young black man. The dirty copy gets revenge. It is about the dirty justice system whose people make this wonderful, creative, loving young man into an incarcerated black. Everything about this young human being is reduced to one of many young black men jailed and beaten, though innocent.


It’s dark out There

Everything old has passed away. Everything is made new.

This young man, a sculptor, a young father, makes things new out of chunks of wood. Until a dirty cop and a dirty justice system rob him of his everything, until they rob his family, his wife to be and their child, of everything. The dirty ones rob him by accusing him of a terrible, filthy, horrible rape. They disgrace him. They let him be beaten in jail. They terrorize him with delays upon delays and threats upon threats until he breaks and accepts a plea, a guilty plea of an innocent man, and he serves someone else’s time.

It’s quite the image that Joshua gives as the people gather to celebrate the Passover in the Promised Land: in the English we have God “rolls away” their disgrace. The German gives a hint that the Hebrew is more colourful: ‘Heute habe ich die Schande Ägyptens von euch abgewälzt.’. God ‘waltzes away’ the disgrace of the people. Generations ago they were saved but then enslaved, freed but then trapped in the wilderness … until today with Joshua, they stand in the land promised to Abraham, and they eat from the fruit of the land. No more wandering, no more manna. They have come home, and God welcomes them waltzing away in celebration their layers of slavery and disgrace.

God waltzes away our disgrace, our sins, our slavery … and God sets us free.

It may be dark, but the Light comes to find us!

For God made Jesus, who did not sin, to bear all the sins of all the people through time, precisely in order that you and I, in order that all of us, would not only be free. God set us free precisely in order that you and I and all of us would be made into the righteousness of God visible, embodied here and now on this earth.

We stand, cut off, but we stand. We stand surrounded by the hard cold,
but we stand, for God is with us!

Our freedom, our righteousness, in NO WAY is earned by our actions.

Either we are like the younger son, as we claim all sorts of rights and privileges, and all that is due us … and then we squander the precious things God has given us on the oldest vices available to humans who can choose. We can choose because God made us able to love. To love is to be able to choose to love, which means we must be able to choose not to love, which is to choose evil. So we either choose to squander God’s precious gifts to us …

OR

We are like the older son as we serve God with great labours and self-righteousness. We do not squander God’s love, but we comprehend it completely not.

When God wants to celebrate God’s forgiveness, and a lost sinner’s return to life, we get self-righteously angry. We behave as if we somehow owned God’s will. As if we, with our obedience and labours, have earned all that we have, but even more so we own the right to judge other sinners. We’ve allowed ourselves to become so blind to the grace that daily gives us renewed breath. We want to be better than we are, and comparing ourselves to other’s whose sins are more known we think we are somehow good enough. Thus …

We refuse to celebrate with God. We refuse to celebrate with God exactly what we are created to be and do: we are created to proclaim and celebrate that God is gracious, forgiving sins, dancing away disgrace, and feeding us from the produce of the Promised Land.

This is the same old, same old that has hung around the necks and souls of humans since the beginning of time.

Even though, all the time, each and every one of us is like either the younger or the elder son, and sometimes we are like both at the same time … Even so God promises us it is different in the Kingdom of God. It is different now, here and now, in the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Here in the Kingdom of God, all confess that only by Grace do we breathe, or drink, or eat, or work, or celebrate, or love, or hope.

By Grace all our sins, yours and mine and all of ours, are taken up in the person of Jesus Christ, and we are made into God’s righteousness.

We are not pretenders. God makes us not just good, not just sometimes good, not better than others. God makes us into God’s own righteousness.

In that righteousness everything old has indeed passed away. In that righteousness everything is made new. You and I, and each one of us, are made into new creatures. All of creation is made new.

As God’s righteousness you and I and each one of us, really have nothing worth doing other than what Jesus calls us to do, what the Holy Spirit makes us capable of doing. We think, pray, speak and act so that those around us know that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and they are welcomed in just as we are; not because we’ve earned it, not at all. They and we are welcomed in because God wants it that way.

Though we remain sinners all the time, unable to free ourselves, God forgives us each day all our new sins, so that we can forgive ourselves, and so that then we can turn to everyone else and forgive them!

God has made us into Christ’s voice, hands and compassion, so that we will reconcile not only ourselves, but all others, and even the creation so broken … so that we will reconcile all people back to God, so that we will reconcile all creation back to God.

You and I, and each one of us, are God’s ambassadors.

We stand in the promised land, in the Kingdom of God, and we eat of the fruit of this land, the produce of this Kingdom.

The light of God is bright and the hyenas of home are sent scurrying for cover into their own darkness.

We stand, knowing that God is with us and was with us all the way or we would never reach the promised land. We stand and celebrate the return of each lost sinner. For we know that is us, each day. We trust that God will always be with us, as we arrive in the Promised Land anew each day. As we leave our pack of hyenas in the dark and come into the Light of life.

We trust that this Lent our being Christ’s ambassadors, no matter what it costs us, is our Lenten fast, the fast that God finds acceptable, the fast that brings justice, freedom, food and homes to those who most need them. Most of all our fast brings forgiveness and reconciliation to those who need it most: you and me, and each one of us.

If every Beale Street Could Talk, we would hear not only the Black man’s story, or the indigenous man’s story, or the refugee’s story. If everyone’s Beale Street Could Talk, we would hear Jesus’ story and ourselves in it.

This is my Beale Street, the entrance and exit, to my home; Here the Light Shines, especially in the darkness!

….


Here,

in this new creation,

the Light Shines!

One day, the Light of Christ will shine Light on every Beale Street story, and the disgrace will be where it belongs.

And God’s Grace and Justice will prevail …

Amen.

(Which means: this is most certainly true!)

Changing (to good) Habits

Jesus calls us to build our homes on solid foundations, foundations of good habits. So how do we change so that our habits reflect the people God created, redeemed, and sanctified us to be?

First and last remember that any change is practically impossible if we are coerced. Change only really works if we want it ourselves. From there the Holy Spirit equips us to be God’s children, with habits of thoughts, words and actions that reflect God’s love, grace, and promises.

Habits are important. When we were children our parents made sure we learned to wash our hands. Most of us resisted in deviously creative ways before we finally gave in and we learned to wash our hands. As adults we learned just how important habitually washing hands is: it is the number one defence against spreading viruses and deadly infections.

Habits are important. When we habitually respond to similar situations we lay down chemical pathways in our brains. That allows us to reach decisions more quickly. On the downside, habit pathways in our brains can cloud the full reality of what really is going on before us, and that can get us into lots of trouble. On the other hand, if we develop the right habits, those pathways can cloud the threat of evil, which allows us to respond with grace, no matter the situation we face.

Since according to the ways of the world we need to behave to get ahead, we could understand that we need to develop good habits in order to get into the Kingdom of God. In tonight’s reading from the letter to the Galatians, Paul, the first author of Christ’s Grace, says exactly that. Why?

It helps to understand that Paul was originally Saul. Well into adulthood, Saul judged and brutally condemned others. He was the leader at whose feet the crowd placed their robes as they picked up rocks to stone to death Stephen the first Christian martyr. On the road to Damascus Saul was intent on rounding up more Christians to stone them.

God had other plans. By grace and a miracle Saul became Paul, but Saul’s old habit of judging others did not always disappear, even though Paul championed grace as the only means to salvation.

It’s so frustrating to see people waste their lives on unnecessary, destructive sins, sins of choosing pleasure for the self and pain for others. The temptation is to toss out grace, judge other’s sins, and tell them they are going to hell if they do not smarten up. That’s right up there with pride as the most common sin: to judge others. Which is why Jesus often warns us against it.

Co-operating with the work of the Holy Spirit, we can choose to change well worn pathways in our brain, even judging others. By the Holy Spirit we can become reflectors of grace, imbuing health for ourselves and everyone we come into contact with. … Or not. Instead we can go with Paul judging others for their terrible sins, warning them to smarten up and develop good habits or they’re not going to inherit the Kingdom of God.

But as for me and my household, we choose to trust God’s grace, not only for ourselves, but for others as well. We trust that judging other people is a waste of our breath. God welcomes all us sinners into the Kingdom of God. The only question is what we are going to do there. So we try to avoid judging others. But let me tell you about the terrible things I saw people doing the other day …. OK, we try. I didn’t say we always succeed. We work at developing good habits, habits formed, fuelled, and completed by grace.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – those are habits we can choose to develop because the Holy Spirit so equips us. These and other healthy habits of Grace are the rock solid foundation Jesus calls us to build our homes on in the Kingdom of God.

Too often we are led to believe that the Kingdom of God starts after we die and God judges us whether we get to go to heaven. That’s where the Kingdom of God is.

As for me and my household, we hear the words of Jesus saying: the Kingdom of God is at hand now! What we do builds or destroys the Kingdom of God around us. That the Kingdom of God is here, though, is already determined by God.

This Ash Wednesday God’s Word called us to make an acceptable Lenten fast, to hold a fast that is not for our benefit. Rather our fast will bring justice and freedom in the face of injustice and oppression. Through our sacrifice we bring food and homes to those who hunger and are homeless. Our fast reflects Christ’s forgiveness, redemption and love for all who sin.

During the season of Lent we can choose to live already the life of the Kingdom. We can change to be generous and kind, patient and faithful, and hope-filled…

Or not. Either way, God’s mercy abounds. God’s Kingdom is here now. Why would we not want to join in?

What does changing our habits look like? While fasting is about sacrifice, we do not lose ourselves reflecting God’s Grace. As Nelson Mandela said forgiveness is not just altruistic. It is the best form of self interest. Grace makes for a marvellous life.

But how can we change ourselves to practice good habits, and get rid of the old? First, it helps to acknowledge that we will never get rid of our own sin completely. It is destructive to demand others be perfect. It is also self-destructive to expect that we ourselves will be perfect. Instead we trust God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, for ourselves and everyone.

Second, it helps to know that emotions happen to us setting off a chemical event in our brains that last 90 seconds. We can choose to wait 90 seconds before we choose what to do next. We can be free of any emotion, if we want to be.

Third, it always helps to recognize who our Creator is, what goodness our Creator gives us, including the gift that we can wait 90 seconds to choose to respond, not because we need to in order to be acceptable to God. God already accepts us as we are. We choose to wait and respond with good habits, because the Holy Spirit so equips us.

If we find nothing else so poignant, we can start by practising being kind and gracious to everyone we meet. That’s a habit that makes other good habits possible for us to choose and practice. That makes a great foundation for our home in the Kingdom of God, and it makes for a marvellous life, for us and those around us.

Amen

Coffee, Reality, Grace: Breathe and Respond

Find your way, see the Light, No matter what God walks with you through the deep snow or … manure

Lent 3 – 24 March 2019

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

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

Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9 

Sermon

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Coffee and Death

When our children were not yet teenagers they wanted to drink coffee. I told them with humour: If you drink coffee you will die. That was true, but not the whole truth.

The fatality rate for humans is 100%. The only question is when and how each of us will die.

Our children were precocious and figured it out. The second time I told them they’d die if they drank coffee, they responded: Yes, but if we do not drink coffee we will die, too.

Coffee has little if anything to do with it. Everyone is a sinner, all of us deserve to die, all of us will die.

Because God …, Therefore we can ….

This is the background to each of the texts, which if forgotten, leaves us reading as if God’s reality for us were something different than because God claims us, therefore we can live and respond.

Isaiah writes: listen that you may live.

This is not listen or else you will die. You will die anyway. Rather Isaiah calls to us: listen while you still can to God’s Word that proclaims that God makes it possible for us to live abundantly and boldly:

Because God is gracious, even if and when we fail miserably,

Therefore we can live boldly and abundantly.

Paul writes that we should learn from the examples of those who died in the wilderness during the exodus: We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and they were destroyed by the serpent.

This is not Paul telling us that if we put Christ to the test, then we will die. It is Paul having told us first that we are saved by grace, no matter what we cannot earn it. And as God’s children we can learn to not put Christ to the test. Because putting Christ to the test takes the life right out of us. We will die, whether we put Christ to the test or not, but if we avoid putting Christ to the test, we will live more as Christ calls us to live.

And what is the context of Paul’s admonishments? We will all be tested. Paul’s readers in Corinth were being tested, so much so that they felt overwhelmed. Paul reminds them that because God has claimed them God also gives them the ability to endure any testing that comes their way; therefore they do not need to live in fear, or be overwhelmed. They can endure. They can live like children of God.

In the Gospel from Luke, Jesus answers the question brought to him about those who suffer Pilate’s cruelty: they are not worse sinners than any others. Do not repent and you will perish as they did. Repent, and you will perish in some other way. It’s like coffee. Except that by repenting we can live more boldly and more abundantly. We can be the people that Christ calls us to be, so that others will see God’s grace for them in our sacrifices to bring justice, freedom, food and homes to those without.

The story of the fig tree that does not produce fruit is not a threat that we will be cut down. Someday, no matter what, we will be removed from the garden. We are here in God’s garden to produce fruit. Yet, whether we produce fruit or not, only by grace do we continue to live, ‘one more year’; and we live only ‘one more year’ at a time, or more accurately, only one day at a time, minute by minute.

Life on our own

This is the reality of life lived on our own. We broken humans on our own make life cruel, short and brutish for ourselves and others. Our faith is tested, our endurance tested, our will to be gracious is tested; often we are tested beyond our own limits. Evil is suffered by everyone. And everyone perpetrates evil, for themselves and for others.

One only need listen to the news to hear the same old stories told over and over again, different times, places and characters, but the same scripts: worshippers are gunned down in Christchurch. Flood waters and mudslides cover villages people and all. Tsunamis set off by earthquakes wipe shorelines clear of all life and buildings for miles inland. Millions face death by starvation even though there is enough food for everyone. People continue to die from diseases that are curable. Intentional international chaos of many kinds causes thousands and millions passed, current and future deaths; the chaos is created to cover the decimation of the earth leaving it barely inhabitable for future generations. All this is done to secure profits and power for a few trillionaires, a few multinational corporations, and a few unknown power brokers and wielders.

Left to our own devices the only good news for us humans is that everyone will die eventually; for this evil cannot be endured for ever.

God does not leave us on our own

Today’s readings, though, remind us again in so many ways that God does not leave us to our own devices, not at all. God’s thoughts and ways are so high above our thoughts and ways. While we charge and convict one another of great evils, God abundantly pardons. God calls us as we thirst and hunger, to come, to drink and eat our fill of good food, delightful food, to buy wine and milk without money or price.

Paul assures us there is no test beyond our endurance. The Holy Spirit equips us to meet every challenge, so that we may respond with grace. Jesus talks about the manure thrown on us through or lives. Is that not a nice translation. We know the more accurate, evocative translation. Jesus reminds us that the manure of life is nourishment for our souls.

God asks of us

What does God ask of us in return for life, life with God at our side?God asks that we honour the goodness of Creator and Creation.

God asks that we seek the Lord while he may be found, while he is close while we still have ‘one more year’.

God asks that inclining our ears to God, we turn from wickedness and unrighteous thoughts, that we trust God’s faithfulness.

God asks that we understand the manure of life as nourishment for our souls. Having had plenty of manure dumped on us and dug in around us, having been soaked in the drowning waters of baptism, and after days and months of being drenched in the bright light of Christ God asks that we produce fruit that reflects God’s ways of astounding faithfulness, sacrifice, mercy, love and free renewal for everyone regardless of supposed merit.

God asks that we learn from examples of our fore-bearers.

God asks that we give witness of God’s Grace to nations we do not know.

This is our Lenten fast of sacrifice, that we fast and sacrifice in order that injustice will be stopped, that the yoke of oppression be broken, that our bread will give life to those that are hungry, and our homes become the home for those who are homeless, that our country become the country for those who have no safe country.

It may not seem that we accomplish much. Sometimes that is truer than we can tolerate.

For example after Christchurch New Zealand passed a law making illegal many of the rapid fire, multi shot guns. Farmers and others turned in their weapons. One farmer said it well: it was a convenience, but that convenience was not worth allowing mass shootings to be so easily arranged.

As faithful people, as Children of God, most often our efforts net only small starts at rectifying injustices. We breathe, we take steps, we struggle forward. It’s never really enough, but we keep working one small step forward at a time.

Because God is faithful, Therefore we remain faithful.

Breathe Gracefully, while We can

We all breathe air, take up space, in order to produce fruit for God, to do God’s will, to be Christ’s presence of humble compassion and care, Christ’s hands of poignant purpose and clear justice, and Christ’s voice of brilliant light and hope.

We, each and every one of us, mature because of the manure of life. There is plenty manure for each and every one of us. There is more injustice than is comprehensible, so much cruelty that is beyond imagination, and a plethora of ignorance and apathy that is unfathomably astounding. We all live through the tests of life and grow strong, or we die trying.

If you think you have no testing, no manure as nourishment for your soul, then you are asleep at the wheel; you are wasting air.

It is through the tests of life that we come to know God’s power to overcome evil with goodness, vengeance with forgiveness, hate with love, and chaos with grace leading to hope.

If we drink coffee … well we know how that goes. The question is: how do we choose to live while we still have breath?

God offers us grace, so that we may gracefully offer life abundant to everyone.

Amen

Lent 3 – Coffee, as Life

This is a rough outline of a sermon I may yet get written. Lots on the go.

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

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

Isaiah 55:1-9 

Psalm 63:1-8 

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 

Luke 13:1-9 

Outline

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Intro:

when our children were young they asked for coffee:

I told them with humour: If you drink coffee you will die.

Truth it was, truth it was not because it was incomplete.

The fatality rate for humans is 100%, the only question is when and how each of us will die.

Our children were precocious and figured it out. The second time I told them they’d die if they drank coffee, they responded: If we do not drink coffee we will die, too.

Coffee has nothing, or at least very little, to do with it. Everyone is a sinner, all deserve to die, all will die.

This is the background to each of the texts, which if forgotten, leaves us reading as if God’s reality for us were something different than

Because God claims us, Therefore we can live and respond

Isaiah writes: listen that you may live.

This is not listen or else you will die. You will die anyway. Rather Isaiah calls to us: listen to God’s Word that proclaims that God makes it possible for us to live abundantly and boldly:

Because God is gracious, even if and when we fail miserably,

Therefore we can live boldly and abundantly.

Paul writes that we should learn from the examples of those who died in the wilderness: We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and they were destroyed by the serpent.

This is not Paul telling us that if we put Christ to the test, then we will die. It is Paul telling us first that we are saved by grace, no matter what we cannot earn it. And as God’s children we do can learn to not put Christ to the test. Because putting Christ to the test takes the life right out of us. We will die, whether we put Christ to the test or not, but if we avoid putting Christ to the test, we will live more as Christ calls us to live.

And what is the context of Paul’s admonishments? We will all be tested. Paul’s readers in Corinth were being tested, even so that they often felt overwhelmed. But because God had claimed them, and because God gave them the ability to endure any testing that came their way, therefore they do not need to live in fear, or be overwhelmed by the testing of the present day. They can endure. They can continue to behave like children of God.

In the Gospel from Luke, Jesus answers the question brought to him about those who suffer terribly: they are not worse sinners than any others. Do not repent and you will perish as they did. Repent, and you will perish in some other way. It’s like coffee. Except that by repenting we can live more boldly and more abundantly. We can be the people that Christ calls us to be, so that others will see God’s grace for them in our sacrifices to bring justice, freedom, food and homes to those without.

No matter what we do, only by grace do we continue to live, ‘one more year’

One: This is real Life

cruel short brutish

testing, to our limits of endurance

evil suffered.

Evil perpetrated.

all will die.

Eg: shooting in Christchurch, deaths by flood, by tsunami,

death by completely avoidable starvation, completely avoidable illnesses,

passed, current and future deaths caused by intentional chaos to cover decimation of the earth leaving it barely inhabitable for future generations, all done to secure profit and power for a few trillionaires, a few multinational corporations, a few unknown power brokers and wielders.

Two: This is God’s Reality

God’s Work, Word, Purpose, Hope for life

God’s thoughts and ways so high above our thoughts and ways,

God abundantly pardons

God calls us thirsting and hungering to come, to drink and eat our fill of good food, delightful food

to buy wine and milk without money or price

Christ assures us there is no test beyond our endurance

Three: This is what God asks of us

that we honour the goodness of Creator and Creation

seek the Lord while he may be found, while he is close

while we still have ‘one more year’

that inclining our ears to God, we turn from wickedness and unrighteous thoughts

that we trust God’s faithfulness

that we understand the manure of life as nourishment for our souls

that we produce fruit: made possible by manure of evil, soaking and drowning waters of baptism, bright light of Christ (God’s ways of astounding faithfulness, sacrifice, mercy, love and renewal)

that we learn from examples of our fore-bearers

that we be witnesses of God’s Grace to nations we do not know

This is our Lenten fast of sacrifice, that we fast and sacrifice in order that injustice will be stopped, that the yoke of oppression be broken, that our bread will give life to those that are hungry, and our homes become the home for those who are homeless, that our country become the country for those who have no safe country.

Eg

NZ: taking rapid, multi shot guns off the market, turned in by farmers and others for who they were conveniences, but not worth the price of allowing such easy access to make mass shootings easy to arrange.

A small start on the injustice rectifying.

We breathe, we take steps, we struggle forward,

It’s never really enough, but we keep working forward, one small step at a time

Because:

God is faithful

Therefore:

we remain faithful

Conclusion:

We all breathe air, take up space, in order to produce fruit for God, to do God’s will, to be Christ’s presence of humble compassion and care, Christ’s hands of poignant purpose and clear justice, and Christ’s voice of brilliant light and hope.

We, each and every one of us, mature through the manure of life. There is plenty manure for each and every one of us. There is more injustice than is comprehensible, so much cruelty that is beyond imagination, and a plethora ignorance and apathy that is more than astounding.

Everyone lives through it, or dies from it.

If you think you have no testing, no manure as nourishment for your soul, then you are asleep at the wheel; a waste of air.

It is through the tests of life that we come to know God’s power to overcome evil with goodness, vengeance with forgiveness, hate with love, and chaos with grace leading to hope.

Amen

Lent 2, March 17, Citizens

Paul:

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

Acceptable Fast

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

Christchurch

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

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

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

Lawyer: Contract Terms

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

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

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

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

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

OT – God makes covenant

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

Baptism Covenant

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

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

Spring Change as Chronos Time

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

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

God’s Time

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

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

Ab & Sarah Mess Up

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

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

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

Jesus to Jerusalem

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

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

The Way, The Journey

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

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

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

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

Marriage Counselling vs Fitness

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

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

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

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

CoG Fitness

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

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

God gives blessings for the journey that we make together.

Interim ministry: Practice is the Way

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

About Time

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

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

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

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

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

Sending

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

We are citizens of heaven.

Amen

Lent: A Fast for Justice – Seeing God

2019 Mar 15

See Reality, See Our Creator

The light of life, the light of Christ.

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

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

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

What is the acceptable fast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The light of beauty.

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

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

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

Fortunately there are locations where this all works:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Light Undoubtedly Breaking In With Blessings

God blesses us that we may be blessings to others.

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

Remember God’s promises.

Remember the victims in Christchurch.

Remember without fear.

Live well, that terror have no place among us.