Our Hearts

Sermon for 20 January 2019

Miracle or preparations

Qualified to Sleep through the night

A farm owner woke to the sounds of a terrible storm,

Running out to get the hired hand up to help him ‘batten down the hatches’

the hired hand refused to wake up to help.

So alone the farmer ran to the gate to tie it closed so the animals could not escape, because the wind could easily blow it open.

The gate was firmly shut, so that no wind could budge it.

He ran to the far side of the barn with a tarp, where loose shingles would be caught by the wind, more would come off and the insides would be sopping wet from the heavy rain that started.

There were no loose shingles.

Around he ran, to fix every known problem and inspect for new ones, but everything was fixed and secured against the storm.

The farmer thought it was a miracle, and went back to bed,

where as he fell back asleep to the pounding rain and wind, he remembered that he decided firmly not to hire this man even though he was the sole man available. This man had said his qualifications were simple: he could sleep through the night.

It was a miracle, because the farmer had gone back and hired this man, who could sleep through the night.

[Include your own stories of miracles, where you changed your heart, mind, and strength.]

Surviving Bitter Cold,

The other morning I woke to -33°C (-27°F).

The propane furnace had long since quit, it was -4°C inside, the generator was too cold to fire up, and the truck would not even turn over. There was a propane bottle heater, but it’s propane was too cold to flow.

So I put the propane bottle in the wood heated shelter to warm it up, put an old insulated tarp over the warmed up heater next to the generator and propped it high enough to light the propane heater without melting the tarp.

And I sat to have breakfast with fresh coffee, made from water boiling all night on the wood stove.

The generator then cooperated nicely, the block heater was plugged in, the battery charger set to the truck battery, and after doing dishes with hot water from the wood stove, I set the charger to 55 amp start mode and the truck fired up. I was only a few minutes late for my appointment. As I was away, the wood heat was blown to warm everywhere nicely including under the skirt to the propane tanks by electric fans powered by the generator. When I returned the furnace fired up nicely and at -25 outside with an overnight low again of -33 I was toasty warm.

It was a miracle, because I had firmly decided I could never get wood heat. It simply was not possible. But I had a change of heart, and after contributions from far and wide, lots of work, and a month or so, there was a wood stove. Otherwise I’d still be cold, maybe like a permanent popsicle.

Jesus’ first miracle

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ first miracle, the wine at the wedding in Cana. There is more at stake than we may realize at first reading. To run out of wine was a loss of face for the groom’s family, and everyone there. They, friends and family, were expected to bring enough food and drink, potluck style, to help provide for everyone. Having no wine is not like it would be for us. There and then the water was known to be unsafe to drink. At gatherings and celebrations one served wine, which was safe. Having nothing to drink meant the guests had to chose between getting sick with dehydration, or from the water.

At stake for Jesus, as he tells his mother, it is not the right time to demonstrate to people what he can do.

Miracles

When it comes to miracles by God traditionally we’ve said and sometimes/some of us have believed that miracles are God stepping into our universe, breaking the laws we know and getting results we cannot get, good results. Miracles are God’s inexplicable intervention in our universe.

Other people, or sometimes us but only secretly, we’ve said that miracles simply do not happen. There is always an explanation for how things happened, we just do not know enough, so we call them miracles. But miracles are really Nonexistent

I’ve always believed God can inexplicably intervene, and make things happen that simply cannot. God does this very, very rarely. I’ve never liked the traditional message of what a miracle is, that God can miraculously fix everything, because then either God is really cruel because not everything is fixed (and it is unconscionable that somethings are not fixed!) Or we are really incompetent or hard-hearted because if we only prayed more fervently, people would not be suffering and dying, as we speak.

I have believed for a long time that there is a better explanation for miracles that is more powerful, poignant, realistic, hope-filled and hope-giving.

Wine at Cana

Traditionally Inexplicably

Traditionally this is Jesus’ first miracle. He turns water inexplicably into wine.

Work natural, just unknown

Practical explanations have existed. The one I always thought hokey was that the jars had a strong wine, a port, in them. Add water and you get wine.

Instant tang had just come on to the market, so this was ‘instant wine’. Really there was no miracle.
Sorry it’s not any port in a storm.

Explicable and …

Say and believe what you will but as for me: I believe that this is God’s universe, and God can do whatever and does … rarely even things inexplicably miracles. I just still do not believe the ‘instant wine’ denial of miracles (and of God’s being with us.)

I also know God created us intelligent, resourceful, gracious, kind, loving … and greedy, conniving, and deceitful.

I like the following account best of all because the miracle is something we all can and do ‘bank’ on every day. The text allows that there was enough wine, but someone had secreted away (stolen) the best of the wine. The servants are in the know, either as the doers, participants or as the knowers-of-many-secrets. When Jesus instructs them to fill the big jars with water, they decide to correct the wrong, they retrieve the stolen wine, and, as if it were water, pour it into the jars. The wine brought as a gift for the celebration is once again available.

The loss of face for the groom’s family and for all their guests is avoided. The ill health of all the guests is not in the works, and Jesus gets credit as credit is due: he is God’s son, who knows what the servants know, and knows how to help everyone put things right in God’s creation. All is well.

The miracle: Jesus changes hearts, at least of the servants, and perhaps of the thieves.

Good faith

Real difference is what it means to us.

If Miracles are God just doing the magically inexplicable, then everything that goes wrong could just as well be fixed, but God does not! Why does God not just fix everything!?

With that question begins the slippery slope to full-out doubt and disbelief.

When Jesus’ miracles have a simpler, very possible, explanation that Jesus changes people’s hearts to get them to do something different or new: then we have a real life-giving story.

When we face each real difficult challenge in our lives, we could just sit on our hands praying that God would do the inexplicable and fix this for us.

On the other hand, if Jesus’ miracle is that he changes hearts to get us to do things we might not have otherwise, then …

Well, every situation becomes Christ calling us and the Holy Spirit equipping us, and all people around us, to give our best, including giving a profound sense of hope that God is working a miracle through our hearts and hands to give other people a good life and solid grounds for hope.

As for me, I like a world, a world of faith, where in God makes good use of us creatures of God, in order to bring about for us and others what God has promised us and wants for us.

As for me, I like a world, a world of faith, where the common wisdom makes sense; namely that what happens to us is not so important as what we choose to do. Only 10% of life is what happens to us; the other 90% is how we respond..

That makes a real difference in the world we live in

[add your own stories that need a change of heart to turn out well for all]

Court

I’ve seen more darkness in court than one should ever see, and I rightfully yearn for Justice based on truth, not games and politics and bias’ used to force falsehoods to be facts.

That darkness will not change on it’s own; it requires a change of hearts, many hearts, in many places.

Starvation and World Population

While we’ve read/heard this sermon millions of people are starving and many of them have died. Ending hunger is not impossible. We have enough food and the means to distribute it, if we really wanted to. But it, like homelessness and poverty, avoidable diseases and unemployment can only be curbed and ended if many, many hearts change.

Isaiah & Global Warming

A prophet like Isaiah could well tell us that we have it real well, now, but our doom is coming, for we have ignored God’s Word. We have pretended that we can burn fossil fuels to provide luxurious life for some, but not others, all without paying the piper. Global climate change has well started. Extreme weather of the past is now already the norm, and the new extremes are wiping out populations. The ice melt coming will flood the coasts and our most populated cities will be uninhabitable.

If we had ended poverty in the early 80’s when the world’s population was only 4.5 billion, since we know people caught in poverty have many more children, we might not be taxing the limits of the environment to sustain our destructive ways. But now with 7.4 billion people we cannot stop ourselves it seems, not without a colossal portion of those 7.4 billion hearts changing … before it’s too late.

One way or another, the earth will reduce our population, but it may be too late for species human.

Paul: Tongues and Interpretation

Paul writes to the Corinthians. Their gifts are amazing, among them speaking in tongues and interpretation of what’s said. Paul recognizes this gift. But he puts it towards the bottom of the list.

Just speaking in tongues and interpreting it to have an answer for challenges in life is wonderful, but used too often, it’s just an easy out, too easy. It’s led to terrible divisions in the congregation. Wealthy people come with lots of food to the Eucharist, others have none. Everyone gets bread and wine. But only the wealthy eat. People caught in poverty are called lazy and held responsible: bring your own food or go hungry.

The community needs to see itself as servants of Christ, bringing grace and life to all around. They do not need an interpretation of someone speaking in tongues. They need a change of many hearts.

The 2nd Bitter Cold Night

That 2nd night of -33°C I was toasty warm. So were the walls around the wood stove. They were melted halfway through in the morning. The fan had blown the hot hot air against them and melted them away.

The real miracle is that the 2nd morning I was given an old, large insulated heating duct, big enough to be turned inside out to serve as a much needed heat protector for the walls.

Now … let’s hope that all that hard work until 3 in the morning to install the heat shield is sufficient. My heart is ready for a rest, if the preparations are sufficient to allow heat in the coldest time, sufficient to keep me warm, but not so intense so as to melt the walls, that otherwise protect me from the bitter cold.

We wait

Today we wait for a miracle, but we do not wait for God to intervene as if by magic to make everything right for us.

We wait for the real work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. We wait for the miracle of our hearts changing. We wait for the real work of grace that starts by changing our hearts, minds and strength. We pray that we also will turn our ways to God’s will for all.

Amen

Our Hearts: bitter cold or miracle makers?

Outline for sermon for 2019 January 20

Jesus at the Wedding in Cana; water or wine, which? Both.

Sunset – Smoke signs of small miracles for us all.

John 2-1-11, Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36: [1-4] 5-10 [11-end], 1Cor 12:1-11 

  1. Last Night was Cold, Bitter Cold, -33°C (-27.4°F)
    1. I wake to a propane furnace will not fire, no generator running, almost out of battery power
    2. Wood heat possible, with wood stashed long ago, newly finished wood-stove shelter and connector to the camper.
    3. So I
      • Pull out the propane heater, warm up the tank in the wood heat shelter
      • Build an ad hoc shelter in which to heat the generator (insulated tarp)
      • Protect tarp with wood holding it to the sides and 6 feet over heat
      • 20 minutes make coffee from water on wood stove
      • Start gen after 10 pulls a pop, then three more, fire, c02 filled, scramble with tarp to get to fresh air
      • Plug in block heater, hook up battery charger,
      • Eat breakfast and drink coffee
      • Set charger to 55 amp starter, and start the borrowed vehicle
      • Off ten minutes late to a meeting
    4. Almost every safety back up came in to play, one stupid mistake: turning the generator off at midnight to sleep the night before.
    5. All the carefully planned and executed plans and preparations pay off: I’m safe,
    6. Best latest addition makes the best difference: wood heat that warms to 50° C, provides
      • A place to warm up even before it was completely setup and connected to the camper,
      • A place to warm up propane tank,
      • A place to warm up waiting for the generator to warm, and the vehicle to warm up.
      • A warm place to come home to even at -33°C
    7. Tonight is forecast to be colder: leave the generator on all night, simplify it a bit.
    8. Tomorrow, more wood cut.
  2. I can sleep through the night, story of the farm hand’s qualifications: he could sleep through the night. Storm, owner panics, hired hand sleeps on. Farmer finds everything already secured against the possible storm. The qualification was the most important: he got things prepared for the worst, and enjoyed the best and most important; a good night’s sleep.
  3. Miracle:
    1. Jesus’ first miracle: water into wine
      • Who is Jesus? He’s a miracle doer, as God’s son
    2. Dynamics: loss of face, community support, health necessity, water not safe to drink.
    3. Everyone there is looking poorly, not just the hosts
  4. Miracles:
    1. Some people like to say it’s all just God’s ‘magic’, or God inexplicably entering the universe and superseding all the laws of reality to make something inexplicable to happen.
    2. Others say miracles do not happen, no matter what the story-line is.
    3. There’s a third possibility, one I’ve embraced for quite some time.
      • Inexplicable is possible for God, but hugely rare, and there is not really much for us in it. Only one time-event-place fixes.
      • Jesus’ miracles are much more meaningful, much more difficult to pull off, and so much more hope-giving.
  5. Miracles: explicable
    1. Take the bringing wine to the wedding feast in Cana.
    2. Inexplicably, traditionally we’ve seen that Jesus, through the work of the servants who pour water into 6 jars set aside for the purification rights, makes the water chemically transform into some very good wine. Every good vintner can tell you the science of making a good wine is more an art; it’s complicated and to master it is a goal to strive towards rather than a destination one arrives at.
    3. There has been another interpretation, not in contradiction with the texts: There was something like real strong port in the jars so that adding water diluted it into good wine.
      • A little stretch that there is something like ‘instant wine’, just add water; but it is an effort to explain that Jesus just made the obvious happen, though it was not obvious to his on-lookers.
    4. There is a better miracle explanation: namely that the servants had stolen (or helped someone steal, or knew that someone had stolen) the best wine from all the gifts that evening.
    5. When Jesus directs them to fill the jars, he gives them a way to make it right.
      • The best wine is available for the wedding guests;
      • No health risk or embarrassment for the hosts or the guests.
        • As guests, they were supposed to bring enough food and wine so that this did not happen.
      • Water was not safe to consume, food was perhaps a bit off often enough, so a wine, a weak wine was needed to give all the guests something to drink, not to be dehydrated through the whole celebration.
      • What Jesus knows is that the servants know where to go to get the good wine that is taken from the celebration, which belongs to the celebration.
      • They do. They correct the wrong, and everyone saves face.
      • And Jesus’ power and authority are manifest in that he knows how to provide for the occasion so that a past wrong is corrected before it becomes so much worse.
    6. The miracle that Jesus performs is that he changes hearts, which is the most difficult miracle of all. Work contradictory to the laws of nature, well that’s simple; it’s magic, no real work done, just wave your wand or speak a word.
  6. Real difference is what it means to us.
    1. If God just works the inexplicable, then everything that goes wrong could just as well be fixed, but God does not; SO Why does God not just fix everything!? (Real theological and hope problem there.)
    2. And with that question begins the slippery slope to full-out doubt and disbelief.
    3. When Jesus’ miracles have a simpler, very possible explanation that Jesus changes people’s hearts to get them to do something different or new; then we have a real challenge: given each real difficult challenge in our lives, we could face the challenge sitting on our hands and praying that God will do the inexplicable and fix this for us.
    4. But if Jesus’ miracle is that he changes hearts to get us to do things we might not have otherwise, then …
    5. Well, every situation can become a challenge that calls us, and all around us, to give our best, including a profound sense of hope that God is working a miracle through our hearts and hands to give other people real grounds for hope.
  7. As for me, I like a world, a world of faith, where in God makes good use of us creatures of God, in order to bring about, for us and others, what God has promised us and wants for us.
  8. As for me, I like a world, a world of faith, where good common wisdom makes sense; namely that what happens to one is not so important as what we choose to do. 90% of life is how we respond, the other 10% is what happens to us.
  9. Consider some life challenges; with inexplicable miracles, we can do nothing but wait for God to act and make things different and better for us. If Jesus’ miracles are that he changes hearts and gets people to act as they would not have otherwise. Then we can get about working to make things better … starting with our own hearts, minds and souls.
  10. Court: I, as much if not more than most, want a real justice based on real truths to be possible.
    1. Choose: Wait or work.
    2. Much more hopeful being able to work, knowing if we do not do it perfectly, God will make it good enough.
  11. Every minute people around the world are starving, literally to death.
    1. If God works miracles inexplicably, then we need to pray that starvation not happen or go away. But since it persisted for the last … well since recorded history. What kind of hope is it to think that God is going to change now, so that what people have prayed for since beginning of time will somehow get fixed. That’s just arrogant hubris.
    2. But if God changes our hearts so that we can learn new things and do new things to help people to not starve, then there is real hope in that.
  12. A Prophet like Isaiah would tell us (who live in the greatest luxury the world has ever provided so many people:) pay attention: what you’ve chosen to do with oil and energy and food production has had consequences: lost family farms, lost environment as farmers chemicalize greater and greater production, global warming brings yesterday’s extreme weather to be today’s normal, and the new extreme to be deadly for so many, the ice melt will flood the coasts. The earth will have less people on it, one way or another.
    1. But if we had not waited for a miracle 40 years ago, an inexplicable action of God, to solve the population explosion,
    2. If we’d had a change of heart (that would have been a miracle of Jesus) and decided to end poverty (since poor people always have had more children as future security) world population could have stayed at 4.5 billion instead of the 7.5 billion of today.
  13. In Corinthians Paul speaks to the congregation about their gifts: the miracle-make-it-happen-gift of speaking in tongues and interpretation is not denied reality, but it they are not the most important gifts:
    1. Also for them Christ calls them through Paul, to wake up and be the ones who make justice happen for all:
    2. All people should share equally in the food of the feasts, not just the wealthy get to eat well.
    3. And the gifts, all from Christ, are not drowned out by speaking in tongues, or it’s interpretation: God calls them to not forget that God works miracles through them: ending hunger, homelessness, poverty are all going to take miracles; and that miracle is not someone speaking in tongues so that God does something inexplicable.
    4. Rather these scourges on the face of humanity will end when enough people have a change of heart. That’s the real miracle.
  14. The great praise of God in the Psalm fits well in our lives, not on its own as if, miraculously all were right in the world and our faith in God suddenly became perfect.
    1. The Psalm is actually very real:
    2. The verses before our selection are a lamentation for how much humans have messed things up.
    3. Then come the change: the hearts giving God praise for helping them end the time of lamentation.
    4. After these verses of praise, then the people return to lamentations, begging for God’s protection from their enemies.
    5. This is the real rhythm of us people of faith: we are simultaneously saints and sinners;
    6. We may get things sort of right, but there is always the next challenge, the next sin (or rather billions of sins) committed each minute; the consequences which we all suffer.
    7. Our salvation is that God comes to work miracles in us.
      • God changes our hearts
        • And we no longer wish to protect ourselves
        • We are interested in protecting everyone, equally
        • We are interested in ending homelessness, best strides ever have been taken by people who know the greatest miracle is a changed heart.
        • We are interested in ending hunger. Because it always comes around to us. And it’s is something we can solve: there is enough food, its distribution that is controlled and provided unequally to the wealthy (us) over the poor (others) until we become the poor and the poor become wealthy enough to have enough good food.
  15. Today we wait for a miracle: and we know that it will start with us, our hearts, minds and strength, turned once again to God’s will for all.

Baptism of Our LOrd

Sermon notes? outline? sketch? yes that’s it, a sketch.

For the best read, take in the next blog post first, then this one.

Quick sermon outline for Baptism of Our Lord 13 Jan 2019

John is wild and calls for the chaff to be burned up.

Jesus will come to judge, and purify.

We need all that.

But Christ comes and graciously gives us life.

Where’s the hellfire and brimstone in that?!

Well…

Given free choice so that we can love

we can also choose ( and continually do) to hate, or to be deceptive and dishonest, disloyal, or even just plain BAD. Call that EVIL.

If we have choice, we will somehow, sometime still choose against love, against God, against living well.

God wants us to love, so we all get to put up with Evil, and suffer it too.

But

When

Jesus

comes

and

judges us!

Well then all that which brings us to sin and turn from God, to turn from loving our neighbour as ourselves and our enemies , and our God with all our heart mind and soul, then and only then Jesus will remove that from us …

But

it

is

not

going

to

be

feeling good.

That’s having the dross burned right out of ya.

And it is like having the chaff burned up in one big hot fire.

It will not be fun,

But it is what we most need, and we are going to get it!

To we are baptized, in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always trinitarian, or it is not a complete baptism.

The water drowns out the sinfulness, and yet it remains as potential, inevitable potential, so that we can choose love.

The oil prepares us for God’s presence in us.

The sign of the Cross prepares us for sacrifice, even of our lives, so that others will know Grace upon Grace and God’s love, Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s wild ride down the white water of life with wind, flame, breath, and beauty all everywhere.

Then for the rest of our lives we anticipate the life eternal, in the resurrection with Christ.

There

Freedom promised comes to be, after the dross is burned right out of us, so that we can enter Christ’s freedom in eternity.

This we look forward to.

But we do it, well … we do everything we do, as one of a crowd of witnesses, a crowd of saints, all in light,

specular light, diffused and reflected into beautiful images of God, as we are made.

It may be cold out there in that cruel world of dishonesty, deception and scapegoating,

but in here, where the natural fuels are burned,

the fuel of urgency until in God’s time there is patience,

the fuel of hurt (could become anger) until forgiveness flows freely like milk with ginger snap cookies,

the fuel of pride (that discounts others) until gratefulness abounds at each breath though one has nothing left,

These fuels are burned and burned well, until

in this mind, heart and soul

its as toasty comfortably warm as a great wood stove on a cold winter’s day.

Which it is that, too.

Stepping Out Not Alone

Sometimes it is easy to feel one is left alone, bracing oneself for what will come, expecting (as the past had provided) nothing good.

One leans as far as one can into the wind, treacherously close to losing one’s footing and disappearing into the abyss.

If we could only get a truer perspective, that we are hardly alone. Of course we’ve known that all along, but we’ve wanted to step out and do something more than just hide in the crowd.

That’s so boring.

It makes one a little green

in the middle

of a lot of other green.

and never quite enough green to be completely independent. **

One is like all the rest of the world, only able to thrive and live well if one realizes that one is interdependent; one of many living in concert or at war, but living with many others and connected in too many ways.

There is much to encounter out there. Best to take it on, along with your own kind.

At least one can be kind.

For reference: kind is the best thing to be as a spouse, if one cannot be God.*

Independence is a myth, as destructive for people to pursue as dependence.

Interdependence is life; good or bad, we are interdependent.

So be at least kind.

* of course no one can be God. The original sin was to think and act as if one could. It is now the common sin, and not so original any more.

Quick Sermon Outline fits with this: see next Blog [above].

[** a few Canadians have missed: to Unitedstatesians green is the colour of money, as well the colour of trees, life, growth … all that intended.]

Epiphany: True Light, Real Darkness

Today we could sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

Today on Epiphany we celebrate that Christ is made manifest. Isaiah calls to us, “Arise and shine for your light has come!” and later he adds “Rejoice!”

The magi rejoice at finding Jesus, for whom they have waited generations to find. The Gentiles of Ephesus are over joyed, for salvation is not just for Jews; it is for them (and everyone) as well. The listeners to Isaiah are called to be full of joy for the light of God has shone on them.

But does the Light of Christ made manifest bring us light, or just make our darkness more obvious? Because the darkness is still with us, more than 2000 years after Christ. Because, though we are a congregation of faithful Lutherans, our future is not a given. Because, while we could celebrate and be joyful, there are millions on earth whose lives are at risk, even as I preach this sermon. The reality is our choices have put many of those people at risk. More than just a few have died since I started the sermon, and many more will die before I finish.

Rejoice? Really?

Fruitcake is made of things that I do not like, but mixed together I think it’s a great holiday treat. It is so wonderful and rich, especially if you soak it in rum (which I cannot stand on its own either) that it’s too easy to get too much of it.

How can the people in today’s lessons be overjoyed for there are also things in their fruitcake, so to speak, that hardly allow for any celebration. The magi tip off crazy Herod, and though they and Jesus escape, warned to safety by dreams, Herod will slaughter hundreds of children trying to protect his power.

The Ephesians are welcomed at the table to become followers of Christ, but in their day Christians were hunted and killed by the empire and the religious authorities alike.

While Isaiah calls the people to recognize the light shining on them, there are no obvious reasons to be joyful. Returned from exile, life back home is tougher than they could imagine. They are set in conflicts against their own people with little resolution in sight. It takes centuries before Jesus is born, and it takes until May 14th 1948 before the Jews have a homeland. Even so, they have been at war ever since, with neighbours and enemies who wish them all dead.

Forget that the fruitcake has things in it we may not like. The call to rejoice is made in the midst of some very rotten eggs being thrown into the batter, and it is much worse than just a few rotten eggs.

Now I want to be joyful. I’m sure you do, too. With all our heart, soul, and mind we want to be joyful. But I am not going to eat rotten fruitcake and say it tastes good. I don’t want to be full of joy and have to ignore the real darkness all around.

I recently added a safety margin to my existence: wood heat. Fire is powerful. The refurbished freshly painted wood stove provides heat, and how!

With care I test fired the stove with a decidedly small load. I wanted to avoid explosive possibilities as the smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible at over 2000 degrees.

Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. Fully stoked with vents wide open the furnace could probably melt itself to the ground.

Days after the furnace was in use, in the relative comfort of a condo, I relaxed with a simple candle set on the coffee table. Only a good sense of smell alerted me that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up I saw the newspaper, absently set aside, 1/4 engulfed in flame which in a minute could burn the table to the ground and likely the condo with it. So, grabbing the flaming newspaper in my bare hands I smothered the flames with the newspaper against itself, leaving ashes everywhere. The condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Do we see the light, but prepare for the wrong dangers in the wrong places? Do we let evil and sin creep into our lives in relatively safe places and nearly burn us down to the core?

It would be a great relief if, after baptism and each epiphany, we could thereafter always choose the light. But that’s not how life works. We continue to sin. We continue to choose the darkness. Therefore we, with billions of others, continue to suffer and unnecessarily die.

We’ve heard the old stories of horrific abuses out of the past, but they are not gone. Do we choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption? Today these public abuses of trust are perhaps worse than ever, since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lies.

Remember the official and political denial of the destructive power of CO2 emissions. Now we have Climate Change run rampant. Environment Canada warns that the extremes of the past are now the new norms. We will not survive the new extremes without greater resilience than ever before. Perhaps my overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

With light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvels of the wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, or even our own backyards. How can we celebrate the light of Christ, if we live in such darkness?

It’s dark, real dark, in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for First Nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than for other youth, which is already too high.

In Pinehouse SK, like many places around God’s creation, they know well what it means to arise and shine for their light has come. Youth in desperate straights, often survivors of multiple suicide attempts, are finding that photography is all about light: seeing light, catching light to tell a story. It also requires of the photographer to see the world in a different light, in the light of God’s beauty. It often remains unnoticed, until the technical capabilities of photographer with camera and equipment in hand bring God’s beauty to the photo. Photography done well communicates real wonders.

As the youth actively bring God’s beauty to their photos, they bring life and hope and light into the darkness of their own lives.

We live wholly by Grace in God’s creation lit up by Christ’s light. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace and light to all others. No matter that we do not live as perfect people the Spirit uses us to be Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands for others.

In photography light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty.

We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We share Christ’s light. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as can a fully stoked, vents wide open, wood stove.

Amidst every bit of darkness that is real, the reality is that the Holy Spirit is our flame and light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: Life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder. Therefore even in darkness we can rejoice with all our hearts, minds, and souls. So we sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

Amen

The Power of Light

Or at what temperature is the Light of Christ pure?

It’s dark in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for first nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than other youth.

In Pinehouse, like many places around God’s creation, they know well what it means to arise and shine for their light has come. Youth in desperate straights, often survivors of multiple suicide attempts, are finding that learning and practising photography brings light into the darkness. Photography is all about light: seeing light, catching light to tell a story. It also requires of the photographer to see the world in a different light, in the light of God’s beauty. Photography done well communicates real wonders. It often remains unnoticed, until the technical capabilities of photographer with camera and equipment in hand bring God’s beauty to the photo.

As the youth actively bring God’s beauty to their photos, they bring life and hope and light into the darkness of their own lives.

Tim recently added a safety margin to his existence; wood heat. It is not without it’s risks. Fire is powerful. The wood stove, well a furnace really, refurbished, with the outside shield freshly painted after years of abuse can provide heat, and how! With care Tim fired it up more than once with a decidedly small test fire, to ensure the draft worked, the smoke went up, and the dampers actually worked. Tim wanted to avoid explosive possibilities. Smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible. Less pollution, and more heat. Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. With diligent care now Tim supplements an insufficient propane furnace (which lasted only a year before needing to be replaced) with an overly sufficient HOT wood stove. Left wide open and fully stoked the wood furnace could probably melt itself to the ground, along with it’s shelter and occupant.

In the relative comfort of my condo, visiting over New Year’s, Tim let his guard down. A simple candle sat on the coffee table. He set a simple portion of the newspaper absently to the side. Only a good sense of smell alerted him that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up he saw the newspaper 1/4 engulfed in flame, which in a minute would have burned the table to the ground and possibly the condo with it.

Grabbing newspaper aflame in hand he smothered the flames with what was left of the newspaper, leaving ashes everywhere. But the condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Explosive fire from HOT HOT wood and smoke burning at 1000° degrees, all done safely. A small candle in the comfortably heated condo, with all the supports of a city all around goes up in free flame. Why does God let a fire with the newspaper scare us so?

In the Gospel we hear of great things that God does: Wise men follow a star and bring gifts of wealth. Dreams warn them to return home safely and for Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt. But we know the rest. All those children in and around Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod. Why? Perhaps those Wise men were not so wise, going to Herod’s home town for directions?

Finding our way can be challenging. Mostly we like to make our own ways, who we make friends with, who we care for, who we spend time with.

God always surprises us:

In Isaiah, the prophet preaches to a group of returned Exiles. They find themselves in conflict with their relatives who never left. Those who stayed behind remember that they, and they alone, are God’s chosen people. The returnees want everyone included in God’s favour.

In Matthew the wise men come to honour Jesus, the king foretold by the star. They are not Jews. They are members of a completely different religion.

In Ephesians the central mystery of faith that the writer shares is that Christ is for all the Gentiles.

We ask today isn’t the central mystery of faith the un-earnable, unconditional Forgiveness? What about God’s Grace being a gift so that we are saved not because of what we do, say or think or even believe? It is just pure gift!

Of course we are included just as Jews may be. That’s old news. … But in Paul’s time no one besides Jews were considered, until Paul. God chose him specifically to preach to the Gentiles. While the rest of the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, with Jews joining them, Paul travelled the Mediterranean, spreading the Gospel to everyone, especially Gentiles. It was dangerous to be a new Christian. They were targeted and killed. If Paul had not spread the Good News, the early church, contained only in Jerusalem, made of only converted Jews, may easily have died off in the first few years.

After generations of God’s people claiming only they were chosen, and they held themselves apart as identifiably chosen, what is God up to letting in the Gentiles, us Gentiles?

When it comes to our God and our lives, God continually surprises us, yet we still have a long wish list:

Even in today’s lessons we read how we want: Just rulers, and Light in the darkness, which means a resolution for the all ails of the human condition. We want Prosperity in Light and Glory and access to God and Power. We want to be: God’s servants with authority.

We want OUR family together. We want our children in town or close by, our grandchildren nearby, and relative prosperity to accompany us all, always, to make our paths smooth.

God’s way, as history should fully teach us, though is not at all about our power, nor our wishes, nor making our paths smooth. God’s way is about light, and we get stuck in the Darkness. Our darkness is us not acknowledging God as God, Love as our commission, and Evil as the necessary result of our inevitable and unavoidable sin. Darkness is us damning others for the evil that we and others suffer.

The REAL danger in life is not knowing the real power of God, present in various ways. God’s power is so powerful it is like a fully stoked furnace, in the guise of a candle flame, but capable of burning down the whole universe.

Still we choose to remain in darkness. We choose to not know the destruction of fright at injustice. Fright freezes us, or causes us to flee, or to stand and fight; all are choices in the face of obvious malfeasance that will sink us like an overheated candle melts in the midst of a condo consumed by fire.

We choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption. We’ve heard the stories of old, but they are very present today, perhaps worse than ever since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lie.

A terribly costly lie was the official and political denial of the destructive power of CO emissions. Now we have Climate Change run rampant. Environment Canada, reporting on the top ten stories of the past year, warns that the extremes of the past are now the new norms. We will not survive the new extremes without greater resilience than ever before. Perhaps the overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

In our darkness with light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvel of the wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, or even our own backyards.

In our darkness we may not acknowledge the futility of security sought in prosperity. Even though we live in boom and bust Alberta, we too often seek security in wealth. We hoard it or we live lavishly. But prosperity and wealth can evaporate like water on an overheated wood furnace. It takes only a turn of a market, a corruption of an investor, a foreign or domestic attack, a new Storm, or a bad health event for ourselves or a loved one. After all we are all dying after the age of 26 or so; our bodies literally falling apart. It’s normal, for no one gets out of life alive.

The true Gospel, for also the Gentiles, given as a free gift, not earned by compliance to a set of rules or piety, is a true mystery. It brings the true light with true blessings to all who hear it.

We live not by prosperity but wholly by Grace. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace to all others. We are only lowly servants. Our only power is Christ’s Power of self-sacrifice, truth, and of bringing life to others.

In whatever ways we are rulers, we can be just rulers. Even as middle or low class citizens or guests, or even as homeless squatters, the Spirit uses us to be for others Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands.

We share what we have freely received without cost: we share Hope based on God’s promises. We share God’s un-earned forgiveness. We share God’s over abundant grace.

As any good photographer will tell you, light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty. We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as a fully stoked, left wide open, wood furnace.

Flame is flame. The Holy Spirit is the source of our light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: Life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder. Arise and shine for our light has come!

Amen

Also possible

NASA celebrating when pictures come back from the other side of Pluto. Beyond expectations.

China: landed on the dark side of the moon, seeing images not seen before.

The Power of Light

Sermon Draft for Epiphany 2019

This is Life in the Darkness

It’s dark in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for first nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than other youth.

In Pinehouse, like many places around God’s creation, youth in desperate straights, often survivors of multiple suicide attempts, are finding that learning and practising photography brings light into the darkness. Photography is all about light: seeing light, catching light to tell a story. It also requires of the photographer to see the world in a different light, in the light of God’s beauty. Photography done well communicates real wonders. It often remains unnoticed, until the technical capabilities of photographer with camera and equipment in hand bring God’s beauty to the photo.

As the youth actively bring God’s beauty to their photos, they bring life and hope and light into the darkness of their own lives.

God’s ways unfathomable

Tim recently added a safety margin to his existence; wood heat. It is not without it’s risks. Fire is powerful. The wood stove, well furnace really, refurbished, with the outside shield freshly painted after years of abuse can provide heat, and how. With care Tim fired it up more than once with a decidedly small test fire, to ensure the draft worked, the smoke went up, and the dampers actually worked. There are explosive possibilities Tim wanted to ensure would not happen. Smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible. Less pollution, and more heat. Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. With diligent care Tim now supplements an insufficient propane furnace (which lasted only a year before needing to be replaced) with an overly sufficient HOT wood stove. Left wide open and fully stoked the wood furnace could probably melt itself to the ground, yet alone it’s shelter and it’s occupant.

In the relative comfort of my condo, visiting over New Year’s, Tim let his guard down. A simple candle sat on the coffee table. He set a simple portion of the newspaper absently to the side. Only a good sense of smell alerted him that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up he saw the newspaper 1/4 engulfed in flame, which in a minute would have burned the table to the ground and possibly the condo with it.

Grabbing newspaper aflame in hand he smothered the flames with what was left of the newspaper, leaving ashes everywhere. But the condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Explosive fire from HOT HOT wood and smoke burning at 1000° degrees, all done safely. A small candle in the comfortably heated condo, with all the supports of a city all around. Why does God let a fire with the newspaper scare us so?

In the Gospel we hear of great things all at God’s hand: Wise men follow a star and bring gifts of wealth. Dreams warn them to return home safely and for Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt. But we know the rest. All those children in and around Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod. Why? Perhaps those Wise men were not so wise, going to Herod’s home town for directions?

God’s Way

We like to make our own ways, who we make friends with, who we care for, who we spend time with.

God surprises us:

In Isaiah, the prophet preaches to a group of returned Exiles. They find themselves in conflict with their relatives who never left. Those who stayed behind remember that they, and they alone, are God’s chosen people. The returnees want everyone included in God’s favour.

In Matthew the wise men come to honour Jesus, the king foretold by the star. They are not Jews. They are members of a completely different religion.

In Ephesians the central mystery of faith that the writer shares is that Christ is for all the Gentiles.

Mystery of Faith

We ask today, What about un-earnable unconditional Forgiveness. What about God’s Grace being a gift so that we are saved not because of what we do, say or think or even believe. It is just pure gift!

Of course we are included just as Jews may be. That’s old news. But in Paul’s time no one besides Jews were considered, until Paul. God chose him specifically to preach to the Gentiles. While the rest of the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, with Jews joining them, Paul travelled the Mediterranean, spreading the Gospel to everyone, especially Gentiles. It was dangerous to be a new Christian. They were targeted and killed. If Paul had not spread the Good News, the early church, contained only in Jerusalem, practised only by converted Jews, may easily have died off in the first few years.

After generations of God’s people claiming only they were chosen, and they held themselves apart as identifiably chosen, what is God up to letting in the Gentiles, us Gentiles?

When it comes to our God and our lives, we have a long wish list:

What we want

Even in today’s lessons we read how we want:

Just rulers.

Light in the darkness, a resolution of the all ails of the human condition

Prosperity in Light and Glory.

Access to God and Power: God’s servant with authority.

We want OUR family together, sons home, daughters cared for (sexism) so we really want our children in town or close by, our grandchildren nearby, and relative prosperity to accompany us all, always, to make our paths smooth.

God’s Light vs. Our Darkness

God’s way, as history should fully teach us is Not at all about our power, not our wishes, not making our paths smooth.

Darkness is us not acknowledging God as God, Love as our commission, Evil as the necessary result, our participation in it as inevitable and unavoidable sinners. Darkness is us damning others for the evil that we and others suffer.

Real danger in life is not knowing the real power of God, present in various ways. God’s power is so powerful it is like a fully stoked furnace, in the guise of a candle flame, but capable of burning down the whole universe.

Still we choose to remain in darkness. We choose to not know the destruction of fright at injustice. Fright freezes us, or causes us to flee, or to stand and fight; all are choices in the face of obvious malfeasance that will sink us like an overheated candle melts in the midst of a condo consumed by fire.

We choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption. We’ve heard the stories of old, but they are very present today, perhaps worse than ever since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lie.

Like the denial of the destructive power of CO emissions. Now we have Global Warming run rampant. Environment Canada, reporting on the top ten stories of the past year warns that now the extremes of the past are the new norms. Without greater resilience than ever before needed, we will not survive the new extremes. Perhaps the overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

In our darkness with light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvel of wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, even our own backyards.

In our darkness we may not acknowledge the futility of security sought in prosperity. Even though we live in boom and bust Alberta, we too often seek security in prosperity or wealth. We hoard wealth or we live lavishly. But prosperity and wealth can evaporate like water on an overheated wood furnace. It takes only a turn of a market, a corruption of an investor, a foreign or domestic attack, a new Storm, a bad health event for ourselves or a loved one. After all we are all dying after the age of 26 or so, our bodies literally falling apart. It’s normal for no one gets out of life alive.

The true Gospel, True Mystery, True Light, True Blessings

The true Gospel, for the Gentiles, given as a free gift, not earned by compliance to a set of rules or piety, is a true mystery. It brings the true light with true blessings to all who hear it.

We live not by prosperity but wholly by Grace. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace to all others. We are only lowly servants. Our only power is Christ’s Power of self-sacrifice, truth, and of bringing life to others.

As we are rulers we can be just rulers. Even as middle or low class citizens or guest, or even as homeless squatters, the Spirit uses us to be for others Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands.

We share what we have freely received without cost: we share Hope based on God’s promises. We share God’s forgiveness. We share God’s grace.

As any good photographer will tell you, light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty. We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as a fully stoked, left wide open, wood furnace.

Flame is flame. The Holy Spirit is the source of our light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder.

Amen

Also possible

NASA celebrating when pictures come back from the other side of Pluto. Beyond expectations.

China: landed on the dark side of the moon, seeing images not seen before.

Epiphany Sermon Themes and Outline

Themes:

Isaiah:

darkness

Light and Glory

Blessing as prosperity, Blessing with Prosperity, Blessing without Prosperity

Prosperity without blessing

Light, sought by many, short supply, great demand

produces prosperity

Blessing: bringing home the sons and daughters, not going afar to make a living, different in today’s world, or?

Thrill and rejoicing at abundance

End frankincense and gold: and praise of God

Psalm:

A just ruler, defends the poor, crushes the oppressor,

righteous flourish, abundance of peace

nations bow down before him

delivers the poor in distress, the oppressed with no helper

compassion for the lowly and the poor

preserves the lives of the needy

Ephesians

The copier, the cheat, plagiarism, the Gospel

A commission of Grace – voacation, calling, purpose to life, meaningful labour

Mystery of old, now made known: God comes to Gentiles (weird: mystery, Grace, forgiveness not earned or earnable, sacrifice not needed, not of animal, or thing, or OTHER PEOPLE. No scapegoating.

Mystery revealed by the Spirit, to holy apostles and prophets

This Gospel: Paul becomes a servant, does the copier, too?

A servant by grace, the working of God’s power, pretty small to be made servant, pretty awesome to be made God’s servant, power of the right hand? Power of the house of God? Power at all? Power of truth and self sacrifice, power of bringing life to others, life at the core.

The boundless riches of Christ! Wisdom of God in great variety made known to rulers and authorities.

We have access to God: in boldness and confidence, through faith in God!

Matthew

Wise men come, not so wise, the star stops guiding: they ask in corrupt Herod’s home town!

Set in motion

wealth for Mary to raise Jesus,

need to flee to Egypt

death of children 2 years and younger, in and around Bethlehem

After Herod: then the star kicks in again, find precisely Jesus (Bethlehem or Nazareth?)

overwhelmed with Joy, paid homage, provided gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh!

Warned in a dream. A little late. They are safe, but the children!

God’s ways, downright unfathomable at times. Dreams to save wise men, dream to save Jesus -flee to Egypt, why not dreams to save all the children!?!

Outline

God’s ways unfathomable

Wise men, star, gifts wealth, dreams, Egypt, but children!

Wise men not so wise

Mystery of Faith

Christ for all Gentiles, too

What about unearnable Grace, Forgiveness, God’s favour

part of for Gentiles and not just Jews, with practice and piety, Or Norwegians, or Lutherans of a certain ilk, my ilk of course are best.

What we want

Just rulers

Light against all darkness

resolution of the all ails of the human condition

Prosperity in Light and Glory

Power, access to God, servant’s with authority

OUR family together, sons home, daughters cared for (sexism, we really want our children in town or close by, our grandchildren nearby, and relative prosperity to accompany us always, to make our paths smooth.

God’s Light vs. Our Darkness

Not our power, not our wishes, not our paths smooth

Darkness is us not acknowledging God as God, Love as our commission, Evil as the necessary result, our participation in it as inevitable and unavoidable, damning others for the evil that is, that we suffer, that others suffer.

Real danger in life is not knowing the real power of God, present in various ways

Example: not knowing the power of Light of Fire

Wood heat: hot to burn the dross and chaff, the new paint cured

Cold

Explosive possibilities

Simple candle and a newspaper

Example: not knowing the destruction of fright, at injustice

just being frightened at injustice

at being the malfeasance obvious

nothing doable, paralyzed, fighting, fleeing

Example: not knowing the stories of old corruption

Also present in our day, in every way, often worse than ever before,

Worse when they are hidden, secreted, covered by spin, even obvious lies

Example: not knowing the power of CO emissions

Global Warming run rampant

now the extremes of past are norm

new extremes are not survivable without complete new adaptations

need new resilience, preparation – harder to prepare and qualify to knowingly sleep through the night with calm, because prepared.

Example: not knowing the beauty of life

the light of stars without light pollution

the beauty of relative wilderness – worth preserving and caring for.

the beauty of your place, time.

Example: not knowing the futility of security sought in prosperity

boom bust

a turn of market, a corruption of an investor, a foreign or domestic attack on market or other

a Storm

a health event, not emergency, falling apart of our lives, with loses: of self, or of loved ones, or of labour, or ?

normal: no one gets out of life alive.

The true Gospel, True Mystery, True Light, True Blessings

Not compromised by copying, plagiarism, the glory is God’s not the writer’s,

Grace, Commissions, Servants, Power of sacrifice, truth, bringing life to others

being the just ruler,

being Christ’s voice, heart of grace and unconditional love, being Christ’s hands

Hope based on God’s promises, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace, NOT us or prosperity.

Epiphany Sermon Notes

Year C – 06 January 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6

A prophet does not need to tell the people that great things will happen, if and when things are going well for the people. It is when the people are in the deep of it; then the prophet tells them of the great future God has in store for them.

Isaiah tells the people that they will be a shining light in the darkness that will cover the earth, and nations will stream to them to trade with them and to find light in the darkness.

First the images are wonderful, delightful, full of promise and fulfilled hopes:

While the rest of the world will be covered with a deep darkness, the people of Isaiah speaks to have a different future. The light of God will rise to shine on them! The Glory of God will appear over them.

Like the sunrise after a deep dark winter above the arctic circle, God’s light will rise. Now in the days of relative darkness, a day of sun expected this morning, the first in weeks, there is a feel for this relief of light in the darkness. Still this is hardly the darkness, the thick darkness that Isaiah speaks of, that the people easily believe will happen, or even has happened.

Today, the young people I know, expect a deep darkness. They expect things to be worse than they were for their parents and grandparents … much worse.

Into that kind of darkness Isaiah tells the people, God’s light will shine, God’s Glory will cover them.

Now light is wonderful, even after a relatively short absence of the sun. But the Glory of God, that’s out of this world marvellously, miraculously spectacular!

This is the Glory that the people knew would likely leave them dead if they encountered it in person. This is the Glory that left Moses white as a ghost on the mountain, having seen God in person and having received the ten commandments for the people. This is the Glory with which Jesus shone white at his transfiguration as Peter planned to encapsulate it in a memorium, which is simply impossible.

The people Isaiah speaks to will have the greatest blessings, while those around are starved of any light, glory, or blessing.

The people, the nations, will flock to Israel to be in the presence of their light. And through trade with the nations Israel will prosper. The people’s hearts will rejoice and thrill at their prosperity.

Their children, their sons and daughters, will return home. Together they will be a nation revered and honoured with gifts of frankincense and gold.

And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.

From the perspective of the people hearing Isaiah, the hope brought them is as wide, deep, profound, and inspiring as it gets.

Hang on to that.

We know that the rhythm of God’s people will bring them to enjoy the blessings of God, and to eventually forget who gave them such blessings, to ascribe their own right to such prosperity and blessings. They will create out of God’s light and glory their own darkness again.

The greatest delight will never be in prosperity. But from the perspective of abject poverty, foreign and oppressive rule, and being scattered as a people, and as families, a bit of prosperity would be a welcomed and appreciated blessing, one that we would all be grateful for. For a while anyway.

So these are the images, and the place they take in others’ lives. Where do they fit in our lives? Are we poor? Are we grateful? Are we blessed already and ungrateful, assuming we have ‘earned’ our blessings?!

Light: last night arriving home, the stars shone in the darkness. No moon. No clouds. Just pinpoints of light, in dazzling beauty. Does one need great light?

Well to setup the camper and shelter for wood heat, light is needed. To work on a computer, light and power is needed. To hope that this winter will be survived, and well, a little light and a lot of hope is needed.

Environment Canada gives its summary of the weather in 2018 and concludes that because of climate change brought on by us (no more false ‘Bush’ science to hide the truth) the extremes of weather that we were used to have all been met or exceeded in 2018, and even these extremes will be the norm in the future, starting already today!

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2018.html : “Events that were once rare or unusual for our grandparents are now more commonplace, while we all become more vulnerable due to extreme weather. As the Top Ten Weather Stories of 2018 bear out, Canadians must become more resilient—not only for what lies ahead but also for the variations in climate, which are already here.” Catch the whole report while it is still available: it is an eye opener, a frightful look to what the weather has had, and will have in store for us in Canada.

Environment Canada gives its summary of the weather in 2018 and concludes that because of climate change brought on by us (no more false ‘Bush’ science to hide the truth) the extremes of weather that we were used to have all been met or exceeded in 2018, and even these extremes will be the norm in the future, starting already today!

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Any time we can get a ruler, a government collectively, a justice system included, who/which will provide justice and righteousness, for those caught in poverty, for those oppressed, for those desperately needing the basics of life … Anytime God provides us even part of that from our government, it is time to rejoice. So we wait. We rejoice for the little justice, righteousness and goodness that is possible in this time when (like most times in history) those who are protected are not the poor, the needy, the oppressed, but rather the rich, those wasteful with luxuries, and those who oppress others in order to maintain their positions of wealth and power.

In our day as well, the oppressors are able to claim they are the victims, and to motivate hoards of others to continue to make victims of the supposed ‘oppressors’. It’s always been done this way. It’s just a surprise when one discovers that it is so in our day, with the people and institutions one trusted.

The psalmist provides hope for the day when a great ruler will arise, and we are reminded, to be grateful for what we do have, such as it is. And we are warned, that if we are the oppressors, God’s not pleased with us, and our time will come to an end, if not soon enough, to save our victims.

Ephesians 3:1-12

It is a flavour different than Paul himself, yet an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, difference.

Paul is imprisoned, or perhaps was and is no longer to be seen or found. Someone, a follower, writes in Paul’s name. Today it is unacceptable. In Paul’s day it was both acceptable, common enough, and an honour to have someone write in your name … as long as the person did not get it all wrong.

This writer didn’t get it all right, but right enough.

Paul is a prisoner … not because he is a common criminal, but as a result of preaching the Gospel of Jesus the Christ … not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Which was common enough, even if one did not preach about Jesus. Just believing and someone reporting you could get you arrested and killed. It is a wonder that anyone survived; that the church survived, for the effort to eradicate the earth of the Way of Jesus was thorough.

The writer is not focused on Paul’s situation, as if it is old news or long ago history even: Paul is gone like ALL the earlier disciples.

Still Paul’s impact on the early church is not and this writer furthers Paul’s legacy; that the Gentiles can believe and be accepted as fellow followers of Jesus.

The writer describes Paul’s sharing the good news with the Gentiles, including the intended readers of this letter, as a ‘commission of God’s grace’.

A mystery is revealed to Paul in a revelation (on the road to Damascus); the mystery is not about Jesus. It is that the Gentiles can be followers of Christ along with the Jews. Our retrospective perspective informs us that of course the Jews are not even part of the church; they have a separate and exclusive faith, not a Christian faith. Yet without Paul, and others, reaching out to the Gentiles, only Jews would have been acceptable as Christians. We would all be merely a small group of a different kind of Jews. Instead, we are distinct and dependent upon Jewish faith even.

This is grace the writer says, grace to be a servant, grace to be in prison, grace to be a saint, the least of them, but a saint, and a bearer of the Gospel.

This is made known now clearly, what before was hidden.

A mystery of faith moves out of the shadows of the unknowns, into the light as a known piece of faith; namely that God is for all people Jews first and then all Gentiles who believe.

The end of this faith is that together they have access to God; not because they have earned it, but because it is given to them, by faith, a gift of grace.

Matthew 2:1-12


Three wise men come seeking Jesus. In the normal manner (is there any normal about this?) they inquire of the king’s whereabouts in the capital, Jerusalem, where the ruler, King Herod, hears of their inquiries.

Are the men really wise? A king is born, given to them to know by a star. Do they think that this is just going to be a son of the king who rules, and not a usurper? So they just ask in the home town of the siting king for the newly born king. And what they start!

King Herod is frightened. And when a despot king is frightened all the people are frightened with him, not for the same reason, but because of what the king will do because he is frightened. We know now that people who are frightened make poor decisions. We know that one of the qualities of people who handle risk on our behalf, like pilots, surgeons, priests and emergency response people is that they do not panic under pressure, but respond with extraordinary calm and clear thought. The fright they experience in an emergency is contained and not let loose to run havoc in their minds. Instead they evaluate risk, find solutions, and act quickly, decisively and per-emptively to bring the emergency to a good end and to minimize ongoing risks.

Good rulers do the same.

Herod is not a good ruler. And the people know it.

They too are frightened by the crazy, impulsive, power hungry Herod. There are plenty of crazy, impulsive, power hungry people, in the churches, in governments, in the courts, in the streets, in vehicles going down the road. They are everywhere, and one has reason to be rightfully frightened of the chaos they unleash on others.

The wisemen do get Herod to do their work for them. He calls together the experts to find out where the king is to be born. They bring back the right answer: Bethlehem. So off go the wisemen, to find Jesus, no longer in the dark.

Now the help given by Herod helps them not a bit. The start continues to lead them. So why the stop? Proper etiquette? The star leads them right to where Jesus is. Note that it is no longer ‘in a stable’ in a manger. It’s quite some time after Mary and Joseph have returned to Nazareth with Jesus. But no mention of that, so maybe Mary does not so soon make the return trip, for health or reputation or safety reasons.

The wisemen provide Jesus the gifts they have brought. Mary and Joseph are suddenly quite well off. Today it takes about .5 million to raise a child. Mary and Joseph get a headstart on what it took then, plus a bit.

The wisemen are warned off in a dream about returning to Herod, to let him know how to find the baby king and to allow him to ‘pay homage.’ They finally understand that they have brought a crazy king news that is likely going to bring the death of the child, who the star has led them to find.

We know how the story develops. Mary flees to Egypt with Jesus. Thank heavens for the frankincense and gold to pay their way.

But the other children of Israel ….

The people had good reason to be frightened of Herod being frightend.

Image all children in Canada, three and under, being killed to keep a despot government in power! We’d not allow it. We allow plenty already to keep ‘our’ government in power, but that is not usually on the table. Instead, in government, in churches, in courts, in vehicles on our roads, we sacrifice truth … and little by little we teach our children and all people, here you have good reason to be frightened that the truth will be sacrificed, and eventually your children will learn that truth is not safe, instead one must learn to lie and lie well to be able to survive.

Those who tell the truth are relegated to the trash heaps of life. So if you want a bit of security, a bit of warmth in the winter and protection from the rain and bugs in the summer, then you must learn to lie and lie well.

There is good reason to be frightened.

Because Jesus is born, survives the pogram, teaches, is sacrificed, crucified, dies, is buried, and is resurrected, we know that God is with us. We do not need to lie.

We can hope for a day when truth will prevail.

As I write this the wood stove, really a wood furnace, freshly stoked for the day with wood, and left with plenty of air, reaches it’s peak heat. The warmth spreads throughout the living space, and against the cold, the warmth prevails.

So likewise does God’s truth, God’s grace, God’s commission win out over all temptations to lie, to force our wills on others, to busy ourselves with penultimate life-work. God’s goodness prevails in our lives, by grace, by faith. We need only surrender and get out of the way, and sometimes become the hands, feet, voice and heart of Christ.

So likewise do the fires of judgment burn hot, consuming the dross of our being, the evil that we allow to play havoc with our lives and with our neighbours’ lives … and the children’s futures.

But that image of heat and hell and dross burning off is not in the text. It’s just in the smell of newly burned-in paint, from the freshly painted furnace, wafting my way on the waves of warmth, that repel the cold and preserve my life.

Advent 4 – Sermon: Cold Song Revolution Salvation

In today’s Gospel Mary sings joyfully of what God has done, as many have since. Singing about God’s acts for us can have real consequences.

In East Germany in 1989 for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered to sing on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas. Histories of the “velvet revolution” often overlook that over two months their numbers grew from just over a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand, over half the citizens of the city. They sang songs of hope and protest and justice, until their songs changed the world. Later, when someone asked one of the former officers of the Stasi, the GDR secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied “We had no contingency plan for song.” (David Lose “In the meantime…” 2015 reworked TL)

Tim visited in the GDR in the early 80’s and heard for himself the unknowable truth that was nonetheless well-known among church leaders: namely that Eric Honecker, leader of the GDR, and Bishop Schönberger head of the Lutheran Church, knew and respected each other. They had both been in concentration camps under the Nazis. The two leaders had an arrangement, that the church could be the pressure relief valve for the state, and …

Well … among church leaders the lack of contingency for singing was well-known, and known as an intentional ‘lack of preparation’ by Honecker. Together and so as not to be documented or suspected by the Russians, the two leaders planned for the fall of East Germany back into a reunified Germany, through singing in the church.

Our song is from today’s Psalm: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

This refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.

Most everyone can remember a time when we felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming our faces. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, and streets for weeks. Then the sun shines free, welcomed and warm. For those few moments All is well.

Now take that memory and transposed it into the key of C for Jesus the Christ, the key of G for God, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish. As if caught in a spirit storm we find no joy, no purpose, no goodness in life. All is lost. Stretch this to make it the only vivid memory in our minds, and the hope that sustains us disappears. God has deserted us, or so we experience life.

Then enter into our lives God’s face, shining down on us as warm sunshine … and all is transformed … joy, purpose and goodness overflow each moment. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Julian of Norwich.]

Basking in God’s face shining in on us is beyond compare.

In the OT lesson for today Micah has, in typical prophet mode, let the people know they have sinned and are suffering because they are separated from God. Then he offers a vision, a restoration to the times of old. Like David a leader will rise. Micah gives the people the promise of a political solution for the challenges of his day.

We have used his words for much more; we’ve seen Jesus promised in them, and Jesus is so far beyond a political solution. Jesus is God’s complete and final solution to the timeless challenge of scapegoating and sin.

While the reasoning in the letter to the Hebrews may be dense, as obscure as the religious law it reflects, our second lesson for today makes clear that Jesus is the one-time sacrifice for all time foretold by the prophets. He replaces blood sacrifice and the indecipherable religious laws, traditions and ideas.

Even now, we can’t keep all God’s laws; no one is good enough to earn God’s favour. We need God’s saving action now and again and again, so we sing: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

In the Gospel for today Mary sings a version of Hannah’s song. As all songs of faith, well composed and well sung, Mary sings a revolutionary song.

It is not just revolutionary in that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us. Mary’s song is revolutionary in that it threatens corrupt power with God’s good order.

More than a few corrupt rulers have banned it.“The Magnificat was banned by the bishop from being sung or read in India under British rule. In the 1980’s, it was banned in Guatemala. In Argentina the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War (1976-1983) – placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, and the military junta then outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.” – – The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected The Messiah To Be Like https://kairoscenter.org/sermons-bible-studies-liturgies/politics-christmas-roman-empire/marys-magnificat-luke-146-55/ modified TL 2018

Why all the resistance, Mary’s song starts with Joy? What better way to start singing of God’s face shining upon us.

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn away from the powerful to the powerless. God looks to her, a lowly servant, caught pregnant out of wedlock. Yet Mary expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to and is doing through her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation. God has great strength, and chooses to show it … Not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride. God scatters corrupt rulers as if they were despised weeds.

God then lifts up the lowly. God feeds the hungry, with good, nourishing food that makes for health. But the Rich God sends away empty handed. This revolution changes all power and privilege so that those caught in the bottom of injustice can sing, for to them God promises good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Using the Magnificat can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy; but it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor, who must count on God’s grace to survive each day. For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege.

We must work hard to survive the challenges of life whatever they may be: storms of climate change. bitter COLD.


Cold Bitter cold survival One step at a time

Flood, famine, war, addictions, earthquakes, disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … disappearing children. Or cancer and other life taking diseases.

A teacher landed her first job teaching children in a large hospital. One of her first pupils was a preteen Tommy. His teacher said he needed to work on his grammar – especially adverbs and adjectives. So she planned a lesson.

The teacher found Tommy … in the burn unit. The sight of the small boy, terribly burned and in tremendous pain – shook her. Not knowing what else to do, the young teacher worked through her per-prepared grammar lesson. The boy’s lips slowly answered her questions and responded to her comments. In great pain they completed the lesson.

The teacher then fled the burn unit, certain that her grammar lesson had been a callous and useless exercise. She avoided that area of the hospital. Then one morning she ran into one of Tommy’s nurses.

“What did you do to him?” the nurse demanded. The teacher was shocked and in dread. The nurse continued. “We had just about given up on him because he had given up on himself. After your visit he changed. He started fighting back, and now his prognosis is really very good. Come see him.”

In disbelief the teacher returned to Tommy’s bedside. Still in pain, he was sitting up smiling a smile that reached his eyes. Tommy explained to the teacher, “I thought I was going to die for sure. Then you came. When you left I knew I couldn’t be dying. Who would bother to teach a dying boy the difference between adjectives and adverbs?” (source unknown)

Our challenges may be worse than Adjectives and Adverbs. They may be loved ones who abuse and take everything we have and more. Or enemies that want vengeance for things we never did. Coworkers who are mean, or haughty and proud. Or institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or our challenges may be just plain Evil, in so many different guises, tempting us to try futilely to make our own lives good enough for God.

From all that we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves. So we cry out in song: Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved! Amen