In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, Fred Rogers helps Lloyd Vogel process his relationship with his father and re-connect with him after decades of cutoff on both sides…. It leaves us thinking we can’t change the past, but maybe we can give the story a different ending….** If only we could be just a bit better than we are, a lot less anxious, helping others trust God just a mite more, so that our stories could have a good ending. **adapted from Healthy Congregation Words by Rachel Tune, Pastor Wittenburg University***
Joy Sunday Contrasts with Advent Blues
the third Sunday of Advent, is the Sunday of Joy. Advent was
historically a time to prepare for Epiphany baptisms, a time to take
in Jesus’ costly journey of bringing faith to us. During the rest of
Advent we get ourselves alert, reflect on the cost of our faith,
prepare for, but wait patiently for, Christ’s coming and our
celebration that he has come, and is present.
out of step with the Lenten-like mood of waiting. Our wreath has one
pink candle among the blue candles of hope. In this season of waiting
to celebrate, how did the Joy Sunday and the pink candle get into the
mix? Except this contrast makes our Christmas joy that much more
Today we highlight the opposite of the rest of Advent, making our preparations and joy all that more vivid. Only blue on the dark black of the long nights won’t do, neither would all pink be great. If Advent were all joy, then it’d be hard to celebrate Christmas; it’d be as if we’d nibbled at the turkey, dressing and all, and gobbled up all the Christmas cookies for weeks. The celebration would be just more of the same, if anything were left for the feast. But on the dark background of real life, pink decorates blue spectacularly, and since it denotes God’s joy then the best pink would be hot-pink on deep sea blue rising to sky blue.
Today, though, we also remember that Christmas, more so because it’s supposed to be such a joyous time, can actually be the most painful, sorrowful, lonely and despairing time of the year. It can be all so blue. For this reason we offer Blue Christmas Services.
Insert here Niel Diamond singing Song Sung Blue YouTube – Song Sung Blueor your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues, or your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues.
The New Ending Needed
name of Jesus we can’t change the past, but we know
the story needs a different ending….
Biblical Images of Life Dried Up
of dried up creation abound in today’s lessons: wilderness, dry land,
desert … weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts … blind, deaf,
lame, speechless people … burning sand, thirsty ground, haunts of
jackals, dry grass … lions, ravenous beasts … sighing and
The New Ending, Possible?
the past. We can’t change the past, but can
we really give this story a
Dark, Cold Tunnel of Real Life
It’s dark. The sun rises but stays below the southern roof- or tree-tops. It’s cold. In the city it’s dipped into the minus teens. Not far away, on a little lake that’s as much home as anywhere, it’s been below -30⁰C and not over -15⁰ for days. Most everyone is affected, some a bit more as they struggle with mild to severe depression because of the lack of sunshine. Too often this season can seem like a cold, dark tunnel that we get thrust into, whether we choose it or not.
In Alberta now, after the oil bust of 2014 and lately Premier Kenny’s cuts, 20% of young men are unemployed. That does not count those who have given up trying to find work, or those who are back at school trying to increase their odds of finding a job (going in debt to do so), or those who have part-time jobs where they work pitifully few hours, so that it’s less a job, and more a hindrance to finding real work. Employers more cheaply employ 10 part-time workers 8 hours each week than 2 full-time employees 40 hours each.
real. These young men face hunger, homelessness, losing their
vehicles. Forget about having anything for health and dental care.
Chaplains in hospitals write up verbatims: formerly well-paid men are hounded by their spouse (or not-spouse) to bring home the same money for the pricey lifestyle they’ve spent themselves into. Turning to crime or not, the stress eats away at the men’s health. For some, physical or psychological violence at home puts them in the hospital. Women know the courts will likely believe any lie they tell and the men will be convicted and jailed, even when they are the victims.
The Booby-trapped Tunnel
The dark tunnel we find ourselves in can, in this or other ways, turn out to be full of traps set by people we would trust. People point us to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems a long ways off through the dark and dangerous cold.
The New Ending Beyond Us.
know full well we can’t change the past, but even
trying to give the story a different ending seems
Epidemic of Senior Loneliness
severity of the seniors’ epidemic of loneliness increases at
Christmas. 25% percent of seniors live alone often not by choice.
Living alone or not, an unknown number of seniors are severely
lonely, cut off from meaningful engagement in life. Loneliness
affects health and precipitates death as quickly as any disease. Two
of life’s necessities are missing: a meaningful contribution to life
and an ability to love and be loved.
are walls to stare at, perhaps paths to walk. But one is alone even
in crowds. Few reach out with kindness and understanding, and time.
Everyone has their own busy agenda to help them ignore the emptiness
Worse still are the seniors that experience elder abuse. Seniors can be more vulnerable than young children and become targets because they may appear to have wealth, and the taking appears to be easy. This month we collect for “No Room In the Inn” to create a safe place to which they can escape.
The Light in the Tunnel is a Train
The light they told us was at the end of the tunnel looks more and more like a train coming right at us in this dark tunnel and we cannot see any way out. We can’t move fast enough to find any emergency exit that may be somewhere out there.
The New Ending Only Hoped For
can’t change the past, and we only hope
we can give the story a different ending before it’s too late.
into this dark reality, our Advent Sunday of Joy is set as a stark
contrast to our Lenten-like Advent preparations.
Sunday is exactly like the Crocus named in the OT lesson. The first
flower of Spring, it pushes up and blossoms even while the snow and
morning frosts keep other plants at bay.
Similarly all the desolate images serve as the setting into which God comes and transforms creation. Cool streams flow in the wilderness, over the dry land, and on the burning sand bringing them to rejoice and blossom, with joy and singing. Weak hands are strengthened, feeble knees made firm, fear is met with encouragement, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and the speechless sing.
A highway is made upon which no lion or beast or thief prowls, and even a fool cannot go astray. Those redeemed by Christ will obtain joy and gladness. All sorrow and sighing will flee away. In a simple word, we and all creation are baptized in the water of God’s blessings. It is a marvellously new creation. We are made saints and set to live well in it!
God’s coming is already, and not yet. Like the farmer we wait patiently for the early and the late rains of God’s blessings to tumble down on us and through us. We do not grumble against each other, for grumbling against each other is caustic to life and for it we would be justly judged by the Judge at the door. There are no evidentiary rules, precedents, or arguments required. This Judge is omnipotent and all-knowing, and the judgments are fair, clearly so to all. Jesus’ every judgment is made to make life possible for all.
comes to set things right, to make people healthy, what is wrong is
set right. Jesus comes in poverty, born homeless in a cow barn. Jesus
comes to those least acceptable to the world of his day. Jesus comes
to the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor.
The Light in the Tunnel is Christ’s Light on God’s
Train Coming at Us!
turns out that the light at the end of the cold, dark
tunnel is a train coming right for us. Or
rather it is the Light of Christ barrelling down on us like a train.
This train is not loaded with oil, grain, lumber, or other goods.
first cars of this train have the Blue Hope of Advent spilling out in
endless streams over the landscape of God’s wonderful and broken
Hope is followed by cars as numerous as the stars spewing Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Inspiration, Gratitude, Generosity, Faith, Love in Action, and Love Universal and Unconditional. Look at all the colours streaming across the desolate landscape of our broken lives!
Light. Run to it. Dance to it. Sing for it with the deepest and
intends for us, even in our sadness and loneliness, to be overwhelmed
with the Goodness of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, the engine
of that train. It may be cold and dark outside but the pink of joy
covers the dark and decorates our blues.
God’s New Ending
We can’t change the past. And we cannot give the story a different ending. This Advent we remember, we do not have to. God has already given the story the best ending possible! What Joy!
wait, full of anticipation for the celebration of Christmas, marking
Jesus’ birth, proclaiming
Jesus’ presence now, and hoping for Jesus the Christ’s return!
We pray, Let us be the blessed “who do not let the Messiah [we] are expecting blind [us] to the Messiah who is standing right in front of [us]” (Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998]).
Our Response: We are the Pink in the Blues
reflect on joy, and its roots in the dark of misery, and its place
within the blues of Hope. The Holy Spirit makes us the streams of
cool water flowing in the deserts of life, the crocuses springing up
for those to whom Christ came. We are the patient, non-anxious,
gracious, kind, and generous ones. In us others see Christ
active for them even if the world frosts them out.
This is the ending to the story that God has for creation and all of us in it: that Christ came, that Christ comes, that Christ will come, and all of creation was, is and will be baptized with living water, transforming it and all of us. Therefore we follow Christ’s example: bringing real joy to those with SADS, the unemployed, the lonely, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor. This is the pink of our Advent Blues. It may not be more than a touch on the horizon in our preparations, nor need it be more. It is like the light at the end of the tunnel, giving us reason to Hope, even in the blues.
We are the pink of Adventfor those in need around us.
get ready to sing: Let me highlight with pink and blue a few words of
our hymn of the day:
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last! Furrows lie open for God’s creative task: this, the labour of people who struggle to see how God’s truth and justice sets [Blue:] everybody free.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Lord Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbours we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets [Pink:] us free.
Theme and Notes
pink contrast to the Blues of Advent, draws us to be God’s people to
bring transformation to those most in need.
*In the Pink: to be in the best of health; by Grace alone the best spiritual health.
***Wittenberg University is a private liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio. It has approximately 2,000 full-time students representing 37 states and 30 foreign countries.
passages for this Sunday’s lessons are profoundly problematic.
Malachi promises that the day will come when arrogant and evildoers will be burned up entirely, stem to root. That is of course only Those, them, the others. And on that day We, us, those who revere God’s name, upon us (not them) the sun of righteousness will rise, with healing in it’s wings.
Thessalonians, either written by Paul or more likely a disciple of
Paul writing in his name (as was common and acceptable then,)
commands the readers to work for their food, and not be idle. And he
also commands that those who do not work should not eat! This
prescription to allow some people to starve has been used as
justification for all sorts of injustices worked against the poor.
Lukan passage deals with the end times, cautioning the listeners to
not be taken in by false prophets claiming to be the returned Christ.
Admonishing calm patience and faithfulness the passage ends with “By
your endurance you will gain your souls.”
in the dark cold wind of self-righteousness, what are we to do?
we do not use Psalm 98 this week.
a new song to the Lord,
who has done | marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy
arm have | won the victory. 2O
you have made | known your victory, you
have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
will judge the | world with righteousness
and the peo- |
ples with equity.
perhaps it is a good opportunity that we do not use the Psalm.
each text is filled with directions on what to do as Christians, even
prescribing what things we must do in order to receive Salvation, we
believe and hold firm the faith and tradition that is handed on to
us, namely: that we are saved by grace alone, not by the merit of our
interpret all scripture and spiritual thought through this lens: That
we are saved only by God’s act upon us, that we remain totally
sinners throughout our lives and at the same time God makes us,
through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for us, totally saints. This
is a gift imputed to us, not infused into us. This gift is effective
in us, yet does not overcome the sinner that we remain, until Christ
comes again, God reckons righteousness to us, and we become saints in
the light of Christ for ever. These precepts are paradoxical, and we
believe they hold the truth of God’s Grace for us that cannot
logically be expressed. Faith cannot be grasped and controlled. It
can only we experienced and enjoyed with awe, or rejected with
So what are we to make of these scriptural judgments of others and promises that we are not them, of the command that if we or others do not work we are not to eat, or the admonishments to earn our salvation?
choices are four:
We could preach the problematic parts as if they were the Gospel of Christ ignoring that they are destructive to faith and community.
We could ignore or pretend to ignore the problematic parts of the texts. Preaching on Psalm 98 alone would be an opportunity to take this route.
We could preach a reinterpretation of the passages so as to proclaim a faithful Word, a true witness to Christ, but not mention that we are interpreting the passages to bring Gospel out of them. OR
We can be clear about the need to re-interpret and proclaim that need along with a clear proclamation of the Gospel after we re-interpret these passages according to Luther’s Gospel within a Gospel: that we are saved by Grace through Faith and not by merit of our works.
are the days of colour and calm.
Cold Hard Facts of the Gospel have arrived with the cold and snow in
Preach as you will, but as for me and my empty “household”, the woods, squirrels and the occasional deer, we will enjoy God’s grace and preach it clearly, honestly, and profoundly as, as much as God gives me opportunity and energy to do so.
Of course, the squirrels really do not listen very well, and the deer have no patience, anxious as they are from hunters pursuits.
is clear from the lessons for this Sunday is that true discipleship
costly as those we remember today, the veterans who have sacrificed
to give us the possibility of the lives we now enjoy.
While we chafe under encouragements to tithe, giving 10% of the first fruits of all God gives us, our time, talents and resources, the call that claims us and the faith that is imputed to us demands not merely 10%. We chafe so brutally that we often demand no mention of tithing occur in our congregation, certainly not that we ask each other to work towards this small sacrifice, guilty as we are that we have never thought this possible for us ourselves. Always one hears how unjust this call is for those who are below the poverty line. Which is true sort of: 10% of an income of which 50% is spent on the bare necessities of life is challenging, but 10% of an income of which 110% or more is spent on the bare necessities of life is a challenge beyond respectable.
discipleship costs us 100%, and our avoiding a call for 10% gives
witness how weak our faith is practised in our lives.
the True Gospel is not that we must give 100%, or that we must give
even 10% for God’s grace to be effective in our lives and at the
end of time, effectively applied to us. What counts is still what God
does, not what we do.
Though it is problematic that we do not do what we readily could do, and instead we count on God’s Grace to save our neighbours from hunger, poverty, despair. Since Christ steps in for us sinners when we were lost (each day of our lives) why would we not strive with all our being to be Christ’s hands especially to our neighbours in desperate need!
But one can hardly preach that to people who refuse to be the hands of Christ, asking for the first 10% in good stewardship for their church. One does pray for them, and for one’s self: that we may all survive the winter, cold, hard, and brutal as it is … to be gracious with each other … soon, before it is too late.
the cool days of fall darken earlier and earlier, and the dark of
night stays with us longer and longer …
Dark comes early, closer to South
wood pile is just high enough,
food sufficient for the coming days,
water enough and replenish-able,
the air is fresh,
clothing rather well prepared for the coming months,
shelter from the weather to come is mostly prepared,
labour is directed, consumedly so, towards writing what must be
love grows and wanes, I am loved well and always.
God holds me safe.
more can one ask for from life, from God, from all that might be?
that might be.
many humans have had so much less, so much less, so much less.
beauty of the world is at my fingertips, literally, as a cell phone
camera captures what can be seen and hoped for?
Cell camera photos: harvest moon, over three harvesters
what more would anyone wish from life?
than the time each morning to celebrate that Christ is with us, in
body and blood?
than the ability to see beauty and share it with others?
than the ability to know truth, without doubt, or hesitation?
than to live well?
mitkommen! – from the movie Remembrance, Tomasc calls out to Hannah
to come with him, he dressed as a German soldier initiating their
escape, as he carries a canister of photos of the Nazi concentration
pray that we may Guard the treasure of
faith entrusted to us, relying
on the Holy Spirit in all things!
This is life (challenges and
tragedy): I’d like to tell you it’ll be ok, I cannot honestly do
that: 100% death rate
probably have heard it said, “Do not take life too seriously. You
will never get out of it alive.”
like to tell you that the death rate for humans is less than 100%,
but that’d be dishonest.
It is the pain of death that rips our hearts and dreams right out of
us. It is the basic, most profound fear of each human. It drives us
to succeed, even by evil scheming, which
leads to eternal failure.
OT commonly claims that God blesses the faithful with material
successes. There is no end of advice on how
to be successful.
of my favourites is “Life is 10% what
happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
McEntire gives us: “To succeed in
life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny
the soccer star, offered all together:
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning,
studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing….”
Churchill pointed out that it’s always a process:“Success
is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue
Barrow said, “Music is 10%
exhilaration and 90% utter disappointment.” Many
will confirm this, and it seems success is like that as well: Despite
all our efforts to succeed most of our
efforts end in utter disappointment and only
the cream of the crop rise to the top. Or
as the lessons for today tell us, those who pursue evil schemes seem
to succeed in life’s pursuits, and
God does not bless the faithful with success.
Life’s challenges, tragedies,
defeats – We’d like to say that they are not what they are, but
they are what they are.
looming end of life at our own deaths, and the slim chance of
success, even when we follow the best advice, it would be great if
the church offered some kind of helpful advice to succeed in the face
of life’s tragedies, challenges and defeats. Too often it does, and
most often it is a false teacher who provides something other than
the sound teaching of the Gospel.
Spouse develops dementia
spouse develops dementia, and lives on but does not even know their
loved ones, we’d like to say that it will be OK, but it is not OK.
It’s a loss for which hardly anything can prepare us.
family member or friend becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, we’d
like to tell you that they need to go to AA or NA and you to Al-anon
and everything will be OK. It is so important to go to AA, NA or
Al-anon, but that’s only a small step. For the addict the rest of
life is one drink or fix away from the same devastating decline
towards death. Those close to the addict are invisibly drawn down the
same road as they fight to make the world right again. But attempting
that impossible task robs us of all the goodness of life. Al-anon
only helps us see the invisible road to disaster, even as we remain
one misstep from jumping or rolling right down that path again.
perhaps the worst tragedy hits and a child dies: We cannot tell you
that it was God’s will, and that everything will be OK. We can tell
you that most people agree that parents are not supposed to have to
bury their children. It’s a loss and tragedy that is beyond
Habakkuk pending defeat to Babylon
much more to say in the face of every challenge or tragedy, so do not
this is what especially the OT
lesson for today tells us. There will be destruction, violence,
strife, contention and justice that is perverted, and it will seem as
if God has deserted us. Besides
the breakdown of their nation’s integrity, the
prophet’s people faced inevitable defeat
by their powerful neighbours, Babylon and
Egypt. The Promised Land will be lost. They
will go into exile as slaves.
Worst of all,
their identity as God’s people in the Promised Land will disappear,
if it has not already.
The Prophet’s Complaint and Plea,
Posture (Standing, Waiting)
the prophet cries and pleads with God, how long must they wait for
God to save them from themselves and their
neighbours?! The prophet does not lie down
in resignation. Instead the prophet stands in wait for God’s
God’s Answer: a Vision, a Promise
answers with a vision in which all is put right. It may seem to take
too long, but in God’s time all will be done right!
That’s quite the promise. That promise is repeated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where it was instrumental in Martin Luther’s break through to understand that we are saved by Grace alone! Can we live abundantly in that promise, when we face challenges, losses and unimaginable tragedies, when we see creation rebelling against our abuses and we know success is rare and death is sure?
That’s much harder than following all that advice on how to be successful. We might well cry to God, “Help! Give us faith!”
Gospel prelude to today’s lesson:
the verses leading up to today’s Gospel Jesus has told the
disciples that they must forgive, and forgive and forgive without
end. The disciples see that as too hard.
They do not know how to succeed at this. So the disciples’ plead
with Jesus: “Increase our faith!”
answer Jesus tells them the smallest amount of faith is more than
sufficient. We know from Paul’s letters, especially Galatians,
reflecting Habakkuk’s words,
that faith is not up to us. It is a free gift that
God gives to us undeserving sinners. That
to us by Grace transforms everything in our
lives. We become
God’s children who act out that same Grace for everyone around us.
Turning Point: Christ abolishes death!
read in the Letter to Timothy how profound this transformation is:
“This grace was given to us in Christ
Jesus…, who abolished death
and brought life
to light through the gospel.”
is the power of God! In Christ Jesus death
is abolished. Our core identity becomes not how we live, not what we
do, not who we live with, nor even
for whom we live out our lives. Our core identity is established
again as it was at creation: we are God’s people by Grace alone. It
is what God does to us, not what we do, that gives
us our identity.
trust the promise that, even though we be overrun by a foreign power,
the Promised Land be taken from us, and we are scattered across the
face of the earth, we remain God’s people.
Waite, as an envoy for the Church of England, negotiated the release
of a number of hostages in the Middle East. Then during one
negotiation, he was kidnapped and held from 1987 to 1991. For
most of those five years he was isolated and blindfolded. It would
have been so easy to lose himself, his identity, his sanity. A key
component to his survival was daily Holy Communion. By himself, by
memory, he went through the service using the old words from the
English Book of Common prayer, even when he had no bread or water for
the elements. This Word of God reminded Terry who he was and it
reminded Terry who God was. It pulled him into communion with the
faithful of every time and place – day … by day … by day: he
was the one for whom Christ died, so that he might be forgiven and
live abundantly, even in captivity.
tiny bit of the faith, that Grace alone saves us, is enough for us to
extend that same forgiveness to everyone around us.
Facing Real Life, even Defeat, as God’s
even the smallest spark of that faith in us, death does not
have the final say in our lives. The treasure of
this grace-given-faith through
the generations overcomes
every challenge, tragedy and defeat. When
a spouse develops dementia, when a loved one becomes an addict, even
when a child dies, then we can trust that God carries us
onward in the world God made and said “It is Good!”
Everything taken: we remain God’s Children
can be taken from us. Like Paul, we can be imprisoned and even worse:
our reputations can be ruined, our church can be taken from us, our
livelihoods and ability to work can be taken from us, our freedom can
be taken from us. Still we will remain God’s children, for God
alone has made us God’s children. Nothing can take that from us.
Billboard of faith
billboard the Holy Spirit has engraved the Gospel of Jesus on our
foreheads with a cross, poured it into our hearts as love, and
kneaded it like leaven into our minds and actions, so that a runner,
or a fellow disciple in deep grief or having forgotten
Grace-given-Faith, will easily be able to see the treasure of
Christ’s Grace in our lives.
that Christ has defeated death and is raising us to new life, at the
end of each day, whether it was challenging or not, we will not
have chased after trite nor revered successes.
The Habit of Costly Faith Courageously Shared
Instead, having treasured Grace and forgiveness as a habit so that it comes easily to us, we will say: “We, faithful servants of Christ, have done only what we ought to have done! Though it cost us, like William Tyndale who was martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English, with the courage of the Holy Spirit we share with others the Grace that saves us.” …. [breathe!]
10% what happens to us, and 90% how wereact …
[breathe!] Yet it is 100%
what God does for us that counts!
to the cold the colours left when photosynthesis cannot any more
shed summer and fall pushing the liquids of life back into the ground
expansion of freezing that would tear out their hearts.
still air as the light of warmth reaches through the tops to the
yellow carpet below
the trees cry ice drops,
melting from the freezing night’s moisture collected on leaves not yet having succumbed like their fallen comrades
to the wretched destruction of passing time,
to the blessed transition from green biting-bug-and pollen-filled hot days transitioning to the cool respite of fall.
drop, drip … it is time
celebrate what was
prepare for what will come
time to haul wood, trees murdered for a bit of white bark or taken as the victim’s of drug-hyped-senslessness and bravado that a madman with an axe can fell living trees just for the show of it, for the false exuberance of finally being able to master something, since he could not master himself.