Home, of Sorts

This Spring …

This is the neighbourhood of Home

All views taken one at a time

giving an accurate account

of beauty in a nutshell,

a life well lived,

of wonderful solitude

which has broken on the May long weekend

with a rather full camping area,

with only a few that do not show

fellow campers and the land the respect due.

Today it is so dry there is a province wide fire ban in place

Though this is the first

as yesteryear’s extreme’s become

today’s normal, and

today’s new extremes become

tomorrow’s normal.

Hang on!

It’s going to be a rough ride for the next 50 years!

First Break in Nice (Thick) Ice

Back when the ice was just breaking up, the reflection of light and cloud make the water and shore jump.

Birch White Goldenized

The Birch Show Their Colours Well

Mud Mirrors

Even the huge puddles of spring mud and snow melt pick up the the light of the sky behind the trees’ reflections.

Spring Moon Rises at Sunset

The moon ascends into the evening sky, brilliant white against the gold and blue of sunset.

Predawn Moon Going Down

Just days later the moon settles in the west as the dawn touches the east.

Sunrise Moon Setting

And settles closer to the water as the early morning breaks.

Open Cold Water

Waves and White Water return as the wind churns up the lake touched still with small patches of snow and ice.

Surviving Rodents

The few brush left with partial birch trunks, long since food for the beaver who keep the lake level high, stand out in the gold light at sunset.

Sol Plays with Aqua

The water and the setting sun play with each other in familiar yet newly wonderful manners almost each night.

Ugly becomes Gorgeous

Even the junk, abandoned, and starting to be trashed camper cannot help but shine with the immense wonders of the setting sun.

My favourite of late

The reaching thirsty trees along the shore silhouette wonderfully against the blues and oranges of the sun set reflecting remnants of light on the water.

Surprises and Visions

2019 May 05, Easter 3

Winston Churchill once said: “[People] occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as though nothing had happened.”

The Light of Christ is alarming, blinding, and demanding. Often we try to control what part of the Light, what part of Jesus’ story, what part of the awful freedom of forgiveness we acknowledge.

Other times we entirely deny the Love of Christ that shines a light into every darkness, exposing all our secrets and revealing every hidden truth. Instead we choose to slip back into the convenient darkness of our daily lives.

The Light of Christ Finds Us in Our Darkness.

Jesus does not give up on us. He keeps showing up to get our attention. Have you seen Jesus talking? Or God giving a lesson? Or have you seen the crimson blood of Christ wash the stain of sin away to leave a person fuller white bright? For 200 years no one in England reported that they had, and then came Julian of Norwich who we commemorate this week.

While the Black Plague, the Peasants Revolt, and the suppression of the Lollards devastated the English countryside, Julian lived a mystic’s life, profoundly assured of God’s care and love as few people in all of history.

In the face of so much evidence that death, raw evil, and sin had the world in its control, she famously quoted Jesus in her vision, “All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things will be well.”

These simple words have given a thin thread of powerful hope to people in the most desperate situations. Among others, I know that it helped a young mother of two teenagers, living in Germany, stay alive. She was struggling to stay sane after years of abuse by her husband, when he had secretly already started another family with a much younger woman.

Julian wrote “God is nearer to us than our own soul”. God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when evil and sin will no longer hinder us.

Throughout these 7 Easter Sundays we keep in mind Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” It will be part of the Gospel in two weeks and we know these words contain everything else in Jesus’ story.

In today’s readings we hear how Jesus continues to surprise people with visions of his love.

Jesus in a vision astounds Saul of Tarsus. A well educated Pharisee and righteous under the law for himself, Saul is dedicated to God. He stones and arrests followers of Jesus to cleanse the synagogues of them. Then the Light of Christ finds him. Saul has a vision of Jesus telling Saul he is persecuting Jesus himself. Blinded by the Light, Saul needs help from others to regain his sight. When he does Saul is baptized as Paul.

After 3 years of study Paul spreads Jesus’ story of the Love of God around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as far as Rome itself. In Paul’s writings to his congregations to encourage their faith we have the earliest accounts of the Christian faith, which we receive, practice and proclaim today.

Our reading from the Book of the Revelation to John reminds us of what danger and persecution the early Christians faced. Any author, carrier, or reader of Words about faith in Jesus, if caught by the Romans, would be put to death. Difficult to produce and therefore very precious, the writings would also be destroyed.

To preserve the writings (and the people) the writing’s content was codified. The codes, colourful and out of this world, were popularly used by Christians but not understood by their Roman persecutors. Today we can estimate much but do not fully know their code. Revelation is the only one of these many writings accepted into the New Testament.

Written to inspire, comfort, and encourage faith in people who were mercilessly persecuted, Revelation has touched the hearts of desperate people through the generations and even today!

Seeing What Others May Overlook, a Mystic’s View.

Today Jesus still appears in visions to people, though perhaps as rare as in Julian of Norwich’s time. I personally know only one sacramental mystic to whom Jesus appears in the ordinary things of creation: in Light, in Truth and in Grace, in visions both troubling and comforting.

This mystic’s experience is quite like the disciples’, who, having encountered the awesome, fearful truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, return to something familiar. They go fishing. Then Jesus appears, hardly recognizable, and asks them to fish on the other side of the boat. The results overwhelm the fishers and their nets, and open their eyes to who has spoken to them. Ashore he feeds them from their spectacular catch and with the bread of life. They leave the nets and resume Jesus’ ministry healing people with God’s love.

In the stories of the Fishers and of Paul, in stories codified to preserve them and in Julian’s visions and counsel, and in the words of mystics of all times, the constant in all of them is the brightly shining love of God.

This Love was exercised at great expense by Jesus for us, and by many who have gone before us and who handed on the faith to us.

Jesus’ love story is not a benign story, it is not a safe story, it is not an easy story to get right. It is always a story of how we are to love one another as Jesus loves us.

At age 60 James Mitchner, a man of grand words and acquaintance of powerful people everywhere, including many US presidents, told a story about the most influential person he ever met.

At 7 years old Jim was orphaned and sent to live with relatives. The couple was so poor both husband and wife worked seven days a week. That first weekend, with apologies, his foster parents set off to work leaving Jim alone. He was bored, bored stiff. He walked around the house. Nothing happened. So when he heard a truck coming down the alley just before noon, he went out on the back step. The truck stopped at each house until it stopped at his house. The driver got out with the truck running, emptied the garbage cans, got back into the truck, and drove on. That was the day’s greatest action.

The next Saturday, again Jim was just as alone, just as bored. Nothing was happening in the empty house. So just before noon he sat down on the back step to wait for the garbage truck. He waited and waited. Finally after an hour of waiting Jim heard the truck. It followed the same routine, stopping at each house until it stopped at his house. The driver got out with the truck running, emptied the garbage cans, got back into the truck and drove on. Lonely Jim was left to go back inside … to boredom.

The third Saturday, same story. Except the truck didn’t come. With nothing else to do Jim sat and sat, and waited. Finally about 3 o’clock he heard the truck. The truck kept the same routine, stopping last at his house at the end of the alley. The driver got out with the truck running, grabbed and emptied the garbage cans, and got back in the truck. But then the driver turned off the truck, walked through the gate and said,

“Hi, what’s your name.”

He answered, “I am Jim and I am lonely.”

“I have seen you for the last few weeks. I’ve thought of you each day and I am sorry I have not stopped.”

The garbage man sat and listened to Jim, not only that day, but each Saturday. James’ foster parents set out chairs for the garbage man and for Jim.

James Mitchner, a man of many words, acquaintance of most US presidents of his adult life, and of powerful people everywhere was most influenced by the garbage man who took the time to turn off his truck each Saturday from the time Jim was seven until he was seventeen.
(story told at Asset Build Workshop – Powell River)

God’s love story was lived out by a garbage man on Saturdays with a lonely child. What followed for James Mitchner was a life of military and civilian travel, adventure, and writing books that inspired a generation and more.

Christ’s Light will find us, shock us, blind us, turn us around, and make us into new people. Jesus’ love will send us into lives of real work filled with real excitement and challenges, even abundantly filled with real adventure, … if not in travels, then in learning, sharing, and bringing abundant life to others. The Light of Christ will repeatedly interrupt our work and dreams, guiding us onward, correcting and even reversing our courses, but always moving us towards loving one another with God’s love in all things.

The only question is what we are going to do with the brilliance of Christ’s Light, the Freedom of God’s Forgiveness, the comfort of the Spirit, the abundance Jesus helps us catch, and the abiding assurance that all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well?

What are we going to do in response to the Love that resurrected Jesus from the dead, and saves us each day?

Amen

The Son’s Light Never Sets, God’s Love Never Ends.

As We Gather…for this Sunday

Born in 1342 Julian of Norwich was a mystic, counsellor, and lay theologian. We commemorate her on May8th. We know little directly about her life, but what we know leaves us to think she was married, lost her husband and children to perhaps the plague. We do know she became sick herself at age 30, thought she would die, received her last rites, and had 16 visions of Jesus.

Julian did not then die, though. She lived on, secluded in a cell attached to St. Julian’s Church, as an anchoress.

What was unusual is that she wrote down short descriptions of her visions. Only later people learned they were written by her.

Though living apart she received people for counselling and became known affectionately by many. Through many years she rewrote her visions adding theological reflections in what survive today as her book Revelations of Divine Love. Her words of counsel have provided inspiration and hope for generations of people. She died at least 74 years old, sometime after 1416.

Easter ‘Sunrise’ Sermon

Easter Early Morning

This wondrous morning, we remember especially God’s victorious response to death’s three-day claim on Jesus. We remember Jesus’ resurrection. And we hope for God’s resurrection response to all claims evil has on us and on all people.

The Proclamation

3x Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed!

The Darkness Before

This past week, Holy Week, we have remembered Jesus’ story, from the Palm procession into Jerusalem, to his last meal with his disciples as he gave us the New Covenant, … to his arrest and his disciples deserting him, … to the questioning, the scapegoating and condemning crowds, … to his whipping, Peter’s denials, and the mocking of Jesus, … to his torture, and then his death and burial in an unused tomb. Rightfully so his followers are fearful; they hide behind locked doors. All of this is so horrendous and unbearable.

Except we know the next part of Jesus’ story, because we celebrate it each Sunday. We know that Jesus is Risen from the dead, back to life.

The Light

Even though all that evil played out against him and overwhelmed so many people and then even Jesus himself in death … Even so God defeats death.

Yet Holy Week leading to Easter is so much more than that: God did not just step in to defeat the death of Jesus. After all Jesus is not the first to come back from the dead. Death is apparently, – relatively speaking, – easily overcome, one person at a time. Lazarus steps out of his tomb with grave clothes still covering him. The young girl answers Jesus’ call Talitha cumi, and walks away from her death bed.

Today we remember that God does something much, much larger.

The story is more than one resurrection

The story is more than one resurrection. God defeats all evil. All death defeated.

It is not just laying down in one’s own bed and waking up the next morning in one’s own home. It is to be able to do this after living on the streets or in the woods for years, with no bed or home to call one’s own, and then one night having ones own bed to sleep in, in one’s own home.

It’s not just having three meals a day in the senior’s care centre and being able to give an CLWR offering for Easter, which will give meals to people starving in refugee camps who have fled genocide in their home countries. Rather it is as a child having only grass to eat on the walk out of Stalin’s drought in the Ukraine, and having survived years of hardships and hunger when there were no refugee camps. Then in one’s later years being able to make a donation that will feed others who now have no food.

It’s not just a love story of ‘girl gets guy’, and they waltz off into the sunset of life. It is growing up without friends as an immigrant, an outsider. Then evil being defeated means one finds love in the most unexpected place with the most unexpected person against the most unbeatable odds …
in the family of what once was one’s real enemies.

It’s not just Jesus coming back from the dead to live again, although that’s a bit terrific already. It’s Jesus having taken on all Evil and having taken on all the sins of every person who has and ever will live. It’s having taken on the penalties for all that sin along with the big penalty, death for every person. Then it is being brought back to live life. It’s having Jesus take on all that and having defeated it!

Home Run

Jesus’ story is not like just standing at home plate and hitting a home run out of the stadium. It’s standing at the plate, in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, with a full count, down three runs, bases loaded, with all your pitchers hurting, having been put up there in desperation by the manager. You will never be here again, ever, no matter if you play 1000 more games. Then …

That’s like Jesus’ story; his life, suffering, death and resurrection mean so much more than we are able to imagine. That’s like our story or rather we each have a variation of that as our own story.

Our Response

In Jesus’ and in our stories, God defeats all Evil and all death once and for all time.

Or sort of. God makes the promise visible to us, that one day, at the end of this world, new life will be given to all the dead. There will be a resurrection for everyone. That’s when God will put Evil to rest.

God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah took most of their life times before God’s time was right for them to have a child, long past normal time. God’s time to make this promise to us will come.

In the meantime, today we are God’s saints, not because we have done good things. Rather we are saints only because God takes us when we cannot do anything good. God makes us the people who think the thoughts, who say the words, who do the deeds of God’s perfect people. Jesus has pulled us from the grips of evil where we’ve put ourselves, from where we only deserve eternal death. From the darkest valley of the shadows of death Jesus has brought blessed things to us and out of us. These blessing give life abundant to others around us.

How do we respond to Gods’ work in and through us?

Our response can be to delve into Jesus’ story, again and again. Our response can be to learn more and more of God’s purpose for us, communicated by God from outside of time, beyond matter, from infinity. God has compressed God’s will into Jesus’ life story. God has funnelled it to us living inside of time, confined to bodies, living a finite existence. God communicates everything we need to know through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection story. Our response can be to engage with Jesus’ story again and again our lives long.

The Holy Spirit works in us to help us understand what we see and hear. The Holy Spirit works in us so that like Mary in the Garden, we recognize our shepherd’s voice and follow where he leads us.

Like Mary, we see angels but we may not know it. The Holy Spirit helps us fill in the blanks. Like Peter, we may hear the women’s story, even go to see for ourselves, and find the grave clothes neatly folded on the stone death bed. Yet we not understand what it is that we see, or rather what it is that we do not see. The Holy Spirit helps us comprehend the obvious but impossible: namely that God’s limitless creative power has just undone death through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Like the beloved disciple we may hear the women’s story, and see exactly what Peter sees, and we may believe that Jesus lives. The Holy Spirit helps us to grasp how we, as representatives of the human species, just caught a new glimpse of God’s will and our place in creation.

The Holy Spirit helps us continually change the rest of our lives, so that we live as one person in the whole fully changed human project.

We no longer need to compete with each other to succeed. God calls us to the acceptable fast during Lent, giving of ourselves so that others will have life abundant.

Then after Easter, God calls us to celebrate every day, not just how the light of Christ frees us, and how that changes the rest of our lives, but how we are to be Christ’s Light for others. Everyone’s life can be changed. God has a part in the creating the new creation for each of us.

Can we celebrate, even outright dance, the rest of our lives in Christ’s Light?

Yes, we can, if we choose, and not just because Jesus is for us, but because Jesus sends us to share that light with all people, especially those in desperate need around the world.

The Holy Spirit helps us celebrate life with the most difficult people in our lives, whether its a grouchy neighbour, a mean person we have to relate to again and again, a nice but nosy relative, a recalcitrant spouse, or a self-destructive friend.

Yes, we can celebrate and dance through the challenges that come our way, because the Holy Spirit inspires and guides us to understand more and more fully what it means that Jesus lived, taught, healed, suffered, died and is resurrected back to life!

Jesus lives!

Alleluia! For we can, no matter our past or future, live well.

Jesus lives!

Alleluia! For we can, no matter our past or future, bring life abundant to all people!

Amen!

Easter Later Service

Easter Morning Late

This wondrous morning we remember God’s victorious response to death’s three day claim on Jesus. We remember Jesus’ resurrection. And we hope for God’s resurrection response to all claims evil has on us and on all people.

Proclamation

With this profound hope we proclaim together three times:

Jesus Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen indeed!

The Darkness Before

This past Holy Week we have remembered Jesus’ story, from his triumphant procession into Jerusalem, to his last meal with his disciples as he gave us the New Covenant,

to his arrest, his disciples deserting him, and the questioning, … to the crowds scapegoating and condemning him, his flogging, and Peter’s denials, … to the soldiers mocking and torturing him.

Finally we remembered how Jesus died sooner than expected, nailed to a cross … abandoned even by God. His followers scattered and hiding, filled with fear for their lives.

We remembered how they buried him in a rock tomb.

Because the darkness, portrayed in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, is so deep, embracing everything, and so unbearably deadly, the next part of Jesus’ story is so much more than we can ever expect or comprehend, yet alone completely remember.

Every time we encounter it, we see how much more Jesus’ story is. The Light of Christ outshines such depths of darkness that we are dumbfounded, astounded and awestruck, …

if we listen carefully.

The Light

God did not just step in to defeat the death of Jesus. After all Jesus is not the first to come back from the dead. Lazarus steps out of his tomb with grave clothes still covering him. Jesus calls out Talitha cumi, and the young girl walks away from her death bed.

Jesus story is more than one resurrection

Jesus’ story is more than one more resurrection. With Jesus’ resurrection it’s all evil, all death defeated.

Home Run

Jesus’ story is not just standing at home plate and hitting a home run out of the stadium. It’s standing at the plate, in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, with a full count, down three runs, bases loaded, with all your pitchers used up. You’ve been put up there to bat in desperation by the manager. You are mostly recovered from a chemotherapy treatment three days ago and from surgery on your left shoulder last month. You’re no spring chicken at 65 years old. You will never be here again, ever, even if you beat cancer. There’s is no way you should be here. You just came back to visit the team on the bench.

Then you hit a home run to the utter astonishment of everyone and to the great benefit of a home city desperate for a team that would finally win.

Remember

Remember what Jesus has taught us, just as Jesus taught his first disciples. Remember Jesus’ story. It is also our story, or rather we each have a variation of that as our own story.

Every time we listen carefully we will be astounded and amazed at how God acts out God’s will with love and forgiveness, Grace and mercy, sacrifice and humility for us, and for all people, even our enemies.

What’s Next?

So what’s next for us?

It is easy to come to Easter worship, to be astounded by Jesus’ story and to bask in the music and words and movements of our celebration of life in the worship service and at breakfast. It’s easier yet to then once again walk back out into the world that keeps us occupied, forgetting what amazing things we’ve heard and seen. Who would believe us anyway if we told them someone came back from the dead to share God’s Word with us?

Isaiah’s New Heavens and New Earth

In the OT lesson from Isaiah for this morning, Isaiah speaks God’s words of promise to the exiles in Babylon. They’ve lost everything and been carted thousands of miles from home to be servants in a foreign land ruled by some not so nice people. They are not only servants, but they have years ago forgotten so much.

God creates new

God’s Word comes, not to fix things up, but to create a new heaven and a new earth. God’s words create, just as at the beginning of time. In the new creation we will no longer be God’s wayward people. Instead we will get to remain at home, cry to the Lord in joy and be a delight to God.

It is a Shalom vision of the Kingdom of God: there will be no weeping, no cries of distress.

New creation ends all suffering and need

In this world of Shalom, of God’s Peace, there is no homelessness, no hunger, no conflict or climate-change-displaced refugees. There are no untimely deaths, no violence or destruction or stolen lunches or unrewarded labour.

Even the dog-eat-dog order of the food chain will end. Predators and prey will live together in peace.

God’s new work in Jesus even more: perfect

Yet this vision in Isaiah is nothing compared to God’s work made clear in Jesus’ story that we have reflected upon this Lent and Holy Week.

In truth all things in God’s new creation will be re-created perfect.

Now we have only a foretaste of this new creation, a promise made in Jesus’ story.

Luke: Healing

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes that Jesus came to heal people, and with his death and resurrection to heal all creation.

As humans we often need healing. We often seek help and sometimes what ails us is dealt with. Even less frequently we even see that we are cured. When it comes to the wholeness of creation and our spirits we seem to be lost.

The brokenness of creation is more than we imagine. Our brokenness is more than we can imagine. The healing we need is so much more than we can imagine.

Healing, more than duct tape

It used to be that a good farmer could fix anything except the economy with bailing wire and pliers. Now days we use duct tape and plastic ties.

Which works out just fine until your life depends on the repair.

It’s like carabiners. There are so many kinds available today. I can get two for $1.25. And they work as key chains just fine. Until they do not, and my keys went missing because the cheap, carabiner I hung my keys on did not stay closed. Whoosh, click or slip and the key was goners. So now I use duct tape to hold the carabiner closed.

The fix when our lives depend on it

Which works just fine. But it would not be the fix needed if I were mountain climbing and hanging all my weight plus the stress of the wind blowing against me on that carabiner, tied by a rope into the rock face.

That kind of a carabiner cannot be a two-for-$1.25 purchase. For all the things we might be pleased to repair with duct tape and plastic ties, God asks so much more of us when it comes to our part in the new creation.

When we go through life, expecting that God just uses duct tape and plastic ties to heal creation, we miss out on the marvellous mystery, the eye-popping wonder, and the awe-filled power God uses to create a new heaven and earth for us, in us, and among us.

Sending

After Jesus’ resurrection, God sends us out to share the good news, to voice the prayers of compassion with those who suffer, and to be the hands of Christ that deliver the new creation to all people.

When we listen carefully, do diligently, remember remarkably, we will hear and see Jesus working in ways we hardly understand at first. We will be floored by the amazing tales Jesus has in mind for us to hear and even see for ourselves.

We ask that the Holy Spirit will help us watch carefully, listen intently, and pray fervently, that God’s new creation may come among also us. But most of all we ask that the Holy Spirit help us as we get ready to be bowled over. It not a small fix or even a big fix with duct tape. God creates a new world, a new universe, and even a new you and new me.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us through it.

Ready or not, the Holy Spirit will put us up to bat, with the bases load, in the bottom of the ninth, with the team needing us to hit a home run, and the world needing it even more.

Breath deeply and slowly. Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t forget ….

Christ is Risen!

And that’s just the start of God’s new creation.

God is about to use each of us in ways we could not dream of.

Amen

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

Anxiety overcome by something worth celebrating!

Lazarus, Mary’s response of extravagance

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

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

Foot washing sandaled feet

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

Extravagance

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

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

Objections

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

Real Fear of poverty

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

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

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

What does Jesus have in store for us?

What does Jesus have in store for us?

OT God’s up to something again: something new

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

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

God’s new thing: living water in the deserts

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

Canada’s water

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

Salt water, fresh water, living water

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

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

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

Paul, Our Efforts = Nothing

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

Christ’s Gifts = everything

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

God’s Gift, flowing, living water

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

Praise for the water from all

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

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

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

What does God have in store for us?

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

Lenten fast

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

Celebration of Easter Coming

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

Baptismal water promises

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

All will praise God

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

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

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

As at Daybreak celebrate [extravagantly]

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

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

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

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

But for now…

Let the waltz begin.

Let the celebrations and our praise begin.

God’s Glory

Amen

Changing Hearts

The ‘Final’ Version

Our Way Through the Waters, to God’s Glory

Psalm 119 starts: Happy are those whose way is blameless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and we proclaim grace

and real hope.

Now for the sermon proper:

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

If Beale Street Could Talk

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

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


It’s dark out There

Everything old has passed away. Everything is made new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

….


Here,

in this new creation,

the Light Shines!

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

And God’s Grace and Justice will prevail …

Amen.

(Which means: this is most certainly true!)

Changing (to good) Habits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Coffee, Reality, Grace: Breathe and Respond

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

Lent 3 – 24 March 2019

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

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

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

Sermon

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

Coffee and Death

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

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

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

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

Because God …, Therefore we can ….

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

Isaiah writes: listen that you may live.

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

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

Therefore we can live boldly and abundantly.

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

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

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

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

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

Life on our own

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

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

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

God does not leave us on our own

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

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

God asks of us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because God is faithful, Therefore we remain faithful.

Breathe Gracefully, while We can

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Lent 3 – Coffee, as Life

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

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

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

Isaiah 55:1-9 

Psalm 63:1-8 

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 

Luke 13:1-9 

Outline

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

Intro:

when our children were young they asked for coffee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because God claims us, Therefore we can live and respond

Isaiah writes: listen that you may live.

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

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

Therefore we can live boldly and abundantly.

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

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

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

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

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

One: This is real Life

cruel short brutish

testing, to our limits of endurance

evil suffered.

Evil perpetrated.

all will die.

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

death by completely avoidable starvation, completely avoidable illnesses,

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

Two: This is God’s Reality

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

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

God abundantly pardons

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

to buy wine and milk without money or price

Christ assures us there is no test beyond our endurance

Three: This is what God asks of us

that we honour the goodness of Creator and Creation

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

while we still have ‘one more year’

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

that we trust God’s faithfulness

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

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

that we learn from examples of our fore-bearers

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

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

Eg

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

A small start on the injustice rectifying.

We breathe, we take steps, we struggle forward,

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

Because:

God is faithful

Therefore:

we remain faithful

Conclusion:

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

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

Everyone lives through it, or dies from it.

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

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

Amen