The Power of Light

Or at what temperature is the Light of Christ pure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God always surprises us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Also possible

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

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

The Power of Light

Sermon Draft for Epiphany 2019

This is Life in the Darkness

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

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

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

God’s ways unfathomable

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Way

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

God surprises us:

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

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

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

Mystery of Faith

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

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

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

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

What we want

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

Just rulers.

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

Prosperity in Light and Glory.

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

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

God’s Light vs. Our Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Also possible

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

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

Epiphany Sermon Themes and Outline

Themes:

Isaiah:

darkness

Light and Glory

Blessing as prosperity, Blessing with Prosperity, Blessing without Prosperity

Prosperity without blessing

Light, sought by many, short supply, great demand

produces prosperity

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

Thrill and rejoicing at abundance

End frankincense and gold: and praise of God

Psalm:

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

righteous flourish, abundance of peace

nations bow down before him

delivers the poor in distress, the oppressed with no helper

compassion for the lowly and the poor

preserves the lives of the needy

Ephesians

The copier, the cheat, plagiarism, the Gospel

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

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

Mystery revealed by the Spirit, to holy apostles and prophets

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

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

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

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

Matthew

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

Set in motion

wealth for Mary to raise Jesus,

need to flee to Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

Outline

God’s ways unfathomable

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

Wise men not so wise

Mystery of Faith

Christ for all Gentiles, too

What about unearnable Grace, Forgiveness, God’s favour

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

What we want

Just rulers

Light against all darkness

resolution of the all ails of the human condition

Prosperity in Light and Glory

Power, access to God, servant’s with authority

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

God’s Light vs. Our Darkness

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

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

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

Example: not knowing the power of Light of Fire

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

Cold

Explosive possibilities

Simple candle and a newspaper

Example: not knowing the destruction of fright, at injustice

just being frightened at injustice

at being the malfeasance obvious

nothing doable, paralyzed, fighting, fleeing

Example: not knowing the stories of old corruption

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

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

Example: not knowing the power of CO emissions

Global Warming run rampant

now the extremes of past are norm

new extremes are not survivable without complete new adaptations

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

Example: not knowing the beauty of life

the light of stars without light pollution

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

the beauty of your place, time.

Example: not knowing the futility of security sought in prosperity

boom bust

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

a Storm

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

normal: no one gets out of life alive.

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

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

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

being the just ruler,

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

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

Epiphany Sermon Notes

Year C – 06 January 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.

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

Hang on to that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

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

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

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

Ephesians 3:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 2:1-12


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

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

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

Good rulers do the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the other children of Israel ….

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

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

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

There is good reason to be frightened.

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

We can hope for a day when truth will prevail.

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

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

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

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

Blessed New Year

Miracles are welcome!
May the cards you and yours are dealt bring peace and joy. May your responses to especially the ‘off suit’ cards bring others peace and joy beyond all expectations.
365 days to let God wow us with what God can pull out of us, and what the Spirit can pull off in spite of us.
Breathe,
Smile,
Play,
And ‘dance with Grace.’

And occasionally laugh out loud

Just to let them wonder

What you’re up to.

God certainly knows how to weep, grieve, and suffer with us;
But I think God enjoys the breathing, smiling, playing, dancing, and laughing
A bit more.

Make ithe New Year as awesome as each past and yet coming at us; 
Unconditional love is the key,
So open the gates.
We are not alone.

God …
All ways, always.

All will be well.

All will be well.

All manner of things will be well.

Dim December

The sunsets, thankfully not for months or weeks or even days, but for long hours.

The sun disappears about 16:00 to show up again maybe at 9:00 in these long-nighted cold days.

Even when it is up, the sun never climbs high enough to reach tree top.

Most mornings the clouds hold the sun at bay, delivering ice fog and delicate snow on the trees.

In this darkness the light shines in us all, through the cracks, the light gets in (LCohen). The darker, the more obvious the light, more clearly the yearning for light.

We can choose to be light or dark. It is too easy to mimic one’s environment, one’s companions, and be their darkness. But the light is clearly available to anyone who wishes to so choose.

The sun shines every day, it’s just sometimes one has to climb to above 60,000 feet to see it.

Advent 4 – Outline

Mary sings

And it is quite the song.

Sung loud.

It’s sung with joy, and it’s been sung often since.

But be careful, singing this song may have unforeseen consequences.

Velvet Revolution story

The protesters in Leipzig in 1989 knew (the power of singing) well. While that element sometimes gets overlooked in the histories of the “velvet revolution,” it’s striking to note that for several months preceding the fall of the Berlin wall, the citizens of Leipzig gathered on Monday evenings by candlelight around St. Nikolai church – the church where Bach composed so many of his cantatas – to sing, and over two months their numbers grew from a little more than a thousand people to more than three hundred thousand, over half the citizens of the city, singing songs of hope and protest and justice, until their song shook the powers of their nation and changed the world. Later, when someone asked one of the former officers of the Stasi, the East German secret police, why they did not crush this protest like they had so many others, the officer replied “We had no contingency plan for song.” (David Lose “In the meantime…” 2015)

But in the DDR in the 80’s (Tim visited and heard this for himself) it was a well-known, unknowable, among church leaders and government people:

Eric Honecker, leader of the DDR, and Bishop Schönberger, knew each other, and respected each other. They had both been in concentration camps under the Nazis.

Honecker and Schönberger had an arrangement, that the church could be the pressure relief valve for the state, and …

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

One still needs to be careful when one chooses to sing, especially if one choose to sing as Mary does.

Bit first the other lessons, because they set the stage for us to better appreciate Mary’s simple song.

Today our song is from the Psalm:

Refrain

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Shining face: the image from winter sun

Fill it in

It is so good to bask in God’s shining in on us, knowing we will be saved.

Which just about sets the stage for a good nap.

A nap

A sign of God’s presence

Amidst the challenges, to be able to rest in peace, or rather rest peacefully, when one’s enemies would prefer one rested in peace.

And after the nap, restored almost as good as new, we move on with our busy days.

Micah

political solution

The promise of a political solution for the very present like of old

Use of his words for more:

Beyond political solution

Jesus, a very not political solution to the timeless challenge of scapegoating and sin, which is more than any political solution could be.

Hebrews:

Beyond comprehension

If you think Hebrews is beyond comprehension, good for you. It is written just as obscurely as the complicated laws of Jesus’ day: and no one understood it then either.

Jesus, Last Sacrifice, a new justice

But the point of Hebrews: that’s clear

Jesus is the one time sacrifice,

who replaces blood sacrifice and in decipherable webs of laws.

One sacrifice, one salvation for all people, for all time.

Old [sic] [in]justice

In those days then, with the complicated laws, Justice was who knows you, not what you do, since no one can keep the law. Not much has changed with civil law – for some people who are guilty, despite what the evidence is that should exonerated them. And our jails are filled with native men, and innocent men falsely charged by their intimate partner.

What’s gone wrong with us? We use to do this to women, allow a man put her away for nothing, or for nothing keep her drugged for decades in a mental institution. Now it’s men. What’s wrong with us?!

All have and do and will sin

Still now, no one can keep God’s laws, no one good enough to earn God’s favour.

We need God’s saving action now and now again and again

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Mary’s Song

More than once in history, tyrannical rulers have banned the singing of this song, for it is revolutionary, in the political sense.

[Story of song banned.]

Mary Sings a song. As all songs of faith well composed and well sung Mary sings a REVOLUTIONARY song.

Not just that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.

This is revolutionary, as in More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.

JOY

The start is fitting.

Mary’s spirit rejoices. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.

THE LOWLY … GOOD NEWS

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn from power to the powerless.

God looks to the lowly servant, Mary, caught pregnant before being married.

And she expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.

God has great strength, and chooses to show it … 

THE MIGHTY, THE OTHER KIND OF GOOD NEWS

But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride,

But to scatter them with their thoughts of how great they are, thoughts so mistaken that they are just plain foolish, even if they carry their own day, or seeming carry the day until God scatters their thoughts and meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.

The rulers are replaced.

Which is why many unjust rulers prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.

But to whom does God go?

Or from our perspective, to whom does God come?

God lifts up the lowly.

God feeds the hungry, with not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.

But The Rich God sends away empty handed.

This revolution changes all power and privilege.

So that those caught in the bottom of injustice can sing

The lowly Can sing loudly, for all to hear,

That God has come,

In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s day God comes to Israel, today to us, to whomever and where ever we are.

God comes to us keeping the promises he made to Abraham, for we also are By grace alone Counted Among Abrahams’ descendants … Forever.

God claims us, and makes us worthy of good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Be careful

Using the Magnificat can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.

But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,

Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.

For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the

Challenges

Whatever they are:

[fill in your choice, these were mine]

Cold

Bitter cold

Injustices

Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.

Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.

Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, or self-righteous and judgmental, or self-declared entitled. OR the challenges of

Flood

Famine

War

Addictions

Storms

Earthquakes

Global Warming

Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children

Cancer and other life taking diseases

Adjectives and Adverbs

“A young teacher landed her first job teaching children in a large city hospital. She taught those young patients who missed a lot of school. She developed a routine. When she received a student’s name, she first phoned the child’s regular school teacher to find out if there were any particular areas the child needed to work on.”

“One ordinary day her list included a 12-year-old boy named Tommy. When she spoke to his teacher, she discovered that Tommy needed to work on his grammar – particularly adverbs and adjectives. So she planned a lesson and took it up with her to the boy’s room.”

“The teacher, being fairly new to the hospital, only first realized when she arrived on the floor that Tommy’s room was in the burn unit. The sight of the small boy – terribly burned and in tremendous pain – shocked her to her core. But not really knowing what else to do, the young teacher began to work through her pre-prepared grammar lesson. The boy’s lips slowly answered her questions and responded to her comments. In great pain, together they completed the assignment.”

“After the lesson, the teacher fled from the burn unit, certain that her grammar lesson had been a callous and useless exercise. She was ashamed that she had not met Tommy’s obvious needs, somehow better.”

“For the next few days the teacher avoided that area of the hospital, not wanting to see Tommy or any of the staff who worked with him. Then one morning she found herself in the elevator with the nurse who had shown her the way to Tommy’s room.”

“‘What did you do to him?’ the nurse demanded. Lost for words, the teacher just looked at the nurse, wishing she were any place else. ‘What did you say?’ the nurse continued. ‘After you left, Tommy was a changed boy. We had just about given up on him because he had given up on himself. But his attitude was totally different after your visit. He started fighting back, and now his prognosis is really very good. Come see him.’”

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

Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans

Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.

Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.

Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.

Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.

Save us we cry, Save us we sing.

From all this we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves, so we cry

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!

Amen

Advent 4 – Luke

Luke 1.39-45- (46-55)

A visit

It is just a visit with a relative, Mary, pregnant before she is married, heads to the hills to see Elizabeth, wife of the one of the priests. Elizabeth is pregnant as well and at the sound of the guest’s greeting, her fetus leaps in her.

Elizabeth cries out, and exclaims (ok, how did she know already that Mary was go give birth to God’s own son, the saviour of the universe, but it’s a story, so not all of it is going to make all the logical and logistical sense of an historical account. This is an account of the purpose of God. So of course Elizabeth knows Mary’s son will be their saviour!)

Surprise at Jesus’ visit

Elizabeth cries out and exclaims that Mary is blessed among women and her son is blessed as well. Elizabeth is more than a bit astounded, that Mary, the mother of her Lord, has come to visit her!

We ought to be so surprised that Jesus comes to us, every day, every minute. For what do we deserve but God’s condemnation!

Or we are so used to Jesus’ presence with us that we behave like we are bored with it, as if nothing significant were to come of God standing with us, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. Gracing us with God’s presence, promising us that all will be well … even when there is nothing that is well at all to be seen or known. For when God is with us, already all things are well, all manner of things are well.

For Elizabeth understands that Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew, meaning saviour) is indeed God’s son, our saviour; this infant is the boy that will grow to be the man who will save us all … 

No More Scapegoating

And make it obvious that we do not need to sacrifice anyone else anymore; no more scapegoating.

All this is astounding

Is unusual

Is unique.

But

Then

Mary

Sings a song.

But as all songs of faith well composed and well sung

This is

Revolutionary

Not just that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.

This is revolutionary, as in

More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.

Joy

The start is fitting.

Mary’s spirit rejoices. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.

The Lowly … Good News

Mary realizes that God has taken a turn from power to the powerless.

God looks to the lowly servant, Mary, caught pregnant before being married.

And she expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.

This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.

God has great strength, and chooses to show it … 

The mighty, the other kind of Good News

But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride,

But to scatter them with their thoughts of how great they are, thoughts so mistaken that they are just plain foolish, even if they carry their own day, or seeming carry the day until God scatters their thoughts and meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.

The rulers are replaced.

And this causes many unjust rulers to prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.

But to whom does God go?

Or from our perspective, to whom does God come?

God lifts up the lowly.

God feeds the hungry, not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.

But

The

Rich

God sends away empty handed.

This revolution changes the power and privilege.

And those of us caught in the bottom of injustice

Can sing loudly, for all to hear,

That God has come,

In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s day to Israel, today to us, whoever and where ever we are.

God comes to us keeping the promises he made to Abraham, for we also are 

By grace alone

Counted

Among Abrahams’ descendants

Forever.

God claims us, and makes us worthy of good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.

Be careful

Using the Magnificant can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.

But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,

Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.

For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the

Challenges

Whatever they are:

Cold

Bitter cold

Injustices

Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.

Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.

Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, self-righteous and judgmental, and entitled.

Flood

Famine

War

Addictions

Storms

Earthquakes

Global Warming

Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children

Cancer and other life taking diseases

Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans

Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.

Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.

Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.

Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.

Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.

Save us we cry, Save us we sing.

From all this we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves, so we cry

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

Advent 3 Outline

I. Bad News is Good News
A. John the Baptist
insults them
warns them of the wrath of God coming to them
exhorts the people
exhorts them to
To repent
To do good for others,
And not to take advantage of others for their own benefit
B. Sword of God’s judgment
Awesome power of seeing God face to face
Tradition: no one lives
Exceptions notable
Moses
Now us
Still we are purified
Ax laid to the root in us that does not bear good fruit
Burned in the unquenchable fire
Bad news for those who lose
Are those who had all for themselves
Those who win
Everyone who God chooses to bless with faith
Good News for some Bad for others
We ALL are both all the time


II. Appropriate response
A. Sing Aloud
Contrast to not being able or safe to sing
Under Threat, 
Natural or another person
not able to sing, constant vigilance
In captivity
Singing a threat to captors
Dangerous to sing
Now Freedom to sing
B. Joy
The choice to habitually respond with gratitude
Wait 90 seconds with bad emotions
Free of emotional charge, able to move beyond reptilian to choose
To recognize more than flight, fight or freeze
Habitual choice to rejoice always, in all circumstances
Brain lays down pathways, shortcuts for quick responses to similar circumstances
Possible to respond with joy to everything
Cannot choose not to experience negative emotions, dangerous if we could,
Can choose to wait, to pause, to evaluate, to respond with reasoned choice to every bad circumstance.
Joy is not the absence of sorrow, grief, pain, 
Joy is the recognition that God is present, blessing every moment, even the most difficult.
Good News even in midst of terrible challenges, even if Good News is God’s 2x edge sword:
Joy always
God present especially clear in the worst of times

III. God is for us
A. Blessings – 
not that we get what we want
but that God gets for us what God wants.
John the Baptist: tough words bring Good News
God’s order for us all arrives with the Messiah
Not the messiah people want
But God’s messiah for us
No more sacrifice of each other to get through life.
This is joy
This is coming home
This is worth living for
This is freedom
From fear, anxiety, shame, effects of enemies that would destroy
This is living out of what God wants for us, not what we want for ourselves
B. Coming Home
Contrast to not welcome, unable, dangerous, or homeless
Security, Accepted as is, Rest, Able to receive and to give security, acceptance, a place for rest, recovery, healing, and inspiration to be what God makes us to be
C. Christ is come
Christ was born,
Christ is born again, each day, each Christmas
Christ will come again, basis for all hope
Holy Spirit moves us to recognize again
Christ was and is born, and 
Christ will come again, to once again change the world, 
D. God’s Revolution
A revolution to all order, so that all things will revolve around what God wants for us
Instead of what we want for ourselves

IV. Advent is
Advent is not a time to hide, or to bury oneself in Pre-Christmas hectic
Advent is a time to

Reflect deeply
Be awestruck
Realize God’s power to change the world, and us, all of us, each of us. Be purified.

Act appropriately
Ensure all have the basics of life
Ensure all have clean air and water
Ensure all have good food and clothing
Ensure all have shelter, but more
A home, safety, acceptance, to be loved
Ensure all have opportunity for meaningful labour
Ensure all are able to choose to love, one’s neighbour, the outcasts, most of all one’s enemies,
And to love God with all one’s heart, mind and soul.

Be joyful, in all circumstances
Share goodness of life in all ways with all around us.

V. Now may the peace that surpasses all understanding, guard safe our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

2018.12Dec16 Advent.3 01-Notes to the Lessons

Notes to the Lessons

Zephaniah

After warnings of God’s judgment, God’s displeasure with God’s people, Zephaniah finally at the end of the book gets around to, starts to present that God is actually merciful and will save them.

Judgment as Good News is a theme this week, a most challenging one.

The first section is in the 3rd voice; the prophet addresses the people. The second section is in the first person; God addresses the people; the prophetic voice of the prophet claiming to speak for God.

The first words are simple, “Sing aloud…” which may not be so powerful until one remembers that in captivity, it is not safe to sing aloud. For to sing praise to God who is seen as a threat to one’s captors is to invite personal destruction.

So here it starts: hear this: Sing, and sing aloud, for there is no captor, no foreign power, no occupier to hear. There is only those who fear and love the Lord, and the Lord God, who can hear. All is well.

All that Zephaniah has prophesized has come to be: God has judged Israel. But now that God takes away those judgements.

Everything is changed. Israel’s enemies are turned away, and Israel need not fear disaster anymore!

There’s a wonderful freedom in that. Anyone who has lived under the threat of a disaster can recount the horror, and the relief when it is done. We watched flood waters rise two meters a night, coming one meter from flooding our house we built with our own labour. The whole neighbourhood already flooded, but ours was by chance built higher up the side of the valley, just enough as it turns out.

If you’ve ever been under threat from another person who seems focused on ruining you with lies, who has already ruined your reputation, finances, family, ability to work, and still will not quit, you know what it is to live under the threat of disaster.

The promise is that God is in our midst whereas before God had deserted Israel. Both seem to be quite frightful. To have God desert us is not unlike Martin Luther, condemned by the Church court. No great sentence except excommunication. Seems like not much until you remember that meant he was not considered a full person. He was not protected by any laws. Anyone could treat him however, and there were no consequences, even if he were killed, it was not murder.

So being without God is to have one’s life under constant threat. And if you’ve ever been somewhere where that is the case, you know it’s a horrible experience. And then to have that threat end… the relief is palpable, visceral, and profound.

The promise that God is in our midst can also be similarly terrifying, for with good reason the traditions are that seeing God face to face is to die. The awesome presence of God in person is too much for a human to survive. And if that does not do you in, then the fact that God knows every single truth about you. You cannot hide, pretend, or fake it. Every thought, intention, excuse and secret are there on the open page of your life, for God to see and respond to. And there is not a single one of us that deserves anything short of condemnation from God.

But that is not the kind of God that we trust in, believe in or that Zephaniah presents to Israel. God is a God who gives victory, who rejoices over us, who renews God’s love for us, who will exult us (it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it; we exult God!) with loud singing. The whole universe hears God singing … with joy … about us!

Now that makes up for anything our enemies can do to us, anything we might suffer at their hands, any disaster that might befall us.

And the voice changes from the prophet talking about God, to the prophet presenting God speaking directly to us.

Disaster is gone, reproach too. Our oppressors are history. And then the lame and the outcast (those who suffer in society through no fault of their own) will receive God’s blessings: their shame is turned to praise and renown in all the earth!

For us the same renown on all the earth, our fortunes are restored before our eyes, and,

The best part,

God brings us home.

Maybe not such a big deal if you’ve always been able to go home. But if you’ve been exiled or made homeless, or cast out by misfortune or ill intent of an enemy, then to be able to come home … to have a home to come to, and to be brought there … this is a miracle of hope realized.

For it is at home, where one can recuperate, recover, rest, live and work, eat and play, and spend time with family.

Isaiah

Isaiah, stands in for the Psalm, as this portion of Isaiah is a song (a psalm) already.

Where does the author put their trust? In God, for in God is salvation, the water of life that can be drawn only from God’s well supplied well of salvation.

The response to God’s act of saving: to give thanks, make known God’s deeds, sing praises to God, shout and sing for joy.

Again, this is all because God is in our midst. A terrifyingly wonderful blessing.

Philippians

Paul is over the top with the Philipians, giving thanks for them and encouraging them to:

Rejoice, and again rejoice.

Put everything in God’s hands with prayer

And instead of worrying, to make our requests known to God.

Here Paul gives the blessing that has grown a tradition of use all it’s own: God’s peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds.

How God works peace we most often simply cannot begin to fathom. But God does.

With this peace God guards our hearts and minds … and that is all we can ask God for ever anyway.

John the Gospel

John proclaims the Good News to those who come out to be baptized. Well actually he exhorts them, and the writer John says that’s good news. We know the writer John is a different John because Herod has John the Baptist beheaded while Jesus is still alive, long before any of the Gospels were written, the Gospel according to John being the last one to be written.

The best dates we have for the Gospels being written are: Mark 66–70, Matthew and Luke 85–90, and John 90–110. Subtract 30-33 years for how many years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. So today’s Gospel was written roughly 60-80 years after John the Baptist and Jesus were killed.

There are two ways to start looking at this, well let’s call it a paradox. First look at the definition of Exhortation and see how that can be good or Good News. The second is to look at what the Gospel says John did, and ask how that is good or Good News.

The Oxford dictionary defines exhortation as “n[oun] address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something.
‘exhortations to consumers to switch off electrical appliances’
mass noun ‘no amount of exhortation had any effect’

Problem A: works righteousness: repent and earn God’s favour, through baptism.

Problem A explained: there is no one who can repent, change oneself, enough to earn God’s favour. Exhortation is a false good news. It’s actually a trap, a diversion, a call to fully occupy oneself with an impossible task, in order to accomplish a goal. But the task cannot be accomplished, so it keeps one from reaching the goal. When, other tasks are possible, if extremely difficult, but can be accomplished, and the goal can be reached. Actually since the goal is to gain God’s favour it is moot goal. God promises us God’s favour. We cannot earn it, we do not need to earn it. Any attempt to do so is futile, and can consume life, all of life.

Problem B: what John says to the people coming out to be baptized is not really so benign as “emphatically urging someone to do something”. It is rather nasty things that John says about people from the get go: You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee the wrath that is to come! Repent! Don’t count on being a descendant of Abraham. God can create Abraham’s descendants from stones. But be warned, the axe is at the root, Your root, and any person that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire.

Hot stuff, already the fires of damnation are leaping at our feet, as the axe is swung back to come slamming back down on the root of our existence, us poor sinners all!

And then flow the exhortations, or rather generalized accusations of malfeasance, which may have been earned or not.

What does he tell people?: All good stuff, share that second coat, as well as any food. Notice it is not spare food, it’s all food. Which should put one aware that a lot of people did not have ANY food. It was common. Which by the way is still the case today, if you had not noticed or had forgotten. The problem is not supply. There is enough food to feed everyone. The problem is distribution and hoarding and over consumption, says the guy with a fat belly.

Mailing your unwanted food off to someone hungry in Africa or China, of course, is not the solution. The need is also local and it is world wide.

So good for John in naming the problem; But how is that Good News?

And he goes on: tax collectors collect only what you are prescribed. And soldiers do not extort money with threats. So good: generally live honorably and stop the threats and graft and corruption.

But how is that Good News. Yes of course it’s good for the rest of us, but what about the tax collector and soldier who has been reduced from a well-paying job, to a job that barely puts food on the table?

Then comes the clarity, if it were not already crystal clear: John the Baptist is not the Messiah. Jesus is still coming, and he will baptize, not with water and calls for repentance, but with the Spirit [and assurances that God already favours us, so get on with responding by being and doing appropriately. – It’s not about earning God’s favour. It’s about responding to the blessed reality that is already there: so stop sacrificing other people in order to fake that you are good enough for God’s favour. You are not good enough, you can’t be good enough and you never will be. God’s favour is a free gift, so stop trying to earn it and get on with living it out, or living out of it, since it is a ‘home’ and a way of being.

Again: how is John’s insulting the people, as well deserved as it may have been, and telling them to repent and earn God’s favour … how is all this good or Good News?

Answers come to mind like: the Good News is like a two-edged sword, or word.

Or we really do need to stop sinning, and we do need to start taking care of each other and we do need to stop stealing life’s essentials from other people.

All this is true.

None of this is good. It may be calls to be good. But the act of calling someone to be good, at least the way John the Baptist does it, is not good. It may be a lot of evil fun: naming other’s sins and rubbing it in their faces. But it is not good. It may be necessary, but it is not good.

It is a distraction from the real Good News. And it may be, in the writing and in real life, the foil that sets Jesus up to bring Good News that is unlike any other news the people have heard.

Foil: so lets go with that.

And then, since we already have God’s favour, let’s get around to solving world hunger, and the mal-distribution of the necessities of life: air, water, food, clothing, shelter, meaningful labour and love.

Now if our churches were about that, then we would actually be living out of the Gospel as our home, our way of being.

Welcome home. Life just got a lot more difficult, because the hungry are coming to supper, and breakfast and lunch. And the homeless are moving in with us. And the despised sinners are coming to coffee and tea with us, after they have shared the cup and bread with us.

Welcome home, because this is home to Jesus, with the hungry, the poor and homeless – even the crazies, and with those people we despise and find their sins abhorrent.

And we thought the Good News was anything close to good news for us. Except living at home with the hungry, the homeless, the outcasts … that is home for Jesus, and it is the life that is blessed.

It is not comfortable.

But then the Gospel properly proclaimed and heard never is. It is revolutionary: it makes things revolve, not around what we want, but what God wants for God’s people, which are all people.