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

Good Friday Success

What was once alive, once green, once bright, is now in these days dead, withered and dark.

There is only a faint hint of days long distant in the most recent of times.

What is it to succeed

and leave a legacy?

To overrun others, destroying them with lies, in order to have more, in order to cover up one’s sins?

Or to suffer rumours and lies that destroy one’s reputation and finances leaving one homeless?

This day, Jesus answered God’s call to submit himself to death, a torturous death, and to die.

Did Jesus succeed? Did Jesus destroy others, or did he allow others to try to destroy him, and respond with grace and forgiveness?

If more of the world knew Grace and lived it well, more people would succeed …

in bringing the basics of life to others with their sacrifices.

The world may seem dark, especially in these days when we remember that God died, and remained so, for three days.

There is only the reflection in our memories of the light that has guided our paths. But there will be a great light, that will shine in every darkness, and bring justice, restitution, and new life to those who are destroyed by others lies.

And for those who have destroyed with lies … may God have mercy on them.

Meals and Nourishment

Maundy Thursday

Opener

A little wonder is not missing.

Tonight we remember Jesus’ last supper as he declared Gods’ New Covenant with us by offering his body, the bread of life, and his blood, the wine, to all people.

This Covenant is handed down to us, starting with the disciples present at Jesus’ last supper, to Paul, and through Paul to generations upon generations. Each handed Jesus’ story on to the next so that this Covenant of Life would be remembered and many lives could be lived in response to it. Jesus uses an ordinary meal.

Salad

There is nothing quite like an ordinary meal that begins with a crisp, fresh, green salad, with freshly squeezed lemon on top.

Perhaps you’d like to add salad dressing, cheese, croutons, or tomatoes.

Or perhaps you’d actually prefer a lot of tomato sauce, all on one big crouton with lots of cheese melted on top, with slices of pepperoni. Okay maybe a big pizza instead of a salad.

Just an ordinary, nourishing meal.

Setting of the Last Supper

Jesus knows he and his disciples are at great risk in Jerusalem. For days now he has taught in public and all has gone well. Jesus is ready for what must come. They will betray, torture and kill him. He has not given up, rather he has answered God’s call for him to suffer so that all people will know about God’s forgiveness for them.

On his last night he gathers to celebrate the Passover with his disciples. He makes sure that his disciples for generations to come will remember him and thereby know God’s Grace. Jesus uses two very common items of the meal, bread and wine, and instructs his disciples to remember him every time they eat bread and drink wine. It may sound like wine was a special component, but the water was not safe to drink, so, if one could, one drank wine instead.

Each meal, Everyone

Jesus directed all of us to remember him each time we eat bread and drink water or wine. The Church ritualized this meal and made it central in worship so that it would not be forgotten. Still we’ve taken this common meal, revered it, and reserved it for a special celebration held sometimes at most once a month. At times we’ve limited who can take part in the meal to just good people.

Regardless how we practice it, we do remember Jesus’ words, take it all of you. Whenever you eat and drink, do this in remembrance of me.

To drink

Most of our common meals today include something to drink: a cup of coffee or tea, or glass of water or even a good glass of fruit juice and spritzer to whet one’s appetite.

Meal to Remember and Learn from

Jesus made the New Covenant at their Passover Supper so that his disciples would take note. He gave us his words to ensure we would remember, even if we would not practice, what his words tells us.

Jesus intends that we remember and discover again God’s purpose for each of us. God gives us Jesus’ example to follow, giving up any privilege we have, humbling ourselves to serve others, sacrificing of ourselves so that all others will receive justice, freedom, food and homes, and everything else they need for the abundant life God intends for each of us. Jesus shows us how to forgive everyone always, even as he dies on the cross.

Vegetables

Most of us commonly have vegetables at our meal, green and dark coloured, maybe a variety of cut vegetables with a creamy cheese sauce on top.

Common Food Items, With Great Effects

Jesus does something very uncommon at his last Passover. He washes the feet of his disciples. It is a task for a servant. Today foot washing is not part of meal preparation, since we do not walk everywhere on dusty roads wearing sandals, and we do not recline to eat.

Eating and drinking, though, will remain common as long as humans live, ensuring that celebrating the Lord’s Supper may be common enough, as long as Christians remember and hand on what has been handed on to them.

Through the generations remembering Jesus’ Last Supper has held many families and churches together, kept many falsely incarcerated, exiled and oppressed people alive when they could not gather for worship. Along with our simple confession that Jesus is Lord, this meal has helped preserve the faith in many places many many times in history when all seeme lost. This meal of simple items has soothed the anxious souls of countless Christians through the generations.

Protein

The heart of our common meal comes down to some protein, perhaps a little roast beef, pork ribs, or chicken. Maybe a fresh fish from the lake via the grocery store, a handful of mixed nuts, or even eggs.

The New Covenant

At the heart of his last supper Jesus establishes God’s New Covenant with us. God has made covenants with the people before.

One of the first was the covenant with Noah, when God promised never again to wipe out creation with floods. It is marked by the rainbow in the sky.

Perhaps the greatest in the OT is God’s Covenant with Abraham. God promised Abraham and Sarah descendants enough to make a great people and land for security and stability. This covenant is marked by the Passover meal recounting how God delivered our ancestors from slavery, bringing them through the wilderness into the Promised Land.

The New Covenant in Jesus’ blood poured out for us is God’s most complete communication of who God is, and how God relates to us with Grace and forgiveness made possible through God’s own sacrifice.

Dessert

To top off our common meal we’ll include a light fruit dish with coffee hagen daaz ice cream. OK too uncommon and too expensive. So maybe a slice of apple, cherry or pumpkin pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, not a five quart scoop. Just one simple scoop as a bit of a teaser, on top of a good meal, to help us remember the meal, for hours to come.

Until we grow hungry again the next day and start over feeding our bodies so that we might live.

For Each and Every Christian

God makes the New Covenant with each of us in our Baptisms with water and Word. God renews this covenant with all of us at each meal.

When we offer each person Christ’s body and Christ’s blood, we say Christ’s body given for you, and Christ’s blood shed for you.

We gather as a community to share Jesus’ meal with everyone. Jesus’ gifts, though, are not just generally available. They are very specifically for each of us, to heal the brokenness and suffering of each one of us, to nourish our spirits and to give each of us abundant life.

Tie the two together: our daily meals, Jesus’ Last Supper celebrated

There are common meals to nourish our bodies. We hope and work so that everyone has at least one of those each day. We humans also require meals to sustain our spirits.

There is no challenge, no work of the devil, no grip of sin, no enemy’s attack on us that is impossible for us to face, because we feed on the body and blood of God’s own Son. God’s Spirit in and through us is undefeatable, even by death.

After this his last supper, Jesus goes out to pray in Gethsemane, until the soldiers …

Tomorrow we continue our worship service with the next segment of God’s story given to us through Jesus’ life, remembered and handed on to us, so that we can hand it on to others, … so that all may have life abundant.

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

Lent 3 – Coffee, as Life

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

Theme for Lent: what is the acceptable fast?

 Isaiah 58

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

Isaiah 55:1-9 

Psalm 63:1-8 

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 

Luke 13:1-9 

Outline

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

Intro:

when our children were young they asked for coffee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because God claims us, Therefore we can live and respond

Isaiah writes: listen that you may live.

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

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

Therefore we can live boldly and abundantly.

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

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

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

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

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

One: This is real Life

cruel short brutish

testing, to our limits of endurance

evil suffered.

Evil perpetrated.

all will die.

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

death by completely avoidable starvation, completely avoidable illnesses,

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

Two: This is God’s Reality

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

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

God abundantly pardons

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

to buy wine and milk without money or price

Christ assures us there is no test beyond our endurance

Three: This is what God asks of us

that we honour the goodness of Creator and Creation

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

while we still have ‘one more year’

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

that we trust God’s faithfulness

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

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

that we learn from examples of our fore-bearers

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

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

Eg

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

A small start on the injustice rectifying.

We breathe, we take steps, we struggle forward,

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

Because:

God is faithful

Therefore:

we remain faithful

Conclusion:

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

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

Everyone lives through it, or dies from it.

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

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

Amen

Lent 2, March 17, Citizens

Paul:

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

Acceptable Fast

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

Christchurch

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

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

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

Lawyer: Contract Terms

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

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

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

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

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

OT – God makes covenant

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

Baptism Covenant

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

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

Spring Change as Chronos Time

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

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

God’s Time

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

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

Ab & Sarah Mess Up

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

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

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

Jesus to Jerusalem

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

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

The Way, The Journey

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

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

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

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

Marriage Counselling vs Fitness

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

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

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

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

CoG Fitness

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

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

God gives blessings for the journey that we make together.

Interim ministry: Practice is the Way

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

About Time

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

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

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

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

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

Sending

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

We are citizens of heaven.

Amen

Lent: A Fast for Justice – Seeing God

2019 Mar 15

See Reality, See Our Creator

The light of life, the light of Christ.

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

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

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

What is the acceptable fast?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The light of beauty.

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

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

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

Fortunately there are locations where this all works:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Light Undoubtedly Breaking In With Blessings

God blesses us that we may be blessings to others.

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

Remember God’s promises.

Remember the victims in Christchurch.

Remember without fear.

Live well, that terror have no place among us.

Our Hearts: bitter cold or miracle makers?

Outline for sermon for 2019 January 20

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

Sunset – Smoke signs of small miracles for us all.

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

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

Epiphany: True Light, Real Darkness

Today we could sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

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

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

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

Rejoice? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

Amen