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

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.