Dim December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent 2 Notes

Advent Preparations

After days of manual Fabricating and creating
Out of ¼ inch metal, without a welder or a cutting torch, just a grinder and lots of cutting wheels, and a drill and bits and bolts and nuts
And old junk and new junk
Cut up to make something that may save my life
And certainly will help keep me safer this cold winter,
I came to the lessons for this Sunday
With an eye to working to accomplish a something that will be useful.
It is Good labour, labour with tangible results, fabricating, fixing, and building.
It is lifesaving, purposeful and rewarding.
And then
I wanted to see,
If there were tangible work prescribed for us in the Gospel, what results would it produce?
Is there something for us to accomplish?

First some general notes about the lessons.
Malachi is Hebrew meaning ‘messenger’. We do not know much more than that about the writer of Malachi. It is written for the post-exilic remnant, anticipating or returning or establishing themselves in a devastated homeland, familiar, but so changed. The writer tells the people that worship in the temple, with sacrifices and all will be re-established, and that will be how God is with them.

The Psalm is the beautifully familiar, if not well known, canticle from Luke, which is used in various liturgies, including Holden Evening Prayer, by Marty Haugen.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is, along with those to the Thessalonians, among his warmest and most joyful. While we are not completely surprised, either by the sinners we see in the other Pauline letters (and in our congregations) or by the saints we see in these affectionate and warm Pauline letters … still both extremes repeatedly do catch us off guard. Oh, yes, there are saints in our congregations, too. Perhaps we take them, too, for granted?

The Gospel from Luke anchors the time. There was no set calendar, so the way to declare a time most clearly was through the years of the various rulers and high priests. These references are also Luke’s way of saying that Jesus was a real human and there were real political tyrants, or rulers anyway, Roman and otherwise, and the high priests had positions. Jesus’ Gospel came into this real world, and addressed not just the physical and spiritual maladies, but also the political and religious maladies as well.
Remember Luke is the physician who places Jesus as the ‘healer of our every ill’.
Here Luke foretells, with John’s call to repentance, Jesus’ ministry also to the political and religious leaders of the day … and by extension also the political and religious leaders of the readers’ days.

And then the rest of the thoughts from the lessons.

Malachi:
The messenger comes to the people, a messenger of the Lord.
In the exile, people understood that God had deserted them. That idea persists here, and the ‘Good News’ is that the Lord will return to the temple.
The end result will be that the offerings at the temple by Judah and Israel will, like of old, be pleasing to the Lord.
That’s the measure of proper sacrificial religion practiced right, and in good order.
The other piece of proper religion is the people’s delight in the covenant made by God with Abraham. This is a conflation of the covenants God made with Abraham into one covenant, but since Abraham is likely a conflation of multiple actual people into one forefather, the bearer of faith, why not conflate the covenants into just one.
These covenants with Abraham, unlike almost all others, were created unilaterally by God. Abraham did not have to agree, did not have to preform, and did not have to earn the benefits of the covenant. Some would say that Abraham did, but after the fact. We say with Paul, that it was reckoned to Abraham because of his faith, which faith was a gift from God. All of it then is a gift from God, and the covenant is God’s promise of offspring as many as the stars, and land. Which were for that place and time what made up security, along with lots of cattle.
One does then need to mention wives as well, the means to having offspring. But Abraham had Sarah, and Hagar her handmaid, whom Sarah gives to Abraham.
While the arguments abound, anyway you look at it Sarah was a handful, as was Abraham. Whether they honoured each other and to what degree seems to be based more on the experience of the observer, than the historical record, if that is to be trusted much either.
Let it just be said clearly: regardless of what our forbearers of faith may have been or done, we are to love the Lord, and that includes loving each other, and that means EVERY one, even our enemies. Loving means to fully honour every human as full humans, as full children of God, as simultaneously full (self-made) sinners and full (God-made) saints. Which is not ever going to be a simple matter to be accomplished by following a checklist or a set of rules. Loving and honouring is a work of art, with a lot of science thrown in, and then prayer … constantly. If in question, at least be kind.

It’s like finding a spouse: everything else can be accommodated, but find someone kind. (Tip of the hat to the writers of ‘About Time’, the movie, from the character of Tim’s father in his second best man’s toast. Being able to redo most weddings ought to be a requirement of getting married, except no one would get married … oh let’s see, hardly anyone is anymore anyway. – The movie About Time is one of a handful that I return to every once in a while. It’s one of those few movies that is worth most any effort spent to find it and watch it, and then return to view it. – so get your hands on it, watch it, and delight in it. It’s not a covenant, but easier to delight in for all that.)

The covenant, then and now, is God’s work, a promise, a contract signed by only the divine side. Count on it, and trust in it, and even delight in it. One has to ask: did the writer really think the people delighted in the covenant or did the writer just wish it were so?
As for the coming of the Lord, prepared for by the messenger, it is not unlike all anticipations of seeing the Lord, it is life-changing. The Lord will purify the people with the course fuller’s soap and with the intense fire of the smelter. Or the Lord will purify at least the priests, the sons of Levi, so that the temple is run in good order and the sacrifices are pleasing to the Lord.

Which begs the question: is there a work to be done there? Or do the people simply wait and let it happen to the sons of Levi?
Is it an accident that the Lord purifies like fire purifying silver and gold? Is that a suggestion that the people bring the priests their gold and silver?
Must we bring offerings in order to please God and therefore get from God what we want or need?
(Foreshadow or back-shadow: DOCH NEIN, no!!)

Psalm
From these and other obligations God has come to set us free. Or is it a different freedom that Luke writes about.
The Canticle of Luke’s says God frees us from our enemies, and all who hate us, which is a large enough pool of people. But does it also include those who pretend to be our friends and who then manipulate us out of our gold and silver in the name of religion? Martin Luther thought so.
Luther thought maybe not that Luke wrote so, but that God did so set us free.
Interesting that Luke names the covenant with Abraham as God’s promise to set us free from our enemies. Set me right if need be, but I don’t remember Abraham’s covenant as being more than children and land, but then conflation, so let’s add in another covenant of God’s and call it Abraham’s as well.
Even so, if you have land, then enemies can and will try to take it from you. So if you get to keep it, then I suppose God could corollary-wise have promised freedom from one’s enemies.
It is something to be able to worship without fear, and to be holy and righteous one’s whole life. But only God is righteous. God makes us saints, but we remain simultaneously sinners. As God-made saints we are holy, set aside to be a blessing to others, but never perfect or righteous, perhaps just self-righteous.
The interesting part is worship and fear. God’s covenant is expanded, as good Jewish law went, to include freedom to worship, and to worship free from fear.
Except, all worship of God begins with fear of God. Martin Luther explained the ten commandments well, beginning each explanation with ‘we are to fear and love God so that …’. The question is not whether to fear God, it is to fear God for what.
That God is a revengeful angry judge?
Well if you approach God that way, you may experience God that way.
Of course the favorite through history is to threaten everyone else with that fear of God and to reserve the gentle, compassionate God of mercy for oneself.
Now if we (historically speaking we)… if we properly feared God, and knew God as merciful and abounding in steadfast love, then we would reserve the judging God for ourselves, with grand doses of mercy and love and compassion and forgiveness … And we would tell others only of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
But then people with no fear of God, expecting only mercy and forgiveness, take that as freedom to do whatever they wish, and they end up wreaking havoc and chaos on the people around them. Are we still obliged to share that God is merciful for all. Is not the more complete picture of God needed for everyone, us included? God is a judge to be feared, for there are no excuses or lies or side paths or injustice as escapes: what we do and who we are is an open record for God. But our God is also a God of infinite love and mercy, forgiveness and new life.
If there is a work to be done, something to accomplish then it’s that. We can and ought to provide to each other a reverence for God, a fear, along with mercy, forgiveness and new life. Once we know God to be that way for ourselves, how can we not make it so for others in all we are and do?
That is to be holy, and only somewhat righteous … as far, and only as, God makes us holy and righteous. In other words, this is our work, the saints’ work; but we are only able to do it because God makes us saints.
But to worship without fear, and that fear being fear of others killing us if we worship our God to be feared, our God of love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, now that is a gift, and a thing to be coveted all one’s life.
Luke knew, as many did, and have since, that Jesus, the babe Joshua the saviour, was the infant child who would bring all this to be also for us (of each generation and place and people, us.)
And Luke reports that Jesus’ cousin, John, would come to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry by calling people to repent, to be forgiven; and through forgiveness to see God’s promises of salvation already happened and happening and yet to happen for them as well.

And then the image that steals every nature photographer’s heart, and many other hearts as well: In God’s tender compassion, the dawn from on high breaks in on us.
Now the sunrise many mornings is nothing short of a specular* event. But what is spectacularly special is that this light, this son-rise, this new dawn of all time, shines light (through the cracks –thank you L. Cohen) to all those who dwell in darkness, in the shadow of death.

 

The light shining on the snow.

Those in this time who dwell in darkness, in the shadow of death are great in number.
The darkness of being without the necessities of life, a unfathomable reality for a good third to half of those alive at any time is indeed a great darkness.
It is dark because the necessities exist in plenty, but we do not share them, not justly or lovingly, or mercifully, nor even kindly.
And the darkness of having the necessities while so many lack them … that is a mean kind of darkness, the kind that wears a pretty face and is cruel, or worse, apathetic to other’s darkness, as if ignoring other’s desperate needs makes the needs go away, and that oneself is somehow excused from the needs of life, the need to live well in the shadow of death. For death claims all of us. No human gets out of life alive. The fatality rate is 100% for all life on earth, also for humans. And all we can do in the face of death is to live lovingly, justly, mercifully and at least kindly, to ourselves and to others.
Pushing others to a premature death, does not somehow help us escape death. It may prolong our days, but at the cost of others’ lives … if we do that the darkness of death, their death, is eternally stained on us, on our very being.
However we deal with the shortness, cruelness, and plain old hardness of life, the light that Christ shines on us guides us to the ways of peace, for our own hearts, for our own families, for our own people, and for all other humans, now alive and yet to live.
It’s a path we create, like flagstones in sand, that we walk often if we are blessed.

Paul’s special joy for the Philippians:
Paul had started a number of congregations. He actually seems to have fond memories of a few of them. I’ve seen a few congregations in my day, started none, and I have a few fond memories. The rest … like Paul I can say they did not disappoint in making obvious the Grace of Christ … as needed for all of us sinners.
So Paul is joyed to write to the Philippians who have been with him through it all, the exuberant start-ups, the angry reactions, the imprisonment, the continued effort to proclaim the Gospel. Paul gives his all, and more than once dodges the crowd’s anger, and more than once lands in prison, and more than once gets out, and more than once impresses his guards, even converting a few, whose life he saves by not running when he is able, and terrifying a few who learn he is a Roman citizen. Roman citizens were not to be dealt with unjustly without cause … or there were repercussions.
I don’t have the Greek available to me now, but I’m pretty sure (can anyone verify) that the reference to the one who started them on their way will bring them to completion, is none other than Paul himself.
A little self-congratulations taken, explained, and probably well-earned.
And then to the point of my initial question: Is there something we should be accomplishing, because Paul prays that the Philippians can accomplish it: that they will be ‘be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness’….
I guess I should be a follower of Paul and not a descendant of sorts of Martin Luther. I could shoot for ‘pure and blameless’. And that as a product of the harvest of righteousness. So I attain righteousness first, then comes the harvest, then I am pure and blameless. Easy to write out those steps to perfection before Christ.
Except I believe, and experience tells me it’s blessedly right, that every one of us God-made saints, is also still simultaneously a wretched self-made sinner. That sinner part is inescapable, no matter what I try, you try, we try or they try. We are bound to sin, not just likely to sin, but tied and fettered to being sinners who do sin … and cause ourselves and others no end of grief and woe.
Now to be fair to Paul, even though he probably deserves all the above quite fairly since he did theology pretty much ad hoc (which is his gift to us), he does say that our righteousness, which becomes our being ‘pure and blameless’ is not self-made, nor is it for one’s own glory. That righteousness ‘comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God’. So it all starts and depends on God working in us. But Paul still does push his congregations and us his readers, to exert ourselves to being what Christ makes us able to be. I guess we could call it, fulfilling the God-made saint in us, even as the sinner lives on, strong and healthy.
The other obvious point is not in the words, but the situation. Paul continues to care for the congregations he starts. He continues to write to then and encourage them to be all they can be.
We all need a Paul in our lives, staying in touch with us, no matter the place, time or circumstances, who pushes us to be God-made saints with the greatest of integrity that we can muster.
And we can and need to be that ‘Paul’ for others. There is no one who becomes and remains a Christian without participating in community, at least through time. Encouragement is crucial. Reminders are crucial. Putting in some effort is crucial, otherwise the Good News of Jesus our saviour becomes banal. The Gospel is life changing because we take it to heart and choose to change, day after day, to change again to be who Christ guides us to be, and who God makes us able to be: saints. That we can is a miracle, that we do is awfully impressive. Impressive that God would do that much for us in us.
So perhaps we should all shoot for pure and blameless.
Forgiveness may be required, but what else would God want from us, but to accept forgiveness, the free gift from God that gives us life, and breath and real freedom.

Luke’s Gospel:
Filling the valleys, leveling the mountains, making the crooked straight, and the rough smooth. Anchored in history, Jesus addressing even earthly power, in all its forms. Again, made visible through the forgiveness of sins, experienced in baptism, a baptism of repentance, of the 180°, a dance step, an unusual one of switching partners, from devil that makes you do it (evil), to God who makes you able to do it (blessing others).
Returning to the Gospel after days of creating and fabricating from metal, for one’s own life sake and safety: does the Gospel require of us that we accomplish something, or are we just supposed to be able to sleep soundly at night*?
Luke anchors the story of John in the wilderness in the political and religious reality of the day. John points to Jesus, and Luke points to the two, and wants us not to forget that all that Jesus does also has political and religious impact. Jesus is not just a religious or spiritual event. Everything changes, not with God, but with what we know clearly about God: God does not want us to sacrifice each other anymore. The difference is also about all kinds of power.

From where the Word lands, it starts rustic and simple: the Word of the Lord comes to John in the wilderness.
People have been seeking out the wilderness for healing and health and perspective from the beginning of time. John does, too. There the Word lands right on him.

John picks up with everything symbolic and meaningful. He goes to the Jordan. This is the river that Moses did not cross, which Joshua did with the people who had been in the wilderness for 40 years, after God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
John has a more profound freedom that he proclaims: this is not just freedom from slavery. This is freedom of the ultimate kind.
It starts with the forgiveness of sins, our sins. John offers people the path to forgiveness: a baptism of repentance … in the waters of the Jordan River. Repentance is that 180° turn from dancing with the devil, to dancing gracefully with God.
Now there is something for people to do, something people can do and ought to do.
In anticipation of Jesus’ ministry, coming out into the public, John calls to the people to prepare the way for the Lord. Repent!
Make his paths straight, fill in the valleys, make the mountains and hills low, make straight the crooked, and make smooth the rough ways.
But no ordinary person can do any of that.
No extraordinary person can do any of that, either. Geography is geography.
With so many developments in technology today we can literally move mountains. Or at least dig dry ponds eight blocks big, and sink a park down to the bottom of it. Or mine from the surface down hundreds of feet, take what we want and either leave it a mess or fill it all in so nice it hardly looks like we touched the surface. But that’s with machines, and the technology of today. Back then it would have taken centuries of slave labour to accomplish the leveling, preparing and smoothing.
Obviously Luke is not talking literally, but figuratively.
Still is that something that they and we can do?
Can we prepare the way for the Lord?
For the Lord, can we fill in the valleys, level mountains, straighten the paths, and make smooth the rough ways?
Can we repent and change dance partners, switching from the sinner’s dance to the saint’s dance?
I suppose there is something to that.
Imagining it may be something we can do, but it’s like being a saint: it is possible only in our imagination. We are still stuck being sinners, dancing with the devil. God can make us saints. We … not so much. Actually we … not at all.
So why the call to repentance by John in preparation for Jesus?
Maybe it is all appearances? Jesus’ story needs someone to prepare the people like they have not been ever before? … Not so much.

The end result is fabulous. It is the ultimate change: all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
I suppose there may be a caveat: that some see it but do not receive it?
Not going with that either.
The promise of God is that all will see the salvation of God.
And we do.
We may still be dancing with the devil, but God is dancing with us, a graceful, beautiful dance.
There is not much we can do one way or another on that, except keep dancing.
But

How do we respond knowing that God is dancing with us, always?
Do we know what it is to see salvation?
It will change one’s heart, mind and soul.
We just might end up kind.
Or we might be the one who tells the truth, even when it costs us.
Or we might dance more assuredly through each challenge, knowing that no matter what, the Lord has come, the dance is graceful and beautiful, and all is well with us and with the world.

Whatever the challenge, the mountain, the valley, the crooked way, or the rough spot of our lives, even when we do not prepare the way for the Lord, the Lord finds us as we are, where we are, and declares us acceptable to God. The Dance goes on.

Is there something we can do, ought to do, must do?
There is nothing we can do to be acceptable to God. We never can deserve that.
Yet God gives us that freely.

Then we can dance, and breathe, and there is a freedom in not having to prove ourselves to God, or to ourselves. That’s worth everything.

When it comes to doing, is it best to work on metal and wood and have a doable goal?
When it comes to salvation; we need a miracle. We need God to make us saints. And that is the goal of all goals.
Life is less like a box of chocolates, and more like a dance – a wild and slow, energetic and lethargic, a sickening repetitive and an engaging, enthralling dance.

In God’s tender compassion, the dawn from on high breaks in on us

What are we to do this Advent? What preparations are we to engage in and accomplish?

We are to respond to God’s work in all creation, especially God’s work of making us saints, with thanksgiving. And we are to then be the blessing we can be, for others!

Which means to be kind, and to be loving, gracious, forgiving, and reflectors of the spectacular light of Christ that is visible to us most because of our own sins.

It is not so much a task list as an art, with everything including science and prayer thrown in, especially prayer.

It is the art of being Christ’s hands, feet, words, and grace for others, as we dance gracefully toward Christmas and all the challenges of life that are to come.

 

*Specular
No that is not a miss-spelling, look it up if you’re not familiar with it. It is the light that makes photos more than pictures.

* To be able to sleep soundly:
A farmer, poor, needs a hired hand. They are hard to come by, and good ones even more rare. He interviews the one fellow who comes to town, asking him what his qualifications are. The answer is simple if not much help: I can sleep soundly at night.
With no other options the farmer hires the hand. A month or so later a terrible storm kicks up. The farmer runs outside, crying for the hired man to get up and help him secure everything so it is not ruined in the storm: the loose gate, the shingles missing on the roof, the fence post bearing weight from a fallen tree, the watering trough that’s teetering on uneven ground; the list is endless.
The hired hand cannot be woken up. So the farmer runs outside to start saving what he can by himself. But each place he looks, everything is already fixed and secured, storm-readied.
He goes back to bed, thanking God. For now he understands the hired hand’s qualification is everything.

Advent 1 Draft 1 Sermon

The following is the result of my and my wife’s efforts, which in some form she is likely preaching tomorrow at Hope Lutheran Edmonton.

Opening blessing/prayer[from the Psalm, lessons and Jesus’ command to love]:
May God, our only hope and salvation, guard our hearts, minds and souls this Advent, as always, that we may not be put to shame, but that we may know God’s ways, God’s truth, God’s steadfast love. May we trust God’s promises so that even in the most difficult of times, we may reflect God’s right-ness, order, and grace, to our neighbours, ourselves, and even our enemies. Amen.

Happy New Year, on this the first Sunday of the New Church Year, the first Sunday in Advent. Unlike many celebrations that call for exuberance, like Lent, Advent is a sombre celebration of our need for God’s Love and promises, a time to reflect and search out the roots of our faith. The colour is Blue, a rich colour of sky, and water, the basics for life. Blue is also a colour of an honest response to the chaos that grips the world: blue is sadness, even depression.
Blue for us is the colour of Hope, and Advent sits not on the evidence of the state of the world or us in it, but the hope created by God’s powerfully life-giving Promises. God promises us a new creation and steadfast love in the face of the worst the universe can throw at us.

If you came looking to hear the Gospel read today and to receive a soothing, comforting word … Well, hang on, it’s a rough ride first.

Drab Winter may be most appropriate for Advent

Jesus describes the end of time. To translate his images into 21st century awareness of our universe Jesus says:
You will see gravity decay, planets and stars disengage, galaxies splattering across the void. Dis-Order invades the sub-atomic particles of your very being, your skin will crawl with chaos, your minds unwind from within themselves, one moment you are able to be empathetic, to love and remember, the next not and the next moment you are again sentient, aware of what is happening to you and to the world all around.
Intuitively we know our sins and our cumulative sins as human beings are immense. We know we are responsible for some if not most of what’s coming. Global warming is only a small piece of the conundrum. Real guilt is indeed difficult to bear.

How can we respond to this prediction of the end of all time?

There are many similar challenges in life that overwhelm us. It may not signal the end of everything around us, but chaos invades the foundation of our lives at the loss of a beloved, a child, the end of a career, or being ruined by completely false accusations … or news that one has a death-sentence disease.
Will watched his wife Louise beat cancer twice, and it returned a third time. Her battle ended with him standing beside her grave. Two years later Will received news that cancer had invaded his body as well.
George flew as a pilot all his life, until the last medical exam revealed the side-effects of a medication taken years ago, which disqualified him from ever flying again.
Sam stopped his wife again, this time by twisting out of her hand the knife she was going to slash him with. When he made sure she went outside to cool down, she called the police, he was charged, convicted and served 2 years for assault and unlawful confinement.
Amy, not her real name, watched the Courts, time and time again disrupt her efforts to adopt her foster child, born to an addict woman. Then the Courts awarded this not-mother custody, even though the Courts knew her then housemate had sexually abused the not-yet two year old.
It may not be the end of all time, but it certainly is the end of time for us, as we gasp for breath … … … while the world continues on its course around us as if nothing has happened.

Jesus, at these times, points us to the first signs of trees budding new leaves. Jesus tells us: at these points when the end of time threatens our very breathing and being, we can remember God’s promises to make all things new with the coming of the Kingdom of God. The in-breaking of chaos, the end of time, is actually God bringing in a new creation.
God promises that in this new order we will live in safety, justice will be based on truth, instead of lies, and God’s steadfast love, the glue that holds the macro, micro and personal universe in order, will prevail. All right-ness, righteousness, will be God’s alone. Chaos of all kinds will give way to the order of God’s new creation. All people, not just us, will live in safety. All people will live in right relationship with God, with one another, with all of creation. The heavens and all space will sing in harmony. The Holy Spirit will move in our hearts, minds and souls, and we will dance with grace, every step of the day.

God does not just wait to the end of time to bring in the new creation. The Kingdom of God is already here. God fulfills promises in each generation. Christ has come.
CNN know this: and they play every news story as if it heralded something new (and news worthy), as if the world hinged on each small event. In a way it does, and for the news companies, it sells advertising, which is the foundation of their threatened existence.
CBC has ‘Good News’ segments, because it is commonly spoken about that ‘all the news is bad’ which is not true or right. But they appear to angle not so much that the good news is more obviously good, but that compared to the little good news segments, the real news is that much more important, that much more BAD.
The real  bad news is that all hell is breaking loose, just like it did for all the previous generations.

It is as any photographer can tell you the light is most beautiful in contrast to the dark. God’s wonders become more obvious to us, in contrast to the powers of chaos and evil.

Flowing Water in Frozen Winter, Light in the Dark

If we could ever say that Leonard Cohen sang well, it would be his Anthem line: There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in. Indeed, it is through our cracks, our sins, that God’s grace becomes known to us, not just in our minds, but in our hearts and souls. Grace becomes a visceral experience and memory when God gracefully forgives us our sins, and when the Holy Spirit continually takes us ungrateful, undeserving wretched sinners and makes us into saints.
Evil has got the world, our world, by the tail, so to speak, and the Devil is swinging it around, which messes tremendously with gravity and all that is up.

This Advent we face great challenges. The world seems to be falling apart, and the order of creation is threatened by earthquakes, storms, human induced disasters, and even asteroids and nuclear bombs.
Advent is not a time to bury our heads in the sands, or our hearts in the pre-Christmas hectic, nor our souls in all that consumes instead of giving life to all those around us. Advent is a time for serious and sombre soul searching, to discover again God’s steadfast love that holds the universe and our own hearts together, even as the universe and we too lose all bindings and forces that hold creation in place, even gravity and the electric impulses that power our brains.
As the end of all time tears at the foundations of the universe, as the end of our time tears at the core of our being, we need not fear and hate. Instead moved by the Holy Spirit, we can trust God and we can choose to love …
We bask in the beauty of the stars, the wonders of nature, the marvels of the cities, and the light of Christ that shines through each of us, through our brokenness. Love has a place … in every heart, in every galaxy, in every atom of the entire universe, because God created it so.
We pray that we may remain alert to God’s ways. We pray that we will count on God’s promises and the work of the Holy Spirit in us, that we will see in each tragedy and decaying of order, God’s work of making a new creation, also in us!
We will not be put to shame, for God is our rock and our salvation.
Amen

Advent 1 – Outline

Advent 1 Outline

Love is great,

But love becomes more obviously so powerful, so wonderful, so life-giving  …

in the face of hate, lies, sin, … and raw evil and cruelty – in the face of chaos.

God promises our redemption, a new creation, out of the end of the universe, the end of all time.

  1. Advent is
    • The beginning of the New Year, the Church year
    • Time for Reflection, a sombre season
    • Blue
    • Hope
    • So much more than pre-Christmas
    • Reflection on New Beginnings
  2. The Gospel is Hardly Good News
    • Foretelling disruption of the universe
    • 21st Century equivalents
      • macro, micro, psychological
    • What is this? How can we respond? What is this?
  3. Challenges of daily life
    • Can overwhelm us as much as anticipating the end of all time
    • Its not end times, it is as if all time ends for us, even while the world continues without us.
    • How can we respond when we are overwhelmed?
  4. Jesus:
    • Signs of the end, equated to signs of new life.
    • These overwhelming events, end times, or time that ends
      • Are actually God starting something new
  1. New:
    • Live in safety
    • Ruler that executes Justice based on truth, instead of lies and excuses for facts
    • All of the universe, the glue that holds everything in order,
      • Marco, micro, internally, personally
      • This is God
        • God is right-eousness
        • God is the one who makes everything right
        • Right is order, is the opposite of Chaos, is the opposite of Creation (Chaos is the opposite of all that is Good in Creation.)
        • Right for our safety,
        • Right in relationship to God
        • God is what holds chaos at bay
  1. Exactly in the horrendous view of the end of time, nature, world, universe, our minds
    • This is where God is most obviously discernible
    • This is where we see God most clearly
    • In the face of chaos Grace abounds
    • God present always, everywhere, but most obvious to us in the chaos
    • L Cohen: it’s through the cracks that the light gets in.
      • In sinners made saints God makes God present
      • And we see God face to face
  1. This Advent
    • All challenges that we face
    • God is our rightness
    • God is the source, re-creator, and guarantee of our safety, and our everything.
    • God is with us.
    • Time to reflect on the serious things of faith, life and our times.
      • So that the end of all time
      • Or the end of our time
        • Does not catch us unawares
      • So we pray: let us not be put to shame,
        • For God is our rock and our salvation

(I highly recommend reading the blog posts on sermon preparation in the order they are posted. So read the next two first. The visceral images of this week’s Gospel, reflected in the first post, and other references barely explained in the outline above are required to make sense of the outline. Otherwise it is as mundane, spit-warm and boring as the pre-Christmas musac that now pummels every shopper’s brain. Both the destructive power of what is objectionable and the amazing work of God’s Grace healing wretched sinners will be able to be smoothed over leaving us comfortable … even with the impending collapse of the universe, beginning with our minds.)

Beginnings

Beginnings

The snow is deep enough to ski.
I could not ski today.
The cold is mild enough to enjoy.
I could not enjoy today.
The sun was just bright enough to shine through the trees.
I could not take time to see the sun.

Its November only, already deep winter and I need to prepare …
And have little to prepare with, but much to prepare for … maybe.

What I did have is lumber scavenged from a garbage dump, solid 2×4’s 10’ and some 2×6 of various lengths.
And pallets that I pulled apart to use the light 4’ pieces as horizontal supports
For a shelter, an anteroom outside the door, for wood heat to be figured into,
For there is coming a wood stove.
A gift to compensate for the lack of money for propane.
A hope.
A back up.
A plan to use wood
For warmth when the propane gives out or the furnace takes leave again.
Or just when.
It’s a new beginning, not much of one, and it has a long road between today and the use of wood for heat.

So I did take time to see the sun rise … well to see the light of day break in.

And I noticed I am hardly alone in making a new beginning.

A seedling makes its fifth winter

I’m just in the end cycle days, instead of the start-up days.
More like the grass that is here one day and gone the next.

May the last days be many,
Filled with awe-filled wonders,
And great light,
The light of the world,
The King’s light,
Spectural light,
That shines
Through
The cracks in us to reveal the healing wonder of the Holy Spirit.

And yours,
May your new beginnings be worth the price
We all pay for choices
Away from
And towards
Somethings
The exact meaning and cost for which we can hardly know when we make the choices.

But choice we have, the basics of love.
Which is no guarantee that the force of evil will not mow us down long before our long fifth winter.

Still God stands by
Us
Engaged in helping us withstand the trials
And assaults on our being,
Consequences of choosing other than love.
But God does not end the assaults or trials, the consequences,
Nor cures the illness that is the cause.
As the seedling, we have the possibilities to grow strong,
And wave at the wind, the blowing of the Spirit.

There are no guarantees, just chocolates, of which we never know what we will get.

Thanks to the Forest.

Love Cannot be Forced

Love Requires Free Choice

We believe that God created the world, and all of us,
in order that we can
love our neighbours as our selves, and especially our enemies,
and that we can love God with all our hearts, minds and souls.

Love
requires that the person who loves,
freely chooses to love.

Love cannot be forced from another, it must come freely from the person who loves.

And that also requires that we can choose to not love,
that we can choose to hate, to seek vengeance, that we can break ourselves and our relationships, even our relationship with God,

the consequences for which, since we all make this choice again and again,
are suffered by not only by the person who chooses not to love
but by all of us.

There is so much sinning and suffering, only God can make it right.

So he gave his son
(more on that another day)
to pay the final and complete price for our failed choices, our choices

not

to

love.

God not only pays the price, but stays with us, even as we suffer the consequences of our own and other’s sins.

God again and again re-creates in us the ability, willingness, and possibility
to choose to love.

And we choose to love, even those who make themselves our enemies.

Dance.

Dance and choose to love.

Dance and love and choose to give thanks.

Dance and love and give thanks and choose to hope.

Be hope-filled, thankful, loving and full of the dance,

so that you can know against all odds and evidence and experience to the contrary that

all will be well,
all will be well,
all manner of things will be well.

Progress ?

Progress    ?

 

What is progress?

 

I do not mean just what is the definition of progress

But what is it to actually make some progress towards what is the ultimate goal or purpose of life?

 

So the question begs first the other question: what is the ultimate goal or purpose of life, and then what can one do to move towards that goal or purpose?

 

Better stated: how does one live, so that life is good?

Or

To use Julian of Norwich’s words:

How does one live, so that

All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well,

even when there is no evidence that anything is well at all?

 

There are so many considerations for all of that, which today I am not even going to try to approach yet alone address, or, maybe not.

But I saw

Progress

Right before my eyes.

 

First,

the natural progress,

comprssd over just a few days,

 

 

 

from snow free on the first,

with water free to canoe across

 

 

 

To lightly dusted

showing only on the cleared areas and pathways

 

 

 

To fully snow covered

ready for skiing

and open water waving nicely at the wind.

 

 

 

To obscured by the condensation on the window in the early hours

 

 

 

To a clear view of ice

Hanging on the reeds

 

 

 

To the ice covering the lake

The ice formed all across the rest of the lake all at once.

Two hours before this photo taken at 12:26 noon

The lake was still waving to the wind.

I thought it was hello but it was a good bye!

 

So far, besides the sudden full lake freeze

This is just the progress of a fall in Canada.

 

 

 

 

Until sunset, when the forces of expansion,

Ever present as water gives way to ice,

Break the one piece surface.

The cracks show the lake’s breaking points

In vivid tracks.

 

 

Now comes the challenge,

a bit of photography,

A bit of philosophy

A bit of Grace

And a lot of Hope:

How to capture the scene in front of me that sings so wonderfully

Across my eyes and through my fingers to my brain?

 

Because, just trying to capture that teasingly intriguing ‘S’ of a crack

The natural tendency, especially framed by the bushes on either side of

this narrow canoe landing,

oops

this ski entrance on to the lake, –

the natural tendency is to put the ‘S’ in the middle of the frame

 

And as marvelous as it was in-person here the above photo kind of dies

A quick death as the eye stops with the ‘S’ and moves no further.

 

 

So it takes some moving and trying, and seeing:

 

S Right

So the photos above and below are an effort to move the ‘S’ off the center

to invite one’s eye to dance around the photo.

 

 

 

 

S Left

Somehow they just still sit under the wonder, somehow flat.

 

 

So the idea is to look around in a different direction to see something more.

 

 

And with that effort  still missing the wonder of the view

I tried getting more,

literally more of what was in front of me:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The panorama of the whole view out the canoe, opps, ski access point.

It’s all there and still that wondrously difficult and intriguing ‘S’ falls dead compared to the reality in front of me.

 

So …

 

 

 

 

 

I tried for a little less of everything

Which becomes intriguing

with the clear focus on the near, iced shore,

a view of the ‘S’

heading off to the sunset

leaving us at the far shore

catching a ride back to the near shore,

broken by – well it’s

still not quite right with the small branch breaking in on the left,

A ‘merge’ that distracts the eye out of the essentials to the big ooppps.

 

But it is -20° C

That’s minus 20° Celsius

I’m using voice activation to start the photos,

Which does not work for panoramas

so off come the gloves to shoot.

And my bared fingers are crying SOS

(which always gives way to them splitting more painful cracks at the tips in protest, which take days to heal),

So I did not get that even normally simple merge corrected,

a small step of progress towards good,

That I normally would not pass up on.

 

 

Still the sun rises again the next morning, gorgeously red and promising …

 

Promising of more snow

Which comes in spades

Or inches

Or millimeters.

But it fills the skies after 10:00 until dark and beyond,

The land gets a new cover, perfect for skiing.

 

The furnace has developed a hole in the combustion chamber, pumping C0 into the cabin,

And I have to turn it off through the nights, and only when I can get by without it’s heat does my head clear enough to deal with all the challenges which a furnace-less camper presents.

 

I move from flowing water, even heated water,

to ‘running’ water:

I run,

to get water,

then I have running water.

 

 

 

 

Progress.

Do

You

See

What is progress?

 

The progress that is inevitable

And the progress which is the result of

the labour of hope and photography

Which catches and communicates the wonders of creation

To demonstrate

Pure

Beauty.

 

God’s beautiful world.

 

What progress have you made lately?

Not just getting through each inevitable day,

But moving each day a step sideways and deeper

Toward those things that

Are worth living

For

And

From?

 

 

Well,

Will

all be well,

Not just in words,

But in the soul of your life?

In the soul of this creation?

In the face of challenges and temptations that open the door

To evil and sin allowing them to prevail?

 

Or are you a Saint, by grace, giving witness to God’s presence everywhere, always.

 

Do you love your neighbours as your self, and your enemies,

and the LORD your God, with all your soul and your might?

 

Only by Grace,

is real progress possible.

How is it … ?

How is it that we always think that –

the hero of a movie cannot die,
that disaster cannot overtake us to our end,
that evil will not prevail over us.
When all the signs are …
all the evidence is ….
and all our experience would tell us
that it has already overcome all the goodness that was once given us,
and left us in ruins?
This is hope.
Perhaps out of hope will come a resurrection of life that is goodness …
as all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.
This is not a happy ending to every life …
This is not a happy ending to every challenge …
This is not a happy ending to every story, or movie … though Hollywood would like us to believe otherwise.
After all, who wants to pay for entertainment that does not provide what one wants to, at least temporarily, imagine that life will be: that life, if not gentle with us along the way, will at least be generous to us in the near future, without too much lost time and suffering thrown at us first.
Hollywood endings are warm and fuzzy, and give us optimism.
The real challenges of life are not met by optimism.
The really devastating challenges require hope.
And
divine
assurance
that all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.
How is it that we always think that –
God is gracious and generous,
That Love is the meaning of life,
That Hope is everything?
Only by Grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit,
can we, in the face of the brutal reality of evil,
say with our whole heart, mind and soul,
that
all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.

Who Is My Enemy – In the Canoe

Who Is My Enemy – In the Canoe?
An ode by a man under attack by so many lies, and so many liars and those who acquiesce to evil; an ode in the form of a prayer to God, with you listening in.

Beauty
There is great beauty in nature, in photography done well, in the soul of so many people when they are met with Grace. There is beauty in my life.
Is there beauty in your life?

‘My’ Canoe
I am able whenever the weather allows, to jump in a canoe and paddle a lake, to breath clear air and watch the sun rise and set, to watch loons dive away and beaver swim by, to watch the ducklings grow, to see the geese migrate south in their noisy, majestic “V’s”.

Everyone has something of a canoe, even if it must be only in your imagination. And it is precious. So

Don’t Fiddle,
Don’t Faddle,
Don’t Piddle
Just Paddle

Paddle in your canoe.

Who is my enemy when I can be in a canoe?
No one can be, for I am free.
Being free does not stop the attacks on me, nor does it fix the ruin I have been brought to by lies at all levels.
Being free does not put Evil to rest, but it gives me and many others life, life abundant.

Am I hurt as my sunset may be forced early upon me?
Yes, beyond anything I could imagine!
Am I going to let myself become angry?
Beyond what I cannot control, of course not. I do not allow myself to be that kind of a person.
Why would I allow this, this worst of treatment, so unjust, unethical, and downright mean … why would I allow this or anything else to change me into something like the people who do this to me?
Would I want to become a bully? Would I want to become indiscriminately mean and even cruel like the many people who have together taken every thing from me except a sleeping bag, a tent, a bicycle, and my clothes?
Would I choose to allow them to take my soul too?
Would I want to choose that the Gaslighting that my own family started and carried on without pause, and is now regularly repeated in so many ways by so many people … would I want the Gaslighting to have the intended effect on me?
Would I want to forget which are the truths, which the lies, about me?

Who am I,
that I can be in a canoe?

I am:
Kind
Gracious
Unconditionally loving
Forgiving
Slow to anger
Healthy focusing the energy of anger towards healthy changes
Honest
Clear about reality
Clear about what I have done and what I have not done
Tremendous with children, at a momentary meeting, as an acquaintance, as friend, as parent.
Sexually healthy, respectful, faithful,
Loyal
Respectful of all genders, colours, faiths
Healthy:
Mentally resilient and creative and as always uniquely equipped to help others, and remaining very healthy despite continuing efforts to Gaslight me.
Physically proactively providing for my health care needs and remaining very healthy despite all efforts to deny me my health.
I am a pacifist, a practical pacifist.
I am a sacramental mystic.
I am simultaneously a saint and a sinner.
I am a child of God, a saint in the eternal light of Christ.

This is who I am not:
I am not mean,
I am not crass, profane,
I am not hateful or begrudging
I am not vengeful
I am not quick to anger
I am not reckless with my health and my health care
I am not dishonest, I do not lie,
I am not confused about reality, projecting falsehoods on to others
I have not forgotten what I have done and what I have not done or confused what others falsely say with what actually happened, what I said, what I did, what I thought, what I strove for
I am not abusive to anyone, especially not children, I certainly am not perverse with children
I am not a sexual deviant, nor promiscuous, nor a misogynist nor a misandrist.
I am not disloyal, I do not betray anyone or any trust.
I am not ill, though this sustained attack on my person has landed me in emergency surgery.
I am not mentally ill, nor psychopathic nor psychologically disordered in any way.
To all and any who accuse me of being suicidal I say very clearly that I am immune.

To my enemies:
I ask the plethora of my enemies, is this, the person I am not, really who you want me to change to become, as if that would relieve you of your responsibilities for bullying, cruelty and lies?
Would you like that I succumb to the constant Gaslighting and become mentally ill, psychotic, disordered, or not resilient?
Would you like that I respond to accusations that I am going to kill myself that I say instead, “Ok, when and where and how?” [Now wouldn’t that be perverse, and wholly unnatural!]
I am not reckless with my physical health, nor passive about it, nor uninformed, nor un-engaged.

I am certainly not passive about anything that I can change for the better:
Rather I take to heart the prayer:
My I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I am not violent nor unrealistic about my part and place in life.
Instead I choose not to become vindictive, or even angry, because I would not want to be that kind of a person. I’ve sacrificed much in life to remain a pacifist, one who forgives instead of being vindictive.
Would you prefer or recommend that I become vindictive and destructive, violent and scheming?
I am not disconnected from my Creator and this Creation, in all aspects and dimensions I am able to participate in Creation I do.
Would you want that I become a one dimensional idiot?
I claim no goodness on my own merit, but all good I am is a gift from God. I accept full responsibility for all bad that I am, think, do and allow by inaction to happen. I can do this because I fully trust God’s forgiveness and blessings.
I am not a child of the Devil, Evil, or Decay.



Who do my enemies think they want me to become, when I can be in a canoe?

How is it that you wanted me to change?
You said you want to provide services to me, for me to choose to become more stable. You suggested that I move in with my wife from whom I am separated. I have told you and told you again, that my ex would then attack the few assets my wife holds onto by a threadbare string, and two more people would be out on the street, homeless like I am. And you thought that would be an improvement? You said yes that I should choose this!?!

What kind of an upside down world do my enemies think they can force on me?

How can I respond to the lies and terrible things done to me by so many people?
How can one respond to such cruelty, such destructive cruelty, against me and the children, against so many other men and children?

Cruelty comes in many forms. One is this Gaslighting, this telling me that somehow I am responsible for and able to change the fact that lies by so many at all levels in the Justice system have made me homeless, and that these lies have put the children at great risk.

Cruelty comes not only as commissions, but also as omissions.
It comes from people who stand by and do nothing to know the cruelty done.
It comes from people who close their eyes, ears, and mouths in the face of evil.
It comes from people who know full well what is done, especially people with authority, and they do nothing because it is risky to do anything in the face of evil.
“The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.” Albert Einstein

What am I to do?
I tell you, I bind sins, and continue to live with Grace.
I choose, as an ordained person, to continue as the gracious person I am, but to name these acts against me (and similar acts against so many other men and children) for what they are: they are evil.
I choose to ‘bind these sins’, those of commission and omission. God will judge those responsible. The judgment will be in the afterlife, but as God is not bound by time, the effects of that judgement begin already now.

Except I have forgiven my family, those I was asked to and did promise to love unconditionally, those who I have at great cost forgiven, and whom I continue to forgive. Because I know where their sins begin, and I trust that it is not in maliciousness, but in mental illness. But even if it is maliciousness, how can I not forgive and continue to forgive people who were so close and so powerfully loving and so life changing for me (both good change at first and then so terribly destructive against me, without reason from me)?

Having left this cruelty against me and others in God’s hands, I am free.
Free to respond with grace to the doers and those that acquiesce. It is not as if I have forgiven them (other than my family), but their evil will not define me, nor will it change me but for the better. I will work to stop this cruelty to men and children, as much as God makes me able.

Most of all, I will not forget Beauty, in all its aspects, in this world; the beauty of nature, of light reflected in photography, the beauty of hard work and physical health providing for oneself and for others, the beauty of words that inspire, and the beauty of love.

All of this is possible because God provides story upon story for us, through which we can know something of God as

God who loves unconditionally all people, God who wishes us all life, and life abundant.

Who can be my enemy when I am in the canoe, steeped in the beauty of God’s creation?
Only Evil is my enemy, and God has defeated Evil, it just does not know it. But I can live that it is defeated.

[Last minute addition:]

The RCMP will not though, just minutes ago they evicted me, so that homeless, with a borrowed trailer on Crown land, I now have no place to live except on the run from this borrowed patch to the next with my tent. In this random camping location I was there no more than 14 days at a time. I now have really no where to go that is even a bit safe. This sin is bound as well, for while I move out every 14 days and stay out for 72 hours, as per the requirements, there are frequently others who do not, who stay for months … and not the RCMP, nor any other authority, do anything to them, even though they are clearly living there setting up for the winter, clearly set up having spent months there. I abide by the regulations, and am evicted. Others who clearly do not abide by the rules are not evicted.

If this bothers you let them know.

This is how we deal with homeless people. We make it impossible for them.

God save us. God save me. God show me the beauty available now, still with my canoe, which now is no canoe at all. It is another nothing, taken from me. And yet I will find a way to live determined not by my enemies, but in Grace.

 

 

What about you?
Who is your enemy when you are in your canoe (wherever and whatever it means for you to be in your canoe)?
Where is beauty and grace for you?

Rainbows of No Colours

Rainbows of No Colours but Grace Alone

After a full day
The sun sets whether the passengers get home
Or not
Flying
Leaving a crystal trail
Across the sky.

How will they know we were here?
And will there be a home ever again?

Is there hope?
Yes, just no evidence that provides a basis for it.
It is raw hope based solely on faith that though people fail
God will not fail us, will not fail to bring justice and mercy to bear on all
All of us.

Thoughts in shorthand from the Lessons for today:
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Notes to Readings
Flood Promise: hope despite disaster of proportions inexplicable.
Colours: signs of hope, beauty as sign of promise of life not condemned.
Colours are a sign for God to remember!
Remember me oh God, amidst being forgotten by the world, made a non person.
Steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
So it is to be a religion of achievement, not grace! So to speak: Let us work to please God for God then will be the one to reward and save us! Quatsch!
God is God, God is gracious, God is merciful. And to all.
But there are consequences not known easily in this world’s course and flow, and there will be consequences for those and for all who make life for others hell.
Christ, the righteous, suffered for all, the unrighteous, not as removal of dirt, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience
What is this “conscience” to the writer of 1 Peter? A plea to God to provide a good conscience for us, through Jesus Christ! Yes, if Grace abounds, even sin forgiven is heavy, and brings us to behave poorly, but knowing the grace and forgiveness of God, bought and paid for by Jesus, and told to us as model of how to live, no more scapegoats, brings us to ask how can we live given that we are forgiven and made clean, a clean conscience and existentially clean as well! More than dirt removed, a soul, a life, cleansed in order to change the universe (i.e. system changed by one change).
First: when one realizes that God is gracious and forgives and gives life and breath freely despite none of us deserving any of it, then one is suddenly freed, freed to be marvellously and amazingly able to forgive, to be God’s grace to others, and even to oneself.
Second: when one changes/is changed by grace then since one exists within multiple systems, each member of the system dependent on the others, one’s changing changes the place and existence of the others in the system: that is when grace changes one person, it changes the system … it changes the system towards grace for all.
Third: that changed system towards grace rebounds back on the one first changed and changes that one even again and freshly so.
Forth: who are you? Are you fighting the system changes of grace along with so many other billions upon billions? Or are you freed and gracious and forgiving at all costs.

 


We think the world is pathways that we choose to take the high road or low road, the left fork or the right fork, the path of goodness or that of evil; but God works to bring our diverse paths together. God is well pleased with all of us. The light makes everything known, good and evil. And all of us will meet at Christ’s feet, the light of the world.

Baptism: beloved Son with you I am well pleased.
Temptation: 40 days tempted
Ministry started as John is arrested. Repent and believe the good news.
What is this: to be claimed, to be named, to be tempted, to proclaim/share the good news?
What is this if it is not to be the grace of God in this world so that others will experience it real!

This is life, the goodness of life.
The rainbow and the colours and the beauty, and the simple joys of life and the big joys of life are all given to us so that we can be (even as God is) reminded that God’s way is not to wipe out the world, good and evil; God’s way is to transform, to redeem, to give new free breath to every person and every atom in this world.
Breathe!
Be Graced, Be Grace.