In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, Fred Rogers helps Lloyd Vogel process his relationship with his father and re-connect with him after decades of cutoff on both sides…. It leaves us thinking we can’t change the past, but maybe we can give the story a different ending….** If only we could be just a bit better than we are, a lot less anxious, helping others trust God just a mite more, so that our stories could have a good ending. **adapted from Healthy Congregation Words by Rachel Tune, Pastor Wittenburg University***
Joy Sunday Contrasts with Advent Blues
the third Sunday of Advent, is the Sunday of Joy. Advent was
historically a time to prepare for Epiphany baptisms, a time to take
in Jesus’ costly journey of bringing faith to us. During the rest of
Advent we get ourselves alert, reflect on the cost of our faith,
prepare for, but wait patiently for, Christ’s coming and our
celebration that he has come, and is present.
out of step with the Lenten-like mood of waiting. Our wreath has one
pink candle among the blue candles of hope. In this season of waiting
to celebrate, how did the Joy Sunday and the pink candle get into the
mix? Except this contrast makes our Christmas joy that much more
Today we highlight the opposite of the rest of Advent, making our preparations and joy all that more vivid. Only blue on the dark black of the long nights won’t do, neither would all pink be great. If Advent were all joy, then it’d be hard to celebrate Christmas; it’d be as if we’d nibbled at the turkey, dressing and all, and gobbled up all the Christmas cookies for weeks. The celebration would be just more of the same, if anything were left for the feast. But on the dark background of real life, pink decorates blue spectacularly, and since it denotes God’s joy then the best pink would be hot-pink on deep sea blue rising to sky blue.
Today, though, we also remember that Christmas, more so because it’s supposed to be such a joyous time, can actually be the most painful, sorrowful, lonely and despairing time of the year. It can be all so blue. For this reason we offer Blue Christmas Services.
Insert here Niel Diamond singing Song Sung Blue YouTube – Song Sung Blueor your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues, or your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues.
The New Ending Needed
name of Jesus we can’t change the past, but we know
the story needs a different ending….
Biblical Images of Life Dried Up
of dried up creation abound in today’s lessons: wilderness, dry land,
desert … weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts … blind, deaf,
lame, speechless people … burning sand, thirsty ground, haunts of
jackals, dry grass … lions, ravenous beasts … sighing and
The New Ending, Possible?
the past. We can’t change the past, but can
we really give this story a
Dark, Cold Tunnel of Real Life
It’s dark. The sun rises but stays below the southern roof- or tree-tops. It’s cold. In the city it’s dipped into the minus teens. Not far away, on a little lake that’s as much home as anywhere, it’s been below -30⁰C and not over -15⁰ for days. Most everyone is affected, some a bit more as they struggle with mild to severe depression because of the lack of sunshine. Too often this season can seem like a cold, dark tunnel that we get thrust into, whether we choose it or not.
In Alberta now, after the oil bust of 2014 and lately Premier Kenny’s cuts, 20% of young men are unemployed. That does not count those who have given up trying to find work, or those who are back at school trying to increase their odds of finding a job (going in debt to do so), or those who have part-time jobs where they work pitifully few hours, so that it’s less a job, and more a hindrance to finding real work. Employers more cheaply employ 10 part-time workers 8 hours each week than 2 full-time employees 40 hours each.
real. These young men face hunger, homelessness, losing their
vehicles. Forget about having anything for health and dental care.
Chaplains in hospitals write up verbatims: formerly well-paid men are hounded by their spouse (or not-spouse) to bring home the same money for the pricey lifestyle they’ve spent themselves into. Turning to crime or not, the stress eats away at the men’s health. For some, physical or psychological violence at home puts them in the hospital. Women know the courts will likely believe any lie they tell and the men will be convicted and jailed, even when they are the victims.
The Booby-trapped Tunnel
The dark tunnel we find ourselves in can, in this or other ways, turn out to be full of traps set by people we would trust. People point us to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems a long ways off through the dark and dangerous cold.
The New Ending Beyond Us.
know full well we can’t change the past, but even
trying to give the story a different ending seems
Epidemic of Senior Loneliness
severity of the seniors’ epidemic of loneliness increases at
Christmas. 25% percent of seniors live alone often not by choice.
Living alone or not, an unknown number of seniors are severely
lonely, cut off from meaningful engagement in life. Loneliness
affects health and precipitates death as quickly as any disease. Two
of life’s necessities are missing: a meaningful contribution to life
and an ability to love and be loved.
are walls to stare at, perhaps paths to walk. But one is alone even
in crowds. Few reach out with kindness and understanding, and time.
Everyone has their own busy agenda to help them ignore the emptiness
Worse still are the seniors that experience elder abuse. Seniors can be more vulnerable than young children and become targets because they may appear to have wealth, and the taking appears to be easy. This month we collect for “No Room In the Inn” to create a safe place to which they can escape.
The Light in the Tunnel is a Train
The light they told us was at the end of the tunnel looks more and more like a train coming right at us in this dark tunnel and we cannot see any way out. We can’t move fast enough to find any emergency exit that may be somewhere out there.
The New Ending Only Hoped For
can’t change the past, and we only hope
we can give the story a different ending before it’s too late.
into this dark reality, our Advent Sunday of Joy is set as a stark
contrast to our Lenten-like Advent preparations.
Sunday is exactly like the Crocus named in the OT lesson. The first
flower of Spring, it pushes up and blossoms even while the snow and
morning frosts keep other plants at bay.
Similarly all the desolate images serve as the setting into which God comes and transforms creation. Cool streams flow in the wilderness, over the dry land, and on the burning sand bringing them to rejoice and blossom, with joy and singing. Weak hands are strengthened, feeble knees made firm, fear is met with encouragement, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and the speechless sing.
A highway is made upon which no lion or beast or thief prowls, and even a fool cannot go astray. Those redeemed by Christ will obtain joy and gladness. All sorrow and sighing will flee away. In a simple word, we and all creation are baptized in the water of God’s blessings. It is a marvellously new creation. We are made saints and set to live well in it!
God’s coming is already, and not yet. Like the farmer we wait patiently for the early and the late rains of God’s blessings to tumble down on us and through us. We do not grumble against each other, for grumbling against each other is caustic to life and for it we would be justly judged by the Judge at the door. There are no evidentiary rules, precedents, or arguments required. This Judge is omnipotent and all-knowing, and the judgments are fair, clearly so to all. Jesus’ every judgment is made to make life possible for all.
comes to set things right, to make people healthy, what is wrong is
set right. Jesus comes in poverty, born homeless in a cow barn. Jesus
comes to those least acceptable to the world of his day. Jesus comes
to the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor.
The Light in the Tunnel is Christ’s Light on God’s
Train Coming at Us!
turns out that the light at the end of the cold, dark
tunnel is a train coming right for us. Or
rather it is the Light of Christ barrelling down on us like a train.
This train is not loaded with oil, grain, lumber, or other goods.
first cars of this train have the Blue Hope of Advent spilling out in
endless streams over the landscape of God’s wonderful and broken
Hope is followed by cars as numerous as the stars spewing Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Inspiration, Gratitude, Generosity, Faith, Love in Action, and Love Universal and Unconditional. Look at all the colours streaming across the desolate landscape of our broken lives!
Light. Run to it. Dance to it. Sing for it with the deepest and
intends for us, even in our sadness and loneliness, to be overwhelmed
with the Goodness of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, the engine
of that train. It may be cold and dark outside but the pink of joy
covers the dark and decorates our blues.
God’s New Ending
We can’t change the past. And we cannot give the story a different ending. This Advent we remember, we do not have to. God has already given the story the best ending possible! What Joy!
wait, full of anticipation for the celebration of Christmas, marking
Jesus’ birth, proclaiming
Jesus’ presence now, and hoping for Jesus the Christ’s return!
We pray, Let us be the blessed “who do not let the Messiah [we] are expecting blind [us] to the Messiah who is standing right in front of [us]” (Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998]).
Our Response: We are the Pink in the Blues
reflect on joy, and its roots in the dark of misery, and its place
within the blues of Hope. The Holy Spirit makes us the streams of
cool water flowing in the deserts of life, the crocuses springing up
for those to whom Christ came. We are the patient, non-anxious,
gracious, kind, and generous ones. In us others see Christ
active for them even if the world frosts them out.
This is the ending to the story that God has for creation and all of us in it: that Christ came, that Christ comes, that Christ will come, and all of creation was, is and will be baptized with living water, transforming it and all of us. Therefore we follow Christ’s example: bringing real joy to those with SADS, the unemployed, the lonely, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor. This is the pink of our Advent Blues. It may not be more than a touch on the horizon in our preparations, nor need it be more. It is like the light at the end of the tunnel, giving us reason to Hope, even in the blues.
We are the pink of Adventfor those in need around us.
get ready to sing: Let me highlight with pink and blue a few words of
our hymn of the day:
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last! Furrows lie open for God’s creative task: this, the labour of people who struggle to see how God’s truth and justice sets [Blue:] everybody free.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Lord Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbours we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets [Pink:] us free.
Theme and Notes
pink contrast to the Blues of Advent, draws us to be God’s people to
bring transformation to those most in need.
*In the Pink: to be in the best of health; by Grace alone the best spiritual health.
***Wittenberg University is a private liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio. It has approximately 2,000 full-time students representing 37 states and 30 foreign countries.
the sun just up, I trust, since the clouds are thick and low, but it
is not dark as night anymore, when the waning crescent moon supplied
a bit of light to step by to dump the ashes from the night’s fire
as the early morning fire is stoked and left to burn hot,
the sun just up, the logs have been hauled for fuel to heat with, and
the Eucharist celebrated with thankful prayers for family, all.
breakfast, a required meal of fibre and fruit to keep my body from
rejecting most foods with spasms and great pain, is prepared, cereal
in the bowl, coffee measured into a small glass, the french press
ready, and then pre-heated and filled with water boiled on the wood
burning in the fire in the stove … and
then the milk cold from the natural fridge is poured on the cool berries from nature’s fridge, the liquid milk freezes into crystals on the cold, cold berries decorating them with the snow white of frozen milk.
Add the hot coffee to milk, Kafe au lait, and the breakfast is balanced into good measures of blessing
open this portion of the morning, with the routine well accomplished
and work well planned.
task of everyday, exercise, then Eucharist, then breakfast and
under Berries under Frosty Milk, before Coffee Golden
Berries Under Milk, Quiet
only the fire sparks and moans as logs become heat and clear smoke
burned so hot!
well. Tell the truth only. Trust God’s protection and blessing.
everything with Grace, Forgive all who can be, work diligently for
justice for all, and hope for things unseen and for which there is no
evidence it will be provided. For this is life, as God created us to
live it, filled with Love, pure and simple, even for one’s enemies.
the cool days of fall darken earlier and earlier, and the dark of
night stays with us longer and longer …
Dark comes early, closer to South
wood pile is just high enough,
food sufficient for the coming days,
water enough and replenish-able,
the air is fresh,
clothing rather well prepared for the coming months,
shelter from the weather to come is mostly prepared,
labour is directed, consumedly so, towards writing what must be
love grows and wanes, I am loved well and always.
God holds me safe.
more can one ask for from life, from God, from all that might be?
that might be.
many humans have had so much less, so much less, so much less.
beauty of the world is at my fingertips, literally, as a cell phone
camera captures what can be seen and hoped for?
Cell camera photos: harvest moon, over three harvesters
what more would anyone wish from life?
than the time each morning to celebrate that Christ is with us, in
body and blood?
than the ability to see beauty and share it with others?
than the ability to know truth, without doubt, or hesitation?
than to live well?
mitkommen! – from the movie Remembrance, Tomasc calls out to Hannah
to come with him, he dressed as a German soldier initiating their
escape, as he carries a canister of photos of the Nazi concentration
to the cold the colours left when photosynthesis cannot any more
shed summer and fall pushing the liquids of life back into the ground
expansion of freezing that would tear out their hearts.
still air as the light of warmth reaches through the tops to the
yellow carpet below
the trees cry ice drops,
melting from the freezing night’s moisture collected on leaves not yet having succumbed like their fallen comrades
to the wretched destruction of passing time,
to the blessed transition from green biting-bug-and pollen-filled hot days transitioning to the cool respite of fall.
drop, drip … it is time
celebrate what was
prepare for what will come
time to haul wood, trees murdered for a bit of white bark or taken as the victim’s of drug-hyped-senslessness and bravado that a madman with an axe can fell living trees just for the show of it, for the false exuberance of finally being able to master something, since he could not master himself.
trees have joined the low bushes in nodding to the coming time, fall
will be here in a few days, and the leaves need to protect the forest
floor from the nice ice that will carpet the bugs in their beds and
mice in their burrows. May the freeze be deep and hard enough to
clear out the ferocious biting pine beetles. I thought they were but
a nuisance, not knowing what this ugly bug was, until someone told me
their name, and then one had the audacity to land on my face and bite
my hand when I brushed it off. Not just one, but a mini chainsaw
cooler nights have meant for better sleeping and clear air waking.
The most dangerous animals are less frequent in these parts, though a
few do venture out to wade as their dogs swim in the lake’s frigid
waters, not quite so in the shallows of the sandy shorelines.
noisy absence leaves more peace for the four-legged animals to
venture near, and deer, bear and squirrels, owls, loons and geese
abound. Not that I have the equipment to catch photos of any.
gives way for quiet solitude in the evenings as the last bit of light
fades through dusk to dark, leave the last fade a line of western
slivered light reflected in the lake’s undulating surface between
The sliver of solitude so difficult to find, more so to fully enjoy.
Germany In the Fade is a movie about people choosing the
destruction of life. A German mother drops her young son off with her
husband at work so that she can make a visit. Leaving his office the
mother admonishes a young woman to lock up her new bike she’s just
left with a case on its rear carrier. When the mother returns the
police inform her that her husband, a German of Turkish descent, and
their young German-born son were killed by a fertilizer nail bomb.
The bike’s case held the bomb made by the perpetrator’s husband.
outcome of the trial seems obvious, but their lawyer creates
reasonable doubt; the bombers are acquitted. Captive to revenge the
grieving mother tracks the guilty-acquitted couple to a beach on the
ocean. There she kills them with a fertilizer nail bomb, and she
loses her life in the process.
movie denounces the rise of neo-Nazi killings. The first bomb was set
to kill as many non-native Germans as possible. More clearly it
demonstrates that, without the freedom of faith that calls us to
forgive, people choose to become captives to revenge. Revenge is a
two-edge sword that cuts everyone.
OT: As you enter the PL, Choose:
life or death, blessings or curses
comparison, living in God’s promise is a multi-sided blessing. As
God delivers God’s promise to Abraham and ushers the people across
the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses admonishes them to choose
God each day. Moses knows they will need to or they will fall under
the curses of other gods, including gods that people still choose
today. Living in the Promised Land does not mean that life will be
easy, obvious, or without dire peril. Nor does it mean that all
people are free. Today people are regularly enslaved as labourers
around the world and on the high seas as well as those forced into
the sex trade.
delivers us into the Promise. God will not take us out of the
Promised Land. As God’s children God frees us so that we always
have a real choice between Life and Death, between blessings and
curses, even when we do not see the choices clearly.
Promised Land has God brought us to, long ago, or maybe just
yesterday? What Blessings and Curses must we choose between?
first that God’s Promise delivered at our baptism is that we are
always God’s children, made righteous by Jesus’ sacrifice and
Grace. God gives us a choice, but it is not about receiving or
earning God’s Grace and our salvation. Our choice is how we live in
that Grace. Do we, guided and inspired by God’s Spirit, choose
blessings and life, or do we choose our own ways that lead to curses
and death for us and for others?
Break my Heart, (Set me on fire!)
well-known prayer … reads: “May my heart be broken by the
things that break the heart of God.” (World
Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce).
risk of praying this prayer is that God might just answer it with a
Holy Fire that sets our hearts on fire to bring blessings to every
human of the 7.7 plus billion whom we can possibly effect, starting
today, with those beside us, those we meet each step through each
day, and those we go out of our way to encounter, until everything in
our lives changes as we become the hands, voice and blessings of
Christ. We join the great cloud of witnesses to Christ’s love for
NT Philemon’s Real Story: Giving FREEDOM
second lesson for today we read part of the letter Paul wrote to
Philemon and his congregation. It is about an escaped slave,
Onesimus, the man who carries the letter to Philemon. Paul sends him
back to his master, Philemon, and lights a Holy Fire under Philemon.
slaves were crucified, a dire warning to any other slaves who tried
to escape. Anyone, through a terrible turn of fortune or war, could
become a slave. Becoming a freed slave was very, very rare.
Paul admonishes Philemon, with the congregation listening, to do the
rare but right thing, the good thing, the personally costly thing.
C.S. Lewis: Paint and Eggs, Stain and Get
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity called this the difference between paint, which merely covers the surface, and stain which soaks in deep to protect to the centre. Paul trusts that the Gospel daily seeps down into Philemon’s heart and strength. As with all Paul’s new converts in congregations spread so far, Paul nurtures the seeds of faith, like a mother hen sitting on her eggs. It is fine to be a fertilized egg, waiting to become something, but now it’s time to get cracking. It’s time for Philemon to show his colours and give Onesimus his freedom.
does God place before us
this day the choice of blessings gained by
sacrificing our rights
and privileges in
order that another human can live in freedom? What egg needs
to hatch in our lives bringing us into a new reality?
What choices does God give us today?
Route 44, Not Getting it Right
We may not get it right. We may be more like the 88 year old driver of the car the cop pulls over because it was going 44 kph on the highway where the speed limit is 110. When he approaches the car he notices that the four elderly passengers appear to be shocked into a daze, the air taken out of them.
officer warns the driver that it is dangerous to drive so far below
the speed limit. She responds that she was going exactly the speed
limit of 44 kph just like the sign said.
officer starts to answer sternly until the light bulb goes off for
him and he says: “No ma’am, the speed limit is 110 here. Though
this is highway 44.”
says the driver as it’s obvious the wheels are churning for her.
Then the officer asks, “Is everyone alright? They all seem shell
driver answers as it falls into place for her, “No, officer. Thank
you. Yes, they will be alright in a minute or two. You see, a few
miles back we turned off highway 169.”
Taking care of ourselves, our faith, and the promised land we live in is hardly simple. Sometimes it’s the most difficult thing in our lives to get right. When we make mistakes with the freedom Christ gives us, we often add a huge dose to the challenges the Devil tries to suck us into. The results can often scare the living daylights out of us, at least they should.
Luke: Know the Cost
today’s Gospel Jesus admonishes the crowd to know and prepare for
the cost of discipleship as they commit themselves to following him.
not Jesus’ way, but it is an example of the extreme commitment that
following Jesus will place on us. Nothing else can be more important
to us than following Jesus, nothing, not even love for family. Jesus
tells us to count the cost before we jump in, for the cost will be
more than any love or even all of our possessions. Better to count
the cost first and be prepared, than to run into a wall too high, or
a battle too big, and collapse in shame.
not unlike marriage. If we really knew what we were getting into
there are precious few of us who would be able to make such a
commitment. Fortunately, endorphins and hope help us commit to each
other in marriage. Its challenges are God’s way of bringing us to
understand God’s love for us.
fortunately, most of us are baptized as infants, a choice made for us
by our parents and sponsors, otherwise the high cost could stop many
of us. Yet the cost of discipleship is required for us to participate
in life overflowing with God’s blessings for which we are created!
White tells the story of Heddie Braun, a woman who lived the first
four years of her life in Norway and then emigrated to Little
was a powerful presence at the age of 88 with all of her 80 lbs. hung
on a 5’ 2” frame. On a cold fall evening Heddie was kidnapped
from her single-story home where she lived with Eddie, her blind
husband. The kidnapper cut power and telephone wires to the house,
entered through the backdoor, picked up Heddie and put her in the
trunk of his car. He drove her to his home, put chains on her legs
and hid her in a tiny trailer out back. For days Heddie was always
cold, she didn’t have her heart medicine, and she lost track of
time. A confusing ransom call was made on a disposable phone to her
grandson. It was a total failure.
time melted into a well-stirred soup, Heddie was not confused about
who she was and to whom she belonged. Held captive she knew Christ
made her free.
police identified the kidnapper. He had worked for the family, but
was now unemployed and desperate. At one time he had been a friend.
Heddie almost lost her foot to frostbite but she was tough and her foot was saved. Asked later how she stayed so strong, Heddie replied. “I’m Norwegian. The whole time I was in the trailer I remembered that my kidnapper was just a person like me. No matter what the cost I was going to choose life. It was so hard, harder than anything I’ve ever done, but I forgave him.” She turned to her grandson, “You have to forgive him, too.” (In Over Our Heads, pp. 14ff, Augsburg 2007, re-told TL and KAS)
So we pray
sets us free, so we pray: May our hearts be broken by the things that
break the heart of God.
joy be in choosing life, blessings, and freedom for all people.
When skiing in the mountains on a slope with
trees on it
I’ve taught more than a few people how to ski. Invariably we arrive on top of a slope where there are trees at least dotting the slope. The student looks with apprehension. I say respect the trees, but do not fear them. Do not look at them or you will head straight into one of them. Look at the snowy hillside between the trees where you want to ski.
Three Lessons full of Trees
OT: The self deluded Teacher Fool
We heard the Teacher in today’s first Lesson say:
Vanity of vanities! … All is vanity.
Our labour produces great results but our results are left to others, who may be wise or foolish.
It is tempting to think he may be right: that God has created, humans have worked, and nothing is worth anything. But the Teacher’s wisdom is a big forest of trees of hopelessness. Here God’s truth disappears like the misty fog evaporating with the rising sun. Then any lie can be presented as if true. Despair takes on all sorts of guises. Instead of being thankful, one demands more and more of things that cannot fill the empty void that should be one’s heart. This kind of life is at war with itself and the ensuing conflict and chaos allow one to hide from accountability, hope, love and even Jesus.
NT: The Different Life of Lists
In contrast the writer of Colossians reminds us that Christ raises us differently, into life free from what destroys us. The writer then presents us with lists of things to leave behind: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. Do not lie to one another. These are more trees to avoid.
exception would be passion, though as all God’s gifts, passion can
be abused and used as a destructive force in one’s own life and in
the early Christians, including the Colossians, expected Jesus to
return in their own lifetimes, their sense of urgency valued the
freedom of celibacy and devalued the ties of passion. But God created
passion as an important and healthy motivation for much of life
including marriage, parenting, care of the earth and the building of
a just society.
Gospel: Using Jesus for Greed
Today’s Gospel is a great parable within a parable: A man comes to use Jesus to get an inheritance from his brother, against the tradition of the time. Through the ages we human beings have more than perfected the use of Jesus or Religion to pound others down and try to feed our own greed. Greed is related to gluttony.
“A glutton is (a person) who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.”
(Wishful Thinking, F Buechner)
Gluttony and Greed kill us as we try to eat or possess more than we can stand. To teach us this, Jesus tells a parable of the pathetic wealthy man who after a great harvest, builds new barns to hold it and anticipates the remainder of his life as an easy retirement. But his possessions are the end of him. It’s all for naught!
Lots of Trees to Avoid
That gives us lots of trees to avoid. There is precious little of what we should aim for. It’s like skiing down a mountain and all we see are trees.
Where is Grace
So where is the Good News?
NT: Look above
The writer of Colossians points us to set our minds on things that are above. So looking up ever since we lived in caves we see the stars, the moon and the sun. Aided by the passionate drive of George Ellery Hale, and so many others, to see and learn more by building bigger and better telescopes in the last 100 years, what we see is astoundingly mind boggling. (E.g. see the documentary Journey to Palomar) Before, we knew the earth, one of nine planets, revolved around the sun. Now, we’ve seen numerous planetoids, one being Pluto, so there are only eight planets. We know our sun has a magnetic field, with flares that cause the northern lights and disrupt satellite communications. We know about galaxies, that most of the matter in the universe is invisible, that the universe is expanding and the universe is so, so much larger than we ever imagined! We have not found alien life, but in the immense expanse of the universe it is probable, if not guaranteed. We have seen God’s handiwork in the awesome expanse and workings of the universe and begun to understand their impact on our daily lives. Are these ‘the things above’ that we are to aim for? Maybe not, one would quickly say. But then perhaps we ought not be too quick to decide.
Rest of Scripture
With so many trees in our lessons, we look to the rest of Scripture and the Christian Church’s history, to guide us to the joy of life ‘skiing’, as it were, without hitting the trees.
We believe that God is Trinitarian. God is three in one. In part that means that the basic reality of God is that God is in relationship. We are created in God’s image, so we know we are created to be in relationship.
God Loves, We love
Luther taught that the core of the Gospel could be summed up in one short passage “ God so loved the world that God sent his only Son so that everyone believes in Jesus may have eternal life.” God loves – us … and the whole universe God created! In relationships we are to love one another and all of creation. The Teacher’s wisdom is folly because he ignores other people as God’s good creatures. Work is not to be hated, rather it is to be joyful and rewarding precisely because it provides for others, just as God has provided for us! The pathetic farmer in Jesus’ parable is consumed by his possessions because he has no sense that his bounty is a gift from God entrusted to him to be shared with others.
God’s Grace and Work
We know God’s Grace for us. We know that God comes to us, forgives us, makes us righteous before God, by Grace (in other words, as a gift that we do not earn!) We know that God does this first, then we can get down to living and working as God’s own children in this marvelous creation.
Riches with God
In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus points us ‘to build up riches with God’. It is easy to understand that our ‘riches with God’ are what God gives us, namely God’s Grace and all that flows from it.
Our work: Response, because … therefore
We know then our work is NOT to make ourselves good enough for God. Everything we do is to be a response to God’s Grace for us. Because God makes us Good, perfect before God, therefore we can fully engage in creation. We can be passionate about life and the goodness of creation, so that we can share the necessities of life and the wonders of the universe with ALL other people, in the present and for all generations to come. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes had no room for any passion for sharing the beauty of life with others. He had no passion to know that God’s love moved God to speak a word “Let there be Light,” and after 7 days to say, “it is good!” In the resulting blessed creation of order and beauty, we can be passionately engaged in the wonders of the universe. We can share this life with another person with the passion of a marriage. We can invest in friendships that carry us, our friends, and people around the world through the trials of life. Sharing God’s riches brings us to be so passionate about life that we can expend all of our lives striving to see and share our place in God’s awesome universe. For some of us that may mean building bigger and better telescopes. For all of us it means respecting but leaving behind the ‘trees’ of judgment, condemnation and lists, sharing instead God’s Grace with all people. We can choose to make justice a reality for each person.
Sharing God’s riches is possible for everyone. We could choose not to share God’s riches. But why would we?
Story: We Ain’t Poor by Florence Ferrier
In the story We Ain’t Poor! the Sheldons, a large family in the Appalachians, live in severe financial distress after a series of misfortunes. They receive inadequate assistance, yet they manage their meager income with ingenuity — and without complaint. One fall day the social worker “visits the Sheldons in the ramshackle rented house they lived in at the edge of the woods. Despite a painful physical handicap, Mr. Sheldon had shot and butchered a bear, which strayed into their yard once too often. They canned it so that there would be meat even during the worst of the winter when their fuel costs were high. The social worker reported: “Mr. Sheldon offered me a jar of bear meat. I hesitated to accept it, but he said kindly and firmly. ‘Now you just have to take this. We don’t have much, that’s a fact; but we ain’t poor!’“[In astonished disbelief, the social work asked, ‘How can you say that?’] His answer proved unforgettable. “’When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, then you ain’t poor. When you don’t feel easy giving something away even if you got more’n you need, then you’re poor, whether you know it or not.’”
(Gospel Notes 2001, Brian Stoffregen, reworked TL)
Look at the World all around you! … God has made us Rich and given us the ability to see more and more of the universe as God’s amazing creation … Can we say ‘We ain’t poor!’? Amen