Good Friday Morning

Scapegoat No, Sacrifice Yes

This morning we remember Jesus’ last hours, as the soldiers, by Pilate’s orders, in response to the crowd’s demands, hung Jesus on the worst instrument of torture, the cross.

The characters

Remember the many characters in Jesus’ last hours. Judas, the soldiers, the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas, Pilate, Malchus, Peter, the crowd, Jesus’ Mother Mary, her sister Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and of course Jesus.

Our part

None of us were present in that horrific drama more than 2000 years ago. Yet we are characters in so many terrible dramas that have taken place in our own life times, dramas that are devastatingly so similar.

Girard, Scapegoating

The French Historian and Anthropological Philosopher Rene Girard identified the similarity that ties Jesus’ last days with our all too common dramas as a common human sin, scapegoating. Girard pointed out that we all greedily strive to have more than just the necessities of life. Thinking that life is a zero sum project (that there is not enough for everyone) we try to take from others so that we will have more. That’s greed. And greed eats at our souls.

What nearly always happens next is worse. Since we cannot tolerate that we would be mutually so terrible to those close to us, we together find an innocent bystander, someone vulnerable and uninvolved, someone who we do not know well and therefore can bring ourselves to not care what happens to them. Without any justification we project all our collective sin and guilt onto that person, condemn them, judge them, and ruin them. Working together we ease the unbearable conflict between us.

Like Joseph’s brothers in the Old Testament getting rid of the evidence of their horrendous sin against their own brother, we exile the innocent person. We’ve attached our sins to that person and then collectively forgotten about them and our sins, so that we can live together in peace. The darkness hides that our peace is bought at the price of an innocent bystander’s destruction.

We are exactly like the characters

In exactly this manner Judas, the high priests, the crowds, Pilate, and the soldiers condemn and kill Jesus. And we do this so often to other people today. We may not use crosses to crucify, because we want to be able to say we are not as bad as those who have gone before us. Instead we use gossip, innuendo, and rumours to ruin innocent people’s reputations, ruin them financially, and drive them from our communities.

Even when we are not Judas or soldiers or the crowd, or the high priests or Pilate, we stand too often with the crowds watching as another person’s reputation and finances are ruined. We watch and are too afraid to interfere. We are even entertained and reassured as if to say to ourselves, “all is well in the world if evil is uncovered in others and they are made to pay. We, though, are good enough for God.”

Jesus, Clear story of God’s intent: the last scapegoat

In truth Jesus came to be the last scapegoat, the last sacrifice needed to set us all free from all sins, especially these terrible sins of greed and scapegoating, of hiding from our own sins.

God led Abraham to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac. But then God interrupts the sacrifice providing a goat instead for the ritual. God says: no more child sacrifice.

Likewise, God led Jesus to the cross, as the last scapegoat ever needed, and to give us Jesus’ life and death story so that we might learn more of God’s intention for us, which includes: no more scapegoats.

Jesus forgives those who betray, arrest, judge and crucify him. God calls us, instead of scapegoating innocent bystanders, to be that same forgiveness for all people.

Yet, we are still in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves, and we continue to sacrifice others instead of ourselves.

Today we are in the crowd again

Today we remember how we are just like that crowd again, as Jesus is raised on the cross to die a torturous death.

We beg for forgiveness … and time

We ask for forgiveness. We hope we will learn to stop sacrificing innocent people as scapegoats. We pray that God will intervene, transform our sins into blessings, and make God’s will clear also among us, in our words and through our actions.

Even so, we know we will continue to sin, so remembering Jesus’ story, we beg God for mercy, and forgiveness, …

and time for the amendment of our lives.

Amen

Meals and Nourishment

Maundy Thursday

Opener

A little wonder is not missing.

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

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

Salad

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

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

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

Just an ordinary, nourishing meal.

Setting of the Last Supper

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

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

Each meal, Everyone

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

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

To drink

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

Meal to Remember and Learn from

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

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

Vegetables

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

Common Food Items, With Great Effects

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

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

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

Protein

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

The New Covenant

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

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

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

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

Dessert

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

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

For Each and Every Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Heat, More Forgiveness

Spring Struggles to Break in as Large Flakes Cover the Once Bare Ground Again

My wood stove, set up to provide heat in the severe -40°C winter worked wonders. It even provided hot water for coffee in the morning and tea throughout the day. It was not without it’s challenges as the stove pipe got so hot that it melted the plastic tarps of the shelter around the stove.

Holy Week is our opportunity to remember and learn ever more from Jesus story. Jesus’ story is a life full of communication from God to us, in a way we can understand.

God tried to communicate to us with Word, creating a good creation. We messed it up, with trying to be smarter than we are and blaming others for the results. Kicked out of paradise we even became murderers, for a ‘good’ start.

God tried to communicate to us with the Law, we turned it into control of others.

God tried to communicate to us with the prophets, and we thought they were crazy, because they really were, trying to embody God’s Word does that to humans.

I rebuilt the damaged tarp sections, put in a heat shield and a remote thermometer. Now gets as hot as 70°C without problems.

God sent his Son, a full life story lived that we can learn. Jesus came to live, teach, heal, and do remarkable things like calming the chaos of the waters.

God exists beyond time, matter, limits. Now Jesus has all the limits of a human. Paul says it well: Jesus emptied himself of being other than human, and became limited as a human.

Why?

The real purpose of Jesus’ life was his death. That’s this week’s story.

No one really listened at first, and those that did usually got it all wrong. Listen to the parade as Jesus enters Jerusalem. They think that Jesus is God’s way of giving them control again of Jerusalem, maybe. That’s their hope.

Then things change.

The harsh winter slowly gives way to cool spring temperatures, and the 2000° C inside the furnace became way too hot in the shelter. Always the thermometer showed a max of 70°. It dawned finally on me that the thermometer could read no hotter than 70°C but the actual temperature could be much more!

Things change.

After the triumphant entry parade into Jerusalem, things go downhill fast and hard. Jesus is betrayed, deserted, tried, denied, whipped, condemned, mocked, tortured, abandoned, and murdered on a cross.

There is no greater measure of suffering.

God came to live and die exactly like this. Why?

God came to make clear: God understands our suffering, even if our measure seems to have an upper limit, God has no limits, God understands us, our pain, our sin, our suffering, our death.

God lived it to show us God’s intent for us.

As Jesus dies, he forgives those that mock, torture and kill him.

This is what God wants us to be to each other. Not sinners, destroyers, scape-goaters, or mockers, torturers, murderers, or chaos makers, not even people who cannot listen to others pain and suffering and not know what to do.

We know God knows our suffering.

In our suffering we experience what others suffer. We know what we most need when we suffer is forgiveness, love and not to be abandoned.

We learn this so that we can give God’s gifts of forgiveness, love and being present to others as they suffer.

God came as Jesus to show us God’s goodness and love for us has no limits. God’s forgiveness has no limits. We may not easily hear, listen or understand, but we have Jesus story handed from generation to generation. We can always learn more if we pay attention.

Jesus’ story is God’s new limitless thermometer by which we can measure what really goes on in this world. There’s lots of heat. There’s even more love, forgiveness, and compassion than we are ever capable of measuring.

This week, we remember, we listen as we can, we learn anew as we are able.

From Jesus story we know and trust, no matter what we do, what we succeed at or fail at, God understands our yearning, our chaos, our sufferings …

and God always loves, forgives and is present with us …

calling us to be exactly that for other people,

with Jesus as our model,

a model that has no limits.

Amen

A Short Walk

Three Stand Straight, Three Lean to the Light.

Tonight I took a short walk.

Around the sand roads and through the woods.

No bugs, lots of water spread across the low spots.

No great big, throny bushes, no green trees, and no crowds … in fact great solitude and quiet.

Just a walk around

a bit

near the sunset

before settling in as a guest of the Queen,

honoured chosen of my Lord,

on the shores of a small quite lake,

since the oil company bought it all up,

except a few pieces

which means the Queen still has a small plot

that she shares, by law, with a few homeless,

and quite a few wealthy land owners looking for

the gift of nature: health and joy.

There’s also enough detritus left around that proves there are a number of irresponsible beer drinking, condom throwing, and garbage dumping foolish visitors.

So I took a bag with me on my walk around to collect some of the detritus. Lots more, like the condoms, still lay strewn on the ground, things that I needed more than just one bag to be able to pick up and haul out for other fools.

Why does the Queen receive such fools?

Why does the Creator tolerate such fools?

Perhaps because one fool is pretty much like another, and all are fools in one way or another.

My call is to be a fool for Christ, so there is that.

And I took a quiet walk around tonight before enjoying a quiet night, with only a couple parking for hours, depositing another condom and toilet paper to found on a quiet morning walk before the full light of dawn.

Solitude is precious as are a good night’s sleep and the clear light of truth.

Changing Hearts

The ‘Final’ Version

Our Way Through the Waters, to God’s Glory

Psalm 119 starts: Happy are those whose way is blameless

Wouldn’t it be spectacular if we could change our hearts and follow all God’s laws and be blameless for the rest of our lives. We would be profoundly happy, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength! Nothing would defile us from within or from outside ourselves.

But we confess that we are all sinful and unable to free ourselves. Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther and many others have made it crystal clear that no one can be entirely blameless. If anyone were able to be blameless the whole course of human history would be changed.

What then can we do to change our hearts? Can we change our hearts of stone for healthy hearts filled with God’s Spirit?

Since 1967, when Bernard Christian transplanted the first human heart, we can have surgeons transplant our diseased hearts with new hearts. Heart transplant patients report it is more than just a physical experience. Something more changes, as another person’s heart gives them life. The other person has met an untimely death. The transplant patient carries on with life, for themselves and in a small yet noticeable way for the donor.

Though our meaning tonight for changing our hearts is hardly physically accurate, we are talking about changing the seat of our emotions, the centre of our wills, and the motive behind our thinking and doing.

First off this is a very complicated idea. Secondly it is nearly out of the realm of human possibility. We so often get it all wrong.

Once a well-heeled congregation decided to look outside themselves and do something really good for a poor neighbourhood nearby. After carefully looking through the neighbourhood they found a deserted chunk of land, filled with weeds, stones, and syringes. They decided it would make the perfect neighbourhood playground. They bought the land, and brought in topsoil, sod, and playground equipment. Then they headed to the community centre to invite the community to make use of it. The community leaders said only a very polite thank you.

“What’s wrong?” a congregation member blurted out.

“Well,” said one of the community leaders, “we had plans for that land. We had been saving money and applying for grants, gotten corporate sponsors, and invested in getting drawings made up. We were on track to break ground in 6 months. Our plans included a picnic area, a play area, community gardens and even a basketball court on one end.

“Now we’ll have to let all that go and enjoy the playground.”

We can try to fix the world with our privilege, power, and wealth. Or we can use our ears to listen to those in need, our minds to discern what the real issues are, and our hearts to empathize with their plight so that how we act will actually meet the real needs of the people we try to help.

There are things we can do to change our hearts, to change how we feel about another person, our situation in life, and the events that happen around us. While we cannot change our individual emotional responses to events, we can slowly, through diligent practice of habits, change the range of our emotions. We can over time move ourselves from a destructive, disengaged range of emotional responses, to a hope-filled, engaged range of emotional responses to the same kind of events. It takes lots of time, diligent work, and a motivation that only the Holy Spirit can maintain in us.

The first thing we can do is forgive others. We act as if the other has not sinned against us. We treat them special, even giving them gifts they really want. When we behave as if they were precious, they become precious to us again. In time we will realize, we have actually forgiven them.

Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we truly change our hearts. We need God to send people to help. Hearts change the course of our lives, and the course of our communities, our churches, our countries, and even the course of human history.

St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential of Christianity’s early thinkers, writers, preachers, and practitioners of faith, did not start out a Christian. Born of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he was denied baptism. He spent his youth as a Manichaean, and according to his own account lost himself in pleasures and wanton living. He was befriended by Ambrose, who he met since they both shared exceptional skills as orators. While Ambrose’s preaching was exceptional and his message was the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, it was Ambrose’s friendship that deeply affected Augustine’s heart and drew him to convert to Christianity. St. Augustine gave himself to the work of Christ on earth, ending his life serving as the Bishop of Hippo in north Africa, where he wrote and preached. Imperfect, rescued, and saved Augustine steered the course of Christianity to be the faith we recognize today. He also steered the Roman Empire towards Christianity.

Because there was one human, Jesus, who lived entirely blameless before God, the whole of human history is changed. Yours and mine, and each of our lives are inexorably changed toward God, toward life, and toward giving everything we have and are in order that others may know God’s Grace as well. Augustine was one piece of this course of history.

Our hearts inform and equip us to turn our lives in new directions. As the Holy Spirit moves our hearts to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, then we focus on faith, ideas, words, and actions which can affect others’ hearts with the same Grace that saves us each day.

We trust that God is always with us. We can be blameless and joyful therefore, not because we are perfect, but because Jesus steps in for us and we are reckoned to have Jesus’ blameless track record.

There is something spectacular to being the donor of Christ’s heart to those in need. It is to give to another the seat of our will and passion, the centre of our life, and to give our hearts to another in order that they may live, and that living they may have life abundant.

Have a heart. Have a change of heart. Because the Holy Spirit helps us surrender our hearts to the will, passion, and purpose of Jesus Christ, therefore we live, heart and all, as God calls and equips us to live.

We live as never before. We live the fast that is acceptable to God, the fast that through our sacrifice others receive justice, freedom, food, and homes.

Amen

Rough Draft: A Change of Heart, Lent 4 Midweek Reflection

This is really still way too rough, but here it is, as a way-point along the way. Before it is done it needs to be half as long, and more focused.

There’s work to be done on it.

Lenten Theme:
Isaiah 58:
A fast that is acceptable to God: sacrifice for justice, freedom, food, homes.

This week’s Theme:
Change of Heart

Lessons:
Ezekiel 36.22-28
Psalm 119. 1-16
Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Our Hearts are chaotic, reflecting so much of our lives, but they are not without the Light of Christ! We are never alone.

A Change of Heart

Happy are those whose way is blameless

Blameless No one!

Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther and many more Christian theologians and teachers have made it crystal clear that if anyone were to be able to be blameless the whole course of the human species would be entirely different. No one can be entirely blameless.

In fact we confess that we are all sinful and unable to free ourselves, that we require Jesus’ intervention of grace so that we can live in God’s promise that we are God’s children, God’s ambassadors of grace to all people.

Only Obey if written on our Hearts

The only way that we at all can obey God’s commandments and statutes is if through the Holy Spirit, they are emblazoned on our hearts, so that we can do no other than follow them.

Change Hearts: God does us right with God

Wednesdays after a soup supper we’ve looked at change of season, change of circumstance, change of habits, and today we look at changing our hearts.

The starting reminder is that this is not possible for us alone; and further that not our habits, nor our words, nor our thoughts, nor even our beliefs put us right with God. We never are right enough with God. God takes us in as Children, as recipients and bearers of Good News, as Ambassadors of Christ, as the voice, the hands, the feet, and the compassionate Grace of Jesus Christ for other people. God does it all, and then we get to respond, because the Holy Spirit equips us to respond.

We can practice responding, bathing ourselves first in reminders that we need the Holy Spirit to work in us, in order that our practice will be any good at all. Then we can set forth, practising all we can; Praying that the Holy Spirit will transform our feeble efforts into the real Grace of Jesus the Christ.

What can we do to change our hearts?

Transplants

Since 1967, when Bernard Christian transplanted the first human heart, we can have surgeons transplant our diseased heart with a new heart. Heart transplant patients report that having one’s heart changed is more than just a physical experience. Something more changes, as another person’s heart gives them life, a person that has met an untimely death. The patient carries on with life, for themselves and in a noticeable small way for the donor of the heart.

What is the heart to us? What exactly are we trying to change?

In many ways the heart is much more than it was thought to be in old Hebrew thought, or even in the thoughts concerning heart, mind and soul in Jesus’ day.

[fill in OT thoughts of heart, Greek thoughts of heart, compared to mind and soul, and compared to today: heart, the seat of emotion. Maybe maybe not?]

In many minds today the heart is the seat of emotion, of passion, of a person’s will. This may not match much of what we know about the physical anatomy of the human body and mind; but it is common in literature and in everyday thought.

Whether our understanding of the heart is accurate or not, this evening’s theme is precisely about more than changing just a physical heart. We are talking about changing that which is the seat of one’s emotions, the center of one’s own will, and the motive center behind one’s thinking and actions.

Nearly Impossible

To change the seat of emotions, the center of one’s will, the motives behind one’s thinking and actions is first off, a very complicated concept.

Secondly it is so much more complicated to accomplish. It is nearly out of the realm of human possibility, but not wholly.

So Many Efforts Miss

A well-heeled congregation decided to do something really good for a poor neighbourhood nearby. After carefully looking through the neighbourhood they found a deserted chunk of land, filled with weeds, stones, even the odd syringe. They decided it would make the perfect neighbourhood playground. They bought the land, brought in good topsoil, sod, and finally playground equipment. Then they headed to a community hall to “hand over” ownership. The community leaders said a very polite thank you, but seemed lacking in enthusiasm.

“What’s wrong?” a congregation member blurted out.

“Well,” said one of the community leaders, “we had plans for that land. We had been saving money and applying for grants with corporate sponsors, invested in getting drawings done and we were about 6 months from startup. It would have had a play area, community gardens and even a basketball court on one end.

“Now we’ll have to let all that go and enjoy the playground.”

But still we can start trying

There are things we can do to change our hearts, to change how we feel about another person, our situation in life, the events that happen around us. While we cannot change our individual emotional responses to events, we can slowly, through diligent practice of habits, change the range of our emotions that we experience. We can over time, encountering pretty much the same kind of events, move ourselves from a sad, downward unengaged emotional response to common enough events, to a hope-filled, engaged, even joy-filled emotional response to the same common events.

It takes lots of time, diligent work, and a motivation that is nearly without limit.

Holy Spirit is writing on our Hearts

And that is when we see that, though we may like to think we can accomplish such a change of heart, the Holy Spirit is required to change our hearts to be those of people to serve Christ and Christ’s people.

On the other hand if we ever would want to change our hearts away from God, then we need to fight off the Holy Spirit first. We need to fight against the Spirit to be able to think we taken even one step distance from God who has promised to be with us for life and beyond.

What we can do, forgive: act as if the other has not sinned against us. Treat them special, even. Give them gifts they really want. Behave that they are precious to us; they become precious, and then we realize, we have actually forgiven them. We’ve moved beyond the emotional load experienced when we remember what they have done to us. We still remember, but it is not an emotional drain. It is more and more like information that does not impact us.

Changing a Heart makes huge differences

In many ways we suffer what happens to our hearts.

But we can choose to set parameters for our hearts. We can choose the universe that our hearts operate in. Other people influence our hearts more than we will ever know.

We can try to fix the world with our privilege, power, and wealth. Or we can use our ears to listen to those in need, our minds to discern what the real issues are, and our hearts to empathize with their plight so that how we act will actually meet the real needs of the people we try to help.

St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential of Christianity’s early thinkers, writers, preachers, and practitioners of faith, did not start out a Christian. Born of a Christian mother and a pagan father, he was denied baptism. He spent his youth as a Manichaean, and according to his own accounts lost himself in pleasures and wanton living. He was befriended by Ambrose, who he met since they both shared exceptional skills as rhetoricians. It was Ambrose’s friendship that deeply effected St. Augustine’s heart. He converted to Christianity, was baptized, and ended his life serving as the Bishop of Hippo in north Africa, where he wrote and preached; and steered the course of Christianity to the faith we recognize today, as well as the Roman empire towards Christianity.

It is the heart that informs and equips us to turn our lives in a different direction, which can either be for ill or for the better. It is our hearts devoted to Christ, thankful for all Christ has done to give us breath and renewed life, which focus us on faith, ideas, words, and actions which can help others experience what we experience from Christ.

Hearts change the course of our lives, and the course of our communities, our churches, our countries, and even the course of human history.

Joyful and blameless; a gift

We trust that God is always with us. We can be blameless and joyful therefore, not because it is our track record, but because Jesus steps in for us and we are reckoned to have Jesus’ blameless track record.

One person, the Christ, was blameless, gifts his to us

Because there was one human who lived and lived entirely blameless before God, the whole of human history is changed, yours and mine, and each of our lives are inexorably changed toward God, toward life, and toward giving everything we have and are in order that others may know God’s grace as well.

Donor of a Heart; call to sacrifice so others may live with great hearts

There is something to being a human heart donor, besides that first one is on the other side of death. It is to give to another the seat of one’s will and passion, the center of one’s life, and to give it to another in order that they may live, and living may have life abundant.

Have a heart. Have a change of heart. Give your heart to living as God calls and equips you to live.

Surrender you heart to the will, passion, and purpose of Jesus Christ.

And live as never before: live the fast that is acceptable to God, the fast that through our sacrifice others receive justice, freedom, food, and homes.

Amen

The Rising Dawn: The Hyenas, The Waltz

The darkness has succumbed to the rising dawn, until the sol of creation begins anew to give purpose and hope for the hours to come.

Light catches even the spider’s string


So …


I can close my eyes having kept the watch,
For the Christ’s Light now keeps the darkness and danger at bay.

The hyenas of home are driven back into hiding, until in darkness they will run freely again.


Let the waltz begin.
Let the celebrations begin.

Joshua, Paul, and the two Sons: Celebrate by Being …

As way of introductory words to explain Beale Street and ‘Justice’:

“Beale Street is a street in New Orleans, where my father, where Louis Armstrong and the jazz were born,” the quote reads in the opening shot of the movie. “Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the back neighborhood of some American city, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York. Beale Street is our legacy. This novel deals with the impossibility and the possibility, the absolute necessity, to give expression to this legacy.

“Beale Street is a loud street. It is left to the reader to discern a meaning in the beating of the drums.” James Baldwin

The actual street named Beale Street is located in Memphis. But there is a Beale Street in every city, in every town, in every rural place where people live. While the book/movies is about the racial realities of black discrimination, the injustice of false convictions run rampant in many places against many minorities. In Canada jails are filed with aboriginal peoples. In Alberta and elsewhere the discrimination has turned from <against women falsely accused by their men and then easily convicted> to <men falsely accused by their women and easily convicted without any real proof>. As were men in decades past, these women are encouraged and free to lie even under oath in court, with the courts also freely lying even in decisions to absolve women of their lies and to falsely convict men of things they have never done, and of things that often their women have done to the men. Our courts are no more just than any, ever. Capital punishment is not a sentence given by the judges; it is a sentence worked out by inmates and guards, and by countless people in the communities -not least the RCMP and Police and workers in the ‘Justice’ system, who may or may not believe the lies and false convictions, and who then, regardless, rob reputation, labour opportunities, and health from these innocent not-criminals.

Since the beginning of time people have lied to get ahead, to destroy others who are in their way, or just for the sport of it.

But the truth is known by God, and all will stand before God’s throne to be judged. While Grace is our hope, our proclamation, and God’s promise; there is also the promise that the oppressor, the unrighteous, the destroyers of others will face their end in God’s Judgment. There will be no witnesses needed, no testimony – false or not. God already knows everything.

We trust that what God judges will be gracious. We trust that those who stand against the truth somehow will be brought to stop.

But God is the judge, not us. not any of us

So we leave Justice in God’s hands, because humans botch it so consistently …

and we proclaim grace

and real hope.

Now for the sermon proper:

Lenten Theme
Isaiah 58
The acceptable fast brings justice, freedom, food and homes to those without
Lessons for this Sunday:
Joshua 5:9-12
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

If Beale Street Could Talk

One wonders how the world would be if indeed the streets could speak of the injustices that God’s people have suffered at the hands of God’s people. If indeed the disgrace of God’s people would be removed. If indeed the effects of all the sins of the people would be erased.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is a movie (adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same title) about a young black man ruined by the in-justice system. A young white man has made unrelenting advances on his fiancée in a store. He stands up for her, drives the white thug off, but not before a dirty cop tries unsuccessfully to arrest the young black man. The dirty copy gets revenge. It is about the dirty justice system whose people make this wonderful, creative, loving young man into an incarcerated black. Everything about this young human being is reduced to one of many young black men jailed and beaten, though innocent.


It’s dark out There

Everything old has passed away. Everything is made new.

This young man, a sculptor, a young father, makes things new out of chunks of wood. Until a dirty cop and a dirty justice system rob him of his everything, until they rob his family, his wife to be and their child, of everything. The dirty ones rob him by accusing him of a terrible, filthy, horrible rape. They disgrace him. They let him be beaten in jail. They terrorize him with delays upon delays and threats upon threats until he breaks and accepts a plea, a guilty plea of an innocent man, and he serves someone else’s time.

It’s quite the image that Joshua gives as the people gather to celebrate the Passover in the Promised Land: in the English we have God “rolls away” their disgrace. The German gives a hint that the Hebrew is more colourful: ‘Heute habe ich die Schande Ägyptens von euch abgewälzt.’. God ‘waltzes away’ the disgrace of the people. Generations ago they were saved but then enslaved, freed but then trapped in the wilderness … until today with Joshua, they stand in the land promised to Abraham, and they eat from the fruit of the land. No more wandering, no more manna. They have come home, and God welcomes them waltzing away in celebration their layers of slavery and disgrace.

God waltzes away our disgrace, our sins, our slavery … and God sets us free.

It may be dark, but the Light comes to find us!

For God made Jesus, who did not sin, to bear all the sins of all the people through time, precisely in order that you and I, in order that all of us, would not only be free. God set us free precisely in order that you and I and all of us would be made into the righteousness of God visible, embodied here and now on this earth.

We stand, cut off, but we stand. We stand surrounded by the hard cold,
but we stand, for God is with us!

Our freedom, our righteousness, in NO WAY is earned by our actions.

Either we are like the younger son, as we claim all sorts of rights and privileges, and all that is due us … and then we squander the precious things God has given us on the oldest vices available to humans who can choose. We can choose because God made us able to love. To love is to be able to choose to love, which means we must be able to choose not to love, which is to choose evil. So we either choose to squander God’s precious gifts to us …

OR

We are like the older son as we serve God with great labours and self-righteousness. We do not squander God’s love, but we comprehend it completely not.

When God wants to celebrate God’s forgiveness, and a lost sinner’s return to life, we get self-righteously angry. We behave as if we somehow owned God’s will. As if we, with our obedience and labours, have earned all that we have, but even more so we own the right to judge other sinners. We’ve allowed ourselves to become so blind to the grace that daily gives us renewed breath. We want to be better than we are, and comparing ourselves to other’s whose sins are more known we think we are somehow good enough. Thus …

We refuse to celebrate with God. We refuse to celebrate with God exactly what we are created to be and do: we are created to proclaim and celebrate that God is gracious, forgiving sins, dancing away disgrace, and feeding us from the produce of the Promised Land.

This is the same old, same old that has hung around the necks and souls of humans since the beginning of time.

Even though, all the time, each and every one of us is like either the younger or the elder son, and sometimes we are like both at the same time … Even so God promises us it is different in the Kingdom of God. It is different now, here and now, in the Kingdom of God. For the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Here in the Kingdom of God, all confess that only by Grace do we breathe, or drink, or eat, or work, or celebrate, or love, or hope.

By Grace all our sins, yours and mine and all of ours, are taken up in the person of Jesus Christ, and we are made into God’s righteousness.

We are not pretenders. God makes us not just good, not just sometimes good, not better than others. God makes us into God’s own righteousness.

In that righteousness everything old has indeed passed away. In that righteousness everything is made new. You and I, and each one of us, are made into new creatures. All of creation is made new.

As God’s righteousness you and I and each one of us, really have nothing worth doing other than what Jesus calls us to do, what the Holy Spirit makes us capable of doing. We think, pray, speak and act so that those around us know that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and they are welcomed in just as we are; not because we’ve earned it, not at all. They and we are welcomed in because God wants it that way.

Though we remain sinners all the time, unable to free ourselves, God forgives us each day all our new sins, so that we can forgive ourselves, and so that then we can turn to everyone else and forgive them!

God has made us into Christ’s voice, hands and compassion, so that we will reconcile not only ourselves, but all others, and even the creation so broken … so that we will reconcile all people back to God, so that we will reconcile all creation back to God.

You and I, and each one of us, are God’s ambassadors.

We stand in the promised land, in the Kingdom of God, and we eat of the fruit of this land, the produce of this Kingdom.

The light of God is bright and the hyenas of home are sent scurrying for cover into their own darkness.

We stand, knowing that God is with us and was with us all the way or we would never reach the promised land. We stand and celebrate the return of each lost sinner. For we know that is us, each day. We trust that God will always be with us, as we arrive in the Promised Land anew each day. As we leave our pack of hyenas in the dark and come into the Light of life.

We trust that this Lent our being Christ’s ambassadors, no matter what it costs us, is our Lenten fast, the fast that God finds acceptable, the fast that brings justice, freedom, food and homes to those who most need them. Most of all our fast brings forgiveness and reconciliation to those who need it most: you and me, and each one of us.

If every Beale Street Could Talk, we would hear not only the Black man’s story, or the indigenous man’s story, or the refugee’s story. If everyone’s Beale Street Could Talk, we would hear Jesus’ story and ourselves in it.

This is my Beale Street, the entrance and exit, to my home; Here the Light Shines, especially in the darkness!

….


Here,

in this new creation,

the Light Shines!

One day, the Light of Christ will shine Light on every Beale Street story, and the disgrace will be where it belongs.

And God’s Grace and Justice will prevail …

Amen.

(Which means: this is most certainly true!)

Afraid: men women will (kill them with) laugh

2019 Mar 26 Men, Fear Or Vistas of Hope

Margaret Atwood’s quote, ” Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” is too simplified to honestly live on it’s own, unless it is just meant to honour women, and disparage men.

That’s the real deep problem of illuminating only part of reality, but that is what we are at most capable of.

Used as misadrism it’s not really helpful, it kills the human spirit.

More honest is to say:

Women are afraid men will kill them, men they know, but especially men they do not know. Their fear is real, and tragically accurate of a few men.

Men are afraid women will drive them to kill themselves, especially women they know, but generally all women. Their fear is real, and tragically accurate of more than a few women.

This fear is of real, literal death; but also of smaller deaths, even figurative deaths, deaths that rob a man (or a woman) of life at the core.

The real killer is the fear. Living in fear limits the horizon to only well guarded, defensive stances.

Or as Atwood also wrote: “I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one ‘race’ – the human race – and that we are all members of it.”

Life for each and every one of us is intended to be lived looking to God’s horizon that is so far out-reaches any of ours that we can only be astounded as we glimpse the vistas available to us, each and all.

Health is measured in how we help each other see those vistas and the creator of them.

Rain was forecast this morning. Instead we received snow, fluffy big heavy flakes that made noise landing on the tarps shelter.

Spring is the time of re-newed life. But first, as the snows of the winter melt, we must face the dreck of the life through the winter, records of the mess we’ve lived and made.

So instead of rain that makes mud, to get snow that gives a fresh cover again over the remains of past efforts to live, including many painful failures,

This vista reaches deep inside as the horizon is clouded away and the light is dimmed.

Fresh

Clean

Promising

Hope

Sounds like a winter baptism of the world and for the creatures.

The Clear Blue (-ish white) of Spring Snow

Fear, of how the past will catch us, is no way to live. There are renewals that do not hide or cover up that past.

They are called forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope …

hope that allows one to laugh with instead of at another person.

Lent 2, March 17, Citizens

Paul:

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

Acceptable Fast

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

Christchurch

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

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

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

Lawyer: Contract Terms

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

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

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

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

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

OT – God makes covenant

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

Baptism Covenant

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

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

Spring Change as Chronos Time

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

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

God’s Time

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

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

Ab & Sarah Mess Up

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

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

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

Jesus to Jerusalem

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

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

The Way, The Journey

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

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

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

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

Marriage Counselling vs Fitness

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

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

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

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

CoG Fitness

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

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

God gives blessings for the journey that we make together.

Interim ministry: Practice is the Way

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

About Time

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

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

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

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

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

Sending

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

We are citizens of heaven.

Amen