Baptism of Our LOrd

Sermon notes? outline? sketch? yes that’s it, a sketch.

For the best read, take in the next blog post first, then this one.

Quick sermon outline for Baptism of Our Lord 13 Jan 2019

John is wild and calls for the chaff to be burned up.

Jesus will come to judge, and purify.

We need all that.

But Christ comes and graciously gives us life.

Where’s the hellfire and brimstone in that?!

Well…

Given free choice so that we can love

we can also choose ( and continually do) to hate, or to be deceptive and dishonest, disloyal, or even just plain BAD. Call that EVIL.

If we have choice, we will somehow, sometime still choose against love, against God, against living well.

God wants us to love, so we all get to put up with Evil, and suffer it too.

But

When

Jesus

comes

and

judges us!

Well then all that which brings us to sin and turn from God, to turn from loving our neighbour as ourselves and our enemies , and our God with all our heart mind and soul, then and only then Jesus will remove that from us …

But

it

is

not

going

to

be

feeling good.

That’s having the dross burned right out of ya.

And it is like having the chaff burned up in one big hot fire.

It will not be fun,

But it is what we most need, and we are going to get it!

To we are baptized, in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always trinitarian, or it is not a complete baptism.

The water drowns out the sinfulness, and yet it remains as potential, inevitable potential, so that we can choose love.

The oil prepares us for God’s presence in us.

The sign of the Cross prepares us for sacrifice, even of our lives, so that others will know Grace upon Grace and God’s love, Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s wild ride down the white water of life with wind, flame, breath, and beauty all everywhere.

Then for the rest of our lives we anticipate the life eternal, in the resurrection with Christ.

There

Freedom promised comes to be, after the dross is burned right out of us, so that we can enter Christ’s freedom in eternity.

This we look forward to.

But we do it, well … we do everything we do, as one of a crowd of witnesses, a crowd of saints, all in light,

specular light, diffused and reflected into beautiful images of God, as we are made.

It may be cold out there in that cruel world of dishonesty, deception and scapegoating,

but in here, where the natural fuels are burned,

the fuel of urgency until in God’s time there is patience,

the fuel of hurt (could become anger) until forgiveness flows freely like milk with ginger snap cookies,

the fuel of pride (that discounts others) until gratefulness abounds at each breath though one has nothing left,

These fuels are burned and burned well, until

in this mind, heart and soul

its as toasty comfortably warm as a great wood stove on a cold winter’s day.

Which it is that, too.

Stepping Out Not Alone

Sometimes it is easy to feel one is left alone, bracing oneself for what will come, expecting (as the past had provided) nothing good.

One leans as far as one can into the wind, treacherously close to losing one’s footing and disappearing into the abyss.

If we could only get a truer perspective, that we are hardly alone. Of course we’ve known that all along, but we’ve wanted to step out and do something more than just hide in the crowd.

That’s so boring.

It makes one a little green

in the middle

of a lot of other green.

and never quite enough green to be completely independent. **

One is like all the rest of the world, only able to thrive and live well if one realizes that one is interdependent; one of many living in concert or at war, but living with many others and connected in too many ways.

There is much to encounter out there. Best to take it on, along with your own kind.

At least one can be kind.

For reference: kind is the best thing to be as a spouse, if one cannot be God.*

Independence is a myth, as destructive for people to pursue as dependence.

Interdependence is life; good or bad, we are interdependent.

So be at least kind.

* of course no one can be God. The original sin was to think and act as if one could. It is now the common sin, and not so original any more.

Quick Sermon Outline fits with this: see next Blog [above].

[** a few Canadians have missed: to Unitedstatesians green is the colour of money, as well the colour of trees, life, growth … all that intended.]

The Power of Light

Or at what temperature is the Light of Christ pure?

It’s dark in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for first nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than other youth.

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

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

Tim recently added a safety margin to his existence; wood heat. It is not without it’s risks. Fire is powerful. The wood stove, well a furnace really, refurbished, with the outside shield freshly painted after years of abuse can provide heat, and how! With care Tim fired it up more than once with a decidedly small test fire, to ensure the draft worked, the smoke went up, and the dampers actually worked. Tim wanted to avoid explosive possibilities. Smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible. Less pollution, and more heat. Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. With diligent care now Tim supplements an insufficient propane furnace (which lasted only a year before needing to be replaced) with an overly sufficient HOT wood stove. Left wide open and fully stoked the wood furnace could probably melt itself to the ground, along with it’s shelter and occupant.

In the relative comfort of my condo, visiting over New Year’s, Tim let his guard down. A simple candle sat on the coffee table. He set a simple portion of the newspaper absently to the side. Only a good sense of smell alerted him that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up he saw the newspaper 1/4 engulfed in flame, which in a minute would have burned the table to the ground and possibly the condo with it.

Grabbing newspaper aflame in hand he smothered the flames with what was left of the newspaper, leaving ashes everywhere. But the condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Explosive fire from HOT HOT wood and smoke burning at 1000° degrees, all done safely. A small candle in the comfortably heated condo, with all the supports of a city all around goes up in free flame. Why does God let a fire with the newspaper scare us so?

In the Gospel we hear of great things that God does: Wise men follow a star and bring gifts of wealth. Dreams warn them to return home safely and for Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt. But we know the rest. All those children in and around Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod. Why? Perhaps those Wise men were not so wise, going to Herod’s home town for directions?

Finding our way can be challenging. Mostly we like to make our own ways, who we make friends with, who we care for, who we spend time with.

God always surprises us:

In Isaiah, the prophet preaches to a group of returned Exiles. They find themselves in conflict with their relatives who never left. Those who stayed behind remember that they, and they alone, are God’s chosen people. The returnees want everyone included in God’s favour.

In Matthew the wise men come to honour Jesus, the king foretold by the star. They are not Jews. They are members of a completely different religion.

In Ephesians the central mystery of faith that the writer shares is that Christ is for all the Gentiles.

We ask today isn’t the central mystery of faith the un-earnable, unconditional Forgiveness? What about God’s Grace being a gift so that we are saved not because of what we do, say or think or even believe? It is just pure gift!

Of course we are included just as Jews may be. That’s old news. … But in Paul’s time no one besides Jews were considered, until Paul. God chose him specifically to preach to the Gentiles. While the rest of the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, with Jews joining them, Paul travelled the Mediterranean, spreading the Gospel to everyone, especially Gentiles. It was dangerous to be a new Christian. They were targeted and killed. If Paul had not spread the Good News, the early church, contained only in Jerusalem, made of only converted Jews, may easily have died off in the first few years.

After generations of God’s people claiming only they were chosen, and they held themselves apart as identifiably chosen, what is God up to letting in the Gentiles, us Gentiles?

When it comes to our God and our lives, God continually surprises us, yet we still have a long wish list:

Even in today’s lessons we read how we want: Just rulers, and Light in the darkness, which means a resolution for the all ails of the human condition. We want Prosperity in Light and Glory and access to God and Power. We want to be: God’s servants with authority.

We want OUR family together. We want our children in town or close by, our grandchildren nearby, and relative prosperity to accompany us all, always, to make our paths smooth.

God’s way, as history should fully teach us, though is not at all about our power, nor our wishes, nor making our paths smooth. God’s way is about light, and we get stuck in the Darkness. Our darkness is us not acknowledging God as God, Love as our commission, and Evil as the necessary result of our inevitable and unavoidable sin. Darkness is us damning others for the evil that we and others suffer.

The REAL danger in life is not knowing the real power of God, present in various ways. God’s power is so powerful it is like a fully stoked furnace, in the guise of a candle flame, but capable of burning down the whole universe.

Still we choose to remain in darkness. We choose to not know the destruction of fright at injustice. Fright freezes us, or causes us to flee, or to stand and fight; all are choices in the face of obvious malfeasance that will sink us like an overheated candle melts in the midst of a condo consumed by fire.

We choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption. We’ve heard the stories of old, but they are very present today, perhaps worse than ever since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lie.

A terribly costly lie was the official and political denial of the destructive power of CO emissions. Now we have Climate Change run rampant. Environment Canada, reporting on the top ten stories of the past year, warns that the extremes of the past are now the new norms. We will not survive the new extremes without greater resilience than ever before. Perhaps the overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

In our darkness with light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvel of the wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, or even our own backyards.

In our darkness we may not acknowledge the futility of security sought in prosperity. Even though we live in boom and bust Alberta, we too often seek security in wealth. We hoard it or we live lavishly. But prosperity and wealth can evaporate like water on an overheated wood furnace. It takes only a turn of a market, a corruption of an investor, a foreign or domestic attack, a new Storm, or a bad health event for ourselves or a loved one. After all we are all dying after the age of 26 or so; our bodies literally falling apart. It’s normal, for no one gets out of life alive.

The true Gospel, for also the Gentiles, given as a free gift, not earned by compliance to a set of rules or piety, is a true mystery. It brings the true light with true blessings to all who hear it.

We live not by prosperity but wholly by Grace. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace to all others. We are only lowly servants. Our only power is Christ’s Power of self-sacrifice, truth, and of bringing life to others.

In whatever ways we are rulers, we can be just rulers. Even as middle or low class citizens or guests, or even as homeless squatters, the Spirit uses us to be for others Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands.

We share what we have freely received without cost: we share Hope based on God’s promises. We share God’s un-earned forgiveness. We share God’s over abundant grace.

As any good photographer will tell you, light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty. We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as a fully stoked, left wide open, wood furnace.

Flame is flame. The Holy Spirit is the source of our light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: Life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder. Arise and shine for our light has come!

Amen

Also possible

NASA celebrating when pictures come back from the other side of Pluto. Beyond expectations.

China: landed on the dark side of the moon, seeing images not seen before.

The Power of Light

Sermon Draft for Epiphany 2019

This is Life in the Darkness

It’s dark in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for first nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than other youth.

In Pinehouse, like many places around God’s creation, youth in desperate straights, often survivors of multiple suicide attempts, are finding that learning and practising photography brings light into the darkness. Photography is all about light: seeing light, catching light to tell a story. It also requires of the photographer to see the world in a different light, in the light of God’s beauty. Photography done well communicates real wonders. It often remains unnoticed, until the technical capabilities of photographer with camera and equipment in hand bring God’s beauty to the photo.

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

God’s ways unfathomable

Tim recently added a safety margin to his existence; wood heat. It is not without it’s risks. Fire is powerful. The wood stove, well furnace really, refurbished, with the outside shield freshly painted after years of abuse can provide heat, and how. With care Tim fired it up more than once with a decidedly small test fire, to ensure the draft worked, the smoke went up, and the dampers actually worked. There are explosive possibilities Tim wanted to ensure would not happen. Smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible. Less pollution, and more heat. Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. With diligent care Tim now supplements an insufficient propane furnace (which lasted only a year before needing to be replaced) with an overly sufficient HOT wood stove. Left wide open and fully stoked the wood furnace could probably melt itself to the ground, yet alone it’s shelter and it’s occupant.

In the relative comfort of my condo, visiting over New Year’s, Tim let his guard down. A simple candle sat on the coffee table. He set a simple portion of the newspaper absently to the side. Only a good sense of smell alerted him that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up he saw the newspaper 1/4 engulfed in flame, which in a minute would have burned the table to the ground and possibly the condo with it.

Grabbing newspaper aflame in hand he smothered the flames with what was left of the newspaper, leaving ashes everywhere. But the condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Explosive fire from HOT HOT wood and smoke burning at 1000° degrees, all done safely. A small candle in the comfortably heated condo, with all the supports of a city all around. Why does God let a fire with the newspaper scare us so?

In the Gospel we hear of great things all at God’s hand: Wise men follow a star and bring gifts of wealth. Dreams warn them to return home safely and for Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt. But we know the rest. All those children in and around Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod. Why? Perhaps those Wise men were not so wise, going to Herod’s home town for directions?

God’s Way

We like to make our own ways, who we make friends with, who we care for, who we spend time with.

God surprises us:

In Isaiah, the prophet preaches to a group of returned Exiles. They find themselves in conflict with their relatives who never left. Those who stayed behind remember that they, and they alone, are God’s chosen people. The returnees want everyone included in God’s favour.

In Matthew the wise men come to honour Jesus, the king foretold by the star. They are not Jews. They are members of a completely different religion.

In Ephesians the central mystery of faith that the writer shares is that Christ is for all the Gentiles.

Mystery of Faith

We ask today, What about un-earnable unconditional Forgiveness. What about God’s Grace being a gift so that we are saved not because of what we do, say or think or even believe. It is just pure gift!

Of course we are included just as Jews may be. That’s old news. But in Paul’s time no one besides Jews were considered, until Paul. God chose him specifically to preach to the Gentiles. While the rest of the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, with Jews joining them, Paul travelled the Mediterranean, spreading the Gospel to everyone, especially Gentiles. It was dangerous to be a new Christian. They were targeted and killed. If Paul had not spread the Good News, the early church, contained only in Jerusalem, practised only by converted Jews, may easily have died off in the first few years.

After generations of God’s people claiming only they were chosen, and they held themselves apart as identifiably chosen, what is God up to letting in the Gentiles, us Gentiles?

When it comes to our God and our lives, we have a long wish list:

What we want

Even in today’s lessons we read how we want:

Just rulers.

Light in the darkness, a resolution of the all ails of the human condition

Prosperity in Light and Glory.

Access to God and Power: God’s servant with authority.

We want OUR family together, sons home, daughters cared for (sexism) so we really want our children in town or close by, our grandchildren nearby, and relative prosperity to accompany us all, always, to make our paths smooth.

God’s Light vs. Our Darkness

God’s way, as history should fully teach us is Not at all about our power, not our wishes, not making our paths smooth.

Darkness is us not acknowledging God as God, Love as our commission, Evil as the necessary result, our participation in it as inevitable and unavoidable sinners. Darkness is us damning others for the evil that we and others suffer.

Real danger in life is not knowing the real power of God, present in various ways. God’s power is so powerful it is like a fully stoked furnace, in the guise of a candle flame, but capable of burning down the whole universe.

Still we choose to remain in darkness. We choose to not know the destruction of fright at injustice. Fright freezes us, or causes us to flee, or to stand and fight; all are choices in the face of obvious malfeasance that will sink us like an overheated candle melts in the midst of a condo consumed by fire.

We choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption. We’ve heard the stories of old, but they are very present today, perhaps worse than ever since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lie.

Like the denial of the destructive power of CO emissions. Now we have Global Warming run rampant. Environment Canada, reporting on the top ten stories of the past year warns that now the extremes of the past are the new norms. Without greater resilience than ever before needed, we will not survive the new extremes. Perhaps the overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

In our darkness with light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvel of wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, even our own backyards.

In our darkness we may not acknowledge the futility of security sought in prosperity. Even though we live in boom and bust Alberta, we too often seek security in prosperity or wealth. We hoard wealth or we live lavishly. But prosperity and wealth can evaporate like water on an overheated wood furnace. It takes only a turn of a market, a corruption of an investor, a foreign or domestic attack, a new Storm, a bad health event for ourselves or a loved one. After all we are all dying after the age of 26 or so, our bodies literally falling apart. It’s normal for no one gets out of life alive.

The true Gospel, True Mystery, True Light, True Blessings

The true Gospel, for the Gentiles, given as a free gift, not earned by compliance to a set of rules or piety, is a true mystery. It brings the true light with true blessings to all who hear it.

We live not by prosperity but wholly by Grace. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace to all others. We are only lowly servants. Our only power is Christ’s Power of self-sacrifice, truth, and of bringing life to others.

As we are rulers we can be just rulers. Even as middle or low class citizens or guest, or even as homeless squatters, the Spirit uses us to be for others Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands.

We share what we have freely received without cost: we share Hope based on God’s promises. We share God’s forgiveness. We share God’s grace.

As any good photographer will tell you, light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty. We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as a fully stoked, left wide open, wood furnace.

Flame is flame. The Holy Spirit is the source of our light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder.

Amen

Also possible

NASA celebrating when pictures come back from the other side of Pluto. Beyond expectations.

China: landed on the dark side of the moon, seeing images not seen before.

Blessed New Year

Miracles are welcome!
May the cards you and yours are dealt bring peace and joy. May your responses to especially the ‘off suit’ cards bring others peace and joy beyond all expectations.
365 days to let God wow us with what God can pull out of us, and what the Spirit can pull off in spite of us.
Breathe,
Smile,
Play,
And ‘dance with Grace.’

And occasionally laugh out loud

Just to let them wonder

What you’re up to.

God certainly knows how to weep, grieve, and suffer with us;
But I think God enjoys the breathing, smiling, playing, dancing, and laughing
A bit more.

Make ithe New Year as awesome as each past and yet coming at us; 
Unconditional love is the key,
So open the gates.
We are not alone.

God …
All ways, always.

All will be well.

All will be well.

All manner of things will be well.

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.

I went for a Winter Walk

I went for a walk with a real camera, old and borrowed, but good enough.

The

Light

was showing itself between the pine and spruce needles.

The wind had played rough with the needles and spread them everywhere.

Snow

not

an option

as a water source

without filtering

out the needles.

The ski tracks have filled in with snow and melting and more snow.

The little colour that is to be found is the yellow brown of the cattail reeds.

The shore is like before, though a sight for good eyes,

with light working the clouds to and fro.

Wind, not visible,

still leaves

it’s tracks

as

Does

the

Holy Spirit,

Wind

(Ruach.)

And that is as far as I got, before I

headed back

in

to warmth and work.

More joy

again

later.

Advent 3 Outline

I. Bad News is Good News
A. John the Baptist
insults them
warns them of the wrath of God coming to them
exhorts the people
exhorts them to
To repent
To do good for others,
And not to take advantage of others for their own benefit
B. Sword of God’s judgment
Awesome power of seeing God face to face
Tradition: no one lives
Exceptions notable
Moses
Now us
Still we are purified
Ax laid to the root in us that does not bear good fruit
Burned in the unquenchable fire
Bad news for those who lose
Are those who had all for themselves
Those who win
Everyone who God chooses to bless with faith
Good News for some Bad for others
We ALL are both all the time


II. Appropriate response
A. Sing Aloud
Contrast to not being able or safe to sing
Under Threat, 
Natural or another person
not able to sing, constant vigilance
In captivity
Singing a threat to captors
Dangerous to sing
Now Freedom to sing
B. Joy
The choice to habitually respond with gratitude
Wait 90 seconds with bad emotions
Free of emotional charge, able to move beyond reptilian to choose
To recognize more than flight, fight or freeze
Habitual choice to rejoice always, in all circumstances
Brain lays down pathways, shortcuts for quick responses to similar circumstances
Possible to respond with joy to everything
Cannot choose not to experience negative emotions, dangerous if we could,
Can choose to wait, to pause, to evaluate, to respond with reasoned choice to every bad circumstance.
Joy is not the absence of sorrow, grief, pain, 
Joy is the recognition that God is present, blessing every moment, even the most difficult.
Good News even in midst of terrible challenges, even if Good News is God’s 2x edge sword:
Joy always
God present especially clear in the worst of times

III. God is for us
A. Blessings – 
not that we get what we want
but that God gets for us what God wants.
John the Baptist: tough words bring Good News
God’s order for us all arrives with the Messiah
Not the messiah people want
But God’s messiah for us
No more sacrifice of each other to get through life.
This is joy
This is coming home
This is worth living for
This is freedom
From fear, anxiety, shame, effects of enemies that would destroy
This is living out of what God wants for us, not what we want for ourselves
B. Coming Home
Contrast to not welcome, unable, dangerous, or homeless
Security, Accepted as is, Rest, Able to receive and to give security, acceptance, a place for rest, recovery, healing, and inspiration to be what God makes us to be
C. Christ is come
Christ was born,
Christ is born again, each day, each Christmas
Christ will come again, basis for all hope
Holy Spirit moves us to recognize again
Christ was and is born, and 
Christ will come again, to once again change the world, 
D. God’s Revolution
A revolution to all order, so that all things will revolve around what God wants for us
Instead of what we want for ourselves

IV. Advent is
Advent is not a time to hide, or to bury oneself in Pre-Christmas hectic
Advent is a time to

Reflect deeply
Be awestruck
Realize God’s power to change the world, and us, all of us, each of us. Be purified.

Act appropriately
Ensure all have the basics of life
Ensure all have clean air and water
Ensure all have good food and clothing
Ensure all have shelter, but more
A home, safety, acceptance, to be loved
Ensure all have opportunity for meaningful labour
Ensure all are able to choose to love, one’s neighbour, the outcasts, most of all one’s enemies,
And to love God with all one’s heart, mind and soul.

Be joyful, in all circumstances
Share goodness of life in all ways with all around us.

V. Now may the peace that surpasses all understanding, guard safe our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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