Fulfilled Today?!

27 Jan 2019 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Today’s problems – fixes

An aside: not part of the sermon:

I think that most of life is getting down to the nitty gritty, seeing where one’s predecessors have gone, and finding one’s own way.

Just because someone has made a difficult trek, does not mean it is right for you.

or that because it is difficult, that it is wrong for you.


It is whether it fulfills who you are.


Are you a snow mobile, or a human with boots?

And do you want to walk easy on the snowmobile track or is it your calling to be in the shade in a moment for just a moment, for that is where you will be you?


So


that’s a photo story, from the photo

but it’s not a sermon made from a photo.

Sermon’s are supposed to start with the Gospel,


and love.

So a return to the sermon:

What, if it were to come about today, would fix some of the worst problems you face in your life?

Are you homeless so that a home would be a fulfilled dream? Are you caught in poverty so that a secure income, and benefits for health care, medications, dental, and eye care, along with water, food, clothing, and shelter security would be a fulfilled dream? Are you in captivity to a foreign power, or incarcerated for what you’ve not done, or abused in a relationship you cannot leave, so that freedom would be a palpable change? Are you suffering ill health which you cannot afford to deal with, or for which there simply is no cure or even treatment? Are you bored with life because there is no challenge left to meet and hope that in meeting it anything will become better or have you lost your vision of what could be if … if … but you get stuck because so many dreams have been dashed and there is no light at the end of the tunnel … so that if you were given new hope and new vision to see God’s promises coming to pass your life would be restored?

What, if it were to come about today, would solve some of the worst problems that we face as a congregation? As a community or city? As a country? As the world?

Would the reversal of climate change, a new energy source that did not eat out the world around us, a new attitude of all people that we could provide clean air, water, food security, clothing and shelter, meaningful labour and most importantly, the opportunity to love and be loved … would these bring new life to us all and a bright future for which we could engage in together?

What do we hope for?

Jesus’ words

Jesus’ words voice the purpose for his life, and give the foundation of hope for the world.

More than once Jesus paraphrases Isaiah to put solid words to what Jesus’ purpose is, what he brings to the world:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  because he has anointed me
   to bring good news to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
   to let the oppressed go free,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

These are words that people have heard and hoped in for millennia and generations.

These are not throw away words.

Liberation Theology looks to these words calling us to recognize that God has a preferential option for the poor.

Generations since Jesus’ have looked to these words for assurance that God is with them. Today we read them and receive assurance that God is with and for us, here and now. And there is even more!

Jesus astounding claim:

Jesus reads these words in worship, not just reading them, but then sits to teach about them in his home town. He says ‘today these words are fulfilled in your hearing.’

That’s the remarkable difference that Jesus brings. It’s one thing to hope for a home. It’s another to be told there is one there for you. Or a secure income, or medical care, or food, or a new cure, or whatever it is that will set the world right again,

It is one thing to hope for these, and to be reassured that God promises these to us, ‘next year in Jerusalem’; it is a whole other thing, a fabulous and fearful thing to be told that these things are fulfilled in our hearing them.

Response?

It demands some response. How do we respond?

It’s hard to really take them seriously, as if they are there for us this day; when we look about, and we have no home, or we have no income, or we have no food, or we have no security, or our health is failing and we know the end will be death too soon, or that what our church, community, city, country, or world desperately need simply is not there.

Unfulfilled in history

Isaiah

It is even more difficult when we realize that these words of hope were written by Isaiah as the people sat in exile, hoping to return home.

Isaiah’s words are a bit different, but they reverberate with the same sense of profound need and hope:

“61.1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

Ezra

These same words were read when the exiles had returned home as in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s time. The people still carried these hopes because returning from exile did not provide what they needed, for it was not anything like it had been, not by a far cry.

Waiting for these hopes to be fulfilled, what did the people do?

As we read in today’s OT lesson from the book of Nehemiah:

They worship. And they worship not unlike we do still today: with standing, seeing and bowing as the book is opened and read from, and sitting to hear the interpretation given to us, and weeping with both sadness and joy at what we hear and understand from God’s word, we often hear that we have great cause to celebrate, to rejoice and be thankful for all that we have, for God has not abandoned us.

So today we worship, with good order, together revering God’s words, listening to the words of music and liturgy, scripture and preaching, eating and drinking together as God’s people in this time and this place.

And still we hear these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  because he has anointed me
   to bring good news to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
  and recovery of sight to the blind,
   to let the oppressed go free,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

But that they are fulfilled in our hearing, how can that be when we still hope for their fulfillment just as the people of Isaiah’s, Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s time did?

MLKing

In the states they honoured Martin Luther King Jr. last weekend.

During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 King called for civil and economic rights, and an end to racism in the US:

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“I have a dream that today… that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low … and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh will see it together. This is our hope.”

“Let freedom ring… When we allow freedom to ring … from every city and hamlet … we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children … will be able to join hands and sing … “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.” copyright 1963 Martin Luther King Jr.

We have a dream. God has a dream for us, too.

And as we hear God’s dream, and hearing it make it our own, and we give our hearts, minds and strength to making it so for others, then it is fulfilled already today in our midst.

We are not alone. The possibilities are not limited to what we are familiar with or what we have done in past, or what we ourselves can envision.

We are members of one body, the body of Christ. This body has many members with different gifts, different visions, and different possibilities.

We are only limited by our own unwillingness to welcome those members with other visions than what we have.

Our future is unlimited as God’s people in this time and place as we welcome everyone.

We gather to worship, much as we have for millennia, to honour God, to praise, pray, sing and feast together. We gather to give thanks and to fulfill God’s word also in our midst:

The poor hear good news, the captives are released, the blind see, the oppressed go free, and here it is always the year of the Lord’s favour.

God’s promises are simple and life changing.

We simply pray that they may be fulfilled today in our hearing as well.

Amen

Fulfilled or Full of It

27 January 2019

Sermon Sketch

You choose which with your choices and actions

Grace or Greed?

Fulfilled Today?

-20°C Specular Sunset ; Spectacular Day

Jesus: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Quite the claim,

so familiar with it so we accept it

but the fulfillment of this good news is … well unbelievably good!

This has been sought, wished and prayed for through the generations for millennia.

Roots

in Isaiah 61,

while the people are in exile

“61The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,

they shall raise up the former devastations;

they shall repair the ruined cities,

the devastations of many generations.

Jubilee Year

First the year of the Lord’s favour:

never happened, an ideal that all debts would be reset to zero, everyone gets a fresh start.

Isaiah’s Word of Promise

The first verse though was wonderfully said,

good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, liberty for the captives!

also never realized.

The second verse turns a huge dark corner: vengeance on God’s enemies hope not to be in that number!

followed by great deliverances: from mourning, sadness, praise instead of faint of spirit,

and the ruins of the homeland through generations will be repaired, restored to their glory.

All of this, the restoration of home and a return home, the turning of mourning to gladness, a fresh start for everyone, and liberty for the captives, aid for the broken-hearted, oppressed get good news.

All this because God has anointed the prophet to proclaim these.

Yet they never happened, not all of them, and only a few partially, momentarily fulfilled.

Jesus’ Time

This Jesus picks up on: proclaims these same words of great hope and deliverance,

The people of his day also hoped for deliverance, from Roman’s oppression, and from each other’s oppressive dealings.

The marked difference is Jesus says: This is fulfilled in their hearing, today!

That’s quite some statement.

No evidence that it was fulfilled then,

Today

Still not fulfilled today.

Stories of not fulfilled today.

Poor receive very little if any good news, the blind stay blind, the captives are still in jail if not killed, oppressed not only not freed, their numbers multiple every year.

So what’s up?

!

Look Around

Ezra: account of worship for returned exiles:

worship: good and healthy, or controlled

Great experiences of good healthy worship:

music that reverberates in one’s soul, renews even one’s body,

sermons that speak volumes of God’s love for all, and for me,

liturgy that regularizes the basics of God’s stance to us: Grace

and regularizes our relationship with God, fully dependent on forgiveness

and regularizes our relationships with others (because God is as God is with us): Grace, Light, Forgiveness, (greatest gift) Love!

My favourite: children times where the children have loads of fun playing in [the yuckier, messier – yet with meaning brought out of it], and it all getting more or less cleaned up without a hitch; and the adults who pay attention hear that salvation is a gift, therefore we can be gifts of grace to each other

Bad Worship Experiences

healing services that victimized anyone who claimed they needed healing,

those offering blessings and prayers who had no empathy, who in other settings played power games to ensure their positions in the church.

cursed blessing’

Haugian Pietist congregation where this one quite elderly man came in to ‘bless’ me just prior to each service. Less blessing than a manner to control who I was, what I preached and not, and how he sought to ‘take credit’ for anything good that God accomplished in worship. When I gracefully pointed out that God blessed me already, that he was disrupting my own worship preparations and last minute communications with other worship leaders, and that another time would be more appropriate, he disappeared, replaced with another who told me at every meeting that they were going to get rid of me. Their gaslighting worked its wonders and my body physically failed me at a meeting not long after that. The heartburn felt like it was going to drop me to the floor. I needed out, I got out, walked for miles, false accusations were made against me against which no one can defend themselves and the bishop came to facilitate my exit. Not quite a blessed experience, rather quite cursed.

Sermons

that never mentioned God once

or that drove home that we needed to earn our salvation

or that had the depth of mud puddles on pavement, offering only that ‘love was the answer’ and ‘what would Jesus do’ which meant the preacher could tell us all what we should do, by ascribing to Jesus that behaviour in our situations.

[Fill in your own experiences of Religion and Worship as Control, instead of Grace.]

Gifts, Members: all for all

Variety of Gifts: good for one and for all,

great variety of members, but still all one body.

Not hang with those only like yourselves, but you are part of a whole collection of great variety.

Stick together, work to work together, love each other’s differences.

Fulfilled in your hearing, today

Still a matter of waiting. Hoping, Promises, giving generously

Faith is hardly a destination account of life: rather it is a way of proceeding on one’s way:

Jesus: fulfilled today in your hearing … and yet not.

The promise so powerfully said: rejected, and with threats of violence! Jesus is run out of Nazareth, his home town.

For us today: how will we choose to see each day:

as an opportunity to control others

or

as an opportunity to help others experience God’s Grace?

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!

If we hear, comprehend, internalize the promise and live as people of hope,

instead of cynics or controlling shallow-faith people, then

as we give good news to the poor, help release the captives, give sight to the blind, set the oppressed free and give everyone we can a year of God’s favour,

Then

Then indeed,

in our deeds,

these words will be fulfilled today,

Living Winter … Well

Living Winter … Well?

or living well in the winter

or

just

plain

still

living

through

the winter

bitter cold that

could without notice

shorten

one’s

life.

The secret is simple and widely known but seldom recognized.

Look down.

Look Down and Back: Notice was is and was.

Notice what has gone before you.

Catch everything that you can from it all.

Did you notice,

the remnants of water alive,

and

not just the tracks

but the possibilities:

the sled that made perfect X-country tracks all the way across the lake

and

off

I went

all the way across the lake like never before

for wonderful and needed exercise, until a few hours later, heart pumping, breathing easier, sweating lightly,

I arrive back on this shore and tuck into work with an inspired heart and mind, if a bit tired on my legs.

And look up

Look up to forever and beyond.

See the snow of yesterday collecting light, waiting for the sun to shine gloriously on the sparkles hidden in the snow.

Look for the promise of tomorrow,

the promise that what is plain and climbing nowhere toward nothing

can ascend to beauty and truth, hope and freedom, love and trust.

The shadows point to the light.

And always watch the light when it arrives:

when it shines, see it,

not just a glance but see what it does to the simple landscape,

to the people

(especially those hiding in the darkness of lies and deceit, of profound sin … all which are left for God to judge, for consequences that begin now even as they choose to abandon their hearts and minds and rebuild a simulation which changes as quickly as their whim)

and the animals that move,

but marvel at how much those things that cannot move are transformed

from ho-hum

to walkers and creators of shadow

that accents the light and points to the source

even when it is not seen.

The light, Elijah, the Light!

No matter the view you’ve taken

do not forget to notice the large picture,

the grand scheme of things,

God’s view of our little troubles, darkness, and the forest of challenges that lean in to overwhelm us.

Always our darkness points us to the source of light for us all.

When such destructiveness is undeservedly foisted into one’s life

then the only thing to do is to live well.

And if it is winter, even then live so well.

Though there is more than work

to survive the cold

for in the basics of life,

like staying warm

one easily can pay attention

and meet the challenges well:

Wood heat, portable, and lots of left over insulated tarps, even some that have something in them, and recycling everything one can, until

Even on a night when the propane furnace does not work, because the propane is gelled,

and the generator will not start, because the oil is thick to sledgy, or just too cold,

and the propane heater will not work without warming up the propane in the tank,

and when it starts it is too hot so that it’ll melt a hole in the insulated tarp around the generator,

but a 6 foot 2×6, construction junk, serves well enough to keep the tarp raised high enough from the heater,

to get the generator to finally pop, and then fire and run.

And then to have to scramble, arms flailing against the tarp draped all about, out from under the tarp fast filling with CO! And plug in those cords.

Which means the fans can blow the wood heat into the living quarters,

and the block heater can be plugged in

with the battery charger set to charge,

while one has hot coffee from the wood stove boiled water through a french press, with milk and cereal with blueberries,

and then when starting, to 55 amp start mode,

and the vehicle, against it’s better computer programming jumps to life the third try.

Left to warm up as everything is packed away and padlocked safe,

It’s off to meet the day’s requirements.

And between necessary appointments, errands and refueling, take the time to write what must be written and filed soon: more truth in the face of biased error based on obvious lies, but the truth is too inconvenient to allow.

As if to hide that the earth revolves around the sun by a simple sentence of silence.

Fools are made of powerful people at every turn; the emperor may seem, but is not, dressed.

And many scurry to try to lay the tracks of deceit deeper yet, pretending, pretending, pretending, when it is God, from whom nothing is hidden, who judges and rules without deceit or corruption, but with promise and yesterdays that give grounded hope and trust.

And in this rampart run mobile through one’s 3rd act, there is great humour, and opportunity to look, down, up, noticing the light, and seeing the big picture; as Jupiter resounds and reverberates off the windows, before the Athem and then it’s closing time. Ring the bells, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

Then it’s once for the Devil and once for Christ, as all hell breaks loose

as

the

nightmares

set

in

again

until

even

in such a distant universe

brought close by the folds of time-space in light.

And it is

holding the beloved

in one’s heart, mind and strength,

with great clarity

and thankfulness for great kindness,

and forgiving the darkness and all it’s dark horses

that come charging still through the light touch of chilly, hope-giving and grace-filled dancing

disrupted only by the power of lies.

Live winter well:

dance, and let deceit melt with the ice on the wood turning into heat, as we dance away;

embrace the chilly light, if that is all there is, it still points to something that otherwise one would miss,

and work as if nothing else will save you from the bitter cold, and the bitterness foisted on your path, but know that Christ walks in the bitter cold, and crosses every path with redemption and grace … until one arrives home.

It may be closing time, but the light and dance of peace and joy, and the promise of hope-giving tomorrows

even also for eternity,

have not disappeared,

So breathe in warmly, and visit the

Cold

sharp clear

biting cold that claws momentarily

until one returns to the result of deep hard work, deep in the forest, yet warm.

And one marvels at the heat of red

hot

coals.

That is living well in the bitter cold:

to be prepared in heart, mind, and body;

And not to forget to dance a glorious step for those who cannot or will not.

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.

Home, Sweet No-Home

Home Sweet No-Home
This Halloween

The autumn this year has been mixed as to whether we are going to experience a bit of summer finally or at least a taste of fall, or is the weather just going to quick-jump right into freezing temperatures and snow cover, but never enough to ski on.

Summer to Snow

Snow lays on the ground even before the leaves have all fallen.

 

 

Bare Brown

The snow is gone and the leaves with it.

 

 

Piles of Ugly

The trash shows again, that people thought it was their privilege simply to toss along the path into the woods.

There are high piles of ash dotting the edges of the campsite and the woods around, as if to carry and pile them around were to have cleaned up after oneself. Nails, broken metal rods, pallet plates, bricks, concrete blocks, half burned plastics, old cans, broken plastic you-name-its, and the most disturbing, an old quad lead-acid battery. (We got that back into the recycle system thanks to Primco Dene’s staff at the car wash and oil change business!)
The bad behaviour of humans should no longer surprise me, but it does. Good behaviour is always welcomed and I try to remember to thank people for it.

 

 

 

The real joy of being home, at no-home, are the views and light and water and sky.

Standing Together

Whether it’s the solid white-ish grey trunks of the poplar,

 

 

 

Cross Tops
Or the tops of leafless trees crossing the grey skies.

 

Leaning White

Or the white birch barely hanging in there on the shore.

 

 

Wedges of Reality

There simply is nothing like being able to canoe out on to the lake to see the afternoon sun playing with clouds and pure reflections making harmonious orchestration wedges of trees on the shores.

 

 

 

Beckoning Light

Until the sunsets behind the trees on the shore beckoning me to wander closer to the wonders of creation.

 

Ending Delight

Then the universe comes together in specular beauty as the water reflects in ripples my presence in the canoe in the reeds as the sun claims clouds on the horizon as its playing field.

For being homeless, this is a wonderful home, creation with a small wonderful place for me.

Where is your home?
Do you see beauty all around you?
Do you see creation as a gift?
Life, each day, each hour, each moment as time to marvel at all that is, bad and good, ugly and beautiful
In creation and creatures alike?

I was asked again today …

I was asked again today …

What question do you keep getting asked?
As a photographer I always ask: where is the light?
As a theologian I always ask: how do we speak of God?
As a sacramental mystic I always ask: have you experienced the infinite breaking into the finite?
As a father I always ask: what can I do for my children, for all children, especially as they become parents of children?
I do not get asked these kinds of questions lately at all.
The question that I am asked over and over again is very dark.
The question that I am asked again and again and which I was asked again today is:
“Why
I would not forget the past 6 years?”
There are great threats included most times with that question.
After all, my life was threatened very literally numerous times, once I was just an hour and a little cream from death itself, and those who threatened my life and still do will get away with it for sure, not only forgotten but helped to be forgotten.
And sometimes
There is great innuendo of promise that the present troubles would pass, if only I would forget.
And I reply as always,
That the past 6 years have been so poignant and transformed me in ways I even now cannot fully comprehend,
That to forget them would be to cut out a part of life,
a part of life that would leave me maimed, unable to heal.

Now most people’s predictable response would be first not to forget, but to remember … and to hate vociferously.
To which I respond,
That I certainly could choose to end it all with hate, it is in fact a natural response for every human.
But I choose not to hate, for hate is a viciously hungry monster which does not stop at just one thing, but wreaks havoc in all of life, even consuming all hope.
Just as lying does to those who lie, to those who condone it, and the children who are taught to lie impeccably?


There are views of great beauty out there, all around. If one recognizes beauty then giving in to hate sits too close to corrupting that beauty. Hate permeates and destroys especially beauty.
I have struggled my whole life to not allow hate to be part of me, as I certainly do now in the face of the past six years, not least of all the lies of the past three years in Court, and the injustice dealt me because of them.
I have struggled so that I know no other response than to remember clearly what is the truth of these past six years (not to be disillusioned nor gaslit into accepting the lies as if they were truth) and to continue to learn … and above all to forgive. Forgiveness is to remember and to accept what has happened, and to behave as if the transgression had not ever happened.
Forgiveness is not easy, not natural, and most certainly not inexpensive.
I have and I will continue to strive to forgive even my enemies and to pay the price of forgiveness.
Thus so I have answered …
and always I make clear that I have chosen
First
To protect the children
From the same abuse that, if not already, will surely be put to them …
And the same death that was put to me, from which they are at risk.

As for you, what will you choose, no matter the circumstance of your life?
Will you choose to forget, to deny life to be remembered, both the goodness and the evil of it?
Will you choose to allow yourself to hate? To be consumed in a course that has no end but to destroy those you hate and those you love, and even yourself?
Or will you choose the most difficult course forward, to remember fully and to forgive,
And to pay the price, whatever is taken from you?
Even if it be your health and all means to feed yourself and protect yourself from the elements which will be taken from you?
Even if you certainly will face an early death in poverty, though you could still share so much with the living, those who will survive you?

At that price would you, will you forgive?
So that you can hope?
Will you honour your own life by upholding truth?
Will you with forgiveness inspire others to remember the truth, to act on the truth, to trust the truth?

Each person can make one small piece of truth survive. Will you do so, starting today?
Will you be better than you would otherwise be, simply by forgiving that which is unforgivable?
Will you forgive, if for no other reason than by it the children will live, for only by forgiveness can the darkness be survived?

As for me, the question that I keep asking myself is simply this:
How can I inspire people, good and evil, to do the good that they would want to do?
For them to know the truth and hold on to it for the sake of all, to build great, great hope, even in one small corner, their own small corner.

Honour. Honesty. Truth. Hope.
All relies on grace,
And only God can create this grace out of God’s love for us all,
Sinners as we all are,
and we can but trust it is all possible, even in us,
since God makes us also simultaneous saints.
Is it possible in you?


Even in the greys, whites and blues of winter there are other great colours to find and celebrate,
green and orange amidst the white of the birch.
Surely God put some great colour in you?

Rainbows of No Colours

Rainbows of No Colours but Grace Alone

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

Open to the Light

The Darkness is profound.
The Light still shines.
There is no evidence to indicate it will get better,
But only hope
That the light will shine brightly
And life will emerge from the twilight zone of black being white, and white being black.

Blue and Gold on White

The mode of entry into this real world is simple: skis on snow.

There are past trails covered by the recent 6” and then 2” snow falls of moisture laden snow.


One covered trail heads straight to the light going down.

There are others that have circled around looking for fish beneath the ice.
Nice
But one rolls the dice
Whether it will be tomorrow enough
Nice ice.

Once I saw the moon before it faded away: little just, BEST life

The Moon fades but I remember it even so,

Little Just; Best Life

The promise that God provides is not that people will behave well or even that they will act justly towards others.

The promise that God provides is that God will sustain those dealt with unjustly, and that the light will shine on all that is unjust, making it clear for what it is.

 

Sometimes the light fades along the horizon, too far to light one’s path forward for many more minutes.

 

Sometimes the light is so bright but setting that one cannot see any more than a minute in front of the present. But it is fleetingly wonderful.

 

Other times the light is everywhere and only those things that catch it show us the wonder that creation is.

 

I am one who believes, along with a host of faithful through the generations, that heaven and salvation are not merely elements of what happens after one dies on this creation earth. Rather we believe that, just as we are sinners already made simultaneously saints, so also God brings heaven to bear in this lifetime.

And thus believing I trust that the light will shine bright also already in this life. There is something to fear in that for those who cannot trust God, who refuse to know the sinfulness they perpetrate on others. There is solace in that light for those who trust that God’s grace is not only for others but also for oneself, and therefore one can and should provide that same grace to others.

Thus seeing the brilliant beauty that exposes every shadow. Even they can be a part of the beautiful mosaic of creation. Where else do we know and see God’s brilliant grace and our darkness portrayed for even us to see and know?

We do our best when

We find beauty in the light and the dark.

We see beauty in each other despite the dark.

We help build a safe place for each other, despite our past failings.

Sometimes our attempts are realistic: we need shelter and there is more than enough crap to take care of, and then a big old tree wipes out our shelter.

Shelter comes in many forms. For some it is just that: protection from the deadly elements of Canada’s cold northern winters and flying bug-biter or bomber summers.

For others it is to build a bank account that seems inassailable.

For others it is a collection of pseudo friends to help us ignore the cold dark inside ourselves, that part that lies as if that were to create one’s own protection when in fact if brings about one’s own downfall.

 

God promises and provides friends, true friends who judge little and exercise grace lots. True friends who mean it when they ask how one is. True friends who answer one’s calls when one is desperate and when one is overwhelmed with gratitude and amazement at the great goodness of God that people are able to reflect in their lives.

True friends are those who tell only the truth, and hold one to account to tell only the whole truth … so that grace’s need is undeniable and grace’s effect is in clear focus.

The light pushes ahead of it true friends, if not so much in our direction then as a wave of grace in front of us towards others.

 

And that is the best of life … even if there is little justice …

The best, to be a great, unconditionally loving friend.

Have you been one lately?