Grace

Remember Our True Faith of Grace

The passages for this Sunday’s lessons are profoundly problematic.

Malachi 4:1-2a

Malachi promises that the day will come when arrogant and evildoers will be burned up entirely, stem to root. That is of course only Those, them, the others. And on that day We, us, those who revere God’s name, upon us (not them) the sun of righteousness will rise, with healing in it’s wings.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

2 Thessalonians, either written by Paul or more likely a disciple of Paul writing in his name (as was common and acceptable then,) commands the readers to work for their food, and not be idle. And he also commands that those who do not work should not eat! This prescription to allow some people to starve has been used as justification for all sorts of injustices worked against the poor.

Luke 21:5-19

The Lukan passage deals with the end times, cautioning the listeners to not be taken in by false prophets claiming to be the returned Christ. Admonishing calm patience and faithfulness the passage ends with “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Blown in the dark cold wind of self-righteousness, what are we to do?

Blown in the dark cold wind of self-righteousness, what are we to do?

Unfortunately we do not use Psalm 98 this week.

Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done | marvelous things,
  whose right hand and holy arm have | won the victory.
2O Lord, you have made | known your victory,
  you have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
9The Lord will judge the | world with righteousness
  and the peo- | ples with equity.

Or perhaps it is a good opportunity that we do not use the Psalm.

While each text is filled with directions on what to do as Christians, even prescribing what things we must do in order to receive Salvation, we believe and hold firm the faith and tradition that is handed on to us, namely: that we are saved by grace alone, not by the merit of our works.

We interpret all scripture and spiritual thought through this lens: That we are saved only by God’s act upon us, that we remain totally sinners throughout our lives and at the same time God makes us, through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for us, totally saints. This is a gift imputed to us, not infused into us. This gift is effective in us, yet does not overcome the sinner that we remain, until Christ comes again, God reckons righteousness to us, and we become saints in the light of Christ for ever. These precepts are paradoxical, and we believe they hold the truth of God’s Grace for us that cannot logically be expressed. Faith cannot be grasped and controlled. It can only we experienced and enjoyed with awe, or rejected with consequences unknowable.

So what are we to make of these scriptural judgments of others and promises that we are not them, of the command that if we or others do not work we are not to eat, or the admonishments to earn our salvation?

Our choices are four:

  1. We could preach the problematic parts as if they were the Gospel of Christ ignoring that they are destructive to faith and community.
  2. We could ignore or pretend to ignore the problematic parts of the texts. Preaching on Psalm 98 alone would be an opportunity to take this route.
  3. We could preach a reinterpretation of the passages so as to proclaim a faithful Word, a true witness to Christ, but not mention that we are interpreting the passages to bring Gospel out of them. OR
  4. We can be clear about the need to re-interpret and proclaim that need along with a clear proclamation of the Gospel after we re-interpret these passages according to Luther’s Gospel within a Gospel: that we are saved by Grace through Faith and not by merit of our works.
Gone are the days of colour and calm.

Gone are the days of colour and calm.

The Cold Hard Facts of the Gospel have arrived with the cold and snow in late fall.

Preach as you will, but as for me and my empty “household”, the woods, squirrels and the occasional deer, we will enjoy God’s grace and preach it clearly, honestly, and profoundly as, as much as God gives me opportunity and energy to do so.

Of course, the squirrels really do not listen very well, and the deer have no patience, anxious as they are from hunters pursuits.

What is clear from the lessons for this Sunday is that true discipleship is costly.

As costly as those we remember today, the veterans who have sacrificed to give us the possibility of the lives we now enjoy.

While we chafe under encouragements to tithe, giving 10% of the first fruits of all God gives us, our time, talents and resources, the call that claims us and the faith that is imputed to us demands not merely 10%. We chafe so brutally that we often demand no mention of tithing occur in our congregation, certainly not that we ask each other to work towards this small sacrifice, guilty as we are that we have never thought this possible for us ourselves. Always one hears how unjust this call is for those who are below the poverty line. Which is true sort of: 10% of an income of which 50% is spent on the bare necessities of life is challenging, but 10% of an income of which 110% or more is spent on the bare necessities of life is a challenge beyond respectable.

True discipleship costs us 100%, and our avoiding a call for 10% gives witness how weak our faith is practised in our lives.

Yet the True Gospel is not that we must give 100%, or that we must give even 10% for God’s grace to be effective in our lives and at the end of time, effectively applied to us. What counts is still what God does, not what we do.

Though it is problematic that we do not do what we readily could do, and instead we count on God’s Grace to save our neighbours from hunger, poverty, despair. Since Christ steps in for us sinners when we were lost (each day of our lives) why would we not strive with all our being to be Christ’s hands especially to our neighbours in desperate need!

But one can hardly preach that to people who refuse to be the hands of Christ, asking for the first 10% in good stewardship for their church. One does pray for them, and for one’s self: that we may all survive the winter, cold, hard, and brutal as it is … to be gracious with each other … soon, before it is too late.

That Ti –

That Ti-

Me

Of

Year

Aga-

in

nice ice at sun setting

nice ice at sun setting

Cool but warm inside.

Wonders and Miracles

flow freely to those with eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to believe,

and who pursue truth

in all things.

….

explanation for those who do not know enough to notice: the lake froze over last night thus the golden sheen on the lake ice all across.

Of course only being here will inform one that yesterday there was most of the lake still waving water,

saying goodbye

with great hopes of coming again

when the sun sticks around longer each day.

Choose grace, live hope, love even one’s enemies…

for God is a God of the living!

73804 Mitkommen!

73804 mitkommen!

As the cool days of fall darken earlier and earlier, and the dark of night stays with us longer and longer …

Dark comes early, closer to South

Dark comes early, closer to South

Leaves fall all

Leaves fall all

The wood pile is just high enough,

The food sufficient for the coming days,

The water enough and replenish-able,

And the air is fresh,

My clothing rather well prepared for the coming months,

The shelter from the weather to come is mostly prepared,

My labour is directed, consumedly so, towards writing what must be written.

My love grows and wanes, I am loved well and always.

And God holds me safe.

What more can one ask for from life, from God, from all that might be?

All that might be.

All that might be.

How many humans have had so much less, so much less, so much less.

So much less.

So much less.

The beauty of the world is at my fingertips, literally, as a cell phone camera captures what can be seen and hoped for?

Cell camera photos: harvest moon, over three harvesters

Cell camera photos: harvest moon, over three harvesters

Wahrheit

Was sonst?

God’s blessings

For what more would anyone wish from life?

More than the time each morning to celebrate that Christ is with us, in body and blood?

More than the ability to see beauty and share it with others?

Sharing beauty

Sharing beauty

More than the ability to know truth, without doubt, or hesitation?

More than to live well?

Live Well

Live Well

Legend:

73804 mitkommen! – from the movie Remembrance, Tomasc calls out to Hannah to come with him, he dressed as a German soldier initiating their escape, as he carries a canister of photos of the Nazi concentration camp.

Wahrheit, was sonst? – Truth, what else?

Und weshalb nicht?

Und weshalb nicht?

West with Accents

West with Accents

God’s Grace Gives Real Identity

The Light of Creation: God said It is GOOD!

Prayer

We pray that we may Guard the treasure of faith entrusted to us, relying on the Holy Spirit in all things!

This is life (challenges and tragedy): I’d like to tell you it’ll be ok, I cannot honestly do that: 100% death rate

You probably have heard it said, “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.”

I’d like to tell you that the death rate for humans is less than 100%, but that’d be dishonest. It is the pain of death that rips our hearts and dreams right out of us. It is the basic, most profound fear of each human. It drives us to succeed, even by evil scheming, which leads to eternal failure.

Success:

The OT commonly claims that God blesses the faithful with material successes. There is no end of advice on how to be successful.

One of my favourites is “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Charles R. Swindoll

Reba McEntire gives us: “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.”

Pele, the soccer star, offered all together: “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing….”

Winston Churchill pointed out that it’s always a process:“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

John Barrow said, “Music is 10% exhilaration and 90% utter disappointment.” Many great musicians will confirm this, and it seems success is like that as well: Despite all our efforts to succeed most of our efforts end in utter disappointment and only the cream of the crop rise to the top. Or as the lessons for today tell us, those who pursue evil schemes seem to succeed in life’s pursuits, and God does not bless the faithful with success.


Success is like photos, too often it looks too good to be really true.

Life’s challenges, tragedies, defeats – We’d like to say that they are not what they are, but they are what they are.

With the looming end of life at our own deaths, and the slim chance of success, even when we follow the best advice, it would be great if the church offered some kind of helpful advice to succeed in the face of life’s tragedies, challenges and defeats. Too often it does, and most often it is a false teacher who provides something other than the sound teaching of the Gospel.

Spouse develops dementia

When a spouse develops dementia, and lives on but does not even know their loved ones, we’d like to say that it will be OK, but it is not OK. It’s a loss for which hardly anything can prepare us.

Addicted

When a family member or friend becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, we’d like to tell you that they need to go to AA or NA and you to Al-anon and everything will be OK. It is so important to go to AA, NA or Al-anon, but that’s only a small step. For the addict the rest of life is one drink or fix away from the same devastating decline towards death. Those close to the addict are invisibly drawn down the same road as they fight to make the world right again. But attempting that impossible task robs us of all the goodness of life. Al-anon only helps us see the invisible road to disaster, even as we remain one misstep from jumping or rolling right down that path again.

Child dies

When perhaps the worst tragedy hits and a child dies: We cannot tell you that it was God’s will, and that everything will be OK. We can tell you that most people agree that parents are not supposed to have to bury their children. It’s a loss and tragedy that is beyond comparison.

Habakkuk pending defeat to Babylon

There is much more to say in the face of every challenge or tragedy, so do not despair.

Yet this is what especially the OT lesson for today tells us. There will be destruction, violence, strife, contention and justice that is perverted, and it will seem as if God has deserted us. Besides the breakdown of their nation’s integrity, the prophet’s people faced inevitable defeat by their powerful neighbours, Babylon and Egypt. The Promised Land will be lost. They will go into exile as slaves. Worst of all, their identity as God’s people in the Promised Land will disappear, if it has not already.

The Prophet’s Complaint and Plea, Posture (Standing, Waiting)

So the prophet cries and pleads with God, how long must they wait for God to save them from themselves and their neighbours?! The prophet does not lie down in resignation. Instead the prophet stands in wait for God’s answer.

God’s Answer: a Vision, a Promise

And God answers with a vision in which all is put right. It may seem to take too long, but in God’s time all will be done right!

The Prophets always look up!

That’s quite the promise. That promise is repeated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians where it was instrumental in Martin Luther’s break through to understand that we are saved by Grace alone! Can we live abundantly in that promise, when we face challenges, losses and unimaginable tragedies, when we see creation rebelling against our abuses and we know success is rare and death is sure?

The best of creation is polluted. When will we learn!

That’s much harder than following all that advice on how to be successful. We might well cry to God, “Help! Give us faith!”

Gospel prelude to today’s lesson: Forgive

In the verses leading up to today’s Gospel Jesus has told the disciples that they must forgive, and forgive and forgive without end. The disciples see that as too hard. They do not know how to succeed at this. So the disciples’ plead with Jesus: “Increase our faith!”

In answer Jesus tells them the smallest amount of faith is more than sufficient. We know from Paul’s letters, especially Galatians, reflecting Habakkuk’s words, that faith is not up to us. It is a free gift that God gives to us undeserving sinners. That faith given to us by Grace transforms everything in our lives. We become God’s children who act out that same Grace for everyone around us.

Turning Point: Christ abolishes death!

We read in the Letter to Timothy how profound this transformation is: “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus…, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

This is the power of God! In Christ Jesus death is abolished. Our core identity becomes not how we live, not what we do, not who we live with, nor even for whom we live out our lives. Our core identity is established again as it was at creation: we are God’s people by Grace alone. It is what God does to us, not what we do, that gives us our identity.

We can trust the promise that, even though we be overrun by a foreign power, the Promised Land be taken from us, and we are scattered across the face of the earth, we remain God’s people.

Terry Waite

Terry Waite, as an envoy for the Church of England, negotiated the release of a number of hostages in the Middle East. Then during one negotiation, he was kidnapped and held from 1987 to 1991. For most of those five years he was isolated and blindfolded. It would have been so easy to lose himself, his identity, his sanity. A key component to his survival was daily Holy Communion. By himself, by memory, he went through the service using the old words from the English Book of Common prayer, even when he had no bread or water for the elements. This Word of God reminded Terry who he was and it reminded Terry who God was. It pulled him into communion with the faithful of every time and place – day … by day … by day: he was the one for whom Christ died, so that he might be forgiven and live abundantly, even in captivity.

Forgiving

Even a tiny bit of the faith, that Grace alone saves us, is enough for us to extend that same forgiveness to everyone around us.

Facing Real Life, even Defeat, as God’s Children

With even the smallest spark of that faith in us, death does not have the final say in our lives. The treasure of this grace-given-faith through the generations overcomes every challenge, tragedy and defeat. When a spouse develops dementia, when a loved one becomes an addict, even when a child dies, then we can trust that God carries us onward in the world God made and said “It is Good!”

Everything taken: we remain God’s Children

Everything can be taken from us. Like Paul, we can be imprisoned and even worse: our reputations can be ruined, our church can be taken from us, our livelihoods and ability to work can be taken from us, our freedom can be taken from us. Still we will remain God’s children, for God alone has made us God’s children. Nothing can take that from us.

Billboard of faith

Like a billboard the Holy Spirit has engraved the Gospel of Jesus on our foreheads with a cross, poured it into our hearts as love, and kneaded it like leaven into our minds and actions, so that a runner, or a fellow disciple in deep grief or having forgotten Grace-given-Faith, will easily be able to see the treasure of Christ’s Grace in our lives.

Knowing that Christ has defeated death and is raising us to new life, at the end of each day, whether it was challenging or not, we will not have chased after trite nor revered successes.

The End of our day, and all is well. We’ve lived as God’s children.

The Habit of Costly Faith Courageously Shared

Instead, having treasured Grace and forgiveness as a habit so that it comes easily to us, we will say: “We, faithful servants of Christ, have done only what we ought to have done! Though it cost us, like William Tyndale who was martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English, with the courage of the Holy Spirit we share with others the Grace that saves us.” …. [breathe!]

Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react[breathe!]
Yet it is 100% what God does for us that counts!

Amen

Truth, How About You?

The Cost

“Everything has a cost, even the truth.

The Cost for Truth has been everything for me, except a sleeping bag, a tent, my clothes and a bicycle.

The Cost for Truth has been everything for me, except a sleeping bag, a tent, my clothes and a bicycle.

The Reward

But the reward for truth is a clear eye and a clear conscience.”

Clear eyes enable one to see the beauty of life.

Clear eyes enable one to see the beauty of life.

The True Work of Justice

“It is as important to exonerate an innocent person as to convict a guilty person.”

Clearly Fog Challenges Clarity

Clearly Fog Challenges Clarity

I have a clear eye and clear conscience.

So many who’ve had the chance have not paid any price for truth. It is a party where they imbibe the intoxicating evil of false power based on the Devil’s seductions, drunk so deeply in order to ignore the truth.

I do not see good people working for justice to exonerate the innocent, myself included. Like hundreds of thousands others, I see good people become evil, working to convict the innocent like me, a kind, generous, man of great integrity, an excellent stay at home father.

The long view allows one to see the the rocks and sticks, and the wonderful light.

The long view allows one to see the the rocks and sticks, and the wonderful light.

It’s colour that plays with the light.

It’s colour that plays with the light.

Rest in the solitude and calm is possible as God blesses those persecuted without just cause.

Rest in the solitude and calm is possible as God blesses those persecuted without just cause.

But woe to those who unjustly persecute the innocent. For God judges without rules of evidence or games of cover-ups possible. God judges the reality of one’s life and actions. There is no hiding possible for evil. There is no negotiating for something other than actual reality, for that is what God sees and judges. Entrance to blessing never comes with Spin or Cover-up, or declaring something to be other than it is.

In this life, our challenge is to not become like the persecutors, not to become vengeful and vindictive … but to remain, trusting God’s promises and quiet blessings each day, … to remain fully alive with grace.

As for me and my non-existent household, unjustly taken from me thrice, I and the Holy Spirit, we choose to live only by Grace.

How about you?

Today?

Will this be the day of our double victory?

The Grip of the Season

Fall

The trees have joined the low bushes in nodding to the coming time, fall will be here in a few days, and the leaves need to protect the forest floor from the nice ice that will carpet the bugs in their beds and mice in their burrows. May the freeze be deep and hard enough to clear out the ferocious biting pine beetles. I thought they were but a nuisance, not knowing what this ugly bug was, until someone told me their name, and then one had the audacity to land on my face and bite my hand when I brushed it off. Not just one, but a mini chainsaw effect.

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Just a few leaves scatter about

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The cool near the water turns a few not so hardy first

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The roads, as they are, open the cool air to reach low, the open meadow allows the young trees to turn first.

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As the grip tightens along the road the lines of colour serve as guides to the exit.

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The leaves begin to carpet the ‘roads’

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Fall has it’s grip down low and up high in the woods.

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Cool Night

The cooler nights have meant for better sleeping and clear air waking. The most dangerous animals are less frequent in these parts, though a few do venture out to wade as their dogs swim in the lake’s frigid waters, not quite so in the shallows of the sandy shorelines.

Their noisy absence leaves more peace for the four-legged animals to venture near, and deer, bear and squirrels, owls, loons and geese abound. Not that I have the equipment to catch photos of any.

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empty spaces

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Solitude Light

Which gives way for quiet solitude in the evenings as the last bit of light fades through dusk to dark, leave the last fade a line of western slivered light reflected in the lake’s undulating surface between the reeds.

The Last Light as Night overtakes Dusk

The sliver of solitude so difficult to find, more so to fully enjoy.

Joyous Homecoming

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-10
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

We want it Simple, But life is messy

We really do like it simple: we want everything black and white, either Good or Evil. There are good people and there are evil people. We are the good people. They are the evil people. God chooses us, not them. But life is much messier than that. We are all simultaneously God-made saints and self-made sinners.

We are all sinners

Bill of AA

In the early years of Alcoholics Anonymous, at many meetings a comfortably dressed and well-groomed man would enter, not as a person of importance expecting special respect and appreciation. He never even sat in the front with the regulars. Instead he would choose the back, the place where someone new was likely to be sitting – someone with the shakes –someone with an odour that he recognized. He knew that odour. He could find it in the back of his own closet at home. Reminded how he was once right there dying with that smell, he loved that man.

When the time came he would stand and introduce himself like everyone else at the meeting. “Hello. My name is Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.”
He did not add that he was one of the co-founders of AA.

The back of our Closets

We all have ugly skeletons in the back of our closets that remind us how broken we really are. It is not easy to acknowledge what’s in the back of our closets, so we often say in confession: If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

The important truth is that we are self-made sinners.

Do we have to make it to God,
Or does God come to rescue us?

How is it that we move from being sinners to being righteous before God? Of course we would like it to be simple, we just go to God, or God just comes to us. But real life is not that simple.

How far lost we can be, even far from the ocean waters

Huts on a deserted island

During a raging storm lightning struck a cruise ship disabling all communications and controls. Drifting far off course, hours later the ship struck a reef and sank off a deserted island. Having no end of conflict during the voyage due to outspoken beliefs the survivors sorted themselves on to the island according to their beliefs about God so as to avoid the ongoing conflicts.

Freewill

The largest group built huts helter-skelter around the lovely sandy beaches. Most organized themselves in small groups, working terribly hard, some to build a raft to float back to civilization, some to build a communication system to call for help, some to make themselves as comfortable as possible. A small number of them simply did nothing but gather food and coconuts to make alcohol.

This disparate group from all religions, even agnostics, believed that they had to save themselves. God, if there was one the agnostics added, was not going to intervene. It was all up to them. They said they had great moral guides, but they did whatever they could get away with, so trouble constantly arose between them. They fought to prove that they had indeed done enough good to earn God’s favour. This large group lived like God did not exist at all, even though they said they believed in God, except the agnostics.

Alice and Double Predestination

Alice’s group built huts far from everyone else, facing a square yard for the kids and adults to walk in and meet in. The believed God was in charge of everything, including everything bad that happened. They wanted to have as little to do with the others as possible. They knew that God had saved them and not the others. They lived to prove God had chosen to save them. This group could not admit that they had ever done anything wrong, so they stuffed their closets full of old skeletons. In the dark they exercised those skeletons all too well, but when the sun shone they denied everything.

Inside Alice’s group a sub-group set up in their own corner. They believed as well that God had saved only them, that God was in charge of everything, including all evil, like their shipwreck. Instead of trying to prove God saved them they just gave up and did as little as possible. God was going to do what God was going to do and there was no way to change that. So why care about anything? They simply let life progress as it would. It was all up to God.

Martin Luther’s messy Single Predestination

A third large group believed that God alone could save them, but they still had freewill to choose to walk away from God. Few of them could precisely describe their beliefs. They built huts all around the island. This group constantly held joyous meals, celebrating that, when this member or that member had walked away from God, by Grace God had brought them back.

They were usually the kindest people, but they admitted, sometimes also as cruel as could be! They said God saved them many times each day, just because God chose to. They believed their life purpose was to extend God’s Grace to everyone. This group had people from all faiths, even Lutherans. They understood Evil came, not from God, but from humans choosing to turn away from God, as God created them to be able to.

They neither hid their sins nor tried to hide from sin. They just didn’t worry about or focus on their sins, yet they weren’t reckless with sin. They trusted God’s constant forgiveness, and worked to be God’s people of Grace.

Simultaneously Saints and Sinners and Golden Calves Galore

They accepted Luther’s paradox that all God’s people are simultaneously saints and sinners. They understood all too well that they had been right there next to Bill at the back of the room and, many times, at the bottom of their own Mt Sinai, building their own golden calf, so like Moses’ people had.

Golden Calf – God Changes God’s Mind

Moses’ people feared God had abandoned them. God became visible to Moses just 3000 yards away, but they did not dare venture up that steep trail. So they waited for Moses to come back, but he didn’t. They impatiently needed a god who would be available to them. So they collected their gold, melted it into an idol and worshipped their little godlet. Their false worship settled their anxiety, but it ate out their hearts and souls.
God sees all this and asks Moses to leave him alone so that God’s wrath can burn hot and consume this perverse people. God goes so far as to tell Moses these are Moses’ people, whom Moses brought out of Egypt. That may be all true, of a sorts, so Moses reminds God that God has delivered the people, they are God’s people.

[May we never be in need of such boldness before God. But then if it need be, may we speak only the truth! And trust that God’s Grace will prevail also for us.]

Then God remembers God’s promises, and God changes God’s mind, from deserved annihilation to gracious forgiveness. God doesn’t smite the golden calf people. Instead they will stay in the wilderness for 40 years. The next generation will enter the promised land.

We would prefer to hide all the skeletons of golden calves

What are our ‘golden calves’?

What are our ‘golden calves’? How many times have we set up our own little godlets, not that far from the Altar of the Eucharist where God is visible and handed to us in the bread and wine?

It can be something as simple as the colour of the new carpet, the stewardship campaign we run, the prayers and music we can use in worship, or even who is welcome in ‘our’ church. In our daily lives our little godlets take on a variety that could more than fill all the stores and warehouses in the world.

God’s response to our sin

How does God respond when God sees all this? God remembers God’s promises, and chooses not to consume us with fury and wrath, which we deserve! Instead God changes God’s mind and does not smite us sinners as we worship our godlets of so great a variety.

Jesus eats with us, rejoices at our return

Instead Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, like us. And Jesus explains it like this: The shepherd loses one sheep of 100, leaves the 99 to find the lost one, and rejoices at it’s finding and celebrates with friends. The woman loses one coin, looks thoroughly for it, finds it, rejoices and calls friends to celebrate with her. So also as God all too often loses one of us to sin. God’s glory is not in smiting us out of existence, but in rescuing us. God delights and rejoices in bringing us home.

God comes all the way to us and through the sacrificial blood of Jesus reclaims us as holy saints. God makes us sinners into saints, and though we remain sinners we are simultaneously God-made saints.

What is it to live in God’s Promise to Rejoice at Forgiving Us Sinners?

How do we reflect our faith that Jesus came into the world to save sinners? Are we to sin all the more that God can continually delight in rescuing us! No, bound to sin and unable to free ourselves, we have all given God plenty of opportunity to save us and then to rejoice and celebrate our coming home.

We have no need to try to sin more. As much as God delights in our homecoming, God enjoys us most when we live at home with all the other saints in light.

Living in Grace: Not Simple, But Joyous!

We may want it simple, but there is never a simple answer to how to live Grace. It may sound simple: we sin, God saves us, everyone rejoices, repeat. That we repeat without end makes the cycle anything but simple. It is so far from simple, though it is profoundly joyous at each coming home.

It is not ever a treat to look in the back of our closets at all the godlets of our past, but when we do, and when we fully admit who we are as sinners, then God has already reclaimed us and is busy returning us home. The whole of heaven and all the saints celebrate our return. We, too, can rejoice. When others stray to worship their golden cafe godlets and God brings them home then we get to rejoice again.

Our Prayers

We pray that we might learn to love each other, especially the ones sitting in the back barely in the door but here, shaking with ugly sin as we have all done. We pray that the Holy Spirit will teach us to love the one’s we think we cannot love, and to rejoice at each one God brings home.

AMEN

Choose Life, Give Freedom

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

In the Promised Land, Choose!

In the Fade, movie

Set in Germany In the Fade is a movie about people choosing the destruction of life. A German mother drops her young son off with her husband at work so that she can make a visit. Leaving his office the mother admonishes a young woman to lock up her new bike she’s just left with a case on its rear carrier. When the mother returns the police inform her that her husband, a German of Turkish descent, and their young German-born son were killed by a fertilizer nail bomb. The bike’s case held the bomb made by the perpetrator’s husband.

The outcome of the trial seems obvious, but their lawyer creates reasonable doubt; the bombers are acquitted. Captive to revenge the grieving mother tracks the guilty-acquitted couple to a beach on the ocean. There she kills them with a fertilizer nail bomb, and she loses her life in the process.

The movie denounces the rise of neo-Nazi killings. The first bomb was set to kill as many non-native Germans as possible. More clearly it demonstrates that, without the freedom of faith that calls us to forgive, people choose to become captives to revenge. Revenge is a two-edge sword that cuts everyone.

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The Dark Churn of Chaos Obstructs Our View of God’s Son

OT: As you enter the PL, Choose: life or death, blessings or curses

By comparison, living in God’s promise is a multi-sided blessing. As God delivers God’s promise to Abraham and ushers the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses admonishes them to choose God each day. Moses knows they will need to or they will fall under the curses of other gods, including gods that people still choose today. Living in the Promised Land does not mean that life will be easy, obvious, or without dire peril. Nor does it mean that all people are free. Today people are regularly enslaved as labourers around the world and on the high seas as well as those forced into the sex trade.

God delivers us into the Promise. God will not take us out of the Promised Land. As God’s children God frees us so that we always have a real choice between Life and Death, between blessings and curses, even when we do not see the choices clearly.

What Promised Land has God brought us to, long ago, or maybe just yesterday? What Blessings and Curses must we choose between?

Remember first that God’s Promise delivered at our baptism is that we are always God’s children, made righteous by Jesus’ sacrifice and Grace. God gives us a choice, but it is not about receiving or earning God’s Grace and our salvation. Our choice is how we live in that Grace. Do we, guided and inspired by God’s Spirit, choose blessings and life, or do we choose our own ways that lead to curses and death for us and for others?

Break my Heart, (Set me on fire!)

A well-known prayer reads: “May my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” (World Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce).

The risk of praying this prayer is that God might just answer it with a Holy Fire that sets our hearts on fire to bring blessings to every human of the 7.7 plus billion whom we can possibly effect, starting today, with those beside us, those we meet each step through each day, and those we go out of our way to encounter, until everything in our lives changes as we become the hands, voice and blessings of Christ. We join the great cloud of witnesses to Christ’s love for all people.

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When We Dwell Beside Living Water, God Fires Up Our Hearts

NT Philemon’s Real Story: Giving FREEDOM

In our second lesson for today we read part of the letter Paul wrote to Philemon and his congregation. It is about an escaped slave, Onesimus, the man who carries the letter to Philemon. Paul sends him back to his master, Philemon, and lights a Holy Fire under Philemon.

Escaped slaves were crucified, a dire warning to any other slaves who tried to escape. Anyone, through a terrible turn of fortune or war, could become a slave. Becoming a freed slave was very, very rare.

Still Paul admonishes Philemon, with the congregation listening, to do the rare but right thing, the good thing, the personally costly thing.

C.S. Lewis: Paint and Eggs, Stain and Get Cracking

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity called this the difference between paint, which merely covers the surface, and stain which soaks in deep to protect to the centre. Paul trusts that the Gospel daily seeps down into Philemon’s heart and strength. As with all Paul’s new converts in congregations spread so far, Paul nurtures the seeds of faith, like a mother hen sitting on her eggs. It is fine to be a fertilized egg, waiting to become something, but now it’s time to get cracking. It’s time for Philemon to show his colours and give Onesimus his freedom.

How does God place before us this day the choice of blessings gained by sacrificing our rights and privileges in order that another human can live in freedom? What egg needs to hatch in our lives bringing us into a new reality? What choices does God give us today?

Route 44, Not Getting it Right

We may not get it right. We may be more like the 88 year old driver of the car the cop pulls over because it was going 44 kph on the highway where the speed limit is 110. When he approaches the car he notices that the four elderly passengers appear to be shocked into a daze, the air taken out of them.

The officer warns the driver that it is dangerous to drive so far below the speed limit. She responds that she was going exactly the speed limit of 44 kph just like the sign said.

The officer starts to answer sternly until the light bulb goes off for him and he says: “No ma’am, the speed limit is 110 here. Though this is highway 44.”

“Oh,” says the driver as it’s obvious the wheels are churning for her. Then the officer asks, “Is everyone alright? They all seem shell shocked.”

The driver answers as it falls into place for her, “No, officer. Thank you. Yes, they will be alright in a minute or two. You see, a few miles back we turned off highway 169.”

Taking care of ourselves, our faith, and the promised land we live in is hardly simple. Sometimes it’s the most difficult thing in our lives to get right. When we make mistakes with the freedom Christ gives us, we often add a huge dose to the challenges the Devil tries to suck us into. The results can often scare the living daylights out of us, at least they should.

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The Expanse of the Universe Outta Scare Us Silly, The Cost of Discipleship Even More-so

Luke: Know the Cost

In today’s Gospel Jesus admonishes the crowd to know and prepare for the cost of discipleship as they commit themselves to following him.

Hate is not Jesus’ way, but it is an example of the extreme commitment that following Jesus will place on us. Nothing else can be more important to us than following Jesus, nothing, not even love for family. Jesus tells us to count the cost before we jump in, for the cost will be more than any love or even all of our possessions. Better to count the cost first and be prepared, than to run into a wall too high, or a battle too big, and collapse in shame.

It is not unlike marriage. If we really knew what we were getting into there are precious few of us who would be able to make such a commitment. Fortunately, endorphins and hope help us commit to each other in marriage. Its challenges are God’s way of bringing us to understand God’s love for us.

Likewise, fortunately, most of us are baptized as infants, a choice made for us by our parents and sponsors, otherwise the high cost could stop many of us. Yet the cost of discipleship is required for us to participate in life overflowing with God’s blessings for which we are created!

Kidnapping Gramma!

William White tells the story of Heddie Braun, a woman who lived the first four years of her life in Norway and then emigrated to Little Prairie, WI.

Heddie was a powerful presence at the age of 88 with all of her 80 lbs. hung on a 5’ 2” frame. On a cold fall evening Heddie was kidnapped from her single-story home where she lived with Eddie, her blind husband. The kidnapper cut power and telephone wires to the house, entered through the backdoor, picked up Heddie and put her in the trunk of his car. He drove her to his home, put chains on her legs and hid her in a tiny trailer out back. For days Heddie was always cold, she didn’t have her heart medicine, and she lost track of time. A confusing ransom call was made on a disposable phone to her grandson. It was a total failure.

Although time melted into a well-stirred soup, Heddie was not confused about who she was and to whom she belonged. Held captive she knew Christ made her free.

The police identified the kidnapper. He had worked for the family, but was now unemployed and desperate. At one time he had been a friend.

Heddie almost lost her foot to frostbite but she was tough and her foot was saved. Asked later how she stayed so strong, Heddie replied. “I’m Norwegian. The whole time I was in the trailer I remembered that my kidnapper was just a person like me. No matter what the cost I was going to choose life. It was so hard, harder than anything I’ve ever done, but I forgave him.” She turned to her grandson, “You have to forgive him, too.” (In Over Our Heads, pp. 14ff, Augsburg 2007, re-told TL and KAS)

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Life is Beautiful !!! As We Live In the Light of Christ

So we pray

Christ sets us free, so we pray: May our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

May our joy be in choosing life, blessings, and freedom for all people.

Amen

Music Shows us Life, as God Made us to Live!

The sermon is interspersed with snippets of music.

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Jesus says We Cannot Interpret the Present

How is it that Jesus says we do not know how to interpret the present time?

We can forecast the weather so we know it will rain before the clouds appear on the horizon, and we know days before the wind starts it’ll be scorching hot or freezing cold. Can we really not interpret the present time?

Look, Jesus the Bringer of Peace?

We’ve looked to the stars, to see the number of descendants God promised Abraham and Sarah. We’ve looked to Jesus on the cross and heard that as we confess our sins and forgive others their sins Jesus forgives us. We’ve listened and heard that Jesus blesses peacemakers.

We have sung of Jesus bringing Peace Like a River, with it’s catchy melody.

Peace Like a River

God Does Not Come In Monochrome

Creation in Colour

Jesus Brings Conflict, Fire, The Hammer of God

Yet the lessons for today say, “Think again!” Jesus came not to bring peace, but instead division. Jesus came to bring God’s Word of fire. God’s word is a hammer that strikes the solid rock foundations of our lives and shatters them.

God’s Creation is no Monophony

God’s Word is so much more like Beethoven’s 5th. It comes down like a hammer in our hearts, pounding out any notion that what is to come might be whimsical or easy. God sends Jesus, the Word made flesh; and God means business.

Beethoven’s 5th opening ‘hammers’ and a phrases following

God Does Not Come In Monotone

God Comes to Us and Means Business

Music Broad Enough to Communicate God’s Reality

Music moves our hearts stimulating in the same moment Joy, Grief and Hope in us. How better to make sense of the harsh reality of these lessons. Music, with the touch that harmonizes the spheres of the universe, heals us and sets us right with God’s people and creation: we thrive with music in our hearts. Like everything there is of course Music that serves to break down creation, as at Jericho, but we will leave that behind. But should we?

God’s Creation is no Monodrama

Conflict In and Between Us

Jesus says he comes not to bring peace, but division and conflict. God means business, sending Jesus, who is as powerful as the Word that created the universe, which separated the Light from the Darkness.

We must respond. If we respond with faith, our lives are forever changed. If we respond with disbelief, then our lives take another path. Even with faith created in us we still remain sinners who do not believe. Jesus brings conflict within each of us. Since Luke’s time the Gospel has divided also families. Often in history if one believed, one would be persecuted and killed. Those of us who believe end up in conflict with those who do not.

God Does have a Monopoly on Loving Us ALL

Belief was expensive. Faith still is as Jesus’ Love Catches Us.

Belief was expensive among Luke’s readers. When Jesus creates faith in us it still is.

Most music we know is not about our lives. We just get caught up in the rhythm and dance our hearts out. ABBA’s Ma Ma Mia is such a piece. Then Jesus comes, catches us, and suddenly we are not merely dancing to the music. The music is our lives. We are caught by Love, Jesus’ love, and getting away is impossible … even though we know there are consequences for letting this love reach us … yet again.

Ma Ma Mia

God Did Not Create Us as Mono-mimetic

We are in the Picture, We are God’s Picture.

God Yearns that We Remember God’s Name

God yearns for us, just as God yearned for the false prophets to give up on spreading their own dreams and deceptions as if they were God’s Word. God yearns because these false dreams and deceptions capture our hearts and minds and cause us to forget God’s name. What a terrible thing to suffer. To forget God’s name. To not even know one’s own creator, redeemer, and guide to an abundant life.

It is like going to a classical concert without knowing what is on the program and after a warm up to Mozart, being agitated, gurgitated and served up on a platter of confusion by Hindemith’s [/Bartók’s] atonal music.

Hindemith or Bartók

God is more than Polyphiloprogenitive, God is Poly-All

Sometimes the Universe seems a few degrees or more off kilter

God fills the universe

Can we find God in that music? According to Jeremiah God is not far off, nor only near. God fills the entire universe; and yet we forget God’s name because we listen to tempting, false words.

Then God sends someone to remind us that without God Our Blue Eyes are Crying in the Rain, and we know that we’ve deserted love and left our hearts as empty as a Monday Morning Church.

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain OR Monday Morning Church

God’s People are Polychromatic, Polyphonic, Polyrhythmic, Poly- of ALL Kinds

Someone comes and reminds us: God is for us!

The Faithful Cloud

Yet God has not deserted us. We have a great cloud of witnesses that tell us otherwise: From the Red Sea, to Jericho, to Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and to the prophets God has made great things happen. But not all God’s people were brought success or honour.

Many of God’s faithful die after they suffer shame, having lived destitute, persecuted and tormented, wandering homeless the deserts and mountains, living in caves and holes in the ground.

Doch, God provides for them all a better end, to live with us, in faith.

This great cloud of witnesses to God’s Word, accompanies us each day, as we persevere in the race put before us. Ours is not a race of our choosing. God puts this race before us, and race we must.

God’s People are Poly-therapeutic

The Faithful Cloud Reflected Down to Earth

Story: Movie The Last Face: Living the life God gives us: for others

In the movie The Last Face, two doctors work in Liberia and Sierra Leone’s conflicts. Wren is an idealist, fundraiser and organizer. Migel is an orphan, a realist, working on the front lines.

Caught on the front lines with him, Wren falls in love with Migel and it changes them forever, as love is wont to do. Then she has to choose which one of six people will be given the last of their blood supply. The other five will die. When they have to leave all six of them to die as the conflict arrives the next day at their makeshift hospital, Wren loses her nerve. It is impossible to make any difference. She questions why they are there anyway. Why do these people have to live like this!

Migel lives beyond hopelessness to fully trusting not that he can make the whole situation change, but that he can in one area if only temporarily, one day at a time, one patient at a time, do what he is able as a doctor.

Wren protests the senselessness of helping people who will die just days later in the conflict anyway. He responds: these people are given this life to live. Yes, I can leave, fly out to a city with safety and hot showers and a good bed. They cannot. I cannot change the life they are given, but I can give them what I have to give.

God’s People are Poly-Resilient

Sometimes the race that God puts us into is so profoundly hopeless that we get caught up in the blues, depression, or even life-threatening hopelessness. For we see the circle of life that does not change for the better for so many of God’s own people.

Even then we know that if we put our blues to song, and we sing them out, they become our prayers, and by grace they lose their grip on us.

Song Sung Blue

God’s Race for Us is not Monotonous

The View to the Boat, the Church

Challenges: the race

As we struggle to meet the challenges of each day God’s powerful Word accompanies us, not to make it easy for us, but to buck us up to do the hard work in the race put before us.

Movie The Forgiven

Remembered in so many ways, including in the movie Forgiven, Bishop Desmond Tutu struggled against so many detractors who threatened to sink the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because it would expose the atrocities they had contributed to. Tutu meets these challenges, not easily but with Grace, determination, joy, love, condemnation and hope.

People had killed people. People revenged the killings. People revenged the killings revenging killings. And on it would continue, if kept in secret, forever. But brought out into the open it gave people the opportunity to forgive!

Forgiveness is God’s Music

With forgiveness, which made S.A.’s future as a united country possible, we experience the long lead up to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony’s resolution in the Ode to Joy Chorus, ringing across the stars and back into the depths of our hearts. Here we experience the power of Grace, of Love, of Joy, mixed with struggle, loss, and grief until it comes out in us as Hope.

Beethoven’s 9th lead up to Ode to Joy

God Created the Universe from Chaos, Making Harmonies: from Galaxies to Atoms, from the Circle of Life to Emotions and Beauty.

God Offers us Polyphonic Lives in Harmony with God’s Universe

The Trees and the Light

How to interpret the present time?

How can we possibly interpret the present time? Only when we realize that God is here for us, can we see clearly that just as the south wind brings scorching heat and the north wind brings bleeping freezing Cold, so God brings rainbows of challenges each and every day in the race set before us just so that we can practice meeting everyone with Forgiveness and Grace.

Then we can move from Misery to Happiness, giving God thanks for everything with the music that brings us into harmony with God’s Good Creation. So we sing: “Now Thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices”

Now Thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices!

Amen