Baptism of Our LOrd

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

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

Quick sermon outline for Baptism of Our Lord 13 Jan 2019

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

Jesus will come to judge, and purify.

We need all that.

But Christ comes and graciously gives us life.

Where’s the hellfire and brimstone in that?!

Well…

Given free choice so that we can love

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

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

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

But

When

Jesus

comes

and

judges us!

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

But

it

is

not

going

to

be

feeling good.

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

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

It will not be fun,

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

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

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

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

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

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

There

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

This we look forward to.

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

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

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

but in here, where the natural fuels are burned,

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

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

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

These fuels are burned and burned well, until

in this mind, heart and soul

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

Which it is that, too.

Stepping Out Not Alone

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

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

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

That’s so boring.

It makes one a little green

in the middle

of a lot of other green.

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

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

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

At least one can be kind.

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

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

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

So be at least kind.

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

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

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

Epiphany: True Light, Real Darkness

Today we could sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

Today on Epiphany we celebrate that Christ is made manifest. Isaiah calls to us, “Arise and shine for your light has come!” and later he adds “Rejoice!”

The magi rejoice at finding Jesus, for whom they have waited generations to find. The Gentiles of Ephesus are over joyed, for salvation is not just for Jews; it is for them (and everyone) as well. The listeners to Isaiah are called to be full of joy for the light of God has shone on them.

But does the Light of Christ made manifest bring us light, or just make our darkness more obvious? Because the darkness is still with us, more than 2000 years after Christ. Because, though we are a congregation of faithful Lutherans, our future is not a given. Because, while we could celebrate and be joyful, there are millions on earth whose lives are at risk, even as I preach this sermon. The reality is our choices have put many of those people at risk. More than just a few have died since I started the sermon, and many more will die before I finish.

Rejoice? Really?

Fruitcake is made of things that I do not like, but mixed together I think it’s a great holiday treat. It is so wonderful and rich, especially if you soak it in rum (which I cannot stand on its own either) that it’s too easy to get too much of it.

How can the people in today’s lessons be overjoyed for there are also things in their fruitcake, so to speak, that hardly allow for any celebration. The magi tip off crazy Herod, and though they and Jesus escape, warned to safety by dreams, Herod will slaughter hundreds of children trying to protect his power.

The Ephesians are welcomed at the table to become followers of Christ, but in their day Christians were hunted and killed by the empire and the religious authorities alike.

While Isaiah calls the people to recognize the light shining on them, there are no obvious reasons to be joyful. Returned from exile, life back home is tougher than they could imagine. They are set in conflicts against their own people with little resolution in sight. It takes centuries before Jesus is born, and it takes until May 14th 1948 before the Jews have a homeland. Even so, they have been at war ever since, with neighbours and enemies who wish them all dead.

Forget that the fruitcake has things in it we may not like. The call to rejoice is made in the midst of some very rotten eggs being thrown into the batter, and it is much worse than just a few rotten eggs.

Now I want to be joyful. I’m sure you do, too. With all our heart, soul, and mind we want to be joyful. But I am not going to eat rotten fruitcake and say it tastes good. I don’t want to be full of joy and have to ignore the real darkness all around.

I recently added a safety margin to my existence: wood heat. Fire is powerful. The refurbished freshly painted wood stove provides heat, and how!

With care I test fired the stove with a decidedly small load. I wanted to avoid explosive possibilities as the smoke is routed around inside to ensure it burns as much as possible at over 2000 degrees.

Fully fired the furnace still occasionally cures the paint on the shield, and the room becomes insufferably hot. Fully stoked with vents wide open the furnace could probably melt itself to the ground.

Days after the furnace was in use, in the relative comfort of a condo, I relaxed with a simple candle set on the coffee table. Only a good sense of smell alerted me that someone must have put out the candle.

But no, looking up I saw the newspaper, absently set aside, 1/4 engulfed in flame which in a minute could burn the table to the ground and likely the condo with it. So, grabbing the flaming newspaper in my bare hands I smothered the flames with the newspaper against itself, leaving ashes everywhere. The condo still stands, no fire damage. Just a scare.

Do we see the light, but prepare for the wrong dangers in the wrong places? Do we let evil and sin creep into our lives in relatively safe places and nearly burn us down to the core?

It would be a great relief if, after baptism and each epiphany, we could thereafter always choose the light. But that’s not how life works. We continue to sin. We continue to choose the darkness. Therefore we, with billions of others, continue to suffer and unnecessarily die.

We’ve heard the old stories of horrific abuses out of the past, but they are not gone. Do we choose to be ignorant of today’s injustice, malfeasance, and corruption? Today these public abuses of trust are perhaps worse than ever, since they are so secreted under spin and even blatant lies.

Remember the official and political denial of the destructive power of CO2 emissions. Now we have Climate Change run rampant. Environment Canada warns that the extremes of the past are now the new norms. We will not survive the new extremes without greater resilience than ever before. Perhaps my overly sufficient wood stove may become barely sufficient.

With light pollution all around we may not be able to see the wonders of the stars, the marvels of the wilderness worth preserving, nor the inherent beauty of even our city, our streets, or even our own backyards. How can we celebrate the light of Christ, if we live in such darkness?

It’s dark, real dark, in remote northern SK especially in the winter, especially for First Nations youth. Their suicide rate is more than 4 times greater than for other youth, which is already too high.

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

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

We live wholly by Grace in God’s creation lit up by Christ’s light. God commissions us to carry this same undeserved Grace and light to all others. No matter that we do not live as perfect people the Spirit uses us to be Christ’s voice, Christ’s heart of grace and unconditional love, and Christ’s hands for others.

In photography light is everything, and it is the contrast to the darkness and the play of specular light, light that is diffused and then reflected, that creates beauty.

We are reflections of God’s diffused light. We are specular, spectacular and beautiful. We share Christ’s light. We have the whole power of Christ moving through us, just as a small candle has the same power to consume a home, as can a fully stoked, vents wide open, wood stove.

Amidst every bit of darkness that is real, the reality is that the Holy Spirit is our flame and light, our breath, our hope, and our warmth and passion for life as God created it for All people to enjoy: Life as Christ’s servants is beautifully full of wonder. Therefore even in darkness we can rejoice with all our hearts, minds, and souls. So we sing:

Rise, shine, … Christ the Lord has entered.

He comes to us, by death and sin surrounded,

with grace unbounded.

Amen

The Power of Light

Or at what temperature is the Light of Christ pure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God always surprises us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Also possible

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

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

The Power of Light

Sermon Draft for Epiphany 2019

This is Life in the Darkness

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

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

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

God’s ways unfathomable

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Way

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

God surprises us:

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

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

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

Mystery of Faith

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

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

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

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

What we want

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

Just rulers.

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

Prosperity in Light and Glory.

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

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

God’s Light vs. Our Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Also possible

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

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

Epiphany Sermon Notes

Year C – 06 January 2019

Isaiah 60:1-6

A prophet does not need to tell the people that great things will happen, if and when things are going well for the people. It is when the people are in the deep of it; then the prophet tells them of the great future God has in store for them.

Isaiah tells the people that they will be a shining light in the darkness that will cover the earth, and nations will stream to them to trade with them and to find light in the darkness.

First the images are wonderful, delightful, full of promise and fulfilled hopes:

While the rest of the world will be covered with a deep darkness, the people of Isaiah speaks to have a different future. The light of God will rise to shine on them! The Glory of God will appear over them.

Like the sunrise after a deep dark winter above the arctic circle, God’s light will rise. Now in the days of relative darkness, a day of sun expected this morning, the first in weeks, there is a feel for this relief of light in the darkness. Still this is hardly the darkness, the thick darkness that Isaiah speaks of, that the people easily believe will happen, or even has happened.

Today, the young people I know, expect a deep darkness. They expect things to be worse than they were for their parents and grandparents … much worse.

Into that kind of darkness Isaiah tells the people, God’s light will shine, God’s Glory will cover them.

Now light is wonderful, even after a relatively short absence of the sun. But the Glory of God, that’s out of this world marvellously, miraculously spectacular!

This is the Glory that the people knew would likely leave them dead if they encountered it in person. This is the Glory that left Moses white as a ghost on the mountain, having seen God in person and having received the ten commandments for the people. This is the Glory with which Jesus shone white at his transfiguration as Peter planned to encapsulate it in a memorium, which is simply impossible.

The people Isaiah speaks to will have the greatest blessings, while those around are starved of any light, glory, or blessing.

The people, the nations, will flock to Israel to be in the presence of their light. And through trade with the nations Israel will prosper. The people’s hearts will rejoice and thrill at their prosperity.

Their children, their sons and daughters, will return home. Together they will be a nation revered and honoured with gifts of frankincense and gold.

And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.

From the perspective of the people hearing Isaiah, the hope brought them is as wide, deep, profound, and inspiring as it gets.

Hang on to that.

We know that the rhythm of God’s people will bring them to enjoy the blessings of God, and to eventually forget who gave them such blessings, to ascribe their own right to such prosperity and blessings. They will create out of God’s light and glory their own darkness again.

The greatest delight will never be in prosperity. But from the perspective of abject poverty, foreign and oppressive rule, and being scattered as a people, and as families, a bit of prosperity would be a welcomed and appreciated blessing, one that we would all be grateful for. For a while anyway.

So these are the images, and the place they take in others’ lives. Where do they fit in our lives? Are we poor? Are we grateful? Are we blessed already and ungrateful, assuming we have ‘earned’ our blessings?!

Light: last night arriving home, the stars shone in the darkness. No moon. No clouds. Just pinpoints of light, in dazzling beauty. Does one need great light?

Well to setup the camper and shelter for wood heat, light is needed. To work on a computer, light and power is needed. To hope that this winter will be survived, and well, a little light and a lot of hope is needed.

Environment Canada gives its summary of the weather in 2018 and concludes that because of climate change brought on by us (no more false ‘Bush’ science to hide the truth) the extremes of weather that we were used to have all been met or exceeded in 2018, and even these extremes will be the norm in the future, starting already today!

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/top-ten-weather-stories/2018.html : “Events that were once rare or unusual for our grandparents are now more commonplace, while we all become more vulnerable due to extreme weather. As the Top Ten Weather Stories of 2018 bear out, Canadians must become more resilient—not only for what lies ahead but also for the variations in climate, which are already here.” Catch the whole report while it is still available: it is an eye opener, a frightful look to what the weather has had, and will have in store for us in Canada.

Environment Canada gives its summary of the weather in 2018 and concludes that because of climate change brought on by us (no more false ‘Bush’ science to hide the truth) the extremes of weather that we were used to have all been met or exceeded in 2018, and even these extremes will be the norm in the future, starting already today!

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Any time we can get a ruler, a government collectively, a justice system included, who/which will provide justice and righteousness, for those caught in poverty, for those oppressed, for those desperately needing the basics of life … Anytime God provides us even part of that from our government, it is time to rejoice. So we wait. We rejoice for the little justice, righteousness and goodness that is possible in this time when (like most times in history) those who are protected are not the poor, the needy, the oppressed, but rather the rich, those wasteful with luxuries, and those who oppress others in order to maintain their positions of wealth and power.

In our day as well, the oppressors are able to claim they are the victims, and to motivate hoards of others to continue to make victims of the supposed ‘oppressors’. It’s always been done this way. It’s just a surprise when one discovers that it is so in our day, with the people and institutions one trusted.

The psalmist provides hope for the day when a great ruler will arise, and we are reminded, to be grateful for what we do have, such as it is. And we are warned, that if we are the oppressors, God’s not pleased with us, and our time will come to an end, if not soon enough, to save our victims.

Ephesians 3:1-12

It is a flavour different than Paul himself, yet an interesting, if somewhat disturbing, difference.

Paul is imprisoned, or perhaps was and is no longer to be seen or found. Someone, a follower, writes in Paul’s name. Today it is unacceptable. In Paul’s day it was both acceptable, common enough, and an honour to have someone write in your name … as long as the person did not get it all wrong.

This writer didn’t get it all right, but right enough.

Paul is a prisoner … not because he is a common criminal, but as a result of preaching the Gospel of Jesus the Christ … not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Which was common enough, even if one did not preach about Jesus. Just believing and someone reporting you could get you arrested and killed. It is a wonder that anyone survived; that the church survived, for the effort to eradicate the earth of the Way of Jesus was thorough.

The writer is not focused on Paul’s situation, as if it is old news or long ago history even: Paul is gone like ALL the earlier disciples.

Still Paul’s impact on the early church is not and this writer furthers Paul’s legacy; that the Gentiles can believe and be accepted as fellow followers of Jesus.

The writer describes Paul’s sharing the good news with the Gentiles, including the intended readers of this letter, as a ‘commission of God’s grace’.

A mystery is revealed to Paul in a revelation (on the road to Damascus); the mystery is not about Jesus. It is that the Gentiles can be followers of Christ along with the Jews. Our retrospective perspective informs us that of course the Jews are not even part of the church; they have a separate and exclusive faith, not a Christian faith. Yet without Paul, and others, reaching out to the Gentiles, only Jews would have been acceptable as Christians. We would all be merely a small group of a different kind of Jews. Instead, we are distinct and dependent upon Jewish faith even.

This is grace the writer says, grace to be a servant, grace to be in prison, grace to be a saint, the least of them, but a saint, and a bearer of the Gospel.

This is made known now clearly, what before was hidden.

A mystery of faith moves out of the shadows of the unknowns, into the light as a known piece of faith; namely that God is for all people Jews first and then all Gentiles who believe.

The end of this faith is that together they have access to God; not because they have earned it, but because it is given to them, by faith, a gift of grace.

Matthew 2:1-12


Three wise men come seeking Jesus. In the normal manner (is there any normal about this?) they inquire of the king’s whereabouts in the capital, Jerusalem, where the ruler, King Herod, hears of their inquiries.

Are the men really wise? A king is born, given to them to know by a star. Do they think that this is just going to be a son of the king who rules, and not a usurper? So they just ask in the home town of the siting king for the newly born king. And what they start!

King Herod is frightened. And when a despot king is frightened all the people are frightened with him, not for the same reason, but because of what the king will do because he is frightened. We know now that people who are frightened make poor decisions. We know that one of the qualities of people who handle risk on our behalf, like pilots, surgeons, priests and emergency response people is that they do not panic under pressure, but respond with extraordinary calm and clear thought. The fright they experience in an emergency is contained and not let loose to run havoc in their minds. Instead they evaluate risk, find solutions, and act quickly, decisively and per-emptively to bring the emergency to a good end and to minimize ongoing risks.

Good rulers do the same.

Herod is not a good ruler. And the people know it.

They too are frightened by the crazy, impulsive, power hungry Herod. There are plenty of crazy, impulsive, power hungry people, in the churches, in governments, in the courts, in the streets, in vehicles going down the road. They are everywhere, and one has reason to be rightfully frightened of the chaos they unleash on others.

The wisemen do get Herod to do their work for them. He calls together the experts to find out where the king is to be born. They bring back the right answer: Bethlehem. So off go the wisemen, to find Jesus, no longer in the dark.

Now the help given by Herod helps them not a bit. The start continues to lead them. So why the stop? Proper etiquette? The star leads them right to where Jesus is. Note that it is no longer ‘in a stable’ in a manger. It’s quite some time after Mary and Joseph have returned to Nazareth with Jesus. But no mention of that, so maybe Mary does not so soon make the return trip, for health or reputation or safety reasons.

The wisemen provide Jesus the gifts they have brought. Mary and Joseph are suddenly quite well off. Today it takes about .5 million to raise a child. Mary and Joseph get a headstart on what it took then, plus a bit.

The wisemen are warned off in a dream about returning to Herod, to let him know how to find the baby king and to allow him to ‘pay homage.’ They finally understand that they have brought a crazy king news that is likely going to bring the death of the child, who the star has led them to find.

We know how the story develops. Mary flees to Egypt with Jesus. Thank heavens for the frankincense and gold to pay their way.

But the other children of Israel ….

The people had good reason to be frightened of Herod being frightend.

Image all children in Canada, three and under, being killed to keep a despot government in power! We’d not allow it. We allow plenty already to keep ‘our’ government in power, but that is not usually on the table. Instead, in government, in churches, in courts, in vehicles on our roads, we sacrifice truth … and little by little we teach our children and all people, here you have good reason to be frightened that the truth will be sacrificed, and eventually your children will learn that truth is not safe, instead one must learn to lie and lie well to be able to survive.

Those who tell the truth are relegated to the trash heaps of life. So if you want a bit of security, a bit of warmth in the winter and protection from the rain and bugs in the summer, then you must learn to lie and lie well.

There is good reason to be frightened.

Because Jesus is born, survives the pogram, teaches, is sacrificed, crucified, dies, is buried, and is resurrected, we know that God is with us. We do not need to lie.

We can hope for a day when truth will prevail.

As I write this the wood stove, really a wood furnace, freshly stoked for the day with wood, and left with plenty of air, reaches it’s peak heat. The warmth spreads throughout the living space, and against the cold, the warmth prevails.

So likewise does God’s truth, God’s grace, God’s commission win out over all temptations to lie, to force our wills on others, to busy ourselves with penultimate life-work. God’s goodness prevails in our lives, by grace, by faith. We need only surrender and get out of the way, and sometimes become the hands, feet, voice and heart of Christ.

So likewise do the fires of judgment burn hot, consuming the dross of our being, the evil that we allow to play havoc with our lives and with our neighbours’ lives … and the children’s futures.

But that image of heat and hell and dross burning off is not in the text. It’s just in the smell of newly burned-in paint, from the freshly painted furnace, wafting my way on the waves of warmth, that repel the cold and preserve my life.

Dim December

The sunsets, thankfully not for months or weeks or even days, but for long hours.

The sun disappears about 16:00 to show up again maybe at 9:00 in these long-nighted cold days.

Even when it is up, the sun never climbs high enough to reach tree top.

Most mornings the clouds hold the sun at bay, delivering ice fog and delicate snow on the trees.

In this darkness the light shines in us all, through the cracks, the light gets in (LCohen). The darker, the more obvious the light, more clearly the yearning for light.

We can choose to be light or dark. It is too easy to mimic one’s environment, one’s companions, and be their darkness. But the light is clearly available to anyone who wishes to so choose.

The sun shines every day, it’s just sometimes one has to climb to above 60,000 feet to see it.

I went for a Winter Walk

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

The

Light

was showing itself between the pine and spruce needles.

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

Snow

not

an option

as a water source

without filtering

out the needles.

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

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

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

with light working the clouds to and fro.

Wind, not visible,

still leaves

it’s tracks

as

Does

the

Holy Spirit,

Wind

(Ruach.)

And that is as far as I got, before I

headed back

in

to warmth and work.

More joy

again

later.

2 Advent Sermon Draft

As always I recommend reading the notes first, in the order they were posted for a Sunday.

The Answer is: God created us, Christ freed us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us … all so that we will be saints. On our own though we can do nothing good; we are always slaves to sin. Yet by the Holy Spirit working in us, we can be Christ’s hands, heart and presence in this world. Generally God does not disrupt the order of creation with obvious miracles; instead God uses the order of creation to bring us to be God’s miracles when and where and to whom God chooses.

That answer is to the real life exam question of this time of Advent: What must, can, and will we do? Like all the questions placed before us by the Gospel, God always gives us the answers first, then puts the questions to us. So I thought I best preach it that way, too.

The second answer that is needed even before the first is to the question ‘Who are we?’ We are God’s people, the people of the Covenant that God unilaterally made with us.

The citizens of the medieval-turned-modern city Coventry England can be truly proud of the 12th century Saint Michael’s Cathedral.

14 November 1940, Germany targeted Coventry’s factories, largely producing armaments and munitions, with a massive aerial bombardment. It was a clear and moonlit evening when the first of 400 bombers dropped its load. That night for 11 hours, 500 tons of bombs landed on Coventry. Collateral damage was extensive since the factories were close to the city center: Dead 554 people, Wounded 865, Four fifths of the city burned or destroyed. Of the gothic cathedral only a shell remained.

The next morning people gathered in the smoldering ruins of the Cathedral. Provost Howard, of the Cathedral, said: “It will be rebuilt to the glory of God.”

Jock Forbes, a stonemason, tied together two of the partially burned oak beams from the roof into the form of a cross, turning the smoking ruble into a Calvary. The Reverend A. P. Wale, a local priest, took three of the many medieval nails, which lay among the ruins, and bound them together into the form of another cross. These crosses are two of the most famous in modern Christendom.

They carried the clear message of forgiveness as the people chose not to hate and despise their enemy for the terrible destruction. Hatred and bitterness destroy life. They eat away at one’s soul. Instead the people ensured that their choice to forgive was understood by all.

Two months later Jock Forbes built a stone altar in the Sanctuary. His charred cross stood behind it, and the Cross of Nails sat on the altar. The words “Father Forgive” are inscribed on the wall behind the Altar.

The Allied forces similarly bombed Dresden in Germany. Coventry and Dresden chose each other to become sister cities after the war. (SERMONSHOP, Elizabeth Kugel Pastor, FUMC, reworked TL) They were Covenant people, together.

If ever there is a time for which the question is ‘What can and must we do?’ it is Advent. Of course the pressure to get ready for Christmas gifts, meals, travel, visits, parties, and holidays in general is great. But all that only displaces the real pressures of Advent. The lessons for today call us to prepare the way of the Lord and to behave so that we are pure and blameless on the Day of Christ’s return!

This is the ultimate to-do list. There are many tasks in life that are purely optional, like watching sports or playing cards or knitting sweaters. Yes, I am winking at all us die hard sports fans or card players. I just threw in the knitting, because it may not be optional at all.

Other tasks may seem optional but they really may not be so optional after all; like spending time with family and friends, or knitting.

Yet other tasks top out the important and urgent categories of life, like breathing, eating and exercising, and loving; maybe knitting if you need to stay warm through the winter. And praying, not just when our lives are threatened by the over-bold bus driver’s driving.

How then do we categorize Living as a Christian? Who gets to decide what it is anyway? Is it optional? After all we do get to choose, right! But is it even something we can do?

We are simultaneously saints and sinners. We can do nothing good or righteous on our own; we are always slaves to sin. But by Holy Spirit we can be Christ’s hands, heart, and presence. We can be Christ’s presence because God alone made a covenant with us. Our God is a God who gives the answers to the exams, then gives the exam, though it may not be as easy as it sounds.

When the Gospel cries out to us: Repent! Prepare! It requires a response from us. Then we can do the hard work of changing our hearts, minds and souls, again and again, from sinner behaviour to saint actions.

Being Christ’s hands, heart and presence requires of us everything we are, have, can muster, and more. It requires from us Courage, Kindness, Compassion, Forgiveness, Grace, and more just like Christ. We can only meet the challenges if we allow ourselves to be God’s miracles.

There once was a man who was wicked but he wanted to be good. So he went to a costume maker. The costume maker said, “Here, wear this.” It was a halo costume. The man thought it was foolish but put it on. The man saw a beggar and was about to turn away, but remembered he had a halo on, so he gave the beggar some money. Next he ran into his wife whom he usually abused, but he caught sight of himself in a mirror, and so he treated her well. So the man’s day continued. After he returned the costume that night, as he walked home the man glanced in window and saw that he still reflected a halo.

This may seem like Fake it until you make it. It’s also called Cognitive Counseling. For God it’s the other way around. God makes us saints. Then God calls us to be and do what we already are and can do, We ARE God’s miracles and blessings for others.

What kind of miracles can we be, besides being the people who choose to forgive instead of hate? We can hold a lonely, dying person. We can provide a meal that saves a life. We can provide shelter and homes to those who cannot afford or find or manage a home on their own. We can welcome the strangers, the sinners we find abhorrent, and give them a place to be heard, to worship, to be honoured as real people, sinners though they are, just like us. We can reach out across the city and across the world to share the necessities of life, which we have in abundance, with those who need desperately. We can work to bring governments to provide as we cannot: even in Canada we have not provided clean water to people in many communities, not just for years, but for decades!

We can be like Paul for each other; reaching out with holy words to guide, support and inspire each other to be the saints that God makes us to be.

As I read this list of examples, I know this is not only what we can do, it is what we, collectively, are doing; Because God makes us Covenant people the miracles that God’s people need.

The Real Life Exam Question for today, from the Gospel, is What are we to do this Advent?

The answer is God alone is righteous, gracious and forgiving. We are God’s children, and Covenant People. We are God’s miracles, God’s saints who are Christ’s hands, heart and presence of forgiveness, acceptance, and inspiration for all who need Christ this Advent season.

What are we to do? We do what God makes us to be.

Exam time is over, now comes the real test: Advent, week 2.

 

Comments are welcome at shm at prwebs ddot com

Beginnings

Beginnings

The snow is deep enough to ski.
I could not ski today.
The cold is mild enough to enjoy.
I could not enjoy today.
The sun was just bright enough to shine through the trees.
I could not take time to see the sun.

Its November only, already deep winter and I need to prepare …
And have little to prepare with, but much to prepare for … maybe.

What I did have is lumber scavenged from a garbage dump, solid 2×4’s 10’ and some 2×6 of various lengths.
And pallets that I pulled apart to use the light 4’ pieces as horizontal supports
For a shelter, an anteroom outside the door, for wood heat to be figured into,
For there is coming a wood stove.
A gift to compensate for the lack of money for propane.
A hope.
A back up.
A plan to use wood
For warmth when the propane gives out or the furnace takes leave again.
Or just when.
It’s a new beginning, not much of one, and it has a long road between today and the use of wood for heat.

So I did take time to see the sun rise … well to see the light of day break in.

And I noticed I am hardly alone in making a new beginning.

A seedling makes its fifth winter

I’m just in the end cycle days, instead of the start-up days.
More like the grass that is here one day and gone the next.

May the last days be many,
Filled with awe-filled wonders,
And great light,
The light of the world,
The King’s light,
Spectural light,
That shines
Through
The cracks in us to reveal the healing wonder of the Holy Spirit.

And yours,
May your new beginnings be worth the price
We all pay for choices
Away from
And towards
Somethings
The exact meaning and cost for which we can hardly know when we make the choices.

But choice we have, the basics of love.
Which is no guarantee that the force of evil will not mow us down long before our long fifth winter.

Still God stands by
Us
Engaged in helping us withstand the trials
And assaults on our being,
Consequences of choosing other than love.
But God does not end the assaults or trials, the consequences,
Nor cures the illness that is the cause.
As the seedling, we have the possibilities to grow strong,
And wave at the wind, the blowing of the Spirit.

There are no guarantees, just chocolates, of which we never know what we will get.

Thanks to the Forest.