New Old Parables: The Lion & Her Cubs

WELCOME to this post for worship on Sunday, August 9, 2020, at Digby Baptist Church. Other information is available in the Bulletin for this Sunday, posted on our Bulletins page here.

Children’s Time: Outhouses / Latrines

SERMON

https://vimeo.com/446234975

So many of these Old Testament ‘parables,’ so called, have been about the rulers in Israel and Judah, and how they done wrong! The King of the Trees, the Thistle and the Cedar, The Two Eagles and the Vine, they criticize or warn or foretell the end of rulers of the people, and sometimes, the end of the people as a people! The late Canadian comedy persona, Charlie Farquaharson, summed it up well when he wrote:

A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the people the same thing: YER DOIN’ IT ALL RONG!!

(Don Harron, Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, 1978)

Today, Ezekiel is telling about some leaders who were doin’ it all wrong. The last kings of Judah and Israel, more than five hundred years before Jesus’ day. They are the whelps of the mother lion.

Once again, a prophet of God speaks with creative imagery the people can/may/will understand. Once again, the poor rulers of the people are called out for their failure, and the demise of the nation is foretold. Young lion one gets taken away to Egypt. Young lion two gets hauled off to Babylonia, his voice never to be heard again on the mountains of Israel. Sure enough, the holy people of a holy land will be conquered, taken away from their land for a season, and the end of their kings will come. 

In fact, the next time they get a king, they will mostly reject him, and kill him off. Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, we believe, He is their long-awaited Messiah, Christ, Anointed One. And our Saviour too.

What I chose for us to hear from Jesus today were more harsh words for those in leadership in His own day and age. ‘The blind leading the blind,’ as we know the phrase. His parable here really is about what comes out of the mouth showing the problem in a person, not what they put in. As Jesus speaks with His disciples, he tells them to let the Pharisees be, “they are blind guides of the blind.” 

Whether we compare Christ with the royal leaders of His past, or with the religious experts of His own religion, we look to see how and why Jesus’ way is better. Better than the political and military kings of Israel and Judah. Better than the Jewish Priests and Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees – all so religious and so expert and so holy in their own eyes.

We read of the experience of those who got to know Jesus best. Back in the Bible, and in the centuries after. So many people – millions and millions, actually – can tell how convinced they have been about Jesus. What Jesus accomplished for them was the best thing. Where Jesus leads them is the best way in this life. 

As we speak of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the final and best Messiah, our ‘Prophet, Priest and King,’ our ‘Saviour, Teacher, Lord and Friend,’ we speak using titles for leaders of the past. We speak Biblical names for God. 

One of those titles is Lion, the Lion of Judah. Ezekiel’s tale of the two young lions brings this to mind immediately. Those lions of old were failures, and were captured. The greater Lion of Judah is mentioned in Revelation 5. Jesus, the Lion. 

Take a look with me, for two minutes, at Rev. 5, and what happens in the scenes dreamed here. John visions a scroll sealed with 7 seals, but oh no!, there is no one worthy to open this scroll. John weeps. 

Then, verse 5, one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

So what does John see next in his vision? The Lion! Right? No, wrong. He does not see a Lion. Vs. 6. Then I saw… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes… 

The Lamb took the scroll. The Elders and other creatures bow down in worship, singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation…

Christ Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. The image of Him as the sacrificed Lamb takes over the rest of Revelation. Jesus wins, not by violence, not by battle, but by sacrifice, by dying. And from this comes Life!

A number of hymns, ancient and modern, speak of Christ this biblical way. Such as…

And age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the End
Beginning and the End
The Godhead three in one
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

(Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves © 2004 sixsteps Music)

How great is our God! How great is our Jesus. In Him was life! And that life is the light of us all. (Jn 1:4) Christ outshines all others. 

All the parables, all the stories and visions that point to Jesus, use so many images. A Lion, a Lamb, a Grape Vine, a Farmer, Bread, Flowing Water, Light, a Shepherd, a Door. And many other stories can be told of this One who dispenses with evil and death, for us.

I want to tell a story. I love these stories, stories by a preacher named Michael Lindvall. This is from one chapter of his novel about a preacher, David, and his family, a novel called ‘Leaving North Haven.’ 

In this chapter, Pastor David is out and about on a cold, Easter Sunday morning…

The wet snow crunched under my boots. It was everywhere untrodden, virgin. This preacher, like Mary Magdalene, was the first one up. Light was just cracking the horizon, deep dawn an inch before sunrise. Lifting my coffee cup to my lips, I looked down at the snow in front of me and saw tracks, perfection had been disturbed by light feet, wandering, paying no heed to where the sidewalk might lie under the snow. They led away toward the church, going on before me. Sometime in the night, perhaps just a moment ago, another deer had wandered into town. By the look of the prints, it was a good-sized animal, probably a buck. I was not the first one up on Easter morning after all.

I followed the tracks for a while — they were leading me where I was going anyway— until they turned aside into Bud Jennerson’s driveway. 

As I mused, the buck stepped out in front of me from behind an overgrown yew at the far corner of the next house… I gasped and dropped my half-full coffee mug, which landed quietly on the snow- covered grass next to the sidewalk. For two, maybe three seconds, an eternity to be sure, he stood in my path and looked at me. His brown-black eyes held mine defiantly… I looked between and above the eyes, and there in the hair that covered the hard cartilage at the base of his antlers was a scar. It was an ugly bald crater less than an inch across. No blood now; but it was just where it would be. 

He snorted as he raised his head and turned away, quite casually. Then he didn’t so much as bolt as he leaped three times with early morning grace, turned to me again, and walked delicately so as to say, “I do not fear you.” I stood stock still as I watched him retreat, away from town now, north. I bent over to retrieve the empty Dunkin’ Donuts mug at my feet. Coffee stained the snow around it like old dried blood. 

So when I climbed into the pulpit three hours later, I began not where I had planned, but where I had been led. 

As best as words allowed, I described [the buck’s] defiant eyes, and then I noted the scar at the base of his rack. “It was a ten-point rack,” I said.” I didn’t count this morning. I didn’t need to. I had counted them before.”

[The congregation] knew that the minister went hunting with the Wilcox boys last fall. They also knew that he had lost Jimmy’s Winchester out in woods north of town, the very gun his father had given him for his eighteenth birthday. But just how I came to lose it in the woods they did not know. 

“You know that the Wilcox boys and I went deer hunting last fall,” I went on. “Right here in the county. Just for a day. We went out just before dawn the Saturday after opening day. We had our coffee by the truck. Lamont and I went off to the east over a cornfield toward some low-lying sumac and popple next to a stand of maples just beyond the old Goerke farm. ”

As I told the tale I did not mention that, though I had never before hunted game bigger than snipe, I was in fact a rather good shot. Thirty-some years ago my father, grasping for some father and son activity I would deign to share with him, had hit upon skeet shooting. My father said I was a natural. 

I continued: “Well, Larry drove a big buck out of the wood. Lamont and I were still crossing the corn stubble. The deer pushed his way through the underbrush to the edge of the sumac and stood there, not fifty yards from us. Lamont said to me, ‘David, he’s yours.’ I aimed between the eyes, a clear shot and a clean kill. He bowed to me ever so slightly as I pulled the trigger. He dropped right there. Lamont and I ran across the corn stubble. He lifted the animal’s head by the rack and counted the points on his antlers. ‘Ten-point Pastor. Not bad, not bad at all. And lookie here, almost hit him between the eyes. Just a little high. must be a natural!’ Larry arrived a moment later, with his camera, of course… Larry said a photo was a must and that there was only one way to do it. He told me to kneel down and hold up the buck’s head by his rack. Then he told Lamont to lay my rifle, actually Jimmy Wilcox’s 94 Winchester 30-30, horizontally across the antlers. 

I knelt beside the animal, warm and still. His head was heavier than I had imagined. It was awkward to lift and hold still. Lamont laid the rifle across the rack and moved back beside his brother who was focusing and deciding whether or not to use the flash. He held up his hand, took a step back, and said, ‘Hold it right there.’ The flash went off… and with a start, the buck shook his antlers free of my hands. He struggled powerfully to his feet as I fell back on my rear. He snorted and jerked his head back. Then he turned and leapt three times toward the tangle of sumac. But before he went back into the woods beyond, he turned and looked at me. His dark, glass-like eyes held nothing so much as defiance. His antlers held nothing but Jimmy’s Winchester 30-30. He went into the woods carrying the very instrument of his death high and proud.”

It was defiance that I preached, for Easter is just that. This one bold creature of God had mocked death once and mocked me twice. Resurrection, I preached, is the forever mocking of the last enemy. Until this morning, I had always imagined the Risen Christ with compassion in his eyes; now I imagine raw defiance.

(Michael Lindvall, Leaving North Haven: The further Adventures of a Small-Town Pastor, 2002, pp. 120-129)

In 609 BCE, King Jehoash of Judah could not defy Egypt: he was taken captive. In 586 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah could not defy Babylon: he was taken captive, and the Jewish nation finally fell. 

In 2020 CE, Bolsonaro, Kovind, Trump and others cannot defy a virus. Where the pandemic story ends is yet to be written, from our viewpoint.

But back about 30 CE (30 AD), Jesus of Nazareth defied evil and defied death. He looked them right in the face. He came through it all, and did what He did to bring us through it all too. 

He is the Lion and the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12)

New Old Parables: The Love Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard

Welcome to this post of parts of our August 2nd worship service. Video will be included on Sunday afternoon, after the 11 am service in our church building. Welcome! This is our first Sunday with masks mandated, though, thankfully, those speaking can remove them to offer their ministry.

SERMON Perhaps you could say it was ‘bait and switch’ when young Isaiah declared he would share a love song, but used the ballad to speak a severe warning from Almighty God to the people of power. ‘The Love Song of the Fruitless Vineyard.’ Let’s hear it. Isaiah 5:1-10

Too many stories can be told of people given a certain responsibility, yet then they abuse their power. The national and provincial news is filled with this. 

Isaiah’s early message to the people is this song of his dear friend’s vineyard. His beloved friend is God. In the ballad, the well-tended grape vines surprisingly produce a nasty crop – sour, wild grapes. 

As I look at a social media page about gardening, I see people all the time asking “what is this plant?” One person says: “Found some old seed in a drawer  planted it  anybody have any idea what this is    thanks”. It looks to me like ragweed! Another wrote:

Anyone know what these giant plants are amongst my beans? A friend gave me the seeds so not 100% sure other vegetables might have been mixed in. She is very knowlesge I have a feeling the seeds and possible flower that appears to be forming on top is a sign of a weed.  The plant looks like pigweed to me!

So in the fruitless vineyard. The only grapes were inedible. What we are calling the Parable of the Fruitless Vineyard speaks to the failures of the people of God in every age. The best response to such a word, such a warning, is to rise up in forgiveness and make right the wrongs.

Let me tell you a story from our history. It may not sound like ‘our’ story, but it is. The story of Huatajata, a rural place in Bolivia, South America.

When I am at my little cottage, I think of Bolivia, because of a painting on the wall. The painting of a sunset – or is it a sunrise? No matter. It was painted by Rev. Earl C. Merrick, who served as a missionary in Bolivia. He showed amazing leadership in Bolivia, in the farmland of Huatajata, in the 1930s.

Canadian Baptist work in Bolivia goes back more than 120 years, now. In the north west, on the shores of the grand lake Titicaca, some visionary people of faith invested their lives in a mission there, among peasant farmers. I’ve been there; visited ten years ago. 

Just over a hundred years ago, a thousand acre farm was bought, and named Peniel Hall: Peniel meaning ‘the face of God,’ from Genesis 32. On this land, about fifty heads of households and 275 serfs lived and worked. The Baptists believed in helping the people be educated, and be introduced to the protestant Christian faith. 

After some ups and downs in the work there, by 1920 the full administration of the farm came under Canadian Baptist leadership. The first administrator there, and one of the teachers, was a Miss Lavinia Wilson, who was from where? Digby, NS!

Other Canadian Baptists went to serve there, and to lead that work, high in the thin air of the Andes Altiplano. Modernization of the farm and education of children developed. Preaching in other communities was extended. It was in 1935 that Earl Merrick was sent to Huatajata, to be administrator. Arturo Nacho writes, in his brief history:

This illustrious missionary perceived ethical problems in the project because, on one hand, the missionaries were preaching about the love of God, and on the other hand, the tenants continued as slaves. In the Annual Reports of the Mission, 1929-1930, this situation was referred to as “a conspiracy against the gospel.”

…Merrick proposed a five-year plan for the liberation of the serfs. 

  • wage pay to the laborers, and no free labor
  • construction of decent housing
  • planting of eucalyptus trees
  • adherence to behavioural morals

The project began in 1937, and the day came when the laborers received their property title-deeds. One after another, they walked by in line to receive the property documents, and they heard the significant words, “I declare you the legitimate owner of this property.” It was the year 1942…

One old gentleman, Martin Chura, said through his tears, “Thirty years ago, when I was crossing the top of the mountain, I begged God for liberty. Today, God has answered by prayer.”

This work had universal consequences. It was the first agrarian reform in Bolivia, which the Bolivian government subsequently took as a model for the 1953 Decree of Agrarian Reform in Bolivia.

(Atruro Nacho L., ‘Agrarian Reform in Huatajata, in Bridging Culture and Hemispheres, William H. Brackney, Ed., 1997, pp. 61-62)

Appreciation and accolades for Earl Merrick, and this Baptist work, came from around the world. This is our story. A story of the reversal of the rich ones who ‘join house to house and field to field,’ as Isaiah put it. And it is the story of growing Faith in people. The vineyard of Bolivia has borne fruit for Christ.

When you read the rest of Isaiah chapter 5, you discover it is not just the greedy land grabbers who are warned. There are six woes upon those who have done wrong: the land-grabbers, the heavy drinkers, the God-mocking sinners, those who’ve lost their moral discretion, those wise in their own eyes, and the drinkers again (wine-drinking heroes, they’re called). 

As it was, almost three thousand years ago, so it is today. God expects justice from those walking with God; God expects right-living, not bloodshed and loud cries for justice!

This takes us to Jesus, and his words from Matthew 21 today. Another parable. Another vineyard. More bloodshed! Another warning. And another hope for those who will receive the Kingdom. 

To modern Christians, Jesus’ story of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants clearly seems to foreshadow His own rejection and violent death. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 

As if that would allow them to get the property! And yet, when Jesus dies his own death, and comes back to life, it is those whose sin He bears that do inherit the Kingdom! Think of all the evangelical Christian music that points out how Christ is crucified by all of us, and yet the heavenly inheritance is for us. Amazing, gracious, powerful, humbling, loving, incomprehensible! One modern worship song says:

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

(Stuart Townend, 1995)

And there are many songs that speak of how “I drove the nails” when Jesus was executed. This personal expression of piety is a form of confession, I’d say. Confession that the harm and hurt inside us is what separates us from God, and is what led to Jesus’ death, and also is what is healed and cleared away by His sacrifice. 

We heard the classic rock song, “Spirit in the Sky,” composed by a secular Jew, using basic Christian teaching. For fifty years one line has caught the attention of church folk, and upset them. 

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky

(Norman Greenbaum)

Whether Norman Greenbaum knows it or not, I think he did catch the spirit of 2 Corinthians 5. For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2C5:21) I think the key to making the claim of the song is ‘I got a friend in Jesus.’ It all depends upon the Saviour. 

We hear the common teaching that what Christ does for us cleanses us, makes us to be counted as ‘not guilty,’ and sets us free from the power of sin. We become ‘right with God,’ and as if we are not sinners and had never sinned. Jesus’ righteousness gets put upon us. 

I think the tension remains. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) To sing ‘Never been a sinner; I never sinned,’ is saying something about Jesus more than about me. I rely upon God for forgiveness and freedom of spirit. It is saying something about my status now, thanks to Jesus, not about my past. 

For, as Isaiah and Jesus both preached, my story and yours is filled with the problems we heard about today. Greed. Treating other people like lesser beings. Moral failures. Paying no attention to God. Being overly confident in our own smidgen of wisdom. 

We fail, but with Jesus Christ we are not counted as failures. We are successes! And the success is shown when we bear the good fruit of the Kindom. The Bible’s story of God tells us, over and over, God will accomplish the mission – with or without us! Others will be found to join in, if we do not.

 You may remember, in other pages of the Bible, Jesus speaking of being the great vine, and we are the branches. It is we, the little branches, who bear the beautiful fruit. It is not wild, sour grapes that we bear, when we are grafted into Christ. 

And, turning our lives over, we, little twigs, get grafted in, and are part of the beautiful vineyard, for eternity. Praise God! This is worth celebrating. This is worth sharing. This is why we worship, in pew and at home. This is why we remember Jesus with bits of bread and sips of grape juice. Amen!

PRAYERS Let us   pray.

At the table of the Saviour – Christ crucified and risen – we lift our hearts in prayer. As the wheat covered the hills, and was gathered to become one bread for us today, so let Your church be gathered, no matter how separated we are for safety’s sake. As the grapes came to harvest and make one drink for us all, so let goodness flow from all your people, in the name of Jesus.

Let there be goodness for our own fellowship, especially those we are asked to pray for today… (in the bulletin)

Let there be goodness for those who do research to combat COVID-19. Do healing work through them, O God.

Let there be goodness for those who are oppressed or disrespected, abused or alone. Strengthen them, and those who support them.

Let there be goodness for people seeking guidance right now, or wisdom in the face of decisions. Come, Holy Spirit.

Let there be goodness for our province and our nation in a time of crisis, when leadership is hard and imperfect, and people working and struggling to do well are worn out.

And let there be goodness in the day-to-day things we do, the words we share, the attention we give to other people. Through the masks, may our eyes and our voices tell the story, the story of Your love and Your way, and Your purpose.

‘God of grace, you invite the despised,
you touch the unclean,
you lift the head
of those who are brought low:
give us that hope against all hope
for a world transformed
by your healing touch;
through Jesus Christ,
the mercy of God. Amen.’
(Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church)

New Old Parables: The Fish in a Net, the Birds in a Snare, & the Poor Wise Man – July 26

Welcome to this sermon blog. For more details from the worship service for this day, and various announcements, check out the bulletin, posted here on the Bulletin page.

SCRIPTURE Matthew 13:31-35, 44-52 – read by Maggie Beveridge

SERMON: ‘The Fish in a Net, the Birds in a Snare, the Poor Wise Man.’ Today, we have read five more of Jesus’ parables from Matthew 13. As we work through the sermon, and have a bit of dialogue, you will get to choose a couple parables to delve into; but first, let’s hear three wise sayings from the Preacher of the book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes 9:12-17

Let us pray…

Qoheleth’s Story of a Poor, Wise Man.

The author of the book we call Ecclesiastes takes the pen name Qoheleth, in Hebrew, which we translate Preacher or Teacher. As book of wisdom, the few, oft quoted bits are surrounded by a lot of rather pessimistic spiritual philosophy. At least, it can come across that way. The little story of the Poor Wise Man is one example from this holy book, filled with irony, futility, and what seems quite negative.

A poor man is wise, wise enough to save his tiny town from the enemy forces besieging it. But no one pays any attention to the poor man. 

At first glance, in most English translations of this text, it seems a story about wisdom not getting the credit. The town is saved, but because the man is poor, he and his wisdom are forgotten. Yet, some of the Hebrew here is, apparently, not so simple. It can be seen to say that the man knew how to save the town, but he was ignored. So the town did not get saved from the enemy after all.

It’s a parable, of sorts, and they often are not crystal clear, on purpose, as we see with Jesus. They challenge. They get one pondering, for a long time. This story can do the same, whether we like the happy or not so happy ending for the town. In either case, the wise fellow is forgotten. It is a warning, a warning about being wise. Using godly wisdom does not guarantee a bed of roses, nor any honour for oneself.

Perhaps the late Eugene Peterson was quite right when he wrote that Ecclesiastes 

…is most emphatically and necessarily in the Bible in order to call a halt to our various and futile attempts to make something of our lives, so that we can give our full attention to God — who God is and what he does to make something of us. Ecclesiastes actually doesn’t say that much about God; the author leaves that to the other sixty-five books of the Bible. His task is to expose our total incapacity to find the meaning and completion of our lives on our own. (The Message, 2003, p.1157)

It is God who gives us the meaning and the completion of our lives. 

Now, there are a couple other images we read today from Ecclesiastes, but let us turn first to another wise Teacher, and some would say poor, not rich: Jesus.

Jesus’ teaching methods included an element of surprise and of reversal: taking common wisdom and turning it around. Two millenia later, and in a very different culture, we can miss the shocking bits of His tales. Especially if we have gotten to know the stories of Jesus from childhood. 

Take the story of ‘The Good Samaritan.’ The ancient term, ‘Samaritan,’ has come to mean a ‘good person,’ right? But when Jesus told his story of the man of Samaria who helped a Jew, the Samaritans were disliked, avoided, and thought of as heretics. 

But that’s not one of today’s stories. We have five, from Matthew 13, this chapter of parables. Which one do you want to explore first?
The Mustard Seed; The Yeast in the Dough;
The Treasure in the Field; The Pearl of Great Price;
The Fishing Net?

Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean? How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What’s strange about this that we might not see? Mustard is a rather weedy plant, and not thought of highly.  There were rules for the Hebrews about not mixing crops as you planted, and how to keep a plant, such as mustard, from becoming a problem. 

Also, the mustard plant sure is not a Cedar of Lebanon. God’s empire is not a dominating cedar of lebanon; it arises as a common, even weedy, garden herb. It is something found in your own backyard.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Rule of God is like a tiny root of Goutweed that arrives in your flowerbed, hidden in a Hosta plant, given to you by a friend. Soon the Goutweed leaves cover the whole ground, and shade the earth from the heat of summer.

Jesus’ Parable of the Yeast in the Dough.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What’s strange about this that we might not see? Yeast is not considered clean or holy in Judaism. Remember the Exodus and the Passover? One was to get rid of all leavened bread. 

Also, the woman hides the yeast in the flour. This is an interesting word choice.

Also, the amount of flour is huge: about fifty pounds! But the same amount was used by other bakers in the Bible: Sarah, when Abraham received the three holy visitors (Gen 18:6); Gideon, when preparing for an angel of God (Jud 6:19); and Hannah, when making an offering for the temple presentation of her son, Samuel (1 Sam 1:24).

Also, we have here a female image of God.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Eternal Kind of Life is like a virus that is smaller than any living thing. It sneaks into a human, and spreads like wildfire throughout the population, until the whole world builds up immunity.

Jesus’ Parable of the Treasure in the Field.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What is strange about this that we might (or might not) see? 

We can ask: is it right or even legal to do what the treasure-finder did? After the days of Jesus, the Jews developed rules about found treasure. It was not an uncommon situation. From the Talmud, Only after one has the land for seven years and if the owner cannot be found can the new owner claim the treasure. (B. B. Scott, Lost Junk, Found Treasure, TBT 26 (1988), pp. 31-34)

Is the finder having just jubilation, or greedy glee?

Jesus’ story highlights the total response of the finder to the discovery of God’s reign. Life with God is worth letting go of everything else. Remember Jesus saying lose your life in order to gain it?

How could you re-tell this story today?

God’s Heaven on Earth is like the computer hacker who chanced upon the most beautiful photograph in the whole world, archived online. She sold everything to buy the rights to that website.

Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

Like the ‘Treasure in the Field,’ this parable tells of the complete value in the eyes of the finder, who found a great pearl, and does everything to get it. In this case, the one who finds was a seeker of pearls, not just one who happened to find a great one. God’s Kingdom is like this story, and the other: some who seek God in this world, and some do not seek, find God.

What is strange about this that we might not see? 

We might forget how merchants in the scriptures are often seen negatively. They can represent greed and unfairness. Also, the wearing of pearls and such finery is often frowned upon. Such as when Paul writes to Timothy, warning that the women should adorn themselves with good conduct, not with gold, pearls and expensive clothes. (1 Tim 2:9)

Yet, even a rich person can earnestly seek God, and find, and be welcomed into the Realm of God’s Rule.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Kindom of Creator is like the investor in search of the best stocks on the market. When he found the low-priced stocks of the most amazing new business, he sold all he had and bought the whole company.

Jesus’ Parable of the Fishing Net.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean? How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What is strange about this that we might not see? 

There is nothing too topsy-turvy or shocking in this parable, unlike in many others Jesus speaks. The word Matthew uses for ‘bad’, of the bad fish, often refers to things that are ‘rotten.’ So playing with the words in our minds we might wonder at some of the freshly caught fish being rotten.

This little tale seems much like Jesus’ parable of the weeds and the wheat. In the End, what’s bad will be separated from the good. 

How could you re-tell this story today?

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like harvesters who entered the orchard and picked apples of every kind. When the bins were full, they took them to the barn, sorted them out, put the good into shipping barrels, but threw out the bad apples. So it will be at the end.

Let us also look at Quoheleth’s Images of the Fish in a Net and the Birds in a Snare.  ‘Time and chance happen to us all,’ is the lesson here. As it says, No one can predict misfortune.
Like fish caught in a cruel net or birds in a trap,
So men and women are caught
By accidents evil and sudden.
(MSG)

Here is a theme that is woven throughout the wisdom of Solomon, who called himself Qoheleth, in Ecclesiastes. Today we might just say: random things happen. There is no explaining the meaning. 

I have been a committed disciple of Jesus for about four decades. Nevertheless, I tend to side with the ‘wise’ Preacher of Ecclesiastes. You just can’t explain why everything happens to us. Some things just happen without ‘meaning’ attached. There is no ‘why did that happen.’ It just happened. 

Yet we are meaning makers, we humans. And the God we grow to know speaks of the meaning and purpose of all things. 

I have been a lover also of nature, and science, natural history and geological history. Nevertheless, as much as I like ‘cause and effect,’ I believe much will remain mysterious for us. We can’t know it all. As the Preacher, Qoheleth, said, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (1:2) And, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. (9:11)

This ‘wisdom’ stands alongside the wisdom of Jesus, such as we see in His parables and other lessons. There is naturally a creative tension between Ecclesiastes and Matthew 13, for instance. Jesus speaks of great purpose and the subtle rule of God, which sneaks in and is unstoppable. 

The fish in the net and the birds in the snare: how might Jesus re-tell us this story today?

No one can anticipate the time of redemption. The Realm of God is like a whale caught in a cruel net, or a seabird caught in an oil spill: suddenly, there is freedom from the ropes as they are cut, and there is washing clean from evil by Jesus Christ! So truth and grace happen to them all.

PRAYERS Let us pray: World In Prayer

New Old Parables: The Two Eagles & the Vine – July 19

Welcome to this sermon blog. For more details from the worship service for this day, check out the bulletin, posted here on the Bulletin page.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – read by Margo Nesbitt

To study the allegory of ‘The Two Eagles & the Vine,’ one should read all of Ezekiel 17. (I’m not sure how I put Isaiah 25 in the bulletin – that’s an error!) We are going to work through our chapter in stages. To start, the reading of the first ten verses. Ezekiel 17:1-10

Let us pray.  May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN. (Psalm 19:14)

SERMON: The Two Eagles & the Vine. I have a bit of a green thumb. I can’t grow a vine from a cedar, but I can take the sprig from an Eastern White Cedar, root it, and grow a new cedar tree. 

About ten years ago I saw the stump of a cedar, formerly a tall, narrow, columnar tree. It had been cut down, in the prime of life. I saw plenty of vigorous new shoots coming up. I snipped off some cuttings. I dipped them in rooting hormone. I potted them in soil. To my joy, some of them took! I brought them with me and planted some here at the Parsonage. A couple are still in pots, looking for a home. Check out my photos…

Rooted cutting of Eastern White Cedar hybrid
Young Cedar at the Parsonage
Mature Cedar in the neighbourhood

Biblical imagery uses a few main categories. I’d say three of them are: the image of a great City, scenes of people eating together, and pictures from agriculture or nature. It is no wonder, then, that we meet again this week some growing plants. So it is an agricultural sermon, more so than last Sunday. 

The Allegory of the two eagles and the vine fills up Ezekiel chapter 17. Did you remember this story? Maybe it has been a while since you read this chapter. Perhaps you had forgotten it. 

Once upon a time, a great eagle plucked the top off a cedar of Lebanon, and planted it in a far-off land, bustling with business. Then the eagle planted a seed in the original land grew into a sprawling vine. It ended up growing towards a second great eagle that came along. The vine got transplanted into a fertile, well-watered land. “Will it prosper?”

Maybe you have not seen a Cedar of Lebanon. I have not. But Sharon White has, when she was in Lebanon, thirteen months ago.  

From of old, in the Middle East, the Cedar has been known as a grand tree, a symbol of Lebanon. Ezekiel, at his moment in history, spoke a parable, of sorts, about the kings and kingdoms of his world. He speaks, on God’s behalf, a message to and about the people at the top. 

The first Great Eagle is king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the empire to the north that was taking over Judah. The Topmost Shoot of the cedar tree is the King of Judah, who got taken captive, with many other people, up into Babylonia. Now, the king of Babylon made an agreement and set up Zedekiah as ruler over Judah, under himself. Zedechiah is the Seed from the land the Eagle plants the fertile soil back in Judah. 

But Zedechiah of Judah decided to rebel against his Babylonian overlord, and make an alliance with Egypt, instead. The Pharaoh of Egypt is the second Great Eagle. Zedekiah, the vine, starts growing towards the Pharaoh, in hopes of a better deal. 

But this will fail. It breaks the agreement with his boss, the king of Babylon. And it is not what God has in store for the Chosen People who are now going into exile in Babylon, though some Jews do end up in Egypt, including the prophet Jeremiah. 

Such is Ezekiel’s warning, in the allegory of the vine and the two eagles: the ruler of Judah and the rulers of their neighbours to the north and south. Zedekiah can’t save himself or his people. So the end of the Jewish glory days in the Holy Land has come, and the end of their monarchy too.

Whether you know all this biblical history, or followed me though all that, the story here illustrates the creative power of the prophet Ezekiel and God. After the allegory, Ezekiel proceeds to preach a warning about the vine, Zedekiah. “Will it prosper?” The answer is ‘no.’ Check out verses 9 through 21. 

But then – and this is what is most interesting to me – God extends the allegory, in verses 22, 23 & 24. The LORD promises to come along as the Eagle, and make something new happen. Let’s read it.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Here is a messianic hope. The promise of a new Anointed One, or Messiah, or (in Greek) a Christ. One day, there will be a king of the Jews again.

The prophetic image of a shoot growing up is used for the Messiah by a number of Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah. Remember the Jesse Tree we sometimes decorate in Advent? It pictures the shoot coming up from the family of Jesse, and his son, King David. The shoot we see growing up is Jesus of Nazareth.

The Lord God … will take a sprig… I will set it out. …I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.

Christ Jesus is the Noble Cedar. Ezekiel did not know what His name would be, but he proclaimed the promised hope that there would be an Anointed One one day in the future. Jesus arrived hundreds of years later.

Speaking of Jesse trees, and the incarnation of Jesus celebrated at Christmas (and yes, we will hear an Advent/Christmas Carol at the end of the service), notice Ezekiel’s poetry at the end of chapter 17. What does God do?

I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

God is the God of reversals. Others had sung this same song, through the ages. Such as Jesus’ own mother-to-be, Mary. Pregnant in Luke chapter 2, she sang of God, in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

This is the work of the greatest Anointed One, to use that Hebrew term. God’s care for the needy is highlighted. God’s warning for those not-so-needy is proclaimed! In all this one thing gets reinforced: God is in charge. When Zedekiah thinks he will solve Judah’s oppression his way, he is told he can’t do it. He is told, from God, ‘I myself will take this… I myself will plant that… I will accomplish it.’

In world events today, some wonder about ‘the hand of God.’ I have heard of one NS preacher I know who is speaking of the coronavirus as part of God’s judgment. I hear others frame things up in terms of opportunity – a chance to distill down to what is really important in life and faith now. 

In our personal lives today, some wonder about the point God is making in this unprecedented year. Many plans are being troubled. Plans for families to gather are shut down. Plans for medical help and healing are stalled. Plans for work and education are disrupted. Day-to-day life is altered, and many people are confused, or angry, or depressed by it all. How will we be helped by the Hearer of Prayer?

Help. Answers. It is not always clear what the right answer could be. Is something that happens a blessing, or a curse? We sometimes guess wrongly.

Here’s an old story to ponder, one I’ve told before.

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried, “such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The path of life takes many twists and turns. The good and the evil are mixed in together. Look at the life of our Jesus through the eyes of that wise farmer of Ecclesiastes…

Dear Mary is pregnant. 🙂
Oh! But she is not married yet. 🙁
An angel assures Mary and Joseph to wed and raise the child. 🙂
When the baby is due, they have to leave town. 🙁
A place for them is provided, just when there seemed to be nothing. 🙂
Then the local ruler decrees all baby boys be killed! 🙁
The holy family flees and finds safety in Egypt. 🙂
As an adult, Jesus teaches and heals and gathers disciples. 🙂
The powers that be decide to get rid of Him. 🙁
Several times, Jesus easily escapes his enemies. 🙂
One of His own disciples turns Him in. 🙁
When on trial, one local authority declares Jesus not guilty three times. 🙂
Jesus gets sent to a terrible execution anyway. 🙁
A couple days later, He is seen, alive again! 🙂
A few weeks later, Jesus leaves, for good. 🙁
But He promises the Spirit of God to his disciples, Who does arrive. 🙂 And Jesus promises to return.
Almost two thousands years later, has He returned? 😮

In the moment, any day, any week, any year of our lives can be a disaster. But what comes next? More is possible with God than we ever ask or imagine.

So, we also heard a story today from our Anointed One. Jesus’ parable of the weeds in the wheat. Again, a little later, there is an explanation. Some basic lessons  appear to be that: One, our attempts to pull up the weeds among us are premature. Two, our attempts to pull up the weeds among us will disturb the wheat and wreck the crop. Three, the task of judging belongs to Christ, not to us.

Most of us have dealt with weeds in our crops, or our flowers, or just in our lawn. But just take a look at this. I’m no farmer, but those who are are planting things in ways I never expected. 

Here is a field of barley, across the dirt road from our cottage. Is it full of weeds? At first glance I’d think so. But no. What was also sown with the barley? Peas. I saw them in bloom earlier; now the pods are forming. A mixed crop. Later, those fields will be combined: feed for the pigs at Longspell Farm. 

This was not a practice in Palestine of old. Crops were sown as pure monocultures. Anything else coming up in the field was a weed. In the case of wheat, darnel, also called tares, is a bothersome weed. The plants are very similar in appearance to wheat, but the darnel is actually toxic to eat.

Jesus’ story is memorable, and may be quite familiar to you. The farmer plants seed. An enemy sows weeds in the same field: tares or darnel. There is a lesson just in these facts. Notice that it is not God who makes all things happen, the good and the bad. There is an Enemy held responsible. Not as it sometimes had been thought in OT days, when the saints of old spoke often of God sending evil upon people.

Jesus, especially, clarifies the character of God. God is good and right, never causing wrong or tempting us to do wrong. And, as Ezekiel knew, in the days of Zedekiah of Judah, God takes the lead to guide & save people.

So we look for ‘the hand of God’ in the challenging events of our lives, and those we love. We look for the Spirit blowing through world events today. Shall we continue to put our trust in God as our Saviour? There are big players playing their parts. A great Eagle named Trump, and another named Trudeau. Or a Vine called Dr. Tam and a Vine called Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. 

I wonder what sort of cutting God will take, and plant, and grow, and make flourish among us? What will Jesus do, today?

PRAYERS Let us   pray. O Christ, Noble Tree planted in history, planted deep in our lives: we confess. We confess we have not learned all our lessons from history. We confess we have not learned all our lessons from scripture. We confess we have not learned all our life lessons. We listen for wisdom today in every direction: guided us, Master. Show us godly wisdom. Make our minds teachable and our hearts malleable. Grow in us, and grow us up all the more, in these days when our community and our world, Lord, need Christians of maturity and confidence. 

O Spirit, giver of John’s vision of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations: we pray for healing, as always. For healing among the nations who are in conflict, the cultures who tell lies about one another, the peoples who live in fear of one another. It is so hard to have peace in a world of fear and crisis, God. You must act; and You must help us do our part. 

We pray for healing in our own lives too. Healing in times of grief: we think again of the family of Marj Wilson. Healing in times of uncertain health: bless folks like Dwight and Terry and Peter and Jack and…

We seek healing help in the lives of those confined to hospital, such as Donna and George; and those isolated in the place they call home. You sustain, Comforter, You guide, You encourage, we pray.

O Father, who grafts us into the Vine of Jesus: we pray for people who seem far from being one with You, knowing You, finding grace and salvation. We seek good things for the many people we know who had a taste of Your presence, once, but have rejected, or forgotten, or simply neglected to look to You. And we ask You to inspire those for whom their religion is mostly a comforting and nostalgic bunch of routines. 

O Holy One, perhaps our prayer has been very routine and ordinary. We are ordinary people. We are humbled & grateful, that You love and You choose ordinary people. Thank-You. Amen.

New Old Parables: ‘The Plowman’ – July 12

For the full worship service plan, please read the bulletin for today on the Bulletin page. Video of the Sermon, and other parts of service, will be included on this page after the morning service of worship.

SERMON: Today, as some of us gather again, after sixteen weeks away, we continue New Old Parables. We share the parables of the Sower and the Seed, and of the Plowman, as well as stories called ‘A Sense of Vocation, and ‘The Oyster Man.’ Let us pray…

“I love it when a plan comes together,” said ‘Hannibal’ Smith, on The A-Team TV show. Today, we are putting together a new plan, a whole new kind of plan, for worshipping together. It’s our first try, and we will learn from this experience. Perhaps you count this, already, as a success? The plan comes together.

I see, in the Bible parables of this day, stories of failure and success. Life is filled with both. The past four days for me, I have been viewing some key life moments, and reflecting on the successes of life, life’s meaning and purpose. On Thursday, a wedding. On Saturday, a funeral. Today, the dedication of a baby. If only I had a baptism, I’d have all the big moments!

And these moments, from cradle to grave, touch me with the timeframe of life. This year is teaching us again the need to be patient, the need to be learning new things, the need to change our ways and be transformed. The need to ‘let go and let God.’

The Old Testament ‘parable’ I chose for today is called ‘The Plowman,’ from Isaiah 28. It is, I think, a story about: time, the right time, taking enough time, God’s timing.

It is an agricultural scene. Isaiah preaches it in the form of a series of rhetorical questions, mostly. 

Does the plowman keep plowing forever? 

Doesn’t the farmer plant each crop in the proper method needed for each?

And, to put it in more familiar terms… Pumpkins aren’t harvested all winter, eh? Oats aren’t left in the fields for the horses to eat, right? & surely apple trees aren’t pruned & pruned until there’s nothing left?

The long and sometimes harsh times of farming are not too long. Crops take time, but they take just the right time. So too with the consequences of the actions of the peoples. There will come a day, by God’s grace and plan, when the suffering and the struggles will be over. The punishing of their poor leaders will finish up. It will be harvest time. It will be joyful again. There will be a new beginning.

Isaiah chapter 28 is dealing with the failures of the leaders in Israel, long ago. Disaster befell them, and they deserved it. But the trouble will not last forever. The record of these days long ago, in the pages of the Bible, remains for us, reminding us, teaching us. There are lessons to be learned from human failure. There is hope gained from the action of God. Building beauty out of trouble is the way our Master works.

This year, on earth, is a big year for learning lessons, among the human race. To borrow from the field of education, God has a real ‘teachable moment’ with us all, right now. It is a big opportunity.

Our own sense of purpose, as Chistians these days, is being tested, really put to the test. Perhaps I have been saying more than once that we have a mission in our area. I just have not said exactly what that mission looks like! It could look like developing our prayer ministry more: doing some training, and praying in small groups, and offering prayer for more people in our neighbourhoods. Writing a book of prayers garnered no interest among you – what does?

It could look like more sharing about our faith online during this time. We could start an internet channel for interviews and chats in which many of us could share our faith experiences. (Or a podcast – audio only, in other words.)

It could look like more practical help to people in need – through foodbank or grocery delivery or phone check-ins with isolated people.

I could look like another ministry… What better time than the present to start a new creative thing, with Christ, to “reach out to those in the church and community conveying the message of Jesus Christ through preaching and teaching with hearts of compassion and loving hands in service.” We, Digby Baptist, have a vocation, a ‘mission from God.’

An old friend is a preacher and a writer. In His 1994 book of stories, Art White tells this anecdote that he titles, ‘A Sense of Vocation.’ He says: 

I was visiting a friend in Hospital, one lawn of which was a shambles due to the gouging of heavy equipment and pallets piled high with building materials.

Amid this scene of diesel-driven gadgetry, worked a lone figure with a pick-and-shovel, waist-deep in a cramped trench which ran beside the dusty walkway from the parking area.

“There’s something you don’t see much any more,” commented the fellow behind whom I was walking, “a hand-dug ditch.”

He called out, “What are you doing there?”

Pretty obvious, I thought. Perhaps the labourer did too, but he didn’t say it. His answer was mature and memorable. 

“We’re expanding the hospital.”

(Art White, From Away, Here to Stay, 1994, p. 53)

That man with the pick and shovel had a sense of purpose, a purpose he shared with others, when he said, ‘We are… expanding the hospital.’

It is a real success to know your purpose. I looked at Mark and Janet on Thursday, and thought about the purpose of them being together. I looked at the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc and wondered out loud about the purpose of this woman whom I’d never met. We looked at little Eliana Taylor Grace this morning, held and surrounded by her family, and pondered her purpose here on earth. It may all seem mysterious, and wonderful, and frightening, and grand, all at the same time. Thanks be to God, the failures and successes of life get balanced out in the best direction possible. This is the story of our Faith.

So, we do have this famous story from Jesus today. Of the sower who sowed some seed. Like some of His other parables, it can seem simple on the surface, but can get deeper and challenging. 

Today, it looks to me like another story of failures and successes. It looks like three failures, to begin with. Some seed hits the path, and becomes bird food. Some seed springs up in shallow soil and is doomed. Some seed is out-competed by weeds. Three strikes, you’re out: get yourself a better farmer!

But no, there are other seeds; they get into the good ground; and the harvest, well, from some of those plants it is incredible! 

There will be failure. There will be loss. There will be trouble. Yet there is also success! Life! A rich harvest! This is God’s Kingdom, God’s Rule, God’s Empire. What does life-with-God look like in this pandemic time? Has our private, devotional life improved? Has our practical help to people increased, or decreased? Have we started deeper conversations with people we used to share only smalltalk before?

When your life is an example to others who see you, who know you: some days they glimpse God and a good example; some days they see your failings and miss out on some grace. When you have a chat of some importance with someone, you may be clear and honest and shine for Christ; or you may be selfish and hide the Good News that helped you. When you cooperate with others on some little project, you may do more than humanly possible, thanks to God; or you may end up not making the most of your opportunity together. Give thanks, whatever happens, for God in Christ has a will to forgive and a way of repairing the trouble we cause.

At times, we need to embrace our weaknesses, and failures, in order to be all that we can be. It is then that we rely upon God more, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, when we are imperfect, we are more likely to tap in to the Supreme Source of Good and Truth and Grace. 

Years ago, one of my Deacons in Windsor drew my attention to a little story. She liked it very much, and gave me a copy of it. It is called

The Oyster Man, from The Daily Bread, by Cindy Hess Kasper, April 9, 2008

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.”

He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.”

Afterward, 12 men received Christ. Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”

Our best may not always measure up to the standards of others. But God takes our inadequacies and humble efforts and uses them for His glory.

The writer of this story, Cindy Kasper, is right, I think. Our humble efforts are worth something. Even our errors can be transformed, and good things can grow. Much of the seed we sow will end up on the path, the rocks, and among the weeds. But just the bit that we do for the good can end up growing more than expected. 

Is this not the way of God, described over and over in scripture? As a preacher, an educated, ordained preacher, I yet feel the challenge of communicating truth and reality, from our sacred text. Many times a year I think I am far more like the lay preacher who spoke of an ‘oyster man,’ than the brilliant evangelist of long ago, John Wesley. I have many moments of feeling that my work is not accomplishing much that is truly worthwhile. 

For years, I have held to the hope that God does more than I ask or imagine. And the few seeds I scatter that land on good soil will grow to produce a harvest greater than I expect, and more than I will see.

A Church reopens, during a pandemic. A couple in their 50s gets married. A woman dies at age 60. A family brings an infant daughter to Church, believing she can be blessed in this life. In every life, the seeds of God’s Rule are sown. Will they grow?

Failure, or success? Both can take us closer to the Divine, and both are steps along the eternal journey. Thanks be to God!

PRAYERS Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace: we are called together for prayer, and we answer You today. From pews, and from our places at home, we gather before You. 

We seek good for this world of trouble. The virus of the pandemic is but one of so many illnesses and troubles that threaten life every day, and disrupt the hopes of so many. Healer of body and soul, reach into lives, reach into the systems for healing and help, and do more than we can, for the sake of millions.

Our prayers are also local. Eternal One, we pray for Marj Wilson, in palliative care in hospital, and her family, and all who face the end of life in these days. Bless those who mourn, such as Cairine and family, and the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc. 

O Mind of Christ, we pray for all who are troubled, depressed, or distressed in this stressful year. When things are too much to bear, may there be relief and a gift of inner strength. 

Dear Spirit of power, descend upon the bodies of all who are ill, all who are undergoing treatments or therapies or surgeries, and all who face chronic, unending illness. 

And, with mercy, hear all our prayers now, spoken aloud or offered in silence…   

Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

Worship at Home – July 5, 2020 – New Old Parables: ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’

Welcome to this online resource for worshipping ‘together’ while apart.

Our date for opening our building for Sunday services is July 12th (twelfth). Guidelines and procedures for our first day back together are listed at the end of this worship blog post.

WORSHIP Welcome Psalm 145:10-12, 14
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

HYMN 5 Come, Thou Almighty King

PRAYER Sovereign God, named as King by many peoples and in many languages throughout history: we use this language again, worshipping You. Master, we give thanks for Your control and compassion. Lord, we give thanks for Your rule and realism. God, we give thanks for Your creative powers and plans. We pray, and our hearts are humbled, for we know how we break rules, and we get broken. Freshen our freedom in Christ, so we may live abundantly and well, healed and whole, and be a blessing to the world around us. AMEN.

SONG 606 Rejoice in the Lord Always

CHILDREN’s Time – Sharon White

SCRIPTURE Matthew 11:16-19, 23-30

Solo: ‘Footprints’ – Joyce Marshall

SCRIPTURE 2 Kings 14:8-11

SERMON ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’ – Jeff White

The nineteenth century Christian philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, was a storyteller. Here is one of his many parables, which gets at this: what happens to those who try to warn the present age?

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just [part of the act] and applauded. He repeated his warning; they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the [witty people,] who believe that it is a joke. (“A” in Either/Or, p. 30)

Many memorable stories are warnings. Many a scripture verse is a warning. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” my Dad always says. But how many of us are wise enough to take the lesson from the first, or only, warning?

How do warnings work? I have wondered this as I pondered quite a few parables and stories over the past few weeks. Especially, I wonder about the clever use of parables, parables that not everyone will get. Jesus’ method was not to be straightforward and clear; His were the methods of the Hebrew wise teachers: Rabbis telling creative tales, redirecting the conversation, and answering a question with another question.

So it is with Jewish storytelling. We heard another ancient example today, from 2 Kings 14. This was the days of the divided monarchy among the Hebrews. Two kingdoms, two kings: one in the north, Israel, one in the south, Judah. In today’s reading, one king wants to fight the other. 

Amaziah, king of the southern kingdom, has been victorious over the Edomites, farther to the South. Now, he sets his eyes upon his kinfolk to the north, Israel. ‘Let’s face off!’ is his message to Jehoash, the other king. 

Jehoash thinks, rightly, that Amaziah is getting too big for his britches, and had better quit while he is ahead. He says this with the parable we just read, of the thistle and the cedar. It is a warning.

“One day a thistle in Lebanon sent word to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ But then a wild animal of Lebanon passed by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it. 

Just because you’ve defeated Edom in battle, you now think you’re a big shot. Go ahead and be proud, but stay home. Why press your luck? Why bring defeat on yourself and Judah?” (2 K 14:9-10, The Message, Eugene Peterson, 2003)

Amaziah did not heed this warning. He insisted on battling Israel. And he lost. 

This is a common human problem, isn’t it? We won’t take no for an answer. We push the boundaries, and insist on learning from our mistakes, not from the guidance we are given. We make ourselves big and important whenever we get the chance. Some people have few and small chances. Others have lots of opportunity to be pushy and powerful. 

Let me read you a story. Not a very old story – about one hundred years old – and even then, it was intentionally written in an old-fashioned style, as if you were reading Shakespeare or the Kings James Bible. A story by the Rev. Wm. E. Barton, called:

The Millionaire and the Scrublady

There is a certain Millionaire, who hath his Offices on the Second Floor of the First National Bank Building. And when he goeth up to his Offices he rideth in the Elevator, but when he goeth down, then he walketh.

And he is an Haughty Man, who once was poor, and hath risen in the World, and he is a Self-made Man who worshipeth his maker.

And he payeth his Rent regularly on the first day of the month, and he considereth not that there are Human Beings who run the Elevators, and who Clean the Windows, hanging at a great height above the Sidewalk, and who shovel Coal into the furnaces under the Boilers. Neither doth he at Christmas time remember any of them with a Tip or a Turkey.

And there is in that Building a Poor Woman who Scrubbeth the Stairs and the Halls. And he hath walked past her often but hath never seen her until Recently. For his head was high in the air, and he was thinking of More Millions.

Now it came to pass on a day that he left his Office, and started to walk down the Stairs. 

And the Scrublady was half way down; for she had begun at the top, and was giving the stairs their First Onceover. And upon the topmost Stair, in a wet and soapy spot, there was a Large Cake of Yellow Soap. And the Millionaire stepped upon it. 

Now the foot which he set upon the Soap flew eastward toward the Sunrise, and the other foot started on an expedition of its own toward the going down of the Sun. And the Millionaire sat down upon the Topmost Step, but he did not remain there. As it had been his Intention to Descend, so he Descended, but not in the manner of his Original Design. For he descended faster, and he struck each step with a sound as it had been of a Drum.

And the Scrublady stood aside courteously, and let him go. And he stayed not on the order of his going. 

And at the bottom he arose, and considered whether he should rush into the Office of the Building and demand that the Scrublady be fired; but he considered that if he should tell the reason there would be great Mirth among the occupants of the Building. And so he held his peace.

But since that day he taketh notice of the Scrublady, and passeth her with Circumspection.

For there is no man so high or mighty that he can afford to ignore any of his fellow human beings. For a very Humble Scrublady and a very common bar of Yellow Soap can take the mind of a Great Man off his Business Troubles with surprising rapidity.

Wherefore, consider these things, and count not thyself too high above even the humblest of the children of God.

Lest haply thou come down from thy place of pride and walk off with thy bruises aching a little more by reason of thy suspicion that the Scrublady is Smiling into her Suds, and facing the day’s work the more cheerfully by reason of the fun thou hast afforded her.

For these are solemn days, and he that bringeth a smile to the face of a Scrublady hath not lived in vain.

(William E. Barton, Safed And Keturah, The Third Series of the Parables of Safed the Sage, 1921)

To be humbled is an important thing. Warnings about it abound. The humbling itself is a lesson, as well as being a warning, and to be humbled sometimes is itself a transformation.

What’s the moral of the story? The story of the millionaire and the scrublady? Barton mentions a couple things, at the end. It is best just to say, “Let that be a lesson to you,” and leave it at that. 

We can see that when Christ spoke, He often told His stories and then left them hanging in mid-air, for the people to ponder. He did not explain, did not give ‘the moral of the story.’ His close associates, the disciples, sometimes ask for explanation, and He gives one. Sometimes the Gospelers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) make a comment about a parable’s meaning, as they narrate the story. But that was not Jesus’ method. 

Jesus speaks to the humble in society, who can receive His message. They will ‘get it.’ Those at the top – economically, religiously – will not. So He says. 

In Matthew 14 today we hear Jesus’ remarkable little prayer, thanking His Father for revealing things to the humble children of earth, and hiding the meaning from the so-called wise and smart ones. This is what it pleased God to do. 

Just a bit earlier, Jesus was declaring woes over some communities that had not responded to Him, and declaring how fickle and faithless many people were, then. We read:

 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

‘The children in the marketplace’ is a very parable-like word-picture from Jesus. I think of our grandson, Dryden. When we are over here, from time to time, playing hockey in the Hall, he likes to come in here & play. He has us take turns on stage, singing a song. Or, at times, he has led a church service, with one person, me, in the pews. A seven-year-old can be quite bossy! Then we play hide-and-seek.

Jesus likens the people of his generation to children playing in the streets, who complain that others won’t pretend to make happy music, or cry a funeral dirge, when told to. No matter what He did, or what his cousin John did, people complained, they rejected them, they did not understand, did not respond.

The good news about all that Jesus says here, in Matthew 14, is multifaceted. 

  • It is wonderful that Jesus does reveal Himself and His Father, God, to people! 
  • And Jesus shows what is real to the humblest and neediest of people. 
  • He says it is up to Himself and His Father who they reveal themselves to: so it is not up to you and me. There is good news in that. 
  • Yet, like the clown in the burning theatre, we still have moments when we are to warn, even those who may not listen.

And from the scene of King Amaziah of Judah and King Jehoash of Israel come reminders, warnings for us, all these centuries later.

  • Overconfidence and troublemaking lead to a fall. ‘Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,’ scripture says (Proverbs 16:18).
  • There can be a choice: to stop now and not go overboard, not take that next misstep. 

To warn someone can take skill and good timing. And patience. To heed a warning, to understand and choose better, because we have been told, this takes humility of spirit, and a touch of grace from God. 

Thanks be, that God’s work includes comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable! AMEN.

OFFERING If you have a set of offering envelopes, you see ‘MISSIONS’ on each envelope. This is for the work of our denomination, the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Our budget for this year is about 2.35 million dollars. This funds our staff and departments for the variety of work we do together, in the name of Jesus. Our usual summer gathering (and annual meeting), Oasis, is cancelled this year. A special meeting has been called for us, the CBAC, on Wednesday, December 9, at 6:30 pm. This will be ‘electronic’ and in person; more information here.

PRAYERS O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the story blast,
and our eternal home!

We come to the centre of this year, a year of trouble for many, a year that breeds fear in too many ways, a year that slows down so many things we had hoped for and counted on: we wait upon You. Have we learned from the many warnings of six months? The good warnings and the false warnings? Teach us, touch us, tell us, transform us, O LORD.

Master of all peoples, as we celebrated our a nation last week, and our American neighbours did also, we call for blessings of every sort for our peoples. We give thanks for the privileges we enjoy; we pray for those not so privileged. We cry out for places hit hard by COVID-19 – may the human responses be over-arched by Your goodness, guidance and care.

We pour out our prayers for those ill at home or in hospital or places of special care. For those troubled or anxious in spirit, for whom the past six months has been extra stressful. For those trapped in addiction or in harmful relationships or in desperate circumstances. For those who are in need, and see no way of getting any aid. From out of our praying, may we provide, as best we can, working hand-in-hand with You. We put our hand in Yours, to help out in our corner of the world.

And across the globe our prayers look, not only to the millions facing this latest virus, but to all who face the many troubles that continue alongside COVID-19. The terrible hunger and need that goes on: we cry out against it. The ongoing racism and tribalism of each nation and culture: we cry out because of them. The terrible oppression and injustice of governments and powers in many forms: we cry out against them.
May we see others as You see them, and see ourselves in new ways too: in Christ. AMEN.

HYMN 542 Near to the Heart of God

BENEDICTION 1 Thessalonians 5: 14, 15, 28 …Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. AMEN.

Guidelines and Procedures for worshipping together again in our building: Our tentative re-open date is July 12, 2020.

Appropriate physical distancing of 6 feet (2m) is to be practiced by all as we enter, stay in and leave the Church building. Family units and bubble units should travel and sit together at church.

A few things to keep in mind:

– There will be a limit of fifty (50) people in the sanctuary at one time.

– Entrants to the Church must enter through the main doors on Mount Street.

– Everyone must use hand sanitizer upon entering, which will be provided at the door.

– Masks are optional.

– Greeters will take note of everyone’s name and contact information.

– Offerings can be placed in the receptacle as you enter.

– Bulletins are available to be picked up at the back of the sanctuary.

– Every third (3rd) pew will be used to maintain physical distancing.

– Please talk to one another from your place in the pews; do not linger in the entryways, halls or aisles.

– There will not be Sunday School at this time. Kits will be provided for use in the pews.

– Washrooms will remain closed. They are available for emergency use only, to be used at your own risk.

Please do not attend if you are showing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. These may include new or worsening: fever, cough, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, hoarse voice, diarrhea, unusual fatigue, loss of sense of smell or taste, lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause. (Diagnosed chronic conditions are exempt). Also, if you have travelled outside of Atlantic Canada in the last 14 days or been in contact with a suspected case, we ask that you stay home.

For those not yet comfortable returning to the church building most of the service will still be available online. It will be posted Sunday afternoon.

Worship at Home, Sunday, June 28 – UBC Digby 182nd Anniversary

Welcome to this plan for worship at home. Today, we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our Baptist congregation, which was in the fall of 1838, according to some records. We have a guest preacher today, the Rev. Borden Scott, Pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Lower Sackville, NS. He shares a sermon and scripture by video recording, audio recording, and a manuscript. Borden has been Pastor there for about a decade, and today has some helpful insights about this present time in the churches. We welcome him to our ‘virtual pulpit’ today!

The Pastor, Deacons, and Trustees are in conversation about our re-opening plans, and will be sharing in July the when and the how of our getting together again, at 2 Mount Street.

WORSHIP WELCOME (Matthew 16:15-18)

Jesus once said to the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Let this same statement be the rock upon which our church is still built: Jesus is Messiah, Son of the living God!

HYMN 745 ‘Jesus Shall Reign’ – Cairine Robertson at the Organ

PRAYER Creator of all, we bow with awe in the midst of this world we enjoy. Giver of life, we rejoice in the new life in Christ we find. Spirit of truth, we worship with thanks for all You teach us and all the ways you lead us. Judge of all justice, we lift up our hearts to You, we bow our spirits before You. Hearer of prayer, to You we have come, and come seeking to bless our world. Still, Small Voice, speak, Lord, for Your servants are listening.

And we pray in the way we know, from You, Jesus: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name… AMEN.

CHILDREN’s Time How Old Are We? – Pastor Jeff White

Anniversary SCRIPTURE Sharing

SERMON: ‘Witnesses‘ – Acts 1:1-8 – Rev. Borden Scott

Or LISTEN to the audio file:

OFFERING It is a long tradition for churches to take up a special offering for themselves on special occasions, including Christmas, Easter, Church Anniversary, and Thanksgiving. Today we offer special thanks and worship to God for the creation of our congregation 182 years ago, and for our calling to do good in our neighbourhood still today. May the monetary offerings we give be worship of Christ as much as anything else in the service today.

PRAYERS Lord Jesus Christ, true and only Head of the Church, at one time we found our mission for ourselves. We claimed, before You, that we are to reach out to those in the church and community conveying Your message. As You make clear the Good News to us, make us also into clear communicators. We pray that we may share the story of salvation. We pray that we may understand our family, friends and neighbours, so we may ‘speak their language,’ know their needs, and grow in love and care for them. You hear our prayers for the ill and injured, the depressed and distraught, the lost and lonely. You receive our rejoicing with those who celebrate, who take steps in the right direction, who have been surprised with a gracious blessing in life. This week, we bless Tjark, who is returning to Germany after these months with us here; we ask for help and guidance in the lives of all who travel or move or cross borders. Turn our prayers also to those we do not yet know, those we do know but avoid, and those we fear or dislike or belittle. Bless them, also, in Your name.

Holy One, our mission statement reminds us to do our ministry through preaching and teaching, with hearts of compassion and loving hands in service. Show us again how our preaching happens in day-to-day small talk, how it happens in letters and phone calls and social media. Sometimes, Lord, we don’t think we know how. But You do. We see those who suffer, around us. We give our hands to You again, that we may serve them.

All-seeing God, we’ve had a vision, to build our church based on the teachings of Christ and on the ideals of giving, living, and serving. We confess that we have heard before that You, Jesus, build Your Church. We confess that at times we, Digby Baptist Church, have been more interested in getting than in giving. We have been more interested in resting and looking back with nostalgia, than in living life abundant and free today. We have fallen into the temptation of serving ourselves, but not many others. Renew our present vision, we pray. We know that this is a dangerous prayer, for it changes us, for the sake of those You love.

We have come this far by faith, Christ. We have learned from our mistakes, Almighty. We have studied and we have stayed with the fellowship, Holy Spirit. Take all this as material for our mission, our work in our part of the world now. May You be amazing now, in Digby. May You be gracious, to Digby, we pray. AMEN.

HYMN ‘This Is Amazing Grace

BENEDICTION (Romans 15:5-6) May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Worship at Home: June 21 – ‘The Trees Elect a King’

WELCOME to this plan for Sunday worship that we can share. Our reunion together in Digby on Sunday mornings is still a ways off in the future. In small groups we may begin to gather. For now, our corporate worship of God is still this shared plan that we use on our own, in our homes. May you find this a helpful guide.

Pastor Jeff will be away during this week for the final days of his vacation, for the July 2019 – June 2020 period.

Pastor Borden Scott and daughter

Sunday, June 28 we celebrate our Church’s 182nd Anniversary! Our guest preacher will be Rev. Borden Scott of Faith Baptist Church, Lower Sackville, NS. In the June 28th service, you can share a scripture. Ahead of time, send an email or text or message to Pastor Jeff. Even send a video our audio recording of you reading the Bible verse you choose. Remember the old-fashioned tradition of answering Roll Call with scripture? This is our technological version, a contemporary way to stand up and be counted for our Master.

WORSHIP Welcome John 13:31, 34. Just before he was arrested, Jesus declared: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Let us glorify God. Let us love one another.

HYMN ‘Good, Good Father’ (You may know this song, or remember Joyce M. singing it one Sunday earlier this year.)

PRAYER God, You are good, so good. The quiet praise we offer is mild and small in comparison with You, whom we worship now. May our spirits be uplifted and You be glorified in the moments we spend looking to You alone. ‘As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear Him.’ (Ps 103:13) We give thanks for the love and care that comes to us from You. Open our minds to receive Your word to us today, and to grow in confidence and trust. AMEN.

Dick Parry recently shared ‘the Father’s Love Letter’ with Pastor Jeff, and we discovered this poem, which started out as a simple sermon illustration, had grown into a whole ministry. (Father’s Love Letter) This video is the ‘Love Letter.’

CHILDREN’s Time God is Love

SCRIPTURE Matthew 10:28-39 – Joyce Marshall

SONG ‘Blessed Jesus Hold My Hand’ – Men’s Choir (May, 2019)

SCRIPTURE & SERMON Judges 9:7-15 ‘The Trees Elect a King’ – Jeff White

Welcome to a summer of storytelling. Today’s new/old parable is a fable told by Jotham in the days of the Judges in Israel. In the days before they had kings… though, as you will see, many wanted a ruler, and some wanted to be the king. The violence and struggle of kings and kingdoms is underway in today’s tale. Hold onto your seat!

 The story of the trees electing a king is spoken by Jotham. He is a son of the late Gideon, a famed judge. You may know the stories of Gideon. You may know the modern Bible organization called ‘The Gideons.’ Here is a story his son, Jotham, told… (JUDGES 9:7-15)

The olive tree, provider not only of olives to eat, but more importantly, oil, refuses the offer to be king. The fig tree also refuses, choosing to stay with providing sweet figs. Thirdly, the grape vine says ‘no,’ and remains to produce grapes and wine for all. Lastly, a thornbush, agrees – he has nothing better to do. Well, the bramble says yes, if, if they are electing him in good faith. If not, let fire be kindled in his thorns and burn them all!

This allegory was easily understood, that day Jotham shouted from a mountaintop to the people. His father, Gideon (also called Jerubbaal) had been acclaimed as ruler by the people, but Gideon refused to rule over them. (Judges 8:22-23) His father, Gideon, had been father of seventy other sons, by his many wives, and one son by his concubine in Shechem, a son named Abimelech. Jotham’s seventy brothers had just been killed by Abimelech. “On one stone,” we are told, they got slaughtered, when Abimelech wanted no rivals for ruling his mother’s kinfolk in Shechem. So Abimelech gets his seventy half-brothers killed. Except for Jotham, who escaped. 

And escaped to call out Abimelech’s unworthiness by telling this fable of the king of the trees. It was not in good faith that Abimelech became the ruler. And, just as his brother, Jotham, declared, his rule would be short-lived. The lords of the Shechemite people turn on Abimelech, and then he gets killed while besieging a city, hit by a millstone a woman drops on him from a tower. 

The struggle to rule so often yields violence, and disasters. There is a temptation, among Christians, to declare that ‘this is Old Testament,’ and we have come a long way since then, thanks to Jesus. He, and His New Testament are better, kinder, more loving.

Did you read from Matthew 10 along with Joyce today? Words of Jesus Himself. Is it a mixed message? Christ speaks those beloved words about us being more important than little sparrows. ‘God sees the little sparrow fall…’ we have sung, since childhood, ‘I know He loves me too.’ And even the hairs on our head are counted (all those long, uncut hairs). Jesus also, at this same moment, speaks of fearing the destruction of our bodies and souls in Gehenna, translated as hell. He claims He came to bring not peace but a sword, and to set people in families against one another! And He even speaks of the need to love Him most and not love father and mother more. What a message for Father’s Day!

This is actually typical of Jesus. He used shock tactics in his rhetoric, though often the surprises in His talks are lost on us, today. When we hear His parables this summer, we will notice how Christ takes traditional wisdom, over and over, and turns it upside down, to make His points. Theologian Derek Flood has written, 

The primary way Jesus taught was by dramatic provocation. He speaks in ironic riddles that tell us to do seemingly absurd things like dying in order to live, and loving people we hate. Jesus is constantly pulling the rug out from under us–saying things that are intended to shock, to throw us off balance. (Flood, Disarming Scripture, 2014, p. 179)

And when we put the teaching – and life story – of Christ in perspective, we start to see the amazing path forward, away from the violence of the past. I tell you that, yes, Jesus and the New Testament are greater in peace and lesser in violence than the Old Testament and old covenant. You may remember me speaking before of the study I have been doing about violence in scripture and church history. I tend to side with Flood and others who are seeking to speak this clearly today, in an age still filled with violence. Others like Brian McLaren, who says, for the world to migrate away from violence, our God must migrate away from violence. (McLaren, the Great Spiritual Migration, 2016, p. 94)

Has your understanding of God and God’s story – the Bible – migrated away from violence?

Let me read you a story. A good, long story. From a modern storybook co-authored by a couple of progressive Christians. It will take almost a quarter of an hour, so let’s begin…

(I am not the copyright holder of The Seventh Story I am not posting the text here. You will need to purchase the book, or listen to me read it.)

There is more to that story; I shortened it a bit in my reading. It calls us to question our knowledge of Jesus, our Prince of Peace, our King of Love. And challenges our scripture study, when we hear Jesus speak of bringing a sword, not peace, and of hating father and mother.

But, look at what else He is saying here in Matthew 10, and remember His attention-getting method of teaching: He startles with a purpose. 

Jesus talks of fearing the one who can destroy soul and body. ‘The Devil!’ we might think. Nope. Even the Evil One gets consigned to destruction… by Almighty God. God can destroy us permanently. And what is the very next thing Jesus says about this God, His Father? “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father… So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mtt 10:29, 31)

Do not be afraid. You are so valuable to God. This is Jesus’ message in the face of a fearsome Deity. 

And then Jesus is realistic. Realistic about what following Him will be like. It is like walking to your execution (carrying your cross), and this will mean even those near and dear to you will not understand, not agree with your path. Your path of faith. 

Jesus’ teaching here is preparation for trouble, the troubles that come when one follows closely. We have a Master who prepares and trains us. A Saviour who leads the way through violence and even death, in a serene and supreme way. 

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, But There’s something about that name! (Gloria & William J. Gaither, 1970)

The name of Jesus as Lord. So, now, let us rework those words of the bramble who would be king.

If in good faith we are taking Jesus as king over us, then let us come and take refuge in His shade. But if not, then let the fire of His Spirit come and burn away all that gets in the way of knowing Him. AMEN.

OFFERING Designated offerings from us all, and our Eleanor Timpany Missionary Society, support the work of Darrell & Laura Lee Bustin, in Rwanda (Africa). They work closely with the Association of Baptist Churches of Rwanda. Darrell’s primary focus is in pastoral training and church leadership development. Laura Lee is responsible for overseeing the administrative details for the short-term mission (SENT) teams that come to Rwanda. We also support Laura Lee and Darrell with our prayers and attention to their ministry. The Bustins are right now in Canada, for a period of ‘home assignment.’ Read more here.

PRAYERS God of good and perfect gifts, we give You thanks for your servants, Darrell and Laura Lee, who have been serving in Rwanda. As they are blessed, back home in Canada right now, may those who continue their work back in Africa be blessed. We dedicate all the offerings we give, of money and prayer, in the name of Jesus. 

We rejoice also in the gifts of summertime. While we have peace and ease, here, we remember, Creator, those in the world whose crops are failing, whose economies are collapsing, and whose health is ruined. May our own farmers, health care workers, merchants, police and first responders be strengthened for their work, day by day. 

Saviour, who unites the slave and the free, all the nations, and all creation: we rejoice in freedom this weekend. But prejudice and injustice still go on. We give thanks for the first people’s of this land, millennia ago. But understanding and respect are still lacking among us who are white. Let there be listening ears for the stories told by those who have been oppressed, stereotyped, or racially profiled. Open our ears to listen.

God of love, who casts out all fear, take us, and those who are fearful and anxious, to a new place of calm, of grace, of truth. Show us ways to live in an epidemic, ways that strengthen and build up one another, in body and in soul. Make our hopeful longings for gathering together again fit with You will for us, what is best for all. Guide us.

And guide those who are especially isolated in this time. Those who already were ill, or weak, or weary, or alone. Guide them into the lives of others, who may bless them. 

Hearer of Prayer, You have heard through these months of isolation our concerns for those who, by staying at home, face more danger, rather than more safety. Those who suffer domestic abuse and violence, those who feel trapped and unsafe, those whose mental health suffers greatly in these days, we cry out for them. “How long, O Lord?” Let there be help; let there be mercy.

And so may we all, like Abraham and Sarah of old, still be the blessing people, with a holy blessing to share with the whole world. Good News is for all, for every one; we rejoice! This is Your grace! This is Your power! This is Your love! In Christ, AMEN.

HYMN # 663 Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus’

Big choir, big instruments, big congregation, big hymn!

BENEDICTION John 14:27
Jesus said to His disciples:
“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”

AMEN.

Worship at Home, June 14 – ‘Why Parables? Why Stories?’

Welcome to ‘worship at home,’ a way for us to share the same service together while we are distanced. Welcome to the fellowship! Follow along with the parts of the service below. Other information is available in the Bulletin (see link above) and the Anniversary Newsletter.

Our Anniversary Newsletter is available to you now; check on the link above for Newsletters. We will celebrate our 182nd Anniversary on June 28th with guest preacher, Rev. Borden Scott, Pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Lower Sackville, NS.

Pastor Jeff will be taking four days of vacation Monday-Thursday, June 22-25.

WORSHIP Welcome Let’s use the worship scene in Isaiah 6 to provide the framework for our service today. Jeff will say more about this in the sermon.

Worship can begin with praise and adoration of God. It can be very spontaneous, initiated by God. Isaiah 6:1-4

I had a vision of the Lord. He was on his throne high above, and his robe filled the temple. Flaming creatures with six wings each were flying over him. They covered their faces with two of their wings and their bodies with two more. They used the other two wings for flying, as they shouted,

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord All-Powerful!
The earth is filled with your glory.”

As they shouted, the doorposts of the temple shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

HYMN Holy Is the Lord

Worship continues when we realize who we are, in the presence of the Holy One: Isaiah 6:5 Then I cried out, “I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord All-Powerful.”

PRAYER Tell us the ‘old, old’ story today, God. Tell us again. Like a child, listening to her father, we like the same story over and over from You. Tell us, we pray, about Isaiah and his vision of amazing worship! We feel so alone and unable to get together on a Sunday morning. Tell us, we pray, the story of Jesus, explaining why He is a storyteller. His parables we know, yet we still forget, and we still do not always ‘get it.’ Tell us, we pray, the story of our own lives, from Your viewpoint. You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until the find rest in You. AMEN.

Worship celebrates the forgiveness that is found when we open up about our problems: Isaiah 6:6-7 One of the flaming creatures flew over to me with a burning coal that it had taken from the altar with a pair of metal tongs. It touched my lips with the hot coal and said, “This has touched your lips. Your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer guilty.”

SONG Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah! Praise Ye the Lord!

CHILDREN’s Time God is Holy

Worship is also a matter of discipleship, an opportunity to learn something: Isaiah 6:8a After this, I heard the Lord ask, “Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?”

SCRIPTURE Matthew 13:10-17, 34-35 – Myra Edwards

SERMON Why Parables? Why Stories? – Jeff White

For years, Isaiah 6 was a favourite chapter of mine. About the time I got to adulthood, worship services became very important for me and my discipleship to Jesus. I’d moved away from home and explored new services in churches and chapels that were not what I’d grown up with, and I soaked it all up like a sponge. A lot of it was formal and fancy. All my experiences were still rather Baptist, but diverse and different from my ‘home church.’ Isaiah 6 was a key scripture, at the heart of things, for me.

A couple ministers who deeply influenced me, then, referred me to a book by one of their old friends, “Come, Let Us Worship.” Written by a Baptist Minister, Jud Levy, it used the flow of Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 to build a ‘proper’ Christian worship service. Perhaps you see in today’s service that I planned, how the elements of Isaiah’s dramatic encounter guide our steps today. 

One of my mentors was Chaplain to the University, and managed to build his worship plan around the name of the institution. 

A – Adoration of God
C – Confession of sin
A – Absolution of sin
D – Discipleship (scripture and sermon)
I – Intercession (prayers for self and the world)
A – Atonement (blessing of being right with God)

Worship service, when the Church gathers, is a conversation. It is a drama. It has movement, it takes us somewhere. It becomes a story, our story with God.

(The Isaiah 6 flow might also be used as a framework for the path of salvation by faith in Christ.
1 – awesome experience of God happens.
2 – awareness of how small/sinful I am/we are.
3 – a saving and forgiving word is given, in Christ.
4 – discipleship begins: following Jesus, training.
5 – a mission is given, a purpose, a goal, work.
6 – all will be well, and eventually perfect.)

You may be reading along the parts of Isaiah 6 I have in the service today, but what’s next? What was the message, the actual mission for Isaiah? It’s in the rest of the chapter. And what a severe message it is!

9 “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

I’m glad this was not my first sermon assignment, as a budding preacher! At least it ends with a bit of messianic hope: from the stump can grow a new life. In other words, there will yet be an anointed one, a Messiah. But the main message is all about the people not understanding.

So, we Christians worship, and we want to understand. Why do we plan these services (which right now happen to be private, in our own homes)?

Some would say they come to Church services for the music. Be it the joy of the music, the making of it, or the experience of praising and worshipping God.

Some would say the best thing about worship is prayer, and our connecting personally with God. In his great book, ‘The Contemplative Pastor,’ Eugene Peterson goes so far as to say, about his ministry, a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as a pastor was to teach people to pray. (Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, 1989 p. 96)

Many others claim that the heart of worship is education, teaching, preaching the Word of God. Not that every sermon is an academic lecture. There is a lot of testimony and witness, creative writing, poetry and storytelling in preaching, at its best. 

I have not told you many stories yet today, and I’m not going to. But stories – of many shapes and sizes – are so important to sharing faith and sharing life with Christ. So, Jesus tells stories. He gives His ‘sermon on the mount,’ He speaks of esoteric things recorded in John’s Gospel, but He also tells many tales. Parables. All those memorable parables. 

Why parables? ‘Why tell these stories, all the time, Jesus, and in the way you tell them?’ Jesus’ close companions ask Him, and He gives a surprising answer. Seems surprising to me. ‘So you will understand.’ No. ‘So everyone will get it.’ Wrong again. ‘So people of different learning styles will also learn.’ Nope. ‘So they will be easy to remember and retell in the years ahead.’ No, this is not Jesus’ answer.

He paraphrases, from Isaiah chapter 6. “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen nor do they understand.’” (Mtt 13:13) He actually quotes directly from that chapter. The people are not going to get it. At least some of them. Christ almost says, ‘those who understand are going to understand, and those who don’t won’t.’ Much like what Isaiah had been told to proclaim, centuries before.

Jesus is a wise teacher, a Rabbi of the wisdom tradition who has all the tools of teaching and training at His disposal. He has a Hebrew sneakiness, and subversiveness about His lessons. All these centuries later, and half a world away, we can miss out on how provocative His words so often were. And they still are challenging, and even mysterious. He gives out the secrets, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but it is like He uses codes and puzzles and riddles. The greatest of teachers can use such tools well. Built into the lesson of the day is the test, the exam. Not everyone will pass. Some will fail to learn. Today.

I’ve had a few friends through the years who are very clever with words. They can dabble with them and play and have fun with language in ways that are both joyful and bothersome at the same time! 

My friend and ministry colleague, Jeff, for instance. We were always playing with words. He is more skilled. We would have online conversations like this all the time:

Him: we can talk over lunch too
Me: Indeed
Him: I will make a reservation at Rosies
Me: What a reserved guy you are!
Him: I speak with reservation
Me: I hope I can re serve you well when we meet.

Then there was the time my new buddy, Jonathan, was explaining to a group of hikers how to drive to our starting place in Bear River. ‘Take the Christmas Eve exit.’ ‘What!?’ ‘You know, out here is Boxing Day, then Christmas, then Christmas Eve.’ I just shook my head; it did not compute! I was new in town, that was my excuse. I did not know, by number, 101 exits 24, 25 and 26. 😉 

Even the parable Jesus is telling here in Matthew 13 points out that some people will understand the message of God, and some will not. It’s the parable of the sower of seeds. Some fell on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorny weeds, and some on good soil. We’ll look more at this parable one month from now.

It was only Jesus who spoke parables just the way He did, the ones we know so well, from the Gospels. The weeds in the wheat, the sheep and the goats, the lost coin, the pearl of great price. Yet, it was not only Jesus, among the Jews, who spoke in parables. We also find parables in the Old Testament books, parables of a sort. They are little allegories, or holy fables, or anecdotes with an accusation in them. A story with a challenge, we might call them. That’s where I want to take us, this summer.

The word parable is created from a couple words that mean thrown together, or thrown side-by-side. One thing is put beside something else, in a surprising way. The Kingdom of God, and yeast in the bread dough. God’s Kingdom is good. Yeast, in Bible days, was always a negative thing, to be got rid of for Passover, for instance. Throw God’s perfect Kingdom and unholy yeast together… and what do you get?

During this summer, I am going to attempt to ‘throw together’ some of Jesus’ parables with some of the Old Testament fables. We will seek to use Jesus’ wisdom to unfold the parables of Old, from Ezekiel and Isaiah & Jotham & Jehoash. A summer of stories. 

We must tell our own stories too, and listen. The power of stories has been coming to light for me. A couple weeks ago I heard on radio again the 2003 Massey Lectures by Tom King, ‘The Truth About Stories.’ That led me to review the Hayward Lectures in 2018 by Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, who is, among other things, a good indigenous storyteller.

And we are learning, I hope, that a first step in relating well to people who have suffered, and suffered injustice, is to listen. To hear their story, from them. This is the work of truth and reconciliation. 

People of Faith are storytelling people. I have wanted to be a better storyteller than I am. But no matter. We shall tell Bible stories, and our own stories, as best we can. May our Master bless us.

Today is June 14th, and I was supposed to be going to Tatamagouche today, for an annual week long seminar in theology. It is cancelled. For years I have gone, and remember well one year that was all about stories, biblical, and others – “Once Upon a Time, There Was a Parable.” Not to mention the year that the theme was “The Spirituality of Pop Culture,” with examinations of many movie plots, from Superman, to Disney flicks, to TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

Well, let us look at Old Testament Parables, this summer, simply to know them. Here they are, hidden in the pages, little treasures: the Plowman, the Two Eagles and the Vine, the Poor Wise Man… We shall discover which are most valuable to us in our age. Next Sunday, the real storytelling will begin.

Let us read them that we may be wise. Wise when it comes to our own speaking; we can be better storytellers, and thus communicate more deeply.

Let us study them to learn from the past. All the tales we will hear told are from history. They each were important in a moment back in time. And they have been kept for us to instruct us from history.

Let us use them to be trained by God. These Old Testament texts were the Bible of Jesus, and the backdrop for His powerful speeches. These stories are part of the context of Christ. We shall understand Jesus better when we know the Bible better He used.And let us include these Old Testament tales in our scripture work so we may know more deeply our salvation, and our Saviour. The whole, complete Bible is salvation history. The reading of the stories will be good for the redemption of the saints. That’s you and me. Thanks be to God!

Now, here’s a little extra, a bonus video I found that seems to me a good introduction to Jesus’ parables…

Worship, at its best, opens us up to hear the call of God to do something, to take a new step, to be transformed: Isaiah 6:8b “I’ll go,” I answered. “Send me!”

OFFERING Our oldest Baptist educational institution in the Maritimes is Acadia University. Today, the Acadia Divinity College within it is still ours, still run by us, Atlantic Baptists, for the training of pastors and workers in Christian ministries. As a local church, we financially support ADC, as well as their special fund right now (2018-2020) for the refurbishment of the 50-year-old building. Designated gifts can be made any Sunday to ‘ADC’ or to ‘ADC building fund.’

PRAYERS O Divine Master, it is in praying that we are not alone: for You are with us. It is in praying that we are not powerless: for Your strength is made perfect even in our weakness, thanks to Christ. It is in praying that we are not overcome by confusion: for Your wisdom shines within, by the Holy Spirit. 

Light of the world, we pray for our world, upset by sickness and violence, by poverty of necessities and greed for power. We pray for those who march for justice, and for all whose stories have been ignored. We pray for the creatures of creation and the lands and waters and air that are getting a little less of our pollution right now. We pray for our fellowship, especially those ill, alone, isolated, or troubled now. And we pray simply to be, and be with Thee. Amen.

HYMN 669 God of Grace and God of Glory ‘I think this video recording, from a Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY, is wonderful and delightful. This profound hymn (with Baptist lyrics) is inspiring, perhaps especially so with this diverse choir, finding they way into it, one by one.’ – Jeff

BENEDICTION Love in all sincerity, loathing evil and holding fast to the good. Let love of the Christian community show itself in mutual affection. Esteem others more highly than yourself. And may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you and remain with you always. AMEN.

Worship at Home – Trinity Sunday, June 7 – ‘Love & Peace in Days of Hate & Violence’

Welcome to this plan for worship at home that we can share. Somehow, we pray and sing, study and give, in ways that unite us, while we are separate. More information is available in this Sunday’s Bulletin.

Worship Welcome John 14:26-27 Words of Jesus:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”

Hymn # 2 Holy , Holy, Holy

Prayer O Advocate, Helper, Spirit, in the name of Jesus we ask You to guide us to the Father today. So many distractions catch us. So many concerns fill our hearts. So many temptations call us to choose poorly. The old hymn takes some of us back to the days when each Sunday began with these same words. Make holy these moments we share, in word and deed, for worship. May words ancient and modern be used in our conversation now, we pray. Including the prayer Jesus taught. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name… AMEN.

Song # 4 Father, I Adore You – Margo Nesbitt & Jeff White

Children’s Time God is Spirit – Pastor Jeff

Scripture 2 Corinthians 13:5-13

Hymn # 1 I Bind Unto Myself Today

Scripture John 15:18-27 – Bev & Peter Dickie

Sermon Love & Peace in Days of Hate & Violence

Today is, in the Church calendar, Trinity Sunday, celebrating and worshipping God in three persons, blessed Trinity. What does the minister of the word preach on this day? I saw three options (at least). A nice sermon just about the Trinity, working to explain the simple but inexplicable Father-Son-Spirit who is One God. Use a three-leaved clover. Or an egg with yolk, white, and shell. Or water, in frozen, liquid, and gaseous form.

Second, I looked at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians and thought about how to examine ourselves, to test our faith. Maybe strengthening our faith in this way would be good for us. We could try out a ‘prayer of examen’ in the service. 

Third, take Jesus’ words about hate and Paul’s about agreeing peaceably with one another, and preach about love and hate in a divided world, filled with hate and violence. This is what was chosen. In light of world events, I needed to go here. 

Now, I like the ideals of peace and serenity. Perhaps you love these too. But our world is not filled with these, and you and I can only avoid conflict for so long. Paul dealt with conflict and opposition in Churches. Christ said His followers would face hatred. Let’s start with Jesus. 

John’s Gospel gives us so much of what Christ said to his disciples, in the week before His execution. At one point  He speaks at length about abiding in Him, and of loving one another (this is my commandment, that you love one another). Next, Jesus turns immediately to talk of hate. ‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.’ 

Love, and then hate. There will be hate, Jesus warns. Opposition. Enemies. What He calls ‘the world’ is that element in humankind that does not know Him and God, and attacks the good things of God. His ‘haters’ are about to get rid of Jesus, actually. The disciples don’t expect this; Jesus does.

It could be said (I guess it certainly has been said by others) that those who closely, very closely, follow the Way of Jesus will end up in trouble on earth like He did. And that was big trouble, wasn’t it?

Though I offered, online and in the bulletin, a communion service one month ago, I decided against it for today. Remember now, what we monthly remember. The suffering or ‘passion’ of Christ, and His death. The scenes you can read from John 18 and 19 tell of the successful torture and killing off of Christ. You may well remember this was not the first attempt upon His life. Yet there had also been attempts to acclaim Him as king, which He also had avoided. Check John 5:18, 6:15 & 7:1. While He was active, Jesus faced supporters and enemies at every turn, and some of these people clearly were switching sides! 

John’s Gospel preserves for us many words about people not understanding Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus’ talk here in chapter 15 is more of the same. “They do not know him who sent me.” He is speaking of people who do not understand who God is, and that Jesus is the Son of God.

We face the same challenges, when we ‘walk with Jesus.’ There is actual hatred of our attitudes and actions, and of us. There is misunderstanding of our motives, of the Source of the good we strive to accomplish. There are people who are for us, and against us, as well as the undecided and the confused. 

Jesus’ warnings about hatred are of comfort to us, in case we get comfortable & expect our Christianity to go well, when it does not. His message is echoed by Peter, when he writes, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1Peter 4:12)

In this midst of his pep talk to disciples, Jesus speaks a few times of the Holy Spirit. Today, we read this: But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. Here we find the Son, the Spirit, and the Father all on our side, supporters and guides of we who follow, we who have stepped out in faith to abide in Them, love Them, rely upon Them, and serve Them – the Trinity.

Well, this all can sound very inspiring… until we notice how people who are all supposed to be Christians, all on the same team, disagree and even hate!  From the sublime to the ridiculous, we believers still believe in disagreeing, and disliking.

Here is a cute example. A couple months ago, I noticed on Facebook two of my friends (they are from the same local church) posting things about the gasoline industry. It struck me funny, in a way, because they were opposite attitudes about one problem. First post that was shared:

Second Post, on the same day:  

We, quite naturally, have different attitudes. This is not even a serious example. Other disagreements arise that get us really stirred up. Ours is one of many congregations that could tell its story of having a row, years ago, in which members did not agree, and a bunch left the church. Windsor Baptist had a similar story. Parrsboro had faced something similar.

It is when we truly get hostile toward one another that the problems arise. Jesus’ speech about the haters was not about fellow Christians. It is the conflicts among believers that our other New Testament reading touches.

So, let us turn now to Paul, and a few of his words at the end of the letter we call Second Corinthians. This letter has some treasured verses in it (in Chapter 4, for example). It also expresses the stresses, and some kind of conflict, that had come between the little church in Corinth and their founding Pastor, Paul. From a distance (Macedonia), Paul writes to defend his ministry with them, and counteract the activity of some who oppose him there. “False apostles,” Paul calls them, and even (tongue-in-cheek?) “super- apostles.” But, by this time, Paul has received some good reports about the believers in Corinth, and seems happily relieved (7:6-7).

Amid all the strong language in these dozen pages, the letter ends with some final advice and traditional words of blessing. “Examine yourselves” Paul says. Pay close attention to your faith in Christ. He speaks of his frequent theme of strength and weakness. He honestly writes, “What we pray for is your improvement.”

I chose this text for today not for all this, but for the so-called trinitarian benediction, at the very end. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Today is Trinity Sunday, after all. But the civil unrest and calls for racial justice in the US & Canada have called for our attention over the past two weeks. 

If the words of Jesus, today, call us to face enemies with patient endurance, the words of Paul’s letter call us to be firm and clear and persistent with the truth. Including the truth that people matter, all lives matter to God. Paul spoke strong words at some length to his friends; he did so because he knew and loved them well. Our speaking out, acting out, standing up for someone, ‘taking a knee,’ protesting, writing a letter, or whatever action, will be more powerful and blessed the more we know those of whom we speak. Or those for whom we want our actions to speak louder than words. 

So, there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate… (Ecclesiastes 3:7b, 8a)

I have never been an activist. Not been the sort to write letters to government, or join marches for causes. About the time I turned 18 years old, I had moved to a town to go to college. Back in the 80s, my mother was quite involved in the Pro Life movement, and she told me, that October, about a Pro Life rally happening on my campus, at the Chapel. Of course, she was suggesting I could go; it so happened she was not coming up for it. So I went. 

I don’t remember the rally being particularly important for me. I think that’s because I was not devoted to the cause. I knew about it – anti-abortion activity was in the news a lot back then – but it did not happen to be a cause I had invested myself in very much, as a teenager.

I don’t mean to suggest you not take part in some campaign or movement unless you are devoted to it. Taking part in a rally or march could be an important introduction to you – a closer look at an important movement in our society. I simply believe that Jesus will lead us into authentic activity that flows from deep in our mind and heart. The actions of others – prophetic actions at that – can inspire and instruct us. And we may become the next prophet in our own neighbourhood. Or the next great follower in a right direction.

And, as we may have seen today, we are to expect opposition, and be prepared for hatred, towards us, and towards those we support and/or follow. Christ, and Paul, will lead us to speech and action that is going to be clear and constructive. Sadly, the deep grief and hurt in crowds of people can too easily become nasty violence, as we see in the rioting and trouble of the past two weeks. When people are “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” (Fanny Lou Hamer) they (we) can accomplish great and brave things, and they (we) can also accomplish great violence and vengeance.

The human responses to the terrible events of 2020 show us how we are made in the beautiful image of the triune God, and at the same time have fallen into failure. Here are just three disasters that are having a wide impact, with diverse reactions.

The outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus. Ongoing responses to this pandemic are good, bad and ugly.

Violent shootings kill 22 in Nova Scotia. The mourning and coping will go on. 

George Floyd is killed by a police officer in Minnesota. The response to this continues to flare up and intersects with so many other violent and racist events. 

It is a troubled world; this is to be expected. All the more reason for us to look to a ‘Higher Power,’ One who can do more for good and for human togetherness than we are capable of on our own.

At the end of his serious letter, Paul tells his readers to agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. My best and most basic hope for humanity is in this God, a God of love and peace. Strong promises about what is Ultimate in the universe. Love is a verb, not just a thing. “Peace, like war, is waged,” it is action.

There is a God of love and peace. A God I know in Jesus Christ, who sends the very presence of God, the Spirit, to us. Let the Spirit of Truth tell, once again, of Jesus, crucified and risen. Alleluia!

Offerings come in almost every day of the week – dropped off at the Church, the Parsonage, to the Pastor delivering bulletins on Sundays, and in the mail. Some of our budget each year goes towards the upkeep and expenses of the Parsonage. Last week, a repairman visited to fix the clothes dryer, which had quit. It was an easy fix… for $75. 🙂

Prayers of the People There are many ways our prayers become ‘world-wide.’ Today, add this prayer to all those of our own local community: http://worldinprayer.org/2020/world-news-in-prayer-thursday-4-june-2020/

Hymn Holy Spirit (Getty, Townend, 2006)

Benediction
Through the creative power of God,
the Word spoken in Jesus,
and the love the Spirit pours into our hearts,
may you be strengthened and filled
to do the ministry to which you are called.
AMEN.
(Ruth C. Duck, 1999)