Psalm 119 Contemplations – Week 2 (May 11-17)

Increased Integrity ~ May 11 ~ Psalm 119:65-72 ~ Teth. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (66)

Let’s start to use a different approach this week. Read through verses 65 to 72 slowly. Does one verse or phrase grab your attention more than the others? Take time to ponder it. Read it all slowly again. Ask in prayer why that verse is important to you now. Read it slowly once more. Is there a way for you to respond? Something Your Master is asking you to do in this word?

Joyful Judgments ~ May 12 ~ Psalm 119:73-80 ~ Yod. Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. (74)

Let’s do some ‘holy reading’ again, with Psalm 119. Read these eight verses, and notice what stands out. Ask, prayerfully, ‘is it You who is pointing this out to me, or not You?’ Read the verses again, slowly. Are there things about your personality that lead you to pick out that one verse? Are there things about what’s going on with you today that led you to notice it? Read the verses once more, and try to quiet your mind, thinking only of these phrases you see here.

Keep Calm ~ Psalm 119:81-88 ~ Kaph ~ May 13. My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word. (81)

Today’s theme of ‘needing help in our souls’ can bring us into the Holy Presence. It is a real lament we read today. Do you need to be sad? To cry out for justice? To hope desperately for rescue from a situation? Or, remember a time in your life when you walked through a dark valley and were desperate for God.

Limitless Lord ~ May 14 ~ Psalm 119:89-96 ~ Lamed. I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad. (96)

As you go over these verses today, notice what is perfect and what is not perfect. The need for perfection can be a deep need we feel. We obsess over little things that are not just right. Or we see the big issues that need to be fixed, but are not. Quiet your thoughts, and sit before God in quietness. Seek to be still and know the Perfect One near you.

My Meditation ~ May 15 ~ Psalm 119:97-104 ~ Mem. Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. (97)

The word ‘meditation’ comes up often in the 176 verses of Psalm 119. With your body resting and quiet, take time to quiet your mind, and seek to be still in your thoughts. As you go over today’s eight verses, choose one small phrase as a focus for Christian meditation. Say you choose, “I do not turn away.” Then, when you become still, but your mind wanders, go back to the words you chose. “I do not turn away.” Repeat the phrase in your mind, slowly, whenever you get distracted. Seek the simple light and presence of God.

No Night ~ May 16 ~ Psalm 119:105-112 ~ Nun. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (105)

Light and darkness are deep images of our experience. If possible, light a candle for your meditation time today. Or turn on a battery operated candle. Whatever works for you, whatever you have at hand. Simply pray quietly, with the light as something to focus your attention. Remember, remember, remember, Jesus is the Light of the world, our inner Light, and He is the living Word to us.

Others Off-track ~ May 17 ~ Psalm 119:113-120 ~ Samek. I hate the double-minded, but I love your law. (113)

It is Sunday again. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ get our attention, when we “get religious.” Knowing what’s wrong can help us stay on the right track, but can also tempt us to beat up on others whom we see doing wrong. Today, pray prayers of confession. Ask to be shown the deeper causes of your own failures and faults. Seek Jesus, who loves you enough to give up His life for you. May His forgiveness come, and “hold you up.”

Worship at Home: May 10 – Mother’s Day

Welcome to this resource for worship at home. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures together, while apart. This May we have a month of attention to our mental and emotional well-being; today remembering the stigma of illness.

Worship Welcome Luke 1:46-48, 52-53
As Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour
on the lowliness of his servant.
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.

Hymn 532 Be Thou My Vision (sung below by a church in Cincinnati, OH)

Prayer O Lord of our hearts, open our vision today, we pray. Open us to see You, to see ourselves, to see one another, to see a new vision of Your world.

O Lord our soul’s shelter, while we are sheltered in our own homes, fill us with courage to grow and explore our own souls. Lead us, Spirit, into transformation, holiness, and action.

O Lord our dignity and our delight, raise us up to praise and proclaim the goodness of life, in this world of suffering and pain. We worship today to the best of our ability: increase our faith!

High King of Heaven, meet us in the low & lowly places where we live, and scatter Your blessings again among all the needy. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Scripture Psalm 119:57-64 Meditate upon each eight verse section of Psalm 119 each day of this month (May 3-24 for the 22 sections). A plan for this, and some guiding thoughts, are here in this blog.

Offering We thank God that we can still offer worship at this time, from our own homes. We can still serve one another with friendship and prayer, with little errands and listening ears. We can still contribute tithes and offerings for our local congregation and for ministries around the globe. Praise be!

Piano Medley In the Garden / May the Good Lord Bless & Keep You / Amazing Grace – Brenda Eisener, Ottawa, sister of Eddie Dunn

Scripture 1 Samuel 21:10-22:2 – Heather Parry

Sermon Crazy Contagion – Jeff White

“So, tell me about your mother.” This popular cliché in psychology was the hallmark of Sigmund Freud. Today is the end of Mental Health Week in Canada: good timing for us all, isn’t it?! Today’s sermon is not a therapy session for you (or me!), but it is an opportunity to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches about the health of the mind, and God’s part in healing and helping. Yet there is still so much stigma, so much looking down upon these problems and those who suffer them.

The Sunday evening study group has been continuing – online – to work through our study of mental health and the Church’s ministry to people facing mental illnesses. One whole chapter of Amy Simpson’s book, ‘Troubled Minds’ is about the stigma of mental illness, and how stigma against people lives on in churches.

How people deal with illnesses of the mind is part of our culture. We are steeped in a culture that still fears mental illnesses, stereotypes the people suffer- ing, makes fun of them, and uses a lot of methods to avoid dealing with them. This has been the case for centuries, in many different cultures. There is a stigma about ‘madness/craziness,’ that lives on with us. Even the use of these terms that are out of date says something. They become rude and demeaning.

We looked back, way back, today, to the Hebrews in the time of King David. We find him on the run, and ‘feigning madness,’ at one point. Pretending to be mad, crazy, insane. 

The biography of David is a complex story – just as yours and mine is – and in 1 Samuel 21 and 22 we find him fleeing from Saul and other men of power in those days. David comes into the realm of Achish, king of Gath (a realm known as Goliath’s home turf, remember?). David’s reputation precedes him, and he finds the people of the royal court know all about him. Fearing king Achish, David pretends to be mentally ill. He scratches on the doors. He drools. 

His ploy works. Achish treats him as harmless: actually, just bothersome. “Why do I need another madman around here?” declares Achish. David gets sent on his way, & runs off to another place. Later, we can read of David & Achish getting along quite well.

To pretend to be mentally ill is not something we think of doing often. Or is it? In court cases, the accused may ‘plead insanity’ so as to not be held totally responsible for his or her illegal actions. There have been cases when someone ‘in their right mind’ tried to get off with this as an excuse. 

But even in pop culture we know about pretending to be mad. I remember the TV series M*A*S*H, with Corporal Klinger: he tried for years to be kicked out of his military service overseas by acting crazy: bt cross-dressing. He wanted a ‘Section 8,’ a discharge from the army for being mentally unfit. 

‘Crazyness’ is funny in our eyes. We laugh. Making fun of people who don’t ‘act normal’ becomes contagious. We all start laughing, rolling our eyes, and acting foolish ourselves. But this gets transferred to real people, brothers and sisters who suffer from illnesses of the mind. 

It is also frightening: we fear it. This builds the stigma against suffering people. 

Is ‘crazyness’ contagious? Can we catch it by getting too close to someone? This may be an irrational fear, but it can be a real fear. Moreover, people fear mental illness because it ‘runs in the family.’ The genetic element can predispose someone to become sick, we fear, and the family of origin can perpetuate unhealthy relationships and abuses that cause emotional harm and illness.  So we think – based on facts – but we also exaggerate the dangers.

I remember a dear friend, a wise friend, who spoke of the depression that ran in his family. His father died from a gunshot, out in the field, alone. One son said it was an accident. The other always figured it was actually suicide. Others in the family had mental illnesses; some had died by suicide. 

So the fears around illness grow. Despite our faith in a God “who heals all our diseases,” a Saviour whom we call the Great Physician, a Spirit we call our Comforter and our Advocate. 

Let me tell you some of the story of Amy Simpson, and her mother. Amy Simpson is editor of Gifted For Leadership and managing editor of marriage and parenting resources for Today’s Christian Woman. She is the author of ‘Into the Word: How to Get the Most from Your Bible,’ and, ‘Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission.’ Simpson tells us:

I grew up in the Midwest, one of four kids in a loving family. Dad was a pastor for ten years, serving two small rural churches. Mom was a homemaker. Our family loved to go camping, and all of my best memories of family life have the six of us crammed into a pop-up camper, swimming in a lake somewhere or sweating together with the wind thrashing our hair, three in the front and in the back of our sedan. 

My mom is a gentle person, creative, funny, resourceful and very smart. She always encouraged my creative development, indulged my love for reading, taught me to clean the house like I meant it, sparked my love of a good pun and showed me how to get organized. Mom is also the person who led me to faith in Christ when only four years old. 

Yet there’s more to our story. Mom has suffered tremendously and has been the source of much of my own suffering. Ours is a very complicated relationship—as all her relationships are. While I didn’t know enough to question the normalcy of our family life when I was a child, I knew something was wrong. This undefined knowledge nagged at my family as we did our best to ignore it. As it became harder to ignore, we started looking for help—and came up short. When I was a teenager, on the day I waited at school for someone to pick me up and no one came, it became obvious.

My brother, who had stopped at home on a break between college classes, had found Mom in the kitchen, completely unable to function. She went to the hospital. When I called home from a pay phone to find out when someone would pick me up school, a neighbor answered and said Mom had had “a stroke or something.”

It was no stroke that had indelibly altered Mom and our family. That was the day she had her first full-on, debilitating, confusing, terrifying, mind-bending, truth-twisting, hospital-worthy psychotic break. And it was a long time before I understood what happened. 

When I was fifteen, Mom picked me up at school to take me to a dental appointment. I could tell immediately that she wasn’t functioning normally; I recognized warning signs that she was headed for another “episode.” 

I remember thanking God that I could legally take over driving if I needed to and asking Mom if she had taken her medication that day. Her answer was not straightforward…

We did make our way safely to the dental office…

After half an hour or so with the dentist, I returned to the waiting room and approached my mom, who didn’t look at me. Suddenly I realized my instincts had been right, and my earlier fear was realized: something indeed was wrong with Mom…again. And it was up to me to help her.

After a couple of quiet attempts to rouse her, I began to attract attention. People sat and stared at me, wide-eyed, as I tried to get her to respond. 

With everyone in the room continuing to stare, I walked over to the reception desk and asked the woman behind the counter – who was also staring – if I could use the phone. “No, there’s a pay phone around the corner.” When I explained that I needed to call my dad for help, I didn’t have change for the phone, and it would be a local call, she still refused and pointed to the pay phone. So I went back to my mom and wrestled with her rigid arms, pulling them aside enough to get into her purse and get the quarter In needed for the phone. I went back to the receptionist to ask if she could keep an eye on my Mom while I went to use the pay phone. She shrank back in horror and asked, “Is she dangerous?”

While Dad was on his way, one of the dentists became aware of what was happening and did what she could to help get Mom to the car. Dad and I took her to the hospital for another of her psychiatric stays and restabilization on medication. 

 …I went home with Dad and back to “regular” life. I never talked to anyone about what I had experienced.  (pp. 21-26)

This is one story of fears and stigma about illness. Near the end of her book, Amy Simpson declares:

What’s remarkable about this life is not that we have pain, that we suffer, that life gets so ugly we can’t even look at it. The remarkable thing is that  we have anything but suffering. That there is a large supply of goodness in this world. That despite our best efforts at self-destruction, grace still shines on us, and the sun rises. That we are surrounded by beauty. That we know how to laugh. That we can laugh and cry at the same time. And – most remarkable – that our suffering and pain themselves become the media for some of God’s most beautiful work. It’s called redemption, and we overlook it every day. (p. 201)

She tells us, By God’s grace (and I’m not using that term flippantly) and for his glory, my siblings and I are all healthy, productive and living in relationship with Christ. We can say that God has redeemed our suffering. …He has granted us sensitivity to other broken people we might otherwise have shunned.

Mom is currently doing well, managing her illness and benefiting from the advances made in the latest generation of anti-psychotic drugs. She enjoys a strong and growing relationship with Jesus and benefits from the ways her church helps her stay grounded in that relationship. (p. 209)

Thanks be to God, Amy Simpson’s suffering, and that of her family, have borne beautiful fruit, including her own healing, helping ministry of teaching about the human mind and divine promises. 

For me, this week, there is one more scene from scripture that speaks. The next vignette in the saga of 1 Samuel. Chapter 22 starts with David on the run again, and finding a hiding place in a cave. But he is not truly hidden. His family members and others gather with him. In fact, we are told, Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred. (1S22:1-2) 

David – a man of skills and spirituality, of sins and deep failures, of a big calling from God – he is clearly a natural-born leader. This list of people who were drawn to him in that moment catches my eye: those in distress, those in debt, those discontented. Such beaten-down people were the ones attracted to David at that time. 

We see King David, of course, as a precursor of the final Anointed One (Christ/Messiah), Jesus of Nazareth. Look to the Gospels and see the people, sometimes great crowds, attracted to Him. Those he spends His time with: the sick, the poor, the oppressed and unhappy, the ‘sinners.’ Much like those drawn to David, centuries before. 

The stories we have of the Saviour show Him meeting and blessing people who had lost loved ones, people who were suffering or dying, people who had no hope, people who were being crushed by the powerful, people who had got themselves in a lot of trouble, people who were considered ‘unholy.’ It is to them Jesus went. 

When criticized, Jesus said He came not to the well, but to those who were sick. 

His mother knew this. Remember her poetic praise when she was pregnant? Remember the kinds of things she said?  (Luke 1)

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
51 he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Good News! for the lowly, the humble, the hungry. He came to the broken. He came to the traumatized and tragic. He came to the depressed and dispossessed. He came to the rejected and rough- around-the-edges. He came to us.

So, perhaps the bottom line is this. We dispel our stigmas against those who are ill, simply by joining Jesus, and finding how we can view all others though His eternal eyes. With His wise care. With His pure heart. And our own fears and stigma about ourselves, when we are weak, are banished by the Comforter Jesus sends to our souls.

Prayers God of family, Parent of the fellowship, Lover of our souls: we gather all our separate prayers into the themes of the day, and our common conversation with You happens again. Praise be!

Holy Trinity, one of our earliest commandments is to ‘honour our fathers and mothers,’ that our life upon the land we are given may be long. We give thanks for all those who nurtured us and have been life-giving. Before You, we face our failings and fears about family and our relationships. We face the griefs and sorrows. We face the neglect and hurt. Shepherd our souls now; forgive us and make us forgiving; reconcile and recreate us, in Your mercy.

It is mercy, blessing, miracle we seek for so many people, in so many places today. We pray for three-year-old Dylan, missing in Truro, and his family, and the searchers. We pray for workers of all sorts in our homes for special care and hospitals, especially Northwood, where so many deaths have been faced. We pray for our own beloved ones who are isolated in this time, those in and out of hospitals, and those feeling downcast, depressed or alone now.

We look back to Jesus, how He grew in wisdom, stature, and in favour with God and people. We see how He went to all who were wrecked and ruined, all who were poor in spirit and downhearted. Oh come to them again. Come to us; & when we are strengthened, send us out. With respect and care for all we touch.

This weekend of Motherhood, we shall not be visiting our mothers. This weekend of graduations, the universities shall not meet. This weekend of spring, the snow falls heavy. Unlimited One! You are not hindered by the events of these days; so let love unlimited still flow and go. We join You in reaching out for goodness and help in our neighbourhood, and Your world. 

We still are longing to be connected. Not just with one another. With You. This day, and every day, we lay ourselves at Your feet. You, raise us up, and shine through us. In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Benediction  from 1 Kings 8:56a, 57, 58a

Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people… according to all that He promised.The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may He not leave us or abandon us, but incline our hearts to Him. Amen.

Worship at Home: May 3

Welcome to this resource for worship at home. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures together, while apart. This week, we welcome Lic. Sharon White to our virtual pulpit.

We now begin a month of attention to our mental and emotional well-being. This Sunday we also remember the Lord’s Supper, which we have not celebrated together since March 1st. To share the Lord’s Supper today, at home, you could use some bread or cracker or muffin, and some juice (grape, cranberry, apple, whatever).

Worship Welcome Psalm 119:1-8
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.

Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.

You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!

Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances.

I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.

Hymn 244 Easter Song

Prayer Hallelujah! Amen! Hosanna! 

We praise You from our homes, aware again of Your grace and power in our lives. Precious were all those moments when we gathered together because of You. Now, as we miss one another, draw us close to You. As we long to be together in our familiar pews, we also long for the ways we hear from You when we worship. Though we cannot sing together, may our souls sing today. Though we cannot clasp one another’s hands, may our prayers embrace one another now. Though we cannot smile as we send one another out, may we be guided to speak an encouraging word to one another all this week long. 

As we share worship today, we pray for others who do the same. May the folks of Sisson Ridge Baptist Church, Plaster Rock, NB, be blessed by Your presence and Your word today.  And let all the words and meditations of our service be accepted in Your sight. In the name of Jesus the Lord. AMEN.

Solo You Carried Me – Sharon Marshall

Offering As we consider our individual offerings for the month, pray also about what we, the Church, offer to our neighbourhood in this cautious season.

Scripture Romans 8:35, 38 & 39

Message “Stronger Together” – Sharon White

Well today May 3rd, we start our 7th week of isolation and in some ways, it does not seem like we’ve been isolating that long, yet in other ways, it seems longer. As we feel lonely and isolated, when we can’t meet together, and our regular routines are gone, sometimes our perceptions of time can get distorted.

In Canada, the first full week of May is designated as ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). They have been promoting this specific mental health week each year since 1951. Which is why I feel that next week’s theme of Mental Health is very important, especially now with the current events, the loss of close friends or loved ones, the Portapique tragedy, the crash of an Armed Forces helicopter taking the lives of its crew of 6, and facing more weeks of isolation because of Covid-19. In all of this, we may be feeling weary, frustrated, sad, angry, or just feeling down and unfocused. When we do not have control over what is happening around us, having any or all of these emotions is understandable, and it’s okay to not feel okay! This is why I think the timing of Mental Health Week is a good reminder to focus on our mental health!

Mental health, mental illness, and self-care need to be talked about more often, otherwise, how will our feelings and the issues get out in the open, how else do we break the stigma of “looking like we have it all together when we don’t.” So, my message this morning is one that I hope starts discussions around mental health within families and amongst friends.

But there’s a problem in speaking on this topic today, mental health is too broad of a category to cover it all here in the time that we have because there are so many layers and they overlap with one another that can make talking about it very confusing. So, imagine mental health as a circle made up of wedges. In one wedge place the 9 types of mental illnesses [anxiety disorders, depression & bipolar, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, postpartum depression, schizophrenia, and children/youth & self-injury]. In another wedge place, the treatments [medical, psychotherapy, ECT’s, spiritual] and supports; a 3rd wedge could focus specifically on care for the caregivers; a 4th wedge narrows in on addressing the area of addictions [where a person with a mental illness also has a substance abuse problem]; and then we could group all the feelings around mental illness in wedge #5, (for example the feelings of anger or rage because a person doesn’t want the mental illness they have or it’s disrupting their life or ruining their marriage). And the final wedge that I want to focus on this morning is the wedge of self-care that’s needed for one’s overall mental health, which as you know is a continuum; (take a look here at the model of this continuum).

Self-care is the most important aspect that affects all the wedges within mental health because self-care is what we do for ourselves and others to care for our mental health, and it builds our resilience against the stresses of life! (Take some time this week to look over the CMHA website, link here).

Mental health & illness, disease & sickness, isolation, death of family/friends, tragedies, loss of employment all have something in common. Suffering! Suffering is experienced by every person, unfortunately, we suffer many times in our lives, and sometimes it is downright gut-wrenching! However, suffering is also a key emotion that binds us collectively as one as we try to find meaning in it! When I looked through the scriptures for today’s message I realized it was difficult to narrow down on one or two verses that deal with suffering. The Bible describes community and individual suffering throughout its pages. For example, we could use any number of these Psalms of lament [44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, 90], or the trials that Job endured. The reasons for the suffering don’t matter, but in it, we share the same feelings of weariness, sorrow, confusion, numbness, anger, or hopelessness. I want us to see with fresh eyes someone who suffers, to understand them from our own sufferings – because we realize that deep down, we are the same because every heart has or will endure some suffering. We were all made in God’s image, we all suffer, and through our pain, we can reach out to offer understanding and empathy to a loved one, neighbor, friend, and even a stranger.

How does this tie in with Mental Health Week and Covid-19 isolation? Take a look at the picture provided here. It shows how our present-day sufferings from Covid-19 can be a trigger for increased mental health concerns with increased anxiety, fear for the lives of vulnerable loved ones, decreased job security, decreased financial security, it’s moved us into a state of survival mode, and the necessary isolation for our health worsens the feelings of aloneness and despair that were major concerns in our society before Covid-19 existed.

However, right now we struggle because we can’t meet and reach out, we can’t give and receive the important relational connections to share our burdens and grief, and we are missing our sense of belonging in a family. We’re unable to mourn our losses together, neither can we worship as a congregation in ways we’ve become attached to and it can make us question the church’s sense of purpose; sometimes it makes us question our sense of worth and purpose. Suffering and isolation can trigger a variety of feelings and when this happens the relational connectedness, that sense of belonging and sense of worth and value that’s so vital for life between humans is temporarily lost! The remedy to this is human re-connectedness! It is important, even critical for our mental health; and it’s also important for us as a faith community! The CMHA has a good short article on the benefits of social connectedness (link here); they state that social connectedness is the cure! Connectedness binds us back together as families, groups, congregations, and as communities.

When we struggle we can also go back to our basic Christian teachings, that each one of us is a child of God, that He knew us as He formed us in the womb, and from that children’s song that tells us “Jesus loves the little children”. God has always and will always love us, especially in our pain, suffering, and also in all the joys of life. This points me to a verse in Romans chapter 8: in verse 38, “…that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” That answers the question asked earlier in verse 35, “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? No! Nothing can separate us from His love. It is because of our suffering, that our doubts lead us to feel we have lost favor with God. My research on these verses denies this possibility of God not loving us, stating that the point of such sufferings is the evidence of a union with Jesus, who has also endured sufferings, and not a cause for doubting a loss of God’s love because of them. Rom. 8 Verses 38 to 39 reminds us “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So, why do we still feel alone when we suffer? Let’s be honest, maybe because our western society is an individualistic one that lacks the promoting of deep social connections. Add to this our present-day Covid-19 health protocols for safety that create more isolation and loneliness. Without deep human connections of care, we lose our footing to the foundation of love and hope that help us endure our present sufferings. Connections allow us to share our burdens and lighten our loads! Relationships built upon trust, concern, sharing, support, and time together all create a family that isn’t always based on blood relatives. These kinds of relationships bind the hearts and they are worth their weight in gold! They allow us to build resilience and bounce back!

Our province has found some ways to be stronger together and bounce back in our loneliness of these recent tragedies! We have candles in our windows to show we remember those who died on April 18/19th, we post rainbows and hearts on Facebook to thank our frontline healthcare workers, we join online virtual vigils and musical events to have a sense of community and togetherness in our common grief to lighten the burdens in the hearts of families grieving their loved ones. We can, in our own areas reach out to friends and family members to help them build their resilience, by encouraging them to:

  • Stay informed, but to limit exposure to news and social media
  • Keep threats in perspective
  • Access reputable sources of information only
  • Establish a routine, exercise for 20 minutes 3 times a week
  • Engage in meaningful and enjoyable activities
  • Reach out for help when struggling
  • Practice gratitude with self, with family, and with strangers
  • Eat well, avoid alcohol & stimulants as a means of coping
  • Practice mindfulness or meditations
  • Daily count your blessings

And we can go to Christ in our prayers, our music, and in our devotions to connect with the One who loves us unconditionally, to the Creator who gave us life and who gave His life out of love; from God, we get the strength to rise again and continue the journey to do the right next step!

As we virtually celebrate communion this morning, gather yourself some bread and juice or water, knowing that your church family, as well as many other Christians, also gather in remembrance. Today, through our communion, we remember the sacrifice given by Jesus out of love for us, we remember to connect with his suffering through our present pains to connect with Him again; and may we feel the strength from knowing that others within their own homes receive the elements. May we feel a sense of unitedness again and a renewed hope knowing we are stronger together in Him and each other! Amen.

Prayers of the people

O God, in Christ You are reconciling the world to Yourself: may the Spirit of Truth speak to our hearts, and remind us of our great hope. We confess the doubts and fears we have…  The words we spoke or typed that hurt others…  The lazy prayers we gave…

Renew me; renew us; renew Your world, we pray. 

This day we pray for people who are facing hard times. Those suffering from illness or injury…

Those who do not have enough to live on…

Those who face depression, or anxiety, or dementia, or addiction, or other such health issues…

Those who need some spiritual hope or even a breakthrough in their lives…

Those who mourn a loss, especially those who mourn untimely deaths in these days, including the losses in our Nova Scotia communities and our military… 

Our prayers are also for us, Your Church, because we still need to deepen our habits of prayer and study. May we find this an opportune time to develop our life of prayer and scripture, meditation, fasting, silence, and even worship.

And now, we each worship to share a holy communion, a fellowship that reaches across the globe, remembering and honouring the body and blood of Christ. In His name we pray. AMEN.

Hymn 708 Blest Be the Tie

Home Communion We who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, who have love and concern for our neighbours, who intend to lead a new life, following the commandment of God by walking in holy ways: we draw near with reverence, faith and thanksgiving and take the Supper of the Lord to our comfort.

We are come together today, in obedience of Jesus’ command, to partake of the Lord’s supper. To its blessing and fellowship, all disciples of the Lord Jesus, who have confessed him before others and desire to serve him, may come. This is not our/my table, but the Table of our Lord.

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Prayer of thanks for the Bread (from The Didache, 1st Cent AD)

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy Servant : to Thee be the glory for ever and ever. As this bread was scattered over the hills and having been gathered together became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together out of every nation, and every country, and every city and village, and house, and make one living catholic Church. To the praise and glory of Thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Eat of this Bread in remembrance of Christ’s body, broken for you. (Eat the bread.)

1 Corinthians 11:25-26 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Prayer of thanks for the Cup: Spirit of life, in the name of Jesus we share the fruit of the vine, remembering His sacrifice at Calvary. We bow to worship the Saviour who died. O help us remember. Though we are separated today, in You may be know we are One in Christ. AMEN.

Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful. (Drink the juice.)

The Lord’s Prayer 632 Our Father… AMEN.

Benediction Jude 24&25 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

PSALM 119 Contemplations – Week 1 (May 3-10)

For twenty-two days, join me in meditating up a section of Psalm 119, the longest Psalm, the longest chapter in the Bible. Each day, read the eight verse section, and spend some time with the verses. There will be some suggestions for you each day.

Pastor Jeff White

Active Adoration – May 3 – Psalm 119: 1-8 Aleph. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances. (7)

Psalm 119 has twenty-two parts, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Every verse of each section begins with that letter of the alphabet (in Hebrew). Today’s eight verses are the first section, and are filled with blessed happiness and worship. Ponder these verses and how our actions (following God) go hand in hand with our praise of God (adoration).

Blest Beginning ~ Monday, May 4 ~ Psalm 119:9-16 ~ Beth. How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (9)

The first verse of this section is well known. Years ago, when I was about twenty, a dear friend and mentor gave me a study Bible, and when he signed it he wrote this verse there. It is true for every age. Read over today’s eight verses, and consider how you can guard your way of living each day by God’s guidance.

Clear Counsel ~ Tuesday, May 5 ~ Psalm 119:17-24 ~ Gimel. Your decrees are my delight, they are my counselors. (24)

As we read this third section, we may begin to see a pattern, or it may seem to be getting repetitive. It is! In fact, every verse of this Psalm has a word in it that means God’s law, way, guidance. They vary in the many English translations, but today’s eight verses have these words: 17 word, 18 law, 19 commandments, 20 ordinances, 21 commandments, 22 decrees, 23 statutes, 24 decrees. Pray about how these things have been your counsellors through the years.

Divine Deliverance ~ Wed, May 6 ~ Psalm 119:25-32 ~ Daleth. My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to your word. (25)

Many themes of prayer and study come up over and over in this long chapter. Today’s verses deal with times of trouble and need. The soul is feeling low and sad, dealing with falsehood and shame. Remember what verses of scripture have sustained you, and why certain ones have stayed with you in your heart and mind for many years.

Education’s End ~ Thrs, May 7 ~ Psalm 119:33-40 ~ He. Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. (33)

So much of the time we treat the Bible as our textbook. We follow Jesus as our Rabbi, our Teacher, our Master. As you go over verses 33 through 40 today, ask the Spirit of Jesus to show you what you have been taught, and how you have been trained in His school of life. Ask also to be shown what lessons are next in the faith curriculum.

Fidelity Forever ~ Fri, May 8 ~ Psalm 119:41-48 ~ Waw.  I will keep your law continually, forever and ever. (44)

This section of Psalm 119 seems to emphasize how a person sticks to the word of God and truly enjoys it. And that’s just why we stick with something – because we enjoy it, we value it, we love it. As you meditate upon these eight verses, pray that you may be led and inspired to be more faithful today than yesterday, because you love what you hear from God.

Grounded Goodness ~ Sat, May 9, Psalm 119:49-56 ~ Zayin. This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life. (50)

Today’s part of the poetry mentions hope and comfort. It mentions opponents: the arrogant, the wicked. It mentions singing! Life is a mixed bag of experiences, and Psalms deal with it all: all that happens to us, all we do and feel, all that is terrible, all that is worth celebrating. Meditate upon these verses by rewriting them in your own words, for your situation, your life today.

Holy Hurry ~ Sun, May 10 ~ Psalm 119:57-64 ~ Heth. I hurry and do not delay, to keep your commandments. (60)

‘Hurry up and wait’ is what happens to us sometimes. In this pandemic season, there can be a lot more waiting going on. We wish things would hurry up and change! Take time, with these eight verses, to consider how you rush, and how you slow down. Examine yourself, with God, to see how you are doing at quieting yourself and resting in Christ.

Worship at Home: April 26

Welcome to this resource for worship at home, in a time when we are not gathering to worship together. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures as one, while apart.

Worship Welcome Psalm 27:1, 4

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.

Hymn 251 Thine Is the Glory

Prayer O Christ: crucified and resurrected! We turn directly to You together, in need of abundance in our lives. O Light of the world, we bow before the light of Your glory, Your guidance, Your comfort, Your insight, Your energy for good, Your truth about the past, present, and future. Dear Eternal Son, we feel fragile in these days, but we also gather our strength – may we do so in Your name: by Your authority and power.

We share a Christian sabbath today so we can see things eternal, not just the temporary things. We have been earthly minded, and not always heavenly good, we confess. We bring our regrets to you, our fears, our grief and anger today. World events and local events press in on us! Lighten our darkness, we pray.

Mighty Maker, we are not alone, we live in Your world. As we pray and praise separately together, we remember the millions around the world with whom we worship You now. Today we pray in particular for the believers of New Beginnings Christian Ministries in Kingston, NS. May they not simply survive this upsetting, crisis time: may they thrive!

And may we all be brought together as one, in our praying together. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name… AMEN.

Scripture Psalm 108:1-6, 10-13 – Sharon & Jeff White

Offering As a congregation offering a sacrifice of praise, we also offer our finances for our work and worship “together.” Our Church phone bill is a simple expense each month, but what an important tool it is in these days! Let us continue to share what we have, that our ministry may not only continue, but grow during this pandemic time.

LAMENT (Using Psalm 90)
(Amid Environmental Ruin)
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
But our dwelling place, the Earth, is coming to ruin!
Even the present relief of pollution
is but a blip in the downfall of the air.

Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
We are not God. We are not long-lived.
We are not paying attention to the centuries ahead.
We are not becoming good ancestors. Have mercy.

You turn us back to dust, and say,
“Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
For two hundred years we have been wrecking our world.
For fifty years Earth Day has called us to live better here.
Yet we forget yesterday, and imperil tomorrow.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
Our own lives are short,
and the lives of the poor on the planet even shorter.
The failing environment fails them before us.
Yet the first ones harmed on the planet are not us,
but the plants, birds, insects, whales, and all…

(Amid Violence)
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
Oh, may there be mercy!
The violence one week ago in Nova Scotia alarms us in heart and soul.
The grief is too much to bear. The disaster struck far too many.

The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
More than twenty people’s lives cut short.
More than twenty to mourn, and honour,
and mourn, and celebrate, and mourn.

even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Oh, the terrible, heroic work that had to be done
by those who responded first.
Oh, the pain and trauma presented to so many.
Oh, the toil and trouble!

So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
We count every valuable day of those who were lost.
We count every tear, every plea for answers,
every candle lit in a window,
every tartan displayed and every bell rung.

(Amid a Virus)
Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
How long, indeed, shall the pandemic live,
shall our isolations and quarantines go on,
shall our lone and fearful habits endure?

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
We look for ways to keep busy and helpful.
We long for ways to keep young ones learning.
We cry out for ways to help those in need,
whose lives are falling apart in this crisis.

We are desperate for joyful gatherings.
Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.
Yes! We want to make up for these lost weeks.
We cry out for freedom to walk the earth.
We cry out to gather for joy and celebration.
We cry out to gather for mourning and burials.
We cry out to get to work again and to serve.

Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let there be real power for healing in:
the research and treatment of COVID-19,
the isolation and care we take, day by day,
the striving for safety in nursing home & prison,
the creative ways we struggle to get work done,
& worship, & fellowship, & to be family.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands! AMEN.

Solo My Life Is In Your Hands – Joyce Marshall

Scripture John 1:1-18

Sermon Light Shines in the Darkness – Jeff White

I think of myself as a peaceful, non-violent person. You might say that about yourself. But I live, with you, in a world of Violence. The past seven days have alarmed us with this, shaken us.

Yet we live in a culture of violence. It’s like part of the air we breathe! Well, most of us breathe it.

This showed itself to me this week as we watched the National news program. Not something I had been doing much at all, until this year. ‘Tuned in’ on the computer. Some minutes of news about the horrible shootings in Colchester County. Then, even online, there is a commercial break, advertising the other TV programs on the channel. ‘Wild Bill,’ with images of police officers and guns threatening to shoot. 

More news, about the shootings and burned down houses in Portapique. Commercial break… ‘The Oland Murder,’ a commercial with images of blood.

More news, and now they turn to the virus outbreak. Then commercials – the same commercials over and over, I might add. ‘Luther,’another show with guns shooting, knives wielded, fists fighting, explosions, according to the ad.

We are entertained all the time with violence, with guns, ‘cops and robbers,’ twisted characters with twisted minds doing terrible things. And then we freak out when it really happens around us. 

It is a dark world. Perhaps people’s fascination with evil and violence is a way we try to figure it out, derive meaning from the meaningless, cope with the nastiness of humanity.

 The magnificent beginning of John’s Gospel in the Bible says 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Those who are Greek scholars tell us these are rich, poetic, Bible phrases. This gets translated:

the darkness did not overcome it. (NRSV)

the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV)

the darkness did not comprehend it. (NASB)

the darkness has never put it out. (GNT)

the darkness couldn’t put it out. (MSG)

darkness could not diminish it! (TPT)

What is ‘IT’? What is this ‘Light?’ Jesus the Christ. The ‘Word,’ as it says also in this prologue. This powerful poetry gives us the light that the darkness cannot handle. Though we, of this world, see how the True Light does not get all the attention. John proclaims: 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

So the violence continues. Evil sometimes thrives. Trouble transfers from one person to another. 

For me, facing the mass shooting took time. It was a matter of wandering back into my memories, into relationships, into nature, and into scripture. 4 steps.

I thought back to many trips driving through Portapique; I lived west of there, in Parrsboro, for five and a half years. Going by and never stopping, I used to think the name of one of the little roads was interesting: Five Houses. 

Once, years ago, I stopped and walked along the beach there. And just once I travelled with a couple older friends from Windsor, where I lived, to the annual service at the United Church in Portapique. The minister happened to be an old friend of mine. With my landlady and her sister I went to an old family home in the area, and I took a photo for them of a painting there of the old homestead, where their mother’s ancestors had lived.

The church is now closed, and the building now privately owned. 

Then I thought of people I know now, with connections in the area of this terrible violence. For years I have known a woman from Short’s Lake whose daughter was the teacher killed on the weekend. I know two families who live at a place called Little Dyke, just 18 kms from Portapique. They are shaken up! And so on… we see many personal connections, only a few degrees of separation.

A third part of my facing this news was to get out in the woods, like I always do. I biked up the sandy railbed. I walked into the woods, off the trails. Wandered around some woody beaver ponds. Watched the birds. 

I hope you have your own quiet practices to give you time and space for letting your mind and heart wind down and quiet and be still and rest. And pray.

My own fourth way of processing this mess was to use scripture. I was sort of focused upon what scripture would speak to others, for others, who are hit closely by the tragedy. But it was for my heart too.

I looked for the laments of the Bible. I pondered Psalms 13, 22, 42 & 43, 94, 143. I rewrote Psalms 42& 43 for, well, for me, I guess. All about the shooting. 

Today we read Psalm 108. It has a bit of the lament element to it.

6 Give victory with your right hand, & answer me, 

so that those whom you love may be rescued.

‘I’m not rescued. I need to be rescued. Please rescue!’ That’s what many a lament sings, mournfully and energetically. This week has been such a time, for lament in our shock and grief.

We each may need to take a sabbath rest too. A sabbath from the news – TV, paper, internet, radio. One full day a week with none of it. Even each day we need to control our own schedule, and take breaks from the bad news, if we are prone to be getting it all day long. Perhaps you will be guided to take more than one day, and retreat for several days from the oppressive negative. Not to hide from reality, but to allow the Spirit of the Master to balance your soul. I still have posted in front of me on my desk 

Philippians 4:8-9. 

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things

Notice the light that is shining in the darkness.

I’ve talked a lot, here, about the violence of this moment. Let me just end with this consideration. God is peace, not violence. I know we have a lot of biblical material that is violent, forceful, militaristic, triumphant, judgmental and all that. We see it for sure in Psalm 108, a prayer for victory! The singers call out for the Almighty to help, and not abandon their military efforts:

10 Who will bring me to the fortified city?

    Who will lead me to Edom?

11 Have you not rejected us, O God?

    You do not go out, O God, with our armies.

All these centuries later, I wonder if Jesus would answer, “Yes, God will not go out with your armies. The days of those ways of winning are over. I submitted to violence and died, to end it.” So God has not rejected them, or us. God is rejecting our violence. How can we follow this Way, and reject violence?

The traumatic terror of this past week has come to us amids this Virus crisis, and makes it harder. Oh, to be with you, dear friends! To be near you, to face the terrible news we all face together. But we cannot. We must just speak at a distance, one by one, or by phone. We are sacrificing our togetherness for our lives. It is temporary, but it is long. 

Can you sense that we are still one in Christ? I know you can. Because we miss one another so much. We miss our worship together on Sunday mornings. So we know we are still family, the family of God.

John speaks to us from his first chapter.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Children of God. I think there is a sense in which to be ‘a child of God’ means two things. Every human is a child of God. Part of the human race, created by the Father, Son and Spirit, made in the divine image. 

But there is also the coming home to God that is needed. The power to be adopted, to be grafted back into the vine, to be born afresh into this holy family – this is all gift, all grace. To become children of God is an act of God, so to speak. We get back to where we belong in the first place, by the work of Jesus. 

Psalm 108 says 12 O grant us help against the foe, for human help is worthless. Our foe so much and so deeply is separation, isolation, in spirit. Separated from God, from one another, even from our own selves. The ministry of reconciliation is Christ’s and ours! We are still one, even when we are alone now.

Right now, we cannot get together each week to celebrate this. One day, will will again. 

God seen as Three, the Trinity, is God as Relationship. This cannot be broken.

The third and final challenge of our week has been, for me at least, to celebrate Earth Day. Even the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! We hear the call of God in all creation to be a good and blessed part of our Environment on Earth.

I’ve already pointed out that God the Trinity, including Jesus the Christ, is the Creator. What does John proclaim?

2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

In my early years of figuring out God the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I thought at least one Christian hymn made a mistake. Isaac Watt’s ‘Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed?” (#208)

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
for His own creature’s sin.

“Jesus is not the Mighty Maker!” I thought. “God the Father is the Creator.” But no. It is not quite like that. Christ was there too, before creation, part of the creative process. John’s prologue celebrates this. Of Jesus, the Christ, the Word, the Light, John says: 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him

We, we humans, are part of the world that can know Him. And we realize we are known by Him.

It is important for us to be deeply in touch with creation. For the sake of creation, and for our own well-being. My times out there this past week were blessed opportunities for quiet, serenity, solitude, prayer, meditation, self-awareness, God-awareness.

Martin Laird tells the story of a driven ballet dancer who finally found solace…

The woman could blow like silk across the stage or drive like a storm through the corps de ballet. To watch this world-class ballerina was to behold light and grace in human form. But if you would ask her about her own experience as source of beauty and inspiration you would see only a vacant stare of shocked disbelief. She would speak instead of an obsessive and torturously perfectionist mind that left her grinding her teeth.

She had a lot of anger, and pain and fear inside her. But then: She did find solace. She took long walks out on the Yorkshire moors. If she walked long enough, her roiling mind would begin to settle. She described how on one occasion her anxiety began to drop like layers of scarves.

While this experience out on the moors happened only once, it proved a real turning point in her life and drew her into the way of prayer. She knew from her own experience that there was something in her that was deeper than her pain and anxiety and that when the chaos of the mind was quieted, the sense of anguish gave way to a sense of divine presence. (Laird, Martin, Into the Silent Land, 2006, pp.20-22)

Let us seek Jesus’ way of non-violence.

Let us trust our connection as the Family of God.

Let us walk gently upon the Earth together.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth. Ps. 108:5

Visual Prayer:

Song God of Wonders

Benediction
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ, of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.

Worship at Home: April 19

Welcome to this resource for us in this time when we cannot gather in one place on a Sunday. Make the most of the parts of the service here. Many of you, like me and Sharon, also view or read other services from other local churches on Sundays.

This week, for Digby Baptist, we are pleased to have our Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Don Robertson, offer the message from God’s word. We will also thank our God today for Jean Brittain, a dear person in our congregation who departed this earthly life last weekend. AND, we also celebrate the birth of Eliana Taylor Grace Vassallo, 7 lbs 11 oz, early on Thursday morning! – Pastor Jeff

Worship Welcome Psalm 27:4-5

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

Hymn 235 Christ Arose! (Low In the Grave He Lay)

Prayer Life-Giver: the enemy, death, is no longer in power! Praise to You! Holy One: all that is wrong and terrible and hurtful dissolves in the light of Your glory and goodness. Praise to You! Father of Freedom: even in isolation and quarantine our spirits are set free by the Cross and Resurrection. Praise to You!

We bow the knee, from our separate places of worship. We seek again to be honest to You, God, to be free with our emotions, to be seeking help for our next step in life. Let mercy flow, in the name of Christ, Lord of heaven and earth. Guide us through the wilderness, to the unpredictable promised land.

There is much in life that touches us deeply, Holy Love. Our loss of people like Jean Brittain is one. And we cannot even gather to mourn or praise or laugh! Support us, we pray, especially those closest to Jean, in all these days, until we can gather again. Yet we also rejoice now in birth – the wonderful life of Eliana Taylor Grace Vassallo, who was born on Thursday! O how grateful we are for her, and her safe arrival.

We look to Your beauty, God, now. We find we can abide in Your temple while we are at home, when we are out, even when we lie down to rest. We offer our worship now, with all the hope and trust we have. AMEN.

On Holy Saturday, April 11th, our beloved Jean completed her life among us, and her service to the Lord here was finished. Someday in the future we will be able to gather, and to thank God for her. Until then, we remember, we are grateful, and we keep on singing! Listen to this trio, sung just last month by the Ladies Ensemble (Margo, Heather & Jean): “Bow the Knee”.

https://www.facebook.com/sarefina/videos/3008563939208566/
In honour of the late Jean Brittain.

Offering Our offering is a way we answer the call of God to be together, to be one, to be united in Christ. Thank-you, one and all who have been dropping off your offerings in the box in the hallway, or delivering them in other ways.

Scripture 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-18

Song When Answers Aren’t Enough – Cairine Robertson

You have faced the mountains of desperation
You have climbed, you have fought, you have won
But this valley that lies coldly before you
Casts a shadow you cannot overcome

When answers aren’t enough, there is Jesus
He is more than just an answer to your prayer
And your heart will find a safe and peaceful refuge
When answers aren’t enough, He is there

Greg Nelson / Scott Wesley Brown
© Universal Music Publishing Group

Sermon Do Not Lose Heart – Don Robertson

the Rev. Donald Robertson

As your Pastor Emeritus, I appreciate the opportunity, during this time of separation and uncertainty, to bring a message from God’s Word. We need to be reminded that although we are physically separated from each other temporarily, we are spiritually together in Christ, who has promised: “I am with you always.” The message consists of just four words from 2 Cor. 4:16: “Do not lose heart.”

A psychology professor was giving his students a written test. He asked one question concerning a particular type of mental illness, “What would you call someone who walks back and forth screaming his lungs out one moment, then weeping uncontrollably the next?” One of his students wrote, “a hockey coach.” Well, I’m sure that coaching hockey, or basketball, or football teams, especially on a professional scale, can take a heavy toll emotionally. I read of one famous coach who was well known for his habit of chewing on a towel during an exciting game. Coaches, of course, aren’t the only ones who have to deal with extraordinary stress; many ordinary people do as well, including, at times, you and me.

The apostle Paul was one such person. In his letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16) What does he mean by outwardly wasting away? He means that daily life takes its toll – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Paul himself was constantly aware of the physically and emotionally depleting effects of the trials and troubles he endured in the course of his missionary journeys. He knew what it was to face hardship, persecution, and imprisonment. He well knew that anxiety and affliction can take a heavy toll.

We’ve all watched political leaders age almost before our very eyes, under the heavy responsibilities of their office. We’re told that during the Vietnam War, U.S. Secretary of State, Robert McNamara underwent tremendous physical and emotional stress. Toward the end, when it was obvious that the war could not be won, his wife reported that he began to grind his teeth at night, and that he slept fitfully.

In the early 1900s, the top ten killers in the U.S. and Canada were all infectious diseases. Today, it’s estimated that the top ten killers are all stress related. “Outwardly, we are wasting away,” writes Paul. We all know what he was talking about. Worry and fear can play havoc with our physical and emotional balance in life.

Do you remember the story of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving? In the story, Ichabod Crane, a school teacher in a small New England village, was courting a young lady. His rival for her hand was a younger man. In the community, there was a legend about a headless horseman who rode around the countryside at night. One night, Ichabod’s rival dressed up as the fabled horseman, and laid in wait for Ichabod. As Ichabod rode by, the headless horseman took pursuit. Poor Ichabod was so frightened that he spurred his horse, and was never seen again. If only he had turned and faced the object of his fear, rather than fleeing in panic, he would have discovered the truth.

Every stage of life has its own particular worries and concerns. Right now, in the midst of this corona virus pandemic, our concerns center around family, health, jobs, and finances. These concerns are real, and

they are challenging. Yes, life takes its toll. That’s why Paul says twice in this chapter, “We do not lose heart.” Why? Because “though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” How is that possible? How can we keep growing stronger internally and spiritually, even when life is taking a toll on us physically and emotionally?

There are three ways.

THE FIRST STEP: WE MUST HAVE A STRONG FAITH IN THE FUTURE.

Paul writes: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (vs.17) The apostle Paul had a future hope that all the fiery trials of the present could not diminish. Winston Churchill was once asked by a reporter what was the greatest weapon his country possessed in its fight against the Nazis. Without pausing a moment, he said, “It’s what England’s greatest weapon has always been – hope!”

We can’t live to the full without hope. When people have no hope, deterioration is rapid. Paul’s hope was based on his faith in Jesus Christ, and the promise of eternal life. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” (vs.17 and 18) This includes all that we mean by the word “heaven.” In 1 Cor.2:9, he writes, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” With our limited eyes and minds, we can’t conceive what awaits us in the Father’s house in heaven.

Even Jesus endured the Cross because of, as the scripture says, “the joy that was set before him” as he anticipated returning to the Father.

Against the background of future glory, the trials and tribulations of our present circumstances appear in their true perspective. They are “light and momentary troubles.” As Paul says elsewhere, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom.8:18) Stephen, in the hour of his death, looked up and saw a ring of angry men hurling stones at his prostrate body. Had he seen only that, his spirit might well have failed him. But he looked again, and saw “the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,” and his spirit was filled with a courage and a faith over which his persecutors had no power whatever.

The apostle Paul had his eyes fixed on what is unseen, on what is anticipated. This hope kept him from losing heart. Belief in the future can do that. This is the first step we need to take to keep from losing heart, to strengthen our inner being, while our outer being is wasting away. Believe in the future, and in the hope of heaven.

THE SECOND STEP: WE MUST FOCUS ON THE TASKS AT HAND.

Paul writes in verse 11: “For we are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies.” Paul is describing here a daily dying to self so that the living Christ may reign supreme on the throne of his being, thus fortifying him to face the challenges and trials of everyday life. Confident in the future, Paul concentrated on the tasks before him, relying on the power of the living Christ within. Jesus, through his spirit, would strengthen him, moment by moment, day by day.

Focusing on the present – how vital it is! Wise people learn to let go of

regrets over the past and anxieties over the future, and are able to concentrate on the things that must be faced today. F.W. Boreham once told about a man in his congregation who seemed to have a special peace in his life. One day, as they talked, Mr. Boreham asked him about his calm sense of assurance. After some hesitation, the man replied, “I’ve always made it a rule that when I shut the door, I’ve shut the door.” He went on to explain that it had once been his habit to go to bed taking his troubles and fears with him. Sleeping poorly, his health gradually began to be undermined. He continued, “One night, I got up and went to the window. It was a beautiful night. The garden below and the fields beyond, were flooded with a silvery moonlight. The perfect tranquility mocked the surging tumult in my brain. Why had I locked my office door so carefully if I wanted all my ledgers and order forms to follow me home? Why had I closed my bedroom door so carefully if I wanted all my cares and worries to follow me? I recalled a verse of scripture that says, ‘casting all your care on him, for he careth for you.’ I knelt down there by my windowsill, with the delicious air of the still night caressing my face, and then and there, I asked God to forgive me. Ever since, when I’ve shut the door, I’ve shut the door.”

That’s good advice for all of us. It’s too late to do anything about the past, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. Besides, tomorrow will be determined, at least in part, by how we perform today. So let’s shut the door on the past, and even on the future, and let’s make today as purposeful and productive as we can. Let’s die to self daily, and allow the living Christ to reign on the throne of our being, remembering that he is our daily friend, guide, and companion. Believe in the future and in the promise of eternal life. Focus on the tasks at hand, remembering that Jesus, our living Friend and Savior, has promised to be with us always.

THE THIRD STEP: WE MUST HAVE A COMPLETE SENSE OF TRUST IN A LOVING HEAVENLY FATHER.

Paul writes in verse 7: “ But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all surpassing power is from God, and not from us.” Then he goes on to show the result of such a trust in the presence and power of God: “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.”

As R.G. Letourneau once said, “Worry and trust cannot live in the same house. When worry is allowed to come in one door, trust walks out the

other, and worry stays until trust is invited back in again, whereupon worry walks out.” How true it is! So, Paul writes to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.4:6-7)

A construction crew was once building a road through a rural area, knocking down trees as they progressed. The superintendent noticed that one tree had a nest of young birds, not able to fly. He marked the tree so it wouldn’t be cut down. Several weeks later, he came back to the tree and checked to see if the fledglings were gone. They were, so he ordered the tree cut down. As the tree crashed to the ground, the nest fell free, and some of the materials the birds had gathered to make the nest were scattered about. The man picked up a scrap of paper that apparently had been torn from a Sunday School pamphlet. On it were the words “He careth for you.”

That’s the good news for today. The same God whose eye is on the sparrow, is watching over you and me. There’s no burden that he won’t help us carry, and there’s no valley we walk through alone if we put our trust in a loving heavenly Father.

Many of our best loved hymns, such as “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” and “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” were written by a woman who at the age of six, became totally blind. Her name was Fanny Crosby. She had a vital and infectious faith in God, even at a very young age. When she was only eight years old, after two years of darkness, she wrote this poem:

O what a happy child I am, although I cannot see
I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be
How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t
To weep and cry because I’m blind, I cannot, and I won’t

And she didn’t! With a simple, trusting faith in a loving heavenly Father, she went on to make her life a blessing to the whole world.

So, whatever your circumstances may be this week, whatever trials and tribulations you may face, God is saying to you: DO NOT LOSE HEART. Even if life takes a toll on your outer person, your inner person can ever be made strong. BELIEVE IN THE FUTURE, FOCUS ON THE TASKS AT HAND, AND KNOW THAT HE CARETH FOR YOU.

Prayers – Jeff White

O Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, we cast all our cares upon You, because You care for us. You care for those in our prayers. You care for this whole world of beauty and of troubles.

Amid the virus crisis around us, the usual illness and injuries continue among us. Our prayers are for patients in hospitals, like George, who has been in hospital so long now, more isolated than so many of us. Our prayers are for those isolated in homes for special care, with visitors and weekly activities cut down almost to nothing. Our prayers are for the leadership of our Churches, and all who follow in the fellowship: Creator, guide our creative obedience in these days of limitations and change.

In this information age, guide us through the maze of misinformation and lies. Spirit of Truth, lead us, and make us wise in our own words, we pray.

In this crisis of caring for ourselves, point our eyes and our hearts out to the world, in need. Stir our hearts to make the right sacrifices for the sake of others now.

And in this season of introspection, give people quality time with You, amid the long hours: be they of work and striving, or of isolation and boredom. Keep us prayerful for those who are suffering and dying, and those who are fighting disease and disaster. Glorious God of Care and Compassion, to you we bow the knee, to You we sing our faith, in You we abide today, in the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Hymn 619 God Will Take Care of You

Benediction from Genesis 31:49

“The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other.” In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Easter Worship at Home: Sunday, April 12 – the Day of Resurrection

Worship Welcome

Christ is risen! Hallelujah!
In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it. Hallelujah!
The darkness comprehended it not. Hallelujah!
The darkness has never put it out. Hallelujah!
Christ is risen! Hallelujah!

Hymn 239 I Know That My Redeemer Lives – Cairine Robertson

Prayer From all our separate places we worship You now, Creator of life, Giver of life, Sharer of life, Saviour of life, Ruler of life, Lover of life. 

Some of us come still with doubts and fears, like the first women and men who were Your disciples. We believe, help thou our unbelief.  Spirit, flow through the meagre worship we offer now, and the light of the risen Christ will shine in our day. 

Almighty One, we give thanks for Your Son, our Saviour, who we honour today. Thank You for the rejoicing You give us! Call us closer, and remind us what we already know: the One who conquered the grave is a Lamb, who was slain. Praise to Christ! Hallelujah! AMEN.

Song There Rose a Lamb – Margo Nesbitt

Offering Let us take time to consider, on this day of amazing celebration, what we offer, in response to the death and life of God the Son for us.

Scripture 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:1 – Maggie Beveridge

Hymn How Great Is Our God

Scripture John 5:19-30

Sermon Hear and Live! – Jeff White

Of course we begin in a cemetery! This is the place where the action started, unseen, on resurrection day. ‘Up from the grave He arose!’ 

Our Baptist cemetery, Woodlawn, is much like a garden, but it has its wild elements too. We have the gravestones; we have the fake flowers and the real shrubs. We have the wild things that grow, and the birds that live here. 

Look, here are some wild strawberry plants. Perhaps, in just a month, they will be blooming. Sharon asked me the other day about the berry crops. “Strawberries are first, aren’t they?” Yes, they are. How wonderful those very first berries taste!

I remember some dear old folks in Parrsboro who grew, among other things, some rhubarb, in their garden. Early in the spring, Ken and Mary would pick the very first, very short and stubby stalks of rhubarb, just to say they had had their first of the season, long before everyone else! 

The first fruits of our gardens are special. Like the first snowdrops and crocus we have been enjoying. In the ancient days of Judaism, the ‘firstfruits’ of their harvest were special. The Hebrews made special offerings to God of the first and best of the crop. 

This explains why Paul called Christ the firstfruits of those who have died, since He has been raised from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:20) Hallelujah! 

It is well worth our while to review things Jesus said, before he was buried and raised, about life and death. He taught a great deal. Today’s Gospel reading is one sample. 

John 5:21 Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.

As you review this chapter in John, notice how Christ is speaking of Himself and His Father. He is laying out a very close connection; but also it is a relationship where One defers and submits to the Other, all the time. The Almighty gives life : the Son gives life. 

The dead are raised to life: hallelujah! Consider all the people for whom there is a resurrection coming. So, we honour the Son as we Honour God today. Perhaps you have already done as the old chorus suggests. (Bruce Ballinger, 1976)

We have come into His house

And gathered in His name

To worship Him

So forget about yourself

And concentrate on Him

And worship Him

Worship Him, Christ the Lord

You are likely in your house to worship the living, crucified Christ right now. Whatever worship we are capable of today, we offer to the Son of God. And in this posture, the Spirit of Jesus goes to work upon us, in our souls. The One – the Three – gives LIFE.

John 5:24 records these words of the Saviour: Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. We are celebrating the Resurrection this Sunday because we have passed from death to life. And what is this life? At one point, Jesus says, this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3) To know God is to live. To know Christ now means that eternity is now in session: eternal life has begun already. 

It is a matter of looking to things unseen, isn’t it? As Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 4. What can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (4:18)

From my usual Sunday morning pulpit, I can look out today for you folks, but all I see is empty pews. I speak, I preach to those absent, and ‘the choir invisible,’ I might say. But you are not gone. The Church is not dead. Quite the opposite – we live, thanks to Christ, in all our homes.

We celebrate the immortal, invisible God this Easter day. Looking to the unseen, we find an empty tomb, and the witness of many people who saw Him, alive. You and I testify to the moments we have seen the invisible: the living God who has met us. We have heard from Jesus. 

And it is yet invisible to us the resurrection of all those in our cemeteries, all those thru the centuries who walked with God. They shall walk again.

John (5:25) also told us these words of Jesus: “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

We worship Jesus today, who speaks life to the dead. The message is so well-known to us we need to stop, today, and take it in. It is incredible! Christ said, (John 5:28) Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Our life in Him, that we begin now, does not end when life, as we know it, ends. This is thanks to Jesus’ own death and resurrection. And even the dead shall hear from Christ.

Do you ever talk to people buried in a cemetery? Yes, many do. Our loved ones don’t usually talk back… right? 😉 

You have likely heard the stories about ‘safety coffins’ in the Victorian era. When people feared they might take ill and get buried prematurely – buried alive – they set up a coffin with a tube to the ground level above, and a little bell. If the person buried woke up, they could ring the bell and be rescued!

What about the other side of communication: getting the dead to hear us? Even if we could ring a church bell above the grave of a loved one, it would not be “loud enough to wake the dead.” But that is just what Jesus promises. All who are in their graves will hear His voice.

Throughout Church history now, Easter has been a time for bell ringing. It has been one of our communication tools, for centuries. The bell is rung, it is time for service. I wonder about the use of our own bell in years past. On the side of it, in our bell tower, there is a second clapper, no longer with a rope.  It was used for tolling the bell – a slow ringing of the bell. A read of our brief church history tells us that in November of 1900 a decision was made that the bell be rung rather than tolled prior to the sermon. 

I ring the bells here at 10 am on Easter Sunday to join with others who celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. For the first time, the bells are not calling worshippers to gather. They are telling us simply to stay home and celebrate New Life in Christ. No, I am not saying, “stay the blazes home;” I say, “say in your blessed homes! Christ is risen! Hallelujah!” 

Your home is indeed blessed when the Living Christ dwells there with you. For we have such hope – not only for ourselves. For those folks in our cemeteries. For the people of history. All the way back to the Old Testament saints mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. 

And hope for our future, the future generations. Perhaps today, bells will draw attention to empty buildings. And younger people will pause and wonder, why would they bother to ring? Who are the ringers of these bells in empty churches? 

We are. As we have heard Christ, we pray others will hear. We want them to hear from a dead man. He definitely died. Yet, He definitely lives!

So ring your own bell. Speak of Christ for those who will hear. Celebrate life! If much of this still seems a mystery to you, ask for the prayers of others, that we may seek the Spirit of truth to guide you into all the truth. 

This is a day of profound joy. Let me end with the thoughts of Paul in 2 Corinthians. Eugene Peterson put them this way:

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18) So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

5:1 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.

Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Amen.

Prayers of the People We do praise You, O Christ, and pray for all those in the struggle for life, right now. This day of glory shines upon us, lifts us up, brings us to You. Death and evil are conquered! We sing and pray hallelujah to You once again. 

But our dear one, Jean Brittain, departed this life yesterday afternoon: we weep, Jesus, we mourn. Turn our mourning into dancing, because of Your promised resurrection for her, and so many others. 

The spiritual struggles continue among us, and the emotional battles that drag people down. We ask for life-giving mercy, for heart and soul, for healing in relationships, and serenity in our moments of solitude. 

Author of Abundant Life, we renew our faith and hope in You today. We prepare to step into the unknown tomorrow… because You lead our way. We bow to You, and You raise us up, and those in our prayers. You, Christ, came to earth, and you have brought us to heaven. Glory and honour and praise and thanksgiving and love and worship to You we offer today!  AMEN.

Hymn 238 Because He Lives – Cairine Robertson

Benediction Hebrews 13:20-21

Now may the God of peace,
who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great shepherd of the sheep,
by the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will,
working among us that which is pleasing in his sight,
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

EASTER Sunrise: April 12

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Amen! Yes!

At the ‘crack of dawn’ go out on your doorstep, or to your window, look to the light of this new day, and remember the empty tomb! Let us do these three things together from our homes…

Painting by the late Wanda Handspiker
Painting by the late Wanda Handspiker

Be quiet. Let the light of the new day break upon you. Don’t rush it.

Read the Good News: Luke 24:1-10

Praise! You might even want to sing out loud. Perhaps:

Christ the Lord is risen today: Alleluia!
All creation join to say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high: Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply: Alleluia!

(And then, at 10 am today, listen for the church bells of town ringing.)

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Amen! Yes!

Worship at Home: Good Friday, April 10

Welcome to this resource for Good Friday, in a time when we are not gathering to worship together. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures together, while apart. There are a number of audio recordings and links to listen to in this worship post. Thank-you to all of you who recorded audio for this service.

You may want to choose a quiet place to sit for this time of prayer and study. You may share this with others in your home. When the time is right, begin…

Worship Welcome (from The Quest by Joe Darion, 1965)

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause

And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To fight the unbeatable foe
To reach the unreachable star

Hymn 213 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross – Jeff White

Prayer
A candle and a cross
And between these–a life
Bethlehem and Jerusalem
A birth and a death
One “of sorrows”
Who often wept
One of joy who also kept
Sensitivity and compassion
Alive and real
Today let us feel
The surge of that life
The beauty of that love
the power of that cross.
AMEN. (by Terrence Elwyn Johnson, 1996)

Solo If My People – Margo Nesbitt

Scripture 2 Chronicles 7:11-18 – Joyce Marshall

Prayer Timeless God, it was a few thousand years ago Solomon dedicated the Temple to You, and heard Your answer. The promise was heard – in times of drought, or crop failure, or plague: healing would come to the land, and forgiveness to the people. If…

If they would humble themselves. If they would pray. If they would seek Your face. If they would turn from their wicked actions.

We have no temple, this Good Friday. We stay at home, and worship Christ crucified on our own. May we be helped to humble ourselves. To pray. To seek You in Jesus upon the Cross. To turn away from failure. Show us mercy from the Tree, we pray. AMEN.

Scripture Psalm 88 – Simone Sleeth

Prayer Troubled souls look to You, Saviour, today. Our whole world is facing death. As it always has. We are just more aware right now. So we lament and mourn. We cry out for hope and help. We cry out against enemies. We cry out against God, Your ‘Abba.’

And we see how this ancient poem, this Psalm, is Your song, Jesus, from the Cross. Your story tells us that you took the hurt, the rejection, the violence, the hatred, the loneliness, the evils of the world, into Yourself, there. The complaint of the whole world we pour out again, in your name, Jesus. AMEN.

Solo Mercy Tree – Sharon Marshall

Scripture Luke 23:13-49 – Sharon White, Rob Wilkinson, Jeff White, Allison & Andrew Vassallo, Mike Beveridge, Tjark Fütterer, Richard Parry.

Prayer Spirit of life, holy and hidden: we also “stand at a distance, and watch these things.” The distance of two thousand years, the distance of another nation and religion, the distance of a very familiar story from the immediate shock of it all when it first happened.

Breath of God, bring the crucifixion to us again, now. Let us know how these events of the past touch the present for us. “I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died.” Give us wonder. Show us the glory of this moment. Let us face His death, now, and save our ‘Alleluias’ for Sunday morning. AMEN.

Hymn There Is a Green Hill Far Away

Sermon Self Isolation – Jeff White

It’s a terrible day. A terrible day outdoors, that’s for sure. Another terrible day to read the news, or hear it and watch it. A terrible start to a ‘long weekend,’ which has lost its meaning in our strange, new schedule. A terrible day to see how even local people are acting in a crisis: judging, complaining, speaking rudely to others. Makes you want to isolate yourself!

And a terrible day for a Good Friday service; we can’t get together anyway. Nevertheless, the traditions of Good Friday bring us very close to the story of Jesus’s suffering and execution. 

Still, we, like those around Him then, stand “at a distance, watching these things.”   

It is the distance of almost two thousand years. 

It is the emotional distance, I could call it, of the horror, the sadness, the serious impact of what happened.

It is the distance of understanding it, the distance of what our minds can take in, & what is still unclear about this scripture story.

We read from Luke’s telling of the story, today. Like the other three versions, he shows that Christ chose the path of sacrifice

See the way Jesus speaks to the women, who are lamenting as He goes by? Crying and wailing was a standard way of expressing grief and complaining about life. ‘Cry for yourselves,’ Jesus says.

Pencil Sketch by Terry Gilbert, Jan 2020

See the way Jesus speaks as He is crucified: “Father, forgive them.” Which ones? Forgive who? All of them.  All of… us. 

See the way He resisted His ‘last temptation,’ as the 1988 movie called it, the temptation to be rescued from execution. A gospel song sings His words found in Matthew 26: 

He could have called ten thousand angels…

But He died alone, for you and me.

See the way Jesus speaks to that criminal who trusts Him for mercy. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Dying, one Man promises life to another.

See how He speaks from the Cross. He quotes scripture when He says things like, “into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Psalm 31:5)

This is a Person truly suffering, but Christ is not surprised, and quite willing. He makes a severe and supreme sacrifice. For millions of people, through the ages.

Jesus chose the path of isolation, on the way to and upon this Cross. 

He faces intense sadness and grief.

He faces rejection by friends and enemies.

He faces misunderstanding by so many. 

He faces betrayal – by Judas, by Peter, by others.

He faces abandonment by almost everyone. 

He is at a distance from them all. 

He faces severe damage to His body, leading to death. Even in burial, He is all alone, in a new tomb, we are told, “where no one had ever been laid.” (Lk 23:53)

There is a little phrase in Genesis 2 that comes to my mind often. Words of the Creator: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (G 2:18) It is not good that we be alone. So we are in families, in neighbourhoods, in communities. 

But this is also broken. In a time of world-wide crisis, the brokenness rears its ugly head. We, here, who have so much safety and luxury feel the pandemic deeply – the lack of freedom, the not knowing… or not knowing who to believe, the fears about safety and sickness, and the nastiness of human nature comes out. This moment brings out the best and the worst in us. Trying to isolate ourselves can show how isolated we already were.

Loneliness may be an epidemic in our part of the world. It was real, even before we had to stop getting together and touching. More than fifty years ago the Beatles sang:

Ah, look at all the lonely people

Ah, look at all the lonely people

All the lonely people

Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people

Where do they all belong?

Today’s story of Jesus shows us a Saviour who chooses a path that isolates Him, tears Him from everyone. And, finally, tears Him from life itself. 

Those who relied upon Jesus found themselves isolated in this moment of crisis. It was but a few days. But their whole world collapsed, as their Leader submitted to the injustice and violence He faced. They did not see that this was the way through, to victory over evil. From a distance some of them watched. Then it was the Jewish Sabbath, a day to rest, a day not to travel, not to work, a day for them to wait and mourn and wonder. 

This is our spiritual discipline today, and tomorrow. We stop. We watch from a distance. We go away and hide, quietly. We take a break from all the terror. 

In this aloneness, we wait for some sign of hope. Hope that isolation will be over: fellowship will live again. We hold our longings that the nasty things that separate us from others will be healed. We offer desperate prayers for our souls to live again, given a life we cannot find on our own.

Perhaps we have all heard the quotation, now famous, from ‘Mr. Rogers.’ Fred Rogers said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” The Christ who self-isolates is the great Helper. With Him, we are not only helped, we are made into the helpers.

Jesus the Christ goes ahead of us into all the disasters we fear. And we follow. Isolated as we are, let us follow.

Prayers & the Lord’s Prayer

O God, because we have You, we stop to observe a day of disasters.
You – in Jesus – die violently. We mourn.
The storm surges around us – wind and snow and rain and flooding tides. We wait for relief.
A virus throws humanity into a fearful frenzy – with deaths and dangers, and our own violent words and selfish actions. We plead for mercy.
Beneath the Cross of Jesus we huddle today, feeling distant from one another, and perhaps that is just as it should be. If we want to know Christ Crucified now.
In the name of this dying Saviour we are praying – separately – together – and our personal prayers are for blessings in the lives of these people…

For help in these parts of the world…

For this need in my own life…

And for this…

And we pray as Christ taught, saying again:
Our Father, who art in heaven…
AMEN.

Hymn 221 O Sacred Head, Now Wounded – Jeff White

Benediction

On this day of night
cry out in the presence of God.
On this day of being cut off
know the ear of God hears.
On this day of death
know you are not forsaken.
AMEN.

Worship at Home: Palm Sunday, April 5

Welcome to this plan for worshipping at home, during this self-isolating season. Read the scriptures, use the prayers to inspire your own, click on the links to listen. Today, April 5, Holy Week begins for much of the Church in the world. Today is traditionally called ‘Palm Sunday,’ and we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, before his execution. We ordinarily would have celebrated the Lord’s Supper together today, but in our separate homes we must now look to the Cross of Christ on our own. Yet, we are still together.

Worship Welcome Isaiah 26:19-20

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
and the earth will give birth to those long dead.
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the wrath is past.

Hymn (Hosanna) Praise Is Rising

Prayer We begin with words of hope, Holy God, as a Holy Week begins for us. Even with ancient words of resurrection, from the Book of Isaiah. We remember that day Jesus entered the Holy City; it was such a day of joy and anticipation for His followers. This day, from our homes, we seek that joy again. 

But we know the joy was short-lived, in Jerusalem. By the end of the week, Christ was dead, the disciples had dispersed, and many were hiding in their homes. We confess that many of our hopes are dashed – for Easter, for spring, for this whole year. Resurrection seems a long ways away, not mere days.

Take us through these stories again! Guide us, we pray. And, as You bless Your Digby Baptists, we pray for the whole word of Christians walking this same road. Like the folks of the Baptist Church over in Hillsburn, across the Digby Gut. May we all know ‘the old, old story.’ And may we be united by You, and the ways we are together in prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

Hymn 203 Hosanna, Loud Hosanna – Cairine Robertson

Offering Our monthly and weekly offerings provide for many things. Such as our musical instruments. We are in a definite time of transition with our pipe organ and pianos, and not just because we are not together using them right now. Sadly, our organ and piano tuner died suddenly this past winter in an automobile accident. We must find a new technician, in our loss of J. F. Mailhot. Also, the worship committee will be seeking a new, digital piano, thanks to a gift from the estate of the late Vincent McCarlie. May our instruments always bring glory to God!

Scripture Isaiah 43:15-21 – Sara Wilkinson

Solo Hosanna in the Highest – Margo Nesbitt

Scripture Matthew 21:1-11

Sermon Do Something New

We are all doing something new, now, due to the pandemic. Well, likely lots of little habits are new. Quite a bit of it is what we are not doing now that we always used to do, just a month ago. Plus the extra new ways of doing things. Sharon got groceries by pre-ordering and pre-paying, then going to pick them up – delivered right into her car.

Will life ever be quite the same again? When this is ‘all over?’ A year from now? Five years from now? We wonder, don’t we. It feels, at the beginning of this strange season on earth, that this is a ‘game-changer.’ We know that in 2021, and 2031, and 2051, people will look back and know things changed on the planet in 2020.

We have these big change moments in our lifetimes. Remember how life changed after Sept. 11, 2001? And how was life in the West different after WWII? 

We can look back in history farther, before our times. And we did today, go way back, with Isaiah 43. ‘I do a new thing, do you not see it?’ declares the prophet, on behalf of the LORD. It was ‘a word’ to the Hebrew people, captive in a northern empire, Babylon. There was a promise – they would be free.

Looking back, the people were amazingly told to forget the great, foundational salvation story of old, the Exodus. Remember the Exodus? That incredible saga, led by Moses, when the enslaved Hebrews get to leave Egypt and become a free people, in their own promised land. 

That is The BIG story for the Jews, in their whole scriptures. But, as Isaiah chapter 43 tells us, even that can be forgotten, so to speak. There will be a new Exodus, dear exiles! 

God is always doing this, in Biblical history. Allow me to remind you of a few examples. 

New beginning after Noah’s family left the Ark. 

New land for Abraham and Sarah.

New freedom from slavery in Egypt; new, promised land.

New freedom after exile in Babylon. 

New Messiah after their kingdoms are long gone. 

New Covenant in Jesus the Messiah.

New Heavens and New earth promised in NT.

Many times the Hebrews were told of new freedom or salvation. New way. New thing. 

Today, ‘Palm Sunday,’ a familiar story is rehearsed. As big as the Exodus from Egypt was, more than 3000 years ago, the new thing 2000 years ago is far greater: the Christ Event, we sometimes call it. God does a new thing in this ‘Holy Week.’ The new exodus. Freedom from sin. Freedom from death.

I happened to be reviewing some teaching videos on the four Gospels, and came upon some profound words from Bible scholar Alexander Shaia. 

This journey of transformation is about moving beyond hope to knowing. To the knowing… that God’s promise will not leave us, no matter how difficult, no matter how large, no matter how cataclysmic the challenges are that we face. God is here; and if we do our small part, ultimately all will be well. (Film: Climbing Matthew’s Great Mountain, The Work of the People, 2020)

As a Christian I have been the type of person always trying to study and learn more and figure things out in my Faith. How does God change lives? Yet I know many believers are not in-depth into Bible Study, Church history, and learning all the time. 

I know that many of you have enough things happen, in your own life story, to lead you on your walk with God, year by year. Transformation happens. The natural chapters of our lives demand change, and discipleship, and new paths, even without considering COVID-19 right now.

I see some of you who are parents to small children. One of you is about to have another child! 🙂 This was never part of my life, but I see in you all this amazing capability, and the learning, and the focus your lives take when you become parents. Life truly changes! It is a whole new chapter in the book of your life. The Spirit of Jesus has new things for you in this amazing time. 

Others of you are middle-aged, like me, and finding new chapters in your work life. You change jobs, or are without a job, or your usual work has changed a lot. Your walk with Jesus is a walk with Someone who is adequate for all the new challenges.

There are a lot of different troubles and sorrows we each have faced, at various times in our lives. Illnesses, losses of beloved ones, dreams and plans that get ruined, mistakes we make (which we may or may not have learned from) – these all demand changes in our relationship with the Almighty. 

Plenty of you are retired. Some of you moved back to this area because it is your ‘hometown.’ Is your time now as a disciple of the Master different than when you were younger? I bet it is. 

God is the God of new things. And what good news that is! Because we are often in a new place in our own lives. God is already there, ahead of us. 

Now then, as a congregation, we do some walking together, in spirit. This time, this Holy Week, in the Year of our Lord, 2020, will be different. Will Christ do something new with His scattered, isolated people this time? And later, when we finally gather again, will things be different? 

God is ever the same in this: doing a new thing. So, will it be the same old, same old story from the Bible this week? All the familiar stuff of Jesus and the disciples, the last supper, the arrest and trials and torture, the execution and death, the burial and resurrection? The appearances and ascension? No, we may experience it differently this year. 

Depending, of course, upon us. If we do our own review of the stories. If we pray on these things. If we sing over some of the sacred music. 

And even if we do not do anything with Jesus on Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, we may learn something. If we feel we missed out on it, we might gain a deeper longing for God. Or, we might not even notice, and feel we did not miss anything when there was ‘no church.’ Then, we might find out something about how we rely upon Jesus or don’t rely upon Him. There are plenty of people who do not attend ‘church’ ever, who also claim to trust Jesus. This year, we all get to experience not going to church at Easter. What might we discover because of this?

Today is the first Sunday of the month, our usual time for the Lord’s Supper, a Holy Communion. Other pastors and other denominations are ‘doing it’ online. I chose not to do this. We will skip trying to share the bread and the grape juice this month. Maybe for more than one month. Without it, we each, in our places, can review these central events from scripture. Matthew 26&27, Mark 14&15, Luke 22&23, John 18&19, 1 Corinthians 11. 

We may be shown new things, new meaning, new power. When we do sit down to eat and drink, we may or may not have someone to share it with at home, or not. But, suddenly, you may remember these stories. Remember the One who once ate and drank (like you do). The One who told His first apprentices to remember Him. (Are you one of His apprentices today?) The One who accomplishes a ‘new Exodus’ to a new ‘Promised Land’ for us. (Where in your life do you need freedom now?)  And this time, freedom is by the Leader’s own suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven.

Like last Sunday, let me finish with a story this week. A true story. I like this little anecdote, from a great storyteller, Frederick Beuchener. It seems fitting for this early spring ‘communion Sunday.’

I remember a spring or so ago walking with a friend through a stand of maple trees at sugaring time. The sap buckets were hung from the trees, and if you were quiet, you could hear the sap dripping into them: all through the woods, if you kept still, you could hear the hushed drip-dropping of the sap into a thousand buckets or more hung out in the early spring woods with the sun coming down in long shafts through the trees. The sap of a maple is like rainwater, very soft, and almost without taste except for the faintest tinge of sweetness to it, and when my friend said he’d never tried it, I offered to give him a taste. I had to unhook the bucket from the tap and hold it for him, and when he bent his head to drink from it, I tipped the bucket down to his lips, and just as he was about to take a sip, he looked up at me and said, “I have this feeling you ought to be saying some words.”

Well, my friend is no more or less religious than the next person, and we’d been chattering on about nothing in particular as we walked along until just at that moment as I tipped the bucket to his lips, he said what he said, and said it partly as a joke. He had the feeling I should be saying some words, he said, as I tipped the bucket to his lips so he could taste for the first time the taste of the lifeblood of a tree. And of course for a moment those unsaid words fell through the air of those woods like the shafts of sun, and it was no joke because the whole place became another place or became more deeply the place it truly was; and he and I became different, something happened for a second to the air around us and between us. (Frederick Buechener, Listening to Your Life, 1992, pp. 163-4)

May Christ meet us in some new way, in these days. May you have a holy week. Amen.

Prayers of the People Oh, to pray in this time. To put words to our struggles and hopes, our fears and angers, our confidence and compassion. To bring words of prayer to You – Oh, what a problem, what a purpose, what a peace, what a  privilege. 

Spirit, You know, and we know, we have our ‘pandemic prayers’ right now, and we still have our ‘normal prayers.’ We come and we seek and we bow and we quiet ourselves – because we see how more and more details of daily life are being touched by this shared human challenge. The farmers, the healthcare workers, emergency personnel, educators and students, artists, and so many others, have their work changed, blocked, or become more dangerous. We are all learning new things, new ways, new skills and habits. Spirit of Truth, show us the way.

Our praying is for those who are ill with the COVID-19 virus, those who care for them, and all those who have other illness and injuries. For those nearest and dearest to us we pray… For those in parts of the world where health-care cannot handle the problems now, we pray…  For leaders at every level who must work together making decisions that guide us through trouble, we pray… For people who are overwhelmed by the challenges and dangers, and for those who don’t act safely and those who don’t think the danger is real – we pray…

God of new things, we know that just because we feel a common and serious crisis here, You are not about to start a whole new chapter for humanity. But may we have faith to trust You during this chapter. Holy One, let us glimpse holiness, this week. Amen.

Hymn Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Benediction May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, rest upon us and all our work and worship done in His name. May He give us light to guide us, courage to support us, and love to unite us, now and for evermore. AMEN.