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

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

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

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

HYMN 5 Come, Thou Almighty King

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

SONG 606 Rejoice in the Lord Always

CHILDREN’s Time – Sharon White

SCRIPTURE Matthew 11:16-19, 23-30

Solo: ‘Footprints’ – Joyce Marshall

SCRIPTURE 2 Kings 14:8-11

SERMON ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’ – Jeff White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Millionaire and the Scrublady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN 542 Near to the Heart of God

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

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

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

A few things to keep in mind:

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

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

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

– Masks are optional.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORSHIP WELCOME (Matthew 16:15-18)

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

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

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

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

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

Anniversary SCRIPTURE Sharing

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

Or LISTEN to the audio file:

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN ‘This Is Amazing Grace

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

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

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

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

Pastor Borden Scott and daughter

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

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

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

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

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

CHILDREN’s Time God is Love

SCRIPTURE Matthew 10:28-39 – Joyce Marshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN # 663 Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus’

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

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

AMEN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HYMN Holy Is the Lord

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

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

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

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

CHILDREN’s Time God is Holy

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

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

SERMON Why Parables? Why Stories? – Jeff White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn # 2 Holy , Holy, Holy

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

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

Children’s Time God is Spirit – Pastor Jeff

Scripture 2 Corinthians 13:5-13

Hymn # 1 I Bind Unto Myself Today

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

Sermon Love & Peace in Days of Hate & Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Post, on the same day:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hymn Holy Spirit (Getty, Townend, 2006)

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

Worship at Home: May 31 – Pentecost!

Welcome to this plan for worshipping together while we are at our homes. This is the 200th blog post on our website! Pastor Jeff White prepares this and hopes it continues to be helpful to us all, from near and far. More information is available each week in the Bulletin. Today is celebrated by many Christians as PENTECOST. Read the whole story in Acts chapter 2, if you need a refresher.

Worship Welcome Acts 2:17, 18, 21 (MSG) Peter quoting Joel

“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.
And whoever calls out for help
to me, God, will be saved.”

Hymn 290 Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Spirit of God descend upon my heart
Wean it from earth thro’ all its pulses move
Stoop to my weakness mighty as Thou art
And make me love Thee as I ought to love

I ask no dream no prophet ecstasies
No sudden rending of the veil of clay
No angel visitant no opening skies
But take the dimness of my soul away

Hast Thou not bid us love Thee God and King
All Thine own soul heart and strength and mind
I see Thy cross there teach my heart to cling
O let me seek Thee and O let me find

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear
To check the rising doubt the rebel sigh
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love
One holy passion filling all my frame
The baptism of the heav’n descended dove
My heart an altar and Thy love the flame

– George Croly, 1867

Prayer Fire of God, Sacred Flame, Spirit, Who in splendour came: may we know You again, now. Come to us, Holy Spirit. Call us to You, Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, who promised You, we pray and praise. Some of us ask simply that the dimness of our souls be taken away. Some of us fervently seek Your power and filling and glory, and plead for You to move again among us! Some of us are confident today, as every Sunday, that You will be near and powerful. O Spirit of communication, open our minds to understand what is real and true, open our hearts to the river of compassion, open our senses to trust Your guidance. AMEN.

Scripture Deuteronomy 5:1-22 [The Ten Commandments] – ten readers

Song Awesome God (The video, below, seemed like a great rendition to Pastor Jeff.)

Children’s Time God’s Languages

Scripture Hebrews 12:18-24

Sermon Stay The Blazes – Jeff White

Indeed our God is a consuming fire. Such words can put fear into people’s hearts; ‘puts the fear of God into them!’ Have you ever been frightened by God, or by a religious experience?

Author, Philip Yancey, tells of each fall in the church of his childhood, the prophecy conference that was sponsored. Silver-haired men of national repute would stretch their prophecy charts… across the platform and expound on “the last days” we were living in. 

Yancey says, I listened in fear and fascination as they drew a straight line south from Moscow to Jerusalem and sketched in the movement of million-strong armies who would soon converge on Israel. I learned that the ten members of Europe’s Common Market had recently fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy about the beast with ten horns. Soon all of us would bear a number stamped on our foreheads, the mark of the beast, and be registered in a computer somewhere in Belgium. Nuclear war would break out and the planet would teeter on the brink of annihilation, until at the last second Jesus himself would return to lead the armies of righteousness.

Yancey concludes, I grew up at once terrified and desperately hopeful. (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 1995 p. 239)

So, it is not surprising that many people want to halt or “stay” the fire of God. Keep away. ‘Stay the blazes,’ we could say. (As in, “I hope the court will stay the execution.”) Halt meeting up with the fires of the Holy Spirit, or even alarming human preaching.

definition of 'stay'

Indeed our God is a consuming fire. This is powerful, poetic language. In our celebration of Pentecost we rejoice in God the Holy Spirit, given to believers. We look back to that scene, recorded in Acts chapter 2, when the disciples of Jesus heard a rushing wind, and flames of fire seemed to appear above each person. God – the Spirit – came to their spirits and bodies. 

They spoke… they spoke in the various languages of the many visitors to the city. All the pilgrims to Jerusalem heard these Galileans speaking in their own ‘foreign’ tongues. God is a Spirit of communication.

Yet, all the supernatural stories of the Spirit, from the scriptures and from history, still can be alarming. Some of us like things on Sunday morning done ‘decently and in order,’ (1 Cor 14:40) nothing getting out of our control. Not to mention when the Pastor visits, or when someone religious knocks on our door, or if there is a chance of ‘speaking in tongues’ at prayer meeting. (We don’t even have prayer mtngs!)

This is a human tendency among believers. The faithful often fall into caution and what’s comfortable. We may hold on to our own dramatic experience, but don’t want a different one.

Two hundred years ago, and more, evangelical revivals were sweeping through the Maritimes, like the ebbing and flowing tides. One influential and legendary travelling evangelist was Henry Alline. An element of the gatherings in many towns was exhortation: the public speaking of lay people, to their family and friends, about the Saviour and their great need of Him. Alline’s faith, and preaching, and teaching were intensely personal, and he encouraged this public witnessing. In his journal, from 1782, he tells of ministry experience in Liverpool. 

Almost all the town assembled together, and some that were lively christians prayed and exhorted, and God was there with a truth. I preached every day and sometimes twice a day; and the houses where I went were crowded almost all the time. Many were brought out of darkness and rejoiced, and exhorted in public.

Historian, George Rawlyk, tells that Alline was particularly moved by “a young lad” who took “his father by the hand,” and cried out, “O father, you have been a great sinner, and now are an old man: an old sinner, with grey hairs upon your head, going right down to destruction.” “O turn, turn, dear father,” the son imported “return and fly to Jesus Christ.” There were according to Alline “many other such like expressions and entreaties, enough to melt a stony heart.” (Rawlyk, Ravished by the Spirit, 1983, p. 113)

This revivalism was, of course, frowned upon by many in the established churches: Anglicans, Presbyterians, and so forth. Yet this evangelical way was powerful, and influential. It is part of our history, our roots of faith in Nova Scotia. 

I notice that my beloved, and now retired, professor of Church History always gets quoted by his former students for saying, “The Church has always institutionalized how the Spirit moved last.” (Dr. Bob Wilson) Something great happens with God, and we want to keep it that way, keep doing it that same way, and not do the next new thing. Meanwhile, the Holy One has moved along and is working in new ways, and left us behind. 

Our reading from Deuteronomy 5 set the stage today for Hebrews 12. Deuteronomy sees Moses retelling the whole story of Exodus and the Law, and so forth, before his death. Today, we read of him rehearsing the Ten Commandments. Did you notice the mention of fire, there at the holy mountain, and the fear the people had? Scared of the fire of the mountain, the people insisted that Moses only approach God. 

So, in the early days of Christ and the new covenant, the book of Hebrews speaks of all these things that happened thirteen hundred years earlier. 

18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them.

It is a whole new chapter of faith that the people have come into, not the old path. It is new, with Jesus the Christ. In this chapter, the imagery of Mount Horeb (aka Sinai) and of Mount Zion (Jerusalem) are contrasted. The Bible scenes those Christians read about are not what they are headed for. There is a new vision.

What they remember, by reading the Torah, is the fearful scene of God’s reality. The Holy One had used every sense and power available to be present. 

Touch: an untouchable mountain
Vision: blazing fire and darkness
Emotion: gloom
Music: trumpet sound
Verbal: words that frightened

The new experience, in Christ, is different, greater, grander, and less frightening. It is a vision of a new Holy City (as in Revelation 21). “You have come to…”

Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a picture to point to the indescribable. 

innumerable angels in festal gathering. There is nothing alone or isolating about paradise. And there is praising and celebrating.

the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. This is what the preacher of Hebrews (a book that is like one very long sermon) calls the believers who have already died.

God the judge of all. I keep thinking that the greatest thing about God always being called The Judge, is that no one else judges us, and we do not have the final say on anyone else. That’s good news!

the spirits of the righteous made perfect. Here again are believers, humans, from earth, who have been made complete by God. Holy forever.

Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. Of course He is at the centre of the vision. He is the source of the new way, new agreement, new covenant, new relationship.

the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Genesis tells us of Abel being killed by his brother, Cain. Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for justice, for vengeance. Jesus’ blood, on the other hand, also spilled out on the ground through violence, cries out with forgiveness.

If we look hard enough, we can know the Spirit speaking, through history, and today, in all the various ‘love languages’ to us people. Communicating in every way possible to us, in our wondrous diversity. There are Words of Affirmation, and so many of these words recorded in the Gospels for us. This means a lot to some people.

There are Acts of Service. Jesus’ actions speak louder than words to many people.

There is Receiving Gifts, and the concept of ‘Christ as the perfect gift to us’ makes sense to people whose love language is giving and getting gifts.

There is Quality Time, so that the mystics among us value the deep times of devotion with the Spirit.

And Jesus gives Physical Touch. The ways He broke the social and religious rules to touch the untouchable sick, embrace the certified sinners, and then eat with them, was radical! Some people seek and feel His touch today.

Each one is important and expresses love in its own way, the love of God for us and our world.

But we can be uncomfortable with ways that are not our preferred ways. We want to ‘stay the blazes,’ halt the energy of God that we fear.

So, if you are not the ‘touchy feely’ type, you might want to avoid the religious experiences that express emotion physically. Or, if you share love with people by giving things and receiving gifts, meditation and inactive prayers may leave you cold and could seem pointless.

Yet such things are simply the path of loving God for other, different people. It is a matter of personality, of culture, simply a matter of creative differences in humankind. Spirit speaks all our languages.

In Church history we can see the variety of religious expressions that share the truth of Christ, yet are quite different. These live on in the present day. Years ago, I found the categories taught by Renovaré helpful. Renovaré is a Christian, spiritual renewal organization, founded by Richard Foster. 

We can see some Churches are of what we could call the Holiness Tradition, with a focus upon having pure thoughts, words, actions, and overcoming temptation.  Wesleyanism and the Nazarene Church grow from this branch. 

Another way is the Charismatic Tradition, welcoming the Holy Spirit and exercising spiritual gifts. We think immediately of Pentecostalism, but there are many believers who share this, including the charismatic Roman Catholics.

There is the Contemplative Tradition, with an emphasis upon the inner life of prayer and fasting, meditation and solitude. We likely imagine monks in Catholic monasteries, but I have met a few Baptist mystics in my life!

 We can see among believers throughout history a Social Justice Tradition, focused upon helping others in practical ways. One hundred and fifty years ago the ‘Social Gospel’ movement arose in North America, and in many ways lives on. For years now I’ve liked our Canadian Baptist Ministries’ emphasis on ‘integral mission,’ which means serving people in every way: spiritual, physical, mental/emotional, and social. 

Renoavré speaks also of an Incarnational Tradition. This means paying attention to uniting the so-called sacred and secular parts of life. The focus is making present and visible the realm of the invisible Spirit.

And, if Baptists had to choose one of these six categories, I think it would be the Evangelical Tradition, with its emphasis upon sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being rooted in the scriptures. 

Do any of these paths seem like they describe you? And is any one (or more) something you know you’re not fond of? 

Wherever we are on our journey of salvation, we will find ourselves on a path quite close with some believers, and seemingly far from others. A wider, balanced view of these biblical traditions of Christianity can help us respect and appreciate other saints among us. And we shall learn from one another, be led by one another, and me ministered to by one another… sometimes in surprising ways. 

The multiple ways we need to hear from God are provided. Our fear of ways strange or different can be overcome when led by the Spirit. And we ourselves will be challenged, grow farther into Christian maturity, and have fewer moments when we want to ‘stay the blazes’ of God, and instead, we ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness’. (Hebrews 4:16)

Thanks be to Jesus Christ, our Master! 

Thanks be to the Spirit, God’s Presence!

Thanks be to the Almighty, our Strength!

Offering One of our partners in the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada is Crandall University in Moncton, NB. This university is supported to a great extent – financially and prayerfully – by the churches of the CBAC. Remember the graduating students, who did not get to gather for graduation ceremony or other festivities. We did not yet set a goal for 2020 in terms of Digby Baptist’s giving to Crandall. You can give, as always, by designating to Crandall University on your offering envelope. For an update on Crandall click HERE.

Prayers of the People We offer prayer, O God, and these words guide us to pray along the same path together, today. May the path be along the way of Jesus – in Your will and plan.

For all Your expressions of love and power, we rejoice. You speak our language, whatever it be. And when there are no words, You are still there. Hallelujah!

From a world of trouble, we pray. One act of violence sets off a blaze of trouble and anger, and screams for justice. We pray for those who ‘can’t breathe,’ who are still oppressed, disregarded, hated, hurt, killed. We bow to face our own personal prejudices, some deeply hidden, and wake up to the privileges that unfairly are ours. God of justice, God of forgiveness, God of reconciliation, God of compassion, show mercy!

We continue in prayer for a world that is sick. Sick in body with a virus. Sick in soul, with all the nastiness that rises up in the human spirit. Sick in society, with the ‘us vs. them’ attitudes that harm. Let the fire of the Spirit burn brightly again, and speak in each person’s language the message that is needed.

In our local lives, we rejoice that You are a local God! Near and creative. We pray for one another. We remember the family and friends and church of the late Pastor Marc Phillips, so suddenly taken from us. We remember George T and Marj W in our local hospital, grateful now they can have a visitor or two, at long last. We remember those whose isolation is hard, and really taking a toll on heart and mind and soul. O Comforter, come! and comfort Your people. 

But also, ‘stir us from placidness.’ Light a fire under us, whatever prompting is needed. Spur us on, for this is not a time just for waiting and watching. These – but the beginning of our prayers – we offer in the name of Jesus, who taught us to say: Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

Hymn Spirit of Gentleness

Benediction

Go out into the world,
and labour to bring forth new life.
Dream dreams, pursue visions
and speak of God’s goodness
in the words of those who would hear.
And may the God who breathed life into creation be your delight.
May Christ Jesus give hope to your dreaming,
and may the Holy Spirit, your advocate and supporter,
…set your hearts ablaze with a passion for peace. AMEN.

— copyright © 2003 Nathan Nettleton

Worship at Home, May 24 – ‘Christian Mindfulness’

Welcome to this online resource to help us share worship together. More information is available in the weekly Bulletin. Today’s service plan focuses on meditation and mindfulness, using Psalm 119, among other scriptures.

Celebration of Ministry

Please submit a prayer (you have composed) for our Prayer Booklet. You can drop it off on paper on weekday mornings, mail it, or email it to us.

Some of the Deacons (and Pastor) got to meet this past week (online, via Zoom) and talked about things including these: weekly worship plans, anniversary guest speaker, plan for ‘re-opening’ in the future.

We have not been together for ten weeks. We have not been able to celebrate one another’s birthdays! Happy Birthday to all you born in April and May, such as Dwight, Edna, Sonny, Terry, Carolyn, Bev, Angela, Myra, Linda C., Lexi, Joyce L, Murray, Diane H., Mason and MacKenna. God bless you all.

Next Sunday is Christian PENTECOST! We shall celebrate the Gift of God the Holy Spirit with us.

Worship Welcome Psalm 119:169-176 – Rob & Sara Wilkinson

169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
170 Let my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
because you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you,
and let your ordinances help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

Silence for about 20 seconds.

Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.

Hymn 557 Open My Eyes, That I May See

Prayer Silently now, I wait for You, ready, my God, your will to do; open my heart, illumine me, Spirit Divine! Mighty Master, we share the same praises with You today, though we are apart. We give thanks for what is possible, in these days. With hymns ancient and modern we praise You. With the longest chapter in the Bible, we pray to and with You. With the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts we put ourselves in Your hands. Guide our worship today, in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Silence for about 40 seconds.

Song Thy Word

Children’s Time

Offering The offering bottle at the back of the pews collects funds for Canadian Baptist Ministries, for our relief and development work in the world. Of course, you can designate offerings for this ministry on your envelope from time to time. (This fund was formerly called The Sharing Way.)

Solo: ‘Rainbow’ – Sharon Marshall

Scripture Psalm 119:145-152 – Sara & Rob Wilkinson

145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord.
I will keep your statutes.
146 I cry to you; save me,
that I may observe your decrees.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I put my hope in your words.
148 My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
149 In your steadfast love hear my voice;
O Lord, in your justice preserve my life.
150 Those who persecute me with evil purpose draw near;
they are far from your law.
151 Yet you are near, O Lord,
and all your commandments are true.
152 Long ago I learned from your decrees
that you have established them forever.

Silence for about 60 seconds.

Sermon: Christian Mindfulness – Jeff White

Last year, this question was posed by a reader to Focus On the Family, the well-known and very large American ministry organization:

What is mindfulness? Some say it’s a positive form of meditation — and so I thought it might help me manage stress. But others believe it can negatively impact mental and spiritual health. As a Christian, I want to be sure I don’t go down a wrong path.

It is so good to ask questions about the many spiritual practices that we hear about, in our day and age. ‘Mindfulness’ is but one, and I think a very popular concept, right now. The short answer – and it’s pretty good – that Focus On the Family gave was this:

Generally speaking, mindfulness is a technique of deliberately focusing your attention on the present. You don’t let yourself be distracted by other thoughts constantly running through your head; you clear “noise” from your mind.

Mindfulness (some use the word grounding) is characterized by meditation and relaxation techniques. The idea is to become more self-aware. You pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations in that moment — without purposefully deciding whether they’re good or bad, and without becoming overwhelmed or overly reactive. In short, you tune in to what’s real right now.

The FOTF writer concludes: Like anything, mindfulness can be misused. However, it doesn’t automatically contradict the Christian faith. We just need to make sure we approach it in a wise, biblical way.

The trend in our culture to be healthier by being ‘mindful’ is a good trend, in a sense. People are facing the fact that many of us could stand to live more in the moment, and deal with the anxieties and worries we keep in our minds, which are rooted in the past and the future. In what we call His ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus speaks about worry at some length. 

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

…27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

…33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Mtt 6)

So, to strive for the Kingdom can include a few parts. We strive for the King – to know and serve Christ. We strive to know what God is active doing, around us, and join in to do our part. We also can strive to know ourselves, as citizens of the Kingdom. Philippians 3:20 tells believers “our citizenship is in heaven.”

To be mindful, to live in the present moment, is graciously possible with our Saviour. Jesus is not only inspiring, He becomes our instructor. 

I remember well, a decade ago, how a friend looked at Holy Week with thoughts of how amazing Jesus was. In this way: knowing what was to happen to Him, He went through each day of that week before His death so calmly. Back and forth Jesus went, into Jerusalem, and back out to Bethany. Into the Temple and out. Teaching, healing, getting ready for the Passover with His close companions. Jesus was living in the moment, yet was prepared for His future.

Prayer and meditation were built-in parts of the devotional life of Jews, back then, of course. We notice Christ taking the disciples away to quiet places for prayer – surely they were long, extended periods of time. Jesus’ hours in the Garden of Gethsemane are so memorable. On the edge of terrible suffering, quiet time was necessary.

And there are all the moments before the culmination. For instance, before He chose the twelve disciples, He went away, all night, for prayer. (Luke 6:12-13)

Prayer, meditation, solitude, silence – all these elements of our walk with God, are so important, and all take time. More time than I give them, I know that anyway! Every few years I make an attempt, for a season, at Christian meditation. Silence. Not praying a bunch of words. Trying to be quiet, silent, in my thoughts. Trying to sit before God, and listen. And just be. Be still and know that God is God. (Psalm 46) 

For two millenia now, Christians have worked on ways of being present to Christ through meditation. There are many paths and teachings. A couple of the most helpful writers about this, for me, have been Dallas Willard and Martin Laird. There are many other good ones. 

Willard was a Baptist teacher who wrote more about how spiritual discipline works, and less about the how to of these things. He pointed out to me how important solitude and silence are in our lives with Jesus. He says,

In silence we close off our souls from “sounds,” whether those sounds be noise, music, or words. Total silence is rare, and what we today call “quiet” usually only amounts to a little less noise. Many people have never experienced silence and do not even know that they do not know what it is. Our households and offices are filled with the whirring, buzzing, murmuring, chattering, and whining of the multiple contraptions that are supposed to make life easier. 

Have you ever heard the sound of silence? 

I have fond childhood memories of annual trips to southern Ontario, to visit grandparents and other family. There were, of course, excursions to the sights to see in the GTA. A lover of all things science, I looked forward to visiting the Science Centre in Toronto. I guess the Discovery Centre in Halifax is like this? I have not been there. 

At the Science Centre (around 1980 anyway) one very cool exhibit was a soundproof room. The walls of the room and the hallway leading in were lined with black, foamy, corrugated material that absorbed sound. Enter, be still and quiet, and one heard nothing. Nothing! For the first time in my life I ‘heard’ nothing. 

To practice mindfulness, as a Christian, is to find silence. Silence for our thoughts and feelings inside. And there, we may offer ourselves to the Holy One as we never have before. Isaiah 30:15 says, For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused…

Leading up to this sermon today, I suggested to you all that we work our way through Psalm 119. 22 days of Psalm 119: it has 22 sections of eight verses each. Each section, in the ancient Hebrew language, begins with the same letter of that alphabet. Every one of the 176 verses includes a word that means law, word, commandment. This long Psalm must be the result of an inspired time of meditation upon the fullness of the Old Testament, which was enjoyed and appreciated by the composer of this Psalm. Imagine this task of writing a long, alphabetic poem about obeying God’s word. For us in English it could be 208 lines long!

Reflect now on this. If you spent time on Psalm 119 each day (or most days), what did you discover? What was your experience of God? What did you learn or see in yourself? (Remember, we learn so much from our failures.) 

Psalm 119 is so repetitious, eh? So many mindfulness and meditation practices use repetition, to keep a person focused, to quiet the mind and the thoughts, to get deeper into our souls. 

Now, I must admit that I have yet to be clear about what ‘meditation’ means. I have actually used it in a couple ways. It means a few things to us. 

Usually, among Baptists and others, I find we call a short sermon or devotional talk ‘a meditation.’ And that’s fine. One has mulled a scripture over, pondered it, prayed, and then talks about it. You see in a plan for a church service ‘Meditation,’ and it means a talk by a preacher.

The ‘meditation’ I am speaking of today is a form of prayer. Well, this comes in many forms. There is praying that is thinking over a scripture for an extended period of time (what we did with Psalm 119 for 22 days). There is guided meditation, when one person suggests thoughts and images for a group to follow in their imaginations. And there is silent meditation, which seeks to quiet the thoughts and distractions of the mind, and simply be quiet inside. I guess you could tell that has been my focus today. 

Like the soundproof room at the Science Centre, I seek the soundproof room of my inner life with God. I recommend it to you also. Seek the quiet path. Silent prayer. Meditation. Contemplation. Whatever you want to call it. Such times are sabbath moments for us, little times of rest for our souls. 

Any technique we find that the Spirit helps us use is a blessing. And the habits we form are simply tools. Martin Laid puts it this way:

A gardener for example, does not actually grow plants. The gardener practices finely honed skills, such as cultivating soil, watering, feeding, weeding, pruning. But there is nothing the gardener can do to make the plants grow. However, if the gardener does not do what a gardener is supposed to do, the plants are not as likely to flourish. In fact they might not grow at all… The skills are necessary but by themselves insufficient. 

(Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, 2006, p. 54)

It is God who is sufficient, and who appreciates and will bless our efforts. Our efforts to “be still and know.”

Psalm 119: 148 My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate upon your promise. 151 …you are near, O LORD.Whether we meditate and become ‘mindful’ in the middle of the night, or we find times during the day that work for us, let us quiet ourselves. Let us teach one another (testify to) the methods that we have found helpful. Let us receive the gracious promises of Jesus, who said, 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)

PRAYERS of the People
We all have many people for whom we pray today. We have many things we know about in the world that concern us. We have ourselves and our walk with God, in this strange time, to talk about.
Take time to bring all these people and events to mind, in the name of Jesus.
Then, let us simply be quiet, in prayer. Stay away from words and names and lists, for about a minute and a half. Then, have some closing thoughts for prayer…

SILENCE for 90 seconds (OK, in the recording, I took about two minutes.)

Finally, we know we are Your beloved ones.
We think about whatever is true.
We think about whatever is honourable.
We think about whatever is just.
We think about whatever is pure.
We think about whatever is pleasing.
We think about whatever is commendable.
We think about whatever is excellent.
We think about whatever is worthy of praise.
Help us to do the things we have learned and received and heard from Your guides in our lives.
God of peace, be with us.
AMEN.

Psalm 119:10 With my whole heart I seek thee; let me not wander from thy commandments!

Hymn 45 Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Benediction (using Psalm 119:76-77)

Let God’s steadfast love become your comfort,
let God’s mercy come to you, that you may live,
and let God’s law become your delight;
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. AMEN.

Worship at Home: May 17 ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’

Welcome to this resource for worship at home. The Bulletin, with other prayers, announcements and information, is also available here on our website. This May we have four weeks of attention to our mental and emotional well-being; today we consider emotionally healthy spirituality.

Worship Welcome John 4:23-24
Jesus said: “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Song Way Maker (sung by a choir in Michigan)

Prayer God, our Way through the wilderness, guide us, heart and mind and body, through this worship time. Some things will keep our attention more than others – a song, a verse, a story. Guide us. Some things will distract us – noises around, aches and pains, wandering thoughts. Guide us. Some things will bring up strong feelings, even emotions we’ve buried for a while. Guide us, we pray, and all who seek You in worship this Sunday. All who sing, and study, and pray. We remember the words we share: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name… AMEN.

Scripture Psalm 119:113-120 – Maggie & Mike Beveridge

[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, and on our Facebook page.]

Solo: Psalm 23 – Joyce Marshall

Scripture 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 – Dianne Banks

Sermon: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Jeff White

Jessica is a gifted manager in her company. She has been a Christian for fifteen years and loves spending time with God. When the vice president of her company was making schedules for managers to meet with clients out of town, he asked Jessica to pick the weeks she would prefer to travel over the next three months. Within the week Jessica emailed him the dates and eagerly awaited confirmation. None arrived. Jessica called his office the following week.

His administrative assistant answered. “Well, according to the schedule I have in front of me, the next three months are all full,” she said. “I guess this means he doesn’t need you right now. But thanks for calling.” 

Jessica sat stunned in her chair. “Thank you,” she replied robotically and hung up. 

For the next two weeks Jessica wrestled with God and herself. She asked God for forgiveness for the anger she was feeling. She tried to figure out why the vice president had changed his mind. She humbled herself to God. She cried out in prayer for love toward her coworkers. She lost sleep.

Finally, she concluded God was dealing with her stubborn self-will.

Over time Jessica distanced herself from the vice president and other managers, avoiding them whenever possible. During the next two years she worked hard, but she felt like she had hit a ceiling in how far she could go with this company. Eventually, she took a position with another company. 

Jessica is committed to her personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She practices spiritual disciplines. The problem, however, is that her commitment to Jesus Christ does not include relating to people in an emotionally mature way. Instead, she misapplies biblical truth and follows, most probably, the relational skills learned unconsciously in her family growing up. (2014, pp. 166-7)

That’s from Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. There are a number of books one can read about emotional intelligence and maturity, and Scazzerro’s is one from a thoroughly Christian perspective. Emotionally healthy spirituality is an important facet of the abundant life Christ works to develop in us.

I mention from time to time my pastor friend who gives a mini sermon about being a ‘well-rounded square.’ Are you a well-rounded square? He takes his cue from Luke 2:52 ~ Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in divine and human favour. Growth in these four areas – wisdom: mentally; stature: physically; divine favour: spirituality; human favour: socially. Jesus grew up well-rounded in these four areas… so can you and I.

We still have growth and development to do, even if we are forty or fifty, seventy or ninety. At this point in our pandemic precautions, our mental (and emotional) health may well be a bit strained. We are finding out how resilient we are in our emotional intelligence, our inner self, our mental health and ability. With Christ, in Christ, we can grow in this wisdom. We need this!

To be in touch with our own feelings and inner thoughts is so important. To express ourselves well goes hand in hand with this.

So I chose our main text for today, chapter seven of Second Corinthians. On this page of Paul’s letter to the church in that ancient city, he shares so much emotion; and he proves he is wise. Just listen to the emotional words and phrases in these fifteen verses. (From the translation Dianne read from, the CEV:)

your hearts!
mistreated hurt
proud encouraged
troubled fears
cheers up glad
sorry concerned happier
feel bad harmed
angry shocked eager
care nothing to worry about
disappoint
loves trembled with fear
really glad

Many of these words get repeated, as you noticed. One thing you can be sure of with the holy scriptures, emotions and mental health are right in front of you. From the family dramas of Genesis, to the sagas of the judges and kings, to the powerful words of the prophets, to the emotional expressions of Christ and Paul and the believers – people’s hearts are opened up for us to see. 

One example: our use of Psalm 119 this month may be used of God to train us in emotional health. This longest of the Psalms is all about enjoying ‘the law,’ the holy scriptures. Notice the strong and expressive words about enjoying the Bible, obeying it, and facing those who are opposing this way of life.

I hate the double-minded
but I love your law.
(113)
let me not be put to shame in my hope.
(116)
My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgments.
(120)

Strong language! Some verses are not ones we would compose, today, but others are. It all awakens in us feelings and deep thoughts that we may have kept hidden, even from ourselves. 

We relate to God as an emotional Being, who has feelings, and feels deeply. As Peter Scazzero says in his book, “The journey of genuine transformation to emotionally healthy spirituality beings with a commitment to allow yourself to feel. It is an essential part of our humanity and unique personhood as men and women made in God’s image.” (pp. 44-45)

The Bible shows a God who takes delight in things (including us), gets angry, regrets and repents, rejoices, weeps, is troubled, cries out, rests, and loves with an everlasting love. These are all emotions and responses gifted to us, in creation.

And so we see a saint like the Apostle Paul expressing all these things too. We learn from his example, and his mistakes. 

So, what happened in the Church of Corinth that led to Paul writing this chapter we read today? There must have been some problem!

Yes, there sure was. But we are not told exactly what happened in this or the other letters of the NT. Clearly, someone in the congregation had opposed and had a conflict with another person – probably with Paul himself. “when we came to Macedonia… we were afflicted in every way–disputes without and fears within.” (7:5) 

Paul had written them a letter about the ‘fight’ that happened, a letter which obviously upset them, grieved them, for a while. “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it.” (7:8) Paul rejoices that his friends there regretted what had happened, and ‘repented’ – made a turnaround.

In the end, Paul, as a pastoral mentor of the congregation, was vindicated. “So, although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged [me, Paul?], but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you before God. In this we find comfort.” (7:12-13)

This episode in the early life of this Church, and their leaders, is but one example and inspiration for us to grow into emotional health and spiritual maturity. These people were all on a journey, as we are. Learning to know God, to know ourselves, and to relate beautifully with one another. See, we are becoming ‘well-rounded squares!’

There are many steps and stages we can take on our journey of growing up and growing stronger in Christ. The scriptures and our circumstances are the classroom, the ‘school of life,’ we might say.

Taking some cues from Scazzero’s teaching, let me suggest the following biblical paths we can take. These are but a few of many steps available. 

Know thyself.’ I can’t take it for granted that I know myself really well, deep inside: my heart, soul, mind, psyche, ego, however we label our inner parts. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Ps 139)  

Back in First Corinthians, Paul beautifully said, “For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?” (2:11) Yet even a man or woman may be out of touch with his or her own soul. Psalm 19 prays, “But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.” (19:12)

So, know yourself. This is an ongoing work, sometimes a special project for us, with our Master. Know yourself, that you may know God. In the opening of his Institutes, John Cavin wrote:

Our wisdom… consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

Peter Scazzero speaks of three temptations toward a false sense of oneself. Temptation 1: to think ‘I am what I do.’ This is all about performance, in family, work, education, community, church, wherever. Temptation 2: to think ‘I am what I have.’ We think of ourselves in terms of our possessions, or what we feel we lack. Temptation 3: to think ‘I am what others think of me.’ Getting in touch with how Christ esteems us is a big remedy for this.

 Four words of guidance in this book are:

One: pay attention to your interior in silence and solitude. We will delve into Christian meditation and mindfulness next Sunday, May 24. 

Two: find trusted companions. Many of us have a few friends, or mentors, whom we can trust greatly and share life. When we do not have such people, we must seek. When we have folks to help us, but don’t speak enough with them, we can make a new start.

Three: move out of your comfort zone. Yes, Scazzero has used a cliche phrase, but his point is good. This takes willingness to be and feel awkward, with courage and trust in Jesus.

Four: pray for courage. Courage to explore who you are in Christ. Courage to take steps deep within. Courage to be. 

Another big part of the journey of emotionally healthy spirituality is Sabbath keeping and daily devotion. Scazzero calls his chapter on this ‘Discover the Sacred Rhythms of the Daily Office and Sabbath.’ 

For a year at least I have really wanted to explore ‘Sabbath keeping,’ and will likely preach about this some time later. Our daily times of special focus upon God are of great importance to our growing up in Christ. Some of you read each day from ‘Tabletalk,’ or ‘The Daily Bread,’ ‘The Upper Room,’ or an email devotion you receive. You may have a Bible reading plan you use. Or a prayer list. 

Lately, this is what I have been doing. (This changes from year to year and season to season.) In a quiet moment at the start of the day, I use an old (1936) book of daily prayers, by John Baillie. Then I read my Bible chapters for the day, Old and New Testaments. Then I read from the in-depth devotional, ‘Tabletalk.’ Then I pray, often using some words from a book of prayers by Walter Brueggeman. 

I find that the scripture passages, and the teaching and prayers of others, prompt my thinking and praying in ways I would never have done on my own. Emotions are suggested that I might have not noticed in myself, or have avoided. 

Yet, the quiet times without words are important too. Feelings don’t need words. As I said, more about this next Sunday.

One last thing from the book, ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,’ among the many things I could mention. Practice the presence of people. We have heard of ‘the practice of the presence of God,’ but how brilliant to make paying attention to other people a spiritual discipline! Jesus grew in favour with people, socially, we are told. So may we. 

M. Scott Peck told a story of meeting a fellow student in highschool one day, at age fifteen. 

I suddenly realized that for the entire ten-minute period from when I had first seen my acquaintance until that very moment, I had been totally self-preoccupied. For the two or three minutes before we met all I was thinking about was the clever things I might say that would impress him.  During our five minutes together I was listening to what he had to say only so that I might turn it into a clever rejoinder. I watched him only so that I might see what effect my remarks were having on him. And for the two or three minutes after we separated my sole thought content was those things I could have said that might have impressed him even more. I had not cared a whit for my classmate. (M. Scott Peck, A World Waiting to Be Reborn, 1993, pp. 112-113)

Peck’s reflection on this, like ours, can be a first step towards ‘practicing the presence of people.’ When Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” it could apply to the life of our mouths & our ears! (Jn 15:13) Doesn’t this take us full circle? Noticing how we listen and speak takes us into knowing ourselves.

May the God of true feelings and deep compassion bless you to feel your own feelings. May the letters and songs and stories of scripture give you courage to be your authentic self, in front of God, in front of others, and in front of your mirror each morning. May the fellowship of the faithful train you and me to be emotionally healthier in spirit. 

“It makes me really glad to know that I can depend on you.” (2 Cor 7:16)

PRAYERS of the People A bidding prayer
Praise God for one thing about God…
Adore God for two beautiful things about Jesus…
Give thanks for three blessings of today…
Give thanks for four blessings of the past week…
Ask for help with these five personal problems…
Ask for help for six others with problems…
Seek a blessing for seven people facing illness…
Seek a blessing for eight families facing tragedy…
Pray for guidance for nine leaders…
Pray for help in ten nations of the world…
Ask the Spirit to refresh these eleven Churches….
Ask the Spirit to teach us all these twelve lessons…
Amen.

OFFERING We have not had an opportunity, since our Annual Meeting, to set some mission goals for the year, 2020. Remember the work of our denomination (CBAC), our Baptist Association, ADC, Crandall University, CBM, our Partners in Mission (the Bustins & Soucys), and so on.

Hymn 519 It Is Well with My Soul

Benediction by William Sloane Coffin

May the Lord Bless You and Keep You;
May the Lord Make His Face to Shine Upon You
And Be Gracious Unto You.
May God Give You the Grace Not to Sell Yourself Short,
Grace to Risk Something Big For Something Good,
Grace to Remember that The World is Now
Too Dangerous for Anything but Truth, and
Too Small for Anything but Love.
So May God Take Your Minds and Think Through Them;
May God Take Your Lips and Speak Through Them; and
May God Take Your Hearts and Set Them On Fire,
Through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

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.