Worship, March 13 – Blessed if You Do

WELCOME to this website post for this Sunday in mid March. Digby Baptist Church is worshipping in person, with some restrictions, and with tarps catching raindrops from our leaky roof – which will be patched quite soon! 🙂 The Bulletin here on the website has full service details, announcements, and items for prayer. video from the service is added here after the 11 am service.

SERMON: Blessed if You Do – During the Second Great Awakening in North America, 200 years ago, many popular travelling preachers arose. American evangelist Lorenzo Dow decided at a very early age to devote his life to teaching the word of God and began preaching at the age of 19. Although his views were similar to those of the Methodists, he was never formally affiliated with them. He roamed on horseback throughout the northern and southern parts of the U.S. Dow’s dramatic sermons, eccentric manners, and strange looking clothes made him a frequent topic of conversation. He died in 1834, and in 1836 his written works were edited and published. They included “Reflections on the Love of God,” a strong criticism of preachers who supported the doctrine of Particular Election and confused their congregations by pointing out conflicting statements in the Bible. In it Dow chastised “… those who preach it up, to make the Bible clash and contradict itself, by preaching somewhat like this: ‘You can and you can’t – You shall and you shan’t – You will and you won’t – And you will be damned if you do – And you will be damned if you don’t.’ “ (David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, The People’s Almanac, 1975-81)

‘Damned if you do; damned if you don’t!’ We use that phrase all these years later whenever we get into a situation where we just can’t win. Like when I meet someone out walking whom I have displeased and disappointed. Do I ignore them, or do I speak up and say, ‘Hello, how are you?” Neither way may have a happy ending.

Let’s leave ‘damned if you do’ behind, for now. Today, I want to preach about Jesus’ phrase, ‘Blessed if you do.’ What can we do to get blessed? “If you know these things you are blessed if you do them,” He says, recorded in John 13. What things was Christ talking about? At that moment: serving others, with real humility and sacrifice. The washing of feet was His object lesson. “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (13:14) It’s another memorable lesson from the Master, & ‘More like the Master I would ever be.’

We are, naturally, a fellowship of folks who have learned to do a lot of things we know, from Jesus. Maybe I should say we are ‘supernaturally’ a fellowship who does what Jesus taught. We are no mere ‘believers,’ we are doers, disciples – journeymen apprentices to Jesus. We remember how Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ ends. He closes with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock…”  (M 7:24)

We are blessed if we do – do what Jesus teaches. The world is also blessed when we do and not just believe or trust or think rightly. So, this is the place where the gathered people are being trained to live the best life. The real, practical training happens when we get together here on days other than a Sunday. Many of you were in here on various days this past week. How did your apprenticeship to Jesus go? You studied 1 Peter 2 with others in the Parlour. You tore apart walls around a furnace in the basement. You vacuumed carpets around here.

And out there in your lives, the Spirit sought to lead you, transform you, bless someone else through you. Wasn’t that good!?

One of my own visions for the local church – a group like us – is to see us as a real spiritual resource centre for people. We are a place people can come to belong with God. To do meaningful things with life. To find hope and purpose. To join others in a journey that we share, though none of our footsteps hit the exact same bits of ground on this road of life and eternity. 

Once a month I meet, online, with a group of Baptist pastors from across Canada. This month and last month we were talking about barriers to people believing what we believe, and barriers to belonging. Something that came to my mind, in the conversation, was the miracle of believing that people can actually get along. ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ we cry. But we don’t. And Christians sure don’t seem to get along in the world any better than other folks. 

To act like we humans can be different, and respect one another, and share some of our spirituality, and work on things together – ain’t this all a big miracle!? I believe in it, and I find this rooted in so much New Testament teaching. From Paul’s image of the people as body parts that live together organically, to Peter’s picture of a temple of living stones built together with Jesus as the Cornerstone – I believe Christ builds His Church, and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it.

We know we fail to belong because we fail to get along. I want to look for and see the success of Jesus in each of you, and in me, and be built together in love. 

The attitude, the approach to others of serving them: this changes things. To serve by washing someone’s feet – very seldom will this be physically using soap and water on human feet. Some people do this, yes. But we have a multitude of actions that serve. And in that serving the Spirit of Jesus is alive, in us, among us. 

How to get ourselves to do it – that can be hard. I have many great things I know that I could do with my life… why don’t I get around to doing them!? I have read so much about spiritual disciplines: fasting, confession, solitude, meditation, silence, pilgrimages, sacrifice – why don’t I actually do them!?

Fighting Spiritual Obesity: A workout for fat Christians, posted by Julie Ganschow (Blog: Biblical Counseling for Women)

Setting aside your physical weight, my question for you today is “Are you a fat Christian?” In other words, as a child of God, are you taking in nutrients and teaching on the Word of God never to use it in your life? Truth should build the muscles of faith. Conviction should flow into a changed life. God’s love and faithfulness should cause our lips to sing and praise. Wisdom from other saints should stimulate actions. A changed heart should mean a changed life. The power of the Gospel should get us active in spreading His glory to the nations and His love to those around us! In other words, spiritual intake should equal spiritual outflow.

… Instead, I want you to burn some spiritual calories and do something with what you have already learned.

Likely the big reason we are not doing what Jesus teaches us to do is because there is some block, some broken connection, some way in which we just don’t know how to do what we want to do. What Jesus says do looks good; we just may not have the training of heart and mind and conscience and habits actually to do it. 

I remember well my Christian Education professor, Dr. Ohsberg, saying that the people in the pews don’t need to know a whole slew of details about this or that Bible event: they need to know HOW – how to do what the Bible tells them to do.

We know ‘do to others as you would have them do unto you.’ But what do we do? Instead, we read online things like this: The only people who deserve to be in your life are the ones who treat you with love, kindness and respect. There is a place for boundaries with people, but Jesus teaches, ‘bless those who curse you.’ I think Christ has some care, and kindness, and energy for us with the so-called ‘negative people’ in our lives. 

So let’s finish off by coming full circle: back to blessing and cursing – or damning. Maybe you have noticed what I have about these ancient Middle Eastern people in the Bible: they were big believers in speaking a curse over others, or speaking a blessing. It was something they were always doing. You cursed an enemy, or cursed the day you were born, or cursed a fig tree that bore no fruit. You spoke a blessing over a town that showed you hospitality, you blessed your children when you were on your deathbed, you blessed the food you were to share. 

We tend not to believe, exactly, in putting a curse on someone, or on pronouncing a blessing on others. But we do the same things. We certainly pray; people ‘send prayers’ all the time. And perhaps our turning away from those we dislike – ‘don’t waste your energy on them’ – is our way of enacting a curse. 

Jesus spoke to His friends and apprentices of serving, as He had served. Just like washing a guest’s feet – the job of a household slave, not a host! Be people of blessing; bring goodness to the neighbourhood; share grace – which really is a gift, or an undeserved favour, or a good thing the person could not do for themselves. 

We are still in school with Jesus, learning to serve deeply, to love our neighbours, even to love our enemies. For me, that is the key: for Him to be my Lord and Teacher. It’s all in the training, the discipline, the practice, the experience, the quality time. The school of life, the school of hard knocks, whatever school you find yourself in – stay enrolled with Christ right there. You may be in the school of retirement, the school of grandparenthood, the school of downsizing, the school of cancer, the school of hobbies, the school of travelling, the school of moving to a new town, the school of a new disability. Jesus goes with you there.

This is a life of serving others. It is a path of being a blessing where you go. Do you not know you are a gift to this world! A gift from Christ.

So, hear once again Jesus’ words:“Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

Be blessed. 

Be blessed to know what to do. 

Be blessed to do what you know. 

We’ll be blessed if we do.

Our world will be blessed if we do.

PRAYER after the sermon: O God, there are people and situations we do bless. We ask You to bless them. And there are other folks and circumstances we want cursed: put a stop to the terrible things, Mighty One. Forgive our petty ways, our times of being easily offended, and our slowness to serve others humbly. Make me a servant. Make our lives flow on in endless song. Take my hands, Lord Jesus, let them work for You. Bless the Lord, O my soul. AMEN.

Worship, March 6 – The Resurrection & the Life

WELCOME to this worship post for Digby Baptist Church and all our online visitors. The complete worship plan can be found here on the website in the Bulletin. Video of the sermon is added Sunday afternoon, after the 11 am service. Today we also dedicate our new digital piano.

SERMON: The Resurrection & the Life – Here we are, starting the week together, with the Bible in front of us. We have read a story – a rather famous story – from the life of Jesus. You might not admit it to your Pastor, but I’ll admit this: sometimes, I want a Bible story to end differently. I don’t really want to rewrite the scriptures, but I do wish some details could change. Because I want a different message to come across.

As here with bringing a dead man, Lazarus, back to life. True confession time: I have often wondered how poignant this would be if Lazarus had stayed dead, in the tomb! This is a story read often at ‘celebrations of life,’ and I have started every single funeral of my career quoting Jesus’ words here: I am the resurrection and the life. But this story in John 11 ends differently than every funeral I’ve been to; never have I seen a casket opened to let a live person out. That only happens in zombie movies. 😉

So I want the words of Jesus to Martha, and Mary, to be there in the face of death that is permanent. I want Jesus’ tears at the tomb of his friend to stay wet on His cheeks. Somehow, to me that would seem more helpful and powerful, for all the times in our real lives when people die and are gone for good, in this life. 

But this story is bigger than that. It is better than that. And today, it gets me thinking about all the ways we play with the ideas of immortality, and resurrection, and death not being the end, but a new beginning. 

We see this in the poems we share in times of loss.

I heard your voice in the wind today, Mother,
and I turned to see your face:
The warmth of the wind caressed me
as I stood silently in place.

I felt your touch in the sun today, Mother,
as its warmth filled the sky.
I closed my eyes for your embrace
and my spirit soared high.

I saw your eyes in the window pane, Mother,
as I watched the falling rain;
It seemed as each raindrop fell
it quietly said your name.

Yet there is so much more that lives on among us, from those who have left us. The various projects accomplished by our dear departed; the influence, and life lessons, and even the sayings they had that we repeat. And also the family resemblances, sometimes seen from generation to generation. We rise again in the faces of our children…

Is this all part of what eternal life means? And resurrection? As a person of faith, I think of all these things coming together in Jesus. Jesus, this way of knowing God as one of us. Jesus, this One we get to know as the source of all good and all life and all our future. ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ He said. ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ We die, and we never die. This is truth; this is mystery; this is hope.

We want both, we look for both: to live on here, once we die, and to live on in eternity, in heaven, in whatever we prefer to call the something that’s next. We who are left certainly keep our loved ones alive, so to speak.

We have celebrated our Piano dedication today, and grateful we are for this gift, thanks to dear Vince McCarlie, whom so many of us remember here. Some objects here have plaques that make note of the gift, who gave it, and in memory of whom. Most of the old plaques are piled up on a coat rack back there, actually.

What is the place and the power of such remembering? How long will we be remembered? Such as with stained glass windows? Here is what we read at the base of the Good Shepherd windows at the back:

In Loving Memory of Annie A. Welsh
Died July 1, 1923
Erected by Her Husband John Welsh

Our digital piano is new. Our Casavant pipe organ is getting close to one hundred years old. Shall you celebrate it in 2024? When I began here, a friend from Windsor gave me this book, a book of organ music: the inscription says it was given to the organist here, for the inaugural concert with the organ in 1924. I should probably give this music book to you, Digby Baptist – if it is of any interest, of any historical value to any of you. Or will it just get lost among other old books and plaques no one misses?

How long will you and I be remembered? In the year 2200 will anyone give you a thought, or me? A meme on social media shows this comment and one response: 

Unless you or I do some very notable, unforgettable thing, we may well be forgotten in time. A few genealogists among my descendants will know my name in 2200, and the occasional Church historian. 

Yet our influence has made a difference. Our contributions to family and community are part of all that comes in the years ahead. We benefit from the blessings of thousands of people who went before us, right in this place. And even though all their names are not known, the good of their lives has made our lives better on this day. This matters a great deal.

What you do this day, this month, makes a difference. Many things Vince McCarlie did in my presence for six years blessed me – and those blessings to me, when I was in my forties, are not lost, just because I am in my fifties now, and Vince is gone. Even one song, today, that you heard played on this piano, that touched you, is part of Vince’s blessing to you. Even if you won’t remember that musical moment in two years, or twenty-two years, you were blessed now, and you’d be less if this had not all happened.

Even when we forget, when the world forgets, our lives matter. And this is still just the temporal, mortal world of which we speak. There is still that other side, eternity, so much greater than what we imagine. So Jesus brings his friend, Lazarus, back to life. But we assume that man did not go on living forever. Lazarus is not 2000 years old, somewhere over in Palestine today. He, like Vincent, and like us someday, is gone from here, and on the next journey that Jesus promised. In Christ we see and celebrate all these promises of an existence that is unbounded and incredible. 

Let me give the last word to another poet, Rudyard Kipling.  L’Envoi

When Earth’s last picture is painted,
and the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded,
and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it—
lie down for an aeon or two,
’Till the Master of All Good Workmen
shall set us to work anew!

And those that were good will be happy:
they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas
with brushes of comet’s hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from—
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting
and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us,
and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money,
and no one shall work for fame;
But each for the joy of the working,
and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It
for the God of Things as They Are!

PRAYERS of the People: O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world.

War in Ukraine and the fleeing of thousands
Pandemic surges in various places
Lessening of COVID protocols and rules in places
International Women’s Day on Tuesday
People known to us who are ill or injured
Those who mourn
All who seek purpose, belonging, compassion

. . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, Amen. (R. Rohr)

Worship, Feb 27 – African Heritage Celebration

WELCOME to the post for Digby Baptist’s worship of God at the end of February. The Bulletin here has the complete service plan as well as announcements and prayer requests. The manuscript of Pastor Jeff’s sermon is here, but he actually skipped it and did not preach it. Video of Deacon Myra’s African Heritage Presentation is here, with closing songs and scripture and prayers.

PRAYERS of the People: LORD, our Light and our Salvation, we have brought our praises together today. We have brought our offerings, and dedicate them to the glory of Jesus in our Church. We have brought our storytelling and our scripture study.

We bring our hopes and fears. As we behold Your beauty and inquire in Your temple, deal with our fearfulness, our anxieties, our defensive anger and our apathetic dullness. We need both to be sheltered and to be lifted up, safe and secure, by You, glorious One.

We pray because of the troubles of the world. There are enemies pit against enemies and adversaries telling lies about others everywhere. What can we do, O God! Have mercy, we pray. Today we pray for the Ukraine: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. We pray for Russia: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. We pray for those who are praying to You there today; we pray with them.
And that is but one violent corner of the world, Creator.

Send Your Spirit too upon us and those in our local prayers: the people who are ill, those who are isolated, those who are recovering and seeking to be healed, those who have challenging tasks day by day, those who mourn, and those who are making changes in their lives. Bless this Church, as we prepare to select a Pulpit Committee.

Jesus, Brother of all people, we pray joyfully and humbly for our friends of the Acaciaville Baptist Church: we bless them. We bless the African United Baptist Association here in NS. We also bless the JAC Betterment Association and the work they do. Keep us listening, keep us loving, keep us labouring together, in the name of Christ.
To His glory and by His authority we pray today. AMEN.

SERMON: Don’t Hide Your Face from Me: (Jeff skipped this and did not preach it!) Before our service ends, I wish to speak every so briefly about this text we have read, most of Psalm 27. What a great beginning!

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

Fear is, of course, a great tool in our lives. It has its use. We fear what is dangerous so that we keep out of danger. But when too many things are feared too much, we get trapped in fear and lose much of our life. One of the wiser reasons for opposition to masks and social distancing this past two years has been the culture of fear it creates. To live in fear of others in our own neighbourhoods is bad for the human psyche, the human spirit, and even bad for the immune system. And the lack of normal close contact takes its toll upon us, as we well know. Hidden faces hurt us.

Who can I be afraid of with God as my close companion? God, who is for us, not against us! This ancient Psalm speaks for those who face opposition, and must face enemies who are feared. 

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.

There are many enemies people find in this life. You may have your own. Coming to the end of African Heritage Month, the personal stories of adversaries and the oppression of people of colour tell the tale. It truly is all about storytelling. How many people have borne false witness against others, out of prejudice and racism? How many times have people faced those who are ‘breathing out violence’ against them?

We who claim – or even just hope – to be Christians, have a calling and are transformed to be like our God, who is a safe place for all. As a Proverb says, the Lord is a Strong Tower – we run to It and are saved. (18:10) Do people know us as those they can run to and be safe?

Psalm 27 prays desperately:
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.

“Do not hide Your face from me.” Why? Because others have hidden their faces from the one praying. Because others have closed their lives off from those they think less, they think poor, they think an enemy. When you or I decide not to ‘hide our face’ but rather, to open our eyes and ears, and give our attention to someone, we are following the steps of Christ. We become friends, allies, brothers and sisters. Respect means believing that the other person, somehow ‘different,’ is valuable and has things to offer the world. Often, it takes us time to get over our biases or fears to discover how wonderful a person truly is.

13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.

Do we believe it? Lord help our unbelief!

Across the globe the world powers are making enemies of neighbours again, across the borders of Ukraine and Russia. The invasion began back on Thursday. 

What a terrible time this has been for the making of adversaries and enemies. The news from near and far also adds to this age of anxiety, and builds our fear. We pray and pray, with the simple inspiration of the Psalms and the prayers written through the centuries. I think of the now well-known prayer of a Serbian Orthodox Bishop, Nikolai Velimirovic, a prayer for critics and enemies. It begins:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world…

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

‘Don’t hide Your face from us, God’ is our prayer. May our actions be the same: not turning our faces away from those who suffer, who are oppressed, who seem different, even who act as my enemies. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

PRAYER after the Sermon: O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world.  . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, Amen. (Richard Rohr)

Worship, Feb 20 – A Division in the Crowd

WELCOME to this worship post for February 20, 2022. Welcome to this format of service from Digby Baptist Church. More information is available in the Bulletin for this date. Video from the service is added each week after the 11 am service.

PRAYERS of the People: Holy, wonderful Spirit of abundant power: to You we turn with our prayers together this morning. O God of hope, banish our despair, disperse our depression, conquer our hopelessness. With trouble on every side, in this world today, we have come into the light of Your blessed presence.

Forgive our forgetfulness, when we thought You were not near or could not handle the troubles we face. Brighten our spirits, and inspire both our prayers and our actions.

We intercede for:
Russia & Ukraine; mudslide in Brazil
Spanish fishing trawler lost off NFLD
Family lost in a fire near Bridgewater, NS
COVID protocol protests – Canada, France
Hong Kong – cases spiking

2 Races and peoples, lo! we stand divided,
And sharing not our griefs, no joy can share;
By wars and tumults Love is mocked, derided,
His conquering cross no kingdom wills to bear:
Thy Kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

(Lawrence Houseman, 1919)

Spirit of God, close as our own breath, we bless those nearest to us: Lisa Wong, John Banks, Rollie Wier, Louis Francis, Robert Wilkinson Sr., Amelia Doucette… Dwight and Joe and Peter; Marj, Maggie

Inspire and guide us in our Church Annual Meeting on Saturday. God of a hundred names, You call us by name, and bless us: glory and thanks to You, now and always. AMEN.

SERMON: As I prepared my message for today, the rain was pouring down – outdoors it was coming in horizontally; in here it was pouring straight down on the edge of the pews there! In the news I heard of the makeshift jails set up in Ottawa to receive the many expected arrested people from the protests. Then, my second basically homeless man of the week dropped in looking for a handout. Life is messy!

I’d just come out of three days of watching and listening to the lectures and seminars from Acadia about justice and anti-black racism: how to face the challenge and do something; be active; follow Jesus! It was a call to be courageous! It’s been a week of invitations to me to be courageous, to act more bravely.

I find all the bravery difficult. Perhaps none of you are like me, who finds it hard to be sure enough of things to take a stand. To care less about myself so I can care more for others and for the issues. I admire courageous, decisive people, who are clear about what they see and what they think and what should be done. 

So you have not heard me preach on anti-black racism, ever. Or local poverty and homelessness in this rural town. Or clearcutting of NS forests. Or recent protests against all the pandemic policies that some say are a plague. As the crowds were divided about Jesus in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago, so are the crowds divided today, about so many, many things. Important things. Things that matter to Jesus, and to us.

I admire my preacher colleagues like Lennett Anderson, and Rhonda Britton, and Joe Green, who seem always to be taking a stand and speaking out about the troubles of the world, calling for justice and equity and peace. Also, a Div College professor I know, Spencer Boersma, who appears to me clever, courageous, and compassionate. 

Here are a few comments from Dr. Boersma last week, posted on social media: (Facebook, February 17)

Pray for Canada as its democracy is under assault. 

As I said before the convoy arrived in Ottawa, the protest’s demands were [nonsensical.] The border trucker mandates are issued from both sides, Canada and the US, so for Canada to lift them would do nothing. 

As I said before, again, the real reason for the convoy is to make Trudeau look bad.

The protests are the equivalent of someone sitting on another person, then crying violence for when they punch the person off. They goaded him and he fell for it.

So, for a group of people to blockade the capital because they disagree with what a democratic [government] is doing is tremendously troubling. Let’s be clear: blockading the capital is not a peaceful demonstration. It is coercive. 

End of quotations. He wrote more than this.

I know enough about nonviolent communication to agree with Spencer that a ‘peaceful demonstration’ can actually be ‘violent’ in a deeper sense. Certain flags being waved are violent, in and of themselves. I know my own attitudes about these things going on – the pandemic, the responses of health and governments – but I’m not standing out on the street corner, or my pulpit, to proclaim them.

When there is a division in the crowd, how does a meek and mild person like me or you, respond? I’m not asking ‘What would Jesus do,’ but really, ‘What would Jesus have us do? You do? Me do?’ Can Christians cope with conflict?

This is the hope I have: The grand hope that Jesus is the Living Water, springing up without fail, and even flowing up within and out of me. And you. As a kid, at Middleton Baptist Church I learned to sing

I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me
makes the lame to walk and the blind to see
opens prison doors, sets the captives free,
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me!
Spring up, O well, within my soul;
spring up, O well, and make me whole;
spring up, O well, and give to me
that life abundantly!

‘Out of his [heart] shall flow rivers of living water’ Jesus said, harkening back to His scriptures. A steady river of water was trickling into the Parsonage basement on Thursday, in one corner, and getting pumped out at the opposite corner by the sump pump. What kind of flow from the Spirit of Jesus, through our spirits, is happening? That flow of grace and truth and life is a way of describing the source for our wisdom and courage. Then, we decide and act as body members of the Body of Christ today, be it about healthcare, government, race relations, or forestry. 

In his Thursday evening lecture from Acadia, Rev. Dr. Lennett Anderson gave seven action steps, the seventh being: Let’s get in good trouble and make some noise!  Amen! Yet his first step was: Assume a posture of humility. 

What we are reading about is Jesus in the midst of a lot of controversy. His fellow Jews and the various groups and sects are all in a kerfuffle about Him. He has gained a wide following, and a lot of strong opposition. What did we hear from John 7? [Some] in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? …scripture said… Bethlehem.” 

In this chapter of the story, we have all these players: Pharisees, the Chief Priests, the Temple Police, Jesus’ own brothers, the twelve disciples must be near, plus various other groups of Jews, often just called ‘the Jews’ in English. It’s a religious festival for them all, in their holy city. Jesus creates a stir; the people take sides. 

As I said, many of you may be like me, and you don’t create a stir very often. In fact, we avoid trouble. Right? But I have had my moments – as a public speaker every week before a crowd, it is bound to happen. 

For instance, I remember so well this certain sermon I preached. I said a few things about Creation, such as these:

As a child I was an artist, a biologist, an astronomer, and a paleontologist… So things in Sunday School like the poster that made fun of evolution I could not fully accept. How old is this rock of ages, the Earth? Six thousand[yrs]? Four and a half billion years? 

When someone believes in the evolution of life, and the geological time scale, and a 13.75 billion year old universe: seek to know and understand that person’s world- view, and how amazing this universe story is; then you will both be sharing in an incredible awe…. (Apr 22, 2012)

That sermon got me in some real hot water with a few people in the congregation. One of the retired pastors really took me to task for my heresy. And a couple deacons truly thought it was not helpful, especially Derek, who thought I was confusing some people in the pews. 

That was ten years ago this spring, on Earth Day. 

I usually keep my head down, stay under the radar. You too? Some of you. 😉 But we follow – we name ourselves after – Christ, who was no shrinking violet. Jesus stirred up so much controversy that, well, we know the story of His betrayal, arrest, interrogation, torture, and execution. 

Here is our inspiration: Jesus.
Here is our courage: Jesus!
Here is our correction: Jesus.
Here is our reconciliation: Jesus.
Here is our unity: Jesus.
Here is our guide: Jesus.
Here is our judge: Jesus.
Here is our truth: Jesus.
Here is our life, our living water: JESUS.

This Man, who was at the centre of a controversy about who He was, and what He meant by each thing He said, this Man was the answer to all the problems, all the division, all the enmity. The crowd was divided during that festival about Jesus. In the end, so many have to make a decision about this Messiah: trust and figure out how to follow, or not. The problems of life Jesus speaks to, the potential of life Jesus points to: shall we trust? Choose Him? Side with Christ? These pews are for those who have decided to follow Jesus, and for those who are wondering.

So I see Christ as the best way God reaches me. I am both led to put my confidence in Jesus, and to be confident in other decisions in my day to day life. I have this all-wise Shepherd. I see His image before me every Sunday, a rather unrealistic white European in stained glass. Jesus is far more real that that, to me. He’s not just some spiritual expert, here to comfort me and get me to the next life. This Living Water is what I need to face every choice and challenge. 

I’ve always been impressed with the way Dallas Willard made the point that Jesus, for each of us, is an expert, an expert in whatever we need at any moment. At a faculty retreat for a Christian College Willard once asked the professors what they thought Jesus would say to them if He were speaking at the retreat. Willard suggested He would ask them a simple question: Why don’t you respect me in your various fields of study and expertise? Why don’t you recognize me as a master of research and knowledge in your fields? They were experts in subjects like algebra, economics, business administration, French literature… Many of the profs thought, ‘are you serious?’ 

In our culture, no Christian thinks of Jesus as well informed, brilliant or smart. Willard warns: Far too often he is regarded as hardly conscious. He is taken as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man living on the margins of the “real life” where you and I must dwell. He is perhaps fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, but little more. (2006, The Great Omission, pp. 18-19) 

When Dallas Willard would say ‘Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived,’ some Christians would actually say ‘that doesn’t make sense.’  

Yet it does make sense; the most sense of anything. We have God available to us, in ways we can know and understand. Let anyone who is thirsty come to Jesus. Let anyone who believes in Him drink deeply of His Spirit. Christ is here to help us navigate the pandemic. To make life decisions when a major change comes along. To start a new project together when we don’t even know how. To show some courage when there’s a battle to be waged.

So, I did this last week; I said ‘Yes.’ An acquaintance from hiking reached out to me, about protecting forests in NS. She said she recently attended a meeting when an idea was presented to form “dream teams” of folks all over the province to nominate areas to be protected.

She said, The idea is we could go out… and find areas with high conservation values, or endangered species of anything (plants, animals, etc.) or we may already know of areas we’d like to protect, older growth etc.  If we could team up perhaps with biologists or knowledgeable folks who know the woods or have lived there for decades to help that would be great. I guess I am one of the ‘knowledgeable folks’ who could help. 

So, I said, ‘Yes.’ I realized, it is time for me to take a stand. I know Jesus wants me to make a difference here for all creation, the environment. Christ will have to lead me in this opportunity to join a local ‘dream team.’ 

What team are you joining this year? And are you taking Jesus with you?

Let there be overflowing life for all of us. Sharing this fresh water of the Spirit, we shall move forward, & stand up for good, for right, for love, for justice, for peace, for life. 

Jesus will still divide crowds of people, yes.

Yet we can be very sure about Him.

Amen.

Pastor’s Letter of Resignation:

Worship at Home, February 6 – Faith & Healing

WELCOME to this plan for worship service for us all to share from our homes or wherever we may be. Follow along with the readings and recordings. May we not only be drawn close to God but also to all who are offering these same prayers, hearing the same songs, and studying the same scriptures. More information is available in the weekly Bulletin, here on the website. Next week, February 13, we plan to be open for service together in the pews of #2 Mount Street, Digby. 🙂

Psalm 40:1-3 (Passion translation)
1 I waited and waited and waited some more,
patiently, knowing God would come through for me.
Then, at last, he bent down and listened to my cry.
2 He stooped down to lift me out of danger
from the desolate pit I was in,
out of the muddy mess I had fallen into.
Now he’s lifted me up into a firm, secure place
and steadied me while I walk along his ascending path.
3 A new song for a new day rises up in me
every time I think about how he breaks through for me!
Ecstatic praise pours out of my mouth until
everyone hears how God has set me free.
Many will see his miracles;
they’ll stand in awe of God and fall in love with him!

HYMN # 517 The Solid Rock

Opening PRAYER: We lift up our hearts to You, Holy One; may we not be disappointed. We rise to see the light of Your goodness shining upon us and our bitter world. We do whatever we can to stay close and connected with one another, in this strange time of limitations. O Healer of every ill, we gather our praises and prayers together for the sake of everyone. Our bodies are amazing yet fragile, our minds and hearts bright yet fading, our relationships rich yet tarnished. Show us Christ within us, the hope of glory.

We give ourselves in worship; give Your Spirit to us again, we beg You. We give our offerings for our work and worship, done in Your name. We give our time this day to be refreshed and given new hope. Give us enough that we overflow with hope to our world!

The Lord’s PRAYER

STORY Big Journey: Ch. 6 – read by the author, Tyler Van Halteren

SONG Footprints – sung by Joyce Marshall, 2020

SCRIPTURE John 4:46 – 5:18 read by Bev & Peter Dickie (Thanks for some personal words also.)

SERMON: Faith & Healing (Jeff White) James 5:14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective

So wrote James, author of a letter near the end of our Bibles. Faith and healing: how do they work together? We all want to know. We all put our faith to work, for the sake of healing sickness. People ‘send prayers’ all the time.

From John 4 and 5 we read a couple healing stories, in which Jesus was the healer. What interesting stories. What real stories, with such reactions from people.

Look at that first scenario. Perhaps it feels familiar to our experiences. A child needs healing. The parent has to travel for healing – walking to a town 20 kms away. He begs for attention, and the child is at the point of death!

At first he seems to get some not so comforting words from the healer. But then is told the kid is cured. The man travels again, hoping, trusting, but surely has to stay somewhere overnight on the way home. What wondering about the child must have haunted his journey, and that night away from home.

The next day, traveling, he gets a message: Yes! The boy is healed! The man truly believes; everyone believes!

The world we live in is very different from first century Palestine, yet we Bible followers today surely try to make connections with our own experiences, in our faith, and our quests for healing. 

Our grandchildren are visiting for a couple days and nights this weekend. As many of you know, the younger one, Amelia, has had a few serious health problems since her premature birth, almost five years ago. 

Her time in her mother’s womb had to be ended abruptly in March of 2017. Born at 26 weeks, she weighed just over one pound. Her first 118 days she spent in the IWK, in neonatal intensive care. Her breathing, her feeding, and other functions were not good – she wasn’t ready for birth! It was an intense, emotional roller-coaster, especially for her parents. For instance, many times her breathing stopped, and her little body had to be prompted to take her next breath. 

So the parents went through a lot of traveling that year. Traveling and staying away from hope, hoping for the healing of their child, not knowing what would happen. They begged for attention from every medical professional – and Amelia got it. They pleaded with God over and over when the little one was near death! Sometimes, the direct words of doctors or nurses did not sound comforting or compassionate. But amid the many warnings of the worst that might next happen, there was progress, and healing. There was life! There was survival and growth. As ‘Nana Sharon’ said many times, there were hundreds of miracles.

We all believed and feared, at the same time, over and over. After years of oxygen, and feeding tubes, medications and medical appointments, Amelia lives her happy life. Still feeding mostly by a feeding tube. Still on one medication. Still wearing pull-ups. In pre-primary now, she is almost five years old, delayed in every way, but on her way into a life of big, bright hopes. 

Many children do not make out so well. Many others have it pretty easy, getting to age five very healthily. Amelia’s is a story of faith and healing, for her parents, and grandparents, and many friends. Sharon and I thank you again for being part of this personal story.

Jesus as Healer is a prominent way many of us seek Him. Just as it was in His earthly lifetime in a small area of the Middle East. Each event of curing was unique. Like your experiences and mine of the Great Physician.

As I studied the scriptures last week, I considered how Jesus’ healing was limited, and unlimited. It was limited in a few ways, really. That royal employee whose boy was deathly sick, he had to do some waiting and worrying. Walking all that way to the town where Jesus was. Probably hoping this miracle healer would pay a house call in Capernaum, Jesus abruptly said, ‘he’s healed.’ Good news, but could it be believed? All that Jesus said does not seem particularly comforting. Jesus did not always make a big show of things, or answer a personal problem just as people hoped He might. 

Yet there is the unlimited side of healing in our Faith also, seen here in these examples of Jesus. The boy very quickly recovers from death’s door, beginning at the very moment, it turns out, when Jesus simply declared the cure. What happens to that young fellow inspires the whole household. John calles this healing the second sign, as he tells the Jesus story. What happened pointed the way, shone some light, for people to follow. 

Immediately, John chapter 5 begins with the next healing saga, told briefly but with many details in the plot. This time Jesus heads back into the city, Jerusalem, and by a pool used for ritual Jewish washing are ill and crippled people. One man has been unwell in poverty there longer than Jesus has been alive. Does the crippled man even show any faith? Yet, he gets healed by Christ. When the fellow gets in trouble with the religious authorities, he puts the blame on the healer, whom he does not even know by name. Later, after getting better acquainted with Jesus, he tells the authorities who He is, and for breaking Sabbath regulations, Jesus gets in deeper trouble. 

Nevertheless, it is a healing miracle, again. Jesus, the unlimited Miracle Worker, as the Hand of God, heals this fellow also without fanfare, without him having to get into the healing pool at the magic moment he’d been waiting for all his life. Jesus’ miracle is not even limited by the man’s lack of showing any faith. He did not even answer when Christ asked if he wanted to be made well! The crippled man did not even need to know who Jesus was, what His name was, or anything. The powerful grace of God is unlimited. And, perhaps it extends to the whole person, not just the body. When they meet again Jesus tells him not to sin any more, so nothing worse happens. Many commentators have seen this being about the spiritual, emotional, mental life of the man above and beyond his now healed body. 

Healing, miraculous healing, without limits, is what many people of Faith hope for, and even have great confidence in. Others of us are more cautious about miracles. We hope. We pray. We wait and see. 

Because the unlimited power Jesus shows is also limited. As I look at this story in Jerusalem, by the pool of Bethsaida, what about all the other folks there? What about them? Were they healed? Doesn’t look like it. 

And you could look at the one man healed – after 38 years of disability – and wonder why it took so long. Some of you have asked this same thing about people who suffered a long time before relief came. ‘How long, O Lord?’ That is the cry of the Psalms also. 

There are limits on the healings in the prayers of the people. Not everyone gets healed. 

As I got ready to speak to you this week, I at first thought most of my sermon could be me reading you a long story, as told by our friend Jennifer, years ago, about her suffering and treatment for ovarian cancer. It is an amazing testament about faith and a quest for healing. Once again, I’ll leave the whole, beautiful and dramatic saga for another occasion. Today, here is an excerpt from these Facebook posts she shared in 2019, with all her friends. She was in hospital at the time. Just listen for how amazing Jenn’s attitude – her faith – was, in this time.

June 1 8:09 pm  Odd things and observations from life in the VG. We know we are exactly where we are supposed to be and God is allowing me to convalesce and recover here daily. The staff is wonderful. Everyday is interesting! It is an adventure!  [Here are 8 of about a dozen points:]

1. The water is contaminated. I can not shower. I cannot wash my hair. I need to wear a mask and close my eyes to wash my hands and flush. If cancer doesn’t kill me…. the water could. Jon cleans me up with bottled water from the kitchen for sponge baths and to try and wash my hair in the sink. Refreshing!

2. It costs $14.50 a day during the week to park our car here.

3. Anytime my friends come to visit me in the daytime on a weekday there is no parking in the lot. Or on any nearby streets. Parking is a real problem here.

4. The internet is slower than our internet on the mountain that comes over satellite. I think Jon said the wifi is .3 to .78 Mbps. 

It also kicks him off every two hours. He can get his work done on it and we are glad for it. Apparently until recently only one floor had it. Thank you to whoever fought for it and paid for it for patients on this floor!

5. There is a nice little cafeteria in the building but it does not feed patients. Patient meals are prepared at the infirmary site and shipped out to the other hospitals and they are later heated somewhere here. you have to order them a few days ahead or they pick what you get. My first meal was burnt spaghetti on a disposable plastic plate. Not sure how that happens… I have had good bad and ugly delivered but I have also had to throw so much food away it sickens me.

6. The nurses are amazing. I haven’t had one yet that I haven’t liked or that hasn’t taken wonderful care of me. The lab technicians each morning are great too. The doctors are fantastic!

7. Last night one of my neighbours was rather irate about the mice running around and no one seemingly doing anything about it. Pretty sure I saw one in my room last week. I didn’t announce it. I feel like I’m camping here. There are always rodents when you camp. I do feel bad for Jon because his bed is closer to the floor than mine. We gave our nurse a peace offering for her to give the man and apparently it may have helped soothe him.

8. Last night one of my neighbours died.

Jennifer beautifully wrote a number of other updates about her journey, some of them very creative and entertaining. This was June 1st, 2019; she died June 20th. 

Jesus the Healer is limited. They are His own sovereign limits, we might say. There is a lot of mystery in how and when ‘miracles’ are done. And Christ is also unlimited

As one of my Pastor friends always says, God heals in three main ways. Sometimes, by some miracle: unexplained, prayed for, perhaps sudden. Sometimes healing comes through treatment and medicine and surgery and better diet and so forth. And sometimes God’s healing comes by dying and entering the completion of eternal life. 

Our personal faith and our healing develop during our lifetimes. They develop as we share them with one another. They grow as we live, and as we die. For we also say, with Christ, we never die

Remember Jesus, again and again. Christ is the author of our faith, and of our healing, and of our resurrection.

PRAYER after the Sermon: Saviour, like a written prescription: may these thoughts about scripture be good for our complete health. Master, like the medicines we take: may our next steps be healthy ones. Jesus, like the air and water and food we receive: may we also feed on You in our souls, and be renewed, day by day. AMEN.

Celebration of Ministry – Take a look at the notes in the Bulletin. Annual lecture series at Acadia (online) will be important, February 15-17.

PRAYERS of the People: Saviour of all creation, we pray before we end our sharing in worship. After another winter’s storm we look into the calm and cold with gratitude for the beauty and bounty of our world. Forgive our taking for granted of the safety and riches that are all around us. Forgive our clouded vision that does not see those who are neediest and most vulnerable. Forgive our forgetfulness of the spiritual activities that keep us on track: prayer and praise, scripture and sacrifice. Yours, Jesus, is the healing power for our souls and our fellowship with others. Make things right!

Sovereign God, from Ottawa down to Digby, the challenges of our leadership are great. We cry out to You, for the coronavirus and all our precautions seem more and more divisive, pitting people against one another, in every community. How can there be healing, O God, in our relationships? We see reports of protests in various places here in Canada. We pray again for peace and justice, fairness and protection among all our people.

We also invoke Your power to heal and help those ill with COVID-19, and those whose healing for other problems is hindered by the pandemic. Eternal One, we do rejoice in answered prayers, healing help, and medical treatments that have been helpful and successful. Praise You, for the great blessings we’ve seen!

Now with these words, we ask for grace in every situation:

HYMN #238 Because He Lives – Cairine R., organ and chimes, 2020

BENEDICTION: 3 John 2
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.
And may the presence of God – Abba, Christ and Spirit – live in, around and among us every day. AMEN.

Worship at Home, Jan 30 – He Told Me Everything

WELCOME to this plan for shared worship at our homes. PSALM 42:1-5

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help 6 and my God.

HYMN # As the Deer – sung and played by Margo Nesbitt

PRAYER: Holy One, for whom our souls long, to You we turn, with all our power, all our hopes, all our habits, all our tools for seeking and finding You. All the Bible words of longing for You speak our language. Thanks and praise for those times when we truly sensed You were close and real and good. Let there be a miracle again today, in our own homes, as the snowstorm wanes. Let there be praise! Let there be holy fellowship! Let there be whatever You know is good for us. Amen.

SCRIPTURE: John 4:1-42 – ready by Jeff White, Margo Nesbitt & Joy Potter

SERMON: He Told Me Everything – preached by Jeff White. Do you know anyone who knows everything? We likely all have known a few people who seemed like real ‘know-it-alls,’ which is more about the attitude they present than their actual expertise. I’m sure I have mentioned to you before a dear colleague of mine who was like this. Sadly, he suddenly dropped dead about ten years ago, but in his life he was a Baptist Minister and an expert in Baptist Church History – certainly in the Maritimes. He was a very friendly guy, and always positive, and always full of information. He had an answer for everything. He volunteered with scouting, did some biology at Keji, was musical, on and on…. He seemed like he knew it all. 

This can be a very annoying trait in a person, right? I’m sure this friend of mine was not liked by everyone, and came across as a real ‘know-it-all.’ The trouble with him was, I think he kind of did know it all! He was very intelligent and astute and knowledgeable. Bless his heart, he did wonderful service for the Lord, is now gone, but not forgotten. He was an unforgettable character!

Here, in our worship, the unforgettable Character at the heart of things is Jesus the Christ. And, of course, we likely believe our Saviour is a Know-it-all of a whole different order. As we started walking through the Gospel of John this month, we look again deeply into who Jesus is, we get to know Him better. 

I’m grateful for Joy and Margo who helped me read most of John chapter four, and pay attention to the story. What stands out for you in this ‘woman at the well’ tale? Ya know, for me, the most amazing moment is when the woman is back in downtown Sychar. She says to her neighbours, “Come and see a man who told me everything I had ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”  Somehow, this is amazing, good news to this gal. She seems hopeful, excited, impressed. Is he, maybe, the Messiah? Or, as the Samaritans likely would have said, is He the Restorer? That was their title for the One they hoped would return, a prophet like Moses of old. Is He the One? she asked. Come, come and meet Him!

Having grown up hearing this John 4 story, I was trained to notice that Jesus seems to have this supernatural way of knowing all about her: that she had five husbands, and now is not married to the man she’s with. This view of her mainly as a sinful woman is not the only view to be taken of her, but in evangelical protestantism it has been the main attitude. So no wonder I see something amazing here. However Jesus presented Himself to her, it was a positive experience

I mean, if some religious fellow came up to you at Tim Hortons, and in chatting, told one on one some of your secret sins and failings, how might you feel? Embarrassed? Horrified? Angry! Frightened? Ashamed and guilty? 

‘The woman at the well’ does not feel these things does she? Not much, I’d say. However Jesus said all this to her, she became totally impressed. It came across as ‘good news.’ She went home and told everyone. He told me everything I had ever done! Jesus was a ‘Know-it-all’ who was compassionate and built her up, somehow.

Let’s walk through the whole story and consider it. I see seven scenes in what we read today. First, the woman meets Jesus, and they speak of water: water from the well, and living water. The Rabbi uses His usual rhetorical methods and uses a practical element to speak of human spirituality. The great Teacher uses whatever is at hand for His teaching. Jesus knows every method of teaching and guidance that will work for you. 

Second scene: The talk about the woman’s partners: five former husbands and her latest man. It has been pointed out to me that the emphasis upon this woman as a terrible sinner is not the only thing to home in on. She may well have been a victim of others, trapped in a cycle of relationships that was not the normal approved patter of life. Apparently, in centuries of Bible interpretation, she has often been remembered mainly as a witness of Jesus, not as a forgiven terrible sinner. And we will get to her testimony in a moment. 

I think there are many direct and indirect ways our Master will tell us all about ourselves. Have you ever sensed that God knows everything about you? The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful? And have you then felt it was all good news, from the Spirit? Just like whatever we hear from our family doctor, or specialist. So called good news or bad news is all news that helps us: helps us do whatever we need to do next, be it live, suffer, heal or die!

Third scene: I guess she was not totally impressed at first by Jesus’ knowledge of her male partners: she immediately seems to change the subject. To the subject of being a prophet and of worship – Samaritan worship and Jewish worship: never the twain shall meet!

 This people group called Samaritans were really a branch off of the Hebrew vine of the distant past. They believed the true place of worship was at Mount Gerizim, not Mount Zion in Jerusalem. They took only the Torah, the first five books as holy Bible, not the prophets and writings that the Jews also had in their canon of scripture. For a long time they were enemies of the Jews. In fact, their temple on Mount Gerizim had been destroyed by the Jews in 128 BCE, cementing their animosity. As John reminds the reader here, Jews and Samaritans did not share things – they wouldn’t eat together and show the usual Middle Eastern hospitality. 

Anyway, Jesus is breaking some cultural rules here in this meeting, and breaks their religions down too. Neither holy mountain will be, in the future somehow, the true place of worship. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (J 4:24) Maybe one of my favorite scripture verses, since I have always been so interested in Christian worship. 

There is a lot to deal with here in what Jesus says – and He is offering this incredible teaching to this Samaritan woman, despite what those from the outside might say about her. Even though He knows everything she has ever done, Jesus tells her some mind-blowing secrets. 

One of the things about the Spirit of Jesus knowing everything about any person: He knows the beautiful blessing and purpose of each person. So we had better not think any person we meet has nothing to offer the world. Everyone does. And so do you! As a Balinese dancer once said, “There is someone out there who needs you. Live your life so that person can find you.”

Fourth scene: the disciples come back after shopping in downtown Sychar. They seem alarmed that Jesus is having this talk with a woman, not to mention she is one of these Samaritans. But they don’t say anything about it. 

My one thought about this moment is to remember I am a disciple. And I must admit when I am not happy with Jesus. There, I said it. Maybe this means that sometimes I am unhappy with Jesus in the form of His people today, His Body, His Church. Sometimes I don’t like what I read in the Bible, His Word. Sometimes I am angry with how my prayers to Him turn out, unanswered. You and I are going to be like those disciples of old, and not get it, not approve, not be totally confident. That will be OK. I like Paul’s word about Christ in his second letter to Timothy: (2:13) if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

Fifth scene: switch to the woman, who left her water jar at the well, and rushed back into her town. She tells everyone about this Jew she met. She impresses them, and a bunch of townsfolk head out to the well to meet the Man.

Early Christian theologian, Ephraem the Syrian (306-373), summarized the scene beautifully:  Jesus came to the fountain as a hunter… He threw a grain before one pigeon that he might catch the whole flock… 

At the beginning of the conversation he did not make himself known to her, but at first she caught sight of a thirsty man, then a Jew, then a Rabbi, afterwards a prophet, last of all the Messiah. She tried to get the better of the thirsty man, she showed dislike of the Jew, she heckled the Rabbi, she was swept off her feet by the prophet, and she adored the Christ.

Scene Six: back to those disciples and Jesus, at Joseph’s well. You noticed this was an old watering hole? Had been Jacob’s, famous Jacob we read all about in Genesis, with his 12 sons who became the 12 Tribes. 

Also, in Biblical stories, a lot can happen at a well! More than a couple times men get hooked up with their future wives at such a well, including Jacob, Isaac, and even Moses. No wonder the disciples are alarmed when their friend and Rabbi is having a one-on-one chat with a strange woman there! 

But the conversation of Master & disciples is triggered by food. ‘Have something to eat,’ they tell Jesus, after the woman leaves. He takes the teachable moment and gives a mini-sermon about spiritual food. And harvesting. These men, we notice, went into unfriendly territory to get some bread, but did not seem to be on mission. Unlike the local woman, who told the town about Jesus, and was at that very moment leading them out to meet Him!

Usually, your best mission field, and mine, is our own people. For me, that is religious people (hence, I am preaching to you, the converted!), but also to nature lovers, and hikers, and so forth. You, you have your own audience, your own people. You are the best witness among them.

Seventh and final scene: the townspeople meet Jesus, and He ends up staying there a couple days with them. ‘Many Samaritans from the city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (J 4:39) & more believed; they saw for themselves. 

We Baptist Christians stand deep in the stream of Evangelicalism. Maybe I feel this more than you folks of the pews, but I do feel the push to spread ‘the word’ and ‘get people saved.’ Here again, I am reminded that it is the work of the Spirit of God to reveal things to people, and to save them. It is not my work to save people. This is Jesus’ wonderful work. When someone sees for themselves the things of God, that makes all the difference. 

You and I, like that unnamed Samaritan woman, let’s spend time with Christ, and do our part just to say to others, ‘Hey, I want you to meet this Guy. He really impresses me. He knows everything about me. And still welcomed me!’

PRAYER after the Sermon:  Source of living water, thank You for pouring out again for all people, and offering life. Bread of the world, as You have fed us today, so help us keep on feeding our minds and hearts and bodies with good nourishment. Encourage us to reject the junk food that will spoil our attitudes and our inner hope. In Your holy name. AMEN.

CELEBRATION of Ministry: For upcoming events and items for prayer read the Bulletin. You may make offerings to Digby Baptist by mailing them; dropping them off in the box in the hallway or the box outside the Hall door; or e-transfer (using trainfan43@gmail.com).

PRAYERS of the People: With our alphabet we pray, O God:
Alleluia! We praise and worship You all the more.
Bless us, beginning our week together, as we pray our requests.
Care for those who are ill, mourning, depressed, or troubled.
Defend those who are weak, who are mistreated, who are poor.
End the threats of war and violence in our world; this is a big prayer!
Forgive the many problems we have caused, even the hidden ones.
Give us hope in the face of our goof-ups and also our serious guilt.
Help us deal with all the hold-ups this pandemic has caused.
Inspire us to keep on being Your Church, an incarnation of the Spirit.
Jesus, be the centre of our joy and our joint activities.
Keep us on a path that is in Your Kingdom.
Love must abound: be the source and the giver of compassion in us.
Mourning, we miss Mike, and pray for dear Maggie in this sad loss.
Nearby there are others in our prayers, in hospitals, care homes, etc.
Overseas our prayers can reach, because of You. Bless the Ukraine.
Peace over there is our prayer, where conflict is threatening.
Quickly give help to those who face hunger, drought, flood or storm.
Rescue those who are without hope in their spirits: Redeemer, save.
Somehow, we don’t know how, You can reach those who need faith.
Truckers are troubled, Master. Bless everyone to understand & trust.
Unmet needs are still rampant in places like Afghanistan: help, Lord!
Violence in homes and families is very common, even here. Help!
Where are wonderful things, Jesus? Wherever You are. Thank You.
X-ray vision is Yours, so help us examine life to see Good News.
You’re still at work, Yahweh: yesterday & tomorrow in Your hands!
Zero are the things we need when we rest in You. You’re our A to Z!
AMEN.

HYMN # 568 Take My Life and Let It Be – sung and played by Margo Nesbitt

BENEDICTION:  Psalm 42:11b

Hope in God; for you shall again praise Him, our help and our God. Amen.

Worship at Home, Jan 23 – Born After Having Grown Old?

WELCOME to worship online for Digby Baptist Church, in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. And at the heart of our scripture text for the day are the famous words of Jesus about being ‘born again’ or ‘born from above.’ Read along, listen, watch, and worship God to the best of your ability, wherever you are at this moment.

Psalm 139:
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

HYMN: There Is a Green Hill Far Away – Men’s Choir 2021

Daily Prayer from the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Compassionate God, you gave the blind the insight to recognise you as their Saviour, enable us to repent. In your mercy, remove the scales from our eyes and lead us to worship you as our God and Redeemer. In the midst of our sorrow and despite the depth of our sins, give us the capacity to love you with all our hearts. May we journey together guided by your light, with one heart and one mind, as were the very first disciples. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon us, so that together we glorify you in the Spirit’s fellowship, and witness to all those around us. Amen.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 139:13-18

STORY: Chapter 4, read by Alison Vassallo

SCRIPTURE: John 3:1-21 read by Myra Edwards

Personal Testimony by Myra E.

SERMON: Born After Having Grown Old? – Jeff White I’m very grateful for Deacon Myra’s ‘testimony’ she shared today. I had never actually talked with her about her life story and her spiritual experiences much, until this past week. Hers is an ordinary life story, and a unique one too. With the seeds planted in her childhood I think the Master reached in and blessed her and transformed her when she was an adult. And now, thirty years on, Jesus continues to bless her.

‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ it is said. This is not true. Well, maybe it is about dogs, but it is not true of humans. Jamie Winship is an author, teacher, and trainer, all about humans finding their true identity. He strongly suggests that it is never too late. Never too late to follow your dreams, to discover more of who you truly are. Winship claims that if you think, say, I wish when I was 21 I had done this… that statement has no truth to it at all. To learn a new skill, to create something great, to become a different person, is possible. You are not too old! He says: I had to learn that I am too old to do something. I didn’t find that out on my own, society taught me that. So you unlearn some wrong things about yourself. 

Can there be a rebirth in you when you have grown up, or grown old? Yes, there can be. I’m so glad so many of you know this. One of the amazing examples among us was Geraldine Wambolt. There she was, in her eighties, and moved into Tideview Terrace. What’s next, a person might ask. Not much, many people suppose. Not true. Gerry became an artist! Yes, some of you saw her artwork. She started drawing, and the images were incredible. Her children had never known her to be an artist. But there it was, inside her. And she did it! In her eighties. In a nursing home. 

So, I heard that ‘born again’ question of Nicodemus to Jesus in a new way this past week. “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” Here is this man, a religious expert and leader in Jerusalem. He’s a Pharisee, and he is a member of the Sanhedrin, a ruling council for the Jewish people. And Jesus says some profound things to him. There is a chance for more in the life of Nicodemus, and others, some kind of spiritual rebirth. 

There can be more, at any age and stage of life. A person can have a rebirth, at any moment. We hear this same message from Jesus at other times, such as this one: the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, & said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mtt 18:1-4)

There is a change, at any age, to be like a child: humble and growing and learning and developing. This is entry into the heavenly kingdom in our days on earth

I have mentioned before the interview I had, years ago, with Rev. Dr. Freeman Fenerty, a great pastor and church planter of the mid Twentieth Century in the Maritimes. He had this great way of describing a couple ways people are converted to Christ – the sudden way, and the gradual way. His own experience was like mine: slow and steady, like the opening of a blossom to the sunshine.

In the culture of our Christianity, of course, to be born from above or born again is usually thought of as a once and for all beginning, a ‘getting saved’ that is a moment in our time. Yet I have found that many people have more than one breakthrough in their life story. Even those who have walked with God in the past might have another conversion happen to them in the future. 

Can anyone be born after having grown old? Yes. Just thinking of folks I’ve been privileged to baptize, I remember Carl, in Parrsboro, who must have been about 75. Or Polly, in Windsor, who was around 79 when she came to the fellowship of our Baptist Church, and was baptized. Or Fred, who must have also been in his 70s. He and his wife had served in other Churches before ours, but when they came to us, it was a time of renewal in their spirits, and they were both baptized (again). 

Of course, baptism is not for every moment of growth and development in our lives. So much can happen, by the grace of God. A new emotional step, a healing, a change of work, a new family relationship… so much can happen. 

Jesus gave Nicodemus much to think about, as we heard in the verses Myra read today. “The wind [spirit] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit [wind].”(Mtt 3:8)

Birth or rebirth or renewal or another conversion – whatever we call this – happens in many a way for many a person. The transformation of a person is possible at so many moments in life. 

As was sung in ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas,’
Like the flower that has blossomed
in dry and barren sand,
we are born and born again most gracefully

Let me tell you a born again again story. Brian Zahnd is a church Pastor in Missouri, and author of many books. He is sixty some years old, and is the founding pastor of his non-denominational Church, begun in 1981. I have never read any of Zahnd’s stuff, but I happened to view a recent sermon of his last week. (‘Vintage Christianity’ Jan 16, 2022) He preached from the John 2 story of Jesus turning water into wine, and told his own, personal born again again story, as he called it.

Zahnd spoke of how the Lord saved him at two dangerous moments in his life: when he was 15 years old, and then again almost twenty years ago, when he was 45. 

So, at 45 he had, by then, been the founding pastor of his church for twenty years. But his spirituality had dried up. He says at 45 the danger was that I would no longer venture risk, no longer walk down any roads; at 45 I was in danger of my life being withered. (At both times Jesus saved me! At 15 and 45.) The wine of life had begun to run out. The party was over. 

I wasn’t having a crisis about Jesus. It was just the party itself was starting to feel kind of lame. I wasn’t doubting Jesus, but the Christianity I knew wasn’t worthy of the beauty of Christ. I didn’t know what to do about it, if there was anything I could do about it.

I know I would not have left the party. I would have doggedly drudged on. (What a sad way to end a story.)

Pastor Zahnd then says, 18 years ago, I did not know what was happening next. Someone must have been praying for me. “He has no wine.” Someone must have been paying attention, and noticed. “He has no wine.” Who was it, I don’t know.

Right around this time, 18 years ago, a voice within me started to say, “whatever He says to you, do it.” And I did.

I prayed, even though I didn’t really know how to pray. (Remember, he’s been the founding pastor of his Church for twenty years by then.) I fasted. And I read. And I read. And I read. And I read. I filled 6 water pots of stone up to the brim. His bookshelves were the water pots of stone that Brian filled to the brim and that Jesus turned to wine.

Brian emphasizes that he is telling his story, in which Jesus is the hero. No two miracles happen the same way. He was told to read books. Other people are told to do other things. The first book he was ‘told’ to read happened to be a book very important to me, The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. Brian Zahnd concludes: The books that I read did not work a miracle in my life. No more than filling six water jars to the brim with water. Jesus took all those books I read and turned them into the wine of vintage Christianity. Christ saved me a second time.

Jesus has saved the best wine till now!  I’ve never been more excited to be a Christian than now in my life. The party is not over at all. Jesus can bring you in the second half of your life the best wine you’ve had in your life.

So do not fret if your get-up-and-go got up and went. If you think you missed the boat, and you’ll always be what you are right now. There can be a new day for you. And a page to a new chapter open up for that person you are praying for. And blessed rebirth of a whole congregation, when needed.

This morning I have talked about many real examples of ‘rebirth.’ Myra shared with us directly her own ‘born again’ experience. Then I talked about Jamie Winship who tells us it is never too late in life. Geraldine Wambolt who became an artist in her eighties. Nicodemus who has so much to learn from Jesus. Jesus who spoke of becoming like children in order to live in God’s good realm. Rev. Dr. Freeman Fenerty whose conversion was like a flower gently opening. Several seniors – Carl, Polly and Fred – who were baptized  as seniors with spiritual breakthroughs. Pastor Brian Zahnd who was born again again at age 45, through prayer and reading a thousand books. Jesus saved the best for the latter stages of many people’s lives.

Can a person be born after having grown old? YES. I have seen it many times. And as a pastor of a Church filled with retired people, I believe in it. I would not be here if I didn’t. We are in the work here of ‘people development,’ as author Reggie McNeal would say. Or, as our ‘younger’ Bible Study group suggests by our very name, we are The Transformers. That wonderful chapter, Romans 12, says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Perhaps this God is bringing you to a moment of renewal – or into a process. I would be happy to help you with this. Others in the fellowship could also be your encouragers and companions on the journey. Maybe they already are. This is the work of Jesus, what He is all about here and now. Be born after having grown up! (Hey, it might even happen to me this year.)

PRAYER after the Sermon: Behold, God, are You about to do a new thing? Can we see it now? And what are we to do? This time of thinking and meditating and feeling we dedicate again to You. May we be transformed for the good, and become people making a real difference in our world, with Jesus. Amen.

PRAYERS of the People – offered by Dick Parry

BENEDICTION: Romans 12:9-10 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
And grace, mercy and peace be yours from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Worship at Home, Jan 16 – Zeal for Your House

WELCOME to worship for Digby Baptist Church, while we are all staying home. The plan here has elements of worship to share by reading, listening, and viewing. There is a little bulletin also published, with some announcements, here on our website. Paper copies of the sermon and some prayers are delivered to local folks each Sunday, who cannot view this online.

Psalm 127:1-2
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

HYMN # 699 Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation

Opening PRAYER: God of Sabbath rest, today is the Christian Sabbath, and wherever we find ourselves, we rest in You. This season in our whole world is filled with anxieties, Holy One; we call out to You. Dealing with illness is such a trouble right now, and we in the first world have such high expectations for our healthcare. O Great Physician, You showed us how our well-being and our behaviour are closely connected. We want to know the best steps to take. We don’t want to be upset by others who make different decisions. And many of us are getting so weary of this problem that overshadows everything. How long, O Lord?!

Christ, You once promised to build Your house, and not even the gates of hell would stand against it. So we keep on trusting You to build Your Church, You being our Cornerstone. By the Holy Spirit keep us in close contact with one another, while we are not meeting, and let us be strengthened and united. In Your name. AMEN.

John 2:13-25 read by Sharon White

SOLO: Mercy Tree – Sharon Marshall, 2020

SERMON: Zeal for Your House It is 1660 in Bedfordshire, north of London, England. The Church of England is clamping down on ‘non- conformist’ preachers – these ‘free Church,’ non-Anglicans are simply not allowed! Out in a field, one day, a certain John Bunyan is arrested while speaking. This tradesman in his early thirties had, after years of religious and spiritual crisis, been baptized and joined a Particular Baptist Church in Bedford. John’s gift for speaking became apparent, and he took up preaching, alongside the pot and pan repairs he’d learned from his father. 

But now, he was in prison. And, because he refused to pledge not to preach again, he stayed in prison, for the most part, for the next twelve years. John was in and out some, and even got to do occasional preaching outside. Inside, he wrote: books and books. It is likely, near the end of this time, that the zealous preacher wrote his most well-read and widely published story: The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was published in 1678, after he was free and then the pastor of the Bedford Church. 

The story of a person like John Bunyan is the tale of a zealous man, zealous for the things of God, as he understood them. Bunyan was part of the puritan movement that was keen for a new and vital form of Christianty to take over. Zealous for a new way to do Church, with a lot of freedom, simpler worship, and an emphasis upon personal holiness and piety. 

Bunyan knew persecution by the religious and political authorities of his day. And this came out in his stories, like that of the pilgrim named, simply, Christian, on his arduous journey to the Celestial City. This character faces so many temptations and enemies and dangers along the way. Each one representing a real life challenge. Today’s chapter in this children’s version of the story mentions Lord Beelzebub and Passion and Patience, whose names declare their identity. And Christian faces opposition exactly because he does right, stays to a good path, and tries his best to trust King Jesus. 

This is much like the words of Psalm 69, which Jesus’  disciples thought of that day He overthrew the merchants in the Temple. “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

To be passionate for true religion can get one into trouble. That’s the message of Psalm 69; that’s the story of Christian’s progress as a little pilgrim; that was the experience of the preacher and author John Bunyan. Just glancing at that Psalm quotation in John chapter 2, we might wonder what it really means, at first. When we go back to the rest of the Psalm, we get to understand the message. It is a long prayer for help when surrounded by enemies, enemies of faithfulness. What did the Psalm writer do to get into trouble? Listen and understand: (Ps. 69)

9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

Being faithful to his spiritual practices got the Psalm singer in trouble, it seems. Persecution came for doing right things, including the spiritual discipline of fasting in humble clothing – which usually goes with prayer.

All these centuries later, as followers of Jesus now, modern Christians can say the same things. It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.  There are believers in parts of the world who are oppressed and threatened – even killed – simply for living a Christians. 

Here, in Nova Scotia, what has our experience been of opposition to our faith? There is some push-back to the ways we live as disciples of Jesus and citizens of the Kindom. And we may sacrifice certain things for the sake of being Christian.

One thing we do is worship – we share worship like we are today, and at other times we do physically gather for divine worship. This part of ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ is not without its costs. Gone is the time that workplaces and the marketplaces were shut down on Sundays. Remember when the big stores were still not open on Sunday? And remember how promises were made by some of them, in the fall of 2006, when the laws changed? Promises that those who wanted to worship on Sundays would not be forced to work then. How is that going now?

I have been zealous enough about worship that it has remained a personal priority for me. It is one of the few spiritual disciplines that I am disciplined about!

When Jesus cleared the Temple in Jerusalem that day, He spoke of it being a house of prayer, not of business. That’s getting at the activity – the worship that happens. Another aspect of ‘His Father’s House’ is the actual building, the Temple. When questioned about His actions and authority, Christ mentioned destroying the temple, and rebuilding it. Which immediately was understood as the impossible: taking down this giant stone structure and then putting it back up in three days!

As much as a stone temple or wooden church can be misunderstood to be what faith is about, these buildings have their value. And like me, you may have some zeal about sacred buildings you’ve known. I am a lover of church buildings, from time to time. Some are very special and sentimental to me. Two I think of were places I worshipped at a formative time in my life: one a little, white country church, one an elegant university chapel. They both have their unique beauty, physically, but it was really what happened there, week after week, for several years, that was profound in my life. 

Still, I need to take the scene with Jesus in the Temple to heart. I need to notice that Jesus wanted what happened there to be good, but when He spoke of destroying and rebuilding the Temple, He was not even talking about stone and wood. He was speaking of Himself. He took the opportunity for prophecy and metaphor.

Wow, it is only chapter two, page two we could say, in the Gospel of John, and already we have to give a ‘spoiler alert!’ The finale of the story is being given away already: hero Jesus is going to die and get raised back up to life. It says right here, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this…” John the gospeler does this so much more than Matthew, Mark and Luke: declaring the amazingness of Jesus, His glory and power, His divine nature, His saving work. From the start, John keeps no secret of who Jesus of Nazareth might be. 

And so, as the rest of the New Testament testifies, Jesus builds a spiritual temple: He the Cornerstone, we the rest of the structure. For some of us, we are most zealous about the Church being the people, the gathered worshippers who scatter to serve the world. Our devotion to the mission also has its costs. There are costs to discipleship, which Jesus described as ‘talking up your cross to follow Him.’

In conclusion, I think about the changes that always come. Jesus clearing the Temple is a scene of changes. It suggests changing the way they were running their Jewish Temple at that time. A change to their revenue, their focus upon prayer, and so forth. What Jesus says then points to a big change in salvation history: the big event of His own sacrifice was coming in just a couple years. 

These days, we may feel that the pandemic is forcing some changes upon Church life, but there has been much more going on that demands Christians enter the next reformation of our history. The past twenty two months certainly have led us to reflect upon what it means to gather in congregations, to worship and learn, and to work as a ministry team. Our Saviour is also our great Master Teacher. In the midst of these years we are discovering what changes are in store for Christendom, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some ways of being Christian that people were passionate about in the past are dying out. 

Then new things crop up. Like Messy Church, a gathering for families in which the service is really like a morning at Vacation Bible School. Crafts, songs, games, stories: all created to ‘be Church’ in a different form. Our neighbours of Trinity Anglican used to offer this regularly.

What’s getting born? What are the new ways of being disciples of Jesus together? This is our exciting project now. Our adventure, our journey, our pilgrimage. God has all the power, all the love, and all the creativity needed to take Christianity deep into the 21st century. The bottom line is this: shall you and I be zealous for the Kingdom of God, and for King Jesus? Look for what inspires you, or gets you all stirred up, about Church and about Christ. Let the Spirit use that to grow new faith and action in you.

PRAYER after the Sermon:  God of our Church House, thank You for our building at the corner of Mount St. and Montague Row, even though we have not been there much lately. God our Hearer of prayer, thank You for receiving our worship and giving Yourself to us. Triune God of love, thank You for our fellowship in Christ. May we be teachable when it comes to the new path forward. And may we be good forgetters of the old ways that are to be replaced. AMEN.

PRAYERS of the People: Jesus Christ, true and only Head of the Church, may these words that are read and shared unite the fellowship in prayer, by the power of Your loving Spirit. O King of the Justice, we gather our prayers on this weekend that honours Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy is huge, left by this peace activist who was a  Baptist Pastor. Brother of all nations, we are still needing racial justice, and still need Dr. King’s voice to be heard as a messenger from You. May we all have the same dream.

Christ our Cornerstone, our prayers for ourselves begin with the Church today. We have a couple buildings, Lord. Bless and keep them, in the face of faulty wiring and failing furnaces, holes in roof and vinyl siding, piano to be replaced and organ to be tuned.

We have worship services and study groups, Lord. Inspire and instruct us, in the face of long absences from one another, attempts to meet online and sing only as single people, and intentions to keep in touch with everyone.

We have membership and ministries, Lord. Bless us so that we may be a blessing to others, in our fellowship and loving care, in our weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who celebrate, and in our wise and wide generosity to people in need of almost anything. We call out for the teachers & workers & students going back into the classrooms this week: let there be wisdom and energy for all education. We put all our healing prayers together for the sake of many people, including Joe, Dwight, Mike, and Doug. Even in the face of death we pray in the power of the Spirit, for folk like Cathy and Heather for whom we are asked to intercede. O Great Physician, may all who work in healthcare be encouraged this week, when they need it most; we are concerned for them all.

Spirit and Advocate, our praying together is also for the whole world. You’ve got the whole world in Your hands! 

In the wake of tsunami threats in the Pacific, let there be safety and hope. In the midst of places like British Columbia where there is flooding, and places like Western Australia where there is terrible heat and drought – may there be mercy in creation for every creature. In the days of uncertainty for Churches around the globe, facing threats and failures and apathy of every kind: renew, rekindle, regrow, reinforce, and regenerate Your people, Holy God! Our prayers are the tip of the iceberg today; we share also in the prayer taught by the Lord Jesus: Our Father… AMEN.

SONG: He’s Still the King of Kings – Men’s Choir, 2021

BENEDICTION: 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy
.

AMEN.

Worship at Home, Jan 9, 2022 – First Sign

WELCOME to this plan for worship that we can share, wherever we are. This service includes text to read, audio to hear, and video to watch. We are not meeting in person at the moment; as the weeks progress we will reevaluate and plan for the future.

Psalm 104:1-2a, 14-17
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees
.

PRAYER:   God of the Promised Land, thank You that, in the winter, this land is still Your land. Thank You that, in the hardships, this life is still Your gift. Thank You that, in the uncertainties, the path is still guided and Jesus is our Way. Thank You that, in the aloneness, we still have purpose and reasons to be Yours! 

Today, from our fears and sins release us, we pray. We get bogged down in the same old weaknesses and failings, it seems. Bring us through, bring us up, bring us out, we pray, by the power of Jesus! And give us, Your people, some sign of hope, some measure of grace, some glimpse of glory. In worship of You, with Jesus, and the Spirit we pray. AMEN.

CELEBRATION of Ministry – check out announcements in the Bulletin:

John 2:1-11 – Bonnie VanTassell

SERMON: First Sign. Just before I begin the sermon, let me declare to you that half of it is simply going to be a video I will show. A comedy satire, really, 8 minutes, from an Australian team.  Let us pray…

Have you ever seen a living sign? I’m sure you have. More often in the past, people would wear ‘a sandwich board’ on the street, advertising a local business – the diner’s special of the day, perhaps. More often, people wear a T-shirt or a hoodie with a message on it – usually humour or just advertising. If you have ever jogged in a trail run you have seen, along the route the runners take, people, holding flags, making sure the runners stay on the right path. I first saw this in 2008 when Sharon and I were in the Not Since Moses Run, at low tide in Five Islands. Out on the muddy beach were faithful volunteers, living signs, pointing the way for us on the foggy route, and cheering us on!

Today’s step into the story of Jesus is into John chapter 2. At this wedding in a village called Cana, the miracle Jesus performs – turning water into wine – gets called not a miracle, a sign. ‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs… and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.’

John the gospeler gives seven signs in his book: special events from Jesus that show His glorious unity of humanity and divinity. There are a few healings, there is feeding a crowd of more than 5000 people, walking on water, and finally raising a dead friend back to life. 

This water into wine was a very practical miracle at a community wedding celebration. Also symbolic, or at least very meaningful, beyond what happened. On a few levels, the glory of God shines through this Jesus. His closest friends, His apprentices, get it, and their confidence grows.

I hope you each have events in your life that impressed you with Jesus, or whatever you call the Holy One. I know some of you have several (or many) moments in life that were powerful signs of God. I have my own stories to tell. I suppose, whenever I tell them, I am putting up some signs that point to Jesus, for others to see. I hope some follow. 

The classic story of the Pilgrim’s Progress is of a young Christian, and others, on a journey. All along the way help is needed, signs and clues point the way. Helpers also.

We Baptists have this very strong ‘evangelical’ flavour to our religion, which could be thought of as advertising. We are advertisers for Jesus. Compelled to find ways to tell the world about the Saviour. Isn’t that what all disciples are being trained to do, from the first ones until today? 

Let me stop the sermon now to show this video. It is not a Christian production. It is really a comedic satire about the advertising industry these days. I think this is well written, produced and acted. It is about eight minutes long. It is called ‘For Your Sins.’

Advertizing Jesus: I suppose this could have been my sermon title. It is my topic, in a sense. Consider the things, out and about, that point to Jesus, point out Jesus, reveal a glimpse of glory! What signs today are among us? What signs of Jesus are visible to our neighbours in the world?

No, I am not thinking of ‘signs of the End Times.’ If I dare lump all the signs of the End and the Second Coming in one pile, I would be getting off track. I think. Wars and rumours of wars, the rise of certain world powers, events in the nation of Israel, the decline of Christianity in some places, and of societies all over… I think most of these are signs of what is falling and failing, not of Jesus who is rising and winning. 

Rather, let us seek to know what we see and know of God, and how we ‘bear witness’ to the Holy One. How can we be good signposts for God?

We might think of our very new and contemporary tools. Yet, religious social media posts are just the old ways put into new wineskins. Not usually effective. 

GOD ISN’T ASKING YOU
TO FIGURE IT OUT
HE’S ASKING
YOU TO TRUST

REPENT
THE DOOR IS CLOSING
He Is Near

And let’s not simply tell people ‘come to church!’ (Though I am in favour of inviting people and of showing hospitality.) I’d actually say ‘you are the church.’ If someone is talking with you about spirituality, they have already ‘come to church’ – they have come to you

Our witness, I believe, is a matter of taking good notice of where God is alive out there in everyday life. Do our bit to point to the Spirit of Jesus when we are at a banquet, on a journey, in the marketplace. Even now, when so much gathering of people together is curtailed, there are ways to glimpse the glory of God. 

This happens in the best of times; this happens in the worst of times. Lutheran minister Nadie Bolz-Weber spoke in a radio interview about her CPE hospital chaplain training. (CBC Tapestry, 2013)

I’d find myself in the trauma room in the ER, with the life going in and out of people, and Drs doing things to bodies on tables that were not meant for my eyes and sorely represented on TV… It feels like chaos, but it’s very orchestrated; everyone has their job and everyone knows what they are doing, and they are doing it. And that first time I was in a trauma room I finally caught this nurse’s eye and she stepped back with me and I said, “Um, I’m a new chaplain, and you guys obviously know what you’re doing here, what am I doing here?” 

And she looked at me and she said, “Your job is to be aware of God’s presence in the room, while we do our job.” And I thought, ‘Thank you. I can do that.’

And so that’s taught me alot about to be with people in crisis and in trauma; you’re not there to like give them some sort of easy platitudes or make them feel better; you’re there to be aware of God’s presence in the room,’cause probably they can’t feel that; and to just sit in how awful it feels and not try to explain it away and not try and distract yourself with something else; but to just sit with people in how absolutely awful the thing is they are experiencing. That to me is ministry.

Bolz-Weber’s experience is perhaps extreme. Yet there will be the presence of the Crucified Jesus in the midst of the world’s real suffering and pain. At other times, our glimpses of the glory of God will be in creation and in other people – beautiful things. Like Andrew and Peter and Philip, we are given a bright light, something to share. And to be a witness to the real Jesus, we must be signs, first, and not draw attention to ourselves. It’s not about me: Him.

One of the wise elders in my life, years ago, was Robert Matthews, who was a retired Baptist Pastor when I knew him. What a dignified, serious, intelligent, hard- working, compassionate, British pastor he was! I remember Bob talking one day, about God and the Gospel, and our human role (even the role of a minister). He put it this way: we are but people who are pointing to the Light, pointing out a Star, far in the distance. We don’t have a corner on the truth. But we can see the Truth, and greet it from afar. 

That always resonated with me – not being a highly confident person – yet I can be very confident in Christ Jesus, and turn His direction.

Perhaps my best final words would simply be this famed quotation from D. T. Niles. “Evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

PRAYER after the Sermon: Word of God, our Saviour, keep speaking to us and let us speak, in word and action, some real good news. Hide from our eyes and eyes things false and dangerous. Keep the true path before us, we pray.
Lord, let Your glory fall, as on an ancient day.
Songs of enduring love,
And then Your glory came.
And as a sign to You,
That we will love the same,
Our hearts will sing that song,
As we pray!
Amen. (Matt Redman, 2002)

PRAYERS for the world

BENEDICTION:
God the Father bless you and keep you,
God the Son save you and direct you,
God the Spirit teach you and guide you,
this day and evermore. AMEN.

Worship At Home, Jan 2, 2022 – Get to Know Me

WELCOME to this post to share at home and worship there, while we are not meeting together in person. For a time, we will not be gathering. During this period our paper bulletin will be shorter and simpler. Here on this website post you can find music, prayer, scripture, sermon, and so forth. This Sunday, first of a month and first of the year, we will share communion separately, from home. Use a pre-filled cup from the Church, or your own bread and juice.

Any group of believers, gathered to worship God, is not an audience sitting back as spectators in the pews. Thus, this plan for service at home is not simply one video for you to sit back and watch. Use as many elements that are here – of text, audio and video – to worship the Holy One.

Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.”
5 Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.

PRAYER : Offer your own prayer to praise God, to give thanks, and to confess.

PRAYERS: (lyric by Gary Sadler & Lynn Deshazo )
We are a moment, You are forever
Lord of the Ages, God before time
We are a vapor, You are eternal
Love everlasting, reigning on high

For the year that is now past we praise and thank You. Amid the hardships have been lessons of love. In troubled times have come beautiful moments. With uncertainty has come Your guiding Spirit to show the way. Be near in 2022.
We are the broken, You are the healer
Jesus, Redeemer, Mighty to save
You are the love song we’ll sing forever
Bowing before You, blessing Your name

For healing and help we pray today, O God. Your goodness and blessing be upon ___ and ___ and ___. Especially we pray for Mike, who has been recovering in the Kentville Hospital, and for Doug who has been in and out of Digby and Yarmouth Hospitals…
And our prayers are for the whole world. We pray for people in the Kayah, Myanmar, where thirty-five people were killed in a military attack. We pray for people in West Kordofan, Sudan, where thirty-eight were killed when a defunct gold mine collapsed. We pray for people in Kabul, Afghanistan, where women gathered this week calling for “justice, justice” in protest of Taliban authorities.
Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain
Highest praises, honor and glory
Be unto Your name, be unto Your name
AMEN.

SCRIPTURE John 1:35-51 – read by Angela Outhouse:

SERMON: Get to Know Me. Today is the second Sunday of Christmas, and the second day of a whole new year. For a third time, we have stopped meeting in person – this time not because we had to, but because so many people are reluctant to gather. 

We begin a new year with a new Gospel to read as we tell the story of Jesus once again in worship; the Gospel of John. How different from the other three it is! How full of Jesus’ words, and glorious signs of His divinity. How different in style and how rich in detail. 

I have not quite thought this through yet, but I wonder if our opening theme for the year will be getting to know Jesus. We may be guided to explore how we have done this in our lives, and what the next steps are. We may uncover what new methods we have for sharing Good News with the generations around us now. How can other people get to know what we know about Christ? 

So, we have now celebrated the arrival of Him in the world, two millenia ago. Today, in John’s Gospel, we see young adult Jesus beginning His work. He starts the journey by recruiting disciples. Some of His recruits had been followers of John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin. This was what John’s work was for: to prepare for the actual Messiah, and to hand his apprentices over to the Christ. 

Any story is a journey through time and space. We compared the story of these others with our own life stories. We find common events and experiences. Similar intervention by God. Our lives get interpreted by the Bible.

Today I also began a retelling of the classic Christian story ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Written hundreds of years ago by Baptist preacher John Bunyan, I’m using a new children’s version of this allegory. Perhaps Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey can help us adults follow the original book more easily. And here again we may have our own life stories interpreted. Pray that the Spirit of the Living God will open our minds and inspire our faithful actions. 

Anyway, let us get back to John chapter one, and Nathanael, who caught my attention this past week. We learn very little about this follower of Jesus: all we have is a few scenes in these paragraphs. Before he meets Jesus Nathanael is skeptical about this new prophet, from a nearby small town. “Could anything good come from Nazareth?” he says. But when Jesus meets him, Christ declares Nathanael to be a man of faith ‘without guile’ or ‘without deceit,’ however we want to translate it.

As much as this Gospel story is about Nathanael, and Philip, and the others, getting to know this Jesus, I wondered this, the same thing Nathanael wondered: how did Jesus know what Nathanael was like? “Where did you get to know me?” he asks. And they have a short conversation about this. 

Maybe you can remember times you got introduced to someone new, but your reputation preceded you. The stranger knew something about you already. Maybe you had friends in common. Or they just picked up quickly on who you are, what you’re like. 

I think of a friend of mine who has a certain insight, an intuition of sorts, even almost what seems like a 6th sense. He used to tell me he gets a strong first impression from people. When he meets someone and shakes their hand, he knows. I think he meant he knows if he can trust them, he knows if he is going to like them, he picks up right away on the person’s personality. 

I don’t have that gift. But sometimes I know when I meet someone who has this insight. 

So there is something important, even impressive, when someone notices us and has some insight about us. When I realize someone truly sees me, understands me, is paying attention to me, it is touching and kind. So the Jesus and Nathanael scene got me wondering about how these two men got to know one another very quickly. And has that ever happened for me and Christ?

Yes, we get to know Jesus. It comes from our time with Him. John’s story of Christ has these scenes of Him gaining disciples: Andew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanel. They change their schedules – for three years! – and are apprenticed to the Master. They see what Jesus does, they have it explained to them, they start to help Jesus, they try going out on their own, they do it. They become trained in Kingdom living; it’s very practical work. 

So many of you to whom I preach have had many years of your own apprenticeship to the Master. You have your own definite sense of who the Master is, what He is like, how He gets things done, and the qualities of His character. As He said, He is a Shepherd who knows the sheep, and the sheep know His voice. I don’t know about you, but I still find there is more and more to know about Christ. I keep wanting to go back, for instance, to Willard’s book about hearing the voice of God, and be reminded what to look for when I want to hear from God. As in human relationships, there can always be more knowing and growing with Jesus.

We also get to be known by Jesus, and this actually matters. “Where did you get to know me?” asked Nathanael. We can ask the same thing. ‘Where did You get to know me, Christ?’ And then, scenes from our life may come to mind – the things we did, the places we went, the moments that mattered – when the all-seeing God enjoyed our company, and cooperated with us. 

I like that phrase in Psalm 149 (4) ‘For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.’ Remember, and know that your God enjoys you.

In that amazing chapter, Romans 8, we can read (26) ‘… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.’ And (34) ‘It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.’ I keep saying, I have this sense that the Trinity: Father Son and Holy Spirit, are busy talking about us among Themselves. You and I are on Their minds. We matter. Everyone matters. So, as Paul says in Romans 8(31) ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’! 

Our faith celebrates this Deity who we experience so personally. To be known by God is a gift of grace. 

And we get to know ourselves better, through Jesus’ eyes, so to speak. Many of us learned from Christianity that God is all-seeing, and catches us in every mistake and bad deed. Psalm 19:12 prays: ‘But who can detect their errors?     Clear me from hidden faults.’ But what if we remember that our Creator also knows every beautiful thing about us, moment by moment? We are told we are wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14) and in the New Testament that we were created for good works, all prepared for us to do in this life (Eph 2:10). We have this good news to tell: God sees the beauty and worth of you

A song came to my mind, a Gaither song I learned as a kid in the Church. 

I am a promise, I am a possibility,
I am a promise, with a capital P,
I am a great big bundle of potentiality!
And I am learning to hear God’s voice,
And I am trying to make the right choices
I’m a promise to be anything God wants me to be.

Whenever someone who knows and respects us tells us what they see in us, it has an impact. I shared some of these words with you a few weeks ago, from a social media post by a friend of ours.  It was just a couple years ago that Jennifer wrote to all of us, who knew her, to tell us she had cancer. In the midst of it she said: 

We live in a society where people think that individuality is a right and spend soooo many dollars on clothes, hobbies, tattoos, homes, anything and everything that can set them apart. But if we are all doing the same thing albeit in different ways, isn’t that more the same than different? If we could all only see how beautiful God has made each of us we could spend more time making a difference in the world with all he has given us. Friends! If you only could see you as I see each of you! You are beautiful. I digress.

Jenn had that vision of others that Jesus sees. When you can believe something wonderful about yourself that someone else believes, how encouraging! All the more when we get in touch with how God esteems us. As a father is filled with compassion for his children, so God loves us. As a hen would try to gather her chicks under her wings, so Jesus wanted to embrace His people who were straying. As the Spirit lets our own spirits know we belong and are children of God, so our lives expand and strengthen.

As a new year begins, follow Jesus. 

Notice how His own attention follows you. 

And discover anew the delight and purpose Jesus sees in you!

PRAYER after the Sermon:  God, You are more than words can tell or names can describe. Jesus, You are bigger than history and more down-to-earth than stained glass and hymns. Spirit, You are holier than we can touch, yet also close and graciously available to our souls. In our quest to know You, to believe in You, to follow Your way for us: remind us again how You also seek us with great love and attention. Even with Your arms open wide upon the Cross You seek us. You are lifted up that all men and women may be drawn close to You. 

Draw close to us again, we pray. Amen.

COMMUNION The table of bread is now to be made ready.
It is the table of company with Jesus,
and all who love him.
It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world,
with whom Jesus identified himself.
It is the table of communion with the earth,
in which Christ became incarnate.
So come to this table, you who have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time;
you who have tried to follow Jesus
and you who have failed; come.
It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

Jesus said, “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread – living Bread! – who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.” John 6:47-51 (Msg)

Now, we remember that…
The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26 (Msg)

Let us give thanks for the bread… [Maggie Beveridge:]

[Eat the bread]

After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:
This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.
Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

Let us give thanks for the cup… [Peter Dickie:]

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns.

[Drink from the Cup]

Prayer after Communion
The bread has been broken, the cup has been poured, the meal has been shared. Gracious God, we give thanks for bread for the journey, for your wisdom guiding us along the way. May there be friends to share the road as we dare to dream of creation renewed, and hope in the promise of justice for all. Amen.

BENEDICTION: May the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom; and grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us now and always. AMEN.