Worship, Nov 28 – First Sunday of Advent: Strangers in a Strange Land

WELCOME to this post with a bit of content from our morning worship service for this First Sunday of Advent. Full service details are in the Bulletin, here on the website. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Amen.

(Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14) J G White

Strangers in a Strange Land: It’s October of 2010. I find myself in the high Andes of South America. Walking the market streets of El Alto, Bolivia, I pass the vendors selling hats, a whole street selling hats. Then another few blocks of fruits and vegetables, outdoors. Then all the meat sellers in a row, with what are to me mystery meats, out in the cool sunshine of a spring day down there. Some must be cow’s stomach, or something like that. Then, the witches market, with the ever popular dried Llama fetuses for sale. And on it goes in the city.

I don’t want to buy much. Just as well, I think to myself. I don’t know a word of Spanish, not even the numbers to haggle over a price. I’m a stranger in a strange land. Yet, I was there on tour with pastors, visiting Baptist Churches and ministries and experiencing Christian work.

Some of you have been far more a ‘stranger in a strange land’ than this. And you got some cultural intelligence for your experience. 

Then again, right at home, we have times when things change for us, and we feel strange, or the world around us grows strange. Sound familiar? Two years ago now, in 2019, were any of you guessing how our habits would have changed since then? We are in a bit of a strange land now, right here at home, in this pandemic season. 

The scripture stories of Jesus’ nativity are filled with strangers in a strange land. Magi from the far East. Angelic messengers from who knows what heavenly realm. Even Joseph and Mary have to go to a different town at the time of the birth, not to mention when they had to flee south into Egypt to save their child from execution. 

Plus, we see Jesus as a stranger among us – since He is God the Creator joining creation. 

But we are not into those stories yet. We start back among the prophets. Today, five hundred and some years before Jesus, Jeremiah is writing letters. Letters for his people who had been conquered by the Babylonian empire, and hauled off into Babylon. Jeremiah earlier had been obedient to remain celebate and not marry or have children, as a warning about the conquest that was about to happen. But now, now his godly message is to settle down in the foreign land where they are really prisoners. Marry, have children, farm the land, take care of things. This is your ‘new normal,’ he tells the Hebrews, on behalf of God.

These tales of the exile of the Jews get me thinking of how we enter strange times in our lives, when we don’t feel quite at home anymore. And we are not sure what to do with ourselves. It happens. Maybe we have all been getting a bit of that strange feeling over the past couple years. 

Let me draw out six things for us in this twenty-first month of a pandemic, this strange land we live in now. First, let’s live here, in ‘Covidland.’ We are learning to do this already, of course. It is no longer just a matter of waiting it out. We have to live it now. I dislike the phrase, but we live in our ‘new normal.’ As Jeremiah preached it, so we do today: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; …multiply there, and do not decrease

At first, like, back in August of 2020, we were hiding and waiting. Waiting for the pandemic to end. We put a lot of life on hold – we had to. Remember the first lockdown? We missed out on Good Friday and Easter, among other things. We only had recordings or something to read at home for Sunday mornings. Some of you said things like: ‘Oh, when we do finally all get back together, we are really going to celebrate. We will do Palm Sunday and Easter and Anniversary all at once!’ Was not that simple. It’s been a soft start, never yet getting back to BC – before COVID. We are in this for the long haul, like Jeremiah’s people in Babylon of old. Settle in – this is your new normal. 

Second thing: bless the new situation, the place where we live. What was in Jeremiah’s letter of God to the Jews in exile? 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. I think it is true that our well-being is not in trying to get to life as it was in 2019. We will be well when we bless the new ways we need to follow. We make beautiful masks, bothersome as they are. We greet people with joy without touching them. We even meet people online and over the phone instead of in person.

And we disciples of Jesus are here to bless our community, oppressed by COVID-19 as it is. Some congregations have recently felt the need to stop all midweek things that require proof of vaccination. So that no one feels left out, we suppose? But, as my wise step-daughter asked, ‘do they just quit ministering to everyone because they can’t include some people?’ She implies an answer: no! 

We must do all we can to bless as many people as possible, even with the limits of these days, and even when the rules and how to follow them don’t make sense to us. Seek the welfare of Covidland.

Another thing: don’t be led astray by lying voices. What happened back in Jeremiah’s day, when so many Hebrews got taken to a foreign land? Many religious prophets said they would soon be free. Such as Hananiah, who prophesied: “Thus says the Lord: …I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” No. Jeremiah’s word was the exile would be long. Like, seventy years!  8 …Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, Jeremiah preached, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream… 

This is a very divisive time. So many voices – about COVID-19 issues, among all the other things. So many disagreements. So much hostility. Everyone with ‘their truth,’ correcting someone else. Not always easy, eh? How not to be led astray: there’s the challenge. I think some gentleness is in order – in how we disagree with others, in how we share something we think is very important, in how we decide to believe and follow one path or another, in how we let someone else be different and go their way. 

And there is a lot to be said for learning, better and better, to know the voice of our Master. What are we told? ‘The sheep know His voice.’ There is so much to learn about our Master’s voice. Picture the scene, down south, about sixty years ago. It’s Sunday dinner in a family home, after the service in their local Southern Baptist Church. Adults around the table talk of the message the Pastor gave, including grand plans direct from the Lord for their church. Then the matriarch, wise grandmother, speaks. She is a real icon of faith and tradition in the family and the Church. But she quietly says, “I don’t know why God never speaks to me like that.” Decades later, her grandson, Dallas Willard, wrote his book, ‘Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.’ 

Keep up that conversation, and don’t be led astray.

Speaking of the voice of Christ, God spoke through Jeremiah in the sixth century BCE a now beloved verse: 29:11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Now, for us, there is a divine plan, a good plan

How many of you have seen this verse on a mug, or a wall plaque, or a cross-stitched pillow? Just remember that, in this bit of Hebrew scripture, the ‘you’ is plural. Like the southerners say, ‘Y’all.’ God knows the plans God has for ya’ll. Even ‘all y’all,’ as they sometimes say. Not me and you: plans for us

I believe God has a wonderful plan for our lives, together. Even on this cusp of 2022. And plans for a future with hope sounds very good when we are all in this pandemic boat together. 

Yet, keep things in perspective: this pandemic is not that bad for us. Here’s my fifth point: we are not in exile. We may feel we are strangers in a strange land, but we have it pretty easy, we in these pews, compared with most people on the planet. We are certainly not as displaced as Jeremiah’s people. 

Yes, we have a pandemic lightly touching us. It is a healthcare crisis. At least we have health care. A friend just got diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It took just a few weeks of testing. In two days he gets his first chemotherapy needle. He’s lucky. We talked about this the other day. What if he lived in Sudan – after a political coup last month and a drought emergency now? Or in Ethiopia – having a civil war today? Or Afghanistan, where fourteen million people face hunger daily. What do you suppose their healthcare is like?

We have it easy here: even in a global pandemic, even with the price of everything going up, even with… well, whatever our other serious complaints are.

We are not in exile. Even as Christians in Canada now, we’re not in exile, not in some modern day pagan Babylon. Sometimes believers think we have lost so much, and are so oppressed now. We do not have it that bad! It is more likely that we are Babylon, we are the rich oppressors of others on the planet, we Canadians who are Christian.

Now, my sixth and final point: for believers, seeking and finding God is the greatest goal and prize. From Jeremiah’s letter, speaking for the LORD: 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart… 

Here’s another decorative quotation I’ve seen on people’s walls: ‘Wise Men still seek Him.’ There is always seeking to be done. All the practices and habits of religion seem to say this. We don’t ‘arrive.’ We don’t ‘make it’ and then rest on our spiritual laurels. I think of the apostle Paul who spoke of running the race of faith so as to win it (1 Cor 9:24), and in another place: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)

What the will of God for us is now is new, eh, in this pandemic time. Not to mention other things about our circumstances. We have never been here before. True. I have never even been fifty-one years old before – neither have you been your age. Our guide, the Spirit, can lead us on. All is known to the Holy One we trust.

So here we start the story of Jesus all over again, with Advent: four Sundays before Christmas. Once again looking for inspiration to seek and find the Saviour. To grow in our fellowship, our obedience, our sacrifice, our joy with Jesus. I know I have further to go. Do you?

Just yesterday I got a phone message from an acquaintance from out of town. A fellow I knew in my youth, just a few years older than me. I called him back. He asked about baptism, as he has had such a renewal of his faith! He asked if, maybe… perhaps, it could even happen in December. Of course it can! We have plans for a baptism here already on December 12th. At any age and stage of life, progress with Jesus happens, and should be celebrated.

Dear stranger, in this strange land: remember, in Christ, you are also a citizen of the heavens, the Kindom. So you are at home already, even in these unusual times. As we long for Jesus, let us rest in Him. We heed the call to go to Bethlehem again. And we ask afresh for God to come to us abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel. Amen.

The Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Neibuhr

God, give me grace
to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship
as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make
all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy
in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

Worship, Nov 21 – Light at the End of the Tunnel

WELCOME to this worship post of Digby Baptist Church, on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Reign of Christ Sunday. Before Advent begins, we glimpse the old promises of a Messiah today. Full service details are published here in the Bulletin.

Light at the End of the Tunnel (Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 11:33-36) Here we are, friends, dealing with the darkness. Is that not what Church is for, Christianity’s purpose? A way of seeking – and finding – a bright spot. 

We have personal crises. I am anxious right now about a few of you, and another friend, at the beginning of cancer diagnosis and treatment. What’s going to happen? What will be suffered? I so want the very best to happen to each one. I pray for light and life to the fullest in each case.

In the wider community there is the ongoing health care crisis, including the challenges of staffing and running our nursing homes, and of keeping ambulances running. We face the dark, unending COVID crisis, with all the confusion and anxiety that goes with it. We see also a housing crisis, so much so that in our own community people are organizing to try and make a difference. How long before things start getting better in each situation?

Above and beyond this we know about the environmental crisis, a ‘climate emergency.’ And then there are the natural disasters, like the situation in British Columbia. Plus other human problems like war and violence, or racism that keeps gnawing at justice. These long-term challenges are being faced… ever so slowly.

And here we are, Sunday morning, worshipping, in a divisive time, a season of Church decay, often stumped about what to do next to make a difference to the spiritual lives of our neighbours, and keep churches functioning. Will our children have faith? A shared faith in Christ?

Pick any one of these situations. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? A happy ending? Do we know how to head in that direction? Here we are, together, seeking the answers, seeking the way forward, seeking not to go it alone. One challenge at a time is big enough: put these all in a heap and we can be overwhelmed.

I already read you this story from an activist and author [Jan Phillips], back in March. She said: The other night I admitted to a friend that I was hopeless. In my mind, it’s not a permanent condition. Not debilitating. It’s the weather, not the climate. I will get over it. I just wanted to be honest. On that day, in that hour, I said it.

He didn’t inquire into it. Didn’t empathize. Didn’t nod his head and say, “Awww…” He tried to talk me out of it. As if I had just gone down the wrong road. It made me mad. I want to be able to have my feelings and not have someone think they should be different. I just wrote this poem to describe that.

If you ask me how I am
and I say “hopeless,”
think: she is the moon,
a waning crescent,
so perfect and true.

Do not think you should
help me find hope,
guide me toward gratitude,
send me pink peonies.

Think: she is nature‑
ever-changing, this one view
so fleeting;
think: bud to bloom,
acorn to oak, tadpole to toad.
I am that.

Never the same.

I am creation expanding,
same as you,
a cauldron of seething chaos
spinning into unspeakable beauty.

Hopeless is right for some days.
Do not be afraid to come near.
There is wisdom in that sorrow,
warmth in that fragile, flickering
flame. © 2019 Jan Phillips

Hopeless moments come and go in our lives. One of the lessons of our faith in Christ is that there is a time to lament and mourn, a time to be helpless and be praying for miracles. To walk into the unknown is hard. 

Sometimes, we get to the light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s another dark tunnel! What’s that about? This, I think, is one of the more discouraging things about life and about history. This is the experience of some of you, and of various folks we’ve known. We overcome one crisis, come out the other side, and then another disaster strikes. 

But this is also seen in history, in our faith history, the Bible story. That encourages me. Why? Because I still believe what Martin Luther King Jr. quoted: We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, ‘68) 

In the wider plan, the big picture, hope goes on, love wins, Christ gains the victory. Even when disappointments seem to keep coming, over and over. The Bible story is not all happy endings. It all is still unfinished, pointing in a hopeful direction to something incredible and good that we but glimpse here. 

The scenes into which Isaiah spoke, in Jerusalem, those scenes are in the flow of Hebrew history – with so many ups and downs, over and over again. So many great promises come along, from God Almighty, but are seldom fulfilled to perfection, and seldom last long, it seems. So the true finale is yet to come.

I look at the timeline from the Hebrew Bible, and see a repeating story. The patriarchs: when a terrible famine comes, the eleven sons and families find safety with their long lost brother in Egypt. Those Hebrews prosper for a couple hundred years there; then they are oppressed, and become slaves. 

After another couple centuries, through Moses they are promised freedom and a return to the Promised Land. They are freed! But they take a long journey to get to that land of milk and honey. When they get there they have to recapture it and fight for it. 

Life in the promised land begins with leadership by what they called ‘judges,’ such as Deborah and Gideon and  Samson. Some lead well, some terribly. At one point, Yahweh God relents and allows the people to have a king, like the other nations around the Middle East. Kings Saul, David, and Solomon rule the children of Israel in a united kingdom. The spectacular Temple gets built. Ah, what glory days!

Then the kingdom splits in two. See that on the timeline? Two Hebrew kingdoms – Israel in the north, Judah in the South. So much for happy unity in the Promised Land!

This brings us to the season of prophets like Isaiah. They gave beautiful hope; they gave severe warnings! What happens? The Assyrian empire comes down and conquers the northern kingdom. Next, the Babylonians come down and finish things off. Jerusalem even gets destroyed by the end of it, and many of the leading Jewish people are taken away as captives to Babylonia. That’s the EXILE on the timeline.

Biblical history goes on from them. Suffice it to say… the final answer, the final promise, the final anointed King, the final kingdom – we see in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Mary. And in a sense, all the promises finally happen outside of history and earth as we know it. So we have these visions of a new heavens and new earth, united again, as in Paradise. 

We Christians go back even to Isaiah, and see his divinely inspired poetry pointing all the way to our future. A Child born for us in Bethlehem becomes our Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And Jesus’ way of running things is absolutely perfect. 

We hear in these ancient phrases hopes for all our fears. Good things will happen: The people who walked in darkness will see a great light. There will be good things provided for those who are needy: they rejoice before You, as with joy at the harvest. There will be peace among peoples and no more need for soldier’s uniforms: for all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. There will be justice for those oppressed and mistreated and left out: He will establish it [the kingdom] with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. 

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And at the end of the next one. And the one after that. To such hopes we cling, with our dear God. It is a matter of faith to see things this way. It is a vision we hold. 

Sharon and I have had a friend, Jennifer – a unique and beautiful Christian person. When she went through intense cancer treatments, I kept each of her posts she typed onto Facebook. What she wrote was so clear and touching, so honest and hopeful. When she went through all that, Jennifer kept seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Someday I want to read her whole diary of posts from her treatment. I’ll need to get permission. Here is but a sample. 

 I …have learned that I have a “rare, aggressive cancer” called clear cell Ovarian cancer and before you ask, no, it is not a “good” cancer. Rare and unique. Like so many other things in my life over the years. The prognosis is sketchy and the past weeks have been a roller coaster of terrible news and hope, recycled.

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.

Today we learned all sorts of things including the fact that I have blood clots in my lungs (mistakenly diagnosed as a fever at the Er with my elevated heart rate and… hot flashes!!! Blood clots! Seriously!) and I need a blood transfusion for low hemoglobin. All of my blood counts are apparently wackadoodle.

I don’t know when or how my story here will end but I know where my hope lies (in Jesus) and what comes after all of this. I know who created me and when my time here is done who I will spend eternity with. I know the great physician and he has peace and love and provides healing for every spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical ailment, although often not in the ways our finite minds can imagine or ask for. I will continue to ask him for a big miracle! I will continue to put my faith in him and will embrace however he finishes my story, resting in his peace.

That’s Jennifer, living in the light, embracing whatever.

Jesus’ words about a lamp glowing brightly, and the eye being the light of the body are beautiful words, but a bit mysterious to me. I wonder if Christ is simply saying: pay attention to your vision, your viewpoint, your attitude to the world around you. It is not actually about what your two eyes see. Even a sightless person has a viewpoint, and way of seeing the world, so to speak. Do you see hope?

Frederick Beuchner wrote: Christianity is mainly wishful thinking. Even the part about Judgment and Hell reflects the wish that somewhere the score is being kept. 

Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on. 

Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.

(Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 96)

The LORD spoke through Isaiah: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Jesus said, I am the light of the world. 

He also said, You are the light of the world. 

Perhaps, if your heart and soul have walked in darkness, you too shall see a great light. 

Prayer after the sermon: Come to us, Great Light, shine upon us, light us up inside, and glow from our lives as we walk in this world. 

For the light you have given us today, we simply praise You.

If there have been any things that hid Your light, disperse them and help us forget them. 

When we need to find our way, show us that You, the Guide, are near, are here. 

When someone else needs help to light their way, send us to them. 

In Your name, Jesus.  AMEN.

Worship, Nov 14 – Just, Right

WELCOME to this worship post for mid-November. Instead of a simple ‘spectator sport’ – watching a whole service on video – the text and video here can allow you to work your way through the service as outlined in the Bulletin, as an active worshipper at home, or wherever you may be.

PRAYERS of the PeopleFather, in my life I see, You are God who walks with me. Now, we pray, not on our own, not just side-by-side, not just listening to one pastor’s voice, but together. Walk with those in our prayers. God, walk with those who are challenged in their workplace this year. We think of folks serving at Tideview Terrace, for instance, and our local hospital. Nothing is easy, Master: help each and every staff person.

You hold my life in Your hands. May others, many others, know you hold their lives also, God. Our friends who live at Tideview Terrace, in long term care in Annapolis, in Mavillette, in Waterloo, and elsewhere. Also our friends who are having medical treatments now, or therapies, procedures, surgeries, tests, or medications. God, hold in your hands the lives of those who need more than physical healing, but healing of the mind and heart, of the soul, of the memory and of relationships. 

Close beside You I will stand. Jesus, our prayers are for those who try to stand with You, but need help. For others who are not interested in being Your disciple. And for those who make themselves enemies of You and Your Good News. We want to help people draw closer to You: make us do this for their sakes, and not ours. Also, Master, teach us all to be humble when Christians fail and get a bad name for themselves. 

I give all my life to You, help me Spirit to be true! We pray for all of life, and all the world today. Creator, we give our thoughts and actions about the earth’s climate to Your provision. We give our concern for the poorest of the poor to Your generosity. We give our care for those unjustly treated to Your freedom. We give our longings for healing from COVID to Your healing. We give our unanswered questions to Your wisdom. All in the name of Christ: Our Father…

SERMON: Just, Right. (Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 18-24) Since September we have been marching – rather quickly, through the story of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Creation. The beginning.
Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac. ~2000 BCE
Isaac’s son, Jacob, sees a stairway to heaven. ~1950
Moses gets his mission from God to lead the Hebrews to freedom and into a Promised Land. ~1250
The Israelites complain in the wilderness soon after.
The boy Samuel hears from God in the days when the people were governed by judges. ~ 1100
Young David is picked out to be the King. ~1000
The next great king, Solomon, has the Temple built in Jerusalem. ~950
The prophet Elijah flees from enemies, in the days when the Jews had split up into two kingdoms. ~ 875

This Sunday: Amos, who preached during the 750s BCE. Like a hot blast of wind from the south came Amos the prophet, up to the northern kingdom, Israel. This fig farmer and shepherd from Judah felt compelled by God to go north and denounce the royal rich folks who were so prosperous, and so unjust. The economy was booming. The poor were being ground into the dust of the earth! (A 2:7)

The quest for justice, the challenge of righteous living – these have been struggles throughout the millennia. The 2,700 year old words of Amos could be re-spoken today: 

Hear this word, you cows of Bedford, who are in the mansions of Sackville, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring us a drink!’ (4:1)

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the statutory holiday be over, so we can sell junk food again? And the holiday, so we can cheat people? (8:5)

Oh you who turn justice to poison ivy, and cast down righteousness to the earth! (5:7)

As the scriptures prompt us to consider what our real injustices are today, we wonder, at times, what difference we each can make. What can I do against corporate greed, to battle massive clearcutting, to support under-funded healthcare, to decolonize everything we Europenas took over the past five hundred years?

Our God will help you and me to start small. To take our next best step. To learn – as a disciple of Jesus – our next skill of compassionate living.

The Monday Study Group has just worked through James Bryan Smith’s A Spiritual Formation Workbook. Among the ideas and exercises listed at the end, are fifteen about the ‘Social Justice’ tradition in Christianity. Here are the first five; perhaps one will be helpful to you:

  1. Write a supportive letter this week to someone you feel may be needing a word of encouragement.
  2. If you live with others, help out around the house. This may seem minor, but household chores are usually done grudgingly. Your willingness to do more than your share of work will be a real service to the others in the household.
  3. Spend an afternoon working at a local [food bank] or soup kitchen. Your help is sorely needed, even if you can only sweep floors. 
  4. Donate blood. We are giving the gift of life when we give blood. Call Canadian Blood Services and set up an appointment.
  5. Recycle your trash. Caring for the environment is an issue of social justice. Recycling what you throw away increases the next generation’s chance for a bright future. 

Even these small, seemingly mundane actions can be the training ground for our habits, our conscience, our sacrifice and courage. Take a new step in the right direction, and the Spirit of God will use your cooperation to do more than you actually tried to do on your own. It’s a bit of grace: a bit of ‘more than you can do alone.’ 

The resounding call of Amos, from 8th century BCE Israel, rings true in our own neighbourhoods. It is a warning with hope.  Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant. (5:14-15)

So, it is possible to seek good, not evil.
It is possible for God to be with us.
It is possible to get the right things happening where decisions are made.
It is possible that there will be grace – good things we can’t make happen will happen.

Cooperate with the God we worship together here. Your next step of faithful living will be beyond your recent bits of obedience. Perhaps there is a new challenge on your horizon, one that takes a bigger bit of generosity, of courage, of risk, of vulnerability on your part.

Here are five more ideas for social justice; one of these might be a new thing God is calling upon you to do:

  1. Help a friend in need. Do you know someone who needs assistance? If so, help that person, whether the task is hanging wallpaper, grocery shopping, helping with a move, or fixing the roof. Volunteering to help is a simple way to care for your neighbour. 
  2. Write to your member of [Parliament or the Provincial Legislature] and share your views. Is there an issue that you feel strongly about? Be sure that you have the facts straight and are expressing genuine Christian concern,not just prejudice.
  3. Join a prison ministry. Contact a group and go with them to visit the inmates, who often feel forgotten in their isolations. Jesus told us that when we visit inmates, we are visiting him (Matt. 25:31-46).
  4. Address an injustice with compassion. Is someone being treated unfairly? Do not be silent when your  words could make a difference. 
  5.  Practice the service of hiddenness. Do a kind deed (for example, shoveling snow from a sidewalk, or calling on nursing home residents) without being asked or expecting recognition. 

Of course, the greatest dynamic of Amos’s preaching was the warning that called for repentance. He’s not comforting to the converted, he is condemning the guilty! Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire… and devour. (5:6) To add some new goodness & compassionate actions to our lives we must get free of more of our unjust and greedy habits. It is all rooted in a change of heart – inner examination, forgiveness from outside ourselves, and renewal. All miracles, miracles we see offered by Jesus.

About Jesus… we heard from his mother this morning. We recited a modern translation of Mary’s words when she celebrated her pregnancy – she would bear the Messiah. It is well-loved Bible poetry, and has been put to music thousands of times in many languages. But Mary’s vision of how God does things is so strong. She knows a God of justice, who upsets the applecart we privileged people are hauling! (The Voice translation, Luke 1:51-53)

The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
The rich—God has dismissed
with nothing in their hands.

She sounds just like Amos, of old. Do you notice how very practical and earthy are these Jews, from whom we get all our scriptures and tradition… and the Messiah? It’s not all pie in the sky when you die. It’s nutrition and compassion in the nation. 

Now, here are the final five social justice exercises and ideas. Do you see an opportunity in any of these?

  1.  Serve others with your words. Protect people’s reputation and speak well of others as a way of serving them. Kind words are great deeds.
  2.  Serve others by letting them have “space.” We sometimes overwhelm people or consume their time or usurp their freedom with our expectations. Make a concerted effort to give people space. Ask them what they want to do or if they want to be alone or if they are free to talk before imposing your expectations upon them.
  3.  Serve others by letting others serve you. Are you guilty of not letting other people do things for you? Hold a door? Buy a cup of coffee? Make a photocopy? This is a sin. It is a gift to others to let them serve you; do not deny them this joy.
  4.  Read a book that discusses social justice issues. As an example,The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder forces readers to ask hard questions. You may also want to read Donald Kraybill’s book, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Though you may not agree with everything these authors say, they should stimulate your thinking. 
  5. Write a one-page response this week to the following questions: What is the most pressing social justice issue today, and what position should I, as a Christian, take? Share the paper with the other members of your [small group].

These ideas are personal and individual. Of course, we are also called into the Church, Christ’s Body, to serve together compassionately. Over just the past month or so, I have been excited and proud of you. I seem to hear people asking, out loud, ‘What are we doing for our community? How is Digby Baptist helping?’ Be it about sudden needs when a family loses their home or loses a loved one. Be it about people’s needs at Xmas and in the oncoming winter. Be it about the stresses of this multi-year pandemic time.

So here we are, having given away a bunch of very nice of winter clothing yesterday. (It had been three years since we’d done this.) How wonderful to have this happen again, for the people who got things!

Here we are, making polar bear decorations covered in birch bark: raising funds for me to spend on people in need who come to me. 

Here we are, looking at how to give some moral support to the staff at Tideview Terrace, who are stressed to the max. They could use some thoughtful cards sent to them, or batches of cookies, or be told we pray from them. So we will organize this too. 

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream

God is just, and does justice. God is righteous, and makes right things happen. So may it be with us, the Body of Christ, here. Here we learn to do justice, and keep it rolling. Here we learn to make things right, and let that keep flowing. 

This is the compassionate life. Not all sweet and lovely dovey, but strong and true, like the prophet Amos of old. The promise of Jesus, that His mother knew, is still arriving. God’s mercy is on those who fear Him, revere Him, draw near to Him, from generation to generation. God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds. The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.

PRAYER after the sermon:  God of justice, may the words of Amos challenge us to realize our failures and be humbly improved. With the words of Mary may we remember and rejoice in how right You are and Your ways. And by the words of Jesus may our faith and confidence grow, and come alive in the ways others are helped by us. In Christ’s name. AMEN.

Worship, Nov 7 – A Moment of Silence

WELCOME to this website post for the service of worship among the people of the United Baptist Church of Digby, NS. Here you will find text and video from the service. The Bulletin gives the full plan for the service.

Prayers of the People: God who speaks – sometimes in the silence – we speak with You now, adoring You, confessing who we are, thanking You for blessings and challenges, and pleading for Your help. Meet with us as we pray quietly. 

We know Your goodness, Your Spirit, Your truth, Your love: silently we praise You now…

We admit our longings for peace and justice have at times led to violence and destruction: silently we pray our confessions now, and pay for peace…

We are grateful for all the good things we enjoy, the fellowship of our safe society here, and the lessons we have learned: silently we pray to count our blessings now…

Almighty God, we are in need, and we see many around us who struggle in body or mind, in family or fellowship: silently we pray to bless those who are facing any trouble, challenge or struggle right now…

Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

A Moment of Silence (1 Kings 19:1-16) Silence is golden. Indeed, it sometimes is very valuable. We have observed a two minute silence together. It was back in 1918, in South Africa, that the first memorial moment of silence was offered to honour and remember some who had died in ‘The Great War.’ Apparently it was three minutes. Today, an official moment, two minutes, is sometimes shortened. We modern folk seem to have lost our patience for 120 seconds of standing and making no sound. So, perhaps, it becomes more poignant, more powerful, when we do. 

Maybe you know Canadian musician Terry Kelly’s song, ‘A Pittance of Time.’
Take two minutes, would you mind?
It’s a pittance of time
For the boys and the girls who went over
In peace may they rest, may we never
Forget why they died
It’s a pittance of time

Times of silence have become an important ritual in our lives. There is the fantasy that we are all sharing in the same thing, sharing the same thoughts and feelings. We know, of course, what goes through our minds and hearts can be most anything at such a time to remember the dead. 

Times of quiet after – or in the midst of – great tumult and conflict are powerful. They contrast with the strife; they seek peace of soul; they hope for lessons to be truly learned. Real silence that we share can be sacred, holy.

I thought about all this as I looked over the ancient Hebrew prophet Elijah’s silent moment, as he was fleeing his enemies. It was after his great religious victory over the false prophets and priests. Elijah’s God, Yahweh, received his sacrifice for worship; Baal, the deity of the others, did not answer them. Then there was the blood shed of the enemies, whom Elijah killed himself. 

But, under threats of the King’s wife, Elijah loses his courage and flees. After some forty days, he is up upon the mount where Moses had once stood, and received all the commandments from God. There, an earthquake, an unbelievably powerful wind, and a forceful fire were on display. But Elijah did not meet his God in these phenomena. They meet in the… sound of silence? A still small voice? Apparently it is not easy to translate into English. A sound of sheer silence? And the two, distraught man and Hebrew Deity, have a conversation again.

Elijah has been, for years, a model of contemplation among Christians who like meditation and solitude and such quiet disciplines. This prophet had more than one mountaintop moment of silence with Divine Holiness. 

My attempts at silence and meditation have been just at a beginner’s level. Perhaps some people are naturals at this. Me, my mind thinks and wanders and cannot stay calm. 

Recently, I have gone back to starting with the basics. Each morning, when I take time to pray and read with God, I also set a timer on my phone: eleven minutes for silence. This time to relax my body, close my eyes, and use a few words to focus and stay quiet ‘in front of God,’ as it were. 

I am usually a complete failure at this. To pray by being quiet and not thinking about lots of stuff is going to take more practice, lots more practice, I can see that. So, I will keep at it. Taking time for silence, to rest my thoughts with the Spirit of God, will be helpful. As helpful as all the wordy prayers I say.

Taking times to pause and be silent when I am in the woods is also going to take more practice. I’m not in the habit of just stopping, and sitting, and observing everything around me. I never pray when through the woods and forest glades I wander. I think this would be worth doing. I believe it can put me in a state of readiness for God to be close, and to alter me.

That scene from Elijah’s life suggests a few things to me that I can believe in. One, the message: you are not alone. Amid the dramatic conflicts Elijah had with the religious and political leaders – and their followers – comes this moment of being amazingly aware of God. The prophet has lamented that he was all alone, only he was left who worshiped the God of the Hebrews. But Elijah was wrong. He was not alone. God told him: “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Seven thousand of the people had remained faithful to Yahweh God. 

Sometimes, in our more ordinary lives, we need a quiet, deep moment, to realize we are not alone. We can gain some perspective, see the bigger picture, and know we have faithful sisters and brothers in this world. This is a time of feeling very alone, being a minority as practicing Christians in our society. We need one another. It can be in quiet moments of serenity that we are shown we belong in a family of faith that is still alive

A second thing I see here that Elijah is told: There will be a next generation. In his case: you will have a successor. Among the leaders he is to appoint and anoint is this one: …and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

Now, a person told to bless their successor could feel good or bad about it. Am I being fired? Is it my task to give someone else my job, now? Or, one could feel grateful: there is someone who will follow in my footsteps, be my apprentice, and carry on my work once I am gone. 

Many of us are looking for this. Whether we are a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Masonic Lodge, or the Digby Baptist Church. Who will continue the work? Perhaps, amid the darkest time of crisis and the deepest conflicts, we must be quiet enough to listen for the God who can say: ‘Your mission will carry on; be ready to make apprentices. The younger ones will be different, yes; you must bless them.’ Oh, if only we would get such a message of hope!

Then there is the third thing here for Elijah: you still have work to do. Prophet Elijah was terrified and traumatized, so much so he gave up.  He asked that he might die, the Bible tells us. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Yet Elijah still had life to live, still had a difference to make in the world, and was going to survive. In the wilderness he was given some food and water. He got to rest. He made a long, solitary journey – to that place where he met God in ‘sound of sheer silence.’

We often need that kind of message for ourselves. And often it is receiving care for ourselves that makes it possible. Simple rest and food and time is needed, isn’t it? 

I believe this is some of what is behind the moment of silence in a week like this one, each November. We stop the action, the business, the work, and get quiet. We ponder, together. We remember. And as we take a break, we might notice that we need more rest and remembering and thinking. And togetherness.

Among all the very different moments of silence in life is one we remember shortly in our service today. The silence of Christ crucified. After all the speeches, the taunts and torture, Jesus died, and things got quiet. His disciples seemed to go into hiding, as we might expect, after their leader was executed. The Roman government quietly had the tomb guarded. The crowds of the city must have gone on with their lives as usual, after the Passover. 

But this silence of Jesus was not the end of the story. This silence took all the pain and problems, then and now, into the heart of God, and did its work to destroy evil and set people free. Then, as Jesus appeared – alive again – there was the promise of new and eternal life! 

Let us prepare to take a moment of quiet to share bits of bread and sips of grape juice. Let us remember Christ Jesus. Then, let us rise up singing.  AMEN.

Worship, Oct 31 – Holy House

WELCOME to this worship post. Sermon text, and some prayer, is here, plus video segments from the service at Digby Baptist. The full service plan can be found in the Bulletin.

Memorial Moment for the late Nelson McCullough 

For years now, going back at least to when I arrived here, Nelson and Dottie have arrived on Sundays here bright and early, and found their way to their usual pew. Two of the first to arrive every week, and two of the very faithful, during this recent COVID time they have been absent. And then we lost Nelson. Back in March he entered our local hospital, and in just a few days he died. His quiet presence no longer seen among us. The usual places we would see him around town, no longer knowing his familiar face. 

I believe it was just family members who gathered at a cemetery for the final farewell for Nelson McCullough, so today, we in his Church, pay tribute and give thanks for him, and pray for Dottie once again.

Scripture tells us Jesus said: (Matthew 5:3-10)
May we be comforted again today.
May the meek and the humble be welcomed by God.
May there be peace, and the promise of heaven for us.
Let us pray.

God, Giver of life, we give thanks for Nelson today, these months after he left us. Many had not seen him for a while, in these days of so much isolation. Now we praise You for everything we remember and cherish about him. May all that was good about Nelson live on in us. 

Our prayers are also for Dottie, that this time of living alone may be blessed by You, loving Master. Sustain her own health and well-being, and comfort her in this season of change. Bless, we pray, others of Nelson’s family, and his circle of friends. We honour his memory by thanking You, God, for his life among us. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. AMEN.

PRAYERS of the People God, with all the critters of creation we speak our own praises today, worshipping together and seeking to be true. 

Holy Spirit, on this eve of All Saints Day, we praise You for inspiring us by those who have gone on before us. We pray now because a small group is going out to shop for a digital piano this week. Guide and inspire us as we work to make a good decision. We give thanks again for the late Vince McCarlie, who provided funds for us to update our keyboard instruments.

Jesus, our Redeemer, it is also the eve of our international Baptist Women’s Day of Prayer. May all the women who gather tomorrow, or at other moments, be filled with Your Spirit, inspired in their praying, and empowered to serve anew. 

Among us here in Digby, Eternal One, we bless Marie Woolaver today, who has probably been coming to this house of worship for about 99 years! As she begins her 100th year, may she be strengthened for each day, inspired to share her wisdom, and encouraged in the face of any and all challenges.

Generous God, bless, we pray, our Winter Clothing Give-Away. We rejoice in all the hats and mittens and coats that have been accumulating for months. Now bless our workers who prepare for the day of the event: may each item bless each recipient. 

Forgive us, we pray, when we pause our compassion to protect ourselves, for the moments we have been too proud of the self- serving work of our Church, and for our caution that is unwilling to take risks for the love of people in need. Cleanse us from such neglect and error, we pray, as we look to the cross of Christ.

Our praying is for dear friends in need…

And for the world we pray. For Sudan, where the military has seized power; for Haiti, where gangs are blocking ports and cutting off fuel shipments; for Iraq, after an attack killed eleven people; and many other troubled situations we hear about. 

From this house of prayer, hear us again, and from this room, send us out to keep on praying, keep on doing good, and keep on being Your Church, seven days a week. AMEN.

Holy House (1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:6-13, 22-30; John 2:13-15, 20-21) Today, part five of this five part series on the local church. To end: Holy House, not haunted house – though that was a tempting title. For we could easily stretch the phrase to mean the presence of God the Holy Spirit in a house like this one. 

Thank you, St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, for building this building, in 1876. Nine years later, the Digby Weekly Courier reported this: (September 6th, 1885)

The Reformed Episcopal church has been purchased by the Baptist congregation of this town, who feel the need of a larger and more commodious place of worship.  

The building was put up in 1876 at a cost of about $7000, as a place of worship for a congregation in connection with the R. E. Church, and the Rev. Mr. McGuire was the first minister called.  …His successors were Mr. Fury, Mr. Lavell, and Mr. Adams, none of whom ever attained to the popularity enjoyed by Mr. McGuire.

Being thus unfortunate in the ministers sent to them, the congregation became gradually dispersed and broken up.  The church was finally closed and has remained so for the last three or four years, excepting its temporary occupation during the summer months by the Presbyterians.  The Baptists have got a very nice church for the small sum of $2000 and are to be congratulated on the acquisition. 

Religious buildings – ya gotta love em… and hate em. On Thursday morning, here in this room, we had quite a few visitors, for the memorial service of Donna Baxter. Some remarked about how lovely this place is. The same morning I noticed, after a day and a half of heavy wind, the latest patch of shingles that came off the west-facing roof! 

And there is the challenge of a congregation being, primarily, a group of people with certain work to do, and not be a group tied to a certain building. How often does a shrinking congregation refuse to leave its building, refuse to join another church, or refuse to keep going after they sell the building? I mean, twelve people can be a Church; they don’t need to own property! Yet it seems that every single time, the church just dies. (I could be bold and call this suicide.) Better to die than go on without a building, apparently. Very sad – very common. 

A decade or more ago, in the Windsor Church, I was teaching about this, and emphasized the confusion we have with the word ‘church.’ Church can be an event, a Sunday morning event, say. “Is church over yet?” ask the children outside in the hall at one minute to twelve. Church can be a building. “The Baptist Church is at the corner of Montague Row and Mount Street.” But, in its best use, Church is a group of people. So I told the Windsor Baptists to call Sunday’s gathering ‘worship’ or ‘the service,’ but not ‘church.’ Call the place the ‘church building,’ and call us, the people, The Church. 🙂

Of course, there is a long, biblical tradition of special, grand, ornate, holy temples for religious purposes. The big tent in the wilderness with Moses and the Israelites – the Tabernacle; the first Temple built by Solomon; the second Temple – a rebuild of the old, begun by Ezra and Nehemiah. Not to mention the various shrines and altars in various towns and wilderness places, mentioned in the Old Testament. This first Temple, built under the guidance of King Solomon, took seven years. Read back in 1 Kings chapters six and seven for all the incredible details about the quarried stone, the lumber from the cedars of Lebanon, plus cypress and olive wood, the gold that overlaid so much, and so on. It is awesome to imagine it… if you like that kind of thing.

Today is Reformation Sunday – remembering the outcry against the Church’s corruption, failures, and it’s money making, back in the 1500s, for such things as the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 504 years ago today, Martin Luther tacked his 95 complaints against his Church to the door of a church building in Wittenberg. 

The problem then was not new. Look way back to the building of the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem. 1 Kings 5:13 -14 tells us: King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor.

The Temple, in Judaism, became a glorious thing, and an ideal looked back upon after it was destroyed and gone. The remnants of the second Temple today, in Jerusalem, are considered holy. How interesting that the visions of John in his Revelation include a new Holy City from God, yet John says, And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. (R 21:22)

Our sense of identity today, as a Baptist congregation, is like many others around us. We are a people closely tied to our building. Does it serve us well? Does it serve God’s mission in Digby County? Or do we serve our building? Let not the tail wag the dog! Let us not be enslaved to it. Perhaps the limitations of our pandemic have been training us to be Church, and even to worship, when gatherings were not allowed, or simply are not the same as before. 

Last fall, as the pandemic continued, Anna Robbins, of our Acadia Divinity College, had a dream; I call it her Firefly Dream  (Nov 25, 2020 facebook post) 

I had a dream last night. I was walking through a neighbourhood in the dark. It could have been any neighbourhood. Everywhere around me were fireflies, lighting up the night. Fireflies on the pavement, on the bushes, the grass, flying in the air. It was wondrous, magical. When I awoke, the thought on my mind was this: As we are scattered from worship, each of us carries the light to our workplaces, neighbourhoods, homes and backyards. It is wonderful, magical, and God’s gift of grace. We shine like never before! Leaders, forget about the fancy footwork to make an impressive production right now. Your focus is to feed the fireflies so we can burn brightly, as God has scattered us for mission.

Let me give three points at the end of this little sermon. There is a proper pride and care of a building that is a house of prayer for the people. People can have a sacred building, with its special features and attention to detail. In ch. 9 we can read the visionary answer Solomon gets from the LORD God: I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” So let us care for this tool.

There must also be purpose for having and using a building dedicated for worship and ministry by the faith community. King Solomon’ s prayer of dedication, and God’s answer, illustrate all the prayers and blessings that were the purpose of the Temple: the building stood as a meeting place of the human and the divine, and a way to focus upon the blessings of God. So let our building be for Divine human fellowship, not merely for us and our man-made projects.

So, there must also be protection against the dangers of becoming too attached to the building. Or, becoming distracted by saving ourselves or pleasing our own egos. There is another telling of the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple, in 2 Chronicles. When God answers Solomon there, in chapter 7, we find these famous Divine words: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The secret of success with an incredible worship centre is all in the people, not the building. I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together.

We will pause one more time for a short interview with a local believer. I will have a conversation here with Shayne Moore. Before we do, let us   pray.

PRAYER after the Sermon This is the place where we pray, where we learn, where we love, where we leave to serve You. Saviour, train us well, correct us, and make us keep the main thing as the main thing: Your life among us. AMEN.

INTERVIEW with Shayne Moore: Welcome, Shayne! You are the fourth of our weekly guests this month to chat with me about the theme of the day. We’ve had an active Church member, a couple active non-members of Digby Baptist, and you are one of our members who actually worships with a different Church. 

Today, we’ve been exploring worship buildings in the Faith. Shayne, I wonder, first, if you have any questions for me, or something you’d like me to explain more or say more about? 

Second, what are some of your own thoughts abt Churches and our buildings? 

Thirdly and finally, I wonder if you could tell us about some sacred experience you’ve had that was not in a ‘holy house’ at all. 

Thanks so much, Shayne, for joining us today and sharing these things with us!

Worship, Oct 24 – Leaders & Followers

WELCOME to this post for Sunday divine worship for Digby Baptist Church and all our visitors. The Bulletin is a document here that will give the full plan for the worship service.

Leaders & Followers (1 Samuel 16:1-13; Matthew 20:25-28) I try not to tell jokes about ministers, but today I will. From The Parson’s Quotation Book come these proverbs:

Parsons are like manure. Spread about, they do a lot of good. But in a heap they stink.

Invisible 6 days a week & incomprehensible on the 7th.

The clergy may be dreadful. But we have only the laity to choose from.

Today, in this series, October Ecclesiology, we look at leaders and followers in Church. We read this story from almost three thousand years ago, of a young Hebrew shepherd named David being chosen to be the next King. As Samuel looks over the sons of a man of Bethlehem named Jesse, the LORD guides him to reject the eldest, the good looking one. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

After all the brothers are rejected, one more is found – brought in from tending sheep. David, and he is the one. God saw his heart, and chose David. 

But what’s he like? Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. So, though the king is chosen not for good looks, David does happen to be easy on the eyes. I could have titled this sermon using some terms I’ve learned from one of you, “Looking Good or Good Looking?” David was both. The best prospect for kingship, and beautiful.

David becomes one of the great, great Kings in Israel. Great in the best ways, but great in his disasters also. 

The one main thing about leaders and followers in today’s text is the choosing by God, and why chosen. Leadership comes from the heart, from inside, and by the will of God. David was the political leader of a nation of one common faith, so his was a divine appointment. 

Three thousand years later, in a new religion – Christianity – we at the local level still look for the will of God in leadership. And for the heart of hearts of those who lead. Our Nominating Committee had a first meeting last Sunday, and is truly charged with the responsibility of discerning who is gifted for what ministry at this time. It is not a matter of finding the people who are willing to do the tasks. It is actually a matter of finding the people whom God wills to do the tasks. Who now does God the Holy Spirit plan to empower & gift for the work at hand?

Not that we have no choice. It is entirely possible for God the Spirit to say, “choose whomever for that job – either one will do; I’ll bless the one you choose.”

I am also aware, at this moment, of a bunch of local churches around us who are in some stage of seeking a new pastor. Bear River Baptist, Deep Brook Baptist, Digby United, Little River Baptist, Bridgetown Baptist, and probably other churches, are searching. Pray for all of them, at the very least. 

In those search processes, there is always talk and prayer about the will of God. ‘Who is the next pastor that our Master has chosen for us?’ How leaders and churches finally come together is very practical work, and spiritual. We talk about it so idealistically, on the surface. Underneath, we sometimes just do some guessing!

The leadership roles in a church are quite important. Sometimes too important. What I mean to say is this: pastors usually are far too influential in a local church. But there is almost no way of getting around this. How people like (or dislike) the pastor affects their participation. The minister’s style and plans and best skills have a big influence upon what’s going on. His or her strengths and weaknesses change the work of the congregation. 

I am so grateful for the pastorate of three churches I went to, out of Divinity School, when I was twenty-five. They were so good to me, so patient, so cooperative, so easy to serve and lead. Not that I knew anything about leading. And, you know what? I was also grateful for my predecessor. I always am. But in that case, I was grateful for the great things he accomplished, and the poor things. He led them to tear down their old Parsonage and build a new one, which was just about paid for when I got there. There were people who had grown in their faith under Harold, and were ready to be baptized, by me. 

But he had also been, for many, unpopular. Disliked. Even embarrassing, to some. A bunch of people left the church while Harold was there, and never came back. So he also made it easier for me. I seemed so young, so positive, and less conservative than my predecessor. 

But I knew nothing of leadership. Twenty-five years later, I know only slightly more than nothing. 😉 I’m a great follower. I’m a natural born follower. 🙂 I’ve come to understand my limits, I’ve learned what it is to guide and inspire and make decisions. Some of this is still hard for me. Yet, especially while I was in Windsor, I had to come to terms with who Jeff W as a pastoral leader is, at best. 

And some of this is my caution about being a strong influence, or the only influence. Because there is so much influence and power and control in my role among you. So it has always been, in churches. Yet we proclaim Jesus is the true and only Head of the Church. How His Spirit exercises control through me, and through you – this is so important.

The ancient tradition of anointing a leader – as king David was anointed – is profound. It is about choosing. It is about divine choosing. It is about blessing that leader, and having a sense that there is real, living contact with God. God will act, and speak, and lead, using that human being.

This is even our belief – and our prayer – for each and every one of us. Including those who would claim never ever to be a leader. Always a follower. 

I like you, for, as I said, I am a natural born follower. And we can’t all be leaders – there need to be followers! Though, I immediately think of that scripture where Moses says, ‘Oh if only all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!’ I guess that very thing happened at the Christian Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the gathered believers in Jerusalem with wind and tongues of fire and speaking across all language barriers. 

I want the quiet, the followers, the meek, the polite, the calm, the humble, those in the background, to be free to be followers. They will have their moments to inspire & lead. 

Jan Phillips always quotes this saying: No matter how brilliant our attempts to inform, it is our ability to inspire that will turn the tides.

I get inspired by people who are truly good followers. They know who a good leader is, and they follow. Is that not a beautiful and important thing? Like the simple but clear ways we all can follow Jesus. These trusting, hopeful ways we have, can shine like lights on a hillside. Oh, how we want others to see that light, and find our great Leader. Jesus the Christ.

We will pause to hear now from someone else in the congregation about these things; I’ll have a conversation here with Rob Wilkinson. Before we do, let us   pray.

PRAYER after the Sermon Jesus, our Saviour, Master, Teacher and Friend, our individual relationships with You truly grow when followers and leaders are together. Thank You for the Church. Thank You for Your word to us, Your body. Thank You for Your Spirit, guiding our learning, our remembering, our actions, our compassion. 

You reveal to us the ways we have failed to be good leaders, and the times we have not followed well at all. To Your forgiving love upon the Cross we bow now, and seek a fresh breath of hope. May we follow as humble servants, and be servant leaders; in Your name. AMEN.

INTERVIEW with Rob Wilkinson Welcome, Rob! You are the third of our weekly guests this month to chat with me about the theme of the day. Today, we’ve been exploring leadership & ‘followship’ in Church. It was good to talk with you recently about this. So Rob, I wonder, first, if you have any questions for me, or something you’d like me to explain more or say more about? 

Second, I wonder if you could tell us about some experience you remember about a leader who did well.

Thirdly and finally, what are some of your own thoughts abt leadership, or about getting people to follow? 

Thanks so much, Rob, for sharing these things with us. There is so much more we could talk about.

Worship, Oct 17 – Church Failure

WELCOME to this worship post for a mid-October Sunday. More information about the service, and the congregation’s work, is available in the Bulletin, here on our website.

1 Samuel 3:1-14; John 20:21-23

Welcome (again) to the Church. Now, pretend you are visiting a different church on a Sunday morning, and you try to find out what it is like – if the group has any hidden problems? In your research, you find out these things:

They have divided loyalties: some are claiming to follow one leader, others want to follow another pastor.

There is some sexual immorality in the faith community, such as the fellow having a fling with his step-mother! Some are still going to local prostitutes. Others seem confused about their sex lives, and how to behave when married. And some need advice about getting married (or not) and about divorce. 

There are lawsuits going on among the people of the Church. 

There is confusion about having fellowship and eating with people of other religious persuasions. Also, the believers are not all clear about praying or other teachings from other spiritual traditions. When the church does get together for a service, there is conflict about how to behave, and even how to dress up (or dress down). And they are not treating everyone the same when it comes to fellowship suppers together. In fact, there is a lot of one-upmanship, some folks acting like they are more important and more talented than others in the Church.

Not to mention their basic theology: they are not even all sure about life-after-death. And Church finances? They have not figured out that bit of administration. 

Where is this messed-up Church? Corinth, Greece. 

When? AD 40. 

It’s all right here in the New Testament, in the letter we call First Corinthians. This is ‘the New Testament Church’ …what some Christians want to get back to. 

Churches do fail and falter. They mess up. We are simply made up of people. Even after almost two thousand year, we are the same, still having great ups and downs.

Yet, miracle of miracles, the corrupt Church is what the Holy Spirit has to work with. We are the body of Christ. Hard to believe? It is a miracle to believe in!

The Christian Church fails; the Christian Church succeeds. However we measure these things. This month is Pastor appreciation month. Sure. It is also Mi’kmaq History Month. We look, more and more, into the harsh history of European Christians against our native peoples. How ironic, this October, that the NB government has asked their workers to cease land acknowledgments. To quit admitting that these are the unceded, ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq and other people. How hard it is to untangle from our history, and grow into the future.

My actual text for this sermon is not from 1 Corinthians, it is from 1 Samuel: what Angela read in our midst today. Those amazing scenes from the youth of Samuel, destined to be a bridge from the ancient Israelite days of the Judges to having Kings to rule themselves. But look at the context, the troubled religious setting. Things were really in a mess, in ancient Judaism, then.

The shrine for Jewish worship was in a place called Shiloh. Hannah and Elkanah worshipped there once every year, and now they had a son, whom they dedicated to the LORD. He gets dropped off to live with the old Jewish priest, Eli, whose two sons are running the worship services: burnt offerings of meat and so forth. 

But Eli’s sons are so corrupt, it’s pitiful. The whole idea of animal offerings is to give the best and purest of the food animals (and grain) first to God Almighty. The priestly brothers at Shiloh are stealing the best meat for themselves instead. They were also enjoying all the sexual favours they could get from women who served there at the worship tabernacle. 

By the time Samuel is working there as a young apprentice, and hears God speak to him one night, the religious life of God’s people is at a low ebb. As it says here, “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” The visionary message young Samuel is given is that Eli and sons are going down: their corrupt religion is going to be put to an end by God. In fact, these guys will die!

Eli expects this, and accepts the message from Samuel completely. The old priest had already been warned about this by some nameless prophet (in chapter 2).

Here we are, a few thousand years later, also wondering about our failures – and successes – and what the warnings are. There is more than one kind of failure, of course, by the Church. There is downright evil and greed. And there is simply not getting things done we try and want to do for Christ. Getting off track and wasting ourselves on stuff that is not that important. The decline of our churches gets us really wondering what went wrong, in our lifetimes. Was it us, or was it the world that failed? Maybe both?

Yesterday, our local Baptist Association met. What is the Association? It is simply the forty churches of Digby and Annapolis Counties. I led an exercise in looking at why we should even associate with one another. We talked much about the challenges of today. Small congregations. Many are just about all retired people. A lot less going on than was thirty or fifty years ago. Finances shrinking. Churches declining, drying up, dying. 

I sought out some inspiration, some good reasons still to be a team of churches. The group came up with these reasons:

Share ideas Share financial resources

Pray for each other Share a common vision

Do some ‘events’ together

Encourage cooperation among neighbour Churches

Work on the same project together

Simply encourage one another

We are not alone, Digby Baptist, in this moment. Never forget that. And let us not act like we are on our own. It is a hard time, a stressful time to function and face the future. We must ask hard questions. We must ask our Master.

“Will Our Children Have Faith?” was the title of John Westerhoff III’s 1979 book. Now, sometimes hopefully, we ask, ‘and what will their faith look like?’ if it is not in the traditional Church format. Where are the people on the front cover of our bulletin? Where are they now, with God?

When I was a divinity student, I worked a year with the Windsor Baptist Church. Eight years later, I became their Senior Pastor. A few of the youth were still there, now in their twenties. Some had moved away, of course, and some had ‘moved on’ from the Church: left it totally. I was very curious about their amazing youth ministry experience at Windsor Baptist, and how well they were prepared to stay Christian when they left their hometown. I wondered how much the Church had failed them, actually. 

But I also wondered how much it was a success. It is not as simple as using those two categories. Nothing is just a success, or a failure. Some great failures end up with amazing results. Some successes turn out ‘ho hum.’

Well, let me come to some conclusions. Turn with me again to the scenes of the Israelites in their holy land, with unholy priests wrecking their religion. What happened at that turning point, when Samuel’s life was beginning?  There is plenty of inspiration from the sacred stories. 

  1. Even when things are dark, God can still speak in a way that changes things. When religion was dead, God spoke to a special boy: it was a new beginning.
  2. Failed spiritual leaders can still help people. Eli helped his young apprentice know he was getting a divine message. We wonder about religious leaders who have a downfall. Is the good we thought they did now ruined? Jim Bakker. Jean Vanier. Ravi Zacharias. Every saint is also a sinner. Every sinner a saint?
  3. Failed spiritual leaders can still do the right thing. Eli responded well to the dire message about the end of his family’s ministry. In our day, any lack of perfection in a leader is attacked. Yet God has always called the imperfect failures to serve.
  4. New eras arise, from the hand of God. There can be a new beginning. There will be. There always is. At least, that is what Judaism, and now Christianity, keep proclaiming. It is what Jesus declares, by His life and message. There is hope. There is life. There is resurrection!
  5. We can learn much from our mistakes. Surely Samuel, when young, learned a lot from the corrupt sons of his boss. And he would learn from his own failures. The more subtle failures we have, when we major on the minors, or don’t make a good choice – these can teach us. The Spirit will instruct our spirit, our heart, our conscience. What have we learned from our Church’s more recent mess-ups?

In a moment, I will have another conversation with one of you, about the theme of the day. May all our talk of failure be used for the success of Christ. And may we answer as Samuel did. 

Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? 

I have heard You calling in the night.

I will go, Lord, if you lead me.

I will hold your people in my heart.

PRAYER after the Sermon: Chist, You build Your Church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it! We thank You that we are not alone, in the faith: we are one with all Your people. We thank You that the Spirit still guides, reminds, instructs and inspires us: how we need that help today! We give thanks that You bring to an end bad teaching and poor worship, selfish actions and unjust service. Prepare us for times of purging. Speak to our hearts Your truth and love. AMEN.

Worship, Oct 10 – Church Nostalgia

WELCOME to this post for the worship of God at Digby Baptist Church, on this Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday. Video segments of the service are included. The Bulletin gives details of the service plan.

PRAYERS of the People For this time of prayer today, please stand with me, as you are able. We will take time facing each of the four directions, to give thanks and seek the LORD. Let us turn around to face the back of the church: face south.

Psalm 107 begins:
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Jesus, Sun of righteousness, we face the south with thanks today for all that has grown in the sunshine this year. The food that fills us, and feeds the animals – we rejoice in the richness. Jesus, our healer, we pray again for healing: Your touch in bodies, and minds, and hearts, and relationships. And where people are limited, where people are in pain: give strength, give hope, give grace. We pray for the people to the south: our American and Mexican friends, and all those in the southern hemisphere. 

Let us turn to face the east.

Eternal and everlasting God, we face the east with thanks for this new day, this Thanksgiving weekend, this worship in Your house, this life in Christ we are given. We look out towards the waters – the Annapolis Basin, the Atlantic Ocean – and pray for the seas and all who go there. Teach us anew that water is life. Forgive our wasteful polluting of this beautiful environment. We face the east in the hope of refreshing, washing, and resurrection, in You. We pray for our neighbors across the waters, in Europe and the Middle East. Let there be peace on earth. 

Let us turn to face the north.

Mighty Wind of the Spirit, we face the north knowing that winter is on its way. We give You thanks for all creation, and the cycle of seasons that gives rhythm to all of life. We trust in You to provide for all people dear to us who face a cold, hard time in their lives right now. ‘Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive the dark of doubt away.’ We pray for all our fellow citizens of Canada, thankful for who we are, for what we share, and what can yet be shared, from Your hand.

Let us turn to face the west

Holy God, Three and One, we face the west, bowing to Your eternal sense of time and Your compassion when daylight ends. Forgive our wastefulness when it comes to time: grant us courage and wisdom. You – Father, Spirit, Son – hold today and our future in Your hands. Before this day ends, make us truly thankful. We know You can reach our loved ones, many of whom live west of us. Open the door of spiritual guidance, and inspire faith in those who need a breakthrough. Finally, we pray for the peoples of Asia, India and the Pacific. As our sun sets, give new light to them. 

Now, Creator, we keep on worshipping in this sacred space, for You shall bless Your little Digby Church. AMEN.

Church Nostalgia (Exodus 16:1-18) Thanksgiving, the festive holiday, is upon us. Remember Norman Rockwell’s 1943 painting, Freedom From Want? Grandmother is setting the large turkey down on the dinner table in front of Grandfather, with at least ten family members of all ages seated around, each with joyful anticipation of the imminent feast. 

I am grateful that today, I can look forward to tomorrow with my family for turkey dinner at our cottage. We will indeed have turkey with all the trimmings, fancy veggies, pumpkin pie and apple pie, and something chocolatey for my birthday, I hope! 

Holidays like Thanksgiving are such nostalgic moments. Beautiful visions of what it was – or was supposed to be – arise in our imaginations. We might plan this Thanksgiving based on our idealized memory of the past. Nostalgia has that kind of power over us.

What power does nostalgia have over the Local Church? That is my question today for us. For I see some real dangers for a congregation that sets its eyes on the past, and dreams a lot about recreating what used to be. Some churches build themselves upon a vision of the past, but a nostalgic plan is doomed to fail and fall. 

It’s easy to fall into that trap. We look back to the children of Israel today, free at last from slavery in Egypt. Moses and Miriam and Aaron have led them out into the wilderness. Already they have gotten thirsty. And then they get hungry. Ah, so easily they long for… what? Slavery!?

The whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex 16:2-3)

How soon they forget the troubles of slavery, when they are hungry and full of cravings. It would be better to have died a slave, having at least had a good meal? Really?

We have such stories in scripture, again and again, that show God’s people are called, not to luxury, but to sacrifice. Not to the easy life, but a life of service and of blessing the world. How many ways does Jesus say, ‘take up your cross and follow me’? 

But hard times tempt us to see the past through rose-coloured glasses. So it is in our society today. And in the Church. In a weekly Bible podcast I listen to, Lutheran scholar, Rolf Jacobson, said, “Every church has a ‘Back to Egypt’ committee. Every seminary and every denomination has at least one ‘Back to the 1950s’ committee.” (I Love to Tell the Story, Oct 10, 2021) You know: when the Sanctuaries were full, the Sunday Schools were packed, and Sunday was Sunday: no shopping or sports.

Thousands of years ago, the Children of Israel complained out of fear for themselves. They lacked faith in their survival – which God wanted – and their long term mission to bring God closer to the rest of the world.  They feared for their own survival – they saw only themselves.

All these centuries later, Christianity can be very self- serving, and in this 21st Century we get into survival mode. Even our visions of the afterlife get based on nostalgia for some past that may or may not have been real. Our visions of ‘heaven’ become very individualistic and small.

This past week’s Simpson Lectures, from Acadia Divinity College, dealt with Nostalgia. Dr. Anna Robbins mentioned something we know well here: Ira Stanphill’s 1950 gospel song, ‘Suppertime.’

Many years ago in days of childhood,
I used to play till evening shadows come;
The, winding down an old familiar pathway,
I heard my mother call at set of sun:

Come home, come home, it’s supper time!
The shadows lengthen fast;
Come home, come home, it’s supper time!
We’re going home at last.

Not everyone loves a song like this. (I sure don’t.) But it illustrates a view of the afterlife being just about the best of this life in the past, or what it was supposed to be like. Remembered without all the problems that were actually there in the 1950s, or 1970s, or wherever our dream rests. On the other hand, Jesus’ visions of the eternal banquet show hospitality for every kind of person and stranger who belongs to Jesus, not just us and our family and our aproned grandmother with the perfectly roasted turkey. 

Others have used this cliche: notice in your car that the windshield is far bigger than the three rear view mirrors put together! We, Church, are going somewhere, and we can’t get there looking back most of the time. Not that we forget our history. We must learn from the past, celebrate the past, give thanks to Almighty God for our past. We have moments of nostalgia, and then let it go. The ache or pain that goes with nostalgia is because something important is gone, it is over and done. We say goodbye & step forward.

On the personal level of faith – which is so personal and often very private – we are often looking back. 

Late Baptist theology professor, Stan Grenz, wrote:

The pews of most of our churches are full of people who are there not with the curiosity of a theologian, but out of a memory of the one time the Gospel struck like lightning and they were forever changed.  And no doubt we are here with the longing to meet with God again. In Churches we may try to hold onto what once happened, and repeat it. As my own Church History professor would tell us, “The Church always tries to institutionalize the way the Holy Spirit last moved.” Meanwhile, the Spirit does new things!

Yet there is a blessed nostalgia. A looking back that is not bad. A yearning, an ache, and longing that carries us forward. Remembering the ways God touched us can be truly inspiring. Telling our faith story, our history, is vital. 

Here’s a book title that has caught my attention for years, and I finally read it last week. “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,’ by Thom Rainer. As he reflects upon 14 churches he consulted with, which later died, he has a chapter called ‘the Past is the Hero.’ In it Rainer speaks of how he loves to read Hebrews 11. 

There is Abel who offered God a better sacrifice. Enoch who was taken away before death. Noah who built an ark. Abraham who went where God said even though he did not know where that was. Sarah who conceived at an impossible old age…

With all the others listed there, they sacrificed their comfort, their homes, their ways of life, and their possessions because they knew that this life was only temporary…  

The “good old days” did not exist in their minds. The future held the best days. They understood that this life is not a time to get comfortable. (pp. 19-20)

So, we have heroes in our past, but the past is not our hero. We stand on the shoulders of giants, looking to the future, acting in the present. 

In her final lecture last week, Anna Robbins spoke of C. S. Lewis’ teaching on nostalgia. Nostalgia as an ache or yearning for union with God. The deepest inner longings we have are rooted in something that we can find: our God. 

Augustine prayed, centuries ago, ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You,’ O God. And Pastor Dr. John Bartol, of Windsor, titled his book, ‘What Means This Longing,’ after this reality about the human spirit. It is not just yearning for something in the past; it is longing for something that is in our future, thanks to Jesus!

Yet the most amazing longing and yearning is that of God. Yes, the Almighty is aching and waiting and working for something. Yes, you heard me right. God has nostalgia. 

What is it? Nostalgia for what? To be with us. To be at home with the people. God longs for home. Back to Paradise, we might say. But it is a new heavens and a new earth. At least, that is one vision we are given. 

Nostalgia tells us that something has ended. The past as we know it is over, or going to be over & done. Something better is on the way. Nostalgia at its best is desire for God.

To be at home with God – this is our longing in the Church. This is the hope we proclaim. This is what is real, and we live our lives because of it. This, this is the place to draw closer to being at home with Christ. 

There is much more I thought about saying to you today, but I want to give time, each Sunday in October, for a short chat with someone. A little interview to reflect on the thoughts and the scripture texts of the week. So, in just a moment, Carol is going to talk with me for a few minutes. And I don’t get the last word today. 🙂

PRAYER after the Sermon: Spirit of truth, Spirit of life, Spirit of God: may we clearly recognize what thoughts and inspiration have been from You, this morning. May You guide us to reject all wayward thoughts and temptations. And may we find our deepest yearnings and searching answered by Your presence, and Your promises. Amen.

INTERVIEW with Carol D: Welcome, Carol! You are the first of our weekly guests to come up and share about the theme of the day. Today, we’ve been exploring nostalgia in the Church. 

First, Carol, I wonder if you have a question for me – something to explain more or say more about? 

Second, I wonder what are some of your own thoughts about nostalgia?

Thirdly and finally, I wonder if you could tell us about some faith experience that you can look back upon, maybe with some nostalgia, and that still inspires you?

Thanks so much, Carol, for sharing these things with us!

Worship, Sept 26 – Awe Someplace

WELCOME to this post for Digby Baptist’s worship service of Almighty God. On the website here you can also find the whole plan for the service in the Bulletin, along with plenty of opportunities for prayer and ministry. Video segments from worship are included in the post each week on Sunday afternoon.

Sermon: Awe Someplace (Gen 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17; John 1:43-51)

When does God ‘show up?’

Where does God ‘show up’ in our lives?

How has God ‘shown up’ for you?

The story of Jacob’s ladder can speak to our minds and imaginations about those awesome, special experiences of God that we have. 

Twenty-five years ago I graduated from Acadia Divinity College in the spring, and in the summer began my ministry in Parrsboro, NS. My first sermon, on July 21st, was from this Genesis 28 text. I named that sermon, ‘How Awesome Is This Place,’ when I preached it at Parrsboro in the morning and Diligent River that evening. 

For today, I was going to call this, simply, ‘Awesome Place,’ but changed the title to, ‘Awe Someplace.’ A moment of awe, of holiness, a ‘God moment,’ can happen anywhere, anyplace, often someplace we don’t expect. 

To review the story that Ardith read, I think I can do no better than my twenty-five year old self, in that inaugural sermon. We heard a familiar story–that of Jacob and the stairway to Heaven. After his dream, Jacob said, “How awesome is this place!” 

At this point in the story Jacob is fleeing, at least he is wandering. He had just tricked his older brother, Easu, and his father into giving him, Jacob, the birthright – the rights, privileges and property that the oldest son always got in their ancient society.

So here he is, a little bit lost, a little bit hungry, a little bit guilty, and he rests for the day. He lays down with his head on a rock. He should have expected a nightmare if anything, after what he’d been up to, and with a rock for a pillow. But the vision he has is not a bad dream. 

Steps lead upwards, messengers of a heavenly court parade up and down, from earth to heaven and heaven to heart. This is Amazing! God is here!

How does God show up now? Where does the profound experience happen? As with Jacob that day, it is often in the midst of a crisis. 

Let me go back in time again and tell you a little story. It was twenty years ago, right now, that I was going through a series of interviews in Windsor with the pulpit committee of the Baptist Church there. Each meeting was at the home of Millie and Eric. Eric was the chairperson of the committee, looking for their new lead pastor. 

I went to Windsor, and in my twelve years there I got to know Eric and Millie very well. What wonderful people! Eric had been an insurance man, Millie a nurse. They were both delightful. Eric had this way of talking and telling stories & joking that, sort of, well, he started sentences but didn’t end them… you figured out what the ending was.

Anyway: very loving and devoted people, very active in the Baptist Church. Millie had grown up in Kentville Baptist, Eric in a United Church outside Windsor. How did they really end up at Windsor Baptist Church, I wondered. How did they really know God? They told me. 

They told me the story of one of their three sons, Michael. They told me of his life, his marriage and young family, just begun. They told me of his illness. They told me of the time they spent with him in hospital. 

I’m not telling you details – it’s not for me to tell – but they told me of this moment, when the end was near for their son, and the pastor of the Baptist Church came in. They told me of how close and real God was at that moment, and when Michael died, in 1988.

Some people lose a beloved one and feel God has rejected them, failed, maybe ain’t there. Other people profoundly meet God in that hard season. 

You know these experiences. You have your own stories. You tell them. Things got very real and beautiful last Monday, at the Study Group, didn’t they? Our homework had been to write a letter to the Lord about meeting God in our lives. You shared your letters, your experiences. And sometimes, it was at the hardest moments of life that GOD WAS THERE. Someplace difficult, painful, challenging, you had a moment of AWE. 

Or, it was in retrospect, looking back, that you saw the Presence of the Holy, Loving God. Hindsight is 20/20, we say.

So, when fugitive Jacob dreams of the stairway connecting the heavens and the earth, it was just at a crisis point, when he had earned no such privilege, nor asked for a sacred vision. And he responds with faith, with confidence. He actually makes a vow – this is in the verses after what Ardith read – Jacob declares:

  1. the LORD shall be by God,
  2. this stone set up as a pilar shall be God’s house,
  3. I will give one tenth of what I receive back to You.

So, it becomes a matter for Jacob of personal faith, a matter of public worship, a matter of generosity and giving. He responded abundantly.

I saw this happen years ago – back in Parrsboro – with some people. So, one Hallowe’en, a friend and I got all dressed up in these scary outfits and went around visiting a few other folks, mostly from the church. At one home we stopped in at, their neighbours happened to be there: a young couple who lived across the road. They were quiet; we didn’t get well acquainted. 

Six months later, the local funeral home called upon me to conduct the service for a man I’d never met. This deceased fellow was the father of the young man I’d met at Hallowe’en. Somehow, a connection was made with the son and his wife. They started coming to the church: every single Sunday. She was a Christian, and he became one. We celebrated their baptisms, they helped with many projects, they responded abundantly. They even fed me lunch on many a Sunday, after service. 

Some of you have likely responded to special moments of the grace of God. You took new steps, you made new habits, you followed some new path. 

Amazingly, it can be when people are in trouble that the Spirit shows up and something profound happens. “Surely the Lord is in this place,” exclaimed Jacob, “and I did not know it!” 

We must remember that the ‘big’ meetings with God can be in locations one does not expect, or in circumstances that do not seem holy at all. Sometimes ‘in Church’ the miracles happen, but not usually here. More often it will be in all the other places. Out in nature; travelling; at a moment of illness or injury; at work; listening to ‘non religious’ music; reading something; having a random chat with someone.

So we learn to respect the spiritual experience of other people. And we need to show the younger generations that we respect what and how God will reach and touch them. It is also so important we respect the difficult times others have, especially when some say ‘it’s their own fault.’ Jacob was on the run from the trouble he’d caused when he got blessed. He was still going to be the carrier of a blessing for the world. 

Awe, an awesome meeting up with the Holy One, will happen someplace or other. Any place. We are here today, probably not because this is a more awesome place, but we are here because of the awe we experienced someplace else. We bring that moment, that memory, that power to this shared worship of the One who blesses us all. 

Now let me end with that Gospel scene of Jesus calling some of His first chosen disciples: Philip and Nathanael. They are a bit awestruck by this new, traveling prophet. What does Christ end us saying to Nathanael? 

You will see greater things than these.

Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. (Jn 1:50-51)

You will see greater things. And they do. 

I think, when I hear this, of something John later tells us Jesus said. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn 14:12)

Jesus has, as He put it, gone to be with His Father. From those Two we have the Holy Spirit, present now. Can we do greater things than were done in the past? Will we see greater things? I am still a believer in these. I am still looking, watching, and seeking these things. 

There is awe, someplace. 

Rejoice in it! Rejoice in our awesome God.

In a time of crisis, we see Christ.

In what kind of crisis have you met God?

PRAYER after the Sermon Let us   pray. Mind at large, we bow in awe of Your presence, revealed in creation. We join with others in praising You.

Heart of our own hearts, we remember those deeply moving times when we knew You, and You moved us. Holy are You.

Spirit of life, we pray to be guided, we walk to be faithful, we give to make a difference in the world. Empower Your people.

In the name – the power and authority – of Jesus. AMEN.

Worship, Sept 12 – Creativity

WELCOME to this post for the worship of God among the people of Digby Baptist Church. After the service, video is included from the service. More details are available here on our website under the Bulletins page.

Creativity (Gen 1:1-24a; John 1:1-5) – J G White. 11 am, Sunday, Sept 12, 2021, UBC Digby

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

That is the first sentence of the 1830 novel called Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. “It was a dark and stormy night” has been a cliche for so long; few people know its source.

As I said last Sunday, the ways we tell our stories matter. Including the ways we begin them. “Once upon a time,” is pretty common. In scripture today we found that Genesis 1 and John1 both start with “In the beginning.”

Dick Parry read the start of the whole thing today, but he also knows an amplified version of  Gen 1:1-3, so I’ll have him give that you to now:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3  And God said, Let there be light: (and Moses being the duty electrician, flipped the switch) and there was light (and you could see for miles and miles).

That’s a bit of creative writing! As I wondered, this past week, what kind of sermon to ‘create,’ I saw a few options. I could simply expound upon the Christian doctrine of creation. I could take on the environmental crisis and speak of creation care in our day and age. I could get very Bible nerdy and get into the weeds of all the details about Genesis 1 with an in-depth Bible study.

Rather than these, I have felt inspired at the end of the week to speak about creativity, and this is rooted in these two texts about the Creator creating. In the image of the Creator we are made, and we get to create things too; we are co-creators with our Master. “Once Upon a Time” is really a place-holder for a sermon title. I now simply call this “Creativity.”

We have, today, this incredible, very old, very famous, very influential story, Genesis One (and it runs over into Genesis Two): the seven day creation story. Before we think about the difference this makes in our lives, let me take note of one detail. This first Biblical creation story is about form and function, more than it is about how physical stuff got made in the first place. This chapter, like others that follow, was written not only in the old Hebrew language of the people of long ago, it was, naturally, given to them so they could understand it. It is told in their view of the world, their understanding, their culture. As Bible scholar, John Walton, puts it, this is from their ‘cultural river.’ To understand it well, we need to wade into the cultural river of the ancient Hebrews of the Middle East. 

And it appears that the ancient peoples of the whole area, then, did not tell their creation stories to explain where all the stuff came from in the world. They told the stories to explain how things work, what they do, and how they have purpose. The land, the skies, the sea, the creatures, the people, the sun and the moon – they all are created with place and purpose. What they are made of, and where those atoms and photons came from, was not of interest to them, long ago. And I think God did not need to explain much to them about where the world came from. It was simply all from God.  

Genesis 1 is creatively told, in its ancient way. Our own eyes and experience also tell us how wonderfully put together all things are. And we come up with our own ways of delighting in the creation of which we are part. We find our ways of being co-creators too, partnering with God to run the world, and grow it, and point it in the right direction. We take the raw materials, and make something beautiful for God. 

It is this chapter that speaks of humans being made in the image of God: Adam, which means Humankind, created in the image of God. There are a lot of claims about what this means, to be made ‘in the image of God.’ I think it includes being creators: made in the image of Creator.

So, we all create. We all are creative. I know, I know, some of you say, in general, you are not creative. And I know what you mean. Ya don’t sing or play an instrument, you don’t write poetry, you can’t draw or paint, you’re just not a right-brained person! But we all are creators; we have our creative talents that come out, especially when we find our way, some opportunities, and the Spirit inspires us. 

Just yesterday, after a woman sang a hymn, while playing her guitar, she sang a gospel song she had written herself, and showed me the words for another she had written. Nine days ago I saw the creative cooking of fudges and pies and squares and all manner of baked goods here. Over the past couple weeks, Sharon White has been repainting and reappointing things at our cottage, in her clean, functional, creative way. A couple weeks ago, I asked one of you/our local artists to create a cartoon for our bulletin cover, and you/she did it very nicely. 🙂

We might think of such talents as the real gifts from God. But is there not a much longer list? What about the problem solvers, who can sort out how to plan an event well, or rewrite a bureaucratic document, or create a plan for a trip away. What about a person who is great at retail, or has a real knack for marketing? Or creative parenting that mothers and fathers and grandparents must use with children these days? What about a gardener, who can grow flowers so naturally, and puts them together in the ground in such beautiful combinations. 

Or the farmers who need to find creative ways to deal with challenges every week! Sharon and I got out to the cottage a week ago, too late to see the pigs that had got loose from the local organic farm, and were eating their way through the neighbourhood. Our neighbours said the farmers came along with branches in each hand, and shooed them all back where they belonged. 

What more can I say? About creative money management, nature research and activism, political know-how, the gift of the gab – or of letter writing. (I think immediately of our dear, departed Maureen Potter when I think of letter writing.) The normal, everyday things we do call forth the creative powers of us all. It’s just that you do some things well I can’t, and vice versa. 

Along with acknowledging the little creative skills we each have been given, is the need, the calling even, to encourage people to find their creative power and use it. 

One of the spiritual teachers I listen to is Jan Phillips. She is not really even a Christian – I’d call her post-Christian – but her experience and wisdom, and creativity, are helpful to me. She tells of teaching a course , years ago, at a summer conference in New York state for the International Women’s Writing Guild. Jan said, ‘I went into the room and I was with all these women among four hundred attendees and my thought was that I’m in the midst of all these marvelous women who are writing down their life. But as they raised their hands to my query of what they were writing, they began giving me all different reasons for why they were not writing.

One said, “I don’t have time to write”; the next one, “I don’t have a space to write …my husband doesn’t support me, my kids are in my hair, I don’t think I have a story worth telling.” They gave me a whole litany of reasons why they were not writing.

 So I thought it would be a good idea for us to explore what each of our obstacles were to commitment and …see if we could spin it around and turn our obstacle into an opportunity.

The responses of the women at the conference eventually became an Artists Creed, and then a book that Jan Phillips was inspired to write. It is all encouragement for a person to do their artistic work, their creative thing. Jan tends to speak of God as the Muse who inspires, and also tends to use female imagery – just to prepare you…

The Artist’s Creed

  1. I believe I am worth the time it takes to create whatever I feel called to create.
  2. I believe that my work is worthy of its own space, which is worthy of the name Sacred.
  3. I believe that, when I enter this space, I have the right to work in silence, uninterrupted, for as long as I choose.
  4. I believe that the moment I open myself to the gifts of the Muse, I open myself to the Source of All Creation and become One with the Mother of Life Itself.
  5. I believe that my work is joyful, useful, and constantly changing, flowing through me like a river with no beginning and no end.
  6. I believe that what it is I am called to do will make itself known when I have made myself ready.
  7. I believe that the time I spend creating my art is as precious as the time I spend giving to others.
  8. I believe that what truly matters in the making of art is not what the final piece looks like or sounds like, not what it is worth or not worth, but what newness gets added to the universe in the process of the piece itself becoming.
  9. I believe that I am not alone in my attempts to create, and that once I begin the work, settle into the strangeness, the words will take shape, the form find life, and the spirit take flight.
  10.  I believe that as the Muse gives to me, so does she deserve from me: faith, mindfulness, and enduring commitment.”  

(Jan Phillips, Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity, 1997) 

Perhaps you hear the voice of your Master in a few of these ideas. And the Spirit of God will encourage you to do those little things you can do so beautifully, or take on that bigger project that might not even get much attention. 

To do some good work with Jesus in this world, that’s what it’s all about. (Notice, in the incredible start of John’s gospel, it is Jesus who is the Word, who is there at creation, and nothing gets made without Jesus.) Perhaps nothing good really gets done around here today, without Jesus!

So, Church, as creative people, what do we have to offer the world that they cannot get elsewhere? 

When it comes to being creative, in the image of God, we have training in connecting with the Creator, the Muse who inspires our lives. 

We offer encouragement that any person’s creative spark is within the will and purpose of God for that person. 

We can give some opportunities for folks to express themselves and contribute to the work of the Spirit. 

The seven steps of creation and rest in Genesis 1 draw us into the life of our Creator, and God’s work in this world – past, present and future – beginning, middle and end. Remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are here to be a maker. Remember that those you meet are also in the image of the Creative God, broken and bad as we all sometimes are. Remember that the good news of Jesus includes His creative power, that lives on in us, as we call ourselves Christians.

PRAYER after the Sermon
O Saviour, create a sense of wisdom in us, so we know how to live well.
Create new hope and joy in our hearts, for this year has drained us of emotional energy.
Create for us opportunities for our faith to flourish.
Create in us a strong will to obey and be free in You.
Create space for us to be the artists You want us to be.
Create new ways for us to function as Church, Your body in the world today.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. AMEN.

BENEDICTION
Now, let the breathing Spirit of God
overflow in your life, empowering you.
Let the beautiful Saviour God set your spirit free
to share good news wherever you go.
Let the bountiful Creator God
open the eyes of your heart
to see all that is being done,
for the good of the world. AMEN.