WELCOME to worship for Digby Baptist Church, while we are all staying home. The plan here has elements of worship to share by reading, listening, and viewing. There is a little bulletin also published, with some announcements, here on our website. Paper copies of the sermon and some prayers are delivered to local folks each Sunday, who cannot view this online.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.
HYMN # 699 Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
Opening PRAYER: God of Sabbath rest, today is the Christian Sabbath, and wherever we find ourselves, we rest in You. This season in our whole world is filled with anxieties, Holy One; we call out to You. Dealing with illness is such a trouble right now, and we in the first world have such high expectations for our healthcare. O Great Physician, You showed us how our well-being and our behaviour are closely connected. We want to know the best steps to take. We don’t want to be upset by others who make different decisions. And many of us are getting so weary of this problem that overshadows everything. How long, O Lord?!
Christ, You once promised to build Your house, and not even the gates of hell would stand against it. So we keep on trusting You to build Your Church, You being our Cornerstone. By the Holy Spirit keep us in close contact with one another, while we are not meeting, and let us be strengthened and united. In Your name. AMEN.
John 2:13-25 read by Sharon White
SOLO: Mercy Tree – Sharon Marshall, 2020
SERMON: Zeal for Your House It is 1660 in Bedfordshire, north of London, England. The Church of England is clamping down on ‘non- conformist’ preachers – these ‘free Church,’ non-Anglicans are simply not allowed! Out in a field, one day, a certain John Bunyan is arrested while speaking. This tradesman in his early thirties had, after years of religious and spiritual crisis, been baptized and joined a Particular Baptist Church in Bedford. John’s gift for speaking became apparent, and he took up preaching, alongside the pot and pan repairs he’d learned from his father.
But now, he was in prison. And, because he refused to pledge not to preach again, he stayed in prison, for the most part, for the next twelve years. John was in and out some, and even got to do occasional preaching outside. Inside, he wrote: books and books. It is likely, near the end of this time, that the zealous preacher wrote his most well-read and widely published story: The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was published in 1678, after he was free and then the pastor of the Bedford Church.
The story of a person like John Bunyan is the tale of a zealous man, zealous for the things of God, as he understood them. Bunyan was part of the puritan movement that was keen for a new and vital form of Christianty to take over. Zealous for a new way to do Church, with a lot of freedom, simpler worship, and an emphasis upon personal holiness and piety.
Bunyan knew persecution by the religious and political authorities of his day. And this came out in his stories, like that of the pilgrim named, simply, Christian, on his arduous journey to the Celestial City. This character faces so many temptations and enemies and dangers along the way. Each one representing a real life challenge. Today’s chapter in this children’s version of the story mentions Lord Beelzebub and Passion and Patience, whose names declare their identity. And Christian faces opposition exactly because he does right, stays to a good path, and tries his best to trust King Jesus.
This is much like the words of Psalm 69, which Jesus’ disciples thought of that day He overthrew the merchants in the Temple. “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
To be passionate for true religion can get one into trouble. That’s the message of Psalm 69; that’s the story of Christian’s progress as a little pilgrim; that was the experience of the preacher and author John Bunyan. Just glancing at that Psalm quotation in John chapter 2, we might wonder what it really means, at first. When we go back to the rest of the Psalm, we get to understand the message. It is a long prayer for help when surrounded by enemies, enemies of faithfulness. What did the Psalm writer do to get into trouble? Listen and understand: (Ps. 69)
9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
Being faithful to his spiritual practices got the Psalm singer in trouble, it seems. Persecution came for doing right things, including the spiritual discipline of fasting in humble clothing – which usually goes with prayer.
All these centuries later, as followers of Jesus now, modern Christians can say the same things. It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. There are believers in parts of the world who are oppressed and threatened – even killed – simply for living a Christians.
Here, in Nova Scotia, what has our experience been of opposition to our faith? There is some push-back to the ways we live as disciples of Jesus and citizens of the Kindom. And we may sacrifice certain things for the sake of being Christian.
One thing we do is worship – we share worship like we are today, and at other times we do physically gather for divine worship. This part of ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ is not without its costs. Gone is the time that workplaces and the marketplaces were shut down on Sundays. Remember when the big stores were still not open on Sunday? And remember how promises were made by some of them, in the fall of 2006, when the laws changed? Promises that those who wanted to worship on Sundays would not be forced to work then. How is that going now?
I have been zealous enough about worship that it has remained a personal priority for me. It is one of the few spiritual disciplines that I am disciplined about!
When Jesus cleared the Temple in Jerusalem that day, He spoke of it being a house of prayer, not of business. That’s getting at the activity – the worship that happens. Another aspect of ‘His Father’s House’ is the actual building, the Temple. When questioned about His actions and authority, Christ mentioned destroying the temple, and rebuilding it. Which immediately was understood as the impossible: taking down this giant stone structure and then putting it back up in three days!
As much as a stone temple or wooden church can be misunderstood to be what faith is about, these buildings have their value. And like me, you may have some zeal about sacred buildings you’ve known. I am a lover of church buildings, from time to time. Some are very special and sentimental to me. Two I think of were places I worshipped at a formative time in my life: one a little, white country church, one an elegant university chapel. They both have their unique beauty, physically, but it was really what happened there, week after week, for several years, that was profound in my life.
Still, I need to take the scene with Jesus in the Temple to heart. I need to notice that Jesus wanted what happened there to be good, but when He spoke of destroying and rebuilding the Temple, He was not even talking about stone and wood. He was speaking of Himself. He took the opportunity for prophecy and metaphor.
Wow, it is only chapter two, page two we could say, in the Gospel of John, and already we have to give a ‘spoiler alert!’ The finale of the story is being given away already: hero Jesus is going to die and get raised back up to life. It says right here, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this…” John the gospeler does this so much more than Matthew, Mark and Luke: declaring the amazingness of Jesus, His glory and power, His divine nature, His saving work. From the start, John keeps no secret of who Jesus of Nazareth might be.
And so, as the rest of the New Testament testifies, Jesus builds a spiritual temple: He the Cornerstone, we the rest of the structure. For some of us, we are most zealous about the Church being the people, the gathered worshippers who scatter to serve the world. Our devotion to the mission also has its costs. There are costs to discipleship, which Jesus described as ‘talking up your cross to follow Him.’
In conclusion, I think about the changes that always come. Jesus clearing the Temple is a scene of changes. It suggests changing the way they were running their Jewish Temple at that time. A change to their revenue, their focus upon prayer, and so forth. What Jesus says then points to a big change in salvation history: the big event of His own sacrifice was coming in just a couple years.
These days, we may feel that the pandemic is forcing some changes upon Church life, but there has been much more going on that demands Christians enter the next reformation of our history. The past twenty two months certainly have led us to reflect upon what it means to gather in congregations, to worship and learn, and to work as a ministry team. Our Saviour is also our great Master Teacher. In the midst of these years we are discovering what changes are in store for Christendom, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some ways of being Christian that people were passionate about in the past are dying out.
Then new things crop up. Like Messy Church, a gathering for families in which the service is really like a morning at Vacation Bible School. Crafts, songs, games, stories: all created to ‘be Church’ in a different form. Our neighbours of Trinity Anglican used to offer this regularly.
What’s getting born? What are the new ways of being disciples of Jesus together? This is our exciting project now. Our adventure, our journey, our pilgrimage. God has all the power, all the love, and all the creativity needed to take Christianity deep into the 21st century. The bottom line is this: shall you and I be zealous for the Kingdom of God, and for King Jesus? Look for what inspires you, or gets you all stirred up, about Church and about Christ. Let the Spirit use that to grow new faith and action in you.
PRAYER after the Sermon: God of our Church House, thank You for our building at the corner of Mount St. and Montague Row, even though we have not been there much lately. God our Hearer of prayer, thank You for receiving our worship and giving Yourself to us. Triune God of love, thank You for our fellowship in Christ. May we be teachable when it comes to the new path forward. And may we be good forgetters of the old ways that are to be replaced. AMEN.
PRAYERS of the People: Jesus Christ, true and only Head of the Church, may these words that are read and shared unite the fellowship in prayer, by the power of Your loving Spirit. O King of the Justice, we gather our prayers on this weekend that honours Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy is huge, left by this peace activist who was a Baptist Pastor. Brother of all nations, we are still needing racial justice, and still need Dr. King’s voice to be heard as a messenger from You. May we all have the same dream.
Christ our Cornerstone, our prayers for ourselves begin with the Church today. We have a couple buildings, Lord. Bless and keep them, in the face of faulty wiring and failing furnaces, holes in roof and vinyl siding, piano to be replaced and organ to be tuned.
We have worship services and study groups, Lord. Inspire and instruct us, in the face of long absences from one another, attempts to meet online and sing only as single people, and intentions to keep in touch with everyone.
We have membership and ministries, Lord. Bless us so that we may be a blessing to others, in our fellowship and loving care, in our weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who celebrate, and in our wise and wide generosity to people in need of almost anything. We call out for the teachers & workers & students going back into the classrooms this week: let there be wisdom and energy for all education. We put all our healing prayers together for the sake of many people, including Joe, Dwight, Mike, and Doug. Even in the face of death we pray in the power of the Spirit, for folk like Cathy and Heather for whom we are asked to intercede. O Great Physician, may all who work in healthcare be encouraged this week, when they need it most; we are concerned for them all.
Spirit and Advocate, our praying together is also for the whole world. You’ve got the whole world in Your hands!
In the wake of tsunami threats in the Pacific, let there be safety and hope. In the midst of places like British Columbia where there is flooding, and places like Western Australia where there is terrible heat and drought – may there be mercy in creation for every creature. In the days of uncertainty for Churches around the globe, facing threats and failures and apathy of every kind: renew, rekindle, regrow, reinforce, and regenerate Your people, Holy God! Our prayers are the tip of the iceberg today; we share also in the prayer taught by the Lord Jesus: Our Father… AMEN.
SONG: He’s Still the King of Kings – Men’s Choir, 2021
BENEDICTION: 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.