Worship, May 29 – Deuteronomy: a Final Sermon

WELCOME to worship for this Lord’s Day, among the people of the United Baptist Church of Digby. Today we say farewell to Pastor Rev. Jeff G. White and Licentiate Sharon White. They arrived in June of 2014, and now move to Amherst, NS. They give hearty thanks for these years of life and ministry shared together!

Full service plans can be found in the Bulletin here on the website. Future prayer days and Sundays may not have a post here for some months, until a new, permanent Pastor is called.

PRAYERS of the People: Devoting ourselves to You, we pray, Holy God. We have prayers and songs that speak our love of You, our gratitude for good things, our trust in all You are and all You do. For showers of blessings and answers to prayer we give You thanks, Giver of all good gifts. And before the Saviour, Your Son, we are humbled once again.

Interceding for one another we pray. For all who are facing illness or pain, day by day, we pray. We call out again for healing. We plead for hope and comfort. We ask for strength in the face of grief and troubles people face. As You answered in the past, dear Master, touch them all again, today.

Growing in spirit and in our actions we trust You to do more improvements in us. Sometimes we feel we should have made more progress by now, in our lives. Today, be our guide. Today, encourage all who are discouraged. Today, show us how we support each other.

Beginning anew we pray for the world in need. There are millions of new beginnings needed around the globe! Spirit of Gentleness, come in power to help the suffering, aid the refugee, feed the needy, set free the enslaved, and empower the downtrodden.

Yearning for forgiveness, for healing of our souls and our memories, and for answers to our questions, we have come to You, Living Lord. As you, Jesus, show us the Way, we pray for all who need an opening of the heart and a saving of the soul. Give answer to the many questions people have, and give Yourself again to us. 

These things we pray, in Your power, and to Your glory. AMEN.

SERMON – Deuteronomy: a Final Sermon. Deuteronomy: these thirty pages in your Bibles present themselves to us as Moses’ final speeches. The old leader is on the verge of dying, near the border of the Promised Land. So what does Moses do? He goes over their whole history and teaching, one more time. Moses’ final grand sermon, this is Deuteronomy (which means second law).

I give my final sermon to you now. A few things you’ve heard before that could bear repeating. Remember.

  1. If there is any encouragement from Jesus Christ for you – and there is! – soak it up. God is love. All we need is love. Love covers a multitude of sins. Tap into the great love that is available. Love one another, as I have seen you do already. You share the same Spirit – that holy presence that inspires you to keep asking questions about life, to make sense of it, to look for answers. You all share this. No matter how very different you are from one another, you share the great flow of the love of God.
  2. Make my joy complete. Be together. Be one. Make the decision every week to be a team, and not to neglect one another. Notice those who are newer to the family. Forget not those who are out of sight and out of mind. As I’ve said before, one of the greatest miracles today is for human beings to be united. Religion is a miracle. People still getting together for worship is special. You are a rare minority; you are precious. You choose not to be alone. You choose to give yourself to the others. It’s beautiful.
  3. Grow your humility, and become real admirers of everyone around you. I was remembering recently that every person I meet in the course of a day is a gift. A gift to me. A gift to the world. At least, I could act like this is true. Did I treat them like this? Remembering how valuable they are? Could I focus upon them, instead of me, whileI was near them? Well, just because I seldom do this, I can still start afresh, and get trained to do better. Each encounter a lesson in loving someone else, instead of just me. Remember what Maggie wrote about Mike? Those locals Mike respected, helped, befriended. I know many of you know how to do this also. We’re getting set free from our own petty conceit; praise God!
  4. So look to the interests of others. Here we are, Church, this is the school of love, divine love, agape. It’s a trade school, really: very practical, day-to-day skills. The bits of classroom stuff and book learning are to aid the living of our lives. Goes all the way back to the Children of Israel. In Deuteronomy 6 is the shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.’ ‘Shema Israel, Adonai Elohim…’ And what learning aids did they have? The Commandments, the Word. They recited them, sang them, put them on bracelets and upon their foreheads. The young ones were taught lessons, and then saw it all put into practice from day to day. How to treat other people: these are the lessons of Love.
  5. So let the mind of Christ be in you. Moments ago we sang a version of the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2. This is one very special piece of Christian scripture. You can take John 3 away from me, Genesis 1, or Psalm 23, but please leave me with Philippians 2. Whoever Jesus is, whatever Jesus is, the Mindset of Christ can be in us. What does this mean, the mind of Christ. Well, Paul is about to quote the song to tell us. I can remember times, in my young life, when I really had people I admired, and what did I do? I copied them. I tried to enjoy the things they enjoyed, do the things the way they did them, read the authors they quoted, hang around the people they knew, I even dressed a bit like they dressed. Like a three year old copying what the grown ups do and say, we follow the ways of Jesus, and therein is the heart of our mind training.
  6. Ah, but Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be grasped or exploited. Isn’t that one of the big teachings of the Church, through all the ages? Jesus IS God. The Son of God is equal with God the Father, and God the Spirit. Yet, with the most powerful humility, Jesus came to be one of us, not to be GOD. Some of the prophets and kings of old, with great power or wisdom or whatever, they let it go to their head. Solomon the wise made a mess of his married life. David the great King also. Even Elisha the prophet used his power to have some children killed off by a bear attack after those kids teased him! Jesus let go of all power and pretense. That was extraordinary humility.
  7. So Jesus emptied himself. He became a slave to the whole world. A mere human. Yes, a human being is an amazing creature. But in the grand scheme of things each one of us is just one little speck in the flow of time and earth. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. In one breathing bit of clay we meet the Divine One, in Jesus of Nazareth, of an ancient time and place. We think of Him as wonderful, and so amazing. Sure. Thankfully at Christmas and Holy Week we remember Him: God as a mere human.
  8. And He dies. Paul’s hymn says this was obedience, the pinnacle of obeying. We could say that the rest of us have to obey this. Billy Graham used to say that the death rate in America has been remaining quite high. 100%! You and I must obey mortality. So did Christ. Plus, Jesus obeyed his route of truth and compassion, which set him at odds with so many, who had him executed. We all have this part of us that reacts against Jesus and the way of peace and love. We play our part in rejecting. And while we kill Him off He prays, ‘Forgive them; they don’t get it.’
  9. Next, death is not the end. Not the end of the story. God exalted Him and gave him a title and a reputation above all others. This is how the world works, my friends. Our reputation with God is our real reputation, our true standing in the world. One of my favourite authors quotes a friend of hers who wisely said this about people’s opinions: “What other people think of me is none of my business!” I think that’s very cool. Oh, to be totally free of everyone’s judgments about me. The whole Jesus story is telling us that God thinks very highly of us, counts us very precious, and just won’t give up on us. That opinion matters.
  10.  So, in the end, knees will bend. Bowing down is not a common practice, certainly not in a Baptist Church. Anglican and Catholic Christians have some bowing habits. We kneel only in the words of our songs. One of my very favourite old hymns says, Angels help us to adore him; / Ye behold Him face to face; / Sun and moon, bow down before him; / Dwellers all in time and space… (H. F. Lyte)
  11. So, do confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Put this into your own words. Put it into practice. Declaring it by your baptism years ago was great, but keep on declaring Christ. You know the other actions that point to the Saviour. They are humble actions. Give generously. Speak well of others. Give really good answers for why you live as a Christian. Be a bringer of healing among people. Speak the truth.
  12.  And, work out your salvation ‘with fear and trembling.’ I must thank you for the privilege of being allowed into your lives, to meet your souls, and with you to struggle with the angel of God, like Jacob did, for a blessing. The struggle is real! And it will go on. I have to let go now, and see you fly on your own, with all your other helpers, but not me. I so want your next pastor to be really good, and take much better care of you than I did! For your funerals and weddings and baptisms I will never again minister to you here. In my absence I must trust you to the Holy Spirit’s care, and those placed in leadership.
  13.  So I know God is at work in you for truly good things. Not that I imagine some happy-go-lucky future for you. I don’t. But I see an incredible God taking pleasure in you, happy with you, the people. 

I have now told you nothing new, not one thing you have not heard before. I have simply spoken deutero-nomy, what’s been preached already. But it is new, because it is Good News. To me, you have been Good News people. May God bless you always to be Gospel People. 

In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

FAREWELL LITURGY: Church Keys Dear Joe, I will no longer need the keys to this corner of God’s Kingdom, for Church ministry. I return the keys to this building and the Pastor’s Study, for you will have new ministers to serve among you.

Membership List  Dear Marj, I give you this copy of the members and adherents of the United Baptist Church of Digby, not that I have been the record-keeper, but I have been a soul-keeper. My ministry to all these people, and the whole community, is completed today.

Music Book Dear Cairine, the joys of worship have been great for me here, among you. I give you this music book: it happens to be organ music, given to the organist here in 1924, when the instrument was new. You all will keep singing your praises and making musical testimony, once I take my voice & plans away.

Computer Dear Children, I give to you the computer – actually just the power cord for the laptop we use here. All these tools are yours, and you have the power to use them in new ways without me.

Church Register Dear Bonnie & Stan, when I was new here, I got to participate in your wedding ceremony. This year I conducted my final wedding in this place, and final funerals. Rejoice that such ceremonies will continue among you, with powerful grace & hope.

Water Pitcher Dear Wendy, it was a great joy and a privilege to baptize you here, as you declared your faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Baptizing is no longer my work here, but it will always be the work of this Church, helping people have faith and follow Jesus.

Communion Tray Dear Heather, it has also been a privilege to conduct the Lord’s Supper right here, and share Holy Communion at Tideview Terrace and in other homes. Now, this sacred service will continue in my absence, while my fellowship with the saints here shall remain dear in my memory.

Bible Dear Barbara, the reading and study of the Holy Bible has been central to me, and the foundation of all my work and worship done here in the name of Jesus. May you all continue to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ the scriptures, to the glory of Jesus in His Church.

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

Worship, May 22 – Numbers: Sharing God’s Grace

WELCOME to this post for divine worship at Digby Baptist Church. Full service details are available in the Bulletin, here on the website.

SERMON – Numbers: Sharing God’s Grace. Numbers. Numbers are interesting. One, two, three. One hundred. 3.14159. Six six six. A billion, a trillion, a googol.  I’m surprised at how I enjoy watching math videos on Youtube, even though all the math how-to I learned forty years ago is now forgotten. 

Numbers. Numbers are powerful. Numbers of people. A family, a community, a church, a cultural group, a nation. Digby Baptist is, officially, a couple hundred people. Digby town is a couple or 3 thousand. Amherst is ten thousand. 

Numbers. Numbers is important. The Biblical book called Numbers. It tells more of the story of the ancient Children of Israel, in the wilderness, led by Moses. The book begins and ends with a census; hence the name of the text, ‘Numbers.’ 

In chapter eleven we have this story, about a number of leaders who were chosen to help Moses – seventy elders. Filled with the Spirit, they were. But a couple of fellows were not with the rest, yet still they prophesied, spirit- filled. A tattle tale told on them, to Moses. Moses’ second- in-command says, ‘yeah, you tell them, Moses!’ But what does Moses say? “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

This is what I want to explore today: the ministry of a number of people, the sharing of the grace of God. So let us turn to this letter of joy, called Philippians. 

We read someone else’s mail, or so it might seem. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to his Christian friends in the town of Phillipi. Paul is imprisoned. But his letter is beautiful. And it is so special and inspired it has been saved for generations to read and ponder, and meet God in these pages. Let’s walk through these words, written to a number of people. 

The start of his letter: 3 I thank my God for every remembrance of you, 4 always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy 5 for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 

There is great joy over these people, who are partners in the gospel. The Gospel. What is the gospel? There is so much to say, even this preacher does not know where to start. This good news is, in one sense, simply the story of Jesus. Along with His story, is the confidence that this story reaches beyond its time, even to us, and makes life different, better, new, for us. Christ is our centre.

In my teenage years I was in the Christian Service Brigade, rather like scouting but overtly Christian, with Bible memorization and prayer and so on. In my twenties, the CSB leaders in Middleton had a reunion for all the boys and leaders who had been in the Brigade. They even had a punch bowl with Tang in it, complete with spruce needles floating, just like on our camping trips! I always remember what the key leader, John Tufts, said about that kind of youth ministry. It was very simple. He said, to be successful it must have two elements. It has to be fun, and it has to be Christ-centred. 

We are a local Church, a number of people who should be connected because this is Christ-centred. I always look for that connection. You too; remember it.

In Philippians 1 Paul has great joy over these people, this number of people, this group. These ones, long ago, were partners with Paul in this new movement, the Jesus movement, the Way of Jesus. It was not about a bunch of individuals. They were a group, a fellowship, a team.

Next, Paul wrote, 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. This is one of those Bible verses that gets brought out and quoted often, to encourage and give hope and inspire. But it may or may not apply to any group of us today. Sure, I might have confidence that the good God started to do among you will get finished. Or I might not have confidence that things will be finished. 

I have been thinking a lot and a lot and A LOT about what good we have done together over the past eight years.  Much of it is still hidden from my eyes, somehow. That’s probably good for me and my ego: it’ll help me be slightly humble. 

I do see things like… an opening of our hearts and a relaxing of former strictness. I see it in the ways you know how to include people who, years ago, might have been frowned upon for their behaviour, their looks, their differences of opinion, or their religious history. I like to think the Master will do even more with you, Digby Baptist, to love and include people, with the power and authority of Jesus. You know the very different sorts of folks Christ spent His quality time with!

Paul is so personal in this letter, of course. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart… He clearly had spent time with them, in their town, and was keeping in touch, now that he had been arrested and was no longer a free man. He knew what God would do with them because he knew them well

I know you well, thanks to our eight years together. I will certainly hold you in my heart. So many of you are generous at saying that and promising that. On Monday, at the Bible Study Group, Bonnie recited a freshly composed ‘Ode to Jeff’ which was fun but also touching. (I have a lyric ready for you that I’ll present at the reception next week.) Last Sunday, Dianne presented me and Sharon with other gifts of creativity: not one beautiful quilt but two! And from a few people already we’ve been given overly generous cash donations, with words of thanks. Etc.

It is quite fitting that we, in congregations, often speak of being ‘church family.’ We are given, by Creator, the work of holding one another in our hearts. 

I was a bit upset last week when I visited a shut-in I know (for the last time) and she seemed to think I had been mistreated while here and not appreciated – by Church people! I’m not sure how she got that idea; I think she is just a bit out of touch and perhaps slightly confused. I tried to listen well, and then quietly say I did not feel badly used here, but cared for and supported. 

Next in Paul’s sentences we get to the title of my sermon: for all of you are my partners in God’s grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. Partners in God’s Grace; sharers in God’s grace.

I keep saying my way of explaining grace. I don’t limit it to ‘getting something good we don’t deserve.’ That can sometimes be true. Mostly, I say GRACE is something that happens that is above and beyond what we could have done. Grace is: more good appears than we could come up with. There is a supply of goodness and blessings that is bigger than us, even all of us people put together. 

This was needed for Paul and his friends, while he was imprisoned. How could they be partners in the faith with a setback like that? Grace. Today, how can we be partners in the Faith with the limitations of a pandemic, and all the wrecking of plans and togetherness? Grace. More is possible with God than we can cook up on our own. Yes!

In the next line Paul is back to his deep friendship with these people. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the tender affection of Christ Jesus. 

You are probably like me; you long for people in a few ways. You long to see someone who is away from you; you long to be together. We’ve had a lot of that. I’m going to feel that in the months ahead, when I am seldom back in Digby. It will be a bit like the longing I’ve had for a few months to have Doug still alive, and Mike. Or how I’ve wished I still had in pew fellowship Barb and Nancee and Linda, and others.

We also long for people… to make progress. You know, to make a good decision and act on it, to be healed from some serious problem, to be reconciled to someone. We long for good things to happen to one another. 

Twenty some years ago I was dating a woman in the town where I lived. One signal that she was not the right one for me was the way she had a bad attitude about some people. She had a coworker I knew, and that coworker had something really nice happen. My friend turned up her nose, and said that woman didn’t deserve what she got. I couldn’t believe it! We are here to long for the best for other people. (Not to mention pray for our enemies.) I’ve been so happy to see compassion in you all. 

Speaking of this, the finale of our reading today was: 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Dear Church, we are a support group for our progress. I think my main pastoral focus is personal progress – in you. I don’t focus on ‘getting people saved,’ though that is a definite step of personal progress a lot of people could use! I don’t focus on recruiting people into the Church, though I know this is on my mind a lot, probably for selfish reasons. I am concerned and curious about the spiritual growth of humans, mainly the ones I know and care for. How do you learn something important? How do you make a personal change? How do you take your next best step? 

A lot of my pondering this is about God, what God actually does with you. How does the Spirit intervene? When does what we, the Church, do make a real difference in people’s lives? That is the question for our day and age. 

We share God’s grace. We share what Jesus does to transform us. We share the message that this is real today.

Let us   pray. Spirit of truth, may the lessons of the scripture grow our faith and action. May the distractions be forgotten. 

As we worship together, we dedicate the offerings we have brought or sent in, for the good work we do together. Inspire us to give well, Holy God, and to spend our resources in excellent ways. 

God of Love, as we hold one another in our hearts, we pray for healing and help for many today. We ask for guidance and courage along life’s pathway. We seek from You a touch of courage and a release from all the fears that keep people isolated and distant. And we bless our Pulpit Committee in the searching work they are undertaking for the fellowship. 

Risen Christ, this past week was like many – there were many deaths as well as times to gather and give thanks. With resurrection hope, comfort all who mourn, bless those who are facing death, and also be near those who walk with those at the end of life. 

God of the Universe, our prayers are for the whole world, held in Your hands. We ask for your steadfastness and strength in:  the alarming high inflation rate in many nations.

the concerns of an outbreak of wild polio in Mozambique.

the shortage of infant formula in the United States brought on in part by faulty production methods resulting in contamination and infant deaths.  

the damage to property and loss of life as Uruguay has been hit by the strong winds and high waves of a subtropical cyclone.

the people of Iraq who are suffering under the eighth sandstorm to engulf the country since mid-April. We pray for the countries of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Bahrain who are suffering these intense and more frequent storms.

and the sufferings of the pandemic, wars, famine and impoverishment around our world. Even the news of monkeypox spreading is one more drop in the bucket of anxiety: let there be grace and serenity, we pray.

Now, as Richard of Chichester prayed: Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. AMEN.

Worship, May 15 – Exodus: a new path

WELCOME to this post for our ‘Family & Friends Service,’ May 15, 2022. Digby Baptist welcomes you to read and view these parts of our service. Full plan for the worship time is in the Bulletin, also here on our website.

SERMON: EXODUS: A New Path. So, Sharon and I are moving; we make our ‘exodus’ about two weeks from today. On Friday we spent the day in Amherst, in the empty house that is now ours; meeting a few of the staff, and other folk, at First Baptist Church; and touring the long term care home where Eric, Sharon’s father, will be moving soon.

Like any such transition, it takes time, it is a journey. The Bible stories called ‘Exodus,’ about fifty pages long, tell how an ancient ethnic group got their freedom. They wandered for forty years in the Middle-Eastern wilderness, on their way to a Promised Land. They were just beginning those forty years, led by Moses, when they received the Ten Commandments, pictured in our stained-glass window at the back.

We make a lot of ‘exits’ in our lives. In many cases, it is not just about leaving or getting away from somewhere. It is also about going to a destination, even when the end of the journey is mysterious. We all face changes. A wise, pastoral counsellor friend used to say, to ask, really, ‘are you making a change away from or towards? Are you making a change because you are trying to get away from something, or is it really because you are attracted to something else?’ Good question.

Our keynote Bible story today has in it a little sermon – the synopsis of one bit of preaching by the Apostle Paul, one day in Athens, Greece, almost two thousand years ago. Preachers often seem to look at this story as an example of good preaching, from one of the first great Christian preachers. Yet the immediate result is small: a few converts, two of whom are named here in this chapter.

Without going into depth to understand what this audience in ancient Greece was like, that day, it seems on the surface like this sermon could fit our age. With this beginning, I could make it my own sermon. 

Dear thinkers of Digby, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. For as I scrolled thru your postings and looked carefully at the sayings your share, I found among them many promises to ‘send prayers,’ to support those in crisis, and to stick only with those people who do not ‘take energy from you’ or do ‘serve you.’

What you do to connect in spirit, to give out blessings, and to do self care, I proclaim to you. All things are one, from the One who is our Source. And our Source can be met in Jesus, whose stories are right here, and who we can meet in mystical ways today.

Forty-some times a year I give a speech about this sort of thing. I often think of it in terms of ‘a new path.’ What is the next best step for you (and me) to take? I like looking at the big picture of our lives, but what can we do this week? Take the next good step.

Paul, we could say, is giving a New Path here to his audience. An exit from their religion, or philosophy, and the entry into a new way, what they called the Way of Jesus. This ‘Way’ is now a couple thousands of years old. It is a world religion like others: a huge tree with many branches, each one different from the others. At its core, it is about connection. Humans with the Divine, with God, and with the rest of things, including each other. 

Let me quote one of the great evangelists of the mid 20th century, Watchmann Nee. If you are expecting the usual ‘repent and be saved’ stuff, this may surprise you. What is required of a person to be on the right path with God? Nee wrote: We are not required –in the first place–to believe, or to repent, or to be conscious of sin, or even to know that Christ died. We are required only to approach the Lord with an honest heart. 

We come now to the single requirement demanded from us. Quite often people preach the Gospel to a person by using a number of “points,” only to find that the next day the person will say, “I have forgotten the third point. What was it?” Salvation is not a question of points! Salvation is not even a question of understanding or of will. It is, [as we have seen,] a question of meeting God–of people coming into first-hand contact with Christ the Savior. (Foster & Smith, Devotional Classics, 1993, pp. 324, 327)

A real change in our path, a new path, can come from a meeting. A connection. A holy moment, experience. But then it becomes a pathway when the rest of our lives are also on that track. 

No wonder the ancient Hebrews were given the Ten Commandments, and many other patterns for their community life. All of life matters, and is where people live with God. When we take a new path, make a turn with our lives and go in a new direction, it is all about our day-to-day living. It is not just about a new philosophy we have of the world, or some new beliefs we believe in. A real faith or philosophy of life touches how we live life. I am all about integrating these two. I have decided I need both. I need to study with delight plants and birds and lichens; and I need to pray together with people. I need wide open spaces and adventures; and I need dedicated buildings and worship gatherings. The overlap gives me more grace. This hour should be all about the rest of our lives. And all the rest of our lives is holy. For it is out there that we and God, Reality, Higher Power, do our thing. 

Author Richard Foster tells the story of a Russian spiritual director who was once severely criticized for spending an inordinate amount of time talking with an old woman about her turkeys. “Don’t you understand?” he responded, “this woman’s whole life is in those turkeys.” ‘So it is with us:’ writes Foster, ‘our whole life is in the daily, the ordinary. And we have a heavenly Father who delights in showing us that he is the God of the ordinary.’ (Foster & Smith, Devotional Classics, 1993, pp. 367-368)

Perhaps our time is like that of the people of Athens, long ago. Lots of sharing of information and ideas. Lots of debates and differences of opinions in society. Plenty of paths to follow, whether you want to pay attention to being a spiritual being, or not. 

You have choices for your life path, from today. How you pay attention to your purpose, your goals, your spirituality, is, I hope and pray, in your own hands. But there will be, from outside of you, the occasional intervention, a meeting, even a miracle.

Some of you might claim to be on a new path, right now, at least trying. Perhaps you are taking up more ‘self care,’ or doing something more in the community, or learning some new things, or developing a relationship, or seeking healing for something.

You who are our guests today: choose well your path this year. Be blessed.

You who are my people, of the congregation: choose well your path this year. Be blessed.

And You, the gathered Church: choose well the path you share. You are exiting an old reality, and embarking on a new path. Be blessed.

PRAYERS of the People. Today, let us share a prayer in which I will speak a sentence, ending each time with ‘we search for God,’ and then you can respond: ‘In You we live and move.’

Spirit of life, we have praised You, we have sat together under Your word, we have offered some things as gifts, we have sought guidance together; we search for God. In You we live and move.

Creator, after all our attention to You, now we ask, we seek help, we pray for people and places. We need attention. Our neighbourhoods need attention. Our world needs attention; we search for God. In You we live and move.

We pray for those known to us and those dear to us who are in distress. Those who need healing in body, those who need healing in mind and heart, those who need healing in relationships, those who need healing in spirit; we search for God. In You we live and move.

We pray for those facing terrible fires: our neighbours of Bear River First Nation whose Band Office burned, and the land near Yarmouth and near Upper Musquodoboit on fire; we search for God. In You we live and move.

We pray for women facing pregnancy amid the conflicts over abortion and the longings for life. The emotional power of our relationships and our human bodies is intense; we search for God. In You we live and move.

We pray for millions in this world caught up in violent conflict, in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and several African nations, and more – let there be leadership for peace, and help for those surviving or fleeing; we search for God. In You we live and move. 

We pray, Jesus Messiah, for people of faith around us, and for ourselves. We believe; You, help our unbelief! And be a great Shepherd to us and to other congregations who are looking for leadership or making other big decisions; we search for God. In You we live and move.Such things we pray, ending with the words that come to us in scripture, from You: Our Father, who art in heaven…  AMEN.

BENEDICTION Love in all sincerity,
loathing evil and holding fast to the good.
Let love of the community show itself in mutual affection.
Esteem others more highly than yourself.
May the blessings of God almighty,
the Creator, the Christ, and the Charismatic Spirit,
be amongst you and remain with you always. AMEN.

Worship, May 8 – Genesis: a New Beginning

WELCOME to this post for the worship service for ‘Mothers Day’ 2022. Full service details and announcements can be found in the Bulletin, here on our website. After the service, some video clips will be included in this post.

SERMON: Almost two weeks ago, I was planning my final five sermons. I would call them Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That same day, I was feeling under the weather, and tested positive for COVID-19. My final five became the final four messages! 

And it is just as well I did not preach last weekend, because on that Tuesday I got very frustrated and unhappy with you. Sharon and I were packing up the garbage and recycling around here, and what I found in the bins in the kitchen drove me wild! Ugh, I thought, after eight years, eight years here! these people still are a train wreck of recycling. 

Anyway, I cooled down, and got over it. “Gardez votre sang froid.” I’ve had more time to plan my preaching. Today, I have planned this Genesis theme: new beginnings. A new beginning for us church people is what is about to happen this year. 

Perhaps all the trash we keep putting into the world, our climate impact, our spreading of invasive species, and so forth, calls for a new creation, a new bang to start it all over again! It is hard to have hope with all the discouraging news around us. How can things be refreshed without crashing and burning first?

The timeless message of Genesis chapter one is timeless because it speaks of a newness that can happen again and again. God is a God of new beginnings.

There can be Genesis out of chaos: there can be a new beginning out of the dark. The famous first sentences of the Bible paint a picture of a chaotic realm where nothing much is. Only disorder and darkness are there, for the Spirit of God to hover upon. 

Into that unorganized void the Creator spoke. ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light, a good light. 

This scene gets at something that is deeply true about reality, and the God of it all. Light, goodness, order, can come out of dark disorder. ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn,’ we say. Out of chaos comes beautiful things.

On this Mothers Day I notice some mothering images in the Bible. I mentioned Romans 8 just a few weeks ago. To me this paragraph is exciting, but also mysterious. I’m not quite sure I understand it. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor, 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved.

Somehow, this whole world matters. Matters to God. I know, we sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” but the New Heavens and the New Earth come together at the end of the whole story. And, as Paul seemed to think, the whole creation groans as if in labour, along with us, waiting for soul and body to be renewed.

Things are rather dark for creation, or so it looks to us. The collapse of the environment, including the climate, could well be a crisis. We people are so slow to change, to figure it out, to do what needs to be done and to stop what we need to stop doing. But may springtime around us inspire us. Remind us that the cycle of life is but a hint of the creation from chaos that started it all. The will to live, in all things, is great. It is from God. It will go on.

Here are some things I saw springing up in recent days…

Our main text today was from Acts, chapter 9. The famous conversion of Saul, who mostly gets called Paul. This is Genesis out of evil: there can be a new beginning in the life of wrongdoers

Now is perhaps like other moments we have known, when our faith in humanity is damaged. There are too many people doing too much wrong too often. Just this past week, the apartment next door to my parent’s house was raided by the police and a bunch of ‘troublemakers’ living there were taken away in handcuffs. Nearby, in the village where my cottage is, there was a murder committed. Yesterday, up in Parrsboro, where I lived 20-some years ago, theft of copper wire at two sub-stations put the power out in a third of Cumberland County!

And this is just the local news.

And these are the extreme cases of wrongdoing. Of course, our scripture is of Saul, quite a serious wrongdoer. No wonder the Christian fellow, Ananias, is reluctant to believe Saul is scheduled to get prayer and blessings.

You and I are all here at our various stages of recovery from sin. We worship because we know the One who has given us new life. There has been a genesis out of evil, a new beginning; maybe more than 1 new beginning for us. And we strive to have confidence in a God who can work such miracles in all human souls. 

I think of someone I know, and you know, who went through a dark night of the soul, twenty years ago. If she were here today, she could tell you how she got to a crisis point, dealing with the abuses in her life, her mental health, and the choices she had made. It was a make or break moment when she called out, wondering if God was really there. And God broke through to her. God was there!

That was Sharon White, and it happened to here while she was living in, of all places, Amherst, NS. Jesus, the Light of the world, breaks through in people’s lives.

This is a traditional “three point” sermon today. So thirdly, I’d say I believe in Genesis out of the faithful: there can be a new beginning in the life of a Christian

This we see in the story of Ananias, here in Acts 9. He’s a ‘good guy’ in the story, a disciple of the risen Jesus; yet he also has some learning to do, and a fresh conversion of himself. Ananias of Damascus is given a little mission: to go to a certain home on one of the main streets in town, to pray and bless a visiting man named Saul of Tarsus. Ananias seems quite alarmed! This Saul is well-known as an opponent to the new movement of Jesus followers. 

Ananias needs a conversion, and he gets it. He does respond to God’s prompting, and goes to this home where the enemy is staying, lays hands for prayer upon Saul, and speaks the promises to him. Saul then sees again. But Ananias also sees something new: more was possible than he expected. 

There is always more for us, as followers of Christ. We are always pilgrims on a journey. I think one of the great ‘spiritual formation’ texts in the Bible is from Galatians 4. The apostle Paul wrote to his Christian brothers and sisters to encourage them. Paul was very emotional, he wanted his friends to make progress! 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Paul felt like he was trying to give birth to these believers, he deeply wanted them to be more and more like Jesus.

I must admit I have also had times when I’ve felt this way. I’ve longed for one person to study the Bible more, for another person to develop their ways of talking about their faith, and for someone else to declare themselves to be Christian by getting baptized. It is sometimes my job to be a spiritual midwife to other believers, as it was for Paul, and help Christ ‘be formed in you’ one stage more.

There can be a genesis for church people: a new beginning. As there was a new step of faith and action in the life of Ananias. He went ahead with his God-given mission to bless nasty Saul.

So for the ‘conversion’ of believers I also pray. ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Perhaps as you pray for me, my next chapter will also have a Genesis, and by some miracle I too will be better than ever before. Keep on praying with your life for the renewal of the earth, for the renewal of those who seem wicked or wrecked, and for the renewal of those who are Christians. Our Mighty God blesses all!

Worship, April 24 – The Desire of Every Living Thing

WELCOME to this post for the Sunday service of the United Baptist Church of Digby. Full service plans can be found in the Bulletin, here on our website. Along with the text of the sermon and a few other things, there should be some video from the service added Sunday afternoon.

Sermon: The Desire of Every Living Thing. Happy belated Earth Day! For about the past decade I have taken note of this annual observance that began the same year I did. And though I may seem to be hinting that this sermon is about the Earth and caring for all that’s here, I’m not really going there today. On this ‘second Sunday of Easter,’ I am looking for inspiration. Inspiration from the word of God in scripture, and the word of God in nature.

 A Psalm prescribed for today, number 145, had a phrase in it that caught my eye. ‘The Desire of Every Living Thing.’ Earth day, or other moments, even Spring itself, often can celebrate every living thing. When we celebrate them, what can God say?

There are many lessons from life, I mean, from living things. Two summers ago I preached a series of Old Testament parables, stories we don’t often seem to mention; remember? The Trees Elect a King, The Two Eagles and the Vine, The Thistle and the Cedar. Jesus’ better known parables may come to your minds: The Mustard Seed, The Sower and the Seeds, The Man with a Hundred Sheep. 

There can be other lessons from life, from living things nearby. Job once spoke to his visiting (and debating) friends:

7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you;

    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

8 ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;

    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

9 Who among all these does not know

    that the hand of the Lord has done this?

10 In his hand is the life of every living thing

    and the breath of every human being. (12:7-10)

We have the long, spiritual tradition of God keeping everything alive, every creature, of which there are billions. And we are also sustained. And all these things can reveal stuff from God, from the Spirit just behind everything. Today, instead of the Bible trees and animals, what critter might you choose to hear a lesson from? From which organisms around here would you seek a parable? Tell me.  (The mayflower? The seagull?)

I chose other critters. Today, let me spend some time with three. First, the hummingbird. 

From the Hummingbird learn its lesson… when the season is right, they leave Central America and fly to Eastern Canada, travelling far, as their ancestors did. So for you: go the distance to feed on Christ and be a disciple; don’t stay doing the same thing all your life long.

Perhaps you see your life like that of a hummingbird. You still have to do a lot, and you keep doing the same thing, over and over again. Well, that is a part of life. But may there be for you the opportunity to make the most of the different places you flit and fly and soar and strive. 

From the Hummingbird learn its lesson… It drinks from the many flowers that show themselves to it as the season goes on, and as it travels widely. Many wise teachers, and saints with testimonies, can inspire and instruct you: make use of them all. You likely do.

Because of what I am doing with my life, I look to other Baptist Ministers to inspire and lead me. It’s just natural. I don’t really like telling stories about pastors, because I am not preaching to pastors – well usually only to one or two among all the rest of you normal human beings!

There have been a number of Baptist ministers die recently. (We’re dying off all the time!) (John Bartol: All the good men are dying, and I don’t feel so well myself!) One of them who dropped dead, as I said a couple weeks ago, was a strong influence on me, a true mentor and friend. When I was young, I actually copied him, for a while. I went to his funeral on Thursday. 

Another Pastor became more of an adversary, though he wanted to help and mentor me. It was his teaching that was not to my liking, and some of my views displeased him a great deal. I watched his celebration of life on Friday. 

Both these sorts of people are important in my life. Both nourish me, train me, test me, grow me. Thank God for both of them, and everyone in between. 

Here’s a third parabolic saying, though really a bit of a joke we may have all heard before: From the Hummingbird learn its lesson… when you don’t know the words, just hummmmm. 🙂 

Psalm 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. It’s the ‘make a joyful noise’ bit that is a Christian cliche. You know, the folks who are not known for singing. When there is a big enough crowd in the pews, and all are singing a familiar song, the ‘joyful noise’ people can pipe up: no one will hear them. 😉

When I say ‘just hum,’ I mean, worship anyway. Praise your way. Join in however you can. It’s God’s command for you, yes. It is also God’s delight. Make the Master happy. Give God something to smile about. When the saints go marching… around… join in that number. Don’t merely be a spectator. Let your soul sing. 

Let’s move on to another live organism. One of my favourite local swamp plants, Eastern Skunk Cabbage.

From the Skunk Cabbage learn its lesson… when it is still winter, the flower buds create their own heat and melt their way up out of the frozen, muddy earth. So use your energy, the energy God has given you, and rise up to bloom! 

Do you have any such energy? Do you think you do? I know, you could be at a low ebb. But your inner Source, the fiery Holy Spirit is there. The miraculous skills you’ve been given, he wisdom and knowledge planted in you, these are still all there to warm up and grow up and blossom, even just a bit. Every bit counts. 

I remember those words of ‘eager longing’ in Romans 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… And, 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now… I think of the swampy skunk cabbage plant, in the month of March, doing its chemistry and creating heat, thawing out the ground and snow above it. As if it is longing for, working for, patiently headed to give birth to a bloom and a fresh flush of leaves. You can bloom too!

From the Skunk Cabbage learn its lesson… it is not named after the skunk for no reason! Every part of the plant – flowers, leaves and fruit, stink. So be strongly scented, in spirit, but with the aroma of Christ. 

Are you familiar with this bit of the Bible: words of Paul in his second letter to Corinth? 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. What an interesting image. (Can I call it an olfactory image?) 

People at this time of year seek Mayflowers, and find them. Sometimes, you can smell them before you see them. A year ago some fellow out west asked locals, by way of social media, if anyone here knew where they could pick some to get them to his mother, living at Tideview Terrace. I volunteered, and had them delivered to Lillian Burke. She enjoyed the mayflowers, just one month before she passed.

When is our aroma, our aura, our area giving the strong hint of Jesus – Jesus is near?

From the Skunk Cabbage learn its lesson… it grows its roots deep into the swamp, and when needed, the roots pull the heart of the plant down deeper, where it can flourish and grow. (True. I’m not making this up!)

Though the plant stinks to us, the deer browse it, and black bears like to dig and eat it up. Research has actually shown that the plant, that looks like a big hosta from your garden, has long, stringy roots that will reach down, then shrink to haul the base of the plant deeper into the mud. Thus it grows bigger, stronger and more secure. 

To be deeply rooted is a common phrase to humanity. What more could I say about it? Except, perhaps, the how-tos. How to be deeply rooted in Jesus. Well, that’s a sermon for another day. 

For now, one final organism, the Lichen, and just one new, sacred saying: From the Lichen learn its lesson… though it looks like one leafy thing, it is a hidden, perfect partnership, between a fungus, and a plant, and maybe a bacterium, and perhaps another mould, or more! So be a partner, be a team player with diverse people; cooperate, and be changed by your connections in the name of Christ. 

Greg Jones spoke of this yesterday, didn’t he, at our Association meeting. Dear Church, be a partner with others, with other groups in the community. Get creative. Do something more with, say, the North Range Art Club, or the Admiral Digby Museum, or Turning the Tide, or the Food Bank. We will even become different by doing good work together.

When we speak of these lichen organisms, we use the biology term ‘symbiosis.’ This is a close, cooperative relationship that truly helps, even creates something new. Teamwork: think teamwork. Or, as I said at Bear River East yesterday, associate together. Find out what associating together can look like, and what God will do. 

To conclude, let me tell you how I pondered this Psalm 145 phrase: You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.  I wondered what to emphasize. 

‘The desire of every living thing.’ Each single creature?

Or, ‘The desire of every living thing.’ Everything, all of them, together?

I know, I was playing with words, but that’s what we do when we meditate, ponder, imagine, wonder, pray the scriptures. ‘The desire of every living thing;’ what does everything want? All living things together, in a heap, what do they want? And us with them? Together, what are we seeking? Needing? Creating, with our Creator?

This may be the greatest lesson from God’s creation: the togetherness of it all, the teamwork, the integration, the constant connection. On the purely human level, remember that Jesus prayed that we may be one, as He and Father God are One. Now that is oneness. 

The desire of every living thing for the food and all they need – let us join them and know what we want, as a group. We want togetherness, and all that it brings. 

No wonder Bible images of heaven are filled with every living thing together, in harmony, without violence, perfected. Someday, the Psalm will come true:

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,

and all flesh (everything with a body) 

will bless his holy name forever and ever. AMEN.

Let us   pray. Jesus, Master, risen from the dead: every life, every year, every day we seek vitality, goodness, purpose. May these hopes and plans we have pondered be guided by Your Spirit into our hearts and our actions, when they are within Your will. And wherever we have gone astray in our thinking, lead us out. In Your name. AMEN.

Easter Worship, April 17 – Seven First Words After the Tomb

WELCOME to this post for Resurrection Sunday 2022 among the people of Digby Baptist Church. Full service details are available in the Bulletin for this day. Text and some video is here for you to follow at home or wherever you are. More video will be added at the end of the week. May the living Christ draw near to you now.

Why are you weeping? – Purpose (Jn 20:11-15a)

Christ Is Alive! It goes without saying, and it also needs to be repeated. We repeat Easter each year, and every Christian sabbath is a little Easter. The first day of every week, the day of resurrection. 

John the gospeller tells us how Mary of Magdala lingered in the cemetery, and met the living Jesus. It’s no far stretch to believe she did not recognize Him. Perhaps you can look back in life and remember moments when you did not notice the God who was actually there, with you. Hindsight is 20/20. A great criticism of the Christian Faith is that many of the followers, much of the time, go about their lives as if there is no God in Christ with them. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” (What’s Wrong with the World) Words worth pondering, at Easter.

The seven last words from the cross is a list often pondered. These words of Jesus have even been put to music. Using them for the service on Friday, it seemed fitting to see if there were similar resurrection sayings from Jesus. And there are. I found seven in the first day of the resurrection, according to John’s Gospel, chapter twenty. 

So let us celebrate Jesus who spoke seven times here. And let me draw our attention to the purpose of the resurrection, seen in these scenes. 

PRAYER of Confession: Spirit of Truth, is it true that our faith only fails because we have not been brave and faithful? Have we not yet learned all the lessons we’ve heard from Jesus, a hundred times before. Have we kept trying to take care of ourselves and build our own life, without the miracle of Jesus in us? O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel. For You live! And we have lived without you. Trusting in Your mercy, we pray. Amen.

Mary! – Personal (Jn 20:15b-16)

‘The sheep follow him because they know his voice.” So said the Good Shepherd, Jesus. Oh, to hear a familiar voice you were not expecting to hear! 

I remember so well the surprise party for my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. One surprise was it was in the summer, instead of in October when they had got married. But the most dramatic surprise was my mother suddenly meeting her two brothers and her mother at the party, all the way down from Oshawa, ON. 

An unexpected reunion is just what happened by that newly occupied but then emptied tomb, somewhere outside Jerusalem. Under sad, traumatic circumstances, Mary was shocked to meet her friend and leader who she was sure was dead. It was when He spoke – He spoke her name – that she realized, and she knew. 

We have this very personal way of explaining our experience of God. We learn the language from the scriptures. All the saints of old have conversations all the time with the Holy One. And with Jesus, God in the flesh comes so completely near. Isaiah had prophesied: See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. (Is 49:16) Now, in Christ, we know God knows our names. 

I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
and the voice I hear falling on my ear
the Son of God discloses
(Charles Austin Miles, 1912)

WORD of Forgiveness:  1 John 2:1-2

Remember …if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

I am ascending – Present/Absent (Jn 20:17-18)

Although Jesus is alive (and Mary is one of the first to be with him again), He is not there for good. In just a few weeks He will leave again – ‘ascend to the heavens.’

We have this both/and thing with Christ. Jesus is away, coming back one day, and all that. He is also present, ‘in our hearts,’ within the believer. Both/and. I think most of us experience God as an Absence and as a Presence. More about this in the ‘sixth word’ from beyond the Tomb.

Father Richard Rohr tells this story from an experience of retreat that he had, years ago…

It is crucial that we understand the importance of incarnation. This became so clear to me in a chance encounter with a recluse near the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, when I did a retreat at Thomas Merton’s hermitage in 1985. A recluse is a hermit’s hermit. Recluses come into the community only for Christmas and Easter. The rest of the time, they stay in the forest alone with God and themselves. 

I was walking down a little trail when I saw this recluse coming toward me. Not wanting to interfere, I bowed my head and moved to the side of the path, intending to walk past him. But as we neared each other, he said, “Richard!” That surprised me. He was supposed to be a recluse. How did he know I was there? Or who I was? 

He said, “Richard, you get chances to preach and I don’t. When you’re preaching, just tell the people one thing: God is not ‘out there’! God bless you.” And he abruptly continued down the path. Now I have just told you what he ordered me to do. God is not out there! (R. Rohr, 2015)

Peace be with you – Peacemaker (Jn 20:19-20)

Peace is a big word. As big as Love, I suppose. Or Hope, or Faith, or Joy. P E A C E – five letters. (It will come up in Wordle someday!) Just a bit bigger when we say it Shalom. (We must sing again soon that hymnbook song, Shalom Chaverim, Shalom Chaverim.) 

Of course, the kind of peace on our minds over the past seven weeks has been the end of war for Ukraine. Not to mention other war-torn places. Many of our prayers are for the Ukrainian people, of course. Some of our prayers are for the leaders in power. From interceding for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to praying that Putin gets a bootin’, and with the simple tears shed for the troubled millions, we are calling out for shalom. 

There are many actions of peace being taken, and gifts for peace given. Even in our building we hosted a pysanky egg workshop for peace

Here is a bit of what’s going on in Europe, (from April 6) shared by CBM: 

This Baptist church in Chelm, Poland averages 100 people. Near the border of Ukraine, they have stepped out in faith and have hosted over 3,500 refugees in their church and turned a nearby warehouse into a logistics hub that has already helped send over 300 tons of food into war torn areas.

Jesus is alive as Peacemaker, there, and here. We get to join Him; Hallelujah!

So I send you – Put to Work (Jn 20:21)

Striving for peace is but one part of the work Christ gives us to do. We are put to work. As God sent the Son, so They send the disciples out – then and now. 

‘I serve a risen Saviour,’ we will sing, at the close of the service. This one-hour event is called ‘a service,’ but the more active serving happens the rest of this day and this week. We are not made Christian in order to praise for an hour or two out of every 168. 

The feeling that you are sent out, put to work with a purpose, is vitally important. I see it in you folks, all the time. I look at people like Donald and Cairine, and their interest in people. Always keeping in touch… with everyone. Always ready to go – or at least call – where there is a concern; and ready to pray. It’s a calling. 

A group of you – some of the artists among us – take great care to curate the stations for the Journey to the Cross, here in our building. A garden comes to life for prayer, an upper room table for a last supper, a crucifixion scene for confession. The Master sent you into this work.

Firefighter Chaplain Sharon White entered the intense work of helping a woman when she lost her home to fire, along with her possessions, her cats, and her beloved partner. Not only does Sharon devote hours to the grieving woman, she works with the police, the Red Cross, firefighters, and others to help in the crisis. Christ prepared her for this work. 

‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’ 

Receive the Holy SpiritParaclete (Jn 20:22)

John remembers this speaking the Spirit into the disciples on that first resurrection day. He also recorded Jesus’ many words about ‘the Paraclete,’ the Advocate. Later, Luke emphasizes the movement of the Spirit at Pentecost, a couple months later. We don’t need to explain it; we need to know our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, as Paul wrote. (1 Cor 6:19)  Richard Rhohr said, 

Resurrection is simply incarnation come to its logical, certain, and full conclusion. It demonstrates, for those who are ready to see, that this world, this flesh, this physicality is part of the eternal truth and forever matters to God. The early church seemed to get this movement of incarnation as the pathway to divinization much more than we have in later centuries. Read, for example, St. Irenaeus and St. Athanasius in their classic texts from the second and fourth centuries. Irenaeus said, “Jesus Christ became what we are that we might become what he himself is.” Athanasius, who is called the Father of Orthodoxy, put it similarly: “For he was made man that we might be made God.”

    Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we are God. We can’t live up to that, and we don’t want to have to live up to that. I am not saying, “We are the Divine One,” however, I am saying that we participate in a very real and objective way in the Divine. That’s the whole point of religion: to let us know that what we are drawing upon is already planted within us. (R. Rohr, Jan 19, 2016)

Our waking up to ‘the Paraclete,’ the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is a gift… a gift from Jesus.

PRAYERS of the People:  Glorious God of new life, this Resurrection Sunday we worship and praise with all our Alleluias. Let our requests now be to Your glory also, as we acknowledge all the gifts of which You are the Source. 

Let there be comfort and resurrection hope in the face of death: we miss June Dickie now, and pray for her family and many friends. We pray also for the woman who lost her partner in a house fire just days ago: have mercy and support her all the day long of this life. 

In the midst of illnesses and injuries we seek blessings, Holy God. Troubles and dangers abound: let there be strength, hope, healing, and even purpose in each situation. We rejoice today, Almighty God, in the healing and help we can celebrate now! 

This is a time for guidance and wisdom, O Holy Spirit. Come to us, and dwell with our Pulpit Committee now. There is much to deliberate, to seek, to search, to pray. Bless them in this work they are called to, for the good of the whole. And bless all the many congregations that are also searching right now. 

Risen Prince of Peace, in Your name we pray for all touched by the now two year old tragic mass shooting in NS. It is in the news again, dear Jesus. Help people face the grief and seek Your hope.

And we are grieving the Ukraine war, Master. We are angry. We are distraught and depressed. We call out for justice, for peace, for hope! We also cling to the bits of good we can do from here, to help and to make a difference together. Rise up, Jesus, in Your people. Bring freedom to the people!

Keep us prayerful, gracious Spirit, this Easter, and every day, for the sake of all the world, and to the glory of Jesus Christ. AMEN.

If you forgive – Power (Jn 20:23)

The first of the seven last words from the cross is ‘Father, forgive them.’ The last of these seven resurrection words is also forgiveness. The power to forgive or withhold forgiveness is given to these disciples by their risen Master. I find this an interesting empowerment. Takes me back to Jesus’ earlier words about how to deal with conflict and sin within the fellowship: 19 “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mtt 18:19-20) 

 This emPowerment also is about the living presence of Christ. He IS risen! 

So, as you go out into these days as Easter people, go with these Purposes of the resurrection:

Personal contact with God in Jesus,

The Presence and Absence of Christ,

Peace to share,

You are Put to work,

The Paraclete, the Spirit, is given to us, and

Power to share forgiveness, or not, is ours from Jesus.

Good Friday Worship, April 15 – The Seven Last Words from the Cross

Welcome to these parts of our evening service, with some musical video clips.

Father, forgive them

Luke 23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

Ernest Hemingway began his 1936 short story, ‘The Capital of the World,’ saying this: 

Madrid if full of boys named Paco, which is the diminutive of the name Francisco, and there is a Madrid joke about a father who came to Madrid and inserted an advertisement in the personal columns of El Liberal which said: PACO MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA and how a squadron of Guardia Civil had to be called out to disperse the eight hundred young men who answered the advertisement.

Is the need for forgiveness so needed? It sure seems universal. Here, today, we meet the apex of forgiveness, head on. Not just these famous words of Jesus: the whole thing, the whole scene. Things go wrong, and they go wrong between us, us people. The mending of that is forgiveness, a real work of grace, that dives right into the pains and hurts and truly heals. 

Forgiveness takes time in our lives, so the scene of Jesus upon the Cross dwells with us all our lives long. We have crosses and Catholics have crucifixes as constant reminders of this moment in history. A happening that applies forgiveness to us, again and again. 

Jesus has walked His ‘road of love’ for us again, to get to this point. May we ‘get the point.’

O God, the voice of Your Son goes out again, and forgiveness is asked for anew. We give thanks for our story of forgiveness, in Jesus. Have mercy upon us. Amen.

with Me in Paradise

Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus’ so-called second word from the cross points to eternity. We have lived our lives in an age filled with ideas about the afterlife. Within the Xian Faith there are many ideas and theories, not to mention all the other religious and spiritual thoughts out there. It can be a bit of a free-for- all, each of us choosing our beliefs, even making them up.

But what do we seek? What help do we ask for, in the face of death – that of others, or our own? Most religious systems have a path out of this life, and some blessings are needed to get one across to ‘the other side.’

We have Jesus. Getting to eternal life is not something we accomplish on our own. It is a gift of God, and we get there together with others. So it was, for that one criminal, beside Jesus. With Jesus, at the word of Jesus, he would be in the new Kingdom.

O Divine Master, hear our requests. We also ask to be with You, and forever. Sometimes we want to be with You later, not today. And today is a hard day, gazing upon Your suffering and execution. We do give thanks for this end, which is a new beginning. Amen.

behold your son

John 19:25b Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

What an interesting detail this is, in the crucifixion story. Perhaps it seems like a bit of extra, on the sidelines. Central to the Christ event is forgiveness in our salvation, and the gift of eternal life… but, Jesus’ family? It could just appear to be a bit of housekeeping that happened that fateful day. ‘Mother, John, be family now.’

Yet it just takes a moment to step back and realize how important – vitally important – our human relationships are. At the top of our list. How we revel and rejoice in the wonderful parents and children and sisters and brothers we have. Siblings Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day – all are so idealistic. How we hurt for all the family connections that are broken and unhealthy, for a wide variety of reasons.

Jesus is all about the human reunion with God, yet also all about human reconciliation and healing. 

Jesus, our Brother, kind and good: to You we look today, awestruck by how You lived while You were dying. Hear our plea for reconciliation, in our troubled lives. Amen.

why have You forsaken Me?

Matthew 27:45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

Here in Matthew we have Jesus speaking the Aramaic language, the talk of the common Jewish people of His day. He cries out with these words of Psalm 22. Not everyone understood what Christ said. ‘Eli’ – ‘my God’ sounds a lot like ‘Elijah.’ 

This expression of abandonment is a profound moment. God identifies with us so much; in Christ God gets to experience being abandoned by God, if we can wrap our heads around that! 

But to quote the first line of a Psalm can call up all that the Psalm says. If I say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ all of Psalm 23 comes to mind. The one before, Psalm 22, also says a lot. A lot more than, ‘My God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me?’

Yet you are holy.  It was you who took me from my mother’s womb; you kept me safe…

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near…

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax…

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you…  Amen.

I thirst

John 19:28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.

How many scenes from Jesus’ life came to mind for the onlookers? How many moments did His disciples remember? 

Peter had once asked, ‘How many times should I forgive?’ ‘Seventy times seven,’ said Jesus; on the cross He speaks forgiveness again. 

‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life,’ He had said, and now here, ‘today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ 

‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,’ Jesus said. From the cross, ‘Woman, here is your son.’

‘I will not leave you orphaned,’ Jesus told the twelve. Suffering, he speaks of being abandoned by God.

And now, the One who said, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,’ cries out, ‘I thirst.’ 

What scenes from Jesus’ life flash before your mind as you view the crucifixion? His moment of thirst, here, is simply a physical, human reaction to the tourture of the moment. A keen reminder of Jesus’ humanity, shared with us. This is but one thing I notice; what do you see & sense?

O Christ, crucified, with more suffering than most of us ever know, we see You now. You are needy. You are weak. You are at the end of Your life… You are filled with purpose. Show us again the victory of the Cross, this suffering in the face of cruel injustice. Show us how You give up in order to win it all. Amen.

it is finished

John 19:30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This isn’t the last word, in the tradition of the seven last words from the Cross. But it is John the gospeller’s version of the end. We might hold closely to these words, because they are from Jesus. But also because they are final words, as others offer on their ‘deathbeds.’ 

Profoundly, we can read into this ‘it is finished’ a declaration about the whole purpose and work of Jesus. What He arrived to do is now getting done, at last. By dying. He does it by dying. A famous musical has Christ say, ‘To conquer death you only have to die; you only have to die.’ And we muster the faith to claim that this one person conquers death for all of us, by dying.

In your life and mine, the work is unfinished. In our neighbourhood. In our nation. In Ukraine. Across this planet. The troubles, the violence, the unfairness, the pain, all are with us. Again, the message goes out – Jesus, for all time, is finishing the work. In every age, in every year, the Cross is still here, reaching up and down through history.

Creator of all, is it truly finished? The great act of love that reaches out to every and all – we see it again. We see Him again. We bring all our troubles – the weight of the world that’s on our shoulders – to You, to Him. O may He still take it, for the sake of this world, O God. Amen.

I commend My spirit

Luke 23:44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Jesus does it again. When words rise up from within Him, they are words of scripture. This time, this final time, from what we call Psalm 31, which is ‘prayer and praise for deliverance from enemies.’ 

Seems ironic, at this moment of his dying at the hands of His enemies. Maybe the supreme irony is that this event does mark the deliverance from enemies – for all of us. The rest of that Psalm verse says, ‘you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.’ And so God has redeemed me and you, in this death of Jesus. 

The famous Centurion here, standing guard, declares the executed Man innocent. And there is, in scripture and in legend, the sense that all creation observed the scene of the cross, and acknowledged the death and saving work of the Holy One. He was who He said, after all. 

Second century bishop Melito of Sardis wrote, “Nature trembled and said with astonishment: What new mystery is this? The Judge is judged and remains silent; the Invisible One is seen and does not hide himself; the Incomprehensible One is comprehended and does not resist; the Unmeasurable One is measured and does not struggle; the One beyond suffering suffers and does not avenge himself; the Immortal One dies and does not refuse death. What new mystery is this? 

O Spirit, O Truth, O Guide, He is gone. We enter again this moment when Jesus is… gone. We understand some of this; we feel some of the impact. We visit the scene again, with Your help, and “stand at a distance, watching these things.” The death of the Son of God calls us to bow and submit. To die with Him, again, and wait to be raised up. May it be so. Amen.

Benediction:
May you find in the Cross
a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven.
And may the blessing of God
go with you, now and for evermore.
AMEN.

Worship, April 10: Palm & Passion Sunday – What I Have Written

WELCOME to this post from the worship service for the beginning of Holy Week, 2022. The Bulletin with the full service plan is available elsewhere here on our website. On this post the text of the sermon can be read, along with video from the service to watch.

CHILDREN’S TIME: Here is a video that Pastor Jeff shared – footage he took of spotted salamanders swimming in their annual spring fling, on March 31st. God is the Creator and the giver of life – new life and renewed life.

PRAYERS: not the usual ‘prayers of the people’ offered by Pastor Jeff White.

Worship, April 3 – The Centurion: at the Cross

WELCOME to this post for Sunday Worship at Digby Baptist Church, NS. Our preacher today is our own Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Donald Robertson. Don has been here in Digby among us for more than twenty years in a row, not to mention his time of ministry here in the 1960s and 70s, and his childhood here before that. Other service details are available in the Bulletin, elsewhere here on our website.

NOTE: there will be a brief Business Meeting following the service on Sunday April 10. The purpose is to elect the Pulpit Search Committee as per our Church Constitution. The Advisory Council is nominating: Sharon Cookson, Heather Parry (Deacons), Joy Potter, Joe van Heerden (Trustees), Alison Vassallo (Christian Education), Amelia Whalley, Barbara Wilcox, and Pastor Don Robertson as an advisor.

PRAYERS of the People: O Holiness that touches us: we pray.

O Truth that shows the way: we pray. 

O Life who truly lives: we pray. 

Merciful God, we come as people with hopes and fears, with healing and hurts, with our gratitude and with bad attitude. Together we quiet ourselves to be reverent, to be honest, to be forgiven, to be renewed. Christ, have mercy. Christ, be our all-in-all today.

We seek mercy and blessings for those who mourn. Grace for the family of Heather’s late sister-in-law, and others who have suffered loss. We call out for hope and healing and help in the lives of folks like June, in our local hospital, and others who are in and out, having treatments, surgeries, therapies, tests or palliative care. We ask for energy and guidance for people taking up new tasks: a new job, a new place to live, a new relationship, a new project.

And Lord, as we pray for those in other countries so also do we realise we can speak the same prayers for our own, indeed for all, except the few wealthiest. And so we pray for:

Afghanistan,

Those with COVID-19 and COVID-deniers,

Israel and Palestine,

Refugees and offerers of sanctuary,

Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia,

Those flooded (again) and those with storm damage,

Ukraine and Russia,

Those in education and those who might never catch-up,

Congo and Pakistan,

Yemen during Ramadan…

You who have the whole world in Your hands, we see the scars in Your hands and body today. Mighty God, who became weak and worthless – we praise You for coming down to us, joining our struggles, overcoming every obstacle. By Your sacrifice, we know the grace and gifts that bring peace and hope. Loving Saviour, we offer our prayers to You, we offer the world, again, to You. AMEN.

Worship, March 27 – Truth King

WELCOME to this little website post for Digby Baptist Worship. Here, Sunday afternoon, video clips from the 11 am service are posted, added to the sermon text that is here. (Oops, we missed out on recording the children’s bowling tournament today!) More worship plans can be read in the Bulletin, here on this website. Our Holy Week Newsletter is now out – read it also here on the Website.

SERMON: Truth King. Today I want to ‘preach’ with you, so this will be what gets called a dialogue sermon. We will have some conversation. Let us   pray.

May the words of our mouths, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

When I was still a teenager I went off to college, and learned a whole lot of new hymns at the University Chapel. One Welsh tune I grew to love had hymn words that included this bit of verse:

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

Another regular worshipper in those pews was my philosophy professor, Dr. Forsman, who was a good singer as well as a good thinker. God rest his soul, He took exception to the words of this hymn. Time makes ancient good uncouth? Keep abreast of truth? Truth, Rodger Forsman taught, was a sure thing, unchanging. What’s true is true, it does not shift or get updated. 

I did get my only A+ in eight years of university in his Symbolic Logic course, but I disagreed a bit with him about our use of the word ‘truth’. We have more than one use. And now, thirty years later, truth seems to mean all sorts of things!

What is truth? When Jesus spoke of it, privately, with Pilate, the Roman Governor asked Him, ‘What is truth?’ We don’t get to read the rest of that conversation – if there was any. They did speak together later, after Pilate had Him flogged. 

What would you say is truth?

And is there more than one thing we mean when we speak of truth?

Today, I am calling the Jesus I know our Truth King. He gets into truth talk when asked about being a king. “So you are a king?” asked Pilate. And Christ replies, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

You know I have pondered this before: how much truth, knowledge and wisdom does Jesus have, and give out to us? Often, I think our Master is relegated to being an expert on the spiritual realm, and an expert on what we should each do with our lives. We go to Him (1) for the salvation of our souls and (2) to know “the will of God for my life.”

If truth is facts, real things about the world, then we should be able to rely upon God Incarnate to show us what is true in every category. Yes, Jesus is our expert on human spirituality. Yet we can tell the world there is more to get from Him. He – our route to know God – is a source of wisdom about philosophy, and science, and history, and human culture, and economics, and the future. The God who is behind it all is available to us in Jesus, one of us. 

We can turn this around and realize how things in nature show us God. Meeting and knowing other people shows us good things about the Spirit. Deep thoughts, beautiful things, big problems, and our relationships – these all can be doorways to the Divine. Our ancient holy scriptures says these things:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

(Job 12:7-8)

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
(Psalm 139:17-18)

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

What different sorts of true things has God shown you?

And how?

Another thing I am thinking about in this preaching is the problem with truth today. It’s gotten all mixed up. Now, if we say we need to keep up with the truth (keep abreast of truth) we mean what we know about what is true. If what we thought was real changes, we have gotten closer to the truth. What we thought was true was not quite right before. Before people understood the earth goes around the sun, it was not true that the sun went around the earth.

But ‘truth’ gets truly misused today. On the world political stage we’ve had a US president who seemed to claim many of his obvious lies were true, and now a Russian leader seems to do the same. 

Now on the local level we often hear people ‘speaking their truth.’ I think this means: tell your real experience. But there seems to be, sometimes, this feeling that ‘I have my story, my truth, and you have yours.’ We have to respect one another, & not push our views on each other.

I suppose the best way I have always thought about how to point people to the God I know is to tell my story, my true experience, and let them respond. The days of being pushy about religion are over – and that’s a good thing. 

And then we hear these words of Jesus, translated for us as: For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. 

How do you speak your true experience of God?

How do you sense someone else’s story is real?

Let me end our sermon with words of Frederick Buechner, and of Jesus.

Jesus did not say that religion was the truth or that his own teachings were the truth or that what people taught about him was the truth or that the Bible was the truth or the Church or any system of ethics or theological doctrine.

X said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6)

THE truth is what Pilate is after: the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after. 

Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

PRAYERS of the People: O Guide of our souls and provider of our footsteps: we pray with gratitude for all the ways we find the Way, the Truth and the Life. This first day of the week we offer our gifts at the altar, in the name of Jesus. This start of spring we offer our fellowship for Your activity to be done. This year of hope we offer our prayer for so many we care about, nearby and far away…

We admit the ways we feel helpless and hopeless, God. We admit the actions that have been unchanged and selfish in us. We admit the lack of cooperation we have offered to others…

We pray, in the power of Jesus: Over the people for Ukraine, one month into the horrors of war. For those still in the country and those now as refugees. May they feel the Light of your comfort, your peace, your constant presence within agony. Over the NATO leaders meeting to discuss support for Ukraine, we pray for wisdom. Over Russians who ache to see what their government is doing and who are directly feeling the effects on their lives as they are silenced and economically stretched. Over Validiar Putin, may his heart be transformed. Over those across Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the world who are saying NO to hate and violence through incredible creative acts of courage and love.

We do rejoice, O God, in the courage and compassion we see, in Europe, and around the world. Bless the amazing gifts from our community for the Red Cross and other emergency relief agencies. Bless our Baptist partners in Europe, working, in the Jesus’ name. 

O Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of Truth, You are Reality with a Personality. As You have been real to us in worship, be real to us every morning, noon and night of this week. AMEN.