Worship, Sept 26 – Awe Someplace

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

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

When does God ‘show up?’

Where does God ‘show up’ in our lives?

How has God ‘shown up’ for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You will see greater things than these.

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

You will see greater things. And they do. 

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

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

There is awe, someplace. 

Rejoice in it! Rejoice in our awesome God.

In a time of crisis, we see Christ.

In what kind of crisis have you met God?

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

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

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

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

Worship, Sept 19 – Sacrifice

WELCOME to this post for worship at Digby Baptist Church. By Sunday afternoon, video segments of the service are added here. More information is available in the service Bulletin, here on our website.

PRAYERS of the People Let us   pray. O enter our view, Holy One; show Yourself among us today. We have come with offerings. We offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, to the work of Jesus. We offer our gathering: a fellowship that gets made into the Church. We offer our resources, funding our building and pastor and our ministries. We offer our creative energy, as apprentices of Jesus, to learn real service in our neighbourhoods. We offer our attention to You: Saviour, Teacher, Guide and Friend. 

We offer our confessions also; we each see some good paths we did not take, and some poor steps we willfully took. In some moments we demanded or expected others to make sacrifices for us. At other times we avoided or refused to make personal sacrifices that could have made a real difference to someone. Forgive & change us!

Prayer for our people…

Our Canadian election will be completed tomorrow, King Jesus. We wonder if our form of government is the worst, except for all others that have been tried. The attacking of leaders and party propaganda seem to fill the air, Master. Clarify our vision, as citizens, and inspire the leaders who are elected, we pray. Let there be a spirit of teamwork & respect in our government, for the sake of all people.

And challenge us, Your Church, to higher standards of teamwork, sacrifice, and selflessness. Make us ‘the blessing people:’ a group deployed in our own community for the sake of the world. ‘You’ve got the whole world in Your hands,’ and You share it, giving it into our hands. Praise and glory to You, mighty loving God. AMEN.

(Gen 21:1-3; 22:1-14; Heb 11:17-20) J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Sept 19, 2021, UBC Digby

We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord, this morning. But we might not sacrifice much else. Don’t let me underestimate you. I guess I am thinking only of myself. I am giving… my attention to almighty God. Yet, I am actually focused upon you, and upon my own performance in this hour. 

I am giving up one hour, at least, of my week. Even though I am one person being paid to do so, you might say. 

I am giving up some of my money for this whole endeavour, this local organization. But it certainly is not ten percent, especially when you count the value of the housing I am provided next door. 

Long ago, in Judaism, worship was expressed in offerings of animals and of grain and of olive oil, that were sacrificed. It is a strange concept for the modern person, and yet, in the Church, we are so accustomed to the talk of this that it just washes over us. Today, let us look at a pivotal Bible story of sacrifice and worship. 

Allow me to begin by reading a story about a Jewish teacher and her class of young students. From The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible. A little story about Father Abraham and his son…

The children came to their teacher with a question that clearly troubled them. “We have heard stories that other people in other countries kill their children to please their gods. Is that true?”

The teacher heard fear buoying up the children’s words, but answered honestly, “That’s very true. In fact, in our own city, Jerusalem, there is a valley that belonged to the sons of Hinnom where people sacrificed children before our people came to live here. Now we use that name for a place of torment, Gehenna.”

“Did our people ever do anything so horrible?” asked one small voice almost too soft to hear.

“Of course not!” “We’re not barbarians!” “Never!” came the voices of the other children, washing over the questioner like a tidal wave. 

“Don’t be so sure,” the teacher interrupted, “It did happen–almost–only once.”

“When?” The children’s mouths were open with disbelief, & their eyes were wide & round as a bird’s eyes.

“Once God decided to test Grandfather Abraham,” the teacher began, “and told him that he was to sacrifice his son.”

“Which one,” a child asked, “Ishmael or Isaac?”

“The son he loved,” the teacher continued, pleased that someone remembered so much of their lessons.

“Surely he loved them both as our parents love us and our sisters and brothers.” The children were being drawn into the suspense already. 

“His only son,” the teacher teased them with the mystery. 

“But there were two,” the students shouted in an annoyed chorus.

“Isaac.” The answer was spoken in a whisper. “After he slept, Abraham prepared to leave. With Isaac and two servants he traveled to the mountain God showed him. Abraham told the servants to wait while he and Isaac worshiped and that they would return. The father and son climbed the mountain, and Abraham made an altar ready for the sacrifice. ‘I see the fire and wood for a sacrifice, but where is the lamb to be sacrificed?’ Isaac asked. The old man answered his son without really answering him: ‘God will provide the lamb,’ was all he said. The answer came as Abraham began binding Isaac to the wood for the sacrifice. Just as he lifted the knife…”

“Don’t do it! Stop! Wait!” The children’s shouts were a wild uproar filling the room.

“That’s just what the angel said to Abraham. And when Abraham looked he found a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he sacrificed the ram instead of his son. Now you rough and ready angels may hear of other people sacrificing their children, but never among our people. You see, so we wouldn’t forget that it almost happened once, our ancestors built the Temple on the very spot where Abrham almost sacrificed Isaac.” (Michael E. Williams, ed., The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible, 1991, pp. 117-118.)

One of the ways I have come to terms with this dramatic story of Genesis chapter 22 is to focus upon the prohibition against human sacrifice. Because that has been a religious and cultural practice in the world of humans. Somehow, this Genesis chapter is making the point: the Hebrews will not take up human sacrifice like other cultures. This is not the way. In a sense, the capstone is put on this by the death of Jesus, as Messiah. His sacrifice is to put an end to the killing of humans in all of history. 

There is a lot to ponder in this heavy story. I wonder what things about this holy tale get your attention. Perhaps you have known this story since your own childhood. I think I have. Now, as an adult, what do you do with it? Or, should I say, what does Genesis 22 do with you?

Something that struck me about the story, spending last week with it, was the time it took. The waiting that happened. The silence on the way up to the mountain. 

Did you notice some sleeping happened? Just after God tells Abraham what to do we read: ‘So Abraham rose early in the morning…’ How could he sleep? Could I sleep if I was told my mission was to take my special child who had finally come into my life and offer him up to death? Could you, if asked to give up your own precious one, sleep the night before the journey? Wow.

And then, then: we might not notice it takes three days. Abraham, with son, and two servants, …set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.  

What heavy days those three days must have been. What silent days for those four men travelling through the countryside to Mount Moriah, with a donkey carrying the wood for a burnt offering. Gen. 22 gives no conversation from those three long days. When old, old Abraham leaves the servants and donkey behind, he and young son Isaac have the one little conversation about the lamb for the offering, as they climb the hill, the hill that one day would be the place of the Jewish Temple, first built by Solomon. Feel the heaviness of that conversation. What did Isaac wonder? What did Abraham feel, even amid his faith?

Some people know all about waiting, know all about long journeys in life to a hard destination, know all about suffering on the way to the real sacrifice. These are not the same, but there is a long journey in being trained to be a nurse, say, or a soldier, or even a pastor. 

And there can be a long and uncertain path through major cancer treatments, and other medical help that demands sacrifice. 

And there can be an arduous path to justice when terrible wrongs have been done and the storytelling testimony must be given, the past relived, and the perpetrators challenged, head on. 

And there can be a challenging path to live on the way through parenthood, knowing that one day, your child may well be beyond your control, guidance and protection, and even your knowledge. 

With the knowledge he had, Abraham must have indeed had some definite faith on that journey of three days or more, up to Mount Moriah, with his special child of the promise. What would become of the great promise of the future generations, not to mention Isaac?

They make it to the hilltop; Abraham and Isaac seem to keep their cool, even with the threat of blood and flames. And then, then, an animal is provided, caught in the bushes. The LORD did indeed provide for a sacrifice.

Sometimes I wonder something; perhaps you do also. I wonder about the telling of these Bible stories. These were sacred stories, told and learned and told again, from generation to generation, before they were written down. The dialogue seems so clear. It was a day and age of storytelling, of perfect memorization: they took God’s stories seriously. In them, Yahweh God talks, again and again. Sometimes, in the Old Testament, for pages and pages: long speeches. Here, in Genesis 22, God is brief.

I wonder, was the experience of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and the others, like ours? We put into words what we believe God is saying. But our thoughts & language are not perfect or complete, not divine by any means, limited. 

So, when Abraham senses for sure God is sending him to the far off hills to kill his special son, the divine message was actually better. Abe thinks he knows exactly what God wants. But he truly understands what is wanted at that last second, when he lifts the knife above tied-up Isaac, and a sheep bleats in the nearby bushes. It was a test, yes: a test of coming to terms with the kind of sacrifice Yahweh truly desires. And it is not a human sacrifice. In fact, there are to be no human sacrifices. That’s the good news. 

Like the Jewish teacher told her students, in the story. 

But, perhaps we could say, it is to be a living sacrifice

In the end, I want to claim it’s all said and done using the summary in the New Testament book of Hebrews. ‘The binding of Isaac’ is a story of resurrection: of life, when death was expected to have the last word. God gives life.

[Abraham] considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead–and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (H 11:19) 

Father Abraham offered up his special son, Isaac, and got him back, got to see him live and go on to be the child of promise: Isaac himself the father of many generations and many people. A people who would bless the whole world. Abraham had been told, years before, he would be blessed in order to be a blessing. 

Consider the fact that God is able. Consider the fact! The God who can sound so destructive, so holy and hateful, is able to give life. God is capable of more and better than people often think. Oh, to have faith like Abraham of old! Faith that God will give goodness.

Consider the fact that God is able to raise someone from the dead. Consider the fact! This good news is all about life. We struggle, in this life, to keep on living. We struggle to deal with deaths all around us. We struggle to make life worth the living, when things are bad. Consider the fact that God gives life. What seemed as good as dead can live.

And, so to speak, Abraham did receive Isaac back, as if raised from the dead. Consider the fact! The author of Hebrews tells us Abraham had faith in the God of resurrection. Abe didn’t know anything about the story of Jesus the Messiah, who would arrive a couple thousand years later. Abraham didn’t get let in on that secret, didn’t need a prediction. But simply he trusted a God who could and would do that kind of thing. Take an offering, a human sacrifice, and make something better out of it. 

Consider the fact: God is the God of life. 

Consider the fact: God can be trusted with our lives.

Consider the fact: we can offer our lives – all that we have – to this Holy One, who has good plans for us all. 

I like these facts. I trust this God. May you and I be given even a smidgen more of the faith of Father Abraham.

PRAYER after the Sermon Let us   pray. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; God of Sarah and Rebecca and Leah and Rachel: these ancient stories of power and grace speak to us. Thank You for speaking. As You have spoken through Your word in scripture, still speak in Spirit with our spirits, and guide our development as a people, and as a church. Increase our faith, we pray, in the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Worship, Sept 12 – Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist’s Creed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worship, Sept 5 – A New Beginning

WELCOME to this post for worship among the people of Digby Baptist Church. Here, you will find the text of the sermon, and video recordings of a few elements of worship. More service information is available, and many announcements, in the Bulletin:

Q: Where is the first baseball game in the Bible?

A: In the big inning. Eve stole first, Adam stole second. Cain struck out Abel. The Giants and the Angels were rained out.

The suggestion I drew from last week’s ideas for this sermon was “The Beginning.” One of the others happened to be “A New Beginning,” whatever that means. Since Next Sunday we begin to tell the whole Biblical story over again, starting with Genesis chapter 1, I thought we still could explore the theme of beginning one extra Sunday, as a prelude to the rest of September. 

How do we tell the story of the beginning? We have some old ways in Christianity, many of which go back to Judaism, of course, in the Torah. How we tell a story matters. How we answer a question says a lot about our answer. The tales we keep repeating in word and song have their influence. I would not call it brainwashing, but there is an element of training the brain when we repeat something. Our thinking, our talking, our heart and conscience get molded by what we repeat, when we claim it is our story, about us. 

Humans are meaning makers. A big element of the meaning of our lives is our origin. Creation. Where we came from seems to tell us something about where we are now, and where we are going. Also, it makes claims about Who is responsible, or what. The beginning is a big subject. 

Looking at creation, we start looking into the past, the deep past. And purpose. And the powers that be. What was it Paul said, preaching in Greece?  

The God who made the world and everything in it… made all the nations… so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him–though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘in him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24-28)

And one of his letters, Paul says, Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. (Romans 1:20)

What things that God has made have inspired you, and perhaps led you to God? What things in creation are special to you? Perhaps the night sky. We hear this in today’s Psalm, number eight.   When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (P 8:3)

Christian author, Brian McLaren, writes of this experience he had when a kid.

Some neighborhood buddies . . . invited me on a weekend retreat with the youth group from their Southern Baptist church. And that’s where spirituality snuck up and crashed upon me like an unexpected wave at the beach.  

[After supper,] a few friends and I snuck away to a hillside and found ourselves sitting under one of those sparkling autumn night skies. I walked several paces away from my friends and lay back in the grass, fingers interlocked behind my head, looking up, feeling strangely quiet and at peace. Something began to happen.

I had this feeling of being seen. Known. Named. Loved. By a Someone bigger than the sky that expanded above me. Young science geek that I was, I pictured myself lying on a little hill on a little continent on a little planet in a little solar system on the rim of a modest galaxy in a sea of billions of galaxies, and I felt that the great big Creator of the whole shebang was somehow noticing little, tiny me. It was as if the whole sky were an eye, and all space were a heart, and I was being targeted as a focal point for attention and love. And the oddest thing happened as this realization sank in. I began to laugh. I wasn’t guffawing, but I was laughing, at first gently, but eventually almost uncontrollably. Profound laughter surged from within me.

“God loves me! Me! God! At this moment! I can feel it!” [Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (HarperOne: 2011), 5, 7, 8.]

Let me ask again, and actually get some of your answers. What things that God has made have inspired you, and perhaps led you to God? What things in creation are special to you?

Most of you know me well enough to know my personal answers. 

The year I turned ten years old I truly started to be aware of the whole world around me. It was the year John Lennon was killed – I remember that. It was the year Mount St. Helens erupted – that got my attention. 

It was the year a documentary miniseries appeared on TV: Cosmos: A Personal Voyage – with Carl Sagan. I watched it; I soaked it up; I loved it. A couple years later, my parents got me the book. 

Cosmos tells the story of the universe, and of how peoples and cultures and scientists have explained that story, over the centuries. Better than science fiction is science itself, to me. This amazing universe is awesome and inspiring. 

Here are the first lines of the first chapter of the book.

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us–there is a tingling of the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. (p. 4)

So I now realize, forty years later, how influential all this stargazing and cosmic storytelling was upon me. 

Also, I now believe all this awe and wonder has been part of me searching for God, for truth, for reality: perhaps groping and finding the One who was never far from me.

My sense of awe and joy gives me hope. Hope in this world and the God of this world. And hope that what began, and became so beautiful, is headed somewhere. 

Do you sense this, from time to time?

I think a sense of beauty brings out the best in us.

A sense of awe points us toward Something More.

A sense of creation, and our part in it, leads us to Creator.

And the story of Christ assures us that this physical world matters, it is important, is good, is worth redeeming, and will be saved, renewed, reborn. Here we are, and today we will eat a bit of factory-made bread, and drink some grape juice. They did grow from the ground somewhere. They are real, physical. Just as Jesus was here.

Some people have been suggesting, in recent decades, that a New Story needs to be told and shared. The story of the universe, taking place over the course of fifteen billion years. From the primordial flaring forth (the big bang), to the formation of our galaxy, to the condensing of our sun and planets, to the development of life on earth – it tells us humans we are all made from the same amazing stuff. We are all one family. And we are one with all the things of the earth. ‘What are humans beings

that God is mindful of us,

mortals, that God cares for us?’

Yet we are crowned with glory and honour. We have such brains and spirits. We can see and know and remember and understand. We can talk and observe and wonder and imagine. We can connect with the Divine and get to know God. What privileges are ours!

So, we each get a new beginning when we see the whole story, and that we are here, with God, in it. We tell the story, we tell our story, in many, many ways. 

Paul told the story in one way when in Greece, another way when he had a different audience. We also learn, as the generations are born and grow up, how to tell the story of God with us. Or, we could be learning. How to have important conversations with loved ones. With a friend or neighbour. Even, from time to time, with a random stranger. We share where we see that we came from. Where we all came from, long ago. And where we are headed.

Next Sunday, we will explore the beginning again, with the first of the two creation stories from Genesis. Until then, let us glimpse the beginning of all things by looking up, and all around, and deep within.

PRAYER after the Sermon: O magnificent Maker of all, 

O Spirit of truth and love, O Christ who walked in our shoes:

If we have learned something good and new, keep us faithful to that vision. If we have gotten distracted by errors or arrogance, wipe these from our memory. If we have been inspired, give us the courage to tell our story and Your story, in ways that those around us will appreciate. 

We have sought You, longing, looking, delighting. 

We gaze into the awe and wonder again.

We are grateful for fellowship with You. AMEN.

Worship, Aug 29 – The End of the World Show

Welcome to this blog post for the last Sunday of August at Digby Baptist Church. The format of our service is quite different today. Enjoy ‘the show;’ enjoy God! The script below gives the plan for what was to happen. In fact, our guest Heather was away – she had fallen and broken her wrist earlier in the morning! The video clips show the actual conversations we had together.

Opening Theme   Cairine R

Welcome to ‘The End of the World Show!’ – Dick P

Audience Music  Holy Holy Holy   # 2

Opening Dialogue

 Our service today is in the form of a late night talk show, except that this is late in history, an end times talk show. And all our talk is about God, who is coming back, once again in Jesus form. So may this still be a way for us to value God, venerate Jesus, & verify our hope in salvn.

We have a number of guests coming on stage this morning, here at Digby Baptist Church, all familiar faces to you who are regulars here. (Welcome to you, today, who are new to us!) We have some local singers who have been working together musically for years now. We have a busy mother of two who is also an educator. We have one of the most thoughtful eighty-year-olds I know, who does not know how to retire. And we have a recent retiree who has worked in the military, in bussing, and in bylaw enforcement, to mention a few careers.

As usual, of course, at the Casavant console we have our very own Cairine Robertson, carrying our music along as she controls the keyboards. 

But first, let us acknowledge again our great Guest, the living Spirit of God. Let’s Pray.

Wonderful Holy One, amazing as it is, You welcome us here today! Glory and praise to You! May we be drawn to You as we talk together, share music, pray, and hang out here. Forgive our distracted ways, and the greed we have that wants to serve ourselves. Let this time be us serving You, worshipping You, seeking & finding You. As we look once more at the finale of life as we know it, reveal the truth, give us an ‘apocalypse.’ In the name of Jesus, the returning One. Amen.

Musical Guests Heather P & Margo N “Holy Is The Lord”

Thank you for your musical offering, Margo and Heather. Great to have you as part of ‘the show’ today, remembering the audience of One: this is all for God! Now, before we talk for a moment, let me set the scene with ‘Fire and Ice’ by famed poet, Robert Frost.

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Today is the finale of our five week series about Last Things, our August Apocalypse. I have talked with you a bit, Heather, about ‘last things.’ I know you have some thoughts about last week here. I pointed out the challenge of understanding how the final judgment fits in with us, if we have already relied upon Christ Jesus for salvation by grace through faith. Are we really to be judged for all the things we did or did not do? Aren’t we already forgiven, now?

Later in the show we are going to hear from Revelation 21, which gives us a vision of the new heavens and a new earth. Most scriptural teaching points to earth as our eternal dwelling place. It speaks of the renewal of the earth and the heavens. It is not so much the destruction of the earth – as is so common in our cultural imagination – but a recreation. Remember Paul wrote this, in what we call Romans chapter 8:

22…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 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.

There will be a resurrection, and new life, forever. We put this together with various things Jesus said. I know you have some thoughts about this, Heather, as we wonder about Jesus’ promise of many mansions or dwelling places for His disciples, that He makes ready for them….

That’s great. I remember when you shared that in the Monday Study Group. Now, before we move on, do you have anything apocalyptic you’d like to ask of me?

Thanks again, Heather. May Jesus be near you in Spirit. I hope we’ll have you back again soon!

Audience Music All Hail, King Jesus

Children’s Moment J G White

Guest Alison V – Rev. 21:1-14 

Welcome, Alison, to this talk show for the End of the World! You have just shared with us a pivotal scripture about ‘last things.’ Thanks for that. This finale of the Revelation vision is certainly happy and beautiful, after many chapters of struggle and harsh images. 

I confess that, through the years, I have been all over the map when it comes to what I think about the afterlife. As a Christian, I see these two New Testament teachings: We die and go to be with God. ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise,’ said Jesus to a thief on a neighbouring cross. And second, we die, and await the resurrection day, when we get our new, spiritual bodies. Paul, for one, talks at length about this in 1 Corinthians 15.

See what I mean, Alison?

Wise sages, through the centuries, have put these together in a few different ways. I guess I think the most important thing is the final destination, the final form. This gets symbolized at the end of Revelation as the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Holy City that ‘comes down,’ the River of Life, and so on. I think that what this actually will mean, in reality, is a mystery.

Tell us, what things about ‘The End’ give you hope or attract your attention?

Great, Alison, that’s cool. So much of our hope is about relationships – who we will be with in eternity, and what shape we’ll be in, without suffering or grief or pain. Now, just one last thing I wonder. Is there something else you’d like answered about ‘last things?’ 

Well, we thank you so much for joining us today. Please hang around as we bring other guests on, Al.

Audience Music There’s Something About That Name #104

Guest Maggie B – Mark 13:21-37

Thanks for the reading, Maggie. Great to have you and Mike here today. This is certainly an apocalyptic bit from Jesus. This chapter gets called Mark’s little apocalypse, and the material has its parallels in Matthew and Luke. I know, as we’ve talked about this, you pick up on a number of interesting things. The whole question of when or how soon is still confusing for some people. Here, Jesus speaks of ‘this generation’ not passing away before things happen. What has helped you come to terms with this?

Very interesting. I guess I myself have thought there must be some sense in which ‘this generation’ that does not pass away is a long-term group. Or else, Jesus was speaking of some things being fulfilled in the near future, like the fall of Jerusalem that happened in AD 70.

I have had this sense, for years, that some Biblical prophecy gets fulfilled more than once. There is a prediction. It happens a few years later, sort of. Then, more years later, something else happens that fulfills it. And maybe, at ‘the end of the age,’ the biggest, most complete fulfillment will happen. 

I think, for instance, of the words of Joel 2 in the OT. I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy… The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood… All that. In about AD 30 Jesus quotes the first verse, and seems to be talking about ‘the last things.’ Then, just a year or two later, Peter preaches a sermon on the next verses, saying this explains what was happening that day in Jerusalem, the day of Pentecost. Joel 2 prophecy happened back in AD 30 and also still in our future.

Maggie, you come to us with a wide experience of Christianity: Baptist, Brethren, even fellowship with Roman Catholics in Bible Study. You’ve lived across Canada, and overseas. I’m interested in what you have seen and learned in other fellowships. I wonder, does anything else jump out at you from Mark 13, and demand your attention?  

Thanks for that. Now, is there anything you want to ask of me, ever so briefly?

We’re grateful you came on stage, Mags. Bless you! 

Just before we bring up our final guest, let me celebrate the ministries that are upcoming:

Next Sunday… What should our scripture be? Theme?

You get to help choose. If you think of some scripture you think we should explore, or a theme, write it down…

Other ministry to celebrate… (as in Bulletin)

Prayer Guest – Dick P

Welcome, Dick. Before you lead us in prayer, I wanted to chat with you for a minute too. Today, we finally look into the final destination: the new heavens and earth, the Holy City: New Jerusalem, all this in the last two chapters of the Bible. Streets of gold, twelve gates of pearl, the Son of God as the Lamb, and the Light that brightened the whole place: it’s all here. What visions of the afterlife have inspired and been most important to you?

Now, all the Bible and Church teaching about ‘last things’ is so diverse and complicated. I don’t want people to be led astray, to be confused, or to be overly fearful of all this stuff. I mean, here is a story told by one Bible scholar. 

There was this well-known radio Bible teacher in the US, Harold Camping, who various times has predicted the date of Jesus’ second coming… (1994 and 2011 for instance) …and the end of the world as we know it. …there was a family physician in the 1990s who was such a devout follower of Harold Camping, and was therefore so convinced that Jesus would return in 1994, that he talked ceaselessly about it with his patients, spent his free time getting ready for the end, and eventually let his entire staff go, since they clearly would have no work to do after September 1994. (Michael Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly, 2011, xii)

Dick, what do you think might be some ways for us believers to be alert and watching and prepared for Jesus.

Thanks, Dick. Now, are you ready to lead us in prayer?

Now, as we offer up our closing song together, let me gather up the suggestions for next Sunday’s sermon…

Audience Music Who Is On the Lord’s Side? #666

Sign Off

Now, the show is over – our service is just beginning for the week. Before we end, let’s draw and see what our scripture text or topic may be for next Sunday…

Now:  May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (1 Thess 5:23, 28)

Closing Theme Cairine Robertson

Worship, Aug 22 – The Final Judgment

Welcome to this post for Sunday, Aug 22 at Digby Baptist Church. Here is the text and video of the sermon for the day.

Some people are so judgmental; you can tell just by looking at them!

Why are taller people more judgmental? They look down on people.

Never judge a book by its cover; use the paragraph on the back, it tells you what the story is all about.

Well, it is judgment day. Time to talk about the Last Judgment. An essential element of ‘Last Things’ in Christian teaching.

Years ago, I lived on King Street in Windsor, across from the local courthouse. On days when court was in session, and you’d see people all day long going in and out and hanging around, a local fellow I knew always called that ‘judgment day.’

Well, the eternal court is in session, in the Bible scenes we read today. Jesus tells His parable of the judgment of the nations, with the sheep and the goats, each with their own fate. And in Revelation 20 we have the vision of the Great White Throne Judgment.

Court cases and judgments and lawsuits and all scare me a bit. I know so little about it all, and I have never been to court. I want to avoid these things, I guess. There are many reasons anyone might fear the judgment of God, and a final judgment for us and the rest of the world.

But in our scripture story, the judgment of God is hoped for, pleaded for, and people looked forward to it. 

The Psalms are full of this. We already spoke Ps. 7.

Psalm 96:12-13 Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming,

    for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness,

    and the peoples with his truth.

In many scenes, a person calls out, longingly, hopefully, for God the Judge to arrive and judge the people. I think of Mary, when she rejoices about the baby to be born to her. She says these things about God:

Luke 1:52-53 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

This was Mary’s faith in the LORD, and in what the Lord’s Messiah would do. The work of the Judge of the universe is a good thing, scripturally. Cause for much rejoicing!

Who is it that rejoices? Well, the ones who were downtrodden, mistreated, used and abused. The poor and oppressed. The minority and those who’ve suffered the prejudice of others. 

There’s a clue right in that word: prejudice. Pre-judge. So people of faith trust their God to make things right. That’s the good news about judgment, righteous judgment, the judgment of God. Past, present, future, and final judgment. The Master will make things right and good.

The fear and danger comes when we have a sense that we are among the ones to be judged for what we’ve done wrong. Then the terrifying imagery of biblical apocalypse adds to our dread of doom. Not to mention our teaching from scriptures that say things like … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) So, every one of us might be in trouble, in danger, found wanting, and found guilty! 

Then, the scenes of Revelation 20 put the actual ‘fear of God’ into us. (Revelation 20:12) And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.

Even a parable of Jesus can alarm us. (Matthew 25)

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

The sense of feeling judgment and feeling judged is far different from the sense of your enemies being judged and you being vindicated and set free. And the dramatic visions of final judgment we have are so harsh, at times. 

The book of the Revelation is filled with violent judgment images and language. As one Bible scholar put it, “there is far too much destroying in the Apocalypse. It ceases to be fun.” (Warren Carter, The Roman Empire and the New Testament, 2006, p. 135.) This has been one main source of criticism of the book of Revelation. 

The repetition of destruction, all the scenes from chapter six through twenty, are not necessarily chronological, or even a whole bunch of separate events. They are visions that make the same point, over and over again. Seven seals on scrolls to be broken, seven trumpets, seven bowls of wrath, can be pictures that are making the same point. “Babylon,” symbolizing the enemy powers in the world, is doomed. “Babylon is doomed, nothing is more certain!”

 Some Bible scholars through the centuries have developed detailed systems of explaining all the judgment scenes we find. Such as C. I. Schofield, in his famous reference Bible, which lists seven especially significant Biblical judgments, two of which we read today, in Matthew 25 and Revelation 21: the judgment of the nations at the return of Christ, and the judgment of the wicked dead at the end of the age.

I am not a dispensationalist like Schofield, or LaHaye and Jenkins, or Hagee.  I side with others, who see these various apocalyptic judgment scenes all speaking of one thing. There simply is judgment and reckoning of all things, of all of us. The Revelation 20 scene of the White Throne Judgment tells us the final decision and results that God will bring about. Evil will surely be overthrown.

You might well ask me, or someone else, “but what do Baptists teach about this stuff?” I’m so glad you asked!

We don’t agree; we don’t teach just one thing. I’ve heard it said: put two Baptists together… and you’ll get three opinions! We Baptists are so diverse. The futurist, predicting, prophecy, dispensational views have been very popular with Baptists in North America. But others of us explain things quite differently. 

Here, in Atlantic Canada, when two large Baptist groups joined in 1905 and 1906, we agreed upon this, in our document, The Basis of Union.

There will be a general judgement of quick and dead, of the just and the unjust, on the principles of righteousness, by the Lord Jesus Christ, at His second coming. The wicked will be condemned to eternal punishment, and the righteous received into fullness of eternal life and joy.

This allows for a variety of teachings on “last things,” including details of the final judgment.

Now, before this sermon ends, let’s deal with one more detail. If so much of the judgement is upon what people have done and not done, is there still any grace to save us? Why is there still judgment according to what we’ve done? I mean, I have always believed that we are saved by grace through faith: what Jesus has done gets us into the eternal kingdom, not what we have done. 

Yet we find this in scripture this frequent, clear teaching: 2 Corinthians 5:10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. See also 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, and Romans 14:10. Not to mention Jesus in Matthew 25!

I’ve been working on this for some days now, and I can’t yet explain it. It is, to oversimplify it, ‘both and.’ We are both saved by God’s grace by putting our confidence in Jesus to redeem us and make us worthy now and on judgment day. And there is also a judgment day, revealing how we’ve lived our lives. 

The popular British scholar, N. T. Wright, tries to explain it this way. “Justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world.” (Surprised By Hope, 2008, p. 140)

I am still trying to get my head around this. I have been asking Jesus about this. I will keep seeking.

At the very least, I can figure out two things. One: even when we are Christians, believers, born again, it matters how we live our lives. Just go back to Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ where He says things like this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

And second: we can be happy with who it is who judges us and the whole world: it is Jesus!  

N. T. Wright again: …the one through whom God’s justice will finally sweep the world is not a hard-hearted, arrogant, or vengeful tyrant but rather the Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief; the Jesus who loved sinners and died for them; the Messiah who took the world’s judgment upon himself on the cross. (Ibid, p. 141)

Three ‘parables.’ I suppose the Final Judgment will be like a junior high student, taken to the school office when caught smoking up in a bathroom. The Principal was busy, so she gets taken to the Vice Principal, who happens to be her own beloved mother.

The Day of Reckoning shall be like the fishing boat caught in a sudden, foggy storm that blows in, and then all the navigation equipment fails. After a long and frightful journey, and hope seems to be lost, the sound of waves on dangerous rocks gives way to calmer waters, and the boatmen recognize they have inadvertently entered the Digby Gut, the safety of their familiar haven.

And the Last Judgment will be as when a distressed shopper is trying to buy some groceries for the family, but at the checkout the debit card says “not approved,” because the bank account is empty! Suddenly, the next person in the lineup turns out to be a dear friend, who pays for the order.

“The judge will be Christ.” As Frederick Beuchner said, “In other words, the one who judges us most fully will be the one who loves us most fully.” (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 48)

PRAYERS of the People: Let us   pray.

Jesus, You are full of love. You offer Yourself to us and the world. Your promises are sure and faithful and good. Again today, we praise Your. 

Take the things we offer today, and use them well. Our gifts for the Church offering. The attention we have paid to the word of scripture. The plans we have shared for which we will now be working. 

Christ, our coming Judge, we admit the ways we know we are failing. We also admit that we probably have no idea about some of our sins. Our hearts speak to You because we also need to know the next right steps to take, and we are unsure. May Your sacrifice of salvation for us be such a sure thing, in our lives. May we become all the more like You, and so really be Christians. 

Hearer of Prayer, we give our heart’s concerns to You now. Hear our hopes and longings for these people and places…

Afghanistan and those who flee

Victims of fire and earthquake and flood

Candidates and workers in our upcoming federal election

Worship, Aug 15 – Resurrection, Rapture, Tribulation

Welcome to this post of materials from our Digby Baptist worship service. The children’s story and the sermon are recorded and posted here, along with the text of the sermon, and some prayer, to read. The bulletin is available here, with more service details, news, and prayer info. Welcome to our website!

Revelation 20:1-10 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Was that a scary scripture passage I read for us today? We got: a bottomless pit, a dragon aka the Devil aka the Satan, judges on thrones, the souls of people who had been beheaded, a beast and the mark of the beast on human bodies, the dead coming back to life, a second death, fire coming down from heaven, a lake of fire and sulphur, a false prophet, and eternal torment. 

This was just ten verses. No wonder so many novels and movies and shows have been made using all this Biblical, apocalyptic material. 

In twenty-five years I think I have never preached a sermon about the Rapture – the sudden taking up of the saved people of earth to join Jesus someday. I have never given a sermon about the Tribulation – the troubling time predicted for believers to suffer through (post-trib), or perhaps to escape from before it happens here (pre-trib). I have never spoken about the Millennium, a one thousand year period mentioned for Christ and His saints to reign upon earth – we read of that today in Rev. 20. There are Bible believers who understand that Christ will arrive before this thousand year reign (premillennialism), those who think He will not arrive until the end of the thousand years (postmillennialism), and others who believe that there will not literally be this thousand year reign of Jesus (amillennialism). 

I have preached many times about the resurrection of Jesus, and of the saints. It seems simpler and more central.

We have this great Christian hope that there will be a new heavens and earth for us all to live upon, one day, with God right here among us. How we get there? That’s the question answered by the apocalyptic stuff of the Bible. So many images and dreams paint the picture of the next life will be like, in dozens of ways. What’s it like?

It is like the Promised Land, but far better than what it has actually been like, for the past few thousand years.

It is like a new holy city, Jerusalem, spectacular with jewels and gold. 

It is like a peaceable kingdom, a lush wilderness, where even the lion and the lamb lie down together for a nap. 

It is like a grand banquet, a wedding banquet, even.

How do we get there from here? Well, a lot of stuff in our lives here has to be trashed, eh? Get rid of the evil, the injustice, the pain, the grief and sorrow, the guilt, the isolation,  the meaninglessness, the bad memories, the hurts, and so on. All this is promised in the Bible passages.

Such as Revelation 20. It is tough, it is rough, but the point is the same: the bad is going to end and be destroyed, and the good will live on. 

That’s about as much as I have figured out in, oh, forty years of hearing about all this. And it is the God we know and worship and follow and serve who accomplishes the mission. We might as well get on board and help out!

But let me say more about what to do with these Bible texts. There have been several ways, in the past two hundred years, of understanding ‘last things.’ There is the Predictive (future) way of seeing things. The prophecies of Revelation and Mark 13 and Daniel 7 and so on are about the future – our future. Still in the future, front the vantagepoint of 2021. This futurist way of interpreting is very common and popular in North American Protestantism. It goes way back in church history. In more recent times, the Scofield Reference Bible is from this tradition. As are the Left Behind novels. They come out of dispensational theology, which interprets history in a series of ages or chapters or dispensations. This really got started almost two hundred years ago by the Plymouth Brethren pastor and teacher, J N Darby. 

In our time, as in ages past, there has been a lot of teaching that we are in the end times, and some of what has been predicted has finally been happening, in our lifetimes, with much yet more to happen, including the actual return of Jesus Christ.

A very different approach is to see apocalyptic Bible material as all about the Past (Preterist). The End is near? No, it all happened back in the year 70! Bible scholar C. H. Dodd, among others, was influential in this school of thought. So, in the case of the book of the Revelation, it was all written for the people of its own time, the decades after Jesus’ lifetime here. The fall of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 was what Jesus and John spoke of. The Beast with the number 666 was Roman emperor Nero, or some other leader way back then. And so on.

Other ‘interpretations’ fall somewhere between the future and the past focus. Some of these methods are called the poetic, the political, and the pastoral-prophetic approaches. The images and ideas are poetic, and relate to the powers that be in our world. 

They also spoke in the past to people about their world, be it 500, 1,000, or 1,500 years ago. These Bible teachings also speak to things coming in the future. But they are not describing things literally. Not telling us details of what will happen. They are holy visions filled with meaning, but not predictions, and not history either. Eugene Peterson called Revelation a “theological poem” that “does not… call for decipherment” but “evokes wonder.” (Reversed Thunder, pp. 7, xiii)

The words and spectacle of it all is still powerful, but we modern folk feel such need to understand in detail and explain what we are reading.

Professor Michael Gorman wrote a book titled ‘Reading Revelation Responsibly.’ I like these five strategies for reading this Bible text; they can help us make use of all the Bible’s apocalyptic materials.

One: recognize that the central… image of Revelation is the Lamb that was slaughtered.  We sing the words of chapter 5, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” The song is not ‘worthy is the Man with the sword,’ or ‘worthy is the End of the world,’ or ‘worthy is the Lion that roared!’

Jesus wins, the Bible tells us, but not by inflicting violence, by absorbing violence. Not by killing but by speaking. The vision of Jesus riding a horse, in chapter 19, has Him with robes dipped in blood – His own blood – and with a sword: but not in His hand, in His mouth. It is by Jesus’ words, not by violent harm, that He wins. His name, in chapter 19, is the Word of God, not the sword of God.

Two: Remember that Revelation was first of all written by a first-century Christian using first-century ways of talking and writing and imagining things. John and His audience of little churches near the Mediterranean spoke a different language, had a different world view, different politics and problems back then, and different needs. Of course, all the other apocalyptic bits of the New and Old testaments are similar – they are ancient literature. So the images and ideas from back then need some translating so that this Word can make sense and influence us today. 

Three, Michael Gorman advises, abandon so-called literal, linear approaches to the book as if it were history written in advance, and use an interpretive strategy of analogy rather than correlation. He says ‘Revelation is image, metaphor, poetry, political cartooning.’ (p. 78)

I agree with him, and this influences my approach to preaching and teaching about The End of things, according to our Faith. For instance, my warnings to you about the Antichrist (or antichrists, as 1 John 2 says) are about the things and people and organizations that are against Jesus and His ways. And surely, if we learn to recognize when something political, or economic, or religious is anti-Jesus right now, we will recognize other, greater Anitchrists in the future.

Fourth strategy: Focus upon the book’s call to public worship and discipleship.  It has this running theme of worship all through it – all the lyrics we have put to our own music today. It has seven benedictions or blessings scattered through the pages. And it calls the readers to follow, follow the slain Lamb. 

Gorman claims, ‘Revelation calls believers to non- retaliation and nonviolence, and not to a literal war of any sort, present or future.’ (p. 79) This may seem unbelievable to you, if you have a sense of all the violent scenes in Rev. More about this next Sunday – about the final Judgment – and the week after – about ‘the End of the World.’

The fifth and final strategy for using apocalyptic literature goes one step further: Place the images of death and destruction in Revelation within the larger framework of hope. I want to believe Gorman is right, saying “The death and destruction in Revelation are symbolic of the judgement and cleansing of God that is necessary…” (p. 79, emphasis mine) To make things right, some stuff has got to be destroyed, it is as simple as that, including stuff within and part of us, you and me. The violent imagery of the Bible speaks a language people could understand, without saying this is literally what happens.

It is little wonder that some Christian thinkers of our lifetimes have titled their books about last things like this:

Theology of Hope – Jurgen Moltmann

God of Hope and the End of the World – John Polkinghorne

Surprised by Hope – N. T. Wright

Hope. So we take Revelation 20:1-10 and see it within the bigger picture of hope, given to us, given to the world. We take 1 Thessalonians 4 and see it in the same light. Sara read for us this text, which is not as violent but still as mysterious as Rev. 20. It has been made to sound like it predicts the Christians being suddenly, one day, getting to fly up into the sky to meet Jesus coming down. Darby invented the term ‘rapture’ for this, which is not in the Bible. And me, I side with the scholars who don’t think this is a literal future event, like we read in ‘Left Behind.’ 

1 Thess 4 is another moment of poetically describing the new life of all believers, some day. The resurrection. And it makes the point that no one is going to be left out. Not the people already buried. Not the people still alive when the return of Jesus happens. 

I take my biggest clue about this from verse 18. Therefore encourage one another with these words. That’s the point and the purpose of what Paul just wrote here. Encouragement. No, don’t scare the wits out of people with this chapter. Don’t confuse them, don’t make it complicated. Encourage one another. 

And be faithful to God. To Jesus, the Lamb. Don’t follow the other powers and leaders of life first. We’ve gotta have them, yes. I already voted, some of you did. We might be voting again soon. We all have to shop and buy things, but don’t build your life upon all that. 

Encourage one another: that Jesus will have the last word. That He has, in a sense, already taken care of evil and pain and trouble and unfairness and death. Looking to Christ is the best way of life, now and forever.

You and I are not going to be the same. We don’t have to be. I am not much interested in the rapture. I’m not particularly expecting it, ever. I am living and awaiting the resurrection. New life! This life is so good, what could the next be like? Wow!

Dianne reminded me last week of that great old story of the woman who had been an amazing, generous cook. She would always tell people at the dinner table, “Keep your fork, there’s something better yet to come.” Sure enough, cake or pie or cookies would be there.

When she died, she was laid out in her casket in the local funeral parlour. In her hand was placed a fork, so when people asked, those who knew would explain, “Because there’s something better yet to come.” Amen!

PRAYER after the Sermon: Jesus, O Jesus, in wisdom You still do not tell us when or exactly how You shall return. Praise to You! You do not reveal just what pains and troubles we shall face when our lives end, or the end of the age comes. Glory to You! You have called upon us, once again, to seek and follow You. Honour to You! You are worthy to lead us and set us free to bless this world, now and forever. Help us keep all the lessons about The End of the Age in perspective. And help our forgetting of what would lead us astray. Amen.

Worship, Aug 8 – The Second Coming: Perusing the Parousia

Welcome to this Blog Post from Digby Baptist Church. Here is the text of Pastor Jeff’s sermon, along with video segments of the service, including children’s time and the sermon. This is part two of five in a series on ‘last things,’ called “August Apocalypse!” More service information can be found and used in the Sunday bulletin, here on the website.

SERMON: The Second Coming: Perusing the Parousia (Revelation 22:6-7, 12-17, 20-21; Acts 1:6-11)

Revelation 22: the last page of the Bible; Jesus speaks.

‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the prophecy of this book.”

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.”

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

What does soon mean?

There is a new health food store promised to open up downtown. Back in the winter a sign on the building said something like ‘opening in the spring.’ In the spring it did not open. I think the sign changed to say something like ‘opening soon,’ or, ‘opening in the summer.’ Now, midsummer, the sign says, ‘open in August.’ I happened to meet the owner on the street there, on Tuesday. She said, “August 28th.” 🙂

How soon is soon

People ask about our four-year-old granddaughter, Amelia Doucette. She still has a feeding tube. ‘How long will she have that?’ we are asked. Well, when she was two years old, we hoped she’d be rid of it by three. When she was three, we figured she’d be off it by four. Now she is almost four and a half. When? Soon, I hope. Who knows. We don’t know. But we believe it will happen, some year!

Jesus disappeared into eternity, in front of the eleven disciples, one day. Angelic figures ask them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

When? How soon? We are still waiting, aren’t we, about 1,994 years later.

Perhaps it seems a simple fact that the second advent of Christ will be in our future, be it soon or not. But, within Christianity there are more than one way to understand ‘Last Things,’ including the second advent of Jesus. I take some of this from Michael Gorman’s book, ‘Reading Revelation Responsibly.’ (2011, pp. 63-68) Citing other Biblical scholars, Gorman talks about two extremes in Bible interpretation, into which we may be on one side, the other, or somewhere in the middle. 

There’s treating the Bible text as a code, to be interpreted; and then there is treating the text as a lens, like the lens of your glasses, or a magnifying glass. 

So much of what we hear in the media, and in movies and such, sees Revelation and End Times stuff as coded messages. Secrets that experts can decipher. So we keep looking for clues about exactly how and when Jesus shall return.  

The four lunar eclipses of 2014 and ‘15 were, as John Haggee taught, a sign of the beginning of The END – see Revelation 6. The mark that the second beast gives people in chapter 13, needed for buying and selling, is the UPC’s on every product, or maybe a computer chip that will soon be implanted in each of us! And the locusts with scorpion tails of Revelation 9 are, as Hal Lindsay suggested in 1970, helicopters. 

In contrast with this sort of scripture interpretation, is treating the Text as a lens: use it to help us see, and understand our own age, among other things. It reads the apocalyptic literature in the Bible to get a sense of ‘the spirit’ of it, and put it to work in the present day. It influences us; it helps us see what is real and where things should go. 

So, the return of Christ becomes, in part, a lesson in how to stop bowing to the kingdoms that run the world today, and follow Jesus instead. The governments, the corporations, our economy, the media, and so forth, do not have the final say in our lives. Christ does, and someday the other systems will fall and He alone will reign on the new heavens and the new earth. 

My own approach is towards this second pole of the two. I don’t think the return of Jesus, and all the Bible words about it, are to be decoded, using events in modern Israel or the USA or China or Russia to fill in the details. I don’t look for pandemics, and wars, and people rejecting religion en masse as fulfillments of Bible prophecy. I do see Bible prophecy saying things about our world today.

I look for the Bible to influence me. To influence my imagination. To train my conscience. To inspire my apprenticeship to Master Jesus. To challenge my Western, middle-class lifestyle. 

It is very important to read any verse of scripture in the light of the whole Book. So many words about Jesus returning hearken back to other scriptures, in many books. He returns with the clouds… like Moses coming down from the mountain, shrouded in cloud. His followers will get caught up to meet Jesus as He arrives… just like the day He entered Jerusalem and the people went out to parade back into the city with Him.

It is also very important to hear any apocalyptic or visionary Bible words as just that: visions, dreams. These are not prescriptions or descriptions of reality. These are dreams and visions. You know what your dreams are like!

 I remember a brief dream from my childhood. At the time, I lived in Halifax. My paternal grandparents lived near Middleton. My maternal grandparents lived in Oshawa, ON. So, in my dream, my friends and I are on the front lawn of my grandparent’s home in NS. But there is a privet hedge planted along the road, like at my other grandparent’s home in ON. My friends and I are pulling these long, white snakes out of the hedge. One bites me, and it is like a flash of lightning. Instantly I am dead, or at least, suddenly lying on the ground, looking up at my friends gathered around me. 

That’s the dream. That’s what dreams are like, with various parts of our lives mixed up together, and unexplainable things happening, that you may not question, while you are in the dream, dreaming it.

From that type of experience the Revelation of John comes to us, and half of the book of Daniel, and so forth. But these are deeper and broader and holy and timeless. This is scripture. When it is time for Jesus’ promises about coming back to be explained, people don’t get a lecture, people fall into a trance. What we get is not simple; it is poetic, creative, dramatic, fantastic.

Why is this teaching on the return of Jesus important? What use is this to us now? How does it influence us? It seems important at least because Jesus taught it. Several of His parables are apocalyptic, not to mention His direct teachings. For instance, see His stories in Mtt. 24 & 25:

From the fig tree learn its lesson…

The Kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten maidens took their lamps and went to meet the groom…

For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them… 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory… then he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats… 

Why is the return of Jesus of any importance? Well, the finale of any story is important, and when the presence of God in a person is to return fully, it’s important. Having a sense that history is moving somewhere, and there is something good on the way, is powerful. 

And, knowledge of future events influences how we live now, beforehand. Not that we should be motivated by fear, and live better just because Jesus just might return at any second! Rather, to follow the ways of Jesus is to contribute to the plan for goodness and rightness. And to be, like Him, a faithful witness. This gives hope; at least, it shows that we have hope for this universe the its people.

I know, I know. Jesus is yet to arrive. We still wonder when, and how. And how to be with Him, not ‘left behind.’ Personally, I don’t think it matters when this happens, and it does not matter if we know, even in general, that the end is near. Like I say, when is soon anyway? 

Me, I believe that we can be ready without becoming Bible scholars, theology nerds, or religious fanatics. You don’t have to figure it all out in order to be saved or safe. 

It is about the presence of God Jesus. He will be more present in the future. There is this Greek word used in the New Testament: parousia. It gets translated: the coming of the Lord. It really means presence, especially of someone royal or special, or when a deity becomes present and visits. The presence of Jesus the Son of God is coming.

So, of course, Jesus is with us, today, but also away. He could be with us more. That’s why He returns, comes back. We could say the whole theme of our Christian religion is the presence of Jesus, or God. Getting in touch with how God is with us now. And how to be more with God in the future. And in the forever

So how does one not miss out? How do I not get left behind? How do I get saved at the end of the age? 

I say it is as simple as relying upon Jesus. Putting our confidence in Him. We call it Faith. Trust. Hope. How I do this is going to be a bit different from how you do it.

To be a Chirstian is not just a decision – it is a journey, it is an apprenticeship to Jesus. 

To be born anew is not just a personal decision – it is joining a living group, it is fellowship. 

To be saved is not just a precaution, to avoid doom – it is gaining a purpose, and a plan, and it is participation. 

To be a believer is not just a response to Jesus – it is a relationship with the Divine.

I am trying to say that putting our faith in Jesus, to reunite us fully with all of God, is what will take us to Jesus when it all ends and begins again here. There are many little steps we can take to get us there. The greatest steps are taken by the God of the universe, in the story of Jesus. 

We can clearly see that this life, this whole world, is incomplete, still is a nasty mess, beautiful as much of it is. So our Faith tells us we are headed somewhere. And that somewhere is good, far better than what we see today. So the return of Christ is a way of declaring that sure hope in a future. There is Hope for the future. More about this in the weeks to come.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Let us Pray.

Spirit of God, we rejoice in Your complete freedom to reveal things to us, and hide things from us. We can only understand so much. We have only so much emotional intelligence. Yet our longings are deep, our curiosity is strong, and our hopes are undying. We look to You, Holy One, to guide and teach us, to calm and comfort us, to strengthen and save us, before the end of our lives here.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

PRAYERS of the People: God, Intelligence at Large, Unearthly One who came to Earth, Spirit of Truth and Life: let our prayers now be more than words. Let our contact with You be closer than mere correspondence. Let our requests and our rejoicing be more than what the minister speaks.

We dream of better days ahead… even better days just around the corner! Before You we imagine and can see the healing touch in our lives and in the bodies and brains of so many people. We dream of good choices made and good guidance given to folks who must make plans and follow them. We envision family and friends at a distance being blessed in ways we cannot bless them. You, do it, fulfill the dreams and visions we have for goodness on earth.

We know, and You, Lord, know the foolish things we dream up, the selfish longings we have, and the overthinking that takes our attention away from better things we could be doing. With forgiveness and with spiritual energy, break our bad habits and turn us loose to love and be loved, in the name of Jesus.

We have a vision for this world, Creator. We catch glimpses of terrible trouble across the globe, and our prayers long for better things. Fires and floods ceasing. We can picture that. Violence and war wearing thin. We imagine it. Hunger and disease disappearing. We dream about this. Take us and our daydreams the next step, into little actions that make a difference when they are all added together.

God of vision and of truth, we pray also today for all our Atlantic Baptist Churches, as we meet this week via computers. May the examining council meet graciously with the pastors who are due to be officially ordained. May the business we do as a denomination be wise and wonderful. May the praising and learning we share online inspire our dreaming and our doing.

And, today, as another summer celebration happens here in Digby, may the people of our town, and our visitors, find in some of our rejoicing a bit of the spirit of celebration, that lifts our spirits to You, give of all good gifts. In the name of Jesus we pray and dream. AMEN.

Worship: Aug. 1 – August Apocalypse!

Welcome to this blog post for Sunday service of Digby Baptist Church. The bulletin on the website has more information for you. By Sunday afternoon, video from the service is added to this page here – the children’s time and the sermon.

PRAYERS of the People: Holy God of time and space, in our corner of the world, from our vantage point of history, we focus upon You in prayer. We offer this worship together, a gift of love to You, our Saviour. We make offerings of practical support to our congregation, and to our local food bank, in Your name. We listen for Your voice to us today, and we come close for communion at Your table.

Our fellowship feels broken with the loss of Mary – yet we have such amazing hope from You, who conquered sin and death. Bless Alfie, Mike & Robbie and family in this loss, and with the eternal hopes that are ours in Christ Jesus. 

And in our fellowship we pray for help and healing, guidance and grace, for all who need a blessing today. 

Alpha and Omega, there is no beginning or end to your love, mercy, and grace. You encompass all that was, all that is, and all that will be. Therefore, we uplift in our prayers all those challenges, conflicts, and ruptures that seem to be beyond repair or reconciliation:

We pray for your children in North and South Korea as leaders within both countries have articulated a commitment to improve diplomatic ties and rebuild trust.

We pray for your children in China as the government is expanding its nuclear capabilities with the construction of a second field of missile silos in its western deserts.

We pray for your children in the Tigray, Ethiopia as conflict between the central government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has begun to spread to other parts of northern Ethiopia, and attacks continue against Eritrean refugees in the region.

We pray for your children in Afghanistan as there have been escalating attacks on civilians as Taliban insurgents have recently captured more areas and seized vital border control points. 

The wars and rumours of wars continue, Christ, as You said they would. In this world, let there be hope, and let it begin with us. Open Your word to us now, that we may be changed. AMEN.

Revelation 1:1-8; John 14:1-7

Remember the turn of the Century? We can call it the turn of the Millennium, eh? I remember it. I lived in a small fishing village and tourist town in Nova Scotia. In 1999 there was all this talk of Y2K, which means Year Two Thousand. The computers were all going to crash, and everything might fail! Remember all that hype?

A friend gave me lots of advance warning with the gift of this book, “Apocalypse WOW!’ by James F. Garner. He asked and answered many an important question about the end of the world. “Will we remember to order new checks from the bank? Did our invitation to the Kennedy New Year’s party get lost in the mail again? And are we all poised on the brink of worldwide enlightenment or complete planetary destruction?”

Many times, the end of the world has been predicted or expected or feared. Remember 2012? Some ancient Mayan calendar in stone apparently ended with what we call the year 2012. Perhaps that was to be ‘the apocalypse.’ No. Watch the film, “2012,” to see what did not happen.

This month I want to explore “The Apocalypse” and the associated ideas and doctrines of the End of the age, the second coming of Christ, and so forth. Today is our introduction, and I want to hear from you what questions you have about all this. My first ‘answer’ is to say what ‘apocalypse’ means. It is in the Greek New Testament, and does not mean The End, or the destruction of the world. It simply means an unveiling, a revealing of something. This last book of the Bible gets its name from this word. The first words of the first verse are “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” The apocalypse of Jesus Christ. Often in the New Testament, when we read ‘reveal’ it is the verb apocalypto. As when Peter declared to Jesus: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed (apocalypto) this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Mtt 16:17) 

So, let’s begin our ‘August Apocalypse,’ our revealing.

One Bible teacher on this, Rick Durst, of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, prepared a little metre to measure people’s interest in ‘Last Things.’ 

Fear of Future                           Fascination with Future

Eschatophobia                                   Eschatomania

How have you felt about these things? 

In our day and age of fear, I do not want you to fear the end, the second coming, or the final judgment. I do not want any believer to be confused or easily be led astray into some strange teachings. And I do not want anyone to be obsessed with the end times either. We can make sense of all this. Our God has these teachings for us to give us hope, not horror. 

So… what things about The End might you want explained or explored?  Let me take note…

Perhaps, each week, we will read a bit from the Revelation of John. But there are other texts – in New and Old Testaments – we will read and ponder. Today, those first verses of the book of Revelation hint at some of the major themes to be found in its pages. 

It is a ‘revelation, a ‘revealing,’ an ‘apocalypse.’

It seems to speak of the future, ‘what will soon take place.’

It includes words of prophecy… whatever that means.

It is very much about God and Jesus, who are given many special names and titles, just beginning with ‘the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth.’

There are a lot of worship words in this text, such as in verse six, ‘to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.’ We sang quite a few Revelation lyrics ourselves, today, and we will again, in the weeks ahead.

Also, about Jesus, Revelation speaks much about the return of Christ. Whatever this means! ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds; every eye shall see him…’

The teachings about The End are found in many books of the Bible, and we will touch some of them, as needed. Such as Jesus’ own words in the Gospels. I wonder, before His death, when Jesus said to the disciples, ‘I go to prepare a place for you,’ and, ‘I will come again,’ did He mean come back alive on the third day, or come back to earth a second time, later on?

I also want to explore a variety of common ways that Christians have come to understand all these teachings. There are quite a few approaches. I have been studying all this lately, seeking to make up my own mind and figure out what I actually believe. Perhaps, by the end of August, we will all have a bit more figured out, guided by the Holy Spirit and these scriptures.

On the next four Sundays of August, I have this basic plan in mind:

8th – The Second Advent of Christ (second coming)
What will Jesus do? When? How?
How to be ready?

15th – Resurrection, Rapture & Tribulation
Also: the Millennium

22nd – The Final Judgment
How, exactly, will we (and others) be judged?

29th – ‘The End of the World,’ New Heavens & Earth
It all seems so destructive and violent. Is it?

I’m also curious what you may think about these things:

Do you wonder about the purpose or usefulness of some apocalyptic stories/scriptures? Doctrines? 

What ones, and why? 

What areas would you like addressed on Sundays?

What do you not want to hear about? 😮

Let me have the last word today by saying what I was told is the actual theme of Revelation, summed up in one verse. The theme is found in chapter 11 verse 15. The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. 

God wins, we might say. And we get brought in to win with Christ. Good news! Though we could say it more beautifully, and profoundly, as the scriptures do. 

Those Revelation 11:15 phrases are well-known, in the lyrics of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah

Let’s listen to one recording of it, from a Canadian scene – a flash mob that happened a decade ago. I enjoy this video a great deal. Listen for all the words of this famous chorus. This could be what all the doctrines of The End should sound like, when summed up. Not a song of fear and terror, but of joyful praise!

Hallelujah!
For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world is become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ
and he shall reign forever and ever.
Hallelujah!
King of kings and Lord of lords
and he shall reign forever and ever
Hallelujah!

Worship – July 4: Victimize! Us In Spite of Them?

WELCOME; quite a bit of this week’s in person service is presented here in this blog. See the Bulletin for more information. Today, we receive a special offering for pastors Lori and Roy Bertaux, whose home and contents burned up last month. We also make Food Bank offerings on the fist Sunday of the month. The next posts for Daily Prayers and for Sunday Worship will likely not resume until Monday July 26th.

Revelation 21:3-4 John’s vision in Revelation envisioned this:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Opening PRAYER

PRAYERS of the People: Loving, holy God, we offer worship to You today, grateful that we, and so many others, are together again in physical fellowship, praising and lamenting and listening before You. We dedicate our offerings of money in the name of Jesus: for our Church work, for pastors Roy and Lori, for our Digby Food Bank. May these gifts be blessed.

Receive our prayers of love: deep love for those we care for who are suffering, those who are sick, those who face sadness and grief, those who are isolated or alone, those who are injured in body or in spirit, and those who feel trapped by their own sins.  

We offer our hopes and our questions about people we wish would get to know You, Jesus, and Your real power for life. What can we do to bless them, to guide them, to encourage them in Your direction? Hear our prayer.

And we offer prayer for the whole world.
Bless our nation, when we are unsure how to celebrate;
Bless those who mourn children who faced a terrible fate.
Bless the folk who left the church, never to go back;
Bless the faithful who are seeking to get back on track.
Bless our American friends on this, their special day;
Bless them in Florida as they dig, and mourn, and pray.
Bless the many nations troubled by COVID-19;
Bless the poor and needy who still have no vaccine.
Bless the places cursed by heat and drought this summer;
Bless the many peoples who are displaced by hunger.
Bless the terrorized and those in places where there’s war;
Bless us peaceful, stronger ones, so we’ll do something more.

In, with, for, and because of Christ. AMEN.

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

SERMON: The stories of our lives are diverse and difficult and amazing. Every week, the stories of people’s lives are in the news, and new stories come to light that were hidden away. There is a lot of terror and tragedy out there. We get to rethink a lot of things we take for granted.

Such as going to school, as a child, a school that was safe and happy, close to home, and of my own culture. That’s what I had.
Such as freedom of religion. I had this also.
Such as traveling freely across borders of all kinds – across Nova Scotia, the Maritimes, across Canada, to the USA, to France, to Bolivia. That’s where I’ve been free to go in my first fifty years.
Such as clean running water, vaccinations and dental care, opportunities to go to college and to get jobs all life long. I’ve had these also.
Not so for everyone.

So we hear the voices of victims. We listen to their stories. We hear their laments. We come to terms with our own part in the systems that oppressed, and the privileges we have because others do not have them.
One of the sad realities is victimization, and when a victim becomes trapped in how they have been hurt. They become a victim: that becomes one’s identity, one’s attitude. ‘I am a victim.’ And one lives in that.
But we know Jesus, and Jesus wants to set victims free to live, and be more than just victims of what’s happened.

One of the New Testament preachers, Philip, once explained Isaiah 53 to a traveler who was reading that scripture. (Acts 8) Some great Suffering Servant is getting destroyed: who was it? What does this mean? Philip explained this is Jesus, the Messiah. The ultimate Victim. And yet, He does not live as a victim, does not go through it in spite of His enemies. He actually goes through His pain and humiliation for the sake of His enemies.

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before the shearer,
so he does not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
He was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities,
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. (Is. 53:5)

Jesus was the Victim to end all victims (to coin an awkward phrase). Christ leads the way through victimization, into freedom and healing and greater life.

It takes real work, and time, and cooperation, to make our way through a healing process – for ourselves or for others. The Spirit can guide, the Spirit can apply the victimization of Jesus to any other victim, and lead a healing journey for the spirit and the body.

For to stay a victim is unhealthy, and can be a real dead end. It can become a violent, bitter attitude toward others in this world we share. Pastor Sharon, my wife, really should be preaching this sermon, for she has a remarkable life story to tell about harm and hurt and abuse – and an incredible healing journey, filled with miraculous moments when Jesus intervened.

We explain the meaning of life by telling stories. I have spent six sermons talking about some negative stories that we might live by; yet God offers a better storyline for our lives. A better view of the world and what our Master has planned for us all.

Today, let us finish the story, the parable, by Gareth Higgins and Brian McLaren, the Seventh Story.

THE PEOPLE kept hurting,
and hurting each other

so a sixth story was created
that says if we can’t find peace, security, and happiness
by ruling the world or overthrowing the rulers
or withdrawing into isolation or getting rid of a minority
or by accumulating shining objects,
then let us never forget our sorrow,
or the pain others have caused us,
for no one has ever suffered like us

THE PEOPLE would make sure that no one
would ever forget that they were the victims
that their suffering was their very identity,
and that no one had suffered as much as them

and then, something new
a poet came to town
a storyteller who knew that
the DOMINATION STORY
the REVOLUTION STORY
the ISOLATION STORY
the PURIFICATION STORY
the ACCUMULATION STORY
the VICTIMIZATION STORY
were all destined to fail

they were destined to fail because they invited every human being, who is already interdependent with every other human being, and even with the earth itself, to pretend instead that we are in a competition

the poet knew how to build things like tables
where we could all sit and eat together
she taught that the people most oppressed by the six stories should be the most honoured
she taught that our differences aren’t a reason for shame, punishment, or exclusion, but instead, they are marks of what make us most lovable

she invited THE PEOPLE to join her in forming a new community where status would depend on service and domination would be replaced by equitable community
where revolution would begin in the heart and would lead to reconciliation, not revenge, transforming the process by which we live and learn
where deadening isolation would be replaced by rejuvenating silences
where we would learn from and celebrate folk on the margins
where we would share, not possess, and heal each other’s wounds in a new story of power-with not power-over
of collaboration not competition
of beauty not belligerence

the poet had a radical idea
the seed of a Seventh Story that will heal the world
the earlier six stories all claimed that the path to peace, security, and happiness was about WINNING
us over them
or us overthrowing them
or us staying apart from them
or us cleansing ourselves of them
or us having things that they don’t
or us being more important than them because of our competitive suffering…
but in the Seventh Story, the story of reconciliation, we still get to win, just not at anybody else’s expense
in the Seventh Story, human beings are not the protagonists of the world
Love is.

The Story of Love
it’s a story in which some of us know that our purpose is not merely self-interest but the common good
Some of Us For All of Us
(Gareth Higgins & Brian McLaren, The Seventh Story, 2019, pp. 8-46)

This story is inspired, of course, by the life of our Jesus, who grew up, as Isaiah 53 said, to be despised and rejected, a person of suffering, acquainted with grief. He absorbed punishment so there will be no such thing as punishment for us anymore. Though we wander like lost sheep out in the wilderness, Jesus becomes a sheep to be sacrificed, for us. He did no violence at all when His suffering came, not even with what He spoke.
This was the way of God for Jesus, and for us. To take away evil and violence and aloneness and pain and death. He experienced all of this, for us. Loving us.

So, out of His terrible death, Jesus saw light, light to shine upon us all, within us all. He did the right thing, to make us all ‘right with God.’
So He is great. We have worshipped Jesus again today. And we remember in a few moments His great sacrifice. With a simple little feast: by sharing bread and drink, with one another, with a whole world of believers, and with His Spirit today. Christ makes us one, in Him.
Now, let me end with the finale of the Seventh Story.

[another long pause]
they killed the poet, of course
the Seventh Story was too much to take for people with visions limited to the narrow circle of self

but the poet did not actually die
her story is alive, right now
the story lives wherever someone reveals the other stories as failures
the story lives every time someone lives for all of us
or offers a glass of cold water to a thirsty stranger
or a blanket for a naked person
or engages in sacred practices of friendship, lament & hope
the story lives wherever there are exchanges of power and gifts between the strong and the vulnerable,
creating community
the story lives wherever there are artistic endeavors that show us we’re not alone, and tell us where to go next,
and remind some of us to live for all of us

because there is no them. +
(Gareth Higgins & Brian McLaren, The Seventh Story, 2019, pp. 47-55)
AMEN.

PRAYER after the Sermon: Spirit of truth, Messiah who makes us one, God and Father of all: now, help us hold fast to the word You have shared with us, and help us forget the stories that were not from Your lips.
Make us good listeners to others, as they tell their stories. Make us good members of Your Church, as we take responsibility for one another. Make us good, so the world will be a better place.
Now, we prepare for the supper of the Lord Jesus. Open our minds to remember Christ. Open our hearts to receive all who are in fellowship with us in the world. Open our spirits to be nourished by the Spirit of Jesus. In His name. Amen.

Hymn # 783 ‘Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face’

RECEPTION of New Member: June Haight

COMMUNION

SONG # 843 ‘May the Lord, Mighty God’

BENEDICTION: