September 20: Count the Stars

Welcome to this post with parts of our worship service. More details can be found in the bulletin, here on another page of our website.

Children’s Time ‘Father Abraham, and birthdays!

Sermon “Count the Stars” Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-6; Luke 3:7-9

Some of us, during the past months of crisis and precautions, have had time to ponder our purpose. “Why am I here?” No, I don’t mean when you go upstairs and can’t recall why you went up there. I mean, “Am I living a life that is making a difference to other people, to the world?” Today, you might like the answer. Or, you may be discouraged about yourself. And I dare say there are many people around us who are not happy about where their life is at the moment.

Today, let’s look up, and count the stars, as it were. With Abram and Sarai, of old. Let us try to see what they saw, and have hope. 

This little scene, read for us today by Bev, is but one moment in the saga of Abram and Sarai in these chapters of Genesis. There have already been promises from God, and there will be more. And what actually happens to these old folks is a bit of a soap opera. At this moment, though, Abram gets inspired by the promise that he will have descendants – by the million – and a place for them to call home. Even though he was still an old man with no children.

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 

‘Do not fear.’ A common Bible phrase, it starts a few special speeches. In other words: it’s good news! Instead of “Hear the word of the LORD,” or “Woe unto you…,” it’s “Do not fear.” So, relax; something good is going to happen!

When we study the Christian ‘Good News,’ in the broadest sense, we see it is ‘good news’ for many individual people. And personal good news is something many people sure could use. 

2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 

Abram and Sarai are gettin up there, so how on earth will they have a family and a huge number of descendants in the future? Read the next chapters and you will find out! 

We can’t read ahead into the next chapters of our lives, or those we care about, can we? So our present, and our past, have a big influence on how we feel today about life. What we are accomplishing. What’s next for us. What’s good. 

What if we don’t see signs of good news? What will my legacy be? What is the purpose of life? Most of us have moments like Abram did, moments of not much hope. Just can’t believe certain good things are ever going to happen. 

I think about my own sense of purpose. You might think I am happy-go-lucky and quite positive about my work here, what I am accomplishing, how I am helping, making a difference. Well, no, not really. For the most part I am ‘ho hum’ about my ministry here now. I do really enjoy life here, with you, and our community. But what difference am I making? 

Some days I feel the things I want to accomplish get no response. The ways I want to teach and guide don’t get a following. I look back at more than six years and see one baptism. One. And that of a young person who was moving away – far away – and did go. I find myself enjoying hiking and doing plant research more than working on prayer, and how we care, and the music we share. 

“O Lord God, what will you give me?” Like Abram, I ask what are the fruits of my labours? Or how to work differently in this corner of the vineyard.

Perhaps you are like me and compare yourself with others. Rev. Dr. George Allen died the other day. 107 ½ years of life, and to the end, an inspiring pastor. He was your interim pastor here once upon a time. I have heard so much about him. How could I compare myself to such a beloved man of God? Oh, to be such a storyteller. Oh, to be such a caring man with an amazing memory. Oh, to be able to speak off the cuff, without a note, so effectively!

Let’s take a break, and pay tribute to this man. Here is a recording of him when he was only 105 years of age, telling a joke… (starting at about 1:00)

You know where Mabou is? Well, in Mabou there was a fellow by the name of Joshua, Joshua MacPherson. And you know that was back in the days when they had stills, and they go in the woods and produce a little whiskey? Well, sir, Joshu had a still out in the woods, back of Mabou. Someone called up one of the Constables, and told him about it. So he went up and he caught them, he caught them right at their work. So he said, “I have to give you a summons, to go into Mabou to Court, on a certain day.” 

So they went to court on a certain day. And the judge looked at old Joshua and thought he’d have some fun. So he said, “I see your name is Joshua.”  

“Yes.” 

“Are you that Joshua, in the Bible, that made the sun stand still?” 

The old fellow says, “No, Judge, I’m not that Joshua that made the sun stand still. I’m the Joshua from Mabou who made the moonshine.”

Last year, I paid George Allen a visit. I had never met him before. We chatted about a few things; he asked about a number of you, here at Digby Baptist. And… I didn’t remember, but he remembered, that we had met. A decade ago, at a funeral at Windsor Baptist Church. His memory, at 106, was better than mine!

When it is all said and done, the great ones among us are here to inspire and lead and encourage us, not to make us feel inferior. That was one of the gifts of George Allen: the positive push to help us along. 

And so, old Abram was encouraged and inspired, in his vision that day. 5 [God] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 

Friday, you may remember, was a cloudy, windy day, half-filled with blowing drizzle. Saturday morning I got up at ten to six, and looked out the windows at the clear black sky and all the stars. Out one window I think there was a bright planet among them. Out another window was the constellation Orion, and then, for just a half second, a shooting star!

We too must listen for the inspiring promises, the visions of hope and purpose, the long-view of things. This is what broke through to Abram that day. It was one of a succession of special moments for him and Sarai, over the course of many years. Yes, their legacy would be great. 

To be blessed and be the people of blessing was what they had been promised a few years before. Yet – think about it – the great blessing of their lives would be mostly after, and long after, they were dead.

The good things for us and from us may be here beyond our lifetimes! Our legacy, the good we have done in the world, just may happen to make a bigger difference in people’s lives after we too are dead. Sometimes this is the plan. But that is no reason to despair or be disappointed. It may be our calling to be a good ancestor. Ever get joy from the thoughts of being a good ancestor? Leaving this world better than it was before your life?

Notice what ole Abram did. 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Believing the impossible. More than once, Abram dreamed the impossible dream. Today, there are millions of ‘children of Father Abraham’ and mother Sarah. So, John the Baptizer was right when he said that God could make a child of Abraham out of a rock. Most of us are not of Jewish ancestry, or out of the Hebrew Faith. Yet, from Sarai and Abram came a Faith, and then a Messiah who is for us also. We all get grafted in, adopted, healed deeply into the family of God.

Now, I must make one more point. Just because Abram and Sarai got this promise does not mean you and I, and tons of people today, get the same message. “Look up and count the stars: YOUR legacy will be INCREDIBLE!’ No, not necessarily. Yet we can all be stars that were counted; stars that count for something. ‘Look up and count the stars…” We are each one of those stars that count for something.

I end by switching from stars to starfish and this well-known tale. https://www.thestarfishchange.org/starfish-tale

IT ALL STARTED WHEN… A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,

“Well, I made a difference for that one!”

You do not need to leave a huge legacy, or accomplish an impossible mission to make a difference. You do not need to be a Sara or an Abraham. You do need to listen to the call of God upon your life. Do you hear the call to make a difference – in your own way – and be one of those shining stars Abram saw? It is the call of Christ, saying, “Come, follow me. Take up your cross. I will give you rest. Make disciples.”

Go, make a difference to someone!

PRAYERS Let us pray with these themes.

D – Disease & Disasters: help!

I – Intervention: do something!

G – Guidance: help people find the way.

B – Born Again: we need new beginnings.

Y – You: let us simply rest in You.

Amen.

Sept 13: Good and Evil

Welcome to this post with Children’s Time, Sermon, and Prayers for Sunday, September 13, 2020.

What do you see at first glance? 

What do you see when you first glance at the world? Good, or evil? At humanity? And at yourself, deep inside? GOOD or EVIL? How much of both?

We start the whole story of the Bible today with some fundamental stories, including some of the primary stories of good and evil. There is so much we could explore and talk about in Genesis two and three! Let’s wade right into what is right and what is wrong. 

On Labour Day I was talking with my parents, and Mom got into the terrible news from her hometown, Oshawa, ON. A man shot his sister and most of her family members, at home, killing four of them, and them himself. One of mom’s brothers still lives in Oshawa, and – this is typical of Uncle Don – he drove up to the neighbourhood to check things out. He saw a Global TV news crew, went right up to talk to them, and get ‘the scoop’ on what they knew. My mother’s side of the family are quite the news hounds.

So, Mom talked about what she and Don had talked about on the phone, and the whole thing. “How could someone do such a thing!” she said, as we all say, when such events happen. It is so terrible, it does not make sense to us.

The good in people and the evil in people are things we have our own perspective on, and try to figure out. So it has always been, of course. And thus, we have in our spiritual tradition the stories of God and Adam and Eve. The creation, and ‘the fall,’ as they are called, we tell in our sacred scriptures. The ongoing battle of good and evil is always with us, and these formative Bible stories are a touchstone for us. They ground us. They influence us – as they should. They reveal what is real to us, in us, and about us.

You know, the problem in Eden was not the apple on the tree. No. It was the pair on the ground!

Adam and Eve, in Genesis 3, get something that is trouble, from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is not just a story about two people, long, long ago. It is a story about all of us, about each one of us. We know, from our own experience, what good and evil are. We are surrounded by them, we have them inside ourselves. 

I think of a friend and former deacon of one of my past churches. He is a brilliant man, with deep, even charismatic Christian experience. He was a strategist. He was involved in children’s ministry with puppets and clowning. He studied the scriptures, alone and in small groups. He and his wife share the gift of hospitality. 

Then, one day, he inappropriately touches his own granddaughter. He immediately reports himself. He does time in prison. His relationship with his children and grandchildren gets wrecked and cut off. But life goes on. The redemptive work of Christ goes on, in his life, even though some bridges are now burned and he can never cross again.

Alongside our questions about how good and how evil we people are, is the issue of creation, of nature. How good and how bad is nature? How good or bad are we treating it, we also ask.

More than a week ago I happened to find the dead body of a large animal on an isolated stretch of rocky beach. Perhaps you have seen dead seals, or even at some time, a dead whale, washed up on shore, starting to decay. I have.

From a distance, I saw this, and with my binoculars, I figured it was a small whale. As I got closer, I realized it was not. It was a sea turtle! A large, Leatherback Sea Turtle. Dead, with front flippers totally wrapped and entangled in fishing rope. 

It can be an amazing thing to find such a creature, in such a state. It is fascinating. It is rare. It is frightening. It is sad. It is amazing. 

The next day, I got in touch with the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, gave them all the information I could tell them, and sent my photos. They sent some fisheries officers there to collect the fishing gear, take measurements, and a DNA sample of the animal. 

The day after that, I hiked there again, at low tide, with a friend, to see if we could see it. No. It was gone. Washed farther up or down the shore. Free of all that rope, the body was free to move.

Of course, every Leatherback Sea Turtle dies. Every Right Whale dies. Every Herring Gull and every Sparrow dies, eventually. But when we, people, cause it, it seems wrong. Is it wrong? Is it not good? Is it evil?

I happened to talk on the phone to a pastor friend about this last week. “What is evil?” I wondered out loud, with him. ‘A shark attacks a giant turtle and kills it: is that wrong? Is that evil? But if we kill one off with our fishing gear, is that bad?’ My pastor friend, who came from South Carolina, loves Digby scallops. I asked him, ‘What if we scrape up live scallops from the Fundy floor, shuck them in half while still alive, and cut out the big muscle, the meat? It is so delicious. But is that wrong? Evil?’ 

“No,” he said, of course; and he still expects me to bring a pound of fresh scallops when I come up the Valley, next trip. 🙂

My anecdote takes us, as a segue, to nature, ‘Nature red in tooth and claw,” as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, put it. Coyotes eat deer, and snowshoe hare, and other animals. Coyotes are carnivores. Or, we see a beautiful little butterfly. It lands in a big spider’s web, gets wrapped up, paralized, and eaten up by the spider. What’s good or bad about these happenings? They are natural, we might say. 

Some folks who study scripture would wonder – and then suppose – that in Eden, before ‘the Fall,’ the animals did not eat one another. That violence did not happen until Adam and Eve sinned, just as thorns did not grow until after, and so forth.

Well, I am not going to wade into the turbulent waters of that sort of debate, today. I simply want us to look at this scripture saga, which helps us come face to face with the fact that there is harm and violence and wrong and deception and lying and death in our world. And in us. Our God needs us to know this, so that we may then remain in God’s care and keeping.

Genesis two and three have many important words we could consider, for a long time. We could spend a whole sermon on the word ‘adam/Adam’ or ‘YHWH/ the LORD,’ or ‘adamah/dust’ or ‘selah/rib/side.’ The one word I kept being drawn back to, this past week, was ‘shamar/keep/guard/take care/watch over.’ 

One of the good things about humankind, is the keeping or tending of the garden, described in Genesis 2. After things go wrong, there is still caring and working the land, but it is outside Eden, and is harder work. Chapter 2: YHWH God took the man and put him in the garden of eden to till and keep it. Chapter 3: cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life… 

This is but the beginning of our story. We have this whole book to tell the story. All the way through, there are moments when God breaks in to keep and guard, to protect and nurture humans. 

As in Psalm 121, today. We read parts, which said:

God guards you from every evil,

he guards your very life.

He guards you when you leave and when you return,

he guards you now,

he guards you always.

We sang it translated with these phrases:

No careless slumber shall his eyelids close,

who keepth thee.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true…

He whom we adore

Shall keep thee henceforth, yeah, forevermore.

This God, from whom we get separated, with whom we have a falling out, is One who comes to us, to keep us, to guard us, to protect and nurture us. There are many stories of this, culminating with that of Jesus, Godself, as one of us. 

It is because we are broken that we rejoice in God the Fixer. It is because we are separated and isolated that we rejoice in God the Reuniter. It is because we are hurting that we rejoice in God the Healer. It is because we have nastiness inside that we rejoice in God the Lover of our souls. And, as in the prayer Jesus taught, we can forgive others as we have been forgiven by God our Saviour.

As one of our good things, in the image of God, is to keep and take care of creation; so we see our Beautiful Master is good in the care and keeping of us, and all things. Though the world falls apart, our Saviour works to bring all things and all good together. In the name of Jesus, we even get welcomed back into that work, back onto the team of God. 

The terrible fall, seen in the story of Adam and Eve, is finally picked up and repaired by the Second Adam. The Apostle Paul called Jesus the Second Adam. And so He is. What got wrecked, and what we wreck today, gets repaired by Him. 

So, when God looks in your direction: do you feel ‘He’ sees good or evil first? 

The One we worship looks upon us and says: ‘I want to keep you, guard you, nurture you, bless you.’ I even sacrifice Myself – My Son – for you.

Hallelujah! Amen.

PRAYERS We have done this before, let’s do it again: look at our stained-glass windows to guide our conversation with God. With eyes open, let us pray.

We look up, God we worship, to the picture of a musical instrument, like King David played. Help us do this well, when we gather here. Despite the limitations of our gathings, let our spirits soar, and see You with awe and wonder. Bless other congregations that are just starting, now, to gather in person, such at Trinity Anglican: may they not be discouraged.

We look up, God of Rescue, to the Ark that Noah and family, and the whole family of animals, rode in on the waters, many days. Among all the living things of creation we can see and think and understand the wonders of earth. We see our ability and responsibility to tend and keep creation. O give us humble perspective on being co-creators with You.

We also pray for your rescuing help for friends in trouble – their health fails, their circumstances are troubled, or their sins try to defeat them. Today we intercede for Mary Warner, and all who must receive extra oxygen to keep them breathing well: bless every breath they take.

We look up, God of Sacrifice, to an altar with a burning sacrifice upon it. You call us to be living sacrifices, in the name of Jesus. May we give our attention, our resources, our skills, & our hearts, to the help of others in this world, in Jesus’ name.

The fire on the altar reminds us also of the actual fires that burn with destruction, on the west coast of the USA, and other places. Have mercy, we pray!

We look over, God of Christ crucified, to the cup of wine, that Jesus shared before His death. A glass of wine is so attractive to so many people, and they lift their glasses high to celebrate and be joyful. May we drink deeply in our souls from Jesus, and be extremely happy when He is at hand! For those who are ill, may there be real joy in knowing You are near. We pray for John, Dottie, Bobby, Faye, Jack, Mary, Terry, Marilyn, and others…

We look over, God of rule and kingdom, to the Crown of Jesus. We pray, as scripture teaches, for all those who govern us, around our world. There are elections coming up, here, and in the USA, and other places. We call out for justice to be done, for freedom to grow, for common sense and a sense of responsibility to prevail, in these troubled days. And let there be healing among the nations, and for the suffering people of the globe.

We look back, God of life, and see an image of the Ten Commandments. We are reminded of so many rules and guidelines, and of how we keep or break them. But on the other side we see a picture of the Holy Bible, and we give thanks that You continue to speak to us, guiding our way, and giving a forgiving word to our souls.

So we look back, God our Good Shepherd, to our glass image of Jesus carrying a sheep. We end, confessing that we know all we like sheep have gone astray. There is still wrong going on inside us; there is still wrong being done to us. 

Be our Redeeming Shepherd again, this day, and always. By You love and power, Triune God: Father, Son & Spirit. AMEN.

Worship, Sept 6

Children’s Time: Beachcombing

SERMON: The Big Story (Psalm 136; Acts 13:15-33) – Jeff White

One week ago, at this moment, Sharon and I worshipped with another church in our area. They met indoors, inside their building, like we do. Here, we use only one in three pews, in order to be physically distanced. The church we visited used every second pew. I guess two metres is shorter in their building. It was made clear to us we must sit in a pew without a cushion on it. Here, we leave the cushions on the only seats to be sat upon. Also, we entered wearing masks, but were told we could take them off once we sat down in a pew. Here, unless we are the one person speaking, or singing, we keep them on. 

It is clear that local groups of Christians are understanding the provincial guidelines for this state of emergency differently – sometimes with the fair opposite interpretation!

Christians following the Bible can be like local Churches following pandemic recommendations. One church says ‘drink no alcohol, ever,’ another actually serves alcohol, at least at their communion service. One church baptizes with water only people grown up enough to agree to follow Jesus, another gives baptism to infants before they can speak one word. One church puts women in leadership at every level, just like men; another church allows only men to lead and preach; and another allows only single, celebate men to be in those roles.

And we all claim to be following God and the Holy Bible. So, surely, all we, believers, have got some things wrong, and only God’s got it all right.

Thus, we keep meeting, keep studying, keep praying, to know better. To know how to do this better. To know God better personally. We keep reading scripture, and work on it together; we never stop.

I have been convinced, for years, that one key to knowing the Bible is to see the Big Picture. Get to know the big story – the ‘metanarrative’ – and then see how the smaller parts fit within it: the books, the chapters, the verses.

My Old Testament professor, Dr. Timm Ashley, would tell us: ‘The three most important things for understanding a Biblical text are these: 1. the context. 2. the context. 3. the context! 

The context is the big picture. You read one Bible verse and ask, ‘who said this, who wrote it? When? And why? What happened before and after? Where does this fit in the whole scheme of things?’ There is a ‘whole scheme of things’ here.

One verse or story, even a whole chapter, can be misused when quoted. Remember what Satan does with a scripture verse when tempting Jesus in the wilderness? He suggests the wrong thing to do – using the Bible. Jesus knows the whole thing, the big pic.

There are times, in the scripture story, when the big picture gets summarized, and remembered, and celebrated. Such as in the historical Psalms: 78; 105, 106 & 107; 114; 135 & 136, which we recited today. We see summaries in the preaching of the New Testament apostles. As in what Paul said in Pisidian Antioch, that Heather read today. In this case, Paul is preaching about Jesus, and uses the whole story of the Hebrews and their God to lead to Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah. 

What a preacher like Paul gives is a summary; he selects certain things from the whole story to mention. Of course, what’s recorded here in Acts 13 of Paul’s sermon is but a short synopsis; surely his actual sermon that day was more than three minutes long!

The story is told of a special Church meeting and dinner that was being held, and near the end of the meeting, the pastor stood up to offer a few closing remarks, which became quite long-winded. As he rambled on, he lost his place in his notes for the third time. “Now where was I?” he asked, scratching his beard.  To the delight of the audience, one person spoke up and said, “In conclusion!”

When you see the bigger picture, and understand the context of a piece of the Bible you are reading, you can know how the idea you see fits into the whole thing. You can discover if it is part of one of the big themes, the main ideas. Or, if it is a smaller point to ponder. A minority report. A dissenting voice among the majority. All these things are here in these pages. 

For instance, it can be easy, and comforting, to quote verses that speak of how protected and safe we shall be. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I will not lack anything.’ Yet there is a right time and a wrong time for such words. 

Just look at that scene from Matthew 4 of Jesus tempted in the wilderness. At one point, Satan quotes Psalm 91:11. ‘For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.’ Now, there is nothing wrong with Psalm 91. Peter and I have even sung a version of it as a duet. But, that moment, in a Palestenian wilderness, Jesus rejects what Satan is suggesting, using Psalm 91. Jesus answers with another verse, this one from Deuteronomy 6. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ How a Bible verse gets used matters. 

We see how so many Christians can end up disagreeing with one another about so many things. Using the Bible. But we do not give up! We must not give up on using the scriptures to hear from God. Just because it can become confusing, or upsetting, or mysterious, or challenging, the Holy Bible is still holy and still powerful for us. The work we put into it is worth it. It is a life-long conversation we have with our Master in this amazing text. There is always more to talk about – to pray – in the Spirit.

So, in my preaching plans for the next eight or ten months I intend to use something called the narrative lectionary. Each Sunday, we follow the flow of the whole story in the Bible. We will start with Creation, and by December we will get to the promises of a Messiah. After Christmas, we will follow the story of Jesus, and of the apostles taking the Church to the world. I hope and pray this will give us a good perspective on holy scripture, refresh our sense of holy history, and ‘the big picture.’

And many times we will end up as Paul did in Pisidian Antioch. With Christ: crucified, buried, risen, and visible! Paul concludes his message saying:

Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this [Jesus] everyone who believes is set free from all [those sins] from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (A13:38-39)

On the bulletin cover today we have a copy of a Victorian painting that is framed, in black and white, in our Parlour: ‘The Soul’s Awakening,’ by James Sant. The portrait in the Parlour was donated by the family of Marie Woolaver, I believe, years ago. The girl in the picture is, apparently, awakening to faith in Jesus, with a small Bible in her hands. The Big Story of holy scripture, and many Bible moments of which we read in the verses, can still have a deep influence upon the human soul. 

We now gather at the Lord’s Table for communion – for fellowship – with Jesus. Here we tell, with bread and juice, the story of Christ. For us Christians, His story puts the Big Picture of the Bible in perspective.

PRAYERS: Omniscient God: seeing and knowing all – we quiet ourselves under Your gaze, in the light of Your countenance. We have praised You for the great story of Faith You have shared with us, and now we focus upon the centre of the story, the Saviour, Jesus, and His saving actions. 

As we look toward the table of our Lord, we pray from here for ourselves and the whole world. We ask for those who are not asking. We seek You for those who are not even seeking. We hope and have faith for the sake of many who are without hope or confidence in Christ. 

Life is changing, God. It always does. For some life has gotten harder: there have been losses, hurts, troubles, fears. Be the strength of the weak, the wisdom of the confused, the way for the lost. In this ‘state of emergency’ getting sick is harder, for the help and the treatments are more arduous. Have mercy.

Spirit – working in our midst – on this Labour Day weekend we pray for all who work, especially those whose work has become more challenging this year. Today we pray in particular for teachers and workers in schools and colleges, and for all the students – those in classrooms and those at home. From day to day, may You remind us that education is not easy for anyone right now. So make us into encouragers and supporters, not critics and fearmongers.

God: Perfect Parent of all peoples: the civil unrest, the calls for justice, the acting out in anger over evil continues from day to day. To You, all lives matter. May we be like You, and see all others through the eyes of Christ. We Protestant Christians are rooted in protests of the past. May we be guided to stand up for others, stand up for what is right and better, and stand up with peacefulness and power in the Spirit. 

O God, how long! How long shall pestilence, & ignorance, and violence, and greed, and disasters crash in upon the world? Oh draw us closer to You, and to one another, for the sake of the beauty You want on this planet. And help us pray. Our Father… AMEN.

New Old Parables: The Lion & Her Cubs

WELCOME to this post for worship on Sunday, August 9, 2020, at Digby Baptist Church. Other information is available in the Bulletin for this Sunday, posted on our Bulletins page here.

Children’s Time: Outhouses / Latrines

SERMON

https://vimeo.com/446234975

So many of these Old Testament ‘parables,’ so called, have been about the rulers in Israel and Judah, and how they done wrong! The King of the Trees, the Thistle and the Cedar, The Two Eagles and the Vine, they criticize or warn or foretell the end of rulers of the people, and sometimes, the end of the people as a people! The late Canadian comedy persona, Charlie Farquaharson, summed it up well when he wrote:

A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the people the same thing: YER DOIN’ IT ALL RONG!!

(Don Harron, Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, 1978)

Today, Ezekiel is telling about some leaders who were doin’ it all wrong. The last kings of Judah and Israel, more than five hundred years before Jesus’ day. They are the whelps of the mother lion.

Once again, a prophet of God speaks with creative imagery the people can/may/will understand. Once again, the poor rulers of the people are called out for their failure, and the demise of the nation is foretold. Young lion one gets taken away to Egypt. Young lion two gets hauled off to Babylonia, his voice never to be heard again on the mountains of Israel. Sure enough, the holy people of a holy land will be conquered, taken away from their land for a season, and the end of their kings will come. 

In fact, the next time they get a king, they will mostly reject him, and kill him off. Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, we believe, He is their long-awaited Messiah, Christ, Anointed One. And our Saviour too.

What I chose for us to hear from Jesus today were more harsh words for those in leadership in His own day and age. ‘The blind leading the blind,’ as we know the phrase. His parable here really is about what comes out of the mouth showing the problem in a person, not what they put in. As Jesus speaks with His disciples, he tells them to let the Pharisees be, “they are blind guides of the blind.” 

Whether we compare Christ with the royal leaders of His past, or with the religious experts of His own religion, we look to see how and why Jesus’ way is better. Better than the political and military kings of Israel and Judah. Better than the Jewish Priests and Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees – all so religious and so expert and so holy in their own eyes.

We read of the experience of those who got to know Jesus best. Back in the Bible, and in the centuries after. So many people – millions and millions, actually – can tell how convinced they have been about Jesus. What Jesus accomplished for them was the best thing. Where Jesus leads them is the best way in this life. 

As we speak of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the final and best Messiah, our ‘Prophet, Priest and King,’ our ‘Saviour, Teacher, Lord and Friend,’ we speak using titles for leaders of the past. We speak Biblical names for God. 

One of those titles is Lion, the Lion of Judah. Ezekiel’s tale of the two young lions brings this to mind immediately. Those lions of old were failures, and were captured. The greater Lion of Judah is mentioned in Revelation 5. Jesus, the Lion. 

Take a look with me, for two minutes, at Rev. 5, and what happens in the scenes dreamed here. John visions a scroll sealed with 7 seals, but oh no!, there is no one worthy to open this scroll. John weeps. 

Then, verse 5, one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

So what does John see next in his vision? The Lion! Right? No, wrong. He does not see a Lion. Vs. 6. Then I saw… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes… 

The Lamb took the scroll. The Elders and other creatures bow down in worship, singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation…

Christ Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. The image of Him as the sacrificed Lamb takes over the rest of Revelation. Jesus wins, not by violence, not by battle, but by sacrifice, by dying. And from this comes Life!

A number of hymns, ancient and modern, speak of Christ this biblical way. Such as…

And age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the End
Beginning and the End
The Godhead three in one
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

(Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves © 2004 sixsteps Music)

How great is our God! How great is our Jesus. In Him was life! And that life is the light of us all. (Jn 1:4) Christ outshines all others. 

All the parables, all the stories and visions that point to Jesus, use so many images. A Lion, a Lamb, a Grape Vine, a Farmer, Bread, Flowing Water, Light, a Shepherd, a Door. And many other stories can be told of this One who dispenses with evil and death, for us.

I want to tell a story. I love these stories, stories by a preacher named Michael Lindvall. This is from one chapter of his novel about a preacher, David, and his family, a novel called ‘Leaving North Haven.’ 

In this chapter, Pastor David is out and about on a cold, Easter Sunday morning…

The wet snow crunched under my boots. It was everywhere untrodden, virgin. This preacher, like Mary Magdalene, was the first one up. Light was just cracking the horizon, deep dawn an inch before sunrise. Lifting my coffee cup to my lips, I looked down at the snow in front of me and saw tracks, perfection had been disturbed by light feet, wandering, paying no heed to where the sidewalk might lie under the snow. They led away toward the church, going on before me. Sometime in the night, perhaps just a moment ago, another deer had wandered into town. By the look of the prints, it was a good-sized animal, probably a buck. I was not the first one up on Easter morning after all.

I followed the tracks for a while — they were leading me where I was going anyway— until they turned aside into Bud Jennerson’s driveway. 

As I mused, the buck stepped out in front of me from behind an overgrown yew at the far corner of the next house… I gasped and dropped my half-full coffee mug, which landed quietly on the snow- covered grass next to the sidewalk. For two, maybe three seconds, an eternity to be sure, he stood in my path and looked at me. His brown-black eyes held mine defiantly… I looked between and above the eyes, and there in the hair that covered the hard cartilage at the base of his antlers was a scar. It was an ugly bald crater less than an inch across. No blood now; but it was just where it would be. 

He snorted as he raised his head and turned away, quite casually. Then he didn’t so much as bolt as he leaped three times with early morning grace, turned to me again, and walked delicately so as to say, “I do not fear you.” I stood stock still as I watched him retreat, away from town now, north. I bent over to retrieve the empty Dunkin’ Donuts mug at my feet. Coffee stained the snow around it like old dried blood. 

So when I climbed into the pulpit three hours later, I began not where I had planned, but where I had been led. 

As best as words allowed, I described [the buck’s] defiant eyes, and then I noted the scar at the base of his rack. “It was a ten-point rack,” I said.” I didn’t count this morning. I didn’t need to. I had counted them before.”

[The congregation] knew that the minister went hunting with the Wilcox boys last fall. They also knew that he had lost Jimmy’s Winchester out in woods north of town, the very gun his father had given him for his eighteenth birthday. But just how I came to lose it in the woods they did not know. 

“You know that the Wilcox boys and I went deer hunting last fall,” I went on. “Right here in the county. Just for a day. We went out just before dawn the Saturday after opening day. We had our coffee by the truck. Lamont and I went off to the east over a cornfield toward some low-lying sumac and popple next to a stand of maples just beyond the old Goerke farm. ”

As I told the tale I did not mention that, though I had never before hunted game bigger than snipe, I was in fact a rather good shot. Thirty-some years ago my father, grasping for some father and son activity I would deign to share with him, had hit upon skeet shooting. My father said I was a natural. 

I continued: “Well, Larry drove a big buck out of the wood. Lamont and I were still crossing the corn stubble. The deer pushed his way through the underbrush to the edge of the sumac and stood there, not fifty yards from us. Lamont said to me, ‘David, he’s yours.’ I aimed between the eyes, a clear shot and a clean kill. He bowed to me ever so slightly as I pulled the trigger. He dropped right there. Lamont and I ran across the corn stubble. He lifted the animal’s head by the rack and counted the points on his antlers. ‘Ten-point Pastor. Not bad, not bad at all. And lookie here, almost hit him between the eyes. Just a little high. must be a natural!’ Larry arrived a moment later, with his camera, of course… Larry said a photo was a must and that there was only one way to do it. He told me to kneel down and hold up the buck’s head by his rack. Then he told Lamont to lay my rifle, actually Jimmy Wilcox’s 94 Winchester 30-30, horizontally across the antlers. 

I knelt beside the animal, warm and still. His head was heavier than I had imagined. It was awkward to lift and hold still. Lamont laid the rifle across the rack and moved back beside his brother who was focusing and deciding whether or not to use the flash. He held up his hand, took a step back, and said, ‘Hold it right there.’ The flash went off… and with a start, the buck shook his antlers free of my hands. He struggled powerfully to his feet as I fell back on my rear. He snorted and jerked his head back. Then he turned and leapt three times toward the tangle of sumac. But before he went back into the woods beyond, he turned and looked at me. His dark, glass-like eyes held nothing so much as defiance. His antlers held nothing but Jimmy’s Winchester 30-30. He went into the woods carrying the very instrument of his death high and proud.”

It was defiance that I preached, for Easter is just that. This one bold creature of God had mocked death once and mocked me twice. Resurrection, I preached, is the forever mocking of the last enemy. Until this morning, I had always imagined the Risen Christ with compassion in his eyes; now I imagine raw defiance.

(Michael Lindvall, Leaving North Haven: The further Adventures of a Small-Town Pastor, 2002, pp. 120-129)

In 609 BCE, King Jehoash of Judah could not defy Egypt: he was taken captive. In 586 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah could not defy Babylon: he was taken captive, and the Jewish nation finally fell. 

In 2020 CE, Bolsonaro, Kovind, Trump and others cannot defy a virus. Where the pandemic story ends is yet to be written, from our viewpoint.

But back about 30 CE (30 AD), Jesus of Nazareth defied evil and defied death. He looked them right in the face. He came through it all, and did what He did to bring us through it all too. 

He is the Lion and the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12)

New Old Parables: The Love Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard

Welcome to this post of parts of our August 2nd worship service. Video will be included on Sunday afternoon, after the 11 am service in our church building. Welcome! This is our first Sunday with masks mandated, though, thankfully, those speaking can remove them to offer their ministry.

SERMON Perhaps you could say it was ‘bait and switch’ when young Isaiah declared he would share a love song, but used the ballad to speak a severe warning from Almighty God to the people of power. ‘The Love Song of the Fruitless Vineyard.’ Let’s hear it. Isaiah 5:1-10

Too many stories can be told of people given a certain responsibility, yet then they abuse their power. The national and provincial news is filled with this. 

Isaiah’s early message to the people is this song of his dear friend’s vineyard. His beloved friend is God. In the ballad, the well-tended grape vines surprisingly produce a nasty crop – sour, wild grapes. 

As I look at a social media page about gardening, I see people all the time asking “what is this plant?” One person says: “Found some old seed in a drawer  planted it  anybody have any idea what this is    thanks”. It looks to me like ragweed! Another wrote:

Anyone know what these giant plants are amongst my beans? A friend gave me the seeds so not 100% sure other vegetables might have been mixed in. She is very knowlesge I have a feeling the seeds and possible flower that appears to be forming on top is a sign of a weed.  The plant looks like pigweed to me!

So in the fruitless vineyard. The only grapes were inedible. What we are calling the Parable of the Fruitless Vineyard speaks to the failures of the people of God in every age. The best response to such a word, such a warning, is to rise up in forgiveness and make right the wrongs.

Let me tell you a story from our history. It may not sound like ‘our’ story, but it is. The story of Huatajata, a rural place in Bolivia, South America.

When I am at my little cottage, I think of Bolivia, because of a painting on the wall. The painting of a sunset – or is it a sunrise? No matter. It was painted by Rev. Earl C. Merrick, who served as a missionary in Bolivia. He showed amazing leadership in Bolivia, in the farmland of Huatajata, in the 1930s.

Canadian Baptist work in Bolivia goes back more than 120 years, now. In the north west, on the shores of the grand lake Titicaca, some visionary people of faith invested their lives in a mission there, among peasant farmers. I’ve been there; visited ten years ago. 

Just over a hundred years ago, a thousand acre farm was bought, and named Peniel Hall: Peniel meaning ‘the face of God,’ from Genesis 32. On this land, about fifty heads of households and 275 serfs lived and worked. The Baptists believed in helping the people be educated, and be introduced to the protestant Christian faith. 

After some ups and downs in the work there, by 1920 the full administration of the farm came under Canadian Baptist leadership. The first administrator there, and one of the teachers, was a Miss Lavinia Wilson, who was from where? Digby, NS!

Other Canadian Baptists went to serve there, and to lead that work, high in the thin air of the Andes Altiplano. Modernization of the farm and education of children developed. Preaching in other communities was extended. It was in 1935 that Earl Merrick was sent to Huatajata, to be administrator. Arturo Nacho writes, in his brief history:

This illustrious missionary perceived ethical problems in the project because, on one hand, the missionaries were preaching about the love of God, and on the other hand, the tenants continued as slaves. In the Annual Reports of the Mission, 1929-1930, this situation was referred to as “a conspiracy against the gospel.”

…Merrick proposed a five-year plan for the liberation of the serfs. 

  • wage pay to the laborers, and no free labor
  • construction of decent housing
  • planting of eucalyptus trees
  • adherence to behavioural morals

The project began in 1937, and the day came when the laborers received their property title-deeds. One after another, they walked by in line to receive the property documents, and they heard the significant words, “I declare you the legitimate owner of this property.” It was the year 1942…

One old gentleman, Martin Chura, said through his tears, “Thirty years ago, when I was crossing the top of the mountain, I begged God for liberty. Today, God has answered by prayer.”

This work had universal consequences. It was the first agrarian reform in Bolivia, which the Bolivian government subsequently took as a model for the 1953 Decree of Agrarian Reform in Bolivia.

(Atruro Nacho L., ‘Agrarian Reform in Huatajata, in Bridging Culture and Hemispheres, William H. Brackney, Ed., 1997, pp. 61-62)

Appreciation and accolades for Earl Merrick, and this Baptist work, came from around the world. This is our story. A story of the reversal of the rich ones who ‘join house to house and field to field,’ as Isaiah put it. And it is the story of growing Faith in people. The vineyard of Bolivia has borne fruit for Christ.

When you read the rest of Isaiah chapter 5, you discover it is not just the greedy land grabbers who are warned. There are six woes upon those who have done wrong: the land-grabbers, the heavy drinkers, the God-mocking sinners, those who’ve lost their moral discretion, those wise in their own eyes, and the drinkers again (wine-drinking heroes, they’re called). 

As it was, almost three thousand years ago, so it is today. God expects justice from those walking with God; God expects right-living, not bloodshed and loud cries for justice!

This takes us to Jesus, and his words from Matthew 21 today. Another parable. Another vineyard. More bloodshed! Another warning. And another hope for those who will receive the Kingdom. 

To modern Christians, Jesus’ story of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants clearly seems to foreshadow His own rejection and violent death. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 

As if that would allow them to get the property! And yet, when Jesus dies his own death, and comes back to life, it is those whose sin He bears that do inherit the Kingdom! Think of all the evangelical Christian music that points out how Christ is crucified by all of us, and yet the heavenly inheritance is for us. Amazing, gracious, powerful, humbling, loving, incomprehensible! One modern worship song says:

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

(Stuart Townend, 1995)

And there are many songs that speak of how “I drove the nails” when Jesus was executed. This personal expression of piety is a form of confession, I’d say. Confession that the harm and hurt inside us is what separates us from God, and is what led to Jesus’ death, and also is what is healed and cleared away by His sacrifice. 

We heard the classic rock song, “Spirit in the Sky,” composed by a secular Jew, using basic Christian teaching. For fifty years one line has caught the attention of church folk, and upset them. 

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky

(Norman Greenbaum)

Whether Norman Greenbaum knows it or not, I think he did catch the spirit of 2 Corinthians 5. For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2C5:21) I think the key to making the claim of the song is ‘I got a friend in Jesus.’ It all depends upon the Saviour. 

We hear the common teaching that what Christ does for us cleanses us, makes us to be counted as ‘not guilty,’ and sets us free from the power of sin. We become ‘right with God,’ and as if we are not sinners and had never sinned. Jesus’ righteousness gets put upon us. 

I think the tension remains. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) To sing ‘Never been a sinner; I never sinned,’ is saying something about Jesus more than about me. I rely upon God for forgiveness and freedom of spirit. It is saying something about my status now, thanks to Jesus, not about my past. 

For, as Isaiah and Jesus both preached, my story and yours is filled with the problems we heard about today. Greed. Treating other people like lesser beings. Moral failures. Paying no attention to God. Being overly confident in our own smidgen of wisdom. 

We fail, but with Jesus Christ we are not counted as failures. We are successes! And the success is shown when we bear the good fruit of the Kindom. The Bible’s story of God tells us, over and over, God will accomplish the mission – with or without us! Others will be found to join in, if we do not.

 You may remember, in other pages of the Bible, Jesus speaking of being the great vine, and we are the branches. It is we, the little branches, who bear the beautiful fruit. It is not wild, sour grapes that we bear, when we are grafted into Christ. 

And, turning our lives over, we, little twigs, get grafted in, and are part of the beautiful vineyard, for eternity. Praise God! This is worth celebrating. This is worth sharing. This is why we worship, in pew and at home. This is why we remember Jesus with bits of bread and sips of grape juice. Amen!

PRAYERS Let us   pray.

At the table of the Saviour – Christ crucified and risen – we lift our hearts in prayer. As the wheat covered the hills, and was gathered to become one bread for us today, so let Your church be gathered, no matter how separated we are for safety’s sake. As the grapes came to harvest and make one drink for us all, so let goodness flow from all your people, in the name of Jesus.

Let there be goodness for our own fellowship, especially those we are asked to pray for today… (in the bulletin)

Let there be goodness for those who do research to combat COVID-19. Do healing work through them, O God.

Let there be goodness for those who are oppressed or disrespected, abused or alone. Strengthen them, and those who support them.

Let there be goodness for people seeking guidance right now, or wisdom in the face of decisions. Come, Holy Spirit.

Let there be goodness for our province and our nation in a time of crisis, when leadership is hard and imperfect, and people working and struggling to do well are worn out.

And let there be goodness in the day-to-day things we do, the words we share, the attention we give to other people. Through the masks, may our eyes and our voices tell the story, the story of Your love and Your way, and Your purpose.

‘God of grace, you invite the despised,
you touch the unclean,
you lift the head
of those who are brought low:
give us that hope against all hope
for a world transformed
by your healing touch;
through Jesus Christ,
the mercy of God. Amen.’
(Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church)

New Old Parables: The Fish in a Net, the Birds in a Snare, & the Poor Wise Man – July 26

Welcome to this sermon blog. For more details from the worship service for this day, and various announcements, check out the bulletin, posted here on the Bulletin page.

SCRIPTURE Matthew 13:31-35, 44-52 – read by Maggie Beveridge

SERMON: ‘The Fish in a Net, the Birds in a Snare, the Poor Wise Man.’ Today, we have read five more of Jesus’ parables from Matthew 13. As we work through the sermon, and have a bit of dialogue, you will get to choose a couple parables to delve into; but first, let’s hear three wise sayings from the Preacher of the book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes 9:12-17

Let us pray…

Qoheleth’s Story of a Poor, Wise Man.

The author of the book we call Ecclesiastes takes the pen name Qoheleth, in Hebrew, which we translate Preacher or Teacher. As book of wisdom, the few, oft quoted bits are surrounded by a lot of rather pessimistic spiritual philosophy. At least, it can come across that way. The little story of the Poor Wise Man is one example from this holy book, filled with irony, futility, and what seems quite negative.

A poor man is wise, wise enough to save his tiny town from the enemy forces besieging it. But no one pays any attention to the poor man. 

At first glance, in most English translations of this text, it seems a story about wisdom not getting the credit. The town is saved, but because the man is poor, he and his wisdom are forgotten. Yet, some of the Hebrew here is, apparently, not so simple. It can be seen to say that the man knew how to save the town, but he was ignored. So the town did not get saved from the enemy after all.

It’s a parable, of sorts, and they often are not crystal clear, on purpose, as we see with Jesus. They challenge. They get one pondering, for a long time. This story can do the same, whether we like the happy or not so happy ending for the town. In either case, the wise fellow is forgotten. It is a warning, a warning about being wise. Using godly wisdom does not guarantee a bed of roses, nor any honour for oneself.

Perhaps the late Eugene Peterson was quite right when he wrote that Ecclesiastes 

…is most emphatically and necessarily in the Bible in order to call a halt to our various and futile attempts to make something of our lives, so that we can give our full attention to God — who God is and what he does to make something of us. Ecclesiastes actually doesn’t say that much about God; the author leaves that to the other sixty-five books of the Bible. His task is to expose our total incapacity to find the meaning and completion of our lives on our own. (The Message, 2003, p.1157)

It is God who gives us the meaning and the completion of our lives. 

Now, there are a couple other images we read today from Ecclesiastes, but let us turn first to another wise Teacher, and some would say poor, not rich: Jesus.

Jesus’ teaching methods included an element of surprise and of reversal: taking common wisdom and turning it around. Two millenia later, and in a very different culture, we can miss the shocking bits of His tales. Especially if we have gotten to know the stories of Jesus from childhood. 

Take the story of ‘The Good Samaritan.’ The ancient term, ‘Samaritan,’ has come to mean a ‘good person,’ right? But when Jesus told his story of the man of Samaria who helped a Jew, the Samaritans were disliked, avoided, and thought of as heretics. 

But that’s not one of today’s stories. We have five, from Matthew 13, this chapter of parables. Which one do you want to explore first?
The Mustard Seed; The Yeast in the Dough;
The Treasure in the Field; The Pearl of Great Price;
The Fishing Net?

Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean? How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What’s strange about this that we might not see? Mustard is a rather weedy plant, and not thought of highly.  There were rules for the Hebrews about not mixing crops as you planted, and how to keep a plant, such as mustard, from becoming a problem. 

Also, the mustard plant sure is not a Cedar of Lebanon. God’s empire is not a dominating cedar of lebanon; it arises as a common, even weedy, garden herb. It is something found in your own backyard.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Rule of God is like a tiny root of Goutweed that arrives in your flowerbed, hidden in a Hosta plant, given to you by a friend. Soon the Goutweed leaves cover the whole ground, and shade the earth from the heat of summer.

Jesus’ Parable of the Yeast in the Dough.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What’s strange about this that we might not see? Yeast is not considered clean or holy in Judaism. Remember the Exodus and the Passover? One was to get rid of all leavened bread. 

Also, the woman hides the yeast in the flour. This is an interesting word choice.

Also, the amount of flour is huge: about fifty pounds! But the same amount was used by other bakers in the Bible: Sarah, when Abraham received the three holy visitors (Gen 18:6); Gideon, when preparing for an angel of God (Jud 6:19); and Hannah, when making an offering for the temple presentation of her son, Samuel (1 Sam 1:24).

Also, we have here a female image of God.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Eternal Kind of Life is like a virus that is smaller than any living thing. It sneaks into a human, and spreads like wildfire throughout the population, until the whole world builds up immunity.

Jesus’ Parable of the Treasure in the Field.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What is strange about this that we might (or might not) see? 

We can ask: is it right or even legal to do what the treasure-finder did? After the days of Jesus, the Jews developed rules about found treasure. It was not an uncommon situation. From the Talmud, Only after one has the land for seven years and if the owner cannot be found can the new owner claim the treasure. (B. B. Scott, Lost Junk, Found Treasure, TBT 26 (1988), pp. 31-34)

Is the finder having just jubilation, or greedy glee?

Jesus’ story highlights the total response of the finder to the discovery of God’s reign. Life with God is worth letting go of everything else. Remember Jesus saying lose your life in order to gain it?

How could you re-tell this story today?

God’s Heaven on Earth is like the computer hacker who chanced upon the most beautiful photograph in the whole world, archived online. She sold everything to buy the rights to that website.

Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

Like the ‘Treasure in the Field,’ this parable tells of the complete value in the eyes of the finder, who found a great pearl, and does everything to get it. In this case, the one who finds was a seeker of pearls, not just one who happened to find a great one. God’s Kingdom is like this story, and the other: some who seek God in this world, and some do not seek, find God.

What is strange about this that we might not see? 

We might forget how merchants in the scriptures are often seen negatively. They can represent greed and unfairness. Also, the wearing of pearls and such finery is often frowned upon. Such as when Paul writes to Timothy, warning that the women should adorn themselves with good conduct, not with gold, pearls and expensive clothes. (1 Tim 2:9)

Yet, even a rich person can earnestly seek God, and find, and be welcomed into the Realm of God’s Rule.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Kindom of Creator is like the investor in search of the best stocks on the market. When he found the low-priced stocks of the most amazing new business, he sold all he had and bought the whole company.

Jesus’ Parable of the Fishing Net.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean? How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What is strange about this that we might not see? 

There is nothing too topsy-turvy or shocking in this parable, unlike in many others Jesus speaks. The word Matthew uses for ‘bad’, of the bad fish, often refers to things that are ‘rotten.’ So playing with the words in our minds we might wonder at some of the freshly caught fish being rotten.

This little tale seems much like Jesus’ parable of the weeds and the wheat. In the End, what’s bad will be separated from the good. 

How could you re-tell this story today?

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like harvesters who entered the orchard and picked apples of every kind. When the bins were full, they took them to the barn, sorted them out, put the good into shipping barrels, but threw out the bad apples. So it will be at the end.

Let us also look at Quoheleth’s Images of the Fish in a Net and the Birds in a Snare.  ‘Time and chance happen to us all,’ is the lesson here. As it says, No one can predict misfortune.
Like fish caught in a cruel net or birds in a trap,
So men and women are caught
By accidents evil and sudden.
(MSG)

Here is a theme that is woven throughout the wisdom of Solomon, who called himself Qoheleth, in Ecclesiastes. Today we might just say: random things happen. There is no explaining the meaning. 

I have been a committed disciple of Jesus for about four decades. Nevertheless, I tend to side with the ‘wise’ Preacher of Ecclesiastes. You just can’t explain why everything happens to us. Some things just happen without ‘meaning’ attached. There is no ‘why did that happen.’ It just happened. 

Yet we are meaning makers, we humans. And the God we grow to know speaks of the meaning and purpose of all things. 

I have been a lover also of nature, and science, natural history and geological history. Nevertheless, as much as I like ‘cause and effect,’ I believe much will remain mysterious for us. We can’t know it all. As the Preacher, Qoheleth, said, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (1:2) And, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. (9:11)

This ‘wisdom’ stands alongside the wisdom of Jesus, such as we see in His parables and other lessons. There is naturally a creative tension between Ecclesiastes and Matthew 13, for instance. Jesus speaks of great purpose and the subtle rule of God, which sneaks in and is unstoppable. 

The fish in the net and the birds in the snare: how might Jesus re-tell us this story today?

No one can anticipate the time of redemption. The Realm of God is like a whale caught in a cruel net, or a seabird caught in an oil spill: suddenly, there is freedom from the ropes as they are cut, and there is washing clean from evil by Jesus Christ! So truth and grace happen to them all.

PRAYERS Let us pray: World In Prayer

New Old Parables: The Two Eagles & the Vine – July 19

Welcome to this sermon blog. For more details from the worship service for this day, check out the bulletin, posted here on the Bulletin page.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – read by Margo Nesbitt

To study the allegory of ‘The Two Eagles & the Vine,’ one should read all of Ezekiel 17. (I’m not sure how I put Isaiah 25 in the bulletin – that’s an error!) We are going to work through our chapter in stages. To start, the reading of the first ten verses. Ezekiel 17:1-10

Let us pray.  May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN. (Psalm 19:14)

SERMON: The Two Eagles & the Vine. I have a bit of a green thumb. I can’t grow a vine from a cedar, but I can take the sprig from an Eastern White Cedar, root it, and grow a new cedar tree. 

About ten years ago I saw the stump of a cedar, formerly a tall, narrow, columnar tree. It had been cut down, in the prime of life. I saw plenty of vigorous new shoots coming up. I snipped off some cuttings. I dipped them in rooting hormone. I potted them in soil. To my joy, some of them took! I brought them with me and planted some here at the Parsonage. A couple are still in pots, looking for a home. Check out my photos…

Rooted cutting of Eastern White Cedar hybrid
Young Cedar at the Parsonage
Mature Cedar in the neighbourhood

Biblical imagery uses a few main categories. I’d say three of them are: the image of a great City, scenes of people eating together, and pictures from agriculture or nature. It is no wonder, then, that we meet again this week some growing plants. So it is an agricultural sermon, more so than last Sunday. 

The Allegory of the two eagles and the vine fills up Ezekiel chapter 17. Did you remember this story? Maybe it has been a while since you read this chapter. Perhaps you had forgotten it. 

Once upon a time, a great eagle plucked the top off a cedar of Lebanon, and planted it in a far-off land, bustling with business. Then the eagle planted a seed in the original land grew into a sprawling vine. It ended up growing towards a second great eagle that came along. The vine got transplanted into a fertile, well-watered land. “Will it prosper?”

Maybe you have not seen a Cedar of Lebanon. I have not. But Sharon White has, when she was in Lebanon, thirteen months ago.  

From of old, in the Middle East, the Cedar has been known as a grand tree, a symbol of Lebanon. Ezekiel, at his moment in history, spoke a parable, of sorts, about the kings and kingdoms of his world. He speaks, on God’s behalf, a message to and about the people at the top. 

The first Great Eagle is king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the empire to the north that was taking over Judah. The Topmost Shoot of the cedar tree is the King of Judah, who got taken captive, with many other people, up into Babylonia. Now, the king of Babylon made an agreement and set up Zedekiah as ruler over Judah, under himself. Zedechiah is the Seed from the land the Eagle plants the fertile soil back in Judah. 

But Zedechiah of Judah decided to rebel against his Babylonian overlord, and make an alliance with Egypt, instead. The Pharaoh of Egypt is the second Great Eagle. Zedekiah, the vine, starts growing towards the Pharaoh, in hopes of a better deal. 

But this will fail. It breaks the agreement with his boss, the king of Babylon. And it is not what God has in store for the Chosen People who are now going into exile in Babylon, though some Jews do end up in Egypt, including the prophet Jeremiah. 

Such is Ezekiel’s warning, in the allegory of the vine and the two eagles: the ruler of Judah and the rulers of their neighbours to the north and south. Zedekiah can’t save himself or his people. So the end of the Jewish glory days in the Holy Land has come, and the end of their monarchy too.

Whether you know all this biblical history, or followed me though all that, the story here illustrates the creative power of the prophet Ezekiel and God. After the allegory, Ezekiel proceeds to preach a warning about the vine, Zedekiah. “Will it prosper?” The answer is ‘no.’ Check out verses 9 through 21. 

But then – and this is what is most interesting to me – God extends the allegory, in verses 22, 23 & 24. The LORD promises to come along as the Eagle, and make something new happen. Let’s read it.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Here is a messianic hope. The promise of a new Anointed One, or Messiah, or (in Greek) a Christ. One day, there will be a king of the Jews again.

The prophetic image of a shoot growing up is used for the Messiah by a number of Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah. Remember the Jesse Tree we sometimes decorate in Advent? It pictures the shoot coming up from the family of Jesse, and his son, King David. The shoot we see growing up is Jesus of Nazareth.

The Lord God … will take a sprig… I will set it out. …I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.

Christ Jesus is the Noble Cedar. Ezekiel did not know what His name would be, but he proclaimed the promised hope that there would be an Anointed One one day in the future. Jesus arrived hundreds of years later.

Speaking of Jesse trees, and the incarnation of Jesus celebrated at Christmas (and yes, we will hear an Advent/Christmas Carol at the end of the service), notice Ezekiel’s poetry at the end of chapter 17. What does God do?

I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

God is the God of reversals. Others had sung this same song, through the ages. Such as Jesus’ own mother-to-be, Mary. Pregnant in Luke chapter 2, she sang of God, in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth:

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 is the work of the greatest Anointed One, to use that Hebrew term. God’s care for the needy is highlighted. God’s warning for those not-so-needy is proclaimed! In all this one thing gets reinforced: God is in charge. When Zedekiah thinks he will solve Judah’s oppression his way, he is told he can’t do it. He is told, from God, ‘I myself will take this… I myself will plant that… I will accomplish it.’

In world events today, some wonder about ‘the hand of God.’ I have heard of one NS preacher I know who is speaking of the coronavirus as part of God’s judgment. I hear others frame things up in terms of opportunity – a chance to distill down to what is really important in life and faith now. 

In our personal lives today, some wonder about the point God is making in this unprecedented year. Many plans are being troubled. Plans for families to gather are shut down. Plans for medical help and healing are stalled. Plans for work and education are disrupted. Day-to-day life is altered, and many people are confused, or angry, or depressed by it all. How will we be helped by the Hearer of Prayer?

Help. Answers. It is not always clear what the right answer could be. Is something that happens a blessing, or a curse? We sometimes guess wrongly.

Here’s an old story to ponder, one I’ve told before.

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried, “such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The path of life takes many twists and turns. The good and the evil are mixed in together. Look at the life of our Jesus through the eyes of that wise farmer of Ecclesiastes…

Dear Mary is pregnant. 🙂
Oh! But she is not married yet. 🙁
An angel assures Mary and Joseph to wed and raise the child. 🙂
When the baby is due, they have to leave town. 🙁
A place for them is provided, just when there seemed to be nothing. 🙂
Then the local ruler decrees all baby boys be killed! 🙁
The holy family flees and finds safety in Egypt. 🙂
As an adult, Jesus teaches and heals and gathers disciples. 🙂
The powers that be decide to get rid of Him. 🙁
Several times, Jesus easily escapes his enemies. 🙂
One of His own disciples turns Him in. 🙁
When on trial, one local authority declares Jesus not guilty three times. 🙂
Jesus gets sent to a terrible execution anyway. 🙁
A couple days later, He is seen, alive again! 🙂
A few weeks later, Jesus leaves, for good. 🙁
But He promises the Spirit of God to his disciples, Who does arrive. 🙂 And Jesus promises to return.
Almost two thousands years later, has He returned? 😮

In the moment, any day, any week, any year of our lives can be a disaster. But what comes next? More is possible with God than we ever ask or imagine.

So, we also heard a story today from our Anointed One. Jesus’ parable of the weeds in the wheat. Again, a little later, there is an explanation. Some basic lessons  appear to be that: One, our attempts to pull up the weeds among us are premature. Two, our attempts to pull up the weeds among us will disturb the wheat and wreck the crop. Three, the task of judging belongs to Christ, not to us.

Most of us have dealt with weeds in our crops, or our flowers, or just in our lawn. But just take a look at this. I’m no farmer, but those who are are planting things in ways I never expected. 

Here is a field of barley, across the dirt road from our cottage. Is it full of weeds? At first glance I’d think so. But no. What was also sown with the barley? Peas. I saw them in bloom earlier; now the pods are forming. A mixed crop. Later, those fields will be combined: feed for the pigs at Longspell Farm. 

This was not a practice in Palestine of old. Crops were sown as pure monocultures. Anything else coming up in the field was a weed. In the case of wheat, darnel, also called tares, is a bothersome weed. The plants are very similar in appearance to wheat, but the darnel is actually toxic to eat.

Jesus’ story is memorable, and may be quite familiar to you. The farmer plants seed. An enemy sows weeds in the same field: tares or darnel. There is a lesson just in these facts. Notice that it is not God who makes all things happen, the good and the bad. There is an Enemy held responsible. Not as it sometimes had been thought in OT days, when the saints of old spoke often of God sending evil upon people.

Jesus, especially, clarifies the character of God. God is good and right, never causing wrong or tempting us to do wrong. And, as Ezekiel knew, in the days of Zedekiah of Judah, God takes the lead to guide & save people.

So we look for ‘the hand of God’ in the challenging events of our lives, and those we love. We look for the Spirit blowing through world events today. Shall we continue to put our trust in God as our Saviour? There are big players playing their parts. A great Eagle named Trump, and another named Trudeau. Or a Vine called Dr. Tam and a Vine called Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. 

I wonder what sort of cutting God will take, and plant, and grow, and make flourish among us? What will Jesus do, today?

PRAYERS Let us   pray. O Christ, Noble Tree planted in history, planted deep in our lives: we confess. We confess we have not learned all our lessons from history. We confess we have not learned all our lessons from scripture. We confess we have not learned all our life lessons. We listen for wisdom today in every direction: guided us, Master. Show us godly wisdom. Make our minds teachable and our hearts malleable. Grow in us, and grow us up all the more, in these days when our community and our world, Lord, need Christians of maturity and confidence. 

O Spirit, giver of John’s vision of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations: we pray for healing, as always. For healing among the nations who are in conflict, the cultures who tell lies about one another, the peoples who live in fear of one another. It is so hard to have peace in a world of fear and crisis, God. You must act; and You must help us do our part. 

We pray for healing in our own lives too. Healing in times of grief: we think again of the family of Marj Wilson. Healing in times of uncertain health: bless folks like Dwight and Terry and Peter and Jack and…

We seek healing help in the lives of those confined to hospital, such as Donna and George; and those isolated in the place they call home. You sustain, Comforter, You guide, You encourage, we pray.

O Father, who grafts us into the Vine of Jesus: we pray for people who seem far from being one with You, knowing You, finding grace and salvation. We seek good things for the many people we know who had a taste of Your presence, once, but have rejected, or forgotten, or simply neglected to look to You. And we ask You to inspire those for whom their religion is mostly a comforting and nostalgic bunch of routines. 

O Holy One, perhaps our prayer has been very routine and ordinary. We are ordinary people. We are humbled & grateful, that You love and You choose ordinary people. Thank-You. Amen.

New Old Parables: ‘The Plowman’ – July 12

For the full worship service plan, please read the bulletin for today on the Bulletin page. Video of the Sermon, and other parts of service, will be included on this page after the morning service of worship.

SERMON: Today, as some of us gather again, after sixteen weeks away, we continue New Old Parables. We share the parables of the Sower and the Seed, and of the Plowman, as well as stories called ‘A Sense of Vocation, and ‘The Oyster Man.’ Let us pray…

“I love it when a plan comes together,” said ‘Hannibal’ Smith, on The A-Team TV show. Today, we are putting together a new plan, a whole new kind of plan, for worshipping together. It’s our first try, and we will learn from this experience. Perhaps you count this, already, as a success? The plan comes together.

I see, in the Bible parables of this day, stories of failure and success. Life is filled with both. The past four days for me, I have been viewing some key life moments, and reflecting on the successes of life, life’s meaning and purpose. On Thursday, a wedding. On Saturday, a funeral. Today, the dedication of a baby. If only I had a baptism, I’d have all the big moments!

And these moments, from cradle to grave, touch me with the timeframe of life. This year is teaching us again the need to be patient, the need to be learning new things, the need to change our ways and be transformed. The need to ‘let go and let God.’

The Old Testament ‘parable’ I chose for today is called ‘The Plowman,’ from Isaiah 28. It is, I think, a story about: time, the right time, taking enough time, God’s timing.

It is an agricultural scene. Isaiah preaches it in the form of a series of rhetorical questions, mostly. 

Does the plowman keep plowing forever? 

Doesn’t the farmer plant each crop in the proper method needed for each?

And, to put it in more familiar terms… Pumpkins aren’t harvested all winter, eh? Oats aren’t left in the fields for the horses to eat, right? & surely apple trees aren’t pruned & pruned until there’s nothing left?

The long and sometimes harsh times of farming are not too long. Crops take time, but they take just the right time. So too with the consequences of the actions of the peoples. There will come a day, by God’s grace and plan, when the suffering and the struggles will be over. The punishing of their poor leaders will finish up. It will be harvest time. It will be joyful again. There will be a new beginning.

Isaiah chapter 28 is dealing with the failures of the leaders in Israel, long ago. Disaster befell them, and they deserved it. But the trouble will not last forever. The record of these days long ago, in the pages of the Bible, remains for us, reminding us, teaching us. There are lessons to be learned from human failure. There is hope gained from the action of God. Building beauty out of trouble is the way our Master works.

This year, on earth, is a big year for learning lessons, among the human race. To borrow from the field of education, God has a real ‘teachable moment’ with us all, right now. It is a big opportunity.

Our own sense of purpose, as Chistians these days, is being tested, really put to the test. Perhaps I have been saying more than once that we have a mission in our area. I just have not said exactly what that mission looks like! It could look like developing our prayer ministry more: doing some training, and praying in small groups, and offering prayer for more people in our neighbourhoods. Writing a book of prayers garnered no interest among you – what does?

It could look like more sharing about our faith online during this time. We could start an internet channel for interviews and chats in which many of us could share our faith experiences. (Or a podcast – audio only, in other words.)

It could look like more practical help to people in need – through foodbank or grocery delivery or phone check-ins with isolated people.

I could look like another ministry… What better time than the present to start a new creative thing, with Christ, to “reach out to those in the church and community conveying the message of Jesus Christ through preaching and teaching with hearts of compassion and loving hands in service.” We, Digby Baptist, have a vocation, a ‘mission from God.’

An old friend is a preacher and a writer. In His 1994 book of stories, Art White tells this anecdote that he titles, ‘A Sense of Vocation.’ He says: 

I was visiting a friend in Hospital, one lawn of which was a shambles due to the gouging of heavy equipment and pallets piled high with building materials.

Amid this scene of diesel-driven gadgetry, worked a lone figure with a pick-and-shovel, waist-deep in a cramped trench which ran beside the dusty walkway from the parking area.

“There’s something you don’t see much any more,” commented the fellow behind whom I was walking, “a hand-dug ditch.”

He called out, “What are you doing there?”

Pretty obvious, I thought. Perhaps the labourer did too, but he didn’t say it. His answer was mature and memorable. 

“We’re expanding the hospital.”

(Art White, From Away, Here to Stay, 1994, p. 53)

That man with the pick and shovel had a sense of purpose, a purpose he shared with others, when he said, ‘We are… expanding the hospital.’

It is a real success to know your purpose. I looked at Mark and Janet on Thursday, and thought about the purpose of them being together. I looked at the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc and wondered out loud about the purpose of this woman whom I’d never met. We looked at little Eliana Taylor Grace this morning, held and surrounded by her family, and pondered her purpose here on earth. It may all seem mysterious, and wonderful, and frightening, and grand, all at the same time. Thanks be to God, the failures and successes of life get balanced out in the best direction possible. This is the story of our Faith.

So, we do have this famous story from Jesus today. Of the sower who sowed some seed. Like some of His other parables, it can seem simple on the surface, but can get deeper and challenging. 

Today, it looks to me like another story of failures and successes. It looks like three failures, to begin with. Some seed hits the path, and becomes bird food. Some seed springs up in shallow soil and is doomed. Some seed is out-competed by weeds. Three strikes, you’re out: get yourself a better farmer!

But no, there are other seeds; they get into the good ground; and the harvest, well, from some of those plants it is incredible! 

There will be failure. There will be loss. There will be trouble. Yet there is also success! Life! A rich harvest! This is God’s Kingdom, God’s Rule, God’s Empire. What does life-with-God look like in this pandemic time? Has our private, devotional life improved? Has our practical help to people increased, or decreased? Have we started deeper conversations with people we used to share only smalltalk before?

When your life is an example to others who see you, who know you: some days they glimpse God and a good example; some days they see your failings and miss out on some grace. When you have a chat of some importance with someone, you may be clear and honest and shine for Christ; or you may be selfish and hide the Good News that helped you. When you cooperate with others on some little project, you may do more than humanly possible, thanks to God; or you may end up not making the most of your opportunity together. Give thanks, whatever happens, for God in Christ has a will to forgive and a way of repairing the trouble we cause.

At times, we need to embrace our weaknesses, and failures, in order to be all that we can be. It is then that we rely upon God more, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, when we are imperfect, we are more likely to tap in to the Supreme Source of Good and Truth and Grace. 

Years ago, one of my Deacons in Windsor drew my attention to a little story. She liked it very much, and gave me a copy of it. It is called

The Oyster Man, from The Daily Bread, by Cindy Hess Kasper, April 9, 2008

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.”

He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.”

Afterward, 12 men received Christ. Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”

Our best may not always measure up to the standards of others. But God takes our inadequacies and humble efforts and uses them for His glory.

The writer of this story, Cindy Kasper, is right, I think. Our humble efforts are worth something. Even our errors can be transformed, and good things can grow. Much of the seed we sow will end up on the path, the rocks, and among the weeds. But just the bit that we do for the good can end up growing more than expected. 

Is this not the way of God, described over and over in scripture? As a preacher, an educated, ordained preacher, I yet feel the challenge of communicating truth and reality, from our sacred text. Many times a year I think I am far more like the lay preacher who spoke of an ‘oyster man,’ than the brilliant evangelist of long ago, John Wesley. I have many moments of feeling that my work is not accomplishing much that is truly worthwhile. 

For years, I have held to the hope that God does more than I ask or imagine. And the few seeds I scatter that land on good soil will grow to produce a harvest greater than I expect, and more than I will see.

A Church reopens, during a pandemic. A couple in their 50s gets married. A woman dies at age 60. A family brings an infant daughter to Church, believing she can be blessed in this life. In every life, the seeds of God’s Rule are sown. Will they grow?

Failure, or success? Both can take us closer to the Divine, and both are steps along the eternal journey. Thanks be to God!

PRAYERS Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace: we are called together for prayer, and we answer You today. From pews, and from our places at home, we gather before You. 

We seek good for this world of trouble. The virus of the pandemic is but one of so many illnesses and troubles that threaten life every day, and disrupt the hopes of so many. Healer of body and soul, reach into lives, reach into the systems for healing and help, and do more than we can, for the sake of millions.

Our prayers are also local. Eternal One, we pray for Marj Wilson, in palliative care in hospital, and her family, and all who face the end of life in these days. Bless those who mourn, such as Cairine and family, and the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc. 

O Mind of Christ, we pray for all who are troubled, depressed, or distressed in this stressful year. When things are too much to bear, may there be relief and a gift of inner strength. 

Dear Spirit of power, descend upon the bodies of all who are ill, all who are undergoing treatments or therapies or surgeries, and all who face chronic, unending illness. 

And, with mercy, hear all our prayers now, spoken aloud or offered in silence…   

Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

Worship at Home – July 5, 2020 – New Old Parables: ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’

Welcome to this online resource for worshipping ‘together’ while apart.

Our date for opening our building for Sunday services is July 12th (twelfth). Guidelines and procedures for our first day back together are listed at the end of this worship blog post.

WORSHIP Welcome Psalm 145:10-12, 14
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

HYMN 5 Come, Thou Almighty King

PRAYER Sovereign God, named as King by many peoples and in many languages throughout history: we use this language again, worshipping You. Master, we give thanks for Your control and compassion. Lord, we give thanks for Your rule and realism. God, we give thanks for Your creative powers and plans. We pray, and our hearts are humbled, for we know how we break rules, and we get broken. Freshen our freedom in Christ, so we may live abundantly and well, healed and whole, and be a blessing to the world around us. AMEN.

SONG 606 Rejoice in the Lord Always

CHILDREN’s Time – Sharon White

SCRIPTURE Matthew 11:16-19, 23-30

Solo: ‘Footprints’ – Joyce Marshall

SCRIPTURE 2 Kings 14:8-11

SERMON ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’ – Jeff White

The nineteenth century Christian philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, was a storyteller. Here is one of his many parables, which gets at this: what happens to those who try to warn the present age?

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just [part of the act] and applauded. He repeated his warning; they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the [witty people,] who believe that it is a joke. (“A” in Either/Or, p. 30)

Many memorable stories are warnings. Many a scripture verse is a warning. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” my Dad always says. But how many of us are wise enough to take the lesson from the first, or only, warning?

How do warnings work? I have wondered this as I pondered quite a few parables and stories over the past few weeks. Especially, I wonder about the clever use of parables, parables that not everyone will get. Jesus’ method was not to be straightforward and clear; His were the methods of the Hebrew wise teachers: Rabbis telling creative tales, redirecting the conversation, and answering a question with another question.

So it is with Jewish storytelling. We heard another ancient example today, from 2 Kings 14. This was the days of the divided monarchy among the Hebrews. Two kingdoms, two kings: one in the north, Israel, one in the south, Judah. In today’s reading, one king wants to fight the other. 

Amaziah, king of the southern kingdom, has been victorious over the Edomites, farther to the South. Now, he sets his eyes upon his kinfolk to the north, Israel. ‘Let’s face off!’ is his message to Jehoash, the other king. 

Jehoash thinks, rightly, that Amaziah is getting too big for his britches, and had better quit while he is ahead. He says this with the parable we just read, of the thistle and the cedar. It is a warning.

“One day a thistle in Lebanon sent word to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ But then a wild animal of Lebanon passed by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it. 

Just because you’ve defeated Edom in battle, you now think you’re a big shot. Go ahead and be proud, but stay home. Why press your luck? Why bring defeat on yourself and Judah?” (2 K 14:9-10, The Message, Eugene Peterson, 2003)

Amaziah did not heed this warning. He insisted on battling Israel. And he lost. 

This is a common human problem, isn’t it? We won’t take no for an answer. We push the boundaries, and insist on learning from our mistakes, not from the guidance we are given. We make ourselves big and important whenever we get the chance. Some people have few and small chances. Others have lots of opportunity to be pushy and powerful. 

Let me read you a story. Not a very old story – about one hundred years old – and even then, it was intentionally written in an old-fashioned style, as if you were reading Shakespeare or the Kings James Bible. A story by the Rev. Wm. E. Barton, called:

The Millionaire and the Scrublady

There is a certain Millionaire, who hath his Offices on the Second Floor of the First National Bank Building. And when he goeth up to his Offices he rideth in the Elevator, but when he goeth down, then he walketh.

And he is an Haughty Man, who once was poor, and hath risen in the World, and he is a Self-made Man who worshipeth his maker.

And he payeth his Rent regularly on the first day of the month, and he considereth not that there are Human Beings who run the Elevators, and who Clean the Windows, hanging at a great height above the Sidewalk, and who shovel Coal into the furnaces under the Boilers. Neither doth he at Christmas time remember any of them with a Tip or a Turkey.

And there is in that Building a Poor Woman who Scrubbeth the Stairs and the Halls. And he hath walked past her often but hath never seen her until Recently. For his head was high in the air, and he was thinking of More Millions.

Now it came to pass on a day that he left his Office, and started to walk down the Stairs. 

And the Scrublady was half way down; for she had begun at the top, and was giving the stairs their First Onceover. And upon the topmost Stair, in a wet and soapy spot, there was a Large Cake of Yellow Soap. And the Millionaire stepped upon it. 

Now the foot which he set upon the Soap flew eastward toward the Sunrise, and the other foot started on an expedition of its own toward the going down of the Sun. And the Millionaire sat down upon the Topmost Step, but he did not remain there. As it had been his Intention to Descend, so he Descended, but not in the manner of his Original Design. For he descended faster, and he struck each step with a sound as it had been of a Drum.

And the Scrublady stood aside courteously, and let him go. And he stayed not on the order of his going. 

And at the bottom he arose, and considered whether he should rush into the Office of the Building and demand that the Scrublady be fired; but he considered that if he should tell the reason there would be great Mirth among the occupants of the Building. And so he held his peace.

But since that day he taketh notice of the Scrublady, and passeth her with Circumspection.

For there is no man so high or mighty that he can afford to ignore any of his fellow human beings. For a very Humble Scrublady and a very common bar of Yellow Soap can take the mind of a Great Man off his Business Troubles with surprising rapidity.

Wherefore, consider these things, and count not thyself too high above even the humblest of the children of God.

Lest haply thou come down from thy place of pride and walk off with thy bruises aching a little more by reason of thy suspicion that the Scrublady is Smiling into her Suds, and facing the day’s work the more cheerfully by reason of the fun thou hast afforded her.

For these are solemn days, and he that bringeth a smile to the face of a Scrublady hath not lived in vain.

(William E. Barton, Safed And Keturah, The Third Series of the Parables of Safed the Sage, 1921)

To be humbled is an important thing. Warnings about it abound. The humbling itself is a lesson, as well as being a warning, and to be humbled sometimes is itself a transformation.

What’s the moral of the story? The story of the millionaire and the scrublady? Barton mentions a couple things, at the end. It is best just to say, “Let that be a lesson to you,” and leave it at that. 

We can see that when Christ spoke, He often told His stories and then left them hanging in mid-air, for the people to ponder. He did not explain, did not give ‘the moral of the story.’ His close associates, the disciples, sometimes ask for explanation, and He gives one. Sometimes the Gospelers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) make a comment about a parable’s meaning, as they narrate the story. But that was not Jesus’ method. 

Jesus speaks to the humble in society, who can receive His message. They will ‘get it.’ Those at the top – economically, religiously – will not. So He says. 

In Matthew 14 today we hear Jesus’ remarkable little prayer, thanking His Father for revealing things to the humble children of earth, and hiding the meaning from the so-called wise and smart ones. This is what it pleased God to do. 

Just a bit earlier, Jesus was declaring woes over some communities that had not responded to Him, and declaring how fickle and faithless many people were, then. We read:

 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

‘The children in the marketplace’ is a very parable-like word-picture from Jesus. I think of our grandson, Dryden. When we are over here, from time to time, playing hockey in the Hall, he likes to come in here & play. He has us take turns on stage, singing a song. Or, at times, he has led a church service, with one person, me, in the pews. A seven-year-old can be quite bossy! Then we play hide-and-seek.

Jesus likens the people of his generation to children playing in the streets, who complain that others won’t pretend to make happy music, or cry a funeral dirge, when told to. No matter what He did, or what his cousin John did, people complained, they rejected them, they did not understand, did not respond.

The good news about all that Jesus says here, in Matthew 14, is multifaceted. 

  • It is wonderful that Jesus does reveal Himself and His Father, God, to people! 
  • And Jesus shows what is real to the humblest and neediest of people. 
  • He says it is up to Himself and His Father who they reveal themselves to: so it is not up to you and me. There is good news in that. 
  • Yet, like the clown in the burning theatre, we still have moments when we are to warn, even those who may not listen.

And from the scene of King Amaziah of Judah and King Jehoash of Israel come reminders, warnings for us, all these centuries later.

  • Overconfidence and troublemaking lead to a fall. ‘Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,’ scripture says (Proverbs 16:18).
  • There can be a choice: to stop now and not go overboard, not take that next misstep. 

To warn someone can take skill and good timing. And patience. To heed a warning, to understand and choose better, because we have been told, this takes humility of spirit, and a touch of grace from God. 

Thanks be, that God’s work includes comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable! AMEN.

OFFERING If you have a set of offering envelopes, you see ‘MISSIONS’ on each envelope. This is for the work of our denomination, the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Our budget for this year is about 2.35 million dollars. This funds our staff and departments for the variety of work we do together, in the name of Jesus. Our usual summer gathering (and annual meeting), Oasis, is cancelled this year. A special meeting has been called for us, the CBAC, on Wednesday, December 9, at 6:30 pm. This will be ‘electronic’ and in person; more information here.

PRAYERS O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the story blast,
and our eternal home!

We come to the centre of this year, a year of trouble for many, a year that breeds fear in too many ways, a year that slows down so many things we had hoped for and counted on: we wait upon You. Have we learned from the many warnings of six months? The good warnings and the false warnings? Teach us, touch us, tell us, transform us, O LORD.

Master of all peoples, as we celebrated our a nation last week, and our American neighbours did also, we call for blessings of every sort for our peoples. We give thanks for the privileges we enjoy; we pray for those not so privileged. We cry out for places hit hard by COVID-19 – may the human responses be over-arched by Your goodness, guidance and care.

We pour out our prayers for those ill at home or in hospital or places of special care. For those troubled or anxious in spirit, for whom the past six months has been extra stressful. For those trapped in addiction or in harmful relationships or in desperate circumstances. For those who are in need, and see no way of getting any aid. From out of our praying, may we provide, as best we can, working hand-in-hand with You. We put our hand in Yours, to help out in our corner of the world.

And across the globe our prayers look, not only to the millions facing this latest virus, but to all who face the many troubles that continue alongside COVID-19. The terrible hunger and need that goes on: we cry out against it. The ongoing racism and tribalism of each nation and culture: we cry out because of them. The terrible oppression and injustice of governments and powers in many forms: we cry out against them.
May we see others as You see them, and see ourselves in new ways too: in Christ. AMEN.

HYMN 542 Near to the Heart of God

BENEDICTION 1 Thessalonians 5: 14, 15, 28 …Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. AMEN.

Guidelines and Procedures for worshipping together again in our building: Our tentative re-open date is July 12, 2020.

Appropriate physical distancing of 6 feet (2m) is to be practiced by all as we enter, stay in and leave the Church building. Family units and bubble units should travel and sit together at church.

A few things to keep in mind:

– There will be a limit of fifty (50) people in the sanctuary at one time.

– Entrants to the Church must enter through the main doors on Mount Street.

– Everyone must use hand sanitizer upon entering, which will be provided at the door.

– Masks are optional.

– Greeters will take note of everyone’s name and contact information.

– Offerings can be placed in the receptacle as you enter.

– Bulletins are available to be picked up at the back of the sanctuary.

– Every third (3rd) pew will be used to maintain physical distancing.

– Please talk to one another from your place in the pews; do not linger in the entryways, halls or aisles.

– There will not be Sunday School at this time. Kits will be provided for use in the pews.

– Washrooms will remain closed. They are available for emergency use only, to be used at your own risk.

Please do not attend if you are showing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. These may include new or worsening: fever, cough, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, hoarse voice, diarrhea, unusual fatigue, loss of sense of smell or taste, lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause. (Diagnosed chronic conditions are exempt). Also, if you have travelled outside of Atlantic Canada in the last 14 days or been in contact with a suspected case, we ask that you stay home.

For those not yet comfortable returning to the church building most of the service will still be available online. It will be posted Sunday afternoon.