Worship at Home, Jan 16 – Zeal for Your House

WELCOME to worship for Digby Baptist Church, while we are all staying home. The plan here has elements of worship to share by reading, listening, and viewing. There is a little bulletin also published, with some announcements, here on our website. Paper copies of the sermon and some prayers are delivered to local folks each Sunday, who cannot view this online.

Psalm 127:1-2
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.

HYMN # 699 Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation

Opening PRAYER: God of Sabbath rest, today is the Christian Sabbath, and wherever we find ourselves, we rest in You. This season in our whole world is filled with anxieties, Holy One; we call out to You. Dealing with illness is such a trouble right now, and we in the first world have such high expectations for our healthcare. O Great Physician, You showed us how our well-being and our behaviour are closely connected. We want to know the best steps to take. We don’t want to be upset by others who make different decisions. And many of us are getting so weary of this problem that overshadows everything. How long, O Lord?!

Christ, You once promised to build Your house, and not even the gates of hell would stand against it. So we keep on trusting You to build Your Church, You being our Cornerstone. By the Holy Spirit keep us in close contact with one another, while we are not meeting, and let us be strengthened and united. In Your name. AMEN.

John 2:13-25 read by Sharon White

SOLO: Mercy Tree – Sharon Marshall, 2020

SERMON: Zeal for Your House It is 1660 in Bedfordshire, north of London, England. The Church of England is clamping down on ‘non- conformist’ preachers – these ‘free Church,’ non-Anglicans are simply not allowed! Out in a field, one day, a certain John Bunyan is arrested while speaking. This tradesman in his early thirties had, after years of religious and spiritual crisis, been baptized and joined a Particular Baptist Church in Bedford. John’s gift for speaking became apparent, and he took up preaching, alongside the pot and pan repairs he’d learned from his father. 

But now, he was in prison. And, because he refused to pledge not to preach again, he stayed in prison, for the most part, for the next twelve years. John was in and out some, and even got to do occasional preaching outside. Inside, he wrote: books and books. It is likely, near the end of this time, that the zealous preacher wrote his most well-read and widely published story: The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was published in 1678, after he was free and then the pastor of the Bedford Church. 

The story of a person like John Bunyan is the tale of a zealous man, zealous for the things of God, as he understood them. Bunyan was part of the puritan movement that was keen for a new and vital form of Christianty to take over. Zealous for a new way to do Church, with a lot of freedom, simpler worship, and an emphasis upon personal holiness and piety. 

Bunyan knew persecution by the religious and political authorities of his day. And this came out in his stories, like that of the pilgrim named, simply, Christian, on his arduous journey to the Celestial City. This character faces so many temptations and enemies and dangers along the way. Each one representing a real life challenge. Today’s chapter in this children’s version of the story mentions Lord Beelzebub and Passion and Patience, whose names declare their identity. And Christian faces opposition exactly because he does right, stays to a good path, and tries his best to trust King Jesus. 

This is much like the words of Psalm 69, which Jesus’  disciples thought of that day He overthrew the merchants in the Temple. “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

To be passionate for true religion can get one into trouble. That’s the message of Psalm 69; that’s the story of Christian’s progress as a little pilgrim; that was the experience of the preacher and author John Bunyan. Just glancing at that Psalm quotation in John chapter 2, we might wonder what it really means, at first. When we go back to the rest of the Psalm, we get to understand the message. It is a long prayer for help when surrounded by enemies, enemies of faithfulness. What did the Psalm writer do to get into trouble? Listen and understand: (Ps. 69)

9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting,
they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.

Being faithful to his spiritual practices got the Psalm singer in trouble, it seems. Persecution came for doing right things, including the spiritual discipline of fasting in humble clothing – which usually goes with prayer.

All these centuries later, as followers of Jesus now, modern Christians can say the same things. It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.  There are believers in parts of the world who are oppressed and threatened – even killed – simply for living a Christians. 

Here, in Nova Scotia, what has our experience been of opposition to our faith? There is some push-back to the ways we live as disciples of Jesus and citizens of the Kindom. And we may sacrifice certain things for the sake of being Christian.

One thing we do is worship – we share worship like we are today, and at other times we do physically gather for divine worship. This part of ‘keeping the Sabbath holy’ is not without its costs. Gone is the time that workplaces and the marketplaces were shut down on Sundays. Remember when the big stores were still not open on Sunday? And remember how promises were made by some of them, in the fall of 2006, when the laws changed? Promises that those who wanted to worship on Sundays would not be forced to work then. How is that going now?

I have been zealous enough about worship that it has remained a personal priority for me. It is one of the few spiritual disciplines that I am disciplined about!

When Jesus cleared the Temple in Jerusalem that day, He spoke of it being a house of prayer, not of business. That’s getting at the activity – the worship that happens. Another aspect of ‘His Father’s House’ is the actual building, the Temple. When questioned about His actions and authority, Christ mentioned destroying the temple, and rebuilding it. Which immediately was understood as the impossible: taking down this giant stone structure and then putting it back up in three days!

As much as a stone temple or wooden church can be misunderstood to be what faith is about, these buildings have their value. And like me, you may have some zeal about sacred buildings you’ve known. I am a lover of church buildings, from time to time. Some are very special and sentimental to me. Two I think of were places I worshipped at a formative time in my life: one a little, white country church, one an elegant university chapel. They both have their unique beauty, physically, but it was really what happened there, week after week, for several years, that was profound in my life. 

Still, I need to take the scene with Jesus in the Temple to heart. I need to notice that Jesus wanted what happened there to be good, but when He spoke of destroying and rebuilding the Temple, He was not even talking about stone and wood. He was speaking of Himself. He took the opportunity for prophecy and metaphor.

Wow, it is only chapter two, page two we could say, in the Gospel of John, and already we have to give a ‘spoiler alert!’ The finale of the story is being given away already: hero Jesus is going to die and get raised back up to life. It says right here, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this…” John the gospeler does this so much more than Matthew, Mark and Luke: declaring the amazingness of Jesus, His glory and power, His divine nature, His saving work. From the start, John keeps no secret of who Jesus of Nazareth might be. 

And so, as the rest of the New Testament testifies, Jesus builds a spiritual temple: He the Cornerstone, we the rest of the structure. For some of us, we are most zealous about the Church being the people, the gathered worshippers who scatter to serve the world. Our devotion to the mission also has its costs. There are costs to discipleship, which Jesus described as ‘talking up your cross to follow Him.’

In conclusion, I think about the changes that always come. Jesus clearing the Temple is a scene of changes. It suggests changing the way they were running their Jewish Temple at that time. A change to their revenue, their focus upon prayer, and so forth. What Jesus says then points to a big change in salvation history: the big event of His own sacrifice was coming in just a couple years. 

These days, we may feel that the pandemic is forcing some changes upon Church life, but there has been much more going on that demands Christians enter the next reformation of our history. The past twenty two months certainly have led us to reflect upon what it means to gather in congregations, to worship and learn, and to work as a ministry team. Our Saviour is also our great Master Teacher. In the midst of these years we are discovering what changes are in store for Christendom, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Some ways of being Christian that people were passionate about in the past are dying out. 

Then new things crop up. Like Messy Church, a gathering for families in which the service is really like a morning at Vacation Bible School. Crafts, songs, games, stories: all created to ‘be Church’ in a different form. Our neighbours of Trinity Anglican used to offer this regularly.

What’s getting born? What are the new ways of being disciples of Jesus together? This is our exciting project now. Our adventure, our journey, our pilgrimage. God has all the power, all the love, and all the creativity needed to take Christianity deep into the 21st century. The bottom line is this: shall you and I be zealous for the Kingdom of God, and for King Jesus? Look for what inspires you, or gets you all stirred up, about Church and about Christ. Let the Spirit use that to grow new faith and action in you.

PRAYER after the Sermon:  God of our Church House, thank You for our building at the corner of Mount St. and Montague Row, even though we have not been there much lately. God our Hearer of prayer, thank You for receiving our worship and giving Yourself to us. Triune God of love, thank You for our fellowship in Christ. May we be teachable when it comes to the new path forward. And may we be good forgetters of the old ways that are to be replaced. AMEN.

PRAYERS of the People: Jesus Christ, true and only Head of the Church, may these words that are read and shared unite the fellowship in prayer, by the power of Your loving Spirit. O King of the Justice, we gather our prayers on this weekend that honours Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legacy is huge, left by this peace activist who was a  Baptist Pastor. Brother of all nations, we are still needing racial justice, and still need Dr. King’s voice to be heard as a messenger from You. May we all have the same dream.

Christ our Cornerstone, our prayers for ourselves begin with the Church today. We have a couple buildings, Lord. Bless and keep them, in the face of faulty wiring and failing furnaces, holes in roof and vinyl siding, piano to be replaced and organ to be tuned.

We have worship services and study groups, Lord. Inspire and instruct us, in the face of long absences from one another, attempts to meet online and sing only as single people, and intentions to keep in touch with everyone.

We have membership and ministries, Lord. Bless us so that we may be a blessing to others, in our fellowship and loving care, in our weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who celebrate, and in our wise and wide generosity to people in need of almost anything. We call out for the teachers & workers & students going back into the classrooms this week: let there be wisdom and energy for all education. We put all our healing prayers together for the sake of many people, including Joe, Dwight, Mike, and Doug. Even in the face of death we pray in the power of the Spirit, for folk like Cathy and Heather for whom we are asked to intercede. O Great Physician, may all who work in healthcare be encouraged this week, when they need it most; we are concerned for them all.

Spirit and Advocate, our praying together is also for the whole world. You’ve got the whole world in Your hands! 

In the wake of tsunami threats in the Pacific, let there be safety and hope. In the midst of places like British Columbia where there is flooding, and places like Western Australia where there is terrible heat and drought – may there be mercy in creation for every creature. In the days of uncertainty for Churches around the globe, facing threats and failures and apathy of every kind: renew, rekindle, regrow, reinforce, and regenerate Your people, Holy God! Our prayers are the tip of the iceberg today; we share also in the prayer taught by the Lord Jesus: Our Father… AMEN.

SONG: He’s Still the King of Kings – Men’s Choir, 2021

BENEDICTION: 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy
.

AMEN.

Worship at Home, Jan 9, 2022 – First Sign

WELCOME to this plan for worship that we can share, wherever we are. This service includes text to read, audio to hear, and video to watch. We are not meeting in person at the moment; as the weeks progress we will reevaluate and plan for the future.

Psalm 104:1-2a, 14-17
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees
.

PRAYER:   God of the Promised Land, thank You that, in the winter, this land is still Your land. Thank You that, in the hardships, this life is still Your gift. Thank You that, in the uncertainties, the path is still guided and Jesus is our Way. Thank You that, in the aloneness, we still have purpose and reasons to be Yours! 

Today, from our fears and sins release us, we pray. We get bogged down in the same old weaknesses and failings, it seems. Bring us through, bring us up, bring us out, we pray, by the power of Jesus! And give us, Your people, some sign of hope, some measure of grace, some glimpse of glory. In worship of You, with Jesus, and the Spirit we pray. AMEN.

CELEBRATION of Ministry – check out announcements in the Bulletin:

John 2:1-11 – Bonnie VanTassell

SERMON: First Sign. Just before I begin the sermon, let me declare to you that half of it is simply going to be a video I will show. A comedy satire, really, 8 minutes, from an Australian team.  Let us pray…

Have you ever seen a living sign? I’m sure you have. More often in the past, people would wear ‘a sandwich board’ on the street, advertising a local business – the diner’s special of the day, perhaps. More often, people wear a T-shirt or a hoodie with a message on it – usually humour or just advertising. If you have ever jogged in a trail run you have seen, along the route the runners take, people, holding flags, making sure the runners stay on the right path. I first saw this in 2008 when Sharon and I were in the Not Since Moses Run, at low tide in Five Islands. Out on the muddy beach were faithful volunteers, living signs, pointing the way for us on the foggy route, and cheering us on!

Today’s step into the story of Jesus is into John chapter 2. At this wedding in a village called Cana, the miracle Jesus performs – turning water into wine – gets called not a miracle, a sign. ‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs… and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.’

John the gospeler gives seven signs in his book: special events from Jesus that show His glorious unity of humanity and divinity. There are a few healings, there is feeding a crowd of more than 5000 people, walking on water, and finally raising a dead friend back to life. 

This water into wine was a very practical miracle at a community wedding celebration. Also symbolic, or at least very meaningful, beyond what happened. On a few levels, the glory of God shines through this Jesus. His closest friends, His apprentices, get it, and their confidence grows.

I hope you each have events in your life that impressed you with Jesus, or whatever you call the Holy One. I know some of you have several (or many) moments in life that were powerful signs of God. I have my own stories to tell. I suppose, whenever I tell them, I am putting up some signs that point to Jesus, for others to see. I hope some follow. 

The classic story of the Pilgrim’s Progress is of a young Christian, and others, on a journey. All along the way help is needed, signs and clues point the way. Helpers also.

We Baptists have this very strong ‘evangelical’ flavour to our religion, which could be thought of as advertising. We are advertisers for Jesus. Compelled to find ways to tell the world about the Saviour. Isn’t that what all disciples are being trained to do, from the first ones until today? 

Let me stop the sermon now to show this video. It is not a Christian production. It is really a comedic satire about the advertising industry these days. I think this is well written, produced and acted. It is about eight minutes long. It is called ‘For Your Sins.’

Advertizing Jesus: I suppose this could have been my sermon title. It is my topic, in a sense. Consider the things, out and about, that point to Jesus, point out Jesus, reveal a glimpse of glory! What signs today are among us? What signs of Jesus are visible to our neighbours in the world?

No, I am not thinking of ‘signs of the End Times.’ If I dare lump all the signs of the End and the Second Coming in one pile, I would be getting off track. I think. Wars and rumours of wars, the rise of certain world powers, events in the nation of Israel, the decline of Christianity in some places, and of societies all over… I think most of these are signs of what is falling and failing, not of Jesus who is rising and winning. 

Rather, let us seek to know what we see and know of God, and how we ‘bear witness’ to the Holy One. How can we be good signposts for God?

We might think of our very new and contemporary tools. Yet, religious social media posts are just the old ways put into new wineskins. Not usually effective. 

GOD ISN’T ASKING YOU
TO FIGURE IT OUT
HE’S ASKING
YOU TO TRUST

REPENT
THE DOOR IS CLOSING
He Is Near

And let’s not simply tell people ‘come to church!’ (Though I am in favour of inviting people and of showing hospitality.) I’d actually say ‘you are the church.’ If someone is talking with you about spirituality, they have already ‘come to church’ – they have come to you

Our witness, I believe, is a matter of taking good notice of where God is alive out there in everyday life. Do our bit to point to the Spirit of Jesus when we are at a banquet, on a journey, in the marketplace. Even now, when so much gathering of people together is curtailed, there are ways to glimpse the glory of God. 

This happens in the best of times; this happens in the worst of times. Lutheran minister Nadie Bolz-Weber spoke in a radio interview about her CPE hospital chaplain training. (CBC Tapestry, 2013)

I’d find myself in the trauma room in the ER, with the life going in and out of people, and Drs doing things to bodies on tables that were not meant for my eyes and sorely represented on TV… It feels like chaos, but it’s very orchestrated; everyone has their job and everyone knows what they are doing, and they are doing it. And that first time I was in a trauma room I finally caught this nurse’s eye and she stepped back with me and I said, “Um, I’m a new chaplain, and you guys obviously know what you’re doing here, what am I doing here?” 

And she looked at me and she said, “Your job is to be aware of God’s presence in the room, while we do our job.” And I thought, ‘Thank you. I can do that.’

And so that’s taught me alot about to be with people in crisis and in trauma; you’re not there to like give them some sort of easy platitudes or make them feel better; you’re there to be aware of God’s presence in the room,’cause probably they can’t feel that; and to just sit in how awful it feels and not try to explain it away and not try and distract yourself with something else; but to just sit with people in how absolutely awful the thing is they are experiencing. That to me is ministry.

Bolz-Weber’s experience is perhaps extreme. Yet there will be the presence of the Crucified Jesus in the midst of the world’s real suffering and pain. At other times, our glimpses of the glory of God will be in creation and in other people – beautiful things. Like Andrew and Peter and Philip, we are given a bright light, something to share. And to be a witness to the real Jesus, we must be signs, first, and not draw attention to ourselves. It’s not about me: Him.

One of the wise elders in my life, years ago, was Robert Matthews, who was a retired Baptist Pastor when I knew him. What a dignified, serious, intelligent, hard- working, compassionate, British pastor he was! I remember Bob talking one day, about God and the Gospel, and our human role (even the role of a minister). He put it this way: we are but people who are pointing to the Light, pointing out a Star, far in the distance. We don’t have a corner on the truth. But we can see the Truth, and greet it from afar. 

That always resonated with me – not being a highly confident person – yet I can be very confident in Christ Jesus, and turn His direction.

Perhaps my best final words would simply be this famed quotation from D. T. Niles. “Evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

PRAYER after the Sermon: Word of God, our Saviour, keep speaking to us and let us speak, in word and action, some real good news. Hide from our eyes and eyes things false and dangerous. Keep the true path before us, we pray.
Lord, let Your glory fall, as on an ancient day.
Songs of enduring love,
And then Your glory came.
And as a sign to You,
That we will love the same,
Our hearts will sing that song,
As we pray!
Amen. (Matt Redman, 2002)

PRAYERS for the world

BENEDICTION:
God the Father bless you and keep you,
God the Son save you and direct you,
God the Spirit teach you and guide you,
this day and evermore. AMEN.

Worship At Home, Jan 2, 2022 – Get to Know Me

WELCOME to this post to share at home and worship there, while we are not meeting together in person. For a time, we will not be gathering. During this period our paper bulletin will be shorter and simpler. Here on this website post you can find music, prayer, scripture, sermon, and so forth. This Sunday, first of a month and first of the year, we will share communion separately, from home. Use a pre-filled cup from the Church, or your own bread and juice.

Any group of believers, gathered to worship God, is not an audience sitting back as spectators in the pews. Thus, this plan for service at home is not simply one video for you to sit back and watch. Use as many elements that are here – of text, audio and video – to worship the Holy One.

Psalm 66:1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.”
5 Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.

PRAYER : Offer your own prayer to praise God, to give thanks, and to confess.

PRAYERS: (lyric by Gary Sadler & Lynn Deshazo )
We are a moment, You are forever
Lord of the Ages, God before time
We are a vapor, You are eternal
Love everlasting, reigning on high

For the year that is now past we praise and thank You. Amid the hardships have been lessons of love. In troubled times have come beautiful moments. With uncertainty has come Your guiding Spirit to show the way. Be near in 2022.
We are the broken, You are the healer
Jesus, Redeemer, Mighty to save
You are the love song we’ll sing forever
Bowing before You, blessing Your name

For healing and help we pray today, O God. Your goodness and blessing be upon ___ and ___ and ___. Especially we pray for Mike, who has been recovering in the Kentville Hospital, and for Doug who has been in and out of Digby and Yarmouth Hospitals…
And our prayers are for the whole world. We pray for people in the Kayah, Myanmar, where thirty-five people were killed in a military attack. We pray for people in West Kordofan, Sudan, where thirty-eight were killed when a defunct gold mine collapsed. We pray for people in Kabul, Afghanistan, where women gathered this week calling for “justice, justice” in protest of Taliban authorities.
Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain
Highest praises, honor and glory
Be unto Your name, be unto Your name
AMEN.

SCRIPTURE John 1:35-51 – read by Angela Outhouse:

SERMON: Get to Know Me. Today is the second Sunday of Christmas, and the second day of a whole new year. For a third time, we have stopped meeting in person – this time not because we had to, but because so many people are reluctant to gather. 

We begin a new year with a new Gospel to read as we tell the story of Jesus once again in worship; the Gospel of John. How different from the other three it is! How full of Jesus’ words, and glorious signs of His divinity. How different in style and how rich in detail. 

I have not quite thought this through yet, but I wonder if our opening theme for the year will be getting to know Jesus. We may be guided to explore how we have done this in our lives, and what the next steps are. We may uncover what new methods we have for sharing Good News with the generations around us now. How can other people get to know what we know about Christ? 

So, we have now celebrated the arrival of Him in the world, two millenia ago. Today, in John’s Gospel, we see young adult Jesus beginning His work. He starts the journey by recruiting disciples. Some of His recruits had been followers of John the Baptizer, Jesus’ cousin. This was what John’s work was for: to prepare for the actual Messiah, and to hand his apprentices over to the Christ. 

Any story is a journey through time and space. We compared the story of these others with our own life stories. We find common events and experiences. Similar intervention by God. Our lives get interpreted by the Bible.

Today I also began a retelling of the classic Christian story ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Written hundreds of years ago by Baptist preacher John Bunyan, I’m using a new children’s version of this allegory. Perhaps Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey can help us adults follow the original book more easily. And here again we may have our own life stories interpreted. Pray that the Spirit of the Living God will open our minds and inspire our faithful actions. 

Anyway, let us get back to John chapter one, and Nathanael, who caught my attention this past week. We learn very little about this follower of Jesus: all we have is a few scenes in these paragraphs. Before he meets Jesus Nathanael is skeptical about this new prophet, from a nearby small town. “Could anything good come from Nazareth?” he says. But when Jesus meets him, Christ declares Nathanael to be a man of faith ‘without guile’ or ‘without deceit,’ however we want to translate it.

As much as this Gospel story is about Nathanael, and Philip, and the others, getting to know this Jesus, I wondered this, the same thing Nathanael wondered: how did Jesus know what Nathanael was like? “Where did you get to know me?” he asks. And they have a short conversation about this. 

Maybe you can remember times you got introduced to someone new, but your reputation preceded you. The stranger knew something about you already. Maybe you had friends in common. Or they just picked up quickly on who you are, what you’re like. 

I think of a friend of mine who has a certain insight, an intuition of sorts, even almost what seems like a 6th sense. He used to tell me he gets a strong first impression from people. When he meets someone and shakes their hand, he knows. I think he meant he knows if he can trust them, he knows if he is going to like them, he picks up right away on the person’s personality. 

I don’t have that gift. But sometimes I know when I meet someone who has this insight. 

So there is something important, even impressive, when someone notices us and has some insight about us. When I realize someone truly sees me, understands me, is paying attention to me, it is touching and kind. So the Jesus and Nathanael scene got me wondering about how these two men got to know one another very quickly. And has that ever happened for me and Christ?

Yes, we get to know Jesus. It comes from our time with Him. John’s story of Christ has these scenes of Him gaining disciples: Andew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanel. They change their schedules – for three years! – and are apprenticed to the Master. They see what Jesus does, they have it explained to them, they start to help Jesus, they try going out on their own, they do it. They become trained in Kingdom living; it’s very practical work. 

So many of you to whom I preach have had many years of your own apprenticeship to the Master. You have your own definite sense of who the Master is, what He is like, how He gets things done, and the qualities of His character. As He said, He is a Shepherd who knows the sheep, and the sheep know His voice. I don’t know about you, but I still find there is more and more to know about Christ. I keep wanting to go back, for instance, to Willard’s book about hearing the voice of God, and be reminded what to look for when I want to hear from God. As in human relationships, there can always be more knowing and growing with Jesus.

We also get to be known by Jesus, and this actually matters. “Where did you get to know me?” asked Nathanael. We can ask the same thing. ‘Where did You get to know me, Christ?’ And then, scenes from our life may come to mind – the things we did, the places we went, the moments that mattered – when the all-seeing God enjoyed our company, and cooperated with us. 

I like that phrase in Psalm 149 (4) ‘For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.’ Remember, and know that your God enjoys you.

In that amazing chapter, Romans 8, we can read (26) ‘… the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.’ And (34) ‘It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.’ I keep saying, I have this sense that the Trinity: Father Son and Holy Spirit, are busy talking about us among Themselves. You and I are on Their minds. We matter. Everyone matters. So, as Paul says in Romans 8(31) ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’! 

Our faith celebrates this Deity who we experience so personally. To be known by God is a gift of grace. 

And we get to know ourselves better, through Jesus’ eyes, so to speak. Many of us learned from Christianity that God is all-seeing, and catches us in every mistake and bad deed. Psalm 19:12 prays: ‘But who can detect their errors?     Clear me from hidden faults.’ But what if we remember that our Creator also knows every beautiful thing about us, moment by moment? We are told we are wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14) and in the New Testament that we were created for good works, all prepared for us to do in this life (Eph 2:10). We have this good news to tell: God sees the beauty and worth of you

A song came to my mind, a Gaither song I learned as a kid in the Church. 

I am a promise, I am a possibility,
I am a promise, with a capital P,
I am a great big bundle of potentiality!
And I am learning to hear God’s voice,
And I am trying to make the right choices
I’m a promise to be anything God wants me to be.

Whenever someone who knows and respects us tells us what they see in us, it has an impact. I shared some of these words with you a few weeks ago, from a social media post by a friend of ours.  It was just a couple years ago that Jennifer wrote to all of us, who knew her, to tell us she had cancer. In the midst of it she said: 

We live in a society where people think that individuality is a right and spend soooo many dollars on clothes, hobbies, tattoos, homes, anything and everything that can set them apart. But if we are all doing the same thing albeit in different ways, isn’t that more the same than different? If we could all only see how beautiful God has made each of us we could spend more time making a difference in the world with all he has given us. Friends! If you only could see you as I see each of you! You are beautiful. I digress.

Jenn had that vision of others that Jesus sees. When you can believe something wonderful about yourself that someone else believes, how encouraging! All the more when we get in touch with how God esteems us. As a father is filled with compassion for his children, so God loves us. As a hen would try to gather her chicks under her wings, so Jesus wanted to embrace His people who were straying. As the Spirit lets our own spirits know we belong and are children of God, so our lives expand and strengthen.

As a new year begins, follow Jesus. 

Notice how His own attention follows you. 

And discover anew the delight and purpose Jesus sees in you!

PRAYER after the Sermon:  God, You are more than words can tell or names can describe. Jesus, You are bigger than history and more down-to-earth than stained glass and hymns. Spirit, You are holier than we can touch, yet also close and graciously available to our souls. In our quest to know You, to believe in You, to follow Your way for us: remind us again how You also seek us with great love and attention. Even with Your arms open wide upon the Cross You seek us. You are lifted up that all men and women may be drawn close to You. 

Draw close to us again, we pray. Amen.

COMMUNION The table of bread is now to be made ready.
It is the table of company with Jesus,
and all who love him.
It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world,
with whom Jesus identified himself.
It is the table of communion with the earth,
in which Christ became incarnate.
So come to this table, you who have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time;
you who have tried to follow Jesus
and you who have failed; come.
It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

Jesus said, “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread – living Bread! – who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.” John 6:47-51 (Msg)

Now, we remember that…
The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. 1 Corinthians 11:24-26 (Msg)

Let us give thanks for the bread… [Maggie Beveridge:]

[Eat the bread]

After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:
This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.
Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

Let us give thanks for the cup… [Peter Dickie:]

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns.

[Drink from the Cup]

Prayer after Communion
The bread has been broken, the cup has been poured, the meal has been shared. Gracious God, we give thanks for bread for the journey, for your wisdom guiding us along the way. May there be friends to share the road as we dare to dream of creation renewed, and hope in the promise of justice for all. Amen.

BENEDICTION: May the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom; and grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us now and always. AMEN.

Worship, Dec 26 – How the COVID Stole Christmas??

WELCOME to this post for our last service of the year, and the Second Day of Christmas. The music in our service was played from previous videos from December of this year and last. The bulletin here on our website gives the full service plan.

Prayer – by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth. I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of traditions, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offence to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of men, and yet as the saviour and redeemer of the human race. AMEN.

SERMON: How the COVID Stole Christmas?

Everyone down in Digby likes Christmas a lot…
But the COVID, who lived east of Digby, did not!
It didn’t hate Christmas, it just has no reason
To ask what it was; viruses heed no season.
It could be it’s new (born in twenty-nineteen),
it could be ‘cause it’s invisible, unseen.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been variants Omicron and Delta.
Whatever the reason, its genetic make-up
Has stood in our way, it’s a big Christmas break-up!

Staring down this pandemic sours us, makes us frown,
And the warmth of our festive gatherings in town
For now have been stopped in Digby, and all over.
(We’re in the same boat with every Christmas lover.)
We had hung all our stockings and decked all the halls,
Been singing every carol we could recall.
And just when our Christmas was practically here
The Omicron growled (as the X ring was cheered).
So folks got concerned, fingers nervously drumming,
& most things just stopped. Is this Christmas not coming?
For yesterday, truly, all the girls and boys
They woke bright and early; they rushed for their toys!
But the Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties and Cousins
And Uncles did not meet as normally happens.
And even the Churches did not make much noise:
Does COVID hate carols? The noise, noise, noise, noise?
And then all the great plans to feast became least,
For gathering less could slow this viral beast.

But it’s all about who; young and old get together,
No matter the distance, no matter the weather.
We always are singing of coming back home,
Christmas a reunion of loved ones who roam.
Welcome, Welcome, Christmas Day is in our grasp!
Welcome, yes! So long as we have hands to clasp!
Yet clasping of hands and hugging of our friends
Is banned, is forbidden, is over, The End.
The more that we fight it the more it keeps winning,
Has Christmastime failed, COVID stopped the whole darn thing?
Why, for twenty-one months we’ve put up with it now!
We must stop the virus from spreading! But HOW?

Does God have an idea? An awesome idea?
The Saviour has got a wonderful idea!
He knows what to do just to keep us together.
He’s seen this before. (He’s been ‘round forever.)
For many a person in history’s days
Has been isolated, or forced to obey,
Or suffered with sickness, or battled great war:
Our Master has reached them from near and from far.
Yes, Jesus has been there, and walked with them all;
He’s suffered again and again, and stood tall.

Our God knows we want Christmastime to be nice,
With family and carols and sugar and spice.
We like the great story, with shepherds and angel,
We want to share presents and hear every carol.
But then, when it’s messy, or sad, or gets wrecked
By troubles we did or we did not expect
We can pause to remember the rest of the story,
Even Jesus’ birth is tense, troubled and gory!

As the scene gets all dark and a star’s in the air,
And the Magi are travelling far with great care,
At the same time ole Herod, jealous and power-hungry,
Hears ‘bout this new King: he gets sneaky and angry.
Forget not that Joseph and Mary, with Jesus
Soon had to flee home ‘cause of Herod’s decreeses.
Forget not that many a boy child got killed
Because of the evil King Herod had willed.
And maybe you’ve never been a refugee,
But you just may know one, so look here and see
That time when dear Joseph took his babe and wife
Und’ cover of darkness, to run for their life!
They went far away, like like wee Moses, of old,
Who just escaped death, thanks to his mother bold.
So Mary and Joseph and their little lad
Lived as foreigners when, at home, times were bad.

Now, I get perspective on my present state,
With stresses from COVID that just won’t abate.
My Christmas with step-daughters and grandchildren
Got cancelled by COVID exposure for them.
And though we’re alert to see if they get sick
And pray that they’ll be protected from all of it,
And though my dear parents stayed safely away
Instead of here visiting for Christmas Day,
At least I’m at home, safe and sound and well fed,
And had a great day with the woman I wed.
On computer screens we could see everyone
And laugh, and rejoice and have Oh lots of fun.

So COVID has found out that Christmas has come,
Just ‘cause we don’t meet don’t mean it is all done.
The lights in our windows are still brightly beaming,
Gifts lovingly given are kindness revealing,
The stories of Jesus are told in our homes
And through all the internet, where’re folk roam.
Generous goodness and praying for peace
Have never been stopped, have not at all ceased.
COVID hadn’t stopped Christ from coming! HE CAME!
By power of the SPIRIT, He came just the same!

So COVID, with viral receptors askew,
Is puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be true?
Christ came without gath’ring! They still all believe!
He came without choirs singing on Christmas Eve!
He came even when people isolated,
He came without Gran tucking Johnny in bed!
COVID puzzled three hours, till it’s puzzler was sore.
Then the Virus thought of something not thot before.
‘Maybe Xmas,’ it thot, ‘doesn’t come from being home.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… transcends being alone!’
And what happened then? Well… in Digby they say,
That the Christians’ wee hearts grew three sizes that day!
The minute our hearts don’t feel left out by Christ,
But touched by the promise of faith, hope and light,
We’ll know it’s the Spirit of our living God
Who tells our own souls, “I have gone where you’ve trod,
And leading Your way I will go on ahead;
So rely upon Me, lay down your weary head.
I’ll bring back the joys! And food for your soul’s feast!”
Yes, Jesus, Himself, will reach greatest and least.

Our worship of Jesus (That’s what Christ-mas is)
Breaks up isolation. (He knows what this is.)
Refreshen your soul with the ways that you know:
With praying, compassion, and generous flow.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
Bow down before Him, His glory proclaim;
Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness
Bring, and adore Him; the Lord is His Name!

(J S B Monsell, 1863)

Worship – Christmas Eve

WELCOME to this Post for the Christmas Eve Service for Digby Baptist Church. three video elements are now here, which include readings, prayers, carols, and a short sermon. We are meeting in person, with extra precautions, and plan to again on Sunday, ‘Boxing Day.’ Stay tuned here for that service also.

(Video Part 3 after the sermon text and prayer, below.)

The Solemn Hour Tonight we have heard some of the start of the Jesus story, from each of the four Gospel writers of the Bible. Each one starts at a different place, and gives new details. John goes back to the very beginning, to creation: and Christ was there! Matthew tells us about Joseph’s dream, and then the Magi who finds the child once He’s born. Luke tells us all about Mary, and so many details about that night in crowded Bethlehem with angels and shepherds. Mark, with his usual brief simplicity, starts when Jesus is thirty years old, with his cousin John getting the neighbourhood ready for the Messiah to get to work. 

Whatever your situation, tonight, may there be some element of the Jesus story that blesses you. The final bit we heard, from Mark chapter 1, has John the Baptizer preaching with the fervor and seriousness we expect from this wild cousin of Jesus. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance – of making a turn-around – and of forgiveness of sins. 

Which is my segue into the carol Margo just sang. I like to read the stories of the songs I love, and ‘O Holy Night’ has an interesting story. Like other old carols, its evolution was convoluted and surprising. Commissioned in 1847 in France for a Christmas pageant, poet Placide Cappeau wrote the words. 

I shall always remember, fifteen years ago, healing a prison ministry volunteer from the Moncton area sing, in French, ‘Minuit, Chretiens,’ in the Chapel of the Dorchester Prison, for the annual Christmas program. She looked like a big opera singer, and sang like one too.

Most of us know only the English words, by John Sullivan Dwight, 1855. The original French seems more stern and direct and serious than what we usually sing in English. So much so that Cappeau actually rewrote his carol, but that version never replaced his original verses. 

I won’t try to sing, or read, the French. Here is an English translation: Christians, it is midnight: the solemn hour when the God-Man came down to us to wipe away original sin and end His Father’s anger. The whole world trembles with hope on this night that gives us a Saviour. People, to your knees! Await your deliverance! Noel, noel! Behold, the Redeemer!

The powerful message of this Jesus, God come to earth, is deep in all the scripture stories. And some of our carols. Ours is a world of trouble, and some people have their own world of troubles to face right now. Again, people wait for a Deliverer. The person whose house burned down this week. The person who made it through aneurysm surgery. The family who lost a child in a shooting. The people who are overcome with sorrow and depression at Christmas. Behold, the Redeemer!

I like the power in the original second verse, translated: The King of Kings is born in a humble stable; you, the mighty of your day, so proud of your grandeur, it is to your pride that God preaches. Bow down before the Redeemer!

Strong words, especially sung with an operatic voice.

This is not midnight, but it is our solemn hour together. We are actually together! Many are not. In this pandemic of isolation, we grow to understand more about the deep separation between us and all things that can hurt so much, and that our Faith claims to heal. Jesus is the healing Word.

Speaking about John chapter 1, Richard Rohr, wrote:

And so this Word, this Eternal Word of God that we read about in the prologue to John’s Gospel, leapt down, …and took its abiding place on Earth, in order to heal every bit of separation and splitness that we experience. That splitness and separation is the sadness of the human race. When we feel separate, when we feel disconnected, when we feel split from our self, from our family, from reality, from the Earth, from God, we will be angry and depressed people. Because we know we weren’t created for that separateness; we were created for union.

So God sent into the world one who would personify that union—who would put human and divine together; who would put spirit and matter together. That’s what we spend our whole life trying to believe: that this ordinary earthly sojourn means something. (“Really Only One Message,” Dec. 25, ‘16.

When God gives us a solemn hour, we gaze upon Jesus, and we find meaning for our everyday lives. Sometimes that is what it takes. Quietness before the holy, whenever and wherever we can meet up with The Holy One. 

Whether this hour here has been holy for you, or not, may you find the holiness you desire, and let there be the same for those who are in your prayers. 

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His Gospel is Peace.

Prayers of the People: God who gave a human Saviour, who comes to us now in Spirit: we rejoice again as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. For every blessing we give thanks. With every blessing we count, we also pray. 

We are here, together, Jesus our Brother. We pray for those who are isolated, in one way or another, now. Those isolated by sickness, or by broken relationships, by fear or by oppression: have mercy on them this Christmas.

We are rich and filled with good things, Creator. We pray for those who do not have even what they need. Those who lack food or water, who lack home or shelter, who lack safety or purpose, who lack family or friends: have mercy on them this Christmas.

We are hopeful and faithful, Holy One. We pray for those who have given up on hope, and those who have rejected Jesus and His Church. Those who have been harmed by life’s circumstances, traumatized by others, or hurt by the Church: have mercy on them this Christmas.

We are here where things are calm and bright, O Light of the World. We pray for all who are threatened by violence, of the powers of nature or by the power of cruel people. Those who suffer, who grieve, who are terrorized: have mercy on them this Christmas. 

God of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, we receive the light of Christmas, the Light of Christ Himself. Send us forth as lights in the world now. In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Worship, Dec 12 – Advent 3: Joy

WELCOME to this post for worship at Digby Baptist on the third Sunday of Advent 2021. We celebrated the baptism of believers today, among other things. The full service plan is in the bulletin, also found here on our website.

Prayers of the People God, when You are a Child, we are stopped like a deer in the headlights. The familiar images of infant Jesus still draw us in, touch our spirits, and challenge us to be people of deeper faith. Holy, holy, holy are You.
Generous God, this whole season declares that You give Yourself to us, not to mention every other gift in life. We pray today for people who do not have enough gifts, not even the necessities of life. No home, no work, not enough food, or health, or family or friends, or faith. Bless those who receive the gifts we give, through our benevolent work, through the local Food Bank, through our other donations. We dedicate all our offerings today in the name of Jesus.
Loving God, hear our heart’s cry, for our own hearts go out to people dear to us who face troubles. Our folk who are in and out of hospitals: bless as much as possible. Douglas staying in Yarmouth, Joe and Dwight and others with many appointments. May they find Your healing in all their journey.
We also pray to bless those dear to us who are now far from us. We seek grace for Dianne and Sonny who are away for the winter now, and others who are gone long term, like John and Evelyn, Dick and Della, Lee, Marina.
Infinite God, we intercede for this world. More flooding destroys, in South Sudan, and in Indonesia: have mercy. COVID-19 infections grow so much in some places, like South Korea: heal and protect, we pray. New leadership begins in the world, such as in Germany: guide and inspire, O God.
Personal God, we approach You like friends, long known to one another and still looking forward to each time together. Keep speaking, and we shall give You our attention, even our adoration. Jesus, our Joy-giver, we rejoice today with great hope! AMEN.

Sermon: Without Price ‘Tis the season of gift-giving and receiving. I love getting and giving gifts, though, even at my age, I am still often more excited about getting stuff than giving.

The other day I went down to Yarmouth and visited in the hospital. First time in at least twenty months doing that. Before I got there I happened to meet up with a colleague in the mall, sitting on a bench with his wife. Shawn and I had been at Divinity College together. He’s pastor of Yarmouth North Baptist Church. It was a nice little reunion and time to catch up on lots of things.

One thing Shawn advised me: my clergy nametag for the hospital won’t let me out of the parking lot for free any more. There is, like at our own hospital in town, a $4 fee. I never have twoonies or loonies on me! But Shawn said, ‘When you get to the gate, press the button and talk to Security. Tell them you are a pastor; they should let you out.” He was right; I was let out – for free.

‘Free’ things get us excited, eh? But I was really given several ‘free things’ on Friday in Yarmouth. A visit with old friends: Shawn and Darlene. An opportunity to visit Doug Hales in the hospital. And free parking, as usual.
Here, together, we are worshipping God. God who is all about giving free gifts of many kinds. We see at the pinnacle what we call ‘salvation’ – a life that is better, healed, forgiven, reconciled, and enduring beyond death. This rests upon a huge heap of other benefits that God gives, ‘unnumbered blessings,’ Priceless things.

Ardith helped us read from Isaiah 55, a little chapter full of rich images: word pictures that transcend time and space. Not only were the words of the prophet good news for exiled Hebrews 2,700 years ago, they came true even more with the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus, 2,000 ys ago.
It starts off with free stuff. Actually, free necessities.
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

‘Without price.’ Good food and drink, with a price tag of zero. It’s a great picture of God’s Kingdom, the one we pray for each time with the Lord’s Prayer. God’s economy is all gifts, free gifts, shared, abundant. It is physical, it is social, it is spiritual. Ask Wendy, ask Iain, about what Christ has done in their lives and you would hear some very practical stories. As Romans 5 and 6 say, over and over, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This eternal life has begun now, with pure and practical blessings.

Remember, at the end of August, when I asked for suggestions for the next Sunday sermon? One of the ideas was The Beatitudes, those poetic promises at the beginning of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” And so on.

That whole sermon will be for another day, but let me point out now something I learned from author Dallas Willard. These may not be instructions on how to be blessed: work at being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, etc. No, this may really be a declaration that the promised Kingdom of God is truly available even to people who are already the poor, the meek, those who hunger for what’s right, those who work to make peace. Jesus is free for the taking for every kind of person. God is available.

So I love Isaiah 55:6 Seek the Lord while he may be found, / call upon him while he is near… In December we keep singing about Emmanuel: God with us. Jesus makes the Holy Creator available to us in an unmatched way.
Joining Christianity through the waters of baptism is a free gift, from God and the Church. We charged no fee to Wendy or Iain! But is it truly free to be part of Digby Baptist, or any other congregation? Not on paper, and I must confess I could take issue with this. Officially, our membership here requires money. Our Act of Incorporation states that The person who shall be entitled to vote at such annual or other meeting of the congregation, shall, along with other stipulations …have been, regular worshipers in the church for the then past six months, and for that period regular contributors to its support. To be in good standing you need to give money.

But what, I ask, what about people who are destitute, or deep in debt, or some such situation? Do they dare become active members? Better for them to be entitled to vote by being regular receivers of our financial support! Membership without price. That’s just an idea of mine. 😉

How can a group like us be a good reflection of God’s Kingdom? That’s what we ask when we worship, when we baptize, when we fellowship one with another. There must be giving that does not count the cost, so to speak. Thus baptism of a believer is without price, as it were. In another sense, it is very costly: Christ demands our all, the whole person, turned over to Him. This is the way of freedom.

Grace is free giving. Blessing with more than could be done without God. Love is free giving of care and attention. Giving of ourselves to one another, just as God gave God to us – especially in Jesus.

No wonder Isaiah, many times, paints the hopeful picture of a realm where everything is plentiful and in harmony. Chapter 11, 35, 43, 65, and of course chapter 55.
12 the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle…

The cultural demands of Christmas spending stand in deep contrast with the biblical images of God’s generosity, and the visions of a creation renewed and plentiful.

In her beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer has a chapter about strawberries, the wild strawberries she picked in her childhood. I experienced the world in that time as a gift economy, “goods and services” not purchased but received as gifts from the earth. (Milkweed Editions, 2013, p. 24, 26)

My father loved wild strawberries, so for Father’s Day my mother would almost always make him strawberry shortcake. She baked the crusty shortcakes and whipped the heavy cream, but we kids were responsible for the berries. We each got an old jar or two and spent the Saturday before the celebration out in the fields, taking forever to fill them as more and more berries ended up in our mouths. Finally, we returned home and poured them out on the kitchen table to sort out the bugs. I’m sure we missed some, but Dad never mentioned the extra protein.

Wild strawberries fit the definition of a gift, bt grocery store berries do not. It’s the relationship between producer and consumer that changes everything. As a gift-thinker, I would be deeply offended if I saw wild straw-berries in the grocery store. I would want to kidnap them all. They were not meant to be sold, only to be given …I can see the headline now: “Woman Arrested for Shoplifting Produce. Strawberry Liberation Front Claims Responsibility.”

Like this, salvation of a human, the rite of Christian baptism, and fellowship in Church are without price, free. The vision of Robin Wall Kimmerer is like the visions of Isaiah. Picture a realm where the beautiful, needed things of life are available, to be received with gratitude. It is a vision of eternity, heaven, paradise, yes. It is also an answer to our prayer now for the kingdom to come on earth as in the heavens.

The best things in life are free. Let’s celebrate this. Let us also confess how we have put a price tag on everything. Jesus spends Himself so there is no price for us to pay. He’s without price, and priceless. We celebrate baptism and the comprehensive salvation God gives. We celebrate the gifts of earth and sea and sky that give us life in the body. We celebrate the Holy one who comes to us, abides with us, our Lord: Emmanuel.

PRAYER after the Sermon: Let us pray.
Yahweh God, we still thirst for You. Christ who will come to us again, we still seek healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Spirit of Truth, we still seek to follow the Way.
Before we affirm again our commitments to Christ and to one another to be a Church, we pause. If we can, we remember our own baptism, or other declarations we have made to the world about our confidence in You, God. We stop now to forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts. Let us all return to You now, and receive the touch of your mercy, love, grace, and salvation.
For the free gift of life here we give thanks and praise!
For the free gift of people and purpose and joy, glory!
For the free gift of faith and the faithful, thanks!
For the free gift of You, in Jesus the Christ, alleluia! A

BENEDICTION
The way is long, let us go together.
The way is difficult, let us help each other.
The way is joyful, let us share it.
The way is Christ’s, for Christ is the Way, let us follow.
The way is open before us, let us go:
with the love of God,
the grace of Christ,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Worship, Dec 5 – Men’s Choir

WELCOME to this post for the second Sunday of Advent, 2021. Full service plan can be found in the bulletin, here on the website. Here on this page is some of the script to read, and video clips from the worship service.

Opening Prayer Mighty God of time and space, holy are You: we glimpse You in all that is holy and beautiful. We have heard the call to gather, and we have come. Praise to You! We count our blessings, and become the blessing bearers to others: inspire us, we pray. We will hear the promises of Your word and of our own gospel songs and carols: guide our Men’s Choir and their helpers this morning.
Now as we worship together, forgive our feeble faith that we sometimes replace with mere nostalgia and traditions. As we remember the One who was born to die, we admit our own weakness when it comes to pain and sacrifice. And remembering our greed that has made no plans to be overly generous, open the eyes of our hearts to see the crying, dying world, where we are needed as workers for the Master.
Giver of the perfect gift, we give the simple worship that we can, and ask to be trained as gift-givers, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Men’s Choir Concert
For worship today, our Men’s Choir offers us what is really a mini Service of Lessons and Carols. Bonnie directs the Choir, Cairine is our accompanist, Linda is the guest soloist, and Heather reads our scripture texts. Before we hear the first reading, let us pray.

O God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, accompany our souls with the Holy Spirit now. May the prophetic scriptures lead us into the inspiring music. May the songs stir our longings and our love for all. May we lift up our hearts to You, and be guided to take our next steps. Amen.

Isaiah 9:6-7
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He’ll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.

He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will do all this.

The great hopes Isaiah expressed seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus say so much: so much of what was needed then, and what is needed now. This Bible translation, The Message, was prepared by the late author and pastor Eugene Peterson. He renders the texts into English so powerfully:
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.

Ever since, people who have decided to join Jesus’ team are those longing for Him to ‘take over the running of the world.’ There is a powerful gentleness in the way our Saviour gets His work done among us.

The Men’s Choir’s first song is by Haldor Lillenas, prolific 20th century gospel song composer, and the founder of the Lillenas Music company. ‘Softly the Night is Falling’ is a gentle song, echoing the angel’s voice: ‘Peace on earth, good will to men!”

Song Softly the Night

Isaiah 40:10-11
Look at him! God, the Master, comes in power,
ready to go into action.
He is going to pay back his enemies
and reward those who have loved him.
Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

We love the Biblical images of a shepherd and the sheep. Every Sunday, I look up above you all and see Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a lamb in His arms. I can go back in my memory, to the church of my youth, and picture the stained glass window there above the pulpit and choir loft, again with Jesus holding a sheep.

When the prophetic words recorded in Isaiah 40 were first proclaimed, it was a promise that the poor shepherds of the people – bad kings and priests and prophets – would be replaced by a far better Shepherd for the Israelites. Hundreds of years later, Jesus appeared in the Middle East to begin establishing Himself as the great Good Shepherd.

We are still waiting for more of this today. More of Jesus, to rule and reign. We watch for the return, the second coming, of the Messiah, when Jesus “comes in power, ready to go into action.”

The carol, ‘Rise Up, Shepherd,’ is a spiritual, and has an active energy to it. To the shepherds in Bethlehem it speaks action. We also must take action and respond to Jesus. We hear the invitation to follow.

Song Rise Up Shepherd

Isaiah 40:1-5
“Comfort, oh comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem,
but also make it very clear
That she has served her sentence,
that her sin is taken care of—forgiven!
She’s been punished enough and more than enough,
and now it’s over and done with.”
Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”

These beginning images of Isaiah 40 are old and rich and powerful. We hear the comforting promises about the end of troubles for a nation of people. Then the metaphor of building a smooth highway for the arrival of the new King. All these centuries later, we still get inspired about how we get prepared for Jesus to be in our lives, be our Lord, be our great hope.

This wonderful Jesus is ‘the talk of the town’ right now, so to speak. ‘Everybody’s talkin ‘bout the baby boy.’ In the places we shop and the holiday movies we watch, the gospel story still sneaks in, in the words of all the Christmas carols. Let us claim again the ‘tidings of great comfort and joy.’

Song Baby Boy

Isaiah 53:1-2
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.

We Christians take so much from Isaiah chapters 52 and 53 into the life of Jesus – and it is no wonder. His suffering upon earth is illustrated keenly in these words from hundreds of years before His birth. The lines Heather just read we see reflected even in the humble birth of the Christ, which happened among the animals of someone’s home in Bethlehem.

When we consider that it is God Almighty – Creator – Spirit – Ground of our Being – Who gets born into a human life: it is incredible. So ordinary. So vulnerable. So practical. So earthy. There are things about the birth of our Messiah that do shine – yet Jesus is so much an ordinary kid like you and I were. We are forever drawn to the scene of baby Jesus. What an emotional impact this has: God as a newborn. I have been brought to tears by nativity dramas in churches, when the actors playing Joseph and Mary lifted up a real baby (not just a doll) as Jesus. God with us! Hallelujah!

Oh, we had better be quieter if the little fellow is sleeping. ‘…The Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.’ Legend had it that the German Church reformer, Martin Luther, authored the words of ‘Away in a Manger,’ in German, but it appears that it was written in English, probably no more than 150 years ago.

Song Away in a Manger

Isaiah 40:9
Climb a high mountain, Zion.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid!
Tell the cities of Judah,
“Look! Your God!”

Raising voices to share good news is what a choir like this one is doing. ‘Look! Your God!’ And perhaps it is combined voices that make more of an impact. Combined voices are more believable. Combined voices are less timid and more clear.

And this is true beyond choirs singing. When we, a congregation, are giving out the same messages out there in the community, the impact is greater. Greater than our lone voices. What happens when people are treated better by all of us? When they discover plenty of us who have confidence in Jesus? When they notice how many of us have been changed for the better, through the years?

The message our lives give out can be like a clear, ringing bell. The ringing of bells has been a church thing for centuries, even though bells are seldom mentioned in the Bible. The church bells called people to gather, in a time before people carried phones or watches. A loud bell is heard far and near. Our combined loud witness can also be heard all over the land.

Song Ring Christmas Bells

Psalm 72:10-14
Kings remote and legendary will pay homage,
kings rich and resplendent will turn over their wealth.
All kings will fall down and worship,
and godless nations sign up to serve him,
Because he rescues the poor at the first sign of need,
the destitute who have run out of luck.
He opens a place in his heart for the down-and-out,
he restores the wretched of the earth.
He frees them from tyranny and torture—
when they bleed, he bleeds;
when they die, he dies.

The poetry of Psalm 72 gets pulled into the story of the Eastern visitors who came to worship little Jesus, even though Matthew does not call them kings at all, but Magi, people of certain wisdom and skills. Humans of all sorts get drawn to Christ, with all the hopes and promises of a Special One, among us on earth.

The lyric of Psalm 72 speaks of the poor being supplied with what they need, the down-and-our being deeply loved, and those who suffer being joined by this great Leader. We find Jesus doing these exact things. Indeed, as Eugene Peterson reworded this Psalm, it says He accomplishes His mission by bleeding with those who bleed and dying with those who die.

What did the Magi know of this child, thirty years before Jesus’ real work began? We don’t know. Seems like almost no one expected the exact path that Jesus took. There were so many grand expectations of a Messiah.
Our final musical offering expresses the calm determination of those wise ones from afar. They still inspire believers – and would-be believers – to stay the course and seek Jesus with confidence and trust.

Song Wise Men from the East

Prayers of the People God, who promises to take over the running of the world: our prayers are for this world of people, this world of creatures and landscapes.
We groan with those in grief and disbelief after another deadly school shooting, this time at a Michigan high school in the United States that killed 4 and wounded others.
We take a deep breath and release our prayers for peace to come from the Iranian Nuclear Talks between the United States, Iran, Europe and China.
We sing prayers for the people of Afghanistan where more than 100 former Afghan security forces have disappeared since the Taliban seized control.
God, like a Shepherd who cares for the flock: our prayers are for people, ourselves and our own people…

God, whose bright glory shines for everyone to see: our prayer is praise and thanksgiving for the sacredness of life. The beauty of this snowy day, the delight of the music, the specialness of every face we look upon – thank You!
God, who surprises us with what Your saving power looks like: our prayer is a prayer of Faith, of the Christian tradition, of disciples of the Master. The motto says, ‘keep Christ is Christmas.’ Teach again to be storytellers in our homes and community. To be prayerful and watchful. To be agents of mercy and of change, for Christ.
God, who calls us to speak loud and clear and not be timid: our prayers are for mission. Our mission, our work, we speak of, again and again. Reveal to us, by Your Holy Spirit, what good plans to act upon. Reveal what good things we already go that are, actually, Jesus, alive among us. Guide us to find nominees for next year’s Church work. Guide us to begin and restart good plans and acts of service. And guide us always to rely upon Your word and Your Spirit for the message we show to our neighbourhood.
In the name of Jesus Messiah – His power & authority. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Neibuhr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we could all only see how beautiful God has made each of us we could spend more time making a difference in the world with all he has given us. Friends! If you only could see you as I see each of you! You are beautiful. I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on. 

Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.

(Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 96)

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

Jesus said, I am the light of the world. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Your name, Jesus.  AMEN.

Worship, Nov 14 – Just, Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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