Worship Fully

(Isaiah 2:1-5; John 4:19-26)

1st Sun of Advent, Nov 27, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Have you ever been part of a conspiracy?  No?  Well, when the snow arrives, don’t let me catch you singing this: (Richard B. Smith, ‘34)
Later on we’ll conspire As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland.

To conspire together is to make plans together.  Today, I invite you to join the Advent Conspiracy, a movement among Christians to do December differently, to live Advent without all the traps of the Season that is just beginning to catch us.  Shopping, rushing, wanting stuff, pigging out, getting in debt, forgetting Bethlehem.

The first of four themes for Christians in Advent can be Worship.  Worship Fully. Come and Worship.

Isaiah the prophet exclaimed to the Jews of old: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob” (2:3)  Isaiah paints one of these visions of the Hebrew Holy City and their Temple as the highest mountain, raised up, to which all the peoples of earth will be attracted.  Attracted and gathered to Almighty God.

God calls. Come and worship. Christ calls.

It was the night of the annual Santa Parade of Lights, Windsor NS.  Out by the local mall parking lot, the many vehicles, floats, and groups walking were lined up.  The local Baptist Church even had a float.  On the trailer was an old ‘pump organ’ that the pastor played, dressed in old-time garb and a top hat.  Others dressed in Victorian outfits were there to sing the carols. But in the front of the float was a rough structure with a feed-trough in it.  A young couple huddled there, dressed in old, Mid-Eastern clothing.  A baby doll was in the straw of the manger.

As the parade wound along the streets of the town, with the crowds of young and old alike cheering them on, at once Mary and Joseph saw this… A child in the front row called out: “Hi, Mary!  Hi, Joseph!”

A moment of worship, in Santa’s parade?  Full- fledged worship happens outside our own buildings.

One day, Jesus with his disciples traveled through the region called Samaria.  The Samaritans were like the Jews, but had broken away generations before.  They had their own holy mountain for worshipping God, not Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  But when Christ has a private conversation with one of the locals at a community well, He reveals some amazing things.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21, 24)

Our worship of the Son of God transcends the buildings and the rituals we know so well.  Our worship includes our private moments of devotion, and the spontaneous praise that happens anywhere.  

And when we worship fully, it is so that God may Teach us. Show us the way.  Look back to those words of Isaiah 2:3 “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord… that he may teach us his ways…” Isaiah goes on in his prophecy: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

God’s ways, God’s law, God’s word.  Our worship, together, can be at the heart of this.  Of our practical training as disciples. Our apprenticeship to Jesus.  Our following of our Master, our Shepherd.  So Advent, these weeks before Christmas, can be a time of learning and training.

So we use the Jesse Tree this year.  A decoration that puts up, each day, a symbol of an Old Testament person, or event.  We remember the ancestors of Jesus, as well as our many mothers and fathers of faith.  The spiritual heroes of the Bible.  During this week a fruit tree will go up, reminding us of Adam and Eve.  Noah’s ark will go on the tree, remembering that story, and God’s covenant then.  And so on.

We also listen to the words of the many carols that are still sung and played all around us right now.  On the radio, on street corners, in the stores, on the internet.  We still learn from the stories of the Messiah coming into the world.  
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.  Hmm… Jesus has more hands-on things to teach us about reconciliation.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.  Christ still has things to do with us to prepare us for heaven.
God with us is now residing, yonder shines the infant Light.  There is more to enjoy that we know, when it comes to God living with us here and now.

What we learn from God when we focus upon God has results.  It changes us, wonderfully.  We get trained to go out there and make a difference.  We worship so We may Walk in His Paths.
Isaiah 2:3 “…that we may walk in his paths.”
Isaiah 2:5  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk    in the light of the Lord.

I was reminded last week of what someone once said to me about the danger of being ‘spiritually fat’ Christians.  You know, we have been to many many Bible Studies, and retreats, and memorized scripture, and prayed.  And we still want more of that.  But what do we DO?  Sometime we need to get up off our duff and get out there and do what we know in the cause of Jesus.  

The Rev. Sam Shoemaker was a great preacher of the 20th century, an Episcopal pastor, and one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.  He wrote this poem as an Apologia for his life.

I stand by the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which [people] walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside & staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for [people] to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing that any [person] can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the [person’s] own touch.

[People] die outside the door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter.
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it – live because they have not found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints; go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes venture in a little farther,
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

[ There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. ‘Let me out!’ they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled.
For the old life, they have seen too much:
One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door. ]
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from [people] as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.

Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.

‘I had rather be a door-keeper
So I stand by the door.

This is walking in his paths.  This is walking in the light of the LORD!  This goes hand in hand with true worship, worshipping in spirit and in truth.  

[ Micah the prophet famously asked:  (6:6a, 8)
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
   and bow myself before God on high?
He has showed you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God? ]

Your December can be a season of worshipping God fully.  All we are, worshipping all God is.  Our lives an offering to Jesus the Christ.

The Right Shepherd

(Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 23:33-43; Colossians 1:11-20)
Sun, Nov 20, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

A few weeks ago we had our municipal elections, and many of the same servants are continuing in office in our town. Did we get the right people for these jobs?
A couple weeks ago, our neighbours of the United States had their interesting election, and there will be a new president. Did they choose well?
Five days ago I attended meeting of a group I’m a member of called the Bay of Fundy Discovery Centre Association. We had about seven people at our annual meeting. We were all re-elected to the board and it’s various roles. Will we do a good job of steering that organization?
Finding the right ‘shepherds’ to lead and guide is usually a challenge, for any group, large or small. Here in Digby Baptist we are starting to seek one another out to serve in many ways in the next year. How will you serve? How will you nominate and choose other people?
In your own personal life, how many guides do you answer to, when you think about it?
Dave Navarro has written an article entitled, “The 5 People Who Secretly Control Your Life.” In it, he says, what you may not realize is just how many people influence your life, feeding you ideas about what is “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” and practically every other decision-making criteria that guides your life. Some of these ideas are good for you, while others are bad… The 5 influences he names are: your heroes, your nemesis, your parents, your partner or spouse, and your image of who we should be.
When we discover who influences us, we can do more about this, and cooperate with our God, be more influenced by our the Holy One.
Jeremiah was a… bull-headed prophet. He was tough. He was a survivor. He preached what he had to preach, what the rulers and religious and people had to hear. In the Bible book that bears his name, chapters 21 through 23 see Jeremiah speaking God’s judgment and plans in the face of four recent kings of the Jews, at the turn of the sixth century, BCE. Jehoahaz/Shallum, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin/Coniah, and Zedekiah.
In these chapters, Jeremiah’s words from YHWH God denounce these four kings, and warn that God will not longer protect the nation. King Zedekiah had asked for help from God against their enemies. God said NO.
After what we read today, in chapter 23, there is also a critique of the Jewish prophets and priests, who also had failed in those days. It might sound, as we read the Bible, that these people of God had their nation and there religion, two things. But it was really all united together. The kings were to be set up and ruling in the ways of almighty God. The priests and prophets had their own roles – but all were spiritual leaders. Today we have the separation of Church and State. They did not, more than 2500 years ago in the Middle East.
God is God of all. No matter how we divide things up in our human society. Politics, religion, personal life. It is all under the sovereignty of God. Whether a person knows God or not, the One is charge is the great Creator and Redeemer. how much better to get to know this mighty Shepherd.
Many years ago at a social function, one of England’s leading actors was asked to recite for the pleasure of his fellow guests. He consented and asked if there was anything special that his audience would like to hear. After a moment’s pause, an old clergyman present said: “Could you, sir, recite to us the Twenty-third Psalm?”
A strange look passed over the actor’s face; he paused for a moment, and then said: “I can, and I will, upon one condition; and that is that after I have recited it, you, my friend, will do the same.”
“I,” said the clergyman, in surprise. “But I am not an elocutionist. However, you wish it, I will do so.”
Impressively, the great actor began the Psalm. His voice and his intonation were perfect. He held his audience spellbound; and as he finished, a great burst of applause broke from the guests. Then, as it died away, the old clergyman arose and began the Psalm. His voice was not remarkable; his intonation was not faultless. When he had finished, no sound of applause broke the silence, but many heads were bowed.
Then the actor rose to his feet again. He laid his hand upon the shoulder of the old pastor and said: “I reached your eyes and ears, my friends; he reached your hearts. The difference is just this: I know the Twenty-third Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
Jesus was a long-awaited Messiah or Christ for the Jews. Was He a new king David, a royal, powerful figure for the nation? When Christ came, He showed Himself to be a very different leader. Amelia drew us into a scripture about Jesus as a new kind of King, one who dies for His subjects.
Was He a new religious leader, even the founder of a new religion? Jesus was still Jewish, to the end. But His Way grew far larger than that one small religious and ethnic group. His Way opened to all, and He still sends the Spirit of God to give direction and power to churches.
A U.S. Lutheran bishop tells of visiting a parish church in California and finding a stirring red and orange banner on the wall. “Come Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!” it declared in words printed under a picture of a fire burning. The bishop was also interested in the sign directly underneath the banner which said: “Fire extinguisher.” So much for that parish’s commitment to spiritual renewal!
Sometimes it is not just a mixed message on a way that quenches the Spirit. We do reject holy guidance.
So we turn again and again to Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Right Shepherd, the Righteous Shepherd, Branch, King, Messiah, Master!
In a way, we see Jesus the Christ as a-political. yet He has much to say about the powers of our day and age.
We see Jesus as a-religious too! Beyond our fragile systems of committees and commitments and traditions. His Way is bigger than all this.
God intervenes in human life, and the human history we are writing now. How does the Holy One break into world politics? With a Trump or a Trudeau or a …?
How does the Spirit of Truth transform religion? By founding a new Christian denomination or sending a new prophet of TV and books?
And how does God touch and reform individual humans?
The same way that was promised long ago. The same way that will be celebrated next month. The same way that . With the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.
We heard a version of Psalm 23 sung earlier. Here is another poetic version, by Regina Coupar.

you are our
source
we have all
we want

you are our
comfort
we have all
we need

you are our
teacher
our knowledge is
complete

you are our
guide
we follow your
way

you are our
future
we will never
die

you are our
protector
we relinquish
our fears

you are our
companion
we will always be
loved

Regina Coupar, The Seeker’s Heart, 2004

It is still Jesus who comes to be the Good Shepherd, the Righteous Branch, the perfect and last Sacrificial Lamb. For world problems. For your problems. For our problems. AMEN.

Before the World Ends…

(Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19)
Sun, Nov 13, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost, 1920.

As I told you about twelve months ago, the Church Year ends in November, with a focus on The End and the Second Coming of Jesus.  This Bible theme flows over into Advent, which begins the year with our preparation for the arrival of Jesus.  

The End; the end is near.  It is a fascinating subject.  It is a complicated teaching of our Faith. It can be frightening.  It can be controversial.

It pulls at our emotions and our view of the whole world.  Some people this past week thought the world almost ended on Tuesday night in the United States. On the personal level, other individuals saw a break in their lives when a loved one suddenly died.  In other situations, there are people at work wondering if they are soon going to lose their jobs.  The End comes in many forms.  But it is THE END write large we seem to see in the Bible, over and over again.

From Isaiah chapter 65 today we heard some old prophecy about a new hope.  Perhaps this Word of the Lord first came out in about 475 BCE.  This was about 45 years after those Jews had returned to Jerusalem and were preached to by Haggai. Remember Haggai from last Sunday?  Do not fear!  Rebuild the Temple.  God is with you.

Well, 45 years later, things still were not that rosy for these people of God.  That latter splendor of the holy Temple had not quite come to pass.  But then this word was preached to them, recorded in what we today call Isaiah 65.  For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…

The new life, to come, would be incredible.  New.  Gloriously peaceful.  No more infant mortality.  No more slaving away on a farm for someone else’s profit.  Even wild animals that usually were enemies will live in peace together – every critter a vegetarian!

God, through these prophets, spoke so poetically.  But, nowadays, most of us don’t want a poet.  We seem to want answers. Just tell us what exactly will be; and when? When will this all end & we see glory?

We heard from Jesus today.  And more words about The End.  Once again, things centre around the Temple in Jerusalem.  All the stones will be thrown down, Jesus says.  When the disciples ask when, Christ teaches them, warns them, prepares them.  

He never tells them when.  When the Temple will fall once again.  When the world as they know it will end.  When the Kingdom will Come.  We can even find Jesus saying to them He did not know, only the Father in Heaven.

But they are told some things to do to be prepared and to be faithful. That’s what Christ has for us today, from Luke 21.  First of all:  Do not be led astray.  

“Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and , ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.”

I say that we are not told when, or how, the future will happen.  So, whether your neighbour claims the return of Jesus will be in 2058, or some internet prophet preaches that the Antichrist will be born in December 29, 2016… don’t believe it.

I guess it’s easy for me to say that; the extreme teachings can be denied easily.  But how do we know who is leading us astray and who is not?

We listen to a modern day prophet with the scriptures in mind.  The whole scriptures. It is easy to take a few Bible Passages, or even a whole Book, and try to prove some amazing truth.  But keep the whole of scripture in mind… don’t be led astray.  And listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Churches, not just to you, or to you and your little church.  

Another thing Jesus says: Do not be terrified.
We seem to live is a world struggling with terror and fear now.  Especially since September 11, 2009, and then President Bush’s declaration of a War on Terror by the United States of America.  Nearly two thousand years ago, in the Middle East, Jesus said: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

There is such a thing as anxiety – plenty of people have anxiety issues today and panic attacks – and there can be healing from God for that, I’m sure.  But I believe what our Master is speaking of here is a fear in the face of apocalyptic battles, a terror that is real and yet conquerable.  

There will be violence on a large scale: wars.  Jesus acknowledges this.  We have been warned, so this helps us.  Things will be bad on earth, so don’t fear that the Master is not going to win.  And The End is not yet, He said. We look abroad to glimpse real trouble.  

Perhaps you have heard of the  Canadian pastor, who was arrested in North Korea last year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the state, and is presently hospitalized because of poor health. According to Canadian diplomats, Hyeon Soo Lim has been receiving treatment in hospital since Aug.

Hyeon, a pastor of Light Presbyterian Church in Toronto, had gone missing in January 2015. The following month, news of his arrest broke out, reporting that North Korean officials accused him of committing crimes against the state. In August 2015, North Korean state news released a video of Hyeon confessing to the alleged crimes. However, those monitoring persecution noticed that he appeared to be reading from a script, raising suspicions that the pastor had been coerced into confessing the crimes.
( Voice of the Martyrs webpage www.vomcanada.com )

We are asked to pray for Lim in this time of imprisonment and illness!  There is real trouble for Christians on earth: be not afraid, says the Saviour.

Thirdly, Christ gives another warning, that comes with something else, an Opportunity to testify.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.  This will give you an opportunity to testify.”

As you may know, today is designated as the annual Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Christianity is illegal in many places, it is attacked, it is pushed out.  Believers are killed for being believers in Jesus Christ.  Some Christians here in North America are foreseeing this happen here too… and the best advice about this comes from the Bible.  Take it as an opportunity.  

Here and now, while Church people still have many privileges in Canada, our religion is often considered ‘politically incorrect.’  What an opportunity this can be to share what we know, our experience of our God.  How you put that into words and how I do will always be different.  It is personal.  Yet we are also speaking of something we share in common.  

For example, how would you explain, simply, your conversion? Being changed by God? Forgiven?

I remember Alice so well, from Diligent River, NS.  An active member of a United Church up there, she told of her experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, one day.  “Do you remember that commercial for a kitchen cleaner,” she asked, “where a magic wand was waved, and sparkles showered down the room until it was all clean and beautiful?”  “Well, that’s what it was like.  From the top of my head down to my toes, I felt a wave of cleansing and peace.”  

What a great, down to earth description of her real experience of God’s forgiving and sanctifying touch.  Yet your testimony and mine also must be rooted in what is true. A fourth thing taught here in Luke 21 is this: Rely upon the words of Jesus.

“So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

Before the world ends, this is what is needed in the face of real opposition.  We, of course, have the words and life of Jesus in writing, translated into English many times in the Bible.   Not that what God will give us to speak will only be quotations from the Bible.  But as we know this Text better and better, we will know our Saviour more and more.  We will know what things He speaks, and how He says them.  

And the Spirit Jesus promised can be present in us, with that inner guidance that will help us bear witness.   ‘Do not prepare your defense in advance’ can mean: do not defend your faith on your own.  Don’t plan it all yourself.  It is our God who will use you to defend the Faith when God wants.  

A fifth and final word we heard from Jesus was simply this: Endure; be strong; stay with it to the end.  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  

Endurance is a powerful thing needed to survive real suffering.  Persecution like that of Pastor Lim, the prisoner in hospital now in North Korea.  

Our endurance as Christians around here is not in the face of such opposition. We must remain faithful in the face of apathy, perhaps.  To be a devoted disciples of the Master has been replaced with being merely a person who believes some of the right things about Jesus and about ourselves.  Being committed to Jesus’ people has become optional.  Going deeper in prayer and the Bible throughout our lives has become optional.  Making more and more sacrifices for Christ has become optional.  But, as Dallas Willard warned, discipleship is not just for Super-Christians.  It is for every believer.

In our ho-hum time and place, enduring and persevering in the Faith is a matter of taking the whole thing quite seriously.  And the Holy Spirit will use this to prepare us for real persecution, should it does come to us.  

Someone asked, years ago, “If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

‘By your endurance you will gain your souls.’  So does Christ cheer us on.  Keep on keeping on!  And remember in prayer our fellow believers on earth who are harshly persecuted, oppressed and in danger.  If we pay attention to them, we will endure in prayer.  And we ourselves will be better prepared for The End.  

The End.  AMEN.

Rebuilding a Nation

(Haggai 1:15b – 2:9; Rev 21:1-4)

Sun, Nov 6, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Disaster has come.  Disaster is over.  How do we rebuild our lives?  How can we rebuild? This has been the challenge of many a people through the ages.  

Picture this scene from history…  A nation had been conquered and divided.  The enemy had come and taken over.  The capital city, destroyed.  Many of the leaders and civilians taken away from their homeland.  Forced to live in a foreign land.  When would this be over?  When could they return?  Some of the people remained behind, to survive in the ruins and under the rule of the foreign power.

Finally, the day comes, and there is an opportunity for freedom.  To return to the homeland. To rebuild.   But when they get back, the once proud city is still in ruins.  The rebuilding starts, but the situation is desperate, the people who returned, poor.  

Then a prophetic voice speaks up: a voice of hope, a voice of encouragement, a voice of challenge.  Rebuild!  Get to work! God will be with you!

This was the Jews, returning to the Promised Land, 2,500 years ago, in 520 BCE.  The prophetic voice who told them to rebuild their holy Temple and their city, Jerusalem, was the prophet Haggai.

Other prophets and leaders were telling them the same thing back then, the same message from God.  Be strong; take courage.  Work.  Do not fear. I, the LORD, will be with you.  

This Bible text for today took me immediately to thoughts about our world, seventy years ago, at the end of World War Two.  The men and women who had worked and fought and survived were the ones who now had to rebuild their nations.  Rebuild their cities and towns.  Rebuild their homes and places of work, their schools and churches.  

Here in Canada, we did not have the destruction on our native soil… but in Europe, in Russia, in Japan, and many other places, there was much to rebuild.  Not to mention rebuilding of life and hope and the rebuilding of a peace within that had been shattered.

At the end of WWII, about 60 million people had been killed.  Some of this was battle, some of this was disease, some of this was genocide.  The world knows the number 6 million: the Jews who were gone.  26 million Soviet people were dead.  More than 15 million Chinese. Perhaps 6 million from Poland, 3 million Japanese, 1.7 million of Yugoslavia, and so on.  419 thousand Americans, more than 43 thousand Canadians killed.  

So I have been pondering the rebuilding of nations, of cities, of homes, and of the countryside across the globe in the 1940s and after.  This was also the work of our veterans, and the civilian population.

And this is just the story of that war.  Talk to somone who fled Syria in recent years about their home city, still being destroyed today.  How long will it be before those battles are over, and the rebuilding starts?  No wonder so many have left as refugees, never to return.  The deep discouragement is palpable.  

So it was in those days of the Jews returning to Jerusalem after more than 65 years of captivity in Babylon to the north.  The place was a disaster.  The people wanted to rebuild the city, and God’s Temple… but at times they wanted just to survive.  

And that word from God comes to them, while they stand among the ruins on the hill of Zion… Do any of you remember this Temple, this House of God, before?  And now it is nothing.  But be strong, people!  Take courage, leaders!  Work, for I am with you, says your God.  This has always been my promise.  I remain with you in Spirit.  Don’t fear!

When it’s all said and done, we know our lives, our nations, our earthly cities are all temporary.  The promises of God through the mouth of Haggai of old are… yet to be fulfilled, really.  The visions of the Bible book of Revelation point to an eternal hope, almost beyond space and time.  We have this vision of a new heavens and earth, and a new holy city, Jerusalem.  No more pain or death.  No tears or terror.  

Such are God’s longing, God’s promises, God’s plan.  And we keep up the building and rebuilding, towards the kingdom that is coming, God’s will done on earth as in heaven.  We are part of the team to build towards the gracious life that is promised.

I don’t know where this story truly comes from.  Some say it was a church in England that was bombed in the second world war; some say it was in the countryside of France, or in a German town.  As students and others were helping rebuild the church, there was the statue of Christ, badly damaged.  Jesus’ arms were stretched out wide, and the words at the base of the sculpture said, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden.”  But the hands were completely blown off in the bombing, and nearly impossible to replace.  So it was decided to put a new inscription below the statue of Jesus.  “Christ has no hands but our hands.”

In our lives, in our communities, in our troubled world, times will come again when we need to hear from our Maker: Take courage.  Be strong.  Keep working.  Do not fear.  I will be with you; I am with you.