Wisdom from God

(1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Jan 29, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White       

‘Where is the one who is wise?’ Paul asked, in his letter.  Maybe you have sometimes asked the same.  
Fifth Sunday of a month… do something different.
Interviews with preachers.
Seemed wisest not to try and interview three people in one sermon.
So, today, you sort-of get to interview me instead.  A personal sermon about Wisdom.  Where does it come from, how do we find it and acquire it from God?  For it is from God, yet comes across in many ways. Choose your own adventure:

Wisdom from God through Books.

Wisdom from God through People.

Wisdom from God through Experience.

Wisdom from God thru inspiring Books.
Book by a Southern Baptist philosophy professor?
Book by a German pastor who was executed in WWII concentration camp?
Book abt plants by two Nova Scotian botanists?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together,” 1954.
Well-know martyr of the 20th century.
German pastor, seminary professor, author.  
“The Cost of Discipleship.”
“Letters and Papers from Prison.”
“Life Together”  Chapter 5: Confession and Communion – most compelling for me.  I go back to it again and again.
Have never acted on it – made it happen in my ministry!  
The development of fellowship that is so personal and reliant upon Christ for confession and forgiveness.  
Quote pp. 110, 111.

Wisdom from God thru influential People.
John or Ruth or Garnet?
John – Industrial Arts Teacher, 1980s.
Teacher in Jr. High School
Leader of Christian Service Brigade
Director of youth Handbell Choir
Father of a best friend in High School
Tremendous sense of fun, humour.
Devoted ministry time to young people.  Weekly work, preparation, and trips.
Ministry with youth: “Has to be fun; has to be Christ-centred.”
Challenges me still to consider how to invest my time in other people; how to empower others to do the same.

Wisdom from God thru personal Experience.
Not being allowed to be ordained a pastor?
Not sticking with people who needed support?
Not knowing who to believe when one person accused another of saying upsetting things?
Ordination Council rejection, 1997.
Pastor under 1 year supervision.
Recommendation/request by Church.
Statement of Faith.
Ordination Council.
Deferred for one year; new mentor.
Reasons?   Church & Kingdom of God.
The nature of Evil. ???
Lack of confidence.
Wisdom: to be confident in myself. Be myself.
Let bureaucracies be as they may.  Don’t fret.
Wisdom comes to us from God for this life.  Comes to us in so many ways.  Thanks be to God!   1 Corinthians 1:26-31
AMEN.

Cross Purposes

(1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

Jan 22, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

In a time of crisis, a Baptist Pastor was getting a very low salary, when he sees an advertisement asking for people to help at the local Amusement Park in Upper Clements.

He took the job, and they asked him to be disguised as an ape and walk around to give some atmosphere.  Rather humiliating he thought, but at least nobody recognizes me.

He was wandering around in the Park area in his monkey costume, when he makes the wrong turn and enters an open cage, suddenly he sees a Lion.

I’m going to die, he thinks, he falls on his knees and starts praying out loud.

Suddenly he hears the Lion saying: Brother don’t worry, it’s me, the Wesleyan Pastor.

It just so happens we are smack dab in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Sadly, we Christians around here don’t do anything together at this time of year; perhaps another year we will.  We might even get together and pray!  

WPXU not known or popular with every church.  Some groups like this togetherness and cooperation.  Some are not interested.  There is much we can do together – and learn from one another.  But there are concerns about how other groups have gone astray.  We can see ourselves more in competition with other tribes of believers than in cooperation with them.

Are we ‘cross purposes?’  Do we have serious disagreements?  Or do we share the same purpose – share the message of the cross?  Preach Christ, and Him crucified?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians he says, 10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

And later, writes, 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The message of the Cross of Jesus is our purpose.

The Cross of Christ is the source of our oneness.   The heart of our fellowship.  The tie that binds.  I regularly ask myself what draws us together?  We each have reasons, motivations, needs, habits.

One day, years ago, the telephone rang in the Rector’s office of the Washington church which President Franklin Roosevelt attended.  An eager voice inquired, “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?”

“That,” the Rector explained patiently, “I cannot promise.  But we expect God to be there, and we fancy that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”  (John T. Watson)

Jesus Christ who was executed is the centre of our purpose; He the incentive for our gatherings.

Jesus is in stained glass in my view from the pulpit; as well as the Holy Bible, and the Ten Commandments.  Which of these unites us in this town?  Our beliefs, our values, or our Saviour?

We can say we are one – in this Church, not to mention with the other Churches – because of the Bible and how we understand it.  

We might emphasize being followers of the same moral living and right values.  True obedience.

Or we can believe we are one because of Jesus, our living relationship with God in Christ.  

I tend to think it is all about relationship.  Our relationship with Jesus is the heart of our common life. How we hear God speak through scripture and how we follow and live our lives comes out of knowing Jesus.  

It seems back in history that all the church splits were over beliefs.  The story of Christianity seems to be a story of divisions and people not getting along and separating.  This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold move of posting a list of 95 problems with his church – Roman Catholic – on the door of a church building.  The Reformation was beginning.

In the days of  the apostle Paul, the conflict in one town church seemed to be over who’s the leader.  Some claimed to follow their founder, Paul.  Some named their great teacher, Apollos, as their guide.  Other’s looked to the leadership of Peter, one of the original twelve disciples, who gets called Cephas here.  And yet others might have been claiming, “We, we are the real followers of Christ Jesus, alone.”

Like you and me, every denomination and every congregation has its strengths and weaknesses.  The ways we are saintly, and the ways we are sinful.

The Christian church is a society of sinners.  It is the only society in the world, membership in which is based upon the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership.  (Charles C. Morrison)

And this human condition is reached and touched by the cross of Jesus.  It is sinners Jesus calls to become His Church. And so it shall ever be.  He calls us all to His cross.  And there we find freedom and life.

The Cross of Christ is the root of our diversity.

All the splits of Christianity may seem terrible.  the thousands of denominations give our Faith a bad name with some.  The terrible fighting and conflict among different types of Christians fills the Church history books.  Yet our cooperation is beautiful.

Of course, not every believer knows this.  As I was as kid and a teen in a Baptist Church, I knew nothing at all of the others Christians around Middleton.  Was never in any other Churches.  Once I left home and was in a different town, I got in with all these other flavours of Jesus followers, and got to enjoy them thoroughly.  So many different ways to do a worship service.  So many patterns for the personal devotional life.  So many different teachings.  So many amazing ministries that help people!

The other tribes seem wonderful to me.  So, to this day, I really appreciate knowing the other believers who don’t meet in my building.  

This morning – first Sunday for the new Rector of the Anglican Parish of Digby- Weymouth.  

This morning – Installation of Tim Long as pastor of the new Wesleyan Church in Tiddville…

But, is this a story of division?  Pentecostals die out for Wesleyans to live?

Or here, our building could be seen as a testimony to the Anglican Church splitting… the split-off group built this in 1876, then fizzled out, and sold the building to the Baptists in 1885.

Out of our differences, and the ups and downs of our past, our God weaves as beautiful a tapestry as possible.  Today, in our own fellowship, we are former Uniteds, and Anglicans, and Catholics, etc.

Jesus by His cross and precious blood is doing the saving of so many humans.  Jesus is lifted up upon the cross, and people from every direction look up to him.  We are all so different across this globe, and looking back through time.  Other disciples of Jesus became fishers of people, and you and I were caught.  What a variety of fish we are.  Then we go fishing, for more.

And Jesus does not mold us all to be the same.  We all become disciples of our Master, but we remain diverse.  So it is to be expected, and maybe even a blessing, that there are so many different ways to be Church.  

The Cross of Christ is the foundation of our ministry.  Jesus: If I be lifted up I will draw all to Me.

At the start of His ministry Jesus invited men to join Him and learn to fish for people.  And the apostle Paul wrote to a church saying be of the same purpose, as he exemplified how to proclaim the Good News.

The cross shows Jesus’ solidarity with the suffering people of the world.  That is most people.  That is billions of people.  That is all people.

Christ crucified reaches those who suffer.  The ministries of the churches are all founded upon this saving work of Jesus.  Consider the power of His story.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are abandoned or betrayed by others.  At the cross we see God experiencing this.  Even the experience of being abandoned by God.  Now, there are many believers who, in the name of Jesus, are helping people who are rejected.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are criminals.  Hanging there between two thieves, He joined them in their punishment, and one of them even believed in the Kingdom Jesus was bringing.   Thus, the Spirit has so many ministries – through the churches – to people who have done wrong, to sinners.   

Jesus on the cross reaches those who suffer painfully.  The scriptures, and all the stories and songs since, tell of the pains He had to bear.  Physical pain and ruin are completely understood and joined by Christ.  Not to mention the mental anguish and emotional hurt of Jesus’ execution.  So we have today – in every congregation – such care for those who suffer in this life.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are treated unfairly and don’t get justice.  For we see Him crucified by the people and the governing powers that be.  Not even His closest friends can stand up for Him.  Thus the Church finds its calling in the needs of those who are stepped on by oppressors.  

Jesus on the cross reaches those who die.  Jesus, God with us, actually dies.  So, across Christendom, we have every ministry imaginable in the face of mortality – from the Billy Grahams preaching to save souls before it is too late, to the Mother Theresas who lovingly care for those who are going to die.

The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is a realm in which abandonment, sin, pain, injustice and death are all being destroyed.  Jesus proclaimed it in his preaching.  He proclaimed it in His living.  He proclaimed it from His cross.  His cross purposes are what bring believers together, and are the answers to our prayers for Christian unity now.   AMEN.

Like a Polished Arrow

(Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Cor 1:1-9)

Jan 15, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
A prophet of old once proclaimed: (Is 49:2b-3)
He made me a polished arrow,
   in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
   Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Like a polished arrow – words spoken to a people far away and long, long ago.  Do such words apply again to us now?  Or not?

To the ancients these were beautiful, poetic words.  Like a polished arrow in the quiver of God were the prophetic people, people with a mission and a ministry.  They are beautiful people, with beautiful work to do.  Does this holy poetry need to speak to us here and now?  It asks us: and we wonder if God asks:
Are we called and ready to reach our target?
And, what is our target today?

At times, we might feel our failures.  And we might speak like the called by God did centuries ago, saying, I have labored in vain,
   I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.
Would the answer back be the same?  
We have not laboured in vain!

Ministry of our past, and our present, is good.  
Worship…
Music…
Bible Studies…
Global mission support – Eleanor Timpany WMS.
Funerals (cemetery) and weddings…
Pastoral care, spiritual care, etc…
Building use by community:
Yoga.  Medieval Martial Arts.  Fundy Chorale.
And, our ministries include the many things each of us do.  I don’t think we count these things enough, or pray for them enough, or celebrate them enough.  You and I are God’s servants, and together we are God’s servant, doing good and bringing glory to our Master.  
Hardships and failures God uses to polish us. I find it easy, too easy, to let failures, embarrassments, laziness, and weaknesses drag me down.  Yet I believe in a God who takes those as building blocks and redeems us!  If Father God could take the betrayal and death of Jesus and use that to save the world, surely the Spirit today can take my chronic problems, and yours, and make something beautiful for God.  The Potter reforms the clay.  
Compare yourselves with the Church of Corinth, Greece.  Thanked for so much, at the beginning, in a letter that goes on at length about their troubles:  
Chapter 1. Divisions in the church: leadership
Chapter 5. Sexual immorality in the church
Chapter 6. Lawsuits among believers
Chapter 6. Christians going to prostitutes
Chapter 8. Eating food offered to idols in worship
Chapter 11. Conflicts at the Lord’s Supper
Chapter 12. Conflicts over speaking in tongues
Chapter 15. Confusion over life after death: resurrection

This is what to be wary of when joining a Christian church – because problems like this arise!  We can be idealistic about what other Christians should be like, and what a fellowship should be like.  The older editions of the Baptist Minister’s Manual say this when people join the Church:  May they find in our midst all that the word of God would lead them to expect.  May all that we expect of them be found in us as well. I did not use that script last week when Lexi joined our membership.

There is a Lutheran congregation in Colorado named the House for all Sinners and Saints.  I think their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, described beautifully what is real in the Church…

The reality is that any human community is flawed and will end up hurting people; and will end up not living up to their ideals.  And so I’d rather just start with that… rather than people have a different expectation and be disappointed.  

So people come to our church and they can be a little idealistic about it, because it is so different, and they love it; and I love it.  But when they come to our ‘Welcome to House Brunch,’ when we’re sort of welcoming them into the community, I’ll say, “I need you to hear me say this: at some point, this church will not meet your expectations, it will let you down. At some point I will say something stupid and hurt your feelings.”  And I just invite people on this side of that happening to decide if they are going to stick around after that happens.  

‘Cause if we leave because, oh, one more community disappoints us, we will miss out on the way in which grace can come in and fill in those cracks that are left behind from our brokenness and our mistakes, and it’s too beautiful to miss.  (CBC Tapestry, Sept 19, 2014)

God’s grace in the fellowship of sinners is too beautiful a thing to miss.  You have been called into this fellowship to receive and give grace, broken person that you are. Broken, but beautiful to God.  Sinners, yes, and Saints.

Paul says to his friends in Corinth – who were getting into so much trouble – God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And, as Jesus once said to His disciples, “you did not choose Me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:16)  You are welcome to be a polished arrow, a sinner to be saved by grace, saved for good, good work.  

So who shall be our target?  Single parents in our community?  Troubled youth?  Seniors at risk?

Now, now, we are prepared and called for MORE mission.  More that that lovely list of things we are doing well now.  More than worship and music and Bible Study and funerals and international mission support, etc.

Bolivia story… Mark Buchanan’s devotional:
Isaiah 49:6.  It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the tribes of Israel.  I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  

So, one of my passions is worship – this kind – what we do together.  But it is too light a thing, to little a mission, just to do this well.  There is more.  We can find ways to take the Gospel to the streets, out of these four walls.

What did the choir sing this morning?  Micah 6:8.  words prophetically spoken to a people who had to do more than worship YHWH really well.  They had that down pat. The prophet Micah asked:
What does the LORD require of you?  
Justice, kindness, walk humbly with your God.
To seek justice, and love kindness,
and walk humbly with your God.  

So when we think about all the people we might reach and bring back in here – the ones who went to Sunday School here, and Awana, and Cubs/Scouts, and those who even were in the pews, or in junior choir… Think also of those around us who were never here.  Shall our mission be to them?  And, maybe it will not be about getting them into us, but getting us into them.

Does Isaiah 49 say to us, now, It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the alumni of your Sunday School and to restore the Baptists of Digby Town.  I will give you as a light to the un-churched, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the municipality.  

Today is January 15th.  If we were to call all of 2017 one day, we have now completed the first hour of this day.  23 more to go.  How shall we spend these ‘hours’?  

Shall we discover some ways to help people in our own neighbourhood, who live in run-down apartments?  Or work long hours in a fish plant?  Or, retirees moving into new neighbourhood buildings with a view of the water?

God will be glorified… in us, the Church.
We have not laboured in vain.

Now, maybe when you think of this Church, this congregation, some of your first thoughts concern you, or even stress you a bit.  
You think, “Why is that Pastor never in when I come to the building?  He’s never there when he’s supposed to be!”
And the Pastor thinks, “Why do those people need to shake hands and visit with one another during the service every Sunday?  It’s so artificial and disrupts divine worship!”
And someone else thinks, “Why does so-and-so take complete control of that committee and not let anyone else do anything?”
Or someone else thinks, “I remember years ago when that person and this person did whatever to someone else – and to me! That still hurts.”

Wait, wait… God will be glorified… in us, the Church, the broken Church.  We have not laboured in vain.
And, we are in good company… with the early Church.  Like that famous one in Corinth.  Yeah, except they were: fighting over who’s the real pastor, and having prostitutes, and bullying one another about weekly worship, and suing one another in court.  

Paul wrote to them and said, I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…  Paul said that to them, those failures!  But they were not failures.  They were the disciples of Jesus Christ in that old city.  They just had a long way to go.  
And so do we.

He’s still workin on me,
To make me what I ought to be.
…How loving and patient He must be;
He’s still workin on me.

God will be glorified by the Church.  Us, we will give glory to God when people see and know us.
As we shoot out of here to hit our target.  (Maybe it will be newcomers to town – from Ontario, from the USA, from Little River.) As we bound out of our annual meeting to reach our target people and places. (Maybe this will include being an environmentally friendly Church – lovers of creation.)
As we are polished by the challenges of our lives to be even better agents of God’s grace.  (Maybe we will be a fellowship for healing after broken relationships.)
There are many possibilities.  We must seek God’s calling in our lives – and our shared life.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus… God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN.

God Descending?

(Matthew 3:13-17) Believer’s Baptism by Immersion

Jan 8, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

When I started to talk with Lexi about her baptism as a believer, we thought about this happening last fall.  When she settled on January 8th, I thought this date very good.  In the cycle of Sundays we call the Church Year, today happens to be what Sunday?  Two weeks ago was Christmas; this past Friday was Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the Wise Men.  Today is the Baptism of Jesus.  Many churches around the world today are looking at this same story from Matthew – the baptism of Jesus, in the Jordan River, by his cousin, John.  

And we celebrate the baptism of Lexi Gilbert.

So, what is God up to here today?  What might our God be doing when a person is baptized?  Is God being called down from heaven again?  Are we getting the Holy One of the universe to do something special for us?

Baptist Christians don’t often use the term sacrament for the special rituals we do.  We call them ordinances, because they are things Jesus ordained, or told us to do.  Sharing bread and grape juice during communion, or being baptized by immersion in water are simple actions, really.  But we intend them to be special, holy.  

A sacrament can be thought of as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  The baptism of a person is a physical action, an event.  It is to be a sign of what has happened to the person being dunked.  It is a sign.  What does a sign do?  It points something out.  

When Jesus came out to the bank of the Jordan River, to John, He told John this was the right thing to do.  “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

In this, God is being pointed to, pointed out.  By doing this, Lexi has pointed to God.  

Now, where is God?  Where do you point?

I have told the story before of the couple who had two mischievous little boys, ages eight and 10. At their wits’ end, the parents contacted a pastor for help. The pastor asked to see the boys individually. The eight-year-old was sent to meet with him first. The minister sat the boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?”

The boy made no response, so the pastor repeated the question in an even sterner tone, “Where is God?”

Again the boy made no attempt to answer, so the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face, “WHERE IS GOD?”

At that, the boy bolted from the room, ran directly home, and slammed himself in his closet. His older brother followed him and asked what happened.  The younger brother replied, “We are in big trouble this time. God is missing, and they think we did it!”

The ancient language of Bible people is of God in heaven, descending down.  But we sense the Holy One arriving from above, and from around us, going ahead of us, being found within us.  

God in day-to-day life for some people is a distant thing.  It is easy for people to doubt there even is a God – God is not that obvious to all people.

I happened to pick up a few books at Frenchy’s the other day.  One was a novel – the title caught my eye: Faith for Beginners (Aaron Hamburger, 2005).  It is the story of a nominally Jewish family from Michigan, taking a vacation in Israel for the first time.  At one point the mother – Mrs. Michaelson – is visiting the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world for a Jew to pray.

Impatient to feel inspired, she kissed the Wall, caressed the coarse stone blocks.  She felt no God there, but then she’d never felt Him anywhere else, either, not even in her heart.  Did He exist?  Of course He did.  It didn’t matter that you couldn’t pick Him out of a lineup. (p. 27)

But here and now, God is being picked out of the lineup. Lexi and we witnesses are pointing to Jesus.

And so, it is necessary for us each to bear witness, as it were, to the Christ we have met and known.  When baptism comes to us, in our life, it is one special moment of declaring God is real, and we say, “I will be loyal to Jesus Christ.”  The many other moments of walking with the Spirit are so important. It will be our actions and our conversations that point to the real, living God.  

Our Master is ready and waiting to be part of our conversations.  Ready and waiting, too, for us to act out gracious things – things only possible for us to do with God, not alone.  

So what is happening with God during a baptism?  God is being present, being made known, meeting with us here.  When Jesus was baptised, we read that: Suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  

God ‘descends’ again into view.  Or, as I said a minute ago, God appears in front of us.  Or arises within us.   Is met in between us, among us.  

A ritual like baptism, and our whole hour of worship, are ways we do our best to put ourselves where we can be met by our Master.  The book of James tells us, Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.  You likely did not have a visionary experience yet, and see the Spirit like a dove in this room… but you may have been struck by these events this stormy morning, and sensed the peaceful presence of the Holy One.  

When we do something together with the intent to have a holy moment, the Holy one can use that, and answer our invitation to be here.

What is God doing at a baptism?  God shows up and is communicating with us. And a voice from

heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved…”  

Divine voices from heaven, or out of a burning bush, or in the still small silence of the wilderness seem usual in Bible stories.  What about in your life story, and mine?  When a person submits to Christ by entering the waters of baptism, there can be a lot that He speaks.  To our minds and hearts.  

D’you remember the radio storyteller, Paul Harvey.  He’d always tell the story of a famous person’s life, but not reveal who it was until the end.  Then he’d say, ‘Now you know…the rest of the story.’

Paul Harvey wrote about his own baptism. One summer, he and his wife were vacationing in a place called Cave Creek, AZ. Sunday morning came and they decided to go to church. So they went to this little church, and there were only 12 other people present. He believed in Jesus, but he had never taken any action. One night he had prayed in his hotel room and asked Jesus to come into his heart, but he felt that there was still something missing.

He said that the preacher got up and announced that his sermon was going to be about baptism. Paul Harvey said, “I yawned. But as he started talking about it I found myself interested. He talked about the symbolism behind it, and how it symbolized the complete surrender of one’s life to Jesus Christ, and how there was nothing really magic in the water. But there was this cleansing inside that took place when you yielded yourself to Jesus.”

He went on to say, “Finally, when he came to the end of his sermon he said, ‘If any of you have not been baptized in this way, I invite you to come forward and join me here at the pulpit.’ To my surprise, I found myself going forward. The preacher had said there was nothing magic in the water. Yet as I descended into the depths and rose again I knew something life changing had happened – a cleansing inside out. No longer did there seem to be two uncertain contradictory Paul Harveys, just one immensely happy one. I felt the fulfilling surge of the Holy Spirit in my life.”

And now you know… the rest… of the story.

What else is God doing at the baptism of a believer?  God is being pleased with us. God smiles.  As the Aaronic blessing puts it, the LORD’s countenance shines upon us – God’s faces lights up.

The heavenly Voice said, after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  

Have you moments when you feel God’s pleasure with you?  Jesus so happy about you – little old you?

I do not like every verse in Psalm 149, but I have always liked this phrase from verse 4.  For the LORD takes pleasure in his people…

The Creator, the Freedom-giver, enjoys us.  Smiles because of us.  Lights up, when one of ‘His’ children is baptized, or sings, or prays, or simply blesses someone else.  

Guiding Star

(Isaiah 60:1-2; Matthew 2:1-12)

Jan 1, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
Oh to be guided by a star, by a dream, by wisdom, by God.  It seems  to me again and again that the Bible story of the Magi is so fitting for New Years.  All the ways they were guided inspire us, speak to us.  

Looking back and looking forward can be so dark and depressing, and, be so bright and hopeful.  For some people I know, 2016 was an annus horribilis, a horrible year, as Queen Elizabeth had said of 1992.  Surely the year that starts today will be so much better than the one that just ended at midnight.  The deaths, the illnesses, the troubles of 2016 are over.

For others, the year of our Lord 2016 was an annus mirabilis, a wonderful year, and that experience inspires great optimism as 2017 begins.  

However you feel, whatever the attitude to the new year is among those we love, how shall we be guided?  For it is so good to have some guidance.

Those wise astronomers, who sought out Jesus as a little child, have always inspired us.  God has spoken through this word.  

I think again about the tools the Magi used.  Their wisdom and knowledge.  The tools of their trade, which we would think of as primitive; the telescope had not been invented.  Their experience.  And their mysterious motivation – we know so little about these travelers. We do know they came to worship Messiah.  

Day one of 365 has opened.  How shall we be guided?  Might not be by a star in the sky.  We Christians have our own GPS: God, Prayer and Scripture.  We have the training we have undergone as disciples of the Master, Jesus.  We have our own motivation to know and love God; Father, Son and Spirit.  

I want to see in the story of the Magi both an optimism and a realism.  They were determined and positive in their quest.  They believed in what they were doing, this holy pilgrimage.  They were also sensible and careful.   They avoided the local ruler Herod on the way out of town.  

Whatever happened and did not happen in 2016, we can look forward to this new year.  I have been getting an advertisement when I play scrabble on my mobile phone.  An advertisement for an insurance company, which is of no interest to me.  But the ad talks about the most valuable asset I’ll ever own: my optimism.

Sharon and I happened to watch a film the other day, a movie I’d not really heard of: Tomorrowland.  A fantasy, Disney film, it painted a picture of our world today, getting worse and more dangerous, because people were not dreaming of a bright future, were too aware of the many dangers, were not being optimistic.  And how does the terrible future, and the end of the world get prevented?  By a girl who has some hope, sees possibilities, is optimistic.

Well, that was a movie.  What real optimism can guide us, and make a difference now?

Our service here yesterday for Jim Frost was itself a reminder that death does not win.  I think it a shame when people say, so-and-so ‘lost their battle with cancer.’  In the case of someone like Jim, real life has been won, thanks to Christ. Even if 2017 is the year you will die, with Jesus this is actually good news.

While we do live, there is real guidance from the Spirit of God and the word of God.  And, if that is not workin for some people real well… fine!  There can be great improvements in knowing how the scripture can change your life, and how to know the voice of God to you.  What Jesus promised was not false.  For God always to be with us, to understand our life and purpose, to be better people – all is truly possible because of our Saviour:  this one who was worshipped as a wee child by traveling Magi.  

Do not forget the great blessings of your past.  Do not forget the gradual blessings of your past.  Do not give up on Christ and His Church.  The darker the days ahead look, the brighter will be the guidance of our Master.  And He is all that matters.  

And Still Their Heavenly Music Floats

(Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7a; Luke 2:1-20)

Christmas Eve, Dec 24, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White
 

Christmas.  Christmas means music, among other things.  So many Christmas songs have surrounded us.

We are about to sing a carol that is about a song.  It is not directly about Jesus – Christ is not quite mentioned.  This carol is about a song from the past.  The song the angels sang in Bethlehem, about 2,020 years ago.  We are about to declare again, that…

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old.
Who sang that glorious song?  
…angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
What did they sing?
“Peace on the earth, good-will to men,
from heaven’s all gracious King”:
Have you waited for this again?  Are you ready?
the world in solemn stillness lay
to hear the angels sing.

I am ready.  I am waiting.  That’s what I think the Christian season of Advent is all about.  But the waiting and watching and longing is forced upon me anyway.

World news about Aleppo, Syria, makes me feel a bit desperate for ‘peace on the earth, good-will to all.’  

Then, I go to a party to celebrate a Syrian family who has been in Digby for one year now.  They have joy, and safety, and education, new friends, and peace.  Did I hear the angels sing, at that celebration last week?

Then there are the dear people who are ill – and in danger of dying – bring out the Advent in me: the longing and pleading for a Saviour.  But then, someone who is sick gets to her town council meeting, as usual.  Or one person who crashes his vehicle on a snowy highway walks away without a scratch.  Or someone who has served the Lord faithfully does die, and because of Christ is now alive forevermore.  

I heard more angels sing.

Have you heard angels singing?  

Frederick Buechner says this about angels.

Sleight-of-hand magic is based on the [demonstrable] fact that as a rule people see only what they expect to see.  Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well.  Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.  An angel spreads his glittering wings over us, and we say things like, “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or “I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right” or “I don’t know where I ever found the courage.”

(1973, Wishful Thinking, pp. 2-3)

The angels wish us well because there is Good News.  God gets born as one of us, one night, in a Bethlehem of long ago.  And He is worth singing about.  This child ushers in peace of the human soul and of creation.  This Jesus brings real good will for all the people.  

Still through the cloven skies they come,
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world.
 

This Christmas carol was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears. Sears was a unitarian minister as well as an editor, author, and poet.  He varied from most Unitarians however, by accepting the divinity of Christ.  “The word God may be uttered without emotion,” he told his congregation, “while the word Jesus opens the heart, and touches the place of tears.”  

While Sears wrote this poem, the war [of the United States] with Mexico over Texas (and beyond) weighed heavily on him…  His text serves well beyond the Christmas season as an ethical acknowledgment of suffering, as well as the presence of hope, in the contemporary world.  (Burgard, Anna Marlis, Hallelujah: the Poetry of Classic Hymns, 2005, p. 65)

Have the angels glittered down something from God to you?  And shall you give back the song the angels sing?  Offer the peace of Christ to others? And give God’s good will to all?  

Jesus is born.  And we are born again.

Love All

(Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25; Jonah 4)

4th Sun of Advent, Dec 18, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

 

Christina Rossetti wrote:
Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
love was born at Christmas,
star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
love incarnate, Love divine;
worship we our Jesus:
but wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
love for plea and gift and sign.
It is the fourth Sunday of Advent.
Fourth theme of this Advent season: Love All.
God so loved the world that God gave the Son.
We keep reading each week from Isaiah.   So old.  So long before Jesus the Messiah.  So beautiful.  So unfulfilled?

Were these promises from God just for back then, thousands of years ago?  Practical promises about the politics of the region and the freedom of the people?

God will give you a sign.  Behold, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel – God with us.  Before the child is grown, the land ruled by the enemies you fear will be deserted.

At the time, if we read all of chapter seven, we see that King Ahaz of Judah was fearful of King Rezin of Damascus and King Pekah of Israel. These are the two kings mentioned.  The challenge of the words of Isaiah to King Ahaz is to have faith and trust God to save them.  Ahaz won’t have anything to do with such embarrassment as leaving it to God.  

But a sign shall be given anyway – the woman is with child – Immanuel, meaning God with us.

God saves.  People have discovered throughout time that redemption and help is practical.  South African Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period.  The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person.  When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘ Now is that political or social?’  He said, ‘I feed you.’  Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”

God’s love for the world comes in freedom from oppressors, food when hungry, shelter when homeless, healing of the body.  It is all God’s work, God’s way, God’s love.
It is our work too.  

A few years ago, a group of five churches that were starting the Advent Conspiracy… journeyed to Africa with a team from Living Water International, a nonprofit that digs freshwater wells in places around the world most of us don’t know exist.

At one point they stopped at a village that, like many others, welcomed them with beautiful smiles and open arms. They were led through tall grasses, away from the village, to what they referred to as their “well.” If it was a well, it was not like any well they’d ever seen. It sat next to a swamp that leached untold disease into the water from which families drew their water every day.

They listened as the village chief told us of those who had died recently because of illnesses that came from drinking this water.

The visitors knew that in several weeks their churches would be taking Christmas offerings. They knew that by partnering with Living Water International, in a couple of months, this village would not have to rely on that well ever again.

When this message of hope was delivered — with great passion by a translator from the area who was as excited as we were — the weathered face of this honorable elder remained impassive. He simply stared at the visitors.

Even the translator was puzzled by this lack of emotion. When he asked the chief if he understood what this would mean for his people, the answer was unforgettable: “Others have made promises in the name of this Jesus, but they were never kept.” Here was a man whose hope had dried up and blown away because others had made promises in the name of Jesus that they’d never bothered to keep.

(McKinley, Rick; Seay, Chris. Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? (pp. 81-83). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

The keeping of promises in the past is the story of Advent.  Promises of water and food, of home and safety. And also, promises of a Saviour.

So ancient words like those of Isaiah seven we also see was a promise for later – Messiah / Christ.

Those words about a child named Immanuel get picked up in the Gospels with the birth of Jesus.  The one Matthew reminds us will save His people from their sins.  Along with the many ways people are needy is the spiritual need of each soul. The Messiah finally came, fulfilling many promises of Isaiah, such as those in chapter 7.  And the message was for all people.  Not just the Jews.  Not just Middle- Easterners.  For all.  All were loved.  All are loved.

 Story of Jonah, sent to Nineveh…  

Ends with God’s lovingkindness shown to the people, and Jonah’s disgust at that mercy shown.

A lovely children’s book by Douglas Wood, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, tells a story of the world becoming so fragmented when it is meant to be whole, and put it back together again.

One night, in a far-away land that “is somehow not so far away,” a truth falls from the stars. As it falls, it breaks into two pieces; one piece blazes off through the sky and the other falls straight to the ground. One day, a man stumbles upon the gravity- drawn truth and finds carved on it the words, “You are loved.” It makes him feel good, so he keeps it and shares it with the people in his tribe. The thing sparkles and makes the people who have it feel warm and happy. It becomes their most prized possession, and they call it “The Truth.”

Those who have the truth grow afraid of those who don’t have it, who are different. And those who don’t have it covet it. Soon people are fighting wars over the small truth, trying to capture it 4 themselves.

A little girl who is troubled by the growing violence, greed, and destruction in her once-peaceful world goes on a journey—through the Mountains of Imagining, the River of Wondering Why, and the Forest of Finding Out—to speak with Old Turtle, the wise counselor.

Old Turtle tells her that the Truth is broken and missing a piece, a piece that shot off in the night sky so long ago. Together they search for it and, when they find it, the little girl puts the jagged piece in her pocket and returns to her people. She tries to explain, but no one will listen or understand.

Finally, a raven flies the broken truth to the top of a tower, where the other piece has been ensconced for safety, & the rejoined pieces shine their full message: “You are loved / and so are they.” And the people begin to comprehend. And the earth begins to heal.    (Summary by Richard Rohr)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GTYbsI6UYE

“This is how much God loved the world:
He gave his Son, his one and only Son.
And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed;
by believing in him,
anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son
merely to point an accusing finger,
telling the world how bad it was.
He came to help, to put the world right again.”  
Jn 3:16-17 (Msg)

You are loved : And so are they.
Love All.