Boundary Lines Have Fallen: an Earth Day sermon

(Psalm 16:5-11; Job 38:1-11) J G White

2nd Sunday of Easter, April 23, 2017, UBC Digby

Here is love vast as an ocean,
Loving-kindness as a flood…
Grace and love like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above…

So sang the Choir.  The vastness of creation has always been the language of Faith.  The oceans and tides, rivers and mountains – all are great and speak of great things.

Yesterday was Earth Day.  Over the past month I have had visions of the ancient Acadian Forest of Nova Scotia fill my imagination.  What did these forests and coastlines look like, say, 600 years ago?  If I had a time machine at my disposal, that is one moment I would visit.  Under the overwhelming shade I would travel the province, peeking out at the landscape from the coastlines and wetlands.

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, 1847.  And this scene comes from but 260 years ago, when that forest primeval was being taken down.  It tells the tale of changing boundary lines.  The English took over and expelled the French.  Not to mention the First Peoples, being shoved into smaller spaces among us.  

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, says Psalm 16, I have a goodly heritage. (16:6)  

We like boundary lines.  We humans.  The Old Testament stories of the Hebrews tell us of the parcelling out of their Promised Land, which happened after they arrived, and from which they themselves would be taken.  And then return.  Again and again.  With too many wars and battles from century to century over that Holy Land.

We like good boundary lines for ourselves. And, in the grand scheme of things, we Nova Scotians can be grateful for the beautiful land that is ours, so to speak.  

The new Jewish Publication Society Version puts Psalm 16 verse 6b this way:
Delightful country has fallen to my lot;
lovely indeed is my estate.  

 The boundary lines have fallen for us in pleasant places, here in Nova Scotia.  Lovely indeed.
Yet the real boundary lines of Creation are beyond our control and fathoming.  Even when we have a part in shifting them, these days.  Moments of trouble and turmoil remind us that this world is bigger and more powerful and more unpredictable than we often admit to ourselves.
We visited a scripture scene today from the life of Job.  Way back in Hebrew history this man had lived well and lived right – and disaster strikes.  His estate, his family, his own health are all destroyed.  And apparently for no reason.  Job has four friends who visit, and when they start talking they never stop.  “All this trouble must be someone’s fault – yours, Job, we’re sorry to say.  Or God’s.”  

After all the talk, all the struggle of Job to figure out why God did this, allowed this… the Almighty One finally shows up.  In a great storm the Creator appears.  And the creator speak of what?  Job’s little problems?  His unstopped suffering?  No. The Creator speaks of creation, the ordering, the organizing of creation.  

Here is a sample from the Book of Job, chapters 38 & 39.  God asks questions – rhetorical questions.
Where were you when I created the earth?
   Tell me, since you know so much!
Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that!
   Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?

Look at the marvels of physics:
“Do you know where Light comes from
   and where Darkness lives
So you can take them by the hand
   and lead them home when they get lost?

Look up to the vast distances of space:
    “Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters,
   or distract Orion from his hunt?
Can you get Venus to look your way,
 or get the Great Bear & her cubs to come out & play?

Look to the real wild animals on earth:
“Can you teach the lioness to stalk her prey
   and satisfy the appetite of her cubs
As they crouch in their den,
   waiting hungrily in their cave?

Look to the incredible birds:
“Was it through your know-how that the hawk
learned to fly,
   soaring effortlessly on thermal updrafts?

This is the sort of answer the suffering man, Job, gets from his God.  Job is given the presence of God – a meeting with the Creator. Job is given perspective.  This world, and your life, is part of something far bigger than you can ever see or know.  You but catch a glimpse. And, you know Me, the Creator.

The work of science throughout the ages has sought out answers.  The size of the earth.  Two hundred years before the life of Jesus, Eratosthenes (276-195 BCE) calculated the circumference of the earth to be 25,000 miles.  It is actually 24,900 miles!  Eratosthenes did amazingly well, comparing the shadow of a stick at Alexandria at the same moment the sun was directly overhead at Syene, now called Aswan, Egypt.  

Ornithologists through the centuries have marveled at the flight of birds, and their amazing travel.  Right now, many species are migrating across the Americas, some flying from south of the equator, to their nesting sites in the Canadian Arctic.

There is no controlling such things, no changing of these amazing patterns, and their bounds.  

Well, almost no changing them.

I happened to be researching South Sudan the other day, where such famine and fighting is going on now.  I wandered in my reading to the Nile River, and then to the Aswan High Dam, that halts the Nile, far downstream from Sudan and South Sudan.  2,200 years after Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of this planet at Aswan, the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River was built.   

We humans have learned to change the landscape – creating land where there was none, or giant bodies of water.  We can do farming on a gigantic scale – of crops, or of trees, or of fish, or whatever we want.  We change the landscape, the atmosphere, the sea.  We change biology – what lives and grows where.  What species have died, never to be seen again.

The beautiful boundary lines described in the poetry of Job 38 and 39 have been eclipsed by another sense of how boundaries have ‘fallen.’  

Earth’s boundary lines have fallen – in the sense of being broken – by our human impact.  Earthworms did not live in the soil of Canada until humans brought them here a couple hundred years ago.  

Earth’s boundary lines have fallen… as we learn how we have broken boundaries and limits we now should keep.  We are challenged to understand our impact on the boundary lines of our atmosphere and our sea levels.  

Earth’s boundary lines have fallen… Some would say things are crashing now, thanks to our impact.  No animal or plant has had as many effects upon this creation in so short a period of years as we humans have.  

I believe we cannot simply wait for the New Heavens and the New Earth, and let this Earth fall.  It is still worth doing our part for the generations to come, that they may also say, The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, I have a goodly heritage. (Ps. 16:6)

When Earth Day approaches each year, April 22, I wonder what new step a faith community like Digby Baptist could take.  What could we declare in the spring of the year?  How shall we live better in this creation?

Paper does not grow on trees, I say.  And it doesn’t, unless you are just going to unravel a bit of birch bark when you need some.  As a user of paper with a computer printer and photocopier almost every day, I ignore the high cost to the health of the planet of making paper.  I wondered if a good goal for Digby Baptist would be to cut back – significantly – on the paper we use up.  You know me already, and how fanatical I am about using both sides of any sheet of paper!   

Alongside this, I think out loud with you about how we eat and drink together.  The dishes and cutlery and cups we use come in a variety of formats. Is cutting down on paper and plastic and styrofoam a good step to take?

Well, I don’t think we have a declaration to make this year, this Earth Day, as a congregation.  I don’t believe the leadership settled this, or came to a consensus.  Perhaps in a year’s time we can be decisive, and take one small step.  

There is a need for many small steps, and some very large ones.  Best practices of a Church within Creation will make a difference, and inspire our individual habits to improve.  

Sometimes it just comes down to habits.  Our good habits, our bad habits.  The bad ones we thought were good or OK. We get our own boundary lines changed.  How we get rid of our trash changes.  We change our shopping habits.  We alter our expectations when it comes to heat in the winter.  

Does not our Master inspire this?  Our personal troubles are one piece of the puzzle of the meaning of life.  In the grand scheme of things there is a Grand Scheme of Things.  This faced Job.  All the forces of Creation came crashing down upon him.  ‘Have you ever ordered the Morning to ‘get up?’  ‘Have you ever traveled to where snow is made?’  ‘Will the wild buffalo condescend to serve you?’  And we look out upon the same amazing world.  Of which we are part.  Of which God proved to be a part in the life of Jesus. We are granted to much beautiful knowledge, thank God.

Perhaps one good ecological step for our Church to take this year is at the heart level.  What do we value?  Is this life on earth one of our values, as Christians here?  How do we love what God has given us?  And how then shall we put our money where our mouth is?

Oceans and waves and tides and rivers can inspire us, speak God’s word to us.  The word to live within our means as part of creation!  To learn our boundaries on this earth.  To be tiny co-creators in this world.  We can help the boundary lines to fall in pleasant places for others.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… (Romans 8:19)

Then He Appeared

(1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Matthew 28:1-10) J G White

EASTER Sunday, April 16, 2017, UBC Digby

You know that feeling you get, when you make your home in a new place, and you get to know enough of the locals that you recognize lots of people when you go out.  Finally, you even recognize people by the back of their heads, people whose names you don’t even know.  But they become familiar.

It was about a dozen years ago, back when there still was a little shopping mall in Windsor, NS, where I lived.  I had just walked in the doors, between Home Hardware and Tim Hortons.  I looked ahead and saw, among the other shoppers, Mr. Smith.  He was walking away from me, but I knew him enough to recognize him.

Mr. Smith was a friendly acquaintance, and a man who probably had at one time been a Baptist.  Used to lived in a house next door to the church, in fact.  

I didn’t catch up to him that day at the mall or get to say hello.  But later on, I had a thought that took me aback, and struck me funny.  ‘Wait a minute… Garwin Smith died last year, and I conducted his funeral!  That couldn’t have been him.’

Easter, Easter is different.  The One people start meeting after His death is One they knew so very well, and the death was so traumatic and so fresh in their minds and hearts. They had not forgotten Jesus was dead; how could they forget?!  Then He appeared.  And if at first they thought they were mistaken, they come to know it really is Jesus, alive!  

My job today is to tell you something you already know.  News you have already heard.  My task is the same as that of Paul, who wrote to some believers, I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed you to, which you in turn received, in which also you stand.  

The Bible’s apostle Paul only got to meet the Saviour after Jesus’ was dead, and raised, and gone.  In a bright visionary moment on a deserted road.  When Paul writes his great resurrection chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15, he goes over some brief details of the Jesus story.  He speaks of this dead Man who reappeared.

He appeared to Cephas.  That’s Peter.

Then he appeared to the twelve.  Well, eleven.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time.

Then He appeared to James.

Then He appeared to all the apostles.  

Last of all, Paul writes, He appeared to also to me.  For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.  But by the grace of God, I am what I am.

By the grace of God, you are what you are, and I am what I am.  We are more of those who have met up with Jesus, alive.  For He has appeared to us.  He has given us hope.  We know that He regularly shows up, surprises people, and works a miracle.  

A group of us watched a little documentary film here the other night, Till We Meet Again, all about the amazing classical music sung in Inuktitut for the past three hundred years in Nain, Labrador, and other communities.  We look back on history here in what we now call Canada, and see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The Europeans who came and imposed their way of life on the native peoples.  The culture was wrecked.  In Nain, the Moravian missionaries brought choral and brass band music.  

What an imposition, we might say.  Yet, miracle of miracles, the Inuit peoples took to this music, it became their own, it still lives on.  Amid all the destructive things in the story of these northern communities, that bit of European culture got integrated and became a beautiful thing.  

I’d say that Jesus still appears and draws near when that amazing music is make in Nain, Labrador.  

Another story of Jesus appearing on the scene…

The sun was hot on the face of Faith Holwyn as she walked through the busy streets to her little office in the Day Care Centre where she worked, in Armenia, Colombia, South America. She was thinking about Maria, whom she had met the day before, looking sad and depressed.  Maria was coming to meet with Faith, who was silently praying for Maria.

Maria arrived carrying her year-old-baby, with two toddlers holding onto her skirt.  Faith listened as her story unfolded.  She had been married for ten years when her husband abandoned her and their three children.  Now, her daughter, in her late teens, was working as a prostitute on the streets and both of her sons were using and dealing drugs.

Maria had met someone who was ten years younger than herself, and her face lit up as she told of how much they loved each other and that the three little people with her this morning were their daughters.  But tragedy had struck again; this time a man had been stabbed to death and her partner was responsible.  He had been sentenced to life in prison.  She had visited him yesterday in the jail where he would be spending the next twenty years.

Tears filled her eyes and ran down her cheeks, and Faith saw the children snuggle closer to her side and the baby begin to squirm in the tight embrace.  Maria told Faith she had been feeling helpless, hopeless, afraid, and so alone.

Faith reached over the desk and took her hand as she continued to cry.  She asked Maria to listen while she told her a story from the Bible.  There was a woman who felt like Maria was feeling.  She was alone and isolated.  She had been sick for twelve years. He life was filled with pain and poverty, and none of her neighbours wanted to have anything to do with her. Then, she heard about Jesus and the way He was working miracles in the lives of people in their little town.

After the story was told, Faith asked Maria to imagine that someone was knocking on the office door.  Faith stood up  and reached over and opened it. “It’s Jesus!”  She invited him in and to take a seat.  

“He cares for you and what you are going through,” she told Maria.  “He understands that your heart is breaking and that you are feeling alone.  Imagine that Jesus is asking you right now what you need Him to do for you.”

After some time, as her eyes stared into the middle distance, Maria whispered, “I would tell Him that I need to feel hope again!”

Faith saw the drawn and bleak lines on her face change.  She told Faith that her children would know something was different if she had the miracle of hope in her heart because tomorrow she would prepare lunch for them. “It’s been just too hard to do anything around the house, so I haven’t made meals for them for a long time.”

“Would anything else help you to know that this miracle had happened to you?” asked Faith.

“Yes, I could go to the jail to visit my partner without crying all the time and I would be able to talk to my older kids without yelling at them.”

Faith’s session with Maria ended with a short prayer.  She left with the beginning of a sense that she could go on.  Faith felt that nothing in her situation had changed, but now Maria believed that change was possible within herself and that God was accompanying her.  

Sure enough, in the weeks ahead, Maria was smiling.  She told Faith she had been visiting her partner in jail and had taken little handcrafts she had made to decorate his cell for Christmas, with extra ones he could share with the other men.  The peace Maria talked about was reflected in the eyes of all three of her little ones.  (The Groups of Hope Program, 2009)

Faith Holwyn was inspired by the change in Maria and women like her she worked with. Faith used brief solution focused therapy.  And she developed a whole program for women, and called it, Groups of Hope.  

That was a dozen years ago, and the Groups of Hope program has now been used in many countries the world over. The eight-week program, actually a Bible study, has been used with women – and now men – in all circumstances, who need hope, who are looking for hope in their lives. Together, in small groups, they are guided to find solutions with Jesus, and find hope.  

Jesus shows up, when people realize they can call out to Him, and that He is near.  He lives!  While on earth, He preached that God’s Kingdom was near, so close.  Indeed it is.

Here, in our church, we will have a Group of Hope soon, an eight week study with a small group – for those who want to seek some new hope in their lives.

And this is but one action we can take because Christ is alive and keeps appearing on the scene.  He keeps giving the eternal kind of Life to people of all ages and stages.  

The women who went to Jesus’ tomb that early dawn of a new week had Him appear to them.  They worshiped Him.  And Christ told them to go tell the fellows to go back up to Galilee, where He would appear again, to them.  And He did. It was there that the boys got told to make more disciples of Jesus. The women had been given their mission first.

Now, two thousand years later, we are given the same tasks when Jesus shows up in our lives.  ‘Tell others they will meet Me too. Show them what to do to follow Me.’  Your job today is to tell people something many already know about.  News they have already heard: Jesus lives and keeps on living – here!  Heaven knows there is enough Bad News around. So we tell of the risen Christ appearing in our lives. This is your holy work and my holy work in all its diversity.  It’s all in how Christ has appeared.  

How He has appeared to you.  

How He has given you hope.

You know it, when you’ve met Him.

Frederick Buechner said, “A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross–the way he carries me.'”  

The Name Above Every Name

(Psalm 118; Philippians 2:5-11) J G White
Palm & Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017, UBC Digby

Jesus, name above all names…
Palm Sunday has what seems to me this strange tradition of superpraising Jesus.  Hosanna sung and palm branches waved again. Happy joy, as a prelude to the happy joy of Easter.
And we Christians can get rather zealous about the end of the story, as we see it. Jesus wins.  

So, even now, we are on the right side, the winning team, and look ahead to that time when every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  

We, of the Men’s Choir, sang that Gaither song about the second coming of Jesus: the King is Coming.  With great hope and confidence we declare that King Jesus is coming back, praise God, He’s coming for me.  

Do any of you have a competitive streak in you?  You like to win. Was playing the board game last night: Settlers of Catan… with a couple of competitive guys.  Or, you like your favourite team to win.

So in our religion.   How do we respond to the Name Above Every Name?  This Jesus? Enjoyable praise, a triumphant party.
Praise and worship is good and right. Celebration can be a spiritual activity.  Notice in Philippians 2 the recommended action. We are to have this same mind – the humility of Christ.  

Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday.  Suffering of Jesus Sunday.  The Passion of the Christ Sunday.
Compassion:  com-passion: with suffer. Passion = suffer.  Passion = strong feeling.  co – suffering.  

I once knew pastor of an old, country church who truly liked the focus on Jesus’ suffering the week before Easter.  He saw many people in his pews on Palm Sunday who would not come on Good Friday.  How could they celebrate the resurrection without the experience of Jesus’ death? So at least they would get that on what they had always called Palm Sunday.

Today, of all days lately, suffering and sacrifice may indeed be upon our minds.  Today, the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, that looms so large in the history of WW1.  In 1917 it was the Monday after Easter – resurrection after destruction.

Philippians 2 has this great hymn to Christ.  We sang a hymn version of it before 11 o’clock, to a sprightly, British tune.  Because of the message of the lyrics, I prefer an older tune by Vaughan Williams, in a minor key.  It is a minor key type song, to me.  

Philippians 2 begins, saying to the reader: Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus.  And this is what the mind of Christ looks like:  Jesus…
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
Emptied himself.
Took on the form of a slave.
Took on the life of a human.
Humbled himself.
Was obedient even to death, by public execution.

You have heard of being upwardly mobile?
Jesus was downwardly mobile.
Our mind can be of the same attitude. Our journey in the same direction. Downwardly mobile.

American Catholic, Richard Rohr, talks about falling upward – going down is the way up with God.  Some of Rohr’s men’s work, through the years, has been around the need for initiation rites in the lives of men.  
Rohr says:  I have found the phenomenon of male initiation in every culture and on every continent until the modern era.  Something that universal—and so uniform in its goals—was surely fulfilling a deep human and social need. It was deemed necessary for cultural and personal survival, it seems. Throughout history, men were more often in positions of power and privilege, whereas women were often unfairly subjugated. Women, therefore, more naturally learned the path of descent (self-emptying) through their “inferior” position to men.
We recognize in initiation universal patterns of wisdom that need to be taught to the young male in his early “tower building” stages.  (Richard Rohr blog, October 18, 2016)

The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1328) said in essence that the spiritual life has more to do with subtraction than with addition. But [in the capitalistic West,] we keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of spiritual success. Some Buddhists call it spiritual materialism or spiritual consumerism. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. [prosperity gospel!] When we are so full of ourselves, we have no room—and no need—for God or others, or otherness in general.  (Richard Rohr blog, October 19, 2016)

My friend, Jonathan Riley, happened to say, yesterday: all art is essentially subtraction.  Sculpture is clearly about subtracting.  Carpentry, the same. Even painting, or poetry is about subtracting, not adding.  And the spiritual life is about subtraction.

The path of descent, or the pattern of falling upward, is found throughout the Bible. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is thrown into the well by his own brothers and then rescued (Genesis 37:20-28). The prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern by the civil leaders after he preaches retreat and defeat, and he is rescued by a eunuch (Jeremiah 38:6-13). Jonah is swallowed by a whale and then spit up on the right shore (Jonah 2:1-11). The people of Israel are sent into exile in Babylon and then released and allowed to return home by Cyrus, the King of Persia (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). Enslavement and exodus is the great lens through which Jewish history is read.

Add to that the story of Job as one unjustly but trustfully suffering and restored (Job 42:9-17), and the four “Servant songs” of Isaiah 42-53, describing one who suffers in a way that is vicarious, redemptive, and life-giving for others. (Richard Rohr blog, Oct 16, ‘16)

Compassion:  com-passion: suffering – with.

Jesus’ community – the Church – is called to suffer.  Take up your cross, we hear Jesus say, over & over.

Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall teaches these two things about Christian suffering.  One: Christian suffering is life-oriented, not death-oriented.  Two: suffering has more to do with suffering that is outside the community of discipleship than with our own [church] suffering.  (2003, The Cross in ur Context, p. 143)

So, the church is called to suffer not because suffering is good or beneficial or ultimately rewarding, but called to suffer because there is suffering — that is, because God’s creatures, including human beings, are already suffering, because ‘the whole creation groans.”  (p. 152)

Our path is a path of humility – having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.  

It was one hundred years ago now that the beloved Andrew Murray (1828-1917) died.  He’d been a pastor in South Africa, and a spiritual author.  This is from his book simply called: Humility (Whitaker, 2004)

Brothers and sisters, here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down!  This was what Jesus always said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom and of sitting on His right hand and His left.  Do not seek or ask for exaltation: that is God’s work.  See to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of servant.  That is your work.  (p. 44)

I often remember the Palm Sunday scene in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar:  As Christ enters Jerusalem triumphantly, with the excited crowds, he says to them:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand,
Nor the Romans, nor the Jews,
Nor Judas, nor the twelve
Nor the priests, nor the scribes,
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself,
Understand what power is,
Understand what glory is,
Understand at all, Understand at all….
While you live your troubles are many, poor Jerusalem.
To conquer death, you only have to die.
You only have to die.

Jesus identity is the Name Above Every Name, because of his descent.  God the Father raised Him up, as Philippians says, and the resurrection shows.
So it is for us too – we are raised by God, not ourselves.

Andrew Murray, again…  Brother or sister, are you clothed with humility?  look closely at your daily life.  Ask Jesus. Ask your friends.  Ask the world.  And begin to praise God that there is opened up to you in Jesus a heavenly humility that you have hardly known, and through which a heavenly blessedness (which you possibly have never yet tasted) can come into you. (P. 36)

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.

Hearing God Q & A

(Psalm 130; Ezekiel 37:1-14) J G White

5th Sunday in Lent, April 2, 2017, UBC Digby


Psalm 130 God, hear my voice!

Story of Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones. Ez 37.

Hand of the LORD upon Ez.

Spirit brought him out to this place.

YHWH asked a question.

Ez answered.

Ez told to prophesy to the bones.

i.e. speak to them on behalf of the LORD.

So on, with the breath.

Then YHWH gives an explanation/interpretation.

Do you have questions about the ways we know the Voice and hear from God?

Do you have concerns about any dangers when it comes to hearing from God?

What do you want to learn next?

What do you want to do next?


Life with God is more than guidance, more than hearing from God.

Quality time with the Master.

Quiet time with the Master.

Transformation and development by the Master.