Putting on the Right Armour

(Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20) – J G White

11 am, Sun, Aug 26, 2018 – UBC Digby

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.

What caught your attention in those verses of scripture? The devil and the forces of evil?  The pieces of armour that are described? The encouragement to pray?

These are dynamic words here, and we may need them in our challenging time.  We live in dangerous times. This week, the sky got hazy, with a red sun up high, and a red full moon at night.  All that smoke all the way from the terrible fires on the west coast. And in the news, warnings that we’ve actually had a cooler period the last few years, and the next five years will be warmer than ever on earth.

At Oasis, the gathering of our Baptist Churches, in Wolfville last week, our emphasis was on the deep need for us to come to a Turning Point. To make a turnaround, because our trajectory is downward.  How can we cooperate with God to head upwards? At the local level, many of our churches are hearing a message like the one we read in a letter we each got this summer: “YOUR CHURCH IS IN TROUBLE!”

On the individual level, our Church family seems to have so many people dealing with cancer, other serious health threats, and quite a few people in hospital who cannot go back to live at home.

What do we do in the face of danger?  What are our tools? Where is our protection, our safety, our strength?  If we think of it as armour we put on and use, we must put on the right armour.  The so-called armour of our Christian faith is not the weaponry of violence. It is not literally sword and shield.

A couple months ago here we read this story, and I want us to notice some details again, from ‘David and Goliath.’ The story of the young shepherd who took on the giant prize-fighter of the enemy, and won.  

Here is a description from 1 Sam 17 of Goliath: A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor—126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail—the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him. [Msg]

And here is what young David does to prepare for battle with this giant: [Then] Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor. He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor. David tried to walk but he could hardly budge. David told Saul, “I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’m not used to this.” And he took it all off.

40 Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath.

The right armour and weaponry for David was what suited him best.  For us who follow Christ now, the words of Ephesians 6 suggest what we take into the battles of our lives.  Spiritual battles, the ordeals that our spirits face, from day to day. When faced with danger, fear, discouragement, trouble, panic, evil – take up the full armor of God: truth, rightness, peace, faith, salvation, the word of the Spirit.  These are all available to us!

Paul uses the imagery of armour for battle as he speaks of all these things.  Put them on and stand firm, he wrote. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist.  Truth is better than lies.  Maybe truth also better than secrecy and silence.  

I will always remember – with some regret – this one particular cashier at the Sobeys in Windsor. She was friendly and kind. One day as we were chatting, I said something like, “Yeah, I should preach a sermon on lying, and how to escape lies in our lives.”  She said, immediately, “Let me know when; I want to be there!” That clearly struck a nerve with her; I could tell she really wanted to find out about lying and how to break it. I never did a sermon about lying, never got to invite her in for it.

Truthfulness is such a good thing, and it comes as part of the armour of God for us. Putting on truth is a matter of not putting on lies.  And of not putting on secrecy and silence – speak the truth when needed.  And it is a matter of letting your Yes be Yes and your No be No. I discovered years ago that I would often say ‘yes, I’ll do that,’ when my real answer was ‘no, I will not be doing that.’  Takes a while to learn.

  And put on the breastplate of righteousness, it says.  Doing the right things and being in right relationships with others is as protective to the believer as body armour to a soldier.  And, as it says elsewhere, we get our ‘rightness’ not from ourselves, but from our grace source, Christ. We have a Source of doing & being right. We do not have to get life right all by ourselves.  

15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. How do we put on these shoes?  I have a lot of questions about being prepared to proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.  There was a lot of talk about this at Oasis these last three days. Talk of what God’s good news is for people, & how we share this gospel.  

Perhaps a clue to these gospel shoes is in the fact they are shoes.  We might have expected a gospel megaphone, or a gospel trumpet. Shoes make it seem like it is a matter of going somewhere.  ‘As you are going, make disciples,’ Jesus said (Matthew 28).  So let’s talk about whatever will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. I want to go on about this in September, as we read from the book of James.  But also, one on one, let’s talk about what makes us ready to proclaim.

Then Paul says, 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. We might use other things to protect ourselves from evil… Why use faith?  Because faith is confidence, confidence in Jesus Christ. When you are confident in God, you can be confident in the face of terrible things.  

One way we put on faith, or confidence, in the Holy One, is by paying attention to the Holy One.  Prayerfulness. Meditation. Study of scriptures, observation of creation, attention to people – such things draw us closer to God, and we can be more confident.

Finally, Paul writes, 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  

What kinds of words do we speak in time of trouble and danger?  Sometimes our words are sword- like – harsh, sharp, ready to harm and cut.   Using this ‘armour’ is a matter of not putting on and using other things. Like David facing Goliath. He figured out that the heavy armour of a soldier was not for him – he took it off.  

So we take off the harsh words and nasty attitude.  Then, our speaking and message can be strong and good.  Leaving unhelpful words behind is easier said than done, I know.  

Sometimes, taking on a spiritual discipline for a short time will help a lot. Like friends who decided to give up complaining, in the season of Lent.  Never complain. About the weather, or the weather forecast. About the annoying things and the truly painful things. And when a complaint automatically pops out, the person notices, and the Spirit teaches a lesson on why complaining is built in, and how it can dissolve.  

The word of God can come out of us.  Once we have it flowing in us. Not just the Bible, these written words. But all the ways the Divine Word comes among us.  And Jesus Himself, the Word who is God.

Putting on this ‘armour’ is a lifelong bit of work.  We take off other things we wore that get in the way.  We learn to put on and use the good things that are all we need.  

You’re looking better dressed already!

Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs

(1 Cor 14: 26, 29 -33, 39-40; Ephesians 5:15-20) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Aug 19, 2018 – UBC Digby

PSALMS

Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves…  

So says Ephesians 5:19. (Colossians 3:16 says almost the same thing.) So today we celebrate the music of the faith community.  Starting with Psalms. We have a Bible book of 150 Psalms, and there are others in the Old Testament. The Psalter is numbered.  Time for a Pop Quiz. What is the Psalm?

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  23

The Lord is my light and my salvation,
whom shall I fear?  27

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God. 42

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.  46

I lift up my eyes to the hills —
from where will my help come?  121

This is a very old songbook.  Lyrics from another language, another culture, another world religion.  But they have been sung for three thousand years, or more, and been at the heart of Christian singing.  This was the songbook Jesus grew up on, of course.

Some Christian groups – even today – have used only the Psalms for singing.   We know so many musical versions of the Psalms. The first 3 songs we sang today: from the Psalms.

You might say the next thing we are to sing is a hymn, not a Psalm.  But it is based upon Psalm 103. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Here we are, still singing such ancient lyrics.  What does it mean to sing phrases that others have sung, in various languages, for three thousand years?  Thoughts that may be sung three hundred years after we are dead?

Let us sing Hymn 26, Praise, My Soul, t K o H.

HYMNS

Be filled with the Spirit, the Bible says, and sing hymns.  We have this sense of being filled with God, at times, and not being so full of God at other times.  It’s hard to quantify our spirit-filled-up-ness. How do you measure that? It is not just an emotional feeling we have, either.  Maybe we can be quite Spirit-filled without being overly aware of God with us. I also wonder, from time to time, if God is really so active as people think when they say, ‘Oh, it was such a Spirit-filled time we had!’

What the author here in Ephesians 5 says is, don’t be filled up with alcoholic spirits, be filled up with God the Spirit, and sing together. Then, to sing hymns, is to sing to God.  It is part of a conversation. Singing together we get to speak with one voice. We do our part of the talking. Play our part in the drama we call Christian worship.

Almost any song a church sings, with several verses, gets called a hymn.  Yet, in a more specific sense of the word, a hymn is a song in which people are talking to God.  Not talking about God, not speaking for God, but actually singing to God directly. All the different songs we use end up being different parts of the conversation. God to us, us to God, us to us – about God.  

So let me test you, again.  I will give examples, and you tell me who is talking, and who is being sung to:  

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.   Person talking to person.

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made.  Person to God.

Jesus, all to Jesus, all I am and have, and every hope to be.  Person to Jesus?

Be still and know that I am God.  God to person.

O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.  Person talking to person.  

So our next song is not, technically, a hymn?  Well, it does switch to people talking to God in the final stanza.  My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim…

Let us sing Hymn 130, O For a Thousand T t S

SPIRITUAL SONGS

These verses from the New Testament give us one of those rare glimpses into what those first Christians did when they got together.  The few pictures we have from scripture do not quite describe what we do here each Sunday. When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.  

I have just been skimming through a book we got a couple weeks ago.  George Barna is famous for his Barna Group research firm, and with Frank Viola he authored: Pagan Christianity? revised and updated in 2007.  Barna and Viola ask: Are we really doing church “by the Book”?  Why does the pastor preach a sermon every Sunday?  Why do church services seem so similar week after week?  Why does the congregation sit passively in the pews?

Not sure?  This book makes an unsettling proposal: Most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles.  (back cover)

It is going to take me a while to work through what this book is saying.  It is very challenging… it will be helpful, and likely, revolutionary!

To stay focussed upon our music: how can each one of us have a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, when we come together? Or a spiritual song, or a Psalm?  Our gatherings include a few, select people making music. Probably half of us here don’t make much of a sound at all for this hour on Sunday mornings.  I love a singing congregation… but I have never had one. I realized, once I was grown up, that even my home church in Middleton was rather quiet when it came to singing together.  

At our best moments, we hear the words and music and our souls all sing along.  Praise, my soul, the King of heaven.  Last week we ended with a song that said, Sing like never before, O my soul!  We also sang, Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!  And the Choir used Baptist Robert Lowry’s lyrics: How can I keep from singing?  

Today, our worship gathering is now coming to a close. We will sing a spiritual song about God caring for us, and be praying between the verses.  We will sing our benediction – which means blessing – at the end. Just now, Carol and I will sing a great ‘hymn’ or ‘spiritual song’ by the late Fred Pratt Green.  I want you to follow the words; you could even turn to 403 in our Hymnal.

May your soul sing with ours.

Motivated Imitation

(Psalm 4; Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Aug 12, 2018 – UBC Digby

Where does your motivation come from?  Perhaps you awoke in your bed this morning and thought, “Good morning, Lord!”  Or, it was one of those days when you thought, “Good Lord, it’s morning!” What motivates you to get up, get going, and do well?

My mother’s hometown is Oshawa, Ontario. For years my grandfather worked at a General Motors factory there.  One of that city’s mottos has been Oshawa: the City that Motovates Canada!

What motivates Christians? What things prompt us to be like Christ? To Trust and Obey?

The phrases Bonnie read, from Ephesians 4, are interesting, because not only do they list some guidelines for Christian life, but they also give motivating factors. Let us ponder what motivation we have for our imitation, our imitation of God.

First, we are motivated to be honest by be- longing to one another, being connected. 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

You know me, I think of a song for every occasion.  With this phrase I starting to sing a old hymn by Thomas Ken. You know, the 17th century Church of England priest who wrote the words

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise him, all creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

That happens to be the eleventh verse of a hymn Ken wrote, that also has these lines:

Let all thy converse be sincere,
Thy conscience as the noon-day clear;
Think how all-seeing God thy ways
And all thy secret thoughts surveys.

Our ‘modern’ hymn books put it this way: “In conversation be sincere.” Now, Thomas Ken has the motivation for truthfulness be the all-seeingness of God – watching you, even your inner thoughts.  On the other hand, Eph. 4, in the Bible, would have us put away falsehood and be truthful to our neighbours because we belong to each other: ‘we are members of one another.’

To be honest to our neighbours, our family, our friends, is both hard and easy.  Easy, because we know honesty is the best policy, and for those we care about this matters.  But it is also difficult, when we feel the need to hide something from those who really do know us.  We are in this together: speak the truth.

We are also motivated to be like Jesus by the desire to avoid evil. 26-27 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

So, there is an evil danger in anger. But we know we have anger.  We see Jesus angry, at times. ‘Be angry,’ it says, ‘but do not sin.’ It’s possible to have
anger, and still be good in this world.   

Canadian storyteller, Ralph Milton, speaks of a Sunday in 1968. It was the Sunday after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.  We were part of a church service in Teaneck, New Jersey, a church in which whites were a minority.  King’s assassination was a terrible blow to all of us who had struggled in the black liberation movement.

Church that Sunday morning began in chaos.  The planned service simply would not do, but nobody really knew what should happen.

And then, one of the men from our choir moved quietly to the centre of the chancel, and began to sing, very quietly at first, the anthem of that era, “We shall overcome.”

We joined in, all of us, and we held on to each other and we sang it over and over and over, until we had sung out our rage and our fear.  We sang that song until it changed from an anthem of anger into an anthem of hope. And we were healed back in to a community, a community of black and white who could be together as God’s people.  (R. Milton, Sermon Seasonings, 1997, p. 56)

The sun did not set on their anger.  It was possible to feel and express it, to share it, to heal it, to rise up.

We are next motivated to be like Jesus by the needs of those around us. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

In the now old Interpreter’s Bible commentary, Francis Beare said of this:

We are bound to be struck by the implications of this injunction.  The church was welcoming into her fellowship members of the criminal classes, to whom theft was the ordinary means of livelihood, which must now be replaced by honest toil.  We have here a reminder that the gospel of Christ is not for the righteous who need no repentance, nor is the church a club for the respectable.  (Volume X, p. 700)

And so, this guidance to the thieves in the congregation is motivated by what?  Give up robbery “so as to have something to share with the needy.” The motivation not to steal is not ‘cause stealing is bad, but because there were needy people who could be helped.  

We learn to do a good thing because the thing we do does some good, not because it benefits us, right?  We give to a charitable project so it will go ahead, not for the tax benefit we will get. We become a volunteer in our community to help make various things happen, not so we will get a community service award.  We learn to recycle and reuse everything because our home planet needs this care, not so that we will have more beautiful streets to enjoy. Be motivated by the real good you can do.

Ephesians 4 also suggests we are motivated to imitate God by the goodness we have at our fingertips.  29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

My step-daughter, Teanna, has statement framed on the wall of her home that came from a book she read.  The sign says:

This is your beautiful precious life.
This is your place.
These are your people.
LOVE BETTER STAND TALL
Be Kind Be You
Love Jesus
& PASS OUT GRACE LIKE CANDY!
(Jenn Hatmaker, For the Love, 2015)

That’s beautiful. 🙂 “Pass our grace like candy!”  Even better than the freezies and Tootsie Rolls that got thrown at my feet during Saturday’s parade.  Pass out grace, like candy. Yes, but… how do we do this?

In her book, An Altar in the World, preacher Babrara Brown Taylor has a chapter on The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.  We all can bless others, silently speak a blessing.  Say a prayer, really. Don’t we know this already?

Taylor writes, the best way to discover what pronouncing blessings is all about is to pronounce a few.  The practice itself will teach you what you need to know.

Start with anything you like. [she says] Even a stick lying on the ground will do.  The first thing to do is to pay attention to it.  Did you make the stick? No, you did not. The stick has its own story.  If you had time to figure out what kind of tree the stick came from, that would be a start to showing the stick some respect…. Is it on the ground because it is old or because of some mishap?  Had it been lying there for a long time or did it just land? Is it fat enough for you to see its growth rings?

To pronounce a blessing on something, it is important to see it as it is. What purpose did this stick serve?  Did a bird sit on it? Did it bear leaves that sheltered the ground from the hottest summer sun?

“Bless you, stick, for being you.”
“Blessed are you, o stick, for turning [air] and sun into wood.”
“Blessed are you, Lord God, for using this stick to stop me in my tracks.”  
(An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, 2009, pp. 194-5)

Barbara Brown Taylor also suggests: The same is true of people.  The next time you are at the airport, try blessing the people sitting at the departure gate with you.  Every one of them is dealing with something significant.  (p. 202)

‘Give out grace, like candy!”

And one final motivation to live the Christian life here & now is to recall how we have been treated. 31-32 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

That is a long list of things not to do and big good things to do.  All motivated by God in Christ treating us so well, so amazingly kindly.  

I wonder, from time to time, ‘what words can I put up next on our Church sign?’  Here is my latest idea:      
SACRED SINGING
SHORT SERMONS
STAFFED NURSERY
SAINTLY SINNERS
YOU’LL FIT IN

Do you like that idea?  I fear that “staffed nursery” and “saintly sinners” are too long to fit on the sign.

We have been blessed, so blessed.  From deep in our souls, and from forehead to the soles of our feet.  Now, we can bless, bless as much as possible.

There is motivation for us to imitate God.  To be better, greater, be ‘gooder.’  To be connected better, rooted more deeply in the Divine Lover of our Souls.  This is possible: hallelujah!

Never Hungry, Never Thirsty

(2 Sam 11:26 – 12:13a; John 6:24-35) – J G White

11 am, Sun, Aug 5, 2018 – UBC Digby

D. T. Niles said “evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” What bread do people hunger for?  What do we thirst for? We have longings – wants and desires – of all kinds.

A couple months ago I decided to take up the challenge of using the Old Testament readings for each Sunday this summer that are prescribed in a list called the lectionary.  In many different churches across the globe, and just up the street,  the stories of 1st and 2nd Samuel have been read and preached.

Today’s moment in the saga of King David and his contemporaries is a follow up to his infamous moment… with Bathsheba.  David’s moment of adultery that is referenced in Leonard Cohen’s famed song, ‘Hallelujah.’ Now, David has seen to it that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, has got himself killed in battle.  Bathsheba mourns her husband, then becomes one of King David’s wives.

And Nathan the prophet comes.  Comes to the king. Tells a story, a parable.  About a poor man with a dear little sheep, and rich man, who steals the sheep and serves it up for dinner.   “How terrible!” says king David. And the prophet declares: “You are the man!” David is immediately sorry, but the consequences of his actions cannot be avoided.  

As I pondered this 3000 year old story, I saw all the hunger and thirst in it.  A king’s lust for another lover. His thirst for the power to get rid of her husband.  His desire to save his reputation and keep things secret. Nathan the prophet’s longing for truth and justice.  And, is the ancient storyteller here, the narrator, hungry for a God that will take revenge and give king David what he deserves?  Punish him? That is what happens.

So many human longings are illustrated here.  You and I know our own hungers and thirsts. We want freedom from something that happened in our past.  We want someone to get what we think they deserve. We want to be more safe and secure than we feel now.  We want attention, acclaim, adoration.

To be hungry, to be thirsty, is not necessarily bad… unless the hunger is misplaced. Unless the thirst goes overboard. Or, unless that which is needed is not available.

Our connection with God is our source of everything.  A song Margo has taught us here is # 608 in our hymnbook. As water to the thirsty,
as beauty to the eyes,
as strength that follows weakness,
as truth instead of lies;
as songtime and springtime
and summertime to be,
so is my Lord, my living Lord,
so is my Lord to me.

A thousand years after king David comes king Jesus, a very different ruler in Israel.  ‘Ruler’ is almost the wrong word for who Christ is; He is so different. At the root of our longings and desires is our heart and soul, and there, Christ satisfies.  

‘I am the bread of life,’ He once said.  ‘I am the well of living water.’ ‘I am the light of the world; you are the light.’  I am the grape vine; you are the branches.’ Getting the point?

Fifteen minutes ago we heard the conversation Jesus had with a crowd, following him.  After they were fed real bread, He speaks to them of so much more. “I am the bread of life.” He says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

You and I find the ways to approach God.  We find our ways to put our confidence in Jesus.  And in every year and decade of our lives we may learn more about walking with God.  Little things mean a lot.

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape reproaches the apprentice demon, Wormwood, for permitting his “patient” to become a Christian.  Nevertheless, he says, “There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the enemy’s camp and are now with us.  All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour.”  If a convert’s habits remain the same they will realize little of the life in Christ. (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 1988, pp. 113-114)

The hungers and thirsts we have inside us, let us know them, and bring them to Christ.  Bit by bit, we are still being transformed, still being fed.