Prayers of the Gathered and Scattered

(1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-45; James 5:13-20) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 30, 2018 – UBC Digby

Here we are, again. It is said the average person’s idea of a good sermon is one that goes over his or her head, and hits a neighbour.  

If all the people in church were laid down end to end, they would be more comfortable.

And then there was a pastor who was said to be a great preacher — at the close of every sermon there was a great awakening!

At our best times, our healthiest spiritual seasons, we GATHER in Christ to grow and SCATTER into our neighbourhoods [around the world.]  The final words of the little book of James instruct us today about what we do together, and on our own.

We gather to praise.  Are any [among you] cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. J 5:13

This is pretty much the one spiritual practice I have been good at in my life.  ‘Going to Church,’ we call it – though I don’t like to call it that, at all.  Worshipping with others is one thing I am good at.

I am undisciplined when it comes to my personal praying.  Disorganised at reading the Bible all the time. Weak at talking to people about Jesus when I’m out and about.  Faltering at being polite and thankful. Scattered and unsettled in my theology and my personal beliefs. Too self-centred when it comes to giving my time and energy.  

But going to services every single week – I can do that!  I was disappointed two weeks ago when I was with friends down on the islands and I missed my chance to go to a service there on Sunday morning.  I only get about five Sundays a year to be in some other church somewhere! Hey, back when I was a twenty- year-old biology student at university, I went to chapel services – six days a week. Every week. Often that was ten short services a week! I almost never missed.  

Most ‘normal people’ don’t have a gift for attending worship.  Your best spiritual practices are the other things: praying, or studying the Bible, or giving to the needy, showing hospitality, being a friend, helping others get projects done, so forth.

Are any among you cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.   We gather to praise God and do all the other parts of worship.  We find ourselves called together. It is harder for some to answer this can than for others.  

And We gather to pray.  Are any among you suffering? They should pray. …Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up. J 5:13-15

Praying alone, on your own, is an important habit we learn.  It goes hand-in-hand with learning to pray together. Getting called together for prayer.  Getting inspired to talk with God when we gather.

There are plenty of ways we do our praying.  Like last week, by dropping an autumn leaf or a chestnut – each one a prayer of thanks.  There is personal praying, and there is group praying.

You’ll notice that I very rarely use the word “I” when I pray out loud around you.  Ya know: “Lord, I thank you for this…”  That’s ‘cause I was taught that when I am praying in a group, I am helping everyone pray.  I am giving words to everyone’s prayer. I am not saying my personal prayer out loud in front of you.  I am trying to say words to God for all of us in the room – be it at Sunday worship, choir rehearsal, or a Bible study gathering.  So I say “we,” not “I.”

Praying together is another Christian activity that some people love and appreciate, and some people don’t so much.  The word of scripture calls us, again and again, to prayer. Like a church bell, the invitation goes out, and we discover that prayer together does something different and wonderful.   

And We gather to be at peace.  Well, I wanted another word that starts with “P”.  (I could have chosen penitence.) Praise, Prayer, Peace.  Peace with God.  Peace with ourselves.  Peace with others. Peace with the universe.  …Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  J 5:15-16

The Gospel of salvation seems so much to be about sin and forgiveness.  Whatever creative and biblical words we use for it all, we come to know the Good News for us from God.  Something good for whatever problem we see.

Friday and Saturday Sharon and I heard some talks by Dr. Dorothy Hunse, of ADC.  She reminded us of the need to do a very biblical thing: to lament. To complain and cry out to God, with God.  

For we want to be saved not only from our sins, but from many other troubles and pains we have. Like all the individuals and communities that met up with Jesus – in the Bible – now, each of us gets saved from lots of things. And saved for plenty of things.  So when we scatter – about half an hour from now – we take a lot of Good News with us to share.

A man named Zacchaeus was quite rich, but quite isolated and alone.  Jesus befriended him, included him, went to his house. Zach becomes family.

A woman who had a fling with a man, and was condemned by the law, met Jesus, who did not condemn her.  Instead, he helped those who judged her know their own guilt.

A frightening man, mentally deranged, living in a cemetery, was met my Jesus, who set him free from the evil illness.  Maybe that’s one thing the Bible stories about possession by evil spirits can tell us: that sickness is bad, and it is not all our fault when we get sick.

Religious law experts kept meeting Christ, and he kept breaking down how they understood their Bible.  The real way of life was far better than the way they taught it. Jesus showed real wisdom, and said, “Here, you can have it.”

Then Jesus himself takes all of human experience, and gets executed, and then lives again.  He tells us this is for us. We are included in this historic death and this eternal life.  We are included in God’s story.

We know the Gospel of peace.  

Praise, Prayer and Peace: core things about our gatherings like this.  We also scatter for these three things. We scatter for praise. We scatter for prayer. We scatter to make peace. Two sides of the same coin.

[Like me, you remember when the Canadian two dollar bill was replaced with a coin?  Someone back then described it as: Queen Elizabeth, with a bear behind!]

Two sides. Being a Christian in this life is about gathering, and scattering.  In, and out, a rhythm of life. The Marks of a Mission-Edge Church include this:     GATHERING in Christ to grow and SCATTERING into our neighbourhoods around the world

So this can include these things that happen:

  • We gather in worship and seek to be transformed by the Spirit, who compels us to share the Gospel in word and deed.
  • Our gathering is not the end point, but the centering point, for then scattering back into the world (while incarnating Jesus).
  • This ongoing process of gathering together and then scattering leads to growth in our church, both in spiritual depth and in numbers.

In other words, a healthy church, a congregation that knows its mission from God, gets together to be changed, to get prepared.  Its gatherings – on Sunday or whenever – are not the main goal, but help it be the church better when all the people go out into their lives.  And the local church that gathers and scatters – like the tides constantly ebbing and flowing – is healthy: it gets healthier.

This is our life in the Gospel, the Good News.  More happens – miracle happens – because of the Saviour, who takes us in, and sends us out.

Years ago, Frederick Buechner wrote: A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is that assertion that people are saved by grace.  There’s nothing you have to do.  There’s nothing you have to do.  There’s nothing you have to do.

There’s only one catch.  Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.  Maybe just being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.  (Wishful Thinking, 1973, p. 34)

So gather, gather with me, to grasp this grace.
And go: go alongside me, to give this grace.

Christ and Culture

(James 4:1-8a; John 17:13-18) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 23, 2018 – UBC Digby

For God so loved the world…  We recite John 3:16.  We sing it. How many people around us understand it?  Does our corner of the world know what we mean by this Bible verse?  Our corner of the world that is still loved by God so much. It gets said of Christians that we are to be ‘in the world but not of it.’  What on earth does this mean?

In His big prayer for his closest followers of long ago, Jesus said to God, His Father: (John 17) 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world…. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

Two thousand years of Christians have seen themselves as people sent into the world by Jesus.   Today, our Baptist Convention suggests this as one Marker of a Mission-Edge Church: Seeking to understand CULTURE.  

We need to understand our neighbours, our neighbourhoods.  Then, we can share Christ well. So we do things like these:

  • We corporately study how the Bible and Jesus intersects and speaks to culture in our day.
  • We seek to understand culture, rather than hide from culture.
  • We equip one another to know how to engage culture with Jesus’ grace and truth.

A healthy Baptist Church seeks to understand its culture.  But, just when we start to hear this advice, we might remember what we just read from James 4 in the New Testament.  Did it not say that to be friends of the world is to be enemies of God?

I think this is about being friends with the way society does things, with what people value now.  If how we think and speak and treat people (and the creation) is just like the rest of the world, we are not different.  We need to know what is wrong inside us in order to help resist it, don’t we? We need some more changes inside, to be more like Christ.  

These verses in James that say, ‘draw near to God,’ must go with the words of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  We are sent into the world, with protection, with Jesus, with purpose. This is for the sake of being friends with the people of the world. Loving the world of people. So today’s part of making new disciples of Jesus around here is: know your neighbours really well.  Understand them. Speak their language.

How to make disciples?  One part is our motivation.  Our inspiration to be on mission in our lives.  We are deployed right here, for Christ. Sometimes I feel really inspired and excited about this.  More often I feel shy, unprepared, and cautious about being a missionary in Digby.

About ten years ago I felt inspired by a comment made by Charlie Harvey at an Evangelism Conference.  Charlie and Fran Harvey served for decades as Baptist missionaries in Africa. Nowadays we would call them Field Staff, Global Field Staff.

Charlie got up during a question and answer period and spoke.  We listened. Here was a wise, experienced, retired, respected Missionary.  

He told of the moment, decades ago, when they finally arrived in Africa, and stood before a crowd of people.  He remembered looking out on all those smiling brown faces, who looked back at him, a young, white, Canadian man.  Charlie said he looked out at them and knew he did not have one sweet clue what they were thinking, how they thought, how to communicate with them, what to do.  It took years of living among them to learn and make a small difference in their lives, and they in his.

Then, Charlie Harvey said he retired and came home to New Brunswick.  He looked at the Canadians his grandchildren’s age, and felt the same way.  No clue what they are thinking, feeling, what makes them tick, how to connect with them, how to share his faith. ‘I’ve got to start all over again,’ he suggested.

He was right.  It starts with a commitment to live with them, get to know them.  Be sent into our world.

How to make disciples?  Speak the ‘language’ of the people, not our jargon, our church culture.  So many of us who frequent pews on Sundays know all the code words.  Even if we don’t actually understand them all, we are used to them!

What does a person from Digby who never has gone to a Church think of all these terms and phrases?

For God so loved the world
He gave His only Son
to die on Calvary’s tree
From sin to set me free
Some day He’s coming back
What glory that will be
Wonderful His love to me

It is all code words, right?

I happened to watch a lecture online this week by Steven Pinker, a Canadian, a Harvard professor of psychology.  He gave a very interesting talk about language, style and writing in the 21st century. He says so many professors and experts write in a way that is so unclear and hard to understand.  It is just the way they all do it. And here is an example he gave of how so many professionals talk these days. A young man told what he did to a journalist:

I’m a digital and social-media strategist.  I deliver programs, products, and strategies to our corporate clients across the spectrum of communications functions.  When the journalist confessed he had no idea what that meant, and asked him what he really did, the man finally gave in and said: I teach big companies how to use Facebook.

In our lives, it would be a good exercise to take home the words of our first song, ‘For God So…’ and rewrite it so that any 25 year old could understand us.

How to make disciples?  Don’t blame ‘them,’ the ‘outsiders.’  God so loved the world.  The world of people, the creation, the whole schmear.  

I hesitate to quote this again, because it can be a downer, but the lesson is good.  This comes from Dr. Stephen McMullin’s Evangelism Course Sharon and I took four years ago in Smith’s Cove.  

Many churches, urban and suburban and rural, evangelical and mainline, are dying.  When a church is dying, what are the common responses?

  • Blame society: It is the world’s fault that the church is not growing.  Non-Christians should be coming to Church! Stores should be closed on Sundays.  Sports should not be allowed on Sunday.
  • Blame the young.  They aren’t taking on their fair share of the work.  They owe us for raising them in the church.
  • Blame the old.  They caused the problem.  If they had been willing to change, things would be fine.

Blaming one another, inside, or blaming those outside the churches, is not a helpful sign.  Rather, what’s it like to follow Paul of the New Testament? He said, I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Cor 9:22)

Or, as our Baptist Staff person, Kevin Vincent, said enthusiastically at Oasis a month ago: Sunday is not a sacred, special day anymore?  Well! We have all seven days to pick from! The whole week is ours!

How to make disciples?  Learn from them – take a respectful, humble posture to non-Christians.  I believe one way of humbling myself before God is for me to be humble before every person God loves.  That just might be every single person on earth!

One: Hear their critique of Christians and of Church.  Ya know, it just might be that people who quit church long ago each have good reason for doing so.  We had best learn from them. We have an opportunity for the Master to teach us a lot through the experience of others. People who have never tried our Christianity have a good outsiders view that we do not.  Some of them are not afraid to say what they see in us, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beauty.

Also, Two: Hear what they need and what questions they are asking.  A house up the street has a sign that says this: ETERNITY IS A LONG TIME TO BE WRONG.  Not only is this written in secret Christian code, life after death might not be the main concern of a lot of contemporary people around us.  What does matter to them?

As we get better at knowing the people around us, we get trained by the Master to serve them.  One new tool just became available on Friday. It is called “Fearless”, and is a study program put out by the MacRae Centre at Acadia Divinity College. ‘Fearless’ is a guide to Christ, Culture & Courageous Faith.  The teaching in this little course is by Dr. Anna Robbins. Let me close with some of her words from a Faith Today article, published one year ago.

But when we look at our culture carefully in the light of day, we may find things are not as scary as we first thought.

Yes, the Church is declining. Yes, the Christian influence in Western society is waning. Yes, culture is [becoming secular] at a rapid rate. No, the Church doesn’t enjoy the same cultural position it used to.

But Dr. Robbins suggests; there are fewer and less scary monsters than we imagine. …God is still on His throne, and His Church is still on mission in this country. …We enjoy an immense amount of freedom to worship and live out our faith with commitment and enthusiasm.

We don’t need to panic that we need to defend God in a godless world. God is at work and will defend Himself.

Perhaps it’s time to learn and teach how to live our faith in contemporary culture with love and joy.

Let’s [stop this seemingly endless cultural lament and] get on with the serious and joyful work of the gospel. After all, it’s not our work, but the Holy Spirit’s to change a heart and a culture.

Be fearless!

His Word + (Your Words + Actions) = Love

UBCD Sept 16 2018     James 3:1-12      Licentiate Sharon White

This is week 3 of our September series on the book of James and looking at the 6 markers of being a Mission Edge church.

  • Week 1 was about helping one another share the gospel through Deeds. Pastor Jeff said “good communication and good behaviour grow out of the Gospel that’s deep in our hearts,
  • deeds we do individually and as a church, and
  • the communication is how we speak as we do those deeds,
  • our guide for this comes from verses 19-21 of chpt 1 – we are to be quick to listen, slow to speak or get angry, do what is upright, be humble and accept the message planted in you.
  • Then last week we heard about ‘Embracing hospitality’ along with verses 1-7 of chpt 2.
    • We were challenged to think about the ancient calling of the Christian virtue of hospitality – which really means – the love of stranger,
    • As he spoke I thought about the wall hanging in our dining room that says: “One who practices hospitality – entertains God himself.”
    • I thought a lot about embracing hospitality this past week, and I have a confession: I’ve had to learn how to open my heart, and my home to people in general and be genuinely hospitable.
    • Some of you come by this gift more naturally than me!
    • You see I had to learn hospitality – my childhood home environment was not hospitable, OR safe sometimes. Within the privacy of our walls we were NOT welcomed or treated with love and respect. But through my inner journey work in the early 2000’s, the Holy Spirit revealed God, revealed love, grace and forgiveness, and the scars of my heart and mind have been healed.
    • This enabled me to feel safe in the presence of others, my heart was changed, I have a heart full of God’s love that overflows for others! You are welcome in my heart and my home. I’m daily thankful for the power of Jesus’ love, grace and forgiveness, His love STILL CHANGES HEARTS & LIVES in our time, my life is testimony to that!
    • ‘Hospitality’ is central to the heart of being human, we were designed to be in relationship because we were created in the image and likeness of a God who is a mutuality of 3 persons.
    • God is more fully imaged in human structures by mutual (meaning equal) relationships, not by hierarchical ones that can lead to abuse of power and domination. Reread some of the recordings of Jesus’ life, to see if he’s living out a mutual or hierarchical relationship when he interacts with others.
    • Nonviolence is mutuality! Mutuality of relationship is community, and community comes from
      1. Having the basics needs of the heart met and
      2. Good communication
    • What are the basic needs of the heart?
      • Acceptance, love, worth, a sense of belonging, the ability to make a difference, a sense of security, and a feeling of “I need to matter”
    • So when we embrace the stranger in love, we must strive to meet the deep needs of the heart, this also helps us more and more to see Jesus in every person we meet!
      • Like the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.
      • V 40 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
    • So how do these themes tie into this week’s mission marker of ‘sharing the gospel in Word’, and of Taming the Tongue from what Jean read from James?
    • COMMUNICATION !!
      • Reading from verse 9 – “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness.10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.
      • The next line is ours to heed: My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
    • If hospitality calls us to represent Jesus wherever we go. Then Taming the tongue calls us to better speech when ever our tongues are used.
      • I know that Jesus said in Matthew 28: Go and make disciples!
      • He also said in Mk 12:30-31 Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself!
      • Then he finished that statement with, “there IS NO greater commandment than these.”
      • So for me, loving our God and our neighbour as ourselves are greater commandments than making disciples! Discipleship comes after someone has chosen to follow Jesus, and wants to know how to grow into a deeper relationship and knowledge of what it means to be a Christian.
      • However, this is not what our modern-day churches have used as their ministry motivator. This may be part of the reason for the state of our churches today
      • Jesus is our model, as he spoke with each person he met their needs of the heart!
        • This is the crux of relationship building, and yet so simple,
        • by meeting the needs of the human heart, you build relationships,
        • by building relationships you create a space for the Holy spirit to move in their heart
        • and it’s this movement that creates a desire for the other person to know more of why you are loving and serving them.
      • That’s how we Preach the Gospel at all times. But only use words when necessary.
        • That statement was made by St. Francis of Assisi.
        • Remember what Jesus spoke when he was teaching about inner purity recorded in Matthew 15.11 “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
        • Words can also defile the hearer!
        • As we do our acts of servicing another’s needs our speech must to be respectful, loving, and non-violent, modelling Jesus’ genuine love and concern for others.
        • Do our words build up or tear down?
        • Do they create relationships of mutuality that allow for the moving of the Holy spirit?
      • In verses 2-5 James uses analogies showing the benefits of taming the tongue and how destructive it is when we don’t. I can’t use fire this morning to demonstrate this, instead…
        • hammer a nail in wood, remove it, repeat a few times
        • Hammer = our tongue. Nail = violent words we speak. Board = Heart of another person. The hole demonstrates the scars left from our violent words.
        • Even when we say sorry the hole (scar) is still there
      • Words can hurt forever!
      • What and how you speak to each other and to strangers – tells them your heart, and it’s like a business card for God.
      • Words can break a person’s spirit, block the Holy Spirit, & turn others away from wanting to know your Jesus.
      • James is telling us to be wise with our words, to tame our tongues, but how do we do this?
      • It’s a process, it’s not an overnight change, its starts by being aware of what we say, by listening to the meaning of what others say and watching people’s reactions.
      • It requires not conforming to the common speech that our culture uses in everyday language. Start listening to it and you’ll discover that it’s violent and instills division.
      • Both James and Jesus call for peace making, for building one another up, and for communities to demonstrate genuine care for all others through loving relationships!
      • There are 3 kinds of relationships: with self; self with God; and self with others. Relationship comes from the conversations based on love, respect, and the fruits of the spirit.
      • Conversation builds relationship, and what is relationship? It is a mutual giving and receiving based on an openness of vulnerability, acceptance, respect and love! Without conversation, we lose our ability to connect and to relate to each other.
      • Without conversation we lose belonging, of being loved, of encouraging and lifting others up.
      • Without loving words, we lose the opportunity to share the Living Word!
      • Don’t miss this: Without loving words, we lose the opportunity to share the Living Words of Jesus
        • Preach the Gospel and use words when necessary!
        • Make bridges, not holes

AMEN

Embracing Hospitality

(Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-17) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 9, 2018 – UBC Digby

Embracing Hospitality is a beautiful thing.  When we grab a hold of loving strangers and welcoming people in, we are on the right track. It is a problem when we are less than hospitable, welcoming and including.

The words of James chapter 2 today speak to us of those richer and those poorer, and how we don’t welcome one another. Yet that sense of superiority is automatically built in to some of us.  We don’t realize our white privilege, our male privilege, our first world privilege, and so forth.

I went through elementary school with Tracey, and then high school with her husband, Mike.  The other day Tracey connected with me on facebook, and we messaged back and forth, catching up on things, after thirty years.  She mentioned a few guys and gals we went to school with – about whom I had not heard much since 1988. When she mentioned that one classmate is a lawyer in Ottawa, my message back was, “OK wow.” 

Then I quickly thought about it, and typed: “Why do lawyers always get a wow?”

There I was, esteeming one woman highly just because she became a lawyer.  Why did I automatic- ally do that? How did I get trained to think that way.  

In contrast, James 2:1 says, My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? There really is something glorious about this One who cares for all.  He certainly showed favour to the poorest and least acceptable in His society.  

We are in an area of Canada with great needs.  I recently got access to data from the 2016 census for Digby Town and County.  Median income of households is lower in Digby Co than NS and Can. The number of individuals in low income for Digby Co amounts to 1,040. Of these, 240 are in Digby Town. There are 205 children in Digby Co in low income, of which 60 are in Digby Town.

Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, says: I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours. (R Rohr June 28, 17)

One sign of a Christian congregation on a good track is how well we are embracing hospitality.  How we love to welcome outsiders, and a wide variety of people.  There are Christian experts out there, experts in welcoming people into churches, apparently.  A few years ago Dave Van Tassel and I attended a seminar about this in Yarmouth. Now, there is a fellow in Wolfville who specializes in this, sells his books, and gives seminars to people like us about welcoming people better.  

I have heard stories around here, of course, of young couples – long ago – whose children seemed quite active on Sunday mornings.  When some ‘older folks’ complained to the parents about their unruly children, those families simply quit the churches.

Oh, how we treat one another… not to mention the stranger who comes into our midst!  Or who is in our neighbourhood. The one who is our neighbour.

A decade ago I had reason to look up Knox Metropolitan United Church, Regina, SK.  The words on their web page impress me; they sound so clear about their purpose and reason for existing.

We are united in our calling to ministry and spiritual growth in the city, to being a location and a people committed to the ancient Christian virtue of hospitality, or the love of strangers.

It is clearly part of their vision to embrace hospitality – wholeheartedly.  When a group has a clear, common vision for themselves, great things get done and the group is united.  

Dennis Bickers says this about a faith group without shared vision: A church without a clear understanding of God’s vision for its ministry is like an octopus on roller skates.  There may be a lot of activity, but it’s not going anywhere.

It sounds to me that the church in downtown Regina, SK, is going somewhere.  And that can be very attractive. Again, some things they claim on their webpage:

Our ministry here is committed to the problems and joys of the downtown core of the city, to worshiping, preaching, and singing our hearts out, to the serious study of our Biblical and historical traditions, to forming a company of very diverse people who are committed to walking with one another on their Christian pilgrimage. We want to become a part of you. Your gifts will change us, and we are convinced we have someone, something, which will change you.

“Your gifts will change us.”  What remarkable statements. “We want to become a part of you.”

Hospitality, the love of strangers, reaches to everyone.  To the rich and the poor of whom James speaks.  To those about whom we say ‘wow’ to, and to those who don’t impress us.  Every human is valuable; every person gets a ‘wow’ from our Creator.

There are many stories from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, wise, secluded Christians of the 4th century.
One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts.  Someone noticed this and said to him, ‘Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?’
He replied, ‘I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.”

When we embrace hospitality, we start to see the gift in every person we ever meet.  Every one.  And we let go of esteeming some people more than others.  We see with the eyes of Christ the value of every one.

This sounds like a miracle. And it is.  We are given the gift of hospitality by God the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:2 is fairly well known: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Among a list of brief instructions in Romans 12, verse 13 says Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

1 Peter 4:9-10 seems to speak of hospitality as a spiritual gift.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

To embrace hospitality – to become truly welcoming – is to embrace God. to share more hospitality than we actually have in us is an act of Grace, and act of God from inside us.  The God who loves ‘strangers.’

Amy Reumann told this story: The shortest sermon I know is only ten words. It was preached by my grandfather to a small, country congregation on the story of the Good Samaritan (Mark 10:35-45). He read the account of an outsider who demonstrates true neighbor love by stopping on the road to care for a bleeding and badly injured man. This Samaritan’s compassion stands in stark contrast to religious types who passed by without offering aid. After reading the text, my grandfather mounted the pulpit and said, “We all know what this means. Just go do it.” Then he sat down, sermon over.

I’ve heard the story of my grandfather’s sermon from several people over the years. Each described the impact it made on them in its brevity and directness. The simplicity of “just go do it” reminds us that sometimes all the words we use to describe and explain Jesus may get in the way of his core message. We really do know what he means. Love God by serving your neighbor. It is that clear. It is that simple. It is that hard.  (Amy Reumann, “A Lectionary Study on Mark 10:35-45 ”, Bread for the World Sunday 2018)

Gospel Deeds

(James 1:17-27) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 2, 2018 – UBC Digby

Do any of you remember the ParticipACTION campaign on TV in the 1980s?
Don’t just think about it
Do it, Do it, Do it
Do it with a friend; you both can bend
Do it for your muscles; it’ll make them hustle
Do it for your feet it’s kind of neat
Do it with some action: ParticipACTION
Don’t just think about it
Do it, Do it, Do it
Participaction: get with the action
Do it, Do it, Do it!

Participaction

As Participaction was to exercise, so is the Bible book of James to the living of our faith.  Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. James 1:22.  People who are doers, who act — they will be blessed in their doing. 1:25.  James is a little book in the Bible that seems to be quite action oriented.

I remember well a young woman in a Bible Study, 15 years ago, reading something about ‘Fat Christians.’  Fat, not in terms of the body, but of the mind. Believers who went to Bible Studies all the time, and read lots of good books, and even went to seminars and special talks. Believers fat on the Bible, but who still did not do what it said much.  Sometimes we don’t need to learn more in our faith, we need to get out there and do what we have been hearing about all along. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Do it, do it, do it!

At Oasis, our Baptist leadership rolled out a list of six qualities of a healthy church, six markers of a Mission-Edge Church.  One of our leadership’s goals is to have 350 of our congregations be Mission- Edge Churches. Missional. Mission-minded. Whatever you call it; doing mission in their town or village.

We are going to explore these six mission markers over six weeks.  I see them in the book of James. I see these as attractive things to the outsiders – and the insiders.  They describe the kind of local church a person would like to be part of: it has good activity, and real purpose, for the sake of the world around.

So, today, with James 1, consider how we are Helping one another share the Gospel in DEED.  

James 1(19-21) says My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry.  If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done. You must stop doing anything immoral or evil. Instead be humble and accept the message that is planted in you to save you.  Good communication and good behaviour grow out of the gospel deep in our hearts.  

This Gospel, the Good News, is what?  I’d say it is the story of Jesus, and His invitation to be His disciple and live in the kingdom now.  How do we live it? We learn to do by doing, thank God.

So, how are we doing, Church?  The Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada suggest some signs of Helping one another share the Gospel in DEED.

    • We can name the areas where corporately as a church we are seeking to be an incarnational presence to our local community.

In Christianity we use this word, ‘incarnation’ to talk about how God is in the world ‘in the flesh.’  So we say God is incarnate in Jesus the Christ. But God is also embodied in us. So to share Jesus in our actions is a matter of how we try to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Digby and area now.  

So, can we name the areas where we are seeking to be the presence of Christ around here?

    • We can name the areas where corporately we are seeking to be a blessing to our global community.  

We will look into this more in a few weeks time, but for now, remember that we are a congregation connected with God’s work all over the globe.  We cannot let a special interest group handle it all for us – our Eleanor Timpany Women’s Missionary Society. If that faithful little group folded up and closed, we as a whole would still be part of the web, the network of those working with the Spirit everywhere on earth.

      • We are committed to helping one another as individuals and families be the incarnational presence of Jesus in our neighbourhoods and networks, locally and globally.

So, we help one another do what James tells us. For example: My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry.  A local church becomes a little training centre for being good listeners, wise in how we speak up, and very careful with our anger.  We are a team, a family, helping each other become more like Christ. Consider this whenever you meet: how are you helping me be like Him, and how I am encouraging you to be like Him?

        • We corporately have chosen local events and places where we will seek to be present.

I met up with a guy at the Wharf Rat Rally from Windsor, who, years ago, lent the Windsor Baptist Church a big flat-bed trailer, and someone to drive a truck to haul it.  We, at the Church, built a float for the Santa Claus Parade of Lights that year.  On the back of the trailer I put my old reed organ – you know, a pump organ.  A bunch of us dressed up in old garb and were Dickensian Xmas Carollers, accompanied by me on the old organ. But at the front of the trailer was a wooden barn, with a manger and hay. [I wish I could project photos for you here and now!] A young couple in Middle-Eastern dress tended to a baby laid in the manger.  We shall always remember, during the parade, one little girl watching along the road, waved excitedly and said, “Hi Mary! Hi Joseph!” You don’t see that at every Santa Claus parade!

That one year, some of us at that Baptist Church decided to be present at that local community event. To be there, in the events of one’s community, is part of our calling.  It’s right up Jesus’ alley.

          • We encourage individuals to connect in their local community, living the life of Jesus incarnationally, as they go.

I think that a local Church that appeals to people on the outside, is one where the members help one another to live in their town representing Christ well.

I feel I have been asked, this summer, tho not in so many words: there must be something you have up your sleeve, Pastor, that we can do to get people into our church.  What is it? Don’t hold out on us!

Well, I try not to keep such things up my sleeve. 🙂  I wear them on my sleeve, so to speak. I believe doing good things for those outside the church is the work of the church. And people who also want to make a difference to others will join us. I believe in being focused upon giving more than on getting.  And people who receive a blessing from us can discover how Jesus was involved in what we did for them. I believe in the ministry – the good work – of individuals, seven days a week. And we should count what each of us does in our day-to-day lives as the good work of God thru the Baptist Church.  

The Christianity we celebrate here on a Sunday is a way of life, life with God, not just the beliefs we have, or our organization, or even the relationship we have with our God.  We don’t just pray about it: we do it, do it, do it!

Let me end my sermon with the same thing Jesus ended His sermon with on the mount. (Mtt 7:25-27, Msg)

If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.  But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”