Acceptance of Change

(Ruth 8:1-18; Rev 1:4-8) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Nov 25, 2018 – UBC Digby

How many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb?  ‘Change’? What do ya mean, ‘change’? Well, I managed to change a lightbulb yesterday, a low-beam headlight in my car.

One way we measure life is by change.  What changes? How much change? And, what things have not changed.  Acceptance of change is an important life skill, because we all face changes, and we ourselves change. The white whiskers I have grown for Movember tell me a bit out about my aging body.  The research into if Digby Baptist should have a full-time minister, or not, tells me about the changing times for me in my ministry career. What Christianity is across Canada, and in Digby, is different now.

We heard the start of a great Bible story today, the story of Ruth, from the five-page book bearing this woman’s name.  Set in the time of the Hebrews living in the Promised land, before they had their first king, Ruth of Moab seeks refuge with her Jewish mother- in-law among the Jews.  A story without villains or enemies, it is a tale of cross-cultural hospitality. And a story of tremendous personal change.

Consider life in those ancient days.  We tend to call them primitive; they were days of far different roles for men and women in their society.  The mother in the story, Naomi, is widowed, and then her two sons also die. Naomi and her son’s wives are left to fend for themselves in the land of Moab, a precarious position.  Women without men in the family were almost helpless in their world. They were at the mercy, of, well, whoever might have mercy on them.

Naomi was a Hebrew, and decides to travel back to her homeland.  Along the way, she convinces her daughter-in-law, Orpah, to go back to her own people, but she can’t convince her daughter-in-law, Ruth.  Ruth clings to her, and famously says
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people will be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die I will die–
and there will I be buried.

Ruth is a Moabite; lived all her life in Moab, southeast of the Dead Sea.  Now she follows her Jewish mother-in-law north, to a town called Bethlehem, northwest of the Dead Sea.  A different people. A different culture. Different language. Different religion. Major changes.

Ruth is amazingly willing to go.  And – we did not read the rest of the story – but Bethlehem turns into a place of amazing blessings for the two women – the older one returning, and the young foreigner.  

We can but ponder Ruth, the young widow, walking for days with Naomi, to get to a new life.  Ruth walked into a tremendous change – and the outcome was so unknown to them.

Every person of human history, who has lived for even a few years, has faced changes.  Some, like Ruth of old, chose to make major shifts in their lives. In our lifetimes we have seen and will see so many changes.  And some of you have wandered far from where you began.

But something there is in us that doesn’t like change. Right?  We want change for the better. Not change for the uncertain. Or change for no good reason.  Or change imposed by others. Or change we’re not sure of. And when we are together, in some group, resistance to things being different can be stronger.  We can be slow to accept change.

In his book, the Healthy Small Church, Dennis Bickers speaks of how churches resist changes for many reasons.
It feels like an admission of failure.
The new will be different from the old/familiar.
I may lose my ‘role’ that I have had.
Not worth it with short-term pastors.
Change won’t make a difference.
Don’t see a need; don’t see a problem.

At the level of a local family of faith like us, we can get locked in to doing things the ways we have always done them, and being the same as we have always been, so to speak.

Speaking of acceptance of change, I read obituaries.  Let me read now from the 2002 death notice of a man I did not know, had never heard of.

72 years old.  Died in Dartmouth General Hospital.  His battle with cancer was not courageous, he detested every moment he had to endure the disease that robbed him of years of his well-planned time of retirement and relaxation.  He has been unhappily dragged from this world with many of his projects incomplete and his plans undeveloped.

In religion, he was a Baptist and was a charter member of Stevens Road United Baptist Church in Dartmouth.  In recent years he was most unhappy with the degeneration of the present day Baptist service from the dignified and orderly service reminiscent of his youth, to something that to him was often approaching a carnival in nature, such is progress?

I always find this obituary humourous.  Yes, because it is unusual. Also because it describes many church people.  It is a bit descriptive of me.  It is funny because it is true, and points out how unwilling we are to change our ways.

Ruth of Moab was willing to change. She must have known a little about the culture of the Hebrews, since her mother-in-law was Jewish, and her late husband.  But then to give up her own culture, leave the rest of her family, leave her homeland, and even leave her religion for another was big. Many people have done this, before & since.  Ruth stands out in the Bible as a model of change.

As we know, these events come from the time of the Judges in Israel, more than one thousand years before Jesus.  Many Bible Scholars have thought this story was written down much later – six hundred or more years later – when the Jews were returning to the Holy Land after their exile in a foreign empire.  Around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, who lead the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the Jewish religion. The Ezra-Nehemiah records tell of the severe purification of the nation that was called for – men were to divorce their foreign wives and only mary from among their Jewish ethnic and religious community.

In contrast to this – to balance this? – comes the story of Ruth.  A foreigner who is welcomed into Bethlehem in Judah. Who marries a Hebrew man.  And, as the New Testament tells us, she becomes an ancestor of the Messiah. Ruth will be one of the great-great grandmothers of Jesus of Nazareth.  

As a great narrative in holy scripture, the story of Ruth speaks a word of welcome, a prophetic word of inclusion, in a time when keeping foreigners out had become the norm.  It is a story of change – suggesting a change in attitude about ethnic purity.

As much as we sense there is a timelessness about our Faith, Xianity is a changeable thing. As much as we want to be sure and certain that our Jesus religion is just like it always has been – it has transformed a lot over two thousand years. The sentiment of “Give me that Old Time Religion” is misplaced, most of the time.  It’s not good enough for me.

Change is not only inevitable, it is essential.  The scriptures are full of phrases like the one from Isaiah, “Behold a do a new thing, do you not perceive it?”

Acceptance of change, of good changes, is a good thing.  It takes most of us some time to be convinced that any change is for the better.  

A couple weeks ago a small group of us started to meet, as a study group.  Five people from our thirties to age fifty. And a few children with us. Samuel and Gabriel were playing with some Transformers.  You know, those toys that start out as a car or a truck, but move and shapeshift and become powerful robot heroes. We spent some time with the kids and their Transformers.

So, I suggested to the little group that that become our name.  The Transformers. For is that not what Christianity is about?  What salvation is for? That we may be transformed, changed, recreated, discipled?

Know that the changes needed in our lives will be difficult.  Know also that the God of our Salvation is here to transform us.  Jesus, who was, and is, and is to come: our great Agent of change. Amen!

Provoke One Another

(Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-80  Rev. Carol Smith @ UBC Digby November 18, 2018)

One day a mother went to wake up her son for church on Sunday morning.  When she knocked on his door to remind him it was time to get up, he shouted, “I’m not going!”  “My goodness, why not?” Asked his mother.   Her son replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons. Number one: they don’t like me!  Number two:  I don’t like them!”

Well, his mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why you will go to church.  First you are 47 years old. And secondly, you are the pastor and you have to go!”

Sounds like the case of a discouraged pastor.

The preacher who wrote to the Hebrews knew that sometimes people become discouraged.    So he provokes them and us by forcefully drawing our attention to Jesus, who himself fulfills the promise of the new covenant, the covenant for told by Jeremiah, the one who is the law written on our hearts.  No more need for a sacrifice, it is all about reconciliation and relationship with God and one another.   Because of Jesus, we can come to God, with confidence, no matter what, because God’s grace covers us.  When we are discouraged, we are to remember God is with us and for us.

Hebrews tells us to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering for he who has promised is faithful.   I had a professor at McGill, Dr. Klempa, who always sent us out after class with these provocative words:  “Go forth and witness a good confession.” As students, we had learned many things and heard many words in his class about what to belief, but it didn’t matter until we showed it with our lives.  What are we confessing with our life?

The writer of Hebrews provokes us not to be discouraged but to be people of hope.  No matter what denomination we are, if we are followers of Jesus, we are called to live in hope and share that hope.  To hold fast to hope.  After serving Hill Grove Baptist in 2004,  I served four years at Springhill Institution.  And basically my ministry there was giving people hope:  hope that they could turn their lives around with God’s help and with the help of others who believed in them..  At St Luke’s, hope was a daily offering.  Sometimes it was in the form of sitting around a table together enjoying a simple homemade meal.  Sometimes it was telling our stories and sharing regrets and gradually hope came alive.  Often people leave prison but have nothing to hold on to.  I gave them something to hold on to .. God who loves each of us and people in the community who would be there for them.  You could say I provoked them to have hope.  To love and good deeds. Those four years were profoundly meaningful and I had many amazing experiences of God’s grace …

We are told to consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds?  To consider this today, we need to think about what is happening in our communities .. where is God calling us to connect with those who are without hope, without something to hold on to.  Like many I was shocked and dismayed to hear about the recent bullying incident in Cape Breton .. even the parents of the kids who were doing the bullying were shocked.  There was no excuse for their behaviour.  Youth are struggling today right where we live … I am constantly provoking the United Churches I serve to connect with children and youth.   Often I hear “well, we are too old and tired .. there is no one to do youth work.”  Well then, let’s reach out to other churches and let us work together to extend love and support to our youth, because many young beautiful lives are being lost to drugs and cyberspace and despair.

I have been working diligently the past four years provoking United churches on the South Shore to work with one another.  I am sure some people would say I am even quite aggravating. My theory is that when volunteers are scarce or resources are low in one’s own congregation,  its easy to wind down our expectations but that’s not the faithful response.  There is an alternative: when neighbouring churches work together with one another, we can be active in the community.  We can do more with children and youth.  We can share resources.    My work of building capacity to collaborate has been hard going.  United Churches, just by their name, should be good at sharing but that is often not the case.

The good news is that some of my recent beautiful experiences of collaborating have been ecumenical.   This past Canada Day Caledonia UCC congregations joined together with five Baptist churches to have a Canada Day Celebration .. it was beautiful.  Now plans are afoot to join with the Baptists and Church of Christ to do an adult Alpha program in the fall.

Jeff shared with me about the ecumenical Remembrance Day service which happened here in Digby this month.   We did the same in Caledonia and held the service at NQ Community School.  Since the Legion closed, we would not even have a Remembrance Day service if the churches did not come together and organize it.

One final gem from this passage in Hebrew:   Has anyone ever asked you “where does it say in the Bible that we should go to church?” Well, here it is in verse 25: … “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another as you see the Day approaching.”

I would like to leave you with this to think about, “not neglecting to meet together …” Many people today say I don’t need to go to church to live a Christian life.  That comment leaves me sad.  How can we stay strong without one another? Without gathering and encouraging and even provoking one another!

You may wonder why Jeff and I are doing this pulpit exchange today.  For me, it is a way to come and worship with you, with the expectation that I would receive encouragement from you for my life and to offer you encouragement along your way.

Every time we come to church or another gathering in Christ’s name, it is to give and receive encouragement, to remember that we are not alone:  we live in God’s world.  We are all connected.

In this space, we build one another up in love.  That is what draws people to our fellowship.  That is our holy habit, meeting together.

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today.  Let us continue to encourage one another , even to be aggravatingly encouraging!  AMEN!

Provoke One Another

(Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Ps 113; Mark 13:1-8) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Nov 18, 2018 – St. Paul’s United – Maitland Bridge, Zion United – Liverpool

Driving across this part of the province today I easily think back to childhood, and my mother driving us three kids along the number 10 highway on a summer’s day, to Grampie’s cottage on Zwicker Lake.  It was only a 25 minute trip, but every time Mom had to pull the car over and stop, part way, to break up a fight and calm us down.  

What is it about kids that we loved to provoke one another?  Especially when excited, on the way to a special destination.  My brother and sister and I were good at bugging each other. We’re better behaved now!

The opposite of this is possible.  We can provoke someone to love and good deeds, as Hebrews 10:24 says.  Sometimes this is translated in to English, spur one another on.  Moment by moment we have the choice, to help prompt someone to do good, or ill.

I’ve been wondering about this, and the ways we get better at helping those we meet do well.  Help others do better. For instance, we spur one another on when we believe in them.  When we are on someone’s side, we naturally encourage.  

In today’s chapter from Hebrews, the writer speaks at length about how Jesus’ actions reconnect humans with God. 10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. We have this New Testament teaching, over and over, that what’s good about Jesus is given to people.  What’s right about Christ is shared with us. What’s holy about the Son gets infused into us.

In so many ways, the New Testament proclaims that we people are accepted by God, loved by God, believed in by God.  God’s on our side. Shall we see others around us with the same vision?

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, has written, “To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through your attitude: ‘You are beautiful.  You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’

We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves.  To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”  (Shane Claiborne, et al, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 2010, p. 58)

Pay attention to how the Creator truly believes in people.  And be of the same mind.

We spur one another on when we ‘remember’ their sins and deeds no more.

The author of Hebrews tells us the Holy Spirit said, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (H 10:17)  Can we be like this? What do we remember about someone, if it is not their faults and failures?

A large Canadian survey of young adults who left church – or stayed in churches – gives quite a few personal examples.  Examples of the spiritual experience of the oncoming generations. Here are some quotations. (Penner et al, Hemorrhaging Faith, 2011, p. 65)

“Now that I’ve left church I don’t feel that burden of guilt every time I slip up and make mistakes.” Anna

“There was no specific negative experience, I guess, but it was just the feeling – that feeling all the time of never being good enough.”  Carol

“All these demands were made of me, of what I needed to do and how I needed to perform, and I said, ‘Forget it!’” Sandy

On the other hand, when someone experiences accepting forgiveness, there’s great power & healing.

In the midst of the brokenness and the things that were happening, God put people into my life to speak words of truth, and restoration, & healing.”  Jasmine

“That’s what I like, there was no judgment on us in our situation thought they knew that (my girlfriend) hasn’t known God for as long, but we still wanted to get married when we had the means and I never felt any judgement from them because of that.  And that’s why I really appreciate this church.” Samuel (p. 54)

We spur one another on when we approach God with confidence and hold fast to our hope.  When we are spiritually grounded.  Hebrews 10:23 says Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

I know I can give more when I am not trying to get.  When I am not so needy. When I am resting in God, and trusting the life I have been given.  

All our church language at this time of year about the Kingdom of God points to the bigger picture.  The reality that goodness and grace are big in this life, and don’t depend upon me. Jesus’ words in Mark 13 are pointing, with a future look, to the end of everything wrong and the realm of everything right.  

Sister M. T. Winter wrote this lyric 30 years ago:

O for a world preparing for
God’s glorious reign of peace,
where time and tears will be no more,
and all but love will cease.

There is a confidence we can have, in the kingdom of peace to which we march together.

We spur one another on when we believe in our mission to them.  This mission to encourage others, to provoke them to love and to do good deeds.  Is your calling in life to be a person who builds others up, instead of tearing them down?  For there is so much tearing down of others in our world today. Life is hard enough without attacking our neighbours.

Twenty five years ago, when I was at college, and Carol Smith was at college, there was an Amy Grant song popular at big youth events in the Annapolis Valley.  The clear honesty of the song rang true.

We believe in God And we all need Jesus
‘Cause life is hard And it might not get easier
But don’t be afraid
To know who you are
Don’t be afraid to show it

The twenty-year olds who sang it thought they knew then that Life is hard, and it might not get easier. Since then, we have learned more about this.

So I can believe in the simple mission, the purpose in my life, to encourage other people.  To build them up. To spur them on to love and good deeds. Back when I headed off to be trained as a minister, a retired pastor, wise and very down-to- earth, told me, “You will need to encourage church people.”  He saw it; he knew it; he was right.

It takes some attention and work on our part to be positive, not negative.  As it says in Hebrews 10: 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…  Consider how to do this. Take time to review how you are spurring people on for good, how you are encouraging others.

Of course, we spur one another on when we spend time together.  When we are humanly connected.  25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another...  

A preacher like me could easily take this verse and harp on about coming to services on Sundays.  “Don’t neglect to meet together!” 🙂 But I must admit it’s not necessarily about that. In the midst of all this ‘encouraging one another’ stuff, it is a matter of meeting together in every way.  Our one-on-one relationships are part of being church and our mission.

The church is wherever God’s people are helping,
caring for neighbours in sickness and need.  

Even our thank-you cards, little notes, and emails of substance, are part of our connection and building one another up. Consider the ways you meet others.

Let me end by quoting a note sent by a wonderful woman in my congregation a few years ago, who has since died.  Maureen. She had a way with words on paper, and many of the notes she gave, to many people, have been kept, I’m sure. Such as this one, sent to a couple other people in the congregation, one of whom was in the midst of cancer treatments.

Dear ____ & ____,

It was so good to see you in church yesterday, although I didn’t quite make it across the “crowded room” to speak with you.  But I’ve been Thinking of you ever since… praying that God’s love and will may guide you in peace.
In friendship —
Maureen

And then she wrote out in the card, at length, a prayer by John Henry Newman.  Here is part:
God has created me to do him some definite service… I have my mission; I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next… Therefore I will trust him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve him; in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.
…He may take away my friends, he may throw me among strangers, he may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me — still he knows what he is about.

Let’s you and me also know what God is about, and always speak the encouraging word.  

Lead On

(2 Sam 23:1-7; Ps 127; John 18:33-37) – J G White & Alex Constable
9 am, Sun, Nov 11, 2018 – UBC Digby & Grace United

To be led is to have a leader.  To be led well in good directions is to have good leadership.  This morning, Ardith drew our attention to what are called the last words of King David, one of the greatest leaders in the long Biblical saga.  David quotes this message he received from the LORD God:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
   when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
   on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
   that brings grass from the earth.’

Poetry of leadership. And when a ruler or guide is so right and godly, he or she inspires followers.  We actually follow a good path, a new way.

The better leaders and the better followers of the nations, the powers that be, our churches, and our communities, move onward and upward, to better things.  What a challenge this is, in our world, still torn by violence and wracked by injustice! Is there hope? Will the good win out?

100 years after the “war to end all wars”– the world is at war. Battlefield violence rages, not only in conflict zones like Syria and Palestine, but in lands at peace. In schools, mosques, saloons, synagogues, music halls and churches, firearms rain down terror and death.

As Christians – as followers of the Prince of Peace, who said: “Put away your sword” and also, “I’ve come not to bring peace, but a sword”, how do we respond?

Today we sang Ernest Shurtleff’s line: “Lead on O King eternal, the Day of March has come….” Since the birth of civilization, we’ve marched into battle – and we have tried to end armed conflicts with more & better arms.

Suggestions from the powerful to end the recent rash of violence in schools etc.: armed guards and civilians will “neutralize” the person doing the killing… Yet at the Borderline Bar & Grill, the deputy sheriff – very much armed and trained – was shot to death as soon as he entered the building — even as young people broke windows and dove under tables to escape.

Responses from the powerless – Susan Orfanos, mother of victim Tel Orfanos – pleaded for “no more prayers & thoughts – gun control!”

Whatever your thoughts on gun control legislation, firearms are here – they can’t be un-invented.   

*I and my siblings grew up with a gun in the house. It was powerful and deadly – the same model issued to British troops in WW1. It was kept in the back kitchen, with the cartridges in a nearby cardboard box. Not much control there… but we were expressly forbidden to touch or use it!

When our father was a child, he had a hunting mishap, in which his little brother Ralph died of an accidental gunshot wound.  There wasn’t a minute went by that we weren’t aware of the terrible power these weapons had to take a precious life. Yet these WWI military issue rifles pale in destructive power next to the modern weapons that are available to military and civilians alike.

If the answer is not to be found in more and better arms – where’s the way forward?

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotation has been popularized in recent years: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This was King’s clever paraphrasing of a portion of a sermon delivered in 1853 by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker.  Parker had preached: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
(Mychal Denzel Smith, The Huffington Post, Jan 18, 2018)

I was interested to hear that humanist Psychology professor at Harvard, Stephen Pinker, strongly suggests the world is improving, becoming less violent.  His 2011 book is called The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.  Pinker argues that violence in the world has declined, both in the long run and in the short run, and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred.

We Christians believe this is God’s plan, God’s way: we are being led to better things.

What sort of King is our Jesus?  And where does our Leader take us today?  Back when He was being interrogated, before His execution, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest… But now my kingdom is from another place.”

King Jesus takes us into another kingdom.  A different realm not like all those we know here and in history.  Of course, we do know this kingdom, we believers are citizens of heaven while here on earth.  We pray that the kingdom come and the will of God be done. Not only must we pray: we must act, we must do, we must follow the Way.

Christ exemplified “love one’s enemy” – reached out to the “other” in solidarity and compassion – Roman soldiers, tax collectors, Samaritans. In doing so he was setting an example, leading humanity “down the garden path” to peace.

In Pittsburgh recently, an armed man opened fire on worshippers, killing 11 and wounding 6 at the Tree of Life Synagogue. One of those killed was a holocaust survivor. You might think humanity is regressing in terms of world shalom, yet it was Muslims who headed the fundraising campaign to support families of victims.
In light of that tragedy, a California synagogue opted for Mennonites over armed guards…
(Mennonites are a pacifist denomination).  They worship at the synagogue and held a Friday night peace vigil.

“New paths to peace are won by hard suffering.  One example is the WW1 poet, Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. On the outbreak of the First World War, Studdert Kennedy volunteered to become a chaplain to the armed forces on the Western Front.

Arthur Savage met Kennedy while on the front-line: “Kennedy, an army chaplain he was, and he’d come down into the trenches and say prayers with the men, have a cuppa out of a dirty tin mug and tell a joke as good as any of us. He was a chain smoker and always carried a packet of Woodbine cigarettes that he would give out in handfuls to us lads. That’s how he got his nickname. (Woodbine Willie) He came down the trench one day to cheer us up. Had his Bible with him as usual. Well, I’d been there for weeks, unable to write home, of course… I asked him if he would write to my sweetheart at home, tell her I was still alive and, so far, in one piece. He said he would, so I gave him the address. Well, years later, after the war, she showed me the letter he’d sent, very nice it was. A lovely letter. My wife kept it until she died.”

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was converted to pacifism by the war, and published poetry from his experiences.  He speaks with realism of the most challenging things, but always seeks the hope that we all seek. Here is his poem, Patience.  

Sometimes I wish that I might do
Just one grand deed and die,
And by that one grand deed reach up
To meet God in the sky.
But such is not Thy way, O God,
Not such is Thy decree,
But deed by deed, and tear by tear,
Our souls must climb to Thee,
As climbed the only Son of God
From manger unto Cross,
Who learned, through tears and bloody sweat,
To count this world but loss;
Who left the Virgin Mother’s arms
To seek those arms of shame,
Outstretched upon the lonely hill
To which the darkness came.
As deed by deed, and tear by tear,
He climbed up to the height,
Each deed a splendid deed, each tear
a jewel shining bright,
So grant us, Lord, the patient heart,
To climb the upward way,
Until we stand upon the height,
And see the perfect day.

Anna Coleman Ladd, Boston sculptor who changed the faces of soldiers… 20,000 in WWI were severely facially disfigured. They could return home, but not to normal family life.
Her doctor husband began practicing in Paris in 1917.  Anna set up a studio there and began fashioning restorative face masks for wound- disfigured patients. Almost 200 men received new faces and a new life because of her skill and care.

People with hope, vision, faith & love can change the face of global society through gracious lives, loving acts…

As Ernest Shurtleff would say, “For not with swords loud crashing, nor roll of stirring drums… but deeds of love & mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.”

Trash Talk

(Job 12:7-12; Revelation 21:1-6) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Nov 4, 2018 – UBC Digby

I think I have wanted to give a ‘trash talk’ for some years now.  So I brought a trash bag for the sermon today. Let’s see what we do with the garbage.
[Sort some…]

This is not what we used to do with our garbage.  We have come a long way since I was a child, and it all went in one bag to a dump on the edge of town, or got burned or buried in the backyard.

This matters to the God we worship here: how we take out the trash.  How we recycle, and reuse. And how we shop for the things packaged in all this, to begin with.  
God is the Lover of all creation.  

Next June a couple of people will be touring the Maritimes, giving talks and sermons about ecology.  I look forward to what Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow will share.

But is this one of our priorities?  Isn’t God’s project on earth all about Jesus?  All about human souls and salvation and eternity?  ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ thru’?  Many believers look to the future hopes of Revelation, in the Bible, and see that this world, with its problems, is temporary.  John, of the Revelation, hears a holy Voice in his vision say: “See, I am making all things new!”

It makes sense to me for us to do now with earth and sky what the apocalypse will do for it in the future: give a new heavens and a new earth.  If all the Bible poetry that hopes and trusts in a peaceful kingdom inspires us, surely we can come as close to it now as we can. Some examples are in the book of Isaiah.  We can read of the beautiful kingdom, where the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. (Is 35).  

I think also of the great moment when the Temple in Jerusalem was dedicated by King Solomon.  After the great day of prayers, we read in 2 Chronicles (7)
12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

If the people will humbly pray and turn from their wicked ways… the land will be healed. Sometimes, our best prayers – and answers to prayers – are in our hands, in our own actions.  If the ideal – and God’s own vision of creation – is beauty and not garbage, then surely we can live into that hope now, without things being perfect?

Let’s sort some more trash and be inspired…

Our consumption, and our waste, matter to our Saviour, now.  So with John the revelator, we can see that vision of new heavens and a new earth, and be inspired to live in better ways here and now.  

As you know, I believe in a local church as a little spiritual community that cares for creation.  My own vision for Church that I articulated to you in January of 2017, has four points.  1. Increase our mission. 2. Decrease our maintenance. 4. Discipleship. 3. Creation Care: be a congregation that is always improving how we live in the natural environment in which our Creator has placed us.  I reiterated this in my annual report to you back in January of this year.  

Think again about this goal: always improving how we live in creation. I hear my Master calling us to this.  I hear the scriptures calling to us. I hear creation call out to us.  There is an inspiring vision of new heavens and a new earth today.  Not just for ‘the end’ of the world.  For today.

When a fellowship of Christians values creation more and more, I see several benefits.  It is good for creation: we stop trashing it! It is a good value to have because doing better and making a difference is truly possible!  We also have a role in our culture to inspire and educate others to reuse, recycle, and respect the whole earth. And, the Good News about Jesus’ Kingdom is comprehensive, total, all-inclusive: saving the whole person, the whole community, the whole planet.  

We are about to have this simple, monthly ceremony we call the Lord’s Supper.  And what are we doing? Taking physical bread and real grape juice and sharing them.  Things that grew from the earth, things that were not human, but are life-giving. We remember that our faith tradition proclaims that whatever God is, God becomes a human, completely a human, within the physical creation.  God enters and joins the earth. For the sake of us all.

What is God like?  God is like Jesus. And Jesus was one of us, an animal here on this planet.  May He inspire us to live well in our time together here. May Christ lead us to make a difference in this critical age. May Jesus’ own sacrifice for our lives change they way we live in every way: from the way we talk about God to the way we take out the trash.  

In the name of the Creator, the Child, and the Spirit.  AMEN.