True Gold

(Luke 6:27-38) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 24, 2019 – UBC Digby

We have this little problem of evil in the world. And even the world still admits that.  I heard a CBC ‘The Current’ interview with Canadian Psychologist Julia Shaw. She’s author of  “Evil: the Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side.” Dr. Shaw says we should be careful about labeling anyone as evil.  

Anna Maria Tremonti: Why is there a pushback against trying to understand or show empathy to the serial killer, or the pedophile, or the nazi?

Julia Shaw: I think it’s really easy to simplify human behaviour and label it as evil.  I think it’s really difficult for us to introspect and hold up the mirror and say “what do I perhaps have inside myself that could lead me down a dark path?” And that could lead me to commit these types of crimes, for example.  And I think it is really difficult to engage with yourself on that level and to really think through your own morality and to challenge yourself to accept that you probably have darkness lurking inside you; and how we we prevent it from getting out?And it’s much easier to say, “I’m a good person; other people are evil.”  

A scientist corroborates scripture: ‘you probably have darkness lurking inside you.’  

We have, on top of this, ‘The Golden Rule’ – a term coined by Anglicans more than 400 years ago.  What is that rule? We just read it, from Luke 6.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. The Golden Rule. But, what is gold about loving enemies? Loving enemies is impossible! It is ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream.’  One Bible commentator says this about Luke chapter 6.

To love an enemy is simply impossible, for an enemy is by definition someone hated rather than loved.  An enemy who is loved is no longer an enemy. (Charles C. Cousar et al, Texts for Preaching – Year C, 1994, p. 157)

It can be so automatic, so built-into us to make enemies and to protect ourselves.  In his remarkable book, Disarming Scripture, Derek Flood deals with our built-in fear and fight reactions to an enemy or threat.  Our brains automatically react. He tells this personal anecdote:

The other day our 5-year-old daughter had a “meltdown.”  She’s screaming, and I’m feeling triggered. My [primitive brain] has kicked in now; but I do my best to pull myself together, and, taking her by the hand, I bring her to her room for a time-out. When we get there, she screams at me hysterically, demanding I give her a hug.  

Now mind you, I’m not feeling compassion right then–I’m mad.  …I’m… thinking, “I don’t want to reward this selfish behaviour with a hug!”  

But something in me knew – as much as I didn’t feel like doing it at the time – that she really did need that hug.  So… I put my arms around her and held her. And when I did, a miniature miracle happened: All her distress, panic, and rage just melted away.  

This simple act of kindness broke the hurtful dynamic my daughter and I were both caught in.  That’s the core working principle of enemy love: Do not be overcome by anger, but overcome anger with kindness…

Paul tells us that as we walk in this way of the Spirit, we will be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”(Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, 2014, pp. 184-186)

We believe in miracles of the human heart.  Little ones, and big ones. The real gold of loving enemies is both when those who are not our enemies get treated rightly, and when we stop being enemies of those who oppose us.

Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with not judging.  Jesus leads us into ways of letting go of our harsh criticism and value judgments of other people.  Even the simple habit of me telling myself, “Don’t judge too harshly,” can become a real spiritual discipline, and a miracle of the Spirit within me.  Goodness to our opponents can become real gold to us – something we value and go after.

In his book, Derek Flood talks about being selfish or self-centered.  The opposite, he says, is not being unselfish. That language is still paying too much attention to oneself.  The opposite is being social- focused, paying attention to others. (pp. 179-180)  We value doing unto others good, more than getting benefits and blessings for ourselves.

Sharon and I have a grandson, almost six years old.  One thing Dryden loves is marching bands. He will simply march around the house and get us to follow.  He, the drum major leading the band, leading the parade. So much of our play, as children, is about how to be the boss, be in charge, get attention.

Let me take a page now from someone’s else’s sermon.  I won’t tell you whose – it will become clear. A sermon that was called ‘The Drum Major Instinct.’

And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession.

Now, in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it… And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego… But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.

There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted.

Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior.

And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy.  

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize— that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

[That’s all from ‘The Drum Major Instinct’, preached by Martin Luther King, Jr., Feb 4, 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA.]

May our hearts beat to a different drum – that of Jesus. The One who preached: You will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

We sometimes sing words inspired by Malachi 3:3
Purify my heart,                            (Brian Doersken)
Let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart; Let me be as gold, pure gold.

The impossibility of being like God, as good as God, is prayed for once again.  The Saviour preaches it once again, to us.

So, love your enemies.  Start with the ones in our province, in your town, on your street, in the same room as you. This life is all about my enemy becoming not my enemy anymore.  
When someone takes from you: give, share, let go. Bless without expectations.  This life is about my coat not being my coat anymore.  
Do not judge, do not condemn.  This life is about my ways not being my ways, but God’s ways.  

Jesus takes us there.  Nothing is impossible with God?  Yes, nothing is impossible. (Luke 1:27)  Even finding gold deep in the human heart.

Hearts to Bless or Curse

(Jeremiah 17:5-10;  Luke 6:17-26) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 17, 2019 – UBC Digby

This past Wednesday, I heard a sermon – preached online, because of a snowstorm – entitled: The Ruined Heart. The preacher (Rev. Phillip Woodworth) quoted Jer. 17:9, ‘The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?’ He went on to say: The human heart, the command centre, the place from which our life flows, is, in fact, corrupt and ruined, it is bent towards evil. And I know that this is harsh.  But I also know that it is undeniable.

In our tradition, over thousands of years, we have been hearing this. We have a penchant for being a curse to the world, not a blessing. Of giving out woe instead of wonderful things.  We’re just plain bad.

Alas! and did the Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head,
For such a worm as I? (Isaac Watts 1674-1748)

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you,
dare not trust your own.
(George Duffield, Jr. 1818-1888)

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me
(John Newton 1725-1807)

Or are we so, so bad?  Are we bad and not also good?  Christian opinions differ on how depraved and nasty we humans are.  How far we have all fallen in the fall pictured in Genesis 3.

Our reading from Jeremiah 17 speaks of people who are blessed and people cursed.  Before that warning about the devious heart of the human, prophet Jeremiah gives poetry that echoes so much OT, such as Psalm 1. Those who do well by God get good things; those who do bad get what they deserve.  Jeremiah starts with curses for those who trust humanity instead of the LORD. Then, there are blessings for those who put their trust in God.

This is the standard warning: turn back to God or you will get punished!  Do right, and prosper. “Put in your quarter, get out your blessing,” as my Old Testament professor used to say (Timm Ashley).  

There are, you may well know, other voices in scripture.  Minority reports that yet are major teachings. The voice of prophet or poet that gives a different perspective.           

Have you felt blessed, or cursed? And let me put it this way: do you tend to give out blessings, or put a curse on others?

Jesus… how does Jesus use the language of blessings and curses?  I believe He speaks an amazing word to people who feel trapped in curses they were taught they deserved.  And, a severe warning to those who could think they must have popped their quarters in the right slots and got lots of blessings.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain starts in Luke 6.  He starts with those blessings and woes, or curses, we read moments ago.  Now, according to many traditional Jewish teachings, those who suffer poverty, hunger, grief, or hatred have gotten what they deserved.  Like Jeremiah preached, they must have not trusted in the LORD enough, and ended up like the dry scrubby bush in a dry salty desert.

But Jesus lists the poor as the blessed ones.  Ones who will get God’s Kingdom, get filled up, get to laugh, and get rewarded for being faithful to the Son.

Next, the ones who face woe, are the happy ones.  The ones who might easily believe – as the Bible told them – that they are rich, filled with food, laughing, and well thought-of because they are on God’s side. No, their fortunes will be reversed.  Just when they feel they have it all, it will disappear.

Wise rabbi that He is, Jesus’ teaches with a brilliant method – turning conventional wisdom on its head to make His point.  And so much hope is given to the vast majority, who were poor, hungry, sad, and rejected by the ‘best’ religious folk.

After He starts His sermon with these blessings and woes, Jesus then gives some instructions.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you.  Turn the other cheek… and so forth.

Is this Jesus’ heart?  Is this the heart we are to have?  The inner attitudes that come out in such kind, forgiving treatment of people acting so nasty? Jesus is teaching the disciples, and anyone who hears this sermon, not to curse enemies, but to bless them.
For a decade or more, author Brian McLaren has popularized a prayer by a Serbian Orthodox Bishop, Nikolai Velimirovic, who spoke out against Naziism, was arrested, and imprisoned. Here’s the start of the prayer, a prayer regarding critics and enemies.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world…
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

So are we to be kinder than God, who seems so often to punish evildoers?  We have this phrase: ‘He’s a man after God’s own heart.’ Surely to be like Jesus, for us to be like our God, is to love the enemy, and not curse him, do good to her.  

A heart that wishes people well, even when we are not well ourselves.  A soul that wants good and wants the best for even the worst people. This is what Jesus suggests is possible for us to have.  This kind of a heart in us.  Be like this, He says.  Surely He says it because it is possible!

One day, a pastor and a deacon went visiting in a nursing home.  One resident suggested someone down the hall to go and visit.
The deacon and pastor stepped into a room with this middle-aged lady. The pastor tried not to stare. Bedridden, her limbs were terribly, inhumanly swollen. “Come in, don’t be alarmed,” she said with a beaming, bright smile. The pastor was surprised. She was in wonderful spirits.

She had a rare lymphatic infection, that has left her bedridden, functionally paralyzed. Every day, day in and day out, she had to receive a steady drip of strong antibiotics. But also, steadily, day by day, the infection grew immune to the antibiotics. The very thing that was saving her, was also the very thing slowly killing her. Day by day the inflection slowly but surely was winning.

And yet, the pastor had never met a happier person. She proceeded to tell them that at the beginning, she was bitter and resentful. She prayed angrily that she would be healed, and of course, while she still does pray for that now, something changed in her disposition.  “What changed?” the pastor asked.

“I realized that Jesus was enough. Everyday, I get to thank God for another day, and I know he is with me. He listens to me and is my friend. That is enough for me.”

She told them that she saw her condition as a calling to be Jesus’ presence there in the nursing home, to the nurses and other patients, who in her mind needed hope and healing more than her.
Jesus is enough. (Spencer Boersma)

Was her heart as Jeremiah 17:9 describes it, devious and perverse, beyond understanding?  Not at this point, that’s for sure. A heart for blessing and not cursing is amazingly possible.  That woman blessed Jesus. She blessed every person around her. She must have blessed herself. It would have been easy for her to curse the day she was born: no, she found Jesus was enough.  

You and I might think of people around us who are real good at blessing.  And we can likely name those we know who do more cursing; you know: complaining, criticizing, correcting, crushing others.  
And then we stand before our Master and see ourselves in His eyes.  How are we doing with giving out blessing… or giving out woe?

I give the last words to the Men’s Choir. We sang a simple little song. It does remind us of so much Christ gives us, to bring good out of our hearts.  

On Monday, He gave me the gift of love,
On Tuesday, peace came from above,
On Wednesday, He told me to have more faith,
On Thursday, He gave me a little more grace.
On Friday, He told me to watch and pray,
On Saturday, He told me just what to say,
On Sunday, He gave the power divine
   to let my little light shine.

Every day, the power for our light to shine.  The possibility for our heart to give out blessings to all. Thank-you Jesus!  Your heart loves.

Abundant Fishing

( Luke 5:1-11) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 10, 2019 – UBC Digby

Let’s just take a few minutes for this fishing story.  Kind of a big fish story – a big catch of fish, anyway.  I wonder what looking back will do for us.

The fishing industry two thousand years ago in the Middle East was surely something altogether different from our fishing today on the Bay of Fundy.  But the basics we can understand. Peter, Andrew, James and John had been out fishing from their boats and got next to nothing. Jesus says, ‘Try again;’ and they do.  They can barely deal with the heap of fish they catch!

Jesus invites these fishermen to join Him: follow and be apprenticed to Him.  Christ tells them they will be fishing for people now. He speaks of things they know well.  They leave everything behind and follow.

We also looked back at Rose Fortune today.  We can imagine what keeping the peace and protecting people’s property involved almost two hundred years ago, on the busy waterfront of Annapolis Royal.  Yet the fishing and shipping business is altogether different now on the ports of the Annapolis Basin.

So surely, in our day, fishing with Jesus for men and women is not the same as it was two thousand years ago.  Or even two hundred years ago, about the time the Baptists started to get established in our area.  

Or just sixty years ago, when Christian Churches were in their hayday here in Nova Scotia.  Many of you were in the giant Sunday Schools then. For instance, our main evangelism will no longer be through children’s Sunday schools.  

For adults, one of our main methods has been to ‘invite them to church.’  Not necessarily an effective way today. I wonder if one new fishing method is to develop small groups that include Christians and non. Get people together to study and learn, or work on a project together.  Before we invite them to come and see how friendly we supposedly are, or hear our great music, our our wonderful Pastor. 😉

Recruiting people into the Way of Jesus today is a challenging venture, as is always has been.  Our fishing methods will be somewhat different from our past ways. There are plenty of fish in our seas now, plenty of people not with Christ.  And I think it is much like having new breeds of fish to catch, so new tools and methods must be used to accomplish the same gospel work.

There can be a new fishery develop.  New fishers of women and men are needed.  We all must keep retraining and retooling for the work.  

And remember, friends, God is still a God of abundance.  The abundant catch of fish recorded here in Luke 5 is but one of so many Jesus stories that inspires us.  Sacred history may repeat itself in this way: our success with Jesus may again come after long nights of what seems like fruitless effort.  And what we end up doing will not be what we expected to be doing when we signed up with Christ!

Maybe some of you are like me.  Slow to learn, slow to transform and change my ways.  Attached to my old ways of counting successes, and cautious about trying new things.  Yet, praise God!, Jesus still calls us.  Calls us slowpokes to follow.  Throw the net out again, maybe over the other side of the boat.  And then, drop the net altogether, and go a new way.

Spiritual Leadership

(Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 3, 2019 – UBC Digby

Linus starts off with a lot more confidence than Jeremiah, eh?

There is spiritual leadership in this life.  We can say this is one piece of good news: God leads, God moves us in a direction.  There is always more.  There is always change.  There is always better yet to come.  There is always a journey. That’s why there is leadership – God leads so we may follow a good way.  

I realize I don’t speak about ‘the will of God’ very often, but it is always there.  The good that the Creator wants us to be part of, that’s always to be found. We all could use guidance to take the right paths.  We just had an Annual Meeting. Did we find some more of the will of God for us? We looked for blessings this morning, for those in leadership.  We prayed over those helping us do the will of God.

I think the Canadian version of Bicker’s ‘Healthy Small Church’ book is John Pentland’s ‘Fishing Tips.’  Pentland’s first chapter, his first fishing tip is ‘Let leaders lead.’  At one point he writes: As for the Church, we’re not just looking to keep the doors open–that is to survive–we’re looking to thrive.  I believe in order to do so, we must look for our purpose in the community. (p. 32)

There is more for us to know about our purpose in the community.  Our Holy and Hopeful God can take us in this direction. Our Choir sang today ‘I’m gonna live so… God can use me!’  

God uses individual voices, uses leaders.  We hear the story of Jesus, at the start of His itinerant ministry, in his hometown Synagogue.  Those who knew him from his childhood see a leader rising up. At first they are impressed, even awestruck.  At least, when Jesus reads the scripture. Once he gives a little sermon about it, the local crowd is violently upset!

He is THE Leader, the One Leader.  But We know the story. He chooses twelve men to apprentice with Him.  He welcomes other disciples, women and men, to follow, for three years.  God finds leaders, and trains them up, and sends them out. Over and over again, throughout the ages. The Master makes use of leaders and followers, of all sorts.  All becoming part of the Body of Christ.

Now, many of you may say you are not a leader, or don’t want to be one now. Of course. And if leaders must lead, then followers must follow.  And, we remember, every so-called leader is also a follower.

Me, I’ve had to come to terms with being a ‘natural born follower.’  But this is partly getting to know my own leadership style. It may be true – a blessing from God – that every one of us is part leader, and part follower. Both roles we can do well, with Christ our Master.

Spiritual leadership must develop, must be developed. This takes work and time. And wanting it.  First off, God wants it. Plans it. Like in the life of young Jeremiah.  A new prophet is prepared. There is a new word from the LORD for the people of Israel.  

Chapter 8 in Dennis Bicker’s book,  ‘The Healthy Small Church,’ is about Spiritual Leadership.  There, he says, God’s will for a person or a church begins with His desire that we be in in a continual state of growth.  God is always more interested in our becoming than in our doing.  Our ministry will grow out of our personal development into mature Christian disciples.  Spiritually immature people can’t lead others in spiritual growth.  (p. 74)

So, today is a new day!  We have a slightly different team of leaders and workers now than last year.  And we now take our next steps. We put one foot in front of the other. I do.  You do. No matter how far we think we have yet to go, we take our next step with Jesus.  I think I have a long way to go in being a Pastor.  So I take one more step.  Maybe that next step is one better thing I can do to help train others as leaders.  Maybe.

Your leadership is as a deacon.  Or as an usher. As a singer. You are a parent of a child and that is your most important leadership in life.  Or you are neighbour who has a lot to do to help others. Whatever. Your leading, your following, grows.

What does the old Gospel song say?  Little is much when God is in it.  

Let me come to a finish by quoting words of Marianne Williamson.  Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. …You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.
(Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love, 1992, p. 190)

I will let the Bible have the very last words.  Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5:13)
He also said, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going…’ (John 14:12)
And from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: ‘For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.’ (E 2:10)