The Word of God Fully Known

(Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 19; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 21, 2019 – UBC Digby
This month I happened to hear a radio documentary on The Saint John’s Bible. At the start of the 21st Century, some artists and scholars produced this large copy of the Bible, in English, in the ancient way. Printed on calfskin vellum, it was all written by hand – calligraphy – with many illustrations by artists, called illuminations. It is large – it is in seven volumes. Like the Bibles of old, made in the monasteries, the illuminations used not only ancient inks but gold leaf and silver. They use the imagery and people of the contemporary world, in this case, the dawn of the third millennium.  

I found the story of this Bible so inspiring. It was commissioned by a Benedictine college in Minnesota, Saint John’s University. Also, two hundred copies of it were produced, for sale. So the Saint John’s Bible does get to be read and seen by many people around the world. Saint John’s Bible

A project like this makes us remember there were days gone by when books were rare. There were no printing presses, not to mention computers and printers.  Each Bible was copied by hand. The word of God was rare in those days. And so special.

I’m having a Bible-focused Sunday again, today, with four scripture readings. First, from Amos, prophet to the prosperous kingdom of Israel of old. 
Amos 8: The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.  

Is hearing the word of God rare in our day and land? 

Is there hunger, yet, for real words from God?

Will there be such a famine, in our day?

What was the problem in the days of Amos?

What’s our problem?

Psalm 19:  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the eyes. 

God and God’s word is revealed in more than one way; not just the Bible. And how we explain  the Bible are not just with words and study and research and books and essays and sermons. It also comes alive for us in art. Such as these illuminations.

I’m not sure why, but there is something so powerful and moving for me as I explore some of the images from this gigantic, modern Bible.  

Where have you seen God, amazingly, in the Bible?

Where have you seen God, in incredible ways, outside of reading the Bible?

Colossians 1:  …to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.  

The Church today faces this challenge in lots of creative ways: the challenge of making the word of God fully known in the 21st century. Amid the online preaching, the trendy technological city churches, and the fresh expressions of Church that meet in coffee shops and tattoo parlours, there are things like the Saint John’s Bible. Ancient and modern, at the same time. I like this story about it… 

A volunteer, named Jason Engle, was taking copies of the Heritage Edition of the Bible around – those 200 copies of it that were made. He often, on trips, would stop on his long journey in the evening, for a bite to eat at a McDonalds restaurant. One night he did this, after a presentation in Chicago, stopping late – just a few folks in McDonalds.  This young fellow comes up to him and says, “Hi, my name is Michael, are you a Christian?” Yeah, says Jason. Michael says, “Well, I’m homeless; wanna have dinner with me?” “Yeah, sure.” And a conversation begins. 

Michael tells Jason a lot of his life story. And he shares a gift – he quotes poetry he has written for God.  After a while, Jason says, “I have a gift for you.” He goes out to the trunk of his car, and brings out his copy of the Saint John’s Bible, first volume. 

He starts showing it to Michael, who is amazed at this. Then an elderly woman in the restaurant looks over. Then one of the teenage staff. She goes out back and brings another staff person. They are all looking through, at the artwork, but then they want to hear it read, what the Bible says. So they get reading. 

Eventually the manager of the McDonalds comes out, frustrated, because all the teen staff are gathered at this table out there! Reading a Bible.

What are ways you can see the Bible getting known around here, today?

Luke 10:  Mary… sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks…
“…there is need of only one thing.”

Nowadays, I read this story, and think it is about balance – having balance in our lives.  The balance between being a Christian who studies the Bible and being a Christian who lives a busy, day-to-day life. Often, many of us are like Martha, and the one thing we need more of is simply to pay some more attention to the Lord. It might mean more Bible; it might mean more praying.

Your next step, this summer, could be one of two things: ONE: know the Bible more yourself.
TWO: share the Bible more, for others.
What do you think your calling is, this year?

Make the word of God fully known!

Prophet, Priest, & King

(Amos 7:7-15; Hebrews 1:1-4) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 14, 2019 – UBC Digby

You remember Charlie Farquharson? Comedic alter-ego of Canadian entertainer, Don Harron. In his book, Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, the last words are these: “A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the peeple the same thing: YER DOIN’ IT ALL RONG!!” (p. 158)

There are plenty of times that people of faith have needed to hear that. We could say that religions, like ours, do one of several things for us. Perhaps we get a message – some truths or warnings about life now and in the future. We get a Prophet, in other words. 

Or, we get some spiritual ‘magic’ done – some rituals are done by an expert to make things right for us. We get a Priest, in other words. 

Or, we get rules for life and the universe – and someone to enforce those rules and show some control.  We get a King or Lord, in other words.  

In day to day life, there can be conflict between the people who are prophetic, and the people who are priestley, and the people who rule. So it has always been and often been. Today’s story from the little book called Amos, is such a story: of a prophet, a priest, and a king.  

A Prophet. Did you look at this book? Amos?  Only about seven pages long – so it can be hard to find. The words the prophet speaks pack a punch. And today, we heard one part that actually tells a bit of a story about prophet Amos. Amos was a man from the village of Tekoa in the southern kingdom, Judah. He worked in the fig orchards, tending the sycamore fig trees. Like the tree Zacheus would one day climb. 

Amos got called upon – by God – to prophecy in the northern kingdom, Israel. About 800 years before Jesus. Amos gives severe warnings to the prosperous nation. At this point in their history, even though the Jews are divided into two kingdoms, they are more prosperous and control more land than any time in their history, before or after. And the prosperous upper crust are giving the poor people of their land barely a crust of bread to survive on. 

What’s the word of the Lord from Amos to them?

Hear this, you cows of Bashan… who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’ The time is surely coming upon you when they shall take you away… (4:1)

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. (5:21)

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)

Prophets have this way, often, of sneaking up on you, and then hitting you right between the eyes.  Frederick Beuchener wrote, The prophets were drunk on God, and in the presence of their terrible tipsiness no one was ever comfortable.  With a total lack of tack they roared out against phoniness and corruption wherever they found them. They were the terror of kings and priests. (Wishful Thinking, 1973, pp. 74-75)

Who speaks this way today? You might know a few. I thought immediately of some songwriters, actually. Like the late Fred Kaan. One of his great lyrics from the 70s was put to wonderful music by Ron Klusmeier in 2000.  ‘Come, O Holy Spirit.” Sounds sedate and serious enough. Sounds soft and gentle. Most Holy Spirit songs are. Listen to Kaan’s words:  

Come, O Holy Spirit,
set the Church on fire;
strike it as the lightning
hits a posing spire.
Burn away the structures
and consume the sham
of our holy systems:
Come, in Jesus’ name!

Blow away the cobwebs
of our stubborn past.
Come, send flying from us
myths unfit to last.
Wind of change, refresh us
and disturb our calm;
teach us what true love is,
take our hearts by storm.

Do you still believe in prophecy? Do you hear it?

A Priest. Amos gets in trouble for his holy warnings. His sermons get reported to the King of Israel by one of the main priests of the land, Amaziah, Priest of Bethel. Bethel: you remember that town, eh?  Just, oh, 20 km north of Jerusalem. Where Abraham set up an altar. Where Jacob dreamed of a ladder with angels ascending and descending. Where there was a school of prophets in the days of Elijah.  

Bethel had its ups and downs as a town of spiritual significance. For a lot of its life it was a place of pilgrimage and worship. Sometimes of non-Jewish deities. In those days of the divided kingdoms, Bethel was part of Israel in the north, and was a shrine of pagan worship. Amaziah was the chief priest of the place. Prophet Amos takes the people to task for their idolatry – serving something that is not almighty God.   

Three thousand years later, we are here, and don’t quite have priests. We preach a priesthood of all believers. Each of you a priest, with a ministry of prayer and reconciliation to your fellow women and men. We make use of our tools of prayer & laying on of hands, meditation & scripture, confession & forgiveness, worship & fellowship. Dare we go astray, what would a prophet say about our ministry?

A King. OK, back 2,800 years again – to Amos, and Amaziah, and the King of Israel, Jeroboam. Jereboam the Second. He’s not what we’d call one of the better kings of Israel. Even though Israel got to its greatest power and wealth ever under his rule. He made Israel great! Greater than ever before, in size. 

But, as a reading of Amos’ book would show us, the northern kingdom grew also under Jeroboam to be more unjust, immoral, self-indulgent, and all mixed up in religion. The aristocrats and people of power had their heyday. And the masses suffered.

So today, we heard Amos’ prophesy that ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ (A 7:11) A greedy king and a privileged people fall, and will fall hard. Well, this was treason, on the lips of the prophet! ‘Go away, you prophet, and never speak around here again!’ Amos is told. 

No, Amos stays, and repeats his message: the downfall of the ruler and his realm is sure.

Our Bible has many stories of the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful leaders: prophets, priests, and kings. These roles rise and fall through history. The preachers and their long sermons are sometimes prominent. The priests and their holy worship services sometimes take the forefront. The rulers with their leading & their battles take centre stage at other times. 

We live amid our own prophets, and priests, and prime ministers today. Yet we are disciples of One who is all three of these. Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  

The Book of Hebrews begins, saying: 
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. This was written down almost 2000 years ago. Is it still true? God speaks to us through Christ? YES. Jesus is our greatest Prophet.

He is also our ‘Great High Priest.’ Jesus’ ministry is about connecting us with Holy God. As Hebrews 1 briefly says, When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  This New Testament book goes on at length about the priestly sacrificial system of the Hebrew religion, and where Jesus takes it. He takes it over, completes it, finishes the work. His priesthood ends sacrifices – He sacrifices Himself, for us. End of story.

And Jesus is the King. The introduction to the book of Hebrews says God takes Jesus, whom …he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 

To know Jesus is to know God, King of the universe. It is no small thing to know the King of the Universe. Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If you know me, you know the Father.’ (John 14)

So we have Jesus to offer to our world, today. We have communication from God – the Prophet. We have spiritual reconciliation and healing – the Priest. We have a good Power in control – the King.  

Pay attention to this Jesus you take with you into your world, day by day. He is a big deal!

Servants of Healing

(2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 5:12-16) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 7, 2019 – UBC Digby

Healing: we look for it in so many ways. Healing bodies. Healing hearts and relationships. Healing the sin sick soul. Most of they prayers of you, Church, that I hear out loud, are for the physical healing of people. This is one of our gifts: prayer for healing.

The storytelling of the healing of Naaman, a foreign army commander, or of an unnamed man with leprosy in the time of Jesus, is brief. But some of the details make us wonder. This past week, I have been wondering about the helpers, on the sidelines. The unnamed women and men, back then, who helped the healing happen.  

Do you ever get to be a helper, and guide someone on their healing journey? You are not the healer, but you are a helper? Of course you are.

There are various servants, unnamed people on the sidelines, who play very important roles in the biblical healing stories. God gets credit for the healings, but many humans give assistance.  

So who is the first helper is the story of Naaman?
An Israelite servant girl.

Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.  She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 K 5:2-3

She was speaking of Elisha. And so, Naaman goes to Elisha, a prophet of the Hebrew God, for healing.

You and I have times when we get to be humble servants, on the sidelines, pointing the way to the Healer, the Great Physician. Or, pointing out what human to go to, who has the gift of healing.

It is a matter of trust. Trust in the healing power that is available to us. I think of a story I heard again the other day. There was a drought in the land. A church held a prayer meeting, to pray for the rain that was needed. The pastor greeted the people. But he was disappointed. “We are here to pray to the Lord for rain,” he said, “but where are you umbrellas?!”

I think of a pastor friend of mine. In one of her tiny, rural churches a prayer ministry developed. They prayed in earnest, on Sundays, for people who wanted healing. Their prayers were effective! Word spread about the praying and the healing that was happening. They got more and more requests for people for prayer.  And so they prayed more. 

The pastor was so unassuming and humble about this. Perhaps this was a key to their success. She gave the credit to the Lord. She didn’t promote or advertize their small church’s prayer ministry. They simply prayed, and praised God. God used them to bless.

Who is the next helper in the healing of Naaman?
One of Elisha’s co-workers, a messenger.

Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 2 K 5:10

The Army Commander is not happy when the Prophet of Israel does not even come out to meet him, but just sends a messenger, with the instructions for healing. 

I seem to remember going to the dentist, as a kid, and it was my dentist who spent all the time with me.  Just him, cleaning and flouriding and checking every tooth.  Now, I go to the dentist, and most of my time in the chair is with an assistant, a dental hygienist.  

At the end, Dr. So-and-so comes in for the final look, and reports on what the team sees.  

So much healing work is like this. Even Elisha simply sent out a servant to tell the patient what to do.  Perhaps our God likes this team approach best. God’s miracle-workers are not to be superstars, putting on a show and getting attention. Healing work is humble work. And some of the team players are folks like us. We have a message of hope to give someone. Or some good advice. Or some news about a treatment to take. So we give it.

Now, the next servants of healing for Naaman?
The Army Commander’s own servants, who wisely advise their proud, stubborn master.

But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 2 K 5:13

Whether it be in spiritual care or healthcare, there is always good news and bad news to share. For some, the cure seems worse than the disease. And there can be humbling, even embarrassing treatment to take to find a cure. Spiritual health can depend upon submission, confession of sins, admitting one’s need. Any team of healers often needs humble and deeply caring people, to encourage someone to take the help they need to take.  

One of my best friends had a career as a Lab Tech, in the tiny hospital in her small rural town. She took people’s blood, she read their blood pressure, she x-rayed them, the usual things. She is a deeply compassionate person – it is one of her spiritual gifts. Many a person, troubled by their health, or by all life’s circumstances, would be with her at the Lab, and pour out all their troubles to her listening ears, while she poked and prodded them. She spoke with me, from time to time, of those she called the ‘hard luck people,’ those with more than their share of troubles. She was, essentially, a pastor to them, in the Hospital Lab. She helped them, in the midst of their bad news, with a loving heart.  

That is what our ministry is to be, with those who need healing of body, or mind, or soul. Patient with each other, and so good to one another.  

Do not underestimate your own role in bringing healing to people. You do not need the spiritual gift of healing to help them. You do not all need the gift of prayer – though you all must do some praying. You do not need to be skilled and trained. You do not need to do it alone. 

We are a team, with Jesus, the Great Physician.  We are servants of healing.