Watching My Words

(Jeremiah 1:11-19; Luke 24:45-53) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, August 25, 2019 – UBC

Dryden is a six-year-old. A friendly, energetic six-year-old. When we are together, he loves to play hockey, visit the Fire Department, cook eggs for breakfast, jump on his trampoline, ride his bike, go to the beach, and many other things.

And he asks to do many things. All the time. Can we do this? Do you want to do that? When can we go there?  Though I never raised any children, with this grandchild I know I must watch my words. Don’t promise anything I will not do. Don’t say, “yes, we can,” if we might not. I have to mean what I say. 

So I have to watch my words. Not just my Ps and Qs, but be a man of my word, eh? Jeremiah had to watch his words, as a spokesperson for YHWH God. The LORD God promised to watch ‘his’ word.

When the LORD spoke to Jeremiah and said, “I am watching over my word to perform it,” God meant it. ‘I will do what I say I will do.’  

What God wants spoken gets spoken!

What God speaks gets done! Start with the creation story of Genesis 1. God speaks, and things happen. “Let there be light.” And there was light.

“I am watching over my word to perform it.”

But there is a watching the word in another sense.  Literally watching. Visual messages: things you see. These first messages to young Jeremiah were visual – he literally watched for the word of God. “What do you see, Jeremiah?” An almond branch; then a boiling pot… This happened regularly to the prophets of old. And the Psalm writer. ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God…” Psalm 19.  

Actions speak louder than words, we say. Body language speaks so much too. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

God opens minds to see and hear and know and understand the word, in all its forms. We looked at a scene from the end of Jesus’ life today. The very end of the book of Luke. It’s one of the moments when we are told He ‘opened the scriptures so they could understand them.’ For those disciples, this was what we call the Old Testament. There is so much ‘opening so they can understand’ that goes on. This continues to be a promise from God, that truth, reality, the message and meaning, will be made clear.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many moments too when God declares that the people will not understand. Even Jesus had moments when he said this. But there will also be times to know the word.

And there will always be sharers of the message to us. Jeremiah was to exercise his ministry no matter what. No matter what opposition or hardship – or how hard the words were for the people. Jeremiah would be strong and be protected for his long years of prophetic work – and he was protected. God’s words were a sure thing.

We have times when we know what we know: a divine message that is a sure thing.

My experience of this is subtle, gentle, gradual, I’d say. I am often looking for how the Spirit will speak next. 

At the start of this year, in the winter, with a couple friends, I got into hiking in the frozen swampy woods, looking at the lichens on the bark of the trees. Learning about them, looking for the rarer species. I remember when Greg and I were walking, and found our first Yellow Specklebelly on the trunk of a maple tree. We did lots of looking for the newly named provincial lichen, Blue Felt Lichen. Eventually, after many weeks of hiking and taking note of every Blue Felt Lichen that was found, Jonathan spoke of them as these living things on the trees that were following him, watching him!

About the same time, in a Bible study group with some of you, we got talking about the classic Christian book, “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman. He suggests that different people express and experience love in different ways: by receiving gifts, or quality time, by words of affirmation, or acts of service (of devotion), or physical touch.

Next time I was out in the woods, I thought, prayerfully, ‘Master, you know my love language. You speak it for me. You give me joy in every tree and branch, every rock and rivulet out in the woods. Every beautiful thing I can receive as a loving gift from You, O God.’  

Since then, I think of this from time to time, and view every created thing as a word from my Saviour.

That’s one of my experiences of the word this year. How have you seen the word of God? 
When has a message become clear to you?
What have your experiences been?
Do tell…

May we keep watch over how we receive messages that are critical: correcting, warning us. 
May we keep watch over how we share the messages we have, and do our part as witnesses.  
May we keep watch over the word and the worship that train us and keep us in touch.
And our Saving God keeps watch over all this guidance for us.

News Source

(Jeremiah 1:1-10; Galatians 1:11-17) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, August 18, 2019 – UBC Digby

What’s the historic setting of the word from God today? The words of Jeffrey son of George, of the pastors who were in Nova Scotia in the land of Canada, to whom the word of God came in the days of PM Justin son of Pierre of Ottawa, in the fourth year of his reign.

Well, that’s not quite what Jeremiah 1 verse 1 says. But it might as well say that. For the story of the prophets and preachers gets repeated throughout history. Divine messages call again for speakers and listeners. 

This summer I looked ahead, and thought it good to have a series from Jeremiah; so we start the whole story today. A young prophet is called to serve. Reluctantly (aren’t they all) he starts his difficult ministry (wasn’t it always hard work, in OT days?!).

So, I’ve been reading in the book of Jeremiah for a month now. I’ve realized, the last thing we need is to hear all about a great prophet of old, and how he got to be so good at what he did. We need to hear about how people in general find the right prophet to listen to and believe and follow. In our days, there are many voices we could believe. Jeremiah didn’t even believe in himself, at the start. But, as we’ll see next Sunday, he did get started, right away. He became a news source for the Jews.

Where are your news sources today? Your spiritual news sources? There are plenty of books to read. Plenty of preachers and teachers to see on TV and the internet. Plenty of memes and quotations to follow on social media. Plenty of history and tradition to build upon. Plenty of churches and spiritual groups to hang out with, even around here.

Let me tell you a bit about my recent explorations.

When I take a vacation, I always take a few books with me. And I never   read any of them! This happened again. But I do get a few Sundays to worship God with other people in other places. 

A few Sundays ago, I found myself among some Anglicans in Fox River, NS. The lovely building with its sharp spire overlooks flat gravelly blueberry fields across to majestic Cape Split. There, the small congregation sang some hymns I liked quite well, really, and used the usual liturgy from the Book of Alternative Services. Their preacher was fine, though I remember little of which he spoke. What grabbed me that day was a scripture reading, Psalm 85. 

This has happened to me before, this year.  After a few days hiking out in creation, I come in to a sanctuary and a scripture takes a new tack, amid my thoughts of birds and trees, climate crisis and garbage on the beaches.  

1 Lord, you were favorable to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
Favourable to Your land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
This verse took me right back to a seminar in Truro, twenty years ago, when we danced in a circle to this Psalm.

11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
How faithful will God’s good earth be, as we pillage and plunder it? And the atmosphere?

12 The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Will things get better, O God, only after they get worse here, in our lifetimes?  

For that hour in Fox River, Psalm 85 was my most inspiring moment, I’d say. 

What did God tell Jeremiah, centuries ago? “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you…” It is the message that is more important than the messenger. We would do well to remember this when we get interested and excited by some great new preacher or teacher or author. Those who toot their own horns may not be playing God’s tune after all.

On another Sunday, I found my way to Lower Ohio, and a lovely little Union Church there. Walk in the door, right under the white steeple, and you can look right up inside the steeple, and gaze up at the very large bell, that is about to be rung! 

I found that Sunday morning congregation more friendly than most, including the pastor, who welcomed me before she started the service. She had a winsome way about her. The best part of this prophet’s sermon was a little introduction she added at the start. She had been prompted to change her sermon a bit by watching some news first thing that morning.
“The news is dangerous!” she said. Or, that’s what I remember she said. Also: “Praying is dangerous. It is hard work these days!”  
Amen, sister. Amen.

Two days later, I had supper with some old friends in Port Mouton, Rev. Carol and Rev. Wayne. After supper, Carol says, “Let’s watch the news.” 
‘OK,’ I thought to myself, ‘this is something I never do!’ But there really is something right about staying in touch with the events of our community and our world. To care enough to watch, and pray, and act for the good of the world. 

God’s news for us does come in the regular news, the events of this world. We look for bright spots amid the terror & tragedy. We look for hopeful action.

“Do not be afraid,” Jeremiah was told. Did you notice that? “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Some of our best prophets we can follow have many enemies, and are even destroyed. We must still follow, through the fear, to do what is right and good.

And there was another Christian worship service I attended. A drive-in service, put on in the summers by a Baptist Church, in Shelburne. Been to a drive-in service?  Pull you car into a spot, and stay in it. Each Sunday different musicians offering gospel music. Each Sunday a different local preacher.  

That’s the way we did it in Windsor for forty years. And that’s the way they do it in Shelburne. Except instead of the musical group doing about six songs, like we did in Windsor, the worship team from Birchtown did thirteen songs! There was a sermon too. But thirteen songs! Wow. 

Anyway, it was about an hour and 15 minutes or so. The worship team, the singers (one playing keyboard) looked to be seniors to me, and sang worship hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s. There were two songs, of the 13, I did not know. Most I have sung in choirs and quartets and in the pews.
He Has Made Me Glad
I Will Serve Thee
I Sing Praises To Your Name
In Moments Like These
Just a Little Talk with Jesus
The Lighthouse
And seven other songs. Most of you know me, and know I sing these songs with gladness, but none are my favourites. Gospel music is not my musical preference. So, maybe my holy moment there was this: to rejoice in the favourite songs of other people.

In my daily devotional book I read this, just the other day, about offering a sacrifice of praise. 
When a song isn’t working for you, consider praising God, because that probably means it is working for someone else who is very different from you. (Clayborne, Shayne, Common Prayer, 2012, p. 404)

Maybe one of the best things about a community of faith, a congregation, is how we learn not to get our own way, and we grow to enjoy how others worship and hear from God. I get to appreciate your way, and you get to experience my spiritual expressions too.

Jeremiah felt unprepared to be a prophet. “I am only a boy,” he complained. But God used Jeremiah to share many messages. So it is among us. Those who seem inexperienced, or weak, or uneducated, or over-educated, or just different from us, get to share a message with us.

So I thank God that there are still prophets being raised up, there are still prophetic moments in our lives when people know the message is holy and true, there is still a message for scattered & fearful people.  

The scriptures are as fresh and new today as they ever were: partly because many of our audience are not familiar with them! These hard and fear-filled times call for voices that bring people back to reality – back to God – and back to one another.

No matter how we want to hear from God, we’re not always going to get it our way. The message will come to us in unexpected ways.  

[And when we get a message, we had best heed it!]