Prophet of the Word

(Jeremiah 36:1-4, 9-10, 21-28, 31) – J G White
11 am, Thanksgiving Sunday, October 13, 2019 – UBC Digby

As we spend a couple months with Jeremiah, we simply had to read today’s story. The drama of seeing two men of old, working to put onto paper part of the Bible. Not often do we glimpse the actual writing of the holy scriptures. Here it is, in Jeremiah 36.

And so dramatic is the scene later, in king Jehoiachin’s palace, as the scroll is read out loud, and the king burns it up in the fire, page by page. 

Naturally, Jeremiah and Baruch go to work, and write it all down again, with a bit more added. This was likely Jeremiah chapters 1-24.

Jeremiah had his core teachings that were needed in his era. They upset everyone, right up to the King, who burned his words. Yet the words were right and true. So the story is not about an old scripture that people look back to for understanding. It is about a new word from God for the time. Jeremiah’s message, over the decades of his ministry, was new and strong.

What have we seen of Jeremiah so far? He was a prophet of judgment: speaking warnings to the Hebrews and their neighbours who were doing wrong. He was a prophet of tears, deeply loving the people and saddened by the disasters that he was predicting. He was a prophet of truth, battling others who were saying the opposite. He was a prophet of the Word of God: becoming a great author of this part of the Bible.

Our situation is different now than that of the Middle East 6 centuries before Jesus. To some degree, I am a prophet of the word for our day and age. It goes with the job, doesn’t it? You too, from time to time, have something Divine to share with the world.

So what’s my ‘Word from the LORD’? Can you guess what I think? What would you say are my main messages?    ?

Here are the four main things, I think, that have arisen over time in my life, over the past 30 years.

ONE. An Open Bible. Well, I’m teasing you with that statement, ‘cause I’m not using it the usual way. I don’t mean when a congregation calls itself an “Open Bible Church.”

My experience has been to have the Bible opened up for deep study and for new ways to influence me. Somehow, as a teen I was prepared in all the training of Middleton Baptist Church, to head out into the world, and find new ways of working with the scriptures. Basically I mean, not taking all the Bible story literally, not taking it strictly as history, not relying upon it as science, in the modern sense. 

I can’t thank God enough for the people I met when I left home. Even a couple of Baptist ministers, who gave me permission to work on the Bible and work out how I could understand it. In my mind, I can still hear my mentors saying things like:

Genesis says God created humans out of the dust of the earth, and if that dust was an ape, fine with me.

The two Bible verses that speak of Jesus born of a virgin are about who Jesus is. Was Mary a virgin? Her sex life is none of my business!

Divine worship is serious business. It should include four readings of scripture, 2 OT & 2 NT.

So I take scripture more seriously, year by year, and wrestle with it. I feel safe having questions about the Bible that are not answered. I feel safe with a gracious God of truth who does not demand that I have it all figured out. And does not require you to get it all right either. 

[My recent explorations about scripture are about the inherent violence all the way through, which also permeates our Christian history. Are there ways to be influenced by the Holy Bible that go above and beyond the violence in the pages? I’m looking for this word from the LORD now.]

TWO. Discipleship and Disciplines. ‘Go and make disciples of all peoples,’ commanded Jesus. A new sense of this started for me in 2004 when the guest speaker at our Baptist Convention Assembly was to be a scholar named Dallas Willard. Before he came to us that summer, I read his book, “Spirit of the Disciplines,” and I was hooked. I was completely taken in by his practical words about how prayer works. How fasting works. How confession, and worship, and celebrating, and sacrifice, and meditation, and retreats, and study are all tools in our life that would really change things. They truly open the door for the Spirit to alter us, for the better. 

I was sold, totally sold, on the idea that Christianity was failing because we lacked the training. We just were not using the spiritual practices in our day to day lives that we needed. And we still are not using them. 

Now, I want to have the gift of encouragement, and point out how well you each are doing in your spiritual lives. But I keep longing for more in my own soul, and yours. And though I have learned a lot about all the classic activities that feed the human soul, I still do not do many of them very well or very often.

Developing the spiritual disciplines is still a priority for me – and for you, as far as I’m concerned!

THREE. The Church’s Mission. For years I have been quoting William Temple. ‘The Church is the one organization that exists for the benefit of its non-members.’ I think I need to admit I do not yet act and live like I believe it! Even our Purpose Statement here, says we are to motivate men, women and children into active service for their Lord.

For a decade now, at least, I have been hearing the guest speakers of evangelism conferences, seminars, and Oasis, remind us Atlantic Baptists that we are here for God’s mission in Atlantic Canada. It’s all very exciting and inspiring… until we come home.

This is a hard message to hold to, when a local congregation of people – with a building, and staff – wants to survive more than it wants to serve. 

 Preaching in an age of decline of the Church in the West demands real, new messages. Devoting ourselves to things worth doing is so important. Don’t waste your life on traditions that need to die, and habits that we love but don’t help anyone out there. 

I’ve had a song going through my head for a week. Our grandson got me singing this very popular worship song. It has this prayerful declaration in it: 
‘We are Your Church;
We are Your hope on Earth.’

Believe it?!  Shall our Master use us, Digby Baptist, as the hope of this corner of the earth? These days of our lives demand our attention to God. They demand that we do good and worthwhile things together for the sake of our people, our neighbours. Being a happy congregation, taking really good care of ourselves, is not necessarily a good enough reason for us to exist.

FOUR. Creation Crisis. This fourth chapter would be the final one, for now, in the scroll of Prophet Jeff, if there were such a text. And it is possible, like the previous other three, that it might be right to burn up these pages like king Jehoiakim did. 

So I call this chapter Creation Crisis, and I’m sure you get the idea just from that. I need say little more about the problem. Save that my message to you, is that we worship the Creator, we are part of creation, and amid the many climate crises thru the millenia, we are for the first time greatly responsible. 

We celebrate the harvest this weekend. I love Thanksgiving. And it’s a great weekend to have a birthday. Great food, a day off, and no other gift-giving to diminish my presents. It all brings out the gratitude. 

An attitude of gratitude as citizens of earth is well worth fostering. When you have opportunity to speak thanks or express gratitude some other way – do it well. Over time, it actually will make a difference and change things. For the better. If creation is in crisis, I am a creature in crisis, and so are you. 

We have a Creator who handles disasters quite well. ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands.’ Keep your hands in those hands, and get to work doing better things. All creation will sing, and thank us!

Prophet of Truth

(Jeremiah 28) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 6, 2019 – UBC Digby

My great grandfather White lived, much of his life, farming near Port Maitland, Yarmouth County. He and my great grandmother had had fourteen children by the time she died, just after her 50th birthday. I do not know a great deal about Grampie White, but I do know he loved oxen. In many a photo of him he is pictured with a pair of oxen. 

Training teams of oxen is a dying art, I suppose. I’m so grateful to Charlene, who provided this old yoke for display today. Oxen, to pull anything as a team, are yoked together. 

But would you want to wear a big, wooden yoke on your shoulders? No. But that is just what the prophet Jeremiah did, at the command of God. Read all about it, in chapter 27 of his book. Jeremiah put on the yoke as a prophetic warning: this is what was happening to his people. 

It’s 2,600 years ago, in the Promised Land. Empires from the north and the south have been battling over this middle ground, holy land to the Hebrews. The latest empire that threatens is called Babylon. Jeremiah speaks warnings of what is to come. And why it is happening. Much of the disaster is well-deserved, it appears. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah fall. They have failed God, and faltered, and they fall. They bear a heavy yoke.

 Another prophet in Judea, named Hananiah, spoke on behalf of God, one day. Good news! “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Yoke broke. ‘Within two years, our stolen things and our imprisoned leaders and our people will be back where they belong, in our own kingdom.’

 Oh happy day! you might think. And our better known prophet, Jeremiah, almost seems to agree. At first. “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied…” 

Amen! But, wait til then. “Wait and see if this comes true,” preaches Jeremiah. “Wait and see if there will be peace.”

If you have read Jeremiah 27 lately, the previous chapter, you see all the warnings that this Babylonian takeover will be long and hard. Not short. So, who is one supposed to believe? Hananiah the prophet, or Jeremiah the prophet? Who is a true prophet? Who speaks what is real and honest and right?

We know the experience. We have a national election this month. The parties and the leaders vying for government have their promises, their platforms, their criticisms of their opponents. Who do you believe? How do you choose wisely?

Or other big issues. Climate crisis – is it a crisis? One expert says this will likely happen, another promises a different future. What doom and gloom is a correct forecast, and what hopeful plan is best?

For some of us, in our personal lives, choices can be very hard. Maybe you are sometimes like me: slow to make decisions. Do I sell my cottage? Do I sell it to my neighbours? What price do I ask? I second guess myself about these things.

Or, I want to talk to some friends who like to hike about spiritual things. Do I phone Greg? Or Daniel? Or Ellie? Or Melissa? Or Tony? I am slow to make those contacts. I feel unsure.

I think I am skilled at seeing the big picture, hearing different viewpoints, and weighing all my options. But when it comes down to choosing, I don’t know what to do! 

I don’t know what I’d have done 2,600 years ago in Jerusalem. Do I believe Jeremiah, or Hananiah?

This morning we did read a debate. Not an election debate, a prophetic debate. The debate of the preachers over the Babylonian oppression of the Hebrews got heated.  And did you see that? See what Hananiah did? He broke the yoke. He took the yoke Jeremiah had on his shoulders, and broke it. “This is what God will do for us! We will be free soon.”

No, that is not what Jeremiah proclaims, for God. The exile into Babylon has only just begun. The struggle will be long.

It was November, 1942. In Europe, the second world war was raging. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spoke in London to mark a victory against the German forces, at El Alamein, in Egypt. That battle was a turning point in the war. Churchill got a few laughs from the crowd when he, now famously, declared about that victory:
Now this is not the end; 
it is not even the beginning of the end. 
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. 

Such was Jeremiah’s message, in the sixth century BCE, in the Middle East. The end of oppression by Babylon is not soon to be over. We’ve only just begun to be conquered by that empire from the north

You lie! You die, Jeremiah says to rival prophet, Hananiah. Within a year, he does die. And the Babylonian control of the Hebrew people goes on for sixty years.
So, Jeremiah was right, after all. He had been speaking for God, and Hananiah was not.

My friends, we know that many who claim to speak for truth are leading us astray. And many who claim to speak for God a leading us aright. Our own eyes deceive us, and our minds, at times. Oh, that a Prophet of Truth would be obvious, whenever we need guidance! 

Such is our prayer; and thanks be to God, there are answers. The whole story of scripture guides us. The community of Faith through the ages guides us. And God’s Way becomes clear to us in Jesus, Son of God.

He also used the farming imagery of the yoke. He declared Himself to be the way for us to be with God in this life, as well as forever. 

Christ said: “Come to me, all you that a weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mtt 11:28-29)

We can make our personal decisions, blessed by the One who is with us. We can plan for the unknown future, hand-in-hand with “the Man who stilled the waters.” We can listen to the prophets of our day, and understand them in light of the whole counsel of God.

In the name of the Father
the Son
and the Spirit of Truth.