Non-Minister Ministry: Lay Ministry Involvement

(Joel 2:23-32; Luke 18:9-14) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 27, 2019 – UBC Digby

Joel: that little book of the Bible inspired by insects – a plague of locusts that ruin the land.

I’d invited Sharon White to read the lesson from Joel 2, but she found out she would be away this morning. I offered it to her because of one verse here, very important to her, Joel 2:25. The word of the LORD: I will repay for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you

I need to let her tell you her own experience of this verse. Suffice it to say it meant hope, coming out of a damaged youth. The years of her life that were destroyed for her, taken away, will be repaid by God.

Verse 26 also applies: “My people shall no more be put to shame.” A word from God to Sharon. Maybe you got the same message in your life? The Master says: you shall no longer be put to shame. 

What I really want to speak about today is your ministry. What you do that matters, makes a difference, is good. This week and next Sunday I am touching on the final chapters of Bicker’s book, ‘The Healthy Small Church.’ Chapter 15 is Lay Ministry Involvement. I’m calling this ‘non-minister ministry.’

A few weeks ago you had a layperson Sunday morning – planned and presented all by people who are not pastors. But even this is not what I mean. Leading prayers, scripture readings, music and preaching in the service is specialized stuff. There is so much more, in everyday life, Monday through Saturday, that is your ministry with Jesus. Everything counts in your ministry.

In chapter 2 of Joel are the famous words that say 
Then afterward (2:28-29)
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Apostle Peter quotes this scripture on the Day the Holy Spirit birthed the Church, eh? Acts chapter 2. Sounds like everyone can prophesy, and dream, and have the Spirit of God upon them. Everyone with Jesus will be empowered to do good work. Everyone. 

So, what’s your good work, this week? Your work with God? Maybe it will be Prayer Ministry. Just the praying you do, on your own. Some of it might be praying with others, but most of it will be your daily praying. Yesterday at the Council of our Baptist Association, the new Pastor at Wilmot shared about much prayer going on, and prayers being answered!

Think again that amazing story Jesus tells, of the two men saying their personal prayers in the Jewish Temple one day. The proud prayer of the proud man. The pure prayer of the broken man. Anyone can pray. But are the humbler prayers the best?

The Choir knows my pet peeve about praying before we rehearse, & before the Choir comes in here. 
“Jeff, would you pray?”
“Why not someone else?” I say. I ask. 
“But you’re so good at it,” I’m told, in the most complimentary way. And I appreciate that.
So I say, only half joking, “Well then, other people need more practice praying, if they are not as good at it.” I even put together a pamphlet of prayers for the choir – and people can pick one to use.

The ministry of prayer – out loud with others, and quietly alone – is something that changes and grows in our lives, as we follow the Saviour. I think most of us can learn a lot more about how to pray, because I know I have a lot more to learn, myself. Many of you can inspire and influence others in their prayer lives. 

Another Pastor, at Association Council, yesterday, spoke of his own coming to faith in Christ, years ago. Later on, he found out his childhood neighbours had prayed for him and for his parents every day, specifically that they would each come to Faith. Their prayers for Lloyd, who all these years later is a Pastor, were worth it.

Many things can prompt us to pray well. I have an alarm set on my phone to go off every single day to remind me, at one o’clock, to pray for people to come to faith in Jesus. Remember our Baptist Convention’s campaign called 3K43K? We want three thousand people praying every day – perhaps at 1 pm – for us to have one year soon with 3000 people baptized. 

By the way, there will be some baptisms right here soon; Joe has been washing out the Baptistery here to get it ready. Pastor Linda, from Rossway Baptist, has some candidates to baptize, on a Sunday afternoon in November. Perhaps one or more of you here are also ready to say yes to Jesus in the Biblical way of saying yes: baptism. Tell me if you are at all interested or wondering. All of you – pray for the growth of faith in people you know. 

We are Baptist Christians, and we believe each human being has direct access to the Divine. As the Monday Study Group learned last week:

SOUL FREEDOM is the historic Baptist affirmation of the inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government. 
(Shurden, Walter B., The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, Smyth & Helwys, p. 24)

The human soul is free to have fellowship with God. This is Good News that Jesus brings. 

So this brings me to what I could call evangelism ministry. This is also your ministry, not just the work of the pastors in the room. Many of you have ways you let your light shine for Jesus. You have good work to do, pointing out God in day to day life. There are as many ways to do this as there are people in these pews. 

When you tell a bit of your own story, you can do good work. If you let others know that they have the freedom to find God, or be found by God. They have the ability and the responsibility to follow the Path for themselves. 

Scholar Walter Shurden told of John Cuddy was the Roman Catholic priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and one of the most respected ministers in the town. …First Baptist [had him over] one Wednesday night to tell [us] all about the Catholics. During a question and answer session someone asked him, “Father Cuddy, what one thing do you admire most about Baptists?” Quickly and without struggling for a response, he answered, “Freedom.” (Shurden, Ibid, p. 27)

While He did not elaborate, he could have meant several things–[the freedom of private interpretation of the Bible, the freedom of democratic church government, the freedom from creeds, or freedom from the state. But] he could have [also] meant the freedom to choose to believe. It is at the heart of the Baptist genius. Conversion, for Baptists, is always a matter of the soul’s conviction. 

Each person makes his and her own spiritual decisions in life. We can breathe a sigh of relief when we realize that it is not up to you or to me to save someone, to make them believe, to convince them of Christ. That is the work of the Spirit. We do get to be team players and do our part to point the way. 

Let me mention one more ministry that’s yours. Let me call it Bible ministry. It is your work to read and learn and be influenced by the Scriptures. It is not the Pastor’s work to do that for you. It is everyone’s sacred privilege. 

As Walter Shurden put it: BIBLE FREEDOM is the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture. (Shurden, Ibid, p. 9)

I think this is what must have happened with Sharon years ago, when the words of Joel were in front of her. I will repay for the years that the swarming locust has eaten. The verse jumped right off the page! Not like a grasshopper, but as a true word of hope. The abuses of her youth will be repaid by the Saviour. And they have been! Joel 2:25 lives in Sharon White today.

Meditate upon the stories of the Bible for your- self; think deeply; ask your questions; talk together. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you… (Phil 2:12-13) Theology is the study of God, and spiritual things. Theology is the work of the whole people of God. Not just for some experts somewhere. 

Speaking of experts… Dr. Randy Woodley, an indigenous, Baptist professor of Faith and Culture at a couple Christian universities, gave lectures this past week in Wolfville. He taught a lot about how people who are not whites of European descent live as Christians, and explain things. In a question period after his final talk, Dr. Woodley was asked about how believers of a different culture follow Jesus in their own way. So: how much do missionaries need to teach them about how to be the Church? How do we not end up making them westerners, like Caucasian Canadians and Americans? Randy Woodley said:

I think this whole idea of trusting the Holy Spirit to work within the people and the process… is the way to develop a contextual theology in one’s own culture.

I knew a missionary to the Ikalahan Philipinos. The whole village became followers of Christ, in their own unique cultural ways. 

I got to spend time with [the missionary. He was an old man.] I asked him, ‘What was the key for you?’

And he said, “I simply told the Stories, and I allowed them to theologize. I trusted them. I trusted the Spirit, to theologize.”

And it worked out good. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m not sure we have the right to impose our cultures on those cultures who are trying to figure it out.

You can be trusted to figure out a lot of things about God, and about yourselves. We believe in Bible Freedom and Soul Freedom. Because we can believe that the Spirit of Jesus will be amazingly powerful in you, and you, and you, and them, and me. 

You need not be a Minister, a Pastor, to pray well enough, to help others in the right direction, or to interpret the Faith. You just need to be you, with God. The ministry of you non-ministers is the biggest part of what a congregation does anyway. Even with me and Licentiate Sharon and Rev. John and Rev. Curtis and Rev. Don, you outnumber us! You do not even need to be some kind of leader to do some of the best good things possible. Do you remember these words of Jesus? Amen Amen, 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… (John 14:12)

And you – who you are – you were created in Christ Jesus for good works, as the Bible says. (Ephesians 2:10) I am so grateful for you!

New Covenant

(Jeremiah 31:27-34) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 20, 2019 – UBC Digby

Again, welcome to this Baptist Church today. You know where in history we find the first Baptists? No, it is not John the Baptist. In Genesis 13 a man named Lot said to his uncle, Abraham, “You go your way, and I’ll go mine!”

Well, we believers may not agree all the time, but we do have good news for the world. Hope for the hopeless, future for the failures, God for the godless, life for the dead: this is our message. 

This is our ninth and final sermon from the text of Jeremiah: prophet to the Hebrew people when all was lost. Their days of great hope were over. The days of prosperity were done. The days of having a united kingdom were long gone. The days of their holy Temple in Jerusalem were coming to an end. The days of having a King were crashing forever. And all the promises of a wonderful life for the Jews forever into the future seemed to be broken. 

It was six hundred years before Jesus, some 2,600 years ago, in the Middle East. An empire called Babylon was taking over and smashing the Hebrews. Jeremiah lived through it all, preaching for forty years before and during the disaster.

We have these fifty pages in our Bibles from Jeremiah. A lot of those pages are sad and severe warnings. Warnings of really bad times to come. The end of their way of life as a people. Even the end of their religious life, as they knew it. 

But we end with these prophetic words from the middle of Jeremiah, a couple chapters that get called ‘The Book of Consolation.’ Because there is good news here. Even when all is lost – all is not lost!

It centres on this message of Jeremiah about a new covenant. A new agreement between Almighty God and the weak and broken people.

We have a lot of ways of talking about how God connects with people, what the relationship can be like. One of the Biblical ways is through covenants.

There were several big Biblical covenants through the centuries. The little image in the centre window, high up in front of you, is a ship at sea: Noah’s Ark. The covenant of God with Noah was shown with a rainbow – never again will God destroy life on earth.

Later, God cut a covenant with father Abraham, promising that he would have many, many descendants, and Abram’s people would be people to bless the world. The blessing people. Maybe we can think of that altar with smoke upon it up here as a reminder of that covenant with Abram.

Another covenant, or agreement, in the Bible story, is with Moses and the people sojourning in the desert. At the heart of that agreement are the Ten Commandments, which I can see pictured in a stained glass window at the back of this room. 

What’s the next big development in Bible history with a special agreement? The Hebrews get their own king and a kingdom. This we see in God’s covenant with David, who was such an important early king for them. The window with the musical instrument here might remind us of King David, known for playing it.

I gave a series of sermons nineteen months ago about these covenants. Including the one spoken here by Jeremiah. Prophet Jeremiah, who spent his life warning the nation about how they were going to be destroyed – despite all the wonderful promises of the past. Warning them about why they were going to get ruined too – for giving up on the right ways of God.

In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, all was lost. Yet, in the midst of it all, Jeremiah does give hope. The ‘Book of Consolation,’ chapters 30 and 31. Here, the word of the LORD is this: there will be a New Covenant.

I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… But this is the covenant: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts… No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31)

We keep reading this story as a sacred story because it becomes true, again and again. It is saying something real, that does not go stale. Our story tells us, again and again, God is a God of new beginnings. This happens for groups. It happens for individuals.

Meet Elissar: She is a young woman who faced significant challenges growing up in Lebanon. Although she was not raised in a Christian home, Elissar encountered the gospel at a critical time in her life.

“Christ came to me while I was at the bottom of a deep pit. I was caught in drug addiction and immoral sin, but I refused to view myself as a sinner. I was better than the rest, I thought. It wasn’t my fault. It was the result of what others had done to me,” she says. “Despite my stubbornness, the God of the impossible came into my heart right after I heard the gospel. I asked him to reign over my heart, and he changed me.”

Today, Elissar is one of the many students who attend Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS), which is a small seminary located in Beirut. “My vision is to deliver the gospel to every woman in my community who is oblivious to God’s love and her value in him,” Elissar says. “I also long to see the children of my community being transformed into the image of Christ, becoming a light within their homes.” (Mosaic, Spring 2019, Bearing Fruit in the Arab World: The Ministry of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary – Elie Haddad, CBM Team Leader for the Middle East and North Africa; President of ABTS)

People have complete dead-ends in their lives, yet they can become something beautiful for God. The disasters of our past can be touched. I used to be shocked by a friend who, when he would pray, would ask, “And Jesus, reach back through time and do such and such…” WHAT? But I have begun to understand.

I have told you the story before (March 18, 2018) of author Richard Foster, back in his early days as a pastor. In his congregation was a man who was troubled, had been troubled for years, since the second world war. One fateful night on a battlefield he saw his whole small company of men get shot down, one by one, trying to escape. He alone survived. He had never been able to sleep much since. 

One day, he told his pastor, Richard Foster, about the experience. And asked: where was God that night? Why were their desperate prayers not answered? In the conversation, Foster counselled the man, suggesting Jesus could go back in his terrible memory of that moment, go back in time with him right now, if the man wanted.  

And so they spent some prayer time going back to that terrible night, step by step, with Jesus at the man’s side.  Somehow, there was some relief in that experience, and healing of the trauma began. The man even started sleeping again, sleeping through the night. He was able to smile again. To live.  

“They shall all know Me,” says God, in the new covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah. Knowing God becomes real when our lives are changed, from the inside out! 

And there are such new beginnings – big and small – for groups of people who are discovering how God walks with them.

When the historic Cornwallis Street Baptist Church in Halifax, N.S., decided to change its name last year, it didn’t go unnoticed.

Now called New Horizons Baptist Church, images of the iconic clapboard building with arched windows flashed across television screens, appeared in local newspapers and sparked discussions on social media. The message was clear: the church was taking a bold stance against injustice by severing ties with the street’s controversial name.

Located on the west side of Cornwallis Street, the predominately African-Canadian church was named for its geographical location.

Established in 1832, the church was founded by Rev. Richard Preston, the son of a slave who came to Nova Scotia from Virginia. Originally known as the African Baptist Church, it provided an alternative place of worship for African-Canadians facing restrictions and discrimination in other churches. The church later became the place of worship for Viola Desmond, a Canadian businesswoman who challenged racial segregation at a Nova Scotian theatre in 1946. Viola was recently commemorated on $10 Canadian banknotes.

Pastor, Dr. Rhonda Britton, explains: “Our church was founded out of racism, so the people who decided to step out and start their own church were doing a new thing. They had a new vision for who they could be as people working in the kingdom of God. For them, this was a new horizon… So we kind of picked up on that [unknowingly]. God still has a lot more work for us to do.” (Nicolette Beharie, More Than Just a Name: A Church Stands in Solidarity with the Mi’Kmaq Community, Mosaic, Spring 2019, pp. 10-11)

The God of new things changes things. Of course, in Christianity, we know the way Jesus spoke of the New Covenant. “This is the new covenant in my blood,” He even said. To know Jesus is to know God. This is the genius of our particular Faith. This way the Creator comes into what is created – as part of it, a human. The new agreement between people and God is a person who is also God. How better could we find our way out of life’s dead-ends? 

God with us: God one of us. AMEN!

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.