Worship at Home: March 29

Welcome to this resource for Sunday, in a time when we are not gathering to worship together in person in our building. Simply follow along, read what is here, use a Bible, click on the links. The Bulletin is available here also, on this website, with other resources for prayer. So, you may want to choose a quiet place to sit for this time of prayer and study. You may share this with others in your home. When the time is right, begin…

Worship WelcomeJames 4: 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Prayer (A traditional ‘collect’, as found in The Hymnal, #625, Baptist Federation of Canada, 1973.) Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily magnify Thy holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Song When I Say Jesus – Cairine Robertson

Offering Our monthly and weekly offerings provide for many things. Such as our insurance policy. This may not sound exciting to you, but it would if we had a serious mishap in our Church building, the Parsonage, our property or Cemetery. And we would be excited to receive money to repair or rebuild something. Christ never instructed us to build any buildings, or take out any insurance policies, but we use such modern tools to accomplish our mission, God’s mission, in the name of Jesus.

Scripture Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Hymn Break Thou the Bread of Life

Scripture John 8:28-38 – Pastor Don Robertson

SERMON Free Indeed – Pastor Jeff White

I’m preaching to you this weekend from out on a rock, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. The bright sky is tremendous, the waves are crashing upon the shore, the first spring birds are singing and chirping. And I’ve got this all to myself. No person near me. I’m free, free indeed, out here.

I could do this any day of any year, of course. But the truth is, I’m not quite as free today as I was one month ago, one year ago, one decade ago. The pandemic problem has us limited, isolated, stalled in so many ways. And we are not ‘free to know’ the exact timeframe of anything that is going to happen next. When this or that limitation will end. When the spreading and deaths will start to diminish. When this all will be over.

Via Facebook, this past week, I asked for volunteers who might like to talk with me (over the phone, of course) about freedom. One person responded, by writing a little bit about freedom. She said, “I am feeling anything but free at this time. Yes, l know Jesus meant a spiritual freedom and l believe his word.”  

What is it to be free? Truly free, as a human being, in this lifetime? The Saviour was, of course, speaking at that moment of so-called ‘spiritual’ things, spiritual freedom. The freedom of the human soul can be above and beyond any physical and social limitations that are imposed. 

The issues Jesus was speaking of at that moment, with some of His fellow Jesus, were sin and judgment, God as Father and Himself as God the Son. So much of the impact of these ideas is upon our relationships. How we relate to God. How we relate to one another. And He seems to teach that it all depends upon How we relate to Him, to Jesus. 

There is a freedom to connect with God that Jesus teaches. Well, he does more than teach about it – we’ll get to that later. “The truth will make you free,” he says. He offers truth about what our problems are, truth about what His role is, truth about the reconciliation between us and God, thanks to Jesus.

Nowadays, it is often assumed by people in general that we can all connect with God, whatever ‘God’ is. As if it is a simple matter, an open door. In some ways it is. Yet there are definite barriers to us. 

Jesus spoke of this to the Jews who were trying to believe Him, in terms they should have understood. But when Christ spoke of making them free, they objected: ‘We’ve never been slaves. What do you mean?’

Perhaps some of you listening (or reading) have never been enslaved to anyone, or anything. Why do you need ‘freedom?’ Me, I have never felt enslaved.

Here I am today, free as a bird, out on the seashore on a beautiful weekend. Yet, this happens within certain limitations. My own physical ability to walk. Our recent social distancing and all the recommendations about where not to go and how to stay away from people. Still, I am mostly ‘free.’

Then there is the inner Jeff, the me inside that is limited, hurt, confused, and in places neglectful or evil. I’m the kind of guy who avoids ‘doing wrong,’ but the good I don’t get done is the bigger problem. When Paul laments himself in Romans 7, I connect with this half of his problems: “For I do not do the good I want”. (7:19a)

Jesus spoke of ‘slaves to sin.’ This is the freedom from slavery He taught to His fellow people of the Hebrew religion… and others. We keep hearing His words to this day. And he says the truth will make you free. What truth?

Author and teacher of Christian discipleship, Dallas Willard, taught philosophy at a university. He once mentioned a university building that had, in large bold letters upon a wall, this phrase: THE TRUTH WILL MAKE YOU FREE

Nice phrase for display at a college. This is a very short quotation, and it is from Jesus. But Willard thought these six words upon a wall could suggest that, apparently, you don’t even need to know the truth for it to make you free! 

When we expand Jesus’ quotation, we hear this: “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

We want to know what’s real all the time. 

‘Who’s moving in next door? I see a moving van.’

‘How many local people will the private school at Upper Clements Park employ?’

‘Are there any cases of COVID-19 in Digby yet?’

‘Is Prime’s Farm Market open today?’

‘How are people going to get their offering to Digby Baptist Church now?’

‘Will my hospital appointment get cancelled?’

‘Can I park my car at Point Prim to go for a walk?’

‘When will this all end?

We even have pages in social media now, devoted to questions and answers (and opinions) about everything local. 

As we look to Jesus together, as a spiritual community, what questions and answers are here? Well, this includes what we’ve already seen – we could use some help because of the ways we are messed up.  Also, Jesus offers Himself as the way forward, the reconciler of all people and God. There is the matter of discipleship: following Jesus as our Master in this life. Hand-in-hand with this is the matter of living well: as Galatians 5 suggests, it is possible to have the fruit of the Spirit grow in our lives, rather than the works of the flesh.

We are in a time of crisis. Some people are severely tested by the measures to slow the pandemic. Some people, so far, have their lifestyle only mildly affected. And what is going on around the world has its emotional impact upon us. When we are squeezed by such circumstances, we can learn. We can trust the Spirit to teach us more of the truth: the truth about ourselves, and others, and creation, and our God. 

The one person who responded to my facebook invitation also wrote: Perhaps l need to take a different view of this imposed situation. I believe the earth needs healing and to be free from smog, air pollution, water pollution, etc. So this could be a positive thing and maybe God is saying, believe and have faith, better days are ahead.  I know am rambling, thanks for listening ❤️

I am out in nature here, recording a rambling sermon for you folks, and observing the first touch of spring. I am always learning more about the buds that are bursting on the bushes, the birds that are migrating in, the lichens that grow so incredibly slowly across the surfaces of stones. Nothing is much different here. There is a bit of escape here. A bit of Sabbath too. 

But the world of humanity – we are in turmoil. And in turmoil we shall learn hard lessons. Back to the book of Romans again, and chapter 5. …suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

I trust that you like those verses, and may even enjoy reading the rest of that chapter, full as it is of challenging wisdom and hope. But I fear this sermon is too dreary and serious already. These are dreary and serious days. 

Before I conclude by reading you an old story, let us back up a bit more into this quotation from Jesus. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” What He is talking of here is clearly about Himself, what truth He is giving, and the human response: be confident enough in Him to follow. Being set free by the truth depends upon this. Knowing Jesus and His way depends on being devoted to Him. 

So, it was Bonnie VanTassell who typed a response to my query on the internet about ‘freedom.’ She started off by saying: I think I need to read my Bible daily to get the free feeling. 

It is amazingly wonderful the sense of freedom that comes from things that seem like pure limitations. Is the Bible very limiting? Does it box us in? Some would say so. The Bible is beloved by us, yet we easily neglect it, and may have unresolved problems with it. I continue to find, in my life, that devotion to Jesus demands personal Bible reading. The conversation with God goes on and on, as I pour over the pages, again and again. 

So the word of Jesus, “the truth will make you free,” is for those who continue in what He teaches, and truly live as disciples of Jesus. When we recognize the shackles that bind us, we know that true freedom of spirit is what Christ offers. 

Let me end by reading you a story. An old fashioned story. A story written by William Barton, a hundred or more years ago. One of his many delightful, King James English stories about a wise man, Safed, the Sage. Safed is really a Minister, in days gone by. In Today’s ‘parable,’ he takes a train trip. The story is called: The Iron Fetters.

I rode upon a Train; and the day drew on toward Evening, and the Porter came to make down my Berth. And I sat for a time in the next section, where was a man and a young man. And the Man said, Sit here if thou wilt. And he moved over. And when I sat down, behold, there was something hard under me. And I Essayed to remove it, but I saw what it was, and I pushed it into the Corner of the Seat, for I did not desire to publish unto the people of the Car what I had found. And I said unto the man, I am not very familiar with this kind of Ornament. 

And he said, It belongeth unto me. 

And we talked of other things. But I saw the young man’s ankles that they were bound with an heavy strap, so that he might walk a little in the Car, but take short steps only. So that not every one noticed that he was bound with Fetters. 

And in the Night I heard in the berth that was next to mine the Clank of the Fetters. For the Sheriff took off the strap and placed the iron fetter upon the ankle of the lad, one fetter upon the lad’s ankle, and one upon his own. And this had they done for Four Nights. Even all the way from Seattle to Syracuse. 

And I listened unto the clank of the Fetters, and it grieved me that it should be so. And I considered that he that bindeth his fellow man is bound with him; and the Keeper of a Prison is himself a Prisoner; and the fetters of iron wherewith a man may manacle another man bind him also. 

Now in the evening I had not spoken unto the young man of his bonds. Neither did I let him see that I had noticed him. But in the morning the Sheriff spake unto me, and he said, This young man and I have slept for four nights in the same berth, bound foot to foot, and neither of us have slept any too well. And last night we spake of thee: and I said unto him, I think that he is a man of God. And now, behold, the lad desireth to speak unto thee. 

And it may be that thou canst say good things unto him. For we have come from the Coast, and we get off at Syracuse, and then he goeth to jail to await his Trial. 

So I sat with the young man, and I asked him no questions, but he told me many things. And the Burden of it all was this, 

I have a good Father, but I thought he was too strict with me, and a good Mother, but I thought she was an Old Fogy. And I loved the Bright Lights and the Praise of the Gang. And I saw in the Movies how easily one might be Rich, and I wanted some Easy Coin. There- fore have they brought me back twenty-five hundred miles for Grand Larceny. 

And I spake unto him such words as God gave unto me. And I said. Think not that the chain of iron upon thy feet is thy worst Fetter. For behold, thou wast chained already when thou didst covet that which was not thine own: and in throwing off the yoke of thy father and the advice of thy mother, thou didst become the Prisoner of Evil. 

And he said. Verily, I know it. 

And the Sheriff said. He is not a bad kid at heart: but thus is it with the man that despiseth the law of his father and disregardeth the tears of his mother. 

Now the train reached Syracuse and there was a Patrol Wagon backed up at the Curb. And I said unto the young man, Tell the truth, whatever it shall cost thee. Take thy medicine, however so bitter it may be. Beware of evil companions. Seek forgiveness and help from thy God. And see that thou die not until thou make thy mother proud of thee. 

And he asked me for my name, and the name of the City where I dwelt. And he said, One day I shall come to see thee; and then shall be no bracelets on my wrists, neither straps nor irons on my legs, but I shall be honest and free. 

And I said unto him, If the Son of God shall make thee free, thou shalt be free indeed. 

(William E. Barton, Safed and Ketura: The Third Series of the Parables of Safed the Sage, The Pilgrim Press, 1921)

PRAYERS of the People

O God of  Love, our hearts have been opened today; we worship and adore You. Holy Father, Holy Jesus, Holy Advocate: from our separate rooms we praise and pray, free human spirits, in Your image.

Jesus, Joy of our hearts, we want to go about our day with You; every day this week. May there be reason to rejoice & to give thanks, whatever happens.

Christ of Peace that is beyond our understanding, we pray for people who have no peace, who fear and tremble in the face of disaster and trouble. Turn us into peacemakers, with You and among all people.

O Power of Patience and Eternity, in creation we see time is long and the present is short. Let us have the grace to know how to act decisively, and how to wait, for the sake of all, as we face a pandemic.

 Incarnate God of Kindness, when systems struggle in healthcare, in the economy, in social fellowship – may we notice the many kindnesses, and may we be people who are kind at every moment.

Creator of Generosity, the sacrifices of Christ call us to follow, and His Spirit inspires us to give. Let us be guided to help our neighbour, and the stranger, with what we have to give: our time, our attention, our prayers, our possessions, our faith.

God of great Faithfulness, we have trusted in healing power, encouraging help, solid hope. Our prayers are still for those most in need, and those closest to us. Let grace for body and spirit abound, and grace grow faith in the hearts who need it.

Spirit of Gentleness, blow through the wilderness of these days. Your reach is wider and swifter than the spread of any virus in human cells, or any computer virus that corrupts. May strong and humble gentleness spread among us, for our world needs help.

Sovereign of Self-Control, as we have bowed in prayer, we look inward one more time. We pray that there may be freedom from fear in these days, freedom from evil impulses, and freedom from despair when times are at their worst. 

Now, we look for good fruit to be born, amid our crisis. Even in the face of many deaths in our world, we look to You, Living One, and to the eternal view. 

In the name of Him who taught prayer, saying: Our Father… AMEN.

Hymn By Faith

Benediction May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, rest upon us and all our work and worship done in His name. May He give us light to guide us, courage to support us, and love to unite us, now and for evermore. AMEN.

Worship At Home: March 22, 2020

Welcome to this resource for Sunday, in a time when we are not gathering to worship together in person at Digby Baptist Church. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures together, while apart. Simply follow along, read what is here, use a Bible, click on the links. The Bulletin is available here also, on this website, with other resources for prayer.

So, you may want to choose a quiet place to sit for this time of prayer and study. You may share this with others in your home. When the time is right, begin…

Worship Welcome Romans 1:8, 11-13 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you…

Hymn 552 My Faith Looks Up to Thee

Prayer: Perhaps, O God, it is with many, many others that I pray at this time. Not just me, or just a few of us. A great number. From Digby Baptist. And all the others who worship on this beautiful day. 

May this be a moment of looking up to You. May we discover it is not far, far up or away that we look to You. It is near at hand that Your Spirit and Your grace and Your word is found. Even in our mouths is Your message. 

So we give thanks. Our spirits sing, with the hymns of faith. Our minds open to Your word in scripture. Our prayers we pour out for ourselves and the whole world. We bow to be humble before You. A virus has humbled all the systems of this world; may we be even more humble before You. 

So, be our wise Teacher today, Spirit of God. Who, with the Father and with Jesus, reigns forever and ever. AMEN.

Offering Our monthly or weekly offerings provide for many things. Such as our Church website. The expense is small, but the ministry can be tremendous. Our website and facebook page and emails are administered by our Secretary and our Pastor. At this time, as you can see, the sermons, prayers, and other resources are posted here each Sunday morning. During this time, Pastor Jeff is still working from his Study at the Church, usually Sunday through Thursday mornings. Offerings can be dropped off in a box in the hallway outside the Pastor’s Study. Or put them in the mail to Digby Baptist Church, P. O. Box 35.

Prayers for the present crisis: Click Here

Scripture Exodus 12:1-6, 43-47

Hymn 530 Be Still My Soul

Scripture John 19:38-42

Sermon Lo, In the Grave He Lay, or: Seven things to give up – Jeff White

A lot of our plans have been put to bed since last Sunday. And when we get to raise them up again is uncertain. It is the unknown stuff that is alarming, giving us fear, making us upset, disturbing things.
The scripture stories I chose for today – I do hope you read them – take us to moments of drastic change. The Passover of the Israelites, and the burial of Jesus. I chose John 19 because of Nicodemus. This is our third and final week with Nicodemus.
Christians are still four weeks away from Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when we let the Bible take us back to that time when Jesus was dead and gone. But let us go there today. Face what it feels like when a great leader of hope dies. When the best plan seems to fail. When a victory seems to be a disastrous defeat. And see what some people did then.
Remembering when Jesus was put into a new tomb, I call this talk, ‘Lo, In the Grave He Lay, or: Seven things to give up (and not just for Lent).
One: Socializing, Celebrating, Entertaining. Lots of local socializing, even special celebrations, are all put to an end. Or scaled down to a bare minimum. Our grandchildren turn seven and three this month: the party is cancelled.
Music and entertainment in many venues is over for a season. The choir I joined in the fall: we have been rehearsing every Tuesday all this amazing music. No more rehearsals; the concerts are cancelled.
What about weddings and funerals? Our mourning and our dancing is going to be so limited now. We’ve never done it this way before. Togetherness and gatherings are at the heart of any community, any society. Shutting them all off is a new challenge.
Our scripture story from John today takes place during a big annual gathering for the Jews: Passover. It is a time for family gatherings, for special food at a special feast. And this time, the leader of a new movement gets executed. Jesus of Nazareth.
In John 19 we can notice Nicodemus, a minor character in the Gospel of John, but man of some interest. He became a disciple of Jesus. Mentioned just three times, today we see him on the day of the death of Jesus. The sun is about to set. And with the sunset begins the Sabbath, a high and holy day, especially because of the Passover celebrations.
What happens here can say something to us today. When part of his world falls apart, Nicodemus stands up to do some generous work, behind the scenes. Nicodemus, and another man, named Joseph, take care of the body of Jesus. They take care of the embalming and burial. In a moment of crisis – their Master has been executed – they take action.
I think it’s remarkable what these men do. They were followers of this Jesus, though Joseph, at least, was secretly a disciple. Perhaps Nicodemus had also been quiet about his faith in this Messiah. As we saw last week, some of his fellow Pharisees raised suspicions that Nick was taking Jesus’ side.
The time of celebrating Passover gets overshadowed, for Jesus’ friends, by this violent death. And now He is buried. Lo, in the grave He lay. Celebrating what this Messiah would do is over also. What is really going to happen next. In the face of what must have felt like disaster and defeat, Nicodemus and Joseph do something important behind the scenes. But they also show themselves to be disciples of this Jesus. When a crisis comes, followers of Christ rise up to do what needs to be done, quietly, generously, faithfully.
Two: Work. Work for many people is changing or has stopped. Me, I’m doing phone visiting now – nothing in person. Maybe I will do some shouting across a street, or phoning people while I see them through their windows. 🙂 That’s a good idea!
We are becoming aware of the work that has run out for many people in this time. For others, going to work is different now: at home, or much quieter, or different things need doing. And some people, still at work, are making sacrifices, because they are at risk of catching the virus. Healthcare workers, for instance.
In that very different situation, Nicodemus and Joseph took on the role of undertakers. It was what was needed. They used their influence and wealth to bury Jesus. Not their usual, day-to-day job, I’m sure.
In Nova Scotia there is a Funeral Cooperative called Arimathea, named after Joseph of Arimathea. Whatever other work he did in his life in the first century, he is remembered for the care he showed on that day of crisis, when Christ was killed.
What can we do in this year of crisis? How does our job change, or our volunteer jobs? I’m sure you are thinking of this already. Continue to pray and discover how the Spirit shall lead you.
Three: Buying and Selling. I had better move along, if we want to get to all seven points!
Shopping ramped up and maybe is petering out now. I’m not sure. The marketplace sure has changed, that is for sure. We are giving up on some of our same old ways of buying and selling. And what it looks like next week, and next month, none can fully forecast. Not to mention the big picture – the industries and the financial markets – and the poorest of the poor at the bottom of the whole system.
Jesus looks to have lived the last few years of His life as a travelling peasant. We never hear of Him doing any carpentry at this stage. The people who were poorest and sickest were often given the most good news by him.
When Christ was born, His Jewish parents faithfully took him to the temple on day eight. They could not afford the usual sacrifice, so they gave the poorer option: a couple pigeons. Thirty some years later, Jesus is executed, and these two wealthy benefactors step in to give him a proper burial. Joseph of Arimathea has enough pull to talk with Pilate and get the body released. Nicodemus has enough resources to provide very generously the embalming spices.
In between Jesus’ birth and death, He spoke, in word and action, of wealth and poverty. In our present mess on Earth, we could still learn more from Christ’s teaching.
Four: Healthcare. We sometimes call Jesus the Great Physician, and well we should, with all the scenes of healing recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We also have had high expectations of our healthcare system here in Canada. How that is shifting and changing right now in NS for this pandemic is complicated.
Many of you know what it is to have a family physician, and then that doctor leaves, or retires. And what do you do? How long do you go without a doctor? Or, how far do you travel to your physician.
Mine is up in Windsor.
Have you ever wondered what the people in Jerusalem, who had been healed by Jesus, thought when He got arrested, interrogated, and executed? The great Teacher, the compassionate Healer, is gone! Also, those who were finding a spiritual rebirth, a new path, emotional stability, new hope. Their Healthcare Worker was gone. For good, most all of them though.
The world has been through disasters of disease and destruction before. The world seems to become a more dangerous place, sometimes suddenly. Do we trust Jesus again, even if He there are moments He appears silent, or absent? In fact, He is not.
Five: Education. What education do people have to give up, now? Schools and colleges have stopped, though for a many it keeps on, online. A theological seminar I always attend in June just got cancelled; a Saturday lecture I help plan is going to be presented in June, but online, I’m guessing.
I don’t need to go over the news about this challenge to students and teachers and everyone involved. I need simply to say two things about this today. One: consider prayerfully the impact of this pandemic on the students and instructors. Two: consider what kind of teachable moment this is for our Rabbi, Jesus. Yes, the One we saw getting buried today. Now, He lives, and in Spirit continues to offer instruction in how to live this life. Yes, even the unexpected turns of life in March of 2020.
Joseph and Nick respected this teacher enough to serve Him when He died. Remember that amazing conversation Nicodemus had with Jesus alone, one night? The One who challenged Nick challenges us today. Let us listen, and learn, and be transformed more, and live.
Of course, in a pandemic, people are going to die. So, of the things we have to give up, number Six is People, people who die! This is the crux of the crisis, of course. The world would not be upset and turned on its head if it were not for a tiny virus that does kill off some of the people it touches. Even when people cannot gather for a funeral or burial, there are burials going on. Perhaps with just two people attending to the body, like Joe and Nick with Jesus, long ago.
Dear Christian, we are prepared for this. Prepared by Jesus Christ. At the heart of the whole story is this moment: Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He can handle death. He can handle a lot of death. God comes into our world and deals with suffering and evil and death this way: He suffers and gets killed by evil. Yet life comes back! The God who truly died, and yet now lives, is the God who can take us through a pandemic. As I said, this has happened before.
And so, we, Seven: Worship together. Except we have had to give that up too. We worship alone today, or in tiny groups. The NT word for the Church is ecclesia, meaning an assembly or gathering of people.
Even when we do not gather in the same place, we can gather ‘in spirit,’ so to speak. Unite in the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus. In the life we know and share already. It goes on, while we are deployed for good work at home, in this strange solitary life now.
Don’t I always say to you that, after Sunday service, we go out to be the Church, wherever we go? It so happens that it may be a long time before we gather together again. Remember those who get shut-in and came to their last service with us long ago. They don’t get to gather in our building, but they (you) are still ‘in the church.’
So it is for all of us now, for a season. Whatever creative ways we find – thanks to technology – to worship together on a Sunday, or study together on a Monday, from our own homes, we keep together in the Spirit and the name of Christ.
Many things we have had to lay down now, and it may feel like these things are dead. But do you believe in resurrection? There will be new life, one day, for celebratory gatherings, for education, for work, for simply visiting one another? I believe in resurrection. And, I believe things will be different. It will be a new life for us all.

Song 516 Be Still and Know

1.  Be still and know that I am God. (X3)
2. I am the Lord that healeth thee. (X3)
3. In thee, O Lord, I put my trust. (X3)

Prayers of the People:

God who is one, who is holy, who is immortal and invisible, only wise: some of us feel one, separate, alone, unseen by others, isolated. We try to act wisely: our purposeful disconnect is for love, love of the whole world. May that love grow in us, even as we cope with a new way to live from day to day.
We give thanks for spring! The plants are awaking and budding. The migratory birds are returning and singing. The days are stretching out, minute by minute. We give thanks for Christ! His journey to the cross we remember, with all the lessons along the way. May we learn from Jesus to face death and disaster. May we gain from Jesus an abundant life.
We give thanks for Church! And family! And friends! We pray now for everyone:
Everyone like Peter, who receives chemotherapy, or other treatment for cancer. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Jean, who receives oxygen at home, or other aids to refresh their living. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Dottie, who waits for surgery or medical help, and wonders how long it will take. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like George, who spends time in hospital, and whose loved-ones wait with them to see what care is needed next. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Alison, who is expecting the birth of a child in these uncertain days, and looks forward to a cherished new life. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Margo, who is still out at work each day, meeting the public, and needs to keep clean and safe. Jesus, bless.
And everyone whose days are too quiet, and closed in, and uncomfortable, because of social isolation, which can drag spirits and moods down. Jesus, bless.
O Spirit of Holiness and Love, give us a sabbath rest today, as needed. Prepare us for the week ahead. And take delight in us, Your people. Do so even as we pray: Our Father, who art in heaven…
AMEN.

Hymn My Lighthouse

 Benediction       by William Sloane Coffin
May the Lord Bless You and Keep You;
May the Lord Make His Face to Shine Upon You
And Be Gracious Unto You.
May God Give You the Grace 
Not to Sell Yourself Short,
Grace to Risk Something Big
For Something Good,
Grace to Remember that 
The World is Now
Too Dangerous for Anything but Truth, and
Too Small for Anything but Love.
So May God Take Your Minds and
Think Through Them;
May God Take Your Lips and
Speak Through Them; and
May God Take Your Hearts and 
Set Them On Fire,
Through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

I Don’t Wanna Be a Pharisee?

(2 Cor 3:1-9, 17-18; John 7:37-52) – J G White

11 am, Sun, March 15, 2020 – UBC Digby

This past week I was remembering a song from childhood Sunday School days.

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa

Pray the Lord my soul to keep,

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa

I don’t wanna be a goat, nope

Haven’t got any hope, nope

I don’t wanna be a hypocrite

‘Cause they’re not hip to it

I don’t wanna be a Canaanite

‘Cause they just make cain at night

I don’t wanna be a Sadducee

‘Cause they’re so sad, you see

I don’t wanna be a Pharisee

‘Cause they’re not fair, you see  

Cute song; fun song; biblical song. But what child understands this? Hey, what adult in a pew really could explain what a goat is here, or a Canaanite, a hypocrite (OK, you know!), a Sadducee, or Pharisee?

We read again this Sunday from John’s Gospel, and there we find these Jewish people called Pharisees saying and doing things, as well as temple police, and chief priests. It was during the Jewish Festival of Booths. What’s all this?

I want to look at just the Pharisees, for a moment today, because I am paying attention to Nicodemus, this cameo character in the story. He is mentioned just three times, in John chapters 3, 7 and 19. Last Sunday we looked at the first scene, when he visits Jesus one night, and has an amazing conversation. Which includes the now famous John 3:16. 

Today’s story, from chapter 7, shows a growing controversy about Jesus, back then. The Jewish people in general were divided about Him. Is He the Christ, the Messiah? Is He right, or wrong? The scholars and Bible law enforcers seem mostly against Jesus. A move to have Him arrested, and even killed off, was growing.

Nicodemus stands out, among the others. He calls for just treatment of Jesus, when the rest of the Pharisees think He is a deceiver and should get arrested. They had called in the police to arrest Jesus, but the police were taken aback by His amazing teachings and did not put a hand on Him. “Shouldn’t he get a fair hearing?” asked Nicodemus.

Perhaps you can already tell that this Jewish group – the Pharisees – were law-keepers. They were experts in the Laws of what we call the Old Testament. And they had a big tradition of other teachings that were to be obeyed. In the Jewish Faith, by this time, local meeting houses were in the towns: the synagogues. This is where the Pharisees had their power and influence, teaching the local people and enforcing their ways of obeying God. 

The Pharisee tradition had developed new theologies. Instead of God’s justice being done in this world, according to what God decided, they taught there would be a resurrection in the afterlife, and God’s final justice would come then. They also taught about angels and other spirits, and the predestination of people under God. 

So they paved the way for the Jewish religion to be less about one Temple on earth- in the city of Jerusalem – and more about the home and the local town synagogue as the centre for holiness and learning and obedience.

In contrast, the more traditional Sadducees were aristocratic, focused on the Jerusalem Temple, had more political power, and were closely allied with the Jewish priesthood in the City. They did not teach there was much of an afterlife: no need of resurrection nor justice later. 

You may have noticed, it is to all these law-keepers and law-givers Jesus gives his harshest words, in much of the Gospels. By the time John is telling the seventh chapter of the whole story, reviews of Jesus are mixed, with the Pharisees and Sadducees and priests and scribes opposing Him. 

Mostly. Not all. Not Nicodemus. And, as we read later, a zealous Pharisee named Saul dramatically is transformed into a zealous Christian, and goes by Paul. It is this Paul, as an early Mediterranean missionary, who writes letters to the little Church in Corinth Greece. We read a bit today. And at this point, in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul is contrasting the old, legalistic way that he knew so well, with the new Way, in Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. 

Paul goes so far as to call his old way “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets”!  He does say it was glorious, yes, but it pales in comparison with the ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of justification. Paul’s new work is the continuing work of Jesus. 

Now, being a stickler for the laws of the Bible is a problem, because it is not the way of salvation. Yet Church people through the centuries can be tempted to make our faith a religion of dos and don’ts. As a theology professor quoted to me the other day: some believers treat the New Testament like a second Old Testament. (S. Boersma) So we don’t want to be Christian Pharisees.

Yet we still need rules. We must trust and obey. Be it for moral and spiritual things, or for the hygiene needed in a panicky pandemic. Seek the Spirit of Christ to guide and teach, as He has been doing for a couple thousand years. 

Remember that, to know the biblical Law is a benefit for Faith in Christ. 

Paul mentions Moses, the lawgiver, to the believers in Corinth. The people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face… Jesus mentioned Moses to Nicodemus on his first visit. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up… (Jn 3) These were the stories they were steeped in, of course, which guided them. And guided them right into a ‘new covenant,’ a ‘new testament.’ 

Jesus said, at the last supper, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ We can also translate it, ‘the new testament in my blood.’ (Lk 22:20) Jesus brought something new, built upon but greater than the old.

In Christ, humans are more valuable than the Law, so to speak. Paul used this beautiful imagery with his friends: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts… written… not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 3:2-3) Jesus gives us news about following Bible rules, over and over. Such as when he spoke of the fourth commandment and said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28) The intense and detailed rules of the Jewish Sabbath are for people, to serve them.

Today is Sunday, a Christian Sabbath Day. Yet attendance in churches is down today in NS, I’m sure. I have given you a break from the big news story so far, but let me now just ask this. We are having a pandemic on the planet! Well, what does this mean for the faithful? Could we treat it like the Sabbath of old? Or like a spiritual retreat for Lent? A time of purposeful rest. A time of fasting from things (giving up certain things) for prayer. A season of preparation.

Here is a poem called ‘Pandemic,’ by Lynn Ungar. 

What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath–

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world

different than it is. 

Sing. Pray. Touch only those

to whom you commit your life. 

Center down…

http://www.lynnungar.com/poems/pandemic/  

When you must be isolated – take this from God as a time for holy solitude. Jesus took forty days alone in the wilderness – His Spirit is available to be your guide for forty days, or whatever it takes. When your plans for March and April get cancelled – take it from God as a teachable moment about making sacrifices, about our own mortality, about caring for the needy, about noticing Jesus – lifted up for all to see.

Some other good news, that Paul mentions: Our competence is in and from God. For the ministry that we are called upon to do. 

Perhaps we are also competent to handle anything the world can throw at us, thanks to God. What’s the popular prayer about this? Lord help me to remember: nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle. 

Paul also wrote: Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Freedom from legalism, from phariseeism, from needing to save yourself by being perfectly good and getting everything right. Jesus has accomplished this for us. Now, there’s transformation, from glory to GLORY. So it is a gift to be given a life that is getting better, purer, more beautiful. 

All this was found by some of the Pharisees, such as Nicodemus. They started off by being scripture experts already. That was an advantage, and a challenge. Christ opened their minds up to know new things, and follow His lead.

And this can be known by us also, whether we are law makers or law breakers or law keepers. 

‘I don’t wanna be a Pharisee,’ we sing. But we can start there.  One just doesn’t stay there. A Pharisee can hear the call into the Kingdom of Christ. And be new. Like Paul. 

Every day, remember Jesus words:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 

and let the one who believes in me drink. 

As the scripture has said, 

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37-38)

PRAYERS of the People Let us be guided by scripture this morning. These phrases can guide our silent praying together.  Let us pray.

(James 5) 13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. 

Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 

14 Are any among you sick? 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; 

and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. 

(1 Timothy 2) [First of all, then, I urge that] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 

3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;

Our Father, who art in heaven…  AMEN.

God Still Speaks: four vignettes

(Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17) – J G White & A Constable

11 am, Sun, March 8, 2020 – UBC Digby with Grace United Digby

NICODEMUS & JESUS (Alex & Jeff)

Nicodemus:  Preacher, we know that you are an expert who is in touch with spiritual truth. No one else has proved it by the things they have done, except you. You must be grounded in God.

Jesus:  Amen, brother. Be sure of this, no one can see God controlling the universe without being Born from Beyond.

Nicodemus:  How can anyone come ‘from beyond’ when we are here, alive here? Can someone really get brought back after dying on the table?

Jesus:  Amen, brother. But hear this: no one can get on the right life path without being Born from Beyond. It’s a matter of water and the Holy Waves. What comes to life from yourself is you, and what is born of Holy Current is holy. Don’t be amazed that I said, “you must be Born from Beyond.” The Ocean flows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t understand the tides and currents. So it is with everyone who is born of the Holy Surf. 

Nicodemus: What on earth do you mean? You’re mixing metaphors, and I’m all mixed up.

Jesus: Are you a professor of theology, Nick, and yet you don’t get it? You can’t give me an “Amen!”?  I’m giving you the facts: we show what we know and tell what we’ve experienced. But you all just don’t believe what you’ve seen with me, right? Or with my closest disciples. I tell you about religion on earth, and money matters, and healing, and politics, and you don’t believe what I teach. How will you accept the inner, hidden truths? No one has gone beyond this life, and come back to tell, except me, who came from beyond. I’m The One, The One from God, The One you’ve been waiting for. Moses struck a rock in the desert to provide water to the whole crowd of Hebrew people. Just so, The One from God must be pierced and broken in front of the whole world, and flood out to all. Then those who are confident in His Way will get that Life from Beyond. For God has so much love for all you of the cosmos, that God gave Himself into you. So the people who put their confidence in this One from God will not live or die pointlessly. You will get to have the Life from Beyond life. Indeed, God did not send The One into your lives to wreck you all. God sent Me so that all things and people might get to live again, with Me. 

A ‘NEW’ NOVA SCOTIAN (Sharon Constable)

I love this little town. I sense there’s something special about the place. I feel drawn to everything about this community: all the history revealed in old houses and older family names; all the many ways people show they care about each other… all the ways they participate in saying “we belong”.

At the same time, I miss my home. I often think of the family and friends I left behind, to move here. I call them and text them, but it isn’t the same as being home. I miss the feel of the soil underfoot, the scent of the air, the lay of the land.

I miss the culture and history of the place I called home, and even the way my faith feels when I’m there.

Will I someday be able to truly call this new community “home”? I really hope so.

I can see people are interested in me.  I’ve become used to the way heads swivel in my direction when I walk into Tim Horton’s. I sometimes wish that curiosity would bloom into an invitation: “We noticed you’re new; come sit with us.”

I’ve noticed the things people here hold dear and consider important.  There was a fire the other day: a church hall burned down. Everyone said it was tragic; they had loved the hall because it was part of their story, and their family had found a home there in generations past.  They belonged there. I read the congregation plans to rebuild the hall, and I wonder, could the new building be loved in the same way? Will it “belong”?

And will I finally belong, one day? Can I be rebuilt, or will I always be in exile here, always “from away”?  

Sometimes I imagine I’m like that old church hall that was lost in the fire. Since I’ve come here, the old me has passed, and something new must be born from the ashes.  In my heart, I hope that God is preparing me, getting ready to cut the ribbon, open the door and roll out the welcome mat. 

A SYRIAN (Sharon White)

You want to know what is the best country in the world?

Syria.  Our music and stories, sports and dance, food and drink, glorious buildings and deep faith – and the people! You won’t find nicer people anywhere.

And want to know what is the worst country in the world?

Also Syria. 

All that was best about my country is being or has been destroyed.  Powerful, violent forces are tearing my beautiful homeland apart. So many family and friends, dead, wounded and homeless! As much as I love Syria, I cannot live here anymore. I can’t raise a family here. And it breaks my heart.

I look at the hills around me, and I see the rubble of burned out homes, ruined farms, the columns of smoke – dismal sentries of misery.  I wonder: where will help come from? And inside, a voice says: “you know. Your help will come from the one who made the hills, the flowering meadows and tall pine forests. Your help comes from your Maker.” 

And now, of course I realize, I have known for a while: I must go. I don’t know where – just away. I live in the best country in the world, and also the worst country in the world, and I know God is calling me and my loved ones to some strange new land. 

I feel so much sorrow – I’m angry at God that I must feel this way, that people must fight and destroy, that War dies only to be born again. But I still believe my hope is in God.  Though I am dying inside with the pain of this loss, I believe I can live again. Through this tragedy, within our suffering, God still speaks – and God’s voice is still hope, wisdom, life and peace.  

Somehow, I don’t know how, I must go, believing God has a place for me.

GOD & GRACE (Alex & Jeff)

Now the God Who Is said to Grace, “Go from your corner of Prince William and First Avenue. Go from your smoldering history and foggy fond memories. Go from your familiar ways of ‘doing church,’ to a way that I will show you. I will make of you a purified movement, and I will bless you, and give you a surprising reputation. And you will bless Digby and Annapolis Counties. Some will reject how I make use of you; some will rejoice in what you’re up to. Nevertheless, you are going to make a difference on this planet.”

So Grace went, as God Who Is has told her; and John the Baptist went with her. Grace was two hundred and one years old when she departed from the old foundations. Grace took her sister, Wesley, and cousin, Trinity, and old uncle Patrick, and the best of their ministry tools and talent, and set forth to go to the Land of a New Kind of Christianity. 

When they had come to the New Land, the God Who Is appeared to Grace, and said, “To your faith-children I give this Way of Jesus.”So Grace built there a place of worship to give thanks for this future hope. They didn’t stay there. From there they moved on and pitched their tents in some other new places. And they kept praising and knowing God Who Is, in Jesus’ name. Grace and the others journeyed on, by stages, toward the Future.

Out of the Whirlwind

(Job 38:1-7, 18; 39:26-27; 40:7-14; 41:11; 42:1-10) – J G White

11 am, Sun, March 1, 2020 – UBC Digby

Brian puts his paragliding wing on his back, a giant backpack, and climbs up a blueberry-carpeted gravel hill of Cumberland County. At the top is ‘launch,’ the clearing at the edge of a steep slope, where a person equipped with a hang-glider, or the parachute wing of a paraglider, can take off into the air, when the wind is just right. 

I’ve been there; I’ve seen it. No, they don’t ‘jump off’ a mountain to take flight. When the gentle wind is right, I’ve seen Brian inflate his wing, and walk straight out into thin air. Then, with updrafts, he can soar and float and circle around – perhaps for half an hour – before he gently descends to the landing zone below. Another blueberry field. 

We have joked from time to time that Brian climbs mountains just to get away and ‘work out his problems.’ We know better: he simply loves paragliding. But sometimes the wind is never quite right, and he spends a lot of time on a hilltop, watching and waiting. 

There is something potent and powerful in such solitary times, out in nature. Long times waiting, watching; or walking, exploring. Hunting. Or finding a pouring waterfall, or pounding surf on the shore. Whatever. Wherever.

Of course, a pastor like me has heard many times, a person who never sits in a pew, say, “I can worship out in the woods.”  Yes. 

“But do you?” I wonder, and never ask. “Do you worship God out in nature?”

Why do people say the woods is their cathedral? Because it is, and they do worship the Creator there? Because they just like that ‘pat answer’ for a religious person like me? Because they truly can get quiet, and focused, and ‘work out their problems’ there? Does nature give us answers to our biggest problems?

The long conversations of Job and his four friends are over, when the Creator arrives, somehow, and all creation is in God’s talk. God’s questions. God’s non- answers. It is beautiful, and awesome. But how does this work? Does Job, the suffering man, get any of his problems worked out? The problems of pain. Of his physical body wrecked. His children all killed off, when a mighty wind blew down the house they were dining in. His total property of livestock and servants taken away by raiders, or killed and burned.

We, we have our own troubles. Or we are at least surrounded with people who have major problems.

I was surprised, three weeks ago, to read in the obituaries that a 97-year-old woman named Laura had died. I thought she was long dead already! I’d been introduced to her in 2002 on January 15th. She was 79. By then she was already living in a nursing home in Windsor, NS, spending her days rolling around in a wheel-chair. From the first day I met her, she would always look at me, agitated and confused, and say,

“Who are you?

“I’m the Baptist Pastor”

“What’s your name?”

“Jeff. Jeff White.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m the new Pastor, from the Church.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jeff White.”

“Who are you?”…

Laura had been a nurse. She was a graduate of the Grace Maternity Hospital, and had got the Proficiency Award in 1945. She married and raised a family: four children. She was a devoted Baptist Christian. She was a gardener, she played the organ and the autoharp, she loved to dance, she drew and painted. 

Yet, for at least eighteen years, she was in a state of not knowing what was going on, maybe not knowing who she herself was. ‘How long, O Lord?’

Each week, lately, I think of another woman. Kerri is 25 years old, a mother of three, and lives in California. I know her grandmother and family well, here in NS. I knew Kerri when she was a little kid, growing up in NB and NS. 

One early evening, just back in December, before a family gathering to do some Christmas decorating at her brother’s new place, Kerri did a favour for a senior couple she knows. She took their dog out for a walk. Crossing an avenue, a car struck her and the dog. The dog was killed instantly. Kerri suffered serious fractures to her skull. She underwent brain surgery. She was fighting for her life. Prayer was requested from everyone connected with the family, from Canada to the US to Australia. 

It’s more than two months later, now. She has made progress, but is still fighting for her life. Her grandmother told me on Friday, when I asked, that Kerri is “aware but not talking. Nor walking.” It’s a long road ahead for a 25-year-old mother of three. ‘How much will she even recover, O Lord?’

We look for God, for our amazing God, in the amazingly bad situations. Like Job did. 

The final chapters of Job, that Margo surveyed for us, say some remarkable things. I think it remarkable that God does not answer any of Job’s big questions about suffering. I find Job’s answer to God remarkable, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (J42:5-6) I find it remarkable that Job is justified, and his three friends are not. And how Job prays – with sacrifices – for his friends. Young Elihu we’ve been hearing from for weeks does not even get mentioned. It’s mysterious.

And I find the creation poetry of God remarkable. Job is questioned. It is almost like a science examination. Or a David Attenborough documentary. Hey, I have a B.Sc. in Biology and Chemistry. I might translate it into my own experience this way…

The Word of YHWH: Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 

Where were you when I laid out the north Mountain, the Neck and Islands, with a volcanic lava flow of basalt? Tell me, if you know.

Or who shut in the tides with doors when it burst out of the womb?– and prescribed the bounds for the bore, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come up the Shubenacadie river, and no farther’?

Have you entered the genetic springs of the orchids, and walked the DNA strands that detail the fragile and variable beauty of their leaves and roots and blossoms? 

Is it by your wisdom that the cardinal sings in the morning with a song brighter than its colour? Is it at your command that the ruby-throated hummingbird arrives in the spring from below the equator, and makes its tiny nest hidden in the shrubs?

Tighten your belt, straighten your tie like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. 

Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with perfect wisdom and authority.

Look on all who are rude, and make them polite; tread down the criminals where they hide. 

Look at Coronavirus, which I made just as I made you; it takes control of cells from the inside. Its strength is in its reproduction, and its power in its contagion. Can one halt it with a mask, or pierce its RNA and stop it? Who can confront it and be safe? Under the whole heaven, who?

Can you draw out the Right Whale from the net and set it free to breach and dive, never to be harmed by a boat again? Will she speak to you softly, telling where she wants to feed and guide its calves in safe plankton pastures?

Then Jeff answered the LORD: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I know I’m nothing in my understanding, and I make a u-turn, bowing down and shutting up.”

When we have no answers for our problems, does the gigantic glory of creation suffice? Is it enough to meet God in the beauty & awesomeness of the world?

It may indeed be when we wander, when we are alone with our thoughts and prayers, that we seek answers. And there we may meet our Maker. 

Even then we still do not get direct answers. So life is not just about ‘answers.’ It is about connection, even friendship, with God. Job discovered the Divine One would still be his friend, not his enemy. And the Big Picture, the whole universe, all creation, is so much bigger than our lives, and even our most intense problems. Our God is that Big. And that Good.

So, when I hike up Beaman’s Mountain, or Mount Shubel, is that ‘my church,’ where I can work out my problems? Yes – in part. I am so glad I don’t have to choose between that and a congregation that meets in a building on Sundays. You. I get to have both! Both nature and religion. 

Life is right because the Holy One comes to us, in creation, and in Christ. A few thousand years after Job, we have more. We have the friendship of God in Jesus Christ. We are about to sit down to The Lord’s Supper, our Holy Communion with Christ and one another. This is not mere explaining, it is experiencing. It is not simply retelling a story, it is reimagining life and death. And it is not just individuality, it is community. 

The Christ event does answer. It hits us directly where it hurts. Jesus suffers. Jesus dies and gets buried. Then, Jesus lives. And the Crucified One still lives today. 

May we each be given the experience, and then the faith, to say, ‘I had heard of Jesus by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You;

therefore I am empty; I bow, and receive.’