New Old Parables: The Fish in a Net, the Birds in a Snare, & the Poor Wise Man – July 26

Welcome to this sermon blog. For more details from the worship service for this day, and various announcements, check out the bulletin, posted here on the Bulletin page.

SCRIPTURE Matthew 13:31-35, 44-52 – read by Maggie Beveridge

SERMON: ‘The Fish in a Net, the Birds in a Snare, the Poor Wise Man.’ Today, we have read five more of Jesus’ parables from Matthew 13. As we work through the sermon, and have a bit of dialogue, you will get to choose a couple parables to delve into; but first, let’s hear three wise sayings from the Preacher of the book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes 9:12-17

Let us pray…

Qoheleth’s Story of a Poor, Wise Man.

The author of the book we call Ecclesiastes takes the pen name Qoheleth, in Hebrew, which we translate Preacher or Teacher. As book of wisdom, the few, oft quoted bits are surrounded by a lot of rather pessimistic spiritual philosophy. At least, it can come across that way. The little story of the Poor Wise Man is one example from this holy book, filled with irony, futility, and what seems quite negative.

A poor man is wise, wise enough to save his tiny town from the enemy forces besieging it. But no one pays any attention to the poor man. 

At first glance, in most English translations of this text, it seems a story about wisdom not getting the credit. The town is saved, but because the man is poor, he and his wisdom are forgotten. Yet, some of the Hebrew here is, apparently, not so simple. It can be seen to say that the man knew how to save the town, but he was ignored. So the town did not get saved from the enemy after all.

It’s a parable, of sorts, and they often are not crystal clear, on purpose, as we see with Jesus. They challenge. They get one pondering, for a long time. This story can do the same, whether we like the happy or not so happy ending for the town. In either case, the wise fellow is forgotten. It is a warning, a warning about being wise. Using godly wisdom does not guarantee a bed of roses, nor any honour for oneself.

Perhaps the late Eugene Peterson was quite right when he wrote that Ecclesiastes 

…is most emphatically and necessarily in the Bible in order to call a halt to our various and futile attempts to make something of our lives, so that we can give our full attention to God — who God is and what he does to make something of us. Ecclesiastes actually doesn’t say that much about God; the author leaves that to the other sixty-five books of the Bible. His task is to expose our total incapacity to find the meaning and completion of our lives on our own. (The Message, 2003, p.1157)

It is God who gives us the meaning and the completion of our lives. 

Now, there are a couple other images we read today from Ecclesiastes, but let us turn first to another wise Teacher, and some would say poor, not rich: Jesus.

Jesus’ teaching methods included an element of surprise and of reversal: taking common wisdom and turning it around. Two millenia later, and in a very different culture, we can miss the shocking bits of His tales. Especially if we have gotten to know the stories of Jesus from childhood. 

Take the story of ‘The Good Samaritan.’ The ancient term, ‘Samaritan,’ has come to mean a ‘good person,’ right? But when Jesus told his story of the man of Samaria who helped a Jew, the Samaritans were disliked, avoided, and thought of as heretics. 

But that’s not one of today’s stories. We have five, from Matthew 13, this chapter of parables. Which one do you want to explore first?
The Mustard Seed; The Yeast in the Dough;
The Treasure in the Field; The Pearl of Great Price;
The Fishing Net?

Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean? How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What’s strange about this that we might not see? Mustard is a rather weedy plant, and not thought of highly.  There were rules for the Hebrews about not mixing crops as you planted, and how to keep a plant, such as mustard, from becoming a problem. 

Also, the mustard plant sure is not a Cedar of Lebanon. God’s empire is not a dominating cedar of lebanon; it arises as a common, even weedy, garden herb. It is something found in your own backyard.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Rule of God is like a tiny root of Goutweed that arrives in your flowerbed, hidden in a Hosta plant, given to you by a friend. Soon the Goutweed leaves cover the whole ground, and shade the earth from the heat of summer.

Jesus’ Parable of the Yeast in the Dough.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What’s strange about this that we might not see? Yeast is not considered clean or holy in Judaism. Remember the Exodus and the Passover? One was to get rid of all leavened bread. 

Also, the woman hides the yeast in the flour. This is an interesting word choice.

Also, the amount of flour is huge: about fifty pounds! But the same amount was used by other bakers in the Bible: Sarah, when Abraham received the three holy visitors (Gen 18:6); Gideon, when preparing for an angel of God (Jud 6:19); and Hannah, when making an offering for the temple presentation of her son, Samuel (1 Sam 1:24).

Also, we have here a female image of God.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Eternal Kind of Life is like a virus that is smaller than any living thing. It sneaks into a human, and spreads like wildfire throughout the population, until the whole world builds up immunity.

Jesus’ Parable of the Treasure in the Field.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What is strange about this that we might (or might not) see? 

We can ask: is it right or even legal to do what the treasure-finder did? After the days of Jesus, the Jews developed rules about found treasure. It was not an uncommon situation. From the Talmud, Only after one has the land for seven years and if the owner cannot be found can the new owner claim the treasure. (B. B. Scott, Lost Junk, Found Treasure, TBT 26 (1988), pp. 31-34)

Is the finder having just jubilation, or greedy glee?

Jesus’ story highlights the total response of the finder to the discovery of God’s reign. Life with God is worth letting go of everything else. Remember Jesus saying lose your life in order to gain it?

How could you re-tell this story today?

God’s Heaven on Earth is like the computer hacker who chanced upon the most beautiful photograph in the whole world, archived online. She sold everything to buy the rights to that website.

Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean?  How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

Like the ‘Treasure in the Field,’ this parable tells of the complete value in the eyes of the finder, who found a great pearl, and does everything to get it. In this case, the one who finds was a seeker of pearls, not just one who happened to find a great one. God’s Kingdom is like this story, and the other: some who seek God in this world, and some do not seek, find God.

What is strange about this that we might not see? 

We might forget how merchants in the scriptures are often seen negatively. They can represent greed and unfairness. Also, the wearing of pearls and such finery is often frowned upon. Such as when Paul writes to Timothy, warning that the women should adorn themselves with good conduct, not with gold, pearls and expensive clothes. (1 Tim 2:9)

Yet, even a rich person can earnestly seek God, and find, and be welcomed into the Realm of God’s Rule.

How could you re-tell this story today?

The Kindom of Creator is like the investor in search of the best stocks on the market. When he found the low-priced stocks of the most amazing new business, he sold all he had and bought the whole company.

Jesus’ Parable of the Fishing Net.

Why does this parable interest you?

What does it mean? How has it influenced you?

What is unanswered for you?

What is strange about this that we might not see? 

There is nothing too topsy-turvy or shocking in this parable, unlike in many others Jesus speaks. The word Matthew uses for ‘bad’, of the bad fish, often refers to things that are ‘rotten.’ So playing with the words in our minds we might wonder at some of the freshly caught fish being rotten.

This little tale seems much like Jesus’ parable of the weeds and the wheat. In the End, what’s bad will be separated from the good. 

How could you re-tell this story today?

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like harvesters who entered the orchard and picked apples of every kind. When the bins were full, they took them to the barn, sorted them out, put the good into shipping barrels, but threw out the bad apples. So it will be at the end.

Let us also look at Quoheleth’s Images of the Fish in a Net and the Birds in a Snare.  ‘Time and chance happen to us all,’ is the lesson here. As it says, No one can predict misfortune.
Like fish caught in a cruel net or birds in a trap,
So men and women are caught
By accidents evil and sudden.

Here is a theme that is woven throughout the wisdom of Solomon, who called himself Qoheleth, in Ecclesiastes. Today we might just say: random things happen. There is no explaining the meaning. 

I have been a committed disciple of Jesus for about four decades. Nevertheless, I tend to side with the ‘wise’ Preacher of Ecclesiastes. You just can’t explain why everything happens to us. Some things just happen without ‘meaning’ attached. There is no ‘why did that happen.’ It just happened. 

Yet we are meaning makers, we humans. And the God we grow to know speaks of the meaning and purpose of all things. 

I have been a lover also of nature, and science, natural history and geological history. Nevertheless, as much as I like ‘cause and effect,’ I believe much will remain mysterious for us. We can’t know it all. As the Preacher, Qoheleth, said, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (1:2) And, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. (9:11)

This ‘wisdom’ stands alongside the wisdom of Jesus, such as we see in His parables and other lessons. There is naturally a creative tension between Ecclesiastes and Matthew 13, for instance. Jesus speaks of great purpose and the subtle rule of God, which sneaks in and is unstoppable. 

The fish in the net and the birds in the snare: how might Jesus re-tell us this story today?

No one can anticipate the time of redemption. The Realm of God is like a whale caught in a cruel net, or a seabird caught in an oil spill: suddenly, there is freedom from the ropes as they are cut, and there is washing clean from evil by Jesus Christ! So truth and grace happen to them all.

PRAYERS Let us pray: World In Prayer

New Old Parables: The Two Eagles & the Vine – July 19

Welcome to this sermon blog. For more details from the worship service for this day, check out the bulletin, posted here on the Bulletin page.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – read by Margo Nesbitt

To study the allegory of ‘The Two Eagles & the Vine,’ one should read all of Ezekiel 17. (I’m not sure how I put Isaiah 25 in the bulletin – that’s an error!) We are going to work through our chapter in stages. To start, the reading of the first ten verses. Ezekiel 17:1-10

Let us pray.  May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. AMEN. (Psalm 19:14)

SERMON: The Two Eagles & the Vine. I have a bit of a green thumb. I can’t grow a vine from a cedar, but I can take the sprig from an Eastern White Cedar, root it, and grow a new cedar tree. 

About ten years ago I saw the stump of a cedar, formerly a tall, narrow, columnar tree. It had been cut down, in the prime of life. I saw plenty of vigorous new shoots coming up. I snipped off some cuttings. I dipped them in rooting hormone. I potted them in soil. To my joy, some of them took! I brought them with me and planted some here at the Parsonage. A couple are still in pots, looking for a home. Check out my photos…

Rooted cutting of Eastern White Cedar hybrid
Young Cedar at the Parsonage
Mature Cedar in the neighbourhood

Biblical imagery uses a few main categories. I’d say three of them are: the image of a great City, scenes of people eating together, and pictures from agriculture or nature. It is no wonder, then, that we meet again this week some growing plants. So it is an agricultural sermon, more so than last Sunday. 

The Allegory of the two eagles and the vine fills up Ezekiel chapter 17. Did you remember this story? Maybe it has been a while since you read this chapter. Perhaps you had forgotten it. 

Once upon a time, a great eagle plucked the top off a cedar of Lebanon, and planted it in a far-off land, bustling with business. Then the eagle planted a seed in the original land grew into a sprawling vine. It ended up growing towards a second great eagle that came along. The vine got transplanted into a fertile, well-watered land. “Will it prosper?”

Maybe you have not seen a Cedar of Lebanon. I have not. But Sharon White has, when she was in Lebanon, thirteen months ago.  

From of old, in the Middle East, the Cedar has been known as a grand tree, a symbol of Lebanon. Ezekiel, at his moment in history, spoke a parable, of sorts, about the kings and kingdoms of his world. He speaks, on God’s behalf, a message to and about the people at the top. 

The first Great Eagle is king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the empire to the north that was taking over Judah. The Topmost Shoot of the cedar tree is the King of Judah, who got taken captive, with many other people, up into Babylonia. Now, the king of Babylon made an agreement and set up Zedekiah as ruler over Judah, under himself. Zedechiah is the Seed from the land the Eagle plants the fertile soil back in Judah. 

But Zedechiah of Judah decided to rebel against his Babylonian overlord, and make an alliance with Egypt, instead. The Pharaoh of Egypt is the second Great Eagle. Zedekiah, the vine, starts growing towards the Pharaoh, in hopes of a better deal. 

But this will fail. It breaks the agreement with his boss, the king of Babylon. And it is not what God has in store for the Chosen People who are now going into exile in Babylon, though some Jews do end up in Egypt, including the prophet Jeremiah. 

Such is Ezekiel’s warning, in the allegory of the vine and the two eagles: the ruler of Judah and the rulers of their neighbours to the north and south. Zedekiah can’t save himself or his people. So the end of the Jewish glory days in the Holy Land has come, and the end of their monarchy too.

Whether you know all this biblical history, or followed me though all that, the story here illustrates the creative power of the prophet Ezekiel and God. After the allegory, Ezekiel proceeds to preach a warning about the vine, Zedekiah. “Will it prosper?” The answer is ‘no.’ Check out verses 9 through 21. 

But then – and this is what is most interesting to me – God extends the allegory, in verses 22, 23 & 24. The LORD promises to come along as the Eagle, and make something new happen. Let’s read it.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Here is a messianic hope. The promise of a new Anointed One, or Messiah, or (in Greek) a Christ. One day, there will be a king of the Jews again.

The prophetic image of a shoot growing up is used for the Messiah by a number of Old Testament prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah. Remember the Jesse Tree we sometimes decorate in Advent? It pictures the shoot coming up from the family of Jesse, and his son, King David. The shoot we see growing up is Jesus of Nazareth.

The Lord God … will take a sprig… I will set it out. …I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.

Christ Jesus is the Noble Cedar. Ezekiel did not know what His name would be, but he proclaimed the promised hope that there would be an Anointed One one day in the future. Jesus arrived hundreds of years later.

Speaking of Jesse trees, and the incarnation of Jesus celebrated at Christmas (and yes, we will hear an Advent/Christmas Carol at the end of the service), notice Ezekiel’s poetry at the end of chapter 17. What does God do?

I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

God is the God of reversals. Others had sung this same song, through the ages. Such as Jesus’ own mother-to-be, Mary. Pregnant in Luke chapter 2, she sang of God, in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth:

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

This is the work of the greatest Anointed One, to use that Hebrew term. God’s care for the needy is highlighted. God’s warning for those not-so-needy is proclaimed! In all this one thing gets reinforced: God is in charge. When Zedekiah thinks he will solve Judah’s oppression his way, he is told he can’t do it. He is told, from God, ‘I myself will take this… I myself will plant that… I will accomplish it.’

In world events today, some wonder about ‘the hand of God.’ I have heard of one NS preacher I know who is speaking of the coronavirus as part of God’s judgment. I hear others frame things up in terms of opportunity – a chance to distill down to what is really important in life and faith now. 

In our personal lives today, some wonder about the point God is making in this unprecedented year. Many plans are being troubled. Plans for families to gather are shut down. Plans for medical help and healing are stalled. Plans for work and education are disrupted. Day-to-day life is altered, and many people are confused, or angry, or depressed by it all. How will we be helped by the Hearer of Prayer?

Help. Answers. It is not always clear what the right answer could be. Is something that happens a blessing, or a curse? We sometimes guess wrongly.

Here’s an old story to ponder, one I’ve told before.

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran off. “Oh no! This is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such terrible misfortune!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Now you are rich!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when it kicked out and broke his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried, “such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the war. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The path of life takes many twists and turns. The good and the evil are mixed in together. Look at the life of our Jesus through the eyes of that wise farmer of Ecclesiastes…

Dear Mary is pregnant. 🙂
Oh! But she is not married yet. 🙁
An angel assures Mary and Joseph to wed and raise the child. 🙂
When the baby is due, they have to leave town. 🙁
A place for them is provided, just when there seemed to be nothing. 🙂
Then the local ruler decrees all baby boys be killed! 🙁
The holy family flees and finds safety in Egypt. 🙂
As an adult, Jesus teaches and heals and gathers disciples. 🙂
The powers that be decide to get rid of Him. 🙁
Several times, Jesus easily escapes his enemies. 🙂
One of His own disciples turns Him in. 🙁
When on trial, one local authority declares Jesus not guilty three times. 🙂
Jesus gets sent to a terrible execution anyway. 🙁
A couple days later, He is seen, alive again! 🙂
A few weeks later, Jesus leaves, for good. 🙁
But He promises the Spirit of God to his disciples, Who does arrive. 🙂 And Jesus promises to return.
Almost two thousands years later, has He returned? 😮

In the moment, any day, any week, any year of our lives can be a disaster. But what comes next? More is possible with God than we ever ask or imagine.

So, we also heard a story today from our Anointed One. Jesus’ parable of the weeds in the wheat. Again, a little later, there is an explanation. Some basic lessons  appear to be that: One, our attempts to pull up the weeds among us are premature. Two, our attempts to pull up the weeds among us will disturb the wheat and wreck the crop. Three, the task of judging belongs to Christ, not to us.

Most of us have dealt with weeds in our crops, or our flowers, or just in our lawn. But just take a look at this. I’m no farmer, but those who are are planting things in ways I never expected. 

Here is a field of barley, across the dirt road from our cottage. Is it full of weeds? At first glance I’d think so. But no. What was also sown with the barley? Peas. I saw them in bloom earlier; now the pods are forming. A mixed crop. Later, those fields will be combined: feed for the pigs at Longspell Farm. 

This was not a practice in Palestine of old. Crops were sown as pure monocultures. Anything else coming up in the field was a weed. In the case of wheat, darnel, also called tares, is a bothersome weed. The plants are very similar in appearance to wheat, but the darnel is actually toxic to eat.

Jesus’ story is memorable, and may be quite familiar to you. The farmer plants seed. An enemy sows weeds in the same field: tares or darnel. There is a lesson just in these facts. Notice that it is not God who makes all things happen, the good and the bad. There is an Enemy held responsible. Not as it sometimes had been thought in OT days, when the saints of old spoke often of God sending evil upon people.

Jesus, especially, clarifies the character of God. God is good and right, never causing wrong or tempting us to do wrong. And, as Ezekiel knew, in the days of Zedekiah of Judah, God takes the lead to guide & save people.

So we look for ‘the hand of God’ in the challenging events of our lives, and those we love. We look for the Spirit blowing through world events today. Shall we continue to put our trust in God as our Saviour? There are big players playing their parts. A great Eagle named Trump, and another named Trudeau. Or a Vine called Dr. Tam and a Vine called Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. 

I wonder what sort of cutting God will take, and plant, and grow, and make flourish among us? What will Jesus do, today?

PRAYERS Let us   pray. O Christ, Noble Tree planted in history, planted deep in our lives: we confess. We confess we have not learned all our lessons from history. We confess we have not learned all our lessons from scripture. We confess we have not learned all our life lessons. We listen for wisdom today in every direction: guided us, Master. Show us godly wisdom. Make our minds teachable and our hearts malleable. Grow in us, and grow us up all the more, in these days when our community and our world, Lord, need Christians of maturity and confidence. 

O Spirit, giver of John’s vision of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations: we pray for healing, as always. For healing among the nations who are in conflict, the cultures who tell lies about one another, the peoples who live in fear of one another. It is so hard to have peace in a world of fear and crisis, God. You must act; and You must help us do our part. 

We pray for healing in our own lives too. Healing in times of grief: we think again of the family of Marj Wilson. Healing in times of uncertain health: bless folks like Dwight and Terry and Peter and Jack and…

We seek healing help in the lives of those confined to hospital, such as Donna and George; and those isolated in the place they call home. You sustain, Comforter, You guide, You encourage, we pray.

O Father, who grafts us into the Vine of Jesus: we pray for people who seem far from being one with You, knowing You, finding grace and salvation. We seek good things for the many people we know who had a taste of Your presence, once, but have rejected, or forgotten, or simply neglected to look to You. And we ask You to inspire those for whom their religion is mostly a comforting and nostalgic bunch of routines. 

O Holy One, perhaps our prayer has been very routine and ordinary. We are ordinary people. We are humbled & grateful, that You love and You choose ordinary people. Thank-You. Amen.

New Old Parables: ‘The Plowman’ – July 12

For the full worship service plan, please read the bulletin for today on the Bulletin page. Video of the Sermon, and other parts of service, will be included on this page after the morning service of worship.

SERMON: Today, as some of us gather again, after sixteen weeks away, we continue New Old Parables. We share the parables of the Sower and the Seed, and of the Plowman, as well as stories called ‘A Sense of Vocation, and ‘The Oyster Man.’ Let us pray…

“I love it when a plan comes together,” said ‘Hannibal’ Smith, on The A-Team TV show. Today, we are putting together a new plan, a whole new kind of plan, for worshipping together. It’s our first try, and we will learn from this experience. Perhaps you count this, already, as a success? The plan comes together.

I see, in the Bible parables of this day, stories of failure and success. Life is filled with both. The past four days for me, I have been viewing some key life moments, and reflecting on the successes of life, life’s meaning and purpose. On Thursday, a wedding. On Saturday, a funeral. Today, the dedication of a baby. If only I had a baptism, I’d have all the big moments!

And these moments, from cradle to grave, touch me with the timeframe of life. This year is teaching us again the need to be patient, the need to be learning new things, the need to change our ways and be transformed. The need to ‘let go and let God.’

The Old Testament ‘parable’ I chose for today is called ‘The Plowman,’ from Isaiah 28. It is, I think, a story about: time, the right time, taking enough time, God’s timing.

It is an agricultural scene. Isaiah preaches it in the form of a series of rhetorical questions, mostly. 

Does the plowman keep plowing forever? 

Doesn’t the farmer plant each crop in the proper method needed for each?

And, to put it in more familiar terms… Pumpkins aren’t harvested all winter, eh? Oats aren’t left in the fields for the horses to eat, right? & surely apple trees aren’t pruned & pruned until there’s nothing left?

The long and sometimes harsh times of farming are not too long. Crops take time, but they take just the right time. So too with the consequences of the actions of the peoples. There will come a day, by God’s grace and plan, when the suffering and the struggles will be over. The punishing of their poor leaders will finish up. It will be harvest time. It will be joyful again. There will be a new beginning.

Isaiah chapter 28 is dealing with the failures of the leaders in Israel, long ago. Disaster befell them, and they deserved it. But the trouble will not last forever. The record of these days long ago, in the pages of the Bible, remains for us, reminding us, teaching us. There are lessons to be learned from human failure. There is hope gained from the action of God. Building beauty out of trouble is the way our Master works.

This year, on earth, is a big year for learning lessons, among the human race. To borrow from the field of education, God has a real ‘teachable moment’ with us all, right now. It is a big opportunity.

Our own sense of purpose, as Chistians these days, is being tested, really put to the test. Perhaps I have been saying more than once that we have a mission in our area. I just have not said exactly what that mission looks like! It could look like developing our prayer ministry more: doing some training, and praying in small groups, and offering prayer for more people in our neighbourhoods. Writing a book of prayers garnered no interest among you – what does?

It could look like more sharing about our faith online during this time. We could start an internet channel for interviews and chats in which many of us could share our faith experiences. (Or a podcast – audio only, in other words.)

It could look like more practical help to people in need – through foodbank or grocery delivery or phone check-ins with isolated people.

I could look like another ministry… What better time than the present to start a new creative thing, with Christ, to “reach out to those in the church and community conveying the message of Jesus Christ through preaching and teaching with hearts of compassion and loving hands in service.” We, Digby Baptist, have a vocation, a ‘mission from God.’

An old friend is a preacher and a writer. In His 1994 book of stories, Art White tells this anecdote that he titles, ‘A Sense of Vocation.’ He says: 

I was visiting a friend in Hospital, one lawn of which was a shambles due to the gouging of heavy equipment and pallets piled high with building materials.

Amid this scene of diesel-driven gadgetry, worked a lone figure with a pick-and-shovel, waist-deep in a cramped trench which ran beside the dusty walkway from the parking area.

“There’s something you don’t see much any more,” commented the fellow behind whom I was walking, “a hand-dug ditch.”

He called out, “What are you doing there?”

Pretty obvious, I thought. Perhaps the labourer did too, but he didn’t say it. His answer was mature and memorable. 

“We’re expanding the hospital.”

(Art White, From Away, Here to Stay, 1994, p. 53)

That man with the pick and shovel had a sense of purpose, a purpose he shared with others, when he said, ‘We are… expanding the hospital.’

It is a real success to know your purpose. I looked at Mark and Janet on Thursday, and thought about the purpose of them being together. I looked at the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc and wondered out loud about the purpose of this woman whom I’d never met. We looked at little Eliana Taylor Grace this morning, held and surrounded by her family, and pondered her purpose here on earth. It may all seem mysterious, and wonderful, and frightening, and grand, all at the same time. Thanks be to God, the failures and successes of life get balanced out in the best direction possible. This is the story of our Faith.

So, we do have this famous story from Jesus today. Of the sower who sowed some seed. Like some of His other parables, it can seem simple on the surface, but can get deeper and challenging. 

Today, it looks to me like another story of failures and successes. It looks like three failures, to begin with. Some seed hits the path, and becomes bird food. Some seed springs up in shallow soil and is doomed. Some seed is out-competed by weeds. Three strikes, you’re out: get yourself a better farmer!

But no, there are other seeds; they get into the good ground; and the harvest, well, from some of those plants it is incredible! 

There will be failure. There will be loss. There will be trouble. Yet there is also success! Life! A rich harvest! This is God’s Kingdom, God’s Rule, God’s Empire. What does life-with-God look like in this pandemic time? Has our private, devotional life improved? Has our practical help to people increased, or decreased? Have we started deeper conversations with people we used to share only smalltalk before?

When your life is an example to others who see you, who know you: some days they glimpse God and a good example; some days they see your failings and miss out on some grace. When you have a chat of some importance with someone, you may be clear and honest and shine for Christ; or you may be selfish and hide the Good News that helped you. When you cooperate with others on some little project, you may do more than humanly possible, thanks to God; or you may end up not making the most of your opportunity together. Give thanks, whatever happens, for God in Christ has a will to forgive and a way of repairing the trouble we cause.

At times, we need to embrace our weaknesses, and failures, in order to be all that we can be. It is then that we rely upon God more, so to speak. Or, to put it another way, when we are imperfect, we are more likely to tap in to the Supreme Source of Good and Truth and Grace. 

Years ago, one of my Deacons in Windsor drew my attention to a little story. She liked it very much, and gave me a copy of it. It is called

The Oyster Man, from The Daily Bread, by Cindy Hess Kasper, April 9, 2008

In the days of John Wesley, lay preachers with limited education would sometimes conduct the church services. One man used Luke 19:21 as his text: “Lord, I feared Thee, because Thou art an austere man” (KJV). Not knowing the word austere, he thought the text spoke of “an oyster man.”

He explained how a diver must grope in dark, freezing water to retrieve oysters. In his attempt, he cuts his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. After he obtains an oyster, he rises to the surface, clutching it “in his torn and bleeding hands.” The preacher added, “Christ descended from the glory of heaven into . . . sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven. His torn and bleeding hands are a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest.”

Afterward, 12 men received Christ. Later that night someone came to Wesley to complain about unschooled preachers who were too ignorant even to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. The Oxford-educated Wesley simply said, “Never mind. The Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.”

Our best may not always measure up to the standards of others. But God takes our inadequacies and humble efforts and uses them for His glory.

The writer of this story, Cindy Kasper, is right, I think. Our humble efforts are worth something. Even our errors can be transformed, and good things can grow. Much of the seed we sow will end up on the path, the rocks, and among the weeds. But just the bit that we do for the good can end up growing more than expected. 

Is this not the way of God, described over and over in scripture? As a preacher, an educated, ordained preacher, I yet feel the challenge of communicating truth and reality, from our sacred text. Many times a year I think I am far more like the lay preacher who spoke of an ‘oyster man,’ than the brilliant evangelist of long ago, John Wesley. I have many moments of feeling that my work is not accomplishing much that is truly worthwhile. 

For years, I have held to the hope that God does more than I ask or imagine. And the few seeds I scatter that land on good soil will grow to produce a harvest greater than I expect, and more than I will see.

A Church reopens, during a pandemic. A couple in their 50s gets married. A woman dies at age 60. A family brings an infant daughter to Church, believing she can be blessed in this life. In every life, the seeds of God’s Rule are sown. Will they grow?

Failure, or success? Both can take us closer to the Divine, and both are steps along the eternal journey. Thanks be to God!

PRAYERS Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace: we are called together for prayer, and we answer You today. From pews, and from our places at home, we gather before You. 

We seek good for this world of trouble. The virus of the pandemic is but one of so many illnesses and troubles that threaten life every day, and disrupt the hopes of so many. Healer of body and soul, reach into lives, reach into the systems for healing and help, and do more than we can, for the sake of millions.

Our prayers are also local. Eternal One, we pray for Marj Wilson, in palliative care in hospital, and her family, and all who face the end of life in these days. Bless those who mourn, such as Cairine and family, and the family of the late Darlene LeBlanc. 

O Mind of Christ, we pray for all who are troubled, depressed, or distressed in this stressful year. When things are too much to bear, may there be relief and a gift of inner strength. 

Dear Spirit of power, descend upon the bodies of all who are ill, all who are undergoing treatments or therapies or surgeries, and all who face chronic, unending illness. 

And, with mercy, hear all our prayers now, spoken aloud or offered in silence…   

Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

Worship at Home – July 5, 2020 – New Old Parables: ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’

Welcome to this online resource for worshipping ‘together’ while apart.

Our date for opening our building for Sunday services is July 12th (twelfth). Guidelines and procedures for our first day back together are listed at the end of this worship blog post.

WORSHIP Welcome Psalm 145:10-12, 14
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

HYMN 5 Come, Thou Almighty King

PRAYER Sovereign God, named as King by many peoples and in many languages throughout history: we use this language again, worshipping You. Master, we give thanks for Your control and compassion. Lord, we give thanks for Your rule and realism. God, we give thanks for Your creative powers and plans. We pray, and our hearts are humbled, for we know how we break rules, and we get broken. Freshen our freedom in Christ, so we may live abundantly and well, healed and whole, and be a blessing to the world around us. AMEN.

SONG 606 Rejoice in the Lord Always

CHILDREN’s Time – Sharon White

SCRIPTURE Matthew 11:16-19, 23-30

Solo: ‘Footprints’ – Joyce Marshall

SCRIPTURE 2 Kings 14:8-11

SERMON ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’ – Jeff White

The nineteenth century Christian philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, was a storyteller. Here is one of his many parables, which gets at this: what happens to those who try to warn the present age?

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just [part of the act] and applauded. He repeated his warning; they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the [witty people,] who believe that it is a joke. (“A” in Either/Or, p. 30)

Many memorable stories are warnings. Many a scripture verse is a warning. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” my Dad always says. But how many of us are wise enough to take the lesson from the first, or only, warning?

How do warnings work? I have wondered this as I pondered quite a few parables and stories over the past few weeks. Especially, I wonder about the clever use of parables, parables that not everyone will get. Jesus’ method was not to be straightforward and clear; His were the methods of the Hebrew wise teachers: Rabbis telling creative tales, redirecting the conversation, and answering a question with another question.

So it is with Jewish storytelling. We heard another ancient example today, from 2 Kings 14. This was the days of the divided monarchy among the Hebrews. Two kingdoms, two kings: one in the north, Israel, one in the south, Judah. In today’s reading, one king wants to fight the other. 

Amaziah, king of the southern kingdom, has been victorious over the Edomites, farther to the South. Now, he sets his eyes upon his kinfolk to the north, Israel. ‘Let’s face off!’ is his message to Jehoash, the other king. 

Jehoash thinks, rightly, that Amaziah is getting too big for his britches, and had better quit while he is ahead. He says this with the parable we just read, of the thistle and the cedar. It is a warning.

“One day a thistle in Lebanon sent word to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ But then a wild animal of Lebanon passed by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it. 

Just because you’ve defeated Edom in battle, you now think you’re a big shot. Go ahead and be proud, but stay home. Why press your luck? Why bring defeat on yourself and Judah?” (2 K 14:9-10, The Message, Eugene Peterson, 2003)

Amaziah did not heed this warning. He insisted on battling Israel. And he lost. 

This is a common human problem, isn’t it? We won’t take no for an answer. We push the boundaries, and insist on learning from our mistakes, not from the guidance we are given. We make ourselves big and important whenever we get the chance. Some people have few and small chances. Others have lots of opportunity to be pushy and powerful. 

Let me read you a story. Not a very old story – about one hundred years old – and even then, it was intentionally written in an old-fashioned style, as if you were reading Shakespeare or the Kings James Bible. A story by the Rev. Wm. E. Barton, called:

The Millionaire and the Scrublady

There is a certain Millionaire, who hath his Offices on the Second Floor of the First National Bank Building. And when he goeth up to his Offices he rideth in the Elevator, but when he goeth down, then he walketh.

And he is an Haughty Man, who once was poor, and hath risen in the World, and he is a Self-made Man who worshipeth his maker.

And he payeth his Rent regularly on the first day of the month, and he considereth not that there are Human Beings who run the Elevators, and who Clean the Windows, hanging at a great height above the Sidewalk, and who shovel Coal into the furnaces under the Boilers. Neither doth he at Christmas time remember any of them with a Tip or a Turkey.

And there is in that Building a Poor Woman who Scrubbeth the Stairs and the Halls. And he hath walked past her often but hath never seen her until Recently. For his head was high in the air, and he was thinking of More Millions.

Now it came to pass on a day that he left his Office, and started to walk down the Stairs. 

And the Scrublady was half way down; for she had begun at the top, and was giving the stairs their First Onceover. And upon the topmost Stair, in a wet and soapy spot, there was a Large Cake of Yellow Soap. And the Millionaire stepped upon it. 

Now the foot which he set upon the Soap flew eastward toward the Sunrise, and the other foot started on an expedition of its own toward the going down of the Sun. And the Millionaire sat down upon the Topmost Step, but he did not remain there. As it had been his Intention to Descend, so he Descended, but not in the manner of his Original Design. For he descended faster, and he struck each step with a sound as it had been of a Drum.

And the Scrublady stood aside courteously, and let him go. And he stayed not on the order of his going. 

And at the bottom he arose, and considered whether he should rush into the Office of the Building and demand that the Scrublady be fired; but he considered that if he should tell the reason there would be great Mirth among the occupants of the Building. And so he held his peace.

But since that day he taketh notice of the Scrublady, and passeth her with Circumspection.

For there is no man so high or mighty that he can afford to ignore any of his fellow human beings. For a very Humble Scrublady and a very common bar of Yellow Soap can take the mind of a Great Man off his Business Troubles with surprising rapidity.

Wherefore, consider these things, and count not thyself too high above even the humblest of the children of God.

Lest haply thou come down from thy place of pride and walk off with thy bruises aching a little more by reason of thy suspicion that the Scrublady is Smiling into her Suds, and facing the day’s work the more cheerfully by reason of the fun thou hast afforded her.

For these are solemn days, and he that bringeth a smile to the face of a Scrublady hath not lived in vain.

(William E. Barton, Safed And Keturah, The Third Series of the Parables of Safed the Sage, 1921)

To be humbled is an important thing. Warnings about it abound. The humbling itself is a lesson, as well as being a warning, and to be humbled sometimes is itself a transformation.

What’s the moral of the story? The story of the millionaire and the scrublady? Barton mentions a couple things, at the end. It is best just to say, “Let that be a lesson to you,” and leave it at that. 

We can see that when Christ spoke, He often told His stories and then left them hanging in mid-air, for the people to ponder. He did not explain, did not give ‘the moral of the story.’ His close associates, the disciples, sometimes ask for explanation, and He gives one. Sometimes the Gospelers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) make a comment about a parable’s meaning, as they narrate the story. But that was not Jesus’ method. 

Jesus speaks to the humble in society, who can receive His message. They will ‘get it.’ Those at the top – economically, religiously – will not. So He says. 

In Matthew 14 today we hear Jesus’ remarkable little prayer, thanking His Father for revealing things to the humble children of earth, and hiding the meaning from the so-called wise and smart ones. This is what it pleased God to do. 

Just a bit earlier, Jesus was declaring woes over some communities that had not responded to Him, and declaring how fickle and faithless many people were, then. We read:

 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

‘The children in the marketplace’ is a very parable-like word-picture from Jesus. I think of our grandson, Dryden. When we are over here, from time to time, playing hockey in the Hall, he likes to come in here & play. He has us take turns on stage, singing a song. Or, at times, he has led a church service, with one person, me, in the pews. A seven-year-old can be quite bossy! Then we play hide-and-seek.

Jesus likens the people of his generation to children playing in the streets, who complain that others won’t pretend to make happy music, or cry a funeral dirge, when told to. No matter what He did, or what his cousin John did, people complained, they rejected them, they did not understand, did not respond.

The good news about all that Jesus says here, in Matthew 14, is multifaceted. 

  • It is wonderful that Jesus does reveal Himself and His Father, God, to people! 
  • And Jesus shows what is real to the humblest and neediest of people. 
  • He says it is up to Himself and His Father who they reveal themselves to: so it is not up to you and me. There is good news in that. 
  • Yet, like the clown in the burning theatre, we still have moments when we are to warn, even those who may not listen.

And from the scene of King Amaziah of Judah and King Jehoash of Israel come reminders, warnings for us, all these centuries later.

  • Overconfidence and troublemaking lead to a fall. ‘Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,’ scripture says (Proverbs 16:18).
  • There can be a choice: to stop now and not go overboard, not take that next misstep. 

To warn someone can take skill and good timing. And patience. To heed a warning, to understand and choose better, because we have been told, this takes humility of spirit, and a touch of grace from God. 

Thanks be, that God’s work includes comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable! AMEN.

OFFERING If you have a set of offering envelopes, you see ‘MISSIONS’ on each envelope. This is for the work of our denomination, the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Our budget for this year is about 2.35 million dollars. This funds our staff and departments for the variety of work we do together, in the name of Jesus. Our usual summer gathering (and annual meeting), Oasis, is cancelled this year. A special meeting has been called for us, the CBAC, on Wednesday, December 9, at 6:30 pm. This will be ‘electronic’ and in person; more information here.

PRAYERS O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the story blast,
and our eternal home!

We come to the centre of this year, a year of trouble for many, a year that breeds fear in too many ways, a year that slows down so many things we had hoped for and counted on: we wait upon You. Have we learned from the many warnings of six months? The good warnings and the false warnings? Teach us, touch us, tell us, transform us, O LORD.

Master of all peoples, as we celebrated our a nation last week, and our American neighbours did also, we call for blessings of every sort for our peoples. We give thanks for the privileges we enjoy; we pray for those not so privileged. We cry out for places hit hard by COVID-19 – may the human responses be over-arched by Your goodness, guidance and care.

We pour out our prayers for those ill at home or in hospital or places of special care. For those troubled or anxious in spirit, for whom the past six months has been extra stressful. For those trapped in addiction or in harmful relationships or in desperate circumstances. For those who are in need, and see no way of getting any aid. From out of our praying, may we provide, as best we can, working hand-in-hand with You. We put our hand in Yours, to help out in our corner of the world.

And across the globe our prayers look, not only to the millions facing this latest virus, but to all who face the many troubles that continue alongside COVID-19. The terrible hunger and need that goes on: we cry out against it. The ongoing racism and tribalism of each nation and culture: we cry out because of them. The terrible oppression and injustice of governments and powers in many forms: we cry out against them.
May we see others as You see them, and see ourselves in new ways too: in Christ. AMEN.

HYMN 542 Near to the Heart of God

BENEDICTION 1 Thessalonians 5: 14, 15, 28 …Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. AMEN.

Guidelines and Procedures for worshipping together again in our building: Our tentative re-open date is July 12, 2020.

Appropriate physical distancing of 6 feet (2m) is to be practiced by all as we enter, stay in and leave the Church building. Family units and bubble units should travel and sit together at church.

A few things to keep in mind:

– There will be a limit of fifty (50) people in the sanctuary at one time.

– Entrants to the Church must enter through the main doors on Mount Street.

– Everyone must use hand sanitizer upon entering, which will be provided at the door.

– Masks are optional.

– Greeters will take note of everyone’s name and contact information.

– Offerings can be placed in the receptacle as you enter.

– Bulletins are available to be picked up at the back of the sanctuary.

– Every third (3rd) pew will be used to maintain physical distancing.

– Please talk to one another from your place in the pews; do not linger in the entryways, halls or aisles.

– There will not be Sunday School at this time. Kits will be provided for use in the pews.

– Washrooms will remain closed. They are available for emergency use only, to be used at your own risk.

Please do not attend if you are showing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. These may include new or worsening: fever, cough, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, hoarse voice, diarrhea, unusual fatigue, loss of sense of smell or taste, lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause. (Diagnosed chronic conditions are exempt). Also, if you have travelled outside of Atlantic Canada in the last 14 days or been in contact with a suspected case, we ask that you stay home.

For those not yet comfortable returning to the church building most of the service will still be available online. It will be posted Sunday afternoon.