New Old Parables: The Lion & Her Cubs

WELCOME to this post for worship on Sunday, August 9, 2020, at Digby Baptist Church. Other information is available in the Bulletin for this Sunday, posted on our Bulletins page here.

Children’s Time: Outhouses / Latrines

SERMON

https://vimeo.com/446234975

So many of these Old Testament ‘parables,’ so called, have been about the rulers in Israel and Judah, and how they done wrong! The King of the Trees, the Thistle and the Cedar, The Two Eagles and the Vine, they criticize or warn or foretell the end of rulers of the people, and sometimes, the end of the people as a people! The late Canadian comedy persona, Charlie Farquaharson, summed it up well when he wrote:

A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the people the same thing: YER DOIN’ IT ALL RONG!!

(Don Harron, Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, 1978)

Today, Ezekiel is telling about some leaders who were doin’ it all wrong. The last kings of Judah and Israel, more than five hundred years before Jesus’ day. They are the whelps of the mother lion.

Once again, a prophet of God speaks with creative imagery the people can/may/will understand. Once again, the poor rulers of the people are called out for their failure, and the demise of the nation is foretold. Young lion one gets taken away to Egypt. Young lion two gets hauled off to Babylonia, his voice never to be heard again on the mountains of Israel. Sure enough, the holy people of a holy land will be conquered, taken away from their land for a season, and the end of their kings will come. 

In fact, the next time they get a king, they will mostly reject him, and kill him off. Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, we believe, He is their long-awaited Messiah, Christ, Anointed One. And our Saviour too.

What I chose for us to hear from Jesus today were more harsh words for those in leadership in His own day and age. ‘The blind leading the blind,’ as we know the phrase. His parable here really is about what comes out of the mouth showing the problem in a person, not what they put in. As Jesus speaks with His disciples, he tells them to let the Pharisees be, “they are blind guides of the blind.” 

Whether we compare Christ with the royal leaders of His past, or with the religious experts of His own religion, we look to see how and why Jesus’ way is better. Better than the political and military kings of Israel and Judah. Better than the Jewish Priests and Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees – all so religious and so expert and so holy in their own eyes.

We read of the experience of those who got to know Jesus best. Back in the Bible, and in the centuries after. So many people – millions and millions, actually – can tell how convinced they have been about Jesus. What Jesus accomplished for them was the best thing. Where Jesus leads them is the best way in this life. 

As we speak of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the final and best Messiah, our ‘Prophet, Priest and King,’ our ‘Saviour, Teacher, Lord and Friend,’ we speak using titles for leaders of the past. We speak Biblical names for God. 

One of those titles is Lion, the Lion of Judah. Ezekiel’s tale of the two young lions brings this to mind immediately. Those lions of old were failures, and were captured. The greater Lion of Judah is mentioned in Revelation 5. Jesus, the Lion. 

Take a look with me, for two minutes, at Rev. 5, and what happens in the scenes dreamed here. John visions a scroll sealed with 7 seals, but oh no!, there is no one worthy to open this scroll. John weeps. 

Then, verse 5, one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

So what does John see next in his vision? The Lion! Right? No, wrong. He does not see a Lion. Vs. 6. Then I saw… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes… 

The Lamb took the scroll. The Elders and other creatures bow down in worship, singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation…

Christ Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. The image of Him as the sacrificed Lamb takes over the rest of Revelation. Jesus wins, not by violence, not by battle, but by sacrifice, by dying. And from this comes Life!

A number of hymns, ancient and modern, speak of Christ this biblical way. Such as…

And age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the End
Beginning and the End
The Godhead three in one
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

(Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves © 2004 sixsteps Music)

How great is our God! How great is our Jesus. In Him was life! And that life is the light of us all. (Jn 1:4) Christ outshines all others. 

All the parables, all the stories and visions that point to Jesus, use so many images. A Lion, a Lamb, a Grape Vine, a Farmer, Bread, Flowing Water, Light, a Shepherd, a Door. And many other stories can be told of this One who dispenses with evil and death, for us.

I want to tell a story. I love these stories, stories by a preacher named Michael Lindvall. This is from one chapter of his novel about a preacher, David, and his family, a novel called ‘Leaving North Haven.’ 

In this chapter, Pastor David is out and about on a cold, Easter Sunday morning…

The wet snow crunched under my boots. It was everywhere untrodden, virgin. This preacher, like Mary Magdalene, was the first one up. Light was just cracking the horizon, deep dawn an inch before sunrise. Lifting my coffee cup to my lips, I looked down at the snow in front of me and saw tracks, perfection had been disturbed by light feet, wandering, paying no heed to where the sidewalk might lie under the snow. They led away toward the church, going on before me. Sometime in the night, perhaps just a moment ago, another deer had wandered into town. By the look of the prints, it was a good-sized animal, probably a buck. I was not the first one up on Easter morning after all.

I followed the tracks for a while — they were leading me where I was going anyway— until they turned aside into Bud Jennerson’s driveway. 

As I mused, the buck stepped out in front of me from behind an overgrown yew at the far corner of the next house… I gasped and dropped my half-full coffee mug, which landed quietly on the snow- covered grass next to the sidewalk. For two, maybe three seconds, an eternity to be sure, he stood in my path and looked at me. His brown-black eyes held mine defiantly… I looked between and above the eyes, and there in the hair that covered the hard cartilage at the base of his antlers was a scar. It was an ugly bald crater less than an inch across. No blood now; but it was just where it would be. 

He snorted as he raised his head and turned away, quite casually. Then he didn’t so much as bolt as he leaped three times with early morning grace, turned to me again, and walked delicately so as to say, “I do not fear you.” I stood stock still as I watched him retreat, away from town now, north. I bent over to retrieve the empty Dunkin’ Donuts mug at my feet. Coffee stained the snow around it like old dried blood. 

So when I climbed into the pulpit three hours later, I began not where I had planned, but where I had been led. 

As best as words allowed, I described [the buck’s] defiant eyes, and then I noted the scar at the base of his rack. “It was a ten-point rack,” I said.” I didn’t count this morning. I didn’t need to. I had counted them before.”

[The congregation] knew that the minister went hunting with the Wilcox boys last fall. They also knew that he had lost Jimmy’s Winchester out in woods north of town, the very gun his father had given him for his eighteenth birthday. But just how I came to lose it in the woods they did not know. 

“You know that the Wilcox boys and I went deer hunting last fall,” I went on. “Right here in the county. Just for a day. We went out just before dawn the Saturday after opening day. We had our coffee by the truck. Lamont and I went off to the east over a cornfield toward some low-lying sumac and popple next to a stand of maples just beyond the old Goerke farm. ”

As I told the tale I did not mention that, though I had never before hunted game bigger than snipe, I was in fact a rather good shot. Thirty-some years ago my father, grasping for some father and son activity I would deign to share with him, had hit upon skeet shooting. My father said I was a natural. 

I continued: “Well, Larry drove a big buck out of the wood. Lamont and I were still crossing the corn stubble. The deer pushed his way through the underbrush to the edge of the sumac and stood there, not fifty yards from us. Lamont said to me, ‘David, he’s yours.’ I aimed between the eyes, a clear shot and a clean kill. He bowed to me ever so slightly as I pulled the trigger. He dropped right there. Lamont and I ran across the corn stubble. He lifted the animal’s head by the rack and counted the points on his antlers. ‘Ten-point Pastor. Not bad, not bad at all. And lookie here, almost hit him between the eyes. Just a little high. must be a natural!’ Larry arrived a moment later, with his camera, of course… Larry said a photo was a must and that there was only one way to do it. He told me to kneel down and hold up the buck’s head by his rack. Then he told Lamont to lay my rifle, actually Jimmy Wilcox’s 94 Winchester 30-30, horizontally across the antlers. 

I knelt beside the animal, warm and still. His head was heavier than I had imagined. It was awkward to lift and hold still. Lamont laid the rifle across the rack and moved back beside his brother who was focusing and deciding whether or not to use the flash. He held up his hand, took a step back, and said, ‘Hold it right there.’ The flash went off… and with a start, the buck shook his antlers free of my hands. He struggled powerfully to his feet as I fell back on my rear. He snorted and jerked his head back. Then he turned and leapt three times toward the tangle of sumac. But before he went back into the woods beyond, he turned and looked at me. His dark, glass-like eyes held nothing so much as defiance. His antlers held nothing but Jimmy’s Winchester 30-30. He went into the woods carrying the very instrument of his death high and proud.”

It was defiance that I preached, for Easter is just that. This one bold creature of God had mocked death once and mocked me twice. Resurrection, I preached, is the forever mocking of the last enemy. Until this morning, I had always imagined the Risen Christ with compassion in his eyes; now I imagine raw defiance.

(Michael Lindvall, Leaving North Haven: The further Adventures of a Small-Town Pastor, 2002, pp. 120-129)

In 609 BCE, King Jehoash of Judah could not defy Egypt: he was taken captive. In 586 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah could not defy Babylon: he was taken captive, and the Jewish nation finally fell. 

In 2020 CE, Bolsonaro, Kovind, Trump and others cannot defy a virus. Where the pandemic story ends is yet to be written, from our viewpoint.

But back about 30 CE (30 AD), Jesus of Nazareth defied evil and defied death. He looked them right in the face. He came through it all, and did what He did to bring us through it all too. 

He is the Lion and the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12)

New Old Parables: The Love Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard

Welcome to this post of parts of our August 2nd worship service. Video will be included on Sunday afternoon, after the 11 am service in our church building. Welcome! This is our first Sunday with masks mandated, though, thankfully, those speaking can remove them to offer their ministry.

SERMON Perhaps you could say it was ‘bait and switch’ when young Isaiah declared he would share a love song, but used the ballad to speak a severe warning from Almighty God to the people of power. ‘The Love Song of the Fruitless Vineyard.’ Let’s hear it. Isaiah 5:1-10

Too many stories can be told of people given a certain responsibility, yet then they abuse their power. The national and provincial news is filled with this. 

Isaiah’s early message to the people is this song of his dear friend’s vineyard. His beloved friend is God. In the ballad, the well-tended grape vines surprisingly produce a nasty crop – sour, wild grapes. 

As I look at a social media page about gardening, I see people all the time asking “what is this plant?” One person says: “Found some old seed in a drawer  planted it  anybody have any idea what this is    thanks”. It looks to me like ragweed! Another wrote:

Anyone know what these giant plants are amongst my beans? A friend gave me the seeds so not 100% sure other vegetables might have been mixed in. She is very knowlesge I have a feeling the seeds and possible flower that appears to be forming on top is a sign of a weed.  The plant looks like pigweed to me!

So in the fruitless vineyard. The only grapes were inedible. What we are calling the Parable of the Fruitless Vineyard speaks to the failures of the people of God in every age. The best response to such a word, such a warning, is to rise up in forgiveness and make right the wrongs.

Let me tell you a story from our history. It may not sound like ‘our’ story, but it is. The story of Huatajata, a rural place in Bolivia, South America.

When I am at my little cottage, I think of Bolivia, because of a painting on the wall. The painting of a sunset – or is it a sunrise? No matter. It was painted by Rev. Earl C. Merrick, who served as a missionary in Bolivia. He showed amazing leadership in Bolivia, in the farmland of Huatajata, in the 1930s.

Canadian Baptist work in Bolivia goes back more than 120 years, now. In the north west, on the shores of the grand lake Titicaca, some visionary people of faith invested their lives in a mission there, among peasant farmers. I’ve been there; visited ten years ago. 

Just over a hundred years ago, a thousand acre farm was bought, and named Peniel Hall: Peniel meaning ‘the face of God,’ from Genesis 32. On this land, about fifty heads of households and 275 serfs lived and worked. The Baptists believed in helping the people be educated, and be introduced to the protestant Christian faith. 

After some ups and downs in the work there, by 1920 the full administration of the farm came under Canadian Baptist leadership. The first administrator there, and one of the teachers, was a Miss Lavinia Wilson, who was from where? Digby, NS!

Other Canadian Baptists went to serve there, and to lead that work, high in the thin air of the Andes Altiplano. Modernization of the farm and education of children developed. Preaching in other communities was extended. It was in 1935 that Earl Merrick was sent to Huatajata, to be administrator. Arturo Nacho writes, in his brief history:

This illustrious missionary perceived ethical problems in the project because, on one hand, the missionaries were preaching about the love of God, and on the other hand, the tenants continued as slaves. In the Annual Reports of the Mission, 1929-1930, this situation was referred to as “a conspiracy against the gospel.”

…Merrick proposed a five-year plan for the liberation of the serfs. 

  • wage pay to the laborers, and no free labor
  • construction of decent housing
  • planting of eucalyptus trees
  • adherence to behavioural morals

The project began in 1937, and the day came when the laborers received their property title-deeds. One after another, they walked by in line to receive the property documents, and they heard the significant words, “I declare you the legitimate owner of this property.” It was the year 1942…

One old gentleman, Martin Chura, said through his tears, “Thirty years ago, when I was crossing the top of the mountain, I begged God for liberty. Today, God has answered by prayer.”

This work had universal consequences. It was the first agrarian reform in Bolivia, which the Bolivian government subsequently took as a model for the 1953 Decree of Agrarian Reform in Bolivia.

(Atruro Nacho L., ‘Agrarian Reform in Huatajata, in Bridging Culture and Hemispheres, William H. Brackney, Ed., 1997, pp. 61-62)

Appreciation and accolades for Earl Merrick, and this Baptist work, came from around the world. This is our story. A story of the reversal of the rich ones who ‘join house to house and field to field,’ as Isaiah put it. And it is the story of growing Faith in people. The vineyard of Bolivia has borne fruit for Christ.

When you read the rest of Isaiah chapter 5, you discover it is not just the greedy land grabbers who are warned. There are six woes upon those who have done wrong: the land-grabbers, the heavy drinkers, the God-mocking sinners, those who’ve lost their moral discretion, those wise in their own eyes, and the drinkers again (wine-drinking heroes, they’re called). 

As it was, almost three thousand years ago, so it is today. God expects justice from those walking with God; God expects right-living, not bloodshed and loud cries for justice!

This takes us to Jesus, and his words from Matthew 21 today. Another parable. Another vineyard. More bloodshed! Another warning. And another hope for those who will receive the Kingdom. 

To modern Christians, Jesus’ story of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants clearly seems to foreshadow His own rejection and violent death. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 

As if that would allow them to get the property! And yet, when Jesus dies his own death, and comes back to life, it is those whose sin He bears that do inherit the Kingdom! Think of all the evangelical Christian music that points out how Christ is crucified by all of us, and yet the heavenly inheritance is for us. Amazing, gracious, powerful, humbling, loving, incomprehensible! One modern worship song says:

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

(Stuart Townend, 1995)

And there are many songs that speak of how “I drove the nails” when Jesus was executed. This personal expression of piety is a form of confession, I’d say. Confession that the harm and hurt inside us is what separates us from God, and is what led to Jesus’ death, and also is what is healed and cleared away by His sacrifice. 

We heard the classic rock song, “Spirit in the Sky,” composed by a secular Jew, using basic Christian teaching. For fifty years one line has caught the attention of church folk, and upset them. 

Never been a sinner I never sinned
I got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He’s gonna set me up with
The spirit in the sky

(Norman Greenbaum)

Whether Norman Greenbaum knows it or not, I think he did catch the spirit of 2 Corinthians 5. For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2C5:21) I think the key to making the claim of the song is ‘I got a friend in Jesus.’ It all depends upon the Saviour. 

We hear the common teaching that what Christ does for us cleanses us, makes us to be counted as ‘not guilty,’ and sets us free from the power of sin. We become ‘right with God,’ and as if we are not sinners and had never sinned. Jesus’ righteousness gets put upon us. 

I think the tension remains. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) To sing ‘Never been a sinner; I never sinned,’ is saying something about Jesus more than about me. I rely upon God for forgiveness and freedom of spirit. It is saying something about my status now, thanks to Jesus, not about my past. 

For, as Isaiah and Jesus both preached, my story and yours is filled with the problems we heard about today. Greed. Treating other people like lesser beings. Moral failures. Paying no attention to God. Being overly confident in our own smidgen of wisdom. 

We fail, but with Jesus Christ we are not counted as failures. We are successes! And the success is shown when we bear the good fruit of the Kindom. The Bible’s story of God tells us, over and over, God will accomplish the mission – with or without us! Others will be found to join in, if we do not.

 You may remember, in other pages of the Bible, Jesus speaking of being the great vine, and we are the branches. It is we, the little branches, who bear the beautiful fruit. It is not wild, sour grapes that we bear, when we are grafted into Christ. 

And, turning our lives over, we, little twigs, get grafted in, and are part of the beautiful vineyard, for eternity. Praise God! This is worth celebrating. This is worth sharing. This is why we worship, in pew and at home. This is why we remember Jesus with bits of bread and sips of grape juice. Amen!

PRAYERS Let us   pray.

At the table of the Saviour – Christ crucified and risen – we lift our hearts in prayer. As the wheat covered the hills, and was gathered to become one bread for us today, so let Your church be gathered, no matter how separated we are for safety’s sake. As the grapes came to harvest and make one drink for us all, so let goodness flow from all your people, in the name of Jesus.

Let there be goodness for our own fellowship, especially those we are asked to pray for today… (in the bulletin)

Let there be goodness for those who do research to combat COVID-19. Do healing work through them, O God.

Let there be goodness for those who are oppressed or disrespected, abused or alone. Strengthen them, and those who support them.

Let there be goodness for people seeking guidance right now, or wisdom in the face of decisions. Come, Holy Spirit.

Let there be goodness for our province and our nation in a time of crisis, when leadership is hard and imperfect, and people working and struggling to do well are worn out.

And let there be goodness in the day-to-day things we do, the words we share, the attention we give to other people. Through the masks, may our eyes and our voices tell the story, the story of Your love and Your way, and Your purpose.

‘God of grace, you invite the despised,
you touch the unclean,
you lift the head
of those who are brought low:
give us that hope against all hope
for a world transformed
by your healing touch;
through Jesus Christ,
the mercy of God. Amen.’
(Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church)