Sept 27: Forgive the Crime: or, Dolly Parton and a Coat of Many Colours

Welcome to this post that includes part of Sunday morning worship from Digby Baptist Church. This weekend not only is the worship Bulletin available, but also our Fall Newsletter. Videos from the service are posted Sunday afternoon.

SERMON: Forgive the Crime: or Dolly Parton and a Coat of Many Colours. Genesis 37:2-8, 17b-22, 26-34; Luke 6:32-36.

When Myra read Jesus’ words about doing good to enemies and loving those who hate you, I wondered again about Joseph. Joseph and his coat of many colours. And how, after he had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by his brothers, he could and would forgiven them, all those years later. Later, when Joseph had real power, in Egypt, and his starving brothers needed help. 

I had Rob read excerpts from the saga of Joseph and his brothers. Starting with the dreaming boy and his coat of long sleeves, or coat of many colours, as it is sometimes translated.

But I want to begin with another coat of many colours. At least, with the woman who wrote the song and sang the song. Dolly Parton. Because this sermon is about forgiveness. 

Stay with me, for a minute.

A few weeks ago I happened to hear a bit of a podcast called, of all things, Dolly Parton’s America. Yes, there is a podcast series – nine episodes – all about Dolly Parton, and her place in American pop culture. Parton is, I find, quite a highly esteemed figure in the world, and for good reason. She has a special, gracious way of being good to most everyone, and welcoming all sorts. She’s a great unifier, as the podcaster, Jad Abumrad, puts it. 

So, there was this moment at the Emmy Awards just three years ago. Dolly was reunited with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda to present an award. (They were in the movie 9 to 5.) And, as all guests do, these three get to banter at the mic for a few minutes before the official opening of a letter and giving an award.

That whole awards show that night had been a lot of bashing of the current US President, with Tomlin and Fonda carrying right on with the attack. 

Dolly Parton does not like this. She never likes this. She just refuses to play the politics game. 

In the podcast interview she says: that whole night everything was just bashing Donald Trump. It doesn’t make any difference how I feel about him. I just thought… why does it all have to be about politics? 

“Well, you could have upheld him, you should have said somethin.” I thougth, ‘No, I shouldn’t have said nothin,’ cause if I’d said anthing about Trump, anything good or bad, or if I hada said anything, say this or that, I’d a got booed outa that house, I’d a probably been up there on my own. I wasn’t interested in that; I wasn’t going to say something good or bad ,  what I thought or felt. I just knew I wasn’t playing that game. Anyway, it’s just scary. No matter what you say – is wrong. 

Another interviewer ask Dolly: When you’re in a room and everyone’s attacking this man – Trump – because of your story of forgiveness, does it almost make you feel like you want to protect him?


What was your feeling?

I wanted to say, “Let’s pray for the president. Why don’t we pray for the President, if we’re havin all these problems.” But I thought… that won’t work either.”

Those words of Dolly’s really make the podcaster think. They struck Jad Abumrad like a ton of bricks. 

He concluded, Oh I get it. Her stake in the sand is that she will not cast anyone out.

Yes, while there is a business logic here, Abumrad concludes, this is also a spiritual stance, this is an ethos she has chosen. And it is undeniably one of the reasons she can have the fan base that she has; because everyone feels safe at a Dolly Parton concert.

Here is a famous musical artist, interviewed and studied for months, surely. And these interviewers find her to be a person whose story is forgiveness, and who takes a spiritual stance not to pick on anyone or kick anyone out. 

Ever felt that safe with someone? I hope you have. Let’s get back to the Bible. How safe did Joseph’s brothers feel, with him, just after their beloved father had died and been mourned and embalmed?

In the final chapter – of Genesis, not to mention in the saga of Jacob’s twelve sons – Joseph’s eleven brothers come to him beg for mercy and forgiveness from their brother, the prime minister of Egypt. Thinking he would still have revenge upon them for what they’d done, even their dying father, Jacob, had advised them to plead for mercy now.

I find the little steps in this final drama are not only poignant, but powerful and instructive. It is a lesson in forgiveness. Watch how Joseph deals with the plea to forgive them.

Recorded in verse 17, Joseph wept. He “wept when they spoke to him.” What were his feelings, do you suppose? Yes, he’d really put his brothers to the test when they’d appeared, during the famine, in Egypt. But now he had welcomed them, had them move to Goshen in Egypt, lock stock and barrel. They were settled and even privileged immigrants in the land. Thanks to the high standing of their young brother, Joseph. 

How sad! Joseph must have thought, that they still feared his power and his retribution. How sad! he must have felt, that they still sensed they were unforgiven. How sad! he must have felt, that his brothers may have thought they were favoured only because their father was still alive, and now he was dead, they might be in trouble. How sad! he must have felt, that even his father feared he would still pay back his brothers for what they’d done to Joseph.

When someone seeks our forgiveness for something, we will have emotional reactions. Just as our Holy, loving God does. Like the heart of God, Joseph weeps when his brothers plead for mercy. Of course he will have mercy!

Joseph said, ‘do not be afraid!’ There are those famous Bible code words again. Do not fear. There is good news. In a sense, that says it at. All will be well. The answer is ‘yes,’ even before it was asked. 

I think of New Testament words of forgiveness, about Jesus. From Romans 5: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Before we knew what we were doing wrong, before you and I were even born in history, Jesus did things for us. Forgiveness for real wrong and crime and faults and nastiness. Today the Spirit of Jesus keeps saying, ‘Do not fear! I am already forgiving you.’ It’s continuous action: cosmic.

Back to Joseph and his eleven brothers. Basically, Joseph said, ‘I’m not God.’ “Am I in the place of God?”  Joseph sees what was done with the disaster his brothers brought upon him, how God took that where the brothers never intended. God is in charge of this whole family project, Joseph believed. The Almighty can make mighty good things happen out of personal disasters and nastiness and jealousy. ‘I’m not God, and I’m not going to punish you for what you did, all those years ago.’

Think about it: our need to punish others, for them to get their due, might be smaller than God’s need to bless those people, and use the things that happened for God’s own new project. What the Master can do with the disasters around us, and inside us, can be beyond our best expectations. 

But notice, Joseph acknowledged his brothers had intended harm. “Even though you intended to do harm to me…” he says. He does not minimize what they had done or not sweep the wrong under the carpet. Does not say, ‘Aww, it wasn’t that bad, really. You didn’t mean to. It’s so long ago, after all.’ It was wrong. It was bad. It was intentional. It did hurt. 

It did harm. It is remembered. Yet it can be forgiven. Or, maybe better to say, they can be forgiven. 

Paying attention to ‘the crime’ is important if real, true forgiveness is to happen. And it is needed in those places where we need to forgive ourselves. One of the steps needed is to see it for what it is. We can’t say, well, ‘I wasn’t that bad.’ Then, the only forgiveness we might get could be just as shallow. And incomplete. No wonder we have those beautiful words in James 5, ‘confess your sins to one another, and forgive one another, so that you may be healed.’

Then, Joseph saw God’s good activity amid this. The evil his brothers had done, back when they were young, the Creator took and molded into something better, years down the road. “God intended it for good, to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today,” said Joseph, in his one way of explaining it out loud. 

You and I have our own ways of explaining how our Saviour does good things amid the bad. Some of our phrases are not that great. 

Someone dies, and we say, “God needed another angel to watch over us.”

Some friend gets seriously ill, and we say, “But things could always be worse.”

Some young person rejects Christianity and leaves the Church, and we say, “Oh, trust and pray for them, and they will return to the Lord.”

We can see the good work of God amid the trouble, the saving amid the sinning. Let us work at better and more gracious ways to say it. To give God the glory. To explain the hope we have that the Spirit is working all things together for good. 

Back to Genesis. Notice, Joseph made a commitment to care for his brothers and family. ‘So have no fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Joseph responds with action; he does something when his brothers plead for forgiveness.

Notice that Joseph never says, ‘I forgive you.’ Perhaps he should have, but perhaps he did not have to say that. He renews his personal and professional commitment to take care of his large family. They have a generous place to call home, in Egypt. 

I think we see from meaningful experience how true forgiveness comes with action, not just words. We apologize for something rude we said in public to a loved one. We get forgiven, but that loved one still brings up our rude failure, from time to time. We don’t feel forgiven yet, do we? Or, the person who is pardoned for shoplifting, but always still sees in the shopkeepers eye that lingering suspicion. It is not full forgiveness yet, is it?

Deep, healing forgiveness gives a generous freedom to the one who had offended. It is grace. And the feeling is profound. 

One of Charles Wesley’s hymns sings, joyfully,

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Consider how to give someone freedom when it’s time for you to forgive that person. Christ will help you, Christ who said, ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Love your enemies.’

Finally, the Genesis 50 conversation is summed up when we read that Joseph spoke reasonably and kindly to them. Verse 21 ends, “In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.”

Some of us think we speak kindly. ‘Other people are rude, but never me!’ Well, I know this is not true of Jeff White. There is more for my heart and soul to learn, so I can speak more reasonably and kindly, when someone has hurt me, or others. 

A crime is a crime, a sin is a sin. The time comes to speak from the heart of Jesus, words of forgiving kindness. With many things Joseph used that day, with his brothers, we can speak with one another. We engage emotionally. We dispel fear. We keep God in God’s place. We take the offense seriously. With the Spirit we see the big picture. We take action to show forgiveness. We speak kindly. 

Amid this, our Redeemer will truly set us all free.

September 20: Count the Stars

Welcome to this post with parts of our worship service. More details can be found in the bulletin, here on another page of our website.

Children’s Time ‘Father Abraham, and birthdays!

Sermon “Count the Stars” Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-6; Luke 3:7-9

Some of us, during the past months of crisis and precautions, have had time to ponder our purpose. “Why am I here?” No, I don’t mean when you go upstairs and can’t recall why you went up there. I mean, “Am I living a life that is making a difference to other people, to the world?” Today, you might like the answer. Or, you may be discouraged about yourself. And I dare say there are many people around us who are not happy about where their life is at the moment.

Today, let’s look up, and count the stars, as it were. With Abram and Sarai, of old. Let us try to see what they saw, and have hope. 

This little scene, read for us today by Bev, is but one moment in the saga of Abram and Sarai in these chapters of Genesis. There have already been promises from God, and there will be more. And what actually happens to these old folks is a bit of a soap opera. At this moment, though, Abram gets inspired by the promise that he will have descendants – by the million – and a place for them to call home. Even though he was still an old man with no children.

1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 

‘Do not fear.’ A common Bible phrase, it starts a few special speeches. In other words: it’s good news! Instead of “Hear the word of the LORD,” or “Woe unto you…,” it’s “Do not fear.” So, relax; something good is going to happen!

When we study the Christian ‘Good News,’ in the broadest sense, we see it is ‘good news’ for many individual people. And personal good news is something many people sure could use. 

2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 

Abram and Sarai are gettin up there, so how on earth will they have a family and a huge number of descendants in the future? Read the next chapters and you will find out! 

We can’t read ahead into the next chapters of our lives, or those we care about, can we? So our present, and our past, have a big influence on how we feel today about life. What we are accomplishing. What’s next for us. What’s good. 

What if we don’t see signs of good news? What will my legacy be? What is the purpose of life? Most of us have moments like Abram did, moments of not much hope. Just can’t believe certain good things are ever going to happen. 

I think about my own sense of purpose. You might think I am happy-go-lucky and quite positive about my work here, what I am accomplishing, how I am helping, making a difference. Well, no, not really. For the most part I am ‘ho hum’ about my ministry here now. I do really enjoy life here, with you, and our community. But what difference am I making? 

Some days I feel the things I want to accomplish get no response. The ways I want to teach and guide don’t get a following. I look back at more than six years and see one baptism. One. And that of a young person who was moving away – far away – and did go. I find myself enjoying hiking and doing plant research more than working on prayer, and how we care, and the music we share. 

“O Lord God, what will you give me?” Like Abram, I ask what are the fruits of my labours? Or how to work differently in this corner of the vineyard.

Perhaps you are like me and compare yourself with others. Rev. Dr. George Allen died the other day. 107 ½ years of life, and to the end, an inspiring pastor. He was your interim pastor here once upon a time. I have heard so much about him. How could I compare myself to such a beloved man of God? Oh, to be such a storyteller. Oh, to be such a caring man with an amazing memory. Oh, to be able to speak off the cuff, without a note, so effectively!

Let’s take a break, and pay tribute to this man. Here is a recording of him when he was only 105 years of age, telling a joke… (starting at about 1:00)

You know where Mabou is? Well, in Mabou there was a fellow by the name of Joshua, Joshua MacPherson. And you know that was back in the days when they had stills, and they go in the woods and produce a little whiskey? Well, sir, Joshu had a still out in the woods, back of Mabou. Someone called up one of the Constables, and told him about it. So he went up and he caught them, he caught them right at their work. So he said, “I have to give you a summons, to go into Mabou to Court, on a certain day.” 

So they went to court on a certain day. And the judge looked at old Joshua and thought he’d have some fun. So he said, “I see your name is Joshua.”  


“Are you that Joshua, in the Bible, that made the sun stand still?” 

The old fellow says, “No, Judge, I’m not that Joshua that made the sun stand still. I’m the Joshua from Mabou who made the moonshine.”

Last year, I paid George Allen a visit. I had never met him before. We chatted about a few things; he asked about a number of you, here at Digby Baptist. And… I didn’t remember, but he remembered, that we had met. A decade ago, at a funeral at Windsor Baptist Church. His memory, at 106, was better than mine!

When it is all said and done, the great ones among us are here to inspire and lead and encourage us, not to make us feel inferior. That was one of the gifts of George Allen: the positive push to help us along. 

And so, old Abram was encouraged and inspired, in his vision that day. 5 [God] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 

Friday, you may remember, was a cloudy, windy day, half-filled with blowing drizzle. Saturday morning I got up at ten to six, and looked out the windows at the clear black sky and all the stars. Out one window I think there was a bright planet among them. Out another window was the constellation Orion, and then, for just a half second, a shooting star!

We too must listen for the inspiring promises, the visions of hope and purpose, the long-view of things. This is what broke through to Abram that day. It was one of a succession of special moments for him and Sarai, over the course of many years. Yes, their legacy would be great. 

To be blessed and be the people of blessing was what they had been promised a few years before. Yet – think about it – the great blessing of their lives would be mostly after, and long after, they were dead.

The good things for us and from us may be here beyond our lifetimes! Our legacy, the good we have done in the world, just may happen to make a bigger difference in people’s lives after we too are dead. Sometimes this is the plan. But that is no reason to despair or be disappointed. It may be our calling to be a good ancestor. Ever get joy from the thoughts of being a good ancestor? Leaving this world better than it was before your life?

Notice what ole Abram did. 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Believing the impossible. More than once, Abram dreamed the impossible dream. Today, there are millions of ‘children of Father Abraham’ and mother Sarah. So, John the Baptizer was right when he said that God could make a child of Abraham out of a rock. Most of us are not of Jewish ancestry, or out of the Hebrew Faith. Yet, from Sarai and Abram came a Faith, and then a Messiah who is for us also. We all get grafted in, adopted, healed deeply into the family of God.

Now, I must make one more point. Just because Abram and Sarai got this promise does not mean you and I, and tons of people today, get the same message. “Look up and count the stars: YOUR legacy will be INCREDIBLE!’ No, not necessarily. Yet we can all be stars that were counted; stars that count for something. ‘Look up and count the stars…” We are each one of those stars that count for something.

I end by switching from stars to starfish and this well-known tale.

IT ALL STARTED WHEN… A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,

“Well, I made a difference for that one!”

You do not need to leave a huge legacy, or accomplish an impossible mission to make a difference. You do not need to be a Sara or an Abraham. You do need to listen to the call of God upon your life. Do you hear the call to make a difference – in your own way – and be one of those shining stars Abram saw? It is the call of Christ, saying, “Come, follow me. Take up your cross. I will give you rest. Make disciples.”

Go, make a difference to someone!

PRAYERS Let us pray with these themes.

D – Disease & Disasters: help!

I – Intervention: do something!

G – Guidance: help people find the way.

B – Born Again: we need new beginnings.

Y – You: let us simply rest in You.


Sept 13: Good and Evil

Welcome to this post with Children’s Time, Sermon, and Prayers for Sunday, September 13, 2020.

What do you see at first glance? 

What do you see when you first glance at the world? Good, or evil? At humanity? And at yourself, deep inside? GOOD or EVIL? How much of both?

We start the whole story of the Bible today with some fundamental stories, including some of the primary stories of good and evil. There is so much we could explore and talk about in Genesis two and three! Let’s wade right into what is right and what is wrong. 

On Labour Day I was talking with my parents, and Mom got into the terrible news from her hometown, Oshawa, ON. A man shot his sister and most of her family members, at home, killing four of them, and them himself. One of mom’s brothers still lives in Oshawa, and – this is typical of Uncle Don – he drove up to the neighbourhood to check things out. He saw a Global TV news crew, went right up to talk to them, and get ‘the scoop’ on what they knew. My mother’s side of the family are quite the news hounds.

So, Mom talked about what she and Don had talked about on the phone, and the whole thing. “How could someone do such a thing!” she said, as we all say, when such events happen. It is so terrible, it does not make sense to us.

The good in people and the evil in people are things we have our own perspective on, and try to figure out. So it has always been, of course. And thus, we have in our spiritual tradition the stories of God and Adam and Eve. The creation, and ‘the fall,’ as they are called, we tell in our sacred scriptures. The ongoing battle of good and evil is always with us, and these formative Bible stories are a touchstone for us. They ground us. They influence us – as they should. They reveal what is real to us, in us, and about us.

You know, the problem in Eden was not the apple on the tree. No. It was the pair on the ground!

Adam and Eve, in Genesis 3, get something that is trouble, from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is not just a story about two people, long, long ago. It is a story about all of us, about each one of us. We know, from our own experience, what good and evil are. We are surrounded by them, we have them inside ourselves. 

I think of a friend and former deacon of one of my past churches. He is a brilliant man, with deep, even charismatic Christian experience. He was a strategist. He was involved in children’s ministry with puppets and clowning. He studied the scriptures, alone and in small groups. He and his wife share the gift of hospitality. 

Then, one day, he inappropriately touches his own granddaughter. He immediately reports himself. He does time in prison. His relationship with his children and grandchildren gets wrecked and cut off. But life goes on. The redemptive work of Christ goes on, in his life, even though some bridges are now burned and he can never cross again.

Alongside our questions about how good and how evil we people are, is the issue of creation, of nature. How good and how bad is nature? How good or bad are we treating it, we also ask.

More than a week ago I happened to find the dead body of a large animal on an isolated stretch of rocky beach. Perhaps you have seen dead seals, or even at some time, a dead whale, washed up on shore, starting to decay. I have.

From a distance, I saw this, and with my binoculars, I figured it was a small whale. As I got closer, I realized it was not. It was a sea turtle! A large, Leatherback Sea Turtle. Dead, with front flippers totally wrapped and entangled in fishing rope. 

It can be an amazing thing to find such a creature, in such a state. It is fascinating. It is rare. It is frightening. It is sad. It is amazing. 

The next day, I got in touch with the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, gave them all the information I could tell them, and sent my photos. They sent some fisheries officers there to collect the fishing gear, take measurements, and a DNA sample of the animal. 

The day after that, I hiked there again, at low tide, with a friend, to see if we could see it. No. It was gone. Washed farther up or down the shore. Free of all that rope, the body was free to move.

Of course, every Leatherback Sea Turtle dies. Every Right Whale dies. Every Herring Gull and every Sparrow dies, eventually. But when we, people, cause it, it seems wrong. Is it wrong? Is it not good? Is it evil?

I happened to talk on the phone to a pastor friend about this last week. “What is evil?” I wondered out loud, with him. ‘A shark attacks a giant turtle and kills it: is that wrong? Is that evil? But if we kill one off with our fishing gear, is that bad?’ My pastor friend, who came from South Carolina, loves Digby scallops. I asked him, ‘What if we scrape up live scallops from the Fundy floor, shuck them in half while still alive, and cut out the big muscle, the meat? It is so delicious. But is that wrong? Evil?’ 

“No,” he said, of course; and he still expects me to bring a pound of fresh scallops when I come up the Valley, next trip. 🙂

My anecdote takes us, as a segue, to nature, ‘Nature red in tooth and claw,” as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, put it. Coyotes eat deer, and snowshoe hare, and other animals. Coyotes are carnivores. Or, we see a beautiful little butterfly. It lands in a big spider’s web, gets wrapped up, paralized, and eaten up by the spider. What’s good or bad about these happenings? They are natural, we might say. 

Some folks who study scripture would wonder – and then suppose – that in Eden, before ‘the Fall,’ the animals did not eat one another. That violence did not happen until Adam and Eve sinned, just as thorns did not grow until after, and so forth.

Well, I am not going to wade into the turbulent waters of that sort of debate, today. I simply want us to look at this scripture saga, which helps us come face to face with the fact that there is harm and violence and wrong and deception and lying and death in our world. And in us. Our God needs us to know this, so that we may then remain in God’s care and keeping.

Genesis two and three have many important words we could consider, for a long time. We could spend a whole sermon on the word ‘adam/Adam’ or ‘YHWH/ the LORD,’ or ‘adamah/dust’ or ‘selah/rib/side.’ The one word I kept being drawn back to, this past week, was ‘shamar/keep/guard/take care/watch over.’ 

One of the good things about humankind, is the keeping or tending of the garden, described in Genesis 2. After things go wrong, there is still caring and working the land, but it is outside Eden, and is harder work. Chapter 2: YHWH God took the man and put him in the garden of eden to till and keep it. Chapter 3: cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life… 

This is but the beginning of our story. We have this whole book to tell the story. All the way through, there are moments when God breaks in to keep and guard, to protect and nurture humans. 

As in Psalm 121, today. We read parts, which said:

God guards you from every evil,

he guards your very life.

He guards you when you leave and when you return,

he guards you now,

he guards you always.

We sang it translated with these phrases:

No careless slumber shall his eyelids close,

who keepth thee.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true…

He whom we adore

Shall keep thee henceforth, yeah, forevermore.

This God, from whom we get separated, with whom we have a falling out, is One who comes to us, to keep us, to guard us, to protect and nurture us. There are many stories of this, culminating with that of Jesus, Godself, as one of us. 

It is because we are broken that we rejoice in God the Fixer. It is because we are separated and isolated that we rejoice in God the Reuniter. It is because we are hurting that we rejoice in God the Healer. It is because we have nastiness inside that we rejoice in God the Lover of our souls. And, as in the prayer Jesus taught, we can forgive others as we have been forgiven by God our Saviour.

As one of our good things, in the image of God, is to keep and take care of creation; so we see our Beautiful Master is good in the care and keeping of us, and all things. Though the world falls apart, our Saviour works to bring all things and all good together. In the name of Jesus, we even get welcomed back into that work, back onto the team of God. 

The terrible fall, seen in the story of Adam and Eve, is finally picked up and repaired by the Second Adam. The Apostle Paul called Jesus the Second Adam. And so He is. What got wrecked, and what we wreck today, gets repaired by Him. 

So, when God looks in your direction: do you feel ‘He’ sees good or evil first? 

The One we worship looks upon us and says: ‘I want to keep you, guard you, nurture you, bless you.’ I even sacrifice Myself – My Son – for you.

Hallelujah! Amen.

PRAYERS We have done this before, let’s do it again: look at our stained-glass windows to guide our conversation with God. With eyes open, let us pray.

We look up, God we worship, to the picture of a musical instrument, like King David played. Help us do this well, when we gather here. Despite the limitations of our gathings, let our spirits soar, and see You with awe and wonder. Bless other congregations that are just starting, now, to gather in person, such at Trinity Anglican: may they not be discouraged.

We look up, God of Rescue, to the Ark that Noah and family, and the whole family of animals, rode in on the waters, many days. Among all the living things of creation we can see and think and understand the wonders of earth. We see our ability and responsibility to tend and keep creation. O give us humble perspective on being co-creators with You.

We also pray for your rescuing help for friends in trouble – their health fails, their circumstances are troubled, or their sins try to defeat them. Today we intercede for Mary Warner, and all who must receive extra oxygen to keep them breathing well: bless every breath they take.

We look up, God of Sacrifice, to an altar with a burning sacrifice upon it. You call us to be living sacrifices, in the name of Jesus. May we give our attention, our resources, our skills, & our hearts, to the help of others in this world, in Jesus’ name.

The fire on the altar reminds us also of the actual fires that burn with destruction, on the west coast of the USA, and other places. Have mercy, we pray!

We look over, God of Christ crucified, to the cup of wine, that Jesus shared before His death. A glass of wine is so attractive to so many people, and they lift their glasses high to celebrate and be joyful. May we drink deeply in our souls from Jesus, and be extremely happy when He is at hand! For those who are ill, may there be real joy in knowing You are near. We pray for John, Dottie, Bobby, Faye, Jack, Mary, Terry, Marilyn, and others…

We look over, God of rule and kingdom, to the Crown of Jesus. We pray, as scripture teaches, for all those who govern us, around our world. There are elections coming up, here, and in the USA, and other places. We call out for justice to be done, for freedom to grow, for common sense and a sense of responsibility to prevail, in these troubled days. And let there be healing among the nations, and for the suffering people of the globe.

We look back, God of life, and see an image of the Ten Commandments. We are reminded of so many rules and guidelines, and of how we keep or break them. But on the other side we see a picture of the Holy Bible, and we give thanks that You continue to speak to us, guiding our way, and giving a forgiving word to our souls.

So we look back, God our Good Shepherd, to our glass image of Jesus carrying a sheep. We end, confessing that we know all we like sheep have gone astray. There is still wrong going on inside us; there is still wrong being done to us. 

Be our Redeeming Shepherd again, this day, and always. By You love and power, Triune God: Father, Son & Spirit. AMEN.

Worship, Sept 6

Children’s Time: Beachcombing

SERMON: The Big Story (Psalm 136; Acts 13:15-33) – Jeff White

One week ago, at this moment, Sharon and I worshipped with another church in our area. They met indoors, inside their building, like we do. Here, we use only one in three pews, in order to be physically distanced. The church we visited used every second pew. I guess two metres is shorter in their building. It was made clear to us we must sit in a pew without a cushion on it. Here, we leave the cushions on the only seats to be sat upon. Also, we entered wearing masks, but were told we could take them off once we sat down in a pew. Here, unless we are the one person speaking, or singing, we keep them on. 

It is clear that local groups of Christians are understanding the provincial guidelines for this state of emergency differently – sometimes with the fair opposite interpretation!

Christians following the Bible can be like local Churches following pandemic recommendations. One church says ‘drink no alcohol, ever,’ another actually serves alcohol, at least at their communion service. One church baptizes with water only people grown up enough to agree to follow Jesus, another gives baptism to infants before they can speak one word. One church puts women in leadership at every level, just like men; another church allows only men to lead and preach; and another allows only single, celebate men to be in those roles.

And we all claim to be following God and the Holy Bible. So, surely, all we, believers, have got some things wrong, and only God’s got it all right.

Thus, we keep meeting, keep studying, keep praying, to know better. To know how to do this better. To know God better personally. We keep reading scripture, and work on it together; we never stop.

I have been convinced, for years, that one key to knowing the Bible is to see the Big Picture. Get to know the big story – the ‘metanarrative’ – and then see how the smaller parts fit within it: the books, the chapters, the verses.

My Old Testament professor, Dr. Timm Ashley, would tell us: ‘The three most important things for understanding a Biblical text are these: 1. the context. 2. the context. 3. the context! 

The context is the big picture. You read one Bible verse and ask, ‘who said this, who wrote it? When? And why? What happened before and after? Where does this fit in the whole scheme of things?’ There is a ‘whole scheme of things’ here.

One verse or story, even a whole chapter, can be misused when quoted. Remember what Satan does with a scripture verse when tempting Jesus in the wilderness? He suggests the wrong thing to do – using the Bible. Jesus knows the whole thing, the big pic.

There are times, in the scripture story, when the big picture gets summarized, and remembered, and celebrated. Such as in the historical Psalms: 78; 105, 106 & 107; 114; 135 & 136, which we recited today. We see summaries in the preaching of the New Testament apostles. As in what Paul said in Pisidian Antioch, that Heather read today. In this case, Paul is preaching about Jesus, and uses the whole story of the Hebrews and their God to lead to Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah. 

What a preacher like Paul gives is a summary; he selects certain things from the whole story to mention. Of course, what’s recorded here in Acts 13 of Paul’s sermon is but a short synopsis; surely his actual sermon that day was more than three minutes long!

The story is told of a special Church meeting and dinner that was being held, and near the end of the meeting, the pastor stood up to offer a few closing remarks, which became quite long-winded. As he rambled on, he lost his place in his notes for the third time. “Now where was I?” he asked, scratching his beard.  To the delight of the audience, one person spoke up and said, “In conclusion!”

When you see the bigger picture, and understand the context of a piece of the Bible you are reading, you can know how the idea you see fits into the whole thing. You can discover if it is part of one of the big themes, the main ideas. Or, if it is a smaller point to ponder. A minority report. A dissenting voice among the majority. All these things are here in these pages. 

For instance, it can be easy, and comforting, to quote verses that speak of how protected and safe we shall be. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I will not lack anything.’ Yet there is a right time and a wrong time for such words. 

Just look at that scene from Matthew 4 of Jesus tempted in the wilderness. At one point, Satan quotes Psalm 91:11. ‘For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.’ Now, there is nothing wrong with Psalm 91. Peter and I have even sung a version of it as a duet. But, that moment, in a Palestenian wilderness, Jesus rejects what Satan is suggesting, using Psalm 91. Jesus answers with another verse, this one from Deuteronomy 6. ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ How a Bible verse gets used matters. 

We see how so many Christians can end up disagreeing with one another about so many things. Using the Bible. But we do not give up! We must not give up on using the scriptures to hear from God. Just because it can become confusing, or upsetting, or mysterious, or challenging, the Holy Bible is still holy and still powerful for us. The work we put into it is worth it. It is a life-long conversation we have with our Master in this amazing text. There is always more to talk about – to pray – in the Spirit.

So, in my preaching plans for the next eight or ten months I intend to use something called the narrative lectionary. Each Sunday, we follow the flow of the whole story in the Bible. We will start with Creation, and by December we will get to the promises of a Messiah. After Christmas, we will follow the story of Jesus, and of the apostles taking the Church to the world. I hope and pray this will give us a good perspective on holy scripture, refresh our sense of holy history, and ‘the big picture.’

And many times we will end up as Paul did in Pisidian Antioch. With Christ: crucified, buried, risen, and visible! Paul concludes his message saying:

Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this [Jesus] everyone who believes is set free from all [those sins] from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (A13:38-39)

On the bulletin cover today we have a copy of a Victorian painting that is framed, in black and white, in our Parlour: ‘The Soul’s Awakening,’ by James Sant. The portrait in the Parlour was donated by the family of Marie Woolaver, I believe, years ago. The girl in the picture is, apparently, awakening to faith in Jesus, with a small Bible in her hands. The Big Story of holy scripture, and many Bible moments of which we read in the verses, can still have a deep influence upon the human soul. 

We now gather at the Lord’s Table for communion – for fellowship – with Jesus. Here we tell, with bread and juice, the story of Christ. For us Christians, His story puts the Big Picture of the Bible in perspective.

PRAYERS: Omniscient God: seeing and knowing all – we quiet ourselves under Your gaze, in the light of Your countenance. We have praised You for the great story of Faith You have shared with us, and now we focus upon the centre of the story, the Saviour, Jesus, and His saving actions. 

As we look toward the table of our Lord, we pray from here for ourselves and the whole world. We ask for those who are not asking. We seek You for those who are not even seeking. We hope and have faith for the sake of many who are without hope or confidence in Christ. 

Life is changing, God. It always does. For some life has gotten harder: there have been losses, hurts, troubles, fears. Be the strength of the weak, the wisdom of the confused, the way for the lost. In this ‘state of emergency’ getting sick is harder, for the help and the treatments are more arduous. Have mercy.

Spirit – working in our midst – on this Labour Day weekend we pray for all who work, especially those whose work has become more challenging this year. Today we pray in particular for teachers and workers in schools and colleges, and for all the students – those in classrooms and those at home. From day to day, may You remind us that education is not easy for anyone right now. So make us into encouragers and supporters, not critics and fearmongers.

God: Perfect Parent of all peoples: the civil unrest, the calls for justice, the acting out in anger over evil continues from day to day. To You, all lives matter. May we be like You, and see all others through the eyes of Christ. We Protestant Christians are rooted in protests of the past. May we be guided to stand up for others, stand up for what is right and better, and stand up with peacefulness and power in the Spirit. 

O God, how long! How long shall pestilence, & ignorance, and violence, and greed, and disasters crash in upon the world? Oh draw us closer to You, and to one another, for the sake of the beauty You want on this planet. And help us pray. Our Father… AMEN.