Oct 25: A Place for My People

This land is your land
this land is my land
from Bonavista
to Vancouver Island
from the Arctic Circle
to the Great Lake waters,
this land was made
for you and me.

There is a sense in which having a land to call home is the meaning of life. It is one of the great themes of our whole sacred story, the Holy Bible. Creator God forms the whole world. God gives it to the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and to you and me. After thousands of years of a really bad mess, what is the end of the whole story? It includes a new heavens and a new earth: all is well again; God dwells with the people and all things. 

Today, we are not living in the Garden of Eden, nor are we in the New Jerusalem by the River of the Water of Life, with the Tree of Life growing there. We live in history between these, in the mess. Sharing the forests isn’t going well; sharing the lobsters is not going well. Sharing this land is not working out, is it?

I recently visited some people at their summer home. What a beautiful spot! It’s a lovely old house, its big windows letting in the light and showing the view of the harbour and the far shore. There is just one problem. The neighbours. The neighbours who own the land beside and behind them. The neighbours who wanted the land surveyed, to clarify how to share the driveway. The neighbours who did not like it when the surveyor showed that the driveway to their garage was half on the other property. The neighbours who went to the trouble of walling off one of their garage doors, and putting up a solid wooden fence all along their property line. The story of the neighbours goes on. 

I hope you never have such neighbours. But an extreme example points out how we all have our moments of failing to share this land well. 

We find this in the sacred story we tell on Sundays. The Bible is filled with squabbles – and massacres! – over land and who lives there, despite the great hopes and promises, like those given to King David, three thousand years ago. 

Myra helped us know again that scene when David imagined building a great Temple for God, and for the great symbol of the presence of Yahweh God, the Ark of the Covenant. Then, the prophet Nathan hears from the LORD, and tells David, ‘no.’ You are not to build Me a house. I, God, will make you into a house – a dynasty of leadership. Anointed kings, on into the future.

The promises here are like those that had been spoken before to others, and would be spoken again. 

I will make of you a great name.
I will give you a place, a land.
I will make you live in peace.
I will raise up your descendants to rule.
This will be forever.

A professor gave some special lectures for Acadia Div College this past week. Dr. Chris Wright talked about the promises and purposes of the Israelites being like a miniature version of the whole world. We have God, and creation, and people. They start off like a triangle, and in good relationships with each other. 

When this breaks down, God works, and keeps working, at repairing it all. And the special people of God, with their special, promised land, are a miniature version of this picture. 

The Holy One wants to use them to reach and bless the whole world. Remember Abraham being told he will be blessed, to be a blessing? Later, David and the kings are part of that work. But it does not get close to completion until the final Davidic King arrives: Jesus of Nazareth. His place and his land are like no other – they are complete. Jesus is for all tribes and nations, for all creation. Finally, the answer to the healing has come. It is He. God, and the land, and the people, will finally be in harmony and in accord. Brought together, blessed.

We are coming before God, today, as Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. We have shared some of the same words and prayer items that thousands of others are, all across NS, NB, PE & NL, this month. We are a group of 400+ congregations. There is value in banding together, in sharing our identity, in doing some things together, and in pooling our resources. Hey, each congregation began thanks to the work of others. 

I could highlight any of the many ways we, 400 churches, cooperate to get some things done. We have our own bank, of sorts, the Baptist Foundation. That helps churches, or the Divinity College, get a loan to build something new. We have our own collection of senior citizen’s homes. Irene Redmond lives in one, in Shelburne. We have our own staff to serve the congregations and our pastors, such as Peter Reid.

Because of the unrest in our lobster fisheries in southwest NS lately, I thought it fitting to remind us all of our Atlantic Baptist Resolution, just last year, in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There is a Preamble, to explain our Atlantic Baptist perspective on this. There is the actual Apology to Indigenous people that we adopted, an Apology copied from that given by Canadian Baptist Ministries three years before. And there is a list of ten Action Items, half of which I had put in the bulletin this Sunday. The whole document is available from our Baptist Office in Moncton, including on the website.

We, Atlantic Baptists, have joined with other kinds of believers across Canada, to speak about this moment in Canadian life, here on Turtle Island. To speak of what we have heard and understood. To speak our confession and apology. To speak our intentions to do new things in new ways now.

So, our action item number 4 is Develop and implement initiatives to inform pastors and their congregations of the history and present-day realities of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As you can read, this includes being provided with a free video course to study this. That video course is right there, available to us now, on the CBAC Website: “Walking in a Good Way With Our Indigenous Neighbours.” Our own Baptist Indigenous Working Group created this course.

This is just one glimpse into what our Master can do with a fellowship of Baptists that stay together and work together. In this case, we can speak together about some issues, as well as listen and learn about these issues of colonialism and multiculturalism, truth and reconciliation, here in this land. 

It is about land, and water, isn’t it. It is about a place. This place we call Nova Scotia, or Nouvelle- Écosse, or Mi’gma’gi, or something else. Is this also a place for all God’s people? 

We are quite a mix of peoples, from all over the globe, together on this land. Our little county has quite a representation from these four main NS groups: Indigenous, English, French and African. There are plenty of Christians among these, not to mention other ethnicities. 

To walk in a good way with our neighbours on the land is an excellent path. Some of the Biblical roots of this are in places like 2 Samuel 7. How so?

I see here it is God who said to the Hebrew King, ‘I will make of you a great nation.’ God will do it, if anyone does. Remember the problem in the days of the tower of Babel? They said, ‘Hey, let’s make a name for ourselves.’ It is a people who rely upon Creator to make something of them who will prosper.

It is also the LORD who appoints a place for the people. And promised peace from their adversaries. And that their leadership will be established, kings from the line of David, in this case. 

We go back again to that picture of God and the earth and humans. It is all gift. Yes, it is broken. But the start, and the finish, is beautiful. So says the Spirit, through the scriptures. Creation is good. And a new creation is promised. See Isaiah 11, or Revelation 21 and 22. It is our living on the land and sea now that is the challenge – this broken land, inhabited by broken people. 

We must live with the promises of God on our lips. We live in faith and hope, following the Master. 

At age 14, Kiera Hui wants to create a cleaner world for her generation. And she’s off to a great start. For her eighth grade science project, she developed a plan to better protect the environment. Her project made it to the Toronto Science Fair last year – it then went on to compete in the Canada-Wide Science Fair. Her experiment? An alternative way to clean up oil spills and reduce waste. She won the silver medal.

Kiera attends Spring Garden Baptist Church in Toronto with her family. Her love for God’s creation and science inspired her to dig deeper to find an innovative way to conserve the environment.

“Our world is constantly being challenged, and despite all that we know to conserve and reuse, very few people actually do it,” says Kiera. “I hope to be an example to others by being innovative and bringing big ideas to fruition; I also hope other youth will express their ideas to the public and know that it is a true possibility for it to become a reality.”

(Kristine Brackman Mosaic, Winter 2020)

It is Jesus who helps us be good neighbours, to people, and to the earth. It is He who teaches us the ways of peacemaking, amid our strong tendency to get violent. It is Christ, a real, physical human, who shows us that this world is good, and shall be renewed, and shared.

This land is your land
this land is my land
this land was made
for you and me.

Oct 18: The Gift of a Child

1 Samuel 1:9-20; 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55

From time to time mothers and fathers post this Bible verse in their child’s nursery. 1 Samuel 1:27 ~ “For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted my petition.”

I’m sure those words resonate with many Christian parents who waited long for their child, or whose child faced dangerous health threats, in the womb or in the first year. Such as our grand-daughter, Amelia. Born three months early, she then spent her first 118 days in the IWK children’s hospital. 

It was a woman, Hannah, who spoke those words, about her long-awaited son, Samuel, a few thousand years ago. “For this child I prayed.” 

Here is a bit of Bible genealogy: father son, father son, wife wife. It answers the age old, Nova Scotian question: “Who’s your father?” 

1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children

It ends with the sometimes hard question, “Who’s your child?” Not every one of us has a child. Hannah suffered for having no children, for years, it seems.

So begins this section of the Bible we call First Samuel. It is clearly from a different culture, long ago and far away. When did this happen? Take a look at the timeline on the bulletin cover: can you find this moment?

And what are some of the cultural differences we notice about these people? 

Polygamy – men with more than one wife. It was Elkanah’s other wife, Peninah, who’d borne children, who goaded and provoked Hannah. Many OT men were polygamous, such as Abraham, Jacob, Esau, and Kings David and Solomon. 

Childbearing expectation – and of a male child. It was not a day and age when couples would choose not to have children, like some of my friends have done, and my sister and her husband. In most cultures through the ages, couples have children. That’s it. Not to have any was a problem, maybe even a curse.

Making decisions for an unborn child – in the case of Samuel (even before he is conceived) he is promised to be given up to service for God in a shrine, with the Jewish priests. Hannah and Elkanah go through with this promise when he is born.

The promise about the child is a specific cultural thing: the Nazarite vow – set apart for God. Another famous character who was a nazarite was the judge Samson. This was sometimes a short term pledge, not life-long.

One other little thing we may notice in this story is that everyone would pray out loud, not silently. When Hannah, in desperate, private prayer, moves her lips but does not make a sound, priest Eli thinks she must be drunk. It was also normal that those who read something would read aloud to themselves.

Out of this very different time and place we have these amazing, holy stories: sacred history that speaks to us even now. How things have changed, the little things and the big. 

One thing that can remain the same, through the ages: life is a gift. The birth of a child is the receiving of a gift. People of faith look to God as the giver of life, of every life. Some of you know this attitude: that last breath you took? It was not promised to you: it was a gift, a wonderful gift. Each breath you take. (See Psalm 104:27-30.)

Family connections are counted a blessing; bearing children is counted a blessing. What do we do without this blessing? This is the painful question at the beginning of this story. Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. It was the annual time to offer special worship to the LORD God. The family – Hannah and her husband, and his other wife, and their children – had gone up to Shiloh to offer sacrifices. Hannah is provoked to tears by Peninnah. She offers her desperate prayers.

There is a lot of pain and tears associated with not having children. Or losing a child. Or all the things of this nature. Annually, October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, in Canada and many other nations. So it is a fitting time to go to God with our prayers and questions about children.

All those centuries ago, Hannah’s conversation with God was remarkable. We are told: 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Hannah pleads for the gift of a child, yet promises to give him over to a special kind of life. She asks for him, to give him away. 

The desperation this woman felt must have been so deep. So many people have experiences like this. I think of people in my own family, and circle of friends, who wanted a child, but never got to raise one. And the many people who lost a child early in life, or even later. That loss stays with a person. It stays in the conversations with God we call prayer. 

Other losses are just as challenging, or more. Abortion surely has its personal impact, as the years go by. This affects so many. The World Health Organization estimates that there are between 40 and 50 million abortions each year, across the world!

Then there is not the loss of a child, but the loss of the relationship when there is estrangement, and one gets cut off. And, of course, many people say goodbye to a child by giving him or her up for adoption – some never see that child again.

In these circumstances, and others, the cry goes up: ‘O God of power, if only You would look on the misery of Your servant, and remember me.’ Then the prayer continues. We ask many different things:

Give the gift of a child!

or, Protect and heal this child!

or, reunite me with my child!

or, answer me, why did this happen to my child?

A child is a gift, but when that gift is not given, or seems taken away, we cry out. It hits hard. It stays with us a long time.

In today’s lesson from history, Hannah is blessed with the answer she wants. The priest, Eli, says, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And God does. A boy is conceived, and born, named Samuel, and dedicated to God. 

This is not what is promised in most troubled times for men and women. This is not the happy ending everyone gets. It is the story of a key transition figure in Israelite history, Samuel, who anoints the first two Kings of Israel. It is the story of his origin, of his mother of deep faith. It just happens to be a story of infertility and fertility. Of cruelty within a family and rising above it. Of sacred promises made & kept.

One thing illustrated here, for me, is the readiness of a person of faith to go deep, with God, in prayer. Hannah’s terrible circumstance drives her to desperation. But she knew to pray. She poured out her heart to God. She knew about religious commitments, and she made one. 

One way we see that Hannah knew her faith and her God, is the way she waxed poetic after Samuel was born. From the second chapter, Margo read Hannah’s prayer, which is remarkable Hebrew poetry. You may have noticed she does not even praise about her son, the answer to her prayers. She simply praises the God who blesses the whole world. A God who speaks well and holds knowledge. A God who raises up the desperate poor, and squashes down the privileged rich. Hannah’s words get repeated in Psalm 113. And her sentiments are copied a thousand years later by Mary, when she is promised to have a child, the Messiah. Hannah knows very well the One she is praising and thanking.

There are no atheists in foxholes, it is said, and anyone may pray when trouble demands it. But how much better when you or I are already a person of prayer. Then, when life is unfair, when disaster strikes, when our own child is in peril, whatever, we know very well the One with whom we speak. When we already are on friendly speaking terms with Creator, then we are ready for prayer in time of crisis. After all our days of smalltalk with the Spirit, we can have a real heart-to-heart.

And our prayers, like Hannah’s, will be about a lot more than our little problems and praises. Our praise will be about the Big things Jesus is up to in our whole world. 

So, in the end, maybe we do best by noticing the gift of one particular Child in all of history. One human life that changes everything is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Son of God. How God changes everything: this is what Hannah speaks in her prayer. This is what Mary knows when Jesus is to be born. God changes the world. 

There is an interesting Christmas song that includes these lyrics:

A silent wish sails the seven seas
The winds of change whisper in the trees
And the walls of doubt crumble, tossed and torn
This comes to pass when a child is born

And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace
and everyone to everyone’s neighbor
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever

(Fred Jacobson)

This child is Jesus. And it is for each child of ours that He came among us, lived and died, and lives again. ‘Let the children come to me,’ Jesus said, from His daily teaching. Does He not also say it from His cross? And from His risen glory. ‘Come to me.’

Allow me to end by quoting this word picture of Jesus from a 1926 sermon by James A. Francis, often called ‘One Solitary Life.’

He was born in an obscure village,
the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village
where he worked until he was thirty.
Then for three years
he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a home.
He didn’t go to college.
He never traveled more than 200 miles
from the place he was born.

He did none of the things
one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself;
he was only thirty-three
when public opinion turned against him.

His friends ran away.
He was turned over to his enemies
and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to the cross
between two thieves.
While he was dying
his executioners gambled for his clothing,
the only property he had on earth.

When he was dead
he was laid in a borrowed grave
through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
and today he is the central figure
of the human race,
the leader of mankind’s progress.

All the armies that ever marched,
all the navies that ever sailed,
all the parliaments that ever sat,
all the kings that ever reigned,
put together,
have not affected
the life of man on earth
as much as that One Solitary Life.

James Allan Francis, The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1926).

PRAYERS ~ Let us   pray.

Mighty God, You became a child for us. You welcome us as Your children. You send us out into our world to reach children with hope. Forgive us for the ways we forget Jesus, from day to day. Forgive us for the ways we do not welcome others who are Your children. Forgive us for the ways we lash out instead of reach out. In the name of Jesus, renew us.

We pray, in response to Your word and Your world around us. Let there be grace and strength for those who have lost a child in pregnancy or infancy. Let there be hope and peace for those who did not get to raise the child they hoped for. Let there be comfort and serenity for those who aborted during pregnancy. Let there be care and love for those who gave up a child for adoption. Let there be purpose and joy for those who never had a child. Let there be compassion and grace for those who are not on speaking terms with a child of theirs.

And, loving Father, let there be encouragement and wisdom for all parents, at every age, caring for each child. We feel surrounded by a world of wickedness and danger and injustice, at times. Master, amid the elections, send wisdom – from our own town to our United States brothers and sisters. Amid the workers in our fishing industry, give a sense of responsibility and understanding for one another. Amid the flooding in India and fires in Africa and America, we pray for help on a grand scale. 

We, Your praying children, look with You, Spirit of God, upon all our world, and ask for small blessings at home also. We look for a healing touch for many people we know. We look for strength and encouragement in times of trouble or pain. We look for wisdom and guidance in moments of decision and our opportunities for action. You’ve got the whole world in Your hands, or, as one prophet said, You have inscribed our names on the palm of Your hands, and You shall not forget us. Thank You, praise You, we love You, God. AMEN.

Oct 11: Mind Change

Thanksgiving Sunday, October 11, 2020 – Digby Baptist Church

Exodus 32:1-14; Luke 23:33-34

Amid all the stories of the Ten Commandments, from the middle of the book of Exodus, is this amazing moment: And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people. [NRSV] It also gets translated:  Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. [NIV] And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. [KJV] And GOD did think twice. [MSG]

How striking that, a few times in the Old Testament, we read of God making a turnaround, repenting, changing God’s own mind. Here it is today, after Moses prays and pleads and argues the case of the Hebrew people, who so quickly gave up on their leader and the guidelines God had given them. Perhaps we can offer thanksgiving that our Maker does not make up his mind against people forever!

Do you ever change your mind? 

Does your mind change?

Do you mind change?

I am going to share my personal thoughts today, take you on a bit of a personal journey. I want to speak my mind, of how it has changed, or at least grown in some different directions. For a few reasons, today seemed to be the day for me to do this.

So, I will tell you half a dozen things ‘I believe.’ This is testimony, confession, witness, sharing.

I believe in the Age of the Earth and Evolution. This planet is only about four and a half billion years old, in a universe almost fourteen billion years old. This is a beautiful thing! Thanks be to God!

I suppose this all started in childhood, for me. I loved dinosaurs. And volcanoes. And fossils in sedimentary rocks. And tectonic plates slowly moving across the globe. I loved astronomy. About the time I turned ten years old, Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos: A Personal Journey was broadcast. I loved it. 

 At the same time, I was getting other ways to describe creation. I have the memory of a poster in a Sunday School classroom, making fun of a whole series of slimy and silly animals lined up that supposedly led to the evolution of primates, and finally, humans. Looking back, I think I never did reject the beautiful story of biological evolution. As a ten-year-old, millions of years of evolution seemed a beautiful thing to me. 

Plenty of Christians devoted to Jesus have come to terms with creation, God using the hidden processes of millions of years, to build all we see today. I’m grateful that, about the time I turned eighteen, I found a few Christian mentors to open these doors for me, and help me integrate Creation with evolution and the immense age of the earth.

So I am thankful to our Creator for this incredible universe – gigantic, microscopic, ancient & beautiful.

I believe in other Churches, and even other Religions. As a kid growing up the Church was my social centre. Not Jr. High or High School: the Baptist Church. In my teen years I was there for Sunday School and then the Worship Service. I was at the weekly Youth Group, and a Youth Choir, and a Youth Handbell Choir. And the boys group called the Christian Service Brigade. I still have my three ‘Camper of the Year’ awards to commemorate those wonderful days.

I don’t remember once setting foot inside another church in town. I barely knew if any of my school mates went to other churches, not to mention which ones. I knew nothing outside my Baptist Church. 

So it was once I left home I got to know other types of Christians as believers, and started to find out how they did things. I went to the ecumenical Chapel at university, which was, of course, a mix of students and older people of all denominations. I was overwhelmed and completely impressed by the services with lots of responsive readings, hymns I had never heard before, classical organ music, candle-lighting, and robed worship leaders.

Among the new Christian mentors who surrounded me then, I realized a full respect for Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Uniteds, and others I’d never heard of. Like Lutherans and Moravians. I don’t think I had ever, in my life, been taught any of them were not believers; I just had never learned one thing at all about them! So my introduction to them was as amazing brothers and sisters in Christ. I have embraced them ever since. 

Now, the broader issue of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and so on… I suppose this was a bit challenging to me. I found Christian pastors and professors having very friendly relationships with those of other world religions, and acting with great respect toward their traditions. 

We might contrast this with Bible scenes like that of  Moses and the Israelites at Sinai. They are to be pure and holy, and not get mixed up at all with the other religions of the other peoples who surround them. Their fiasco with the golden calf to represent YHWH God is a big example. It seems they almost get destroyed over it. 

Let me just end this part, not really giving an answer, but saying that I have felt for many years the need to respect people of other faith than me, or of no faith. My own conversation with God about who gets into heaven, and how, is an ongoing conversation.

So I give thanks to God for the many spiritual paths people take, in so much of which God shines.

I believe in LGBTQ+ people. Again, I guess it was not until I went out on my own and was at college that I first knew I’d met people, my own age, or older, who did not seem to be heterosexuals. It took just a little while to get used to ‘these people’ being in the world. I’ll never forget this time a younger friend who was still in High School was visiting me: we were sitting in the Student Union Building one evening. Among the people milling about, Andrew saw this guy walk by and wink at him. “OK, let’s get out of here,” he said as he led the way out.

Then, one starts to see how difficult this life can be for so many. Alongside our scriptural prohibitions against various sexual behaviours, are the examples of Jesus, and others, who treat minority people well, and do things that include those who are ritually unclean, known as sinners, or socially unacceptable. 

Although I remain somewhat traditional and conservative about sexual moral behaviour, I have been, for many years, quietly welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people. I believe they are people too, they can fully be Christians, they should get married, they can be pastors, and so forth. Our own Baptist denomination does not officially see it that way. For instance, I am certainly not permitted even to assist at a same-sex wedding ceremony. I think this is too bad, but I am not in the business of fighting this kind of policy. I have not felt called to do so, yet.

Somehow, October 11th got named ‘Coming Out Day,’ for those who make public their sexality. I am heterosexual, so I don’t really get to ‘come out,’ like that. But I come out of the closet as a Christian who likes biological evolution, who likes other kinds of religious people, and who likes queer people.

I do thank the Spirit of God for the diverse people of various sexualities, and give thanks that I can discover how truly to respect them. To respect you.

I believe in the Holy Bible, but not mainly as a historic record. These issues I have so far shared about all have ties to the scriptures, of course, and how we work with the Bible. Some of this text is not history, in the strict sense of the word, or in terms of how we do history in our modern era. So, the six days of creation in Genesis 1 I do not think of as some kind of history, or science. It is greater than that. It is poetry. It is mythos, which is a technical term I’m just throwing out there. It is Truth in an artistic form. It is the Word.

Somehow, by 1988 I was ready to hear some new ways of understanding the Bible. I tried to figure out how that happened, who influenced me and taught me. It would not have been the Youth Pastor, as influential and supportive as he truly was for me. He was quite traditional and conservative in his Bible teaching of us. I must have been prepared for new approaches to the Bible by some of the lay leaders of the youth groups and Sunday School. And perhaps the preaching style of the other Minister, the Senior Pastor, Don Robertson, set the tone well for me. I like to think so.

On other issues other ways of hearing from God in God’s word must arise. About other kinds of Christians, and other kinds of Religions, the chapters here must be in conversation. Jesus saying “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” (Jn 14:6) Jesus saying, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also…” (Jn 10:16) And “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9:40) 

I believe that when the Bible is not used as only a historical book, or simply as a human ‘owner’s manual,’ it’s influence can be greater and better. It is more. God’s influence will be greater and better. 

I am so thankful for the holy gift of the Scriptures.

So, I could confess many other little things. Let me finish with one that has come clearer for me in recent years. I believe in Non-Violence, in the face of violent scripture and violent Church history.  

We just observed orange shirt day. Well, many people did. I guess I did not. I need to get myself an orange shirt! I need to remember the harm and death of so many indigenous children in Canada. And we face the facts that the residential schools were religious schools, Christian schools. 

And the violence is so blatant in the Bible stories. We peek into Exodus 32, but we don’t dare read the bit here about Moses calling upon the Levite tribe to take swords for the LORD and kill the partying people. “Each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbour.” (Ex 32:27) About three thousand people fell that day, we are told. Cecil B. DeMille didn’t put that scene in his film, The Ten Commandments!

There is serious Bible work to be done to face these stories. It is not a matter of glossing over and forgetting about them. Remember always the many voices in the centuries of literature collected here. Many inspired perspectives preserved in the pages for us, many viewpoints. As Acadia professor, Spencer Boersma, said in a lecture he gave last weekend, “The Bible has multiple lines of reasoning in it.”

I am now working my way through the violence of our faith story. I am looking for Jesus the Prince of Peace in the centre of it all. To me, words like these keep ringing in my ears: 

Exodus 34:6 The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…

Luke 6:27-28 Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Luke 23:34 Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

I rejoice in the hopes of peace – with non-violence of every kind – which comes from the Prince of Peace.

I will surely change my mind in the years ahead. I have more to learn about life. May you, and may I, have a teachable spirit, always. We will still have moments when we realize we have replaced the real truth with some shiny image that ain’t the real thing. We always get tempted to build our own god to worship, and celebrate the way we want, and make our own rules. We need our mind changed, and heart.

Then, may we have an intercessor. May we have someone like Moses, to pray for us when we get in trouble, and save our necks. 

You know, I think we do have someone to do that! It is Christ. Jesus prays for you and me. He still does.

PRAYERS Let us   pray.

God of all good gifts, as we count our blessings, one by one, we admit the ways we have been unthankful, greedy, not generous, and even ungodly. Some of our privileges have come to us on the backs of others who have suffered. Some of our power we have used to harm others and help only ourselves. Some of our failures we have blamed on others or on our circumstances. You, Master, touch our souls with Your perfect vision, Your perfect remedy, Your perfect blessing. We praise You, Jesus. 

We long for Your touch, and we look for it, in the lives of those in our prayers. Goodness we want for Dwight O, Marilyn H, Jack W & Jack W, Mary W, John B, Dottie M, Bobby S, Faye V, Peter D…

Facing the many illnesses that threaten millions in our world, we pray. We cry out to You, God, for them, and calm ourselves, and even find ways to reach out and help. In the midst of conflict in our local fisheries we look to You, wondering what Jesus would say to fishermen today, by the sea. Speak, Lord, into the challenges. Remembering that many people are hungry today, this weekend when we feast, we turn our eyes with Christ to them. We see Jesus wanting to feed them, to sit down with them, to celebrate with them. May it be so. 

For the fruit of all creation, thanks be to God.

All this in His name. AMEN.

Oct 4: Eagerly Desiring this Feast

[Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8; Luke 22:14-20]

I was looking forward to the party! About three years ago an old friend from High School invited me to a surprise 50th Anniversary Party for his parents. His parents had been my friends too, through the years, starting with his father being my grade 7 Industrial Arts teacher, and a youth leader in the Baptist Church, and his mother getting me started in a big way growing perennials in flowerbeds.

So, the date was set, a little community hall in Paradise would be prepared, and the surprise Anniversary party would be a very fun time! But it wasn’t. It did not happen. My friend’s parents got wind of what was happening, and put an end to it. They did not want a party. There was no gathering.

Something there is in many of us that loves a party. We have the need to gather, to do traditional things, or create our own little traditions. We also need to gather when bad things happen, and to remember the troubles of the past and find healing.

We are so limited in our usual ceremonies now. Our three scriptures stories today each describe the formation of new ceremonies for the people of Faith. Passover is a ritual meal, at home, for the Jews to celebrate their freedom from slavery. The associated Festival of Unleavened Bread also celebrates the gift of their freedom from Egypt. Thousands of years later, Jesus sets up a new ceremony while taking part in the Passover with His friends. We call it Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

The Need for Ceremony

Even before all our pandemic precautions, there was a need for ceremony and ritual in our lives. A need for people to have ways to gather and share an activity that meant something, that expressed the suffering or the success of human life. In a time when so many people are not religious, at least, not practicing any religion, there can be a longing to do something together, at special moments in life. 

There is a birth. There is a death. Two people join together. A family moves to a new town. A person retires from work. A special anniversary is achieved. A tragic event shocks a community. What does one do? We have some traditions, some ceremonies, some gatherings. But today, anything goes. And sometimes, everything goes out the window: nothing is done, there is no event to mark the occasion. No way to get together. No ritual to observe.

I remember hearing author, artist and activist, Jan Phillips, talk about the need for rituals in our day and age, and the need for us to become ritual-makers in our society. As a minister who crafts liturgy almost every week of my life, this made sense to me. Phillips wrote a book called ‘No Ordinary Time,’ and in her intro she says, “It is a book for people conscious of their power and ready to co-create new sacraments and ceremonies that celebrate the Divine dwelling within us.” (2011, p. 1)

There is still enough experience of tradition out there that people look for some familiar rituals. We often want to recreate them. A look at the history of any one ritual will show how it has changed. Like a wedding, or funeral. Or Holy Communion. Baptists did not always have many individual cups, you know. How did they serve their wine? And, yes, Baptists used to serve real wine, before the Temperance Movement was embraced.

A month or so ago, a young woman from Hants Co. sent me a note, asking if, perhaps, I could baptize her youngest child. I had ‘dedicated’ her other child, years ago, when I lived and served in Windsor. My answer was ‘no,’ because I never ever go back where I used to be to officiate. No dedications, baptisms, weddings or funerals where I used to live. This is simply one of my personal professional rules. I consider those things the ministry of the pastors there now, not mine to do. The woman’s request shows the need for a ceremony that blesses.

Over the past month, we here got a request for baptism from a person who lives out west, and will be home to visit in December. She wants her baptism (and her boyfriend, and her child) here because of a connection with family, especially her grandfather. It does not make sense to me to be baptized into Christ not where one lives, but it makes sense to her. 

In recent months, the loss of our usual ceremonies has been keenly felt. We finally had a memorial service, last Sunday, outdoors, for Jean Brittain. On Tuesday I ‘attended’ the funeral for Rev. Dr. George Allen by watching all 97 minutes of it on my computer. Yet a great deal is lost. Here, on a Sunday morning, we cannot touch and greet each other in familiar ways. We cannot make all the music we used to do. Attendance is down because many people feel too limited and unable to come in under the present restrictions and risks. 

The Creation of Ceremony

Last week our CBAC staff hosted another online Leadership Forum, mainly for pastors, to share about  how to do church now. To compare ‘how has it been going?’ Lennett Anderson is Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church: the Meeting Place, in Hammonds Plains. Here he is, speaking with Kevin Vincent, and the rest of us…

It was our 175th church anniversary. I had plans, we were going to have a party, like, the best on this side of heaven! And, anyway, COVID happened! Ruined all my plans. I was devastated, I did not know how we were going to celebrate as a congregation our witness in the community. 

And, one of our deacons said, “Why don’t we have a drive by BBQ?” 

So, you know, I said, ‘Speak, Lord, your servants are listening.’ This is the best we can come up with?? Ha. A drive by BBQ for our 175th anniversary!? 

I could not believe the people in attendance. We had tents in the parking lot, we had the entrance, we had the exit, we had the music, the balloons, and I thought the people in Upper Hammonds Plains… people from Chester drove in, Lunenburg, Dartmouth Musquodoboit! We had food for 200, we ran out, I told them ‘I’m not Jesus, I can’t multiply it.’ First come first served.

It was just… The energy! People were speeding into the parking lot. They weren’t paying attention because they were, like, “Hey! We’re Here!” 

And I was saying “HEY!” I didn’t know who they were, they were masked. Some had new hair, no hair, I don’t know, it’s been six months since I’d seen them; but it was just incredible. I didn’t realize how emotional I would be seeing the congregation, just seeing the saints. Um, some did the drive by and then parked on the side of the road or in the back of the parking lot, just because they wanted to have a holy huddle, they got out, they were still masked, but they were just: ‘How you doin, how are you?’ It was a real connection. I think it was one of the best anniversary events we’ve ever had.

The time for creating new ceremonies is now! Necessity is the mother of invention; a pandemic is the mother of new forms of ministry by us, Church. At this past week’s little Ministerial meeting, we look ahead to this year’s Journey to Bethlehem, and we can see how it can still happen. A little differently, but it will happen. We need it, and God will help us do it.

The scriptures tell us how the ritual of Passover was given to the Children of Israel, long ago, and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. And we know, know so well, the little story of Jesus taking the wine of passover, and the unleavened bread, and creating a new ceremony. There are times to birth new rituals. And for them to take hold is inspiring, when we sense that God actually planned them, the Spirit truly gave a new ceremony for us to use.

The Power of Ceremony

There can be such power in ceremonies and rituals. What do I mean by power? Simply that rituals change things for us. It is said of spiritual practices – like prayer and fasting, or confession or scripture study or meditation – doing these things puts us in a place where the Spirit can transform us. So, laying your hand upon someone when praying for healing can show that person God’s touch for their body. Actions speak louder than words. A Sunday morning service together can open our hearts to be cleansed by God. Sharing pieces of bread and sips of juice can help us know, for sure, that the real body and blood of Jesus were broken and spilled.

Thanks be to God that a number of ceremonies and spiritual practices have been given to us. We heard Jesus’ familiar words today: “Do this in remembrance of me,” and, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” 

We Baptists are in the Church tradition that talks about there being just two ‘ordinances,’ sometimes called ‘sacraments.’ There are not seven, there are just two rituals Jesus Himself, in the Bible, said to do. Baptize people, and eat the bread and wine to remember Him. Yet we have many other ceremonies in which we know God and the power of God’s blessings. Worship together; worship alone. A wedding ceremony. The ordination of a person to special Christian ministry. Fasting. Going on a spiritual retreat. Examples of these, and others, fill the pages of the scriptures. Our many uses of the Bible itself are little rituals, of a sort, that God uses to recreate each of us. 

I wonder about the simple act of reading through the Bible, all the time. Each day I have my own little ceremony. A prayer from a certain book of prayers, a devotional reading from Tabletalk, then the reading of my daily portion of scripture: OT, Psalm, NT, Proverb. Then more praying. I happen to be reading through Isaiah right now, among other things. What powerful things can be happening, in me, because I have just worked my way through Isaiah again

I am a believer in the power of us sharing the same ceremony – doing the same thing with Christ. To me, this is ‘religion,’ in the best sense of the word. When people share some ways of being with God. Sharing rituals, sharing words, sharing time, sharing beliefs. To have your own individual beliefs and spiritual practices is fine, but if you don’t share the same things with anyone else in the whole world, there is something missing, something sad about that.

I heard on a classical music station on the radio something about the French composer Erik Satie. An amazing musician, he was a weird man. Satie founded a religion called “The Metropolitan Church of Jesus Art.” He was the only member.

To me, religion is shared spirituality. You and I share a spiritual path, if we are willing. I’m glad you are willing to be Christians with me. To be Baptists with me. To be Digby Baptists with me. Next Sunday I will offer a special sermon – different, very personal – and I think you deserve to hear it from me.

I take Jesus to be the creator of our fellowship here, though He gives us a lot of freedom to make this what it is. Consider what Christ does with us, and our community, because this Church exists. And take seriously the actions we do together: may the power and love of God be active in us!

So many of us, these past seven months, have been limited in participating. In ‘doing church.’ We can handle the present challenges, that seem to put a stop to so much, because Jesus can handle these challenges. There is still power in the Spirit, power in God’s Church, power in worship and service in the name of Jesus. Our how-to may get changed; the Holy Three-in-One remain steadfast! So we still hunger for getting together, like we used to, because this is not the same. We eagerly desire to share feasts and festivals, music and mourning. May the Spirit of Jesus quench our deep desires for the ceremonies that matter. And May we join our Creator in creating more.