Nov 29 – King Forever – First Sunday of Advent

WELCOME to this post that shares some of our worship service at Digby Baptist Church. The whole plan for the service is on the website in the Bulletin. Also this weekend, the Advent & Christmas Newsletter is posted.

KING FOREVER (Daniel 6:6-27; Luke 23:1-5) – J G White – 11 am, 1st Sun of Advent, Nov 29, 2020 – UBC Digby

(1) Kingdoms 

The season begins again: the time of remembering a new-born King, and of preparing for a returning King: Jesus the Messiah. We start Advent each year in the Church with the prophets. Scripture is filled with promises from long ago about a greater anointed king than ever before. 

Daniel does not seem to be a prophetic book we turn to as adults. Unless we specialize in the apocalypse, and there is some here – about half of his short book. This is my first sermon ever about Daniel in the lion’s den. I left this story in my childhood, I guess. 

We’re in the lion’s den today. Daniel, at this point, is one of the three ‘presidents’ set up over the Persian kingdom, by the King, Darius. Under the three Presidents are 120 Satraps. But these other rulers gang up and plot against Daniel. We read what happened.

Kings and kingdoms are important in the book of Daniel. Visionary dreams and so forth illustrate that the various kings and kingdoms of that time – Babylonia and Persia, for instance – will come and go. One day, God’s Kingdom will win out and overtake creation. This is the message of great hope for the readers of Daniel: those who read it back then, in all the troubled centuries since, and today. 

In our first bit of dialogue today I want us to talk about our kingdoms, now. What are the great kingdoms under which we live, or that border us, at least? Hint: they are not all political. And, do they threaten us, at times? 

National powers.

Economic powers: corporations, banks, technologies, etc.

Marketing, consumer culture.

What does the God of our faith do with us and these present kingdoms?

For Daniel, it was not really the lions that threatened him, it was the lying of his co-leaders in the empire. The lies that kingdoms tell us are also in Jesus’ sight today. His teaching and His Spirit acts against ‘the powers that be.’  

(2) King Forever

King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.

So we sing in the near future, among all the other carols of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. From time to time we sing of a ruler going on forever, but do we really mean it?

One of the many horrors of those opposed to Trump was a moment (or two) when there was talk of this President going on for more than one more four- year-term. In August, at the Republican National Convention, as supporters chanted the traditional, “Four more years; four more years,” Trump said, “Now, if you really want to drive them crazy, say 12 more years.” Joking about that has not gone over very well. 

The tradition of declaring, ‘May the king rule forever,’ or, ‘live forever,’ goes back thousands of years. In ancient Israel the cry would go out, ‘Long live the king!’ And in today’s story, in the time when a Persian Emperor was in power, we heard it said of their ruler, “O King Darius, live forever!” Even Daniel, coming out of the lion’s den, greets the ruler with, “O king, live forever!”

We prepare for Christmas, looking for how God the Saviour, who lives forever, is making things good. Many of the Bible promises are of how people, in this life, get blessed, and how those doing wrong are put to a stop. King forever, ceasing never; over us all to reign

How does Jesus reign forever among us? Many of you have been personally committed to Jesus for many years, as I have. More than forty for me. How has Christ been your Lord? What has His rule been like so far?

For me, Jesus has not been forceful.

Jesus has also been subtle with detailed guidance.

General rules and principles are clearer.

What about for you?

So, do you trust Him to be your personal ruler for the next thousand years? Next hundred thousand? 

(3) God as King 

Psalm 29:10 declares: the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. The Christian story of the nativity brings earthly kings and the King of Heaven together, in one Being: Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Messiah and Saviour. A carol we will hear tonight, on the Journey to Bethlehem, says, about Bethlehem, 

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Phillips Brooks’ lyrics are indeed for ‘all the years,’ including 2020, filled with fears as it is. We look to that Bethlehem of long ago for comfort, I suppose. Do we still look there for hope? Hope that this King will be different, and accomplish what no other rulers can do? Jesus certainly does not act like any other rulers, like no Pharaoh, or Emperor, or King or Queen, or Caesar, or Prime Minister, or President, or Satrap, or Mayor, or Chief, or Sultan. How can He possibly reign? How does God reign?

We give ‘glory to the new-born King” when we submit to Jesus as Sovereign. How does God rule us? How is Jesus Lord?

Even in a local Church, or denomination, we find ourselves making the decisions. We believe in the democratic process. We use Robert’s or some other rules of order. We elect boards and committees and officers to rule and decide many things on behalf of the body. 

How does Jesus get to be in charge, in this system?

What are God’s methods of being in charge?

Let us not keep Jesus as our celebrity, instead of as our Sovereign. Or, as Fancis Chan put it in the title of his immensely popular book: Not a Fan. Don’t be a fan of Jesus. Be a follower.  

I continue to believe we have a great hope for our world today. It is possible to live in the Kingdom of God, to Have Christ in charge. The story is not yet finished. The end of the troubles is not yet. Yet we live in the hope of the yet-to-be complete reign. As Revelation 11:15 says of the future: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.  

Tonight will be broadcast, online, our local Journey to Bethlehem. Our first stop, at Digby Wesleyan Church, will have us singing this modern Christmas song:

How many kings step down from their thrones?

How many lords have abandoned their homes?

How many greats have become the least for me?

And how many gods have poured out their hearts

To romance a world that is torn all apart?

How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Only one did that for me

We put our hopes in this One King.

Nov 22: Written On Their Hearts

WELCOME to this post for worship at Digby Baptist Church. For the full service details please check out the Bulletin, posted on our Bulletins page.

(Jer 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; 31:31-34; 2 Cor 3:1-6) – J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Nov 22, 2020 – UBC Digby

I have a recent, random, Bible story for you. Last week, some young fellow from the heart of the Valley calls us up; says he found a little, old Bible at a used bookstore, with the name Verna Applejohn, Digby, in it. Wants to return it. OK. 

This past Monday, he calls to say he is almost here. So he dropped it off to me. Maybe Nancee or Pam will want it. 

What does one do with an old Bible? A used Bible? A surplus Bible? They are holy, aren’t they? You can’t just throw them out. Or burn them!?

We have heard two amazing Jeremiah stories today, two scenes about scripture, in a sense. First, that drama when the King of Judah rejects the message of the prophet by burning the scroll, sheaf by sheaf, as it gets read out loud to him. Later, Jeremiah dictates it all over again to Baruch, the scribe, with additions. There are interesting clues here about the actual writing down of parts of the Holy Bible, such as Jeremiah. In this case, the first draft got destroyed!

Then I had Margo read from a few chapters earlier. Here’s that beautiful paragraph about a new covenant or agreement of God with the people. It is promised for them someday. It won’t be like the old Ten Commandments, written with words on a page of stone. It will be written on the hearts of the people. They won’t have to tell each other, “get to know God!” They will all know the LORD.

That’s quite a phrase: to have something written on your heart. And for God to do it: that’s a remarkable promise. We have our ways we understand God is the author of the Bible. How beautiful to see also that our Redeemer can be the author of our hearts. The composer of our souls. Not only are we ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by Creator, we then can be recreated; the story of our sometimes hurting hearts can be rewritten.

We like to think of our hearts as a source of wonderful goodness and love. “Follow your heart” is frequent advice. Probably painted on wood, decorating some people’s living room walls. 

‘Follow Your Heart’ is fine, if ‘your heart is in the right place.’ But our hearts are not always ‘right.’ Eh?

I have been remembering Vince McCarlie this week for three reasons. One, his son Charles happened to drop by when our Trustees meeting had just ended, and presented us with the money order from Vince’s estate for $15,000 – designated for our musical instruments. 

Two, he died almost one year ago now: Nov. 26.

Three, I remember on more than one occasion Vince telling me, simply, that children can be very cruel. He never explained this, but he knew from experience. His experience of being injured and ill as a child. His experience living for 13 years of his youth in the Shriners Hospital in Montreal. 

Children are cruel.

And we are cruel when we grow up, aren’t we? At times we feel surrounded by nasty people, bad talk, horrible news, terrifying situations, and untruth. 

It is actually the prophet Jeremiah who tells us: The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? (17:9) Centuries later, the Christian leader, Paul, wrote things like this: by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5)

Human hearts, from childhood on, have the potential both for nastiness and compassion. Paul also wrote, in Romans, …God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (5:5)

I want to quote the exact same thing from Blaise Pascal that I quoted in last Sunday’s sermon. “Our greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in us some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.” (Pensées)

‘Follow your heart’… when it is good. When it is not, is there no hope? Of course there is hope. God can pour love into our hearts! God can write holiness onto our hearts! We even become love letters, to use the apostle Paul’s image, from 2 Corinthians. The Spirit writes love onto the hearts of people. This is even better than the love letter we call the Bible.

So we keep telling these stories. Stories that end with the story of our Jesus. Wicked hearts get rewritten. It is an act of God. No wonder we see the life blood of Jesus at the centre of the story. A heart of love conquers evil and death and pain. 

Speaking of pain, this is the other part of heart healing I think we need. The evil of the human heart needs a miracle. So do the hurts of the heart. 

Does your heart ever hurt?

One of the best-known, humorous internet videos of the past decade is the clip of some little preschoolers having an argument. While disagreeing over whether it is raining out or spwinkling, one girl hits the boy in his chest with her finger. The little guy reacts strongly, saying, “You poked my heart.”

It is not the physical hurts of our heart muscle that pumps blood of which I speak, today. It is the heart, the seat of our emotions and our will, that God can write upon, and that Christ can heal. The hurts of the heart run deep, and stay long with us. The sad losses of loved ones. The cruel emotional damage that is inflicted. The upsetting disasters that wreck lives. These injure our hearts, and the damage can seem permanent. It is deep in our heart of hearts that the Spirit can reach, and touch, and bless and mend. 

Author Philip Yancey, who has written so much about faith and pain, tells the story of happening to go into a very relaxed church service in a beach town in California. The leader was in baggy surfboard clothes. He set down his guitar, and at the podium asked, “Hey, does anybody have anything to share today?”

It so happened that three young women came forward, ready to share about their small group, in which they had studied Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. Elizabeth spoke, following her sheaf of notes very closely. Kate spoke, trying to use her laptop computer, which pretty much failed her. Yet each was learning that they were ‘the beloved’ of God, loved ones.

Then Cathy stood up. Her lip trembled, and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. The congregation grew still. “Most of you don’t know my story. I was molested as a child. Then in college I was drugged and raped. I kept asking, ‘Why me?’ I had tried to be good. I went to church every week and all that. So I just gave up. I took to alcohol to cover the pain. Of course it just brought on more pain, so I drank more alcohol. I was on a spiral to nowhere, feeling old before I had finished being young. One day I stopped by my old church just to see what might have changed inside. In the empty building, without planning to at all, I began to pray. I started bawling like a baby. 

“Not everything got resolved that day, of course. The pain did not go away. It was my brokenness that I was confronting in church, not my healing. But… I learned that suffering and joy can go together, that God can use everything in our lives, even the pain that never goes away. I learned to claim my brokenness. 

“Am I glad these bad things happened to me? No. But I do realize they have helped make me the person I am today. I can be a true friend to others. I can offer a safe place for other people going through tough times.”

Cathy closed her talk with her own paraphrase of Luke 4, a dramatic scene where Jesus enters the synagogue and announces, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted.”

(Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor, 2001, p. 318)

And I say to you, today, inspired by Jeremiah: God writes on our hearts. God can rewrite the story of your heart. God loves to put a new connection into your heart. Your very heart becomes a love letter.

This is the kind of life that I see bursting forth from our Saviour. This is the love our world still needs desperately, in these discouraging days. This is a hope we can seek at Christmas.

So we need a time of seeking, of waiting and watching, of longing for better things. In church we call it Advent. Which means the coming, the coming of God into our life. The arriving of Jesus: God with us. Jesus, who is the New Covenant, the New Agreement between God and people, the New Relationship with the Divine, the One who is ‘in our hearts,’ so to speak. 

You and Jesus may be very close and personal, today. You and Jesus may be quite far apart. Or your spirituality is somewhere else on this spectrum. Whatever. Remember this: as 1 John 3 puts it, ‘whenever our hearts condemn us …God is greater than our hearts.’ 

Draw nearer, and God will draw nearer to you. Then, may we sing to Christ, as the old Irish hymn does: Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

PRAYERS Let us   pray. We see the people who need You, Lord, but first of all, as a new week starts, we need You. Almighty God, we pray to say how we have taken charge of our own lives, and failed. May our souls sing again:

King of my life, I crown Thee now, thine shall the glory be.

We pray to say how we are still trapped by fears and worries, at times. Set us free in Jesus Christ, Whose perfect love casts out all fear and Whose care of our hearts and minds can put us at ease.

O Jesus, as one church in this place we ask for wisdom and to be inspired now. As we see a few friends officially leave our fellowship, teach us and refine us for the goals You have in mind, Master. Remind us each day, by the Holy Spirit, that our rough and crooked branches hold a beautiful treasure of Good News for our neighbourhoods. 

Our prayers are also with the Bayers Road Baptist Church today, in Halifax – may their long history of ministry be blessed now. And may the Rossway Baptist Church be comforted and encouraged as they say goodbye to their pastor, Linda, who has now preached her final sermon to them.

Together we are prayerful for many people. May there be blessings today for _____, _____, _____, and all who fall down or are frail. May there be blessings for _____, _____, _____, and all who have cancer treatments, surgeries, therapies, or any type of care. May there be blessings for _____, _____, _____, and all who live in homes for special care. May there be blessings for all whose spirits are brought down, whose mood is darkened, or whose hope is getting drained by hard days. Author of Life, write a new chapter on our hearts: help us turn a page. 

Alpha and Omega, on the pages of world history today, may there be written some signs of hope amidst the overwhelming trouble. Where COVID-19 is flooding nations: Brazil, India, France, Italy, USA, and so on – let there be a new flood of helpful action and prevention and cure! May it be so in Canada too.

Where people flee violence and conflict, including the Tigray region of Ethiopia- may there be gracious paths to safety. Sovereign One, in all places where people protest and get violent – such as Guatemala, where their Congress was burned down – let there be a strong will for peace and for justice. 

Jesus, Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith, grant us faith enough to pray for goodness, and then be agents for the good in our world. Our faith looks up to You. Ride on, King Jesus! AMEN.

BENEDICTION (James T. Fatzinger)
The way is long, let us go together.
The way is difficult, let us help each other.
The way is joyful, let us share it.
The way is Christ’s, for Christ is the Way,
let us follow.
The way is open before us, let us go:
with the love of God,
the grace of Christ, and
the communion of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Nov 15: Wholly Holy

Welcome to this post for worship on Sunday, November 15, at Digby Baptist Church. Text of the sermon is here, and video of Children’s Time, the Sermon, Holy Communion, and other elements. Other info about this Sunday can be found in the Bulletin (on the Bulletins page). 🙂

(Isaiah 6:1-8  Luke 5:1-10) – J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Nov 15, 2020 – UBC Digby

God is ____. What are the main single words we can use to fill that blank. God is… what?

God is Spirit. God is good. God is Creator. God is One and God is Three. God is love. God is holy.

Holy, Holy, Holy, sings the hymn. Decades ago, many a Baptist Church started every Sunday morning service singing this. It goes all the way back to Isaiah’s vision in chapter six of his prophetic book. 

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts (armies); the whole earth is full of his glory. (6:3)

Our God is a holy God; so said the Hebrews, so say the Christians, through all history. What are we saying? When the spiritual beings, called seraphim, sang ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ that was the ancient Hebrew way to say very holy. Repeat an adjective and it is emphasized. God is not just holy. God is holy, holy, holy! Completely holy. Wholly holy.

What is holiness? What does the word ‘holy’ mean?  Some of you, tell your answer, and I will repeat it for all to hear.

We gain a sense of holiness from the scripture stories. From the Holy Bible. There’s that word again. Something special about this Book, and our God, and the Holy Gospel we have to proclaim. So, we are talking about getting in touch with holiness. Holy is: magnificent and amazing, bright, good, beautiful, special and ‘set apart’ – like nothing else, awe inspiring and fear inspiring, pure, in contrast with impure things

So, God is holy. Far better and far different from us, and all other things. Completely different, or ‘wholly other,’ as the theologians say. This is key to our traditional teaching about God in Judaism and Christianity. God is holy, completely special and good and separate from us. And we are not holy. 

So, we believe in this world, that seems so wrecked and broken a lot of the time, there actually is holiness, pure goodness, above and beyond us. There truly is a God. But this Holy One is like matter to our antimatter; we can’t dare meet up with pure God – we would instantly be destroyed.

Such was the experience of the prophet Isaiah, in Judah, in the 8th century BCE. He has this vision of God, with spiritual beings singing of God’s holiness; and Isaiah is ready to be annihilated, destroyed, vaporized. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (6:5)

This happens regularly in the Bible stories. Notice Peter with Jesus today, facing his sinfulness before this man of miracles. They all have this concept that a mere human cannot dare meet up with God directly; it could mean almost instead death. Yet, amazingly, people like Isaiah survive the holy encounter. 

I keep thinking back to an old hymn in the old hymn books that an old pastor once quoted to me. He called it a true ‘gospel hymn,’ because it explained, in poetry, how we could possibly get right with the supreme Holiness of God. Look at the imagery of this song, it is all about the holiness that we cannot touch.

Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on Thee.

The spirits that surround Thy throne
May bear the burning bliss;
But that is surely theirs alone,
Since they have never, never known
A fallen world like this.

Oh, how shall I, whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before th’ Ineffable appear,
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?

There is a way for man to rise
To That, sublime Abode;
An Offering and a Sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit’s energies,
An Advocate with God:

These, these prepare us for the sight
Of holiness above;
The sons of ignorance and night
May dwell in the eternal Light,
Through the eternal Love.

Do we actually think of God as holy, this holy? As holy, holy, holy? So holy we can’t touch, or even come into God’s view? I think there is a lot of personal experience, and hope that people have, that says we can touch holiness. Glimpses of holiness break through all the time. Victorian Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning is famous for this quotation:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

I have a book of prayers for Church services with the simple title: ‘Touch Holiness.’ 

What has your experience of the holy been? When have you seen or been touched by holiness? 

The scriptures tell us that supreme holiness can be touched. We can be welcomed into it. Isaiah himself was welcomed in, with that vision which included a hot, burning coal taken out of the fire in front of God. The hot coal placed upon his lips cleansed him. Now those lips can speak, speak on behalf of Holy God, to an unholy people. 

And our story of Jesus, which is just under the surface in the old hymn I quoted.
There is a way for man to rise
To that, sublime abode;
An Offering and a Sacrifice…

We learn to seek a path to be holy, here and now:

Keep the sabbath holy. (Exodus 20:8)

Take time to be holy

You shall be holy as I am holy. (1 Pet 1:16)

Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy, set apart for You, my Master…

But is this ever our one desire? Is holiness ever that important to us? I won’t ask for a show of hands for who has aspired, above all else, to live a holy life. What difference does holiness make to our day-to-day lives? How about… what you wear? Your fashion?

Sarah Peel is a stylist and educator in Toronto. She teaches young people about fashion, and founded a couple of organizations that help people learn about fashion, human rights and sustainability. When she works with youth, Sara finds they are very interested in learning about clothing choices. She writes:

Youth are constantly plugged in to social media and pop culture, which influence their clothing choices. At the same time, school teachers help youth to engage with current issues: poverty, equity, climate change and the need to live more sustainably. These challenges are deeply important to today’s youth. And when students realize their collective consumer choices can influence the fashion industry – for the better – they are eager to get on board. [Mosaic, 2019]

Holy choices about what we wear can make a difference in this world. Holy shopping is a reality! 

Holiness is our destiny, with God. We glimpse it here. We get connected. We even shine. ‘I am the light of the world,’ Jesus said, yet also, ‘you are the light of the world.’ Even when we shop, or cook and eat, or build a house, or start an exercise routine, or watch movies and shows, or create artwork: the holiness, the sacredness can shine.

This whole thing is a way of talking about getting life right. Getting right with God. With others. With the earth. With ourselves. How do you respond when holiness touches you?

We shall not be ‘wholly holy’ in this life – though some Christians do teach this is possible. The brilliant mathematician and scientist, Blaise Pascal, became a devout Christian in his short life. Pascal wrote: “Our greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in us some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.” (Pensées)

The Divine touch of holiness in our lives can be incredible. And how we need it! It is the life of God, meeting us, even living in us. ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory,’ as Paul wrote. (Col 1:27) And, to take it further, the Holy Spirit communes with our human spirits, telling us we belong with God. (Rom 8:16)

This is the good news we proclaim. 

Sometimes we proclaim it simply by the holiness that shines through us. 

We are motivated by the possibility of beautiful holiness shining in those we see all around us. 

Thanks be to God.

Nov 8 : Grace to Enemies

Welcome to our worship blog. Text of the sermon can be found here, and video of the Children’s Time. Unfortunately, we did not get the sermon on video this Sunday.

Grace to Enemies (John 15:12-15;  Jonah 1, 3, 4:1, 11) – J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Nov 8, 2020 – UBC Digby

 A British war film came out last year called, simply, 1917. Taking place soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during World War I, the film follows two young British soldiers who are ordered to deliver a message calling off a doomed offensive attack by a battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. This message is especially important to one of the soldiers because his brother will be part of the attack. A trap has been set, and if the Regiment attacks, the lives of 1,600 men could be lost.

It is a thrilling film. I won’t spoil it, or say more. So many stories, of getting an important message through to someone, keep our attention. Whether true stories, or fiction, such tales are always filled with suspense. Especially when lives depend on the message.

This includes times when a message must be given not to allies, but to enemies. Such is the story of the Bible book of Jonah. Preacher Jonah has an extreme sermon for an enemy city. Sworn enemy of Israel, Nineveh is to be warned. They are going to be destroyed. This is the word of the Lord.

We read aloud about half of the text of Jonah, one out of two pages worth. Famous for being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah’s story is filled with ancient humour, actually, amid the serious drama of those days. Jonah is a totally reluctant prophet, not wanting to warn his enemy. Inside the fish, Jonah offers a long prayer, a psalm. Back on land, and finally in Nineveh, he preaches the shortest sermon ever. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” When the multitude of the city repent and mourn, the King even has the domestic animals fast from food and water, and put on sackcloth and ashes!

The story is told of a literalist who asked the Pastor about this Bible story: “Was Jonah really in the belly of the whale?”

The Minister replied: “That’s the most believable part of the story!” 

Think about it. Jonah hates the people of Nineveh so much he tries his hardest not to go to warn them. When he does end up there, preaching their doom, he wants them to be destroyed! He does not give them any options. Then, they believe Jonah! But they see an option; they desperately hope to survive. 

So, what does God do? God does not destroy them. And then, of course, Jonah hates this. He knew this would happen. He just knew God would pull a trick like this. As Jonah says to God in prayer, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (4:2)

This story of few pages in the scriptures has a big impact. The Jews annually read Jonah on the holiest day of their year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is all about forgiveness. The mercy and grace of God, doing good to those who are messed up. To all. To all of us. 

My message today has one point, in a sense. There is grace for ‘enemies.’ But I want to preach five things about this, this grace, this goodness for others, even for those who are enemies. Enemies of ours, even enemies of God.

Firstly, Grace to others comes from God

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; he did not do it. (J 3:10) 

I talked about this briefly a month ago, this ‘God changing His mind’ thing we read about once in a while in the Bible. This is not about God making a mistake, or fixing a plan God got wrong. And I don’t think it is about God changing. Our friend who moved away one year ago, Rev. John Dickinson, often recommended to me I learn about process theology, which teaches that God changes, is not unchanging. Well, I’ve not taken John’s advice yet, and I still believe God does not change. 

It was simply part of Jewish sacred storytelling to speak of God changing His mind. I will speak to this more in a later point. For now, let me emphasize that God is the giver of goodness, even to enemies, even to us when we are enemies of God. One special word for this is grace. Our Maker does things for people that we can not do on our own. Gives more blessings than we actually deserve. God is the source of such goodness that is better than fairness. Those who do not deserve it get goodness, blessing, forgiveness, life. 

My second point about grace to ‘enemies’: Grace to others can come through us. Even when we seem like real failures with the holy mission, God can bless people using us. 

Jonah of old is pretty much forced to go to the enemy city and warn the people of Nineveh. But it is he, a Hebrew man, who gets the job done. So you and I have mercy to show and the grace of God to give.

The story is told, from the 19th century, of a man named Jacob Bright. One day he was coming up the hill from town to his home, and found a poor neighbour in great trouble on the road. His horse had met with an accident and had had to be killed. People were crowding around the man saying how sorry they were. To one who kept on repeating this most loudly, Jacob Bright said: “I am sorry five pounds. How much are you sorry?” And Jacob Bright passed around the hat to buy the man another horse.

(Hugh Martin, The Beatitudes, in ‘A Second Reader’s Notebook,’ Gerald Kennedy, 1959, p. 225.)

Grace to others comes even when we don’t want it!  In today’s story, it is by Jonah’s word that the people of Nineveh are helped. Even though Jonah does not want to help them, tries not to help them at all, and is very angry and depressed when the Ninevites are saved from destruction. Dear Jonah is the most reluctant, negative preacher in the Bible, perhaps, yet the most successful missionary! Hey, even the pagan sailors on the ship in the first chapter end up praying to YHWH, the LORD of Jonah and the Jews.

Right now, my heart goes out to the people of the United States, those many millions, who seem so divided right now. So many happy about their election result; so many unhappy. Things are so tense in many cities. There is so much ‘us and them,’ so much enemy-making has gone on. How can people be turned from cursing their enemies to blessing them?

It is ‘enemies,’ so called, whom the Creator reaches out to bless. The story found in Jonah tells us this. The stories of Jesus show the same.

During the Second World War, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic composed a ‘Prayer Regarding Critics and Enemies.’  The bishop was a man who had spoken out against Naziism, was arrested, and taken to Dachau. The prayer begins:

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

God does good even for those we count as enemies. It is a miracle for us to want to bless.

Thirdly, let me say Grace to others comes through warnings. This is another bit of biblical fact- checking we may not like all that much. There is a place for warning people. There is a role for the prophet of doom. And listening to a real warning, a true message from the Spirit, might just save us.

Such was Jonah’s sermon. ‘Forty days from now, your whole city will be wrecked!’ Again we notice there is no escape clause. It is such a short message, there is no place for interpretation or loopholes. 

Yet the whole city of Nineveh, right up to the King, believes the message, and makes a humble turnaround. They just drop everything and seek mercy.

The thing about warnings back in that day is that they obviously were not just news of what was bound to happen. What these citizens were told by Jonah did not happen, did it? They were not destroyed. 

We noticed earlier how it says the Lord God changed His mind about the calamity, and turned from His fierce anger… just as the King of Nineveh had hoped. So Jonah’s sermon was not really to forecast what was going to happen. It was to bring about a change, and save this huge city of people.

One Bible scholar put it this way: “A prophecy of destruction is meant to educate and bring repentance.” A prophecy of doom is a conditional prophecy. (Yair Zakovitch) It depends upon how people receive the warning, and believe the God who sent the message. It depends upon how people respond, even people we count as enemies.

So, Grace to others is beyond expectations. I say this, at the end of today’s sermon: but is it true? Is the grace of God so amazing that it is bigger than we realize? Or do we know our Master well enough that we expect salvation, blessing, grace that is incredible? Looking back at Jonah, we see that he was one who expected God to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He feared God would treat those nasty Ninevites well; that’s why he did not want to preach to them. 

And then those enemy citizens, they believed it was a warning from a true God, and acted in the desperate hope that there could be amazing mercy for them, and they might not end up dead.

Perhaps everyone in this story either hoped, or expected, that more goodness than was deserved would come from the Creator. And it did. 

Have you seen this, in your lives? Whether you wanted it or not, you saw someone get blessed who did not deserve it, in your eyes, maybe yourself or someone near you.

And in the midst of tension and conflict, when two groups, or more, are pitted against one another, what is the most beautiful remedy? It is when people humble themselves, and cooperate with the grace that comes from God. May it be so in the United States in these days. May it be so for us. May it be so in our Churches, and communities, our family and among our friends. Join God in being gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready not to punish.

Nov 1: 150 Years of Atlantic Baptist Women!

Welcome to this post that includes some parts of our worship at Digby Baptist Church. Videos today include the Children’s time, prayers, sermon in three parts (two videos), and saying farewell to Deacon Joyce Marshall.

SERMON: 150 Years of Atlantic Baptist Women (1 Kings 17:1-16; Luke 4:20-30) – J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Nov 1, 2020 – UBC Digby

Strategic Support: Hannah Maria Norris (Armstrong)

November first is ‘All Saints Day,’ so it is very fitting we look back at some believers who inspire us and cheer us on. Today, we celebrate 150 years of Atlantic Baptist Women, an organization supporting mission that has been creative and innovative thru all these years. It all began with one very energetic woman.

It’s 1870. A teacher in the women’s department at Horton Academy in Wolfville is inspired to leave and serve as a missionary in far-away Burma, Southeast Asia. We call it Myanmar today. The teacher was Miss Hannah Maria Norris, from Canso. She wrote,

I was teaching in the Seminary in Wolfville till near the close of 1869. It was during that year that the thought first came to me that I was needed in Burmah [sic). It was a still small voice that made itself heard when I prayed alone, and that rose up to disquiet me amid present activities.

But the Baptists of Atlantic Canada had no funds to send Maria and fund her mission. Just as she is about to embark on a ship bound for Boston, and meet with the American Baptist Missionary Union, some leading NS Baptists intercept her and they suggest she apply again to the Atlantic Baptists and seek the help of the women of our Baptist Churches. After a prayer meeting in Halifax, it was resolved “that an appeal be made to the sisters in these Provinces to supply the funds necessary . . .”

When Miss Norris applied the second time, she was approved, awaiting the raising of the necessary funds. The “Sisters” of our churches had a history of supporting such causes. What Maria organized next is incredible. Her notebook of 1870 contains the entry: “Left home June 23rd [after forming a Circle in Canso), returned August 29th. Met 41 appointments with different churches, organized 32 Societies (Circles), visited seven Sabbath Schools, attended Central and Eastern Associations and Convention . . .Two Circles were also formed in Halifax but I was not present . . .” Three weeks later, Hannah Maria Norris, a school teacher, left for Burma, the second single woman from the Maritimes to go as a foreign missionary. (H. Miriam Ross, Women’s Strategies for Mission: Hannah Maria Norris Blazes the Trail in 1870, Historical Papers 1992: Canadian Society of Church History.)

In barely over two months, Maria organized thirty-two mission societies, and a month later was on her way to Burma! Here is where those first women’s circles were organized: Canso, Amherst, Windsor, Falmouth, Hantsport, Wolfville, Pereaux, Canning, Canard, Upper Aylesford, Billtown, Tremont (Lower Aylesford), Pine Grove (Middleton), Bridgetown, Clementsvale, Hillsburg (Bear River), Weymouth, Yarmouth, Hebron, Beaver River, Ohio, Jegoggin (Chegoggin), plus those in New Brunswick, and two in Halifax not organized by Maria.

This woman was a force to be reckoned with! Dr. Miriam Ross was my professor of missions, and in her paper about Hannah Maria Norris’ strategies, Dr. Ross pointed out the ways Maria used the social networks available to her: family and childhood friends, educational contacts, church contacts, and literature and publications. 

The mission societies that began in 1870 continued, and many others were formed, especially to support the single women who went out to serve around the world. At some point, our women’s missionary society began here at Digby Baptist.

I see in this a manifestation of the challenge to support a travelling servant of God that we see in Jesus our Saviour. As Amelia read for us today, we see Jesus had a hard time in his hometown. Part of his own strategy was to challenge the thinking of the people. His sense of mission was to be wide-ranging. He highlighted the Old Testament stories of helping and healing people who were not Jews in religion or culture, a little family in Zarephath, and a Syrian leader named Naaman. 

Jesus claimed for Himself the ministry spoken of in Isaiah 58 and 61: anointed to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and so forth. And this work was to be His for the whole world, continuing on long after his death, and resurrection, and ascension away from here. Jesus’ ministry continues at our own hands. Think of Maria Norris, and what is possible!

Integral Mission: Lavinia E. Wilson

Jesus read the words of the Isaiah scroll in Nazareth one day, words that He declared He was now fulfilling, words of a comprehensive ministry. What we, today, call integral mission. Ministry to the whole person and all of society. 

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because he has anointed me

        to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

        to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

We could ‘spiritualize’ Isaiah’s words, and say this is all about good news for the spiritually poor, freedom for souls that were captive to evil, sight for those blind to the truth of God, and so forth. And I think it does mean these things. But it also includes help for those poor in things, freedom for those behind real prison bars, and healing for eyes that cannot physically see.

Three months ago I preached to you, briefly, the story of land reform and freedom for enslaved farmers in Bolivia, in the 1920s 30s and 40s. This was the work of Canadian Baptist missionaries, such as the innovative leader, Rev. Dr. Earl Merrick, later of Acadia University. It was also the work of an ordinary young woman from Hillgrove, Digby Co.

In 1901 a new member, baptized into the Hillgrove Baptist Church, was a teenager named Lavinia Wilson. She went on to answer the call to mission overseas. Actually, directly south of us here in Nova Scotia, in Bolivia, where Baptist missionaries had been working since 1898.

Lavinia joined the mission work there in 1919, and served for five years, mainly on the shores of Lake Titicaca, in Huatajata, on the farm that got named Peniel Hall. What was the mission work of Wilson, and Merrick, and others, there? Yes, there was Christian evangelism, preaching and teaching of the Gospel, in that area. There was education for children, and Lavinia was a teacher there. She and an assistant, Alice Booker, began schooling indigenous children, even with some opposition from the local farmers. Wilson also had begun as the first Canadian Baptist administrator of the mission there. The task was to run the large farm there on Christian principles – no small challenge. Canadian Baptists took full responsibility for the mission under these conditions:

  • The Canadian Baptist Mission would take care of the farm with the condition of reopening the school in a permanent fashion.
  • The project would maintain the work of evangelism and education according to a late benefactor’s wishes (Antonia Chiriotto).
  • The new managers would improve and mechanize the farm with modern machinery as soon as possible.
  • The gospel would be taken to other neighboring communities as a witness of the project.

Other workers joined Wilson & Booker to accomplish this work. But after just five years, it seemed the climate of the high Andes took its toll on Lavinia Wilson. Many visitors there feel the effects of altitude illness – I did when I was there for ten days in 2010. Living there is a severe challenge for some. The thin air and low oxygen did its damage, and young Lavinia developed a heart condition, and after she was living back in NS, in Barton, Bright’s Disease, an old term for a kidney disease that accompanied heart disease. She was 46 years old when she died on April 26th, 1933, at the home of her sister here in Digby.

In her long, biographical obituary, it is reported how Rev. Dr. Patterson eulogized her at the funeral in Hillgrove. He emphasized the sacrificial character of her Chirstianity, which was as apparent in her service in his church as it was later in Bolivia. To the strain of handling single-handed the revolution on Penial Hall Farm he partly attributed her final break-down. He also spoke of her fine intellectual qualities which enabled her with uncommon clarity of perception to see straight thru non-essentials to the heart of a problem. This was also evident in her religious faith, which disregarded the unimportant things, looming so large to many, for the fundamental truths.

Here again was a servant of Jesus, used in remarkable ways, even for such a short time. Supported back home by the Women’s Missionary Societies, Lavinia Wilson played an important role in the development of farming, freedom, and faith among the Bolivian people, 100 years ago. 

What is Digby Baptist doing as a mission station here in Digby County, today? 

Inspiring Servanthood: Eleanor ‘Nellie’ Timpany

Poet and activist, Jan Phillips, says, “No matter what our attempts to inform, it is our ability to inspire that will turn the tides.” (Marry Your Muse, 1997)

A portrait hangs in our Church Parlour, the photo of a woman, to inspire us today. She was a local resident and member of this Church who so inspired us that the Women’s Missionary Society took on her name, Eleanor Timpany. Who was Nellie Timpany?

In 1871, likely in Little River, a child was born to Mary and Bernard Havey. The mother, Mary, had been a Denton. The child was named Mary Eleanor Havey. I have not discovered much of her early life. In 1893 she married John Stuart Timpany, who that same year graduated from Medical School in Detroit, Michigan, and was ordained a Baptist Minister. Coming from a family of medical and other missionaries, John set out right away, with his bride, to serve on the mission field in India, under the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Board.

Also in our Parlour is this old photo, showing CANADIAN BAPTIST MISSIONARIES IN INDIA. This is from the late 1800s. Among the servants here are Nellie’s mother and father-in-law, Jane and A. V. (Americus Vespucius) Timpany, who’d served in India for twenty years before’s A.V.’s death at 46. 

It was about ten years later that John and Eleanor Timpany arrived in Hanamakonda, India, and their thirty-two years of work there began. Another Baptist medical missionary, Dr. Dorothy Timpany, described her cousin John’s work this way:

Dr. Timpany had a double ministry. He alone was in charge of the evangelistic work in a 6000 square mile area, but the preaching often met with opposition, until the people saw his healing ministry. In time people asked for a hospital in the area. An Islamic man started a fund to which all classes of people contributed and, after nine years in India, Dr. Timpany had a hospital of twenty-six beds, paid for without money from the American Baptist Board!

(Dorothy E. Timpany, Love Affair With India, 1993)

It was in 1925 that John Stuart and Eleanor Timpany retired to Digby, NS. I believe they lived on Queen Street. John died in 1939. Nellie said of her husband, “He and his father loved the people of India and gave themselves for them.” She went on to live until 1954. Their grave is Woodlawn cemetery. 

These people were clearly inspired by others, in their own family, and outside it. They have inspired many, and continue to do so. We tell and retell such stories, stories of God’s work and intervention, the Master’s planning and purposes, the Spirit’s guidance and powerful accomplishments around us. 

Thousands of years ago, Elijah was inspired to trust God to bless a poor woman and her son on the shores of the Meditereanean, in Phoenicia. When the son died, God used Elijah to raise him back to life! Hundreds of years later, Jesus was inspired to mention that story, an example of God’s care and goodness to every type of person on earth. What stories inspire you? What do you do when you’re inspired? & shall you be an inspiration to someone else? May it be so!

PRAYER Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End of all good things: we pray on this day as we worship and praise You for the gift of the Atlantic Baptist Women’s movement, and each local Missionary Society. We give thanks for Your servants who still inspire us, Maria Norris, Lavinia Wilson, Nellie Timpnay, and many others. Give power and purpose to our own Missionary Society here, in this decade of challenge and need. We pray for our sisters and brothers in the African Association today, who have recently lost two incredible leaders, sister Alma Johnston-Tynes and Rev. Tracey Grosse. As they join that great cloud of witnesses who encourage us, may we continue to run the race with perseverance, O Son of God.

Christ, you turn our eyes to the whole world, each day. Today we pray for the places where there is fresh and alarming violence, and places where the terror has gone on a long time. Disasters strike, Jesus, and we cry of for mercy where earthquake and flood and fire destroy. And, Master of the loving heart, we pray for our friends of the United States of America, as their election finally arrives: may there be good choices made, good working of the whole voting process, and good responses to the election results.

We continue in prayer for those dear to us. Bless in body, and spirit…… and these we name aloud or silently… 

And we pray for ourselves, a fellowship in Christ we call Digby Baptist Church. Still lead us, Master, into the ways of truth that rely upon Your guidance, the actions of love that stem from Your powerful care, and the fellowship of faith that is as wide and welcoming as You were here on earth. O Saviour Jesus, save again today, reach out to save those near us, we pray. In Your name. AMEN.

PRAYER of farewell to Deacon Joyce Marshall

Mighty God, You who know who we are, You who renew our souls in Christ, You who prepare our path and lead us: hear our prayers for Joyce. Take her and bless her as much as possible; we are releasing her into Your total care. But we will still care, dear God, we will keep in touch, we will pray for her, we will even still be inspired and helped by her while she is away. 

We give thanks for the ministry gifts Joyce shared, Heavenly Father; we ask forgiveness for any offenses and harm we have done; we mourn and say goodbye to her whose fellowship and friendship we have enjoyed.

O Lord, bless Joyce and keep her, 

make Your face shine upon her 

and be gracious unto her, 

lift of the light of Your countenance upon her, 

and give her peace. 

In the name of Jesus, AMEN.