Jan 31: To Obey

WELOCME to our worship blog post for this Sunday at Digby Baptist Church. This week we happen to be having a hymn sing and Bible study as the main body of our service together. Video of the children’s lesson and the ‘Bible study sermon’ are here. More information is available about the service and church life in the bulletin, here on the bulletins page.

(Luke 6:1-16) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, Jan 31, 2021, UBC Digby

Let’s start our Bible study sermon.

O, O, Obey-O,
that’s why we say-O,
yes we will obey!

(A Daily Vacation Bible School song)

For many people through the years, taking part in church has been a simple matter of Christian obedience and duty. The right thing to do. It’s wrong not to do it! Did you learn that?

Christianity as a whole movement, or religion, can be seen as an organization full of rules. Do this. Do not do that. Believe this. Do not believe that. Hundreds of times. 

Many people are still the kind of people who find this helpful. The sense of duty and the desire to follow the right path can be strong. 

Nowadays, it might be easy for those of us over 50 to say that the younger generations do not have any sense of duty or obedience. But it may be that they value different things than we have valued. Rules of organizations may not seem helpful to them, nor traditional rules in society about how we communicate with people. Yet other rules of just behaviour, and of being authentic might be important to them. 

The Hemorrhaging Faith study (2011) heard this from some of the Canadian young people that were interviewed:

Seeing people just going to church to go to church. You know, just seeing a lot of …just going through the motions and then their life is a total mess … I didn’t feel these people were happy in their lives …I just felt it wasn’t true, and one-hundred percent pure.  – Marly

I guess one of the things I really struggle with is how people can have a firm belief in God but they have a belief they follow but they can treat people so horribly at the same time when there’s people out there that might not necessarily believe in God but they follow more true to his teaching and are more of a reflection upon Jesus and his character. – Anna

I remember just seeing again certain students …um… go to chapel and pray and worship and then they would leave there and become regular again. What I call regular you know, they would be cursing or doing things they shouldn’t have been doing and I just wondered how …how could they live a double life? – Cal (p. 59)

To be genuine is important, to be authentic and ‘real’ is valued.

Today, our scripture story about Jesus touches on obedience, rooted in the Ten Commandments and other teachings of the Hebrews of old. 

Some of the background is found in:

1. Exodus 20:1-17 The Ten Commandments. Which commandments have been important to you? Which have not been as important? Why’s that?

If you go to church Sunday morning, you love the Church. If you also go to Church Sunday evening, you love the Pastor. If you also go to Wednesday Prayer Meeting, you love the Lord! – saying from a church in New Jersey

I’d say that is humorous, but also severe!

Today’s example, with Jesus, is sabbath keeping.

2. Exodus 34:21 Sabbath obedience. What rules about Sunday have you known in your life?  How is your obedience different now than it was in the past?

Keeping of the Christian Sabbath can help us in several ways. It breaks the continuous cycle of buying and selling; so it could be very helpful in our ‘consumer culture.’ Sabbath sets us free from the busy schedule, and gives a rhythm to our days. Sabbath trains us to take sabbath moments in every day, and longer time within a whole year, and bigger ‘sabbaticals’ in the course of each decade.

The first Gospel scene today is of Jesus and His disciples EATING GRAIN (Luke 6:1-5)

3. Leviticus 24:5-9  The Bread of the Presence. Think over some of the Christian Sabbath rules and regulations you know. How is each one intended to serve humankind and help? (Perhaps scripture even tells us this; what vs?)

The background for this event Jesus mentioned is in:

4. 1 Samuel 21:1-6  David and the bread.

The next scene in Luke 6 is a HEALING (Luke 6:6-11)

Diversity of Jewish teachings on the Sabbath… Some of the Rabbis, in the time of Jesus, taught that any healing work was permitted on the Sabbath. In contrast, the religious community at Qumran taught that one could not even help an animal that was giving birth on the Sabbath!

Sabbath keeping was a distinctive practice of the Jews.

It was a big part of forming their identity. 

5. Exodus 20:8-11  No work on the Sabbath. The day of rest is tied to freedom in this commandment. What are some ways that keeping a Sabbath can provide freedom? What are ways that obedience to other rules helps us?

The third and final scene in the Gospel today is of Jesus’ PRAYER all night not on a Sabbath (Luke 6:)

Preparation for a day of decision – 12 disciples

Was this prayer by Jesus a matter of obedience? Not to any specific rule or pattern. It was simply something He needed to do before the day of decision. A time of personal preparation. He made use of a tool He knew how to use, when He needed it. Perhaps we can see how praying and working with scripture on Sundays, in our lives, gets us ready for other days, other moments, when we need to pray and seek guidance and simply be with our God.

We, in the Church, have many spiritual tools at our fingertips, even if we are a bit rusty when it comes to using some of them. Maybe, like me, you are good at taking part in worship on Sunday, but other sabbath-keeping actions have been lost. Perhaps we should sharpen our skills and habits, and we will have more to offer to others around us.

We are now in the third sermon in this series on ‘Why the Christian Church?’ First was ‘To Study/Learn,’ and the second was ‘To Save & Be Saved.’ These are strong in the evangelical tradition, with our emphasis on scripture and saving people. Bible study is also big in the contemplative tradition: picture the scholars in universities, or monks and nuns in monasteries, making use of their ancient libraries. 

Today is about being in the church ‘To Obey,’ and is important in the holiness tradition, which emphasizes knowing and doing the will of God, obeying the teachings of scripture, and being a person of virtue and good behaviour, avoiding sin. Other reasons for taking part in the church will come in the weeks ahead.

Six Traditions in Christianity come right out of the life of Jesus, our Master and Saviour:

  • Holiness: the virtuous life. 
  • Charismatic: the Spirit-empowered life
  • Contemplative: the prayer-filled life
  • Social Justice: the compassionate life
  • Evangelical: the Word-centered life
  • Incarnational: the sacramental life

Look at the chart printed in the bulletin; estimate where you are in each area on the wheel spokes. Put a mark at those points, then connect the dots from spoke to spoke to form a ring around the hub. 

(From A Spiritual Formation workbook, Smith & Graybeal, 1993)

What are your strengths, as a spiritual being? What are your reasons for being in a church, a local spiritual community? What are not big parts of your life?

As you wander through this week – and a new month begins – consider if obedience and holiness have some influence in your life. And, what other things guide the way you live? 

Consider also those who are not worshippers, not churchgoers. Watch for how they still may be following Jesus. How they pray or study or worship or contemplate or serve sacrificially. How is it Christ is sometimes using them on His team, with us.

Jan 24: To Save & Be Saved

(Luke 5:1-11) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, Jan 24, 2021, UBC Digby


Why Church? Why the Christian Church? 

To save and be saved. 

Certainly we of the Baptist brand have put it this way for our four hundred years of history. And when the two largest groups of Baptist Churches in the Maritimes united 115 years ago, we put things such as these in our doctrinal statement, in our Basis of Union:

Faith — Faith is a conviction of the intellect that God will perform all that He has promised and an implicit trust of the heart in Christ as a personal savior…

A Gospel Church — We believe that a church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel… In the more general sense, the word church is used to designate all whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. 

We are a fellowship of faith; we are a gospel church. 

What attraction do we have for people? Most find no need of the form of salvation we are offering, if they understand us. They must be finding it elsewhere, or some are deciding they don’t need what we claim to have.

We who are here celebrate the better life and joy we have been given, and we seek to cultivate it. At our centre is the sense of being saved, and the mission to help others into this same salvation.

The many styles of Christian faith can be put in a handful of categories. Studying the Bible and sharing the faith are what our Evangelical tradition is all about. Other believers are more about the Social Justice Tradition – living a compassionate Life, caring, alongside God, for everyone and everything. Or some are in the Contemplative Tradition – a prayer-filled life. Another stream is the Holiness Tradition – seeking to live a virtuous life of obedience and purity and right. Yet another is the Charismatic Tradition – living a Spirit-empowered life characterized by the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God. And another branch of Christianity can be called the Incarnational Tradition – living a sacramental life that ties the sacred and the secular together under God. 

People of the evangelical stream hold salvation at the heart of things. This is certainly our ethos; even if we don’t always act like we are saved and trying to get others saved, this is the flavour of our traditions, in music, preaching, Bible study, and so on. 

So, what is it we are talking about? What is it to be saved? This must be clear to us, for the sake of being clear to those outside. 

I would simply call it a good connection with God. Not a broken connection, a weak connection, a partial connection. A good connection, a right relationship. How that happens to a person takes many forms. For some it happens dramatically, for others it is a gradual awakening.

Years ago I interviewed the great Atlantic Baptist pastor and church planter, Freeman Fenerty. He said, I liken conversion experience to two kinds. One where a stick of dynamite drives a man from one path to another, and the other like a flower blossoming, and mine was like that. 

So Jesus uses many human servants, or teammates, to help Him make the connection with people, and set them upon a new path. Today we heard a scripture story about Jesus, a scene on the seashore among fishermen. After an awe-inspiring catch of fish, Jesus calls upon one fisher, Simon Peter, to follow him. He will be fishing for people. ‘Catching people alive’ (Africa Bible Commentary). 

The scene here is simply of people meeting God by meeting Jesus. Peter, we see, feels totally unworthy and tells Jesus to go away. But Christ says to Peter he’s just the one he wants, come and follow and I will get you catching people, like your net caught fish. And that is indeed what happens.

When we ever dare talk with people about what our basic Christian message is, we can say it is about meeting up with God. It is about making the connection. A true witness to something is a person who simply tells what they saw, what they know, and not a bunch of other stuff. 

One of the amazing evangelicals I have been reading lately is Watchman Nee, one of the greatest Christian leaders of the 20th century. His ministry was in his native China, and he spent the last twenty years of his life in prison there. Nee wrote:

What is salvation? Many think that to be saved we must first believe that the Lord Jesus died for us, but it is a strange fact that nowhere in the New Testament does it say precisely that. …We are to believe first of all in Him; not specifically in what He has done. (p. 325)

The first condition of salvation is not knowledge, but meeting Christ. (p. 326)

We come now to the single requirement demanded from us. Quite often people preach the Gospel to a person by using a number of “points,” only to find that the next day the person will say, “I have forgotten the third point. What was it?” Salvation is not a question of points! Salvation is not even a question of understanding or of will. It is, [as we have seen,] a question of meeting God–of people coming into first-hand contact with Christ the Savior. So what, you ask me, is the minimum requirement in a person to make that contact possible? 

The basic condition of a sinner’s salvation is not belief or repentance, but just honesty of heart towards God. God requires nothing of us except that we come into that attitude. (P. 327)

If we were to take time, some day, to go around our circle and talk, we would find many different experiences of God. How we each met Christ in our lives is unique.  Some events may be similar between some of us. How we explain it, how we tell what Jesus means to us, is also personal, but is secondary. The first thing is the actual meeting – that connecting with the Divine One that has happened to us.

Of course, many people keep seeking this, when they do not think they have quite found it yet. And out there, outside of the churches, many people are seeking God, seeking what is truly Real. We know that most people around here are not in churches. So God will be found by them outside of church. We know that. That is where they are looking. 

Jesus took Peter and the others and wandered all about. Sometimes into Jewish Synagogues, yes, or to a wedding, or a funeral. But most of the time out along the roads and in the villages. This is again where people will meet up with Christ, even though He is here simply in Spirit. 

To be saved, to be connected, is of interest to many people, I’d say. Looking, and wanting, and needing and wondering are important things for people around us. 

People keep ‘working out their salvation with fear and trembling,’ as scripture puts it. Making a connection with the Holy is not just a momentary event – it happens over and over, and we seek it again and again. When we, a Christian congregation, are a spiritual resource centre for local people, we are ready to take people as they are, at their moment, and help them with their very next step. 

E. Stanley Jones was an incredible missionary to India, and a writer, in the first half of the 20th century. He wrote:

Conversion is a gift and an achievement. It is the act of a moment and the work of a lifetime. You cannot attain salvation by disciplines–it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain it without disciplines. (p. 281)

To have salvation at the heart of our life as a church family, we will have a lot of good things to offer one another. Ways of praying. Ways of drawing close to God, and one another. Ways of learning and of obeying good paths. Ways of developing people, nurturing them. Church consultant, Reggie McNeil, says we are in the people development business! When we get to our Annual Meeting on Wednesday, notice, in every report and each decision, how someone is being nurtured. See God’s work.

We are a fellowship of people being saved because 1. we have met up with Christ, and 2. we keep on drawing near to God. Through all this, the Spirit transforms us. So a third thing is this: as a group we also can be revived. Just and we give credit to our Master for reconciling us, and for healing our souls more and more, so we give God credit for renewing us as a group, in this day and age.

So it has always been. The great 19th century Baptist preacher in England, Charles H. Spurgeon, preached this about revival, back then:

“O!” says one person, “if we had another minister. O! if we had another kind of worship. O! if we had a different sort of preaching.” You do not need new ways or new people, you need life in what you have. If you want to move a train, you don’t need a new engine, or even ten engines– you need to light a fire and get the steam up in the engine you now have! 

  It is not a new person or a new plan, but the life of God in them that the Church needs. Let us ask God for it! (p. 320)

So today, when we feel we need it, we ask for it. ‘Give new life to us!’ A big part of the life we are given, is the capability to help ‘catch people alive.’ Be ‘fishers of men and women.’ Like the fish in the net, caught from Simon Peter’s boat… he and his companions did not do it by their plan or skill. They were the experts, they were the fishermen, yet it was Jesus who spoke to them, and they slowly obeyed, and the catch was awe-inspiring. 

It was just a sign, it pointed to the real mission. ‘Come with me, you’ll catch human souls now.’ 

Catching people alive today is a new challenge for us. The ones we are fishing for don’t want to be caught, eh? Do not forget who the Chief Fisherman is among us. No, not me, not Pastor Don. No, not Andy Stanley, or Francis Chan or the late Billy Graham. We have the same Captain that Simon Peter, John and Andrew had. We have Jesus. At His command we assist Him to save others. 

At His command they are caught alive.

At His command we are saved.

PRAYER Let us   pray.

Master and Maker of creation, You make us and remake us. You bless and rebuild the world. You welcome us into the saving work of Jesus. Do it again, we pray! Save us, and save others. May you catch people alive, in our shallow waters. 

And in this week of prayer for Christian unity, we bless the other congregations who are our neighbours. May their people, their pastors, their buildings, their budgets, their work and worship done in Your name all be greater this year.  Be our Team Captain, for the sake of our corner of the world. Lead us and inspire us, Christ, in this age. 

In Your great name we pray. AMEN.

Jan 17: To Study/Learn

WELCOME to worship, using this post and the worship bulletin. Sorry, we do not have video of a children’s story this week. (Luke 4:14-30) J G White – 11 am, Sun, Jan 17, 2021, UBC Digby

Welcome to School; class is now in session! 🙂 

For at least the first fifteen years of my career, this is what I wore for every worship service, including each funeral and wedding. The old tradition of basic black, academic robes for preaching: a Geneva gown. This really is rooted in the clothing of teachers and students of old. So we declare that the Church is about teaching and learning.

Well, this is one aspect of our life with God, and a good one. One of many aspects we will explore over the next couple months. Some people are drawn to be part of church because of the learning that happens.

Perhaps we see the roots of this in Judaism. Once again today we visit that Bible scene where Jesus visits his hometown, Nazareth, and gets involved in the teaching of the Synagogue on Saturday, the Sabbath.

The Jewish religion – thousands of years old – has changed quite a bit, through time. Before the days of Jesus, they had developed in their towns these meeting places – synagogues – for education, for worship, for legal decisions, and so forth. Communities of Jews, scattered in many places, could still gather to be God’s people together, learning the things of God, learning how to be Jewish. 

Luke chapter 4 (:16) today tells us Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He, like many other Jews, kept the Sabbath holy, in part, by gathering for prayer and scripture reading and teaching. 

How does spiritual learning happen today? How do people gather and study together? For many, local religious groups are not the place they turn to for spiritual education. For others of us, this still is the heart of our learning about God, humanity, the universe and everything. How churches are meeting together is changing a lot, and not just because of pandemic precautions. The ways of meeting in small groups in homes keeps getting re-invented, including by the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement. That has new Christian gatherings happening at the coffee shop, the tattoo parlour, the dog walk park, and the brewery. ‘What Would Jesus Brew?’ – that’s the new ‘church’ for some, apparently. 

And these creative ways of meeting can be branches from a traditional church – like us. Our own denomination just last week started a new program called ‘Launch,’ which is all about churches starting new branches of themselves in different ways, out there. Digby Wesleyan is doing this now, with their Tuesday services in the Deep Brook Lion’s Hall. 

The whole world is God’s classroom, and laboratory, with us. We who have enrolled to be disciples of Master Jesus find life lessons everywhere, thanks be to God!

So, church is about getting together to learn. Another important thing people seek from God in the churches is Scriptural understanding. What the Bible means, how to find God in it, how to live the Bible’s way. A system of learning what is real and good, based on Holy Scripture.

This is a hard day and age for TRUTH. In our religion, we make claims about ‘the truth.’ That we are in touch with the source of truth: God and the Bible. Yet the truth about so many things is very hard to know, it seems. 

We are witnessing the tragic finale of a world leader this month. And the whole USA is in a tense and dangerous condition. What is true? What is right? What is fair? What is just? What is needed? What is wrong? Sorting the details out is so challenging – certainly for us as bystanders. The daily news can set our heads and our hearts spinning. I don’t even want ‘to go there.’

Yet my faith stance tells me I have something to say, we have something to say. Lying is a problem. Ridicule and contempt is a problem. Greed is a problem. ‘Looking out for number one’ is a problem. The Bible tells me so. And the Bible will also challenge me and you, the way we live.

 Look at that scene of Jesus in the synagogue. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. (Luke 4:16-17) This was the usual thing. It still is. 

Once Jesus started talking about other Old Testament stories, that day, He got in hot water. He was mentioning non Jewish people who’d been helped, over and above the ‘chosen people.’ His fellow chosen people were furious at this. ‘If this local guy was going to claim to be the Messiah, he had better put the Jews first!’ He didn’t. The crowd tries to kill Jesus! This is the first attempt of a few, before the day we know about when He does die.

So, in our lifetimes, we should not be surprised if we find people who dislike Jesus, or who reject the Holy Bible. Lines from a Christmas song haunt me, a song by an atheist comedian and musician from Australia.

I don’t go for ancient wisdom

I don’t believe just ’cause ideas are tenacious 

it means that they’re worthy

(Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun)

The Bible has been tenacious, and some people do not like that. I do. One thing I asked for for my fiftieth birthday was any volume of the seven volume St. John’s Bible. I got it. In fact, I got three of the volumes. This text, Scripture, is so influential and powerful for me. I am here to learn.

And, it goes without saying, I am also here to teach. The role of the Rabbi/Teacher/Preacher/Prophet is strong in human history. People are part of the Christian Church to learn from God through the teachers we have. 

We look up to Jesus, our quintessential Master, Teacher, Lord and Friend. When He began to speak in Nazareth, that day, things started well. (Luke 4:) 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. Jesus was impressive. Think about some of the things Jesus said that most impress you. 

In our lives we have so many great teachers, and through them the Spirit of Jesus continues to train us. I think we are more likely to name some of these others, without giving credit to Jesus directly. You may have been taught well through the years by Billy Graham, or Max Lucado, Joyce Myers, or Martin Luther King, Jr., Anna Robbins or Leon Langille. All these teach in the church, from the church, and for the Christian church.

Thousands of other spiritual teachers are available to us, just in the English language. From other religious traditions, to ‘new age,’ non-traditional perspectives, everything is out there. And everyone has a following. We believers don’t have a corner on the marketplace of spiritual teaching. 

So plenty of folks who used to be in pews are now getting their spiritual instruction for other ‘experts.’ I feel, from time to time, the strong urge to compete, but in my better moments I think I am better just to talk. Just be able to chat with others. Hear how others understand life. Get good at explaining myself without coming across as selling something. We all can do that. I prefer to think that’s what the Apostle Peter would say to us today with his words: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pt 3:15-16)

If the Christian Church is a place for learning of God by getting together, by studying the Bible, and by hearing from teachers – including God – it must also be about life-long learning: always making progress.

 A well-known Southern Baptist theologian quips that the whole of his Sunday school training could be summed up in one sentence (delivered with a broad Texas drawl): “Jesus is nice, and he wants us to be nice, too.” (Cynthia Bourgeault, quoted by Richard Rohr, Jan 14, 2019) there’s a pretty weak gospel! Even Sunday school for children needs to go deeper and farther than this. Not to mention the training we offer to teenagers, young adults, middle-agers like me, and elders like you. 😉

My memory of school days is poor, so I asked some teachers I know about the curriculum. So many things children learn come in stages. You learn the basics, then some more, then you build on that and learn greater things. The first things you learned are not pointless, they are the foundation. 

For instance, in preschool and primary children learn to read and write the alphabet. The methodology now is mainly to learn lower-case letters, along with the sounds they make. The capital letters are added in as they go along. Later, in about grades three and four, the teachers are free to teach them cursive writing, though that is no longer in the curriculum now. 

Some things we learn at an early stage get replaced by better lessons, more detail, more accuracy. A lover of science, I remember learning about atoms. Everything is made up of tiny atoms. In about grade nine I learned the structure of an atom. A nucleus of protons and neutrons, with electrons circling around in orbits, like the planets going around the sun. 

But wait! In grade eleven chemistry I learned this: it is better to describe the electrons as being in ‘orbitals,’ sort of like clouds, around the nucleus, not in simple orbits. They do not actually just spin around in circles; they exist in foggy clouds of probability. 

What I learned in grade nine was not wrong, just simple and basic. Two years later I got a fuller story. And, of course, this prepares me to think that real experts in chemistry and physicals see the atom far differently than I knew it in grade eleven. It is more complex and amazing that I know, even with my minor in Chemistry. 

So it is with God. So it is with the human spirit. So it is with creation. So it is with the past, and with the future. We  learn more. What I learned as a kid about having Jesus in my heart was a very simple thing. As a teen I got basic training in praying and using the Bible and obeying the will of God for my life. In my twenties I was introduced to so much more about human spirituality & Christian theology. In my thirties I got obsessed by the spiritual disciplines, far above and beyond the very basic Bible reading and prayer I’d been taught when I was a kid. & my journey continues.

Sometimes I get concerned about all the failures of the Church I see when it comes to teaching people stuff. We can learn lessons from what we did poorly. Yet there is also such success in what we have taught one another, and I want to see and celebrate these things. God has used us in beautiful ways as students and teachers of faith. And the new things that are always there to be learned – at times we have learned these lessons. 

When Jesus was in the synagogue that day, He clearly was using the old Bible in new ways. The audience got so upset with Him: He must have been making some points they did not want to hear! As it says, When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. (Luke 4:28)

Today, when the Holy Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus taught, we may still get some surprises. We should. I suppose that one of the uses of the church that really still attracts me, is the church as a group for study and learning. This does not appeal to every believer; it does to me. 

So, in the role of spiritual teacher, I need to remember two things. First, not everyone is in church as a classroom. We will look at many other reasons to be here, in the upcoming sermons. Some of you are in church as a family, or in church for a miracle, or in church to do good.

Second, I need to remember that not every one of you wants or needs what I want or need from the Bible. Each sermon is for all of us, with all our different places of faith and understanding. 

This year, may we see our wise God still gather the Church to learn, deeply influence us by the written Word of God, anoint many teachers to guide us, and teach us all more and more, moving us from milk to solid food. 

To the glory of Jesus. AMEN.

Jan 10: Why Church?

WELCOME to this post for the United Baptist Church of Digby. Some video from the morning service is available here. Do read the weekly Bulletin for other information, posted on another page here.

SERMON: Why Church? (Luke 3:7-22; Psalm 51:10-17) J G White – 11 am, Sun, Jan 10, 2021, UBC Digby

Years ago there was a collection of church bulletin bloopers that would circulate around. Including these:

For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Evening massage – 6 pm.

The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.

The Rev. Merriweather spoke briefly, much to the delight of the audience.

Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help.

Let the Church help… kill you! No, that is not what we want, though, tragically, in two thousands years of history, the Christian Church has killed people! 

You are here this morning. Or, you are reading this on paper, or online, perhaps even viewing the video of this sermon. This is ‘church.’ This building gets called ‘church,’ this Sunday event gets called ‘church,’ as a group of people we are named ‘church.’ It’s worth talking about this: why we are together in this. It’s worth hearing from God about this. We claim it’s a divine invention; we quote Jesus: what He said to Peter, one day, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mtt 16:18)

Why Church? Why the Christian Church for you? We have our reasons. Jesus has His reasons. Others have theirs.

You could say I am part of this whole thing because it is my job. But I would be part of this if religion were not my job: if I were a local biologist, or farmer, or teacher. 

Perhaps you will ponder today, with me, how you ended up here. I remember my own days of childhood and youth, attending many events of the Middleton Baptist Church. I can remember, slightly, my baptism into the faith, there in the Middleton Baptist building at Easter, 1984, baptized by the Rev. Don Robertson, no less. 

The painting here, by the late Wanda Handspiker, is a peaceful image of this act of faith that gives our Christian tribe it’s name. This looks so much to me like the Annapolis River, from the backyard of my youth. 

With scripture now, we look way back to those dramatic days of ‘John the Baptist,’ preparing the way for the Jewish Messiah. He comes across as a preacher of strong words and practical advice, answering questions from the crowd, as he is busy baptizing people in the waters of the Jordan River. 

To be in a Baptist Church is not actually to name yourself after John the Baptist. John was Jewish, not a Christian. The churches called ‘Baptist’ have their origin 1,600 years after John and his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. Our ritual immersion of adults in water names us. 

Crowds of people came out to the riverside for John’s baptism of turning away from wrong. He warned them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” As important as this water ritual was, it required a change in the actions of the people. 

The rituals and habits and patterns of any church do draw some of us in and keep us. At other times, our religion is mainly about better behaviour. 

The crowds asked John what they should do. Give away your extra clothing and food to people in need, he told them. Workers for the Roman Revenue Agency were there, apparently, and asked, “Rabbi, what should we do?” Don’t collect more money than is actually required of people. Some soldiers were there too, asking, ‘And what about us?’ Be satisfied with your pay; don’t threaten people to get more to line your pockets. 

Some follow a religion and join in to find forgiveness. Others, in order to make a life change and do more good. And others, to escape the threats they see looming. John preached of a Messiah who would “gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 

All this created an air of expectancy. Someone was going to do something special. God was going to get something done, some of those promises we have been hearing for a few hundred years. A new movement was actually about to begin, a new era. 

Some people, today, are in a church for something new, some new movement of the Spirit, some new and powerful activity. Something miraculous. In our present age of terror and epidemics and political mayhem and technology out of control, many people may be looking for shared hope and shared meaning in life. I’m sure that, as we approach 2000 years since Jesus’ execution and resurrection, interest in some kind of return of Jesus will continue, in our lifetimes.

For the moment, in these first weeks of 2021, we will walk through some early pages of Luke’s Gospel. It’s the beginning of the story of Jesus. The story that is at the centre of the church: the Church around the world and across history, and our local congregation here today. 

Artful and humorous Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, claimed: The visible church is all the people who get together from time to time in God’s name. Anybody can find out who they are by going to look. 

The invisible church is all the people God uses for his hands and feet in this world. Nobody can find out who they are except God. 

Think of them as two circles. The optimist says they are concentric. The cynic says they don’t even touch. The realist says they occasionally overlap. 

In a fit of high inspiration the author of the Book of Revelation states that there is no temple in the New Jerusalem, thus squelching once and for all the tedious quip that since Heaven is an endless church service, anybody with two wits to rub together would prefer Hell.

The reason for there being no temple in the New Jerusalem is presumably the same as the reason for Noah’s leaving the ark behind when he finally makes it to Mount Ararat. (Wishful Thinking, p. 15, 1973.)

While we have our temples, here, and our spiritual organizations for one another, we see the decrease of how many take part. The usual ways of being the church in our part of the world have been shrinking, all our lives long. As Mark Cress said to me in 2014, when I was new here, “You’re pastor of the largest dying church in Digby Co.”

Yet, whether it is my job to be here, or if I was simply choosing to be here, I believe there is life here. I like the God we find here, and the ways we find God here. 

For several weeks I want us to explore the ways people connect with being church, as well as the ways people not in church express the same spiritual issues. Issues of belonging, of forgiveness, of eternal life, of purpose in this life, of connecting with God, and so on. The stories of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke will guide and inform us. Our own life stories will be important. And the lives of those outside the churches: I hope to ‘interview’ a variety of people about Christianity 

A 2011 study of Canadian young people and church heard these sorts of things from the folk they interviewed:

You need others to be able to sustain. So people say they are Christian and they do that alone. I mean, c’mon, really? How will you be able to be a Saint by yourself? You need others. I mean, alone? Like, really alone? I think it’s B.S.  – Merlynn

I think that you can make it your own way. I think that organized church is often really [crappy.] – Jill-Ann (She did not use the word “crappy.”)

Some of those ladies in the back row… pray for me every single day… there’s a genuine investment. The two old ladies that ran the church library that I would go hang out with every Sunday and who would always ask how I was doing just loved me like a grandson. – Barry

I just saw so much talk and so many sermons about the good we should do, but yet I didn’t see a whole lot of action from the church. Like, if you would go to a conference or to church, they would talk about all these things that we should do, but you never – you just go home and nothing would happen. – Roy

(James Penner et al, Hemorrhaging Faith: Why & When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying & Returning to the Church,  2011)

Why Church? Why the Christian Church in your life? In our day and age? We see the prelude to this whole movement two thousand years ago, when John the Baptizer preached and baptized, by the Jordan River. Today, we seek again the Holy Spirit, and the fire of God! Once again, may Jesus appear on the scene. He will speak today. He will act today. He will build His Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Hallelujah!

PRAYER Let us   pray.

King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all creation: we bow in awe and wonder: You have called us to be the people of Christ in this world. The Saviour’s light is to shine from within us: bless the name of Jesus!

The song we just heard… may it be our prayer. We admit the lack of vision we sometimes show, as Your Church, the low morale and enthusiasm for what we can do and be, the selfish errors we make in the living of our days. In Your mercy, inspire us – breathe into us afresh. Turn our eyes and our attention to our neighbourhoods, outside these four walls. It is here You have deployed us – we give thanks for the calling to be the church in this community.

You, Master, call upon us to pray. To pray to You, with You, because of You. We pray for our world, turned upside down by this latest coronavirus. 

We pray for our neighbours of the USA, with such unrest, and such challenges in their transition of leadership. You know how upset we sometimes are with the news we hear – have mercy, have mercy all this year, we pray, for our friends south of the border need help.

We pray across the whole world, as this New Year begins. The continuing saga of disasters flow endlessly: the earthquake in Croatia, mudslides in Norway and Japan devastating communities; floods, gales and snow in the UK, disappearances in Turkey, Belarus, Russia, droughts, starvation, oppression in Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and so many parts of Your world – our hearts ache with all those suffering.

Holy One, who promises never to forget us or forsake us: in this Alzheimer awareness month we pray for those near us and those everywhere suffering with this disease and other dementias that so limit and destroy life. We pray also for care-givers and loved ones who are sometimes at a loss over what to do. Give strength and understanding, calm and peace.

And we join together to bless all those who suffer, who seek healing or comfort right now. Especially, we remember folks like Don and Richard and Carolyn and Charlene and Dwight and Bob…   

who are in and out of hospitals right now, seeking help for the body. May these also find strength for their souls today. We pray for Ronnie, at Tideview, in such poor health, that he may be supported all the day long, til the shades lengthen and the evening comes.

This praying we finish with the words Jesus taught:Our Father, who art in heaven…  AMEN.

Jan 3: Twelve More Days of Christmas

WELCOME to this post, our first for a new year. Today’s service has some different elements in it. See the whole plan in the Bulletin for today, here on another page of our website. Video includes some prayers, children’s time and the sermon.

PRAYERS for UBC Digby ~ January 3, 2021. Please note: the sermon comes between Prayer 8 and Prayer 9. Today is a day of dozens. Twelve times I am going to pray, in this service. Each time we will look back to one month of 2020. Each time we will pray for the members and adherents of our congregation. Each time I will also offer one of my daily prayers I wrote in my own prayer journal last year.

PRAYER 1 Let us   pray. Eternal and Everlasting One, we look back with thanks for the year that is now past, and call on You as a new year begins. God of January, 2020, we remember the bush fires that burned terribly in Australia – and we prayed. Thank-You for your blessing of firefighters and all first responders.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Reta, Carol, Bonnie, Sonny & Dianne, Rodney & Eileen, Michael & Donna, Louise, Bernie & Ellen, Mike & Maggie.

Revelation chapter 4 speaks of heavenly worship. The centrality and power and joy of heavenly worship is strong. Take us back to times of being excited about worship. Your holiness, God, is for me a beautiful thing. Somehow, I have dulled my sense of this. (Jan 9) AMEN.

PRAYER 2 Let us   pray. God of February, we remember the Wet’suwet’en blockades in  British Columbia. We are grateful for Your gift to all of us of the land and sea and sky of creation.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Kingsley, Mary, Don, Dick & Della, John & Marilyn, Brian & Corinne, Deborah, Marguerite, Elaine & Craig, Linda, Charlene.

Thank-You, Holy Master, for the diverse perspectives of your many children of many nations thru the ages. Broaden our own view of You, that we may know more that’s true. (Feb 6) AMEN.

PRAYER 3 Let us   pray. God of March, we remember the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in Nova Scotia, and around the world. We worship You, for Your care is worldwide and Your compassion crosses all borders.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Hazel, Sandra, June & John, Peter & Bev, John & Evelyn, Carol, Tom & Cathy, Eddie, Nancee & Adrian.

Master, when I feel like a failure, may You succeed in me. When I feel proud and satisfied, may You be honoured more than me. When I feel better and smarter and more sensible than others, may they be encouraged and empowered. When I feel happy to be different and separate from others, may they know we all belong and have one Master – You. (March 9) Amen.

PRAYER 4 Let us   pray. God of April, we remember the tragic massacre of 22 people here in Nova Scotia, and the helicopter crash in Greece. We give thanks that Jesus is crucified and risen, showing the Divine understanding transcends all suffering and death.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Myra & Carey, Raymond & Sandra, Murray & Sandra, Lexi, Terry, Ardith, Marj & Doug, Sheree & Philip, Verna & Bob.

Jesus of healing – this is a time of healing and a time of dying. This is the whole world’s focus. In this age we know so much. May we make the most of this knowledge. Keep us wise in helping others. (April 2) Amen.

PRAYER 5 Let us   pray. God of May, we remember that Black Lives Matter. We rejoice in the blessed assurance that Christ’s Kingdom welcomes and respects all peoples of earth.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Marilyn, Carol & Roy, Dianne, Louella, Geraldine, Gail, Carolyn, Michael, Amelia, Chris, Barb, Jackie & Dick.

This day, O LIFE of life, this day looks to the eyes to be grand. Plans for the day seem hopeful and helpful. The focus is upon joyful things, that’s for sure. May we not forget all who will not have a good day, whose body, mind, or spirit is hurting, or dull, alone or oppressed. Then, may Your good Life flow to them, even through me. In Christ. (June 9) Amen.

PRAYER 6 Let us   pray. God of June, we remember the global recession in the economy, caused by all the pandemic precautions. We bow to You, who have such preferential care for the poor and oppressed, in every age.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Floss, Joyce, Audrey & Bill, Robert, Louise, Dottie & Nelson, Marion, Darleen & Brian, Joyce.

Bread. We find ways of buying bread, of making bread. It feeds us. It is a pleasure. You, Jesus, speak of being the Bread of life. Today, today may we turn to You for sustenance and pure joy three times. At least three times during the day. (June 13) Amen.

PRAYER 7 Let us   pray. God of July, we remember gathering to worship You again. Though it has not been the same as it was before, we rejoice that You are unchanged, You are still accessible, You are uniting Your people.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Sharon & Roger, Carolyn, Shayne & Bruce, Margo & Bobby, Geneva, Johanna, Bev & Rick, Bill, Ellen.

Precious God, we call You our Provider. Our economy is a strict, fragile thing. There is no room for sudden sabbath, for jubilee. The ceasing of much business in a pandemic is not a rest, it is a disaster. This is need not be. This need not be? …Is small and local and self- sustainable the way? And is Your holy calling to Your people an economic one? We are not hearing it. (July 2) Amen.

PRAYER 8 Let us   pray. God of August, we remember the terrible explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. How we give thanks for the wonderful work of Your servants there, showing hospitality and giving aid, in that time of great need.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Janet & Mark, Angela & Dwight, Judi & Churchill, Heather & Dick, Richard, Joy, Wayne, Irene, Barry & Gloria,.

Instead of ‘social media’- socialize with Thee. May it be. Instead of distractions from work – stay working for Thee. May it be. Instead of longing for attention – attend to others and pay attention to Thee. May it be. In the name of Jesus. (Aug 6) Amen.

SERMON: Twelve More Days of Christmas (edited from Dec 31, 2017) – Jeff White

O, once upon a time, near here, ‘twas Christmas time again.
And everybody knows that’s when the famed Twelve Days begin.
So, on the twenty-fifth, Sam asked his friends about the song:
‘Can we go find a partridge in a pear tree? Won’t take long!’

So off the children went to find the gift of that first day;
And when they found that happy bird, they shouted, ‘Hip! Hooray!’
‘What’s next,’ said Gabe, & soon they set out quick, to find the rest;
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

So off the children went and looked below, between, above,
Until they found two turtledoves who shared a lot of love.
Just like two lovebirds, those two doves seemed filled with joy & care,
Yet also looked so welcoming for more to join them there.

Now, Samuel said, ‘God is love. We say this at our church.’
And Hannah nodded, ‘yes,’ and smiled at birdies on their perch.
Sam asked, ‘What way should we go now?’ & Gabriel said, ‘West.
If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Next was the 3rd great Christmas Day; they looked for 3 French hens,
And wisely thought to seek them out among Acadiens.
To Clare the children went, & found three chickens, Une, Deux, Trois,
All clucking by a Frenchys store. The children cheered, ‘Rah, rah!’

So then young Mason pointed out the juice and bread they had,
And Gabriel knew Christmas time had made the birdies glad.
‘Cause Jesus, when He grew up, always shared bread as a guest.
If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

On the Fourth Day of Christmas time the children’s band set out
To find four calling birds, and find out what they called about!
Up in the sky, near a bright star, four birds sang, bright as morn.
The children knew they took their turns to tell that Christ was born.

Joseph was the adopted dad, and mom was named Mary;
Some shepherds lived nearby, and wise ones came from far away.
‘These birds sing true,’ said Sam, ‘they pass the Bible story test.’
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

On the Fifth day of Christmas time a challenge grand and bold
Was waiting for the kids: to find some rings, five rings of gold.
‘We’ll never find them,’ Taylor cried, ‘This isn’t very funny.
They’re not like birds up in the trees and we have got not money!’

Then Eliana stopped and stared at something down the road.
And Gracie saw it too: a llama blowing bubbles gold!
Five golden bubbles were provided for the children’s quest.
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

With brand-new hope the children went down to the llama’s farm.
There, geese were laying eggs within a pen, all safe from harm.
‘Hooray!’ said Gabe, ‘We found day six, and six eggs on the ground.
They’re red and yellow, pink and purple, greenish and dark brown.

Dear Hannah gazed, as if to ask why eggs weren’t all the same,
But then she knew, as they all knew, that all things, wild and tame,
God makes all different, just like us; so she thought, like the rest:
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

To Sandy Cove the young ones went to find some swans rehearse
(The seventh day of Christmas, it is New Year’s Eve, of course).
The next day was Polar Bear Dip, & yes, some swans were there
To practice for the festive swim: they dove and swirled with flair.

‘If seven swans still practice how to swim, what should we do?’
Sam asked, & Dryden answered, ‘We should practice our best too.’
God gives us good to do & learn & seek &, yes, you guessed:
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

On the eighth day the kids set out to find some working folk,
As they looked for a dairy farm and eight girls who could milk.
And sure enough they found them all, each ready, set to work,
With smock and bonnet, pail for milk, and happy: each one smirked.

‘They’re nice, but dressed alike!’, said Gabe, ‘I know I am not wrong:
In God’s world here so many different-looking folk belong.’
‘Twas New Year’s Day, and they had just four days to find the rest.
‘If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

On the ninth day the group of children, looking far and wide,
Sought out nine dancers talented whose grace each would not hide.
They found a twenties flapper, and a poodle skirted girl,
A gal of nineteen-seventies, and grandma doing a twirl;

Then ladies, each, of Ireland, and Spain, and Africa,
A ballerina, and a girl traditional Mi’Kmaq.
The kids rejoiced and joined right in with them to dance with zest.
‘If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

So all the children danced, Amelia and ‘Kenna too,
They simply rocked and bobbed and grinned, ‘twas natural to do.
Well, naturally, ten lords a leaping were easy to find;
They took their cue from the wise women, following behind.

Among the gentlemen wise Dryden noticed, very quick,
That Jesus Christ, the Lord, was there, along with old Saint Nick.
‘It’s when a whole big lot of folks are here that God is blessed.
If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

The girls and boys could see God’s ways, before eleventh day:
‘Welcome to God’s kingdom! Welcome to all!’ This is the way.
So when eleven pipers were needed to pipe for heav’n,
They knew it was not just the pied piper for day elev’n.

So many pipes play music, and these players piped their song;
And one piped icing on a cake; a plumber worked along;
A bird, like Piping Plover, payed a tune to join the quest:
‘If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

Then, on the final Christmas Day, Amelia and Dryden,
Hannah and Sam, Eliana, Gabe, McKenna and Mason,
Taylor and Grace found 12 drummers drumming; you knew they would!
And all the lessons that they learned of life, they all were good.

‘Christ is born! The Saviour lives!’, the children celebrated;
And all the while the super-duper drumming ne’er abated.
God’s ways are super-creative; God welcomes all as guests.
If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best!

PRAYER 9 Let us   pray. God of September, we remember the conflict and justice issues in our lobster fishery. We also remember the months of no school, the challenges of online learning, and the complex return to classes. We trust in You for guidance, and eyes to see all others with compassion. 

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Don & Cairine, Paul & Cheryl, Owen, Steve & Pam, Virginia, Edna, Marlene & Daniel, Dorothea, Keith & Pat, Marilyn.

Let this day brighten for others, because we are in it, and You are in us. Let goodness shine before us, as we meet those in whom You dwell. Let all creation sing because we humans bless it. (Sept 29) Amen.

PRAYER 10 Let us   pray. God of October, we remember it as mental health awareness month, highlighting the strains and stresses upon millions this year. We thank You for the healing work that is done, and support for the downcast that comes from your heart. 

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Myrtle, Reta, Henoche & Barb, Murray & Stella, Mary Ann, Joe & Sharon, Stan & Bonnie, Dave & Flo, Jeff & Laurie, Douglas & Morgan.

As a grand tree dies and is cut down, allowing others to grow, O Gardener, so let us be pruned of those things that are ill and old and wrong and out of place. So let us be pruned of our lack of seriousness about sin and weakness. So let us be pruned of the sources of pride that actually limit our journey, and [limit] the good for others that could come out of our lives. Thanks & glory to You for the wonderful, holy horticulture you have already accomplished in us. (Oct 7) Amen

PRAYER 11 Let us   pray. God of November, we remember the service and sacrifice of so many military members and civilians through the decades. We also remember our neighbours who had elections for their governments. Thank-You for hearing our prayers for all who serve and govern.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Andrew & Alison & Gabriel & Eliana & Khang, Grace, Ramona, Sandra, Geraldine, Alfie & Mary, Doug, James, Joanne, Helena.

O Saviour, You have saved me from my sin, You are saving me from my sins, You will save me from sin. Alleluia! Today, let me live in this joy, that I may avoid sin all the more, have my sins lit up and crushed, and take new paths away from wrong. Open the way of humbleness to us. (Nov 5) Amen.

PRAYER 12 & BENEDICTION Let us   pray. God of December, we remember the loss of six scallop fishermen, and other serious tragedies. Praise to You, for the ways You weep with us, and that You walk with us on a path to peace.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Darlene & Paul, Amelia & Jack, Paul, Sharon & Jeff, Barbara & Alan, Ronnie, Sara & Rob & Sam & Hannah, Linda, Marie, Barb.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus. Come, Thou long unexpected Jesus! It is so easy to ignore and be blind to the unexpected, and miss it. Miss You. Let us see You this week; expect the Unexpected. (Dec 9) 

And may the blessing of God Almighty: Father, Son & Holy Spirit, rest & abide with us now & always. AMEN.