March 28: Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday

WELCOME to this post for the Digby Baptist worship service a the end of March and the end of the season of Lent. This Sunday’s service includes a mini-concert by our Men’s Choir. Today’s brief sermon is, for a change, in the preacher’s own handwriting (printing, actually). Video and audio clips are added from the 11 am service.

PRAYER of Approach: Hosanna – save us, we pray! As the Psalms call out, as the people called out for Jesus, we call out today. We tell an ancient story, as we do every Sunday, O God. It is Your story. It becomes our story. Spirit of God, take us to that distant city, Jerusalem, to see the welcome Jesus gets, and the disasters that befall Him. Give us palm branches to wave, that we may feel the harsh heat of the sun and take that journey with Jesus and His disciples and His enemies. Show us the Cross, that we may face our faults and failures, and hear the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Mighty One, we are here for worship, today. We do not always know just what we are doing. We do not know quite what to do. Give us faith to trust that You know exactly what You are doing here. Apply the familiar story to our lives. Let us rejoice freely now, even as we prepare for an intense story this week. Come, O Holy Spirit, and open the Word to us. Open our hearts to the music of the Men’s Choir. Open our eyes to see You. In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

PRAYERS of the People: Hospital: Wayne P, Dwight O, Carolyn M, Heather T… Facing loss: Dottie M… In long-term care… Injured: Ramona V – broken leg… Hopes and joys: expecting a birth: Wilkinsons… Celebrating the new birth in Christ: Terry C… All who ponder the events of Jesus’ life and death this week…

Luke 19:36-40

‘He’s Still the King of kings’

Luke 22:39-46

‘Back to Gethsemane’

Luke 23:32-38

‘There Is A Green Hill Far Away’

Luke 23:44-49

‘That Day at Calvary’

1 Peter 1:18-21

‘There Was No Other Way’

‘Low in the Grave He Lay’

PRAYER after the Concert: Thank You, Creator, for the story told in song. Such personal words the men have shared, and the profound events described in scripture challenge and instruct us. Bless our men in the choir, and Bonnie, and Cairine.  Bless our Sunday Choir that has been disbanded for a full year now. Bless us who try to sing with masks. Bless all who read or watch bits of our services at home. Let us worship with real hope. Let us all keep drawing near to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, for evermore. AMEN.

March 21: To Belong & Fellowship

Welcome to this blog post for Digby Baptist’s worship service, Sunday, March 21, 2021. Video of some parts of the service is included here; thanks, Dick, for running the camera! The whole plan for the service is found in the Bulletin, also available here on the website.

(Luke 19:1-10) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, March 21, 2021, UBC Digby

This happens, once in a while. I go to leave the house, and reach for the car key. I keep mine in a certain spot. It was not in that certain spot. So… I got to the coats hanging in the back porch: check the pockets. No. Hmm. Maybe it is upstairs, in the pocket of the pants I wore yesterday. Nope. Where, oh where could it be?  Sometimes, I have simply had to quit looking, and dig out the spare key kept with others in a tin can. Then, later that day, or the next, or the next, my usual car key turns up. Wherever I left it this time: in the wrong spot.

I am a person who has a knack for losing things, I must admit. Do you ever misplace something? You look and look for it. You give up, after a while. But maybe you find it, later? That’s a happy moment! 

Words of Jesus, about Himself: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” (Lk 19:10)

That’s the conclusion of the story of Zacchaeus. A famous Bible story for children, who also are short, and tend to like climbing trees. I sure did, when I was young.

But Zacchaeus was different. He did not belong in the crowd on the street. He was, well, prosperous, from working for the oppressive government tax department. We might have our own reasons for not wanting the CRA to phone us. The folks of Israel in 30 CE had their reasons for calling their tax collectors sinners. And that’s just what they called Zacchaeus. 

Then, the common people don’t approve of the attention Jesus pays to this man. Yet, Jesus seeks and saves the lost. The ones who are out of place. Who have not found a place in the household of God. 

So Zacchaeus belongs in the family of God. Has a place in the fellowship. Jesus gives it to him. This tax collector believes Him, and responds in a very generous way. Sounds like his lifestyle is about to change. His way of doing business will be new. We are not told how his neighbours, his ‘clients,’ actually get treated, nor how they esteem Zacchaeus from here on in. We can only guess. But we see that Jesus believes what the man says. 

A modern hymn says,

Come in, come in and sit down,
you are a part of the family.
We are lost and we are found,
and we are a part of the family.

Today I add on one more sermon to answer the question: Why Church? Why are people in the Christian Church? To belong. To have fellowship. Social life. Is that why you are here, to some degree? To belong to a group. To socialize? To be a family of God?

Of course, many a pastor has preached sermons on the danger – the sin – of a church behaving like a social club. As one friend of mine calls it, the church becomes a ‘Bless Me Club.’ This is a real danger, and rears its ugly head all the time. The club mentality is all about who is in and who is out. And we sure don’t want the wrong type to get in!

Zacchaeus was one type of outsider, in Jericho, that day long ago. There are many kinds of outsiders. 

Remember the Parable of the Life-Saving Station? I have shared it more than once in the past, here. I’m not going to retell the whole thing. It is the story of a seaside live-saving station that upgrades, becomes quite lovely, and a real social centre for the members. Then, one day, when a terrible shipwreck occurs, and many people have to be rescued, it messes up the picturesque station! 

“They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.” (Theodore O. Wedel, 1953)

Well, the parable goes on, written by Rev. Theodore Wedel, who first preached it in 1953.

Jesus seeks and saves what is lost, out of place, not home. And He creates the Church, to continue this ministry of reconciliation to God. 

So we are social. To be reconciled to God, and to one another, is a social reality. It is the family of God that gets healed and grows and brings people together. It could be said that there is no salvation of people that is not social, not corporate, not about everyone together. (That’s a whole sermon, for another day.)

As we sing, we need to be sure to sing, ‘I’m so glad you’re a part of the family of God…’ ‘Cause it is easy to grumble. Luke 19:7, after Zacchaeus is told Jesus is dining at his house tonight: All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

Jesus always gathers people who are in trouble of some sort, those who did not take all the right paths in life, or who simply had some trouble befall them at random. The imperfect, the unforgiven, the hurting, the wayward. Jesus got in trouble all the time for hanging out with the wrong crowd. They were the right crowd, to Him.

This makes me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about the Church, in his little book, Life Together.

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. But Christ wants us as we are. Bonhoeffer goes on to say: The mask you wear before [others] will do you no good before Him. He want to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. (Trans. 1954 by John W. Doberstein, pp. 110-111)

Yet we keep on hiding from one another. And we keep competing with one another. Even believers.

Even the Christian family of God does not get along. Five months ago two couples quit this congregation. They thought my differences from them were irreconcilable, I suppose. And it is a real loss, for they were our friends, we need diversity, and we are all believers – we are in the same Family. Still, we know, not all differences get reconciled.

Some friends of ours visited from Truro last weekend. They are both pastors, and one also a school teacher. I asked about a couple of our Baptist Churches in Truro, one is old, one is very newly started. The new one got birthed out of the established one. But it was not a simple story of church planting. Some folks say, yes, it was a church plant, a new ministry that started, on purpose. Others folk say it was actually a church split. There was a conflict, and the new congregation is mainly those unhappy with the older church. 

It has been said, as a joke and a warning, that Baptists start new churches by having a fight and splitting up!

And then, there are too many Christian denominations! 

20th century missionary and theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, called ‘Christian disunity an intolerable anomaly.’ Way back in 1953 he said, the division of the Church into rival and hostile bodies is something finally incompatible with the central verities of the Gospel. And, that division within its own life is a violent contradiction of its own fundamental nature. His [Jesus’] reconciling work is one, and we cannot be His ambassadors reconciling the world to God, if we have not ourselves been willing to be reconciled to one another. (Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God, 1954, p. 7)

A few minutes ago, Peter and I sang, Let there be peace on earth / and let it begin with me. We each have our part to play, in our own pew, our own congregation, our own neighbourhood, in our own family. We will find that Jesus wants to welcome people we’d prefer to leave out, at first. 

A broad view of Christianity will show us how diverse we are – we, this one fellowship Jesus created. 

There is a great value for us in being aware of others around the globe: we see just how different other believers are. When they gather and worship, it looks very different from what we are doing. They are singing in Arabic, for instance – Sharon heard this in Lebanon. When they teach one another, their methods are not the same as ours. They gather outdoors in the shade of a large tree – visit Africa. When they bless people in their neighbourhood, it is not the same as what we do. They may give microcredit loans to people so they can start a small business sewing clothes or selling ice cream – I saw this in Bolivia. And so on. Yet we are all one, in Christ. The wide variety of peoples who are Christians should tell us something about the wide variety of people we meet who do not yet worship Jesus. They too can belong.

The scene of Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus is but one Biblical example of breaking barriers between people. As we have already noticed, it is indeed called reconciliation. So, Zacchaeus started off ‘in the wrong place,’ lost. He might have been that way for many years. Then he gets found; he finds, in Jesus, the right place. He belonged, after all.  

A couple weeks ago I played a song that says:

This is the place where we pray
This is the place where we cry
This is the place where we start
‘Til death do us part
Where we say good-bye

Here we leave all our pain
Find forgiveness and grace…

(© 2019 Gaither Music Group)

This place – wherever we are, actually – is the place where the Spirit of Jesus will reach out to people. 

As you go, stay close to Christ and see what He sees. See others as He sees them. Such as a rich little guy in a tree. Such as you and me. So many people are ‘out of place,’ ‘in the wrong place,’ ‘lost.’ Watch for how Jesus seeks and finds them, to bring them into their proper place: with God. 

PRAYER after the Sermon: Father of all creation, we Your children rest in the welcome You give us. The hand of Jesus reaches out to us again; He calls and speaks our name. He surprises us by inviting others to the same table. He reaches out to the whole world of people. 

Give us eyes to see the everyday faces with new interest. Give us minds to think differently about the people we meet, week by week. Give us hearts to care more deeply and take more seriously those we do not know well. Give us prayers to prompt us into loving action in the neighbourhood.  

Spirit of life, point us in the right direction, that we may follow Jesus, who is at work near us. And give us joy when we notice Him touching someone new. Help us to follow His lead. In the name of Christ Jesus. AMEN.

March 14: To Reach Eternity

WELCOME to this post for Sunday, March 14, at Digby Baptist Church, Nova Scotia, Canada. Today, we are almost concluding our series: ‘Why Church?’ Read the whole service plan in the Bulletin here.

PRAYER of Approach: Saviour of all, we sing the songs of praise and adoration, we recite the scriptures that rejoice in Your presence. Now, test our motivation, reveal our desires, purify our goals in this hour. We come, worshipping for one single hour out of 168 this week. Show us again a glorious glimpse of Your Kindom. Inspire our hopes with things eternal. Make the lessons of the afterlife practical for this life now! Whenever our reasons for being here are weak or wrong, challenge us to rediscover worship of You, rediscover our Christian purpose, and rediscover what is possible among us, the Church, in Your name, Jesus. Teach us to pray. Our Father…  AMEN.

(1 Corinthians 15:35-58; Luke 16:19-31) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, March 14, 2021, UBC Digby

I was in my late twenties before I heard, at a funeral, a sermon that preached this: the dead are not going to heaven, they are going to be resurrected, and live on the New Earth (under the New Heavens). I was a Baptist minister myself, pastor of three Churches, at this time. And this sermon was from a Johovah’s Witness funeral service!

At least they got that right. 

And it is right, though our pop culture, and even pop Christianity, keeps saying “when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.” 

I know, I know, it’s complicated. Maybe we get to spend some time, or eons, in heaven with Jesus, before the final Day, and our resurrection, to live on the New Earth. 

Why are people in the Christian Church? One last answer today: To Reach Eternity, the afterlife, heaven (whatever God gives us that we are calling heaven). Do many people in our province look to Christianity for answers to the life-after-death questions? And do we here have clear answers for them? Are we knowledgeable? Are we at peace with the answers? Are we articulate, good communicators?

Once more we looked to the story of Jesus from the evangelist named Luke. Dr. Luke today tells us Jesus’ very interesting parable of the rich man, unnamed, and the poor man, Lazarus. As some have said, it is a double-edged parable. First, there’s the reversal, so common in Luke, of the rich and the poor. Father Abraham says to the formerly rich fellow: Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. (L 16:25) 

Second, is the word of warning about, well, warnings. ‘Warn my brothers!’ pleads the man in flames. Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (L16:31) How very poignant this is to us now, as we read these words from the lips of Jesus. Jesus who has come back from the dead, resurrected, for the whole world.

I agree with the Bible scholars who do not see in this parable of Jesus a list of details that explain what heaven and hell are, and how they relate to each other. It is a parable to warn, once again, about the riches we store up for ourselves in this life. And it makes us think about how we get warned, or may want to warn others. 

There might be three things, at least, that people today still want to sort out about the afterlife. (1) What it will be like? (2) Is there more than one option after death? And (3) how to get there – to the best place, assuming there is one. Folks look for clues about this everywhere. From everyday experience. From extraordinary and miraculous experiences (such as near death experiences). From science (research) and philosophy (thinking). From spiritual authorities (revealed truth). And maybe the arts (creative and inspiring things).

Within Christianity, we make strong use of the Bible: revealed truth, a spiritual authority. This snippet – Jesus’ parable of the rich and the poor man dying – we ponder what it shows us about the afterlife? We don’t usually imagine going down to sit by Father Abraham, do we? Unless we sing something like “Rocka my soul in the bosom of Abraham / Oh, rocka my soul!” A study of the Bible and the afterlife will show some progress, some evolution through time of how the Hebrews thought of it all. What they understood kept changing. 

Another rich snippet of scripture today was that piece from 1 Corinthians 15, the Resurrection Chapter. I had us hear a bit that – no surprise here – has traditionally been read at Christian funerals. All about the natural body, and the spiritual body. Part of a human soul, a complete person, is the body. I think the one and only time we acknowledge this with our words is when we speak of ‘souls lost at sea.’ 

So Paul goes on at some length here, as we heard, about the natural body and the spiritual body. Like a seed and the plant that grows from the seed: it’s great imagery. This was all written down in Greek, a couple thousand years ago, and is a challenge to put into English words today. The Jerusalem Bible translation does a good job here. Such as with verse 44. If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment. 

Perhaps my own daydreaming, from time to time, of me in the afterlife being a disembodied spirit, thinner than a ghost, is not very biblical. Whether we understand or agree with every teaching in the Bible, it is worth knowing when we are with it and when we are not. 

Now then, let’s take a little quiz. Five questions, multiple choice. The AFTERLIFE Bible QUIZ.

  1. To get to heaven, individuals must do this:
    1. Stop sinning.
    2. Have faith in the grace of God, thru Jesus.
    3. Be worthy enough to get in.
    4. Be good enough to get in. 
  2. Jesus taught this:
    1. Those who know God & Jesus get eternal life
    2. Those who believe the Son of God get e. l. 
    3. Those who eat Jesus’ body & blood get e. l.
    4. All of the above.
  3. The final goal of a Christian after death is:
    1. Life in heaven.
    2. Death in hell.
    3. Burial in the earth.
    4. Life on a new earth.
  4. The New Testament does not teach this:
    1. Resurrection requires burial, not cremation.
    2. Resurrection from death came thru a human.
    3. Our resurrection happens when Jesus returns.
    4. Resurrection happens to the good & the evil.
  5. Jesus did not teach which of the following:
    1. There is no marriage in the eternal Kingdom.
    2. There is no crying in the eternal Kingdom.
    3. There is no dying in the eternal Kingdom.
    4. There is no body in the eternal Kingdom.

I could have worked on another five questions, on things like, the Bible does not teach that a human soul is immortal, or, what we are judged on in the final judgment. But this was enough, enough to illustrate that what we sometimes say about scripture and Christian teaching is occasionally askew and not really biblical. 

We are in another time of reformation in Christianity. There are big changes in our religion across the world, in our lifetimes. The ways we shift in our thinking with the scriptures and our 2000 years of tradition are important. 

It is important that we pay attention to what we know, and what we are sharing with the world around us. And if we change our minds about some things, or think we have learned something new about God and us and the afterlife, we admit it is new. That we changed our mind. That we learned a new lesson. We are always to be learning. And even the big groups of Christianity globally can be learning and changing together. Does not the Holy Spirit guide us? To be guided means we are moving, going somewhere. 

So, let us pay close attention to where we get our answers. How we built our world-view, our own philosophy of life after death. It is sometimes in our conversations: at a Bible Study, in the Funeral Parlour, in a cemetery. Let’s keep up our conversations with the Bible. And with our Saviour – Christ crucified, who is ALIVE. He promised the Spirit, the Advocate, to be with us and continue His teaching.

So, we have got to the end of my sermon series. Why Church? Why the Christian Church? 

To Study & Learn
To Save & Be Saved
To Obey
For Healing & Miracles
For Spiritual Experiences
To Do Good & Be Good
To Explain Life & Death
To Reach Eternity

I ask again, why are you here, in the pews? Reading or watching the sermon at home? Why still a member in good standing, perhaps? What reasons are most important?

In the bulletin you see a chart, of sorts, with six other categories. These are basic streams within our Faith. These 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. 

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?

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. 

And how shall He take them, with us, into Eternity?

PRAYER after the Sermon: Eternal and everlasting God, the things we want and hope for in the afterlife fill our imaginations. You have inspired us, by Your Word, yes. We also have the theories of the centuries to draw upon. Be our Teacher still, as time marches on. Arise, O Holy Spirit, among us, when we face a loss, when we remember the saints and sinners who are gone, when we come to our own death. In the name of Jesus, who conquered the grave, give us grace to have faith when we do not have all the answers. AMEN.

QUIZ Answer Key

  1. To get to heaven, individuals must do this: b. Have faith in the grace of God, thru Jesus. (Eph 2:8)
  2. Jesus taught this: d. All of the above. (John 17:3; John 3:36; John 6:54)
  3. The final goal of a Christian after death is: d. Life on a new earth. (2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1)
  4. The New Testament does not teach this: a. Resurrection requires burial, not cremation. (1 Cor 15:53)
  5. Jesus did not teach which of the following: d. There is no body in the afterlife. (Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 15:44)

March 7: To Explain Life & Death

WELCOME to this post for worship with Digby Baptist Church, on March 7, 2021. Some video from the morning service is included here.

PRAYERS of the People: Today, with quietness and silence, let us pray together.

God with prayer we pour out our adoration of You. 

We pour out our hopes, that we put in You. 

We quiet ourselves to be aware of and present with You.

We pray for one another, in the pews.

We pray for our sisters and brothers of this fellowship who are not here today, especially those who have not been here since last March.

For those in hospitals, and those waiting for care in hospitals. And for those who work there.

For those who live in homes for special care, and those who work there. 

This is national Kidney month, as our own hospital gets ready to open its new dialysis unit. This past week was national Pharmacy awareness week, world Glaucoma awareness week, and world Orphan week. This second week of March is Agricultural Safety week. Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. And so we pray…

We pray, as we have been asked, for our Associate Executive Minister, Greg Jones, in his ministry of congregational renewal.

And, God, our Sovereign and Saviour, we pray for the troubles of the world. It seems so troubled, in too many places, with all the news that we can see constantly. Let us see You in each place that makes the headlines. 

These few prayers we offer with deep gratitude, Holy One. Our Father, who art in heaven…  AMEN.

(Luke 13:1-9, 31-35) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, March 7, 2021, UBC Digby

Canadian author & former missionary, Ralph Milton writes: I was standing with my sister at the bedside of her son who was dying from cancer. Such a short time before, he had been playing basketball. A tall, cheerful, bright young man. And here, a skeleton covered in skin and sores was dying. It made no sense and I could feel only one emotion. Anger.

Jay had sung for years in the boys’ choir at his church. And so, to his deathbed, we had called his priest, his friend and pastor. And as the priest came to his bed, I thought, “Please don’t try to be helpful. Don’t try to make it right. Because, by God, it is wrong! Please don’t say anything helpful.”

The man was priest but also friend. He was mourning too. Perhaps also angry. And he did exactly what should be done at such times of anger and pain – he took his little book and in it found the words we needed. Not little saccharine pieties, but the huge, soul-shaking lamentations of the Psalms. With passion and anger in his voice that reflected the passion and anger in our hearts, he cried to God those vast, eternal, unanswerable questions; he threw at God that anger of our souls; he brought to God the terror in our hearts. 

And the words he spoke brought peace. Not resolution. Not answers. But peace. A sense that we were part of a community that had known these things before. We were not alone. We were not the first to shout our anger and despair to God. 

For that moment, it was enough. It took many quiet, sometimes tearful conversations, many prayers, many caring friends and time, to heal the wounds and make life possible again. 

The “why” was never really answered. Nor could it be. But God came into my pain to offer hope and healing. It was enough. (Ralph Milton, Sermon Seasonings, 1997, p. 52)

Through the centuries, people have come to Church, to their pastors, and to God here, for answers. “Why?” “How could this happen?” “Why me? Why him? Why her? Why now?” Writer Phillip Yancey calls it ‘The Question That Never Goes Away: Why?’

People asked Jesus of Nazareth this question: some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. (Lk 13:1 Msg) 

Jesus wondered, ‘Do you think these murdered worshippers were worse sinners than other people from Galilee. No.’ Then, He mentions another tragedy in their local news, a tower in the city that collapsed, killing eighteen people. ‘Do you suppose they were worse people than others in the city? No.’

Christ deals with the traditional thinking – so strong – that people get what they deserve. If they got it, they deserved it. Old Testament scholars might call this Deuteronomistic theology, rooted in the book of Deut. A different world religion might call it karma

But no. Not always so. They did not deserve disaster more.

But Jesus goes on from there, I’m sure you noticed. He takes the opportunity to warn people. ‘Unless you repent, the same will happen to you.’ So, I hear Him teaching this: Sin and repentance is separate from tragedies that happen. But when you don’t get turned away from sin, bad things will happen to you (or others). 

Christ is dealing with the two issues underlying the question, and underneath the bad news everyone had heard about. Are bad events deserved by people? Short answer: No. And, do people get what they deserve? Short answer: Yes. Yet, there is grace: getting better than what’s deserved.

The longer answers, the long-term spiritual work on these issues in our lives, is the work of this fellowship, the Church. Do our work well, and we have a lot to offer our neighbourhood.

This is the place. This is the place to bring our questions, our hurts, our confusion, our anger, our hopes and fears. Like that song by the Gaither Vocal Band says,

This is the place where we pray
This is the place where we cry
This is the place where we start
‘Til death do us part
Where we say good-bye

Here we leave all our pain
Find forgiveness and grace
Here we walk down the aisle
Dedicate every child
Here in this sacred place

(© 2019 Gaither Music Group)

There is that old cliché about ‘whatever your question is, Jesus is the answer.’ We find it is still true that, whatever our big, life-and-death questions are, Christ Jesus is here for them… for us. We can ask the 5 Ws, and more:
Who gets chosen to suffer? To die?
What happens when we die?
Where do people end up when they die?
When will death happen? When suffering, in life?
Why do bad things happen to anyone?
How do we face the troubles of life, and face death?

We have been on a life journey, conversing with God about these things. We are here to wrestle with the questions and answers. In the struggles, we meet. We meet one another. We meet God. 

So, here, this is the place where we give space to one another. The Grace of God opens our minds and hearts, and we are here for one another. We learn to listen and be there for one another. It takes a lot of learning, eh? I think so.

Author and activist Jan Phillips told this personal story, last year: The other night I admitted to a friend that I was hopeless. In my mind, it’s not a permanent condition. Not debilitating. It’s the weather, not the climate. I will get over it. I just wanted to be honest. On that day, in that hour, I said it.

He didn’t inquire into it. Didn’t empathize. Didn’t nod his head and say, “Awww…” He tried to talk me out of it. As if I had just gone down the wrong road. It made me mad. I want to be able to have my feelings and not have someone think they should be different. I just wrote this poem to describe that.

If you ask me how I am
and I say “hopeless,”
think: she is the moon,
a waning crescent,
so perfect and true.

Do not think you should
help me find hope,
guide me toward gratitude,
send me pink peonies.

Think: she is nature‑
ever-changing, this one view
so fleeting;
think: bud to bloom,
acorn to oak, tadpole to toad.
I am that.

Never the same.

I am creation expanding,
same as you,
a cauldron of seething chaos
spinning into unspeakable beauty.

Hopeless is right for some days.
Do not be afraid to come near.
There is wisdom in that sorrow,
warmth in that fragile, flickering
(© 2019 Jan Phillips)

Of course, along with the troubles of life that impact our hearts  and minds, are the blessings of life. How do we explain the goodness? Beauty? Grace?

One thing we take from Jesus’ words and warnings today is the humble posture. He is warning all to be repentant, to be making a turnaround. To be corrected by God. To have teachable spirits. To be humble. 

If we want Churches to be places that attract people, we must show this humility. We shed some light on the good and the bad that happen as we bow to the God of all things. We are a resource centre for reaching the beautiful mountains and facing the dark valleys of life. For we have access to Christ. 

And, as Ralph Milton said, the words of our scriptures bring peace. Not resolution. Not answers. But peace. A sense that we [are] part of a community that had known these things before. We [are] not alone.

It is great to know some things, and to feel we have some truth to share. It is even greater when we do this by pointing to the One in whom we found some answers, some guidance, some love. 

This is our worship, our bowing in spirit to the Great Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity. Why do terrible things happen, and seem to happen randomly? No, not always because the people deserved it. What a relief that is! But, in the face of people getting bad things they don’t deserve, we grow humble and peaceful, with the God who can lead us through this life. The One who hears us and knows us all. The God who walked through this life, right to His own unfair betrayal, and torture, and death. 

Let us remember that sacrifice now. Let us go together.

PRAYER after the Sermon: O Perfect Parent, O Supreme Spirit, O Eternal Energy: we bow our bodies and bow our souls before You, as we approach the Table of Jesus, Your Son. May the things which You gave us that have filled our minds stay with us. May the distractions and the errors in our thoughts be now forgotten. May the distances between us all be banished, and true fellowship be here, created by Christ. You forgive us, and we forgive one another. 

This is the place where so much comes to a head: the challenges we face, the big questions of life, our personal healing and transformation, the celebrations of life! We bow. We approach. We wait – because of the trust and confidence we put in Christ: crucified and alive today.

We believe; help Thou our unbelief. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

COMMUNION comment: Second century bishop Melito of Sardis wrote this, about Jesus’ crucifixion:

Nature trembled and said with astonishment: What new mystery is this? The Judge is judged and remains silent; the Invisible One is seen and does not hide himself; the Incomprehensible One is comprehended and does not resist; the Unmeasurable One is measured and does not struggle; the One beyond suffering suffers and does not avenge himself; the Immortal One dies and does not refuse death. What new mystery is this? (Claiborne, Shane, et al, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 2010, p. 490)