WELCOME to this worship plan post for Digby Baptist Church, and any others who ‘visit us’ online. The Bulletin is a document with the worship service plan, announcements, and prayer items for you: read it also. Follow along and take in whatever parts you like. Today, this Trinity Sunday, we pay attention to a common story told in our lives: when we blame others, make scapegoats of others, or try to purify ourselves by demonizing others among us. It becomes ‘Us Versus Some of Us,’ as Brian McLaren and Gareth Higgins would put it. Does Jesus offer us better ways?
Psalm 5:7-9, 11a But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house,
I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
For there is no truth in their mouths; their hearts are destruction;
their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.
PRAYER Holy Trinity: Father, Spirit, Son – we pause the rest of our lives to worship You. We bring all the things of life to You, so our sacrifice of praise gives thanks for all the blessings we count. We also count up the blessings we seek, the hope and help we need and ask for. God of us all, the whole world needs so much.
You are One and yet Three, in perfect relationship in and of Yourself. Renew and reconcile us, we pray, even when we are so separate right now. We open ourselves again to Your holiness, and bow so we may be lifted up. AMEN.
CHILDREN’S TIME: today’s little talk is about learning and training. We also learn from our mistakes. How many mistakes did Pastor Jeff make? 🙂
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 59:7-8, 19-21
SONG #4 Father, I Adore You – recorded last year by Margo Nesbitt & Jeff White
SCRIPTURE: Romans 3:9-26 – ready by Ally Vassallo
SERMON: Blame! Us Versus Some of Us? (Pastor Jeff White) The whole story of scripture begins, famously, with creation, and the two people, Adam and Eve. By page three of the Bible, they get in trouble. As my Old Testament professor used to say, ‘the blaming begins.’ (Timm Ashley)
Adam: the woman made me eat it.
Eve: the serpent tricked me into eating it.
The blaming begins. This is another story that repeats itself in human life, through all of our history. Which is, in part, why we have the story of Genesis 3. That chapter is a story about all of us, through all of time.
‘Whose fault is it anyway?’ we ask, over and over. Often, we find people in our midst to blame. Sometimes, we make scapegoats of someone, and put all the blame and punishment and bad feelings upon them. Sometimes, we try to purify ourselves by banishing or destroying those we blame. Gareth Higgins and Brian McLaren say that “The purification story names, blames, shames, excludes, and sometimes eradicates minorities.” (Gareth Higgins & Brian McLaren, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, & the End of Violence, 2019, p. 123)
Many of us might claim we are not so barbaric and prejudiced as others in history. But, as Higgins and McLared suggest, we have our own rituals that express blaming and scapegoating. I hear a certain rivalry has been playing out lately… the Leafs and the Habs?
The context of sports, for example, can be seen as a way of playing out our rivalries without actual violence, but with many of the associated behaviours: shouting, chanting, dressing up in team colors and (war) paint, declaring victors and losers, and so on. (Ibid, pp. 66-67)
And then there are the dramas we read, and the movies we watch: as viewers, we are bystanders and witnesses to violence that is often nothing short of horrific, and we leave feeling purged… The same could be said of an election cycle… And so on.
I chose our scripture texts for today to illustrate how we can see New Testament teaching that takes us beyond blaming some people in our world, and keeping them as our enemies. The early chapters of the book of Romans are filled with deep thoughts and what sound like warnings about many sins and sinners. When we see where this came from, in the Bible, more light gets to shine on the subject.
We can get caught up in sins and sinners, thinking of ‘us and them.’ But that is not what Romans 3 is telling us. The bits that Alison read for us today quote from the Psalms and from Isaiah. Just look with me at what these Old Testament verses were saying.
There is no one who does good… They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse… This is from Psalm 14, speaking of their enemies. Other Psalms are quoted by Paul: 5, 140, 10 and 36. Also, there is a verse here from Isaiah 59, which we read earlier: Their feet run to evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood.
Reading these Psalms, and Isaiah 59, we may notice how there is this contrast: the evil people doing wrong, versus the ones praying for help from God. ‘Save us from the evildoers!’ is the prayer. Isaiah 59 ends almost in a trinitarian way, with words from the LORD about Redeemer, and a promised spirit [Spirit?] upon the people.
Hundreds of years later, Paul quotes these chapters in what we call Romans chapter 3. But what is Paul doing here? Instead of them against us – please God, take out those wretched wrongdoers! – no, it is all of us together. ‘They’ are not worse than we are, whoever ‘they’ are, out there. As is famously written here, “there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The original readers of the book of Romans were a religious audience who longed for God to come with wrath and punish sinners. Not to judge sinners would seem wrong to the readers. But they are told here, in Romans, not to call out for God’s wrath and judgment. Instead, we all, all of us, need God’s mercy and grace. We are no better than ‘the outsiders.’ So, we might surmise that we cannot play the blame game, and point our fingers the same way.
Paul had already said as much a page before all this, chapter 2 verse 1: you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the same things.
No wonder Jesus taught prayer to His disciples, saying, “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
The journey to forgiveness, to letting go of blaming others, to escaping scapegoating, can be a long journey. But Jesus is in the long-term work of reconciling enemies.
Gareth Higgins grew up in Northern Ireland. He writes:
On the day after Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some anit-Catholic graffiti went up on a very conspicuous location in Belfast. It was an opportunity for easy condemnation– of the nastiness of the slogan and the people who wrote it; it also would have been easy to shirk responsibility, and wait for local authorities to clean it up. Instead, a small group of friends went out at four o’clock in the morning, and painted over the graffiti, in large letters, one word that could open the door to a reconciliation path: SORRY. (Ibid, p. 144)
So, what do we say was the way of Jesus? Instead of the purification stories of scapegoating or ethnic cleansing, he encountered and engaged the other with respect, welcome, neighbourliness, and mutuality. (Ibid. p. 79) Jesus’ got a reputation as a friend of the ‘bad’ people! One way we can view Jesus’ death story is to see that He was blamed, shamed, and punished. Jesus, in His own land, became a minority voice, and the rest crushed Him.
To this, Jesus submitted. It was His gracious way. It is His gracious way.
Today in much of the Christian Church is Trinity Sunday – celebrating and worshipping in awe of a holy God who is One and who is Three. All through the centuries of the Church, believers have seen how deeply the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are in perfect relationship, and always deferring to one another. Bowing to one another. Three, dancing with grace and goodness.
This theology has been choreographed into a dance, on more than one occasion. I wish I had a video recording of the Trinity dance created by an Atlantic Baptist Pastor, Rev. Jennifer Smith, of Saint John, NB. Instead, this dance will have to do, from folks in Indiana, USA.
We are made in the image of this God, the Trinity, God in perfect relationship. So, life for us will not be a matter of us versus some of us, it will be Us Together.
Here is a Trinity dance. (Yes, it is narrated with some traditional male language, but may we each receive it graciously.)
Transcript of the narration:
Father, and Son, and the Spirit. Three Persons, one God. In the Trinity exists the very nature of unity; they continually love and glorify one another. God is fulfilled and complete, lacking nothing, no beginning and no end.
But then He decided to write a story. Together, the Trinity would create all things, in heaven and on earth. He would create mankind in His own image.
But man would rebel and be separated from Him forever; and only one thing could redeem them: a sacrifice. The Word of God would sacrifice Himself in the place of His children; He would shed His own blood for their redemption. The agony the Three would endure for the sake of those who rejected Him: so He said, ‘Let it be so.’
PRAYERS of the People: Holy God who is One and who is Three, in Your image we are made. We wonder if Your perfect relationship – Father / Spirit / Son – is our potential: to live in beautiful harmony with one another. Help us to understand Your stories: stories of Jesus feeling forsaken on the cross, of Jesus taking the wrath of God upon Himself, of Jesus taking the blame for all our human wrongdoing.
God, have mercy. We have guilt, we keep secrets, we know our errors, we minimize our wrongdoing. Christ, have mercy. We know better, we trust Your forgiveness, we try hard, we want to be changed for the better. Holy Spirit, have mercy. We have known forgiveness in the past, we have learned so much, we support one another.
We rejoice and give thanks for the good things of life. We count them as gifts. We give them away and share. We grow in faith and action. You are alive among us!
We pray for one another, Holy One. We want those who suffer and are not well to get better, so much better. We want those who have had healing to keep going! We want those who do not quite know what is wrong to get answers, including answers to prayers.
Today we pray, O Master, for all whose daily lives must change yet again with our changing limitations due to COVID-19. We are grateful for the plans of more freedom, more ‘normal life,’ but it is still not easy, and this strange season goes on and on. Teach and inspire us, Your Church here, to be a ministry team for this new season, and not simply watch and wait for things to get back to normal. Life is strange: give us faith in You, the God of new paths.
Creator God, in this world there is such happiness and there is such horror. With the news of so many children buried where a BC residential school once was, help us hear again the cries of those who lost them. With the news of the cease-fire in Israel and Palestine, we pray again for peace and good talking in that cradle of our Faith. With the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death, we hear again the cry for justice and the end of ‘us versus some of us.’ Show that we are all ‘us,’ we are all Your children, & You yearn for us all.
Christ Jesus, You are worthy to complete the plan of salvation for all creation. Glory and honour and blessing to You. AMEN.
BENEDICTION 2 Corinthians 13:11, 14
… live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. AMEN.