Worship at Home: May 30 – Trinity Sunday

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.

Worship at Home: May 23 – PENTECOST

WELCOME to this ‘post’ for Christian Pentecost Sunday! More news and prayer concerns can be found in the Bulletin.

Come, Holy Spirit, from heaven shine forth
with Your glorious light. Come, Holy Spirit.
Come from the four winds, O Spirit,
come, breath of God; disperse the shadows over us,
renew and strengthen Your people. Come, Holy Spirit.

PRAYER led by Angela Outhouse

SONG Medley: There are thousands of congregations named “First Baptist Church;” this one happens to be First Baptist Church, Grass Valley, California. ‘Surely the Presence’ & ‘There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit’

Our preparation for hearing the first of two scripture readings today is this quotation from Frederick Beuchner (originally published in The Magnificent Defeat). ‘No Telling What You Might Hear’

WHEN A MINISTER reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson—something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen—and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it—there is no telling what you might hear.

SCRIPTURE: Genesis 10 (yes, all of chapter ten) – read by Jeff White

HYMN: Spirit of God (M. T. Winter) – sung by Sharon and Jeff White

SCRIPTURE: Acts 2:1-13 – read by Peter Dickie

SERMON: Isolate! Us Away From Them? A pastor friend asked me once if I knew where in the Bible is the first time Baptists are mentioned. I knew it had to be a joke; I did not know the answer. “No, where is the first place in the Bible that Baptists are mentioned?”

“Genesis 13: when Abraham says to his nephew, Lot, ‘You go your way and I’ll go mine.” 🙂

All stereotypical joking aside, there are a lot of people not getting along in this life, and going their separate ways. “This town isn’t big enough for the both of us.” Or, as was the case in Genesis 13, the land where they settled was just not big enough for Abram’s family and flocks and herds, and Lot’s family and livestock. 

The story of separating, of isolating from others, of Us Against Them by getting away from Them, is a story we keep repeating. To use traditional language, we can say this is a result of our sin, our fallen nature. When there are lots of us, and we are different, we don’t all get along. 

When we get to this moment in the Church year, we celebrate Pentecost, and the story of Acts chapter 2. The Christian Church gets born that day, when a diverse group of Jews get to hear preaching about Jesus in each of their own native languages. The cultural barriers are broken down by a special arrival of the Spirit of God. 

I like to call God a Spirit of Communication. There can be so much violence in our speaking; there can be so much tenderness and healing in our communication. Our talk so often divides us and puts up walls between us; our talk so often shares real love and understanding and care. Oh, for the Holy Spirit to break through among us when we isolate ourselves from others with words!

Peter Dickie read the Acts 2 story for us today, dealing nicely with all those names of different places the Jews were from who had gathered in Jerusalem for a festival. Though they were of the same religion, they were from many different cultures and places around the Middle East and Mediterranean and Africa. You might have a sense, from Bible days, what they meant by Asia (we call it Turkey today) and Egypt, and Libya, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. When the Spirit ‘filled’ the disciples, and they spoke in each of the languages of these peoples, it was a miracle that broke down all those barriers. This news – about Jesus – was for every culture, every language, every people. The story of the rest of Acts, here in the Bible, tells how the Jesus story went out farther, to everyone, not just to the Jewish people dispersed around the world. 

This moment has often been seen as a reversal of the events recorded in Genesis 11, where the tower of Babel is destroyed when all the people building it get their language confused, and they all start speaking differently from one another, and separate. I told a children’s story about this a couple of weeks ago. 

But today I read for you Genesis 10. This ‘table of the nations’ lists, in a specially organized way, seventy descendents of Noah and his three sons: which become seventy nations of the earth. And as it says right here, they each develop their own language, land, and nation. 

So the tradition is here, all through scripture, that all people – all the very different people of earth – all are the same family, one family. Even all the ‘enemies’ the Children of Israel faced and displaced in the Promised Land were their distant cousins. The Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, and so on… they were considered children of Canaan, who was the son of Ham, one of Noah’s three sons. So Pentecost is a breakthrough: a sign that God wills to break down the language barriers that separate us, for we should not be isolated.Indeed, we know how we talk to one another is a key part of our divisions, and at the heart of how we are healed. We know the old proverb is a lie: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ What we say and how we speak are powerful.

Songwriter Ruth Bebermeyer said:

I feel so sentenced by your words,
I feel so judged and sent away.
Before I go I’ve got to know,
Is that what you meant to say?

Words are windows, or they’re walls,
They sentence us, or set us free.
When I speak and when I hear,
Let the love light shine through me.

About a decade ago now, Sharon and I got introduced to Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg. Even the name of it makes a point: how we talk can be violent, or nonviolent. We tend to think of violence as actions that are physical. But how we talk can be just as violent. Jesus wants peace and reconciliation among us.

We were introduced to Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication through a series of workshops we had in the Windsor Church, led by a deacon from the Falmouth Church. The very basics of it are these points, these four steps:

  1. Observe what is actually happening in a situation. The trick is to be able to say what we see without adding any judgement or evaluation – to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.
  2. Secondly, we tell how we feel when we see what’s going on: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated? 
  3. Thirdly, we say what our needs are that are connected to our feelings. 
  4. The fourth component is a specific request. This is saying what we are wanting from the other person that would enrich our lives or make life better for us.

Let me give you an example of all this from Marshall Rosenberg’s experience of mediating and of teaching communication skills. Twenty years or more ago, he was presenting to about 170 Palestinian Muslim men in a mosque at a refugee camp in Bethelehm. Attitudes towards Americans at the time were not favourable. As Marshall was speaking, he suddenly noticed a wave of muffled commotion fluttering through the audience. “They’re whispering that you are an American!” his translator told him, just as one gentleman leapt up and hollered at Marshall, “Murderer!” Immediately others joined in: “Assassin!” “Child-killer!” “Murderer!”

Marshall felt fortunate he was able to focus his attention on what the man was feeling and needing. He’d had some clues, such as empty tear gas canisters near the camp, clearly marked ‘Made in the U.S.A.’

Marshall asked the man who had first spoken, “Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently?” He didn’t know whether his guess was correct–what was critical was his sincere effort to connect with the man’s feeling and need.

“Damn right I’m angry! You think we need tear gas? We need sewers, not your tear gas! We need housing! We need to have our own country!”

“So you’re furious and would appreciate some support in improving your living conditions and gaining political independence?” Marshall said.

“Do you know what it’s like to live here for twenty- seven years the way I have with my family–children and all? Have you got the faintest idea what that’s like for us?” the man responded.

“Sounds like you’re feeling very desperate and you’re wondering whether I or anybody else can really understand what it’s like to be living under these conditions. Am I hearing you right?” asked Marshall.

“You want to understand? Tell me, do you have children? Do they go to school? Do they have playgrounds? My son is sick! He plays in open sewage! His classroom has no books! Have you seen a school that has no books?”

“I hear how painful it is for you to raise your children here,” Marshal responded, “you’d like me to know that what you want is what all parents want for their children– a good education, opportunity to play and grow in a healthy environment…”

“That’s right,” the man said, “the basics! Human rights –isn’t that what you Americans call it? Why don’t more of you come here and see what kind of human rights you’re bringing here!”

“You’d like more Americans to be aware of the enormity of the suffering here and to look more deeply at the consequences of our political actions?” The dialogue continued, with the man expressing his pain for nearly twenty minutes, and Marshall listening for the feeling and the need behind each statement. He didn’t agree or disagree, he simply received his words, not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with him.

Once the gentleman felt understood, he was able to hear Marshall explain his purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, that same man who had called him a murderer was inviting him to his home for a Ramadan dinner. (M. B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication, 2003, pp. 13-14)

There is a lot to learn about the process of Nonviolent Communication, yet it is clear, and simple in a way. The hard part is the personal part – and it is all personal! It is about getting in touch with our own thoughts and feelings, and our real needs. It is about being honest about these things. It is about listening well to others, to discover their thoughts and feelings and needs. Then, be ready to hear what people are asking for, & to make your own requests.

God has blessed each of us with some skills in this during our lifetimes. It comes with living. It comes from the school of hard knocks, and from the school of love and compassion that Jesus teaches us. If God is a God of communication, we should expect miracles of understanding when people talk. 

The Spirit of God is One who can inspire us to speak and to listen better than ever. I think about another perennial problem we have: people from here and people who have ‘come from away.’ It is an Us Vs. Them problem we Nova Scotians have. We are the friendliest people when you come as a tourist to visit; we are often not welcoming or including at all when you move in next door! 

This happens at the local level too. Move to a new place in the province and you might always be considered ‘from away.’ It comes out in the habits of our language. I could tell someone new to town that my Church is right across from the old Canadian Tire. Uh, where? Or: beside the Wharf Rat Rally headquarters. That is not there anymore either, though one sign is still here. 

Would the Spirit of Jesus prompt and train us to be more sensitive and sensible in how we talk to newcomers? Yes, surely yes. There is, of course, a time and place for ‘in house’ talk, using the familiar places and phrases that are local, and throwing in an inside joke. But the welcome of the outsider, the love of ‘strangers’ demands we use our spiritual gifts and good communication. Clear communication. Nonviolent communication. Words and listening ears that do not make Us and Them. Know thyself. And know others. Let us rely upon the promised Holy Spirit when we communicate. So it will not be a matter of us away from them, it will be Us With Them.

PRAYERS of the People: O God, who breaks down barriers of hate and mistrust, who binds us together with unbreakable compassion, who saves us when Jesus stretches out His arms upon a cross: hear Your people praying this weekend, from every place.

On this weekend of celebrating the Queen of Canada, we pray for rulers and all in authority. May they have wisdom, good sense, and strength of spirit for all their responsibilities and all the harsh criticism they face. 

On this weekend when choristers would have been singing in Digby and St. Bernard, we pray for us all who have missed making music together for more than a year. 

On this weekend when many would have gone to their cottage or a campground, we seek the best and safest ways for recreation, and rejoicing in creation around us.

On this weekend when Atlantic Baptist and Wesleyan youth have met online for the ONE Conference, may there be real continuation of the fellowship, discipleship, and faith developing among the youth, guided by You, Spirit.

On this weekend when Wayne and Dottie are home from our hospital, and we have hopes Marie will get home too, we pray for all who suffer illness or injury. When the recovery time is long – too long – may there be gracious strength and hope from You. When the prognosis is not good for someone, let the big picture of Your care, Your purpose, and Your eternal plan be clear. When there are long term disabilities or pain, emotional upset or mental illness, let Your protection be gracious and Your servants be always caring.

On this day that You have made, we rejoice and are glad in it! Rain down, rain down, rain down You love on Your people! In the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

HYMN: Spirit of Gentleness (James J. Manley) – recorded by some Methodists in Tacoma, Washington, USA, at a nice energetic pace.

BENEDICTION:
Remember when God the Spirit has been closest to you:
may you be blessed to know that again in your soul.
Remember when we saw that we are one, all from God:
may we be blessed to know that again, in our bodies.
Remember when others were blessed by true fellowship:
may they be blessed to know a gracious welcome.
Amen.

Worship at Home: May 16

WELCOME to this blog post for worship at home on Sunday, May 16, 2021. Announcements and prayer requests can be found in the Bulletin for the day, here on our website. Follow along and use as much of this worship service as may be helpful. While we are not gathering we can at least share this.

WORSHIP Welcome: Philippians 2:5, 8, 10, 11
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

PRAYER: Glorious God, whose dominion is from sea to sea and who reigns to the ends of the earth: we bow before Jesus, humble and crucified for us all. As He spoke of the kingdom so often, let us seek that amazing reign today. We confess how rare our attention to the Spirit’s guidance has been, yet all the scriptural things we have heard and learned for years are at our disposal. Holy one, make your Church holy now, we pray. We are dispersed and deployed all over the place: let us know the great advantages of this! And hear us pray in the name of Jesus, who taught prayer, saying: Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.

Audio recording of Prayer and Scripture:

SCRIPTURE: Joshua 6:15-21 – Jeff White

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 20:17-28 – Alison Vassallo (audio recording: )

Here is a musical recording from a year ago from Eddie’s sister in Ontario, Benda Eisener:

SERMON: Dominate! Us Over Them? – Jeff G. White. Pardon me (Jeff here), but I still cannot seem to manage to get my sermon videos in focus! Sorry about that. I am going to try and remedy this, without making multiple attempts each week. 🙂

“Oh I just can’t wait to be king!” So sings young Simba in the animated movie ‘The Lion King.’ Thanks to our grandchildren, I am getting reintroduced to such classic, cartoon, family films. Simba sings:

I’m gonna be the main event like no king was before
I’m brushing up on looking down, I’m working on my roar
Oh I just can’t wait to be king
No one saying ‘do this’
No one saying ‘be there’
No one saying ‘stop that’
No one saying ‘see here’

Ah, to be in charge, to be the boss, to dominate. Every child has moments of wanting this. Every adult too! It has a certain appeal. It has a certain power. It is in so many of the stories that we tell, and in the story of our own lives. 

On the group level, there is also just as much: as much  of US OVER THEM, dominating. So much of our entertainment tells this story. And the stories we keep telling ourselves, and our children, influence us. We get trained to want to dominate and be the group in charge. Be the best people, above others. Be in charge of the way things are run. The way our governments and organizations are organized perpetuates the Us Over Them attitude. 

Yet it is a violent attitude. And the roots run deep.

Today from scripture we visited a classic story, the fall of the city of Jericho. It has been the stuff Sunday School stories are made of. Notice today’s bulletin cover image. It’s a tale of the good guys winning over the bad guys, thanks to a miracle of God! March around the town seven days, blowing trumpets. On the seventh day, with seven trips around, the stone walls simply fall, and the city is overtaken by the Hebrews. 

That’s the story we tell our children. What do we adults read? We see the rest of the story, the beginnings of the doctrine of ‘ḥērem which gets translated ‘devote to destruction.’ The New International Version calls the people and things of Canaan ‘devoted things,’ the Authorized Version, ‘accursed things.’ Everything and everyone in Jericho is to be destroyed, except the silver, gold, bronze and iron things. Joshua 6:21 tells us: Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys. 

Many of you are like me, you want a way out of this. A way around these terrifying Bible stories, including the ‘nasty God’ who commanded such violent actions. You can do like Marcion did in the second century AD and basically forget about the Old Testament. Or, do like some of my ‘progressive’ United Church friends and keep only the select bits of the OT you like. Other Chritians do take God to be a strongly wrathful Being, who would and did command such violence and killing. Even a gentle soul like Bible teacher John Ortberg, writes things like this:

The beliefs of the Canaanites were a cancer that had to be removed from the land before the people of God could live there with any hope of health. Thus, God ordered surgery for the long-term health and life of his people. (John Ortberg, Stepping out in Faith, 2003, p. 36)

Is ours a God of genocide, or a God of generosity? We give our Holy Bible to this violent world around us, in hopes that Jesus and His Gospel will be seen and known by all those around. How do we answer the questions people have about the violence of a dominating Lord God of armies? (That is what ‘LORD of hosts’ means.)

The work of receiving the written Word of God is real work. It is not easy; it is not simple. But I tell you it is still worth it! Worth the work. I still believe in keeping it all, every ‘book’ and chapter. So, how we learn to use scripture is so important. These stories at the foundation of our faith have a big impact upon us. For the stories we tell and keep telling are so important.

For instance, our stories of the Promised Land are powerful. The story of Moses and the Children of Israel escaping Egypt, travelling the wilderness for forty years, then entering the Land, already inhabited, and taking it over. By force. Sometimes by God’s force, alongside many swords. And trumpets.

Christian thinker and author, Derek Flood, speaks of the need for reading scripture with our ethics in mind. For there has been so little Bible interpretation in light of what we come to believe is right and good. Such as not killing women and children and animals. Our sense of justice – which comes from God – comes to bear on our reading of the story of the fall of Jericho. So we can’t just say what John Ortberg did, and treat the annihilation of the Canaanites as OK. Because it does not feel OK at all to us. So we are honest to God about that. And we work to put all the pieces together, with the Holy Spirit, and one another.

Derek Flood points out the need for faithful questioning of the Bible, not just unquestioning obedience. This happens right in the Bible stories. Read the book of Job. Or Ecclesiastes. Or many of the Psalms. Or the prophets. Many times those old folks put to the test the traditional teachings of their sacred history and of their holy Law. Over and over in scripture, the many voices are in conversation, even in heated arguments.

Psalm 23 says what? The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall want for nothing…
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me…

In contrast, Psalm 22 starts,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?

So we can say this to the people, young and old, who have big questions about the Bible, and about what God is really up to. We can tell them the same conversation is right here in scripture. It is filled with testimony and counter-testimony. Many voices, many opinions. There are big themes and teachings, and then minority voices that speak out. Let people know the Bible is not merely a rule book, or an instruction manual, but it is a conversation, a drama, an unfinished dialogue. 

You know this. I know you know this. As challenging as this is, I am proud of you for wrestling with the Bible & working out ‘your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ (Philippians 2:12) You folks of the Monday Study Group that I lead, I tease you by calling us ‘The Distractions,’ but you really are honest to God and with me about the Bible stories. I’m proud of you for that, even while I am deeply challenged to guide you, sometimes. You are not afraid to say Isaiah chapter 65 makes very little sense to you, or that you don’t warm up to a God who bans Moses from getting to the Promised Land for what seems like a minor infraction!

We are having a serious conversation about the Word, and with the Word. This is part of how it is meant to work. How the Spirit uses it to influence us. So let others know; let them know we faithfully debate with the scriptures. 

Even the Bible is not ‘dominating’ in the sense of being forceful and exclusive and negative. It is open to our opinions and feelings and conversation. ‘The Bible’ can handle it, the Lord God can handle it. I’m glad you folks know this. It is important that we be good at letting others know this is how God speaks. Through conversation, not just commands. So gracious is the God who speaks with us.

Jesus’ great sermon, in Matthew 5, points out so well how He took the Word of the past and challenged it, or, challenged those who thought they knew what it meant to be right.  21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment… 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.

Jesus keeps pointing in the right direction. Taking the right path farther. Taking the laws of the Bible beyond what they said. We know how regularly Christ was in opposition with the Bible law keepers and regulators. So there is progress within the story of scripture, and since then, in the two thousand years since its composition. As one 19th century hymn says,        (James Russel Lowell, 1845)

New occasions teach new duties;
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.

In the quest for truth, I offer seven sermons now, on the so-called seven stories of our culture, outlined by Gareth Higgins and Brian McLaren. Eleven months ago I read their book to you, in our online service, “Cory and the Seventh Story.” We tell these stories of dominating others, of taking revenge on others, of isolating from others, of blaming others, of accumulating more than others, of being victims of others. But Jesus, I am sure, takes us to love of others. In Christ us and them can be one.

OK, back to Jericho one more time. I know I have not explained much at all about the Old Testament concept of ‘ḥērem, which is holy war, or ‘devoting to destruction.’ It happens a lot, over many pages of biblical history. I cannot just explain it away. I can but begin by saying: hear the counter-testimony, the other voices – from Old Testament and New – that are wrestling with this violence. 

Such as the instructions of Christ Himself, to the disciples. (Mtt 20:26-28) “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

To dominate, to have our dominion over others, can be so dangerous. Our story of Jesus says so much, in the midst of the rest of Biblical history, and of our Christian story. We preach Christ, crucified. 

Early on in the story ‘The Lion King’, young lion Simba gets excited about one day becoming the king. “I just can’t wait to be king!”  His father, Mufasa, tells Simba, “There’s more to being king than getting your own way.” 

So there is. There is more to being the people of God than getting our own way. More to being ‘the faithful remnant’ than thinking we are right in a world of wrong. There is more to being saved than getting our way into eternal glory. We are to be the people of blessing: blessing others, sharing powerful grace with the whole world. This is our message. This is our gospel. This is the Jesus we serve: wanting to share the dominion with one and all. It is not a matter of us over them, it is to be Us For Them.

PRAYERS: Almighty God, we bow before Your power and glory. We approach You in the name of Jesus, so humble and sacrificial. We rejoice in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit! 

O Hearer of prayer, we rejoice today for answered prayers, and blessings that surprise us. We give thanks that Dottie is home from hospital, and that Wayne is due to come home this week. We are grateful for cataract surgeries and other procedures that we and our friends receive, with so much care and success. And we praise You for beautiful spring days, and all the joys of this season.

We continue to call out for mercy and help, thinking of others who need blessings, such as Marie, Heather, Dwight, Darrell, Jackie, Coreen, and Mary. There are also people facing emotional stress and anxiety, known to us and unbeknownst: bless them thoroughly, Lord.

God of all believers, we Baptists who are in fellowship across Canada pray together on this National Day of Prayer. Because of the global pandemic, we intercede. We pray for those directly impacted by Covid-19: that there may be healing, comfort, and peace from You. We pray for all healthcare professionals, asking for strength, perseverance and needed rest in their lives. We pray for other workers, that they may find protection as they continue to do needed work in our world. Give merciful strength to teachers and students: all who keep trying to learn and lead. Merciful God, bless the poor and the marginalized, that they may be protected, especially those most at risk. Our prayers are also for government leaders and policy makers, that they may find wisdom that does not run out and motivation to keep serving the good of all people. We pray for our peoples who are divided in opinion about how to respond to the pandemic, and about what is sensible and what is oppressive: let us understand one another, and be good listeners. Jesus, true and only Head of the Church, we pray for Christian Churches, and other spiritual communities, that we all may provide support and hope to the people of the world, and real care for the people most at risk in every neighbourhood. 

Parent of all peoples, the news is available to us, day by day, and the earth is so huge when we view the troubles. In the world today we pray especially for the Israelis and the Palestinians, in dire conflict again. When we ready our scriptures, we go back to the Middle East. Now be there, and act through those You have in place to communicate, to negotiate, even to reconcile: such a miracle that looks to us, from afar. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  In the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Saviour, Master, Teacher and Friend. Amen.

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

Worship at Home: May 9 – Mother’s Day

WELCOME to this plan for worship service at home, or wherever you are. It includes text to read, audio and video to hear and see. Instead of simply having one video to watch and hear, this plan is interactive. It demands of us, the separate worshippers, that we make efforts to praise and pray and read and ponder things. Worship, when we are together in pews, is not a spectator sport – it is a team effort. So it can be when we are separated. Be blessed today, and bless the name of Jesus!

WORSHIP Welcome: When Mary was chosen to bear the life of the Messiah in her own body, she ‘magnified the Lord.’ May we express our grateful praise of God now. When Paul and Silas travelled to share the Gospel in Philippi, Lydia believed and offered hospitality to them. May we also open our minds and our lives to the Good News shared with us today. When a woman in Samaria talked with Jesus by a well, she went back to town to tell everyone about Christ. Let us be inspired to speak of the Messiah we meet.

PRAYER: Living and eternal God,
You birthed creation in all its greatness,
You gave us minds and hearts to know and feel,
You provided mothers and fathers and family:
Praise You, glorious are You, great is Your name!
From our separate places of praise, draw us together,
reveal the Holy Spirit, transform us one more step.
Cleanse us from sin, we pray. Take our fears away.
Give purpose to this new day.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:46-55 Mary’s Song: ‘the Magnificat’

CHILDREN’s Time

Our Men’s Choir was to sing again, this Mother’s Day, but the recent pandemic lockdown halted that plan. Here is a recording made on Palm Sunday, when the Choir sang ‘No Other Way.’

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:25-52 – Mike & Maggie Beveridge, Jeff White

SERMON: Raising Our Messiah (Luke 1:46-55, 2:25-52) J G White ~ 11 am, Sunday, May 9, Mothers Day, 2021, UBC Digby: online only

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum

Some of the classic music for this old prayer is so beautiful and so well known. I never shall forget, back in my student days at Divinity College, how a fellow student was asked to sing Ave Maria at the upcoming wedding of a couple who were our friends. “Oh,” I said to her, “that’s the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer: Roman Catholic.’ 

‘No, it’s not!’ she reacted.

But it is. 

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

I am not a believer in praying to anyone but God: the Father, the Son, the Spirit. I do not encourage anyone to pray to any saint or to the Virgin Mary. Don’t get me wrong: I have great respect for our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. My own brother, Steve, and his family are practicing Catholic Christians. And, if I were called upon to pray with a Catholic person in time of crisis, I would pray ‘The Hail Mary’ with that person. 

Now, it is time, as last, for me to greet Mary, and preach my first sermon in twenty-five years about her.

The Holy Scriptures have so much about this amazing woman to inspire us. The mother of Jesus the Christ is before us today, in the pages of the Bible. She was chosen to raise our Messiah, along with her husband and family. What an incredible task in the course of world history!

In Christian history, God, the One to whom we do pray, has mainly been all male: a Father, a Son, and a masculine Spirit. Even though, so often, ‘Spirit’ in the Hebrew language is a feminine word. In our lifetimes (as well as in history way back), there have been some who preach and pray to God, at times, with feminine language. One modern hymn speaks of the Holy Spirit, as a dove, this way:

She comes sailing on the wind, her wings flashing in the sun…

No wonder the Blessed Virgin Mary has had such a devotional following in the Church for centuries. In part, there was a need for the Divine to be more than male. And God certainly is far more than a bearded old Man in the sky! Jesus shows us the face of God, and even spoke once of being like a hen wanting to gather her chicks to herself. 

Our protestant, and Baptist, tendency has been to avoid Mary, probably as a reaction to the devotion to her in Catholicism and other branches of our Faith. Let us look to her today, as a parent, outlined in the Gospels.

We begin in Luke 1 with the Magnificat, the poetic praise Mary shares when she is rejoicing in the holy child she will bear. She speaks of all the hopes of God’s justice for the week and oppressed. All God’s promises.

And now the Messiah will finally be born on earth! We remember how Mary, a teenager, was ready to bear this child, to serve God and the whole world in this way. Of course, this is not just about giving birth to the Anointed One, it is a matter of child-rearing too. And with this go all the usual parental concerns and challenges.

Here I am, preaching about parenthood, and I have never been a parent. Never fathered a child. Even when I married Sharon, my step-daughters were aged nineteen and seventeen, and never lived with us. Nevertheless, I can see, as we all can, the awesome responsibilities of parenthood, shown by the woman who raised our Messiah.

Mary faced what others said about their child, Jesus. From the birth stories we see the amazing and hopeful things said about her child. From shepherds who spoke, surely, of angelic messages, to the words of old Samuel and Anna in the Jerusalem Temple, there were amazing hopes and dreams placed on her child. Remember the Magi who arrived to worship Jesus when He was a toddler. And when Jesus was twelve, and stayed behind in that same Temple, the scholars were impressed. There was much for Mary & Joseph to ponder about their son!

None of our children have been the Messiah, but there still are, with any little one, the hopes and fears that spring up from everyone around. There are expectations – sometimes high, sometimes low. And what the doctors say about a kid, and the teachers say, and others, can have a big impact upon the parents. There is much to be said for Mary’s approach: ponder these things deep inside, where the Spirit of God meets with our own spirit.

Mary and Joseph did what they could do, as a new family, with what they had. The offering they brought to the Temple for the blessing of their son was that of a poorer family, not the more generous, usual worship offering. They did what they could with what they had. 

Think again of Mary’s praise months before. All those hopes of God doing what God usually does. 

God looks favorably on lowly people.

Scatters proud people.

Brings powerful people down off their thrones.

Lifts up lowly people.

Feeds the hungry.

Sends rich people away, with nothing.

This is the kind of God Mary believed in: so she knew that poverty was not a problem in God’s Kingdom. This is still a lesson for us to learn today.

Mary, with her husband, was a person of good Jewish faithfulness. Their obedience to the usual religious traditions is clear in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, where the stories of birth and childhood are found. 

Good Christian faithfulness, in families today, is a challenge, I’d say. Or, maybe, it is simply rare and uncommon in our part of the world, now. 

Mary and Joseph raised their Son in the context of family and community. This was simply the way things were done in first century Judaism, of course. We see this culture in what happens with twelve year old Jesus. The entourage leaves Jerusalem together; Mary and Joseph can assume their son is with the family and friends.

Today, I see a lot of camaraderie and cooperation among parents. Plenty of them are not practicing Christians, I know, but there is still the knowledge that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Parents truly need other parents to confer with, and share with. When believers want to raise children, there is the need for other believers, of every age, every generation, to be part of the team, part of the family. 

We also see in the scripture stories that Mary had deep anxieties about her first child!  Today, we read of them losing track of their twelve-year-old. Don’t forget what happened a decade before. The little family fled to the south, to Egypt, to escape the fury of king Herod, who was having baby boys killed. That is a serious crisis: fleeing home to save your child’s life!

Not to mention the other, subtle concerns Mary had. All those things she had to ponder: what Simeon and Anna had said, for instance. Such high hopes placed on this boy: to be the Anointed One. But also, whatever Simeon meant by saying to Mary that He would be “spoken against,” and, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” They did not know it then, but indeed, one thing Jesus was born to do was to die.

People often say a parent should not have to face the death of their own child. Yet it happens to so many. It happened to Mary. It happens for many reasons to others.

Julia Ward Howe may be best known to us as the author of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It was on June 2, 1872, in the wake of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, that she began the celebration of Mother’s Day as a holiday to honour mothers by working for pacifism, for an end to all war. She proclaimed:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands will not come cot us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.’ From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm!The sword or murder is not the balance of justice.’ …As men have forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Every chapter of life has its anxieties. In our present pandemic we have another layer added to the usual ones. For all of it there is grace, there is help, there is holiness. Often, again, there is a call to action.

Yet we do not have all the answers given to us. Mary did not understand everything, as she contemplated everything. Pre-teen Jesus said to her and Joseph, that day outside the Jerusalem Temple, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Then Luke tells us ‘they did not understand what he was saying to them.’ 

‘But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.’ The influence of this same Jesus in our lives comes with time, comes with living, comes with treasuring these things. As an adult, the Divine One among us, He becomes the Leader of our souls and the Renewer of our lives. So as people of Faith we learn to be parents, to be step-parents and grandparents, to be friends and neighbours from Jesus, our Brother, our Master, our Friend, our Saviour. And His own mother still inspires us, as we see her raising our Messiah.

PRAYERS of the People: Today, some suggestions for your prayers: Quietly, ever so quietly, become ready to pray.
Remember how your thoughts, your words, your body, and the place where you sit or stand or lie points you into prayer. Remember the presence of the Spirit of God.
Now pray.
Pray to thank God for good things.
Pray to thank God for difficult things.
Pray to thank God no matter what happened.

Pray for yourself, with your problems, your responsibilities, your sins, your opportunities, your spiritual gifts, and your faith.
Pray for others, remembering people in need in our hospitals, such as Wayne, Marie, Dottie, Darryl, and Heather. Remember people who suffer pain and health problems at home, wherever they call home. Remember people with hard work to do in these challenging times.
Pray for the Church, beginning with your own congregation, separated and connected as it is. Pray for the good work you can do together, empowered by the Spirit.

Pray for the wider word. You may think of the troubles of others. Mental Health week is ending; pray for the mental health of all who need a healing touch. May is a month of awareness for many things, such as a month of awareness for Asthma, Brain Tumors, Bladder Cancer, Celiac Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Chronic Immunological and Neurological diseases. Pray because of these troubles.
Pray again for many things about the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask the Spirit of God to guide your prayers, your thinking, your concerns. Pray that you will be led to be a voice of hope and wisdom among the people you know.

And there are many other things you may pray.
We might all end with the Lord’s Prayer.

Amen.

BENEDICTION: Here you are, a servant of the Lord.
Let things be with you according to God’s own word.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Let your soul rejoice and magnify God,
now, in every way, and evermore. Amen.

Worship at Home: May 2

WELCOME to this post for worship at home on May 2, 2021. Nova Scotia is in lockdown again. Time to ‘pivot!’ Here you can read and you can see and hear parts of a worship service to share in our homes. It is communion Sunday, so feel free to share some bread and some juice when it is time for the Lord’s Supper.

WORSHIP Welcome: A novel virus has shut down our gatherings again,
but the mayflowers still bloom as always,
and the maples bud out.
Our prayers for protection have been answered,
but HRM, the rest of Canada, India, and the world
need blessings in the face of trouble.
God, the Ancient of Days, is always with us,
and from the places we call home we worship:
come, Holy Spirit, be know among us; unite us.

SONG 61 ‘How Majestic Is Your Name’

PRAYER: God of majesty, we try our best to rejoice today, dispersed and separated as we are, again. Suddenly, we are all not attending the services. Help us ‘attend to’ weekly worship from our own quiet places. Spirit of guidance and truth, for some of us, reading and watching and listening at home will come naturally, and we rejoice. For some, this is difficult and seems so far from being in worship together. 

In our various states of mind and heart, reach in and touch us; reach out and remind us how we are one body; reach over us and show us the world in need that we are called to pray for and to help.

Forgive, we pray, our selfish perspective, that sees our problems loom so large, in a world where many are in much bigger trouble. Mighty Master, show us Christ upon the cross, and show us He lives, as we remember His sacrifice at Calvary. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

PSALM 37:3-4, 8-11, 21-22, 28-29 – Jeff & Sharon White

SONG: ‘Wide, Wide as the Ocean’

CHILDREN’S Time (pardon me for the out-of-focus video – Jeff)

SCRIPTURE: Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-24 – Heather Parry

There’s a classic old story about a conversation between a farmer and a preacher. The story goes that the preacher was driving down a country road when he came upon the most beautiful farm he’d ever seen in his lifetime spent traveling rural roads. He could only compare it to a beautiful painting. It was by no means a new farm, but the house and buildings were well constructed and in perfect repair and paint. A garden around the house was filled with flowers and shrubs. A fine row of trees lined each side of the white gravel drive. The fields were beautifully tilled, and a fine herd of fat dairy cattle grazed knee-deep in the pasture. The site was so arresting the preacher stopped to drink it all in. The preacher had been raised on a farm himself, and he knew a great one when he saw it.

It was then he noticed the farmer, on a tractor, hard at work, approaching the place where the preacher stood beside his car. When the farmer got closer, the preacher hailed him. The farmer stopped the tractor, idled down the engine, and then shouted a friendly “hello!” The preacher said to him, “My good man, God has certainly blessed you with a magnificent farm.” And then, there was a pause as the farmer took off his cap and shifted in the tractor seat to take a look at his pride and joy. He then looked at the preacher and he said, “Yes, He has, and we’re grateful. But you should have seen this place when He had it all to Himself.”

After almost a week of staying close to home and our own municipality, we ponder the land that is our land, our home. We think of what we do with it, and what God does.

Our biblical story is, from start to finish, a story of Creator and us creatures, working together in this world, where heaven touches earth. In actual fact, we see what happens when we get our hands on it! Yet, the biblical witness is that God loves to include us in the work of creation, in the making of a wonderful world.

I chose the paragraphs from Leviticus 25 today because of their teaching about giving the Promised Land a rest, a sabbath every seventh year. Heather read these guidelines that we see given to the Children of Israel, out in the wilderness, about forty years before they even arrive in this new land that was to be theirs. When they do get there – well, when their children get there – this is how they are to farm the land. Like the people, the actual ground and what grows upon it, gets a regular break. 

This was not just good farming, good for the land itself, this was good theology. It is teaching, remembering that the land is God’s, ‘the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,’ the Creator is the provider of all things. The seventh year, the sabbath year, is a time of blessing for the poor and needy – everything is shared by everyone. It is also a reminder that we the people are aliens and tenants on the land. Think of how deeply we now have this idea of land ownership, of deeds and property rights and so on. Even if you have your ashes, someday, sprinkled on ‘your property,’ “you can’t take it with you.” It’s more like, the land takes you, when you die.

So, in our short lifespans, we share this world. We have inherited this land; we have joys and challenges.

Psalm 37 is another of the alphabetic acrostic Psalms: twenty-two parts, each starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. We just can’t see that when we are not reading it in Hebrew! I chose six of the sections; each speaks to the theme of inheriting the land. It is a big Bible theme, in Old and New Testaments.

For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place,
they will not be there.
But the meek will inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
(9-11)

The meek will inherit the land: where else do we hear that? Jesus’ ‘sermon’ in Matthew 5. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. As we ponder all we have learned from Jesus, we may see other echoes from texts like Psalm 37. That song suggests we can live well on the land when we:
trust in God
do good
wait upon God
be meek (read humble), not wicked
receive God’s blessings
be righteous (do right)
keep to God’s ways
And other things.

It is clear, from scripture, that the people were led to believe the good life came when they walked closely with their God. How they treated one another, how they worshipped the Creator, how they followed their traditions, all these had an impact on how life would be on earth. Life is a network, everything is connected: our spirituality, our social/family life, our work, our life on the land, our physical health, our learning and wisdom.
Thus, sharing is so important. To be good ‘inheritors of the land’ we must be sharers.

In 1955 The Travellers sang a Canadian version of Woody Guthrie’s classic folk song:
This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From Bonavista
To Vancouver Island,
From the Arctic Circle,
To the Great Lake waters,
This land was made for you and me.

We have all inherited our land from others: other humans, other beings. It is fitting, we now know, to acknowledge these lands which we now claim and enjoy. We have this from the first peoples of Miꞌkmaꞌki, this unceded territory. And before them, this was and is Creator’s land. It is all gift, it is all shared.

The ancient Hebrew laws of Leviticus 25 taught that humans are mere tenants upon the land. We are so blessed by this world that is older than us and will outlast us. Human history, and natural history, put life in perspective.

And in the future, we will be someone else’s ancestors. Let us be good ancestors. Others will inherit the earth, for their lifetimes.

When we come, month by month, to the Lord’s table, and share bits of bread and grape juice, I often become aware of how many millions of people have also shared this ceremony, for two thousand years. I also wonder who will gather to remember, to celebrate Christ this way in the decades to come. 

I also become aware of how some very physical, humanly crafted foods are holy. They are special, they connect us with one another, in Christ. It could have been some supernatural, otherworldly thing that God used to remind us and help us be thankful. But no, it was bread, made from grain that grows. It was crushed grapes that are prepared and shared. One of the most ancient communion prayers tells us that “this bread was scattered over the hills and having been gathered together became one.” 

So, let God’s people be gathered together, in the name of Jesus. It is by the power and authority of Jesus that we are reconciled and made one. We do not have to gather in one place. Our fellowship goes beyond actual gatherings. It is a blest tie that binds our hearts in Chistian love. It transcends time and space, memory and distance. 

This Sunday morning (May 2) Stella and Murray watch from a distance as a grandson takes his first communion in his church in Kentucky. Right now, that state seems like a far, far away land. But today, we know we are on the same land, this one land God has given us. & this young fellow is also an inheritor of the things of Jesus: we are one.

So there also is a Promised Land that will one day take over this fallen planet. The young fellow in Kentucky also celebrates, today, that eternal hope, as we do. We are one in Jesus now, and always. We learn, walking this land with the Spirit now, to walk an eternal path. Thanks to Christ, we are inheritors of it all. Let us remember all who are yet to come, and Inherit The Land.

PRAYERS of the People: God, whose farm is all creation, we bow ourselves to You: Holy One, Giver of good gifts, Redeemer of Your people, Lover of the world. Praying, we seek goodness & even miracles for those in our care: 

family and friends who are near and who are far away; 

people isolated in these days, 

especially those in hospitals and other places of care;

all who face pain or illness or trouble right now;

people facing the threat of the Corona virus, and the challenges of staying safe and being vaccinated;

folks who are troubled, depressed, or oppressed by any mental illness, trauma, or emotional upset;

all who work in these challenging days, or who cannot work right now;

people who are seeking You, gracious Master, or who are at least looking for meaning and spiritual truth.

Holy, holy, Holy God, we look upon the goodness and beauty of earth with gratitude, and praise You. Help us provide for those in need. Help us live and plan for the sake of those who will be here after us. Help, we pray, those across the globe who are so troubled right now, especially places ravaged by the coronavirus, places like Myanmar where human injustice and violence hurt so many. Help the human souls who struggle with what is right, and with finding a path to You, God of us all. In the name of the Saviour, hear our prayers today. AMEN.

OFFERING: Every week we, the congregation, present offerings, in the name of Jesus. Even when we do not meet together, we pool our resources to care for one another a speak peace to our world.

SOLO: ‘In the Garden’- Margo Nesbitt (recorded in 2020)

COMMUNION at Home: We who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, who have love and concern for our neighbours, who intend to lead a new life, following the commandment of God by walking in holy ways: we draw near with reverence, faith and thanksgiving and take the Supper of the Lord to our comfort.

We are come together today, in obedience of Jesus’ command, to partake of the Lord’s supper. To its blessing and fellowship, all disciples of the Lord Jesus, who have confessed him before others and desire to serve him, may come. This is not our/my table, but the Table of our Lord.

1 Corinthians 11:23-24 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Prayer of thanks for the Bread (from The Didache, 1st Cent AD) We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus, Thy Servant : to Thee be the glory for ever and ever. As this bread was scattered over the hills and having been gathered together became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together out of every nation, and every country, and every city and village, and house, and make one living catholic Church. To the praise and glory of Thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Eat of this Bread in remembrance of Christ’s body, broken for you. (Eat the bread.)

1 Corinthians 11:25-26 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Prayer of thanks for the Cup: Spirit of life, in the name of Jesus we share the fruit of the vine, remembering His sacrifice at Calvary. We bow to worship the Saviour who died. O help us remember. Though we are separated today, in You may be know we are One in Christ. AMEN.

Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful. (Drink the juice.)

The Lord’s Prayer 632 Our Father… AMEN.

HYMN 843 ‘Blest Be the Tie That Binds’

BENEDICTION Now grace, mercy, and peace be with you and abide with you, now and always; in the name of the Beginner, our Brother, and our Breath. AMEN.