Worship, Oct 31 – Holy House

WELCOME to this worship post. Sermon text, and some prayer, is here, plus video segments from the service at Digby Baptist. The full service plan can be found in the Bulletin.

Memorial Moment for the late Nelson McCullough 

For years now, going back at least to when I arrived here, Nelson and Dottie have arrived on Sundays here bright and early, and found their way to their usual pew. Two of the first to arrive every week, and two of the very faithful, during this recent COVID time they have been absent. And then we lost Nelson. Back in March he entered our local hospital, and in just a few days he died. His quiet presence no longer seen among us. The usual places we would see him around town, no longer knowing his familiar face. 

I believe it was just family members who gathered at a cemetery for the final farewell for Nelson McCullough, so today, we in his Church, pay tribute and give thanks for him, and pray for Dottie once again.

Scripture tells us Jesus said: (Matthew 5:3-10)
May we be comforted again today.
May the meek and the humble be welcomed by God.
May there be peace, and the promise of heaven for us.
Let us pray.

God, Giver of life, we give thanks for Nelson today, these months after he left us. Many had not seen him for a while, in these days of so much isolation. Now we praise You for everything we remember and cherish about him. May all that was good about Nelson live on in us. 

Our prayers are also for Dottie, that this time of living alone may be blessed by You, loving Master. Sustain her own health and well-being, and comfort her in this season of change. Bless, we pray, others of Nelson’s family, and his circle of friends. We honour his memory by thanking You, God, for his life among us. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. AMEN.

PRAYERS of the People God, with all the critters of creation we speak our own praises today, worshipping together and seeking to be true. 

Holy Spirit, on this eve of All Saints Day, we praise You for inspiring us by those who have gone on before us. We pray now because a small group is going out to shop for a digital piano this week. Guide and inspire us as we work to make a good decision. We give thanks again for the late Vince McCarlie, who provided funds for us to update our keyboard instruments.

Jesus, our Redeemer, it is also the eve of our international Baptist Women’s Day of Prayer. May all the women who gather tomorrow, or at other moments, be filled with Your Spirit, inspired in their praying, and empowered to serve anew. 

Among us here in Digby, Eternal One, we bless Marie Woolaver today, who has probably been coming to this house of worship for about 99 years! As she begins her 100th year, may she be strengthened for each day, inspired to share her wisdom, and encouraged in the face of any and all challenges.

Generous God, bless, we pray, our Winter Clothing Give-Away. We rejoice in all the hats and mittens and coats that have been accumulating for months. Now bless our workers who prepare for the day of the event: may each item bless each recipient. 

Forgive us, we pray, when we pause our compassion to protect ourselves, for the moments we have been too proud of the self- serving work of our Church, and for our caution that is unwilling to take risks for the love of people in need. Cleanse us from such neglect and error, we pray, as we look to the cross of Christ.

Our praying is for dear friends in need…

And for the world we pray. For Sudan, where the military has seized power; for Haiti, where gangs are blocking ports and cutting off fuel shipments; for Iraq, after an attack killed eleven people; and many other troubled situations we hear about. 

From this house of prayer, hear us again, and from this room, send us out to keep on praying, keep on doing good, and keep on being Your Church, seven days a week. AMEN.

Holy House (1 Kings 5:1-5; 8:6-13, 22-30; John 2:13-15, 20-21) Today, part five of this five part series on the local church. To end: Holy House, not haunted house – though that was a tempting title. For we could easily stretch the phrase to mean the presence of God the Holy Spirit in a house like this one. 

Thank you, St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, for building this building, in 1876. Nine years later, the Digby Weekly Courier reported this: (September 6th, 1885)

The Reformed Episcopal church has been purchased by the Baptist congregation of this town, who feel the need of a larger and more commodious place of worship.  

The building was put up in 1876 at a cost of about $7000, as a place of worship for a congregation in connection with the R. E. Church, and the Rev. Mr. McGuire was the first minister called.  …His successors were Mr. Fury, Mr. Lavell, and Mr. Adams, none of whom ever attained to the popularity enjoyed by Mr. McGuire.

Being thus unfortunate in the ministers sent to them, the congregation became gradually dispersed and broken up.  The church was finally closed and has remained so for the last three or four years, excepting its temporary occupation during the summer months by the Presbyterians.  The Baptists have got a very nice church for the small sum of $2000 and are to be congratulated on the acquisition. 

Religious buildings – ya gotta love em… and hate em. On Thursday morning, here in this room, we had quite a few visitors, for the memorial service of Donna Baxter. Some remarked about how lovely this place is. The same morning I noticed, after a day and a half of heavy wind, the latest patch of shingles that came off the west-facing roof! 

And there is the challenge of a congregation being, primarily, a group of people with certain work to do, and not be a group tied to a certain building. How often does a shrinking congregation refuse to leave its building, refuse to join another church, or refuse to keep going after they sell the building? I mean, twelve people can be a Church; they don’t need to own property! Yet it seems that every single time, the church just dies. (I could be bold and call this suicide.) Better to die than go on without a building, apparently. Very sad – very common. 

A decade or more ago, in the Windsor Church, I was teaching about this, and emphasized the confusion we have with the word ‘church.’ Church can be an event, a Sunday morning event, say. “Is church over yet?” ask the children outside in the hall at one minute to twelve. Church can be a building. “The Baptist Church is at the corner of Montague Row and Mount Street.” But, in its best use, Church is a group of people. So I told the Windsor Baptists to call Sunday’s gathering ‘worship’ or ‘the service,’ but not ‘church.’ Call the place the ‘church building,’ and call us, the people, The Church. 🙂

Of course, there is a long, biblical tradition of special, grand, ornate, holy temples for religious purposes. The big tent in the wilderness with Moses and the Israelites – the Tabernacle; the first Temple built by Solomon; the second Temple – a rebuild of the old, begun by Ezra and Nehemiah. Not to mention the various shrines and altars in various towns and wilderness places, mentioned in the Old Testament. This first Temple, built under the guidance of King Solomon, took seven years. Read back in 1 Kings chapters six and seven for all the incredible details about the quarried stone, the lumber from the cedars of Lebanon, plus cypress and olive wood, the gold that overlaid so much, and so on. It is awesome to imagine it… if you like that kind of thing.

Today is Reformation Sunday – remembering the outcry against the Church’s corruption, failures, and it’s money making, back in the 1500s, for such things as the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 504 years ago today, Martin Luther tacked his 95 complaints against his Church to the door of a church building in Wittenberg. 

The problem then was not new. Look way back to the building of the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem. 1 Kings 5:13 -14 tells us: King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor.

The Temple, in Judaism, became a glorious thing, and an ideal looked back upon after it was destroyed and gone. The remnants of the second Temple today, in Jerusalem, are considered holy. How interesting that the visions of John in his Revelation include a new Holy City from God, yet John says, And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. (R 21:22)

Our sense of identity today, as a Baptist congregation, is like many others around us. We are a people closely tied to our building. Does it serve us well? Does it serve God’s mission in Digby County? Or do we serve our building? Let not the tail wag the dog! Let us not be enslaved to it. Perhaps the limitations of our pandemic have been training us to be Church, and even to worship, when gatherings were not allowed, or simply are not the same as before. 

Last fall, as the pandemic continued, Anna Robbins, of our Acadia Divinity College, had a dream; I call it her Firefly Dream  (Nov 25, 2020 facebook post) 

I had a dream last night. I was walking through a neighbourhood in the dark. It could have been any neighbourhood. Everywhere around me were fireflies, lighting up the night. Fireflies on the pavement, on the bushes, the grass, flying in the air. It was wondrous, magical. When I awoke, the thought on my mind was this: As we are scattered from worship, each of us carries the light to our workplaces, neighbourhoods, homes and backyards. It is wonderful, magical, and God’s gift of grace. We shine like never before! Leaders, forget about the fancy footwork to make an impressive production right now. Your focus is to feed the fireflies so we can burn brightly, as God has scattered us for mission.

Let me give three points at the end of this little sermon. There is a proper pride and care of a building that is a house of prayer for the people. People can have a sacred building, with its special features and attention to detail. In ch. 9 we can read the visionary answer Solomon gets from the LORD God: I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” So let us care for this tool.

There must also be purpose for having and using a building dedicated for worship and ministry by the faith community. King Solomon’ s prayer of dedication, and God’s answer, illustrate all the prayers and blessings that were the purpose of the Temple: the building stood as a meeting place of the human and the divine, and a way to focus upon the blessings of God. So let our building be for Divine human fellowship, not merely for us and our man-made projects.

So, there must also be protection against the dangers of becoming too attached to the building. Or, becoming distracted by saving ourselves or pleasing our own egos. There is another telling of the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple, in 2 Chronicles. When God answers Solomon there, in chapter 7, we find these famous Divine words: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The secret of success with an incredible worship centre is all in the people, not the building. I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together.

We will pause one more time for a short interview with a local believer. I will have a conversation here with Shayne Moore. Before we do, let us   pray.

PRAYER after the Sermon This is the place where we pray, where we learn, where we love, where we leave to serve You. Saviour, train us well, correct us, and make us keep the main thing as the main thing: Your life among us. AMEN.

INTERVIEW with Shayne Moore: Welcome, Shayne! You are the fourth of our weekly guests this month to chat with me about the theme of the day. We’ve had an active Church member, a couple active non-members of Digby Baptist, and you are one of our members who actually worships with a different Church. 

Today, we’ve been exploring worship buildings in the Faith. Shayne, I wonder, first, if you have any questions for me, or something you’d like me to explain more or say more about? 

Second, what are some of your own thoughts abt Churches and our buildings? 

Thirdly and finally, I wonder if you could tell us about some sacred experience you’ve had that was not in a ‘holy house’ at all. 

Thanks so much, Shayne, for joining us today and sharing these things with us!

Daily Prayer, Oct 30

Matthew 15:29 After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down.

Your travels, Master, in Palestine show how local and down-to-earth Your life was. It was ordinary, in a sense. You were simply human. In Your days here, You walked everywhere, as others did. You did not get far from home, like I do, so easily. You went from seashore and crowds of people to hilltops for solitude. Keep training me, I pray, for such balance in my life.

Mighty Miracle Worker, we are praying this weekend for the ‘Church on the Lake,’ Middle Sackville Baptist Church, NB. May they keep on discovering how You walk among them, and empower the ministry that they share. I also pray for folks who are close to us, who need help, and would be blessed by Your powerful touch: Dwight, Joe, Peter, Jack, Mandy, John, Dick… my list goes on and on. Thank You, Jesus, for reaching them all – and me. Amen.

Daily Prayer, Oct 29

Isaiah 2:4 He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.

God of love, King of peace, Saviour: prayer like this always seems to be about serenity, quiet, getting a calm focus to be ‘in touch’ with You. Yet, of course, in the heat of a stressful moment I am just as likely to pray urgently, sending my wish to You like a flare shot roughly into the air, glowing brightly though briefly, signaling for rescue. Holy One, hear my prayer, and assure me that You are they for all prayer for peace and hope.

It is the finale today of the United Nations’ Disarmament Week. All my life there is been talk about the arms race, in one form or other. The statistics are still published, Lord, about the nuclear weapons of the nations. Oh for disarming to be the goal and the work of the governments! What can I do? I speak and pray, Lord. What will You do? Let us keep talking about this, You and I, along with the millions who pray for peace and the release of threats. In the name of Jesus, Prince of peace. Amen.

Daily Prayer, Oct 26

Psalm 118:7 He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people

‘You raise me up so I can stand on mountains…’ Almighty One, I pray to You, who have lifted my soul and cleansed by life. When I am in touch with my needs even now, I turn to You. Put all the things of my life in perspective, so I will realize what I do have, and what I truly need.

Aside from the ‘garbage’ in my soul that You are trashing, I pray for the day to day waste that is so plentiful. In this National Waste Reduction Week, help me, Master, to notice every bit of plastic, paper and metal that we are using. Help me to see the way I use water that is quite unnecessary. Help me understand my options when it comes to electricity and gasoline and such. God incarnate, be Lord over by physical body and the realm that is mine. Amen.

Worship, Oct 24 – Leaders & Followers

WELCOME to this post for Sunday divine worship for Digby Baptist Church and all our visitors. The Bulletin is a document here that will give the full plan for the worship service.

Leaders & Followers (1 Samuel 16:1-13; Matthew 20:25-28) I try not to tell jokes about ministers, but today I will. From The Parson’s Quotation Book come these proverbs:

Parsons are like manure. Spread about, they do a lot of good. But in a heap they stink.

Invisible 6 days a week & incomprehensible on the 7th.

The clergy may be dreadful. But we have only the laity to choose from.

Today, in this series, October Ecclesiology, we look at leaders and followers in Church. We read this story from almost three thousand years ago, of a young Hebrew shepherd named David being chosen to be the next King. As Samuel looks over the sons of a man of Bethlehem named Jesse, the LORD guides him to reject the eldest, the good looking one. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

After all the brothers are rejected, one more is found – brought in from tending sheep. David, and he is the one. God saw his heart, and chose David. 

But what’s he like? Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. So, though the king is chosen not for good looks, David does happen to be easy on the eyes. I could have titled this sermon using some terms I’ve learned from one of you, “Looking Good or Good Looking?” David was both. The best prospect for kingship, and beautiful.

David becomes one of the great, great Kings in Israel. Great in the best ways, but great in his disasters also. 

The one main thing about leaders and followers in today’s text is the choosing by God, and why chosen. Leadership comes from the heart, from inside, and by the will of God. David was the political leader of a nation of one common faith, so his was a divine appointment. 

Three thousand years later, in a new religion – Christianity – we at the local level still look for the will of God in leadership. And for the heart of hearts of those who lead. Our Nominating Committee had a first meeting last Sunday, and is truly charged with the responsibility of discerning who is gifted for what ministry at this time. It is not a matter of finding the people who are willing to do the tasks. It is actually a matter of finding the people whom God wills to do the tasks. Who now does God the Holy Spirit plan to empower & gift for the work at hand?

Not that we have no choice. It is entirely possible for God the Spirit to say, “choose whomever for that job – either one will do; I’ll bless the one you choose.”

I am also aware, at this moment, of a bunch of local churches around us who are in some stage of seeking a new pastor. Bear River Baptist, Deep Brook Baptist, Digby United, Little River Baptist, Bridgetown Baptist, and probably other churches, are searching. Pray for all of them, at the very least. 

In those search processes, there is always talk and prayer about the will of God. ‘Who is the next pastor that our Master has chosen for us?’ How leaders and churches finally come together is very practical work, and spiritual. We talk about it so idealistically, on the surface. Underneath, we sometimes just do some guessing!

The leadership roles in a church are quite important. Sometimes too important. What I mean to say is this: pastors usually are far too influential in a local church. But there is almost no way of getting around this. How people like (or dislike) the pastor affects their participation. The minister’s style and plans and best skills have a big influence upon what’s going on. His or her strengths and weaknesses change the work of the congregation. 

I am so grateful for the pastorate of three churches I went to, out of Divinity School, when I was twenty-five. They were so good to me, so patient, so cooperative, so easy to serve and lead. Not that I knew anything about leading. And, you know what? I was also grateful for my predecessor. I always am. But in that case, I was grateful for the great things he accomplished, and the poor things. He led them to tear down their old Parsonage and build a new one, which was just about paid for when I got there. There were people who had grown in their faith under Harold, and were ready to be baptized, by me. 

But he had also been, for many, unpopular. Disliked. Even embarrassing, to some. A bunch of people left the church while Harold was there, and never came back. So he also made it easier for me. I seemed so young, so positive, and less conservative than my predecessor. 

But I knew nothing of leadership. Twenty-five years later, I know only slightly more than nothing. 😉 I’m a great follower. I’m a natural born follower. 🙂 I’ve come to understand my limits, I’ve learned what it is to guide and inspire and make decisions. Some of this is still hard for me. Yet, especially while I was in Windsor, I had to come to terms with who Jeff W as a pastoral leader is, at best. 

And some of this is my caution about being a strong influence, or the only influence. Because there is so much influence and power and control in my role among you. So it has always been, in churches. Yet we proclaim Jesus is the true and only Head of the Church. How His Spirit exercises control through me, and through you – this is so important.

The ancient tradition of anointing a leader – as king David was anointed – is profound. It is about choosing. It is about divine choosing. It is about blessing that leader, and having a sense that there is real, living contact with God. God will act, and speak, and lead, using that human being.

This is even our belief – and our prayer – for each and every one of us. Including those who would claim never ever to be a leader. Always a follower. 

I like you, for, as I said, I am a natural born follower. And we can’t all be leaders – there need to be followers! Though, I immediately think of that scripture where Moses says, ‘Oh if only all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!’ I guess that very thing happened at the Christian Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the gathered believers in Jerusalem with wind and tongues of fire and speaking across all language barriers. 

I want the quiet, the followers, the meek, the polite, the calm, the humble, those in the background, to be free to be followers. They will have their moments to inspire & lead. 

Jan Phillips always quotes this saying: No matter how brilliant our attempts to inform, it is our ability to inspire that will turn the tides.

I get inspired by people who are truly good followers. They know who a good leader is, and they follow. Is that not a beautiful and important thing? Like the simple but clear ways we all can follow Jesus. These trusting, hopeful ways we have, can shine like lights on a hillside. Oh, how we want others to see that light, and find our great Leader. Jesus the Christ.

We will pause to hear now from someone else in the congregation about these things; I’ll have a conversation here with Rob Wilkinson. Before we do, let us   pray.

PRAYER after the Sermon Jesus, our Saviour, Master, Teacher and Friend, our individual relationships with You truly grow when followers and leaders are together. Thank You for the Church. Thank You for Your word to us, Your body. Thank You for Your Spirit, guiding our learning, our remembering, our actions, our compassion. 

You reveal to us the ways we have failed to be good leaders, and the times we have not followed well at all. To Your forgiving love upon the Cross we bow now, and seek a fresh breath of hope. May we follow as humble servants, and be servant leaders; in Your name. AMEN.

INTERVIEW with Rob Wilkinson Welcome, Rob! You are the third of our weekly guests this month to chat with me about the theme of the day. Today, we’ve been exploring leadership & ‘followship’ in Church. It was good to talk with you recently about this. So Rob, I wonder, first, if you have any questions for me, or something you’d like me to explain more or say more about? 

Second, I wonder if you could tell us about some experience you remember about a leader who did well.

Thirdly and finally, what are some of your own thoughts abt leadership, or about getting people to follow? 

Thanks so much, Rob, for sharing these things with us. There is so much more we could talk about.

Daily Prayer, Oct 23

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

God, marvelous Three-in-One, on this weekend I approach Your throne of grace. Your unity appears perfect and beautiful: Father, Jesus, Spirit. You are the heart of relationships, and bind all things together. Inspire me all the more to learn my part in this universe, this world, this race of humanity, this community, and the Church.

I call out today because of the divisions and animosity that have arisen between many people at this pandemic time. It can be so sad and hard, how people don’t get along. So much is because of their differing attitudes to health and socializing amid COVID and the guidelines that keep changing. Let there be miracles of understanding, of protection and safety, of wisdom and just action. As my congregation meets this weekend, I pray for the Victory Baptist Church, Rexton, NB – let that fellowship also be one as You, Jesus, and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one. Amen.

Daily Prayer, Oct 21

James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

We are wondering, God our Father, about what we do that is caring and compassionate. You help me step back and look at how I am helping, what difference I am making, where my Church is active in the community and the world. This week, may my religion become one step more ‘pure and faultless’ because I have joined the team that does things to care for the needy.

Dear Provider of my needs, in this Foster Family Week, I pray for the caring of those who foster children in their home, welcome them, provide a good place. Some parents (and their children) have welcomed so many other children into their families for a time – sometimes a long time. May the challenges be met by Your care for them all, and may the hard and sad moments in families be full of comfort from Your gracious Spirit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Daily Prayer, Oct 20

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise: to You I reach out today. Be close. To Your way I aspire now. Be clear. To You I pray. Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. This Faith is rooted in looking to things ‘unseen.’ May I notice what is unseen, wherever I go today. And may I learn something this week about showing and sharing the unseen with others – how to share my faith in this day and age.

Creator, in this Invisible Disability Week I pray for those who are challenged with illnesses like Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia (FM) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Sensitivities. I ask also to become more sensitive to people who are limited, but I can’t just see this by looking at them. Today is also the beginning of the Harvesters Gathering at Bear River First Nation. May it be a true cultural highlight of the year, and inspire new relationships in our area, here in Kespukwitk. May our neighbours never be invisible to us. Amen.

Worship, Oct 17 – Church Failure

WELCOME to this worship post for a mid-October Sunday. More information about the service, and the congregation’s work, is available in the Bulletin, here on our website.

1 Samuel 3:1-14; John 20:21-23

Welcome (again) to the Church. Now, pretend you are visiting a different church on a Sunday morning, and you try to find out what it is like – if the group has any hidden problems? In your research, you find out these things:

They have divided loyalties: some are claiming to follow one leader, others want to follow another pastor.

There is some sexual immorality in the faith community, such as the fellow having a fling with his step-mother! Some are still going to local prostitutes. Others seem confused about their sex lives, and how to behave when married. And some need advice about getting married (or not) and about divorce. 

There are lawsuits going on among the people of the Church. 

There is confusion about having fellowship and eating with people of other religious persuasions. Also, the believers are not all clear about praying or other teachings from other spiritual traditions. When the church does get together for a service, there is conflict about how to behave, and even how to dress up (or dress down). And they are not treating everyone the same when it comes to fellowship suppers together. In fact, there is a lot of one-upmanship, some folks acting like they are more important and more talented than others in the Church.

Not to mention their basic theology: they are not even all sure about life-after-death. And Church finances? They have not figured out that bit of administration. 

Where is this messed-up Church? Corinth, Greece. 

When? AD 40. 

It’s all right here in the New Testament, in the letter we call First Corinthians. This is ‘the New Testament Church’ …what some Christians want to get back to. 

Churches do fail and falter. They mess up. We are simply made up of people. Even after almost two thousand year, we are the same, still having great ups and downs.

Yet, miracle of miracles, the corrupt Church is what the Holy Spirit has to work with. We are the body of Christ. Hard to believe? It is a miracle to believe in!

The Christian Church fails; the Christian Church succeeds. However we measure these things. This month is Pastor appreciation month. Sure. It is also Mi’kmaq History Month. We look, more and more, into the harsh history of European Christians against our native peoples. How ironic, this October, that the NB government has asked their workers to cease land acknowledgments. To quit admitting that these are the unceded, ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq and other people. How hard it is to untangle from our history, and grow into the future.

My actual text for this sermon is not from 1 Corinthians, it is from 1 Samuel: what Angela read in our midst today. Those amazing scenes from the youth of Samuel, destined to be a bridge from the ancient Israelite days of the Judges to having Kings to rule themselves. But look at the context, the troubled religious setting. Things were really in a mess, in ancient Judaism, then.

The shrine for Jewish worship was in a place called Shiloh. Hannah and Elkanah worshipped there once every year, and now they had a son, whom they dedicated to the LORD. He gets dropped off to live with the old Jewish priest, Eli, whose two sons are running the worship services: burnt offerings of meat and so forth. 

But Eli’s sons are so corrupt, it’s pitiful. The whole idea of animal offerings is to give the best and purest of the food animals (and grain) first to God Almighty. The priestly brothers at Shiloh are stealing the best meat for themselves instead. They were also enjoying all the sexual favours they could get from women who served there at the worship tabernacle. 

By the time Samuel is working there as a young apprentice, and hears God speak to him one night, the religious life of God’s people is at a low ebb. As it says here, “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” The visionary message young Samuel is given is that Eli and sons are going down: their corrupt religion is going to be put to an end by God. In fact, these guys will die!

Eli expects this, and accepts the message from Samuel completely. The old priest had already been warned about this by some nameless prophet (in chapter 2).

Here we are, a few thousand years later, also wondering about our failures – and successes – and what the warnings are. There is more than one kind of failure, of course, by the Church. There is downright evil and greed. And there is simply not getting things done we try and want to do for Christ. Getting off track and wasting ourselves on stuff that is not that important. The decline of our churches gets us really wondering what went wrong, in our lifetimes. Was it us, or was it the world that failed? Maybe both?

Yesterday, our local Baptist Association met. What is the Association? It is simply the forty churches of Digby and Annapolis Counties. I led an exercise in looking at why we should even associate with one another. We talked much about the challenges of today. Small congregations. Many are just about all retired people. A lot less going on than was thirty or fifty years ago. Finances shrinking. Churches declining, drying up, dying. 

I sought out some inspiration, some good reasons still to be a team of churches. The group came up with these reasons:

Share ideas Share financial resources

Pray for each other Share a common vision

Do some ‘events’ together

Encourage cooperation among neighbour Churches

Work on the same project together

Simply encourage one another

We are not alone, Digby Baptist, in this moment. Never forget that. And let us not act like we are on our own. It is a hard time, a stressful time to function and face the future. We must ask hard questions. We must ask our Master.

“Will Our Children Have Faith?” was the title of John Westerhoff III’s 1979 book. Now, sometimes hopefully, we ask, ‘and what will their faith look like?’ if it is not in the traditional Church format. Where are the people on the front cover of our bulletin? Where are they now, with God?

When I was a divinity student, I worked a year with the Windsor Baptist Church. Eight years later, I became their Senior Pastor. A few of the youth were still there, now in their twenties. Some had moved away, of course, and some had ‘moved on’ from the Church: left it totally. I was very curious about their amazing youth ministry experience at Windsor Baptist, and how well they were prepared to stay Christian when they left their hometown. I wondered how much the Church had failed them, actually. 

But I also wondered how much it was a success. It is not as simple as using those two categories. Nothing is just a success, or a failure. Some great failures end up with amazing results. Some successes turn out ‘ho hum.’

Well, let me come to some conclusions. Turn with me again to the scenes of the Israelites in their holy land, with unholy priests wrecking their religion. What happened at that turning point, when Samuel’s life was beginning?  There is plenty of inspiration from the sacred stories. 

  1. Even when things are dark, God can still speak in a way that changes things. When religion was dead, God spoke to a special boy: it was a new beginning.
  2. Failed spiritual leaders can still help people. Eli helped his young apprentice know he was getting a divine message. We wonder about religious leaders who have a downfall. Is the good we thought they did now ruined? Jim Bakker. Jean Vanier. Ravi Zacharias. Every saint is also a sinner. Every sinner a saint?
  3. Failed spiritual leaders can still do the right thing. Eli responded well to the dire message about the end of his family’s ministry. In our day, any lack of perfection in a leader is attacked. Yet God has always called the imperfect failures to serve.
  4. New eras arise, from the hand of God. There can be a new beginning. There will be. There always is. At least, that is what Judaism, and now Christianity, keep proclaiming. It is what Jesus declares, by His life and message. There is hope. There is life. There is resurrection!
  5. We can learn much from our mistakes. Surely Samuel, when young, learned a lot from the corrupt sons of his boss. And he would learn from his own failures. The more subtle failures we have, when we major on the minors, or don’t make a good choice – these can teach us. The Spirit will instruct our spirit, our heart, our conscience. What have we learned from our Church’s more recent mess-ups?

In a moment, I will have another conversation with one of you, about the theme of the day. May all our talk of failure be used for the success of Christ. And may we answer as Samuel did. 

Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? 

I have heard You calling in the night.

I will go, Lord, if you lead me.

I will hold your people in my heart.

PRAYER after the Sermon: Chist, You build Your Church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it! We thank You that we are not alone, in the faith: we are one with all Your people. We thank You that the Spirit still guides, reminds, instructs and inspires us: how we need that help today! We give thanks that You bring to an end bad teaching and poor worship, selfish actions and unjust service. Prepare us for times of purging. Speak to our hearts Your truth and love. AMEN.

Daily Prayer, Oct 16

Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

Jesus: Bread of Heaven, I turn to You in prayer so that I may be sustained, by soul fed, and my path led. Today is World Food Day, and the theme this year is “Safe food now for a healthy tomorrow.” Divine Provider, I think my food is basically quite safe; I intercede for those whose food is lacking and is not safe. For the health of those who are hungry or diseased, I pray. Help us who are healthy and rich to share much more.

Master, Your teaching is food for our minds. Today, guide the Annapolis Digby Baptist Association, that this group of churches may learn afresh to associate well together. And when congregations meet tomorrow, bless the Grangeville Baptist Church in NB. Let their worship be sweet and Your guidance be clear. Amen.