Worship at Home, June 14 – ‘Why Parables? Why Stories?’

Welcome to ‘worship at home,’ a way for us to share the same service together while we are distanced. Welcome to the fellowship! Follow along with the parts of the service below. Other information is available in the Bulletin (see link above) and the Anniversary Newsletter.

Our Anniversary Newsletter is available to you now; check on the link above for Newsletters. We will celebrate our 182nd Anniversary on June 28th with guest preacher, Rev. Borden Scott, Pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Lower Sackville, NS.

Pastor Jeff will be taking four days of vacation Monday-Thursday, June 22-25.

WORSHIP Welcome Let’s use the worship scene in Isaiah 6 to provide the framework for our service today. Jeff will say more about this in the sermon.

Worship can begin with praise and adoration of God. It can be very spontaneous, initiated by God. Isaiah 6:1-4

I had a vision of the Lord. He was on his throne high above, and his robe filled the temple. Flaming creatures with six wings each were flying over him. They covered their faces with two of their wings and their bodies with two more. They used the other two wings for flying, as they shouted,

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord All-Powerful!
The earth is filled with your glory.”

As they shouted, the doorposts of the temple shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

HYMN Holy Is the Lord

Worship continues when we realize who we are, in the presence of the Holy One: Isaiah 6:5 Then I cried out, “I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord All-Powerful.”

PRAYER Tell us the ‘old, old’ story today, God. Tell us again. Like a child, listening to her father, we like the same story over and over from You. Tell us, we pray, about Isaiah and his vision of amazing worship! We feel so alone and unable to get together on a Sunday morning. Tell us, we pray, the story of Jesus, explaining why He is a storyteller. His parables we know, yet we still forget, and we still do not always ‘get it.’ Tell us, we pray, the story of our own lives, from Your viewpoint. You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until the find rest in You. AMEN.

Worship celebrates the forgiveness that is found when we open up about our problems: Isaiah 6:6-7 One of the flaming creatures flew over to me with a burning coal that it had taken from the altar with a pair of metal tongs. It touched my lips with the hot coal and said, “This has touched your lips. Your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer guilty.”

SONG Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah! Praise Ye the Lord!

CHILDREN’s Time God is Holy

Worship is also a matter of discipleship, an opportunity to learn something: Isaiah 6:8a After this, I heard the Lord ask, “Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?”

SCRIPTURE Matthew 13:10-17, 34-35 – Myra Edwards

SERMON Why Parables? Why Stories? – Jeff White

For years, Isaiah 6 was a favourite chapter of mine. About the time I got to adulthood, worship services became very important for me and my discipleship to Jesus. I’d moved away from home and explored new services in churches and chapels that were not what I’d grown up with, and I soaked it all up like a sponge. A lot of it was formal and fancy. All my experiences were still rather Baptist, but diverse and different from my ‘home church.’ Isaiah 6 was a key scripture, at the heart of things, for me.

A couple ministers who deeply influenced me, then, referred me to a book by one of their old friends, “Come, Let Us Worship.” Written by a Baptist Minister, Jud Levy, it used the flow of Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6 to build a ‘proper’ Christian worship service. Perhaps you see in today’s service that I planned, how the elements of Isaiah’s dramatic encounter guide our steps today. 

One of my mentors was Chaplain to the University, and managed to build his worship plan around the name of the institution. 

A – Adoration of God
C – Confession of sin
A – Absolution of sin
D – Discipleship (scripture and sermon)
I – Intercession (prayers for self and the world)
A – Atonement (blessing of being right with God)

Worship service, when the Church gathers, is a conversation. It is a drama. It has movement, it takes us somewhere. It becomes a story, our story with God.

(The Isaiah 6 flow might also be used as a framework for the path of salvation by faith in Christ.
1 – awesome experience of God happens.
2 – awareness of how small/sinful I am/we are.
3 – a saving and forgiving word is given, in Christ.
4 – discipleship begins: following Jesus, training.
5 – a mission is given, a purpose, a goal, work.
6 – all will be well, and eventually perfect.)

You may be reading along the parts of Isaiah 6 I have in the service today, but what’s next? What was the message, the actual mission for Isaiah? It’s in the rest of the chapter. And what a severe message it is!

9 “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

I’m glad this was not my first sermon assignment, as a budding preacher! At least it ends with a bit of messianic hope: from the stump can grow a new life. In other words, there will yet be an anointed one, a Messiah. But the main message is all about the people not understanding.

So, we Christians worship, and we want to understand. Why do we plan these services (which right now happen to be private, in our own homes)?

Some would say they come to Church services for the music. Be it the joy of the music, the making of it, or the experience of praising and worshipping God.

Some would say the best thing about worship is prayer, and our connecting personally with God. In his great book, ‘The Contemplative Pastor,’ Eugene Peterson goes so far as to say, about his ministry, a conviction grew: that my primary educational task as a pastor was to teach people to pray. (Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, 1989 p. 96)

Many others claim that the heart of worship is education, teaching, preaching the Word of God. Not that every sermon is an academic lecture. There is a lot of testimony and witness, creative writing, poetry and storytelling in preaching, at its best. 

I have not told you many stories yet today, and I’m not going to. But stories – of many shapes and sizes – are so important to sharing faith and sharing life with Christ. So, Jesus tells stories. He gives His ‘sermon on the mount,’ He speaks of esoteric things recorded in John’s Gospel, but He also tells many tales. Parables. All those memorable parables. 

Why parables? ‘Why tell these stories, all the time, Jesus, and in the way you tell them?’ Jesus’ close companions ask Him, and He gives a surprising answer. Seems surprising to me. ‘So you will understand.’ No. ‘So everyone will get it.’ Wrong again. ‘So people of different learning styles will also learn.’ Nope. ‘So they will be easy to remember and retell in the years ahead.’ No, this is not Jesus’ answer.

He paraphrases, from Isaiah chapter 6. “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen nor do they understand.’” (Mtt 13:13) He actually quotes directly from that chapter. The people are not going to get it. At least some of them. Christ almost says, ‘those who understand are going to understand, and those who don’t won’t.’ Much like what Isaiah had been told to proclaim, centuries before.

Jesus is a wise teacher, a Rabbi of the wisdom tradition who has all the tools of teaching and training at His disposal. He has a Hebrew sneakiness, and subversiveness about His lessons. All these centuries later, and half a world away, we can miss out on how provocative His words so often were. And they still are challenging, and even mysterious. He gives out the secrets, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but it is like He uses codes and puzzles and riddles. The greatest of teachers can use such tools well. Built into the lesson of the day is the test, the exam. Not everyone will pass. Some will fail to learn. Today.

I’ve had a few friends through the years who are very clever with words. They can dabble with them and play and have fun with language in ways that are both joyful and bothersome at the same time! 

My friend and ministry colleague, Jeff, for instance. We were always playing with words. He is more skilled. We would have online conversations like this all the time:

Him: we can talk over lunch too
Me: Indeed
Him: I will make a reservation at Rosies
Me: What a reserved guy you are!
Him: I speak with reservation
Me: I hope I can re serve you well when we meet.

Then there was the time my new buddy, Jonathan, was explaining to a group of hikers how to drive to our starting place in Bear River. ‘Take the Christmas Eve exit.’ ‘What!?’ ‘You know, out here is Boxing Day, then Christmas, then Christmas Eve.’ I just shook my head; it did not compute! I was new in town, that was my excuse. I did not know, by number, 101 exits 24, 25 and 26. 😉 

Even the parable Jesus is telling here in Matthew 13 points out that some people will understand the message of God, and some will not. It’s the parable of the sower of seeds. Some fell on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorny weeds, and some on good soil. We’ll look more at this parable one month from now.

It was only Jesus who spoke parables just the way He did, the ones we know so well, from the Gospels. The weeds in the wheat, the sheep and the goats, the lost coin, the pearl of great price. Yet, it was not only Jesus, among the Jews, who spoke in parables. We also find parables in the Old Testament books, parables of a sort. They are little allegories, or holy fables, or anecdotes with an accusation in them. A story with a challenge, we might call them. That’s where I want to take us, this summer.

The word parable is created from a couple words that mean thrown together, or thrown side-by-side. One thing is put beside something else, in a surprising way. The Kingdom of God, and yeast in the bread dough. God’s Kingdom is good. Yeast, in Bible days, was always a negative thing, to be got rid of for Passover, for instance. Throw God’s perfect Kingdom and unholy yeast together… and what do you get?

During this summer, I am going to attempt to ‘throw together’ some of Jesus’ parables with some of the Old Testament fables. We will seek to use Jesus’ wisdom to unfold the parables of Old, from Ezekiel and Isaiah & Jotham & Jehoash. A summer of stories. 

We must tell our own stories too, and listen. The power of stories has been coming to light for me. A couple weeks ago I heard on radio again the 2003 Massey Lectures by Tom King, ‘The Truth About Stories.’ That led me to review the Hayward Lectures in 2018 by Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, who is, among other things, a good indigenous storyteller.

And we are learning, I hope, that a first step in relating well to people who have suffered, and suffered injustice, is to listen. To hear their story, from them. This is the work of truth and reconciliation. 

People of Faith are storytelling people. I have wanted to be a better storyteller than I am. But no matter. We shall tell Bible stories, and our own stories, as best we can. May our Master bless us.

Today is June 14th, and I was supposed to be going to Tatamagouche today, for an annual week long seminar in theology. It is cancelled. For years I have gone, and remember well one year that was all about stories, biblical, and others – “Once Upon a Time, There Was a Parable.” Not to mention the year that the theme was “The Spirituality of Pop Culture,” with examinations of many movie plots, from Superman, to Disney flicks, to TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’

Well, let us look at Old Testament Parables, this summer, simply to know them. Here they are, hidden in the pages, little treasures: the Plowman, the Two Eagles and the Vine, the Poor Wise Man… We shall discover which are most valuable to us in our age. Next Sunday, the real storytelling will begin.

Let us read them that we may be wise. Wise when it comes to our own speaking; we can be better storytellers, and thus communicate more deeply.

Let us study them to learn from the past. All the tales we will hear told are from history. They each were important in a moment back in time. And they have been kept for us to instruct us from history.

Let us use them to be trained by God. These Old Testament texts were the Bible of Jesus, and the backdrop for His powerful speeches. These stories are part of the context of Christ. We shall understand Jesus better when we know the Bible better He used.And let us include these Old Testament tales in our scripture work so we may know more deeply our salvation, and our Saviour. The whole, complete Bible is salvation history. The reading of the stories will be good for the redemption of the saints. That’s you and me. Thanks be to God!

Now, here’s a little extra, a bonus video I found that seems to me a good introduction to Jesus’ parables…

Worship, at its best, opens us up to hear the call of God to do something, to take a new step, to be transformed: Isaiah 6:8b “I’ll go,” I answered. “Send me!”

OFFERING Our oldest Baptist educational institution in the Maritimes is Acadia University. Today, the Acadia Divinity College within it is still ours, still run by us, Atlantic Baptists, for the training of pastors and workers in Christian ministries. As a local church, we financially support ADC, as well as their special fund right now (2018-2020) for the refurbishment of the 50-year-old building. Designated gifts can be made any Sunday to ‘ADC’ or to ‘ADC building fund.’

PRAYERS O Divine Master, it is in praying that we are not alone: for You are with us. It is in praying that we are not powerless: for Your strength is made perfect even in our weakness, thanks to Christ. It is in praying that we are not overcome by confusion: for Your wisdom shines within, by the Holy Spirit. 

Light of the world, we pray for our world, upset by sickness and violence, by poverty of necessities and greed for power. We pray for those who march for justice, and for all whose stories have been ignored. We pray for the creatures of creation and the lands and waters and air that are getting a little less of our pollution right now. We pray for our fellowship, especially those ill, alone, isolated, or troubled now. And we pray simply to be, and be with Thee. Amen.

HYMN 669 God of Grace and God of Glory ‘I think this video recording, from a Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY, is wonderful and delightful. This profound hymn (with Baptist lyrics) is inspiring, perhaps especially so with this diverse choir, finding they way into it, one by one.’ – Jeff

BENEDICTION Love in all sincerity, loathing evil and holding fast to the good. Let love of the Christian community show itself in mutual affection. Esteem others more highly than yourself. And may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be amongst you and remain with you always. AMEN.

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