Worship at Home – July 5, 2020 – New Old Parables: ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’

Welcome to this online resource for worshipping ‘together’ while apart.

Our date for opening our building for Sunday services is July 12th (twelfth). Guidelines and procedures for our first day back together are listed at the end of this worship blog post.

WORSHIP Welcome Psalm 145:10-12, 14
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

HYMN 5 Come, Thou Almighty King

PRAYER Sovereign God, named as King by many peoples and in many languages throughout history: we use this language again, worshipping You. Master, we give thanks for Your control and compassion. Lord, we give thanks for Your rule and realism. God, we give thanks for Your creative powers and plans. We pray, and our hearts are humbled, for we know how we break rules, and we get broken. Freshen our freedom in Christ, so we may live abundantly and well, healed and whole, and be a blessing to the world around us. AMEN.

SONG 606 Rejoice in the Lord Always

CHILDREN’s Time – Sharon White

SCRIPTURE Matthew 11:16-19, 23-30

Solo: ‘Footprints’ – Joyce Marshall

SCRIPTURE 2 Kings 14:8-11

SERMON ‘The Thistle & the Cedar’ – Jeff White

The nineteenth century Christian philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, was a storyteller. Here is one of his many parables, which gets at this: what happens to those who try to warn the present age?

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just [part of the act] and applauded. He repeated his warning; they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the [witty people,] who believe that it is a joke. (“A” in Either/Or, p. 30)

Many memorable stories are warnings. Many a scripture verse is a warning. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” my Dad always says. But how many of us are wise enough to take the lesson from the first, or only, warning?

How do warnings work? I have wondered this as I pondered quite a few parables and stories over the past few weeks. Especially, I wonder about the clever use of parables, parables that not everyone will get. Jesus’ method was not to be straightforward and clear; His were the methods of the Hebrew wise teachers: Rabbis telling creative tales, redirecting the conversation, and answering a question with another question.

So it is with Jewish storytelling. We heard another ancient example today, from 2 Kings 14. This was the days of the divided monarchy among the Hebrews. Two kingdoms, two kings: one in the north, Israel, one in the south, Judah. In today’s reading, one king wants to fight the other. 

Amaziah, king of the southern kingdom, has been victorious over the Edomites, farther to the South. Now, he sets his eyes upon his kinfolk to the north, Israel. ‘Let’s face off!’ is his message to Jehoash, the other king. 

Jehoash thinks, rightly, that Amaziah is getting too big for his britches, and had better quit while he is ahead. He says this with the parable we just read, of the thistle and the cedar. It is a warning.

“One day a thistle in Lebanon sent word to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ But then a wild animal of Lebanon passed by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it. 

Just because you’ve defeated Edom in battle, you now think you’re a big shot. Go ahead and be proud, but stay home. Why press your luck? Why bring defeat on yourself and Judah?” (2 K 14:9-10, The Message, Eugene Peterson, 2003)

Amaziah did not heed this warning. He insisted on battling Israel. And he lost. 

This is a common human problem, isn’t it? We won’t take no for an answer. We push the boundaries, and insist on learning from our mistakes, not from the guidance we are given. We make ourselves big and important whenever we get the chance. Some people have few and small chances. Others have lots of opportunity to be pushy and powerful. 

Let me read you a story. Not a very old story – about one hundred years old – and even then, it was intentionally written in an old-fashioned style, as if you were reading Shakespeare or the Kings James Bible. A story by the Rev. Wm. E. Barton, called:

The Millionaire and the Scrublady

There is a certain Millionaire, who hath his Offices on the Second Floor of the First National Bank Building. And when he goeth up to his Offices he rideth in the Elevator, but when he goeth down, then he walketh.

And he is an Haughty Man, who once was poor, and hath risen in the World, and he is a Self-made Man who worshipeth his maker.

And he payeth his Rent regularly on the first day of the month, and he considereth not that there are Human Beings who run the Elevators, and who Clean the Windows, hanging at a great height above the Sidewalk, and who shovel Coal into the furnaces under the Boilers. Neither doth he at Christmas time remember any of them with a Tip or a Turkey.

And there is in that Building a Poor Woman who Scrubbeth the Stairs and the Halls. And he hath walked past her often but hath never seen her until Recently. For his head was high in the air, and he was thinking of More Millions.

Now it came to pass on a day that he left his Office, and started to walk down the Stairs. 

And the Scrublady was half way down; for she had begun at the top, and was giving the stairs their First Onceover. And upon the topmost Stair, in a wet and soapy spot, there was a Large Cake of Yellow Soap. And the Millionaire stepped upon it. 

Now the foot which he set upon the Soap flew eastward toward the Sunrise, and the other foot started on an expedition of its own toward the going down of the Sun. And the Millionaire sat down upon the Topmost Step, but he did not remain there. As it had been his Intention to Descend, so he Descended, but not in the manner of his Original Design. For he descended faster, and he struck each step with a sound as it had been of a Drum.

And the Scrublady stood aside courteously, and let him go. And he stayed not on the order of his going. 

And at the bottom he arose, and considered whether he should rush into the Office of the Building and demand that the Scrublady be fired; but he considered that if he should tell the reason there would be great Mirth among the occupants of the Building. And so he held his peace.

But since that day he taketh notice of the Scrublady, and passeth her with Circumspection.

For there is no man so high or mighty that he can afford to ignore any of his fellow human beings. For a very Humble Scrublady and a very common bar of Yellow Soap can take the mind of a Great Man off his Business Troubles with surprising rapidity.

Wherefore, consider these things, and count not thyself too high above even the humblest of the children of God.

Lest haply thou come down from thy place of pride and walk off with thy bruises aching a little more by reason of thy suspicion that the Scrublady is Smiling into her Suds, and facing the day’s work the more cheerfully by reason of the fun thou hast afforded her.

For these are solemn days, and he that bringeth a smile to the face of a Scrublady hath not lived in vain.

(William E. Barton, Safed And Keturah, The Third Series of the Parables of Safed the Sage, 1921)

To be humbled is an important thing. Warnings about it abound. The humbling itself is a lesson, as well as being a warning, and to be humbled sometimes is itself a transformation.

What’s the moral of the story? The story of the millionaire and the scrublady? Barton mentions a couple things, at the end. It is best just to say, “Let that be a lesson to you,” and leave it at that. 

We can see that when Christ spoke, He often told His stories and then left them hanging in mid-air, for the people to ponder. He did not explain, did not give ‘the moral of the story.’ His close associates, the disciples, sometimes ask for explanation, and He gives one. Sometimes the Gospelers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) make a comment about a parable’s meaning, as they narrate the story. But that was not Jesus’ method. 

Jesus speaks to the humble in society, who can receive His message. They will ‘get it.’ Those at the top – economically, religiously – will not. So He says. 

In Matthew 14 today we hear Jesus’ remarkable little prayer, thanking His Father for revealing things to the humble children of earth, and hiding the meaning from the so-called wise and smart ones. This is what it pleased God to do. 

Just a bit earlier, Jesus was declaring woes over some communities that had not responded to Him, and declaring how fickle and faithless many people were, then. We read:

 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

‘The children in the marketplace’ is a very parable-like word-picture from Jesus. I think of our grandson, Dryden. When we are over here, from time to time, playing hockey in the Hall, he likes to come in here & play. He has us take turns on stage, singing a song. Or, at times, he has led a church service, with one person, me, in the pews. A seven-year-old can be quite bossy! Then we play hide-and-seek.

Jesus likens the people of his generation to children playing in the streets, who complain that others won’t pretend to make happy music, or cry a funeral dirge, when told to. No matter what He did, or what his cousin John did, people complained, they rejected them, they did not understand, did not respond.

The good news about all that Jesus says here, in Matthew 14, is multifaceted. 

  • It is wonderful that Jesus does reveal Himself and His Father, God, to people! 
  • And Jesus shows what is real to the humblest and neediest of people. 
  • He says it is up to Himself and His Father who they reveal themselves to: so it is not up to you and me. There is good news in that. 
  • Yet, like the clown in the burning theatre, we still have moments when we are to warn, even those who may not listen.

And from the scene of King Amaziah of Judah and King Jehoash of Israel come reminders, warnings for us, all these centuries later.

  • Overconfidence and troublemaking lead to a fall. ‘Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,’ scripture says (Proverbs 16:18).
  • There can be a choice: to stop now and not go overboard, not take that next misstep. 

To warn someone can take skill and good timing. And patience. To heed a warning, to understand and choose better, because we have been told, this takes humility of spirit, and a touch of grace from God. 

Thanks be, that God’s work includes comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable! AMEN.

OFFERING If you have a set of offering envelopes, you see ‘MISSIONS’ on each envelope. This is for the work of our denomination, the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Our budget for this year is about 2.35 million dollars. This funds our staff and departments for the variety of work we do together, in the name of Jesus. Our usual summer gathering (and annual meeting), Oasis, is cancelled this year. A special meeting has been called for us, the CBAC, on Wednesday, December 9, at 6:30 pm. This will be ‘electronic’ and in person; more information here.

PRAYERS O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the story blast,
and our eternal home!

We come to the centre of this year, a year of trouble for many, a year that breeds fear in too many ways, a year that slows down so many things we had hoped for and counted on: we wait upon You. Have we learned from the many warnings of six months? The good warnings and the false warnings? Teach us, touch us, tell us, transform us, O LORD.

Master of all peoples, as we celebrated our a nation last week, and our American neighbours did also, we call for blessings of every sort for our peoples. We give thanks for the privileges we enjoy; we pray for those not so privileged. We cry out for places hit hard by COVID-19 – may the human responses be over-arched by Your goodness, guidance and care.

We pour out our prayers for those ill at home or in hospital or places of special care. For those troubled or anxious in spirit, for whom the past six months has been extra stressful. For those trapped in addiction or in harmful relationships or in desperate circumstances. For those who are in need, and see no way of getting any aid. From out of our praying, may we provide, as best we can, working hand-in-hand with You. We put our hand in Yours, to help out in our corner of the world.

And across the globe our prayers look, not only to the millions facing this latest virus, but to all who face the many troubles that continue alongside COVID-19. The terrible hunger and need that goes on: we cry out against it. The ongoing racism and tribalism of each nation and culture: we cry out because of them. The terrible oppression and injustice of governments and powers in many forms: we cry out against them.
May we see others as You see them, and see ourselves in new ways too: in Christ. AMEN.

HYMN 542 Near to the Heart of God

BENEDICTION 1 Thessalonians 5: 14, 15, 28 …Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. AMEN.

Guidelines and Procedures for worshipping together again in our building: Our tentative re-open date is July 12, 2020.

Appropriate physical distancing of 6 feet (2m) is to be practiced by all as we enter, stay in and leave the Church building. Family units and bubble units should travel and sit together at church.

A few things to keep in mind:

– There will be a limit of fifty (50) people in the sanctuary at one time.

– Entrants to the Church must enter through the main doors on Mount Street.

– Everyone must use hand sanitizer upon entering, which will be provided at the door.

– Masks are optional.

– Greeters will take note of everyone’s name and contact information.

– Offerings can be placed in the receptacle as you enter.

– Bulletins are available to be picked up at the back of the sanctuary.

– Every third (3rd) pew will be used to maintain physical distancing.

– Please talk to one another from your place in the pews; do not linger in the entryways, halls or aisles.

– There will not be Sunday School at this time. Kits will be provided for use in the pews.

– Washrooms will remain closed. They are available for emergency use only, to be used at your own risk.

Please do not attend if you are showing any symptoms associated with COVID-19. These may include new or worsening: fever, cough, sore throat, headache, shortness of breath, muscle aches, sneezing, nasal congestion or runny nose, hoarse voice, diarrhea, unusual fatigue, loss of sense of smell or taste, lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause. (Diagnosed chronic conditions are exempt). Also, if you have travelled outside of Atlantic Canada in the last 14 days or been in contact with a suspected case, we ask that you stay home.

For those not yet comfortable returning to the church building most of the service will still be available online. It will be posted Sunday afternoon.

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