(Jeremiah 36:1-4, 9-10, 21-28, 31) – J G White
11 am, Thanksgiving Sunday, October 13, 2019 – UBC Digby
As we spend a couple months with Jeremiah, we simply had to read today’s story. The drama of seeing two men of old, working to put onto paper part of the Bible. Not often do we glimpse the actual writing of the holy scriptures. Here it is, in Jeremiah 36.
And so dramatic is the scene later, in king Jehoiachin’s palace, as the scroll is read out loud, and the king burns it up in the fire, page by page.
Naturally, Jeremiah and Baruch go to work, and write it all down again, with a bit more added. This was likely Jeremiah chapters 1-24.
Jeremiah had his core teachings that were needed in his era. They upset everyone, right up to the King, who burned his words. Yet the words were right and true. So the story is not about an old scripture that people look back to for understanding. It is about a new word from God for the time. Jeremiah’s message, over the decades of his ministry, was new and strong.
What have we seen of Jeremiah so far? He was a prophet of judgment: speaking warnings to the Hebrews and their neighbours who were doing wrong. He was a prophet of tears, deeply loving the people and saddened by the disasters that he was predicting. He was a prophet of truth, battling others who were saying the opposite. He was a prophet of the Word of God: becoming a great author of this part of the Bible.
Our situation is different now than that of the Middle East 6 centuries before Jesus. To some degree, I am a prophet of the word for our day and age. It goes with the job, doesn’t it? You too, from time to time, have something Divine to share with the world.
So what’s my ‘Word from the LORD’? Can you guess what I think? What would you say are my main messages? ?
Here are the four main things, I think, that have arisen over time in my life, over the past 30 years.
ONE. An Open Bible. Well, I’m teasing you with that statement, ‘cause I’m not using it the usual way. I don’t mean when a congregation calls itself an “Open Bible Church.”
My experience has been to have the Bible opened up for deep study and for new ways to influence me. Somehow, as a teen I was prepared in all the training of Middleton Baptist Church, to head out into the world, and find new ways of working with the scriptures. Basically I mean, not taking all the Bible story literally, not taking it strictly as history, not relying upon it as science, in the modern sense.
I can’t thank God enough for the people I met when I left home. Even a couple of Baptist ministers, who gave me permission to work on the Bible and work out how I could understand it. In my mind, I can still hear my mentors saying things like:
Genesis says God created humans out of the dust of the earth, and if that dust was an ape, fine with me.
The two Bible verses that speak of Jesus born of a virgin are about who Jesus is. Was Mary a virgin? Her sex life is none of my business!
Divine worship is serious business. It should include four readings of scripture, 2 OT & 2 NT.
So I take scripture more seriously, year by year, and wrestle with it. I feel safe having questions about the Bible that are not answered. I feel safe with a gracious God of truth who does not demand that I have it all figured out. And does not require you to get it all right either.
[My recent explorations about scripture are about the inherent violence all the way through, which also permeates our Christian history. Are there ways to be influenced by the Holy Bible that go above and beyond the violence in the pages? I’m looking for this word from the LORD now.]
TWO. Discipleship and Disciplines. ‘Go and make disciples of all peoples,’ commanded Jesus. A new sense of this started for me in 2004 when the guest speaker at our Baptist Convention Assembly was to be a scholar named Dallas Willard. Before he came to us that summer, I read his book, “Spirit of the Disciplines,” and I was hooked. I was completely taken in by his practical words about how prayer works. How fasting works. How confession, and worship, and celebrating, and sacrifice, and meditation, and retreats, and study are all tools in our life that would really change things. They truly open the door for the Spirit to alter us, for the better.
I was sold, totally sold, on the idea that Christianity was failing because we lacked the training. We just were not using the spiritual practices in our day to day lives that we needed. And we still are not using them.
Now, I want to have the gift of encouragement, and point out how well you each are doing in your spiritual lives. But I keep longing for more in my own soul, and yours. And though I have learned a lot about all the classic activities that feed the human soul, I still do not do many of them very well or very often.
Developing the spiritual disciplines is still a priority for me – and for you, as far as I’m concerned!
THREE. The Church’s Mission. For years I have been quoting William Temple. ‘The Church is the one organization that exists for the benefit of its non-members.’ I think I need to admit I do not yet act and live like I believe it! Even our Purpose Statement here, says we are to motivate men, women and children into active service for their Lord.
For a decade now, at least, I have been hearing the guest speakers of evangelism conferences, seminars, and Oasis, remind us Atlantic Baptists that we are here for God’s mission in Atlantic Canada. It’s all very exciting and inspiring… until we come home.
This is a hard message to hold to, when a local congregation of people – with a building, and staff – wants to survive more than it wants to serve.
Preaching in an age of decline of the Church in the West demands real, new messages. Devoting ourselves to things worth doing is so important. Don’t waste your life on traditions that need to die, and habits that we love but don’t help anyone out there.
I’ve had a song going through my head for a week. Our grandson got me singing this very popular worship song. It has this prayerful declaration in it:
‘We are Your Church;
We are Your hope on Earth.’
Believe it?! Shall our Master use us, Digby Baptist, as the hope of this corner of the earth? These days of our lives demand our attention to God. They demand that we do good and worthwhile things together for the sake of our people, our neighbours. Being a happy congregation, taking really good care of ourselves, is not necessarily a good enough reason for us to exist.
FOUR. Creation Crisis. This fourth chapter would be the final one, for now, in the scroll of Prophet Jeff, if there were such a text. And it is possible, like the previous other three, that it might be right to burn up these pages like king Jehoiakim did.
So I call this chapter Creation Crisis, and I’m sure you get the idea just from that. I need say little more about the problem. Save that my message to you, is that we worship the Creator, we are part of creation, and amid the many climate crises thru the millenia, we are for the first time greatly responsible.
We celebrate the harvest this weekend. I love Thanksgiving. And it’s a great weekend to have a birthday. Great food, a day off, and no other gift-giving to diminish my presents. It all brings out the gratitude.
An attitude of gratitude as citizens of earth is well worth fostering. When you have opportunity to speak thanks or express gratitude some other way – do it well. Over time, it actually will make a difference and change things. For the better. If creation is in crisis, I am a creature in crisis, and so are you.
We have a Creator who handles disasters quite well. ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands.’ Keep your hands in those hands, and get to work doing better things. All creation will sing, and thank us!