Prophet of the Word

(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!

Prophet of Truth

(Jeremiah 28) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 6, 2019 – UBC Digby

My great grandfather White lived, much of his life, farming near Port Maitland, Yarmouth County. He and my great grandmother had had fourteen children by the time she died, just after her 50th birthday. I do not know a great deal about Grampie White, but I do know he loved oxen. In many a photo of him he is pictured with a pair of oxen. 

Training teams of oxen is a dying art, I suppose. I’m so grateful to Charlene, who provided this old yoke for display today. Oxen, to pull anything as a team, are yoked together. 

But would you want to wear a big, wooden yoke on your shoulders? No. But that is just what the prophet Jeremiah did, at the command of God. Read all about it, in chapter 27 of his book. Jeremiah put on the yoke as a prophetic warning: this is what was happening to his people. 

It’s 2,600 years ago, in the Promised Land. Empires from the north and the south have been battling over this middle ground, holy land to the Hebrews. The latest empire that threatens is called Babylon. Jeremiah speaks warnings of what is to come. And why it is happening. Much of the disaster is well-deserved, it appears. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah fall. They have failed God, and faltered, and they fall. They bear a heavy yoke.

 Another prophet in Judea, named Hananiah, spoke on behalf of God, one day. Good news! “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Yoke broke. ‘Within two years, our stolen things and our imprisoned leaders and our people will be back where they belong, in our own kingdom.’

 Oh happy day! you might think. And our better known prophet, Jeremiah, almost seems to agree. At first. “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied…” 

Amen! But, wait til then. “Wait and see if this comes true,” preaches Jeremiah. “Wait and see if there will be peace.”

If you have read Jeremiah 27 lately, the previous chapter, you see all the warnings that this Babylonian takeover will be long and hard. Not short. So, who is one supposed to believe? Hananiah the prophet, or Jeremiah the prophet? Who is a true prophet? Who speaks what is real and honest and right?

We know the experience. We have a national election this month. The parties and the leaders vying for government have their promises, their platforms, their criticisms of their opponents. Who do you believe? How do you choose wisely?

Or other big issues. Climate crisis – is it a crisis? One expert says this will likely happen, another promises a different future. What doom and gloom is a correct forecast, and what hopeful plan is best?

For some of us, in our personal lives, choices can be very hard. Maybe you are sometimes like me: slow to make decisions. Do I sell my cottage? Do I sell it to my neighbours? What price do I ask? I second guess myself about these things.

Or, I want to talk to some friends who like to hike about spiritual things. Do I phone Greg? Or Daniel? Or Ellie? Or Melissa? Or Tony? I am slow to make those contacts. I feel unsure.

I think I am skilled at seeing the big picture, hearing different viewpoints, and weighing all my options. But when it comes down to choosing, I don’t know what to do! 

I don’t know what I’d have done 2,600 years ago in Jerusalem. Do I believe Jeremiah, or Hananiah?

This morning we did read a debate. Not an election debate, a prophetic debate. The debate of the preachers over the Babylonian oppression of the Hebrews got heated.  And did you see that? See what Hananiah did? He broke the yoke. He took the yoke Jeremiah had on his shoulders, and broke it. “This is what God will do for us! We will be free soon.”

No, that is not what Jeremiah proclaims, for God. The exile into Babylon has only just begun. The struggle will be long.

It was November, 1942. In Europe, the second world war was raging. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spoke in London to mark a victory against the German forces, at El Alamein, in Egypt. That battle was a turning point in the war. Churchill got a few laughs from the crowd when he, now famously, declared about that victory:
Now this is not the end; 
it is not even the beginning of the end. 
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. 

Such was Jeremiah’s message, in the sixth century BCE, in the Middle East. The end of oppression by Babylon is not soon to be over. We’ve only just begun to be conquered by that empire from the north

You lie! You die, Jeremiah says to rival prophet, Hananiah. Within a year, he does die. And the Babylonian control of the Hebrew people goes on for sixty years.
So, Jeremiah was right, after all. He had been speaking for God, and Hananiah was not.

My friends, we know that many who claim to speak for truth are leading us astray. And many who claim to speak for God a leading us aright. Our own eyes deceive us, and our minds, at times. Oh, that a Prophet of Truth would be obvious, whenever we need guidance! 

Such is our prayer; and thanks be to God, there are answers. The whole story of scripture guides us. The community of Faith through the ages guides us. And God’s Way becomes clear to us in Jesus, Son of God.

He also used the farming imagery of the yoke. He declared Himself to be the way for us to be with God in this life, as well as forever. 

Christ said: “Come to me, all you that a weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mtt 11:28-29)

We can make our personal decisions, blessed by the One who is with us. We can plan for the unknown future, hand-in-hand with “the Man who stilled the waters.” We can listen to the prophets of our day, and understand them in light of the whole counsel of God.

In the name of the Father
the Son
and the Spirit of Truth.

Prophet of Tears

(Jer 8:18-9:1; Lam 1:1-3, 3:19-23; Luke 13:31-35) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, September 22, 2019 – UBC Digby

The fertile Annapolis Valley is strewn with broken corn stalks in the fields, apples pummeled to the ground, and even the giant squash are in such short supply that the famed Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor is cancelled, this year.

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” So cried out Jeremiah, in the Middle East, in the 6th century BCE. Earlier in chapter 8, the word of the Lord was: “there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered…” (8:13) “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” (8:18) “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears.” (9:1)

There are many occasions for tears in human life. You might have quite a few yourself, right now. Jeremiah found many, back in his day and age. He is known as ‘the weeping prophet.’ He was called upon to speak many warnings and judgments upon his own people, and upon the nations around him. And it was hard. The message was at times a heavy burden for Jeremiah; it was like a fire in his bones!

It seems he felt this so deeply, and was so sad for his fellow Hebrews who had gone astray. And he was sad for the disasters that were coming upon them. He lamented the loss of their good relationship with God.

Jeremiah has to lament, or he just wouldn’t make it. He has to let it out. Let the tears out. The anger. The disappointment. The fear. The heart-ache for his people. We read together from the Bible book of Lamentations, which has been credited to Jeremiah. The words of sadness pour out, for the Hebrew people who were in trouble. It was their own fault, and the fault of their enemies, I’d say.

A lament – a prayer of sadness and regret – goes hand in hand with what Richard Foster called ‘the Prayer of Tears.’ Weeping can often be praying, and at its best, tears end up being powerful and beautiful.

John Chrysostom wrote: The fire of sin is intense,  but it is put out by a small amount of tears, for the tear puts out a furnace of faults, and cleans our wounds of sin. (De Paenit

There is a tricky thing about reading this big book of Jeremiah – fifty pages. The events and prophetic speeches are not all in chronological order. As with other things recorded in the Bible, getting the order of things is not always important. The human authors and the Spirit had other ways of organizing the biblical material. 

And here, in Jeremiah 8, it is not completely who is speaking the lines. Is it mostly Jeremiah? Or is he speaking the word of the LORD? And are they like the words of Lamentations: they become poetry for the whole people to claim and name and refrain?

Maybe it is all of the above.

So, when we read, My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick, it is Jeremiah’s words, but is this what God is saying, feeling, expressing? For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Jeremiah the prophet of old, he cries, yes; but God also weeps for the people.

God weeps. We read this in scripture. We have that verse about Christ, famous for being the shortest verse in the Bible. In the old, Authorized Version, John 11:35 reads, “Jesus wept.” Creator God has to lament too; as Jeremiah of old shows us. This is the loving nature of the Trinity.

I never shall forget the first time I heard the modern hymn, ‘God Weeps.’ It was at a Baptist Peace Camp, in Wolfville. You know that there is a Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, do you? Well, perhaps twenty years ago, they met in Nova Scotia. The worship leader was an amazing musician. And he introduced this powerful song, ‘God Weeps.’

God weeps at love withheld,
                   at strength misused,
                   at children’s innocence abused,
and till we change the way we love,
                                                              God weeps.
God bleeds at anger’s fist,
                   at trust betrayed,
                   at women battered and afraid,
and till we change the way we win,
                                                             God bleeds.
God cries   at hungry mouths,
                   at running sores,
                   at creatures dying without cause,
and till we change the way we care,
                                                              God cries.
God waits   for stones to melt,
                   for peace to seed,
                   for hearts to hold each other’s need,
and till we understand the Christ,
                                                              God waits.
(Shirley Erena Murray © 1996 Hope Publishing Company)

All the scriptural story of God weeping, of the prophets crying out, of the people lamenting what seems to be their fate… it all is preserved for us to influence us. To lead us to lament and cry. And be turned toward the light of a new day.

The people weep. The words of the prophet becomes words for the whole people of God, and for us, all these thousands of years later.
Is there no balm in Gilead? 
Is there no physician there?
Why has the health of my poor people
not been restored? (J 8:22)

  This verse inspired a hymn, a spiritual. We will sing it at the end of our time. And what do we sing? 
There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

It takes the word of Jeremiah 8:22 very personally. Maybe we think of our own salvation from sin and evil, and the healing of the soul brought to us by the cross of Jesus. 

The verses of this spiritual, interestingly, speak of being discouraged about one’s ministry, our work for God in the world. Thinking our work is in vain. Not being able to preach or pray like the great apostles. Simple discouragement. And we sing it together.

It is the work of all the people that can be hard. It is our shared failures that can be big. It is our deep losses that call us to lament together.

Joyce gave us just a glimpse of the big gathering of Baptists last month called Oasis. One of our action items, was to agree upon a Resolution in Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to claim an Apology to the first peoples of this land. Here is one example of a community lament, of sorrow for sin, of confession and repentance: turning around. Let me quote at some length from our statements. And these are but short excerpts.

We as Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada acknowledge that we have not lived in right relationship with the Indigenous peoples of this land. While we have in theory affirmed that everyone is created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), we have not recognized in practice the inherent, God-given dignity of Indigenous peoples. Despite the hospitality offered to our ancestors, we have not acknowledged the long-standing historic and official claim of Indigenous peoples to this land. We have not kept the promises our forebears made in the form of treaties, specifically the Peace and Friendship Treaties (1725-1779). And even when some of our own, such as Silas T. Rand (1810-1889), spoke out against colonialism, we ignored or silenced them.

Whether we recognize it or not, our prosperity in the Maritimes came in part through injustices and abuse done to Indigenous peoples. Our houses, our schools, our retirement homes, our churches — all of these sit on unceded territory governed by official treaties of peace and friendship. We might have claimed ignorance in the past, but ignorance can no longer be an excuse for inaction. As Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, we recognize and confess our complicity in the Residential Schools and in the broader system of colonialism. We mourn the broken relationships we have caused between children, families, communities, the rest of Creation, and God, and we must humbly ask for forgiveness both from God and from Indigenous peoples.

Though we are late coming to an apology, as Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, we come in a spirit of humility and proclaim our alignment with and endorse the apology given by CBM’s Executive Director Terry Smith in 2016.

Here are a few words from the Apology itself, now our Apology:

We are grateful to those who served and led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and affirm the excellent Calls to Action. We renounce the Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius by which European Christians took that which wasn’t theirs, sadly in the name of God and the Church. It is untenable, unacceptable and wrong for them to have done so, and we acknowledge our ongoing complicity through our failure to call out and stand against these systemic acts of injustice. We acknowledge that we have benefitted from them and ask your forgiveness.

Along this pathway, we will call upon our churches to renounce all forms of injustice and discrimination. We shall embolden our churches, schools and institutions to embrace the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples. We will encourage our churches to participate in opportunities for education and the resetting of our relationship.

The New Testament book of James says, ‘confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (5:16) And, as Psalm 30 says, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (30:5)

Jeremiah the prophet wept.
God weeps; Jesus weeps; the Spirit prays with sighs too deep for words. 
We weep. That joy may come with the morning.

Prophet of Judgment

 (Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-281; Luke 15:1-7) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, September 15, 2019 – UBC Digby

A woman in New Zealand told about a little sermon her daughter gave one day for their family devotions time. The daughter was nine years old.  Here is Lucy’s sermon: When I think about God I think of a person who would never murder or kill anyone.  But when you think about it you wonder because wasn’t it God who swept the angel of death over Egypt?  It makes you think doesn’t it? Is God against it or is he not? I mean what had the boys done to die? It was Pharaoh wasn’t it?  Now do you realise how little we know about God? I hope this made you think, thanks for listening. (Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration, 2016, pp. 110-111.)

We are thinking about God as we hear words of scripture, words of the great prophets. We are walking with the prophet Jeremiah now. We are merely sampling from the 52 chapters, fifty Bible pages of ancient speech and drama. Today, we glimpse this prophet of judgment, bringing a tough message with tough language and tough imagery.  Through years of dramatic events in Judah, Jeremiah pursues his message, warns his people, and eventually leaves the holy land, like so many of his fellow Jews had done.

Our biblical prophets are people with big personalities. As we study Jeremiah, we find several portraits of this man, here. He is a prophet of severe judgement, against his own people, and outsiders. He is a person of deep caring love for his people, a weeping prophet, with inner struggles. He is a preacher of the truth who battles falsehood. He is a proclaimer of scripture and a composer of scripture, sharing what he learns from Almighty God.

Today, these words – the LORD says:
I speak in judgment against them.
My people are foolish, they do not know me.
They are skilled at doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.
The whole land shall be a desolation.

The lyric of Psalm 14 goes well with Jeremiah’s word from the Lord.
Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
There is no one who does good.

We, we don’t really like bad news, warnings, and harsh correction in our religion, do we? If you did, you would be attending a church where you’d get a direct verbal rebuke much more often. 

Preachers with sermons like those of Jeremiah are negative, nasty, and not compassionate, we might think. Our mind easily, as Richard Rohr says: [The dualistic mind] presumes that if you criticize something, you don’t love it. Wise people like the prophets would say the opposite. (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, September 11, 2017)

A real prophet, in any age, loves the people and the religion. That is why he or she is a good person for the job. He cares so deeply about what is going on, that divine warnings can come from his mouth.

I think immediately of one of the people who was a pastor to me in my young years, and who is still a friend. This week he will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a Baptist Minister. He is a unique personality. He is very opinionated. He speaks often of what he likes and what he dislikes: he’s known for this. He’s famous for saying: ‘I do not approve!’ He knows what he believes, and what he likes, and he sticks to it! Here are some examples, from a book he wrote a decade ago, about Christian Hymns. He was inspired to write this long essay because of two church services he’d been to in one day, that, he would say, failed. Let me quote:

Recently, an order of service asked a neo-classical, elderly, white, Anglo-Saxon, United Empire Loyalist congregation to sound as close as possible to a southern United States afro-american congregation — of a hundred or more years ago. It was pathetic. Obviously most of the people could not comprehend the meaning or the context of the spirituals. (R. H. Prentice, Hymns at Heaven’s Gate: The Use & Abuse of Hymns, Gaspereau Press, 2008, p. 14)

On the same day as the above experience, another congregation sang hymns that were perfectly attuned to the people who had gathered, but were misplaced, brutally torn apart, leaving some to wonder what had gone wrong with the message of familiar hymns. One hymn, by F. W. Faber, ‘There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,’ was ripped apart at the seams with three consecutive but crucial stanzas missing: the very three that contained the whole kernel of the hymn’s message. The result was tragic. ( Ibid, p. 15) 

These judgments about hymn-singing sound so much like the man who wrote them; this is so quintessentially him. 🙂 But I say this lovingling: because I do love and still respect this opinionated chaplain. He is a beloved man. Today, in a church where he served as youth pastor, 50 years ago, people in their 60s who were in his Baptist Youth Fellowship are having a big reunion to celebrate him! He has always been able to tell people how they are going astray because he also cares so much for them. And people love him for his opinionated attention and faithful compassion.

Like Jeremiah of old, the best prophets of our day are those who speak out, and speak strongly, while they love us and our world. Out of intense caring comes intense action. Look for genuine compassion in the loudest voices: this will help us know who to heed and who to forget. Not every loudmouth is loving!

Richard Rohr has written of six characteristics of biblical prophets. He says one is this: [Sixth,] prophets simultaneously announce and denounce. They announce God’s reign of justice and peace and publicly denounce the world’s regimes of injustice and war. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., they hold high the alternatives of nonviolence and disarmament and lay low the obsolete ways of violence and weapons. (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, September 14, 2017)

The Good News, proclaimed, has it’s bad news. We call it all, Gospel, Good News. For the good gets the final word.

So we end with the words of our great Prophet, Jesus, the Messiah, the Saviour. Skim through the middle chapters of Luke. Christ says things like:
You hypocrites! Chapter 12.
Unless you repent, you will all perish. Chapter 13.
You hypocrites! Chapter 13.
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Ch. 14.

But Jesus also says this, Ch. 15: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

Jesus: the Shepherd of the sheep, the Good Shepherd of the sheep! We start to get the message that the God who looks like a stern judge, truly cares so much, and loves all of us deeply. God comes after us, looking for us, seeking and saving the lost. 

Along with Psalm 14 we could remember Psalm 23. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me – pursue me – all the days of my life. 

When you hear the words of some prophet of judgment, bearing down on your conscience and your actions, look in that also for the Love that pursues you. The Holy One is chasing you down, 
because we have strayed, yes; 
because we are loved and we belong, yes!

Involvement in Outreach

(Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-35)

Sun, Sept 8, 2019 – UBC Digby – J G White

Yesterday, our local fire department had five calls to answer: two alarms at a local hotel, one car off the road, one pole on fire when wires were struck, and one tree landed on a house. It takes sacrifice to serve as a firefighter. What if there was no local fire department? What on earth would we do?

There is great cost in joining a fire department. But there is also great cost in not helping, in not becoming a servant. So to in Church. In our Christian Faith we speak of being disciples – followers and workers of Jesus, of God. Two thousand years ago, Jesus had dozens of close followers. Today, He has millions… supposedly.

So, recruitment into this movement is important, into this Jesus Movement, the Way. Joining up is costly, to us who have done so. In 1937, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave the world his book ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ and its influence is powerful still today. Bonhoeffer’s most famous phrase from it is: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Perhaps this whole books comes out of Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

Let me put Bonhoeffer’s words in context with this quotation. (p. 99)
When Christ calls a [person] he bids him [or her] come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like that of Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world.

In the ways we invite people to join God, to come to Jesus, we remember that there is a cost of discipleship. We just heard words of Jesus. ‘Count the cost of being My disciple,’ He says, still today. Christ used extreme language to get His point across. ‘Hate your family, give up everything you own, carry the tool that will execute you!’ He is not a literalist, but Jesus is a realist. Discipleship to Him is costly.

There is also a cost of nondiscipleship. What do we loose out on if we convert, but do not truly follow as disciples? In 1980, Baptist thinker Dallas Willard brilliantly wrote an article about this, for the magazine Christianity Today. What do we lose? Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, [it costs us:]
a life penetrated throughout by love,
faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good,
hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging circumstances,
power to do what is right & withstand the forces of evil.
In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). (Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 1988, p. 263)

Today, we heard that famous Bible bit from Jeremiah, about the potter forming something from the clay. We love this scene! But notice, this prophetic word is a severe warning. God is preparing to smash the people of faith, because they have been faithless, and make something new of them.
We must count the cost of non-discipleship.

We keep these things in view when we reach out into our community. When we, inside, go outside, and go on mission. We are in our mission field. Dennis Bickers says: (The Healthy Small Church, 2005, p. 115)

When one goes to the mission field, there are new languages to be learned, new foods to eat, new cultures to understand, and new stories to hear. To effectively enter into and impact the mission field, we must first understand it and then translate the biblical story into a message that can be understood and accepted by the culture we seek to reach.

This is our work together, now, Church. And we are well on our way. For I believe each of us is deployed in our community in lots of places, and we already know the culture of our mission fields.

Me? I am a hiker and nature lover. Remember my first couple years here? I got us reading Bunyan’s classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and watching it on film. I preached on the pilgrimage theme all the time. I had friends who had walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain come and testify to their experience. I scheduled spiritual walks and invited you to join me outdoors.

But I did not find any of you to join me in this passion. That’s OK. If I want to start a fresh expression of Church that happens outdoors, with hikers, I will just have to do that on my own with a few hikers who are believers from other congregations. And I know a few. Pray that I will find the right teammates to help start some spiritual hiking.

You, you know the culture of the golf club, or of the fishery, or retail stores, or farming, or of a seniors apartment. Your life intersects with the Baptist Church, and something else. Those are your people. You may have a mission there.

Involvement in outreach is all about when we are out, not when we are in. When we are in, when we are here, we may be preparing and training, but outreach itself does not happen in this building, on Church property. Outreach happens when the Church – the people – are out and about.

I recently read a story in Mosaic, by Leanne Friesen, Pastor of Mount Hamilton Baptist Church, ON. Regarding evangelism, she speaks of youth today

What I certainly see is a huge passion for service and for helping others and for stepping in and really doing what I would call ‘God’s work’. At our church, we have two sisters, one is 15 and the other 22, and they actually formed an organization called Sisters for Sisters. Every year, they do a fundraiser for an organization in the city. One year, it was a breakfast to raise money for the native women’s health centre. Another year, they were doing a dinner for a different group. What’s interesting is that they don’t necessarily feel insistent that they have to get up, like I have at some point, and say, “By the way, we are all here so I can tell you about Jesus.” I was taught to do this…yet there’s such a longing in their hearts for social justice, so there’s a lot of great starting points with our next generation that may look a little different than my generation. (Mosaic, Fall 2017, p. 7)

Finding our starting point – this is so important. The Jesus we want people to have is so demanding, and so giving! To be a disciple, we go, and work at making other disciples of Jesus. We come together to be ‘boomeranged’ back out there, for the work at hand. The work of living abundantly.

So throw yourself into us, the faith community, to be boomeranged back into the wider community, where you are deployed. Don’t come in here never to zoom out into service. That would be like the problem in one of Sharon’s favourite songs of childhood. “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.”

Let’s not let our town, our streets, say we never came back to them, once we entered the Church. Jesus is here for us. Jesus is out there for them.
Reach out!

Saving Water

(Jeremiah 2:4-13; John 7:37-39) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, September 1, 2019 – UBC Digby

We read our first detailed warnings from Jeremiah of old, today. Chapter 2. The ancestors did wrong and turned away from God. Their priests did not know God. Those prophets spoke on behalf of Ba’al, not Yahweh. They changed their God! They forsake the Fountain of living water.

Years ago I had a job that involved saving water. I worked for a university at their research station on a large island in Shelburne county. We lived in one of the old lighthouse keepers houses. We had electricity. We had a gigantic propane stove and grill. We had a boat to get back and forth. I think my boss had a cellular telephone. But we did not have good well water on the island. It was so brackish and dark.

So the lighthouse keeper’s houses had cisterns in the basement: the rainwater drained from the roof into the large concrete container that took up a third of the basement. We kept a close eye on the water level of the cistern, as the summer went on. Every four or five days one could take a bath! In a bit of water. As my boss would say to visitors: just a couple inches of water. Wash down as far as possible, wash up as far as possible, then wash possible

There are two houses on the island, but in the basement of one, the concrete cistern would not hold water anymore: it was cracked. Useless.

Many peoples around the globe are water saving cultures. In deserts, on islands, and so forth. It is vital to survival. How different this is from being here on town water, or having your own wonderful well that never goes dry. Think of that ever-flowing water along the side of the road in Weymouth. 

This is living water – flowing water. It is the image of the prophet in Jeremiah 2. And the picture Jesus paints, more than once. Let anyone who is thirsty come to me…‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (Jn 7:37, 38) 

When unending, fresh, living-giving, living water is available, why rely upon bottles and barrels and sandy cisterns? This is the question God poses through Jeremiah’s voice. 

…my people have… forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer 2:13)

I wonder what cracked cisterns I have occasionally dug for myself. I like church and a lot of religious traditions. Instead of the Holy Spirit, I rely upon organ music, or nice hymns, or fancy prayers, or thoughtful books. The tools of our Faith can become more important than the God of our Faith. 

In my better moments, I realize how sentimental and nostalgic I can be. Maybe like you, I get attached to the past. I love the good old days, and like to preserve them. Thanks be to God, I’ve had a couple special moments this year, God moments, Divine encounters, in which I felt inspired and realized, “These are the good old days here and now! Thank- You, Master!”

I like my lifestyle, my freedom, my standard of living, my great expectations for how wonderful life will keep on being for us here. Do I worship my middle-class luxuries more than the Saviour who sacrificed Himself completely? 

Some people get locked-in to their thoughts, their opinions, their religious convictions. I have a tendency to think outside the box, and explore spirituality on the edges of Christianity. I sometimes am warned by 2 Timothy 4:3&4 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

The good news in the warnings of Jeremiah, and of Jesus, is that there is a fountain of living water for the human spirit. There is a Holy Spirit, there is a Saviour, there is a loving Creator. Our challenge, is to keep choosing to drink freely from the free Source. It is as free as that spring from the spigots in Weymouth. We need not worry about saving water – keeping and protecting our spirituality. The saving water – the water that saves – will not run out on us.

Watching My Words

(Jeremiah 1:11-19; Luke 24:45-53) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, August 25, 2019 – UBC

Dryden is a six-year-old. A friendly, energetic six-year-old. When we are together, he loves to play hockey, visit the Fire Department, cook eggs for breakfast, jump on his trampoline, ride his bike, go to the beach, and many other things.

And he asks to do many things. All the time. Can we do this? Do you want to do that? When can we go there?  Though I never raised any children, with this grandchild I know I must watch my words. Don’t promise anything I will not do. Don’t say, “yes, we can,” if we might not. I have to mean what I say. 

So I have to watch my words. Not just my Ps and Qs, but be a man of my word, eh? Jeremiah had to watch his words, as a spokesperson for YHWH God. The LORD God promised to watch ‘his’ word.

When the LORD spoke to Jeremiah and said, “I am watching over my word to perform it,” God meant it. ‘I will do what I say I will do.’  

What God wants spoken gets spoken!

What God speaks gets done! Start with the creation story of Genesis 1. God speaks, and things happen. “Let there be light.” And there was light.

“I am watching over my word to perform it.”

But there is a watching the word in another sense.  Literally watching. Visual messages: things you see. These first messages to young Jeremiah were visual – he literally watched for the word of God. “What do you see, Jeremiah?” An almond branch; then a boiling pot… This happened regularly to the prophets of old. And the Psalm writer. ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God…” Psalm 19.  

Actions speak louder than words, we say. Body language speaks so much too. A picture is worth a thousand words. 

God opens minds to see and hear and know and understand the word, in all its forms. We looked at a scene from the end of Jesus’ life today. The very end of the book of Luke. It’s one of the moments when we are told He ‘opened the scriptures so they could understand them.’ For those disciples, this was what we call the Old Testament. There is so much ‘opening so they can understand’ that goes on. This continues to be a promise from God, that truth, reality, the message and meaning, will be made clear.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many moments too when God declares that the people will not understand. Even Jesus had moments when he said this. But there will also be times to know the word.

And there will always be sharers of the message to us. Jeremiah was to exercise his ministry no matter what. No matter what opposition or hardship – or how hard the words were for the people. Jeremiah would be strong and be protected for his long years of prophetic work – and he was protected. God’s words were a sure thing.

We have times when we know what we know: a divine message that is a sure thing.

My experience of this is subtle, gentle, gradual, I’d say. I am often looking for how the Spirit will speak next. 

At the start of this year, in the winter, with a couple friends, I got into hiking in the frozen swampy woods, looking at the lichens on the bark of the trees. Learning about them, looking for the rarer species. I remember when Greg and I were walking, and found our first Yellow Specklebelly on the trunk of a maple tree. We did lots of looking for the newly named provincial lichen, Blue Felt Lichen. Eventually, after many weeks of hiking and taking note of every Blue Felt Lichen that was found, Jonathan spoke of them as these living things on the trees that were following him, watching him!

About the same time, in a Bible study group with some of you, we got talking about the classic Christian book, “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman. He suggests that different people express and experience love in different ways: by receiving gifts, or quality time, by words of affirmation, or acts of service (of devotion), or physical touch.

Next time I was out in the woods, I thought, prayerfully, ‘Master, you know my love language. You speak it for me. You give me joy in every tree and branch, every rock and rivulet out in the woods. Every beautiful thing I can receive as a loving gift from You, O God.’  

Since then, I think of this from time to time, and view every created thing as a word from my Saviour.

That’s one of my experiences of the word this year. How have you seen the word of God? 
When has a message become clear to you?
What have your experiences been?
Do tell…

May we keep watch over how we receive messages that are critical: correcting, warning us. 
May we keep watch over how we share the messages we have, and do our part as witnesses.  
May we keep watch over the word and the worship that train us and keep us in touch.
And our Saving God keeps watch over all this guidance for us.

News Source

(Jeremiah 1:1-10; Galatians 1:11-17) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, August 18, 2019 – UBC Digby

What’s the historic setting of the word from God today? The words of Jeffrey son of George, of the pastors who were in Nova Scotia in the land of Canada, to whom the word of God came in the days of PM Justin son of Pierre of Ottawa, in the fourth year of his reign.

Well, that’s not quite what Jeremiah 1 verse 1 says. But it might as well say that. For the story of the prophets and preachers gets repeated throughout history. Divine messages call again for speakers and listeners. 

This summer I looked ahead, and thought it good to have a series from Jeremiah; so we start the whole story today. A young prophet is called to serve. Reluctantly (aren’t they all) he starts his difficult ministry (wasn’t it always hard work, in OT days?!).

So, I’ve been reading in the book of Jeremiah for a month now. I’ve realized, the last thing we need is to hear all about a great prophet of old, and how he got to be so good at what he did. We need to hear about how people in general find the right prophet to listen to and believe and follow. In our days, there are many voices we could believe. Jeremiah didn’t even believe in himself, at the start. But, as we’ll see next Sunday, he did get started, right away. He became a news source for the Jews.

Where are your news sources today? Your spiritual news sources? There are plenty of books to read. Plenty of preachers and teachers to see on TV and the internet. Plenty of memes and quotations to follow on social media. Plenty of history and tradition to build upon. Plenty of churches and spiritual groups to hang out with, even around here.

Let me tell you a bit about my recent explorations.

When I take a vacation, I always take a few books with me. And I never   read any of them! This happened again. But I do get a few Sundays to worship God with other people in other places. 

A few Sundays ago, I found myself among some Anglicans in Fox River, NS. The lovely building with its sharp spire overlooks flat gravelly blueberry fields across to majestic Cape Split. There, the small congregation sang some hymns I liked quite well, really, and used the usual liturgy from the Book of Alternative Services. Their preacher was fine, though I remember little of which he spoke. What grabbed me that day was a scripture reading, Psalm 85. 

This has happened to me before, this year.  After a few days hiking out in creation, I come in to a sanctuary and a scripture takes a new tack, amid my thoughts of birds and trees, climate crisis and garbage on the beaches.  

1 Lord, you were favorable to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
Favourable to Your land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
This verse took me right back to a seminar in Truro, twenty years ago, when we danced in a circle to this Psalm.

11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
    and righteousness will look down from the sky.
How faithful will God’s good earth be, as we pillage and plunder it? And the atmosphere?

12 The Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
Will things get better, O God, only after they get worse here, in our lifetimes?  

For that hour in Fox River, Psalm 85 was my most inspiring moment, I’d say. 

What did God tell Jeremiah, centuries ago? “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you…” It is the message that is more important than the messenger. We would do well to remember this when we get interested and excited by some great new preacher or teacher or author. Those who toot their own horns may not be playing God’s tune after all.

On another Sunday, I found my way to Lower Ohio, and a lovely little Union Church there. Walk in the door, right under the white steeple, and you can look right up inside the steeple, and gaze up at the very large bell, that is about to be rung! 

I found that Sunday morning congregation more friendly than most, including the pastor, who welcomed me before she started the service. She had a winsome way about her. The best part of this prophet’s sermon was a little introduction she added at the start. She had been prompted to change her sermon a bit by watching some news first thing that morning.
“The news is dangerous!” she said. Or, that’s what I remember she said. Also: “Praying is dangerous. It is hard work these days!”  
Amen, sister. Amen.

Two days later, I had supper with some old friends in Port Mouton, Rev. Carol and Rev. Wayne. After supper, Carol says, “Let’s watch the news.” 
‘OK,’ I thought to myself, ‘this is something I never do!’ But there really is something right about staying in touch with the events of our community and our world. To care enough to watch, and pray, and act for the good of the world. 

God’s news for us does come in the regular news, the events of this world. We look for bright spots amid the terror & tragedy. We look for hopeful action.

“Do not be afraid,” Jeremiah was told. Did you notice that? “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Some of our best prophets we can follow have many enemies, and are even destroyed. We must still follow, through the fear, to do what is right and good.

And there was another Christian worship service I attended. A drive-in service, put on in the summers by a Baptist Church, in Shelburne. Been to a drive-in service?  Pull you car into a spot, and stay in it. Each Sunday different musicians offering gospel music. Each Sunday a different local preacher.  

That’s the way we did it in Windsor for forty years. And that’s the way they do it in Shelburne. Except instead of the musical group doing about six songs, like we did in Windsor, the worship team from Birchtown did thirteen songs! There was a sermon too. But thirteen songs! Wow. 

Anyway, it was about an hour and 15 minutes or so. The worship team, the singers (one playing keyboard) looked to be seniors to me, and sang worship hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s. There were two songs, of the 13, I did not know. Most I have sung in choirs and quartets and in the pews.
He Has Made Me Glad
I Will Serve Thee
I Sing Praises To Your Name
In Moments Like These
Just a Little Talk with Jesus
The Lighthouse
And seven other songs. Most of you know me, and know I sing these songs with gladness, but none are my favourites. Gospel music is not my musical preference. So, maybe my holy moment there was this: to rejoice in the favourite songs of other people.

In my daily devotional book I read this, just the other day, about offering a sacrifice of praise. 
When a song isn’t working for you, consider praising God, because that probably means it is working for someone else who is very different from you. (Clayborne, Shayne, Common Prayer, 2012, p. 404)

Maybe one of the best things about a community of faith, a congregation, is how we learn not to get our own way, and we grow to enjoy how others worship and hear from God. I get to appreciate your way, and you get to experience my spiritual expressions too.

Jeremiah felt unprepared to be a prophet. “I am only a boy,” he complained. But God used Jeremiah to share many messages. So it is among us. Those who seem inexperienced, or weak, or uneducated, or over-educated, or just different from us, get to share a message with us.

So I thank God that there are still prophets being raised up, there are still prophetic moments in our lives when people know the message is holy and true, there is still a message for scattered & fearful people.  

The scriptures are as fresh and new today as they ever were: partly because many of our audience are not familiar with them! These hard and fear-filled times call for voices that bring people back to reality – back to God – and back to one another.

No matter how we want to hear from God, we’re not always going to get it our way. The message will come to us in unexpected ways.  

[And when we get a message, we had best heed it!]

The Word of God Fully Known

(Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 19; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 21, 2019 – UBC Digby
This month I happened to hear a radio documentary on The Saint John’s Bible. At the start of the 21st Century, some artists and scholars produced this large copy of the Bible, in English, in the ancient way. Printed on calfskin vellum, it was all written by hand – calligraphy – with many illustrations by artists, called illuminations. It is large – it is in seven volumes. Like the Bibles of old, made in the monasteries, the illuminations used not only ancient inks but gold leaf and silver. They use the imagery and people of the contemporary world, in this case, the dawn of the third millennium.  

I found the story of this Bible so inspiring. It was commissioned by a Benedictine college in Minnesota, Saint John’s University. Also, two hundred copies of it were produced, for sale. So the Saint John’s Bible does get to be read and seen by many people around the world. Saint John’s Bible

A project like this makes us remember there were days gone by when books were rare. There were no printing presses, not to mention computers and printers.  Each Bible was copied by hand. The word of God was rare in those days. And so special.

I’m having a Bible-focused Sunday again, today, with four scripture readings. First, from Amos, prophet to the prosperous kingdom of Israel of old. 
Amos 8: The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.  

Is hearing the word of God rare in our day and land? 

Is there hunger, yet, for real words from God?

Will there be such a famine, in our day?

What was the problem in the days of Amos?

What’s our problem?

Psalm 19:  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the eyes. 

God and God’s word is revealed in more than one way; not just the Bible. And how we explain  the Bible are not just with words and study and research and books and essays and sermons. It also comes alive for us in art. Such as these illuminations.

I’m not sure why, but there is something so powerful and moving for me as I explore some of the images from this gigantic, modern Bible.  

Where have you seen God, amazingly, in the Bible?

Where have you seen God, in incredible ways, outside of reading the Bible?

Colossians 1:  …to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.  

The Church today faces this challenge in lots of creative ways: the challenge of making the word of God fully known in the 21st century. Amid the online preaching, the trendy technological city churches, and the fresh expressions of Church that meet in coffee shops and tattoo parlours, there are things like the Saint John’s Bible. Ancient and modern, at the same time. I like this story about it… 

A volunteer, named Jason Engle, was taking copies of the Heritage Edition of the Bible around – those 200 copies of it that were made. He often, on trips, would stop on his long journey in the evening, for a bite to eat at a McDonalds restaurant. One night he did this, after a presentation in Chicago, stopping late – just a few folks in McDonalds.  This young fellow comes up to him and says, “Hi, my name is Michael, are you a Christian?” Yeah, says Jason. Michael says, “Well, I’m homeless; wanna have dinner with me?” “Yeah, sure.” And a conversation begins. 

Michael tells Jason a lot of his life story. And he shares a gift – he quotes poetry he has written for God.  After a while, Jason says, “I have a gift for you.” He goes out to the trunk of his car, and brings out his copy of the Saint John’s Bible, first volume. 

He starts showing it to Michael, who is amazed at this. Then an elderly woman in the restaurant looks over. Then one of the teenage staff. She goes out back and brings another staff person. They are all looking through, at the artwork, but then they want to hear it read, what the Bible says. So they get reading. 

Eventually the manager of the McDonalds comes out, frustrated, because all the teen staff are gathered at this table out there! Reading a Bible.

What are ways you can see the Bible getting known around here, today?

Luke 10:  Mary… sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks…
“…there is need of only one thing.”

Nowadays, I read this story, and think it is about balance – having balance in our lives.  The balance between being a Christian who studies the Bible and being a Christian who lives a busy, day-to-day life. Often, many of us are like Martha, and the one thing we need more of is simply to pay some more attention to the Lord. It might mean more Bible; it might mean more praying.

Your next step, this summer, could be one of two things: ONE: know the Bible more yourself.
TWO: share the Bible more, for others.
What do you think your calling is, this year?

Make the word of God fully known!

Prophet, Priest, & King

(Amos 7:7-15; Hebrews 1:1-4) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 14, 2019 – UBC Digby

You remember Charlie Farquharson? Comedic alter-ego of Canadian entertainer, Don Harron. In his book, Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, the last words are these: “A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the peeple the same thing: YER DOIN’ IT ALL RONG!!” (p. 158)

There are plenty of times that people of faith have needed to hear that. We could say that religions, like ours, do one of several things for us. Perhaps we get a message – some truths or warnings about life now and in the future. We get a Prophet, in other words. 

Or, we get some spiritual ‘magic’ done – some rituals are done by an expert to make things right for us. We get a Priest, in other words. 

Or, we get rules for life and the universe – and someone to enforce those rules and show some control.  We get a King or Lord, in other words.  

In day to day life, there can be conflict between the people who are prophetic, and the people who are priestley, and the people who rule. So it has always been and often been. Today’s story from the little book called Amos, is such a story: of a prophet, a priest, and a king.  

A Prophet. Did you look at this book? Amos?  Only about seven pages long – so it can be hard to find. The words the prophet speaks pack a punch. And today, we heard one part that actually tells a bit of a story about prophet Amos. Amos was a man from the village of Tekoa in the southern kingdom, Judah. He worked in the fig orchards, tending the sycamore fig trees. Like the tree Zacheus would one day climb. 

Amos got called upon – by God – to prophecy in the northern kingdom, Israel. About 800 years before Jesus. Amos gives severe warnings to the prosperous nation. At this point in their history, even though the Jews are divided into two kingdoms, they are more prosperous and control more land than any time in their history, before or after. And the prosperous upper crust are giving the poor people of their land barely a crust of bread to survive on. 

What’s the word of the Lord from Amos to them?

Hear this, you cows of Bashan… who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’ The time is surely coming upon you when they shall take you away… (4:1)

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. (5:21)

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)

Prophets have this way, often, of sneaking up on you, and then hitting you right between the eyes.  Frederick Beuchener wrote, The prophets were drunk on God, and in the presence of their terrible tipsiness no one was ever comfortable.  With a total lack of tack they roared out against phoniness and corruption wherever they found them. They were the terror of kings and priests. (Wishful Thinking, 1973, pp. 74-75)

Who speaks this way today? You might know a few. I thought immediately of some songwriters, actually. Like the late Fred Kaan. One of his great lyrics from the 70s was put to wonderful music by Ron Klusmeier in 2000.  ‘Come, O Holy Spirit.” Sounds sedate and serious enough. Sounds soft and gentle. Most Holy Spirit songs are. Listen to Kaan’s words:  

Come, O Holy Spirit,
set the Church on fire;
strike it as the lightning
hits a posing spire.
Burn away the structures
and consume the sham
of our holy systems:
Come, in Jesus’ name!

Blow away the cobwebs
of our stubborn past.
Come, send flying from us
myths unfit to last.
Wind of change, refresh us
and disturb our calm;
teach us what true love is,
take our hearts by storm.

Do you still believe in prophecy? Do you hear it?

A Priest. Amos gets in trouble for his holy warnings. His sermons get reported to the King of Israel by one of the main priests of the land, Amaziah, Priest of Bethel. Bethel: you remember that town, eh?  Just, oh, 20 km north of Jerusalem. Where Abraham set up an altar. Where Jacob dreamed of a ladder with angels ascending and descending. Where there was a school of prophets in the days of Elijah.  

Bethel had its ups and downs as a town of spiritual significance. For a lot of its life it was a place of pilgrimage and worship. Sometimes of non-Jewish deities. In those days of the divided kingdoms, Bethel was part of Israel in the north, and was a shrine of pagan worship. Amaziah was the chief priest of the place. Prophet Amos takes the people to task for their idolatry – serving something that is not almighty God.   

Three thousand years later, we are here, and don’t quite have priests. We preach a priesthood of all believers. Each of you a priest, with a ministry of prayer and reconciliation to your fellow women and men. We make use of our tools of prayer & laying on of hands, meditation & scripture, confession & forgiveness, worship & fellowship. Dare we go astray, what would a prophet say about our ministry?

A King. OK, back 2,800 years again – to Amos, and Amaziah, and the King of Israel, Jeroboam. Jereboam the Second. He’s not what we’d call one of the better kings of Israel. Even though Israel got to its greatest power and wealth ever under his rule. He made Israel great! Greater than ever before, in size. 

But, as a reading of Amos’ book would show us, the northern kingdom grew also under Jeroboam to be more unjust, immoral, self-indulgent, and all mixed up in religion. The aristocrats and people of power had their heyday. And the masses suffered.

So today, we heard Amos’ prophesy that ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ (A 7:11) A greedy king and a privileged people fall, and will fall hard. Well, this was treason, on the lips of the prophet! ‘Go away, you prophet, and never speak around here again!’ Amos is told. 

No, Amos stays, and repeats his message: the downfall of the ruler and his realm is sure.

Our Bible has many stories of the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful leaders: prophets, priests, and kings. These roles rise and fall through history. The preachers and their long sermons are sometimes prominent. The priests and their holy worship services sometimes take the forefront. The rulers with their leading & their battles take centre stage at other times. 

We live amid our own prophets, and priests, and prime ministers today. Yet we are disciples of One who is all three of these. Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  

The Book of Hebrews begins, saying: 
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. This was written down almost 2000 years ago. Is it still true? God speaks to us through Christ? YES. Jesus is our greatest Prophet.

He is also our ‘Great High Priest.’ Jesus’ ministry is about connecting us with Holy God. As Hebrews 1 briefly says, When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  This New Testament book goes on at length about the priestly sacrificial system of the Hebrew religion, and where Jesus takes it. He takes it over, completes it, finishes the work. His priesthood ends sacrifices – He sacrifices Himself, for us. End of story.

And Jesus is the King. The introduction to the book of Hebrews says God takes Jesus, whom …he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 

To know Jesus is to know God, King of the universe. It is no small thing to know the King of the Universe. Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If you know me, you know the Father.’ (John 14)

So we have Jesus to offer to our world, today. We have communication from God – the Prophet. We have spiritual reconciliation and healing – the Priest. We have a good Power in control – the King.  

Pay attention to this Jesus you take with you into your world, day by day. He is a big deal!