In Between Time

(1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37) J G White
1st Sunday of Advent, Dec 3, 2017, UBC Digby

It’s that time of year – time for me to get my gifts in order to send in the mail. So the annual family calendar is put together, with photos of family members and my own photos of scenery and birds from the year that is past.  Fifteen or twenty family and friends will get my calendar again this year.

Now, every Christmas gift that arrives at my door I like to keep wrapped up until December 25th, or later.  I don’t want to open anything early.  I like to have as many surprises as possible at Christmas. Do you?

Not everyone is like this.  My Aunt Jeannie, for instance. She is famous in the family for opening things early. Each year, when I drop off the calendar to her ahead of time – wrapped in Christmas paper – she soon would have it opened.  On Dec. 10th I read on facebook a note from Jeannie: “Thanks for the calendar, Jeff & Sharon.”  

Last year I decided to play at trick on Aunt Jeannie.  I wrapped up a pile of scrap paper as if it was the calendar, and that’s what I gave her before Christmas.  Only after the 25th did I drop off the real gift – the calendar.  

Wanting to sneak in and open the gifts… or wanting to save the surprise!  This is Advent. We are in tension: an in between time.  We start, today, preparing for the arrival of Jesus the Saviour.  We also know the whole story, and we have already started to decorate and have parties and sing the carols.  It was not always this way in history.

Friday evening we sang The Twelve Day of Christmas.  British hymnologist, Andrew Gant, suggests that
something of the generous spirit of the twelve-day holiday survives in this sprightly carol, even if nowadays we do Christmas in the wrong order.  We put our decorations up and file dutifully into our carol services during Advent, or even earlier.  Christmas effectively ends, rather than begins, on December 25th.   

Advent, for the Church, is billed as a season of preparation for the real celebrations.  Advent is also about the second advent of the Messiah, the second coming.

It has been many centuries now for Christians to be an in between people.  In between the arrival of Jesus born Bethlehem, and the second arrival, His future return.  For almost two millenia now the saints have waited.  

We remember the death of Jesus today, with shared bread and fruit of the vine.  I so often, at the table, quote the words of the Apostle Paul from scripture.  For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Until Jesus comes back.  

That’s what our two scripture readings are all about this morning.  Words of Paul from that same letter; words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel, his little apocalypse, chapter 13.

We are between advents.  We are  between things being hidden and things being revealed.  We are between guilt and total forgiveness.  We know about Jesus’ first arrival. We don’t know as much about the second.  There are quite a few approaches to the Second Coming of Christ, the Day of the Lord, the Apocalypse, the Eschaton, the Parousia, the Second Advent, the Rapture, etc.  As many names as the Bible experts have for it, there are as many theories about how it will happen.  

Many Christians are quite keen on there being a real date in the future – maybe the near future – when Jesus will come back and we’ll go up.

Other believers are not quite expecting a literal moment in the future when this happens, but rather look for Jesus’ return to break into history at many times and places all through the present and the future.  

Some of the faithful have the idea that the Kingdom of God is growing or being built now, and all the words about the return of Jesus are being realized bit by bit.  

And maybe some of Jesus’ present day disciples think of His return being very close all the time, but never really quite happening; it will always be in the future.

So we are a people in between all these theories about the second Advent of Christ.  Somehow, it is to be my proclamation to you that God is faithful, no matter what all these Bible promises mean. As Paul wrote: you are not lacking any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end.  God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is the God of the in between times.  All the in between times of life, I’m sure.  And that’s good news.  For being stuck in the middle of where we were and where we want to be is often uncomfortable and hard.  

I’ve reflected on this when I remember the different people I have met this week who are in between – between one part of life and another.  And I have seen so many others in similar situations.  God has got to be there, in the long times of waiting.    

I think of people I have seen this week who are like so many others.  People between having faith in Christ and having no commitment.  I remember back to a dear church friend in another town. I’ll call her Beth.  She and her husband grew up in the same downtown Baptist Church.   They married and settled in a different town – both serving as busy volunteers, taking turns as deacon, trustee, small group leader, all that.  But regularly, in prayer times, Beth would have us pray for her father, a man who had never become a churchgoer, never made a commitment to Jesus Christ, as all the women in Beth’s family had done.   

How many people are in between – between faith and no faith, joining a spiritual path and not joining?  They remain in the hopes and prayers of you, their loved ones.

This week I have also thought of people who have been hanging in that place in between life and death.  For Sharon and I got called in to visit with an elderly woman in palliative care, and her family.  Like others I’ve known, the tiny body, under the covers, is quietly carrying on.  After ten days of no food or water, her heart is still beating, lungs still breathing.  Her mind, ravaged by alzheimer’s, is quiet under the morphine, but perhaps still aware of loved ones in the room, hearing their voices, feeling the touch of their hands, hour by hour.  It is a long wait, that in between time.  

The in between of life and death comes in many other forms, and in it all, the God of in betweens is there.  It is a special time, a hard time, a sacred time.  Jesus on the cross is God in between life and death. Remember God there.

And this week I have been aware again of the many in between people who are between home and home.  The  refugees in our world.  I think Christmas will now always make me think of refugees, for it was two years ago on Decemeber 22 that Syrians Rema and Shekrallah Kenaan and their six children arrived in Digby from Lebanon.

I think of the transient people I have met in my towns, people who came for a while but did not get to stay.  Like that thin young man in dark clothing who sat in a back pew one summer Sunday.  He thought we were so fearful.  These in between people have a life, and often rely upon the grace and goodness of us who are settled, but often too scared and skeptical to help.  What does the God of in between times do in the lives of people who are so often between home and home?  Remember Mary and Joseph and their little baby, fleeing to Egypt for a while, when Herod the ruler was having children executed.  God knows.

And I see every week people who are doing their best at buying and selling their home – trying to make a move.  Sometimes the waiting is long and confusing.  Sometimes the deal is messy.  Sometimes the move comes quickly and smoothly.  Some of you are in this in between chapter.  God is the God of these in between times, the in between people.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  So said Jesus about His Day.  So His Spirit might say to us in our in between times.  

We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only the end of time, as we know it; the end of the situation we are in now.  Look at how the Divine One is appearing in between, now.  This is our Hope.  AMEN.

Wisdom from God

(1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Jan 29, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White       

‘Where is the one who is wise?’ Paul asked, in his letter.  Maybe you have sometimes asked the same.  
Fifth Sunday of a month… do something different.
Interviews with preachers.
Seemed wisest not to try and interview three people in one sermon.
So, today, you sort-of get to interview me instead.  A personal sermon about Wisdom.  Where does it come from, how do we find it and acquire it from God?  For it is from God, yet comes across in many ways. Choose your own adventure:

Wisdom from God through Books.

Wisdom from God through People.

Wisdom from God through Experience.

Wisdom from God thru inspiring Books.
Book by a Southern Baptist philosophy professor?
Book by a German pastor who was executed in WWII concentration camp?
Book abt plants by two Nova Scotian botanists?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together,” 1954.
Well-know martyr of the 20th century.
German pastor, seminary professor, author.  
“The Cost of Discipleship.”
“Letters and Papers from Prison.”
“Life Together”  Chapter 5: Confession and Communion – most compelling for me.  I go back to it again and again.
Have never acted on it – made it happen in my ministry!  
The development of fellowship that is so personal and reliant upon Christ for confession and forgiveness.  
Quote pp. 110, 111.

Wisdom from God thru influential People.
John or Ruth or Garnet?
John – Industrial Arts Teacher, 1980s.
Teacher in Jr. High School
Leader of Christian Service Brigade
Director of youth Handbell Choir
Father of a best friend in High School
Tremendous sense of fun, humour.
Devoted ministry time to young people.  Weekly work, preparation, and trips.
Ministry with youth: “Has to be fun; has to be Christ-centred.”
Challenges me still to consider how to invest my time in other people; how to empower others to do the same.

Wisdom from God thru personal Experience.
Not being allowed to be ordained a pastor?
Not sticking with people who needed support?
Not knowing who to believe when one person accused another of saying upsetting things?
Ordination Council rejection, 1997.
Pastor under 1 year supervision.
Recommendation/request by Church.
Statement of Faith.
Ordination Council.
Deferred for one year; new mentor.
Reasons?   Church & Kingdom of God.
The nature of Evil. ???
Lack of confidence.
Wisdom: to be confident in myself. Be myself.
Let bureaucracies be as they may.  Don’t fret.
Wisdom comes to us from God for this life.  Comes to us in so many ways.  Thanks be to God!   1 Corinthians 1:26-31
AMEN.

Cross Purposes

(1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

Jan 22, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

In a time of crisis, a Baptist Pastor was getting a very low salary, when he sees an advertisement asking for people to help at the local Amusement Park in Upper Clements.

He took the job, and they asked him to be disguised as an ape and walk around to give some atmosphere.  Rather humiliating he thought, but at least nobody recognizes me.

He was wandering around in the Park area in his monkey costume, when he makes the wrong turn and enters an open cage, suddenly he sees a Lion.

I’m going to die, he thinks, he falls on his knees and starts praying out loud.

Suddenly he hears the Lion saying: Brother don’t worry, it’s me, the Wesleyan Pastor.

It just so happens we are smack dab in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Sadly, we Christians around here don’t do anything together at this time of year; perhaps another year we will.  We might even get together and pray!  

WPXU not known or popular with every church.  Some groups like this togetherness and cooperation.  Some are not interested.  There is much we can do together – and learn from one another.  But there are concerns about how other groups have gone astray.  We can see ourselves more in competition with other tribes of believers than in cooperation with them.

Are we ‘cross purposes?’  Do we have serious disagreements?  Or do we share the same purpose – share the message of the cross?  Preach Christ, and Him crucified?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians he says, 10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

And later, writes, 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The message of the Cross of Jesus is our purpose.

The Cross of Christ is the source of our oneness.   The heart of our fellowship.  The tie that binds.  I regularly ask myself what draws us together?  We each have reasons, motivations, needs, habits.

One day, years ago, the telephone rang in the Rector’s office of the Washington church which President Franklin Roosevelt attended.  An eager voice inquired, “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?”

“That,” the Rector explained patiently, “I cannot promise.  But we expect God to be there, and we fancy that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”  (John T. Watson)

Jesus Christ who was executed is the centre of our purpose; He the incentive for our gatherings.

Jesus is in stained glass in my view from the pulpit; as well as the Holy Bible, and the Ten Commandments.  Which of these unites us in this town?  Our beliefs, our values, or our Saviour?

We can say we are one – in this Church, not to mention with the other Churches – because of the Bible and how we understand it.  

We might emphasize being followers of the same moral living and right values.  True obedience.

Or we can believe we are one because of Jesus, our living relationship with God in Christ.  

I tend to think it is all about relationship.  Our relationship with Jesus is the heart of our common life. How we hear God speak through scripture and how we follow and live our lives comes out of knowing Jesus.  

It seems back in history that all the church splits were over beliefs.  The story of Christianity seems to be a story of divisions and people not getting along and separating.  This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold move of posting a list of 95 problems with his church – Roman Catholic – on the door of a church building.  The Reformation was beginning.

In the days of  the apostle Paul, the conflict in one town church seemed to be over who’s the leader.  Some claimed to follow their founder, Paul.  Some named their great teacher, Apollos, as their guide.  Other’s looked to the leadership of Peter, one of the original twelve disciples, who gets called Cephas here.  And yet others might have been claiming, “We, we are the real followers of Christ Jesus, alone.”

Like you and me, every denomination and every congregation has its strengths and weaknesses.  The ways we are saintly, and the ways we are sinful.

The Christian church is a society of sinners.  It is the only society in the world, membership in which is based upon the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership.  (Charles C. Morrison)

And this human condition is reached and touched by the cross of Jesus.  It is sinners Jesus calls to become His Church. And so it shall ever be.  He calls us all to His cross.  And there we find freedom and life.

The Cross of Christ is the root of our diversity.

All the splits of Christianity may seem terrible.  the thousands of denominations give our Faith a bad name with some.  The terrible fighting and conflict among different types of Christians fills the Church history books.  Yet our cooperation is beautiful.

Of course, not every believer knows this.  As I was as kid and a teen in a Baptist Church, I knew nothing at all of the others Christians around Middleton.  Was never in any other Churches.  Once I left home and was in a different town, I got in with all these other flavours of Jesus followers, and got to enjoy them thoroughly.  So many different ways to do a worship service.  So many patterns for the personal devotional life.  So many different teachings.  So many amazing ministries that help people!

The other tribes seem wonderful to me.  So, to this day, I really appreciate knowing the other believers who don’t meet in my building.  

This morning – first Sunday for the new Rector of the Anglican Parish of Digby- Weymouth.  

This morning – Installation of Tim Long as pastor of the new Wesleyan Church in Tiddville…

But, is this a story of division?  Pentecostals die out for Wesleyans to live?

Or here, our building could be seen as a testimony to the Anglican Church splitting… the split-off group built this in 1876, then fizzled out, and sold the building to the Baptists in 1885.

Out of our differences, and the ups and downs of our past, our God weaves as beautiful a tapestry as possible.  Today, in our own fellowship, we are former Uniteds, and Anglicans, and Catholics, etc.

Jesus by His cross and precious blood is doing the saving of so many humans.  Jesus is lifted up upon the cross, and people from every direction look up to him.  We are all so different across this globe, and looking back through time.  Other disciples of Jesus became fishers of people, and you and I were caught.  What a variety of fish we are.  Then we go fishing, for more.

And Jesus does not mold us all to be the same.  We all become disciples of our Master, but we remain diverse.  So it is to be expected, and maybe even a blessing, that there are so many different ways to be Church.  

The Cross of Christ is the foundation of our ministry.  Jesus: If I be lifted up I will draw all to Me.

At the start of His ministry Jesus invited men to join Him and learn to fish for people.  And the apostle Paul wrote to a church saying be of the same purpose, as he exemplified how to proclaim the Good News.

The cross shows Jesus’ solidarity with the suffering people of the world.  That is most people.  That is billions of people.  That is all people.

Christ crucified reaches those who suffer.  The ministries of the churches are all founded upon this saving work of Jesus.  Consider the power of His story.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are abandoned or betrayed by others.  At the cross we see God experiencing this.  Even the experience of being abandoned by God.  Now, there are many believers who, in the name of Jesus, are helping people who are rejected.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are criminals.  Hanging there between two thieves, He joined them in their punishment, and one of them even believed in the Kingdom Jesus was bringing.   Thus, the Spirit has so many ministries – through the churches – to people who have done wrong, to sinners.   

Jesus on the cross reaches those who suffer painfully.  The scriptures, and all the stories and songs since, tell of the pains He had to bear.  Physical pain and ruin are completely understood and joined by Christ.  Not to mention the mental anguish and emotional hurt of Jesus’ execution.  So we have today – in every congregation – such care for those who suffer in this life.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are treated unfairly and don’t get justice.  For we see Him crucified by the people and the governing powers that be.  Not even His closest friends can stand up for Him.  Thus the Church finds its calling in the needs of those who are stepped on by oppressors.  

Jesus on the cross reaches those who die.  Jesus, God with us, actually dies.  So, across Christendom, we have every ministry imaginable in the face of mortality – from the Billy Grahams preaching to save souls before it is too late, to the Mother Theresas who lovingly care for those who are going to die.

The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is a realm in which abandonment, sin, pain, injustice and death are all being destroyed.  Jesus proclaimed it in his preaching.  He proclaimed it in His living.  He proclaimed it from His cross.  His cross purposes are what bring believers together, and are the answers to our prayers for Christian unity now.   AMEN.

Like a Polished Arrow

(Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Cor 1:1-9)

Jan 15, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
A prophet of old once proclaimed: (Is 49:2b-3)
He made me a polished arrow,
   in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
   Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Like a polished arrow – words spoken to a people far away and long, long ago.  Do such words apply again to us now?  Or not?

To the ancients these were beautiful, poetic words.  Like a polished arrow in the quiver of God were the prophetic people, people with a mission and a ministry.  They are beautiful people, with beautiful work to do.  Does this holy poetry need to speak to us here and now?  It asks us: and we wonder if God asks:
Are we called and ready to reach our target?
And, what is our target today?

At times, we might feel our failures.  And we might speak like the called by God did centuries ago, saying, I have labored in vain,
   I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.
Would the answer back be the same?  
We have not laboured in vain!

Ministry of our past, and our present, is good.  
Worship…
Music…
Bible Studies…
Global mission support – Eleanor Timpany WMS.
Funerals (cemetery) and weddings…
Pastoral care, spiritual care, etc…
Building use by community:
Yoga.  Medieval Martial Arts.  Fundy Chorale.
And, our ministries include the many things each of us do.  I don’t think we count these things enough, or pray for them enough, or celebrate them enough.  You and I are God’s servants, and together we are God’s servant, doing good and bringing glory to our Master.  
Hardships and failures God uses to polish us. I find it easy, too easy, to let failures, embarrassments, laziness, and weaknesses drag me down.  Yet I believe in a God who takes those as building blocks and redeems us!  If Father God could take the betrayal and death of Jesus and use that to save the world, surely the Spirit today can take my chronic problems, and yours, and make something beautiful for God.  The Potter reforms the clay.  
Compare yourselves with the Church of Corinth, Greece.  Thanked for so much, at the beginning, in a letter that goes on at length about their troubles:  
Chapter 1. Divisions in the church: leadership
Chapter 5. Sexual immorality in the church
Chapter 6. Lawsuits among believers
Chapter 6. Christians going to prostitutes
Chapter 8. Eating food offered to idols in worship
Chapter 11. Conflicts at the Lord’s Supper
Chapter 12. Conflicts over speaking in tongues
Chapter 15. Confusion over life after death: resurrection

This is what to be wary of when joining a Christian church – because problems like this arise!  We can be idealistic about what other Christians should be like, and what a fellowship should be like.  The older editions of the Baptist Minister’s Manual say this when people join the Church:  May they find in our midst all that the word of God would lead them to expect.  May all that we expect of them be found in us as well. I did not use that script last week when Lexi joined our membership.

There is a Lutheran congregation in Colorado named the House for all Sinners and Saints.  I think their pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, described beautifully what is real in the Church…

The reality is that any human community is flawed and will end up hurting people; and will end up not living up to their ideals.  And so I’d rather just start with that… rather than people have a different expectation and be disappointed.  

So people come to our church and they can be a little idealistic about it, because it is so different, and they love it; and I love it.  But when they come to our ‘Welcome to House Brunch,’ when we’re sort of welcoming them into the community, I’ll say, “I need you to hear me say this: at some point, this church will not meet your expectations, it will let you down. At some point I will say something stupid and hurt your feelings.”  And I just invite people on this side of that happening to decide if they are going to stick around after that happens.  

‘Cause if we leave because, oh, one more community disappoints us, we will miss out on the way in which grace can come in and fill in those cracks that are left behind from our brokenness and our mistakes, and it’s too beautiful to miss.  (CBC Tapestry, Sept 19, 2014)

God’s grace in the fellowship of sinners is too beautiful a thing to miss.  You have been called into this fellowship to receive and give grace, broken person that you are. Broken, but beautiful to God.  Sinners, yes, and Saints.

Paul says to his friends in Corinth – who were getting into so much trouble – God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And, as Jesus once said to His disciples, “you did not choose Me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:16)  You are welcome to be a polished arrow, a sinner to be saved by grace, saved for good, good work.  

So who shall be our target?  Single parents in our community?  Troubled youth?  Seniors at risk?

Now, now, we are prepared and called for MORE mission.  More that that lovely list of things we are doing well now.  More than worship and music and Bible Study and funerals and international mission support, etc.

Bolivia story… Mark Buchanan’s devotional:
Isaiah 49:6.  It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the tribes of Israel.  I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  

So, one of my passions is worship – this kind – what we do together.  But it is too light a thing, to little a mission, just to do this well.  There is more.  We can find ways to take the Gospel to the streets, out of these four walls.

What did the choir sing this morning?  Micah 6:8.  words prophetically spoken to a people who had to do more than worship YHWH really well.  They had that down pat. The prophet Micah asked:
What does the LORD require of you?  
Justice, kindness, walk humbly with your God.
To seek justice, and love kindness,
and walk humbly with your God.  

So when we think about all the people we might reach and bring back in here – the ones who went to Sunday School here, and Awana, and Cubs/Scouts, and those who even were in the pews, or in junior choir… Think also of those around us who were never here.  Shall our mission be to them?  And, maybe it will not be about getting them into us, but getting us into them.

Does Isaiah 49 say to us, now, It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the alumni of your Sunday School and to restore the Baptists of Digby Town.  I will give you as a light to the un-churched, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the municipality.  

Today is January 15th.  If we were to call all of 2017 one day, we have now completed the first hour of this day.  23 more to go.  How shall we spend these ‘hours’?  

Shall we discover some ways to help people in our own neighbourhood, who live in run-down apartments?  Or work long hours in a fish plant?  Or, retirees moving into new neighbourhood buildings with a view of the water?

God will be glorified… in us, the Church.
We have not laboured in vain.

Now, maybe when you think of this Church, this congregation, some of your first thoughts concern you, or even stress you a bit.  
You think, “Why is that Pastor never in when I come to the building?  He’s never there when he’s supposed to be!”
And the Pastor thinks, “Why do those people need to shake hands and visit with one another during the service every Sunday?  It’s so artificial and disrupts divine worship!”
And someone else thinks, “Why does so-and-so take complete control of that committee and not let anyone else do anything?”
Or someone else thinks, “I remember years ago when that person and this person did whatever to someone else – and to me! That still hurts.”

Wait, wait… God will be glorified… in us, the Church, the broken Church.  We have not laboured in vain.
And, we are in good company… with the early Church.  Like that famous one in Corinth.  Yeah, except they were: fighting over who’s the real pastor, and having prostitutes, and bullying one another about weekly worship, and suing one another in court.  

Paul wrote to them and said, I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…  Paul said that to them, those failures!  But they were not failures.  They were the disciples of Jesus Christ in that old city.  They just had a long way to go.  
And so do we.

He’s still workin on me,
To make me what I ought to be.
…How loving and patient He must be;
He’s still workin on me.

God will be glorified by the Church.  Us, we will give glory to God when people see and know us.
As we shoot out of here to hit our target.  (Maybe it will be newcomers to town – from Ontario, from the USA, from Little River.) As we bound out of our annual meeting to reach our target people and places. (Maybe this will include being an environmentally friendly Church – lovers of creation.)
As we are polished by the challenges of our lives to be even better agents of God’s grace.  (Maybe we will be a fellowship for healing after broken relationships.)
There are many possibilities.  We must seek God’s calling in our lives – and our shared life.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus… God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

AMEN.