(Levit 19:1-2, 1-18; Matt 5:4-8; 1 Cor 3:10-17)
Feb 19, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
Before I read our text from 1 Corinthians, I should let you know that I recruited a guest preacher for the sermon today. I was thinking about the Holiday tomorrow, this year celebrating Mi’kmaq [Migmaw] Heritage. I barely know any of these folks, but I thought of a man of European descent who might speak appropriately.
My guest today is a Nova Scotian Baptist Minister, born in 1810. So he may sound rather old fashioned. And he has now been dead more than 125 years. But listen to what he says about ministry to his neighbours in the 19th century. He was ahead of his time. He is inspiring.
He might also tend to be long-winded, but today he will be brief, compared with how he was used to preaching in his day. And when he is done, I may take time to answer any questions you may have.
Scripture 1 Corinthians 3:10-17
Hymn 213 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Good morning, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Allow me to tell you my story of Jesus’ grace to make me God’s servant thru many years. You likely do not know me. I am a Nova Scotian, of an old family, long in this fair province. My name is Silas Tertius Rand.
My childhood was spent in the Annapolis Valley, and my faith in the living Christ awakened through various stages and struggles. Never shall I forget the preaching of Reverend Richard Preston during that “reformation” and spiritual awakening that took place in Cornwallis Township when I was but 13. And dear Father Manning, that great Baptist leader, was such a guiding influence upon me. He served to baptize me in Billtown Lake in December of 1833, and later laid hands upon me in ordination to the Gospel ministry.
My preaching began in my twenties. I began studies at Horton Academy, but the setting was too distracting. I was a better student alone, on my own.
So it was in those early years I spent much time ministering near the Parrsborough Shore, and travelled widely. I once served as Pastor at Windsor, at the other extremity of this fair Valley. I had also been at Liverpool. While I was pastor there, I had a “renewal” in my life, a “real conversion” in which God graciously granted me a mystical vision. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory!” came to me one day with that hymn you sang earlier, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Every line, every word seemed to pierce and thrill my very soul. Always be ready, dear friends, for a fresh moving of the Spirit. As a believer, you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit.
My mystical experience there I would call my “4th conversion.” Yet my ministry at the Liverpool Church did not end well. Once I moved to Charlotte- town my mission to the First Peoples of this land began to blossom and grow. God gave the increase. Salvation is for all peoples, of every race and place. Christ is the Master Builder, and will use everyone in His glorious Church. Including the Mi’kmaq peoples.
Ah, I remember so well one day, near my abode in Liverpool, meeting along the road a person of what you now call First Nations, who was on his way to Annapolis. I fell into conversation with him about his speech, and his soul. There and then, I commenced the study of his language, and learned the meaning of several words and obtained some knowledge of their method of inflecting pronouns and verbs….
Considering his soul as immortal and as valuable as my own, and believing the Word of God to be the appointed means of regeneration, I read to him out of that precious book, and made such explanatory remarks as seemed necessary to convey the meaning and enforce the truth. He listened with attention, appeared interested, and I parted with him with an earnest wish that we might dwell together in that bright world, where all the little distinctions which exist among fellow worms will be laid aside, and the Indian, the African, and the white man… will unite for ever in praising and adoring His name. (The Christian Messenger 2 August 1839)
Does not the scripture say (Acts 17:26) that God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell
on all the face of the earth?
As the years progressed, by God’s almighty providence, I studied well the language of these people, and they became my friends. What joy and sense of achievement the Master afforded me when, at last, I produced my first translated text into Mi’kmaq. Do you know what scripture verse it was? John 3:16, which, as you well know contains the essence of the Gospel, the marrow and fatness of Bible theology. (CM, 26 March, 1847)
And out of this great Gospel we find good news for every person and every circumstance of life. Do not forget, brothers and sisters, that God cares for the body and soul, the society and the mind. All peoples are made to be temples of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Cornerstone, and we, all, His living stones, are being built together, as Peter said in his First Epistle. How sad, how unjust, how lacking in compassion our treatment of the people who first lived in this beautiful and verdant land by the sea.
As I declared, in my 1854 lectures, in Halifax:
Shame on us! We invade the territory of men, made like ourselves, and fashioned in the image of God; bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh — we treat them as though they had no rights. We seize upon their country. We rob them of all they hold dear and sacred; we deceive and defraud them — we violate the most solemn treaties made with them; we impoverish, degrade, despise and abuse them.
(CM 15 March 1855)
From earliest days, humanity has been warned to treat all strangers as neighbours. Does not the Law of Moses declare: You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; but we have done that very thing. You shall not render an unjust judgment; yet we have not let justice roll down like waters. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: but we have lived on in our white privilege, with daily favouritism.
Who are the poor at your gates in Digby now? What generations are far, not only from the Saviour, but from you, the adults and seniors? What needs are unmet by your society today? Only you can answer that. With the guiding vision of our Almighty Maker.
So, I say, look for your ministry in your own neighbourhood! How could we send missioners across the globe and ignore our neighbours who first were here on this land? At our Baptist Association meeting in 1846 I appealed to my brothers and sisters: Shall the wandering tribes of India be pitied! shall the degraded [of Africa] awaken our sympathies! and shall the story of the distant Islanders, perishing without hope, most justly call forth the energies of our souls! … and shall the wandering tribes of our forests – the rightful owners of the soil… be permitted to dwindle away in neglect, and perish, unpitied, unheeded, and unblessed by that gospel… which we profess so highly to prize! (CM 10 July 1846)
The support for a mission grew, thank God. A mission to the Mi’kmaq. We Baptists seemed always poor; I became weary of my travels to beg for money. (I pray it is not so for you in your century!) But mission to all peoples draws together all Christ’s servants. So it was that our mutual concern for the “advancement of the truth of God” brought together Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists to support the Mi’kmaq Mission. In those early years this truly was “an evangelical alliance in miniature.”
Even the editors of our esteemed Baptist paper, The Christian Messenger, were compelled to ask the readers, in 1849: When will all the true followers of the Redeemer so far lay aside their less important points of difference, and strive together for truth and the salvation of immortal souls upon these broad and general principles in which they are confessedly all of one mind…? May the prediction that all Christ’s people shall be one, both in spirit and in practice, be speedily realized in its fullest extent! (CM 9 Feb 1849)
Be ready, dear friends of Christ, be ready to work with all believers who claim His name. It is a team that God builds for the work of the Kingdom.
When you have a heart of love for people in your community, the work becomes hard, dear friends. You must know your people – their ways of speaking, thinking, storytelling. Their culture. The young have their own culture and habits you do not understand? Get to know and understand them! Newcomers from the Middle East become your neighbours? Get to know and understand them.
So it was for me with my Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters. What an amazing language! What a tremend- ous library of legends and stories that had never been written down. Let me give you one example.
One legend is that of “The Ice King.” This fable of the elements tells how a man removed a huge cake of Ice lodged in the river. At his lazy bludgeoning of it, the cake spoke saying that the man had done him a great kindness, but that he would return the next winter. The man prepared for this next visitation. Steadily the presence of ice began to be felt everywhere. The Ice King moved into the wigwam and sat down opposite the man. A large fire blazed and to this the man added more fuel until finally the Ice King escaped, saying that the man had beaten him twice, and was now his master. So to the man, summer and winter both became alike. From now on “he could go bare-headed, bare-handed, and bare-footed all the year round.” The moral of the fable… is that a wise person will learn from past experience… will provide in summer for the rigors of the winter. Resolution and perseverance will conquer all difficulties, and one victory paves the way for another. “Alas, for those who do not in time make provision for eternity! Let us be wise today.” (Lovesey, Dorothy May, To Be a Pilgrim: A Biography of Silas Tertius Rand, 1810-1889, Lancelot Press, 1992, p.163)
The time and effort you spend in the culture of your neighbours is well spent.
But you will find opposition to your ministry, even the quiet work behind-the-scenes.
When I was translating the Bible into Mi’kmaq, all did not go smoothly. You might think that working with Greek and Hebrew scriptures in my study, and developing my Mi’kmaq dictionary was a peaceful occupation. No! What some called the “Indian War” broke out over one little word: Baptidzo, in Greek, what we call Baptism in English. Some of the non-Baptists wanted to fight over how to put it into the native language. Dip, immerse, plunge, submerge, sink – so many ways in English – what to do in Mi’kmaq? Ohh, what a struggle it was.
Now, in your age, I do not know what your mission work is. Whether you outreach to people of every race who are your working poor, or to the single parents and broken families in your villages, or to the senior citizens of your society; there are long days and hours of work ahead of you. You must remain faithful. Only the Living Spirit of God can sustain you, when it is all said and done.
Having said that, I had many hard days – hard years – and found the work to be arduous. I was verily discouraged for long periods of time.
I slaved for years to complete the Mi’kmaq dictionary, and the Scriptures; to transcribe their legends, to build bridges between us. Only our Almighty God can declare the final benefits and successes of this ministry that filled my life.
I remember, through my many years in Hantsport, how the Mi’kmaq Mission there developed. Not everyone was in favour; not everyone was a supporter. Be ready, dear saints, to carry on and persevere. My relations with the Mi’kmaq deepened & were blessed.
I once reported: You will be happy to know that amidst all the opposition we are called to contend with, we have much to encourage us. There are Indians even here who will not be deterred from coming to see me – they will not be inducted to turn me away, when I visit them – they will not believe that we are seeking their hurt. I am constantly in communion with them, endeavouring to lead them to the Saviour. (CM, 2 June 1853)
Remember always, brothers and sisters, that friendship with your neighbour, with your friend, with your enemy, is the open door for the Spirit of God and the Word of God to have a Gospel impact. Remember the words of Longstaff’s hymn that was not written till the end of my own lifetime, Take Time to Be Holy:
Make friends of God’s children,
help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing
His blessing to seek. (c. 1882)
Every friend you make is a being who can be a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a living stone in the Temple of Jesus, a brother or sister in Christ.
Love your neighbours. Amen & Amen.