WELCOME to this post for our ‘Family & Friends Service,’ May 15, 2022. Digby Baptist welcomes you to read and view these parts of our service. Full plan for the worship time is in the Bulletin, also here on our website.
SERMON: EXODUS: A New Path. So, Sharon and I are moving; we make our ‘exodus’ about two weeks from today. On Friday we spent the day in Amherst, in the empty house that is now ours; meeting a few of the staff, and other folk, at First Baptist Church; and touring the long term care home where Eric, Sharon’s father, will be moving soon.
Like any such transition, it takes time, it is a journey. The Bible stories called ‘Exodus,’ about fifty pages long, tell how an ancient ethnic group got their freedom. They wandered for forty years in the Middle-Eastern wilderness, on their way to a Promised Land. They were just beginning those forty years, led by Moses, when they received the Ten Commandments, pictured in our stained-glass window at the back.
We make a lot of ‘exits’ in our lives. In many cases, it is not just about leaving or getting away from somewhere. It is also about going to a destination, even when the end of the journey is mysterious. We all face changes. A wise, pastoral counsellor friend used to say, to ask, really, ‘are you making a change away from or towards? Are you making a change because you are trying to get away from something, or is it really because you are attracted to something else?’ Good question.
Our keynote Bible story today has in it a little sermon – the synopsis of one bit of preaching by the Apostle Paul, one day in Athens, Greece, almost two thousand years ago. Preachers often seem to look at this story as an example of good preaching, from one of the first great Christian preachers. Yet the immediate result is small: a few converts, two of whom are named here in this chapter.
Without going into depth to understand what this audience in ancient Greece was like, that day, it seems on the surface like this sermon could fit our age. With this beginning, I could make it my own sermon.
Dear thinkers of Digby, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. For as I scrolled thru your postings and looked carefully at the sayings your share, I found among them many promises to ‘send prayers,’ to support those in crisis, and to stick only with those people who do not ‘take energy from you’ or do ‘serve you.’
What you do to connect in spirit, to give out blessings, and to do self care, I proclaim to you. All things are one, from the One who is our Source. And our Source can be met in Jesus, whose stories are right here, and who we can meet in mystical ways today.
Forty-some times a year I give a speech about this sort of thing. I often think of it in terms of ‘a new path.’ What is the next best step for you (and me) to take? I like looking at the big picture of our lives, but what can we do this week? Take the next good step.
Paul, we could say, is giving a New Path here to his audience. An exit from their religion, or philosophy, and the entry into a new way, what they called the Way of Jesus. This ‘Way’ is now a couple thousands of years old. It is a world religion like others: a huge tree with many branches, each one different from the others. At its core, it is about connection. Humans with the Divine, with God, and with the rest of things, including each other.
Let me quote one of the great evangelists of the mid 20th century, Watchmann Nee. If you are expecting the usual ‘repent and be saved’ stuff, this may surprise you. What is required of a person to be on the right path with God? Nee wrote: We are not required –in the first place–to believe, or to repent, or to be conscious of sin, or even to know that Christ died. We are required only to approach the Lord with an honest heart.
We come now to the single requirement demanded from us. Quite often people preach the Gospel to a person by using a number of “points,” only to find that the next day the person will say, “I have forgotten the third point. What was it?” Salvation is not a question of points! Salvation is not even a question of understanding or of will. It is, [as we have seen,] a question of meeting God–of people coming into first-hand contact with Christ the Savior. (Foster & Smith, Devotional Classics, 1993, pp. 324, 327)
A real change in our path, a new path, can come from a meeting. A connection. A holy moment, experience. But then it becomes a pathway when the rest of our lives are also on that track.
No wonder the ancient Hebrews were given the Ten Commandments, and many other patterns for their community life. All of life matters, and is where people live with God. When we take a new path, make a turn with our lives and go in a new direction, it is all about our day-to-day living. It is not just about a new philosophy we have of the world, or some new beliefs we believe in. A real faith or philosophy of life touches how we live life. I am all about integrating these two. I have decided I need both. I need to study with delight plants and birds and lichens; and I need to pray together with people. I need wide open spaces and adventures; and I need dedicated buildings and worship gatherings. The overlap gives me more grace. This hour should be all about the rest of our lives. And all the rest of our lives is holy. For it is out there that we and God, Reality, Higher Power, do our thing.
Author Richard Foster tells the story of a Russian spiritual director who was once severely criticized for spending an inordinate amount of time talking with an old woman about her turkeys. “Don’t you understand?” he responded, “this woman’s whole life is in those turkeys.” ‘So it is with us:’ writes Foster, ‘our whole life is in the daily, the ordinary. And we have a heavenly Father who delights in showing us that he is the God of the ordinary.’ (Foster & Smith, Devotional Classics, 1993, pp. 367-368)
Perhaps our time is like that of the people of Athens, long ago. Lots of sharing of information and ideas. Lots of debates and differences of opinions in society. Plenty of paths to follow, whether you want to pay attention to being a spiritual being, or not.
You have choices for your life path, from today. How you pay attention to your purpose, your goals, your spirituality, is, I hope and pray, in your own hands. But there will be, from outside of you, the occasional intervention, a meeting, even a miracle.
Some of you might claim to be on a new path, right now, at least trying. Perhaps you are taking up more ‘self care,’ or doing something more in the community, or learning some new things, or developing a relationship, or seeking healing for something.
You who are our guests today: choose well your path this year. Be blessed.
You who are my people, of the congregation: choose well your path this year. Be blessed.
And You, the gathered Church: choose well the path you share. You are exiting an old reality, and embarking on a new path. Be blessed.
PRAYERS of the People. Today, let us share a prayer in which I will speak a sentence, ending each time with ‘we search for God,’ and then you can respond: ‘In You we live and move.’
Spirit of life, we have praised You, we have sat together under Your word, we have offered some things as gifts, we have sought guidance together; we search for God. In You we live and move.
Creator, after all our attention to You, now we ask, we seek help, we pray for people and places. We need attention. Our neighbourhoods need attention. Our world needs attention; we search for God. In You we live and move.
We pray for those known to us and those dear to us who are in distress. Those who need healing in body, those who need healing in mind and heart, those who need healing in relationships, those who need healing in spirit; we search for God. In You we live and move.
We pray for those facing terrible fires: our neighbours of Bear River First Nation whose Band Office burned, and the land near Yarmouth and near Upper Musquodoboit on fire; we search for God. In You we live and move.
We pray for women facing pregnancy amid the conflicts over abortion and the longings for life. The emotional power of our relationships and our human bodies is intense; we search for God. In You we live and move.
We pray for millions in this world caught up in violent conflict, in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and several African nations, and more – let there be leadership for peace, and help for those surviving or fleeing; we search for God. In You we live and move.
We pray, Jesus Messiah, for people of faith around us, and for ourselves. We believe; You, help our unbelief! And be a great Shepherd to us and to other congregations who are looking for leadership or making other big decisions; we search for God. In You we live and move.Such things we pray, ending with the words that come to us in scripture, from You: Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.
BENEDICTION Love in all sincerity,
loathing evil and holding fast to the good.
Let love of the community show itself in mutual affection.
Esteem others more highly than yourself.
May the blessings of God almighty,
the Creator, the Christ, and the Charismatic Spirit,
be amongst you and remain with you always. AMEN.