Oct 4: Eagerly Desiring this Feast

[Exodus 12:1-13; 13:1-8; Luke 22:14-20]

I was looking forward to the party! About three years ago an old friend from High School invited me to a surprise 50th Anniversary Party for his parents. His parents had been my friends too, through the years, starting with his father being my grade 7 Industrial Arts teacher, and a youth leader in the Baptist Church, and his mother getting me started in a big way growing perennials in flowerbeds.

So, the date was set, a little community hall in Paradise would be prepared, and the surprise Anniversary party would be a very fun time! But it wasn’t. It did not happen. My friend’s parents got wind of what was happening, and put an end to it. They did not want a party. There was no gathering.

Something there is in many of us that loves a party. We have the need to gather, to do traditional things, or create our own little traditions. We also need to gather when bad things happen, and to remember the troubles of the past and find healing.

We are so limited in our usual ceremonies now. Our three scriptures stories today each describe the formation of new ceremonies for the people of Faith. Passover is a ritual meal, at home, for the Jews to celebrate their freedom from slavery. The associated Festival of Unleavened Bread also celebrates the gift of their freedom from Egypt. Thousands of years later, Jesus sets up a new ceremony while taking part in the Passover with His friends. We call it Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

The Need for Ceremony

Even before all our pandemic precautions, there was a need for ceremony and ritual in our lives. A need for people to have ways to gather and share an activity that meant something, that expressed the suffering or the success of human life. In a time when so many people are not religious, at least, not practicing any religion, there can be a longing to do something together, at special moments in life. 

There is a birth. There is a death. Two people join together. A family moves to a new town. A person retires from work. A special anniversary is achieved. A tragic event shocks a community. What does one do? We have some traditions, some ceremonies, some gatherings. But today, anything goes. And sometimes, everything goes out the window: nothing is done, there is no event to mark the occasion. No way to get together. No ritual to observe.

I remember hearing author, artist and activist, Jan Phillips, talk about the need for rituals in our day and age, and the need for us to become ritual-makers in our society. As a minister who crafts liturgy almost every week of my life, this made sense to me. Phillips wrote a book called ‘No Ordinary Time,’ and in her intro she says, “It is a book for people conscious of their power and ready to co-create new sacraments and ceremonies that celebrate the Divine dwelling within us.” (2011, p. 1)

There is still enough experience of tradition out there that people look for some familiar rituals. We often want to recreate them. A look at the history of any one ritual will show how it has changed. Like a wedding, or funeral. Or Holy Communion. Baptists did not always have many individual cups, you know. How did they serve their wine? And, yes, Baptists used to serve real wine, before the Temperance Movement was embraced.

A month or so ago, a young woman from Hants Co. sent me a note, asking if, perhaps, I could baptize her youngest child. I had ‘dedicated’ her other child, years ago, when I lived and served in Windsor. My answer was ‘no,’ because I never ever go back where I used to be to officiate. No dedications, baptisms, weddings or funerals where I used to live. This is simply one of my personal professional rules. I consider those things the ministry of the pastors there now, not mine to do. The woman’s request shows the need for a ceremony that blesses.

Over the past month, we here got a request for baptism from a person who lives out west, and will be home to visit in December. She wants her baptism (and her boyfriend, and her child) here because of a connection with family, especially her grandfather. It does not make sense to me to be baptized into Christ not where one lives, but it makes sense to her. 

In recent months, the loss of our usual ceremonies has been keenly felt. We finally had a memorial service, last Sunday, outdoors, for Jean Brittain. On Tuesday I ‘attended’ the funeral for Rev. Dr. George Allen by watching all 97 minutes of it on my computer. Yet a great deal is lost. Here, on a Sunday morning, we cannot touch and greet each other in familiar ways. We cannot make all the music we used to do. Attendance is down because many people feel too limited and unable to come in under the present restrictions and risks. 

The Creation of Ceremony

Last week our CBAC staff hosted another online Leadership Forum, mainly for pastors, to share about  how to do church now. To compare ‘how has it been going?’ Lennett Anderson is Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church: the Meeting Place, in Hammonds Plains. Here he is, speaking with Kevin Vincent, and the rest of us…

It was our 175th church anniversary. I had plans, we were going to have a party, like, the best on this side of heaven! And, anyway, COVID happened! Ruined all my plans. I was devastated, I did not know how we were going to celebrate as a congregation our witness in the community. 

And, one of our deacons said, “Why don’t we have a drive by BBQ?” 

So, you know, I said, ‘Speak, Lord, your servants are listening.’ This is the best we can come up with?? Ha. A drive by BBQ for our 175th anniversary!? 

I could not believe the people in attendance. We had tents in the parking lot, we had the entrance, we had the exit, we had the music, the balloons, and I thought the people in Upper Hammonds Plains… people from Chester drove in, Lunenburg, Dartmouth Musquodoboit! We had food for 200, we ran out, I told them ‘I’m not Jesus, I can’t multiply it.’ First come first served.

It was just… The energy! People were speeding into the parking lot. They weren’t paying attention because they were, like, “Hey! We’re Here!” 

And I was saying “HEY!” I didn’t know who they were, they were masked. Some had new hair, no hair, I don’t know, it’s been six months since I’d seen them; but it was just incredible. I didn’t realize how emotional I would be seeing the congregation, just seeing the saints. Um, some did the drive by and then parked on the side of the road or in the back of the parking lot, just because they wanted to have a holy huddle, they got out, they were still masked, but they were just: ‘How you doin, how are you?’ It was a real connection. I think it was one of the best anniversary events we’ve ever had.

The time for creating new ceremonies is now! Necessity is the mother of invention; a pandemic is the mother of new forms of ministry by us, Church. At this past week’s little Ministerial meeting, we look ahead to this year’s Journey to Bethlehem, and we can see how it can still happen. A little differently, but it will happen. We need it, and God will help us do it.

The scriptures tell us how the ritual of Passover was given to the Children of Israel, long ago, and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. And we know, know so well, the little story of Jesus taking the wine of passover, and the unleavened bread, and creating a new ceremony. There are times to birth new rituals. And for them to take hold is inspiring, when we sense that God actually planned them, the Spirit truly gave a new ceremony for us to use.

The Power of Ceremony

There can be such power in ceremonies and rituals. What do I mean by power? Simply that rituals change things for us. It is said of spiritual practices – like prayer and fasting, or confession or scripture study or meditation – doing these things puts us in a place where the Spirit can transform us. So, laying your hand upon someone when praying for healing can show that person God’s touch for their body. Actions speak louder than words. A Sunday morning service together can open our hearts to be cleansed by God. Sharing pieces of bread and sips of juice can help us know, for sure, that the real body and blood of Jesus were broken and spilled.

Thanks be to God that a number of ceremonies and spiritual practices have been given to us. We heard Jesus’ familiar words today: “Do this in remembrance of me,” and, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” 

We Baptists are in the Church tradition that talks about there being just two ‘ordinances,’ sometimes called ‘sacraments.’ There are not seven, there are just two rituals Jesus Himself, in the Bible, said to do. Baptize people, and eat the bread and wine to remember Him. Yet we have many other ceremonies in which we know God and the power of God’s blessings. Worship together; worship alone. A wedding ceremony. The ordination of a person to special Christian ministry. Fasting. Going on a spiritual retreat. Examples of these, and others, fill the pages of the scriptures. Our many uses of the Bible itself are little rituals, of a sort, that God uses to recreate each of us. 

I wonder about the simple act of reading through the Bible, all the time. Each day I have my own little ceremony. A prayer from a certain book of prayers, a devotional reading from Tabletalk, then the reading of my daily portion of scripture: OT, Psalm, NT, Proverb. Then more praying. I happen to be reading through Isaiah right now, among other things. What powerful things can be happening, in me, because I have just worked my way through Isaiah again

I am a believer in the power of us sharing the same ceremony – doing the same thing with Christ. To me, this is ‘religion,’ in the best sense of the word. When people share some ways of being with God. Sharing rituals, sharing words, sharing time, sharing beliefs. To have your own individual beliefs and spiritual practices is fine, but if you don’t share the same things with anyone else in the whole world, there is something missing, something sad about that.

I heard on a classical music station on the radio something about the French composer Erik Satie. An amazing musician, he was a weird man. Satie founded a religion called “The Metropolitan Church of Jesus Art.” He was the only member.

To me, religion is shared spirituality. You and I share a spiritual path, if we are willing. I’m glad you are willing to be Christians with me. To be Baptists with me. To be Digby Baptists with me. Next Sunday I will offer a special sermon – different, very personal – and I think you deserve to hear it from me.

I take Jesus to be the creator of our fellowship here, though He gives us a lot of freedom to make this what it is. Consider what Christ does with us, and our community, because this Church exists. And take seriously the actions we do together: may the power and love of God be active in us!

So many of us, these past seven months, have been limited in participating. In ‘doing church.’ We can handle the present challenges, that seem to put a stop to so much, because Jesus can handle these challenges. There is still power in the Spirit, power in God’s Church, power in worship and service in the name of Jesus. Our how-to may get changed; the Holy Three-in-One remain steadfast! So we still hunger for getting together, like we used to, because this is not the same. We eagerly desire to share feasts and festivals, music and mourning. May the Spirit of Jesus quench our deep desires for the ceremonies that matter. And May we join our Creator in creating more.

Worship At Home: March 22, 2020

Welcome to this resource for Sunday, in a time when we are not gathering to worship together in person at Digby Baptist Church. We can share this plan to pray and look to the scriptures together, while apart. Simply follow along, read what is here, use a Bible, click on the links. The Bulletin is available here also, on this website, with other resources for prayer.

So, you may want to choose a quiet place to sit for this time of prayer and study. You may share this with others in your home. When the time is right, begin…

Worship Welcome Romans 1:8, 11-13 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you…

Hymn 552 My Faith Looks Up to Thee

Prayer: Perhaps, O God, it is with many, many others that I pray at this time. Not just me, or just a few of us. A great number. From Digby Baptist. And all the others who worship on this beautiful day. 

May this be a moment of looking up to You. May we discover it is not far, far up or away that we look to You. It is near at hand that Your Spirit and Your grace and Your word is found. Even in our mouths is Your message. 

So we give thanks. Our spirits sing, with the hymns of faith. Our minds open to Your word in scripture. Our prayers we pour out for ourselves and the whole world. We bow to be humble before You. A virus has humbled all the systems of this world; may we be even more humble before You. 

So, be our wise Teacher today, Spirit of God. Who, with the Father and with Jesus, reigns forever and ever. AMEN.

Offering Our monthly or weekly offerings provide for many things. Such as our Church website. The expense is small, but the ministry can be tremendous. Our website and facebook page and emails are administered by our Secretary and our Pastor. At this time, as you can see, the sermons, prayers, and other resources are posted here each Sunday morning. During this time, Pastor Jeff is still working from his Study at the Church, usually Sunday through Thursday mornings. Offerings can be dropped off in a box in the hallway outside the Pastor’s Study. Or put them in the mail to Digby Baptist Church, P. O. Box 35.

Prayers for the present crisis: Click Here

Scripture Exodus 12:1-6, 43-47

Hymn 530 Be Still My Soul

Scripture John 19:38-42

Sermon Lo, In the Grave He Lay, or: Seven things to give up – Jeff White

A lot of our plans have been put to bed since last Sunday. And when we get to raise them up again is uncertain. It is the unknown stuff that is alarming, giving us fear, making us upset, disturbing things.
The scripture stories I chose for today – I do hope you read them – take us to moments of drastic change. The Passover of the Israelites, and the burial of Jesus. I chose John 19 because of Nicodemus. This is our third and final week with Nicodemus.
Christians are still four weeks away from Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when we let the Bible take us back to that time when Jesus was dead and gone. But let us go there today. Face what it feels like when a great leader of hope dies. When the best plan seems to fail. When a victory seems to be a disastrous defeat. And see what some people did then.
Remembering when Jesus was put into a new tomb, I call this talk, ‘Lo, In the Grave He Lay, or: Seven things to give up (and not just for Lent).
One: Socializing, Celebrating, Entertaining. Lots of local socializing, even special celebrations, are all put to an end. Or scaled down to a bare minimum. Our grandchildren turn seven and three this month: the party is cancelled.
Music and entertainment in many venues is over for a season. The choir I joined in the fall: we have been rehearsing every Tuesday all this amazing music. No more rehearsals; the concerts are cancelled.
What about weddings and funerals? Our mourning and our dancing is going to be so limited now. We’ve never done it this way before. Togetherness and gatherings are at the heart of any community, any society. Shutting them all off is a new challenge.
Our scripture story from John today takes place during a big annual gathering for the Jews: Passover. It is a time for family gatherings, for special food at a special feast. And this time, the leader of a new movement gets executed. Jesus of Nazareth.
In John 19 we can notice Nicodemus, a minor character in the Gospel of John, but man of some interest. He became a disciple of Jesus. Mentioned just three times, today we see him on the day of the death of Jesus. The sun is about to set. And with the sunset begins the Sabbath, a high and holy day, especially because of the Passover celebrations.
What happens here can say something to us today. When part of his world falls apart, Nicodemus stands up to do some generous work, behind the scenes. Nicodemus, and another man, named Joseph, take care of the body of Jesus. They take care of the embalming and burial. In a moment of crisis – their Master has been executed – they take action.
I think it’s remarkable what these men do. They were followers of this Jesus, though Joseph, at least, was secretly a disciple. Perhaps Nicodemus had also been quiet about his faith in this Messiah. As we saw last week, some of his fellow Pharisees raised suspicions that Nick was taking Jesus’ side.
The time of celebrating Passover gets overshadowed, for Jesus’ friends, by this violent death. And now He is buried. Lo, in the grave He lay. Celebrating what this Messiah would do is over also. What is really going to happen next. In the face of what must have felt like disaster and defeat, Nicodemus and Joseph do something important behind the scenes. But they also show themselves to be disciples of this Jesus. When a crisis comes, followers of Christ rise up to do what needs to be done, quietly, generously, faithfully.
Two: Work. Work for many people is changing or has stopped. Me, I’m doing phone visiting now – nothing in person. Maybe I will do some shouting across a street, or phoning people while I see them through their windows. 🙂 That’s a good idea!
We are becoming aware of the work that has run out for many people in this time. For others, going to work is different now: at home, or much quieter, or different things need doing. And some people, still at work, are making sacrifices, because they are at risk of catching the virus. Healthcare workers, for instance.
In that very different situation, Nicodemus and Joseph took on the role of undertakers. It was what was needed. They used their influence and wealth to bury Jesus. Not their usual, day-to-day job, I’m sure.
In Nova Scotia there is a Funeral Cooperative called Arimathea, named after Joseph of Arimathea. Whatever other work he did in his life in the first century, he is remembered for the care he showed on that day of crisis, when Christ was killed.
What can we do in this year of crisis? How does our job change, or our volunteer jobs? I’m sure you are thinking of this already. Continue to pray and discover how the Spirit shall lead you.
Three: Buying and Selling. I had better move along, if we want to get to all seven points!
Shopping ramped up and maybe is petering out now. I’m not sure. The marketplace sure has changed, that is for sure. We are giving up on some of our same old ways of buying and selling. And what it looks like next week, and next month, none can fully forecast. Not to mention the big picture – the industries and the financial markets – and the poorest of the poor at the bottom of the whole system.
Jesus looks to have lived the last few years of His life as a travelling peasant. We never hear of Him doing any carpentry at this stage. The people who were poorest and sickest were often given the most good news by him.
When Christ was born, His Jewish parents faithfully took him to the temple on day eight. They could not afford the usual sacrifice, so they gave the poorer option: a couple pigeons. Thirty some years later, Jesus is executed, and these two wealthy benefactors step in to give him a proper burial. Joseph of Arimathea has enough pull to talk with Pilate and get the body released. Nicodemus has enough resources to provide very generously the embalming spices.
In between Jesus’ birth and death, He spoke, in word and action, of wealth and poverty. In our present mess on Earth, we could still learn more from Christ’s teaching.
Four: Healthcare. We sometimes call Jesus the Great Physician, and well we should, with all the scenes of healing recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We also have had high expectations of our healthcare system here in Canada. How that is shifting and changing right now in NS for this pandemic is complicated.
Many of you know what it is to have a family physician, and then that doctor leaves, or retires. And what do you do? How long do you go without a doctor? Or, how far do you travel to your physician.
Mine is up in Windsor.
Have you ever wondered what the people in Jerusalem, who had been healed by Jesus, thought when He got arrested, interrogated, and executed? The great Teacher, the compassionate Healer, is gone! Also, those who were finding a spiritual rebirth, a new path, emotional stability, new hope. Their Healthcare Worker was gone. For good, most all of them though.
The world has been through disasters of disease and destruction before. The world seems to become a more dangerous place, sometimes suddenly. Do we trust Jesus again, even if He there are moments He appears silent, or absent? In fact, He is not.
Five: Education. What education do people have to give up, now? Schools and colleges have stopped, though for a many it keeps on, online. A theological seminar I always attend in June just got cancelled; a Saturday lecture I help plan is going to be presented in June, but online, I’m guessing.
I don’t need to go over the news about this challenge to students and teachers and everyone involved. I need simply to say two things about this today. One: consider prayerfully the impact of this pandemic on the students and instructors. Two: consider what kind of teachable moment this is for our Rabbi, Jesus. Yes, the One we saw getting buried today. Now, He lives, and in Spirit continues to offer instruction in how to live this life. Yes, even the unexpected turns of life in March of 2020.
Joseph and Nick respected this teacher enough to serve Him when He died. Remember that amazing conversation Nicodemus had with Jesus alone, one night? The One who challenged Nick challenges us today. Let us listen, and learn, and be transformed more, and live.
Of course, in a pandemic, people are going to die. So, of the things we have to give up, number Six is People, people who die! This is the crux of the crisis, of course. The world would not be upset and turned on its head if it were not for a tiny virus that does kill off some of the people it touches. Even when people cannot gather for a funeral or burial, there are burials going on. Perhaps with just two people attending to the body, like Joe and Nick with Jesus, long ago.
Dear Christian, we are prepared for this. Prepared by Jesus Christ. At the heart of the whole story is this moment: Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He can handle death. He can handle a lot of death. God comes into our world and deals with suffering and evil and death this way: He suffers and gets killed by evil. Yet life comes back! The God who truly died, and yet now lives, is the God who can take us through a pandemic. As I said, this has happened before.
And so, we, Seven: Worship together. Except we have had to give that up too. We worship alone today, or in tiny groups. The NT word for the Church is ecclesia, meaning an assembly or gathering of people.
Even when we do not gather in the same place, we can gather ‘in spirit,’ so to speak. Unite in the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus. In the life we know and share already. It goes on, while we are deployed for good work at home, in this strange solitary life now.
Don’t I always say to you that, after Sunday service, we go out to be the Church, wherever we go? It so happens that it may be a long time before we gather together again. Remember those who get shut-in and came to their last service with us long ago. They don’t get to gather in our building, but they (you) are still ‘in the church.’
So it is for all of us now, for a season. Whatever creative ways we find – thanks to technology – to worship together on a Sunday, or study together on a Monday, from our own homes, we keep together in the Spirit and the name of Christ.
Many things we have had to lay down now, and it may feel like these things are dead. But do you believe in resurrection? There will be new life, one day, for celebratory gatherings, for education, for work, for simply visiting one another? I believe in resurrection. And, I believe things will be different. It will be a new life for us all.

Song 516 Be Still and Know

1.  Be still and know that I am God. (X3)
2. I am the Lord that healeth thee. (X3)
3. In thee, O Lord, I put my trust. (X3)

Prayers of the People:

God who is one, who is holy, who is immortal and invisible, only wise: some of us feel one, separate, alone, unseen by others, isolated. We try to act wisely: our purposeful disconnect is for love, love of the whole world. May that love grow in us, even as we cope with a new way to live from day to day.
We give thanks for spring! The plants are awaking and budding. The migratory birds are returning and singing. The days are stretching out, minute by minute. We give thanks for Christ! His journey to the cross we remember, with all the lessons along the way. May we learn from Jesus to face death and disaster. May we gain from Jesus an abundant life.
We give thanks for Church! And family! And friends! We pray now for everyone:
Everyone like Peter, who receives chemotherapy, or other treatment for cancer. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Jean, who receives oxygen at home, or other aids to refresh their living. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Dottie, who waits for surgery or medical help, and wonders how long it will take. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like George, who spends time in hospital, and whose loved-ones wait with them to see what care is needed next. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Alison, who is expecting the birth of a child in these uncertain days, and looks forward to a cherished new life. Jesus, bless.
Everyone like Margo, who is still out at work each day, meeting the public, and needs to keep clean and safe. Jesus, bless.
And everyone whose days are too quiet, and closed in, and uncomfortable, because of social isolation, which can drag spirits and moods down. Jesus, bless.
O Spirit of Holiness and Love, give us a sabbath rest today, as needed. Prepare us for the week ahead. And take delight in us, Your people. Do so even as we pray: Our Father, who art in heaven…

Hymn My Lighthouse

 Benediction       by William Sloane Coffin
May the Lord Bless You and Keep You;
May the Lord Make His Face to Shine Upon You
And Be Gracious Unto You.
May God Give You the Grace 
Not to Sell Yourself Short,
Grace to Risk Something Big
For Something Good,
Grace to Remember that 
The World is Now
Too Dangerous for Anything but Truth, and
Too Small for Anything but Love.
So May God Take Your Minds and
Think Through Them;
May God Take Your Lips and
Speak Through Them; and
May God Take Your Hearts and 
Set Them On Fire,
Through the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

A Day of Remembrance

(Exodus 12:1-14) J G White

Sunday, Sept 10, 2017, UBC Digby

Our world is in a stormy state of affairs.  The hurricanes south of us continue to threaten and destroy.  The monsoons in India, Bangladesh and Nepal killed more than 1,200, by the end of August.  Not to mention the storms of politics and powers.  

[Remembering] Of course, we are at a time of year in the west when the work and sacrifice of emergency responders is remembered.  Today in Canada is National Firefighters Memorial Day.  It seems to me that remembering and honouring has become a stronger urge in so many people in the past sixteen years.  

Around September 11th each year the one thing I am inclined to see again is the 2002 documentary simply called “9/11”, by French filmmakers, Jules & Gedeon Naudet, about Fire Battalion 1, NYC…

This one way I remember September 11, 2001.

We read from Exodus 12, the Passover in ancient Israel.  A special remembering.  A Day of Remembering.  “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.”  Some events are so important, so traumatic, so dramatic, so formative in a nation that they are remembered forever.  Many of us, from childhood, have know the stories of Moses and the ‘Children of Israel’ escaping from slavery in Egypt and finding their way to a Promised Land.  There is great beauty in this story, great violence, great miracles, great humanity.  For ancient Israel the exodus was the big saving moment for them, among the other rescues in their history.  So the annual ceremony of Passover was instituted.  To tell the story again and again; to act it out; to pass it on to each generation. Never forget.

This kind of community remembering has such power.  At its best it includes looking back with fresh eyes, seeing new things, learning new lessons from our shared past.

[Remembering anew, looking back]

Terry LeBlanc spoke at Oasis in August, up in Moncton.  A first nations/acadian man, his work is with NAIITS, and indigenous learning community, across North America.  At the university level, he is an indigenous educator.  He told us a story of a grandfather’s advice, when getting out into the wilderness, along an unclear trail: look back often, watch for the landmarks…

And we look back in history, in Canadian history in this 150 year.  And looking back we see things differently.  We keep learning.  History gets retold from different perspectives.  We had forgotten how we got here. We are learning anew.

So it can be for us in many circumstances, in any of the paths we take.  When a long-term relationship is getting old, look back together, look deeply.  When a job – paying or volunteer – is wearying or wearing you down, look back and review what you have done, or how it all started.  When a hardship or sadness continues to haunt you, do the therapeutic work of looking back, and find new healing.

We continue our Remembering theme with Jesus at the Lord’s Table.  Like Passover for the Jews, Holy Communion for the Christian community is a ritual meal that is about remembering is a special way.  A way that bring into the present what was real in the past.  

We postponed our monthly communion this month.  We have such freedom to do whatever we want; not always on the first Sunday.  Back at the start of the Passovers, I find it so compelling they are told, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.” A somber celebration so important, it becomes their New Year.  Indeed, it was a new beginning for this giant clan of slaves.  Really, they become a nation when they get free, and spend forty trying years headed to their Promised Land.  

Communion: the life of God, poured out so we can live.  Does it seem to you like a ceremony of new beginning?  True belonging?  Fresh identity?  Invigorated life?

All day long today, I will try to remember to eat well and drink lots of fluids. Why?  Tomorrow, while many of you are eating supper, I will be lying down to donate blood, at a clinic in Saulnierville.  One sometimes wonders where the blood will go, what sort of person in what kind of trouble will get that transfusion.  That transfusion that is life-giving.  Of course, one never ever will know.  

Christ our passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast… 1 Corinthians 5:7.  With our very simple, Baptist communion service, we keep the feast, the ritual part of it.  Keeping on living with the life of Jesus in us, the rest of the month, that is the real feast of life!  

How idealistic we preachers always are.  And maybe that is fine… how all sermons should be: motivating and pointing to things far better than we have yet reached.

We can need prompting to remember our spiritual progress in this life.  Because we forget.  The highlights, the mountaintop experiences, the seasons of spiritual progress, can all get lost in the drudgery of the present.  Remembering Jesus from the standpoint of a devoted disciple is a refresher that even monthly communion services can help us do.  

Remember your first love. Christ.  Revelation 2:4, in a Letter to the Church at Ephesus, warns that the people of that congregation had abandoned their first love, their connection with Jesus.

Remember your best steps as a disciple of Jesus.  Do you remember?  My penchant for quoting lyrics for every occasion tempts me to sing now:
Do you remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh so mellow?

So how do we rewrite it for our walk of faith?  
Do you remember the kind of Saviour when life was… what? What was your life like when Christ drew near?

My experience of God, in Jesus, has certainly changed through the years.  It’s to be expected.  Some moments are so vivid. Once, in my apartment on King Street in Windsor, I sat alone in the front room, trying to be prayerful.  At one point I imagined Jesus coming into the room.  I wanted to see Him as He might have been in Galilee.  Not a tall, pale, european Jesus from a painting or stained-glass window.  But a shorter, darker, Middle-Eastern Man.  

And so I saw Him that way. He had a very serious face. He came in the door, and stayed facing at an angle away from me.  But He saw me.  

And I saw Him.  I shall always remember that prayerful imagining with Him.  And when I remember, I am reminded, encouraged, to seek Him more.

Today may be a day of remembrance, for more than one thing.  And tomorrow too.  And the next day.  May we find a feast for the soul on many days of our lives, and get from the gift of remembering some grace from God.

God Will Keep You

Lent 2 (Ps 121; Ex 12:1-4a; Mtt 8:23-27)
March 12, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

Back in school days, I must have read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. (1903)  The one scene I remember in the whole saga about Buck the dog, is in chapter 6, at a point when Buck has deeply bonded with his new master, John Thornton.  As strong a love as possible between dog and man existed between Buck and Thornton. Let Jack London tell the scene…

Nothing was too great for Buck to do, when Thornton commanded.  One day… the men and dogs were sitting on the crest of a cliff which fell away, straight down, to naked bedrock three hundred feet below.  John Thornton was sitting near the edge, Buck at his shoulder.  A thoughtless whim seized Thornton, and he drew the attention of Hans and Pete to the experiment he had in mind. “Jump, Buck!” he commanded, sweeping his arm out and over the chasm.  The next instant he was grappling with Buck on the extreme edge, while Hans and Pete were dragging them back into safety.  (p. 83)
Absolute love and trust.  

Life with God, in the will of God, hearing from God, is a life of love and trust.  Confidence in the One we are joined to.  Sure that we are being ‘kept,’ kept safe, kept forever. Only when we know the Master so well are we free from fear and ready to obey any and every command.

We looked back, way back, this morning, to Abram and Sarai, ancient Hebrews, we might call them. They lived in one part of the Middle East.  They were told to go… move on.  By God.  What do they do?  They go.  They just go.  Not even being told where they are going, they go.  They step out in faith.   They were confident in the One who spoke, and in the message.

But many of us falter at the critical step of hearing commands from our Master.  How do I get guidance from Christ?  Do I get guidance from Him?  Is there not much being said, or am I just not hearing or seeing a whole lot that is being said all around me?

Though I think of myself as an optimist, I am also a skeptic.  Skeptical about miracles, signs & wonders, angels and ghosts and near-death experiences.   If you listen closely to what I don’t say, you may notice I don’t often say, “God told me to…” or “Christ healed so-and-so,” or “That turned out the way it was meant to be.”  I tend to experience the voice of God as a subtle, silent, rare thing.  My feeling or sense of the Holy Spirit being present is seldom.

Years ago, in one of my Celtic devotional books, this quotation caught my attention.  It seemed so beautiful.  It seemed so true to me.  It seems so dangerous.  Maybe it’s wrong?

The more a human being advances in the Christian faith, the more they live the presence of God as an absence, the more they accept to die to the idea of becoming aware of God, of fathoming Him.  For they have learned, while advancing, that God is unfathomable. [And from then on the presence of God assumed value in their eyes only against the backdrop of absence.] The mystic, in his long and complicated pilgrimage, experiences alternately the presence and absence of God.  By, by degrees, the absence of God is felt more and more and the mystic understands that this absence is now [normal] the norm.  Thus the mystic is someone who has had a long-term confrontation with God, like Jacob in the struggle that he waged all through the night, someone who does not cease to confront God.  God always precedes us, we see Him only from behind, He walks ahead, He is ahead of us. What the mystic experiences – and every Christian is a mystic because it is not the great illuminations that are the mark of the mystic but the night, an everyday night – is a kind of distancing from God in proportion to advances in the deepening of their faith.  
(Jean Francois Six, Is God Endangered by Believers, 1983)

How shall I know my Saviour so well, as a Friend, if hearing the Master’s voice is so hidden and absent?
Hearing from God, knowing the Master’s voice, is a matter of confidence.  Having faith and trust in our God.  Who this Holy God is, who is also called Love.

Abram and Sarai went as the LORD had told them, with other family members, toward an unknown future.  Abraham is commended for his faith, at various times in scripture.  Faith in who this God was and faithfulness in doing what the divine guidance told them to do.  Later on, you may know, when they finally have a child of their own, Abraham is to take young Isaac out in the wild for a sacrifice. Isaac is to be the human sacrifice!  But at the last moment, God’s angel stops Abraham and points out a nearby animal that can be slaughtered.
Sounds a bit to me like Thornton and his dog, Buck, at the cliff edge.  A dangerous test of training and relationship.

Another Bible story today also could be a test, of sorts.  Jesus stills the storm.  Of course, all the men in the little boat must face the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Notice, Jesus was sleeping in the boat, while His friends were panicking.  They had nothing to fear: Jesus knew this; the disciples did not.

Dallas Willard said many times that we humans are perfectly safe in this life within the Kingdom of God.  Even if you are being destroyed and killed, you are safe in the arms of God.  Jesus knew this, on the storm-tossed boat, that day.

There is something to be said for being able to rest and to sleep.  Or simply to relax when going through life’s stresses and challenges.  Walking with Christ, living in the Kingdom now, gives a peace over and above the pains and problems and fears of everyday life.  Psalm 127 says,
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he give sleep to his beloved.
We can be at ease, because our God is always alert.  

Today’s Psalm, 121, says, he who watches over… will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– by day… by night.  Our timeless God is present and alert, always. God will keep you, the Psalm says.  God will keep your life.  God never slumbers, so we can. We can be still, when all around is the rough sea.

This is the Supreme Being we worship here.  This is the One we seek to hear.  To see.  To know.  To befriend.  To obey.  To serve with.  To love.  ‘Hearing from God’ is about this God, who is present, even when all seems lost, even when God seems lost to us.

Years ago, author and pastor Richard Foster was working in a family counselling centre, and was becoming interested in how prayers of healing worked with emotional needs.  
A man came to him who had lived in constant fear and bitterness for twenty-eight years.  He would wake up at night, screaming and in a cold sweat. He lived in constant depression, so much so that his wife said that he had not laughed for many years.

The man told Foster the story of what had happened those many years before that had caused such a deep sadness to hang over him.  He was in Italy during the Second World War and was in charge of a mission of thirty-three men.  They became trapped by enemy gunfire.  With deep sorrow in his eyes, this man related how he had prayed desperately that God would get them out of that mess. It was not to be.  He had to send his men out two by two and watch them get killed.  Finally in the early hours of the morning he was able to escape with six men – four seriously wounded.  He had only a flesh wound.  He said that the experience turned him into an atheist.  Certainly, his heart was filled with rage, bitterness, and guilt.

His counsellor, Foster, said, ‘Don’t you know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lives in the eternal now, can enter that old painful memory and heal it so that it will no longer control you?’  He did not know this was possible.  Foster asked if he would mind if he prayed for him – never might that he was an atheist; he would have faith for him.  He nodded his consent.  Sitting beside him with his hand on the man’s shoulder, Richard Foster invited the Lord Jesus to go back those twenty-eight years and walk through that day with this good man.  ‘Please Lord,’ Foster asked, ‘draw out the hurt and the hate and the sorrow and set him free.’  Almost as an afterthought, he asked for peaceful sleep to be one of the evidences of this healing work, for the fellow had not slept well for all those years.  ‘Amen.’

The next week he came up to the counsellor with a sparkle in his eyes and a brightness on his face…  ‘Every night I have slept soundly and each morning I have awakened with a hymn on my mind.  And I am happy… happy for the first time in twenty-eight years.’ …That was many years ago, and the wonderful thing is that although this man… had the normal ups and downs of life since then, the old sorrows… never returned.  (Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, 1992, pp. 218-19)

Perfect love casts out fear, says scripture.(1 Jn 4:18)  This testimony of a man about freedom from the past is but one example, and you have your own stories to tell.  You know this already.  God will keep you.  Even when there is silence.  When God seems not even to be there, to exist.  One poet prayed:

In Your presence there is an absence
silencing my greatest fear.
It is with You that I know the essence
of what is life, now that You’re near.

It is in the absence of Your presence
that I rekindle my desire;
and it is when I am without You
That I burn, an inextinguishable fire.

In Your presence there is an absence
of all that preys upon my mind;
for my heart’s desire’s before me,
and I leave all else behind.

It is in the absence of Your presence
that I have learned to be apart.
It is without You that I am with You;
for You are Joy within my heart.

  • Janet Rimmer

Then, when the hidden God says, “Go,” we may go, confidently.  Then, when the Cosmic Christ says, “I will go back in your life and be there for you,” we find freedom from our past.  Then, when the Spirit of Truth speaks ever so quietly, we will recognize and understand.  God will keep your life.  

Next Sunday we will explore some factors of God’s still, small voice that help us recognize it as the voice of the Master.