Worship, May 8 – Genesis: a New Beginning

WELCOME to this post for the worship service for ‘Mothers Day’ 2022. Full service details and announcements can be found in the Bulletin, here on our website. After the service, some video clips will be included in this post.

SERMON: Almost two weeks ago, I was planning my final five sermons. I would call them Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That same day, I was feeling under the weather, and tested positive for COVID-19. My final five became the final four messages! 

And it is just as well I did not preach last weekend, because on that Tuesday I got very frustrated and unhappy with you. Sharon and I were packing up the garbage and recycling around here, and what I found in the bins in the kitchen drove me wild! Ugh, I thought, after eight years, eight years here! these people still are a train wreck of recycling. 

Anyway, I cooled down, and got over it. “Gardez votre sang froid.” I’ve had more time to plan my preaching. Today, I have planned this Genesis theme: new beginnings. A new beginning for us church people is what is about to happen this year. 

Perhaps all the trash we keep putting into the world, our climate impact, our spreading of invasive species, and so forth, calls for a new creation, a new bang to start it all over again! It is hard to have hope with all the discouraging news around us. How can things be refreshed without crashing and burning first?

The timeless message of Genesis chapter one is timeless because it speaks of a newness that can happen again and again. God is a God of new beginnings.

There can be Genesis out of chaos: there can be a new beginning out of the dark. The famous first sentences of the Bible paint a picture of a chaotic realm where nothing much is. Only disorder and darkness are there, for the Spirit of God to hover upon. 

Into that unorganized void the Creator spoke. ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light, a good light. 

This scene gets at something that is deeply true about reality, and the God of it all. Light, goodness, order, can come out of dark disorder. ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn,’ we say. Out of chaos comes beautiful things.

On this Mothers Day I notice some mothering images in the Bible. I mentioned Romans 8 just a few weeks ago. To me this paragraph is exciting, but also mysterious. I’m not quite sure I understand it. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor, 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved.

Somehow, this whole world matters. Matters to God. I know, we sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” but the New Heavens and the New Earth come together at the end of the whole story. And, as Paul seemed to think, the whole creation groans as if in labour, along with us, waiting for soul and body to be renewed.

Things are rather dark for creation, or so it looks to us. The collapse of the environment, including the climate, could well be a crisis. We people are so slow to change, to figure it out, to do what needs to be done and to stop what we need to stop doing. But may springtime around us inspire us. Remind us that the cycle of life is but a hint of the creation from chaos that started it all. The will to live, in all things, is great. It is from God. It will go on.

Here are some things I saw springing up in recent days…

Our main text today was from Acts, chapter 9. The famous conversion of Saul, who mostly gets called Paul. This is Genesis out of evil: there can be a new beginning in the life of wrongdoers

Now is perhaps like other moments we have known, when our faith in humanity is damaged. There are too many people doing too much wrong too often. Just this past week, the apartment next door to my parent’s house was raided by the police and a bunch of ‘troublemakers’ living there were taken away in handcuffs. Nearby, in the village where my cottage is, there was a murder committed. Yesterday, up in Parrsboro, where I lived 20-some years ago, theft of copper wire at two sub-stations put the power out in a third of Cumberland County!

And this is just the local news.

And these are the extreme cases of wrongdoing. Of course, our scripture is of Saul, quite a serious wrongdoer. No wonder the Christian fellow, Ananias, is reluctant to believe Saul is scheduled to get prayer and blessings.

You and I are all here at our various stages of recovery from sin. We worship because we know the One who has given us new life. There has been a genesis out of evil, a new beginning; maybe more than 1 new beginning for us. And we strive to have confidence in a God who can work such miracles in all human souls. 

I think of someone I know, and you know, who went through a dark night of the soul, twenty years ago. If she were here today, she could tell you how she got to a crisis point, dealing with the abuses in her life, her mental health, and the choices she had made. It was a make or break moment when she called out, wondering if God was really there. And God broke through to her. God was there!

That was Sharon White, and it happened to here while she was living in, of all places, Amherst, NS. Jesus, the Light of the world, breaks through in people’s lives.

This is a traditional “three point” sermon today. So thirdly, I’d say I believe in Genesis out of the faithful: there can be a new beginning in the life of a Christian

This we see in the story of Ananias, here in Acts 9. He’s a ‘good guy’ in the story, a disciple of the risen Jesus; yet he also has some learning to do, and a fresh conversion of himself. Ananias of Damascus is given a little mission: to go to a certain home on one of the main streets in town, to pray and bless a visiting man named Saul of Tarsus. Ananias seems quite alarmed! This Saul is well-known as an opponent to the new movement of Jesus followers. 

Ananias needs a conversion, and he gets it. He does respond to God’s prompting, and goes to this home where the enemy is staying, lays hands for prayer upon Saul, and speaks the promises to him. Saul then sees again. But Ananias also sees something new: more was possible than he expected. 

There is always more for us, as followers of Christ. We are always pilgrims on a journey. I think one of the great ‘spiritual formation’ texts in the Bible is from Galatians 4. The apostle Paul wrote to his Christian brothers and sisters to encourage them. Paul was very emotional, he wanted his friends to make progress! 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Paul felt like he was trying to give birth to these believers, he deeply wanted them to be more and more like Jesus.

I must admit I have also had times when I’ve felt this way. I’ve longed for one person to study the Bible more, for another person to develop their ways of talking about their faith, and for someone else to declare themselves to be Christian by getting baptized. It is sometimes my job to be a spiritual midwife to other believers, as it was for Paul, and help Christ ‘be formed in you’ one stage more.

There can be a genesis for church people: a new beginning. As there was a new step of faith and action in the life of Ananias. He went ahead with his God-given mission to bless nasty Saul.

So for the ‘conversion’ of believers I also pray. ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Perhaps as you pray for me, my next chapter will also have a Genesis, and by some miracle I too will be better than ever before. Keep on praying with your life for the renewal of the earth, for the renewal of those who seem wicked or wrecked, and for the renewal of those who are Christians. Our Mighty God blesses all!

Worship, Sept 12 – Creativity

WELCOME to this post for the worship of God among the people of Digby Baptist Church. After the service, video is included from the service. More details are available here on our website under the Bulletins page.

Creativity (Gen 1:1-24a; John 1:1-5) – J G White. 11 am, Sunday, Sept 12, 2021, UBC Digby

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

That is the first sentence of the 1830 novel called Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. “It was a dark and stormy night” has been a cliche for so long; few people know its source.

As I said last Sunday, the ways we tell our stories matter. Including the ways we begin them. “Once upon a time,” is pretty common. In scripture today we found that Genesis 1 and John1 both start with “In the beginning.”

Dick Parry read the start of the whole thing today, but he also knows an amplified version of  Gen 1:1-3, so I’ll have him give that you to now:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3  And God said, Let there be light: (and Moses being the duty electrician, flipped the switch) and there was light (and you could see for miles and miles).

That’s a bit of creative writing! As I wondered, this past week, what kind of sermon to ‘create,’ I saw a few options. I could simply expound upon the Christian doctrine of creation. I could take on the environmental crisis and speak of creation care in our day and age. I could get very Bible nerdy and get into the weeds of all the details about Genesis 1 with an in-depth Bible study.

Rather than these, I have felt inspired at the end of the week to speak about creativity, and this is rooted in these two texts about the Creator creating. In the image of the Creator we are made, and we get to create things too; we are co-creators with our Master. “Once Upon a Time” is really a place-holder for a sermon title. I now simply call this “Creativity.”

We have, today, this incredible, very old, very famous, very influential story, Genesis One (and it runs over into Genesis Two): the seven day creation story. Before we think about the difference this makes in our lives, let me take note of one detail. This first Biblical creation story is about form and function, more than it is about how physical stuff got made in the first place. This chapter, like others that follow, was written not only in the old Hebrew language of the people of long ago, it was, naturally, given to them so they could understand it. It is told in their view of the world, their understanding, their culture. As Bible scholar, John Walton, puts it, this is from their ‘cultural river.’ To understand it well, we need to wade into the cultural river of the ancient Hebrews of the Middle East. 

And it appears that the ancient peoples of the whole area, then, did not tell their creation stories to explain where all the stuff came from in the world. They told the stories to explain how things work, what they do, and how they have purpose. The land, the skies, the sea, the creatures, the people, the sun and the moon – they all are created with place and purpose. What they are made of, and where those atoms and photons came from, was not of interest to them, long ago. And I think God did not need to explain much to them about where the world came from. It was simply all from God.  

Genesis 1 is creatively told, in its ancient way. Our own eyes and experience also tell us how wonderfully put together all things are. And we come up with our own ways of delighting in the creation of which we are part. We find our ways of being co-creators too, partnering with God to run the world, and grow it, and point it in the right direction. We take the raw materials, and make something beautiful for God. 

It is this chapter that speaks of humans being made in the image of God: Adam, which means Humankind, created in the image of God. There are a lot of claims about what this means, to be made ‘in the image of God.’ I think it includes being creators: made in the image of Creator.

So, we all create. We all are creative. I know, I know, some of you say, in general, you are not creative. And I know what you mean. Ya don’t sing or play an instrument, you don’t write poetry, you can’t draw or paint, you’re just not a right-brained person! But we all are creators; we have our creative talents that come out, especially when we find our way, some opportunities, and the Spirit inspires us. 

Just yesterday, after a woman sang a hymn, while playing her guitar, she sang a gospel song she had written herself, and showed me the words for another she had written. Nine days ago I saw the creative cooking of fudges and pies and squares and all manner of baked goods here. Over the past couple weeks, Sharon White has been repainting and reappointing things at our cottage, in her clean, functional, creative way. A couple weeks ago, I asked one of you/our local artists to create a cartoon for our bulletin cover, and you/she did it very nicely. 🙂

We might think of such talents as the real gifts from God. But is there not a much longer list? What about the problem solvers, who can sort out how to plan an event well, or rewrite a bureaucratic document, or create a plan for a trip away. What about a person who is great at retail, or has a real knack for marketing? Or creative parenting that mothers and fathers and grandparents must use with children these days? What about a gardener, who can grow flowers so naturally, and puts them together in the ground in such beautiful combinations. 

Or the farmers who need to find creative ways to deal with challenges every week! Sharon and I got out to the cottage a week ago, too late to see the pigs that had got loose from the local organic farm, and were eating their way through the neighbourhood. Our neighbours said the farmers came along with branches in each hand, and shooed them all back where they belonged. 

What more can I say? About creative money management, nature research and activism, political know-how, the gift of the gab – or of letter writing. (I think immediately of our dear, departed Maureen Potter when I think of letter writing.) The normal, everyday things we do call forth the creative powers of us all. It’s just that you do some things well I can’t, and vice versa. 

Along with acknowledging the little creative skills we each have been given, is the need, the calling even, to encourage people to find their creative power and use it. 

One of the spiritual teachers I listen to is Jan Phillips. She is not really even a Christian – I’d call her post-Christian – but her experience and wisdom, and creativity, are helpful to me. She tells of teaching a course , years ago, at a summer conference in New York state for the International Women’s Writing Guild. Jan said, ‘I went into the room and I was with all these women among four hundred attendees and my thought was that I’m in the midst of all these marvelous women who are writing down their life. But as they raised their hands to my query of what they were writing, they began giving me all different reasons for why they were not writing.

One said, “I don’t have time to write”; the next one, “I don’t have a space to write …my husband doesn’t support me, my kids are in my hair, I don’t think I have a story worth telling.” They gave me a whole litany of reasons why they were not writing.

 So I thought it would be a good idea for us to explore what each of our obstacles were to commitment and …see if we could spin it around and turn our obstacle into an opportunity.

The responses of the women at the conference eventually became an Artists Creed, and then a book that Jan Phillips was inspired to write. It is all encouragement for a person to do their artistic work, their creative thing. Jan tends to speak of God as the Muse who inspires, and also tends to use female imagery – just to prepare you…

The Artist’s Creed

  1. I believe I am worth the time it takes to create whatever I feel called to create.
  2. I believe that my work is worthy of its own space, which is worthy of the name Sacred.
  3. I believe that, when I enter this space, I have the right to work in silence, uninterrupted, for as long as I choose.
  4. I believe that the moment I open myself to the gifts of the Muse, I open myself to the Source of All Creation and become One with the Mother of Life Itself.
  5. I believe that my work is joyful, useful, and constantly changing, flowing through me like a river with no beginning and no end.
  6. I believe that what it is I am called to do will make itself known when I have made myself ready.
  7. I believe that the time I spend creating my art is as precious as the time I spend giving to others.
  8. I believe that what truly matters in the making of art is not what the final piece looks like or sounds like, not what it is worth or not worth, but what newness gets added to the universe in the process of the piece itself becoming.
  9. I believe that I am not alone in my attempts to create, and that once I begin the work, settle into the strangeness, the words will take shape, the form find life, and the spirit take flight.
  10.  I believe that as the Muse gives to me, so does she deserve from me: faith, mindfulness, and enduring commitment.”  

(Jan Phillips, Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity, 1997) 

Perhaps you hear the voice of your Master in a few of these ideas. And the Spirit of God will encourage you to do those little things you can do so beautifully, or take on that bigger project that might not even get much attention. 

To do some good work with Jesus in this world, that’s what it’s all about. (Notice, in the incredible start of John’s gospel, it is Jesus who is the Word, who is there at creation, and nothing gets made without Jesus.) Perhaps nothing good really gets done around here today, without Jesus!

So, Church, as creative people, what do we have to offer the world that they cannot get elsewhere? 

When it comes to being creative, in the image of God, we have training in connecting with the Creator, the Muse who inspires our lives. 

We offer encouragement that any person’s creative spark is within the will and purpose of God for that person. 

We can give some opportunities for folks to express themselves and contribute to the work of the Spirit. 

The seven steps of creation and rest in Genesis 1 draw us into the life of our Creator, and God’s work in this world – past, present and future – beginning, middle and end. Remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and you are here to be a maker. Remember that those you meet are also in the image of the Creative God, broken and bad as we all sometimes are. Remember that the good news of Jesus includes His creative power, that lives on in us, as we call ourselves Christians.

PRAYER after the Sermon
O Saviour, create a sense of wisdom in us, so we know how to live well.
Create new hope and joy in our hearts, for this year has drained us of emotional energy.
Create for us opportunities for our faith to flourish.
Create in us a strong will to obey and be free in You.
Create space for us to be the artists You want us to be.
Create new ways for us to function as Church, Your body in the world today.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. AMEN.

BENEDICTION
Now, let the breathing Spirit of God
overflow in your life, empowering you.
Let the beautiful Saviour God set your spirit free
to share good news wherever you go.
Let the bountiful Creator God
open the eyes of your heart
to see all that is being done,
for the good of the world. AMEN.

Creative Relations

(Genesis 11 – 2:3; Hebrews 1:1-4) J G White

Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017, UBC Digby

This afternoon Sharon and I head to Truro for an annual seminar on spirituality and new thinking. On two occasions there in past years, I have had the pleasure of hearing Sister M. T. Winter, a feminist theologian and author. We here know her best, perhaps, as a songwriter – Joy Is Like the Rain, I Cannot Come to the Banquet, Spirit of God.

M. T. asks, in her 2009 book, Paraxodology,

What would it be like if we approached every new acquaintance as if we had met before?  As if we had something in common. As if we were related.  As if we were already friends.  Can you imagine what this would do for planetary peace?  There would be no point in building walls along our nation’s borders when the walls within us that keep people out are finally coming down.  (p. 165)

At the heart of Faith, our Faith, is relationship.  We are relations to one another.  And to all of creation.  And to God.  Hence the old language of God the Father and Jesus our Friend and Brother.  Hence, the beautiful picture of One God as Three Persons.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is one of the Persons, not an It, but a Him (or Her). God is Three; God is Relationship: good, beautiful, perfect relationship. God is love.

All the broken relationships call out for the healing and reconciling God gives.  Our broken relationship with the earth and all living things. Our broken relationships with people: lately, I have been longing for healing among some folk I know who have become enemies of each other.     Our broken relationships with the Divine.  The Good News is that the Holy One takes the big steps to reconcile with us: the story of Jesus brings us back.  

I looked for a short story to celebrate our God who is the very model & source of good relations & conversation.

Cynthia Bourgeault, of the Center for Action and Contemplation, in New Mexico, shares this illustration of communication and fellowship with God.

(https://cac.org/the-tea-cupboard-2017-03-13/)

…Let me offer you a story that was told to me by my longtime friend and teacher, the Abkhazian dervish elder Murat Yagan.

In the years immediately following World War II, Murat recounts, he spent time in a remote corner of eastern Turkey. There he became friends with an elderly couple. Life had been good to them, but their one sadness was that they missed their only son, who had left some years before to work in Istanbul.

One day when Murat visited them, the old couple were bursting with pride, eager to show him the new tea cupboard that their son had just shipped from Istanbul. It was indeed a handsome piece of furniture, and the woman had already arranged her best tea set on its upper shelf. Murat was polite but curious. Why would their son go through such an expense to send them a tea cupboard? And if the purpose of this piece of furniture was storage, why were there no drawers? “Are you sure it’s a tea cupboard?” Murat asked. They were sure.

But the question continued to nag at Murat. Finally, just before taking his leave, he said, “Do you mind if I have a look at this tea cupboard?” With their permission, he turned the backside around and unscrewed a couple of packing boards. A set of cabinet doors swung open to reveal inside a fully operative ham radio set.

That “tea cupboard,” of course, was intended to connect the couple to their son. But unaware of its real contents, they were simply using it to display their china.

Bourgeault concludes: what if inside the Trinity is concealed a powerful communications tool that could connect us to the rest of reality (visible and invisible), allow us to navigate our way through many of the doctrinal and ethical logjams of our time, and place the teachings of Jesus in a dynamic framework that would truly unlock their power?

It is simply a matter of turning the tea cabinet around and looking inside. I know that there is indeed a ham radio concealed inside this Trinitarian tea cupboard. At a time when spiritual imagination and boldness are at an all-time low and the Christian church hovers at the edge of demise, perhaps now more than ever the time is ripe to remove the packing board from this tea cupboard and release its contents.

Look deeply into God.  The Trinity is not afar off, but is very close.  Remember – every day this week, every morning, noon and night – that the Saviour is communicating, in every language you can hear and see and smell and touch.  God is cheering us on, in every one of our prayers, every flower blossoming before our eyes, every scripture we read.  The connection can seem hidden, but it is there.  There is a Spirit who is bringing your spirit to birth, in every chapter of this life.   AMEN.