WELCOME to this post for worship at Digby Baptist on the third Sunday of Advent 2021. We celebrated the baptism of believers today, among other things. The full service plan is in the bulletin, also found here on our website.
Prayers of the People God, when You are a Child, we are stopped like a deer in the headlights. The familiar images of infant Jesus still draw us in, touch our spirits, and challenge us to be people of deeper faith. Holy, holy, holy are You.
Generous God, this whole season declares that You give Yourself to us, not to mention every other gift in life. We pray today for people who do not have enough gifts, not even the necessities of life. No home, no work, not enough food, or health, or family or friends, or faith. Bless those who receive the gifts we give, through our benevolent work, through the local Food Bank, through our other donations. We dedicate all our offerings today in the name of Jesus.
Loving God, hear our heart’s cry, for our own hearts go out to people dear to us who face troubles. Our folk who are in and out of hospitals: bless as much as possible. Douglas staying in Yarmouth, Joe and Dwight and others with many appointments. May they find Your healing in all their journey.
We also pray to bless those dear to us who are now far from us. We seek grace for Dianne and Sonny who are away for the winter now, and others who are gone long term, like John and Evelyn, Dick and Della, Lee, Marina.
Infinite God, we intercede for this world. More flooding destroys, in South Sudan, and in Indonesia: have mercy. COVID-19 infections grow so much in some places, like South Korea: heal and protect, we pray. New leadership begins in the world, such as in Germany: guide and inspire, O God.
Personal God, we approach You like friends, long known to one another and still looking forward to each time together. Keep speaking, and we shall give You our attention, even our adoration. Jesus, our Joy-giver, we rejoice today with great hope! AMEN.
Sermon: Without Price ‘Tis the season of gift-giving and receiving. I love getting and giving gifts, though, even at my age, I am still often more excited about getting stuff than giving.
The other day I went down to Yarmouth and visited in the hospital. First time in at least twenty months doing that. Before I got there I happened to meet up with a colleague in the mall, sitting on a bench with his wife. Shawn and I had been at Divinity College together. He’s pastor of Yarmouth North Baptist Church. It was a nice little reunion and time to catch up on lots of things.
One thing Shawn advised me: my clergy nametag for the hospital won’t let me out of the parking lot for free any more. There is, like at our own hospital in town, a $4 fee. I never have twoonies or loonies on me! But Shawn said, ‘When you get to the gate, press the button and talk to Security. Tell them you are a pastor; they should let you out.” He was right; I was let out – for free.
‘Free’ things get us excited, eh? But I was really given several ‘free things’ on Friday in Yarmouth. A visit with old friends: Shawn and Darlene. An opportunity to visit Doug Hales in the hospital. And free parking, as usual.
Here, together, we are worshipping God. God who is all about giving free gifts of many kinds. We see at the pinnacle what we call ‘salvation’ – a life that is better, healed, forgiven, reconciled, and enduring beyond death. This rests upon a huge heap of other benefits that God gives, ‘unnumbered blessings,’ Priceless things.
Ardith helped us read from Isaiah 55, a little chapter full of rich images: word pictures that transcend time and space. Not only were the words of the prophet good news for exiled Hebrews 2,700 years ago, they came true even more with the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus, 2,000 ys ago.
It starts off with free stuff. Actually, free necessities.
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
‘Without price.’ Good food and drink, with a price tag of zero. It’s a great picture of God’s Kingdom, the one we pray for each time with the Lord’s Prayer. God’s economy is all gifts, free gifts, shared, abundant. It is physical, it is social, it is spiritual. Ask Wendy, ask Iain, about what Christ has done in their lives and you would hear some very practical stories. As Romans 5 and 6 say, over and over, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This eternal life has begun now, with pure and practical blessings.
Remember, at the end of August, when I asked for suggestions for the next Sunday sermon? One of the ideas was The Beatitudes, those poetic promises at the beginning of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 5.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” And so on.
That whole sermon will be for another day, but let me point out now something I learned from author Dallas Willard. These may not be instructions on how to be blessed: work at being poor in spirit, mourning, meek, etc. No, this may really be a declaration that the promised Kingdom of God is truly available even to people who are already the poor, the meek, those who hunger for what’s right, those who work to make peace. Jesus is free for the taking for every kind of person. God is available.
So I love Isaiah 55:6 Seek the Lord while he may be found, / call upon him while he is near… In December we keep singing about Emmanuel: God with us. Jesus makes the Holy Creator available to us in an unmatched way.
Joining Christianity through the waters of baptism is a free gift, from God and the Church. We charged no fee to Wendy or Iain! But is it truly free to be part of Digby Baptist, or any other congregation? Not on paper, and I must confess I could take issue with this. Officially, our membership here requires money. Our Act of Incorporation states that The person who shall be entitled to vote at such annual or other meeting of the congregation, shall, along with other stipulations …have been, regular worshipers in the church for the then past six months, and for that period regular contributors to its support. To be in good standing you need to give money.
But what, I ask, what about people who are destitute, or deep in debt, or some such situation? Do they dare become active members? Better for them to be entitled to vote by being regular receivers of our financial support! Membership without price. That’s just an idea of mine. 😉
How can a group like us be a good reflection of God’s Kingdom? That’s what we ask when we worship, when we baptize, when we fellowship one with another. There must be giving that does not count the cost, so to speak. Thus baptism of a believer is without price, as it were. In another sense, it is very costly: Christ demands our all, the whole person, turned over to Him. This is the way of freedom.
Grace is free giving. Blessing with more than could be done without God. Love is free giving of care and attention. Giving of ourselves to one another, just as God gave God to us – especially in Jesus.
No wonder Isaiah, many times, paints the hopeful picture of a realm where everything is plentiful and in harmony. Chapter 11, 35, 43, 65, and of course chapter 55.
12 the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle…
The cultural demands of Christmas spending stand in deep contrast with the biblical images of God’s generosity, and the visions of a creation renewed and plentiful.
In her beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer has a chapter about strawberries, the wild strawberries she picked in her childhood. I experienced the world in that time as a gift economy, “goods and services” not purchased but received as gifts from the earth. (Milkweed Editions, 2013, p. 24, 26)
My father loved wild strawberries, so for Father’s Day my mother would almost always make him strawberry shortcake. She baked the crusty shortcakes and whipped the heavy cream, but we kids were responsible for the berries. We each got an old jar or two and spent the Saturday before the celebration out in the fields, taking forever to fill them as more and more berries ended up in our mouths. Finally, we returned home and poured them out on the kitchen table to sort out the bugs. I’m sure we missed some, but Dad never mentioned the extra protein.
Wild strawberries fit the definition of a gift, bt grocery store berries do not. It’s the relationship between producer and consumer that changes everything. As a gift-thinker, I would be deeply offended if I saw wild straw-berries in the grocery store. I would want to kidnap them all. They were not meant to be sold, only to be given …I can see the headline now: “Woman Arrested for Shoplifting Produce. Strawberry Liberation Front Claims Responsibility.”
Like this, salvation of a human, the rite of Christian baptism, and fellowship in Church are without price, free. The vision of Robin Wall Kimmerer is like the visions of Isaiah. Picture a realm where the beautiful, needed things of life are available, to be received with gratitude. It is a vision of eternity, heaven, paradise, yes. It is also an answer to our prayer now for the kingdom to come on earth as in the heavens.
The best things in life are free. Let’s celebrate this. Let us also confess how we have put a price tag on everything. Jesus spends Himself so there is no price for us to pay. He’s without price, and priceless. We celebrate baptism and the comprehensive salvation God gives. We celebrate the gifts of earth and sea and sky that give us life in the body. We celebrate the Holy one who comes to us, abides with us, our Lord: Emmanuel.
PRAYER after the Sermon: Let us pray.
Yahweh God, we still thirst for You. Christ who will come to us again, we still seek healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. Spirit of Truth, we still seek to follow the Way.
Before we affirm again our commitments to Christ and to one another to be a Church, we pause. If we can, we remember our own baptism, or other declarations we have made to the world about our confidence in You, God. We stop now to forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts. Let us all return to You now, and receive the touch of your mercy, love, grace, and salvation.
For the free gift of life here we give thanks and praise!
For the free gift of people and purpose and joy, glory!
For the free gift of faith and the faithful, thanks!
For the free gift of You, in Jesus the Christ, alleluia! A
The way is long, let us go together.
The way is difficult, let us help each other.
The way is joyful, let us share it.
The way is Christ’s, for Christ is the Way, let us follow.
The way is open before us, let us go:
with the love of God,
the grace of Christ,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.