Nov 22: Written On Their Hearts

WELCOME to this post for worship at Digby Baptist Church. For the full service details please check out the Bulletin, posted on our Bulletins page.

(Jer 36:1-8, 21-23, 27-28; 31:31-34; 2 Cor 3:1-6) – J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Nov 22, 2020 – UBC Digby

I have a recent, random, Bible story for you. Last week, some young fellow from the heart of the Valley calls us up; says he found a little, old Bible at a used bookstore, with the name Verna Applejohn, Digby, in it. Wants to return it. OK. 

This past Monday, he calls to say he is almost here. So he dropped it off to me. Maybe Nancee or Pam will want it. 

What does one do with an old Bible? A used Bible? A surplus Bible? They are holy, aren’t they? You can’t just throw them out. Or burn them!?

We have heard two amazing Jeremiah stories today, two scenes about scripture, in a sense. First, that drama when the King of Judah rejects the message of the prophet by burning the scroll, sheaf by sheaf, as it gets read out loud to him. Later, Jeremiah dictates it all over again to Baruch, the scribe, with additions. There are interesting clues here about the actual writing down of parts of the Holy Bible, such as Jeremiah. In this case, the first draft got destroyed!

Then I had Margo read from a few chapters earlier. Here’s that beautiful paragraph about a new covenant or agreement of God with the people. It is promised for them someday. It won’t be like the old Ten Commandments, written with words on a page of stone. It will be written on the hearts of the people. They won’t have to tell each other, “get to know God!” They will all know the LORD.

That’s quite a phrase: to have something written on your heart. And for God to do it: that’s a remarkable promise. We have our ways we understand God is the author of the Bible. How beautiful to see also that our Redeemer can be the author of our hearts. The composer of our souls. Not only are we ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by Creator, we then can be recreated; the story of our sometimes hurting hearts can be rewritten.

We like to think of our hearts as a source of wonderful goodness and love. “Follow your heart” is frequent advice. Probably painted on wood, decorating some people’s living room walls. 

‘Follow Your Heart’ is fine, if ‘your heart is in the right place.’ But our hearts are not always ‘right.’ Eh?

I have been remembering Vince McCarlie this week for three reasons. One, his son Charles happened to drop by when our Trustees meeting had just ended, and presented us with the money order from Vince’s estate for $15,000 – designated for our musical instruments. 

Two, he died almost one year ago now: Nov. 26.

Three, I remember on more than one occasion Vince telling me, simply, that children can be very cruel. He never explained this, but he knew from experience. His experience of being injured and ill as a child. His experience living for 13 years of his youth in the Shriners Hospital in Montreal. 

Children are cruel.

And we are cruel when we grow up, aren’t we? At times we feel surrounded by nasty people, bad talk, horrible news, terrifying situations, and untruth. 

It is actually the prophet Jeremiah who tells us: The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? (17:9) Centuries later, the Christian leader, Paul, wrote things like this: by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5)

Human hearts, from childhood on, have the potential both for nastiness and compassion. Paul also wrote, in Romans, …God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (5:5)

I want to quote the exact same thing from Blaise Pascal that I quoted in last Sunday’s sermon. “Our greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in us some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.” (Pensées)

‘Follow your heart’… when it is good. When it is not, is there no hope? Of course there is hope. God can pour love into our hearts! God can write holiness onto our hearts! We even become love letters, to use the apostle Paul’s image, from 2 Corinthians. The Spirit writes love onto the hearts of people. This is even better than the love letter we call the Bible.

So we keep telling these stories. Stories that end with the story of our Jesus. Wicked hearts get rewritten. It is an act of God. No wonder we see the life blood of Jesus at the centre of the story. A heart of love conquers evil and death and pain. 

Speaking of pain, this is the other part of heart healing I think we need. The evil of the human heart needs a miracle. So do the hurts of the heart. 

Does your heart ever hurt?

One of the best-known, humorous internet videos of the past decade is the clip of some little preschoolers having an argument. While disagreeing over whether it is raining out or spwinkling, one girl hits the boy in his chest with her finger. The little guy reacts strongly, saying, “You poked my heart.”

It is not the physical hurts of our heart muscle that pumps blood of which I speak, today. It is the heart, the seat of our emotions and our will, that God can write upon, and that Christ can heal. The hurts of the heart run deep, and stay long with us. The sad losses of loved ones. The cruel emotional damage that is inflicted. The upsetting disasters that wreck lives. These injure our hearts, and the damage can seem permanent. It is deep in our heart of hearts that the Spirit can reach, and touch, and bless and mend. 

Author Philip Yancey, who has written so much about faith and pain, tells the story of happening to go into a very relaxed church service in a beach town in California. The leader was in baggy surfboard clothes. He set down his guitar, and at the podium asked, “Hey, does anybody have anything to share today?”

It so happened that three young women came forward, ready to share about their small group, in which they had studied Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. Elizabeth spoke, following her sheaf of notes very closely. Kate spoke, trying to use her laptop computer, which pretty much failed her. Yet each was learning that they were ‘the beloved’ of God, loved ones.

Then Cathy stood up. Her lip trembled, and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. The congregation grew still. “Most of you don’t know my story. I was molested as a child. Then in college I was drugged and raped. I kept asking, ‘Why me?’ I had tried to be good. I went to church every week and all that. So I just gave up. I took to alcohol to cover the pain. Of course it just brought on more pain, so I drank more alcohol. I was on a spiral to nowhere, feeling old before I had finished being young. One day I stopped by my old church just to see what might have changed inside. In the empty building, without planning to at all, I began to pray. I started bawling like a baby. 

“Not everything got resolved that day, of course. The pain did not go away. It was my brokenness that I was confronting in church, not my healing. But… I learned that suffering and joy can go together, that God can use everything in our lives, even the pain that never goes away. I learned to claim my brokenness. 

“Am I glad these bad things happened to me? No. But I do realize they have helped make me the person I am today. I can be a true friend to others. I can offer a safe place for other people going through tough times.”

Cathy closed her talk with her own paraphrase of Luke 4, a dramatic scene where Jesus enters the synagogue and announces, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted.”

(Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor, 2001, p. 318)

And I say to you, today, inspired by Jeremiah: God writes on our hearts. God can rewrite the story of your heart. God loves to put a new connection into your heart. Your very heart becomes a love letter.

This is the kind of life that I see bursting forth from our Saviour. This is the love our world still needs desperately, in these discouraging days. This is a hope we can seek at Christmas.

So we need a time of seeking, of waiting and watching, of longing for better things. In church we call it Advent. Which means the coming, the coming of God into our life. The arriving of Jesus: God with us. Jesus, who is the New Covenant, the New Agreement between God and people, the New Relationship with the Divine, the One who is ‘in our hearts,’ so to speak. 

You and Jesus may be very close and personal, today. You and Jesus may be quite far apart. Or your spirituality is somewhere else on this spectrum. Whatever. Remember this: as 1 John 3 puts it, ‘whenever our hearts condemn us …God is greater than our hearts.’ 

Draw nearer, and God will draw nearer to you. Then, may we sing to Christ, as the old Irish hymn does: Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

PRAYERS Let us   pray. We see the people who need You, Lord, but first of all, as a new week starts, we need You. Almighty God, we pray to say how we have taken charge of our own lives, and failed. May our souls sing again:

King of my life, I crown Thee now, thine shall the glory be.

We pray to say how we are still trapped by fears and worries, at times. Set us free in Jesus Christ, Whose perfect love casts out all fear and Whose care of our hearts and minds can put us at ease.

O Jesus, as one church in this place we ask for wisdom and to be inspired now. As we see a few friends officially leave our fellowship, teach us and refine us for the goals You have in mind, Master. Remind us each day, by the Holy Spirit, that our rough and crooked branches hold a beautiful treasure of Good News for our neighbourhoods. 

Our prayers are also with the Bayers Road Baptist Church today, in Halifax – may their long history of ministry be blessed now. And may the Rossway Baptist Church be comforted and encouraged as they say goodbye to their pastor, Linda, who has now preached her final sermon to them.

Together we are prayerful for many people. May there be blessings today for _____, _____, _____, and all who fall down or are frail. May there be blessings for _____, _____, _____, and all who have cancer treatments, surgeries, therapies, or any type of care. May there be blessings for _____, _____, _____, and all who live in homes for special care. May there be blessings for all whose spirits are brought down, whose mood is darkened, or whose hope is getting drained by hard days. Author of Life, write a new chapter on our hearts: help us turn a page. 

Alpha and Omega, on the pages of world history today, may there be written some signs of hope amidst the overwhelming trouble. Where COVID-19 is flooding nations: Brazil, India, France, Italy, USA, and so on – let there be a new flood of helpful action and prevention and cure! May it be so in Canada too.

Where people flee violence and conflict, including the Tigray region of Ethiopia- may there be gracious paths to safety. Sovereign One, in all places where people protest and get violent – such as Guatemala, where their Congress was burned down – let there be a strong will for peace and for justice. 

Jesus, Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith, grant us faith enough to pray for goodness, and then be agents for the good in our world. Our faith looks up to You. Ride on, King Jesus! AMEN.

BENEDICTION (James T. Fatzinger)
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.

New Covenant

(Jeremiah 31:27-34) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, October 20, 2019 – UBC Digby

Again, welcome to this Baptist Church today. You know where in history we find the first Baptists? No, it is not John the Baptist. In Genesis 13 a man named Lot said to his uncle, Abraham, “You go your way, and I’ll go mine!”

Well, we believers may not agree all the time, but we do have good news for the world. Hope for the hopeless, future for the failures, God for the godless, life for the dead: this is our message. 

This is our ninth and final sermon from the text of Jeremiah: prophet to the Hebrew people when all was lost. Their days of great hope were over. The days of prosperity were done. The days of having a united kingdom were long gone. The days of their holy Temple in Jerusalem were coming to an end. The days of having a King were crashing forever. And all the promises of a wonderful life for the Jews forever into the future seemed to be broken. 

It was six hundred years before Jesus, some 2,600 years ago, in the Middle East. An empire called Babylon was taking over and smashing the Hebrews. Jeremiah lived through it all, preaching for forty years before and during the disaster.

We have these fifty pages in our Bibles from Jeremiah. A lot of those pages are sad and severe warnings. Warnings of really bad times to come. The end of their way of life as a people. Even the end of their religious life, as they knew it. 

But we end with these prophetic words from the middle of Jeremiah, a couple chapters that get called ‘The Book of Consolation.’ Because there is good news here. Even when all is lost – all is not lost!

It centres on this message of Jeremiah about a new covenant. A new agreement between Almighty God and the weak and broken people.

We have a lot of ways of talking about how God connects with people, what the relationship can be like. One of the Biblical ways is through covenants.

There were several big Biblical covenants through the centuries. The little image in the centre window, high up in front of you, is a ship at sea: Noah’s Ark. The covenant of God with Noah was shown with a rainbow – never again will God destroy life on earth.

Later, God cut a covenant with father Abraham, promising that he would have many, many descendants, and Abram’s people would be people to bless the world. The blessing people. Maybe we can think of that altar with smoke upon it up here as a reminder of that covenant with Abram.

Another covenant, or agreement, in the Bible story, is with Moses and the people sojourning in the desert. At the heart of that agreement are the Ten Commandments, which I can see pictured in a stained glass window at the back of this room. 

What’s the next big development in Bible history with a special agreement? The Hebrews get their own king and a kingdom. This we see in God’s covenant with David, who was such an important early king for them. The window with the musical instrument here might remind us of King David, known for playing it.

I gave a series of sermons nineteen months ago about these covenants. Including the one spoken here by Jeremiah. Prophet Jeremiah, who spent his life warning the nation about how they were going to be destroyed – despite all the wonderful promises of the past. Warning them about why they were going to get ruined too – for giving up on the right ways of God.

In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, all was lost. Yet, in the midst of it all, Jeremiah does give hope. The ‘Book of Consolation,’ chapters 30 and 31. Here, the word of the LORD is this: there will be a New Covenant.

I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… But this is the covenant: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts… No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31)

We keep reading this story as a sacred story because it becomes true, again and again. It is saying something real, that does not go stale. Our story tells us, again and again, God is a God of new beginnings. This happens for groups. It happens for individuals.

Meet Elissar: She is a young woman who faced significant challenges growing up in Lebanon. Although she was not raised in a Christian home, Elissar encountered the gospel at a critical time in her life.

“Christ came to me while I was at the bottom of a deep pit. I was caught in drug addiction and immoral sin, but I refused to view myself as a sinner. I was better than the rest, I thought. It wasn’t my fault. It was the result of what others had done to me,” she says. “Despite my stubbornness, the God of the impossible came into my heart right after I heard the gospel. I asked him to reign over my heart, and he changed me.”

Today, Elissar is one of the many students who attend Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS), which is a small seminary located in Beirut. “My vision is to deliver the gospel to every woman in my community who is oblivious to God’s love and her value in him,” Elissar says. “I also long to see the children of my community being transformed into the image of Christ, becoming a light within their homes.” (Mosaic, Spring 2019, Bearing Fruit in the Arab World: The Ministry of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary – Elie Haddad, CBM Team Leader for the Middle East and North Africa; President of ABTS)

People have complete dead-ends in their lives, yet they can become something beautiful for God. The disasters of our past can be touched. I used to be shocked by a friend who, when he would pray, would ask, “And Jesus, reach back through time and do such and such…” WHAT? But I have begun to understand.

I have told you the story before (March 18, 2018) of author Richard Foster, back in his early days as a pastor. In his congregation was a man who was troubled, had been troubled for years, since the second world war. One fateful night on a battlefield he saw his whole small company of men get shot down, one by one, trying to escape. He alone survived. He had never been able to sleep much since. 

One day, he told his pastor, Richard Foster, about the experience. And asked: where was God that night? Why were their desperate prayers not answered? In the conversation, Foster counselled the man, suggesting Jesus could go back in his terrible memory of that moment, go back in time with him right now, if the man wanted.  

And so they spent some prayer time going back to that terrible night, step by step, with Jesus at the man’s side.  Somehow, there was some relief in that experience, and healing of the trauma began. The man even started sleeping again, sleeping through the night. He was able to smile again. To live.  

“They shall all know Me,” says God, in the new covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah. Knowing God becomes real when our lives are changed, from the inside out! 

And there are such new beginnings – big and small – for groups of people who are discovering how God walks with them.

When the historic Cornwallis Street Baptist Church in Halifax, N.S., decided to change its name last year, it didn’t go unnoticed.

Now called New Horizons Baptist Church, images of the iconic clapboard building with arched windows flashed across television screens, appeared in local newspapers and sparked discussions on social media. The message was clear: the church was taking a bold stance against injustice by severing ties with the street’s controversial name.

Located on the west side of Cornwallis Street, the predominately African-Canadian church was named for its geographical location.

Established in 1832, the church was founded by Rev. Richard Preston, the son of a slave who came to Nova Scotia from Virginia. Originally known as the African Baptist Church, it provided an alternative place of worship for African-Canadians facing restrictions and discrimination in other churches. The church later became the place of worship for Viola Desmond, a Canadian businesswoman who challenged racial segregation at a Nova Scotian theatre in 1946. Viola was recently commemorated on $10 Canadian banknotes.

Pastor, Dr. Rhonda Britton, explains: “Our church was founded out of racism, so the people who decided to step out and start their own church were doing a new thing. They had a new vision for who they could be as people working in the kingdom of God. For them, this was a new horizon… So we kind of picked up on that [unknowingly]. God still has a lot more work for us to do.” (Nicolette Beharie, More Than Just a Name: A Church Stands in Solidarity with the Mi’Kmaq Community, Mosaic, Spring 2019, pp. 10-11)

The God of new things changes things. Of course, in Christianity, we know the way Jesus spoke of the New Covenant. “This is the new covenant in my blood,” He even said. To know Jesus is to know God. This is the genius of our particular Faith. This way the Creator comes into what is created – as part of it, a human. The new agreement between people and God is a person who is also God. How better could we find our way out of life’s dead-ends? 

God with us: God one of us. AMEN!

A New Agreement

For weeks we have been peeking at various ‘Covenants’ in the Old Testament, agreements between God and people. Late in the Old Testament story, the prophet Jeremiah proclaims the hope of a New Covenant / Testament / Agreement.
Ever have a hard time agreeing with people?

God has also had a hard time through the millennia having a good relationship with people. Jeremiah’s word is beautiful today. It speaks of knowing God, within. Not necessarily a new promise; some of these were familiar phrases.
31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord…

This is about God, what God is, who God is, what God does. Just lately I have been reading a few new books – about God – and I am having my mind blown! The authors are suggesting a vision of God that is better than the usual. One main suggestion is not new, but is strong: to know God is a natural thing.

I am reminded of the story, oft told, of a young family with a curious little boy, about three years old. once the next baby child comes home from the hospital, the big brother says he wants to talk alone with the infant. The parents are a bit unsure what this would be about; after a while they agree to let the little fellow talk alone to the baby. But the parents listen carefully just outside the door of the baby’s room. Then they hear their son say, “Tell me about God; I’m starting to forget.”

That’s quite the little legend. It raises the question: are we – every one of us – made for relationship with the Divine, from before our birth?
Yes. God is Relationship. God welcomes us into Relationship, into the Trinity.

St. Patrick and shamrock leaves.
We are welcomed into the Trinity.
We, in our Christianity, speak of : Jesus in you. Colossians 1:27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Holy Spirit in you. Romans 8:15 …When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

God the Father in you? Yes. Jesus says He and God the Father are one. So you are beloved! Loved from the inside out. You have God in you!

Perhaps scholar Baxter Kruger has got it right:
our darkness is that we don’t know: God is in us.

‘I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.’ – John Newton. Now I see I belong to God, now I know Christ is within me.

Christ the Light. Christ died to enter our darkness. Glorified: lifted up to die. John 12 speaks of this. The glory of God is seen in the most painful moment, the greatest need, the most desperate pain. God is there.

I think I have told you the story before of author Richard Foster, back in his early days in pastoral work. A man was troubled, had been troubled for years, since the second world war. One fateful night he saw his whole small company of men get shot down, trying to escape a trap. He alone survived. He had never been able to sleep much since.

One day, he told his pastor, Richard Foster, about the experience. And asked: where was God that night? Why were their desperate prayers not answered?

In the conversation, Foster counselled the man, suggesting Jesus could go back in his terrible memory of that moment, go back in time with him now, if the man wanted.
And so they spend some prayer time going back to that terrible night, step by step, with Jesus at the man’s side. Somehow, there was some relief in that experience, and healing of the trauma began. The man even started sleeping again, sleeping through the night. He was able to smile again. To live.

I have always liked that story, not quite knowing how it worked – not needing to know. But I think now it is getting in touch with the fact that, back on that war-torn night in WWII, Jesus was there, but the men did not see Him. To go back and know that, made a big difference to the troubled commanding officer, all those years later. Jesus, who went through his own torture, betrayal, and execution, was available for those men that night, in WWII.

The Christ event looms before us: Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. We come to the big annual week of celebrating this at the end of March this year. One of the great poetic scriptures that speaks of this is Philippians 2
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Jesus emptied Himself, laid down His life.
Brad Jerzak: “What if? What if Jesus’ humility, meekness and servant heart were never a departure from God’s glory and power, but actually define it and demonstrate it?” (A More Christlike God, Brad Jerzak, 2015, p. 100)
Jesus shows us what God is like. God is like Jesus. The Cross is non-violence, non-control. “Not lording over, but always coming under; not triumphing through conquest, but through the Cross.” (Jerzak, p. 101)
1 John 3:1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
My mind and heart has been swirling with all this stuff, because it is so exciting!

God IN everyone: many are simply blind to this. Many don’t believe this.
And so it is with all those around us.
They also are children of God. In the Image.
Have God/Christ/Spirit within them.
Glory and Love deep inside.

Look! Everyone you meet. Everyone you see.
Every single person loved by God intensely.

No wonder we read the warnings of Jesus in Matthew 25 in His parable of the sheep and the goats.
The sheep ask the Master: 37‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers [or sisters], you did it to me.’

Look around the room at every person.
Every one: God within. Glory within. Love within. Every person.
The familiar face you have never got to know yet.
The friend you have known most of your life.
The person you have quite a lot in common with.
The one who seems quite different from you.
The person you laughed with a lot this week.
The one who hurt and offended you this week.
The homeless young fellow who wanted a ride to the shelter in Halifax this week.
The non-verbal person in a wheelchair at Tideview you saw.
The very intelligent professional who almost intimidated you.

God within each. With God in you, you can see this too. When you start to forget that the Spirit is there, in each other person: pause and remember. This is the holy starting point for each moment you meet him, you meet her, you meet them.

So there is a New Agreement. A new covenant.
God in you. ‘Know the Lord.’
In you. In those around you.
Thanks be to God.