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.