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.

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.

Dec 27: A Weary World Rejoices

Our worship service today makes use of parts of a video service provided by Canadian Baptist Ministries. Our own Children’s time video is posted here, and the text of our prayers. The video preacher today is Dr. Jonathan Wilson. The full video from CBM is here, below.

PRAYERS (Pastor Jeff White): God become visible: Emmanuel, God with us: Alpha and Omega, Beginning and Ending: in a year of troubles we have gathered hope! Your presence still has power! Our prayers, our actions, our fellowship has been blessed! Thanks and praise to You, our Saviour, Teacher, Master and Friend. 

Be Thou our vision: as we look back over the year, we see our own fearful responses, our own troubles, our own hurts and failures. Once again, we rely upon Your amazing grace, Your forgiving sacrifice, Your loving welcome to us, the weary wanderers. Lift us up, that we may rejoice!

God in the flesh, we pray for one another, because the flesh is weak, our injuries and illnesses wear us down, and life here ends. Together our prayer blesses these dear people in our midst, and beyond:

God, Holy Spirit, we have sought to have our spirits lifted in this Christmas time, inspired by You. We have worked to bring joy and goodness to others. Bless us to do the same in the year that is ahead. May it be 2021 A. D., anno domini, the year of the Lord: of You, Jesus. 

And so, we pray as we have been taught, saying: Our Father, who art in heaven…  AMEN.

Christmas Eve 2020 – 6 PM

We celebrate the nativity of Jesus Christ with our simple worship service. Check out the Bulletin on the website for the full order of service. Video of the sermon will be posted here before 8 pm on Christmas eve.

What Child Is This? (Luke 2:1-14; John 1:14-18) – J G White – UBC Digby

A Child is born. Many of our best songs of this time, each year, are in the present tense. Not “a child was born” – but “a child is born.” Not “all was calm, all was bright ‘round yon virgin mother and child” – it’s “all is calm, all is bright.” Not “What child was that?” – rather “What child is this?”

What child is this? We find answers when we sing. Another thing about the traditional carols – many are rather old! Our next one, by William C. Dix, was composed in 1865, and put to the much older tune, ‘Greensleeves,’ in 1871. Dix was an insurance salesman in England with a flair for poetry. His twin occupations were marine insurance and writing hymns. 

So, naturally, an old lyric uses some old words in old ways. Maybe that is part of the charm of many Christmas carols – the words have that old feel, with mysterious meanings.

We are going to sing this line about Jesus:

Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of Mary. 

Haste to bring Him laud. To make haste means what? To hurry up, be quick about it. ‘Get on over here and bring Jesus some laud!’ What’s laud? No, not ‘Laud, have mercy!’ Not, ‘Cook with shortening or laud?’ Laud means praise. Praise Jesus.

We are doing this right now: gathering for worship, singing to Christ, speaking words of praise, paying close attention to God the Saviour. 

Mr. Dix’s original words are ‘Haste, haste to bring Him praise.’ 

 Then we will sing

Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?

Jesus is in a ‘mean estate.’ We guess from the context what the phrase is about. Jesus is not mean and nasty; God arrives in a poor and needy situation. His ‘estate’ is His condition, His social standing, His class. Yes, and what he possesses as a home; He starts off as a traveller, resting in an animal feed trough.

It is the genius of God’s plan that we humans get to meet the Divine One as one of us. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John’s Gospel tells us. And this is still a present tense experience.

In the third stanza we’ll sing, through our masks,

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh, Come, peasant, king, to own Him.

Come peasant, come king, to own Jesus. Dix’s original words were 

Come, tribes and peoples, own Him.

Do you own Him? Do you claim Jesus as yours? You and He belong to one another? You pledge allegiance to Christ? You take ownership of Him as Your Master? This carol invites us to claim and to submit to Jesus. Whether you count yourself a peasant, or a bit of a King or a Queen, own Him

With all the carols being heard on the radio and in the places we shop, our communities all seem to claim Christ, for one annual moment. So when you are somewhere and find yourself humming along, think again of these things.

How do our lives laud or praise God?

How amazing that the Holy One comes among us, in our mean estate!

And how beautiful it is that you and I get welcomed into the story, and can own the One who ‘owns’ us. 

What Child is this?

PRAYERS Let us pray. Glory to God in the highest! Alleluia! From the vantage point of another Christmas Eve we see You again, Saviour. Again, You are a message to us and our world, living in our midst. We see You; We see the glory of God. 

Spirit of grace and truth, we pray for a world needing grace, a world lacking truth. We pray again, because of that beautiful hope we have that there is more good that can happen than we alone can create. We pray because we need truth instead of confusion in our lives. In the name of Jesus, who is full of grace and truth, we ask for blessings among those in need, those who are isolated and alone, those who face violence or fear, those who mourn or are depressed, and those who are ill or injured today.

God of word and story, we see Jesus, born away from home. We make room in our lives for Him tonight. Let the light of Christ shine from within us, and transcend the barriers of our pandemic precautions. Be the great Author of our life stories, now, and the bright Star that guides our way. 

Glory to God in the highest! Hosanna! AMEN.

Who Are You?

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-10, 18-28) J G White
3rd Sunday of Advent, Dec 17, 2017, UBC Digby

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside; He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

These are the very last words of Albert Schweitzer’s classic 1906 book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, translated into English in 1910.  

Jesus comes to us as one unknown.  Well, that is how He starts out.  We might see this as a theme of John’s Gospel, compared against the other three Gospels in the New Testament.  John 1:10 says of Jesus: ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.’  When we get to verses 26 & 27, John the Baptizer is talking. “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”

As this Gospel tells the story of Christ, we find people such as Nicodemus (chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (chapter 4) who understand Jesus’ words but not their meaning.  From the High Priest and Pilate, to the twelve disciples, Jesus is regularly misunderstood.  

Who are you?

Ever meet up with someone and you end up with your own identity crisis? Either you get mixed up about who you met, or someone you met doesn’t know who you are?  

Just this week I met a local women who is getting to be a friend of mine, from the garden tours and nature field trips we’ve had.  In the grocery store we met, and she said, “Oh, I have been thinking for days I must call Rick Andrews!”  She proceeded to tell me a quick story about a bear that visited her camp in the woods this fall, and ate some apples and onions on her doorstep.  But she finished by saying, “And… you’re not Rick, you’re Jeff!”  

Sharon, remember the time you were in a grocery store, and met our local Member of Parliament, but talked to him about a situation our Member of the Legislature knew about?  Oops.  You knew it was one of our politicians. 😉

So, it’s about thirty years after Jesus and his cousin John were born.  John is preaching and baptizing – not in the temple – out of town by the river.  Some of the professional religious came out from the city to quiz John.  “Just who are you?”  The Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ?  No.  Elijah, who will come before the Messiah, according to the final verses of the Old Testament?  No. That prophet foretold who will be greater than Moses?  No.

I am, (here’s a quotation from Isaiah) I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.”  

They find out who John the Baptizer is by process of elimination.  Who he is not.  And John goes on, talking about this One who is about to appear on the scene.  In fact, among you stands One whom you do not know.

Jesus is, well, not standing among us, but lying in many mangers among us right now. As I have preached before, He is for many people today X, an unknown quantity.  So “Xmas” is really quite appropriate.  X is really the Greek letter Chi, and stands for Christ, but not even Xians (Christians) know this. 😉

It is by experience, purely by personal experience, that one gets to know Jesus the Christ.  Of course, it can take a lot of time and experience to know God this way.  I think I have been blessed to have had, well, 47 years of good opportunities to get to know this Unknown One, born in a barn. Many have fewer chances.

So, sometimes, you and I will be ambassadors for Christ, as the New Testament puts it.  Or, like John the Baptizer, we bear witness to the Light we have seen shining.  Like testimony in a courtroom, we can tell what we have seen and known.  We recognize God in the room, and celebrate.

Who are you?  A pointer towards Christ. Occasionally, people see us, and just think it is us, only us, here.  Maybe it is, sometimes.  But we know at many other times that the Unknown One is among us; God with us, Emmanuel.

I’ll call her ‘Rhonda.’  She moved to Windsor from my home village.  I’d known her all through my Schooling.  We all knew she was different.  In the early 80s people would rudely refer to her as ‘retarded.’ She was loud and excitable and energetic.  In elementary school I remember her tackling me in the playground and kissing me!

So, in adulthood she moved to Windsor, and came to us at the Baptist Church.  It was a hard transition for her. And it was hard for some to welcome her and help her find her place.  In her little country church at home she had been very involved in the ladies auxiliary, but in this new town, the women didn’t know her, probably underestimated her, didn’t know how to have Rhonda join them in their work.

Rhonda had her membership transferred from the little Baptist Church back home to the new big one where I was pastor.  And when she did, she wanted to give a testimony – to stand up on Sunday morning and tell some of her life story, her faith journey.  

All the Church waited to see what would happen.

She told a beautiful story.  She told it beautifully and so honestly.  People were deeply touched, in that moment.  They were impressed with her.  We were impressed with the light that we suddenly noticed, shining!  We learned something that day about who Rhonda was, and who Jesus was.  And who we were.

‘Who are you, Jesus?’, people may ask. The answers we know we give.  We can’t make up anything else.  We might not believe all the facts we think we are supposed to believe.  What we do experience of Light and Truth, of Pain and Grace, we can share. ‘Who are you, Jeff?’ is also asked.  By grace we may answer well, and shed some light.

Writer and activist Jan Phillips, leads, among other things, storytelling workshops.  Story-spinning classes.  

Jan says: Our stories define us. They affect our well-being, our relationships, our present and our future. They are vehicles of energy. We can harness great power from the experiences of our lives. Our bodies are waiting to be tapped for their wisdom, gained from every ordeal we have suffered or encountered. Every catastrophe has stripped us of something and given us something. The nakedness, we know. The gifts are yet to be unearthed.

Like John, at times, we are witnesses of the Light that comes into the world.  At other times, we need to see that Light in others.  

Witness Steve Garnaas-Holmes — Dec 14, 2017

        John came as a witness to testify to the light.
        He himself was not the light,
        but he came to testify to the light
               —John 1.7-8

The brook is not the light
but it reflects the coming dawn.
The geese are not the winter,
but it falls from their wings.

The wave is not the sea;
the note is not the song;
I am not the light
but I am made of nothing else.

Bear witness.
If not to the light within,
bear witness to the dawn.
To the song.

The candle isn’t the sun,
but sings its song.
I don’t have to believe this,
just sing the song.