Turning Point

(Acts 2:1-4; John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-14) – J G White
11 am, Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018 – UBC Digby

A major turning point comes in the scripture story of Pentecost Sunday.  What Carol read and the choir sang is the fulfilment of all those words Jesus had spoken.  The Holy Spirit appeared; Christianity was born! What a turning point.

Are we at a turning point? Is this a defining moment for us?  Some of you in this congregation may feel it is. And it may well be, for good reasons.

Did you read the leaflet last week called OASIS 2018: TURNING POINT?  We are part of a family of about 450 Baptist Churches in Atlantic Canada.  And as this whole group meets in August (we call it Oasis) we will catch a vision of where we see we are. Baptist or not, this may be true for you.  The pamphlet says:

We are at a Turning Point.
This is a defining moment in our history as a family of churches.  The choices we make now will have ripple effects for generations to come.
A Turning Point is an opportunity to make a change that will impact the future.  Will we make the right choice?  The right choice is not always the easy or pain-free choice.
We have an opportunity to reshape our future now.  We believe in a great future for the church in Atlantic Canada and the part that the CBAC will play.
Oasis 2018 will focus on what is required of us as a family of churches if we’re going to make a difference joining God in our neighbourhoods.
CBAC staff will be the main speakers at Oasis 2018.  They will help us zero in on our three priorities where we must focus our resources and energy.
By 2025 we’ll see:

  • 300 Mission Edge Churches
  • 65 New Congregations
  • 75 emerging Pastor Leaders (total of 150 pastor leaders)

We believe that we’ll see a God-dream of 3000 Baptisms in one year by 2025.  What an exciting dream! We need 3000 people praying for this. Will you join us?

This lays out the emphasis of our leadership in Atlantic Canada now.  For other hints, just look at the seminars being offering at the gathering in August.  These tell you what we believe in doing.
The Worn Path: moving your church to hospitality
Belonging Precedes Believing
Refugee Ministry: a global way to join God in your nieghbourhood
Fresh expressions for the Mission Edge Church
Being Real: mission edge and the smaller church
Joining God in Our Neighbourhoods & Networks
All this is responding to the present crisis in local churches.  It is about us at the grass-roots. About us.

So, right here, close to home… have you thought that our [your] church is “on the downhill slide?”  This may well be true. I don’t say this because our offerings to the end of April were $2,200 less than we budgeted.  I don’t say this because our expenditures were $8,000 more than our income so far. I say we may be ‘on the downhill slide’ because of other warning signs.  Christian leaders say things like this:

11 Signs Your Church Is Going Extinct (not all eleven…)

  1. Decline has made you cautious
  2. Your affection for the past is greater than your excitement for the future
  3. You mostly listen to the voices of the current members
  4. Your conflict is about the wrong things
  5. Any growth you have is transfer growth

That’s from Carey Nieuwhof of Orillia, ON.

Another expert says: When a church is dying, these are [some of] the common responses.

  • Blame society: It is the world’s fault that the church is not growing.  
  • Seek to save/raise money to help keep the church open.  Bills must be paid. Buildings must be maintained. Establish an endowment fund.
  • Make the members/leaders feel guilty.  Obviously it is someone’s fault.

That’s from Stephen McMullin of St. John / ADC.  These are the warning signs of ill health in the fellowship of believers, in whatever town or city.

This morning we celebrate the Spirit with us in our lives. We heard from Jesus, in his long talk with the twelve disciple, before He was to leave them.  Since He would soon die, and within a month leave them, they were promised they would not be alone. God the Spirit would be with them all.  Do ya suppose God is with us still?

In His first phrase about the Spirit, Jesus said the Spirit of Truth would be with them forever.  Secondly, Jesus says the Advocate will teach and remind them of everything. Thirdly, the Comforter will tell about Jesus, once Jesus is gone.  Fourthly, the Helper will set the record straight about what is wrong in our world, what is right, and how it gets sorted out. And Fifthly, Jesus said the Spirit of Truth will share what comes from God.  Speak what He hears.

We are not lacking Jesus, two thousand years after His lifetime here.  Jesus died, then came back to life, and then left this earthly life, yes.  But God is still with us, Emmanuel. In Spirit. As a wise old pastor, John Bartol, says: the Holy Spirit is like another Jesus.  One with us here, always.  

I am excited here when I see you being stirred up, stirred up to do good.  Stirred up by the Spirit? Yes.

At least three of you – who are seniors – are interested in making some good things happen for seniors. Let’s get together and make things happen.

A group of you are serving and training to help with our children on Sundays. We’re off to a good start.

A couple of you are planning to start a new small group in the fall for care and sharing and support of one another.  

A few of you are keen to learn – to learn basics about the Bible, to learn prayer; or to find ways to have deep conversations and be well fed.  

A group of you are getting on board to help our newcomer friends from Syria bring some of their family members here.  

And a number of you are thinking creatively about how we finance what we do together here.

It is not just our Baptist Convention, CBAC, that is prompting us to be a mission station based in downtown Digby.  God the Spirit is in our moves, our motives, our minds, our melting hearts.

A turning point can come when we feel a crisis coming on, and turn to God.  When we wait together for the Spirit to fill and fulfill.

And at the turning point, we can join in, and become one of the 300 ‘Mission Edge’ Baptist Churches.  A local group that knows we are here and we are together to make a difference among the people of Digby County, and beyond.  A group that can consider changes and make hard choices for the sake of our good work with God. A group that joins the 3000 people praying over the next six years for 3000 people to come to faith in Christ.  

We are at a turning point.  Will we turn?


What’s Three For?

Trinity Sunday,  May 22, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby

J G White (Romans 5:1-57; John 16:12-15)

In the Church year, this Sunday is called Trinity Sunday.  God is One, but also Three Persons.  God in three Persons: blessed Trinity.  But, why?  Why is God like this?  Or, at least, why do we Christians find God to be this way?  What’s Three for?  Why not just One: God be God?

John 16:12-15.  Four verses from the four pages of Jesus’ talk at the Last Supper with the disciples.  As with last week, here is a saying about the Holy Spirit, promised to come in the future.  But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  In this teaching, we hear Jesus speaking about Himself, about the Father who is God, and about the Spirit: who all seem to be sharing and giving things to people.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  A few hundred years after Jesus spoke these words, His followers settled on a description of God called the Trinity.  God is One God.  God is also three Persons, so to speak.  

What’s here in John 16 is beautifully worded, but still limited, inadequate, awkward.  It is human language, after all.  God the Trinity is simple enough for us to know but beyond us in our understanding and explaining.  

Why do we say God is Three and One?  These Three are for Salvation. Our experience of being saved is deep and broad, and we find the God who saves us is Three and One.

We have this section of the Bible called the Book of Romans, and here is some thorough Christian teaching about God and salvation. The book is in two parts we could call: how to explain it, and how to live it.  The tiny bit Angela read today is a little chapter well-loved by teachers and preachers of sin and salvation. And, of course, it is filled with all the special words that have so much meaning.  Words to express some important things about humankind and God: Justification, Faith, Peace with God, Access to Grace, Hope of sharing God’s Glory, God’s Love.

Fred Buechner wrote of how such big words lose their power.  

Take any English word, even the most commonplace, and try repeating it twenty times in a row — umbrella, let us say, umbrella, umbrella, umbrella — and by the time we have finished, umbrella will not be a word anymore.  It will be a noise only, an absurdity, stripped of all meaning.  And when we take even the greatest and most meaningful words that the Christian faith has and repeat them over and over again for some two thousand years, much the same thing happens.

But I keep using them, Buechner writes.  And so do we all.  And our re-telling of the same truths comes out of those traditional words.

We can hear afresh what Good News the Trinity works in our world. (Romans 5:1-2, Msg)

By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

Our Maker, our Master, our Mighty Spirit, all are involved in the new life we are given and get to live, even now. Salvation is a life, a life lived with this Trinity, today.

I was impressed more than a week ago by a statement made in a tribute to Idella Morine at her funeral in Bear River.  Of the many things a granddaughter’s husband said, one was this.  That Idella believed that if there turned out to be no afterlife, no heaven, no mansion just over the hilltop: knowing and following Jesus was worth it just for this life of salvation here and now.

This thought brings us to a second reason for God to be the Trinity.  These Three are for Relationship.

God is in relationship already, before/without creation or anything else to love and enjoy.  John Donne said, No man is an island entire of itself…  Perhaps even the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is telling us that Our God is not an island entire of Itself.  The One we worship is a Community of love, all within Godself.    

As Jesus talks about the Spirit in John 16, He speaks of a sharing between Himself and the Spirit and God the Father.  The Spirit “will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears…  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine,” said Jesus.  

It seems strange, doesn’t it?  But Christ paints this picture of the Three Persons of God in this friendly, cooperative, generous relationship.  Father, Son and Spirit are almost submitting to each other.  

And then our Creator shares with us humans: glory, and suffering, and knowledge.

At the heart of our story is the suffering of God – Jesus who is brutally executed.  Relationship is remade with people by our God who even comes to us to be abandoned and face death.  

I see in this suffering of Jesus, this abandonment by God the Father, is like our own split selves: detached from our own emotions, our memories, our past actions, and our present habits.  We bury many things, our insides a split up and the hurting parts sometimes hidden.  “My self, my self, why have you forsaken me?” we could cry out, taking a page from Psalm 22.  Even God completely has experienced this, as the dying Jesus says, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!”  That can only happen if God is more than one.

And then the relationship is restored: Creator, Son and Spirit – and the fellowship of God and humankind is healed.  So our story of God is of a God who is more than one, and even gets separated from Himself, so that we can be one, united with God.  

I hear it said, again and again: there is a difference between a human being and human doing… So God is our Image: God is in relationship, even without and before creation.  Without God doing anything.  If the New Testament can say “God is love,” then we can say “God is relationship.”  Our view of God as the Trinity points to this.

You may know of Karen and David Mains, American Christian authors who have been in radio ministry for many years.  M A I N S; not to be confused with Canadian David Mainse of 100 Huntley Street: M A I N S E.

It was twenty years ago that Karen wrote:

These years, I am chasing Trinity.  Each Sunday, I hear the cry in my heart, “Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts!”  I lift up my heart to the Trinity.  I will learn from the One-God-in-Three that I am molded best by relationship, [that I am incomplete without dialogic formation, that I can only become what God intended me to be my humbling myself to reciprocity.]

(Karen Burton Mains, Stories for the Christian Year, 1992, p. 170)

There is a third point to this sermon.  It had to be a ‘three point sermon,’ eh?  For Trinity Sunday.  Why is God Three as well as One?  These Three are for Discipleship.  

God, in these three ways, three Persons, offers us a life path of being a complete disciple, a learner, an apprentice.  I say this because of Romans 5 and all the talk of what God does through Jesus, and the actions of the Spirit, pouring love into our hearts.  I look at that chain of development: suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.  To be a disciple of Jesus we are always in development and in training with the Master.  The Salvation God provides for us is a whole life.  The continuing touch of the Spirit works on us from the inside out.  

In John 16 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit who will come to continue His teaching and guiding.  We especially think of the Spirit as the One who does some inner work on our human spirits, making us Holy like God.  Special, good and pure.  “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”   After Jesus’ life here, after the Bible was written and completed, all these centuries later, God still guides and leads and trains and teaches.

One Bible commentator has warned: This is in some ways a frightening promise, for it can be quoted to bless every new notion, and footnote with authority all manner of behavior as well as prophecies as to the fate of the world, the time of the eschaton[end] , and the certain will of God in every crisis.  (Fred B. Craddock et al, Preaching the New Common Lectionary, 1986, pp. 20-21)

You can walk through our town and read a sign that says: Sometime in Sept of 2053 the First Resurrection is to take place.  This is the month and the year.  38 years from 2015.  This is not the day or the hour.  

Is this from God? Did the Holy Spirit teach or reveal this to someone to share with our town?  I’ll let you be the judge. Suffice it for me to say that the Spirit is in accord with Jesus the living Word, and with Creator God, of the whole story of the Bible.  

Someone reminded me of a little, old tin at our cottage, with a narrow spout on the top.  It is a tin of Three-In-One Oil.  I guess it was long before WD-40 people used Three-In-One Oil.  Developed in 1894, what does it do?  It cleans, lubricates, and protects.  On thing that is three things: cleaner, lubricator, protector.

God = Three/Trinity = One/Unity

Like how physics understands light.  A particle and/or a wave. We can’t pin it down. But it is so real, so present and powerful in our lives.

We can’t pin God down.  But we can experience God as One, and as Three. A God who saves the world. A God who relates to us. A God who welcomes disciples.