Worship, March 27 – Truth King

WELCOME to this little website post for Digby Baptist Worship. Here, Sunday afternoon, video clips from the 11 am service are posted, added to the sermon text that is here. (Oops, we missed out on recording the children’s bowling tournament today!) More worship plans can be read in the Bulletin, here on this website. Our Holy Week Newsletter is now out – read it also here on the Website.

SERMON: Truth King. Today I want to ‘preach’ with you, so this will be what gets called a dialogue sermon. We will have some conversation. Let us   pray.

May the words of our mouths, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

When I was still a teenager I went off to college, and learned a whole lot of new hymns at the University Chapel. One Welsh tune I grew to love had hymn words that included this bit of verse:

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

Another regular worshipper in those pews was my philosophy professor, Dr. Forsman, who was a good singer as well as a good thinker. God rest his soul, He took exception to the words of this hymn. Time makes ancient good uncouth? Keep abreast of truth? Truth, Rodger Forsman taught, was a sure thing, unchanging. What’s true is true, it does not shift or get updated. 

I did get my only A+ in eight years of university in his Symbolic Logic course, but I disagreed a bit with him about our use of the word ‘truth’. We have more than one use. And now, thirty years later, truth seems to mean all sorts of things!

What is truth? When Jesus spoke of it, privately, with Pilate, the Roman Governor asked Him, ‘What is truth?’ We don’t get to read the rest of that conversation – if there was any. They did speak together later, after Pilate had Him flogged. 

What would you say is truth?

And is there more than one thing we mean when we speak of truth?

Today, I am calling the Jesus I know our Truth King. He gets into truth talk when asked about being a king. “So you are a king?” asked Pilate. And Christ replies, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

You know I have pondered this before: how much truth, knowledge and wisdom does Jesus have, and give out to us? Often, I think our Master is relegated to being an expert on the spiritual realm, and an expert on what we should each do with our lives. We go to Him (1) for the salvation of our souls and (2) to know “the will of God for my life.”

If truth is facts, real things about the world, then we should be able to rely upon God Incarnate to show us what is true in every category. Yes, Jesus is our expert on human spirituality. Yet we can tell the world there is more to get from Him. He – our route to know God – is a source of wisdom about philosophy, and science, and history, and human culture, and economics, and the future. The God who is behind it all is available to us in Jesus, one of us. 

We can turn this around and realize how things in nature show us God. Meeting and knowing other people shows us good things about the Spirit. Deep thoughts, beautiful things, big problems, and our relationships – these all can be doorways to the Divine. Our ancient holy scriptures says these things:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

(Job 12:7-8)

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
(Psalm 139:17-18)

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

What different sorts of true things has God shown you?

And how?

Another thing I am thinking about in this preaching is the problem with truth today. It’s gotten all mixed up. Now, if we say we need to keep up with the truth (keep abreast of truth) we mean what we know about what is true. If what we thought was real changes, we have gotten closer to the truth. What we thought was true was not quite right before. Before people understood the earth goes around the sun, it was not true that the sun went around the earth.

But ‘truth’ gets truly misused today. On the world political stage we’ve had a US president who seemed to claim many of his obvious lies were true, and now a Russian leader seems to do the same. 

Now on the local level we often hear people ‘speaking their truth.’ I think this means: tell your real experience. But there seems to be, sometimes, this feeling that ‘I have my story, my truth, and you have yours.’ We have to respect one another, & not push our views on each other.

I suppose the best way I have always thought about how to point people to the God I know is to tell my story, my true experience, and let them respond. The days of being pushy about religion are over – and that’s a good thing. 

And then we hear these words of Jesus, translated for us as: For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. 

How do you speak your true experience of God?

How do you sense someone else’s story is real?

Let me end our sermon with words of Frederick Buechner, and of Jesus.

Jesus did not say that religion was the truth or that his own teachings were the truth or that what people taught about him was the truth or that the Bible was the truth or the Church or any system of ethics or theological doctrine.

X said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6)

THE truth is what Pilate is after: the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after. 

Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)

PRAYERS of the People: O Guide of our souls and provider of our footsteps: we pray with gratitude for all the ways we find the Way, the Truth and the Life. This first day of the week we offer our gifts at the altar, in the name of Jesus. This start of spring we offer our fellowship for Your activity to be done. This year of hope we offer our prayer for so many we care about, nearby and far away…

We admit the ways we feel helpless and hopeless, God. We admit the actions that have been unchanged and selfish in us. We admit the lack of cooperation we have offered to others…

We pray, in the power of Jesus: Over the people for Ukraine, one month into the horrors of war. For those still in the country and those now as refugees. May they feel the Light of your comfort, your peace, your constant presence within agony. Over the NATO leaders meeting to discuss support for Ukraine, we pray for wisdom. Over Russians who ache to see what their government is doing and who are directly feeling the effects on their lives as they are silenced and economically stretched. Over Validiar Putin, may his heart be transformed. Over those across Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the world who are saying NO to hate and violence through incredible creative acts of courage and love.

We do rejoice, O God, in the courage and compassion we see, in Europe, and around the world. Bless the amazing gifts from our community for the Red Cross and other emergency relief agencies. Bless our Baptist partners in Europe, working, in the Jesus’ name. 

O Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of Truth, You are Reality with a Personality. As You have been real to us in worship, be real to us every morning, noon and night of this week. AMEN.

Worship, March 20 – Are You One of His Disciples?

WELCOME to this blog post for worship service of Digby Baptist Church, NS. Full service plan can be found in the day’s Bulletin. On this post you will find text and video of the sermon, plus video of the Children’s lesson.

Are you one of His disciples? 

Jesus’ famous disciple, Simon Peter, was asked this three times, according to John the gospeller. Jesus had been arrested, at this point, and was off being interrogated. We just heard the tale, related to us again from chapter 18.  Meanwhile, a woman gatekeeper asks Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” A bit later, still warmed by a fire in the High Priest’s courtyard, others repeat the question, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” Then a slave on duty there said, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” A relative of that very slave was the fellow Peter had attacked with his sword, in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

All three times, infamously, Peter denies it. 

Are you one of His disciples?

To be a disciple, and to make disciples of Jesus, this is still a present-day purpose of Christianity. It was certainly in the ethos of my Church upbringing. Sometimes it sounded like the main thing God wanted us each to do was to become Christians (get saved), and make more Xians (work to get others saved). Much of the teaching and talk in Church said this. And a lot of the hymns and songs. 

The vilest offender who truly believes / that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

‘That moment’ is just the beginning, of course. The start of discipleship. Or we can call it apprenticeship. Transformation. New life. Sanctification. 

I am deeply rooted in evangelical Christianity, in the Baptist tradition, and have shifted to talk mainly of discipleship, more than salvation. Discipleship as the journey that takes time, the personal development, the transformation process of life makes so much sense to me. I call people to become apprentices of Jesus, not just to make their peace with God to get their ticket to heaven. 

So we have this ministry, this work from God to do: share the faith. Invite others into this discipleship. ‘Make disciples,’ as Jesus commanded. Maria Skobtsova, a twentieth-century nun, said, “I am your message, Lord. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night, that all may see and understand what it means to be a disciple.” (Claiborne, Shane, et al, Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, p. 177)  

Are you one of His disciples?

This old test gets mentioned from time to time: if you were put on trial for being a believer, would there be enough evidence to convict you? 

Who would you want called up as witnesses for you? What would you dread that someone might say abt you?

Here, when Jesus is being questioned in the court of the Jewish high priest, did you notice He is asked about His disciples? Christ was questioned “about His disciples and about His teaching.” (J 18:19) Perhaps a good, prayerful exercise is to consider what Jesus’ testimony in a religious hearing would be about us

This is much like the practice called the prayer of examen – a review of the past day, or more, of our lives. How did I do today, Jesus? Help me to see and know how I did. It might sound like a very Catholic thing to do (and it does come from St. Ignatius of Loyola) but Protestants have it too. Remember this old song, ‘Evening Hymn?’

1 If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive!

2 If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I offend some other through the strain,
Dear Lord, forgive!

3 If I have been perverse, or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in the fold,
When thou hast given me some fort to hold,
Dear Lord, forgive!

4 Forgive the sins I have confessed to thee;
Forgive the secret sins I do not see;
O guide me, love me, and my keeper be.
(C. Maud Battersby, c. 1911)

I believe a complete ‘prayer of examen’ does more than seek forgiveness. It seeks change in us, it seeks learning, training, transformation. It is a way of cooperating with the Spirit of God to make us better than ever. To be forgiven again and again is… a blessing to me, yes; to be made a better person, that is a blessing to the world around me!

How does one examine oneself with God in prayer? There are so many methods. Author Richard Foster wrote, saying, One summer I went outside each evening at about 10 p.m. to the little basketball court we had set up in our driveway. Aone, I would shoot baskets, all the time inviting God to do a spiritual inventory on the day. Many things would surface to memory. Sin was there to be sure: an angry word, a missed courtesy, a failed opportunity to encourage someone. But there was also the good: a small obedience, a quiet prayer that seemed to do so much, a word fitly spoken. It was for one summer only, and I have never tried to repeat the experience, but it was one way of experiencing the examen of consciousness. (Prayer, p. 35)

Your prayers to review how you live your life will come in some other fashion: there are ways for you and me. We shall be led into the next step on our journey. 

Are you one of Jesus’ disciples? The scene I take this question from is of course about the denial of disciple Peter. We may not need to undertake a prayerful self- examination in order to know our failures and needs for improvement. Our day-to-day life might make it obvious. Our next best steps to take may then be simply small steps. Sometimes we want – or need – a real miracle. Usually, it will be one small step in the right direction, and one more tomorrow, and so on, by the grace of God. 

19th Century spiritual writer and venerated saint, Thérèse (of Lisieux), uses a story from her own early childhood in a very loving family to illustrate this point: “[Picture] the little child who starts to hold herself up but does not yet know how to walk. Wanting absolutely to climb to the top of the stairs to find her mother again, she lifts her little foot to finally climb the first step. Useless labor! She always falls without making any advance. . . . Consent to be this little child. Through practicing all the virtues, keep lifting up your little foot in order to clamber up the stairs of holiness. You will not even get to the first rung, but God asks nothing of you except your good will. From the top of the stairs he looks down at you with love. Soon, won over by your ineffective efforts, he will come down himself and, taking you in his arms, he will take you away into his kingdom forever where you will never have to depart from him.” (from Richard Rohr) 

Dear Simon Peter, his failure in the dramatic crisis is big and well known to us. We may also remember just a number of days later, when Jesus was alive again, how He asked Peter three times if he loved Him. And how Jesus told Peter to care for the sheep of the Good Shepherd.

For us too, it will be in caring for one another, and being cared for, that we will grow in faith and faithful action. French 19th Century poet, Charles Peguy, said, “We must be saved together. We cannot go to God alone, else he would ask, ‘Where are the others?’” (Claiborne, Shane, et al, Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, p. 516) To be a disciple of the Master is not to be alone; it is to be together, to be one in Christ. 

This is, for us, one of the great challenges of our lifetimes. Ours is an age of independence, of privacy, of self-care. The heyday of joining groups and clubs and churches is over. People pursue their personal spirituality privately, on their own, for the most part, not in any organized religion. You might be barely holding on to organized Christianity yourself. 

In our lives now, how discipleship to Jesus will keep going is a bit mysterious. There will still be some traditional Church stuff going on. (I am about to leave one traditional Church for another traditional Church.)      There are also new forms of sharing and organizing Christianity. There is some anarchy out there, I think, in terms of spirituality, even that which claims to be based on Jesus and the Bible. And there are so many unaffiliated Christians – people who gave up on Church and have not found any replacement: they just do it on their own. 

I want to keep asking this question carefully. Are you one of Jesus’ disciples? Not: Are you a disciple of Jesus? Jesus’ disciples is plural, it is a group – it is not just individuals. It is a we, not a me. A body with many parts; a building with many stones; a family with many members. 

Are you one of Jesus’ disciples?

PRAYER after the sermon: Saviour, Master, Teacher, Friend, we end this sermon by examining ourselves, in Your name. What have we learned from You? What have we rejected that You suggested? What have been our distractions? What has truly caught our attention? What have we shared from Your word? What have we decided we might do next?

In simple, quiet silence, be with us this whole week, we pray. Keep us faithful; remind us of Your faithfulness. AMEN.

Lead On

(2 Sam 23:1-7; Ps 127; John 18:33-37) – J G White & Alex Constable
9 am, Sun, Nov 11, 2018 – UBC Digby & Grace United

To be led is to have a leader.  To be led well in good directions is to have good leadership.  This morning, Ardith drew our attention to what are called the last words of King David, one of the greatest leaders in the long Biblical saga.  David quotes this message he received from the LORD God:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
   when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
   on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
   that brings grass from the earth.’

Poetry of leadership. And when a ruler or guide is so right and godly, he or she inspires followers.  We actually follow a good path, a new way.

The better leaders and the better followers of the nations, the powers that be, our churches, and our communities, move onward and upward, to better things.  What a challenge this is, in our world, still torn by violence and wracked by injustice! Is there hope? Will the good win out?

100 years after the “war to end all wars”– the world is at war. Battlefield violence rages, not only in conflict zones like Syria and Palestine, but in lands at peace. In schools, mosques, saloons, synagogues, music halls and churches, firearms rain down terror and death.

As Christians – as followers of the Prince of Peace, who said: “Put away your sword” and also, “I’ve come not to bring peace, but a sword”, how do we respond?

Today we sang Ernest Shurtleff’s line: “Lead on O King eternal, the Day of March has come….” Since the birth of civilization, we’ve marched into battle – and we have tried to end armed conflicts with more & better arms.

Suggestions from the powerful to end the recent rash of violence in schools etc.: armed guards and civilians will “neutralize” the person doing the killing… Yet at the Borderline Bar & Grill, the deputy sheriff – very much armed and trained – was shot to death as soon as he entered the building — even as young people broke windows and dove under tables to escape.

Responses from the powerless – Susan Orfanos, mother of victim Tel Orfanos – pleaded for “no more prayers & thoughts – gun control!”

Whatever your thoughts on gun control legislation, firearms are here – they can’t be un-invented.   

*I and my siblings grew up with a gun in the house. It was powerful and deadly – the same model issued to British troops in WW1. It was kept in the back kitchen, with the cartridges in a nearby cardboard box. Not much control there… but we were expressly forbidden to touch or use it!

When our father was a child, he had a hunting mishap, in which his little brother Ralph died of an accidental gunshot wound.  There wasn’t a minute went by that we weren’t aware of the terrible power these weapons had to take a precious life. Yet these WWI military issue rifles pale in destructive power next to the modern weapons that are available to military and civilians alike.

If the answer is not to be found in more and better arms – where’s the way forward?

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotation has been popularized in recent years: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This was King’s clever paraphrasing of a portion of a sermon delivered in 1853 by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker.  Parker had preached: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
(Mychal Denzel Smith, The Huffington Post, Jan 18, 2018)

I was interested to hear that humanist Psychology professor at Harvard, Stephen Pinker, strongly suggests the world is improving, becoming less violent.  His 2011 book is called The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.  Pinker argues that violence in the world has declined, both in the long run and in the short run, and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred.

We Christians believe this is God’s plan, God’s way: we are being led to better things.

What sort of King is our Jesus?  And where does our Leader take us today?  Back when He was being interrogated, before His execution, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest… But now my kingdom is from another place.”

King Jesus takes us into another kingdom.  A different realm not like all those we know here and in history.  Of course, we do know this kingdom, we believers are citizens of heaven while here on earth.  We pray that the kingdom come and the will of God be done. Not only must we pray: we must act, we must do, we must follow the Way.

Christ exemplified “love one’s enemy” – reached out to the “other” in solidarity and compassion – Roman soldiers, tax collectors, Samaritans. In doing so he was setting an example, leading humanity “down the garden path” to peace.

In Pittsburgh recently, an armed man opened fire on worshippers, killing 11 and wounding 6 at the Tree of Life Synagogue. One of those killed was a holocaust survivor. You might think humanity is regressing in terms of world shalom, yet it was Muslims who headed the fundraising campaign to support families of victims.
In light of that tragedy, a California synagogue opted for Mennonites over armed guards…
(Mennonites are a pacifist denomination).  They worship at the synagogue and held a Friday night peace vigil.

“New paths to peace are won by hard suffering.  One example is the WW1 poet, Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. On the outbreak of the First World War, Studdert Kennedy volunteered to become a chaplain to the armed forces on the Western Front.

Arthur Savage met Kennedy while on the front-line: “Kennedy, an army chaplain he was, and he’d come down into the trenches and say prayers with the men, have a cuppa out of a dirty tin mug and tell a joke as good as any of us. He was a chain smoker and always carried a packet of Woodbine cigarettes that he would give out in handfuls to us lads. That’s how he got his nickname. (Woodbine Willie) He came down the trench one day to cheer us up. Had his Bible with him as usual. Well, I’d been there for weeks, unable to write home, of course… I asked him if he would write to my sweetheart at home, tell her I was still alive and, so far, in one piece. He said he would, so I gave him the address. Well, years later, after the war, she showed me the letter he’d sent, very nice it was. A lovely letter. My wife kept it until she died.”

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy was converted to pacifism by the war, and published poetry from his experiences.  He speaks with realism of the most challenging things, but always seeks the hope that we all seek. Here is his poem, Patience.  

Sometimes I wish that I might do
Just one grand deed and die,
And by that one grand deed reach up
To meet God in the sky.
But such is not Thy way, O God,
Not such is Thy decree,
But deed by deed, and tear by tear,
Our souls must climb to Thee,
As climbed the only Son of God
From manger unto Cross,
Who learned, through tears and bloody sweat,
To count this world but loss;
Who left the Virgin Mother’s arms
To seek those arms of shame,
Outstretched upon the lonely hill
To which the darkness came.
As deed by deed, and tear by tear,
He climbed up to the height,
Each deed a splendid deed, each tear
a jewel shining bright,
So grant us, Lord, the patient heart,
To climb the upward way,
Until we stand upon the height,
And see the perfect day.

Anna Coleman Ladd, Boston sculptor who changed the faces of soldiers… 20,000 in WWI were severely facially disfigured. They could return home, but not to normal family life.
Her doctor husband began practicing in Paris in 1917.  Anna set up a studio there and began fashioning restorative face masks for wound- disfigured patients. Almost 200 men received new faces and a new life because of her skill and care.

People with hope, vision, faith & love can change the face of global society through gracious lives, loving acts…

As Ernest Shurtleff would say, “For not with swords loud crashing, nor roll of stirring drums… but deeds of love & mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.”