Worship, Feb 20 – A Division in the Crowd

WELCOME to this worship post for February 20, 2022. Welcome to this format of service from Digby Baptist Church. More information is available in the Bulletin for this date. Video from the service is added each week after the 11 am service.

PRAYERS of the People: Holy, wonderful Spirit of abundant power: to You we turn with our prayers together this morning. O God of hope, banish our despair, disperse our depression, conquer our hopelessness. With trouble on every side, in this world today, we have come into the light of Your blessed presence.

Forgive our forgetfulness, when we thought You were not near or could not handle the troubles we face. Brighten our spirits, and inspire both our prayers and our actions.

We intercede for:
Russia & Ukraine; mudslide in Brazil
Spanish fishing trawler lost off NFLD
Family lost in a fire near Bridgewater, NS
COVID protocol protests – Canada, France
Hong Kong – cases spiking

2 Races and peoples, lo! we stand divided,
And sharing not our griefs, no joy can share;
By wars and tumults Love is mocked, derided,
His conquering cross no kingdom wills to bear:
Thy Kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

(Lawrence Houseman, 1919)

Spirit of God, close as our own breath, we bless those nearest to us: Lisa Wong, John Banks, Rollie Wier, Louis Francis, Robert Wilkinson Sr., Amelia Doucette… Dwight and Joe and Peter; Marj, Maggie

Inspire and guide us in our Church Annual Meeting on Saturday. God of a hundred names, You call us by name, and bless us: glory and thanks to You, now and always. AMEN.

SERMON: As I prepared my message for today, the rain was pouring down – outdoors it was coming in horizontally; in here it was pouring straight down on the edge of the pews there! In the news I heard of the makeshift jails set up in Ottawa to receive the many expected arrested people from the protests. Then, my second basically homeless man of the week dropped in looking for a handout. Life is messy!

I’d just come out of three days of watching and listening to the lectures and seminars from Acadia about justice and anti-black racism: how to face the challenge and do something; be active; follow Jesus! It was a call to be courageous! It’s been a week of invitations to me to be courageous, to act more bravely.

I find all the bravery difficult. Perhaps none of you are like me, who finds it hard to be sure enough of things to take a stand. To care less about myself so I can care more for others and for the issues. I admire courageous, decisive people, who are clear about what they see and what they think and what should be done. 

So you have not heard me preach on anti-black racism, ever. Or local poverty and homelessness in this rural town. Or clearcutting of NS forests. Or recent protests against all the pandemic policies that some say are a plague. As the crowds were divided about Jesus in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago, so are the crowds divided today, about so many, many things. Important things. Things that matter to Jesus, and to us.

I admire my preacher colleagues like Lennett Anderson, and Rhonda Britton, and Joe Green, who seem always to be taking a stand and speaking out about the troubles of the world, calling for justice and equity and peace. Also, a Div College professor I know, Spencer Boersma, who appears to me clever, courageous, and compassionate. 

Here are a few comments from Dr. Boersma last week, posted on social media: (Facebook, February 17)

Pray for Canada as its democracy is under assault. 

As I said before the convoy arrived in Ottawa, the protest’s demands were [nonsensical.] The border trucker mandates are issued from both sides, Canada and the US, so for Canada to lift them would do nothing. 

As I said before, again, the real reason for the convoy is to make Trudeau look bad.

The protests are the equivalent of someone sitting on another person, then crying violence for when they punch the person off. They goaded him and he fell for it.

So, for a group of people to blockade the capital because they disagree with what a democratic [government] is doing is tremendously troubling. Let’s be clear: blockading the capital is not a peaceful demonstration. It is coercive. 

End of quotations. He wrote more than this.

I know enough about nonviolent communication to agree with Spencer that a ‘peaceful demonstration’ can actually be ‘violent’ in a deeper sense. Certain flags being waved are violent, in and of themselves. I know my own attitudes about these things going on – the pandemic, the responses of health and governments – but I’m not standing out on the street corner, or my pulpit, to proclaim them.

When there is a division in the crowd, how does a meek and mild person like me or you, respond? I’m not asking ‘What would Jesus do,’ but really, ‘What would Jesus have us do? You do? Me do?’ Can Christians cope with conflict?

This is the hope I have: The grand hope that Jesus is the Living Water, springing up without fail, and even flowing up within and out of me. And you. As a kid, at Middleton Baptist Church I learned to sing

I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me
makes the lame to walk and the blind to see
opens prison doors, sets the captives free,
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me!
Spring up, O well, within my soul;
spring up, O well, and make me whole;
spring up, O well, and give to me
that life abundantly!

‘Out of his [heart] shall flow rivers of living water’ Jesus said, harkening back to His scriptures. A steady river of water was trickling into the Parsonage basement on Thursday, in one corner, and getting pumped out at the opposite corner by the sump pump. What kind of flow from the Spirit of Jesus, through our spirits, is happening? That flow of grace and truth and life is a way of describing the source for our wisdom and courage. Then, we decide and act as body members of the Body of Christ today, be it about healthcare, government, race relations, or forestry. 

In his Thursday evening lecture from Acadia, Rev. Dr. Lennett Anderson gave seven action steps, the seventh being: Let’s get in good trouble and make some noise!  Amen! Yet his first step was: Assume a posture of humility. 

What we are reading about is Jesus in the midst of a lot of controversy. His fellow Jews and the various groups and sects are all in a kerfuffle about Him. He has gained a wide following, and a lot of strong opposition. What did we hear from John 7? [Some] in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? …scripture said… Bethlehem.” 

In this chapter of the story, we have all these players: Pharisees, the Chief Priests, the Temple Police, Jesus’ own brothers, the twelve disciples must be near, plus various other groups of Jews, often just called ‘the Jews’ in English. It’s a religious festival for them all, in their holy city. Jesus creates a stir; the people take sides. 

As I said, many of you may be like me, and you don’t create a stir very often. In fact, we avoid trouble. Right? But I have had my moments – as a public speaker every week before a crowd, it is bound to happen. 

For instance, I remember so well this certain sermon I preached. I said a few things about Creation, such as these:

As a child I was an artist, a biologist, an astronomer, and a paleontologist… So things in Sunday School like the poster that made fun of evolution I could not fully accept. How old is this rock of ages, the Earth? Six thousand[yrs]? Four and a half billion years? 

When someone believes in the evolution of life, and the geological time scale, and a 13.75 billion year old universe: seek to know and understand that person’s world- view, and how amazing this universe story is; then you will both be sharing in an incredible awe…. (Apr 22, 2012)

That sermon got me in some real hot water with a few people in the congregation. One of the retired pastors really took me to task for my heresy. And a couple deacons truly thought it was not helpful, especially Derek, who thought I was confusing some people in the pews. 

That was ten years ago this spring, on Earth Day. 

I usually keep my head down, stay under the radar. You too? Some of you. 😉 But we follow – we name ourselves after – Christ, who was no shrinking violet. Jesus stirred up so much controversy that, well, we know the story of His betrayal, arrest, interrogation, torture, and execution. 

Here is our inspiration: Jesus.
Here is our courage: Jesus!
Here is our correction: Jesus.
Here is our reconciliation: Jesus.
Here is our unity: Jesus.
Here is our guide: Jesus.
Here is our judge: Jesus.
Here is our truth: Jesus.
Here is our life, our living water: JESUS.

This Man, who was at the centre of a controversy about who He was, and what He meant by each thing He said, this Man was the answer to all the problems, all the division, all the enmity. The crowd was divided during that festival about Jesus. In the end, so many have to make a decision about this Messiah: trust and figure out how to follow, or not. The problems of life Jesus speaks to, the potential of life Jesus points to: shall we trust? Choose Him? Side with Christ? These pews are for those who have decided to follow Jesus, and for those who are wondering.

So I see Christ as the best way God reaches me. I am both led to put my confidence in Jesus, and to be confident in other decisions in my day to day life. I have this all-wise Shepherd. I see His image before me every Sunday, a rather unrealistic white European in stained glass. Jesus is far more real that that, to me. He’s not just some spiritual expert, here to comfort me and get me to the next life. This Living Water is what I need to face every choice and challenge. 

I’ve always been impressed with the way Dallas Willard made the point that Jesus, for each of us, is an expert, an expert in whatever we need at any moment. At a faculty retreat for a Christian College Willard once asked the professors what they thought Jesus would say to them if He were speaking at the retreat. Willard suggested He would ask them a simple question: Why don’t you respect me in your various fields of study and expertise? Why don’t you recognize me as a master of research and knowledge in your fields? They were experts in subjects like algebra, economics, business administration, French literature… Many of the profs thought, ‘are you serious?’ 

In our culture, no Christian thinks of Jesus as well informed, brilliant or smart. Willard warns: Far too often he is regarded as hardly conscious. He is taken as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man living on the margins of the “real life” where you and I must dwell. He is perhaps fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, but little more. (2006, The Great Omission, pp. 18-19) 

When Dallas Willard would say ‘Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived,’ some Christians would actually say ‘that doesn’t make sense.’  

Yet it does make sense; the most sense of anything. We have God available to us, in ways we can know and understand. Let anyone who is thirsty come to Jesus. Let anyone who believes in Him drink deeply of His Spirit. Christ is here to help us navigate the pandemic. To make life decisions when a major change comes along. To start a new project together when we don’t even know how. To show some courage when there’s a battle to be waged.

So, I did this last week; I said ‘Yes.’ An acquaintance from hiking reached out to me, about protecting forests in NS. She said she recently attended a meeting when an idea was presented to form “dream teams” of folks all over the province to nominate areas to be protected.

She said, The idea is we could go out… and find areas with high conservation values, or endangered species of anything (plants, animals, etc.) or we may already know of areas we’d like to protect, older growth etc.  If we could team up perhaps with biologists or knowledgeable folks who know the woods or have lived there for decades to help that would be great. I guess I am one of the ‘knowledgeable folks’ who could help. 

So, I said, ‘Yes.’ I realized, it is time for me to take a stand. I know Jesus wants me to make a difference here for all creation, the environment. Christ will have to lead me in this opportunity to join a local ‘dream team.’ 

What team are you joining this year? And are you taking Jesus with you?

Let there be overflowing life for all of us. Sharing this fresh water of the Spirit, we shall move forward, & stand up for good, for right, for love, for justice, for peace, for life. 

Jesus will still divide crowds of people, yes.

Yet we can be very sure about Him.

Amen.

Pastor’s Letter of Resignation:

I Don’t Wanna Be a Pharisee?

(2 Cor 3:1-9, 17-18; John 7:37-52) – J G White

11 am, Sun, March 15, 2020 – UBC Digby

This past week I was remembering a song from childhood Sunday School days.

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa

Pray the Lord my soul to keep,

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa baa

I don’t wanna be a goat, nope

Haven’t got any hope, nope

I don’t wanna be a hypocrite

‘Cause they’re not hip to it

I don’t wanna be a Canaanite

‘Cause they just make cain at night

I don’t wanna be a Sadducee

‘Cause they’re so sad, you see

I don’t wanna be a Pharisee

‘Cause they’re not fair, you see  

Cute song; fun song; biblical song. But what child understands this? Hey, what adult in a pew really could explain what a goat is here, or a Canaanite, a hypocrite (OK, you know!), a Sadducee, or Pharisee?

We read again this Sunday from John’s Gospel, and there we find these Jewish people called Pharisees saying and doing things, as well as temple police, and chief priests. It was during the Jewish Festival of Booths. What’s all this?

I want to look at just the Pharisees, for a moment today, because I am paying attention to Nicodemus, this cameo character in the story. He is mentioned just three times, in John chapters 3, 7 and 19. Last Sunday we looked at the first scene, when he visits Jesus one night, and has an amazing conversation. Which includes the now famous John 3:16. 

Today’s story, from chapter 7, shows a growing controversy about Jesus, back then. The Jewish people in general were divided about Him. Is He the Christ, the Messiah? Is He right, or wrong? The scholars and Bible law enforcers seem mostly against Jesus. A move to have Him arrested, and even killed off, was growing.

Nicodemus stands out, among the others. He calls for just treatment of Jesus, when the rest of the Pharisees think He is a deceiver and should get arrested. They had called in the police to arrest Jesus, but the police were taken aback by His amazing teachings and did not put a hand on Him. “Shouldn’t he get a fair hearing?” asked Nicodemus.

Perhaps you can already tell that this Jewish group – the Pharisees – were law-keepers. They were experts in the Laws of what we call the Old Testament. And they had a big tradition of other teachings that were to be obeyed. In the Jewish Faith, by this time, local meeting houses were in the towns: the synagogues. This is where the Pharisees had their power and influence, teaching the local people and enforcing their ways of obeying God. 

The Pharisee tradition had developed new theologies. Instead of God’s justice being done in this world, according to what God decided, they taught there would be a resurrection in the afterlife, and God’s final justice would come then. They also taught about angels and other spirits, and the predestination of people under God. 

So they paved the way for the Jewish religion to be less about one Temple on earth- in the city of Jerusalem – and more about the home and the local town synagogue as the centre for holiness and learning and obedience.

In contrast, the more traditional Sadducees were aristocratic, focused on the Jerusalem Temple, had more political power, and were closely allied with the Jewish priesthood in the City. They did not teach there was much of an afterlife: no need of resurrection nor justice later. 

You may have noticed, it is to all these law-keepers and law-givers Jesus gives his harshest words, in much of the Gospels. By the time John is telling the seventh chapter of the whole story, reviews of Jesus are mixed, with the Pharisees and Sadducees and priests and scribes opposing Him. 

Mostly. Not all. Not Nicodemus. And, as we read later, a zealous Pharisee named Saul dramatically is transformed into a zealous Christian, and goes by Paul. It is this Paul, as an early Mediterranean missionary, who writes letters to the little Church in Corinth Greece. We read a bit today. And at this point, in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul is contrasting the old, legalistic way that he knew so well, with the new Way, in Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. 

Paul goes so far as to call his old way “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets”!  He does say it was glorious, yes, but it pales in comparison with the ministry of the Spirit, the ministry of justification. Paul’s new work is the continuing work of Jesus. 

Now, being a stickler for the laws of the Bible is a problem, because it is not the way of salvation. Yet Church people through the centuries can be tempted to make our faith a religion of dos and don’ts. As a theology professor quoted to me the other day: some believers treat the New Testament like a second Old Testament. (S. Boersma) So we don’t want to be Christian Pharisees.

Yet we still need rules. We must trust and obey. Be it for moral and spiritual things, or for the hygiene needed in a panicky pandemic. Seek the Spirit of Christ to guide and teach, as He has been doing for a couple thousand years. 

Remember that, to know the biblical Law is a benefit for Faith in Christ. 

Paul mentions Moses, the lawgiver, to the believers in Corinth. The people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face… Jesus mentioned Moses to Nicodemus on his first visit. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up… (Jn 3) These were the stories they were steeped in, of course, which guided them. And guided them right into a ‘new covenant,’ a ‘new testament.’ 

Jesus said, at the last supper, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’ We can also translate it, ‘the new testament in my blood.’ (Lk 22:20) Jesus brought something new, built upon but greater than the old.

In Christ, humans are more valuable than the Law, so to speak. Paul used this beautiful imagery with his friends: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts… written… not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 3:2-3) Jesus gives us news about following Bible rules, over and over. Such as when he spoke of the fourth commandment and said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28) The intense and detailed rules of the Jewish Sabbath are for people, to serve them.

Today is Sunday, a Christian Sabbath Day. Yet attendance in churches is down today in NS, I’m sure. I have given you a break from the big news story so far, but let me now just ask this. We are having a pandemic on the planet! Well, what does this mean for the faithful? Could we treat it like the Sabbath of old? Or like a spiritual retreat for Lent? A time of purposeful rest. A time of fasting from things (giving up certain things) for prayer. A season of preparation.

Here is a poem called ‘Pandemic,’ by Lynn Ungar. 

What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath–

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world

different than it is. 

Sing. Pray. Touch only those

to whom you commit your life. 

Center down…

http://www.lynnungar.com/poems/pandemic/  

When you must be isolated – take this from God as a time for holy solitude. Jesus took forty days alone in the wilderness – His Spirit is available to be your guide for forty days, or whatever it takes. When your plans for March and April get cancelled – take it from God as a teachable moment about making sacrifices, about our own mortality, about caring for the needy, about noticing Jesus – lifted up for all to see.

Some other good news, that Paul mentions: Our competence is in and from God. For the ministry that we are called upon to do. 

Perhaps we are also competent to handle anything the world can throw at us, thanks to God. What’s the popular prayer about this? Lord help me to remember: nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can’t handle. 

Paul also wrote: Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Freedom from legalism, from phariseeism, from needing to save yourself by being perfectly good and getting everything right. Jesus has accomplished this for us. Now, there’s transformation, from glory to GLORY. So it is a gift to be given a life that is getting better, purer, more beautiful. 

All this was found by some of the Pharisees, such as Nicodemus. They started off by being scripture experts already. That was an advantage, and a challenge. Christ opened their minds up to know new things, and follow His lead.

And this can be known by us also, whether we are law makers or law breakers or law keepers. 

‘I don’t wanna be a Pharisee,’ we sing. But we can start there.  One just doesn’t stay there. A Pharisee can hear the call into the Kingdom of Christ. And be new. Like Paul. 

Every day, remember Jesus words:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 

and let the one who believes in me drink. 

As the scripture has said, 

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37-38)

PRAYERS of the People Let us be guided by scripture this morning. These phrases can guide our silent praying together.  Let us pray.

(James 5) 13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. 

Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 

14 Are any among you sick? 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; 

and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. 

(1 Timothy 2) [First of all, then, I urge that] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 

3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;

Our Father, who art in heaven…  AMEN.

Saving Water

(Jeremiah 2:4-13; John 7:37-39) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, September 1, 2019 – UBC Digby


We read our first detailed warnings from Jeremiah of old, today. Chapter 2. The ancestors did wrong and turned away from God. Their priests did not know God. Those prophets spoke on behalf of Ba’al, not Yahweh. They changed their God! They forsake the Fountain of living water.

Years ago I had a job that involved saving water. I worked for a university at their research station on a large island in Shelburne county. We lived in one of the old lighthouse keepers houses. We had electricity. We had a gigantic propane stove and grill. We had a boat to get back and forth. I think my boss had a cellular telephone. But we did not have good well water on the island. It was so brackish and dark.

So the lighthouse keeper’s houses had cisterns in the basement: the rainwater drained from the roof into the large concrete container that took up a third of the basement. We kept a close eye on the water level of the cistern, as the summer went on. Every four or five days one could take a bath! In a bit of water. As my boss would say to visitors: just a couple inches of water. Wash down as far as possible, wash up as far as possible, then wash possible

There are two houses on the island, but in the basement of one, the concrete cistern would not hold water anymore: it was cracked. Useless.

Many peoples around the globe are water saving cultures. In deserts, on islands, and so forth. It is vital to survival. How different this is from being here on town water, or having your own wonderful well that never goes dry. Think of that ever-flowing water along the side of the road in Weymouth. 

This is living water – flowing water. It is the image of the prophet in Jeremiah 2. And the picture Jesus paints, more than once. Let anyone who is thirsty come to me…‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (Jn 7:37, 38) 

When unending, fresh, living-giving, living water is available, why rely upon bottles and barrels and sandy cisterns? This is the question God poses through Jeremiah’s voice. 

…my people have… forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer 2:13)

I wonder what cracked cisterns I have occasionally dug for myself. I like church and a lot of religious traditions. Instead of the Holy Spirit, I rely upon organ music, or nice hymns, or fancy prayers, or thoughtful books. The tools of our Faith can become more important than the God of our Faith. 

In my better moments, I realize how sentimental and nostalgic I can be. Maybe like you, I get attached to the past. I love the good old days, and like to preserve them. Thanks be to God, I’ve had a couple special moments this year, God moments, Divine encounters, in which I felt inspired and realized, “These are the good old days here and now! Thank- You, Master!”

I like my lifestyle, my freedom, my standard of living, my great expectations for how wonderful life will keep on being for us here. Do I worship my middle-class luxuries more than the Saviour who sacrificed Himself completely? 

Some people get locked-in to their thoughts, their opinions, their religious convictions. I have a tendency to think outside the box, and explore spirituality on the edges of Christianity. I sometimes am warned by 2 Timothy 4:3&4 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

The good news in the warnings of Jeremiah, and of Jesus, is that there is a fountain of living water for the human spirit. There is a Holy Spirit, there is a Saviour, there is a loving Creator. Our challenge, is to keep choosing to drink freely from the free Source. It is as free as that spring from the spigots in Weymouth. We need not worry about saving water – keeping and protecting our spirituality. The saving water – the water that saves – will not run out on us.