Feb 21: To Do Good & Be Good

WELCOME to this post for a Digby Baptist Church Sunday morning. Here, we include a bit of video from the service. The whole plan for the service each week can be found in the Bulletin, here on our website.

(Psalm 15; Luke 10:25-42) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, Feb 21, 2021, UBC Digby

PRAYERS of the People  Today we use this response from Psalm 4 as we pray: when I say, O that we might see some good!, you say, Let the light of Your face shine upon us.  Let us   pray.

Fire of God, Thou Sacred Flame: refine us again, at this late hour of our lives. Renew us by burning away the wastefulness of our time and the unkind habits we keep repeating. You delight in us when we become more beautiful and generous to our neighbours.

O that we might see some good! Let the light of Your face shine upon us.

Spirit of creation, whose goodness gives life to all: we pray for those who mourn, especially those who have tragically lost loved ones this weekend. These deaths make no sense; hear our prayers.

O that we might see some good! Let the light of Your face…

Jesus, who wept over his dead friend, who wept over the whole city: people need to know You are near and weep with us again, lovingly.

O that we might see some good! Let the light of Your face…

Christ, who hungered in the wilderness, who touched every sick and injured person, who faced your own torture and execution: hear our prayers for those among us who are ill and hurting. Bless Dwight, bless Carolyn, bless Bob, bless

O that we might see some good! Let the light of Your face…

Ancient of Days, time is in Your hands: we pray for those waiting for surgery, waiting for therapy, waiting for diagnosis, waiting for healing. We also call out for those who are troubled in heart and mind, that they may be supported and strengthened.

O that we might see some good! Let the light of Your face…

God of all nations, into a troubled world You bring powerful help: our prayers are for the people of Texas and other places suffering in terrible weather; for places of violence and unrest such as Myanmar and the Philippines; and for the worldwide challenges of the new strains of the coronavirus. 

O that we might see some good…

Why Church? Why are people in the Christian Church? To Do Good and to Be Good. Baptist author and philosopher, Dallas Willard, spoke often of the longing of humans to find the good life. How to live a good life? This is the deep quest of so many people. Christianity claims that the Church is the way, with Jesus, on earth now, to become the good person we each are meant to be. 

How is the Church doing, so far? Well, almost 2000 years on? Are we rather dull and worn and failed now?

One of my favourite chapters in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is number two, about the Church. Here I see a marevelous glimpse of the real Church that terrifies the demons who work for Satan. A demon named Screwtape writes to his nephew abt. the Christian Church: …we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. 

Demon Screwtape likes to think that a man on Sunday morning at a Church will see things this way:

When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided.

It is so true that the real Church reaches far above and beyond what we see in ourselves on a Sunday morning. It is huge! It has a holy God. It is everywhere in history. And so, Church is a way that we live the good life, here and now, connected with every other person who is in Christ, throughout all of time and space. 

But Screwtape was right. This is hidden from most of us, a lot of the time. And all our neighbours outside of the churches do not see the Church that Jesus is building, against which the gates of hades cannot stand. 

Nevertheless, we are here, in this school of the spirit, this seminar for sainthood, this saving place for sinners. We have seen goodness among us, and we know we can be trained for right living in this fellowship. O to be good! 

Let me take some time to tell you a story told by Micah Brickner. He is Communications Director for Eastern Mennonite Missions. He lives in Lancaster City, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Heather: she is pastor of a Brethren in Christ Church called Branch & Vine. Micah tells this experience he had, when he was quite young.

It was winter, in the early 2000s. It was cold. It was also snowing.

My father and I were getting ready to drive to the store in our less-than-reliable 1980-something Chevy Celebrity. The car’s alternator was having some issues, and the engine would not stay running.

We had not traveled very far down the main street in my hometown when the car was not able to make it.

Whatever the issue ended up being, I remembered that we needed someone to help us jump the car’s battery. My father struggled with a form of anxiety that could render him into a significant panic from situations like this one — this one did just that.

I was too young to be of much help, other than walking to someone’s house to ask for help. We did not have a cell phone, and we did not necessarily know what to do.

Suddenly, walking down the street we saw our pastor. We asked for his help, but he said he was running late for a meeting and could not help.

It was disappointing, but we moved on.

Next we saw a neighbor, who happened to be a Sunday school teacher. We asked if he could jump the car. And he responded quickly by indicating that his car’s battery was probably too unreliable to be able to help us. My father tried to explain that this man’s car would be fine, but he continued to find excuses.

We were left to figure out how to solve this problem on our own.

Then an old panel van came driving up alongside our car. The driver rolled down his window and asked if we needed help.

We quickly realized that it was our neighbor … our Muslim neighbor. He pulled onto the side of the road, rummaged for a pair of jumper cables, and quickly helped us get back on the road.

It was such a simple gesture, but it was a meaningful one — one that my family still talks about fondly today.

This man and his wife owned a little gift shop down the street from our house. We were patrons of their business for a long time & found joy in their friendship. Unfortunately, this man passed away a few years later. My parents often encouraged me to shovel their sidewalk while he was sick and after he passed away.

I share this story not to chastise the two Christian men who did not help us, but rather to highlight the kindness of the man who did. This neighbor was willing to openly talk with us about faith and the differences between Christianity and Islam. While we differed in our religious views, we had mutual respect for each other.

My Good Samaritan Was a Muslim

Micah Brickner titled his article: ‘My Good Samaritan Was a Muslim.’ Though not the same as the Luke 10 parable of Jesus, these personal events illustrate the act of being a neighbour, a true good thing in this life. Jesus’ parable is an extreme example of neighbourliness, in a truly dire situation. 

The Africa Bible Commentary simply calls this parable in Luke, ‘Co-travellers,’ and sums up the issues nicely:

People from countries such as the United States of America, South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda and Burundi and other countries racked by racial and ethnic divisions have a special appreciation of this story of the travellers. It deals with racial harmony and what it means to be human and humane, or to be someone with ubuntu, that is, someone who is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, with a servant spirit that says, ‘I am because you are; you are because I am.’ (p. 1251)

Jesus tells this story when answering questions. He keeps on with His teaching theme: what you do matters. To be welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous – these describe actions, not beliefs or thoughts or feelings. For the Church to be a centre for learning these ways of God, we must focus upon this: how to do the things Jesus taught. It is all very practical. 

Once in a while, a local congregation stands out in the message it gives to the community at large. In my research last week, I happened to look at the web page for Branch & Vine, that Brethren Church in Lancaster City, Pa. On their homepage are three simple statements. If they claim these things, so clearly and concisely, they must be making these practical and ‘real.’ That Church says: We Believe…

  1. Jesus loves everyone. 
  2. Church should be simple.
  3. Children should be seen and heard.

I don’t think you can make such brief, direct claims about yourself without doing what is implied. Hypocrisy about loving neighbours, or the church running simply, or children being totally welcome, would soon show up. 

The ways Jesus shows us how to be good and to do good in life are not sublime ideas and theories. They are practical ways of living, day-to-day. 

The great teacher of preachers, Fred Craddock, raised an important issue about Jesus’ parable of the travellers, which Jesus told when talking with a Jewish law expert.

The lawyer knew the answers to his own questions, and in both cases Jesus expressed full agreement. 

Then what is wrong with this conversation? We have two good questions, two good answers, and two men who agree. What else could one ask? All kinds of things are wrong. Asking questions for gaining an advantage over another is not a kingdom exercise. Neither is asking questions with no intention of implementing the answers. …Jesus did not say to the lawyer, “Great answer! You are my best pupil.” Rather, Jesus said, “Go and do.”  (Craddock, Fred, Luke: Interpretation, 1990, p.150)

Ah, how wonderful those moments when we, dear Church, help one another ‘go and do what Jesus teaches. Christ has planted us here as a source of good in the neighbourhood. And I see every day how you are on Jesus’ team, blessing others. 

 I meet one of you in the grocery store, buying a fruit basket for a neighbour recovering from surgery. 

A deacon texts me to let me know about some recent deaths in the community, and the circle of prayer and care grows. 

A parent and children come in here during a cold snowstorm to prepare activity packs for the Sunday kids.

Such actions are our natural ministry – or perhaps, with Jesus, they actually are our supernatural ministry. We are saved to do such good work so that the world will be helped. Not so that we will earn our way into heaven. The doctrine of grace tells us that God’s care and compassion for us saves us, with the actions of Jesus. We don’t earn our way, or become worthy. Jesus is the worthy One. 

The temptation has been, for centuries, to come to Church, to worship God, to earn God’s favour and get enough points and get into glory when we die. More about that a couple sermons from now. I know we do have scripture texts like Psalm 15, that we spoke earlier. 

O LORD, who may abide in your tent?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right…

Yet it is Jesus, our Jesus, who takes the final step, and walks more blamelessly that we can, He does right when we do not. Now, in Christ we get two things. First, we get to be considered perfect, blameless, doers of what’s right. Secondly, we actually will do better in this life, with Christ living within us. This week of our lives will be lived better with Jesus than without Him. We will be good neighbours.

Dallas Willard wisely wrote: In the morning we cannot yet know who our neighbor will be that day. The condition of our hearts will determine who along our path turns out to be our neighbor, and our faith in God will largely determine whom we have strength enough to make our neighbor. (Willard, D., The Divine Conspiracy, 1997, p. 111)

To do good, to be a good person, does come down to how we become a neighbour to others. The Lawyer’s question still stands. “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus’ parable remains the answer. My neighbour is the one I treat well. My neighbour is the one who treats me well. 

It is not Mr. Rogers, but Christ Himself who asks us: Won’t you be their neighbour?

PRAYER of Confession Let us   pray. Jesus, our Righteousness, we clothe ourselves with You, we take off our weaker attempts at being good, we submit to all the training You have for us in the school of life. We confess the pride we have in the good we count as our own. We confess the neglect of time and effort and expense for helping those we could help. We confess our forgetfulness of the many life lessons You have offered us. We regret our sins. We ask for hope, that we may truly be better and greater in this world. We turn to You, O Perfect One, to do more now to make us complete, and good, and joyful in this life. It is by Your own power and authority – Your name – that we pray. AMEN.

The Word of God Fully Known

(Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 19; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, July 21, 2019 – UBC Digby

This month I happened to hear a radio documentary on The Saint John’s Bible. At the start of the 21st Century, some artists and scholars produced this large copy of the Bible, in English, in the ancient way. Printed on calfskin vellum, it was all written by hand – calligraphy – with many illustrations by artists, called illuminations. It is large – it is in seven volumes. Like the Bibles of old, made in the monasteries, the illuminations used not only ancient inks but gold leaf and silver. They use the imagery and people of the contemporary world, in this case, the dawn of the third millennium.  

I found the story of this Bible so inspiring. It was commissioned by a Benedictine college in Minnesota, Saint John’s University. Also, two hundred copies of it were produced, for sale. So the Saint John’s Bible does get to be read and seen by many people around the world. Saint John’s Bible

A project like this makes us remember there were days gone by when books were rare. There were no printing presses, not to mention computers and printers.  Each Bible was copied by hand. The word of God was rare in those days. And so special.

I’m having a Bible-focused Sunday again, today, with four scripture readings. First, from Amos, prophet to the prosperous kingdom of Israel of old. 
Amos 8: The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.  

Is hearing the word of God rare in our day and land? 

Is there hunger, yet, for real words from God?

Will there be such a famine, in our day?

What was the problem in the days of Amos?

What’s our problem?

Psalm 19:  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the eyes. 

God and God’s word is revealed in more than one way; not just the Bible. And how we explain  the Bible are not just with words and study and research and books and essays and sermons. It also comes alive for us in art. Such as these illuminations.

I’m not sure why, but there is something so powerful and moving for me as I explore some of the images from this gigantic, modern Bible.  

Where have you seen God, amazingly, in the Bible?

Where have you seen God, in incredible ways, outside of reading the Bible?

Colossians 1:  …to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.  

The Church today faces this challenge in lots of creative ways: the challenge of making the word of God fully known in the 21st century. Amid the online preaching, the trendy technological city churches, and the fresh expressions of Church that meet in coffee shops and tattoo parlours, there are things like the Saint John’s Bible. Ancient and modern, at the same time. I like this story about it… 

A volunteer, named Jason Engle, was taking copies of the Heritage Edition of the Bible around – those 200 copies of it that were made. He often, on trips, would stop on his long journey in the evening, for a bite to eat at a McDonalds restaurant. One night he did this, after a presentation in Chicago, stopping late – just a few folks in McDonalds.  This young fellow comes up to him and says, “Hi, my name is Michael, are you a Christian?” Yeah, says Jason. Michael says, “Well, I’m homeless; wanna have dinner with me?” “Yeah, sure.” And a conversation begins. 

Michael tells Jason a lot of his life story. And he shares a gift – he quotes poetry he has written for God.  After a while, Jason says, “I have a gift for you.” He goes out to the trunk of his car, and brings out his copy of the Saint John’s Bible, first volume. 

He starts showing it to Michael, who is amazed at this. Then an elderly woman in the restaurant looks over. Then one of the teenage staff. She goes out back and brings another staff person. They are all looking through, at the artwork, but then they want to hear it read, what the Bible says. So they get reading. 

Eventually the manager of the McDonalds comes out, frustrated, because all the teen staff are gathered at this table out there! Reading a Bible.

What are ways you can see the Bible getting known around here, today?

Luke 10:  Mary… sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks…
“…there is need of only one thing.”

Nowadays, I read this story, and think it is about balance – having balance in our lives.  The balance between being a Christian who studies the Bible and being a Christian who lives a busy, day-to-day life. Often, many of us are like Martha, and the one thing we need more of is simply to pay some more attention to the Lord. It might mean more Bible; it might mean more praying.

Your next step, this summer, could be one of two things: ONE: know the Bible more yourself.
TWO: share the Bible more, for others.
What do you think your calling is, this year?

Make the word of God fully known!

She Matters Too

Solidarity Sunday, Mother’s Day,  E7,  May 8, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby / J G White

(Proverbs 31:8-16, 25-31; Luke 10:38-42)

It was years ago I heard this, dare I call it, old wives tale, about a chapter in the Bible.  Proverbs 31.  It went something like this.  Woman: open the Bible to Proverbs chapter 31.  You will see it has 31 verses.  Read the verse that is the same number as you birthday is in the month you were born.  That verse is for you.  

So, my wife, Sharon, was born on the 25th of a certain month.  Her verse would be She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

Now, this sort of works best for women born on the 10th or later, because the first nine verses are not quite the same sort of complimentary wisdom.  Yet, this method is really a superstition, I’d say, and a bad way of using scripture.  We don’t believe in using this book for magic, like this.  God’s word is not a silly horoscope!  

Look instead to the whole chapter.  In fact, start where I didn’t earlier, at verse 1.  Read what it says. The sayings of King Lemuel – an oracle his mother taught him.  This Lemuel is not known from anywhere in scripture or history, only from this.  And this claims to be wisdom he learned from his mother.  This gives the chapter a powerful perspective.  Especially as we read the advice a woman gave to her son, an ancient king.  Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.  (8-9) The call for justice goes out:  Care for those in need!  Be fair! Those who are oppressed are valuable. She Matters! 

That’s the name – for a second year in a row – of our campaign with Canadian Baptist Ministries.  She Matters.  There is work we can do to bless girls and women around the world who have not had the opportunity to learn, to earn a living, to become leaders.  This is the work of Jesus, as He came to do, and we join Him today.  

The She Matters Campaign addresses and advocates for gender equity for women around the world.  Think for a moment of the key responsibilities held by women for their family’s nutrition, health, education, food security, among other areas.  Yet millions of women and girls in some places are denied access to important and often life changing health, welfare and employment skills, information and training because of a lack of literary skills.  They cannot read and write.  Their marginalization is sometimes deliberate.  Boys are favoured in education and nutrition.  There are communities in which local leaders, mostly male, perpetuate structures of patriarchy by telling women that they must accept their place, remain silent, and that Christian workers will harm them and their families.

One of the key barriers to breaking the cycle of systemic poverty is lack of free primary education for children, in particular females.  The lack of basic education perpetuates adult illiteracy and maintains a barrier for women who would like to have sustainable employment skills and access to knowledge.  

Baptist congregations, through CBM, support several initiatives that open up opportunities for women through literacy classes, and for girls through access to education.  

In India there are church based initiatives among tribal people in rural villages where there are no schools.  A girls’ hostel was opened by the Kui Baptist Convention and Canadian Baptists.  The hostel provides a secure place for girls and young women to board while they study in primary and secondary school.  In addition, there are women’s literacy classes in the rural communities.  

In Rwanda, over seven hundred and fifty women are enrolled in reading and discussion classes.  The materials cover important themes such as child nutrition, violence against women, and women’s leadership in their churches and communities.  Students learn to read the scriptures and discuss them in their community classes.  

A Rwandan Baptist pastor introduced an adolescent girl named Rachel to CBM’s Children of Hope Program for children from child led households.  Rachel was grieving the death of her widowed mother and was overwhelmed and fearful of being thrust into the role of primary caregiver to her four siblings.  Through the program, Rachel and her family members were enrolled in the national health care program, school fees were paid and a trained mentor visited regularly with the family to provide support and encouragement.  

When Rachel finished school, a literate, educated young woman, she was enrolled in a vocational program to become a tailor.  A micro-credit loan helped her to purchase a sewing machine and start a small business.  Rachel is now twenty- three with a growing business that includes her own dress designs.  She has been trained to mentor three other child led households with sixteen children in all.  Rachel is a strong Christian witness among the children from child led households.  

These literacy and education programs are not a passing fad.  They are commitments to gender justice, to the healing of the world, to recognizing the potential of girls and women.  She Matters is our statement through words and actions that transform lives.  (Shannon Youell, She Matters Too sermon resource, 2016)

Women and girls are given opportunities to live the life of the wise woman of Proverbs chapter 31. And this is Jesus’s vision too.  

A great wisdom moment in the New Testament comes in Luke 10, with today’s story of sisters, Martha and Mary, having a visit from Jesus, their friend and Master.  The contrast between these two sisters has been considered and meditated upon by so many through the years.  Martha, who is busy, busy with the tasks of hospitality; Mary who simply sits to listen to the lessons of the Master.  

This was one text a little group of pastors pondered last week while on retreat.  We were there, at Bayside Camp, to be quiet and meditative; to be with Jesus.  We wondered about what other things might have happened if Martha had acted differently, or Mary.  

Martha, we are told, was the one who welcomed Jesus into their home.  But then her attitude shows up: she keeps busy, and gets frustrated at her sister who is not helping her.  Martha even tells Jesus what to do!  “Tell her to help me!”  

How often do we tell God what to do, when we have not yet spent enough time listening?  There can be a balance in our lives.  Work and activity for God; rest and being with our Master.  Some of us are naturally like Martha – busy and hospitable and energetic.  Some of us are like Mary – contemplative or studious.  All can have balance.   In the end, it was Martha’s attitude, not her work, that was the issue.  “Martha, Martha,” said Jesus, “you are worried and upset about many things…”  We wondered if, suppose, Mary had got up and got to helping Martha, if Mary would have done it with simple confidence, and not been harried.  To know how to be restful and take in a special moment can be balanced with our busy moments and responsibilities.  And perhaps it was counter-cultural for a woman to sit at the feet of a Rabbi teaching, when there was work to be done.  Jesus commends Mary for choosing well to be a student of the Master.  She matters – both Mary and Martha matter – and both can be disciples of Jesus: learners in His school of Kingdom living.

And so we come full circle, back to the wisdom of Proverbs 31 – wisdom from the mother of a long-forgotten king.  But the mother’s wise, poetic advice has never been forgotten.  And here, from so long ago, is that exemplary balance that can be seen in a woman’s life, not to mention in a man.  She works with fabric and clothing; she is like a merchant in the town.  She supplies food in her home; she is a business woman.  She is strong and full of dignity;  she is filled with wisdom; she is loved and respected by her partner and children.  She is in balance.  

Charm is deceitful and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

And to the rest of us we could say: Strength is fragile and handsomeness is but the surface; but a man who fears the Lord is to be praised.