March 28: Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday

WELCOME to this post for the Digby Baptist worship service a the end of March and the end of the season of Lent. This Sunday’s service includes a mini-concert by our Men’s Choir. Today’s brief sermon is, for a change, in the preacher’s own handwriting (printing, actually). Video and audio clips are added from the 11 am service.

PRAYER of Approach: Hosanna – save us, we pray! As the Psalms call out, as the people called out for Jesus, we call out today. We tell an ancient story, as we do every Sunday, O God. It is Your story. It becomes our story. Spirit of God, take us to that distant city, Jerusalem, to see the welcome Jesus gets, and the disasters that befall Him. Give us palm branches to wave, that we may feel the harsh heat of the sun and take that journey with Jesus and His disciples and His enemies. Show us the Cross, that we may face our faults and failures, and hear the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

Mighty One, we are here for worship, today. We do not always know just what we are doing. We do not know quite what to do. Give us faith to trust that You know exactly what You are doing here. Apply the familiar story to our lives. Let us rejoice freely now, even as we prepare for an intense story this week. Come, O Holy Spirit, and open the Word to us. Open our hearts to the music of the Men’s Choir. Open our eyes to see You. In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

PRAYERS of the People: Hospital: Wayne P, Dwight O, Carolyn M, Heather T… Facing loss: Dottie M… In long-term care… Injured: Ramona V – broken leg… Hopes and joys: expecting a birth: Wilkinsons… Celebrating the new birth in Christ: Terry C… All who ponder the events of Jesus’ life and death this week…

Luke 19:36-40

‘He’s Still the King of kings’

Luke 22:39-46

‘Back to Gethsemane’

Luke 23:32-38

‘There Is A Green Hill Far Away’

Luke 23:44-49

‘That Day at Calvary’

1 Peter 1:18-21

‘There Was No Other Way’

‘Low in the Grave He Lay’

PRAYER after the Concert: Thank You, Creator, for the story told in song. Such personal words the men have shared, and the profound events described in scripture challenge and instruct us. Bless our men in the choir, and Bonnie, and Cairine.  Bless our Sunday Choir that has been disbanded for a full year now. Bless us who try to sing with masks. Bless all who read or watch bits of our services at home. Let us worship with real hope. Let us all keep drawing near to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God, for evermore. AMEN.

March 21: To Belong & Fellowship

Welcome to this blog post for Digby Baptist’s worship service, Sunday, March 21, 2021. Video of some parts of the service is included here; thanks, Dick, for running the camera! The whole plan for the service is found in the Bulletin, also available here on the website.

(Luke 19:1-10) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, March 21, 2021, UBC Digby

This happens, once in a while. I go to leave the house, and reach for the car key. I keep mine in a certain spot. It was not in that certain spot. So… I got to the coats hanging in the back porch: check the pockets. No. Hmm. Maybe it is upstairs, in the pocket of the pants I wore yesterday. Nope. Where, oh where could it be?  Sometimes, I have simply had to quit looking, and dig out the spare key kept with others in a tin can. Then, later that day, or the next, or the next, my usual car key turns up. Wherever I left it this time: in the wrong spot.

I am a person who has a knack for losing things, I must admit. Do you ever misplace something? You look and look for it. You give up, after a while. But maybe you find it, later? That’s a happy moment! 

Words of Jesus, about Himself: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.” (Lk 19:10)

That’s the conclusion of the story of Zacchaeus. A famous Bible story for children, who also are short, and tend to like climbing trees. I sure did, when I was young.

But Zacchaeus was different. He did not belong in the crowd on the street. He was, well, prosperous, from working for the oppressive government tax department. We might have our own reasons for not wanting the CRA to phone us. The folks of Israel in 30 CE had their reasons for calling their tax collectors sinners. And that’s just what they called Zacchaeus. 

Then, the common people don’t approve of the attention Jesus pays to this man. Yet, Jesus seeks and saves the lost. The ones who are out of place. Who have not found a place in the household of God. 

So Zacchaeus belongs in the family of God. Has a place in the fellowship. Jesus gives it to him. This tax collector believes Him, and responds in a very generous way. Sounds like his lifestyle is about to change. His way of doing business will be new. We are not told how his neighbours, his ‘clients,’ actually get treated, nor how they esteem Zacchaeus from here on in. We can only guess. But we see that Jesus believes what the man says. 

A modern hymn says,

Come in, come in and sit down,
you are a part of the family.
We are lost and we are found,
and we are a part of the family.

Today I add on one more sermon to answer the question: Why Church? Why are people in the Christian Church? To belong. To have fellowship. Social life. Is that why you are here, to some degree? To belong to a group. To socialize? To be a family of God?

Of course, many a pastor has preached sermons on the danger – the sin – of a church behaving like a social club. As one friend of mine calls it, the church becomes a ‘Bless Me Club.’ This is a real danger, and rears its ugly head all the time. The club mentality is all about who is in and who is out. And we sure don’t want the wrong type to get in!

Zacchaeus was one type of outsider, in Jericho, that day long ago. There are many kinds of outsiders. 

Remember the Parable of the Life-Saving Station? I have shared it more than once in the past, here. I’m not going to retell the whole thing. It is the story of a seaside live-saving station that upgrades, becomes quite lovely, and a real social centre for the members. Then, one day, when a terrible shipwreck occurs, and many people have to be rescued, it messes up the picturesque station! 

“They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.” (Theodore O. Wedel, 1953)

Well, the parable goes on, written by Rev. Theodore Wedel, who first preached it in 1953.

Jesus seeks and saves what is lost, out of place, not home. And He creates the Church, to continue this ministry of reconciliation to God. 

So we are social. To be reconciled to God, and to one another, is a social reality. It is the family of God that gets healed and grows and brings people together. It could be said that there is no salvation of people that is not social, not corporate, not about everyone together. (That’s a whole sermon, for another day.)

As we sing, we need to be sure to sing, ‘I’m so glad you’re a part of the family of God…’ ‘Cause it is easy to grumble. Luke 19:7, after Zacchaeus is told Jesus is dining at his house tonight: All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

Jesus always gathers people who are in trouble of some sort, those who did not take all the right paths in life, or who simply had some trouble befall them at random. The imperfect, the unforgiven, the hurting, the wayward. Jesus got in trouble all the time for hanging out with the wrong crowd. They were the right crowd, to Him.

This makes me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about the Church, in his little book, Life Together.

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. But Christ wants us as we are. Bonhoeffer goes on to say: The mask you wear before [others] will do you no good before Him. He want to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. (Trans. 1954 by John W. Doberstein, pp. 110-111)

Yet we keep on hiding from one another. And we keep competing with one another. Even believers.

Even the Christian family of God does not get along. Five months ago two couples quit this congregation. They thought my differences from them were irreconcilable, I suppose. And it is a real loss, for they were our friends, we need diversity, and we are all believers – we are in the same Family. Still, we know, not all differences get reconciled.

Some friends of ours visited from Truro last weekend. They are both pastors, and one also a school teacher. I asked about a couple of our Baptist Churches in Truro, one is old, one is very newly started. The new one got birthed out of the established one. But it was not a simple story of church planting. Some folks say, yes, it was a church plant, a new ministry that started, on purpose. Others folk say it was actually a church split. There was a conflict, and the new congregation is mainly those unhappy with the older church. 

It has been said, as a joke and a warning, that Baptists start new churches by having a fight and splitting up!

And then, there are too many Christian denominations! 

20th century missionary and theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, called ‘Christian disunity an intolerable anomaly.’ Way back in 1953 he said, the division of the Church into rival and hostile bodies is something finally incompatible with the central verities of the Gospel. And, that division within its own life is a violent contradiction of its own fundamental nature. His [Jesus’] reconciling work is one, and we cannot be His ambassadors reconciling the world to God, if we have not ourselves been willing to be reconciled to one another. (Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God, 1954, p. 7)

A few minutes ago, Peter and I sang, Let there be peace on earth / and let it begin with me. We each have our part to play, in our own pew, our own congregation, our own neighbourhood, in our own family. We will find that Jesus wants to welcome people we’d prefer to leave out, at first. 

A broad view of Christianity will show us how diverse we are – we, this one fellowship Jesus created. 

There is a great value for us in being aware of others around the globe: we see just how different other believers are. When they gather and worship, it looks very different from what we are doing. They are singing in Arabic, for instance – Sharon heard this in Lebanon. When they teach one another, their methods are not the same as ours. They gather outdoors in the shade of a large tree – visit Africa. When they bless people in their neighbourhood, it is not the same as what we do. They may give microcredit loans to people so they can start a small business sewing clothes or selling ice cream – I saw this in Bolivia. And so on. Yet we are all one, in Christ. The wide variety of peoples who are Christians should tell us something about the wide variety of people we meet who do not yet worship Jesus. They too can belong.

The scene of Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus is but one Biblical example of breaking barriers between people. As we have already noticed, it is indeed called reconciliation. So, Zacchaeus started off ‘in the wrong place,’ lost. He might have been that way for many years. Then he gets found; he finds, in Jesus, the right place. He belonged, after all.  

A couple weeks ago I played a song that says:

This is the place where we pray
This is the place where we cry
This is the place where we start
‘Til death do us part
Where we say good-bye

Here we leave all our pain
Find forgiveness and grace…

(© 2019 Gaither Music Group)

This place – wherever we are, actually – is the place where the Spirit of Jesus will reach out to people. 

As you go, stay close to Christ and see what He sees. See others as He sees them. Such as a rich little guy in a tree. Such as you and me. So many people are ‘out of place,’ ‘in the wrong place,’ ‘lost.’ Watch for how Jesus seeks and finds them, to bring them into their proper place: with God. 

PRAYER after the Sermon: Father of all creation, we Your children rest in the welcome You give us. The hand of Jesus reaches out to us again; He calls and speaks our name. He surprises us by inviting others to the same table. He reaches out to the whole world of people. 

Give us eyes to see the everyday faces with new interest. Give us minds to think differently about the people we meet, week by week. Give us hearts to care more deeply and take more seriously those we do not know well. Give us prayers to prompt us into loving action in the neighbourhood.  

Spirit of life, point us in the right direction, that we may follow Jesus, who is at work near us. And give us joy when we notice Him touching someone new. Help us to follow His lead. In the name of Christ Jesus. AMEN.

Great Expectations

(Psalm 118; Habakkuk 2:9-11; Luke 19:28-40) – J G White
11 am, Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019 – UBC Digby

A couple days ago a ministry colleague (Rev. Trent C T) mentioned a book his church reading group is going through, about the impending climate crisis.  The minister said the book is horrifying reading before bed! William Ophuls’ Apologies to the Grandchildren has a chapter called ‘The Certainty of Failure.’ It says things like this:

So the question is not whether we will experience turmoil and suffering as the crisis unfolds, only how bad they will be.

In this light, we are obliged to accept the certainty of failure and to lay our plans accordingly. The worst- case scenario is that deep collapse will cause us to fall into a dark age in which the arts and adornments of civilization are partially or totally lost.

We are living through an age of great fear and anxiety.  What is our cry to our God when our world is going from bad to worse?  Environmentally. Or:
Politically         Ethically/Morally         Economically
Spiritually/Religiously         Socially        Healthcare

What do we shout when we have trouble Personally?  
relationships      family      finances
loss and sadness      aging       health

We rejoice today with Myra and family on the birth of her grandson.  But we know other things happen. Sharon’s younger daughter in Halifax has a friend who just gave birth to her first child.  But the parents have been told that their baby has a terrible syndrome, and is not expected to live more than two years.

Nevertheless, we wave palm leaves today.  We shout ‘Hosanna,’ which means, ‘Lord save!’  How does the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem feel to you?

Joyful? – the church has always celebrated this!  It is like a prelude and a dress rehearsal for Easter.  

Hopeful? – you know the whole Jesus story and the ending is good.

Mixed emotions? – the crowd that cheers is going to turn against this Christ.  You hear your voice among the scoffers, perhaps?

Don’t feel much? – same old story that is a bit out of date with your life now. It is only part of your life because of this one hour we happen to be here.

The one detail that caught my attention this past week was Jesus’ words about the stones crying out. Pharisees in the crowd said: “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”

Jesus replied to them: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

What have you thought about these stones that would cry out?  Stones on the ground? Inevitable that the whole world rejoices in Jesus?

Or, would the rocks speak up for justice if the crowd was silent, the crowd celebrating a new ruler in their lives to replace the old powers?

This past week in the news we heard that a military coup ousted longtime President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.  Yet the future is uncertain, and the present volatile. We think there was a hint of this in the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem that fateful day long ago. Great expectations that He’d take over. He seemed to oppose the religious authorities. He brought healing and hope to so many people. Would he next overthrow the control of the Roman Empire in Israel? He must be The One!

And Jesus even declares that if His crowd quieted down, the rocks would shout out.

People are about to march and peacefully protest, joining with the protest of all creation, to shout about what is happening to the environment.  Monday, April 15th, Extinction Rebellion Nova Scotia joins tens of thousands of conscientious protectors around the globe in rebelling against a course set for ecological and societal breakdown.

Back in the winter, down in Sandy Cove, people took part in the International Women’s March.  

Last year, there was a peaceful protest at the Hospital over the troubles of our healthcare that are continuing to grow.  

As we think of what each group expects and hopes for, we look at our Palm Sunday scene with Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus is alluding to a scripture verse, Habakkuk 2:11?  “The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster/beam will respond from the woodwork.”  ‘If these walls could talk,’ we say. But this is very serious talk from the gyprock.

Habakkuk was a prophet in Judah six hundred years before Jesus. In the era of the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Nahum.  In the time when an empire was taking over the Middle East, and even the Jewish capital of Jerusalem fell. Many Jewish leaders and people were taken captive and carted away to the north, into Babylon.  As Psalm 137 says, ‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and there we wept, when we remembered Zion,” which is another name for their holy city, Jerusalem.

Natural human responses to oppression, to disasters, to unfairness, to hurt and pain and grief, are anger and action and aggression. Jesus takes the opposite approaches. He gets tortured and executed and buried.  

Perhaps every Sunday we can see is our peaceful protest in the world – because we are getting in touch the with hope, hope of bettering things.  Why gather and cry out to God if it is no use? Why parade into this building for worship if there is no power or purpose to declaring we are with Jesus?  Perhaps every Palm Sunday, we should march through our town with branches in our hands and scriptures on our lips.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem when he entered it that day.  And I have wept over you, from time to time: even recently.  But my theme song lately continues to be Amy Grant’s
We believe in God
And we all need Jesus
‘Cause life is hard
And it might not get easier
But don’t be afraid
To know who you are
Don’t be afraid to show it

We have this Story.  Jesus is God coming into the world to deal with our injustice, unfairness, pain, grief, sickness, trouble, oppression, and violence.  Christ comes to deal with what hurts us from the outside, and from inside each one of us.

And Jesus does this without using violence, without using force, without using fear.  He submits to aggression and injustice. He subverts it, somehow. God waits through it, and survives wrong and evil and death, and comes out the other side, bringing us with Jesus.  

Six hundred years before Jesus, even Habakkuk proclaimed 
the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea. (2:14)