WELCOME to this post for the United Baptist Church of Digby. Some video from the morning service is available here. Do read the weekly Bulletin for other information, posted on another page here.
SERMON: Why Church? (Luke 3:7-22; Psalm 51:10-17) J G White – 11 am, Sun, Jan 10, 2021, UBC Digby
Years ago there was a collection of church bulletin bloopers that would circulate around. Including these:
For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Evening massage – 6 pm.
The third verse of Blessed Assurance will be sung without musical accomplishment.
The Rev. Merriweather spoke briefly, much to the delight of the audience.
Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help.
Let the Church help… kill you! No, that is not what we want, though, tragically, in two thousands years of history, the Christian Church has killed people!
You are here this morning. Or, you are reading this on paper, or online, perhaps even viewing the video of this sermon. This is ‘church.’ This building gets called ‘church,’ this Sunday event gets called ‘church,’ as a group of people we are named ‘church.’ It’s worth talking about this: why we are together in this. It’s worth hearing from God about this. We claim it’s a divine invention; we quote Jesus: what He said to Peter, one day, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mtt 16:18)
Why Church? Why the Christian Church for you? We have our reasons. Jesus has His reasons. Others have theirs.
You could say I am part of this whole thing because it is my job. But I would be part of this if religion were not my job: if I were a local biologist, or farmer, or teacher.
Perhaps you will ponder today, with me, how you ended up here. I remember my own days of childhood and youth, attending many events of the Middleton Baptist Church. I can remember, slightly, my baptism into the faith, there in the Middleton Baptist building at Easter, 1984, baptized by the Rev. Don Robertson, no less.
The painting here, by the late Wanda Handspiker, is a peaceful image of this act of faith that gives our Christian tribe it’s name. This looks so much to me like the Annapolis River, from the backyard of my youth.
With scripture now, we look way back to those dramatic days of ‘John the Baptist,’ preparing the way for the Jewish Messiah. He comes across as a preacher of strong words and practical advice, answering questions from the crowd, as he is busy baptizing people in the waters of the Jordan River.
To be in a Baptist Church is not actually to name yourself after John the Baptist. John was Jewish, not a Christian. The churches called ‘Baptist’ have their origin 1,600 years after John and his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. Our ritual immersion of adults in water names us.
Crowds of people came out to the riverside for John’s baptism of turning away from wrong. He warned them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” As important as this water ritual was, it required a change in the actions of the people.
The rituals and habits and patterns of any church do draw some of us in and keep us. At other times, our religion is mainly about better behaviour.
The crowds asked John what they should do. Give away your extra clothing and food to people in need, he told them. Workers for the Roman Revenue Agency were there, apparently, and asked, “Rabbi, what should we do?” Don’t collect more money than is actually required of people. Some soldiers were there too, asking, ‘And what about us?’ Be satisfied with your pay; don’t threaten people to get more to line your pockets.
Some follow a religion and join in to find forgiveness. Others, in order to make a life change and do more good. And others, to escape the threats they see looming. John preached of a Messiah who would “gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
All this created an air of expectancy. Someone was going to do something special. God was going to get something done, some of those promises we have been hearing for a few hundred years. A new movement was actually about to begin, a new era.
Some people, today, are in a church for something new, some new movement of the Spirit, some new and powerful activity. Something miraculous. In our present age of terror and epidemics and political mayhem and technology out of control, many people may be looking for shared hope and shared meaning in life. I’m sure that, as we approach 2000 years since Jesus’ execution and resurrection, interest in some kind of return of Jesus will continue, in our lifetimes.
For the moment, in these first weeks of 2021, we will walk through some early pages of Luke’s Gospel. It’s the beginning of the story of Jesus. The story that is at the centre of the church: the Church around the world and across history, and our local congregation here today.
Artful and humorous Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, claimed: The visible church is all the people who get together from time to time in God’s name. Anybody can find out who they are by going to look.
The invisible church is all the people God uses for his hands and feet in this world. Nobody can find out who they are except God.
Think of them as two circles. The optimist says they are concentric. The cynic says they don’t even touch. The realist says they occasionally overlap.
In a fit of high inspiration the author of the Book of Revelation states that there is no temple in the New Jerusalem, thus squelching once and for all the tedious quip that since Heaven is an endless church service, anybody with two wits to rub together would prefer Hell.
The reason for there being no temple in the New Jerusalem is presumably the same as the reason for Noah’s leaving the ark behind when he finally makes it to Mount Ararat. (Wishful Thinking, p. 15, 1973.)
While we have our temples, here, and our spiritual organizations for one another, we see the decrease of how many take part. The usual ways of being the church in our part of the world have been shrinking, all our lives long. As Mark Cress said to me in 2014, when I was new here, “You’re pastor of the largest dying church in Digby Co.”
Yet, whether it is my job to be here, or if I was simply choosing to be here, I believe there is life here. I like the God we find here, and the ways we find God here.
For several weeks I want us to explore the ways people connect with being church, as well as the ways people not in church express the same spiritual issues. Issues of belonging, of forgiveness, of eternal life, of purpose in this life, of connecting with God, and so on. The stories of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke will guide and inform us. Our own life stories will be important. And the lives of those outside the churches: I hope to ‘interview’ a variety of people about Christianity
A 2011 study of Canadian young people and church heard these sorts of things from the folk they interviewed:
You need others to be able to sustain. So people say they are Christian and they do that alone. I mean, c’mon, really? How will you be able to be a Saint by yourself? You need others. I mean, alone? Like, really alone? I think it’s B.S. – Merlynn
I think that you can make it your own way. I think that organized church is often really [crappy.] – Jill-Ann (She did not use the word “crappy.”)
Some of those ladies in the back row… pray for me every single day… there’s a genuine investment. The two old ladies that ran the church library that I would go hang out with every Sunday and who would always ask how I was doing just loved me like a grandson. – Barry
I just saw so much talk and so many sermons about the good we should do, but yet I didn’t see a whole lot of action from the church. Like, if you would go to a conference or to church, they would talk about all these things that we should do, but you never – you just go home and nothing would happen. – Roy
(James Penner et al, Hemorrhaging Faith: Why & When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying & Returning to the Church, 2011)
Why Church? Why the Christian Church in your life? In our day and age? We see the prelude to this whole movement two thousand years ago, when John the Baptizer preached and baptized, by the Jordan River. Today, we seek again the Holy Spirit, and the fire of God! Once again, may Jesus appear on the scene. He will speak today. He will act today. He will build His Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Hallelujah!
PRAYER Let us pray.
King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all creation: we bow in awe and wonder: You have called us to be the people of Christ in this world. The Saviour’s light is to shine from within us: bless the name of Jesus!
The song we just heard… may it be our prayer. We admit the lack of vision we sometimes show, as Your Church, the low morale and enthusiasm for what we can do and be, the selfish errors we make in the living of our days. In Your mercy, inspire us – breathe into us afresh. Turn our eyes and our attention to our neighbourhoods, outside these four walls. It is here You have deployed us – we give thanks for the calling to be the church in this community.
You, Master, call upon us to pray. To pray to You, with You, because of You. We pray for our world, turned upside down by this latest coronavirus.
We pray for our neighbours of the USA, with such unrest, and such challenges in their transition of leadership. You know how upset we sometimes are with the news we hear – have mercy, have mercy all this year, we pray, for our friends south of the border need help.
We pray across the whole world, as this New Year begins. The continuing saga of disasters flow endlessly: the earthquake in Croatia, mudslides in Norway and Japan devastating communities; floods, gales and snow in the UK, disappearances in Turkey, Belarus, Russia, droughts, starvation, oppression in Yemen, Syria, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya and so many parts of Your world – our hearts ache with all those suffering.
Holy One, who promises never to forget us or forsake us: in this Alzheimer awareness month we pray for those near us and those everywhere suffering with this disease and other dementias that so limit and destroy life. We pray also for care-givers and loved ones who are sometimes at a loss over what to do. Give strength and understanding, calm and peace.
And we join together to bless all those who suffer, who seek healing or comfort right now. Especially, we remember folks like Don and Richard and Carolyn and Charlene and Dwight and Bob…
who are in and out of hospitals right now, seeking help for the body. May these also find strength for their souls today. We pray for Ronnie, at Tideview, in such poor health, that he may be supported all the day long, til the shades lengthen and the evening comes.
This praying we finish with the words Jesus taught:Our Father, who art in heaven… AMEN.