Jan 31: To Obey

WELOCME to our worship blog post for this Sunday at Digby Baptist Church. This week we happen to be having a hymn sing and Bible study as the main body of our service together. Video of the children’s lesson and the ‘Bible study sermon’ are here. More information is available about the service and church life in the bulletin, here on the bulletins page.

(Luke 6:1-16) J G White ~ 11 am, Sun, Jan 31, 2021, UBC Digby

Let’s start our Bible study sermon.

O, O, Obey-O,
that’s why we say-O,
yes we will obey!

(A Daily Vacation Bible School song)

For many people through the years, taking part in church has been a simple matter of Christian obedience and duty. The right thing to do. It’s wrong not to do it! Did you learn that?

Christianity as a whole movement, or religion, can be seen as an organization full of rules. Do this. Do not do that. Believe this. Do not believe that. Hundreds of times. 

Many people are still the kind of people who find this helpful. The sense of duty and the desire to follow the right path can be strong. 

Nowadays, it might be easy for those of us over 50 to say that the younger generations do not have any sense of duty or obedience. But it may be that they value different things than we have valued. Rules of organizations may not seem helpful to them, nor traditional rules in society about how we communicate with people. Yet other rules of just behaviour, and of being authentic might be important to them. 

The Hemorrhaging Faith study (2011) heard this from some of the Canadian young people that were interviewed:

Seeing people just going to church to go to church. You know, just seeing a lot of …just going through the motions and then their life is a total mess … I didn’t feel these people were happy in their lives …I just felt it wasn’t true, and one-hundred percent pure.  – Marly

I guess one of the things I really struggle with is how people can have a firm belief in God but they have a belief they follow but they can treat people so horribly at the same time when there’s people out there that might not necessarily believe in God but they follow more true to his teaching and are more of a reflection upon Jesus and his character. – Anna

I remember just seeing again certain students …um… go to chapel and pray and worship and then they would leave there and become regular again. What I call regular you know, they would be cursing or doing things they shouldn’t have been doing and I just wondered how …how could they live a double life? – Cal (p. 59)

To be genuine is important, to be authentic and ‘real’ is valued.

Today, our scripture story about Jesus touches on obedience, rooted in the Ten Commandments and other teachings of the Hebrews of old. 

Some of the background is found in:

1. Exodus 20:1-17 The Ten Commandments. Which commandments have been important to you? Which have not been as important? Why’s that?

If you go to church Sunday morning, you love the Church. If you also go to Church Sunday evening, you love the Pastor. If you also go to Wednesday Prayer Meeting, you love the Lord! – saying from a church in New Jersey

I’d say that is humorous, but also severe!

Today’s example, with Jesus, is sabbath keeping.

2. Exodus 34:21 Sabbath obedience. What rules about Sunday have you known in your life?  How is your obedience different now than it was in the past?

Keeping of the Christian Sabbath can help us in several ways. It breaks the continuous cycle of buying and selling; so it could be very helpful in our ‘consumer culture.’ Sabbath sets us free from the busy schedule, and gives a rhythm to our days. Sabbath trains us to take sabbath moments in every day, and longer time within a whole year, and bigger ‘sabbaticals’ in the course of each decade.

The first Gospel scene today is of Jesus and His disciples EATING GRAIN (Luke 6:1-5)

3. Leviticus 24:5-9  The Bread of the Presence. Think over some of the Christian Sabbath rules and regulations you know. How is each one intended to serve humankind and help? (Perhaps scripture even tells us this; what vs?)

The background for this event Jesus mentioned is in:

4. 1 Samuel 21:1-6  David and the bread.

The next scene in Luke 6 is a HEALING (Luke 6:6-11)

Diversity of Jewish teachings on the Sabbath… Some of the Rabbis, in the time of Jesus, taught that any healing work was permitted on the Sabbath. In contrast, the religious community at Qumran taught that one could not even help an animal that was giving birth on the Sabbath!

Sabbath keeping was a distinctive practice of the Jews.

It was a big part of forming their identity. 

5. Exodus 20:8-11  No work on the Sabbath. The day of rest is tied to freedom in this commandment. What are some ways that keeping a Sabbath can provide freedom? What are ways that obedience to other rules helps us?

The third and final scene in the Gospel today is of Jesus’ PRAYER all night not on a Sabbath (Luke 6:)

Preparation for a day of decision – 12 disciples

Was this prayer by Jesus a matter of obedience? Not to any specific rule or pattern. It was simply something He needed to do before the day of decision. A time of personal preparation. He made use of a tool He knew how to use, when He needed it. Perhaps we can see how praying and working with scripture on Sundays, in our lives, gets us ready for other days, other moments, when we need to pray and seek guidance and simply be with our God.

We, in the Church, have many spiritual tools at our fingertips, even if we are a bit rusty when it comes to using some of them. Maybe, like me, you are good at taking part in worship on Sunday, but other sabbath-keeping actions have been lost. Perhaps we should sharpen our skills and habits, and we will have more to offer to others around us.

We are now in the third sermon in this series on ‘Why the Christian Church?’ First was ‘To Study/Learn,’ and the second was ‘To Save & Be Saved.’ These are strong in the evangelical tradition, with our emphasis on scripture and saving people. Bible study is also big in the contemplative tradition: picture the scholars in universities, or monks and nuns in monasteries, making use of their ancient libraries. 

Today is about being in the church ‘To Obey,’ and is important in the holiness tradition, which emphasizes knowing and doing the will of God, obeying the teachings of scripture, and being a person of virtue and good behaviour, avoiding sin. Other reasons for taking part in the church will come in the weeks ahead.

Six Traditions in Christianity come right out of the life of Jesus, our Master and Saviour:

  • Holiness: the virtuous life. 
  • Charismatic: the Spirit-empowered life
  • Contemplative: the prayer-filled life
  • Social Justice: the compassionate life
  • Evangelical: the Word-centered life
  • Incarnational: the sacramental life

Look at the chart printed in the bulletin; estimate where you are in each area on the wheel spokes. Put a mark at those points, then connect the dots from spoke to spoke to form a ring around the hub. 

(From A Spiritual Formation workbook, Smith & Graybeal, 1993)

What are your strengths, as a spiritual being? What are your reasons for being in a church, a local spiritual community? What are not big parts of your life?

As you wander through this week – and a new month begins – consider if obedience and holiness have some influence in your life. And, what other things guide the way you live? 

Consider also those who are not worshippers, not churchgoers. Watch for how they still may be following Jesus. How they pray or study or worship or contemplate or serve sacrificially. How is it Christ is sometimes using them on His team, with us.

Sept 27: Forgive the Crime: or, Dolly Parton and a Coat of Many Colours

Welcome to this post that includes part of Sunday morning worship from Digby Baptist Church. This weekend not only is the worship Bulletin available, but also our Fall Newsletter. Videos from the service are posted Sunday afternoon.

SERMON: Forgive the Crime: or Dolly Parton and a Coat of Many Colours. Genesis 37:2-8, 17b-22, 26-34; Luke 6:32-36.

When Myra read Jesus’ words about doing good to enemies and loving those who hate you, I wondered again about Joseph. Joseph and his coat of many colours. And how, after he had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by his brothers, he could and would forgiven them, all those years later. Later, when Joseph had real power, in Egypt, and his starving brothers needed help. 

I had Rob read excerpts from the saga of Joseph and his brothers. Starting with the dreaming boy and his coat of long sleeves, or coat of many colours, as it is sometimes translated.

But I want to begin with another coat of many colours. At least, with the woman who wrote the song and sang the song. Dolly Parton. Because this sermon is about forgiveness. 

Stay with me, for a minute.

A few weeks ago I happened to hear a bit of a podcast called, of all things, Dolly Parton’s America. Yes, there is a podcast series – nine episodes – all about Dolly Parton, and her place in American pop culture. Parton is, I find, quite a highly esteemed figure in the world, and for good reason. She has a special, gracious way of being good to most everyone, and welcoming all sorts. She’s a great unifier, as the podcaster, Jad Abumrad, puts it. 

So, there was this moment at the Emmy Awards just three years ago. Dolly was reunited with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda to present an award. (They were in the movie 9 to 5.) And, as all guests do, these three get to banter at the mic for a few minutes before the official opening of a letter and giving an award.

That whole awards show that night had been a lot of bashing of the current US President, with Tomlin and Fonda carrying right on with the attack. 

Dolly Parton does not like this. She never likes this. She just refuses to play the politics game. 

In the podcast interview she says: that whole night everything was just bashing Donald Trump. It doesn’t make any difference how I feel about him. I just thought… why does it all have to be about politics? 

“Well, you could have upheld him, you should have said somethin.” I thougth, ‘No, I shouldn’t have said nothin,’ cause if I’d said anthing about Trump, anything good or bad, or if I hada said anything, say this or that, I’d a got booed outa that house, I’d a probably been up there on my own. I wasn’t interested in that; I wasn’t going to say something good or bad ,  what I thought or felt. I just knew I wasn’t playing that game. Anyway, it’s just scary. No matter what you say – is wrong. 

Another interviewer ask Dolly: When you’re in a room and everyone’s attacking this man – Trump – because of your story of forgiveness, does it almost make you feel like you want to protect him?


What was your feeling?

I wanted to say, “Let’s pray for the president. Why don’t we pray for the President, if we’re havin all these problems.” But I thought… that won’t work either.”

Those words of Dolly’s really make the podcaster think. They struck Jad Abumrad like a ton of bricks. 

He concluded, Oh I get it. Her stake in the sand is that she will not cast anyone out.

Yes, while there is a business logic here, Abumrad concludes, this is also a spiritual stance, this is an ethos she has chosen. And it is undeniably one of the reasons she can have the fan base that she has; because everyone feels safe at a Dolly Parton concert.


Here is a famous musical artist, interviewed and studied for months, surely. And these interviewers find her to be a person whose story is forgiveness, and who takes a spiritual stance not to pick on anyone or kick anyone out. 

Ever felt that safe with someone? I hope you have. Let’s get back to the Bible. How safe did Joseph’s brothers feel, with him, just after their beloved father had died and been mourned and embalmed?

In the final chapter – of Genesis, not to mention in the saga of Jacob’s twelve sons – Joseph’s eleven brothers come to him beg for mercy and forgiveness from their brother, the prime minister of Egypt. Thinking he would still have revenge upon them for what they’d done, even their dying father, Jacob, had advised them to plead for mercy now.

I find the little steps in this final drama are not only poignant, but powerful and instructive. It is a lesson in forgiveness. Watch how Joseph deals with the plea to forgive them.

Recorded in verse 17, Joseph wept. He “wept when they spoke to him.” What were his feelings, do you suppose? Yes, he’d really put his brothers to the test when they’d appeared, during the famine, in Egypt. But now he had welcomed them, had them move to Goshen in Egypt, lock stock and barrel. They were settled and even privileged immigrants in the land. Thanks to the high standing of their young brother, Joseph. 

How sad! Joseph must have thought, that they still feared his power and his retribution. How sad! he must have felt, that they still sensed they were unforgiven. How sad! he must have felt, that his brothers may have thought they were favoured only because their father was still alive, and now he was dead, they might be in trouble. How sad! he must have felt, that even his father feared he would still pay back his brothers for what they’d done to Joseph.

When someone seeks our forgiveness for something, we will have emotional reactions. Just as our Holy, loving God does. Like the heart of God, Joseph weeps when his brothers plead for mercy. Of course he will have mercy!

Joseph said, ‘do not be afraid!’ There are those famous Bible code words again. Do not fear. There is good news. In a sense, that says it at. All will be well. The answer is ‘yes,’ even before it was asked. 

I think of New Testament words of forgiveness, about Jesus. From Romans 5: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Before we knew what we were doing wrong, before you and I were even born in history, Jesus did things for us. Forgiveness for real wrong and crime and faults and nastiness. Today the Spirit of Jesus keeps saying, ‘Do not fear! I am already forgiving you.’ It’s continuous action: cosmic.

Back to Joseph and his eleven brothers. Basically, Joseph said, ‘I’m not God.’ “Am I in the place of God?”  Joseph sees what was done with the disaster his brothers brought upon him, how God took that where the brothers never intended. God is in charge of this whole family project, Joseph believed. The Almighty can make mighty good things happen out of personal disasters and nastiness and jealousy. ‘I’m not God, and I’m not going to punish you for what you did, all those years ago.’

Think about it: our need to punish others, for them to get their due, might be smaller than God’s need to bless those people, and use the things that happened for God’s own new project. What the Master can do with the disasters around us, and inside us, can be beyond our best expectations. 

But notice, Joseph acknowledged his brothers had intended harm. “Even though you intended to do harm to me…” he says. He does not minimize what they had done or not sweep the wrong under the carpet. Does not say, ‘Aww, it wasn’t that bad, really. You didn’t mean to. It’s so long ago, after all.’ It was wrong. It was bad. It was intentional. It did hurt. 

It did harm. It is remembered. Yet it can be forgiven. Or, maybe better to say, they can be forgiven. 

Paying attention to ‘the crime’ is important if real, true forgiveness is to happen. And it is needed in those places where we need to forgive ourselves. One of the steps needed is to see it for what it is. We can’t say, well, ‘I wasn’t that bad.’ Then, the only forgiveness we might get could be just as shallow. And incomplete. No wonder we have those beautiful words in James 5, ‘confess your sins to one another, and forgive one another, so that you may be healed.’

Then, Joseph saw God’s good activity amid this. The evil his brothers had done, back when they were young, the Creator took and molded into something better, years down the road. “God intended it for good, to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today,” said Joseph, in his one way of explaining it out loud. 

You and I have our own ways of explaining how our Saviour does good things amid the bad. Some of our phrases are not that great. 

Someone dies, and we say, “God needed another angel to watch over us.”

Some friend gets seriously ill, and we say, “But things could always be worse.”

Some young person rejects Christianity and leaves the Church, and we say, “Oh, trust and pray for them, and they will return to the Lord.”

We can see the good work of God amid the trouble, the saving amid the sinning. Let us work at better and more gracious ways to say it. To give God the glory. To explain the hope we have that the Spirit is working all things together for good. 

Back to Genesis. Notice, Joseph made a commitment to care for his brothers and family. ‘So have no fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Joseph responds with action; he does something when his brothers plead for forgiveness.

Notice that Joseph never says, ‘I forgive you.’ Perhaps he should have, but perhaps he did not have to say that. He renews his personal and professional commitment to take care of his large family. They have a generous place to call home, in Egypt. 

I think we see from meaningful experience how true forgiveness comes with action, not just words. We apologize for something rude we said in public to a loved one. We get forgiven, but that loved one still brings up our rude failure, from time to time. We don’t feel forgiven yet, do we? Or, the person who is pardoned for shoplifting, but always still sees in the shopkeepers eye that lingering suspicion. It is not full forgiveness yet, is it?

Deep, healing forgiveness gives a generous freedom to the one who had offended. It is grace. And the feeling is profound. 

One of Charles Wesley’s hymns sings, joyfully,

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Consider how to give someone freedom when it’s time for you to forgive that person. Christ will help you, Christ who said, ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Love your enemies.’

Finally, the Genesis 50 conversation is summed up when we read that Joseph spoke reasonably and kindly to them. Verse 21 ends, “In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.”

Some of us think we speak kindly. ‘Other people are rude, but never me!’ Well, I know this is not true of Jeff White. There is more for my heart and soul to learn, so I can speak more reasonably and kindly, when someone has hurt me, or others. 

A crime is a crime, a sin is a sin. The time comes to speak from the heart of Jesus, words of forgiving kindness. With many things Joseph used that day, with his brothers, we can speak with one another. We engage emotionally. We dispel fear. We keep God in God’s place. We take the offense seriously. With the Spirit we see the big picture. We take action to show forgiveness. We speak kindly. 

Amid this, our Redeemer will truly set us all free.

Put into Practice

(2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2; Luke 6:39-49) – J G White
11 am, Sun, March 3, 2019 – UBC Digby

Let’s talk.  Let’s talk about how to put into practice the things a preacher talks about on Sunday.  Talk today of the things we consider at a Bible study. Let’s have a dialogue.

How: “How?” is an important question.  How to do what we are taught to do. How to act on what the Bible teaches.  How to put into practice what we already know.  

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?”  So Jesus asks at the end of His sermon recorded here in Luke 6. What do you know about, but have quite not learned to do, yet?

One thing for me: prayer.  I have years of experience learning about prayer, but not praying nearly enough. I think.  Years ago, an Anglican friend said that, if, at the Cathedral in Halifax, there was a sign in the hallway that said ‘Prayer Seminar this way,’ and another sign saying, ‘ Prayer Service that way,’ most of the clergy would head down to the seminar!  I’m a bit like that too.

True confession time. Will any of you tell what you know, what you have learned about, but not put into practice yet?

A few great Christian thinkers of the past one hundred years have said that our modern Christianity has failed: failed to put into practice what our Faith supposedly teaches.  So, what have we learned to do?  and how did we learn to put Jesus’ Way into practice in our lives?

We could start with examples right from Jesus’ sermon on the plain. 27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

If Jesus has taught you to do this, even a bit, how did you learn this from Him?


A lot of Christians in the world are about to pay attention to a special season called Lent.  It is a time for prayer and fasting, a time for giving to the needy. We can take up some special spiritual disciplines so we can put ourselves more into the hands of God.  

Jesus said: 30 “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”  Giving can be a spiritual discipline. Has this been helpful to you?

Are there other spiritual practices that the Holy Spirit has used to transform you a little bit?

Last week we heard this from Jesus: 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;”  I think I grew up in a world of critics, and learned how to correct everyone around me.  I’m still really good at correcting people.  There’s no need of it! Can any of you tell of how God led you away from judging and condemning? Or how to forgive?

Jesus said: 45 “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” I know most of you by now, and I know the abundance of your hearts.  Not that our hearts are all full and perfect. Let us finish our dialogue sermon responding to this question: what good things do you see people around you doing, out of the abundance God has planted in their hearts?

Thanks be to God for one another today!

“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” 2 Cor 4:1

True Gold

(Luke 6:27-38) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 24, 2019 – UBC Digby

We have this little problem of evil in the world. And even the world still admits that.  I heard a CBC ‘The Current’ interview with Canadian Psychologist Julia Shaw. She’s author of  “Evil: the Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side.” Dr. Shaw says we should be careful about labeling anyone as evil.  

Anna Maria Tremonti: Why is there a pushback against trying to understand or show empathy to the serial killer, or the pedophile, or the nazi?

Julia Shaw: I think it’s really easy to simplify human behaviour and label it as evil.  I think it’s really difficult for us to introspect and hold up the mirror and say “what do I perhaps have inside myself that could lead me down a dark path?” And that could lead me to commit these types of crimes, for example.  And I think it is really difficult to engage with yourself on that level and to really think through your own morality and to challenge yourself to accept that you probably have darkness lurking inside you; and how we we prevent it from getting out?And it’s much easier to say, “I’m a good person; other people are evil.”  

A scientist corroborates scripture: ‘you probably have darkness lurking inside you.’  

We have, on top of this, ‘The Golden Rule’ – a term coined by Anglicans more than 400 years ago.  What is that rule? We just read it, from Luke 6.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. The Golden Rule. But, what is gold about loving enemies? Loving enemies is impossible! It is ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream.’  One Bible commentator says this about Luke chapter 6.

To love an enemy is simply impossible, for an enemy is by definition someone hated rather than loved.  An enemy who is loved is no longer an enemy. (Charles C. Cousar et al, Texts for Preaching – Year C, 1994, p. 157)

It can be so automatic, so built-into us to make enemies and to protect ourselves.  In his remarkable book, Disarming Scripture, Derek Flood deals with our built-in fear and fight reactions to an enemy or threat.  Our brains automatically react. He tells this personal anecdote:

The other day our 5-year-old daughter had a “meltdown.”  She’s screaming, and I’m feeling triggered. My [primitive brain] has kicked in now; but I do my best to pull myself together, and, taking her by the hand, I bring her to her room for a time-out. When we get there, she screams at me hysterically, demanding I give her a hug.  

Now mind you, I’m not feeling compassion right then–I’m mad.  …I’m… thinking, “I don’t want to reward this selfish behaviour with a hug!”  

But something in me knew – as much as I didn’t feel like doing it at the time – that she really did need that hug.  So… I put my arms around her and held her. And when I did, a miniature miracle happened: All her distress, panic, and rage just melted away.  

This simple act of kindness broke the hurtful dynamic my daughter and I were both caught in.  That’s the core working principle of enemy love: Do not be overcome by anger, but overcome anger with kindness…

Paul tells us that as we walk in this way of the Spirit, we will be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”(Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, 2014, pp. 184-186)

We believe in miracles of the human heart.  Little ones, and big ones. The real gold of loving enemies is both when those who are not our enemies get treated rightly, and when we stop being enemies of those who oppose us.

Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with not judging.  Jesus leads us into ways of letting go of our harsh criticism and value judgments of other people.  Even the simple habit of me telling myself, “Don’t judge too harshly,” can become a real spiritual discipline, and a miracle of the Spirit within me.  Goodness to our opponents can become real gold to us – something we value and go after.

In his book, Derek Flood talks about being selfish or self-centered.  The opposite, he says, is not being unselfish. That language is still paying too much attention to oneself.  The opposite is being social- focused, paying attention to others. (pp. 179-180)  We value doing unto others good, more than getting benefits and blessings for ourselves.

Sharon and I have a grandson, almost six years old.  One thing Dryden loves is marching bands. He will simply march around the house and get us to follow.  He, the drum major leading the band, leading the parade. So much of our play, as children, is about how to be the boss, be in charge, get attention.

Let me take a page now from someone’s else’s sermon.  I won’t tell you whose – it will become clear. A sermon that was called ‘The Drum Major Instinct.’

And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession.

Now, in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it… And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego… But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.

There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one’s personality to become distorted.

Do you know that a lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct? A need that some people have to feel superior.

And not only does this thing go into the racial struggle, it goes into the struggle between nations. And I would submit to you this morning that what is wrong in the world today is that the nations of the world are engaged in a bitter, colossal contest for supremacy.  

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize— that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

[That’s all from ‘The Drum Major Instinct’, preached by Martin Luther King, Jr., Feb 4, 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA.]

May our hearts beat to a different drum – that of Jesus. The One who preached: You will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

We sometimes sing words inspired by Malachi 3:3
Purify my heart,                            (Brian Doersken)
Let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart; Let me be as gold, pure gold.

The impossibility of being like God, as good as God, is prayed for once again.  The Saviour preaches it once again, to us.

So, love your enemies.  Start with the ones in our province, in your town, on your street, in the same room as you. This life is all about my enemy becoming not my enemy anymore.  
When someone takes from you: give, share, let go. Bless without expectations.  This life is about my coat not being my coat anymore.  
Do not judge, do not condemn.  This life is about my ways not being my ways, but God’s ways.  

Jesus takes us there.  Nothing is impossible with God?  Yes, nothing is impossible. (Luke 1:27)  Even finding gold deep in the human heart.

Hearts to Bless or Curse

(Jeremiah 17:5-10;  Luke 6:17-26) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 17, 2019 – UBC Digby

This past Wednesday, I heard a sermon – preached online, because of a snowstorm – entitled: The Ruined Heart. The preacher (Rev. Phillip Woodworth) quoted Jer. 17:9, ‘The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?’ He went on to say: The human heart, the command centre, the place from which our life flows, is, in fact, corrupt and ruined, it is bent towards evil. And I know that this is harsh.  But I also know that it is undeniable.

In our tradition, over thousands of years, we have been hearing this. We have a penchant for being a curse to the world, not a blessing. Of giving out woe instead of wonderful things.  We’re just plain bad.

Alas! and did the Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head,
For such a worm as I? (Isaac Watts 1674-1748)

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you,
dare not trust your own.
(George Duffield, Jr. 1818-1888)

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me
(John Newton 1725-1807)

Or are we so, so bad?  Are we bad and not also good?  Christian opinions differ on how depraved and nasty we humans are.  How far we have all fallen in the fall pictured in Genesis 3.

Our reading from Jeremiah 17 speaks of people who are blessed and people cursed.  Before that warning about the devious heart of the human, prophet Jeremiah gives poetry that echoes so much OT, such as Psalm 1. Those who do well by God get good things; those who do bad get what they deserve.  Jeremiah starts with curses for those who trust humanity instead of the LORD. Then, there are blessings for those who put their trust in God.

This is the standard warning: turn back to God or you will get punished!  Do right, and prosper. “Put in your quarter, get out your blessing,” as my Old Testament professor used to say (Timm Ashley).  

There are, you may well know, other voices in scripture.  Minority reports that yet are major teachings. The voice of prophet or poet that gives a different perspective.           

Have you felt blessed, or cursed? And let me put it this way: do you tend to give out blessings, or put a curse on others?

Jesus… how does Jesus use the language of blessings and curses?  I believe He speaks an amazing word to people who feel trapped in curses they were taught they deserved.  And, a severe warning to those who could think they must have popped their quarters in the right slots and got lots of blessings.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain starts in Luke 6.  He starts with those blessings and woes, or curses, we read moments ago.  Now, according to many traditional Jewish teachings, those who suffer poverty, hunger, grief, or hatred have gotten what they deserved.  Like Jeremiah preached, they must have not trusted in the LORD enough, and ended up like the dry scrubby bush in a dry salty desert.

But Jesus lists the poor as the blessed ones.  Ones who will get God’s Kingdom, get filled up, get to laugh, and get rewarded for being faithful to the Son.

Next, the ones who face woe, are the happy ones.  The ones who might easily believe – as the Bible told them – that they are rich, filled with food, laughing, and well thought-of because they are on God’s side. No, their fortunes will be reversed.  Just when they feel they have it all, it will disappear.

Wise rabbi that He is, Jesus’ teaches with a brilliant method – turning conventional wisdom on its head to make His point.  And so much hope is given to the vast majority, who were poor, hungry, sad, and rejected by the ‘best’ religious folk.

After He starts His sermon with these blessings and woes, Jesus then gives some instructions.  Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you.  Turn the other cheek… and so forth.

Is this Jesus’ heart?  Is this the heart we are to have?  The inner attitudes that come out in such kind, forgiving treatment of people acting so nasty? Jesus is teaching the disciples, and anyone who hears this sermon, not to curse enemies, but to bless them.
For a decade or more, author Brian McLaren has popularized a prayer by a Serbian Orthodox Bishop, Nikolai Velimirovic, who spoke out against Naziism, was arrested, and imprisoned. Here’s the start of the prayer, a prayer regarding critics and enemies.  https://brianmclaren.net/prayer-regarding-critics-and-enemies-by-serbian-orthodox-bishop/

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world…
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

So are we to be kinder than God, who seems so often to punish evildoers?  We have this phrase: ‘He’s a man after God’s own heart.’ Surely to be like Jesus, for us to be like our God, is to love the enemy, and not curse him, do good to her.  

A heart that wishes people well, even when we are not well ourselves.  A soul that wants good and wants the best for even the worst people. This is what Jesus suggests is possible for us to have.  This kind of a heart in us.  Be like this, He says.  Surely He says it because it is possible!

One day, a pastor and a deacon went visiting in a nursing home.  One resident suggested someone down the hall to go and visit.
The deacon and pastor stepped into a room with this middle-aged lady. The pastor tried not to stare. Bedridden, her limbs were terribly, inhumanly swollen. “Come in, don’t be alarmed,” she said with a beaming, bright smile. The pastor was surprised. She was in wonderful spirits.

She had a rare lymphatic infection, that has left her bedridden, functionally paralyzed. Every day, day in and day out, she had to receive a steady drip of strong antibiotics. But also, steadily, day by day, the infection grew immune to the antibiotics. The very thing that was saving her, was also the very thing slowly killing her. Day by day the inflection slowly but surely was winning.

And yet, the pastor had never met a happier person. She proceeded to tell them that at the beginning, she was bitter and resentful. She prayed angrily that she would be healed, and of course, while she still does pray for that now, something changed in her disposition.  “What changed?” the pastor asked.

“I realized that Jesus was enough. Everyday, I get to thank God for another day, and I know he is with me. He listens to me and is my friend. That is enough for me.”

She told them that she saw her condition as a calling to be Jesus’ presence there in the nursing home, to the nurses and other patients, who in her mind needed hope and healing more than her.
Jesus is enough. (Spencer Boersma)

Was her heart as Jeremiah 17:9 describes it, devious and perverse, beyond understanding?  Not at this point, that’s for sure. A heart for blessing and not cursing is amazingly possible.  That woman blessed Jesus. She blessed every person around her. She must have blessed herself. It would have been easy for her to curse the day she was born: no, she found Jesus was enough.  

You and I might think of people around us who are real good at blessing.  And we can likely name those we know who do more cursing; you know: complaining, criticizing, correcting, crushing others.  
And then we stand before our Master and see ourselves in His eyes.  How are we doing with giving out blessing… or giving out woe?

I give the last words to the Men’s Choir. We sang a simple little song. It does remind us of so much Christ gives us, to bring good out of our hearts.  

On Monday, He gave me the gift of love,
On Tuesday, peace came from above,
On Wednesday, He told me to have more faith,
On Thursday, He gave me a little more grace.
On Friday, He told me to watch and pray,
On Saturday, He told me just what to say,
On Sunday, He gave the power divine
   to let my little light shine.

Every day, the power for our light to shine.  The possibility for our heart to give out blessings to all. Thank-you Jesus!  Your heart loves.