New Old Parables: The Lion & Her Cubs

WELCOME to this post for worship on Sunday, August 9, 2020, at Digby Baptist Church. Other information is available in the Bulletin for this Sunday, posted on our Bulletins page here.

Children’s Time: Outhouses / Latrines

SERMON

https://vimeo.com/446234975

So many of these Old Testament ‘parables,’ so called, have been about the rulers in Israel and Judah, and how they done wrong! The King of the Trees, the Thistle and the Cedar, The Two Eagles and the Vine, they criticize or warn or foretell the end of rulers of the people, and sometimes, the end of the people as a people! The late Canadian comedy persona, Charlie Farquaharson, summed it up well when he wrote:

A profit is sumbuddy gets up on a high place, looks down on everybuddy elts. No matter what ther name is, everyone of them profits seems to tell the people the same thing: YER DOIN’ IT ALL RONG!!

(Don Harron, Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament, 1978)

Today, Ezekiel is telling about some leaders who were doin’ it all wrong. The last kings of Judah and Israel, more than five hundred years before Jesus’ day. They are the whelps of the mother lion.

Once again, a prophet of God speaks with creative imagery the people can/may/will understand. Once again, the poor rulers of the people are called out for their failure, and the demise of the nation is foretold. Young lion one gets taken away to Egypt. Young lion two gets hauled off to Babylonia, his voice never to be heard again on the mountains of Israel. Sure enough, the holy people of a holy land will be conquered, taken away from their land for a season, and the end of their kings will come. 

In fact, the next time they get a king, they will mostly reject him, and kill him off. Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, we believe, He is their long-awaited Messiah, Christ, Anointed One. And our Saviour too.

What I chose for us to hear from Jesus today were more harsh words for those in leadership in His own day and age. ‘The blind leading the blind,’ as we know the phrase. His parable here really is about what comes out of the mouth showing the problem in a person, not what they put in. As Jesus speaks with His disciples, he tells them to let the Pharisees be, “they are blind guides of the blind.” 

Whether we compare Christ with the royal leaders of His past, or with the religious experts of His own religion, we look to see how and why Jesus’ way is better. Better than the political and military kings of Israel and Judah. Better than the Jewish Priests and Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees – all so religious and so expert and so holy in their own eyes.

We read of the experience of those who got to know Jesus best. Back in the Bible, and in the centuries after. So many people – millions and millions, actually – can tell how convinced they have been about Jesus. What Jesus accomplished for them was the best thing. Where Jesus leads them is the best way in this life. 

As we speak of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the final and best Messiah, our ‘Prophet, Priest and King,’ our ‘Saviour, Teacher, Lord and Friend,’ we speak using titles for leaders of the past. We speak Biblical names for God. 

One of those titles is Lion, the Lion of Judah. Ezekiel’s tale of the two young lions brings this to mind immediately. Those lions of old were failures, and were captured. The greater Lion of Judah is mentioned in Revelation 5. Jesus, the Lion. 

Take a look with me, for two minutes, at Rev. 5, and what happens in the scenes dreamed here. John visions a scroll sealed with 7 seals, but oh no!, there is no one worthy to open this scroll. John weeps. 

Then, verse 5, one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

So what does John see next in his vision? The Lion! Right? No, wrong. He does not see a Lion. Vs. 6. Then I saw… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes… 

The Lamb took the scroll. The Elders and other creatures bow down in worship, singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation…

Christ Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. The image of Him as the sacrificed Lamb takes over the rest of Revelation. Jesus wins, not by violence, not by battle, but by sacrifice, by dying. And from this comes Life!

A number of hymns, ancient and modern, speak of Christ this biblical way. Such as…

And age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the End
Beginning and the End
The Godhead three in one
Father Spirit Son
The Lion and the Lamb
The Lion and the Lamb

(Chris Tomlin | Ed Cash | Jesse Reeves © 2004 sixsteps Music)

How great is our God! How great is our Jesus. In Him was life! And that life is the light of us all. (Jn 1:4) Christ outshines all others. 

All the parables, all the stories and visions that point to Jesus, use so many images. A Lion, a Lamb, a Grape Vine, a Farmer, Bread, Flowing Water, Light, a Shepherd, a Door. And many other stories can be told of this One who dispenses with evil and death, for us.

I want to tell a story. I love these stories, stories by a preacher named Michael Lindvall. This is from one chapter of his novel about a preacher, David, and his family, a novel called ‘Leaving North Haven.’ 

In this chapter, Pastor David is out and about on a cold, Easter Sunday morning…

The wet snow crunched under my boots. It was everywhere untrodden, virgin. This preacher, like Mary Magdalene, was the first one up. Light was just cracking the horizon, deep dawn an inch before sunrise. Lifting my coffee cup to my lips, I looked down at the snow in front of me and saw tracks, perfection had been disturbed by light feet, wandering, paying no heed to where the sidewalk might lie under the snow. They led away toward the church, going on before me. Sometime in the night, perhaps just a moment ago, another deer had wandered into town. By the look of the prints, it was a good-sized animal, probably a buck. I was not the first one up on Easter morning after all.

I followed the tracks for a while — they were leading me where I was going anyway— until they turned aside into Bud Jennerson’s driveway. 

As I mused, the buck stepped out in front of me from behind an overgrown yew at the far corner of the next house… I gasped and dropped my half-full coffee mug, which landed quietly on the snow- covered grass next to the sidewalk. For two, maybe three seconds, an eternity to be sure, he stood in my path and looked at me. His brown-black eyes held mine defiantly… I looked between and above the eyes, and there in the hair that covered the hard cartilage at the base of his antlers was a scar. It was an ugly bald crater less than an inch across. No blood now; but it was just where it would be. 

He snorted as he raised his head and turned away, quite casually. Then he didn’t so much as bolt as he leaped three times with early morning grace, turned to me again, and walked delicately so as to say, “I do not fear you.” I stood stock still as I watched him retreat, away from town now, north. I bent over to retrieve the empty Dunkin’ Donuts mug at my feet. Coffee stained the snow around it like old dried blood. 

So when I climbed into the pulpit three hours later, I began not where I had planned, but where I had been led. 

As best as words allowed, I described [the buck’s] defiant eyes, and then I noted the scar at the base of his rack. “It was a ten-point rack,” I said.” I didn’t count this morning. I didn’t need to. I had counted them before.”

[The congregation] knew that the minister went hunting with the Wilcox boys last fall. They also knew that he had lost Jimmy’s Winchester out in woods north of town, the very gun his father had given him for his eighteenth birthday. But just how I came to lose it in the woods they did not know. 

“You know that the Wilcox boys and I went deer hunting last fall,” I went on. “Right here in the county. Just for a day. We went out just before dawn the Saturday after opening day. We had our coffee by the truck. Lamont and I went off to the east over a cornfield toward some low-lying sumac and popple next to a stand of maples just beyond the old Goerke farm. ”

As I told the tale I did not mention that, though I had never before hunted game bigger than snipe, I was in fact a rather good shot. Thirty-some years ago my father, grasping for some father and son activity I would deign to share with him, had hit upon skeet shooting. My father said I was a natural. 

I continued: “Well, Larry drove a big buck out of the wood. Lamont and I were still crossing the corn stubble. The deer pushed his way through the underbrush to the edge of the sumac and stood there, not fifty yards from us. Lamont said to me, ‘David, he’s yours.’ I aimed between the eyes, a clear shot and a clean kill. He bowed to me ever so slightly as I pulled the trigger. He dropped right there. Lamont and I ran across the corn stubble. He lifted the animal’s head by the rack and counted the points on his antlers. ‘Ten-point Pastor. Not bad, not bad at all. And lookie here, almost hit him between the eyes. Just a little high. must be a natural!’ Larry arrived a moment later, with his camera, of course… Larry said a photo was a must and that there was only one way to do it. He told me to kneel down and hold up the buck’s head by his rack. Then he told Lamont to lay my rifle, actually Jimmy Wilcox’s 94 Winchester 30-30, horizontally across the antlers. 

I knelt beside the animal, warm and still. His head was heavier than I had imagined. It was awkward to lift and hold still. Lamont laid the rifle across the rack and moved back beside his brother who was focusing and deciding whether or not to use the flash. He held up his hand, took a step back, and said, ‘Hold it right there.’ The flash went off… and with a start, the buck shook his antlers free of my hands. He struggled powerfully to his feet as I fell back on my rear. He snorted and jerked his head back. Then he turned and leapt three times toward the tangle of sumac. But before he went back into the woods beyond, he turned and looked at me. His dark, glass-like eyes held nothing so much as defiance. His antlers held nothing but Jimmy’s Winchester 30-30. He went into the woods carrying the very instrument of his death high and proud.”

It was defiance that I preached, for Easter is just that. This one bold creature of God had mocked death once and mocked me twice. Resurrection, I preached, is the forever mocking of the last enemy. Until this morning, I had always imagined the Risen Christ with compassion in his eyes; now I imagine raw defiance.

(Michael Lindvall, Leaving North Haven: The further Adventures of a Small-Town Pastor, 2002, pp. 120-129)

In 609 BCE, King Jehoash of Judah could not defy Egypt: he was taken captive. In 586 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah could not defy Babylon: he was taken captive, and the Jewish nation finally fell. 

In 2020 CE, Bolsonaro, Kovind, Trump and others cannot defy a virus. Where the pandemic story ends is yet to be written, from our viewpoint.

But back about 30 CE (30 AD), Jesus of Nazareth defied evil and defied death. He looked them right in the face. He came through it all, and did what He did to bring us through it all too. 

He is the Lion and the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12)

Graciously Grafted

(Romans 11:1-6, 13-24, 33-36; Matthew 15:21-28) J G White

Sunday, Aug 20, 2017, UBC Digby

As much as I am a plant-lover, there are some details of flora and horticulture I have never got to know.  Such as vegetable gardening, or fertilizing, or grafting.

Years ago a gardening buddy of mine took me around his property in Bridgewater on a garden tour.  There was a small wild apple tree that had come up, and my friend had done some grafting, a few years before.  Three strong branches were growing from the trunk, each one grafted on, each one an apple branch, but each one a different variety of apple.  So, in time, he had a tree with three kinds of apples growing on it.  

The art of grafting woody plants – trees or vines – is almost as old as the hills, I suppose. It is clear that the technique has been used in the Middle East for thousands of years.  Hence, the imagery Paul uses in Romans chapter 11.  Paul, a wise disciple of the Jewish Messiah, explains the grace of God to both Jews and non-Jews, with an olive tree.  The riches of the olive tree are shared with the natural branches – the Hebrews – who were broken off and grafted back on – and with the wild olive branches grafted in, the non-Jews.  

At this point in the little book of Romans, Paul is writing at length about his own people – the Jews, the Hebrews.  He longs for them not to reject their Messiah, Jesus, though so many of them had done so.  He looks forward to a time when they will all believe and be ‘grafted back into the tree.’  

It goes without saying that the whole Christian religion came from and out of the religion of the Hebrews, Judaism.  Yet we also do need to say some things about this.  For we Christians can be proud and feel superior.  But our long history can foster our humility & our perspective on things.  And it is frightening in our world today how much anti-semitism raises its ugly head.  Just this week such bigoted hatred has risen to the fore in our world, and it boggles our minds to wonder how this can happen… again!

To a woman of Samaria Jesus once said, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…”  (John 4:22-23)

What are some of our favourite Bible verses?  Give some examples…

Think about it, those of the Old Testament are from the Hebrew Scriptures.  We Christians believe we have Jesus and Peter and Paul putting a new spin on the meaning.  But how might you feel as a Jew, having all these non-Jews using your Holy Books, and saying, ‘actually, it means this’?  For the past two thousand years the Jews have gone on and kept on being people of their Book.

This has also happened within Christianity throughout our history.  Some group develops and branches out from us, claiming the same scriptures, but adding more.  The Mormon sect did this, claiming the Old and New Testaments, but adding a third Testament about Jesus, the Book of Mormon. And on a grander scale, centuries before, Islam grew out of Judeo-Christian roots, and Mohammed offered the Qu’ran built on the foundation of the Old and New Testaments.

The news tells us far too much of the negative attitudes and actions against anyone different.  Against Muslims, against Jews, against immigrants, against anyone.  It seems like a frightening world today, a world of fear.  Fearing anyone different – trying to keep them out.  We are getting trained to see danger and a threat in everyone not just like us.

We combat harsh attitudes by the grace of God.  When we stop laughing at the stereotypical jokes about Jews, or Muslims, or any others.  A change in our sense of humour, I’m convinced, is a hard change, even a miracle!

Remember, God is the God of a holy love and mercy that is needed by every human, by us as well as by others.  As Paul said, the Jews need to be grafted into God by the Messiah, and we need to be grafted in also.  No one of us has an advantage with God.  As it says elsewhere in Romans, all have fallen short of the glory of God.  

I brought out on the Communion Table today a Hebrew Bible that I bought last year at Frenchys. A few of you have seen it before.  It is the Torah – the first five Books – and it is in the Hebrew language.  It is on a scroll.  It is such a good reminder to have around.  Reminding me that most of the Holy Bible that I study and teach is older than Christianity, is not written in the English language, and it is still part of a very different religion and culture than mine and yours.

We cannot consider the Jews as a small, insignificant part of humanity.  Can’t act superior to them.  We share their roots of faith.  Or, should we say, we all are grafted into the roots, by the grace of God.  So Romans 11 tells us.

Harvey Cox is a Baptist theologian, with a Jewish wife and son.  In his 2001 book, Common Prayers, he wrote:

Christians sometimes say that we need to understand Judaism because, after all, our religion is “rooted in the faith of ancient Israel.”  This is true as far as it goes.  But what it overlooks is that there have been nearly two thousand years of Jewish history since Christianity came to birth.  Little by little I have become quite uneasy with the “roots” metaphor.  It makes living Judaism invisible.  After all, we do not see the roots of a tree…

The roots analogy may even inadvertently contribute to the mistaken idea that Christianity has somehow superseded Judaism, a notion I completely reject.   

(Harvey Cox, Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christian’s Journey Through the Jewish Year, 2001, p. 5)

Even within the Christian family we know there are so many ‘tribes.’  Thousands of denominations and sects and independent fellowships.  Be each different group must rely upon the Source of grace and salvation.  

I remember hearing Brian MacLaren lecture in Saint Andrews, NB, once.  Mclaren is a pastor, author, and church futurist.  At one point, he spoke of church history, and the constant reforming and branching out and starting new things that happens.  He said something like this: Lapsed Catholics became lively Anglicans; lapsed Anglicans revived to become Baptists; weak Baptists got Spirit-filled and become Pentecostals; and worn-out Pentecostals became Vineyard or non-denominational…

It is so often this way.  A wonderful new thing starts, leaves the old behind, and people are blessed.  But eventually, the new gets old and worn.  

How about a local story?  For a moment, go back with me to the 1870s, one hundred years before my own childhood.  The local Anglican Church here in town, Trinity, was having its ups and downs, controversies and power struggles.  There was some conflict over who should be the Rector or Pastor of the Church, and over worship style – high church or low church, so to speak.  

A rift happened in the congregation in 1876, and a group left to form their own church, as a Reformed Episcopal Church.  They even built a new building for worship… this building we are in today.

What happened to them?  Let’s read from the Digby Weekly Courier – September 6th, 1885:

The Reformed Episcopal church has been purchased by the Baptist congregation of this town, who feel the need of a larger and more commodious place of worship.  

The building was put up in 1876 at a cost of about $7000, as a place of worship for a congregation in connection with the R. E. Church, and the Rev. Mr. McGuire was the first minister called.  He was very much liked by his people but was removed by the bishop to another and more important charge.  His successors were Mr. Fury, Mr. Lavell, and Mr. Adams, none of whom ever attained to the popularity enjoyed by Mr. McGuire.

Being thus unfortunate in the ministers sent to them, the congregation became gradually dispersed and broken up.  The church was finally closed and has remained so for the last three or four years, excepting its temporary occupation during the summer months by the Presbyterians.  The Baptists have got a very nice church for the small sum of $2000 and are to be congratulated on the acquisition.  

That was 132 years ago.  I think the day of congratulating ourselves for being so wonderful, compared with others, is over. The time of being a team, of respecting others, of walking humbly with our God, is now.  It is our human responsibility not to assume we are gifted by God as a right, or as a reward for doing things better than others. Every day God works to give God away to us  – and this is a gift, not an earned reward.   

What does the script for the Lord’s Supper say, in my Baptist Minister’s Manual?  Come to this sacred table… not because you have any claim on heaven’s rewards, but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of heaven’s mercy and help…  

The gracious mercy and help of God is available to us.   Heaven’s mercy and help is amazing! And there is an unending supply, a constant supply.  We get grafted into the tree of God’s life, and here we live, abundantly!

When it’s all said and done – all the development of churches and breaking away and reforming and thinking we are doing it better  – every one of us, and every group of us, is grafted into Life by the grace of God.  Not one of us can be a supremacist, of any colour or creed: Christ is supreme!  All of us are grafts into the Olive Tree.