God Will Teach You the Way

Lent 1 (Ps 32; Gen 3:1-13; Mtt 4:1-11)

March 5, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

Sunday dinner was finished, but [the family] lingered round the table savoring the good food and reflecting on the morning’s service at [their local Southern Baptist] church.  The congregation… was excited about its plans for a new sanctuary to replace its old building, which was much loved but long overused and outgrown.

The morning message had focused on the plans for the new building.  [The] pastor spoke of his vision for the church’s increased ministry.  He indicated how strongly he felt God’s guidance in the way the congregation was going, and he testified that God had spoken to him about things that should be done.

…[Grandmother] seemed deep in thought as [the family] continued to chatter along [around the dinner table.]   Finally she said quietly, “ I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.”

That simple comment… came like a bolt out of the blue from the heart of this woman of unshakable faith and complete devotion… [Grandmother] in fact, had a richly interactive life with God…  But for whatever reasons, she had not been able to relate her experience of God’s presence in her life – of which she was completely certain – to the idea of God’s speaking with her.  This left her at a loss for how to deal with the conversational side of her friendship with God.  

(Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 1983, 1999, pp. 15-16)

I believe the thoughts of that grandmother would be echoed by many a church-goer through the years.  There remains for so many of us a mystery about how God speaks to us, and with us.  Prayer seems one sided – we do all the talking – and the Voice of the Lord is a rare and special occurrence!

We Christians look to the holy scriptures for words from God.  And right we are to do so.  But in the scenes there the Holy One seems so chatty, talking with people all the time. We recited a reworded version of Psalm 32 today.  It celebrates some personal interaction with God, even some conversation.  
So I went to God, and confessed.
And God forgave me.
God says, “I will teach you.”
Let God lead you through life.

When we speak these words out loud to one another, we are encouraging ourselves to believe.  To believe that God answers us, and even takes initiative to say things to us.  God is willing and active when it comes to showing us the way to know God, to converse and develop friendship.  I long for our Master to teach us in the weeks ahead, teach us about our holy conversations.  Show us: how we are already hearing from God, and some new things to learn.

The Bible is full – FULL – of people’s conversations with God.   Some people stand out as real heroes when it comes to knowing the Almighty.
Abraham was called a friend of God. (James 2:23)
Moses knew God face to face. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. (Exodus 33:11)
Young Samuel needed help, but soon learned to recognize when the LORD was speaking to him.  “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 S 3:10)
Mary and Joseph both received angel visitors, and believed what they were told about the child to be born.  (Luke 1, Matthew 1)  
Does the Creator, does the Spirit, does the Saviour still speak with us today?  

We were made to relate to God.  We are created to know the Divine.  This is who we are.  Let’s go back, way back, to Genesis 3.  God seeks out Adam & Eve in the Garden.   You remember that the real trouble in the Garden was not the the apple in the tree. It was the pair on the ground!

Just after that famous scene in the garden with the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and the serpent, God comes looking for the people.  They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze…  Amid the tragedy of this story, it is a beautiful moment.  God in the garden with them.

But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  God seems to have given the humans space, freedom, and even turns off God’s own all-seeing ability, and asks, “Where are you?”  

They have a conversation.  And so the back-and-forth continues, through all the thousands of years in the story of the Bible.  Humans are made for relationship with God.  Jesus once prayed: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (Jn 17:3)

Have you heard God walking in your garden, at the time of the evening breeze?

As we seek to recognize God’s voice in our lives, we will have to watch for the dangers and errors that are possible.  We heard today a story from Matthew 4 of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  Here is a case of a human (albeit unique and more than human) in conversation with God and with the Enemy.  The Bible plays a big part in the conversation.  As the three temptations arise, Jesus quotes three times from the book of Deuteronomy: 8:3; 6:16; 6:13.  But the Devil also quotes scripture, Psalm 91:11-12.  

Not every claim about the right way, God’s way, is right.  We have learned in our lives some about what’s not God’s guidance. We will have more yet to learn.

There is a sense in which we have been built for relating to the Divine.  We are made for relationships.  

So is God.  God is already relational all on their own.   Christians find God to be Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit.  God is already in relationship, without the universe or us.  

There are many things we can say about God briefly.  God is Spirit.  God is Holy.  God is good.  God is One.  God is Three.  God is Love.  

So God is Relationship.

And this God wants and works for a relationship with us. This is why Christ came, and even died, for us. So we could be with God in loving fellowship always. Reconciled to God.  

So we can hear from God.  

Let me end with the very first words of Thomas Kelly’s classic book, A Testament of Devotion.
Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.  Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.  (1941, p. 3)

God will teach us the way.

Cross Purposes

(1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23)

Jan 22, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

In a time of crisis, a Baptist Pastor was getting a very low salary, when he sees an advertisement asking for people to help at the local Amusement Park in Upper Clements.

He took the job, and they asked him to be disguised as an ape and walk around to give some atmosphere.  Rather humiliating he thought, but at least nobody recognizes me.

He was wandering around in the Park area in his monkey costume, when he makes the wrong turn and enters an open cage, suddenly he sees a Lion.

I’m going to die, he thinks, he falls on his knees and starts praying out loud.

Suddenly he hears the Lion saying: Brother don’t worry, it’s me, the Wesleyan Pastor.

It just so happens we are smack dab in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Sadly, we Christians around here don’t do anything together at this time of year; perhaps another year we will.  We might even get together and pray!  

WPXU not known or popular with every church.  Some groups like this togetherness and cooperation.  Some are not interested.  There is much we can do together – and learn from one another.  But there are concerns about how other groups have gone astray.  We can see ourselves more in competition with other tribes of believers than in cooperation with them.

Are we ‘cross purposes?’  Do we have serious disagreements?  Or do we share the same purpose – share the message of the cross?  Preach Christ, and Him crucified?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians he says, 10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

And later, writes, 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The message of the Cross of Jesus is our purpose.

The Cross of Christ is the source of our oneness.   The heart of our fellowship.  The tie that binds.  I regularly ask myself what draws us together?  We each have reasons, motivations, needs, habits.

One day, years ago, the telephone rang in the Rector’s office of the Washington church which President Franklin Roosevelt attended.  An eager voice inquired, “Tell me, do you expect the President to be in church this Sunday?”

“That,” the Rector explained patiently, “I cannot promise.  But we expect God to be there, and we fancy that will be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance.”  (John T. Watson)

Jesus Christ who was executed is the centre of our purpose; He the incentive for our gatherings.

Jesus is in stained glass in my view from the pulpit; as well as the Holy Bible, and the Ten Commandments.  Which of these unites us in this town?  Our beliefs, our values, or our Saviour?

We can say we are one – in this Church, not to mention with the other Churches – because of the Bible and how we understand it.  

We might emphasize being followers of the same moral living and right values.  True obedience.

Or we can believe we are one because of Jesus, our living relationship with God in Christ.  

I tend to think it is all about relationship.  Our relationship with Jesus is the heart of our common life. How we hear God speak through scripture and how we follow and live our lives comes out of knowing Jesus.  

It seems back in history that all the church splits were over beliefs.  The story of Christianity seems to be a story of divisions and people not getting along and separating.  This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold move of posting a list of 95 problems with his church – Roman Catholic – on the door of a church building.  The Reformation was beginning.

In the days of  the apostle Paul, the conflict in one town church seemed to be over who’s the leader.  Some claimed to follow their founder, Paul.  Some named their great teacher, Apollos, as their guide.  Other’s looked to the leadership of Peter, one of the original twelve disciples, who gets called Cephas here.  And yet others might have been claiming, “We, we are the real followers of Christ Jesus, alone.”

Like you and me, every denomination and every congregation has its strengths and weaknesses.  The ways we are saintly, and the ways we are sinful.

The Christian church is a society of sinners.  It is the only society in the world, membership in which is based upon the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership.  (Charles C. Morrison)

And this human condition is reached and touched by the cross of Jesus.  It is sinners Jesus calls to become His Church. And so it shall ever be.  He calls us all to His cross.  And there we find freedom and life.

The Cross of Christ is the root of our diversity.

All the splits of Christianity may seem terrible.  the thousands of denominations give our Faith a bad name with some.  The terrible fighting and conflict among different types of Christians fills the Church history books.  Yet our cooperation is beautiful.

Of course, not every believer knows this.  As I was as kid and a teen in a Baptist Church, I knew nothing at all of the others Christians around Middleton.  Was never in any other Churches.  Once I left home and was in a different town, I got in with all these other flavours of Jesus followers, and got to enjoy them thoroughly.  So many different ways to do a worship service.  So many patterns for the personal devotional life.  So many different teachings.  So many amazing ministries that help people!

The other tribes seem wonderful to me.  So, to this day, I really appreciate knowing the other believers who don’t meet in my building.  

This morning – first Sunday for the new Rector of the Anglican Parish of Digby- Weymouth.  

This morning – Installation of Tim Long as pastor of the new Wesleyan Church in Tiddville…

But, is this a story of division?  Pentecostals die out for Wesleyans to live?

Or here, our building could be seen as a testimony to the Anglican Church splitting… the split-off group built this in 1876, then fizzled out, and sold the building to the Baptists in 1885.

Out of our differences, and the ups and downs of our past, our God weaves as beautiful a tapestry as possible.  Today, in our own fellowship, we are former Uniteds, and Anglicans, and Catholics, etc.

Jesus by His cross and precious blood is doing the saving of so many humans.  Jesus is lifted up upon the cross, and people from every direction look up to him.  We are all so different across this globe, and looking back through time.  Other disciples of Jesus became fishers of people, and you and I were caught.  What a variety of fish we are.  Then we go fishing, for more.

And Jesus does not mold us all to be the same.  We all become disciples of our Master, but we remain diverse.  So it is to be expected, and maybe even a blessing, that there are so many different ways to be Church.  

The Cross of Christ is the foundation of our ministry.  Jesus: If I be lifted up I will draw all to Me.

At the start of His ministry Jesus invited men to join Him and learn to fish for people.  And the apostle Paul wrote to a church saying be of the same purpose, as he exemplified how to proclaim the Good News.

The cross shows Jesus’ solidarity with the suffering people of the world.  That is most people.  That is billions of people.  That is all people.

Christ crucified reaches those who suffer.  The ministries of the churches are all founded upon this saving work of Jesus.  Consider the power of His story.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are abandoned or betrayed by others.  At the cross we see God experiencing this.  Even the experience of being abandoned by God.  Now, there are many believers who, in the name of Jesus, are helping people who are rejected.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are criminals.  Hanging there between two thieves, He joined them in their punishment, and one of them even believed in the Kingdom Jesus was bringing.   Thus, the Spirit has so many ministries – through the churches – to people who have done wrong, to sinners.   

Jesus on the cross reaches those who suffer painfully.  The scriptures, and all the stories and songs since, tell of the pains He had to bear.  Physical pain and ruin are completely understood and joined by Christ.  Not to mention the mental anguish and emotional hurt of Jesus’ execution.  So we have today – in every congregation – such care for those who suffer in this life.

Jesus on the cross reaches those who are treated unfairly and don’t get justice.  For we see Him crucified by the people and the governing powers that be.  Not even His closest friends can stand up for Him.  Thus the Church finds its calling in the needs of those who are stepped on by oppressors.  

Jesus on the cross reaches those who die.  Jesus, God with us, actually dies.  So, across Christendom, we have every ministry imaginable in the face of mortality – from the Billy Grahams preaching to save souls before it is too late, to the Mother Theresas who lovingly care for those who are going to die.

The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed is a realm in which abandonment, sin, pain, injustice and death are all being destroyed.  Jesus proclaimed it in his preaching.  He proclaimed it in His living.  He proclaimed it from His cross.  His cross purposes are what bring believers together, and are the answers to our prayers for Christian unity now.   AMEN.