Worship, May 29 – Deuteronomy: a Final Sermon

WELCOME to worship for this Lord’s Day, among the people of the United Baptist Church of Digby. Today we say farewell to Pastor Rev. Jeff G. White and Licentiate Sharon White. They arrived in June of 2014, and now move to Amherst, NS. They give hearty thanks for these years of life and ministry shared together!

Full service plans can be found in the Bulletin here on the website. Future prayer days and Sundays may not have a post here for some months, until a new, permanent Pastor is called.

PRAYERS of the People: Devoting ourselves to You, we pray, Holy God. We have prayers and songs that speak our love of You, our gratitude for good things, our trust in all You are and all You do. For showers of blessings and answers to prayer we give You thanks, Giver of all good gifts. And before the Saviour, Your Son, we are humbled once again.

Interceding for one another we pray. For all who are facing illness or pain, day by day, we pray. We call out again for healing. We plead for hope and comfort. We ask for strength in the face of grief and troubles people face. As You answered in the past, dear Master, touch them all again, today.

Growing in spirit and in our actions we trust You to do more improvements in us. Sometimes we feel we should have made more progress by now, in our lives. Today, be our guide. Today, encourage all who are discouraged. Today, show us how we support each other.

Beginning anew we pray for the world in need. There are millions of new beginnings needed around the globe! Spirit of Gentleness, come in power to help the suffering, aid the refugee, feed the needy, set free the enslaved, and empower the downtrodden.

Yearning for forgiveness, for healing of our souls and our memories, and for answers to our questions, we have come to You, Living Lord. As you, Jesus, show us the Way, we pray for all who need an opening of the heart and a saving of the soul. Give answer to the many questions people have, and give Yourself again to us. 

These things we pray, in Your power, and to Your glory. AMEN.

SERMON – Deuteronomy: a Final Sermon. Deuteronomy: these thirty pages in your Bibles present themselves to us as Moses’ final speeches. The old leader is on the verge of dying, near the border of the Promised Land. So what does Moses do? He goes over their whole history and teaching, one more time. Moses’ final grand sermon, this is Deuteronomy (which means second law).

I give my final sermon to you now. A few things you’ve heard before that could bear repeating. Remember.

  1. If there is any encouragement from Jesus Christ for you – and there is! – soak it up. God is love. All we need is love. Love covers a multitude of sins. Tap into the great love that is available. Love one another, as I have seen you do already. You share the same Spirit – that holy presence that inspires you to keep asking questions about life, to make sense of it, to look for answers. You all share this. No matter how very different you are from one another, you share the great flow of the love of God.
  2. Make my joy complete. Be together. Be one. Make the decision every week to be a team, and not to neglect one another. Notice those who are newer to the family. Forget not those who are out of sight and out of mind. As I’ve said before, one of the greatest miracles today is for human beings to be united. Religion is a miracle. People still getting together for worship is special. You are a rare minority; you are precious. You choose not to be alone. You choose to give yourself to the others. It’s beautiful.
  3. Grow your humility, and become real admirers of everyone around you. I was remembering recently that every person I meet in the course of a day is a gift. A gift to me. A gift to the world. At least, I could act like this is true. Did I treat them like this? Remembering how valuable they are? Could I focus upon them, instead of me, whileI was near them? Well, just because I seldom do this, I can still start afresh, and get trained to do better. Each encounter a lesson in loving someone else, instead of just me. Remember what Maggie wrote about Mike? Those locals Mike respected, helped, befriended. I know many of you know how to do this also. We’re getting set free from our own petty conceit; praise God!
  4. So look to the interests of others. Here we are, Church, this is the school of love, divine love, agape. It’s a trade school, really: very practical, day-to-day skills. The bits of classroom stuff and book learning are to aid the living of our lives. Goes all the way back to the Children of Israel. In Deuteronomy 6 is the shema, ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.’ ‘Shema Israel, Adonai Elohim…’ And what learning aids did they have? The Commandments, the Word. They recited them, sang them, put them on bracelets and upon their foreheads. The young ones were taught lessons, and then saw it all put into practice from day to day. How to treat other people: these are the lessons of Love.
  5. So let the mind of Christ be in you. Moments ago we sang a version of the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2. This is one very special piece of Christian scripture. You can take John 3 away from me, Genesis 1, or Psalm 23, but please leave me with Philippians 2. Whoever Jesus is, whatever Jesus is, the Mindset of Christ can be in us. What does this mean, the mind of Christ. Well, Paul is about to quote the song to tell us. I can remember times, in my young life, when I really had people I admired, and what did I do? I copied them. I tried to enjoy the things they enjoyed, do the things the way they did them, read the authors they quoted, hang around the people they knew, I even dressed a bit like they dressed. Like a three year old copying what the grown ups do and say, we follow the ways of Jesus, and therein is the heart of our mind training.
  6. Ah, but Jesus did not count equality with God as something to be grasped or exploited. Isn’t that one of the big teachings of the Church, through all the ages? Jesus IS God. The Son of God is equal with God the Father, and God the Spirit. Yet, with the most powerful humility, Jesus came to be one of us, not to be GOD. Some of the prophets and kings of old, with great power or wisdom or whatever, they let it go to their head. Solomon the wise made a mess of his married life. David the great King also. Even Elisha the prophet used his power to have some children killed off by a bear attack after those kids teased him! Jesus let go of all power and pretense. That was extraordinary humility.
  7. So Jesus emptied himself. He became a slave to the whole world. A mere human. Yes, a human being is an amazing creature. But in the grand scheme of things each one of us is just one little speck in the flow of time and earth. Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. In one breathing bit of clay we meet the Divine One, in Jesus of Nazareth, of an ancient time and place. We think of Him as wonderful, and so amazing. Sure. Thankfully at Christmas and Holy Week we remember Him: God as a mere human.
  8. And He dies. Paul’s hymn says this was obedience, the pinnacle of obeying. We could say that the rest of us have to obey this. Billy Graham used to say that the death rate in America has been remaining quite high. 100%! You and I must obey mortality. So did Christ. Plus, Jesus obeyed his route of truth and compassion, which set him at odds with so many, who had him executed. We all have this part of us that reacts against Jesus and the way of peace and love. We play our part in rejecting. And while we kill Him off He prays, ‘Forgive them; they don’t get it.’
  9. Next, death is not the end. Not the end of the story. God exalted Him and gave him a title and a reputation above all others. This is how the world works, my friends. Our reputation with God is our real reputation, our true standing in the world. One of my favourite authors quotes a friend of hers who wisely said this about people’s opinions: “What other people think of me is none of my business!” I think that’s very cool. Oh, to be totally free of everyone’s judgments about me. The whole Jesus story is telling us that God thinks very highly of us, counts us very precious, and just won’t give up on us. That opinion matters.
  10.  So, in the end, knees will bend. Bowing down is not a common practice, certainly not in a Baptist Church. Anglican and Catholic Christians have some bowing habits. We kneel only in the words of our songs. One of my very favourite old hymns says, Angels help us to adore him; / Ye behold Him face to face; / Sun and moon, bow down before him; / Dwellers all in time and space… (H. F. Lyte)
  11. So, do confess Jesus Christ as Lord. Put this into your own words. Put it into practice. Declaring it by your baptism years ago was great, but keep on declaring Christ. You know the other actions that point to the Saviour. They are humble actions. Give generously. Speak well of others. Give really good answers for why you live as a Christian. Be a bringer of healing among people. Speak the truth.
  12.  And, work out your salvation ‘with fear and trembling.’ I must thank you for the privilege of being allowed into your lives, to meet your souls, and with you to struggle with the angel of God, like Jacob did, for a blessing. The struggle is real! And it will go on. I have to let go now, and see you fly on your own, with all your other helpers, but not me. I so want your next pastor to be really good, and take much better care of you than I did! For your funerals and weddings and baptisms I will never again minister to you here. In my absence I must trust you to the Holy Spirit’s care, and those placed in leadership.
  13.  So I know God is at work in you for truly good things. Not that I imagine some happy-go-lucky future for you. I don’t. But I see an incredible God taking pleasure in you, happy with you, the people. 

I have now told you nothing new, not one thing you have not heard before. I have simply spoken deutero-nomy, what’s been preached already. But it is new, because it is Good News. To me, you have been Good News people. May God bless you always to be Gospel People. 

In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

FAREWELL LITURGY: Church Keys Dear Joe, I will no longer need the keys to this corner of God’s Kingdom, for Church ministry. I return the keys to this building and the Pastor’s Study, for you will have new ministers to serve among you.

Membership List  Dear Marj, I give you this copy of the members and adherents of the United Baptist Church of Digby, not that I have been the record-keeper, but I have been a soul-keeper. My ministry to all these people, and the whole community, is completed today.

Music Book Dear Cairine, the joys of worship have been great for me here, among you. I give you this music book: it happens to be organ music, given to the organist here in 1924, when the instrument was new. You all will keep singing your praises and making musical testimony, once I take my voice & plans away.

Computer Dear Children, I give to you the computer – actually just the power cord for the laptop we use here. All these tools are yours, and you have the power to use them in new ways without me.

Church Register Dear Bonnie & Stan, when I was new here, I got to participate in your wedding ceremony. This year I conducted my final wedding in this place, and final funerals. Rejoice that such ceremonies will continue among you, with powerful grace & hope.

Water Pitcher Dear Wendy, it was a great joy and a privilege to baptize you here, as you declared your faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Baptizing is no longer my work here, but it will always be the work of this Church, helping people have faith and follow Jesus.

Communion Tray Dear Heather, it has also been a privilege to conduct the Lord’s Supper right here, and share Holy Communion at Tideview Terrace and in other homes. Now, this sacred service will continue in my absence, while my fellowship with the saints here shall remain dear in my memory.

Bible Dear Barbara, the reading and study of the Holy Bible has been central to me, and the foundation of all my work and worship done here in the name of Jesus. May you all continue to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ the scriptures, to the glory of Jesus in His Church.

BENEDICTION: May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, rest upon us and all our work and worship done in His name. May He give us light to guide us, courage to support us, and love to unite us, now and for evermore. AMEN.

One in Spirit and Purpose

(Philippians 2:1-13) J G White
Sunday, Oct 1, 2017, UBC Digby

On this ‘World Communion Sunday,’ let us contemplate the broad meaning of this Christian worship activity we observe here once a month.  It is a way of telling and enacting the story of Jesus, and those words from Philippians 2 can help us draw nearer to the meaning and power of Holy Communion.

It is significant to realize that we have a fellowship connection with millions of believers around the globe.  And though there are many different ways this ceremony is done, and lots of differing opinions on what it means, we share it.  It is a holy Communion.

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…  Wrote Paul.  We can share the attitude and way of Jesus.  We share Christ with all the others who share Him.

Our word, ‘communion,’ of course means ‘fellowship.’  We have the words ‘communion,’ ‘community,’ ‘commune,’ and even ‘communist.’ All about the same thing.  Togetherness.  We are known to sing Fanny Crosby’s hymn, ‘Draw Me Nearer.’
O, the pure delight of a single hour
that before Thy throne I spend,
when I kneel in prayer, and with thee, my God,
I commune as friend with friend. (1875, # 534)

So it means something to take this bit of bread and juice from the grapes with others.  To do it alone seems weak to me.  I never like to go alone and take communion to someone in their home. I want at least a few: fellowship.  

The other term we Baptists tend to use for it is The Lord’s Supper, a phrase from 1 Corinthians 11.  It is a symbolic meal, with physical bread and physical grapejuice.  We remember the Lord Jesus was a physical being in history.  Paul speaks of the Saviour,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited…
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.

Born like you and me.  Breathed like you and me.  Ate and drank and grew like you and me.  Walked and saw and heard and touched like you and me.  And knew all the capabilities and limitations of the mind and heart like you and me.  Jesus felt pain, felt sadness, felt joy, felt hope.  The Lord’s Supper gets is in touch with the God who enters human life completely.  

There are other terms for this ritual.  Some Christians simply refer to it as the Breaking of Bread.  Jesus, the Bread for the world, was broken.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

In the context of this Table, breaking of the bread is significant.  Bread must be broken up in order for it to be shared by many.  Somehow, it worked that Jesus was broken and killed, to be shared by many.

There are times this act of worship gets us in touch with our own mortality.  With the deaths and griefs we have suffered.  With our own brokenness.  And may we see, from deep within, that God breaks too, joining us, so there will be healing and new life.

Eucharist is not a word Baptist Christians have used much, but it is common among Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, and others.  The word comes from the Greek, εὐχαριστία, meaning, ‘thanksgiving.’  Not the holiday, Thanksgiving, but simply giving thanks.  Showing the attitude of gratitude.  We find the element of thankful rejoicing in this hymn to Christ that Paul gives us:
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth

When we come together at the Lord’s Table once a month, it can be a real moment of thankfulness!  Each of us grateful for how God reaches into our lives with love and mercy, truth and healing.  And thankful for being made one by the One we know and share, Christ Jesus.

In many Christian traditions some of the praying at the eucharistic table is called ‘the great thanksgiving.’  We will use a bunch of prayers in our hymnbook that make up a ‘great thanksgiving.’

And finally, this Christian rite is called Mass by  Roman Catholics, some Anglicans, and others.  A few of us protestants went to Mass at St. Pat’s the other evening, when Mass was said for the late Maureen Potter.  

It is hard to know where this simple little word comes from.  Is ‘Mass’ from the Jewish ‘Matzah,’ the unleavened bread of the Passover?  Or is the term rooted in a word for dismissing and blessing people as they go?  Or, perhaps, Mass is from a word for mission.  I like the idea of connecting this time of bread and wine with being sent out to accomplish our purpose.  

Paul’s hymn to Christ ends:
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

If coming to the Lord’s Table together helps us connect well with God, we can go out with renewed life, and life abundant to share.  We get reminded of the One who goes before us into each day.  We get inspired to confess our Faith with our words and actions and thoughts, moment by moment.  

The Name Above Every Name

(Psalm 118; Philippians 2:5-11) J G White
Palm & Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017, UBC Digby

Jesus, name above all names…
Palm Sunday has what seems to me this strange tradition of superpraising Jesus.  Hosanna sung and palm branches waved again. Happy joy, as a prelude to the happy joy of Easter.
And we Christians can get rather zealous about the end of the story, as we see it. Jesus wins.  

So, even now, we are on the right side, the winning team, and look ahead to that time when every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  

We, of the Men’s Choir, sang that Gaither song about the second coming of Jesus: the King is Coming.  With great hope and confidence we declare that King Jesus is coming back, praise God, He’s coming for me.  

Do any of you have a competitive streak in you?  You like to win. Was playing the board game last night: Settlers of Catan… with a couple of competitive guys.  Or, you like your favourite team to win.

So in our religion.   How do we respond to the Name Above Every Name?  This Jesus? Enjoyable praise, a triumphant party.
Praise and worship is good and right. Celebration can be a spiritual activity.  Notice in Philippians 2 the recommended action. We are to have this same mind – the humility of Christ.  

Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday.  Suffering of Jesus Sunday.  The Passion of the Christ Sunday.
Compassion:  com-passion: with suffer. Passion = suffer.  Passion = strong feeling.  co – suffering.  

I once knew pastor of an old, country church who truly liked the focus on Jesus’ suffering the week before Easter.  He saw many people in his pews on Palm Sunday who would not come on Good Friday.  How could they celebrate the resurrection without the experience of Jesus’ death? So at least they would get that on what they had always called Palm Sunday.

Today, of all days lately, suffering and sacrifice may indeed be upon our minds.  Today, the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, that looms so large in the history of WW1.  In 1917 it was the Monday after Easter – resurrection after destruction.

Philippians 2 has this great hymn to Christ.  We sang a hymn version of it before 11 o’clock, to a sprightly, British tune.  Because of the message of the lyrics, I prefer an older tune by Vaughan Williams, in a minor key.  It is a minor key type song, to me.  

Philippians 2 begins, saying to the reader: Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus.  And this is what the mind of Christ looks like:  Jesus…
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
Emptied himself.
Took on the form of a slave.
Took on the life of a human.
Humbled himself.
Was obedient even to death, by public execution.

You have heard of being upwardly mobile?
Jesus was downwardly mobile.
Our mind can be of the same attitude. Our journey in the same direction. Downwardly mobile.

American Catholic, Richard Rohr, talks about falling upward – going down is the way up with God.  Some of Rohr’s men’s work, through the years, has been around the need for initiation rites in the lives of men.  
Rohr says:  I have found the phenomenon of male initiation in every culture and on every continent until the modern era.  Something that universal—and so uniform in its goals—was surely fulfilling a deep human and social need. It was deemed necessary for cultural and personal survival, it seems. Throughout history, men were more often in positions of power and privilege, whereas women were often unfairly subjugated. Women, therefore, more naturally learned the path of descent (self-emptying) through their “inferior” position to men.
We recognize in initiation universal patterns of wisdom that need to be taught to the young male in his early “tower building” stages.  (Richard Rohr blog, October 18, 2016)

The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1328) said in essence that the spiritual life has more to do with subtraction than with addition. But [in the capitalistic West,] we keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of spiritual success. Some Buddhists call it spiritual materialism or spiritual consumerism. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. [prosperity gospel!] When we are so full of ourselves, we have no room—and no need—for God or others, or otherness in general.  (Richard Rohr blog, October 19, 2016)

My friend, Jonathan Riley, happened to say, yesterday: all art is essentially subtraction.  Sculpture is clearly about subtracting.  Carpentry, the same. Even painting, or poetry is about subtracting, not adding.  And the spiritual life is about subtraction.

The path of descent, or the pattern of falling upward, is found throughout the Bible. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is thrown into the well by his own brothers and then rescued (Genesis 37:20-28). The prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern by the civil leaders after he preaches retreat and defeat, and he is rescued by a eunuch (Jeremiah 38:6-13). Jonah is swallowed by a whale and then spit up on the right shore (Jonah 2:1-11). The people of Israel are sent into exile in Babylon and then released and allowed to return home by Cyrus, the King of Persia (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). Enslavement and exodus is the great lens through which Jewish history is read.

Add to that the story of Job as one unjustly but trustfully suffering and restored (Job 42:9-17), and the four “Servant songs” of Isaiah 42-53, describing one who suffers in a way that is vicarious, redemptive, and life-giving for others. (Richard Rohr blog, Oct 16, ‘16)

Compassion:  com-passion: suffering – with.

Jesus’ community – the Church – is called to suffer.  Take up your cross, we hear Jesus say, over & over.

Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall teaches these two things about Christian suffering.  One: Christian suffering is life-oriented, not death-oriented.  Two: suffering has more to do with suffering that is outside the community of discipleship than with our own [church] suffering.  (2003, The Cross in ur Context, p. 143)

So, the church is called to suffer not because suffering is good or beneficial or ultimately rewarding, but called to suffer because there is suffering — that is, because God’s creatures, including human beings, are already suffering, because ‘the whole creation groans.”  (p. 152)

Our path is a path of humility – having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.  

It was one hundred years ago now that the beloved Andrew Murray (1828-1917) died.  He’d been a pastor in South Africa, and a spiritual author.  This is from his book simply called: Humility (Whitaker, 2004)

Brothers and sisters, here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down!  This was what Jesus always said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom and of sitting on His right hand and His left.  Do not seek or ask for exaltation: that is God’s work.  See to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of servant.  That is your work.  (p. 44)

I often remember the Palm Sunday scene in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar:  As Christ enters Jerusalem triumphantly, with the excited crowds, he says to them:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand,
Nor the Romans, nor the Jews,
Nor Judas, nor the twelve
Nor the priests, nor the scribes,
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself,
Understand what power is,
Understand what glory is,
Understand at all, Understand at all….
While you live your troubles are many, poor Jerusalem.
To conquer death, you only have to die.
You only have to die.

Jesus identity is the Name Above Every Name, because of his descent.  God the Father raised Him up, as Philippians says, and the resurrection shows.
So it is for us too – we are raised by God, not ourselves.

Andrew Murray, again…  Brother or sister, are you clothed with humility?  look closely at your daily life.  Ask Jesus. Ask your friends.  Ask the world.  And begin to praise God that there is opened up to you in Jesus a heavenly humility that you have hardly known, and through which a heavenly blessedness (which you possibly have never yet tasted) can come into you. (P. 36)

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.