Canadian Hymn Sing

(Rom 6:5-11; Ps 121; Mtt 10:40-42) J G White

Sunday, July 2, 2017, UBC Digby

Romans 6:5-11  Quite a few Sundays this summer will will hear from the book of Romans.  I will use some of the verses suggested by the Revised Common Lectionary, a list of readings for each Sunday of the year.

In today’s text, we ponder what it means to be one with God, united in Christ Jesus, as Paul puts it here.  It is made clear what we already know.  Our existence has life and death in it.  So, the story of Jesus is the story of God in life and in death.  

I was back to Windsor, where I used to live, on Wednesday.  Went to a friend’s deathbead at the Windsor Hospital.  She was already unconscious, unresponsive.  A woman of great vitality and creativity, in her final chapter.  We were close neighbours for seven years, in the same apartment house.  She also sat in a pew in front of my pulpit there.  

Interestingly, she would talk with me privately about how she disliked most funerals.  She actually disliked all the talk about resurrection and eternal life.  Did not really believe in the whole ‘life after death’ thing.

I appreciated her honesty; and it did not bother me.  To die and then live with Christ is beyond our explaining, and whatever I think about it, or my friend thought about it, it will be what it will be when this life ends, by God’s grace.

These sentences from the book of Romans are also getting at the life and death of various parts our our lives.  The beautiful way things not good can die off in our lives, and the great stuff can flourish and grow.  That’s what I believe in, here and now, and in the next installment.  Let’s hear from Romans chapter 6…

 

Psalm 121 Unto the Hills

This hymn is a song lyric version of the 121st Psalm.  Perhaps it is a rather dull song – music and words – but it is a classic.  Of course, it is Canadian content too.  

The whole book of Psalms is a book of poetry, poetry intended to be sung.  So we sing it. We sing of the hills we look up to.  Even our rather short Mount Pleasant, Beaman’s Mountain, and Mount Shubel can be looked upon with joy and awe.  The inspiring landscape brings out the awe in us.  And the hope.  And the wonder – wondering about it all.  Wondering about ourselves in this world.

A good friend is a paraglider ‘pilot.’ Like hang-gliding, paragliding takes one up to the crest of a great hill, and then one steps out into the wind and soars in the sky.

My friend, Brian, is a very relaxed, easy-going fellow.  His long-time life-partner jokes about him, climbing hills with his wing on his back, waiting for the wind to be right.  She says he goes up there to work out his problems.  Most of us cannot imagine what problems Brian actually has.

When we have problems to face, we sometimes find our way to the mountains – looking from a valley below, or a lookout on top – and we seek help.  

Let us sing Psalm 121, Unto the Hills.  

 

Matthew 10:40-42  In a moment, Evelyn reads from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter ten.  Words of welcoming and of rewards.  

On Canada Day, we would do well to rejoice in the welcome of our land.  The actual land itself was welcoming to the first peoples who got here and called it home.  Those people were welcoming – they had to be – to newcomers from Europe through the centuries. We have the daily opportunity to welcome others we meet.  Welcome them with the spirit and love of Christ.  Welcome the friend and the stranger as we welcome Jesus and the presence of God.  

As Jesus said at other moments, we can bless Him when we help people who cross our paths today in all sorts of circumstances. Let’s hear these words recorded in Matthew…

 

PRAYERS of the People  Let us  pray. July 2, 2017

God: the Singer of the Song, with our hymns and Psalms and spiritual songs we have prayed today…

We have been not dismayed whatever betide.  We pray for those who do feel hopeless and troubled.  We pray for the sick and the sorrowing among us.  We pray for healing of bodies, of souls, of relationships.  

From every race, from every climate, Your people gather… and we have gathered with them, around the Table of Jesus.  Bless the Church, in an uncertain age, that we may be a gracious light in the world.

The wonder of springtime and harvest, the sky, the stars, the sun… is before us.  With the roaring rain and startling lightening we pray for all who are frightened and traumatized, that they may find healing comfort.

We’d rather have You, Jesus, than anything the world offers today.  In an age of buying and selling, of hoarding and stealing, may we be saved from greed and emptiness.

Faithful One, so unchanging, Ageless One, you’re our Rock of peace.  O that there could be a solid rock of peace for the refugees of the world to stand upon, in all the places they flee and suffer.

Angels fall before You, prostrate, worshipping.  On this Canada weekend, we remember the many peoples who worship in many different ways, praying that we may have the grace to respect and know one another.  

Unto the hills around do we lift up our longing eyes.  

All the earth makes a joyful noise unto You.  Let there be joy for those who are surrounded by hate and violence, little celebrations that bring happiness in hard times.

Make us now Set apart for You, our Master, ready to do Your will.  As You taught, may people be transformed from within, and our desires and action become completely that of You, our Holy Source.

We Crown You the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave.  We give thanks that this little life of ours can be so magnificent: we give thanks!

God keep our land glorious and free.

And now, we go out to express our citizenship – as citizens of Canada, citizens of humanity, citizens of earth, and citizens of the Heavenly Kindom.  

We humbly plead before You, reveal Yourself in us.

In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

 

God Will Keep You

Lent 2 (Ps 121; Ex 12:1-4a; Mtt 8:23-27)
March 12, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

Back in school days, I must have read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. (1903)  The one scene I remember in the whole saga about Buck the dog, is in chapter 6, at a point when Buck has deeply bonded with his new master, John Thornton.  As strong a love as possible between dog and man existed between Buck and Thornton. Let Jack London tell the scene…

Nothing was too great for Buck to do, when Thornton commanded.  One day… the men and dogs were sitting on the crest of a cliff which fell away, straight down, to naked bedrock three hundred feet below.  John Thornton was sitting near the edge, Buck at his shoulder.  A thoughtless whim seized Thornton, and he drew the attention of Hans and Pete to the experiment he had in mind. “Jump, Buck!” he commanded, sweeping his arm out and over the chasm.  The next instant he was grappling with Buck on the extreme edge, while Hans and Pete were dragging them back into safety.  (p. 83)
Absolute love and trust.  

Life with God, in the will of God, hearing from God, is a life of love and trust.  Confidence in the One we are joined to.  Sure that we are being ‘kept,’ kept safe, kept forever. Only when we know the Master so well are we free from fear and ready to obey any and every command.

We looked back, way back, this morning, to Abram and Sarai, ancient Hebrews, we might call them. They lived in one part of the Middle East.  They were told to go… move on.  By God.  What do they do?  They go.  They just go.  Not even being told where they are going, they go.  They step out in faith.   They were confident in the One who spoke, and in the message.

But many of us falter at the critical step of hearing commands from our Master.  How do I get guidance from Christ?  Do I get guidance from Him?  Is there not much being said, or am I just not hearing or seeing a whole lot that is being said all around me?

Though I think of myself as an optimist, I am also a skeptic.  Skeptical about miracles, signs & wonders, angels and ghosts and near-death experiences.   If you listen closely to what I don’t say, you may notice I don’t often say, “God told me to…” or “Christ healed so-and-so,” or “That turned out the way it was meant to be.”  I tend to experience the voice of God as a subtle, silent, rare thing.  My feeling or sense of the Holy Spirit being present is seldom.

Years ago, in one of my Celtic devotional books, this quotation caught my attention.  It seemed so beautiful.  It seemed so true to me.  It seems so dangerous.  Maybe it’s wrong?

The more a human being advances in the Christian faith, the more they live the presence of God as an absence, the more they accept to die to the idea of becoming aware of God, of fathoming Him.  For they have learned, while advancing, that God is unfathomable. [And from then on the presence of God assumed value in their eyes only against the backdrop of absence.] The mystic, in his long and complicated pilgrimage, experiences alternately the presence and absence of God.  By, by degrees, the absence of God is felt more and more and the mystic understands that this absence is now [normal] the norm.  Thus the mystic is someone who has had a long-term confrontation with God, like Jacob in the struggle that he waged all through the night, someone who does not cease to confront God.  God always precedes us, we see Him only from behind, He walks ahead, He is ahead of us. What the mystic experiences – and every Christian is a mystic because it is not the great illuminations that are the mark of the mystic but the night, an everyday night – is a kind of distancing from God in proportion to advances in the deepening of their faith.  
(Jean Francois Six, Is God Endangered by Believers, 1983)

How shall I know my Saviour so well, as a Friend, if hearing the Master’s voice is so hidden and absent?
Hearing from God, knowing the Master’s voice, is a matter of confidence.  Having faith and trust in our God.  Who this Holy God is, who is also called Love.

Abram and Sarai went as the LORD had told them, with other family members, toward an unknown future.  Abraham is commended for his faith, at various times in scripture.  Faith in who this God was and faithfulness in doing what the divine guidance told them to do.  Later on, you may know, when they finally have a child of their own, Abraham is to take young Isaac out in the wild for a sacrifice. Isaac is to be the human sacrifice!  But at the last moment, God’s angel stops Abraham and points out a nearby animal that can be slaughtered.
Sounds a bit to me like Thornton and his dog, Buck, at the cliff edge.  A dangerous test of training and relationship.

Another Bible story today also could be a test, of sorts.  Jesus stills the storm.  Of course, all the men in the little boat must face the storm on the Sea of Galilee.  Notice, Jesus was sleeping in the boat, while His friends were panicking.  They had nothing to fear: Jesus knew this; the disciples did not.

Dallas Willard said many times that we humans are perfectly safe in this life within the Kingdom of God.  Even if you are being destroyed and killed, you are safe in the arms of God.  Jesus knew this, on the storm-tossed boat, that day.

There is something to be said for being able to rest and to sleep.  Or simply to relax when going through life’s stresses and challenges.  Walking with Christ, living in the Kingdom now, gives a peace over and above the pains and problems and fears of everyday life.  Psalm 127 says,
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he give sleep to his beloved.
We can be at ease, because our God is always alert.  

Today’s Psalm, 121, says, he who watches over… will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you– by day… by night.  Our timeless God is present and alert, always. God will keep you, the Psalm says.  God will keep your life.  God never slumbers, so we can. We can be still, when all around is the rough sea.

This is the Supreme Being we worship here.  This is the One we seek to hear.  To see.  To know.  To befriend.  To obey.  To serve with.  To love.  ‘Hearing from God’ is about this God, who is present, even when all seems lost, even when God seems lost to us.

Years ago, author and pastor Richard Foster was working in a family counselling centre, and was becoming interested in how prayers of healing worked with emotional needs.  
A man came to him who had lived in constant fear and bitterness for twenty-eight years.  He would wake up at night, screaming and in a cold sweat. He lived in constant depression, so much so that his wife said that he had not laughed for many years.

The man told Foster the story of what had happened those many years before that had caused such a deep sadness to hang over him.  He was in Italy during the Second World War and was in charge of a mission of thirty-three men.  They became trapped by enemy gunfire.  With deep sorrow in his eyes, this man related how he had prayed desperately that God would get them out of that mess. It was not to be.  He had to send his men out two by two and watch them get killed.  Finally in the early hours of the morning he was able to escape with six men – four seriously wounded.  He had only a flesh wound.  He said that the experience turned him into an atheist.  Certainly, his heart was filled with rage, bitterness, and guilt.

His counsellor, Foster, said, ‘Don’t you know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lives in the eternal now, can enter that old painful memory and heal it so that it will no longer control you?’  He did not know this was possible.  Foster asked if he would mind if he prayed for him – never might that he was an atheist; he would have faith for him.  He nodded his consent.  Sitting beside him with his hand on the man’s shoulder, Richard Foster invited the Lord Jesus to go back those twenty-eight years and walk through that day with this good man.  ‘Please Lord,’ Foster asked, ‘draw out the hurt and the hate and the sorrow and set him free.’  Almost as an afterthought, he asked for peaceful sleep to be one of the evidences of this healing work, for the fellow had not slept well for all those years.  ‘Amen.’

The next week he came up to the counsellor with a sparkle in his eyes and a brightness on his face…  ‘Every night I have slept soundly and each morning I have awakened with a hymn on my mind.  And I am happy… happy for the first time in twenty-eight years.’ …That was many years ago, and the wonderful thing is that although this man… had the normal ups and downs of life since then, the old sorrows… never returned.  (Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, 1992, pp. 218-19)

Perfect love casts out fear, says scripture.(1 Jn 4:18)  This testimony of a man about freedom from the past is but one example, and you have your own stories to tell.  You know this already.  God will keep you.  Even when there is silence.  When God seems not even to be there, to exist.  One poet prayed:

In Your presence there is an absence
silencing my greatest fear.
It is with You that I know the essence
of what is life, now that You’re near.

It is in the absence of Your presence
that I rekindle my desire;
and it is when I am without You
That I burn, an inextinguishable fire.

In Your presence there is an absence
of all that preys upon my mind;
for my heart’s desire’s before me,
and I leave all else behind.

It is in the absence of Your presence
that I have learned to be apart.
It is without You that I am with You;
for You are Joy within my heart.

  • Janet Rimmer

Then, when the hidden God says, “Go,” we may go, confidently.  Then, when the Cosmic Christ says, “I will go back in your life and be there for you,” we find freedom from our past.  Then, when the Spirit of Truth speaks ever so quietly, we will recognize and understand.  God will keep your life.  

Next Sunday we will explore some factors of God’s still, small voice that help us recognize it as the voice of the Master.