Weekly Devotional from the pastor's desk

27 April - 3 May

 

 

 

God in Christ is Able: Part Four

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

“able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—Ephesians 3:20

“able even to subdue all things unto himself.”—Philippians 3:21

“able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

“able for all time to save those who approach God through him”—Hebrews 7:25

“able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”—2 Timothy 1: 12

 

There’s a bit of a buzz word going around these days. The word is “liminal,” and some writers are using it to help people make better sense of theology. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “liminal” as: “Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process” or “Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.” Popular writers such a Richard Rohr and Kate Bowler, may speak in terms of the “liminal”, “liminal life,” “liminal spaces” or “liminality” as a new way of thinking about theology, but in actual fact, these concepts have a long and deep history behind them. Such concepts appear in in the Bible albeit under a different language. Take for instance our scripture passage for today’s devotional from the short work known as The Letter of Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.“

Whoever wrote this wonderful doxology, or passage of praise, had in mind the power of God in Christ in a liminal sense; that is, Jude assumes that believers live a liminal existence where the hope of Christ is embraced over slumber, denial, or despair, and yet our spiritual life is to remain sensitive to the fact that we are always between a settled past and a not yet actual future. Let me explain as best as I can.

Years ago, while I was staying in a mid-Western American city, I was walking down the sidewalk when a stranger stopped his car and asked me a question. I was wearing a cross on the outside of my shirt: “Is that cross around your neck a decoration or a proclamation?” After I assured him that I was indeed a believer in Christ he came at me with another unexpected question: “When were you saved?” Now, if this person approached me today with this same question, I would be happy to answer in the same way as Karl Barth once did: “On a Friday afternoon, in the spring, outside the city of Jerusalem, in or about the year 30 AD.” But this person was really wondering about my conversion. Had I acknowledged my shortcomings (both my sins and sinful nature), repented and asked Christ for forgiveness, only to start a new life in the Saviour? His approach was a tad bit bold for my liking, but his language was typically evangelical, and made sense to me in light of my experience. It made sense to me as a person who can mark a time in my life when God had peeled the scales from my eyes so to speak and inspired me to make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ.

 

For me this meant two things changed right away. First, there was a new sense of reverence for the person and name of Jesus Christ. Up until that point the only time I ever used the name of Jesus Christ was when I used them as curse words. This changed pretty much over night, not because I felt forced by some legal code to do so, but because something within me now felt repulsed by the thought of using the Lord’s name in vain. There’s a story about a very devote Christian woman. She would sometimes ride the bus. More than a few times she heard people on the bus using the name of the Lord in vain. Instead of rebuking these folks, she would simply speak out loud: “And a blessed name it is!” Indeed, that’s a good way to sum it up; the person of Jesus Christ is worthy of praise, not something to be dragged through the mud and used in vain.

 

The second change: I now had unrelenting desire to read the Scriptures and serve this Christ who I now experienced as alive and personally accessible. And more than this, the Scriptures began to make sense in such a way as to have relevance to my life of service. The stories now meant something to me. I made personal connections with the Bible that I hadn’t previously been able to make.

 

But there is more to the Christian life than conversion alone. The Christian life, as the Letter to Jude suggests, is a liminal walk of faith, in that it is a spiritual life sensitive to the fact that we are always somewhere between a settled past and a not yet actual future. We learn from Jude that God is able to keep us from this falling; whatever this might mean to us. To use the language of the Bible, we were saved at the Cross-Resurrection event through God’s reconciling, once-and-for-all salvific act (2 Corinthians 5:19), we are being saved as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2: 12), and we will be saved in the future. This latter hope is believed but not yet fully realized. And because we only see now in part, our faith is tested at times.

 

Last week I read a quote by Anne Lamott, a writer who has struggled with addictions, and yet through her struggles has found faith and healing strength in God. For Lamott, her faith means the difference between freedom and enslavement; life and death. Unfortunately, too often she has been criticized for being honest about her doubt. She writes: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” In other words, Lamont is fueled by the liminal spaces of life where God has shown up in the messiness. As a person of faith, she assumes that this life is a threshold, or entrance into the next, and that God is able to transform us through this time of transition as we develop openness and patience, all the while expecting a more intimate and intense encounter with the God we can only see now in part. To God alone be all the Glory. Amen.

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

Revd. Scott Kindred-Barnes

May 4-10

 

 

God in Christ is Able to Bring us Peace of Mind: Part Five

“able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”—2 Timothy 1: 12

“able even to subdue all things unto himself.”—Philippians 3:21

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

“able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—Ephesians 3:20

“able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

“able for all time to save those who approach God through him”—Hebrews 7:25

 

I’ve been writing about the ableness of God for several weeks now. We can read about this ableness in the Scriptures without really accepting it in our hearts. We can acknowledge God’s ableness at one level without really letting its reality shape us. One of the signs that God is becoming a deeper part of our lives is when we experience a peace of mind. This can be fleeting at times as different demands and loyalties compete for our attention. Yet, it is this peace of mind that we all long for and need.

One of my favorite Christian writers is Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, the great preacher of the mid-20th century, known especially for integrating psychology into his pastoral theology. This week I read from his lesser known book titled Time for God where, among other things, he talks about how Christ offers peace of mind to those experiencing anxiety and unrest. We don’t need to rehash a list of things that can cause our discontent especially during these difficult times of social distancing. However, Weatherhead lists six things that work against our inward peace. I found just thinking about these points helped me to pray this week.

First, Weatherhead suggests peace of mind is possible if we could get rid of the sense of guilt by accepting God’s forgiveness and starting again, even if it is the thousandth new beginning. This is often easier said than done. We can say with our lips that God forgives us without letting it take root in our hearts. Surely there are times when our wounds keep us from seeing ourselves and others in the loving way that God sees us. About this human tendency, Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote a book titled How Good Do We Have to Be? where he puts forth the message that God does not expect perfection in us, so why should we demand perfection of ourselves or those around us. What both Weatherhead and Kushner seem to be saying is that God knows what a complicated story a human life is and loves us despite our inevitable lapses.

Second, peace of mind is possible if we could put things right with any person in the world with whom we are wrong, even if we have to climb down, lose face, ask pardon, and make restitution. There is freedom in taking responsibility for one’s wrong-doings. Ruth Bell Graham once wrote that “Every cat knows some things need to be buried.” Even though this is often easier said than done, it can bring us peace when we experience forgiveness both as the forgiver and the forgiven.

 

Third, Weatherhead suggests that if we could aim to live each day within the will of God as we perceive it at each decision, we would find greater peace of mind. This is essentially what Dante meant when he wrote “In Thy will [O God] is our peace.”

 

Fourth, if we could make a tiny place each day, however short, for meditative prayer we would find greater peace of mind. Public worship is important to the life of the Church but so is personal prayer. One of the greatest privileges that countless Christians throughout the ages have come to know and live by is the truth that God, the same Creator who calls this mysteriously-colossal universe into being, also takes personal interest in each of us. You matter to God. God is worth spending time with if even for a few minutes a day. When we take time to commune with our Creator through prayer, that is, share our hearts with God, we show our gratitude and love to the one who makes life possible.

 

Fifth, if we could live a day at a time, instead of endlessly saying: “Whatever shall I do if…” Here, Weatherhead says we are to plan ahead with as much wisdom as we can, but never at the expense of withdrawing our attention from everything that is at hand. There have been times when I have been so focused on planning for the future that I have missed the moments before me. Young children have a way of reminding us of this importance. They grow so quickly. What is important for them today may not be so next week because they are changing, growing and maturing. Taking that time to experience and be thankful for the now is something Jesus knew and lived by.

 

Lastly, peace of mind is possible if we could rest in the thought of God’s omnipotent purposefulness. This is the underlying assumption of both 2 Timothy 1: 12 and Philippians 3:21. Omnipotence refers to God’s quality of having unlimited or very great power. To talk of God’s power, however, does not mean that everything that happens is God’s will. Nor does it mean that God will interfere with overwhelming might. According to both Weatherhead, and our Scripture lessons, God’s power means that God cannot be defeated ultimately in his purposes. And that God has a purpose for every life.

 

When we speak of God’s ableness, let us remember just how Jesus lived during his life and ministry. Let us remember what he had to face each day. Weatherhead, by following the teachings of Jesus, challenges us all: “Can we fulfil the conditions by which we can lay hold on our promised inheritance? It is worth trying.” And of all the lessons, and gifts that Jesus left for us, perhaps nothing is more healing and life-giving than “My peace I leave with you.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Revd. Scott Kindred-Barnes

may 11-17 

 

 

Let’s become more dependant!

 

While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ -Acts 13:2

 

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. -Romans 8: 26-27

 

There are no typos in the title above. I am suggesting we all need to become more dependent. In modern times being dependant on another can be seen as a bad thing. To reply upon another for money, food and resources can be seen as a weakness. But as Christians, we all need to be dependent on the Holy Spirit; both personally and as a body of Christian believers.

A week from Sunday is Pentecost; a time in the ecclesiastical year when we celebrate the birth of the Church. It is a time that marks when God poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church. Through the Spirit the Church was empowered to fulfill a most challenging mission. The fact that we still worship God in Christ some two thousand years later is proof that the early Christians were successful. It often surprizes people to learn that in the early centuries of Christianity, the birth of Christ was not celebrated with the same rigor as the Pentecost celebration. If we look closely at the New Testament witness, we can understand why. Both the Gospel of Luke and John alike, and the writings of Paul the apostle, assume that Christian participation and mission are possible only because of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Why is the Holy Spirit so important? There’s a story about a man named Mr. Yates, who during the Great Depression, owned a sheep ranch in Texas. Yates was unable to earn enough to pay the principal and interest on his mortgage and he was thus in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes and food, his family, like many others during the depression, had to live on government subsidy. For many days on end, as he grazed his sheep over the rolling hills, all the while worried about paying his bills. Then he was approached by a seismographic crew from an oil company. They told him that there might be oil on his land. They sought his permission to drill and he signed a lease contract. When they struck oil on his property it was discovered that Mr. Yates was living on ground that had the potential to produce many thousands of barrels of oil per day. He was a multi-millionaire who had been living in poverty on relief assistance. His problem of course was that he didn’t know the oil was there even though he owned it.

How often do we Christians carry on our lives without calling upon the great resource given to us by the Lord. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us. The Spirit can lead us and comfort us through times of uncertainty. As a minister I am blessed to talk with many people about their faith. I often hear people describe their Christian walk as if it were melted ice cream; something they love and know to be good, but in practice just seems to be dripping into a mess. For many, myself included, it can feel very difficult to be a Christian and we sometimes convince ourselves that we have to do it all on our own, independently, without help. Surely, God doesn’t intend his Church to live without his guidance and comfort.

The Christian Poet, Henry Twells certainly knew this tendency when he penned the following poetic lines:

 

It is not knowledge that we chiefly need,

Though knowledge sanctified by Thee is dear;

It is the will and power to love indeed;

It is the constant thought that God is near.

 

Make us to be what we profess to be;

Let prayer be prayer, and praise be heartfelt praise;

From unreality, O, set us free,

And let our words be echoed by our ways.

 

We learn from Acts 2: 2-4 that at Pentecost the Spirit descended upon the infant Church: “Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting…And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” In terms of the sacred history of the Bible, we might see this event as the reversal of the Tower of Babel, where the languages and cultures that so often work to divide people, are now united through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. It was certainly interpreted by the early Church as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy where the Spirit was made available to unite, empower and direct the diversity of people who thereafter came to worship and serve the risen Christ. We too are invited to participate in God’s work through the Church. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus himself talked about a time when the Father would send the Counselor, that is, the Holy Spirit, to inspire and teach the believing community in the faith. All of this comes down to a learning curve for us as a people of faith who long to partner with God in his work. In a time when our world feels out of order and plagued by uncertainty, I think we would all do well to become more dependent on the One who helps us in our weaknesses. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.

 

Revd. Scott Kindred-Barnes

May 18-24

 

 

 

 

God in Christ is Able to Bring us Peace of Mind: Part Five

“able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”—2 Timothy 1: 12

“able even to subdue all things unto himself.”—Philippians 3:21

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

“able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—Ephesians 3:20

“able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

“able for all time to save those who approach God through him”—Hebrews 7:25

I’ve been writing about the ableness of God for several weeks now. We can read about this ableness in the Scriptures without really accepting it in our hearts. We can acknowledge God’s ableness at one level without really letting its reality shape us. One of the signs that God is becoming a deeper part of our lives is when we experience a peace of mind. This can be fleeting at times as different demands and loyalties compete for our attention. Yet, it is this peace of mind that we all long for and need.

One of my favorite Christian writers is Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, the great preacher of the mid-20th century, known especially for integrating psychology into his pastoral theology. This week I read from his lesser known book titled Time for God where, among other things, he talks about how Christ offers peace of mind to those experiencing anxiety and unrest. We don’t need to rehash a list of things that can cause our discontent especially during these difficult times of social distancing. However, Weatherhead lists six things that work against our inward peace. I found just thinking about these points helped me to pray this week.

 

First, Weatherhead suggests peace of mind is possible if we could get rid of the sense of guilt by accepting God’s forgiveness and starting again, even if it is the thousandth new beginning. This is often easier said than done. We can say with our lips that God forgives us without letting it take root in our hearts. Surely there are times when our wounds keep us from seeing ourselves and others in the loving way that God sees us. About this human tendency, Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote a book titled How Good Do We Have to Be? where he puts forth the message that God does not expect perfection in us, so why should we demand perfection of ourselves or those around us. What both Weatherhead and Kushner seem to be saying is that God knows what a complicated story a human life is and loves us despite our inevitable lapses.

 

Second, peace of mind is possible if we could put things right with any person in the world with whom we are wrong, even if we have to climb down, lose face, ask pardon, and make restitution. There is freedom in taking responsibility for one’s wrong-doings. Ruth Bell Graham once wrote that “Every cat knows some things need to be buried.” Even though this is often easier said than done, it can bring us peace when we experience forgiveness both as the forgiver and the forgiven.

 

Third, Weatherhead suggests that if we could aim to live each day within the will of God as we perceive it at each decision, we would find greater peace of mind. This is essentially what Dante meant when he wrote “In Thy will [O God] is our peace.”

 

Fourth, if we could make a tiny place each day, however short, for meditative prayer we would find greater peace of mind. Public worship is important to the life of the Church but so is personal prayer. One of the greatest privileges that countless Christians throughout the ages have come to know and live by is the truth that God, the same Creator who calls this mysteriously-colossal universe into being, also takes personal interest in each of us. You matter to God. God is worth spending time with if even for a few minutes a day. When we take time to commune with our Creator through prayer, that is, share our hearts with God, we show our gratitude and love to the one who makes life possible.

 

Fifth, if we could live a day at a time, instead of endlessly saying: “Whatever shall I do if…” Here, Weatherhead says we are to plan ahead with as much wisdom as we can, but never at the expense of withdrawing our attention from everything that is at hand. There have been times when I have been so focused on planning for the future that I have missed the moments before me. Young children have a way of reminding us of this importance. They grow so quickly. What is important for them today may not be so next week because they are changing, growing and maturing. Taking that time to experience and be thankful for the now is something Jesus knew and lived by.

 

Lastly, peace of mind is possible if we could rest in the thought of God’s omnipotent purposefulness. This is the underlying assumption of both 2 Timothy 1: 12 and Philippians 3:21. Omnipotence refers to God’s quality of having unlimited or very great power. To talk of God’s power, however, does not mean that everything that happens is God’s will. Nor does it mean that God will interfere with overwhelming might. According to both Weatherhead, and our Scripture lessons, God’s power means that God cannot be defeated ultimately in his purposes. And that God has a purpose for every life.

 

When we speak of God’s ableness, let us remember just how Jesus lived during his life and ministry. Let us remember what he had to face each day. Weatherhead, by following the teachings of Jesus, challenges us all: “Can we fulfil the conditions by which we can lay hold on our promised inheritance? It is worth trying.” And of all the lessons, and gifts that Jesus left for us, perhaps nothing is more healing and life-giving than “My peace I leave with you.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Revd. Scott Kindred-Barnes

May 25-31

God in Christ is Able: Part Three

“able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—Ephesians 3:20

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

“able even to subdue all things unto himself.”—Philippians 3:21

“able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

“able for all time to save those who approach God through him”—Hebrews 7:25

“able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”—2 Timothy 1: 12

 

As another week will soon be coming to a close, and as the social distancing and self-isolating continues, I am thinking mostly about stones. That’s right, stones. The round, smooth kind you can find at Scot’s Bay. Many years of tumbling with the tides and cracking against other rocks has worn these stones so smooth that they feel soft in your hand as you hold them. We have several of these stones at our home from when we first moved back to Nova Scotia in the summer of 2018. This week we stacked some of these stones in a pleasant arrangement in our back yard as a symbolic reminder of God’s faithfulness.

On Monday morning, our eight-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, woke up to discover her pet fish had died in the night. It may sound trivial to us as adults, but for her it was yet another unexpected occurrence in what has proven to be an unpredictable time for all of us. Elizabeth asked me to help her bury the fish and to say a few prayers. After we buried the fish, we read a prayer inspired by Saint Francis’s intimate relationship with nature and all living creatures: “Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters.”  Elizabeth then decided to stack some of our favorite family rocks in a circle around the fish’s grave.

As we were placing the stones on the ground, it struck me just how often the image of stones is used in the Bible. Stones are used to commemorate important events (Genesis 28:18 & Joshua 4:9); to indicate firmness and strength (Genesis 49: 24). Isaiah used the stone as a symbol of strength and permanence throughout time (Isaiah 28:16). As a negative image, stones are used metaphorically to denote insensibility and hardness of heart (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). In the New Testament we read about the faith of Peter as the rock upon which Christ will build his Church (Matthew 16: 13-20), while the members of the Church are called “living stones” and Christ himself is the “chief” or “corner stone” (1 Peter 2: 4-8).

Along with the images of the Church as a body and a bride, the metaphor of the Church as a building to house the family of God is one of the most distinctive features of the New Testament letter, Ephesians. Ironically, in a time when we are unable to gather together in our church building, Ephesians reminds us of the true foundation upon which our congregation of believers must find our stability. Ephesians 2: 20-22 reads: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” It’s this sense of Christ’s strength and permanence that Ephesians wants believers to know.

 

Stones serve as helpful illustrations because they are solid, not easily changed and can be used as foundations for buildings. Unless there are special conditions over a considerable period of time, for the most part stones remain the same while everything else changes around them. Notice that this image of the Church as God’s temple assumes that we stand on a worthy foundation laid down by the apostles and prophets, and battle tested by those who came before us. William Wordsworth once penned a revealing line about loneliness: “Points have we all of us within our souls where we all stand single.” We may feel alone and isolated through these circumstances, and this is perfectly understandable and normal. But we also do well to remind ourselves that the New Testament witness repeatedly affirms that Christians, whenever we proclaim Christ in word or in deed, build upon the foundation that the apostles laid down for us.

 

At First Baptist Church Ottawa, where I served as minister of the congregation for seven years prior to our move to Wolfville, there’s a silver trowel that hangs on the wall at the back of the sanctuary. The trowel is a ceremonial piece that commemorates the day in 1877 when the cornerstone of the church was laid. Visitors to the church would sometimes ask me about the significance of this artifact. I was always happy to share with them the story about the trowel. The cornerstone of the church was laid by the then Prime Minister of Canada, the honourable Alexander Mackenzie.

 

Mackenzie, himself a skilled stonemason, would not settle for just the typical ceremonial gloss befitting most dignitaries. Instead, he is said to have borrowed a proper mason’s trowel from one of the workmen. After spreading the mortar and setting the stone, he tapped it with a heavy tool and then said: “Now it is well and truly laid.” I can think of no better way to strengthen our own fellowship of believers, than to make sure our Christian faith is well and truly laid. When Jesus Christ is our foundation, we are part of an edifice of faith that cannot be shaken. It’s this sense of Christ as a cornerstone of strength and permanence throughout time that informs the end of Ephesians 3, and the apostolic belief that God in Christ is able to exceed all our expectations: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Thanks be to God.

 

 

Revd. Scott Kindred-Barnes

April 20-26

God in Christ is Able: Part Two

“able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—Ephesians 3:20

“able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

“able for all time to save those who approach God through him”—Hebrews 7:25

“able even to subdue all things unto himself.”—Philippians 3:21

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

“able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”—2 Timothy 1: 12

 

Sometimes it is difficult to know where to begin my devotional. This week has been particularly tough since we are all feeling so heavy about last Sunday’s tragedy. Earlier this morning, as I sat in my office flipping through books by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner and Leslie Weatherhead on the problem of suffering, I realized I was experiencing writer’s block. I decided not to force it and instead go for a walk with my two children. At ages eight and five, my children are not aware of the full-details of what unfolded last Sunday, but they have picked up the tragic news in bits and pieces. A neighbour walking by on the road called out to me, “Scott, can you believe what happened on Sunday?” The children also wondered why I needed to go to the church on a Wednesday to record my part of a Vigil put on by the Wolfville and Area Inter-church Council this Friday.

As I walked with my children each of them in turn asked questions about what has happened. “Why did the man shoot other people?” “Why didn’t God stop him?” As we walked and talked, I soon discovered they were really looking for is assurance. They needed to know that God still exists and that everything will be alright. And then it hit me, that we too, as adults want to know the same thing.

This is the message of our passage today from Ephesians: God in Christ is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Notice the writer doesn’t spend time on theodicy, that is, a defence of God and the problems of evil and suffering. Instead, the writer wants these early Christians to know that God has not abandoned them, and that God is still able to move in and through them for the greater good.

So, what might Christians do in light of the difficult times we are currently living through? I think the first thing we can do as the Church is lament. The Bible is full of examples of lament. Lament can be defined as an expression of grief and sorrow. But in the Biblical sense lament is a curious mix of grief, sorrow and faith. If we read the Psalms, for example, we soon discover that lament is part of a healthy spiritual expression. Many of the Psalms bring together the psalmist’s pain with his deep faith. Jesus too, understood lament when he recited the first line of Psalm 22 on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In fact, in Jesus we see perhaps the clearest expression of Biblical lament. In Jesus we see a man suffering, struggling to make sense of it, and continuing to believe. And we as the Church can do the same. Recently, Richard Rohr said much of the same thing in one of his daily devotionals: “My life is not about me. It is about God. It is about a willing participation in a larger mystery. At this time, we do this by not rejecting or running from what is happening but by accepting our current situation and asking God to be with us in it.” 

 

But the Church can also love. In Archibald MacLeish’s play titled J.B. we are introduced to a story about one who suffers. The main character, J.B., is a Job-like figure, who has the world at his feet only to lose everything through a series of tragedies. At the end of the play, J.B.’s spouse speaks to the unfairness of life with these powerful words:

 

The candles in the churches are out,

The stars have gone out in the sky.

Blow on the coal of the heart

And we’ll see by and by…

 

These lines suggest that the world can be unpredictable and cold. And that even churches can lose our way if we lose sight of God as our source of light. Yet, instead of giving up, instead of becoming cynical, we are called to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. Like MacLeish’s main character, we too can see this time as a fresh opportunity to re-examine and renew our own capacity to love.

The Church can also learn. During WW II, when the churches in Germany had been largely compromised by the Nazi regime, a group of Christians remained faithful by denouncing the horrible doctrines of the Nazis. One of these Christians was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By 1945 Bonhoeffer was incarcerated in a Gestapo prison cell and under threat of execution. During this time of great anxiety, Bonhoeffer wrote to his godson on the day of his baptism, envisioning the shape of a revitalised post-war church:
 

“By the time you have grown up, the church’s form will have changed greatly. We are not yet out of the melting-pot, and any attempt to help the church prematurely to a new expansion of its organization will merely delay its conversion and purification. It is not for us to prophesy the day (although the day will come) when people will once more be called so to utter the word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it. It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming – as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with the world and the coming of his kingdom.”

 

What life will look like when this pandemic is over, is difficult to say. But hopefully the Church all over the world can learn from these circumstances. Hopefully, life in the new normal will lead the Church to make some necessary changes for the better. Friends, though these times are straining and stressful, may we as Christians use this opportunity for lament, love and learning to the glory of God. May we reach out and pray for those in need knowing that God in Christ is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

Revd. Scott Kindred-Barnes

April 12-19

God in Christ is Able: Part One

 

“able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

“able for all time to save those who approach God through him”—Hebrews 7:25

“able even to subdue all things unto himself.”—Philippians 3:21

“able to keep you from falling”—Jude 24

“able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”—2 Timothy 1: 12

“able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine”—Ephesians 3:20

 

For twenty years James S. Stewart (1896-1990) was the Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the University of Edinburgh. He was also one of the finest preachers of the last century. Stewart once preached a sermon that drew upon the wisdom of six passages in the New Testament; passages that declare explicitly what God is able to do. I recently read this sermon. It inspired me to take a closer look at each of these passages. Over the next several weeks I will focus on each of these passages in turn.

When we say that “God in Christ is Able” what do we mean? In Hebrews 2:18 we learn that “Because he [Christ] himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” I used to find this passage problematic. After all, isn’t God supposed to know everything? Why couldn’t God understand our plight without becoming human? But my question is asking too much of the passage. The intent of Hebrews 2:18 is to offer encouragement. A closer look at both the original Greek and the context can help us understand more clearly.

No one knows the authorship of Hebrews, though many have speculated about this over the centuries. I think the third-century church-leader and theologian, Origen, was wise when he determined: “Who wrote Hebrews? God alone knows.” The recipients of the Book of Hebrews are also unknown. Were they in Jerusalem, Rome or somewhere else in the empire? Were they Jews, Gentiles or a mixture of both? We can’t be sure.

The Greek word Peirazomenois, rendered by the New Revised Standard Version as those “who are being tested”, comes from the word peíra which can mean either test or tempt. The New International Version translates Peirazomenois as those “who are being tempted”. Context alone determines which sense is intended. So which translation is better? Tested or tempted? The Answer: both apply simultaneously. For all the uncertainties surrounding the Book of Hebrews, one thing seems sure: the recipients needed encouragement through a time of trail; a trial (or time of testing) that was tempting some to abandon their faith. Into this context of trial and temptation, the writer points believers to a Christ who understands what they are experiencing.

I’m not really sure I understood what Hebrews is teaching here until the birth of my son, Samuel. About a decade ago I received word that my brother and his pregnant spouse were going through a difficult time. The doctors reported complications with their unborn child, and they were not certain what the outcome would be. I remember calling my brother at this time and trying to offer support. His daughter was eventually born, received the care she needed, and is now healthy, but for a time it was very difficult for them. I did my best to understand what he might be going through but in hindsight I hadn’t a clue. You see there was divide between my comprehension of his anxiety and my own personal experience.

In the fall of 2014, Kerry was about to begin her third term of pregnancy with Samuel, when we were told that there were complications, and that he may not survive. These complications eventually led to Kerry’s hospitalization for five weeks prior to Samuel’s birth. In the end, Samuel was born a month premature but perfectly healthy. During the height of this time of anxiety and uncertainty, my brother called to offer support. His call was one of many for which I am thankful. Yet, my brother’s call was especially meaningful. When my brother, who is not a church goer, said “Scott, I know what you are going through”, I knew there was an undoubtable depth of understanding there. And it helped. This is what the author of Hebrews wants to teach us through any difficult times we face. Jesus Christ knows what we are going through. He is one who trusted God through the most difficult of times. He is the one who prayed with anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who cried out a prayer from the cross by reciting Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In the end, Christ was vindicated through his glorious resurrection; the greatest act of God’s power since the Big Bang. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

“Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”—Hebrews 2:18

 

Rev. Scott Kindred-Barnes

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering how to Remember

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said
to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell
you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and
after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that
from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to
them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’

Luke 22: 14-19

Last week I received an email with an attached photograph that made me smile. The picture, taken in the summer of 1998 by a friend, features a group of teenagers and myself at Camp Judson near Mount Rushmore, South Dakoda. Camp Judson is a Baptist Camp. That summer I volunteered to be a leader at the camp. I would like to be able to tell you that I did this because I was a committed Christian with a profound knowledge of the Bible but this would not be accurate. I had just started to read the Scriptures a few months before. At that time, I had a hunch that God might exist but such a divinity certainly had no relevance to my everyday life. If truth be told, I went to the camp for selfish reasons; namely, because a friend with a connection to a Baptist church in Sioux Falls where I was then living, invited me to come along for the week. I was not interested in visiting the camp when he asked me. So, he gave me the added incentive I needed to change my mind; free food and a place to stay for a week. I agreed to come
along.


Over the years I have often thanked the Lord for that week at Camp Judson. What happened there is a story beyond the scope of this short piece, but let it suffice to say that what unfolded changed the direction of my life. When I entered the camp on a Saturday afternoon in July, I was an agnostic (one who believes that God may or may not exist). One week later, when we departed from Camp Judson, I was a baptised believer in Jesus Christ.


Last week, when I received the picture, a wave of memories flooded back to me from twenty-two years ago. The picture reminded me of the seriousness of my baptismal vows, and how they have shaped my life and direction in the years since then. Memory is a powerful thing. God uses it to stake his claim on us, and to inform us of who we really are in Christ.


Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me” are grounded in his Jewish heritage as well as a profound biblical truth. For ancient Jews, remembering a religious event meant more than calling to mind something that happened in the past. In Jesus’ culture, remembering an event meant bringing it into the present and reliving it by faith. Thus, when Jews remembered the Passover each year, they did far more than just call to mind the days when God led Moses and the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. More than just recall, remembering for ancient Jews brought the event into the present to be relived again. In this way, they received the same blessings as their ancestors. It was with this understanding that Jesus gathered with his Disciples to celebrate the Passover meal.
 

This understanding of memory can also inform our faith participation today. As Holy Week is about to commence, and despite the strangeness of being cut off from one another this year, I invite you to remember again both the promises of God and those moments in your life when God’s grace has touched you. Have you found peace in gathering at the Table of Jesus Christ or in the gift of music? Then remember that peace and let it shape your life today. Have you publicly proclaimed your faith in Jesus Christ through baptism, confirmation or some other witness? Then remember that time, let it ground you, and even shape who you are today. Through faith may we all remember the life-giving power and hope of God’s beloved Son. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Scott Kindred-Barnes

March 30- April 5

 

 

 

Thomas Watson was a 17th-century pastor-scholar who knew many hardships because of his nonconformist convictions. Through his deep study of the Scriptures and through prayer, Watson encouraged believers to become “settled in Christ”. For Watson, being “settled” in the Lord meant knowing God in Christ as the immovable foundation on which all of life rests. To this end, he contrasted the “settled” Christian with a feather that is blown about by the wind; ever tumbling about at the mercy of the changing weather.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a storm in our lives, disrupting the world, and leaving many people feeling unsettled. It has impacted how we socialize at this time, and placed limitations on Christian worship and fellowship. Thus, I cannot speak in terms of a typical Holy Week and Easter with all its services, lovely music, and Easter Sunday meals with family and friends. What I can speak about is the Resurrection hope of Easter, and the settling power to be found in the risen Christ. 

The Resurrection is the reason the Church was born nearly two thousand years ago, and it’s the reason why the Church continues today.  According to Matthew’s Gospel, the resurrected Christ made the following promise: “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” In other words, the risen Christ will not abandon his Church even in the strangest and most challenging of times. Rather, Christ will continue to guide, sustain, and settle us through this and any other difficulties. Paul the apostle put it this way:  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The message of the New Testament is clear. God in Christ remains with his Church through this and any other situation. 

If Christ is indeed Risen as the Church throughout the ages has proclaimed, then the Covid-19 virus cannot separate our Lord from his Church even if good stewardship and common sense determines that we must physically remain separated from one another for a time. When many are feeling disconnected from the Church, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ holds out an invitation to us all.

 

The Resurrection invites us to open our hearts to the presence of the risen Christ in every context. It invites us to let God’s Son do for us what he has done for countless believers throughout the centuries. It invites us to love again, even if our love has been rejected and we are tempted to become bitter. It invites us to hope again, even after our hope has been shaken and we are tempted to despair. It invites us to believe again, even after our belief has been shaken and we are haunted by doubt. It invites us to new life, even after disappointment and discouragement have unsettled us, and we are ready to quit.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s good news to us. It is God’s way of affirming that nothing can destroy us any longer—not sorrow, pain, rejection, sin or even death itself. The Resurrection is the good news that Jesus Christ lives, and is active in our world. He is ready to move and work powerfully through us, if we are open to let him do so.   

    

This Easter I would invite us all to settle our hearts and minds by drawing near and trusting more fully in the risen Christ. Through God’s power may these difficult times become a gateway to hope: “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” 

 

Wishing you all the peace of Christ!


- Rev. Scott Kindred-Barnes 

Senior Minister of Wolfville Baptist Church 

Easter 2020

March 23-29

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

 

Mark 15: 33-39

 

Each year during the season of Lent the Church invites people to reflect on the love of Christ. This love can be recognized clearly in the words recited by Christ on the Cross, known often as the Cry of Dereliction: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ In saying these words, Jesus was reciting the first line of Psalm 22. Why did Jesus recite these words in his darkest hour? Why is this one of the few times in the New Testament where the Gospel writers Mark and Matthew preserve Jesus’s words in his Aramaic tongue?

More than a few scholars have pondered these questions, telling us that recitation of the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage. In reciting these words, Jesus was using them as his prayer. In his daily life, Jesus would have spoken in Aramaic, but only rarely did the evangelists render his words in this language. The fact that Mark and Matthew’s Gospels preserved this line from Jesus’s final hours, shows that they interpreted his ministry as a fulfilment of what the Psalmist foretold.

Psalm 22 is essentially a prayer for help. It is a prayer that unequivocally states the trouble faced by the Psalmist. The prayer questions where the providential care of God has gone. There is a sense of injustice stated in how others have rejected and attacked the innocent one who is deeply troubled, and who is powerless to prevent the loss of life. It sounds like a downer, I know.

But, for the first-century Jewish reader, the explicit negativity stated in Psalm 22 could not be read without also acknowledging the triumph of God over evil. For if one reads the whole of this psalm, one soon discovers that it is a powerful prayer of faith; a faith that defiantly renders even the devastating pains and injustices of this world as subject to God’s redemption. While the first stanza states the Cry of Dereliction, the second stanza stands firm on the redeeming tradition of faith:

Yet you are holy,
   enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
   they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
   in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

So, during his darkest hour Jesus was reciting a prayer of faith. But what can we learn from these words uttered by Jesus from the Cross? William Sloan Coffin, Jr. once encouraged Christians, especially those with troubled hearts, to look to Jesus since what we see in him is the incarnation of love, that is “God’s love in person on earth.” [William Sloan Coffin, The Courage to Love, Jr. p. 11.] What is Jesus saying to us, then?

In 1967 the Belgian diver Robert Sténuit made a startling discovery. In the freezing seabed off Northern Ireland's north coast he found treasure; Gold and artefacts deposited at the resting place of one of the most important ships in the Spanish Armada - the Girona. In 1588 the Girona sank beneath the harsh waves of the Atlantic, taking with her nearly 1300 lives and a huge cache of Spanish treasure. Nearly 400 years later the Girona’s treasure was recovered by Sténuit and his team of divers. One of the most remarkable things to be recovered was a man’s wedding ring. Upon cleaning the ring, the divers noticed that the ring was etched with a hand holding a heart. Under the inscription were the words that translate into English as “I have nothing more to give you.”

The words on this ring, “I have nothing more to give you,” could have been words posted above the Cross of Jesus Christ. For in the Cross Jesus gave us all he had, even his life. John’s Gospel puts it this way: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” During this season of Lent, when many people are feeling anxiety because of the Covid19 pandemic, I would encourage you to reflect on the love of Christ. How much does Christ love you? How much does Christ love me? How much does Christ love all of us? The answer: He had nothing more to give us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

Rev. Scott Kindred-Barnes

March 15-22

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;
When you pass through the rivers,

They shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Deliverer.

Isaiah 43: 2-3

 

For five cold days in December 1952, London, England experienced toxic smog that reduced visibility to a few feet. A heavy fog combined with sulfurous fumes from coal fires, vehicle exhaust and power plants, to produce a pollution that blocked out the sun and created a public health disaster known as the "Big Smoke." So severe was the air quality during this time that many people died. Even those who survived, had to fumble around for five days in the fog uncertain of what exactly was in front of them. In times of uncertainty, when the path ahead doesn’t seem clear, it can leave us feeling vulnerable and frightened.

A common affliction within organized communities is the sense of feeling unimportant and forgotten. The ancient Israelite, defeated and exiled in Babylon in 570 B.C., can be excused for believing his life was less important than those who conquered his people. The early Christian, persecuted by the Roman Empire for her refusal to proclaim Caesar as Lord instead of Jesus, was reminded often of her insignificance. The contemporary person, living in this world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al can easily feel excluded should he/she be slow to keep up with the growing wave of shifting technology. Indeed, there are always things in life that can make us feel forgotten.

Centuries ago, the prophet proclaimed a message to all who feel vulnerable, frightened and forgotten: “When you pass through the deep waters, I will be with you;” Notice the prophet does not say if but when. In the Hebrew Scriptures the deep waters of the oceans are symbolic of uncertainty and even chaos. It is God who calls order out of chaos, and whose power calms the storms of life. Many centuries later, the disciples of Jesus were sailing on a lake during a storm while the Lord slept in the back of the boat (Mark 4: 35-41; Matthew 8: 23-27; Luke 8: 22-25).

 

The boat was being swamped so the disciples awoke the Lord from his sleep in a panic. All three gospel accounts have Christ calming the storm and asking the disciples where their faith had gone. It was not the fear that Jesus was rebuking. Fear was to be expected; especially in a great storm that threatened their lives. Yet, Jesus questions their faith. Had they forgotten the promises of God? When things unfold that test our faith, we are called to remember that God in Christ promises to be with us:

When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Deliverer

The late Dr. J.R.C. Perkin writes about a service he attended in a cellar in Hamburg soon after the end of the Second World War. The city was a ruin, and the people in the cellar were thin and poorly clothed. The people in attendance had brought together a small amount of food which was pooled in a meagre love-feast at the end of the service. An elderly man, whose oldest son had been killed on the eastern front, whose younger son had been shot down by the R.A.F., and whose wife and grandchildren had perished in an American air-raid, gave a brief testimony. The man ended by concluding with a powerful confession of personal faith Aber ich habe Christus, und das ist genug—“I have Christ; that is sufficient.” (1) Friends, through this time of fog, when the Covid-19 virus is testing our faith, I pray that all will know that God in Christ is with us:

 

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Deliverer.

 

 Rev. Scott Kindred-Barnes

(1) J.R.C. Perkin, William Pope, Charles Taylor, Very Present Help (Hansport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press, 1979), 14.

© 2020 by Wolfville Baptist