Sunday, June 29, 2014

Dominion From Sea to Sea: Sermon, June 29, 2014

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts!
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!
For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.
Long may he live;
may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field!
May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed!
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!
The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.

Psalm 72, English Standard Version

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Hebrews 11:8-16, English Standard Version

I want to single out one verse from Psalm 72 – verse 8, “may he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” It is the motto of Canada, “from sea to sea” in the Latin Bible as a mari usque ad mare, and it appears on the Canadian coat of arms we see on our passports and we used to see on all of our paper money.

Now this is an interesting story. That verse of the psalm, "may he have dominion from sea to sea," is one of the inspirations for calling the new Canadian confederation a dominion. This was apparently the idea of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, representing New Brunswick at the Charlottetown conference on confederation. The verse began to be used in reference to Canada by Rev. George Monro Grant, who was quite a character.

He was born in Stellarton in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, and became a Presbyterian minister, serving at St. Matthew’s in downtown Halifax, which is now a United Church congregation. He was very involved in the coming together of four Presbyterian denominations to become the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Most of those congregations later entered our United Church of Canada. And he was elected Moderator of that new Canadian Presbyterian church. He was in favour of Nova Scotia joining Canada, and played a major role in overcoming opposition to confederation in that province. For 25 years he was principal of Queen’s University, which was a Presbyterian college at the time. I graduated from Queen’s in Grant Hall, which is named after him. He was secretary to his friend Sir Sandford Fleming, who came up with the idea of the time zones that are now used around the world. So we have Sandford Fleming to thank for those announcements on CBC that your show will be on at 7 PM Eastern, 8:30 in Newfoundland.

In 1872 George Grant traveled with Sandford Fleming across Canada, from Atlantic to Pacific, to survey the route of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Grant began using the verse from Psalm 72, from sea to sea, in his sermons and in a book he published, called Ocean to Ocean, as he made the case for a Canadian nation that would indeed span the continent from sea to sea. Years later the verse in Latin was engraved onto the mace of the new Saskatchewan legislature. When Canada’s coat of arms was redesigned in 1921, a mari usque ad mare was chosen as the national motto.

So that’s quite a story – a Canadian story. From sea to sea. In the psalm these words are meant to show that the king of Israel governs the entire Middle East, and for us they mean that Canada extends, as the song says, from Bonavista to Vancouver Island, from the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters.

But there are actually two mottoes on Canada’s coat of arms. If you look closely, you will see a mari usque ad mare on a scroll below the shield, but there is also a ribbon behind the shield, with the words desiderantes meliorem patriam, which is the motto of the Order of Canada. Desiderantes meliorem patriam. Folks who had to take Latin in high school are trying to parse this now. I didn’t take Latin; I only know Latin words in anatomy and the names of plants. But this is a verse in the reading we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews. Who knew that there are two Bible quotes on the arms of Canada? This one is Hebrews 11:16, Desiderantes meliorem patriam, they desire a better country.

We desire a better country, from sea to sea. We desire a country that has the peace, order, and good government our constitution speaks of, a country that, as the constitution also says, recognizes the supremacy of God and the rule of law, a country where everyone has freedom of belief and religion, a country where the common good is foremost. We desire a country where we act to share the wealth with which God has blessed us, a country where we take the gifts God has given us out into the world, a country where we are servants to God’s world and God’s people.

In the Letter to the Hebrews the author sums up the Abraham and Sarah story in the book of Genesis that we talked about last week. The letter says that these great characters of the Bible were “strangers and exiles on the earth” – and they were, they were nomads, they came from a far country, just as our ancestors came to Canada from elsewhere. Sarah and Abraham were strangers in a strange land. But they never went back, just as our ancestors stayed here and never moved back to the United States or Britain or Holland or Germany.

But these words apply to more than our ancestors. They apply to us. We speak today of our attachment to Canada, and it’s a real one, one we can feel, one which inspires pride in us, but as followers of Jesus we remember what it says in the letter to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are not detached from our lives here; we do not fail in our duties as citizens of Canada and the world; but our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. We desire a better country of Canada, but our desire doesn’t stop there – as Hebrews says, we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one, our final homeland, prepared by God for us, and from there our saviour Jesus will come.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Closer

The Closer: My Story
By Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffery
Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2014
280 pages

I was pleased to receive a review copy of this autobiography of baseball pitcher Mariano Rivera. who played 19 seasons (1995-2013) for the New York Yankees - 17 of them as a relief pitcher so dominant he was nicknamed "The Sandman." He was a thirteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, and is Major League Baseball's career leader in saves and games finished. I can't imagine that he won't be in the Baseball Hall of Fame when he is eligible.

As a sports memoir should, The Closer tells the story of Rivera's years with the Yankees organization and the World Series wins. But for me the most interesting aspects of the book were his story before baseball, in the poor fishing village of Puerto Caimito, on Panama's Pacific Coast; how the Yankees recruited him out of Panama, where he had never heard of Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron; the anecdotes about playing in the Yankees minor-league affiliates, where he met future team mates like Derek Jeter ("the kid is a year out of high school and all limbs, and you are never sure what he will do") and played against Carlos Delgado, one of my favourite Toronto Blue Jays (and peace activists); and his faith.

Rivera tells how he spoke about faith with his cousin while they were working on a fishing boat off Panama, and how he eventually responded to the altar call in a small cement church. The book does not understate the impact of his faith on his life:

I unpack my most precious possession - the red-leather Bible that was a gift from Clara. It has notes in the margins, and verses underlined and passages highlighted. It has been well-thumbed, I can tell you that. The Bible can't tell you the story of my walk with the Lord, but it can tell you everything about how I try to live, and why the love of the Lord is the foundation of my whole life...It is the best kind of wisdom: Simple wisdom. This sort of wisdom, from the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, verse twelve:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

And, in contrast to how prayer is treated in some sports settings and in popular culture:

Prayer is not like a vending machine, where you put in your quarters (or words) and then wait for the product to be delivered. It's not as if I can say to the Lord, "I pray for this World Series victory," or "I pray for a clean bill of health on my next checkup," and then just sit back and wait for Him to deliver it. When my agent is negotiating a contract for me, I never get down on my hands and knees and ask the Lord to make me wealthy. I don't pray for a new car or a good MRI result, or a strikeout in a big spot. For me, the most meaningful prayers are when I ask for God's wisdom.

Rivera and his wife Clara have now started an evangelical church, Refugio de Esperanza, in a former Presbyterian church building in New Rochelle CT, with Clara as senior pastor.

Baseball fans (of all teams) will enjoy this memoir from one of the finest players of the last two decades; Christian readers will learn from this story of faith, as Rivera seeks to honour God in his calling as an athlete.