April 5, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, worship at First Presbyterian Church is being live streamed on Facebook. You can join us for worship live on Sunday, April 5th at 10:30 am (SK time) on the FirstPresbyterian Regina page. Following the live service, the video will also be posted here (around 11:30 am). Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 “Choosing Servanthood” Today is the Sunday with two names. It is Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. And it is Passion Sunday, as we anticipate what will happen to Jesus when he arrives in Jerusalem – his final meal with his disciples, his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and torture, and his terrible execution on a Roman cross. The lectionary provides us with two sets of scripture readings for today, inviting the preacher to choose how to focus the service, and I have chosen the Gospel reading from the liturgy of the Palms, and the other readings from the liturgy of the Passion. The Gospel reading that I’m skipping today is the long account of what happens to Jesus in Jerusalem. We’ll come back to that part of Jesus’ story, of course, as we continue our Holy Week worship on Maundy Thursday evening and Good Friday morning. But today, instead of simply recounting the story of Jesus’ passion, a story that most of us know quite well, I’d like to focus on the other readings that are set for Passion … Read more »

March 29, 2020

Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 John 11:1-45 “The End of the Story” I don’t know about you, but I already feel like I’ve been hanging out in my house for a really long time now! I’ve been working from home. And although I have plenty to keep me occupied, time passes differently when we’re not following the usual patterns of our work, and family, and social lives. Until a couple of days ago, the COVID-19 pandemic still felt a little bit virtual to me. We watched the constant news reports, and adjusted our lives to the latest recommendations for hygiene and physical distancing, but it still seemed like a far-away problem. That was until I heard about friends who had contracted the virus. Two friends, both living in the UK. Neither one was serious enough to be hospitalized, but the symptoms one was experiencing sounded quite awful, while the other just lost her sense of smell. And while I’m at home, not allowed to visit people in our local hospitals for good reason, my sister is working as a nurse in a Toronto hospital where they are already running short on supplies. Nurses on her ward are being rationed only two surgical masks per shift – an obvious risk both to their patients and to the nurses themselves. We see scenes of devastation in other parts of the world on the news every night. Italian hospitals have been in dire straits for weeks now. Spain’s health care system is struggling, and … Read more »

Praying the Lord’s Prayer Together

On Sunday, March 22nd, Pope Francis invited Christians around the world to pray the Lord’s Prayer together for the sake of the world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Christian communities were invited to pray at Noon on Wednedsay, March 25th, and to choose either Noon in Rome or Noon in their local time zone. A small group of Christian leaders in Regina gathered together by Zoom video conference on March 25th at Noon in Saskatchewan, and our ecumenical prayer was live streamed onto Facebook so that many Christians across Saskatchewan and further away were able to join in prayer together with us.

March 22, 2020

  1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23 John 9:1-41 “Blind, Lost, Uncertain, and Needing God’s Help” You’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for half an hour already, and you still haven’t found the street you’re looking for. The houses and stores are starting to look familiar now, but you’re no closer to your destination than you were twenty minutes ago. The problem is that your spouse knows where he’s going… at least, he thinks he does. How long will it be, you wonder, before he gives in and asks for directions? “What was that?” your grandmother shouts at you. “Where is your hearing aid?” you ask for the third time, and she finally understands the question – probably because you’re pointing madly at her ear. “Oh, I don’t need that thing,” she says, “I can hear you just fine.” Your daughter just got her first pair of glasses. They were long overdue after almost failing grade nine because she couldn’t follow what was going on in class. She couldn’t see the board, missed most of the notes, and couldn’t concentrate because of the headaches she got from squinting so much. But she won’t wear them – the new glasses. She doesn’t like the way they look, you assume. But all she can say is, “I don’t need them. I can see without them.” What can you do to convince her? Somehow, the fact that mom needs glasses too doesn’t seem to help. Sometimes it can be very difficult for us to … Read more »

Message to First Presbyterian – March 19, 2020

The following message to First Presbyterian Church was posted on March 19, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to suspend gathering together in-person for worship and other church activities.

March 15, 2020

  Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42 “More to Life” In the Revised Common Lectionary of Sunday Scripture readings, we’re in Year A of the three-year cycle right now. And during the Season of Lent in Year A, we get a series of wonderful, long, elaborate stories from the Gospel of John. Last week it was the story of the Jewish leader, Nicodemus from John 3. Today, we read John 4 in which Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman beside a well. Next week, he’ll be healing a blind man in chapter 9, and then we’ll go on to chapter 11 where Jesus will actually raise Lazarus from the dead. Last week, the Rev. Bob Wilson talked about how Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again. He must open his life to be led by God’s Spirit. He likened it to trusting God and “letting go of the rope” that we are clinging to for security, and to let God take us where we need to go and do what we need to do to build God’s kingdom on earth. And that kind of faith and trust begins with choosing to believe God – to believe that God loves us, that God has plans for us, that our future is in God’s hands. The major theme of John’s Gospel that is explored in all these wonderful stories is about how people come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. At … Read more »

February 23, 2020

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 2 Corinthians 5:20b- – 6:10 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 “Ash Sunday” In the first reading for Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel calls for a trumpet blast to go out and warn the people that they must change their lives and return to God with all their hearts. It makes me think of the warning cries that we are hearing lately from the young prophets of our time. They also are sounding trumpets and blowing whistles, striking from school, making speeches, addressing the world through social media, and calling us to make radical changes for the future of the planet. The call of the prophets then and now challenges God’s people to cease their parties and celebrations, and to come together instead in a solemn assembly of weeping and mourning. Joel says that even the bridegroom must leave his room, and the bride her canopy, and join the community in repentance and fasting. The message is hopeful because the people are assured of God’s grace and mercy. The prophet says that the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God relents from punishing. And yet, there is urgency to the call. They must return to God with all their hearts and change their lives today. Likewise, we are warned in our time that the environmental crisis is indeed a crisis. We’ve been aware of it my whole life, and responding in bits and pieces by avoiding littering, recycling a little more, and slowly developing new energy … Read more »

February 9, 2020

Isaiah 58:1-12 Matthew 5:13-20 “Be Who You Are” There was a discussion on Facebook earlier this week among some Presbyterian clergy and other church folk about what people wear to church. Most of them reported that people in their congregations regularly came to worship in a whole variety of dress, from very formal to very casual, depending on their age, culture, experience, and ability. And everyone is welcome, no matter what they are wearing. This was experienced as a positive change from a few decades ago when putting on your “Sunday best” for church was absolutely expected, and it wasn’t unusual for some folks to frown on others who didn’t manage to dress appropriately. Interestingly, the conversation actually started with someone relating a story about a friend who visited a church where he received negative comments on his attire – not because he was too casual, but because he was too well-dressed. And then the ministers lamented the fact that sometimes, in our churches, we still pay too much attention to what people are wearing. We develop cultural traditions and expect everyone to dress and look pretty much the same, and fail to make space for the differences and diversities that could enrich our communities. Soon, the conversation turned towards what the clergy wear for worship too. Travelling around in my role as Moderator this year, I have noticed that there’s a lot of variety there too. Some Presbyterian ministers wear dark-coloured academic gowns, sometimes with a colourful stole added … Read more »

January 19, 2020

Acts 27:18 – 28:10 “Unusual Kindness” Many of you know that I spent much of this week in Ontario. In my role as Moderator of the last General Assembly of our church, I get to travel quite a bit – often preaching in different churches or speaking about ecumenism and interchurch families, since I chose that as my focus for the year. But this week was a bit different. I attended two retreats. First, a gathering of Presbyterian women clergy at Crieff Hills Community, our church’s retreat centre near Guelph Ontario. And then, a gathering of national level church leaders from various churches, organized by the Canadian Council of Churches at the Guest House of the Sisters of St. John the Divine, an Anglican convent in Toronto. Although the two retreats were designed to meet the needs of a different group of people, they had in common the fact that their purposes were to give ministry leaders time away to connect, to share, to pray, to rest, and to support one another as colleagues in ministry. If it wasn’t for the late nights and the travel, I might well have returned home well-rested and renewed for the busy weeks ahead! One thing that was reinforced for me during both gatherings was the realization that people in ministry today (and perhaps people in general today) live extremely busy, stressful, and challenging lives day-to-day. My female minister colleagues are very faithful and competent clergy, but even in this day and age many … Read more »

January 5, 2020

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 “Shiny Happy People!” As I was reading commentaries on the passage from Isaiah 60 in preparation for this service, a pop song from the 90’s started running through my head: “Shiny happy people.” Do you remember that lively song by the band REM? As I read and reflected on the prophet’s command to the people of Judah to “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” I couldn’t get the “Shiny happy people” song out of my head, so I gave in to it and looked up the video on YouTube. It began with an old man riding a stationary bicycle in a dreary-looking room, and then on the other side of the wall the band – dressed in bright happy colours in front of a colourful mural of similarly happy-looking people – began to play, and sing, and dance. It was carefree, full of smiles, and by the end of the song the band was surrounded by people dancing, and laughing, and having a great time. Meanwhile, the old man has gotten off his bicycle, and he stands watching the shiny happy people as they dance and sing. He doesn’t exactly look happy, but somewhat curious about what is happening before his eyes. I don’t know what the band intended to say with their video. Perhaps it was a hope that the grumpy old men of the world would lighten up and join in the party. Perhaps it was a subtle commentary on those who laugh, … Read more »

December 24, 2019

Isaiah 9:2-7 Luke 1:26-38 Matthew 1:18-23 Luke 2:1-20 John 1:1-14 “Near to Us” I am so glad that all of you decided to come to worship this Christmas Eve. I’m happy about it for several reasons. One is that it feels good to have a pretty full church on Christmas Eve. Your presence adds to the festive spirit of the night, your voices fill out the singing of carols, and your candles will light up this sanctuary with beauty in a few minutes. I’m also glad you came tonight because many First Church folk worked hard to make this a special night, and your presence makes those efforts worthwhile. They planned and practised the music. They decorated the sanctuary to convey both meaning and beauty. They printed bulletins, and prepared slides, and arranged all the volunteers to read, and greet, and welcome all our members and visitors and new friends. For those of you who hesitated to come, I’m glad you did, because I expect that the family or friends who invited you tonight are really happy that you’re here. And, if you just came because of the general, open invitation, and you don’t know anyone here yet, let me say that I am glad that you are here. While I was writing this homily, I was sitting in a local coffee shop with my notebook and a pen. But while I tried to compose a reflection for tonight, I kept being interrupted by my cell phone vibrating. My friends … Read more »

December 22, 2019

Isaiah 7:10-16 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25 “Saying “YES” to God” The Gospel story that is set for this Sunday comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a good story for the Sunday before Christmas… a good story about how Jesus was born. Often, we jump ahead in the story. We remember the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields and the angels in the sky announcing the birth of the Christ child. Those are the parts of the story that never get left out of the Christmas pageants. But Joseph can easily become a minor character without a speaking part. One commentator points out that “Joseph is a peripheral figure in the grand sweep of the Christian tradition. Relative to Mary and the apostles, we do not sing much about him. We rarely see him in art (and when Joseph does appear in a painting, he is rarely alone; he is typically accompanied by Mary and/or Jesus).” Today’s Gospel reminds us that Joseph was a pretty regular guy… a nice guy, a reasonable guy. When his fiancé got pregnant before the wedding, he dealt with it. He wasn’t going to turn it into a big to-do, but he was just going to dismiss her quietly. No one could have faulted him for that. But that’s when God got involved in Joseph’s life and decision-making, and nudged him into doing even more than what was reasonable. With every reason to walk away, Joseph chose to stand by Mary, to take her as … Read more »

December 15, 2019

Isaiah 35:1-10 Luke 1:47-55 Matthew 11:2-11 “Here is Your God!” There are a lot of debates that take place at this time of year around worship-planning tables, between clergy and music leaders about which hymns and carols we will sing. Many ministers make a point of avoiding Christmas carols before Christmas Eve, arguing that Advent hymns are more appropriate, since Jesus has “not yet” been born. At the same time, musicians and choirs and congregations are often longing to sing the songs of Christmas joy, even if it’s only mid-December. You may have noticed that our Advent Season here at First Church includes a bit of a mix of Advent carols and Christmas songs, and as we move through the month, we’re including more and more of the Christmas ones. And the reason is not that the Music Team here is very persuasive and convinced the minister to do Christmas early. But rather, it’s because we understand that Advent isn’t only a “not yet” season; it’s also an “already” season. The SALT Lectionary Commentary describes Advent as “a season made for vividly experiencing the eschatological “already/not yet” tension at the heart of Christian life.” It’s the idea that the Messiah has already come to us in Jesus, and the Reign of God has already been inaugurated in his life and ministry. But it has not yet been made complete. The world is waiting, longing, and hoping for the fulfilment of Jesus’ kingdom, when Christ will come again, and the world … Read more »

December 8, 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12 “A New Normal”  I didn’t want to preach about John the Baptist this morning. As you may have noticed, John the Baptist shows up every year during Advent. And he can be a little scary, as he scolds and chides and warns the people to repent and to flee from the wrath to come. Instead of preaching about repentance, I wanted to focus on the beautiful, peaceful images from the earlier prophet, Isaiah. I didn’t want to get stuck with the image of the axe lying at the root of the trees. I wanted to talk about the new shoot growing out of the tree stump instead. But as I explored the text in Isaiah, it kept leading me right back to John the Baptist and the one coming after him. And so, you will have a sermon today that is inspired by two prophets… Isaiah and John. The prophet Isaiah wrote about a vision of peace. He predicted that peace would be achieved through the leadership of a righteous ruler in the line of King David. Poetically, Isaiah wrote: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” And Isaiah described the perfect leader who would surpass even the beloved King David: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord… … Read more »

December 1, 2019

Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44 “What’s a Christian To Do? (In Advent)” Today is the first Sunday in the Season of Advent. As you know, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Whether we know it as Advent, or whether we just think of it as the lead-up to Christmas, this is one of the busiest times of the year… not just in our churches, but in almost every aspect of our lives. While most people are rushing around buying holiday presents, decorating, baking, sending cards, hosting and attending parties, watching holiday plays and presentations, and then doing some more shopping… Christians are called during Advent and Christmas do something different from the rest of the world. We are invited to stop, and to wait. We are invited to be quiet and reflective. We are invited to pause and to think about the wonder of the celebration that we are about to share at Christmas… about the amazing thing that happened so many years ago… how God came into the world to be WITH us in Jesus Christ. Well, the reality is that many Christians are running around like crazy in December too, just like everyone else. In many ways, our Christmas preparations don’t seem much different from our secular neighbours. But the beginning of Advent is a good time for us to pause and remember what this season is all about. The beginning of Advent is a good time for us to stop and to consider how we … Read more »

November 17, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19 “Hope for a New World” Today’s passage from Isaiah 65 is about God’s vision for a renewed world. It is a description of a new world that God is going to make in which there will be peace and justice for everyone. People will live long and happy lives, working hard, and reaping the rewards of their work, living in houses, planting crops, and enjoying the blessing of a good relationship with God. For the people of Judah and Jerusalem, sometime after 539 BCE, this vision would have filled them with hope and confidence for the future, as they made their way back to their homeland after the long exile in Babylon. In exile, they had felt alone and abandoned by God. And now, even as they returned to Judah and Jerusalem, they were coming back to a temple in ruins and a lot of work ahead of them to rebuild their homes and communities and livelihoods. Rather than let the people feel overwhelmed by the challenges they were facing, Isaiah wrote words of encouragement and hope. While the people struggled with the tasks of rebuilding, and while they worried about producing enough food and enduring the various conflicts and wars that their king had them involved in, Isaiah told them that God was starting all over again. God was beginning again at the beginning, and God was making a new heaven and a new earth for them. The words of Isaiah’s prophecy … Read more »

November 10, 2019

Job 19:23-27a 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 Luke 20:27-38 “Trusting God with our Questions” Whenever I think of the Sadducees, I think of a silly kids’ song that I learned at camp many years ago. (We did it for the kids’ song at church once too.) The refrain goes, “I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba… I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba.” And then each verse mentions a biblical character that I don’t so much want to be like. “I don’t want to be a goat…. nope. I don’t want to be a Pharisee… ‘cause they’re not fair, you see. And… I don’t want to be a Sadducee… ‘cause they’re so sad, you see.” We don’t know very much about the Sadducees. They were a group of religious leaders in the time of Jesus – a different group from the Pharisees that we hear about so often in the Gospels. What we do know is that the Sadducees were part of the priestly aristocracy. They had status and power. The historian Josephus, describes them as harsh judges who were known to be most cruel among the Jews. And several times in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, there are indications that the Sadducees disagreed with the Pharisees on a significant theological point. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection. I suppose, … Read more »

October 27, 2019

Acts 10:1-33 Romans 15:1-13 “Hospitality in the Neighbourhood” There is a story about a pastor who felt that their church was a bit stuffy and could use a bit of friendliness. So, one Sunday he announced that the following Sunday they were going to start a custom of shaking hands and greeting each other. At the close of the service, a man turned around to the woman behind him and said, “Good morning,” and she looked at him with shock at his boldness and said, “I beg your pardon! That friendliness business doesn’t start until next Sunday!” There was an article in a church newsletter about a man who visited 18 different churches on successive Sundays. He was trying to find out what the churches were really like. He said, “I sat near the front. After the service, I walked slowly to the rear, then returned to the front and back to the foyer using another aisle. I smiled, dressed neatly. I asked one person to direct me to a specific place: a fellowship hall, pastor’s study, etc. I remained for coffee if it was served.” He writes, “I used a scale to rate the reception I received. I awarded points on the following basis: 10 points for a smile from a worshipper 10 for a greeting from someone sitting nearby 100 for an exchange of names 200 for an invitation to have coffee 200 for an invitation to return 1000 for an introduction to another worshipper 2000 for an … Read more »

October 20, 2019

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 Psalm 133 John 17:20-23 “I Have Need of You” Back in my seminary days at Knox College, I took a preaching class with Stephen Farris that was specifically focussed on preaching 1st Corinthians for congregations in conflict. You may remember that the Church at Corinth was the epitome of a congregation in conflict. In the first chapter we hear that some say they belong to Paul, others to Apollos, and others to Peter. They have divided themselves into different groups with different allegiances, and they aren’t being very kind to one another. Some of them think that they are better than the others because they have special spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. When they get together for the Lord’s supper, some are getting well fed while others go hungry. And when they share times of worship, there is chaos happening too – a kind of a power struggle over leadership and who gets to interpret God’s Word. They are even having arguments that lead to lawsuits. Things are not good. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians provides excellent material for challenging and encouraging congregations that are experiencing conflict today. In the class, we were given a particular situation of congregational conflict and instructed to preach a passage from 1 Corinthians that would speak to that situation. It wasn’t a difficult assignment, especially with imaginary circumstances. I never could have imagined seventeen years ago that I’d one day be Moderator of the 2019 General Assembly and challenged to … Read more »

October 13, 2019

Luke 17:11-19 “The Thankful Samaritan” I have always liked the fact that today’s Gospel reading about the ten lepers who are healed often lands on Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday. There are options in the Revised Common Lectionary of Sunday readings to choose special readings for Thanksgiving, but the ones we heard this morning are just the regular ones set for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. They just happen to include a perfect Gospel story about giving thanks. So, the simple message we might take away from today is “remember to say thank you.” Like young children learning their manners for interacting with others, we are taught by Jesus that it’s right and good to make an effort to say thank you. It’s not uncommon for people to forget, to take good things for granted and fail to express our gratitude. In the story from Luke’s Gospel, there are ten lepers who approach Jesus and ask for his mercy and help. And he gives it to them all. He doesn’t make a big show of healing these poor sick people, who would have been excluded from the community, living just outside the village so that they would not infect their neighbours with the disease of leprosy. But Jesus does heal them. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. And as they go, they discover themselves to be suddenly clean and well. The instruction to show themselves to the priests may seem odd, but it anticipates the fact that … Read more »