September 16, 2018

Proverbs 1:20-33 Psalm 19 James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38 “Teaching: A Cross and a Gift” When I am teaching about the Bible, I often point out that the Bible is not just one book, but it is a collection of books. Remember your French, I tell the children. What is the French word for library? (Bibliotheque) Right, the Bible is a “bibliotheque” a whole library of different types of books. There are history books, and poetry, and collections of letters, and genealogical record books. There are mythic stories, and hymn books, and rule books. Just like a library, the Bible is a collection of books by different authors who lived and wrote in different times and places, but all inspired in a spectacular way by the One God in whom they believed and whom they followed. This morning’s Scripture passages are the ones assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary of readings for this Sunday, and the Old Testament readings in particular are a celebration of the Bible – of the Word of God that guides, encourages, and corrects us in our living day-by-day. The first reading comes from the Book of Proverbs, one of the Wisdom Books of the Bible, and a collection of short, pithy sayings and advice that we would do well to consider. But I love the way this first chapter of Proverbs invites us to open our minds to God’s Wisdom in the first place. We encounter Wisdom personified as a woman calling out in the streets … Read more »

September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37 “Still Learning” A friend of mine is working as a teaching assistant in a Montessori school in Ontario this year. When she shared some pictures of her classroom last week, it brought back good memories of my own experience attending a Montessori school forty years ago. It was a lovely big room with an open concept and all the different learning centres for the children to work and explore various subjects and gain skills. And she included a close-up of the mathematics area, with beautiful strings of beads for learning to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I felt thankful for the opportunity I had to attend a wonderful school as a young child, to continue through the Public School System, and go on to higher education as well. What a privilege it was to live in this country, to have education freely available to both boys and girls. And I know that I was doubly blessed because my parents could afford and chose to send us to a Montessori school when we were young. I believe that the teaching methods in that school equipped me well for continuing education, and work, and ministry. We are blessed in our society to have access to basic education for all people and post-secondary programs as well. Not that our education systems are without their challenges… There are still deficiencies in funding for schools on reserves, and the programs in rural areas may pale in comparison to what is available in larger … Read more »

September 2, 2018

Song of Solomon 2:8-13 James 1:17-27 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 “What is our religion really about?   What does it mean to be a person of faith, a religious person, a spiritual person, or a member of the church? These are questions that I encounter and find myself discussing on a regular basis. From people outside the church, I’m often asked, “Why do people still go to church? What do they get out of it?” And with those inside the church – especially those who are actively engaged in leadership and decision-making – the discussion is usually around the question of what is most important in our faith. What is the foundation of our faith? What are the essential practices? What must we continue and emphasize, and what are the small “t” traditions that we can let go of at times as we move along with a rapidly-changing world. As I read and reflected on the scripture readings assigned for today in our lectionary, it was these questions about the meaning and significance of our faith and religious practice that were swirling through my head. Because each of today’s texts contributes some significant ideas to such a discussion, helping us to answer for ourselves and for our neighbours when they ask: “What is our religion really about?” Let’s begin with the Gospel. What better place to begin than with what Jesus said about it? It’s important to remember that Jesus was a religious man. He was a faithful Jewish person … Read more »

August 26, 2018

1 Kings 8: 1,6,10-11,22-30,41-43 Psalm 84 Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69 “A Difficult Teaching” In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue (the community gathering place) in Capernaum. And he teaches this: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” And when his disciples heard what he was teaching, they said: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Like so many of us today, they wanted an easy answer and a simple way of living. They wanted the great results without the hard work. They wanted a quick fix, but Jesus was asking for more from them. If you remember from the last several Sundays… Jesus has just finished his miraculous feeding of the crowd of 5000 or more on the hillside. Most of them appreciated Jesus’ ability to produce food for them, but now he is inviting them to go deeper, to respond to God’s goodness, and to follow him in the challenging way of discipleship. Jesus tells them that they are now invited to eat more than just bread and fish like they just enjoyed. He explains that he has more to give to … Read more »

August 19, 2018

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58 “Blessed by Wisdom, Saved by Grace” When you think about WISDOM, I wonder if there are particular people that come to mind. Wise people that you have known, who have taught you and guided you in your life. Or perhaps there are some words of wisdom that you always remember, that you go back to, that you reflect on regularly and try to take to heart. When I think of wise people in my life, I always go back to an elder from my home congregation when I was a child, George Lee. George was like a grandfather to me and many others. I don’t remember what he taught us, but I remember what it felt like to be near him. It felt like we were safe, and loved, and precious. He was in his early 80’s, and I remember him sitting on the floor with us children at Vacation Bible School and telling us stories. And it felt SO important to be still and listen to what he would say. Back then I had no idea that I would one day become a minister. I never imagined that I would have so many opportunities to sit on the floor (or the steps of the sanctuary) with children, or stand in a pulpit, or teach in a Bible study, or journey with people through the ups and downs of their lives. I couldn’t have guessed that I would be the one sharing … Read more »

July 8, 2018

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:6b-13 “Casting Out Demons?” In an earlier draft of this morning’s sermon, I started off with an exploration of the major characters in this morning’s biblical texts. I wrote about David, who started out small and became a great king. I wrote about Paul, who was an amazing apostle, but had his own embarrassing past of persecuting Christians. And even once those two became the wonderful leaders that they were, they still had weaknesses. David let his passion get the better of him, took advantage of his royal position and power, and needed to be corrected by the prophet Samuel. And although we don’t know much about Paul’s difficulties, we know that he had some. He tells us that he struggled with a kind of “thorn in his flesh” that kept him from perfection so that he had to rely on God’s grace instead of just his own natural ability to be a successful minister of the gospel. These guys are great examples for us, especially when our struggles are with perfectionism or our ego needs. When we get anxious about doing everything right, doing everything ourselves, and get worked up over the possibility of making a mistake or forgetting something important. And I admit that those are the kinds of things that I struggle with. I like to be prepared. I like to do well at my ministry, and be well-regarded by others. Of course, I know that perfection is not … Read more »

July 1, 2018

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43 “Canada: Blessed to Bless” When I began to reflect on the Scripture readings for today, the first thing that caught my attention was in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It was the part about finishing up what we start, completing our work. I immediately thought about my unfinished doctoral degree. As you may know, I started working on a Doctor of Ministry degree several years ago. It’s one of those degrees designed for people in full-time ministry, so you take courses and do the work while continuing in your congregational role, and reflecting on your ministry as you do your research and writing. And it’s a fair amount of work. I finished the coursework and the comprehensive paper, and started working on my thesis proposal while I was still in Saskatoon. Then, last September I decided to take a 1 year leave from the program. I wanted to concentrate on getting settled into this new ministry in Regina, and I was allowed to pause for a year without penalty. But the year has sped by, and soon it will be time to pick up that work again, and try to get it completed. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began… not only to do something but even to desire to do something – now finish it according to your means.” Of course, I have a certain … Read more »

June 24, 2018

Psalm 133 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 Mark 4:35-41 “O Look and Wonder!” (With Psalm 133 sung refrain #2 from the PCC Book of Psalms, melody by Pablo Sosa.) O look and wonder how good it is! O look and wonder how good it is! How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like water poured out over the head of an infant, cleansing her from sin, welcoming her into the family of God, gifting her with the Holy Spirit. O look and wonder how good it is! O look and wonder how good it is! How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like a couple preparing for marriage, gathering their friends, making their vows of faithfulness and love, receiving God’s blessing on their life together. O look and wonder how good it is! O look and wonder how good it is! How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like our church family coming together Sunday by Sunday, learning to walk in the way of God, caring for each other in Christian community, reaching out in mission and service, knowing that we are “in the boat” together with Jesus. O look and wonder how good it is! O look and wonder how good it is! How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like people in communities across the country celebrating Indigenous … Read more »

June 17, 2018

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:14 Mark 4:26-34 “Sleeping While the Kingdom Comes” Last Sunday afternoon I had a three-hour nap. I haven’t done anything like that in a long time, but I guess I needed it. A few hours later, I went back to bed and slept right through the night, so I guess there was no harm done in sleeping away the afternoon. Perhaps it was my need for catching up on sleep, or my mood of slowing down for the summer, but when I started to study the familiar gospel text for today, I noticed something that I had always missed in the past: The gardener goes to sleep. Okay. Let me step back a bit. Jesus is describing what the Kingdom of God is like. He does this quite a bit in his teaching… trying to explain to his friends and followers what it will be like when God’s Reign has taken hold of all people and the whole of creation. And he doesn’t just describe what the Kingdom of God will be like, but how it will come to be. You see, like us, Jesus’ earliest disciples were probably pretty worried about the state of the world – about the violence, oppression, corruption, and poverty they saw all around them. They were pretty sure that Jesus was going to be a part of setting things right, but when everything didn’t turn around quickly, they had their doubts about whether he would be successful. So Jesus told … Read more »

June 10, 2018

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 “We Do Not Lose Heart” As most of you know, I attended the General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church in Canada earlier this week in Waterloo, Ontario. And it was an interesting time. It was a busy time for me because I had a lot to do during the meeting. I had responsibilities as Convenor of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee. I also served as a Chaplain to commissioners, preached at the Monday morning worship, and assisted with introducing a consensus decision-making process for one part of the meeting. I wasn’t slated to be a voting commissioner at the Assembly, but then the Rev. Lip Boon Lee from Moosomin broke her foot, so I ended up being a commissioner as well. It was a wonderful Assembly in some ways – with inspiring worship, an excellent Moderator, good food including lots of fruits and vegetables, which I appreciate, and some wonderful opportunities to connect with colleagues and old friends from across the country. But it was also a very difficult Assembly. Although I came prepared to preach about the call to unity in diversity, I still struggled with the severity of the theological division in our denomination. I made a plea for those with differing convictions about same-sex marriage to accept their differences and make space for each other within the church, but there was still a huge amount of animosity and many people determined to have their view point win out. Lots of commissioners at the … Read more »

June 4, 2018 (144th General Assembly of the PCC)

This sermon was presented to the 144th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada at its meeting in Waterloo, Ontario, as part of the Monday morning worship on the first full day of the Assembly. Acts 4:32-37 “Inconceivable” “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and [one] soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions…” As the psalmist would say, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” But really! Do you think it was really like that in the early church? Someone asks that every time we have a Bible study on Acts chapter 4, don’t they? Did they literally share everything they had with each other? Or is that just an idealized memory of what the early church was like? It is difficult to imagine a group of people so dedicated to the wellbeing of the community that they give up everything they have for the good of each and every other person. But even if it was true back then, we are well aware that it hasn’t been true for a very, very long time. The conflicts and divisions in the church got started almost right away, with disagreements about doctrine, conflicts about different gifts, and sometimes a certain degree of unwillingness to fully give and share with the whole community. And since those earliest days, the church’s history has been marked by one break or schism after another… East from West, Reformed from … Read more »

May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17 “Adopted” On the Sunday after Pentecost each year, we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We take one Sunday to ponder that mysterious doctrine of the church – the one that says that God is One-in-Three, Three-in-One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet, still One God. “Where does it say that in the Bible?” you may ask. And that would be a very good question for a Christian to ask. You probably didn’t notice any mention of “Trinity”, or a “Triune God”, or “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit” in this morning’s readings. And the readings we heard this morning were specifically chosen from the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity Sunday. But the truth is that there are no passages in the Bible that specifically explain, or lay out, or even name the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is a later theological explanation by the early church, a later articulation by Christians as they grappled with the content of the Scriptures and how they had experienced God coming to them first as God the Father, then as the divine Son, Jesus, and finally in the powerful, comforting, inspiring, challenging presence of the Holy Spirit within, between, and among God’s people. Here is how “Living Faith” – our church’s statement of Christian belief – describes the Triune God. There is one true God whom to know is life eternal, whom to serve is joy and peace. God has created all that is. The whole universe testifies to the … Read more »

May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21 Romans 8:22-27 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 “We Will Testify to Love” Today we celebrate Pentecost as a festival of the Christian church. The roots of Pentecost however, predate the events of Acts chapter 2, as Pentecost was one of three major pilgrimage festivals in Judaism. In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem because they had all come for the great pilgrimage festival of Pentecost. The name “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek prefix pente – meaning “five” or “fifty.” According to Deuteronomy 16, this festival (which was sometimes called the “Festival of Weeks”) took place fifty days after Passover. It marked the completion of the grain harvest that came in late spring. In later Judaism, Pentecost also became a time when the people celebrated God’s giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, thus creating a new covenant community. But on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, something spectacular happened that transformed the meaning of that festival for followers of Jesus and established an important Christian celebration for centuries to come: “When the day of Pentecost had come, [Jesus’ disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled … Read more »

May 13, 2018

Acts 1:1-11 Luke 24:44-53 Ephesians 1:15-23 “Stay with me, Mummy!” In the church today, we celebrate Ascension Sunday – remembering the day that the Risen Jesus was taken up into heaven. In the world today, we celebrate Mothers’ Day – giving thanks for the women who nurtured, loved, and protected us in our growing up, and perhaps still today. The two celebrations are not related, but they happen to land on the same day this year, inviting us to make connections between our faith and our family life. We may note that God is often described as being like a heavenly Father to us – providing for our needs, loving us unconditionally, guiding and directing us to become the faithful people he hopes we will be. But the Bible does not refer to God exclusively in masculine metaphors. There are, albeit few, feminine metaphors used to describe God in the Bible too. One of the common images is God as a mother bird sheltering her children under her wings. We see this in Ruth 2:12 – “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” The psalms also pick up this mother bird image, like in Psalm 57 where the psalmist prays, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” And then Jesus uses the same metaphor when he laments over Jerusalem. He says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets … Read more »

April 29, 2018

Acts 8:26-40 John 15:1-8 “The Source” Oh, my goodness! This is a difficult time in which to live. Perhaps every generation says that, as we experience the challenges of life and the troubles of the world around us. But right now, it just seems that we are faced with one tragedy after another, so much senseless violence, and no end in sight! The Rev. Matthew Sams, who serves at Willowdale Presbyterian Church, just around the corner from the van attack in Toronto that killed 10 people last week, wrote and shared this prayer last Monday: Mangled Crumpled Twisted Bloody Screeching Silent weeping Hands clasping Hearts racing… Knees bent in service to comfort the wounded Knees bent in prayer to summon peace Sitting on my couch, the news is on, a curtain torn in the temple of my heart admitting the world’s pain. Death has its own schedule A withered hand reaching in to steal away life But you, you are the giver of life Therefore, we lift up to you those who have died on this day when violence erupted. There is no making sense of their death, there is no justice available in this moment. Yet may those who love them be comforted. There will be no raising today as for the sons of the widows of Zarephath and of Nain. Yet we are a people who know about Death. All our hope rests in Christ, the first fruits of the Resurrection. We lift up to you those whose … Read more »

April 22, 2018

Psalm 23 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18 “One Flock, One Shepherd” We are glad to welcome the Sons (& daughters) of Scotland to our worship today to participate in a special Kirkin’ of the Tartans, and to share food, and fellowship, and Scottish country dancing after the service. I have never led a Kirkin’ before, but I remember my home congregation in Ottawa hosting this service when I was a teenager. St. Giles Presbyterian Church (where I grew up) was a very Scottish congregation. Actually, by the time I was there, it was becoming more culturally diverse, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s, my understanding is that the church was an important place for Scottish folk to gather. Almost everyone was Scottish, and going to the Presbyterian Church was a great way to connect. In the 1980’s and 90’s there was still a remnant of the Scottish crowd, and I remember lots of Scottish accents among the older members of our church. And I was Scottish too (kinda)… a bit Scottish, a bit Irish, a bit Welsh, and a bit English. But I had a Scottish name, at least. When we did the Kirkin’ of the Tartans, I remember my parents being a bit critical of it. “We’re not a Scottish club!” they complained. “We’re a church! And many of us aren’t Scottish anymore. We have people from many different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.” But even if the Kirkin’ of the Tartans is clearly a Scottish tradition, I think it’s … Read more »

April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48 “Witnesses of God’s Peace” I’ve been in those ICU waiting rooms in the basement at the Royal University Hospital many times over the years. They’re the places where the families gather, and wait, and pray when their loved ones are in crisis due to very serious illness or injury. There’s a lot of pacing that goes on in those rooms, as well as tears being shed, food being shared, and hands being held as loved ones hover on the brink between life and death. Usually only one or two visitors are allowed into the ICU to visit the seriously-ill patients at times when their presence won’t get in the way of the work that is being done. And the rest of the time, family members, friends, and often clergy spend time in the waiting rooms or the hallways… waiting, worrying, hoping, and praying. I can only imagine what it has been like in those waiting rooms over the last week since the Humboldt Broncos’ bus accident. But I’m praying for all the people who are spending their time there in these days. Certainly, those families have experienced an outpouring of support from the people of Saskatchewan and from others further afield – people putting their sticks out, wearing hockey jerseys to indicate that we’re all on the same team, and financially supporting the families through the Go-Fund-Me campaign. But even all of that won’t change the stress, and strain, and worry of those who still wait in those … Read more »

April 1, 2018

Mark 16:1-8 “Will you be my witnesses?” “Go!” That is what the angel at the empty tomb told the women to do. “Go, and tell the other disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” And they did GO. They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Strangely, that is exactly how the Gospel according to Mark ends. Mary doesn’t see Jesus in the garden and have a conversation with him. The women don’t run to tell the other disciples that Jesus’ body is gone. And the male disciples don’t come to look in the tomb themselves. Jesus doesn’t make any sort of appearances either, and he doesn’t give his followers a final commissioning before he rises up into heaven. Instead, the story ends with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome receiving the instruction to GO and tell, but being overcome with terror and dread, fleeing, and saying nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. This disappointing conclusion to Mark’s Gospel has bothered Christians throughout the centuries. The other Gospels tell us more, and give us stories about Jesus’ reassuring appearances – encouraging the disciples and inspiring them to GO and get about the work of continuing Jesus’ ministry. A shorter and a longer ending have even been added to Mark, as if a few pages must have … Read more »

March 30, 2018

Psalm 22 John 18-19 “God Has Done It” We have four Gospels, and each of the Evangelists tells the story of Jesus in their own way. We don’t have to choose which one “got it right” but we receive the richness of the Christian tradition from them, recognizing that God speaks to us and shows us truth through each of their accounts. On Passion Sunday, I reflected on Mark’s telling of the story. That’s the version in which Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 when he is dying on the cross. In a moment of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We hear his agony and despair as he experiences the horror of crucifixion, and there is the suggestion that he is actually cut off from God. But Psalm 22 is not only a psalm of lament or despair. If you read a little more than the first line, as we did this morning, you will hear the psalmist express lament, call for help from God, and remember God’s faithfulness and love. If, in Mark’s account of the gospel, we noticed Jesus’ connection to the lament of the psalmist as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, in John’s account that we heard today, we might notice his connection to the psalmist’s expressions of hope and trust in God. After crying out desperately, the psalmist reminds himself of his ancestors, saying “In you our ancestors … Read more »

March 25, 2018

Mark 11:1-11 Mark 15 Philippians 2:5-11 “The Reason You Walk” It was the choir’s anthem for today, the American Spiritual “Ride On, King Jesus,” that got me thinking about Jesus’ journey through Holy Week. It was chosen innocently enough, as an anthem about the Triumphal Entry. But when Bill invited me to share with the choir about how the anthem would fit into the service on Palm Sunday, I started to realize that it was about more than just the Palm Parade. “Ride on, King Jesus,” we sang, “No one can hinder him.” And we pictured Jesus on the donkey and the crowds laying down their cloaks and branches like a red carpet for the King. But the repeated words, “No one can hinder him” seemed odd, because no one was trying to get in his way or stop him from entering Jerusalem that day. The crowds cheered for him and hailed him as their King! They cried out “Hosanna!” – “Lord, save us!” because they believed (at least for a moment) that he was the ruler who had come to save them from their oppressors. What I suggested to the choir was that the journey of Jesus in the song is not just the entry into Jerusalem. It points ahead to the next part of his journey, through betrayal, arrest, denial, and all the way to the cross. And do you remember who tried to hinder him in making that journey? His own disciples did! When Jesus told his … Read more »