September 29, 2019

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Genesis 2:4-15 Romans 8:18-21 “Love the Trees” The opening Scripture reflection in my sermon today comes from a sermon by Dr. Paul Ladouceur. Paul teaches Orthodox theology at the University of Sherbrooke and Trinity College in Toronto, and I know him personally through our involvement in the Canadian Council of Churches at which he is a representative for the Archdiocese of Canada of the Orthodox Church in America. On a path on Mount Athos, the monks put up a sign for passing pilgrims: “Love the trees.” Father Amphilochios, an elder on the island of Patmos in Greece, used to say, “Do you know that God gave us one more commandment, which is not recorded in Scripture? It is the commandment ‘Love the trees.’” “Love the trees.” Why should this be important for Christians? The Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden contains two valuable indications of how humans should relate to the world around them. In the first chapter of Genesis we read, “God said to the man and the woman: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” This may suggest that humanity stands at the summit of creation and that the rest of creation exists to serve humanity. Why should this be so? One line of reasoning points out that God created humans … Read more »

September 26, 2019

Ephesians 4:1-7, 13-16 John 17:11-21 “Growing Up Together” A Sermon for the 75th Anniversary of the Canadian Council of Churches at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto I am deeply honoured to be here tonight and to preach in this church at this celebration. A week ago I was in Hungary and Romania on a Moderator’s visit to the Reformed Churches there that are partners in mission with our Presbyterian Church in Canada. While in Budapest, we met a Korean pastor who is serving the one Korean-language congregation in the Reformed Church of Hungary. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, he felt comfortable enough to express his surprise at meeting the Canadian Presbyterian Moderator and discovering that the Moderator looked like this! He said, “In Korea, our moderators are usually old men.” “Yes, I understand. In Canada that is often the case too.” And then the Hungarian Church’s ecumenical officer chimed in, noting that before our visit he had looked at the pictures of past moderators on our church’s website. He said, “It looks like the church went in a different direction this time.” Well, I’m still kind of shocked that I am the Moderator this year. But I would like to think that the main reason for my election was unrelated to my gender or my age. I think perhaps that I was chosen for this moment in our church’s history because people could see that I would bring a focus on the unity of the … Read more »

September 8, 2019

“Transformation” Jeremiah 18:1-11 Right from the moment that God called Jeremiah to serve as a prophet, God made it clear that Jeremiah would often be bringing bad news to the people. The reality was that God’s People in the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not living very faithfully towards God or lovingly towards one another. And Jeremiah got the unpopular job of warning them to shape up or experience God’s power against them. The wonderful metaphor of God working on us like a potter carefully and gently transforms a lump of clay into a beautiful and useful vessel can easily lose the clear, harsh judgment that Jeremiah was announcing against an unfaithful People. It’s not just that God wants to smooth out our rough edges or give us a fresh coat of paint. Jeremiah is talking about a much deeper and greater transformation… from self-centered, selfish, self-loving people… into people who love God and want to show that love by caring for others, by putting others first, by loving our neighbours and the stranger who is in need. We’re talking about big changes here… transformation… That’s what God wants to do in our lives, and God has the power to do it too… like a potter who can not only smooth out a rough edge, but who can choose to squash the pot that isn’t turning out right… to squish it and pound it work it into useable clay, and begin again… to form it into the beautiful vessel that … Read more »

September 1, 2019

Jeremiah 2:4-14 Luke 14:1, 7-14 “Cheering for the Right Things” Do you remember the year that the Winter Olympics were hosted in Vancouver? In the weeks leading up to the Games, the Olympic torch was carried in a relay across the country, and it made a stop just outside the Presbyterian Church in Saskatoon where I was serving at the time. On the day of the event, I stood in the middle of the crowd gathered on the street outside the church to watch the show and prepare to welcome the torch runners into our community. I enjoyed the first part of the presentation very much. There were local choirs singing, and Native groups sharing traditional drumming and singing as well. It was nice to be able to host these groups, as they were using our church basement to put on their costumes and get ready. And it was remarkably warm for a Monday in January, so being outside in the crowd of Saskatoon citizens was surprisingly comfortable. But my reaction changed as the presentation went on – as the Olympic sponsors RBC and Coca-Cola took over the show. They certainly had some spectacular things to share… There was an artist who spun his canvas round and round as he painted with his hands, and created a beautiful picture within only a few minutes. And there were some very talented dancers and acrobats, who jumped and flipped and balanced and flew across the stage in some truly amazing ways. But … Read more »

August 25, 2019

Jeremiah 1:4-10 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17 “Shaking Things Up” After this morning’s bulletin was printed with the sermon title, “Shaking Things Up” I started thinking that I should have called it “To Shake or Not to Shake: That is the Question.” You see, the reference to shaking in today’s reading from the Book of Hebrews brought to my mind all kinds of associations with shaking. And some of them favoured shaking things up as a good plan, while others suggested that shaking was really negative. To Shake or Not to Shake: That is the question I want to consider today. I must say that Presbyterians are generally pretty disinclined to shake. We have a reputation for being reserved and thoughtful, not wild and enthusiastic. Some have called us “the frozen chosen” and we’re not prone to ecstatic utterances. You might say that Pentecostal Christians, when the Spirit is moving them to raise their hands, move to the praise and worship music, or even speak in tongues are the exact opposite of quiet orderly Presbyterians. But then I remembered the Shaker Movement within Christianity. Many of us know the Shakers from their musical contributions to the wider church, especially the Shaker hymn, “’Tis a gift to be simple” with the tune we use in the “Lord of the dance” hymn that we love. And beyond the church, many people will know the Shakers for the unique style of furniture that they designed. They believed that making something well was in itself, … Read more »

August 18, 2019

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 Luke 12:49-56 “Some Were Tortured” When I was a teenager, I stood up at the front of the Presbyterian church that I had attended with my family for nearly ten years. I stood up with a couple of other young people to publicly profess my faith in God for the first time, and to declare my intention to live my life as a follower of Jesus. It was an especially memorable moment for me because I was also baptized on that day. As the water was poured, the baptismal words were spoken, and the choir sang the Aaronic blessing over me, I experienced an overwhelming sense of belonging. I belonged to a community. I belonged to a church family. I belonged to the God who had made me and loved me. I don’t really remember what we talked about in the membership class at the church as we prepared to make our professions of faith. Probably it was much of the same material that we cover today in our classes… God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Bible, discipleship, worship, prayer, service, mission, stewardship, and all of that. We likely discussed many or most of those things, but one thing that I’m pretty sure we didn’t talk about was the idea that what I was deciding to do with my life was going to be challenging. I don’t remember thinking about NOT going through with it. I don’t remember feeling nervous or scared, or even apprehensive about … Read more »

August 11, 2019

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Luke 12:32-40 “Learning to do Good” When I read the Scripture texts for this Sunday, I started thinking about some of the things that happened at the General Assembly of our church back in June. You’ve already heard from me that the Assembly was both difficult and important. We engaged in a process of decision-making regarding same-sex marriage that brought out our deep differences and challenged us to find a way forward as a denomination together. But sexuality was not the only important topic addressed by the 2019 General Assembly. Another important thing that happened at the Assembly was that we marked the 25th anniversary of our church’s confession to God and to Indigenous Peoples regarding our participation in the colonial and assimilationist practices of this country, and especially our role in the Residential School System. It was 25 years ago, in 1994, that the 120th General Assembly made the confession and then Moderator, the Rev. George Vais, presented it to Phil Fontaine, who was the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. At the time, Phil Fontaine accepted the apology, but was not yet prepared to offer forgiveness to the church. Which is fair, I think, because we were still just beginning to understand what we had done, the colonial system in which we had readily participated, the harm we had inflicted on Indigenous children, families, and communities, and the cultural genocide in which our church had assisted. The prophet Isaiah had a vision concerning … Read more »

August 4, 2019

Hosea 1:1-11 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21 “A Roar of Warning” The Bible is full of great metaphors, and the prophets are especially good at teaching us about God through interesting and memorable analogies. In this morning’s passage from the prophet Hosea, we have a classic one. God is a parent – an adoptive parent – and God’s People Israel, is the child. As we listen, God is recalling God’s relationship with this beloved child: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… I taught him to walk, and took them up in my arms… I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” God sounds just like any parent reminiscing about the wonderful moments of child-rearing. Like so many parents, God remembers being present with God’s children, helping them along the way, rejoicing in their successes, comforting them in trouble, and working so hard to make sure that they have everything they need. But God’s reminiscences come out of an experience of despair and anguish because the child that God loved and nurtured has now turned away. Like a teenager who has run away, or a young adult who has cut herself off from continuing relationship with her parents, Israel has turned away from God, and God is suffering and grieving this loss. God remembers, “I taught them to … Read more »

June 30, 2019

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62 “Our Inheritance” What have you inherited from your parents or grandparents? When I think about an inheritance, I first think of money – a bequest left in a will. When my grandfather died last year at the age of 102, I was pleased to see that he gave generously to the church and its mission (both before he died and in his planned giving). But he also included gifts for his children and grandchildren, and each of us will have a little more security and confidence in the future because of that inheritance that we received. But we often inherit much more than money, or other things besides money. Perhaps some of you inherited something like a house or a car or a cabin when one of your relatives died. And there may be smaller things too, sometimes with less monetary value but more sentimental value. Maybe you inherited a piece of furniture, a set of teacups, or a special piece of artwork. Maybe you inherited all your grandmother’s photo albums or your uncle’s research about your family history. Through these kinds of inheritances, our loved ones live on in a way. We think about their lives whenever we sit down to work at that beautiful old wooden desk, and we are flooded with memories each Spring when we open up the family cottage passed on to our generation. If we think about it, though, very often our inheritances include more … Read more »

June 23, 2019

1 Kings 19:1-15a Psalm 42 Luke 8:26-39 “In the Strength of that Food” This is the season in the Church Year that is called “Ordinary Time.” If I were dressed more formally in my alb and stole, I’d be wearing the dark green stole and I’d be sticking with that colour all the way through from now until Advent at the end of November. Now, it’s not called “ordinary time” because it’s nothing special or just a regular Sunday. Ordinary Time actually refers to the ordinal numbering of the Sundays after Pentecost. Today is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, and we’ll keep counting the Sundays like that all through the summer and fall. But some commentaries suggest that paying attention to the more common meaning of the word “ordinary” may actually help us think about what comes after big events for a community. We celebrated Holy Week and Easter with great planning, and many people involved, and special music and liturgies. We marked Pentecost too – the birthday of the church – and rejoiced in the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out to give us courage, and confidence, and wisdom in sharing the good news with all people. Now that the high holy days are past, and the big events (including General Assembly for me) are over, we move into a quieter time… ordinary time. Of course, there are people who find their way back to church only for those special days of celebration. They join their grandmas for … Read more »

June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday 2019: Take Your Daughter to Work Day Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15 Every year, on the Sunday after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary invites us to celebrate “Trinity Sunday.” While other designated Sundays mark events in the life of Jesus or the experience of the early church, this Sunday is focussed on a Christian doctrine – the concept that God is three persons in one God-head. Living Faith, our Presbyterian Church’s statement of Christian belief expresses the idea of Trinity this way:“… with the one church universal we believe in one God, eternal Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three in one, one in three, equal in power and glory. God is the Father to whom we come, the Son through whom we come, the Spirit by whom we come.” This week, as my pastor friends were preparing for Trinity Sunday, my Facebook feed included quite a few postings and memes about this upcoming theme. I noticed one that suggested that in order not to accidentally preach something heretical, ministers should consider not saying anything about the Trinity, but perhaps show some nice photos of kittens instead. In other words, it’s really challenging to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. All the typical analogies that preachers use like a three-leaf clover, or a triangle, or the three states of water – as liquid, ice, and steam – fall terribly short of describing the mystery of how we believe in one God who is simultaneously … Read more »

May 26, 2019

Acts 16:9-15 “Come and Stay at My Home” This morning’s passage from the Book of Acts is a story about faith-sharing and a story about church-planting. In the early days of Christian Church, apostles like Paul were intentional about going out, sharing the good news about Jesus, and helping new worshipping communities to get started. They followed the Spirit’s leading, and paid attention to dreams and visions and ideas that came to them in the middle of the night. And the church grew, and lives were blessed, and love was shared, and hope soared. I heard a statistic the other day from our Synod’s Congregational Development Coordinator, Jo Szostak, that in the last 20 years, 53 new congregations have been formed in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. 20 of those were Korean congregations, 18 were other ethnic congregations, and only 15 were non-ethnic Presbyterian congregations. I don’t know the numbers on how many congregations have closed in that time, but I’m sure that it’s quite a bit higher. Jo attended a conference a couple of weeks ago for people in our Presbyterian Church who would like to work on starting up new worshipping communities. That would include new churches, but also other creative new ministries that don’t look quite like traditional churches. And one of the pieces of advice that she shared for the discernment process about where, and how, and when to start up a new ministry was this: The leader said it was like people deciding where to … Read more »

May 5, 2019

Acts 9:1-20 John 21:1-19 “Converted for Mission” This week I was drawn into the story from the Book of Acts about Saul’s conversion to Christianity. Saul, the Pharisee, who was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus, who was making plans to arrest any he found who belonged to the Way… Saul was going along and approaching Damascus, when suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard the voice of Jesus. And to make a long story short, he was converted from a persecutor of Christians to one of the most influential Apostles of Christ, who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles and recorded the Good News in writings and letters for generations to come. Reading the story of Saul’s conversion makes me think about other stories I’ve heard about people in our time coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Some of them even have stories as dramatic as Saul’s experience! I remember someone telling such a dramatic story many years ago when I was in university. I was at a Christian gathering on campus and there was a young man named Stephen telling his story of coming to faith, giving his testimony. Stephen told us about the challenges of his childhood and teen years. His parents split up, and he was not a very happy child. He didn’t think that either of his parents really loved him, so he got into all kinds of rebellious activities, desperately trying to … Read more »

April 28, 2019

John 20:19-31 “Standing Again”  When I sent out my Friday email to the congregational email list this week, I included a rather goofy image of a winking Jesus saying, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.” For a couple of days, I couldn’t get that song by the band, “Chumbawamba” to stop repeating in my head: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. Oh, you’re never gonna keep me down…” It’s both a thoroughly annoying earworm, and a song of hope, and courage, and determination. When I think about Jesus, remembering his arrest, torture, and death, it can be the song of triumph on the third day when he is raised and it becomes clear that love wins, that God wins. A little song from the Iona Community expresses the same sentiment more gently, but just as joyously: “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Vict’ry is ours, vict’ry is ours through him who loved us. Vict’ry is ours, vict’ry is ours through him who loved us.” These are the kinds of songs that we need to keep running through our minds, because sometimes it feels like we are continually getting knocked down. As individuals, we may be knocked down by illness, by broken relationships, by heavy responsibilities that we feel helpless to manage. We may be knocked down by challenges and losses that seem to come … Read more »

April 19, 2019

Luke 22:14 – 23:56 “Do Not Weep for Me” Jesus proclaimed, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) On this Good Friday, our worship invites us to walk in the way of the cross with Jesus. We tell the story of his passion and reflect on his journey in order that we may know what it means to be his disciples, to take up the cross, and to follow in his faithful footsteps. Today we acknowledge that the way of the cross is very difficult for us, and we often stumble and fall. But as we heard in the Gospel reading, even from the cross, the one who was obedient even to death proclaimed a message of love and acceptance. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) We do not always know what we are doing, but year after year we, the followers of Jesus, walk the way of the cross so that we can learn what we must do. We make the walk so that we will be able to pick up our cross and be faithful to the God who loves us into eternal life. There is much to learn from the Gospel story along the way… As his disciples, we must stop arguing about who is the greatest, and learn to serve one another instead. Yes, there will be times of trial, but … Read more »

April 18, 2019

John 13:1-17, 31b-35 “I have set you an example” This is Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin word, “mandate” – as in, we are “mandated” to do these things that Jesus told us to do. He said that every time we eat bread together and share wine around a table, we should remember him. Remember his love for us. Remember his giving himself for us. Remember that he, himself, is like bread for our souls, giving us life. And he said that we should love one another. We should serve one another. Humbling ourselves, getting down on our knees, and washing each other’s stinky feet. As Jesus’ disciples, we are mandated to do these things. These are the things that Jesus commands us to do. But if there is one thing that we must learn about Christianity, one thing that we must embrace about the Way of Jesus, it is that his is not a religion of rules and regulations, of blindly obeying commandments and mandates from on high. Certainly, the commandments can help us along the way by giving us some direction and guiding us along the path of God’s love. Jesus didn’t reject the commandments, but he looked for what was most important – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind… and love your neighbour as yourself. This is the first and the greatest commandment. But he was also willing to set the commandments to the side sometimes when the … Read more »

April 14, 2019

Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11 “Mixed Feelings” Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. We began the service with the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds singing “Hosanna!” and proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” Some Pharisees in the crowd tell Jesus to order his disciples to stop – to stop this spectacle, to stop their praises, to stop their allegiance to him as a Saviour or a King. We know that, all too soon, they will stop. They will change their minds, change their allegiances, and change their shouts to “Crucify him!” And so today is also Passion Sunday when we remember how the people turned away from him, how they betrayed and denied, and ran away from Jesus. Luke reminds us in the Gospel story that when the disciples do stop – when they stop following, when they stop praising, Jesus is still the King. They don’t stop because he is not worthy. They stop because they are scared. And Jesus says to the Pharisees: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” All of creation knows and witnesses that Jesus is Lord and King, even when we humans fall silent in fear. When I was speaking with the children this morning, we talked about times when we change our minds or change our plans. We do it all the time. Sometimes our changes of mind are God moving us towards the good. For … Read more »

March 31, 2019

1 Corinthians 15:1-3, 11b-32 “While he was still far off” Special thanks to the SALT Lectionary Commentary (saltproject.org) for reflections on the parable that significantly inspired this sermon. Portions of the commentary are included in the sermon as longer quotes. I once played the part of the prodigal son in a musical rendition of the “Parables of Jesus” that we put together when I was a student at Knox College. I remember kneeling on the floor at the front of the chapel, miming the feeding of the pigs, and singing a mournful song about how down-and-out I had become, and my feelings of sorrow and regret at all the mistakes that I had made. In that rendition of Jesus’ parable, I was the main character, and the focus was on my poor choices, my repentance, my return, and the generous party thrown in my honour. No matter what, I was still a child of God, and God would love, forgive, and welcome me home if I turned my life around and came back. Certainly, that message is true. And on this fourth Sunday in the Season of Lent, it provides one more word of encouragement to repent – to turn our hearts and our lives back to listening to God, and following Jesus, and participating in the Spirit’s work in the world today. If we repent, God will forgive us. If we come home, God will welcome us. If we turn back to God, God will celebrate and rejoice over … Read more »

March 24, 2019

Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 “With All Our Hearts” This morning I want to invite you to think about what you love. Perhaps it is that first cup of coffee in the morning, or your favourite dessert. Maybe it’s that wonderful sports team that you root for, or the movie that you’ve watched again and again because you just can’t get enough of it. Maybe you love your music, or your hobby, or the feeling of satisfaction you get when you have done your work well. Of course, I am sure that there are some people that you love truly and deeply. Perhaps your spouse, your children, your best friend. You love them so much that your heart aches when you are apart. You love them so much that you are filled with anxiety when they are hurting or in danger. Today’s psalm gives us an idea of what that kind of love sounds like when it is directed towards God. The psalmist writes: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… your steadfast love is better than life… My soul clings to you…” I wonder how many of us got up this morning thinking, “Oh, how I need God today! I can’t wait to jump out of bed and get myself to church so that I can spend time with God, and listen for God, and praise … Read more »

March 17, 2019

Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35 “Citizens of Heaven” When I began to read and reflect on today’s scripture texts early in the week, the theme that sprang to mind for me was “heaven”. I read the line from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “our citizenship is in heaven” and I remembered that several times over the years, people have specifically asked me to preach about heaven. I remember thinking at the time that I don’t know anything about heaven. What could I possibly say about heaven that would not be a product of my own imagination or someone’s wishful thinking about what the afterlife will be like? As much as I believe in life after death, and that God has something special prepared for us after our lives in this world are over, I don’t feel like I know anything concrete about heaven. And when I was asked, I couldn’t really imagine what I would say in a sermon on heaven. Of course, many of you have heard me mention heaven from this pulpit before… but most often, the context for my mentioning it has been within a funeral sermon. Whenever I preach for a funeral, I check to see if the person who died had selected scripture texts for the service, and I preach on those texts. And if not, I invite the family to select their favourite passages or texts from the bible that they would like to include in the service. Many of the favourite passages … Read more »