“The Source of our Joy”
I’ve noticed that as the Covid-19 Pandemic has dragged on and on, the usual greetings we exchange when we meet each other have changed somewhat. Of course, they’ve changed in that they don’t include handshakes or hugs. We stand at a distance as we say hello. We wave or we nod, or we try to smile with our eyes.
But many of our greetings are shared online these days as well. Our little Zoom boxes appear on our screens, we smile and say, “How are you?” And most of the time, the answer is not, “Fine, thank you” or “I’m great! How are you?” It’s most often something like, “Ummm… I’m okay, I guess.”
There’s a lot of talk these days about the idea that many people are languishing, and some are really struggling with depression. If that sounds like you right now, please do reach out for help so that you can get the support and mental health care that you need.
In a way, it feels odd to be preaching about joy in this context. I mean, I remember what joy feels like, and I’m hopeful that there will be some more joy in the future. … Read more »
1 John 4:7-21
“Love In, Love Out”
When we gathered on Zoom earlier this week to read and discuss today’s Gospel text, the very first thing that was noted was how many times Jesus tells his disciples to “abide.” Some of our Bible translations said, “remain.” They could also have said, “stay put,” and that would have sounded so familiar in these pandemic times of “staying put” at home as much as possible.
But in this case, the instruction to “abide” from Jesus is not intended to keep us separate and safe from a virus, but its goal is to keep Jesus’ followers close and connected to one another and to him so that they will be spiritually nourished and equipped to minister to others in Jesus’ name.
And hasn’t that been one of the big challenges of the Covid-19 Pandemic for the church? We’ve had to figure out how to stay physically distant, but spiritually close – remaining apart from one another to guard our physical health and well-being, while finding ways to keep on abiding in Jesus and the Christian community for our spiritual health and our ongoing mission in the world.
This is the second week in a row that our … Read more »
“Known and Loved”
Did you know that some people are calling us “sheeple”? You know, people who are like sheep – docile, compliant, or easily influenced; following the crowd rather than making their own decisions.
Some people who don’t believe that the Covid-19 Pandemic is real or that it’s serious are calling us “sheeple” for wearing masks, staying home, getting vaccinated, and obediently following the public health orders.
Well, if that’s what it means to be sheeple, I’m happy to be part of the flock who are trusting the science and the fact that our public health authorities are doing their utmost to guide us in the right directions.
Certainly, politics comes into it also. Just the other day, we saw the Leader of the Opposition in Saskatchewan accusing the Premier of making poor decisions that are killing people in our province – trying to keep a “balance” between business and health has been leading to more deaths, he argued, and to a more severe and protracted third wave in our province.
No matter who you agree with, what is clear is that the decisions are complex and difficult to make. We’re fortunate to have leaders who are doing their best to protect … Read more »
“Selah: Pause, Ponder, Be Silent”
It’s fairly rare for most Christian preachers to focus a sermon on one of the psalms. I’ve done it before – on some of the famous ones like Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), like Psalm 139 (O Lord, you have searched me and known me), and even Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), the one Jesus quotes as he is dying on the cross. I don’t think I’ve ever taken much notice of today’s Psalm 4, but I was intrigued by it this week.
One of the first things I noticed was that Psalm 4 doesn’t sound like it was written for the public worship and song of a gathered congregation. It seems more fitting for an individual, approaching God in prayer at the end of the day. And isn’t that what a lot of our praying looks like these days?
Even if we are connecting with other praying people through our screens on Sunday mornings, much of our prayer takes place in our personal contemplation in our own homes, where we are encouraged to stay as the pandemic rages on with multiplying variants of concern.
Psalm 4 invites us into … Read more »
1 John 1:1-2:2
“These are the Days”
The fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles provides us with an idyllic picture of the church at the beginning: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Now that’s unity! They were “of one heart and soul.” Of course, maybe that’s because there weren’t very many of them yet. They were just a small group of disciples who had a lot in common with each other and managed to keep the same perspective on most things.
Well, no. They weren’t that small a group. Even before the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the gathered disciples, there were about a hundred of them waiting together in Jerusalem. And after that, the church grew in leaps and bounds!
And no, they weren’t all fishermen from Galilee. Remember the Jews from all the nations of the world who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast? And remember how they heard the disciples speaking in their own various languages? After Peter’s first sermon to the crowd, apparently 3000 believers were added to their number, and more and more every day after that!
By the fourth chapter of Acts, … Read more »
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
On Easter Day and in the season that follows, we proclaim with joy that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” This is the good news that has been proclaimed to us, which we received, in which we trust, and through which we are being saved, as the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.
Paul writes: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”
But every third Easter Sunday or so, we hear the Resurrection story as recounted in the Gospel of Mark. Through it, we enter into the experience of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as they rise very early on the first day of the week and go to the tomb of Jesus. Their intention is to perform a final act of service and care for their friend, having bought spices to anoint him in his final resting place.
The women wonder how they … Read more »
“One of the Twelve”
Thank you to our readers this morning, for sharing the story of Jesus’ passion and death according to the Gospel of Mark. There is a lot packed into that reading, and this weekend would be a good time for us each to slow down, read it again, and reflect on all that Jesus and his followers experienced in his final hours.
But this morning, I want to focus on “one of the twelve.” Yes, that is the way that Judas Iscariot is identified again and again in chapters 14 and 15 of Mark’s Gospel. He was “one of the twelve.”
Right off the top, we are reminded that Judas was not the devil incarnate. Judas was not an evil man who had infiltrated Jesus’ inner circle like a spy with a devilish plan. Judas was “one of the twelve” who had responded to Jesus’ call, who had followed him on the way, learned from his teaching, witnessed his miracles, and participated in his mission for several years.
My interest in thinking about Judas during this Holy Week was piqued when our Lenten Book Study drew attention to his part in the story. New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, pointed out … Read more »
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17; 31b-35
“Serving at the Table & Beyond”
Thank you, Rodolfo and Gabe, for sharing that lovely Ministry of Music with a beautiful invitation from Jesus to us all to “come to the table.”
Even though we cannot literally sit around a table together tonight, the invitation from Jesus himself is nonetheless extended to us all to gather spiritually in the community of Jesus’ followers. You are welcome here, no matter what your history, what mistakes you’ve made, what questions or worries trouble you. Jesus welcomes you, and we will strive to do the same.
As the song said, “Come to the table. Come join the sinners who have been redeemed. Take your place beside the Saviour. Sit down and be set free.”
When I think about our Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, I don’t often think of it as something that sets us free. When we come to the table, I am thinking about thanksgiving – Eucharist – and showing gratitude to God for God’s goodness to us. I am thinking about being fed – receiving the assurance of Jesus’ presence with us at the table, and being spiritually nourished by the bread and wine that are … Read more »
As we begin this final week of Lent and continue our spiritual journey with Jesus on his way to the cross, we reflect on biblical texts about the difficulties and suffering that come with choosing to follow Jesus all the way.
Just as I have focused on the Old Testament texts over the last five weeks, I will do so again today. We have been following the theme of God’s covenant love for God’s people, paying attention to the ways that God reached out to humanity again and again: promising faithfulness, forgiving our failings, guiding us in good living, and inviting us back into relationship with God.
The context of today’s prophetic text is similar to last week. It comes from around 550-530 BCE, and the people of Israel continue to be in exile in Babylon. (They were there for a long time!) The prophet known as 2nd Isaiah is diligently trying to get a message from God across to them.
In the previous chapter, the people in exile have complained that God has forsaken them and forgotten them. There they are, struggling in a foreign land with little sign of any chance of return to their homeland. Generations have … Read more »
“Adapting the Covenant”
This morning we continue our Lenten celebration of God’s covenant of love. Four weeks ago, we gave thanks for the rainbow – God’s reminder and promise not to destroy us again, but to mercifully maintain relationship with humankind in spite of the fact that we will sin again.
Next, God promised to walk with Abram and Sarai – to give them a place to live, a family, and to make them a blessing to all the families of the earth. Though their faith wavered at times (as does ours), God’s promise would be sure, and the seemingly impossible would come to be.
Through Moses then, God gave the ten commandments to the whole community of God’s people. God gave them (and us) the guidance needed to live in loving relationship with God and each other.
And although people still struggled to keep the commandments, last Sunday’s reading about the poisonous snakes showed us that God kept finding ways to help us. Instead of simply wiping away the people’s sins, God invited them to look at the effect of their sin – acknowledging it and opening up the possibility of transformation and healing.
In a commentary on today’s text from Jeremiah … Read more »
Enjoy singing along with us for “Half an Hour of Hymns” in honour of St. Patrick.
… Read more »
“Look at the Snake!”
Can you believe it’s been a whole year of the Covid-19 Pandemic? Sunday, March 15, 2020, was the last time that we had a public worship service in this place without limits on the numbers, sitting 6 feet apart, wearing masks, and keeping a registration list. For many of you, you haven’t even been in the sanctuary since then – the day that Nick livestreamed my sermon to Facebook as a test, just to see if it could be done.
And since then, there’s no denying that it has been a difficult year for all of us, and for some of us more than others. I know that many of you have been trying hard to see the good in all of this, despite the difficulties, and you’ve been focussing on the future and the light at the end of the tunnel.
But I expect that you’ve also been complaining. I think that most of us have been. After all, we’ve had to put our lives on hold for more than a year. We haven’t been able to worship together in our church. We’ve been separated from family and friends. We’ve cancelled plans and accepted virtual alternatives. … Read more »
Exodus 20:1-17; John 2:13-22
“An Everyday Covenant”
In the words of Psalm 19 that we heard again in the Ministry of Music, as we come to worship God in prayer and praise, in preaching and sacraments, we pray that what we do and say and think and feel will be pleasing to God. Those who lead in worship at our church and in faith communities around the world pray something like that before we begin each service. We remind ourselves that God is the reason why we are doing all this, and above all, we want to honour God with our offering of praise and thanksgiving.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus enters the central place of worship in Jerusalem and uses a whip of cords to drive out the vendors and the money changers from the outer court. These are the ones who are exchanging the currency of the people coming to worship from around the world for Temple currency and selling animals appropriate for Temple offerings and sacrifice. And the incident makes us wonder, “why?” What was happening that Jesus was objecting to? What was it that was not pleasing to God in this place where all the nations gathered … Read more »
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38
“We Are Pilgrims”
As many of you know, I’m a walker. I started walking intentionally more than four years ago, and I now usually walk about 10 km every day. While the Covid-19 Pandemic changed a lot of things in my daily life and yours as well, it didn’t stop me from walking.
But one of the things I did early in the pandemic was to get a treadmill to walk on at home. I thought it would be particularly useful for those days when it is stiflingly hot or bitterly cold outside, as a back-up plan for my usual outdoor walks. And this winter, I’ve been using it A LOT. I had no interest in going outside when the windchill was in the minus thirties or forties, and even now that it has warmed up a bit, it has become my default to use the treadmill.
In February, I decided to motivate myself by doing one of the “virtual walks” that are offered online. You walk wherever you are (outside or inside) and use the app to track your progress along a real route. I considered doing the 800 km Camino de Santiago in Spain – a classic … Read more »
“Leaning into the Promises of God”
Thank you, Marianne and Bill, for sharing that beautiful song, “You Are Mine” by David Haas. It is one of my favourites, and so appropriate for today’s service.
You may have noticed, as you were listening, that the words of the song are God’s words to us. They are words of promise, words of encouragement, and words of hope. God promises: “I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice. Be still and know I am near. Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.”
The words remind me of the promises of a parent to a child who is scared, of the assurances of a caregiver to a dear one who is ailing, or of the vows of a couple getting married and covenanting together to be faithful to one another all the days of their lives.
We use the word “covenant” to describe the lifelong partnership of love and faithfulness into which couples enter … Read more »
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warns us in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday.
I suppose there’s not much danger of that for most of you who are participating in this service from the privacy of your homes tonight. Our avoidance of in-person gatherings during the Covid-19 Pandemic means that no one sees whether or when you attend worship. No one knows whether you take time to read the sermon that arrives in the mail each week. There is no one to impress or to show off to with your faithfulness in worship or prayer or tithing.
I, on the other hand, am doing my praying rather more publicly than usual. Instead of the normal 80-90 people gathered here in the church, these livestreamed videos are posted and shared for anyone to watch – hopefully to inspire and encourage people in their faith, rather than to impress them with the minister’s eloquence or the musicians’ talent.
But it seems to me that this locked-down Lent provides an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual practices, committing ourselves to the disciplines that may help us to live out our faith more fully, … Read more »
2 Kings 2:1-12
“Transfigure us, O Lord”
I haven’t often preached on the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. My first congregation in Saskatoon had a long-standing tradition of holding a special service about the ministry of Presbyterian World Service and Development on the Sunday before Lent each year. Then they would raise money for a PWS&D project as part of their Lenten discipline, and that worked well. But it meant that we always skipped the Transfiguration, so it’s only recently that I’ve had to grapple with this strange and wonderful story.
On this last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany, and the Sunday before we begin the Season of Lent, we hear one of the most spectacular epiphany stories. As you may know, “epiphany” means “showing forth” and this story “shows forth” and reveals Jesus as a prophet par excellence, and above all, as God’s Beloved Child.
The SALT Lectionary commentary helpfully describes the importance of the passage, making me wonder how we could skip over it for so many years. It explains that “The episode takes place at almost the exact midpoint of Mark’s Gospel, as well as its highest geographical elevation.
“In broad strokes, the first eight chapters … Read more »
“Take My Hand”
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a reflection for The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website that was inspired by today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah. Some of you may have read that reflection or watched the video.
I talked about feeling tired lately. Not tired in a physical sense, as I’m still getting enough sleep and exercise, and I’m eating well. But I’m tired of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I miss seeing all of you, and sharing hugs and potluck meals. I miss hearing all your voices when we’re singing together, and breaking bread together at the Table of the Lord.
And I’m tired of worrying – about those of you who are sick, and those who are grieving, and those who are working on the front lines, and those that don’t seem to be staying as connected to the church community – the ones who likely aren’t watching this service today or reading this sermon.
I know that many of you are feeling tired too. Tired of trying to worship in your living room. Tired of balancing work and family life in a pandemic. Tired of being alone. Tired of being scared. Tired of waiting and hoping and … Read more »