January 10, 2010

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest. Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God says to us, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” These words from the prophet were familiar to me when I read them on Monday and began to think about what I might preach today. This text comes up in the lectionary every three years, and a few years ago, when I learned the song that the choir sang this morning, “Be not afraid”, the words of the prophet became especially meaningful for me. Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest. Perhaps you can think of a time when you were afraid. I am thinking of the day that I discovered a small lump in my breast. I am remembering the time of waiting and worrying before I got the results of the ultrasound. Maybe you are thinking of a similar experience, when your life was in danger or you thought it might be. Maybe you are remembering a time when someone you loved was in trouble, … Read more »

January 24, 2010

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Psalm 19 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a Luke 4:14-21 In the middle of our bible reading challenge here at St. Andrew’s, the lectionary has provided us with a wonderful set of readings on which to reflect and pray. The overarching theme in Nehemiah 8, in Psalm 19, and in our reading from Luke’s Gospel is the scriptures themselves — and in particular, the question of how we use and interpret the scriptures. The psalmist begins by making it clear that the scriptures are of utmost importance for God’s people. Of course, from the psalmist’s perspective, at least 500 to maybe 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, the scriptures consisted of the Law of Moses, perhaps as gathered together into the Torah — the rough equivalent of the first five books of our bibles today. The psalmist declares that the Law of the Lord is perfect. God’s decrees and precepts and ordinances are sure, and right, and true altogether. He thinks very highly of these texts and speaks of them with utmost respect and admiration and praise. And it’s not only that God’s commandments are true and right from the perspective of a wise and powerful God. The psalmist is arguing that they are actually useful for those who might read and pay attention to them. God’s laws revives the soul, the psalmist claims. God’s decrees make the reader wise. Paying attention to God’s precepts and commandments brings joy to your heart … Read more »

January 31, 2010

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 1 Corinthians 13 Luke 4:21-30 I’ve been pondering these scripture texts all week and thinking about what to say to you this morning. And most of my attention has been focused on the prophets. I spent some time on Friday reading about Jeremiah and his call as a prophet to the people of Judah in the period just before the exile. Jeremiah, whose call we heard today, had the really tough job of preaching God’s words of judgment to the people. He was the one who had to tell them to shape up, to stop worshipping so many false gods, and to turn back to the One God of Israel. From the very beginning of Jeremiah’s life, he was chosen by God for this difficult task. And though Jeremiah objected, saying that he was only a boy, God said “You will go to all to whom I send you, and you will speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” But figuring out what words to say was probably the least of Jeremiah’s worries. God would give him the message to proclaim, but the hard part was going to be dealing with the people’s response to his words. God said, “I will appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” In other words, most of what Jeremiah had … Read more »

February 7, 2010

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 138 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Luke 5:1-11 I said in my sermon last Sunday that when we come face to face with God in Jesus Christ, the amazing nature of God’s goodness can make us suddenly aware of our own imperfection. We believe in a God who loves us with an unending love, but who also calls us to let the Spirit transform us more and more into the image and likeness of God. And so, the message of the prophets is never just that God exists, or that God simply loves us, but it is that God both loves us and requires us to live in certain ways – ways of love and justice – within our families, our communities, and in relation to our neighbours. But sometimes, the fact of our human sinfulness becomes the main message that we get in church. In prayers of confession each week, we are reminded of our failures – the things we have done wrong, and the good and loving things that we have failed to do. As much as I would like to ignore sin and to focus on those things that we are doing well – to concentrate on the ways that we are loving and serving, and giving our time and energy towards God’s good purposes, the reality of human sinfulness comes up over and over in the scriptures. Today’s readings include two examples of human people coming face to face … Read more »

February 9, 2010

The following sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie at a chapel service at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon on Tuesday, February 9, 2010. Amanda had been invited to share a sermon on “a difficult text” during the annual “Winter Refresher” at the college. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 Hi! I’m a Presbyterian. Some of you United Church folk may be slightly familiar with Presbyterians. After all, you still have a little Presbyterian-ness within your own church structure and polity. The Presbyterian system of church government is one of the things that makes Presbyterians Presbyterian, but we’re also known for our emphasis on scripture study and preaching. Some of you may be wondering if a Presbyterian preacher will be capable of staying within the short time frame given for this chapel service… We’ll see. Anyway, Presbyterians generally take scripture pretty seriously. We read and preach on both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures, and we are hesitant to dismiss a passage or a book just because its content makes us uncomfortable. If you’ve hung around with any Presbyterians, you may know that there is a long-standing joke that the unofficial motto of the Presbyterian Church is “Let all things be done decently and in order,” and so you’d think that this text about decent and orderly worship would be a standard passage for regular preaching and reflection. But amazingly, I’ve never preached on it before. I can’t say that I’ve been specifically avoiding it, but I normally preach the lectionary, … Read more »

February 21, 2010

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Psalm 91 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13 Today’s Gospel reading is the classic one for the first Sunday in the season of Lent. As we begin 40 days of Lenten prayer and preparation before the celebration of Easter, we hear about the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness before he began his ministry. Luke’s version of the story is by far the most interesting, as he gives details of the temptations that Jesus might have experienced, and how he managed to overcome those temptations by focussing on God’s Word. Three times, the devil appears, leading Jesus into temptation. And three times, Jesus avoids being led astray. Since Jesus is so hungry, he is first tempted to turn the stones into bread. But he reminds himself of God’s word: “One does not live by bread alone,” and the temptation passes. Next, he is tempted to use his power to become the ruler of the whole world. If he bows down to worship the devil, the evil one claims that Jesus can have it all. But Jesus knows another relevant verse: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” He refuses to worship anyone or anything other than God. The third and final temptation is for Jesus to test God and God’s love for him. The evil one can quote scripture too, and he challenges Jesus to throw himself down from the very top of the temple, in order to see if God will save … Read more »

February 28, 2010

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35 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 twice in the last year, members of the congregation 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 … Read more »

March 14, 2010

Psalm 32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 The big churchy word that I didn’t use with the children this morning is RECONCILIATION – but that is the over-arching theme in the scripture readings today. Reconciliation with God is longed for by the psalmist. It is celebrated in Luke’s parable. And in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, reconciliation is the word of the day! Paul writes to the Church at Corinth, proclaiming the good news that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. And he goes on to tell them that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. And so, this sermon will be something of an exploration of the word “reconciliation” and what it might mean for us, both as something that God has done for us, and something that God is inviting us to do for others. Within the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, reconciliation is the official name of one of the seven sacraments. It is seen as something that Jesus did, and something that he instructed his followers to keep on doing in the same way. You may know about this sacrament simply by the name “confession” – when a person confesses their sins to a priest, and the priest offers absolution – an assurance of God’s forgiveness offered freely to the one who confesses their sin and turns back to God. “Reconciliation” is the name of the sacrament, in which God acts to reconcile the person to God, to restore relationship, and … Read more »

March 21, 2010

Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 Philippians 3:4b-14 John 12:2-8 The St. Andrew’s choir, under Gill’s direction, is practicing one of my favourite anthems to share during the Good Friday service in a couple of weeks. I’ve been carrying both the melody and the words of the song around in my head recently. It goes like this: Here I am to worship. Here I am to bow down. Here I am to say that you’re my God. You’re altogether lovely,altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me. Although Mary of Bethany didn’t sing a song to Jesus, and she didn’t express her feelings in words, I imagine that she would have been able to relate to that expression of praise. While Martha showed her devotion to Jesus by serving him a beautiful meal, and Lazarus expressed his commitment by sitting at the table and listening to Jesus, Mary decided to demonstrate her love with an extravagant act of giving, with the intimate act of anointing. “She took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” I guess I can understand Judas’ objection to what Mary did. Whether or not he had ulterior motives, he had a good point to make – that the perfume could have been sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor. A denarius was approximately the daily wage for an average worker in Jesus’ time. So … Read more »

March 28, 2010

The following sermon is framed by the hymn “A stable lamp is lighted” with words by Richard Wilbur and music Paulette Tollefson. Philippians 2:5-11 Psalm 31:9-16 Luke 23:1-49 A stable lamp is lighted whose glow shall wake the sky; the stars shall bend their voices, and every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry, and straw like gold shall shine; a barn shall harbour heaven, a stall become a shrine. A long time ago, in an unimportant town, a young woman gave birth to her first child. In many ways, his birth was like many others. Mary wasn’t the first or the last girl to be found pregnant before her wedding day, and Joseph was good enough to marry her anyway and be a father to the little boy. What is unusual about this child is the fact that we have heard his story – not only the stories of his adult accomplishments when he became well-known for his teaching and healing and political activity. But we have heard the stories of his birth. This person impacted the world so much that we celebrate his birth, and legends are told about how he arrived and how he survived into adulthood to do all the great and good things that he would do. They say that his mother was a virgin – not just a very young woman – but an actual virgin. She’d never been with a man at all. The father of the child must have been God … Read more »

April 18, 2010

John 21:1-19 Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! A friend of mine told me the other day that she missed Easter this year. I said, “What? You missed Easter?” She said, “Ya, I missed Easter Sunday. I had a terrible lung infection. I wanted to get up and go to church because it was Easter… How could I miss Easter? But I was just too sick, and my family made me stay in bed.” “Well,” I said to my friend, “It’s a good thing that Easter lasts for seven whole weeks! You just missed the big celebration on the first Sunday of Easter, but you can keep on celebrating that Christ is risen… all the way up to Pentecost, which is near the end of May this year.” In fact, we can keep on celebrating Easter even after the Season of Easter is over. Sometimes I think we forget that, for Christians, every Sunday is a “little Easter” celebration. Our tradition is to gather for worship every week on Sunday morning. And that’s not just a random time and day. The earliest followers of the Way began the practice as a way of celebrating that Jesus rose from the dead early on a Sunday morning. They started to call Sunday “the Lord’s Day” and moved the primary day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday morning instead. They celebrated on the Lord’s Day because they had come to know and believe that Christ is risen! He is … Read more »

May 2, 2010

Revelation 21:1-6 Psalm 148 John 13:31-35 Behold! Behold! I make all things new beginning with you, and starting from today. Behold! Behold! I make all things new My promise is true, for I am Christ the way. I am proud of our choir today for being willing to try something new by singing “Cantate Brasilia” this morning. The Latin words, though ancient, were new and challenging for us. And the complicated rhythms of the piece meant that we had to work hard to get them right and up to speed. But it was worth it, I think, to sing a new song to the Lord, and to share the enthusiasm and spirit of another culture in making music to glorify God. Behold! Behold! I make all things new beginning with you, and starting from today. Behold! Behold! I make all things newMy promise is true, for I am Christ the way. It’s strange and new for the minister to be delivering the sermon while sitting in a chair, singing and playing an African djembe drum. I’m not even dressed as usual in an alb and stole, but I’m dressed for worship at camp – in jeans and a bunny hug. I know that new things can be off-putting. We may not be sure whether they are appropriate or not. But I have discovered that praising God can be done with so many different voices and sounds and instruments. And when I bring out the drums at camp or here in … Read more »

May 30, 2010

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15 Welcome to Trinity Sunday. Every year, the first Sunday after Pentecost is marked as Trinity Sunday. I suppose it makes sense that after celebrating the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples of Jesus, it becomes necessary to start thinking about the nature of God. The God who was once experienced and known primarily as the holy and powerful lawgiver and judge, has been revealed to a group of Galilean Jews as a simple man from the town of Nazareth. That was shocking enough in itself – that many of the people who followed Jesus were saying that he was divine. It was the kind of faith statement that got people shouting “blasphemy!” at you, and it could get you in real trouble with the religious authorities. But now, since the day of Pentecost, God seemed to be present and active in a totally new way. God was somehow working through the disciples themselves… it was like God’s Spirit was within them… giving them wisdom and power and confidence to continue Jesus’ work. They were communicating with foreigners. They were preaching about Jesus. They were full of confidence and hope and love for everyone they met. Somehow, this was God at work in their lives. God was not only the Heavenly Father, Creator and Ruler of the universe. But God was Jesus the Christ, teaching, healing, welcoming, challenging, and redeeming the world. And God was moving and active, filling … Read more »

July 11, 2010

Amos 7:1-17 Psalm 82 Colossians 1:1-14 Luke 10:25-37 When I first looked at this morning’s scripture texts earlier this week, I was fairly sure that I would preach on the Gospel story about the Good Samaritan. It’s such a classic story of our faith, and it offers us a lot to reflect on. And so, as I went through the week, my thoughts were centered on the question of what it means to be a good neighbour. That theme was in my mind every day this week… every time the door bell rang here at the church, and there was someone in crisis standing in front of me and asking for help. I did my best to offer what I could. I listened, I prayed, I comforted and encouraged. I shared a few cups of coffee. I directed towards services in the community. And I handed out a fair amount of financial assistance from our Session Benevolence Fund. I felt, as I often do, a mixture of frustration and guilt that I could not do more, as well as a good feeling too, because I often felt that what I was able to offer (on behalf of the church) did seem to help, to support, and to strengthen some families and individuals who really were in trouble. I thought some more about what it means to be a good neighbour as I lay in bed the last few nights, listening to my young neighbours partying with their friends just a … Read more »

July 18, 2010

Amos 8:1-12 Colossians 1:15-28 Luke 10:38-42 This morning the prophet Amos, whom we heard from last Sunday as well, continues his rant against the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE. Amos puts God’s judgment and anger into words for the people so that there can be no doubt about what they have done wrong and why God is getting fed up with them. Amos is addressing the people who trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land. He talks about how they sell grain to the poor, but they cheat them by using false scales. They are liars and cheats – trying to get rich at someone else’s expense. Be assured, Amos warns them, God is paying attention and God has a good memory. God is going to turn things upside down. Their feasts will be over, and they will be mourning instead. One of the things that I find most interesting about reading the prophets is the visions that they talk about. They get these strange images in their minds, and each one represents some kind of message from God. You probably remember the popular one from the prophet Ezekiel, when he saw a valley full of dry, dry bones. Then he saw the bones moving, putting themselves together into bodies, and flesh appearing on them. With the breath of God, the bodies came back to life. And through that vision – through that metaphor – Ezekiel’s readers … Read more »

July 25, 2010

Hosea 1:2-10 As we move through these summer Sundays, each week we encounter a Hebrew prophet. What the prophets usually do is they act as spokespersons, filled with the Spirit to proclaim God’s word to the people. Operating out of an urgent sense of compulsion, they announce the Lord’s will upon the nation and exhort the people to repent of their sinful ways. They broadcast this message in the Temple, in the marketplaces, in the streets and squares – wherever they can get a hearing. The Hebrew Bible is filled with their eloquent words, denouncing a people, predicting that foreign nations will vanquish them, calling the people to repentance, and describing in vivid detail the Lord’s restoration. The first chapter of Hosea, which we heard this morning, puts forward another image of a prophet. Hosea is not a spokesperson here. He doesn’t say a word. Instead of proclaiming a message from God through speech, Hosea performs a significant action. God instructs him, and Hosea obeys the instruction, to get married to a prostitute. It’s a crazy and shocking thing to do, just to make a point, but Hosea does it. The idea is that Hosea’s marriage to a whore is a symbolic representation of God’s marriage to the people of Israel. God and Israel as groom and bride is a metaphor that is used frequently in scripture to describe the covenant relationship between God and God’s people. Both God and the people have made promises to live together in love … Read more »

August 1, 2010

Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21 Yesterday I was conducting a funeral for the mother of one of our church members. I didn’t know Eileen personally, but after listening to her family’s stories and recollections, this is one of the things that I said in my sermon: “I am told that Eileen never had a lot of money in her life, but I get the impression that her life was very, very rich.” You see, she was the kind of person who, when she had some money, spread it around. And when she needed money, she didn’t hesitate to ask her family for help. As I reflected on Eileen’s life, the rich man from Jesus’ story came to mind. Not that the two were alike. They were nearly opposites! But I thought about the richness of Eileen’s life (a richness that had nothing to do with possessions or wealth) and I wondered about how much the rich man must have missed out on in life. Yes, he seems to have acquired a lot of stuff and he’s stored it up in big barns, but there’s no mention of him having a family, or any friends, or belonging to a community. I kind of wonder who he was going to “eat, drink, and be merry” with… just his own self and all his stuff?! It doesn’t sound like much of a party to me. The simple message of today’s Gospel is the warning not to let our lives become like that of the … Read more »

August 8, 2010

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12 The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews begins with a definition of faith: The King James Bible translates it this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The New International Version says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase “The Message” puts it like this: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.” At our church membership class two weeks ago, I asked those present to think about what it might mean to be a person of faith. I asked them to think about what the characteristics of a person of faith might be… and these were some of the answers: hope, trust, generosity, kindness, commitment, steadfastness, humility, patience, joy. But before I asked them to define faith, I invited them to think of a person they know whom they think of as a person of faith. Maybe someone in their life today, maybe someone they once knew, maybe someone they don’t even know personally, but who serves as an example of faith for them. That’s what the author of Hebrews does as she tries to explain to the Christians of her day what it means to live in faith and trust in God. She begins … Read more »

August 15, 2010

Isaiah 5:1-7 Hebrews 11:29-12:2 Luke 12:49-56 When I was 15 years old, 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 22, 2010

Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17 I have an image in my mind of a teenage boy. He’s wearing a black vest over a clean white shirt with a bow tie. But instead of the slacks that you might expect, he’s donning a red and white kilt with knee socks to match. Surrounded by girls his own age and younger, he’s dancing with all his might… head held high, arms in the proper position, eyes focussed as he concentrates on the steps of the dance. Though there were lots of interesting dances and presentations at Folkfest over the last few days, one of the people I will remember is boy in the middle of the Highland Dance group at the Scottish pavilion. To me, he just seemed to represent what Folkfest is all about… an unself-conscious celebration of cultural heritage, a determination to carry on the traditions of our cultures, and an opportunity to discover our identity by learning who we are and where we came from. If you spent any time of Folkfest this year, you can’t have missed what I saw everywhere… people of all ages dressed in their native costumes… beautiful fabrics, funny wigs, scarves and sashes everywhere! The official ambassadors were walking around proudly, or standing at the entrances to welcome the gathering crowds. They were all confident, proud, and excited to be representing their countries and cultures. They held their heads high… celebrating who they are and the groups to which they belong. The story from today’s … Read more »