January 9, 2011

Psalm 23 “Psalms of Trust: Learning to Live Without Fear” I watched a transformation taking place on Thursday evening. If anyone else watched the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” this week, then you also got to witness the transformation from fear to trust, from despair to hope, and from giving up to determination to work for the good of those who are suffering. Of course, the show is only fiction. But it’s fiction that in many ways mirrors reality, and that reflects on the struggles of real people in the world today. First of all, you need to know the background. Last season, the Seattle hospital and its employees experienced a traumatic event. A grief-stricken man entered the hospital with a gun and terrorized the staff and patients, injuring many people and killing several as well. And many of the characters of the show have not been the same since. One surgeon has been too scared to operate. Another continues to struggle with feelings of powerlessness when she is unable to save a patient. Still others are crippled by fear and the memories of that awful day. Not everyone has experienced that kind of trauma in life, but most of us have seen it on TV. And not just on dramatic television programs… We’ve seen it on the news… from shootings in schools and churches to bombings in the streets or on the subways, from beheadings on buses to planes crashing into towers. I had finished writing my sermon yesterday before … Read more »

January 16, 2011

The following sermon was preached at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Parish in Saskatoon. The occasion was an Ecumenical Sunday to mark the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-34 Before I begin, I would like to say thank you to all of you for welcoming me this morning, and thank you to Father Tony for inviting me to share my reflections on the scriptures with you. As we begin this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is good for us to worship, to pray, and to share across denominational lines, as we seek to grow together in unity and peace. As Tony mentioned, I am the minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, just down 20th Street at Spadina Crescent. I am pleased to see that there are a few members of my congregation here at St. Mary’s this morning, and I would encourage the members of St. Mary’s Parish, that you are most welcome to worship with us at St. Andrew’s later this morning at 11 a.m. If you decide to join us, you will get to hear Father Tony preaching, as well as to experience worship in the Reformed Tradition, just as we are sharing in your liturgy now. Although our worship practices have some differences, one of the things that we share is the practice of following a lectionary of Sunday scripture readings. The Roman Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary are not identical, but most Sundays we hear and … Read more »

January 23, 2011

“Psalms of Thanksgiving: Living Praise” 1 Chronicles 13:1-8 Psalm 147 Matthew 19:13-15 Praise ye the Lord, hallelujah! Everybody praise the Lord! (sung, with congregation joining in) Psalms of praise and thanksgiving are often the most popular, familiar, and well-loved of all the psalms. They are the prayers that appear most often in the lectionary and in the Christian church’s great festival Sundays. And if you flip through the book of Psalms, you’ll find a praise psalm within seconds. There are lots of them! And many of them have been set to music, so you can find lots of them in our hymn books as well. In some ways, psalms of praise and thanksgiving are simple. They express the kind of thoughts and feelings that seem appropriate for church. They tell of God’s goodness and power and love. They say thank you to God for all the good things God has done. Psalms of praise fit right in with our expectations of what worship should include, and they seem appropriate for all of our celebrations. We stand, we sing, we read, we sit. Praise done orderly and respectfully, just like the way we pray. Praise ye the Lord, hallelujah! Everybody praise the Lord! Our ancient ancestors had a different way of praying, and they also had a different way of singing God’s praises. From the book of Chronicles, we heard a short description of what their praise was like: David and all Israel were dancing before God with all their might, … Read more »

January 30, 2011

“Psalms of Lament: Living in a Broken World” Numbers 11:11-15 Psalm 13, Refrain #1 Mark 15:33-38 As most of you know, we have been celebrating the Psalms at St. Andrew’s this month, and last Sunday our focus was on Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving. Now, I’m sorry for any of you who missed last Sunday because it was a great Sunday! With the theme of praise and thanksgiving, we got to pick some joyful, lively music, and there was a wonderful spirit of rejoicing in the church. I think it worked out really well. But it wasn’t just that we had planned a good service… it was also the fact that everyone came in to church in a great mood! Someone told me afterward that the entranceway before church last Sunday was full of laughter and excitement and joy. Do you remember why? It was warm outside! That was the morning that we finally got a break from the bitter cold of a Saskatchewan winter, and we all came in to church rejoicing. It was a great day! And most of us arrived at worship more than ready to praise and thank God for all God’s blessings, including the relatively warmer temperature. But happy and joyful are not always the perfect words to describe the people of God as we gather for worship. In fact, even though the mood was pretty light last Sunday, I am quite sure that there were at least a few worshippers among us who were … Read more »

February 6, 2011

Isaiah 58:1-12 Matthew 5:13-10 Last May our church had the opportunity to send a team of four people to a conference in Niagara Falls called “Stewards by Design.” Patti Polowick, Blair Lukan, Dorothy de Bruijn, and I took part in this three day conference, organized by the Presbyterian Church in Canada, to assist congregations in growing their ministries as good stewards of the many gifts that God has blessed us with. The keynote speaker for “Stewards by Design” was Kennon Callahan – a minister, author, and conference leader for many years. We learned about Callahan’s concept of the “Twelve Keys to an Effective Church,” and we began to work together to analyze St. Andrew’s ministry – thinking about our strengths, our resources, and our limitations as a congregation of Christ’s Church in Saskatoon. The core idea of Callahan’s books and conferences is that healthy and effective congregations develop strengths in at least 8 or 9 of the twelve key areas. And we do it by first identifying our current strengths and working to strengthen those areas even more. The four of us who attended the conference could probably tell you what WE think are St. Andrew’s greatest strengths… But the process of congregational development works best if we can identify our strengths together, and decide together what areas we should work on. One of the great things about Callahan’s model is that we don’t have to be great at everything, and we don’t have to do everything. We can choose … Read more »

February 13, 2011

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Matthew 5:21-37 Can you think of a sermon that changed your life? Can you remember a speech that transformed the way you think or feel about life, about faith, about God? Maybe you can think of a sermon preached from this very pulpit by one of our previous ministers. Maybe you are remembering a speech by a political figure, by a leader in human rights and justice, or by a major religious leader. I remember a lecture given by one of my favourite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor. I don’t remember exactly what she said. But I remember the way I felt as I listened to her. I remember the way her words made sense to me, and how I suddenly understood my own calling to be a preacher in a new and deeper way. When rightly used and directed, a skilfully prepared and delivered speech can take on a life-transforming importance. And even if we can’t recall the exact words that affected us so deeply, few people can claim that they have never been so deeply moved by a powerful speech or sermon that they have changed the direction of their lives. Although it is encouraging and inspiring to think that my own Sunday sermons might carry that kind of power, it is good to know that we have access to many other sermons, reflections, and writings which can both supplement and inform what any given minister might preach on Sunday morning. In fact, in today’s readings from … Read more »

February 20, 2011

John 10:11-16 Acts 9:10-19 Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16 When you’re preparing to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada there are a number of steps in the process before ordination. One of those steps is to attend a Guidance Conference. A group of divinity students gathers at Crieff Hills Conference Centre near Guelph Ontario, along with a team of ministers and lay leaders within the Presbyterian Church. And we spend three days in personal and small group reflection on our call to ministry in the church. The process includes a series of interviews and discussions that each student goes through with three counsellors. I don’t remember very much of the content of those conversations when I attended the Guidance Conference, but I do remember that at one point, someone asked me to think about what image I would choose to represent what my role would be as a minister in the church. I remember that I paused for a moment to think about what image to choose. And then I said, “Well, often people use the image of a shepherd for the minister. But I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t think that’s the image that I would use for my ministry.” “Why not?” the counsellor asked, and so I had to think and talk about it a little more. “Well, I feel like the shepherd image should be reserved for Christ. Jesus is the good shepherd, and I will only be one of his sheep. … Read more »

February 27, 2011

Isaiah 49:8-16a Psalm 131 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Matthew 6:24-34 This morning’s Gospel text came from a portion of what is known as Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” We might imagine Jesus… sitting on the top of a hill with a crowd of listeners gathered around as he delivered the greatest sermon of all time. That’s what it looks like in the movies of Jesus’ life and ministry. But what we actually have in Matthew’s Gospel is a beautiful compilation of sayings and teachings from Jesus. Chances are that he didn’t put them all together into one sermon, but the editor of the Gospel did that in order to tell the story. But I imagine that Jesus’ words in the “Sermon on the Mount” are probably the things that Jesus said over and over throughout his ministry. They’re the words of wisdom that he shared with his disciples along the road. They’re the teachings that he focussed on whenever a crowd was gathered to listen to him. They’re Jesus’ “twelve keys” to being a faithful follower of God. That’s why these sayings got remembered, and passed on, and written down, and compiled into one beautiful, wonderful sermon from Jesus. And while much of the “Sermon on the Mount” was probably preached and taught in public – to the crowds of people that gathered so often to learn from the great Teacher, I imagine that today’s sayings were especially for Jesus’ inner circle of followers. It’s not that “don’t worry” and “strive … Read more »

March 13, 2011

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Luke 15:11-32 The liturgical season of Lent is typically a time set aside for penitence. On Ash Wednesday, a group of us gathered here at the church, just as Christians gathered around the world, and we were invited to enter a period of self-examination, repentance, prayer, and fasting. Indeed, we are called to use these forty days (between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday) as a time of particular reflection on our sins, the ways that we separate ourselves from God and from one another. Thus, it is easy to characterize Lent as the sombre, solemn period of the church year. The fact that Psalm 32 is set for the first Sunday of Lent in our lectionary suggests that there seems to be more to this season than solemnity. The title given to this psalm in the NRSV translation says a lot. It’s titled, “The Joy of Forgiveness.” The psalmist offers a “before” and an “after” picture of his experience of confessing his sins to God. Here’s what things were like BEFORE he made his confession. He laments: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” But then he acknowledges his sins to God: “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” he says. And AFTER the confession, he comes to know God’s forgiveness, an experience of relief and … Read more »

March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-4a John 3:1-17 Abram and Nicodemus provide an interesting contrast in our readings today. First we have Abram, a model of faith, courage, and obedience to God. Today’s brief story is the first time that we hear about Abram in the bible. God tells him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And Abram goes. He does what God has told him to do. He goes. And we know that he becomes the father of many nations, and the father of the three major religions of the world. After Abram, so many others come to believe in the One God. They worship God, and listen for God, and do their best to follow God and God’s ways. Abram is a wonderful example of faith. Nicodemus? Not so much. John’s Gospel tells us that Nicodemus is a religious person. He’s a Pharisee and a leader in the religious community. And just like Abram must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way, telling him to leave everything and start fresh in a new place, I think Nicodemus must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way too. Nicodemus was hearing God’s voice and seeing God’s wonders in the man called Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe Nic was at the wedding in Cana. Maybe he saw what Jesus did – turning water into wine. Or maybe Nic was in the temple when Jesus drove out the money … Read more »

March 27, 2011

John 4:5-42 Did you know that Tuesday, March 22nd was the international World Water Day? I didn’t know that it was until yesterday when the day had already passed. But marking World Water Day a few days late is probably better than not marking it at all. The purpose of the day is simple – to raise awareness about the achievements made and the challenges faced in ensuring people around the world have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. I hate to admit it, but I went down to Regina on Friday afternoon with our Synod Youth group, and I complained about the tap water. I’m not the kind of person who ever bothers with bottled water. Tap water is fine. But I suddenly realized that I’d become accustomed to some pretty fine tasting tap water here in Saskatoon. Just brushing my teeth with the Regina water was unappealing, let alone actually drinking it. And that is good, fresh, treated water that is perfectly safe to drink. Even the people of Regina have it pretty good! Clean water is essential to life, yet over a billion people around the world still do not have adequate or sustainable access to safe water or proper sanitation facilities. A lack of sanitation and clean drinking water leads to serious health problems such as cholera, diarrhea, scabies and malaria. In many developing countries, women and children are responsible for collecting water from wells or streams that are far away and may not … Read more »

April 3, 2011

Introduction to the reading from John: Just before we hear the Gospel reading, I want to say a few things. During the season of Lent in year A, we get a series of long stories from John’s Gospel, and today’s Gospel story about the healing of a blind man from John 9 is no exception. All of the Gospels have stories about Jesus healing people who are blind. But if we were reading a healing story from Mark’s Gospel it would be much shorter! The Gospel writer would tell us that someone was blind. Jesus would do something simple to help. The person would be healed. And everyone would rejoice and praise God. There might be a few Pharisees around who would grumble about it a little bit, especially if it happened to be the Sabbath day. But that would be the story. John’s Gospel is different though. When the author of John’s Gospel tells a story about healing a blind man, it’s about much more than just healing a blind man. It’s almost like John’s stories are parables. They’re not parables really, because parables are made up stories that are told to make a specific point. On the surface a parable is about one thing, but it has a deeper level of meaning too, and that’s the point of the story. John’s stories are about things that Jesus actually did in his ministry. But they’re told in such a way that, if you listen carefully, you’ll notice that they … Read more »

April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 John 11:1-45 It is the fifth Sunday in Lent. We are still two weeks away from Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. But today we have heard a couple of wonderful scripture texts that point towards the joy of the resurrection. They proclaim the power and love of God to bring hope where there is despair, to bring joy where there is sadness and grief, to bring life where there is death. The prophet Ezekiel uses the striking image of a valley full of dry bones. And he tells about how God will raise them up, and put them back together, cover them with flesh and skin, and fill them with breath so that God’s people will live again. The author of John’s Gospel tells the amazing story of the raising of Lazarus. This friend of Jesus had been dead for four days. He was already in the tomb. His family were grieving. But Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out. He was still wrapped in his grave clothes, but he was alive again! And the Apostle Paul reminds the Roman Christians, and he reminds us also, that as God’s people we have the gift of the Spirit within us. The Spirit of God that lives within us is the same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead. And so we can trust and believe that God’s Spirit will give us … Read more »

April 17, 2011

Canadians are preparing for a federal election on Monday, May 2, 2011. This morning’s sermon suggests that our faith should be the basis for all our decisions, including how we respond to complex ethical dilemmas, and how we choose to vote. The Presbyterian Church in Canada does not support a particular party or political agenda, but it does encourage Presbyterians to engage with the issues and be a part of the process. On the website of the Presbyterian Church in Canada you will find several election guides that may assist you as you study the issues and consider the options. They also provide some helpful questions that you may want to put to your candidates, particularly related to the issues of poverty and justice. Matthew 21:1-11 Philippians 2:5-11 I was thinking a lot about the federal election as I was preparing my sermon for this morning. I was thinking about the political rallies and the crowds of people waving signs and hoping to catch a glimpse of, or shake hands with their favourite leader. Not that Canadian politics has any really charismatic leaders like Obama once was in the United States. I’m not sure what’s worse… to get really excited about a leader and then to turn against him when he doesn’t manage to satisfy all your desires, or to just not get excited about anyone at all. On Palm Sunday, we are invited to join with the cheering crowds who greeted Jesus as he entered the city of Jerusalem … Read more »

May 1, 2011

John 20:19-31 There are stories that get told every year at Knox College (where I went to seminary) about the ghosts that have been seen over the years in the academic wing of the building. People have spotted them numerous times in the chapel, in the classrooms, and especially in the library. One student, who studied at Knox a couple of years before I did, described in great detail the appearance of a ghost who seemed to walk right through her as she stood in the hallway late one night. According to the stories, library staff have often noted one particular chair which is always pulled out when they arrive in the morning, and a series of books that mysteriously find their way back to that desk. Some say that the ghost must be a doctoral student who died before completing his thesis. As compelling as some of these stories may be, especially when told with dramatic detail and suspense, when I heard them, I was sceptical. I just don’t believe in ghosts. They don’t fit in with my understanding of the world. People are either alive or they’re dead. And as much as I believe in eternal life, I don’t think it involves disembodied people floating around old buildings or trying to finish uncompleted dissertations. The Easter story – the story of Jesus’ resurrection – his rising from the dead – is similarly unbelievable. It was Sunday night, the same day that Mary Magdalene said she saw Jesus alive … Read more »

May 8, 2011

Luke 24:13-35 I have always appreciated Luke’s story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It’s a story of disappointment turning into possibility, of sadness turning into hope, of loneliness turning into friendship, of confusion turning into understanding. It’s a story about an ending becoming a new beginning, of disciples who were wandering away returning with great hope and purpose. An interesting point that has been noted in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is that only one of them is named. The author of Luke’s Gospel tells us about two disciples “who were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” One of them, we are told, was named Cleopas. The other is not named. Now, it’s not that unusual in the Gospels to encounter characters that are not named. Yes, we meet many of Jesus’ disciples by name: Simon, Andrew, Matthew, John, and Mary Magdalene, just to name a few. But then we hear about others identified as “a blind man,” “a sinful woman,” or “the woman at the well.” Some have pointed out that the women in the Gospels are disproportionately left unnamed. The classic example is the woman in Mark’s Gospel who anoints Jesus at Bethany. Some of those who were there scolded the unnamed woman for wasting such precious ointment. But Jesus thanked her and praised her for what she did. And he said, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole … Read more »

Mission Awareness Sunday – May 15, 2011

The following sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s by Dineke Kraay for Mission Awareness Sunday. She adapted it from a sermon written by the Rev. Heather Jones. “Ambassadors and Assignments” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ You may wonder why I began the sermon with this particular greeting. This phrase is not mine. My father, who was a minister in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, always began his sermons by saying: Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that we all know, deep down in our hearts, that this is what we really and truly are. But, how did we become Christ’s beloved congregation? When Jesus was on earth, he called twelve people to be his disciples. They stayed with him during the years of his public ministry. Before Jesus went up to be with God, he commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, he had taught them, saying: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the earth. (Matthew 28:18-20b.) The disciples directed their mission efforts first to their fellow Jews. Gradually, they began to reach out to the Jewish communities outside their own country. However, they did not seem … Read more »

May 22, 2011

John 14:1-14 1 Peter 2:2-10 It was an amazing week… filled with beautiful worship, inspiring preaching, informative lectures, and so many interesting conversations with ministers from across North America. I spent Monday to Friday last week in Minneapolis at the Festival of Homiletics (that’s a fancy word for preaching) and I got to listen to some of the best preachers and teachers of preaching of our time. We heard Barbara Brown Taylor, Thomas Long, Walter Brueggeman, Anna Carter Florence, Otis Moss III, and many more, as well as lectures by Diana Butler Bass and Brian McLaren. I don’t know if these names mean anything to you or not. But trust me, these are the big names in preaching today… and we were absolutely inundated with fantastic sermons and lectures on preaching all week. The conference ended on Friday at noon, after an absolutely wonderful worship service at the huge Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis where the largest events were being held. They told us there were 1700 pastors at the conference, and when we all got together, we filled the church almost to capacity. When we sang together, it was a huge swell of sound such that we didn’t really need the help of the organ to lead us. It was like a giant massed choir that seemed to need no rehearsal as we blended our voices together to sing some familiar and many new hymns of our shared faith in Christ. Some of you are probably going to think … Read more »

May 29, 2011

Acts 17:22-31 Several stories in this sermon are borrowed from the book “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian” by Thomas G. Long (San Francisco: 2004). I’ve been reading a book this week called, “Testimony” by the American Presbyterian preacher, Thomas Long. Out of the various volumes that I brought home from my study leave last week, it seemed the most appropriate one to read as I was reflecting on this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Testimony is about bearing witness. It’s about using our voices to tell about what we have seen and heard and experienced of God in Jesus Christ. And testimony is a fundamental part of what Christians are called by Christ to do in the world. Love God. Love our neighbours. And tell the world about God’s love in Jesus Christ. If we wanted to sum up our purpose… that would be a pretty good summary. But at least within the mainline churches, and at least within the last several decades, we don’t do a lot of talking about our faith out loud. We don’t want to offend our neighbours or come across as pushing our religion on anyone, so we generally keep our mouths shut and we blend in with the rest of secular society. I don’t think it’s that the average mainline Christian is lacking in faith. It’s just that most of us aren’t used to putting our faith into words. We’re not used to praying out loud where others can hear … Read more »

June 5, 2011

“The Glorious Inheritance” (Ephesians 1:15-23) I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get worried about whether we’re going to manage to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. It’s kind of a critical task, you see… not only because the church won’t last very long if our children and our grandchildren don’t receive the faith and continue the work of the church. But perhaps most importantly, it’s kind of a critical task because it’s exactly what Jesus told his first followers that they were supposed to do. As the book of Acts tells us, Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit and said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Those of you who have children or grandchildren of your own might spend even more time worrying about this problem than I do. You want your kids to learn the biblical stories of the faith. You want them to learn how to pray. You want to find a way to show them that God is real, to help them to know that God is present and active in the world, and that God is always there for them, and is always calling them to live in the way of Jesus. Some of the worrying may have to do with not really knowing … Read more »