July 8, 2012

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13 Over the past few Sundays, I have found that the scripture readings have led me to focus on a particular characteristic or virtue that was either demonstrated by the characters in the texts, or called for by the writers. Two weeks ago, I found myself focussed on the virtue of courage. Last Sunday, the texts invited us to explore the virtue of generosity. And today, I guess we need to talk about strength and, surprisingly, also about weakness. The apostle Paul, continuing his second letter to the Corinthians, demonstrates both his weakness and his strength as a leader in the early Christian Church. What’s happening in this part of the letter is that Paul is trying to convince the Corinthians to pay attention to him and follow his leadership. There seem to be a lot of different influences in the community, and many of the Christians in this church are being led astray by other leaders who are being touted as “super apostles”. These are people who have been given special spiritual gifts, people who have seen visions and had unusual experiences. When the “super apostles” boast of their experiences, many of the people are impressed and start looking to these others for direction instead of the man who first introduced them to Christianity and started up their church. Paul, too, has received the gift of spiritual experiences. We remember from the account in the book of Acts how he was struck blind on the … Read more »

July 15, 2012

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 Ephesians 1:3-14 I’ve always liked today’s Old Testament story about David dancing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. I think, at a time in my life, when I was finding traditional Presbyterian worship services rather reserved and focused on the head rather than the heart, the thought of David “dancing before the Lord with all his might” was rather inspiring. It seemed to me that in his dancing, David was worshipping God, not only with his words and his mind, but with his whole self – body, mind, and spirit. And that’s the way that I wanted to worship as well. Of course, when you read the story from the perspective of someone who is longing for freedom in worship, David becomes the obvious hero. He goes to retrieve the Ark from the place of storage where it has been neglected, if not forgotten, for a long time. For tribal Israel, the Ark was the chief symbol of God’s presence in the midst of the people. It was a gilded box made of acacia wood surmounted by winged cherubim, which served as a pedestal for the invisibly enthroned Yahweh. So David returns his attention to God’s presence with him and with his kingdom. He worships God, and celebrates the fact that God is the true ruler of Israel, the one responsible for Israel’s victories, the one who will guide and direct them into a victorious future. And David worships with abandon. He’s not wondering what … Read more »

July 22, 2012

2 Samuel 7:1-14a Ephesians 2:11-22 I don’t really know what it feels like not to have a home.  When I think of people who are homeless, my mind jumps to scenes of people waiting in line at a soup kitchen. I think of the folks that sit outside the grocery store and ask for small change. I think of the man that I often see downtown, who even on the hottest day in July, is wearing his winter coat, and carrying dozens of shopping bags. All that he owns, he’s carrying with him.  When I think of the homeless, I think of young people who have run away from home – from abuse, from neglect, from broken or breaking families. I think of alcoholism, and drugs, and mental illness – the reasons why many homeless people have ended up that way. What I rarely take the time to think about is the feeling of having nowhere to call “home”. An old friend of mine, and former resident at the home where I used to work, lives with the debilitating illness of schizophrenia. She is one of the fortunate ones. Although her illness is severe, and she cycles up and down between severe episodes including depression and paranoia, and relative good health, she does not live on the street. I remember having a conversation with her one day about home. She was in good health at the time and thinking clearly, and she was rejoicing in the fact that she had … Read more »

August 5, 2012

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a Ephesians 4:1-16 As we continue through our summer Sundays, we are following through the biblical stories about King David of Israel. I understand that Jim McKay, who filled in for me last week, preached about David and his affair with another man’s wife. And next week, Gerry Kraay will be picking up the next part of the story. Today’s reading from 2nd Samuel is not so much a time of action in David’s story as it is a moment of reflection in his life. If you were at worship last Sunday, you will know that although David was a pretty good king, and a king who had received God’s blessing and approval, David was not always a good guy. In fact, last week we heard about what may have been the lowest point of his leadership as he had an affair with Bathsheba, another man’s wife. And then David used his political power to have her husband, Uriah, sent to the front of the battle lines where he would undoubtedly be killed. All this, so that David could take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, to be his own wife. It’s hard to imagine how David could believe that his behaviour was appropriate. After all, he’s just broken two of the big ten commandments. He’s committed adultery, followed by murder, and at first, he doesn’t seem to get it. Maybe he’s blinded by love… or least blinded by lust and greed. Or maybe he’s been in the position … Read more »

September 2, 2012

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

September 16, 2012

Psalm 19 James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen. Preachers and teachers need prayers like that one, taken from the final verse of Psalm 19. I remember my preaching professor in seminary telling us that the high pulpits in many churches should serve as a reminder to preachers of the magnitude of the task that we are called to. When we approach one of those pulpits, and make our way up the steps, we should do so in fear and trembling, he said, praying that God will give us the words to speak. Our pulpit here is not so high, not like the one I saw years ago in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva where John Calvin once preached. It has a full spiral staircase with about ten steps to climb… plenty of time to think about what the preacher is about to do… plenty of time to ask for God’s help. But even as I make my way across from the lectern to the pulpit here on Sunday mornings, I’m praying something similar because I know that words matter, and I know that I’m human and I can’t always come up with the right ones on my own. The Book of James warns us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater … Read more »

September 23, 2012

Proverbs 31:10-31 Mark 9:30-37 All through this past week I’ve been reflecting on the scripture readings set by the Revised Common Lectionary for today. I’ve read them over in my own private devotions, shared about them in meetings, heard them reflected on by a colleague at our Parish Nurse training sessions this weekend, and even preached on them myself at Presbytery on Friday morning. But it took me until Friday night before I remembered the first time that I preached on Mark 9 and Proverbs 31 together. It was nine years ago to the week, and it was my first visit to St. Andrew’s and the first time I preached a sermon in this pulpit. I was preaching for the call to join the team ministry here, and I thought it was pretty funny that on the day I was being considered for this call the scriptures included an argument between the disciples about who was the greatest and a section from the proverbs beginning “a capable woman, who can find?” I was grateful that it wasn’t actually a competition that day – that you weren’t deciding whether or not I was the greatest – but just discerning whether I was the one being called by God to minister with and among you. The fact is that competition is all around us. Despite the fact that I grew up in the era when we were exploring “co-operative games,” when children were encouraged to work together, and winning and losing were … Read more »

October 7, 2012

Matthew 6:25-33 “Oooooooo… Here is a little song I wrote. You might want to sing it note for note. Don’t worry. Be happy. In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. Don’t worry. Be happy. The land lord say your rent is late. He may have to litigate. Don’t worry. Be happy. Ain’t got no place to lay your head. Somebody came and took your bed. Don’t worry. Be happy.” About half way through the sermon on the mount, after more than a chapter of teaching about the challenging way of discipleship that Jesus’ followers are called to live, Jesus tells his disciples not to worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Can we put ourselves in the shoes of those earliest disciples? Can we imagine what they might have been thinking as Jesus told them not to worry? Some of them had dropped their nets, their jobs, their livelihoods in order to go out on the road with him. And they had left their families, their communities, and their networks of support behind as well. He had called them to a life of risk and uncertainty, and … Read more »

October 14, 2012

Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31 The author of the Book of Hebrews understood the power of God’s Word and the challenge of the call to discipleship. She wrote: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” I wonder… when friends or colleagues ask you about your faith, when they ask you why you come to church, or why you read the bible, what do you say? Do you tell them that the Word of God is a comfort and encouragement to your soul? Do you tell them that coming to church lifts your spirits and helps you to know that you are loved? Do you tell them that reading the bible brings peace into your heart, especially when you read favourite passages like “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”? I wonder… have you ever described the Word of God as the author of Hebrews did? The bible is like a two-edged sword piercing my life, separating the bad from the good, the failure from the possibility, the lost opportunities from the mission and ministry in which I am called to participate today. Have you ever explained that the Word of God is like … Read more »

October 21, 2012

Mark 10:35-45 For the last several weeks, our Gospel readings on Sundays have been following through the Gospel of Mark – a series of scripture texts about what it means to be a disciple or a follower of Jesus. Each text has had a unique theme or focus, but the common message proclaimed over and over by the author of the Gospel is that being a disciple is challenging. There are forms of spirituality and perhaps even some religions that promise only peace and fulfilment, success and happiness, but Christianity is not one of them. And in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus does not sugar-coat the commitment and sacrifice required of those who would follow him and his way with their lives. My guess is that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were a couple of pretty great disciples. They were among the very first ones that Jesus called, just after Simon Peter and Andrew. James and John were fishermen too, and Jesus found them in their boat mending the nets: “Immediately he called them;” the Gospel tells us, “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” The brothers travelled with Jesus and the others from that time on. They listened to his teaching and struggled to understand his parables. They witnessed his miracles and wondered at his ability to bless and to heal the people they met. And then, as time went on they went out in his name to … Read more »

October 28, 2012

Mark 10:46-52 The section of Mark’s Gospel that we have been reading from the last couple of months begins and ends with a story about Jesus healing a blind man. In today’s story from chapter 10, the man called Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus in the street. And when Jesus calls Bartimaeus to come to him, the blind man throws off his cloak, springs to his feet, and rushes to Jesus to receive an immediate and miraculous healing. The earlier story from chapter 8 is similar, but with a few differences. It’s only a few verses, so I’ll read it for us: “Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” The Gospels are full of stories of healing… blind people receiving their sight, paralyzed people picking up their mats and walking, deaf people who are suddenly able to hear again, and little children being raised from near death or maybe even death itself. Mark’s Gospel has two stories about a … Read more »

November 11, 2012

Mark 12:38-44 After criticizing the religious leaders of his time for both a lack of humility and taking advantage of the poor, Jesus sits down near one of the offering boxes at the temple to observe as the worshippers come to make their gifts for the temple. Having watched both the rich and the poor placing their gifts in the treasury, Jesus comments that a poor widow has contributed more than anyone else because the rich people “have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” In practical terms for the temple budget, Jesus’ statement simply isn’t true. The widow’s two coins wouldn’t have made much difference at all for the institution’s ministry. They would have represented the tiniest of drops in the biggest of buckets. The small copper coins (Greek: lepta) were the smallest coins circulated, and sixty-four “pennies” equalled one denarius, or a day’s wage. The rich people had the resources to give more without much of a thought. They might have given a whole denarius, or maybe even more than one, and those larger offerings would have sustained religious life at the temple, feeding and clothing the religious leaders and maintaining the central place of worship for the Jewish People. But Jesus says that the widow’s offering is greater, not because it has a larger impact on the temple’s ministry, but because it requires a larger sacrifice on her part. Perhaps it’s … Read more »

November 18, 2012

1 Samuel 1:4-20 Hebrews 10:11-25 There are people like Hannah among us today, and in our families and communities… not just women and couples who struggle with infertility, but men and women and young people who experience the kind of anguish and despair that Hannah shows to us in her story. The particular struggles are myriad… grief, illness, loneliness, depression, problems at work, problems in family relationships, conflict between friends, or a general lack of meaning and purpose in life or in the sense of being valued and loved. What a sad way to start a sermon! But it’s true, isn’t it? Most of us can relate to Hannah’s outburst in the place of worship because we have felt like that at times too. Some of us will have kept the public weeping to a minimum, but we can understand how she got to that point. She just couldn’t take any more of the other wife’s taunts. She just couldn’t handle any more of her husband’s sympathy. She just couldn’t hold on anymore to all the anger and sadness and resentment that she had been carrying for so long. And she let go of it by talking to God about it. Now, it wasn’t a nice little prayer that she offered up to God with a measured amount of praise and thanks and a polite request for some help in the baby-making department. It wasn’t a carefully prepared request like the prayers we often offer together in our public worship. … Read more »

November 25, 2012

2 Samuel 23:1-7 Revelation 1:4b-8 John 18:33-37 Over tea and homemade pie yesterday afternoon, a church member asked me about the church’s celebration of Christmas. He remembered that when he was growing up in Scotland there were no special church services for Christmas, and gifts were exchanged at New Year’s rather than on December 25th. Indeed, Christmas didn’t become a national holiday in Scotland until fairly recently. Unfortunately, I didn’t know when Canadian Presbyterians or other Protestants began celebrating Christmas, nor did I know when Canada made Christmas Day into a statutory holiday. I could point out that all the Churches have gone through some significant liturgical reform over the last 30 or 40 years. One significant reform is the celebration of the Church Year in most of the mainline Churches. The Church Year includes not only special Christmas services, but also special seasons like Advent to anticipate and prepare for our Christmas celebrations. Growing up in a Canadian Presbyterian Church in the 1980’s, we were already lighting Advent Candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, and I think it was a fairly long standing tradition to gather for worship on Christmas Eve for a service of lessons and carols that was one of the highlights of my early religious experience. Reading a little more about Christmas celebrations online yesterday, I discovered that the earliest celebrations of Christmas on December 25th took place as early as the fourth century. And though some of the Protestant Churches went through periods … Read more »

December 2, 2012

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Today I would like to take a moment to pause and give thanks for the people in my life that bring me encouragement. For my husband, who expresses his love for me both in words and in caring support. For the women in the prayer group and on the prayer chain, and for other members of the congregation who pray for me regularly. For the people who say, “Well done,” when it is true, and who offer a hug no matter what. For a Presbyterian lay preacher in a Saskatchewan town who reads my sermons online and sends me an encouraging email every few months or so. But this isn’t just about me. I want to invite you to consider this morning… Who are the people in your life who offer you support and encouragement? Who encourages you? And how to they do it? Maybe it is a colleague who makes a point of thanking you for your valuable contributions. Maybe it is a friend or a relative who calls you, or who listens to you when you call, or who just remembers to tell you sometimes that you are loved. Maybe it is someone who tells you, “You can do it!” when you’re doubting yourself. Maybe it is someone who loves you anyway when you mess up. I hope you don’t have to think very hard or very long to bring to mind the sources of encouragement and hope in your life. I hope that they … Read more »

December 9, 2012

Philippians 1:3-11 Luke 3:1-6 Today is December 9th, just sixteen days until Christmas. How are your preparations going? Do you have a “to do” list, and if so, are you getting things checked off on your “to do” list? I am the kind of person that likes to make “to do” lists. I make one almost every week for work, noting the various tasks and projects, calls and visits that I hope to do that week. It’s a good way to get a handle on things, to set priorities, and to lessen the likelihood of forgetting something important. If you were to make a “to do” list for yourself between today and Christmas, how many sheets of paper would you need? Maybe you have gifts to buy or make – you might need a whole list just for gifts! Maybe you have cards to send, or far-away friends or family members that you want to call. Maybe you have baking to do, special meals to plan, decorations to put up, a house to clean, get-togethers to attend, Christmas plays or concerts to watch. Oh, and some of you might have to go to work too, or have some exams to write for school in the meantime. I still have quite a few things on my list, and I’m not even planning for a big family Christmas gathering, nor do I have any kids to buy gifts for as many of you do. On this second Sunday in Advent, I want … Read more »

December 16, 2012

Isaiah 12:2-6 “Drawing Water: A Short Reflection after the Christmas Pageant” This is a day of rejoicing, is it not? We are filled with the joy of being together as a church family, of singing some of our favourite carols and listening once again to the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth. We are filled with joy because our children are beautiful, and talented, and they have shared their gifts with us once again today. Most of all, we are filled with joy because today we are remembering the real Christmas. Details aside, we are remembering and rejoicing in the truth that in Jesus of Nazareth, God became flesh and lived among us. And in Jesus the Christ, we have experienced God’s very presence, love, and grace for us. The Christmas story has been shared today, in words, and action, and song, so I don’t need to say much more. But I just wanted to briefly draw our attention to the passage from Isaiah 12 that Christine just read for us. The prophet, who shared these words so long ago, was declaring his confidence and trust in God. Despite all the struggles that God’s people were experiencing, the prophet encouraged everyone to trust in God and not to be afraid. That is an encouragement that we also need to hear, again and again and again: “Surely God is our salvation; Let us trust, and not be afraid, for the Lord is our strength and our might; God has become our salvation.” … Read more »

December 23, 2012

Micah 5:2-5a Luke 1:39-55 This morning I brought with me my little nativity scene. Nick and I bought this little nativity, or crèche, quite a few years ago at a Ten Thousand Villages store. What I liked about this particular crèche was the little figures – simple, hand-painted, and quite small so you have to get up close to see the detail and identify the various characters. Unfortunately, our Joseph is missing. I don’t know if we lost him just after we got the set, or if he was always missing. But the taller shepherd stands in for Joseph when I set up the scene. You can have a look at our little nativity scene at the end of the service if you like and see the beautiful tiny figures. But the reason I brought it today is because the prophet Micah got me thinking about little things. The prophet wrote, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah [the least of the clans of Judah], from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” It’s the same reason why I suggested that we sing “O little town of Bethlehem” this morning. Even though we sang it last Sunday, it seemed so appropriate to sing today about the little unlikely town in which the Saviour of the world was born, that we had to sing it again. I didn’t … Read more »

December 24, 2012

“What Christmas Means to Me” Luke 2:1-20 John 1:1-14 Yesterday afternoon I caught a little bit of the CBC Radio One program, “Cross country checkup,” as I was driving in my car. And the question of the day, that Reg Sherren was asking Canadians across the country to respond to, was: “What does Christmas mean to you in a multicultural Canada?” When I turned it on, there was a woman talking about inviting her Jewish and Muslim friends to her annual Christmas dinners, as well as accepting invitations to their special holiday events. It sounded like a good and enriching experience to share hospitality and friendship across cultural and religious lines. Someone else talked about Christmas having been transformed from a religious observance to a secular and commercial celebration. I thought at first that she was going to complain about that change. But instead she said that this was a good thing, because now everyone (whatever their religion or culture) can participate in Christmas together – exchanging gifts, sharing special meals, having parties, bringing their kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s knee. Later, when I got home, I went online and read some of the email responses to the Cross country checkup question of the day. And there I found some wonderful reflections on Christmas traditions. Many people wrote about their particular family practices, and the cultural and religious practices they continue to honour from homelands around the world. Some shared about basically secular celebrations. A few even … Read more »

December 30, 2012

Colossians 3:12-17 Psalm 148 Luke 2:41-52 On the back of this morning’s bulletin, Rev. Hans Kouwenberg describes this first Sunday after Christmas as “low Sunday.” And compared to the full church that we experienced here the last couple of Sundays and on Christmas Eve, today does feel a little low. The crowds are gone, just like the nearly-deserted temple in Jerusalem after the big pilgrimage festival was over. But like Jesus, who would spend his life in and out of the temple and the synagogues, learning more and more about God and the will of God for human people, we will continue to gather here week by week, and learn day by day about God and God’s will for our lives. Even though the crowds have dispersed somewhat, the scriptures today “won’t let us get away with any lowering of our praise,” as Kouwenberg put it. Whether or not we have with us a well-rehearsed choir or a huge congregation, we must continue to join with the whole of creation in praising God as today’s psalm encourages us: “Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let us praise the name of the Lord, for he alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people… who are close to him.” On this first Sunday after Christmas, we continue to praise God for the wonder of the incarnation, for the amazing gift … Read more »