January 6, 2013

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 Several times over the Christmas Season, I found myself in conversations about why we celebrate Christmas when we do. One person commented, “Every day is Christmas for me. We don’t know what time of year Jesus was born, do we? So I can celebrate his birth all through the year.” I certainly couldn’t dispute that! We really have no idea when Jesus was born, either what date or season, or even exactly what year. What the Christian Church has done is to choose a birthday for Jesus. We have chosen a time of year to celebrate and give thanks for the birth of Christ, for God’s incarnation among us. The probable reason for the selection of December 25th was to coincide with pagan festivals that were being held around the time of the Winter Solstice. I can imagine the Christian leaders speculating… Perhaps if we celebrate a mass for Christ at that time, Christians will be less inclined to get caught up in those other pagan celebrations. There’s good sense in that reasoning. And yet, there are other good reasons for celebrating the incarnation at the end of December. As John’s Gospel proclaims, Jesus is the Light of the World. And so we celebrate his coming at the darkest, coldest time of the year, when the days are so short and we are longing for light. Many religious traditions do something similar. Jewish people, for example, celebrate the miracle of light with Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday … Read more »

January 13, 2013

Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 “The Meaning of Baptism” Have any of you been baptized? How many of you were baptized when you were infants or young children? How many of you were baptized as teenagers or adults? How many of you were baptized with water being sprinkled or poured on your head? How many of you were baptized by immersion in a pool or lake or river? How many of you have brought your own children for baptism? How many of you can remember witnessing a baptism and welcoming a child, or young person, or adult into the church community? Well, there is certainly a lot of experience of baptism here in our church today! Although we don’t have a baptism to administer today, we are celebrating the Sunday called, “Baptism of the Lord,” remembering Jesus’ own baptism by John in the Jordan River, and thinking about the meaning and significance of our own baptism. Baptism is a very important practice in our Christian Faith, one of two sacraments that we celebrate – Baptism and Holy Communion. In the order of sacraments, baptism is first. It is the sacrament of initiation – a rite that marks our entrance into the Christian community. If you go to Europe and take note of many of the historic churches, they often have baptisteries – smaller buildings just outside the churches – where new Christians would have been baptized. Baptisms took place outside the churches, and then the newly initiated were welcomed into … Read more »

January 20, 2013

Isaiah 62:1-5 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 John 2:1-11 “One Family of Faith” I’ve been looking forward to this week with great anticipation. Some people count down the days until Christmas. Some people count down the days until their birthdays. But I’ve been counting down the days until the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and I am so pleased that it has finally arrived once again. It’s a typical third week of January in Saskatchewan, bitterly cold outside. But inside the churches of Saskatoon there is a great warmth, not only because the furnaces and boilers are working overtime, but because Christians of all backgrounds and denominations are gathering to pray, to sing, to share food and fellowship, and to celebrate together as one family of God. Some of you come from large families and know what it’s like to go to a big family reunion. Family reunions can be great celebrations, and they can be tricky to plan. As the family has grown, people have moved in different directions. They’ve spread out across the country or even the world. They’ve left behind some family traditions and created new ones. They’ve joined together with other families and blended cultures and ways of life. So when you get the family back together again there can be tensions. People have changed and grown while they’ve been apart, and may have different ideas about what it means to be a part of the family. But at the same time, there is something that binds … Read more »

January 27, 2013

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a “Gather Around God’s Word” On Friday evening I attended the Ecumenical Jazz Service at St. Francis Xavier Parish. It was one of the special services planned for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity here in Saskatoon. It was a lovely service, with musical leadership provided by an excellent jazz trio of piano, double bass, and drums. Under the leadership of Pastor David Hunter from Augustana Lutheran Church, the Churches of the Broadway-Nutana area worked together to lead the worship. Before the Gospel reading, the congregation was invited to stand and sing a jazzy Alleluia in preparation for hearing the Gospel proclaimed. But when the song ended, the congregation waited, and no one stepped forward to do the reading. Something had fallen through the cracks in the planning, and there was no one ready to read. Realizing what had happened, David scrambled to solve the problem. And after glancing around, he asked the question of us all, “Does anyone have a Bible?” The Catholic Parish in which we were worshipping only had hymn books and prayer books in the pews and David didn’t have one on hand either. As I was just realizing that I could access the reading using the Bible App on my phone, another Lutheran pastor came forward with a bible in hand, looked up the text, and read it aloud for all to hear. I do carry a little bible around with me most of the time, and it … Read more »

February 3, 2013

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 “Everything with Love” We talk a lot about LOVE in the church. We read scripture about love: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end.” Lamentations 3:22 “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8 “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Psalm 36:5 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44 And we sing hymns about love: “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down.” BOP #371 “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” BOP #225 “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul!” BOP #242 “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with you love; show us how to serve the neighbours we have from you.” BOP #229 In our faith community, Sunday by Sunday and week by week, we gather to remind one another about the unconditional love that God has for each one of us, and we pray together that God will help us … Read more »

February 17, 2013

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 Psalm 34:1-14 Ephesians 5:6-20 “Making the Most of the Time” When the letter to the Ephesians was written towards the end of the first century, both its author and the Christians who received it were expecting the end of the world to come quite soon. They expected that Christ would soon return, and the Kingdom of God would be inaugurated. It could be any day now, and many of them hoped it would be sooner rather than later. “But in the meantime,” the Christian leader explains, “there are ways you should be living… ways you should be spending your time… and other ways that you shouldn’t.” “Be careful… how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…” the letter encouraged them. “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” and live accordingly. And if you’re not sure what is pleasing to God, here are some pointers: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our context today is somewhat different. Even as Christians, we do not live day-to-day with the expectation that Christ may return today or tomorrow. Although it is our Christian hope that Christ will one day return … Read more »

February 24, 2013

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35 “Take Courage!” What does it take to be a Christian? Some might say that Christians need to be loving and kind. Some might say that Christians need to be open and friendly. Some might say that Christians just need to have the faith to believe. But our scripture passages today suggest that the most important characteristic of a Christian is courage. When God is speaking to his people in the Bible, it’s not unusual for God’s introductory words to be “Be not afraid.” I suppose that standing face to face with God, or even just hearing God’s voice speaking to you directly was perhaps a rather scary experience. But I think that, more generally, God was often calling his people to do some rather risky and scary stuff. They had good reason to be feeling nervous or afraid. In the case of Abram, whom we read about this morning, God has led him away from his homeland and sent him on a journey towards a new place to found a new nation. God has promised him good land, and many descendants, and God’s own blessing. But at this point in the story, Abram is starting to get worried. He hasn’t even had a child yet, let alone a son to continue his family line. And why should Abram believe that the land that he had come to would be his? Others might come and try to take it from him. Without … Read more »

March 3, 2013

Isaiah 55:1-9 Luke 13:1-9 “Stop! Drink water.” There was a cartoon circulating on email a couple of weeks ago. The scene was the Vatican, and the speech bubble was of someone inside responding in surprise to Pope Benedict’s announcement of his resignation: “You’re giving up WHAT for Lent?” There is a tradition of Christians giving something up during Lent. We might give up some indulgence that we don’t really need. We might fast on a certain day of the week or forego eating meat, as a way of disciplining ourselves and turning our attention towards God. Others have changed up the tradition a little by talking about taking something on during Lent. They try to add something to their daily or weekly routine… making sure they come to worship every week, adding daily prayer to their schedule, spending some intentional time in service to the poor or the lonely or the sick. Around St. Andrew’s this year, we’ve had a few invitations to take something on during Lent. I handed copies of a devotional booklet that I called “A Time to Pray,” and offered a Wednesday evening bible study on the appropriately Lenten topic of forgiveness. The Stewardship Committee invited us all to gather our coins for a special offering to PWS&D, and they called us to pay attention to our stewardship of time during Lent with a survey and a time log, along with some thoughtful questions to help us evaluate our use of time and make some changes … Read more »

March 17, 2013

Philippians 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8 “Costly Love” You know, the choir has been practicing for weeks now for this special anthem for Easter Sunday. We’ve still got a couple more practices on it, and many of us are practicing our parts at home too. When Easter Sunday comes, it’ll take us about three minutes to sing it and then it will be over. What a waste! And what do you think about those grandmothers… the ones who spend all day shopping, and preparing, and cooking a fabulous meal for their kids and grandkids? Everyone shows up to the house at 5:30 on Sunday evening, and by 6:30 it’s all gone. Not a scrap left when the grandsons get up from the table. What a waste! Or think about all the planning and expense that goes towards sending a youth group on a mission trip… the fundraising, the organizing, the preparing, the packing. All that work, all that effort… and five days or ten days or two weeks later it’s all over and they’re back home again. What a waste! And then there’s Mary of Bethany… working, and saving, choosing the perfume and buying it with practically a year’s worth of wages. Yes, she could have used that money to help the poor instead. She could have bought an awful lot of bread with 300 denarii. But instead she “took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled … Read more »

March 24, 2013

Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 “Choosing Servanthood” Today is the Sunday with two names. It is Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. And it is Passion Sunday, as we anticipate what will happen to Jesus when he arrives in Jerusalem – his final meal with his disciples, his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and torture, and his terrible execution on a Roman cross. The lectionary provides us with two sets of scripture readings for today, inviting the preacher to choose how to focus the service, and I have chosen the Gospel reading from the liturgy of the Palms, and the other readings from the liturgy of the Passion. The Gospel reading that I’m skipping today is the long account of what happens to Jesus in Jerusalem. We’ll come back to it, of course, on Thursday evening when we gather at Calvin-Goforth for the Maundy Thursday service, and on Friday morning when we gather here to mark Good Friday. But this morning, instead of simply recounting the story of Jesus’ passion, a story that most of us know quite well, I’d like to focus on the other readings that are set for Passion Sunday, and spend some time thinking theologically about Jesus’ suffering and death. From the prophet 2nd Isaiah, Dineke read to us about the Suffering Servant. In these few short verses, Isaiah talks about the challenging vocation that he is called to. He says … Read more »

April 7, 2013

Revelation 1:4-8 John 20:19-31 “Not the End of the Story” Welcome to the second Sunday in the Season of Easter. I don’t know about you, but it kind of feels like a low Sunday to me. The church isn’t as full as it was last week, and the energy level and anticipation isn’t quite as high either. Someone said that there was something pretty special about the experience of coming in to church last Sunday. Everyone was so joyful and upbeat. It was definitely a day of celebration as we sang the songs of Easter and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord. But when the Easter weekend came to an end, many of us went back to the grind of work on Monday or Tuesday. We came face to face with exam time looming, or a house in need of a good Spring cleaning, or the challenges of health issues, or a strained relationship in need of repair, or the stress of tax time and worry about how to make the payments, or just the news from the world this week that some young Canadian men have become terrorists, that there was a shooting in a Gatineau daycare, that all is not yet right in the world. Lauren Winner, reflecting on the day of her baptism as a young adult, remembers a typo in the Communion prayer response: It said, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ has come again.” (Instead of Christ WILL come again. It said … Read more »

April 14, 2013

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

April 21, 2013

Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 “Shepherded Through the Ordeals” John of Patmos, writing in the midst of exile and persecution because of his faith and his leadership in the early Christian Church, shares a vision he has of heaven – a vision of the kingdom of God when it comes. He sees a great multitude of people, more than he could count – people from every nation, tribe, and language standing together before the throne of God. And they are singing: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Then a question is raised, “Who are all those people? Where have they come from?” And the answer is given: “These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal… For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship [God] day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Of course, the metaphor of God as the Shepherd of the people runs through most of our scripture readings today. God is the one who cares for us like we are precious sheep, guiding us through danger and … Read more »

May 12, 2013

Acts 16:9-34 John 17:20-26 “Jesus is Praying for Us” There’s a continuing theme that begins in the Gospels, continues and grows through the Acts of the Apostles, and is picked up again and again in the letters of Paul and others in the time of the earliest Churches. It’s the idea that the love of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all the people of the world. Jesus was born to a Jewish family and lived as a faithful Jew. His ministry began among the Jews and for the Jews, and then it began to spread. Jesus went beyond the boundaries of religion, race, gender, and social standing… engaging in conversation with those beyond his immediate community, reaching out in love to those on the margins of society, and by the end of the Gospels, encouraging his disciples to go and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to all the people of the world. This morning I decided to include two readings from the Book of Acts. The first one about Paul and his friends going to Macedonia, meeting Lydia, and Lydia and her household being baptized, was the reading assigned for last Sunday. We did Camp Sunday instead, so we didn’t get to hear it last week. The second one Dorothy read for us this morning about Paul and Silas exorcising an evil spirit from a slave-girl, and then getting flogged and thrown in jail. While in jail, they keep their spirits … Read more »

May 19, 2013

Acts 2:1-21 Romans 8:14-17 John 14:8-17, 25-27 “A Spirit of Adoption” Pentecost is sometimes called “the birthday of the church.” We gather to remember and celebrate what happened on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection – how the Holy Spirit was poured out in power on the gathered disciples… making them one, sending them out in mission, empowering them to proclaim the gospel to all the people of the world. It seems fitting on this day, to begin by remembering what Pentecost is all about. And it seems fitting to share part of a reflection that was published online for Pentecost this week. It’s a message from the Presidents of the World Council of Churches. They write: “We have celebrated with joy the feast of Easter. We have remembered Jesus’ departure from his disciples, those he loved and those who loved him at his Ascension into heaven. Now, today, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the day of God’s priceless gift to the world, the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are called in the power of that Spirit to turn again to God, to give ourselves to Jesus Christ joyfully and to serve our brothers and sisters who do not yet know the good news that Jesus loves them. “Long before the birth of Jesus, the people of Israel who gave our festival its name were celebrating Pentecost. At Pentecost the Israelites gave thanks for the harvest and offered the first fruits. They remembered how God had … Read more »

May 26, 2013

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15 “A Little Lower than God” Reflecting on the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, the psalmist notices that the Lord has made human beings “a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” There are different emphases within the scriptures, of course, and different perspectives within theology. Some ways of thinking about human nature emphasize the brokenness and sinfulness of human beings. And the good news of God in Jesus Christ is that we are not condemned for our failures, but when we repent and turn to God for help, we are forgiven and freed by the amazing grace of our loving God. But the perspective that seems to come out in today’s psalm is that human beings have great potential for goodness. God has made us “a little lower” than Godself – not perfect, but certainly capable of great things, great creativity, great responsibility. I don’t normally do a lot of quoting from the early Church Fathers in my sermons, but I’ve been reading a lot lately in preparation for the course I’ll be taking next week, and yesterday I just happened to read about Origen of Alexandria’s doctrine of humanity. Origen lived and contributed to the church tradition in the early 3rd century, and as I read his ideas about what it means to be human, they just seemed to fit so nicely with the ideas in today’s psalm: “He argued that God originally created a … Read more »

June 16, 2013

Genesis 13:1-18 Psalm 133 1 Timothy 5:1-4 Mark 3:31-35 “A Blessing to Others” In Presbyterian and United and perhaps some other Churches as well, it is common to celebrate “Christian Family Sunday” on Mothers’ Day. This year, I thought we could do it on Fathers’ Day instead – equally appropriate, and the same day as our Family Worship service and church picnic. As I thought about “Christian Family Sunday” I started thinking about what makes a Christian family distinct from any other family. Is it just the fact that Christian families come to church on Sundays? Or is it religious activities that take place in the home? Reading bible stories, saying grace before dinner, or perhaps having a practice of bedtime prayers? Is it the determination of Christian families to care for one another and to forgive one another when we find ourselves in conflict and hurting each other? Don’t other families find ways to forgive and mend their relationships too? I came across a resource of “Christian Family Sunday” that encouraged looking at biblical families. Some of these families, like Ruth and Naomi for example, might give us some good examples of what it means to be faithful to one another as families, to sacrifice our own needs for the sake of the most vulnerable, and to stick together through challenges. Other biblical families, of course, might give us some good examples of how NOT to deal with our families. Jacob’s constant trickery and lies for example, don’t make … Read more »

June 23, 2013

1 Kings 19:1-15a Psalm 42 Luke 8:26-39 “I Shall Again Praise God” Over the last several weeks, today, and next Sunday, the Old Testament readings in the lectionary have been the great stories of the prophet Elijah. We heard about Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to a contest between the gods, and demonstrating powerfully that the God of Israel is the one true God. Then we had the story about Elijah’s visit to a poor widow in Zarephath. He invited her to share the few resources she had in the midst of a drought, and with God’s help he multiplied her grain and her oil so that she and her family were fed for many days. Then when the widow’s son died, God gave Elijah the power to raise him back to life, and he did. We skipped over last week’s reading about Elijah in order to celebrate Christian Family Sunday, but it was the one in which King Ahab and his wife Jezebel get a man killed in order to take possession of his vineyard. God sends Elijah to challenge the king and accuse him of his wrongdoing. Elijah serves as the prophet of truth and justice, assuring the king that he will suffer the consequences of his own evil deeds. Next week’s story will be the final one about Elijah. We’ll hear about the end of his life – not his death, but the day that he is taken up directly into heaven to be with God … Read more »

June 30, 2013

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9:51-62 “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” Singing: I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, Coming for to carry me home? A band of angels coming after me, Coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home, Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home. I’m sometimes up and sometimes down, Coming for to carry me home, But still my soul feels heavenly bound, Coming for to carry me home. Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home, Swing low, sweet chariot, Coming for to carry me home. “Swing low, sweet chariot” is a historic American Negro spiritual. It was written by Wallis Willis who lived in Oklahoma sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the prophet Elijah’s being taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot. Many sources claim that this song, more than just being a reflection on Elijah’s story, and more than just being a hopeful song about going to heaven, was actually also referring to the Underground Railroad, the resistance movement that helped slaves escape from the South to the North and Canada. Listen to the words of the third verse: “If you get there before I do, Coming for to carry me home, Tell all my friends I’m coming too, Coming for to carry me home.” More than just a hope for heaven, the … Read more »

July 7, 2013

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 “Sent Out in Jesus’ Name” In the final year of my seminary training, I had to write an integration paper. The class was called “Church, Ministry, Sacraments, and Polity” and the final paper was a fairly long assignment in which I was supposed to try to integrate what I had been discovering and learning over the course of my time at Knox College. I don’t remember the mark I got on that paper; It was probably a reasonable grade. But soon I was sharing that paper with the Ministry Committee of the Presbytery of Ottawa – the group of ministers and elders who would examine my faith and my preparedness for ministry, and certify me for ordination within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. And although the experience was generally pretty positive, I still remember the one little critical comment that one of the ministers made about my paper. I remember it because it was such a very important point that I had missed. You see, I was writing about what it meant to be a Christian. I was writing about what it meant to be a member of the Church. I wrote about the variety of gifts shared by ministers and elders and members, and the diverse people that come together in communities of faith. But despite the fact that I was acknowledging that lay people must be involved in the work and ministry of the church (It’s not up to ministers alone to do the work … Read more »