January 5, 2014

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 “Shiny Happy People!” As I was reading commentaries on the passage from Isaiah 60 this week, a pop song from the 90’s started running through my head: “Shiny happy people.” Do you remember that lively song by the band REM? As I read and reflected on the prophet’s command to the people of Judah to “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” I couldn’t get the “Shiny happy people” song out of my head, so I gave in to it and looked up the video on YouTube. It began with an old man riding a stationary bicycle in a dreary-looking room, and then on the other side of the wall the band – dressed in bright happy colours in front of a colourful mural of similarly happy-looking people – began to play, and sing, and dance. It was carefree, full of smiles, and by the end of the song the band was surrounded by people dancing, and laughing, and having a great time. Meanwhile, the old man has gotten off his bicycle, and he stands watching the shiny happy people as they dance and sing. He doesn’t exactly look happy, but somewhat curious about what is happening before his eyes. I don’t know what the band intended to say with their video. Perhaps it was a hope that the grumpy old men of the world would lighten up and join in the party. Perhaps it was a subtle commentary on those who laugh, and dance, and … Read more »

January 12, 2014

Matthew 3:13-17 Acts 10:34-43 “Baptism: The Beginning of the Journey” As most of you know, in addition to being your minister, I am a student again. I’m back in school, still quite close to the beginning of a Doctor of Ministry degree through the Toronto School of Theology. Broadly speaking, my topic is about marriage. I’m interested in ministry with couples preparing for marriage and how we do that in the Presbyterian Church. And I’m particularly interested in how clergy and congregations can support couples from different church backgrounds to participate in a church and live out their faith together either in one church or in two churches as an interchurch family. In the Fall, I took a course on the unity of the church, and this term I am beginning a course on theologies and spiritualities of marriage. But when I was deciding on a paper topic for the Fall course, I found myself drawn to the topic of baptism. I studied the final report of the Reformed-Roman Catholic dialogue on the topic of baptism in the U.S. – a document called, “These Living Waters: Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism.” And I found that there is a great deal of agreement between what Presbyterian and Catholic Churches teach about baptism – what we believe it means, how we do it, when we do it, and why we do it. Baptism is a point of amazing agreement between many Christian Churches, and it is a practice that can … Read more »

January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42 “United for Mission” The theme that stands out most strongly in this morning’s scripture readings is evangelism – the missionary call to tell others the good news of God in Jesus Christ. From the Gospel of John, we heard about John the Baptist spreading the news about Jesus, and different people hearing, turning to follow, and becoming disciples. “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” said John, pointing to Jesus. And they did. They looked. They listened. And they followed Jesus with their lives. From Isaiah we heard an articulation of the mission of God’s People, Israel, a mission that Christians, as God’s people also share: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In other words, our purpose is not to get focused on ourselves, on caring for, teaching, and directing those in our own group about following God. Certainly, that is important. But we can’t get stuck there. Isaiah says, “it’s too light a thing,” it’s not enough. Most Christians would agree they feel an obligation to spread the good news about their faith in Jesus to others. Articulating what the good news is and knowing how to best tell others about it in their context is the challenge many of us … Read more »

January 20, 2014 (WPCU, Day One)

This reflection was shared by the Rev. Amanda Currie at an ecumenical worship service at Calvin-Goforth Presbyterian Church in Saskatoon. Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2014 Reflection for Day One: “Together, we are called to be saints.” Exodus 19:3-8 Psalm 95:1-7 1 Peter 2:9-10 Matthew 12:46-50 This Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the eleventh one that I’ve celebrated here in Saskatoon with all the 7am services. And I don’t know how it happens, but I believe this is the third time that I’ve been stuck with leading worship at 7am on the Monday. Three times! And Monday is supposed to be my day to sleep in! But I didn’t realize until just the other day that Monday morning this year is the perfect day for me to get a few words in as we begin the pilgrimage of 7am services (and other services at more reasonable hours). You see, I had the privilege of being involved in the development of the prayer resources this year, and in particular, I worked on the eight days of material that we will be using for our prayer times all through the week. If you didn’t already pick up a copy of the little booklets we produced for this week, I encourage you to take one home today. The booklet includes the main scripture passage from 1 Corinthians, a theological reflection on the text, and the readings, reflections, questions, and prayers for the eight days. I know that some of you … Read more »

January 26, 2014

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 “I Thank God that I Baptized None of You!” “I thank God that I baptized none of you…” Can you imagine our church receiving a letter like that from one of our past leaders? Can you imagine Dr. Davidson (if he was still alive) or Jim McKay or Annabelle Wallace writing to us at St. Andrew’s with that kind of message? “I’ve heard that the church is full of conflict and cliques these days. The rumours about this trouble have made it all the way back to me, and I’m really disappointed. I hear that some of you are even associating yourselves with different leaders, both present ones and past. And I was absolutely shocked to hear that some of you are suggesting that I come back to St. Andrew’s because you like my way of doing things best. “Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just not going to happen! And I thank God that I baptized none of you… Well, I did baptize a few of you and your children, but I can hardly remember which ones. And it really doesn’t matter who I baptized, or who I prepared for membership, or who I worked with on Session or church committees, because it’s not about me, or any other particular leaders. I want to say this in no uncertain terms: Do not claim allegiance to me or any other leader. I just won’t have it! In my own words, that’s pretty much the gist of what Paul … Read more »

February 2, 2014

Matthew 5:1-12 “Receive God’s Blessing” When someone says that you’re getting “preachy” they usually don’t mean it as a compliment. They probably mean that you’re telling them what to do or what to think. They might mean that you’re moralizing or laying on a guilt trip to get them to do what you believe is right. Preaching is not generally thought of as particularly positive, and sermons are assumed to be long and boring at best, and guilt-inducing lists of things you should be doing at worst. But out of habit, or determination, or perhaps an alternate vision of what preaching can be, here you are again this Sunday morning to listen to yet another sermon. And today you don’t just get a sermon from me, but you get at least a portion of a sermon from Jesus himself. Traditionally known as the Sermon on the Mount, today’s Gospel passage from Matthew is the first twelve verses of something Jesus preached to a crowd of followers in the early part of his ministry. Now, there’s an interesting thing that happens in the Gospel of Matthew, a version of the story of Jesus that was written primarily for a Jewish Christian community. To put it simply, Jesus is portrayed as the “new Moses.” You might notice that the sequence of events in the first in the first chapters of Matthew mirrors the sequence in Exodus: both narratives tell the stories of slaughter of infants, the return of the hero, the passing … Read more »

February 9, 2014

Matthew 5:13-20 Isaiah 58:1-12 “Living in the World as Salt and Light” Over the last few days I have been pondering what Jesus might have meant when he told his disciples and others who came to hear his teaching, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world.” I’ve been thinking about the metaphors themselves, and how God’s people might be like salt or like light for the world. As light, perhaps our role is to bring new wisdom or understanding, to assist others to see what is real and true, or to expose problems or injustices that need to be corrected. As salt, maybe our job is to make things better, like salt enhances the flavour of food without drawing attention to itself. Salt may also be used to cleanse, or to preserve, or even to kill. What insights might these functions give for what it means for us to be salt, as Jesus tells us we are? But rather than get stuck naming all the possible meanings and trying to figure out what Jesus might have meant, Edwin Van Driel, in a reflection on this Gospel text, invites us to begin by considering what Jesus’ words might have meant to those who first heard them. Jesus’ original audience consisted of the Jewish disciples and crowds who gathered in Palestine to listen to his wise teaching. Of course, we must remember their immediate context – they were the people of Israel living under … Read more »

February 23, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Matthew 5:38-48 “We Will Be Holy” God says “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And as I read, and re-read, and reflected on these words this week, I became very aware of how unholy and imperfect I am. I was having one of those days… the kind of day when nothing seems to be going well, when work is a struggle, and everyone is getting on my nerves. My biggest problem, I was sure, was not my problem. It was everyone else around me who was at fault… from the bad drivers on the road in the morning, to the Olympic commentators with their poor grammar in the evening. And during the daytime, none of the people with whom I had to meet and interact were living up to my expectations at all, and I was frustrated beyond belief. Some of the worst religious people, I think, are the ones who live a certain way because of their faith… maybe they don’t drink, or they don’t swear, or they don’t live together before they’re married, or maybe they don’t drive a gas-guzzling truck that harms the environment, or they don’t buy anything except fair trade and organic products, or whatever… But rather than simply living according to their understanding of God’s laws, and leaving it at that, they spend a lot of time and energy judging and scolding other people … Read more »

March 9, 2014

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Matthew 4:1-11 “Avoiding Distraction; Living into God’s Purpose” As we began the forty-day journey of Lent this week, we may have decided to take on a Lenten discipline. Some of you may have decided to give something up, like coffee, or chocolate, or video games, or taking the elevator (as my sister once did). Some of you may have decided to take something on, like praying or reading scripture every day, or attending worship or bible study every week, or giving more of your time, talent, or money to do some good in the world. You may be thinking today about how you are going to avoid the temptation to break your Lenten discipline. How are you going to make yourself get up earlier in the morning to spend time with God in prayer each day? How are you going to stop yourself from giving in, and buying and eating the Easter chocolate that is already in the stores? How are you going to stay firm in your commitment to pray, worship, and give more to God with all the many other demands on your time and attention? Although temptation and sin are the usual ways of describing this dilemma, I wonder if “distraction” is a better word for what so often goes wrong in our attempts to follow Jesus more closely during Lent and throughout the year. If you’re anything like me, distraction can get in the way of getting a lot of things done. For … Read more »

March 16, 2014

John 3:1-17 “Why Don’t They Get It?” Nicodemus is an example of an educated and religious person who doesn’t quite GET what Jesus is about. The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is a typical passage from John’s Gospel, full of metaphors and symbolic language. Jesus is speaking in riddles, it seems, and Nicodemus is thoroughly confused. Understandably confused, I think. First, of course, there is the mix-up over what Jesus is saying about being born. The Greek word used is “anothen,” and Nicodemus interprets it to mean “again.” He thinks that Jesus is requiring him to be born AGAIN in order to see the Kingdom of God. “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?” he asks. And Jesus tells him that he doesn’t need another physical, human birth. He needs to be born of the Spirit. You see, the other meaning of the word “anothen” is “from above.” Nicodemus, and all of us, need to be born “from above” by the Spirit in order to experience the Kingdom of God. As Jesus goes on talking about this spiritual birth, there’s a line about the wind. “God’s Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going.” Again, the Greek word is confusing. “Pneuma” means both Spirit and wind and breath. No wonder Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ words! What is this spiritual birth that he needs to experience? … Read more »

March 23, 2014

Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42 “Spiritual Food and Drink” As we continue our journey through the season of Lent, Year A (the first year of the 3-year lectionary cycle) gives us a long, elaborate story from John’s Gospel each Sunday. Last week it was the story of the Jewish leader, Nicodemus, being told by Jesus that he needed to be born from above. And today, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman beside a well, as he is travelling by the city of Sychar. Last week we paid attention to the way that John’s Jesus used confusing language. When he told Nicodemus that he had to be born “anothen” in order to see the Kingdom of God, the Greek word “anothen” could have meant “again” (as Nicodemus assumed) or “from above” (the more spiritual meaning that Jesus actually intended.) The major theme of John’s Gospel is about how people come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world – how they come to realize who he really is. And the detailed stories of Jesus’ various encounters each give insight into both the identity of Jesus and the process of coming to believe in and have faith in him. The struggle for the Jewish Christians of the late first century (from whose community John’s Gospel came) was the fact that there were other Jews who had rejected the Messiah-ship of Jesus. The Jewish followers of the way had been kicked out of the synagogues by their friends who … Read more »

March 30, 2014

I Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23 John 9:1-41 “God Sees Differently” The story of the day that God asked Samuel to choose a new king for the People of Israel is a good illustration of the way that God sees differently from the rest of us. The first king of Israel, King Saul, was not doing a very good job, as far as God was concerned. He wasn’t honouring God or following God’s ways, and God wanted him replaced as quickly as possible. The prophet Samuel, who had once anointed Saul to be king, now had been instructed by God to anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons. Samuel had to go to Bethlehem, meet up with Jesse’s family, and God would show him which one of the sons was God’s chosen one to be the king. I’m not really sure why God didn’t just tell Samuel right away that David was the chosen one. While God was giving all those instructions anyway, God could easily have added, “Oh, and by the way, the kid’s name is David.” But the story is not just about the practical process of finding and anointing a new king for Israel. It also tells us something about that new king. It tells us that he wasn’t the biggest, strongest, most obvious choice for a king. His father didn’t even bother having him come in from the fields on the off chance that he might be the one. But David had the right attitude, the … Read more »

April 6, 2014

Ezekiel 37:1-14 Romans 8:6-11 John 11:1-45 “Prophesy to These Bones!” 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 several 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 … Read more »

April 13, 2014

Matthew 21:1-11 Matthew 26:30-35 “Palm Branch Flash Mob” I wonder how many of you have participated in a demonstration or a political protest. How many of you have showed up at a rally to speak out against a funding cut, or to encourage a government to take action, or to show solidarity with an oppressed group? Have you ever stood in a crowd and chanted a slogan? Have you ever walked in step with a group, wondering if your presence will make a difference, or send a message, or wield some power when joined with others who care about the issue enough to show up and participate? Some of you grew up in the hey-day of protests, demonstrations, and marches in the 1960’s when young people banded together to make their voices heard in the political world. Even those who were not particularly “into” politics got involved at least occasionally, swept up by the excitement and enthusiasm of being part of a movement. In recent years, such gatherings are becoming more and more frequent again. Around the world, young people are coming together in parks, and squares, and shopping malls to proclaim – not only with their votes, but with their voices and their very presence – that regimes, and dictatorships, and unjust systems and cultures and practices are not going to be accepted anymore. The people are going to demand change, and sometimes they are actually going to get it. The “Idle no more” movement that started right here … Read more »

May 4, 2014

Luke 24:13-35 “A Meeting Place on the Journey” There is a beautiful benediction that I learned several years ago. It was the favourite of a minister with whom I studied in Toronto. And it’s the perfect benediction to go with a reflection on today’s Gospel reading about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I’ll share the benediction with you now… but don’t take it to mean that we’re done after this and you can go home. I’ll still have a few more things to say. May the Christ who walks on wounded feetwalk with you on the road.May the Christ who serves with wounded handsstretch out your hands to serve.May the Christ who loves with a wounded heartopen your hearts to love.May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meetand may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you. Today’s Gospel is about the risen Christ, who comes to walk with two of his disappointed and disillusioned disciples as they travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know much about Cleopas and his friend, except that they had been followers of Jesus, and now, I guess, they’re not. You see, it’s Sunday as they start the seven mile walk to Emmaus. Only hours earlier Mary Magdalene and Joanna and the other women had come to them and told them about a strange and wonderful occurrence at the tomb where Jesus had been buried two days before… Early that morning, on the first day of the … Read more »

May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60 John 14:1-14 “The Gift of Martyrdom?” Earlier this year, when the churches of Saskatoon gathered to participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we held a Saturday afternoon workshop to think about and discuss the different gifts that the various church traditions bring to the Christian Church as a whole. We talked about the distinctive qualities of each branch of the Christian Church, and considered what gifts we could offer to one another, and which gifts we would be blessed to receive from others. The United Church offered their willingness to risk and try things differently, and the Mennonites brought their commitment to peace and social justice. The evangelicals contributed their boldness in sharing their faith with others, and we Presbyterians shared our distinctive form of leadership in the church – with lay people and clergy working together in sessions and presbyteries. The workshop was going really well, and I was amazed at how easily most of those present were able to name and to welcome the gifts of the other churches. It was a wonderful celebration of the Apostle Paul’s teaching – that there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. But then I wandered over to the table where the Ukrainian Catholics were discussing their gifts and making a decision on which one to offer to the whole Church. A little earlier, others had mentioned the beautiful and meditative chanting of prayers in the Ukrainian Catholic tradition, and the meaningful wedding liturgy with … Read more »

May 25, 2014

“Not Ruled by Anxiety” John 14:15-21 I think the most anxious days in my life were the ones I spent waiting to see my doctor after discovering a small lump in my breast. That was more than ten years ago, and it turned out to be benign, but I’ll always remember how it felt when I had to wait… wondering, worrying, imagining the worst. These days I don’t have any major worries like that… but I do get a bit anxious about getting my school work done on time and well. A week from now I’ll be on my way to Toronto again for my next intensive course, and I’m worrying about getting all the reading done before then. I’m worrying about the bibliography that I’ve put together, but have not yet annotated (adding my summaries of the various articles and books on the list). Of course, I also worry about the church… about our congregation and whether our ministry here is going to survive and thrive… about the other congregations in our presbytery, especially the ones I’m responsible for as interim moderator… and about the Presbyterian Church in general and what our future might hold. A basic definition of anxiety is this: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Synonyms are: concern, apprehension, uneasiness, fear, disquiet, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, and tension. When anxiety gets out of control and goes beyond what is to be expected by the … Read more »

June 1, 2014

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11 “Jesus Prays for Us” He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole wide world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands. The songs we sing in daily life, and especially in worship, have a lot of power to shape our thinking and believing about God, the world, and ourselves in relationship to both. I grew up in church and at camp singing songs that expressed the love, care, and concern of God for the whole world… and that perspective has been a part of my theology ever since. God has the whole world in God’s hands: the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain, the tiny little baby, and you and me and everyone else as well. If you share that kind of thinking about God’s interest in the world, you conclude that God loves your new Muslim neighbour, and God is concerned about what the agnostics and secular humanists discuss when they meet as the Saskatoon Centre for Inquiry. God cares about the First Nations children living in sub-standard housing on a northern reserve, about the young Indian woman who was stoned to death by her family, and about the rich family in a large North American city who live in a gated community and send their children to an expensive private school. God has the whole world in God’s hands. But when the author … Read more »

June 15, 2014

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a Psalm 8 Matthew 28:16-20 “Entrusted to Us” As many of you know, I spent the last two weeks in Toronto taking a course as part of my doctoral program. The topic of the course was “Theology of Ministry,” and its overall purpose was to assist each of us as students to develop our own theology of ministry as we understand it in our particular contexts and roles in Christian ministry. I titled my preliminary draft paper for the course, “Partners in the Ministry of Christ: A Presbyterian and Ecumenical Theology of Ministry.” My theology of ministry is rooted in a conviction that all Christian ministry is the ministry of Christ. The members of the church – the Body of Christ – all receive different gifts from the Holy Spirit, and are called and equipped to serve God in a variety of ways. Some are called to the Ministry of Word and Sacraments, to Ruling Eldership, or to Diaconal Ministry, and others are called to use their gifts and serve as lay people in a whole host of different ways – through music, teaching, evangelism, hospitality, generosity, healing, and many other ministries of leadership and service. Whenever Christians minister to one another or to the wider world we do so in the name of Christ, and our ministry is a part of Christ’s ministry. Towards the end of my course, we were beginning the morning with prayer and singing, and the scripture that morning was the one … Read more »

June 22, 2014

Genesis 21:8-21 Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Romans 6:1b-11 Matthew 10:24-39 “Not the Easy Way” What interesting scripture readings we have to consider this morning! First we heard the story of Hagar and Ishmael. They are rejected and mistreated by Abraham and Sarah, sent out into the wilderness to die of thirst, but God takes care of them and protects them. God saves them and provides a future for them. Next we heard from the psalmist who was struggling with some kind of trouble. In the midst of his situation he does not despair, but he calls on God for hope and help. He remembers that God has done wonderful things before. He remembers God’s power and might, and prays that God will help him once again. Then we had a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Apostle has just finished explaining that our justification by faith through God’s boundless grace is a free gift from God. God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And then, in today’s passage, Paul says that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In other words, following Jesus means following him into death and following him into life. It means dying … Read more »