January 4, 2015

Matthew 2:1-12 “Hope for all the World” People today are longing to make sense out of life and to find hope for the future. In the midst of the conflict, strife, and violence of our world… In the midst of personal issues and family struggles, they are looking for meaning, for hope, and for peace. But I don’t think that this is new. If you follow humanity back hundreds, even thousands of years, you find that people have always been longing for something more, and wondering what it’s all about. We have questioned our gurus and wise ones, speculated about the gods, and struggled to make sense of our little place in this vast universe. The gospel reading today is about some men who must have had just such a longing. The scripture calls them, “wise men from the East.” They were foreigners, Gentiles. They probably came from somewhere East of the Jordan river, from Babylon or Syria maybe. The main thing that always gets pointed out about these men is that they were not Jews. They were Gentiles. They were Gentiles in the extreme. Not only did they not worship the one God of Israel, and they didn’t follow the law given to Moses and the Israelites, but one commentary describes them as, “characters who could not be more remote from the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem in heritage and worldview.” They were Magi, magicians, sorcerers. They watched the stars and the sky, and predicted what the future would bring. … Read more »

January 11, 2015

Mark 1:4-11 “You are the Beloved” It is wonderful to be able to conduct a baptism on this particular Sunday in the church year. Today is the day that we celebrate the “Baptism of the Lord”. The baptism of Jesus was such an important and pivotal moment in his life and ministry, and reflecting on that moment in Jesus’ life can help us to understand and to celebrate the meaning of baptism in our lives as Jesus’ followers. In some ways, what we do when we gather to baptize an infant seems pretty far removed from what John the Baptizer was doing at the Jordan River so many years ago. The baptism this morning was marked by family, friends, and Christian community gathered in the warmth of a comfortable church, promises made, water poured, and words of blessing spoken for a child. John’s baptism took place outside, down in the muddy waters of the Jordan. And it wasn’t so much about joining a community of faith or about receiving God’s blessing. They were adults who came to get baptized, and they did so because they wanted a fresh start, to confess their sins, and turn their lives in a new direction of obedience to God. The Gospel story today refers to what John was doing out in the wilderness as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And it tells us that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to … Read more »

January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 Psalm 139:1-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51 “Vocation” The most recent issue of the WMS magazine, “Glad Tidings” is focussed on the theme of vocation. When I asked one group earlier this week what “vocation” means, someone said, “It’s what you do.” And more specifically than that, it’s what you are called to do. The word, “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” meaning “to call,” and our scripture readings this morning and next week also, are filled with stories of people being called by God to various ministries. Although people who become ministers like me, and maybe even people who become Christian educators like Martha and the others we commissioned this morning, quickly get used to the idea that we are called to a particular ministry in the church. Sometimes we can recall times when people noticed our gifts or our potential for a certain ministry, and even if we didn’t hear God’s voice calling to us directly like Samuel did… we certainly heard it through the voices of others in the Christian community. One of the things that was very interesting about the last issue of “Glad Tidings” was that it wasn’t a bunch of stories about ministers or missionaries being called by God. Instead, it was filled with stories of a variety of Christian women who were called to a variety of vocations – women called to different professional roles, inside and outside the church, women called to be parents, and women called to more … Read more »

February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 Psalm 111 Mark 1:21-28 “Power to Cast Out Demons” Last week there was a gathering in Saskatoon of the National dialogue between the United and Anglican Churches of Canada. Although as a Presbyterian, I wasn’t involved in the meeting, Nick and I did know a few of the people involved and so we were invited to a social gathering on Wednesday evening. Sitting around in a living room, drinking wine and sharing food with a group of mostly clergy and theologians, somehow how the topic of conversation turned towards exorcisms. I don’t remember how it happened, but suddenly we found ourselves swapping stories about times when we have been called upon to pray away evil spirits, rid homes of resident ghosts, and other unusual requests. As a group of modern, mainline, fairly progressive Christians, there was a general discomfort with being asked to serve as exorcists. There was the worry that agreeing to such requests might legitimate the concern that evil spirits are all around us and need binding. And if there are ghosts to be busted, most of us weren’t too enthusiastic about claiming to have the power to do that sort of thing. In contrast to our modern-day reticence to pray away the power of evil, Jesus did not hesitate to send the spirits scurrying away through the power of his word. And while Matthew’s Gospel tends to emphasize what Jesus said and taught in long passages like the one known as the Sermon on the … Read more »

February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39 “Balancing our Discipleship” I spent most of the last week in Baltimore, Maryland, at the annual conference of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (also known as APCE). The Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan was able to fund the trip so that a team from Saskatoon and Prince Albert was able to attend the conference – learning and gathering resources and ideas for ministry with children and youth for our congregations. Martha Fergusson, Logan de Bruijn, Ted Hicks, and I came home last night with pretty tired bodies from a busy week, but with our minds rushing with ideas and our hearts full of hopeful possibilities for the future of our ministries and congregations. The conference wasn’t a holiday, and it wasn’t even a retreat (an event designed specifically for rest, renewal, and prayer). It was a busy conference packed full of key note speakers, workshops, discussion forums, and networking opportunities. There were books to consider buying, and resources to gather for current or future possibilities for our ministries. But there was also lots of worship at APCE… gathering songs, early morning communion services, and several wonderful worships with inspiring preachers, creative liturgy, and opportunities for prayer and reflection. The hotel ballroom was filled with nearly 800 Presbyterians from all over the US and Canada, gathered to worship, and pray, and draw close to God. Many of the people at APCE were ministers like me, and a larger group were Christian educators. Others were … Read more »

February 22, 2015

Mark 1:9-15 “Alone” I really don’t like being alone. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of six – There were always other people around! When I was little, I shared a room with my older sister, and then I shared a room with my little brother, and then I shared a room with my little sister. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t love having to share a room. At one point, I remember that my little sister and I rearranged the furniture in our shared bedroom so that there was a barrier of dressers and desks down the middle to separate my space from hers. And it was probably my complaining about having to share that led my parents to eventually convert the den downstairs that we used to use as a family TV room into a bedroom for me when I started high school. But I never did get used to being alone. When I went away to school and lived in a residence, I was quite happy to have a room mate again. And when I did have a room to myself, I tended to leave the door wide open when I was studying. Then I could be aware of friends talking down the hall, and I could welcome anyone who might want to pop in for a visit. I know that not everyone is like me on that personality trait. Some of us love being around other people, and others get exhausted by the … Read more »

March 1, 2015

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Mark 8:31-38 “Covenant” Every morning during this season of Lent, I am receiving an email from the United Methodist Church in the U.S. The email reminds me of the word of the day, inviting me to reflect on a word and take a photograph some time before day’s end. The email also includes a short reflection on the word, usually some scripture, and sometimes a picture as well. It’s not a very onerous Lenten discipline, but it is reminding me every day that this is not ordinary time. On Monday the word of the day was “covenant” – perfect timing for preachers like me who were beginning to reflect on the readings for today’s worship in which “covenant” is the major theme. I spent part of Monday in the library, studying journal articles from the 1970s and 1980s on interchurch marriage – what happens when Protestants and Catholics who are both actively engaged in their faith and their churches marry one another and have to work out what that will look like. Although there are some differences in Catholic and Protestant emphases in the theology of marriage, one of the understandings that is definitely shared is the idea of marriage as a covenant. Two people make sacred promises, before God and in the presence of the community, of love and faithfulness to each other for the rest of their lives. On Monday afternoon, I had a meeting with a couple about their wedding this summer. We talked … Read more »

March 8, 2015

Exodus 20:1-17 “Commandments” Cast your mind back, if you will, to your school days. And see if you can remember the strictest teacher you had. Remember a teacher who ruled his/her classroom with an iron fist, where the students behaved and got their work done because they knew that if they didn’t, there would be consequences. I can’t help but think of Madame Méchin, my grade eight French teacher. We called her Madame Méchant when she wasn’t around – the French word for “mean, nasty, or miserable.” I remember her with her hair pulled very tightly back in a bun, and I don’t remember her smiling. Like the other students, I was pretty scared of Madame Méchin, though I’m not sure what I thought she would to us. But I worked really hard to make sure that my homework was done, and that I was ready to answer her questions (though I hoped she wouldn’t call on me). And I definitely wasn’t going to get caught speaking English in her class. I certainly had other teachers over the years who chose different methods and styles of teaching (some of whom I liked very much), but Madame Méchin’s strict method definitely worked. And even though we thought she was “mean” and “nasty” she taught us well so that even those of us who didn’t keep at it and become bilingual can still “comprendre quel qu’un qui parle en francais, et souvenir assez de mots pour communiqué avec un francophone.” At times … Read more »

March 15, 2015

Ephesians 2:1-10 John 3:14-21 “Grace to Practice” As the weeks of Lent fly by, I am continuing the Lenten discipline that I began on Ash Wednesday. The United Methodist Church in the U.S. has provided a list of words – one for each day in Lent. So each day I reflect on the word, consider its meaning and significance, look around for inspiration, and then take a photograph that somehow connects with the word of the day. Friday’s word was “practice,” which made me think about learning to drive a car, learning to make my own bread, and learning to write and preach a sermon – all skills that can’t just be learned from a book, but they take giving it a try, and trying again, and practicing over and over. As I was working in my office that morning, I heard Gillian giving a piano lesson in here, and remembered how I hated to practice when I was trying to learn to play the piano as a young person. But as I turned my attention to this morning’s reading from Ephesians 2, I noticed another kind of practice that didn’t immediately come to mind. I’m not talking about an activity or skill that you need to repeat over and over in order to perfect it. And I’m not talking about something that you do for an intense but short period of time… until the performance or until the exam. Instead, I’m talking about a practice as in a thing … Read more »

March 22, 2015

Jeremiah 31:31-34 John 12:20-33 “Written on our Hearts” The prophetic text from Jeremiah 31 that we heard this morning tells us about a “new covenant” – a new relationship that God makes with God’s people. This promise came at a time when Israel was in exile in Babylon, having lost all the things that made Israel God’s people and a nation. Gone was their land, their temple, and their king… all the things that had come to them on the promises of God. And Jeremiah was telling them that they had lost all these things because of their unfaithfulness to God… because they had turned away to other gods and idols. But even in this time of despair, when the people came face-to-face with the fact that they had failed in their relationship with God and the result was exile… God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles, and God announced that there would be a new covenant. God was going to establish a new relationship with God’s people. The new covenant was going to be different from the one God made with Israel at Sinai after bringing the people out of slavery in Egypt. Remember that covenant? — the one that we associate with the ten commandments? There were two essential elements in that earlier covenant: First, God chose the Hebrew People (former slaves) to be in a special relationship with God. It was on God’s initiative that the people were given this opportunity to be the people … Read more »

March 29, 2015

Mark 15:1-39 “Mocking and Murdering” We don’t do it every year, but it is traditional to read a good portion of the story of Jesus’ passion on this Sunday before Easter, known both as Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The Revised Common Lectionary suggests that we might read all the way through Mark 14 and Mark 15. I chose a slightly shorter section for our reflection today, but if you want some scripture to study in your personal devotions during this Holy Week, Mark 14 and 15 would be a good choice. There are a lot of things that a preacher could say about a section of the Gospel 39 verses long, but the thing that stood out to me as a reflected on this passage was the way that Jesus was mocked. After falsely accusing him of blasphemy, the religious leaders determined that he deserved to die. They bound him, led him away, and turned him over to the Roman governor. In jest, the governor called him the “King of the Jews,” and the leaders stirred up the crowds to call for his execution. Then the soldiers took Jesus away – not straight to a cross, but they had some fun with him first. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hail! King of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before … Read more »

April 5, 2015

Mark 16:1-8 “Go!” “Go!” That is what the angel at the empty tomb told the women to do. “Go, and tell the other disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” And they did GO. They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Strangely, that is exactly how the Gospel according to Mark ends. Mary doesn’t see Jesus in the garden and have a conversation with him. The women don’t run to tell the other disciples that Jesus’ body is gone. And the male disciples don’t come to look in the tomb themselves. Jesus doesn’t make any sort of appearances either, and he doesn’t give his followers a final commissioning before he rises up into heaven. Instead, the story ends with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome receiving the instruction to GO and tell, but being overcome with terror and dread, fleeing, and saying nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. This disappointing conclusion to Mark’s Gospel has bothered Christians throughout the centuries. The other Gospels tell us more, and give us stories about Jesus’ reassuring appearances – encouraging the disciples and inspiring them to GO and get about the work of continuing Jesus’ ministry. A shorter and a longer ending have even been added to Mark, as if a few pages must have gotten lost or destroyed, … Read more »

April 12, 2015

Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 133 1 John 1:1 – 2:2 John 20:19-31 “Unity: How Good It Is!” Oh look and wonder, how good it is! Oh look and wonder, how good it is! How good it is when kindred live in harmony together, joyous and sweet as life God gives on Zion evermore. (Sung: Book of Praise, #93) How good it is, indeed, when families get along with each other and enjoy spending time together in work, in leisure, and in rest. If you spent time with your family last weekend over Easter, you may be reflecting either on how wonderful it was to get together, or on how difficult it was because of conflicts, or tensions, or misunderstandings between family members. How good it is, indeed, when church families enjoy coming together to worship, serve, and share fellowship together! Last Sunday after our Easter service, I couldn’t help but notice and celebrate the fact that many people hung around for quite a long time over coffee and conversation in the lower hall. Children were playing, adults were talking, almost everyone was smiling and laughing, and there were even pictures being taken to remember the day. How good it would be if all Christians could come together in this way – not only in social life, but in shared faith and common worship of God in Jesus Christ. Although we are taking steps towards greater cooperation and sharing, the Body of Christ continues to be divided because of differences in doctrine, … Read more »

April 19, 2015

1 John 3:1-7 “Voices of our Sisters” What a beautiful text from the first letter of John! It is a joy to proclaim those words every time we conduct a baptism: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” We are reminded each time that those words apply both to the child who has just been baptized and joined the family of the church, but they also apply to each and every one of us. At whatever age or stage of life or faith, we are God’s children because God loves us. We may act like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable sometimes, going off in our own directions, doing our own things, and ignoring that most important relationship with our heavenly parent. But that doesn’t stop God from loving us, from longing for us to come home, and from welcoming us with open arms when we do. Our identity as God’s children does not depend on our being perfect, or even being good. But there is a sense that when we abide in God, when we stay close to God and engage in that relationship, that we will be transformed by it. The author of 1st John tells us that we are God’s children now. He speaks of a future time when Christ will be revealed and we will be like him and see him as he is. But in the meantime, we are slowly … Read more »

May 3, 2015

Acts 8:26-40 1 John 4:7-21 “Mission as Evangelism” Have you ever wondered what happened to the Ethiopian man after Philip baptized him beside the road and then disappeared from sight? The story in the Book of Acts doesn’t tell us, but the tradition is that he carried the gospel back home to Ethiopia and founded the church there. I’ve always liked this little story in Acts 8 because it’s very personal – it’s the story of how one person heard and began to understand the good news about Jesus Christ because a believer took the time to listen, to share, and to discuss it with him. But it’s also the story of the gospel going out into all the earth. Once the disciples had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and the power to proclaim the gospel in all the languages of the world, it began to spread… throughout countries and cultures, crossing borders, and being shared from one person to another, from one community to another – the fulfillment of the mission that Jesus gave to his disciples. Even as we gather here to worship nearly two thousand years later, we might pause and give thanks for those first evangelists like Philip, and like the Ethiopian man whose name we don’t even know. Because it was through their witness, through their courage, and through their listening to the Spirit’s guiding that the gospel spread, and eventually that each of us came to know that we are God’s children, … Read more »

May 10, 2015

Acts 10:44-48 1 John 5:1-6 John 15:9-17 “Radical New Inclusion?” When I began to plan for this morning’s worship a few weeks ago, I thought I would preach about the impact of Christian camping. My own experience at a Presbyterian camp as a teenager and young adult had a significant effect on my journey of faith and contributed to the discernment of my call to ministry. A couple of lines in the Gospel passage stood out to me in my reflection… the part where Jesus instructs his disciples to abide in his love by keeping his commandments, and then he tells them, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” I thought especially about how my experience of camping ministry had grounded me in the faith, providing me with patterns of prayer, Bible study, and worship which I have treasured ever since. And I thought about how discovering my vocation as a Christian minister has not made my life simple or easy, but it has filled me with joy and peace many times throughout my life. I thought I might encourage everyone today, not only to send your children and grandchildren to camp, and Vacation Bible School, and youth retreats, and other opportunities for them to be immersed in Christian community, but I hoped to encourage us all to do the same for ourselves. Jesus invites us to immerse ourselves in his love, and his teachings … Read more »

May 17, 2014

Acts 1:1-11 Ephesians 1:15-23 Luke 24:44-53 “Ascended and Present” Tucked away in a corner of most “stained glass” churches is an “Ascension window,” which usually depicts Jesus floating upward in flowing robes while distraught disciples look upward or cover their eyes in fear and anguish. Although we do have the Ascension windows in our churches, most Presbyterians don’t think about or talk about the Ascension very much. It’s an option in the lectionary to read the Ascension texts on the Sunday before Pentecost, and so quite often we miss it altogether, having no special service on Ascension Day, and choosing the 7th Sunday of Easter readings on the Sunday before Pentecost. References to the Ascension are found in many places throughout the New Testament, but the primary texts that describe the Ascension are the two stories that we read today from Luke and Acts. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, Jesus appears to the disciples and speaks to them about the Kingdom of God. He instructs them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit who will make them into witnesses “to the end of the earth.” After this “Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” But as much as the Ascension may seem like a strange, magical — even bizarre story, it’s interesting to note that our forebears in the faith deemed it to be extremely important. In Scripture itself, the story appears in Luke and Acts, and in … Read more »

May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21 John 15:26-27 “Testify!” This morning we are pleased to be receiving new members into our congregation. Some will be publicly professing their faith in God and their desire to follow Jesus with their lives for the first time today. Others will be re-affirming their faith and making a commitment to worship and serve with us here at St. Andrew’s as members of this local congregation of God’s people. As I think about their professions of faith, I can’t help but wonder about the Christians who may have been a part of their journey to this day. I know that others witnessed to them about the love of God in Jesus Christ – maybe their parents or grandparents, maybe good friends, maybe preachers and teachers in their congregations of the past and in this congregation as well. Certainly, the witness about Jesus was present in the Scriptures which they read and considered in a variety of ways over the years. And for all those witnesses of centuries past and times present, I give thanks to God. Perhaps we might all pause this morning to think about who shared the good news with us. Whether it was many years ago or quite recently, whether it was one person who made a big impact on you, or numerous witnesses whose small offerings each contributed to your growing faith and understanding. Let us give thanks today for the Holy Spirit working through those people so that you came to know God in … Read more »

May 31, 2015

John 3:1-17 What I will say to you this morning is based on a sermon by Sheryl Johnson, shared in the KAIROS worship service, “On the Path to Reconciliation.”  The story of Nicodemus that we heard this morning seems fitting in many ways, as this weekend in Ottawa the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is being presented. Both have an air of change about them, and suggest a liminal, threshold time. Jesus tells Nicodemus of his need to be born again, or to be born from above, or to be born anew (all these are possible translations of the original Greek). But he needs a new birth in order to enter heaven. We anticipate that the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, marking the culmination of the process that began in 2008 to deal with the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, will describe the need for a new relationship marked by a new spirit of justice, to be forged between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. In the story from John’s Gospel, Nicodemus seems to come to Jesus in humility and uses the “right” words when speaking to Jesus. He is respectful and deferential, but Jesus seems to have no patience for these niceties and goes straight to the heart of the question of Nicodemus’ salvation. Jesus tells him that he needs to be born a second time to enter the kingdom of heaven. Nicodemus, though wise and learned in a conventional sense, seems … Read more »

June 28, 2015

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43 “Both Hands for God” As I told the children this morning, we might want to think about our two hands as one for reaching up to God for help, and the other for reaching out to care for and help others. In our Gospel reading this morning, we heard two interwoven stories about people reaching up to Jesus for help. An important leader in the synagogue pleads for Jesus’ help because his daughter is about to die. And a poor, sick woman comes up behind Jesus in the crowd, and literally reaches out to touch his clothes, trusting that he will be able to heal her. The reading from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians is about the other hand… the one we are called to use to reach out to others with the love, care, and practical assistance that others may need, and we may be able to provide. Paul notes that the Corinthian Christians excel in many things… in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in eagerness and love… and he also wants them to excel in generosity. He is asking them to provide financial support for another church that is struggling with poverty. He is inviting them to give to the Church at Jerusalem out of their present abundance, to meet the present needs of their sisters and brothers in Christ. Paul does not suggest that they should give to the point of suffering, but he encourages them to put their good intentions … Read more »