January 3, 2016

John 1:1-18 “Light Wins” In her Christmas Message a few weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth spoke about Christmas trees. She showed a picture of her great, great-grandparents’ tree – all decorated and covered with lit candles. She reflected on the fun family tradition of decorating the tree together, and the deeper meaning of the lights shining in the darkness. The queen used her Christmas broadcast to emphasize that light can triumph over darkness after a difficult year. She noted that there have been “moments of darkness” in the last year, which has been marked by extremist attacks and a migrant crisis that has overwhelmed Europe. That’s in addition to continuing conflicts and wars, deepening poverty and hunger in many places, the chaos of weather-related disasters, and a growing awareness of the ecological crisis in our world. Unless we have ignored the news completely, most of us are aware that for many, if not most, of the people of the world 2015 was a very dark and difficult year. The other day when I went to look up the Queen’s Christmas Message online, I came across a strange news story about the taping of this year’s message. When I investigated the website I was looking at, it turned out to be a completely open news site that posts anything and everything that is submitted to it, without verifying the sources or the accuracy. The story claimed that the message that went out was the second take because the Queen went way off … Read more »

January 10, 2016

Isaiah 43:1-7 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 “Be Not Afraid” Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest. I can’t remember when I first heard that song based on this morning’s passage from the prophet Isaiah, but I remember that I was moved and encouraged both by the words and the melody. In the midst of the challenges of life, whatever has the power to make us afraid, the prophet assures us that God goes before us. Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God says to us, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Perhaps you can remember a time when you were afraid. I am thinking of the day many years ago that I discovered a small lump in my breast. I am remembering the time of waiting and worrying before I got the results of the ultrasound. Maybe you are thinking of a similar experience, when your life was in danger or you thought it might be. Maybe you are remembering a time when someone you loved was in trouble, when you feared for their safety, when you were afraid of losing them. Sometimes I think that the scariest thing about these experiences … Read more »

January 17, 2016

John 2:1-11 “Keep the Party Going” On Friday afternoon, the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan gathered for a celebration at Mistawasis Memorial Presbyterian Church on the Mistawasis First Nation. Well, first we had a meeting to do our usual work of overseeing the ministers and congregations within the bounds of our presbytery. But then members of the Mistawasis congregation joined us for a celebratory service led by the Rev. Beverley Shepansky, followed by a potluck supper and a time of fellowship. The reason for the party was to celebrate Bev’s ministry together with the elders and congregation at Mistawasis on the occasion of her retirement. And Bev preached about the Wedding at Cana, about Jesus turning water into wine, and about God saving the best for last… bringing out the best wine at the end of the party, and finally sending Jesus to be God’s loving, incarnate presence in the world. It was a good party, with abundant food, good conversation, gifts shared, thanksgiving expressed, and stories of the ministry recounted with joy. Those of us from Saskatoon didn’t stay too late since we had to drive home on the snowy roads… but it made me think that we Presbyterians ought to get together just for fun a little more often. As a denomination with a reputation for being serious and stern, we need to work a little harder at just having fun together, enjoying God’s blessings, and celebrating the goodness of God, and faith, and community. And the story of … Read more »

January 24, 2016

Nehemiah 3:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Psalm 19 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a “Interpreting the Scriptures Together” The overarching theme in most of this morning’s scripture readings is the scriptures themselves. In particular, it is the question of how we use and interpret the scriptures. The psalmist begins by making it clear that the scriptures are of utmost importance for God’s people. Of course, from the psalmist’s perspective, at least 500 to maybe 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, the scriptures consisted of the Law of Moses, perhaps as gathered together into the Torah — the rough equivalent of the first five books of our Bibles today. The psalmist declares that the Law of the Lord is perfect. God’s decrees and precepts and ordinances are sure, and right, and true altogether. He thinks very highly of these texts and speaks of them with utmost respect and admiration and praise. And it’s not only that God’s commandments are true and right from the perspective of a wise and powerful God. The psalmist is arguing that they are actually useful for those who might read and pay attention to them. God’s laws revive the soul, the psalmist claims. God’s decrees make the reader wise. Paying attention to God’s precepts and commandments brings joy to your heart and light (or understanding) to your eyes. The writer of this psalm feels so strongly about God’s Word that he hungers for it more than rich food or great wealth. It is the greatest gift of all. It was … Read more »

January 31, 2016

1 Corinthians 13 “Practice Love” The Apostle Paul’s words to the Christians at Corinth are beautiful, but often challenging to hear. The middle section especially is difficult, because when I hear those familiar words again, I become immediately aware of how often my own actions and words have betrayed the love to which I am called: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I think of times when I have been grumpy instead of patient. I think of times when I’ve been cruel rather than kind. I think of times when I was more concerned about how I would be perceived than about a situation being resolved. I think of moments of frustration, irritability, and stubbornness, that have not just been a part of my life, but a part of my life this week! There have been times when I have been unwilling to bear with all things. Indeed, I’ve complained, and criticized, corrected and insisted on my own way even when the issue wasn’t all that important. It’s easy to blame such behaviour on being tired or hormonal, or on the stupidity or ridiculousness of the people around me… but the fact is that I, and we, as Christians are called to … Read more »

February 14, 2016

Luke 4:1-13 Psalm 91 “Choosing Better” Today we jump back to almost the beginning of the stories of Jesus, to the time just after Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. His ministry in Galilee had not even begun yet. Just days ago, he had received the Holy Spirit and heard the voice of God from heaven saying to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But before his ministry as the beloved son of God begins, there is a time of trials and temptations. The Spirit, that Jesus had only just received, leads him out into the wilderness, where for forty days he is tempted by the devil. The trials he endured there out in the desert, must have included the heat of the burning sun, the loneliness of his isolation, and the pain of an empty stomach. Just the kind of experience that would get most people to a state of overwhelming self-pity. Just the kind of thing that would prompt most of us to do anything, to sacrifice anything to get back to the relative comforts of home, or at least to get a good meal and a cool glass of water. And while Jesus is in this weakened state, Luke tells us that the devil spoke to him and tempted him three times. “If you are the Son of God,” the evil one taunted him, “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” And Jesus answers with … Read more »

February 28, 2016

Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 “With All Our Hearts” This morning I want to invite you to think about what you love. Perhaps it is that first cup of coffee in the morning, or your favourite dessert. Maybe it’s that wonderful sports team that you root for, or the movie that you’ve watched again and again because you just can’t get enough of it. Maybe you love your music, or your hobby, or the feeling of satisfaction you get when you have done your work well. Of course, I am sure that there are some people that you love truly and deeply. Perhaps your spouse, your children, your best friend. You love them so much that your heart aches when you are apart. You love them so much that you are filled with anxiety when they are hurting or in danger. Today’s psalm gives us an idea of what that kind of love sounds like when it is directed towards God. The psalmist writes: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… your steadfast love is better than life… My soul clings to you…” I wonder how many of us got up this morning thinking, “Oh, how I need God today! I can’t wait to jump out of bed and get myself to church so that I can spend time with God, and listen for God, and praise … Read more »

March 6, 2016

Joshua 5:9-12 Psalm 32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 “Everything Has Become New!” We have some great scripture readings today, for this fourth Sunday in Lent, on the theme of reconciliation. As a season in which we are invited to prayer, confession, and returning to God, these are wonderful readings. In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, we are reminded that no matter what our history, no matter how many poor decisions we have made, no matter how irresponsible we have been, no matter how far we have run from God, God welcomes us home. God runs to us, embraces us, and treats us like precious children once again. Psalm 32 also encourages us to come back to God when we have strayed. It points out the peace and joy that we can experience when we are forgiven, noting the gnawing guilt and shame we often feel before we admit our mistakes, and the relief that comes from being honest and getting things off our chest. In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul explains that God does not count our sins against us, but freely invites us to be reconciled through Christ. Paul himself has experienced the joy of being forgiven, turning his life away from persecuting Christians towards a new mission of bringing the good news of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles alike. And now God has given him a ministry of reconciliation – encouraging others to turn to God as well, and to experience … Read more »

March 13, 2016

Philippians 3:4b-14 “Striving for Christ” How are you doing with your life? Would you say that you have achieved your goals? Would you say that you have been successful? Do you have the life you hoped for? The career you strived for? The status you reached for? The family you worked for? Have you made the contributions that you wanted to make to the church, the community, and the world? However you may answer those questions… whether you are feeling good about your accomplishments, or whether you are discouraged by challenges and setbacks, I want to invite you today to consider what is truly valuable in your life. What are you striving for? What are your goals? And do they match up with what God wants for your life? A little over a year ago, we had a visit from the Moderator of the 140th General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church in Canada, and at the evening service here at St. Andrew’s, Stephen Farris preached on today’s text from Philippians. Whenever I read this text again, I’ll likely remember Stephen dramatically walking back and forth at the front of the church, just a few steps in each direction, demonstrating the small space Paul would have been living in when he wrote his letter to the Church at Philippi. Paul was in prison. He’d lost everything, and his life was in danger. Just think, Paul used to be free. He used to be an important person – a person with status … Read more »

March 20, 2016

Luke 19:28-40 Psalm 118:1-4, 19-29 “Thy Kingdom Come” When Palm Sunday comes around each year, we buy some palm branches and we re-enact Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The crowds sang, “Hosanna” and hailed him as the king. They shouted out their praise, laid their cloaks along his path, and waved palm branches in the air. Some congregations gather outside their church buildings on Palm Sunday. They pass out the palms, and everyone parades down the street and up into the church. In other churches, I have heard, they have someone dressed as Jesus, and someone with some farm animals offers a donkey for Jesus to ride on. In one congregation that I used to attend, we got up part way through the worship service, and had a parade around the neighbourhood. Some people played their instruments, we all sang lots of “Hosannas”, and we witnessed our faith in Christ to the people who heard and saw us pass by. But no matter how elaborate our rituals become around Palm Sunday, I always have the feeling that we’re not as enthusiastic or as excited as the crowd would have been on that day when Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Some might say that it’s because we’re Presbyterians. Even on Palm Sunday, we tend to relate to Jesus more intellectually than emotionally. We’re not used to waving our hands around as we worship — let alone waving palm branches and marching along. Sometimes I envy the youngest children among us — or … Read more »

March 27, 2016

John 20:1-18 “My Father and Your Father” Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Church rejoice and sing this Easter Day! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!] We’ve heard the Easter story many times before. It’s told in all the Gospels. It’s repeated in many of the letters of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the story that is the foundation of our faith. It’s the story that gives shape to our life as Christians. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We believe that Jesus was killed on a cross, but that he didn’t stay dead. God raised him on the third day. His body was not stolen. It was raised. We believe that he was the first to be raised, but that all will be raised on the last day. God is more powerful than death. Death is not the end. This is the Good News of Easter, and this is what we believe. And so, as did the first disciples who witnessed the resurrection, we tell the story. We tell it over and over… Easter after Easter, Sunday after Sunday. After years of preaching, many ministers have admitted that it becomes difficult to find fresh ways of telling the story. We are fortunate, in that the story is rich. It is filled with people, and questions, and insights upon which to reflect. There’s Mary and her worrying, the disciples running, the empty tomb, the linen wrappings rolled up. There are the angels, … Read more »

April 3, 2016

John 20:19-31 “The Benefit of the Doubt” Oh, Thomas! Poor Thomas! He has been permanently labeled a “doubter” by two millennia of history books, sermons, cartoons, and theological writings in the Christian tradition. A cartoon by Joshua Harris has Thomas crying out, “All I’m saying is we don’t call Peter ‘denying Peter.’” Poor Thomas seems only to be remembered for this morning’s Gospel story in which he misses Jesus’ appearance to the other disciples in the locked room on Easter Sunday evening, declares his doubt, and then receives the benefit of a repeat performance by Jesus eight days later so that Thomas can see for himself and believe. But this isn’t the first time that Thomas shows up in the Gospel of John. He speaks way back in the eleventh chapter just after Jesus and the disciples get the news that Lazarus has died. Most of the disciples don’t want to go back to Judea where some people had attempted to stone Jesus, but Thomas is willing to go no matter what challenges they may encounter there. Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” A few chapters later, Thomas speaks up again. This time Jesus is explaining that he is going to be killed, but then he will be raised, and he will go ahead of the disciples to the heavenly home that God is preparing for them all. When Jesus assures them that they all know the way to the place he is going, … Read more »

April 10, 2016

John 21:1-19 “Do you love me?” In this Season of Easter, we read and remember the wonderful stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Luke’s Gospel has him appear to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, and Matthew says he appeared to a bunch of disciples together on the top of a mountain. According to John, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene in the cemetery, then to the disciples in a locked room. And in his final appearance, Jesus serves breakfast to his disciples on a beach, and has a heart-rending conversation with Peter. What a strange conversation it is – with Jesus, a full-grown man, asking his full-grown fisherman friend, Peter, if he loves him. Not just asking once… but again and again. It sounds like the kind of thing that a sad or needy child asks a mum or dad: “Do you love me?” “Yes, of course I love you,” comes the response along with a smile and a hug of reassurance. You are safe. You are loved. You are mine. But I don’t think that’s what is going on here. Jesus doesn’t need reassurance from Peter. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Jesus is reassuring Peter that Jesus still loves him. After all, Peter is the one who denied knowing Jesus three times when Jesus was arrested. Peter is the one who ran away when Jesus was crucified. Peter is the one who failed to show his love when his friend was in trouble. Did you … Read more »

May 1, 2016

Acts 16:9-15 Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 “Making Plans” This is the time of year at St. Andrew’s when we are busy making plans. It may not seem that obvious just from attending worship here on Sundays, but behind the scenes, in the committees and groups, and among the staff of the church, plans are being hatched. As many of you likely know, our congregation makes plans on a yearly basis. The committees of Session (like Worship, Christian Education, and Outreach), set goals in the Spring, and bring them to Session for approval at the beginning of May. They write up reports of their activities over the past year for the Program Report, and highlight their new plans in the form of goals that are presented at the Annual Program Meeting at the end of May. Things usually get a little quieter over the summer, and then we all get to work again in September to put our plans into action throughout the year. Once in a while, we also get the congregation together to do some deeper reflection and longer-term planning for our mission and ministry. At one such gathering quite a few years ago, St. Andrew’s wrote and embraced a mission statement: “St. Andrew’s exists to proclaim the gospel and share the love of God in our church and in our community.” And at other such gatherings, new ideas for pastoral care, outreach, and stewardship of gifts have been formulated and put into practice in the years following. … Read more »

May 8, 2016

Acts 16:16-34 Psalm 97 John 17:20-26 “God’s Fire” When I read this morning’s Psalm earlier this week, I kind of shuddered. It was the imagery of fire, and lightning, and mountains melting like wax that caused that reaction. As I thought about the terrible fire burning in Fort McMurray, the power of the flames struck me as immense. I heard a fire chief on CBC radio describing the fires that continued to rage in Fort Mac. He explained that there were some sections and neighbourhoods of the city that were untouched by the fires, but that might not last. The fire is powerful and determined, and it will find those areas, he explained. It wants to find those areas. I don’t know what experience the psalmist had with fire, whether he had seen a blaze grow out of control, or lost his home to a terrible fire, but I think he understood the power, determination, and danger of a fire. But instead of describing tyrants or evil powers as being like fires that seek to destroy our lives and livelihoods, the psalmist instead describes the Lord our God as being like fire. He writes: “Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.” As we think about the challenges we … Read more »

May 15, 2016

Acts 2:1-21 John  14:8-17, 25-27 “The Gift of Remembering” How are you at remembering? Are you good at remembering faces and names? Do you retain the details of what you read in the newspaper or hear on the news? Can you remember what’s in your schedule for later today or next week on a specific day? Do you usually remember things like birthdays and anniversaries, or do you need someone to remind you? More and more, these days… (Perhaps it’s something that goes along with aging or hanging around with older people…) I hear people complaining that they can’t remember the things they want to remember. The names of friends or relations just won’t come to mind. Someone’s in the middle of a story, goes off on a tangent, and can’t remember what the point of the narrative was supposed to be. And one of the most annoying things for busy people… you get up from what you’re doing, rush to another room in your house or workplace, and stop in your tracks. You can’t remember what you were going to do. It seems to me that when we have trouble remembering, there are a few possible reactions. We can beat ourselves up about it. Wallow in the guilty feeling of missing an appointment or an event. Put ourselves down when we can’t remember someone’s name. Maybe give up any responsibilities we may have that will require us to use our memories in any significant way. But another possibility is … Read more »

May 22, 2016

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15 “Joy of heaven to earth come down” Welcome to Trinity Sunday – the first Sunday after Pentecost each year. Trinity Sunday is unusual. Most of the special Sundays in the church year are about an event in time – Jesus being born (Christmas), the arrival of the wise men from the East (Epiphany), Jesus being baptized (Baptism of the Lord Sunday), Jesus being raised from the dead (Easter), the Holy Spirit being poured out on the church (Pentecost). But this special Sunday is not about celebrating a particular event or moment in salvation history. Instead, it’s about a doctrine. It’s about one of the foundational beliefs of the Christian Church. It’s about Trinity – the teaching that God is three, traditionally expressed as Father, Son, and Spirit, but that God is still just one God. Now apart from the fact that it’s very difficult to work out the math, it’s a difficult topic to preach about because the contours of the argument are extremely subtle. The greatest intellects in the world have had trouble with this one, so there’s not much chance of me explaining it this morning. I am thinking about the many conversations I’ve had over the years about the Trinity, and I’m especially remembering one that took place at the Women’s Breakfast some years ago. About 20 women gathered for breakfast, conversation, and a little study. The women from McKercher Presbyterian Church had planned the Bible study, and … Read more »

May 29, 2016 – Program Presentation

This year the Session decided to include the Annual Program Meeting in Sunday worship. The convenors of the Program Committees (Christian Education, Outreach, Pastoral Care, Stewardship, and Worship) presented a skit to share about their activities over the past year and to present their program goals for 2016-2017. The skit was inspired by 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, in which Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians not to argue over who has the best spiritual gifts, but to value all the variety of members and their spiritual gifts that make up the Body of Christ.

June 12, 2016

Luke 7:36-50 “God is Merciful” A woman like the one in today’s Gospel story invites us to use our imaginations. We might imagine what she has done to earn such a bad reputation. Maybe she is a prostitute. Maybe she is a thief. Maybe she is considered to be a traitor to her Jewish neighbours, cooperating with the Roman occupiers. Maybe she is the daughter or wife of a tax collector. We might also imagine the woman’s name. Perhaps Jezebel – a Hebrew name meaning “one who is not noble.” Or maybe her name is Lilith, meaning “woman of the night.” Or it could be Mariana – “rebellious woman.” But what if, instead of imagining the woman’s many sins, we imagined the moment when she was forgiven. I am remembering another story in which an unnamed woman is about to be stoned for adultery. Jesus tells her accusers to go ahead – “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” I wonder… was this that same woman, forgiven and set free to go and sin no more? Or maybe she was just one of the prostitutes with whom Jesus shared a meal when he was passing through her village. After all, Jesus’ enemies often accused him of eating with tax collectors and other sinners. We can only guess at the circumstances that led her into such an occupation, but likely she struggled with poverty, perhaps homelessness, or just a bad reputation … Read more »

June 19, 2016

1 Corinthians 13 1 John 4:7-12 “The Fruit of the Spirit is LOVE” The photograph on the front of this morning’s bulletin shows a boy named Jake, in the midst of a great leap off the dock into Lac Castor – Beaver Lake. I know that lake well, as it’s the lake at Gracefield Camp – the Presbyterian camp that I attended as a child and worked at for many years as a young adult. The picture was chosen to mark the beginning of the Christian camping season and the goodness of God’s creation coming alive at this time of year, but what I noticed about it was the boy’s leap! He looks so confident and free… trusting that the water won’t be too shallow for such a leap, or too cold for a little boy, or too full of strange creatures like fish, or turtles, or leaches, or lake sharks! The boy’s confident leap makes me think about the leaps that we adults are invited to make, and about which we often show a great deal more hesitation… things like buying a first home, starting up a business, deciding to change careers, embarking on a new ministry, or getting married. Pope Francis remarked this week that the vast majority of young people getting married today don’t truly understand the meaning or significance of the commitment that they are making to each other. It’s like they are children, leaping into a lake without checking the depth, or the temperature, or … Read more »