January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-20 Psalm 139 John 1:43-51 “Rare Words from God” “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” That was part of the introduction to the story about the prophet Samuel… Samuel as a young boy, when he first began to listen for God’s voice and share God’s words with the people and their leaders. I wonder if people might say something similar about the days in which we live now. I wonder if you would say that it is rare to hear God’s word today, that there are many, many words and messages being proclaimed in print, on TV, through the internet and social media, but that hearing God’s word in the midst of all of those other words is rare, indeed. The story of Samuel’s calling serves as a reminder for us that God does indeed speak. Even when we have begun to think that messages from God are rare or even impossible, God continues to call. The question is whether we are listening and able to recognize God’s voice. When Samuel figures out (with Eli’s help) that it may be God who is speaking to him in the quiet of the night, and he says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I love how God begins the message he has for Samuel. God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.” Interesting, huh? What God is … Read more »

January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 Mark 1:14-20 “A Moment and a Lifetime” I wonder if you can remember the moment when your journey with Jesus began. I know some people who can name that moment, when they first prayed and asked Christ to come into their heart, when they first decided that they wanted the focus of their lives to change, and were ready to embrace the “Jesus Way” of living in the world. It’s a moment like that in the lives of some of Jesus’ first disciples that we hear about in our Gospel reading today. Simon and Andrew were fishing that day. James and John were in their boat, mending their fishing nets. Jesus came along and issued an invitation: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And they did. When Jesus was choosing his disciples they sure didn’t stop to tie their shoes.They left all their nets with no regrets for a calling that they could not refuse. Lord, I will follow you wherever you may go.I want to be a reaper of the seeds you sow. We hear the story about that key moment when the first disciples made the decision to drop their nets, leave their usual routines, and follow Jesus in ministry. And doesn’t it make you wonder about what came before that moment? Was Jesus really a total stranger to these fishermen, who interrupted their work and told them that their new occupation would be “fishing for people” from now on? If … Read more »

January 28, 2018

Acts 26:9-23 “Converted to Ecumenism” This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Regina on the occasion of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Audio recording available here. Thank you for the invitation to worship with you here at St. Paul’s, and to reflect on God’s word to us today. I have been the minister at First Presbyterian Church for the last 6 months, and I have appreciated the welcome and connection with other downtown clergy, including Mike, since arriving in Regina. I am honoured to be with your community as you celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. As an ecumenist, I love the fact that this is also the day when you welcome the delegation from Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Cathedral for your Week of Prayer for Christian Unity exchange. And I hope that they won’t be disappointed to be hearing from a Presbyterian rather than an Anglican. Given the special theme of this day, and the first reading from the Book of Acts, I would like to reflect on “conversion” today. Perhaps only a small number of us have a dramatic story of conversion like the Apostle Paul. He started off persecuting Christians (back when his name was Saul) – locking them up, condemning them to death, pursuing them to foreign cities. But then Saul had an encounter with Christ. He saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around him and his companions, and then he heard the … Read more »

February 4, 2018

Isaiah 40:21-31 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Mark 1:29-39 “Immediately Rest! Immediately Serve!” The Revised Common Lectionary is a 3-year cycle of readings for Sunday worship, and this is Year B – the year that focusses on Mark’s Gospel. That means that we’ll be reading lots of short passages from Mark this year, like the one I just read. And I do mean SHORT! Compared to the other Gospels, the stories in Mark are very brief. They tell us about what happened, but leave out any superfluous details or interpretation. I suggested a couple of weeks ago that the Gospel of Mark would be a good choice of a Gospel to read straight through to get a sense of Jesus’ whole life and ministry. After all, Mark’s version is the shortest, and yet it does tell the whole story. I think Mark’s Gospel is a good fit for the pace of our contemporary society. More than any generation before us, we are used to moving through life at a fast pace. We go from one communication to the next, from one activity to the next, from one meeting to the next with amazing speed. And many of us are getting better and better at doing more than one thing at a time even – multi-tasking is a most valuable skill! Sure, we complain that our attention spans are getting shorter because of our new culture of quickly-changing images and brief sound bites, but Mark’s Gospel seems particularly well-suited to the pace of … Read more »

February 11, 2018

Mark 9:2-9 “Spitting Image” Earlier this week, as I was reading about and reflecting on the Gospel story about Jesus’ transfiguration, I titled my sermon for today, “Spitting Image.” I hadn’t written the sermon yet, but I was thinking about how the transfiguration on the mountaintop served as a revelation for the disciples. It was an apocalyptic event – an experience in which something that was previously hidden was gloriously revealed to them for the first time. And that new understanding was the reality that Jesus was God’s very own son. Not only did his clothes shine with a heavenly light, and the great prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with him in splendour, but God’s voice clearly declared to the disciples, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!” They had already witnessed some pretty amazing stuff from Jesus with miracles, and healings, and wise teachings that baffled them. But now, his true identity was being revealed in a way that they could not ignore. Jesus is God’s own Beloved Son. He is the “spitting image” of the Creator, standing right in front of them on the mountain, and walking beside them day by day. This morning the choir sang, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King,” and I thought I would preach about the gift of God’s revealing God-self to us in the human person of Jesus Christ. And I thought I would preach about how each of us also – as God’s beloved children, … Read more »

February 25, 2018

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 “Covenant Love” This morning I want to talk about “Covenant Love.” It’s a pervasive theme throughout the Bible, and it shows up in our reading today from the Book of Genesis about God’s covenant with Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants. We should remind ourselves that a covenant is a promise or a vow made between people. It’s not quite the same as a contract that is signed as an agreement for services rendered and payment required, with legal consequences when it is broken. But a covenant is a serious vow or promise made between people to live together in committed relationship with faithfulness and love. And “covenant” is the primary way that God establishes relationships with human beings. During the Season of Lent in Year B, the Revised Common Lectionary provides us with texts from the Hebrew Scriptures each Sunday that highlight God’s covenant relationship with us as God’s people. Last Sunday’s text (which we skipped in order to highlight PWS&D Sunday instead) was about God’s covenant with Noah. Although human beings had become so terrible and evil that God flooded the earth to wipe them out and start again, God promised that he wouldn’t do that again. Recognizing that humans would undoubtedly make more mistakes and do wrong things, God nonetheless determined to stick by us in faithfulness and mercy, covenanting with us, making the promise not to destroy the earth. Today we heard about God’s covenant with Sarah and Abraham, inviting them to walk before … Read more »

March 4, 2018

Exodus 20:1-17 John 2:13-22 “The Gift of the 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 … Read more »

March 11, 2018

Ephesians 2:1-10 John 3:14-21 “Grace to Practice” This year, I decided to begin a new activity. During my holidays after Christmas, I tried out a bunch of different yoga classes to see if yoga would be a good exercise program to add to my routine. I have to admit that I didn’t embark on doing yoga for spiritual reasons. I really just wanted a way to strengthen my core muscles and avoid some lower back pain issues that I was having some time ago. But after trying out a few different classes, I settled on a Holy Yoga class that is offered at one of the churches here in Regina, and I began to think about what I was doing as more than just an exercise program. Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Yoga gurus from India introduced yoga to the West in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core. The class that I am attending is described as “Holy Yoga” or we might say, “Christian Yoga.” On the Holy Yoga website, it explains that, “We know that yoga is a spiritual discipline much like fasting, meditation, and prayer that … Read more »

March 18, 2018

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? We talked about it just a couple of weeks ago. 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 … Read more »

March 25, 2018

Mark 11:1-11 Mark 15 Philippians 2:5-11 “The Reason You Walk” It was the choir’s anthem for today, the American Spiritual “Ride On, King Jesus,” that got me thinking about Jesus’ journey through Holy Week. It was chosen innocently enough, as an anthem about the Triumphal Entry. But when Bill invited me to share with the choir about how the anthem would fit into the service on Palm Sunday, I started to realize that it was about more than just the Palm Parade. “Ride on, King Jesus,” we sang, “No one can hinder him.” And we pictured Jesus on the donkey and the crowds laying down their cloaks and branches like a red carpet for the King. But the repeated words, “No one can hinder him” seemed odd, because no one was trying to get in his way or stop him from entering Jerusalem that day. The crowds cheered for him and hailed him as their King! They cried out “Hosanna!” – “Lord, save us!” because they believed (at least for a moment) that he was the ruler who had come to save them from their oppressors. What I suggested to the choir was that the journey of Jesus in the song is not just the entry into Jerusalem. It points ahead to the next part of his journey, through betrayal, arrest, denial, and all the way to the cross. And do you remember who tried to hinder him in making that journey? His own disciples did! When Jesus told his … Read more »

March 30, 2018

Psalm 22 John 18-19 “God Has Done It” We have four Gospels, and each of the Evangelists tells the story of Jesus in their own way. We don’t have to choose which one “got it right” but we receive the richness of the Christian tradition from them, recognizing that God speaks to us and shows us truth through each of their accounts. On Passion Sunday, I reflected on Mark’s telling of the story. That’s the version in which Jesus quotes from Psalm 22 when he is dying on the cross. In a moment of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain, he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We hear his agony and despair as he experiences the horror of crucifixion, and there is the suggestion that he is actually cut off from God. But Psalm 22 is not only a psalm of lament or despair. If you read a little more than the first line, as we did this morning, you will hear the psalmist express lament, call for help from God, and remember God’s faithfulness and love. If, in Mark’s account of the gospel, we noticed Jesus’ connection to the lament of the psalmist as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, in John’s account that we heard today, we might notice his connection to the psalmist’s expressions of hope and trust in God. After crying out desperately, the psalmist reminds himself of his ancestors, saying “In you our ancestors … Read more »

April 1, 2018

Mark 16:1-8 “Will you be my witnesses?” “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 … Read more »

April 15, 2018

Luke 24:36b-48 “Witnesses of God’s Peace” I’ve been in those ICU waiting rooms in the basement at the Royal University Hospital many times over the years. They’re the places where the families gather, and wait, and pray when their loved ones are in crisis due to very serious illness or injury. There’s a lot of pacing that goes on in those rooms, as well as tears being shed, food being shared, and hands being held as loved ones hover on the brink between life and death. Usually only one or two visitors are allowed into the ICU to visit the seriously-ill patients at times when their presence won’t get in the way of the work that is being done. And the rest of the time, family members, friends, and often clergy spend time in the waiting rooms or the hallways… waiting, worrying, hoping, and praying. I can only imagine what it has been like in those waiting rooms over the last week since the Humboldt Broncos’ bus accident. But I’m praying for all the people who are spending their time there in these days. Certainly, those families have experienced an outpouring of support from the people of Saskatchewan and from others further afield – people putting their sticks out, wearing hockey jerseys to indicate that we’re all on the same team, and financially supporting the families through the Go-Fund-Me campaign. But even all of that won’t change the stress, and strain, and worry of those who still wait in those … Read more »

April 22, 2018

Psalm 23 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18 “One Flock, One Shepherd” We are glad to welcome the Sons (& daughters) of Scotland to our worship today to participate in a special Kirkin’ of the Tartans, and to share food, and fellowship, and Scottish country dancing after the service. I have never led a Kirkin’ before, but I remember my home congregation in Ottawa hosting this service when I was a teenager. St. Giles Presbyterian Church (where I grew up) was a very Scottish congregation. Actually, by the time I was there, it was becoming more culturally diverse, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s, my understanding is that the church was an important place for Scottish folk to gather. Almost everyone was Scottish, and going to the Presbyterian Church was a great way to connect. In the 1980’s and 90’s there was still a remnant of the Scottish crowd, and I remember lots of Scottish accents among the older members of our church. And I was Scottish too (kinda)… a bit Scottish, a bit Irish, a bit Welsh, and a bit English. But I had a Scottish name, at least. When we did the Kirkin’ of the Tartans, I remember my parents being a bit critical of it. “We’re not a Scottish club!” they complained. “We’re a church! And many of us aren’t Scottish anymore. We have people from many different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.” But even if the Kirkin’ of the Tartans is clearly a Scottish tradition, I think it’s … Read more »

April 29, 2018

Acts 8:26-40 John 15:1-8 “The Source” Oh, my goodness! This is a difficult time in which to live. Perhaps every generation says that, as we experience the challenges of life and the troubles of the world around us. But right now, it just seems that we are faced with one tragedy after another, so much senseless violence, and no end in sight! The Rev. Matthew Sams, who serves at Willowdale Presbyterian Church, just around the corner from the van attack in Toronto that killed 10 people last week, wrote and shared this prayer last Monday: Mangled Crumpled Twisted Bloody Screeching Silent weeping Hands clasping Hearts racing… Knees bent in service to comfort the wounded Knees bent in prayer to summon peace Sitting on my couch, the news is on, a curtain torn in the temple of my heart admitting the world’s pain. Death has its own schedule A withered hand reaching in to steal away life But you, you are the giver of life Therefore, we lift up to you those who have died on this day when violence erupted. There is no making sense of their death, there is no justice available in this moment. Yet may those who love them be comforted. There will be no raising today as for the sons of the widows of Zarephath and of Nain. Yet we are a people who know about Death. All our hope rests in Christ, the first fruits of the Resurrection. We lift up to you those whose … Read more »

May 13, 2018

Acts 1:1-11 Luke 24:44-53 Ephesians 1:15-23 “Stay with me, Mummy!” In the church today, we celebrate Ascension Sunday – remembering the day that the Risen Jesus was taken up into heaven. In the world today, we celebrate Mothers’ Day – giving thanks for the women who nurtured, loved, and protected us in our growing up, and perhaps still today. The two celebrations are not related, but they happen to land on the same day this year, inviting us to make connections between our faith and our family life. We may note that God is often described as being like a heavenly Father to us – providing for our needs, loving us unconditionally, guiding and directing us to become the faithful people he hopes we will be. But the Bible does not refer to God exclusively in masculine metaphors. There are, albeit few, feminine metaphors used to describe God in the Bible too. One of the common images is God as a mother bird sheltering her children under her wings. We see this in Ruth 2:12 – “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” The psalms also pick up this mother bird image, like in Psalm 57 where the psalmist prays, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” And then Jesus uses the same metaphor when he laments over Jerusalem. He says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets … Read more »

May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21 Romans 8:22-27 John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15 “We Will Testify to Love” Today we celebrate Pentecost as a festival of the Christian church. The roots of Pentecost however, predate the events of Acts chapter 2, as Pentecost was one of three major pilgrimage festivals in Judaism. In today’s reading from the Book of Acts, there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem because they had all come for the great pilgrimage festival of Pentecost. The name “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek prefix pente – meaning “five” or “fifty.” According to Deuteronomy 16, this festival (which was sometimes called the “Festival of Weeks”) took place fifty days after Passover. It marked the completion of the grain harvest that came in late spring. In later Judaism, Pentecost also became a time when the people celebrated God’s giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, thus creating a new covenant community. But on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, something spectacular happened that transformed the meaning of that festival for followers of Jesus and established an important Christian celebration for centuries to come: “When the day of Pentecost had come, [Jesus’ disciples] were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled … Read more »

May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17 “Adopted” On the Sunday after Pentecost each year, we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We take one Sunday to ponder that mysterious doctrine of the church – the one that says that God is One-in-Three, Three-in-One; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet, still One God. “Where does it say that in the Bible?” you may ask. And that would be a very good question for a Christian to ask. You probably didn’t notice any mention of “Trinity”, or a “Triune God”, or “Father, Son, & Holy Spirit” in this morning’s readings. And the readings we heard this morning were specifically chosen from the Revised Common Lectionary for Trinity Sunday. But the truth is that there are no passages in the Bible that specifically explain, or lay out, or even name the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is a later theological explanation by the early church, a later articulation by Christians as they grappled with the content of the Scriptures and how they had experienced God coming to them first as God the Father, then as the divine Son, Jesus, and finally in the powerful, comforting, inspiring, challenging presence of the Holy Spirit within, between, and among God’s people. Here is how “Living Faith” – our church’s statement of Christian belief – describes the Triune God. There is one true Godwhom to know is life eternal,whom to serve is joy and peace.God has created all that is.The whole universe testifiesto the majesty and power of its … Read more »

June 4, 2018 (144th General Assembly of the PCC)

This sermon was presented to the 144th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada at its meeting in Waterloo, Ontario, as part of the Monday morning worship on the first full day of the Assembly. Acts 4:32-37 “Inconceivable” “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and [one] soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions…” As the psalmist would say, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” But really! Do you think it was really like that in the early church? Someone asks that every time we have a Bible study on Acts chapter 4, don’t they? Did they literally share everything they had with each other? Or is that just an idealized memory of what the early church was like? It is difficult to imagine a group of people so dedicated to the wellbeing of the community that they give up everything they have for the good of each and every other person. But even if it was true back then, we are well aware that it hasn’t been true for a very, very long time. The conflicts and divisions in the church got started almost right away, with disagreements about doctrine, conflicts about different gifts, and sometimes a certain degree of unwillingness to fully give and share with the whole community. And since those earliest days, the church’s history has been marked by one break or schism after another… East from West, Reformed from … Read more »

June 10, 2018

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 “We Do Not Lose Heart” As most of you know, I attended the General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church in Canada earlier this week in Waterloo, Ontario. And it was an interesting time. It was a busy time for me because I had a lot to do during the meeting. I had responsibilities as Convenor of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee. I also served as a Chaplain to commissioners, preached at the Monday morning worship, and assisted with introducing a consensus decision-making process for one part of the meeting. I wasn’t slated to be a voting commissioner at the Assembly, but then the Rev. Lip Boon Lee from Moosomin broke her foot, so I ended up being a commissioner as well. It was a wonderful Assembly in some ways – with inspiring worship, an excellent Moderator, good food including lots of fruits and vegetables, which I appreciate, and some wonderful opportunities to connect with colleagues and old friends from across the country. But it was also a very difficult Assembly. Although I came prepared to preach about the call to unity in diversity, I still struggled with the severity of the theological division in our denomination. I made a plea for those with differing convictions about same-sex marriage to accept their differences and make space for each other within the church, but there was still a huge amount of animosity and many people determined to have their view point win out. Lots of commissioners at the … Read more »