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 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 »

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 »

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 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 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 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 »

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 »

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 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 »

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 »

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 … Read more »

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 »

December 24, 2017 (evening)

Luke 2:1-20 Psalm 96 “What Happens in Bethlehem” You’ve heard the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? One of my favourite Twitter hashtags is an alternate version of that saying: “What happens in Bethlehem doesn’t stay in Bethlehem.” The story of Christ’s birth reminds us in a wonderful way that when God became flesh and entered our world as an infant, God was born in a particular place, to an ordinary family, and the news was made known to regular, working-class people who were nearby. God’s entrance was not made with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but he was born in a little town, in a stable out back of someone’s house, where very few people would notice. But we are also reminded that God’s coming into the world in this way changed the lives of those he encountered, and eventually it changed the whole world. What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem. In many ways, I expect that this has been a pretty normal year in and around First Presbyterian Church. But it has also been a remarkable year, for me especially. A new minister for you has meant at least a few changes. And a new congregation, and home, and city, has meant a lot of changes for me. But it’s all very manageable change, when you think about it. We’ve all been through bigger changes than this, haven’t we? At Christmas, I can’t help but think about families experiencing the wonderful change of … Read more »

December 24, 2017 (morning)

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 Luke 1:26-38 “At Home in a Tent” As we lit the Candle of Love this morning, we read: “For God so loved the world… that the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us.” Literally, that phrase from John’s Gospel, chapter 1, could be translated as “God tented among us.” The implications of that decision on God’s part, to come and be with us in the world are absolutely astounding! And it is because of that decision – because of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ – that we worship and celebrate at Christmas each year. Our reading this morning from the Hebrew Scriptures may seem unusual for a Christmas service. Indeed, we are much more used to hearing readings from the prophets about a child who is expected to be born, about a king or messiah who will come and bring hope, freedom, and joy to God’s People Israel. But today’s reading is not from one of the prophets, but it’s back in the historical books, in 2nd Samuel – a reading about King David. Yes, there is a prophet involved in the story. The prophet Nathan, who advised and guided King David, teaching him and correcting him when he began to stray from God’s will. At this point in the story, David has fairly recently been anointed as King of the United Kingdom of Israel, and Jerusalem has been made the capital city of the Kingdom. David has brought the Ark … Read more »

December 17, 2017

John 1:6-8, 19-28 “Testify to the Light” Have you heard about the war on Christmas? It’s the idea that Western secular society is out to stop any religious celebration of Christmas by banning the use of the word itself in the public sphere, by calling “Christmas trees” “Holiday trees,” and making sure that the carols sung in public places are appropriately secular. Some particularly right-wing Christians are calling it a “war” on Christmas, and they’re actively engaged in the fight to keep Christ in Christmas. All this controversy about Christmas is an interesting development in the last few years because religious celebrations of Christ’s birth have always been held side-by-side with secular or pagan customs. Even the choice of December 25th for Christmas was not because Christians knew the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but because it seemed appropriate to hold a Christian celebration while others were marking the Winter Solstice. Things like Christmas trees, Christmas wreaths, and Yule logs were incorporated into Christian celebrations from the Winter Solstice holiday called, “Yule.” Back in the 17th century, there was another controversy about Christmas. Puritan Christians in England wanted to purify Christianity by removing elements that they viewed as pagan because they were not biblical in origin. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting. They considered Christmas, “a popish festival with no biblical justification,” and a time of wasteful and immoral behaviour. Protests followed as pro-Christmas rioting broke out in … Read more »

December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 Mark 1:1-8 “Let all around us be peace” Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet, Peace within us, peace over us, let us around us be peace. Advent is an appropriate season to spend time in prayer for peace. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this busy month, we might pray for moments of peace, quiet, and calm in which to experience the presence of God in our lives. And we could pray for the gift of peace for those whose schedules keep them running, or whose “to do” lists are too long to complete in these few weeks. Remembering those who are weighed down by heavy responsibilities and stressful situations, we might pray for the gift of peace that relieves stress and reduces anxiety. We could pray for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, as well as for those who are experiencing stress-inducing circumstances. It would be appropriate also, for us to pray for peace in the lives of those who are struggling with brokenness in their relationships – for couples who feel stuck in cycles of conflict, for parents and children who cannot see eye to eye, for siblings, cousins, friends, and colleagues who are mis-communicating, mis-understanding, and so desperately need God’s help for reconciliation and peace. We might also think of so many people who are longing for peace in their own minds and hearts. For those wracked with guilt, we could pray for God’s forgiveness … Read more »

December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37 “While We Wait” December can be such a busy month, can’t it? Between concerts and Christmas parties, shopping and preparing for family gatherings, many of us are run off our feet during this season. I appreciate the fact that church meetings tend to slow down in December, but with planning for special services and high expectations at this time of year, pastors too can miss the call to slow down, wait, and reflect on the birth of Christ into our world. This morning’s Scripture readings, however, call all of us to a time of waiting and watching. For what must we wait and watch? Well, the texts remind us of the time when God’s people were waiting for a Messiah – for a Saviour to come and bring them freedom and peace. The prophet Isaiah expressed the deep longing – almost desperation – of his people when he cried out to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” And the psalmist likewise prayed for God’s salvation, asking God to hear the people’s prayers, and let his face shine on them, and restore them to fullness of life and safety. Of course, when we move into the New Testament, we know that those hopes and prayers have been fulfilled in the coming of Christ, in the birth of Jesus our Lord and Saviour. And yet, our readings today from the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s letter to … Read more »

November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 Ephesians 1:15-23 Matthew 25:31-46 “Thin Sheep, Fat Sheep, This Sheep, That Sheep”  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty used to all this sheep and shepherd imagery in the Bible. Granted, it’s not exactly something I have a lot of experience with – sheep, or farm animals in general. But I think I get the picture of what it’s all about. The shepherd cares for the sheep. Makes sure they’re fed. Protects them from predators. Leads them to green pastures and beside still waters. Sometimes the shepherd even goes off to look for a lost sheep, if he’s willing to risk the rest of the flock. And that’s the kind of shepherd that God’s supposed to be – one who cares about each individual sheep and rejoices over every one that’s found: Thin sheep, fat sheep, this sheep, that sheep! The prophet Ezekiel is one of the Biblical writers who compares God to a shepherd who cares for, feeds, and guides the People of Israel. They’ve had a number of human leaders ruling over Israel at this point, but Ezekiel accuses these kings of being false shepherds – looking out for themselves instead of the sheep, ignoring the needs of the people, and allowing them to be scattered. Ezekiel’s talking about kings that totally messed up – failing the people and letting them be conquered by foreign powers – failing so badly that some of the people have been sent into exile in Babylon. So … Read more »

November 19, 2017

Matthew 25:14-30 “The Courage to Risk” “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” It’s a hard saying from Jesus. It’s strange, and jarring, and it seems counter to everything we know about our loving God and our compassionate Christ. “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is the master’s response to the slave who received a gift, (just a small gift), and did nothing with it. He tried to hold on to it. He buried it in the ground. And after that, he wouldn’t be receiving any more gifts from the master. It reminds me of a story that I read recently: A man went each day to his back yard and uncovered his money, which was buried in the ground. He would then put it back in the ground and cover it up again. To his shock and disappointment, on a particular day he dug up the ground only to discover his money was gone! He began to cry out in dismay. His neighbour heard his cry and came to his aid right away. Upon discovering his plight, the neighbour dropped his head, walked away and said, “What’s all the fuss about? You weren’t using the money for any good anyway! Maybe whoever got it will use it for some good.” The … Read more »