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 »

November 12, 2017

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Matthew 25:1-13 “Choose to Serve” Recently I heard a preacher suggest that Christianity is unique in that it demands that you make a choice. You consider the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus that you read about in the Gospels, and you decide what to make of it. You decide how to respond. At some point, you have to make a choice about what to believe about Jesus. Either he was somehow the God of the universe made physically present in our world – reaching out, loving, forgiving, and reconciling the world – or he was a crazy person – living an itinerant life of poverty and getting himself killed. We have to choose what to believe as well as how to live in response to those convictions. The book of Joshua tells the story of the Hebrew People entering the land promised by God and settling there. It’s the story of God’s chosen people – the ones who once lived as slaves in Egypt, who cried out to God to help them, and who followed Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years. These are God’s own people, who have finally been freed both from oppression and from their wandering. They finally have a home – a place where they are no longer the ones being oppressed – and they have a choice to make. It’s not that they hadn’t made this choice before. They had chosen to … Read more »

November 5, 2017

Isaiah 9:2-7 Romans 12:9-21 John 14:15-18, 25-27 “As far as it depends on you…” This sermon was prepared by the Rev. Amanda Currie with input from the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth who were reflecting on the theme of peace during their weekend retreat at First Presbyterian Church November 3-5, 2017. This weekend First Church was pleased to host the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth event which was all about PEACE. And we are pleased this morning to have the SPY youth participating in worship leadership on this Remembrance Sunday. When we began to discuss PEACE this weekend, we came up with the following definitions of PEACE… What is Peace? A state in which there is no war or fighting A quiet and calm state A state in which a person is not bothered by thoughts or feelings of doubt, guilt, or worry. Tranquility A feeling of being safe, protected, and relaxed A sense of purpose and direction in life Being alone, but not lonely An end to violence and conflict Understanding and respect between people Very difficult to achieve Unfortunately, peace is not something that we notice happening in our world very much. If we watch the news, we are much more aware of war and conflict and violence, and rarely do we hear about “peace breaking out.” When we talked about war and violence in the world today, these are some of the places and situations that came to our minds. These are some of the people that are in our prayers … Read more »

October 29, 2017

Matthew 22:34-40 “First things first: Seeking God’s Priorities” When you are learning how to preach, one of the things you learn about is the most common error in preaching – and that is to try to preach more than one sermon at a time. Both the blessing of the Scriptures and the problem for preachers is that any given biblical text can lead us in dozens of different directions. We read and study the text, we consider what other commentators and preachers have said about it, we take it to Bible study and listen to the ideas of others in our own churches, and then… at some point before Sunday arrives we must choose which sermon we are going to preach. You don’t want to hear 2 or 3 sermons with multiple ideas mixed up together. If a sermon is going to do its job, it needs to have focus and clarity that will be accessible and helpful for its listeners. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a difficult choice to make to leave a precious thought or idea unsaid, to leave it for another sermon sometime in the future. One commentator I read this week pointed out that the preacher must choose which of the lectionary readings to focus on today, and that most will choose the Gospel with Jesus’ teaching about the greatest commandment. For me, the choice today also included the push to somehow preach about the 16th century Reformation which began 500 years ago, as well as the desire … Read more »

October 22, 2017

Exodus 33:12-23 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 “Seeing God” It has been a very difficult journey through the wilderness. After God led the Hebrew People out of slavery in Egypt, across the Sea, and into freedom, they wandered for forty years without finding their way to the promised land. God provided for their basic needs along the way – food to eat, water to drink, simple shelter from the elements – but it was obviously a pretty discouraging time. The people complained bitterly about their circumstances, and at times they even longed to go back to the security and predictability of their oppressed life in Egypt. Last Sunday, we read the story about the time they built a golden calf to worship, just one of the times that they turned away from God and did wrong things. And we were reminded that although God was disappointed, and although God was angry, God’s love and grace eventually prevailed, and God gave them another chance. It is in today’s reading (a chapter later) that Moses begs God to give them that second chance, to keep them as God’s own people, and to stay with them on their journey and lead them all the way into the promised land. In the midst of that desperate conversation with God, Moses worries that God might simply abandon him and the Hebrews, and he asks for the special blessing of being able to see God – to see God’s face, and know for sure that God is present. … Read more »

October 15, 2017

Exodus 32:1-14 Matthew 22:1-14 “Dressed and Ready for the Feast” Join with me if you remember this song based on Luke’s version of the Parable of the Great Banquet: I cannot come. I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now. I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum. Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come. It’s a catchy little Sunday School song that captures the joyful spirit of Jesus’ parable as it is recounted by the author of Luke’s Gospel. Sure, some of the people who are invited to the Great Banquet send excuses and they miss out on the party. But when some of the expected guests send their regrets, the host sends out invitations far and wide. He sends his servants out into the streets – to the highways and the byways and compel them to come in. My table must be filled before the banquet can begin. When we read the parable or sing the song we are reminded of God’s wide and gracious welcome to all people. There are no pre-requisites for getting an invitation, and the meal is free. And as we celebrate the good news of God’s gracious welcome to us, we are challenged to consider the times and ways in which we let other things distract us from spending time with God. But Luke’s version of the Parable of the Great Banquet is not the one we heard … Read more »

October 8, 2017

Deuteronomy 8:7-18 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Luke 17:11-19 “Overflowing Thanks” This morning’s scripture readings invite us to reflect and to respond. As we celebrate Thanksgiving weekend together with our Canadian neighbours, friends, and families, we are invited to remember that this holiday is about more than a big meal and pumpkin-themed decorations. We don’t call it “Turkey Day” because it’s not just about the menu, but it can be for us, as Christians, a special time of reflecting on the goodness of God and responding to that goodness with our lives of service and generosity. The passage from Deuteronomy that we just heard is Moses addressing the Hebrew People. They are at the point where they have just finished their long 40-year journey through the wilderness, and they are about to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. You will remember that they have been through a terrible time. After escaping slavery and a harsh existence in Egypt, they have wandered through the wilderness for years – living in tents, coping with scarcity and danger, complaining and arguing with each other at times, and sometimes nearly giving up hope. But soon all that will be over. Moses tells them that God is bringing them into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and honey, a land where they may eat bread without scarcity, where they will … Read more »

October 1, 2017

Matthew 21:23-32 Philippians 2:1-13 “Changing our Minds” Jesus told another parable in order to get his point across to the religious leaders of his day. They were acting like hypocrites – very good and holy in their teachings and ideals, but not living according to those same high standards. And as we hear the parable again today, we are invited to ask ourselves… “Which son do I most resemble?” When God asks me to go to work in some sort of service or mission in the church or in the world, am I the one who hesitates at first? Am I the one who is unsure that I really want to get involved or put in the effort required? Am I the one who initially says “no,” but eventually decides to do what I am being asked to do? Or am I the one who says, “Yes, Lord, of course I will help!” But then I get distracted. I get busy… terribly busy. I just don’t manage to make the time in my life for that service, and so I don’t go. I intended to go, but I didn’t go. Of course, it is obvious to everyone that, although both sons in the parable say one thing and do another, the repentance of the first is preferable to the hypocrisy of the second. True righteousness is in the doing, rather than in the confessing. We’ve got to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. If you’re like me, … Read more »

September 17, 2017

Exodus 14:19-31 Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 Matthew 18:21-35 “Beyond Perfect Forgiveness” It was lovely to begin our Tuesday morning Bible Study this week. I appreciated the opportunity, early in the week, to get together with a group of faithful and thoughtful Christians to explore and discuss the Gospel text assigned for this morning’s service. Biblical interpretation and application to our lives is often better when we do it in dialogue both with the wider Christian community through commentaries and reflections of other pastors and theologians, as well as with real live people who are a part of our own community of faith. (If any of you would like to join us, know that you are always welcome on Tuesday mornings at 10:30 am.) Anyway, in our study on Tuesday we talked about Peter’s question to Jesus about how often we should forgive another member of the Christian community who sins against us. Of course, this text comes just after the one we talked about last Sunday about how to work out conflict that arises in the church from time to time. That text encouraged us to do everything that we can to work things out with someone who has hurt us – first, going to speak to them about it alone, then with a couple of witnesses if needed, and finally asking the church to intercede for us. And if even that doesn’t work, we should never ever give up on that person, but keep on reaching out in love with … Read more »

September 10, 2017

Matthew 18:15-20 Romans 13:8-14 “Where two or three are gathered” Where two or three are gathered together, there is the likelihood of at least two or three different perspectives, opinions, or preferences. And where two or three are gathered together, there is the potential for conflict. Although it would be nice to say that whenever we gather in the name of Christ, we discover unity, and make peace, and live and serve harmoniously together, the reality is that even in the church, we don’t always get along that well. Yes, I’ve heard about some of the conflicts that have flared up in this Christian community over the years. Some of them have been resolved or let go of, and some forgiving and even some forgetting has long ago taken place. And there are others that still plague us in our relationships, stirring up feelings of frustration, hurt, or anger, and continue to hamper our relationships as co-workers in the gospel and brothers and sisters in Christ. I’ve also heard about some of the conflicts that plagued other Christian congregations to which some of you used to belong. You came to this church seeking peace and rest from the struggle, and a caring community where you could share happily in service and fellowship. And I have my own experiences of conflict in the church as well. Sometimes I’ve witnessed it, and worked as a pastor to help bring resolution. Sometimes I’ve been right in the middle of it – as the … Read more »

September 3, 2017

Exodus 3:1-15 Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28 “Holy Ground” It is September – a wonderful time for new beginnings! I wonder if it is a good time for you, right now, as September begins, to make a new start in your life of faith. And I wonder what that would look like for you. Today’s story from the Book of Exodus is all about a new beginning for Moses that leads to a new beginning for God’s People, Israel, in a new land and with a new freedom. And it starts with God speaking. Moses was going about his work, looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, not looking for a change, not searching for adventure, not trying to figure out what his next big mission should be. But God speaks to him, and everything changes. God gets his attention with a burning bush, calls him by name, and then explains that God has a task for him to do… to go to the Pharaoh, and bring God’s People out of slavery in Egypt. God speaks to others too. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, back before his name was changed, and he was Saul. He was travelling along the road to Damascus when it happened. God got Saul’s attention by blinding him with a bright light. And then he heard Jesus’ voice asking him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Or how about those fishermen that Jesus met by the Sea of Galilee? Simon & Andrew, James & John. In some tellings … Read more »

August 27, 2017

Romans 12:1-8 “Transformed by the Renewing of our Minds” Very often I find myself drawn to the Gospel text for the focus of my preaching. After all, it’s in the Gospels that we find the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry, and where we hear Jesus’ own teaching and preaching. As people who have been called to his “way of life” and committed ourselves to being his disciples, the Gospel texts may seem like they are the most important part of the Bible. But if, with Peter, we have already grappled with Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” And if, in faith, we have answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then the next question for us concerns how we will live as followers of that Christ, how we will live as people of faith in the church which he established. So, this week I found myself turning again and again to the text from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The first part of Romans 12 is not so much about Jesus himself, as it is about us. It is advice and instruction from an early leader in the Christian Church about how to live as the People of God and members of the Body of Christ. Paul begins, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” And I am … Read more »

August 20, 2017

Matthew 15:10-28 “Lifelong Learners” Do you remember learning how to drive a car? For many Canadian teenagers today, learning to drive is an important part of growing up, and a sign of status when they get their license and the right to drive on their own, without a parent sitting in the passenger seat. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t get my license as a teenager. Mostly because I just didn’t have time to take the course, and I didn’t really need a vehicle where I lived because there was a very good transit system. But when I finally did take the time to get it in my early 20s, I took the learning process very seriously. I read, and re-read, and studied the little booklet with the rules of the road and the traffic signs before attempting the test to get my learner’s permit. And then I paid for the comprehensive driving course from “Young Drivers of Canada.” I went to every classroom session well prepared, having gone over the topics to be covered that day, and I did spectacularly well when it came time for the quizzes. But I wasn’t like a Prairie farm kid, who had driven a tractor before driving a car. And I wasn’t like many friends I knew who had done a little driving at the lake with their family, or under some such circumstances gotten some driving experience. That’s why I was so grateful for the in-car sessions with the instructor. It … Read more »

August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18 Matthew 14:22-33 “Meeting Jesus in the Storm” The Revised Common Lectionary provides us with a set of readings for each Sunday, and the first thing that ministers tend to do in studying them is to look for some kind of connection between them. Why do we have Elijah’s panic attack paired with Jesus’ walking on the water today? Two interesting stories… but what do they have to do with each other? Well, the first connection I noticed was that both stories have storms. The disciples encounter a windstorm out on the lake, causing their boat to be battered by the waves and likely making the rowing very difficult. And Elijah, after running away to hide in a cave, experiences a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire… followed by the voice of God asking him, “What are you doing here?” And it’s not just the strong winds that connect today’s stories, but also the good news that in the midst of those storms, God speaks to us, and God comes to us. Can you remember some storms that you’ve been through in your life? Perhaps some actual storms with thunder and lightning striking, with mighty winds causing destruction, or with blowing and drifting snow that obscures vision and causes accidents. I am remembering the panic I felt many years ago, when I experienced a white-out as I was driving on the highway between Saskatoon and Regina. I was relieved not to be alone in the car when … Read more »

August 6, 2017

Isaiah 55:1-5 Matthew 14:13-21 “You Give them Something to Eat” How many times have you heard someone comment that the potluck suppers are the best thing about coming to church? At least one person made that comment to me after the lovely potluck we shared before my induction last week. And I get it. Those meals are pretty great! Home-cooked food… wonderful variety… so many different flavours and textures, and surprises in every mouthful… followed by an amazing array of delightful desserts! And all for the low price of showing up, and maybe bringing along your favourite dish to add to the selection. As a minister, of course I’d rather hear that the best thing about coming to church is the brilliant sermons or the thoughtful prayers, but I can’t deny that food-sharing in Christian community is actually a really important part of what we do together, and perfectly in line with our faith. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus sharing meals with his friends and disciples. And the “feeding of the 5000” is one of the most famous of his miracles. It is a wonderful miracle! All they have is five loaves and two fish, but somehow they manage to feed the crowd of thousands! And when the people are finished eating, they pick up twelve baskets full of leftovers. Traditionally, we would imagine bread and fish magically appearing to fill the baskets up as they are passed through the crowds – an absolutely miraculous multiplication taking … Read more »

July 30, 2017

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 “Searching for Treasure” Five and a half parables – that’s what we find in the Gospel passage assigned for this day in the Revised Common Lectionary. Five and a half very short stories that Jesus told to his disciples to help them understand something about the kingdom of heaven. Now, don’t be confused by the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” In one of the other Gospels, it would have been called the “kingdom of God.” And in modern non-gendered language we might call it the “reign of God.” When Jesus says “kingdom of heaven” he is not talking about what things will be like for us after we die. He’s talking about the here and now, the new world that began in his life and ministry, and that is growing wherever people follow him with their lives and begin to live according to his love and mercy. He’s not saying that this is what things will be like for you later. He’s saying that this is possible now… if you look for it, and search it out, and work with him in making it happen. The parables indicate that the kingdom of heaven can sometimes seem somewhat hidden, and that may certainly resonate with our own experience. Often when we think about the world in which we live today, we can become overwhelmed by the hatred and evil that constantly seem to prevail. I am thinking about a situation happening in Istanbul right now, in which a large … Read more »

April 30, 2017

Luke 24:13-35 Listen to this Sermon “Jesus Walked With Us” Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Saskatoon Prayer Breakfast. It included some fun music by Brad Johner and his sons, some really meaningful prayers for government leaders, teachers, emergency personnel, those who are poor and struggling, and for the community as a whole. I had some theological issues with the key note speaker, but I will remember the prayer breakfast because of a conversation I had at my table before we ate. I was sitting with a group of young Christian women in their mid to late twenties. One was studying to be a nurse, another was a new teacher, the third worked in a church doing Christian education, and the last worked a couple of jobs, including one at the Saskatoon Food Bank. As I asked them about their work, they started talking about the difference each of their vocations might make in the world. They all agreed that the nurse’s competent care or a possible mistake made could radically alter a patient’s life. What a responsibility to carry, knowing that in a single moment, you could drastically affect the course of someone’s life. But, of course, each one of them recognized that their impact on another person could make a huge difference for the good, or for the bad… and they were rather in awe of the power and responsibility in that realization. One of them reflected that looking back at her own life and decisions so … Read more »