November 11, 2007

Haggai 1:15b-2:9Psalm 1452 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17Luke 20:27-38 They spent 40 years, exiled in a foreign land. The people of Judah were away from their homes so long that by the time they got a chance to return, they hardly knew the place. Most of those who had actually lived in Judah were now dead. It was their children and grand-children who returned to the land to begin a new life. Those first exiles to go back to the great city of Jerusalem would have been disappointed and discouraged when they found the city in ruins and as they contemplated the work of rebuilding that lay ahead of them. They began with their own homes. Shelter, food, and the daily concerns of life were their first priorities. And it was a struggle because of drought and poor harvests. But suddenly, in the midst of their daily struggle, a prophet was shouting at them! “Is it a time,” the prophet Haggai demanded of them, “for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses while this house lies in ruins?” Haggai was talking about the Jerusalem temple. He was telling them that instead of just taking care of their daily concerns, the people should be rebuilding the temple. They were barely getting by as it was. Food was scarce. Harvests were poor. There was hardly enough to drink, and not enough clothes to keep properly warm. How could this possibly be the time to start building a temple? But God was telling them … Read more »

November 4, 2007

Nehemiah 5:1-13Psalm 15James 1:19-27Matthew 25:31-46 Last week was the first time that I haven’t finished delivering my sermon on Sunday morning. Those of you who were here know that one of our choir members had a minor medical emergency, and I stopped preaching, just a minute or two before the sermon would have reached its conclusion anyway. I am mentioning the excitement of last Sunday for two reasons… first, so that I can let you know that Donna is fine and not to worry. And second, because of a comment that one of you made during the week. “It was wonderful to see members of the congregation on Sunday move so quickly from listening to God’s Word to getting up out of their pews to act on it.” When someone was in need, no one worried too much about interrupting worship. We stopped what we were doing while those who were close by and those with medical expertise sprang into action to make sure that Donna was well cared for. Today’s theme for Presbyterianism 101, and the final theme for this series, is “Justice and Mission.” Presbyterians are probably best known for our system of governance, or our style of worship, or our focus on scripture study. But Presbyterians are not just academic Christians who sit around pondering ideas, forming committees, and never putting anything into action. Presbyterians are people who care about justice and who engage in mission. We are not merely “hearers” of the Word. We seek to … Read more »

October 28, 2007

1 Corinthians 14:26-40Psalm 84Colossians 3:12-17Living Faith, 7.3 People often joke that when Presbyterians gather together, there is always food involved. And though that may be true… coffee hours, pot luck suppers, tea and cake are not the main reasons that we gather together as a Christian community. The main reason that we come together in Presbyterian churches is to worship God. Worship is something that we do. That’s why, in the course of Presbyterianism 101, I couldn’t avoid devoting a worship service to considering how and why we worship. Reformed Christians always begin any topic by looking to the Scriptures. For the readings today, I chose two texts written by the apostle Paul to the early Christian congregations. In both cases, Paul is writing to these churches to give them advice about how to live together in Christian community, and in both cases, worship is an important part of what the Christians are going to do together, day by day, and week by week. But we don’t have to start with the letters to the early Christian churches to find out about worship. We could go back before the time of Jesus to the Matriarchs and Patriarchs who first believed in God and tried to live according to God’s will. Remember how Abraham followed God’s instructions to leave his homeland and go where God was sending him? As soon as Abraham arrived in a new place, he set up an altar so that he could give thanks to God and … Read more »

October 21, 2007

Hebrews 10:19-25Psalm 19Luke 5:1-11 Today’s theme, as we continue through our month of Presbyterianism 101, is discipleship. Today we’re thinking about and singing about and reflecting on what it means for us Presbyterians to be followers of Jesus. Disciple is the word used in the Gospels to describe the followers of Jesus — those who travelled with him in his earthly ministry, those who learned his teachings, observed his way of life, and took part in sharing his message in the towns and villages of Galilee. The word “disciple” comes from a Greek word that means both “learner” or “pupil” and “follower.” The first disciples not only learned Jesus’ teachings about God and how to live, but they literally followed him around the countryside to bring these teachings (along with a call to repentance) to everyone they met. Those who learn from and follow Jesus today are still called disciples. Though we don’t literally follow Jesus around from village to village, I think that a Presbyterian understanding of our faith is one that considers our Christian life as a journey with Jesus. As we were talking about on Wednesday evening, there are some Christian traditions that put a lot of emphasis on the conversion experience. They talk about being “born again” – about that one particular moment when someone experiences the call of Christ and he/she invites Jesus “into their heart” or to be their “personal Lord and Saviour.” Some traditions take great notice of those moments in our Christian … Read more »

October 14, 2007

Psalm 51:1-12Romans 3:21-26Luke 19:1-10 As most of you know, I have chosen to abandon the set lectionary readings this month in order to focus our Sunday worship on some basic Christian themes, from a Presbyterian perspective. It’s all part of Presbyterianism 101 — and today’s theme is salvation or reconciliation with God. In our prayer of confession, we used words from “Living Faith” that acknowledge the ways in which our sin separates us from God, and in the assurance, I proclaimed the fact that through Christ our sins are forgiven, also using words from “Living Faith,” our Presbyterian statement of Christian belief. Then we joined in the psalmist’s confession with Psalm 51, and heard Paul’s proclamation of justification by faith from the letter to the Romans. The scriptures are full of stories and teaching about sin and forgiveness, about reconciliation and salvation. I could have chosen any number of stories, but today I chose the story of Zacchaeus — the despised tax collector about whom Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus was obviously sinful! At least, those reading his story in the first century would have assumed that he was sinful — he was a tax collector, after all! We don’t really know how terrible Zacchaeus was. He might have been a reasonably honest tax collector for all we know. But it doesn’t really matter to the story very much. Everyone assumed that Zacchaeus was a really terrible … Read more »

October 7, 2007

Children’s Sermon: “We are the Body of Christ” Do any of you know what today is? Sunday — the day we come to worship God every week.Thanksgiving — a special Sunday for giving thanks to God and celebrating God’s goodness to us.Communion Sunday — also a day of giving thanks to God, for God’s coming to us in Jesus, and Jesus giving his life for us.World Communion Sunday — people all over the world have communion today, and we remember that we’re part of a wonderful big family of followers of Jesus all over the world. Today, I have chosen to focus our worship on a celebration of the Church, to give thanks to God for the church (for our church family here at St. Andrew’s, and the PCC, and the church all over the world). Thank you, Darya, for reading the passage from 1 Corinthians for us. It is one of my favourite passages in the Bible. And I think it’s a great passage for understanding what the church is like at its best. Paul tells us that the church is like a body. A body has many parts, doesn’t it? Legs, arms, hands, heads, toes, hips, elbows, ears, eyes… I had a friend a few years ago, a man named Bob. Bob had something bad happen to him many years ago. He had a stroke — that’s a medical thing that can make you very sick. And after the stroke, Bob could only use half of his body. … Read more »

September 23, 2007

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1Psalm 79:1-9, Refrain #21 Timothy 2:1-7Luke 16:1-13 The parable of the dishonest manager is a tricky one. I suppose that parables aren’t supposed to be too straight-forward. After all, Jesus told parables knowing that some would understand them and that others would miss the point. Sometimes Jesus’ parables are followed by several verses of explanation or interpretation. His disciples didn’t always get the point right away either, or perhaps the Gospel writers wanted to make sure that those who read the parables years later would understand what Jesus was getting at. As you know, a parable is a story that has two levels of meaning. On one level, our parable is about a dishonest manager who comes up with a sneaky plan to take care of his financial needs after he loses his job for squandering his master’s money. On another level, the story is about something else. But with this particular parable, that “something else” is not immediately obvious. Let’s just review the parable briefly. Jesus tells his disciples that there is a rich man who had a manager. It seems that the manager is taking care of the rich man’s property. He rents out land to a variety of people and has them pay with a portion of what the land produces, whether grain or oil. But the rich man finds out that the manager is “squandering his property.” Maybe he’s not passing on all the payments from the tenants. Maybe he’s taking a larger commission for … Read more »

September 16, 2007

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28Psalm 14, Refrain 21 Timothy 1:12-17Luke 15:1-10 This morning, I’ve chosen to focus on the text from 1 Timothy, some of the opening lines of Paul’s letter to a younger colleague in Christian ministry, named Timothy. The major theme in the text is that of God’s amazing grace. It’s the same theme that pervades all of Paul’s letters, those to individuals and those to churches. Paul uses the word “grace” about a hundred times in the biblical letters that are attributed to him. It’s Paul who established the term “grace” (Greek charis) in the Christian vocabulary. Of course, the idea of “grace” came with Jesus. That’s what the parables that we read today were about too. We do have a judging God, one who requires us to be good, but we also have a God who befriends us, who calls us to repentance, and who invites us to come home from our wandering like the prodigal son coming back to his Father. That’s grace. It’s not because we deserve it. It’s just because God loves us. And it’s the major theme in today’s reading from 1 Timothy. A few of us were talking last weekend at women’s camp, about testimonies. Testimonies are not something that we hear in our mainline Reformed tradition very often, but many of us are familiar with testimonies from encounters with evangelical Christians. A believer gets up, usually in the context of worship or an evangelistic event, and he/she testifies or witnesses to God’s … Read more »

September 9, 2007

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18Jeremiah 18:1-11 CREATED BY GOD, we are God’s special children (Children’s Sermon, part 1) Has anyone ever told you that you’re special? Who was it who told you that you’re special? Maybe one of your parents, or your best friend? Maybe one of your teachers at school? It feels pretty good when someone tells you that you’re special, doesn’t it? You know that they love you and that you’re important to them. And that feels good. I won’t ask you to put up your hands for this, but I know that there are some of us who don’t hear very often that we are special. Sometimes the people that love us forget to say it. Sometimes we feel like there is no one who loves us at all. And when there’s no one to tell us that they love us, and there’s no one who tells us how special we are, we sometimes don’t feel very good at all. We might feel like we’re not very important and not very loveable. All of us have times when we are feeling like that, and a good place to turn when we’re feeling like that is the book of Psalms in the bible. Psalm 139 is one of my favourites because it reminds me that God is the one who created me, and God made me to be special and unique and wonderful. God made every one of us, including you, to be special and unique and wonderful. Read Psalm … Read more »

September 2, 2007

Psalm 81:1, 10-16Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16Luke 14:1, 7-14 One of the significant things that Jesus was constantly doing during his short ministry in Galilee was to challenge the social and religious practices of his people. He took part in religious worship and festivals in the synagogues and the temple, and he was an active participant in social events wherever he went. He attended weddings, dinners, and other functions in the homes of all kinds of people, and he was the recipient of a great deal of hospitality as he travelled about the countryside relying on the kindness of strangers and new friends. On one occasion, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, Luke’s Gospel tells us that people were watching him closely. Why were they watching him? Perhaps because he already had a reputation for being at the centre of all kinds of drama and debate. Jesus did things (like healing people on the sabbath) that got the religious leaders upset. He did things like neglect to ritually wash before eating a meal, and then he criticized the Pharisees for neglecting justice. He did things like hang around with women, and known sinners, and tax collectors and prostitutes. And he dared to pronounce forgiveness of sins — something only God could rightly do. And of course, there had been miracles reported — multiplying loaves, walking on water, healing and casting out demons. No wonder people were watching him! … Read more »

July 8, 2007

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 Two weeks in a row now, we’ve had Gospel stories that are not particularly encouraging. Last week we heard Jesus turning down potential disciples and warning them of the trials that come with following his way of life. Despite the fact that he’s been really honest about what a tough life discipleship involves, in today’s text we see that Jesus has managed to round up quite a group of disciples, and he’s sending them out like little ambassadors to all the towns that he is planning to visit. And he’s sending them out “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” This is not going to be a nice little holiday. As Jesus warned the would-be followers in the last chapter, discipleship is the kind of thing that calls for full and dedicated commitment. It involves risk and requires sacrifice — no comfortable hotels, no guaranteed meal-times, no salary, and the real possibility of being frustrated, rejected, ridiculed, or even hurt by the people in the towns. Depending on which translation you read, Jesus either sent 70 or 72 disciples out on this mission. Some of the ancient manuscripts say 70 and others say 72. And perhaps it doesn’t matter exactly how many there were… except that numbers in the Bible often have symbolic significance. Those manuscripts that said 70 would have reminded Jewish readers of the 70 elders that Moses gathered to help him lead the People of Israel through the wilderness. The other texts that said … Read more »

July 1, 2007

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20Galatians 5:1, 13-25Luke 9:51-62 Today’s Gospel passage begins with a significant moment in Luke’s story of Jesus’ ministry. It is the moment when the author of the Gospel first hints that Jesus’ ministry is going to come to an end in Jerusalem with his death on a cross. The passage begins: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Although Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing does not change dramatically at this point in the story, the reader who notices this key moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life will read everything that happens after this in a different light. Jesus is not like any other preacher or healer or prophet that might have lived in the area at that time. Jesus was different, because even at this point in his ministry, he is recognizing that his mission is to do something more than preach sermons and offer help to the sick and suffering people that he meets on his journey. Jesus is committed to a ministry that is much broader and more far-reaching than the typical itinerant preacher. He knows that he will need to travel to the centre of things at Jerusalem, and perhaps he also knows that what he must do will lead to intense suffering and even to his death. But here, at Luke 9:51, Jesus chooses to start heading towards Jerusalem. Though to some, Jerusalem is just a large … Read more »

June 24, 2007

1 Kings 19:1-15aPsalm 42Galatians 3:23-29Luke 8:26-39 Children’s Sermon:I would like to tell you a story about a boy named Sam. One day, Sam waited too late to do his homework. He played until it got dark, and then it was time for supper. So when we finished eating, his father said, “Sam, sit right there and get started on your homework.”“I’m too tired,” said Sam.“You should have thought about that when you were playing,” said his father.“I don’t have my book,” said Sam.“You can go get what you need,” said his father, “but come back and work right here at the table.” Sam got his math book and his notebook and found the assignment and wrote down the first problem. He worked at it and erased it; worked at it and erased it. He tried over and over, but he just couldn’t get it right. Then he threw the paper on the floor and said, “I wish I were through with school, married, and dead.”“Oh, not so fast,” said his father. “Let’s just get through these math problems and see what happens.”“But I don’t know how to do it,” said Sam.“Well, I’ll help you,” said his father. Later that night, when Sam was ready for bed, his father came into his room to read a Bible story and say prayers. They sat down on the bed and talked.“I’m proud of you,” said his father.“How come?” said Sam.“Because you didn’t quit,” said his father.“Quit what?” said Sam.“The math homework,” said his … Read more »

June 10, 2007

Psalm 1461 Kings 17:8-24Luke 7:11-17 Beginning with Psalm 146, and then reflecting on the stories we have read today from 1 Kings and Luke’s Gospel, the amazing goodness of God is extremely evident. Our God is one who cares about the poor, the oppressed, and those who are vulnerable in our world. Remembering the ways that God has looked after us in our lowest moments can inspire us to respond by paying it forward — by sharing God’s goodness and love with anyone we meet who is struggling. When I first read the story from 1 Kings about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, the theme of generosity was what struck me about the text. But it wasn’t a story about a woman who had received so much from God that she responded with grateful generosity towards the hungry travelling prophet. In fact, we have in this text, the story of a woman who has very little. She is a widow — no husband and no source of income. She has no bread — only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. Her problem is not that she hasn’t had time to shop or bake. No, she’s at the end of her supplies and she doesn’t anticipate getting any more. She has a son — but he’s likely too young to be of much help yet. Her situation is so dire, and she’s so resigned to it that she’s planning for a last supper. She tells … Read more »

June 3, 2007

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15 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 Jesus 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. We had a lovely morning last Saturday at the Women’s Breakfast at Smitty’s. About 20 women gathered for breakfast, conversation, and a little study. The women from McKercher had planned the bible study, and chosen the topic of Trinity. We began with one of those children’s story-type metaphors for understanding the Trinity. God is like an apple. It has skin, flesh, and … Read more »

May 27, 2007

Genesis 11:1-9Psalm 104:24-35John 14:8-17, 25-27 “Wind and Fire” WIND – – Blue, grey, white, invisible power. You can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind. A colourful kite rising high in the sky. A child’s pinwheel spinning furiously. A flag waving boldly. Remember the sensation of a cool breeze on a hot day, fresh and invigorating, a welcome, cleansing presence.Recall the experience of a stiff breeze in your face as you walk along the street or across a field. You feel strong as you walk into it. You feel powerful working against it. Remember a wind that is too powerful: knocking you down, pulling down trees and overturning cars, blowing up dust and dirt that stings your eyes. WIND is a powerful image for the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the disciples who were gathered in Jerusalem, and the Book of Acts tells us that it came like a rush of wind. A powerful force that they could not mistake for their imaginations. It came rushing through the house where they were staying, blowing them all mightily into attention. They’d been waiting there for something to happen. Jesus had asked them to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high,” and there was no mistaking that this was what they were waiting for. And then there was FIRE. FIRE – – another symbol of God’s presence. Just as a flame ignites a bright lantern, God’s … Read more »

May 20, 2007

Acts 1:1-11 Psalm 47 Ephesians 1:15-23 Luke 24:44-53 Tucked away in a corner of most “stained glass” churches is an “Ascension window,” which usually depicts Jesus floating upward in flowing robes while distraught disciples look upward or cover their eyes in fear and anguish. Although we do have the Ascension windows in our churches, most Presbyterians don’t think about or talk about the Ascension very much. It’s an option in the lectionary to read the Ascension texts on the Sunday before Pentecost, and so quite often we miss it altogether, having no special service on Ascension Day, and choosing the 7th Sunday of Easter readings on the Sunday before Pentecost. References to the Ascension are found in many places throughout the New Testament, but the primary texts that describe the Ascension are the two stories that we read today from Luke and Acts. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, Jesus appears to the disciples and speaks to them about the Kingdom of God. He instructs them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit who will make them into witnesses “to the end of the earth.” After this “Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” But as much as the Ascension may seem like a strange, magical — even bizarre story, it’s interesting to note that our forebears in the faith deemed it to be extremely important. In Scripture itself, the story appears in Luke and Acts, and in the … Read more »

May 13, 2007

Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Revelation 21:10, 22 — 22:5 John 5:1-9 As we move through the season of Easter and towards Pentecost, the readings continue to prepare us to function as community without the physical leadership of Jesus. We are invited to participate in our own salvation and to continue to struggle towards a more just and faithful expression of community in Christ. In the Book of Acts, Luke writes about the progress of the early Christian church, and in today’s story he describes the conversion of Lydia, a “faithful woman.” It is the second reading in Acts that features and names a woman. Two weeks ago, we heard about Dorcas, a beloved follower of Jesus who provided clothing for the widows in her community. Luke is noted for his inclusion of women in his writings, and here he portrays Lydia with remarkable agency as she chooses to convert and then actively supports the fledgling Christian community. Agency is a lesson that John reaffirms in his portrayal of a man who is cured on the Sabbath. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be well?” The man accepts Jesus’ invitation and immediately is freed from physical and spiritual paralysis. Finally, John’s vision in Revelation of a new heaven is one that is without a temple — without any religious structure or institution, for “its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.” His vision cautions us that our churches never become ends in themselves — that we never get … Read more »

April 29, 2007

Acts 9:36-43Psalm 23Revelation 7:9-17John 10:22-30 “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I’ve already encouraged you this morning to actively engage in doing the works of God — to get around to doing the good works that God has called you to do in Jesus’ name in and for the world. I hope that I don’t need to remind you that your good works are not, however, what saves you. You do not earn God’s love or favour or salvation by giving to the poor or engaging in mission, by caring for the environment or loving your neighbour. God loves you simply because you are God’s creation — God’s own children. You are saved by God’s grace through faith. It is a gift from God — not an honour that you have earned or that you deserve. That is a really good thing to remember, especially on days when you “haven’t gotten around to it” — on days when other stuff has gotten in the way, and when doing God’s work has taken second place, or third place, or perhaps has been left off the schedule completely. Doing the good works of God, seeking justice, caring for the poor, and loving our neighbours are not the things that win us God’s love or favour. But they are, as the song reminds us, the ways that we are known and seen to be Christians. “They’ll know we are … Read more »

April 15, 2007

Acts 5:17-32Revelation 1:4-8John 20:19-31 Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. One of the amazing and inspirational things about the gospel stories and the stories of scripture in general, is that we can read them over and over, and each time, discover new messages and insights from God. Some of you may have noticed this morning that today’s Gospel reading from John somewhat overlapped with the reading we explored last Sunday with the puppets. But, as anyone who has attempted the act of preaching knows, there are many many possible sermons that could arise from the same text of scripture. The challenge is often to choose just one, and let the others go for this time around. Last week, we thought about the strange experience that the first disciples had when the risen Jesus appeared to them beside the tomb, inside a locked room, and later in other ways. We remembered Thomas and his doubts about whether it could really be Jesus appearing before them, and we considered the many ways in which we have met and experienced the risen Christ in our own lives — in scripture, in service, and in sacrament. And although grappling with what we believe about Jesus is certainly a part of our Christian journey (as it was for Jesus’ first followers) — the next step that rightly follows must be to consider what the risen Jesus is inviting us to do with our lives … Read more »