February 17, 2008

John 3:1-17 Nicodemus is an example of an educated and religious person who doesn’t quite GET what Jesus is about. The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is a typical passage from John’s Gospel, full of metaphors and symbolic language. Jesus is speaking in riddles, it seems, and Nicodemus is thoroughly confused. Understandably confused, I think. First, of course, there is the mix-up over what Jesus is saying about being born. The Greek word used is “anothen,” and Nicodemus interprets it to mean “again.” He thinks that Jesus is requiring him to be born AGAIN in order to see the Kingdom of God. “How can a grown man ever be born a second time?” he asks. And Jesus tells him that he doesn’t need another physical, human birth. He needs to be born of the Spirit. You see, the other meaning of the word “anothen” is “from above.” Nicodemus, and all of us, need to be born “from above” by the Spirit in order to experience the Kingdom of God. As Jesus goes on talking about this spiritual birth, there’s a line about the wind. “God’s Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going.” Again, the Greek word is confusing. “Pneuma” means both Spirit and wind and breath. No wonder Nicodemus is confused by Jesus’ words! What is this spiritual birth that he needs to experience? Jesus says that if he … Read more »

February 10, 2008

Matthew 4:1-11 Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Romans 5:12-19 Did anyone watch the show “Little Mosque on the Prairie” this week? It’s the CBC comedy about a little Mosque in a community somewhere on the Canadian Prairies. There aren’t a huge number of Muslims in the fictional town of “Mercy” but there are enough to gather together in a rented space in an Anglican Church. And there are enough to hire a young Imam from Toronto (the clergy person in an Islamic community). This week’s episode of “Little Mosque on the Prairie” began with Friday prayers and the Imam’s sermon. It’s the beginning of the festival of Ramadan in which Muslims fast and pray, read the Qu’ran and re-focus their lives on following the ways of God, including good deeds, kindness, and helping others. Though the TV show wasn’t concerned with giving many details about the meaning and significance of Ramadan, what was clear was the call to individuals to rid themselves of bad habits, negative practices, or what in a religious context, we would call sin. Are you reminded of the Christian season of Lent that we began a few days ago on Ash Wednesday? That’s what came to my mind as I listened to an excerpt from Amar’s Ramadan sermon. Amar was really straight-forward in his sermon. He said, “You’ve got to stop lying. You’ve got to stop gossiping. You need to work on being patient, and not getting angry, because that’s what God requires of us. The … Read more »

January 27, 2008

Isaiah 9:1-4Psalm 27:1-61 Corinthians 1:10-18Matthew 4:12-23 Today’s Gospel reading is about the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The author of Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum in order to fulfil the words of the prophet Isaiah:“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,on the road by the sea, across the Jordan,Galilee of the Gentiles —the people who sat in darknesshave seen a great light,and for those who sat in the region and shadow of deathlight has dawned.” Later, John’s Gospel will have Jesus identify himself as “the light of the world.” And here, Matthew describes the work that Jesus is about to begin in Galilee as like a light shining into darkness, as like the sun rising for those who are in danger of death. Jesus begins his proclamation of the reign of God, and it’s like a light has been switched on. The things Jesus says, and the way Jesus acts, and the person Jesus is in the world, help the people he encounters to start seeing things differently. He both pronounces God’s high expectations of each of us, and embodies God’s amazing love and forgiveness for even the least among us. Jesus is the light that reveals who God is, how God loves us, and how God calls us to live in loving relationship with God and with one another. The Gospel tells us that from that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come … Read more »

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2008

The following sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 2008. St. Andrew’s hosted an ecumenical worship service on Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008 at 7 a.m. The Prairie Centre for Ecumenism coordinates a wonderful schedule of ecumenical prayer and worship in Saskatoon each year, and we were pleased to take part by hosting one of the services. Our worship reflected on the readings for Day 4 of the Week of Prayer, and on the theme “Pray always for justice.” Psalm 146 Exodus 3:1-12 This morning’s reading from Exodus is one of the scripture texts assigned for day four of the Week of Prayer. It is the familiar story of Moses speaking with God at the burning bush. When I’ve preached on this text in the past, my focus has been on the experience of God’s call. God speaks to us in a variety of ways — not usually as dramatically as through a burning bush that’s not being burned up! — but God does speak to us in scripture, through people in our lives, by the Holy Spirit, and as we carefully listen to God in prayer. And God does call us to tasks that seem, at first, to be outrageous and beyond our capabilities. Like Moses, we are often surprised by the enormity of the things God calls us to do, and we often doubt that we will be able to get them … Read more »

January 20, 2008

Isaiah 49:1-7 Psalm 40:1-11 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 John 1:29-42 I’ve always tended to think of myself as a “middle of the road” Canadian Presbyterian. I’m pretty comfortable in a church that includes a variety of perspectives on social issues, biblical interpretation, and theology. We don’t need to agree on absolutely everything, but we can find unity in some core convictions and work together towards some common goals. And I’m pretty comfortable as a Presbyterian within the larger church community. I value our Reformed tradition with its distinctives and strengths, but I don’t need to convince Anglicans or Roman Catholics to become Presbyterians. I don’t think the Pentecostals would be better off if they joined our church, and I don’t go around saying the Presbyterians who went into Church Union 83 years ago would be much better off if they had stuck with us. In fact, when I’ve taken part in interfaith events, (like the prayers for peace that we shared a few weeks ago on New Year’s Eve down at St. Paul’s Cathedral), I’ve been aware of the fact that we have a great deal in common with other people of faith… whether they are Jewish, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Buddhist, or something else. But as I was working through some ideas for this morning’s sermon, I shared a few of them with my husband, and he said, “You really are an evangelical, aren’t you?” In mainline Christian churches, “evangelical” has sometimes been used almost as a bad word. … Read more »

January 13, 2008

Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 29Acts 10:34-43Matthew 3:13-17 I grew up, and went to church school, and sang in the choir, and listened to sermons, in a church whose sanctuary looks very much like this one at St. Andrew’s. Although my home church was a little wider and a little shorter, it shared the same basic architecture as this worship space. It included rows of wooden pews, facing straight towards the front, a long central aisle, and a balcony at the back. The front section, traditionally referred to as the chancel, included a pulpit on one side for preaching, a lectern on the other for readings, prayers, and announcements. The area reserved for the choir included two sets of pews facing towards each other with the Communion Table in between. And like here at St. Andrew’s, we usually only had a choir large enough to fill one side. The architecture varies a little bit these days, both in Presbyterian and other Christian churches, but one thing that is almost universally communicated by the way we set up our worship spaces is that something is going on at the front, and the people are watching it. You’re all looking this way — often you’re looking at me! — because I’m supposed to be doing something, or saying something, and you’re all here to watch it, or hear it. Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not complaining about the responsibility that I’ve taken on in responding to the call to preach the Word and … Read more »

January 6, 2008

Isaiah 60:1-6 Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14Ephesians 3:1-12Matthew 2:1-12 The story of the magi’s visit to the young boy Jesus in Bethlehem is the classic Epiphany story. We often sneak the wise men into the Christmas story in December, but its proper place is here: after the birth of the child, after the shepherds have returned home, after the angels have receded into the sky. Once again, of course, I should remind you that the shepherds and the angels belong to Luke’s story, and the magi are Matthew’s. The birth narratives should not be read as historical accounts of factual events. So we don’t have to worry about why the Holy Family who had travelled to Bethlehem for a census (in Luke’s account) are still there a few years later (in Matthew’s account) and living in a house. Chances are that Jesus was really born in Nazareth, the Galilean town where he grew up and began his ministry. But both Matthew and Luke come up with reasons for his birth to take place in Bethlehem, the city of David. It’s a great way to show that Jesus is the predicted Messiah, in the family line of David, born in David’s town. Likewise, there is no historical reason to believe that Gentile astrologers came looking for Jesus to worship him as a little child in Bethlehem. My guess is that no one knew that there was anything particularly special about Jesus until he began his ministry as a young man. But the story … Read more »

December 30, 2007

This morning’s worship service included four reflections on the scripture readings. The first three reflections were delivered in conversation with the children of the church. The fourth reflection was delivered from the pulpit. Whether you are experiencing these reflections for the first time online, or whether you were present at St. Andrew’s and are re-reading them now, I invite you to consider the questions for your own reflection that follow each of my scripture reflections. ~ Amanda Reflection #1: “Giving Thanks for the Blessings of the Past” Good morning. Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year! I haven’t seen most of you since Christmas Eve. Did you have a good Christmas? I had a very nice Christmas. Nick and I had a nice quiet day, we cooked a special dinner, and we invited some friends over for good food and great conversation. Today, I am thankful for the Christmas that I just had — for the celebrations at church, and for the chance to rest and relax for a few days. Think about the Christmas that you just celebrated. What are you most thankful for? (invite sharing) Today is December 30th — almost the very end of the year 2007. This is the time when lots of people start thinking back over the year, remembering all the things that happened and all the things they did. Think about this year — 2007 — What are you most thankful for in 2007? (invite sharing) Today, now that Christmas is pretty much over, … Read more »

Christmas Eve 2007

Luke 1:5-19Luke 1:26-38Luke 2:1-7Luke 2:8-20John 1:1-14 Writing sermons for Christmas is not the easiest part of a minister’s job. Choosing the carols and the readings for tonight’s service was straight-forward enough, but deciding what to say about them I found to be a little more difficult. It was complicated further in my mind because I’ve been reading some biblical theology lately that questions the historicity of the Christmas stories and challenges the faithful Christian reader to delve deeper into the biblical texts to discover the theological truths contained in the oh-so-familiar stories. It would be easier to just tell the stories. It would be easier to just sing the carols. And it would be nice too, especially with family and friends gathered around, and candles, and memories of Christmases gone by. But as a modern interpreter of the texts, I need to at least acknowledge that most of the story is unlikely to have been historically true. The questions might begin with angel appearances and virgin births, and then if you start studying all the historical details, you soon discover all the inaccuracies and problems with the dates of the rulers and the census. And perhaps you might also take a moment to notice that Matthew’s Gospel tells a completely different story about Jesus’ birth and that many of the details are quite contradictory to Luke’s version of the story. Still, despite all those problems with the accounts of Jesus’ birth into our world, the church believes — and I … Read more »

December 23, 2007

Instead of a traditional sermon, this morning’s reflection on the scripture readings took the form of three reflections. The first two were presented in conversation with the children of the church. The third reflection was given from the pulpit. Isaiah 7:10-16 “Isaiah gives Ahaz the sign of Emmanuel” About seven hundred years before the time of Jesus, there was a king in the land of Judah whose name was Ahaz. That’s the king that Ryan was just reading about from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Now, what you need to know about King Ahaz, in order to understand the bible reading today, is that Ahaz was really scared and worried. Ahaz was worried about two other kings that were threatening to attack his country. Ahaz was scared because the King of Israel and the King of Aram had decided to get all their armies together and to fight against King Ahaz and the people of Judah. Ahaz was dreading the possibility of getting attacked and maybe conquered too. But in the story Ryan read for us, the prophet Isaiah is helping King Ahaz not to be scared. The prophet Isaiah has a message from God for King Ahaz. (That’s what prophets do, right? They bring messages from God.) And the message is, “Don’t be worried, King Ahaz, because God is with us.” Sometimes the prophets in the bible was some really funny ways of demonstrating their messages from God. And this is one of those times. What Isaiah did … Read more »

December 9, 2007

Matthew 3:1-12 I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Santa Claus. When asked at the women’s breakfast a few weeks ago to name what I like and dislike about Christmas, I quickly answered that I love Christmas carolling and Christmas worship, and I hate Santa Claus. Well, perhaps that’s putting it a little too strongly. I don’t like the white-bearded, red-suited Santa character created by Coca-Cola and promoted by malls and everyone else trying to sell us as much stuff as possible every December. I don’t like the way the Santa Claus phenomenon has taken over our celebration of Christmas to such an extent that many of our children equate Christmas with “getting presents from Santa.” Ask a child today to name a special memory of Christmas, and I’m quite sure that almost every child will name a toy or other gift that he/she received for Christmas in a previous year. The gifts named will probably include video games and gaming systems, name-brand clothes, DVD’s, TV’s, and other expensive items. They probably won’t include the gifts of hope, joy, peace, or love, the gifts of family, friends, food, or health. And they probably won’t include the greatest gift of all — the gift of Jesus’ birth into our world. At his best, Santa Claus is meant to inspire generosity and gift-giving, which seems quite reasonable. But rarely do I encounter a child who wants to tell me about a gift that he or she is giving … Read more »

December 2, 2007

The congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon, was happy to welcome four new members on Sunday, December 2, 2007: Eva Anderson, Judy Chow, Reid Kirkpatrick, and Amanda Knezacek. Isaiah 2:1-5Psalm 122Romans 13:11-14Matthew 24:36-44 This is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means “coming,” and it is a season of the church year that is focused on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. In one sense, we are waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But the Sunday scripture readings also emphasise the fact that we are waiting and preparing for the Kingdom of God. We are waiting for the Kingdom to arrive and to transform our world into a place where God rules, where peace and justice flourish, where there is no more poverty, war, or despair. I spoke quite a bit about God’s coming kingdom last Sunday as we celebrated the “Reign of Christ.” I talked about the idea that whenever we live according to God’s laws and whenever we seek to follow the way and will of Christ, God’s kingdom is present and active in our world through us. Today, the theme of God’s kingdom continues with our reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had a vision of what the NRSV translation calls “the future house of God.” It is a vision of the future that we might also call “the kingdom of God.” In the days to come, writes Isaiah,the mountain of the Lord’s house will be establishedas the highest … Read more »

Christmas Memorial Sermon – November 28, 2007

The following sermon was preached at the annual Christmas Memorial Service for St. John’s Columbarium on November 28, 2007. The service took place at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, SK. Isaiah 9:2-7Psalm 139:1-18John 1:1-14 I have a vivid memory of a school trip to the Maritimes when I was nine years old. We were visiting a small town in Acadia, and we were billeted with local families. The room I slept in those few nights was in the basement of my billet’s home. It had a small window, but being on the edge of town there wasn’t much light outside to come in through the window at night. In the middle of the first night, I woke up because I needed to go to the bathroom. The room was so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, and it took me a moment to remember where I was — that I wasn’t at home in my own bed. Once I realized where I was, I also realized that finding my way to the bathroom was not going to be easy. But I couldn’t wait till morning, so I got up and started feeling my way towards where I thought I’d find the light switch. I found a wall. I found a corner. But I didn’t find a switch. Frantically, I started searching for the door. Where was it? I was starting to feel trapped. I strained my eyes, opening them as wide as I … Read more »

November 25, 2007

Jeremiah 23:1-6Luke 1:68-79Colossians 1:11-20Luke 23:33-43 In the course of the liturgical year — the church year — today, we are at the end. This morning we celebrate the reign of Christ, and next Sunday we begin the Season of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of Christ into our world. But for many of us, we’re already starting to get ourselves ready for Christmas. The Women’s League of St. Andrew’s hosted their Yuletide Tea and Bake Sale yesterday, the shopping malls are filling up, and I, for one, did my first Christmas carolling of the year yesterday morning. We’ve got “baby Jesus” on the brain already in November, but the lectionary this morning jumps us forward in time, past the angels and shepherds, past the childhood and baptism of Jesus, past his ministry in Galilee, all the way to the very end of his life. This morning we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ death on a cross. We heard how he was mocked and taunted and crucified between two criminals. It’s not too difficult to figure out why we get this particular story today. This is “Reign of Christ” Sunday, or “Christ the King” as it used to be called, and in our Gospel reading, Jesus is named the “King of the Jews.” Even as he died like a criminal on a cross, an inscription over his head declares, “This is the King of the Jews.” This is not the first time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus is … Read more »

November 18, 2007

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Joan Cho, whose words are found on the back of our Sunday bulletins this morning, begins her reflection with a verse from one of this morning” scripture readings: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” According to Joan, this was an oft-quoted verse of scripture in her home as her children were growing up. It was directed most often, by parent or sibling, towards whichever child was reluctant about taking a turn at doing the dishes. The application was clear: work cheerfully now if you plan to show up for the next meal. Families work together. Although I don’t remember my own parents quoting scripture when I or my siblings grumbled about helping out around the house, I do recall the expectation that everyone in the family participate in the work involved in being a family together. Perhaps you are thinking right now about how the work was shared in your family of origin, or maybe about how the work is shared in your household today. Modern families have changed quite a bit from 50 or 60 years ago. Back then, tasks were often divided based on gender — women took care of the home front, while men went out to “bring home the bacon.” If anything, things have become more fluid and more complicated in most families today in terms of expectations for who does what work to contribute to the household. Couples embarking on new relationships are encouraged to communicate their expectations and to be … Read more »

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 »