December 7, 2003

Annabelle phoned me on Saturday morning this week to let me know that she was well enough that she was planning to be here for worship this morning. In the course of our conversation about the service, she asked me, “How’s the sermon going?” And I responded with something like, “It’s a work in progress.” It had begun more than a week before when I’d sat down in my new study here at the church, and opened up my bible to the lectionary readings for Advent II, Year C, and read the scripture texts for my first Sunday here at St. Andrew’s. That day I had jotted down some notes about the readings – things that struck me right off… the music of Handel’s Messiah that came to mind as I heard the words from the prophet Malachi … the hopeful sound of Zechariah’s song for the life of his son John, and for the Saviour whose way his son would prepare. And then there was the image of the apostle Paul, sitting in a dark jail cell, tired and lonely, and almost losing hope for his own future… but praying fervently for the churches that he had started, remembering the faithful Christians in Philippi. How they had grown in faith and numbers during his time with them! Despite his own desperate circumstances, Paul must have just glowed at the thought of the Philippians. And then he might have knelt and prayed… prayed that their faith would grow even stronger, … 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 »

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 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 »

November 28, 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44 Today is the first Sunday in the Season of Advent. As you know, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Whether we know it as Advent, or whether we just think of it as the lead-up to Christmas, this is one of the busiest times of the year… not just in our churches, but in almost every aspect of our lives. While most people are rushing around buying holiday presents, decorating, baking, sending cards, hosting and attending parties, watching holiday plays and presentations, and then doing some more shopping… Christians are called during Advent and Christmas do something different from the rest of the world. We are invited to stop, and to wait. We are invited to be quiet and reflective. We are invited to pause and to think about the wonder of the celebration that we are about to share at Christmas… about the amazing thing that happened so many years ago… how God came into the world to be WITH us in Jesus Christ. Well, the reality is that many Christians are running around like crazy in December too, just like everyone else. In many ways, our Christmas preparations don’t seem much different from our secular neighbours. But the beginning of Advent is a good time for us to pause and remember what this season is all about. The beginning of Advent is a good time for us to stop and to consider how we will celebrate this season, what we will … Read more »

December 5, 2010

Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12 I didn’t want to preach about John the Baptist this morning. As you may have noticed, John the Baptist shows up every year during Advent. And he can be a little scary, as he scolds and chides and warns the people to repent and to flee from the wrath to come. Instead of preaching about repentance, I wanted to focus on the beautiful, peaceful images from the earlier prophet, Isaiah. I didn’t want to get stuck with the image of the axe lying at the root of the trees. I wanted to talk about the new shoot growing out of the tree stump instead. But as I explored the text in Isaiah, it kept leading me right back to John the Baptist and the one coming after him. And so you will have a sermon today that is inspired by two prophets… Isaiah and John. The prophet Isaiah wrote about a vision of peace. He predicted that peace would be achieved through the leadership of a righteous ruler in the line of King David. Poetically, Isaiah wrote: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” And Isaiah described the perfect leader who would surpass even the beloved King David: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord… [and] with righteousness … Read more »

December 12, 2010

Luke 1:46-55 “Angels Whisper. We Sing Out Loud.” Note: This short reflection followed the church school Christmas presentation “Christmas Eve in Angel School.” There sure were a lot of angels in this year’s Christmas play! Angels have always been an important part of the Christmas story. They are the ultimate messengers from God… explaining to the young Mary what’s going to happen to her, how she’s going to have a child who will be the Messiah… convincing Joseph to marry her and to be a father to the child who will be called Jesus… and appearing to the scared shepherds in the fields, telling them the good news about the baby who has been born, and directing them to go and worship him. Without the angel messengers, the story would barely hang together. Mary would be confused by the surprise pregnancy. Joseph would likely leave her. And the shepherds would miss the excitement altogether. Without the angels’ announcements, much of God’s activity would have gone unnoticed. But like one of the angels in the play pointed out, God doesn’t let the angels appear in the sky singing glorias anymore. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God’s messengers aren’t busy delivering messages of good news and grace and hope to the people of the world. When I think about the angel in the play leaning down to whisper in the ear of the little boy, I start to think about all the ways that God (or God’s angels) have whispered words … Read more »

December 19, 2010

Luke 1:26-38 Matthew 1:18-25 Romans 1:1-7 “We are invited to say “YES” to God” The Gospel story that is set for this Sunday in the 3-year lectionary cycle of readings comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a good story for the Sunday before Christmas… a good story about how Jesus was born. Often we jump ahead in the story… as we did last Sunday with the children’s Christmas play. We remember the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields and the angels in the sky announcing the birth of the Christ child. Those are the parts of the story that never get left out of the Christmas pageants. But Joseph can easily become a minor character without a speaking part. Today’s Gospel reminds us that Joseph was a pretty regular guy… a nice guy, a reasonable guy. When his fiancé got pregnant before the wedding, he dealt with it. He wasn’t going to turn it into a big to-do, but he was just going to dismiss her quietly. No one could have faulted him for that. But that’s when God got involved in Joseph’s life and decision-making, and nudged him into doing even more than what was reasonable. With every reason to walk away, Joseph chose to stand by Mary, to take her as his wife, and to raise her child as his own. God spoke to him in a dream, and he knew that’s what he had to do. The child was going to be Emmanuel (God-with-us) and Joseph … Read more »

November 27, 2011

Isaiah 64:1-9 Mark 13:24-37 If your life is perfect, then you may not be able to relate to the scripture texts this morning for the first Sunday in Advent. If you are happy and healthy and well, and you live with your beautiful family in a lovely neighbourhood, enjoying your spacious home and your comfortable income… If you’re getting ready for an absolutely wonderful holiday season of socializing and gift-giving, laughter and good times, without a care in the world… then perhaps this morning’s readings will seem a little out of place or off the wall. But, you know as well as I that the congregation here on Sunday mornings is not made up of super-duper people with perfect lives. That’s not the reason for the smiles and laughter that we share as we gather in this place. In fact, you’re not the only one here today who’s come despite the struggles, who’s come carrying heavy burdens, who’s come with pain, or disappointment, or stress, or grief beyond compare. For one, it’s the fatigue that comes from constant caregiving and the many thankless jobs still needing to be done. For another, it’s the worry and stress caused by a difficult work situation or a boss who just doesn’t seem to understand. Someone else is finding it hard to get up in the morning because of a chronic illness, while another is aching with loneliness through the night because of a loved one who is no longer present. A young person … Read more »

December 4, 2011

Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 85 Mark 1:1-8 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 to lead them to healing and peace. … Read more »

December 11, 2011

John 1:1-14 – “The Word Made Flesh” This reflection followed a creative presentation of the Christmas story by the children of St. Andrew’s Church School. The Christmas story was told in an imaginative way – from the perspective of the inn keeper’s family and their neighbours down the street who were actively looking for God’s Messiah to come. I went to see Handel’s Messiah on Wednesday evening last week. It was presented, as usual, by the Saskatoon Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Saskatoon Chamber Singers – the continuation of a wonderful Christmas tradition both here and around the world. Although I’ve listened to Handel’s Messiah many times before, and even sung in performances of the choruses in my youth, I was struck once again by the amazing musical settings of some of the most powerful and meaningful words of scripture that are so dear to us as Christians. One of the things that stood out was how many of the texts Handel chose were from the Old Testament – from the prophets. In our children’s Christmas play this morning, these would have been the prophetic texts that the father was trying to teach to his children, and that his daughter, Esther, was exploring. These were the texts that explained that God would send a Saviour, a Messiah, and that he would come as a child. And Esther and her father were waiting and watching for these texts to be fulfilled, for God’s promises to be granted. Behold, a virgin shall … Read more »

December 2, 2012

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Today I would like to take a moment to pause and give thanks for the people in my life that bring me encouragement. For my husband, who expresses his love for me both in words and in caring support. For the women in the prayer group and on the prayer chain, and for other members of the congregation who pray for me regularly. For the people who say, “Well done,” when it is true, and who offer a hug no matter what. For a Presbyterian lay preacher in a Saskatchewan town who reads my sermons online and sends me an encouraging email every few months or so. But this isn’t just about me. I want to invite you to consider this morning… Who are the people in your life who offer you support and encouragement? Who encourages you? And how to they do it? Maybe it is a colleague who makes a point of thanking you for your valuable contributions. Maybe it is a friend or a relative who calls you, or who listens to you when you call, or who just remembers to tell you sometimes that you are loved. Maybe it is someone who tells you, “You can do it!” when you’re doubting yourself. Maybe it is someone who loves you anyway when you mess up. I hope you don’t have to think very hard or very long to bring to mind the sources of encouragement and hope in your life. I hope that they … Read more »

December 9, 2012

Philippians 1:3-11 Luke 3:1-6 Today is December 9th, just sixteen days until Christmas. How are your preparations going? Do you have a “to do” list, and if so, are you getting things checked off on your “to do” list? I am the kind of person that likes to make “to do” lists. I make one almost every week for work, noting the various tasks and projects, calls and visits that I hope to do that week. It’s a good way to get a handle on things, to set priorities, and to lessen the likelihood of forgetting something important. If you were to make a “to do” list for yourself between today and Christmas, how many sheets of paper would you need? Maybe you have gifts to buy or make – you might need a whole list just for gifts! Maybe you have cards to send, or far-away friends or family members that you want to call. Maybe you have baking to do, special meals to plan, decorations to put up, a house to clean, get-togethers to attend, Christmas plays or concerts to watch. Oh, and some of you might have to go to work too, or have some exams to write for school in the meantime. I still have quite a few things on my list, and I’m not even planning for a big family Christmas gathering, nor do I have any kids to buy gifts for as many of you do. On this second Sunday in Advent, I want … Read more »

December 16, 2012

Isaiah 12:2-6 “Drawing Water: A Short Reflection after the Christmas Pageant” This is a day of rejoicing, is it not? We are filled with the joy of being together as a church family, of singing some of our favourite carols and listening once again to the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth. We are filled with joy because our children are beautiful, and talented, and they have shared their gifts with us once again today. Most of all, we are filled with joy because today we are remembering the real Christmas. Details aside, we are remembering and rejoicing in the truth that in Jesus of Nazareth, God became flesh and lived among us. And in Jesus the Christ, we have experienced God’s very presence, love, and grace for us. The Christmas story has been shared today, in words, and action, and song, so I don’t need to say much more. But I just wanted to briefly draw our attention to the passage from Isaiah 12 that Christine just read for us. The prophet, who shared these words so long ago, was declaring his confidence and trust in God. Despite all the struggles that God’s people were experiencing, the prophet encouraged everyone to trust in God and not to be afraid. That is an encouragement that we also need to hear, again and again and again: “Surely God is our salvation; Let us trust, and not be afraid, for the Lord is our strength and our might; God has become our salvation.” … Read more »

December 23, 2012

Micah 5:2-5a Luke 1:39-55 This morning I brought with me my little nativity scene. Nick and I bought this little nativity, or crèche, quite a few years ago at a Ten Thousand Villages store. What I liked about this particular crèche was the little figures – simple, hand-painted, and quite small so you have to get up close to see the detail and identify the various characters. Unfortunately, our Joseph is missing. I don’t know if we lost him just after we got the set, or if he was always missing. But the taller shepherd stands in for Joseph when I set up the scene. You can have a look at our little nativity scene at the end of the service if you like and see the beautiful tiny figures. But the reason I brought it today is because the prophet Micah got me thinking about little things. The prophet wrote, “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah [the least of the clans of Judah], from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” It’s the same reason why I suggested that we sing “O little town of Bethlehem” this morning. Even though we sang it last Sunday, it seemed so appropriate to sing today about the little unlikely town in which the Saviour of the world was born, that we had to sing it again. I didn’t … Read more »

December 8, 2013

Isaiah 11:1-10 Matthew 3:1-12 “The Axe at the Root of the Trees” “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” This verse brings to mind memories of walking through the woods in places like BC where the forests are very mature. Big, old trees have been cut or more often have died and long since fallen to the ground. And from their stumps, often moss-covered and starting to rot, new trees are beginning to grow. Shoots are coming up from these stumps of old dead trees. Whole new trees are growing out of some of them, nourished by the remnants of the old ones, but growing new and strong, with the potential to bear fruit, provide shade, and become a home for the little animals and birds of the forest. When the prophet Isaiah wrote these words, they were words of hope, and promise, and possibility for a new ruler for Israel who would emerge from the tragedies and disappointments of the present and recent past, and who would bring peace and security to God’s people. In the context of Israel having been conquered by Assyria, the prophet’s words inspire hope that at least a remnant will survive (like a shoot growing out from a dead stump) and that one day peace and tranquility will be the reality for all of creation. Of course, when Christians read this text, we recognize Jesus the Christ as the one on whom … Read more »

December 22, 2013

Matthew 1:18-25 “Don’t be Afraid, Joseph.” Yesterday I listened to a CBC podcast titled, “While Shepherds Watch Their Flock: The Trials and Triumphs of Clergy at Christmas.” Pointing out that this season, for many Christian clergy, is experienced somewhat differently than for most other people, it included stories from a number of ministers, priests, and pastors about the challenges that come from the demands and expectations of congregations at Christmas. From dealing with a drunken parishioner who kept sliding off the kneeler, to having the singing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” interrupted on Christmas Eve because it was the “wrong tune,” the stories were both humorous and real. The part that stood out to me most was the fact that these clergy felt such pressure to make Christmas in their churches perfect for everyone. A United Church minister commented that the regular church-goers were quite forgiving if everything wasn’t perfect, but those who attend a few times a year are less-so, and those who only come at Christmas have amazingly high expectations. Some of them want everything to be like it was when they used to come to church when they were children… the service should match what we did back in 1973! They named Christmas as the busiest time of year for ministers, though I’m not sure that’s always true as so many other responsibilities tail-off in December because no one else wants the extra programming or meetings. But it is still a busy time, and we do … Read more »

December 7, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-11 2 Peter 3:8-15a Mark 1:1-8 “Unprepared” Someone suggested recently that if I could come up with titles for my Sunday sermons, she would appreciate that. And so, on Friday morning, just before leaving for North Battleford for our Presbytery meeting, I added one more word to the bulletin which Karen would print later that morning. I titled the sermon for today, “Unprepared,” and I chuckled to myself because as I wrote “Unprepared” in the bulletin I was very aware of the fact that my sermon was completely unprepared as yet. I had reflected on the scriptures, made some notes, and the idea of the sermon was beginning to form in my mind, but I was still woefully unprepared. Although ministers get used to speaking in public, I imagine that if we share a common nightmare it’s the thought of getting a total writer’s block, or of being so overwhelmed with other aspects of ministry all week, that Sunday arrives and we have nothing to say. If we take our ministry seriously, we want to do the best we can with whatever gifts we have received, and being unprepared is a terrible possibility. I know that many of you have experienced something similar in your work or in your family life. Teachers have to get ready for presentations each and every day – whether they are teaching little children, teens, or adults. Others have to prepare reports, give speeches, chair meetings, train employees, or simply be ready to perform … Read more »

December 14, 2014

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 Psalm 126 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 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. … Read more »

November 29, 2015

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36 “Strengthened By Love” I like the way Ralph Milton shares the background to today’s scripture reading from 1 Thessalonians in the Lectionary Story Bible: Paul liked to tell people about his friend Jesus. He liked to tell them how much God loved them, and how to live in God’s way. Paul and his two friends, Silvanus and Timothy, went to visit people who lived in a city with a very big name. Thessalonica. They stayed there for a long time telling people stories of Jesus and showing them how to live – how to be kind and gentle with each other. Some of the people of Thessalonica said, “We could become a church. We could come together to pray and sing. We could do things together to help others. There are people in our city who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have a place to live. We could help them.” Paul and his friends were very happy when the people decided to become a church. “Now you can teach each other more about God, and about how to live in God’s way,” he said. “Now Silvanus and Timothy and I can go to other places to tell people about God’s love.” Many days after they had left, Silvanus said to Paul, “I miss the people of Thessalonica. They were kind and gentle people. I think they will become a good, strong church together.” “That’s what our friend Timothy said when he came … Read more »