April 11, 2004

John 20:1-18 Acts 10:34-43 Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Church rejoice and sing this Easter Day! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! We’ve heard the Easter story many times before. It’s told in all the Gospels. It’s repeated in many of the letters of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the story that is the foundation of our faith. It’s the story that gives shape to our life as Christians. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We believe that Jesus was killed on a cross, but that he didn’t stay dead. God raised him on the third day. His body was not stolen. It was raised. We believe that he was the first to be raised, but that all will be raised on the last day. God is more powerful than death. Death is not the end. This is the Good News of Easter, and this is what we believe. And so, as did the first disciples who witnessed the resurrection, we tell the story. We tell it over and over… Easter after Easter, Sunday after Sunday. After years of preaching, ministers have told me that it becomes difficult to find fresh ways of telling the story. How do we present the story again to people who have heard it so many times before? How do we present the story clearly for the person among us who is hearing it for the first time? How do we present the story so that … Read more »

April 8, 2007

The following presentation of the Easter story was used in an intergenerational worship service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Saskatoon for Easter Sunday, 2007. Suzy and Harold are puppet characters played by two young adults in our congregation. Amanda is the minister. Suzy and Harold are meant to be young members of the congregation. Suzy is a somewhat “goodie two-shoes” character who has grown up going to church and church school. Harold is a new church-goer and has lots of questions. The scripture readings from John 20 are interspersed throughout the dialogue. At St. Andrew’s, they were read by children from the Contemporary English Version. The song used throughout the dialogue was sung by the choir and congregation (#254 in the Presbyterian Book of Praise). The EASTER STORY in Scripture and Song Amanda: Good morning, and Happy Easter to you all! Harold: Happy Easter Amanda! Suzy: Happy Easter everyone! Amanda: Easter Sunday is a very special day in the church year, because it’s the day that we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Harold: “Resurrection” from the dead? Suzy: Resurrection means new life, Harold. Jesus died on a cross. He was dead, but on the third day he rose again. He came back to life! Amanda: Yes, that’s resurrection, Suzy. New life for Jesus, and good news for all of us because we learn that God is more powerful than death and evil and all the bad stuff in the world. God wins over death. God wins over hatred. … Read more »

March 23, 2008

The following dialogue sermon was presented for the Easter Sunday message. Thank you to David Ireland for playing the role of Apollos, while I (Amanda) was Priscilla. The italicized sections were sung by the choir and congregation to the tune of “Give me oil in my lamp.” Priscilla and Apollos: Preaching the GOOD NEWS in Ephesus Apollos: Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” Jesus, the great rabbi, also said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Do not think that Jesus came to abolish the law or the prophets. No, he came to fulfill them. You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, “You shall not murder.” But Jesus said, “Do not even be angry with a brother or sister.” You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Priscilla: Excuse … Read more »

May 1, 2011

John 20:19-31 There are stories that get told every year at Knox College (where I went to seminary) about the ghosts that have been seen over the years in the academic wing of the building. People have spotted them numerous times in the chapel, in the classrooms, and especially in the library. One student, who studied at Knox a couple of years before I did, described in great detail the appearance of a ghost who seemed to walk right through her as she stood in the hallway late one night. According to the stories, library staff have often noted one particular chair which is always pulled out when they arrive in the morning, and a series of books that mysteriously find their way back to that desk. Some say that the ghost must be a doctoral student who died before completing his thesis. As compelling as some of these stories may be, especially when told with dramatic detail and suspense, when I heard them, I was sceptical. I just don’t believe in ghosts. They don’t fit in with my understanding of the world. People are either alive or they’re dead. And as much as I believe in eternal life, I don’t think it involves disembodied people floating around old buildings or trying to finish uncompleted dissertations. The Easter story – the story of Jesus’ resurrection – his rising from the dead – is similarly unbelievable. It was Sunday night, the same day that Mary Magdalene said she saw Jesus alive … Read more »

May 8, 2011

Luke 24:13-35 I have always appreciated Luke’s story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It’s a story of disappointment turning into possibility, of sadness turning into hope, of loneliness turning into friendship, of confusion turning into understanding. It’s a story about an ending becoming a new beginning, of disciples who were wandering away returning with great hope and purpose. An interesting point that has been noted in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is that only one of them is named. The author of Luke’s Gospel tells us about two disciples “who were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” One of them, we are told, was named Cleopas. The other is not named. Now, it’s not that unusual in the Gospels to encounter characters that are not named. Yes, we meet many of Jesus’ disciples by name: Simon, Andrew, Matthew, John, and Mary Magdalene, just to name a few. But then we hear about others identified as “a blind man,” “a sinful woman,” or “the woman at the well.” Some have pointed out that the women in the Gospels are disproportionately left unnamed. The classic example is the woman in Mark’s Gospel who anoints Jesus at Bethany. Some of those who were there scolded the unnamed woman for wasting such precious ointment. But Jesus thanked her and praised her for what she did. And he said, “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole … Read more »

May 22, 2011

John 14:1-14 1 Peter 2:2-10 It was an amazing week… filled with beautiful worship, inspiring preaching, informative lectures, and so many interesting conversations with ministers from across North America. I spent Monday to Friday last week in Minneapolis at the Festival of Homiletics (that’s a fancy word for preaching) and I got to listen to some of the best preachers and teachers of preaching of our time. We heard Barbara Brown Taylor, Thomas Long, Walter Brueggeman, Anna Carter Florence, Otis Moss III, and many more, as well as lectures by Diana Butler Bass and Brian McLaren. I don’t know if these names mean anything to you or not. But trust me, these are the big names in preaching today… and we were absolutely inundated with fantastic sermons and lectures on preaching all week. The conference ended on Friday at noon, after an absolutely wonderful worship service at the huge Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis where the largest events were being held. They told us there were 1700 pastors at the conference, and when we all got together, we filled the church almost to capacity. When we sang together, it was a huge swell of sound such that we didn’t really need the help of the organ to lead us. It was like a giant massed choir that seemed to need no rehearsal as we blended our voices together to sing some familiar and many new hymns of our shared faith in Christ. Some of you are probably going to think … Read more »

May 29, 2011

Acts 17:22-31 Several stories in this sermon are borrowed from the book “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian” by Thomas G. Long (San Francisco: 2004). I’ve been reading a book this week called, “Testimony” by the American Presbyterian preacher, Thomas Long. Out of the various volumes that I brought home from my study leave last week, it seemed the most appropriate one to read as I was reflecting on this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Testimony is about bearing witness. It’s about using our voices to tell about what we have seen and heard and experienced of God in Jesus Christ. And testimony is a fundamental part of what Christians are called by Christ to do in the world. Love God. Love our neighbours. And tell the world about God’s love in Jesus Christ. If we wanted to sum up our purpose… that would be a pretty good summary. But at least within the mainline churches, and at least within the last several decades, we don’t do a lot of talking about our faith out loud. We don’t want to offend our neighbours or come across as pushing our religion on anyone, so we generally keep our mouths shut and we blend in with the rest of secular society. I don’t think it’s that the average mainline Christian is lacking in faith. It’s just that most of us aren’t used to putting our faith into words. We’re not used to praying out loud where others can hear … Read more »

June 5, 2011

“The Glorious Inheritance” (Ephesians 1:15-23) I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get worried about whether we’re going to manage to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. It’s kind of a critical task, you see… not only because the church won’t last very long if our children and our grandchildren don’t receive the faith and continue the work of the church. But perhaps most importantly, it’s kind of a critical task because it’s exactly what Jesus told his first followers that they were supposed to do. As the book of Acts tells us, Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit and said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Those of you who have children or grandchildren of your own might spend even more time worrying about this problem than I do. You want your kids to learn the biblical stories of the faith. You want them to learn how to pray. You want to find a way to show them that God is real, to help them to know that God is present and active in the world, and that God is always there for them, and is always calling them to live in the way of Jesus. Some of the worrying may have to do with not really knowing … Read more »

April 15, 2012

Acts 4:32-35 Psalm 133 1 John 1:1-2:2 The fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles provides us with an idyllic picture of the church at the beginning: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Now that’s unity! They were “of one heart and soul.” Of course, maybe that’s because there weren’t very many of them yet. They were just a small group of disciples who had a lot in common with each other and managed to keep the same perspective on most things. Well, no. They weren’t that small a group. Even before the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the gathered disciples, there were about a hundred of them waiting together in Jerusalem. And after that, the church grew in leaps and bounds! And no, they weren’t all fishermen from Galilee. Remember the Jews from all the nations of the world who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost? And remember how they heard the disciples speaking in their own various languages? After Peter’s first sermon to the crowd, apparently 3000 believers were added to their number, and more and more every day after that! By the fourth chapter of Acts, the church must have numbered around 5000 people, and it would have included people from various countries, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. They were probably mostly Jewish Christians – but still, it’s pretty amazing that they were getting along well and unified in heart and soul. … Read more »

April 22, 2012

The following sermon, titled “A New Opportunity,” was written and presented by Dr. Matthew Neufeld, Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan, and member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon. When I finished secondary school the world was a different place from what it is today. The globe was divided into three “worlds”: the first or “free” world, the second or communist world, and the third world. The first and second worlds had been in a so-called Cold War for over forty years, and competed with each other for the loyalty of the third world. By the time I started my first year of university relations between the main antagonists of the Cold War—the USA and the USSR—had improved a bit. Mostly this was because the Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, had made efforts to reform his country’s economy and allow more openness in society. Still, when I turned 18 in late October of 1989 there was no reason to think that the Cold War would end anytime soon. But then one day, the world changed. I will never forget walking into the TV room of my university residence on 9th November 1989—what I saw on the screen was a picture I’d never have imagined. People were standing on top of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate. People were standing and cheering and laughing and hugging each other on a place where only the previous day they would have been shot outright. It was … Read more »

May 13, 2012

Acts 10:44-48 John 15:9-17 Do you remember the story of Peter and Cornelius? It comes just before the section from the Book of Acts that William read for us this morning. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion. He was a devout man who feared God. He prayed diligently and gave generously to the poor, but he was a Gentile. And one day, Cornelius has a vision. An angel appears to him and tells him to send a couple of servants to a place called Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter. And so he did. Meanwhile, the Apostle Peter goes up on his roof to pray, and he sees a vision too. He sees the sky open up, and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it are all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he hears a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter is obviously shocked because these are animals that Jews like him don’t normally eat. He says, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” But the voice is insistent. It repeats the instruction again and again and says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” But before Peter has had a chance to think about what the vision might mean, there is a knock at the door. Cornelius’ servants have arrived and they are asking for Peter. … Read more »

April 7, 2013

Revelation 1:4-8 John 20:19-31 “Not the End of the Story” Welcome to the second Sunday in the Season of Easter. I don’t know about you, but it kind of feels like a low Sunday to me. The church isn’t as full as it was last week, and the energy level and anticipation isn’t quite as high either. Someone said that there was something pretty special about the experience of coming in to church last Sunday. Everyone was so joyful and upbeat. It was definitely a day of celebration as we sang the songs of Easter and proclaimed the resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord. But when the Easter weekend came to an end, many of us went back to the grind of work on Monday or Tuesday. We came face to face with exam time looming, or a house in need of a good Spring cleaning, or the challenges of health issues, or a strained relationship in need of repair, or the stress of tax time and worry about how to make the payments, or just the news from the world this week that some young Canadian men have become terrorists, that there was a shooting in a Gatineau daycare, that all is not yet right in the world. Lauren Winner, reflecting on the day of her baptism as a young adult, remembers a typo in the Communion prayer response: It said, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ has come again.” (Instead of Christ WILL come again. It said … Read more »

April 14, 2013

Acts 9:1-20 John 21:1-19 “Converted For Mission” This week I was drawn into the story from the Book of Acts about Saul’s conversion to Christianity. Saul, the Pharisee, who was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus, who was making plans to arrest any he found who belonged to the Way… Saul was going along and approaching Damascus, when suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard the voice of Jesus. And to make a long story short, he was converted from a persecutor of Christians to one of the most influential Apostles of Christ, who brought the Gospel to the Gentiles and recorded the Good News in writings and letters for generations to come. Early in the week, I invited folks, with whom I shared the story, to think about their own stories of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. I wondered if some might have a story as dramatic as Saul’s experience. I remembered someone telling such a dramatic story many years ago when I was in university. I was at a Christian gathering on campus and there was a young man named Stephen telling his story of coming to faith, giving his testimony. Stephen told us about the challenges of his childhood and teen years. His parents split up, and he was not a very happy child. He didn’t think that either of his parents really loved him, so he got into all kinds of rebellious activities, … Read more »

April 21, 2013

Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 “Shepherded Through the Ordeals” John of Patmos, writing in the midst of exile and persecution because of his faith and his leadership in the early Christian Church, shares a vision he has of heaven – a vision of the kingdom of God when it comes. He sees a great multitude of people, more than he could count – people from every nation, tribe, and language standing together before the throne of God. And they are singing: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Then a question is raised, “Who are all those people? Where have they come from?” And the answer is given: “These are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal… For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship [God] day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Of course, the metaphor of God as the Shepherd of the people runs through most of our scripture readings today. God is the one who cares for us like we are precious sheep, guiding us through danger and … Read more »

May 12, 2013

Acts 16:9-34 John 17:20-26 “Jesus is Praying for Us” There’s a continuing theme that begins in the Gospels, continues and grows through the Acts of the Apostles, and is picked up again and again in the letters of Paul and others in the time of the earliest Churches. It’s the idea that the love of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all the people of the world. Jesus was born to a Jewish family and lived as a faithful Jew. His ministry began among the Jews and for the Jews, and then it began to spread. Jesus went beyond the boundaries of religion, race, gender, and social standing… engaging in conversation with those beyond his immediate community, reaching out in love to those on the margins of society, and by the end of the Gospels, encouraging his disciples to go and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to all the people of the world. This morning I decided to include two readings from the Book of Acts. The first one about Paul and his friends going to Macedonia, meeting Lydia, and Lydia and her household being baptized, was the reading assigned for last Sunday. We did Camp Sunday instead, so we didn’t get to hear it last week. The second one Dorothy read for us this morning about Paul and Silas exorcising an evil spirit from a slave-girl, and then getting flogged and thrown in jail. While in jail, they keep their spirits … Read more »

May 4, 2014

Luke 24:13-35 “A Meeting Place on the Journey” There is a beautiful benediction that I learned several years ago. It was the favourite of a minister with whom I studied in Toronto. And it’s the perfect benediction to go with a reflection on today’s Gospel reading about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I’ll share the benediction with you now… but don’t take it to mean that we’re done after this and you can go home. I’ll still have a few more things to say. May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road. May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve. May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love. May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you. Today’s Gospel is about the risen Christ, who comes to walk with two of his disappointed and disillusioned disciples as they travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus. We don’t know much about Cleopas and his friend, except that they had been followers of Jesus, and now, I guess, they’re not. You see, it’s Sunday as they start the seven mile walk to Emmaus. Only hours earlier Mary Magdalene and Joanna and the other women had come to them and told them about a strange and wonderful occurrence at the tomb where Jesus had been buried two days before… Early that … Read more »

May 18, 2014

Acts 7:55-60 John 14:1-14 “The Gift of Martyrdom?” Earlier this year, when the churches of Saskatoon gathered to participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we held a Saturday afternoon workshop to think about and discuss the different gifts that the various church traditions bring to the Christian Church as a whole. We talked about the distinctive qualities of each branch of the Christian Church, and considered what gifts we could offer to one another, and which gifts we would be blessed to receive from others. The United Church offered their willingness to risk and try things differently, and the Mennonites brought their commitment to peace and social justice. The evangelicals contributed their boldness in sharing their faith with others, and we Presbyterians shared our distinctive form of leadership in the church – with lay people and clergy working together in sessions and presbyteries. The workshop was going really well, and I was amazed at how easily most of those present were able to name and to welcome the gifts of the other churches. It was a wonderful celebration of the Apostle Paul’s teaching – that there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. But then I wandered over to the table where the Ukrainian Catholics were discussing their gifts and making a decision on which one to offer to the whole Church. A little earlier, others had mentioned the beautiful and meditative chanting of prayers in the Ukrainian Catholic tradition, and the meaningful wedding liturgy with … Read more »

May 25, 2014

“Not Ruled by Anxiety” John 14:15-21 I think the most anxious days in my life were the ones I spent waiting to see my doctor after discovering a small lump in my breast. That was more than ten years ago, and it turned out to be benign, but I’ll always remember how it felt when I had to wait… wondering, worrying, imagining the worst. These days I don’t have any major worries like that… but I do get a bit anxious about getting my school work done on time and well. A week from now I’ll be on my way to Toronto again for my next intensive course, and I’m worrying about getting all the reading done before then. I’m worrying about the bibliography that I’ve put together, but have not yet annotated (adding my summaries of the various articles and books on the list). Of course, I also worry about the church… about our congregation and whether our ministry here is going to survive and thrive… about the other congregations in our presbytery, especially the ones I’m responsible for as interim moderator… and about the Presbyterian Church in general and what our future might hold. A basic definition of anxiety is this: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Synonyms are: concern, apprehension, uneasiness, fear, disquiet, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, and tension. When anxiety gets out of control and goes beyond what is to be expected by the … Read more »

June 1, 2014

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11 “Jesus Prays for Us” He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole wide world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands. The songs we sing in daily life, and especially in worship, have a lot of power to shape our thinking and believing about God, the world, and ourselves in relationship to both. I grew up in church and at camp singing songs that expressed the love, care, and concern of God for the whole world… and that perspective has been a part of my theology ever since. God has the whole world in God’s hands: the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain, the tiny little baby, and you and me and everyone else as well. If you share that kind of thinking about God’s interest in the world, you conclude that God loves your new Muslim neighbour, and God is concerned about what the agnostics and secular humanists discuss when they meet as the Saskatoon Centre for Inquiry. God cares about the First Nations children living in sub-standard housing on a northern reserve, about the young Indian woman who was stoned to death by her family, and about the rich family in a large North American city who live in a gated community and send their children to an expensive private school. God has the whole world in God’s hands. But when the author … Read more »

April 5, 2015

Mark 16:1-8 “Go!” “Go!” That is what the angel at the empty tomb told the women to do. “Go, and tell the other disciples that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” And they did GO. They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Strangely, that is exactly how the Gospel according to Mark ends. Mary doesn’t see Jesus in the garden and have a conversation with him. The women don’t run to tell the other disciples that Jesus’ body is gone. And the male disciples don’t come to look in the tomb themselves. Jesus doesn’t make any sort of appearances either, and he doesn’t give his followers a final commissioning before he rises up into heaven. Instead, the story ends with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome receiving the instruction to GO and tell, but being overcome with terror and dread, fleeing, and saying nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. This disappointing conclusion to Mark’s Gospel has bothered Christians throughout the centuries. The other Gospels tell us more, and give us stories about Jesus’ reassuring appearances – encouraging the disciples and inspiring them to GO and get about the work of continuing Jesus’ ministry. A shorter and a longer ending have even been added to Mark, as if a few pages must have gotten lost or destroyed, … Read more »