March 13, 2011

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 Psalm 32 Luke 15:11-32 The liturgical season of Lent is typically a time set aside for penitence. On Ash Wednesday, a group of us gathered here at the church, just as Christians gathered around the world, and we were invited to enter a period of self-examination, repentance, prayer, and fasting. Indeed, we are called to use these forty days (between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday) as a time of particular reflection on our sins, the ways that we separate ourselves from God and from one another. Thus, it is easy to characterize Lent as the sombre, solemn period of the church year. The fact that Psalm 32 is set for the first Sunday of Lent in our lectionary suggests that there seems to be more to this season than solemnity. The title given to this psalm in the NRSV translation says a lot. It’s titled, “The Joy of Forgiveness.” The psalmist offers a “before” and an “after” picture of his experience of confessing his sins to God. Here’s what things were like BEFORE he made his confession. He laments: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” But then he acknowledges his sins to God: “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” he says. And AFTER the confession, he comes to know God’s forgiveness, an experience of relief and … Read more »

March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-4a John 3:1-17 Abram and Nicodemus provide an interesting contrast in our readings today. First we have Abram, a model of faith, courage, and obedience to God. Today’s brief story is the first time that we hear about Abram in the bible. God tells him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And Abram goes. He does what God has told him to do. He goes. And we know that he becomes the father of many nations, and the father of the three major religions of the world. After Abram, so many others come to believe in the One God. They worship God, and listen for God, and do their best to follow God and God’s ways. Abram is a wonderful example of faith. Nicodemus? Not so much. John’s Gospel tells us that Nicodemus is a religious person. He’s a Pharisee and a leader in the religious community. And just like Abram must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way, telling him to leave everything and start fresh in a new place, I think Nicodemus must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way too. Nicodemus was hearing God’s voice and seeing God’s wonders in the man called Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe Nic was at the wedding in Cana. Maybe he saw what Jesus did – turning water into wine. Or maybe Nic was in the temple when Jesus drove out the money … Read more »

March 27, 2011

John 4:5-42 Did you know that Tuesday, March 22nd was the international World Water Day? I didn’t know that it was until yesterday when the day had already passed. But marking World Water Day a few days late is probably better than not marking it at all. The purpose of the day is simple – to raise awareness about the achievements made and the challenges faced in ensuring people around the world have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. I hate to admit it, but I went down to Regina on Friday afternoon with our Synod Youth group, and I complained about the tap water. I’m not the kind of person who ever bothers with bottled water. Tap water is fine. But I suddenly realized that I’d become accustomed to some pretty fine tasting tap water here in Saskatoon. Just brushing my teeth with the Regina water was unappealing, let alone actually drinking it. And that is good, fresh, treated water that is perfectly safe to drink. Even the people of Regina have it pretty good! Clean water is essential to life, yet over a billion people around the world still do not have adequate or sustainable access to safe water or proper sanitation facilities. A lack of sanitation and clean drinking water leads to serious health problems such as cholera, diarrhea, scabies and malaria. In many developing countries, women and children are responsible for collecting water from wells or streams that are far away and may not … Read more »

April 3, 2011

Introduction to the reading from John: Just before we hear the Gospel reading, I want to say a few things. During the season of Lent in year A, we get a series of long stories from John’s Gospel, and today’s Gospel story about the healing of a blind man from John 9 is no exception. All of the Gospels have stories about Jesus healing people who are blind. But if we were reading a healing story from Mark’s Gospel it would be much shorter! The Gospel writer would tell us that someone was blind. Jesus would do something simple to help. The person would be healed. And everyone would rejoice and praise God. There might be a few Pharisees around who would grumble about it a little bit, especially if it happened to be the Sabbath day. But that would be the story. John’s Gospel is different though. When the author of John’s Gospel tells a story about healing a blind man, it’s about much more than just healing a blind man. It’s almost like John’s stories are parables. They’re not parables really, because parables are made up stories that are told to make a specific point. On the surface a parable is about one thing, but it has a deeper level of meaning too, and that’s the point of the story. John’s stories are about things that Jesus actually did in his ministry. But they’re told in such a way that, if you listen carefully, you’ll notice that they … Read more »

April 10, 2011

Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 John 11:1-45 It is the fifth Sunday in Lent. We are still two weeks away from Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. But today we have heard a couple of wonderful scripture texts that point towards the joy of the resurrection. They proclaim the power and love of God to bring hope where there is despair, to bring joy where there is sadness and grief, to bring life where there is death. The prophet Ezekiel uses the striking image of a valley full of dry bones. And he tells about how God will raise them up, and put them back together, cover them with flesh and skin, and fill them with breath so that God’s people will live again. The author of John’s Gospel tells the amazing story of the raising of Lazarus. This friend of Jesus had been dead for four days. He was already in the tomb. His family were grieving. But Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out. He was still wrapped in his grave clothes, but he was alive again! And the Apostle Paul reminds the Roman Christians, and he reminds us also, that as God’s people we have the gift of the Spirit within us. The Spirit of God that lives within us is the same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead. And so we can trust and believe that God’s Spirit will give us … Read more »

April 17, 2011

Canadians are preparing for a federal election on Monday, May 2, 2011. This morning’s sermon suggests that our faith should be the basis for all our decisions, including how we respond to complex ethical dilemmas, and how we choose to vote. The Presbyterian Church in Canada does not support a particular party or political agenda, but it does encourage Presbyterians to engage with the issues and be a part of the process. On the website of the Presbyterian Church in Canada you will find several election guides that may assist you as you study the issues and consider the options. They also provide some helpful questions that you may want to put to your candidates, particularly related to the issues of poverty and justice. Matthew 21:1-11 Philippians 2:5-11 I was thinking a lot about the federal election as I was preparing my sermon for this morning. I was thinking about the political rallies and the crowds of people waving signs and hoping to catch a glimpse of, or shake hands with their favourite leader. Not that Canadian politics has any really charismatic leaders like Obama once was in the United States. I’m not sure what’s worse… to get really excited about a leader and then to turn against him when he doesn’t manage to satisfy all your desires, or to just not get excited about anyone at all. On Palm Sunday, we are invited to join with the cheering crowds who greeted Jesus as he entered the city of Jerusalem … Read more »

February 26, 2012

Genesis 9:8-17 The ancient story of the great flood that we find in the Book of Genesis is not unique to the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Many cultures and religious traditions have similar stories about a time long, long ago, when God decided to flood the earth and begin again. We tell the same story (with some variation in the details) because, as humans, we share the same experience. We witness great floods and terrible disasters, and we want to make sense of them. We witness human sin, and failure, and disobedience to God, and we want to make sense of these things too. These stories make sense to us when we think about the world that we live in today. We have no trouble imagining a world that has spun so far out of control that God might want to wipe it out and begin again. We read about that world in the newspaper each day, and we see it before our eyes on the nightly news. At least, it can seem that way some days, because the Noahs of this world rarely make the headlines. But the story of Noah and the Ark and the Great Flood does not serve only as a warning. On this first Sunday in the Season of Lent, we might be tempted to read it that way. We might be inclined to warn each other back into obedience to God: Turn back before it’s too late! Pay attention to God before God decides to write … Read more »

March 4, 2012

Romans 12:1-8 Matthew 25:14-30 This sermon was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie as part of the St. Andrew’s Stewardship Committee’s program “Growing God’s Gifts.” It is based on a sermon by the Rev. Kenn Stright. Jesus once told a story of a wealthy landowner who was preparing for a long journey. He called his three servants and divided his money between them, each according to his ability. To one servant he gave five talents, meaning a sum of money – almost unimaginable riches. To a second he gave two talents, and to a third he gave one talent. And even the third received an amount that we would find staggering. But there was a definite dividing according to ability… maybe a better manager, a shrewder investor, who knows what the ability was. Why is life like that? I don’t know. We are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution. In an election our votes are all equal, at least if we take the time to vote. But when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be. God simply did not make us all the same. There are some people here who can handle five talents; there are some who can handle only one. But we need the five talented and the one talented alike! There are some people who have great intellectual capabilities, and some who do not. There are some who have the ability … Read more »

March 11, 2012

John 2:13-22 Today’s Gospel story is usually referred to as “the cleansing of the temple.” It’s the dramatic story, repeated in all four of the Gospels, in which Jesus enters the great temple in Jerusalem and makes a scene. He finds people in the temple selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. He makes a whip of cords and drives all of them out. He pours out the coins and topples the tables. He yells, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” You’ve probably heard the story before once or twice. Maybe you’ve thought about how strange it is to imagine Jesus getting angry, and been reminded perhaps that even God gets angry when bad things are happening. Perhaps you’ve read a bit about what these practices were all about. You’ve noticed that the story takes place at Passover, one of the great pilgrimage festivals. Jewish people would have travelled from all over Judah and Israel and sometimes even further to worship at the temple and celebrate God’s great love and protection of God’s people at the Passover. When the pilgrims arrived at the temple they would want to make sacrifices of thanksgiving to God. Since they were travelling from afar, they wouldn’t be able to bring animals along with them. They needed cattle, sheep, and doves for these offerings, so they would purchase them on their way in to the temple. And since they needed to make … Read more »

March 18, 2012

Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14-21 It’s always interesting to hear your responses to my sermons. Whether you were inspired, confused, challenged, or blessed… whether you agreed wholeheartedly with what I said, or you want to tell me about an alternate perspective. It was a couple of months ago, I think, and I had preached a sermon that proclaimed the inherent goodness that God has planted within each human being. I don’t think I was denying the reality that human beings are sinful creatures. It is true: Every single one of us falls short of the glory of God and needs the mercy and grace of the God who loves us despite our failings. But I also believe that we are made to be good. We are gifted with the ability to love and forgive, to be faithful and kind to one another. God made us in God’s very own image, and that image is good, and that’s what I was talking about in that particular sermon. One of the things that I heard after church that Sunday was the gentlest of criticisms, or perhaps just a reminder about the other side of the coin. The comment was something like this: “Sometimes I think we need to preach about sin also.” Yes, I agreed. Sometimes we do need to preach about sin.  “Don’t you worry” I could have responded, “Lent is coming, and I’ll be sure to preach plenty about sin during Lent!” And Lent has indeed arrived – we’re more than … Read more »

March 25, 2012

John 12:20-33 In the Lectionary Story Bible that I read from with the children this morning, there’s a note to parents and leaders just after today’s readings. “Each of the Gospels,” it explains, “tells the key story of Jesus’ crucifixion… The sixth Sunday in Lent was traditionally observed as ‘Palm Sunday” focusing on the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In order that people may also hear the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, many churches focus this Sunday on the story of Jesus’ death as well.” And here’s the warning to parents and leaders: “Please read this story carefully before you share it with children. Some of them may find it upsetting.” Some of them may find it upsetting. Imagine that! It’s the story of Jesus – and they’ve heard about him often enough. He’s the one who loves children and welcomes them. He’s the one who heals people and multiplies a feast so that everyone is well fed. He’s the one that they are told loves them, and they are encouraged to love him also. And now, in this rather upsetting story, Jesus is being unjustly accused, unfairly arrested, shockingly tortured, and ultimately killed on a cross. It’s not surprising that some children might be upset. Some adults might get riled up by it too, if we’re paying attention. I think the problem is that we’ve gotten so used to the death of Jesus. We’ve come to expect it, and even to accept it. It doesn’t shock or horrify … Read more »

April 1, 2012

Mark 11:1-11 I guess it wouldn’t have been unusual for the crowds to gather near Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. Especially in the days leading up to one of the great festivals, people would come out of their homes to welcome the pilgrims. There would have been lots of pilgrims on the road, making their way from the little towns and villages, going up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. For many it would have been a long journey, something for which they had planned and anticipated, perhaps for years. They walked with their families and friends, camping beside the road, and sharing provisions with others that they met along the way. When the pilgrims got to Bethany they knew that they were almost there, and the excitement was palpable. Those who lived nearby came out to greet them, almost as if they were in a parade. And I imagine the people singing as they walked, singing the joyful pilgrimage psalms written especially for occasions such as these: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” And so Jesus came into Jerusalem. He and his friends joined in the procession and were greeted by the singing and cheering crowds as they went up to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s mercy and love at the Passover. But as the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, they tell us in various ways that this was no ordinary procession. This was … Read more »

February 17, 2013

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 Psalm 34:1-14 Ephesians 5:6-20 “Making the Most of the Time” When the letter to the Ephesians was written towards the end of the first century, both its author and the Christians who received it were expecting the end of the world to come quite soon. They expected that Christ would soon return, and the Kingdom of God would be inaugurated. It could be any day now, and many of them hoped it would be sooner rather than later. “But in the meantime,” the Christian leader explains, “there are ways you should be living… ways you should be spending your time… and other ways that you shouldn’t.” “Be careful… how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time…” the letter encouraged them. “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord” and live accordingly. And if you’re not sure what is pleasing to God, here are some pointers: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our context today is somewhat different. Even as Christians, we do not live day-to-day with the expectation that Christ may return today or tomorrow. Although it is our Christian hope that Christ will one day return … Read more »

February 24, 2013

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35 “Take Courage!” What does it take to be a Christian? Some might say that Christians need to be loving and kind. Some might say that Christians need to be open and friendly. Some might say that Christians just need to have the faith to believe. But our scripture passages today suggest that the most important characteristic of a Christian is courage. When God is speaking to his people in the Bible, it’s not unusual for God’s introductory words to be “Be not afraid.” I suppose that standing face to face with God, or even just hearing God’s voice speaking to you directly was perhaps a rather scary experience. But I think that, more generally, God was often calling his people to do some rather risky and scary stuff. They had good reason to be feeling nervous or afraid. In the case of Abram, whom we read about this morning, God has led him away from his homeland and sent him on a journey towards a new place to found a new nation. God has promised him good land, and many descendants, and God’s own blessing. But at this point in the story, Abram is starting to get worried. He hasn’t even had a child yet, let alone a son to continue his family line. And why should Abram believe that the land that he had come to would be his? Others might come and try to take it from him. Without … Read more »

March 3, 2013

Isaiah 55:1-9 Luke 13:1-9 “Stop! Drink water.” There was a cartoon circulating on email a couple of weeks ago. The scene was the Vatican, and the speech bubble was of someone inside responding in surprise to Pope Benedict’s announcement of his resignation: “You’re giving up WHAT for Lent?” There is a tradition of Christians giving something up during Lent. We might give up some indulgence that we don’t really need. We might fast on a certain day of the week or forego eating meat, as a way of disciplining ourselves and turning our attention towards God. Others have changed up the tradition a little by talking about taking something on during Lent. They try to add something to their daily or weekly routine… making sure they come to worship every week, adding daily prayer to their schedule, spending some intentional time in service to the poor or the lonely or the sick. Around St. Andrew’s this year, we’ve had a few invitations to take something on during Lent. I handed copies of a devotional booklet that I called “A Time to Pray,” and offered a Wednesday evening bible study on the appropriately Lenten topic of forgiveness. The Stewardship Committee invited us all to gather our coins for a special offering to PWS&D, and they called us to pay attention to our stewardship of time during Lent with a survey and a time log, along with some thoughtful questions to help us evaluate our use of time and make some changes … Read more »

March 17, 2013

Philippians 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8 “Costly Love” You know, the choir has been practicing for weeks now for this special anthem for Easter Sunday. We’ve still got a couple more practices on it, and many of us are practicing our parts at home too. When Easter Sunday comes, it’ll take us about three minutes to sing it and then it will be over. What a waste! And what do you think about those grandmothers… the ones who spend all day shopping, and preparing, and cooking a fabulous meal for their kids and grandkids? Everyone shows up to the house at 5:30 on Sunday evening, and by 6:30 it’s all gone. Not a scrap left when the grandsons get up from the table. What a waste! Or think about all the planning and expense that goes towards sending a youth group on a mission trip… the fundraising, the organizing, the preparing, the packing. All that work, all that effort… and five days or ten days or two weeks later it’s all over and they’re back home again. What a waste! And then there’s Mary of Bethany… working, and saving, choosing the perfume and buying it with practically a year’s worth of wages. Yes, she could have used that money to help the poor instead. She could have bought an awful lot of bread with 300 denarii. But instead she “took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled … Read more »

March 24, 2013

Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 “Choosing Servanthood” Today is the Sunday with two names. It is Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. And it is Passion Sunday, as we anticipate what will happen to Jesus when he arrives in Jerusalem – his final meal with his disciples, his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and torture, and his terrible execution on a Roman cross. The lectionary provides us with two sets of scripture readings for today, inviting the preacher to choose how to focus the service, and I have chosen the Gospel reading from the liturgy of the Palms, and the other readings from the liturgy of the Passion. The Gospel reading that I’m skipping today is the long account of what happens to Jesus in Jerusalem. We’ll come back to it, of course, on Thursday evening when we gather at Calvin-Goforth for the Maundy Thursday service, and on Friday morning when we gather here to mark Good Friday. But this morning, instead of simply recounting the story of Jesus’ passion, a story that most of us know quite well, I’d like to focus on the other readings that are set for Passion Sunday, and spend some time thinking theologically about Jesus’ suffering and death. From the prophet 2nd Isaiah, Dineke read to us about the Suffering Servant. In these few short verses, Isaiah talks about the challenging vocation that he is called to. He says … Read more »

March 9, 2014

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 Matthew 4:1-11 “Avoiding Distraction; Living into God’s Purpose” As we began the forty-day journey of Lent this week, we may have decided to take on a Lenten discipline. Some of you may have decided to give something up, like coffee, or chocolate, or video games, or taking the elevator (as my sister once did). Some of you may have decided to take something on, like praying or reading scripture every day, or attending worship or bible study every week, or giving more of your time, talent, or money to do some good in the world. You may be thinking today about how you are going to avoid the temptation to break your Lenten discipline. How are you going to make yourself get up earlier in the morning to spend time with God in prayer each day? How are you going to stop yourself from giving in, and buying and eating the Easter chocolate that is already in the stores? How are you going to stay firm in your commitment to pray, worship, and give more to God with all the many other demands on your time and attention? Although temptation and sin are the usual ways of describing this dilemma, I wonder if “distraction” is a better word for what so often goes wrong in our attempts to follow Jesus more closely during Lent and throughout the year. If you’re anything like me, distraction can get in the way of getting a lot of things done. For … Read more »

March 16, 2014

John 3:1-17 “Why Don’t They Get It?” 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? … Read more »

March 23, 2014

Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42 “Spiritual Food and Drink” As we continue our journey through the season of Lent, Year A (the first year of the 3-year lectionary cycle) gives us a long, elaborate story from John’s Gospel each Sunday. Last week it was the story of the Jewish leader, Nicodemus, being told by Jesus that he needed to be born from above. And today, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman beside a well, as he is travelling by the city of Sychar. Last week we paid attention to the way that John’s Jesus used confusing language. When he told Nicodemus that he had to be born “anothen” in order to see the Kingdom of God, the Greek word “anothen” could have meant “again” (as Nicodemus assumed) or “from above” (the more spiritual meaning that Jesus actually intended.) The major theme of John’s Gospel is about how people come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world – how they come to realize who he really is. And the detailed stories of Jesus’ various encounters each give insight into both the identity of Jesus and the process of coming to believe in and have faith in him. The struggle for the Jewish Christians of the late first century (from whose community John’s Gospel came) was the fact that there were other Jews who had rejected the Messiah-ship of Jesus. The Jewish followers of the way had been kicked out of the synagogues by their friends who … Read more »