“By Our Love”
It’s one of my favourite songs – one of those 1970s church songs that I grew up singing. You can play it on the guitar if you learn three basic chords, and it’s one of the first ones I learned to play in high school. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
It feels great to sing it in our happy Christian communities. I sang it first at a Christian camp – a community that I loved, where I felt included, and valued, and where I belonged. And over the years, it has felt right and true to sing it in the congregations I’ve served and often in ecumenical settings too. We commit ourselves to walk with each other and to work with each other across our differences. We pray for unity, remembering that it is God’s Holy Spirit that can make us One with all our diversities.
And no matter what challenges we face, we remind ourselves that Jesus’ most important commandment to us was to love one another. Like Tertullian, a theologian in the late 2nd Century, who said that pagans in his … Read more »
“Do You Love Me?”
In this Season of Easter, we read and remember the wonderful stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Luke’s Gospel has him appear to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, and Matthew says he appeared to a bunch of disciples together on the top of a mountain. According to John, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene in the cemetery, then to the disciples in a locked room. And in his final appearance, Jesus serves breakfast to his disciples on a beach, and has a heart-rending conversation with Peter.
What a strange conversation it is – with Jesus, a full-grown man, asking his full-grown fisherman friend, Peter, if he loves him. Not just asking once… but again and again. It sounds like the kind of thing that a sad or needy child asks a mum or dad: “Do you love me?” “Yes, of course I love you,” comes the response along with a smile and a hug of reassurance. You are safe. You are loved. You are mine.
But I don’t think that’s what is going on here. Jesus doesn’t need reassurance from Peter. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Jesus is reassuring Peter that Jesus still loves … Read more »
“Even Those Who Pierced Him ”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the friends of Jesus in the aftermath of his arrest, unjust trial, and execution. The Gospel text this morning tells us that on the evening of the day of the resurrection, they had locked themselves in a house because they were afraid. But I expect that there were a lot more feelings going on than just fear.
Certainly, some of them must have felt some guilt about how it all went down, and some regret for the way they had abandoned and denied Jesus. I have no doubt that there was some confusion in their minds and questions in their hearts. Was Jesus dead or was he alive? Some had seen an empty tomb, but what did that really mean?
But if I was in their place, I also would have been angry. And I probably would have been deflecting my anger at myself by putting the blame on others. I would have been railing against the religious leaders – calling them corrupt, cowardly, and downright evil.
I would have been really critical of Pilate and Herod. They were the ones with the power to stop this, and they … Read more »
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
“The Last Enemy”
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Do you believe that? And if you do believe it, what difference does it make to you? How does believing in the resurrection of Christ change your life? How does it affect how you feel or how you live? The Apostle Paul explores these questions in detail towards the end of his first letter to the Christians at Corinth.
You may remember that the Corinthians were struggling with a lot of issues and conflicts over what they believed and how they practiced their faith. After sorting out their issues with leadership, divisions, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and orderly worship, Paul finally gets to the really big one – the question about resurrection.
In verse twelve, Paul expresses the main issue: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” Some in the Corinthian community rejoiced in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Like us, they proclaimed: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! But they weren’t so sure that the rest of us would also be resurrected – at least not in any kind of bodily way.
Their … Read more »
“When Everything Goes Wrong”
The other night I was watching an episode of Chicago Fire. If you don’t happen to watch it, all you need to know is that it’s one of those dramatic shows about a fire department. In addition to the drama in the relationships between the characters, there is the regular drama of crises including fires, car accidents, and other emergencies that our heroes need to respond to and solve. If you do happen to watch Chicago Fire, I’ll try not to give too many spoilers in case you haven’t watched the one from this week yet.
It was one of those episodes with one major incident – a truck driving through the front window of a grocery store, and the driver (an escaped convict) holding the people inside at gunpoint, trying to avoid arrest by the police outside. It was a tension-producing episode, in which confusion and danger was all around, and everything seemed to go wrong. Every time there was a little hope for a solution, for an escape… BOOM! There was another problem, and the situation escalated some more.
Watching the show and feeling the anxiety of the people stuck in the store, and the desperation … Read more »
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“Do This to Remember Me”
Heather Pockett took some photos last Sunday during the Palm Sunday Parade at First Church. They were absolutely adorable photos of her little son Lucas dragging his palm branch down the aisle – falling behind the crowd of older children, but participating enthusiastically in the celebration. Those photos will help Heather to remember what was a special moment in Lucas’ young life, and she’ll undoubtedly share them with family and friends, and eventually an older Lucas will get a glimpse of himself as a young boy.
We use photos a lot to capture and later remember special moments in our lives. And now that they are so easy to take and to share, many of us have thousands and thousands of them stored on our computers, or in the cloud, or posted on Facebook where they pop up on the anniversaries of their posting as “memories” of times past.
However, neither Jesus’ earliest disciples, nor disciples today, have any photos of that holy meal that they shared together on the night that Jesus’ was arrested. If it had been our Last Supper with someone important to us, I’m sure we would have been taking selfies or … Read more »
“The Stones Will Shout”
Sometimes I really appreciate the silence. When the TV or the radio has been blaring for a long time, it is lovely just to switch off all the noise for a while. When I’ve been in a busy restaurant or conference hall filled with the sounds of loud conversation and laughter all around, stepping outside into the quiet is a gift. And folks have told me that even in our worship, with all the music and all the words, some silence is received with gratitude – some quiet moments for personal reflection and lifting up the prayers that are in our hearts.
Of course, silence is not always golden – when the quiet comes from isolation and goes hand-in-hand with loneliness. Some of us have experienced a bit of that kind of silence in the last couple of years. We know the gift of a friendly voice on the phone or a visitor at the door after many days of restless quiet and unwelcome solitude.
And silence can be deadly when someone in trouble is unable to express what they need from others. It could be a young woman too scared to say something when her teacher or … Read more »
I’ve been singing in the Regina Symphony Chorus this year, a choir that was brought together specifically for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concert was supposed to be in January, but it was postponed until May due to Covid.
But we’ve had so many practices now – back in the Fall for many weeks on Zoom and then in person, and we have a bunch more coming up this month. And you know, I’m well aware that the choir’s part in the Symphony only lasts about 18 minutes. We’ve been practicing and practicing, and when the concert date finally arrives, we’ll get one shot at it, and 18 minutes later, it will be over. What a waste!
We do the same sort of thing with our music for worship. The soloists and the accompanists, and the choral groups practice and practice – hours of effort expended for anthems and other ministries of music, and just like that, they are done. 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 … Read more »
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
“With God’s Eyes”
We all know the Parable of the Prodigal Son quite well. Jesus tells this elaborate story just after the shorter ones about the lost sheep and the lost coin. And we know that it is a beautiful expression of God’s forgiving love for each one of us. No matter how far we wander, or how lost we get, or how many selfish choices we make, we are always welcome to come home. Indeed, God longs for us to return, waits for us with expectation, and celebrates with joy when we come back.
At this mid-way point in the Season of Lent, if we are still using our time, talent, and treasure primarily for our own comfort and enjoyment, we’re invited again to return in our hearts to God’s household where both service and celebration are shared. God does not ask us to explain what we’ve been doing while we were away, but simply rejoices that we decided to come home.
When Jesus first told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it was while he was spending time with tax collectors and other sinners who were coming near to listen to his teaching. So we can imagine … Read more »
“An Abundant Lent”
On Friday evening, we cooked up a great feast at our house. We already had most of the ingredients that we needed in the kitchen, but I stopped by the grocery store and picked up a few things that we were missing. Nick selected the recipes, and I assisted him by chopping various things and stirring pots when needed. We made chicken curry, spinach paneer, chana masala, and basmati rice. Enjoyed along with a nice glass of wine for me and a beer for him, we had a wonderful meal with plenty of leftovers to feed us a couple more times this week.
It made me think of a similar menu that we enjoyed three years ago at First Church’s Indian Dinner Fundraiser for Canada Youth. That event came up in my Facebook memories recently, reminding me of what a fun and successful fundraiser it was, and making me think that we should do it again some time!
Although I do love Indian food, it was not the menu that really made it a great dinner three years ago. It was all the people who decided to attend, whether they loved Indian food too, or they were just … Read more »
“Willing to Learn”
When I think about the state of the world today, and find myself railing against powerful and corrupt leaders and lamenting the selfishness or indifference of people, today’s Gospel text reminds me that I am in good company. Jesus also criticized the political leaders of his time, and lamented about the people of the Great City for their acceptance of injustice.
When a few Pharisees decided to warn Jesus that King Herod wanted to kill him, it’s not clear whether their goal was to scare him off with threats, or if they were actually trying to protect him. Either way, Jesus is not dissuaded from continuing his mission. He calls Herod “that fox” – a metaphor that paints the ruler as sly, cunning, and voraciously destructive.
Herod will not hinder Jesus from completing his work, however. Jesus vows to continue casting out demons and healing the sick – public acts that boldly demonstrate the power of God that is with him. And when he says that “on the third day” he will finish his work, those of us who know his whole story catch the reference to his death and his resurrection which takes place “on the third day.”
Although … Read more »
“Temptations and Territories”
Welcome to another Season of Lent. As the days lengthen and Easter comes nearer, the church marks a season of 6 ½ weeks, 40 days, not counting Sundays, in which we traditionally pray, fast, and give alms. We may take on spiritual disciplines, re-commit ourselves to practices of faith, and turn and return our hearts and lives to God as we prepare for the Great festival of Easter.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t give anything up for Lent this year. I kind of feel like we’ve had to give up so much over the last couple of years that I just don’t have the energy for it. And although I have lots of devotional books and Lenten resources at my disposal, I haven’t added any new prayer practices for this season either. The one thing I am hoping to add is worshipping together LIVE, in-person, with a congregation once again. That will be enough to make this season special for me, after a season of online only and an empty sanctuary.
If you who are listening this morning, whether you’re here in the church building or watching online, want to take up a spiritual discipline for … Read more »
2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
“A Shine That Never Fades”
The biblical texts set in the lectionary for this “Transfiguration Sunday” are very strange. They invite us to hear about two mysterious spiritual experiences of encounters with God on mountain-tops, and then to consider what these stories may mean for us today.
Most of us have probably heard the New Testament story about the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain-top with his disciples. We usually read one version or another of that story every year on the Sunday just before the Season of Lent – Transfiguration Sunday. Although I know that sometimes it does get skipped, as preachers aren’t always sure what to say about such a strange and mystical experience.
This year, the story about Jesus on a mountain-top is paired with one from the Book of Exodus about Moses on a mountain-top. In both cases, God is present and meets with them. And both men are transformed physically by the experience, with their faces (and in Jesus’ case, his clothing too) beginning to shine.
Moses has been on a mountain-top to meet God before, of course. Back when God first called to him out of a “burning bush” and sent him … Read more »
Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
“For Those Who Are Still Listening”
This morning’s Gospel passage continues where we left of last week in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” Last Sunday we heard what Jesus had to say to the poor: that they were especially loved and blessed by God. And we heard what he had to say to the rich: that they should watch out because they may well be on the wrong path. We also noted that his preaching was particularly aimed at his own disciples, calling them to take up his particular concern and care for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast people who were treated poorly by the world.
As the sermon continues today, Jesus addresses his comments “to you that listen.” His next instructions aren’t just for the poor, or just for the rich, or just for his committed disciples. He speaks to all who are listening, and one commentator suggests that the translation could just as easily be rendered “to all who are still listening.”
I don’t expect the problem is that some of the sermon-listeners have drifted off to sleep in the middle of a long and boring sermon, as some contemporary church-goers have been known to do. … Read more »
“Loving Who Jesus Loves”
“Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of [other people too].” That’s the way that today’s Gospel text begins. Jesus came down to be WITH the people – with his followers and with everyone who wished to gather around.
The Bible includes plenty of stories of Jesus and others going up hills or mountains. They go up there to think, or to pray, or to draw close to God. And often God speaks to them and encourages them in special ways during those mountain-top experiences.
But in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus comes down. Perhaps it’s not unlike how God came down to be with us in human form in Jesus himself. And then Jesus did not keep his ministry up in the mountains or reserve it for holy places like temples or synagogues. Jesus came down with his disciples to be with them and with all the people of the community.
The first thing he did on that level place was that he healed all of them. “They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled … Read more »
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Have you ever had the feeling of being unworthy or ill-equipped to do something that you were being asked to do? Perhaps you felt like that when you found out you were going to be a parent for the first time, or when it fell to you to deliver the eulogy for someone you loved. Maybe you remember being interviewed for a position of new responsibility or leadership at work, or letting your name stand for a role in the church or another community organization that stretched you beyond your comfort zone.
I think that’s what was happening with Simon in today’s Gospel story when Jesus began to prepare him to take on the role of Apostle on Jesus’ missionary team.
The way Luke tells the story, Simon wasn’t meeting Jesus for the first time on that day of fishing out on the water. Jesus had already stayed at Simon’s house and healed Simon’s mother-in-law from some kind of illness. Likely, Simon had also witnessed Jesus healing other people in his community, and undoubtedly heard some of his preaching and teaching as well.
But on this day, Jesus singles out Simon and his fishing partners to receive a great … Read more »
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“We Know in Part”
I’ve been watching Jeopardy a lot lately. I started getting into it again after Alex Trebec died because I was curious about all potential new hosts that they were trying out to take on his role. Then, when there were a couple of really good contestants that got into long winning streaks, it kept me watching as I got to know them and I wanted to see how they would do.
It’s funny that I enjoy watching Jeopardy because I’m not particularly good at it. I do very well when the Bible categories come up occasionally, and not bad on the vocabulary-based questions. But generally I don’t have a good memory for trivia, so I never imagine myself actually being a contestant like many other viewers might.
Watching Jeopardy actually reminds me that I don’t know everything. And particularly when the players do know most of the answers, their knowledge humbles me and teaches me a few things at the same time. This week I was sad to see Amy Schneider lose the game on Wednesday after a 40-game winning streak. She was an amazing player who seemed to know so much about so many diverse topics, … Read more »
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
“Bringing Scripture to Life”
This morning I want to talk about the Bible – about the Scriptures that we love so dearly in our church. We begin our service each Sunday with a procession of the Scriptures, placing the Bible at the centre of our worship space for all to see. We read significant portions of the text each week, following a lectionary cycle of readings so that the minister doesn’t just pick her favourites. And then everything that we say, and sing, and pray, and proclaim to one another in our community of faith is rooted in the themes and truths of Scripture that we intend to let guide our daily lives and decision-making.
Presbyterians love the Bible, and one of the highlights of my week is when a group of us gather on Zoom to discuss one of the upcoming readings for Sunday. It gives me a chance to share some of the things I’ve been learning or thinking about as I prepare to preach, and an opportunity to hear other perspectives, questions, and insights from some of you.
I cancelled our mid-week Bible study this week though, in favour of joining in an ecumenical Bible study that … Read more »
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
“For the Common Good”
The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth is one of my favourite books of the Bible. I guess I like it because I can relate to the Christians at Corinth. They’re trying to figure out how to live as Christians in a diverse society of many religions, values, and cultures. They don’t have everything about their faith or practices worked out, but they’re doing their best to follow Jesus. And they don’t always agree with each other about everything, and need to work through differences and conflicts with Paul’s help.
In the context of all those challenges and a church that the Apostle criticizes quite strongly for their divisions and wrong priorities, there is a very strong message in the letter that God loves them and has blessed them with many gifts.
Over the years, Christians have reflected on today’s passage and the listing of spiritual gifts and tried to discern which gifts they have received. I’ve been at retreats and led workshops where we’ve completed “Spiritual Gift Inventories” to consider how God has blessed us, usually following up with making plans for how we might develop and use those gifts more fully.
I … Read more »
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“Still With Us”
Seven months ago, I preached on the same texts that appear in the lectionary for today – Isaiah 43 and Luke 3. They were the texts that I chose for the opening worship of the online General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada as I finished my term as Moderator.
On that Sunday at the beginning of June, I sat alone in our sanctuary here at First Church in front of my laptop computer, and preached to Presbyterians across the country as we began the important meeting in the strange and new context of an online forum.
Normally, General Assemblies begin with the celebration of Holy Communion together. And as we gather around the Lord’s Table, we remember that Christ is present with us – the host at the meal. We are united with one another and with Christ through the shared Sacrament, and nourished for the days ahead of meeting, deliberating, and deciding with the assurance of the Spirit’s presence and help.
But since we couldn’t do that, we remembered our Baptisms instead. Reading one of the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River, we could almost see that Holy Spirit coming down from the … Read more »