“Good Works Shine!”
That last sentence of today’s Gospel reading always sounds very harsh to me. Jesus tells his followers that “unless [their] righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, [they] will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
It doesn’t sound like the grace and mercy that we usually associate with Jesus, does it? Normally when people do wrong things (the opposite of righteousness) Jesus is the one who loves them anyway, who gives them another chance, who forgives them and welcomes them into the family of God.
But this morning we hear him preaching about strict adherence to the commandments, and making it clear that it’s not acceptable to ignore some of the rules or the finer points of God’s law. Not if you want to go to heaven, anyway.
In the first century, the scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups. Scribes were professionals who had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents like contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, or sale of land. Every village had at least one scribe, and Jesus interacted with a number of them during his ministry.
Pharisees were not typically professional scribes, but they were also well-known as legal experts. They … Read more »
“First Comes Love”
What does the Lord require of you? That’s an important question that comes up in the Scriptures frequently, and it was likely a priority concern for ancient people.
Most, if not all of them, would have believed in God or in a variety of gods, and they needed to know how to keep the gods happy with them so that they would be blessed. How should they worship and honour the gods? What offerings must they bring to satisfy and please the deities?
The success of their lives depended on these gods – whether their crops would grow, whether their families would grow, whether they would have good health and happiness, and stay safe from other tribes that sought to do them harm.
The prophet Micah addresses this question as he instructs the People of Israel: What does the Lord require of you? The situation there is that the people are really NOT pleasing God at the time. It’s not that they have failed to worship properly or to bring enough gifts and offerings. Rather, God is displeased with them because of their behaviour towards one another.
Micah was living in a time of major socio-economic change in Judah, including … Read more »
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
“Called into Community”
There’s a beautiful line in this morning’s psalm that religious people often like. It says, “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”
It sounds like a wonderful escape from all the troubles and trials of living in the world every day. We come to the place of worship and we enjoy the experience of singing and praying and drawing close to God, and receiving God’s love and protection. The Psalmist explains that God “will hide [him] in a shelter in the day of trouble; [God] will conceal [him] under the cover of his tent.” The house of the Lord is a place of safety where the Psalmist is “lifted up above [his] enemies all around.”
I wonder if that’s what it felt like for the earliest disciples when they responded to Jesus’ call to follow him. After all, God had come to be with them in the world in the person of Jesus Christ. And these fishermen not only had the opportunity to … Read more »
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
“Pointing to Jesus”
I don’t follow Junior Hockey or sports generally, but it was hard to miss the news about Canada’s gold medal in the World Junior Championships a couple of weeks ago. And living here in Regina, I noticed lots of talk about the star-player, Connor Bedard, who was on loan from the Regina Pats.
Apparently, 17-year old Connor Bedard established several statistical benchmarks before Canada registered a 3-2 overtime victory over Czechia in the gold-medal game in Halifax. But individual accomplishments and accolades were the last thing on Connor’s mind as the players rejoiced on the ice following the game.
“I don’t want to talk about myself right now,” Bedard, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, told TSN. “We’re not talking about me. We just won the biggest tournament in the world and, man, I love this team, this country.”
Asked by reporters later about the reluctance to talk about himself, Bedard replied: “No one’s going to remember that from our group in 20 years. We’re going to look at our gold medal. We’re not going to look at stats or anything. We’re going to appreciate what we did together. That’s what matters.”
The story of Connor’s … Read more »
Almost every year during the Christmas season, I find myself in conversations about why we celebrate Christmas when we do. I remember one person commenting, “Every day is Christmas for me. We don’t know what time of year Jesus was born, do we? So I can celebrate his birth all through the year.” I certainly couldn’t dispute that! We really have no idea when Jesus was born, either what date or season, or even exactly what year.
What the Christian Church has done is to choose a birthday for Jesus. We have chosen a time of year to celebrate and give thanks for the birth of Christ, for God’s incarnation among us. The probable reason for the selection of December 25th was to coincide with pagan festivals that were being held around the time of the Winter Solstice. I can imagine the Christian leaders speculating… Perhaps if we celebrate a mass for Christ at that time, Christians will be less inclined to get caught up in those other pagan celebrations. There’s good sense in that reasoning.
And yet, there are other good reasons for celebrating the incarnation at the end of December. As John’s Gospel proclaims, Jesus is the … Read more »
“When Was It? ”
A few weeks ago, Nick and I got together for dinner with a friend that we haven’t had a chance to visit with for quite a while. Early in the conversation he acknowledged that it had been way too long, and he asked, “What have you two been up to over the last year?” So I actually paused for a moment and thought about that question. What have we been up to over the last year?
In my personal life, I thought of singing in the RSO Choir, trips to Winnipeg when Nick’s Dad was in palliative care and then to Vancouver in the summer for his interment. And of course there was our amazing trip to Germany in August.
In terms of ministry, I thought of helping to initiate the Saturday lunch program at First Baptist, lots of church activities finally getting back to normal this Fall, and the arrival of one of our refugee families. I confirmed for my friend that I no longer have any responsibilities at all as a former Moderator, but this was the year that in-person meetings really began to resume so I had several trips to Ontario for Canadian … Read more »
“Just the Beginning”
I did something this Fall that I haven’t done in 35 years. I sang in the choir for a presentation of Handel’s Messiah, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my year. I enjoyed the challenge of singing in a really professional choir and needing to really practice to get all the minute details right to make for a really beautiful performance.
But the other thing I enjoyed about the experience was the opportunity to ponder the biblical texts of this Advent and Christmas season (and the Easter season too) and how Handel interpreted them and proclaimed them in his “Messiah.” (Back when I was in grade 8 and singing “Messiah” I wasn’t quite so focused on the theology of what we were singing.)
Just in case you’re not too familiar with Handel’s Messiah, you should know that the lyrics of every movement are straight from Scripture. Selecting almost exclusively prophetic texts, combined with verses from the Gospels, Handel tells and interprets the story of Jesus, the Messiah. Two main messages are clear: the incarnation of God, God coming to us in the Christ Child; and the salvation of us all accomplished through the death and … Read more »
Sermon in Two Voices: A Sign of Hope
A: First Church folk, I want to introduce you to my friend, Nicole Lindgren. Nicole is visiting us from Saskatoon this weekend, and receiving one of our congregation’s student scholarships. She recently began a Masters program at the Vancouver School of Theology in Public and Pastoral Leadership.
Besides that, Nicole has been the Director at our Synod Camp (Camp Christopher) the last couple of summers. And a while back, she was in my Youth Group at St. Andrew’s in Saskatoon.
Anyway, Nicole has been doing some preaching in Presbyterian churches lately, so I thought I’d ask her to help me out with the sermon this morning.
N: Hello everyone! I’m very happy to be here today…
Amanda, I’ve noticed that in the Season of Advent, the Lectionary always gives us a series of readings from the prophets.
A: Yes, it’s all Isaiah this year.
N: And then there’s a corresponding text from the Gospel in which the author quotes from the prophet.
A: Yes, that’s why we heard the same verse twice this morning. First from Isaiah, and then from Matthew quoting Isaiah. It might have seemed a little bit repetitive.
N: I think the writers of the Gospels … Read more »
“Welcome One Another”
This Seasons of Advent and Christmas are brimming with prophetic words of hope for the world. Last Sunday, we heard from Isaiah about the days to come when many peoples will come to the mountain of God. After hearing God’s instruction, they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks and study war no more.
Today the Prophet encourages us that a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse – a ruler on whom God’s Spirit will rest, and he will bring all the people together and they will live in peace.
Next Sunday’s prophetic text will include all of Creation rejoicing because God is coming to bring healing and wholeness and life to all. There will be singing and joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing will flee away!
After that we’ll hear about the young woman who is with child. She will bear a son, and name him Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.”
And on Christmas Eve, we will read the Prophet’s glorious announcement: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty … Read more »
“What Are We Watching For?”
Advent begins today. Happy New (Church) Year! Literally, “Advent” means “coming” and it is a time when we wait and prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our world at Christmas. At the same time, we think about how we are also waiting and preparing for Jesus to come again as he promised, and to finally make things right in our world.
The readings provided for us in the Revised Common Lectionary for this First Sunday of Advent in Year A are not so much about getting ready for a birthday party for Jesus. They are much more focused on anticipating Christ’s second coming and the end of the world as we know it. The Gospel text, in particular, is pretty dramatic – warning us to “keep awake” and “be ready” because “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
It may be helpful to know what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples that “no one knows about the day or the hour, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
At the beginning of the chapter (chapter 24) Jesus foretells the destruction of the … Read more »
“When you come into your Kingdom”
As many of you know, I spent part of this past week in Mississauga at meetings of the Governing Board of the Canadian Council of Churches. You may be relieved to know (as I am relieved) that it was my last trip away from Regina for this calendar year. And I’m looking forward to moving into the seasons of Advent and Christmas with First Church without having to fly off to Ontario for any more meetings.
But besides the contributions that I am called to make to these larger church committees and organizations, I always benefit personally from my attendance, learning a great deal from my colleagues and hopefully sharing some of those benefits with all of you.
One of the things that struck me this week came from President Das Sydney’s report to the Governing Board, which connects well with this morning’s readings. He began his report by setting the context of this time in which we live. He wrote: “As the nuclear age became entrenched in the years following the last Great War, W.H. Auden created a phrase to describe the ethos and climate of the times. He called it an … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
“God is About to Do Something – With Us!”
Today’s passage from Isaiah 65 is about God’s vision for a renewed world. It is a description of a new world that God is going to make in which there will be peace and justice for everyone. People will live long and happy lives, working hard, and reaping the rewards of their work, living in houses, planting crops, and enjoying the blessing of a good relationship with God.
For the people of Judah and Jerusalem, sometime after 539 BCE, this vision would have filled them with hope and confidence for the future, as they made their way back to their homeland after the long exile in Babylon. In exile, they had felt alone and abandoned by God. And now, even as they returned to Judah and Jerusalem, they were coming back to a temple in ruins and a lot of work ahead of them to rebuild their homes and communities and livelihoods.
Rather than let the people feel overwhelmed by the challenges they were facing, Isaiah wrote words of encouragement and hope. While the people struggled with the tasks of rebuilding, and while they worried about producing enough food and … Read more »
“The Glorious Inheritance”
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, … Read more »
“Even On Them?”
As many of you know, I attended the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe, Germany last month, and this morning I thought I would start by sharing a little more about that experience.
Gathered with Christians of many denominations, cultures, languages, colours, genders, ages, abilities, and so many other diverse characteristics, a significant theme in our worship, plenaries, and conversations at the WCC surrounded our diversities and the expressed desire of the Assembly to be a community of welcome for all.
You may know the “call and response” declaration used in some churches that begins with the leader declaring, “God is good.” The people respond, “All the time.” Then the leader says, “All the time,” and the response is, “God is good.”
Many of the Christians at the Assembly were familiar with that one, but we also learned a new call and response declaration that was inspired by the Assembly’s theme: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” Because God has graciously loved us first, accepted us with all our imperfections, and never gives up on us, we are moved by the experience of that love to try to love one another. We … Read more »
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
“The Welfare of the City”
There are special Scripture readings in the lectionary for Thanksgiving Sunday, but I don’t always use them. Sometimes, like this year, I just stick with the readings for this 18th Sunday after Pentecost. I love the fact that today’s Gospel story about the ten people who are healed and the one who returns to praise God and thank Jesus just happens to fall on Thanksgiving Sunday. Christians around the world, most of whom are not celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend like Canadians, are nonetheless reflecting on this story about giving thanks.
But of course, there’s more to the Gospel story today than a reminder to be polite and say thank you when someone helps you out. There’s a message about Jesus crossing boundaries and helping people that would normally be ignored and avoided by others. There’s the wonder of God’s healing power that not only cures illness, but restores us to community. And perhaps most important, there’s the fact that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. He was considered an outsider first for his ethnicity and then for his skin condition, but here he becomes an example of faith and wholeness … Read more »
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Rekindle the Gift”
How many times have I had conversations with older Presbyterians (and other Christians too) that surrounded the deep concern and worry about the future of the church! And very often I hear them lament about the fact that younger generations don’t seem to have embraced the faith and taken their places as members and leaders of our congregations.
Those who are most despairing about our current situation are often those who remember the full pews of the late-Christendom era. They faithfully came to church every Sunday when they were young, but those following after them have not adopted that same pattern of weekly worship.
Did you notice the poetry of lament in our readings this morning? First, God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem are lamenting the empty city after many of the people have been sent into exile. And then the exiles themselves are lamenting – weeping by the rivers of Babylon as they remember their homeland and the way they used to rejoice and sing in Jerusalem.
In their words, we hear disappointment, confusion, sadness, and even anger as they grapple, not only with their circumstances, but with the questions about why this has happened and … Read more »
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
“Investing in Hope”
The Revised Common Lectionary provides us with several great Scripture texts for today, but the one that really spoke to me this week was the one about the Prophet Jeremiah. If you were here last Sunday, you may remember that Jeremiah was weeping. He was mourning and crying with the people of Judah and Jerusalem because their enemies had conquered them. People had been killed, others had been exiled, and the nation was in chaos.
But the Prophet didn’t only weep and mourn because of what was happening to the people. He also pointed out to them and to their leaders that if they changed their ways, worked for justice and righteousness, and honoured God with their lives, things might change. Last Sunday I referred to Jeremiah as the prophet who mostly had the job of bringing bad news to the people – telling them to shape up or continue to suffer the consequences.
By the time we get to today’s text from chapter 32, Jeremiah has suffered the consequences of his outspokenness. King Zedekiah of Judah is sick and tired of the prophet’s judgement, and he’s locked him up so that he can’t keep causing trouble. Meanwhile, … Read more »
Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1
Friends, it is good to be home again in Regina at First Church after a long time away. Nick and I enjoyed some holiday time, first in Quebec and Ontario, and then travelling around Germany. We visited Frankfurt, Erfurt, Wittenberg, Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, Nurnberg, Heidelberg, and Cologne. Of course, we visited lots of churches and saw major Martin Luther historical sites, plus some castles and museums, river boat tours, and more.
Then we attended the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe. I was one of the delegates representing The Presbyterian Church in Canada. I also attended the Pre-Assembly program for Indigenous Peoples, as a non-Indigenous ally who wanted to listen, learn, and bring Indigenous people’s concerns and priorities forward. And I served on an assembly committee that was responsible for recommending program priorities for the next eight years of the WCC until the next assembly.
Worship and thematic plenaries at the assembly were quite wonderful, and I enjoyed meeting Christians (and lots of Presbyterians) from all over the world. We had “home groups” each day for discussion and reflection, and ecumenical conversations on various topics. I participated in one that was focused on a … Read more »
“The Richness of our Lives”
I remember conducting a funeral some years ago for the mother of one of my congregation members. I didn’t know Eileen personally, but after listening to her family’s stories and recollections, this is one of the things that I said in my sermon: “I am told that Eileen never had a lot of money in her life, but I get the impression that her life was very, very rich.” You see, she was the kind of person who, when she had some money, spread it around. And when she needed money, she didn’t hesitate to ask her family for help.
As I reflected on Eileen’s life, the rich man from Jesus’ story came to mind. Not that the two were alike. They were nearly opposites! But I thought about the richness of Eileen’s life (a richness that had nothing to do with possessions or wealth) and I wondered about how much the rich man must have missed out on in life.
Yes, he seems to have acquired a lot of stuff and he’s stored it up in big barns, but there’s no mention of him having a family, or any friends, or belonging to a community. … Read more »
“Teach us to Pray”
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and I suppose his disciples were watching. When he finished his quiet time with God, one of them said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus did teach them.
I wonder who taught you to pray. Likely it wasn’t just one person. Maybe a parent taught you to say a prayer before sharing a meal. Maybe a Sunday School teacher got you to memorize the Lord’s Prayer when you were young. Perhaps a camp counsellor or VBS leader invited you to share in a popcorn prayer or a squeeze prayer where everyone adds their own words of thanks or their needs or concerns about the world. Maybe someone once gave you a prayer book with a prayer you could read for each day of the week or for morning and evening.
Or maybe you learned to pray by listening to others doing it, slowly picking up the pattern and potential vocabulary: “Dear God… thank you Lord… I’m sorry for… Please help… surround us with your love… pour out your blessing… in Jesus’ name I pray…” And then you tentatively began to open your mouth and express yourself to God … Read more »