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 »
“Worried and Distracted”
Once in a while we have people over to our house for dinner, or maybe for a BBQ on the deck. I must say that it doesn’t happen very often because our lives are so busy that our house is likely to be in a state of chaos, and the thought of cleaning it all up in order to entertain visitors can be a bit daunting.
But I do know some of the challenges of being a good host. Certainly, you want the food to be ready at about the right time… not the moment the guests arrive, but if dinner won’t be served for a while, some kind of appetizer and some drinks is a good idea in the meantime.
And you want to have plenty of everything… You don’t want to run out of wine like they did at that wedding that Jesus’ attended in Cana, and you want your guests to feel free to take good-sized portions, or to come back for seconds of their favourite dishes.
Good cooks don’t have too much trouble with that part. They know how much to make, and they know how to time everything so that the meal can be served … Read more »
“What Was the Question, Again?”
What was the question, again? By the time Jesus finished telling his story about the man who fell into the hands of robbers, his listeners might have been ready to ask, “Jesus, what was the question, again? Why did you tell us that story?”
After all, the whole conversation had been prompted by a question. It was a lawyer who stood up to ask Jesus a question. Luke’s Gospel explains that the question was a test… maybe a test to see how well Jesus knew the Hebrew Scriptures… maybe a test to see if Jesus’ interpretation of the law would be orthodox or not.
The lawyer wasn’t the kind of lawyer we think of today – a Real Estate lawyer, or a divorce lawyer, or a corporate lawyer. He would have been a religious lawyer – a scribe, an educated man who knew the Jewish Law and advised others on how to live righteously and according to God’s commandments.
So the lawyer asked a question to test Jesus: “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
But instead of answering himself, Jesus turns the question back to the lawyer. “What is written in the law?” Jesus … Read more »
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“When the Spirit says Follow”
On this day, when six members of our community have decided to reaffirm their faith and become professing members of our congregation, it seems very appropriate that the Gospel text in the lectionary today begins with a moment when Jesus made a similar decision.
No, he didn’t affirm his faith in the ancient words of the Apostles’ Creed. (They’re ancient to us, but not yet even written for Jesus.) Nor did he settle down in one particular faith community in which he promised to serve and share his gifts faithfully as a member of the church.
But Luke 9:51 represents a key moment when Jesus seems to decide, to commit himself, and to persevere towards the mission to which God has called him. The text says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem was a place Jesus had been to many times before. It was the central place of worship for his people. He’s likely been there every year throughout his life, perhaps as many as three times a year – for all the great pilgrimage festivals.
We know the story of Jesus as … Read more »
1 Kings 19:1-15a
I think I said the most important things about today’s passage about the prophet Elijah when I was talking to the children this morning. His story reminds us that there are times in our lives when we all experience sadness, despair, and even depression. And even if we are completely alone, God is with us in those times, seeking to strengthen and help us, ready to speak to us words of love, courage, and hope for the future.
But there are two details in the story that I want to invite you to notice and to think about. First, it’s the fact that Elijah felt very alone. When he speaks to God he repeats, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
“I alone am left.” I wonder how often some of us have felt like that – like we’re all alone and we can’t handle all the responsibilities and tasks that we have to do. We may experience that heavy load and … Read more »
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“What Are Human Beings?”
It’s Trinity Sunday – a day when the lectionary cycle of Scripture readings gives us passages that point to that most confusing and mysterious doctrine of the church – that God is three-in-one, and one-in-three; Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, but still One God.
I like the way that the SALT Lectionary Commentary explains how Christians came up with this “Trinity idea” based on their experience of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit:
“The ancient doctrine of the Trinity arose out of early Christian reflection on scripture, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For his earliest followers, encountering Jesus was somehow encountering God directly — and at the same time, Jesus spoke of God as both distinct from him (as when he prayed to God, or spoke of God as the One who sent him) and yet nevertheless “one” with him. There was both a “two-ness” and a “oneness” in play, and so Christians sought out ways to express this mystery with poetry and precision.
“Likewise, early disciples experienced encounters with the Spirit as encounters with God directly — and at the same time, Jesus spoke of the Spirit as a guiding, challenging presence distinct … Read more »
“Freedom and Love”
Freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom, freedom is coming,
Oh yes I, yes I know, oh yes I know, oh yes I know,
Freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.
That was the song that kept running through my head as I reflected on our reading from the Book of Acts for this Sunday. What a wonderful text about the power of God to release us from the things that keep us bound and suffering, and bless us with the gift of freedom!
In a few conversations this week, I invited people to read over the story and to identify the ways in which various people were bound or even enslaved, how they were freed from bondage, and to notice what they did with their freedom.
The most obvious example is Paul and Silas. At the beginning of the story, they seem to be free, but their actions with regard to a slave-girl in Philippi lead to a complaint by people of influence, and they are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned in a jail. We imagine their chains and shackles, and are struck by the risk and sacrifice that the early Christian leaders were willing to take on as they spread the gospel … Read more »
“Blessed to be a Blessing”
Have you ever heard a sermon about Lydia before? I haven’t ever preached one, nor have I heard someone else preach one either. Perhaps that’s just because the Book of Acts doesn’t go into much detail about the business-woman from Thyatira who sold purple cloth.
Other than the fact that she was among the women that Paul met down by the river outside of Philippi, we don’t know much about her. But those few details, combined with the important points that she became a Christian, that her whole household was baptized, and that she provided support and hospitality to the apostles in Philippi is actually quite a lot!
Of course, we might get distracted by the somewhat miraculous way that Paul and the others decided to go to the city of Philippi. During the night, Paul had a vision. I expect it was a dream. There stood a man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” He was already wondering where to go next, looking for somewhere where the people would be receptive to the good news, and the strange dream gave him confidence to sail for Philippi – a … Read more »
“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 »