Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
As I was preparing for worship for today, I mentioned to quite a few people that this was going to be a very sheep-y Sunday. So far we’ve had sheep going astray, lost sheep, found sheep, beloved sheep, thin sheep, and fat sheep, plus a few goats thrown in for good measure.
The image of God as the shepherd with God’s people as the sheep is pervasive in Scripture and probably familiar to us all. In some circles, being called a sheep is an insult, carrying with it the suggestion that people who act like sheep cannot think for themselves and just go along with whatever the authorities may tell them.
But for Christians, to be a sheep means that we are valued, protected, guided, and cared for by our loving, shepherding God. To be a sheep means that we belong to God our Shepherd, and to be a sheep means that we belong to the flock as well – to the community of God’s people.
Perhaps your mind goes to Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Or maybe you … Read more »
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
“Choose to Be Prepared”
When I was a child, I never participated in Girl Guides or Scouts, but I do know one of the mantras of those groups that my guiding friends learned and remembered: “Always be prepared.” It was Robert Baden-Powell, the English soldier who founded the Boy Scouts who published the motto “Be Prepared” in his 1908 handbook, Scouting for Boys. He wrote that to be prepared meant “You are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”
And, of course, the motto came to mind when I thought about the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids that we read this morning. Five of them were prepared, and five of them were not.
But just as our children don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience with oil lamps, we likely don’t know much about first century Jewish weddings, so let’s begin with some historical context.
According to historians, on the day of a wedding ceremony in first century Palestine, the bride-to-be waited at home with her wedding party. Meanwhile, the bridegroom negotiated elsewhere with her relatives the various financial details involved in obtaining her as his wife. It was actually a mark of … Read more »
As many of you know, Nick and I spent almost three weeks of holidays on Prince Edward Island this past summer. We had a lovely time, and I shared some of the pictures with the Lunch Bunch in September. It was a low-cost holiday too, because we had the opportunity to stay in a Presbyterian manse for free. All I had to do was a little light preaching at a couple of local churches.
That’s the way I described it – light preaching. I chose a few of Jesus’ parables from Matthew and adapted some sermons I’d preached before on uplifting, not-too-heavy topics.
In contrast, I gave the sermon for today the title of “Weightier Matters.” And indeed, this does feel like a time for weightier matters. We are marking Remembrance Day this morning, and remembering those who were killed, or injured, or traumatized in wars past and present.
And unless we have been avoiding the news completely, we are deeply aware of the wars raging in Ukraine and Russia, in Israel and Palestine, and in many other places. We may be feeling somewhat anxious about the latest waves of Covid infections, the concerning trends towards alt-right ideologies in the U.S. … Read more »
“How Much Should We Give?”
As most of you likely know, our congregation, like a typical Presbyterian Church has quite a few committees. Lots of different people are involved in the work of the committees that all report to Session. For example, there’s the Worship Committee that supports what we do here every Sunday morning. There’s the Pastoral Care Committee that visits members and offers other kinds of support to folks in our congregation who are struggling. And there’s the Mission & Outreach Committee that gives direction for all the ways that we reach out beyond our congregation to serve, and help, and share God’s love in the world.
Most of the committees meet every couple of months. But one of the committees, the Stewardship Committee, just started meeting again this Fall after a long hiatus during Covid and its aftermath. You might think of the Stewardship Committee as the group that tries to encourage us all to give generously to the work of the church. And yes, it is the committee most likely to be found talking about money. Well, besides the Board of Managers, of course.
I think it’s good to note that during the first year of the Covid … Read more »
“Dressed for the Celebration”
Join with me if you remember this song based on Luke’s version of the Parable of the Great Banquet: I cannot come. I cannot come to the banquet, don’t trouble me now. I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum. Pray, hold me excused, I cannot come.
It’s a catchy little Sunday School song that captures the joyful spirit of Jesus’ parable as it is recounted by the author of Luke’s Gospel. Sure, some of the people who are invited to the Great Banquet send excuses and they miss out on the party. But when some of the expected guests send their regrets, the host sends out invitations far and wide. He sends his servants out into the streets – to the highways and the byways and compel them to come in. My table must be filled before the banquet can begin.
When we read the parable or sing the song we are reminded of God’s wide and gracious welcome to all people. There are no pre-requisites for getting an invitation, and the meal is free. And as we celebrate the good news of … Read more »
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
“When You Have Eaten Your Fill”
Some people are really good at remembering to send “thank you” cards. You have them over for supper, and they send you a “thank you” card. You do them a favour, even the smallest thing, and they send you a “thank you” card. You make a donation or volunteer some time for their organization, and they definitely send you a “thank you” card. At least once, I’ve received a “thank you” card from a church member just for picking up the phone and calling her to check in.
I am rarely so diligent in remembering to say thanks, either to the people around me who offer their support, encouragement, prayer, and generosity for my benefit, or to God who is the ultimate source of all these good things.
The special Scripture readings we heard this morning for Thanksgiving Sunday could perhaps be simplified and summarized into the basic message, “Remember to say thank you,” as if we were all children learning good manners.
The Israelites, who have relied on God’s provision through their wilderness wanderings, are now encouraged not to forget God when they have plenty. The Psalmist sings a litany of thanks … Read more »
“One Loving Change”
On this final Sunday in the “Season of Creation” it is fitting that the Revised Common Lectionary gave us a story about water. The search for water that we read about in Exodus, where adults, children, and animals are close to death, is desperate.
We don’t have to look far for a contemporary example because much of the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in forty years. For example, in Laikipia in Kenya, the resilient nomadic Masaai people have lost livestock, and the riverbeds are baked dry, with desperate wild elephants storming and destroying bore water tanks in search of water.
Women and children dig for hours in the dry riverbeds, searching for small pools of moisture, lifting out precious water in cups. As night falls, the wild animals come to the pool and drink, and in the morning, the process begins again. We all need water for life.
Or perhaps you saw the CBC News story last week about the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The Mackenzie, one of the longest rivers in our country, runs from Great Slave Lake through the Northwest Territories before eventually emptying out into the Arctic Ocean. It is … Read more »
“Enough for All”
There’s a stand-up comedian that I’ve been following lately online. Ismo is a comedian from Finland, and I find him hilarious, especially when he’s talking about his Finnish experience of North American English language and idioms. There’s one video in which Ismo explains that he has a kind of a strange relationship with food. He says,
When I was a kid, my mom always said that ‘You have to eat everything from your plate. You have to eat all the food… because there is starvation in Africa.’
And then I ate… everything.
And then I grew a bit older, and I started to think, ‘How have I helped?’
‘How have I helped… the situation in… Africa?’
I’m now a little bit overweight…. I hope they are happy.
I have done my best… eating so much.
If I ever go to Africa and they look at my belly… I will say that ‘I did it for you!’
I can’t replicate Ismo’s comedic timing and manner in relating this little story about food and hunger and international relations. But I expect that many of you remember a parent saying something similar to you when you were young, or maybe you remember saying it to your kids … Read more »
“Acts of God?”
I am finding that it is an interesting process to focus my preaching this month on the Season of Creation while I continue to follow the Scripture readings for Sundays that are set in the Revised Common Lectionary. I want to acknowledge the Anglican Communion’s resource “Preaching for God’s World” which provided some helpful information and inspiration for today’s sermon, as well as the blessing of discussing the focus text from Exodus in our Bible study earlier this week.
If you’re a regular church-goer or you went to Sunday School years ago, you probably know the story recounted in Exodus 14 quite well. It may be images from that old movie, “The Ten Commandments” with Charleton Heston as Moses that come to mind when you think of it. You see him standing there with his arm raised high over the sea, and miraculously the waters begin to part, rising up into great walls of water on two sides.
It’s a spectacular demonstration of God’s power and love for the Hebrew People. As we have been remembering over the past couple of Sundays, God heard the cries of the Hebrews as they suffered under hard labour and slavery in … Read more »
“We Can Do Hard Things”
Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, Christ is present. When we come together like this on Sunday mornings to engage in the rituals of praise, prayer, preaching, and Sacraments, Jesus is here with us. I hope that you know that, and that you feel that, and that you are encouraged and strengthened by that promise.
I know that there are many different reasons why people decide to attend worship on a regular basis. You may come for the music, or for the friendship and community, or because you made it a habit many years ago, and it’s just what you do. But when I’ve asked regular worshippers why they come to church each Sunday, many of them say that it strengthens them for the week ahead.
It’s because life is hard, and we need to be reminded that we are loved and that we belong. We need to be assured that when we mess up, we can be forgiven and try again. We need to hear that God has difficult but important things for us to do in the world, and we need to know that we can do those hard things.
I … Read more »
“Getting our Attention”
This month in our worship at First Church, we are joining Christians around the world in celebrating the Season of Creation. This is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our siblings in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.
The season starts on September 1st, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations. Throughout the month-long celebration, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians come together to care for our common home.
I titled my sermon this morning, “Getting our Attention.” First of all, I wanted to get your attention and invite you into this special season of reflection on God’s world, appreciation for the natural environment, and action for its preservation and renewal.
I hope that you’ll come to worship each Sunday to think deeply with me about the Scriptures and Creation, that you’ll attend the special outdoor gathering being planned by the Mission & Outreach Committee after worship on Sept. 17th, and that you’ll respond with personal changes … Read more »
“I Will Build My Church”
A few years ago, just before the Covid-19 Pandemic started to spread, here at First Church we were deciding what to do about our crumbling foundation. Those who were serving on the Session or the Board of Managers back in early 2020, as well as a few other congregation members with architectural expertise will remember it well.
As we prepared to do some water-proofing of the foundation walls of the church, we discovered that we had some more serious issues with some of the walls due to water damage, Regina’s expanding and contracting soil, and likely not the best quality cement used back in 1926 when the church building was constructed.
The first quote we received for a repair to solve the problem was astronomical. We all said, “Well, we can’t pay that to fix the foundation! There’s just no way!” And then, while some of our own experts worked with the engineers to figure out some other options for a more affordable solution, some of us began to imagine what would happen if we just couldn’t fix it.
Would we have to tear the building down? Could we move worship into the gymnasium for a few … Read more »
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Three Parables in One”
Jesus’ Parable of the Sower is found in the Gospel of Matthew between stories about opposition to the gospel. In chapter eleven, Jesus has criticized various cities for failing to repent even though they have witnessed Jesus’ deeds of power. And later in chapter thirteen, Jesus will be rejected again – this time by the people of his own home town, Nazareth.
And so, we may read the Parable of the Sower as a kind of explanation of what is going on in Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps Jesus’ disciples (or even Jesus himself) are getting discouraged. They go about preaching, and healing, and doing miracles, and they expect a wonderful response. Why isn’t their little band of followers growing? Why aren’t people responding to Jesus’ teaching by changing their lives? Why aren’t they convinced by the miracles, the healing, or the wise teaching?
The parable provides a good explanation. It’s as if a sower is sowing seeds. The seeds are God’s Word being sown in the hearts of people. Sometimes, of course, the people do not understand God’s Word, and so it does not grow within them and lead to a fruitful response.
Sometimes people receive the Word with … Read more »
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
All the way through the Gospel stories, Jesus shows up in villages, in cities, in the countryside, beside the sea, and in the middle of people’s lives, and he invites them to respond to his message, to his presence, and to his call.
Jesus showed up beside the Sea of Galilee, and invited some fisherman to radically change the course of their lives. He said: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they did.
Jesus showed up in front of Matthew’s booth, and said to the tax collector: “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
Jesus showed up in the middle of a crowd where he had been casting out bad spirits and healing those who were sick. One person said he wanted to follow Jesus, but he just needed to take care of his father’s funeral arrangements first. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Jesus showed up where a rich young man was wondering about what he had to do in order to be saved. He claimed to follow the commandments, so that wasn’t the problem. Jesus said to him, “If you wish … Read more »
“Mission at Home”
One of the most famous passages in the Gospel of Matthew is the Great Commission which comes at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 28). Jesus sends his apostles out saying: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
By this time in the Gospel story, Jesus is on his way out. He’s gone up a mountain with his closest followers, and he’s well on his way to heaven. He’ll no longer be physically present to lead them and guide them in their new mission.
But the mission isn’t really all that new. Way back at chapter ten of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had sent them out with a similar task. At Matthew 9:36-38 we read, When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to … Read more »
“The God Who Sees You”
I wonder if any of you have watched the 2009 film, “Avatar.” You may remember it from the blue-coloured people – the Na’vi – who are Indigenous to the moon called Pandora. And in the movie, Earth people have arrived on the moon to mine it of a natural resource called “Unobtanium.” As part of their strategy for accessing this valuable resource, the Earth people use advanced technology to give themselves avatars so that they can look like the Na’vi people and interact with them in that way.
Nick and I recently re-watched “Avatar” before watching the 2022 sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and both are interesting movies that raise questions about land, resources, intercultural relations, and colonization. But the reason I’m mentioning it today is because there is a Na’vi greeting highlighted in the movies which immediately came to mind when I began reflecting on today’s biblical texts.
When Na’vi encounter or greet one another, they gesture with their hand from their forehead, extending one hand down toward the other. They marry this gesture with the phrase “oel ngati kameie” (I see you). And we learn that this is a deep sign of respect … Read more »
Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
“What Kind of Mission?”
Two themes come together this morning in our worship. First, there is the theme of mission from the Gospel text. And next, there is the fact that today is National Indigenous Peoples Sunday – a date set by our denomination to coincide with Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day coming up this Wednesday, June 21st.
Some of you are probably also aware that our culture celebrates Father’s Day today. Unfortunately, I could not come up with a link between Father’s Day and the other key themes of the service. Nonetheless, it is a good day to remember our father figures with love, and to pray for all those called to paternal responsibility and care.
Anyway, I want to begin with that great long Gospel passage from Matthew that Donna read for us. I wonder if you’ve ever noticed that the Gospel of Matthew is organized around five discourses or teaching sessions – probably a poetic reference to the five books of the Torah traditionally attributed to Moses, thereby casting Jesus as a Moses-like figure. The first of these discourses is the most well-known – the “Sermon of the Mount,” and this week’s reading comes form the second, … Read more »
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
“Just as we are”
There’s an old hymn that I associate with Billy Graham Crusades and other evangelical church gatherings that culminate in an altar call. If you’ve always been a Presbyterian, you may not even know what an altar call is, as it’s not a part of our church tradition.
But after listening to some biblical preaching and usually some testimonies from people who have come to Jesus and experienced their lives transformed, an evangelical crusade or tent meeting or revival would often include an altar call – an opportunity for seekers to come forward, to pray quietly with a Christian volunteer, and to commit their lives to following the way of Jesus.
The 19th century hymn by Charlotte Elliott, “Just as I am” would often be chosen to sing as people made their way forward to invite Jesus into their hearts, perhaps for the first time. It had a nice steady pace, lots of verses, and words that would remind everyone that if they came to Jesus, just as they were, with all their failings and faults, God would forgive them and give them the gift of everlasting life.
Although my faith journey didn’t start with a single moment … Read more »
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“An Inclusive God”
Trinity Sunday is an unusual celebration within the Church Year. It’s different from other special Sundays like Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost because it doesn’t mark an event in the life of Jesus or the experience of the Early Church. Rather, it’s focused on a particular doctrine of the church. Trinity Sunday is a day to ponder what we believe about God, and the particular idea formulated by the Church in the 4th Century that God is three persons in One God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A lot of Trinity Sunday sermons attempt to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity. They might begin with what our Presbyterian Church in Canada says about the Trinity in Living Faith:
“With the one church universal,
we believe in one God,
eternal Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
three in one, one in three, equal in power and glory.
God is the Father to whom we come,
the Son through whom we come,
the Spirit by whom we come.”
And then, perhaps, the preacher could suggest some helpful (though usually inadequate) analogies to explain this mysterious reality. The Trinity is like a triangle, with three sides, but a single form. The Trinity is like a shamrock with … Read more »
“Called to Hope and Action”
Today we are celebrating Ascension Sunday. We read one of the stories about the final moments that Jesus spent with his disciples, heard the final words he shared with them, and then the description of how he was lifted up into the sky where a cloud took him out of their sight.
It’s a strange thing to imagine happening, and particularly odd because we don’t really think of heaven as “up”. We’ve travelled up in that sky among the clouds, and even sent rockets holding people well beyond it. The theological meaning of the story is not really about “where” Jesus went physically, but that the Resurrected Lord was not raised from death in order to die again. The author of Luke and Acts wants to convey the fact that the early Christians came to believe that Jesus did in fact live forever, and that he was with God.
The Apostle Paul proclaimed that belief to the Church at Ephesus when he wrote to them about God’s great power. He said, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly … Read more »