As most of you know, the Revised Common Lectionary of scripture readings provides four readings for each Sunday of the year. Normally it’s one from the Hebrew Scriptures, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, and another passage from the New Testament. Here at St. Andrew’s, we often read all four texts, even though only one or two can be the focus for the sermon. But sometimes I decide to focus the whole worship on only two or three readings, and actually dispense with reading the others. And today is one of those days.
What may be unusual about this morning though, is that I decided to skip the New Testament readings. The text from Hebrews was a highly theological piece about the suffering that Jesus endured and his ability to help people when they are experiencing suffering as well. And the Gospel text was from Matthew… the story about Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt to escape the angry King Herod. (That one certainly makes sense for the Sunday right after Christmas.)
But this week, I was drawn to the Psalm and the reading from Isaiah that seemed to pick up a similar theme. It seemed like a wonderful … Read more »
John 1:1-18 “Incarnation”
The first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel (or the Prologue to John’s Gospel, as it is often called) is typically read in Christian churches at Christmas each year. In the church where I grew up, this passage was read every Xmas Eve at the evening worship service, usually by the same person.
George Lee was an elder at St. Giles, kind of a grandfather-figure to many of us kids, and George had just the right voice for reading the Prologue to John’s Gospel. It was a deep voice, and somewhat mysterious sounding. But it was more than just the sound of his voice, I think, that made his reading of those 18 verses so special to our community. It was also the way he read those poetic and powerful words.
Somehow you knew, as he read, that he truly believed what he was saying. He proclaimed that the Word had existed from the beginning with God. He witnessed to the Word coming into the world, to its becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. And he called those who listened to accept the Word made flesh, to believe in him, and to come into relationship with God as God’s children.
All the scripture … Read more »
“We are invited to say “YES” to God”
The Gospel story that is set for this Sunday in the 3-year lectionary cycle of readings comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a good story for the Sunday before Christmas… a good story about how Jesus was born.
Often we jump ahead in the story… as we did last Sunday with the children’s Christmas play. We remember the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields and the angels in the sky announcing the birth of the Christ child. Those are the parts of the story that never get left out of the Christmas pageants. But Joseph can easily become a minor character without a speaking part.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that Joseph was a pretty regular guy… a nice guy, a reasonable guy. When his fiancé got pregnant before the wedding, he dealt with it. He wasn’t going to turn it into a big to-do, but he was just going to dismiss her quietly. No one could have faulted him for that.
But that’s when God got involved in Joseph’s life and decision-making, and nudged him into doing even more than what was reasonable. With every reason to walk away, Joseph chose to … Read more »
“Angels Whisper. We Sing Out Loud.”
Note: This short reflection followed the church school Christmas presentation “Christmas Eve in Angel School.”
There sure were a lot of angels in this year’s Christmas play! Angels have always been an important part of the Christmas story. They are the ultimate messengers from God…
explaining to the young Mary what’s going to happen to her, how she’s going to have a child who will be the Messiah…
convincing Joseph to marry her and to be a father to the child who will be called Jesus…
and appearing to the scared shepherds in the fields, telling them the good news about the baby who has been born, and directing them to go and worship him.
Without the angel messengers, the story would barely hang together. Mary would be confused by the surprise pregnancy. Joseph would likely leave her. And the shepherds would miss the excitement altogether. Without the angels’ announcements, much of God’s activity would have gone unnoticed.
But like one of the angels in the play pointed out, God doesn’t let the angels appear in the sky singing glorias anymore. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God’s messengers aren’t busy delivering messages of good news and grace and hope … Read more »
I didn’t want to preach about John the Baptist this morning. As you may have noticed, John the Baptist shows up every year during Advent. And he can be a little scary, as he scolds and chides and warns the people to repent and to flee from the wrath to come.
Instead of preaching about repentance, I wanted to focus on the beautiful, peaceful images from the earlier prophet, Isaiah. I didn’t want to get stuck with the image of the axe lying at the root of the trees. I wanted to talk about the new shoot growing out of the tree stump instead. But as I explored the text in Isaiah, it kept leading me right back to John the Baptist and the one coming after him. And so you will have a sermon today that is inspired by two prophets… Isaiah and John.
The prophet Isaiah wrote about a vision of peace. He predicted that peace would be achieved through the leadership of a righteous ruler in the line of King David. Poetically, Isaiah wrote: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
And Isaiah described the … Read more »
Today is the first Sunday in the Season of Advent. As you know, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Whether we know it as Advent, or whether we just think of it as the lead-up to Christmas, this is one of the busiest times of the year… not just in our churches, but in almost every aspect of our lives.
While most people are rushing around buying holiday presents, decorating, baking, sending cards, hosting and attending parties, watching holiday plays and presentations, and then doing some more shopping… Christians are called during Advent and Christmas do something different from the rest of the world.
We are invited to stop, and to wait. We are invited to be quiet and reflective. We are invited to pause and to think about the wonder of the celebration that we are about to share at Christmas… about the amazing thing that happened so many years ago… how God came into the world to be WITH us in Jesus Christ.
Well, the reality is that many Christians are running around like crazy in December too, just like everyone else. In many ways, our Christmas preparations don’t seem much different from our secular neighbours. … Read more »
The following words were shared by the Rev. Amanda Currie at a public event within St. George’s Parish Hall in Saskatoon on Wednesday, November 24th, 2010. The occasion was a gathering of the Church Leaders of Saskatoon to sign a letter of support for the Good Food Junction grocery store at Station 20 West.
There is a dream in this community.
It’s a dream that there will one day be, in the heart of the neighbourhood, a full-service grocery store with healthy, affordable food.
For those who live in other parts of Saskatoon, who hop into our cars to shop at our favourite grocery store chains, wherever they may be located, it may come as a surprise that a grocery store is what is most desperately needed in the core neighbourhoods of our city.
When I first moved to Saskatoon, and my husband and I were considering where to buy a home, I remember several people recommending that we choose the East side. Avoid the problems and challenges of the innercity by staying well away.
What may come as a surprise to many people across Saskatoon is that many of the families and individuals who live in the core neighbourhoods are not dreaming … Read more »
I don’t think I will forget the sound of her voice on the phone. She said, “Everyone is against me!” The words themselves, and the fear and desperation in her voice brought back memories of some of the folks I worked with years ago in a group home.
When they said, “Everyone is against me” it was usually a case of paranoid symptoms coming up in what was a relatively well-managed mental illness. These were people who were well cared for, safe, and secure, but who suffered from paranoid delusions at times.
But the single mother of four on the other end of the phone line was not delusional. She was simply lamenting the reality of her situation. She didn’t have a safe place to live. She didn’t have good food to feed to her children. And as often as she tried to access services to help, she came up against one road block after another. She felt alone and abandoned, and like everyone was against her.
As I stumbled to speak the words of reassurance that I knew she needed to hear, I was aware that my words would not be enough. As a preacher, I could easily find … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
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 enduring the various conflicts and … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Whenever I think of the Sadducees, I think of a silly kids’ song that I learned at camp many years ago. The refrain goes, “I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba… I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, I only want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba.” And then each verse mentions a biblical character that I don’t so much want to be like. I don’t want to be a goat…. nope. I don’t want to be a Pharisee… ‘cause they’re not fair, you see. And… I don’t want to be a Sadducee… ‘cause they’re so sad, you see.
We don’t know very much about the Sadducees. They were a group of religious leaders in the time of Jesus – a different group from the Pharisees that we hear about so often in the Gospels. What we do know is that the Sadducees were part of the priestly aristocracy. They had status and power. The historian Josephus, describes them as harsh judges who were known to be most cruel among the Jews.
And several times in the Gospels and in … Read more »
Reflection #1: “Stories of Good Neighbours: Wilson, Mr. Rogers, and Snow Angels”
At least one dictionary defines a neighbour as “a person who lives near or next to another.” Literally, that’s all a neighbour is… a person who lives close by… in the apartment above or below where you live… or in the house next door.
I have good memories of the neighbours who lived next door to my family when I was growing up. They were an older couple, just a little younger than my own grandparents… Mr. and Mrs. Chandler. They would wave a say “hello” whenever we walked by their house. They would ask about what we were doing in school or where we were off to on such a beautiful day.
When Mr. and Mrs. Chandler went down to Florida for a month each winter, one of us would get the job of checking in on their house… bringing in the mail, watering the plants, making sure that the furnace hadn’t shut off or anything like that.
I don’t remember the Chandlers doing anything really special for us, but they were friendly and helpful. And sometimes in the summer when they were sitting out on the lawn in the … Read more »
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Singing: “I am amazing! I am filled with power! And God loves me like crazy! I am amazing!”
Some of you may remember that as the first verse of the theme song from Camp Christopher this summer. I shared the song with you back in May when we celebrated Camp Sunday here at St. Andrew’s. And if you’re anything like me, you probably felt slightly awkward throwing your arms in the air and singing out loud about how amazing and wonderful you are.
I don’t think it’s that we are particularly shy or awkward people. Some might say that it’s because we are Presbyterians… very reserved and proper individuals…
But I wonder if, really, it’s awkward for us to sing “I am amazing” because we’ve been taught from a young age that we should be humble. We should not make ourselves the centre of attention. We should not be proud or brag about our accomplishments.
Today’s parable seems to come down hard on people who think too highly of themselves. In particular, it’s another one of the Gospel stories that doesn’t make the Pharisees look very nice.
You remember who the Pharisees were, right? They were very devout and religious … Read more »
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Today’s Gospel reading begins with some sayings of Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times a says, “I repent,” you must forgive.”
When the first disciples heard these instructions from Jesus, I imagine that they were overwhelmed by the demands. They were being called to a high standard of goodness and uprightness. But even if they did well at following the commandments, they weren’t given license to look down on others, or complain, or scoff at those who might do less well. Indeed, even as they were instructed to rebuke their fellow disciples when they did wrong, Jesus made it very clear that his followers must be people who forgive. Forgiveness … Read more »
The parable of the dishonest manager is a tricky one. I suppose that parables aren’t supposed to be too straight-forward. After all, Jesus told parables knowing that some would understand them and that others would miss the point.
Sometimes Jesus’ parables are followed by several verses of explanation or interpretation. His disciples didn’t always get the point right away either, or perhaps the Gospel writers wanted to make sure that those who read the parables years later would understand what Jesus was getting at.
As you know, a parable is a story that has two levels of meaning. On one level, today’s parable is about a dishonest manager who comes up with a sneaky plan to take care of his financial needs after he loses his job for squandering his master’s money. On another level, the story is about something else. But with this particular parable, that “something else” is not immediately obvious.
Let’s just review the parable briefly. Jesus tells his disciples that there is a rich man who had a manager. It seems that the manager is taking care of the rich man’s property. He rents out land to a variety of people and has them pay with a portion … Read more »
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Where do you place yourself in the story? Which character can you relate to today?
Perhaps you can relate to the lost sheep… wandering alone and scared?… hoping for some help, some hope, for a strong and faithful shepherd to find you and carry you home to safety?
Do you feel like the lost coin?… obviously useful and valuable, but forgotten, hidden, over-looked, being passed by over and over?
Or do you relate most easily to the tax collectors and sinners who were coming near to listen to Jesus? You know that you’ve made some mistakes in your life. You’ve been far from perfect, and those close to you know it too… but you’ve been invited to listen to Jesus, to eat with him, and to learn from him. You feel accepted in his presence, and your history disappears into the background. You have discovered that to Jesus your life is as precious as a lost sheep to a shepherd or a lost silver coin to a woman who needs it.
If you can place yourself in the role of the lost sheep, or the lost coin, or the sinner at Jesus’ feet, then I trust that you … Read more »
Right from the moment that God called Jeremiah to serve as a prophet, God made it clear that Jeremiah would often be bringing bad news to the people. The reality was that God’s People in the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not living very faithfully towards God or lovingly towards one another. And Jeremiah got the unpopular job of warning them to shape up or experience God’s power against them.
The wonderful metaphor of God working on us like a potter carefully and gently transforms a lump of clay into a beautiful and useful vessel can easily lose the clear, harsh judgment that Jeremiah was announcing against an unfaithful People.
It’s not just that God wants to smooth out our rough edges or give us a fresh coat of paint. Jeremiah is talking about a much deeper and greater transformation… from self-centered, selfish, self-loving people… into people who love God and want to show that love by caring for others, by putting others first, by loving our neighbours and the stranger who is in need.
We’re talking about big changes here… transformation… That’s what God wants to do in our lives, and God has the power to do it … Read more »
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
Earlier this year, when the Olympic Torch Relay came through Saskatoon, I stood in the middle of the crowd gathered on the street outside the church (at Spadina & 20th) to watch the show and prepare to welcome the torch runners into our community.
I enjoyed the first part of the presentation very much. There were local choirs singing, and Native groups sharing traditional drumming and singing as well. It was nice to be able to host these groups, as they were using our church basement to put on their costumes and get ready. And it was remarkably warm for a Monday in January, so being outside in the crowd of Saskatoon citizens was surprisingly comfortable.
But my reaction changed as the presentation went on – as the Olympic sponsors RBC and Coca-Cola took over the show. They certainly had some spectacular things to share… There was an artist who spun his canvas round and round as he painted with his hands, and created a beautiful picture within only a few minutes. And there were some very talented dancers and acrobats, who jumped and flipped and balanced and flew across the stage in some truly amazing ways.
But … Read more »
I have an image in my mind of a teenage boy. He’s wearing a black vest over a clean white shirt with a bow tie. But instead of the slacks that you might expect, he’s donning a red and white kilt with knee socks to match. Surrounded by girls his own age and younger, he’s dancing with all his might… head held high, arms in the proper position, eyes focussed as he concentrates on the steps of the dance.
Though there were lots of interesting dances and presentations at Folkfest over the last few days, one of the people I will remember is boy in the middle of the Highland Dance group at the Scottish pavilion. To me, he just seemed to represent what Folkfest is all about… an unself-conscious celebration of cultural heritage, a determination to carry on the traditions of our cultures, and an opportunity to discover our identity by learning who we are and where we came from.
If you spent any time of Folkfest this year, you can’t have missed what I saw everywhere… people of all ages dressed in their native costumes… beautiful fabrics, funny wigs, scarves and sashes everywhere! The official ambassadors were walking … Read more »
When I was 15 years old, I stood up at the front of the Presbyterian church that I had attended with my family for nearly ten years. I stood up with a couple of other young people to publicly profess my faith in God for the first time, and to declare my intention to live my life as a follower of Jesus.
It was an especially memorable moment for me because I was also baptized on that day. As the water was poured, the baptismal words were spoken, and the choir sang the Aaronic blessing over me, I experienced an overwhelming sense of belonging. I belonged to a community. I belonged to a church family. I belonged to the God who had made me and loved me.
I don’t really remember what we talked about in the membership class at the church as we prepared to make our professions of faith. Probably it was much of the same material that we cover today in our classes… God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Bible, discipleship, worship, prayer, service, mission, stewardship, and all of that. We likely discussed many or most of those things, but one thing that I’m … Read more »
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12
The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews begins with a definition of faith: The King James Bible translates it this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The New International Version says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase “The Message” puts it like this: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”
At our church membership class two weeks ago, I asked those present to think about what it might mean to be a person of faith. I asked them to think about what the characteristics of a person of faith might be… and these were some of the answers: hope, trust, generosity, kindness, commitment, steadfastness, humility, patience, joy.
But before I asked them to define faith, I invited them to think of a person they know whom they think of as a person of faith. Maybe someone in their life today, maybe someone they once knew, maybe someone … Read more »