“Jesus and Harry Potter”
Sometimes I have a hard time keeping the stories straight… First there is Luke’s story, in which Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem for the census, Jesus is born in a stable because there is no room in the inn, and they receive shepherds who come to visit the newborn child.
Then there’s Matthew’s story, in which Mary and Joseph are from Bethlehem. Jesus is born in his own home town, and some time after his birth magi from the East follow a star and bring gifts to the child who is to be the newborn king.
My nativity scene melds the two stories together and confuses them in my mind. So for today, since we are focusing on Matthew’s story, I need to take away the characters that come from Luke. Today, Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus are in their own house in Bethlehem. There aren’t any animals with them because they aren’t in someone else’s stable. (Remove animals.) There aren’t any shepherds either; the shepherds belong to Luke. (Remove shepherd.)
(Pick up the angel.) The angel still belongs, I think. Not the angel that made the announcement … Read more »
“Lighting Up the World”
On Christmas Day 1531, the Reformation theologian Martin Luther, preached from the Christmas story at the morning service and from Isaiah 9 at the afternoon service. He began the afternoon sermon by quickly recalling that the congregation had heard the Christmas story earlier in the day. He told them that they would not hear it again; rather, they would learn how to make use of it. And then Luther turned to the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”
Well, here at St. Andrew’s I only get one Christmas Eve service, you only get one sermon, and I thought it might be a nice change to preach from the prophet’s words. You also have heard the Christmas story before… many times over the years, probably a few times in this season, and even once tonight as Ryan and Matthew read the account from the Gospel of Luke.
Most of you have likely heard the text from Isaiah 9 a few times before also. Every Christmas, it is matched up with the Gospel stories about Jesus’ birth, and usually read without further comment. If you’re … Read more »
“Don’t be Afraid, Joseph.”
Yesterday I listened to a CBC podcast titled, “While Shepherds Watch Their Flock: The Trials and Triumphs of Clergy at Christmas.” Pointing out that this season, for many Christian clergy, is experienced somewhat differently than for most other people, it included stories from a number of ministers, priests, and pastors about the challenges that come from the demands and expectations of congregations at Christmas. From dealing with a drunken parishioner who kept sliding off the kneeler, to having the singing of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” interrupted on Christmas Eve because it was the “wrong tune,” the stories were both humorous and real.
The part that stood out to me most was the fact that these clergy felt such pressure to make Christmas in their churches perfect for everyone. A United Church minister commented that the regular church-goers were quite forgiving if everything wasn’t perfect, but those who attend a few times a year are less-so, and those who only come at Christmas have amazingly high expectations. Some of them want everything to be like it was when they used to come to church when they were children… the service should match what … Read more »
“The Axe at the Root of the Trees”
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” This verse brings to mind memories of walking through the woods in places like BC where the forests are very mature. Big, old trees have been cut or more often have died and long since fallen to the ground. And from their stumps, often moss-covered and starting to rot, new trees are beginning to grow. Shoots are coming up from these stumps of old dead trees. Whole new trees are growing out of some of them, nourished by the remnants of the old ones, but growing new and strong, with the potential to bear fruit, provide shade, and become a home for the little animals and birds of the forest.
When the prophet Isaiah wrote these words, they were words of hope, and promise, and possibility for a new ruler for Israel who would emerge from the tragedies and disappointments of the present and recent past, and who would bring peace and security to God’s people. In the context of Israel having been conquered by Assyria, the prophet’s words inspire hope that at … Read more »
In the course of the liturgical year — the church year — today, we are at the end. This morning we celebrate the reign of Christ, and next Sunday we begin the Season of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of Christ into our world. But for many of us, we’re already starting to get ourselves ready for Christmas.
When I went to lead worship at one of the retirement homes on Wednesday, the first question I was asked as I was setting up for worship was, “Are you going to talk about Christmas today?” I said, “No, it’s a bit early to talk about Christmas today. It’s still November!” But then just yesterday we did have our annual Christmas Tea and Bake Sale here at the church, our children are starting to practice their Christmas Pageant this morning, and look, we even have a Christmas tree (or at least an Advent tree) lit up this morning.
We’ve got “baby Jesus” on the brain already in November, but the lectionary this morning jumps us forward in time, past the angels and shepherds, past the childhood and baptism of Jesus, past his ministry in Galilee, all the … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
“Making a New World”
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
“Eternal Comfort and Good Hope”
Whenever I think of the Sadducees, I think of that silly kids’ song that I learned at camp many years ago. You’ve probably heard the kids here at St. Andrew’s singing it… “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 … Read more »
“Reforming Towards Unity”
If you looked at the back of your bulletin this morning, you may have noticed that today is “Reformation Sunday.” The Rev. Jeffrey Murray provides a reflection on justification by faith that seems appropriate both for an acknowledgement of “Reformation Sunday” and an insight into this morning’s Gospel text. Referencing the 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther, Murray concludes that while doing the works that our faith demands of us is important, justification is not attained by anything we say or do; it is a gift that moves us to respond humbly.
Just think of the two characters in Jesus’ parable – the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee really was an excellent religious person. He observed all the rules, fasted and prayed, and gave generously from his income. The story doesn’t indicate that he was lying about doing these things, or that he needed to do more. He was doing good things because he was a good person, and that was good.
The tax collector, on the other hand, had not been doing good things. He freely admits that he is a sinner, and we can imagine that he was greedy and dishonest and demanding, as was the … Read more »
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
“Oh, How We Love the Bible!”
In a couple of weeks, we will begin another church membership class here at St. Andrew’s. We try to have one of these classes at least once a year so that newer folks in our church community may have an opportunity to learn about the Presbyterian Church in Canada, about St. Andrew’s in particular, and to consider making the commitment to church membership in our congregation. The class often includes teens and young adults who are preparing to profess their faith and join the church for the first time. It also includes adults of all ages from a variety of Christian and other backgrounds who have found their way into this Presbyterian Church of ours.
Although we cover some of the basics of what it means to be a Christian in general, one of the key topics is very specifically what it means to be a Presbyterian Christian. I wonder if anyone has asked you that question: “What IS a Presbyterian?” I get asked that all the time, along with some variations on the theme: “What’s the difference between the Presbyterian and United Churches? What’s the difference between the Presbyterian and Catholic … Read more »
“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!”
This is the first sermon I’ve written in a long time without my cat, Samuel, snuggling up beside me on the couch or trying to crawl on top of the lap-top while I’m trying to type. Unfortunately, Sammy got suddenly very sick last weekend. He stopped eating and drinking, and by Monday afternoon we knew it was some form of cancer. On Monday evening, we made the very difficult decision to euthanize him rather than putting him through the discomfort of treatments that might have given him a few more months at most.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, it was really hard to start telling people what had happened, and I found myself in tears again and again when I attempted to share my sad news. But at some point on Wednesday, I was about to make my way back upstairs to my office, and I said, “I need to go start working on worship for Thanksgiving Sunday. I’m not feeling very thankful yet, but maybe by Sunday I’ll be more in a Thanksgiving mood.”
And Karen said, “Aren’t you thankful that all this didn’t happen on Saturday evening instead Monday?” I said, “Yes, that’s for … Read more »
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Pass It On”
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the birthday party of one of our youngest church members; Adam was turning one year old. The earlier part of the day was spent with the Camp Christopher Committee – reviewing this past summer of ministry with children and youth at Christopher Lake. There were about 250 kids who took part this summer, not to mention the young counsellors, staff, and volunteers whose lives were undoubtedly changed by their experience of living in the Christian camping community. And just the other day, I sat in on a meeting between Logan de Bruijn who serves on the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth for our Synod, along with Martha Fergusson, who has just begun a part-time position for the Synod co-ordinating and supporting youth ministry in and between the Presbyterian Churches.
My schedule alone is a tiny reflection of the fact that we, as a church, are concerned about our responsibility to pass along our faith in God and in Jesus Christ to the next generations. That’s why we have a church school program. That’s why we have a youth group. That’s why we support our Christian camp so faithfully. That’s why we … Read more »
“Take Hold of Eternal Life”
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Not long ago, I read about a period in Christian history in which many people were waiting until very late in life before they were baptized. Whereas many Churches today baptize infants and young children, and others ask people to wait until they are young adults and ready to make a conscious choice in accepting the lifetime commitment to following Jesus, there was a time around the 3rd – 4th centuries, following the period of Christian persecution, when many Christians would not be baptized until the end of their life – sometimes even receiving the Sacrament on their death beds.
One of the rationales for delaying baptism was the fear that after baptism they might sin again. Though they had been washed spiritually clean by their baptism, they weren’t sure what would happen if they made a serious mistake afterwards. Would God forgive them again? They weren’t sure, and so the baptism needed to be just before death so that they would be pure and holy at the end of their lives, and ready to be welcomed into heaven.
Another reason for putting off baptism until old age may have been that living the … Read more »
1 Timothy 2:1-7
“There is a Balm in Gilead”
Jeremiah is often labeled “the weeping prophet,” and there is no passage that warrants that label for him better than today’s passage in which he cries and laments over the situation of the people of Judah. The problem is that the people of Judah are refusing to change their ways and turn back to God.
Jeremiah has denounced the confidence they have put in the temple and sacrificial rituals automatically to save them, but they will not listen and continue to provoke YHWH to anger by their idols. God has promised punishment, but even this does not change their perpetual and unrepentant backsliding. No matter how many times the prophet warns them, they won’t seem to listen, and so Jeremiah weeps in frustration and despair.
There are times when we also might feel like weeping when we look around at our world today. The last few months have certainly included many tragic events that may have given us cause to weep for the poor people of our world:
– the collapse of an unsafe garment factory in Bangladesh which killed and injured thousands of workers,
– the derailment of train cars of oil which caused the … Read more »
“Rejoice With Me!”
On the back of this morning’s bulletin cover, Aubrey Botha points out that in today’s Gospel reading Jesus talks about things that are lost: “The sheep is lost, vulnerable, hungry and confused and can’t do a thing about it; he has to be saved by someone other than himself. The same is true for the coin; once it lands in a dark corner, it is gone unless someone finds it.
“In both parables we find this strange, relentless search for the lost, even when the search goes beyond all logic and reason. What an image of God’s persistent love for us, searching relentlessly in the dark places of need and brokenness.”
This is the good news of the gospel – that God loves every single one of us that much – so much that God’s mercy and love reaches out to find us no matter where we have wandered to, no matter what mistakes we have made, no matter how many times we have turned away from God or doubted God’s presence and love.
And as Aubrey notes, “Every time the lost is found, there is a call for celebration. When God looks at us, when God sees us, there … Read more »
“We Remember that God is With Us”
At Women’s Camp this weekend, the theme was “Ministries of Presence.” Emily Carr, who serves as the Ecumenical Chaplain at the University of Saskatchewan, led the program along with her mother-in-law Moira Brownlee who serves in a ministry to ex-convicts in Calgary. Both women shared stories about their experience in ministry when they were called upon to be present with others – not necessarily to DO something particular, to solve a problem, to say just the right thing, or to convince someone to change their life around and turn to Jesus. Instead, they identified some of the many times when they have been called upon simply to be present with someone who was in crisis or trouble, and somehow, through their just being there, God was working through them.
The stories that Emily and Moira shared on Friday evening at camp reminded me of some of my own experiences. Emily talked about the awkwardness of being with someone in a nursing home or a hospital room when there isn’t anything more to be said, when there isn’t anything more to be done… when all the minister, or the chaplain, or the good friend or … Read more »
“I am For You”
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
This morning’s passage from the Book of Hebrews consists of short admonitions for Christian living. The specific topics include mutual love, hospitality, solidarity with prisoners, sexual morality, wealth, community leaders, and generosity. Similar instructions can be found in many of the other letters of the New Testament, comparable lists of things for Christians to do and to avoid doing.
Reading these admonitions sometimes makes me think of something Jesus said according to the Gospel of Matthew: “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” These are the high standards that God upholds for those who would follow the way of Jesus: We must strive to be generous, kind, hospitable, pure, and humble. When we decided to follow Jesus, this is what we were signing up for – a life of turning again and again towards his way, of becoming more and more like him – of serving, and giving, and being for others.
Earlier this summer, I preached on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. You remember the story Jesus told about the man who fell into the hands of robbers, and the three others who came along the road, saw him lying there nearly dead, … Read more »
“A Roar of Warning”
The Bible is full of great metaphors. Last Sunday we had the metaphor of God as a faithful, loving, and forgiving husband to God’s people who are like an unfaithful spouse. But this week, as we continue with another passage from the prophet Hosea, the metaphor changes. God is now a parent – an adoptive parent – and God’s People Israel, is the child.
As we listen, God is recalling God’s relationship with this beloved child: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… I taught him to walk, and took them up in my arms… I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”
God sounds just like any parent reminiscing about the wonderful moments of child-rearing. Like so many parents, God remembers being present with God’s children, helping them along the way, rejoicing in their successes, comforting them in trouble, and working so hard to make sure that they have everything they need.
But God’s reminiscences come out of an experience of despair and … Read more »
“Married to a Faithful God”
As most of you know, I have recently gone back to school. I’ve begun working on a Doctor of Ministry degree with a focus on pastoral care for engaged and married couples, especially couples that come from two different church backgrounds. Last week I finished the paper for the first course on Contextual Theology that I took in June, and started to turn my attention towards the courses I’ll be taking in the Fall and Winter terms coming up. I discovered that I can make use of the libraries of the Saskatoon Theological Union, and I took out a pile of books on Friday related to the theology and spirituality of marriage. I’m just beginning to put together a reading list for a course on marriage next winter.
So it’s interesting that marriage is the theme of our reading from the prophet Hosea today. In this case, Hosea isn’t offering a theology of marriage for us to consider in our own relationships. And he isn’t really giving us any advice for our marriages, but he is using marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between God and God’s people.
Instead of giving a speech or writing … Read more »
“Worried and Distracted by Many Things”
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 … 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?” … Read more »