“We Belong to God’s Family”
It often happens when I am preparing to conduct a funeral. I am thinking about what I should say in order to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the life of one individual follower of Jesus. I am reflecting on what I know about that person’s life, and the stories I have heard from the family, and the stories that will be shared as part of the eulogy or tribute.
I sometimes begin to wonder about what stories might be told and shared at the end of my life. And if there was only one story, what would it be? And what would it reveal about the meaning and purpose of my life?
We are blessed to be able to share more than one story to remember and celebrate the complexity of our lives in this world, and we are blessed to have many, many stories passed on to us about the life of Jesus – the One whose way we seek to follow with our lives.
But we only have one story about Jesus as a child. One story, carefully chosen… that reveals a great deal about who he was and the person he was … Read more »
We live in a world in which messages are all around us. We are bombarded with information, and communication, often to the point of overload. When it comes to sharing the good news of great joy, our problem today is not so much the challenge of getting the word out. We have the technology. But our challenge is that the good news of God’s love may get lost in the cacophony of voices, messages, videos, and advertising competing for our attention.
In the Season of Advent, Christians are invited to slow down, to spend time in prayer and reflection, to wait and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. I wonder how many of us feel like we were able to do that. How many of us feel like this month has been a reflective time of spiritual preparation? And how many of us feel like it was instead a mad rush of activities and events, expectations and demands?
I wonder if tonight is the first moment when some of you have been able to sit peacefully, with your cell phone turned off and your Christmas preparations either finished (or it’s too late now to worry about them … Read more »
Luke 1:26 – 2:7
“Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things”
This morning all our scripture readings are from the Gospel of Luke… large sections of the first chapter, and a little of the second as well, where we will begin again on Christmas Eve. And today we are focussed on Mary’s story.
An angel shows up in Mary’s life and tells her that she’s going to have a child. It will be a special child from God, and God will make him a great king. Mary, amazingly, just asks a couple of clarifying questions, and then agrees to the plan. “I am your servant,” she says to God, “Let it be with me according to your word.”
When that angel messenger suddenly appears with his very strange news, I can only imagine that Mary must have been in shock. It’s not the kind of thing that happens to a young woman every day, and it was certainly the kind of news that would take some time to sink in, to consider what it meant, and to figure out how to deal with it.
And though the Gospel has Mary quickly agreeing to cooperate with what God is going to do in her life, the very next … Read more »
Last Sunday, following worship and fellowship here at St. Andrew’s, I went over to the park across the street and joined a crowd of maybe 300 residents of Saskatoon for a march to raise awareness about climate change. Besides the usual signs and placards of a protest or demonstration, the organizers had constructed a huge model of the planet Earth, which was held high as we marched up the Broadway Bridge to Oskayak High School where the speeches took place.
I enjoyed the walk on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, and connected with a number of friends and colleagues along the way. But it was the moving and insightful speakers that made it especially worth attending. They all came from different perspectives, and framed their messages in different language, but the main point was the same. It was a dire warning – that we and the world need to change our practices before we ruin the good Earth that God gave us.
“If we don’t change direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re heading,” is one line I’ll remember. Another striking comment came from a young woman who spoke passionately about the need for us to protect the environment … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
“Strengthened By Love”
I like the way Ralph Milton shares the background to today’s scripture reading from 1 Thessalonians in the Lectionary Story Bible: Paul liked to tell people about his friend Jesus. He liked to tell them how much God loved them, and how to live in God’s way.
Paul and his two friends, Silvanus and Timothy, went to visit people who lived in a city with a very big name. Thessalonica. They stayed there for a long time telling people stories of Jesus and showing them how to live – how to be kind and gentle with each other.
Some of the people of Thessalonica said, “We could become a church. We could come together to pray and sing. We could do things together to help others. There are people in our city who don’t have enough to eat and who don’t have a place to live. We could help them.”
Paul and his friends were very happy when the people decided to become a church. “Now you can teach each other more about God, and about how to live in God’s way,” he said. “Now Silvanus and Timothy and I can go to other places to tell people … Read more »
“Free to Take Hold of Life”
Thanksgiving weekend was more than a month ago, and we are beginning to think about and anticipate Advent and Christmas. But our American friends are just getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving this week. It is an interesting recapitulation that today’s Gospel passage is the same one that we read and studied on our Thanksgiving Sunday, just as our neighbours are coming to their Thanksgiving.
Jesus invites us to set our worries aside, and to think about today instead of fretting about tomorrow. On Thanksgiving Sunday, I suggested that thankfulness might be the opposite of worry, and I encouraged us to let our hearts be filled to overflowing with gratitude so there could be no room for anxious worrying.
But just a couple of weeks after I preached that sermon, I found that some of our Board and Session members were indeed worrying. They were worrying about our church finances, and worrying that if we didn’t do something to change our course, we might end the year with another deficit that could cause us some significant problems for the future.
Now, you might assume that the reason for this month’s Stewardship-themed services is a desperate attempt … Read more »
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
“Free From the Uncertainty of Riches”
I bought a new car this week. Actually, Nick and I signed the paper work a couple of weeks ago before he went out of town for work, but it arrived on Thursday and I handed over our old car and picked up the new one on my own. It felt like a strange thing to be doing in the middle of this Stewardship series. You see, there was all this fuss about a new car. The sales people, in particular, seemed to want me to be SO EXCITED! It made me think of old game shows like “The Price is Right” where a curtain opens to reveal a shiny new vehicle, the announcer proclaims, “A New Car!” and the studio audience erupts in cheers of joy.
Nick and I thought carefully about this large purchase, decided it was time to get ourselves a more reliable and larger car, and agreed that we would trade in the old one and remain a one-vehicle family to keep our expenses down and make sure that we didn’t lose precious time spent together. I love driving, and it is kind of fun to be driving … Read more »
“Free to Be Rich”
This month we are talking about stewardship and reflecting on what we do with the money and other gifts that we have received. The weekly themes come from a resource prepared by the Ecumenical Stewardship Centre, with today’s theme focus titled, “Free to be Rich.”
I must say that I was a bit surprised by that title at first. It seemed almost in contrast to the Gospel story that Patti shared this morning with the children. Zacchaeus wasn’t so much “Free to be Rich” as he was becoming “Free to be Poor” when he met Jesus and got inspired to give his money away.
When I read the title, “Free to be Rich,” I immediately began to worry that this resource might be promoting what is often called the “prosperity gospel.” I remembered being down in the United States a few years ago, turning on the TV, and finding that about half the channels were showing TV evangelists. After searching for something I was more interested in watching without success, I turned back to one of the evangelists to see what she was teaching.
I remember the Scripture verse she focussed on very well, because she repeated … Read more »
1 Timothy 6:17-19
“Free From the Money Trap”
We are going off the lectionary this month – setting aside the Scripture readings assigned for these last few weeks of the liturgical year so that we can talk about money. I’ve occasionally heard people say that they don’t go to church very often, but every time they do go the preacher seems to be talking about money, asking for money, appealing for support for one thing or another.
Although it’s unfortunate that some people have been turned off of church because of a sense that the church is always asking them to give more money, I would also suggest that they may have missed the even bigger “ask” on those Sundays. The church (well, Jesus, actually) is asking us to give our whole selves, our whole lives, including every choice and decision about money, for God’s purposes.
We do have an offering every Sunday, and add to that at times an appeal for a particular mission or ministry or extra thing. And we are invited on a regular basis to serve God through our monetary giving as well as our time and talent. But our offerings are just the beginning – a sign … Read more »
“What do you want me to do for you?”
The story of blind Bartimaeus is a classic gospel story. The son of Timaeus is a blind beggar who sits by the roadside, just as blind and otherwise-handicapped people would usually do in the first century. At the side of the road, Bartimaeus would do what he was able to do in order to earn a living. He would beg. And passersby with a few coins or a bit of food to spare would toss them his way… until Jesus came along and changed everything!
Actually, it wasn’t really Jesus that changed everything for Bartimaeus. All Jesus did was pass by fairly close to where Bart was begging. But Bartimaeus had heard about this Jesus, and he decided to cry out to Jesus for help.
That was an amazingly brave thing that Bartimaeus did… crying out to Jesus for help. It was brave because it opened him up to a lot of flack from the other people in the crowd. It was brave because he risked being ignored or rejected. And it was brave because, if perchance, this Jesus could actually help him to regain his sight, his life would be suddenly and … Read more »
“Setting Aside Worry”
On this Thanksgiving Weekend, we should take time to reflect on what it means to be thankful people – thankful for food, for the harvest, for the people who work the land, and for all the other good things in our lives. We join with others in our community and country this weekend to celebrate the abundance in our lives, and as people of faith we give the glory to God – thanking God for the blessing of every good gift.
Consider for a moment… What is the opposite of gratitude or thankfulness? Some might say that gratitude’s opposite is a sense of entitlement, or perhaps jealousy, covetousness, or greed. Although there are many negative attitudes that we might think of as opposite to the thankfulness that we are called to embrace this weekend, the lectionary has set a Gospel text that suggests an alternative.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he encourages his followers not to worry. Could that be the opposite of giving thanks?
Jesus says: “Don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear.” And later he says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things]… … Read more »
“Love, Not Law”
It should not come as a surprise that Christian churches and other religious institutions are concerned about moral issues. From the traditional issue of couples living together before marriage, to the latest problem of genetic engineering, to the recurring issue of the justification of war, to same-sex marriage, to issues around end-of-life care, churches invest a lot of resources into research, study, debate, and the production of rules, standards, and positions on various issues to help people navigate the confusing world of modern ambiguity.
Although it is tempting to believe that if we could just go back in time (at least as far as the 1950’s) that many of these issues would simply disappear, I don’t believe that there has ever been a time in human history when we have been free from these debates or from the moral dilemmas that create them.
The issue of divorce, we might agree, is not currently at the top of our church’s list of complicated moral issues and debates. And yet, over the years, divorce has been a grave concern that Christian churches were quite worried about. And, it continues to be an issue that the Christian traditions have chosen to … Read more »
“Choosing to Serve”
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
This morning’s scripture readings are overflowing with wisdom about how to live day-by-day as followers of Jesus and communities of God’s people.
James encourages us to make ourselves pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. He calls us to submit ourselves and all our decisions to God, to resist the devil, and draw near to God who will help us with this high and difficult calling.
Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, tells his disciples and all who would follow him, that if we want to be first, we must make ourselves last and be servants to others. Showing them a little child (a vulnerable, unimportant person) Jesus teaches them that welcoming the lowly ones and the least in our societies is the way that we can welcome and honour Jesus himself.
These are words of wisdom that we have heard many times before. But, I imagine, we all continue to struggle in living by them. They call us to true humility, allowing God to direct our actions and our decisions so that we are focussed on the good of others rather than ourselves, and … Read more »
“Hospitality without Partiality”
Perhaps you have seen this message on a church sign, as I have: “God shows no partiality, but the sign guy does… Go Riders, Go!” Although the biblical quote, “God shows no partiality” comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, it is a concept that appears elsewhere, including today’s passage from the letter of James.
Rooting for a particular football team or voting for a particular political party or leader is fine, but James is telling the Christian communities that they need to treat each other, and their guests, and their neighbours without distinctions. There are no VIPs in the Church! Or to put it another way, everyone is a VIP in the Church.
I came across a story some time ago about a pastor who tested his congregation on the very matter that James is addressing. When the people expected their pastor to be on holidays, he dressed up in a disguise with a beard and some old dirty clothes, and he came to Sunday worship to see how he would be received by his own congregation.
I can’t remember exactly how it turned out… whether they welcomed the down-and-out person in their midst, or just awkwardly coped with … Read more »
“A Spiritual Battle?”
The other day I was reading a reflection about our recent national church meeting, the General Assembly, and the writer mentioned that there were a couple of women praying throughout the meeting for the deliberations. Normally, I would have been happy and grateful to know that we were being held up in prayer as we met and made important decisions for the denomination. But the author referred to these praying women as “prayer warriors.” Maybe you have heard that term, or even used it yourself, but it made me a little bit uncomfortable.
Given the context of the discussion of some difficult and controversial subjects, I wondered who these women were “warring” against with their prayers. Maybe against me, with my liberal views, or against the evil spiritual forces that were causing me to have such views! I was somewhat suspect of these “prayer warriors,” even though they were probably just praying for wisdom, and unity, and love in our deliberations.
This Sunday’s text from Ephesians sets off some of the same feelings in me, because Paul seems to be inviting the Ephesians to get ready for a battle. As a person with more pacifist leanings, it doesn’t … Read more »
The following sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s by the Rev. Dr. Stewart Folster, minister at the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry.
“Healing and Reconciliation”
The National Church has been talking a lot about healing and reconciliation in the past couple of years. It is their hope that the relationship between the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the First Nations of this land can be reconciled and that we can walk into the future together and begin a new and healthy journey together.
Healing and reconciliation. Healing can take place from now on until the end of the road. Reconciliation is about making things right. It’s about putting our faith into action. However, we can’t reconcile unless we know that we have done something wrong and that we have the desire to make things right. So, reconciliation needs education. We have to educate ourselves about our own histories. A mission relationship gives us the opportunity to share stories and share the struggles and joys of each of our ministries. And we can share our faith and share the uniqueness of our style of worship and the different ways that we evangelize and do mission. I think we have done some of that but … Read more »
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Jesus said to his apostles: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” This has been an interesting text to reflect on during the final week of work before my holidays.
The context for the apostles is that they have been out on the road for some time… preaching, teaching, and healing in Jesus’ name. Remember how Jesus sent them out two by two? He gave them power to do amazing things, and off they went without the security of bringing food, or money, or extra supplies.
In some places they were likely welcomed, and in others the people had no interest in their message. When that happened, they dusted off their feet, and kept going on the mission. Now they are back with Jesus, telling about their adventures… excitedly sharing the moments of wonder and grace when people were healed and lives were transformed… wearily recounting the challenges and disappointments, and how those defeats made them feel as they continued on their way.
Jesus wisely invites his workers to take a break. Perhaps the plan is to spend more time reflecting on the mission so far, and to make plans for the next steps, … Read more »
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
On a first reading, it seems like the connection between the Old and New Testament readings this morning is the theme of dancing. We had David dancing the ark of the covenant into the City of David, followed by some scolding from his wife for making a spectacle of himself. And then we had Herod’s daughter dancing for the entertainment of her father and his guests, followed by an unfortunate turn of events resulting in the beheading of John the Baptist.
Besides the very fact of the dancing, the stories seem otherwise unrelated. The first one is about victory, about giving the glory to God, and about praising God without reserve in song, and dance, and sacrifices of thanksgiving. The Gospel story is about lavish parties, and young women dancing for the pleasure of old men. It’s about violence and murder, cowardice and injustice. It’s about the sacrifice of an innocent person so that a weak king can save face.
Some commentators have pointed out that both kings are playing politics. David is a wise politician, and while the people think well of him, his wife Michal accuses him of false humility. David claims to be dancing … Read more »
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of being invited to commission the Camp Christopher staff and counsellors for the summer ministry that will begin later today when the first group of junior campers arrives for a week at camp. From what I have seen of this particular group of young people, ranging in age from about 15-25 years of age, they will be a wonderful team. They are energetic, enthusiastic, gifted in many ways, and they are full of love and faith to share with the many children and youth that will visit the camp this summer.
The theme for this summer’s Bible study at camp is “Power Up!” and it’s all about the Holy Spirit. And so, during the commissioning service, we reflected together on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at camp and among the staff. We remembered the fact that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God, and that it is poured out on the people of God giving them power to proclaim the gospel in word and action.
We talked about how we will know that the Spirit is working in our lives and relationships because it will … Read more »
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
“Both Hands for God”
As I told the children this morning, we might want to think about our two hands as one for reaching up to God for help, and the other for reaching out to care for and help others.
In our Gospel reading this morning, we heard two interwoven stories about people reaching up to Jesus for help. An important leader in the synagogue pleads for Jesus’ help because his daughter is about to die. And a poor, sick woman comes up behind Jesus in the crowd, and literally reaches out to touch his clothes, trusting that he will be able to heal her.
The reading from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians is about the other hand… the one we are called to use to reach out to others with the love, care, and practical assistance that others may need, and we may be able to provide.
Paul notes that the Corinthian Christians excel in many things… in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in eagerness and love… and he also wants them to excel in generosity. He is asking them to provide financial support for another church that is struggling with poverty. He is inviting them to give … Read more »