“What Happens in Bethlehem”
You’ve heard the saying, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”? One of my favourite Twitter hashtags is an alternate version of that saying: “What happens in Bethlehem doesn’t stay in Bethlehem.”
The story of Christ’s birth reminds us in a wonderful way that when God became flesh and entered our world as an infant, God was born in a particular place, to an ordinary family, and the news was made known to regular, working-class people who were nearby. God’s entrance was not made with a lot of pomp and circumstance, but he was born in a little town, in a stable out back of someone’s house, where very few people would notice.
But we are also reminded that God’s coming into the world in this way changed the lives of those he encountered, and eventually it changed the whole world. What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem.
In many ways, I expect that this has been a pretty normal year in and around First Presbyterian Church. But it has also been a remarkable year, for me especially. A new minister for you has meant at least a few changes. And a new congregation, and home, and … Read more »
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
“At Home in a Tent”
As we lit the Candle of Love this morning, we read: “For God so loved the world… that the Son of God took flesh and dwelt among us.” Literally, that phrase from John’s Gospel, chapter 1, could be translated as “God tented among us.” The implications of that decision on God’s part, to come and be with us in the world are absolutely astounding! And it is because of that decision – because of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ – that we worship and celebrate at Christmas each year.
Our reading this morning from the Hebrew Scriptures may seem unusual for a Christmas service. Indeed, we are much more used to hearing readings from the prophets about a child who is expected to be born, about a king or messiah who will come and bring hope, freedom, and joy to God’s People Israel.
But today’s reading is not from one of the prophets, but it’s back in the historical books, in 2nd Samuel – a reading about King David. Yes, there is a prophet involved in the story. The prophet Nathan, who advised and guided King David, teaching him and correcting … Read more »
John 1:6-8, 19-28
“Testify to the Light”
Have you heard about the war on Christmas? It’s the idea that Western secular society is out to stop any religious celebration of Christmas by banning the use of the word itself in the public sphere, by calling “Christmas trees” “Holiday trees,” and making sure that the carols sung in public places are appropriately secular. Some particularly right-wing Christians are calling it a “war” on Christmas, and they’re actively engaged in the fight to keep Christ in Christmas.
All this controversy about Christmas is an interesting development in the last few years because religious celebrations of Christ’s birth have always been held side-by-side with secular or pagan customs. Even the choice of December 25th for Christmas was not because Christians knew the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but because it seemed appropriate to hold a Christian celebration while others were marking the Winter Solstice. Things like Christmas trees, Christmas wreaths, and Yule logs were incorporated into Christian celebrations from the Winter Solstice holiday called, “Yule.”
Back in the 17th century, there was another controversy about Christmas. Puritan Christians in England wanted to purify Christianity by removing elements that they viewed as pagan because they were not biblical … Read more »
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
“Let all around us be peace”
Peace before us, peace behind us, peace under our feet,
Peace within us, peace over us, let us around us be peace.
Advent is an appropriate season to spend time in prayer for peace. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this busy month, we might pray for moments of peace, quiet, and calm in which to experience the presence of God in our lives. And we could pray for the gift of peace for those whose schedules keep them running, or whose “to do” lists are too long to complete in these few weeks.
Remembering those who are weighed down by heavy responsibilities and stressful situations, we might pray for the gift of peace that relieves stress and reduces anxiety. We could pray for those who suffer from anxiety disorders, as well as for those who are experiencing stress-inducing circumstances.
It would be appropriate also, for us to pray for peace in the lives of those who are struggling with brokenness in their relationships – for couples who feel stuck in cycles of conflict, for parents and children who cannot see eye to eye, for siblings, cousins, friends, and colleagues who are … Read more »
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
“While We Wait”
December can be such a busy month, can’t it? Between concerts and Christmas parties, shopping and preparing for family gatherings, many of us are run off our feet during this season.
I appreciate the fact that church meetings tend to slow down in December, but with planning for special services and high expectations at this time of year, pastors too can miss the call to slow down, wait, and reflect on the birth of Christ into our world. This morning’s Scripture readings, however, call all of us to a time of waiting and watching.
For what must we wait and watch? Well, the texts remind us of the time when God’s people were waiting for a Messiah – for a Saviour to come and bring them freedom and peace.
The prophet Isaiah expressed the deep longing – almost desperation – of his people when he cried out to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
And the psalmist likewise prayed for God’s salvation, asking God to hear the people’s prayers, and let his face shine on them, and restore them to fullness of life and safety.
Of course, when we move into the … Read more »
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
“Thin Sheep, Fat Sheep, This Sheep, That Sheep”
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty used to all this sheep and shepherd imagery in the Bible. Granted, it’s not exactly something I have a lot of experience with – sheep, or farm animals in general. But I think I get the picture of what it’s all about.
The shepherd cares for the sheep. Makes sure they’re fed. Protects them from predators. Leads them to green pastures and beside still waters. Sometimes the shepherd even goes off to look for a lost sheep, if he’s willing to risk the rest of the flock. And that’s the kind of shepherd that God’s supposed to be – one who cares about each individual sheep and rejoices over every one that’s found: Thin sheep, fat sheep, this sheep, that sheep!
The prophet Ezekiel is one of the Biblical writers who compares God to a shepherd who cares for, feeds, and guides the People of Israel. They’ve had a number of human leaders ruling over Israel at this point, but Ezekiel accuses these kings of being false shepherds – looking out for themselves instead of the sheep, ignoring the needs of the … Read more »
“The Courage to Risk”
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” It’s a hard saying from Jesus. It’s strange, and jarring, and it seems counter to everything we know about our loving God and our compassionate Christ.
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is the master’s response to the slave who received a gift, (just a small gift), and did nothing with it. He tried to hold on to it. He buried it in the ground. And after that, he wouldn’t be receiving any more gifts from the master.
It reminds me of a story that I read recently: A man went each day to his back yard and uncovered his money, which was buried in the ground. He would then put it back in the ground and cover it up again.
To his shock and disappointment, on a particular day he dug up the ground only to discover his money was gone! He began to cry out in dismay. His neighbour heard his … Read more »
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
“Choose to Serve”
Recently I heard a preacher suggest that Christianity is unique in that it demands that you make a choice. You consider the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus that you read about in the Gospels, and you decide what to make of it. You decide how to respond.
At some point, you have to make a choice about what to believe about Jesus. Either he was somehow the God of the universe made physically present in our world – reaching out, loving, forgiving, and reconciling the world – or he was a crazy person – living an itinerant life of poverty and getting himself killed. We have to choose what to believe as well as how to live in response to those convictions.
The book of Joshua tells the story of the Hebrew People entering the land promised by God and settling there. It’s the story of God’s chosen people – the ones who once lived as slaves in Egypt, who cried out to God to help them, and who followed Moses out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.
These are God’s own people, who have finally been freed both … Read more »
John 14:15-18, 25-27
“As far as it depends on you…”
This sermon was prepared by the Rev. Amanda Currie with input from the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth who were reflecting on the theme of peace during their weekend retreat at First Presbyterian Church November 3-5, 2017.
This weekend First Church was pleased to host the Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth event which was all about PEACE. And we are pleased this morning to have the SPY youth participating in worship leadership on this Remembrance Sunday.
When we began to discuss PEACE this weekend, we came up with the following definitions of PEACE…
What is Peace?
- A state in which there is no war or fighting
- A quiet and calm state
- A state in which a person is not bothered by thoughts or feelings of doubt, guilt, or worry.
- A feeling of being safe, protected, and relaxed
- A sense of purpose and direction in life
- Being alone, but not lonely
- An end to violence and conflict
- Understanding and respect between people
- Very difficult to achieve
Unfortunately, peace is not something that we notice happening in our world very much. If we watch the news, we are much more aware of war and conflict and violence, and rarely … Read more »
“First things first: Seeking God’s Priorities”
When you are learning how to preach, one of the things you learn about is the most common error in preaching – and that is to try to preach more than one sermon at a time. Both the blessing of the Scriptures and the problem for preachers is that any given biblical text can lead us in dozens of different directions.
We read and study the text, we consider what other commentators and preachers have said about it, we take it to Bible study and listen to the ideas of others in our own churches, and then… at some point before Sunday arrives we must choose which sermon we are going to preach.
You don’t want to hear 2 or 3 sermons with multiple ideas mixed up together. If a sermon is going to do its job, it needs to have focus and clarity that will be accessible and helpful for its listeners. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes a difficult choice to make to leave a precious thought or idea unsaid, to leave it for another sermon sometime in the future.
One commentator I read this week pointed out that the preacher must choose which of the lectionary readings … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
It has been a very difficult journey through the wilderness. After God led the Hebrew People out of slavery in Egypt, across the Sea, and into freedom, they wandered for forty years without finding their way to the promised land.
God provided for their basic needs along the way – food to eat, water to drink, simple shelter from the elements – but it was obviously a pretty discouraging time. The people complained bitterly about their circumstances, and at times they even longed to go back to the security and predictability of their oppressed life in Egypt.
Last Sunday, we read the story about the time they built a golden calf to worship, just one of the times that they turned away from God and did wrong things. And we were reminded that although God was disappointed, and although God was angry, God’s love and grace eventually prevailed, and God gave them another chance.
It is in today’s reading (a chapter later) that Moses begs God to give them that second chance, to keep them as God’s own people, and to stay with them on their journey and lead them all the way into the promised land.
In the midst … Read more »
“Dressed and Ready for the Feast”
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 … Read more »
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
This morning’s scripture readings invite us to reflect and to respond. As we celebrate Thanksgiving weekend together with our Canadian neighbours, friends, and families, we are invited to remember that this holiday is about more than a big meal and pumpkin-themed decorations.
We don’t call it “Turkey Day” because it’s not just about the menu, but it can be for us, as Christians, a special time of reflecting on the goodness of God and responding to that goodness with our lives of service and generosity.
The passage from Deuteronomy that we just heard is Moses addressing the Hebrew People. They are at the point where they have just finished their long 40-year journey through the wilderness, and they are about to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land.
You will remember that they have been through a terrible time. After escaping slavery and a harsh existence in Egypt, they have wandered through the wilderness for years – living in tents, coping with scarcity and danger, complaining and arguing with each other at times, and sometimes nearly giving up hope.
But soon all that will be over. Moses tells them that God is bringing them into a good … Read more »
“Changing our Minds”
Jesus told another parable in order to get his point across to the religious leaders of his day. They were acting like hypocrites – very good and holy in their teachings and ideals, but not living according to those same high standards. And as we hear the parable again today, we are invited to ask ourselves… “Which son do I most resemble?”
When God asks me to go to work in some sort of service or mission in the church or in the world, am I the one who hesitates at first? Am I the one who is unsure that I really want to get involved or put in the effort required? Am I the one who initially says “no,” but eventually decides to do what I am being asked to do?
Or am I the one who says, “Yes, Lord, of course I will help!” But then I get distracted. I get busy… terribly busy. I just don’t manage to make the time in my life for that service, and so I don’t go. I intended to go, but I didn’t go.
Of course, it is obvious to everyone that, although both sons in the parable say one … Read more »
Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21
“Beyond Perfect Forgiveness”
It was lovely to begin our Tuesday morning Bible Study this week. I appreciated the opportunity, early in the week, to get together with a group of faithful and thoughtful Christians to explore and discuss the Gospel text assigned for this morning’s service.
Biblical interpretation and application to our lives is often better when we do it in dialogue both with the wider Christian community through commentaries and reflections of other pastors and theologians, as well as with real live people who are a part of our own community of faith. (If any of you would like to join us, know that you are always welcome on Tuesday mornings at 10:30 am.)
Anyway, in our study on Tuesday we talked about Peter’s question to Jesus about how often we should forgive another member of the Christian community who sins against us. Of course, this text comes just after the one we talked about last Sunday about how to work out conflict that arises in the church from time to time.
That text encouraged us to do everything that we can to work things out with someone who has hurt us – first, going to speak to them … Read more »
“Where two or three are gathered”
Where two or three are gathered together, there is the likelihood of at least two or three different perspectives, opinions, or preferences. And where two or three are gathered together, there is the potential for conflict.
Although it would be nice to say that whenever we gather in the name of Christ, we discover unity, and make peace, and live and serve harmoniously together, the reality is that even in the church, we don’t always get along that well.
Yes, I’ve heard about some of the conflicts that have flared up in this Christian community over the years. Some of them have been resolved or let go of, and some forgiving and even some forgetting has long ago taken place. And there are others that still plague us in our relationships, stirring up feelings of frustration, hurt, or anger, and continue to hamper our relationships as co-workers in the gospel and brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ve also heard about some of the conflicts that plagued other Christian congregations to which some of you used to belong. You came to this church seeking peace and rest from the struggle, and a caring community where you could … Read more »
It is September – a wonderful time for new beginnings! I wonder if it is a good time for you, right now, as September begins, to make a new start in your life of faith. And I wonder what that would look like for you.
Today’s story from the Book of Exodus is all about a new beginning for Moses that leads to a new beginning for God’s People, Israel, in a new land and with a new freedom. And it starts with God speaking.
Moses was going about his work, looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, not looking for a change, not searching for adventure, not trying to figure out what his next big mission should be. But God speaks to him, and everything changes.
God gets his attention with a burning bush, calls him by name, and then explains that God has a task for him to do… to go to the Pharaoh, and bring God’s People out of slavery in Egypt.
God speaks to others too. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, back before his name was changed, and he was Saul. He was travelling along the road to Damascus when it happened. God got Saul’s attention by … Read more »
“Transformed by the Renewing of our Minds”
Very often I find myself drawn to the Gospel text for the focus of my preaching. After all, it’s in the Gospels that we find the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry, and where we hear Jesus’ own teaching and preaching. As people who have been called to his “way of life” and committed ourselves to being his disciples, the Gospel texts may seem like they are the most important part of the Bible.
But if, with Peter, we have already grappled with Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” And if, in faith, we have answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Then the next question for us concerns how we will live as followers of that Christ, how we will live as people of faith in the church which he established.
So, this week I found myself turning again and again to the text from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The first part of Romans 12 is not so much about Jesus himself, as it is about us. It is advice and instruction from an early leader in the Christian Church about how to live as the … Read more »
Do you remember learning how to drive a car? For many Canadian teenagers today, learning to drive is an important part of growing up, and a sign of status when they get their license and the right to drive on their own, without a parent sitting in the passenger seat.
For a variety of reasons, I didn’t get my license as a teenager. Mostly because I just didn’t have time to take the course, and I didn’t really need a vehicle where I lived because there was a very good transit system. But when I finally did take the time to get it in my early 20s, I took the learning process very seriously.
I read, and re-read, and studied the little booklet with the rules of the road and the traffic signs before attempting the test to get my learner’s permit. And then I paid for the comprehensive driving course from “Young Drivers of Canada.” I went to every classroom session well prepared, having gone over the topics to be covered that day, and I did spectacularly well when it came time for the quizzes.
But I wasn’t like a Prairie farm kid, who had driven a tractor before driving … Read more »
1 Kings 19:9-18
“Meeting Jesus in the Storm”
The Revised Common Lectionary provides us with a set of readings for each Sunday, and the first thing that ministers tend to do in studying them is to look for some kind of connection between them. Why do we have Elijah’s panic attack paired with Jesus’ walking on the water today? Two interesting stories… but what do they have to do with each other?
Well, the first connection I noticed was that both stories have storms. The disciples encounter a windstorm out on the lake, causing their boat to be battered by the waves and likely making the rowing very difficult. And Elijah, after running away to hide in a cave, experiences a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire… followed by the voice of God asking him, “What are you doing here?”
And it’s not just the strong winds that connect today’s stories, but also the good news that in the midst of those storms, God speaks to us, and God comes to us.
Can you remember some storms that you’ve been through in your life? Perhaps some actual storms with thunder and lightning striking, with mighty winds causing destruction, or with blowing and drifting … Read more »