“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 »
“Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given.” When I hear those words on Christmas Eve, I immediately think of Jesus. Christ is the one whose birth we celebrate tonight, the Saviour who came to us from God more than 2000 years ago. He was born to a poor family, in a difficult time, suddenly, while they were travelling far from home.
But the words of the Prophet Isaiah were not spoken in reference to Jesus – at least, not at first. Isaiah lived about 800 years before the time of Jesus, and he was speaking to King Ahaz of Judah with a message of hope and joy. As is often the case, learning about the original context can help us to appreciate the message of this Scripture as it relates to Jesus so many centuries later, and to our lives in this time.
King Ahaz was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps you know what that feels like – when you feel like you have no control over what is happening in your life, when it seems like you have to choose between two terrible possibilities, and you don’t know what to … Read more »
“Joining Mary’s Song”
You know, it’s not only Catholics who like to name their daughters Mary. It was a very popular name in first-century Palestine also, when a remarkable number of Jews were naming their daughters Mary – after the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, and in defiant memory of Mariamne, who was murdered by her husband, Herod the Great.
Mary’s name suggests that her family was among those in first-century Palestine who longed for God to free them from Rome. The name Mary is unambiguously political, brave, and resistive. Jesus was born into such a family.
We can imagine that Mary’s family and others in their community were remembering the words of the prophets like Micah, and praying that their hopes would be fulfilled again in their own time.
Seven hundred years earlier, Micah expressed hope for a better future for the people of Judah who had endured much devastation (likely the invasion of Sennacherib in Judah in 702-701 BCE). The source of the hope was the suggestion of new leadership for the people. Micah furiously criticizes the Jerusalem king and the elite, and he calls for a new ruler who will bring security and peace to the people.
His words could be … Read more »
“The Joy of Salvation”
The message of the prophets on this third Sunday in Advent is about the joy of salvation. Like Israel before us, we have a reason to rejoice, because God has decided not to hold us accountable for our sins and failings, but to demonstrate grace and offer us forgiveness.
As the prophet Zephaniah wrote to the people of Israel, “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you.” We are called to rejoice and exult with all our hearts. We are invited to draw spiritual water from the wells of salvation, and to do so with joy and thanksgiving.
This is, of course, a message that is not reserved for Advent or Christmas. We are reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness over and over in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and Sunday after Sunday, we hear the assurance of God’s abiding love and grace for us, God’s own wandering children.
But the message of grace in today’s scriptures comes hand in hand with a challenge. The prophet John is preaching about the One coming into the world from God. He is calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord, to get … Read more »
“Prepare the Way”
That’s such a great Gospel reading for Saskatchewan, don’t you think? “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low…” God is making a beautiful, wide-open prairie! That’s the vision of the Kingdom of God when Jesus is coming into the world!
These are the words of John the Baptist when he begins preaching out in the wilderness, calling the people to repent and to “prepare the way of the Lord” who is coming (in Jesus, as we will soon see) to save all people from our sin and sadness.
John is quoting from another prophet centuries before him, Isaiah, who proclaimed similar words to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon. It seemed to them like God had abandoned them there, but God was coming, he assured them. They should be ready to welcome God, who was going to come and bring them home.
The image of the people “preparing the way” probably came from practices associated with welcoming royalty. It was like rolling out the red carpet, making sure that the monarch would have a smooth ride in coming to visit the community.
When we talked about this in … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
“Blooming in the Darkness”
Our Christmas cactus is blooming. We’ve had it for a few years, and it does bloom occasionally. But since I’ve been working at home, I’ve really noticed it blooming over the last week, with more and more flowers appearing each day, more than I ever remember seeing before.
I’m not a gardener at all and I don’t know much about plants. Nick is the one who remembers to water our plants occasionally, with my job being mostly just to notice and appreciate them once in a while. But we all know that Christmas cacti are famous for their unusual schedule of tending to bloom at Christmas.
What they really do is that they start to grow flowers when they experience slightly cooler temperatures and longer nights: at least 13 hours of darkness will do it, and we’re well past that measure here in Regina at this time of year. So our Christmas cactus is blooming.
And I appreciate that it is a glimpse of beauty when I need it most – when it’s getting colder and darker every day, and I’m feeling discouraged because another long Saskatchewan winter is setting in.
It’s not only the darkness and … Read more »
“Are You a King or Not?”
This is Reign of Christ Sunday – the final Sunday of our Church Year before we begin a new cycle with the Season of Advent next week. And so, it seems good to remember the journey through the Scriptures that we have shared in our worship throughout the last year – the cycle that we go through each year in our life together as church.
We began with Advent a year ago – waiting and preparing for Emmanuel and then celebrating the arrival of Jesus the tiny, helpless child at Christmas.
We remembered the Baptism of Jesus – that moment when the Spirit of God descended onto him and the voice from heaven was heard declaring “You are my beloved Son.” We traveled with Jesus through his ministry in Galilee. We heard his parables. We witnessed his miracles – food multiplied, people healed, evil spirits driven out.
We heard his debates and arguments with the religious authorities of his time. We watched Jesus break the rules and turn our understanding of the world upside down. We saw him eat with the outcasts and rejected people of society. We wondered at his strange, wandering way of life and … Read more »
Hebrews 11:11-14, 19-25
There will be “wars and rumours of wars” – nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”
As we near the end of the Church Year and prepare to begin again with the Season of Advent, the lectionary gives us some apocalyptic texts (like this one from Mark 13) on which to reflect and preach. What are apocalyptic texts, you ask? Here’s how the SALT Lectionary Commentary explains these strange, symbolic, and often scary pieces of writing:
“When death-dealing forces seemed to have the upper hand, one ancient literary response was to envision an imminent future in which God directly comes to the rescue in spectacular fashion: righting wrongs, routing wrongdoers, and thereby inaugurating a new era of justice and compassion. This literature is often called “Apocalyptic” (from the Greek word apokalupsis, meaning “uncovering” or “revealing”).
“God pulls aside the veil, revealing to God’s people the hidden dramatic rescue to come. Apocalyptic narratives and images can be found throughout the Bible (with Daniel and Revelation being prime examples), typically including cryptic, poetic language; ominous signs in the heavens; falling stars; … Read more »
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
“Hatching Plans & Taking Action”
This morning’s reading from the Book of Ruth incudes a couple more short sections from the story of Naomi and Ruth that we began last Sunday.
You may remember that Naomi and her family have been struck by one disaster after another, including first a famine, becoming refugees to a foreign land to survive, and then the deaths of all the men in the family, leaving the women alone and vulnerable as widows in that time and place.
Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, shows her faithfulness and courage when she returns with Naomi to Judah. It is likely the more tenuous choice for Ruth’s future, but her presence may give Naomi a chance at survival.
Chapter two, which the lectionary skips, tells of the women arriving in Naomi’s homeland and relying on the kindness of a relative who allows them to glean grain from the edges of his field. For the time being, they are okay.
One might pause and give thanks to God for this blessing, but their situation is still very precarious.
But rather than just waiting, praying, giving thanks for their daily bread, and hoping that God will continue to provide for their needs, Naomi hatches a plan.
Their … Read more »
“Where You Go, I Will Go”
For the last few Sundays, I’ve been focusing my preaching on the Gospel readings from Mark. But today and next week, I would like to pay more attention to the texts from the Book of Ruth. Ruth is a short book of only four chapters that tells the story of an Israelite woman named Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth.
It’s significant that the book is named in honour of Ruth, the foreigner. And it’s also significant that she is named again in the Book of Matthew when the author of the Gospel lists the genealogy of Jesus. Biblical genealogies usually include the names of the fathers and their sons, with the one in Matthew starting with Abraham, going down to King David, and continuing along as far as Joseph and Jesus.
Only a few times is there a mother listed. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is of course included. And so is Ruth. It says: “…Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…” and on from there. So, Ruth was a significant figure in the history of God’s People Israel, in spite of … 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 … Read more »
“Not So Among You”
“It is not so among you.” Those were the words of Jesus that really struck me in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is saying that the fellowship of his followers is different from other communities in some important ways.
Contrasting the community of disciples with the way that the Gentile communities functioned, Jesus said, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you.”
It made me think of a parent or perhaps a grandparent reminding another family member that “That’s not the way we do things in our family.” The statement is not so much a description of how things always are, but an aspirational statement that reveals a community’s values, goals, and vision for how they will be together.
In the Smith family, everyone comes home for Sunday dinner and there’s always plenty of food and extra chairs for guests to come along.
In our Grade 4 class, we take turns speaking, and we never use fowl language.
In the Jones family, hard work and education are most important. No matter what path we choose, we give it … Read more »
It’s Thanksgiving Sunday! We have a lovely harvest display prepared by Jeannie and Joyce, plus a harvest of thankfulness that we added. And we have a beautiful Communion table, set for our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Many of us will enjoy special meals and even family gatherings this weekend that give us reason to rejoice. And in the midst of the struggles and difficulties of the world today, we are very aware of our blessings.
We give thanks for food, homes, family, community, health, vaccines, meaningful work, strength and perseverance and the support we need through difficulties, the beauty of creation, and so many other good things that come from God.
And yet, our Scriptures today call us not only to be thankful and grateful this weekend for the good that we experience in life and for God who has come to us in Jesus Christ and who abides with us by the Holy Spirit. Our passages this morning from Hebrews and Mark challenge us with the difficult call of the Gospel and the BIG response that is required of us when we choose to follow Jesus.
The author of Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and … Read more »
“In This Together”
When a group of us got together on Zoom earlier this week for Bible study, we read and reflected on today’s passage from James, chapter five. And the very first comment made was how appropriate this Scripture seems for our context today, as we continue to struggle through the Covid-19 Pandemic.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve actually been living with the pandemic for 18 months now. And although many of us thought things would be better by now, here in Saskatchewan, the situation is as bad as ever with the number of new cases every day, the significant impact on unvaccinated children, the full status of our ICUs, and the terrible delays of other necessary medical procedures and treatments.
This has been tough. And it continues to be tough, especially for those who are stuck at home, those who are personally impacted by cancelled surgeries, those who are frustrated and close to burning out in health care jobs, and even those who are currently struggling to access their proof of vaccination so that they can participate in events in the community.
The people that James the Apostle was writing to weren’t experiencing a pandemic, but they were struggling with … Read more »
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
“Debates and Other Distractions”
I only have a vague memory of the grade in school (I think it was grade 7 or 8) when we learned how to engage in a formal debate. I remember that the topics were assigned, and we didn’t even get to choose whether we would argue “pro” or “con.” But we did our research, made our lists of convincing points on our side, anticipated the other side’s points, and planned our rebuttals. And then the competition began.
Debating wasn’t my favourite experience in school. It was stressful for a pretty shy kid. And it never felt like the process got us to a good conclusion on the topic in question. The most skilled and confident debaters always won, even if they were arguing for something ridiculous.
I have to say that I felt even worse about the so-called debate between the federal party leaders that took place last week. Like the disciples arguing on the road, there was a lot of attention given to which one of the leaders was the greatest (or definitely NOT the greatest), and there was very little light shed on the policies and priorities of the parties to … Read more »
“Words of Wisdom”
When Christians gather for worship Sunday-by-Sunday, we come expecting many different things. Whether in-person or online, we anticipate music and prayers. We know that we will read from the Bible, God’s Word to us. We will consider what God is saying to us in our time, and we will respond in a variety of ways to what we have heard.
Presbyterians and Christians that belong to the Reformed family of churches may not expect the services always to include sacraments like the Communion we shared last Sunday, but you do expect a significant sermon. That may be one of the reasons why many of you have hung on during times of online services only. Because even if we can’t see each other, or hug one another, or share food together, at least you can still hear the sermon. And you hope that the minister will say something worth your time and attention in listening.
I gave this morning’s sermon the title “Words of Wisdom” – not because I was over-confident that I would have some words of wisdom for you today, but because our first reading is from Proverbs chapter one, one of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures … Read more »
“Learning & Solidarity”
Everyone has been asking me this week about how my holidays were. Being off for few weeks gave me a nice break. I enjoyed a long trail walk with the Saskatchewan History & Folklore Society, a number of quiet days at home, and a short trip to visit my family in Ottawa and to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary with Nick. As I’ve said to a number of people, it was a good holiday, with a few interruptions for urgent matters, but still a great break.
Jesus wasn’t so fortunate. As we’ve already seen this summer in Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus tried to take a break, the crowds followed him relentlessly. So, in today’s story, when Jesus goes away to the region of Tyre and enters a house, hoping that no one will know he is there, perhaps it’s not surprising that he is a bit rude to the Gentile woman who walks right in and starts begging him to heal her daughter.
Jesus must have been exhausted. And I know that when I’m exhausted, I don’t always say the right things. I mean, we all have our limits. And when you’ve been working and working, … Read more »
“A Basket for Each Disciple”
When you’re reading a passage from the Bible and considering what relevance it might have for you today, one of the basic strategies is to think about where you might place yourself in the story. Which person can you relate to, and what can you learn from their experiences – their action or in-action, their faith or doubt, their success or failure?
Last Sunday I preached on a passage from Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus interrupted a mini break he was trying to take with his disciples in order to minister to the crowds who were coming to him for practical help and guidance in their lives. It was the disciples that I related to most easily – the ones who had been out doing mission and were trying to get away with Jesus for a rest. As a church leader at the end of a couple of busy and stressful years, I could imagine what they felt like.
I read a sermon by another preacher on last Sunday’s text though, and I was surprised that he placed himself and his listeners in the crowd instead – among the people who were like sheep without a shepherd, … Read more »
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:303-34, 53-56
“Work & Rest”
When I think about the church living through the Covid-19 Pandemic, there are both negatives and positives that come to mind. Certainly, it has been very difficult for us to maintain community, to enjoy worship and sacraments together, and find new ways to continue our mission while keeping each other and our community safe.
But we have learned during this crisis that the church is a lot stronger, more faithful, and more resilient than we might have guessed. And we have experienced what we might only have known in theory before – that the church is not the building, but the people.
God is not confined to our sanctuaries, but meets us wherever we turn to God in praise and prayer. And our job as Jesus’ followers is not just to show up at God’s house regularly to give God glory with our worship, but it’s to glorify God in all the ways we let God make a home in our hearts and in our lives every day.
We knew all that before the pandemic, right? But when you can’t actually “go to church” for many months at a time, that’s when you actually start needing … Read more »