“What Are We Watching For?”
Advent begins today. Happy New (Church) Year! Literally, “Advent” means “coming” and it is a time when we wait and prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our world at Christmas. At the same time, we think about how we are also waiting and preparing for Jesus to come again as he promised, and to finally make things right in our world.
The readings provided for us in the Revised Common Lectionary for this First Sunday of Advent in Year A are not so much about getting ready for a birthday party for Jesus. They are much more focused on anticipating Christ’s second coming and the end of the world as we know it. The Gospel text, in particular, is pretty dramatic – warning us to “keep awake” and “be ready” because “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
It may be helpful to know what Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples that “no one knows about the day or the hour, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
At the beginning of the chapter (chapter 24) Jesus foretells the destruction of the … Read more »
“When you come into your Kingdom”
As many of you know, I spent part of this past week in Mississauga at meetings of the Governing Board of the Canadian Council of Churches. You may be relieved to know (as I am relieved) that it was my last trip away from Regina for this calendar year. And I’m looking forward to moving into the seasons of Advent and Christmas with First Church without having to fly off to Ontario for any more meetings.
But besides the contributions that I am called to make to these larger church committees and organizations, I always benefit personally from my attendance, learning a great deal from my colleagues and hopefully sharing some of those benefits with all of you.
One of the things that struck me this week came from President Das Sydney’s report to the Governing Board, which connects well with this morning’s readings. He began his report by setting the context of this time in which we live. He wrote: “As the nuclear age became entrenched in the years following the last Great War, W.H. Auden created a phrase to describe the ethos and climate of the times. He called it an … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
“God is About to Do Something – With Us!”
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 … Read more »
“The Glorious Inheritance”
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get worried about whether we’re going to manage to pass on the Christian faith to the next generation. It’s kind of a critical task, you see… not only because the church won’t last very long if our children and our grandchildren don’t receive the faith and continue the work of the church. But perhaps most importantly, it’s kind of a critical task because it’s exactly what Jesus told his first followers that they were supposed to do.
As the book of Acts tells us, Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit and said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
Those of you who have children or grandchildren of your own might spend even more time worrying about this problem than I do. You want your kids to learn the biblical stories of the faith. You want them to learn how to pray. You want to find a way to show them that God is real, … Read more »
“Even On Them?”
As many of you know, I attended the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe, Germany last month, and this morning I thought I would start by sharing a little more about that experience.
Gathered with Christians of many denominations, cultures, languages, colours, genders, ages, abilities, and so many other diverse characteristics, a significant theme in our worship, plenaries, and conversations at the WCC surrounded our diversities and the expressed desire of the Assembly to be a community of welcome for all.
You may know the “call and response” declaration used in some churches that begins with the leader declaring, “God is good.” The people respond, “All the time.” Then the leader says, “All the time,” and the response is, “God is good.”
Many of the Christians at the Assembly were familiar with that one, but we also learned a new call and response declaration that was inspired by the Assembly’s theme: “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.” Because God has graciously loved us first, accepted us with all our imperfections, and never gives up on us, we are moved by the experience of that love to try to love one another. We … Read more »
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
“The Welfare of the City”
There are special Scripture readings in the lectionary for Thanksgiving Sunday, but I don’t always use them. Sometimes, like this year, I just stick with the readings for this 18th Sunday after Pentecost. I love the fact that today’s Gospel story about the ten people who are healed and the one who returns to praise God and thank Jesus just happens to fall on Thanksgiving Sunday. Christians around the world, most of whom are not celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend like Canadians, are nonetheless reflecting on this story about giving thanks.
But of course, there’s more to the Gospel story today than a reminder to be polite and say thank you when someone helps you out. There’s a message about Jesus crossing boundaries and helping people that would normally be ignored and avoided by others. There’s the wonder of God’s healing power that not only cures illness, but restores us to community. And perhaps most important, there’s the fact that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. He was considered an outsider first for his ethnicity and then for his skin condition, but here he becomes an example of faith and wholeness … Read more »
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Rekindle the Gift”
How many times have I had conversations with older Presbyterians (and other Christians too) that surrounded the deep concern and worry about the future of the church! And very often I hear them lament about the fact that younger generations don’t seem to have embraced the faith and taken their places as members and leaders of our congregations.
Those who are most despairing about our current situation are often those who remember the full pews of the late-Christendom era. They faithfully came to church every Sunday when they were young, but those following after them have not adopted that same pattern of weekly worship.
Did you notice the poetry of lament in our readings this morning? First, God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem are lamenting the empty city after many of the people have been sent into exile. And then the exiles themselves are lamenting – weeping by the rivers of Babylon as they remember their homeland and the way they used to rejoice and sing in Jerusalem.
In their words, we hear disappointment, confusion, sadness, and even anger as they grapple, not only with their circumstances, but with the questions about why this has happened and … Read more »
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
“Investing in Hope”
The Revised Common Lectionary provides us with several great Scripture texts for today, but the one that really spoke to me this week was the one about the Prophet Jeremiah. If you were here last Sunday, you may remember that Jeremiah was weeping. He was mourning and crying with the people of Judah and Jerusalem because their enemies had conquered them. People had been killed, others had been exiled, and the nation was in chaos.
But the Prophet didn’t only weep and mourn because of what was happening to the people. He also pointed out to them and to their leaders that if they changed their ways, worked for justice and righteousness, and honoured God with their lives, things might change. Last Sunday I referred to Jeremiah as the prophet who mostly had the job of bringing bad news to the people – telling them to shape up or continue to suffer the consequences.
By the time we get to today’s text from chapter 32, Jeremiah has suffered the consequences of his outspokenness. King Zedekiah of Judah is sick and tired of the prophet’s judgement, and he’s locked him up so that he can’t keep causing trouble. Meanwhile, … Read more »
Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1
Friends, it is good to be home again in Regina at First Church after a long time away. Nick and I enjoyed some holiday time, first in Quebec and Ontario, and then travelling around Germany. We visited Frankfurt, Erfurt, Wittenberg, Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, Nurnberg, Heidelberg, and Cologne. Of course, we visited lots of churches and saw major Martin Luther historical sites, plus some castles and museums, river boat tours, and more.
Then we attended the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe. I was one of the delegates representing The Presbyterian Church in Canada. I also attended the Pre-Assembly program for Indigenous Peoples, as a non-Indigenous ally who wanted to listen, learn, and bring Indigenous people’s concerns and priorities forward. And I served on an assembly committee that was responsible for recommending program priorities for the next eight years of the WCC until the next assembly.
Worship and thematic plenaries at the assembly were quite wonderful, and I enjoyed meeting Christians (and lots of Presbyterians) from all over the world. We had “home groups” each day for discussion and reflection, and ecumenical conversations on various topics. I participated in one that was focused on a … Read more »
“The Richness of our Lives”
I remember conducting a funeral some years ago for the mother of one of my congregation members. I didn’t know Eileen personally, but after listening to her family’s stories and recollections, this is one of the things that I said in my sermon: “I am told that Eileen never had a lot of money in her life, but I get the impression that her life was very, very rich.” You see, she was the kind of person who, when she had some money, spread it around. And when she needed money, she didn’t hesitate to ask her family for help.
As I reflected on Eileen’s life, the rich man from Jesus’ story came to mind. Not that the two were alike. They were nearly opposites! But I thought about the richness of Eileen’s life (a richness that had nothing to do with possessions or wealth) and I wondered about how much the rich man must have missed out on in life.
Yes, he seems to have acquired a lot of stuff and he’s stored it up in big barns, but there’s no mention of him having a family, or any friends, or belonging to a community. … Read more »
“Teach us to Pray”
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and I suppose his disciples were watching. When he finished his quiet time with God, one of them said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus did teach them.
I wonder who taught you to pray. Likely it wasn’t just one person. Maybe a parent taught you to say a prayer before sharing a meal. Maybe a Sunday School teacher got you to memorize the Lord’s Prayer when you were young. Perhaps a camp counsellor or VBS leader invited you to share in a popcorn prayer or a squeeze prayer where everyone adds their own words of thanks or their needs or concerns about the world. Maybe someone once gave you a prayer book with a prayer you could read for each day of the week or for morning and evening.
Or maybe you learned to pray by listening to others doing it, slowly picking up the pattern and potential vocabulary: “Dear God… thank you Lord… I’m sorry for… Please help… surround us with your love… pour out your blessing… in Jesus’ name I pray…” And then you tentatively began to open your mouth and express yourself to God … Read more »
“Worried and Distracted”
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 meal can be served … 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?” Jesus … Read more »
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“When the Spirit says Follow”
On this day, when six members of our community have decided to reaffirm their faith and become professing members of our congregation, it seems very appropriate that the Gospel text in the lectionary today begins with a moment when Jesus made a similar decision.
No, he didn’t affirm his faith in the ancient words of the Apostles’ Creed. (They’re ancient to us, but not yet even written for Jesus.) Nor did he settle down in one particular faith community in which he promised to serve and share his gifts faithfully as a member of the church.
But Luke 9:51 represents a key moment when Jesus seems to decide, to commit himself, and to persevere towards the mission to which God has called him. The text says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem was a place Jesus had been to many times before. It was the central place of worship for his people. He’s likely been there every year throughout his life, perhaps as many as three times a year – for all the great pilgrimage festivals.
We know the story of Jesus as … Read more »
1 Kings 19:1-15a
I think I said the most important things about today’s passage about the prophet Elijah when I was talking to the children this morning. His story reminds us that there are times in our lives when we all experience sadness, despair, and even depression. And even if we are completely alone, God is with us in those times, seeking to strengthen and help us, ready to speak to us words of love, courage, and hope for the future.
But there are two details in the story that I want to invite you to notice and to think about. First, it’s the fact that Elijah felt very alone. When he speaks to God he repeats, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
“I alone am left.” I wonder how often some of us have felt like that – like we’re all alone and we can’t handle all the responsibilities and tasks that we have to do. We may experience that heavy load and … Read more »
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
“What Are Human Beings?”
It’s Trinity Sunday – a day when the lectionary cycle of Scripture readings gives us passages that point to that most confusing and mysterious doctrine of the church – that God is three-in-one, and one-in-three; Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, but still One God.
I like the way that the SALT Lectionary Commentary explains how Christians came up with this “Trinity idea” based on their experience of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit:
“The ancient doctrine of the Trinity arose out of early Christian reflection on scripture, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. For his earliest followers, encountering Jesus was somehow encountering God directly — and at the same time, Jesus spoke of God as both distinct from him (as when he prayed to God, or spoke of God as the One who sent him) and yet nevertheless “one” with him. There was both a “two-ness” and a “oneness” in play, and so Christians sought out ways to express this mystery with poetry and precision.
“Likewise, early disciples experienced encounters with the Spirit as encounters with God directly — and at the same time, Jesus spoke of the Spirit as a guiding, challenging presence distinct … Read more »
“Freedom and Love”
Freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom, freedom is coming,
Oh yes I, yes I know, oh yes I know, oh yes I know,
Freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.
That was the song that kept running through my head as I reflected on our reading from the Book of Acts for this Sunday. What a wonderful text about the power of God to release us from the things that keep us bound and suffering, and bless us with the gift of freedom!
In a few conversations this week, I invited people to read over the story and to identify the ways in which various people were bound or even enslaved, how they were freed from bondage, and to notice what they did with their freedom.
The most obvious example is Paul and Silas. At the beginning of the story, they seem to be free, but their actions with regard to a slave-girl in Philippi lead to a complaint by people of influence, and they are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned in a jail. We imagine their chains and shackles, and are struck by the risk and sacrifice that the early Christian leaders were willing to take on as they spread the gospel … Read more »
“Blessed to be a Blessing”
Have you ever heard a sermon about Lydia before? I haven’t ever preached one, nor have I heard someone else preach one either. Perhaps that’s just because the Book of Acts doesn’t go into much detail about the business-woman from Thyatira who sold purple cloth.
Other than the fact that she was among the women that Paul met down by the river outside of Philippi, we don’t know much about her. But those few details, combined with the important points that she became a Christian, that her whole household was baptized, and that she provided support and hospitality to the apostles in Philippi is actually quite a lot!
Of course, we might get distracted by the somewhat miraculous way that Paul and the others decided to go to the city of Philippi. During the night, Paul had a vision. I expect it was a dream. There stood a man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” He was already wondering where to go next, looking for somewhere where the people would be receptive to the good news, and the strange dream gave him confidence to sail for Philippi – a … Read more »
“By Our Love”
It’s one of my favourite songs – one of those 1970s church songs that I grew up singing. You can play it on the guitar if you learn three basic chords, and it’s one of the first ones I learned to play in high school. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
It feels great to sing it in our happy Christian communities. I sang it first at a Christian camp – a community that I loved, where I felt included, and valued, and where I belonged. And over the years, it has felt right and true to sing it in the congregations I’ve served and often in ecumenical settings too. We commit ourselves to walk with each other and to work with each other across our differences. We pray for unity, remembering that it is God’s Holy Spirit that can make us One with all our diversities.
And no matter what challenges we face, we remind ourselves that Jesus’ most important commandment to us was to love one another. Like Tertullian, a theologian in the late 2nd Century, who said that pagans in his … Read more »
“Do You Love Me?”
In this Season of Easter, we read and remember the wonderful stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Luke’s Gospel has him appear to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, and Matthew says he appeared to a bunch of disciples together on the top of a mountain. According to John, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene in the cemetery, then to the disciples in a locked room. And in his final appearance, Jesus serves breakfast to his disciples on a beach, and has a heart-rending conversation with Peter.
What a strange conversation it is – with Jesus, a full-grown man, asking his full-grown fisherman friend, Peter, if he loves him. Not just asking once… but again and again. It sounds like the kind of thing that a sad or needy child asks a mum or dad: “Do you love me?” “Yes, of course I love you,” comes the response along with a smile and a hug of reassurance. You are safe. You are loved. You are mine.
But I don’t think that’s what is going on here. Jesus doesn’t need reassurance from Peter. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Jesus is reassuring Peter that Jesus still loves … Read more »