December 31, 2023

Matthew 2:1-12


I wasn’t an English major in university, but I can still remember some of what I learned in my English classes in high school. Perhaps you also remember analyzing the plot of a narrative, and learning terms like setting, character, theme, crisis, climax, and dénouement.

I started thinking about high school English classes when I began to prepare for the service today. I Googled the term “Epiphany” to see what definitions would come up, and before the one that said “A Christian feast day commemorating the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child,” there was “epiphany” as a literary device: “An epiphany is an ‘Aha!’ moment. As a literary device, an epiphany is the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing realization which changes the rest of the story.”

Within the narrative of Matthew’s Gospel, the Christian Church has highlighted the first part of chapter two that we read today as an epiphany. And it seems to me that there are a number of people who could be experiencing epiphanies in and around this part of the story. There are the wise men themselves, who notice a new star in the sky. They search out its meaning, … Read more »

December 24, 2023 (evening)

Isaiah 43:15-21
Psalm 96
Revelation 21:1-6
John 1:1-14

“Sing a New Song”

Carol Singing

We don’t have enough services in the Christmas season to fit in all the wonderful carols of our faith that have been written to celebrate Christ’s birth. We’ve already sung several during the season of Advent, and we’ll sing some more next Sunday as the season of Christmas continues. But rather than miss singing some of our traditional favourites, we thought tonight we would do a little extra carol singing.

Our theme in worship throughout Advent has been “Sing a New Song.” Over the last four weeks, we have studied and joined in the Song of Mary as she sang about God bringing down the powerful and lifted up the lowly through the ministry of her son, Jesus, who was soon to be born. We sang the Song of Zechariah who foretold that his son John the Baptist would prepare the way of the Lord.

We rejoiced with the Song of the Angels to the Shepherds, proclaiming good news of great joy to all people. And we found hope in the Song of Simeon who was filled with peace when he recognized God’s promise fulfilled in the child Jesus, who would be the Messiah.

The … Read more »

December 24, 2023 (morning)

Luke 2 :21-40

“Simeon’s Song”

After a long wait… about four years since we began the refugee sponsorship process, the Saleem family received the news this week that they will be flying to Canada on January 17th 2024. I don’t know if there was singing in their house, or maybe even dancing, when they got the good news of an actual date and plane tickets. But I’m sure that their hearts were filled with joy, anticipation, and probably a little fear as well about the huge transition they are about to make and the hopeful future that lies ahead for them now. And our hearts are full as well, as we look forward to welcoming them to Regina in the New Year.

This week in our Advent Devotional Study, we reflected on the story of Simeon – the old prophet in Jerusalem who met Mary and Joseph and their new baby, Jesus, when they came up to the temple, and who recognized that this child was the promised Messiah of God. Simeon had been waiting more than a few years for this good news. He may well have been waiting most of his life.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout (he … Read more »

December 17, 2023

Luke 2:1-15

“The Angels’ Song”

This week, when I met with the Advent Devotional Study groups, the opening thought to ponder, given to us in the guide, was this question: “When were you last surprised amid your ordinary routine?”

And when I asked the question, I was met with silence… It took some time for folks to think back and remember some pleasant surprises or good news they had received in years past.

But it was clear that, for most of us, our daily lives are pretty ordinary. We work, we volunteer, we spend time with family or friends. Some of us have some hobbies, groups we attend, sports we play or watch. And, of course, we practice our faith.

We go to church, or we participate online. We read scripture and think about what it means for us. We pray for our own needs and for our neighbours. We give our time and our gifts for the work of the church and other good missions beyond it. Our lives are pretty ordinary.

Angie Song reminds us that “the whole Christmas narrative has ‘ordinary’ written all over it – that is, until God shows up. The story of the shepherds is no exception. It’s another ordinary … Read more »

December 10, 2023

Luke 1:5-25, 57-79

“Zechariah’s Song”

During this Season of Advent, I decided to move away from the usual Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sundays, and to focus on the prophetic voices of some of the biblical song-writers that had a special part to play in the story of Christ’s birth into the world. I need to acknowledge the influence of the Rev. Angie Song, another PCC minister who wrote this year’s Advent Devotional Study “Sing a New Song” and suggested that we look at the songs of Mary, Zechariah, the angels, Simeon, and the Psalmist through this season.

Last Sunday’s “Magnificat” song from Mary was one of the more well-known songs, and today’s is probably a bit less familiar. In fact, if I just mentioned “Zechariah’s Song” to most Christians, they might say, “Zechariah? Who was that, again?” He’s not a particularly famous person in the New Testament, given that we only have this one story from his life and ministry. But I think there is a lot that we can learn from him.

Zechariah was, of course, John the Baptist’s Dad. We know the importance of John’s role in preparing the way of Christ into the world. We remember how he preached and … Read more »

December 3, 2023

Luke 1:26-55

“Mary’s Song”

I do sometimes wish that we knew more about Mary, Jesus’ mother. We just have these few stories in Luke’s Gospel about Mary as a young woman discovering she is pregnant with the Saviour of the world. There’s the story in John’s Gospel where she encourages Jesus to get going with his ministry by using his power to turn water into wine at a wedding. And then we get a few references to Mary’s presence at the end of Jesus’ life, as she faces every parent’s worst nightmare – to see the suffering and death of her own child.

Much of the Christian tradition about Mary portrays her as a sweet, kind, and obedient young woman. It doesn’t imagine her as loud, angry, passionate, or willful, but rather as someone who (after only a few clarifying questions) responds to the Angel Gabriel by calmly saying, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

But even if Mary accepted God’s plan for her without a lot of fuss, I still think she must have been quite a strong, bold, and out-spoken woman of faith who was not afraid to shake things up. And it’s the song she sang during her … Read more »

November 26, 2023

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Matthew 25:31-46

“Flocking Together”

As I was preparing for worship for today, I mentioned to quite a few people that this was going to be a very sheep-y Sunday. So far we’ve had sheep going astray, lost sheep, found sheep, beloved sheep, thin sheep, and fat sheep, plus a few goats thrown in for good measure.

The image of God as the shepherd with God’s people as the sheep is pervasive in Scripture and probably familiar to us all. In some circles, being called a sheep is an insult, carrying with it the suggestion that people who act like sheep cannot think for themselves and just go along with whatever the authorities may tell them.

But for Christians, to be a sheep means that we are valued, protected, guided, and cared for by our loving, shepherding God. To be a sheep means that we belong to God our Shepherd, and to be a sheep means that we belong to the flock as well – to the community of God’s people.

Perhaps your mind goes to Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Or maybe you … Read more »

November 12, 2023

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Matthew 25:1-13

“Choose to Be Prepared”

When I was a child, I never participated in Girl Guides or Scouts, but I do know one of the mantras of those groups that my guiding friends learned and remembered: “Always be prepared.” It was Robert Baden-Powell, the English soldier who founded the Boy Scouts who published the motto “Be Prepared” in his 1908 handbook, Scouting for Boys. He wrote that to be prepared meant “You are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”

And, of course, the motto came to mind when I thought about the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids that we read this morning. Five of them were prepared, and five of them were not.

But just as our children don’t have a lot of knowledge or experience with oil lamps, we likely don’t know much about first century Jewish weddings, so let’s begin with some historical context.

According to historians, on the day of a wedding ceremony in first century Palestine, the bride-to-be waited at home with her wedding party. Meanwhile, the bridegroom negotiated elsewhere with her relatives the various financial details involved in obtaining her as his wife. It was actually a mark of … Read more »

November 5, 2023

Matthew 23:1-23

“Weightier Matters”

As many of you know, Nick and I spent almost three weeks of holidays on Prince Edward Island this past summer. We had a lovely time, and I shared some of the pictures with the Lunch Bunch in September. It was a low-cost holiday too, because we had the opportunity to stay in a Presbyterian manse for free. All I had to do was a little light preaching at a couple of local churches.

That’s the way I described it – light preaching. I chose a few of Jesus’ parables from Matthew and adapted some sermons I’d preached before on uplifting, not-too-heavy topics.

In contrast, I gave the sermon for today the title of “Weightier Matters.” And indeed, this does feel like a time for weightier matters. We are marking Remembrance Day this morning, and remembering those who were killed, or injured, or traumatized in wars past and present.

And unless we have been avoiding the news completely, we are deeply aware of the wars raging in Ukraine and Russia, in Israel and Palestine, and in many other places. We may be feeling somewhat anxious about the latest waves of Covid infections, the concerning trends towards alt-right ideologies in the U.S. … Read more »

October 22, 2023

Matthew 22:15-22

“How Much Should We Give?”

As most of you likely know, our congregation, like a typical Presbyterian Church has quite a few committees. Lots of different people are involved in the work of the committees that all report to Session. For example, there’s the Worship Committee that supports what we do here every Sunday morning. There’s the Pastoral Care Committee that visits members and offers other kinds of support to folks in our congregation who are struggling. And there’s the Mission & Outreach Committee that gives direction for all the ways that we reach out beyond our congregation to serve, and help, and share God’s love in the world.

Most of the committees meet every couple of months. But one of the committees, the Stewardship Committee, just started meeting again this Fall after a long hiatus during Covid and its aftermath. You might think of the Stewardship Committee as the group that tries to encourage us all to give generously to the work of the church. And yes, it is the committee most likely to be found talking about money. Well, besides the Board of Managers, of course.

I think it’s good to note that during the first year of the Covid … Read more »

October 15, 2023

Exodus 32:1-14
Matthew 22:1-14

“Dressed for the Celebration”

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 news of … Read more »

October 8, 2023

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19

“When You Have Eaten Your Fill”

Some people are really good at remembering to send “thank you” cards. You have them over for supper, and they send you a “thank you” card. You do them a favour, even the smallest thing, and they send you a “thank you” card. You make a donation or volunteer some time for their organization, and they definitely send you a “thank you” card. At least once, I’ve received a “thank you” card from a church member just for picking up the phone and calling her to check in.

I am rarely so diligent in remembering to say thanks, either to the people around me who offer their support, encouragement, prayer, and generosity for my benefit, or to God who is the ultimate source of all these good things.

The special Scripture readings we heard this morning for Thanksgiving Sunday could perhaps be simplified and summarized into the basic message, “Remember to say thank you,” as if we were all children learning good manners.

The Israelites, who have relied on God’s provision through their wilderness wanderings, are now encouraged not to forget God when they have plenty. The Psalmist sings a litany of thanks … Read more »

October 1, 2023

Exodus 17:1-7
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

“One Loving Change”

On this final Sunday in the “Season of Creation” it is fitting that the Revised Common Lectionary gave us a story about water. The search for water that we read about in Exodus, where adults, children, and animals are close to death, is desperate.

We don’t have to look far for a contemporary example because much of the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in forty years. For example, in Laikipia in Kenya, the resilient nomadic Masaai people have lost livestock, and the riverbeds are baked dry, with desperate wild elephants storming and destroying bore water tanks in search of water.

Women and children dig for hours in the dry riverbeds, searching for small pools of moisture, lifting out precious water in cups. As night falls, the wild animals come to the pool and drink, and in the morning, the process begins again. We all need water for life.

Or perhaps you saw the CBC News story last week about the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The Mackenzie, one of the longest rivers in our country, runs from Great Slave Lake through the Northwest Territories before eventually emptying out into the Arctic Ocean. It is … Read more »

September 24, 2023

Exodus 16:2-15
Matthew 20:1-16

“Enough for All”

There’s a stand-up comedian that I’ve been following lately online. Ismo is a comedian from Finland, and I find him hilarious, especially when he’s talking about his Finnish experience of North American English language and idioms. There’s one video in which Ismo explains that he has a kind of a strange relationship with food. He says,

When I was a kid, my mom always said that ‘You have to eat everything from your plate. You have to eat all the food… because there is starvation in Africa.’
And then I ate… everything.
And then I grew a bit older, and I started to think, ‘How have I helped?’
‘How have I helped… the situation in… Africa?’
I’m now a little bit overweight…. I hope they are happy.
I have done my best… eating so much.
If I ever go to Africa and they look at my belly… I will say that ‘I did it for you!’

I can’t replicate Ismo’s comedic timing and manner in relating this little story about food and hunger and international relations. But I expect that many of you remember a parent saying something similar to you when you were young, or maybe you remember saying it to your kids … Read more »

September 17, 2023

Exodus 14:19-31
Matthew 18:21-35

“Acts of God?”

I am finding that it is an interesting process to focus my preaching this month on the Season of Creation while I continue to follow the Scripture readings for Sundays that are set in the Revised Common Lectionary. I want to acknowledge the Anglican Communion’s resource “Preaching for God’s World” which provided some helpful information and inspiration for today’s sermon, as well as the blessing of discussing the focus text from Exodus in our Bible study earlier this week.

If you’re a regular church-goer or you went to Sunday School years ago, you probably know the story recounted in Exodus 14 quite well. It may be images from that old movie, “The Ten Commandments” with Charleton Heston as Moses that come to mind when you think of it. You see him standing there with his arm raised high over the sea, and miraculously the waters begin to part, rising up into great walls of water on two sides.

It’s a spectacular demonstration of God’s power and love for the Hebrew People. As we have been remembering over the past couple of Sundays, God heard the cries of the Hebrews as they suffered under hard labour and slavery in … Read more »

September 10, 2023

Exodus 12:1-14
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

“We Can Do Hard Things”

Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, Christ is present. When we come together like this on Sunday mornings to engage in the rituals of praise, prayer, preaching, and Sacraments, Jesus is here with us. I hope that you know that, and that you feel that, and that you are encouraged and strengthened by that promise.

I know that there are many different reasons why people decide to attend worship on a regular basis. You may come for the music, or for the friendship and community, or because you made it a habit many years ago, and it’s just what you do. But when I’ve asked regular worshippers why they come to church each Sunday, many of them say that it strengthens them for the week ahead.

It’s because life is hard, and we need to be reminded that we are loved and that we belong. We need to be assured that when we mess up, we can be forgiven and try again. We need to hear that God has difficult but important things for us to do in the world, and we need to know that we can do those hard things.

I … Read more »

September 3, 2023

Exodus 3:1-15

“Getting our Attention”

This month in our worship at First Church, we are joining Christians around the world in celebrating the Season of Creation. This is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our siblings in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.

The season starts on September 1st, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations. Throughout the month-long celebration, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians come together to care for our common home.

I titled my sermon this morning, “Getting our Attention.” First of all, I wanted to get your attention and invite you into this special season of reflection on God’s world, appreciation for the natural environment, and action for its preservation and renewal.

I hope that you’ll come to worship each Sunday to think deeply with me about the Scriptures and Creation, that you’ll attend the special outdoor gathering being planned by the Mission & Outreach Committee after worship on Sept. 17th, and that you’ll respond with personal changes … Read more »

August 27, 2023

Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

“I Will Build My Church”

A few years ago, just before the Covid-19 Pandemic started to spread, here at First Church we were deciding what to do about our crumbling foundation. Those who were serving on the Session or the Board of Managers back in early 2020, as well as a few other congregation members with architectural expertise will remember it well.

As we prepared to do some water-proofing of the foundation walls of the church, we discovered that we had some more serious issues with some of the walls due to water damage, Regina’s expanding and contracting soil, and likely not the best quality cement used back in 1926 when the church building was constructed.

The first quote we received for a repair to solve the problem was astronomical. We all said, “Well, we can’t pay that to fix the foundation! There’s just no way!” And then, while some of our own experts worked with the engineers to figure out some other options for a more affordable solution, some of us began to imagine what would happen if we just couldn’t fix it.

Would we have to tear the building down? Could we move worship into the gymnasium for a few … Read more »

July 16, 2023

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“Three Parables in One”

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower is found in the Gospel of Matthew between stories about opposition to the gospel. In chapter eleven, Jesus has criticized various cities for failing to repent even though they have witnessed Jesus’ deeds of power. And later in chapter thirteen, Jesus will be rejected again – this time by the people of his own home town, Nazareth.

And so, we may read the Parable of the Sower as a kind of explanation of what is going on in Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps Jesus’ disciples (or even Jesus himself) are getting discouraged. They go about preaching, and healing, and doing miracles, and they expect a wonderful response. Why isn’t their little band of followers growing? Why aren’t people responding to Jesus’ teaching by changing their lives? Why aren’t they convinced by the miracles, the healing, or the wise teaching?

The parable provides a good explanation. It’s as if a sower is sowing seeds. The seeds are God’s Word being sown in the hearts of people. Sometimes, of course, the people do not understand God’s Word, and so it does not grow within them and lead to a fruitful response.

Sometimes people receive the Word with … Read more »

July 9, 2023

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Romans 7:15-25a

“Yoked Together”

All the way through the Gospel stories, Jesus shows up in villages, in cities, in the countryside, beside the sea, and in the middle of people’s lives, and he invites them to respond to his message, to his presence, and to his call.

Jesus showed up beside the Sea of Galilee, and invited some fisherman to radically change the course of their lives. He said: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they did.

Jesus showed up in front of Matthew’s booth, and said to the tax collector: “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.

Jesus showed up in the middle of a crowd where he had been casting out bad spirits and healing those who were sick. One person said he wanted to follow Jesus, but he just needed to take care of his father’s funeral arrangements first. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Jesus showed up where a rich young man was wondering about what he had to do in order to be saved. He claimed to follow the commandments, so that wasn’t the problem. Jesus said to him, “If you wish … Read more »