September 12, 2021

Proverbs 1:20-33

“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 »

September 5, 2021

Mark 7:24-30

“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 »

July 25, 2021

youtu.be/0L0nJBhDb08

John 6:1-21

“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 »

July 18, 2021

www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNMj5nwmPYY

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Ephesians 2:11-22
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 »

July 11, 2021

youtu.be/V1V6Roqixy0

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Ephesians 1:3-14

“Is it Appropriate to Dance?”

A few weeks ago, I looked ahead at the lectionary readings that would be coming up for this Sunday as the congregation of First Church began to return to the sanctuary to worship together in person. When I saw today’s text from 2nd Samuel, I thought “How appropriate!” King David is taking the ark of the covenant – the holy box containing the tablets with the ten commandments from God – and he’s processing them into Jerusalem, the City of David, with singing, dancing, and exuberant joy.

Of course, there’s no temple yet in Jerusalem. That isn’t built until David’s son, Solomon, is king after him. But as David brings the ark into the city that will be the centre of his kingdom, the place where all the tribes of Israel will meet under his leadership, there is a sense that God himself will be installed here. This will be a special place where God will be present, and God will be worshipped, and all the people will gather here to worship, and praise, and learn to follow the one true God of all the world.

And this building, this sanctuary is a special … Read more »

July 4, 2021

This Sunday at First Church, we welcomed the Rev. Bob Wilson as the guest preacher and worship leader. Please note, there were some technical difficulties so this video begins in the opening prayer (missing the prelude, announcements, and territorial acknowledgement).

… Read more »

June 20, 2021

Mark 4:35-41

“Let Us Go Across”

Mark chapter four begins with Jesus teaching a very large crowd of people beside the sea. In fact, the crowd got so big that Jesus got into a boat on the sea and taught them from there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.

And Jesus taught them in parables. Wonderful little stories about lamps that shouldn’t be covered up, and seeds that grow in surprising and wonderful ways. Stories that have one meaning on the surface, with a deeper layer of meaning underneath about God’s Word, and love and justice coming into the world in Jesus and growing among those who follow him.

So, last Sunday I preached about the Parable of the Mustard seed, and then I pointed out some metaphorical “seeds” being planted through the church’s ministry and mission, as well as some signs of “growth” as love and justice and inclusion bring us closer to the Kingdom of God reality that is coming in the world.

But after teaching the crowd with parables, on that same day when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” He meant that they should row to … Read more »

June 13, 2021

Mark 4:26-34

“A Resting Place for All”

You may have noticed that I only included one Scripture reading this morning. The lectionary each week provides four – one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one Psalm, one from the Epistles of the New Testament, and one Gospel passage. That’s a lot to hear, to consider, and to digest. Often, I drop one reading just to make it a bit more manageable. Sometimes I drop two of them so that we can have a little more focus to the service. Today I dropped everything except the Gospel text.

It seemed in keeping with the Gospel reading itself – two little parables about tiny seeds that grow to produce abundant harvests and wonderful big plants that provide a home for all the birds of the air. It’s just one short passage from Mark’s Gospel, but it is full of wonder, and inspiration, and hope for the Kingdom of God that is planted, and growing, and coming up in our world. One little passage today should be more than enough to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

In the parables today, Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God. It was his absolute favourite topic of conversation! He didn’t talk much … Read more »

May 30, 2021

John 3:1-17

“Born of the Spirit”

For a number of years, I used to volunteer to serve as the Chaplain at Camp Christopher during the Senior Teen Camp – the week at camp for high school students. I enjoyed the engagement with the teen campers, counsellors, and staff in worship, Bible study, and lots of good conversations about life, the universe, and everything.

One of the activities we used to do towards the end of the week was called the Fish Bowl Activity. Over a couple of days, campers were invited to think of questions, write them on a slip of paper, and place them in the fish bowl we had for that purpose. They could be questions about God, the Bible, the church, or anything else at all that they wanted to talk about.

The fish bowl allowed them to raise their questions anonymously (no names attached) but we discussed them together as a group. I would pull out a question and read it aloud. The teens would share their thoughts on each other’s questions, and I would weigh in occasionally when it seemed helpful.

I often think about that fish bowl activity when we read the story about Nicodemus. Nic wasn’t a teenager, … Read more »

May 23, 2021

Romans 8:22-27

“The Spirit Groans”

A couple of weeks ago in our online Sunday School, the children were invited to write a poem about the Holy Spirit. The lesson gave us a simple format for doing that. The first line would be the title: “Spirit.” The second line would be two words that describe the Spirit like “invisible” and “powerful.”

For the third line, we had to think of three action words (verbs) that tell what the Spirit does. I would choose “blessing,” “teaching,” and “sending.”

The instruction for the fourth line was “four words that describe your feelings about the Spirit.” That was a tough one. For me, they’d be “nervous,” “encouraged,” “thankful,” and “hopeful.”

And finally, one word that is another name or word for the Spirit. There are several other names offered in the Bible. And as I think about it today, in the context of my reflection on today’s readings, I choose “Intercessor,” which means someone who prays for us.

You might want to write your own poem about the Holy Spirit today, either following the same template or making up your own. On this Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the gathered … Read more »

May 16, 2021

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
John 17:6-19

“Nominations, Please!”

Back at the beginning of April on Good Friday, some of you may remember that I preached about Judas. I titled that sermon, “One of the Twelve” and reflected on the fact that Judas was not some evil character or nasty spy who inserted himself into the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, but he was “one of the twelve” disciples and good friends of Jesus.

As Peter says in today’s text from the Acts of the Apostles, Judas was “numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” He was among the leaders in Jesus’ entourage. He was called by the Lord, participated in the mission, and even carried out a particular ministry of looking after the common purse. He was the congregation’s treasurer, you might say.

I would agree with what Peter says about Judas here – that he “became a guide for those who arrested Jesus.” But I suggested on Good Friday that he doesn’t necessarily deserve any more blame than the other disciples who also misunderstood and tried to impede his true mission, and later denied knowing Jesus, turning away from him at his darkest hour.

Thinking about Judas’ death – perhaps by … Read more »

May 9, 2021

John 15:9-17

“The Source of our Joy”

I’ve noticed that as the Covid-19 Pandemic has dragged on and on, the usual greetings we exchange when we meet each other have changed somewhat. Of course, they’ve changed in that they don’t include handshakes or hugs. We stand at a distance as we say hello. We wave or we nod, or we try to smile with our eyes.

But many of our greetings are shared online these days as well. Our little Zoom boxes appear on our screens, we smile and say, “How are you?” And most of the time, the answer is not, “Fine, thank you” or “I’m great! How are you?” It’s most often something like, “Ummm… I’m okay, I guess.”

There’s a lot of talk these days about the idea that many people are languishing, and some are really struggling with depression. If that sounds like you right now, please do reach out for help so that you can get the support and mental health care that you need.

In a way, it feels odd to be preaching about joy in this context. I mean, I remember what joy feels like, and I’m hopeful that there will be some more joy in the future. … Read more »

May 2, 2021

John 15:1-8
1 John 4:7-21

“Love In, Love Out”

When we gathered on Zoom earlier this week to read and discuss today’s Gospel text, the very first thing that was noted was how many times Jesus tells his disciples to “abide.” Some of our Bible translations said, “remain.” They could also have said, “stay put,” and that would have sounded so familiar in these pandemic times of “staying put” at home as much as possible.

But in this case, the instruction to “abide” from Jesus is not intended to keep us separate and safe from a virus, but its goal is to keep Jesus’ followers close and connected to one another and to him so that they will be spiritually nourished and equipped to minister to others in Jesus’ name.

And hasn’t that been one of the big challenges of the Covid-19 Pandemic for the church? We’ve had to figure out how to stay physically distant, but spiritually close – remaining apart from one another to guard our physical health and well-being, while finding ways to keep on abiding in Jesus and the Christian community for our spiritual health and our ongoing mission in the world.

This is the second week in a row that our … Read more »

April 25, 2021

Psalm 23
John 10:11-18

“Known and Loved”

Did you know that some people are calling us “sheeple”? You know, people who are like sheep – docile, compliant, or easily influenced; following the crowd rather than making their own decisions.

Some people who don’t believe that the Covid-19 Pandemic is real or that it’s serious are calling us “sheeple” for wearing masks, staying home, getting vaccinated, and obediently following the public health orders.

Well, if that’s what it means to be sheeple, I’m happy to be part of the flock who are trusting the science and the fact that our public health authorities are doing their utmost to guide us in the right directions.

Certainly, politics comes into it also. Just the other day, we saw the Leader of the Opposition in Saskatchewan accusing the Premier of making poor decisions that are killing people in our province – trying to keep a “balance” between business and health has been leading to more deaths, he argued, and to a more severe and protracted third wave in our province.

No matter who you agree with, what is clear is that the decisions are complex and difficult to make. We’re fortunate to have leaders who are doing their best to protect … Read more »

April 18, 2021

Psalm 4

“Selah: Pause, Ponder, Be Silent”

It’s fairly rare for most Christian preachers to focus a sermon on one of the psalms. I’ve done it before – on some of the famous ones like Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), like Psalm 139 (O Lord, you have searched me and known me), and even Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?), the one Jesus quotes as he is dying on the cross. I don’t think I’ve ever taken much notice of today’s Psalm 4, but I was intrigued by it this week.

One of the first things I noticed was that Psalm 4 doesn’t sound like it was written for the public worship and song of a gathered congregation. It seems more fitting for an individual, approaching God in prayer at the end of the day. And isn’t that what a lot of our praying looks like these days?

Even if we are connecting with other praying people through our screens on Sunday mornings, much of our prayer takes place in our personal contemplation in our own homes, where we are encouraged to stay as the pandemic rages on with multiplying variants of concern.

Psalm 4 invites us into … Read more »

April 11, 2021

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2

“These are the Days”

The fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles provides us with an idyllic picture of the church at the beginning: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Now that’s unity! They were “of one heart and soul.” Of course, maybe that’s because there weren’t very many of them yet. They were just a small group of disciples who had a lot in common with each other and managed to keep the same perspective on most things.

Well, no. They weren’t that small a group. Even before the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the gathered disciples, there were about a hundred of them waiting together in Jerusalem. And after that, the church grew in leaps and bounds!

And no, they weren’t all fishermen from Galilee. Remember the Jews from all the nations of the world who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast? And remember how they heard the disciples speaking in their own various languages? After Peter’s first sermon to the crowd, apparently 3000 believers were added to their number, and more and more every day after that!

By the fourth chapter of Acts, … Read more »

April 4, 2021

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8

“Choosing Faith”

On Easter Day and in the season that follows, we proclaim with joy that “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” This is the good news that has been proclaimed to us, which we received, in which we trust, and through which we are being saved, as the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

Paul writes: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

But every third Easter Sunday or so, we hear the Resurrection story as recounted in the Gospel of Mark. Through it, we enter into the experience of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome as they rise very early on the first day of the week and go to the tomb of Jesus. Their intention is to perform a final act of service and care for their friend, having bought spices to anoint him in his final resting place.

The women wonder how they … Read more »

April 2, 2021

Mark 14-15

“One of the Twelve”

Thank you to our readers this morning, for sharing the story of Jesus’ passion and death according to the Gospel of Mark. There is a lot packed into that reading, and this weekend would be a good time for us each to slow down, read it again, and reflect on all that Jesus and his followers experienced in his final hours.

But this morning, I want to focus on “one of the twelve.” Yes, that is the way that Judas Iscariot is identified again and again in chapters 14 and 15 of Mark’s Gospel. He was “one of the twelve.”

Right off the top, we are reminded that Judas was not the devil incarnate. Judas was not an evil man who had infiltrated Jesus’ inner circle like a spy with a devilish plan. Judas was “one of the twelve” who had responded to Jesus’ call, who had followed him on the way, learned from his teaching, witnessed his miracles, and participated in his mission for several years.

My interest in thinking about Judas during this Holy Week was piqued when our Lenten Book Study drew attention to his part in the story. New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, pointed out … Read more »