Psalm 23 John 10:1-10 “Abundant Life” I’m sure you’ve already noticed that this morning’s worship is all about sheep and shepherds. When we were planning ahead for the music for this service several weeks ago, I pointed out that the lectionary was giving us Psalm 23 again. It came up just about a month ago during the Season of Lent, and we’re getting it again on this Fourth Sunday in the Season of Easter. As I noted the sheep theme, someone started to sing that wonderful chorus from Handel’s Messiah about the sheep: All we like sheep… have gone astray, have gone astray, have gone astray…. I said, “Yes, that’s an excellent song about sheep. But not for this week.” You see, the readings on this Easter Season Sunday are less about the sheep going astray, getting lost, or messing up. And they’re more about what the shepherds are up to. Today is all about the shepherds, actually. And in particular, the idea that Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who cares for us (the sheep) and leads us to abundant life. Many early followers of Jesus would have been familiar with describing the promised Messiah as a caring a skillful “shepherd”: The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel each use such language. And likewise, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah contrast the good shepherd with “worthless shepherds” who neglect, exploit, and scatter the flock. The prophets used the familiar concept of a shepherd caring for the sheep to describe what they were … Read more »
Psalm 116 Luke 24:13-35 “In the Breaking” I continue to be amazed, day-by-day and week-by-week, as we continue through this strange and difficult time of a world-wide pandemic, that Jesus keeps showing up beside us on our journey. I can personally say that each and every week of this lockdown, I have received the lectionary readings as a gift that have helped me through and given me encouragement and strength to keep going. I have not found it a struggle to preach during this time, because every week we have been blessed with another word of love, compassion, and hope for the future. And this week was no exception. The story of the two disciples walking sadly away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, is a favourite for many Christians. In the midst of our own grief, loss, and confusion, we are reminded that Jesus comes to us, and walks with us, and reveals himself to us in love. Although one of the disciples is named Cleopas, we don’t know the name of the other. And so we may imagine ourselves in his place, walking with Jesus, learning from him, beginning to recognize his presence, and being sent to share the good news with others. Their situation was not unlike ours in Canada this week. They had just been through the most traumatic weekend of their lives. The leader of their movement and their good friend, Jesus, had been unjustly arrested, unfairly tried, sentenced to death, cruelly tortured, … Read more »
In September of 2019, the Rev. Amanda Currie travelled to Hungary and Romania to visit the Reformed Churches as part of her role as Moderator of the 2019 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, she shared pictures and stories about the trip with the Freedom 55ers group of First Presbyterian Church in Regina. You’re welcome to watch the video of that presentation.
1 Peter 1:3-9 John 20:19-31 “Left Out, Longing Thomas” This is the Second Sunday of the Season of Easter. If you feel like you didn’t have a chance to fully celebrate Easter last weekend, given that we are in a pandemic lockdown, and gatherings for worship and extended-family meals are not allowed, don’t worry. Easter is not a single day or a weekend, but it is a whole season! There are seven weeks of Eastertide. Poetically, that’s one more week than the six weeks of Lent. So life, and joy, and celebration win! And even if we’re still living with staying home and physically distancing through this whole season, we will still have plenty of time to celebrate the resurrection creatively and fully during Eastertide as we watch new life bursting forth in this season of Spring. I love the way that the author of 1st Peter encourages the churches to whom he is writing to celebrate the grace and goodness of God, even in the midst of their struggles. He invites them to rejoice because God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has not swept away all our troubles, making our lives perfect and easy, but God has given us hope so that we can endure. 1st Peter says that “Even if now for a little while [we] have had to suffer various trials…” our faith, that is being tested, will result in praise and glory and honour … Read more »
Matthew 28:1-10 “To See the Tomb” I made a special point of sending a thank you note to Marianne Woods after we finished the Good Friday online worship service a couple of days ago. We had a bunch of people involved in leading the service from their own homes through a Zoom video conference that was live streamed on Facebook. But I especially wanted to thank Marianne for singing “He never said a mumblin’ word,” and leading us all in singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” as well as all the sung refrains between the stories of suffering and struggle. I was the one who wrote the stories of the many different people who are being especially impacted by this COVID-19 pandemic. They were based on the lives of real people that we’ve all been hearing about in these days, and I wanted to invite us to remember them and pray for them as we all continue through this strange and challenging time. I didn’t realize until I started to hear the stories read by our church members how emotional I would feel. I mean, I should have known, because it’s not unusual for me to get emotional! But as I listened and prayed, I felt my own heart breaking with their sorrow and grief, anxiety and fear. I was so grateful that Marianne was leading the singing, as I knew that I could not have managed it without my voice shaking with emotion. As difficult … Read more »
John 19:1-6; Luke 23:32-47 “Crucified with Christ” The following is not a sermon, but a series of stories and prayers. Read through them slowly as you remember and pray for those who are crucified in our world today. Introduction Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Today, on Good Friday, we follow Jesus on the road to crucifixion. We accompany him to a hill called “Golgotha,” which means the “place of the skull.” It is there, on that hillside, that Jesus is raised up on the cross and left to die. On our journey, we discover that Jesus is not alone. Two criminals are being crucified on either side of him, but they aren’t the only ones. There are many people in our world who face crosses of suffering and pain. These are people, like Jesus, who are forced to endure torment and anguish. They, too, are being crucified. As we travel with Jesus, we call to mind some of those who are experiencing particular suffering during this COVID-19 pandemic. We will pray and remember those who must daily carry a cross. We will affirm that they are not alone in their struggle. The church is present with them through our caring, through our prayer, and through the practical help we are able to provide. And most importantly, God is with them. I have invited a variety of people to share brief statements from the perspective of people who are being crucified with Christ. Following each … Read more »
Exodus 12:1-14 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 “Plagues, Family Meals, & Remembering” I was out last Saturday, dropping off some faith formation resources and girl guide cookies at the homes of our church families with children. And while I was doing it, I enjoyed a few nice chats with some of the parents and kids from a safe physical distance, usually at the bottom of the front steps. But I’ll remember the greeting I received from one of the teenagers when she looked out the front door and saw me standing there: “I haven’t seen you since before the plague!” That’s quite the dramatic way of putting what’s going on with this viral pandemic, but I guess it’s not too far off. Now, I’ve been leading worship services on Maundy Thursday every year since I was ordained. But I realized as I began to prepare this year that although the services have varied a great deal in their format and liturgies, they have always included a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and they have almost always included a foot washing or a hand washing piece – either with a few people having their feet washed in a symbolic or dramatic presentation, or with everyone invited to participate in washing and being washed. With all that’s been going on over the last month, we’re all hand washing experts by now! Plus, our hands are already dry and cracked enough that adding liturgical hand washing just seems like something we don’t need to do. … Read more »
Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 “Choosing Servanthood” Today is the Sunday with two names. It is Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. And it is Passion Sunday, as we anticipate what will happen to Jesus when he arrives in Jerusalem – his final meal with his disciples, his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and torture, and his terrible execution on a Roman cross. The lectionary provides us with two sets of scripture readings for today, inviting the preacher to choose how to focus the service, and I have chosen the Gospel reading from the liturgy of the Palms, and the other readings from the liturgy of the Passion. The Gospel reading that I’m skipping today is the long account of what happens to Jesus in Jerusalem. We’ll come back to that part of Jesus’ story, of course, as we continue our Holy Week worship on Maundy Thursday evening and Good Friday morning. But today, instead of simply recounting the story of Jesus’ passion, a story that most of us know quite well, I’d like to focus on the other readings that are set for Passion Sunday, and spend some time thinking theologically about Jesus’ suffering and death. From the first reading from 2nd Isaiah, the prophet tells us about his identity as a Suffering Servant. In these few short verses, Isaiah talks about the challenging vocation that he is called to. He says that … Read more »
Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm 130 John 11:1-45 “The End of the Story” I don’t know about you, but I already feel like I’ve been hanging out in my house for a really long time now! I’ve been working from home. And although I have plenty to keep me occupied, time passes differently when we’re not following the usual patterns of our work, and family, and social lives. Until a couple of days ago, the COVID-19 pandemic still felt a little bit virtual to me. We watched the constant news reports, and adjusted our lives to the latest recommendations for hygiene and physical distancing, but it still seemed like a far-away problem. That was until I heard about friends who had contracted the virus. Two friends, both living in the UK. Neither one was serious enough to be hospitalized, but the symptoms one was experiencing sounded quite awful, while the other just lost her sense of smell. And while I’m at home, not allowed to visit people in our local hospitals for good reason, my sister is working as a nurse in a Toronto hospital where they are already running short on supplies. Nurses on her ward are being rationed only two surgical masks per shift – an obvious risk both to their patients and to the nurses themselves. We see scenes of devastation in other parts of the world on the news every night. Italian hospitals have been in dire straits for weeks now. Spain’s health care system is struggling, … Read more »
On Sunday, March 22nd, Pope Francis invited Christians around the world to pray the Lord’s Prayer together for the sake of the world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Christian communities were invited to pray at Noon on Wednedsay, March 25th, and to choose either Noon in Rome or Noon in their local time zone. A small group of Christian leaders in Regina gathered together by Zoom video conference on March 25th at Noon in Saskatchewan, and our ecumenical prayer was live streamed onto Facebook so that many Christians across Saskatchewan and further away were able to join in prayer together with us.
1 Samuel 16:1-13 Psalm 23 John 9:1-41 “Blind, Lost, Uncertain, and Needing God’s Help” You’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for half an hour already, and you still haven’t found the street you’re looking for. The houses and stores are starting to look familiar now, but you’re no closer to your destination than you were twenty minutes ago. The problem is that your spouse knows where he’s going… at least, he thinks he does. How long will it be, you wonder, before he gives in and asks for directions? “What was that?” your grandmother shouts at you. “Where is your hearing aid?” you ask for the third time, and she finally understands the question – probably because you’re pointing madly at her ear. “Oh, I don’t need that thing,” she says, “I can hear you just fine.” Your daughter just got her first pair of glasses. They were long overdue after almost failing grade nine because she couldn’t follow what was going on in class. She couldn’t see the board, missed most of the notes, and couldn’t concentrate because of the headaches she got from squinting so much. But she won’t wear them – the new glasses. She doesn’t like the way they look, you assume. But all she can say is, “I don’t need them. I can see without them.” What can you do to convince her? Somehow, the fact that mom needs glasses too doesn’t seem to help. Sometimes it can be very difficult for us to … Read more »
The following message to First Presbyterian Church was posted on March 19, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to suspend gathering together in-person for worship and other church activities.
Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95 Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42 “More to Life” In the Revised Common Lectionary of Sunday Scripture readings, we’re in Year A of the three-year cycle right now. And during the Season of Lent in Year A, we get a series of wonderful, long, elaborate stories from the Gospel of John. Last week it was the story of the Jewish leader, Nicodemus from John 3. Today, we read John 4 in which Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman beside a well. Next week, he’ll be healing a blind man in chapter 9, and then we’ll go on to chapter 11 where Jesus will actually raise Lazarus from the dead. Last week, the Rev. Bob Wilson talked about how Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again. He must open his life to be led by God’s Spirit. He likened it to trusting God and “letting go of the rope” that we are clinging to for security, and to let God take us where we need to go and do what we need to do to build God’s kingdom on earth. And that kind of faith and trust begins with choosing to believe God – to believe that God loves us, that God has plans for us, that our future is in God’s hands. The major theme of John’s Gospel that is explored in all these wonderful stories is about how people come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the world. At … Read more »
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 2 Corinthians 5:20b- – 6:10 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 “Ash Sunday” In the first reading for Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel calls for a trumpet blast to go out and warn the people that they must change their lives and return to God with all their hearts. It makes me think of the warning cries that we are hearing lately from the young prophets of our time. They also are sounding trumpets and blowing whistles, striking from school, making speeches, addressing the world through social media, and calling us to make radical changes for the future of the planet. The call of the prophets then and now challenges God’s people to cease their parties and celebrations, and to come together instead in a solemn assembly of weeping and mourning. Joel says that even the bridegroom must leave his room, and the bride her canopy, and join the community in repentance and fasting. The message is hopeful because the people are assured of God’s grace and mercy. The prophet says that the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God relents from punishing. And yet, there is urgency to the call. They must return to God with all their hearts and change their lives today. Likewise, we are warned in our time that the environmental crisis is indeed a crisis. We’ve been aware of it my whole life, and responding in bits and pieces by avoiding littering, recycling a little more, and slowly developing new energy … Read more »
Isaiah 58:1-12 Matthew 5:13-20 “Be Who You Are” There was a discussion on Facebook earlier this week among some Presbyterian clergy and other church folk about what people wear to church. Most of them reported that people in their congregations regularly came to worship in a whole variety of dress, from very formal to very casual, depending on their age, culture, experience, and ability. And everyone is welcome, no matter what they are wearing. This was experienced as a positive change from a few decades ago when putting on your “Sunday best” for church was absolutely expected, and it wasn’t unusual for some folks to frown on others who didn’t manage to dress appropriately. Interestingly, the conversation actually started with someone relating a story about a friend who visited a church where he received negative comments on his attire – not because he was too casual, but because he was too well-dressed. And then the ministers lamented the fact that sometimes, in our churches, we still pay too much attention to what people are wearing. We develop cultural traditions and expect everyone to dress and look pretty much the same, and fail to make space for the differences and diversities that could enrich our communities. Soon, the conversation turned towards what the clergy wear for worship too. Travelling around in my role as Moderator this year, I have noticed that there’s a lot of variety there too. Some Presbyterian ministers wear dark-coloured academic gowns, sometimes with a colourful stole added … Read more »
Acts 27:18 – 28:10 “Unusual Kindness” Many of you know that I spent much of this week in Ontario. In my role as Moderator of the last General Assembly of our church, I get to travel quite a bit – often preaching in different churches or speaking about ecumenism and interchurch families, since I chose that as my focus for the year. But this week was a bit different. I attended two retreats. First, a gathering of Presbyterian women clergy at Crieff Hills Community, our church’s retreat centre near Guelph Ontario. And then, a gathering of national level church leaders from various churches, organized by the Canadian Council of Churches at the Guest House of the Sisters of St. John the Divine, an Anglican convent in Toronto. Although the two retreats were designed to meet the needs of a different group of people, they had in common the fact that their purposes were to give ministry leaders time away to connect, to share, to pray, to rest, and to support one another as colleagues in ministry. If it wasn’t for the late nights and the travel, I might well have returned home well-rested and renewed for the busy weeks ahead! One thing that was reinforced for me during both gatherings was the realization that people in ministry today (and perhaps people in general today) live extremely busy, stressful, and challenging lives day-to-day. My female minister colleagues are very faithful and competent clergy, but even in this day and age many … Read more »
Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 “Shiny Happy People!” As I was reading commentaries on the passage from Isaiah 60 in preparation for this service, a pop song from the 90’s started running through my head: “Shiny happy people.” Do you remember that lively song by the band REM? As I read and reflected on the prophet’s command to the people of Judah to “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” I couldn’t get the “Shiny happy people” song out of my head, so I gave in to it and looked up the video on YouTube. It began with an old man riding a stationary bicycle in a dreary-looking room, and then on the other side of the wall the band – dressed in bright happy colours in front of a colourful mural of similarly happy-looking people – began to play, and sing, and dance. It was carefree, full of smiles, and by the end of the song the band was surrounded by people dancing, and laughing, and having a great time. Meanwhile, the old man has gotten off his bicycle, and he stands watching the shiny happy people as they dance and sing. He doesn’t exactly look happy, but somewhat curious about what is happening before his eyes. I don’t know what the band intended to say with their video. Perhaps it was a hope that the grumpy old men of the world would lighten up and join in the party. Perhaps it was a subtle commentary on those who laugh, … Read more »
Isaiah 9:2-7 Luke 1:26-38 Matthew 1:18-23 Luke 2:1-20 John 1:1-14 “Near to Us” I am so glad that all of you decided to come to worship this Christmas Eve. I’m happy about it for several reasons. One is that it feels good to have a pretty full church on Christmas Eve. Your presence adds to the festive spirit of the night, your voices fill out the singing of carols, and your candles will light up this sanctuary with beauty in a few minutes. I’m also glad you came tonight because many First Church folk worked hard to make this a special night, and your presence makes those efforts worthwhile. They planned and practised the music. They decorated the sanctuary to convey both meaning and beauty. They printed bulletins, and prepared slides, and arranged all the volunteers to read, and greet, and welcome all our members and visitors and new friends. For those of you who hesitated to come, I’m glad you did, because I expect that the family or friends who invited you tonight are really happy that you’re here. And, if you just came because of the general, open invitation, and you don’t know anyone here yet, let me say that I am glad that you are here. While I was writing this homily, I was sitting in a local coffee shop with my notebook and a pen. But while I tried to compose a reflection for tonight, I kept being interrupted by my cell phone vibrating. My friends … Read more »
Isaiah 7:10-16 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25 “Saying “YES” to God” The Gospel story that is set for this Sunday comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It’s a good story for the Sunday before Christmas… a good story about how Jesus was born. Often, we jump ahead in the story. We remember the journey to Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields and the angels in the sky announcing the birth of the Christ child. Those are the parts of the story that never get left out of the Christmas pageants. But Joseph can easily become a minor character without a speaking part. One commentator points out that “Joseph is a peripheral figure in the grand sweep of the Christian tradition. Relative to Mary and the apostles, we do not sing much about him. We rarely see him in art (and when Joseph does appear in a painting, he is rarely alone; he is typically accompanied by Mary and/or Jesus).” Today’s Gospel reminds us that Joseph was a pretty regular guy… a nice guy, a reasonable guy. When his fiancé got pregnant before the wedding, he dealt with it. He wasn’t going to turn it into a big to-do, but he was just going to dismiss her quietly. No one could have faulted him for that. But that’s when God got involved in Joseph’s life and decision-making, and nudged him into doing even more than what was reasonable. With every reason to walk away, Joseph chose to stand by Mary, to take her as … Read more »
Isaiah 35:1-10 Luke 1:47-55 Matthew 11:2-11 “Here is Your God!” There are a lot of debates that take place at this time of year around worship-planning tables, between clergy and music leaders about which hymns and carols we will sing. Many ministers make a point of avoiding Christmas carols before Christmas Eve, arguing that Advent hymns are more appropriate, since Jesus has “not yet” been born. At the same time, musicians and choirs and congregations are often longing to sing the songs of Christmas joy, even if it’s only mid-December. You may have noticed that our Advent Season here at First Church includes a bit of a mix of Advent carols and Christmas songs, and as we move through the month, we’re including more and more of the Christmas ones. And the reason is not that the Music Team here is very persuasive and convinced the minister to do Christmas early. But rather, it’s because we understand that Advent isn’t only a “not yet” season; it’s also an “already” season. The SALT Lectionary Commentary describes Advent as “a season made for vividly experiencing the eschatological “already/not yet” tension at the heart of Christian life.” It’s the idea that the Messiah has already come to us in Jesus, and the Reign of God has already been inaugurated in his life and ministry. But it has not yet been made complete. The world is waiting, longing, and hoping for the fulfilment of Jesus’ kingdom, when Christ will come again, and the world … Read more »