Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38
“We Are Pilgrims”
As many of you know, I’m a walker. I started walking intentionally more than four years ago, and I now usually walk about 10 km every day. While the Covid-19 Pandemic changed a lot of things in my daily life and yours as well, it didn’t stop me from walking.
But one of the things I did early in the pandemic was to get a treadmill to walk on at home. I thought it would be particularly useful for those days when it is stiflingly hot or bitterly cold outside, as a back-up plan for my usual outdoor walks. And this winter, I’ve been using it A LOT. I had no interest in going outside when the windchill was in the minus thirties or forties, and even now that it has warmed up a bit, it has become my default to use the treadmill.
In February, I decided to motivate myself by doing one of the “virtual walks” that are offered online. You walk wherever you are (outside or inside) and use the app to track your progress along a real route. I considered doing the 800 km Camino de Santiago in Spain – a classic … Read more »
“Leaning into the Promises of God”
Thank you, Marianne and Bill, for sharing that beautiful song, “You Are Mine” by David Haas. It is one of my favourites, and so appropriate for today’s service.
You may have noticed, as you were listening, that the words of the song are God’s words to us. They are words of promise, words of encouragement, and words of hope. God promises: “I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice. Be still and know I am near. Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.”
The words remind me of the promises of a parent to a child who is scared, of the assurances of a caregiver to a dear one who is ailing, or of the vows of a couple getting married and covenanting together to be faithful to one another all the days of their lives.
We use the word “covenant” to describe the lifelong partnership of love and faithfulness into which couples enter … Read more »
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warns us in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday.
I suppose there’s not much danger of that for most of you who are participating in this service from the privacy of your homes tonight. Our avoidance of in-person gatherings during the Covid-19 Pandemic means that no one sees whether or when you attend worship. No one knows whether you take time to read the sermon that arrives in the mail each week. There is no one to impress or to show off to with your faithfulness in worship or prayer or tithing.
I, on the other hand, am doing my praying rather more publicly than usual. Instead of the normal 80-90 people gathered here in the church, these livestreamed videos are posted and shared for anyone to watch – hopefully to inspire and encourage people in their faith, rather than to impress them with the minister’s eloquence or the musicians’ talent.
But it seems to me that this locked-down Lent provides an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual practices, committing ourselves to the disciplines that may help us to live out our faith more fully, … Read more »
2 Kings 2:1-12
“Transfigure us, O Lord”
I haven’t often preached on the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. My first congregation in Saskatoon had a long-standing tradition of holding a special service about the ministry of Presbyterian World Service and Development on the Sunday before Lent each year. Then they would raise money for a PWS&D project as part of their Lenten discipline, and that worked well. But it meant that we always skipped the Transfiguration, so it’s only recently that I’ve had to grapple with this strange and wonderful story.
On this last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany, and the Sunday before we begin the Season of Lent, we hear one of the most spectacular epiphany stories. As you may know, “epiphany” means “showing forth” and this story “shows forth” and reveals Jesus as a prophet par excellence, and above all, as God’s Beloved Child.
The SALT Lectionary commentary helpfully describes the importance of the passage, making me wonder how we could skip over it for so many years. It explains that “The episode takes place at almost the exact midpoint of Mark’s Gospel, as well as its highest geographical elevation.
“In broad strokes, the first eight chapters … Read more »
“Take My Hand”
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a reflection for The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website that was inspired by today’s passage from the prophet Isaiah. Some of you may have read that reflection or watched the video.
I talked about feeling tired lately. Not tired in a physical sense, as I’m still getting enough sleep and exercise, and I’m eating well. But I’m tired of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I miss seeing all of you, and sharing hugs and potluck meals. I miss hearing all your voices when we’re singing together, and breaking bread together at the Table of the Lord.
And I’m tired of worrying – about those of you who are sick, and those who are grieving, and those who are working on the front lines, and those that don’t seem to be staying as connected to the church community – the ones who likely aren’t watching this service today or reading this sermon.
I know that many of you are feeling tired too. Tired of trying to worship in your living room. Tired of balancing work and family life in a pandemic. Tired of being alone. Tired of being scared. Tired of waiting and hoping and … Read more »
“Shine Like A Star”
Adapted from the 2018 “Legacy Sunday” sermon by Lori Guenther Reesor and Karen Plater, with inspiration from the Rev. Herb Gale.
Take a moment and picture a star. Imagine it, see it shining in the sky. Now imagine a dark sky filled with stars – in the middle of a field, in the middle of the countryside, the dark sky illuminated with a multitude of stars so often blotted out by city lights. You see many stars – but there are so many that your eyes can’t even take them all in. Keep this image in your mind.
Stars are a common metaphor in the Bible. The most famous star, of course, was the star that led the Magi to Jesus. But years and years before that, a man named Abram was praying in his tent. Unable to go back to sleep after waking from a vivid dream, he complained to God that he and his beloved wife Sarai were childless even though God had promised them an heir.
In response, God took Abram outside into the dark night and said, “Look up towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” … Read more »
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
“The Miracle of Call and Response”
Continuing the theme from the last couple of Sundays, today’s readings are about people being called by God. We heard about Jonah getting called a second time to go to Ninevah with a message from God. The first time Jonah was called, he didn’t respond very well. He ran in the opposite direction, hopped on a ship, got caught in a storm, swallowed by a big fish, and spewed up on the beach. This time, I don’t think he’s too convinced that this mission is something that he wants to do, but reluctantly he goes and does it, at God’s command.
In contrast, the Gospel of Mark gives us the story of the calling of some of the first disciples – the fishermen disciples who respond immediately, drop what they are doing, and follow Jesus on the Way.
One commentator notes that in Mark’s Gospel, “Jesus’ first demonstration of authority is not a miracle, but the calling of two sets of brothers who immediately respond by following him.” But I wonder if what happens here is just as great a miracle as changing water into wine or walking on the water.
Barbara Brown Taylor has … Read more »
1 Samuel 3:1-10
“I Saw You Under the Fig Tree”
There is an obvious connection between the Old Testament and Gospel readings this morning. They are “call narratives” – stories about people who received a call from God.
In First Samuel 3, a little boy is called to become “a trustworthy prophet of the Lord,” and John’s Gospel tells the story of Philip and Nathanael leaving everything behind to follow Jesus when they realize that he is the one “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.”
Many of us worshipping together today (perhaps all of us) have also been called by God. We probably weren’t wakened by God’s voice calling out our name in the middle of the night, and we didn’t have Jesus literally walk up to us and say, “Come and follow me.” But we have heard God’s call in the words of the Bible, through the voices of preachers and teachers, or as an urgent sense of needing to get out of our own concerns and do something for God.
Some have heard calls to particular ministries in the church. Others have sensed a call to speak up for someone who was in trouble, or to … Read more »
“Beginning with you”
It seems appropriate to me that every calendar year begins, in the Christian churches, with reading and reflecting on one of the stories about the day that Jesus was baptized. And this year, in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, we focus on the Gospel of Mark’s account of the baptism, where for Mark, this was truly the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Our Church Year does begin in late November or early December with the anticipation of the Messiah’s coming, and at Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ birth into our world to become Emmanuel, God-with-us. But while we find those birth narratives in Luke and Matthew, Mark simply begins with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John. For Mark’s community, the baptism was the key moment when Jesus was divinely chosen, adopted, and sent to be God’s living presence in the world. The Gospel writer describes it as “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)
I know that we are already 10 days into our new calendar year. And those of you who made New Year’s resolutions may have them well in-hand, or perhaps you’ve already given up on … Read more »
“Christmas Carols & Their Stories”
Introduction to the Service
This morning I thought it would be fun and different to sing some different Christmas Carols and hear their stories. Throughout the history of the church, worship has included singing… from the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs mentioned in the New Testament, and through every generation, Christians have composed Psalm settings, sung our prayers as chants, written hymns, carols, and contemporary praise songs. Sometimes we have used instruments, and sometimes not. Sometimes the words have come straight from Scripture, and sometimes it has been poetry inspired by the Bible and a reflection on our faith.
The songs known as Christmas Carols are diverse too… some written specifically for corporate worship, and others sung primarily out in the community or in family homes, but carrying the Christian faith into the public realm of culture and daily life. So, this morning, as we continue to celebrate the birth of Christ, and as we share the Scriptures of Epiphany, we will sing and reflect on some of these carols. We begin with a psalm setting of Psalm 72.
The Story of “I saw three ships”
The first carol for today is “I Saw Three Ships.” Probably most of us … Read more »
Children’s Message: “In-person Visits”
Good morning, and Merry Christmas to all of you! I wish that we could be together in-person as we continue to celebrate Christmas today, but I’m glad that we’re at least together online.
I wonder… have you ever been far away from someone you loved at a special time like Christmas? Many of us had that experience this year because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, didn’t we? Maybe you sent Christmas cards to the people you couldn’t be with in-person this year, which is nice. Or maybe you talked on the phone, which is better.
Every year when my family members are far away at Christmas (which is pretty normal for me) I phone my parents and talk to everybody who is gathered at their house. But this year, everyone is in their own homes with no gatherings at all, so we had a Zoom video call on Christmas Day so that we could all connect from the different places where we live. It was really good, but not quite as good as actually being there – where you can see each other, and give each other hugs, and just spend time together.
Last year at Christmas, Nick … Read more »
“In a Manger”
This Christmas I’ve been thinking a lot about food. I know that I’m not the only one. After all, we’re having a Christmas without parties, without concerts, without extended family gatherings, and without candles and carols in the church on Christmas Eve. Of the various things that we do at Christmas, the food seems like one of the few things that is left to make this a Merry Covid Christmas.
I don’t know about you… but at our house we’ve got gingerbread cookies, shortbread, and chocolates. Tomorrow we’ll roast a turkey with stuffing, and cook potatoes and sweet potatoes and lots of colourful vegetables. There will be cranberry sauce and gravy, and plenty of good wine. Dessert will be Christmas pudding that Nick made from my mother’s recipe, and we’ll be eating leftovers for days.
Of course, I’m a Christian minister, so I know that the real meaning of Christmas isn’t fulfilled in big holiday dinners, just as it isn’t fulfilled in parties or gatherings or presents or ornaments and lights. But as much as this Christmas may feel like we are fasting from so many things that bring us joy and comfort, I believe that God desires … Read more »
Please enjoy our Online Christmas Pageant – “A Pandemic Christmas.”
… Read more »
“A Letter of Love”
This morning is the final sermon in my little series on “Letters of Encouragement” during the Season of Advent. I’ve been focussing on the Epistle readings that are included each Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary, looking for messages of encouragement, as well as assurances of hope, peace, joy, and love from God in Jesus Christ.
On this last Advent Sunday, the theme is LOVE, and the Epistle text comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome. Similar to last week, the reading comes from the very end of the letter – final words from the Christian leader to the Christian community. And in this case, Paul closes with a liturgically-rich doxology (Those are words of praise to God). And the doxology names God as powerful, wise, and therefore worthy of praise.
The passage is a bit tricky to understand at first because it’s an incomplete sentence – a problem that is often corrected in contemporary paraphrases. But even if the grammar doesn’t make sense in English, the meaning is clear enough:
God’s wisdom and power are on display, and we are called to praise. God has revealed God’s love in Jesus Christ. This … Read more »
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
“A Letter of Joy”
During this Season of Advent, I’m focussing my preaching on the Epistle readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. I’m looking for messages of encouragement to us in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. And on this third Sunday of Advent, I’m looking for the gift of joy that comes to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Epistle for today comes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian congregation around the year 50 CE. The passage is from the last chapter, as Paul draws his letter to a close with some final instructions.
At first, the section may seem like a rather random bunch of aphorisms that Paul didn’t want to forget to include before he finished the letter: “Rejoice always… Do not quench the Spirit… Abstain from every form of evil.” And it may make us wonder why it’s one of the readings during this special season of the year.
Matt Gaventa, commenting on the passage puts it this way: “Few, if any, among the listeners who wander in on the Third Sunday of Advent will find in this disjointed list something that feels ‘Christmas-y’.”
Scholars who read the text in the original Greek … Read more »
2 Peter 3:8-15a
“A Letter of Peace”
During this Season of Advent, I decided to focus my preaching on the Epistle readings that are set in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday. We’re looking at these snippets of letters to the early Christian communities, with our ears open for words of encouragement that may strengthen us in this challenging time of the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic.
Today’s Epistle reading comes from the third chapter of the 2nd letter of the Apostle Peter. Since I didn’t know the letter well, I went back to the 1st chapter to find out who Peter was writing to, and I found this salutation:
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
So, unlike some of the letters in the New Testament that are addressed to a particular congregation and dealing with their unique issues and concerns, this one is written to all people of faith who have come to believe in Jesus the Lord. It’s what is called … Read more »