Writing sermons for Christmas is not the easiest part of a minister’s job. Choosing the carols and the readings for tonight’s service was straight-forward enough, but deciding what to say about them I found to be a little more difficult. It was complicated further in my mind because I’ve been reading some biblical theology lately that questions the historicity of the Christmas stories and challenges the faithful Christian reader to delve deeper into the biblical texts to discover the theological truths contained in the oh-so-familiar stories.
It would be easier to just tell the stories. It would be easier to just sing the carols. And it would be nice too, especially with family and friends gathered around, and candles, and memories of Christmases gone by. But as a modern interpreter of the texts, I need to at least acknowledge that most of the story is unlikely to have been historically true.
The questions might begin with angel appearances and virgin births, and then if you start studying all the historical details, you soon discover all the inaccuracies and problems with the dates of the rulers and the … Read more »
Instead of a traditional sermon, this morning’s reflection on the scripture readings took the form of three reflections. The first two were presented in conversation with the children of the church. The third reflection was given from the pulpit.
“Isaiah gives Ahaz the sign of Emmanuel”
About seven hundred years before the time of Jesus, there was a king in the land of Judah whose name was Ahaz. That’s the king that Ryan was just reading about from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Now, what you need to know about King Ahaz, in order to understand the bible reading today, is that Ahaz was really scared and worried. Ahaz was worried about two other kings that were threatening to attack his country. Ahaz was scared because the King of Israel and the King of Aram had decided to get all their armies together and to fight against King Ahaz and the people of Judah. Ahaz was dreading the possibility of getting attacked and maybe conquered too.
But in the story Ryan read for us, the prophet Isaiah is helping King Ahaz not to be scared. The prophet Isaiah has a message from God … Read more »
I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of Santa Claus. When asked at the women’s breakfast a few weeks ago to name what I like and dislike about Christmas, I quickly answered that I love Christmas carolling and Christmas worship, and I hate Santa Claus. Well, perhaps that’s putting it a little too strongly. I don’t like the white-bearded, red-suited Santa character created by Coca-Cola and promoted by malls and everyone else trying to sell us as much stuff as possible every December. I don’t like the way the Santa Claus phenomenon has taken over our celebration of Christmas to such an extent that many of our children equate Christmas with “getting presents from Santa.”
Ask a child today to name a special memory of Christmas, and I’m quite sure that almost every child will name a toy or other gift that he/she received for Christmas in a previous year. The gifts named will probably include video games and gaming systems, name-brand clothes, DVD’s, TV’s, and other expensive items. They probably won’t include the gifts of hope, joy, peace, or love, the gifts of family, friends, food, or health. And they probably won’t … Read more »
The congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon, was happy to welcome four new members on Sunday, December 2, 2007: Eva Anderson, Judy Chow, Reid Kirkpatrick, and Amanda Knezacek.
This is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent means “coming,” and it is a season of the church year that is focused on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. In one sense, we are waiting and preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But the Sunday scripture readings also emphasise the fact that we are waiting and preparing for the Kingdom of God. We are waiting for the Kingdom to arrive and to transform our world into a place where God rules, where peace and justice flourish, where there is no more poverty, war, or despair.
I spoke quite a bit about God’s coming kingdom last Sunday as we celebrated the “Reign of Christ.” I talked about the idea that whenever we live according to God’s laws and whenever we seek to follow the way and will of Christ, God’s kingdom is present and active in our world through us. Today, the theme of … Read more »
The following sermon was preached at the annual Christmas Memorial Service for St. John’s Columbarium on November 28, 2007. The service took place at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, SK.
I have a vivid memory of a school trip to the Maritimes when I was nine years old. We were visiting a small town in Acadia, and we were billeted with local families. The room I slept in those few nights was in the basement of my billet’s home. It had a small window, but being on the edge of town there wasn’t much light outside to come in through the window at night.
In the middle of the first night, I woke up because I needed to go to the bathroom. The room was so dark that I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face, and it took me a moment to remember where I was — that I wasn’t at home in my own bed. Once I realized where I was, I also realized that finding my way to the bathroom was not going to be easy. But I couldn’t wait till morning, so … Read more »
In the course of the liturgical year — the church year — today, we are at the end. This morning we celebrate the reign of Christ, and next Sunday we begin the Season of Advent, the time of waiting for the birth of Christ into our world. But for many of us, we’re already starting to get ourselves ready for Christmas. The Women’s League of St. Andrew’s hosted their Yuletide Tea and Bake Sale yesterday, the shopping malls are filling up, and I, for one, did my first Christmas carolling of the year yesterday morning.
We’ve got “baby Jesus” on the brain already in November, but the lectionary this morning jumps us forward in time, past the angels and shepherds, past the childhood and baptism of Jesus, past his ministry in Galilee, all the way to the very end of his life. This morning we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ death on a cross. We heard how he was mocked and taunted and crucified between two criminals.
It’s not too difficult to figure out why we get this particular story today. This is “Reign of Christ” Sunday, or “Christ … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Joan Cho, whose words are found on the back of our Sunday bulletins this morning, begins her reflection with a verse from one of this morning” scripture readings: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” According to Joan, this was an oft-quoted verse of scripture in her home as her children were growing up. It was directed most often, by parent or sibling, towards whichever child was reluctant about taking a turn at doing the dishes. The application was clear: work cheerfully now if you plan to show up for the next meal. Families work together.
Although I don’t remember my own parents quoting scripture when I or my siblings grumbled about helping out around the house, I do recall the expectation that everyone in the family participate in the work involved in being a family together. Perhaps you are thinking right now about how the work was shared in your family of origin, or maybe about how the work is shared in your household today.
Modern families have changed quite a bit from 50 or 60 years ago. Back then, tasks were often divided based on gender — women took care of the … Read more »
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
They spent 40 years, exiled in a foreign land. The people of Judah were away from their homes so long that by the time they got a chance to return, they hardly knew the place. Most of those who had actually lived in Judah were now dead. It was their children and grand-children who returned to the land to begin a new life. Those first exiles to go back to the great city of Jerusalem would have been disappointed and discouraged when they found the city in ruins and as they contemplated the work of rebuilding that lay ahead of them. They began with their own homes. Shelter, food, and the daily concerns of life were their first priorities. And it was a struggle because of drought and poor harvests.
But suddenly, in the midst of their daily struggle, a prophet was shouting at them! “Is it a time,” the prophet Haggai demanded of them, “for you yourselves to live in your panelled houses while this house lies in ruins?” Haggai was talking about the Jerusalem temple. He was telling them that instead of just taking care of … Read more »
Last week was the first time that I haven’t finished delivering my sermon on Sunday morning. Those of you who were here know that one of our choir members had a minor medical emergency, and I stopped preaching, just a minute or two before the sermon would have reached its conclusion anyway.
I am mentioning the excitement of last Sunday for two reasons… first, so that I can let you know that Donna is fine and not to worry. And second, because of a comment that one of you made during the week. “It was wonderful to see members of the congregation on Sunday move so quickly from listening to God’s Word to getting up out of their pews to act on it.” When someone was in need, no one worried too much about interrupting worship. We stopped what we were doing while those who were close by and those with medical expertise sprang into action to make sure that Donna was well cared for.
Today’s theme for Presbyterianism 101, and the final theme for this series, is “Justice and Mission.” Presbyterians are probably best known for our … Read more »
1 Corinthians 14:26-40
Living Faith, 7.3
People often joke that when Presbyterians gather together, there is always food involved. And though that may be true… coffee hours, pot luck suppers, tea and cake are not the main reasons that we gather together as a Christian community. The main reason that we come together in Presbyterian churches is to worship God. Worship is something that we do. That’s why, in the course of Presbyterianism 101, I couldn’t avoid devoting a worship service to considering how and why we worship.
Reformed Christians always begin any topic by looking to the Scriptures. For the readings today, I chose two texts written by the apostle Paul to the early Christian congregations. In both cases, Paul is writing to these churches to give them advice about how to live together in Christian community, and in both cases, worship is an important part of what the Christians are going to do together, day by day, and week by week.
But we don’t have to start with the letters to the early Christian churches to find out about worship. We could go back before the time of Jesus to the … Read more »
Today’s theme, as we continue through our month of Presbyterianism 101, is discipleship. Today we’re thinking about and singing about and reflecting on what it means for us Presbyterians to be followers of Jesus. Disciple is the word used in the Gospels to describe the followers of Jesus — those who travelled with him in his earthly ministry, those who learned his teachings, observed his way of life, and took part in sharing his message in the towns and villages of Galilee.
The word “disciple” comes from a Greek word that means both “learner” or “pupil” and “follower.” The first disciples not only learned Jesus’ teachings about God and how to live, but they literally followed him around the countryside to bring these teachings (along with a call to repentance) to everyone they met. Those who learn from and follow Jesus today are still called disciples. Though we don’t literally follow Jesus around from village to village, I think that a Presbyterian understanding of our faith is one that considers our Christian life as a journey with Jesus.
As we were talking about on Wednesday evening, there are some Christian traditions … Read more »
As most of you know, I have chosen to abandon the set lectionary readings this month in order to focus our Sunday worship on some basic Christian themes, from a Presbyterian perspective. It’s all part of Presbyterianism 101 — and today’s theme is salvation or reconciliation with God.
In our prayer of confession, we used words from “Living Faith” that acknowledge the ways in which our sin separates us from God, and in the assurance, I proclaimed the fact that through Christ our sins are forgiven, also using words from “Living Faith,” our Presbyterian statement of Christian belief. Then we joined in the psalmist’s confession with Psalm 51, and heard Paul’s proclamation of justification by faith from the letter to the Romans.
The scriptures are full of stories and teaching about sin and forgiveness, about reconciliation and salvation. I could have chosen any number of stories, but today I chose the story of Zacchaeus — the despised tax collector about whom Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.”
Zacchaeus was obviously sinful! At least, … Read more »
Children’s Sermon: “We are the Body of Christ”
Do any of you know what today is?
Sunday — the day we come to worship God every week.
Thanksgiving — a special Sunday for giving thanks to God and celebrating God’s goodness to us.
Communion Sunday — also a day of giving thanks to God, for God’s coming to us in Jesus, and Jesus giving his life for us.
World Communion Sunday — people all over the world have communion today, and we remember that we’re part of a wonderful big family of followers of Jesus all over the world.
Today, I have chosen to focus our worship on a celebration of the Church, to give thanks to God for the church (for our church family here at St. Andrew’s, and the PCC, and the church all over the world). Thank you, Darya, for reading the passage from 1 Corinthians for us. It is one of my favourite passages in the Bible. And I think it’s a great passage for understanding what the church is like at its best.
Paul tells us that the church is like a body. A body has many parts, doesn’t it? Legs, … Read more »
Psalm 79:1-9, Refrain #2
1 Timothy 2:1-7
The parable of the dishonest manager is a tricky one. I suppose that parables aren’t supposed to be too straight-forward. After all, Jesus told parables knowing that some would understand them and that others would miss the point. Sometimes Jesus’ parables are followed by several verses of explanation or interpretation. His disciples didn’t always get the point right away either, or perhaps the Gospel writers wanted to make sure that those who read the parables years later would understand what Jesus was getting at.
As you know, a parable is a story that has two levels of meaning. On one level, our parable is about a dishonest manager who comes up with a sneaky plan to take care of his financial needs after he loses his job for squandering his master’s money. On another level, the story is about something else. But with this particular parable, that “something else” is not immediately obvious.
Let’s just review the parable briefly. Jesus tells his disciples that there is a rich man who had a manager. It seems that the … Read more »
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14, Refrain 2
1 Timothy 1:12-17
This morning, I’ve chosen to focus on the text from 1 Timothy, some of the opening lines of Paul’s letter to a younger colleague in Christian ministry, named Timothy. The major theme in the text is that of God’s amazing grace. It’s the same theme that pervades all of Paul’s letters, those to individuals and those to churches. Paul uses the word “grace” about a hundred times in the biblical letters that are attributed to him. It’s Paul who established the term “grace” (Greek charis) in the Christian vocabulary.
Of course, the idea of “grace” came with Jesus. That’s what the parables that we read today were about too. We do have a judging God, one who requires us to be good, but we also have a God who befriends us, who calls us to repentance, and who invites us to come home from our wandering like the prodigal son coming back to his Father. That’s grace. It’s not because we deserve it. It’s just because God loves us. And it’s the major theme in today’s … Read more »
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
CREATED BY GOD, we are God’s special children (Children’s Sermon, part 1)
Has anyone ever told you that you’re special? Who was it who told you that you’re special? Maybe one of your parents, or your best friend? Maybe one of your teachers at school? It feels pretty good when someone tells you that you’re special, doesn’t it? You know that they love you and that you’re important to them. And that feels good.
I won’t ask you to put up your hands for this, but I know that there are some of us who don’t hear very often that we are special. Sometimes the people that love us forget to say it. Sometimes we feel like there is no one who loves us at all. And when there’s no one to tell us that they love us, and there’s no one who tells us how special we are, we sometimes don’t feel very good at all. We might feel like we’re not very important and not very loveable.
All of us have times when we are feeling like that, and a good place to turn … Read more »
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14
One of the significant things that Jesus was constantly doing during his short ministry in Galilee was to challenge the social and religious practices of his people. He took part in religious worship and festivals in the synagogues and the temple, and he was an active participant in social events wherever he went. He attended weddings, dinners, and other functions in the homes of all kinds of people, and he was the recipient of a great deal of hospitality as he travelled about the countryside relying on the kindness of strangers and new friends.
On one occasion, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, Luke’s Gospel tells us that people were watching him closely. Why were they watching him? Perhaps because he already had a reputation for being at the centre of all kinds of drama and debate.
Jesus did things (like healing people on the sabbath) that got the religious leaders upset. He did things like neglect to ritually wash before eating a meal, and … Read more »
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Two weeks in a row now, we’ve had Gospel stories that are not particularly encouraging. Last week we heard Jesus turning down potential disciples and warning them of the trials that come with following his way of life. Despite the fact that he’s been really honest about what a tough life discipleship involves, in today’s text we see that Jesus has managed to round up quite a group of disciples, and he’s sending them out like little ambassadors to all the towns that he is planning to visit.
And he’s sending them out “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” This is not going to be a nice little holiday. As Jesus warned the would-be followers in the last chapter, discipleship is the kind of thing that calls for full and dedicated commitment. It involves risk and requires sacrifice — no comfortable hotels, no guaranteed meal-times, no salary, and the real possibility of being frustrated, rejected, ridiculed, or even hurt by the people in the towns.
Depending on which translation you read, Jesus either sent 70 or 72 disciples out on this mission. Some of the ancient manuscripts say 70 and others say 72. … Read more »
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Today’s Gospel passage begins with a significant moment in Luke’s story of Jesus’ ministry. It is the moment when the author of the Gospel first hints that Jesus’ ministry is going to come to an end in Jerusalem with his death on a cross. The passage begins: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Although Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing does not change dramatically at this point in the story, the reader who notices this key moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life will read everything that happens after this in a different light.
Jesus is not like any other preacher or healer or prophet that might have lived in the area at that time. Jesus was different, because even at this point in his ministry, he is recognizing that his mission is to do something more than preach sermons and offer help to the sick and suffering people that he meets on his journey. Jesus is committed to a ministry that is much broader and more far-reaching than the typical itinerant preacher. … Read more »
1 Kings 19:1-15a
I would like to tell you a story about a boy named Sam. One day, Sam waited too late to do his homework. He played until it got dark, and then it was time for supper. So when we finished eating, his father said, “Sam, sit right there and get started on your homework.”
“I’m too tired,” said Sam.
“You should have thought about that when you were playing,” said his father.
“I don’t have my book,” said Sam.
“You can go get what you need,” said his father, “but come back and work right here at the table.”
Sam got his math book and his notebook and found the assignment and wrote down the first problem. He worked at it and erased it; worked at it and erased it. He tried over and over, but he just couldn’t get it right. Then he threw the paper on the floor and said, “I wish I were through with school, married, and dead.”
“Oh, not so fast,” said his father. “Let’s just get through these math problems and see what happens.”
“But I don’t know how to do … Read more »