“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 »
“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 »
On Sunday, June 6, 2021 the Congregation of First Presbyterian Church will worship together with the General Assembly at 12 noon Saskatchewan time. The link below will go live at 11:50 am with a musical prelude. (There will be no 10:30 am worship service at First Presbyterian Church on this day.)
… Read more »
“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 »
“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 »
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
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 »
“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 »
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 »
“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 »
“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 »
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 »
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
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 »
“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 »
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17; 31b-35
“Serving at the Table & Beyond”
Thank you, Rodolfo and Gabe, for sharing that lovely Ministry of Music with a beautiful invitation from Jesus to us all to “come to the table.”
Even though we cannot literally sit around a table together tonight, the invitation from Jesus himself is nonetheless extended to us all to gather spiritually in the community of Jesus’ followers. You are welcome here, no matter what your history, what mistakes you’ve made, what questions or worries trouble you. Jesus welcomes you, and we will strive to do the same.
As the song said, “Come to the table. Come join the sinners who have been redeemed. Take your place beside the Saviour. Sit down and be set free.”
When I think about our Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, I don’t often think of it as something that sets us free. When we come to the table, I am thinking about thanksgiving – Eucharist – and showing gratitude to God for God’s goodness to us. I am thinking about being fed – receiving the assurance of Jesus’ presence with us at the table, and being spiritually nourished by the bread and wine that are … Read more »
As we begin this final week of Lent and continue our spiritual journey with Jesus on his way to the cross, we reflect on biblical texts about the difficulties and suffering that come with choosing to follow Jesus all the way.
Just as I have focused on the Old Testament texts over the last five weeks, I will do so again today. We have been following the theme of God’s covenant love for God’s people, paying attention to the ways that God reached out to humanity again and again: promising faithfulness, forgiving our failings, guiding us in good living, and inviting us back into relationship with God.
The context of today’s prophetic text is similar to last week. It comes from around 550-530 BCE, and the people of Israel continue to be in exile in Babylon. (They were there for a long time!) The prophet known as 2nd Isaiah is diligently trying to get a message from God across to them.
In the previous chapter, the people in exile have complained that God has forsaken them and forgotten them. There they are, struggling in a foreign land with little sign of any chance of return to their homeland. Generations have … Read more »
“Adapting the Covenant”
This morning we continue our Lenten celebration of God’s covenant of love. Four weeks ago, we gave thanks for the rainbow – God’s reminder and promise not to destroy us again, but to mercifully maintain relationship with humankind in spite of the fact that we will sin again.
Next, God promised to walk with Abram and Sarai – to give them a place to live, a family, and to make them a blessing to all the families of the earth. Though their faith wavered at times (as does ours), God’s promise would be sure, and the seemingly impossible would come to be.
Through Moses then, God gave the ten commandments to the whole community of God’s people. God gave them (and us) the guidance needed to live in loving relationship with God and each other.
And although people still struggled to keep the commandments, last Sunday’s reading about the poisonous snakes showed us that God kept finding ways to help us. Instead of simply wiping away the people’s sins, God invited them to look at the effect of their sin – acknowledging it and opening up the possibility of transformation and healing.
In a commentary on today’s text from Jeremiah … Read more »
Enjoy singing along with us for “Half an Hour of Hymns” in honour of St. Patrick.
… Read more »
“Look at the Snake!”
Can you believe it’s been a whole year of the Covid-19 Pandemic? Sunday, March 15, 2020, was the last time that we had a public worship service in this place without limits on the numbers, sitting 6 feet apart, wearing masks, and keeping a registration list. For many of you, you haven’t even been in the sanctuary since then – the day that Nick livestreamed my sermon to Facebook as a test, just to see if it could be done.
And since then, there’s no denying that it has been a difficult year for all of us, and for some of us more than others. I know that many of you have been trying hard to see the good in all of this, despite the difficulties, and you’ve been focussing on the future and the light at the end of the tunnel.
But I expect that you’ve also been complaining. I think that most of us have been. After all, we’ve had to put our lives on hold for more than a year. We haven’t been able to worship together in our church. We’ve been separated from family and friends. We’ve cancelled plans and accepted virtual alternatives. … Read more »
Exodus 20:1-17; John 2:13-22
“An Everyday Covenant”
In the words of Psalm 19 that we heard again in the Ministry of Music, as we come to worship God in prayer and praise, in preaching and sacraments, we pray that what we do and say and think and feel will be pleasing to God. Those who lead in worship at our church and in faith communities around the world pray something like that before we begin each service. We remind ourselves that God is the reason why we are doing all this, and above all, we want to honour God with our offering of praise and thanksgiving.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus enters the central place of worship in Jerusalem and uses a whip of cords to drive out the vendors and the money changers from the outer court. These are the ones who are exchanging the currency of the people coming to worship from around the world for Temple currency and selling animals appropriate for Temple offerings and sacrifice. And the incident makes us wonder, “why?” What was happening that Jesus was objecting to? What was it that was not pleasing to God in this place where all the nations gathered … Read more »