“Acts of God?”
I am finding that it is an interesting process to focus my preaching this month on the Season of Creation while I continue to follow the Scripture readings for Sundays that are set in the Revised Common Lectionary. I want to acknowledge the Anglican Communion’s resource “Preaching for God’s World” which provided some helpful information and inspiration for today’s sermon, as well as the blessing of discussing the focus text from Exodus in our Bible study earlier this week.
If you’re a regular church-goer or you went to Sunday School years ago, you probably know the story recounted in Exodus 14 quite well. It may be images from that old movie, “The Ten Commandments” with Charleton Heston as Moses that come to mind when you think of it. You see him standing there with his arm raised high over the sea, and miraculously the waters begin to part, rising up into great walls of water on two sides.
It’s a spectacular demonstration of God’s power and love for the Hebrew People. As we have been remembering over the past couple of Sundays, God heard the cries of the Hebrews as they suffered under hard labour and slavery in … Read more »
“We Can Do Hard Things”
Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, Christ is present. When we come together like this on Sunday mornings to engage in the rituals of praise, prayer, preaching, and Sacraments, Jesus is here with us. I hope that you know that, and that you feel that, and that you are encouraged and strengthened by that promise.
I know that there are many different reasons why people decide to attend worship on a regular basis. You may come for the music, or for the friendship and community, or because you made it a habit many years ago, and it’s just what you do. But when I’ve asked regular worshippers why they come to church each Sunday, many of them say that it strengthens them for the week ahead.
It’s because life is hard, and we need to be reminded that we are loved and that we belong. We need to be assured that when we mess up, we can be forgiven and try again. We need to hear that God has difficult but important things for us to do in the world, and we need to know that we can do those hard things.
I … Read more »
“Getting our Attention”
This month in our worship at First Church, we are joining Christians around the world in celebrating the Season of Creation. This is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our siblings in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.
The season starts on September 1st, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations. Throughout the month-long celebration, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians come together to care for our common home.
I titled my sermon this morning, “Getting our Attention.” First of all, I wanted to get your attention and invite you into this special season of reflection on God’s world, appreciation for the natural environment, and action for its preservation and renewal.
I hope that you’ll come to worship each Sunday to think deeply with me about the Scriptures and Creation, that you’ll attend the special outdoor gathering being planned by the Mission & Outreach Committee after worship on Sept. 17th, and that you’ll respond with personal changes … Read more »
“I Will Build My Church”
A few years ago, just before the Covid-19 Pandemic started to spread, here at First Church we were deciding what to do about our crumbling foundation. Those who were serving on the Session or the Board of Managers back in early 2020, as well as a few other congregation members with architectural expertise will remember it well.
As we prepared to do some water-proofing of the foundation walls of the church, we discovered that we had some more serious issues with some of the walls due to water damage, Regina’s expanding and contracting soil, and likely not the best quality cement used back in 1926 when the church building was constructed.
The first quote we received for a repair to solve the problem was astronomical. We all said, “Well, we can’t pay that to fix the foundation! There’s just no way!” And then, while some of our own experts worked with the engineers to figure out some other options for a more affordable solution, some of us began to imagine what would happen if we just couldn’t fix it.
Would we have to tear the building down? Could we move worship into the gymnasium for a few … Read more »
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“Three Parables in One”
Jesus’ Parable of the Sower is found in the Gospel of Matthew between stories about opposition to the gospel. In chapter eleven, Jesus has criticized various cities for failing to repent even though they have witnessed Jesus’ deeds of power. And later in chapter thirteen, Jesus will be rejected again – this time by the people of his own home town, Nazareth.
And so, we may read the Parable of the Sower as a kind of explanation of what is going on in Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps Jesus’ disciples (or even Jesus himself) are getting discouraged. They go about preaching, and healing, and doing miracles, and they expect a wonderful response. Why isn’t their little band of followers growing? Why aren’t people responding to Jesus’ teaching by changing their lives? Why aren’t they convinced by the miracles, the healing, or the wise teaching?
The parable provides a good explanation. It’s as if a sower is sowing seeds. The seeds are God’s Word being sown in the hearts of people. Sometimes, of course, the people do not understand God’s Word, and so it does not grow within them and lead to a fruitful response.
Sometimes people receive the Word with … Read more »
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
All the way through the Gospel stories, Jesus shows up in villages, in cities, in the countryside, beside the sea, and in the middle of people’s lives, and he invites them to respond to his message, to his presence, and to his call.
Jesus showed up beside the Sea of Galilee, and invited some fisherman to radically change the course of their lives. He said: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And they did.
Jesus showed up in front of Matthew’s booth, and said to the tax collector: “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
Jesus showed up in the middle of a crowd where he had been casting out bad spirits and healing those who were sick. One person said he wanted to follow Jesus, but he just needed to take care of his father’s funeral arrangements first. But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Jesus showed up where a rich young man was wondering about what he had to do in order to be saved. He claimed to follow the commandments, so that wasn’t the problem. Jesus said to him, “If you wish … Read more »
“Mission at Home”
One of the most famous passages in the Gospel of Matthew is the Great Commission which comes at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 28). Jesus sends his apostles out saying: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
By this time in the Gospel story, Jesus is on his way out. He’s gone up a mountain with his closest followers, and he’s well on his way to heaven. He’ll no longer be physically present to lead them and guide them in their new mission.
But the mission isn’t really all that new. Way back at chapter ten of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had sent them out with a similar task. At Matthew 9:36-38 we read, When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to … Read more »
“The God Who Sees You”
I wonder if any of you have watched the 2009 film, “Avatar.” You may remember it from the blue-coloured people – the Na’vi – who are Indigenous to the moon called Pandora. And in the movie, Earth people have arrived on the moon to mine it of a natural resource called “Unobtanium.” As part of their strategy for accessing this valuable resource, the Earth people use advanced technology to give themselves avatars so that they can look like the Na’vi people and interact with them in that way.
Nick and I recently re-watched “Avatar” before watching the 2022 sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and both are interesting movies that raise questions about land, resources, intercultural relations, and colonization. But the reason I’m mentioning it today is because there is a Na’vi greeting highlighted in the movies which immediately came to mind when I began reflecting on today’s biblical texts.
When Na’vi encounter or greet one another, they gesture with their hand from their forehead, extending one hand down toward the other. They marry this gesture with the phrase “oel ngati kameie” (I see you). And we learn that this is a deep sign of respect … Read more »
Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
“What Kind of Mission?”
Two themes come together this morning in our worship. First, there is the theme of mission from the Gospel text. And next, there is the fact that today is National Indigenous Peoples Sunday – a date set by our denomination to coincide with Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day coming up this Wednesday, June 21st.
Some of you are probably also aware that our culture celebrates Father’s Day today. Unfortunately, I could not come up with a link between Father’s Day and the other key themes of the service. Nonetheless, it is a good day to remember our father figures with love, and to pray for all those called to paternal responsibility and care.
Anyway, I want to begin with that great long Gospel passage from Matthew that Donna read for us. I wonder if you’ve ever noticed that the Gospel of Matthew is organized around five discourses or teaching sessions – probably a poetic reference to the five books of the Torah traditionally attributed to Moses, thereby casting Jesus as a Moses-like figure. The first of these discourses is the most well-known – the “Sermon of the Mount,” and this week’s reading comes form the second, … Read more »
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
“Just as we are”
There’s an old hymn that I associate with Billy Graham Crusades and other evangelical church gatherings that culminate in an altar call. If you’ve always been a Presbyterian, you may not even know what an altar call is, as it’s not a part of our church tradition.
But after listening to some biblical preaching and usually some testimonies from people who have come to Jesus and experienced their lives transformed, an evangelical crusade or tent meeting or revival would often include an altar call – an opportunity for seekers to come forward, to pray quietly with a Christian volunteer, and to commit their lives to following the way of Jesus.
The 19th century hymn by Charlotte Elliott, “Just as I am” would often be chosen to sing as people made their way forward to invite Jesus into their hearts, perhaps for the first time. It had a nice steady pace, lots of verses, and words that would remind everyone that if they came to Jesus, just as they were, with all their failings and faults, God would forgive them and give them the gift of everlasting life.
Although my faith journey didn’t start with a single moment … Read more »
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“An Inclusive God”
Trinity Sunday is an unusual celebration within the Church Year. It’s different from other special Sundays like Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost because it doesn’t mark an event in the life of Jesus or the experience of the Early Church. Rather, it’s focused on a particular doctrine of the church. Trinity Sunday is a day to ponder what we believe about God, and the particular idea formulated by the Church in the 4th Century that God is three persons in One God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A lot of Trinity Sunday sermons attempt to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity. They might begin with what our Presbyterian Church in Canada says about the Trinity in Living Faith:
“With the one church universal,
we believe in one God,
eternal Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
three in one, one in three, equal in power and glory.
God is the Father to whom we come,
the Son through whom we come,
the Spirit by whom we come.”
And then, perhaps, the preacher could suggest some helpful (though usually inadequate) analogies to explain this mysterious reality. The Trinity is like a triangle, with three sides, but a single form. The Trinity is like a shamrock with … Read more »
“Called to Hope and Action”
Today we are celebrating Ascension Sunday. We read one of the stories about the final moments that Jesus spent with his disciples, heard the final words he shared with them, and then the description of how he was lifted up into the sky where a cloud took him out of their sight.
It’s a strange thing to imagine happening, and particularly odd because we don’t really think of heaven as “up”. We’ve travelled up in that sky among the clouds, and even sent rockets holding people well beyond it. The theological meaning of the story is not really about “where” Jesus went physically, but that the Resurrected Lord was not raised from death in order to die again. The author of Luke and Acts wants to convey the fact that the early Christians came to believe that Jesus did in fact live forever, and that he was with God.
The Apostle Paul proclaimed that belief to the Church at Ephesus when he wrote to them about God’s great power. He said, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly … Read more »
“Stay on the Path”
Over the last several months, I’ve been thinking a lot about pilgrimage – journeys that are undertaken towards sacred or holy places. Some of you have been participating in the “Presbyterians Read” book study on Jim Forest’s book, The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life. And since I’ve been leading two discussion groups each week, as well as engaging with Presbyterians online about the book, pilgrimage has been on my mind.
I’ve been on a couple of walking pilgrimages – spending almost a week each time walking paths in Nova Scotia with a group of other pilgrims. And perhaps one day I’ll take the time to walk the 800 km Camino de Santiago in Spain. I’d like to do that, not so much for the destination of the shrine of the Apostle St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, but because of the journey itself – the walking, the challenge of making that journey, the beauty of the countryside, and the people I might meet along the way.
With pilgrimage on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice the journey theme in the Gospel reading for this morning. Perhaps that’s not what … Read more »
Thanks to the SPY participants for helping me to bring that Parable of Jesus to life. It has been one of our theme passages this weekend, so it made sense to me that we share it with you in worship this morning. Most of you are probably quite familiar with this well-known parable, but it’s definitely one of the stranger stories that Jesus told.
It may be helpful to note that it’s not a story about something that happened, and it’s not even a story about something that WILL happen, as if Jesus is predicting the future. But it’s a parable – a symbolic story with a deeper meaning and an important message.
It’s a message that Jesus believed his followers should hear, a message that the author of Matthew thought his community of late-first century Jewish Christians should hear, and a message that I believe is super relevant for us today.
It’s a parable about the end of time or the final judgement day. And Jesus, referring to himself as the “Son of Man” or the “Son of Humanity” is also depicted as a king.
At the time that Jesus told this story, it was likely towards the end of his … Read more »
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
Mardi Tindal, a former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, was a vocal member of the World Council of Churches’ delegation to the UN Climate talks in 2009 and 2011. She wrote this about her experience in worship in Copenhagen.
“I gasped as worship began. It was December 13th, 2009 and I stood in Copenhagen Lutheran Cathedral, alongside other church leaders from every region of the planet. Exposed glacier stones from Greenland, dried up maize from Africa, and bleached coral from the Pacific Ocean captured my attention as they called us – dramatically – into worship. As these three ‘members’ of the procession found their way slowly through the packed congregation, my eyes brimmed with tears. I wasn’t alone. These silent three – symbols of global climate change – spoke loudly. They led us into soul-deep lament over what we are doing, into high praise of our Creator, and into a wide hope that we might be revealed as Children of God.
“The Secretary General of the National Council of Churches in Denmark read the epistle, Romans 8:19-25: ‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… in hope … Read more »
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
“You Have Put on Christ”
“O death, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?…
“Come, let me tell you a mystery, for we shall be changed triumphantly…”
When we started to practice the choir anthem that Chloe selected for this Easter Sunday Service, I immediately recognized the wonderful and powerful Scripture text from 1 Corinthians 15, and I thought, “That would be a great text to read on Easter!”
After all, Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth is one of my favourite books of the Bible. One of the things I like about 1 Corinthians is that it’s a realistic depiction of a church community. They’re enthusiastic about their faith, and they’re trying hard to live according to the way and teachings of Jesus, but they’re struggling with differences between them, conflicts, and issues that require some guidance and correction by their leader.
They have cliques, with some saying “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos.” Some think they’re better than others because they have special spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues. And they’re not very good at sharing – when they get together to celebrate a holy meal, some get well fed, and others go … Read more »
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
“Why Do We Call it Good?”
On Good Friday, I don’t always preach a sermon. Sometimes we just let the scriptures speak for themselves. We tell the story of Jesus’ last day. We journey with him through the agony of his passion. And we pause at the foot of the cross to mourn for a while, because Jesus our Lord is crucified.
But this year, I wanted to preach. I wanted to spend some time with the event that we are remembering today, and to consider why it is such an important part of our Christian faith — why Good Friday, in many churches, is the most highly attended service of the year.
During Holy Week, I often remember a theme activity that I did with our Kids’ Club program back when I was serving in Saskatoon. We spent some time with the Easter story as a whole. The kids got lots of practice looking up Bible verses as they had to look up 14 different verses that traced out of events of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. And then they had to put the events in the correct order. Once they had completed the activity, we reviewed the … Read more »
There are a number of choices for Scripture readings on this Sunday that we call Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday – one week before Easter. But very often I find myself most drawn towards this text from Philippians chapter two. Side-by-side with the narrative account of what Jesus did during his final week in the world, and what was done to him, this passage from Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi gives us a poetic rendering of the events of Holy Week.
The verses Marianne read for us today are universally accepted as taking the form of a hymn. We don’t know if it was a hymn that Paul composed himself, or whether he was using a hymn already known to the Christians at Philippi to strengthen his message to them. But either way, a hymn was a good way to communicate and remember a message, as well as to express key aspects of early Christian theology.
The key aspects of theology expressed in this hymn have to do with the nature of Christ – that he was divine, having equality with God. And although he was God, he chose to humble himself to the form of a human … Read more »
“Grief and Hope”
Ezekiel was a prophet to the People of Judah and Jerusalem when they were in Exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE. He experienced many visions from God, and preached to the people in dramatic ways with signs and symbols. He preached God’s judgement, calling the people to change their ways and return to God. And he preached grace, proclaiming God’s desire to save and restore God’s beloved people and to return them to the land of promise.
This morning’s vision from Ezekiel is one of the good ones – a message of hope and restoration that will be accomplished through God’s power and love. But it begins with a vision of destruction, death, and despair.
Ezekiel explains that the hand of the Lord came upon him, and God brought him out and set him down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. God led Ezekiel all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
What he sees is the site of a long-ago battle. Thousands of soldiers, or perhaps just regular people, have become caught up in some conflict and they have fought one another to … Read more »
“What I Missed Seeing”
Back when I was in seminary twenty years ago, the students in my class had the opportunity to do the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory. Some of you may have done it yourself at some point, or you may know that it’s one of those psychological tests that identifies some of your personality traits and tendencies, helping you to understand yourself a little better.
I remember that we learned that almost everyone in my class of ministers-to-be was an introvert, and we marvelled that all of us introverts would soon be preaching publicly every Sunday and interacting with all kinds of people every day!
Another thing I learned about myself is that I don’t pay much attention to my physical surroundings. At one point, the workshop leader asked us all to close our eyes, and then she asked us questions about the room where we were gathered. What colour were the chairs? Were there curtains or blinds on the windows? Describe the plant on the table in the corner.
And I couldn’t answer any of the questions! It was the same classroom I’d been sitting in three times a week all year, but I had no idea what colour the … Read more »