“Freedom and Love”
Freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom, freedom is coming,
Oh yes I, yes I know, oh yes I know, oh yes I know,
Freedom is coming, oh yes, I know.
That was the song that kept running through my head as I reflected on our reading from the Book of Acts for this Sunday. What a wonderful text about the power of God to release us from the things that keep us bound and suffering, and bless us with the gift of freedom!
In a few conversations this week, I invited people to read over the story and to identify the ways in which various people were bound or even enslaved, how they were freed from bondage, and to notice what they did with their freedom.
The most obvious example is Paul and Silas. At the beginning of the story, they seem to be free, but their actions with regard to a slave-girl in Philippi lead to a complaint by people of influence, and they are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned in a jail. We imagine their chains and shackles, and are struck by the risk and sacrifice that the early Christian leaders were willing to take on as they spread the gospel … Read more »
“Blessed to be a Blessing”
Have you ever heard a sermon about Lydia before? I haven’t ever preached one, nor have I heard someone else preach one either. Perhaps that’s just because the Book of Acts doesn’t go into much detail about the business-woman from Thyatira who sold purple cloth.
Other than the fact that she was among the women that Paul met down by the river outside of Philippi, we don’t know much about her. But those few details, combined with the important points that she became a Christian, that her whole household was baptized, and that she provided support and hospitality to the apostles in Philippi is actually quite a lot!
Of course, we might get distracted by the somewhat miraculous way that Paul and the others decided to go to the city of Philippi. During the night, Paul had a vision. I expect it was a dream. There stood a man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” He was already wondering where to go next, looking for somewhere where the people would be receptive to the good news, and the strange dream gave him confidence to sail for Philippi – a … Read more »
“By Our Love”
It’s one of my favourite songs – one of those 1970s church songs that I grew up singing. You can play it on the guitar if you learn three basic chords, and it’s one of the first ones I learned to play in high school. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
It feels great to sing it in our happy Christian communities. I sang it first at a Christian camp – a community that I loved, where I felt included, and valued, and where I belonged. And over the years, it has felt right and true to sing it in the congregations I’ve served and often in ecumenical settings too. We commit ourselves to walk with each other and to work with each other across our differences. We pray for unity, remembering that it is God’s Holy Spirit that can make us One with all our diversities.
And no matter what challenges we face, we remind ourselves that Jesus’ most important commandment to us was to love one another. Like Tertullian, a theologian in the late 2nd Century, who said that pagans in his … Read more »
“Do You Love Me?”
In this Season of Easter, we read and remember the wonderful stories of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Luke’s Gospel has him appear to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus, and Matthew says he appeared to a bunch of disciples together on the top of a mountain. According to John, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene in the cemetery, then to the disciples in a locked room. And in his final appearance, Jesus serves breakfast to his disciples on a beach, and has a heart-rending conversation with Peter.
What a strange conversation it is – with Jesus, a full-grown man, asking his full-grown fisherman friend, Peter, if he loves him. Not just asking once… but again and again. It sounds like the kind of thing that a sad or needy child asks a mum or dad: “Do you love me?” “Yes, of course I love you,” comes the response along with a smile and a hug of reassurance. You are safe. You are loved. You are mine.
But I don’t think that’s what is going on here. Jesus doesn’t need reassurance from Peter. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Jesus is reassuring Peter that Jesus still loves … Read more »
“Even Those Who Pierced Him ”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the friends of Jesus in the aftermath of his arrest, unjust trial, and execution. The Gospel text this morning tells us that on the evening of the day of the resurrection, they had locked themselves in a house because they were afraid. But I expect that there were a lot more feelings going on than just fear.
Certainly, some of them must have felt some guilt about how it all went down, and some regret for the way they had abandoned and denied Jesus. I have no doubt that there was some confusion in their minds and questions in their hearts. Was Jesus dead or was he alive? Some had seen an empty tomb, but what did that really mean?
But if I was in their place, I also would have been angry. And I probably would have been deflecting my anger at myself by putting the blame on others. I would have been railing against the religious leaders – calling them corrupt, cowardly, and downright evil.
I would have been really critical of Pilate and Herod. They were the ones with the power to stop this, and they … Read more »
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
“The Last Enemy”
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Do you believe that? And if you do believe it, what difference does it make to you? How does believing in the resurrection of Christ change your life? How does it affect how you feel or how you live? The Apostle Paul explores these questions in detail towards the end of his first letter to the Christians at Corinth.
You may remember that the Corinthians were struggling with a lot of issues and conflicts over what they believed and how they practiced their faith. After sorting out their issues with leadership, divisions, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and orderly worship, Paul finally gets to the really big one – the question about resurrection.
In verse twelve, Paul expresses the main issue: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” Some in the Corinthian community rejoiced in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Like us, they proclaimed: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! But they weren’t so sure that the rest of us would also be resurrected – at least not in any kind of bodily way.
Their … 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 »
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
“Holy God, Protect Them”
“Holy God, protect them.” That was part of the prayer that Jesus prayed in the days leading up to his death and resurrection. It was part of the prayer that he prayed for his disciples and for those who would come after them. The fact that Jesus prayed for us so intently in those days, rather than simply praying for himself and his own needs, and the idea that Jesus continues to pray for us even now have often been an encouragement to Christians.
When we’re feeling worried or afraid, when we’re tempted to give up or give in, when we are doubting God’s presence or love, or suffering from various trials, we are reminded that Jesus prays for us. The prayer assures us that we belong to Jesus as his followers, and therefore we also belong to God and are under God’s care. Jesus acknowledges that he will no longer be in the world (at least in a physical sense) but that we will be here and we will need God’s protection.
Jesus talks about giving us the gift of eternal life. But as I suggested a couple of weeks ago, that doesn’t just … Read more »
Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21
“The Best is Yet to Come!”
When the Apostle Paul addressed the people of first century Athens, he commented that he had noticed an altar in their city with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ I suppose he must have found it sad that these people were searching for God, and seeking to worship God, and maybe even wanting to offer their lives in service to God, but God remained a mystery to them.
But Paul came with good news for the Athenians, the same good news that has given our lives meaning, purpose, and hope as well. He said: “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things… In him we live and move and have our being… We are his offspring.”
How did Paul know this? And how could he proclaim with such confidence that the God of all Creation was present and active and giving life and breath to all people as God’s … Read more »
1 Peter 2:2-10
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
You may know the Second Sunday in May as “Mothers’ Day” and you may be doing something special for your mother if she is near, reaching out to her by phone or video call if she is far away, or remembering her with thanksgiving if she has died.
Usually at First Church, we share carnations with all the women on Mothers’ Day. Along with the various things I emailed out to everyone on Friday, there was a carnation colouring sheet. You might consider colouring that flower and sharing it along with a note of thanks and encouragement for someone in your life who nurtures and cares for you with a mother’s love.
But in the church, this Sunday is called “Christian Family Sunday” or I like the title “Festival of the Christian Home” because it sounds like a wonderful celebration of families, relationships, and the households to which we belong. During the pandemic, we don’t get to see our church family in person, but we are spending a lot more time with our nuclear families within our homes.
Thinking about this reality reminded me of the concept of “domestic churches” that I came across when I was … Read more »
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, … Read more »
1 Peter 1:3-9
“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, … Read more »
“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 … Read more »
“Stay with me, Mummy!”
In the church today, we celebrate Ascension Sunday – remembering the day that the Risen Jesus was taken up into heaven.
In the world today, we celebrate Mothers’ Day – giving thanks for the women who nurtured, loved, and protected us in our growing up, and perhaps still today.
The two celebrations are not related, but they happen to land on the same day this year, inviting us to make connections between our faith and our family life.
We may note that God is often described as being like a heavenly Father to us – providing for our needs, loving us unconditionally, guiding and directing us to become the faithful people he hopes we will be. But the Bible does not refer to God exclusively in masculine metaphors. There are, albeit few, feminine metaphors used to describe God in the Bible too.
One of the common images is God as a mother bird sheltering her children under her wings. We see this in Ruth 2:12 – “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” The psalms also pick up this mother bird image, like in … Read more »