March 29, 2024 (Good Friday)

“A Eulogy for Jesus”

In our Lenten Devotional Study groups this week, we pondered the theme of “Grief.” We shared about some of our own experiences of grief at the death of a friend or family member, and about some of the things that were helpful for us as we worked through our mourning.

And then we talked about Jesus and his death. We thought about the people who were present when Jesus died, who were crying out in anguish at the loss of their loved one. Their grief was complicated because it wasn’t just a friend who died, but the Teacher they had come to believe would be their Messiah. It was not only loss and longing that they felt, but also confusion about what to do next. If the Messiah was dead, what now?

It’s not quite the same for us today. On Good Friday, we normally tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death, remembering the horror of his unjust arrest and execution, and sitting in the feelings that evokes for us. But we also know that it’s not the end of the story, and that he will be raised. We won’t hunker down and cry through Saturday like they … Read more »

March 24, 2024

Luke 19:29-40
Luke 22:39-46
Luke 23:44-49

“Your Will Be Done”

For those joining us in worship today from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Grenfell, and for others who may not have been with us for worship through the Season of Lent, I want to begin by mentioning that our worship themes during Lent have been guided by a devotional study written by the Rev. Konnie Vissers called “Practicing Jesus’ Seven Last Words.”

Each service has focused on one of the phrases spoken by Jesus from the cross, according to the various Gospel accounts of the passion story. Along the way, we’ve reflected on forgiveness, heaven, the bonds of family and community, suffering, need, and fulfillment. If you’re interested, you could feel free to watch any of the YouTube videos of our worship to explore those themes yourself.

But today’s theme, inspired by Jesus’ last words according to the Gospel of Luke, is “surrender.” And that’s a difficult word.

I mean, the study suggests that “surrender” is something that Jesus chose to do at the end of his life, and it invites us to consider what we may be called to “surrender” as well.

But when I think about “surrender” I think of an embattled army waving a white flag, … Read more »

March 17, 2024

Micah 4:1-4
Matthew 13:31-33
John 19:30

“What Is Finished?”

According to the Fourth Evangelist, the author of the Gospel of John, the very last thing that Jesus said before he died was a declaration: “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Most of us probably found that verse familiar, having come across it in the readings on Good Friday many times before. But I, for one, have never focused a whole Bible study or a sermon on that verse alone. But as we began to discuss it this week in our Lenten study groups, it quickly became clear that there was a lot to talk about.

After all, Jesus didn’t elaborate on that simple statement. After saying “It is finished,” he immediately dies. If his disciples were wondering what he meant, they didn’t get a chance to ask him as they had done after many other teaching moments that left them confused and wondering.

Likewise, we receive the words of Jesus in Scripture, but not a detailed explanation. But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in the community of the Church, we are invited to hear, and question, and think, and ponder together what Jesus’ words meant for those … Read more »

March 10, 2024

John 19:28-29

“We Thirst”

I am finding it very interesting, during this Season of Lent, to delve deeply into the words Jesus spoke from the cross. Between the various accounts in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there are seven phrases uttered by our Lord during the final minutes, or perhaps hours, of his life.

Participants in the Lenten study groups continue to raise good questions and share helpful ideas as we ponder together the meaning and significance of each phrase for us today. And, in line with the title of the Lenten study, we have been considering how we might “practice” Jesus’ seven last words. In other words, how might Jesus’ words impact the way we think and change the way we live as his followers in the world today?

As the Fourth Evangelist tells the story, after Jesus had encouraged his beloved disciple John and his mother Mary to look after each other like family after he died, the next thing he said was “I am thirsty.” And folks nearby responded by giving him a drink.

Although that seems simple enough, I found that the biblical scholars have lots of ideas about what it might have meant. For example, you … Read more »

March 3, 2024

Psalm 22
Matthew 27:33-46

“Lament for the World”

There is a tradition in the ecumenical community in Saskatoon. Every year on the morning of Good Friday, hundreds of Christians gather to walk the Way of the Cross. They walk slowly, often singing Taizé chants as they go along like “Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom…”

They stop 14 times at various locations in the downtown area to read parts of the passion story. Leaders take turns carrying a huge wooden cross through the streets, enacting Jesus’ own walk of suffering and shame. They recount and remember the ways that our Lord was betrayed, denied, abandoned, arrested, tortured, mocked, and killed.

It is not a triumphant gathering that anticipates Jesus’ resurrection, but a mournful one that invites the worshippers to sit with (or walk with) the shock, horror, and grief of what human beings did to God who had come among us in Jesus the Christ.

When Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion he also sits with the grief. Matthew’s account doesn’t include Jesus asking God to forgive those who crucified him. He doesn’t speak comforting words to the criminals dying beside him or encourage his friends and family to take care of … Read more »

February 25, 2024

John 19:25b-27
Matthew 12:46-50

“Water is Thicker than Blood”

On this Second Sunday in the Season of Lent, we are continuing to focus on the final things that Jesus said as he was dying on the cross. Although each of Jesus’ statements is quite brief, our Lenten study so far has already begun to reveal that each one is rich with meaning for our lives as disciples today.

On Ash Wednesday, we heard Jesus pray to God the Father “to forgive [those who were crucifying him] for they do not know what they are doing.” We were assured of God’s unconditional love and Jesus’ capacity to forgive us for the worst things we do. We were also encouraged to live into our identity as people made in the image of God, and to forgive one another from our hearts.

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus in conversation with a repentant thief who was dying beside him. This man also was forgiven, and given the promise of Jesus that “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” We gave thanks for that amazing grace, and the glimpses of “heaven on earth” that we experience today, even as we anticipate the final gift of everlasting life.

In this morning’s … Read more »

April 7, 2023

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 »

April 2, 2023

Philippians 2:5-11

“Poured Out”

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 »

March 26, 2023

Ezekiel 37:1-14
John 11:1-45

“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 »

March 19, 2023

John 9:1-41

“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 »

March 5, 2023

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 3:1-17

“Out of the Womb”

Abram and Nicodemus provide an interesting contrast in our readings today. First we have Abram, a model of faith, courage, and obedience to God. Today’s brief story is the first time that we hear about Abram in the Bible. God tells him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And Abram goes. He does what God has told him to do.

He goes. And we know that he becomes the father of many nations, and the father of the three major religions of the world. After Abram, so many others come to believe in the One God. They worship God, and listen for God, and do their best to follow God and God’s ways.

Abram is a wonderful example of faith. Nicodemus? Not so much. Or at least, not yet. John’s Gospel tells us that Nicodemus is a religious person. He’s a Pharisee and a leader in the religious community. And just like Abram must have been hearing God’s voice in a new way, telling him to leave everything and start fresh in a new place, I think Nicodemus must have been hearing God’s … Read more »

February 26, 2023

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

“Tempted Not to Trust”

The obvious theme in the lectionary readings for this First Sunday in the Season of Lent is temptation. Adam and Eve are tempted by the “crafty” serpent in the Garden of Eden, and they succumb to that temptation and do the one thing God asked them not to do.

In contrast, Jesus is tempted by the devil during his forty days in the wilderness, and he resists. He quotes Scripture, stands firm, and stays faithful. And I am tempted to preach: Be like Jesus, resist temptation. Don’t be like Adam and Eve.

After all, it’s Lent. And if you decided to give up chocolate, or cookies, or alcohol, or Facebook for Lent, you may already be experiencing some temptation to break that promise you made to yourself and to God. Or if you decided to get up early each morning to pray, or to make time in your day for reading and reflection, perhaps you’ve already been tempted to skip a day and catch up tomorrow.

We may think of Jesus as the “super human” who is able to do the things that we struggle to do. He has that spiritual and emotional strength that we wish … Read more »

April 15, 2022

Luke 23:1-56

“When Everything Goes Wrong”

The other night I was watching an episode of Chicago Fire. If you don’t happen to watch it, all you need to know is that it’s one of those dramatic shows about a fire department. In addition to the drama in the relationships between the characters, there is the regular drama of crises including fires, car accidents, and other emergencies that our heroes need to respond to and solve. If you do happen to watch Chicago Fire, I’ll try not to give too many spoilers in case you haven’t watched the one from this week yet.

It was one of those episodes with one major incident – a truck driving through the front window of a grocery store, and the driver (an escaped convict) holding the people inside at gunpoint, trying to avoid arrest by the police outside. It was a tension-producing episode, in which confusion and danger was all around, and everything seemed to go wrong. Every time there was a little hope for a solution, for an escape… BOOM! There was another problem, and the situation escalated some more.

Watching the show and feeling the anxiety of the people stuck in the store, and the desperation … Read more »

April 14, 2022

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

“Do This to Remember Me”

Heather Pockett took some photos last Sunday during the Palm Sunday Parade at First Church. They were absolutely adorable photos of her little son Lucas dragging his palm branch down the aisle – falling behind the crowd of older children, but participating enthusiastically in the celebration. Those photos will help Heather to remember what was a special moment in Lucas’ young life, and she’ll undoubtedly share them with family and friends, and eventually an older Lucas will get a glimpse of himself as a young boy.

We use photos a lot to capture and later remember special moments in our lives. And now that they are so easy to take and to share, many of us have thousands and thousands of them stored on our computers, or in the cloud, or posted on Facebook where they pop up on the anniversaries of their posting as “memories” of times past.

However, neither Jesus’ earliest disciples, nor disciples today, have any photos of that holy meal that they shared together on the night that Jesus’ was arrested. If it had been our Last Supper with someone important to us, I’m sure we would have been taking selfies or … Read more »

April 10, 2022

Luke 19:28-40

“The Stones Will Shout”

Sometimes I really appreciate the silence. When the TV or the radio has been blaring for a long time, it is lovely just to switch off all the noise for a while. When I’ve been in a busy restaurant or conference hall filled with the sounds of loud conversation and laughter all around, stepping outside into the quiet is a gift. And folks have told me that even in our worship, with all the music and all the words, some silence is received with gratitude – some quiet moments for personal reflection and lifting up the prayers that are in our hearts.

Of course, silence is not always golden – when the quiet comes from isolation and goes hand-in-hand with loneliness. Some of us have experienced a bit of that kind of silence in the last couple of years. We know the gift of a friendly voice on the phone or a visitor at the door after many days of restless quiet and unwelcome solitude.

And silence can be deadly when someone in trouble is unable to express what they need from others. It could be a young woman too scared to say something when her teacher or … Read more »

April 3, 2022

John 12:1-8

“Costly Love”

I’ve been singing in the Regina Symphony Chorus this year, a choir that was brought together specifically for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The concert was supposed to be in January, but it was postponed until May due to Covid.

But we’ve had so many practices now – back in the Fall for many weeks on Zoom and then in person, and we have a bunch more coming up this month. And you know, I’m well aware that the choir’s part in the Symphony only lasts about 18 minutes. We’ve been practicing and practicing, and when the concert date finally arrives, we’ll get one shot at it, and 18 minutes later, it will be over. What a waste!

We do the same sort of thing with our music for worship. The soloists and the accompanists, and the choral groups practice and practice – hours of effort expended for anthems and other ministries of music, and just like that, they are done. What a waste!

And what do you think about those grandmothers… the ones who spend all day shopping, and preparing, and cooking a fabulous meal for their kids and grandkids? Everyone shows up to the house at 5:30 on … Read more »

March 27, 2022

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21

“With God’s Eyes”

We all know the Parable of the Prodigal Son quite well. Jesus tells this elaborate story just after the shorter ones about the lost sheep and the lost coin. And we know that it is a beautiful expression of God’s forgiving love for each one of us. No matter how far we wander, or how lost we get, or how many selfish choices we make, we are always welcome to come home. Indeed, God longs for us to return, waits for us with expectation, and celebrates with joy when we come back.

At this mid-way point in the Season of Lent, if we are still using our time, talent, and treasure primarily for our own comfort and enjoyment, we’re invited again to return in our hearts to God’s household where both service and celebration are shared. God does not ask us to explain what we’ve been doing while we were away, but simply rejoices that we decided to come home.

When Jesus first told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it was while he was spending time with tax collectors and other sinners who were coming near to listen to his teaching. So we can imagine … Read more »

March 20, 2022

Isaiah 55:1-9
Luke 13:1-9

“An Abundant Lent”

On Friday evening, we cooked up a great feast at our house. We already had most of the ingredients that we needed in the kitchen, but I stopped by the grocery store and picked up a few things that we were missing. Nick selected the recipes, and I assisted him by chopping various things and stirring pots when needed. We made chicken curry, spinach paneer, chana masala, and basmati rice. Enjoyed along with a nice glass of wine for me and a beer for him, we had a wonderful meal with plenty of leftovers to feed us a couple more times this week.

It made me think of a similar menu that we enjoyed three years ago at First Church’s Indian Dinner Fundraiser for Canada Youth. That event came up in my Facebook memories recently, reminding me of what a fun and successful fundraiser it was, and making me think that we should do it again some time!

Although I do love Indian food, it was not the menu that really made it a great dinner three years ago. It was all the people who decided to attend, whether they loved Indian food too, or they were just … Read more »

March 13, 2022

Luke 13:31-35

“Willing to Learn”

When I think about the state of the world today, and find myself railing against powerful and corrupt leaders and lamenting the selfishness or indifference of people, today’s Gospel text reminds me that I am in good company. Jesus also criticized the political leaders of his time, and lamented about the people of the Great City for their acceptance of injustice.

When a few Pharisees decided to warn Jesus that King Herod wanted to kill him, it’s not clear whether their goal was to scare him off with threats, or if they were actually trying to protect him. Either way, Jesus is not dissuaded from continuing his mission. He calls Herod “that fox” – a metaphor that paints the ruler as sly, cunning, and voraciously destructive.

Herod will not hinder Jesus from completing his work, however. Jesus vows to continue casting out demons and healing the sick – public acts that boldly demonstrate the power of God that is with him. And when he says that “on the third day” he will finish his work, those of us who know his whole story catch the reference to his death and his resurrection which takes place “on the third day.”

Although … Read more »

March 6, 2022

Luke 4:1-13

“Temptations and Territories”

Welcome to another Season of Lent. As the days lengthen and Easter comes nearer, the church marks a season of 6 ½ weeks, 40 days, not counting Sundays, in which we traditionally pray, fast, and give alms. We may take on spiritual disciplines, re-commit ourselves to practices of faith, and turn and return our hearts and lives to God as we prepare for the Great festival of Easter.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t give anything up for Lent this year. I kind of feel like we’ve had to give up so much over the last couple of years that I just don’t have the energy for it. And although I have lots of devotional books and Lenten resources at my disposal, I haven’t added any new prayer practices for this season either. The one thing I am hoping to add is worshipping together LIVE, in-person, with a congregation once again. That will be enough to make this season special for me, after a season of online only and an empty sanctuary.

If you who are listening this morning, whether you’re here in the church building or watching online, want to take up a spiritual discipline for … Read more »