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 »
“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 »
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
“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 »
“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 »
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »
“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 »