“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 »
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Mark 8:31-38
“We Are Pilgrims”
As many of you know, I’m a walker. I started walking intentionally more than four years ago, and I now usually walk about 10 km every day. While the Covid-19 Pandemic changed a lot of things in my daily life and yours as well, it didn’t stop me from walking.
But one of the things I did early in the pandemic was to get a treadmill to walk on at home. I thought it would be particularly useful for those days when it is stiflingly hot or bitterly cold outside, as a back-up plan for my usual outdoor walks. And this winter, I’ve been using it A LOT. I had no interest in going outside when the windchill was in the minus thirties or forties, and even now that it has warmed up a bit, it has become my default to use the treadmill.
In February, I decided to motivate myself by doing one of the “virtual walks” that are offered online. You walk wherever you are (outside or inside) and use the app to track your progress along a real route. I considered doing the 800 km Camino de Santiago in Spain – a classic … Read more »
“Leaning into the Promises of God”
Thank you, Marianne and Bill, for sharing that beautiful song, “You Are Mine” by David Haas. It is one of my favourites, and so appropriate for today’s service.
You may have noticed, as you were listening, that the words of the song are God’s words to us. They are words of promise, words of encouragement, and words of hope. God promises: “I will come to you in the silence, I will lift you from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice. Be still and know I am near. Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.”
The words remind me of the promises of a parent to a child who is scared, of the assurances of a caregiver to a dear one who is ailing, or of the vows of a couple getting married and covenanting together to be faithful to one another all the days of their lives.
We use the word “covenant” to describe the lifelong partnership of love and faithfulness into which couples enter … Read more »
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them,” Jesus warns us in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday.
I suppose there’s not much danger of that for most of you who are participating in this service from the privacy of your homes tonight. Our avoidance of in-person gatherings during the Covid-19 Pandemic means that no one sees whether or when you attend worship. No one knows whether you take time to read the sermon that arrives in the mail each week. There is no one to impress or to show off to with your faithfulness in worship or prayer or tithing.
I, on the other hand, am doing my praying rather more publicly than usual. Instead of the normal 80-90 people gathered here in the church, these livestreamed videos are posted and shared for anyone to watch – hopefully to inspire and encourage people in their faith, rather than to impress them with the minister’s eloquence or the musicians’ talent.
But it seems to me that this locked-down Lent provides an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual practices, committing ourselves to the disciplines that may help us to live out our faith more fully, … Read more »
“Crucified with Christ”
The following is not a sermon, but a series of stories and prayers. Read through them slowly as you remember and pray for those who are crucified in our world today.
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Today, on Good Friday, we follow Jesus on the road to crucifixion. We accompany him to a hill called “Golgotha,” which means the “place of the skull.” It is there, on that hillside, that Jesus is raised up on the cross and left to die.
On our journey, we discover that Jesus is not alone. Two criminals are being crucified on either side of him, but they aren’t the only ones. There are many people in our world who face crosses of suffering and pain. These are people, like Jesus, who are forced to endure torment and anguish. They, too, are being crucified.
As we travel with Jesus, we call to mind some of those who are experiencing particular suffering during this COVID-19 pandemic. We will pray and remember those who must daily carry a cross. We will affirm that they are not alone in their struggle. The church is present with them through our caring, through … Read more »
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“Plagues, Family Meals, & Remembering”
I was out last Saturday, dropping off some faith formation resources and girl guide cookies at the homes of our church families with children. And while I was doing it, I enjoyed a few nice chats with some of the parents and kids from a safe physical distance, usually at the bottom of the front steps.
But I’ll remember the greeting I received from one of the teenagers when she looked out the front door and saw me standing there: “I haven’t seen you since before the plague!” That’s quite the dramatic way of putting what’s going on with this viral pandemic, but I guess it’s not too far off.
Now, I’ve been leading worship services on Maundy Thursday every year since I was ordained. But I realized as I began to prepare this year that although the services have varied a great deal in their format and liturgies, they have always included a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and they have almost always included a foot washing or a hand washing piece – either with a few people having their feet washed in a symbolic or dramatic presentation, or with everyone invited to participate … Read more »
Today is the Sunday with two names. It is Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. And it is Passion Sunday, as we anticipate what will happen to Jesus when he arrives in Jerusalem – his final meal with his disciples, his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal and arrest, his trial and torture, and his terrible execution on a Roman cross.
The lectionary provides us with two sets of scripture readings for today, inviting the preacher to choose how to focus the service, and I have chosen the Gospel reading from the liturgy of the Palms, and the other readings from the liturgy of the Passion. The Gospel reading that I’m skipping today is the long account of what happens to Jesus in Jerusalem. We’ll come back to that part of Jesus’ story, of course, as we continue our Holy Week worship on Maundy Thursday evening and Good Friday morning.
But today, instead of simply recounting the story of Jesus’ passion, a story that most of us know quite well, I’d like to focus on the other readings that are set for Passion Sunday, and spend some … Read more »
“The End of the Story”
I don’t know about you, but I already feel like I’ve been hanging out in my house for a really long time now! I’ve been working from home. And although I have plenty to keep me occupied, time passes differently when we’re not following the usual patterns of our work, and family, and social lives.
Until a couple of days ago, the COVID-19 pandemic still felt a little bit virtual to me. We watched the constant news reports, and adjusted our lives to the latest recommendations for hygiene and physical distancing, but it still seemed like a far-away problem.
That was until I heard about friends who had contracted the virus. Two friends, both living in the UK. Neither one was serious enough to be hospitalized, but the symptoms one was experiencing sounded quite awful, while the other just lost her sense of smell.
And while I’m at home, not allowed to visit people in our local hospitals for good reason, my sister is working as a nurse in a Toronto hospital where they are already running short on supplies. Nurses on her ward are being rationed only two surgical masks per shift – an … Read more »
1 Samuel 16:1-13
“Blind, Lost, Uncertain, and Needing God’s Help”
You’ve been driving around the neighbourhood for half an hour already, and you still haven’t found the street you’re looking for. The houses and stores are starting to look familiar now, but you’re no closer to your destination than you were twenty minutes ago. The problem is that your spouse knows where he’s going… at least, he thinks he does. How long will it be, you wonder, before he gives in and asks for directions?
“What was that?” your grandmother shouts at you. “Where is your hearing aid?” you ask for the third time, and she finally understands the question – probably because you’re pointing madly at her ear. “Oh, I don’t need that thing,” she says, “I can hear you just fine.”
Your daughter just got her first pair of glasses. They were long overdue after almost failing grade nine because she couldn’t follow what was going on in class. She couldn’t see the board, missed most of the notes, and couldn’t concentrate because of the headaches she got from squinting so much. But she won’t wear them – the new glasses. She doesn’t like the way they look, you … Read more »
“More to Life”
In the Revised Common Lectionary of Sunday Scripture readings, we’re in Year A of the three-year cycle right now. And during the Season of Lent in Year A, we get a series of wonderful, long, elaborate stories from the Gospel of John.
Last week it was the story of the Jewish leader, Nicodemus from John 3. Today, we read John 4 in which Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman beside a well. Next week, he’ll be healing a blind man in chapter 9, and then we’ll go on to chapter 11 where Jesus will actually raise Lazarus from the dead.
Last week, the Rev. Bob Wilson talked about how Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again. He must open his life to be led by God’s Spirit. He likened it to trusting God and “letting go of the rope” that we are clinging to for security, and to let God take us where we need to go and do what we need to do to build God’s kingdom on earth. And that kind of faith and trust begins with choosing to believe God – to believe that God loves us, that God has plans … Read more »
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b- – 6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In the first reading for Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel calls for a trumpet blast to go out and warn the people that they must change their lives and return to God with all their hearts. It makes me think of the warning cries that we are hearing lately from the young prophets of our time. They also are sounding trumpets and blowing whistles, striking from school, making speeches, addressing the world through social media, and calling us to make radical changes for the future of the planet.
The call of the prophets then and now challenges God’s people to cease their parties and celebrations, and to come together instead in a solemn assembly of weeping and mourning. Joel says that even the bridegroom must leave his room, and the bride her canopy, and join the community in repentance and fasting.
The message is hopeful because the people are assured of God’s grace and mercy. The prophet says that the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God relents from punishing. And yet, there is urgency to the call. They must return to God with all their hearts and … Read more »
Luke 22:14 – 23:56
“Do Not Weep for Me”
Jesus proclaimed, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
On this Good Friday, our worship invites us to walk in the way of the cross with Jesus. We tell the story of his passion and reflect on his journey in order that we may know what it means to be his disciples, to take up the cross, and to follow in his faithful footsteps.
Today we acknowledge that the way of the cross is very difficult for us, and we often stumble and fall. But as we heard in the Gospel reading, even from the cross, the one who was obedient even to death proclaimed a message of love and acceptance. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
We do not always know what we are doing, but year after year we, the followers of Jesus, walk the way of the cross so that we can learn what we must do. We make the walk so that we will be able to pick up our cross and be faithful to the God … Read more »
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
“I have set you an example”
This is Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the Latin word, “mandate” – as in, we are “mandated” to do these things that Jesus told us to do.
He said that every time we eat bread together and share wine around a table, we should remember him. Remember his love for us. Remember his giving himself for us. Remember that he, himself, is like bread for our souls, giving us life.
And he said that we should love one another. We should serve one another. Humbling ourselves, getting down on our knees, and washing each other’s stinky feet.
As Jesus’ disciples, we are mandated to do these things. These are the things that Jesus commands us to do.
But if there is one thing that we must learn about Christianity, one thing that we must embrace about the Way of Jesus, it is that his is not a religion of rules and regulations, of blindly obeying commandments and mandates from on high.
Certainly, the commandments can help us along the way by giving us some direction and guiding us along the path of God’s love. Jesus didn’t reject the commandments, but he looked for what was most important … Read more »
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. We began the service with the story of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds singing “Hosanna!” and proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Some Pharisees in the crowd tell Jesus to order his disciples to stop – to stop this spectacle, to stop their praises, to stop their allegiance to him as a Saviour or a King.
We know that, all too soon, they will stop. They will change their minds, change their allegiances, and change their shouts to “Crucify him!” And so today is also Passion Sunday when we remember how the people turned away from him, how they betrayed and denied, and ran away from Jesus.
Luke reminds us in the Gospel story that when the disciples do stop – when they stop following, when they stop praising, Jesus is still the King. They don’t stop because he is not worthy. They stop because they are scared. And Jesus says to the Pharisees: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” All of creation knows and witnesses that Jesus is Lord and King, even when we humans … Read more »
1 Corinthians 15:1-3, 11b-32
“While he was still far off”
Special thanks to the SALT Lectionary Commentary (saltproject.org) for reflections on the parable that significantly inspired this sermon. Portions of the commentary are included in the sermon as longer quotes.
I once played the part of the prodigal son in a musical rendition of the “Parables of Jesus” that we put together when I was a student at Knox College. I remember kneeling on the floor at the front of the chapel, miming the feeding of the pigs, and singing a mournful song about how down-and-out I had become, and my feelings of sorrow and regret at all the mistakes that I had made.
In that rendition of Jesus’ parable, I was the main character, and the focus was on my poor choices, my repentance, my return, and the generous party thrown in my honour. No matter what, I was still a child of God, and God would love, forgive, and welcome me home if I turned my life around and came back.
Certainly, that message is true. And on this fourth Sunday in the Season of Lent, it provides one more word of encouragement to repent – to turn our hearts and our lives … Read more »