St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon
St. Andrew's exists to proclaim the Gospel and to share the love of God in our church and in our community

August 13, 2017

Posted on August 13, 2017 in category: Sermons
Tags: , , ,

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10: 5-15
Matthew 14: 22-23

Listen to this sermon

You’ll likely have heard this story – or some version of – before.  It’s about a man walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon who gets too close to the edge, loses his balance, and slips over the precipice.  In some places it’s more than a mile deep, and just before falling thousands of feet, he grabs on to a scraggy little tree, rooted in a crack of the cliff face.

“Help me!” he hollers.  “Is there anyone up there?  Help me!  Save me!  Is there anyone up there?”

A voice answers, “This is the Lord.  I can save you.  Do you believe in me?  Do you really want me to help you?”

“Oh, yes, Lord, I believe in You.  Please help me.”

“OK,” the Lord says.  “I’ll save you.  Just let go.”

“What?!” the man replies.

“Just let go of that branch you’re holding on to, and I’ll save you.  You have to trust me.”

The man pauses a moment, and then shouts out, “Is there anyone else up there?!”

The story prompts the question: What is the measure of our faith during the difficult times, the times of testing, the times of storms?

I’ve heard some people say,

  • “If you have faith, life will be smooth sailing.”
  • “If you have faith, God will cure all your ills and guard you from every danger.”
  • “If you have enough faith, if you only stay close to God, you’ll never have any problems in life.”

In our Scripture reading this morning from Matthew’s gospel account, we discover that that’s not necessarily true.

Last Sunday we read the account of Jesus feeding a multitude. Crowds had gathered to hear Jesus, and as the day wore on, in response a concern raised by the disciples about the people’s need for food, Jesus tells them, “You give the people something to eat.”

Their response was, “We don’t have what it takes. Five loaves of bread and two small fish are nowhere near enough to feed all these people.  We can’t possibly do what you have asked us to do, Jesus.”

Jesus said, “Give the food to me.”  They do, Jesus blesses it, hands it back to the disciples, telling them to pass it out.  They do, everyone eats their fill, and there are even 12 baskets full of left overs!

What do you imagine the disciples thought about all that?  They were right there, present in the middle of a miracle.  Maybe some in the crowd didn’t realize what had happened, but the disciples were right there, all the way through it. They witnessed and even participated in that extraordinary feat.

What might they have been thinking?  Did it change them?  Did it strengthen their faith?  Did it firm up their resolve?

After feeding that throng, Jesus dismisses the crowd and sends them on their.  Then He tells His disciples, “Get in the boat and cross the lake.  I’ll join you later, but right now I need to be alone for a while to pray.”

That probably didn’t seem too strange a request for Jesus to make.  He often spent time alone in pray and could always rejoin them later, either by walking around the lake, or arranging for another boat later that night.

So the disciples set sail.  Within a few hours, however, the disciples find themselves out on the lake caught up in the midst of a sudden storm.

The waves are rolling, the wind is blowing, they are hard pressed to make any progress toward shore and eventually reach a point where they are in danger of being swamped.

Now, remember why they are out in the middle of the lake in the first place.  Jesus told them – really, ordered them, commanded them – to get in the boat and cross the lake.  They were doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do, yet as a consequence of their obedience, they soon found themselves caught in a big storm!

Whether or not Jesus knew they were going to end up in such a desperate situation is not the point.  The point is they were being obedient to Jesus’ direction and command and look where they ended up?

So does that mean that being faithful and obedient to God’s leading always mean smooth sailing in life?  Apparently not.  Sometimes faithfully following Jesus leads to our courting trouble.  Sometimes faithfully following Jesus lands us in the midst of a storm!

Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, just before first light, Jesus comes walking out to them, actually walking on the water!  The disciples’ initial reaction is one of fear.  They’re terrified!  “It’s a ghost!” they cry.  But then Jesus calls out, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

For whatever the reason – reasons that aren’t spelled out here in Matthew’s gospel account – Peter responds, “If it’s really you Lord, command me to come out on the water with you.”  Jesus answers simply, “Come . . . come on, Peter.”

In some ways it would be like the man in the opening story I told you, letting go of that root that he was hanging on to for dear life.  At this point, do you think it might have crossed Peter’s mind to shout, “Uh, is there anyone else up there?”

We don’t know what went through his mind, but Peter again did as Jesus bid him to do: he stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus.  “Impossible!” you might say.  Is it any more impossible than feeding a host of people?  As Jesus so plainly said, “With God, all things are possible!”

But then something happens to Peter.  It’s almost as if he woke up and realized where he was.

It reminds me of those Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons where the Coyote in the midst of chasing the Roadrunner suddenly runs off a cliff yet continues to speed in a straight line while suspended in mid-air until reality sets in and gravity takes over; he finally realizes what a stupid thing he just did and then down he goes.

There was Peter, walking on the water toward Jesus, and everything seemed to be fine, but then Peter takes a look around himself, taking his eyes off Jesus, he looks around.  What he sees are mountainous waves and a driving wind and there he is in the middle of it, out of the boat with no visible means of support.  He becomes afraid and begins to sink.

You may remember that elsewhere in the gospel Jesus bestowed the name of Peter upon this disciple.  The name “Peter” means “rock” in Greek.  But instead of being a solid rock of faith, he’s sinking like a rock.  In desperation, Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!”

Have you ever been there before?  I don’t mean walking on water – or trying to – but in an overwhelming and impossible situation, precarious, perhaps even dangerous, troubling, even frightening?

Have you ever been in such a predicament, out of options, faced with no other recourse than to raise a cry like Peter’s from the depths of your being?  It is the elemental cry of every human being when we are confronted with that which is greater than our strength, beyond our ability, outside our control.  In the midst of our helplessness and powerlessness, we cry out, “Lord, save me!”  A helpless, hopeless, terrifying feeling.  “God, help me!”

Jesus reaches out and grabs hold of Peter, pulls him up and helps him back into the boat.

“Why did you doubt, Peter?  Where is your faith?  Didn’t you believe me? Didn’t you believe in me when I told you to let go?”

Suddenly the wind dies down, the waves settle.  The disciples are filled with awe and amazement.  Falling to their knees they declare, “Truly you are the Son of God!”

As I hear God speaking to us this morning through the Scriptures, what I hear our Lord saying to Peter and the disciples and to all of us is this:

Life is full of adventures and encounters and accidents and experiences that remind us over and over again – if our eyes are open to see it – that God alone is God. God alone is God and we are totally dependent upon the Lord as our source of life and hope and strength.  And even when we are certain that God is leading us and we are acting according to God’s will, we dare never think that therefore we can go it alone, relying solely upon our own resources and abilities.  The disciples were only doing what Jesus had told them to do.  Remembering that enables us to press onward without fear, even in the middle of the storms that arise in our lives.

Peter only did what the Lord invited him to do.  In so doing, he was actually doing the impossible, by worldly standards.  But it was only when he took his eyes off Jesus and was distracted by the storm raging around him that he began to sink.

Jesus told us, on the one hand, “Without me, you can do nothing.”  On the other hand, He also said, “With God, all things are possible.”

I think it’s safe to assume Peter never forgot that moment.  There would be still other times of doubt and testing in his life, times during which he wasn’t always successful, not always faithful.

Is it so hard to imagine that in those times, he might have recalled that day and in so doing, cried out again, “Lord, save me!”, trusting the Lord to be there, to reach out and save him?  In that remembrance, and in that crying out to God, is it so hard to imagine that Peter would have been given the help and the strength he needed?

The answer to those questions for each of us is a measure of the faith that is ours, the faith that trusts as we live in obedience to Christ’s leading, that the strength to endure and triumph over the storms that arise and the challenges that confront us in our striving to live faithfully will be there to see us through.

Life is full of perilous adventures and risky encounters, untimely accidents and unfortunate experiences, incidents and happenings that remind us over and over again and reinforce the reality that we are utterly and  completely dependent upon God for our life, our hope, our salvation.

But ultimately, we also discover that when we cry out for help in times of need, there really isn’t anyone else up there, and the only choice we have is to let go and the let God work His will in our lives.

As individuals and as a congregation of God’s people, we often are faced with opportunities to let go and let God’s will be one in our midst:

  • Every time we bring a little baby to the waters of Holy Baptism,
  • Every time we gather around the table of the Lord,
  • Every time we try to decide how to spend the money God has entrusted to us,
  • Every time we face a new challenge, a new opportunity for ministry,
  • Every time we gather at a funeral to mark the passing of one of God’s faithful servants.

In each and every one of those times – and in so many others – again and again we face the temptation to doubt and falter and focus on the storms that rage around us, or embrace the challenge of focussing instead upon Jesus, the Lord of life.  Indeed, He is the Master of the winds and the waves and everything else that would destroy us, derail our plans and deprive us of the abundant life that God would have for us.  We know that Christ is calling us forth as His people, and that God invites us to trust Him, to let go and let God.

And so we go from here, seeking to be God’s faithful people, trusting and depending on our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, always keeping our eyes focused on the One who is our source of life, hope, and salvation.  May it be so in your life and mine, this day and every day.  Amen.

 

August 6, 2017

Posted on August 6, 2017 in category: Sermons
Tags: , ,

Isaiah 55: 1-5
Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21
Matthew 14: 13-21

Listen to this sermon

About fifteen years ago, my wife Beth Anne, our daughter Beth, and I took a trip to Vancouver as part of our summer vacation.  For Beth Anne and Beth – neither of whom had ever been to the west coast before that trip – it was an opportunity to see some of the sights they had only read about or seen on TV.

Knowing that two weeks would be far too short a time to see as much as we would like to see, planning the agenda was quite the experience, each of us bringing to the table our personal lists of places we’d like to see and things we’d like to do, trying to come to a consensus about what we would see, and what we would have to leave to possibly another trip at some time in the future.

So much to see, so much to do, so little time, how do you choose?  What sights and attractions were worth seeing?  Which were most important to us?  Given time and budget constraints, we had to make some choices, and in so doing, decline the chance to see some sights in favour of others.

Sound familiar?  I’m sure it’s a common experience.  It’s life.  Think about it.  The very process of living our lives means making choices; it involves a lot of trade-off and bartering.  We are forever giving up some things in order to have others; we regularly choose to sacrifice this in order to have, or to do, that.  We do it in our marriages, in the choices we make with regard to our occupations, in matters affecting the raising of our children, in the decisions we make about how to spend our money and our free time; we do it at almost every juncture of life’s journey.  Whatever scenic road we take through life, we do so at the price of denying ourselves the sights and the adventures along other roads we might have taken.  We’d like to believe that what we are getting is worth what we’re giving up, or missing out on.   We want to think that to gain something of importance we are giving up something of less – or no more than equal –  value.  And we hope that whatever we get or choose in life is worth the price we paid.

The price we pay for the things of value to us in this life comes from the resources that we have, the most important of which, actually, is not money.  I’m speaking of a currency of much greater value: time.

Each of us is given a wealth of time measured in days and months and years, a fortune.  After all, what is the money that we have or accumulate except a medium of exchange for our time: so many hours a week at so much an hour in wages or so much per annum as a salary paid to us for working at a job?  Our money is a function of our time, a measure of our lives poured out in fulfilment of some purpose.  We give up the time we work in exchange for money to allow us to purchase something of value to us.   Anything we do with our time, therefore, has a certain value, because we only have a fixed measure of it; a certain – but to us – an unknown amount, ours to use as we choose.

Day by day each of us is using up that resource, till at length, we use it all up, right down to the last moment.  And along with that resource of time we have a finite measure of strength, of energy, of power to act and to do, to make and to create.  And we will spend all of that, too, right down to the last flex of a finger, the final flutter of an eyelid.

What for?  That is the question, isn’t it?  Will what you get be worth the price you have paid?

Jesus understood very well the immense importance of life’s inevitable element of trade-off and barter.  In Matthew 13 – from which was drawn the passage that was our Gospel lesson for this morning – the author records a number of stories told by Jesus, parables about the Kingdom.  In this morning’s parables, Jesus is saying to us that God’s kingdom – the kingdom of heaven – is a goal that is really worth going for.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

[And]  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Jesus is talking here about investment, about putting out something of value in order to possess something of a value greater still.  He is talking about effort, about doing what’s worth doing, about going for what’s worth going for, about seeking what is worth seeking.  The object should be worth the quest, He is saying.  And the object is not treasure or pearls; the object is the Kingdom.  And what is the Kingdom?  The Kingdom is nothing less than the will and rule of God, in our lives and in our world.  The Kingdom – that’s the treasure to be sought, that’s the pearl of great worth.

If you and I are to make good use of the resources of our lives, if we are to expend ourselves wisely, it’s important that we have some sense of value, some notion of what is of genuine worth.

In these parables of Jesus, one man stumbled upon a treasure, but he did realize the value of it when he saw it.  The other man diligently sought out an object of value, a pearl of great worth, knowing what it would be like when he found it.  The point in common between the two stories is this: each individual knew what was of worth; both of them were then able to make some discerning judgments and decisions because of what they knew.  When it comes to the values that impinge upon our human lives, you and I need to cultivate the ability to spot a pearl or a treasure when we see one, and, in like manner to develop an insight for recognizing a fake or a gaudy imitation for what it is.

The consequences of not acquiring these skills are significant.  Indeed, failure to gain such insights and act on them as we make our pilgrimage across the years, is to risk coming upon a treasure and not knowing it, or else becoming obsessed by some ornate bauble that isn’t worth our interest, much less our investment.   It’s important, then, to know – or to be able to find out – if that which we treasure in life if worth treasuring, or even if it’s safe to be treasured.

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, in 1: 9 “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best . . . .”    “So that you may be able to discern what is best.”   The original Greek might also be read “that your love may be more and more rich in knowledge and all manner of insight, enabling you to have a sense of what is vital,” or “that you may learn to prize what is of value.”  The apostle Paul’s concern in one we would do well to share.

You’ve no doubt heard the saying about the need to put “first things first.”  The challenge, however, is in understanding or deciding or discerning what “first things” are, or what ought to be first.

Recall when Jesus was brought before Pilate, Jesus’ accusers levelled all manner of charges against Him.  Only one, however, was valid: “this man puts God before Caesar,” they said.  In the days of Jesus, Rome considered that a crime.  Well, if so, Jesus was guilty.  Jesus was guilty because He was utterly serious about giving up earthly security in the interests of something higher.  Jesus readily and willingly abandoned the kind of visible and tangible things that so many people in His day – and ours – cling to and depend upon.  These concrete assets and securities to which so many people cling were things Jesus freely gave up and in so doing, He pointed us to values far greater than these.  If we want to be followers of Jesus, then we must strive to ensure that our sense of values is kept sharp, that the dividing line between what is of ultimate value and all else that is of only passing worth, is clearly known to us; we must know how we must choose and on which side we take our stand.

You see it’s not enough merely to know what is of value and worth: we have to claim it as our own, we must be willing to go for it.  In these parables of the treasure and the pearl, while one man stumbled upon a treasure, the other found it only at the end of an unrelenting quest.  He believed it was out there somewhere, and he went looking for it.  He committed himself to a crusade.  And when he found it, he sold everything he had in order to have that one precious pearl.

We talking here about effort, about trying, about striving, about giving in order to get, about paying a price in order to receive.  We all know what that’s about.  We all do it.  Indeed there is a lot of it being done in our world – people paying high prices for a lot of things.  Many people pay dearly for what is not worth the cost.  Many people use themselves up in pursuits unworthy of their time and strength and effort.   One of the most tragic commentaries that could be offered up about a person at the end of his or her life is this evaluation: “He – or she – or I – spent everything and ended up with nothing.  It was a bad deal.”  How terribly sad. What a tragic and unnecessary waste.

Each of us eventually becomes used up by what we go for, by that in which we invest ourselves.  No focus in life can be more important than to endeavor to make certain that what we live for is worth the living.  All of us end up in the course of our lives going for something; very few of us do nothing.

Few of us are like the guy who celebrated his 100th birthday.  Amid the festivities, someone asked his wife what she thought about it all.  She snorted and said, “I can’t see what all the fuss is about.  The only thing he ever did in his life was to grow old and it took him a hundred years to do that!”  Since few of us are like that, most of us seek something in life, something worth doing, something worth living for.  So, what is worth doing, what’s worth seeking?  The answer to that question will determine the difference between a life well used and one misspent, abused, and wasted.

Having acknowledged, we need to be aware that the flipside is also true.  A goal that is worthy of the investment of one’s life deserves and demands a commitment that is complete.  Most of us learned to do things like run, jump or swim at some point in our lives.  Not many of us, however, attain the prowess of an Olympic calibre athlete.

In like manner, there is a story told of how, in an autograph signing session backstage after a performance, a renowned pianist was approached by an admiring fan who said, “Maestro, I’d give anything to be able to play like you do.”

The master musician replied, “I bet you wouldn’t give half an hour a day.”

His admirer responded, “I’d give my life if I could play like that.”

And the musician said, “That is precisely what I have given, my life.”

Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure to be found, like a priceless pearl to be sought.  In Matthew 6 Jesus says, “Seek the Kingdom; seek it first.”  But elsewhere in that very same chapter, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”   Somewhere, then, between our seeking and the Kingdom’s coming, we ought to get together with it at length.

I believe Jesus is saying that not only is the Kingdom coming, but that it will come; the Kingdom will come to us – if we are willing to do some coming ourselves, if we are willing to come to terms with IT.  Our Lord doesn’t ram the Kingdom into our lives, or pry open our hearts and our hands that we might receive it.  The Kingdom will not accommodate itself to our shabbiness, our indifference, our hardness of heart.

Rather we must be willing to venture forth in quest for it, moving out from where we are, reaching forward in heart and soul, straining to touch the reaching hand of God, knowing that we who are seekers are also being sought.

In Luke’s gospel, 12: 32 Jesus says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”  God wants us to have it.  He knows we need it.  He knows we’ll enjoy it, once it’s ours.

Have you seen it?  Have you caught a glimpse of the treasure which all the while has been waiting in this field?

You’ve been a seeker all your life.  Some things you’ve found, while others you have not.  Some have satisfied, some have not.  All this time, maybe you have known what it was you’ve been seeking for.  If so, perhaps today, you’ve found it.

Or perhaps, all this time, you’ve not known what it is your thirsting soul has been thirsting for.  If so, perhaps today you’ve discovered what it is.  You can make it yours, you know.  You can possess the Kingdom; you can have for that precious life of yours the very best that God can give.

July 30 2017

Posted on July 30, 2017 in category: Sermons
Tags: , , ,

1 Kings 3: 5-12
Psalms 119: 129-136
Romans 8: 26-39
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

Listen to this Sermon.

About fifteen years ago, my wife Beth Anne, our daughter Beth, and I took a trip to Vancouver as part of our summer vacation.  For Beth Anne and Beth – neither of whom had ever been to the west coast before that trip – it was an opportunity to see some of the sights they had only read about or seen on TV.

Knowing that two weeks would be far too short a time to see as much as we would like to see, planning the agenda was quite the experience, each of us bringing to the table our personal lists of places we’d like to see and things we’d like to do, trying to come to a consensus about what we would see, and what we would have to leave to possibly another trip at some time in the future.

So much to see, so much to do, so little time, how do you choose?  What sights and attractions were worth seeing?  Which were most important to us?  Given time and budget constraints, we had to make some choices, and in so doing, decline the chance to see some sights in favour of others.

Sound familiar?  I’m sure it’s a common experience.  It’s life.  Think about it.  The very process of living our lives means making choices; it involves a lot of trade-off and bartering.  We are forever giving up some things in order to have others; we regularly choose to sacrifice this in order to have, or to do, that.  We do it in our marriages, in the choices we make with regard to our occupations, in matters affecting the raising of our children, in the decisions we make about how to spend our money and our free time; we do it at almost every juncture of life’s journey.  Whatever scenic road we take through life, we do so at the price of denying ourselves the sights and the adventures along other roads we might have taken.  We’d like to believe that what we are getting is worth what we’re giving up, or missing out on.   We want to think that to gain something of importance we are giving up something of less – or no more than equal –  value.  And we hope that whatever we get or choose in life is worth the price we paid.

The price we pay for the things of value to us in this life comes from the resources that we have, the most important of which, actually, is not money.  I’m speaking of a currency of much greater value: time.

Each of us is given a wealth of time measured in days and months and years, a fortune.  After all, what is the money that we have or accumulate except a medium of exchange for our time: so many hours a week at so much an hour in wages or so much per annum as a salary paid to us for working at a job?  Our money is a function of our time, a measure of our lives poured out in fulfilment of some purpose.  We give up the time we work in exchange for money to allow us to purchase something of value to us.   Anything we do with our time, therefore, has a certain value, because we only have a fixed measure of it; a certain – but to us – an unknown amount, ours to use as we choose.

Day by day each of us is using up that resource, till at length, we use it all up, right down to the last moment.  And along with that resource of time we have a finite measure of strength, of energy, of power to act and to do, to make and to create.  And we will spend all of that, too, right down to the last flex of a finger, the final flutter of an eyelid.

What for?  That is the question, isn’t it?  Will what you get be worth the price you have paid?

Jesus understood very well the immense importance of life’s inevitable element of trade-off and barter.  In Matthew 13 – from which was drawn the passage that was our Gospel lesson for this morning – the author records a number of stories told by Jesus, parables about the Kingdom.  In this morning’s parables, Jesus is saying to us that God’s kingdom – the kingdom of heaven – is a goal that is really worth going for.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

[And]  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Jesus is talking here about investment, about putting out something of value in order to possess something of a value greater still.  He is talking about effort, about doing what’s worth doing, about going for what’s worth going for, about seeking what is worth seeking.  The object should be worth the quest, He is saying.  And the object is not treasure or pearls; the object is the Kingdom.  And what is the Kingdom?  The Kingdom is nothing less than the will and rule of God, in our lives and in our world.  The Kingdom – that’s the treasure to be sought, that’s the pearl of great worth.

If you and I are to make good use of the resources of our lives, if we are to expend ourselves wisely, it’s important that we have some sense of value, some notion of what is of genuine worth.

In these parables of Jesus, one man stumbled upon a treasure, but he did realize the value of it when he saw it.  The other man diligently sought out an object of value, a pearl of great worth, knowing what it would be like when he found it.  The point in common between the two stories is this: each individual knew what was of worth; both of them were then able to make some discerning judgments and decisions because of what they knew.  When it comes to the values that impinge upon our human lives, you and I need to cultivate the ability to spot a pearl or a treasure when we see one, and, in like manner to develop an insight for recognizing a fake or a gaudy imitation for what it is.

The consequences of not acquiring these skills are significant.  Indeed, failure to gain such insights and act on them as we make our pilgrimage across the years, is to risk coming upon a treasure and not knowing it, or else becoming obsessed by some ornate bauble that isn’t worth our interest, much less our investment.   It’s important, then, to know – or to be able to find out – if that which we treasure in life if worth treasuring, or even if it’s safe to be treasured.

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, in 1: 9 “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best . . . .”    “So that you may be able to discern what is best.”   The original Greek might also be read “that your love may be more and more rich in knowledge and all manner of insight, enabling you to have a sense of what is vital,” or “that you may learn to prize what is of value.”  The apostle Paul’s concern in one we would do well to share.

You’ve no doubt heard the saying about the need to put “first things first.”  The challenge, however, is in understanding or deciding or discerning what “first things” are, or what ought to be first.

Recall when Jesus was brought before Pilate, Jesus’ accusers levelled all manner of charges against Him.  Only one, however, was valid: “this man puts God before Caesar,” they said.  In the days of Jesus, Rome considered that a crime.  Well, if so, Jesus was guilty.  Jesus was guilty because He was utterly serious about giving up earthly security in the interests of something higher.  Jesus readily and willingly abandoned the kind of visible and tangible things that so many people in His day – and ours – cling to and depend upon.  These concrete assets and securities to which so many people cling were things Jesus freely gave up and in so doing, He pointed us to values far greater than these.  If we want to be followers of Jesus, then we must strive to ensure that our sense of values is kept sharp, that the dividing line between what is of ultimate value and all else that is of only passing worth, is clearly known to us; we must know how we must choose and on which side we take our stand.

You see it’s not enough merely to know what is of value and worth: we have to claim it as our own, we must be willing to go for it.  In these parables of the treasure and the pearl, while one man stumbled upon a treasure, the other found it only at the end of an unrelenting quest.  He believed it was out there somewhere, and he went looking for it.  He committed himself to a crusade.  And when he found it, he sold everything he had in order to have that one precious pearl.

We talking here about effort, about trying, about striving, about giving in order to get, about paying a price in order to receive.  We all know what that’s about.  We all do it.  Indeed there is a lot of it being done in our world – people paying high prices for a lot of things.  Many people pay dearly for what is not worth the cost.  Many people use themselves up in pursuits unworthy of their time and strength and effort.   One of the most tragic commentaries that could be offered up about a person at the end of his or her life is this evaluation: “He – or she – or I – spent everything and ended up with nothing.  It was a bad deal.”  How terribly sad. What a tragic and unnecessary waste.

Each of us eventually becomes used up by what we go for, by that in which we invest ourselves.  No focus in life can be more important than to endeavor to make certain that what we live for is worth the living.  All of us end up in the course of our lives going for something; very few of us do nothing.

Few of us are like the guy who celebrated his 100th birthday.  Amid the festivities, someone asked his wife what she thought about it all.  She snorted and said, “I can’t see what all the fuss is about.  The only thing he ever did in his life was to grow old and it took him a hundred years to do that!”  Since few of us are like that, most of us seek something in life, something worth doing, something worth living for.  So, what is worth doing, what’s worth seeking?  The answer to that question will determine the difference between a life well used and one misspent, abused, and wasted.

Having acknowledged, we need to be aware that the flipside is also true.  A goal that is worthy of the investment of one’s life deserves and demands a commitment that is complete.  Most of us learned to do things like run, jump or swim at some point in our lives.  Not many of us, however, attain the prowess of an Olympic calibre athlete.

In like manner, there is a story told of how, in an autograph signing session backstage after a performance, a renowned pianist was approached by an admiring fan who said, “Maestro, I’d give anything to be able to play like you do.”

The master musician replied, “I bet you wouldn’t give half an hour a day.”

His admirer responded, “I’d give my life if I could play like that.”

And the musician said, “That is precisely what I have given, my life.”

Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure to be found, like a priceless pearl to be sought.  In Matthew 6 Jesus says, “Seek the Kingdom; seek it first.”  But elsewhere in that very same chapter, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”   Somewhere, then, between our seeking and the Kingdom’s coming, we ought to get together with it at length.

I believe Jesus is saying that not only is the Kingdom coming, but that it will come; the Kingdom will come to us – if we are willing to do some coming ourselves, if we are willing to come to terms with IT.  Our Lord doesn’t ram the Kingdom into our lives, or pry open our hearts and our hands that we might receive it.  The Kingdom will not accommodate itself to our shabbiness, our indifference, our hardness of heart.

Rather we must be willing to venture forth in quest for it, moving out from where we are, reaching forward in heart and soul, straining to touch the reaching hand of God, knowing that we who are seekers are also being sought.

In Luke’s gospel, 12: 32 Jesus says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”  God wants us to have it.  He knows we need it.  He knows we’ll enjoy it, once it’s ours.

Have you seen it?  Have you caught a glimpse of the treasure which all the while has been waiting in this field?

You’ve been a seeker all your life.  Some things you’ve found, while others you have not.  Some have satisfied, some have not.  All this time, maybe you have known what it was you’ve been seeking for.  If so, perhaps today, you’ve found it.

Or perhaps, all this time, you’ve not known what it is your thirsting soul has been thirsting for.  If so, perhaps today you’ve discovered what it is.  You can make it yours, you know.  You can possess the Kingdom; you can have for that precious life of yours the very best that God can give.

July 23 21017

Posted on July 24, 2017 in category: Sermons
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Genesis 28:  10-22
Psalm 139:  1-12, 23-24
Colossians 3:  1-17
Matthew 28:  16-20

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No doubt you are aware of the invitational sign on the outside west wall of this sanctuary, which reads, “Come and Worship with Friendly Presbyterians.”  Maybe too, you recall those who have asked, “are there unfriendly Presbyterians?”… to which the people of St. Andrew’s reply, “yes, but not us!!”

A few years ago in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, we saw a sign on an Anglican church which read, “Two services, 9 and 11 a.m. each Sunday, ample parking, a children’s program, free coffee…the rest is up to you!”

These messages got me thinking about how to extend a public invitation to any and all who might just be keeping an open mind about the loving presence of a good and gracious God-one in whom they could confidently place their trust.  Might they also be hoping to find a fellowship of faithful, caring and welcoming disciples of Jesus, with whom they could discover or re-cover a fulfilling sense of belonging?

In the declaration and welcome greeting to Kendrick Adomako Boateng this morning, I believe we have been given a very promising platform.

“Come grow with us into Christ who is our head.”

Come grow with us into YOUR  baptism and into OUR baptism – the baptism that we share with ALL Christ’s disciples everywhere.

Such an invitation would imply that we are a community of Christ still growing in a deepening relationship with Him and that we know where we are headed since we se3ek to live in a relationship with Jesus – whom we affirm as the way, the truth, and the life of our lives.

Today, as we celebrated the sacrament of baptism, the invitation to “Come Grow With Us” is extended to Kendrick, a newly baptized child of God, just three months and a few days old.

Long before he can even understand what has taken place here, he has been invited to come journey with his parents and all of us as we grow forward into the baptism we share and mature together n faith, in hope and in love.

Can this invitation be a model for a wider, more inclusive and very public invitation to the watching, waiting world around us?

Consider the passers-by who may think, “I wonder what kind of congregation this one is?”…or the Sunday-shopping visitors who are looking for a church home that is genuinely loving and receptive to all.  How about those who WERE baptized as infants or as youngsters or as teenagers but who never really followed through nor grew into their baptism?  Might some of them be prompted to re-affirm their baptism…responding to Christ’s invitation?  Are there friends and neighbours we consider inviting?

Come to me,

All you who labour ad are heavily burdened,

And I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you,

And learn from me:

For I am gentle and lowly in heart,

And you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy,

And my burden light.”

(Matthew 11:  28-30)

What sort of invitation is this?  It’s an invitation to enter into a lively and enduring relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘through whom God has come to us and through whom we come to God.”

It is an invitation to enter a new and life-giving realm of existence we experience as the Kingdom of God.  It is an invitation to be re-born as a child of God-  not a child of privilege, but a child of blessing, a child of  promise, one bearing the sign of God’s gracious favour.

Baptism then, is a “gift from God”, received in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ – a gift that signals, ‘the beginning of a new life in the world where ethical, social and political decisions are made in the light of our response to God in Christ’ – in other words, our acceptance of God’s acceptance of us.

Cleansed, forgiven, healed and reborn, we begin to grow in grace – as we are nurtured by parents, family, friends, by mentors in the faith, by those who model discipleship transparently until we mature in the ways of Jesus and live together as the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers, becoming a blessing to the neighbourhood and to the world.

Day by day, week by week, through worship together, nourished by sacraments – of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, by prayer, the study of scripture, rejoicing in the gifts of the Spirit given to us to share with one another to build up this fellowship, we grow!!

Listen again to Colossians 3: 12 for this portrait of Christian maturity.  ‘United to Christ, participating in his reforming death and resurrection, your new life is secure in God, so now clothe yourselves in the new self that knows no barriers of nationality or social status or gender but as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Bear with one another with you have disagreements and be ready to forgive one another if things boil over.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.

It’s like a Christian Manifesto for the Church as the Beatitudes of Jesus are for the life of discipleship.

The Book of Common Worship for Presbyterian Churches in the USA, in its section on the re-affirmation of one’s Baptism,

The Call of Christ is to willing, dedicated discipleship.

Our Discipleship is a manifestation of the new life

Into which we enter through Baptism.

It is possible because in Jesus Christ

we have been set free from the bondage of sin and death.

Discipleship is both a gift and a commitment,

an offering and a responsibility.

It is marked by change, growth and deepened commitment.

It is lived out of a renewing sense of God’s calling to us,

and of God’s claim upon us made in our baptism.

(BCW, PCC, USA, p. 479-8)

-a significant deepening of personal commitment

-answering a call to a particular ministry

-marking an occasion of growth in faith.

All are opportunities to re-affirm the baptismal covenant into which we have been born and grown more nature in faith, hope and love through the Spirit of Christ in us.

Just last month we met a couple who live close to san Francisco and who are actively involved in their local congregation’s ministry, she directed the children and youth ministry there.  For the past several years they have travelled each summer to work in a tiny village in Yugoslavia which their congregation is totally rebuilding.

This is not “fake new”, or “alternative facts”, but Good News of the Gospel of Jesus building the Kingdom of God from the ground up.

There is so much Good News of Kingdom building energy and passion, compassion and celebration:  Our New Presbyterian Church Quarterly Newspaper is full of such wonderful and compelling news…

From a report on the National Presbyterian Women’s Gathering, “Rooted in Love”, in Richmond Hill, Ont. May 19-22.

“The event created many opportunities for recounting stories for bringing women together to share what God is doing in their lives and in the world.  Participants listened to the testimonies of three women relaying how they have experienced God’s love in the community of the local church and in the Gathering said, “We are called to testimony, which is merely to tell our stories, to share our love of Jesus and how Jesus has transformed our lives.”  (p. 18)

Vivian Ketchum, a First Nations woman from Northern Ontario, originally and currently a member of ‘Place of Hope PC’ in Winnipeg tells about the pathos of far too many vigils for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.  (p. 16)

Christopher Fischer, a pastoral musician at Knox Church in Guelph states, “I have come to know the transformative power of music as a sign of God’s loving and abiding presence in the church.”  (p. 16)

Alexandra Belaskie describes a mentoring ministry the PCC shares in partnership with the UCC in guiding the way for social ministries to ‘share the common purpose of putting Jesus’ message of caring for our neighbours especially those who are marginalized, into action.’

Finally, in the “just wondering” column someone asks, “I was just wondering…I wasn’t baptized.  Can I still join a Presbyterian Church?

The reply by someone who as a child kicked and screamed through his own baptism said, “Some of the most moving celebrations in the life of a congregation happen when adults stand in the company of God’s people, trickling with baptismal water while declaring faith in the Triune God.”….AND, the advice columnist added as a footnote, “with adults you can almost guarantee there won’t be any kicking or screaming!”  (p. 18)

Couldn’t you or I tell an amazing story of that time in our lives, a time when we least expected it, the light of God’s loving presence in Jesus finally dawned on us, and like Jacob in that old story in Genesis, we awakened to faith, exclaiming “Surely the Lord is in the place, and I did not know it!

We do not know who is at the centre of the really Good News and to this very welcome news of God’s amazing love in Jesus we can say to whomsoever will….

“Come, grow with us into the body of Christ who is our head.”

July 16 2017

Posted on July 18, 2017 in category: Sermons
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Genesis 25: 19-34
Psalm 119: 105-112
Romans 8: 1-11
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

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The scripture passages we heard this morning are very rich with meaning. I want to focus my comments on what they tell us about the power that lives in us, and how that power can shape our priorities. The power of the risen Christ is conveyed by the Spirit, infusing our short-term, ‘Now’ world with the long-term, ‘not yet’ world of God’s saved creation.

Let me start with Genesis 25, which Fran read so well for us. Here we have a story of the origin of two nations, Israelites and Edomites, descended from twin brothers. The story of vv. 29 to 34 is the somewhat famous account of how Esau, in a fit of overwhelming hunger, sold his birthright to Jacob for ‘a mess of pottage’, as the KJV had it. So, Esau was willing to give up a long-term, inherited honour, his birthright, to satisfy a short-term if painful desire for food. No doubt Esau was hungry again within the next 12 hours, but his birthright was gone forever.

Now, it makes sense that hungry people think mostly about meeting their short-term need for food. When there’s a famine, there’s not much time and energy to plan for the future. The mothers of South Sudan aren’t thinking about their crying children’s post-secondary education options if not feeding them means their babies soon will die.

The point of Genesis 25 is not for people in desperate need of food, because Esau wasn’t in desperate need of food. His family was wealthy, and if he could have waited a few minutes, he’d have got home and had all the food he wanted. But he didn’t want to wait. He wanted food, he desired food, now. His short-term thinking undermined his long-term interest.

Esau was overwhelmed by ‘now’, and so he lost out on a very important ‘not yet’, his birthright.

Reading this story reminded me of a report in the recent issue of Canadian Geographic magazine about Canadians and waste.  Listen to what it says:

READ FROM MAGAZINE

Why are we so wasteful? Why do we spend money on things that occupy space in our homes for a short time but spend eternity in the landfill?

I think this urge to consume is partly down to our mindset, our way of thinking and our priorities—the things we put first. Consumers tend to put short-term thinking ahead of long-term. Perhaps you’ve heard of the term ‘retail therapy’? I’m feeling badly now, so I’ll go out and buy something to make me feel better now—even if I have to put it on my credit card. Even if it means I won’t be able to afford something I really need later on.

 

The Indigenous people in parts of North America reputedly make important decisions thinking about the previous and the future seven generations—which works out roughly to 150 years. How different would our decisions look if we thought about their 150-year consequences?

It used to be more common for people with European ancestry to think about generations into the future, certainly when it came to buildings. Last month I saw St Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna, most of which was completed 650 years ago. I am skeptical that Mosiac stadium in Regina, which is far, far bigger than any church in this province, will still stand in the year 2777.

By the way, if you want to know what a communities considers holy—its highest priority—take a look at its biggest buildings.

The danger of a short-time mindset—thinking about ‘now’ above all else—seems clear from the explanation of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13: 18-23. The Kingdom of Heaven is like seed thrown by a sower that produces different results, and one reason why the yields are different is the mindset of the people who hear the good news of the Kingdom.

People who fall away because of trouble or persecution are like the seed that fell on rocky soil.

People who let the ‘cares of the world and the lure of wealth’ take priority in their minds produce little for the kingdom.

‘Cares of the world’ here can mean the day-to-day worries of getting to work on time, preparing meals, paying our taxes, staying in touch with our families, trying to look after our health. But ‘cares of the world’ can also mean the things that the world prioritizes—that about which the world cares.

If you want to get an idea about the world’s cares, take a look at the covers of magazines the next time you go to a drug or book store. What do the pictures, what do the stories suggest are the world’s priorities?

The apostle Paul had a particular and powerful way of conceiving of the cares of the world which we read in Romans 8: he calls it The Flesh (Greek sarx).

You might have heard about the ‘sins of the flesh’, a concept that pops up in other of Paul’s letters, and is associated with sexual activity outside the bonds of matrimony. But The Flesh for Paul is far more than sexual sin.

The Flesh for biblical writers meant several things, including the basic stuff of animal life—what separates us from plants and minerals. Flesh is also ‘human being’, what is sometimes called mankind (“for no human being (flesh/sarx) will be justified in his sight,” Romans 3:20 NRSV). Human being is animated flesh—at creation God breathed into Adam’s flesh and gave Adam spirit/life.

Flesh is also human nature, Psalm 78:39: The Lord remembered that we were but flesh.

And connected to this notion for Paul is that flesh is ‘weakened human nature’. Where the NRSV at Rom. 3:8 has ‘the law, weakened by the flesh’, Phillips has it “The law never succeeded in producing righteousness—the failure was always the weakness of human nature’. At versus 5 of Romans 3, Phillips renders sarx as ‘carnal attitude’, which points to a crude but powerful cognate English word: meat.

Carnivores are animals, including most humans, who eat meat. It just so happens that we humans are also made up of meat—of flesh.

Human nature is ‘meat nature’, it is embodied, limited, incomplete, short-term, mortal.

Flesh is a word that points to the destiny of all meat, of all material life: death.

Finally, flesh for Paul is like a force or a power under which “meat-creatures live,” just like The Market is the force/power under which producers and consumers live, or The Climate is the force/power under which animals and plant live.

Flesh is something that seems abstract and distant but touches our daily lives and is a sense in control of our destiny.

Flesh for the apostle is an Order of Being that is doomed but still powerful; now, these days, Flesh—our meatly existence—seems unassailable, overwhelming. But its time is limited.

Flesh is the dominant reality in the world but not, Paul claims, for Christian people.

For Paul, the opposite, the antithesis, of flesh is Spirit, the spirit of God.

The spirit—the Greek word is pneuma, which can also means air—is definitely in the world, and since Christ’s death and resurrection, the Spirit is in believers. The coming of the Spirit heralds a new age in world history, and a new age in the story of God’s people.

The Spirit is power for living in the new age—the new reality—power for living a new kind of life: power for re-arranging our priorities. Life that is animated, empowered, by the Kingdom of Heaven. What we pray for everything we pray the Lord’s prayer—thy Kingdom come—we pray for what is coming (not yet) which has already partly arrived now in the life and death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Listen again to vv. 9 and 10 of Romans 8: But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” And then verse 10: But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

The key here is that life in the Spirit is the opposite of life in the flesh. Not because spirit is good and flesh is bad, but the power that drives life in the two orders of being is different. It’s like the difference between an electric car and a diesel car: one form of power and movement has a future—the other one does not.

The Spirit of God is like electricity for Paul: this Spirit is like a power-source that conveys energy, that enables movement and that makes something from nothing.

Put another way, the Spirit of God infuses the not-yet, future, long-term world, God’s redeemed world, into the now, mortal, short-term world (repeat).

Listen again to verse 11: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Which means, we don’t have to figure it all out on our own. We are not condemned to live under the cares of world.

A Spirit-infused life can see through the cares of world to the cares of the Kingdom of God.

A Spirit-infused life can see through the priorities of world to the priorities of the Kingdom of God.

A Spirit-infused life breaks through from the trap of short term versus long-term thinking.

Often we are stuck when it comes to setting our priorities: do we value the short-term gain at the cost of long-term pain, or vice versa? Let go back to environment again. Most of us want to ‘save the planet’ and pass it on clean and sustainable to future generations—a long term care. And most of us want people to have jobs and for our economy to grow—a short to medium term care. So, how do we, especially in Canada with its dependence on natural resource extraction, how do we reconcile our long term with our short term priorities?

Let me tell you the story of ERS—Edmonton recycling society. Back in the early 1980s, Dave Hubert of Edmonton was convinced that the church needed to show more concern for the earth—after all, John 3:16 says that ‘God so loved the world (literally, kosmos) that he gave his only begotten Son’. Dave also had two intellectually challenged children who he knew would struggle to find employment.

Dave worked hard to convince Edmonton officials to introduce curb-side recycling. The ERS began collecting, processing and selling recyclables in the late 1980s. By 1995 the ERS, which made a point of people with disabilities, was hailed in a report for “showing that economic activities that build and strengthen the community by preserving or enhancing the natural resource base, by providing meaningful employment of individuals, and by earning a competitive rate of return, can result in sustainable development and sustainable employment” (C. Guenther, Making Waves, spring 1995).

On an individual or family-level, a Spirit infused life can break through mental traps set by the care of this world—thinking that ‘now’ is forever.

The Spirit is the power that reminds us in the depths of depression, of crisis, of a dilemma, that now is not forever, that no matter how we feel today, or how we felt yesterday, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”

Those of us whose ‘now’ is mostly fine and good, we have a responsibility to bring a bit of the ‘not yet’ into the lives of people whose ‘now’ feels bleak, weak, and even hopeless.

I’ll end with one last story. Rachel was an English prof at a small liberal arts college. In 1991 that college underwent a massive upheaval and lost a huge chunk of funding. One day in the autumn, Rachel and two of her colleagues were invited to meet the President. They learned that their jobs would be eliminated at the end of the academic year.

Rachel was deeply, deeply troubled. A female academic in her 50s, the future did not look bright. Rachel was also very hurt at how the college administration treated her—after decades of service, she was heading out the door.

So it was with a very heavy heart that Rachel attended the college’s annual student-faculty Christmas banquet in early December. She entered the banqueting hall alone, looked around furtively, scoping out the available tables for an empty spot. And then suddenly up walked a young woman, a student named Sarah. Sarah invited Rachel to sit at her table with her boyfriend and a few other people. Rachel accepted the invitation with deep gratitude.

Later that school year, Rachel told Sarah that when Sarah came up to her in the banquet hall, it felt as those Jesus himself had asked her to sit with him.

A small thing, really, inviting someone to sit with you at a banquet. But really also a big thing, a very big thing. An invitation that reminded Rachel that she was God’s child, that she was worthwhile, that she had a place at the table of God’s Kingdom—that her terrible, uncertain ‘now’ was not forever.

The Spirit of God is power for us to live as though ‘not yet’ was already now.

You are not ‘in the flesh’, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.

So set your mind on the Spirit, and make not yet part of now.

July 9, 2017

Posted on July 9, 2017 in category: Sermons
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Zechariah 9: 9-12
Psalm 145: 8-16
Romans 7: 15-25
Matthew 11: 25-30

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“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

These are well loved words – perhaps the best known of the promises of Jesus.  I want to look at them with you today – in two parts.

The first part is the words, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

What don’t we here today know about burdens!  Who here hasn’t had to carry some mighty heavy loads?

“Come to me”, Jesus said, “and I will give you rest.”

There was news this week of Volvo’s commitment to phase out internal combustion engines in their vehicles over the next few years in favour of electric motors; the news prompted discussions of the need to ramp up construction of a network of supercharger stations that will facilitate rapid recharging of automobile batteries in order to extend the range of travel for these electric-powered vehicles.

One pundit commented how in the early days of automobiles, it was common for restaurants and gas stations to be built at the top of long hills and went on to explain the reasons why.  It led me to recall how years ago on my first visit to Vancouver Island, I drove with friends along what was known as the Old Island Highway between Victoria and Nanaimo.  There is a gas station and restaurant call the Malahat Chalet, still located at the top of the longest grade on the road between Victoria and Nanaimo.  The paper placemats they used in the restaurant at the time told a little bit about some of the local attractions but also the history of the restaurant.  According to the little historical piece, it had been built there not just for the view – which was breath-taking – but like lots of other similar places throughout the mountainous areas of North America, the location was chosen as a convenience for people who needed to stop and let their overheated car radiators cool down.  People would stop to let their engines cool down, and at the same time, have a rest and take some refreshment for themselves before continuing on their journey.

I thought that bit of information was kind of interesting and I mention it this morning because it seems to me that that is one of the functions of worship for many of us: a time out for rest and refreshment, before resuming the journey of our lives and our Christian walk.

That too is one of the functions of prayer and of Christian fellowship – whether alone in some quiet spot where we come before God each day in personal devotion, or when we gather in our homes, or in the homes of our friends and neighbours, or here at the church – to share in a time of rest and refreshment, the kind of refreshment and rest that we all need so much.

There is nothing quite like coming to God and setting aside our burdens for a while, nothing quite like having our batteries recharged, our radiators cooled down and our spirits lifted.

All of us here, from the youngest to the oldest, know about burdens, the physical, emotional and spiritual burdens we carry with us through the living of our days.   But I pray you all know as well about the rest that is ours when we come before God and refocus on what it is that is truly important in life, the rest the comes when we take a break, when we take time, to reconnect with the One who is our Creator and divine Caregiver.

When Jesus spoke of burdens and of our coming unto Him, He was most certainly talking about those very kinds of burdens, the burdens of care and of anxiety and of labour with which we are all familiar.

But Jesus was also talking about the burdens of religion that some people carry, the burdens that are laid on our backs – sometimes by ourselves and sometimes by others who are like the Pharisees and Scribes – those who insist that “proper” religion involves shouldering the burdens of endless rules and regulations about what we can and cannot do, whether we’re talking about work or life at home or at church.

You know from your reading of the gospels how Jesus broke radically with the religious patterns that had been established by the God-fearing religious authorities of His day.  He ate and drank while others fasted.  He plucked grain and fed His disciples, and even healed the sick and lame on the Sabbath – while others looked on in disapproval.  He rejoiced in God while others prayed solemnly with long faces.  He called God ‘Father’ while others dared not even speak the name of the Lord.

Jesus came to us to lift the heavy burdens of life and of religion from our backs.  He reminds us that the Sabbath is made for us, not we for the Sabbath.  He urges us to know that faith is a thing that is meant to set us free, to set us free to worship God honestly and sincerely and to serve God with real joy and love in our hearts, not just on the Sabbath, but on each and every day in between.

Jesus promises rest from the burdens that we carry, rest from the burdens of legalism and judgment, relief from the weight of anxiety and worry, release from the yoke of unrewarding and endless labour for that which cannot satisfy.

“Come unto me,” said Jesus, all you who are tired, all you who are feeling drained, all you who are feeling empty, all you who are weighed down by disappointment, all you who are weary of the struggles of life and weighed down by your sense of duty and of what is right and wrong, “come unto me, and I will give you rest.”   In other words, the promise of Jesus is this: “I will lift your burden from you, I will cleanse you, I will fill you with real joy and I will establish you in a relationship with God that will give you new life, here and in the world to come.”

That is the first part of what Jesus had to say, of what Jesus promised.  The second part is this: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”

Now that sounds like a contradiction, Jesus promising rest from our burdens in one breath and turning around and speaking of taking up another burden and another yoke in the next.  What we need – we think – is a break, a rest, not simply a replacement of one kind of labour for another.  At least, that’s what worldly logic would dictate.  After all a burden is still a burden, a yoke is still a yoke.

What Jesus was driving at however is that there is no such thing as a burden-free life.  Life will always have burdens, but it seems that there may be some options, some choices, some alternatives when it comes to the question of what kind of burden we will carry.  As a minister, I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the years offering comfort to people struggling with their particular burdens in life: trying to provide for their families, trying to raise their children and guide them so that they grow up healthy and able to walk in a good way, trying to throw off their enslavement to addictions.  I’ve dealt with those who lives were overwhelmed with constant activity and conflict, provided counsel to those weighed down heavily by the burden of dealing with their personal activities and also the activities and the hassles they have with others – their spouses, their children, their parents and their extended families, their bosses and their coworkers, and sometimes even the people they know from church.

One thing I have learned in this is that life’s greatest burden is not always – and indeed, not often – having too much to do and too much to care about.  Some of the happiest folk I know are the busiest and most caring.  Rather the greatest burden we most often have is our constant engagement with the trivial and the unimportant, with the temporary and the passing, with the ultimately uncontrollable and unpredictable.

The issue in life is not if we shall be burdened, but rather with what shall we be burdened.  It is not if we shall be yoked, but to what and with whom we shall be yoked.

Jesus has no interest in freeing us to live life with no challenge and no purpose.  Rather, Jesus is interested in lifting the burdens off our backs that drain us of life, that suck the life out of us, so that He can place another on them that is better suited to us, one that is worth carrying, one that merits our time and energy.  He is interested in removing the harness that we make for ourselves, or that the world makes for us with its constant demands and pressures, so that He can place around our necks His own yoke, His own harness, the yoke, the harness, the burden that brings to us new life, new energy, new joy.  To us, and to others through us.  The promise and the reality is that the burden that Christ has for us, the yoke He offers to us when we come to Him and learn from Him, is an easy burden, one suited to us, one tailored for us.  The promise and the reality is that in wearing His yoke and learning from Him, we will find rest.

A number of years ago, shortly after we moved to Saskatchewan, our family paid a visit to the Western Development Museum here in Saskatoon.  Among the displays showing what life was like for the early European settlers who came here, were some of the tools and utensils commonly used in life on the farm and around the homes of that day.  One interesting item I remember seeing was a yoke – not one worn by a pair of oxen – but a yoke designed for a person to use.  It was carved and shaped in such a way to fit about the shoulders and around the back of the neck.  The tour guide let visitors try it on for size, so to speak, and it was interesting to see how it might fit one person really well, and the next person would find it really uncomfortable.  Those kinds of yokes were apparently designed for carrying buckets of water.  When I tried it on, it was actually quite comfortable; I felt that I could have carried two buckets full of water very easily for a very long distance without a problem.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that the yoke that Jesus puts upon us is an easy one, meaning, one designed for us, individually and personally, so that it doesn’t drag us down, chafe or bind or weary us in the effort of carrying a load to the point of exhaustion.  It is well fitted for us.

Jesus’ promise is not that we shall find an escape from our burdens and labours and efforts and challenges, not that we will be able to get away from it all, but rather that He will refresh our souls when we come into His presence, He will give us renewed strength for the journey, so that when we venture forth with Him into the world again, He will replace the burdens that destroy and exhaust us with a burden and a yoke that will be life affirming and easier to carry.  His promise is that when we come unto Him, when we learn from Him and offer ourselves to Him, He will minister to us and through us, and that He will give strength and hope and joy and peace, and patience and love, that He will give us new life, here and now and in the world to come.

“Come to me” said Jesus, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Amen.

 

July 2, 2017

Posted on July 2, 2017 in category: Sermons
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Psalm 13
Matthew 10: 40-42

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The message I’ve prepared for today is titled, “Learning To Be A Good Guest.”  It could just as well have been titled, “Learning To Be  A Good Host.”  Those two things are inter-connected, like the two sides of a coin, being a “host” and being a “guest” that is.

Being a guest and being a host.  Being received and receiving others. Being welcomed and welcoming others. Those things are tied together in human life, since no one gets to be a guest, until someone else decides they are willing to be a host.

There has been a lot of emphasis in the life of the church on learning to be good hosts.  The Bible says that hospitality is one of the things that make Christians distinctive.  It makes them stand out from others.  Christians are supposed to be willing to welcome anyone and everyone, no matter whom they are or where they come from.

I’m well aware – both from public reputation and from personal experience – how the folks here at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon place a high value on being welcoming.  A lot of effort and energy has gone into learning and then putting into practice the habits of the good host.  This church has tried hard over the years to welcome everyone who comes and I’m glad for that.  It’s been a treat during the time I’ve been in this Presbytery to experience first-hand the genuine sincerity of that welcome and now, to be associated more directly as a temporary shepherd and participant in this congregation’s pastoral leadership and hospitality ministry.

But there is more to hospitality than just being willing to shake someone’s hand on Sunday morning and welcome them to church.  In a community and a world with so much need, the church is coming to realize that its members can’t just sit on their hands when there are people hungry, hurting and in need in our community.

This morning’s gospel reading comes at the tail end of the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel account.  It is a chapter in which Jesus gives his disciples with their marching orders. And the interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus assumes that his disciples are more likely to be guests than hosts. In a very real sense, he is sending them out into the world not so that their hospitality can be assessed, but that the world’s hospitality can be tested.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” is the instruction and the criterion that he leaves to his disciples.  “And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus appears to assume that his followers will be on the receiving end, rather than the offering end, of hospitality.

You could argue that in those days, it could not have been any other way for those first Christians. They were a part of a brand new movement, a tiny, struggling group just getting started.  We, on the other hand, are part of an established church, with a long history.  We’re the ones who have been here a while and it seems only right that we should be the ones to be the hosts, the ones who do the inviting and welcoming, the ones who wait for others to come and see us.  It seems only right that we should be seen to do that job faithfully and well, being warm and gracious in our welcome and making people feel accepted and at home.

But you have to wonder: what’s it like to be on the other side, to be one who comes as the newcomer, the stranger, the one doing the calling, instead of being the ones doing the welcoming?  There are a couple of things that we might do and the first is this: rather than just wonder what it might be like to be on the other side, to be the newcomer and the stranger, we need only try to remember. We’ve all shared that experience, at one time or another.  None of us has been in this church forever; once upon a time each of us came here for the first time, each of us attended a service for the first time, some more recently than others.

So rather than wonder what the experience of a stranger and a newcomer to our church is like from their perspective, I invite you to think back and remember what it was like to come here for the very first time.  What were your first impressions?  What was the reception like?  Were you welcomed, warmly, sincerely?  Did people here – from the greeters and ushers, to the folk in the pew sitting near you or standing nearby during the coffee hour, or the minister – did they speak with you, seek to get to know you? Did they express an interest and a desire to get to know what brought you here that first time, to get a sense of the needs and challenges in your life that you carried with you as you came?

And if you’re having some difficulty remembering back to that occasion, to your first visit to St. Andrew’s, I’m sure there are people here who DO remember, some perhaps that are very recent arrivals.  Which leads me to a second suggestion for plumbing the experience of those who are strangers and newcomers to our congregation: ask them.  Some among us are fairly new to St. Andrew’s, new to Saskatoon, perhaps even new to Canada. Each layer of newcomer experience heightens the challenge of figuring out what to do and how to find a new home in a strange place, how to make this community a place where you feel welcome, a place where you belong.  It’s not entirely your task, your challenge. Those of us that are here have the task of being hosts, being the ones who do the welcoming, being the ones who treat the newcomers and strangers as our guests. We are the ones who are challenged to find out what our guests need to feel at home, to help them experience a sense of welcome and belonging. The simplest, most direct way is to ask.

Some might find that prospect daunting, risky.  “I don’t know how to talk to strangers” some might think.  For some, it might indeed be a stretch, a move outside ones comfort zone.  But it’s about putting yourself in the place of the newcomer, the stranger, and discovering or experiencing what it’s like for them to come to a place and a community for the first time. Understanding what it means to put yourself in the position of having to be a guest is, I believe, one of the best ways to learn how to be a good host.

I wonder then how we might respond, you and I, if this congregation was to begin going door-to-door, inviting ourselves into other people’s homes and lives, and letting them welcome us into their homes and their hearts, and then inviting them to come to our church.  I can guess that most people here would be very uncomfortable, maybe even terrified about the prospect of having to do that.

When you think about it, however, being a host and being a guest are a lot alike: For the simple reason that the offering of true hospitality (in other words, being a host) requires from us the same willingness to be vulnerable that is so much a part of the receiving of true hospitality (in other words, being a guest). We’d like to think there is a difference, and the difference is that when we are playing the role of host, we can delude ourselves with the notion that we are still in control.

On the other hand, when we head out into the world and knock on the doors of a stranger, we know that we have given up control.  We’re not sure what’s going to happen.  But that may not be such a bad thing. If we want to find out – as individuals and as a congregation – what it’s really like to be able to offer genuine hospitality, maybe we need to get reacquainted with how it feels to be on the receiving end of someone else’s hospitality. Maybe we need to learn how it feels to be vulnerable, how it feels to find yourself in a strange place, eagerly looking for warmth and friendliness, but also for a kind of intimacy and a depth of caring that passes even the friendliest of smiles.

Isn’t that what the Gospel is really all about?  We believe in Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God, who was one with God, at home in God’s space, choosing to give up that space and temporarily become a guest among us, among people just like us.  He came so that we might one day become guests forever in God’s space.

That means that one of our primary missions during our time on this earth is to learn how to receive and how to be received; how to welcome and how to be welcomed; how to be a host and how to be a guest. In the process learning how to be vulnerable, we learn how to be open.

We do so that we might become guests worthy of a welcome. We do so that we might become hosts worthy of a visit.

In the name of Jesus, our guest and our host, may it be that way in your life and mine, and in the life of the Church, to His honour and glory.

June 25, 2017

Posted on June 28, 2017 in category: Sermons
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Isaiah 58
Psalm 33
Romans 13:  1-10
Matthew 5:  1-16

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In just a few days, the people of Canada will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation that took place in 1867.  We are poised for a celebration.  Excitement is building.  Nearly everyone is wearing the T-shirt!  It is going to be a great occasion across this nation – from sea to sea to sea!

Chatting with some people from Ottawa we met recently, a woman remarked, with typically Canadian understatement, “I really hope the fireworks, WORK this time”!

My take on our reputation is that Canadians, in spite of considerable achievements and our diversity still do not take ourselves too seriously – eh?

Former CBC broadcaster Peter Gzowski, whose career began in Moose Jaw, kept a sign in his studio that read, “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances!”

Remarkably, Canada is a nation which in its constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms opens with the statement “WHEREAS CANADA IS FOUNDED UPON PRINCIPLES THAT RECOGNIZE THE SUPREMACY OF GOD AND THE RULE OF LAW:  the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out (as follows)…”

Our national motto, “ A mari usque ad mare” is drawn from the phrase in Psalm 72: 8 in which the enthronements of the King of Israel is accompanied by the assurance that he “shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

Until the 1980’s we were known as the Dominion of Canada and July 1st was called “Dominion Day”.  Now simply we say Canada and Canada Day.

Our National anthem, of course, includes the sung petition, “God keep our land glorious and free”  a further acknowledgement of the Divine in national life.

This God, whose supremacy we recognize formally in the Charter is the God of the Scriptures which we share not only among all our Christian sisters and brothers globally but also those Scriptures of the O. T. Which we share with our Jewish neighbours and those early O.T. stories of Abram’s son Ishmael with whom our Muslim neighbours connect.

Surely it’s appropriate then the ponder what it means for us in Canada-especially for people of faith in Canada to acknowledge this relationship with God as revealed in these Scriptures and as worshipped and grounded in our national covenants.

This morning we have read and heard the O.T. prophetic voices of Micah and Isaiah, lest anyone in any nation say they’re unsure of what God expects of faithful people.  The teaching of St. Paul in the N.T. acknowledges that we live within a human structure of governance and that while the Christian has no right to punish anyone, the state does, and must be respected.  This was a common Jewish view of the state even though at the time of writing Nero was emperor in Rome!

The Gospel lesson today sets out the Beatitudes Jesus taught as foundational to the growth and spiritual maturity of all who would be disciples.  Again, this teaching is specific to the attainment of life that is truly happy and fully blessed.  Blessed means literally “the happinesses”.

It is Psalm 33 though, I believe, which provides a clear and inviting window of clarity for us to consider our relationship with the God we name in Constitution, Charter, Anthem, and Scripture.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”.  V. 12

Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise celebrating and proclaiming God as creator and lord of history.  God is known for God’s providential care, protection and foresight in both creation and history.

What’s more is that Psalm 33 is the worshippers’ own witness and testimony of the truth of the providence of God.

Called to worship this God, the people of faith rejoice with praise that is accompanied by loud shouts and stirring string section-like orchestral music.  They are responding to the experience of God’s presence there and then, probably in a Covenant renewal ceremony and affirming what they know of God’s supremacy, faithfulness and steadfast love.  We are blessed to be chosen of God!

and so…the Psalm continues…what evocative images are these.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

And all their host by the breath of his mouth.”  V. 6

“…let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of [God]

For God spoke, and it came to be.

[God] commanded and it stood firm.”  V. 8-9

Not science as today but wonderfully poetic and majestic!

…and then on to the world of politics.  This is interesting.

“Let no nation or assembly of nations ever think they own the place or run the place!  The Lord brings the counsel of nations to nothing.  The Lord rules over the destinies of nations.”  V.10-11

Next – all of us are scrutinized.  You’re being watched by God, very closely!

“Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him on those who hope in his steadfast love.” V. 18

Where is all of this going, we may ask?  It’s going to the very sure and solid foundation of personal and community – wide TRUST in this God.  Whatever may come in life, we may place our wholehearted trust in our providential God, trust that we do not live our lives in vain!

Our well being, our security in life and beyond death, our destiny, depend not upon weapon, armaments, alliances, treaties, not upon wealth, health or power but our well being depends upon the faithfulness of God’s steadfast love toward us and our abiding trust and hope in that love.

We belong to God and nothing will ever take us away from that belonging!

Here and now we may experience the abiding presence of God, especially in worship.  We have the opportunity to recognize the providential care of God in creation and history.  We are invited to establish our trust in God’s proven faithfulness.

In these remarkable ways we are blessed – blissfully happy to be a people, a community of those upon whom the divine favour rests.

Artur Weiser, commenting these verses in Psalms 33, notes as follows:

‘the people of Israel, whose own destiny was so tragically bound up with the policy of the great empires in antiquity, has experienced in their own history the coming and going of these kingdoms and had learned from their own fate…this one lesson; there is only one plan that endures forever, and that is God’s plan.  From this nation emerged that great vision of history which for the first time in the history of the world grasped and expressed the fact that the divine purpose inherent in everything which happens in the world is the meaning of history as a whole.”  (Weiser, p. 292 re: vs. 10-12)

This being so implies the Psalm writer, “Stay rooted in the Blessedness of God.  Stand firmly in the happinesses of God’s steadfast love.

What o people of faith in Canada think as we move towards the 150th anniversary?

How shall we speak and live the truth of God’s providential favour upon us and indeed upon the whole inhabited earth?

Recently, a few Presbyterians were asked to comment on our National Truth and Reconciliation endeavour with our First Nations and Indigenous peoples.

Specifically, they were asked, “Why does Truth and Reconciliation matter to Presbyterians”?

One reply that stood out for me was this.  “Canada is not healed until indigenous peoples are healed.  Building up our nation must recognize that the rest of us need to be healed too.  We’re taking down a wall between us and the Indigenous peoples.  In justice there is hope.”

Global watchers are pointing out to us that:

  1. The CONSENSUS that trade and openness with all nations makes the world richer.
  2. The TOLERANCE that lets millions move in search of opportunities
  3. The IDEAL that people of different hues and faiths CAN get along

…are all under threat these days.  Earlier this week, the UNHCR reported that there are 65 million refugees in our global village, over half of whom are children.

The continuing chaos and crisis in the Middle East especially in the Persian Gulf states has been described by a professor at Qatar University as a situation in which, “there is confusion everywhere now-in Russia, and Europe, in Syria and in the U.S..  We are living in a very interesting moment in the history of the world.  (G&M  June 10/17 p. A-15)

As people of faith in Canada we are not blessed because we are privileged, or special, or better than any others on the planet, we are blessed in order to be a blessing to the many nations including our own.  We have known this from the time of Abraham.

How to deliver that blessing – the truth of God’s word, the faithfulness of God’s actions and the assurance that what God promises, God will surely keep, is or mission – going forward, as we’re fond of saying these days, – our mission of connecting the bigger picture of God’s eternal plan to the daily hopes and dreams, trials and challenges that this and every succeeding generations confronts.

May God sustain us and surprise us in spite of ourselves!

June 4, 2017

Posted in category: Sermons
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Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34
Acts 2:1-21

The story of Pentecost tells about the birth of the church.  It has much to teach us.

First, Luke says, “Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place.”  Anyone who has ever attended a church board meeting (vestry meeting, session meeting, parish council, etc.) knows how amazing that is.  These disciples were all in one place.  They weren’t fighting with each other.  They weren’t insisting on getting their way.  They were all together and were all singing off the same sheet of music.

Then “suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”  Now I know that someone will say, “That must have been when the preacher started preaching.”  We preachers always have to struggle not to sound like a big wind, and sometimes we don’t struggle hard enough.  But on the day of Pentecost, the windy sound was not the preacher.  The wind was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God.

And then it says, “Tongues like fire appeared and were distributed to them, and one sat on each of them.”  “On EACH of them” – that’s significant.

The fire was a sign of God’s presence.  In the Old Testament, God often revealed himself as fire.  When God wanted to get Moses’ attention, he spoke to Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3).

So this fire appeared among the disciples.  The Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem understood that something special was happening, and that it had something to do with God.

And a tongue of fire rested on EACH of the disciples.  That is instructive.  The fire did not descend only on the preacher.  The fire rested on EACH of the disciples.  The previous chapter (Acts 1:15), tells about a hundred and twenty disciples.  Apparently all hundred twenty received a tongue of fire.

The fire, of course, was the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God.  The tongue of fire that rested on the disciples showed that EACH disciple was empowered by the Holy Spirit, empowered by God.

That’s the way it is today too.  In the church today, it isn’t only preachers who must be inspired by God – or elders – or deacons – or Sunday School teachers – or youth leaders.  It’s all of us.  God intends EVERY disciple to do his or her part.  God calls EACH of us to a special calling – calls EACH of us to fill a niche that no one else can fill – calls EACH of us to do special work that no one else can do.  If we sit back and do nothing, our work for Christ will not get done.  It we don’t do our part, we poke a hole in the fabric of heaven.

Herb Miller is a researcher who studies how churches grow.  His research reinforces the idea that EACH of us has something special to contribute – that it’s critically important for all of us to be involved in the work of the church.

  • Miller discovered that churches grow, in large measure, because members invite friends to come to church with them.
  • He found that people are far more likely to visit a church if invited by a friend or neighbour than if invited by the preacher.
  • He found that 70-90% of the people who join any church come through the influence of a friend or relative.
  • He found that, when people visit a church, the most effective way to get them to come again is to have a layperson make a short visit to their home within 36 hours. The purpose of the visit is simply to acknowledge the visitors, to make them feel welcome, and to answer any questions that they might have.
  • Miller found out that having a layperson make the visit was twice as effective as having the pastor do it.  If the pastor made the visit, only 40% of the people would come to church again.  However, if a layperson made the visit, 85% would return (Herb Miller, How to Build a Magnetic Church, Abingdon Press).

But to have a program like that, it’s important to have lots of church members involved.  That makes it possible to assign appropriate people to make the visits – for  instance, to assign a woman to visit a woman visitor.

It shouldn’t be difficult to get lots of church members involved, because God has called EACH of us to do some sort of special work.  If we all respond to the call to which we have been called, the church won’t have trouble finding people to visit visitors.

  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to teach Sunday school.
  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to sing in the choir.
  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to lead small groups.
  • The church won’t have trouble finding people to sponsor youth groups.

If EACH of us responds to the call that God extends to us, the church will be able to do everything that it needs to do.  We will have a dynamic, vital church that will change people’s lives.  It will be a growing church – an exciting church – a  wonderful place to worship and a wonderful place to serve.

But it’s tempting not to do that.  It is tempting to come to church only when we feel like it.  It is tempting to sit in the pew – and to sing the hymns – and to walk out the door – and to let that be the end of it.  It is tempting not to get involved – not to do any work for Christ – not to give any service.  But, if we do that, the work to which God has called us will remain undone.

That happens in churches all too often, and it’s tragic.  There are so many things that the church could do that remain undone, because there is nobody to do them.

That is not just a problem for the church.  It is a problem for us, too.  If Christ calls EACH of us to a particular service – and you can be sure that he does – it isn’t only the church that is diminished if we fail to serve.  We are diminished too.  We grow as Christians, in part, by rendering service to Christ.  If we go through life ignoring Christ’s call to service, we doom ourselves to living stunted, shrivelled lives.  Our service to Christ is a kind of spiritual food that feeds us.  It is a kind of spiritual exercise that makes us strong.  We need to do the work to which Christ has called us:  for Christ’s sake – for the church’s sake – for the sake of those whom we serve – and for our own sake as well.

On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples – all one hundred twenty of them – were all together in one place.  None were missing, except Judas.  EACH of them received the fire – the Holy Spirit.  EACH of them began to proclaim Christ.

And then, at the appropriate time, they all stood back to let Peter preach.  And at the conclusion of Peter’s sermon, three thousand people were baptized.  Three thousand!

I can’t promise that we will baptize three thousand people here today if we all answer the call that Christ gives us.  But I can promise that it will revitalize this church if we will all do our part.

I have heard people say that most of us use only about 10% of our brainpower.  They say that, if we could only harness our full potential, the sky would be the limit.  I have always wondered how they determined that.  I think that I am using more than 10% of my brainpower.  But I know that I could be better organized – could work more efficiently.

And I also know that there are many people who never come close to their potential:

  • I’m thinking of kids growing up in ghettos, hanging out on street corners, scoring drugs, drifting through life.
  • I’m thinking of people in Third World countries who have never had a chance to go to school.
  • But I’m also thinking of kids in affluent neighbourhoods – and adults too – who spend several hours a day watching television, or playing video games, or surfing the web.

While I’m not sure that the 10% figure is right, I’m sure that many people don’t come close to their potential.  I wonder what the world would look like if we could get the kids off the street corners and into schools; if we could get people to watch less television and to read more books.  I think that the world would be a better place if people who are wasting their lives would come a little closer to their potential.

And so it is, too, with the church.  What would the church look like if EACH of us lived up to our spiritual potential – if EACH ONE of us would perform the service to which Christ has called us.  If we would do that, we would transform this church.  We would make a big difference to our neighbourhood or town.  We would make a difference to our world.

On the first Pentecost, one hundred twenty disciples gathered together in Jerusalem, and God gave EACH of them a tongue of fire – filled EACH ONE of them with the Holy Spirit.  Empowered by the Spirit, those few people lit a fire under the world – lit a fire for Christ.  Those few people changed the world.

We are the keepers of the flame today.  Pray for Christ to show how you can help.  Then stand up – get involved – do your part – answer your call – and expect to see the power of God working through your life. AMEN.

June 18, 2017

Posted on June 20, 2017 in category: Sermons
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Romans 5: 1-8
Psalm 116:  1-2, 12-19
Matthew 9: 35 – 10:8

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Today is Aboriginal Sunday. It is a day set aside to bring First Nations and Metis and Inuit peoples and the Church together to engage in things that will further the road to healing and reconciliation. And so I would like to begin by acknowledging that we have come together to meet and worship on the territory of the Treaty Six First Nations of this land. But let me also say that in the last 25 years that I have spent in my ministry in Saskatoon, that I have never experienced a more supportive and understanding bunch of people like I have in this Presbytery. This Presbytery does not have a lot of wealth but they give all that they can and when I want to do something that is related to Native culture or Native ceremonies, the Presbytery supports me and they are more than willing to take part in whatever way they can. God bless you for that.

Now let me get on with our message for today: Jesus’ ministry and mission was shifting into high gear. Matthew reports that Jesus had gone about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues. But he had not just been preaching the gospel of the kingdom. It seems that Jesus had compassion on the crowd because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew reports that Jesus cured every disease and sickness he encountered.

Our Lord was clearly trying to make a point about his own mission and that of his followers with these deeds. He called the disciples together after claiming that he needed laborers to bring about a harvest he had planned. And then Jesus gave the twelve authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and sickness. He did not say a word about preaching and saving souls at this point.

 

In chapter 10, Jesus gives similar instructions, and again the focus is caring for those in need. He does get around to telling the disciples to preach the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. But they are to cure the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse the lepers. This is the essence of mission, and at least in these verses, Jesus wants it done close to home, not to be targeting Gentiles or even those Samaritans, but only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

One of Matthew’s main concerns, it has been noted, is because the earthly Christ and the heavenly Christ are one, time is blurred with the approaching end of the world. As a result, it follows that what Matthew reports is intended to paint a picture of our day. Jesus’ word in the gospel was addressed to Matthew’s contemporaries long after the resurrection, just as it is addressed to us. “Expect persecution,” Matthew’s version of Jesus says. “ It won’t be so easy carrying out the mission I have for you. But it is urgent.

Don’t dawdle! For the end of all time is coming. ” Mission is a challenge, but let’s get to it! It is urgent!

The church, if it is to be the church, must be all about mission. A Swiss Reformed Christian named Karl Barth, has written, “The church is either a missionary church, or it is no church at all.”

Mission is important, but what is it? The first reaction of most Christians is to think in terms of foreign missions. Mission involves evangelism. It is interesting that the most popular presentations of the faith today also tend to perpetuate this understanding. Best-selling author and megachurch pastor, Rick Warren, sees mission mostly in this way. Though to his credit of late, he has begun to immerse himself in a mission to help

in a struggle against the AIDS Crisis in Africa, in his best-selling book on purpose-driven living. Warren never expressly talks about mission to the poor, sick, and oppressed that Jesus urges here. That is a very problematic omission given the great impact his book had and is still having on Christians.

Today’s gospel lesson account corrects this view of mission so prevalent in many parts of the church. Mission is not about traipsing off to foreign lands. Start where you are at is a core message. That’s why Matthew has Jesus instruct the twelve to go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Of course, Jesus did not preclude a witness to the Gentiles. He sees it happening in the course of the mission to the Hebrews. We may learn from Jesus’ instruction in our gospel that mission happens right here in our community, that when missionary activity brings us to foreign shores it needs to happen

as an outgrowth of what is happening right here. The real missionaries are not just those in Africa, Asia, and South America. You and I are missionaries right here in this community when we are doing mission as Jesus wants it done!

The Gospel lesson also makes it clear that mission is not just preaching. Very little of Jesus’ instructions were about preaching and evangelism. The special bias that God has for the poor and hurting is obvious in Jesus’ instructions.

Jim Wallis, a well-known evangelical political activist, wrote a best-selling book titled God’s Politics, which pointed out that there are several thousand verses of the Bible which deal with the poor and God’s response to injustice. One of every sixteen verses in the New Testament, he contended, is about the poor. In view of the weight

that the Bible gives this theme, I wonder why we don’t have more focus on addressing poverty in Canadian Christianity? I wonder why more talk about this mission is not incorporated in discussions of our purpose. We tend to get more concerned about abortion and other issues rather than poverty and injustice. We have also become more preoccupied with wealth (with attaining prosperity ) than with poverty.

Poverty is all around us. Rental rates are going sky high and the cost of food and clothing is outrageous. The city says our economy is booming. But it is only booming for the wealthy and the get-rich-quick. They should look under the bridges at night to see where this booming economy is driving our families. I wish the mayor could spend one night under the bridge and spend one day without a shower and spend his days digging in dumpsters and lining up to get his plate of food at the Friendship Inn. On many days he would find that when lunch is over at the Friendship Inn, he would still be hungry. When you walk the streets and sleep under all that fresh air, you tend to build up quite an appetite. Sometimes the homeless people who drop in at SNCM will tell us that they have been walking all night trying to stay warm.

The number of people who suffer from poverty and depression and addiction is growing every day. Our missions cannot keep up to the demand for more food and used clothing and the funding that is necessary to stay in operation. My people need education and good housing and employment and spiritual counseling and support. And I know that we are tired of hearing about the effects of the era of Residential schools and how that has left us in a state of chaos and ruin. But children were forcibly removed from their communities and families when the schools were in operation and children

were abused in the schools. So, picture yourself as a small child being told to get into the back of a farmer’s truck that has wooden rails and being taken away from your parents to a place that seems cold and frightening and not knowing that you would not see your parents again for at least ten months. And when you arrived at the school, your beautiful long braided hair would be cut off and you would have to wear a stiff uncomfortable uniform and you would be strapped or worse every time you tried to speak your own language. And then told that your culture and ceremonies were evil and primitive and savage. And then when you finally get to go home, you feel like an outcast because you have begun to forget your own language and you start to feel like you don’t fit in anywhere!

I know that would make me feel pretty angry and maybe even cause some hatred to rear its ugly head. The schools were a big mistake! They never should have happened, period! But I heard a wise saying when I attended a drama play recently. The play was called “Reigniting the Spirit.” My daughter invited me to that play because it was very well done and because my daughter had a role in that play. One of the Elders in the play was talking about the mistakes we make and about some of the hurts we experience in this life. He said, “You can’t go back and it’s not healthy to stay where you are, it’s no good to stay where you are. You have to go forward.” I think it is time to go forward. And the church and my people have to go forward together. And those of us who are healthier than the street people, we have to work together to help those people to get back on a good road that is filled with all kinds of blessings.

 

Jesus’ words in our lesson even provide us with clear and ambiguous evidence for why Christian mission must include, indeed must prioritize, concern for the poor and the outcast, and why that mission is so wonderful. In chapter 10, after urging the twelve to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, Jesus talks about giving away freely to those in need just as the disciples received without payment. Since all that you and I have is given freely by God, it is just logical to engage in a lifestyle of giving away what was never ours.

The love of God begets love. How can you and I be so stingy with it since God is so generous? If Christian mission were a matter of something that you and I had to do, it would never get done. One of the reasons we have so few takers is because we are not making it clear that this is not our work. John Calvin offered a penetrating observation in response to Jesus’ remarks about the disciples receiving freely in order to give freely. He eloquently described the dynamics which make it so difficult to try to alleviate poverty as a mission of Christ. He says, “We know how unwilling every man is to communicate to others what he considers to belong to himself, and how anyone who excels the rest of the brethren is apt to despise them all”

The point is that you and I do not want to see what we have as belonging to God, as belonging to the hotel in which we are staying. What I have is mine! And since you and I have more than the poor, there is a subtle despising and patronizing we feel toward them, even as we undertake or contribute to some project on their behalf. That’s

what charity is; it is not mission. Charity is selfish love. It is selfish because it is giving to the poor on our own terms, giving them what you and I think is really ours. As a mission,

it is very difficult to work with designated funds! I find that people want to control how the money is used when they give to missions. It is difficult to see that paying the rent is just as important to the mission as feeding the five thousand every year. If we don’t pay the bills, we will have nowhere that the people can drop in and have a coffee and a sandwich.

The French scholar, Alain de Botton, has done a nice job of explaining how contemporary society impedes our generosity. Botton points out how we are driven to succeed in order to attain status in society. We are likely to have anxiety if we do not conform to the ideals of success laid down by society. In our context, where the accumulation of money counts for so much, there are all kinds of reasons not to give the impoverished and others in need too much. Not only will it result in less wealth, but the less wealthy I am, the less successful I will seem to be or feel.

How can we get out of this mess? Botton contends that because self-esteem is a matter of both success and pretensions for expectations, what needs to happen when you experience status anxiety is to change your expectations. In this instance, we need to challenge our society’s expectations that you really are not somebody unless you have a fortune. Personally, though, I do not think that you and I have enough spirit on our own to make that happen.

The good news this day and every day is that we Christians have been changed, have a different set of expectations which allow us to challenge society’s expectations

of us. It’s like our Bible says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts (through the Holy Spirit, given to us in salvation by grace.” Rom.5:5. Our gospel lesson echoes this

point when Jesus says to the disciples that what they have is from him and that when they face the harshest challenge imaginable, the Holy Spirit will speak for them. You are not the same anymore, not like what society expects. That is why mission comes easy, and it is a wonderful opportunity. There is a security that makes mission possible. That is the security and confidence everyone needs in order to do mission.

Doing the works of mission is no burden for Christians. Undertaking a mission to the poor and the needy is not a burden for those of us caught up in God’s love in Christ and the Holy Spirit. We are no longer burdened by the dynamics Botton describes, the hesitancy about sharing what we think belongs to us, because now we have in Christ the assurance that we are already valuable. As a result, you and I no longer need all those commodities to prove anything. We no longer need to do good deeds to prove ourselves and others that we are religious.

Get focused on Jesus. Be overwhelmed by God’s love, when you get inspired by his compelling love to focus on the opportunities for mission, right here in our community, out there in the streets, in jails, and hospitals, and you will begin to experience for yourself how wonderful and how much fun doing mission really is. Get focused on Jesus and the rest will happen by his grace. Amen.

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