October 30, 2022.

Message for October 30, 2022

John 3:14-17


One of my favourite TV shows is the American version of “The Office”, and as I thought about what to say here this morning I thought of one episode in particular.  It is the one entitled “Goodbye Michael”.  Michael was the manager of a sales office and he had fallen in love with a woman named Holly.  She had moved out of state to Colorado and Michael had decided to join her there.

It was the day before his last day in the office and Michael obviously had mixed feelings.  On the one hand it was his idea to leave, and he was looking forward to his new life with Holly.  On the other hand, he was leaving both the job and the people whom he loved.  The women in the office were busy planning his goodbye party scheduled for the next day and as they did so, Michael wandered around and made a point of speaking to all of the employees.  No one took any note of this except for one salesman, Jim.  Quietly Jim asked Michael if he was going to be back the next day.  Michael’s answer was to say ‘no’, and that he was flying out that evening; the prospect of his last day there and saying goodbye to everyone was just too painful for him.

I must admit that in a way, this appealed to me.  Rather than a ‘last’ service, I would have simply led the worship services last Sunday as I normally do, greeted at the door, and then that would have been it with no one any the wiser.  To have done that of course would have been unfair to everyone including myself and so here I am.  But what am I supposed to say to you on this, my last Sunday as your minister after thirty-three years?

As I thought about this during the past three months, I kept coming back to one of my favourite stories.  It is based on a sermon that was first preached back in the Middle Ages, though I have substantially changed it.  I hope and pray that it captures what the gospel, and my ministry with you have been all about.  I call it “The Farmer who went to Heaven”.


Once upon a time there was a farmer named Pierre.  Pierre lived a long life, and then he died.  The good news was that when he died there wasn’t a devil waiting to carry him off to hell; the not-so-good news though was that there wasn’t an angel waiting to carry him up to heaven either.  Off in the distance he saw an angel carrying a ransomed soul off to paradise and so he decided to follow them.

When Pierre arrived at the gates of heaven, he discovered that they were shut and locked.  He knocked on the gates and after a moment St. Peter came and opened them.

“Who are you and what do you want?”, Peter asked.

“My name is Pierre and I want to come in.”, Pierre replied.

“Well, you can’t because heaven is not for people the likes of you.  Now go away and leave us alone!”

“But what are you doing here?”, Pierre asked.

“What do you mean, ‘what am I doing here’?  I am St. Peter!”

“I know who you are”, said Pierre.  “I know that you were the right-hand man of Jesus and the rock upon which Christ said that he would build his church.  You were a great missionary too and you even died for the faith when you were crucified upside down in Rome.   I also know though that you were the one who, on that first Good Friday, bragged about how you would never desert Jesus in his time of need.  After Jesus’ arrest though, you denied knowing him not once, not twice, but three times!  I have never denied knowing Jesus and so I have as much right to be in heaven as you do, so let me in!”

Well, Peter was so embarrassed at being reminded about how he had behaved on that first Good Friday that he slammed the door shut and went off to tell his good friend, St. Thomas, about this farmer at the gate demanding entrance.  Thomas listened to Peter and then told him that he would deal with this farmer who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  Going down to the gate and opening it, Thomas said:

“Who are you and what do you want?”

“My name is Pierre and I want to come in.”

“Well, you can’t” came the reply, “heaven isn’t for people the likes of you.  Now go away and leave us alone!”

“But what are you doing here?”, Pierre asked.

“What do you mean, ‘what am I doing here’, I am St. Thomas!”

“I know who you are”, Pierre replied.  “I also know that you were a faithful disciple and that some people say that you even went all the way to India to preach the good news of the gospel.  I also know though that you didn’t believe it when you were first told that Christ had been raised from the dead.  In fact you even said that you wouldn’t believe it unless Jesus made a special resurrection appearance just for you.  Well, Jesus has never made a special appearance to me, but I still believe in him.  I have as much right to be in heaven as you do, so let me in!”

Well, Thomas was so embarrassed at being reminded how he had acted on that first Easter Sunday, that he slammed the gate shut.  He went off and told his good friend St. Paul about the farmer at the gate who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  “I’ll take care of him”, Paul responded, and off he went.  Opening the door, he demanded to know who Pierre was and what he wanted.

“My name is Pierre and I want to come in.”

“Well, you can’t”, came the impatient reply.  “Heaven is not for people the likes of you.  Now go away and leave us alone!”

“But what are you doing here?”, Pierre asked.

“What do you mean, ‘what am I doing here?’  I am St. Paul!”

“I know who you are.  You are the great missionary who traveled all over preaching the good news of the gospel.  You are also the one who wrote many of the letters in the New Testament.  It is even said that you were martyred for the faith, but I also know that you are the one who hated Christ and his followers at first.  You are the one who urged the mob to kill St. Stephen, the first of the holy martyrs.  You were also on the way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus there.  The only thing that stopped you was being blinded by the light.  I have never persecuted anyone, and Christ didn’t have to make a special appearance to me so that I might have faith and believe in him.  I have as much right to be in heaven as you do, so let me in!”

Well, St. Paul was so embarrassed at being reminded about his earlier days that he slammed the door shut.  He met with Peter and Thomas, and the three of them decided to go and tell God about the farmer at the gate who would not take ‘no’ for an answer.  God listened to them and then said that he would talk to Pierre.  God then went down, opened the gate, and asked Pierre who he was and what he wanted.

“My name is Pierre” came the humble reply, “and I would like to come in.”

“But why should I let you in?” God asked, “All you are doing is making a ruckus and upsetting the saints.”

“Ah, Lord God”, said Pierre.  “I know that nothing in myself makes me worthy of inheriting the life everlasting.  I tried to love you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  I tried to love my neighbours as myself.  As you well know though, I often failed.  When I did, I confessed and tried to put things right but even so … I know that nothing in myself makes me worthy of the resurrection life.  But I do have faith and believe in your one and only Son, who lived, was crucified, raised, and even now is praying for me.  I believe that you sent your Son into the world, not to condemn the world but rather to save it through him.  And so, for the sake of your Son, crucified and raised for even such as I, may I please come in?”

And the Lord God looked at him, and then he smiled, and his smile lit up the entire universe.  “Well said; I sent my Son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save it, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  Enter into the joy of your master.”  And with that heaven’s mighty gates swung open wide.  The bells pealed, the organs roared, the trumpets blared and yes, the bagpipes skirled (for what would heaven be without bagpipes?), and in went Pierre.


Now of course this is just a story but I hope that it captures some of what my ministry here during the past thirty-three years has been all about:  faith, forgiveness, hope, new beginnings and love.  So ends my sermon, and there is only one thing left to say, and that is not goodbye.

It was during the dark days of the pandemic, and in a speech the Queen famously said these words of hope and promise, “We shall meet again.”  In the days after her death, these words took on even more significance because they capture the hope and promise of our Christian faith.  We don’t know when and we don’t know how, but we do know that one day we shall all meet again.  For us, the disciples of Jesus, there is no final goodbye.  And there is no greater reminder of this than the sacrament that we will now celebrate.  In the words of the last verse in this morning’s last praise:

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by,

Yet, passing, points to that glad feast above,

Giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,

The Lamb’s great bridal feast of bliss and love.


And so it does.


Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, hear us as we come to you in prayer on this day of endings and beginnings.

At this time of transition, we confess to our mixed feelings as our church family enters another stage in that wonderful, mysterious journey that we call life.

With the retirement of our minister, we give you thanks for the good of these years past and the good memories we have.  We thank you for all the members of our church family who have, and still do serve you faithfully in so many different ways.

We confess to you that we feel some trepidation as we journey into the unknown future with the changes to come.  We pray for your blessing upon us, and on the Interim-Moderator whomever that person will be.  We pray for your blessing as well on the Session members, Managers and all the other people and groups that make our church family so special.

Help us to remember that as we continue our journey of faith, you are always present.  With this in mind, help us to remember who and what we are, your Son’s disciples, called to follow and minister at this time and place.  Confident in your love and forgiveness, may we do our best for the glory of your name.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen

October 23, 2022

Message for October 23, 2022
Colossians 1:13-20
Not very often but every once in a while, I play a game on the computer
called, “Caesar’s Build a Better Rome”. The point of the game is to build an
ancient city from scratch. You start with an empty landscape and a certain
amount of money, and then go on from there building roads, houses, farms,
establishing industries and so on. The game is very challenging too. If there is
not enough food for example, the people will starve, and if there isn’t enough
work then they will riot. There are so many variables that need to be kept in
balance in order to build the city and keep it running smoothly, but the one that
is especially challenging are the gods.
There are five gods in the game. There is Ceres who is the goddess of
agriculture, and Neptune who is the god of the sea and natural disasters. There
is also Mercury who is the god of trade, and Mars who is the god of war. Last
but certainly not least, there is also Venus who is the goddess of health. All five
of these gods have to be kept happy by either building them expensive temples
or else by having expensive festivals in their honour. And if you ignore them,
then you pay the price. Ceres for example will devastate the crops while Mars
will let the barbarians in to destroy the city. For her part, Venus will send an
epidemic, and on it goes. This can be so frustrating. Everything will be going
well and then one of the gods for no apparent reason will mess everything up!
And yet as frustrating as it may be, this aspect of the game certainly reflects
how people in the ancient world perceived their gods and the world around
People in the ancient world always felt as if they lived at the mercy of both
the gods and powers beyond their control. This is however perfectly
understandable. By our standards for example, agriculture was very primitive
and mass starvation was always just one crop failure away. The sea was so
large and ships were so small, that trade and travel were very dangerous. The
barbarians were always lurking at the gates waiting to break in and destroy
everything. And as for medicine? By our modern standards it virtually didn’t
exist. By and large people in the ancient world felt powerless and at the mercy
of forces beyond their control. But while most people felt this way, this was
especially true of those who lived in the Greek city of Colossae.
Colossae had been a thriving port and commercial centre but then the city
had been devastated by a major earthquake. As if that wasn’t enough, the
harbour that they depended upon for trade began to silt up. It almost seemed
as if the city was cursed, and it was at about this time that Paul sent the small
Christian congregation there a letter.
In his letter Paul sought to reassure them. To be sure, they had good
reason to be scared, and to be sure they felt helpless and at the mercy of forces
beyond their control. Even so, they could and even should still have hope.
They could and they should, said Paul, because they were not at the mercy of
the ‘powers’ as Paul called them. They weren’t because they had been
transferred from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved son.
The powers that they feared weren’t in control; Jesus is! And who and what is
“He is”, said Paul, “the image of the invisible God, the first born over all
creation. For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things
were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things
hold together.”
Wow! All things were created by and for Jesus! What this means is that
contrary to what the Colossians thought, the gods, the ‘powers’, and the
dominion of darkness that they feared were not in charge. Christ is and
because he is, ultimately everything is going to be okay. But we might wonder
though, what does all of this have to do with us? After all we know that the
ancient gods aren’t for real. We don’t have to worry about the ‘powers’ or the
dominion of darkness; or do we?
The gods of the ancient world of course never existed but even so, the
powers they represent certainly do. We can take Ceres, the goddess of
agriculture, for example. Even with all of our pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers
and the like, we can’t take a good harvest for granted. A farmer sows the crop
and does his or her best to ensure a good harvest, but they are at the mercy of
forces beyond their control such as the rainfall. Will the weather be too dry or
too wet? Neptune, the god of the sea and destructive storms doesn’t exist, but
we are all at the mercy of such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. All we
have to do is think of the people in the Maritimes or Florida. They were
powerless to stop either Hurricane Fiona or Ian. Mercury, the god of commerce
certainly doesn’t exist but how much control do we really have over the
economic forces that govern our lives? A person can faithfully work for a
company for years and then be laid off. It’s nothing to do with how he or she did
their job; rather it’s the global economy or market forces that are responsible.
Mars, the god of war isn’t real but war and conflict certainly are; all we have to
do is think of what is happening in Ukraine right now. Venus isn’t real either but
concern over health and our health care system certainly is as our hospitals still
cope with the effects of the pandemic. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if we
have so little control over our own personal health. We can try and live right,
exercise and eat well but that does not guarantee that our bodies won’t betray
No, the ancient gods do not and did not ever exist but we, like the people
of Colossae so long ago, are seemingly at the mercy of the powers that they
represent. In the words of one writer:
“Before you dismiss this talk about principalities and powers, ask the question,
‘Who runs our world?’ The politicians who parade about on the evening news?
We think of them as powerful people. But they say that they are victims of
‘forces beyond our control’. When we complain about the fix we’re in, we’re told
‘The economy is to blame’. Ever seen ‘the economy’? It is the power that
determines our well-being, pulls our strings, gives us happiness or misery, even
though you can’t see it. We can’t touch and see ‘the economy’, we can’t touch
‘terrorism’ or the ‘global market’ but these ‘powers’ call the shots.”
Or do they? Paul’s message to the Colossians is still God’s promise to us.
We may sometimes feel weak, powerless, and defenseless but the powers,
whatever they may be, are not in charge. Christ is, and perhaps this is
something that we need to remember right now. As we all well know, our
church family is entering a new stage in its journey with my retirement next
week. Without being dramatic about it, things are going to change and some of
you may well find this intimidating and perhaps even a little bit frightening. What
we must never forget though is that the powers and forces in life that may
sometimes upset or even frighten us, are not in control. Christ is! To return to
the writer I quoted a moment ago:
“There is now only one power we are to obey. That power has a human face, a
face crowned with thorns. The battle has been fought and won. Victory is
assured. Now, let’s get on and live it.”
The battle with the ‘powers’ has been fought and won; victory over all that
would scare us and hurt us has been won. Christ, God himself in the flesh, the
one who died for us, was raised for us, and even now is praying for us, is the
one who is in charge. Truly there is no need to fear either the future or the
powers and forces that seem to threaten or even overwhelm us. There isn’t
because in the end? They really have no power at all, thanks be to God.
Pastoral Prayer
We thank you for the gift of this autumn morning and this very season
itself, so different from the other three.
We thank you for all that makes this season so special, and we thank you
too for the special people in our lives; for all that they have meant, mean, and
always will mean to us.
We thank you for this land and nation in which we live, and for the
freedoms we have including the right to vote. As we prepare once again to go
to the polls to choose those men and women who will play such an important
role in the life of our community, grant us the wisdom to choose wisely and well.
We thank you for the peace and security that we have, remembering all
the places, including Ukraine, where both seem to be such a distant hope.
We thank you for our homes, our health, and our medical care, praying for
all for whom such things are so far removed from their daily lives.
We pray this day for all who hunger, both physically and spiritually, that
they may be fed. To this end we pray for the ministry of your church, that she
may truly live as what she is, your Son’s body here on earth.
As we look at the world around us it oftentimes seems so dark and
threatening. We are sometimes tempted to think that sin, darkness and evil are
so strong that they must surely prevail. When we feel this way, help us to
remember who and what your Son is. Help us to put our faith, hope and
confidence in him, remembering that ultimately you are in charge and that all
shall be well.
We ask these things in your Son’s name. Amen

October 16, 2022.

Message for October 16, 2022

Luke 18:9-14

I recently read something written by the well-respected New Testament scholar Dan Via, that really caught my attention.  He says that in many ways the parables and stories that Jesus told are like a window into the mind of God himself.  If we want to know what God is like and what he thinks, then all we have to do is consider the stories that Jesus told.  We can use the Parable of the Prodigal Son as an example; that story tells us that no matter what we ever say or do and no matter how far we may stray from him and his ways, God loves us and will always take us back.  But, says Via, the parables are not just a window into the mind of God, the parables can also act as a mirror as well.  This is to say, when we stand in front of a window and look out, we don’t just see what is beyond, sometimes we also catch a glimpse of ourselves in it as well.  And so it is with the stories of Jesus.  Sometimes the stories offer a window into our souls, even if we don’t always like what we see.  That is certainly something that the parable in today’s scripture passage does.

One day Jesus told a story about two men who went to the Temple to pray.  The first was a Pharisee and his prayer was a testimonial to himself and how good he was:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

The prayer of the second man however was totally different.  He was a tax collector and far from praising himself, all he did was tell God how sorry he was for all the things that he had done wrong.  And he had a lot to be sorry for too since he was a dishonest crook who helped the hated Romans oppress his own people.  But, Jesus asked, which of the two men had the right relationship with God?  The answer was obvious, as is the moral of the story.  Don’t be self-righteous like the Pharisee, rather be a humble penitent like the tax collector.  The moral of the story seems to be so simple … or is it?

Most of us usually think of the Pharisees as being the ‘bad guys’ and this is perfectly natural; after all, the gospels are full of references to Jesus arguing with the Pharisees and criticizing them, saying that they were little more than rule-obsessed hypocrites who had lost sight of what their religion was all about.  To think this way though isn’t totally fair.  Yes, the Pharisees were sometimes hypocritical and yes, sometimes they did get carried away with reducing religion to nothing more than following a set of rules.  What we also have to realize however is that the Pharisees were the religious people of their day.  They were the ones who took God and their faith seriously.  Even the Pharisee in today’s lesson was, despite his unattractive self-righteousness, a good person.  He fasted, worshiped, and tithed, giving away a tenth of all his income to the Temple and other charities.  He really was a good man but even so, he was the one who was alienated or separated from God.  He was because of his pride and righteousness but even more so, he was because of his failure to love.  He looked at the tax collector and saw nothing more than a sinner and so a person to be despised.  The Pharisee felt no sympathy or love for his fellow worshiper and that is why he was condemned.  Tragically the fact that he did not love outweighed all of the good that he had done.

We may not realize it but we here today are the modern-day Pharisees, and I mean this in a positive sense.  We are the ones who, in contrast to most people today, quite consciously strive to take God and our religion seriously.  We are the ones for example who make the effort to worship God.  In a society where the vast majority of people give little if anything to charity, we by comparison are the generous ones.  Study after study shows that church attenders are far more likely to support charities than non-church goers.  Study after study also shows that in a society where most people tend to not be involved in the life of their community, it is the regular church attenders who are often the volunteers in other community-oriented organizations.  Without being egotistical about it, we are the good people; we are in the best sense of the word, modern day Pharisees.  But, unlike that Pharisee in today’s scripture passage, we must be careful that we do not lose sight of what our religion and faith are about, and that is love; love of God and love of neighbors.  If we do not love than it doesn’t matter how good, righteous, generous, or religious we are.  St. Paul knew this which is why he wrote:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Take the love away and what are we left with?  We will have missed the point of what our faith is all about.  This was recently brought home to me by a current storyline on a TV show.

The show that I am talking about is “Young Sheldon” and it is about the early years of one of the principal characters in another sit-com, “The Big Bang Theory”.  In the show Sheldon’s mother, Mary Cooper, is very religious and was very involved in the life of her church.  Mary for example worked part time in the church office, hosted a Bible Study Group, and volunteered with the Youth Group as well.  In the current storyline her eldest son Georgie and his girlfriend find out that they are going to be parents.  Now even though this is just a TV show, what I find troubling is the reaction of the church members to this.  Mary was asked to give up her job at the church and the members of the Bible Study Group also stopped coming to her house for their usual sessions.  Then one Sunday morning she, accompanied by Sheldon and his sister Missy, mustered up the courage to go to church.  From the moment they entered they were shunned and a woman in their pew made an obvious effort to slide down it to get away from them.  The preacher spoke about the love of God and that was followed by a prayer.  The custom in that church was for everyone to hold hands during the prayer but the woman closest to Mary made a point of offering her hand to a person sitting in the pew behind her.  Utterly humiliated, Mary and the kids got up and left.  Later in the day the preacher, well aware of what was going on, dropped by and expressed the hope that she would not leave the church.  Mary’s response was to say that she hadn’t left God, but she felt that God had left her.  With that she shut the door in the preacher’s face.

Now this of course is just a fictional TV show set twenty years ago but nevertheless it raises a troubling issue.  The church stands for God in the eyes of so many people, but how are we Christians, more often than not, portrayed in the media?  Indeed what is the popular image of a Christian or even the church?  Are we perceived to be a warm, caring people or are we viewed as being rather harsh and judgemental?  Now of course we may well say that this is all just a stereotype but perhaps we ought to ask ourselves; if we or a family member is in trouble and we feel embarrassed about it, are the people in church the first people that we would turn to for help and support?  Or would the people in church be the last people that we would want to know about it?  As a person once rather bitterly said, the church is the one army in the world that shoots its own wounded.

We may not like it but rightly or wrongly the church is perceived by far too many people to be too much like the Pharisee in today’s scripture passage.  As I have already said, it doesn’t matter how good or righteous the church is, if we do not love everyone than we have missed the point of our faith altogether.  Love of God and others, regardless of who they are, what they are, or where they are is what the church, if it would truly be the church, is all about.  And of course no one has ever described what love is like, better than St. Paul.

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

This is a wonderful description and even the description of what we can and should be like as the disciples of Christ and the people of God.  Indeed if we really want to know what we as Christians should be like, then all we have to do is take this passage and substitute our own name and even the name of our church family in place of the word love.  And if we love as St. Paul describes it then we and the very church itself, unlike that so good and yet so wrong Pharisee of long ago, will not lose sight of what religion and ultimately life itself is all about.



Pastoral Prayer

Hear us we pray as we once again bow our heads and lift up our hearts to you in prayer this autumn morning.

On this Sunday after Thanksgiving, we give you thanks for the beauty and goodness of this season of change and colour.  We thank you for all the people, with us and with you, who love us and whom we love.  We thank you for the food that nourishes our bodies and all that nourishes our minds and souls.

We thank you for this nation in which we live, even if we sometimes take it for granted.  We thank you for the rights and freedoms that we have, including the right to elect those who make the laws.  With the upcoming municipal election in mind, we thank you for all of the candidates who are willing to stand for office.

We thank you for our call to be your Son’s disciples and to be a part of his body here on earth.  May we, secure in your love and forgiveness, try our best to live up to our calling.  We pray for the work of your church, both near and far, that both she and we may be fitting tools in the workshop of your world.

We offer up our prayer of concern for your world.  As the fighting intensifies in Ukraine, we pray for the people of that nation and that there may be a true and just peace.

We pray for the families, friends, and colleagues of the two police officers killed in the line of duty this past week.  We thank you for all of the first responders whose job it is to serve and protect, even at the risk of their own lives.  We pray for their safety and well-being.

We pray this day for the well-being of all your children this Sunday morning.  We pray for those who mourn and those who are ill, that they may find the peace and healing that only you can give.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen

Message for October 9, 2022
Thanksgiving Sunday
Mark 10:17-27
There was once a blind boy who was sitting on the steps of a building with
a hat by his feet and a sign which read, “I am blind, please help me”. Very few
people however chose to help him and there were only a few coins in the hat. A
man who was walking by took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them in.
He then took the boy’s sign, wrote on it, and put it back. Before long the hat
began to fill up with money. Later in the afternoon the man who had changed
the sign came back to see how things were going. The boy asked him, “Were
you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?” The
man said, “I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way. I
wrote ‘Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it’”. Both of the messages told
the people that the boy was blind but while the first simply said that the boy was,
the second reminded the people that they were so fortunate that they could see
what the boy could not. This filled them with such a sense of gratitude that in
response they gave. And that of course is what today and this very weekend
are all about; being grateful and giving thanks for the blessings we have.
In today’s scripture passage Mark tells us that one day Jesus was
approached by a young man who was both very wealthy and very religious. He
was however also very troubled. He realized that there was something missing
in his life and thought that Jesus might know the answer. He asked Jesus,
“what do I have to do to inherit the life everlasting?” Jesus’ answer was to tell
him to keep the Ten Commandments. “But I have, and I know that it’s not
enough!” he replied. Impressed by the young man, Jesus then told him that
there was one more thing that he had to do; he had to sell his goods, give the
money to the poor, and then come and follow him. As Mark tells us though, the
young man didn’t accept Jesus’ invitation. Yes, he knew that there was
something missing in his life but how could he possibly give up all that he had?
He decided that he would not, and sadly walked away.
It is easy enough perhaps for us to pass over this episode without realizing
the significance of what just happened. Through the years Jesus had asked
other people to follow him and they had invariably said yes. This however is the
one and only time in his entire ministry when Jesus invited someone to follow
him and was turned down flat. Mark clearly implies that the twelve disciples
were absolutely shocked by this, and so Jesus felt that he had to give an
explanation why.
“How hard it is for those with riches to enter the kingdom of God”, he said.
Far from being a blessing, that young man’s wealth was a barrier between him
and God. Well, if the disciples were dumbfounded by this statement, then they
must have been absolutely flabbergasted by what Jesus said next. “It is easier
for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for someone who is
rich to enter the kingdom of God”. But why were the disciples so shocked?
Because they, like virtually everyone else back then and a lot of people
since, equated material wealth with God’s favour. It was thought that if a person
was well off, then God obviously loved them. And if a person was not quite so
materially blessed, then it was equally obvious that God didn’t love them as
much. A person’s material blessings were, in a manner of speaking, a
barometer reflecting their standing with God. This was conventional wisdom but
here was Jesus saying that this wasn’t true, and far from being a blessing, a
person’s so-called ‘blessings’ could even be a barrier between them and God!
Mark tells us that the disciples were shocked by this and asked, “who then could
be saved?” Jesus’ reassuring answer was to say that with God anything is
With God all things are possible: these are words of reassurance to be
sure but we are still left in a bit of an awkward spot. This is the day set aside for
thanking God for all of our blessings and yet here we have Jesus himself saying
that our so-called blessings might not really be blessings at all and are in fact
the exact opposite. But then again, it is up to us to decide whether life’s good
things are truly blessings or not.
As I know I have said before in previous Thanksgiving sermons, the word
Thanksgiving isn’t just a noun, an occasion that we celebrate, the word is also a
verb, and it is what we do. At Thanksgiving we give thanks. We do this in
different ways too. In this morning’s worship service for example we are giving
thanks in song and prayer, but we are also giving thanks through the offering.
Whether it be used here in the service of our own church family or in the larger
church of which we are a part, it is a gift of thanks. We are also giving thanks
today through our gifts of money for the Salvation Army’s food bank, gifts that
will enable them to buy needed food items that have not been donated. And it is
through actions such as these that we ensure that our blessings really are
blessings, and not barriers between us and God. Our blessings only truly
become blessings when they are shared, and that is the message of this story
that I would like to share with you now. Some of you may recognize it from a
Thanksgiving sermon that I preached years ago but to me this story captures
what this weekend is really all about. It is taken from Robert Fulghum’s book
“You might as well know now. A cigar is the centrepiece of what follows.
And you might as well know that I have been known to smoke one of those
things from time to time, despite what I know about all the good reasons not to.
Moreover, I only had one puff from this cigar. Yet it was the cigar I will never
One fine fall morning in San Francisco. In a great mood. A week of hard
work had gone well, and now I had a couple of days off to myself. So I had
gone into Dunhill’s and bought the finest cigar in the shop.
After a few blocks’ walk, it was cigar time. One puff, and I said aloud to
myself: ‘Now that, that, is some cigar!’
It so happened that I had been standing in front of a coffee house. A cup
of fine espresso would add the final right ingredient to a recipe for a memorable
morning. Placing the lit cigar carefully on the brick window ledge of the coffee
house, I went inside to order. While waiting at the counter, I glanced out the
window to check on my cigar. Gone. My cigar was gone.
Abandoning my coffee, I rushed to the door. And stopped short. There on
the other side of the glass was an old man examining my cigar. He held the
cigar with respect under his nose and smelled it with eyes closed. He smiled.
Looking carefully up and down the street, he took a puff. And smiled again.
With a heavenward salute with the cigar, he set off down the street. Smoking
my cigar. I followed, not knowing quite what to do.
The old man. Italian. First generation immigrant probably. As were the
friends he visited to report the good news of the cigar that fate had prepared for
him that fine day. I got a tour of the old Italian quarter. At each stop, in
passionate terms, he exalted his cigar, his good fortune, and this lovely day.
Each friend was offered a sample puff. The fruit vendor squeezed the cigar and
approved its ripeness. The baker puffed twice and pronounced the cigar ‘primo,
primo’. The priest gave the cigar a mock blessing.
In time the old man turned toward the bocce ball courts … and when he
arrived, he repeated his ritual celebration of the cigar and his good luck. The
cigar burned down to a short stub. As it came his turn to play, the old man
meditated on the end of the cigar with clear regret. He did not toss it to the
ground and grind it underfoot as I might have done. No. Solemnly he walked
over to a flower bed, scooped a small hole beneath a rosebush, laid the cigar
butt to rest, covered it with dirt, and patted the small grave smooth with his
hands. Pausing, he raised his cap in respect, smiled, and returned to playing
the game.” Fulghum concludes:
“The old man may have smoked it, but I’ve not enjoyed a cigar more. It
remains the very finest cigar I never had”.
The best cigar that Fulghum ever had was the one that he never had; it
was the one that he, however inadvertently, had shared. And there is a
message in this episode for us on this Thanksgiving Sunday. We have so much
that we can and should be grateful for, but our blessings can only truly become
blessings when we are prepared to share them. And so I wonder on this day of
thanksgiving: are the things that we are giving thanks for today truly blessings?
Pastoral Prayer
Gracious God, on this Thanksgiving Sunday we give you thanks for the
earth, the lakes and oceans, all teeming with riches. We thank you for this land
in which we live, blessed as it is with peace, security, and prosperity.
We thank you for our families and friends and everyone else who touches
our lives for the better.
We thank you for the holy mysterious wonder that is you. You are the
Father who created us. You are the Son who saves us. You are the Spirit who
guides us. On this day of Thanksgiving we thank you, for truly you have blessed
us with so much in so many different ways. Even as we give you thanks though,
we remember and pray for all who, with good reason, may not feel so blessed
and inclined to give thanks.
We pray this day for all who are ill. On this weekend when so many
families get together, we pray for all who are unable to do so, and for those who,
for whatever reason, will not. We pray for all who miss a loved one, facing their
first Thanksgiving without their presence.
We pray this day for all who hunger or have no place to call home and
must rely on the charity of others for even the most basic of life’s necessities.
We pray for everyone, both in our own land and elsewhere, who are
picking up the pieces of their lives after the recent destructive hurricanes.
We pray for your church and her ministry throughout the world, that she
and we may truly be a source of caring, shining in the darkness as beacons of
light in what is so often a dark and hurting world.
We ask these things in your Son’s name. Amen

October 2, 2022.

Message for October 2, 2022


Matthew 11:25-30

        I am beginning this message by playing my own version of the game “Password”, but if you guess the answer to the clues you do not have to jump up and there isn’t a prize for getting it right either!  The clues are: The William Tell Overture.  Who was that masked man?  Hi-Ho Silver!  Tonto!  I am sure that by now many, if not most of you, have guessed that the answer is “The Lone Ranger”.

        The Lone Ranger is a fictional hero of the American West who first appeared in 1933 as the main character in radio plays.  The radio shows were very popular during the dark days of the Depression.  Then, when television came along, the Lone Ranger made the jump to that medium and had his own TV show throughout most of the 1950’s.  The Lone Ranger was also featured on the silver screen as the principal character in a number of movies, the most recent of which was released in 2013.  As the character was so popular there was also all sorts of merchandise associated with him including comic books, games and so on.

        The basic storyline for most of the adventures of the Lone Ranger is almost invariably the same.  There is a problem that the authorities, either because they are inept or corrupt, cannot deal with.  The Lone Ranger hears about it, rides into town on his white horse, and then makes things right.  If that means that he has to step on people’s toes, bend the rules or even break them, he does. That however doesn’t really matter since he is the good guy serving the greater good.  Of course, he sometimes needs help and that is where his faithful sidekick, the Native-American, Tonto comes in.  Inevitably the problem is solved, the bad guys get their just reward, and the Lone Ranger rides out of town off to his next adventure.

        Truly the Lone Ranger is one of the most iconic figures in 20th century pop culture and he is the classic American folk hero.  Not surprisingly, he is also the example or model for so many heroes since.  In fact all we have to do is think of many of the heroes portrayed in the movies and on the TV shows that we watch.  There is a problem that the police, the government or whomever else can’t deal with and then the hero, with a complete disregard of the rules and laws, deals with it and puts everything right.

        Not surprisingly, this has carried over into the ‘real’ world.  A business is in trouble and then the search begins for a CEO who will come in and solve the issues and problems facing the company.  In the world of politics, we look for a hero all the time who will make everything right.  This is even true in the church; a concern of many interim-moderators is that when congregations are searching for a new minister they are looking for a ‘saviour’ who will single-handedly solve all their problems.  In fact this sort of thinking has even crept into our understanding of God and our relationship with him.

        This past week I read an article about prayer and in it the author noted that we pray for many different reasons.  We pray for example to praise God, thank God, and confess our sins.  The author however noted that most of our prayers are intercessory in nature; whether it be for ourselves or someone else, we pray that God will ensure that something will or will not happen.  Now there is of course nothing wrong with such prayers as God wants us to take our cares, worries and concerns to him.  The problem though is that for so many of us, this is the only theme of our prayers and the only reason we pray.  As he noted, sometimes our prayers read like a long list of requests and almost sound like a shopping list, but of course there is nothing new in this.  A well-known poet of years gone by, W. H. Auden, wrote this tongue-in-cheek prayer.

        “Leave Thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges.  Become our Uncle.  Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his homework, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer.  Be interesting … and we will love you as we love ourselves.”

        There is a serious point behind this poem.  So often when we turn to God in prayer, it is solely to make requests for God to take care of something that we cannot.  Our hope and even expectation is that he will make everything right.  To put it another way, we expect God to ride into our lives so-to-speak on a white charger, take care of our problem, and then ride off into the sunset, not to be seen again until the next time that we need him.  And if God does this, then and perhaps only then, will we love him as we love ourselves.  This is what we often want but this is not what we always get.  We may want a Lone Ranger but instead we get Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t always make all of our problems go away.  Instead, he joins us sharing the load, offering us his support and comfort. Jesus did not say “come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will make all of your troubles go away”.  Rather he said, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”. 

Christ gives us the rest, the strength, and the peace that only he can give that enables us to face our issues head on.  He does this in many different ways too, but one of the greatest is through the sacrament that we are now about to celebrate.  Amongst so many other things, communion is the visible, tangible expression of God’s presence and working in our lives and in the life of the world around us.  When things aren’t going well or as we expected, we may long for the Lone Ranger to ride into our lives to the stirring sound of the William Tell Overture, but this is not what we necessarily get.  God in his wisdom doesn’t necessarily give us what we want; rather he gives us what we need, and that is himself.  And there is no greater reminder or expression of his presence, love, support, and working in our lives than what we will now celebrate.




Pastoral Prayer

        Hear us now as we offer you our praise and thanks this autumn morning.  We give you thanks for the beautiful and awesome wonder of this season of change.  We thank you not just for the beauty of your creation, but also for its goodness as it fulfills so many of our needs.  Help us we pray, to love your good creation and care for it as you do.

        We thank you for the very nature that is you.  Sometimes we lose sight of who you are and what you are:  God Almighty, the Beginning and the End.  You are so far removed from us and yet, you are still so near to us.  You love us, you redeem us, and you even became one of us in the person of your Son.  For this we thank you, and we thank you too that what you did two thousand years ago in the flesh, you still do today in the Spirit.  Open our senses and our minds so that we might discern you at work in our lives, in the lives of others, and in the world beyond.  Help us to remember that while we may sometimes long for a ‘superhero’ to solve all of our problems, you offer us what we truly need and that is your presence alongside us as we make our way on life’s journey.

        We pray for your presence in the lives of the people in our Atlantic provinces as they continue to come to grip with the destruction caused by Hurricane Fiona.  We pray too for the people in Cuba and Florida as they come to grip with the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian.

        We pray for your presence and working in Ukraine.  We especially pray for the people in the occupied regions of that country after the sham referendum this past week, resulting in an even greater rise in tensions, lessening the prospect for peace.

        As we look towards next week’s long weekend, we pray that we may not lose sight of what that weekend is really all about.  We pray as well for the safety and well-being of all as people mark the last long weekend of the year.

        We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen

September 25, 2022

Message for September 25, 2022

Philippians 2:1-11

Like many other people, I made a point of getting up early this past Monday morning to watch the Queen’s funeral.  For me it was most impressive from the first procession to Westminster Abbey to the committal service at Windsor Castle.  As I watched it, and have thought about it since, one of the things that struck me the most is the crucial role that music played.  There was of course the music played during the three processions ranging from the pipe bands to the brass bands to the sound of a muffled drum.  The services were also filled with music, ranging from a piper to the trumpeters to the magnificent organs accompanying the choirs’ and the congregations’ singing.  All of this music, whether it was played or sung, had quite an impact.  Indeed for me one of the most poignant events in a day full of them came at the end of the committal service when the Queen’s personal piper stood in an open doorway playing a lament.  He was silhouetted by the bright light behind him and then, while still playing, he slowly turned and walked away towards the light.  Talk about symbolism!  Truly the music in its varied forms played such an important role and had such an impact but, though we may not always realize it, such is usually the case.  One person who certainly realized the power and influence of music was St. Paul.

In today’s scripture passage Paul told the Philippians that if they truly wanted to live as Christians then they should not be self-centred; rather they should always try to put others with their needs first.  In fact Paul implied, they should strive to be like Christ himself.  And just what was Jesus like?

Interestingly enough, when Paul tried to describe what Jesus was like he quoted a hymn that they quite likely sang all the time.  According to this hymn, Christ is really God himself, but despite this Jesus did not go around demanding that he be treated as such.  Not at all!  Instead of coming to this earth in all of his divine power and glory for example, Jesus humbled himself by choosing to be born as a mortal.  And even then, when he became a human being, he wasn’t born a prince in a palace, rather he was born to a peasant couple in a stable.  Jesus’ birth was humble as was the rest of his life; it was because he had come to serve others rather than be served.  Christ in fact was so humble that he had even endured the most shameful, painful death imaginable, and he did this for the sake of others.  And yet said Paul, because Jesus was so humble and obedient, he has been given the greatest reward of all.  To quote the hymn itself:

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place,

and gave him the name that is above every name.

That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow

in heaven and on earth.

And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord,

to the glory of God the Father.”

In today’s scripture passage Paul told the Philippians about who and what Jesus is.  He also told them, and by implication us too, that if we would truly live Christian lives then we will love and respect one another using Christ himself as our example.  As I thought about this though, what I found most striking wasn’t so much what Paul said but rather how he said it.  He used a hymn.

I suspect that more often than not, we take the music that we sing on a Sunday morning for granted.  I announce a hymn number, Josh plays the tune, we stand up and sing the hymn and that’s that.  Likewise, I also suspect that we take the anthems for granted as well.  Like the hymns, the anthem breaks up the service and marks a break from listening to me talk.  But how often do we pay attention, and I mean really pay attention to what we are singing or listening to?  We should because our church music has a far greater influence on us than what we often realize.  This was brought home to me years ago when I was at a General Assembly.

Every year at assembly a special luncheon is held where the E. H. Johnson Award is presented.  This reward is given to a person who is deemed to be on the ‘cutting edge of mission’.  Whenever I was at assembly, I made a point of attending the luncheon as the speakers were invariably very interesting.  One year when I was a commissioner, the award winner was John Bell of the Iona Community.  John Bell, whom I have met a couple of times, is a Scottish Presbyterian minister and a noted composer and hymn-writer.  Perhaps his best known composition is one of my favourite hymns, “Will you come and follow me”.

In his acceptance speech, Bell said that the music that we sing and listen to in church is supposed to reflect what we as Christians believe.  He wondered though if this is really true and that it may actually be the other way around; that the music that we sing and listen to shapes our beliefs.  By way of example, Bell used Christmas music.  What was that first Christmas like?  We all know!  A silent and holy night where all was calm and all was bright.  We can also think of the beloved Christmas hymn “Away in a Manger”.

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,

But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”

As Bell pointed out though, there is absolutely no biblical basis for this at all; indeed do these words sound realistic?  Or to use another example, Bell said that we often think of Jesus as being the perfect child.  In the words of one hymn:

“All through his wondrous childhood,

He would honour and obey.”

Bell noted that this sounds so nice, but what do we actually know about Jesus’ childhood?  Virtually nothing except for the time when Jesus ran away from Mary and Joseph to stay behind in the temple.  Now what Jesus did that day is understandable, but it was hardly the behaviour of a child who always honours and obeys his or her parents!  Or to use another example, quoting directly from Bell’s speech:

“In Australia during a Bible study I was leading on the raising of Lazarus, a troubled consultant wanted to take issue with me because I had read that when Jesus saw Mary weep and those around her similarly distressed, he was ‘indignant’.  I thought that perhaps he – like me – was still a little sleepy as we were meeting at 6:15 a.m.

‘That’s the word in the New English Bible’, I informed him.

‘What does it mean?’ he asked.

‘Angry’, I replied, ‘in fact, very angry’.

‘Oh no’, he protested.  ‘That can’t be right.  I have been a Christian all my life and I have never known Jesus to be angry.  What does it say in the Greek?’

I said, ‘My man, at this time in the morning you’re lucky I can read the English never mind the Greek.  But if we had a Greek New Testament we would discover that Jesus was really angry’.

He may have been a Christian all his life, but had he read Luke’s Gospel in which there is hardly a chapter which does not have Jesus raising his voice and letting his displeasure be known?

But I knew the hymnbook on which this man had been reared.  It had very few hymns about the life of Christ.  But one which did deal with the 33 years in between supplied the heretical insight,

‘No one marked an angry word

Who ever heard him speak.’”

Bell then went on to ask us, “What about the time when Jesus made a whip and chased out the moneychangers?”  When we read the gospels, it is abundantly clear that Jesus was a passionate person but we would hardly ever know this from some of, or perhaps most of the music that we sing and listen to in church.  In virtually all, if not all of our music, Jesus is portrayed as being so meek and mild that he is almost inhuman.  And what is the unspoken message behind this?  That there is no place for anger and perhaps even passion in a Christian’s life.

Truly as Bell went on to say, the music that we sing and listen to in church is so very important.  It is because it not only reflects what we believe but perhaps even more so, it also shapes what we believe.  St. Paul certainly realized this and that is why, when he wanted to teach the Philippians about the nature of Jesus and what their lives as his people ought to be like, he quoted a familiar hymn that many of them probably sang all the time without giving it a passing thought.  And I wonder, how often do we sing and listen to the music on a Sunday morning without giving it a passing thought?  How often would we be comforted, challenged or perhaps even shocked if we gave our music more than a passing thought?



Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, hear us as we come to you in prayer on this, the first Sunday of autumn.  We thank you for the wonderful beauty of this season as the leaves start to change their colours, and we thank you too for the goodness of your creation, filling our physical needs as it does.

In your wisdom you have created us not only as physical beings but also as spiritual beings, and so we thank you for filling these needs as well.  We are surrounded by the beauty of your creation and so much more including the books we read, the shows we watch, and the music that we listen to.  We also have our families and friends who fill our need to be loved, needed, and appreciated, and for them we give you thanks.

We thank you this day for fulfilling our lives through your Son and the Spirit.  You have shown us how to live if we truly wish to be at peace with you and others.  You grant us the peace of your forgiveness at those times when we fail to care and to share, and for this we thank you.

We pray this day for all who are not at peace, whether it be with themselves or with others.  We pray for all who feel hurt, angry, or alienated.  We pray for all who have no peace because they and their nation are at war.

Even as we rejoice in your creation this autumn morning, we remember the people of Puerto Rico and our Maritime provinces in the wake of Hurricane Fiona.

We pray this morning for all those who are struggling to get by as food prices continue to rise, and we pray for the many businesses struggling to get by because they cannot find enough employees.

With all of this in mind, we pray for everyone in positions of authority as they try and deal with not only these, but so many other challenging issues including such as climate change and how to care for your creation.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen






September 18, 2022.

Message for September 18, 2022

Omagh’s 184th Anniversary

Genesis 32:22-29

Matthew 28:16-20


The name Shoikoi Yokoi probably isn’t familiar to us but he spent twenty-eight years in prison, a prison not made of walls but rather of his own mind.  He fought in the Japanese army during World War Two on the island of Guam.  When it became obvious that the battle for the island was lost, he fled and hid in the jungle to avoid being captured.  He was so scared that he refused to come out.  He lived in a cave and only ventured out at night to hunt for frogs, rats and to collect mangos to eat.  He lived like that for almost twenty-eight years until one day in the early 1970’s he was discovered by a party of hunters who convinced him that it was safe to leave his jungle home.

When I read about him, I couldn’t help but compare him to the principal character of today’s first scripture lesson.  Like Yokoi, Jacob too spent years in a prison of his own mind.  Jacob too tried to hide but like Yokoi, the day came when, however reluctantly, he had to confront his future.

Years before the event described in today’s first lesson Jacob had, with his mother’s help, defrauded his older brother Esau of his rightful inheritance.  Naturally this infuriated Esau and so Jacob had to literally run for his life.  Jacob spent twenty years in exile and he did very well for himself.  By the world’s standards he was a resounding success but he had no peace.  More than anything else, he wanted to go home but who was to say that even after all of these years Esau still didn’t bear a grudge?

One day God spoke to Jacob and told him that he could now go home.  As he approached home, he sent a messenger ahead to let his brother know that he was coming.  In no time at all the messenger returned but he had a rather frightening message; his brother Esau was coming to meet him along with four hundred armed men!  At this point Jacob panicked.  Frantically he sent more messengers ahead to greet his brother, all of whom were bearing expensive gifts.  Jacob also divided his caravan into two groups, reasoning that if one were attacked then perhaps the other one might escape.  Last but not least, Jacob also turned to God praying for deliverance.

It was the night before his fateful encounter with his brother and Jacob wanted to be alone, but it was not to be.  A stranger showed up who, of all things, challenged Jacob to a wrestling match.  The two wrestled all night long with neither one gaining the advantage.  As daybreak approached, the stranger succeeded in spraining Jacob’s thigh but even then Jacob didn’t give up.  He grimly hung on saying:  “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  Finally the stranger gave Jacob what he asked for but he also gave him something else too; a new name, Israel.  And what was the meaning of this new name?

“He who strives with God”.  Now it is obvious why Jacob was given this name because he had striven or contended with God his entire life, and that night he had physically wrestled with an angel.  Striving and contending with God was the story of Jacob’s life but the name Israel of course didn’t just become Jacob’s new name; it was also used to identify his descendants and the country that they established.  And isn’t it both ironic and fascinating that the name of God’s chosen people means “one who strives, who contends, who argues with God?”  There is however a lot of merit to this name.

When one reads the Old Testament, it sometimes seems as if God’s people were always striving or contending with him.  Indeed it often seems as if there was a perpetual argument going on between them over who would be boss.  But while God’s people struggled in this negative way, they also contended and struggled in a more positive way as well.  This is to say, not everything came easily for them just because they were God’s chosen people.  Yes, they were blessed by God but, like Jacob before them, they had to struggle to make their blessing a reality.  When they entered the Promised Land for example, they had to fight for it.  The Promised Land was also said to be a land flowing with milk and honey, but they had to work hard and persevere to make it such.  And this, the necessity of having to struggle to make God’s blessing a reality, is something that perhaps we ought to remember on this anniversary Sunday.

Imagine for a moment what the land around us was like two hundred years ago.  There was nothing but huge trees and the forest teemed with wildlife.  Then the first settlers arrived who were Irish Protestants for the most part.  They came willingly but they missed the old country and that is reflected by the names that they gave to their little communities strung out along what became Britannia Road; Boyne, Omagh and Drumquin.  It was incredibly hard work to make the blessing of this new land a reality and there is a reminder of this in our own cemetery.

It was mid-April of 1851 and life was pretty good for Andrew and Hannah Suiter.  To be sure they had lost a daughter six years earlier but they were still blessed with seven other children ranging in age from three months to nineteen.  They also had a young nephew who lived with them.  Then however disaster struck and in the space of one month, six of their children along with their nephew died.  Imagine losing that many family members in less than a month!  While an extreme example, that tragic episode reminds us of how hard life was for those who went before us but even so, in amidst the struggle to survive, never mind thrive, those settlers didn’t give up.  They sought to make God’s blessings a reality and one of the ways that they did so was by founding this congregation.

As time went by things changed.  The countryside became more settled and prosperous.  This congregation went from being the church of the pioneers to the church of the countryside.  The struggle though to make God’s blessings a reality continued, and perhaps the best indication of this was the decision to replace the original wooden sanctuary with the building that we are now in.  It was a huge undertaking and an act of courage and faith to make the blessing of this building a reality.  And the struggle to make God’s blessings a reality still continues.

We are now living in yet another time of transition.  For over a hundred years we were the church of the countryside but now the countryside is quite literally disappearing before our very eyes.  There are the houses behind us, the sewage pumping station on one side, and the proposed development on the other side.  And we all know what is happening in front of us!  We here today are living through an era of tremendous change, and this isn’t just confined to the physical world around us either.

Until the mid to late 1960’s churches thrived in Canada but then a downward spiral began leading to where we are today.  While the vast majority of Canadians still identify themselves as Christian, most have little if anything to do with any congregation.  In short the church, including this congregation, is living through a time of transition, and once again the question is how to make God’s blessing a reality?

There is no shortage of suggestions and ideas.  Some congregations are continuing with the traditional model of ministry with a minister serving one or two congregations.  Others have opted for a different approach where one minister serves even more congregations; this is a back to the future approach as in the days of the pioneers and the circuit riders.  Some churches have opted for just Sunday supply and providing pastoral care themselves.  Yet others share their building with a congregation of a different denomination as we do.  Still yet others have even got out of their facilities altogether and are worshipping in homes or storefronts.  Some are even converting their buildings into multi-use facilities and occupying one room or floor within the new complex; Hillcrest comes to mind where they will be sharing facilities with the hospice.

The list could go on and on but as different as all of these ideas and approaches may be, they share two things in common.  The first is the conviction that no matter how big or small, no matter how strong or weak they may be, they are prepared to struggle in order to make God’s blessing a reality.  The second is their conviction that God is present and active among them.  As Jesus said, he is present whenever two or three are gathered in his name.  Christ is present in the midst of them or, as he said in today’s second scripture passage; “Surely I am with you always, to the end of time.”

And so he is; and that is one of the things that we affirm here this morning on this, our 184th anniversary.



Pastoral Prayer

Hear us as we come to you in prayer this Sunday morning which is, according to the calendar, the last of the summer season.

We give you thanks for all of the good of the season now coming to an end:  the warmth, the long days, and the sights, sounds and activities of the season.  We give you thanks for the season of beauty and bounty that is now dawning.

On this special Sunday, we give you thanks for what it is that we celebrate and affirm here today; this congregation’s 184th anniversary.  We give you thanks for her years of faithful witness and ministry.  We thank you for the many people, many of whom we have known and loved, who sought to serve you well through this church family.  We confess that sometimes on the journey it is easier to see where we have been rather than where we are going.  We confess too that this is in many ways a challenging time to be your Son’s body here on earth.  Nevertheless, may we be inspired by those who have gone before us and their willingness to sacrifice and persevere to make your blessings a reality.  May we also draw courage from your Son’s promise that he is always present wherever and whenever two or more people come together in his name.

We give you thanks for the larger church of which we are a part and pray for her ministry throughout the world.  We pray too for the larger world of which we are a part.

We pray for the sake of peace, justice, and righteousness throughout the whole of this world.  We continue to remember your suffering children in Ukraine and Pakistan.  We pray for those closer to home devastated by the senseless killings in Mississauga and our own community this past week.  We pray for the safety and well-being of all who serve in our various police services, and for the other first responders as well.

On this day before her funeral, we give you thanks for the decades of selfless service given by her Majesty the Queen.  We pray for the sake of her family and pray for your blessing upon our new head of state, King Charles.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen





September 11, 2022.

Message for September 11, 2022

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

I would like to begin this week’s message by asking what are perhaps, some very provocative questions.  Is our community a better place because our church family is a part of it?  Is our community a better place because of all the Christian churches that are a part of it?  Is the world itself a better place because the Christian church is a part of it?

To us the answer is, I hope, a resounding yes but not everyone sees it this way.  In the eyes of many people including the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins who wrote “The God Delusion”, the world would be a much better place if there was no religion at all as religion, and especially Christianity, lies at the root of much of the world’s problems today.  It is claimed that looking back at the past two thousand years, the world would have been a better place if Christianity had never emerged, but is this really the case?

In his book “Atheist Delusion: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies”, David Bentley Hart argues the exact opposite.  We can use our moral values as an example.  Even as the atheists attack Christianity for all of its failures and shortcomings, virtually all of our modern moral values and ideas about what is right and wrong are firmly based on the Bible and the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Indeed if that foundation were to disappear what would our society’s values be based on?  The atheists say that even without Christianity, society would still affirm values such as human dignity and caring for others, but the facts don’t bear this out.  An appeal for such as disaster relief is launched for example but who are most likely to support it?  The religious, and this has even led some of those who sneer at Christianity to bemoan the fact that atheists are not as generous as religious people are when caring for others.  In fact, if one looks at history there is little that would make us think that the world would have been better off without religion; all we have to do is look at the history of the 20th century.  The three most murderous and oppressive regimes were not religious at all and were in fact avowedly secular; the communists under Stalin, the Nazis under Hitler, and the Khymer Rouge in Cambodia.

Going even further back in time, some atheists claim that the ancient world was a paradise until the Christians came along and ruined everything but to say this is to totally ignore the realities of life 2000 years ago.  Back then for example there were no safety nets or food banks.  If people didn’t work then they didn’t eat.  Also, as I said in one of my messages not all that long ago, an unwanted baby was often placed on top of the garbage at the local dump where, if he or she was lucky, they might be taken by a childless couple or a slave dealer.  Life was very harsh and brutal for most people, and this is the so-called ‘paradise’ that some atheists unthinkingly say Christianity ruined.  The truth is that when Christianity emerged there was a social revolution.  If a person was hungry for example, it was the Christians who fed them.  If a person was sick, it was the Christians who looked after them.  If a person was homeless then it was the Christians who took them in.  And as for the children abandoned on the garbage dumps?  The Christians looked after them too.  The Christians cared about others when no one else did and they did so because they believed that everyone is a child of God and should be treated as such.

This is one of the reasons why, despite the oppression and persecution, the Christian faith grew in leaps and bounds.  Of course human nature being what it is there were those, including some Christians, who took advantage of others’ kind-hearted generosity.  There were for example those people who could work but wouldn’t.  There were also some extremely religious Christians who were absolutely convinced that Jesus was coming back at any time; this being the case, they decided that there was no point in working.  To Paul however both attitudes were totally wrong.  Paul made it very clear that he had no sympathy for those who could provide for themselves but chose not to.  As Paul said, “If a man shall not work, he shall not eat”.

If a man shall not work, he shall not eat.  I sometimes wonder if any other verse in the Bible has been more misunderstood or taken out of context than this one.  In years gone by for example, this verse was used to argue against such as unemployment insurance, welfare, and old age pensions.  It is also used by some people to justify why they do not support charities.  Why it’s right there in the Bible; if you don’t work then you don’t eat!  To understand this verse in this way though is to totally take it out of its context.  It is because right after saying this, Paul went on to say, “And as for you brothers, never tire of doing what is right”.

What is needed said Paul, is a balance.  Don’t take advantage of other people’s kindness and generosity and don’t just sit around waiting for Jesus to return either.  To willingly be a needless burden on others is not the Christian thing to do.  And yet as Paul also knew, there are people who quite legitimately need help and he insisted that it is a Christian’s duty to help such people.  But this of course leaves us vulnerable, doesn’t it?  How do we really know who legitimately needs our help?  Why some people might take advantage of our kindness and generosity!  Yes they might, but that is a risk that we must be prepared to take.

Before coming to Milton, we lived in the village of Colborne.  Without fail every spring and fall there would be people passing through who said that they needed help.  What the village council decided to do then was give the reeve, the United Church minister and myself a certain amount of money every year.  It was the honour system, and we were trusted to use the money as we best saw fit.  It wasn’t unusual to get a call, usually late in the evening, from a person who had no money, no food and nowhere to stay.  One or two of us would then go and make arrangements for that person to be fed and put up for the night in a local hotel.  I remember one person in the village though who strenuously objected to all of this.  He certainly trusted us with the money but the issue for him was that surely some of these people were taking advantage of us.  The clear implication was that since some of these people were probably con artists, we shouldn’t be helping any of them.  I replied that of course some of the requests for help probably weren’t legitimate but, as I also said, we had to be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt; that it was better to err on the side of compassion and risk being taken advantage of than to turn away a person who really needed our help.  Certainly the last thing we should do is use the possibility of being taken advantage of as an excuse not to help anybody.  To care is to love and to love means being vulnerable.  Indeed what we do proves or disproves the reality of our love and even our faith itself.  I’ve never forgotten this episode that happened more than a few years ago.

Every year the Roman Catholic Cardinal in Toronto sponsors a charity fundraising dinner to help the less fortunate who live in the city.  One year a person crashed the dinner and, without being invited to do so, took to the podium and gave a short speech in which he politely asked the audience not to just throw money at the less fortunate but to also become actively involved in their lives.  What he said wasn’t controversial but, not surprisingly, the security guards quickly hustled him out of the hall.  This was perhaps to be expected but then, for me at least, came the disturbing part.  As the young man was being marched out, a large number of people in the audience stood up and mocked him.  Yes, that young man’s actions may well have been inappropriate, to interrupt the event and talk without being invited to do so, but what about the behaviour of the audience?  This was a Christian fundraising dinner in support of the less fortunate, but which spoke louder about the people in attendance; the money they had shelled out for the dinner or their mocking laughter?

Without ever realizing it or intending for it to happen, it can be easy for us to lose our sense of compassion.  Yes, people must assume responsibility for their own lives.  At the same time though this individual responsibility does not relieve us of our corporate responsibility.  As Paul said, “And as for you, never tire of doing what is right”.  Striving to do what is right for all, to care and to share, is what makes the church what it is, the body of Christ here on earth.  And to return to the questions that I posed at the beginning of this message:  would our community be better off without us and all the other churches?  Would the world be better off without us Christians?  To say ‘yes’ truly is delusional.


Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, as we come to you in prayer this late summer morning, we begin this prayer as we usually do, by giving you thanks.

We give you thanks for the gift of this day and our being a part of your good creation.  We thank you not only for our lives but also for those of everyone and everything so dear to us.  Help us we pray to treasure this gift and not to take it for granted.

We thank you for everything, tangible and intangible that makes life so good.  We thank you for the holy wonder that is you, who spoke and it all came to be.  You have blessed us with so much in so many ways and in return you ask that we strive to be a blessing; help us to be just that.  As a part of our being so, help us to love just as we are loved.  Help us to care, just as we are cared for.  Grant that the lives of others and the world around us may be at least a little bit better for our being a part of it.

We pray this day for your blessing on all who are ill and on those who mourn.  We offer up our prayer this morning for all those whose lives have been devastated by the horrific murders in Saskatchewan.  Grant healing and peace to all those who have been wounded, whether it be in mind, body, or soul.  We pray the same for the people of Ukraine as the war there continues and as the fear over the safety of the nuclear plant continues to rise.

Now that Labour Day has come and gone, the municipal election campaigns have begun and we thank you for all those who are willing to stand for office.  We thank you too for our right to chose those who would lead our communities but as we do so, we pray for the well-being and safety of all who hold public office.  It is natural that we will sometimes disagree with those who hold office.  So often though, so many in our society treat others and speak to others with needless anger, uncivility and worse.  Help us to remember what we often call the Golden Rule; to treat everyone the way we would like to be treated is the key to a good, full, civil life.

Last of all this morning we offer up our prayer of gratitude for the life of her Majesty the Queen and her decades of public service.  We pray as well for the members of her family for whom she was not a remote figure but rather a beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.  We also pray for your blessing on King Charles as he begins his reign as our new head of state.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen


September 4, 2022

Message for September 4, 2022

Jeremiah 32:6-15

          “The word jeremiad means a doleful and thunderous denunciation, and its derivation is no mystery.  There was nothing in need of denunciation that Jeremiah didn’t denounce.  He denounced the rich for exploiting the poor and he denounced the poor for deserving no better.  He denounced the way every new god came sniffing around, and right at the very gates of the Temple he told them that if they thought God was impressed by all the mumbo-jumbo that went on in there, they ought to have their heads examined.

He even denounced God himself for saddling him with the job of trying to reform such a pack of hyenas, degenerates, ninnies.  ‘You have deceived me’ he said, shaking his fist.”


This was written by one of my favourite authors, Frederick Buchener, in his book “Peculiar Treasures:  A Biblical Who’s Who”.  Reading the book in the Bible that bears his name, it is no wonder that Jeremiah has been nicknamed “Mr. Doom and Gloom”.  Indeed Jeremiah was a man who seemed to be always angry about someone or something and when he wasn’t busy telling someone off, he spoke about how the Babylonians were going to destroy their country.  And sure enough, the huge Babylonian war machine eventually set its eyes on Judah.  The result quite naturally was panic.

In amidst the chaos, one of Jeremiah’s cousins came to him with a business proposal; he offered to sell Jeremiah a field just outside of Jerusalem.  Now this proposed sale was of course pure foolishness.  The Babylonian army was quite literally camped on that field and besides, this most certainly was not the time to be investing in real estate!  This was a time for liquid assets such as gold, silver and other things that could be easily carried or hidden.  Any good financial advisor would have said to Jeremiah, “don’t do it!”.  Even so, Jeremiah did buy the field.  In fact Jeremiah didn’t just buy it, he also went out of his way to make sure that all of the legalities were taken care of and that he had a clear and undisputed title to the land.  Of course Jeremiah must have known that his land deed wasn’t worth the parchment it was written on, and so the big question is why; why did he do something so seemingly foolish?

He did so to make a point.  For years he had told the people about all the bad things that were going to happen.  Now that his predictions were coming true, he wanted the people to remember that no matter whatever happened, they were still God’s people and in his hands.  Jeremiah bought the land to remind the people that despite what was going to happen when the Babylonians took over, they still had a future.  To be sure, their future would not be the same as their past but nevertheless they still had a future simply because God would be there.

Harvey Cox is a well-known writer and a former professor at the University of Harvard.  In his book, “The Future of Faith”, he divides the history of Christianity into three time periods.  He calls the first one, which lasted for 300 years, “The Age of Faith”.  This was the early days of the church and during that time, with congregations scattered throughout the Roman Empire, Christianity was very loosely organized with most congregations doing their own thing.  Belief was important but the main emphasis was on behaviour and following the example and teaching of Jesus.  That is why the Christians were known as the “People of the Way”; they were best known for their dedication to following the teaching and example of Jesus.  There were priests, bishops, and popes at that time but by no means did they run the church.  Christians also made up a small minority of the population and far from being a part of the establishment, many of them were persecuted because of their beliefs.  This however changed.

About three hundred years after Jesus, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great had a conversion experience, and his response was to make Christianity the official religion of the empire.  Almost overnight the Christians went from being a persecuted minority to a favoured majority as many people jumped on the bandwagon to become a part of this newly favoured religion.  The church also became far more organized too as the clergy, and especially the popes, grew in power and importance.  While following the example and teaching of Jesus was still important, the emphasis was ever increasingly placed on belief; not believing in Jesus but rather believing about Jesus.  This is when the great creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed were written.  The yardstick of being a ‘real’ Christian was now believing what these creeds said; how a person behaved was secondary.  What Cox calls “The Age of Belief” had begun and it lasted for a long time.  How long?

For 1700 years.  Now however says Cox, it is over.  Regular church goers are no longer a majority of the population, and Christianity itself is no longer the official faith, or even the favoured faith in Western society.  Rather, Christianity in our society today is just one religion amongst all the others.  An indication of how much things have changed is that when I began ministry forty years ago I, along with the other ministers in the village of Colborne, went into the public school every week and taught religion, that is Christianity.  Can you imagine that happening today?  Even amongst regular church attenders today, many no longer feel the same loyalty to their denomination that they used to.  Generally speaking, most people today aren’t all that concerned with holding the ‘right’ beliefs either, rather the emphasis today is on how we behave.  Like the early Christians, we are far more concerned with how to best follow Jesus’ teaching and example.  Whether we like it or not, we are living through an era of almost unprecedented change and this has led Cox to conclude that we have now entered a new era, one that he calls, “The Age of the Spirit”.

So concludes one of the most challenging and thought-provoking authors in Christianity today.  Since about 1960 we have been living through a time of almost unprecedented change, and a new age has dawned.  Is there is any truth to this?  I think that there is but how do we feel about this?

Some of us deny that anything has changed while others hope and pray that it is all nothing more than a passing trend and that things will get back to normal.  Some people are excited about all the changes and others are almost terrified.  Will things ever go back to what they were?  I doubt it, and in fact it is quite possible that Christianity’s future will resemble its early days with smaller congregations, less unified denominations, and an emphasis on action rather than holding the ‘right’ beliefs.  And with all of this change, we may well feel like the people of Jeremiah’s time and that we are, so-to-speak, under siege.  In fact we may even feel like exiles and that like God’s people of 2500 years ago, we are now embarked on an uncertain journey into an unknown future.  It is challenging and sometimes even frightening to be living in a time of such upheaval and yet, like the people of Jeremiah’s day, we too have God’s promise that whatever the future may have in store, he will be there.  The future belongs to God.

That is why Jeremiah defied all common sense and bought that field.  He did it to remind the people of his day, and by implication us too, that God, the one who loves us, forgives us, and redeems us will be with us.  And it is this that allows us to face the future, without fear or dread.  In the words of the 27th psalm:


“The Lord is my light and my salvation:

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life,

of whom shall I be afraid?”



If we prefer, there are these words of an ancient Celtic prayer, prayed by people who knew full well how uncertain and even frightening the future may sometimes seem to be:


“The light of God surrounds me.

The love of God enfolds me.

The power of God protects me.

The presence of God watches over me.

Wherever I am … God is!”


And so he is.



Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God, hear us as we come to you in prayer on this, what is for many people, the middle day of a long holiday weekend.  We thank you for what this weekend means for so many, a welcome break as the summer holiday season comes to its end and things return to a more normal routine.  We thank you for what this weekend commemorates, the gift of labour.  We thank you for the labour of the many people that provide us with both life’s necessities and other good things.  Too often perhaps, we forget about our dependence upon the work and expertise of others who make it all possible.

As we give you thanks for this long weekend, we pray for the safety and well-being of all.  We pray too for the safety and well-being of all the children and young people as they return to school in the coming week.  To this end, we pray for the teachers, other staff, and volunteers, that they may do their best to fulfill the responsibilities that have been entrusted to them.

We give you thanks for this summer season coming to its end, and we give you thanks as well for the season of beauty and bounty that will soon be upon us.  We pray this day for all for whom your creation has not been so beautiful or bountiful.  We remember the people of Mississippi and your children in Pakistan after the incredible flooding of the past few weeks.  As our climate continues to change and evolve, grant that we too may change and evolve, taking better care of the world around us.

We offer to you our prayer of loving concern this morning for all who are hurting.  As you well know through the person of your Son, while life is good, it can sometimes be full of hurt and pain, both physical and mental.

As we so often have in the past six months, we once again offer up our prayer for the sake of the people of Ukraine who now, amongst so many other things, have to be concerned about the safety of a nuclear plant.  May an end to the fighting and a true peace come, sooner rather than later.  As we look at the world around us, help us to put our faith, hope, and trust in you, remembering that no matter what does or does not happen, you are and always will be there, with us and for us.

We ask these things in your Son’s name.  Amen

August 28, 2022.

Message for August 28, 2022

Ezekiel 18:1-4

        All I can do is plead either tiredness or stupidity.  Every morning I set the table for breakfast and one morning when I reached into the cupboard for the vitamins, I knocked out a bottle of sinus medicine.  The top came off and the pills were everywhere!  There were some on the floor, the counter, and there was even one on top of the orange juice jug!  I wasn’t mad but I was certainly irritated because this most certainly wasn’t how I wanted to begin the day, picking up all these little pills!

        “Look”, I said to Susan, “the last person who used this didn’t put the lid on properly!”  Quite reasonably she pointed out that that last person was almost certainly me, but what was my immediate unthinking response?  “I don’t think so!”

        Now in all honesty, it is almost certain that the last person to use it was me but when I think about it, what I find interesting is my unthinking and almost automatic reaction; to claim that what had happened wasn’t my fault.  This however almost seems to be a basic part of our human nature, to deny responsibility and blame someone or something else when something goes wrong.  We can think of one of the very first stories in the Bible for example.

        All of us of course are well acquainted with the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how they were allowed to eat anything they wanted to with one exception.  Inspired by the serpent though, Eve ate the forbidden fruit. She then gave some to her husband and he ate it.  Later when God asked what was going on, Eve’s response was to blame the serpent saying that it was all its fault!  When Adam was questioned, he started passing the blame around too.  He said that it was the woman’s fault since she had given it to him!  Then he even implied that it was all really God’s fault since he had created the woman in the first place!  If the consequences hadn’t been so tragic, the story of Adam and Eve would actually be rather humorous with no one accepting responsibility for their actions but instead falling all over themselves to blame someone else.  But the story of Adam and Eve is, unfortunately, in many ways our story.  This is to say, how often do we act like Adam and Eve?  How often when we make mistakes or do something wrong, do we offer excuses or try to pass the blame?  But while we may think and act this way, God doesn’t approve of it.

        The prophet Ezekiel lived at the time of the great Babylonian crisis.  Like his fellow prophet Jeremiah, Ezekiel too warned the people that they were going to be crushed by the Babylonians as a punishment for their sins.  Naturally many of the people didn’t like this message and offered all sorts of arguments as to why it would never happen.  To start with, they said that since they were God’s people nothing bad could ever happen to them.  Others argued in a similar vein that even if they weren’t perfect, they were still the descendants of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, and other great heroes of the faith.  If only because of their ancestors, God wouldn’t let anything bad happen to them.  Other people though took the exact opposite point of view and argued that everything bad in life was their ancestor’s fault.  They had simply inherited the mess and were prisoners of history.  Quoting a popular proverb of the day, they said:  “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  Yet others even used Adam’s argument and said that since God had created them as human beings, how could he blame them if they were less than perfect?  Ultimately everything wrong in the world was God’s fault and God’s responsibility!

        For his part Ezekiel rejected such reasoning altogether.  He insisted that in the end it didn’t matter who their ancestors were or what they had done.  What mattered was what they themselves had said and done.  Don’t blame your ancestors, the world around you, or even God himself for your mistakes!  Whether they wanted to or not, they had to accept responsibility for themselves.  In short said Ezekiel, they had to act like mature adults instead of children.

        There are many things in life that we have little or no control over.  Genetics for example dictates such as the colour of our skin and eyes.  We inherit such things and there is little or nothing that we can do about them.  To a point we are also impacted by history too.  Decisions made years ago by the people who have gone before us can and does have an impact on us today.  To use one example, for various reasons the federal government set up the residential school system over one hundred years ago and many denominations, including our own, agreed to operate them.  The schools themselves are now a thing of the past but even so, as we all well know, we are still living with the horrific consequences today.  Or to use another example, decades ago it was decided to move our drug making plants offshore.  Then when the pandemic struck, the government was left scrambling to obtain access to vaccines.  Even in our own personal lives we can’t avoid the consequences of our past.  Decisions made years ago about such as whether or not to marry, whether or not to stay in school, and where to work can still have an impact on our lives decades later.

        Truly, whether it be as a church, a country or as individuals, we cannot fully escape the consequences of the past.  If we want to, we can blame those who have gone before for whatever is wrong in our lives.  Like Adam and the people in today’s lesson, we can even blame God himself for creating a less than perfect world.  And yet as today’s scripture passage reminds us, God rejects such reasoning altogether.  Yes, while we are influenced by the past, we are not helpless prisoners of it.  We most certainly should not just blame history, God, or even the people around us for our mistakes, failures, or shortcomings.  In fact we don’t even need to do this.  We don’t because, as the gospel tells us over and over again, we are free to live our lives and make our choices knowing that we can and will be forgiven when we do make bad ones.  Consider this short story from years ago.

        According to John McNeill, a great Scottish preacher of years gone by, a farmer once caught an eagle while it was quite young.  The farmer tied a rope around one of the eagle’s legs and kept it in the barnyard along with his chickens.  The eagle, not knowing any better, grew up acting like a hen, scratching and pecking at the ground.  This majestic bird that was meant to soar in the sky above seemed to be content living the life of a lowly hen.  Then one day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who urged him to let the bird go.  The farmer agreed and cut the tether.  The eagle however just kept on pecking away, looking at the ground.  The shepherd then picked the eagle up and set him on the stone fence.  For the first time in months the eagle looked up and saw the expanse of the blue sky above.  He then spread his wings and, with a tremendous leap, soared away acting like an eagle once more.

        Now this, McNeill said, is an analogy for us and our lives as God’s people and the disciples of Christ.  When we unthinkingly and wrongly blame others for our mistakes, failures, and shortcomings, we are so-to-speak acting like chickens.  But God did not create us to be chickens, pecking and scratching at the ground.  Rather God has created us to be like eagles, free to soar, free from the mistakes of our past.  God has created us to live our lives secure in the knowledge that when we do mess up, we can and will be forgiven and freed to try again.  There is no need for us to act like immature children blaming the past, others, or even God himself for all that is wrong in life.  Rather, secure in God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, we can act like mature adults, free to make our own decisions and accepting the consequences of our choices.  This is the good news and promise of the gospel.  This is the good news and promise of Christ crucified and risen.









Pastoral Prayer

        Gracious God, hear us as we come to you in prayer this summer day.  We thank you for the precious gift of this day, and your very creation itself with all of its beauty and goodness.  We thank you for the life-sustaining rain after the dryness of the past two months, but also pray for those such as in Texas and Arizona who went from one extreme to another, from drought to disastrous floods.

        We thank you for this summer season, even as it starts to slowly wind down and the days grow shorter.  Looking ahead to next week’s Labour Day weekend when so many will be traveling, we pray for the safety and well-being of all.

        We give you thanks for the mysterious wonder of life, and we give you thanks for the life that comes to us through you, both physical and spiritual.  We thank you for your love made known to us in so many different ways but, above all, we thank you for your love made known to us through your Son’s life, death and resurrection.  In response to all that you have done and made possible for us, help us to live lives of gratitude.  May we do our best, secure in your love and forgiveness when we fail, to make the lives of others and the world around us all the better for our being a part of it.  Help us to take responsibility for our actions and decisions; grant that we may act like mature adults rather than children.

        We offer up our prayer this morning for all those who hunger for food, justice, or peace.

        We pray for the sake of peace in the many troubled places of your creation, and we especially pray for the people of Ukraine as the war continues with no end in sight.

        We pray for our own nation and society as concern continues to rise over our ailing medical system, and for the well-being of all who work in it, struggling to care for both themselves and for others. 

        Be with, bless and keep us all.  We ask this in your Son’s name.  Amen