Naming God: A Sermon for Sunday June 25, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday June 25, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Whenever I hear people say that they want a traditional Biblical marriage, I think of marriages like Abraham and Sarah’s and I think, “Really?”

Because that’s not a relationship I would ever want to emulate.

Let’s talk about Sarah for a few minutes. In that time and place, Sarah would have found her sense of self and identity in her relationship to other people and in particular, in her relationship to her husband, and her children.

Her relationship with her husband is complicated. A few weeks ago I talked about how when Abraham chooses to follow God’s call to travel to a new land, Sarah has to go too. She doesn’t have a choice.

Throughout their marriage, Sarah comes to learn that she is expendable and so she can’t just relax and trust that her position is stable. She can’t trust that she is safe.

On several occasions, Abraham senses danger and his solution is to treat Sarah like a commodity.

She is more of a chess piece than a life partner. She is expendable.

Abraham’s abusive treatment of Sarah is traumatic and we see some of the manifestations of that trauma in her treatment of Hagar. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.”

In that time, in that culture, you ideally wanted to have a large number of children. Children were a part of your workforce and helped ensure economic stability. If you didn’t have a large number of kids, you needed at least one son to be your heir. That was the bare minimum.

It is Sarah’s job to provide a son for Abraham, and at around the age of 90 she still hasn’t had a child.

So for most of her life, she knows she has failed. For most of her life she has likely felt like a failure.

Well, she is not actually a failure and if you don’t have children, you are not a failure either.

Society will constantly make you feel like a failure even to this day, but you are not a failure.

For most of Sarah’s life she does not have children and so for most of Sarah’s life she will be viewed by everyone around her as a failure. They will stare, gossip, and offer pitying looks.

They will say ignorant and hurtful things.

And Sarah will know. She will know that they think she’s a failure. She might even, having been formed by that society’s norms and expectations, agree with them.

So towards the end of her life Sarah makes a plan. A plan that may seem odd to us, but a plan that was perfectly acceptable in her time.

She finds an enslaved woman, named Hagar, and forces her to have a child with Abraham. A child Sarah can claim as her own.

This was a common practice, the biological child of an enslaved person was also the property of the slave owner. So Hagar’s child could actually become Sarah’s child. Hagar is not meant to be this child’s mother, she is merely the container used to help Sarah have the child she cannot have on her own.

If you have read the book or watched the HBO series, this is the root of the story of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Women and children tend to be treated like commodities in Genesis. It’s one of the most problematic aspects of the book. It doesn’t end with Genesis – think of the book of Job, in that book, all of Job’s children are killed towards the beginning of the story and by the end, he is given a bunch of new kids - as if children are simply replaceable.

The Bible is filled with complicated stories like that.

Everything goes according to Sarah’s plan – at least at the beginning. Hagar has a son named Ishmael, so now Abraham has a male heir.

And then the impossible happens, Sarah gives birth to a son named Isaac and Sarah no longer views Hagar’s son as her own, rather she begins to see Hagar and her son as a threat.

Abraham decides to hold a feast to celebrate Isaac and Sarah’s insecurities begin to surface. She goes to Abraham and says, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” (10)

Abraham is “distressed,” but God tells him to do what Sarah wants and God promises Abraham that although his lineage will be traced through Isaac, Ishmael will also be blessed as the founder of a great nation. (13-14)

So Abraham sends Hagar and their son away into the wilderness.
Hagar carries Ishmael on her back - which calls to mind modern day images of refugees fleeing persecution – and they travel until they run out of water. Then Hagar stops and, assuming they are both going to die, she puts Ishmael under some bushes and goes “about the distance of a bowshot” away from him so she would not have to watch him die. Then she “lifted up her voice and wept.” (17)

And while she is weeping she hears a voice saying, “What troubles you Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up… He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” (17-21)

God was with the boy. God does not abandon Hagar or her son Ishmael. God remains with them.

Hagar and Ishmael may not have easy lives, their future may be unclear, but God is with them through it all.

Here is one more story about Hagar from earlier in Genesis.

Names are important. They shape how we see ourselves and each other. Abraham and Sarah both received new names at one point in their lives – shifting from Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah.

Hagar in our story isn’t just Hagar, she is alternately Hagar the Egyptian or “the slave.” These names mark Hagar as both a foreigner and as Sarah’s property.

And so perhaps, Hagar, more than any person in this story understands the power of a name. She knows how being marked by her ethnicity and status in Abraham’s household has hurt both her and her child. She knows the dignity of the right name, and the damage of the wrong one.

Hagar and Sarah had a contentious relationship long before the events in today’s reading. Things became so bad when Hagar was pregnant that she ran away.

When she was alone in the wilderness, Hagar had a life changing encounter with God.

During this encounter, God promises Hagar that she will be the mother of a great nation and tells her to return to the home of Abraham and Sarah.

After this encounter, Hagar gives God a name: The God Who Sees (16:13) and in doing so, she becomes the only person in the Bible to give God a name.

People in the Bible name other people and places and things, but only Hagar gives God a name.

Only Hagar.

What does it mean to be seen by God? What does it mean to be chosen by God?

Well first of all, here is what is does NOT mean.

It does not mean that because we are special other groups of people are less special. It does not give us the right to expect to be treated well at the expense of others. It does not mean that we don’t need to listen to other people or consider their needs and their perspectives when making decisions.

It’s pretty easy to find stories of people who want to proclaim that they are special and that their specialness implies that other groups of people are well, not special.

The God Who Sees sees things very differently than we do. The God Who Sees is a God of abundance. The God Who Sees is a God who can declare a covenant with one group of people - calling them special and chosen - and simultaneously declare that others are special as well. In God’s economy both Sarah and Hagar become the mothers of great nations.

And because the God Who Sees is God, the math all adds up. It doesn’t have to make sense to us, it just has to make sense to God.

Hagar’s story serves as a reminder to us to resist the false narrative that we are special and other people are not.

Hagar’s story is a reminder, a warning, a corrective.

Abraham and Sarah are supposed to be the heroes of this story and this story does not make them look good.

This story should have been considered an embarrassing but ultimately unimportant one and it should have been edited out.

But it wasn’t.

The God Who Sees, saw Hagar, saw Ishmael, sees all the people who most of us refuse to see, refuse to listen to. The God Who Sees Hagar declares that her story matters. The story of an enslaved woman from Egypt matters. It will not be forgotten.

The Bible will continue to trace the story of a particular people who were chosen by God, the Israelite people, and will no longer follow the story of the nation that begins with Ishmael.

But there is a reason that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sometimes called the Abrahamic faiths – and that is because we all trace our origins to Abraham’s two sons – Ishmael and Isaac.

God makes the same promise to Ishmael and to Isaac, and God keeps both promises. Both men become the fathers of great nations. Both men experience God’s presence and blessing.

Towards the end of today’s reading it says, “God was with the boy.” (20). God was with Ishmael. God’s care and provision did not end when Hagar and Ishmael were cast out of Abraham’s family.

God is with all of us as well.

As a parish you have experienced a lot of changes in the past few years and today you’re experiencing another one. Change is never easy and it is hard to be unsure of what the future will hold.

But we are gathered here today to worship the God Who Sees and that God sees you and loves you. The God who cared for Hagar and Ishmael will care for you as well.

May you feel that love and may it give you confidence as you move through this next phase as a parish.

In the name of our loving God Who Sees who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Giggling with God: A Sermon for Sunday June 18, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday June 18, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we had a reading about a couple named Abram and Sarai who were told to go on a journey. Today’s story takes place about 35 years later. They have stopped traveling and have changed their names to Abraham and Sarah.

What happened in those missing 35 years?

Last week Abram and Sarai set out on a journey to an unknown destination because God has promised that they will become a great nation.

Abram was 75, Sarai was 65 and they had no children. God’s promise to make them a great nation doesn’t really make any sense so choosing to obey God and set out on this journey doesn’t make any sense either.

Except that they are doing what God tells them to do so it doesn’t really have to make sense to be a good idea.

A number of things happen to them on their journey including the fact that there are two stories where Abram encounters a king and in each story the king notices how incredibly beautiful Sarai is and in each story Abram becomes afraid that the king will kill him in order to take Sarai.

In our culture where you are often only considered beautiful if you are in your 20s, it is refreshing to hear a story of a woman over the age of 65 who is so beautiful that kings would kill for her.

This happens two times and both times, Abram lies and says that Sarai is his sister and gives her to the king.

Gives her, as if she is property.

Abram does this because he is afraid for his life and is willing to sacrifice Sarai for his own safety. Both times God intervenes to protect Sarai and she returns to Abram.

Can you imagine those reunions? The first dinner together after he has treated her that way?

I imagine it was pretty tense, to say the least.

Sarai goes through so much in her life that I can’t even imagine.

In the story just before today’s reading, God repeats his promises to Abram and Sarai and changes their names – they are now Abraham and Sarah.
They are also now 100 years old and 90 years old respectively.

It has been 35 years since God promised that they would become a great nation and they still don’t have any biological children together.

We’re going to look at this story in more detail next week, but about halfway through those 35 years, they decide to help God out. Abraham will have a child with one of his slaves that they will claim as their own.

But God doesn’t need any help and this is not the child that God plans to make a great nation. Once again God will tell Abraham that he will have a child with Sarah and that is the child who will become a great nation.

When Abraham hears this, he falls down on the ground laughing and questioning God. (17:17)

God doesn’t freak out or judge Abraham for laughing, and when Abraham stops laughing, he does what God tells him to do.

In today’s reading, it is a hot day and Abraham is sitting in the entrance of the tent. Probably trying to find a bit of shade and a bit of cool.

He is 100 years old but he seems to be fairly healthy because he spends a good portion of this story running around.

Abraham sees three men approaching and he runs to them and bows on the ground and offer them hospitality – water to wash their feet, a shady spot to sit, and food. (2-3)

When they agree to stay, Abraham rushes off to tell Sarah to make some cakes and then he rushes off to pick a calf from his flock who he gives to a servant to prepare.

Abraham is arranging for a lot of food to be prepared in a short amount of time and we are given a lot of specific details about it. For example, he says to Sarah, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.”

Three measures of flour might be somewhere between 16-20 liters of flour . That’s going to make a LOT of cake.

And if I was Sarah and Abraham rushed in and told me not only to make that much cake but also said, use this much flour, knead it and make cake I would have thought, ‘Who does he think he is? I’ve been making cakes my entire life, I don’t need to be told to knead the dough by a man who hasn’t made a single cake in his entire life!”

The food is prepared and Abraham and his guests relax under the tree and then one of the guests says that the next time they come Sarah will have a son. (10).

Who are these guests? The text is unclear. The story begins by saying that “The Lord appeared to Abraham” and then describes three visitors. (1-2) Sometimes in the story one of the three men speaks, and then sometimes we’re told it is God who is speaking.

And although hospitality was an important value in that time and place, the way Abraham greets the strangers and rushes to offer lavish hospitality suggests that he knows these aren’t just ordinary travelers.

All of this has led some people to believe that perhaps this is an early example of God as the Trinity – three and one all at the same time. There is a famous icon of this scene where the three visitors are very clearly God, for example .

Maybe they are God, or maybe they are God’s messengers, it’s not clear. But what is clear, is that they know that Sarah will have a child within the year.

While all of this is happening, Sarah is hovering by the entrance of the tent eavesdropping. She hears these men claim that she is going to have a son with Abraham and she laughs.

Now I have heard a lot of preachers and commentary writers criticize Sarah for laughing – how dare she mock God’s plans. How dare she hear the will of God and laugh?

Abraham, who did the exact same thing just a few stories ago, does not receive the same kind of criticism.

And honestly, I think I would laugh too. The text makes it very clear that both Abraham and Sarah are really old – in fact if there is anything rude happening in this story it’s how graphically and painstakingly the writer works to make sure we know just how old these people are. Just how impossible it is that they would have a child.

Sarah knows she is old, and she knows how babies are made, and I think when she hears these men calming stating that she is going to have a baby she starts to giggle. Because what those men are talking about is really personal and private and unimaginable and embarrassing all at once.

When Sarah is 65 God makes a promise that she will have a child. Over 10 years pass and she still doesn’t have a biological child so Abraham has a child with a slave that they can claim as their own. By the time of today’s story that child is 13 years old so Sarah has spent 13 years thinking that this surrogate child will be the one to fulfill God’s promise. She likely gave up on the idea that she would have a child decades ago.

And now a bunch of strangers insist that she’ll have a child by the end of the year.

So she laughs.

Makes sense to me.

It also makes sense to me that when her giggles give away the fact that she’s been eavesdropping she’s afraid and denies it just as the text says she does. It doesn’t make her a bad person, it doesn’t mean her faith is lesser than Abraham’s. It’s a very human response. (13-15)

The scene is also just genuinely funny. Abraham is entertaining his guests and Sarah is hiding away eavesdropping on their conversation – as a woman she was not welcome at this table.

It seems that she thinks she is well hidden, and also quiet enough that they should not be able to hear her laugh or ask the question, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure.” But they do hear her, and instead of scurrying back into the tent, or freezing silently in place, she responds to their question from her hiding place.

I imagine her realizing she has given herself away, that she’s been caught eavesdropping and clapping her hand over her mouth and then laughing even harder.

Maybe this makes the guests laugh too and by the end, everyone is in hysterics.

The guest who asks the question, also does not repeat Sarah’s exact words, he leaves out the part about Abraham being old too, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye to spare his host’s feelings.

It feels a bit like a scene out of a British comedy to me.

It’s funny, and God’s plans are often funny. A mentor of mine once said that one of the key ways you know that the Holy Spirit is at work is that you are pleasantly surprised by an outcome.

Being surprised means that you could not have imagined this outcome on your own.

Abraham and Sarah could not imagine having a child on their own in their senior years – they try to help God out by using a surrogate, but that was not God’s plan. God’s plan seems so preposterous that they both at various times wind up laughing about it.

But God is faithful and keeps their promise. Abraham and Sarah have a son named Isaac.

The name Isaac means laughter.

I pray that in the next season of your life as a parish you will find many reasons to laugh out loud, that you will resist the impulse to try and help God out, and that you will be surprised and delighted by what God has in store for you.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

Into the Unknown: A Sermon for Sunday June 11, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday June 11, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.Photo by Katie Drazdauskaite on Unsplash 


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We move back into Ordinary Time this week and over the next few months the lectionary has us doing deep dives into several books of the Bible. We have readings from Genesis for most of the summer, and we’ll be reading from Romans for 15 weeks in a row.

Genesis is the first book in the Bible and seeing as we’ll be spending a lot of time here over the next few months, let’s start by highlighting a few things from earlier chapters of Genesis that I think provide some important context.

Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created…”

I don’t think it’s important to get bogged down in the hows of creation, but I do think it is important to regularly remind ourselves that this world and everything in it, including each one of us, was created by a good and loving God.

We are not cosmic accidents, we are God’s creation.

God created us, loves us, and wants what is best for us.

And it’s not a competition where we are loved and other people aren’t. Or where other people need to suffer so that we can have good things.

God’s economy doesn’t work that way. God’s economy is so much bigger than that.

God loves everyone and desires good things for everyone.

In the earliest chapters of Genesis we have the stories of creation, of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Ark, and the Tower of Babel. In these stories we see human beings being very human – working for selfish purposes rather than for the betterment of all humankind. We see them become more separated from each other, working against each other rather than for each other.

In today’s reading, we see the earliest steps in God’s plan to bring them back together again.

Today’s reading begins in chapter 12. The main characters in this story are Abram and Sarai.

In later stories, they will change their names to Abraham and Sarah. Changing your name was a really common thing to do and we have many Biblical stories where this happens. St. Peter was first called Simon. St. Paul was first called Saul to name just a few.

Today people can get really excited and upset when someone changes their name but this has been a practice since the very beginning and we should celebrate whenever someone begins to use language that more fully reflects who they were created to be.

I’m also very likely going to use the wrong name for both Abram and Sarai at some point because I am much more used to calling them Abraham and Sarah but when I do, I’m just going to correct myself and move on – which is what any of us should do if we accidentally use the wrong name or the wrong pronouns for someone.

God tells Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (1-2)

Although we won’t be looking at today’s gospel reading in any detail, it’s worth noting that Mathew has a similar experience to Abram.

God tells Abram to go somewhere he has never been, and Jesus tells Matthew to leave the comfort of his current life to follow Jesus to unknown places and into an unknown future.

I suspect if you were to interview these men at the end of their lives they would tell you that following God into the unknown was a good decision, possibly even the best choice they had ever made.

But I also suspect that they would tell you that following God into the unknown wasn’t always easy, sometimes it was unspeakably hard even, and it often took them to places they never ever imagined they would go.

As a parish, God is calling you all into an unknown future as well. You don’t know exactly was the future holds for you. I expect it will be hard, scary even, but I trust, that if you pay attention and follow God’s leading in this journey that you will also look back on the choice to follow God as the best choice you have ever made.

God tells Abram to go and Abram goes even though, practically speaking, the promises God makes about this journey make no sense.

God promises that Abram will become a great nation. But there are two things required to make a nation – land and people - and Abram doesn’t have either.

Our reading tells us that Abram is 75. A little later in Genesis we learn that Sarai is 10 years younger than Abram making her 65. (17:17) They have been married for a long time, but they don’t have any children.

Now as you well know, senior people can do a lot of pretty amazing things, but having a baby, let alone having enough babies to reasonably imagine they can create an entire nation is rarely one of them.

This fact alone would make me question God’s call for me to leave the place that I was living, a place where I was comfortable, and go somewhere I had never been before.

Because what God is asking them to do doesn’t just seem hard, it seems impossible.

So Abram does not have any children to make a great nation, but he also doesn’t have any land. In the rest of our reading, Abram will begin to travel to various places and there are a few things I want us to note about this.

The first is that as Abram travels to various places God will tell him that these lands will belong to Abram’s descendants, not Abram. (7)
God has a very different sense of time than we do. God’s plan to make Abram a great nation is not a plan that Abram will see fulfilled in his lifetime, but it will be fulfilled.

Right now – for better or for worse – we are dealing with the decisions made by our ancestors in the church. The decisions they made impact us today. Similarly, our descendants in the church will be impacted by our choices. May we always keep them in mind and make choices that will help them to flourish.

Secondly whenever Abram stops in any of these places he builds an altar to the Lord.

We don’t have a specific practice like this in the church now but I have often wished we did.

I think the key point of building an altar is to stop and acknowledge what God is doing in your life. That can be done by anyone, anywhere and doesn’t cost anything.

Sometimes, we may want to remember a particular event by creating a tangible, reminder. By building something. This can also be done in a variety of ways: you could chose to build up the community by volunteering at Plessis Family Resource center as a way of giving thanks for a family member, you could take a picture to remember a particular place or particular time that God spoke to you, you could do something more formal, and more expensive, like creating a window for the church that reminds you of God’s faithfulness in the past.

There are a lot of creative things you can do that can help you stop, be thankful, and remember God’s faithfulness.

God calls, Abram follows. God makes promises, Abram builds altars.

Although this will not be the case in every story, in today’s story, Abram never speaks. He doesn’t say anything to God, he just listens and obeys.

Maybe he did speak, and that’s just not recorded in scripture. Maybe he asked God a lot of questions before heading out on this journey into the unknown. It’s certainly OK to ask God questions, but if Abram did, we don’t know what they are.

What kinds of questions are you asking God right now as you follow God into the unknown?

It’s OK, important even, to have and ask questions. But I would encourage you not to get stuck in the questions. Not to sit by the side of the road waiting until you have all the answers. Keep asking the questions, but keeping taking each next faithful step as well.

Abram never speaks in this story, but neither does Sarai.

When God tells Abram to leave the comfort of his home and journey into the unknown, Sarai has to go too. Abram has a choice, Sarai doesn’t.

Sarai is silent and Sarai is not given a choice about whether or not she wants to go on this journey. She won’t always be silent, and she will make many choices in later stories but when you look at the choices she makes, keep this in the back of your mind. How would you speak, and what kind of choices would you make, if you were forced to leave your home and go on a journey like this?

God doesn’t just tell Abram and Sarai to go on this journey into the unknown however. God also makes some very specific promises. God makes a series of “I will” statements, or promises.

The land they are going to? They won’t have to guess where it is, God says, “I will show you [the land]” and I will give it to your descendants. (1 and 7)

God also says that “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”

All of these things God promises to do if Abram and Sarai follow God into the unknown.

And there is one more promise in this story as well. God says, “in you – in Abram and Sarai – all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (3)

This blessing isn’t just for Abram, it’s not even just for Abram’s family. Abram is being called by God to do something that will bless the entire world.

Our actions always impact others but I suspect that we don’t always think about that. What might change, what blessings might we be able to impart, if we chose to think beyond our own benefit to how our actions might benefit others, the entire world even?

We are also called to bless the world, and we have the power to do so in our own way. As you move into the unknown, I pray that you will always remember that God is with you, and you will never forget that you have the power to make a difference and change the world for the better.

Which is good news.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Sermon for Pentecost 2023: Sunday May 28

The following sermon was preached on Sunday May 28, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

One of the funniest things about being a priest is that people have a tendency to apologise whenever they swear around me.

I’m a priest and I know a lot of priests and trust me, you don’t need to apologise. Your priest most likely swears at least as much, if not more, than you do.

Language is such a funny thing isn’t it? Technically a word is just a combination of meaningless symbols and sounds. They shouldn’t have any power. It shouldn’t be possible to say that some words are bad and some are good.

But words do have tremendous power. Words can be used to uplift, to empower, to wound, to demean. Words can used to include or exclude.

There is a reason why we need to think carefully about the words we use.

Today’s reading from Acts is one of those readings that anyone who has ever volunteered to read the Bible in public dreads. It contains a rather impressive string of unpronounceable place names.

The reading begins, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (1)

If you were a Jewish person in the first century, you would know that Pentecost is an agricultural festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. It’s the day when you offer the first of your crops to God, partly as an expression of gratitude, and partly as a hope that the rest of the crops will grow well so you can feed your family.

You’d also know that Pentecost is more than just an agricultural festival. It’s also the day that you remember that your ancestors were once enslaved in Egypt and then were finally freed only to wander for fifty days in the wilderness before they came to Mount Sinai where Moses would speak to God directly and receive the law. The law that became a framework for the way of life that you and your ancestors have been trying to follow ever since.
If you were there on the particular Pentecost that our reading from Acts describes, or if you heard that story afterwards, you would see all of these earlier stories and symbols bubbling up and colouring this experience.

I think it would still have seemed pretty bizarre. Terrifying. Less Pentecost and more Pente-chaos.

Jesus has left his people for a second time – first when he died and then we he ascended to heaven - and no one knows what is going to happen next and so they have all gathered together.

It’s likely that everyone is gathered in one place because there is safety in numbers. It’s likely that everyone is gathered in one place because this group of Christ followers are afraid for their lives.

But it’s also likely, that they are gathered together because rituals and traditions are powerful ways of infusing a sense of stability, a sense of normalcy into turbulent times.

One of the hardest things about the early days of the pandemic was that we lost the ability to gather together. It made a hard time even harder.

But those first Christians could gather together and so they do gather together to celebrate Pentecost, just as their ancestors had done for generations.

But they are in for a surprise.

A sound comes from heaven like the rush of a violent wind which moves and fills the entire house. Tongues like fire appear and rest on everyone present. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and develop the ability to speak in multiple languages. (1-4)

These events were loud enough that people came from throughout Jerusalem to the house to see what had happened and pretty soon a large crowd had gathered. And each person in that crowd was shocked to discover that there was someone in the house who was able to speak to them... in their own indigenous language. (5-8)

It made no sense.

They weren’t all suddenly able to speak the same language. They weren’t suddenly all able to speak the same language as the people inside the house. Rather, all of the insiders were given the ability to speak all of the different languages of the crowd of outsiders who have assembled outside the house to find out what’s going on.

This gift, this ability to speak multiple languages was given to those first followers of Jesus, but it wasn’t for them.

God was calling God’s people into a new way of living, into a new way of being.

One mark of the Holy Spirit is that we are empowered to connect with others, not by expecting them to learn our language and customs, but by learning theirs.
Somewhere in our history, the church lost this message. We forgot that our job is to speak in ways that other people can understand. Ways that invite them in. Somewhere along the lines, we forgot this gift and began to believe that our beliefs, our cultural practices, and even our languages were superior to everyone else’s. We lost this Holy Spirit mindset in favour of a colonial one.

Eight years ago I spent a couple of months in Spain and I came to love the lispy lilting sounds of the particular type of Spanish that is spoken there.

But when I came back to Canada and began to study the language with a teacher from Mexico, I realized that the sounds that were so comforting to me, were a reminder of colonial oppression to him. When the Spanish explorers first came to his country they came to dominate it, and the Christian religion and the Spanish language were two of their most powerful tools of oppression. The colonial enterprise was successful – like most other people from Mexico he speaks Spanish - but his accent is not the accent of colonial Spain and his feelings about that country are infinitely more complicated than mine.

The same thing happened here in Canada, as indigenous people were forbidden to speak their own languages and forced to learn English and French.

Which is the exact opposite of what happens in our reading. The outsiders who rush to the house to find out what’s happening don’t first have to learn the insider’s language in order to do so. Instead, the insiders are given the ability to speak to everyone in their own languages.

A gift given for the sake of others is an odd thing, a threatening thing even, and not everyone who witnesses these events celebrates them.

Luke writes, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” (12-13)

Whenever we encounter something new, something we cannot understand, we face a strong temptation to judge. To restore our sense of comfort and stability by saying that there is something wrong with this new thing.

Those who sneered and said, “They’re drunk,” could walk away riding the high of smug self-righteousness. But in doing so, they lost out on the chance to be transformed by this new thing.

Lost out at least for that moment, because the welcoming work of the Spirit means there is always time for a second, third, or three hundredth chance.

Judgement shuts down communication. It shuts down learning. It’s a barrier to relationship and community.

A better way to respond is to resist judgement and lean into curiosity instead. To ask good, open ended questions. Questions like, “What does this mean?”

The people were not drunk. God was doing a new thing. Those who were curious enough to ask would begin to discover just what that was.

So when some people have decided that these Christ followers are drunk, others ask, “What does it mean?” and to this question, Peter replies: “Indeed these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” (15)

Which is a fantastic detail if you ask me.

Also I think it’s sad that this is a detail of our story that we haven’t chosen to commemorate liturgically. Can you imagine it? What is we celebrated Pentecost by making sure we’re all out in public at 9:00 serving people in such an energetic and passionately loving way that people wondered if we were all drunk?

So Peter explains, “They’re not drunk,” and then he quotes from the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh, everyone is to be included – young and old, women and men, slave and free. Everyone will prophesy, everyone will speak God’s word into being. Peter wants everyone to know that on that day, the things Joel said would happen are in fact happening.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s arrival declared in no uncertain terms that anyone who wants to follow Jesus can follow Jesus. Just as they are. The Spirit came to break down barriers, not to build them.

Pentecost also tells us that the divine solution to our failure to understand each other is not conformity, getting everyone on the same page and believing the same thing. Everyone did not miraculously start speaking the same language at Pentecost, as humans did at the start of the Babel story. Each person retained his or her language and was divinely enabled to hear the good news in his or her own tongue. God met everyone exactly where they were, as the divine continues to do.”
God desires to meet us where we are at and God desires that we, empowered by the Spirit, would do the same for others.
May it be so. In the name of our God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen

You Belong To God: A Sermon for Sunday May 21, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday May 21, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash  (When I was looking for an appropriate photo I found this and it made me snort laugh, I hope it does the same for you.)


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

This past Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension.

For those of you who might need a brief refresher, the story of Jesus’ ascension is found at the beginning of the book of Acts. Jesus has been resurrected and reunited with his disciples and has spent forty days with them. I find it hard to believe, but this past Thursday was 40 days after Easter. This is why the church celebrates Ascension Day on a Thursday, not a Sunday.

That seems pretty logical to me, well thought out, even though it means that a lot of churches either don’t celebrate the ascension at all, or they just move it to the nearest Sunday out of convenience.

Today we have a reading from Acts that tells the story of Jesus’ ascension, and a gospel reading that takes place just before the crucifixion.

Let’s start with our reading from Acts. Jesus has been with his disciples for forty days and now they ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

The text doesn’t say this, but I wonder if Jesus’ heart sank as he realized they still didn’t understand. Did he feel like a failure? Did he wonder if he should hang around a bit longer and try to explain everyone one more time?

Because it seems to me that every time Jesus tries to explain what he is planning to accomplish, the disciples listen, nod their heads and then go right back to their original paradigm. “That’s all really cool Jesus, but now we’re going to take back our kingdom, right?”

We can only guess what Jesus is feeling based on what he says which is something like, “Stop obsessing over dates and times, that’s God’s job, not yours,” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (8)

And then, we are told, “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (9)

Jesus disappears and now all the disciples are staring up into the sky unable to believe what has just happened. Then two men in white robes appear and ask, “what are you doing staring up into the sky?”

I imagine it was actually a terrifying and confusing moment to experience, but as a reader, I find it hilarious to imagine all these men with shocked looks on their faces , mouths hanging open staring up into an empty sky, and then, startled by the question from the men in white, trying to explain what they’ve just experienced.

We know that gradually the disciples did begin to make sense of all of these experiences, but it didn’t happen right away.

And that may be in part because of all the ways their lives keep changing over a short period of time. Constant change is exhausting, disorienting, disheartening. We don’t tend to do our best thinking in those sorts of circumstances.

From the time they first met Jesus they began to develop a set of expectations – we see an example of those expectations in their question to Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Those expectations were dashed when Jesus was crucified. Jesus was dead and before they could even really wrap their head around that reality, Jesus was alive again. And through the next 40 days they began to hope again, began to imagine a future with Jesus again, and then, in a moment, he’s gone… again.

The disciples had developed a sense of what it meant to be a follower of a physically present Jesus, but they did not yet understand what it would mean to follow Jesus without actually being physically present with Jesus.

It was possible that the whole movement would fall apart at that moment, but it didn’t. In fact, as they begin to figure out what it means to follow Jesus Christ without the physical presence of Jesus Christ the movement strengthens and grows rapidly.
When he was physically present with them, Jesus kept trying to explain things to his followers and they kept missing the point. It was only after he ascended that they began to reflect on all the things he had said and began to make sense of them.

I wonder why they didn’t do that work when Jesus was present but I suspect that oftentimes, we avoid difficult questions until we have no choice but to answer them.

It’s really common to avoid tough questions when we’re feeling comfortable or to avoid tough questions that might make us feel uncomfortable, but that short term gain of comfort in the moment can often lead to long term pain.

It’s a very human thing, but oftentimes when the disciples listen to Jesus they hear what they want to hear, they hear what they are comfortable hearing. And they didn’t want to hear that Jesus was going to leave them again. So when he does, they are sad and confused. And after he leaves, they have to do the hard word of thinking back and realizing that Jesus has been saying this would happen all along.

I wonder how many of them thought, “If only I had really listened to Jesus when he was here I would have asked him so many questions!” Or, “If only I had listened to Jesus when he was here I would have understood what was happening and spared myself so much confusion and suffering.”

So that was Thursday and today is Sunday and the lectionary gives us this story and then jumps back to an event that happens before the crucifixion.

Sometimes I read scripture silently and sometimes I read it out loud. When I read this week’s gospel reading out loud I noticed something new.

John’s writing style is very different from say Mark’s. John’s writing style is particularly difficult to read aloud – if he’d invited me to edit his gospel I would have said, “John, you are way too wordy. Try to say what you mean in a single sentence, instead of repeating it with only slight variations over three or four sentences.”

But he did not ask me.

And it seems that the creators of our lectionary also thought John could use an editor because they made the rather unusual choice to end our reading less than halfway through Jesus’ prayer. I wonder if they looked at the second half of the prayer and thought “this is all rather repetitive. Let’s just end it partway through.”

The prayer is 25 verses long, but our reading ends at verse 11.

Chapters 14-17 of John’s gospel are known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. In these chapters we see Jesus spending time with his disciples trying to prepare them for his death.

Which is no easy task.

In one of my favourite scenes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two characters are talking about the death of their mothers. One character asks the other, “Was it sudden?” And the response is, “No, and yes. It’s always sudden.”

Death, even one you think you are prepared for, is always sudden.

But Jesus is trying to prepare them. He is doing his best to make sure they have everything they need to walk through the dark and confusing times they are about to encounter.

And as part of that process, Jesus prays.

Jesus was a person of prayer and so it’s only natural that he would end these discourses with prayer. This prayer is, as prayer always is, a conversation between the pray-er and God.

But Jesus is also aware that he has an audience and so this prayer works on two levels – as a conversation with God, and as good news for the disciples.

Later, when they begin to think back on this time and remember what Jesus told them, they would also remember the words of this prayer. A prayer that says things like, “They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (6)

In dark moments, when they begin to doubt, they can remember Jesus’s affirmation that they belong to God and have been faithful to God.

This idea repeats throughout the prayer, the disciples belong to God.

God didn’t really need this reminder, but how comforting this repeated idea must have been for the disciples in moments of dark and doubt. May it be a comfort to us as well – we are God’s people too. We belong to God.

I said earlier that this prayer is repetitive, but I actually think that is part of its brilliance – so it’s a good thing I wasn’t this gospel’s editor! In its repetitiveness it begins to take on the cadence of a chant or a mantra or a Taizé song.

There are some things we need to be told more than once – especially during hard times. I need to be told over and over and over again that I belong, that I matter, that I am loved.

And this is what Jesus does, he says the same thing, with only slight variations over and over again – you belong to God.

I’d encourage you to read the entire chapter this week, read it as a prayer, read it more than once.

The entire prayer ends, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (26)

This is my prayer for all of us this week. May each one of us know that we are loved by God, and may that love pour out of each one of us throughout the coming week.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Baptism Sermon for Sunday May 14, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday May 14, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo credit: Alex Shute on Unsplash.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Our readings for today jump around a bit in the timeline of the Christian story. The gospel reading takes place after Jesus has been risen from the dead, but before he leaves earth.

In this little window of time, Jesus has a really complicated job to perform. He knows he is leaving, and he knows that his disciples don’t want him to go.

But he is going to leave, and so he does everything he can to help them both understand that he is leaving, and that they will be OK when he does.

He tells the disciples that he is leaving, but someone else is coming, someone who will advocate for them. The disciples don’t know what he is talking about, but we have the benefit of being able to see the whole story, so we know that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. We will remember and celebrate the stories of Jesus’ ascension and the arrival of the Holy Spirit in upcoming Sunday liturgies.

When Jesus is explaining all of this to them he says, “I will not leave you orphaned…” (18)

Jesus is saying that this new community of people who follow him are a family, and he knows they need a parent.

It’s an unusual family, with an unusual parenting model. As Christians we believe in one God who is always one, but also three.

We believe it, but thank God we don’t have to understand exactly how it works!

So this newly forming family, this group of people who are following Jesus, they know this too – they know that Jesus and God are one but it makes sense that they have a particular focus on Jesus, a particular focus on the person in the Trinity that they can see, and touch and smell even. The person in the Trinity who is standing right in front of them.

And now this Jesus, who they recently thought left them when he was crucified is going to leave them again.

It’s a lot.

But Jesus tells them that they are a family and that even though he is leaving, they will never be orphans.

And Christians continue to be a family with God as their parent to this very day.

In the season after Easter we are still working our way through the book of Acts as our first reading and that book tells the story of how the earliest members of the family of God came to understand they were family and began to figure out how to live together.

It’s a book with a lot of inspiring stories of love and kindness in action.

It’s a book with a lot of stories – which I admit I find very comforting – of people disagreeing with each other and getting into fights as well.

One of the key characteristics of this new Christian family is that they are always inviting new people to join them. This also continues to be true to this day – although with the benefit of the long lens of history we can also see that sometimes our methods of invitation could use a bit of work.

In Acts, Paul has emerged as a leader in this developing community and he has begun to travel and tell as many people as he can about the good news of Jesus Christ.

In today’s reading Paul is in Thessalonica. He tells the people there, anyone who will listen, that God loves them and wants them to be part of God’s family. Paul will spend the rest of his life doing this, and the Christian family will grow bigger and bigger because of his work.

In the Book of Acts, when someone chose to become part of this Christian family, they were baptized. This was the ritual that was used to say, “Welcome to the family.”
In those early days, most of the people who were baptized were adults, but Acts also says entire families were baptized together which means that people of every age were being baptized and joining the Christian family at that time.

Today we will be welcoming Bexley Anne Kostiuk into our family. We will be welcoming her into the universal Christian family and also into our particular expression of that family at St George’s.

It’s a beautiful thing to do, but it’s also a funny thing to do because Bexley is already part of our family.

There are people here who have loved her and prayed for her since long before she was born.

And those people will continue to love her and pray for her.

God loved her as well before she was born. Baptism isn’t a magical moment where suddenly God and God’s people begin to love Bexley.

But it is a public way of expressing that love and formally saying that all of these things are true.

Bexley is loved. Bexley is family.

And we celebrate that by baptizing her. This rich and ancient tradition goes all the way back to the very first Christians. Since those early days in Acts so many things have changed in the world but not this – we are a family and we use water to welcome new people into the family.

Which is a good thing to do, and we are privileged to be able to do it.

*At this point in the service I called all the kids up and we talked about the baptism – which was fun, but not something I could easily transcribe for y’all.

In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

Good Shepherd Sunday: A Sermon for Sunday April 30, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 30, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is the fourth Sunday in the Easter season and this Sunday is commonly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Most of today’s readings focus on the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

But actually, if you go and look at the gospel reading, Jesus does describe himself as a shepherd but he also devotes a decent amount of time to saying he is a gate.

But maybe “Good Gate Sunday” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Good Shepherd Sunday.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture of God’s abundance.

We lie down in green pastures, we walk beside quiet waters. Our heads are anointed with oil, our souls are refreshed, our cup overflows and we feast at a table lovingly prepared for us.

We can walk through the darkest valley without fear, and proclaim confidently that “surely goodness and mercy will follow [us] all the days of our [lives.]

It’s beautiful but what the psalm doesn’t say is that usually shepherds don’t have just one sheep, they usually have a flock.

The psalm also doesn’t say that while following the Shepherd can be hard, getting along with the other sheep is often way harder.

The book of Acts, where our first reading came from, tells the story of the first people who chose to follow the resurrected Christ. It’s the story of the first sheep. The first Christians who had to figure out how to get along with each other.

And in today’s passage, they’re doing a really great job, but spoiler alert for the next few weeks, things aren’t always this rosy.
Although we often refer to the Bible as a book, it’s really a collection of books or, even more accurately, a collection of various types of writing – there are historical books, books of prophecy, books of poetry, letters, all kinds of writing.

The lectionary doesn’t cover every single verse in the Bible, and it can be really interesting to see what it chooses to leave out but generally speaking, in our three year cycle of readings we read most of the Bible.

We read four passages from the Bible every week, one from each of the four main sections of the Bible.

The first reading is from the Old Testament, which many people are now calling the Hebrew Scriptures in an attempt to be respectful to our Jewish siblings who also consider these to be holy writings. Calling them “old” feels disrespectful and dismissive.

So first we get a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures and then we get a psalm. The Book of Psalms is sometimes called the songbook or prayer book of the Bible which is why I ask you to pray it with me, not just read it with me.

Next comes a selection from the second part of the New Testament. These are letters or other writing by people who lived after Jesus, most of whom had never met him. They detail the lives of the earliest Christians.

And then we get a reading from one of the first four books of the New Testament. We call these four books the gospels. Gospel literally means “good news.” Each one of these books tells the story of Jesus’ life on earth. Because we are hearing words directly from Jesus or about Jesus we treat this reading with a bit more reverence. We sing before and after it, and we stand up – if we’re able – while the gospel is being read.

Standing can be seen as a sign of respect, but it also has a different purpose in the liturgy. The gospels are meant to inspire us to act. So the idea is that we’re all standing at the ready and if you are so inspired by the reading that you need to leave and go do something about it you’re ready to walk right out of the church and do whatever it is you’re feeling called to do.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone actually leave at this point in the service, but if you ever feel so inspired, please do!

So that’s how our cycle of readings normally works, until it doesn’t.
In this season after Easter, our first readings don’t come from the Hebrew Scriptures, they come from the New Testament book of Acts.

And because we’re going to be in the book of Acts for a little while, I thought it might be helpful to talk about that book in general, before diving into our specific reading for today. I want to thank Willie James Jennings for his excellent commentary on Acts which I have found to be a really helpful resource.

Acts is story of revolution. It’s a story told by a master storyteller about the “disrupting presence of the Spirit of God.”

Listen to how Jennings describes it:

“The book of Acts is like the book of Genesis. It announces a beginning but without the language of a beginning. Like Genesis it renders without pomp and flag-waving a God working, moving, creating the dawn that will break each day, putting into place a holy repetition that speaks of the willingness of God to invade our every day and our every moment.

This God of Israel waits no more for the perfect time to be revealed. Now is the time, and here is the place…God moves and we respond. We move and God responds… Cards are on the table and the curtain is drawn back, and God acts plainly, clearly, and in ways that are irrevocable. There is no going back now.” (1-2)

The book of Acts unfolds at a breakneck pace and each chapter shows the early Christ followers learning just how inclusive their new community was going to be. Group after unexpected group receives the Holy Spirit and is added to their number.

The reading we got from Acts this morning is one of my favourites. It paints such a beautiful, inspiring picture of the first community of Jesus followers.

It’s a short passage, so let’s listen to it again. As I read is there anything in particular that jumps out as you as inspiring, or challenging or even scary?

Listen with curiosity not judgement:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

It's beautiful isn’t it? These early Christ followers “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They shared everything they had with each other, but not just with each other like some exclusive club, they also sold their possessions to help anyone who was in need.

And this way of living, this generous outward focused way of living was so attractive that every single day more and more people chose to join them.

If I saw people living like that I’d be inspired to join them as well. But I haven’t found many examples of Christian communities that function like this today. I know a few, but not many.

So what happened? Why don’t most Christian communities today look like this?

A lot of people look at these early Christians and write them off – sure that was fine for back then, but it’s impossible now. It’s just not practical for us to share all of our possessions and all of our money with each other.

Other people look at the current church and try to write that off instead –the current church has failed, we just need to go back and behave like they did in the book of Acts.

My strong preference is to be like that second group of people, and I’ve tried. I spent a long time trying to build a community like that and connecting with other people who were doing the same. It’s hard, and the number of people who are willing to try is small.
But as with most things, I think it’s unhelpful to stick to extremes. It’s not helpful to just dismiss this passage as impractical and it’s not helpful to be judgmental and just check out of modern expressions of the Christian faith either.

The world is very different than it was in the book of Acts, we can’t simply travel back in time or transport that model exactly as it is into the present day.

But I do think we can be inspired to try and make our current Christian communities look more like the community in Acts.

Even if we don’t all empty our individual bank accounts and create a single joint account tomorrow, we still have something to learn from our Christian ancestors.

The first thing I think we can take from this reading is that the way those first Christians were living was different and distinctive. They didn’t just blend into their society.

So the question for us could be, is the way we’re living, is the way we function as a parish, different and distinctive from the people around us? How so? And if it’s not, why not?

The second thing is that those first Christ followers had a very generous way of living. The first Christians gave everything they had to the community and as a result they had so much that they were able to meet not only their own needs, but the needs of other people as well.

So the question could be, how much of your resources do you use to satisfy your own wants and needs and how much do you give to others? And as a parish? How much of our resources go to meeting your own needs and how much to meeting the needs of others?

This generous outward focused way of living means that those first Christ followers lived with open hands, they rejected notions of scarcity. They lived without fear and they were rewarded for doing so.

What would happen is we leaned more into living like that?


There are a lot of other things we can take from this passage and from the Book of Acts but here’s the final one I want to look at today. Their way of living was attractive. It was different, it was generous, and people were attracted to it. Every single day more people chose to join this group and live in this way.

So the question is, are we living in a way that is attractive to others? If not, why not? I can’t answer these questions for you, but I do think that it’s worth pondering. Is our way of life different, generous and attractive to others? And if it’s not, why not?

What could we do to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm and generosity that those first followers in Acts had?

Honestly, after the past few years, the first thing we might all need is a really long nap. It’s hard to be inspired when you’re exhausted.

But then, I wonder what it would look like to be inspired by the people in Acts and to begin to dream big, distinctive, generous Christ – like dreams.

Because that sounds like good news to me. And I suspect it would look like good news to other people too.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

Puzzled: A Sermon for Sunday April 23, 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 23, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

You may know that I do a lot of puzzles. I do them for fun but also because they help me with things like writing sermons.  If I’m stuck staring at a blinking cursor on my computer with no idea what to write next, I set a timer, go work on a puzzle for say 15 or 30 or 45 minutes and then come back to the computer.

Puzzling is just enough of a shift in brain activity that I can usually solve my writing puzzle while doing the physical puzzle.

If that doesn’t work, a walk often does, and if that doesn’t work well…. not every sermon can be a winner.

I do a lot of puzzles but I am also pretty picky about the ones I do.  Despite how much I like dogs, I don’t like most puzzles with pictures of puppies on them. I also have brands I prefer because I know they make quality puzzle pieces regardless of the pictures.

Sometimes when a puzzle wasn’t created very well, it’s not always clear if you have a piece in the right place.  Poorly constructed pieces can sometimes fit in spaces where they aren’t really meant to fit.

I hate that.

Sometimes, I know I need a particular piece and I look and I look and I sift and I sort and I just can’t seem to find it.  I know I need an orange piece with three outies and one innie and it’s got to be in the box but I just can’t find it.

Until suddenly I realize I’ve been staring at the piece I needed the whole time, I just hadn’t recognized it.

Our gospel story begins, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened.” (13-14)

Seven miles is a little over 11 kilometers so this is a decent walk.   More than long enough to have a rich detailed conversation, if you’re so inclined.

So, two of them are walking, which two?  One is a man named Cleopas, he is named in the text, and N.T. Wright speculates that the second person is his wife, Mary.  There is a story in the gospel of John about a married couple with those names and Wright believes that it is likely that these are the same people. (John 19:25).

So if Wright is correct, Mary and her husband Cleopas are walking to Emmaus talking about current events, and there would have been a lot to talk about. There hadn’t been a slow news day in quite some time. First Jesus was arrested, then tried, then crucified and then well, the next part of the story was rather… puzzling.

Beyond current events, we don’t know exactly what they were talking about but whatever the content of the conversation, the purpose of the conversation was most likely to try and make meaning out of everything that had happened. To try and put the pieces together and wrap their heads around all of the ways their lives had been turned on their heads in such a short period of time.   To try and make sense of things and to try and decide what they should believe, how they should feel, what they should do next.

I suspect we all can relate to this unsettled feeling.  I suspect you have all had an experience where suddenly everything changed, where the things you thought were true, the things you thought you could trust, just vanished.

Maybe it was the pandemic.  When suddenly going out to eat or going to church or just breathing near people became a deadly activity.  Or maybe it was when a relationship or a job ended unexpectedly or when someone you loved died.

Whatever it was, everything changed. You thought you knew what the future was going to look like and now… you don’t.

This is what Mary and Cleopas are experiencing, walking on the road, trying to make sense of things that make no sense.

It is at this point, that Jesus appears and joins them on their walk, but they don’t realize that it is Jesus. (15)

It’s not that Jesus was automatically unrecognizable, the text tells us that, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (16). Jesus approaches them and asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (17)

After Jesus asks the question, we’re told, “They stood still, looking sad.” (17)

This question stops them in their tracks… literally.   They just stop walking and stay still, looking sad.

Jesus has asked them a question, “What are you talking about?” and now Mary and Cleopas have a choice to make – will they tell the truth to this stranger, or will they lie? Will they admit that they are talking about Jesus? Will they admit that they are also followers of Jesus?

It’s a difficult decision to make, this man is a stranger and they have no reason to trust him, they have no reason to trust that if they tell this stranger that they are followers of Jesus Christ that they won’t be reported to the authorities.

It makes no sense for them to trust this stranger with their lives.

And yet, that is what they choose to do.

Even though it was dangerous, they not only tell Jesus the basic details of recent events, they boldly make it clear that they were among Jesus’ followers. They don’t say, “Jesus of Nazareth who some people thought was a prophet,” they say, “Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (19)

Of this they are confident, Jesus was a prophet. But then, as they continue to tell the story, their confidence wavers.  “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” (21)

“We had hoped,” they said.

Now those hopes are gone.  They had believed that Jesus was a prophet, but more than that, that he was the Messiah. The one who would save Israel.   And now they’re not sure.

Jesus died, which logically means he couldn’t have been the Messiah. Or at least, that’s what they’d thought for the past few days, but now, some members of their company have claimed to have seen Jesus alive so… what are they supposed to believe?

We had hoped.

Mary and Cleopas are in mourning. They are mourning the death of Jesus, who they had hoped would be the Messiah who would save them.

But they are also in mourning for the future they thought came with that. A future where they and their people were no longer colonized by the Romans.

They are in mourning for a future where they would be free – free of fear, free to worship the way they wanted to, free to be who they were without the need to hide or worry that someone would hurt or kill them just for being Jewish.

Being with Jesus had given them hope for a better future and they had dared to dream and to believe that it could come true.

But now, that hope is gone.

“We had hoped,” they say.

They are walking home trying to make sense of this change, trying to regroup, trying to imagine a world where the future they longed for is no longer possible.

I have never believed I had met God in human form only to be completely disappointed when he turned out to be just an ordinary human, but I have had situations where I allowed myself to believe in a vision of the future that never came true.

I have had experiences where suddenly, and without warning, everything I thought was true, everything I thought I could rely on, every dream I had just… vanished.

I have had moments where I felt the way I imagine Mary and Cleopas felt as they were walking that day, telling their story to this strange man they met on the road.

Jesus listens to Mary and Cleopas, even though he actually knows the whole story. Never underestimate the value of listening to someone else’s story. Even if you already know the basic details, there is power in letting someone talk and listening when they do.

And after he listens, Jesus says, “You’ve got everything you need to understand what is going on, you’ve just got the puzzle pieces all mixed up. Here, let me sort it out for you.”

And then, Luke tells us that, beginning with the stories of Moses and all the prophets, Jesus beings to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together.  Without revealing his own identity, he fits all the details of scripture and current events together to show who the Messiah is and why he had to die.  (25-27)

He doesn’t finish the puzzle though, he saves the final piece for later in the story.

When their destination is in sight, Mary and Cleopas invite Jesus to stay with them and he agrees.  They eat a meal together and during that meal, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, the image suddenly clicks into focus.

Luke tells us, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  (30-32)

They were so excited, that they leave their home and go all the way back to Jerusalem, another seven miles, so that they can tell the other disciples what has happened. When they find them they tell the disciples everything that had happened and they said, “he was made known to us in the breaking of the bread.” (33-35)

And that is where our reading for today ends which feels like a bit of a cliffhanger to me.  Do the disciples believe Mary and Cleopas, what happens next?

Well thankfully, we don’t have to rely entirely on the lectionary here, we can just flip through a Bible and read the next part of the story.

And the next thing that happens in the story is that Jesus appears to all of them. He’s just suddenly … there.  (36)

Which freaks everyone out at first because they think he’s a ghost but eventually everyone calms down, they realize that it’s not a ghost, that it really is Jesus, in the flesh.

There is still a lot of fear and confusion in the room, but also joy.  Jesus is alive!

And then they all eat together, and talk together and Jesus gently puts the pieces of the puzzle together for all of them.

But here’s the thing, when Jesus has finished explaining, the picture of the puzzle looks… different than what the disciples had expected.   Not bad, it’s pretty beautiful actually, but it’s different.

Their joy has been restored, their hope has been restored, but the future they had hoped for? It’s gone.

Something better has replaced it.

They will need time to grieve the world they had hoped for, and to adjust to this new reality, but eventually they will see that God’s plan is a good plan for them, and for everyone who will come after them.

I’m not sure if you’re in a “I had hoped” place today, grieving a dream for the future that will not come true, of if you are in a hopeful place, building a dream for a new future, but wherever you are, Jesus is there also.

Jesus is with you wherever you are on the road, and Jesus is with us today, in our worship and in the breaking of the bread.

Which is good news.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It's All in the Details: A Sermon for Easter Sunday 2023

The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 10, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Happy Easter everyone!

Everything this week – the waving palms, the shared meal, the sorrow at the foot of the cross has been leading to this day. This day that changed everything.

In the Bible there are four different gospel books, four different books that tell us about Jesus’ life on earth. There are similarities of course, but there are also differences in the way each writer tells the story.

This year our cycle of readings, the lectionary, has us looking at the resurrection story in the gospel of John. One of the unique features in John’s gospel is the way he gives us dramatic scenes of individual encounters with the risen Christ. He doesn’t just tell us the basic facts of what happened, he invites us into the story.

Jesus was crucified on Friday, and then his body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linens and placed in a tomb. A large stone was rolled in front of the opening and Roman soldiers stood guard outside.

So when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, that is what she is expecting to find, but she is about to be surprised.

Today’s gospel reading began, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple…”

We’re going to get to Mary shortly but first I want to focus on these two men for a little bit. I really like saucy people, and the unnamed man in this story is pretty saucy.

This unnamed disciple is commonly thought to be John, the author of this gospel . So it could be argued that it’s an act of humility that he is unnamed. Mary Magdelene is named, Simon Peter is named, but the second man is not named.

However, is it really all that humble to leave out your name if what you do instead is call yourself, “the one Jesus loved?” (2)

I don’t think so.

And is it really humble to describe racing to the tomb with Peter and point out that you ran faster than Peter did and you beat him to the tomb? (4)

What makes me chuckle at these kinds of details without beginning to worry that perhaps this is an arrogant, and therefore unreliable narrator, is the fact that the writer also tells us that although he reached the tomb first, Peter was the first person to go inside. (5)

Why race to be the first one to reach the tomb and then stop without going inside? Maybe he was afraid. Maybe the gravity of the situation hit him and he wanted a few more minutes before he had to deal with what he assumed he would find – that Jesus’ body had been stolen.

Maybe you’re there too. The liturgies of Holy Week ask us to sit in particular scenes in the life of Christ and in particular emotions. If you haven’t quite caught up with the joy of Easter Sunday, that’s OK, be ever so gentle with yourself. We’re glad you’re here.

Peter goes inside the tomb. He finds the linen that Jesus’ body would have been wrapped in lying there. The linen wrappings weren’t just tossed on the ground either. The gospel tells us that the “cloth that had been on Jesus’ head” was rolled up and separate from the other wrappings. All of these details suggest that Jesus’ body wasn’t merely stolen – because why would you unwrap a body that had been dead for several days before stealing it? Why would you take the time to carefully roll up the wrappings that covered his head?

You wouldn’t. That’s gross.

The two men examine these things and return to their homes. (10)

And that’s all we hear about them in today’s reading. They will re-appear again in future passages, but for today’s story, they exit the scene.

Why give us a detail like which disciple was the fastest runner and not tell us what they thought or said when they discovered the empty tomb? Or what they talked about on the way home. Or how they felt?

Maybe because some things are just too big for words.

But by the time this was written, the author could have found some words, he could have stayed with the two disciples and continued to tell the story from their perspective, but he doesn’t, the two male disciples exit the scene, and the story continues with a focus on Mary.

Now before we go any further, there are a lot of Mary’s in the Bible, so who is Mary Magdalene?

Since the Middle Ages she’s often been referred to as a prostitute but she wasn’t. Inaccurately describing her as a prostitute is meant to diminish her role in the story. It’s meant to draw focus from the fact that she was one of the earliest followers and supporters of Jesus’s work.

Because if you acknowledge Mary Magdalene was disciple, you have a harder time telling women that they can’t be leaders in the church than if you say she was a prostitute.

Earlier I mentioned that we have four different gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and there are similarities and differences between them.

All four gospels writers say that Mary Magdalene was at the tomb and all four gospel writers say it was Mary who told the disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Mary’s role and her faithful support of Jesus have been erased and ignored by the church for centuries. If I say too much more then we’re all in for a very long rant about patriarchy and the erasure of women in the church which we should probably save for another day. Many of you probably have lunch plans after the service and I wouldn’t want you to be late.

So let me just say that a lot of work has been done to reclaim Mary and her role in the church, and we now honour her with the title, “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Apostle means “sent.” Mary is the first person who sees the risen Jesus and the first person who is sent to tell others the good news of the resurrection.

But we’re getting ahead of the story.

Mary arrives at the tomb when it is still dark, she sees the stone has been rolled away and runs to tell the two disciples about it.

Mary tells them that “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

They all return to the tomb, the disciples confirm that Jesus is not there, and they return home. They don’t seem to stop to talk to Mary, or to comfort her, they just… leave.

Mary stays. Mary stays and stands outside the tomb weeping. (10)

Eventually, she peeks inside the tomb and sees two angels sitting in the place where Jesus’ body should have been. (11)

The angels ask her why she is crying and she says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (13) Mary then turns around and Jesus is standing right behind her, but she doesn’t recognize him.

She thinks he’s the gardener.

And then Jesus says her name and suddenly she knows who he is. (16)

Jesus sends Mary to tell the good news to the other disciples, hence her title Apostle to the Apostles.

Jesus also tells her not to hold onto him. I suspect that he has to say this because as soon as she realizes who he is and that he is alive, she tackles him with a gigantic bear hug. (17)

She doesn’t care that she’s a mess, tears streaming down her face, Jesus is alive! She’s going to hang onto him.

If she stood aloof and at a distance, Jesus wouldn’t have had to ask her not to hang onto him.

Mary does what Jesus tells her to do. She lets go of Jesus and she goes to share the good news. John tells us that, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!” (18)

In a great sermon from a few years ago, Nadia Bolz Weber writes, “… when Mary Magdalene, this imperfect woman, stood at the tomb, she didn’t encounter some perfected radiant glowing Jesus that morning. Seriously, no offense to gardeners but Jesus couldn’t have been looking all that tidy and impressive if she mistook him for a gardener: And here’s the thing: I like to think that Mary Magdalene mistook the resurrected Christ for a gardener because Jesus still had the dirt from his own tomb under his nails.”

When Mary sees the angels in the tomb, she knows they’re angels. When she sees Jesus, she thinks he’s a gardener.

What does it mean to worship a God with dirt under their nails? What does it mean to worship a God who loved us so much that they were willing to live and die as one of us? A God who was willing to get their hands dirty. What does it mean to worship a God who doesn’t need us to clean up and pretend we’re perfect before we can follow them?

It sounds like good news to me.

Mary encounters the risen Christ in the garden and her life is forever changed.

This story changed and continues to change my life. Maybe it has changed yours too.

What will your response to the resurrection be? What will our response be as a parish? How will we live in this new reality of resurrection? This reality that God is bigger than death and gives us all new life?

In the days and weeks to come as we explore the stories of how those first followers of Jesus began to live in the new reality of the risen Christ I hope we will also be challenged and encouraged to shape our own lives in new ways as well.

But those are stories for another today. Today is a day to celebrate because…

Christ is risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen.



Telling the Truth about Terrible Things: A Sermon for Good Friday 2023

The following sermon was preached on Friday April 7, 2023 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Last Sunday we waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna.” Last night we ate with Jesus and he washed our feet, and then we fell asleep while he prayed in the garden. Today we gather together at the foot of his cross.

Welcome to Good Friday.

I have been going to church since before I was born and during the first half or so of my life I went to churches that did not celebrate Good Friday.

I mean, there was a service on the Friday before Easter Sunday, but it was almost exactly the same as the Easter Sunday service. In both the Friday and the Sunday services we would quickly acknowledge that Jesus had died and then move to focus on celebrating the resurrection. Both services felt the same.

And without even realizing it, I picked up the message that this was how I was supposed to deal with hard things in my own life too – acknowledge them briefly and then move quickly to the resurrection, to the lesson, to the silver lining.

There is a fancy term for this – spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is when a person uses spiritual language to avoid dealing with difficult things. It’s a way of minimizing or distancing ourselves from real and difficult things in order to feel better in the short term. It may provide short term relief, but it doesn’t make the problems go away and it prevents us from doing the hard work we need to do to actually deal with what is happening.

It sounds very holy, but it isn’t. It sounds like:

Oh sure, the systems around me are crumbling and I can’t trust my leaders but I don’t have to worry, and I don’t have to do anything because “God must have a plan!”

Oh sure, our trans and indigenous siblings live with the very real fear that they will be killed just for being who God created them to be, but let’s not talk about it, let’s focus on the positive.
Oh sure my life is absolutely falling apart right now and I am mired in a grief that makes it almost impossible to breathe but you know, “everything happens for a reason!”

It sounds like pretending every day is Easter Sunday.

And that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I did not allow myself to be a Good Friday person, even on Good Friday.

The first time I went to a Good Friday service at an Anglican Church I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. The church was pretty bare. There were no flowers or decorations and we didn’t hear the whole Easter story. At the end of the service, Jesus had not risen from the dead.

At the end of the service, Jesus was still dead.

At that Good Friday liturgy we were asked to stay in the Good Friday part of the story. We were asked to leave the church in silence. We were asked to sit in that space of grief and loss and unknowing until we returned on Sunday morning.


It was one of the things that made me decide to join the Anglican church, a church which is far from perfect, but I loved that liturgy could invite us to acknowledge the whole range of human emotions and the whole story of Holy Week.

I loved that there was a liturgy that gave us permission to sit in a hard place and didn’t rescue us or force us to pretend we were feeling victorious by the closing hymn.

And this is what we are all being invited to do today.

There was no formal dismissal at the end of last night’s service and there won’t be one at the end of today’s service either. There is no dismissal because all of our gatherings from Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday are considered one continuous liturgy that take place over several days as we watch, wait and celebrate the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Our Thursday and Friday services end not with a “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” but with a “To be continued…”

In a stunning sermon from a number of years ago, Sara Miles said that, “I’d like to pretend that Good Friday, the murder of God by the people of God, is a one-time historical event. That it took place far away, in another country, safely in the past. That someone very different from me – a Jew, most probably, or some crazy rogue solider – was responsible for the crucifixion… and Good Friday just means another day in a church with beautiful music.

Crucifixion is always an act of terror, meant to carry a message to the entire population that the rulers of the world are all-powerful, and can crush anyone they choose. In Jesus’ time, the cross meant not just punishment for criminals and troublemakers, but shame for their families, who were marked forever by the scandal… The mere threat of death on the empire’s cross led people to betray each other; it kept them in their places, separated and afraid to offer solidarity.

And it still does, evoking our deepest fears of being cast out, mocked, hurt or violently erased, stigmatized by association with the wrong people. Today’s forms of crucifixion – Sara said – [left her] afraid to care for the imprisoned, afraid to challenge the violent, too busy or guilty or helpless to even stand next to the families of the dead and weep.”

Fear can divide and separate us and there is a lot of fear in the Good Friday story, but some people in this story act bravely despite their fear and the very real danger their actions put them in.

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus was not alone when he was crucified. In addition to the various people responsible to ensure the crucifixion was properly carried out like the Centurion, there were other people who came to see what was happening.

Mark names some of these people – Salome, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of James and Joses. (15: 40) Mark tells us that there were also “many other women,” who stayed to bear witness to Jesus’ suffering. (41)

I imagine that at least some of the bystanders were there out of morbid curiosity or simply as a way to pass the time. We know that at least some of them thought that perhaps Elijah would come and remove Jesus from the cross. I suppose that if you had nothing else to do in a culture where public executions are the norm, the possibility of seeing Elijah would be worth sticking around for.

We know that no one was there to try and stop the crucifixion. That impulse that had led Peter to pull out a sword in the garden doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight at the foot of the cross.

Which means that the people who are present are resigned to the fact that unless supernatural forces intervene, Jesus is going to suffer and die, and they have chosen to be there when that happens.

They can’t change what is going to happen, but they’re not going to ignore it either. They are not going to leave Jesus alone as he suffers and dies.

Thankfully I have never experienced the agonizing pain of death by crucifixion, but I have experienced pain. And in those times, I have needed people who weren’t afraid to see me in pain, who were willing to sit with me in a Good Friday space. I needed people who were willing to let me be in that Good Friday space for as long as I needed to be there.

One of my favourite books is “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler.

Kate’s from Winnipeg, I met her a few times, I preached regularly at her parent’s church, and then one day I found out she had cancer…. the really bad kind. She was probably going to die.

Not long after that I also found out that Kate and I had both been selected to attend a retreat for writers. She wrote most of “Everything Happens” at that retreat.

I remember watching her, smoke flying from the keys as she wrote as if her life depended on it and I wondered if she would live to finish the book.

I didn’t care about the book actually, Kate had very quickly become someone I loved, someone very dear to me, and I couldn’t imagine that she might die.

But there was nothing I could do, except participate in the retreat and try to be a friend. A cancer diagnosis isn’t something I have any power to do anything about.

Kate’s story is an Easter story. She published that book and she’s still here. But her experiences have really taught her how to stay present in Good Friday situations.

Kate taught me that when everything comes apart and we are in pain, we need people who are willing to stay with us in that pain and say one thing, “Oh, sweetie, this is just so hard.”

This is what the named women and other bystanders are doing for Jesus, sitting with him in his pain. Bearing witness. You will notice in the scripture and in the music for this service that words like “look” and “see” and “behold” are prevalent. This is no accident.

On this day we claim the truth that this is all we can do, and this is all we are called to do in this moment. To stay at the foot of the cross and bear witness to Christ’s pain.

And I hope, that on this day, and on all the Good Friday type days we will experience in our own lives and bear witness to in the lives of those we love, that we will learn to embrace our discomfort and hold back the temptation to make ourselves feel better by fixing or blaming or muting another person’s pain.

It’s hard work, but there is healing power in correctly naming the terrible things as terrible things.

There is healing power in sitting at the foot of the cross when someone you love is suffering and refusing to look away.

Easter will come, but today is Good Friday, and today we live into this place, this deeply uncomfortable place that says that we can’t pretend that we would have done differently than the chief priests, or the crowd, or Pilate. This place that reminds us that we so often out of fear, and our own wounds, and our wish to “satisfy the crowd” prepare a cross for our Saviour.

At the end of the service, when we will all leave in silence, I would encourage you to come and spend a moment at the cross before you go. Don’t be afraid to touch it either. And when you leave, don’t be afraid to sit in this Good Friday space, and don’t forget to come back on Sunday to hear the rest of the story.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.