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St John's United Church


SERMONS



Corrymeela Wave

Sunday June 24, 2018— Mark 4:35-41
This is the Corrymeela wave. It is a practice at the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Northern Ireland. When volunteers and program participants leave the Centre after their visit, after the hugs and goodbyes in the car park, those left behind run like mad to the top of the cliff so they can wave goodbye as the car or bus drives slowly down the steep hill. Not everyone gets “the Corrymeela wave”, because it depends on the time of day that you leave, how many people are around, and how busy they are. This was my Corrymeela wave in September of 2011 after I had spent the summer there. Paul Hutchinson, who I didn’t know well at that time, was driving me to Belfast, and after we got in the car I saw everyone start to run. Read more


Parade or Protest?

Sunday March 25, 2018— John 12:12-27; 19:16b - 22
Someone asked in the online biblical discussion group this week, “Is Palm Sunday a protest or a parade?” It generated lots of comments, including: “If it is one or the other, which one do you choose?” Jenny Drewitz, the Associate Minister at First Baptist Church down the road, was telling us this week at the lectionary group study that last year, at New York’s Riverside Church, the children processed into the church waving protest signs instead of palms. Maybe the answer to the question, “Is Palm Sunday a protest or a parade?” is “It is both.” Read more


Advent 2: Peace

Sunday December 10, 2017— Ezekiel 37:1-14 – Advent 2: Peace
I have been a little worried this week wondering if all the excitement of last week’s story, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the Fiery Furnace could be matched today. Between the children’s anthem and song, and the video clip with Louis Armstrong, and all the stories I heard later about some of you in the production of Kool in the Furnace many years ago, it seemed that it was a memorable day scripturally. That’s what a preacher dreams of – conversation and comments about the sermon afterwards! Today, we hear a story that was told to give the Israelites hope in a time of deep despair. Read more


Zacchaeus and Shrodinger's Cat

Sunday April 2, 2017 — Luke 18:31-19:10
This week, in my research on the biblical passage, I learned about Shrodinger’s Cat. It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly far off the beaten track I often go to make sense of the biblical reading, or to find a different way of seeing it … but there you have it. Me, a proven failure in every mathematics, physics, or chemistry class I ever took in high school, trying to understand quantum physics. But, it does have relevance to the reading today, which I will get to eventually, so bear with me. Some of you, no doubt, will know the theory well, but for those like me who didn’t, here is Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory trying to explain Shrodinger’s Cat to Penny. Read more



A True Community Works Through Conflict

Sunday January 15, 2017— Luke 4: 14-30
When my older son was about 10 and playing in the school ground during recess one wintery day, he slipped and cut his knee on a sharp bit of ice. It was deep enough to need stitches, and my spouse took him to the doctor. Before the doctor gave him the needle to freeze the area, my son said, “can you wait a minute?” He then pulled his winter hat out of his coat pocket, put it on his head and pulled it down over his eyes. The doctor laughed and remarked that it was the most unique way to deal with fear of needles that she had seen. "If I can’t see it, it’s not there." Read more


Things Are Not Getting Worse. They Are Getting Uncovered. mouse

Sunday November 13, 2016 — Isaiah 6:1-8
I begin this morning with a well known and often used quote from Annie Dillard’s book Teaching a Stone to Talk: "On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." Read more


Generosity...Equality or Justice

Sunday June 26, 2016 — 2 Cor. 8:1-15
I grew up in a house that didn’t have a lot of unplanned company. We would have to ask days, if not weeks, in advance if we wanted to have someone stay for dinner. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t entertain, because they did, a lot. But it was always planned. To be fair, that was the model in which my mother grew up … quite formal and not much happened by chance. Occasionally we would spontaneously decide to have dinner with our next door neighbours, with whom my parents were best friends. I loved those dinners, but I think it sent my mother into a tizzy. Read more


Scar Stories

Sunday June 5, 2016 — 2 Cor. 4:1-15; Matt 5:13
Somewhere in the past few years, and I can’t remember where, I heard a story about folks at an educational event who as an introductory activity were invited to find a partner and share their scar stories. The facilitator said it was quite amusing to watch, as folks pulled up sleeves or pantlegs, or even shirts as appropriate to show their scars and tell their stories. I figured it was fairly safe to show my most recent scar on the power point today – although I did think about it for awhile. But I know that people are curious, and to my mind, it is so much better than what I thought it was going to look like I didn’t think it would scare folks too much. Read more


There Is One Thing You Lack...

Sunday February 14, 2016 — Mark 10:17-31
There is a website called the Global Rich List, where one can go and enter your net income and find out where you rank in the world as far as wealth. So, I entered in what I think is my fairly modest yearly income, and this is what I found out. That out of every 100 people in the world, there are 99 people that make less money than me. I am in that top 1%. In fact, I am, according to this website, the 49,382,317th richest person on earth. Now, that may not seem like very high in the rankings, but remember there are approximately 7.4 billion people in the world. Read more


Who Do You Say I Am?

Sunday February 7, 2016 — Mark 8:27-9:8
A number of years back, the Student Christian Movement of Canada had a talented and clever artist as one of their National Directors, and she designed a poster called the ABC’s of Jesus. You can’t see it well from this picture that I took, but hopefully you get the idea. It goes through the whole alphabet … A is for Activist … the caption says “Jesus stirred up trouble in the streets …” B is for Black; “Jesus was from Palestine, so the odds of him looking like the blue-eyed, brown-haired guy on the wall of your Sunday School class are pretty slim.” C of course … is for Carpenter. “Jesus worked most of his life in an average Joe job.” Read more


Where's Jesus? Where's the Miracle?

Sunday December 20, 2015 — Advent 4 – Luke 1:5-13; 57-80
One of my favourite Christmas stories is a book called Angela and the Baby Jesus, written by Irish author Frank McCourt. McCourt also wrote Angela’s Ashes, a memoir of his childhood which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997. Angela and the Baby Jesus is a story about McCourt’s mother, who as a young child kidnaps the baby Jesus from the nativity scene on the church lawn. She thought he looked cold, so she brings him home and tucks him under the covers in her own bed which she shares with her sister. Of course, she has a hard time keeping it a secret, and soon the whole family knows that she has stolen the baby Jesus from the church nativity scene. Read more


Pondering the Role of Innkeeper

Sunday November 29, 2015 — Advent 1 – 2 Kings 22:1-10, 14-20, 23:1-3
Wikipedia defines the word meme as "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture". A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. The word meme is a shortening, modeled on gene, of an ancient Greek word, mimeme, and was coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catchphrases, fashion. Read more


Reflecting on Thanksgiving

Sunday October 11, 2015 — Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-6
Two years ago, as the United Church Chaplain at Dalhousie, I partnered with the Director of the International Centre at Dal to put on a Thanksgiving Dinner, with all the fixings, for over 100 mostly international students. It was quite an undertaking. Because the new International Centre building and residence was still under construction, and we quickly realized that we would be too big for the limited space at the Multifaith Centre, St. Andrew’s graciously agreed that we could use the hall and kitchen on Thanksgiving Day. Read more


The Burning Bush

Sunday October 4, 2015 — Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15
There are a couple more stories I need to tell you to help us understand today’s reading. Last week, we heard about Jacob’s reconciliation with his brother Esau after wrestling with God at Peniel. You might think that Jacob – who is now called Israel and has 4 wives, 12 sons and one daughter – might have learned from his own experience the destructiveness of favoritism in a family, but he didn’t. Joseph, Leah’s son, was his favorite. He gave Joseph a very special coat, and it was clear to his brothers that Jacob loved Joseph more than them. Read more


Struggling with God

Sunday September 27, 2015 — Genesis 32:22-30
This afternoon I travel to Paris, Ontario for the first of my two required Interim Ministry training events. I’m in good company – the international course is in high demand, and there are several of us from Maritime Conference that are going. I know some from Ontario that will be there, and there are even a few from the western provinces, the United States, and even someone from Hawaii. One of the number of readings that we’ve had to do in preparation has been a little book on Bowen family systems theory. Read more


Fish the Other Side: Reverend Dr Ross Bartlett's sermon for Martha Martin's Covenanting Service

Sunday September 20, 2015 — John 21:1-14
A thousand years ago, a group of Vikings led by Erik the Red settled on sail the vast Arctic landmass we know today as Greenland. It was a largely uninhabitable island. The Norse colonies in Greenland were law-abiding, economically viable, fully integrated communities, numbering at their peak 5,000 people. They lasted for 450 years—and then they vanished. We think of Vikings as seafaring raiders. They thought of themselves as farmers and ranchers. Owning and eating cattle was a status symbol. After Greenland was deforested for homes or pastureland and the fertile but thin soil was grazed into oblivion, Greenland's wind and water began to carry away the topsoil, and the Norse people began to starve. Read more


Hospitality and Laughter

Sunday September 20, 2015 — Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
This is a sign I encountered on a bathroom door this summer while visiting PEI. For those who can’t read it, it says “Please close door because the chickens will go in. Thank you.” The bathroom is in one of my favourite places to visit when in PEI, the Belfast Mini-Mills, where I stock up on patterns and hand dyed and spun wool for my knitting projects over the winter. And it’s a working farm, with sheep, goats, and chickens. Chickens that are sometimes walking around, apparently, close to the bathroom door. Read more


Better to Light a Candle Than Curse the Darkness

Sunday September 13, 2015 — Genesis 2: 4b-25
Preached with Professor Diana Ginn, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, and member of Edgewood/Oxford United Church, Halifax NS
My former next door neighbor, a young woman whom I’ve known since she was about 9, good friend to my own kids for many years, is now a mom of two boys under 5, and she and her young family visit her parents, who still live next door, often. Last month she was telling me about her oldest, who loves to name all of his stuffed animals. Read more


Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

Sunday August 30, 2015 — Deut. 4:1-2;6-9; Psalm 15; Mark 7:1-8; 14-15, 21-23; James 1:17-27
A wisdom story — Long ago, in a far-away town, an old woman used to sit at the city gates, watching the travelers pass through, and sometimes engaging them in conversation. One night, when it was growing dark, a traveler came along, weary from a hard day’s walk. “Excuse me”, he said, “but I am looking for a place to rest, and I wonder, can you tell me what the people are like in this town?” The woman smiled, and in reply she asked him a question of her own. Read more


What's the Point?

Sunday July 26, 2015 — Ecc. 1:1-11; 3:1-17
I do this with a bit of fear and trepidation – on one of the discussion sites this week there was quite a conversation about whether those born in the last several decades would appreciate hearing a piece of music from an earlier generation. But in my world, with a musician son who plays old blues and the Rockabilly circuit, and knowing the popularity of old vinyl these days, I’m going to take a chance. Read more


Wisdom Calls

Sunday July 19, 2015 — Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36; 1 Cor. 1:18-25
I begin with three short stories. Folks at St. John’s know that I have had some physical challenges over the past few months – nothing truly serious, just arthritic knees and a recurring problem with my left heel. On a couple of occasions I’ve actually been hobbling around with a cane, especially on stairs. The heel problem is probably a leftover from a bad cut I sustained when I was in Guatemala in 1998. Read more


We Are Always Being Interrupted By God

Sunday June 28, 2015 — Psalm 40:1-10; Mark 5:21-43
There are some things that I really miss about being a parent to young children. There are many things I don’t miss… but there are definitely things I miss. And I haven’t had the joy and delight of being a grandparent yet. I miss snuggles and reading stories together… and the daily surprises. And I miss the unexpected and uncontrollable laughter and sheer silliness that kids bring to the world. But most of all, I miss watching kids’ movies together. Read more


Aboriginal Sunday

Sunday June 21, 2015 — Psalm 127; Mark 4:35-41
This is a hard story for me to tell. As I think about the voices that influenced me about the first peoples of our land, I am embarrassed, even ashamed. That idyllic summer place I told you about two weeks ago, where I had my first experience of a force bigger than myself listening to the wild wind and surf in the safety of my grandmother’s front bedroom, was also the place that fed me the first seeds of racism towards Aboriginal people. Read more


Despair and Hope

Sunday June 14, 2015 — Psalm 69; Mark 4:26-34
Here's a video I found on Facebook this week, Union is strength. Clearly, these folks felt that was true. This is a picture of the first worship service of the United Church of Canada on June 10, 1925, in Mutual Street Arena in Toronto. It was actually an Act of Parliament that brought the United Church of Canada into being. The United Church was inaugurated when the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada, and 70 per cent of the Presbyterian Church of Canada entered into an organic union. Read more


Camping Sunday

Sunday June 7, 2015 — Psalm 113; Jeremiah 17:7-8; John 4:14
Many years ago I heard the great German theologian Dorothy Solle do a lecture series at the Atlantic School of Theology. I remember most of all her peering over the podium and telling us, orderings us actually, to “eat a psalm a day.” I wasn’t very well acquainted with the psalms at the time, and truth be told, wasn’t that interested in becoming more acquainted.
Read more


Outside These Walls

Sunday May 24, 2015 — Acts 2:1-21
Ireland has been in the news a lot in the past few days. We’ve been hearing about the country’s referendum on same gender marriage, how historic it was, both in Ireland and around the world as it’s the first time in the world that a country has had a popular vote to determine whether same gender marriage will be allowed. And yesterday, we heard that the results were overwhelmingly in favour of making that change. And so, as an Affirming congregation, we celebrate that with the Irish people.
Read more


Symbols of our Faith

Sunday May 17, 2015 — Romans 6:1-11
I begin this morning with a story about our pilgrimage to Corrymeela in Northern Ireland. There were six of us who are part of the St. John’s community, plus a sister of one of those people from Calgary, plus six folks from Edgewood/Oxford United Church in Halifax, who took part in this trip. We spent a day in Belfast getting oriented to the context of Northern Ireland and getting to know each other. On Tuesday morning, we headed up to the Corrymeela Peace and Reconciliation Centre.
Read more


God's Dream

Sunday April 19, 2015 — Acts 10:1-17; 35-35; Psalm 119, part 1
At the risk of being too predictable, I begin again with a short video.
This one was shown by the theological reflector at the end of the General Council Executive meeting in Toronto a few weeks ago. Read more


Faith and Doubt

Sunday April 12, 2015 — Matthew 28:16-20; Psalm 40
I found myself longing once again to be preaching on the Revised Common Lectionary readings this week instead of the readings from the Narrative Lectionary. This week, the gospel reading is one of my favourites – the story of the resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples in a locked room when one of the disciples, Thomas, wasn’t there. And then when Thomas comes back, the disciples tell Thomas that Jesus was there and he doesn’t believe. And, a week later, Jesus appears again, when Thomas is there. And Thomas believes. Read more


Selfies with Jesus: Easter Sunday 2015

Sunday April 8, 2015 — Matthew 28:1-10; Psalm 118
I’m sorry … I just couldn’t resist showing you this. It came across my Facebook yesterday… if I was to write a caption, perhaps it might be "If the Resurrection happened today". As humorous as it is, the cartoonist got one thing wrong. Can you see it? Unless I’m mistaken, there are two women and three men there to greet Jesus as he is emerging from the tomb. Read more


Come Into the Storm

Sunday February 8, 2015 — Matthew 14:`13-33; Psalm 95
In a 2010 news item in National Geographic News, there was an article that suggested that Jesus walked on ice, not water, after a cold snap that produced a flash freeze in the Sea of Galilee. Certainly after this week, we might see how that might happen. I can point you to the article if you want to read it. It’s full of scientific terms and scenarios, and documents several recorded extreme cold periods during that time, and a phenomenon known as springs ice. Read more


The Lord’s Prayer

Sunday February 1, 2015 — Matthew 6:7-21; Psalm 20
This is a short clip from a very silly movie from a couple of years ago called The Campaign. It’s about a very corrupt congressman who has been in office forever and his very naďve and inexperienced opponent, who happens to be a devout Christian. The politician claims to be a Christian, but as you will see, he’s lacking in a few basics. It reminded me of a time a number of years back, when I was just at the end of officiating at a wedding ceremony. We were just finishing the final prayers, ending with the Lord’s Prayer. Read more


Sabbath Practices

Sunday January 18, 2015 — Matthew 4:1-17; Psalm 91
Here is a wisdom story from the desert fathers and mothers. Some old men came to see Abba Poeman, and said to him: "Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake?" The old man said to them: "Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest." Read more


You are Beloved

Sunday January 11, 2015 — Matthew 3:1-17
A famous theologian once said that preachers need to have the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Some say it was Karl Barth that said that, but apparently the exact quote can’t be found in his writings. At any rate, it’s been kind of a motto for many years for many preachers as they prepare their sermons each week, recognizing that in order to preach the gospel, our words need to be relevant and timely to the context of those we serve. Read more


For Those Who Have Far to Travel: An Epiphany Blessing

Sunday January 4, 2015 — Matthew 2:1-23
If you could see the journey whole, you might never undertake it; might never dare the first step that propels you from the place you have known toward the place you know not. Call it one of the mercies of the road: that we see it only by stages as it opens before us, as it comes into our keeping step by single step. Read more


Christmas Eve 2014

Wednesday December 24, 2014 — Luke 2:1-20
The story goes … when I was very little, I would sit with my grandfather, who was a United Church minister, and retell the Christmas story, and tell him how Jesus was born in a mailbox. Out of curiosity I googled mailbox manger … you can find just about anything on the internet it seems. I don’t remember this, I don’t remember my grandfather at all, so I must have been very young. For a young child, I guess it made as much sense as Jesus being born in a manger. Read more


What Would Joseph Do?

Sunday December 21, 2014 — Matthew 1:18-25
It’s been a hard week – in Australia, around the world, and here in Halifax. For those of us who work at Dalhousie University, it’s been a difficult week. The horrifying details of a closed facebook group of 13 graduating male dentistry students and their promotion of sexual violence against their female colleagues have stunned the community, and the country. Sadly, some of us aren’t that all that surprised. And if anyone thinks these attitudes aren’t present in many, if not most, universities, and indeed other institutions, across the country, I think they are mistaken. Read more


For Such a Time as This

Sunday December 7, 2014 — Esther 4:1-17; Matthew 5:13-15
If you aren’t familiar with Veggie Tales, it might be easy to be distracted by the talking, and well dressed, vegetables – often cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, celery, even peas ... Never mind that they have no arms or legs, and when they need to move around they just kind of bounce or glide about. But they are an extremely popular series of children’s movies that have been around for a couple of decades that tell values based stories, and retell biblical stories in a kid-friendly way. Read more




Why Do You Make Me Look at Injustice?

Sunday November 23, 2014 — Jeremiah1:4-10;7:1-11; Matthew 21:12-13
This is a picture that was circulating on Facebook a few weeks ago in advance of the G/20 Summit in Australia. Over 400 Australians staged a unique protest, mocking their own government’s reluctance to put climate change on the agenda, mimicking the ostrich, the bird that is said to stick its head in the sand in a futile bid to avoid danger. I immediately thought of this picture when I read the passage from Habakkuk this week, especially v. 3 – “why do you make me look at injustice?” And then, when I continued reading the passage, it became more personal. Read more


The Words Today From Jeremiah are Well Known

Sunday November 23, 2014 — Jeremiah1:4-10;7:1-11; Matthew 21:12-13
The words today from Jeremiah are well known. Along with two other popular passages – the one from chapter 18 … "go down to the potter’s house …" and from chapter 31 when God tells Jeremiah that God will “put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts”, today’s passage is one of the most popular and remembered. I have known many youth, including my own daughter, who have been empowered by the words we heard today …"… do not say I am just a child … I will put the words in your mouth …". It was the scripture focus of a whole GO Project, a week long summer mission camp here in Halifax, a few years ago. It’s tempting, this week after the designated Children’s Sunday which was last week, to focus on that aspect of the reading. Read more


An Old Wisdom Story From the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Sunday November 9, 2014 — Micah 5:2-4, 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13
There were two old men who had lived together for many years, and they never quarreled. Now one of them said: Let us try to quarrel once just like other people do. And the other replied: I don’t know how a quarrel happens. Then the first said: Look, I put a brick between us, and I say, This is mine, and you say, No, it’s mine, and after that a quarrel begins. So they placed a brick between them, and one of them said: This is mine, and the other said: No, it’s mine. And he replied: Indeed, it’s all yours, so take it away with you! And they went away unable to fight with each other. It’s called a wisdom story. So what is the wisdom in the story? Perhaps we can find some insight in today’s reading from Micah. Read more



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