New Telephone Number

We have decided to get rid of the landline, since our minister will be moving out of the Manse. If you need to contact us, please use this number:

418-456-8113.

Lent Devotional

Even though we are still in the season of Epiphany, it is not too early to start thinking about the rest of the year. With this in mind, Presbyterian College has put together a Lent Devotional package. There are three ways to get this.

  1. Download the PDF and print it.
  2. Purchase a hard copy from the college.
  3. Sign up to receive it each day in your e-mail. (That is the one I will be doing! Then someone else remembers it for me.)

To do whichever of these appeals to you, follow the link below. If the link doesn’t work – I am never sure with these technical things – copy and paste it in your browser.

http://www.presbyteriancollege.ca/2017/01/lent-devotional/

Blessings!

Baptism

On June 26th, we will be celebrating the sacrament of Baptism, as we welcome Enshuo Chen and his father Jiaxin into our congregation. This is the same day when we celebrate Canada Day in our denomination, so it will be a truly joyful and joy-filled service.

Community Christmas Hamper Campaign

Again this year, St. Andrew’s will be taking part on the Community Christmas Hamper Campaign. For information on how you can participate, check out the website here:

http://qchampers.ca/

Annual Congregational Meeting

On February 23rd, 2014, the Annual Congregational Meeting will be held in the Kirk Hall following worship. Note that February 23rd is also a Communion Sunday.
Worship will start at 11 am, and will be followed by a pot-luck luncheon before the meeting. Hope to see many of you present.
The Annual Report will be distributed after worship on February 16th.

Change of time

Please note that, until further notice, our Sunday worship will now take place at 11 am.
Hope to see you there!

Christmas Eve

Join us for our bilingual Christmas Eve Service, starting at 7 pm. There will be music, with a guest violinist and organist, and our own France Dupuis on the cello. As well, Deborah Jeans will be singing several solo pieces at this service.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

Come and join us as we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper this Sunday, October 14th. Remember that we have an open table at St. Andrew’s. Worship starts at 10:30. See you there!

August 19th – 12th Sunday after Pentecost

So this is our second last week to be reading from John’s Gospel, and today’s reading is one that often causes problems for people. Before we get into the problem areas, I just want to make a brief comparison between this gospel, and Mark’s, which is the one we have been reading for most of this church year. Several times, I have commented on the fact that Mark’s Gospel seems to be rushing. We keep seeing the word “immediately”, which Mark chose to push us as quickly as possible to the cross. John, on the other hand, is slower, more deliberate, often repeating himself. Moving from reading Mark to reading John can be just a bit irritating, especially if we are hoping for a simple narrative. But one of the benefits of reading John – speaking as an English teacher – is that it gives us a chance to read in a different manner. We can read meditatively, noticing that John’s circular style allows to focus on something again and again. This circular writing, then, is actually a spiral of greater intensity and meaning, rather than just a circle of repetition. It is like the rhetorical device of emphasis – by saying the same thing over and over, even with the words slightly changed – John is laying greater stress on his message. And the message this week is pretty straightforward. It is also a bit disgusting, because he says no less that five times, using slightly different words each time, that his followers are to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
In last week’s reading, Jesus commented on the fact that those who ate manna in the desert had died, but said that those who would eat the living bread would live forever. He repeated this in this week’s reading, so that we would understand the importance of the living bread. In a way, this also circles back to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, when Jesus spoke to her about living water. In fact, he used very similar words: Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. In that conversation, the woman was asking if Jesus were greater than Jacob (since they are at “Jacob’s well.”) Here, the question is whether Jesus is greater than Moses, through whom God provided the manna in the wilderness.
Let’s get to the problem part of this reading. Many people are revolted by this reading, which seems to say that we must actually eat Jesus’ flesh, and drink his blood in order to obtain eternal life. It is for this reason that some denominations believe in transubstantiation – the act by which the bread and wine is actually transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The priest, at the moment of consecration, hold up the bread – usually, but not always, in the form of a host and announces: This is my body. Then he does the same thing with the wine, saying: This is my blood. Other denominations believe in something called consubstantiation, which means that, at the moment of consecration, the bread and wine, even though they remain bread and wine, also take on the qualities of his body and blood.
When we, in the Presbyterian Church, celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we use specific words at specific times. However, we attribute those words to Jesus, by saying them like this: We give thanks to God the Father that our Savior, Jesus Christ, before he suffered, gave us this memorial of his sacrifice, until he comes again. At his last supper, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this in remembrance of me.” For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. And when the time comes to break the bread and pour the wine, I say: When we break this bread, it is a sharing in the body of Christ. When we drink this cup, it is a sharing in the blood of Christ. And most of us are so accustomed to hearing this that we forget the words Jesus used when talking to the crowd of followers. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. You can’t put it much more simply than that, can you?
But before you rush on to assume that Jesus was espousing some kind of divine cannibalism, let’s remember that Jesus seldom spoke in a straightforward manner – especially in John’s Gospel. He went around and around things, preferring to muddy the waters rather than clarify things. So it is up to us to figure it out. We are not the only ones to be a bit confused by Jesus’ words. If you listen again to verse 52, you will hear that the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? And, as you will see in next week’s Gospel, these words, and the arguments which followed, caused some of his followers to leave him. You see, the whole idea of eating and drinking blood would have been really offensive to the Jewish people. Laws concerning food include a prohibition against drinking blood or eating meat with blood still in it. And what about us? Granted, many of us like our steak rather rare, and people even eat raw steak, in steak tartare. But still, eating Jesus’ flesh, and drinking his blood? I think that most of us would draw the line at that. We prefer our religion neat and clean and appropriately done and appropriately metaphorical if you please.
And we are not alone in this. The early Christians, the people to whom John was writing, were not only offended at this language about eating and drinking Jesus; they were also offended by the very idea that Jesus was really human. They preferred to think that he was a sort of being who only appeared in human form, but was really all spirit. And John chose to write the way he did to emphasize the humanity of the Saviour. In the original Greek, he could have chosen one of two words to mean “flesh”. The first SOMA means BODY, but John didn’t use this word. Rather, he used SARX, which actually means FLESH. I believe that he did this to make it clear that Jesus was a real human being, one with all of the emotions and feelings of any other human being. You see, if Jesus had not been truly human, he would not have suffered and died, and the resurrection itself would have been nothing more than a cruel joke.
Robert Coleman, in his book, Written in Blood, told a story about a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. After all of the testing had been done, it turned out that the little boy was the only one whose blood was a match. The doctor asked, “Would you give your blood to Mary?” The little boy’s lower lip began to tremble; then, he took a deep breath and said, “Yes, for my sister.”
After the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, the little boy began to look very worried, then he crossed himself, finally he looked at the doctor and said, “When do I die?”
Suddenly, the doctor realized that the little boy had thought that to give his blood to his sister meant he had to die, and miracle of miracles, he was willing to do that for his sister.
And that is what Jesus, our brother, was willing to do for us. It was not a metaphor, not a “pretend” death, not a staged resurrection. Jesus died for us, and his resurrection foreshadows our resurrection into eternal life. Jesus said: I tell you the truth, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. Too often, we allow these words to be applied only to the time when we share communion at the Lord’s Table, when, in actual fact, they should be a part of our daily lives. The daily devotional which many of us in this church read is called “Today”, and its main message is: refresh, refocus, and renew, which is what we do each time we share in Communion. But the point of the devotional is that we should do this every day, and the point of Jesus’ words is that we should feed on him every minute of every day.
So now comes question time. I want you to think about your answers to these questions. With Jesus Christ available to us, what do we choose to feed on every day? With an invitation to share in the table of the Lord, whose table do we sit at on a regular basis? Do we sit at his table or at one placed before us by a secular world?
Too often, it seems that many of us who should know better – and I include myself in this category, unfortunately – feed on the kind of food that creates worry and anxiety, selfishness and intolerance, hatred and despair. We see things that our friends own, and, rather than rejoicing that they have been blessed by God, we are envious because we don’t have the latest gadget ourselves. We watch the news every night, and, rather than applying God’s understanding to what is happening in the world, and laying blame where it rightly belongs, we become bitter, wondering what kind of God would allow such things to happen. We see hypocrisy all around us – in our workplaces, in our neighbourhoods, and in our churches – and, instead of forgiving others as God forgives us, we become cynical. We see the rich and famous falling from grace, and we react with a: SERVES YOU RIGHT attitude, instead of showing compassion, and saying: THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD, GO I. Cynicism and bitterness can permeate our lives, if we let it.
There is an old Cherokee legend which you may have heard. One evening an old Cherokee looked into his grandson’s eyes and asked, “My son, I see fear in your eyes. What is troubling you?”.
The boy responded, “Often I feel as if two wolves are living inside me, one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But…the other wolf… ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his pain and fear are so great. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit and are always struggling against each other.”
With tears streaming down his face the boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one will win, Grandfather?” Grandfather smiled and replied, “The one you choose to feed.”
And for us, it is not only the one we choose to feed, but with what we feed ourselves that will determine the winner. A little junk food never hurts anyone. Even though I don’t like ice cream, which is my husband’s favourite junk food, I confess that I have more than a passing fancy for a good French fry – or a chip, as I prefer to call it. But eating such food on a regular basis is not good for us. If we eat only junk food, without balancing it out with regular, healthy eating – including fresh fruit and vegetables – we will end up in trouble. And the same is true of living bread versus the bread offered by the world.
Throughout Scripture, and especially in this chapter of John, God’s word – spoken, written, and now living in Jesus Christ – is compared to food – to bread, the living bread. It is in Scripture that we will find God’s word, the word which is the bread of life, a life which is able to conquer sin and suffering, a life eternal which is waiting for us. So, when we share in communion, we are not actually eating his body or drinking his blood. Rather, by remembering what he did, both at the Last Supper AND on the cross, we are sharing in his life.
Keith and I got back from Labrador on Thursday. It took us the better part of two days to drive here, and on the way, we kind of ate bits and pieces of all sorts of things, including a lot of red licorice. By the time we got home, we were both famished for a real meal. We, as people, can’t survive on snacks, even though we enjoy them. We, as people, need real meals. We, as God’s people, need the living bread which gives us strength for the journey. We need the word of God. We need the people of God to show us where he is. We need a community of God’s faithful people to laugh with, to cry with, and to pray with. And we need to share the living bread with them. For it is through this that we affirm our belief that Jesus did come to live among us as one of us. It is through this that we affirm our belief that he died on the cross, spilling his blood to redeem us. It is through that we affirm our belief that he was raised from the dead, and taken into glory to sit at the Father’s right hand for all eternity. It is through this that we affirm our belief that eternal life is what awaits each one of us who eats of the living bread. Thanks be to God.

August 5th – 10th Sunday after Pentecost

Today we continued chapter six of John’s Gospel, which, on the surface, seems pretty straightforward. Jesus had gone away alone – no doubt exhausted after preaching to and feeding the crowd of 5000, and walking across the water to the boat in which his disciples went across the lake to Capernaum. But the crowd was having none of this – after what Jesus had done, they wanted more. And isn’t that typical? No matter how much we are given, we want more. If we go to a concert, we applaud for encores; if we have an amazing meal, we crave dessert; and if we see miracles, we expect them to continue.
But today, that’s not what Jesus is about. He isn’t performing miracles, or – as John calls them: signs – for the crowds. Rather, he is talking theology, in much the same way as he did before in this Gospel. Remember, if you will the stories of Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman. I was warned when I was in seminary that I couldn’t just say something like that and expect everyone to know what I was talking about, so I will just refresh your memory, so that you won’t need to frantically and quietly search through the pew Bible to find the references.
Nicodemus was one of the important religious leaders of the time, and came to Jesus under the cover of darkness to ask what he needed to do in order to be saved. Jesus’ reply perplexed him more than it helped him, when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again in order to enter into the kingdom of God. Of course, we in the 21st century understand this term “born again” to refer to a spiritual rather than a physical thing, so it kind of makes sense to us.
And the Samaritan woman – Jesus was sitting at a well, when she came to draw water, and he asked her for a drink. Then they had this whole discussion about living water, the water which would take care of thirst forever. Actually, she seemed to understand Jesus better than Nicodemus did, which tells us that great amounts of education won’t necessarily make a person smarter.
Now, back to today’s reading. The people came looking for Jesus. Why? Jesus is pretty pragmatic here. He said to them: You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Now, one of the things that we often fail to understand is that Jesus was speaking to a particular people, a people who were educated in a particular way, a people who would have understood references that may escape us. In much the same way as when I use illustrations in sermons – I choose them in the hopes that they will be understood by the people who hear them. Unfortunately, this means that people who do not have the same background will often be left looking puzzled, as they try to figure out the underlying meaning. And that is why we explain Jesus’ references. That is why we need to study Scripture, to discover exactly what Jesus meant.
His audience would have understood – which we really don’t – the connections between what Jesus did and what was done in the book of Exodus. His walking on water directly referenced the fact that Moses was able to part the sea for the Israelites to cross over on their way to the Promised Land. And feeding the 5000 – of course, while the Israelites were wandering, they needed food, and Yahweh provided manna for them. But John’s purpose was not to show that Jesus is a new Moses. Unlike Moses, he is not simply leading the people out of bondage into a land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, he is delivering us from slavery to sin and death and into eternal life.
But the people following Jesus in today’s reading don’t seem to grasp that. They see Jesus as a wonder worker, as one who can perform signs and fill stomachs, and that is all they want from him. They ask him: What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Sadly, that is often the case today. People are searching for something to believe in, for something to hold onto, but they want some kind of proof before they believe. But he can give them – and us – so much more. He offers the true bread from heaven, the food that endures to eternal life. And he offers it as a gift. What is so difficult to understand about that?
I am sure that you have all heard the comedy sketch called “Who’s on first?” Well, often, when I am reading John’s Gospel, I feel as though the people are in that sketch. Jesus is talking to the people, and they are replying to what he says, but there is a definite disconnect in the conversation. Jesus says: Do not work for food which spoils. They say: What must we do to do the works God requires? He replies: The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. In other words, we don’t have to DO anything – just believe. Why was it so hard for them to accept this? Why is that so hard for us to accept this? Just believe, and you will be given the bread of eternal life.
You see, Jesus knew that the bread of this earth will not long satisfy us. He knew that we crave something more. St. Augustine said: My heart is empty until it rests in thee. And this is what we are craving. We know that there has to be something more, and here Jesus is, offering it to us – free for the taking.
If you will remember, when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, and being given manna for each day, some of them tried to gather more than they needed. This extra rotted overnight, and was filled with maggots. That is what happens when we try to get more than we need. And that is why we pray: Give us this day our daily bread. Not our bread for the week or the month or the year. We ask for our daily bread, the bread which satisfies, the bread which fills us. This bread is only to be found in Jesus Christ. And, you know what? That is the most amazing thing, the most miraculous thing, the most wonderful sign. It is only to be found in Jesus Christ. We don’t need to look anywhere else. We don’t need to church shop, as many people. All we need to do is to find Jesus Christ, and there is the bread of eternal life, waiting for us.
Look at the world we are living – this world of the 21st century. Despite the huge advances since the time of Jesus, very little of substance has really changed. It is still populated with people who, having had their fill of the bread of this earth, long for something more, and who seek that something more – not only in the pursuit of more earthly blessings, but in the empty spectacles and false promises provided for them in the pleasure palaces and cultic coliseums of our world.
The Romans called it “bread and circuses” and their rulers believed that if they provided enough of each their citizens would be happy and their
civilization would last forever. And they were wrong. We call it “reality TV”, and believe that it reflects what life is really like. And we are wrong. There are more important things to seek than the bread which spoils; there is more to life than the pleasures of the flesh which are fleeting at best. And Jesus offers them to us – in the bread of life.
In a former life, I used to be an English teacher, and became familiar with much of Shakespeare’s work. One quote from Hamlet, I believe, fits in nicely here. Speaking to Horatio, Hamlet said: There are more things in heaven and in earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Truer words were never spoken, especially when applied to what happened in today’s Gospel reading. Last week, one of the hymns we used was: Jesus Calls us Here To Meet Him, and we will be hearing the melody again during the time of meditation. We are called, not only to meet him, but to share the bread of life with him, to become part of him.
But for some people, that isn’t enough. They STILL want signs; they STILL want proof; they STILL want bread. And Jesus talks about faith. Fred Craddock wrote: they still want to be in charge, even of faith itself. Show us a sign, and we will see, we will weigh the evidence, we will draw the conclusions, and we might even decide to believe. We MIGHT decide to believe? How arrogant can someone get? We MIGHT decide to believe. First of all, I don’t think that one can DECIDE to believe. Either you do or you don’t. But, you know, that sounds like us sometimes. Sometimes I hear people say: I decided to believe. I have to confess, I find it difficult to keep silent when people say this. It is like DECIDING to have blue eyes. Obviously, I can’t reference hair colour, since we CAN decide on that, but our eyes – well, what we get is pretty much what we have. What we CAN decide as far as faith is concerned is whether or not we accept what it is that Jesus offers. We can decide if we are going to take the living bread or leave it. We can decide for or against eternal life.
I have read about people who view faith and church membership as something pragmatic. Such people see faith and church membership instrumentally, as something they can choose for themselves to use for their own needs or to pursue their own interests. Now, it IS possible to look for a church which meets your own needs best. After all, we live in a consumer-driven society, and we are used to getting those things which suit our personalities, our pocketbooks, and our philosophies. But there is more to faith than that. Benjamin Sparks wrote an interesting commentary on people like this. He devoted part of it to a list of the WRONG reasons to become a member of a church, and I would like to share them with you. While I am reading them, think about whether or not any of these reasons ever drew you or anyone you know to a particular church. Because, of course, there are many reasons we go to church. We come for the fun and the fellowship. We come because we’ve always come, because our parents and grandparents instilled in us the responsibility of coming to church. But eventually, all of these reasons aside, we have to ask ourselves why we are really here. What is it that makes us come back again and again when there are so many other demands on our time, when we are already too tired out, when we already have plenty of other people and events to fill our busy lives? We come for the same reasons the crowds came, pressing on Jesus. They asked for signs, they received healings and even loaves and fish to eat. They wanted to see miracles. But they wanted more than that, more than they even knew or were able to articulate. Jesus knew what they needed – they needed the living bread, the living water. We too come for more than the fellowship, really. We really do come for more than a sense of obligation, though sometimes we let ourselves believe otherwise. The truth is, if we only felt a sense of duty, or we only came to meet with friends, we could fill these needs elsewhere. Something draws us back to this place, to a community of faith, to a time of worship. Why are we here? What and who are we looking for?
Some of the wrong reasons suggested by Sparks are as follows. He says that we should not go: “for the ‘right’ kind of worship; for political engagement on behalf of the poor and downtrodden; for the sake of a Christian America; (Or Canada, in our case!) for a strong youth and family ministry; for the opportunity to practice mission in a downtown location, or to go on mission trips to Africa or Central America.” I have to confess that several of those seem to me to be very good reasons to invite someone to become part of the life of the church. However, Sparks claims that we offer something much greater than all of these, something which he calls ‘soul food,’ which lasts forever and does not change with the changing circumstances of the church or the world. Does this sound familiar? Does this not sound like the Bread of Life offered by Jesus? Sparks says that this is the kind of food that will nourish us even after our physical hunger is satisfied and the world is as it should be. He refers to the gospel preached by North American Christians as “a broken, truncated gospel”.
Sadly, I have to agree with him in too many cases. There are far too many faith communities which do not live their faith. They do good works, of course, but tell me of any group of volunteers which does NOT do good works. But there needs to be a difference between us – the Presbyterian Church in Canada – and the Rotary Club or the Shriners. If Sparks believes that we have slipped into the trap of the consumerist culture by meeting the physical needs of those who come through our doors rather than “proclaiming a gospel that offers us faith in the only begotten Son,” we might examine more closely how we go about proclaiming the gospel: are we, as he claims, “good marketers rather than true witnesses”?
In this church, we do not preach a social Gospel. We are not here for the feel-good aspect of feeding others, even though we give to the food bank regularly. Why, then, are we here? We are here because we don’t need to look elsewhere. We are here for the bread of life, for that which will satisfy us and everyone for all eternity. In my research this week, I found a quote by Bishop Desmond Tutu which says it better than I ever could. I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread. And the bread for which we all hunger is offered to us, freely. Thanks be to God.


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