Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

Transitions: They’re Not Always Easy

Posted by on Sunday, May 19th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, May 19, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Day of Pentecost, Baptism
Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

We as a congregation and I as a minister have been given the honour this morning to join with Frances’ family to celebrate her baptism. I am always amazed at how we are given this wonderful privilege to enter into one of the most significant moments in a family’s life with them.

But there is also something that makes it particularly special for us today. This is part of our ongoing journey with her family. We also had the opportunity, just a few years ago, to celebrate the baptism of her older sister and then, a few years before that, her older brother. But, even more interesting, each of those special events not only gave us a reason to celebrate but also helped us to come to terms with something important – the often-frightening pace of change that we have been living with over the last few years.

An Apocalyptic Fire

Frances’ brother came to us just as his family resettled here in Cambridge from Fort McMurray in Alberta. And they had left that place just as a terrifying wildfire destroyed huge parts of that city. Do you remember how we all felt about that fire at that time? It was unprecedented. It was apocalyptic! We had never seen anything quite like it before and we certainly hoped that we’d never see the likes of it again.

I think we probably have come to see that fire in a bit of a different light today, though, haven’t we? It is no less frightening, and we have no less sympathy for those who were caught in its path, but for some reason we don’t quite see it as unusual anymore.

Especially after last summer (and I doubt that the coming summer will be any better) we recognize that the Fort Mac fire was apocalyptic alright, but not so much as a singular event as a harbinger of the kind of disaster that is increasingly become a new normal for life in this country. In fact, this very week Fort McMurray has once again been evacuated in the face of just as large a fire. I am very thankful that we had that opportunity given to us by Frances’ brother to reflect on where we can find God when the world is falling apart all around us.

A Pandemic

By the time Frances’ sister came along, the world had changed yet again. She was born into the confusion and isolation of the pandemic. And, when she first arrived, we didn’t even know how to practice baptism because, despite some creative internet posts, I wasn’t about to do it with a squirt gun. So, she waited.

And when we were finally able to carry out the baptism somewhat later, it was another opportunity to reflect on how much things had changed for the church especially throughout this disrupting experience of the pandemic. And I was grateful that she gave us that wonderful opportunity to talk about how God is with us through such disruption.

A Big Move

And now Frances has come to us today. And somehow, I am not surprised that she comes to us at a moment of great change. It is a personal change for her family, but also symbolic of a change in our society that we need to grapple with. Her family is about to make a big move back to Fort McMurray. It is a change that is a positive and promising one for them in many ways. There is a great new job opportunity that can work well for their family.

But it also shows up some of the challenges that families are facing right now because one of the motivating factors is the realization that they could probably never afford the kind of housing in this area that would be ideal for raising their family, which I think we all recognize is not an uncommon problem for young families these days.

Making Transitions

I’ve been thinking a lot about changes as we navigate so many of them. Change is a part of life. Sometimes we choose it, sometimes it is forced upon us, but no one can really escape it. But while change is something external, something that happens to us, there is also an internal process that goes along with that that we do not always pay enough attention to. Let’s call that process transition. And transitions can often take longer and can be much more difficult than a simple change of circumstances might seem. Sometimes a bad transition can have the power to derail a positive change when it is not handled well.

Think of it this way. Once this family has packed up, traveled to Fort McMurray, moved into a new house, started jobs and registered for schools and all the things that go with that, we can say that things have changed for them.

How We Navigate Transitions

But think of all the transitions – both psychological and social – that they will have to go through to get there. This new thing will start with many endings – winding up things here, saying goodbye to friends and family who will continue to be in their lives, but not quite in the same ways. Transitions always start with endings.

After that comes a long period of great uncertainty. You are in a new place, and you must learn to do all kinds of things differently now. You figure out how to get around. You make new connections and habits. There is a lot of trial and error, some good experiences and bad. It’s a great time of innovation which can be both scary and exciting. It can also be the time when you are most tempted to give up on the new thing.

And it is only after you have navigated all of that that you can fully embrace where you now are. That’s why the transition can take a lot longer than just change. And you cannot make a good change if you don’t manage to make a good transition as well.

Our Transitions

I mention all of this, of course, because we want to pray for Frances’ family and do all that we can to help them to have a good transition. But I also think that this is all very timely for us as a church.

We are changing. We must change because this church, like most churches these days, can’t just keep doing what it has always done. But if we want that change in our situation to lead us to a better place, we will need to do a great job of making a transition.

What Ezekiel Lived Through

The Prophet Ezekiel was living through a time of great change. During his lifetime he saw the collapse of his homeland, the Kingdom of Judah, and was taken away into exile in Babylon. This was not a change that he was happy about at all. But he still had to live through it. He still had to make the transition. And the passage that we read today is all about a vision that God sent to Ezekiel to help him through his transition.

Ezekiel was wandering around one day outside the city when he came upon a valley. As he looked at that valley, he saw that it was full of bones. I imagine that it was a valley where some battle had been fought in previous years. The bones were all that were left of the soldiers who had been slaughtered on that day.

But for Ezekiel, that valley suddenly became the symbol of everything that he had lost. He had lost his homeland. What had once been the strength of the people of Judah had been reduced to nothing but dead, dry bones.

In the Valley

And I think it was there – in that valley – that the depths of what he had lost finally hit him. The question that came to his mind was this, “Mortal, can these bones live?” And he knew it was a divine question.

But as he considered all the devastation and loss he had experienced, the answer to that question seemed obvious. No way! Everything that he had known, everything that was familiar or comfortable had been reduced to dead, dry bones. What hope of life could there be? But he didn’t dare answer a straightforward no, so he only answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

And that is what transitions can feel like. Especially those initial phases of letting go and saying goodbye can feel like nothing but a valley full of dead, dry bones and you can wonder if anything will ever feel alive again. But here is what we need to learn from Ezekiel’s vision. God brought him to that valley for a reason.

A Prophecy

Once Ezekiel had been brought to the lowest of the low and had had to admit to himself that he didn’t even know if there was any hope of life left, something amazing happened. He was challenged to prophesy. “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” And that is exactly what we need sometimes. We need a word that can penetrate through to us from somewhere outside and help us to see a way through the difficulties of transition.

And so it is that, only once Ezekiel has been able to find and speak that word of the Lord, that he can begin to see his way towards the new future that God has prepared for him. And he sees that very explicitly in the bones that come back together, the bodies being rebuilt before his visioning eyes, and then finally and crucially the Holy Spirit comes and fills them. And Ezekiel can see that, yes, there is life on the other side of this difficult transition when we learn to place our trust in God.

An Experiment

We, like Frances’ family, are going through a time of transition. We have been recognizing over the last while that, if we want to be a strong congregation, we can’t just keep on doing things as we have always done them. And so, it is time for us to plunge into that transition. Recognizing that we’re living in an age when our churches really can’t afford to just go it alone anymore, we are going ahead with this experiment over the summer. We will worship together with four other churches and do it in various places during those summer months.

This, to be very clear, is an experiment. Everything will go back to how it was when the summer ends. But at the same time, we do hope that we learn some things over these months about how we can work together and support one another. We hope that that will help us to think about change that will create a strong Presbyterian Church ministry in this area for a long time to come.

Exploring the Transition

But, as I said, we are not really changing anything, so what is the point of doing it? Well, I would say that what we are doing is that we are exploring the experience of transition in a safe environment. This is an opportunity for all of us to work through our own sense of how we have to transition for the future that we will be dealing with. What are the things that we might lose and how do we feel about that? And, yes, there might be some negative feelings that we will have to grapple with as we think about transitions into the future. There may be things that feel like valleys full of dry bones.

But the wonderful thing about what we are doing is that this is absolutely not about what we’re losing. It’s about starting to find our way towards a different future. Part of that, certainly, will be practically doing things like meeting our fellow Christians and finding our ways to the places where they worship. That’s a moment of discovery and, even if there is some confusion along the way, there’s always something exciting about that.


But the best thing about transitions is that they are a great time for innovation. We’re going to get to be creative over the summer. Having more clergy and other leaders present, will give us a chance to try new things and have a lot of fun doing it. This is not going to be a summer of just managing to survive while school is off and people are away on vacation, we are going to allow God’s Holy Spirit to inspire us and lead us in some very interesting directions. Not all of them are going to work out, sure, but we are going to have a good time trying them.

Ezekiel had to go down into the valley of bones. He had to experience some sense of loss and disappointment that some things were never going to be quite the same again. But please remember that God did not leave Ezekiel down in that valley. God sent him a vision of new life and of an animating Spirit that would lead to exciting new things. That is what I pray for us and for Frances and her family.

Continue reading »

By the Flip of a Coin

Posted by on Sunday, May 12th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch sermon video here

Hespeler, May 12, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Christian Family Sunday
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, 1 John 5:9-13, John 17:6-19

The Book of Acts opens with a very dramatic scene as Jesus ascends into heaven forty days after his resurrection. And in the second chapter of Acts the story is told of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church that happens fifty days after the resurrection.

And in between those two awesome events, the apostles were left for about ten days on their own. Jesus had left, the Holy Spirit had not yet come, and they had some time to kill. So, what did they do with it? Well, we are told that they spent their time constantly in prayer, but apart from the prayer, they only actually accomplished one thing.

Seems Important!

It was something that seemed important in the moment. You see, Jesus had chosen twelve disciples. And the number obviously seemed significant. Just as there were twelve sons of Jacob and twelve tribes of the nation of Israel, it seemed fitting that there should continue to be twelve key apostles. But there was a problem. One of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, turned out to be a bit of a washout. And so, the remaining eleven decided that the one thing they could do while they waited for further instructions was replace Judas.

With this setup, you might think that the rest of this book is going to be all about what these twelve men are going to do. I mean, after all, isn’t it called The Acts of the Apostles? But remember that the author didn’t put that title on this book, and it really doesn’t turn out that way.

What is this Really About?

You might expect, based on this passage, that Matthias, the man chosen to replace Judas, was about to go on to do great things. Maybe he did, but if he did, this book isn’t at all interested in them. Nor is it really interested in the acts of the other eleven either. Apart from Peter and a few quick mentions of John and James, the twelve mostly drop out of the story which quickly shifts focus to the acts of Peter, the seven deacons, James the brother of Jesus and, in particular, a man named Paul and his companions.

So, why is this little incident even recorded? Well, I’ve got a theory. I think there’s a message hidden in this episode for us. And it’s hidden in the identity of the person you would think of the least. No, not Matthias. The other guy; the guy who didn’t get chosen. He’s a guy that has more names than just about anyone in the New Testament, “Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus,” but I think he may have also had another name. I think there’s more of his story to be told in this book.

Anticipating the Cast

Joseph stared; he could not look away as Peter took the flat, smooth stone in his hand. It was about the size of a drachma. In fact, if they’d had a drachma, that was what they probably would have used. But amongst them all, all they could scrape together was this flat stone. Peter had taken a knife and roughly scraped letters onto it – a yodh for Joseph on one side and a mem for Matthias on the other. Peter prepared to cast it.

Ever since this meeting of the followers of Jesus had begun, Joseph had had an earworm – a strange melody running through his head. Look at all my trials and tribulations Sinking in a gentle pool of wine…” He felt troubled that the outcome of this one toss seemed to mean so much to him.

Joseph’s Qualifications

He had spent the last few years following Jesus all over the place. He had observed him at work healing and preaching. He had been one of the seventy sent out by Jesus to the towns and villages of Galilee. Most significantly, he had been there at the end and then experienced for himself the reality that Jesus continued to be with his friends even after his death.

All these experiences certainly qualified him to be in a select group – to be counted as on the same level as the twelve apostles. And now that one of the twelve – that traitor Judas – was dead, there was an opening. The thing he had always dreamed of was finally in his grasp. Always hoped that I’d be an apostle. Knew that I would make it if I tried.”

There was just one problem, and the problem was named Matthias. He also had been there for everything – was just as qualified to be one of the twelve as Joseph was. And Peter had been unwilling to choose between the two of them – proposing instead that they should cast lots.

A Well-Known Method

Such a thing had long been an acceptable way of consulting God when faced with a dilemma. As a Levite, Joseph was certainly aware of the ancient Israelite practice of consulting God using the Urim and the Thummim – two stones that were cast and the Levitical priest would then interpret some answer from Yahweh in how they landed on the ground. This was essentially the same kind of process and there was no reason to doubt that God would indeed make his will known through this casting of lots in the same way.

And yet, Joseph could not help himself. He had this nagging feeling in the back of his mind that his entire future was being left to a completely random flip of a coin. As he watched the stone fly up in the air, the earworm continued to play out in his mind. “Then when we retire we can write the gospels So they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died.” (by Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber)

Mem, it landed on Mem for Matthias. And just like that, Joseph was left with only one question. What was he supposed to do with his life now?


Have you ever had a goal or expectation that you’ve built your whole life around? Maybe it was a career, a prize, a championship, a relationship. You plan for it. You study and train. You spend hours imagining what your whole life will be like once you get it. We have all had things like that in our lives. And you are a rare person indeed if you have never had any of those hopes or dreams squashed. Failure and disappointment are unavoidable in life. And the test is always how are you going to respond when that happens.


There is always a temptation, isn’t there, to let yourself wallow in your bitterness and disappointment? And that bitterness can manifest itself in various ways. For some, they might retreat into apathy and passiveness. They have a hard time finding meaning or purpose in anything. And then there are those, of course, for whom the bitterness comes out in more active ways. They might set out to sabotage the success of the people they perceive as having stolen the thing they desired from them.

And I know that none of you would ever deal with your disappointment in such unconstructive ways any more than I would. But who among us can honestly say that we’ve never felt the temptation to react so unhelpfully to the experience of disappointment? That’s how I know that Joseph must have felt at least a moment of temptation to become bitter or take his disappointment out on his apostolic rival, Matthias. Of course he did! But the question is what did he do with that temptation. Did he let that temptation control him, or did he choose to channel it into something not only constructive but powerfully encouraging?

A Better Response

Maybe Joseph would not have the attention and prominence that he had dreamed of. But he decided to make something of his seemingly diminished role. He determined that, from now on, he would live out his faith in Christ Jesus in a way that maybe would not seek out the limelight, but that would seek to constantly build others up, and maybe especially those who needed that support the most.

So that is what he did. When somebody new came into the church and they struggled to fit in because they were different or because people had a hard time getting past things they had done in the past, Joseph Barsabbas was always the one who went out of his way to welcome them and make introductions while he encouraged others to see them as new people in Christ. When somebody failed or washed out in some project that they had taken on, it was Joseph who went and let them know that it was okay and that everyone could have a second chance.

Selling the Field

And when the whole church in Jerusalem was struggling to meet the needs of the poorest among them, it was Joseph who led the way by selling a field that he had inherited in Cyprus and bringing the proceeds to lay them at the feet of the twelve (including Matthias!). Let them be the ones who got the credit, who used it to provide for each according to their need.

He insisted that nobody needed to know that the money came from him but, somehow, the word got out and others were encouraged to follow his example. That ultimately led to a whole new phase in the life of the church as they expanded their ability to care for one another in the name of Jesus.


No one was quite sure who first suggested the nickname. In fact, maybe the first time it was just something that happened by accident. Somebody referred to him not as Joseph Barsabbas, that is, the son of Sabbas, but just changed one letter and called him Barnabas instead. And as soon as people heard it, it just seemed right to them because Barnabas means the son of encouragement. It didn’t take long until everyone was calling him that. Joseph and his Latin name, Justus, were all but forgotten and everyone just called him Barnabas – including and perhaps especially the apostles and not one of them smiled more broadly when he did so than Matthias.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Some wise man once wrote, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes Well, you might find You get what you need.” I guess you might say that that is what happened for Barnabas. He wanted to have an impact on the world. He wanted to realize something of the vision of the kingdom of God that Jesus had placed before his disciples. And he thought he had it all worked out how he could do that. He wanted to be an apostle and to act with the authority that came with that to make it happen.

But he didn’t get that; it was denied him on the flip of a coin. And he never did quite work out whether he thought that was just random chance or the voice of God. But did it really matter? What mattered was that he chose to take it as an opportunity to accept what he received as a gift from God and to make the most of it.


As I said, Matthias may well have gone on to do great things as one of the twelve. But if he did, we’ll never know because the author of this book never bothered to tell us. But I suspect that he did not want us to miss the impact that was had by Joseph the Son of Encouragement.

Think of his legacy. Not only is he credited with kick-starting the extraordinary economic system of mutual care in the church in Jerusalem, but he is also apparently responsible for the careers of at least two other people who had an extraordinary impact.

Saul of Tarsus

When, for example, a man named Saul showed up at the church in Jerusalem, nobody wanted to have anything to do with him. He had persecuted the Jerusalem church, after all, and gone off to persecute it in Damascus too. And sure, he said that he had changed – that he had met the risen Jesus and now saw things differently. But would you have believed that?

So maybe Saul would have never met the apostles if not for the actions of one man. Any guesses who? Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him.” (Acts 9:27) And then later, when leadership was needed for the church in Antioch, it was Barnabas who went and found Saul (who came to be known as Paul) to recruit him for the job. He set him on his way and then became his first companion in Ministry. (Acts 11:22-30)

John Mark

And later, when Paul rejected a potential companion because he had disappointed him before, Barnabas did it again. He went to the washout, a young man named John Mark, and personally took him on as a companion – he gave him the second chance that Paul didn’t want to give him. That was just the kind of person that the Son of Encouragement was. (Acts 15:37-39)

And if you just take those two people – the Apostle Paul and John Mark who, Christian tradition has it, was the author of the Gospel of Mark, you might say that Barnabas had a greater influence on the future shape of Christianity than did most of the twelve – certainly more than Matthias.


Every one of us has experienced disappointment in our lives. We all know what it is like to have your heart set on one thing and to end up with something else.

Many of us have also made the calculation at some point that, in order to pursue one goal we had to give up on another one. On this Family Sunday, for example, we certainly recognize the huge sacrifices that both mothers and fathers, often make to prioritize the raising of children.

It’s What You Do with it

Such circumstances are a part of life. But the life of Barnabas reminds us that it will always remain up to us what we do with them. I hope he can remind us all of the potential that each one of us has to choose to take our situation as a gift of God and make the most of it. I am sure that all of your lives have been affected by a Barnabas – by someone who resolved to be that encourager and who worked tirelessly in the background. I certainly know a lot of people on this day who would point to their mother as that person.

Thank God for the children of encouragement. And thank God for the great potential that God gives to each of us to respond well to the circumstances of our lives – even those that are created by something as random as the flip of a coin.

Continue reading »

Does anyone object? Anyone? Anyone?

Posted by on Sunday, May 5th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, May 5, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

When I had a class on performing marriages. I remember that the person teaching us gave us a few pieces of practical advice. They said to never marry anybody who was drunk, because you have to be sober to sign a binding contract. They taught us that you had to keep the photographer on a short leash. And they said to never wait too long when you ask that “Does anyone object?” question.

No One Wants an Answer

You have to ask the question, but despite what you see in the movies, you never want somebody to answer it. Nobody wants the whole drama of that scene where somebody comes in and says, “No they need to marry me instead!” That’s going to do nothing but cause trouble on somebody’s wedding day.

And it’s even worse if somebody comes forward claiming to have a valid legal reason for why the marriage shouldn’t take place. Because, if they do, that has to be sorted out before anything else can happen. So, you just ask the question, and you hope against hope that nobody uses it as a last-ditch opportunity to throw the whole wedding off the rails.

How You Ask

But I always feel that millisecond of temptation. What if I actually searched for an answer to that question? “Come on, there’s got to be somebody who objects. How about you sir? You look like somebody who might have a reason for why these two should not be bound in holy matrimony. What is it?” But no, I always play it safe and do my best to make sure that question slips by without incident.

I was thinking about all of that when I looked at our reading from the Book of Acts this morning because the question that Peter asks in it is a lot like that question that I’m supposed to ask at a wedding. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” It basically comes as that one last question that you need to deal with before we can get on with a marriage ceremony – concluding it, not with the sharing of rings but with the covenant of baptism. So, you might expect that it would be asked much like the minister asks the question at a wedding. But I wonder if Peter really asked it like that.

A Romance?

After all, this question does not really come at the end of some romantic tale. It is not as if Peter and this Gentile household have had a whirlwind love affair leading up to this point. There has been no courting or falling in love. On the contrary, Peter has resisted at every step of this relationship.

It all started when Cornelius, the patriarch of this Italian family, had a vision. Cornelius is described as a God-fearer, that is, a Gentile who worships and admires the God of Israel but does not follow all of the requirements of Jewish law concerning circumcision and things like diet. But in this vision, he is told to send for Simon Peter who will instruct him about what he should do.

What it Takes for Peter to Go

Now this, you would think, should be an opportunity that Peter would jump at. The apostles, after all, have been instructed to preach the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. That command is in the opening chapter of this book! And here Peter has a golden opportunity to access a whole new people group with this meeting that has been set up by heavenly messengers. But surprisingly, Peter seems to be nothing but reluctant.

While Cornelius’ messengers are on the way to give him the invitation, Peter receives his own vision. He sees a sheet lowered from heaven filled with animals. But the animals are all considered to be unclean according to Jewish law. As a good Jew, Peter has been taught all his life that such animals are disgusting and that no decent person would ever eat them. And so, when, in his vision, he hears the voice of God say, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat,” he basically replies and says “Yuck, I would never eat such things!” And Peter has this same vision three times in a row.

And when, at the conclusion of the third time through this vision, the messengers from Cornelius show up at the door asking for Simon Peter, the interpretation of the vision seems clear. Even though these Gentiles may be dirty and eat disgusting things, it seems that God wants Peter to go visit them anyway.

Peter’s Reluctance

But just think for a moment about what that means. God had to send a vision to Peter not once, not twice but three times just to persuade him to go out the door towards the home of Cornelius. Peter didn’t want to do it and he needed some pretty extraordinary persuasion just to get in the chariot.

But he goes. And when he gets to the house, he does share with them the good news about Jesus. He has gotten into a bit of a groove in his preaching at this point. But he doesn’t seem to speak with any great expectation. They’re just a bunch of filthy Gentiles after all. He doesn’t really think that this good news is for them. It’s only for people like him.

That seems to be his entire attitude because, when these Gentiles begin to respond in an undeniable way – when they start to speak in an ecstatic manner – all the people who have come with him are completely astounded. They were never looking for such a reaction and there is no indication that Peter feels any differently.

How did He Ask it?

And so, I don’t think we can necessarily assume that when Peter asks the question, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” he asks it like we ask the question at a wedding. Doesn’t it make more sense that he’s speaking to his posse and saying something like, “Listen, guys, I realize that it looks like these Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit like we have, but surely somebody can come up with some reason to withhold the water for baptizing them.” The problem with a written story, after all, you never quite know with what expression somebody says something.

And the thing is that there were all kinds of reasons, according to their existing understanding of baptism, to withhold the water for baptism. Gentiles were not circumcised, they ate unclean foods, they did not follow the purity laws that defined the people of Israel. These were all potential red flags at the wedding ceremony, all reasons for raising objections. But the reason why nobody raised those points was that it was actually about something else.

They didn’t like Gentiles. They had these stereotypes and bad feelings about them that they couldn’t get past. But somehow, with the help of the Holy Spirit acting in the lives of this Gentile family, they knew they had to give this relationship a try. But let us not pretend for a moment that any of this was easy for them. It was very hard. And so, I don’t think it unlikely that, even up to the last moment, Peter was still looking for an excuse to stop the whole ceremony.

Part of Our History

And, in many ways, that is a perfect reflection of the history of the church. God is always on the move seeking for the church to grow by drawing more people into it. The good news about Jesus Christ is and always has been good news for everybody. We can find hope. We can find forgiveness where we need it. We can find ways to lay down the burdens that we are carrying and that keep us from being the people that God has always intended for us to be. That is always going to be something that is going to meet a whole lot of people exactly where they need to be met. The problem when it comes to drawing people to Christ is never the message.

The problem is often us, however. We are always on the lookout for reasons to withhold water for baptizing. And it is not because God is putting up those barriers. God is not the one who is saying that this type of person or that type of person has no place in the kingdom of God. We do that.

The most common reflex that we have is the same one that Peter started out with. We assume that if people are not like us, then we shouldn’t have to make a place for them.

Many Kinds of Prejudice

That sense of somebody not being like us can take many different forms. I am quite sure that at least some of the reluctance of people like Peter to include the Gentiles had as much to do with racial and cultural stereotypes as it did with questions about the requirements of the law. And that is a barrier that has continued to stand in the way of the growth of the church throughout its history.

Oh, we will often say that we are only too glad to welcome people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but we also often erect hidden and even overt barriers. Many times, Christian leaders have required people from various backgrounds to give up their cultural heritage, in order to be considered acceptable.

Indigenous Culture

Churches in Canada, for example, including our own, often demanded that indigenous people give up their drums and cut their long hair and braids that were such an essential part of their identity, in order to be considered acceptable Christians. Even churches that made abundant use of incense smoke in their worship, declared that the indigenous use of the smoke of cedar, tobacco, sweet grass and sage were abominations.

We demanded that the First Nations people become culturally like us in order be acceptable. And it is always so easy to fall into that same pattern when we encounter people who come from various ethnicities and cultures.

European settlers who colonized this place came here with the notion that their culture and practices made them superior and that everyone else would need to become like them to be acceptable. We should have learned by now how foolish such ideas were, but we still so easily fall into such ways of seeing the world. And so, we still often assume that someone has to become culturally European to be worthy of the gospel.

Other Reasons

So, demanding cultural assimilation is one of those ways that, historically and still today, we subtly withhold the water. But different cultural backgrounds are not the only reason why we sometimes struggle to give people a place.

In many cases, we have built our churches around certain assumptions about how families are supposed to work. And so, we might make it fairly easy for a family that fits certain traditional patterns, like, for example, a traditionally married couple with kids. But we really struggle when it comes to families that don’t quite fit our traditional expectations. Single-parent families, blended families and families that just don’t fit what we might be used to are given extra barriers when it comes to fitting in.

Oh, once again, it might be subtle and it might only be communicated with a glance or a stray comment, but we do find ways to make it more difficult for those who don’t quite fit our expectations.

God Doesn’t Want to Exclude

The lesson that I would have all of us take away from the story of Peter and Cornelius and his family is this. God doesn’t want to exclude anybody. God doesn’t want to set up any barriers between people and the good news that’s going to bring some hope and light into their lives. The problem with the spread of the gospel has never been on God’s end or any sort of problem or unacceptability with the message.

The problem is us. The problem is that we, like Peter and the others, are constantly looking for some reason to withhold the water. And God is always pushing, sending us messages encouraging us to go out and encounter people where they are. God is not going to let up from sending that message of inclusion two or three times if that’s what we need for it to get through.

But maybe what we need to do is stop looking for reasons to withhold the water, stop finding excuses for why somebody can’t really belong, and just go ahead and take the risk. It is time to love, accept and value people for who they already are.

That’s the power of the gospel. And when we set it free to truly speak to any person’s life wherever they are, here is what we will discover. It doesn’t just have the power to transform that person’s life and bring them hope. It also has the power to transform the church as a whole and bring us all to new life in Christ. Having heard no objections, let the wedding proceed!

Continue reading »

Right Time, Right Place

Posted by on Sunday, April 28th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch sermon video here

Hespeler, April 28, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22:25-31, 1 John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8

Our reading this morning from the Book of Acts tells the story of an extraordinary encounter between Philip and a man who is described only as a eunuch from Ethiopia. It is one of the most extraordinary stories of a right place at the right time encounter that you may have ever heard. On the one hand, Philip is there, apparently because he has received a divine message directing him to this place, a deserted road in the middle of nowhere.

What About the Ethiopian

That in itself is quite extraordinary. But I’m actually a little bit more curious today about how the other person in the encounter came to be there. It says that he was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.”

That description makes me ask a few questions. What was he doing on that road? What was an African and a eunuch doing worshiping in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem? And what kind of experience would a man like that have had in that temple at that time? Perhaps even more interesting in an age long before the printing press made books affordable to anybody, how did he get his hands on a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah? There must be quite a backstory before he ever met Philip on that road.

An Ethiopian Jew

His name was Bachos – at least that is the name he is given in Ethiopian Christian tradition. He had lived in Ethiopia all his life but had lived there as an outsider – a Jew. Jews had had thriving settlements in Africa for over seven centuries at that time and, though they had intermarried with the natives, they had maintained their traditions and worship. There was a huge Jewish settlement at Elephantine on the upper Nile where Jewish mercenaries served the Egyptian Pharaoh by guarding his southern frontier. They had even built their own temple there and carried out their own sacrifices.

Bachos’ parents had come from there. They had travelled south to Ethiopia to seek opportunities and a better life for their children. And they had placed many of their hopes upon their eldest son. The operation he had had to undergo had been a necessary part of that.

A Rise in Court

Ethiopia was prosperous and ruled by a powerful queen, called the Candace, who was wise and beloved. Her faithful servants were rewarded with wealth beyond all dreams. But, in order to gain such a privileged position, the Candace needed to know that her servants were devoted to her alone.

It was understood that, if a man could have a child, he would be honour bound to provide for his family first. It would be shameful for him to do otherwise. So, there was a requirement to cut off even the possibility of having children.

And so, it had been done. It was a great risk for his parents to take, of course, for there was no guarantee that he would even get a position at court. But that gamble paid off. Bachos was smart and talented. He quickly rose in the ranks of the civil service until he had control of the Candace’s vast treasury. It was everything that his parents had ever dreamed of.

Personal Discontent

But was Bachos content? He was daily aware of the enormous price he had been forced to pay for his success. He wondered what all his wealth meant and if it would all come to nothing when he was dead. He began to seek out a deeper meaning in his life and some sense of something that would last beyond this present life.

Having been raised among the Ethiopians, he had been constantly surrounded by Ethiopian gods and the worship of them. He had mostly gone along with the local customs to get along. But as time went by, he found that the teachings about Wak, the Adbar and Ayana were not satisfying his deep craving for meaning. He decided to explore the Jewish heritage that he had mostly forgotten.


He went to his queen, fell to his knees and begged for permission to connect with his roots and find the meaning he was craving. He wanted to go all the way to Jerusalem and the great temple of the God Yahweh. The Candace understood that this would be a very long journey and that she would be without one of her most trusted eunuchs for nearly a year. But she was a wise woman. She had seen him struggle with his identity and purpose. She knew that, if he was granted this, it might make him a better servant. And so, she granted him permission to go.


Five months, that was how long it took to get to Jerusalem. He had found a ship on the Red Sea that had taken him to Lower Egypt. He had seen the pyramids and ancient Egyptian temples on the way to the great city of Alexandria. There he had connected with the large Jewish community in that city – studying for a while in their synagogue and learning a great deal about their understanding of the tradition. But he still felt as if he had to go to Jerusalem. And so, he took a ship and sailed to Gaza and then hired a chariot to drive to the city.

The Court of the Gentiles

The temple at Jerusalem, even after the incredible wonders he had seen in Egypt, was a marvel. The courtyard of the Gentiles was filled with people, not only with locals and with Jews who had been dispersed all over the known world, but also with many Gentiles who had come to see this famous place and to observe the strange Jewish rituals.

But Bachos was not here just to observe strange customs. He wanted to connect to his own heritage. And so, he headed across the courtyard to the gate that led to the court of the people of Israel. It was also known as the women’s court because there was another court further in that was reserved for Israelite men. The gates to each court would be a test.

The Court of Women

There were temple guards at the gate. And as he approached, they looked him up and down with clear skepticism. He could understand why, though it did feel vaguely insulting to him. His skin was much darker than that of almost anyone he could see beyond the gate. His facial features looked different. And his black hair was thicker and curlier. It was like he could hear what they were thinking. He certainly didn’t seem to belong here.

But when he was asked, he could provide the names of his Jewish ancestors back almost a dozen generations. They let him through with a few sideway glances.

The Court of Men

The next gate was a little bit more complicated though. As he approached, he could tell that the low-level priests standing by the door were examining him carefully. They saw, in the shape of his face and his body, the telltale signs of someone who had been mutilated in childhood.

As he drew near, one of them stepped forward to block his path with a sneer. “Sorry, friend, but this court is restricted only to the men of Israel. I do not believe that your kind is allowed. And that immediately started something.


When Jews have the leisure to study and discuss the Torah, they love nothing more than to argue and disagree with one another. And so, the whole area around the gate almost immediately erupted into a great shouting match. On one side were those who agreed with the man who had barred the door. “The law is quite clear,” one cried. “Does is not say in the Fifth Book of Moses that ‘No one whose…’ well, that no one like him…  ‘shall come into the assembly of Adonai’?” (Deuteronomy 23:1)

But others quickly came forward to argue. “Ah, but does not the Prophet Isaiah say, “Do not let the eunuch say, ‘I am just a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:3-5)

Bachos’ Reaction

Bachos really just wanted to go into the courtyard – to be in the place where the God of Israel was said to meet with his people. He was looking to experience God. But instead, he had suddenly become a thing for people to fight over! None of them seemed to care about him. They just cared about being right!

Even those who were arguing for him to be given access only seemed be speaking of him as if he were an inanimate object – and a flawed one at that! And we often do that, don’t we? We often value being right more than we value the people who cross our paths. Such an attitude is damaging both to us and to the people we encounter.

Bachos was turned off. Somehow this was not quite what he had been looking forward to. He quietly slipped away while the learned scholars continued to argue over him, not even realizing that he was gone.

The Words of the Prophet

But there was one thing that remained with him from that encounter at the gate. The words that one of the scholars had shouted, the words that he said were spoken by the Prophet Isaiah, they remained with him. In fact, he couldn’t quite get them out of his head.

He hadn’t completely understood what the man had said. He did not speak the local Aramaic very well; the language of the small Jewish community in Ethiopia was quite different. But he had certainly picked up the idea that, according to this prophet, there really was a place for eunuchs, at least in the heart of God if not in the court of the congregation of Israel.

The Bookseller

And so, he decided that he needed to know something more about the words of Isaiah and his book. The court of the Gentiles was surrounded by a covered walkway lined with pillars. Various shops were set up along this walkway for the sale of sacrificial animals, incense and various other things. There was a small booth that contained a few scrolls. The Scroll of Isaiah was prominently displayed among them. It was obviously a popular work.

It would have been painstakingly copied out by hand by some slave. When Bachos’ eye caught sight of it as he walked past, he suddenly realized that this was the reason why he had been drawn to this place. It was not to perform a sacrifice in the court of the Israelites. He had been brought here to be connected with this book.

An Arm and a Leg for a Scroll

When he asked the price of the scroll, he winced at the answer. With that kind of money, he could probably buy a second house for himself back in Ethiopia. But, of course, what need did he have for a second house? He didn’t even have anyone to pass his one residence onto when he was gone. The Candace had been incredibly generous to him over the years, but none of it meant much of anything to him. And so, he arranged for his chariot driver, a very large man that no one would ever dream of robbing, to come by later with enough gold coins to purchase the scroll.

Reading on the Road

And now, as that driver steered the horses down the desert road, Bachos had the scroll spread out on his knees while he strained to read the Hebrew script. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

It was not easy reading – trying to make out the characters syllable by syllable while the chariot bounced along beneath him. But he was grateful to be forced to read so slowly. It was making him think and ask so many questions. “By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living.” (Isaiah 53:7-8)

A Personal Message

He was struck by the words. They reminded him of his own journey, of the fear that he had felt when his parents had taken him for the operation. He had tried not to think of the unfairness of it all – the injustice of what he had been put through as little more than a child. And, though he hated to think of it, there was a sense in which he had indeed felt cut off from the land of the living ever since.

Now, Bachos had never felt as if anyone could understand his deepest feelings – never until now. But now his mind was left reeling. “About whom,” he asked himself, “does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” He needed to know who could understand his feelings. But he did not know the answer.

That was when he heard the voice of someone who had seemingly come out of nowhere in this desert place. “Do you understand what you are reading?” the stranger wanted to know.

The Gift of Belonging

We don’t really know what the backstory is for the eunuch being on that road to Gaza. But if he had gone to Jerusalem to worship – either as a Gentile (which certainly happened) or as an expatriate Jew – he would have no doubt been treated as an outsider, both as an African and as a eunuch. Even if he was a Jew, most would have had trouble accepting him as a true Israelite, as a man and maybe even as a human being.

We don’t really know what Philip said to him to make him feel like he did belong somewhere. We just know that he began with that passage in Isaiah and used it to tell him the good news about Jesus. But I suspect that, whatever he told him about the good news, the thing that got his attention was that he told him that he could be loved and valued for who he was – that, even if he fit in nowhere else, he had a place in the heart of Christ. That is where the good news always begins.

Continue reading »

“By What Name?” “What is on Second!”

Posted by on Sunday, April 21st, 2024 in Minister, News

Hespeler, April 21, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

I would like to start by reminding you all of what is probably the greatest comedy routine ever created. I am speaking, of course, of the one that goes kind of like this.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you’re the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I’ve never met the guys. So you’ll have to tell me their names, and then I’ll know who’s playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I’ll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players now-a-days very peculiar names.

Costello: Funny names?

Abbott: Strange names, pet names...Well, let’s see, we have on the St Louis team, Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…

Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don’t know the fellows’ names?

Abbott: Well I should.

Costello: Well then who’s on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The first baseman.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy playing…

Abbott: Who is on first!

Costello: I’m asking you who’s on first.
Full routine!

Abbott: That’s the man’s name.

Costello: That’s who’s name?

Abbott: Yes.

Explaining Comedy

Now, I know that comedy shouldn’t need to be explained in order to be funny, but I would just like for us to reflect for a moment on why that particular routine works. Abbott and Costello are both using the very same words, but they mean something entirely different by what they say. That is the premise of the bit. But the reason why the humour works so well is because, through the genius of their writing and delivery, we, the listeners, are made to feel as if we are smarter than both of them.

We understand that every time Abbott uses the word “who,” he’s referring to a player’s nickname. But every time Costello uses the word who, he’s using it as an interrogative pronoun. We are smart enough not only to understand that but also to understand that the people on both sides of this conversation do not understand each other at all.

There is an inherent humour in that kind of situation where two parties are failing to understand each other despite using the same words. And it’s always funnier when we feel superior because we are in on the joke. And I actually think that this is the kind of humour that the Book of Acts has set up for us in our reading this morning.

Peter, John and the Council

In our reading, the Apostles Peter and John have been dragged in front of the council in Jerusalem who want to know something very specific about something they have done to disturb the peace. We didn’t read the whole story, so you need to understand that it all started when these two men were at the temple and were accosted by a lame man begging at the gate. Peter didn’t have any money to give him and so decided instead to heal him in the name of Jesus.

When a man that everyone knew had been lame from birth suddenly started walking and leaping and praising God, well, you can imagine that people noticed. A crowd quickly gathered. And Peter began to speak to them, preaching about Jesus, his death and resurrection. At this point the council had the two men arrested and brought in for questioning.

Now the reason why they arrested them was specifically because they were causing a disturbance by preaching to the people. They were riling up the crowd and the council was particularly upset because Peter had been accusing the Jewish leadership of aiding and abetting in the execution of Jesus. But Peter and John, apparently, thought that they had been arrested for something else.

The Misunderstanding

And that is where the Abbott and Costello routine begins. The council asks the apostles, By what power or by what name did you do this?” And since they brought these people in for disturbing the peace and stirring up the crowd, what they mean by “this” is obvious to them. They are asking who said that they could cause this trouble.

But what we don’t realize is that there are a whole bunch of social assumptions behind that question that are not apparent to us. That question meant something very specific in that kind of situation. But in order to understand that we need to understand something essential about ancient Mediterranean Society.


The most important social power in that society did not rest with kings or priests but actually with a group of people who were known as patrons. Patrons were wealthy and influential people. They were also usually men. And the more powerful a patron was, the more clients he had.

The patron-client relationship was very much a two-way relationship. The patron did things for his clients. He would get them jobs and favours and defend them in court. If the need arose, he would send his thugs to beat up someone who insulted his client.

But the clients also owed a great deal to their patrons. They would vote the way their patron told them. They would turn out and cheer anytime their patron did something in public. Whatever their patron asked of them, they would do. And, of course, if they ever disappointed their patron in any way, the punishment would be swift.

Behind Everything

Behind the scenes, almost everything in the entire Roman Empire was run by the patronage system. The most powerful patrons could count whole cities, towns and villages among their clientele. Indeed, the only thing that made the emperor so powerful was the fact that he had more clients than anybody else, including, of course, many powerful patrons in their own right.

Even more important, though, no one could escape this power structure. Everyone had to be a client of somebody. Even slaves, the moment that they were given their freedom, automatically became the clients of their former masters.

So, when the council asks Peter and John by what power or name they were acting when they caused the disturbance, they are asking who their patron is. They are essentially asking what powerful and wealthy person they need to complain to who will discipline these two unruly men for what they have done. They think that they are telling Peter and John that they are in deep trouble.

Peter and John’s Understanding

But Peter and John do not get any of that because they completely misunderstand the question in an Abbott and Costello way. When the council asks, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” they think they are asking about something else entirely. “Rulers of the people and elders,” they reply, “if we are being questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are being asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

Did you catch that? As far as the apostles are concerned, they have been arrested, not for causing a disturbance and trash-talking the council, but for doing a “good deed” by healing a lame man. And, instead of being interrogated about who their patron is who can rein in their rowdiness, they assume that the council wants to know what name has the power to bring about such a powerful healing. They may be using the same words, but they are talking about something completely different.

Why the Writer is Doing This

And if this episode were written by a mid-twentieth-century comedy team, that misunderstanding would be stretched out for a while and hilarity would ensue. But the author of the Book of Acts is interested in more than just making us laugh. He does, however, want to make use of one element of the comedic scenario. He wants us, the readers, to be in on the joke. He wants us to realize that, in this situation, we are smarter than both sides of this conversation because we actually understand what each is talking about.

You see, this story is not just about the power of the name of Jesus to bring about healing in somebody’s life. It is about that, of course. But the author is using this story to expand our understanding of the power of that name. In fact, I believe that he has set up this whole comedy routine to get us to think about the power of the name of Jesus in a new way.

Showing Us Deeper Meaning

You see, the members of the council have asked a question according to their understanding of how power and authority work in their world. They’ve asked for the name of Peter and John’s patron. Peter and John have answered according to their experience of the power of the name of Jesus to bring healing.

But the very juxtaposition of those two quite different understandings of the meaning of a name is designed to make us ask a question. And that question is, what does the powerful divine name of Jesus do when it is put up against the powerful secular names of our world? It turns out, you see, that the name of Jesus might just be powerful in ways that even the disciples have not yet suspected.

Power in Jesus’ Name

I am not sure to what extent Peter and John have understood the power of Jesus’ name at this point. They know it is powerful to heal, that it connects with people where they are struggling and in need of help. But they just seem to be coming to understand something more about its power. It is not that Jesus is their patron (at least not in the way that the council would have understood that), it is that the name of Jesus calls into question the very system of patronage and its lines of power and authority. And so, Peter boldly proclaims that there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Now my purpose in talking about all of this is not to explain an ancient joke. Nor is it to give you a lesson about how power and authority worked in the ancient Roman Empire. That is, quite literally, ancient history that has little effect on life today. What I would like you to learn is not to do what the members of the council and, to a certain extent, Peter and John did. Do not underestimate the power of the name of Jesus.

More Power than You Thought

It is a name that is powerful to bring healing. Because Jesus entered into our suffering and weakness – especially doing so upon the cross – he certainly can meet us in our suffering and our struggles. And when we go out in that name to share love and compassion, we will learn firsthand the power that is in the name. That is what Peter and John had discovered in the temple.

But when they were brought before the council, they discovered the power of Jesus’ name to call into question the lines of power and authority in their society. They discovered that the name was stronger than the most powerful patrons. And I believe that we are greatly in need of discovering that power as well.

Our Power Systems

Though we live in a democratic country where, at least in theory, everything is not supposed to be controlled by a small group of wealthy and elite influences, we often discover that it doesn’t work out that way.

Wealthy companies and corporations certainly seem to have a lot of control over what we have to pay to get the basics of life. Influential developers seem to exercise a lot of power over what kinds of housing can be built and how much it costs in the midst of a housing crisis. Powerful influences seem to be at work to make sure that wages do not keep pace with inflation.

Now, none of these nebulous entities have official power. We did not vote to give them this influence. They tend to work in back rooms and behind the scenes much like the patronage system did in the ancient world. But their impact on our lives – often greater than that of elected officials – is undeniable.

Challenging Names

And I don’t know about you, but I am often dismayed by how this prevents us from building the kind of country and society that we actually desire and need. And I think that kind of dismay has become so common, that it has made us apathetic and prone to give in to despair about the possibility of anything ever changing.

If only there were a name that was powerful enough to call into question the hidden powers and authorities of our present world. Wouldn’t that be something if we could tap into that kind of power? Well, apparently that was what Peter and John realized they had tapped into on that day before the council.

That name still exists, and it is still that powerful. The question is, what wouldn’t we be able to do if we were able to truly believe that?

Continue reading »

“Is it a Sin to…”

Posted by on Sunday, April 14th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch Sermon Video Here:

Hespeler, April 14, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

In my free time, I often like to hang out in various online forums. And, as someone who is frankly fascinated by the Bible, I particularly like to hang out in forums where people discuss the Bible, its interpretation and its application in Christian contexts. And when I hang out in such places, there is a certain sort of question that comes up with annoying frequency.

People constantly seem to write to ask what I think of as the sin question. They want to know if something is a sin, usually asking about some specific action, attitude or way of being. They never ask about the ones that everyone would agree about, of course. Nobody writes to ask if it would be a sin to kill my neighbour because I don’t like the way that she planted her hydrangeas.

Oddly Specific

But they do ask about some other oddly specific things. “Is it a sin to jaywalk?” or “Is it a sin to live with my girlfriend or boyfriend?” They want to know if it is a sin to feel attraction to a man or to a woman, to not feel like they are the gender that they were declared to be at birth, to use someone else’s Netflix password. It is quite obvious, if you read through some of these questions, that these are not just hypothetical questions. They are asking about something that is or perhaps soon will be part of their life.

And the mere fact that these questions come up so regularly in forums where people can be anonymous tells me a great deal. It tells me that a lot of people really want to do the right thing. And, for many people, that amounts to following the right list of what is allowed or not allowed. Morality, in other words, can just be sorted out in a simple series of yes or no answers.

Simple Questions?

But I don’t really think that many of these are simple yes or no questions. Yes, sure, sometimes the sin question has to be answered in a firm and straightforward way. Yes, it would be sinful for you to murder your neighbour, not to mention illegal. But in other cases, a simple yes or no can be deceptive.

A simple yes or no answer to the jaywalking question, for example, could be unhelpful. If you do cross a street in an unsanctioned way because you are selfishly hurrying, not thinking of anyone else and you make a car swerve and cause an accident then, sure, I would call that sinful. But if you dash across the street, possibly risking your own life to push a child out of the path of an oncoming car, I think that most people would see that a bit differently. You might still get a ticket, but I’m not going to say that you are sinful for that act.

Relationship Questions

Of course, this all gets a lot more complicated when you are talking about questions related to sex or attraction, which affect us on a much more personal level. And I get that many people would just prefer to have a list of acceptable and unacceptable actions or relationships. It seems to make things so simple and orderly. But the more I see the way that works out in practice, the more problematic it seems to be.

I have seen more than enough relationships that have fit the traditionally acceptable parameters – the “right” genders involved, the “acceptable” activities engaged in – that turned out to be relationships that were abusive or dehumanizing to one or both of the people involved. And I’ve seen other relationships that didn’t fit the parameters but that were mutually affirming, and the people involved only brought out the best in each other.

If I’m going to call out the reality of sin in our relationships, I feel like I need to do much more that consult a list of dos and don’ts. What people bring to their actions – the respect and integrity that they act with – has to mean more as far as I am concerned.

Social Control

Another reason why people prefer to have simple answers to the sin question is because it is a form of social control. The person who can give that yes or no answer claims an extraordinary amount of authority. And even if they do so by referring to some Bible verse or another – even if they claim that it is the Bible’s answer and not theirs – the mere fact that they are the one selecting and interpreting the verse gives them power over other people. And so, the history of the discussion of the sin question has been a long story of people being forced to conform to certain ideas of what society is supposed to look like.

Now, I do think that we need to take sin very seriously. It is something that gets in the way of us all achieving our full potential. I know we often don’t want to talk about it, probably mostly because of how talk of sin has been used by authoritarians to impose their idea of order on others. So, we need to find ways of talking about it that get beyond all of that.

First John’s Approach

Our reading this morning from the First Letter of John might help us to find a better way of talking about such things. It might not seem that way at first, of course. In fact, this particular passage has caused no end of trouble on the issue of sin in the life of the church down through the centuries. For example, it offers a definition of sin that only seems to affirm the approach of people who obsess over the sin question. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness;” it says, “sin is lawlessness.” I mean, if “sin is lawlessness,” is that not basically the same thing as saying that there is a list of approved and nonapproved actions that you can point to to tell people that some action or another is a sin?

But that is not the end of what John has to say. He goes on to say, “You know that [Christ] was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” He is not just saying, mind you that Jesus came to bring forgiveness of sins but to take them away altogether. And he explains that odd statement by saying, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” So, he is saying, not merely that sin can be forgiven; it can be completely eradicated from our lives!

An Infamous Verse

Now, you may not know this, but that particular verse has an infamous history in the Christian church. Autocratic Christian leaders have sought to create communities where believers can live out this promised sinless life. But, since they are still stuck with the definition of sin as following a list of approved behaviours, the only way they can accomplish that is by taking personal control of the list.

And guess how that usually ends – with the leader defining whatever they want to do and what their cronies want to do as “not sin” because they are abiding in Christ. Meanwhile, they use their power over the list to manipulate and control every aspect of everyone else’s lives.

I would not want to have to tell you how often this kind of situation has led to horrible outcomes like child abuse, exploitation and even things like murder. And I cannot believe that any of that is what was intended when the Apostle wrote this letter. The sin that he is talking about, the sin that Jesus has eradicated, has to be about more than a list of do’s and don’ts.

Acting in Righteousness

“Little children,” he continues, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” You see, what this is ultimately about is acting in righteousness. Doing the right thing. And the standard of that is not to be found in some list or set of laws. It is to be found in Christ himself.

Therefore, you must not allow anyone, not even the most pious Church leader, to take that power away from Christ. What he is promising is that, so long as we keep our gaze and focus fixed on Christ, we will find the way to righteous action. But it is not about controlling others, especially not about controlling them to our own ends.

Can You Live Without Sin?

Now, I do think it is important to note that this letter isn’t actually promising you that can make your way through this life without sinning. It is not promising you that you will always act in perfect righteousness. The promise is that, so long as we fix on eyes on Jesus and his righteousness, we will act right. But he also says, that What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

Jesus is not fully revealed, he’s saying, so we cannot fully perceive all that Jesus is. And if we do not fully see him or know him, we will obviously fail and fall short of true righteousness. So, even if he promises that we may live a sinless life, he is also saying that the fullness of that potential will only be realized when Jesus is fully revealed at the end of all things.

Acting in Ignorance

In our reading from the Book of Acts this morning, Peter confronts the people in Jerusalem with their sin in rejecting Jesus. But he sums it up like this: “And now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” Sin is indeed often a result of ignorance – of our failure to see the true nature of what is right. We are deluded because we have been trapped into unhelpful ways of seeing the world.

God is gracious in forgiving us our sins, but, more important, God is willing to wipe out our sins as well. “Repent, therefore,” Peter continues, “and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”

That is saying much the same thing as the First Letter of John. In Christ, God does not just want to forgive but also to wipe out our sin. That means it no longer has power over us because Jesus, in revealing righteousness, will ultimately obliterate our ignorance. It also means that God is committed to wiping away all of the damage and pain and sorrow caused by our sin both in ourselves and others. Hallelujah, all thanks be to God.

Finding Better Ways

The way we have become accustomed to talk about sin in the church, has not necessarily served us well. By creating coercive lists of acceptable and unacceptable activities, we have often encouraged people to become obsessed with the question of whether this or that thing is sinful. That only encourages a kind of unhealthy scrupulosity. And, if Jesus came to set us free from sin, that is not the kind of state Jesus wants us to be in.

Because of all of those kinds of problems that such an attitude towards sin has created, we’ve often gone to the other extreme and avoided talking about the concept of sin altogether. That’s not a helpful reaction either. Jesus came to set us free from the effects of sin, but also from the obsession with it. Jesus came to set us free from unhelpful feelings of shame or guilt that get in the way of us embracing our true nature in Christ.

First John’s Promise

As you do seek to live as a follower of Jesus in this world, you are definitely going to get things wrong. You’re going to act out of ignorance sometimes. Sometimes some of your baser instincts will get the best of you despite the best of intentions. This is a part of being human. But the promise of First John is that, as we fix our eyes on Jesus and the righteousness of God that he has revealed to us, sin doesn’t have to have power over us. It doesn’t need to dominate our whole lives. Jesus has wiped it away. Hallelujah, let us live in the freedom of Christ.

Continue reading »

That would never work

Posted by on Sunday, April 7th, 2024 in Minister, News

Hespeler, April 7, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

Is it bad that, when I read our passage this morning from the Book of Acts, my first response is to say, “That will never work”? I read about how “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common,” and all I can think is that someone was bound to abuse a system like that.

And how about the idea that “there was not a needy person among them”? What are the implications of that? If no one is ever afraid of poverty – of not being able to pay off their debts or put food on the table – then who is going to do the jobs that nobody wants to do? Everybody knows that it is only the threat of starvation that makes people apply for those really lousy jobs.

Red Flags

And if there was ever a big red flag, is it not this? “As many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Do you realize the enormous amount of wealth and power being given to a small group of people there? Can you not see how they would inevitably use that to create their own tyrannical rule?

These, I must confess, are the kinds of questions and objections that come to my mind when I read that passage in the Book of Acts. I’ll bet they probably came to yours as well. And that is really kind of extraordinary when you think about it. I am quite sure that when the author of the Book of Acts wrote that little paragraph, it never occurred to him that any Christian might have a problem with what he was describing. He may have thought he was describing a goal, a utopia and something to work towards, but he didn’t expect anyone to have all these problems with it.

Did it Really Not Work?

Now, I do know that there are some people who would argue that the reason why we react like that is because this whole idea of how to treat property simply did not work out for the early church. We generally assume that all of these problems that I described did manifest themselves in this early church in Jerusalem and the whole system simply collapsed.

But there is actually no evidence for that at all. There is nothing in the scriptures that indicates that the people in that church didn’t work or contribute because they weren’t poor enough. There are no accounts of people mistreating the common property because they did not own it.

And far from all of this power going to the apostles’ heads, we are told that, as soon as some issues around fair distribution began to be raised, they were only too happy to give up this power and pass it on to a group of deacons who were empowered to make sure that any distribution was fair.

Who Actually Caused Trouble

In fact, there is only one story of anything going wrong with this way of organizing things. The only people who caused trouble in the system were a wealthy couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They sold some of their property and decided to hold back some of their wealth for themselves. And then they lied about it. Their greed made them lie and try to cheat the system. The problem, when there was one, wasn’t the poor people. It was the rich ones.

What Influences Us Most?

Now we are supposed to be people who take the Bible seriously – who allow the Bible to influence how we relate to the world. And that makes me think that there is something wrong when we read a passage like this and our first instinct is not to say, “Wow, we should find ways to take this story and apply it to the way that we try to do things today.” No, our first reaction is to think, “That would never work because poor folks would abuse any such system!”

And do you know what that means? That means that we have allowed the assumptions of our modern society and of our economic system to have more influence over us than the Bible.

Today’s Crises

Just look at how we talk about and try to respond to some of the huge crises that are affecting our society these days. We have a housing crisis. It seems that every year more and more people cannot afford suitable housing. We have an affordability crisis as people find that they cannot afford the basics of life.

Alongside of that, and certainly connected to that, there is a debt crisis with more and more people carrying a weight of debt that they will never be able to get off their backs before they die. That is, I realize, only a part of what we are dealing with as a society, but everyone agrees that these are deep problems that are affecting all of us to a certain extent. And they are certainly affecting the poorest among us most of all.

How We Respond

But it is very revealing how we talk about these problems and how we attempt to address them. Rather than talk about the availability and affordability of housing, we tend to focus on the proliferation of encampments and the dangers that they pose to property. When we talk about building more housing, the only way we can consider doing this is by getting private developers to build that housing. And, of course, any private company is necessarily going to be more concerned with its own profits than making sure that everyone can afford the housing they need.

Dealing With Inflation

And what about inflation? The causes of the inflation we are dealing with are complex, but there is no denying that a lot of it has to do with ongoing supply-chain issues, the continuing effects of the pandemic and a lack of competition in major corporations. It is not caused by rising wages for workers; they have largely remained flat for decades now in many cases. Companies and corporations have seen their profits go way up, but employees and workers have not seen their wages rise at anywhere near the same rates. In the past wages may have been a major driver of inflation, but today that is not the case.

Nevertheless, guess what economists are doing to address the problem of inflation. They basically only have one strategy and that strategy is raising interest rates. And if you ask economists how high interest rates fight inflation, they will let you know. High interest rates cause higher unemployment which tends to drive wages down. The only solution they are offering to fight inflation is to bring wages down. Apparently, there’s nothing they can do about competition or excess profit taking or even supply chain issues.

Our Ideology

All of that is simply an illustration that, when it comes to economic issues, we have an ideology. And it is the same ideology that says that the story in the Book of Acts would never work. The ideology of our society is that all economic problems are caused by poor people and by working class people.

We tend to think of poverty as a moral issue, that is to say that we assume that people are poor because they are somehow morally deficient. That’s why we blame them for economic ills and why the only solutions we can come up with are solutions that discipline the poor in some way. And we have heard this ideology so much that we cannot even imagine thinking about such economic matters in any other terms.

Thinking Differently

But then we open up the Book of Acts and we are forced to think in other terms. I think that is a very good thing. We all need to have our basic assumptions challenged from time to time. And I believe that our society is in great need of that challenge right now.

I am not suggesting that we could cure all of the economic problems in our society by abolishing private property and making it so that everything is held in common. I am actually quite sure that we could not make that work. But the reason why it wouldn’t work is not because of the laziness of the poor. It would be because of the greed of the wealthy that would not permit it to work.

What We Lack

But the other reason why it wouldn’t work for us is because we lack what the people of that early church had. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” What we are missing is the power of the resurrection and especially that “great grace.”

The Meaning of the Resurrection

I know that, when we talk about what the resurrection of Jesus means, we tend to think about it in terms of the impact it makes on another life in another world. We think of the promise that, because Jesus has been raised from the Dead, we also may be raised and so we can live to all eternity in the presence of God.

That is true; the truth that Jesus has been raised is a promise to us that God will raise us as well. But we do not need to wait until we come to the end of life in this world in order to have the resurrection of Jesus transform us. We can experience its power to transform our minds and fill us with grace now.


That is what happened for those early Christians that allowed them to live in such a radical way. They learned to look at their possessions and property in new ways and to realize that these things had no value if they could not be used to better the lives of their siblings in Christ.

And, because they were filled with a grace that came from God, they could see that, if some were poor, it was not because there was any deficiency in them. Yes, perhaps they had faced some adverse circumstances, or they had lacked the advantages that others enjoyed, but there was nothing wrong with them. They did not hesitate to share what they could.

That is what I feel we are often lacking – the transformative power of the resurrection and the ability to see one another with grace. Is that why it seems so impossible today to offer people a way out of poverty? Is that why we only seem to be able to set up the system so that the rich only get richer while the poor only get poorer?

Beyond Economic Systems

Economic systems, as far as I am concerned, are kind of morally neutral. Capitalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, they all have their pitfalls and their shortcomings to be sure, but they are not, in themselves, good or evil. I believe that any of them could work given two things: the transforming power of the resurrection that allows people to see possessions in a new light and the power of grace that allows you to see people without judgement.

Where I think we need to put our energy, therefore, is not into promoting this system or that system as a solution to all of our economic woes. The systems are broken and will remain broken until our humanity can be made new.

Why Jesus Came

But that is why Jesus came – not just to offer us a way to heaven or to teach us to worship God in some particular way. Jesus came to transform our humanity. And yes, I know, as his followers we are still caught up in a world where the greed of some will continue to trap people in perpetual poverty and try to blame them for it while doing it. But we don’t have to buy into that. We can choose to buy into the transformative power of the resurrection and we can choose to view people with nothing but grace.

By doing that, the church in Jerusalem offered a testimony to the world that things could be different. Just think what we could accomplish if we were half as courageous as them.

Continue reading »

The Last Page

Posted by on Sunday, March 31st, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch sermon video here

Hespeler, March 31, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Easter Day
Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18, Mark 16:1-8

The end of the Gospel of Mark has always been a bit of a mystery and a problem. It ends rather abruptly. The women come to the tomb on Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus, but they find it empty. A young man dressed in white informs them that Jesus isn’t there, that he has risen, and that they must tell the news to the others so they can all meet the risen Jesus in Galilee. But then the women don’t tell the others – they don’t say anything to anyone because they are too scared.

And that is it. The gospel ends right there. There are no appearances of the risen Jesus. There is only a vague promise that people will be able to see him at some point and that promise doesn’t even get passed on. It is a weird ending, isn’t it?

Alternate Endings

You are not the only people to think so. Right from the very beginning, Christians were very dissatisfied with the ending of Mark. So much so that very early on, people wrote their own longer endings that they tacked onto it – endings that we still often include in our modern Bibles.

But we are certain that those endings were not part of the original text. They do not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts of the gospel. And the later manuscripts disagree over which ending to add. Some even indicate that they don’t think that the endings they have included are the right ones.

So, as far as we can tell, the oldest manuscripts of the gospel really did end at verse eight. That means one of two things. Either the original ending was lost almost immediately after it was written, or this strangely abrupt ending was intentional.

I think that it is the latter. The author ended it that way on purpose. But to understand that purpose, you need to understand something about the author of this gospel and why he was writing it.

About the Author

The gospel was written anonymously, so we don’t know what the author’s name was. But the church decided to name him as Mark. That’s a convenient name, so let’s just stick with it. Most scholars agree that Mark wrote his gospel sometime around 70 AD and that it was the first of our gospels written. We know that Mark wrote it then because he makes references to contemporary events in ways that indicate that his readers should know what he is talking about.

And what are these contemporary events as Mark is writing? Mark is writing around the time of the great revolt of Judea against Rome. It was a dreadful period. There were wars and rumours of wars, an era of death and destruction. It culminated with Roman victory and the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy temple. And Mark was looking on from some distance while all of these terrible things took place.

Mark’s Reaction to Events

He reacted much like you or I would. He was upset and frightened. He was also angry with some very specific people. He was mad at the Jewish leadership who had chosen to follow the path of violent revolt led by bandits.

And he was also very mad at the leadership of the church – the disciples of Jesus, the women who had followed him and even the family of Jesus (his mother, brothers and sisters). He felt as if they had failed to lead the church in the path of Jesus at a critical time.

And so, Mark decided to do something constructive with his disappointment and his anger, something that no one had attempted before. He decided to write the story of Jesus’ life and death and to write it in a way that would help the people of his age navigate a world full of dangers and disappointments.

And as people who are often alarmed at some of the disturbing things happening in our world and often deeply disappointed by both our national and church leaders, I think that we might benefit from understanding why he wrote as he did and especially why he chose to end his story in such an odd way.

A Few Inches Left

Mark had been working and writing his account of the good news about Jesus for weeks. As he looked at the scroll of parchment that had cost him at least two months’ wages, he noted that there were only a few inches left on the end of the scroll. He would have to wind up this story quickly, but he wanted to make it clear to his readers what they were supposed to do with what they learned. He wanted to make sure that they were set up to do better than those who had failed to follow in the path of the Christ.

He had written this book to tell people the story of Jesus, of course. But he also wanted to make sure that the people he was writing it for – the people who were living through the same horrors as him – responded well. And maybe he kind of wanted to make sure that they understood who to blame for the present state of affairs. So, what really mattered to him what not just what Jesus had done and said, but also how people had responded to him so poorly.

The Barabas Incident

He felt as if he had perfectly encapsulated this in one of his favourite episodes that he had just written the other day. He told of how, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate offered the people a choice. They could either choose the way of Jesus and peace, or they could choose the way of violence and war – which Mark had personified as a dangerous bandit named Barabbas.

He felt pretty sure that his readers would know not to read that in a strictly literal way. I mean, the name Barabbas (which meant “the son of the father”) was clearly made up. And everyone knew that no Roman Governor would release a violent prisoner just because it was an important festival.

No, surely people would understand the deeper truth of that story – that the Jewish people’s choice to follow bandits like the zealots and the sicarii into an ill-advised war against Rome was the ultimate rejection of Jesus and everything that he had stood for.

Yes, he had communicated his disdain for the Jewish leadership very effectively! But he was even happier with the criticisms of the leadership of the church that he had slipped into his narrative.

The Failures of the Disciples

He knew some of those leaders personally – the disciples and the brothers of Jesus in particular – and he had been repeatedly disappointed by their lack of faith and of courage in these crisis times. Again and again, they had acted in ways that demonstrated that they really hadn’t understood what the message of Jesus was about.

And so, as he told the story of Jesus, he had made a point of playing up every incident in which Jesus criticized them – every time he told them to “be not afraid” or told them that they had “little faith.”

And every time that Jesus told them what the plan was – of his coming death and resurrection – Mark made a point of following up with an episode in which one of them rebuked him or a couple of them tried to jockey for more important leadership positions. Surely no one would be able to read this gospel without coming away with an understanding of how abysmally the disciples had failed.

Jesus’ Family

And as for Jesus’ family – especially Jesus’ brother James who had led the Jerusalem church through the crisis so ineptly – Mark had included an episode that he hoped would permanently discredit them.

You see, Mark had discovered that there was an occasion when Jesus’ mother and brothers decided that Jesus was deranged, and they tried to forcibly take him away to have him committed. Oh, you can bet Mark made a point of including that episode and contrasting it to Jesus saying, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

So, Mark felt as if he had thoroughly criticized leadership for their failures. But now he had about six inches of parchment left. The question was how he could end this in a way that would give his readers some hope for the future.

The Appearances of the Risen Jesus

Mark believed – he knew deep in his heart – that Jesus had risen from the dead. He had included three times in his gospel the prediction of Jesus that he would be raised. He also knew that the risen Jesus had made appearances to various people. As it was often repeated in the churches, he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

But he also knew what people like Peter, James and those apostles had done with their experiences. They had used them to fight with one another over who should lead and to pretend that their experiences were better than anyone else’s. And look at where that had led them all!

And so, Mark resolved not to include any resurrection appearances in his blockbuster ending. Why start any of those fights up again? And so, as he took up his pen, he decided that he would end instead with an invitation to his readers.

The Women at the Tomb

“When the Sabbath was over,” Mark began to write, “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”

Yes, he realized, this was yet another dig against the followers of Jesus. Jesus had told them not once, not twice but three times that he would be raised by the third day. They should have known that he wouldn’t be in the tomb by Sunday morning.

But of course, they got it wrong. As far as Mark was concerned, almost all of those who had followed Jesus during his life had got it wrong. But these women were about to get the lesson of their lives, not to mention the biggest fright as well.

An Invitation

And so, Mark didn’t tell of an appearance of the risen Jesus to them. If they had one, he knew that they would only misuse the experience like the others did. And so, instead, he gave them a message and an invitation. “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

This was an invitation, not to believe someone else’s account of them seeing the risen Jesus, but to experience it for yourself. All you had to do was go to Galilee and you would see him.

Now what, exactly, Mark meant by “go to Galilee,” I’m not entirely sure. He may not have meant it literally in terms of travelling to a specific place. Maybe, in the turmoil of the revolt, he thought of Galilee (which had been ravaged by the Romans) more as a state of mind than a place. But I’m pretty sure that Mark was making a promise to his readers: you can and should experience the resurrection for yourself.

Message Interrupted

How do I know that? Mark tells us that this all-important message wasn’t passed on. He ends his entire gospel by saying that the women who had received this message “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Yes, as far as Mark was concerned, the original leaders of the church had failed one more time.

And, because they had failed, the earliest church had been forced to fall back on hearing the testimony of people like James and Peter who had seen the risen Jesus. But they were denied that experience for themselves. And Mark had seen how badly that had gone.

But now, you see, there was a possibility for a new beginning. The message that the women had failed to pass on had now been transmitted. Mark had transmitted it in this gospel. The church now had the message! And they could go to Galilee, whatever that meant, and they could experience the power of the resurrection for themselves. That is the final promise of the final words of the gospel of Mark, and, as far as I’m concerned, that is a pretty powerful promise.

Mark’s Final Challenge

The ending of the gospel of Mark does seem strange to us, especially because we have the other gospels that were written after it and that put such emphasis on the experiences of those who first witnessed the resurrected Jesus. I believe that Mark knew about those experiences, but he had been disillusioned because the people who had had them failed to be good leaders of the church.

Mark thought it was time for something else. It was time for all God’s people to experience the power of the resurrection of Jesus for themselves. That was the challenge and invitation he ended his gospel with as he was writing for people whose entire world was falling apart.

And I am feeling like we might be in need of something similar. As the world around us fills with chaos and fear, as we see the leaders – both political and spiritual leaders – who have disappointed us, what are we supposed to do? Do we give up because their way of doing things is failing? No, it’s time for a new approach. Instead of assigning power and authority to certain people because of the experiences they claim, it might be time for us to seek the power of the resurrection for ourselves. Will you come to Galilee to see him for yourself?

Continue reading »

Should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’?

Posted by on Sunday, March 17th, 2024 in Minister
Watch Sermon Video Here

Hespeler, March 17, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fifth Sunday in Lent
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119:9-16, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Can I be honest with you for a moment? This Sunday is not really every minister’s favourite Sunday in the calendar year. After worship today we will be gathering as a congregation for our annual meeting. And annual meetings are really important because it is important that the people of the church be given a voice and decision-making power on significant things in the life of a congregation – things like the budget, trustees, leadership and policy.

But, of course, in order to allow that to happen, we have to create some space in which dissenting voices can be heard and where people are allowed to disagree with one another. This, again, is healthy, normal and an essential part of a constructive meeting, but it is not always comfortable. And it can be particularly uncomfortable for those who serve as clergy. We know that things will be discussed that might affect our stipend and other aspects of our life that are very important to us just like they would be to anyone else.

Difficult Hours

So, as I talk together with my fellow ministers, we will often commiserate around days like this. That’s why the words of Jesus in our gospel reading this morning kind of spoke to me as I thought about what I would preach during this hour. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’?”

And I hardly mean to trivialize the very great challenge that Jesus knew he was facing. I hardly mean to create a false equivalence between what he suffered and the difficult hours that you or I may face.

He certainly wasn’t just dealing with the prospect of a meeting where people might say things he didn’t want to hear. No, Jesus had come down to Jerusalem and had a very reasonable expectation that he would be arrested, convicted, and killed in the most painful way possible here. When he feels troubled and considers asking to be saved from the hour that he faces, it gives us all a different perspective on any of the difficult hours that we have faced in our lives.

Minimizing our Struggles

But, at the same time, I don’t want to minimize any of these troubles that we do face. If you are suffering for any reason, you have every right to your feelings and your distress and you shouldn’t let anyone minimize it.

And you might get the impression that you should if you read this passage in the Gospel of John alone. I mean, yes, Jesus speaks about the trouble in his soul and his desire to be saved from the hour, but he certainly doesn’t seem to wallow in such feelings for very long at all. He immediately goes on to say, “No,” no I will not ask to be saved from this hour because “it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” Does that mean that any negative feelings we may have or any desire to be spared we might express are all illegitimate? Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t feel or want such things? I am not so sure.

The Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

In the other gospels, Jesus expresses similar sentiments when he is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says to his disciples in eerily similar words, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death.” (Mark 14:34) And then Jesus goes over by himself to pray and ask very specifically that he might be spared from the hour that is coming, saying, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.” (v.36)

So, we have almost exactly the same words that we find in John. But where in John, Jesus’ soul only seems to grieve for a moment and he quickly rejects the very idea that he should ask to be spared, in the other gospels Jesus remains in that grief and that desire to escape for a very long time – for an hour at least. And it is an hour of complete and utter agony as Jesus wrestles with God over what is going to happen to him.

And yes, he always ends his plea by saying, “yet not what I want but what you want,” (v.36) but you certainly do not get the impression that he comes to that reconciliation easily or quickly. His hour in the garden has got to be one of the worst hours of his life – only to be overshadowed, of course, by what is about to come!

Reconciling the Passages

You may well ask how we are supposed to reconcile what Jesus says here in the Gospel of John with the accounts of the Garden of Gethsemane, but I don’t necessarily see this as a contradiction. Sure, John may not want to dwell on Jesus’ desire to escape the fate that awaits him, and he skips over it immediately, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t dwell in it in the garden. The agony in Jesus’ heart was real during that hour. It is just that John wants to look at the agony of Jesus from another angle because he wants to teach us something very important about those difficult hours in our lives and how we can navigate them well.

In particular, John wants us to understand where Jesus landed after that hour of agony and how Jesus became to be reconciled to what came next. You see, there is always a temptation when you face a difficult hour. Your natural inclination, if it simply cannot be avoided, is just to grit your teeth and clinch your fists and get through it so that you can forget about it as quickly as possible as you get on with your life. We attempt to minimize those moments. That may be understandable, but it is not what Jesus does.

The Purpose of Such Hours

Jesus explains to the crowd that such hours have a purpose and that they are meant to bring you to a place where you finally understand one of the deepest truths of this life, a truth that he sums up like this: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Now, it is pretty clear what this means in the light of what we all know that Jesus is about to face. He knows that he is heading towards something that will bring his death in a very painful way. And he also knows, and this is made clear many times in this gospel, that he will be raised from the dead. And so, he is the grain of wheat that dies and comes back in new life.

Not Just About What Happens to Jesus

But part of what Jesus is saying here is that his death and resurrection is not just for him. The new sprout that will come from the seed that dies in the ground is not just a new chance at life for him. The new life he is obtaining is for the whole world and for us as well.

At the same time, though, this is not just about what is going to happen to Jesus or what he accomplishes for us. Jesus is here proclaiming a universal principle and one that is central to the Christian faith.

The truth is that we as Christians only have one model for renewal, and that model is death and resurrection. Jesus has shown us the way, but we are all called to continue to walk in it. And that is the particular challenge we are given whenever we face a difficult hour, crisis or trial. We are called not merely to survive it but to have the faith to pass through it by dying to what we need to die to and being raised up to new life.

Your Relationships

Have you ever faced a difficult time in a key relationship in your life? Relationships are not easy and if any relationship is authentic, there will be times when you disagree or fight or even struggle to love the other.

And because such times can be so difficult, the temptation may be to merely survive them. You may avoid the conflict. You try not to talk about it, change the subject when the point of disagreement comes up. You think that if you ignore the conflict, it will go away on its own. And maybe sometimes it even seems to, but I’ll guarantee you that it will come back in some new form sooner or later!

Another strategy you may resort to in such a circumstance is using dominance and power (whatever power is available to you) to browbeat your relationship partner into just giving in to eliminate the point of conflict. Again, that may seem to make the difficult time go away, but it doesn’t really solve anything and only means that the times that come get worse as you go along.

No, if you really value your relationship, what you have to do is enter into a possibly even more difficult time when you risk yourself, where you choose to die to something in yourself that has been malignant in your relationship. Only in such death can new life be found for your relationship.

Other Difficult Hours

That is just one example, of course. I know we all face difficult hours in our lives and each one presents unique challenges. They may come in terms of health issues or medical treatments. They may come in difficult work-related issues or financial struggles. We’ve all been there and we will all be there again.

I think it would be helpful for all of us to hold onto the formula Jesus gives us in the Gospel of John. It is usually not helpful to just try and avoid such hours. Rather than seeking to be saved from them, we find our way through them, asking what we need to die to in order to be raised to new life.

Annual Meetings

This brings me back to where I started and the attitude that clergy may bring to annual meetings. Do they need to be difficult hours that we should seek to be saved from? Of course not.

And there’s no reason to think that this meeting will be a difficult one. Indeed, I do not expect that. My desire to be saved from such meetings is more based on past trauma than on the reality of our current situation. But that being said, it is not as if we don’t have some difficult questions to deal with as a congregation.

 And the reality is that, when that is the case, we might enter into such an hour with a “Father, save me from this hour” kind of attitude. Such an attitude might lead us to simply brush over or even ignore those issues that could cause tension among us.

In my experience, churches can be really good at doing that kind of thing. Whenever the hard topics come up, we just kind of change the subject.

The other temptation, the one that we often resort to when we are feeling personally vulnerable, is to become aggressive and maybe even take a bullying approach with others. We think that if we can just beat others in submission, we can impose a better situation for ourselves.

And then there are others whose instinct, whenever something feels a little bit controversial, is simply to back down and become completely passive.

These kinds of reactions may feel as if they work for us as if they are getting us through a difficult hour. But I do not believe that they lead to where we need to go and that is new life. We don’t need to be saved from a difficult hour, we need to be raised to new life.

To What Do We Need to Die?

So, this is what I would challenge us all to do, including myself, as we move towards an hour that could have some uncomfortable moments. Ask yourself what you need to die to in order to find new life.

As a congregation, I think there may be some attitudes that we need to die to. We need to die to an assumption we often easily make that we are somehow better than some other congregations, perhaps because they are dealing with struggles that we’re not right now. As a congregation and as churches around here, I suspect we need to die to the assumption that we can thrive on our own and that the loss of other ministries doesn’t affect us.

And maybe above all, we need to die to our tendency to think only in terms of what we can get from the church so that we can be born again to a new attitude concerning what we can all give to the work of Christ through the church together.

But understand this, whatever we may have to die to, there is a purpose. When the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, that’s not the end of the story. That is the new beginning. That is what Jesus was promising us. So, I will not pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour.’ I hope you don’t either.

Continue reading »

On Healing

Posted by on Sunday, March 10th, 2024 in Minister, News
Watch the video here:

Hespeler, March 10, 2024 © Scott McAndless – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

I really appreciate the opportunity that we have been given to focus on the important and necessary resources that are provided to people who are dealing with end-of-life care in our region through the hospice.

I would just like to spend a few moments in reflection on end-of-life care from a Christian perspective. We talk a lot about healing in the church – and for good reason. Many people are struggling with various illnesses, ailments and lacks. And when someone is wounded in mind or body or spirit, our default Christian response is to pray and to ask God for healing.

Moses and the Serpents

The story we read from the Book of Numbers this morning is a perfect illustration of that. The people of Israel are afflicted with a dreadful and frightening illness as venomous serpents spread through the camp and people are bitten and fall ill and die. And they cry out in despair for what? For healing. And Moses creates a powerful symbol for healing by making a serpent out of bronze and placing it on a staff. That symbol should be familiar, by the way. To this very day, the symbol of intertwined winged snakes on a staff is the international symbol for medicine.

And the promise of the story, of course, is that when people ask for healing, when they turn to the symbol of healing that Moses gives them, they will be healed. In our Gospel reading, that idea is taken and turned into a metaphor for the salvation we can access by turning and looking to Jesus.

Seeking Healing

And I am so glad to be able to turn to God and seek healing – to pray for and ask for God’s help. But, at the same time, I think we all recognize that healing – at least the kind of healing we may be craving for someone – is not always going to come. Sometimes someone has a condition that is almost certainly terminal. Sometimes people’s conditions are so bad that we simply don’t want them to keep on suffering. And, sure, miracles may happen, but I’m pretty sure we all understand that they don’t always happen just because we pray no matter how hard we believe. On top of all that, we have the undeniable truth that nobody lives forever.

Healing and End of Life

So how can we confess a belief in a God who heals and deal with the realities of end-of-life care? Well, let me put it this way: I do believe that God can always heal. But the healing that God brings, is not always the healing we are seeking. And it’s certainly not always the same thing as a medical cure.

What’s more, we tend to think of health in one dimension, as a condition of the body. But God always sees us as more. God sees the whole person, mind and body and spirit. God sees us within our relationships and community. And God, treating us as a whole person, is always able to bring healing, even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Even when somebody’s situation is dire, even when they’re undoubtedly heading towards death, I do believe that we can pray to God for their healing. And I believe that God heals. But the healing comes in different ways for different people.

Different Ways of Healing

For some people, the healing they need is some reconciliation with people in their lives. I have seen some amazing miracles where people found forgiveness and love that was able to overcome past hurts in their last days. That is vital healing. For some people, it might just be a little bit of peace and a little bit of relief from their pain.

For many people, healing is as much about coming to terms with the dying process, either for themselves or for their loved one, in some kind of comforting way. But wherever people are on that inexorable journey from birth to death, God’s healing power is able to meet them where they are. I believe that.

Hospice Waterloo

 And that is why I am so glad to be able to celebrate the work of Hospice Waterloo. In the programs and the facilities they offer, they make possible and create the space where so much healing can happen as people deal with the end of life. God is present in those places for healing. Sometimes acknowledged, perhaps sometimes not, but healing happens and for that I think we can all be truly thankful. And we certainly pray for the continued healing work of Hospice.

Continue reading »