Category: Minister

Minister’s blog

I will bless her…

Posted by on Monday, May 27th, 2013 in Minister

Genesis 17:15 - 16 (NRSV) 15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 

This morning I did a Lectio Divina (a meditative reading) on the above passage. When you read in a meditative fashion, God will often make certain words or phrases jump out at you because there is a personal message that you need to hear.

Today the word that jumped out at me was bless. I wondered if God might be seeking to bless me in some particular way -- if God knows that i need a blessing.

Of course, the particular blessing that God wanted to give to Sarah was a son -- and with the son a new identity as signified by the name change. I don't think God wants to give me that particular blessing (though the invitation to embrace a new identity in Christ is always something that God is working on for us).

But my thoughts particularly focussed on why God wanted to bless Sarah -- it was so that she might "give rise to nations and kings." The blessing was not merely an end in itself but a way to spread God's blessing out into the wider world.

Why does God want to bless me? Not merely because I need it (though I do). God wants to bless me so that others (kings, princesses (Sarai means princess), leaders etc.) may arise and do good in this world.

I had a brief vision of the congregation as a vast pool of potential. There are people within the congregation who have incredible skills and abilities, who are natural leaders and who have much to share. God may want to bless me but I suspect that it is because God wants to use me to inspire others, enable others, sometimes to get out of the way of others and let them lead or act or participate in such a way as to bring greater blessing on our community and beyond that to the world.
Continue reading »

Which of the two did the will of his Father?

Posted by on Monday, April 29th, 2013 in Minister

.... based on a recent email discussion with some colleagues.

An interpretation of Matthew 21:28 - 32

Two sons went to a Sunday worship service where their father, a minister, was preaching. The sermon that day was on the topic of the good news about Jesus Christ and how we ought to be willing to share that good news whenever an appropriate opportunity arises.

The first son came into the service and sat quietly and respectfully while he listened to every word. Afterwards he never mentioned where he had been that morning or what had been said.

The second son arrived at the service just after it began. As soon as he arrived, he took out his phone and checked in on foursquare (earning a few dirty looks from the people around him). A little bit later in the service, he took a picture of the worship band and tweeted it to his followers. During the sermon, he posted something his father said as his status on Facebook.

Which of the two do you suppose respected the words of his Father?
Continue reading »

An Escapegoat Ritual

Posted by on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 in Minister

Recently I had a very interesting experience - something that had never happened before in my ministry. I had preached a sermon on the topic of the Day of Atonement in Ancient Israel which is described in Leviticus 16. If you want a reminder of the basic outline of the day, you can watch this St. Andrew's Stars version of the story:

The Day of Atonement

In my sermon I put particular emphasis on the Escapegoat portion of the ritual.

(I chose to use the word "Escapegoat" because the word "scapegoat" has taken on a very particular meaning in English. The word was invented by William Tyndale when he made the first translation of the Old Testament into English from the original Hebrew. He meant it to mean "the goat that escaped" but he simply dropped the initial "e" due to the very fluid spelling of the time.)

My suggestion was that the escapegoat ritual provided a means for the people to release some of the negative energy that builds up when people live alongside one another in community. When we live, work and dream side by side, there are always going to be things that happen that hurt or wound or divide. People say things that hurt someone's feelings, people disagree in non-constructive ways, people are unthinking or unfeeling in their dealings with each other.

I think that the escapegoat ritual provided a way to take all of that negative energy that builds up over time and release it - let it go so that people could just start all over again. I think that we all need things like that from time to time.

I liked my sermon. I certainly felt that it helped me to see the passage in a new light and I hoped that it helped some others too.

Shortly afterwards I was leading a group meeting. And I knew that there had been over time some negative energy built up in the group. I won't give any details about it, of course, but it wasn't really anything unusual. It was just the ordinary kinds of feelings that can develop at times when people disagree or sometimes make mistakes in relating to others.

As I prepared for the meeting, I decided to do something that I had never done before. I decided to apply what I had preached directly to a situation.

(Yes, I know that doesn't sound too good. Surely, if I am expecting other people to apply what I preach to their lives, I ought to be doing that regularly too. Why don't I do it all the time! Well, at least I think I'm starting to learn.)

Anyways, I brought out the sheep that we had used to film our Star's video and we passed it around the group and gave everyone the chance to speak what was on their hearts. It was a very good and very meaningful exercise and it did open the door to some healing. The redemptive power of the escapegoat ritual was demonstrated for me and I felt truly blessed to be part of the group. Clearly I need to listen to what I preach more often!

And, yes, I did offer people to dropkick the sheep afterwards but nobody took me up on it!

Continue reading »

Extended article for the Newsletter

Posted by on Monday, February 18th, 2013 in Minister

I wrote an extra article for "Andrew's Voice," the newsletter of St. Andrew's Hespeler Presbyterian last week. But when the time came to put the newsletter together we ran out of space and I had to cut the article in half. I present the whole article here for those who are interested. The newsletter will soon be available at

Now that’s a Good Question

This week, I had an old friend (not someone from St. Andrew's) contact me with some questions that had baffled her. Here is part of what she wrote:

"I was wondering if I could kind of ask for some advice or information from you? A friend of mine has been asking me about my beliefs and I don't know how to answer some of his questions. He brought up sin as a topic and asked how many times does God have to forgive you if you sin? How do you know you're forgiven? Does He already know your sin before you do it? If so, then why ask for forgiveness?
“He also asked, if Jesus appeared to lots of people as proof of rising, why doesn't he just appear today to prove that he has resurrected, like he did to Paul? There is nothing stopping Jesus from appearing to you right now if you ask? Yet since the Bible Jesus hasn't appeared to anyone for over 2000 years.
"Anyways I didn't really have any answers so if you could help me out at all that would be great!"

How many times does God forgive you?

The short answer to that question is that the only thing that limits God's forgiveness is the size of God's grace. And the more you know God, the more you realize that God's grace is indeed limitless.

But I suspect that the question requires more than just the short answer. There seems to be a common misunderstanding of the nature and problem of sin behind it. We have a tendency to think of our sins as that long list of things that we have done that were wrong or that we have failed to do that were right. And, while it is true that we all have our regrets for past actions (or failures to act), these things are not the real problem that God has with our sins. I do not believe that God spends all his time keeping track of our every little mistake so that he can punish us for them later.

Oh, God does care about our sin - cares very deeply - but not because of the specific actions. God cares because of the underlying attitude and what it does to us. Sin is an attitude that alienates us from God and from other people around us. It is also an attitude that prevents us from becoming all that we were meant to be. And God is always sad when we are living in alienation and when we fall short of his hopes and dreams for us. The attitude does manifest itself in particular actions that are also wrong, but it is the attitude that is the real problem that God's forgiveness is meant to address.

How often do you need to ask to be forgiven? As often as you need it. God doesn't require that you keep asking in order to be able to forgive you - of course not. But you may need to ask in order to be able to accept that forgiveness. The whole ritual of repenting and seeking forgiveness is not about fulfilling God's expectations or requirements. It is there to help us to find the strength to believe that we have been forgiven and to seek God's help to make whatever changes we need in our lives to avoid the same kinds of mistakes in the future.
Just as, when you have hurt someone that you love, you have to go to him or her and talk about what you did in order to put the hurt behind both of you so that you can move forward in your relationship, in the same way you need to talk to God about what has gone wrong so that things can start going right. It is for you more than it is for God.

Jesus' appearances

The reason why the earliest Christians came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead was because, shortly after he had been taken from them and brutally murdered by the Romans, they experienced him as present with them again. These men and women experienced the risen Jesus in a variety of ways - some of them quite remarkable and unmistakable. And so, naturally, when they announced to the world that Jesus had risen, they cited their own experiences of the risen Jesus as proof of this stunning event.

Your question seems to assume that the whole point of the appearances was in order to prove the reality of the resurrection. And, of course, it is true that what they experienced proved to them that Jesus had risen from the dead, but does that mean that these appearances happened in order to prove the reality of the resurrection? I don't think so. I believe that Jesus made these appearances in order to transform the lives of people and to create the community of the church.

The other assumption that is often made is that those experiences of the risen Jesus stopped at some point. You ask, "Why doesn't [Jesus] just appear today to prove that he has resurrected, like he did to Paul?" But go and take a look at the accounts of Paul's experience (Acts 9, 22, 25). Those accounts make it pretty clear that Paul did not meet the risen Christ in bodily form. Nor did he see Jesus - all he saw was a bright light and then he didn't see anything at all because he was blinded. What Paul had, in effect, was a vision (or you might even call it an audition because he really only heard it) of the risen Jesus. And I would hardly argue that nobody has had a vision of the risen Jesus in the almost 2000 years since the Apostle Paul.

People have continued to have many and varied experiences of the risen Jesus. Some have had visions, some have heard voices, some have felt calm assurances and clear senses of direction but every one would say that those experiences have been very real.

But, you see, the big problem with personal experiences like that is that, while they are obviously very convincing to those who live through them, they are not very useful as proof to those who have not had those experiences. That is why I would insist that the real purpose behind such experiences is not proof but personal and group transformation. And God certainly deals in transformation to this very day.

Jesus is not particularly interested in offering you proof of the resurrection through demonstration. Believing it is a matter of faith. Jesus is interested in transforming you, however, by whatever means you may be open to.
Continue reading »

Scratch That.

Posted by on Thursday, January 10th, 2013 in Minister

Last week I shared some rambling thoughts about what I might preach about during Lent this year. After giving it a bit of thought I have pretty much abandoned those ideas.

This is mostly because of the great reactions that I got to my sermon last week. I preached about forgiveness and, as I explored the theme, I found myself digging deep into the Old Testament notions and practice of sacrifice. I realize how essential it is to understand where these kinds of concepts, like forgiveness, came from in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that when the early church tried to understand what the life and, especially, what the death of Jesus really meant, the first place they looked was to Old Testament practices and concepts. Jesus, in their reflections, became the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, the passover lamb and much more. How can we possibly think that we will be able to realize the true significance of what Jesus accomplished on the cross if we have misconceptions about the central concepts of ancient religion that the Christian understanding was based on.

The early Christians could assume that their members knew what a sacrifice looked like, what it smelled like and even what it tasted like. That is no longer the case. So we're going to go back and take a crash course on these Old Testament practices. I hope you find it enlightening.

And, don't worry, I'm not planning to build an altar and bring in a fatted calf...

... but not that you mention it....
Continue reading »

Is it time to think about Lent?

Posted by on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013 in Minister

I know exactly what you are going to say to me. Didn't we just make it through the Christmas season? Isn't Christmas actually not even over yet until the season officially ends on the sixth of January with the start of Epiphany?

That is all very true. But it doesn't change the fact that the season of Lent will begin just a little bit more than a month from now. I have considered mounting an appeal on the grounds that Easter is clearly coming far too early this year, but I understand that the scheduling is all tied up with other matters (something to do with full moons and solstices) and so I expect it will be denied.

So really, Lent will be upon us before we know it and so I am turning my thoughts to my preaching during that very important season. Today I had a bit of inspiration. I was thinking of the traditional practice associated with the season of Lent (mostly practiced by Roman Catholics) of "giving up" something for Lent. The idea is that you are supposed to give up something that you like (like chocolate or meat or coffee) for the season as a kind of special personal sacrifice. It is a fine practice, but I have never really taken it up because it is not really part of my traditions.

But I have been thinking of using the practice to spur my preaching in the upcoming season. I want to ask the question, "What do I want to give up for Lent." But I don't want to talk about giving  up things. It is maybe too easy to give up things and I'm not sure it always gives the right message -- the idea of giving up something but not because it is a bad thing, merely because it is a certain time of the year. What I want to talk about giving up is certain attitudes -- particularly those attitudes that we sometimes cling to because they make us feel good but that are generally not all that helpful. Perhaps we could use this season to try and see what living without those attitudes could be like. We may find that we could all do a lot better without them.

What kind of attitudes am I talking about? How about, for example, the attitude where we want everything to be always organized to our liking and we don't ever allow for spontaneity. I think that attitude can sometimes be deadly in a church. Sometimes, I think, God is more present in the spontaneous moment or reaction that in anything we can ever plan. But that is just one example that comes to my mind.

What do you think? What attitudes do you think that we could take a break from during Lent? I'd love to hear your suggestions.

Also need some pithy titles!
Continue reading »

Posted by on Monday, December 24th, 2012 in Minister

And now, folks, here are the results of the final round of voting! Thanks to everyone who participated. Please join us for the sermons you chose in January!

These were our previous winners:
January 6: How can we learn to forgive others, "as the Lord has forgiven us"?
January 13: What do I say to my Atheist friend? (Ammunition for a friendly debate)
January 20: Don’t look back cause you’re not going that way

10 votes
Where is Eden? (Divine  Geography)
13 votes
Have you ever known God?? How do we find him? Where do we find him?
11 votes
"Sometimes I wish I could be like a preacher in the movies"
12 votes
I think you should preach about what led you to this ministry
42 votes
Prove Jesus exists without using the Bible as a Reference
54 votes
Why do good things happen to bad people?
18 votes
Modern Day Prophecy
19 votes
How does God hear all our prayers?
45 votes
Preach about the significance and symbolism of the numbers 3, 7, 12, 40 and how they unify the Old and New Testaments?
18 votes
9 votes
The encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well (John 4) – how does it relate to other stories in the Bible that take place at wells?
16 votes
"Out of Egypt I have called my Son." What role does Egypt play in the birth of Christianity?
66 votes
Depression and Anxiety: How to bring hope peace and comfort to the people we love who suffer through times of darkness.

And the winning suggestion, chosen for January 27 with 66 votes is Depression and Anxiety: How to bring hope peace and comfort to the people we love who suffer through times of darkness.

Thanks to everyone for participating!

Continue reading »

Please tell me what to preach

Posted by on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 in Minister

This coming January I would like you – that’s right you! – to decide the topic of the sermons I will preach. During the month of November, I will be collecting your suggestions of sermon topics.

You may post your suggestion right here as a response to this post. Phrase it as a suggestion (“You should preach about ________”) or as a question. If you would rather remain anonymous, you can message me or give it to me at church in an envelope.

I am going to ask, however, that you only make a suggestion if you are likely to attend a worship service this January. This is only for people who will participate.

During the month of December all of the suggestions will be put to a vote by the congregation (more details on that later) and the top four suggestions will form the sermons in January.

Scott McAndless
Continue reading »

Is it time to “do” advent?

Posted by on Thursday, October 11th, 2012 in Minister

When asked about how I choose the passages that I preach on, I often say that I gave up on the Lectionary years ago.
The lectionary is a three year cycle of Bible passages for reading during Sunday worship. Preachers who use the lectionary generally confine their preaching to one or more of the passages listed for the day.
There are a number of reasons why I gave up. I grew tired of the it. After the first couple of times through the cycle, I certainly found it repetitive. I also have a rather perverse liking for Bible passages that are obscure and often forgotten and would not want to be denied the opportunity to preach on them just because they weren't in the lectionary.
But, in many ways, my biggest beef was Advent. The season of Advent is the season immediately before Christmas – starting 4 Sundays before the big day.  My problem with Advent is that the themes of the season in Christian tradition and in the lectionary are all about the end of the world. All of the readings have to do with the second coming of Christ and apocalyptic visions of the end times.
Now, I don’t have any problems with preaching about such things. They are very important Christian themes and I believe that they still have much to teach us in these modern and often troubling times.  I am just not sure that the month of December is the best time to talk about these things.  During that season, our society is often in an orgy of overconsumption and spending and cultural clashes often come to the fore. I believe that these issues need to be addressed in the church. I don’t want to miss them because I’m busy talking about the end of the world. So, for several years now, I have not really preached advent and have used the time of the year to talk about other pressing issues.
But I’m wondering if this is the year to finally preach advent during advent. Why? Well because this year the end of the world might just be on everyone’s mind because it has apparently been scheduled yet again. As you’ve probably heard, the Mayan Calendar runs out this year on the winter solstice – December 21. Some have interpreted this to mean that the Mayans predicted the end of the world at that time and have gone on to make connections to other “signs of the times.”
Surely this will be all over the media and thus on everyone’s minds this December. Well Christians can talk about the end of the world as well as any Mayans so surely this is as good a time as any to present our perspective. So, yes, I am tempted to actually preach Advent this year. Whether I use the lectionary passages to do so, I have not decided, but it is definitely time to dust of these important themes in our tradition.
Continue reading »

What is your greatest frustration in ministry?

Posted by on Friday, September 28th, 2012 in Minister

Yesterday I was filling out an application for the Pastors of Excellence program (I’ll no doubt write more about that program in the future if I am accepted). The application was surprisingly probing.
One of the questions gave me some pause. It asked, “What is your greatest frustration in ministry?”
My immediate response was to say that nothing frustrated me more than when people get upset at something that has gone wrong or that hasn’t gone their way in the life of the church and, in response, they withhold something – perhaps their money or their time and talent or, in the worst cases, their entire presence.
I do hate that and find it very frustrating. And even if the thing that they are reacting to has nothing to do with me and is nothing that I could have (or should have) made to go differently, I always feel as if it is my fault. I feel personally attacked.
So that is the response that I wrote down. But when I went back and looked at it, I knew that I hadn’t really told the whole story. Though I hate that kind of circumstance, I realized what really frustrated me wasn’t quite that.
You see, I find that I may hate the circumstance but I do not hate the people who react that way. The real frustration is that I can sympathize with them, even while I do not approve of the ways that they respond. The reality is that things do go wrong in the church – sometimes very seriously wrong. People are unkind or unfeeling towards others. Disagreements are not dealt with constructively. Often (not always, of course) when people are upset they have good reason to be. I don’t like the way that they react but I am frustrated to find that I can sympathize with them. Perhaps it would be so much easier if I could just hate them, but I find that I can’t.
I have decided to preach a sermon (in a couple of months) on the issue of when people withdraw from their support of the church because they have been aggrieved. I don’t know what to say about it yet, but I am seeking some Biblical inspiration. The best story I can come up with so far is Jesus’ parable of the tenants who refused pay their rent, but that one hardly ends well – with everyone dead. (Though, I guess, that is where the church might end up if we don’t tackle this problem.)
Where else might I look?
Continue reading »