Judgment and Grace of Strangers

My Christmas column in the Christian Courier.


It is one thing to be rebuked for something you’ve done. It is quite another to be rebuked by a complete stranger.

I was in line for a coffee at Second Cup in downtown Montreal – and was checking my phone as I came to the counter. I started to order a small, dark roast, but the guy at the cash paused for a moment, waited to get my full attention, and then said: “I wish we could go back to the days before those phones, when we could have some human contact.” Oof. The feeling of embarrassment and shame was immediate for me. What was I thinking!?

And just to be clear, this wasn’t some cranky baby boomer objecting to smart phone reality in general (we tend, mistakenly, to associate grumpiness with the older set). No, this was a twenty-something guy who was tired of serving coffee to people who wouldn’t even look at him. Continue reading


What are you not seeing?

My latest column, for the Christian Courier.


Up until a few years ago I had never seen them. I didn’t even know they were around, so didn’t know to look for them. But every Spring they are here. In fact, we are at peak season right now so there’s a good chance you will glimpse them if you look carefully. And it would be worth the effort, too, given how beautiful they are in their blues and greens and reds and yellows – especially the yellows.

IMG_6359Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m referring to the birds that make their way north each spring, particularly the warblers that rest each night in the trees around us on their journey. There is the Blackburnian Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the American Redstart, the Chestnut-sided Warbler, and the wonderfully named Yellow-rumped Warbler. The picture accompanying this column is of a Yellow-rumped Warbler that stopped over, ever so briefly, in my backyard last May.

For so many years, I missed this annual wave of feathers and song. While I have always enjoyed watching common backyard birds (finches, cardinals, jays, juncos and chickadees), I assumed that beautiful, multi-colored birds were a unique preserve of more tropical regions. Now that I know better, I’m learning to recognize the telltale movements of these tiny creatures in high branches as the sun warms them early in the morning. Continue reading

Nineveh’s revival – Pentecost comes early #JonahWasWrong

Sermon from today – once again I have followed Phillip Cary’s interpretation in a variety of ways.



“Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

“Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Nineveh is a large city – a three-day walk to get across it. Jonah walks a full day into the city and then begins to make his bold declaration, his repeated declaration:

“Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

The last time I heard a city-centre preacher in the mold of Jonah was outside the Eaton’s Centre, downtown Toronto – it was this past Christmas. Tabea and I were downtown to see The Wizard of Oz at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. And on our way back to the subway after the show, there was a soapbox preacher outside the Eaton’s Centre. We didn’t stop to listen, but the sound bite that hit my ear suggested it was that same old combined message of love and judgment. The tone of the street preacher was the tone that every street preacher or street evangelist of this kind seems to have. Continue reading

advent, hope, judgment, hell

My sermon from this past Sunday. I have in many ways followed the interpretation laid out by James Kay, and have quoted him directly toward the end of this sermon. See his article at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=677


In the Gospel of Luke we find the words “good news” on lips of many.

The angel Gabriel says to Zechariah, who would become the Father of John the Baptist: “I have been sent to bring you good news.”

An angel appears to the shepherds out in the field and says: “Behold I bring you good news of great joy.

Later on in Luke’s gospel, we will find Jesus in the synagogue, quoting from Isaiah the prophet: “The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

Good news.  These words are everywhere in Luke’s Gospel – they are at the centre of Luke’s history of Jesus and the early church.

In our passage for today – the narrative of John the Baptist – Luke again gives us this language of good news. At the conclusion of this passage in chapter 3, Luke says: “So, with many other exhortations John proclaimed the good news to the people.” Continue reading

a hot coal

Have you ever felt out of place?

Have you ever found yourself in some situation where you just didn’t belong?

In fact it’s a fairly common human experience – to feel out of place in this way.

If you’ve ever moved to a new town, you’ve probably felt out of place.

If you’ve ever travelled to another continent or country, you’ve probably felt out of place.

If you’ve found yourself spending time with people of a dramatically different income-bracket – well, you’ve probably felt out of place.

No doubt each one of us can of a time when we’ve felt out of place – we’ve all had that sense of discomfort and unease – of being disoriented – that goes along with being out of place. “Uh, I’m don’t think I’m supposed to be here.” Continue reading

gospel and the gazette – remembering

Last Saturday’s Montreal Gazette carried a news story about the Berlin Wall. In fact, over the past week or so, newspapers from the London Telegraph to the New York Times to der Spiegel have carried stories about the Berlin Wall. The reason is that August the 13th marked the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. It was 50 years ago this summer, on the night of August 12th to 13th 1961, that Berliners heard the sounds of heavy equipment moving in their city. And when they woke in the morning a barbed wire fence had been thrown around West Berlin. The city of Berlin, of course was located completely within communist, East Germany – and so the construction of that barbed wire fence had the effect of completely cutting off surrounding East Germany from West Berlin, that part of the city controlled by the Americans, the British, and the French.

Over the years, that wall first thrown up in 1961 took on a number of forms. It began as that barbed wire fence put up in the middle of the night. A few years later it became a concrete block wall – and still later, in the 1970’s and 80’s the wall was reconstructed out of reinforced concrete.

But why was the wall constructed to begin with? What was it that drove the East German government to cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany? The fundamental reason for the construction of the wall was to prevent East Germans from leaving or escaping East Germany.  Earlier, in 1952 already, the border dividing East Germany and West Germany had been closed – this prevented East Germans from simply crossing the border into the West – and it meant that in the period between 1952 and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, the only way East Germans could escape life under the communist regime was within the city of Berlin – by crossing into West Berlin. Continue reading

rigorousness vs. leniency

It’s probably fair to say that we Canadians like things made easy. This become particularly obvious when we think of the various technologies ar out disposal:

Why get off the couch when you can change the channel with a remote control?

Why plant a large garden when you can get your vegetables at Metro?

Why change your whole lifestyle when you can just change your light-bulbs and consider yourself “green”?

At some level of course we can only be grateful for technologies that take some of the pain and harshness out of life. But it seems we always go one step further – yes, we want the pain and harshness out of our lives – but we also want everything to be a little easier. It applies to most living in modern western culture. You can only imagine the financial resources, the production time and the energy that go into making things easier for us. Continue reading

Dare we sing the Magnificat?

My sermon from this past Sunday – the fourth Sunday in Advent.


Exuberant.     It’s a wonderful word, isn’t it?    Exuberant.

It’s one of those words that carry their meaning so well. Even to say the word ‘exuberant’ is almost to be lifted into exuberance. The Mirriam Webster dictionary offers the following definition of the word: joyfully unrestrained and enthusiastic. Exuberant: joyfully unrestrained and enthusiastic.

The thesaurus in my word processor gives these possible synonyms for the word exuberant: enthusiastic, excited, high-spirited, lively.

We read in Luke’s gospel, the words of Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Continue reading

Hope and Judgment

My sermon from yesterday, which was the first Sunday in Advent.



Does that name ring a bell with you? Well, Thessalonica is a city in modern day Greece – also known as Salonica. But for our purposes what’s interesting is that the city of Thessalonica existed already in the time of Jesus and the earliest Christians.  In fact, this city was founded three hundred years before Christ by the King of Macedon – he named it after his wife Thessalonike.

Well, it must be nice to be able to name a city after your wife… Reading that historical tidbit this week I wondered whether I might try that this Christmas. Becky, there’s a beautiful little village in the Eastern Township called North Hatley, and but I’m going to re-name it for you as a Christmas gift. More than likely that’s a gift I’ll never be able to give. Continue reading


A sermon in a continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed.


Judgment. Well – that’s quite a sermon title isn’t it?


It almost makes you feel you’re back in the nineteenth century, when hell-fire and brimstone were the order of the day in sermons. That title makes me think of what may be one of the most famous sermons ever preached, by the great America theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards. It was entitled Sinners in the hands of an angry God.


When I was thinking about this sermon, and about that title, I was also reminded of a billboard that stands in a field outside the town where my parents live. As you come to a particularly treacherous turn in a country road, there stands the sign – Prepare to meet thy God. The choice of location makes you think that some congregation posted it there almost hoping that a driver would come to that curve a little too fast and would see the sign just as they skidded off the road.


As we spend some time thinking about judgment this morning, I’d actually like to begin by pointing out that judgment is a part of everyday life for us as a society and as individuals.

  Continue reading