a sign. sing!

(a sermon for Christmas Eve)

We gather tonight at the heart of the story. Here the distractions give way. Here the news is still surprising, still wondrous. It is good news in a world of much trouble, heartbreak and sorrow. Strip away all the tinsel and veneer and you will find pain, scars, wounds. The suffering is global. The suffering is local. The story of the birth of the Christ-child is the story of our discovery that the suffering and ache of this troubled world - of our troubled lives - is being healed.


the church of holy magnification

We are on the verge of Christmas. In just three days we gather to celebrate on the eve of the holy birth. If we are not careful we may get ahead of ourselves. But the text will not allow us to get to Christmas yet. It sets us in Mary’s first trimester. Luke picks up the story at the moment angel Gabriel announces that Mary will conceive and bear a child. Then Luke writes: “In those days.” In those days immediately after the conception of the Messiah. It is early - very early - in her pregnancy when Mary visits her elderly cousin Elizabeth in the Judean hill country. The first evidence that the angel’s announcement is not in error comes when Elizabeth - now in her six month - senses unborn John leaping in her womb when Mary, not showing yet, arrives. Elizabeth, overflowing with the Holy Spirit, shouts out blessings, amazed at her impossibly good fortune. Our nativity scene needs a second building. In addition to a stable we need a Judean peasant’s home, where Mary spends three months with cousin Elizabeth, pondering what is happening to her, preparing for the birth of the Messiah. That is what we do here this morning. We ponder what is happening to us as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. There is not much time. But there is enough time.


on not singing carols yet

The other day I was mentioning how much I treasure the season of Advent. I especially appreciate the counter-cultural move of refraining from singing Christmas carols until the season of Christmas (the twelve days that begin with Christmas itself). At University Hill Congregation we begin singing carols on Christmas Eve. Before that we do not sing for joy at the birth of the Messiah. Before that we sing in longing, we sing in expectancy, we sing in preparation. In this way Advent reminds me of so much of life these days - longing, expectancy, preparation for the world and the lives God intends and promises. When I mentioned my delight in marking time during Advent a student at the theological school asked: "What do you say to those who want to sing Christmas carols during Advent."


on to pomalidomide

Last week I was in to see my hematologist for my fall appointment. I have been enjoying being free of chemotherapy and steroids since concluding treatment with Velcade in mid-February. During that time my free light chain count has remained quite stable. In the past month the free light chains have begun to rise once again. My doctor advised applying for the compassionate access program provided by Celgene for the recently approved (in Canada) chemotherapeutic drug pomalidomide (trade name Pomalyst). While it is approved for use in Canada it is not yet funded by our health insurance. As I have received the other available treatments (autologous stem cell transplant, lenalidomide and velcade) I am eligible to receive pomalidomide through the passionate access program of its manufacturer. The application was submitted this past Friday and approved yesterday.


longing for grace

Advent is, first and foremost, the great season of longing. Listen to the first words that the church will hear in this year’s lectionary cycle as the Christian Year begins: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). Then, a few Sundays later, listen as earth’s longing cry is answered at the Jordan river: “And just as <Jesus> was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10).

Advent is the season when we proclaim the surprising news that the future is not closed, that there is a way out of the quagmire, that earth’s great grief can yet be healed. The Christian Year opens on a world and a people whose prospects are bleak. Before we can sing of hope, peace, joy and love we first name the terrible cycles of despair, conflict, grief and hatred that hold us captive. Jumping too quickly and easily to the promises of God can weaken their power, reducing them to greeting card clichés. If grace is to be named and known as amazing it must surely come in response to the honest, hard truth about the troubles that confront the soul, the neighbourhood and the planet.


salt of the earth: a christian season's calendar 2014-2015

Good news - the 2014/2015 edition of Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar is now available. This unique venture had its beginnings in 1999 as we at University Hill Congregation imagined a calendar that begins with Advent and turns with the Christian seasons (the story of the calendar's beginnings can be found here). The calendar continues to grow year after year by word of mouth.

You can find the calendar at the Christian Seasons Calendar website where you can view sample pages, read reviews and order online. Single copies of the calendar cost $15.95 (plus shipping and applicable taxes). There is a 20% discount on orders of ten or more and a 40% discount on orders of twenty five or more. Many people purchase in bulk and then give the calendars as gifts or make them available in congregations at a reduced rate.

We are grateful for your assistance in spreading the word about Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar 2014/2015 to friends and colleagues, near and far.


in the wounded places

When not preaching at University Hill Congregation I take on the role of worship elder, leading congregational prayers. On Sunday the prayers of approach and confession followed the singing of "O God Beyond All Praising". Following the confession we sang "Jesu, Tawa Pano" and then responded to the declaration of grace with "Gloria". Here are those prayers ...

Prayers of Approach & Confession

Great God of heaven and earth,
Maker of the stars and the sun
You are beyond all praising,
              beyond all knowing, 
              beyond all telling.
You are beyond us.
You are holy. 

you are there

On Sunday at University Hill Congregation our guest preacher, Peter Short, entitled his sermon on the story of the Transfiguration "The Seeing Place." In it he noted that on the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples see through Jesus' ministry to the presence of God. After the sermon the congregation sang the hymn "In the Quiet Curve of Evening" with its refrain "You are there, You are there, You are there." As worship elder my task included offering the prayers of the people that followed ...

You are there. 
This is what we have heard of You. 
The ancestors have entrusted the precious message to each passing generation.
Now the sacred message is ours to live and to tell:
You are there. 
You are there in the quiet curve of evening and in the noisy din of noonday.
You are there in the melting down of endings and in the labour pains of newness.
You are there.



Notes for a sermon on Exodus 16 ...

Being in the wilderness after Exodus and before arriving at the promised land as our location ... pilgrim’s progress ... between Good Friday & Easter ... no longer in the land of status quo ... forever changed, freed yes, but also wandering, afraid, living day to day ... often longing for the old days of comfortable boredom enslaved to the routine of achieving, getting ahead, running the rat race ...certainly looks that way for many a congregation and many a minister ... easy to long for the old days when numbers were up and ministry was about managing a modestly successful operation.


pharaoh's army

Sometimes sermons do not make it to a full manuscript but are, instead, improvised from a chordal progression of notes. In this case, the sermon plot for young William Bruce's baptismal Sunday worked its way through five moves. Here are the notes I had in front of me as I preached from the font on the texts for the day: Exodus 14:19-31 & Psalm 114 ...


we do not live to ourselves

A sermon preached on Sunday, September 14, 2014 at a Memorial Service for Elizabeth Ellen Tabler Lemen (November 12, 1931 – September 5, 2014)

- Romans 14:7-12; Psalm 146; Matthew 5:1-12

Ellen was clear. We should not gather today to pay her tribute. Rather, we should mark her life and her death by paying tribute to God. For it was God who made her and God who sustained her. In God she lived and moved and had her being. How fitting that the epistle lesson read in multitudes of Christian churches all over the world today includes these words from the apostle Paul: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” This is an odd way to speak in an age when individuals prize autonomy. We like to imagine that we are not beholden to anyone else, that we live to ourselves and die to ourselves. In such a world we quickly find ourselves wondering how we measure up. In such a world we pay high tribute to some and judge others are not worthy of tribute. But Paul declares that in Jesus Christ we have learned that our primary identity does not come from our own record of rights and wrongs. In Jesus Christ we discover that our primary identity lies in the knowledge that we belong to God.


continuing good news

There is continuing good news further to the good news health update from two months ago. Since then monthly blood tests have shown that the protein free light chains are remaining relatively stable. It means no need yet to begin a new set of targeted chemotherapy along with a return to the steroid dexamethasone. This summer without treatment has been a real gift. Now my final autumn before retirement is beginning chemo-free. I am aware that one day the news will not be so good. In the meantime, I am grateful.

By the way, September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. In gratitude I am making a donation to continuing blood cancer research. You can make a donation through Myeloma Canada, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society or by specifying the blood cancer clinical trials program at Vancouver General Hospital. Since I will one day likely participate in the clinical trials at VGH I am sending my donation there.


70 x 7 = ?

Matthew 18:15-35

“If another member of the church sins against you …”. You wonder if someone might have thought before selecting this as the gospel reading for the first Sunday back after the summer. Here we are welcoming one another, looking forward to a new season together meeting new students and welcoming new neighbours. Is now really the time to be talking about sin breaking out in the church? Well, as those who have been here through the summer will know, we have been working our way through the Gospel According to Matthew. As it happens, the second half of Matthew’s gospel reads something like an instruction manual for the church. And today we find ourselves in a crucial section. Come to think of it. Perhaps it is a good thing that this particular passage was not a mid-summer reading, when many of us were out of town. Perhaps it is good that many of us are here, at the beginning of the semester, ready to receive instruction from our instructor, rabbi Jesus.


the call

- Exodus 3:1-15; Matthew 16:21-28

Moses is minding his own business. He is tending his father-in-law’s flock when, so says the text, “he led his flock beyond the wilderness.” Beyond the wilderness? In other words, he is way out of bounds, far beyond civilization, out in the marginal places. Perhaps somewhere far up the west coast, far from voice mail and internet access. Or maybe down an alley littered with needles and broken lives. Or maybe it is an inner place, beyond the wilderness of grief, in a place of great risk and possibility. This is what Moses discovers. He learns that beyond the wilderness lies the mountain of God, the place where an angel of the LORD appears in a flame of fire. It is an odd discovery. There is a bush on fire, a tumbleweed across the valley. At first he does not take much notice of it. But he looks again later and sees that it is still burning. And later it is burning still. The bush draws him closer. It should be consumed by the fire but it just keeps on burning. My friend Doug was raised in the Presbyterian church. It is from the Presbyterians that we in The United Church of Canada have received the burning bush as one of the four symbols on our church crest. Doug is the one who taught me that this is how Presbyterians think of the church. They notice that it is always in the process of falling apart, burning up, surely dying out … and yet, against all logic and against all odds, the church continues to burn. It is not consumed. It draws us in closer, close enough to hear the voice - the voice that is not the voice of the church but the voice of God.


good news health update

I was in to see my hematologist this week. My last appointment was in early March. I have been off of targeted chemotherapy (bortezomib) and steroids (dexamethasone) since mid-February. In the meantime, my free light chain count has risen slowly (up from 100 in mid-February to 178 currently). The doctor does not think that this warrants beginning the next treatment at this time. Yay! He is thinking that when the count is closer to 300 we will start with pomalidomide and dexamethasone.


will god provide

The text for the sermon this coming Sunday is Genesis 22:1-14 - the binding of Isaac. It is at once a strange and yet foundational text for a people of the Bible. As I wrestle with the text (or, more to the point, as it wrestles with me) I am reminded of the last time I preached on this passage. It was June 29, 2008. Here is the sermon from that occasion ...


our refuge

Psalm 46:1-11

“Selah”. Don’t know what it means? Neither do I. “Selah”. It is a mysterious instruction, written in the margin of this – and other – psalms. No one knows how to translate the word “selah”. Perhaps it means “Amen, we agree, that’s right”. Those who have thought about this much more than I argue that it stands for “chorus” or “refrain”. That is how Gerald Hobbs lined out Psalm 46 when he translated it for Voices United. Notice the letter “R” for “Refrain” repeated three times in the 46th Psalm (p. 770). In each case it appears in place of the word “selah”. And, in each case, the refrain – like the word “selah” – comes at a turning point in the song. So here is how we will host the text this morning. Each time the sermon is about to turn a corner from one section of the Psalm to the next we will become the choir singing the refrain:“The God of Jacob is for us a refuge strong and sure.” That’s one way to be kept on our toes. Listen for the “selah”.


call for submissions - christian seasons calendar 2014/2015

Artists are invited to participate in the upcoming issue of "Salt of the Earth - The Christian Seasons Calendar for 2014/2015." This unique calendar follows the seven distinctive seasons of the Christian year and is distributed worldwide. View a sample of the current Christian Seasons Calendar online here.

Interested artists are encouraged to offer artwork that interprets scripture readings and themes within the Christian Year. A list of the scripture readings used in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary can be found here. There is one page available for an image for each of the following seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. There are five pages available for art in the Season after Pentecost. On these pages we seek images that portray Pentecost, All Saints Day and the Reign of Christ as well as images particular to biblical texts included in the lectionary readings during this season of growth in discipleship.


speak your word of life

A prayer before preaching (based on Isaiah 55:8-12). A sermon based on this text can be found at like rain and snow.

You whose thoughts are not our thoughts,
You whose ways are not our ways,
as You send forth the rain and the snow
       to water the earth
            giving seed to the sower
                 and bread to the eater ...


the mystery of the merciful foe

A sermon preached at the Celebration of Ministry service at the General Meeting of BC Conference of The United Church of Canada in Nanaimo, BC on May 25, 2014. Video of the service is online here (The sermon begins at minute forty-two).

Luke 10:25-37

Here we are, back where we began on Thursday evening, in Luke's gospel asking Jesus:“Who is my neighbour?” It seems right to once again host this beloved text as we prepare to be sent, scattered as disciples. For you who are about to be commissioned, recognized, admitted and ordained I pray that this text will hold a providential place in your ministry. When you hear it, read it, pray it, preach it may you be reminded of this Celebration of Ministry - this festival of servanthood - where today you are set apart as ministers - servants - of Christ for God to use.


who is in charge here?

Forty days into the fifty-day season of Easter sits the Feast of the Ascension. It falls on a Thursday. Not so very long ago the poet William Blake could write two poems titled “Holy Thursday” trusting his readers understood the reference not to Maundy Thursday in Holy Week but to the Feast of the Ascension late in the season of Easter. Then it was a high holy day. Now it is overlooked and nearly forgotten.


not enough security

A sermon for the first Sunday in the fifty day Season of Easter

Matthew 28:1-10

Today we arrive at the end of Matthew’s gospel only to discover it is the beginning of the story. Reading the gospels is like being in a company of actors who are performing a play in which the script is missing the second act. The first act tells the story of Jesus’ birth, of his baptism and temptation, of the calling of the disciples and his parables and ... well, you know the story. Today we find ourselves on the final page of the incomplete script. Tomorrow we begin to improvise the second act. We will remain in character, disciples of Jesus who are learning to follow him and to invite others to live in light of the good news revealed in and through him. Today we pay close attention to the surprising script so we know what to expect and how to act - how to live - in the days to come.


with our friday fatigue

On Good Friday we hosted a neighbouring Anglican congregation in worship (next year that same congregation will host us). It meant that the Anglican priest was our powerful preacher. At University Hill the prayers are not led by the preacher. Since I am regularly the preacher it means that I rarely lead the prayers. However, on a day when I am not preaching it is my turn to offer prayer. The prayer of confession today took the form of the Solemn Reproaches of the Cross. My task was to speak the prayers of approach and of intercession on behalf of the congregation. Here they are ...


to take the downward path

Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the day when Christians re-enact the scene when Jesus gives a new commandment as he washes the feet of his apprentices. There is some more about this tradition posted here at the eleventh commandment. The washing of feet is a central act in the life of L'Arche communities around the world. Here are some words about this practice from Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche ...

“To wash the feet of a brother or sister in Christ, to allow someone to wash our feet, is a sign that together we want to follow Jesus, to take the downward path, to find Jesus’ presence in the poor and the weak. Is it not a sign that we too want to live a heart-to-heart relationship with others, to meet them as a person and a friend, to live in communion with them? Is it not a sign that we yearn to be men and women of forgiveness, to be healed and cleansed and to heal and cleanse others and thus to live more fully in communion with Jesus?”   
                                                                                                - Jean Vanier


consumer or patient?

Some thoughts of mine about the shift from speaking of patients to consumers of health care have made their way on to the blog of Vancouver Sun writer Douglas Todd. You can find the blog post at Are we health care "consumers"? What's wrong with "patients"?


st. lydia's dinner church

One of the aspects of life with University Hill Congregation that I have come to appreciate are all the meals. Not owning a church building means that we don't have a church in which to meet during the week. Yes, on Sundays we rent a wonderful chapel in which to worship. But on weekdays when we gather we need to find space. As a result we meet in homes and offices and restaurants. When we do we inevitably find ourselves sharing a meal. It is breakfast when we gather on Wednesdays at a restaurant to discuss scripture together. It is dinner when we meet in Janet's home for discussions about discipleship. Even our working sessions with committee work almost always involve a meal. Over the years we have been increasing our celebrations of the sacrament of the Eucharist - Communion - as we grow in our understanding of the ways in which Christ is present among us in the breaking of the bread. There was a period in our life as a congregation when two families hosted a household they named The Welcome Table through which they lived out a Eucharistic ministry of hospitality. Now the Campus Ministry that we partner with offers a weekly celebration of the Eucharist as part of its life as the Food and Faith Community. And every summer we host First Nations (Native American) leaders from near and far at an Agape Meal - a love feast - in which our desire to be reconciled with one another is symbolized and realized as we eat and pray and sing together. All of this leads me to wish I lived closer to Brooklyn, New York ...

why worship?

Prayer in the Church of Reconciliation at Taizé
Why do Christians gather to worship? In a time when gathering in public to worship God is increasingly out of fashion in North America it is worth considering why this communal practice is crucial to Christian life. For, if we are not careful, we can easily begin to imagine that worship is meant to serve those who show up. We are such well-schooled consumers that, without realizing it, we begin to assume that worship exists to meet our needs. Then our worship planning focuses on the consuming congregation, aiming to send home satisfied “Sunday shoppers.”


hosting the word

Whenever it gathers to worship the church gives the Holy Bible (literally, the “Book set apart for God”) a place of prominence. For us it is scripture.  In other words, it is the church’s script.  In the Bible we discover the plot that is God’s saving mission in the world. Scripture provides us with parts to perform as actors in the great drama called “Gospel.” The Bible is our source book, the deep, thick memory that reminds the church of its peculiar identity in every cultural context. Reading the world through the lens of the cruciform biblical narrative gives us new eyes to see (II Corinthians 5:16-20).


after velcade

It has been nearly two years since I began treatments with Velcade (bortezomib) and dexamethasone. Last summer we added cyclophosphamide to the treatment in order to extend its effectiveness. The second round of ten treatment cycles ended last month. Yesterday I visited my hematologist to discuss next steps. The first piece of good news is that my free light chain count is only up from 100 to 125 in the thirty-five days since my treatment ended. While the number is on the rise it is not a large enough increase to call for new treatments to begin. Yay! It means I will continue to have the free light chain blood test taken monthly. When the numbers increase more rapidly or incrementally become significantly higher we will begin a new treatment regime. In the meantime, I can live without chemo (including, of course, my old friend dexamethasone). The other piece of good news has to do with the next treatment ...



A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Gil Dyck at Crescent United Church on March 21, 2014.

Matthew 5:1-16

Thirty years ago I was the minister of this church. It was here that I first came to know Gil Dyck. I recall, in particular, a day when Gil invited me to coffee at Gil and Marion’s home down at the beach. In the course of our conversation we went downstairs in search of a magazine. It was "Sojourners", the publication of a group of evangelical social activists living a in a poor neighbourhood in Washington, DC. I went home and ordered a subscription. Today I still keep up with the Sojourners community, though now I do so via Twitter. Thinking of my conversations over the years with Gil I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s famous line: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Or more to the point, given Gil’s Mennonite background, these words written by Menno Simons in 1539 come to mind: “True evangelical faith ... cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it ... clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”

A few weeks ago Gil and I found ourselves sharing another cup of coffee in Crescent Beach, over at the Sunflower Café. We have been neighbours all these years, but when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma three years ago Gil and I found we shared not only a faith but also an illness. Since then we have caught up with one another from time to time, comparing treatments and sharing information, offering mutual encouragement. Brothers in arms. Companions on the journey. Sojourners.


2014 online daily lenten devotional

"Blessing the Dust" by Jan Richardson
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. It is the day when Christians begin the season of Lent, a forty day preparation for Easter. Those who take the time to count the days until Easter Sunday will note that it actually totals forty-seven days in all. That is because the Lenten season of preparation and fasting does not count the Sundays. Sundays, for us, are always mini-Easter celebrations. For University Hill Congregation this is the thirteenth year in which we have marked Lent by creating our own home-made Lenten daily devotional book. In the early years it was a hard-copy printed booklet for use within our congregation. Now it is an online resource used by our congregation and others who join us in the practice of reading, hosting and praying scripture as a means of continuing our formation as faithful witnesses to God's grace revealed in Jesus. You are most welcome to join us in this practice and are invited to spread the word to others who may be interested. Here is the introduction to this year's devotional, along with a link that will take you to it ...


velcade round two (cycle eight)

I have reached the conclusion of my second round of treatments with Velcade. I have been receiving Velcade (bortezomib) since May of 2012 (with a brief break at the end of the first round of treatments one year ago). As of today I begin a six week window without treatment. The main benefit for me will be no weekly dose of dexamethasone with its steroidal side-effects. I am looking forward to a more normal day to day life without the mid-week roller-coaster ride that comes with dex. Knowing that future treatments will most likely include more dexamethasone I realize that this is just a brief reprieve. Nonetheless, I am grateful for it.

I see my doctor again in late March in order to determine the next treatment regime. We may well try Revlimid (lenalidomide) once again, only this time begin with a low dose in order to see if we can avoid the allergic reaction that occurred last time (in March 2011). It was very good to hear today that Canada has approved pomalidomide (Pomalyst) for treatment of myeloma. I expect that, sooner or later, I will be one who benefits from today's news. In the meantime, I look forward to these upcoming treatment free weeks.


preaching epiphany

Sunday, January 5 is the twelfth day of Christmas. Monday, January 6 is Epiphany. At University Hill we will celebrate Epiphany one day early, as we gather for worship tomorrow. This year I will preach on Psalm 72 - the psalm that is always read on Epiphany. It is particularly relevant to preach on Psalm 72 in Canada for it is from this psalm that our country took its designation not as a republic or as a nation but as a "dominion." It is also Psalm 72 that gave Canada its motto: "Ad mare usque ad mare."  Well, that and more is for tomorrow's sermon. In the meantime, here is the sermon for Epiphany from 2012 - the people of the epiphany.


an epiphany concerning epiphany

I did not hear about Epiphany when I was growing up. Overshadowed by the secular new year Epiphany is a hidden holiday. Over the years it has dawned on me that this ancient festival holds great significance for the church I serve. Here's a sample of my growing epiphany concerning Epiphany - earth's manifest.