In a sermon for the Day of Pentecost Laurence reflects on the meaning of Pentecost for the individual believer today. Text is Galatians 5:16-26. Laurence begins by comparing the Apostle Paul's image of Flesh versus Spirit to the interest in zombies and speculation about a zombie apocalypse that has given rise to many zombie-themes movies and TV shows.
In a sermon reflecting on Galatians 3:6-9, 23-29 Laurence takes the distinctions Paul mentions in 3:28 (Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female) as examples of "assigned identities". Paul doesn't mean that the water of baptism washes away what it means to be Jewish or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. But the identities that others assign to each of those distinctions don't disqualify anyone from following Jesus and sharing life in the church. Laurence begins the sermon with the story of Trevor Noah and refers to Noah's book, Born a Crime.
In a sermon reflecting on Paul's Letter to the Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 Laurence asks "What does a Christian look like?" Surrounded by people who wear outward signs of their religion and way of life, how do Christians stand out? As Paul argues so forcefully, outward observance of rule and ritual doesn't guarantee our salvation. But what we do, how we demonstrate our faith is still important. He begins by talking about the Maritime Bhangra Group, Sikh men from Halifax who perform for charity. He also mentions CBC journalist Brian Stewart.
In a sermon based on the story of the first big decision made by the First Church of Jerusalem, Laurence draws our attention to the deeply-held beliefs we all have, and how they can direct our actions in ways we may not recognize. He identifies the difference between reaction and response. The text is Acts 15:1-18. Laurence also quotes from this article by psychologist Matt James.
In a sermon on John 21:1-14, Laurence reflects on the story of the risen Jesus' appearance on a beach in Galilee. Seven of his friends are offshore, in a fishing boat. Jesus directs them toward a miraculous catch of fish. In order to catch the fist, the disciples have to change positions and move to the side of the boat they've never fished from. They have to learn a new way to be, move, and fish. Laurence quotes from two books by Brian McLaren, the church on the other side (now out of print) and The Great Spiritual Migration.
In a sermon for Good Friday Laurence invites us to reflect on the presence of the cross, an instrument of death, in our worship. He says the cross and the death of Jesus call us to healthy Death Awareness.
Laurence quotes this article and refers to the work of Dr. Robert Firestone. He also points to the Celtic cross on Glenview's Communion Table and this window, in the west transept of the church. (Photo credits: Paul McDonald)
In a sermon based on two stories of Jesus in Jericho, from Luke 18:35 - 19:10 Laurence invites us to hear the tales of the blind beggar at the city gate and the tax collector up the tree in the town square. Did the beggar already have saving faith when he met Jesus? Was Zacchaeus already a good and generous man when Jesus saw him out on a branch and went home with him?
Laurence begins the sermon telling part of the story of Fiona Stewart-Darling, a Church of England priest who is a Chaplain to the business and financial community at Canary Wharf in London. You can read an interview with Fiona here.
Laurence's sermon reflects on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It's sometimes called "Dives and Lazarus". "Dives" means "rich man". He doesn't have a name in the story. In fact Lazarus, a poor man whose ironic name means "God helps", is the only character in any of the parables who has a name. He isn't the Lazarus we meet in John's Gospel when Jesus calls him out of his grave. This Lazarus dies and stays where he's planted, with Father Abraham in Heaven. "Dives" also dies and he's surprised to discover where he's planted for eternity. This story gives the gap between rich and poor an unexpected twist. Reading is Luke 16:19-31.
In a sermon for Transfiguration Sunday Laurence reflects on the purpose of mountaintop experiences in our lives. He begins with Lady Gaga's song, "The Edge of Glory" to describe the experience of Jesus' first disciples. Jesus took three of them up on a mountain, where they got to look beyond the edge of glory and see more of who Jesus was than they had ever seen before. Laurence quotes from Col. Chris Hadfield's book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth to illustrate the power of a mountaintop experience to change us, and send us back down to live everyday life in a way that changes the world. Gospel for the day is Luke 9:28-45.
Laurence responds to current events, including the shootings at the mosque in Quebec on January 29 in a sermon on Luke 6:1-10. In that Gospel story a Roman Centurion reaches across the divide between the conquerors and the conquered. Jesus reaches back, heaving the slave of an enemy of his people. This enemy turns out to be compassionate, and respectful of the community among whom he serves the Empire.
These were the Words for Meditation offered to the congregation before worship on Sunday:
To invoke God to justify violence against the innocent is not an act of sanctity but of sacrilege. It is a kind of blasphemy. Too often in the history of religion, people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love and practised cruelty in the name of the God of compassion. When this happens, God speaks, sometimes in a still, small voice almost inaudible beneath the clamour of those claiming to speak on his behalf. What God says at such times is: “Not in My Name.” ~ Rabbi Jonathan Sachs
Laurence quotes the Imam of the Imdadul Mosque in North York. These are the Imam's words as he preached to his congregation last Friday morning:
For, though we are grieving and many in our communities are afraid and feeling victimized, the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not come to teach us to be paralyzed by our fears or to wallow in self-pity, or to be mouthpieces for grievances. He came to teach us how to heal and how to be healers, how to respond to ugliness with beauty, how to be fully human in times of ease and in hardship.