Sunday, April 22, 2018

Salvation through Jesus (a sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter on Acts 3 & 4)

Today’s reading from Acts contains a verse which some people will have found so disturbing that they probably didn’t hear anything else that was read after it. In Acts 4:12 Peter, speaking about Jesus, says “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved”.

Many people, listening to that verse, think it means “When we die, unless we have made a decision to accept Jesus, we will not go to heaven”. Apparently God has made a totally arbitrary decision to ignore all the good Muslims and Jews and Buddhists out there, and to focus instead on whether a person believes in Jesus or not. Understandably, in these days when we’d all like people of different religions to get along better with each other,  some people don’t see that as a positive message.

I actually find it quite surprising that people would interpret this verse in this way - for two reasons. First, if you take this passage in the context of the total story of Acts 3 and 4 the issue of dying and going to heaven is not mentioned at all. The word ‘heaven’ is mentioned three times in this story, but in two of them it just means ‘the sky’, and in the third one it’s the place God will send Jesus from– in what we nowadays usually refer to as ‘the second coming’ – when the time of universal restoration finally comes.

The second reason I find this interpretation surprising is the way we hear the word ‘saved’ or ‘salvation’. Again, we’ve got a long history of interpreting that to mean ‘saved from going to hell’. But that’s not the most common meaning of it in the Bible. In the Old Testament the word ‘salvation’ is almost always used in a military sense – it means ‘to be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us’, as Zechariah says in Luke 1:71. The Israelites are slaves in Egypt – they’re under the thumb of an enemy far too powerful for them – but God rescues them miraculously and leads them to freedom, and they give thanks for his salvation.

In the Gospels the word is often translated as ‘healed’ or ‘made well’. For instance, in Luke 17 Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one comes back to thank him. Jesus says to the man “Get up and go on your way; your  faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). It’s the same word root in the original language as ‘be saved’ in our passage for today. And of course in our passage the immediate context is healing; in Acts 4:9 Peter says “If we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed…”, and the word used in the original Greek for ‘healed’is the same as ‘saved’. So we could translate 4:9 as ‘how this man has been saved’. In other words, the kind of salvation most immediately in view in this passage is healing, not dying and going to heaven.

Okay – before we go any further, let’s remind ourselves of the big picture, because our reading gave us only a part of it. This story takes place not long after the day of Pentecost. There’s great excitement in Jerusalem; the disciples are claiming that Jesus has been raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit has come, thousands of people have become believers, and there’s a real sense of the presence of the risen Jesus in the disciple community, even though he can’t be seen.

One day Peter and John go up to the temple for the daily prayer service. They enter by a gate called the Beautiful Gate, and sitting there is a man who has been lame from birth; he’s shouting out, asking people for money. Peter says to him “I have no silver and gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (3:6). He takes his hand and helps him up, and the man’s feet and ankles are strengthened and he starts walking and jumping and praising God.

All the people see the man, and they recognize him, and they’re full of awe and amazement.  A crowd gathers, and Peter immediately speaks to them. He makes it quite clear that this is not due to any power of their own. No, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has glorified his servant Jesus – the one they had rejected. They had asked for a murderer to be released to them and killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead. The resurrection proves that Jesus is not only the true Messiah – he’s also the true prophet Moses promised, the one God would send to speak to the people on his behalf. It’s in the name of this Jesus – the true prophet, the true Messiah - that this man has been healed. So Peter invites the people to repent and turn to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and what he delightfully calls ‘times of refreshing’ from God.

At this point the Temple authorities arrive and promptly arrest Peter and John, ‘much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead’ (4:2). The next day they haul them up before the Sanhedrin – the Jewish ruling council, including Caiaphas the high priest and Annas his father-in-law – the very same council that a few weeks before had condemned Jesus to death. The Council asks them by what power or authority they have done this deed - by which they mean ‘Who do you think you are, preaching and healing our peoplein our Temple?’ Peter replies again that “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (4:10). “There is salvation…” (deliverance, healing) “…in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (4:12).

The next verse is interesting: ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus’ (4:13). But the man who had been healed was standing before them too – no one could deny that fact – and so all they could do was let Peter and John off with a strict warning – “No more preaching in the name of Jesus!” But Peter replied immediately, “You must judge whether it’s right for us to obey you rather than God. As for us, we can’t stop talking about what we’ve seen and heard”. After they were released they went back to the other disciples, and they all prayed to God to give them boldness to preach the Gospel, while he kept on doing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. The answer they received was a repeat of Pentecost – the house was shaken as if by a violent wind and ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (4:31).

So what’s going on in this story?

Firstly, let’s be clear: for Luke, this story is a continuation of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. This healing of a lame man was exactlythe kind of thing that Jesus had done. And Peter had done it in the waythat Jesus did it! He hadn’t prayed to God that the man would be healed. Rather, in what appears to be perfect trust in God, he’d simply commanded the man in the name of Jesus to rise up and walk, and then lifted him to his feet. And the man had been healed, and everyone who saw it was ‘filled with wonder and amazement’.

The people would have seen the connection right away. “That prophet from Nazareth who we crucified a few weeks ago – he used to do this kind of thing, didn’t he? Now his followers are doing it in his name!” The leaders make the same connection in 4:13: ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed…’ (there’s that word again!) ‘…and recognized them as companions of Jesus’. This is the power of the resurrection of Jesus: this band of ordinary, uneducated followers of Jesus continues to do and say things that remind people of what Jesus himself had said and done.

We have to be careful about applying this to our own situation today, because, quite frankly, very few Christians seem to have been given the power to do what Peter did: to speak a word of declaration in the name of Jesus, which instantly heals a person who has been lame from birth. We do hear of these things from time to time, but they are rare. But if the resurrection of Jesus is true, then it is absolutely essential that the life of the Christian community – the Church – reminds people of the life of Jesus. The love of Jesus needs to be tangible among us, so that people can see it in concrete ways. As John says in his first letter: ‘No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us’ (1 John 4:12).

Is this true for the Church today? To be frank again, there are a lot of things done in the name of Jesus today that seem totally contrary to the teaching and example of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, Christians have blessed weapons of war. In the name of Jesus, Christians have given support to authoritarian governments – whose leaders live in power and luxury and do all they can to keep the poor in their place. In the name of Jesus, Christians have taken children away from their parents, stripped them of their language and culture and tried to remake them in their own image.

So what would it take in our Christian community here, for people on the outside to see the things we do together, and be amazed, and recognize us as companions of Jesus? Well, you might be surprised to know that this is already happening. People are already commenting on the practical love that happens here in this community. But let’s press on, and never tire of asking ourselves the question “What can we do to be more like Jesus? How do we put the two great commandments into practice – loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbour as ourselves – so that people have a sense that Jesus is alive, and present among us?

I’ll tell you one of the answers to that question: The Jesus of the gospels is constantly spreading the good news of the kingdom of God and calling people to believe in him. And this is what Peter and John were doing in this story. Having healed the lame man in the name of Jesus, they then told the crowd boldly that Jesus was alive and was the true anointed king sent by God to bring salvation to everyone. So if we want to be like Jesus, we will also be spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God and inviting others to put their faith in him and follow him.

Note that this is not about spreading a religious system. The Temple was a very elaborate religious system, built at huge expense by Herod the Great. Every day at the Temple prayers and sacrifices were offered. Sinners came to receive forgiveness for their sins. People came to pray for God’s help. Money changers changed the unclean Roman and Greek coins into good Jewish money so that sacrificial animals could be bought. Priests and scribes instructed the people in the name of God. It was a splendid system and no doubt Annas and Caiaphas were proud of it.

Except for this: outside this temple, at the Beautiful Gate, a beggar had been sitting for a lifetime, and the religious system had been unable to help him. Religious systems are like that: over time, they tend to take on a life of their own, entirely separate from the power and love of God. And then along comes a prophet, a rabble-rouser, a person who claims God has spoken to them. Do the leaders like this? They do not! This man is threatening their authority! He’s misleading the people! We must do away with him! Nevertheless, it’s this man, not the leaders, who seems to be able to heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, and make the lame walk.

So spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God isn’t about spreading the Anglican brand name. It’s not about ‘my God is better than your God’. It’s about the one shining fact that the New Testament proclaims from start to finish: ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

This is not about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell – we can leave that issue in the hands of a just and loving God. It’s about the fact that the same God who has spoken to everyone in every age through wise teachers and prophets has chosen at one point in history to come among us as one of us, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. So if we want to see the face of God and hear the word of God most clearly, it’s to Jesus that we must come.

Note: the word of God that we hear from Jesus will not always be a comfortable word for his followers! In one place in the gospels Jesus warns his disciples that because they have heard his teaching and come to know God’s will, the consequences for them if they don’t put it into practice will be much more severe. In other words, as C.S. Lewis once put it, ‘Christians are playing for higher stakes!’ And let’s not forget that in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, there were surprises about who turned out to be a sheep and who turned out to be a goat.

So as followers of Jesus we need to be content to leave the issue of people’s eternal destiny in the hands of a just and loving God. But as followers of Jesus, we’re also called to be obedient to his command that we share the good news of the Kingdom at every possible opportunity and invite people to become his disciples. Through him the salvation – the forgiveness, the healing, the deliverance – of God is poured out on all people. Like Peter and John, we get to be part of that amazing story. And two thousand years later, we’re still doing it, because we believe that Jesus is alive and that in his name everyone can receive salvation, and wholeness, and life in all its fulness.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events April 23rd to April 29th, 2018

April 23rd, 2018
Office is closed
April 24th, 2018
11:00am Holy Communion @ Rutherford Retirement Residence
April 25th, 2018 
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
April 26th, 2018
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
10:00am Set up for World Vision Leader’s Forum
6:00pm – 9:00pm Rental
April 27th, 2018 
9:30am – 12:30pm World Vision Leader’s Forum @ church 
1:00pm Clean up after Leader’s Forum
6:00pm Friday Night Church
April 28th, 2018 
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
April 29th, 2018 (5th Sunday of Easter)
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion, youth/child led service & Sunday School

Join us for our next Friday Night Church on April 27th from 6pm to 8pm. This is a family friendly evening which includes a meal, story/songs/activities/prayer and then hot chocolate. There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. For more information, please contact Melanie at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com, or 780-437-7231.

Daytime Lectionary Bible Study from 2pm – 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoons @ the church. Please drop in if you can!

St. Margaret’s is privileged to host the World Vision Church Leaders Forum on Friday April 27th from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. There is going to be some set up (moving chairs around) and then take down required to host this event. If you are able to help set up on Thursday April 26th at 10am, or to help with take down on Friday April 27th at 1pm, please let Melanie know.

This month, a new NRSV Large-Print Text Bible is being printed by Cambridge. St. Margaret’s would like to purchase some of these to use for various Bible study groups. The cost is approximately $80 per Bible. If you would like to contribute to the cost of these, please include this in your offering marked ‘Bibles’.

What’s the next step in St. Margaret’s building redevelopment plan? We are ready to move forward and need your input!! PLEASE plan to join us for an informal discussion after church on Sunday May 27th. More information will be sent out the beginning of May.

Social Justice Workshop, ‘Jesus Shaped Justice’, June 2nd @ 9am at St. Faith’s Anglican Church.  Are you currently involved in social justice ministries, or want to become more involved? Join the Diocese of Edmonton Social Justice Committee for this planning workshop with guests Bishop Jane Alexander, Jim Burnett and keynote speaker Gary St. Amand, executive director of the Bissell Centre. The workshop is free however you need to register by email at socialjustice@edmonton.anglican.org. There is a $10 charge for lunch. See the bulletin board for more information.

Save the Date for St. Margaret’s annual church picnic at the home of Lorne and Beryl Rice – Saturday June 16th after 3pm. Watch for more information to come.



A note from the Rector, the Rev. Tim Chesterton, regarding water damage in his office

Hi Folks. This is to let you know that due to recent water damage in my basement office at the church, I have now moved all my books to my house. Since I need to be with my books when I am preparing sermons, studies etc., I will be spending a lot more time in the foreseeable future working at home . Messages left for me at the church will be answered as promptly as possible.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What Does the Resurrection Mean? (a sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter on Acts 2:36-41)

We have an embarressing largesse of materials to help us piece together the movements of the apostle Peter from the Thursday evening of the Last Supper to the day of Pentecost seven weeks later. He’s mentioned in all four of the gospels and the Book of Acts, and even though these eyewitness accounts don’t agree in all the details, the general outline is pretty clear. I want to start this morning by just reminding you of the gist of that story, because it bears on our reading from Acts today and the things I want to say about it.

First, we need to remember the extravagent vow that Peter made on Thursday evening. At the last supper Jesus shocked all his disciples by foretelling that one of them would betray him. But he didn’t stop there; he said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’…Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not”. Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times”. But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you”’ (Mark 14:27, 29-31).

We all know what came of that vow. Let’s give credit where credit is due: Peter did better than all the rest of the male disciples. In the garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus was arrested, everyone else ran away in fear. But Peter followed at a distance; he followed all the way to the courtyard of the high priest’s house, where the hearings were taking place. There his courage failed him. He was recognized by some of the people there, and challenged three times: “You’re also one of this man’s disciples!” And each time he denied it: “I am not!” And then he realized what he had done, and he went out and wept.

That’s the last we hear of Peter until Easter Sunday morning, but it’s not hard for me to fill in the blanks. Peter had made his promise before all the other disciples; they had all heard him. I’m guessing that after his failure, it took a long time for him to work up the courage to rejoin the others. Maybe he hoped they hadn’t heard what had happened in the high priest’s house, but he couldn’t be sure. Likely it was only the fact that they had failed just as spectacularly as he had, that made it possible for him to show his face among them.

And so comes Sunday morning. They’re all together in the upper room when a knock comes on the door. I can imagine their fear; is is the police, come to arrest them? But no, it’s Mary Magdalene, and maybe also some of the other women; they’ve been to the tomb and found it empty, and a young man or an angel has told them that he has risen. Peter and John look at each other, and they’re off. John’s younger and he runs a little faster; Mary Magdalene follows behind. John gets to the tomb, looks in and sees that the body is gone, although the linen cloths it was wrapped in are still there. Peter arrives and goes boldly into the tomb. They see, and they remember what Jesus said, but they go back to the upper room. Mary stays, and so she’s the first one to see the risen Lord alive. Back she goes to the upper room again, and we can imagine the glow on her face as she says, “I’ve seen the Lord!”

Later that afternoon, Jesus appears to Peter by himelf. We have absolutely no idea what happened at that meeting, because it isn’t described for us in the gospels; it’s only mentioned briefly in Luke, when the couple who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus come back with the news that he is alive. But the others aren’t surprised, because they’re saying to each other, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34).

I would love to know what happened at that meeting! Did Peter apologize and ask Jesus’ forgiveness? Did Jesus speak individual words of forgiveness to him, “Peace be with you?” We don’t know. But we do know that after the two from Emmaus came in, suddenly Jesus was standing among them, as we heard in our gospel reasing for today. He gave his greeting of peace; he showed them his hands and side. And just in case they thought they were seeing a ghost or spirit, he ate a piece of fish in their presence.

And so the resurrection stories continue. There’s another one mentioned in John’s gospel; it takes place back in Galilee, at the lake. The disciples have gone fishing and caught nothing, even though they’ve worked all night. In the dim light of morning they see a figure by the lakeside; “Any fish, boys? Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some”. So they do, and immediately their nets fill up. No doubt Peter and Andrew remember the same thing happening right back at the beginning of the gospel story when Jesus first called them; John was there too, and he realizes who it is by the lakeshore: “It’s the Lord!” Peter is so excited that he jumps into the lake and swims to shore, and sure enough, it isthe Lord!

After breakfast Jesus does some personal mnistry with Peter. Peter had denied three times that he even knew Jesus; now Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” And when Peter affirms his love, Jesus gives him a new commission – “feed my sheep” – as well as warning him that one day he will pay the ultimate price for his commitment to Jesus. ‘After this he said to him, “Follow me”’ (John 21:19).

And so Peter is again the leader of the little apostolic band. After Jesus ascends into heaven, Peter is the one who presides when the goup chooses another person to take the place of Judas. The disciples heard Jesus’ command to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit, and so they do. And on the Day of Pentecost Peter and his friends receive the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary way. They hear a sound from heaven like a hurricane. They see a vision of little tongues of fire resting on the head of each believer. And then their mouths are opened and they begin to speak about the mighty acts of God in languages they haven’t learned!

A crowd gathers – some say “They’ve been drinking, that’s for sure!” And so Peter is the one to step forward. He points out an old prophecy in the book of Joel; in the last days God will pour out his Spirit on everyone – not just leaders and prophets, but young and old, men and women, slave and free. That’s what’s happening here, Peter says; these are the days Joel was talking about.

Then he reminds them of the story of Jesus, and especially how ‘you’ - that is, the leaders and the crowd) - crucified him, but God then vindicated him by raising him up. Now he’s been exalted to the throne of heaven and he’s poured out the Holy Spirit on ordinary people – not just prophets and priests, but fishermen and tax collectors, men and women, slaves and free.

I find it helpful to remember that this event takes place only seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, it’s still news! Peter’s still waking up in the morning and pinching himself to see if he’s dreaming! And so when he talks to people about the gospel, he goes straight to the resurrection! It’s only in the light of the resurrection that everything else makes sense to him!

But he’s had seven weeks to think about it, and he’s begun to realize what it means and why it’s so important. Look at today’s passage from Acts, which comes from the end of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. After describing the resurrection of Jesus and quoting the Old Testament scriptures, Peter says, “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

This is the first thing the resurrection means: it means that Jesus’ claims are true.The Messiah is the king God is sending to set his peope free and usher in the reign of God on earth. Many people in the first century A.D. came claiming to be the Messiah; they raised armies, rebelled against the Romans, and all of them were wiped out and forgotten. And for forty-eight hours, it looked like Jesus was going to be just another like them. Certainly when the disciples saw him die, they must have begun to doubt. The Messiah’s supposed to win victories over God’s enemies! He’s not supposed to be killed by them!

But the resurrection changed all this. God had vindicated Jesus! Jesus had loved his enemies, prayed for those who hated him, given himself over to death and trusted that his Father would not abandon him – and God had come through for him in an extraordinary way.

‘God has made him both Lord and Messiah’ (2:36). As I’ve said many times before, ‘Lord’ was one of the official titles of the Roman emperor. If one of Jesus’ apostles stood up today and said, “God has made him leader of the free world, this Jesus whom you crucified”, everyone would know which particular political leader they were talking about! Caesar was the most powerful leader in the world at that time, but Jesus is above him. He’s above every rival authority, every president, every tyrant, every business leader, every celebrity. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel he says to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

So today, two thousand years later, the resurrection means that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. We Christians believe that God is gathering together a new people, a people who acknowledge and confess that Jesus is Lord, and commit to being his citizens and living by the laws of his Kingdom. We refuse to let any other Lord usurp his position. He comes first. We believe that he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. And so we believe that our response to him matters. Following him isn’t just a matter of adding a few Sunday mornings a year to our busy social schedule. It’s about totally reshaping our lives around his leadership. That’s the first difference the resurrection makes.

Here’s the second thing. In verse 38 Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. The resurrection means that our sins can be forgiven. Why? Because before he died, Jesus prayed for those who executed him: “Father, forgive them”. That might just have been a nice inspirational quote if death had been the end for Jesus. But death was not the end; God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

Think of those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). We can imagine the disciples shaking their heads; “Is he comparing himself with an animal sacrifice? How weird is that?” But after the resurrection it was no longer weird. We’re told in several places that Jesus explained to them all the Old Testament scriptures concerning himself. No, this death was not an accident; it was the ultimate example of how God treats his enemies: loving and forgiving them. The resurrection validates all this.

If I was Peter, I’d have been particularly interested in this. After all, he had failed Jesus spectacularly! He must have thought that any hope he might have of further ministry for Jesus was over, dead and gone, buried in the tomb with Jesus. But now Jesus is raised, and his words are not “You really blew it, didn’t you?” but “Peace be with you”. 

What about you and me? We’re ordinary, fallible human beings. We’ve all got things we’re ashamed of – words we’ve said or left unsaid, actions we’ve done and left undone. But the resurrection tells us that love wins over hate, mercy triumphs over judgement. You can come – I can come – all who are willing to repent and believe can come and ask for forgiveness, and receive it. And then, of course, we’re commanded to pass it on to others too.

One more thing. The resurrection not only means that Jesus’ claims are true and that our sins can be forgiven; it means we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

This is a big deal. Nowadays people tend to believe that priests and ministers get a special dose of the Holy Spirit that’s not available to everyone else. In Old Testament times the Spirit was given to special people – prophets, kings, priests – but not to everyone. That’s why the prophecy Peter quoted from Joel on the Day of Petnecost was so important: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those  days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy’ (Acts 2:17-18).

Please don’t miss how radical this was. Women were not usually seen as spiritual leaders; slaves would not have been allowed to speak in the assembly; old people were venerated but young people would not generally be respected in the same way. But now all these groups are included in this radical new vision. Every single believer will receive the gift of God’s Spirit. All of you here – every one of us – no matter what gender we are, no matter how rich or poor we are, no matter how old or young we are – every one of us is offered the joy of having God live in us by his Holy Spirit, and so we will be able to speak in his name.

That’s what was happening on the Day of Pentecost. Please don’t think of Pentecost as being the day when twelve venerable old bishops received the Holy Spirit! These are uneducated Galilean fishermen, people who would never have gotten a look in when the priests were discussing the scriptures. And let’s not forget the women! Acts chapter one says that there were about a hundred and twenty disciples of Jesus in the gathering, and in thst group were ‘certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1:14). I’m guessing Mary Magdalene - the first witness of the resurrection – would have been there, and Mary and Martha of Bethany too.

Peter explained the coming of the Holy Spirit in his sermon: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, (Jesus) has poured out this that you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Jesus is risen, he has the place of authority in heaven, and as the King of all Kings he can give kingly gifts to his people. Chief among those gifts is the gift of the Hoy Spirit.

So let me announce to you again the good news that we have received. We humans rejected Jesus and crucified him – surely the most heinous act we’ve ever committed. But God rejected our rejection; God forgave us our sins and raised Jesus from the dead. God has made him Lord of all, high above any other power and authority; Jesus is the true Lord of heaven and earth. And this is good news for us, because his character hasn’t changed: the Lord of heaven and earth is still loving and merciful, loving and forgiving his enemies and his weak and fallible friends. So whatever you’ve done that troubles your conscience, don’t let it keep you away. Come and ask for forgiveness, and receive it with joy. And then come and pray again to be filled with the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events April 16th to April 22nd, 2018

April 16th, 2018
Office is closed
April 18th, 2018 
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
7:15pm Vestry meeting @ church
April 19th, 2018
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
11:30am  Lunch Bunch @ church
April 21st, 2018 
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
April 22nd, 2018 (4th Sunday of Easter)
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Lunch Bunch is this Thursday April 19th at the church beginning at 11:30am with lunch starting at 12:00 noon. Everyone is welcome to join us for this time of fellowship. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer. For more information please contact the church at 780-437-7231 or stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

Daytime Lectionary Bible Study from 2pm – 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoons @ the church. Please drop in if you can!

Join us for our next Friday Night Church on April 27th from 6pm to 8pm. This is a family friendly evening which includes a meal, story/songs/activities/prayer and then hot chocolate. There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. For more information, please contact Melanie at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com, or 780-437-7231.

St. Margaret’s is privileged to host the World Vision Church Leaders Forum on Friday April 27th from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. There is going to be some set up (moving chairs around) and then take down required to host this event. If you are able to help set up on the morning of Thursday April 26th, or to help with take down on the afternoon of Friday April 27th, please let Melanie know.

This month, a new NRSV Large-Print Text Bible is being printed by Cambridge. St. Margaret’s would like to purchase some of these to use for various Bible study groups. The cost is approximately $80 per Bible. If you would like to contribute to the cost of these, please include this in your offering marked ‘Bibles’.

Congratulations to the children who have completed their Life in the Eucharist course, and to those who will be receiving their First Communion on Sunday.




Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sermon for April 8th on Acts 4:32-35

Today is the second Sunday of the season of Easter. In the Christian church Easter isn’t just one day to sing Easter hymns and eat chocolate. Easter is a season and it lasts for fifty days, from Easter Sunday to the Day of Pentecost. This is the longest special season in the entire Church year, and it bears witness to the fact that the Resurrection of Jesus is the most important part of our faith, the part that everything else is based on. So we celebrate it for fifty days, reading the scriptures and singing the hymns and praying the prayers that testify to our belief that Jesus is alive and that he is Lord of all.

Easter is also a traditional time for baptisms. The early Christians of course were all converts; they could remember a time when they did not know the light of Jesus. They used dramatic language for their conversion; they said they’d passed from darkness to light, or that their old life had ended on the cross with Jesus, and their new life had been born out of his empty tomb. And so they went down into the waters of baptism – like a drowning in the death of Jesus – and they came up again, wet through and gasping for breath, beginning a brand new life as followers of their risen Lord.

Baptism in the early church was never just about individuals in isolation. It certainly had absolutely nothing to do with giving a baby a name and then sending her on her way to live a life completely separate from the Christian fellowship of the church. We Christians believe that our faith is a community thing: ‘Webelieve in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord’. We pray a community prayer: ‘OurFather in heaven, hallowed be your name…’. We’re told to love one another, encourage one another, be patient with one another, and lay down our lives for one another. None of this makes any sense if we never take part in the community. Baptism is about joining the family of Jesus.

What’s that family all about?

In the Book of Acts, Doctor Luke – the author – gives us some lovely little summaries of the life of the early church. I want to be careful about using the word ‘church’ here, because when we hear it we think about buildings, and bishops, and robes, and organizations, and professional clergy, and so on. But the early church had none of that: no buildings, no professional employees, no canons and constitutions, no five-year plans. The early church was a loose association of little house churches, scattered around the eastern Mediterranean. Almost all their missionaries and pastors were volunteers, and everyone who joined it did so because they’d been gripped by something amazing – something that had changed their lives and given them a joy and hope they’d never imagined possible. That joy and hope had taken over the central place in their lives. It was more important than their homes and possessions, more important than their families and friends, more important than worldly success or wealth, more important even than life or death.

What was that ‘something’? Peter announced it on the Day of Pentecost, to a crowd that probably included people who had taken part in the murder of Jesus a few weeks before: “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). 

In other words: ‘You thought he was a madman, a religious fanatic, a blasphemer, a man who was leading people astray. And you thought he was a danger to the Roman empire with all his talk about the Kingdom of God coming in power. So you joined together, you high priests and leaders of Israel; you got the Romans on your side, and you raised a gang of thugs, and you took him and crucified him. And you laughed at him while he was dying, and asked him where God was now, if God loved him so much. And then you watched as his loved ones put him in a tomb, and you posted a guard on the tomb, just to make sure nothing untoward happened.

‘We thought he was finished too. We’d followed him all the way from Galilee; we believed he was the King God was sending to set his people free. We were totally shattered when he was killed; we thought we’d been wrong about him. How could God allow the true Messiah, the true King, to be defeated? The only conclusion we could come to was that he’d been wrong, and we’d been wasting our time.

‘So we were ready to give up. But then on Sunday morning some of our women went to the tomb and found it empty. The body was gone! Not only that, but they said they’d seen a vision of angels who said he was alive! We didn’t believe them at first, but then one of them said she’d actually seen him. Later that day a few more of us saw him too; we couldn’t believe our eyes! That evening a group of us were all together in one place and he appeared to us, showed us the wounds in his hands and side, and told us he was sending us out, just as the Father had sent him.

‘And so it went on. Our friends kept seeing him; we never knew when he might show up. Sometimes we saw him in ones and twos. Once there were a group of five hundred of us at once. Sometimes we saw him in Galilee; other times back in Jerusalem. Those meetings went on for six weeks, until he told us they were going to come to an end; he was going to ascend to heaven to take the place of authority beside his Father, and he was going to send the Holy Spirit to give us power to be his witnesses and to tell the whole world that he is Lord of all’.

That’s what those early Christians experienced and believed. For the earliest ones, it was a matter of eyewitness testimony: they had seen the physical body of Jesus, raised from the dead. For those who came after, it was less clear-cut: they believed the evidence given them by the eyewitnesses, partly because they continued to see in the early church some of the miracles and healings that Jesus had performed. And when they committed themselves to Jesus, they knew within themselves that they had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to connect them with the risen Jesus.

What is this community that we’ve been baptized into? What’s it meant to be all about? Looking at our text for today from Acts 4:32-35, let me suggest three things:

First, even today, it’s a community that gives testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This is the defining truth of Christianity. Writing to the little Christian house churches in the Greek city of Corinth twenty-five years later, St. Paul put it like this: ‘If Christ has not been raised, our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Jesus has not been raised from the dead – if he is not alive today as Lord of all – then we’re wasting our time this morning. If all we’re about is the golden rule, then we don’t need to be Christians; even atheists can believe in the golden rule. It doesn’t define Christianity. Christianity is defined by the conviction that love is stronger than death: that Jesus loved his enemies and prayed for those who hated him, and after they killed him God vindicated him by raising him from the dead.

That means we’re people of hope. We’re people who have no need to fear death, because we know it’s only temporary. ‘Sleeping in Jesus’ – that’s what they called it in the early church! Sleep is temporary; the sleepers are going to wake up! The early Christians had seen one of them wake up – their beloved Lord Jesus Christ - and they had heard him promise that those who believed in him would live, even though they died. So we can face the moment of our death cheerfully, without fear, because we believe the promise Jesus made to us.

And this makes a difference in our daily lives. Because we believe in the resurrection we’re people of hope, and because we’re people of hope we don’t give up on hopeless people. Sometimes we feel hopeless ourselves, but we don’t even give up on ourselves! If God can raise people from the dead, then there is always hope in God. So we’re called to be a community of stubbornhope: never giving up on others, or ourselves, because God doesn’t give up on us.

This is a community that announces loud and clear to all the world that we believe Jesus is alive from the dead and Lord of all. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that this belief holds us together. Luke says in verse 32: ‘Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul’.

On Good Friday I felt this in a powerful way. I hope you were here on that day. If you weren’t, then do yourselves a favour and come next year! Toward the end of the service we brought in a wooden cross and stood it at the front here. Then we all came up and made a rough circle around the cross, fifty or sixty of us. Standing around the cross, we prayed our prayers for the whole world. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was close to tears in that moment. I have rarely felt the reality of the family of God so strongly as I did then. We were younger people and older people, long time members of this church and newer folks. Some raised as Anglicans, many not. Some better off, some not. Some politically liberal, some conservative. But at that moment, what we had together in Jesus was more important than anything that divided us. We were ‘one in heart and soul’.

We baptized Christians are meant to live this out. Being a Christian is not something you can do by yourself. It never has been. Jesus called people to become his disciples, and that meant they had to join a community. This community meets together to pray and learn and support each other. It’s not meant to be a community of strangers who nod at each other on Sunday and then go their separate ways. We’re called to get to know each other, to let our guard down, to offer help and accept help. One of the most common phrases in the New Testament is the phrase ‘one another’. And it doesn’t say ‘ignore one another’! No: ‘Love one another’. ‘Encourage one another’. ‘Be patient with one another’. ‘Bear with one another in love’.

So first, this is a community that announces to the world that we believe Jesus is alive from the dead and Lord of all. And second, this is a community that is called to be one in heart and soul. Third, this is a community of grace. The last phrase of verse 33 says ‘great grace was upon them all’.

There’s always a problem when you try to translate words from one language into another. There’s never an exact equivalent! But we do our best, and we have to remind ourselves that there’s more to Bible words than meets the eye. So ‘grace’ in Greek is ‘charis’. Sometimes it’s defined as ‘unconditional love’: love you don’t have to earn, don’t have to measure up to. You don’t have to deserve it; it comes to you as a free gift. Grace is a defining characteristic of God, and Jesus lived it out in his daily life. He didn’t reject sinners; he embraced them. He ate and drank with outcasts and spent time with people everyone else rejected. ‘Grace’, says Philip Yancey, ‘means that there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. God already loves you infinitely, and nothing will ever change that’.
So to say, ‘great grace was upon them all’ can mean ‘they were gripped by a sense of God’s indestructible, unconditional love for every single one of them – rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, men or women, holy people and less-than-holy people’. And that would be true.

But the word ‘charis’ is also connected to the idea of a gift – a free gift. And so you could also translate it as ‘generosity’. ‘Great generosity was upon them all’. In other words, they knew themselves to be the recipients of God’s generosity, and they also knew themselves to be called to be generous to one another.

This generosity was intensely practical. Luke says,
‘…no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among them, for 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’ (Acts 4:32b, 34-35).

Now, we should not take Luke totally literally here. These verses make it sound as if this was a rule among the early Christians: if you want to join our community, first of all you’ve got to sign over all your possessions to us. But even a glance at the next few verses shows that this isn’t strictly true. In the next chapter a couple named Ananias and Sapphira lie to the community; they sell some land and bring the money to the apostles, but they keep some of it back for themselves. Peter confronts Ananias about it. He says, ‘While the land remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?’ (5:4). In other words, ‘No one was forcing you to give everything, Ananias? So why did you lie and say you had?’

What is clear is that these early Christians sat lightly to their possessions, and made them available to one another, especially to the needy. In Acts 4:36-37 we read about a Christian called Joseph – the apostles gave him a nickname, ‘Barnabas’, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’ He’s listed here as an example of what those early followers of the Way practiced; he was apparently a man of property, but he sold a field and brought the proceeds to the apostles, and they used it to care for the poor.

This of course is very consistent with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus told us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth. He told us to live simply and give to those who need help. Years later, when St. Paul was reflecting on this, he remembered the Old Testament story from the time of Moses, of how God provided bread for the people to eat in the wilderness. He took a scripture verse from that time and applied it to the little Christian community in Corinth: ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’ (Exodus 16:18). That’s the Christian ideal.

But it’s not a rule; it’s a freewill gift we offer to each other, and to our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world who suffer so much more than we do. In the same passage in 2 Corinthians Paul says, ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Let’s sum this up. We gather together this morning as a community of baptized Christians. This morning we will baptize a new member, Shiloh. She’s only a year old and has no idea what’s going on today, but her parents and godparents know what’s going on. They know that this isn’t just something magical we’re doing for her. This is about the grace of God coming into her life, giving her what she needs to grow as a follower of Jesus and a part of this community of St. Margaret’s church.

This is a community that ‘gives testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’. We believe that he is alive and that he is Lord of all. No other Lord can compete with him – no president, no king or prime minister, no celebrity or business leader or media personality. The last word goes to our Lord Jesus. He is alive, and so there’s no need to fear.

Second, this is a community that is united by our belief in the risen Jesus. There are plenty of other things we’re divided about, but on this one thing we are united, or should be anyway: we believe that Jesus is alive and has given us his Spirit, and the Spirit draws us together as one. We are ‘of one heart and soul’.

Third, this is a community marked by great grace, or great generosity. We’re thankful for God’s generosity to us, and we’re learning every day to be generous to one another, and to let others be generous to us. Our goal ought to be these simple words of Luke: ‘There was not a needy person among them’ (v.34). We’re not there yet, because we’re not fully converted yet. Some of us would have to be honest and say that sometimes we don’t even want to be there yet! But then we come together again, and we hear the words of Jesus speaking to our hearts and we know what we’re being called to: a life of joyful generosity.

This is what it means to be people of the Resurrection. This is what it means to be baptized Christians. This is what you sign up for when you get baptized, or when you bring a child to be baptized. May this be true for us flawed and imperfect followers of Jesus at St. Margaret’s in 2018, just as it was true for the flawed and imperfect followers of Jesus in Jerusalem in the early 30s A.D. Amen.