Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sermon for Lent 3: John 4:5-42

Thirsty for God

Last year in this congregation we raised the money to drill three deep water wells for villages in West Africa. In late September Willard Metzger, director of church relations for World Vision, visited us and explained to us the significance of these wells. In villages with no wells of their own, the women sometimes spend practically their entire lives walking back and forth between their homes and the nearest supply of fresh water, sometimes a distance of several miles. It isn’t possible in one trip to carry enough water to cook the evening meal; two or three trips a day are necessary.

Obviously in a community with no well of its own, all the fresh water for drinking, cooking and washing has to be carried from somewhere else. The scarcity of the water has a direct negative impact on diet and health. But what a difference when a local deep water well is drilled! The plentiful supply of fresh water not only has an immediate positive effect on the physical health of the community, but on the quality of family life as well; when people don’t have to spend so much time walking to get water, there is time for so many other family activities which weren’t even imagined before.

Water is essential for life. For people who live in places where it is scarce, their entire lives become consumed with the skills for searching for it, finding it, and transporting it. Behind every waking moment there is this nagging worry: “Will we be able to find water?” Not surprisingly, in the lands of the Bible, where there is often a scarcity of water, it became a powerful symbol for true spirituality, for the reality of a living relationship with the one true God.

Today’s Gospel reading is the well known story of the woman at the well. Jesus met her in Sychar in the territory of Samaria. Samaria was located in central Palestine, between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north. Historically this was the heart of the old kingdom of Israel, and when that kingdom had been destroyed in the eighth century B.C., the King of Assyria had deported many of the local inhabitants and brought in foreigners to take their place. These foreigners had married into the local population, and the result was the Samaritans. Their religion was a blend of Old Testament Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. The Jews of Jerusalem looked down on them as half-breeds who didn’t follow the pure religion of Moses, and there was a lot of bad blood between the two groups.

It seems such a simple thing, for Jesus to sit down and have a conversation with this Samaritan woman, but in fact he had to hurdle at least three barriers in order for it to happen. The first was the one we’ve already mentioned, between Jews and Samaritans. The second was a male/female barrier: in Jesus’ time, a man and a woman who were not married to each other just didn’t speak to each other in public; it was very questionable behaviour. But as Jesus is sitting down by the well in the heat of the day, a woman comes up with a water jar on her head, and Jesus starts a conversation with her.

The audience who first heard this story would have been suspicious about that woman right away. Why was she coming for water at noon? Respectable people were all off having their siestas at that time of day! Water jars were filled in the morning and the evening; why wasn’t she coming at the usual time? Was she being ostracized or something? The original audience wouldn’t have been surprised at all to find out that this woman’s sexual life was in disarray – married five times, and now living common-law with someone. So this is a third barrier Jesus is crossing: he, a respectable rabbi, a ‘holy man’ if you like, is chatting with someone who was looked down on as a sinner.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman then proceed to have a conversation about what he calls ‘living’ water. ‘Living water’ was a figure of speech; it meant water bubbling up from a spring, in contrast to dead, stagnant water of the sort you might find in a cistern. That old stuff isn’t much good, Jesus says to the woman: you can drink it if you want, but you’ll soon want another drink! But the living water – ah, now, that’s a different story! “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (13-14). Obviously Jesus is talking in very powerful metaphors here – but metaphors for what?

I think that when Jesus came to live among us as one of us, the last thing he had in mind was to create yet another religious system. ‘Religion’ so often deteriorates into a sort of control mechanism to try to domesticate a relationship with the living God. ‘Religion’ is all about holy places, holy people, holy rituals, and so on. ‘Religion’ said that Jesus and this Samaritan woman should not be speaking, because she was a Samaritan and he was a Jew, and because she was a woman and he was a man, and because she was a sinner and he was a rabbi. ‘Religion’ said that it was a really important issue whether you worshipped God on Mount Gerazim, as the Samaritans said, or in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, as the Jews said.

‘Religion’ still does the same kind of thing today. It assumes that some places are holier than others, so churches are houses of God and if you want to meet God you need to go there. In fact, some churches are especially holy, so you go on pilgrimages to ancient Celtic shrines and old European cathedrals; or, in other traditions, you go on pilgrimage to Mecca or to ancient druid shrines in Britain. In religion, you can’t meet God in the middle of your ordinary life; you have to go off somewhere different to find him.

Religion also assumes that some people are holier than others. Priests and pastors obviously have the inside track, and as for bishops and archbishops, they’re even better! There’s a story in the Old Testament about how the people saw all the fire and thunder on Mount Sinai, where God lived, and they were afraid and said to Moses, “You go up there and meet him for us! Then come down and tell us what he said, and we’ll be sure to do it!” That’s such a common attitude, especially amongst religious people – get the professional religionist to speak to God on our behalf, so that we won’t have to go to all that trouble ourselves.

‘Religion’ assumes that some people start at a disadvantage – in our gospel for today, the Samaritans, the women, and the particularly sinful. So religion can’t understand someone like Jesus who hangs around with all the wrong people – tax collectors, prostitutes, and so on. Doesn’t he understand how dangerous that is? They’re going to drag him down to their level! Or even worse, they might get the idea that God values them every bit as much as a Pharisee or a chief priest!

So I don’t think Jesus came to make us more religious; in fact, I think he came to break down the barriers between religion and ordinary life, so that the living water of true spirituality could flow out into every part of our lives. He came so that every human being could have within them ‘a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (v.14); he came so that every human being, wherever they worshipped God, could do so ‘in spirit and truth’ (v.24).

What is this ‘spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ that Jesus wants to give to everyone who comes to him? A few chapters later in John, we read these words:
‘On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’”. Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive’ (7:37-39a).
Connecting these two passages together, we can find an answer to our question: the spring of water is the Holy Spirit, who comes to live in each of us.

In the old religious approach to God, if you wanted to meet God you had to go to a temple, because temples were the places where God lived. But Jesus turns the whole thing around. Jesus doesn’t send you to a temple – Jesus makes you into a temple yourself! God doesn’t live in houses made by human hands; rather, God’s Holy Spirit comes to live in human beings, so that each of us becomes a temple, a place where God lives.

This of course was one of the things the Old Testament prophets had foretold. Joel says:
‘Then afterwards I will pour our my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit’ (Joel 2:28-29).
On the day of Pentecost this prophecy began to be fulfilled. One hundred and twenty ordinary followers of Jesus, not one of whom was a religious professional, were filled with the Holy Spirit in a dramatic explosion of praise and testimony. This was the thing that bystanders found so astonishing about the early church; ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed’ (Acts 4:13). Early Christianity was a lay-people’s movement: it didn’t depend on religious organization or ritual, but on the powerful experience of the Holy Spirit which each ordinary believer had received and was continuing to receive.

And those early Christians didn’t feel like they had to gather in holy places to meet God; rather, they were conscious that the Holy Spirit was joining them together into a holy community, so that any place they met became a holy place. That’s why the question of where we worship God is irrelevant. As Jesus says in verses 23-24, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. To worship God in truth is to worship him as he truly is, as he has been revealed to us in Jesus. And to worship him in spirit, or in the Spirit, means to have that well of living water bubbling up inside us, so that God the Holy Spirit living in us guides our words and actions in worship, so that the worship we offer is pleasing to the Father.

This sort of thing is truly contagious. Toward the end of today’s gospel, we read that the Samaritan woman went into Sychar and told a whole crowd of people about Jesus; “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” The people were intrigued by this story and came out to see Jesus for themselves, and so he stayed in their city for a couple of days. What was the result? ‘And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world”’ (42-43).

In other words, the Samaritans had moved on from having a second-hand faith to having a faith that was based on their own experience. They had moved on from being excited about the woman’s ‘spring of living water’, to experiencing their own ‘spring of living water’. Their ideas about God and Jesus were no longer based on hearsay, but on their own personal experience, and that experience led them to say, “He’s the Saviour of the world”. This is the promise that God holds out to every one of us: that we wouldn’t just know him by hearsay, but by our own personal experience.

So let me conclude by urging you not to be satisfied with those old stagnant cisterns. Jesus did not come to make us more religious; he came to fill us with his Holy Spirit. And as he reminded us in last week’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is not under our control; he’s like the wind, blowing where he wants to blow. All we can do is make up our minds to be satisfied with nothing less than his presence in our hearts, and then come to God in prayer and ask for the Spirit to be poured out among us.

We might have to wait for a while for that prayer to be answered. For some reason, the infilling of the Holy Spirit seems to be a blessing that we have to persist in prayer for. Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem after his ascension until they were clothed with the power from on high. They waited ten days, meeting constantly and praying together, until the Day of Pentecost when the blessing was given at last. Since then, many ordinary Christians have talked about having to keep on praying, waiting patiently, until at last they sensed the touch of the Holy Spirit. I have no idea why this is so. Perhaps God wants to know how serious we really are; perhaps he wants us to experience the desperation of spiritual thirst to the full, before we experience the living water of the Spirit.

I do know that while we’re waiting, there’s always a tendency to settle for less. There’s a tendency to pretend we have received what we asked for, and to go away with lowered expectations. There’s a tendency to take that empty place in us where the Spirit will live, and fill it with the stagnant water of religion. There’s a tendency to give up; ‘God obviously hasn’t noticed my prayer; there’s obviously no blessing of the Holy Spirit waiting for me’.

Don’t give up. Jesus encourages us in several places in the gospels to persist in prayer and not to get discouraged. And in Luke’s gospel he tells us that if we human beings, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13). So let us ask, and keep on asking, and not give up, until we too experience the quenching of our thirst, as Jesus gives to us ‘a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (John 4:14).


Monday, February 25, 2008

February 25th - March 2nd 2008

Monday, February 25th
Office Closed/ Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study (Contact Gladys Marshall )

Tuesday, February 26th
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’ #3 @ the Church

Thursday, February 28th
7-8 am - Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café. See Catherine Ripley for more information.
7-8 am - Men’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café. See Tim Chesterton for more information.

Sunday, March 2nd - Lent 4
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
12.00 pm - Prayer & Discussion on the 2008 Episcopal Election
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Sandy, Victoria, Andrew Ford
• Dave & Janet Fost
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Building & Maintenance Committee

St. Margaret’s News

Diocese of Edmonton 2008 Episcopal Election Candidates
Please pray for all of the candidates and for the Diocese. Links to information about the Nominees will be up shortly. This information is also up on the Diocese website, under the link “Episcopal Election”. The Search Committee will also be conducting video-interviews with all the candidates and will make DVD’s available to all the parishes.

The Rev. Wendy AINSWORTH
The Very Rev. Dr. Jane ALEXANDER
The Rt. Rev. David ASHDOWN
The Ven. Edward KING
The Rev. Darcey LAZERTE
The Rev. Dr. Mervyn MERCER
The Very Rev. Peter WALL

Prayer & Discussion on the 2008 Episcopal Election - On Sunday March 2nd after the 10.30 am service the Synod Delegates and anyone else interested in prayer and discussion about the upcoming Election on the March 8th are welcome to stay after the 10.30 am service. Please bring a bag lunch.


If you have anything you wish to add to the bulletin insert please contact Nicky at the church office before she prints the bulletins on Fridays.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sermon for Lent 2: John 3:1-17

Finding New Life

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘born-again Christian’? In your mind, does it have anything at all to do with following Jesus?

Back in the late 1970s the phrase 'born again' had a pretty high profile. Bob Dylan claimed that he had been 'born again'; Jimmy Carter was being described in the news as 'the born again president' and Billy Graham wrote a book entitled How to be Born Again. But I suspect that many Anglicans are suspicious of the phrase. An Anglican woman once said to me "I don't like born-again Christians!" I had to point out to her that according to Jesus there are no other kinds of Christians; after all, it was Jesus, not Billy Graham, who said "No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above" or "born again" (John 3:3) - the Greek phrase can mean either of those two expressions. So whatever the phrase 'born again' may turn out to mean, one thing we can say for sure on the authority of Jesus is that it isn't an option for Christians. Our only course of action will be to discover what it means, and then ask ourselves if we've experienced it for ourselves.

And that's where today's gospel reading can help us. As we look closely at this chapter we discover that in it Jesus is describing two kinds of religion. In the first, all the initiative comes from below, from human beings and their efforts. In the second, the emphasis is on God's action, God's initiative, and God's love. For want of better terms, we could roughly describe these two different approaches as 'Religion from below' and 'Life from above'. Let's take a closer look at them.

Let's start our thinking about religion from below by looking at Nicodemus. We need to say from the outset that Nicodemus was a very religious person. What can we find out about him in this text?

First, we discover that he was 'a Pharisee' (v.1). As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have believed that the Kingdom of God was coming - the day when God would set Israel free and show to all the nations that he alone was King. Nicodemus would have believed that the way to hasten that day was for all Israel to faithfully observe the Law of God. And so he would have done his best not only to observe the Law himself but to encourage others to do so: to fast, to pray three times a day, to give tithes to the temple and gifts to the poor, to keep the food laws and the sabbath regulations and so on.

A second thing we discover about Nicodemus is that he was 'a teacher of Israel' (v.10). He would have a good knowledge of the scriptures and the tradition of Israel, and people would have referred to him for answers to their questions.

A third thing we discover about Nicodemus is that he was a seeker. How do I know that? Well, let me ask you, why did he come to Jesus at night? Plenty of the Pharisees were coming to Jesus by day; they were watching and listening, even taking notes, so that they could catch him contradicting the Law. In general, these Pharisees were opposed to Jesus. Can we assume that Nicodemus took a different view? Had he begun to realize that even with all his devotion to the Law, he still hadn't found what he was looking for? Had he begun to believe that Jesus might even have some answers for him? But of course, if this were so, he would have been afraid of what his fellow Pharisees might say about him. So he came 'by night', in secret, to get the answers he was looking for.

Nicodemus’ story tells us that it's possible for a person to be devout in the practice of religion, to be a devoted student of scripture and respected for their knowledge of it, and still not to experience spiritual life in the true Christian sense of the word. How is this possible? Because, as Jesus says in today's Gospel, it's all from 'the flesh' - that is to say, it all comes from human initiative, human effort, and human wisdom. Nicodemus had devoted his entire life to this kind of thing, but had now begun to realize his deep inner hunger. I’m sure this is more common than we think. I’ve known many churchgoers in my years of ministry who, in moments of absolute honesty, have quietly said to me, “You know, I don’t think I really know God at all”. These folks are faithful in the performance of their religious duties, but inside they’re crying out, “There's got to be more to Christianity than this!” And of course they’re right - there is!

Let me be quite clear here. I’m not trying to discredit devout practices such as prayer, meditation on scripture, participation in Christian worship, and so on. All Christians are well-advised to learn to do these things. I’m simply saying that Nicodemus’ example shows us that it is possible to do them in a way that is all about human effort and human initiative, and not about God’s life and God’s free gift.

So having seen the shortcomings of the religion from below, let's go on to think about the life from above. Let me tell you about C.S. Lewis. This great Christian writer went through a time as an atheist when he was a young man. However, as he got older he started to think and read and ask questions, and he began to suspect that there might be something to Christianity after all. But at a certain point in his journey into the Christian faith he began to realize that someone else was involved in his search; it wasn't just about his thoughts and ideas, but about God's initiative as well. He wrote in a letter to a friend, ‘Instead of asking, “Will I adopt Christianity?” I've started wondering “Will Christianity adopt me?” In other words, I've realised that I'm not playing solitaire, but poker!’ And later on, reflecting on this process, he said “There's a lot of nonsense talked about ‘Man's search for God’; in my case, I might as well have talked about ‘the mouse's search for the cat’!”

One of the great differences between the ‘religion from below’ and the ‘life from above’ is that the ‘life from above’ is not based on human effort but on God's action. Look at our text again. In verse 6 Jesus says “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit”. All of Nicodemus’ religious activities are called ‘flesh’; they can't give birth to the life of the Spirit, but only more human life.

Let’s be clear what Jesus is saying here. The idea that a long process of purely human study and devotion will evolve into a genuine Christian experience of God is false. Why? Because the movement is all in the wrong direction. True spiritual life isn't us reaching up for God in human effort; it's God reaching down for us with a free gift of grace.

In verses 14 to 16 we discover that the life from above is about God’s action in Jesus. In the Old Testament there’s a story about how the Israelites were invaded by a plague of snakes, and many people died. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and hang it on a pole; all who looked at the snake were healed from the poison, and their lives were saved. Jesus refers to this story when he says “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” - on the Cross, that is – “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. So Jesus' death is seen here as a gift from God; all who ‘look to him’ are healed from sin and death and receive the gift of eternal life.

This passage also tells us that the life from above is about God’s action by the Holy Spirit. Jesus talks about the wind blowing wherever it chooses; you hear it, but you don't know where it comes from or where it's going; so it is, he says, ‘with everyone who is born of the Spirit’ (v.8). This new life is a gift from the Holy Spirit. You and I can’t make it happen; you can't give birth to yourself, and you can't give the new birth to yourself either. The Spirit is like the wind – he’s completely beyond our control.

So what can we do? We can ask for this new life as a gift; a gift that God is ready and willing to give to us.

How does he do that? By two very unlikely means - baptism and faith. Jesus says that we need to be born ‘of water and Spirit’ (v.5). Pouring water over someone isn’t magic - the power is in the promise of God that this water, poured over us in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, can become a way of God reaching into us and bringing a new life into being. The promise of Jesus is that all who believe and are baptized will be saved, and in the Book of Acts when a great crowd asks Peter what they should do he says to them, “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).

But it isn’t the pouring of water alone that saves us. The person coming to be baptized is asked to put their faith in Jesus so that the Holy Spirit can act in them. To believe in Jesus, to have faith in him, to trust him - they all mean the same thing in scripture. Just like a drowning person trusting a lifeguard to rescue them from deep water, I’m asked to trust Jesus to actually save me from my sin. Like a patient trusting a reliable doctor and acting on his or her instructions, I’m asked to trust Jesus’ teaching about how I should live, and put it into practice. Like a little child trusting that her Mom will always be there when she needs her, I’m asked to trust that Jesus will be with me each day to give me the strength I need for daily living.

For many of us who were brought up in Christian homes, coming to faith in Jesus is something that happens to us long after we were baptized as children. That was certainly true for me: baptized at six weeks old, I didn’t come to conscious personal faith in Jesus until thirteen years later on a Sunday evening in March of 1972 when I sat on my bed and said a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus. That prayer, in my view, completed the process that was begun at my baptism, the process of bringing me to a new birth into God’s kingdom.

I often think that this process of coming to faith in Jesus has three steps to it.

Step one comes when I say, “I cannot do it for myself”. Like Nicodemus, I realize that all my religious actions are getting me nowhere. I can’t connect with God the way I want to. I can’t get free of my bad habits. I can’t be the parent I want to be, and so on. In the language of the Twelve Steps of A.A., we ‘come to believe that we are powerless’.

Step two comes when I say, “Jesus can do it”. In him and in the gift of his Spirit, all that I need is available to me. Again, in A.A. language we ‘come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity’ - in our case, the power of Jesus and his Spirit.

Step three comes when I say, “I will come to Jesus and ask for it” - like the thief on the Cross, who turned and said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

What I have in mind is a prayer something like this: “Lord, I can't seem to make the Christian life happen on my own steam. Now I realize why that is - the Christian life is a gift from you, not something I live by my own unaided efforts. Please forgive me for trying to do it all by myself. Please give me this gift of eternal life from above; wash me clean from my sins and fill me with the power of your Holy Spirit”.

I believe that kind of prayer will delight the heart of God, and it is a prayer he will not fail to answer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

March Roster, 2008

March 2nd - Lent 4

Greeter/Sidespeople - Marshalls
Counter - E. Marshall/G. Leney
Reader & Psalm - C. Aasen
Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23
Lay Administrant - G. Hughes
2nd Administrant - E. Gerber
Intercessor - P. Leney
Lay Reader - D. MacNeill (John 9:1-41)
Altar Guild - 9am P. Major /10:30 G. Marshall
Prayer during - P. Major
Communion - M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor - K. Hughes
Sunday School - P. Rayment
Kitchen - R. Betty

March 9th - Lent 5

Greeter/Sidespeople - M. Lobreau
Counter - M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf
Reader & Psalm - N. Chesterton
Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130
Lay Administrant - M. Rys
2nd Administrant - L. Thompson
Intercessor - D. MacNeill
Lay Reader - E. Gerber (John 11:1-45)
Altar Guild - 9am P. Major /10:30 L. Schindel
Prayer during - K. Hughes
Communion - P. Major
Nursery Supervisor - M. Aasen
Sunday School - C. Ripley
Kitchen - M & A Rys

March 16 - Palm Sunday
Greeter/Sidespeople - Gerbers
Counter - C. Aasen/G. Hughes
Reader & Psalm - G. Hughes
Readings:Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11
Lay Administrant - D. Schindel
2nd Administrant - C. Aasen
Intercessor - D. MacNeill
Lay Reader - L. Thompson (Matthew 27:11-54)
Altar Guild - 9am M. Woytkiw /10:30 T. Wittkopf
Prayer during - K. Hughes
Communion - M. Chesterton
Nursery Supervisor - P. Leney
Sunday School - B. Rice
Kitchen - M. Chesterton

March 23rd - Easter Sunday - Baptisms - JOINT COFFEE

Greeter/Sidespeople - Schindels
Counter - D. Schindel/C. Aasen
Reader & Psalm - R. Betty
Readings: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4
Lay Administrant - E. Gerber
2nd Administrant - C. Aasen
Intercessor - L. Thompson (pages 155-6 only)
Lay Reader - D. MacNeill (John 20:1-18)
Altar Guild - 9am P. Major/10:30 L. Pyra
Prayer during - M. Chesterton
Communion - M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor - K. Hughes
Sunday School - N. Chesterton
Kitchen - D & A Wilson

March 30th - Easter 2

Greeter/Sidespeople - Hughes’
Counter - G. Hughes/T. Wittkopf
Reader & Psalm - E. Marshall
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9
Lay Administrant - M. Rys
2nd Administrant - D. Schindel
Intercessor - P. Leney
Lay Reader - L. Thompson (John 20:19-31)
Altar Guild - 9am M. Woytkiw /10:30 M. Lobreau
Prayer during - P. Major
Communion - E. Gerber
Nursery Supervisor - M. Aasen
Sunday School - S. Chesterton
Kitchen - S. Gerber

March Calendar, 2008

Regular Office Hours: Tuesday - Friday 9:00 am - Noon

Sunday, March 2nd - Lent 4
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class

Monday, March 3rd
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, March 4th
7.30pm - Simply Christian #4

Wednesday, March 5th
12-2.30 pm - Tim @ Deanery Clericus at St. Margaret’s

Thursday, March 6th
7-8am - Women’s & Men’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Saturday, March 8th
EPISCOPAL ELECTION AT CATHEDRAL

Sunday, March - Lent 5
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class

Monday, March 10th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, March 11th
11.15am - St Joseph’s Eucharist
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’ #5

Wednesday, March 12th
7.15 pm - Vestry @ St. Margaret’s

Thursday, March 13th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Friday, March 14th
6.30pm - Irish Supper Social @ Church

Saturday, March 15th
Tim’s Day Off

Sunday, March 16th - Palm Sunday
9am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Confirmation Class

Monday, March 17th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off.
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, March 18th
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’ #6

Thursday, March 20th - Maundy Thursday
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
11.30 am - Seniors Lunch
7.00 pm - Eucharist @ St. Margaret’s

Friday, March 21st - Good Friday
10.30 am - Good Friday Service

Saturday, March 22nd
Evening Youth Vigil and Sleepover

Sunday, March 23rd - Easter
9.00 am - Eucharist
9.45 am - JOINT COFFEE
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School & Baptisms

Monday, March 24th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Of
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, March 25th
7.30 pm ‘Simply Christian’ #7

Thursday, March 27th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Saturday, March 29th
Tim’s Day Off

Sunday, March 30th - Easter 2
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class #7

Monday, March 31st
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon

Monday, February 18, 2008

February 18th - 24th 2008

Monday, February 18th - Family Day
Office Closed/ Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study (Contact Gladys Marshall)

Tuesday, February 19th
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’ #2 @ the Church

Wednesday, February 20th
7.15 pm - Vestry @ the Church

Thursday, February 21st
7-8 am - Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café. See Catherine Ripley for more information.
7-8 am - Men’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café. See Tim Chesterton for more information.
11.30 am - Senior’s Lunch

Friday, February 22nd
7.30- 9.30pm - Christian Basics @ the Church

Saturday, February 23rd
9.30-5pm - Christian Basics @ the Church

Sunday, February 24th - Lent 3
9.00 am Eucharist
9.45 am JOINT COFFEE
10.30 am Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm Youth Confirmation Class @ the Pyra’s


GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
  • Joan Finlay
  • Sally Floden.
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Christian Basics Attendees

St. Margaret’s News

Alzheimer's Disease ' One Man's Experience with Early Onset ' At our Senior's Luncheon on Feb. 21st. our own Dave Fost will be speaking to us about Alzheimer's Disease . Dave does a lot of public speaking for The Alzheimer's Society and has consented to share his wealth of knowledge and personal journey with our group. Anyone interested in this subject is most welcome to join us at 11:30 A.M. that day. We only ask that you sign the ' sign-up sheet ' on the table in the foyer or call Pat Leney. Thank you.

Diocese of Edmonton 2008 Episcopal Election Candidates
Please pray for all of the candidates and for the Diocese. Links to information about the Nominees will be up shortly. This information is also up on the Diocese website, under the link “Episcopal Election”. The Search Committee will also be conducting video-interviews with all the candidates and will make DVD’s available to all the parishes.

The Rev. Wendy AINSWORTH
The Very Rev. Dr. Jane ALEXANDER
The Rt. Rev. David ASHDOWN
The Ven. Edward KING
The Rev. Darcey LAZERTE
The Rev. Dr. Mervyn MERCER
The Very Rev. Peter WALL

Prayer & Discussion on the 2008 Episcopal Election - On Sunday March 2nd after the 10.30 am service the Synod Delegates and anyone else interested in prayer and discussion about the upcoming Election on the March 8th are welcome to stay after the 10.30 am service. Please bring a bag lunch.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sermon for Lent 1: Matthew 4:1-11

Into the Desert with Jesus

Here in the province of Alberta, as you know, we are now in an election campaign. I had been looking forward to a nice peaceful Lent, and then the next thing I knew, the campaign signs were going up all over the city! ‘Vote for me!’ they say; ‘Time for a change!’ ‘I can make a difference if you elect me!’

Imagine with me, if you will, one of those candidates a few months from now. She’s a rookie candidate, and she’s been successful; she was elected with a comfortable majority. But success has brought some unexpected challenges, and now she needs to go off by herself for a couple of days to think about the direction she’s going in. Perhaps, like Jesus, she goes off to a lonely place where she can walk for miles and think things through.

After the writ was dropped, of course, she was concentrating on the campaign. She’d been overwhelmed by the nomination itself – being chosen by her party as their candidate. What a privilege! All the things she’d been longing to do for years were now within her grasp: just get elected, and she could change the world! And so she concentrated on getting elected: travelling around the riding, meeting people, making speeches, shaking hands, not enough sleep, too much coffee, and so on. And finally, on election night itself, came the sweet moment of victory.

But now she needs space to think, and as she walks through the woods by herself, looking inward, into her heart, she’s a little shocked at what she discovers. All her ideals are still there, of course - the dreams of making a difference, of changing the world. But there are other voices whispering in her mind, too.

‘This is just the beginning, you know. If you play your cards right, if you don’t get too hung up on a few abstract principles, if you get to know the right people, you could be a cabinet minister. You could have some real power, get your name in the newspapers, get interviewed on TV. And some of those government ministers live a pretty luxurious life, too – flying on private jets, enjoying expensive dinners and so on!’

‘What about that party activist you’ve never liked – you could get rid of him now. You’ve got the power. You don’t have to put up with difficult people any more; you’re in charge, and they’ll have to listen to you’.

And so, as she walks and thinks in that lonely place, our young politician has to decide: is she going to obey the voice of the high ideals that got her into it in the first place, or is she going to allow herself to be distracted by these other voices, the voices of self-interest and self-advancement?

I suspect that we all go through times when we realise that we need to reflect on the direction our life is going in. For some people, like our imaginary young politician, it might be the realisation that their high ideals are coming into conflict with some very real temptations. For other people it might be a crisis of some kind – the loss of a job or a marriage, or some sort of life-threatening illness. It might be a bereavement, or it might be just the deep nagging sense that all the success we’re experiencing is not giving us the sense of satisfaction and contentment we were hoping for. Whatever the cause, those times come to us as opportunities for reflection and self-examination, and if we use them properly, the Holy Spirit can work in a deep and wonderful way in us, bringing us closer to God and God’s will for us.

That’s the sort of thing that Jesus experienced when he went out into the desert for forty days. He knew his Father had commissioned him to do a job, for Israel and the whole world, and he needed time to think and pray about how he was going to do it. We read in our gospel: ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’ (v.1). It was the Holy Spirit who led him out there, and it was the Holy Spirit who helped him deal with what he faced there. The Spirit was giving him this special time to listen to his Father and make decisions about the way he was going to live his life.

And the Holy Spirit is giving you and me this special gift of the season of Lent – forty days to give special attention to thinking, to praying, to examining the direction of our lives and making decisions about getting closer to God’s plan for us. I know I’ve told you before that for me the season of Lent seems to arrive in the nick of time every year. I get obsessed with some new interest, or I find myself sliding into habits that are even more self-indulgent than before, or I just get so busy that I find it harder and harder to slow down, be quiet, and listen to what God is saying to me. And then along comes Ash Wednesday, and it’s like the Spirit is quietly saying to me, “Tim, time to go out into the desert for forty days again. Want to come along?” And if I listen, and if I accept the invitation, then good things can happen.

Not that it’s always easy. As we said, our Gospel tells us that Jesus ‘was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’ (1-2). This is the reality of our Christian life, that wherever the Spirit is at work, the devil is never far behind. Led by the Spirit and tempted by the devil – that’s a good description of the normal Christian life, I think! And it’s an especially good description of what happens to us when we go into those times of self-examination.

What are some of the things we can learn from Jesus’ time in the desert? Well, first of all, there’s the very fact that he went into the desert in the first place, and that he fasted for forty days. What’s that all about? It’s about the removal of distractions so that we can pay attention to God’s presence and God’s voice.

We live in a world that’s full of distractions. Every shopping mall we go into has music piping into it. Every pub we go into has a TV screen in the corner. Every time we get off somewhere by ourselves a cell phone starts ringing. When I leave my work and go home, I don’t really leave my work, because my computer at home can check my office email, and of course there are all sorts of reasons why it’s really important for me to check it. And when I finish checking it and we sit down for supper as a family, the phone rings and someone from a credit card company is excited to tell me that I’ve been pre-approved for one of their cards with a fifty-thousand dollar credit limit.

Let me encourage you, this Lent, to turn off some of the distractions. For me, in my own life, one of the biggest distractions is the Internet. Some of you know that I have a blog, and I’ve also made contacts with other bloggers around the world; I read their sites regularly and often comment on them. But I’m well aware of the fact that this has gotten obsessive for me, and so this year for Lent I’ve decided to give up blogging and reading blogs. Also, those of you who were networking with me on Facebook will notice that I’ve dropped off of that for the next forty days as well! I don’t think this discipline is for everyone, but I do know that for me, the Internet is one of the most potent distractions from hearing the voice of God and doing what he tells me to do. And I think we all need to ask ourselves the question: ‘What are the most powerful distractions in my life, and what am I going to do about them?’

Noise can be a distraction. I sometimes think about the early missionaries who brought the gospel to the prairies, and the long journeys they made by horse and canoe in the days long before iPods and car radios and all those other assorted noisemakers. I suspect that they became adept at spending long periods of time in silence, in prayer and in listening to the voice of God. And you need silence to do that. So let me encourage you to turn off some of the background noise in your life for the next forty days, and make significant space for silence.

Of course, we’re all at different places in our life journey. Some of us have small children at home, and the last thing God wants is for us to see them as a distraction from doing his will! But all the more reason, when we do manage to get a few moments of silence, for us to truly honour that silence and take time to pray and listen to God.

Food is a great gift from God to provide sustenance for our bodies. But food too can be a distraction, and so fasting is an ancient discipline found in many spiritual traditions around the world - yet another way of turning away from distractions so as to be able to hear God’s voice more clearly. Fasting is a way of nurturing our hunger for God; it’s as if, as our body is deprived of its normal food, we somehow find ourselves reaching out in a deeper way for the sustenance that we need most of all – the sense of the presence of God.

So if you’ve never tried fasting before, you might like to give it a try this Lent – always remembering that it’s not about cosmetic weight loss, but about hungering and thirsting for the presence of God. If you’ve never done it before, I recommend that you start with a twenty-four hour fast – that is, missing two meals, breakfast and lunch – and spend the extra time in prayer if you are able to do so.

Another thing: I suspect that while Jesus was out in the desert he was meditating on the scriptures. Of course, he wasn’t able to take a Bible with him – in those days the scroll of just one book, Isaiah, would have cost more than a year’s wages. But as a good Jewish boy Jesus would have memorized the scriptures. When he is tempted by the devil, he quotes the scriptures back at him, and all the quotes are from the book of Deuteronomy. Is it fanciful to imagine that before he went into the desert Jesus had heard the Deuteronomy scroll read, and had been meditating on it in his time alone? Maybe – but the slow, prayerful reading of the scriptures is an ancient and time-honoured way of listening to God’s voice. And so I suggest that this Lent you pick up your Bible, open it to the Gospels or some other place, and pray that the Holy Spirit will teach you as you read.

And don’t be in a hurry. Jesus took forty days to do this. You can make instant coffee, but you can’t have an instant spiritual life – it takes time, patience, and lots of practice. Don’t suppose that when Jesus was out in the desert for forty days he heard God speaking to him all that time. I suspect that for a lot of the time, all he heard was silence. So don’t be discouraged if that’s the case for you as well. Learn to be content with that silence, and to wait patiently for the time when God decides it’s right for you to hear something specific from him. In fact, the silence can be the voice of God, too, if you learn to listen to it.

If you listen long enough, you might find some things out about yourself that you don’t like. I find it interesting, as I read the story of Jesus’ temptation here, to see how all three of his temptations were about putting himself first. He was tempted to use the miraculous power of God for his own self-indulgence: “command these stones to become loaves of bread” (v.3). He was tempted to make a spectacle of himself by jumping off the highest point of the temple so that all Israel would see him floating down miraculously to the ground, unharmed, saved by God’s angels. That would be a good advertising gimmick, wouldn’t it? And he was tempted to avoid the hard road of the cross and win power over all the kingdoms of the world by worshipping the devil – in other words, to let the end justify the means, to use the devil’s strategy of oppression and violence rather than God’s strategy of suffering servanthood. That would be a much easier way, wouldn’t it?

Jesus rejected those temptations, because he knew that his life wasn’t about himself - it was about God. ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’ (v.10). But I’m sure those temptations were tailor-made for him, and it wasn’t easy to reject them. It was good for him to learn about himself in this way; he could keep better watch over his own soul, once he knew which temptations were particularly appealing for him. And the same goes for us as well. As we wait on God in silence we will probably learn things about ourselves, and that knowledge will stand us in good stead as we continue in the path of discipleship.

One last thing: don’t forget the place we started from: ‘Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’ (v.1). The Holy Spirit had filled Jesus at his baptism, and the Holy Spirit strengthened him in his forty days in the desert. So as we go into these forty days of Lent, let’s be sure to pray often that God will fill us with the Holy Spirit, and let’s pray that at the end of our forty days, as we come out of the desert, we also will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and ready to do the work God is calling us to do.

Monday, February 11, 2008

11th - 17th February 2008

Monday, February 11th
Office Closed/ Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study (Contact Gladys Marshall)

Tuesday, February 12th
11.15 am - St. Joseph’s Eucharist
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’ #1

Wednesday, February 13th
12-2.30 pm - Tim at Deanery Clericus Meeting.

Thursday, February 14th
7-8 am - Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café.
7-8 am - Men’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café.

Friday, February 15th
6.30 pm - Couples Night @ Church.

Saturday, February 16th
Tim’s Day Off.

Sunday, February 17th - Lent 2
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Obi & Kathleen Ezeji-Okoye
• Lawrence & Rosalina, Peter, Daniel & Maria Fernandes.

Weekly Prayer Cycle: The New 2008 Vestry


St. Margaret’s News

Fun & Fellowship Night
Friday February 15, 7:30 PM
Couples Night Out - Wine & Cheese Get Together
Hosted by Gary & Kathy Hughes
Please bring a bottle of your favourite wine to share with friends.
Cheese, fruit, punch and coffee will also be served.
Entertainment: To be Determined
Please sign-up on the sign-up sheet in the foyer.


CHRISTIAN BASICS - (Friday Feb. 22nd, 7.30 - 9.30, Saturday Feb. 23rd, 9.30 - 4.30) This course is designed for people who are inquiring into the Christian faith, for new Christians, for experienced Christians who need a refresher course in the basics, and for those asking for baptism for themselves or their children. For more information or to register, contact Tim at stmrector@gmail.com or 437-7231. Please sign-up on the sign-up sheet in the foyer if you are planning to attend.

Alzheimer's Disease ' One Man's Experience with Early Onset ' At our Senior's Luncheon on Feb. 21st. our own Dave Fost will be speaking to us about Alzheimer's Disease . Dave does a lot of public speaking for The Alzheimer's Society and has consented to share his wealth of knowledge and personal journey with our group. Anyone interested in this subject is most welcome to join us at 11:30 A.M. that day. We only ask that you sign the ' sign-up sheet ' on the table in the foyer or call Pat Leney @ 986-2710. Thank you.

Diocese of Edmonton 2008 Episcopal Election Candidates
Please pray for all of the candidates and for the Diocese. Links to information about the Nominees will be up shortly. This information is also up on the Diocese website, under the link “Episcopal Election”. The Search Committee will also be conducting video-interviews with all the candidates and will make DVD’s available to all the parishes.

The Rev. Wendy AINSWORTH
The Very Rev. Dr. Jane ALEXANDER
The Rt. Rev. David ASHDOWN
The Ven. Edward KING
The Rev. Darcey LAZERTE
The Rev. Dr. Mervyn MERCER
The Very Rev. Peter WALL

If you have anything you wish to add to the bulletin insert please contact Nicky at the church office before she prints the bulletins on Fridays.

Other Upcoming Events

New Courses at St. Margaret’s

'Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense' is a ten week book and video study with Bishop Tom Wright (Tuesday evenings, February 12th - April 15th). Participants will need to purchase a copy of Tom Wright's book Simply Christian, cost $20.00, which will be provided on the first week of the course. In order to give us time to order the books, the registration deadline is January 22nd. Note: for any adults who are interested in confirmation, this course will also double as an adult confirmation course. Please talk to Tim if you would like to use it as such.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sermon for Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Disciplines for Growth

It’s often said that if you aim for nothing you will usually hit it! In other words, it’s a good thing to think about the direction you want to go in before you decide how you’re going to get there. Some people, I know, just enjoy driving aimlessly through the countryside, seeing new sights, but most of us prefer to have some sort of plan. We decide on a destination, and then we pick the best route.

I think it’s good for us to remember this as we begin this season of Lent. We have a tradition of giving up things for Lent, and so most of us have perhaps thought about what we want to give up this year. But a few years ago, I heard about a teenager who asked the dreaded question, ‘Why?’ Her Dad, who is a single father, had suggested that he and his two teenage kids might like to give up chocolate for Lent, but his daughter asked, “Dad, why do we give up things for Lent?” He was completely at a loss to answer her question, and he emailed me and said, “You’re a man of the cloth – what’s the answer?”

Lent is a time of repentance. In a few minutes, as we begin the liturgy of the ashes, I will say, “We begin this holy season by remembering our need for repentance, and for the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ”. The word repentance doesn’t mean feeling miserable about our sins. Some Christians think it does; they think that we should practice mournful worship during Lent and banish the word ‘alleluia’ and so on, as if it would be an offence to almighty God if anyone should be cheerful at this time of year! But there’s no particular virtue in misery, and repentance isn’t about mourning except in so far as it leads to real change. To repent is to realise that you’re going in the wrong direction, and to turn around and start heading in the right direction. It means turning away from ways of living that are sinful and turning toward God and the way of life he is teaching us.

What is that way of life? Well, Jesus summed it up for us, didn’t he? He said, “The first (commandment) is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). In other words, the Christian way of life has to do with our relationship to God, to our neighbour, and to ourselves.

These three relationships also appear in our Gospel reading for this evening, from the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus deals with the three disciplines that were common spiritual practices for Jewish people in his day: giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. Everyone would understand in the time of Jesus that if you wanted to live a godly life, these three disciplines were essential; no one would even think about trying to live in God’s way without including them. So when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he didn’t have to spend a lot of time telling his disciples that these three disciplines were important; everyone knew that already. Instead, he had to persuade them to do them in the right spirit – to please God, not to be praised by others.

But I suspect that this is not true today. I don’t think we automatically assume today that if we want to be followers of Jesus we will give to the poor, pray, and fast. So as we begin Lent, it’s a good idea for us to revisit these disciplines and see how they fit into the great commandments that Jesus gave us.

So let’s start with giving to the poor, or ‘almsgiving’, to use the older word that the NRSV uses. In verse 2 Jesus introduces the subject: “So whenever you give alms…”. Giving to the poor, you see, is about my relationship with others. Growing as a disciple of Jesus includes growing from a selfish, self-centred person into a loving and caring person. Giving to the poor is a vital part of this. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus encouraging us to do this; in one place he even says that when we care for the needy it is really him that we’re caring for.

In our Old Testament reading for tonight the prophet Isaiah warns the people of his time that God isn’t impressed with fasting and liturgical worship if it doesn’t lead to a change in the way we treat the poor. He encourages the people to loose the bonds of injustice, to share their bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless into their homes, and to stop pointing fingers and speaking evil of other people.

Now of course there are obvious ways in which we obey this commandment, and I don’t need to give people in this congregation any lessons in it. We’ve demonstrated by our ongoing generosity to special projects like our water well appeal that we understand how important this is. We understand that loving our neighbour as we love ourselves has a special application to our neighbours who are dying of starvation or AIDS, or who live in countries where oppression and violence trap people in cycles of poverty with little hope of change.

But let me just take this a little further and remind you that one of the purposes of giving is to knock selfishness on the head. In other words, we don’t just give for the sake of the people to whom we give; we give for our own sake, too. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul tells us that godliness with contentment brings great gain. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a very content sort of person. I live in a culture where I’m constantly bombarded with ads for all sorts of gadgets I don’t really need, and where the government tells me it’s my patriotic duty to spend so that the economy will do well. Giving, in this context, is a counter-cultural act; it helps me to focus not on my own imagined needs, but the needs of others. As I grow in holiness, the idea is that I will grow not just in generosity, but in my enjoyment of generosity. And that’s a real work of grace!

If we ask, “How much should I give?” I always remember C.S. Lewis’ rule: if my giving isn’t making a difference to my standard of living, I’m probably not giving enough. But we need to remember that giving isn’t just a matter of money. It’s also generosity with my time and talents. How do I show my love to my family, my friends and neighbours, and the people I don’t even like? This is all included as we think about our relationships with our neighbours.

The next thing Jesus deals with in this gospel is prayer. Why do we pray? We do so because prayer is about our relationship with God; it is one of the ways we love the Lord our God with all our heart. If we love someone, we want to spend time with them; as someone once said, the greatest compliment you can pay a person is to waste time with them!

When it comes to prayer, Jesus gives us some very simple guidelines in this passage. He assumes that his followers will pray regularly; he doesn’t say “If you pray”, but “whenever you pray” (v.5). And everyone has to find the best way of doing that – that’s to say, the time of day and the place of prayer that works best for you. For myself, since I moved to Edmonton eight years ago I’ve discovered that taking a walk outside is often the best way of having a prayer time for me. And so I get up in the morning and go out for half an hour; I walk around Blue Quill and have my prayer time, and I find that I can actually pray for quite a bit longer while I’m walking than if I were sitting still in a chair at home or in my office.

But everyone has to find what works for them. Some are night people and find that praying last thing at night is good for them. Others like to get up early. Some pray at work, and some pray at home. Some pray out of doors, and some indoors. It doesn’t really matter; what matters is that we pray regularly.

Jesus also tells us to pray sincerely. In the bit we didn’t read, he talks about how some people like to heap up empty phrases, or, as it says in the Revised English Bible, they like to ‘go babbling on like the heathen, who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard’ (v.7, REB). I suspect that we Anglicans are in special danger here, because we’re so used to the beautiful prayers in our liturgy that we think we can only talk to God in language like that. What Jesus is teaching us is that it isn’t especially important what words we use, or even how long we pray; the important thing is that we mean what we say!

In Philip Yancey’s latest book, on prayer, he tells a story about a man who works in a downtown rescue mission. At the mission they have prayer meetings, and some of the street people pray rather direct prayers. One day one old guy prayed, “Thank you, God, for Metamucil”, and someone else chimed in, “That’s a 10/4, God!” I don’t expect to hear that sort of prayer in the Prayers of the People here at St. Margaret’s any time soon! But perhaps we could learn something from the simple directness of this man of the street, who prayed out of the honesty of his heart.

A third thing I learn from the Lord’s Prayer is to pray simply. This is not an elaborate prayer; it approaches God simply as Father, and prays first of all about his concerns – his name, his kingdom, his will being done – and then about the necessities of life – forgiveness, daily food, deliverance from evil. And it’s a short prayer, too – there’s nothing particularly virtuous about long prayers. Martin Luther used to say that it was better to pray short and often than long and seldom.

These are some of the guidelines Jesus gives us about prayer – pray regularly, sincerely, and simply. And in all our praying let’s remember the fundamental goal – to grow in our relationship with God.

We’ve said that prayer is about my relationship with God, and giving to the poor is about my relationship with my neighbour. The third discipline, fasting, is about my relationship with myself. This is important: the way we love ourselves is by disciplining ourselves! This is a recognition that our physical appetites do tend to run wild if we let them have their way. Of course, there is nothing wrong with food and drink and the other physical pleasures; they were all created by a good and loving God to be enjoyed – but in moderation. However, in our sinfulness we human beings tend to go beyond moderation, and when that happens eating becomes gluttony, drinking becomes drunkenness, sleep becomes laziness, sex becomes immorality, and so on.

So Lent is a good time to look at the way we use this stuff. In what area of my life do I need more discipline? Eating? Drinking? Sleep? Exercise? Lent is a good time to make a plan and then work on forming it into a permanent habit. That’s what the old tradition of ‘giving things up for Lent’ is all about. But too often our choice of what to give up is arbitrary; it’s not something that is a real issue for us. I’ve tried to keep that in mind in the last few years. For me, spending too much time on the Internet is a problem, so this year I’ve decided again to give up blogging and reading blogs for Lent. I suspect that for me this will be a far more meaningful form of fasting than giving up chocolate!

The point of all this stuff, you see, is not to work hard during Lent and then quit afterwards. I’ve never understood the idea of taking on a discipline for Lent and then letting it go after Easter. Rather, Lent is a good time for us to jump-start ourselves in learning habits we need to make into a permanent part of our lives.

In a few moments we will use the ancient sign of ashes, but this is not something we ought to do just because everyone else is doing it. Rather, we ought only to do it if it is a sign of our sorrow for our sins and our genuine desire to make things right in our lives. So I encourage you now to take a few minutes in silence to prepare for this. Think about these three areas of prayer, fasting and giving to the poor. Think about your relationship with God, with your neighbours and with yourself. Can you think of one definite thing in each area: an old habit to break, or a new habit to form? Then, if you wish, you can come forward when we offer the sign of ashes. You can take those ashes as a symbol of your commitment to follow Jesus in this new and deeper way during Lent.



Monday, February 4, 2008

Weekly Calendar

Monday, February 4th
Office Closed & Tim’s Day Off.
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study. For more information please contact Gladys Marshall.

Tuesday. February 5th
6-7 pm - Pancake Supper @ St. Margaret’s.

Wednesday, February 6th - Ash Wednesday
7.00 pm - Ash Wednesday Eucharist.

Thursday, February 7th
7-8 am - Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café. See Catherine Ripley for more information.
7-8 am - Men’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café. See Tim Chesterton for more information.

Saturday, February 9th
10-3pm - “Following in the Footsteps of Christ”. #2

Sunday, February 10th - Lent 1
9.00 am -- Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
12.00 pm - Annual General Meeting
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Classes

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Robert Duke & Charlotte Robb
• Julia Ellis

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Some more of our Altar Guild - Sherry St. Germaine, Lesley Schindel, Terry Wittkopf & Maggie Woytkiw.


St. Margaret’s News

Annual General Meeting
NOTICE is hereby given that the Annual Meeting of Parishioners will be held on the 10th day of February, A.D. 2008, at 12.00 noon, in the church, at which time all baptized persons regularly attending Services of worship in this Parish or otherwise regularly receiving the administrations of the Clergy of this Parish are entitled to attend.

Fun & Fellowship Night
Friday February 15, 7:30 PM
Couples Night Out - Wine & Cheese Get Together
Hosted by Gary & Kathy Hughes
Please bring a bottle of your favourite wine to share with friends.
Cheese, fruit, punch and coffee will also be served.
Entertainment: To be Determined
Please sign-up on the sign-up sheet in the foyer.


PANCAKE SUPPER - YOU ARE INVITED TO JOIN US AT ST. MARGARET’S ON TUESDAY FEBRUARY 5th. FOR OUR ANNUAL PANCAKE SUPPER. PANCAKES WILL BE SERVED BETWEEN 6PM -7PM PLEASE SIGN UP ON THE SHEET IN THE FOYER.

Ash Wednesday Eucharist - volunteers needed, please see sign-up sheet in the foyer. Thank you.

CHRISTIAN BASICS - (Friday Feb. 22nd, 7.30 - 9.30, Saturday Feb. 23rd, 9.30 - 4.30) This course is designed for people who are inquiring into the Christian faith, for new Christians, for experienced Christians who need a refresher course in the basics, and for those asking for baptism for themselves or their children. For more information or to register, contact Tim at stmrector@gmail.com or 437-7231. Please sign-up on the sign-up sheet in the foyer if you are planning to attend.

If you have anything you wish to add to the bulletin insert please contact Nicky at the church office before she prints the bulletins on Fridays.

All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral - Refuge in the City
Mid-day communion 12:10, Monday to Friday at 10035 - 103 Street.

Other Upcoming Events

New Courses at St. Margaret’s

'Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense' is a ten week book and video study with Bishop Tom Wright (Tuesday evenings, February 12th - April 15th). Participants will need to purchase a copy of Tom Wright's book Simply Christian, cost $20.00, which will be provided on the first week of the course. In order to give us time to order the books, the registration deadline is January 22nd. Note: for any adults who are interested in confirmation, this course will also double as an adult confirmation course. Please talk to Tim if you would like to use it as such.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sermon for Epiphany 4: Micah 6:1-8

What does the Lord require of us?

This coming Wednesday we will begin the season of Lent. Christian people around the world will observe this season in various ways. Some people will ‘give something up for Lent’ – perhaps chocolate, or alcohol, or sugar in their coffee. Some will make a special effort to go to church more, or to spend more time in Bible reading and prayer. Some churches will add extra midweek services or Lenten study groups. Many traditional churches like ours will change their Sunday rituals a little – the mood will be a little more sombre and penitential, the colour will change to purple and so on. Some churches will have a solemn ‘burying of the alleluias’ – that is to say, the word ‘alleluia’ will be banished from the church during Lent. Some churches will do away with altar flowers.

To have a regular annual time of self-examination and intentional repentance is certainly a good thing. Of course, we’re supposed to repent of our sins and turn toward the new life of Christ all year round, not just in Lent! But most of us can’t sustain a real intention about it all year round, so it’s a good discipline for us to have this more intense time in the run up toward Easter. In the ancient church, Easter was the time new adult converts were baptised, and the weeks before Easter were a special season of self-examination and preparation for them. Gradually the custom arose for the whole church to join with the candidates for baptism in this time of self-examination.

But what should the issues be? After all, even those who are going to give up sugar in their tea know instinctively that Lenten self-examination involves more than that! What sort of life does God ask of us? Our Old Testament reading for today, Micah 6:1-8, asks that question. The answer, in verse 8, is one of the most profound and simple statements about the godly life in the entire Old Testament. It’s probably the Old Testament equivalent of Jesus’ summary of the Law: that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and love our neighbour as ourselves. Micah says, ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’

But this is not where the passage starts. Some people think it should start there. Some people think the Christian message is all about the things we should do for God. When I ask them what they think the essential Christian message is, they respond ‘Love thy neighbour’ or something like that. Well of course, I have nothing to say against loving your neighbour, but loving your neighbour is good advice, not good news. And the message of the whole Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, starts with good news, and then the good advice follows along afterwards when people ask ‘What should we do in response to the good news of God’s love for us?’

So the passage starts with a metaphor. When I was a lad growing up in England, if someone wanted to complain about something you had done, they would say, “I’ve got a bone to pick with you!” So now God has “a bone to pick” with his people Israel. Micah uses the metaphor of a law court, which is a regular illustration in the writings of the prophets. God calls on the mountains to hear his case – after all, they’ve been there since the day when he brought his people into the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, so they are well qualified to judge the truth of his complaint.

God asks his people how he has wearied them. Has he loaded their backs with burdens and made them tired? Far from it! If they go back in the history of their country, they will see that in fact he has removed the burdens from their shoulders! Look at verses 4-5:
‘For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD’.

In these verses, of course, God is referring to the Exodus story. His people were slaves in the land of Egypt, forced into hard labour in the construction projects of the Pharaohs. But God heard their cry of misery, and God decided to rescue them from their slavery and bring them into their own land, the land where their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived as nomads hundreds of years before. So God sent a shy little guy called Moses, with his brother Aaron who was a good speaker, and their sister Miriam who was a prophet. God staged a confrontation with the false gods of Egypt, inflicting all sorts of plagues and troubles on the Egyptians until finally Pharaoh let the Hebrew slaves go. And when Pharaoh changed his mind and came after them, trapping them against the Red Sea, God led them through the sea by a miracle and rescued them from their oppressors.

Later on, as they were getting close to the Promised Land, King Balak of Moab saw how many hundreds of thousands of them there were, and he was afraid of them. So he sent word for a professional holy man, Balaam son of Beor, and offered to pay him to put a curse on the Israelites. However, the book of Numbers recounts the story of how God spoke to Balaam and warned him strictly not to put a curse on Israel, and so when the time came, Balaam obeyed God and blessed them instead. This infuriated King Barak, who seemed to think that Balaam could bless or curse anyone he wanted.

Through their whole desert journey – ‘from Shittim to Gilgal’, says Micah – God looked after his people. He gave them supernatural food from heaven, and gave them water from a rock when they were thirsty. He protected them from their enemies, and even though they complained against him and asked many times if they could go back to Egypt, he didn’t give up on them. And eventually it was Moses’ successor Joshua who led them across the Jordan River to their final camp at Gilgal, as they began to occupy the land God had promised to them.

This was the Gospel story of ancient Israel – how God took a helpless slave people, adopted them as his own people, and gave them a land of their own to live in. All the laws he gave them – the Ten Commandments, the laws about food and sacrifices and so on – were by way of response to God’s goodness in saving them from slavery in the first place. The laws were in answer to the question ‘Since God in his great love has adopted us as his people, what sort of lives ought we to live?’ As I said at the beginning, first comes the good news, then the good advice.

And of course the same is true for us as Christians. The message of the Gospel is all about the grace of God – God’s love that doesn’t wait for us to be worthy, but reaches out to us as we are, warts and all, and loves us into worthiness. The Gospel tells how God loved the rebellious human race so much that he came to live among us in Jesus to set us free. ‘God proves his love for us’, says St. Paul, ‘in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). God forgives our sins, adopts us into his family as his children, and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And even though we often stray, he continues to be merciful to us, forgiving us and restoring us and giving us a second chance, and a third chance, and as many chances as we need to get it right.

What does God ask in response? You can imagine the people of Israel, like a character in Johnny Hart’s old ‘B.C.’ comic strip, standing looking up to heaven with their arms outstretched, crying out “God, what do you want from me?”

Well, the answer’s obvious, right? He wants us to come to church! He wants us to read the Bible and pray! He wants us to take part in beautiful liturgies with wonderful pipe organ music or amazing worship bands! He wants us to build him impressive looking temples so that everyone can see how glorious he is – as if Mount Edith Cavell wasn’t testimony enough to that already! He wants us to tithe, and give up sugar in our tea for Lent, and so on, and so on.

That was Israel’s first guess; look at verses 6-7:
‘With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’

It’s not a bad guess; the Old Testament law goes into great details about the elaborate sacrifices God wants his people to offer him. If God is displeased in some way, perhaps we haven’t been pulling our weight in the sacrificial department! Instead of tens of rams, let’s offer him thousands! Instead of a few gallons of olive oil, let’s offer him rivers of the stuff! What? He still isn’t satisfied? Uh – maybe he wants us to be like the pagans around us and even offer our children as sacrifices to him; is that it?

No, it’s not. It’s not that Israel’s rituals are wrong; it’s just that God never intended them to be the main event. Micah spells out the main event in verse eight, the passage we already read:
‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God’.

Let’s unpack these three simple concepts. The word justice is, of course, contrasted with the attitude of ‘just us’. ‘Just us’ means ‘I don’t really care how things work out for everyone else as long as I’m okay’. So I live my life in order to get as rich as possible and to have as much enjoyment as possible without any regard for how this effects other people who are less fortunate than myself.

The Old Testament had all sorts of laws to mitigate this sort of thing. There was a land law, for instance, which said that no matter how many times land was bought or sold, every fifty years all land was to revert to the family that originally owned it. This was to prevent the creation of dynasties in which children grew up enjoying special privileges while less fortunate children missed out. And there were many other laws like these. Moses said, “If you follow God’s laws, there will be no poor among you”. We commit ourselves to God’s justice in our baptismal vows, when we are asked, ‘Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?’ and we reply, ‘I will, with God’s help’. So, like God’s Old Testament people, we’re called as Christians to ‘do justice’.

The word translated ‘kindness’ in the NRSV is sometimes translated as ‘mercy’. But I like the translation ‘kindness’ better. Nowadays when we say ‘Have mercy on me!’ what we usually mean is ‘Don’t punish me!’ But when we used to thank God ‘for all his mercies’, what we meant was his acts of kindness toward us. This is the sense in which we use the word in our Prayers of the People when we say, ‘Lord, have mercy’.

Kindness is also referred to in our baptismal promises, when we are asked, ‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?’ To see the face of Christ in everyone we meet is to treat them as we would treat Jesus – in other words, to treat them with kindness. If Jesus needed you to spend an hour with him, you would do it, wouldn’t you? If he needed a coat, you’d give it, yes? Or a water well, for that matter! This stretches all the way from simple acts of kindness to the people we live with, to our gifts to World Vision and our volunteering with organisations like Habitat for Humanity and so on. The world is full of people in need of simple acts of kindness.

There’s an old gospel song that says, “I want Jesus to walk with me”. I’ve always been a bit doubtful about this idea; I feel much safer with the idea of me walking with Jesus. And so the final thing Micah says is, ‘to walk humbly with your God’. Asking God to walk with me means that I claim the right to decide which direction we’re going in! But if I walk humbly with my God, that means I let God decide which direction we’re going. I don’t presume to tell God what my life should be about; I ask God what my life is about, and then humbly follow the path he has set for me.

This is it. It’s not complicated at all: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. So as we start Lent this year, let’s think about these things. By all means give up sugar in your coffee, or anything else that helps you focus on God – I’m going to give up blogging, myself! But let’s not get stuck on the rituals; let’s go on to the big issues. Let us pray that God will help us to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. Let us pray for God’s help to see Jesus in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves and doing the acts of kindness that love requires. And let us pray for God’s grace not to stubbornly insist on going our own way, but humbly walking the way God has set before us, the way Micah has set out for us so simply in today’s scripture.