Monday, March 31, 2008

31st March - 6th April 2008

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

Tuesday, April 1st
7.30 pm - Simply Christian @ St. Margaret’s

Wednesday, April 2nd
12-2 pm - Tim at Deanery Meeting

Thursday, April 3rd
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, April 6th - Easter 3
9.00 am Eucharist
10.30 am Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm Youth Confirmation Class

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Graeme & Anita Eagles
• Lucy & Doug Harris
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Some more of our Readers Marg & Andrew Rys, Doug Schindel, Lloyd Thompson & Terry Wittkopf

St. Margaret’s News

Next Social Event - ‘Hymn Sing’ - Please see sign-up sheet in the foyer to put your favourite Hymn down and for more information on the next social event taking place on Friday, April 18th.


More Roster Volunteers Needed - We are urgently in need of some more roster volunteers especially Greeters/Sidespeople, Readers & Lay Administrants. If you think you can volunteer for either of these on a regular basis or want more information, please contact Nicky at the office on 437-7231 or stmag@telusplanet.net. Thank you.

Christian Male Choir Festival ˆ Saturday, April 12, 7 p.m. ˆ Six male choirs from across Alberta will gather together in choral song, and crescendo with a mass chorus of 150 voices. Edmonton Christian Male Choir (ECMC) is the host choir. Where: Ellerslie Road Baptist Church, 10603 Ellerslie Road SW. Tickets: $12, $9 Seniors and Students, $25 Family ˆ available at the door or from ECMC members. More information: Speak to Ernie Marshall or Doug MacNeill or www.members.shaw.ca/ecmchoir/

Following in the Footsteps of Christ: Learning from the Anabaptist Tradition Part 2, Saturday April 19th, 10am - 3pm. Please sign up on the sheet in the foyer for this course. For more information please speak to Tim Chesterton.

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.

Friday, March 28, 2008

April Roster 2008

April 6th - Easter 3

Greeter/Sidespeople - Aasens
Counter - C. Aasen/D. Schindel
Reader & Psalm - M. Rys
Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17, 1 Peter 1:17-23
Lay Administrant - L. Thompson
2nd Administrant - E. Gerber
Intercessor - L. Thompson
Lay Reader - D. MacNeill (Luke 24:13-35)
Altar Guild - 9am P. Major /10:30 K. Hughes
Prayer during - M. Rys
Communion - P. Major
Nursery Supervisor - C. Ripley
Sunday School - P. Rayment
Kitchen - J. Holmes

April 13th - Easter 4

Greeter/Sidespeople - M. Lobreau
Counter - M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf
Reader & Psalm - T. Wittkopf
Readings: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:1-10
Lay Administrant - M. Rys
2nd Administrant - L. Thompson
Intercessor - M. Rys
Lay Reader - E. Gerber (John 10:1-10)
Altar Guild - 9am M. Woytkiw /10:30 G. Marshall
Prayer during - M. Chesterton
Communion - P. Major
Nursery Supervisor - M. Aasen
Sunday School - B. Rice
Kitchen - M. Chesterton

April 20th - Easter 5

Greeter/Sidespeople - Hughes’
Counter - G. Hughes/C. Aasen
Reader & Psalm - C. Ripley
Readings: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:11-25
Lay Administrant - E. Gerber
2nd Administrant - D. Schindel
Intercessor - D. MacNeill
Lay Reader - L. Thompson (John 14:1-14)
Altar Guild - 9am P. Major /10:30 L. Schindel
Prayer during - M. Chesterton
Communion - M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor - K. Hughes
Sunday School - S. Chesterton
Kitchen - R. Betty

April 27th - Easter 6 - JOINT COFFEE SUNDAY

Greeter/Sidespeople - Gerbers
Counter - G. Hughes/M. Lobreau
Reader & Psalm - B. Mirtle
Readings: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:8-22
Lay Administrant - C. Aasen
2nd Administrant - G. Hughes
Intercessor - D. MacNeill
Lay Reader - E. Gerber (John 14:15-21)
Altar Guild - 9am M. Woytkiw /10:30 T. Wittkopf
Prayer during - K. Hughes
Communion - P. Major
Nursery Supervisor - G. Hughes
Sunday School - M. Aasen
Kitchen - E & D Kalis

Calendar - April 2008

Tuesday, April 1st
7.30pm - Simply Christian

Wednesday, April 2nd
12-2.30 pm - Tim @ Deanery Clericus

Thursday, April 3rd
7-8am - Women’s & Men’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Sunday, April 6th - Easter 3
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class

Monday, April 7th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, April 8th
11.15am - St Joseph’s Eucharist
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’

Thursday, April 10th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Saturday, April 12th
Tim’s Day Off

Sunday, April 13th - Easter 4
9am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class

Monday, April 14th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off.
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, April 15th
7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’

Wednesday, April 16th
7.15 pm - Vestry

Thursday, April 17th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Friday, April 18th
7.00 pm - Hymn Sing Social @ Andrew & Marg Rys’

Saturday, April 19th
10am - 3pm - “Following in the Footsteps of Christ” Part 2

Sunday, April 20th - Easter 5
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
7.30 pm - Youth Confirmation Class

Monday, April 21st
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Of
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, April 22nd
7.30 pm ‘Simply Christian’

Thursday, April 24th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Friday, April 25th
6.00pm - Wedding Rental Rehearsal

Saturday, April 26th
Tim’s Day Off
1.00pm - Wedding Rental

Sunday, April 27th - Easter 6
9.00 am - Eucharist
9.45 am - JOINT COFFEE
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School

Monday, April 28th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sermon for Easter Day: Acts 2:22-36

Jesus and the Victory of God

When I’m talking to people about the Gospel I sometimes ask them, ‘What do you think the essential message of Christianity really is?’ Far and away the most common reply is something like this: ‘Love thy neighbour’. On this understanding, a Christian is someone who loves their neighbour, tries to be a good person and so on. People will even say to me, “I don’t go to church, but I try to be a good person, and I think that’s more important’.

There’s a basic problem with this answer, and I’ll tell you what it is. In the New Testament the essential Christian message is called ‘the Gospel’, and the word ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good News’. But ‘love thy neighbour’ is not good news – it’s good advice. Quite excellent advice, in fact; the world would be a much better place if people just learned to love their neighbour as they love themselves. I don’t have a word to say against that idea; I just want to point out that it’s not the first and most important part of the Christian message. The first and most important part is not a bit of advice, but a wonderful announcement of good news.

What is this good news? Again, when I ask people that question, I sometimes get some very confused looks. Not so in the early church; the early Christians were crystal clear about what the good news is. One way of focusing on this is to ask a further question: Which verse from the Old Testament is most frequently quoted in the New Testament? A lot of people think it’s ‘love thy neighbour’, but it isn’t. The most frequently quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1: ‘The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”’. Over and over again, when the early Christian preachers tell the story of what God has done in Jesus, they quote this verse.

For instance, seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after he had ascended into heaven, a hundred and twenty followers of Jesus were praying together in one place when suddenly they heard a sound like the rushing of the wind. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them that power.

A crowd quickly gathered, curious about what was happening; they became even more curious when some of the languages were recognised. Some of the bystanders scoffed and said that the Christians were drunk, so Peter, the leader of the Christian group, stood up and began to address the crowd to explain what was happening. He reminded them of the Old Testament prophecies about how in the last days God would pour out his Holy Spirit on all people; this, he said, was what they were seeing and hearing. He then went on to talk about the life and ministry of Jesus:
‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power’ (Acts 2:22-24).
He then quoted some more Old Testament prophecies and discussed them for a few verses before coming to the punch line of his sermon. This is what he said:
‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’”. 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 2:32-36).
There’s that verse again: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’”. Why would the apostles quote such a strange verse? In the original context, Psalm 110 is a song celebrating the victory of God’s anointed king over his enemies. When the early Christians quoted this psalm, they were expressing their joyful faith that although the powers and authorities of this wicked world rejected Jesus and crucified him, God had turned the tables on them. ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this’, says Peter; ‘God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah’.

Jesus had spent his entire ministry announcing the coming of the kingdom of God – in other words, the time when God would really become king of his world - and you don’t have to read his parables very far to see that he saw himself as having a central place in all of that: the kingdom was being established through his work. After his death and resurrection, the early Christians went out all over the known world and told people that through these events God had won the great victory over evil. Jesus had been faithful to God’s call on his life and had suffered for it without retaliation: he who called his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who hated them had done exactly that himself, showing to the whole world that the God he came to reveal to us is a God who does not render evil for evil, but loves us until the end. Except that the end was not the end. God had raised him from the dead in great triumph, and it was the conviction of the early Christians that Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, was now the true ruler of the universe. ‘Exalted to the right hand of God’, says Peter, ‘he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear’ (Acts 2:33).

This is the good news – that the true Lord of the universe, the one who will have the last word on the last day, the one to whom eventually everyone will be accountable, is our Master Jesus, who turns out to be not just a carpenter rabbi from Nazareth but the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. The highest authority in the universe is not the faceless entities that the apostle Paul calls ‘the principalities and powers’ – we might say, the structures of the world as we know it, political and economic and social structures. It isn’t the boards of multinational corporations or the masters of war or the shadowy figures of international terrorism. One day all of these will have to bow to the one who is the true Lord of all, so that, as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (2:10-11).

This good news, you see, is why the early Christians could face death without fear. They had seen their Lord put to death by the principalities and powers of this world, and they had tasted the bitterness of despair. No doubt they had the same questions that people always have in these situations: why do the righteous always get trampled on like this? Why do the good always die young?

I want you to notice what Peter did not say in his sermon in answer to those questions. He did not say, ‘You crucified Jesus, but that’s okay because we know that he’s gone to heaven to be with God, and in a sense he’s still with us, just gone into the next room, you know’. Some of us heard Bishop Tom Wright describe this view this past week in a parody of the words of an old familiar song: ‘Jesus’ body lies a moldering in the grace, but his soul is marching on’!

That is emphatically not what changed the lives of these disciples. These first Christians had just had the stuffing knocked out of them; they had believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed king who God had sent to lead Israel to freedom, but it was not part of the script that the Messiah would be killed by his enemies – it was supposed to be the other way around! If Jesus was killed by his enemies, that meant that God had abandoned him, and that could only mean that he had not been the Messiah after all; he was a pretender who had been misleading the people. In that situation, it was no consolation to say, ‘But he was still a good man, and we know he’s gone to heaven, and his teaching can still guide us’. If Jesus had been wrong about the central point of his message – the idea that the kingdom of God was being established through his work – then how could they trust the rest of his teaching?

No – what changed those early Christians so dramatically was not that they gradually realised that Jesus had gone to heaven after he died. What happened was that they saw him alive again, alive in a physical sense, after his death. At first they just couldn’t believe it; they couldn’t take in such a shocking reality. But when they could no longer deny it, they realised that even death, the most fearsome enemy, the final end for all humanity, is not the end. This is why they could continue to love their enemies and submit to persecution and death joyfully at their hands: because they knew that death is not the end. Jesus is the risen Lord, and he has started a resurrection movement. I may go down to the grave, but I’m not staying long! So what is there to be afraid of?

So the Gospel comes back to this shining conviction: God has made his Son Jesus Christ the Lord of all. And as Lord of all, Jesus is gathering together a people for himself, a people coming from every tribe and language and people and nation. He is making them citizens of the kingdom of God and teaching them the way of life of that kingdom. This is where ‘Love thy neighbour’ fits in, you see; it’s not the centre of the good news, it’s a consequence of it. And we aren’t left to love our neighbours by our own resources; that wouldn’t be very good news, because quite frankly, some of our neighbours are very hard to love! But Jesus is still pouring out the Holy Spirit on his followers, the Spirit of God himself, the Spirit who can change our lives and give us the power to be the people God dreamed for us to be when he created us. The God who could raise his Son from the dead is quite strong enough to set us free from old destructive habits and help us live lives of love for God and for one another.

And that’s what these baptisms this morning are all about. Going on a little further in the book of Acts, we read that the crowd who had been listening to Peter’s sermon asked, ‘“Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said 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 2:37-38).

I became a Canadian citizen in the summer of 1984 after living here as a landed immigrant for over eight years. I was living in rural Saskatchewan at the time; I decided that I wanted to become a Canadian citizen, and so I first went through a preparation process of learning about Canada’s history and laws. Then on the day in question I traveled down to Saskatoon, took my citizenship oath before a judge, and was given a certificate to prove that I was now a Canadian citizen.

What we are doing this morning is a kind of citizenship ceremony. Our baptismal candidates today are not adults like those early Christian converts; they are children whose parents consider themselves to be followers of Jesus and citizens of his kingdom, and want their children to be included in this citizenship with them. These parents have been through some baptismal preparation, and are now ready to stand up and profess their faith that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and have their children baptized into that faith.

That is the faith we profess as a church on this Easter Sunday. We believe that through the resurrection God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah, and that he will one day come again to judge the living and the dead. The last word will not go to the forces of evil who seem to be strong in the world around us; the last world will go to the one who loved us and gave himself for us, the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ our Lord. So let us, his baptized followers, go from this church this morning full of joy and hope, to take part in his work of renewing the whole world and truly making it the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Services for Easter Weekend

Thursday April 21, 2011 (Maundy Thursday): 7:00 p.m. Eucharist.
We gather in remembrance of the Last Supper, with (optional) footwashing and handwashing, and stripping of the church for Good Friday.

Friday April 22nd, 2011(Good Friday): 10:30 a.m. Good Friday service with 'Friday School' for kids.
We hear the scriptures, participate in the dramatic reading of the story of Jesus' death, and then gather around the foot of the Cross to offer our prayers.

Sunday April 24th, 2011 (Easter Sunday): Holy Eucharist at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m.
Coffee hour after each service, and Sunday School and baptisms at the 10.30 service. Come early - the 10.30 service will be full!

Monday, March 24, 2008

24th - 30th March 2008

Monday, March 24th
Office Closed/ Tim’s Day Off

Tuesday, March 25th
Office Closed in lieu of Easter Monday.

Wednesday, March 26th
7.15 pm - Vestry

Thursday, March 27th
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 - Seniors Lunch @ St. Margaret’s

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

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Michael Greenwood
• David & Vel Griffiths
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Some more of our Readers Doug MacNeill, Ernie Marshall, Brian Mirtle & Catherine Ripley

St. Margaret’s News

Senior's Luncheon - At our Senior's Luncheon on Thurs March 27th. our own Dave Fost will be speaking to us about Alzheimer's Disease. His presentation was originally scheduled for last month's luncheon but was postponed due to illness . During Alzheimer's Disease ' One Man's Experience with Early Onset ' Dave will share his wealth of knowledge and personal journey with our group. Anyone interested in this subject is most welcome to join us for lunch at 11:30 a.m. followed by Dave's presentation at about 1:00 p.m. in the church. We only ask that you sign the sign-up sheet on the table in the vestibule if you will be joining us for lunch or call Pat Leney @ 986-2710.

Next Social Event - ‘Hymn Sing’ - Please watch out for sign-up sheets and more information on the next social event taking place on Friday, April 18th.


More Roster Volunteers Needed - We are urgently in need of some more roster volunteers especially Greeters/Sidespeople and Readers. If you think you can volunteer for either of these on a regular basis or want more information, please contact Nicky at the office on 437-7231 or stmag@telusplanet.net. Thank you.

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.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sermon for Good Friday

Why Did They Kill Jesus?

So why did Jesus have to go through it all? Why did he have to be rejected by the people, condemned by the Jewish and Roman leaders, abused by the soldiers and nailed to the cross to die in agony?

We’re not likely to give an exhaustive answer to that question today. As someone has said, the mystery of the cross is shallow enough for a child to paddle in but deep enough for an elephant to swim in! But down through the centuries, Christian thinkers and teachers have studied the scriptures and given a number of answers to the question, “Why did Jesus die?” Let’s look briefly at four of them.

Some have said, “He died as a sacrifice for our sins”. In the Old Testament, people who sin against the Lord are instructed to bring an animal and offer it as a sacrifice. So the people would confess their sins over the head of the animal and then it would be slaughtered as a sacrifice for sin. Another time that sacrifice was offered was when covenants were made between God and his people – binding agreements in which God made promises to his people and they responded with pledges of loyalty to God. Jesus used this sacrificial language at the Last Supper when he said that the bread was his body given for us, and the cup was the new covenant sealed by his blood, and we also noticed it today in our first reading from Isaiah which talks about the suffering servant as ‘a lamb being led to the slaughter’ – surely an allusion to sacrifice.

Others have said, “He died as a ransom to set us free”. This is an illustration from the slave market. In the ancient world people could be sold into slavery for all sorts of reasons, the most common one being that they could not pay their debts. But the custom was that a family member could buy them out of slavery by offering a ransom price – this was known as ‘redeeming’ a slave. Jesus uses this sort of language himself, when he says in Mark 10:45 that ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’. In this view, we humans are slaves to evil and sin, but Jesus by his death has paid the price that is necessary to set us free.

A third way of understanding the cross has been that it is a good example for us to follow. In this view, Jesus is the faithful servant of God who does what his Father asks of him, no matter what the cost may be. And when he goes to the cross, he doesn’t retaliate or wipe his enemies out with thunderbolts as we might expect from the strong Son of God; rather, he prays that they may be forgiven. The New Testament writers see this as an example for Christians to follow when they are persecuted for their faith: we must continue faithful to God, and must respond to our enemies with love and not with revenge.

A fourth way of understanding the cross sees Jesus as the substitute, the one who takes the place of sinful humanity and dies the death that we deserve for our sins. Barabbas, the rebel who Pontius Pilate set free on Good Friday instead of Jesus, is an illustration of this. Barabbas had rebelled against the empire, and the punishment for that offence was crucifixion. But Jesus, who was innocent of all such crimes, took his place and died the death that Barabbas deserved, the result being that Barabbas could go free. We also, in this view, have rebelled against God and are deserving of punishment for our sins. But God’s love for us is so great that he came himself in the person of his Son and bore the punishment for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and could be free to enjoy fellowship with God forever.

These four illustrations – the cross as a sacrifice, as a ransom, as an example, and as a substitutionary offering – are all based on the teaching of the scriptures, and they all have light to shed on what Jesus did for us on Good Friday. But today I want to look at the question in a slightly different form. In fact, I want to change the question. Instead of asking, “Why did Jesus die?” I want to ask, “Why did they kill him?”

I’m not going to get into the old chestnut about whether the Jews are to blame for the death of Jesus. The fact is that he was killed by the Roman authorities at the instigation of the Jewish rulers; in other words, the two power structures of the society of his day cooperated to get rid of him. Why would they do that? What was it about Jesus that had them so worried that they were willing to work together to do away with him?

The simple answer to that question is that Jesus was a threat to them. He was a religious threat, he was a political threat, and he was also a moral threat.

He was a religious threat because he appeared to be challenging some of the most sacred institutions of Judaism. He acted as if the Temple in Jerusalem was unimportant: people didn’t need to go there and offer a sacrifice so that their sins could be forgiven; they just needed to come to him and ask, and they could have forgiveness for free! Jesus acted as if the Sabbath day was unimportant; he healed people on the Sabbath just like any other day. He acted as if the distinctions between righteous people and sinners were unimportant: he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors and all sorts of other disreputable types, and even ate meals with them. And he acted as if the traditional religious rituals were unimportant – the most important things, he said, were loving God and loving your neighbour, and he quoted the Old Testament prophet who said that God desires mercy, not sacrifice.

All of this was a threat to people who had built their whole lives on this traditional religious system. Now Jesus was coming along and ignoring some of their most sacred institutions. They saw this as dangerous: he was misleading the people and could lead them into sin. If that happened, God would be angry with his people and would not send the Messiah to deliver them. And so the religious leaders felt they had a God-given duty to eliminate Jesus; to them, it was the only way to get rid of the lies Jesus was telling in the name of God.

Jesus was also a political threat. He was a Messianic pretender – in other words, he claimed to be the promised King in the royal line of David who God was going to send to set his people free. And he called himself ‘the Son of Man’, referring to a prophecy in the Book of Daniel, which talks about a mysterious figure who will be presented before the throne of God. ‘To him’, says Daniel, ‘was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed’ (Daniel 7:13-14). Even though Jesus did not act like a political or military ruler, his words and actions had political implications. He told his followers to give their first allegiance to the kingdom of God. He told them not to strive for power or influence but to give themselves in service to one another. He seemed to be proclaiming a year of jubilee in which debts should be forgiven and wealth shared equally between rich and poor. All of this was a threat to people who benefited from a system in which wealth and power belonged in the hands of a few people.

These two kinds of threat – the religious and political – are summed up in some words of the Pharisees and religious leaders in John 11:47: ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, the Romans will come and destroy our holy place and our nation’. Reading between the lines, we can be sure that it was not only the nation that they were concerned about, but their own power as well.

But Jesus was also a moral threat to the authorities – and not only them, but to all the people. This was because of the uncompromising nature of his teaching and of his lifestyle. John sums this up in his gospel, in chapter 3 verse 19: ‘And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil’. The way Jesus lived his life was like a powerful halogen light shining into the darkness of other people’s lives, showing up all their selfishness and lust and love of power and greed and so on. No one likes to have that sort of light close to them – especially people who have been claiming to be good and righteous and holy, but who on closer inspection turn out to be hypocrites who are hiding their sins and merely pretending to be good.

So Jesus was a threat – a religious, a political, and a moral threat to the people of his day. Because of this, they rejected him, and their leaders conspired together with the Romans to get rid of him. His death, in other words, was a consequence of his faithfulness to God. He had lived to do the will of his Father, without compromise, but a world shot through with sin didn’t find that convenient, and so rejected him and crucified him.

But the good news in all of this is that Jesus rejected the rejection of the people who killed him. He had taught his disciples to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecuted them, to bless those who cursed them and so on. And when his time came, that is exactly what he did. In the garden of Gethsemane Peter drew a sword to defend his master, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, but Jesus told him to put his sword away; “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). But Jesus chose not to call for angelic help. Instead, on the cross he prayed for his enemies: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

The Gospel is telling us that this is what God is like: God is a God who loves his enemies. We can kill the Son of God, but the one thing we can never kill is his love for us. Even as he hangs there on the cross to which we have nailed him, that love still burns hot in his heart. When we have seen that cross, we know that, as Paul said, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

But the cross continues to be a challenge to us. Let me conclude by pointing out to you a couple of the ways in which it confronts us.

First, the cross shows us that this is what we are like as human beings – the one who is all love, all truth, all mercy, all goodness, all grace, comes into the world, and we reject him. To quote from John again, ‘And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil’. Am I so in love with the religious systems I’ve based my life on that I can’t hear the voice of God in Jesus questioning those systems, asking what they really have to do with loving God and loving my neighbour? Am I so in love with power that I can’t let it go and live my life on the basis of love instead? Am I so in love with my own moral autonomy that I refuse to turn away from my sins and follow the one who claims to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life? ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord’? It seems so. When I think about the cross, I realise that I have a lot to repent of.

Secondly, the cross challenges us to imitate Jesus. When Jesus first foretold his death, he said to his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). The people who first read these words from Mark’s gospel were probably Roman Christians who were being persecuted by the Emperor Nero. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to renounce their faith and save their lives, but Mark recorded Jesus’ words as a challenge to them. The cross is the price we pay for faithfulness to God in a world that prefers darkness to light. Our Lord carried it faithfully, and now we are called to follow in his footsteps. For us, that means not being ashamed to be known as his followers. It means not being afraid to live in the way he taught us, even if it isn’t always popular with the people around us.

And, of course, it also means responding to rejection and suffering in the same way that Jesus responded. The one who loved his enemies calls on us to do the same thing. Toward the end of his life Peter wrote these words:
‘For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth”. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls’ (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Let us thank God for the courage and love of Jesus, and let us pray for strength to follow in the path he has set for us.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

A Feast of Love

‘Altar smashed in local parish church; who is the culprit?’ If you were to read this headline in the Edmonton Examiner, I’m fairly sure that the local Anglican bishop would not be at the top of your list of suspects! But there was a time in Anglican history when the bishops of the Church of England had a lot to do with the smashing of altars. In 1549, when the first English Book of Common Prayer was published, the leaders of the church wanted to emphasise that the Lord’s Supper was meant to be a fellowship supper, not a sacrifice for sins. And so they commanded that the stone altars standing at the eastern end of each parish church should be destroyed, and in their place, wooden communion tables should be set up in the chancels. For nearly a hundred years, Christians in England didn’t receive communion kneeling at an altar rail, but standing around a plain wooden table. It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that ritualists, who wanted to re-emphasise ceremonies, began to rebuild the altars and do away with the communion tables.

I may not agree with altar-smashing, but I think that those Anglican leaders in the sixteenth century were being guided by a true New Testament idea when they decided to emphasise the Lord’s Supper as a fellowship meal. After all, when we read the New Testament account of the Last Supper, it’s quite clear that it was in fact a meal. And in the book of Acts, the phrase ‘breaking bread together’ is used both for sharing a meal and for sharing the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, when we read the earliest accounts of Christian worship in the New Testament, it seems very clear that they were centred around meals. Early Christian worship seems to have consisted of shared meals, with prayers and teaching added; it wasn’t until later that these gatherings evolved into what we now think of as formal church services.

And this helps us to make sense of the theme of this service tonight. The idea that binds the whole service together is the idea of love. Jesus says to his disciples:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

The ‘new commandment’ tells us that we should love one another as Jesus has loved us. How has Jesus loved us? Surely the supreme act of his love for us is his death on the Cross. And this is what we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper; whatever else it is, it is a thanksgiving for his death for us.

As Jesus has loved us, we are called to love one another. In the time of Jesus, there was a sacredness about sharing a meal together; to eat with people was to say “This is my community; this is where I belong. These are my family and my friends, and I will be loyal to them to the end”. In other words, a meal together was a sign of the very love that Jesus was commanding his followers to have for one another. And this love is not just a nice romantic theory; they are to be ready and willing to do the slave’s job for each other, washing dirty stinking feet that had been tramping the dusty roads of Judea. In other words, there are to be no social divisions between Christians, no slaves and masters; if the master has washed his disciples’ feet, and the disciples are to wash each other’s feet, then the relationship between the disciples is going to be radically transformed.

So that’s why we’re here tonight - and not just tonight, but every time we come together to share this Supper that Jesus has given us. First, we’re here in thankful remembrance of his love for us. Paul emphasises that remembrance in his story of the last supper, which we read as our epistle for tonight:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said. ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
The broken bread tells us of the Lord’s body, broken on the cross for us. The wine poured out tells us of his blood that was poured out for our sins and the sins of the whole world.

This whole service is all about the cross. The Eucharistic Prayer, which I pray over the bread and wine, retells the story of the cross and all that Jesus did there for us. To come forward in faith to receive the bread and wine is to come and receive afresh the blessings that Jesus won for us at the cross. We come empty-handed, completely dependent on him and on his love for us. But the host of this great meal doesn’t send us away empty handed; we eat the bread and drink from the cup, and we feed on him in our hearts as we trust him and give thanks to him.

So we’re here tonight to celebrate God’s love for us, shown to us in Jesus and his cross; everything else comes from this and is based on this. But we’re also here in obedience to his command to love one another as he has loved us. We share a meal together as a sign of this love, and we’re called to be willing to show that the sign is real, by doing real, sacrificial acts of love for one another.

I have to say honestly that I often wish we still celebrated the Eucharist around a meal table, as part of a real communal meal. To Paul, it was very important that the unity celebrated in the Lord’s Supper be a real unity. In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, from which our epistle for tonight is taken, he addresses some problems in the way the Christians at Corinth shared the Lord’s Supper. It seems that in those days it was still a real supper. But some of the Corinthians were coming early and helping themselves to the lion’s share of the feast, even going so far as to get drunk on the wine! Latecomers arrived to find there was nothing left for them. Paul was incensed about this – and not just about the drunkenness, which we would have expected him to condemn. Listen to what he says:
What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? (v.22)
His concern, you see, is that to greedily take the lion’s share of the food is to show contempt for poorer Christians – and this is a violation of the unity of the Body of Christ!

Imagine the revolutionary nature of the Lord’s Supper in the early church. Slaves and masters sat together at the same table to share the bread and wine – slaves, who were considered mere tools, the property of their masters, sitting down as equals with them. Aristocrats shared a meal with tent-makers and artisans and manual labourers. Men, women, and children sat down together, when the society around them said that women were second-class citizens who ought to be out in the kitchen serving, not in the living room sharing as equals. No wonder the church in later years moved away from emphasising this aspect of the Lord’s Supper – it was far too revolutionary for the Roman Empire! And it’s far too revolutionary for us today, or we wouldn’t tolerate a situation where people come to communion together and then one goes home in a Lexus and another goes home to macaroni and cheese.

We all come to God as equals – all equally in debt to Jesus for our salvation. And so we share at the Lord’s Table as equals – there is no Greek or Roman, priest or lay person, Iraqi or American, manual labourer or CEO, but all are one in Christ. And because of this equality, we serve one another in acts of practical love.

Or at least, we should do; in reality, I know that far too often I’ve spoken words of love and then refused to live out the reality behind those words. When I was living in Aklavik, local native people sometimes asked me if I would do their income tax returns for them. I always refused; I was too busy, I said, which was a lie. I wasn’t too busy; I just didn’t want to be bothered. But I knew how to do tax returns, while for many of them, tax returns were absolutely incomprehensible. One of my predecessors, Tom Osmond, had done dozens of them each year. He understood what the command to love one another was all about; it meant doing practical acts of love, even when you don’t feel like doing it. I was a long way behind him.

One last thing: if this is real, the world will notice. Often the world notices us Christians when we bring discredit on the name of Jesus: when a TV evangelist recommends that a South American politician be assassinated, for instance. But what if we became known for our love? What if we lived lives of such obvious love for one another that people were reminded of Jesus every time they encountered us?

That’s obviously what Jesus had in mind when he got the whole thing going in the first place. Let me finish by reading his words to you one more time – and I want you to pay special attention to the bit at the end, where he talks about how people will be able to tell that we are his disciples:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sermon for Palm Sunday: Philippians 2:5-11

The Way of the Cross

In 1949, a young American student named Jim Elliot wrote these words in his personal journal: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.

Seven years later, he lived out the truth of those words. He was serving as a missionary in Ecuador, attempting to reach a remote tribe who had never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, but on the morning of January 8th 1956, he and four other missionary companions were killed on the banks of the Cururay River by the very people they had come to reach. Writing about this event some years later, Jim’s widow, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote these words: ‘The world called it a nightmare of tragedy. The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim’s credo: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”’.

Some fifty years later, on March 9th 2006, the body of Tom Fox was discovered on a garbage dump in Iraq. Tom was an American Quaker who had gone to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, to bear witness by his actions to the God revealed to us by Jesus. He was one of four CPT workers taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents in November of 2005; the others were eventually rescued, but it was too late for Tom Fox. There has been strong speculation that the fact that he was the only American in the group was the biggest factor in his death.

Be that as it may, what is clear, once again, is that the world seems to have a different idea about his death than did Tom Fox himself. The world was shocked and angered by his death, but he himself would not have been surprised by it. He had made it quite clear in his writings that he always knew that death was a strong possibility; in fact, the whole philosophy behind Christian Peacemaker Teams was that Christians needed to be as ready to give their lives in the service of nonviolence as soldiers are in the service of their country.

Why am I telling these stories today? Bear with me for a moment, and all will become clear!

The New Testament book of Revelation seems to have been written at a time when Christians were beginning to pay the ultimate price for their faithfulness to Christ. It would perhaps have been a reasonable thing to see their deaths as tragic defeats, but that is not the way the author of Revelation sees them. To him, Christians who refuse to renounce their faith, but are willing to pay the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus, have not suffered a defeat but have won a victory. In Revelation chapter 12 the author talks about the accuser, the Satan, who has been waging war on God’s people, and he goes on to say, ‘But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death’. Curious: they’ve won a victory by being defeated. They’ve saved their lives for all eternity by refusing to cling to their lives in the here and now. Sounds like something Jesus talked about, doesn’t it? “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Paul reflects on a similar theme in our epistle for today, Philippians 2:5-11. The context, as far as we can tell, is that some people in the Philippian church wanted to be the stars of the show. They were the kind of people who are always looking for the next big promotion in churchland; they wanted the top jobs, the limelight, the applause of others in the community. Paul had no time for that attitude at all; in fact, he calls it by its true - and ugly - name in Philippians 2:3: ‘selfish ambition and vain conceit’. That, he says, is not the way of life you learned from Jesus.

And then he goes on to give us what seems to be a remarkable early hymn about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Let’s start at the end of the passage; look at verses 9-11:
‘Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’.
The name that is above every name is in fact a title: ‘Lord’. The Greek word that Paul uses here is ‘kyrios’, and it was one of the official titles of the Roman emperor. So when Paul uses this title for Jesus he is claiming for the crucified carpenter from Nazareth a title that everyone knew belonged to the Lord of all the earth, Caesar, far away in Rome in all his pomp and glory. The Philippians would have known this especially, because Philippi was a Roman colony, a city started as a settlement for retired Roman soldiers who had spent their lives in the service of the emperor.

How did you get this title ‘Lord’ in the Roman Empire? Often, you got it by winning it in battle. Some of the emperors had actually won it by defeating previous emperors; we can think of how Julius Caesar was murdered, and how his nephew Octavius gradually seized power from the conspirators until he was crowned as Caesar Augustus, Lord of the whole known world. He would never have won this title by sitting quietly by and letting his enemies defeat him; he had to fight and fight hard, and kill a lot of people along the way, before the world acknowledged him as Lord of all.

But this is not the way Jesus won this title. Jesus was not like an ambitious politician with his eye on the next promotion or the next cabinet seat; he wasn’t like a general who would stop at nothing in his bid to win the crown of the empire. Jesus’ sights were not set upward, but downward. And so Paul lays out for us the remarkable story: how Jesus was in the form of God, but didn’t consider equality with God as something to be grasped or exploited. In other words, he wasn’t like the first human beings who were told by the tempter: ‘You will be like God’, and who couldn’t resist that temptation. Jesus was already in the form of God, but he voluntarily gave that up; he ‘emptied himself, talking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (vv.7-8).

Jesus’ life was not about trying to dominate others; it was about serving God and serving others. We see in Jesus the same pattern we saw in Jim Elliot and Tom Fox – and that shouldn’t surprise us, because they were intentionally patterning their lives after Jesus. Jim Elliot was a brilliant Greek scholar who could easily have achieved an academic career at an American seminary, but he chose instead to give his life in the service of a tiny jungle tribe most people had never heard of. Jean Vanier was the son of the Governor-General of Canada and was at the beginning of a promising career in the British Navy, but he chose to give it up and dedicate his life to providing a safe home for people with mental disabilities. Paul Brand was a brilliant surgeon who would probably have been the head of a medical department had he stayed in the west, but he chose instead to go to India as a medical missionary, and spent his life caring for people suffering the ravages of Hansen’s Disease – leprosy.

These are just a few of the many people down the years who have followed the pattern of Jesus. They didn’t say, “I’ve got a right to enjoy my life and get ahead for myself”; rather, they asked how they could best serve God, no matter how humble the position, and then they got on with it without making any fuss. But a funny thing tends to happen with people like that: in the long run, they turn out to be the ones who benefit most from their lives of service. Philip Yancey once commented that in his career as a journalist he had interviewed high profile people in the fields of politics and sports and academia, and also people nobody had ever heard of, people working in low-profile positions serving the needy, people with Ph.Ds in linguistics who were translating the Bible into unknown jungle languages, people working in free medical clinics who served the poor and so on. Yancey called these two groups ‘the stars’ and ‘the servants’. He said, “A strange thing happened over the years. I had expected to admire the servants, but I had not expected to envy them”. But that is exactly what he found himself doing: his observation was that in the long run, it was the servants who experienced the most happiness, the most peace, the most contentment in their lives.

So as we think of Jesus on the way of the Cross this week – Jesus serving the Father faithfully, Jesus patiently accepting suffering and death, Jesus loving his enemies and praying for them rather than retaliating and taking revenge – let’s remember the reason why Paul told this story in the first place. He says in verse 5, ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’ – or, as the New Living Translation helpfully puts it, ‘You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had’. What is that attitude? Simply this: forget about making a reputation for yourself; concentrate on serving God and others, and let God worry about your reputation. And as we follow Jesus in this way of life, serving wholeheartedly without looking for a reward, we will in fact be richly rewarded, as Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Monday, March 17, 2008

March 17th - 23rd 2008

H O L Y W E E K

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

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

Thursday, March 20th - Maundy Thursday
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.
7.00 pm Eucharist & Foot washing

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

Saturday, March 22nd
9.00 pm - Youth Vigil - “Waiting for the Son to Rise”

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

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Alex Greenwood
• Courtney Greenwood

Weekly Prayer Cycle:
Some of our Readers:- Chris Aasen, Rob Betty, Nicholas Chesterton, Elaine Gerber & Gary Hughes.

St. Margaret’s News

Easter Offering - This year the offering will go towards your choice of the two outreach projects that St. Margaret’s is supporting, either the World Vision Mobile Medical Clinic or the WIN House. Please remember to specify to which project you are giving.


EASTER LILIES - Anyone wishing to make a donation towards the purchase of Easter Lilies may do so by including it in their offering envelope and marking it accordingly. Thank you.


Please note that next Sunday (Easter) there will be two coffee times, joint coffee at 9.45 and also coffee after the 10.30 service.

Easter Newsletter - Please remember to take your Newsletter from the table in the foyer. Thank you.

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

Seniors Lunch - Thursday 27th March at 11.30 am at St. Margaret’s.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's Jane!

From the Anglican Journal:
Jane Alexander, rector of All Saints Cathedral and dean of Edmonton, was elected on March 8 bishop of the diocese. Chosen on the third ballot, she received 52 clergy votes and 89 lay votes.

A relative newcomer to holy orders, she was ordained to the priesthood in 2001, served several parishes in the diocese and has served as dean since 2006. She began her professional life in 1981 as a music teacher in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. However, her interest in church life was apparent as her B.A. in music from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, earned in 1980, analyzed English liturgical music from 1370 to 1430.

She earned a master’s degree in education in 1993 and a Ph.D. in educational psychology in 1996, both from the University of Alberta. She earned a master’s degree in theological studies in 2001 from Newman Theological College.

In the 1980s, she worked as a special education teacher in England, then pursued research in educational psychology in Alberta.

In her written material supporting her application, Bishop-elect Alexander said she was brought up in a household where religion was discouraged, “although music was not” and that she heard “the first whisperings of God” in hymns and oratorios.

In a response to a question asked by the Edmonton search committee about the 2007 General Synod’s decision that blessing same-sex unions is not a matter of core doctrine, Bishop-elect Alexander wrote: “one of the most important things to come from this (General Synod) was that we are committed to walking together and to … having conversations and not hiding from topics such as human sexuality.”

She added that Canadian Anglicans need to ask, “What do we understand at an individual and parish level as the ‘core doctrines of the church’?”

Bishop-elect Alexander and her husband, Tim, have four children. She will be installed as bishop on May 11. She succeeds Bishop Victoria Matthews, who resigned last year.

Many of our members will know that the Alexander family are former parishioners here at St. Margaret's. We send them our love and prayers as they begin this new stage of their journey of faith!

Sermon for Lent 5: John 11:1-45

Adding Life to Your Days

I received word on Monday morning that our dear friend and brother Lloyd Robinson had died after a long bout with cancer. On the Tuesday before he died I took him communion at his home; he wasn’t strong enough to be able to hold the book, but he was praying along with me all the same. I knew then that it wouldn’t be long.

I’ve attended my share of funerals over the years, and of course as a pastor I’ve conducted lots of them as well. I know the questions and reactions that death tends to provoke in people. These reactions are well summed up in verses 36-37 of our gospel reading. There we read that when the people at the tomb of Lazarus saw Jesus weeping, some said, “See how he loved him!” And still today, at the graveside of a friend, some will say wistfully, “God really loves us – he’s weeping with us now, sharing our grief”. Some indeed will go further, and say that weeping is all God can do in the situation – God is not all-powerful; he would like to prevent evil in the world, but he can’t. That’s the view that Rabbi Harold Kushner takes in his bestselling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Other people at Lazarus’ graveside commented “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” And in the same way today, in the face of death, skeptics will ask “If there’s a loving God, why couldn’t he stop this from happening?” Their conclusion is that God doesn’t exist, or that he doesn’t really care, or even that he is punishing the one who has died, or their family.

In this passage Jesus is leading us to a different view, a view that sees death as an enemy, but a temporary enemy. But he isn’t just talking to us about death in this passage; he’s talking about life, too. John Henry Newman once said, “Fear not that your life will end; fear rather that it might never begin”. We know what he’s talking about, because we sometimes look at people and say to them “Get a life!” We understand that there’s more to real life than just biology; that it’s possible to be alive physically and yet not be ‘living’ in the full sense of the word.

But what exactly is ‘real life’? How do you get it? Does Jesus have anything helpful to say on this subject? In fact he does, and in this passage he talks about both life before death and life after death – what we might call the two issues of ‘adding days to your life’ and ‘adding life to your days’.

Let’s start by thinking about our future hope – the issue of ‘adding days to our life’. And at the outset we need to remind ourselves that Jewish beliefs about life after death were very different from the popular beliefs of most people today. Jews in the time of Jesus didn’t put so much emphasis on the immortality of the soul as on the resurrection of the body. For them the issue was not individuals going to heaven after they die, but rather the coming of heaven to earth, the coming of the kingdom of God.

Jewish people in the time of Jesus believed that when God’s kingdom came in all its fulness, evil would be finally defeated forever and life on earth would be renewed as God had originally planned it. Some of them also believed that God would work through the Messiah, a King like David, to bring about this kingdom. But the question then arose, “What about the many righteous people who have worked and prayed for that day, but who died without seeing it come to pass. Have they lost their chance of participating in it?” Not at all, came the answer – God will raise them from the dead so that they can join with us in the joy of his kingdom on earth.

In this passage Jesus – and also John, the author of the Gospel – both accept this Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead. However, they make one important modification: they make clear that the way to the resurrection is to believe in Jesus. Jesus says to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (vv.25-26). The Jewish belief was that ‘the righteous’ would be raised from the dead, but the New Testament authors realised that in fact none of us is righteous. As Paul says, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Therefore it was necessary for Jesus to give his life for the sins of the whole world, so that all who believe in him could receive forgiveness and the hope of resurrection.

In this passage Jesus refers to death as ‘sleep’; he says “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him” (v.11). This language is used for the death of Christians throughout the New Testament. The reason is surely that sleep is a temporary state; one who sleeps is going to wake up again. And so for the Christian death is temporary; all who are joined to Jesus through faith and baptism will one day experience the resurrection just as Jesus did. The raising of Lazarus is a visual aid to help you and I understand our future – with the important difference that his resurrection was only temporary, whereas ours will be permanent!

As he faced his execution at the hands of the Gestapo the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life”. Like Bonhoeffer, we can face death with confidence, knowing that the time will come when God will add ‘days to our life’ – endless days, in fact! And this is what we believe for our dear brother Lloyd this morning as well: the resurrection morning is coming for him, and we will see him again at the last day.

But that’s not all; this passage is pointing to something deeper still. If we look closely we see that in fact two people are given life in this story – Lazarus, but also his sister Martha. Lazarus has ‘days added to his life’, but Martha has ‘life added to her days’. She comes to experience eternal life not just as a future hope, but also as a present reality. Let’s think a bit more about this.

In my files I have a Beetle Bailey cartoon in which the old colonel’s wife comes to him and says “I’ve mapped out a new regimen for you”. He asks, “Why?” She says “Everyone should try to get rid of their bad habits and replace them with good ones. Diet, exercise, moderation in all things – that’s the key! Avoid alcohol, rich food, unsafe sex, exposure to sun on the golf course…”. Again he asks “Why?”, but she’s still reading from her list: “…avoid prolonged TV sports viewing, boozing with your buddies”. He cries out “Why?” “So you can live longer”, she replies, and this time he yells out “Why?”

I call that a ‘God-shaped question’. Why would you want to live longer if you can’t enjoy your longer life? There’s more to life than just physical existence lasting as long as possible. And so in this gospel Jesus talks not just about adding ‘days to our life’, but also adding ‘life to our days’.

Somebody once asked Jesus ‘”What are the most important issues in life?” Well, the actual question was ‘Which commandment is the greatest?” but the meaning is the same. Jesus’ response was that the most important issues in life are our relationships with God and with other people; he commanded us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. “Do this”, Jesus said, “and you will live”. But the converse is also true: miss this, and you will miss out on the whole point of life. Even though your heart will still be pumping blood around your body, you will not be alive in the full sense of that word.

This is the new kind of life Jesus came to give us. He says to his Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3), and of his disciples he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

To be a Christian, in the New Testament, is to learn to live in a way that is so powerful and real that what came before seems like death in comparison. This was the incredible discovery that the early Christians made. One of them reflected on this experience and wrote these words: ‘You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived… but God…made us alive together with Christ’ (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

If this language seems extreme to you, think of the words people sometimes use to describe the experience of falling in love. In the movie Shadowlands the filmmaker puts some words into C.S. Lewis’ mouth. Lewis says to his wife Joy, “I began to live the day I met you”. Now, let’s remember that he was in his fifties when he met her! He had thought that he was alive all that time, but looking back he sees that his former life was so empty and drab compared to what he was now experiencing that it was like not being alive at all. And what had caused this incredible new quality of life he was experiencing? It was caused by a love relationship with another human being. Lovers speak like this all the time, and we know what they mean. How much more, then, will the discovery of a love relationship with the living God raise us up from mere biological life to the abundant life Jesus promised us!

In some people’s lives this is very dramatic. William Barclay quotes one such story, recounted by Robert McAfee Brown.
He was an American army chaplain on a troopship in which 1,500 marines were returning from Japan to America for discharge. Greatly to his surprise he was approached by a small group to do Bible study with them. He leapt at the opportunity. Near the end of the voyage, they were studying this chapter (the raising of Lazarus) and afterwards a marine came to him. “Everything in that chapter”, he said, “is pointing at me”. He went on to say that he had been in hell for the past six months. He had gone straight into the marines from college. He had been sent out to Japan. He had been bored with life; and he had gone out and got into trouble – bad trouble. Nobody knew about it – except God. He felt guilty; he felt his life was ruined; he felt he could never face his family although they need never know; he felt he had killed himself and was a dead man. “And”, said this young marine, “after reading this chapter I have come alive again. I know that this resurrection Jesus was talking about is here and now, for he has raised me from death to life”. That lad’s troubles were not finished; he had a hard road to go on; but in his sin and his sense of guilt he had found Jesus as the resurrection and the life.

Perhaps your discovery of new life in Jesus hasn’t been so dramatic as that. The drama isn’t important; what is important is the reality of our experience of a connection with the living God through his Son Jesus Christ. This relationship with Christ is the ultimate way to ‘add life to our days’.

In this passage, you see, a two-part invitation is being given to us: an invitation to be raised from the dead in the future, and an invitation to live an abundant life in the present. We’ve called these two aspects of Jesus’ invitation ‘adding days to your life’ and ‘adding life to your days’. Of course, the two are connected; it’s precisely because God’s life can come into us in the here and now that our life with him will never end.

So the question this passage puts to us is “Are we experiencing this reality?” And if we want to know how to experience it, the passage doesn’t leave us in the dark. Jesus says to us as he said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv.25-26).

That’s the question for us: ‘Do you believe this?’ This isn’t just a question about intellectual beliefs but about trust and commitment. Am I willing to stake my life on Jesus? He is inviting all of us to come to him, to put our lives in his hands in faith, and thereby to discover the abundant life God planned for us from the beginning. And as we follow him in faith, and in faithfulness to the way of life he taught us, we will add not only days to our life, but also life to our days.

Monday, March 10, 2008

10th - 16th March 2008

Monday, March 10th
Office Closed/ Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study (Contact Gladys Marshall )

Tuesday, March 11th
11.15 am - St. Joseph’s Eucharist

7.30 pm - ‘Simply Christian’ #5 @ the Church

Wednesday, March 12th
2.00 pm - The Funeral of Lloyd Robinson.

Thursday, March 13th
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.

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

Saturday, March 15th
Tim’s Day Off

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

GROWING PRAYER @ ST. MARGARET’S

Church Families:
• Stan & Elaine Gerber
• Ronald Goss

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Our Church Wardens - Gary Hughes, Sean Birch & Leslie Pyra

St. Margaret’s News

Basement Taskforce - Meeting on Sunday 16th March after the 10.30 coffee time. Please bring a bagged lunch.


The Funeral of Lloyd Robinson - Will be held on Wednesday, 12th March at 2pm, at St. Margaret’s Church.

IRISH STEW NIGHT--Fri. March 14th.
Social Hour 6:00 p.m. Dinner 7:00 p.m.
Come be Irish for an evening at St. Margaret's and sample a variety of stews and more! Join us for a time of Irish food , refreshments , music and fellowship . Please sign the 'sign-up sheet ' in the foyer this morning and choose what food you would like to bring or phone Pat and Geoff Leney with an R.S.V.P.by Thurs. March 13th.

EASTER LILIES - Anyone wishing to make a donation towards the purchase of Easter Lilies may do so by including it in their offering envelope and marking it accordingly. Thank you.

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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sermon for Lent 4: John 9:1-41

Open our Eyes

In one of Jean Vanier’s books he tells the story of an experience he had with a government official at the original L’Arche community in France. The official was conducting some business with Vanier in his office when one of the residents of the community, a mentally challenged young man, came in without knocking with a big smile on his face. He greeted Jean and shook hands with him, then turned to the government official and gave him the same smiling greeting. The young man then left the office. The government official looked at Jean Vanier and said ‘Sad, isn’t it?’

This is an illustration of how two people can look at the same event and see two completely different things happening. As Vanier commented, to him it wasn’t sad at all, but was a sign of God’s grace and love flowing to him through the young man. But this is what spiritual blindness does to us, you see; it prevents us from seeing the reality of the work that God is doing in the world.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus heals a man who has been blind from birth. However, more is going on in this story than a physical healing. To John, the writer of the Gospel, the story acts as a parable about our spiritual journey from darkness to light – or, alternatively, our refusal to make that journey. Let’s take a closer look at this movement from darkness to light in the man who was born blind.

The man’s starting point is that he has been blind from birth. The former slave trader John Newton wrote the famous words ‘I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see’. Newton of course was not literally blind; he was referring to his earlier life as a sea captain and a slaver, a life in which he was blind to the love of God in Christ and to the true significance of the suffering human beings he was buying and selling. But through a gradual process of Christian conversion Newton’s eyes were opened and he came to a living faith in Jesus. He did not immediately give up his slave trading; like many people in the eighteenth century, he at first saw no contradiction between Christian faith and slavery. But gradually the Lord opened his eyes on that issue as well, and eventually he worked alongside William Wilberforce and the others for the abolition of the slave trade.

In today’s gospel John wants us to see that, like the man in the story, we are all ‘born blind’. Consider, for instance, how quickly and easily we use the word ‘mine’. After children learn to say ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’, very soon afterwards they learn the word ‘mine’, and they never forget it. And doesn’t this word show how blind we are to true reality? Scripture says ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24:1). I might think that I own a condo and a car and five thousand books, but I’m deluding myself if I think that’s a true view of spiritual reality. It all belongs to God, and if I think otherwise, I’m just giving evidence of how cloudy my spiritual sight is.

Our human blindness shows itself in other ways, too – for instance, in the common belief that life consists of the short span of years between our birth and our death. To many of our contemporaries, this is their one chance for happiness, which is why death is such a terrifying prospect for so many. And tied to this, of course, is the idea that reality is limited to what can be discovered by our five senses. Anything else is illusion.

In C.S. Lewis’ children’s story The Last Battle, he tells about a group of dwarfs who stumble into a stable that turns out to be a doorway into the next world. But because of their hatred and resentment, they are unable to see this. Those around them can see that they are sitting in the middle of a beautiful meadow with sumptuous food available to them, but all they can see is the darkness of the stable.

In John’s story, we see this blindness in the religious establishment, who refuse to open their eyes to the new thing that God is doing in Jesus. In the story, the blind man’s spiritual vision is gradually getting clearer, but in contrast the religious leaders keep their eyes tight shut.

So the man starts out blind from birth. But the next step is the beginning of change, as he has his eyes opened by Jesus. For John, this is a parable of Christian conversion – the process by which people who have no faith, or only a nominal faith, become committed followers of Jesus Christ. What can we learn about Christian conversion in this story in John’s Gospel?

First, we learn that it is the work of Jesus. There is no emphasis on human faith in this story until the end, after Jesus has opened the man’s eyes. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, this is not a process we can control. The Spirit blows where he will. Only he can give us this gift of true spiritual sight.

The second thing we learn is that conversion is often gradual. Although the man’s physical sight is restored instantly, his spiritual sight takes longer. As the chapter progresses we can see how his ideas about Jesus are gradually getting clearer. In verse 11 he calls him ‘the man they call Jesus’; in verse 17 he goes further and says ‘He is a prophet’. In verse 25 he’s not sure whether Jesus is a sinner or not, but in verse 33 he opposes the view of the religious leaders that Jesus is a sinner and says ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing’. And then at the end of the story he comes to believe that Jesus is ‘the Son of Man’, a title used in the book of Daniel for the one to whom God will give everlasting dominion and authority over all peoples, nations and languages. The man comes to believe this and bows in allegiance to Jesus as his Lord.

In some ways this story could have been written for those of us who were baptized as infants and then came gradually to conscious faith in Jesus. John is powerfully alive to symbolism throughout his gospel, and no doubt is well aware of the fact that Jesus sent the man to a pool of water to wash his eyes. We’re reminded of chapter three where we’re told that we need to be born ‘of water and the Holy Spirit’ – surely an allusion to Christian baptism. And for many of us here today, we were baptized as infants, and then as we grew up we gradually came to a clearer and clearer picture of Jesus and who he is, until we were able to express a mature faith in him by committing ourselves to him as our Lord.

But let’s not delude ourselves that the process stops there. As I said with regard to John Newton, it’s possible for followers of Jesus to continue to be blind to certain aspects of God’s truth. Newton came to believe in Jesus, but didn’t at first understand the significance of the scripture passage that tells us that every human being is made in God’s image. It wasn’t until later that his eyes were opened to the evil of slavery. In our own century, many people have been convinced that racism was not contrary to the scriptures; in fact, the apartheid regime in South Africa was officially supported by many Christian churches who believed that it was not God’s will for different races to mix with each other. Over and over again Christians have proved the truth of Paul’s words, ‘For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).

It’s a sobering truth that in this passage it is the religious establishment who persecuted Jesus and the man he had healed. It’s a sad reality that so often people of faith become convinced that they are right and that those who disagree with them are wrong. We close our minds to the possibility that we may not yet have a complete understanding of the mind of God. Other people might read the same scriptures as us and come to different conclusions. One of the seventeenth century Puritan preachers once said that ‘God still has more light and truth to break forth from his holy word’. And a twentieth century novelist, Susan Howatch, taught me one of the most important phrases any Christian needs to learn: “I need to remember that I can be wrong!” So we need to continue to pray that the Lord will open our eyes, so that we can learn to see the world as he sees it.

There’s another sobering truth in this passage as well – the truth that the man who was healed of his blindness began to experience persecution almost immediately. In this gospel reading it was the religious establishment who persecuted him. According to their categories, Jesus couldn’t be a genuine prophet because he healed this man on the Sabbath day, the day of rest. Healing was work, and if Jesus worked on the Sabbath he was a lawbreaker and not a true man of God. And their attitude to the man born blind quickly turns abusive: ‘Then they reviled him… They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out’ (vv.28, 34).

In some parts of the world today it is true that Christians are persecuted for their faith at the hands of people of other religions – just as Christians, sadly, have sometimes persecuted others. But in our western world we aren’t likely to suffer for our faith at the hands of people of other faiths. Still, not everyone is going to be jumping for joy that our eyes have begun to be opened and we’re starting to see the world as God sees it. People who have learned that the God who loves his enemies also calls Christians to love their enemies won’t always be popular in a society where that’s considered to be unpatriotic. People who have learned that it’s not necessary to own a lot of stuff in order to be happy will often be looked on as oddballs in a society where everyone wants the latest luxury – and where a billion-dollar advertising industry is dedicated to persuading us that we need it. People who do their best to live in honesty and integrity will find that their lives shine the light of God into dark places – but some people prefer the darkness and will not be happy that the light is shining on them.

So we Christians should not be surprised if we sometimes face opposition because of our faith in Jesus. The New Testament assumes that this will happen. We don’t go out looking for it, but we don’t shy away from it, either. After all, Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him. Surely we didn’t think that was always going to be a pleasant walk in the park?

So this passage sets out for us the process of Christian conversion. We begin our journey blind to who Jesus is, and blind to the true nature of reality. Then Jesus comes and begins the process of enlightenment. For many of us here, it began at our baptism and continues to lead up to the time when we give our allegiance to Jesus as our Lord. But the process doesn’t stop there; our eyes continue to be somewhat clouded to the truth of God, and so we don’t assume that we now see everything perfectly; we continue to ask God to open our eyes and to help us to understand aspects of his truth that may not be clear to us all at once. And sooner or later this commitment to Jesus gets us into trouble; this is its inevitable result. It’s not a sign that we’re doing something wrong, but rather that we’re being faithful to the truth as Jesus has revealed it to us.

Jesus is still at work in the world today, opening people’s eyes and helping them to live by the light they have received. This passage sets before us two possible responses to what God is doing in Jesus. Like the religious establishment of his day, we can continue to find reasons to oppose what God is doing. Or, like the blind man who was healed, we can allow Jesus to open our eyes wider and wider until we see reality as God sees it, and give our heartfelt allegiance to Jesus as Lord of all.

There’s a chorus that goes along very well with the theme of this passage. Some of you will know it, and you might want to sing it along with me as a prayer that God will open our eyes to the truth that is in Jesus:
‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch him, and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen;
Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus’.