Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sermon for Pentecost 2: Genesis 1-5

Starting at the Very Beginning

You’ve probably all had the experience of coming into a room where your family have been watching a movie for half an hour or so. You sit down and join them, but the plot doesn’t make any sense to you. You don’t know who the characters are, and sometimes when they speak they make allusions to things that have already happened in the story, things you don’t understand. So you find that you keep asking questions: “Who is that?” “What did that mean?” and so on. Eventually people start getting annoyed with you; you’re spoiling the movie for them, because you didn’t ‘start at the very beginning’.

The first book of the Bible is the book of Genesis, a name that means ‘beginning’, and Genesis is indeed a book of beginnings. It tells the story of the beginnings of the world and of God’s relationship with the family of Abraham, who would become the people of Israel. It contains many famous stories – the creation of the world, Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, Noah and his ark, the Tower of Babel, Joseph and his coat of many colours and so on. In these stories we can find many important truths that lay the foundation for the rest of the Bible. This summer our Old Testament readings are taking us through the book of Genesis. As we listen to the stories, I want us to consciously look for the Gospel in them; what good news are the authors trying to communicate to us, good news about God’s love and God’s plan to save his broken creation?

Last week we read the first creation story, in Genesis 1. Today we didn’t actually read an Old Testament reading, but for some reason the lectionary takes a break from Genesis anyway and gives us a reading from Isaiah. Next week our reading will be the story of Noah and the flood, from Genesis 6-9. But the lectionary has skipped over chapters 2 to 5. These early chapters of Genesis have of course been quite controversial in the last couple of hundred years, with the controversy about evolution and creation. But the truth is that the Bible is not a textbook on geology, nor do we go to it for information about palaeontology. Rather, it’s a book about God and God’s plan for us, and it tells us about this in poetry and saga and song and story. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, what are the lasting truths that are communicated to us in these early chapters of Genesis? I want to point out four to you this morning.

The first truth is the truth that we live in a good creation. Over and over again, in the creation story in Genesis chapter one, we read that God saw what he had made, ‘and God saw that it was good’ (1:12), and at the end of the story, we read that ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good’ (1:31).

The biblical creation story was not the only creation story in the ancient world; in fact, it may well have taken its form when God’s people were in exile in Babylon, and it may be a conscious effort to show up the differences between the Israelite and Babylonian views of the world. I don’t have time this morning to tell the Babylonian creation myth in detail, but suffice it to say that, in that story, the creation of the world is an act of violence. The god Marduk kills his mother Tiamat, and he then creates the world out of her corpse. There’s no sense of peacefulness, none of the order we get in the biblical account, and at the end Marduk definitely doesn’t say ‘It’s very good’. And there were other philosophies at the time of the Bible that saw the physical creation as unimportant; the really important thing was spiritual reality, and in fact the physical creation was seen as a dangerous distraction – once again, definitely not something ‘very good’.

What difference does it make to us to believe the truth the biblical story is teaching us? Well, obviously it means that we agree with God that his creation is very good. God is interested in mountains and rivers and oceans and forests; he’s interested in other forms of life, not just human life. God is not only concerned with people as disembodied souls who need to pray and sing and go to heaven one day; he’s interested in our bodies too and our need to find a way to live in harmony with his creation. To treat that creation with disrespect is also to be disrespectful to its creator. For instance, to live in a way that causes more and more forms of life to become extinct is an insult to the Creator of those forms of life. So we as Christians will be concerned about our impact on the world God has made and we will be doing all in our power to protect it; that’s what God had in mind in chapter two where we read that he placed the man in the garden of Eden ‘to till it and keep it’ (2:15) or as the TNIV puts it ‘to work it and take care of it’.

So the first truth that we learn here is that we live in a good creation. The second truth is that we human beings are made in the image of God. Look at 1:26-27:
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’. So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
What does it mean to say that we are created in God’s image? Lots of ink has been spilled down through the centuries trying to figure out exactly what that’s all about. Obviously we don’t look like God – we’re far too small, for one thing – so how are we like God? Is it our creativity, or our sense of right and wrong, or what?

Well, there may be truth in some of that, but I think the core idea is a lot simpler. In the ancient world emperors put up their statues all over the place to symbolise their dominion over their empires. You and I are God’s statues; we’re told to have dominion over all of God’s creation – in other words, we’re exercising God’s authority over God’s world on God’s behalf. But God’s authority is not like that of the pagan empires with their brutal domination of subject peoples. As we’ve already seen from Genesis 2, we’ve been put into the garden to work it and take care of it, not to rape it and exploit it.

So one meaning of the image of God is that we are God’s stewards, ruling over his world and caring for it on his behalf. Another meaning becomes plain when we look ahead to Genesis 5:3, where we read that ‘When Adam had lived for a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth’. This language about Adam and his son Seth is exactly the same sort of language that Gold uses about the creation of the first human beings in chapter one. And we all understand instinctively what that means: ‘Doesn’t he look like his Dad?’ we say; kids do tend to look like their parents, for the most part, and often they act like them as well.

Which begs the question for us who believe this creation story: do we look like our heavenly parent? When people watch the way we live, are they reminded of the love and justice and mercy and patience of God? Paul tells us in Ephesians to ‘be imitators of God, as beloved children’ (5:1). To be made in the image of God means to do our best to be like our heavenly Father.

And here’s another interesting thing: the verse teaches quite clearly that both male and female express the image of God – ‘in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them’ (1:27). For centuries we’ve referred to God almost exclusively in male terms, but this passage makes it clear that there’s nothing wrong with using female imagery for God as well. God is not an exclusively male god or an exclusively female god; the reality of God is far bigger than that sort of thing, far bigger than anything we can possibly understand or imagine. But male alone can’t adequately express God’s image, and neither can female alone; it takes both male and female to give a well-balanced picture of what God is like.

So we’ve seen that we live in a good creation, and we’ve seen that we’re made in the image of God. The third truth we see in these early chapters of Genesis is the truth that marriage was part of God’s plan from the beginning.

In 2:18 we read, ‘Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner”’. There follows a humorous story in which God creates all the animals out of the ground and brings each of them to the man to get a name, but none of them quite fits the bill! So eventually God puts the man into a deep sleep, takes a rib from his side, and uses it to create a woman – not from the ground, but from the man himself. He brings her to the man, and we read, ‘Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of man this one was taken”. Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed’ (2:23-25).

We saw earlier that the image of God is expressed in the differences between male and female – both fully human, but expressing their humanness in different ways. Now in the act of marriage the differences are brought together again. We all know about those differences, and we joke about them sometimes: how men really only know three colours, and how women can multitask and men can’t, and so on. More seriously, a Japanese theologian has talked about the differences between father-love and mother-love: how father-love wants the best for the child and pushes them to be all that they can be, while mother-love is the safe haven they can come back to when they feel they’ve failed, and always be sure of a welcome.

The physical similarities between us express our alikeness – we are both humans, both made in the image of God. The physical differences express the fact that we aren’t interchangeable, that God made us male and female for a reason. And now in the act of marriage the opposites are joined together; ‘a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife’ – or, as other translations put it, ‘is joined to his wife’ – ‘and they become one flesh’ (v.24).

Underlying all this is a sacramental way of looking at the universe: an understanding that life is full of physical signs that have spiritual meaning. Sexual union, in these verses, is that sort of sign. The joining of the two bodies symbolises the joining of two lives is a lifelong commitment to each other. That’s why Christianity has always seen sex in other contexts as settling for second best. It’s taking the sacramental sign of the joining of the bodies and removing it from the context of the joining of the lives. That wasn’t what God had in mind in the first place.

Obviously there’s a lot more that should be said on this subject – about how it relates to the people who follow Jesus’ call to singleness, for instance, or to the question of same-sex attraction and marriage which is causing so much conflict in our church right now. But this sermon is already too long, so unfortunately I must pass over those things and point out the last truth I want to bring to your attention this morning: the truth that out of the darkness of sin comes a positive promise for the future.

Because of course sin and evil do enter into the story; the snake tempts the first human beings, they eat of the fruit of the tree, and the result is that they have to leave their beautiful garden. God had warned them that on the day they ate of the fruit they would die; at first sight this doesn’t seem to have happened, but in another sense we see poison entering the human race immediately. The man and woman are suddenly ashamed of their nakedness and cover themselves; they hide from God and blame each other for what has happened. In the next chapter we get the story of Cain and Abel, a story of jealousy and murder. Death is indeed working its way into the human family tree, and that carries on right to us today.

But this isn’t the whole story. In 3:15 God says to the serpent, ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel’. On the face of it this is just an observation about how snakes bite people and people stomp on snakes. But in the biblical tradition this has often been interpreted as a promise about how, one day in the future, a descendant of the woman would ‘strike the serpent’s head’ – in other words, how Jesus through his life and death and resurrection would win the great victory over the power of evil.

So the story ends on a note of grace. God doesn’t wipe out his sinful children; rather, he goes looking for them when they hide from him, he provides clothes for them, and he promises them that one day the power of the serpent will be broken.


We live in a good creation, and in that creation we ourselves are made in God’s image and care for the world on God’s behalf. He has made us male and female, alike and different, and in the bond of marriage he brings the two different people together into one flesh. And even though we rebel, sin doesn’t have the last word; the last word is the promise of victory over evil, the victory we can begin to share in as we put our trust in Jesus and follow him. These are foundational truths about God and God’s story, and we’ll see them played out as we continue to read from the book of Genesis, the book of ‘beginnings’.

Monday, May 26, 2008

June 2008 Roster

June 1st - Pentecost 3
Greeter/Sidespeople -- Aasens
Counter -- C. Aasen/E. Marshall
Reader & Psalm -- E. Marshall
Readings: Genesis 6:9-22, 7:24, 8:14-19, Psalm 46, Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-31
Lay Administrant -- M. Rys
2nd Administrant -- C. Aasen
Intercessor -- M. Rys
Lay Reader -- L. Thompson (Matthew 7:21-29)
Altar Guild -- 9am M. Woytkiw /10:30 G. Marshall
Prayer during -- M. Chesterton
Communion -- P. Major
Nursery Supervisor -- M. Aasen
Sunday School -- M. Cromarty
Kitchen -- R. Betty

June 8th - Pentecost 4
Greeter/Sidespeople -- T. Willacy/M. Lobreau
Counter -- T. Willacy/M. Lobreau
Reader & Psalm -- R. Betty
Readings: Genesis 12:1-9, Psalm 33:1-12, Romans 4:13-25
Lay Administrant -- A. Zinck
2nd Administrant -- D. Schindel
Intercessor -- D. MacNeill
Lay Reader -- E. Gerber (Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26)
Altar Guild -- 9am P. Major /10:30 L. Schindel
Prayer during -- K. Hughes
Communion -- M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor -- G. Hughes
Sunday School -- B. Rice
Kitchen -- J. Holmes

June 15th - Pentecost 5
Greeter/Sidespeople -- Hughes’
Counter -- G. Hughes/B. Rice
Reader & Psalm -- M. Rys
Readings:Genesis 18:1-15, Psalm 116:1, 10-17, Romans 5:1-11
Lay Administrant -- M. Rys
2nd Administrant -- L. Thompson
Intercessor -- C. Aasen.
Lay Reader -- MacNeill (Matthew 9:35 - 10:8)
Altar Guild -- 9am M. Woytkiw /10:30 L. Pyra
Prayer during -- M. Chesterton
Communion -- E. Gerber
Nursery Supervisor -- K. Hughes
Sunday School -- C. Ripley
Kitchen -- S. Gerber

June 22nd - Pentecost 6 - CONFIRMATION SUNDAY
Greeter/Sidespeople -- Schindels
Counter -- D. Schindel/T. Willacy
Reader & Psalm -- T. Rayment
Readings: Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1-11
Lay Administrant -- G. Hughes
Intercessor -- D. MacNeill
Altar Guild -- 10am T. Wittkopf
Prayer during -- K. Hughes
Communion -- E. Gerber
Nursery Supervisor -- M. Aasen
Sunday School -- M. Lobreau
Kitchen -- E & G Marshall

June 29th - St. Peter/St. Paul - JOINT COFFEE
Greeter/Sidespeople -- Gerbers
Counter -- C. Aasen/T. Wittkopf
Reader & Psalm -- C. Aasen
Readings:Ezekiel 34:11-16, Psalm 87, 2 Timothy 4:1-8
Lay Administrant -- A. Zinck
2nd Administrant -- L. Thompson
Intercessor -- L. Thompson
Lay Reader -- D. MacNeill (John 21:15-19)
Altar Guild -- 9am P. Major /10:30 M. Lobreau
Prayer during -- P. Major
Communion -- K. Hughes
Nursery Supervisor -- G. Hughes
Sunday School -- P. Rayment
Kitchen -- B & M Woytkiw

Calendar - June 2008

Sunday, June 1st - Pentecost 3
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School

Monday, June 2nd
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study

Thursday, June 5th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
Tim’s Sermon preparation day.

Sunday, June 8th - Pentecost 4
9am - Eucharist
10.30 am - Eucharist & Sunday School
12 pm - Planning Meeting for 2008-9 Social Calendar

Monday, June 9th
Office Closed
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, June 10th
11.15 am - St. Joseph’s Eucharist.

Thursday, June 12th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Saturday, June 14th
6.30pm - BBQ AT THE GERBER’S

Sunday, June 15th - Pentecost 5 - FATHER’S DAY
9.00 am - Eucharist
10.30 am -Eucharist & Sunday School

Monday, June 16th
Office Closed
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study
TIM AWAY AT CLERGY CONFERENCE 16TH - 20TH JUNE

Thursday, June 19th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café

Sunday, June 22nd - Pentecost 6
10.00 am - CONFIRMATION SERVICE

Monday, June 23rd
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm - Monday Afternoon Bible Study
Nicky’s summer hours begin - Thursday - Friday 9am - 12pm

Wednesday, June 25th
7.15 pm - Vestry

Thursday, June 26th
7.00am - Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
9 - 12pm - Nicky in the office

Friday, June 27th
9 - 12pm - Nicky in the office
5.30pm - Wedding Rental Rehearsal

Saturday, June 28th
Wedding Rental

Sunday, June 29th
9am - Eucharist
9.45am - JOINT COFFEE
10.30am - Informal Service & Sunday School

Monday, June 30th
Office Closed
Tim’s Day Off

26th May - 1st July 2008

Monday, May 26th
Office Closed & Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm -- Afternoon Bible Study

Thursday, May 29th
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 information.
Tim’s Sermon preparation day.

Sunday, June 1st - Pentecost 3
9.00 am -- Eucharist
10.30 am -- Eucharist & Sunday School

Growing Prayer @ St. Margaret’s

Church Families:
• Pat & Geoff Leney
• Dirk LePoole & Esther Stocker

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Card Ministry - Pat Leney & Winn Rees


Summer Roster - Please let Nicky in the office know if you will be away this summer and are usually on the 10.30am roster. Thanks.


St. Margaret’s News

WIN HOUSE TOTAL AS OF 18th MAY - $2973.00
MOBILE CLINIC TOTAL AS OF 18th MAY - $6443.00

Planning Meeting - for the 2008-9 Social Calendar. Sunday June 8th at Noon.

Four new books have been added to the church library (thanks to the generosity of members of our church!):
Mark Chapman: Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction is a little book focusing on the history of Anglican Christianity.
Tom Wright: The Meal Jesus Gave Us is a short and readable introduction to what the Eucharist or Holy Communion is all about.
Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not to Pray is one of the best books about prayer I have ever read. One interesting feature of this book is Bill's approach to 'prayer journaling'.
Timothy Jones, The Art of Prayer is a very honest guide to prayer for ordinary people, dealing with the big questions we all face

To borrow any of these books, or any other books from the library, simply find them on the shelves at the foot of the stairs (they are in alphabetical order by author) and sign them out.

Wanted: One nursery supervisor. Responsible for organizing the nursery environment and nursery workers. If you like small children and are a good organizer, this may be the job for you. Anyone who is interested should call Michelle Lobreau.

Vestry would like to begin a discussion about how we can make both the interior and exterior of our church building and grounds more inviting and welcoming for newcomers. As a first step toward this we would like to gather a small group of interested people to share ideas. If you would like to be part of this group, please contact Tim or any other vestry member.

Hymns Old & New - If anyone would like to order a music copy of the new orange hymn book for themselves, the cost is around $35 - $40. Please let Tim or the office know a.s.a.p. Thanks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

May 19th - 23rd 2008

Monday, May 19th - Victoria Day
Office Closed
1.30 pm -- Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, May 20th
11.15 am -- St. Joseph’s Eucharist

Wednesday, May 21st
7.15 pm -- Vestry

Thursday, May 22nd
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 information.

Sunday, May 25th - Pentecost 2
9.00 am -- Eucharist
9.45 am -- JOINT COFFEE
10.30 am -- Eucharist & Sunday School
12.00 pm -- SPRING CONGREGATIONAL MEETING


Growing Prayer @ St. Margaret’s

Church Families:
• Barbara & Eric LeFort
• Tricia Laffin


Weekly Prayer Cycle: Some more of our Sidespeople - Ernie & Gladys Marshall, Earl & Darlene Mitty, Doug & Lesley Schindel and Tony Willacy


St. Margaret’s News

WIN HOUSE TOTAL AS OF 4th MAY - $2933.00
MOBILE CLINIC TOTAL AS OF 4th MAY - $5693.00

Please note - Sean Birch will be stepping down as People’s Warden on June 30th. Virginia Haase has been nominated in his place. Any other nominations may be made in writing to any member of Vestry or the Wardens. The election will be held at the Spring Congregational Meeting on May 25th.

SPRING CONGREGATIONAL MEETING - MAY 25TH AT 12 NOON.

Wanted: One nursery supervisor. Responsible for organizing the nursery environment and nursery workers. If you like small children and are a good organizer, this may be the job for you. Anyone who is interested should call Michelle Lobreau.

Vestry would like to begin a discussion about how we can make both the interior and exterior of our church building and grounds more inviting and welcoming for newcomers. As a first step toward this we would like to gather a small group of interested people to share ideas. If you would like to be part of this group, please contact Tim or any other vestry member.

Hymns Old & New - If anyone would like to order a music copy of the new orange hymn book for themselves, the cost is around $35 - $40. Please let Tim or the office know a.s.a.p. Thanks.

Summer Rosters - Please let Nicky in the office know if you are away during the summer and are normally on the 10:30 Roster. Thanks.

Monday, May 12, 2008

12th - 18th May 2008

Monday, May 12th
Office Closed
1.30 pm - Afternoon Bible Study

TIM AWAY ON STUDY LEAVE 12TH - 18TH MAY

Thursday, May 8th
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 information.

Sunday, May 18th - Trinity - Led by Lay Readers
9.00 am - Morning Prayer
10.30 am - Morning Prayer & Sunday School

Growing Prayer @ St. Margaret’s

Church Families:
• Helen Karvonen
• Kathy Kilgour

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Some of our Sidespeople - Chris & Marlene Aasen, Stan & Elaine Gerber, Gary & Kathy Hughes & Michelle Lobreau.

Sheila Hagan-Bloxham - Will be covering Emergency Pastoral Care (i.e. in case of death or disaster!) while Tim is away on Study Leave from May 12th - 18th.

St. Margaret’s News

WIN HOUSE TOTAL AS OF 4th MAY - $2933.00
MOBILE CLINIC TOTAL AS OF 4th MAY - $5693.00


SPRING CONGREGATIONAL MEETING - MAY 25TH AT 12 NOON.

Vestry would like to begin a discussion about how we can make both the interior and exterior of our church building and grounds more inviting and welcoming for newcomers. As a first step toward this we would like to gather a small group of interested people to share ideas. If you would like to be part of this group, please contact Tim or any other vestry member.

Hymns Old & New - If anyone would like to order a music copy of the new orange hymn book for themselves, the cost is around $35 - $40. Please let Tim or the office know a.s.a.p. Thanks.

Summer Rosters - Please let Nicky in the office know if you are away during the summer and are normally on the 10:30 Roster. Thanks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

St. Margaret's Community Evangelist Proposal

Background
The area around our church has been growing rapidly, but for the last few years attendance at St. Margaret’s has pretty much stayed the same. Also, according to the most recent census figures our church demographics are wildly out of sync with the demographics for our neighbourhoods, in which 40-45% of the population are between the ages of 20-40.

As a congregation we are very good at reaching out to the poor and needy, around the world and in our city, but we have not yet found the secret of connecting with the people in our own neighbourhoods.

Proposal
Thanks to a generous legacy from a former member, this congregation currently has a lot of money in the bank. We have explored the idea of using it to expand the building, but there does not seem to be the energy to see that task through. I therefore propose (with the support of Bishop Jane) that we shift our focus from growing the building and concentrate on growing the church community through evangelism.

I would therefore propose that St. Margaret’s hire a community evangelist for a two-year term period. The goal of this position would be to share the gospel with the people of our immediate neighbourhoods, with the aim that people come to faith in Jesus Christ and to participation in the life of our parish.

Specific aspects of the job description would include:
  • Finding creative ways to connect with the people in our neighbourhoods in order to share the gospel with them, to make new disciples for Jesus, and to help them find a home in our church.
  • Mobilising members of our congregation, and motivating and equipping them to take part in this evangelistic task.
  • Assisting St. Margaret’s to identify the necessary changes to our life as a congregation which would enable a younger demographic to feel more at home with us (which might include, but not be limited to, changes to the way we do worship, or the addition of another service specifically targeted at a different demographic).
  • Planning for the future, including the raising up and training of people in the congregation, so that this work does not end at the conclusion of this two-year term position.
  • This position should not include any ‘in-house’ administrative responsibilities and should include only a limited liturgical responsibility with existing Sunday services. The community evangelist should be set free to do the specific work we need him or her to do, without being distracted by in-house tasks.
  • It is anticipated that, after a reasonable period of time to familiarize him or herself with our neighbourhood, the community evangelist would develop specific plans for outreach, in consultation with the rector and vestry. It is also anticipated that at regular intervals during the two-year term progress would be evaluated and any necessary adjustments made.

Costs
Salary and benefits for 2009/10 (Diocesan pay scale): $149,927
Program costs (guess): $20,000
Office rental if necessary: $8000
Total: $177,927

We currently have sufficient money in the bank to fund this proposal, and may also be able to access some money from the diocesan ‘Neighbourworks’ fund to cut down a little on our own expenses.

Time Frame
The projected start date for this position would be January 1st 2009.

Comments and questions from members of St. Margaret’s are welcome. If you have ideas or concerns, we want to hear them. We want to be sure that we are moving ahead in obedience to God and not just out of human initiative.

Note: Could St. Margaret's members commenting on this post please identify themselves by name? It helps the discussion if we know who we're talking with!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sermon for Easter 7: 1 Peter 4:12 - 5:11

The Normal Christian Life

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the old gospel song ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’. The first verse goes like this:
I am a poor wayfaring stranger,
While traveling through this world of woe.
Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger
In that bright world to which I go.
What’s the vision of the Christian life that this gospel song portrays? Well, according to this song, the Christian life in this world is a life of suffering. We live in a world of woe, and our experience as we travel through it is full of sickness, toil, and danger. The only escape from this dismal scenario is to die and go to heaven, which is, of course, a much better place.

For an alternative, here’s a chorus we used to sing when I was young:
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away!
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day.
Here’s a completely different vision of the Christian life. The burden of my heart is rolled away because I’ve put my faith in Jesus, and now I am happy all day long. It sounds wonderful, but we might have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a little less than honest. In fact, I know that some people who used to sing this song were definitely not happy all the day, and some of them were actually carrying enormous burdens of one kind or another.

So what is the normal Christian life? Unbroken hardship and misery until we go to heaven? Or one long clap-happy gospel song party, with nothing but joy from morning ‘til night? Well, of course, the truth is something in between those two extremes. In our final reading from the first letter of Peter, Peter sets out for us some of the elements on the normal Christian life, and we won’t be surprised to find that some of them are about hardship and some of them are about joy and strength and growth. Turn with me to 1 Peter 4:12 – 5:11, and let me point out to you four elements of the normal Christian life.

First, suffering. In 4:12 Peter says, ‘Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you’. The ‘fiery ordeal’ phrase reminds us of something Peter said in the first chapter: ‘In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (1:6-7).

Let’s be clear what sort of suffering Peter is talking about here. He’s not referring to the suffering that is the ordinary lot of human beings in a broken world: sickness, financial hardship, family struggles, war and so on. It’s clear throughout this letter that when Peter talks about suffering he means the suffering that comes our way specifically because we are followers of Jesus. His vision of the Christian life is that Christians are not afraid to stand up and be counted as followers of Jesus, to live by the values Jesus taught us, and to share the good news of Jesus with others. We don’t keep quiet about all this because we want to have an easy life. We’re open about it, and if there’s a price to pay, we’re willing to pay the price.

As I’ve been preaching through 1 Peter I’ve mentioned a few times the sorts of suffering for Christ that the first recipients of this letter might have endured. Christians were accused of being a superstitio, an antisocial sect that wouldn’t do its civic duty of praying to the gods for the safety and prosperity of the town, and wouldn’t take part in civic celebrations that involved the worship of idols. Christian business people were getting poorer because the trade guild meetings took place in the context of pagan worship and they could not participate. Christians were in danger of their lives if they refused to worship the emperor as a god. It’s interesting to me that all of these points of tension involve idolatry. When we think of the idols people worship today – money and possessions, prosperity and success, everlasting youth, sexuality, nationalism and so on – we would do well to ask ourselves, “What would it mean for us to refuse to participate in these forms of idolatry? And what would be the consequences?”

Peter has an interesting way of thinking about this sort of suffering in verse 13: ‘But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed’. He’s thinking about the Cross as the price that Jesus paid for his obedience to the Father. Jesus came into a broken and sinful world and he did the will of the Father faithfully. But a sinful world wasn’t happy with that. Those in power found their power challenged, and they weren’t ready to give it up and embrace the new way of Jesus. People committed to sinful lives didn’t like the way their sins were challenged. People who believed in the way of violence thought Jesus was being disloyal to Israel’s God when he rejected the path of armed rebellion and told people to love their enemies. And so Jesus was despised and rejected and nailed to a cross; that’s the price he paid for his obedience to God. And when we are treated as Jesus was treated, we are sharing in his sufferings. That’s what Jesus meant when he told us that we have to take up our cross and follow him.

So Peter’s vision of the normal Christian life includes standing up and being counted for Jesus, and not being afraid to suffer the consequences of that. The second thing we see in this passage – and you’ll perhaps be surprised to hear me say this – is sin. Look at verse 15: ‘But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief-maker’.

Don’t you find it surprising that Peter would have to warn a Christian congregation about these things? ‘If you’re going to suffer, make sure it’s because you follow Jesus, and not because you’ve murdered someone or stolen their car or robbed their bank or even stirred up gossip about them’. What sort of people were these Christians Peter was writing to? Surely they would all be well beyond that, wouldn’t they?

Apparently not. Apparently the early Christian church was made up of imperfect people just like you and me, except that some of their imperfections included sins we would find socially unacceptable. It’s sad, but there is often a double standard in the Christian community. Stealing is unacceptable, but greed and covetousness are okay. Drunkenness is unacceptable but other forms of overindulgence are fine. Gang violence is unacceptable, but violence when the state orders it is okay.

Adrian Plass spent many years struggling with a smoking habit. One day when he was standing outside a building, someone he barely knew came up to him and said, “I see you’re still indulging in that filthy habit”. Adrian was in a touchy mood that morning, and he shot back, “It’s a lot better than your filthy habit!” The man’s face went pale, and he quickly slipped away. Adrian had no knowledge of any filthy habit the man might have, but obviously his comment had struck home. We all have skeletons in the closet; we all have things we’re ashamed of that we wouldn’t want anyone else to know about.

We spend our entire Christian lives learning to turn from our sins and follow the way of Jesus. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not. That’s why Peter had to warn his flock to make sure they didn’t suffer for the wrong reasons. Your besetting sin might not be burglary or gang violence; it might be addiction to the good things that money can buy, or a simple laziness that finds caring for the poor and needy just too much like hard work. Whatever it is – that’s the story of our Christian lives. Jesus is gentle with us, but he always calls us to turn from our sins and follow him. So don’t be surprised if you meet sinners in the church; they’re people just like you!

So the normal Christian life involves standing up and being counted for Jesus, and being willing to suffer the consequences for that, and it also involves continued struggle with our sins. The third thing we see in this passage is imitation. In 5:1-5 Peter gives instructions to the elders, and in verse 3 he says this: ‘Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock’.

Now, we might spend a lot of time profitably examining the difference between our professionalised form of Christian ministry today and the much more informal model presupposed in Peter’s letter. But I only have twenty minutes, and I want to focus in on one of the defining characteristics of Christian pastoral ministry as Peter sets it out here: older Christians show by their good example what it means to be followers of Jesus, and younger Christians watch them, learn from them, and imitate what they see.

This is a model of Christian growth that’s quite different from the professional education model we so often follow. But of course, it’s the way children grow and learn, by watching their parents. It’s the way I learned to play guitar; I only took six professional guitar lessons in my entire life, but I spent a lot of time watching and listening to other players and trying to do what I saw them doing. I used to try to sit as close to the front as I could at concerts so I could see what the players were doing with their hands!

We can probably all think of older Christians – not necessarily chronologically older than us, but more experienced in the Christian life – people who we have admired and have found ourselves trying to imitate. But have we ever thought of returning the favour to others? I remember many years ago having a conversation with a young cousin of mine who was getting interested in Christianity and was asking questions about prayer. We were talking about having a daily prayer time and what that might look like, and I suddenly decided that the best way to teach him was to demonstrate. So I said, ‘Sit beside me, and we’ll do it together’. We read a Bible passage and I talked about some of the things that struck me from it, just as I might do for myself if I was reading the passage devotionally. I then let him listen in as I prayed – praising God, confessing sins, thanking God for things, and bringing my requests to God for other people and for myself. When we were done, I said to him, “Now – do you think you can do something like that?” He replied, “I think I can”.

Of course, behind all this is the idea of imitating Jesus himself. Earlier in the letter Peter says, ‘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’ (2:21). Paul also says, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus is the ultimate pattern for us to follow; we who are older in the Christian life are responsible to put his teaching and example into practice, so that younger Christians can see Christ in us. And so we all follow Jesus together, and gradually we’re changed into his likeness.

So the normal Christian life involves being willing to suffer the consequences of faithfulness to Jesus, continued struggle with our sins, and daily imitation of the good example that we see in Jesus and in older Christians. There are many other things I could point out in this passage: for instance, I might think about the humility that Peter mentions in 5:5-6, or the daily casting of our anxieties on God in 5:7. But time is limited, and I do want to conclude with the last thing Peter mentions in this passage: spiritual warfare. Look at 5:8-9: ‘Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering’.

This Christian life is not a walk in the park; it’s not a nice relaxed conversation in which everything goes. The New Testament is quite clear about this: Jesus, Paul, Luke, Peter, John and all the rest are all agreed that behind all of the evil in the world there is a personal being, a malignant force who opposes God and wants to dominate and subdue God’s good creation. All human cruelty, love of power, greed, anger, violence, injustice and oppression point to the character of this evil force. Sometimes he’s called ‘the devil’, as here in Peter; at other times he’s called ‘the satan’, which means ‘the accuser’. Here he is also called ‘your adversary’, the one who opposes us. We are setting ourselves to imitate the good things that we see in Jesus, but our adversary is determined stop us. His aim is to shipwreck our faith and win us back for the kingdom of darkness.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Peter saw the persecution that the early Christians were going through as part of this spiritual struggle. The devil was trying to intimidate Christians, to set the cost of following Christ higher and higher, so that people would be discouraged and give up. But Peter tells them not to do that. Instead he tells them to do two things. First, they’re to ‘resist (the devil), steadfast in (their) faith’ (45:9a). To be ‘steadfast’ is to stick to it, not to give up, just as Jesus didn’t give up when he was tempted in the desert. Second, they are to remember that throughout the world their brothers and sisters in Christ are involved in the same struggle as they are.

A roaring lion looking for something to devour might hesitate to attack a whole herd of animals, but the thing it really loves is to find an animal that’s all alone. That sort of animal is a sitting duck. And that’s why it’s so important for us not to try to isolate ourselves from other Christians. That’s why it’s so important for us to come to church week by week, to pray together and get together for Bible study with our fellow Christians. Together, it’s easier for us to resist the attacks of the devil. But if we neglect that meeting together, it gets harder and harder.

So this is the normal Christian life as Peter sees it. We’re not afraid to stand up and be counted as followers of Jesus and we’re prepared to suffer the consequences. We know that we continue to sin, but we do our best each day to turn from sin and live as Jesus taught us. We imitate the good example that we see in Jesus and in those who are older in the faith than we are. And we recognise that we’re in a spiritual struggle, but we don’t give up; we resist the devil’s attacks and we meet regularly with our fellow Christians so that we can be strengthened and encouraged by one another’s faith.

Constant sorrow? Unbroken happiness? No, not really – a bit of both! Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to live the normal Christian life as Peter has portrayed it for us.

Monday, May 5, 2008

May 5th - 11th 2008

Monday, May 5th
Office Closed/Tim’s Day Off
1.30 pm -- Afternoon Bible Study

Tuesday, May 6th
1.30 pm -- Congregational Care Committee Meeting @ Church

Thursday, May 8th
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 information.
7.00 pm -- Corporation Meeting @ Bogani Café

Sunday, May 11th - Pentecost (Mothers’ Day)
9.00 am -- Eucharist
10.30 am -- Eucharist & Sunday School
Guest Preacher: The Rt. Rev. David Ashdown, Bishop of Keewatin.

4.00 pm -- Consecration of the New Bishop.

Monday May 12th - Sunday May 18th: Tim away on Study Leave.


Growing Prayer @ St. Margaret’s

Church Families:
• Mike, Lori-Lynn, Alyssa & Brendan Kalis
• Genevieve Kalnins

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Congregational Care Committee

St. Margaret’s News

WIN HOUSE TOTAL AS OF 27th APRIL - $2733.00
MOBILE CLINIC TOTAL AS OF 27TH APRIL - $5683.00


SPRING CONGREGATIONAL MEETING - MAY 25TH AT 12 NOON.

Hymns Old & New - If anyone would like to order a music copy of the new orange hymn book for themselves, the cost is around $35 - $40. Please let Tim or the office know a.s.a.p. Thanks.


In response to requests, the Diocese has established a fund for Episcopal vestments, ring and travelling crozier. If you wish to contribute to the fund, please make your cheque payable to The Diocese of Edmonton and mark on it “Episcopal Emblems Fund”.


Summer Rosters - Please let Nicky in the office know if you are away during the summer and are normally on the 10:30 Roster. Thanks.

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, May 2, 2008

Sermon for Ascension Day: Acts 1:1-11

You Will Be My Witnesses

Many years ago when you were travelling to a foreign country and going through customs, it was common to hear a uniformed officer ask you “Have you anything to declare?” If you said, “Yes”, you knew you were in for some questioning! So, many people who actually had some illegal product to declare actually said, ‘No’, to save themselves the trouble. Some got away with it, and some didn’t.

Today I often wonder if the world is unconsciously putting this question to the Christian Church: ‘Have you anything to declare?’ In other words, in the face of all the pain in the world, do we have a strong Word from God to declare, a Word that will make a difference and bring hope to people’s lives? Because a church with ‘nothing to declare’ has no reason to exist, except to be a kind of spiritual country club to its members. A strong church needs a strong message to declare to the world. Our reading from Acts today shows us this message, and how to declare it.

What is the message of the Ascension? Simply put, it is that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. The Ascension is often seen as the day Jesus left the church. On the face of it this seems reasonable – one moment he was with the disciples, the next minute a cloud took him out of their sight, and he was gone. But in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Peter gives the true meaning of the Ascension in his sermon in the next chapter of Acts, where he says that Jesus has been ‘exalted at the right hand of God’ (Acts 2:33). The right hand of God is the place of authority and power.

In our passage for today there’s an important word missing in the NRSV translation of verse 1, which reads ‘In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught…’ But the TNIV keeps the missing Greek word; it reads ‘In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach…’ By ‘my former book’, Luke is referring to his Gospel, the story of the things Jesus began to do and to teach. ‘Acts’, then, is the story of the things he continues to do and to teach, through his Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We aren’t struggling to do our best because Jesus is gone; rather, we are gathered here together because he is present – both here, and in all the world.

So Christians rejoice in the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord of all: that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him by God. This is the message we have to ‘declare’ to the world: The power of evil has been broken by God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. God has now exalted Jesus and made him the true ruler of the universe. At present, that rule is hidden from the powers of this world, but one day it will be revealed to all. And this is good news, because the rule of Jesus isn’t about tyranny and coercion, but love, freedom, and grace. The last word in the history of the world won’t go to the tyrants but to our Saviour Jesus Christ.

So the Christian good news is that Jesus is Lord of all, and this is what the Ascension symbolises. Next, this passage shows us our role in God’s plan: we are Jesus’ witnesses.

How is Jesus’ kingdom spread? The apostles had a plan for this; in verse 6 we read: ‘So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”’ In other words, ‘Lord, if you will just make Israel into a superpower, then our armies will be able to enforce your authority everywhere!’ But Jesus reshapes their plan to a new end – the coming of the Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Look at verse 8: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’. In order to understand this verse we need to go back to the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 43 God has brought a lawsuit against his people Israel because of their idolatry. Listen to verses 8-13:
Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
who are deaf, yet have ears!
Let all the nations gather together,
and let the peoples assemble.
Who among them declared this,
and foretold to us the former things?
Let them bring their witnesses to justify them,
and let them hear and say, ‘It is true’.
You are my witnesses, says the LORD,
and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
I, I am the LORD,
and besides me there is no saviour.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses, says the LORD.
I am God, and also henceforth I am He;
there is no one who can deliver from my hand;
I work and who can hinder it?
The message Isaiah is bringing to the people in these verses is ‘Your God is not an idol you can see with your eyes. Your spiritual eyes need to be opened so that you can see the invisible Lord God of Israel, who is the only true God. Then you will be his witnesses in all the world’. And in the same way, after the Ascension the apostles will no longer be able to see Jesus with their physical eyes. However, when the Holy Spirit comes on them and opens their spiritual eyes, they will be able to see Jesus at work wherever they go – in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Seeing him, they will point people toward him, the Lord God of Israel, the only true God, now made flesh in Jesus Christ, the Lord of all.

So the issue for us today is this: Has the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to see the saving work of Jesus Christ in our world? This, you see, is why the Holy Spirit is not an optional extra: until he opens our spiritual eyes to see, we quite literally can’t be Jesus’ witnesses. You can’t be a witness when you haven’t seen anything.

The question for us is: What good news about Jesus have I witnessed, have I experienced, that I want to share with others? And if the only honest answer is ‘nothing’, then we need to earnestly pray that the Spirit would fall on us and open our eyes. And we should not be satisfied with just praying this once and then giving up in despair. We need to keep on praying until we receive the gift the Father promised. This is what Jesus told us in Luke 11:9-13:
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or, if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.

And so the third thing this passage shows us is that we can’t be Jesus’ witnesses without the Holy Spirit. In verses 4-5 we read:
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’.
They are to ‘wait’. Only the Holy Spirit can make Christians witnesses, as we already saw in verse 8: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…’. They need above all to be ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit. The Greek word ‘baptizo’ means ‘to sink’, like a ship sunk under the ocean – they need to be immersed, surrounded, and totally filled, not with water, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, like sponges soaking him up! And when this happens, it has an amazing effect on people’s lives, as we see in Acts where a group of scared disciples is transformed into a band of bold missionaries who preach and heal without fear in the name of Jesus.

The Church has always remembered that the Holy Spirit is essential to our task. In the service of Confirmation in the BAS, when the bishop lays hands on the head of the person being confirmed she prays ‘Strengthen, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service…’ And in the ordination service, the bishop lays hands on the person to be ordained priest and prays ‘Send down your Holy Spirit on your servant…’ But the Church has often forgotten the other little word Jesus uses here: ‘Wait’. We pray the prayer, and then we move on to the next part of the liturgy. But might God be saying to us “Wait! Do you really mean it? Do you really want it? How badly? Are you willing to stop for a while? Are you willing to fast and pray and not to let go until you get what you’re looking for?” After all, in the verse about asking and receiving that we quoted earlier, all the Greek verbs are in the continuous tense: Jesus actually tells us ‘Keep on asking’, ‘Keep on seeking’, ‘Keep on knocking’.

So let me leave you with this challenge. The Christian Church really does have something to declare, something good: the great news that Jesus our Saviour has defeated the power of evil and that he will bring in his kingdom in all its fulness in God’s good time. The world needs this good news, shared by people whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit to see Jesus at work among us even now.

So: Have your eyes been opened? Has the Holy Spirit filled you and made you one of Jesus’ witnesses? And if not, are you willing to ‘wait’ until he does? Are you willing to pray persistently, perhaps even to fast, without giving up, until you experience what those early Christians experienced on the Day of Pentecost – a baptism, a drenching, a complete immersion, in the power of the Holy Spirit of God?