Monday, March 29, 2010

Sermon for March 28th

Mission

Those of you who have been listening to my sermons for a while will know that I am a great admirer of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Steps were created as a spiritual program to help alcoholics find freedom from their addiction with the help of God, who they call ‘the Higher Power’. The Steps take addicts through a process of admitting their inability to rescue themselves from alcoholism, coming to belief that a power greater than themselves can help them, and committing their lives to God ‘as they understand him’. The alcoholics admit their moral defects, ask God to remove them, and make amends to others who have been hurt by their behaviour, and they go on to practice regular prayer and meditation to improve their conscious contact with God. But the Twelfth Step, the last one of all, is the one I want to focus on this morning:

‘Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs’.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing many AA members over the years, and all of them have agreed with me that alcoholism is a very selfish, self-centred way of life. To me, that’s why the Twelfth Step is a stroke of genius. If all we had were the first eleven Steps, it would be possible for the recovering alcoholic to continue to focus all their attention on themselves, and on their own recovery. But the founders of AA knew that, if that were to happen, in the end the alcoholic would return to his or her addiction. Unless there was some way of focussing attention outward, the fundamental direction of their lives would not be changed. And so they came up with this simple step: what has been done for you, you must now do for others. Although they would not have used the word, with this single step they turned AA into a missionary organisation.

Now what’s that got to do with what we’re doing in church here today? Well, as most of you know, throughout Lent we’ve been thinking together about godly habits that can help to shape us as followers of Jesus. I’ve chosen six habits to focus on - prayer, study, action, worship, giving, and mission. Today, Palm Sunday, we’re at the end of the series, and so we’re turning our attention to the Christian discipline of mission. And this discipline of mission isn’t an optional extra, something we can tag onto our spiritual life if we happen to like that sort of thing. No, like the Twelfth Step of AA, it’s an essential part of our growth as Christian disciples.

When Jesus first chose people to be his disciples, he didn’t enroll them in a program that was exclusively focussed on their own spiritual growth and development. Nor did he tell his new followers that they could spend the first few years learning the new life for themselves before they tried to spread it to others. No - he enlisted them right from the beginning in a program of training for mission. In Mark chapter one we read these words:

‘As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”’ (Mark 1:16-17).

It’s clear from this statement and from what followed that fishing for people – taking the message of Jesus to other people and inviting them also to become his followers – was on the discipleship curriculum from day one. It wasn’t like a fourth year university course; it was an entry-level course, to be taken in year one. Jesus didn’t call people to become his disciples so that they could focus only on their own spiritual development. He wanted to change the world, and he trained disciples to help him do it.

We see this in all the gospels at the end of the story of Jesus; all four of the biblical gospels have some version of what has become known as the ‘Great Commission’ that Jesus gave to his church. The best known is Matthew’s version:

‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

The version in chapter sixteen of Mark’s gospel goes like this:

‘And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned”’ (Mark 16:15-16).

Luke’s version is worded somewhat differently:

‘And Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high”’ (Luke 24:46-49).

Finally, in John 20, in the story of Easter Sunday, we read these words:

Jesus said to (his disciples) again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit”’ (John 20:19-22).

Why are there different versions of this commission? Well, the book of Acts tells us that after he was raised from the dead Jesus appeared to his disciples regularly over a period of seven weeks, speaking to them about the Kingdom of God. This was not a brief conversation! In fact, we can assume that there were several conversations, in which some of the same themes reappeared regularly, with different nuances on each occasion. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that the Great Commission takes different forms in each of the gospels; the gospel-writers were summarizing, and each of them was underlining themes that were important to him in the way he told the story of Jesus.

What can we learn from these words of Jesus? Let me underline two things.

First, Christian mission is based on the mission of Jesus. In John’s gospel Jesus says to the disciples – and, through them, to the Church and to us – ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20:21).

We get the word ‘mission’ from the Latin word ‘missae’ – ‘to send’. It’s a fundamental theme of the gospel of John that Jesus was sent into the world by the Father to do the Father’s will. When we look at how this was actually worked out in the ministry of Jesus, we see that there was a twofold emphasis: words, and actions. Jesus preached the gospel and challenged people to repent and believe in him, and he also relieved human suffering by healing the sick, spending time with outcasts, reaching out to marginalised people and so on.

So we are called today to be in mission for Jesus by our actions and by our words. We reach out in action by relieving human suffering, and we reach out in words by sharing the gospel of Jesus and inviting others to become his followers. Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’. Our involvement in Christian mission is our way of being part of the answer to our own prayer. God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done as people become followers of Jesus and as the world is transformed into a place of justice and peace, a place where everyone has enough and no one has too much.

In the Christian spectrum over the past hundred years, there’s been a polarization between liberal and conservative, between mainline and evangelical, on this issue of Christian mission. Mainline churches, especially those of a more liberal bent, have tended to focus on action to help the poor and needy, and have shied away from evangelism, seeing it as ‘ramming our beliefs down other people’s throats’. Evangelical churches, on the other hand, have stressed personal conversion and our responsibility to help non-Christians come to faith in Christ. Nowadays, though, this division is more and more a thing of the past. In the evangelical and conservative Christian world, more and more people are recognizing that the relief of human suffering is an integral part of our Christian responsibility, and so you have organisations like World Vision that come from an evangelical background and work hard to help the poor all around the world. And in the mainline churches, slowly, we’re coming to see that evangelism is also part of the job that Jesus gave to his disciples.

So as you and I think about how the Christian discipline of mission can be an integral part of our daily lives, we have to consider both these areas: our practical work to relieve human suffering, both near and far, and also our spoken witness for Christ with our friends, neighbours, and family members.

In our church, of course, there are plenty of opportunities for us to get involved in the relief of human suffering. This year we are raising funds for four different outreach projects, from the chaplaincy at the Edmonton Young Offender Centre to the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad, from the Salvation Army to the work of World Vision in providing micro-loans for small businesses in the developing world. We can all help in this by giving generously to these causes. And in our city there are plenty of ways we can get involved in caring for the needy: we can volunteer at the Mustard Seed or Hope Mission, hammer nails with Habitat for Humanity, help with lunches at the Bissell Centre and so on. We can get involved in political advocacy so that public policy helps shape a better world for everyone, not just for the rich and powerful. There are many avenues for us to help in the relief of human suffering, and we need to ask ourselves, ‘What is God calling me to do?’

When it comes to our spoken witness for Christ, again, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Jesus tells us to be his ‘witnesses’; a witness simply speaks about what he or she has experienced. Hopefully all of us can think of ways that our faith in Christ is making a practical difference in our daily lives. As we build open and caring relationships with other people, we can take the opportunities that come our way to share our stories.

This business of being a witness for Christ can mean something as simple as being willing to admit that we are regular churchgoers. It can involve being ready to have the conversation when people want to talk about religion – as people in today’s world often do. It can include an invitation to church; over 90% of non-churchgoers who start going to church do so because a friend invited them. And sometimes it can involve helping people take that simple step of saying ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to follow him.

So Christian mission is based on the mission of Jesus, and it includes both working to relieve human suffering and also sharing the gospel and inviting people to put their faith in Jesus. But the second thing we can learn from these words of Jesus is that Christian mission is impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit.

The texts are very clear about this. In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells his followers not to rush off enthusiastically right away, but to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In Acts Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). And in John’s story, after Jesus has appeared to the twelve and said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”, we read that ‘he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”’ (John 20:22).

This is not rocket science; it’s about beginning each day with a prayer that God would fill us with the Holy Spirit, that he would open our eyes to the opportunities through the day to reach out with his love to others, and give us the resources we need to take advantage of those opportunities when they come our way. Prayer is the most important channel of the Holy Spirit’s power into our lives. In prayer we ask for the Spirit’s power; in prayer we ask God to guide us; in prayer we bring the needs of other people to God; in prayer we have a sense of being in partnership with God, so that we aren’t doing the work of mission alone.

The Twelfth Step of AA says, ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs’. I hope that each of you here has had a spiritual awakening in your life. For some of us it was a dramatic experience, a movement from darkness to light. For others it was a more gradual growth in our awareness of the presence of Christ and the difference he was making to us day by day.

The wisdom of AA is that love isn’t love until you give it away. If you take all the blessings God has poured out on you and hoard them for yourselves, eventually you’ll lose them; the joy will go away, and your spirituality will be an empty shell. So today, as we come to the end of this series on basic Christian disciplines, ask yourselves these two simple questions: First, what is one simple, practical way that God wants me to help to relieve human suffering, whether close at hand or far away? And second, what is one simple step I can take to commend my faith in Christ to the people I meet who are not yet followers of Jesus? And having come up with answers to those two questions, let’s put the answers into practice, so that the kingdom of God can go forward and our own faith can continue to grow.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 29 - April 4

C A L E N D A R

Monday, March 29th

Tim’s day off

Office Closed

Thursday, April 1st

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys’s house

7:00 pm Eucharist and Foot Washing

Friday, April 2nd Good Friday

10:30 am Good Friday Service

Saturday, April 3rd

Tim’s day off

Sunday, April 4th - Easter

9:00 am Eucharist

9:45 am Combined Coffee

10:30 am Eucharist and Baptisms

11:45 am Coffee Hour

Outreach Project update: To date we have raised $1410.00 for the Edmonton Young Offender Centre Chaplaincy.

World Vision Sponsor Children: If you are interested in taking an active role in writing to our sponsor children Nipa and Partel please let the church office know by phone or e-mail at stmag@telus.net. We would like to start communicating with the children soon

Fundraising Project: Chaplaincy at the Edmonton Young Offender Centre

Program Budget (Goal: $3,000)

This funding will go to such things as: educational videos to teach the Christian faith to teenagers; other books and Bible study materials; cookies and snacks for chapel program times; birthday celebrations and parties; thank you gifts for kids who help organise programs, set up for chapel etc.

Easter Services: Thursday April 1, 2010 7 pm Eucharist and Foot Washing. 10:30 am Good Friday service. Sunday April 4, 9:oo am Easter service, 10:30 am Easter Service and Baptisms. On Easter Sunday there will be the Combined coffee at 9:45 as well as coffee at 11:45. Volunteers are needed see sign up sheets in the foyer.

Easter Flowers: If you would like to make a donation toward the Easter floral arrangement to be placed in front of the altar, please place your donation in your offering envelope and mark it accordingly. Thank you.

Next New Member Orientation Friday April 30 at 7pm: We will have dessert, coffee and fellowship time. We will also give a short history of the parish and share ideas for our community.

Hymn Sing Date Change: The Hymn sing will be held on May 14th at the Rys residence.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

April Calendar

St. Margaret’s Anglican Church

Calendar – April 2010


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


Thursday, April 1

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani’s

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys house

7:00 pm Eucharist and Foot Washing


Friday, April 2

10:30 am Good Friday Service


Sunday, April 4 - Easter Day

9:00 am - Eucharist

9:45 am - COMBINED COFFEE

10:30 am - Eucharist and Baptisms

11:45 pm Extra Coffee Hour


Monday, April 5

Tim’s day off

Office Closed


Tuesday, April 6

Office Closed

Tim at Deanery Clergy Meeting


Thursday, April 8

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani’s

11:30 pm Seniors Lunch

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys house

7:30 pm Growing and Living as a Christian #4


Sunday, April 11 - Easter 2

9:00 am - Eucharist

10:30 am - Eucharist

4:00 pm YCC #9


Monday, April 12

Tim’s day off

Office Closed


Tuesday, April 13

11:15 am St. Joseph's Eucharist


Thursday, April 15

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani’s

11:30 am Seniors Lunch

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys house

7:30 pm Growing and Living as a Christian #5


Saturday, April 14

10:00 am-4:00 pm

"The Anglican Way Workshop"


Sunday, April 18 - Easter 3

9:00 am - Eucharist

10:30 am - Eucharist

4:00 pm YCC#9


Monday, April 19

Tim’s day off

Office Closed


Wednesday, April 21

7:15 pm Vestry


Thursday, April 22

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani’s

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys house

7:30 pm GLC#6


Sunday, April 25 - Easter 4

9:00 am - Eucharist

10:30 am - Morning Worship

4:00 pm YCC#10


Monday, April 26

Tim's day off

Office closed


Thursday, April 29

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani’s

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys house


Friday, April 30

7:00 pm New Member Orientation


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sermon for March 21st 2010

Giving

Years ago, when Marci and I were first married, we lived in the little town of Arborfield, Saskatchewan; I was working as a minister, not only in Arborfield, but also on the two Cree reserves of Red Earth and Shoal Lake, on the road to Le Pas, Manitoba. I did a lot of driving in those days; it was sixty miles from Arborfield to Red Earth – thirty of them on gravel – and then another twenty-five miles from Red Earth to Shoal Lake. In between Arborfield and the two reserves was the slightly larger town of Carrot River, and in that town was a little Christian bookstore run by a man called Marvin. Marvin was a very hospitable and generous guy; long before Chapters and Indigo came along, he figured out that if you have coffee and easy chairs available in your bookstore, it increases people’s enjoyment of their shopping experience. I used to stop regularly in Marvin’s bookstore, and it was a pretty common occurrence for him to find an excuse to give me a book. Not sell me a book – give me a book. One day I said to him, “Marvin, you’re never going to make any money if you keep giving books away”. He replied, “Yes, but I’m having a lot of fun doing it!”

Today we’re going to think about the Christian discipline of giving. As we’ve been going through Lent we’ve been thinking together about godly habits that can help to shape us as followers of Jesus. I’ve chosen six - prayer, study, action, worship, giving, and mission – and today we’re on the fifth one: giving. I want to say a few things about the Christian discipline of giving, but I want to say at the outset that the purpose of the discipline of giving is to teach us the joy of giving. On the day that we learn the joy of giving, we won’t need the discipline any longer; generosity will be the hallmark of our lives, and no one will have to persuade us about it. But we’re not there yet – at least, I’m not! I’m on the road, but I’ve still got a long way to go, so I still need the discipline to help train me.

In the Old Testament, the primary discipline for giving was tithing: the practice of giving ten percent of your crops and your flocks to the Lord and to those who served the Lord as priests or ministers of any kind. This practice was formalized in the book of Leviticus chapter 27, but it’s worded in such a way as to give us the impression that it was already a well-worn custom for the Israelites. Leviticus 27:30 and 32 says, “All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord… All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord”.

Who were the tithes to be paid to? Numbers 18:21 says, “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for a possession in return for the service they perform, the service in the tent of meeting”. What does that mean?

The Old Testament tells us that there were twelve tribes of Israel, each of them descended from one son of Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel. Eleven of the tribes were given land to live on and work so that they could support themselves – one of them, the tribe of Joseph, was actually divided into two, because it was so large – and within each tribe the land was divided between clans and families so that every family could support themselves. But one tribe was given no land: the tribe of Levi. God set them apart to serve in the tabernacle, the tent of meeting where the worship of Israel was conducted; later on, after the temple was built in Jerusalem, they did all the practical work around the place. And within the tribe of Levi one family, the family of Aaron, was set apart to be hereditary priests of the Lord. The families of the tribe of Levi had no land, so how were they going to support themselves? The answer was that they weren’t; the other eleven tribes were going to support them by bringing one tenth of their produce and giving it to the priests and the Levites, so that they would be free to do God’s work in leading the worship of his people and teaching the Law of God.

What were the people required to tithe? Leviticus mentions “the seed from the ground”, “the fruit from the tree”, and “the herd and flock” – in other words, their crops and their animals. The way it worked was very simple. With animals, the owner counted them as they went out to pasture, and every tenth one was given to God. In this way there was no possibility of selecting inferior animals for the tithing of flocks and herds. When it came to the crops, a farmer simply set aside one tenth of the produce. If he wanted to, he could pay his tithe in money rather than in actual produce, but if he did that, he had to add one-fifth to the amount.

This discipline was assumed throughout the Old Testament as a basic obligation on all Israelites, and the failure to be faithful in it was mentioned as one of the reasons God wasn’t pleased with his people. In the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the prophet has this to say on God’s behalf:

‘Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me – the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing’ (Malachi 3:8-10).

So in Malachi’s mind, refusing to bring your tithes to God is the same as robbing God. That’s a challenging thought, isn’t it? But the other thing I find interesting in this passage is the invitation to ‘put God to the test’. Usually in the Bible, putting God to the test is something we’re discouraged from doing. But here God challenges his people: put me to the test, bring your full ten percent of flock and herd, and then see if I won’t bless you and provide for you in return.

We might think that giving a tenth of your income to help support the priests and Levites was generous enough, but that wasn’t the end of it for the Israelites; on top of that, they were also encouraged to give to the poor and needy. Psalm 41:1 says, “Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble”. The book of Proverbs contains a number of injunctions to be generous to the poor. 19:17 says, ‘Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and will be repaid in full’; conversely, in 21:13 we’re told, ‘If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard’. And in the lovely book of Tobit, in the Apocrypha, old Tobit gives this advice to his son Tobias: ‘Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have… Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High’ (Tobit 4:7b-8, 11).

So in the Old Testament we have these two emphases that are very strong: on the one hand, the requirement to give one tenth of your income to support the priests and Levites and the work they do, and on the other, the encouragement to be generous over and above that to the poor and needy. But when we come to the New Testament we notice a change. In the entire New Testament tithing is not mentioned at all. On the other hand, the encouragement to give to the poor and needy comes right to the forefront, in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. Why this change?

There are two reasons. First of all, on a practical level, the early Christians had very few full-time employees in their congregations. There was no difference between priests and lay people in the early church. It wasn’t like it is today, with most churches employing a full-time pastor who gives their whole time to the work of ministry. In the early church the work of ministry was something that was shared around the congregation. There would be a team of elders; some would be teachers, some would give pastoral care, some would administer the money given to care for the poor in the congregation, and so on. No one was expected to do all the work, and everyone had time to earn a living to support themselves. Not that the New Testament is against the concept of paying full-time Christian workers; Paul defends the practice in 1 Corinthians where he says, ‘the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel’ (1 Corinthians 9:14). So it’s not that there’s anything wrong with paying full-time workers in the church; it’s just that in New Testament times there weren’t many of them. That may be one reason why tithing isn’t mentioned.

But there’s another reason, an even more fundamental one: it’s to do with the attitude in which we give. It’s possible to tithe in a legalistic, grudging way, with an attitude that says, “What’s the least I can get away with? This much I will do, and no more!” But the New Testament question is not, “What’s the least I can get away with?” Rather, the New Testament asks, “What does it mean to follow the example of Jesus?” In 2 Corinthians 8:9 Paul says, “You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich”. So the New Testament celebrates God’s amazing generosity to us in Jesus: over and over again, we turn away from God in sin, but he doesn’t abandon us; rather, he pours out his forgiveness and love on us in Jesus. And what is our response to this? We’re called to imitate Jesus; as we have received freely from him, so we are to give freely to others.

And we’re not to do this in a grudging way, the way that keeps a careful record of everything we give and resents the fact! I have to admit that I don’t always succeed in this. On my bad days, I sometimes think of all the years I’ve been tithing and start to do some math in my mind; I think to myself, “Lord, if it wasn’t for tithing, I could have my house paid off, I could have new furniture, I could take a cruise, I could have a few trips to Mexico…” And you know what? When I do that, all my joy in the Lord goes away, and I lose all the benefit of the giving.

What’s the Christian attitude? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9,

‘The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work’ (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

Of course, what Paul meant in this passage is not that if we don’t feel cheerful about it we shouldn’t give. Rather, if we’re grudging every penny we give away, we need to change our attitude and learn the joy of generosity.

So tithing isn’t mentioned in the New Testament, but that doesn’t mean we can sigh with relief and return to a life of unmitigated selfishness! In the New Testament, whenever Jesus changes a commandment in the law, he does it by making it more demanding, not less! So it’s not enough not to kill anyone; you have to refrain from getting angry with them too. It’s not enough not to commit adultery; you have to stay away from lust, too. It’s not enough to love your friends; you have to love your enemies too. And it’s not enough to tithe and then say, “Right! I can do what I like with the other 90%” Rather, the discipline of giving is meant to change us on the inside, so that the greatest joy of our life is generosity. When we get to that space, questions about how much we should give are irrelevant. We don’t have to be told to give. We do it freely, for the sheer joy of it, out of gratitude for God’s generosity to us.

Now I know that some of you listening to me will not be happy that I’ve chosen to speak about giving today. Some people think that any talk of money is somehow unspiritual and it has no place in the pulpit. To some people, it smacks of TV evangelists with obscene incomes who continue to plead with people to send them money. And some people are just overwhelmed by the amounts of money we’re talking about today. “Ten percent? You must be joking! What? You want me to go higher than that?”

I must admit that it would be a lot more comfortable for me to avoid this topic altogether. The problem is that I don’t consider it to be part of my responsibility as a pastor to protect you from the teaching of Jesus! And Jesus in fact had a great deal to say about money: far more than I’ve said today. He saw money rather as we see radioactive material today: it can do a lot of good, but you have to handle it very carefully or it will poison you. And to him, the best way to handle it was to spend as little as possible on yourself and to give as much as possible away. Not that we shouldn’t provide for our families; that’s also a biblical duty. But most of us in the western world live in luxury that is unimaginable to the rest of humankind. The gospel call to us is to learn the joy of simplicity and the joy of generosity.

I’m not going to stand up here this morning and say to you, “You must give ten percent of your income to God”. As we’ve seen, the New Testament doesn’t specify an amount; what it specifies is an attitude of generosity. What I am going to suggest is that, as we learn the discipline of giving, we take two steps.

First, be disciplined about it. Don’t be a ‘Jesus tipper’! Pick a percentage of your income and say, “This is what I’m going to give”. Don’t even let it come into play when it comes to making financial decisions. Whenever a pay cheque comes in, that percentage gets written off right away; it belongs to God, not to us. And if you’re new to this, you might like to think about increasing that percentage year by year, so that you gradually work your way closer and closer to the biblical tithe.

But secondly, learn to enjoy the spontaneity of it! Let me take you back to my friend Marvin, who ran the Christian bookstore in Carrot River. No one told him to give books away to me and other people. It wasn’t part of his tithe. Rather, he had learned the joy of generosity from Jesus. He had learned that he didn’t need to spend a lot on luxuries to be happy; he had learned to enjoy responding to opportunities that came his way day by day to be generous to others. I’ll never forget his words when I told him that he was never going to make any money if he kept giving books away; “Yes”, he said, “but I’m having a lot of fun doing it”.

I’m not there yet; I still find that I too easily make excuses not to be generous, or grudge the amounts I give. But from time to time I catch glimpses of the absolute joy of a life of Christlike generosity, and those glimpses assure me that it really is the best way to live. And that’s why I practice the discipline of giving: so that I can get free of my addiction to materialism and learn the joy of giving. One day, when I’ve learned that lesson fully, I won’t need the discipline any more. Until then, the discipline is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. That’s why it’s important for us to think about it this Lent.

March 22 - 28

C A L E N D A R

Monday, March 22nd

Tim’s day off

Office Closed

Thursday, March 18th

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Bible Study at Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible study at Marg Rys’s house

7:30 pm Growing and Living as a Christian #3

Saturday March 27th

Tim’s day off

Sunday, March 28th – Palm Sunday

9:00 am Eucharist

10:30 am Eucharist with Sunday School


Outreach Project update: To date we have raised $925.00 for the Edmonton Young Offender Centre Chaplaincy.


I TE M S T O N O T E

World Vision Sponsor Children: If you are interested in taking an active role in writing to our sponsor children Nipa and Partel please let the church office know by phone or e-mail at stmag@telus.net. We would like to start communicating with the children soon

Fundraising Project: Chaplaincy at the Edmonton Young Offender Centre

Program Budget (Goal: $3,000)

This funding will go to such things as: educational videos to teach the Christian faith to teenagers; other books and Bible study materials; cookies and snacks for chapel program times; birthday celebrations and parties; thank you gifts for kids who help organise programs, set up for chapel etc.

Easter Services: Thursday April 7, 2010 7 pm Eucharist and Foot Washing. 10:30 am Good Friday service. Sunday April 4, 10:30 am Easter Service and Baptisms. On Easter Sunday there will be the Combined coffee at 9:45 as well as coffee at 11:45. Volunteers are needed for all three services; see sign up sheets in the foyer.

Easter Flowers: If you would like to make a donation toward the Easter floral arrangement to be placed in front of the altar, please place your donation in your offering envelope and mark it accordingly. Thank you.

Next New Member Orientation Friday April 20 at 7pm: We will have dessert, coffee and fellowship time. We will also give a short history of the parish and share ideas for our community.

Friday, March 19, 2010

April Roster

April 4 – Easter - Eucharist – Combined Coffee

Greeter/Sidespeople: C. & M. Aasen

Counter: C. Aasen/ T. Laffin

Reader: R. Goss

Readings: Acts 10:34-43,

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill John 20:1-18

Lay Administrants: D. Schindel/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Altar Guild (White): 9:00 M. Woytkiw/10:30 T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/E. Gerber

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Sunday School: M. Cromarty

Kitchen: - 9:45 am J. Mill

Kitchen: - 11:45 am M. Chesterton

April 11 – Easter 2 - Eucharist

Greeter/Sidespeople: B. & L. Popp

Counter: B. Popp/G. Hughes

Reader: C. Aasen

Readings: Acts 5:27-32, Psalm 150, Revelation 1:4-8

Lay Reader: L. Thompson John 20:19-31

Lay Administrants: Thompson/V. Haase

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Altar Guild (White): 9:00 J. Mill/10:30 L. Schindel

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/M. Rys

Nursery Supervisor: M. Aasen

Sunday School: P. Rayment

Kitchen: J. Holmes

April 18 – Easter 3 – Eucharist

Greeter/Sidespeople: D. & L. Schindel

Counter: D. Schindel/ B. Rice

Reader: D. Schindel

Readings: Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill John 21:1-19

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/M. Rys

Altar Guild (White): 9:00 M. Lobreau/10:30 L. Pyra

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/l. Sanderson

Nursery Supervisor: K. Hughes

Sunday School: C. Ripley

Kitchen: K. Weir

April 25 – Easter 4 – Morning Worship

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty

Counter: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty

Reader: C. Ripley

Readings: Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17

Lay Reader: E. Gerber John 10:22-30

Intercessor: M. Rys

Altar Guild (White): 9:00 M. Woytkiw/10:30 Worship

Nursery Supervisor: G. Hughes

Sunday School: B. Rice

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sermon for March 14th

Worship

During this Lenten season we’ve been thinking about godly habits that will help to shape us as Christian disciples long past the end of Lent. I suggested six areas of our lives that we need to think about: prayer, study, action, worship, giving, and mission. Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about prayer, study, and action, and this week I want to continue by thinking about the Christian discipline of worship.

Of course, ‘going to church on Sundays’ has been seen as a defining characteristic of Christians for centuries, and until fairly recently the custom has remained a strong part of our cultural makeup. But if I was to ask the average church member why this is important, I suspect some people might have difficulty coming up with a coherent answer. And of course the busyness of modern life and the spread of Sunday work hours have presented new challenges for us as we try to figure out how to fit corporate worship into our lives.

Let’s start out study by going back to the words that are used for ‘worship’ in the Bible. There are two main words in each of the biblical languages. The first word – ‘abada’ in Hebrew and ‘latreia’ in Greek – means ‘service’, the labour that slaves and hired servants offer to their masters. The second word – ‘histahawa’ in Hebrew and ‘proskyneo’ in Greek – means ‘to prostrate oneself in awe and wonder before God’. Together these two words express the idea of worship in the original languages of the Bible.

What do these Hebrew and Greek words teach us about worship? Three things. First, worship and life are connected. The fact that one of the words for ‘worship’ means ‘the work that a slave or servant does for their master’ reminds us that we gather together for worship to offer ourselves to God in faithful service. Paul uses this word in Romans 12:1, where he says:

‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’

The words ‘spiritual worship’ could also be translated as ‘reasonable or spiritual service’. To worship God together is to offer our lives in his service.

Second, worship is focussed on God; it is not entertainment offered to the worshippers. If worship is the labour offered to a master by his slaves or servants, then we can see that it’s not the master’s job to keep the servants entertained; it’s the servants’ job to serve their master. I was at a pastors’ conference at Regent College a few years ago when I heard Marva Dawn tell a story about a young man who was chatting with her after a church service. He said, “I didn’t get anything out of that service”. She replied: “Well, that’s good; we weren’t worshipping you, you know!”

Thirdly, in worship, we use not only our minds but also our bodies. As we’ve seen, one of the meanings of ‘worship’ is ‘to prostrate oneself before God in awe and wonder’. And in Biblical worship, prostration isn’t the only bodily act mentioned; we also read about people standing to pray, or kneeling in humility, or raising their hands to God, or clapping their hands with joy, or even dancing before the Lord. Worship isn’t just about our minds and voices; we are bodily creatures, and it’s right that we use our bodies to worship God as well.

What other themes do we find connected with worship in the Old Testament? First, there’s the practice of sacrifice. The book of Genesis tells us that when God called Abram to leave his home in modern Iraq and move to what is now the land of Israel, the first thing Abram did when he arrived there was to build an altar to the Lord, so that he could worship him there. Altars were used to sacrifice animals to God. Sometimes the sacrifice expressed thanksgiving to God for his blessings; sometimes the animal was sacrificed to make atonement for sin and to obtain forgiveness from God. In the New Testament this sacrificial theme is centred around Jesus’ death on the Cross, which is seen as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Jesus used this sacrificial language at the last supper when he said to his disciples “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The Holy Communion is a grateful remembrance of the perfect sacrifice that Jesus offered for us on the Cross.

This leads us to another idea connected with worship in the Bible: the idea of remembrance. In the Old Testament God’s people gathered once a year at the Passover to remember how God set them free from slavery in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea and the desert into their promised land. Christian worship continued with this remembrance theme; the early Christians made Sunday their day of worship, because it was the day Jesus was raised from the dead. So they gathered once a week to celebrate his death and resurrection with the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. Later on we get the development of the Christian year, with annual remembrance of Jesus’ birth, his death and resurrection, and the other events of his life at different times during the year.

Another worship theme in the Old Testament is hearing the word of the Lord. One way in which we express our love for God is to listen carefully to the scriptures and try to discern what God is saying to us in them. Psalm 95 is a psalm that is all about worship; it begins by saying,

‘O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!’ (v.1)

But later on in the psalm we read these words:

‘O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts…’ (vv.7b-8a)

So listening to the Word of the Lord is an essential part of our worship. In the time of Jesus this was the central focus of the weekly services at the synagogue, where people listened to the scriptures read and preached, and joined in the psalms and other prayers together.

Notice that word ‘together’; in these Old Testament passages worship is almost always seen as something that God’s people do together. Individual worship is mentioned from time to time, but it’s not seen as fundamental. The most important acts of worship are the ones that God’s people offer to God together. This theme continues in the New Testament. When Jesus gave his disciples a prayer to pray, he didn’t teach them to say ‘My Father in heaven’ but ‘Our Father in heaven’; every pronoun in the Lord’s Prayer is plural, not singular. The modern idea that ‘I don’t need to go to church to worship God’ is entirely absent in the Bible. Yes, God’s people did pray alone in the Bible, but they saw their worship together as fundamental.

When we think about the story of Jesus, we see that he fully immersed himself in the worship life of his people. No doubt his parents took him to synagogue regularly, and we know that they took him with them on the regular pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem for the religious festivals. As an adult, Jesus was regular in his attendance at synagogue; Luke 4:16 says, ‘When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom’.

The early Christians also gathered regularly to worship God and hear his Word together. We’re told in the Book of Acts that on the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church, three thousand people decided to become Christians and were baptized. Acts tells us that

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

In these few words we can see the outline of our worship services today. We read the Bible and listen to a sermon, which is our way of ‘devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching’. We break bread together in Holy Communion, we offer our prayers together, and we support and encourage each other in Christian fellowship. And I like the language that Acts uses here when it says that ‘they devoted themselves’ to these things. In other words, they enthusiastically committed themselves to this, and they made it their number one priority.

By the way, this weekly gathering on the Lord’s Day was not easy for the early Christians. Sunday was an ordinary working day in the Mediterranean world; the Christians didn’t get a day off to go to church. Roman writers talk about how it was the habit of Christians to get up on Sunday mornings and meet for worship before dawn – not because they especially liked getting up early, but because they all had to go to work afterwards! Later on, when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, our holy day became a weekly holiday, so we have the privilege of sleeping in a bit before we come for worship. But this is a luxury, not a necessity; the early Christians didn’t have that luxury, and they didn’t consider that this made Sunday worship impossible. They simply got up earlier.

Today, of course, there are a number of challenges to our commitment to regular worship together with our fellow-Christians. There’s the busyness of our modern life, with so many people having to work on Sundays, and so many recreational activities taking place on that day as well. It’s a very difficult thing to be a committed member of a hockey team or a curling team if you also want to commit yourself to regular weekly worship. Christians find themselves having to make hard choices about what comes first in their lives.

Another challenge to corporate worship in the modern world is our entertainment culture. Take a look around you and ask yourself what our church architecture says to people who aren’t in the habit of coming to church. We’re all sitting in rows facing forward. At the front there’s a raised platform, and on that platform people dressed in strange clothes are speaking and singing and performing actions in front of everyone else. What does that say to a person who’s new to churchgoing? It says, ‘Entertainment!’ It makes them think of a play or a concert; it certainly does not make them think of something that we do together for God.

But the biblical idea of worship is not that we come together to be entertained; rather, we come together to offer ourselves to God. The important question for biblical worship is not ‘What did I get out of the service?’ The important question is ‘What did God get out of the service?’ And I suspect that the answer to that question has very little to do with how the service made us feel, and a lot more to do with how our lives were changed when we went home.

When I began this sermon I talked about the discipline of worship. A discipline is something we train ourselves to do, whether we feel like it or not, because we know it’s good for us. The discipline of worship is something we build our lives around, something that shapes us together as disciples of Jesus. I know that I have been shaped as a follower of Jesus by the fact that I’ve been going to church every Sunday my whole life. My parents didn’t get up on Sundays and ask ‘What are we going to do today?’ They were committed to being in church with God’s people every week. That discipline has shaped me and made me a better Christian.

Let’s be quite clear that occasional worship won’t do this for us. Worship ‘unless we have a better offer for Sunday morning’ won’t do this for us. Planning what we’re going to do each week and then adding corporate worship if we have any leftover time won’t do this for us.

You’ve probably heard the parable of the rocks in the jar. The big rocks represent the really important things in your life - the little rocks and the sand, the less important things. If you pour the sand and the little rocks in first, when you try to put the big rocks in there won’t be room for them. You have to put the big rocks in first, and then the little rocks and the sand will find their place around them. It’s the same with our time commitments; we need to put the really important things in place first, and then let the other stuff find room around them.

So the discipline of worship is simply this: that every week, whether we feel like it or not, whatever challenges our weekly schedule gives to us, the community gathering for worship is our number one priority. I fully realise the challenges we face today in keeping this commitment, particularly those of us in businesses that require us to work on Sundays. We Christians probably need to rethink our Sunday worship hours and make changes so that as many people as possible can come together for our weekly celebration. I fully expect that by the time I retire we’ll be back to the practice of the early Christians of having our Sunday worship at 6 a.m., before everyone goes to work!

But we also need to face the fact that for many people, it’s not their Sunday employment that’s keeping them out of church; it’s the other stuff in our lives. The discipline of worship simply means that we put God first. We come together week by week, in response to his great love for us, to offer our lives to him as a living sacrifice, which is our spiritual worship. We make this the first commitment on our time, and we build our week around it. This was the habit of Jesus, and in this, as in so many other ways, we’re called to follow his example.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sermon for March 7th

Lent Series on Christian Disciplines #3: Action

Three weeks ago in my sermon for the Sunday before Lent, I suggested that this season of Lent can be for us a significant moment, a moment that makes a difference for the future course of our lives. It can be a time for us to learn some new habits and take on some godly disciplines that will help to shape us as Christian disciples long past the end of Lent. I suggested six areas of our lives that we need to think about: prayer, study, action, worship, giving, and mission. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve talked about prayer and study, and this week I want to continue by thinking about the Christian discipline of action.

We all know that two of the key elements in a healthy lifestyle are proper nutrition and plenty of exercise. Both of them are important, and unless we have a proper balance of both, we won’t achieve a healthy life. Nutrition is to do with input – giving our bodies the proper fuel they need so that they can do the things we ask of them. This is vital, but it needs to be combined with output - a wise exercise plan that includes both periods of strenuous activity and times of rest when the body can rebuild damaged tissues.

In the Christian life, too, we need a good balance of nutrition and exercise. Nutrition comes to us as we feed ourselves on the Word of God, as we spend time in prayer, and as we worship God together and celebrate the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. Exercise comes when we take the teaching and example of Jesus and put them into practice in our lives. We need a proper balance of nutrition and exercise in order to be healthy Christians.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after he had come back from the desert where he’d been tempted by the Devil, he came into Galilee telling people that the Kingdom of heaven was close. He chose disciples to follow him and learn the new way of life of the kingdom of heaven, and he told them that he would teach them to fish for people. Then he went with them on a mission trip around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the good news of the coming of the kingdom, as well as healing every kind of sickness.

Huge crowds came to him from all over the country, and when he saw the crowds he went up a mountain, just like Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law of God. The disciples and the crowds came to him on the mountain, and he sat down and began to teach them about this new life of the kingdom of God.

He began by looking around at the crowd and seeing the wide variety of people there. There were those who knew that they were spiritual failures, those who were mourning for one reason or another, those who were humble, as well as those whose meat and drink was to see God’s justice come on earth. There were those who were merciful, those who worked hard to keep their hearts pure, those who were known as peacemakers, and those who were persecuted because they tried to do what was right. Some of these people thought they were doing okay spiritually, while others knew they were failing badly; some were having a pretty happy life and others were not doing so well. But Jesus assured them that they were all welcome in the kingdom of heaven and that God’s blessing would come into their lives because of the kingdom.

This was important, because he was about to announce the curriculum for his school of the kingdom, and it was a very demanding curriculum! But first, he wanted people to know that there was no entrance exam they had to pass to get into the school. Anyone was welcome to come in and begin the transformation process, no matter where they were starting from. Holy or unholy, happy or sad, all would experience blessing because of the Kingdom.

Jesus went on to set out the purpose of his school of the kingdom: to change the world. His followers were going to be like salt that kept the world from going bad and added flavour to it; they were going to be like a bright city on a hill, shining their light in the darkness all around them. Salt and light are only useful because they’re different. Salt has to be different from meat in order to preserve it. When you’re in the dark and you want to see, it’s no good spreading more darkness around. You need light, and light has to be different from darkness in order to be of any use. So we followers of Jesus will do absolutely no good in the world if we are just the same as the people around us. We have to be different, and visibly different, if we are going to do any good.

How are we going to be different? Jesus tells us something that sounds very demanding; he takes the most outstanding examples of holy living in his day, the Pharisees, and says that his followers have to be better than them. We can imagine the shock in the crowd; how was it possible for them to be more righteous than the most upstanding citizens of their day? But Jesus went on to explain that the holiness of the scribes and Pharisees was only skin deep – it only had to do with outward actions, while what he was interested in was inner transformation as well. And he went on to give some examples of what he was talking about.

He said, ‘you know that in ancient times they were told not to murder, but I tell you, that’s not enough. Murder is caused by anger and verbal abuse, so I want you to turn away from those things as well. If you’ve got a disagreement with a brother or sister, it’s not enough that you heroically decide not to murder them! Work for reconciliation with them instead.

‘And you know how they were told not to commit adultery? Well, that’s all very well, but adultery comes from lust. So watch your eyes, and watch your heart, and do whatever it takes to root lust out of your life. And by the way, don’t congratulate yourself that when you divorced your wife it was all done amicably and above board and according to the law. Unless there’s been marital unfaithfulness, you ought not to be divorcing each other at all!

‘It’s not enough to keep your word when you swear an oath in court. In fact, it shouldn’t be necessary for you to swear an oath at all. You should be truthful all the time, and people should know that about you, so that they wouldn’t even think of asking you to swear an oath, because they know you never lie.

‘And you know those Old Testament laws that say if someone knocks out your tooth, all you can take in return is their tooth? Forget about that! If someone hits you on the cheek, turn the other one to them, and if someone sues you for your coat, give them your sweater as well. Give to everyone who begs from you and don’t refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You know that in the old days people used to say “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”, but I’m telling you that God’s not like that – he loves his enemies and sends his sun and rain on good and bad alike. I want you to be like him, loving not just your friends but your enemies too’.

So in all these ways Jesus explains to us that he doesn’t just want us to be good on the outside, in a grudging sort of way; he’s looking for internal change as well. And we’re not to do this just to rack up brownie points with people for being so ‘spiritual’. In the time of Jesus, there were three spiritual practices that every godly Jew knew were vital to the holy life: prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor. Jesus did not challenge this view: he expected his followers to do these things too. But he emphasised that we should do them for the right reasons. Some people are living their life to impress other people, so when they give to the poor they announce the fact with a press conference, and when they fast they make sure everyone can hear the rumblings of their stomachs! Jesus tells us not to do that! Those folks have already received all the reward they’re going to get! You should only be concerned with pleasing your Father in heaven.

And by the way, he said, don’t think you have to pray great long prayers to get your Father’s attention. Simple ones will do – short, sincere, and specific is good. You want an example? Here it is: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one’. Jesus underlined that forgiveness clause: if you want God to forgive you, you’d better make sure that you forgive others as well.

He told us to keep our lives free from the love of money and possessions. Don’t accumulate treasure on earth, because that’s not a smart investment; it’s not going to last. Better to accumulate treasure in heaven. You can’t serve God and wealth, so you’d better decide which one you’re going to serve. So don’t allow your life to be dominated by worrying about food and drink and clothing; if God looks after the animals and the flowers of the field, don’t you think he can look after you? Don’t you think he knows what you need? So make his kingdom the number one priority in your life, and trust him to provide what you need.

Jesus went on to warn us against using these words of his as a weapon to beat up other people. This is not about other people’s obedience; it’s about my obedience! It’s not up to me to point out the speck of dust in my brother’s eye, while all the time I don’t see the two-by-four in my own eye! So don’t waste time forcing your pearls of wisdom on an unwilling audience; they probably won’t respond very well! Better to work on getting your own life in shape, so that you’ll have some credibility. And you’re not alone in this: your Father in heaven is quite willing to give you the help you need in obeying this teaching. Ask, and you will receive, seek, and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened! After all, none of us are perfect parents, but we know how to give our kids good things; how much more will our heavenly Father give good things to those who ask?

Jesus closed his sermon with a rule of thumb: treat others the way you’d like them to treat you, and you’ll find you’ve fulfilled the entire law of God.

Except, that wasn’t quite the end of his sermon; he added some hard-hitting words about the importance of actually putting this stuff into practice, not just listening to it. Don’t be put off by the difficulty of this road, he said: the road to destruction is easy, but the road to life is hard. Don’t listen to people whose lives don’t agree with their words; look at the fruit they’re bearing in their own lives, because that’s how you’ll know them. And don’t think that it’s enough just to use the right words. Some people call me ‘Lord’, and they do all sorts of impressive things in my name, but they forget about the most important thing of all: actually doing the will of God. They aren’t even going to get to first base in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus ended with a parable. He said, if you hear these words of mine and put them into practice, you’re like a wise man who built his house on a firm foundation. The rains storm down and the floods rise up, but that house is safe, because it’s built on the rock. But if you hear these words of mine and don’t actually put them into practice, you’re like a foolish man who tried to cut costs by building his house on a poor foundation. When the rains storm down and the floods rise up, that house is going to come down, because it was built on the sand.

And that’s really what the message is all about this week. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has told us the things he wants us to work on in our lives: holiness, reconciliation, honesty, sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage, loving your enemies, sincerity, pleasing God rather than pleasing people, serving God rather than trying to get rich, and making God’s kingdom our priority. Jesus is pretty plain about what he wants from us.

So as we think about the discipline of action, it would be good for us to sit down and read the Sermon on the Mount, which I’ve been summarizing for you this morning; you can find it in Matthew chapters five, six, and seven. As we read, we should ask ourselves, ‘Where does my life fall short of the things that Jesus says in this sermon? What are the most important issues for me to work on? Can I pick two or three and really be intentional about changing my behaviour and my attitude in these areas? And don’t forget that we’re not alone in this; we’re told to ask, seek, and knock, expecting that the Father in heaven will give us the help of the Holy Spirit as we try to change.

So – let’s not be like the foolish builder who took the cheap and easy way and then had to deal with a disaster when his house fell down. I don’t want my life to be like that! I want my life to be built on a strong foundation so that when the storms come, I can stand firm. And Jesus has told me how that can happen: it’s all about hearing these words of his, and then putting them into practice in my life. May God give us the will and the strength to do this.