Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sermon for October 31st: Luke 19:1-10

Lost and Found

Many years ago when we were living in the Western Arctic I had the experience of getting lost in the Mackenzie Delta. It was late summer, and I had gone over to Inuvik from Aklavik by boat with my friend Bessie (which was about a sixty-mile trip); I had to take a couple of outboard motors to Inuvik to be repaired, and Bessie wanted to do some grocery shopping. It was late afternoon when we started out on our return journey to Aklavik. Bessie wanted to do some duck hunting on the way home, and so for a while I steered the boat while she shot at ducks. In the excitement of the chase we missed our turn. The Mackenzie Delta is a huge maze of channels, and once we were lost, we were thoroughly lost! Eventually we found a cabin Bessie recognised, and then we realised that we were thirty miles further north than we thought, and had very little gas left in our fuel tank.

We slept for a few hours, then the next morning found some gas behind the cabin, which was enough to get us to a fishing camp about six miles north of Aklavik. There we were able to borrow some more gas, and thus we came home, about eighteen hours later than we had planned! The police had just begun an aerial search for us; we had been looking for Aklavik for a long time, but Aklavik had just started looking for us!

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (v.10). Just as we can be physically lost, as Bessie and I were, so it is also possible for us to be lost in a spiritual sense. We can lose our way in life; we can be travelling a road through life that won’t help us reach the destination we were designed for. Jesus came to search for people who are lost like this, and to help them get back on the right road. In today’s Gospel, he does this for Zacchaeus.

What do we know about Zacchaeus? Luke tells us three things about him: First, he was ‘a chief tax collector’ (v.2) or, as another translation puts it, he was ‘superintendant of taxes’ (REB). In the Roman Empire, taxation was private enterprise; the Romans contracted with local entrepreneurs to collect the various taxes, tolls, tariffs and customs fees in a given geographical area. The entrepreneurs – the ‘chief tax collectors’, that is – were required to pay the contract up front – in other words, to pay the Romans the entire tax bill before they had collected a cent themselves. They would then employ others to collect the taxes, charging their own cut on top of the prescribed amount so that they could turn a profit. Obviously the system was open to abuse, and Jews who collected taxes for the Romans were assumed to be dishonest and were hated by their fellow-Jews because they were seen as collaborating with the Gentile oppressors.

Second, he was ‘rich’, says our NRSV, or ‘very rich’ as the REB puts it. Tom Wright says,

Wherever money changes hands, whether across a grubby table in a tin shack in a dusty small town or across a sparkling computer screen in a shiny office on the ninety-ninth floor of a Wall Street skyscraper, the hands all too easily get dirty. Whenever money starts to talk, it shouts louder than the claims of honesty, respect, and human dignity. One can only imagine the reaction of neighbours, and even friends and relatives, as Zacchaeus’ house became more lavishly decorated, as more slaves ran about at his bidding, as his clothes became finer and his food richer. Everyone knew that this was their money and that he had no right to it; everyone knew that there was nothing they could do about it.

Interestingly enough, the rich have not fared very well so far in the Gospel of Luke. More than any of the other gospel writers, Luke is alive to Jesus’ care for the poor and needy and to his call for justice and compassion. In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6:24). Jesus calls a rich farmer a fool, and tells a story of a rich man who goes to hell while poor Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham (12:20, 16:19-31), and he tells his disciples that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (18:25). So in describing Zacchaeus as ‘rich’, Luke is setting up the expectation for us that this is someone who Jesus is going to condemn.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and he was rich; thirdly, he was ‘trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature’ (v.3). So because of this situation, Zacchaeus does two things that would have been considered very strange and counter-cultural in his day. A respected man in the community would never run anywhere; that would not be dignified. Nor would he climb a tree like a child playing a game. But this is exactly what Zacchaeus did: ‘He ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see (Jesus), because he was going to pass that way’. Luke is underlining for us how serious Zacchaeus was about wanting to see Jesus, and the lengths he was willing to go to in order to get closer to him. This wasn’t just a whim; this was something that was important to Zacchaeus.

It would be interesting to speculate about Zacchaeus’ motivation; given the fact that he had undoubtedly received his fair share of condemnation from the religious establishment in Jericho, why did he want to put himself in the line of fire from yet another rabbi – and a rabbi who had a reputation for siding with the poor? Or had he perhaps heard that Jesus also had a soft spot for people on the margins – Roman centurions and prostitutes and, yes, even other tax collectors? Had he, perhaps, heard that there was even a former tax collector named Matthew or Levi in the disciple group that followed Jesus around? Did he wonder if this rabbi, at last, might be someone he could talk to, someone who would give him a sympathetic hearing and answer his questions over a glass of single-malt Scotch? Was Zacchaeus, in fact, aware of a hunger for God inside, and was he looking for someone who could help him find his way back to God?

It’s speculation, of course; we don’t know the answers to these questions, because Luke doesn’t give them to us. What’s really striking, though, is that Jesus describes Zacchaeus in verse 10 as having been ‘lost’: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost”.

Now I suspect that of all the words that the people of Jericho had thrown at Zacchaeus over the years, ‘lost’ did not figure very highly on the list! I suspect that if you’d talked to the ordinary people of Jericho and suggested to them that Zacchaeus might be lost, they would probably have laughed in your face. “Lost? Zacchaeus? You’ve got to be kidding! Do you know where he went for his last vacation? He went all the way to Corinth, wherever that is! Have you seen some of the furniture in that house of his? And they say he’s got a summer home down at Joppa, too. No, Zacchaeus isn’t lost! He’s not suffering! He knows which side his bread’s buttered on!”

Things don’t change all that much. It’s easy for us to look at an AIDS orphan in Africa or a street person in Boyle/Macauley and think of them as ‘lost’, but we somehow don’t think of someone who drives a BMW and works in a plush office tower downtown as being in the same category. It makes sense for us that God has a heart for the poor and needy and wants us to care for the victims of oppression and injustice; it’s not so easy to remember that God also loves the perpetrators of oppression and injustice and wants them also to come home to him. And when we in this church think about outreach and mission, it’s tempting to think only of those whose bodily needs are obvious – the homeless, the unemployed, those who live on the street. It’s easy to forget that every human being also needs to connect with God, and that Jesus came and lived and died and rose again in order for that to happen – that Jesus called people everywhere to turn to him in faith and find the answer to their spiritual hunger, and that this hunger exists in the rich and the powerful as well as in the poor and the powerless.

So Jesus confounded the expectations of everyone in Jericho. Instead of spending time with the religious leaders, or with the poor and needy, he chose to invite himself to the plush mansion on Saskatchewan Drive where the superintendant of taxes lived. Pretty well everyone was annoyed with Jesus about this. Luke says, ‘All who saw it began to grumble and said. “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner”’ (v.7). By the way, the word for ‘grumble’ in the original language is one of my favourite New Testament Greek words: ‘gonguzo’! Pretty graphic, isn’t it? But the contrast with how Zacchaeus felt could hardly be stronger; verse 6 tells us that ‘He hurried down (from the tree, that is) and was happy to welcome (Jesus)’. At least, that’s what the NRSV says; the actual Greek is a lot stronger – it says ‘He welcomed him with joy’. Luke is reminding his readers of the story of the lost sheep, which concluded with Jesus saying “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Just like the shepherd going out to find the lost sheep, so Jesus has gone out to find Zacchaeus; he’s now brought him home, and the result is joy.

Let’s close by reflecting on the gospel, the good news, and what this story tells us about it.

Firstly, the gospel truly is about unconditional love. Jesus didn’t require that Zacchaeus change his life before he would go to visit him in his house; he went to him as he was, sins and all. As we’ll see in a moment, that doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care how Zacchaeus lived; he did care very much, and he knew that Zacchaeus would never find what he was looking for until he was willing to change his way of living. But Jesus knew that condemnation wasn’t going to make that happen. If judgement and condemnation could have changed Zacchaeus, then it surely would have happened before Jesus came on the scene! I would imagine that every rabbi in Jericho had had a go at Zacchaeus at one time or another, thundering God’s judgement on him for collaborating with the pagan Romans and feathering his own nest in their service. But none of that changed Zacchaeus. What changed him was when Jesus showed him the unconditional love of God by going to him as he was, accepting his hospitality, and showing him that he, too, was special to God.

And in case you haven’t heard that often enough here at St. Margaret’s church, let me announce it one more time. The Christian message is not that if we just try harder at loving our neighbours we might possibly succeed in persuading God that we’re not so bad after all. That doesn’t sound very much like good news! The Christian message is that Jesus came to save the lost, that he came to save sinners (“of whom I am the chief”, says Paul), that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, that as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us. With God there is forgiveness and a fresh start: that’s what the gospel tells us.

What’s that fresh start like? That’s the second thing we see in Zacchaeus’ story. When he accepts the love of God, it can’t help but have a transformational effect on his life. In Leviticus the law of God says that if you defraud someone you are to pay them back the principal amount and add one-fifth to it (Leviticus 6:5), but Zacchaeus went much further than that; he says, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (verse 8) (I love that little word ‘if’ – as if there were any doubt about it! But Zacchaeus is still human, isn’t he?!). And when he’s finished making amends to those he has wronged, he’s not going to stop there: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor”. That’s got to have cut into his standard of living!

This is what happens to us rich people when the love of God comes into our lives. First, we look carefully at the way we have been doing business to see if we’ve harmed anyone along the way, and if we have, we make amends to them. Second, we learn to give as generously to others as God has given to us. We learn that the one who dies with the most toys doesn’t win, he just dies, but the one who responds to the love of God by giving extravagantly might just have found the secret of life after all.

Thirdly and lastly, this story tells us that this gospel needs to be taken to the rich as well as the poor. Christian mission isn’t just feeding the hungry, it’s also helping the rich and powerful and the smug and self-satisfied to find the answer to their spiritual hunger too. Many of our neighbours, like Zacchaeus, look outwardly prosperous and satisfied, but inside they are aware that something is missing. St. Augustine said to God, ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’. Many of our neighbours are aware of that restlessness.

So the call to us as members of St. Margaret’s is to do as Jesus did: to live out the love of God to our neighbours, to help them understand and experience the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that they can find the answer to their spiritual hunger and thirst and so that their lives can be transformed as Zacchaeus’ life was transformed. Have you experienced the transforming power of the gospel in your own life? Then surely you want others to meet Christ and experience it too. Just imagine what could happen if all the Zacchaeuses we know met Christ and were transformed as Zacchaeus, the superintendant of taxes in Jericho, was transformed! Imagine the joy in the presence of the angels of God! And with the help of God, the gospel of Jesus, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, it can happen, and you and I can be a part of it!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 25 - 31

C A L E N D A R

Monday, October 25th

Tim Off

Tuesday, October 26th

7:30 pm “The Language of God” Book Study

Thursday, October 27th

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

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study at Marg Rys’s House

Sunday, October 31st –Pentecost 23

9:00 am – Holy Communion

10:30 am – Morning Worship and Sunday School

12:15 pm – Trunk or Treat

St. Margaret’s Outreach

Our Salvation Army Outreach Project has now been completed. The total amount raised for this project was $3912. Our next Outreach Project is for World Vision Small Business Micro Loans. World Vision micro-loans give hardworking entrepreneurial people the chance they need to rise out of poverty, become self-sufficient and take better care of their families. Fully 98 percent are completely paid back by the end of the loan term. Then the money is re-loaned to others in the community. Our goal is to raise $5,000 between mid-October and December 31st to help World Vision provide micro-loans.

Growing Prayer at St.Margaret’s

Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families:

Martin, Catherine & James Mason

Walter and Louise Mason

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Intercessors


Items To Note

New Daylight: If you would like to subscribe to the New Daylight, please see the sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. If you wish to renew your subscription, see the sign up sheet in the foyer. If you do not notify us, we will assume you plan to renew your subscription. Deadline: October 31, 2010

Anglican Marriage Encounter Weekend: Nov. 5-7, 2010, Providence Centre. Take your Marriage to a new level! Registration forms on the downstairs bulletin board.

Trunk or Treat October 31st, 2010 at 12:15 pm. Please join us for a tailgate party in the parking lot while the children Trick or Treat from car to car. Participation fee is a Non Parishable Food Donation or cash donation for the Food Bank.

Nov. 2, 2010 St. Margaret’s is serving Pancake Breakfast at St. Faith’s. Maggie is looking for volunteer’s. For more information please contact Maggie.

Messy Church. For the moment Messy Church has been put on hold pending a new meeting date. An e-mail was sent out this week asking for new input into when this meeting might take place. If you wish more information on Messy Church or have input, please e-mail Jen at: stmag@telus.net

Advent Quiet Day Whitemud Deanery: The Whitemud Deanery is having their annual Advent Quiet Day on Saturday, November 27th at St. Matthias, and is inviting anyone in the diocese who might be interested to join them. The theme is "Waiting ... receiving...sending". There will be three addresses given by The Rev. Kevin Kraglund (St. Matthias), The Rev. Emma Vickery (St. George's, Devon), and The Rev. Thomas Brauer (Holy Trinity Strathcona). The day begins with coffee at 10 a.m. and concludes at 3:30 pm. A light lunch is provided, with a recommended donation of $5.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sermon for Oct. 17th: 'Aren't All Religions Equally True?'

Over the past few weeks we’ve been looking at some ‘big questions’ that trouble people, whether Christian or non-Christian. We’ve asked how my life can really be important, given the size of the universe and the length of time it’s been around; we’ve asked ‘Aren’t right and wrong just a matter of opinion?’ and last week we considered the question ‘Why is there something, rather than nothing?’ This week I want to go on to one of the most common questions asked in the western world today, by both Christians and non-Christians: ‘Aren’t all religions equally true?’

In Acts chapter 18 there’s an interesting story about a man called Apollos. Apparently he had been baptized by John the Baptist and had been ‘instructed in the Way of the Lord’, Luke tells us, but he hadn’t actually joined the Christian movement. We’re not told why; perhaps he had only been in Judea temporarily and had left before Jesus’ ministry actually got going. So he only knew Christianity ‘from a distance’, so to speak. However, he was enthusiastic about it and he came to Ephesus and began to talk about it to the people there. A Christian couple called Aquila and Priscilla heard him speak, and they took him aside and had a conversation with him. And here’s where we notice that Aquila and Priscilla were not twenty-first century postmodernists; they didn’t say ‘Well that’s an interesting perspective you have there, Apollos; let’s get some inter-faith dialogue going’. No, Luke says that they ‘took him aside and explained the Word of God to him more accurately’ (Luke 18:26). He accepted their correction, and presumably was baptized and joined the Christian community, and he quickly became a powerful evangelist for the Christian faith.

You see, the New Testament takes it for granted that it is possible to get a wrong answer when it comes to questions about God and faith. Jesus certainly assumed this. He didn’t think that the Pharisees just ‘had a different perspective’ when it came to faith in God; he thought they were wrong, and he warned people not to follow them. Wherever he went, Jesus called Jewish people, who already believed in the God of Israel, to change their ideas about their God and accept the way that he, Jesus, was radically re-interpreting the Jewish scriptures; he called people to put their faith in him, and become his followers. And all the gospels agree that at the end of his ministry he called his disciples together and sent them out to spread his message, not just in Israel but around the world as well. And so the earliest Christians went all over the Mediterranean world, to people who already had their own religions and their own ideas about God or the gods, and called them to turn away from their previous religious traditions and put their faith in the one true God and in his son Jesus Christ, who God has made the Lord and King of all.

Because those missionaries spread the message of Jesus, we are here today. Many of us trace our ancestry back to western Europe. Before the Christian message came to our ancestors, they were worshipping Thor and Odin, or Jupiter and Juno; some of them were painting themselves blue with woad and worshipping at oak trees and sacred groves and so on. And we, their descendants, would never have heard the Christian message if the early missionaries had said to themselves, ‘Well, all religions are equally good and valid, so we should just stay in Jerusalem and let the people in western Europe worship God – or the gods – in whatever way seems right to them’. No: you and I are only Christians today because those early missionaries didn’t think that all religions are equally good and true: they thought that Jesus is God’s anointed king and that God wants all people to give their allegiance to him.

But that is the very attitude that many modern people find so arrogant and offensive. In Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, he quotes a statement by a young New Yorker which could equally as well have been made by sophisticated young Edmontonians. Here it is:

“How could there be just one true faith?” asked Blair, a twenty-four year old woman living in Manhattan. “It’s arrogant to say your religion is superior and try to convert everyone else to it. Surely all the religions are equally good and valid for meeting the needs of their particular followers”.

Many people would agree; they would say that we’re basically all climbing the same mountain, with every religion being simply a different path to the top. Let me just briefly mention some of the variations on this viewpoint, and at the same time raise some issues with them (I’m following Tim Keller a lot here).

First, some say ‘All the major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing’. Like most pastors, I’ve been told many times that the doctrinal differences between Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hunduism are basically superficial and unimportant, and that they all believe in the same god. But when I then ask, ‘So what can you tell me about the god they believe in?’ the reply is usually along the lines of ‘Well, he’s an all-loving spirit in the universe who wants us all to get along with each other’.

The problem with this reply is that it assumes a doctrinal belief about God that many religious people in the world wouldn’t recognize. Buddhism doesn’t believe in a personal god at all, and some Hindus believe in hundreds of thousands of gods, one of whom, Kali, is not a mild-mannered pacifist but a savage warrior. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach that God holds people accountable for their actions, and so, while love is a part of his essential nature, he is also holy and just. And these three religions are in disagreement about what happens when we fail to meet God’s moral standards. Islam, if I understand it correctly, teaches that it all boils down to whether your list of good deeds is longer than your list of bad deeds when you die – if it is, you go to heaven, but if it isn’t, you go to hell. Christianity on the other hand teaches that we are all sinners and we all fall short of God’s standards, but God offers forgiveness to sinners because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Furthermore, Christianity teaches that God has come to live among us in Jesus and revealed himself to us through his life and teaching; that Jesus is not just a human being but the Son of God and even in some sense God himself. To Judaism and Islam that is a blasphemous statement.

In fact, even though many people claim to believe that different doctrines about God don’t really matter, they themselves hold strongly to a particular doctrine of God – that God is an all-loving spirit who wants us all to get along with each other - which is incompatible with the beliefs of many religious people in the world. They hold that this belief of theirs is superior to other beliefs, and that the world would be a better place if we all adopted it. In other words, they themselves are doing the very thing that they want others to stop doing!

Some would say: ‘Each religion sees part of the spiritual truth, but none of them can see the whole truth’. This point is often illustrated by the famous parable of the blind men and the elephant. Several blind men were walking along and came across an elephant that allowed them to touch and feel it. The first blind man found the elephant’s trunk: “This creature is long and flexible like a snake”, he said. The second blind man held the elephant’s leg: “No it isn’t”, he replied, “It’s thick and round like a tree trunk”. “You’re both wrong”, said the third blind man as he leaned against the elephant’s side: “It’s large and flat”. And so it went on; each of the blind men could feel only part of the elephant, but none of them could envision the whole creature. And so it is that each of the religions of the world has a grasp on part of the truth about spiritual reality, but none can see the whole truth – at least, so the parable claims.

This parable sounds so good and true and humble that we often miss the breathtaking arrogance of the one who is telling it. Have you noticed that the one who is telling the story always assumes that he is the one who is not blind? How could you know that no religion can see the whole truth, unless you yourself have the superior and comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality that you claim none of the world’s religions have? But isn’t that, in itself, a rather arrogant assumption?

Some would say, ‘it is arrogant to insist that your religion is right and to try to convert others to it’. But once again there’s an inherent contradiction in this view. Most people around the world today don’t believe that all religions are equally valid, and many of those people are every bit as good and intelligent as us. If we try to impose our own mild-mannered and tolerant religion on them, aren’t we still trying to convert them to our religious views? And isn’t that every bit as arrogant?

By now it should be clear what the fatal flaw is in this approach to religion. Those who hold that all religions are equally good and valid believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality can’t be true. But this statement is itself a religious belief. It assumes that God is unknowable, or that God is loving and not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks to us in a holy book. No one can prove any of these things; they are faith statements, every bit as much as the competing faith statements of the major religions. And those who believe them believe that these faith statements are better than the more primitive religious beliefs of others and that the world would be a better place if everyone adopted them, so they do what they can to try to persuade others that their approach to God and religion is the best. How is this different from a Christian evangelist trying to persuade someone else to become a follower of Jesus?

No, I don’t think we get anywhere by pretending that all religions are basically the same. I think that we need to be honest and admit that there are major differences between them, and so we have a responsibility as human beings to think carefully about what they teach, to evaluate them, to pray for God’s guidance, and to make a choice about what we think is true.

Obviously, as a Christian, I take the view that Jesus is not just a human being but that in him God has come to live among us in a unique way. John tells us that Jesus is ‘the word of God’: in other words, in him the message of God has come to us in the purest and highest possible form. And I think that if we Christians claim to be followers of Jesus and are trying to be obedient to his teaching, then that will include obedience to his commands to spread his message and call other people to become his followers.

But let me say that there are some things this doesn’t mean.

First, this doesn’t mean that we don’t expect to find any truth in anything that other religions teach. C.S. Lewis once wrote something like this: ‘Before I became a Christian I thought that being a Christian would mean I had to believe that all other religions of the world are wrong. But now I am a Christian I realize that it’s a little more subtle than that. Being a Christian doesn’t require me to believe that all other religions are wrong in everything they teach; in fact, I can accept many good and useful things from them. But it does require me to believe that when they contradict Jesus, Jesus is right’.

Second, believing that Jesus is God’s highest revelation to humanity does not give us license to persecute others or try to impose our beliefs on others by force. Jesus never did this; he challenged people to become his followers, but he always told them the truth about what it would cost and gave them the freedom to accept or reject him. The early Christians went around the Mediterranean world for the first three centuries as powerless and defenceless evangelists, using argument and discussion to try to persuade people, but they never used threats or force. Sadly, in later years the Church didn’t follow this good example; we have a lot to repent of here.

Thirdly, I think we have to be very, very wary about making pronouncements about who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. It is clear in the New Testament that if you decide to reject God’s call, then there are consequences to that rejection, but Jesus also teaches us in the gospels that there are going to be a lot of surprises on the last day and that there will be people who assume they are in who will find to their surprise that they are out, and vice versa. Yes, Jesus calls me to share his message with all people and invite them to become his followers. But the eternal destiny of other people is not up to me; it’s up to God.

Let me close with these words from the end of Luke’s Gospel:

‘Then (Jesus) opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to the, “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”’ (Luke 24:46-47).

That’s the command of Jesus. Call him arrogant if you like, but that’s what he said. Evaluating his claims is part of the process we go through when we decide whether or not we want to follow him. But once that decision has been made, we’re called to be obedient to him as our Lord. That includes spreading his message to others and inviting them to turn away from their previous allegiances and become his followers.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 18 - 24

C A L E N D A R

Monday, October 18th

Tim Off

Tuesday, October 19th

7:30 pm “The Language of God” Book Study

Wednesday, October 20th

7:15 pm Vestry

Thursday, October 21st

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

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study at Marg Rys’s House

Saturday, October 23rd

10:00 am – 3:00 pm Christian Parenting Event

Sunday, October 24th –Pentecost 22

9:00 am – Holy Communion

10:30 am – Holy Communion and Sunday School

St. Margaret’s Outreach

Salvation Army total to date $3845

Growing Prayer at St.Margaret’s

Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families:

Peggy and Les Major

Steve and Anika Martens

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Lay Readers



Items To Note

New Daylight: If you would like to subscribe to the New Daylight, please see the sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. If you wish to renew your subscription, see the sign up sheet in the foyer. If you do not notify us, we will assume you plan to renew your subscription. Deadline: October 31, 2010

Anglican Marriage Encounter Weekend: Nov. 5-7, 2010, Providence Centre. Take your Marriage to a new level! Registration forms on the downstairs bulletin board. For more information, please contact Gary & Kathy Hughes (780-435-3862) or Gottfried & Virginia Haase (780-438-3892).

Saturday October 23rd 10.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m.: ‘Christian Parenting’ workshop with Joe and Alisa Walker. This event will take place in partnership with St. Timothy’s Anglican Church and our facilitators will be the Rev. Joe Walker, rector of St. Timothy’s, and his wife Alisa. Joe and Alisa are the parents of four children in the age group in question, one of whom is child with Downs Syndrome. Please sign up in the foyer.

Sunday October 24th 9.00 and 10.30 a.m: Thanksgiving for our Loved Ones Who Have Died

Many of us have lost loved ones in the past year and would like to have an opportunity to honour their memory and to give thanks for their life. In the weeks before this service opportunities will be given to purchase a flower for the altar in memory of our loved one; special prayers will be offered at both services on this Sunday.

To reserve a carnation please see the sign up sheet in the foyer.

Women’s afternoon Bible Study group meets at Marg Rys's home at 2:00 p.m. on Thursdays. They are sstudying the Book of Proverbs, starting on Proverbs 25. For more information, please contact Marg Rys.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October 11 - 17

C A L E N D A R

Monday, October 4th

Tim Off

Tuesday, October 12th

11:15 am St. Josephs Holy Communion

7:30 pm “The Language of God” Book Study

Wednesday, October 13th

3:00 pm Corporation Meeting at Bogani Café

Thursday, October 14th

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

11:30 Seniors Lunch at the Church

Friday, October 15th

5:00 pm 62nd Synod at All Saints Cathedral

Saturday, October 16th

9:00 am 62nd Synod at St. Matthias

Sunday, October 17th –Pentecost 20

9:00 am – Holy Communion

10:30 am – Holy Communion and Sunday School

12:00 pm Fall Congregational Meeting

St. Margaret’s Outreach

Salvation Army total to date $3110

Growing Prayer at St.Margaret’s

Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families:

Rachel, Nuno, Isabel and Sebastian Luzio

Doug MacNeill

Weekly Prayer Cycle: Lay Administrants


Items To Note

NOTICE Is hereby given that the Fall Congregational meeting of Parishioners will be held on the 17th day of October, A.D. 2010, at 12:00 p.m., in St. Margaret’s Anglican Church at which time all baptized persons regularly attending Services of worship in this Parish or otherwise regularly receiving the administrations of the clergy of this Parish are entitled to attend.

New Daylight: If you would like to subscribe to the New Daylight, please see the sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. If you wish to renew your subscription, see the sign up sheet in the foyer. If you do not notify us, we will assume you plan to renew your subscription.

Seniors Lunch, October 14th, 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret’s Church. The Seniors Lunch will be resuming on Oct. 14th. We will be having a presentation by the Alzheimer’s Society. Everyone is welcome.

Anglican Marriage Encounter Weekend: Nov. 5-7, 2010, Providence Centre. Take your Marriage to a new level! Registration forms on the downstairs bulletin board. For more information, please contact Gary & Kathy Hughes (780-435-3862) or Gottfried & Virginia Haase (780-438-3892).

Saturday October 23rd 10.00 a.m. – 1.00 p.m.: ‘Christian Parenting’ workshop with Joe and Alisa Walker. This event will take place in partnership with St. Timothy’s Anglican Church and our facilitators will be the Rev. Joe Walker, rector of St. Timothy’s, and his wife Alisa. Joe and Alisa are the parents of four children in the age group in question, one of whom is child with Downs Syndrome.

Sunday October 24th 9.00 and 10.30 a.m: Thanksgiving for our Loved Ones Who Have Died

Many of us have lost loved ones in the past year and would like to have an opportunity to honour their memory and to give thanks for their life. In the weeks before this service

opportunities will be given to purchase a flower for the altar in memory of our loved one; special prayers will be offered at both services on this Sunday.

Friday October 15th – Saturday October 16th: 62nd Synod of the Diocese of Edmonton. For more information go to http://edmonton.anglican.org/Synod/index.htm Erin McDougall, Doug Schindel, Taylor Cromarty and Virginia Haase are representing St. Margaret’s. Please keep them in your prayers.

Congregational Care Committee Survey Summary

There were 17 surveys submitted that were submitted with names. There were four surveys submitted without names, those responses were not tallied. Respondents offered multiple answers to questions and no answers to other questions. The responses were positive. There was no real general consensus as to any changes needing to happen. We have implemented some of the suggestions that were made. We continue to welcome any suggestions you may have.


Sermon for Oct. 10th: 'Why is There Something and Not Nothing?'

Nine Big Questions #3 October 10th 2010

‘Why is There Something and Not Nothing?’

When I first moved to Canada, Thanksgiving was a surprise to me. We never had it in England. We had something called a ‘Harvest Festival’, which was predominately a church-centred event; people would bring all sorts of produce and decorate the church and we’d sing all the familiar harvest hymns and thank God for the blessings of the harvest. There wasn’t a particular Sunday of the calendar set aside for it, and indeed in some parishes nowadays, with four or five churches sharing the same minister, it’s common for harvest festivals to be spread out from the middle of September all the way until the end of October.

But this wonderful North American celebration of Thanksgiving – in October here in Canada, a month later down in the States – was a surprise to me. Because, of course, it’s different from a harvest festival. In England, it’s pretty hard to celebrate a harvest festival without going to church, but here in Canada, millions of people celebrate Thanksgiving without darkening the doors of a church. We get a long weekend, we have family gatherings, we cook turkey with all the trimmings and eat and drink ourselves into a semi-comatose state, after which we turn on the TV and watch football! And, if we are of that mind-set, in the middle of it all we go to church and thank God.

And that, of course, raises an interesting question. It seems to me that there are two wonderful questions associated with Thanksgiving. The easy one, the one we all love to answer, is ‘What am I thankful for?’ I don’t have any difficulty with that at all, other than the difficulty of finding a piece of paper big enough to write it all on. The gifts of the natural creation, of the beauty of the earth and the provision of the daily necessities of life; the gifts of friendship and love, of marriage and home and family and all that goes along with that; the gifts of beauty and art and music; the gifts of satisfying work and the strength to provide for ourselves and so on – all these things, and many more besides, I’m very thankful for, and I’m sure you are too.

But the second question, and by far the tougher one, is ‘Who am I thankful to?’ And yes, of course, there are many human beings who make an incredible contribution to my life, and I’m very thankful to them for all that they give to me. But they aren’t responsible for the fact that there’s oxygen for me to breathe and water for me to drink, mountains for me to climb and stars to look up to. Who is responsible for all of that? Who, in our North American secularized Thanksgiving festival, are we ultimately saying ‘thank you’ to? Because, if Stephen Hawking is right and the laws of physics, and not God, are responsible for the accidental creation of the Universe, I have to say that I find it rather unsatisfying to say ‘thank you’ to the laws of physics!

Stephen Hawking, of course, has been in the news lately, with the publication of his new book, The Grand Design. Some people feel that in this book Hawking has finally abandoned his previous belief in God and joined the company of people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the so-called ‘New Atheists’. These people remember that in 1988, in his famous book A Brief History of Time, Hawking wrote these words:

‘If we discover a complete theory (of everything), it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God’.

Now, however, this famous physicist seems to be singing out of a different songbook. He says that,

‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist… It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going’.

What has happened here? Has the great physicist changed his mind about the existence of God? And, more to the point, has he made a powerful and persuasive argument? Has he disproved the existence of God?

Let’s take the first question; has Hawking changed his mind? A simple answer to that is, I don’t think so. I think if you read his 1988 statement carefully, it’s fairly clear that when he said, ‘then we should know the mind of God’, he was using the word ‘God’ as a metaphor. I don’t think it can be demonstrated that Stephen Hawking has ever believed in God – certainly not the God of Abraham and the God of Jesus. If he is an atheist, to me, that’s old news. He didn’t recently come across the decisive argument or scientific discovery that made faith in God untenable or unnecessary. He is simply restating in his new book a position on the existence of God that he has held for a long time.

But the second question is more complicated and, of course, more important: is Hawking right? Has he made God unnecessary and even shown that God does not exist?

To be fair to Hawking, I don’t think he would argue that he has demonstrated the non-existence of God. What he thinks he has demonstrated is that you do not need God in order to be able to explain the existence of the universe. He believes that we can find a perfectly satisfactory scientific explanation for the existence of the universe without appealing to a supernatural Creator as the cause of it all. He doesn’t think he has necessarily done away with God; he’s simply made God’s job unnecessary. But is he right?

In the quote I read from his new book, Hawking alludes to an old philosophical question: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Notice that little word ‘Why?’ Careful scientists tend to be wary of questions that begin with the word ‘Why?’ They are much more at home with the word, ‘How?’ And so, over the past couple of hundred years, as scientific knowledge about the origins of life and of the universe has expanded, the ‘How?’ questions have dominated the field.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, most scientists believed that the universe had always existed. But starting in 1929 with Edwin Hubble’s experiments examining the rate at which neighbouring galaxies are receding from our own, science began to uncover a different story. It became clear that everything in the universe is flying apart, and the further away from our own the galaxies are currently located, the faster they are receding. So if everything is flying apart in this way, reversing that would lead us to believe that at some point in the distant past all these galaxies were together in one incredibly dense entity. And so, over the past seventy years, most scientists have come to the conclusion that the universe began at a single moment, commonly referred to as ‘the Big Bang’, about 14 billion years ago.

When non-scientific people such as myself ask questions like ‘What happened before the Big Bang?’ we demonstrate our lack of understanding of the totality of what is being proposed here. We shouldn’t envision the Big Bang as happening to a little piece of matter in a vast empty space. Empty space is itself one of the things that came out of the Big Bang. And if Einstein and others are right, so is time. There was no time before the Big Bang, and so the answer to the question ‘What happened before the Big Bang’ is ‘Physically speaking, there was no ‘before’ the Big Bang’.

Interestingly enough, when the idea of the Big Bang first came along, a lot of atheist scientists resisted it, because it seemed to lend itself so easily to the idea of a Creator God. Previously, when scientists believed that the universe had always existed, the idea of God seemed unnecessary. But if the universe had a beginning, then how did it get going? What, or who, caused ‘The Big Bang’? To a good number of scientists, along with many philosophers and theologians, the answer seemed obvious: God.

This is the conclusion that Hawking is now contesting. We don’t need God to light the blue touch paper and cause the Big Bang, he says; the laws of physics, such as gravity, can make it happen spontaneously. But is this, in fact, the case? I’m not at all sure that it is, for two reasons.

First, I may not be understanding Stephen Hawking very well here, but I’m not entirely clear how a law of physics such as gravity could exist before there was a universe. Gravity, after all, is about large bodies attracting things to themselves. How gravity can exist in the absence of any large bodies to attract things to themselves isn’t clear to me. Even less clear is how it could cause something to emerge out of nothing.

I make this point hesitantly, because I’m so ignorant about science in general and physics in particular that I can’t believe that a question so obvious to me can’t have occurred to a man so brilliant as Stephen Hawking. But I’m somewhat reassured to find that a research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, Philip Goff, is asking similar questions. Writing in The Guardian newspaper in England, he says, ‘It is difficult to see how (the laws of nature) could explain the natural order, as they seem to depend for their own existence on the natural order’.

But assuming that Philip Goff and I are both abysmally ignorant and that Stephen Hawking is right, we still haven’t answered the question ‘Why is there something and not nothing?’ If the laws of physics were responsible for the spontaneous creation of the universe, where did the laws of physics themselves come from? Why those laws, rather than some others? What caused those laws to come into existence, and ensured that they were so amenable to the development of the universe and the eventual emergence of life in general and human life in particular?

It seems to me that Stephen Hawking may have been a little over-hasty in declaring God’s job to be unnecessary. I think that this question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ can validly be answered in two ways: either ‘Because of God’, or ‘We don’t know’. What can’t be a valid answer, it seems to me, is ‘Because that’s the way it is’. My immediate response to that answer is, ‘And why is that the way it is?’ And we’re back to where we started from.

I think the Christian answer to the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is the age-old one that was first stated by the authors of Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). But giving this answer has further implications for Christians, and at this feast of Thanksgiving we need to stay with the subject a little longer. We’ve established that it’s reasonable to believe that the universe exists because of God. But why would God create a universe? And what does that universe tell us about the God who created it?

I ask this question, because there are many Christians today who seem to think that God is entirely concerned with something called ‘the soul’ or the ‘spirit’. It’s sometimes said that religion looks after people’s souls, while science and politics are concerned with their bodies. In this view, God is a sort of ‘Talking Head’ who deals with metaphysics and philosophy; he understands words like ‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’ but is a bit out of his depth in the real world of science and ecology and quarks and quasars.

I’d suggest to you that as Christians we don’t believe in a God like that. Why would a God like that bother to create the universe, if all he was interested in was theology and spirituality? Why are there millions of different species of bugs? Why are some of the most beautiful things on planet earth hidden in the depths of the ocean where no one can see them, because there’s no light down there? Who are they beautiful for? Why are there so many wonderful flavours of food, and why does chicken taste so much better when you add curry powder to the mix? And hoe does God get away with painting sunsets using colours that most artists would never dare to combine in close proximity to each other?

It seems clear to me that if God has taken all the time and trouble to create an incredible universe like ours, then he must think that matter is a good thing, and he must enjoy the process of creation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I think God had a riot when he was creating the universe, and still has a riot as he sustains it and gives it life! Furthermore, if God has made it then it must be valuable to God, and it follows that it should be valuable to us as well. And so it’s entirely proper for us Christians to learn all we can about God’s creation, and to do all we can to protect it from harm.

Who are we thankful to on this Thanksgiving weekend? As Christians, we’re thankful to God, who created everything that exists in all its wonder and splendour. He is the reason why there is something rather than nothing. He is the reason why there is air for us to breathe and water to drink and colours to enjoy and music to listen to and so on. What an incredible Creator he must be! And how right it is for us to praise and thank him for it.

But there’s more to it than that. One of Jacqui’s friends, who I follow on Facebook, has just come back from nine days hiking the north perimeter of Jasper National Park. And I think to myself, what an appropriate thing that would be for a Christian to do! The old hymn says, ‘This is my Father’s world’ And if that is true – if the Creator of all this wonder is not some distant Sky God but the one who has adopted us as his children and cares for each of us, then why wouldn’t we be interested in all that our Father has made? If our Father went to all the trouble to create all this splendour – if he chose to create something, rather than being satisfied with nothing – then we can be sure that he values what he has created, and calls us to value it too. And so it is entirely appropriate for us as children of God to take an interest, to enjoy exploring what God has made, not only in recreation but also in all the rigours of scientific enquiry as we learn to better understand the mysteries of creation.

And of course there’s also the call for us to be good stewards of all that has bee entrusted to us. People who are concerned about protecting the environment sometimes remind us that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children. That’s a powerful incentive to care for the natural world, but an even more powerful one exists for us Christians. These species that are going into extinction because of human activity are species that God has taken the trouble to create. These ecosystems have been carefully balanced by him to provide for all the living creatures he has made. Surely it would be an insult to the Creator to assume that it doesn’t matter whether or not they survive and thrive? And so today, as we thank God for all that he has made and as we enjoy his creation and learn more about its mysteries, let’s also do all in our power to care for all created things, out of love and respect for the one who made them, the one we call our God and Father.