Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sermon for August 28th: Matthew 16:21-28

Steer into the Skid

Looking around the congregation this morning I see that there are more than a few of you here who are old enough to have learned to drive on a car with rear-wheel drive. Could you just raise your hand if you learned to drive on a rear-wheel drive car? Thank you. Do you remember what it was like the first time you drove a front-wheel drive car? Everything was in the same place, although of course, there was no big drive train tunnel down the middle of the car, which made for a little more room, especially in the back. But somehow it felt different when you were driving, didn’t it?

There was one particular area of driving where it not only felt different – it was very different. Those of you who learned to drive on a rear-wheel drive car – do you remember what they told us to do when we got into a skid? We were supposed to steer into it! This of course felt completely wrong and counter-intuitive; if you had lost control of your car and it was sliding toward the ditch, the natural thing to do was to steer away from the ditch, not toward it! But given that the back wheels were the driving wheels and the front wheels were the steering wheels, what was necessary was to get the front and back wheels in line with each other again, so as to bring the car under control. That’s why they told us to steer into the skid; it was a faster way to regain control of your car.

Or so my driving instructor told me! I must say that the few times I ever went into a skid, I don’t think I did as I was told. Natural instinct was to steer away from the skid, and when you lose control of a car, it’s usually natural instinct that takes over. It’s so difficult to do the things that we know in our head will work, when they just feel completely wrong.

This is a problem that Christians have to face all the time. So often, in our walk with Jesus we run into paradoxes: things that don’t seem to make sense, but that Jesus seems to think are right at the centre of the Christian life. The first will be last. If you want to be the first in the kingdom, then be the servant of all the others. The tax collectors and prostitutes are getting into the kingdom before the religious leaders. The wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. And, in today’s gospel reading, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). What’s this all about?

This week’s gospel reading follows hard on the heels of last week’s. Last week we read about Jesus gathering his disciples together and asking them a question: “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say you’re John the Baptist, or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the other prophets”. “What about you?” he asked them; “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Jesus affirmed that this was indeed the right answer and told Peter that it was God who had revealed this truth to him.

Remember that in the time of Jesus the word ‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, was not just a religious word; it was a political word too. Israel lived under Roman rule, aided by corrupt Jewish leaders who were doing quite well out of the Roman occupation. That couldn’t be right, people thought; they were God’s chosen people and God would surely liberate them. God would send a king like good old King David in the past; he would drive out their enemies and set up a good and honest government in Jerusalem, and he would protect the poor and the widow and the orphan and restore peace and justice to Israel. That was the Messiah’s job description.

So if Jesus is the Messiah, then what’s the plan? Surely the next move is to develop a strategy for taking over the government. We should march on Jerusalem, pick up a few supporters on the way, choose our moment carefully, pray for God’s help, then stage a surprise attack, take over the Temple and have Jesus crowned as the King of Israel in the royal line of David. Jesus is the true Messiah, so God will vindicate him by giving him the victory over his enemies; Herod and Pontius Pilate will get what they deserve, and we will have peace and justice forever. That’s how God’s kingdom will come.

But Jesus, it seems, has a different idea. Yes, he’s going to go to Jerusalem, but the visit will be very different from what Peter and the others have in mind:

‘From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised’ (v.21).

This is ‘steering into the skid’, to be sure! Jesus is talking dangerous nonsense, and Peter, who as always is quite confident that he’s in the right, needs to set him straight. “God forbid, Lord!” But then Jesus says the harshest words he ever said to a human being – and to his closest friend and the leader of his disciples: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (vv.22-23).

What a terrible thing to say to his friend: ‘The Devil is speaking through you!’ Why was Jesus so harsh? I think it was because it was not the first time he had heard this temptation. Way back in the desert when he was tempted after his baptism, the Devil had told him, “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you bow down and worship me”. Of course, this wasn’t just about praying to the devil. No – we become like the one we worship. To worship the devil would have been to imitate his way of doing things – violence, coercion, oppression, killing. And it was such a temptation for Jesus, because everyone expected that this was how the Messiah would win! David did it, Judas Maccabeus did it, the Zealots did it, so what would be wrong with Jesus doing it too?

It would be wrong, because the Kingdom Jesus came to announce is not founded on violence and coercion. It’s about love from start to finish – God’s love for us, our love for God, our love for our neighbours, for the poor and needy, and even for our enemies. Setting up the Kingdom by violence wouldn’t change anything other than the name on the crown: ‘welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss’. Jesus had come to show something different: that if you are faithful to the Father’s love even to the point of death, God will vindicate you. ‘And on the third day, he will be raised’. “Trust me, people”, he was saying; “Steer into the skid, and God will make it come out right”.

This is the challenging thing, of course, for us as followers of Jesus. Jesus not only took this road himself: he called us to follow after him. And so we read,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (vv.24-26).

Crucifixion was a punishment that the Romans reserved for rebels against the Empire. They didn’t crucify embezzlers and petty thieves and religious fanatics. So when the people of occupied Judea saw a poor man carrying a cross out to a nearby hill with Roman soldiers around him, they knew what was coming: he was about to be executed. This is the bad news that Jesus is giving his followers. He was going to be executed by the Romans, because they saw him as a threat to their authority, despite the fact that he had never breathed a word of rebellion. He was going to respond, as he had taught his followers, by loving his enemies and praying for them not by resisting and striking them down. “And you must do the same”, he told the disciples. “You must be totally committed to this Kingdom-of-God movement we’re starting, to the point of being willing to give your life and still love those who murder you. That’s what it means to be one of my disciples”.

It sounds like bad news but in fact it’s good news: Jesus says, “This is the way to really find life”. You think you find life by taking the easy way, the less challenging road? You don’t. Steer away from the skid and you’ll end up in the ditch. Steer into the skid, even though it feels totally wrong to do so, and to your surprise, things will turn out right: “those who lose their life for my sake will find it”.

This is what it means to be a baptized Christian. When we are baptized, or when we bring children to be baptized, this is what we are signing up for. Let’s make no mistake about that. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (6:3). It’s a wonderful thing to be baptized, to be washed from sin and evil and to be adopted as a child of God. But it’s also a difficult thing: it’s a total identification with Jesus and all that he stands for. It’s a ‘no’ to the easy life, a ‘no’ to compromise, a ‘no’ to spending your whole life trying to be popular. It’s a ‘yes’ to following Jesus, a ‘yes’ to the way of love, a ‘yes’ to being faithful even when no one else goes with you.

We don’t tend to talk about this much in churchland, because we don’t want to frighten off the customers! But I think we do people a great disservice by not talking about it. And incidentally, it doesn’t usually attract faithful customers either. Statistics have shown, over and over again, that churches that are not afraid to challenge their members, to call them to commitment, to ask things of them, tend to be the ones that grow, especially amongst younger people.

Why? Because people respond to a challenge. People want a cause, something worthwhile to live for, even if it involves hardship. How many times have I heard family members of soldiers who died in Afghanistan say something like this: “He died doing what he believed in. He thought it was really important, and that’s why he was there”. That’s the sort of commitment Jesus is calling for. His kingdom-of-God movement is going to change the world in a revolution of love. Yes, it is going to involve suffering and hardship, but the final goal will be well worth the effort. He’s looking for people who are willing to pay that price and make that commitment. He has a name for them: ‘disciples’. We call them ‘Christians’.

I once heard my Dad say, “Some people take their Christianity like a vaccination: they inject themselves with a little bit of it in order to protect themselves against the real thing”. That’s how a vaccination works, you know! You inject a tiny bit of the disease into your body – not enough to harm you, but enough to alert your body’s immune system. That way when the real disease comes along, your body is ready to combat it.

Some people take church like that. Yes, let’s go to church on Sunday once or twice a month, that way when someone asks us we can say, “Yes, we’re religious, we believe in God, we go to church. That should be enough for God, surely! Total commitment? Oh no – we’re not fanatics or fundamentalists, you know!

Jesus tells us in this gospel reading that following him will cost everything and give everything. Here’s what Tom Wright says:

There are no half measures on this journey. It’s going to be like learning to swim: if you keep your foot on the bottom of the pool you’ll never work out how to do it. You have to lose your life to find it. What’s the use of keeping your foot on the bottom when the water gets too deep? You have the choice: swim or drown. Apparent safety, walking on the bottom, isn’t an option any longer.

So, brothers and sisters, Jesus’ call to us this morning is simply this: ‘Steer into the skid’. It feels like the stupidest thing to do, doesn’t it? “Come and follow me in the way of the Cross”, Jesus says. Be totally committed to this Kingdom movement, to the point that there is nothing you wouldn’t do for God and for his Son Jesus Christ. No matter what they say about you, no matter what they do to you, keep on following Jesus. If you do this, Jesus says, you will find your life.

You can’t enjoy the view without climbing the mountain. You can’t be a great jazz improviser without practicing your scales. You can’t win the marathon without the pain of daily training and a willingness to stick with it when your legs and your lungs are screaming out, “Stop, you idiot!” And you can’t find the true joy of being a Christian without taking up your Cross and following Jesus. So let us take up the challenge and walk the way of the Cross with Jesus. We know that God vindicated him, and he assures us that we too will find it to be the way of life and blessing. So let’s put our trust in him and do as he says.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Out of the Salt Shaker

By Rebecca Manley Pippert

A powerful book on sharing your faith with others

Many Christians are nervous about talking about their faith with others. In this book, Becky teaches us to relax, use the Bible, let our lives provide the witness to our faith, and speak the right word at the right time. Jesus is our example, and if we model our lives on his then we will be more faithful and effective at spreading the good news to others.

If you like to be more comfortable talking with your friends about your faith, this is one of the best books you can read on the subject.

Out of the Salt Shaker

A St. Margaret’s Book Study Group

Nine Tuesday evenings,

September 20th – November 15th, 7:30 p.m.

Sign up now and order your book online

Books available at http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/

(make sure you order the 2006 edition)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sermon for August 21st: Psalm 124

Is God on our side?

In Tolkien’s classic fantasy book The Lord of the Rings, the young hobbits Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard, a very old tree-like person whose job is to be a kind of shepherd of trees, protecting them against danger and looking out for their well-being. Merry and Pippin have just come from a battle and they are very anxious to find out whether Treebeard is a friend or an enemy. So they ask him, ‘Whose side are you on?’ He replies, ‘I am not altogether on anyone’s side, because no one is altogether on my side’.

I thought of this quote as I read the first three verses of our psalm for today, Psalm 124. In the NRSV they read as follows:

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side

– let Israel now say –

if it had not been the LORD who was on our side,

when our enemies attacked us,

then would they have swallowed us up alive,

when their anger was kindled against us.

This phrase ‘With the Lord on our side’ sounds all sorts of alarm bells in our minds these days. After all, we live in a generation that has seen religious fanatics fly aircraft into tall buildings, killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children, in the assurance that they were doing God’s will and carrying out his judgement on the Great Satan. In response, we’ve seen soldiers sent off to fight wars in foreign lands with the speeches of politicians ringing in their ears, assuring them that right was on their side and that God’s blessing was on them. Going back a little further, I have visited many churches in the country of my birth and seen war memorials up on the walls, with the names of those killed in the Great War and the Second World War, under the heading ‘For God and for Country’.

But that phrase wears a little thin after a while. I know that my country sent off its young men in the hundreds of thousands, and at home their moms and dads and wives and children were all praying desperately that God would save their loved ones from death and bring them safely back to them. But who can doubt that exactly the same thing was happening on the other side – moms and dads and wives and children praying the same prayer for their own precious loved ones? How would God sort out those prayers?

With these questions in our minds it can be a bit of a shock to us to come to the words of our psalm for today, claiming that ‘the Lord was on our side’. It reminds us of the many, many times when armies have gone on wars of conquest in the name of God. Can we still use this psalm today? Especially as Christians, who follow a master who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us –is this psalm relevant for us, and can it somehow help us in our prayers?

It can be helpful to step back a little and remind ourselves of what exactly the book of psalms is all about. My Old Testament professor in college used to say, ‘The rest of the Bible speaks to us, but the Psalms speak for us’. The rest of the Bible gives us stories and sermons, laws and prophecies, gospels and visions, all of them addressed to us in the name of God. But the Psalter is different; it’s a hymn book, a book of prayers, given to us either to use ‘as is’, as we do in church every week, or as an example of the way that God’s people can speak to him in every situation of life, a model for our own prayers.

The psalms really do cover every situation of life. If you’re rejoicing over the birth of a child or celebrating a royal wedding – if you’re full of bitterness because a friend has let you down or blind with rage because your city has just been destroyed by a foreign army – if you are full of wonder at the night sky or the variety of God’s natural creation – if you’re desperate with fear at impending danger or delirious with joy at a miraculous deliverance – if you’re old and close to death – if you feel guilty for your sins – in all of these and many more situations, you can find a prayer in the Book of Psalms that speaks for you. As I said, you can use the prayer ‘as is’, or you can use it as an inspiration for your own prayer.

But it’s important to remember that the psalms aren’t meant to teach us accurate theology or Christian moral principles. That’s not what they are. They are poetry, and they obey the conventions of poetic speech, not theological textbooks or lists of commandments. In many cases, we make a big mistake if we approach them looking for ethical guidance about the way we live our lives.

Let me give you an example. Psalm 137 was written by Israelites who had been dragged away from their homeland into captivity in Babylon. Fresh in their mind was the awful experience of seeing their city destroyed by the Babylonian army. First had come the siege and all the privations, the hunger, the thirst, the growing fear and desperation. Then the Babylonian army had broken through the wall, and there followed the sack of the city – houses looted and burned, soldiers killed, women raped, children slaughtered, and a remnant taken away as prisoners to a foreign land, the land of Babylon. There they sat down by the river and wept, remembering their loved ones who had been slaughtered and their beautiful city that had been destroyed. And so they said,

‘By the rivers of Babylon –

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there

we hung up our harps.

For there our captors

asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”’ (Psalm 137:1-3)

Did they pray that God would help them to forgive their enemies? They did not. They were not afraid to pray exactly what was on their hearts, and so the end of the psalm goes like this:

O daughter Babylon, you devastator!

Happy shall they be who pay you back

what you have done to us!

Happy shall they be who take your little ones

and dash them against the rock! (vv.8-9).

As Christians, we might find ourselves asking the question, “Why is this in the Bible?” And the answer is, it’s in the Bible to teach us to tell the truth when we pray. You see, there’s no point in us praying prayers full of sweetness and light when what’s really inside us is hatred and rage. There’s no point in us praying prayers telling God that we love to do his will when really we’re angry with God and the last thing we want to do is the thing he’s calling us to. Why would we lie to God? It’s a pretty hopeless strategy, given the fact that our hearts are completely open to him!

Psalms like this teach us that we can share every part of our life with God. Every experience, every emotion, can become part of our prayer life. And once it’s acknowledged, then we can look at it in the cool light of day and in the light of the teachings of Jesus and ask ourselves, “Is this something I need to grow out of? Is this something I need to repent of?” But as long as we don’t pray about it – as long as we pretend it’s not there – that growth can never happen.

So, let’s go back to our psalm for today – a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance of Israel from their enemies. We would of course love to know what the situation was that first prompted this psalm to be written. Our lectionary today pairs it with the story from the Book of Exodus of how the Egyptian midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and didn’t kill the little Israelite boys at birth; this is seen as God’s deliverance of those little boys, and so the psalm thanks God for that. In another year of the lectionary it’s paired with the book of Esther, the story of how God rescued the Jews from a man called Haman who tried to have them all killed in the days of the Persian empire. These may be appropriate uses of the psalm, but it’s very unlikely that it originally came out of either of these situations.

The truth is that we don’t know what the background was. What is very clear is that it was a time of great calamity. Israel was the underdog, in a position of weakness, and in real danger of being destroyed. The writer of the psalm is a true poet and uses no less than four poetic images to describe this. First he sees the enemy as some sort of monster who would have eaten them up: ‘then would they have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us’ (v.3). Secondly he uses flood imagery: ‘then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us’ (v.4). Third, he sees the enemy as a wild animal with sharp teeth: ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as a prey to their teeth’ (v.6). Fourthly, he uses the image of a fowler setting a trap to catch birds: ‘We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we have escaped’ (v.7).

This is not an army going out in a war of conquest against its enemies. This is not a prayer prayed by terrorists who are about to murder innocent people. This is, perhaps, the prayer of the people of a small city which has somehow been miraculously delivered from an enemy of overwhelming strength. It seemed as if their fate was sealed - burning, looting, rape, killing, captivity – but against all odds, they were delivered. And their instinctive response was to cry out to God in thanksgiving. We understand that, because we do the same thing. How many times have you heard someone say, “Someone must have been looking out for me today”? This isn’t a sophisticated theological statement; it’s the natural response of a heart filled with relief and gratitude.

Can we use this psalm today? I believe we can, and not just in the sort of situation I’ve just described. You see, part of the genius of Jesus was that he redefined who the Enemy really was. As we read in our gospel reading today, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. In Jewish expectation the Messiah was the King who God was going to send to deliver Israel from their enemies and establish God’s justice and peace. Everyone knew who those enemies were: the Roman invader, and the corrupt rulers in Israel. Everyone knew that the Messiah would be a military leader like King David who would slaughter the enemies of God and restore good and honest government to Israel.

Jesus accepted the title but not the job description, because he thought that the real enemies were not foreign armies but the evil and sin that infect all of us. In the last analysis the line between good and evil is not black and white; there’s good and evil in all of us, and from time to time we’ve all felt the sense of failure to overcome our own inner demons. How many times have I sat with addicts who just can’t seem to get free from the overwhelming desire to drink or do drugs? How many times have I listened to people struggling to control a bad temper, or people who realize that their greed is destroying their marriage? Every day, in a hundred different ways, my sins trip me up and hold me back from achieving God’s dream for me. Every day I see the power of evil in the world – not just in the bad guys, but in the good guys too.

Jesus knew that this could only be changed by the love and power of God coming into us, bringing us forgiveness and a strength beyond our own. That’s why he chose to offer his life on the cross for the sins of the whole world, and that’s why, after his resurrection, he sent the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who followed him. If the Lord had not been on our side there would have been no escape from the power of evil and sin, but now we know, because of the resurrection of Jesus, that evil will not have the last word. And now we know, because we have received the Holy Spirit, that even now we have access to a power greater than our own to help us become the people we need to be.

I can’t give you three infallible steps to experiencing this help. God isn’t some sort of cosmic slot machine – put in the right coin, and out pops the desired answer! Jesus taught us that God is a father who loves us, and good parents don’t usually require their kids to use some specific magical formula of words before they’ll help them. Rather, good parents teach their kids to trust them and not to be afraid to ask for help. So if you are facing a situation that seems too big for you to handle, this psalm encourages you to acknowledge that, but also to remember that it’s not too big for God to handle. So bring it to him. Cry out to him for help. Ask for his guidance and direction, and commit yourself to following the answers you get.

We will not always experience dramatic deliverance; let’s be clear about that. We see that in the area of physical healing; some people are healed and some are not, and sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. But what we will experience is the presence of God and the love of God supporting us in our time of need. Another psalm, 46, uses dramatic poetic imagery to describe a time of trouble and to point to the help that comes from God:

‘God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult…

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge’ (Psalm 46:1-3, 7).

Note that the writer of the psalm does not claim that the help of the Lord caused the earth to stop shaking or the mountains not to fall. No, he said that even though those things happened, he would not be afraid, because the Lord was with him as a place of refuge.

Our psalm for today, 124, ends with these words: ‘Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth’. ‘Someone is looking out for us’; someone is helping us to deal with stuff we would never have been able to deal with on our own. If the Lord had not been on our side, evil and sin would have overwhelmed us, but God is rescuing us from their power day by day, and the resurrection of Jesus promises us that one day the victory will be complete. So when we are in the thick of it, let us remember these words and draw strength from them: ‘Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth’. ‘The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge’.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fundraiser Event at St. Timothy's Anglican Church

REMINDER******This EVENT is Tomorrow**********

Walkin' Faith Benefit Concert: Our friend, and the rector of St. Timothy's Anglican Church, Joseph Walker, passed away August 9th after being suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Friends of the Walker family are getting together for an evening of laughter and music, Saturday, August 20, at 7:00 pm at St. Timothy's Anglican Church (8420-145 St., Edmonton) to raise money for the immediate needs of Alisa Walker and their four children. All are welcome to attend this evening, which will feature a mix and mingle wine bar. Tickets, $20, are available at the door, or by calling 780-483-5506.

August 23 - 29

August 22, 2011 Office is closed.

6:00pm Marriage Encounter Meeting

August 23, 2011 7:00 pm Sunday School Teacher’s Meeting at the Chesterton’s home.

August 28th, 2011 11th Sunday after Pentecost

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Holy Communion and Baptism

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon for August 14th: Genesis 37-50

‘God Meant it for Good’

Our Old Testament reading for this morning is part of the story of Joseph - not Joseph the father of Jesus, but Joseph one of the twelve sons of Jacob, way back at the beginning of Israel’s history, probably around eighteen hundred years before Christ. The story of Joseph takes up the last 14 chapters of the book of Genesis and is well worth a read; I’m going to attempt to summarize it this morning and then draw some lessons out of it.

Genesis tells us that the patriarch Jacob had two wives and two concubines, which of course was the way things were done in those days! With these four women he had a total of twelve sons and a daughter. Most of them were the children of his wife Leah, but she was not his favourite. The wife he loved the most was Leah’s sister Rachel, and Rachel had waited a long time for her children. Joseph was her firstborn, and she died in childbirth with her second son, Jacob’s baby, Benjamin.

Jacob apparently never learned any psychology, because not only did he have a favourite wife, but he also had a favourite son, Rachel’s son Joseph, and he let the rest of the family know it in no uncertain terms. Not surprisingly, the knowledge that he was his father’s favourite turned young Joseph’s head a little, and he enjoyed playing on his favourite status with his brothers. He was apparently quite a dreamer, and enjoyed recounting his dreams. Once, for instance, he dreamt that he and his brothers were binding sheaves of wheat in the field, and all the other eleven sheaves stood up and bowed to his sheaf. Another time he dreamt that he was a star in the sky, and the sun and moon and eleven stars all bowed down to his star.

Jacob was troubled by his son’s attitude but didn’t seem to realize that he was contributing to it himself. For instance, he spent a lot of time working on a coat for Joseph to wear. We call it ‘Joseph’s coat of many colours’ although the original Hebrew word simply means ‘a long sleeved coat’. But the point is that he was the only one who got such a coat from his father. Not surprisingly, the other brothers became more and more jealous of him, and their jealousy simmered, waiting for an appropriate moment to boil over.

The moment came when ten of the brothers were away keeping their father’s sheep. Jacob sent Joseph to check on them, and they seized their chance. Their first plan was to kill him, but Judah, brother number four, talked them out of that one. Instead they sold him as a slave to some slave traders. They took his coat from him, dipped it into the blood of a goat, and took it back and showed it to their father. Not surprisingly, Jacob believed his son had been killed, and he was stricken with grief.

But Joseph was not dead. The slave traders took him down to Egypt where he was sold into the household of an Egyptian soldier named Potiphar, a captain in the king’s guard. The author of Genesis tells us that ‘The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man’ (Genesis 39:2). Apparently he was a hard worker and something of a charmer, and before too long he was a sort of butler, in charge of the running of Potiphar’s house. And eventually he came to the attention of Potiphar’s wife who had something of a roving eye. She tried to seduce him, but he refused; he pointed out his master’s trust in him and said, “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”(39:9).

The lady in question tried several times to get Joseph to go to bed with her, and he always refused. Eventually she got so annoyed that she accused him to her husband of trying to rape her. Potiphar threw Joseph out of his household and had him imprisoned. Here the cycle repeated itself. Once again, Joseph’s natural charm and ability asserted itself, and before too long he was the jailer’s right hand man. ‘The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper’ (39:23).

After some time the Pharaoh - or king - of Egypt threw two of his officials into prison. One night they both had dreams, and the next morning they were troubled by them. In those days everyone accepted that dreams were significant and needed to be interpreted, and the two officials wanted someone to interpret their dreams for them. Joseph noticed their distress and said, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (40:8). So Joseph interpreted their dreams and his interpretation turned out to be correct; one of the officials was pardoned and restored to his job, and the other was hanged.

After a couple of years the king of Egypt himself had two dreams one night. In the first dream he saw seven fat cows coming up out of the river. They were followed by seven scrawny cows, who proceeded to eat up the fat ones. In the second dream the king saw seven good ears of wheat on a stalk, which were immediately swallowed up by seven thin ears. The king was disturbed by this dream, and when he told the official who had been in prison with Joseph, the official remembered Joseph’s interpretation of his own dream and recommended him to the king.

So the king sent for Joseph. Joseph told him that God was informing him of the future: Egypt was about to go through seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. So it would be prudent, Joseph said, to make some preparations now for the famine. The king agreed, and proceeded to appoint Joseph to his government and put him in charge of making the preparations!

Sure enough, the land went through seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, but because Joseph had been storing up food, Egypt was okay. Canaan, however, was not, and Canaan was where the rest of Joseph’s family was still living. Eventually Joseph’s father Jacob sent the ten brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery down to Egypt to buy food. They saw Joseph there but didn’t recognize him – we can speculate that he was much older and also shaved and dressed as an Egyptian.

Joseph, however, recognized his brothers, and he proceeded to put them through a series of tests to find out if they had changed at all. He accused them of being spies, and when they denied it and told him about their family, he arrested one of them, Simeon, and told the others to go back and bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, who had stayed with their father in Canaan. Then he would know that they were telling the truth. They did this; on their next trip they brought Benjamin. Joseph contrived to frame Benjamin for stealing something from him, and when he arrested him, the other brothers all protested that their father would die if he lost Benjamin too. Judah even offered to take Benjamin’s place and live as Joseph’s slave.

At that point Joseph couldn’t keep it up any more. He made himself known to his brothers and there was an emotional reconciliation. He told them to go back, get the rest of the family and bring them down to Egypt where there was plenty of food for them all. So they went and got Jacob and the rest of the family, and all of them came down to Egypt. The king gave them land in Goshen, the best part of Egypt, and so Jacob and his family were saved from starvation and the future of the people of Israel was saved too.

What does this story have to say to us today? Let me suggest three things.

First, suffering doesn’t mean God is punishing us for our sins. Now we might say that Joseph’s conduct at the beginning of the story, when he was lording it over his brothers and enjoying his favoured status, was simply asking for trouble. Nonetheless, later on, when he was thrown into jail in Egypt, it was because of his refusal to sin, rather than because of any wickedness on his part. God was not punishing Joseph, and this is very important for us to remember.

Indeed, for us Christians it’s even clearer than it was for Joseph, because Jesus has died for our sins. Over and over again, when Christian people go through suffering, they come to their pastors and cry out “Why is God doing this to me? I’ve tried to be a good person - why is he punishing me?” The answer is - he isn’t. Whatever else our suffering might be, it’s not a punishment for our sins. How do we know that? Because Romans 8:1 says ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. So whatever else our suffering may be, it is not a punishment from God.

The second thing I see in this story is that often our lives only make sense when we look back on them. Joseph was seventeen when he was sold into slavery; it was thirteen years before the Pharaoh took him out of the prison and put him in charge of famine preparation for the whole of Egypt, and another nine years before his brothers came down to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph would have had to be superhuman not to have wondered during all those years what on earth God was doing, or even if God had forgotten about him. I’m sure that there were many times he cried out to God to deliver him, but it seemed to him that his prayers were not answered.

And yet, God was at work during that time. Surely Joseph’s experience of suffering humbled him and helped him learn to depend on God. By the time he was put in charge of famine preparation in Egypt he was no longer the spoiled brat who used to annoy his brothers so much. By the time he saw his brothers again, he understood what God had been up to in allowing him to go through that suffering: “Even though you intended to do me harm, God intended it for good” (50:20), he said to his brothers.

And not just good for Israel as a people – good for Joseph himself as well. The author of Hebrews says of Jesus, ‘It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings’ (Hebrews 2:10). I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking for people with strength and wisdom, I usually look for people who have suffered. I don’t look for people whose lives have been easy; I look for people who have learned endurance and patience by dealing with difficulty in their lives. I don’t believe that God sends suffering as a punishment, but I do believe that he uses it to mould us into wise, patient and compassionate people. I’m sure that’s what happened to Joseph. Looking back on his life, he could see what God had been up to, and that it had been good for everyone involved, including him.

The third thing I see in this story is this: our suffering cannot frustrate God’s purpose for us. We are a part of God’s plan for the human race, and he is going to bring that plan to its successful conclusion.

Throughout the story of the Bible God has been calling together a people – whether the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, or the Church of Jesus Christ in the New – a people who would model for the whole world what God’s kingdom looks like, and would take God’s message to everyone. So you and I aren’t just isolated individuals living our lives in the middle of the accidents of history. We’re a part of God’s great plan, and God is not going to allow evil to derail that plan. Sometimes when we suffer we forget that; we think that God’s plan is going to be somehow hindered by what’s happening to us. But the Bible gives us lots of examples of how God can even bring good out of the evil things that happen to us. This story of Joseph is one of those examples.

Suffering is a great mystery, very difficult for us to understand. As many of you will know, this week one of my dearest friends – also called Joseph - died of cancer in his forties, leaving behind a wife and four children under the age of twelve. You will understand, then, that I don’t say these things glibly or lightly, but in full awareness of the dreadful and seemingly random and senseless pain that many people go through. And yet, somehow, God is still able to bring about his purposes for us even when we suffer. As Paul says, ‘In all things God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). This is a truth that we often have to take on trust; we can’t see it when we’re going through the suffering. In many cases, I think, we won’t see it until we see God face to face and see our whole lives from his perspective.

In Romans 8:38-39 Paul says ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’. You know, it sounds terrible when I say it, but these verses are not strictly true. Let me explain what I mean. Paul is right; by themselves these things can’t separate us from God’s love in Christ - unless we let them! Unfortunately, so often when we go through suffering we do allow these things to drive us away from God; we get so wrapped up in the suffering and we allow it to make us bitter and full of hate and self-pity.

The thing that impresses me most about the story of Joseph is that he didn’t do that. Surely if anyone had an excuse to indulge in despair and to rail angrily against God, Joseph did! But that was not his response. In every negative circumstance he found himself in, he accepted it, and began to do his best to be faithful to God wherever he was – even in the deepest dungeon. And God honoured that.

Joseph’s story is inviting us to turn to God in our suffering, to be faithful to him whether we feel like it or not, and to ask for his help moment by moment. As we learn to do that, we gradually discover that Paul is right after all, and there is absolutely nothing – even death itself - that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Walkin' Faith Benefit Concert

Walkin' Faith Benefit Concert: Our friend, and the rector of St. Timothy's Anglican Church, Joseph Walker, passed away August 9th after being suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Friends of the Walker family are getting together for an evening of laughter and music, Saturday, August 20, at 7:00 pm at St. Timothy's Anglican Church (8420-145 St., Edmonton) to raise money for the immediate needs of Mrs. Walker and their four young children. All are welcome to attend this evening, which will feature a mix and mingle wine bar. Tickets, $20, are available at the door, or by calling 780-483-5506.

August 16 - 22

Weekly Calendar

August 15, 2011 Office is closed.

August 16th, 2011 Jen returns to four days a week.

August 20th, 2011 7:00 pm Walkin' Faith Benefit Concert @ St. Timothy’s Anglican Church

August 21st, 2011 10th Sunday after Pentecost

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Holy Communion

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August 1-7

August 1 – 3rd, 2011

Office is closed

Thursday August 4th, 2011 9:00 am – 12 noon Office is open

Friday August 5th, 2011 9:00 – 12 noon Office is open

August 7th, 2011 8th Sunday after Pentecost

9:00am Morning Worship

10:30am Morning Worship

August Roster

August 7th Morning Worship/ Lay reader/ Pentecost 8

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/B. Cavey

Counter: B. Cavey/B. Rice

Reader: R. Goss

(Readings: Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105: 1-6,16-22,

Romans 9:1-5)

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Matthew 14:22-33)

Altar Guild (green) MW

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Kitchen: - 9:45 am: B&M Woytkiw

Music: W. Pyra

August 14th Holy Communion Pentecost 9

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Counter: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Readings: Genesis 45: 1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-

32)

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/ M. Rys

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Matthew 15: 21-28)

Altar Guild: (green) M. Woytkiw/L. Schindel

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor: S. Chesterton

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Music: M. Chesterton

August 21st Holy Communion Pentecost 10

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson

Reader: S. Watson

(Readings: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12: 1-8)

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/ G. Hughes

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (Matthew 16: 13-20)

Altar Guild (green) J. Mill/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/S. Jayakaran

Nursery: K. Hughes

Kitchen: M. Chesterton

Music: M. Eriksen

August 28th Morning Worship Pentecost 11

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/L. Rice

Reader: S. Doyle

(Readings: Exodus 3: 1-15, Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, Romans 12:

9-21)

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Matthew 16: 21-28)

Altar Guild (green): M. Woytkiw/MW

Nursery: M. Aasen

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: M. Chesterton