Tuesday, March 27, 2012

HOLY WEEK AND EASTER SERVICES



HOLY WEEK & EASTER SERVICES

April 5th, 2012 Maundy Thursday

7:00 pm Holy Communion & Foot Washing

April 6th, 2012 Good Friday

10:30 am Good Friday Service

Celebration of the Lord's Passion

April 8th, 2012 Easter Sunday

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

12 noon Easter Egg Hunt

We are very pleased to have Bishop Jane Alexander with us throughout the Easter week. She will be presiding over the Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday services and preaching for each service between Thursday and Sunday.

April 2nd - 8th, 2012

Weekly Calendar

April 2nd, 2012 Office is closed.

April 4th, 2012

7:30 pm New Congregation Working Group Meeting

April 5th, 2012

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies @ the Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study @ M. Rys’ Home

HOLY WEEK & EASTER SERVICES

April 5th, 2012 Maundy Thursday

7:00 pm Holy Communion

April 6th, 2012 Good Friday

10:30 am Good Friday Service

April 8th, 2012 Easter Sunday

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

12 noon Easter Egg Hunt

We are very pleased to have Bishop Jane Alexander with us throughout the Easter week. She will be presiding over the Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday services and preaching for each service between Thursday and Sunday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 26th - April 1st, 2012

DATE March 25th, 2012 Lent 5

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindel’s

Counter: D. Schindel/M. Eriksen

Reader: S. Watson

(Readings: Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Psalm 119: 9-6, Hebrews 5: 5-10)

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: B. Popp (John 12: 20-33)

Altar Guild: M. Woytkiw/MW

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Doyle

Kitchen: A. Shutt

Music: R. Mogg

April Roster

April 1st, 2012 Palm Sunday

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels

Counter: D. Schindel/ D. Sanderson

Reader: T. Cromarty

(Isaiah 50: 4 -9a, Psalm 31: 9 - 16)

Lay Administrants: L. Thompson/C. Aasen

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

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

Altar Guild (Red): M. Lobreau/P. Major

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/S. Jayakaran

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: B & M Woytkiw

Music: W. Pyra

Altar Server: A. Jayakaran

April 8th, 2012 Easter Sunday

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter:C. Aasen/L. Schindel

Reader: G. Hughes

(Acts 10: 34-43, Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1 - 11)

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeil/D. Schindel

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (John 20: 1-18)

Altar Guild (White): J. Mill/K. Hughes

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin

Kitchen: The Popps

Music: E. Thompson

Altar Server: E. Jayakaran/ A. Jayakaran

April 15th, 2012 2nd Sunday of Easter (BAPTISM)

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps

Counter: B. Popp/S. Jayakaran

Reader: D. Schindel

(Acts 4: 32-35, Psalm 133, 1John 1: 1 – 2: 2)

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/G. Hughes

Intercessor: D. MacNeil (Baptism)

Lay Reader: L. Thompson (John 20: 19 – 31)

Altar Guild (White): M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra (Baptisms)

Prayer Team: M. Rys/L. Sanderson

Sunday School (School Age): J. McDonald

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: M. Chesterton (Baptism)

Music: M. Eriksen

Altar Server: A. Jayakaran

April 22nd, 2012 3rd Sunday of Easter

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/ L. Kalis

Reader: S. Jayakaran

(Acts 3: 12 – 19, Psalm 4, 1John 3: 1 – 7))

Lay Administrants: M. Rys/ D. MacNeil

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Luke 24: 36b – 48)

Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau/A. Shutt

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/M. Chesterton

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin

Kitchen: M&A Rys

Music: R. Mogg

Altar Server: E. Jayakaran

April 29th, 2012 4th Sunday of Easter

Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey/ T. Willacy

Counter: T. Willacy/ T. Cromarty

Reader: J. Chesterton

(Acts4: 5 – 12, Psalm 23, 1John 3: 16 – 24))

Intercessor: C. Ripley

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (John 10: 11 -18)

Altar Guild (White): J. Mill/MW

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Doyle

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: M. Chesterton

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sermon for March 18th: 'Witnesses'


Lent Series 2012 #4: ‘Witnesses’

We’ve been thinking through Lent about the whole business of sharing our faith with others and spreading the Gospel of Christ. We started on week one by thinking about the word ‘Lost’ – the sense that our life is going in the wrong direction, though we’re not sure what the right direction is! On the second week we thought about the word ‘Gospel’ – the good news about the reign of God, about reconciliation with God, about the power of the resurrection. Last week we thought about the word ‘Conversion’, and what it means to turn to Christ.

Today our word is the word ‘Witness’, and I want to start by telling you a story. When I was a young teenager – and not really a committed Christian yet – my Dad would lend me Christian books from time to time. He knew I was something of a bookworm and I’m sure he hoped that one of those books would catch my imagination and lead me closer to faith in Christ. I must admit that I tended not to read all the way through those books. I would skip through them so that I could get an idea of the contents, and maybe read the first couple of chapters or so if I was vaguely interested.

But the first Christian book I read all the way through, from cover to cover, was Dennis Bennett’s book Nine O’clock in the Morning – first published in 1970 -which my Dad lent to me not long after I turned thirteen. Nowadays no one has heard of Dennis Bennett, but in the late 1950s he was on the front page of ‘Newsweek’ magazine. He was an Episcopal priest in California, and on Palm Sunday in 1959 he preached a sermon from the pulpit of his church about how he had recently experienced something he called ‘the baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and had ‘spoken in tongues’, and how God had richly blessed him through these experiences. Nothing unusual for a Pentecostal pastor, perhaps, but Dennis Bennett was an Anglican, not a Pentecostal, and his sermon caused uproar in his large and respectable California congregation. By the time the furor died down Bennett had resigned and gone off to lead a little mission church, St. Luke’s, Ballard, in the Seattle area.

What grabbed my attention, though, was the way Bennett described his experiences of the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of the book he knew nothing about anything called ‘the baptism in the Holy Spirit’, until a fellow priest told him about a couple in his congregation who ‘came to church every week – and they looked happy!’ ‘Looking happy in church!’ Bennett replied – ‘That is suspicious behaviour’. Later he met this couple for himself and they told him about their experience of the Holy Spirit, just like the early Christians on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts. Bennett was suspicious, but he kept visiting them and asking questions, and reading and studying for himself. Eventually he asked them to pray for him, and as they laid hands on him and prayed for him, he felt himself to be filled up to overflowing with the joy and power of the Holy Spirit, and he found himself praying in words he didn’t understand – ‘speaking in tongues’ like the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. In the rest of the book Bennett told about what had followed on from that – further experiences of the Holy Spirit, gifts of healing, spiritual renewal in his church, and a new sense of the closeness and reality of God, both for Dennis himself and for others who he ministered to.

Now you might find yourself skeptical of this sort of thing – you might even find yourself mentally labeling it as ‘fanaticism’ - but when I read that book I found it compelling. It was miles away from the rather staid and predictable Church of England that I had experienced up until that point. Dennis Bennett was telling me about a real God, who did real things in the real lives of real people. I found myself getting excited about it, and thinking to myself, “If this is what Christianity is like, I want to find out more about it”. It was that book, more than any other, that set me on the path that led me, a few weeks later, to pray a prayer of commitment to Christ.

When I think back, I realize that what Dennis Bennett was doing was witnessing to me. In Acts 1:8 Jesus says to his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. We all know what a witness does in a court of law: the witness is there to tell people what they saw or heard or experienced. It’s not the witness’s job to make the case for the defence or the prosecution; there are lawyers there to do that. The job of the witness is simply to tell their story, and then the lawyer will take their words and use them as part of their argument to make the case.

In John’s Gospel Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the ‘parakletos’, which is a Greek word meaning ‘one who comes alongside you to help you’. It’s translated in various ways in different English versions – the ‘comforter’, the ‘counsellor’, the ‘helper’. But one version uses the English word ‘advocate’, in the legal sense of a lawyer who advocates for the defence or the prosecution. And that is in fact one of the ways the word ‘parakletos’ was used in Greek – to describe a lawyer at a trial.

This meaning fits exactly with what we are saying today. If we are the witnesses, who is the lawyer? The answer is, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who takes our words of witness and uses them in the hearts and minds of those who hear our story. It’s not our job as witnesses to press the case or argue for it – it’s mainly the Holy Spirit who does that. But we can tell our story confidently, knowing that the Holy Spirit will use what we have to say to lead our friends closer to Christ and to a new relationship with him.

In Dennis Bennett’s book, his two friends witnessed to him about what the Holy Spirit had done in their lives. They didn’t try to argue the case, because they knew that Dennis was a priest with far more theological education than they had. They simply told their story, and Dennis found that it got under his skin! He found it attractive and compelling and he just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So he studied the Bible and the Prayer Book and his theology textbooks, and eventually he was convinced that what his friends were saying to him was valid. Do you see how the Holy Spirit used the words of witness that were spoken to him?

And the process didn’t end there. When I read Nine O’clock in the Morning, Dennis Bennett was witnessing to me, too. He didn’t try to argue the case, at least not in that book. He simply told stories about his experiences of the Holy Spirit’s work, in his own life and in the lives of others he knew. Those stories got under my skin; I couldn’t leave them alone. I wanted to know how I could meet God in that kind of way. The Holy Spirit was at work, using Dennis’ words and the words of one or two other people who also witnessed to me. Eventually all of that came together and led to my commitment of my life to Christ.

I’ve said that it’s not our job to argue the case: we are the witnesses, and the Holy Spirit is the lawyer or ‘advocate’. But of course the Holy Spirit has some ‘staff people’ here too, to help him in this work - people who are gifted in explaining the Christian faith and presenting arguments for it. The New Testament calls them ‘evangelists’. Evangelists don’t have to be ministers or priests; in fact, I know many ministers and priests who are scared stiff of evangelism and don’t have the first idea of how to do it! I also know many lay people who are gifted in sharing the good news with others and explaining the Christian faith to people on the outside. It’s not scary to them at all – they’ve learned how to relax and enjoy the adventure of co-operating with the Holy Spirit to lead people to faith in Christ.

Evangelism is a spiritual gift and not every Christian has it. Some will never have it, because God has other things for them to do. Some may have it but not have discovered it yet – just as a person may have musical talent, but not know it until they first pick up an instrument and learn to play it. Some of you may have the gift of evangelism but never have suspected it, because you’ve never taken the time to learn your scales!

Still, it’s undoubtedly true that not every Christian is an evangelist. However, every Christian is called to be a witness. Jesus gave that call to his whole church: ‘You will be my witnesses’. We may not all be able to explain the Christian faith and argue for it, but we all have a story that we can tell. You may not think that you do, but believe me, you do! I’ll come back to that point in a minute.

One of the best witness stories in the New Testament is found in the ninth chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus is walking through the temple in Jerusalem on the Sabbath day and he sees a man who has been blind from birth. So he spits on the ground, makes some mud with the spittle, smears it on the man’s eyes and says, “Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam”. The man does as he’s told, and when he washes the mud off, his blindness seems to wash off too, and he can see for the first time in his life! When the people standing around see this and ask what happened, he explains, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’. Then I went and washed and received my sight’ (John 9:11).

This is the man’s basic word of witness, and he keeps repeating it all through the rest of the chapter. The Pharisees are incensed that Jesus has healed a man on the Sabbath, so they start calling witnesses and interviewing them to see if it’s true. They ask the man several times what happened to him, and they also call in his parents to testify if he really was born blind. They challenge the man as to who he thinks Jesus is, which the man probably hasn’t thought of yet, and gradually through the chapter we see his views of ‘who Jesus is’ sharpening. First he just calls him ‘the man called Jesus’ (v.11); later he calls him ‘a prophet’ (v.17), and by the end of the chapter he’s calling him ‘a man sent from God’ and ‘the Son of Man’.

The Pharisees of course don’t agree. They argue theology with him and ask him again who he thinks Jesus is. “We know he’s a sinner”, they say. At this point the man has had enough of their theologizing and he comes back to his story again: “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner”, he replies. “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I can see” (v.25).

I find this story tremendously encouraging. The man was not a trained theologian and at the beginning his views of Jesus were very muddled. But the one thing that was crystal clear to him was that Jesus had done something wonderful in his life. When the Pharisees asked him to argue, he kept coming back to that story. He might have said with John Newton, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see”.

Jesus calls us to be his witnesses too. What do you need to be a witness? Just two things: you need a story to tell, and you need a willingness to tell it.

If we are Christians we all have a story to tell about the work of Christ in our lives. It may not be what we think of as a dramatic story. You may never have had a darkness to light conversion experience; you may have known Christ for as long as you can remember. You may never have experienced what you think of as a supernatural work of God in your life. But nonetheless, Christ has been at work, and he wants you to tell others about that.

A few Saturdays ago we had a workshop here at the church about sharing our faith stories. One of the exercises we used was a timeline exercise. We took a sheet of paper and drew a timeline down the centre of it – a timeline of our lives. Then on the one side of the line we noted particularly significant events – birth, school, college, marriage, birth of children and so on. We also noted some things that perhaps weren’t so pleasant – times of stress and trial of various kinds.

Then on the other side of the line we noted times when we had been particularly aware of God’s help and support in our lives, even if it wasn’t dramatic. Maybe when we went through that time of unemployment we found that we weren’t worrying as much as we thought we would. Maybe we went on a retreat and experienced a real sense of the closeness of God. Maybe we joined a Bible study group at the church and over a period of a few months or years we found fresh joy in studying the scriptures and applying them to our lives. Maybe we had a group of Christian friends who prayed for us and supported us in a particularly difficult time. Maybe we had a conversion experience of some kind, as I did as a young teenager. Or maybe we came to the end of a time of searching and said to ourselves, “I’m not sure how it happened, but all I know is that God is now real to me in a way that he wasn’t before”.

That’s our story, and I hope it is special to each one of us. I hope you cherish the story of how God has worked in your life, because it’s a unique story. No one person’s story is quite like another’s. And every single story was written by God.

A witness needs a story to tell, but secondly, a witness needs a willingness to share it. Are you willing?

Last week I told the story of my friend Terry and of the process by which he came to faith in Christ. One vital part in that process was the time when his good friend Chuck told him the story of his own faith journey and how God had worked in his life. Chuck didn’t realize at the time how important that would be; he had no idea that one day his friend Terry would join him in our church as a committed Christian. His story would be one of the links in the chain that God used to bring Terry to Christ. And God can use your story too, if you’re willing to tell it.

Next week we’re going to hear from some witnesses. Some members of our congregation have agreed to be interviewed by me during the sermon spot next week – one at the 9.00 service, two at the 10.30 service - so that you can hear the story of their faith journeys. I’m looking forward to hearing those stories, and I hope you are too. So stay tuned!

Friday, March 16, 2012

March 19 - 25th, 2012

March 19th, 2012 Office is closed.

March 20th, 2012

11:15 am Holy Communion @ St. Joseph’s Hospital

March 21st, 2012

7:15 pm Vestry Meeting

March 22nd, 2012

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies @ the Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study @ M. Rys’ Home

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

7:30 – 9:30 pm Anglican/Mennonite Dialogue @ HolyTrinity

March 25th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Morning Worship & Sunday School

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sermon for March 11th: 'Conversion'


Two Sundays ago I introduced our Lent sermon series on sharing our faith with others. We began on week one by remembering Jesus’ words ‘the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’. If you’ve got a hunch that your life is going in the wrong direction, but you’re not sure what the right direction is, that’s a pretty good definition of ‘lostness’! We went on to explore some of the common signs of ‘lostness’ in the world today. Then last week we went on to ask, ‘What is the good news that Jesus wants us to spread?’ We talked about three ‘R’s – the reign or kingdom of God, reconciliation with God, and resurrection. The first two sermons are both up on our church website, and if you missed them, I encourage you to check back and read through them so that you’ll see where we’ve come from.

Our word for week one was ‘lost’, and for week two it was ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’. Today our word is ‘conversion’. How do we respond to the good news of Jesus? I want to begin by telling you a story that happened in my previous parish.

Terry showed up in our church out of the blue one Sunday. It happened that we had a guest preacher that day; the sermon text was the story of the good shepherd who went out to find the lost sheep, and the gospel message in that passage really touched Terry’s heart. He told me later, “I was the little lost sheep coming home”.

Of course there was a story behind his appearance in church – there usually is. His life had recently taken a bad turn – his wife had left him, he had lost a well paying job, and he was now trying to make a living as a farmer. He had never been a churchgoer although he had always believed in God, and he was good friends with another man in our church, Chuck. Later, I discovered that on one occasion Chuck had shared with Terry the story of his own faith journey.

Well, Terry kept coming back to our church, and eventually he decided that he wanted to be baptized (he had not been baptized as a child). So I did some baptism preparation with him, and eventually the day came when, as he put it, “Tim traced the sign of the Cross on a bald man’s head”! He began to attend our midweek Bible study group and we discovered that Terry had a real hunger to understand the scriptures. He also offered his musical talents to help us in our services. In fact, when I was inducted as the rector of St. Margaret’s twelve years ago, Terry brought his ‘Gretsch Country Gentleman’ electric guitar with him to inject a little country twang into our singing!

I’d like to be able to tell you that becoming a Christian solved all of Terry’s problems, but that wasn’t the case. He’s continued to have his struggles over the years. Nonetheless, I know that Terry would testify, if he were here, that Christ has made a real difference in his life, and continues to do so today.

Why am I telling you this story? For a couple of reasons.

First, I want you to notice that a lot of people were involved in Terry’s conversion story. There was an aunt who prayed for him and kept in touch with him over the years. There was his friend Chuck who was brave enough to share his own faith story with him. There was the guest preacher on that Sunday who preached the message that touched Terry’s heart. There were the ordinary church members who welcomed him and supported him and prayed for him on his Christian journey. There was the priest who prepared him for baptism (me). There was the Bible study group that helped him grow as a new follower of Jesus. Evangelism, you see, is so often a community project!

But there’s another reason. The truth is that very few of us ‘cradle Anglicans’ have ever seen an adult conversion. Most of us – not all, but most of us – were brought up as church members. Some of us can identify moments of crisis where we made intentional decisions about following Christ; others of us just seem to have gradually grown into it. So we don’t feel very confident about spreading the gospel message to people who are totally outside the church, because we don’t know from our own experience what a conversion from the outside would look like.

Of course every conversion looks different, because every person is different. Nonetheless, are there some essential elements that we can identify? Well, let’s go to the scriptures to find out, and let’s start with Jesus. In Mark 1:14-17 we read these words:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news”.

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

In this passage we see a number of aspects of conversion. We see that it begins with the good news – Jesus goes into Galilee, announcing the good news of the kingdom. He also calls people to repent – the word in Greek means ‘to change your mind and thus to change your way of life as a result’. It’s not just about feeling sorry for your sins – it’s about seeing the world differently, and then living differently.

Coupled with this is the call to ‘believe in the good news’ – which in the original language is not just about an intellectual belief but also ‘faith’ or ‘trust’. Its object is often a person – believing in God or in Jesus - which doesn’t just mean believing that they exist, but rather means putting your trust in them, which usually involves doing something concrete as a result. For example, four men brought a paralysed friend to Jesus for healing, and the gospels comment that Jesus ‘saw their faith’. So faith, for these four men, wasn’t something vague or nebulous – it led directly to concrete action.

This brings us to the call to discipleship“Follow me”. In the ancient world discipleship was how education happened. Students saw a teacher they wanted to learn from, so they went and lived with him. They not only listened to his teaching, they also watched his way of life and tried to imitate the good things they saw in him. So a disciple is a person who is learning to put the teaching and example of Jesus into practice in their everyday life; that’s what it means today to follow him.

If we turn to the beginning of the Book of Acts we see some of the same themes, but also a couple of others. In Acts chapter 2, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter preaches a powerful sermon and a large crowd of people decide that they want to become disciples of the Risen Jesus. Listen to what happens in Acts 2:37-38:
Now when (the crowd) heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.

We can assume that the crowd had already ‘believed in the good news’ they had heard from Peter; we also see the call to ‘repent’. But there are two further components of conversion here: baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is coupled with forgiveness: ‘repent and be baptized…so that your sins may be forgiven’. I note that in Jesus’ great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel baptism is also connected with discipleship: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Baptism, then, is seen as a sign of forgiveness, of being washed clean from our sins, and is also enrolment in the school of discipleship: to be baptized is to become a follower of Jesus.

The gift of the Holy Spirit reminds us that conversion is not just a human process; it’s not just about ‘going through a phase’ or ‘turning over a new leaf’. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that our bodies are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’; a temple in the ancient world was primarily a place where a god lived. So if you are a temple of the living God, that means that God himself has come to take up residence in you. The Holy Spirit is God himself, coming to live in each of us, filling up that empty God-shaped hole in our hearts. He is the one who brings our dead spirits to life again and he is the one who gives us the power to live as followers of Jesus.

So here are a few common elements in conversion as the New Testament sees it. It starts with hearing and believing the good news of Jesus. It involves repentance – changing our way of thinking and our way of life – and faith – putting our trust in Jesus. It leads to a life of following Jesus – learning to put his teaching and example into practice in our daily lives. Baptism is an outward sign of this, whether we are baptized as infants or adults. And from start to finish this is the work of God who gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives.

Now, just who needs to be converted? Is it just for people outside the church, or do churchgoers need a conversion experience too? This is a sticky issue for many people. The New Testament is mainly the book of the first generation of Christians. Most people in the New Testament became Christians through an intentional decision they made as adults; the New Testament doesn’t give us much guidance about what conversion looks like for people who are brought up in Christian families and grow up in the fellowship of the church. But obviously there has to be some sort of process by which my faith becomes my faith, not just my parents’ faith reproduced in me.

The Old Testament sometimes speaks about this in terms of ‘my father’s god’, and ‘my god’. Jacob grows up in a believing home, but he obviously hasn’t really internalized this yet when he runs away to Haran in Genesis chapter 28. But at night he has his dream of a ladder to heaven, and God speaks to him and says, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). Notice he doesn’t yet say, “and your God too” – that comes later. Jacob was raised in a believing home, but he will still have to go through a sort of conversion before he can say with the psalmist, “O God, you are my God, I seek you” (Psalm 63:1).

If we can use New Testament language to describe an Old Testament figure, we might say that Jacob had been sacramentalized but not evangelized: he had received the sign of circumcision, which was the Old Testament equivalent of infant baptism, but he had not yet come to know the God signified in that sign. And it remains true today that in the Anglican church we are a lot better at sacramentalizing people than evangelizing them.

So I would say, yes, often some sort of conversion process is necessary for us too, even though we have been brought up as Christians in the fellowship of the church. Please note that I’m not saying “Unless you can name a time when you prayed a prayer inviting Jesus to come into your heart, you’re not a Christian”. Conversions come in all shapes and sizes – sudden or gradual, explicit or implicit. So it’s not for me to say to someone, “Even though you’ve been a church member all your life you’re not a real Christian because you’ve never accepted Jesus as your personal Saviour”. I don’t get to make those judgements: only God does.

Nonetheless, I would turn the question around and ask, “What do you think about your Christian life? Is Christ at the centre of your life, or just at the margins? Are you conscious of the Holy Spirit’s help as you seek to follow Jesus, or do you feel totally disconnected from God? Are you intentionally building your life around the teaching and example of Jesus, or is your way of life really not that much different from the average secular Canadian? Is God your God, or is he still just your parents’ God, even though they died a long time ago?

If you ask yourselves these questions and come to the conclusion that no, you’ve never really put your faith in Christ in any sort of personal way, let me suggest to you four steps that you can take to rectify that. At the risk of being trite, let me list them in ‘ABCD’ format.

‘A’ stands for ‘Admit’. The Twelve Steps of AA begin with ‘We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable’. Likewise, Christian conversion begins with admission of need – I am a sinner, I have not loved God with my whole heart or my neighbour as myself, and I’m not doing a very good job of changing that fact under my own steam.

‘B’ stands for ‘Believe’. Again, the Twelve Steps say ‘We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity’. In New Testament terms, we soak ourselves in the gospel message, the good news that God loves us, that Christ gave his life for us, that God holds out the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation with him and a fresh start, today and every day. So we are ready to put our faith, our trust, in him.

‘C’ stands for ‘Consider the Cost’. When Jesus called people to follow him, he warned them to count the cost. It is not easy to be a Christian. It means examining ourselves and being willing to turn away from our sins with God’s help. It means being willing to obey Jesus, even when we would rather not. And it means being willing to be publicly identified as a Christian, even if we’d rather keep our heads down.

Finally, ‘D’ stands for ‘Decide’, or even simply ‘Do’. There’s a step to be taken and a commitment to be made. Jesus is inviting you: “Follow me”. You need to articulate a response to that invitation. Maybe all you need to do is to look him in the eye, figuratively speaking, and respond, “Okay, I will!” Maybe there’s more you want to say. Maybe you want to be specific about the sins and failings you’re conscious of. Maybe there’s a particular sort of help you’re asking for at this time. Whatever it is you want to say, don’t be afraid to say it. You don’t need to use a particular form of words; God knows what’s in your heart.

For me, last Monday marked forty years since I took that step myself. I was thirteen years old. I had been going through a rather intense process of reading and thinking about what a living Christian faith would look like; I had always been a churchgoer but had become deeply conscious that something pretty fundamental was missing in me. And then one evening in a youth group meeting my Dad said to me, “You’ve never given your life to Jesus, have you?” That gave me the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and later that evening I sat on my bed and prayed a simple prayer committing my life to Christ. I know that I would not be here standing in front of you this morning if it were not for that prayer.

Let me reiterate that not everyone needs to have the sort of experience I had. I am very well acquainted with Christians who tell me that they have been aware of the presence of Christ in their lives for as long as they can remember, and they have always responded in faith to him. If that’s you – well, God bless you, keep on as you have been doing! But if it’s not – if you’re thinking ‘Even though I’ve been a churchgoer all my life, my faith has never felt real to me’ – then ask yourself, “Have I ever made an intentional response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him?” And if the answer is “No”, then you know what to do.

So – we’ve talked about being lost, we’ve talked about the gospel or good news, and we’ve talked about what Christian conversion looks like. But what’s our role in the process of spreading the good news? Stay tuned – our word for next week is ‘witness’!

Friday, March 9, 2012

March 15th, 2012

Seniors Lunch

March 15th, 2012 @ 11:30 am

at ST. MARGARET’S CHURCH

Sign up sheet available in the foyer

“SHOW & TELL”

Treasures Old & New!

March 12 -18, 2012

March 12th, 2012 Office is closed.

March 15th, 2012

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies @ the Bogani Café

11:30 am Seniors Lunch

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study @ M. Rys’ Home

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

7:30 – 9:30 pm Anglican/Mennonite Dialogue @ Holyrood

March 17th, 2012

St.Patrick’s Day!!

5:00 pm Irish Stew Supper and “Celtic” Music

March 18th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sermon for March 4th: 'Gospel'


Lent Sermon Series 2012 #2: ‘Gospel’

Last week I introduced our Lent sermon series on sharing our faith with others. We remembered that Jesus told his early disciples, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’ – in other words, becoming a disciple always included the call to help others become disciples too. It’s always been God’s plan and God’s dream that the people of Jesus would tell other people about Jesus and invite them also to become his followers.

However, we also noted that although fishing is fun, no one is born knowing how to fish – you have to be willing to learn. And so this Lent we’re taking some ‘fishing lessons’ together. Lesson one last week centred around the word ‘Lost’. Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’. What does it mean to be lost? We saw that if you’re pretty sure your life is going in the wrong direction, but you’re not sure what the right direction is, that’s probably a good sign that you’re lost! We went on to note that ‘lostness’ shows itself in a hunger for healing and wholeness, in loneliness, in guilt and a sense of failure, and in the fear of death, to name just a few things.

Last week’s word was ‘lost’; this week’s word is ‘Gospel’, which means ‘Good News’, and this is to do with the essential message that Jesus wants us to share when we witness to others. Let me make two preliminary observations.

First – and many of you have heard me say this many times – there’s a world of difference between ‘good news’ and ‘good advice’. ‘You should go to church more’ is good advice. ‘You should pray about your problems’ is good advice. ‘you should read the Bible’ – ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ – ‘Give ten percent of your money to the church’ – all excellent advice, especially the last one! But Jesus didn’t send his disciples out to spread good advice, at least not at first – he gave them a message of good news. So when we’re thinking about what it is that Christ wants us to share, let’s start by asking ourselves ‘Does what I’m sharing sound like good news?’ If not, it’s probably not the message Jesus gave to his disciples.

Second, not all ‘good news’ is ‘the’ good news. It’s possible to sit down as a congregation and make a list of all the wonderful things that we do. ‘We sponsor two children with World Vision; we helped fund their Cambodia Trauma Recovery Centre; we serve lunch at the Bissell Centre once a year; we hold excellent senior’s lunches and Spaghetti Church and our congregation is growing and we have lots of little kids in our services and all of that is good news! So let me tell you how wonderful our church is!’

Well, again, I sincerely hope that our church is wonderful, but Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to go out into the world and tell people how wonderful the church is! Rather, he gave them a message about the love and power of God breaking into a sinful and hurting world to bring rescue and healing and transformation and hope. So let me explore that message with you under three ‘R’s – Reign, Reconciliation, and Resurrection.

First, Reign – the Reign of God, or what most Bible translations call ‘the Kingdom of God’. This was the very first message that Jesus proclaimed, in Mark 1:14-15:
‘Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news”.

The Good News of the Reign of God is enormous – it’s a worldwide, all-embracing thing. It’s so simple and so relevant that I can’t help getting excited just thinking about it! Here it is: because of the love and power of God, the world is not always going to be the way it is today. Today when I look around, yes, I see many good things – the beauty of the natural creation, the grandeur of the night sky, examples of human love and kindness and generosity, great art and music and so on. But we also know that there is a lot of bad news. Twenty percent of the world’s population consumes eighty percent of its wealth. Much of the world is engulfed in conflicts of one kind or another, and millions of people go to bed each night in fear. Injustice, oppression, famine, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, prejudice, racism – the list goes on and on. Is this the kind of world we want to live in? Of course not. And yet the people of the world seem powerless to change things.

Jesus told a story once about a farmer who planted a crop, but during the night an enemy came and planted weeds among his wheat. When the plants began to grow and the weeds were choking the wheat, the farmer said to his steward, ‘An enemy has done this’ (Matthew 13:28). And Christianity also teaches that ‘an enemy has done this’. A malignant power, sometimes referred to in the Bible as the satan or the devil, has told lies to the people of the world about how to get what we want out of life, and we’ve believed those lies. As a result, we now live in fear and slavery, as if we were an enemy-occupied territory.

What has God done about this? The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis did a series of radio broadcasts in the middle of World War Two, explaining the basics of Christianity. At the time of the broadcasts much of Europe was occupied by the Nazis. And so Lewis used this illustration:
‘Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage’.

The Good News of the reign of God is that through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus God has broken the power of evil. God’s plan to change the world is centred not on political or military skullduggery but on the transformation of human hearts by the power of Christ. This obscure Galilean carpenter, the early Christians said, is in fact the Lord of all, the one who one day will judge the living and the dead. The kingdom he began will one day come in its fullness, the world will be completely healed of evil, and the last word will go not to tyrants or terrorists or tycoons but to the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us – the one who taught us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’. One day, that prayer will be finally and gloriously answered; that’s the good news of the Reign of God.

If the first ‘R’ is ‘Reign’, the second R is ‘Reconciliation’ – reconciliation with God. Here we turn to the writings of St. Paul, to his second letter to the Christians in Corinth:
‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us’ (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
The Reign of God is a big picture concept – the healing of the whole creation. Reconciliation with God is an individual concept – it’s about the healing of my relationship with God and your relationship with God. And the Bible teaches us that it happens through Jesus and his death on the Cross.

When two people are at odds with each other someone has to make the first move, or reconciliation is not going to happen. There may be a lot of history between them, a lot of pain on both sides. They may each be afraid that if they make themselves vulnerable and take the first step toward reconciliation, the other person may take advantage of them and they will just get hurt again. To be reconciled means being willing to take that risk. It even means being willing to be the first person not to strike back and take revenge, even if it makes you look weak and defenceless.

That’s what God did in Jesus. He came to live among us and share his love with us, but we rejected him and nailed him to a cross. But Jesus rejected our rejection; he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing’. He had always taught his disciples to love their enemies; now he practiced what he preached by loving and forgiving his enemies, demonstrating that the God who is seeking us is a God who loves his enemies. That’s why reconciliation is possible.

Do you want a Bible story about reconciliation? How about this one from Luke chapter 15, told by Jesus himself?
A man had two sons, and the youngest said to his father, “Father, I don’t want to wait until you die to inherit; give me my share of the property now!” So the father divided his property between his two sons. The next day the youngest son left home and went to a far country where he wasted the money in wild living.

When he had spent everything a severe famine came to that country and he began to be in need. So he took a job with a pig farmer; he was so hungry that even the pig food looked good to him. Finally he came to his senses and said, “Back home, even the servants have enough to eat, and here I am starving! I’ll get up and go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God and you and I’m not worthy to be called your son; please give me a job as one of your servants’”. So he set off home.

But while he was still a long way off his father saw him coming and his heart was full of compassion for him; he ran to him and kissed him. His son said, “Father, I’ve sinned against God and you and I’m not worthy to be called your son”. But his father wouldn’t let him finish; he snapped his fingers for his servants and said, “Quick – bring the best robe for him to wear, and shoes for his feet and a ring to put on his finger. Then go and kill the best calf we’ve got and let’s have a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”

The good news of reconciliation is that when we come home to God what we meet is not condemnation but compassion. God accepts us as we are, forgives us, and gives us a fresh start with him. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘the best way to defeat an enemy is to turn him into a friend’. That appears to be God’s plan!

If the first ‘R’ is about the reign of God and the second ‘R’ is about reconciliation with God, the third ‘R’ is to do with Resurrection. In fact, I seriously considered putting this one first, because if there had been no resurrection, there would have been no Gospel, no good news at all. When the early Christians saw Jesus die on the cross they assumed that their movement was over. They had thought that Jesus was the King God had sent to set his people free, but according to the scriptures that King, the Messiah, was supposed to defeat God’s enemies, not be killed by them. And so it was obvious to them that, no matter how good and wise and kind and powerful Jesus had been, he was not the Messiah. Love had come face to face with death, and death had won, as it always does.

But all of that changed on that first Easter morning. The disciples were practical and level headed, and it took a lot to convince them – a lot of testimonies of eyewitnesses, and then their own experiences of the risen Jesus appearing to them and speaking to them. But finally they were convinced, and their whole world changed. The resurrection proved that Jesus had been right – the Kingdom of God is at hand, and Jesus is the King! Love is stronger than death, because even death could not stand in the face of the Son of God. And this meant that there was no longer any need to fear. Why fear death if you know that, one day, you will be raised as Jesus was raised? Why fear tyrants when the worst they can do is to kill you – and death is only a temporary phenomenon for believers? To use C.S. Lewis’ memorable phrase from the Narnia stories, when death encounters the love of God in Jesus, ‘even death itself begins to work backwards’.

Do you see how this good news of Jesus exactly meets our needs? If we are afraid to approach God because of our sins and failures, it tells us of a Father who has compassion on us, runs to meet us in Jesus and hugs us and throws a feast for us when we come home to him. If we are afraid of death, it tells us that because of the resurrection of Jesus death itself has been swallowed up in victory. If we feel powerless to change ourselves, it assures us that the God whose power raised Jesus from the dead can also raise us from the death of sins and fears and negative habits and put us on a new path of life. If we feel a sense of hopelessness about the future of the world, it gives us a firm promise that the best is yet to come – that God is at work to heal the world of evil and that one day that process will be complete when Jesus is acknowledged as Lord of all. Does that seem impossible to us? Well, so does resurrection, right?!

A friend of mine likes to say, ‘The Gospel is like a Persian carpet, with many strands – each one meeting one of our deepest human needs’. Today with these three ‘R’s – ‘Reign of God’, ‘Reconciliation with God’, and ‘Resurrection’ – I’ve only begun to explore those strands with you, but hopefully you’ve seen enough to begin to glimpse the big picture.

Last week we saw that we live in a world full of people who have lost their way, and maybe we feel lost sometimes too. Today we’ve seen that the good news of Jesus speaks directly to that ‘lostness’. Next week we will ask the question, ‘How do we respond to the good news?’ Stay tuned: our word for nest week will be ‘Conversion’!