Sunday, September 28, 2014

What Back to Church Sunday is All About (a sermon on Matthew 21:23-32)

Today, in many different countries around the world, thousands of Christian churches are observing ‘Back to Church Sunday’. The idea behind the day is simple: regular churchgoers invite friends, who are not normally in the habit of churchgoing, to come and join them for worship. It’s not meant to be a big song and dance, and we’re not meant to put on a show that’s hugely different from what we normally do on a Sunday. It’s simply an invitation for people who may be standing on the edge of the swimming pool to put their toe in and see if they like the temperature of the water. Some might decide they like it, and dive right in. Others might say, “No thanks”, and turn away instead.

But some may well ask, “Isn’t this really just about recruiting? Aren’t you just trying to get more people to come to church and put more money into the collection plate? After all, we’ve all heard the statistics about how church attendance is declining; isn’t this ‘Back to Church Sunday’ just a desperate attempt to reverse those statistics so that you won’t have to close down more struggling churches?”

That’s a fair question, and there’s actually an even bigger one behind it: what is it that we actually want to see happen in the lives of those we have invited to come to church with us today? Is it just about persuading more people to join us for services each week? Is it just about getting more volunteers to help out with our job roster, and more money to help us meet our budget? Or is it deeper than that? Is it in any way about God, and about Jesus, and about the enrichment and transformation of our daily lives?

To answer this question we need to think about the reading we just heard from the Gospel of Matthew, and I need to start by filling in some back story for you.

Today’s reading comes toward the end of the biography of Jesus that Matthew wrote. Jesus and his followers have made a pilgrimage from Galilee in the north, where most of them live, down to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover. We who know the whole story of Jesus know that this story is going to end a few days later with his death and resurrection, but of course most of those who are actual participants in the narrative don’t know that yet.

At this time of year, crowds of pilgrims were streaming into Jerusalem for the festival, but when Jesus and his followers arrived they did something unusual. One of the prophets of the Old Testament, Zechariah, has a passage in which he talks about Jerusalem’s king coming to the city in humility, riding on a donkey. And so Jesus took a donkey and rode it into the city; his followers waved palm branches and shouted ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. The title ‘Son of David’ was another way of saying ‘The Messiah, the anointed one’ – that is, the king God had promised to send to set his people free.

When he arrived in the city Jesus went straight to the Temple. In the outer court he found the place full of merchants who were changing money and selling animals for sacrifices and so on. Jesus drove them all out, kicking over the tables and acting as if he owned the place. “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’”, he told them, “but you are making it a den of robbers” (Mt. 21:19). Jesus then sat down in that very place; crowds of people surrounded him, and he taught them and healed the sick.

Now, how would you feel if you were one of the legitimate authorities in the temple, and this upstart with a funny accent had come charging into your domain and taken over the facility? To Jewish people it would have been clear that Jesus was acting as if he was the Messiah – the one God had sent to be the king who would set his people free. That would be a clear challenge to the existing authorities, and they didn’t like it.

And so, in today’s reading, the leaders come to Jesus and challenge him: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (v.23). In other words, “Uh, remind us of who you are, exactly? Who made you the boss of the Temple? Which royal court were you born in? A manger in Bethlehem, you say?!!!”

Jesus’ reply sounds strange to us, as if he’s avoiding the question, but in fact it would have been crystal clear to the original hearers. “I’ll ask you a question first; if you can answer it, then I’ll answer your first question. Tell me - when John the Baptist came preaching about the Kingdom of heaven and baptizing people, where did he get his authority from? Was it from God, or was it just an idea he and his followers dreamed up out of their own heads?”

Now the leaders were in a tight spot. They were standing in the Temple surrounded by a mob who venerated John the Baptist as a true prophet of God. If they said what they really believed – “We think he was a fake” – the crowd would probably riot. If they lied and said, “Of course we believe he was a true prophet”, then they would be admitting that Jesus was also a true prophet, because, you see, it was John who had baptized Jesus! At that baptism, the Holy Spirit of God had filled Jesus, and a voice from heaven had said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”.

Now some of you are sitting there in your pews listening to me impatiently and thinking, “This is all very interesting, but what’s it got to do with the question of Back to Church Sunday and what you want to see happen in our lives?” Well, the moment has arrived to answer that question!

Here’s the issue: ‘Who does this Jesus think he is?’ The chief priests and elders asked it because he rode into their city like a king, marched into their Temple, drove out the legitimate businesses they had licensed to be there, and took it over as his private classroom! But if you hang around a Christian church long enough, you might ask that same question for a different reason. You might notice that we call Jesus ‘Lord’, that we bow at his name, that we venerate his words over all the other words in the Bible. You might notice that we pray our prayers ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ and that on most Sundays we remember his death by enacting a ceremony with bread and wine as he told us to. And you might well ask, ‘Who do these people think Jesus is?”

The answer is, we think he’s God. We think that, in some mysterious way, the God who created everything that exists actually came to live among us as a human being on this planet. He was like an author writing himself into his own story, while at the same time continuing to exist outside the story as the supreme originator of the whole narrative.

Now you might find this an outrageous idea, and you may find it hard to understand how anyone could believe it. But what I want to say is this: this is one of the things we want to see happen in the lives of the people we’re trying to reach. We want to help people grapple with the question of who Jesus is. We want to help people look at the story of his life, the sort of person he was, the way he reached out to the poor and marginalized, the women and children, the lepers and the ones no one else had time for, the way he related to ordinary people, and the things he taught about what God was like and what life was all about.

But we also want to help people come to terms with some of the things Jesus said about himself: the way he assumed he had authority to forgive sins, for instance, or the way he claimed to be the one who had sent the prophets and preachers of hundreds of years ago, or his claim that he and God the Father were one, and if you had seen him you had seen the Father.

How do we make all this fit together? What do we do with a man who lives such an attractive and godly life - who says such wise and powerful things - and yet seems to have this fundamental megalomania about his own identity? What if the answer is that his claims – his direct and indirect claims – are true? What if God has come among us to show us the way and to save us from ourselves? Well, then, I’m sure you’d agree that if that is who Jesus is, it would be important for us to listen to him, and to follow him.

You might say, “Well, I’m not there yet. I’m prepared to consider the question, though, so what’s the next step for me?” Well, let’s read on in the gospel text for today.

Even though the religious leaders took the safe way out and refused to answer Jesus’ question, Jesus wouldn’t let the matter rest. He told a story to make a point (if you start looking into Jesus you will find that this is something he does quite often!). In this story, a man told his two sons to go and work in his vineyard. The first said, “I don’t think so”, but later on he changed his mind and went. The second said, “Sure!” but then did nothing about it. “Which of the two did the will of his Father?” Jesus asked. The answer was obvious and the leaders couldn’t avoid it: it was the first.

Jesus’ reply was devastating:
“Truly, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” (vv.31-32).
To the surprise of the chief priests and the elders, Jesus had them pegged as the ones who said they would work in the vineyard, but then didn’t! But when John had preached his message, hundreds of so-called ‘sinners’ had listened, and believed, and changed their lives. They were like the son who at first had refused to work in the vineyard, but had then repented and done what his father asked.

This is what Jesus wants – he wants people not just to think or talk about doing the will of his Father in heaven, but to actually roll their sleeves up and get busy doing it. And if we ask “What is the will of the Father in heaven?” Jesus is not shy about answering our question. The big picture is that we are to love God with everything in us and love our neighbour as ourselves. The detailed picture involves not accumulating lots of luxuries, but living simply and giving to the poor instead. It involves forgiving those who sin against us and learning to love not only our friends but also our enemies. It involves keeping our promises and being a person of our word – looking out for people in trouble and helping them – living to please God instead of trying to be popular with everyone else – and so on, and so on.

You see, coming to church is the easy part! We’d love to think that some of you who are our guests today would come back and join us on a regular basis, but that’s only the beginning. What we’re really about is helping people figure out who Jesus is, and then helping them to follow Jesus by learning to do the will of the Father in their daily lives.

So let me close with a suggestion. I make this suggestion not just to our guests, but to our regular members too, because I’ve learned over the years that regular churchgoers aren’t always as sure about Jesus as I’d like to think they are!

Here’s my suggestion. Maybe you’re not sure you believe in God. Maybe you believe in God but you’ve always thought Jesus is just a human being, not the Son of God or anything like that. Now today you’ve heard me say that it really matters who we think Jesus is, and this has got you wondering whether or not there’s more to Jesus than you thought.

I suggest you do two things. First, pray to God for help. Maybe you’re not even sure God is there; that’s fine. A prayer something like this would be good.
“God, I’m not even sure whether or not you exist, and if you do, I’m not sure whether Jesus is your Son – whatever that means – or if he’s just an ordinary religious leader, or if he’s a charlatan or a lunatic or something worse. But I really want to know. So I’m going to try to find out, and I want you to make it clear to me. Please help me to know whether or not you are real and whether or not Jesus is your Son. Amen”.
The actual words aren’t important – God knows what’s on your heart – but something like this will do the trick.

Here’s the second thing. There are four biographies of Jesus in the Bible – the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John is a bit harder to understand, but the first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are very accessible. Pick one of them – it doesn’t matter which one – and commit yourself to reading from it every day. But here’s the catch. I can guarantee you that on some days, in the passage you read, there will be some command of Jesus that jumps off the page and hits you between the eyes. If that happens, stop reading right away, think about what it would mean for you to obey that command, and then ask God to help you obey it.

Does that sound radical? I believe that anyone who starts making a serious attempt to actually put the teaching of Jesus into practice will sooner or later discover for themselves that Jesus is in fact who Christians say he is – the Son of God. And on the other hand, I think that people who are only willing to study Jesus on an intellectual level - or who are only willing to become churchgoers, and nothing more - will not be in a position to receive any sort of revelation from God about who Jesus is. They’ll be like the son who said he would go and work in the vineyard, but then didn’t.


So this is what we want to see happen. We don’t just want more people to come to our church, although we’d be glad if that happened. We want more people, in and outside the church, to understand who Jesus is, and to commit themselves to doing the will of the Father as Jesus has explained it to us. We believe that’s how God is changing the world, one life at a time. That’s what Christianity is all about, and that’s what Back to Church Sunday is all about too.

Friday, September 26, 2014

October 2014: Monthly Announcements

MONTH AT A GLANCE:
Note: The church is rented out every Monday 3.45 – 7.45 p.m., and every Saturday except the first Saturday of the month 7 – 10 p.m.
Wed. 1st:
·      9.00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m.: Tim at Threshold Ministries gathering @ Providence Centre.
·      3.00 p.m. Corporation meets @ Bogani Café.
Thu. 2nd:
·      7.00 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies @ Bogani Café (2023-111 St.)
·      7.30 – 9.00 p.m. ‘The Red Letters’ Session 2 @ church.
Sun. 5th (17th Sunday after Pentecost):
·      9.00 Holy Communion
·      9.45 Combined Coffee
·      10.30 Holy Communion and Sunday School
Tue. 7th:
·      Noon – 2.30 p.m. Whitemud Deanery Clergy Meeting at St. Margaret’s.
Thu. 9th:
·      Jen’s holidays begin.
·      7.00 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies @ Bogani Café (2023-111 St.)
·      11.30 Lunch Bunch @ the church. We will be sharing ‘Summer Stories’ with each other.
·      7.30 – 9.00 p.m. ‘The Red Letters’ Session 3 @ church.
Sun. 12th (Thanksgiving):
·      9.00 Holy Communion
·      10.30 Holy Communion and Sunday School, followed by coffee hour.
Tue. 14th:
·      Office closed in accordance with diocesan policy re. long weekends (see below).
Wed. 15th:
·      7.15 p.m. Vestry Meeting @ church
Thu. 16th:
·      7.00 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies @ Bogani Café (2023-111 St.)
·      7.30 – 9.00 p.m. ‘The Red Letters’ Session 4 @ church.
Sat. 18th:
·      10 a.m. – noon: ‘Faith in the Workplace’ @ the church (see below).
Sun. 19th (19th Sunday after Pentecost) (Chaplaincy Sunday):
·      9.00 Holy Communion
·      10.30 Holy Communion and Sunday School, followed by coffee hour.
Tue. 21st:
·      Jen back from holidays.
Wed. 22nd:
·      11.15 a.m. Holy Communion @ St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital.
Thu. 23rd:
·      7.00 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies @ Bogani Café (2023-111 St.)
·      7.30 – 9.00 p.m. ‘The Red Letters’ Session 5 @ church.
Sat. 25th:
·      4 – 6 p.m. Spaghetti Church @ church
Sun. 26th (20th Sunday after Pentecost: ‘Good Works Fair’ [see below]):
·      9.00 Holy Communion
·      10.30 Morning Worship
Thu. 30th:
·      7.00 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Studies @ Bogani Café (2023-111 St.)
·      7.30 – 9.00 p.m. ‘The Red Letters’ Session 6 @ church.

Note:
·      Tim Chesterton’s days off are every Monday, and two Saturdays per month.
·      Tim is not in the office on Thursdays as this is his sermon preparation day.
·      Jennifer ffolliott-Oujla works Tuesday to Friday, 9.15 a.m. – 12.15 p.m.
·      Jen will be on holiday this month from October 9th – 20th inclusive. In her absence Melanie Eriksen will be in the office on Friday Oct. 10th and 17th to cover essential tasks.
·      Diocesan Policy on Long Weekends. If clergy would normally be taking the holiday Monday as a day off anyway, they are required to take an additional day. Since Tim’s day off is Monday, he usually takes an additional day off on long weekends.

EVENTS THIS MONTH:
Saturday Oct. 4th: The Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network event announced last month has been cancelled.

Sunday Oct. 12th: Thanksgiving. Please bring your non-perishable food items for donation to the Food Bank. Also, for those who use church envelopes, there is an extra envelope in your box for this Sunday, and we invite you to use it for a special donation to support our World Vision child sponsorship appeal for Lemlem Fickre in Ethiopia.

Saturday Oct. 18th 10 a.m. – noon: ‘Faith in the Workplace: A Conversation’. You are invited to come to the church for coffee and muffins and a discussion built around questions such as ‘What do I do for a living?’ ‘What does my working day usually look like?’ ‘How easy is it for me to see my work as part of God’s vision for his world?’ ‘What challenges do I face in following Jesus at my place of work?’ ‘How conscious am I of doing my work in such a way as to honour God and build God’s kingdom?’ ‘How would I like my fellow-Christians to pray for me as I go to work?’ Location: the church.

Saturday Oct. 25th 4-6 p.m.: Spaghetti Church.

Sunday Oct. 26th: Good Works Fair at both services. Our annual opportunity to hear from agencies in Edmonton that do good deeds for those in need, and to find out how we can help them. Watch for announcements about who will be coming this year.

LOOKING AHEAD (St. Margaret’s and Beyond):
Sunday Nov. 2nd: Fall Congregational Meeting at noon.

Friday Nov. 7th: Annual St. Margaret’s Fundraising Dinner and Silent Auction (held at St. Matthias’ Anglican Church).
Mark your calendars for this event. Melanie Eriksen is searching out donations for the silent auction; if you know of potential donors, please let her know, or forward a donor letter yourself. Silent Auction starts at 5.30, dinner to follow; Bishop Jane Alexander will be the after-dinner speaker, and there will also be live music. Tickets are $60 each or $100 per couple and are available by contacting the office (780-437-7231) and also after church on Sundays, or at Eventbrite at http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/st-margarets-fundraising-dinner-silent-auction-tickets-13205288373.

Saturday Nov. 8th 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: ‘How to Relax and Enjoy Evangelism’. Does your heart start to pound when you hear the words ‘witness’ or ‘evangelism’? Although we have experienced God’s presence, and Jesus has told us to share his good news with the world, we’re often shy or scared to talk about faith with people outside the church. Come join us, and learn why evangelism doesn’t have to be stressful. It’s time to stop living in fear.

Note: this is a diocesan workshop hosted by St. Margaret’s as part of the evangelism training program for all interested people in the Diocese of Edmonton. To register, please email assistant@edmonton.anglican.ca or call the synod office at 780-439-7344, or sign up on the sheet in the foyer at the church.

Saturday Nov. 8th 7.30 – 10.00 p.m. ‘Songs of War and Peace’. Tim, Bill Werthmann and Carrie Day will once again be presenting a concert for Remembrance Day weekend; it will be held at the Cha Island Tea Company, 10332-81 Avenue NW, Edmonton (see http://www.chaisland.com). Tickets are $10 each on Eventbrite (http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/songs-of-war-and-peace-with-tim-chesterton-carrie-day-and-bill-werthmann-tickets-13071024787): proceeds will go to World Vision’s efforts to rehabilitate child soldiers.

Tuesday November 11th (Remembrance Day): the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network will sponsor the following events:
·      6.00 p.m. Prayer Service at McDougall United Church. Theme: ‘A God Who Loves His Enemies’.
·      7.00 p.m. Prayer Walk from City Hall to the War Memorial.
To find out more about EEPN, visit their website at http://www.eepeacenetwork.org.

Saturday Nov. 15th: ‘Voices for Habitat’, a fundraising concert for Habitat for Humanity, will be held at Ellerslie Road Baptist Church, starting at 7.30 p.m. Ticket information to be announced.

Sunday Nov. 16th: Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland. Once again we will give thanks to God for the life of Margaret, whose name we bear.

Sunday Nov. 23rd (Reign of Christ Sunday): Bishop Jane will preside and preach at both services.

Sunday Nov. 30th (Advent 1) 7.00 p.m.: Annual Christmas Concert in support of our World Vision child sponsorship appeal. Ticket information will be available soon.

DIOCESAN FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN (‘REACH’ CAMPAIGN) UPDATE
Once again, the basics:
·      The Diocese is attempting to raise $5 million in the Reach Campaign, which will be split, with 50% going to the parishes, 40% to the diocese, and 10% to the national Anglican church.
·      The Diocesan share will go to help fund the following ministries:
o   The Indigenous Ministry Initiative (http://edmonton.anglican.org/reach/indigenous-ministry/).
o   New Worshipping Communities
·      Our parish share will be split 60% for youth and children’s ministry in our congregation, and 40% for our ongoing building work.
·      Parishes have been asked to consider a target of 115% of their 2013 envelope income. For St. Margaret’s, our target is $170,000, to be raised over five years.
·      Parishioners are invited to make pledges over a five-year period. We will ask each of you to look at your 2013 giving, multiply it by 1.15, and prayerfully consider whether you could pledge this amount to the Reach Campaign over a five year period without reducing your other church giving. This is sacrificial (it represents a 23% increase), but the projects are important.
o   For example, if my last year’s giving was $4,000, 115% of this would be $4,600, so I would be asked to consider whether I could pledge an additional $920 per year to the Reach Campaign, over and above my present giving.
We know that some will be able to go higher than this, and some will not be able to go as high. 115% of 2013 giving is the average we need to reach our assigned goal.
·      Our parish visiting team (Marci Chesterton, Tim Chesterton, Sally Floden, Rick Mogg, Brian Popp, and Doug Sanderson) is currently making visits to some members of our congregation. We would like to give you information about the various projects supported by the Reach Campaign, and ask for your prayers and, hopefully, your financial support as well. Note: we will not be able to visit everyone on our parish list as this would be a huge burden on our small visiting team.

·      For more information about Reach at St. Margaret’s, please contact Marci Chesterton at marcichesterton at gmail dot com or 780-432-2255.

October Roster


October 5th, 2014  15th Sunday after Pentecost
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople:The Hughes           
Counter: G. Hughes/ D. Sanderson                       
Reader: S. Jayakaran                                   
(Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19, Philippians3: 4b-14))
Lay Administrants: D. Schindel/T. Wittkopf                       
Intercessor: D. MacNeill                                   
Lay Reader: E. Gerber            (Matthew 21: 33-46)                       
Altar Guild (green): M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf
Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/M. Chesterton                                   
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Rys
Kitchen: - 9:45 am  M&B Woytkiw           
Music: R. Mogg
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

October 12th, 2014       Thanksgiving
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels           
Counter: D. Schindel/(D. Sanderson)                                   
Reader: S. Watson                                   
(Deuteronomy 8: 7-18, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/G. Hughes                                               
Intercessor: TBA           
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill                        (Luke 17: 11-19)
Altar Guild: (green): M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra
Prayer Team: E. Gerber/K. Hughes                       
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance           
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: The Moggs
Music: M. Chesterton           
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

October 19th, 2014   19th Sunday after Pentecost
Greeter/Sidespeople:B. Cavey/ T. Cromarty           
Counter: B. Cavey/T. Cromarty                                   
Reader: C. Aasen                       
(Exodus 33: 12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10)
Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/M. Rys                       
Intercessor:L. Thompson                                   
Lay Reader: B. Popp            (Matthew 22: 15-22)           
Altar Guild (green): P. Major/K. Hughes
Prayer Team: S. Jayakaran/ K. Hughes                          
Sunday School (School Age): L. Popp           
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen: E. McFall                       
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

October 26th, 2014    20th Sunday after Pentecost
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Wittkopf/T. Willacy           
Counter:T. Wittkopf/ B. Popp                       
Reader: T. Cromarty                                               
(Deuteronomy 34: 1-12, Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8)
Intercessor: C. Aasen                       
Lay Reader: L. Thompson            (Matthew 22: 34-46)           
Altar Guild (green): M. Lobreau/MW             
Sunday School (School Age): E. McDougall
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Rys
Kitchen: The Popps
Music: M. Eriksen