Friday, January 30, 2015

February 2nd - 8th, 2015


Events This Week

COFFEE BETWEEN SERVICES THIS SUNDAY!

February 2, 2015
  Office is closed.
February 3-5th, 2015
   Clergy Retreat
February 4th, 2015
  11:00 am  S. Gerber Computer Training Class
February 5th
   7:00 am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café
 February 8th  2015     5th Sunday after Epiphany
   9:00 am  Holy Communion
  10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School
  12 noon  AGM and light lunch

Upcoming Dates to Remember!
February 8th – Annual General Meeting
February 12th – Lunch Bunch Lunch
February 17th -  Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper
February 18th – Ash Wednesday Service 

The next Lunch Bunch will be February 12, 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret's Church.  Everyone is welcome.  Please come and join us for a time of fellowship.  The Sanderson's will be sharing some amazing photos of their latest trip.
If you would like to attend please call the church office @ 780-437-7231.


Saturday February 14th, 2015 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.:
'Engaging Our Neighbourhoods: 

An overview of practical neighbourhood outreach and how it relates to our gospel mission'.

Living the Gospel in our neigbourhoods and cities in a relevant way changes lives and gives powerful witness to how faith in Christ changes us as individuals and as a community. Explore and pray together about how your worship communities can live the Gospel where you are. With more than pancakes, Messy Church and bake sales we are blessed to be a blessing to others so that they might glorify our Father in heaven.

Location: St. Margaret's Church, 12603 Ellerslie Road SW, Edmonton AB T6W 1A3
Date and Time: Saturday Feb. 14th 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Workshop leader: Nick Trussell.
Please bring your Bible, notebook and a bag lunch. Coffee and tea provided.
Register through the Synod Office (churched@edmonton.anglican.ca) or by using the signup sheet in the foyer, or emailing Jen at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com; registration deadline is Wednesday, February 10th at noon. Maximum of 20 participants for this workshop, so please register soon!


“Come”, my heart says, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
(Psalm 27:8)
Lenten Quiet Day
Saturday February 21st 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
St. Margaret’s Anglican Church
12603 Ellerslie Road SW,
Edmonton, Alberta T6W 1A3

The day will include:
·      Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion
·      Three talks based on the psalms
·      Times of silence for prayer and reflection
·      Lunch is provided – suggested donation $5
·      Bring your Bible, a notebook, and an open heart to seek God’s presence.
·     RSVP: stmrector@gmail.com or 780-437-7231 (registration deadline February 18th at noon)


Too Busy Not To Pray:
Slowing Down to Be With God
By Bill Hybels

Most of us have trouble finding time to be pray. There’s church and school and neighbourhood and job and friends and recreation. And then the crises hit! Time for prayer seems impossible to find.

As a pastor, Bill Hybels knows hundreds of people with schedules like this. Yet in his own life he has made the hard discovery that prayer doesn’t happen on the run. He decided he was too busy not to pray. The ideas in this practical book can help us to learn to slow down to be with God as well.

Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, Illinois.

A St. Margaret’s Book Study Group
Eight Tuesday evenings,
February 24th – April 14th, 7:30 p.m.

Sign up now by using the signup sheet in the church, or calling Tim Chesterton (780-437-7231) or emailing him (stmrector@gmail.com).
Order your own book online from Amazon or Chapters (be sure to get the 20th Anniversary edition)


Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's Time to Make a Decision (a sermon for January 25th on Mark 1:14-20)

I see from my notes that the last time I preached on this gospel passage was nine years ago, the day before the 2006 federal election in which Stephen Harper first became the prime minister of Canada. I remember that during that campaign he told Canadians that they had ‘a choice between two visions of Canada’. If we chose his party, he said, we’d be embracing their vision and working towards it with them. If we chose his opponents, we’d be endorsing a different vision. The decision, he said, was ours to make.

When you and I participate in a general election, we understand that the decision we make is not just a private thing that affects only our own personal lives. The moment in the ballot box may be private, but the choice we’re making is a public choice. To cast my vote for a political party has the effect of strengthening that party and ultimately helping to decide who will lead our country.

With that in mind, I want to think with you for a few minutes this morning about the decision Jesus asked people to make: the decision to become his followers. What kind of decision is it? Is it a purely private thing? A lot of people seem to think it is. They think it means turning away from personal sins like dishonesty and lust and lying; it means believing in Jesus as my ‘personal Saviour’, and trying to live my private life according to his teachings.

I think there’s more to it than that. I think that the decision to follow Jesus actually has a lot in common with the kind of decision we make on an election day. I think that when the people of Galilee heard Jesus announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God, and calling them to repent and believe in the good news, they would have heard him calling them to a public decision – even a political decision – after all, ‘kingdom’ is a political word!  They would have heard Jesus challenging them like this: ‘Choose which vision for God’s world and God’s people you want’. And there were lots of alternatives for them to pick from. Did they want to collaborate with the Roman invaders, or did they want to participate in an armed rebellion against them? Did they want to transform society according to God’s law, or was society just too far gone, so that the only option was to withdraw from it altogether?

Jesus announced the coming of God’s Kingdom and invited people to choose to be a part of it. It was a personal choice, but it had huge social and political implications for them. Let’s look a little more closely at the text and try to find out more about this together. Let’s start by examining the proclamation Jesus made: ‘The kingdom of God has come near’.

In an election campaign, political parties set out their party platforms. Hopefully, in the midst of all the noise, thoughtful voters will actually examine the party platforms and asked themselves ‘How does this compare with my vision for the future of our country? Which manifesto can I most readily commit myself to?’

Mark tells us that Jesus ‘came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near’ (vv.14-15). This was Jesus’ manifesto, drawn straight from the pages of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament scriptures there are a number of words and phrases that cluster around the same theme – words and phrases like ‘the day of the Lord’, ‘shalom’, ‘the year of Jubilee’ and so on. All these words and phrases spell out the idea that the world as we see it is not the world as God intended it, but that the time is coming when God is going to act to restore his original plan.

This is spelled out poetically in Isaiah 2:2-4:
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways, and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

In this vision, Isaiah sees the nations and races of the earth coming to God for instruction, and committing themselves to living by God’s ways, the ways of peace and justice. Other Old Testament passages add other aspects of this. The poor, the widow, the orphan will be cared for. Land and wealth will be shared fairly so that everyone has enough and no one has too much. Life will be characterised by wholeness, harmony, and peace.

This is what the people in Jesus’ day meant by the phrase ‘the Kingdom of God’. They certainly didn’t see God’s Kingdom as some sort of ethereal afterlife in which we all stroll through fields of green forever. They expected to see it fulfilled as an earthly reality, in real time and space. And now Jesus arrives and makes this startling announcement: ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’. The Gospels make it clear that the reason the Kingdom of God is near is because Jesus is near, and he is God’s anointed King. His arrival is a challenge to people to make their choice: are they for or against God’s manifesto for the future, which Jesus represents?

It’s in this context that the call to follow Jesus is given. It’s a personal decision, but it has huge social and political implications. The Kingdom of God is about fairness, equity, and justice – what does that mean for the way we Christians live, in a world where over a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, a world where those in the top 1% income bracket will soon own 50% of the wealth? The kingdom of God is about peace and reconciliation – what does that mean for the way we Christians live, in a world torn apart by hatred and violence? The Kingdom of God is about accepting God’s instruction for living – what does that mean for the way we Christians live, in a culture where everyone claims the right to decide for themselves what’s right and wrong? These are only a few of the social and political implications of choosing to be a part of the Kingdom of God.

So this is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Now let’s look at the issue of how to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

The Gospels make it clear that everyone has to make their mind up about this: do I want to be in the Kingdom, or out of it? Jesus was preaching this message to Jewish people; many of them would have assumed that because they were Jewish, no decision was required. “I’m one of God’s chosen people; therefore I’m in”. But Jesus still challenges them to make a decision. Likewise, being born in what has sometimes been called ‘a Christian country’ has no significance at all; the New Testament knows nothing of Christian countries, but only Christian people, people who have made a decision to willingly participate in the Kingdom of God. What does that decision involve? This scripture passage outlines four things. In verse 15 Jesus says, “Repent, and believe in the good news”, and in verse 17 “Follow me and I will make you fish for people”.

We’ll look at the first two together: repent, and believe in the good news. This is, of course, the same good news that Jesus has already talked about, the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand. This is good news because it tells us that this world belongs to God, not to tyrants or terrorists or greedy billionaires or even ordinary members of the 1%. God created this world out of love; evil has corrupted it, but God is not sitting back quietly and accepting that situation. God has acted by coming to live among us as one of us in Jesus; he has lived and died and risen again to defeat the power of evil and reconcile us to himself. And he is calling people everywhere to participate in a revolution of love that will transform the world and restore it to his original intention for it. This revolution will succeed, because it doesn’t depend on human ingenuity, but on the power and patience of God.

Let me ask you today if you believe that. Do you believe that the future God has in store for this world is better than what we see around us today? Do you believe that the book of Revelation is telling the truth when it says that the day is coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, when death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things will have passed away, and God will have made all things new (Revelation 21:4-5)? Do you believe that one day the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea? Do you believe that the day will come when we will see an answer to the prayer we pray every day: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’?

If you do believe those things – if you ‘believe in the good news’ - you will see life differently from those who think that their one chance for happiness is this brief interval between birth and death – those who believe that ‘it’s a dog-eat-dog world’, that ‘the one who dies with the most toys wins’, and so the only way to live your life is to ‘look out for number one’ – yourself. We Christians believe that these are all seriously defective ways of seeing the world. And the way you see the world matters, because it changes the way you live your life.

That’s what repentance is all about. The word ‘repent’ translates a Greek word that means ‘to change your thinking’ or ‘change your mind’. And of course, it means a change of life too, as we turn away from personal and social sins and commit ourselves to doing God’s will as Jesus has revealed it to us. So it always translates into concrete actions. In Luke’s gospel John the Baptist explains this in concrete ways:
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ (Luke 3:10-14).

And this leads us to the third thing; we’re called to follow Jesus. What sort of people can spread the kingdom of God? The answer is obvious: people like Jesus! And so Jesus called people to become his disciples – his apprentices, if you like. Apprentices of Jesus listen to his teaching, they watch his way of living, they learn from him, and they imitate the good things they see.

Jesus’ call still goes out to people today – the call to follow him and become his apprentices. Jesus is busy changing the world, one life at a time. The curriculum is the gospels, the Sermon on the Mount, the commandments to love God and love our neighbour, and so on. Each day, we apprentices pray for guidance and strength to apply the teaching and example of Jesus to our daily lives.

This isn’t just a sweet romantic ideal; it leads to concrete actions. Many years ago when I was a student, a friend and I were walking down Bloor Street in Toronto comparing notes about our summers. I mentioned in passing that my watch had cratered over the summer; without hesitation he took his own watch off and gave it to me. “I’ve got two”, he said, “and after all, the Bible says that if we have two coats and our brother has none, we’re to share what we have”. Now I ask you, what would that principle mean for those of us who have two houses in a world where many are homeless? Or two cars? Or two guitars? (there are four or five in my house!) Often the answers are difficult, but as Christians, we absolutely must struggle with these questions.

So we’re called to repent, believe in the good news, and follow Jesus. Finally, we’re called to fish for people. All of us are here today because someone ‘fished’ for us. In my case, it was my parents, and especially my Dad who challenged me to give my life to Jesus when I was thirteen. As a result of other people’s fishing, you and I became apprentices of Jesus. Now we apprentices are called to do our own bit of fishing – that is, to invite others to become Jesus’ apprentices too.

I actually like the King James Version here. Our NRSV makes it sound as if Jesus is compelling us to do something we don’t want to do: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’! Now that may be true – we may really not want to fish for people and bring them into the kingdom of God! But that’s not what Jesus said. The King James has ‘Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men’. In other words, if we follow Jesus, he will make us into the kind of people who can fish for others. He’s not just compelling us to do it; he’s equipping us as well.

Note that fishing for people isn’t an optional extra for those who like that sort of thing, or for those who happen to be bubbly extroverts. The one thing leads inevitably to the other: Jesus says, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people’. To make new disciples for Jesus is an integral part of the package of being a follower of Jesus. If you take this element out of the package, you’ve made Christian discipleship into something completely different.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous understand this principle. The Twelve Steps of AA are a comprehensive program for personal transformation. But step twelve, the final step in the process, says ‘having experienced a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we then tried to take this message to others’. This isn’t optional – it’s an integral part of the program. Wise members of AA know that if they don’t do this, they become inward looking and self-absorbed – which is the first step to going back to drinking. And Christians who refuse to follow Jesus in his work of making new apprentices also short-circuit their own growth as his disciples.

Let’s go round this one last time. Jesus comes to us with the tremendous news that the Kingdom of God is at hand – that God’s power and love are at work in the world to defeat the reign of evil and to bring about a revolution of love. The future of this program is not in doubt: God’s kingdom will come, God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. We can count on that.

Do we believe that? Do we believe that the promise of the kingdom is worth more than all the lies of power and wealth? If we do, we’re called to respond. We’re called to put our trust in Jesus, God’s anointed king – to turn from our old way of life, to follow Jesus, and to learn to do God’s will. And part of God’s will is that what’s been given to us needs to be passed on to others, so we will do all we can to spread this message and fish for people, because that’s how the kingdom of God grows – one heart at a time.


This is our decision, today and every day. Jesus comes to us and says ‘Follow me’, and we respond, ‘Yes’, or ‘No’. It’s a private decision, but it can’t possibly stop there. The world is changed by disciples of Jesus who follow him and then live to do God’s will. We can choose to work with God and further his vision for his world. May God give us strength, today and every day, to make the right decision.

Friday, January 23, 2015

January 26th - Feb 2nd, 2015



Events This Week

January 26th, 2015
  Office is closed.
January 28th, 2015
  11:00 am  S. Gerber Computer Training Class
  7:00 pm  Planning & Building Meeting
January 29th, 2015
   7:00 am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café
January 31st, 2015
   4:00 pm  Spaghetti Church
   7:00 pm  Malankara Church Rental
 February 1st, 2015     4th Sunday after Epiphany
   9:00 am  Holy Communion
   9:45 am  Coffee between Services
  10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School
  
We are inviting you and your children to join us for Spaghetti Church Saturday January 31st, 2015 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.
Spaghetti Church is church for families that enjoy a more informal, activity-centered and community-oriented way of worshipping together from time to time.
We do have a signup sheet policy as food is prepared for all who will be coming, so please let us know if you plan to come (including the number of people who will be coming and, if you have not attended before, the ages of the children), or sign up on the sheet at the back of the church.

Upcoming Dates to Remember!
January 31st – Spaghetti Church
February 8th – Annual General Meeting
February 12th – Lunch Bunch Lunch
February 17th -  Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper
February 18th – Ash Wednesday Service 



“Come”, my heart says, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
(Psalm 27:8)
Lenten Quiet Day
Saturday February 21st 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
St. Margaret’s Anglican Church
12603 Ellerslie Road SW,
Edmonton, Alberta T6W 1A3

The day will include:
·      Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion
·      Three talks based on the psalms
·      Times of silence for prayer and reflection
·      Lunch is provided – suggested donation $5
·      Bring your Bible, a notebook, and an open heart to seek God’s presence.
·     RSVP: stmrector@gmail.com or 780-437-7231 (registration deadline February 18th at noon)


Too Busy Not To Pray:
Slowing Down to Be With God
By Bill Hybels

Most of us have trouble finding time to be pray. There’s church and school and neighbourhood and job and friends and recreation. And then the crises hit! Time for prayer seems impossible to find.

As a pastor, Bill Hybels knows hundreds of people with schedules like this. Yet in his own life he has made the hard discovery that prayer doesn’t happen on the run. He decided he was too busy not to pray. The ideas in this practical book can help us to learn to slow down to be with God as well.

Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, Illinois.


A St. Margaret’s Book Study Group
Eight Tuesday evenings,
February 24th – April 14th, 7:30 p.m.

Sign up now by using the signup sheet in the church, or calling Tim Chesterton (780-437-7231) or emailing him (stmrector@gmail.com).
Order your own book online from Amazon or Chapters (be sure to get the 20th Anniversary edition)



Saturday February 14th, 2015 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.:
'Engaging Our Neighbourhoods: 

An overview of practical neighbourhood outreach and how it relates to our gospel mission'.

Living the Gospel in our neigbourhoods and cities in a relevant way changes lives and gives powerful witness to how faith in Christ changes us as individuals and as a community. Explore and pray together about how your worship communities can live the Gospel where you are. With more than pancakes, Messy Church and bake sales we are blessed to be a blessing to others so that they might glorify our Father in heaven.

Location: St. Margaret's Church, 12603 Ellerslie Road SW, Edmonton AB T6W 1A3
Date and Time: Saturday Feb. 13th 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Workshop leader: Nick Trussell.
Please bring your Bible, notebook and a bag lunch. Coffee and tea provided.
Register through the Synod Office (churched@edmonton.anglican.ca) or by using the signup sheet in the foyer, or emailing Jen at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com; registration deadline is Wednesday, February 10th at noon. Maximum of 20 participants for this workshop, so please register soon!


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Ladder Between Earth and Heaven (sermon for January 18th on John 1:43-51)

I wonder if you know the famous Old Testament story of Jacob’s ladder? Let me tell you the story as it appears in the Book of Genesis.

Isaac was the son of Abraham and was married to Rebekah, and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a few minutes older than Jacob, and there had been a rivalry between them since the day that they were born. The Genesis story suggests that this rivalry even existed at the moment of their birth; Jacob was grasping his older brother’s heel as he came out, as if there had been a kind of competition between them as to who should be born first. And so they called him ‘Jacob’ which means ‘he grasps’ or ‘he supplants’.

Esau grew up to be an outdoorsman and there was nothing he liked better than to go out hunting; his father loved him best because he loved to eat the wild game Esau cooked for him. Jacob preferred staying close to home, and he and his mother were very close. Rebekah comes across in the story as a classic manipulator, and she taught her son well. His whole life long he was trying to manipulate people to get what he wanted out of them: first his brother Esau, then his father-in-law Laban.

Esau and Jacob had a couple of scrapes when they were young men. We’re told that one day Esau came in really hungry from a day’s hunting, and he smelled a red stew that Jacob was cooking. “Give me some of that to eat!” he demanded. Jacob said, “I’ll give it to you - if you sell me your birthright”. “What good is a birthright if I’m starving?” Esau replied, and so he agreed to sell his rights as firstborn son just so he could eat what the King James Version calls ‘a mess of pottage’ – hence the old saying, ‘selling his birthright for a mess of pottage’.

But the news that Jacob now had the rights of an oldest son didn’t seem to have made it to old Isaac, his father. In those days it was a very big deal to receive your father’s blessing as the oldest son, and the time came when Isaac thought he ought to give Esau his blessing. So he told him to go out into the field and hunt some game, bring it home and cook it for him, and then he would give him the blessing of the firstborn. Rebekah was listening in, and she heard what her husband said.

So Esau got his bow and arrows and off he went. But Rebekah went and found Jacob and told him what was going on. “Now listen”, she said, “let’s go and kill a goat from the flock and cook it for your father; he’s old and blind and he won’t know it’s you. That way you can receive the blessing of the firstborn”. But Jacob wasn’t so sure. “He may be blind, but he’ll be able to feel the difference – my brother’s all hairy, but my skin is smooth!” “Leave it to me”, his mother replied.

Jacob did as his mother suggested. When they had killed the animal and cooked it, Rebekah spread the skins on his arms and shoulders, and Jacob took the stew to his father. So they were able to deceive old Isaac, and Jacob received the blessing of the firstborn in place of his older brother, Esau. Esau of course was very angry when he heard about this, so angry that he threatened to kill his brother. And so Rebekah told Jacob to run away across the desert to Haran, where their family had come from, where he could find refuge with her brother Laban. So he ran away.

Now we might ask ourselves the question, “Where is God in this story?” These people seem like the typical dysfunctional family, and there isn’t much of a sense that obeying God and living by God’s laws is very important to them. Isaac and Rebekah each have favourites among their children, and the boys know about this, and of course it causes trouble. Outwardly they are a religious family; Isaac is the son of Abraham, who had heard God calling him to leave Haran and find a new place to live in Canaan where his family would be God’s chosen people. But God seems pretty distant to them and they don’t seem to spend a lot of time seeking God’s will for their lives. And so it might well be said of Jacob, as it was said of Samuel in our Old Testament reading for today, that he ‘did not yet know the Lord’ (1 Samuel 3:7).

Let’s stop here for a moment and ask ourselves how many people and families we have known in our lives where something like this is going on? Children have been brought up in a family that is at least outwardly religious and goes to church on a regular basis. It’s possible that the parents have had a real experience of God at some point in their lives, but, like all of us, they are flawed and imperfect people,  and they don’t always give the best example to their kids of what it means to be godly people. The children participate in the religious rituals of the family because ‘that’s what we do’, but for them it hasn’t yet become a personal reality; they do not yet ‘know the Lord’. In years to come, after they leave home, they will probably fall away from institutional religion altogether - unless they have some sort of a conversion experience in which their institutional faith becomes more of a personal and experiential reality for them.

That’s the situation for Jacob at this point in the story. However, things begin to change for him on his way to Haran. He is in a desolate place, but he finds a patch of ground to sleep for the night, although all he can find for a pillow is a stone. He falls asleep, but he has a strange dream – possibly because of the stone pillow, you might think! In his dream he sees what seems like a ladder, suspended between earth and heaven. He sees the angels of God going up and down on the ladder, between earth and heaven. And in his dream God comes and stands beside him, assuring him that he is the God of Abraham and Isaac and that he will be Jacob’s God too, and all the promises he had made to Abraham and Isaac are good for Jacob as well.

Obviously this dream has a big impact on Jacob; when he wakes up in the morning he names the place ‘Bethel’ which means ‘house of God’, and he sets the stone up as a memorial to remind him of the spot where he had first met with God. And from that day onward God begins to be more of a reality in Jacob’s life, although it will take many years for him to be cured of his trickster ways! If you want to find out more about his story, you’ll find it in Genesis chapters 25-36.

Now why am I telling you this story? Well, perhaps you’ve often wished you could find a ladder to heaven. Perhaps you’ve had a hard time connecting with God or feeling that God is a reality in your life. Perhaps you’ve only felt the distance of God, rather than his presence. Perhaps you too grew up in a religious family but had a hard time making the faith of your parents your own. This is especially common in religious traditions like ours, where we have a lot of formality and structure to our worship and practice. Children can grow up participating in the formality and structure, but without making the experiential connection with God in their hearts.

In our gospel reading for today Jesus alludes to this story of Jacob’s ladder. In our reading Philip, one of Jesus’ new disciples, finds his friend Nathanael and says “Come and meet this man we’ve found – we think he’s the one the scriptures prophesied – you know, the Messiah! He’s Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” “From Nazareth?” Nathanael scoffs; “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see!” Philip replies.

So Philip takes Nathanael to meet Jesus. When Jesus sees him, he says, “Ah – this one’s a true Israelite; there’s no deceit in him”. Nathanael is skeptical: “How do you come to know all about me when this is the first time we’ve ever met?” Jesus replies, “I saw you sitting under the fig tree before Philip called you”. At this Nathanael’s jaw drops in astonishment, because he had indeed been sitting under a fig tree, but there is no way Jesus could have known that. “Rabbi”, he exclaims, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” And then Jesus seems to smile. “Are you so impressed that I saw you under the fig tree? Let me tell you, that’s just the beginning! You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”.

Did you catch the allusion to Jacob’s ladder? In Jacob’s dream the angels were ascending and descending on a ladder, but what Jesus is saying is, “I am the ladder”. Jesus is the one who has joined earth and heaven; he has come down to us to bring heaven to us, and he will lead us to his Father, because he is the Son of God.

What exactly does it mean to be the ‘Son of God’? In Old Testament times God calls the nation of Israel his firstborn son, and later on in Israel’s history the king was thought of in those terms as well. In the earlier New Testament writings, when Jesus is called ‘the Son of God’, that seems to be the main thing on people’s minds: he’s the Messiah, God’s anointed King. We see this in Nathanael’s words: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” To Nathanael those two phrases were two different ways of saying the same thing.

But John in his gospel uses the phrase ‘Son of God’ in a much more significant way. At the end of his prologue, in John 1:18, he says, ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known’ (John 1:18). Here we get the Christian idea that Jesus is not just an extra-special human being; he is in some sense God, although not the whole of God. The Father is God and the Son is God, but there are not two gods, but one. The Son is close to the Father’s heart, and the Father sends the Son into the world to save the world. The Son has ‘inside knowledge’ about the Father, if you like, and so he can tell us what the Father is like, and he can take us and introduce us to the Father. In this sense, he is the one who has ‘made the Father known’ to us.

So God is no longer distant from us, because Jesus has come and lived among us. When we read the story of Jesus we are reading the story of God. When we hear the words of Jesus, it is God speaking to us. When we hear of Jesus loving his enemies and forgiving them, it shows us that God loves and forgives people too. Jesus is God with a human face.

This means that if we want to know God, the best thing to do is to follow Jesus. All through the first chapter of John people are being invited to follow Jesus. John the Baptist told the crowds that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. He told them that he had baptized them with water, and that was all he could do, but Jesus was able to baptize them – to immerse them, to plunge them in and fill them up – with the Holy Spirit of God, so that their lives would be suffused with the presence of God.

And so two of John the Baptist’s disciples followed after Jesus and asked him where he was staying: “Come and see”, he said, and they went and spent the day with him. One of them was Andrew; he went and got his brother Simon Peter and took him to meet Jesus, and the two of them became Jesus’ followers. Later on Jesus called Philip to follow him, and Philip went and found Nathanael and invited him to come and follow Jesus too. “Come and see”, Jesus said to Andrew and his friend. “Come and see”, Philip said to Nathanael. And now Jesus is inviting you and me as well: “Come and see. Come and experience the presence of God in your life. Put your trust in me and follow me, and I will lead you to your heavenly Father”.

Jesus is the ladder between earth and heaven; Jesus is the Son of God who can reveal the Father to us and lead us into the Father’s presence. But how does this become a reality for us? I’m sure that for some of you, this is the sixty-four million dollar question in your minds. Let me very briefly address it before I finish.

First, let it be said that the Holy Spirit will not be pinned down. He works as he sees fit, and if I describe for you one infallible way to get to know God through Jesus Christ, for sure the Holy Spirit will take a perverse delight in leading you by some other way! That’s the caveat I need to get out of the way before I go any further.

Second, in John’s Gospel the issue over and over is faith or belief – not an intellectual belief so much as trust and commitment. ‘But to all who received (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’ (John 1:12). ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ (John 3:16). This faith is often expressed in a concrete decision to put your trust in Jesus and follow him as his disciple.

You and I are invited to make that decision today, this morning. Perhaps we’ve never thought of ourselves as being asked to make a decision. Perhaps we’ve assumed that it’s just about going to church and doing our best to avoid obvious vices in our lives. But in the gospels Jesus always challenges people to make a decision about him. “Come and follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people”. Some people refuse the invitation, some people accept, but it’s not possible to politely ignore Jesus. He’s a catalyst for change; he gets in people’s faces and asks for a decision. Will you follow, or won’t you?

How might we make that decision on a daily basis? Here’s something many people have found helpful.

First, get off by yourself somewhere and pray. Tell God that you really want to get to know him and that you heard this morning that Jesus is the key to knowing God, because Jesus is the ladder from earth to heaven. So you want to get serious about following Jesus, since it seems he can lead you to God.

Second, begin to read one of the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark, or Luke. As you read, pray that God would reveal himself to you and that Jesus would become real to you. Don’t read quickly; read slowly and prayerfully, trying to figure out who Jesus is and what God is like.

Sooner or later you will find that some command of Jesus will just jump out at you from the page. It will seem particularly relevant and you will easily be able to make an application to your life. In fact, the application may scare you because it’s so challenging! No matter: Jesus is speaking to you through the text, so ask God to help you and then do what he tells you to do. Begin to try to put it into practice in your life, and meanwhile, read on for the next direction.

I will be very surprised if you are able to continue this spiritual practice for very long before God has begun to be a present reality to you in your daily life. Jesus will indeed be for you a ladder fixed between earth and heaven, a ladder you can climb into the presence of God.

Like Jacob the trickster, we will probably still have some rough edges that need to be knocked off our lives! But God is full of grace and mercy, and he is very patient with us; he’s willing to work with us over a lifetime to make us into the people he wants us to be. So let’s thank God for sending his Son to be a ladder between earth and heaven, and let’s follow Jesus day by day as he shows us the way to the Father.


In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.