Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week Services at St. Margaret's


Maundy Thursday (April 2nd)

This is the day on which we remember Jesus’ gift of Holy Communion, and his command to love one another (‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin word ‘maundatum’ which means ‘commandment’). We will meet for Holy Communion at 7.30 p.m. The service will include an opportunity to participate in a symbolic washing of feet or hands (optional), and will conclude with the stripping of the church for Good Friday.

Good Friday (April 3rd)

Our Good Friday service will be at 10.30 a.m. It will include a children’s component, after which the children will go downstairs for their own Good Friday program. As part of this service we join together in reading the story of Jesus’ death from the Gospel of John (with different people reading the parts of the various characters); later, we bring in a wooden cross and gather around it to remember Jesus’ death and to pray for the world for which he died.

Easter Sunday (April 5th)


We will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with services of Holy Communion at 9.00 & 10.30 a.m. on Easter Sunday. 


Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Way of the Cross (sermon for Palm Sunday on Philippians 2:5-11)

In 1949, a young American student named Jim Elliot wrote these words in his personal journal: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.

This is important, so let me repeat it: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.

Seven years later, Jim Elliot lived out the truth of those words. He was serving as a missionary in Ecuador, attempting to reach a remote tribe who had never heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and on the morning of January 8th 1956, he and four other missionary companions were killed on the banks of the Cururay River by the very people they had come to reach. Writing about this event some years later, Jim’s wife, Elisabeth Elliot, wrote these words: ‘The world called it a nightmare of tragedy. The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim’s credo: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”’.

About fifty years later, on March 9th 2006, the body of Tom Fox was discovered on a garbage dump in Iraq. Tom was an American Quaker; he had gone to Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, to work for peace and reconciliation between people who were at odds with each other. Tom was doing this because he believed that the God who Jesus revealed to us is a God who loves his enemies, and who calls us to love our enemies too. He was one of four CPT workers taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents in November of 2005; the others were eventually rescued, but it was too late for Tom Fox. There has been strong speculation that the fact that he was the only American in the group was the biggest factor in his death.

Whether that’s true or not, what is very clear is that the world seems to have a different idea about his death than did Tom Fox himself. The world was shocked and angered by his death, but he himself would not have been surprised by it. He had written about it beforehand in his letters and papers, making it very clear that he always knew death was a possibility. In fact, the whole philosophy behind Christian Peacemaker Teams is that Christians should to be as ready to give their lives in the service of nonviolence as soldiers are in the service of their country.

Why am I telling these stories today? Bear with me for a minute, and all will be made clear!

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and it seems to have been written at a time when Christians were beginning to pay the ultimate price for their faithfulness to Christ. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if the early Church had seen their deaths as tragic defeats, but that’s not the way the author of Revelation sees them. The way he saw it, Christians who refuse to renounce their faith, but are willing to pay the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus, have not suffered a defeat; they’ve won a victory. Revelation chapter 12 talks about the accuser, the Satan, who has been waging war on God’s people, and it goes on to say, ‘But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death’.

Curious: they’ve won a victory by being defeated. They’ve saved their lives for all eternity by refusing to cling to their lives in the here and now. Sounds like something Jesus talked about, doesn’t it? “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Paul reflects on a similar theme in our epistle for today, Philippians 2:5-11. The context, as far as we can tell, is that some people in the Philippian church wanted to be the stars of the show. They were the kind of people who are always looking for the next big promotion in the church; they wanted the top jobs, the limelight, the applause of others in the community.

Of course, that kind of thing happens all too often, even today. There are clergy who spend their whole lives climbing the ladder; they want to get the bigger churches, the more prestigious positions, maybe even becoming bishops one day. But it’s not just clergy. There are many, many Christians who give their time humbly and unselfishly, out of love for God and a desire to serve him, but there are others who have a deep need to be recognized and admired, and they find that the church is an excellent place to get that recognition and praise.

Paul has no time for that attitude at all; in fact, he calls it by its true - and ugly - name in Philippians 2:3: ‘selfish ambition and vain conceit’. That, he says, is not the way of life you learned from Jesus.

And then he goes on to give us what seems to be a remarkable early hymn about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Let’s start at the end of the passage; look at verses 9-11:
‘Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’.

The name that is above every name is in fact a title: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (v.11). The Greek word that Paul uses here is ‘kyrios’, and it was one of the official titles of the Roman emperor. So when Paul uses this title for Jesus he is claiming for the crucified carpenter from Nazareth a title that everyone knew belonged to the Lord of all the earth, Caesar, far away in Rome in all his pomp and glory.

How did you get this title ‘Lord’ in the Roman Empire? Often, you got it by winning it in battle. Some of the emperors had actually won it by overthrowing and killing previous emperors. For example, Julius Caesar was murdered in a conspiracy, but then his nephew Octavius gradually seized power from the conspirators until he was crowned as Caesar Augustus, Lord of the whole known world. He would never have won this title by sitting quietly by and letting his enemies defeat him; he had to fight, and fight hard, and kill a lot of people along the way, before the world acknowledged him as Lord of all.

We’re very familiar with this kind of thing today. Recent history is full of stories of political leaders who gain their positions by their ruthlessness; anyone who stands in their way gets taken down without mercy. In the ancient world, when a man became king of a city or country, it was common for him to immediately kill all possible contenders for the throne, for the sake of his own security. And of course, in modern political leadership campaigns, it’s quite unusual for winners to promote their former opponents to high positions in their governments; there are exceptions, but they tend to be rare. It’s a dog eat dog world, and the winner takes the spoils.

Well, that may have been the way that Roman emperors won the title ‘Lord’, but we all know it’s not way Jesus won it. Jesus was not like an ambitious politician with his eye on the next promotion or the next cabinet seat; he wasn’t like a general who would stop at nothing in his bid to win the crown of the empire. Jesus’ sights were not set upward, but downward. And so Paul lays out for us the remarkable story: Jesus was in the form of God, but he didn’t consider equality with God as something to be exploited. He wasn’t like the first human beings who were told by the snake, ‘You will be like God’, and couldn’t resist that temptation. Jesus was already in the form of God, but he voluntarily gave that up; he ‘emptied himself, talking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’  (vv.7-8).

Jesus’ life was not about trying to dominate others; it was about serving God and serving others. We see in Jesus the same pattern we saw in Jim Elliot and Tom Fox – and that shouldn’t surprise us, because of course they were patterning their lives after Jesus. Jim Elliot was a brilliant Greek scholar who could easily have achieved an academic career at an American seminary, but he chose instead to give his life in the service of a tiny jungle tribe most people had never heard of. And of course there are many others like him. I think of Jean Vanier, the son of the Governor-General of Canada, who was at the beginning of a promising career in the British Navy, but who chose to give it up and dedicate his life to providing a safe home for people with mental disabilities – a movement that eventually became the worldwide L’Arche community. I think of Dr. Paul Brand, a brilliant surgeon who would probably have been the head of a medical department had he stayed in the west, but who chose instead to go to India as a medical missionary, where he spent his life caring for people suffering the ravages of Hansen’s Disease – leprosy.

These are just a few of the many people down the years who have followed the pattern of Jesus. They didn’t say, “I’ve got a right to enjoy my life and get ahead for myself”. No - they asked how they could best serve God, no matter how humble the position, and then they got on with it without making any fuss.

But a funny thing tends to happen with people like that: in the long run, they turn out to be the ones who benefit most from their lives of service. Christian writer Philip Yancey once commented that in his career as a journalist he had interviewed all kinds of high profile people in politics and sports and academia, and also people nobody had ever heard of - people working in low-profile positions serving the needy, people with PhDs in linguistics who were translating the Bible into unknown jungle languages, people working in free medical clinics who served the poor and so on.

Yancey called these two groups ‘the stars’ and ‘the servants’. He said, “A strange thing happened over the years. I had expected to admire the servants, but I had not expected to envy them”. But that is exactly what he found himself doing: his observation was that in the long run, it was the servants who experienced the most happiness, the most peace, the most contentment in their lives.

Today we begin Holy Week, a week when we remember Jesus on the way of the Cross -  Jesus serving the Father faithfully, Jesus patiently accepting suffering and death, Jesus loving his enemies and praying for them rather than retaliating and taking revenge. Jesus did all this out of love for his Father and for us - to save us from sin, to reconcile us to God, to make it possible for us to be born again to a new life in relationship with God. But he also did it to set an example for us, and that’s the reason Paul was reminding the Philippian Christians of this story. Let me remind you, as I finish, of the words that come just before our reading for today; I’m going to read them to you from the New Living Translation:

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
(Philippians 2:1-5 NLT)

What is that attitude? Simply this: forget about making a reputation for yourself; concentrate on serving God and others, and let God worry about your reputation. And as we follow Jesus in this way of life, serving wholeheartedly without looking for a reward, we will in fact be richly rewarded: as Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).


Carry on.

Friday, March 27, 2015

MArch 30th - April 5th, 2015



March 30th, 2015
  Office is closed.
March 31st, 2015
    7:30 pm  “Too Busy Not to Pray” Book Study
April 2nd, 2015
  7:00 am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café
  7:30 pm  Maundy Thursday Service
April 3rd, 2015
  10:30 am Good Friday Service
April 5th, 2015     Easter Sunday
  9:00 am  Holy Communion
  9:45 am  Coffee between Services
 10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School
 11:45 am Coffee after 10:30 am Service

Evangelism Training WorkshopHow to Help New Disciples Grow: What are the practices and disciplines that have helped you to grow as a disciple of Jesus? How did you learn them? What are the best ways of passing these practices and disciplines on to new disciples? How could you help? In our next ‘Evangelism Training for the Diocese of Edmonton’ workshop, we will focus on helping new disciples grow. How can we grow (1) in our relationship with God, (2) in our participation in the family of God, (3) in the new way of living that Jesus wants to teach us, and (4) in our participation in his mission to the world? We will look at some practices that help us in each of these areas, and we will consider how, as churches and as individuals, we can help new Christians learn these vital discipleship skills.
Saturday, April 11, 2015, 10 am to 4 pm.
St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, 12603 Ellerslie Road SW, Edm., Workshop leader: Tim Chesterton.
Please bring your Bible, a notebook, a bag lunch, and (if you like) a favourite coffee mug. Coffee and tea will be provided.
Register through the Synod Office (churched@edmonton.anglican.ca) or by contacting Tim Chesterton (stmrector@gmail.com); registration deadline is Wednesday, April 8th at noon. Maximum of 20 participants for this workshop, so please register soon.

Friday April 10th, 2015!! MARK THE DATE!!  St. Margaret's 2nd Annual Fundraising Dinner and Silent Auction (to be held at St. Matthias Anglican Church). Silent Auction starts at 5.30 p.m., dinner at 6.00 p.m. Dinner will be catered by the Sawmill and our guest speaker will be Bishop Jane Alexander! Please join us for a fun evening to help raise funds towards our building expansion project. Tickets are on sale now and are $60 each, or $100 per couple. Cash or cheque only. To order tickets by credit card please use the link http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/st-margarets-fundraising-dinner-silent-auction-tickets-15860792056. We are still in need of items for silent auction. Please call the church office 780-437-7231. See you there!!


You can help prevent homelessness
Join the Interfaith Habitat Works March 26th to June 25th

How?
·      Spend a day with Habitat for Humanity at their largest build in Canadian history.
·      You will help provide desperately needed affordable housing that prevents people from sliding into homelessness.

Where?
·      The build is at the Neufeld Landing site at 11403 17th Av. SW.


Register Individually:
·      Contact Kim Dedeugd at  (780) 451 3416 ext. 232
·      Kim will arrange the best available day for you to volunteer.
·      Build dates are filling up so register soon!
·      If building is not your thing there are other opportunities at the Habitat ReStore or to help with lunch – just check with Kim!
·      For further information you can contact Fraser Williamson: (780) 468 5278  
Note: You must register before you go to the build site.




Friday, March 20, 2015

March 23 - 29th, 2015



Events This Week

March 23rd, 2015
  Office is closed.
March 24th, 2015
    7:30 pm  “Too Busy Not to Pray” Book Study
March 25th, 2015
   9:00 am – 3:30 pm  Clergy Day
   7:00 pm  Ordination Service at All Saint’s Cathedral
March 26th, 2015
  7:00 am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café
  7:00 pm  Planning and Building Committee Meeting @ Church
March 28th, 2015
  4:00 pm    Spaghetti Church
  7:00 pm   Malankara Rental
March 29th, 2015     Palm Sunday
  9:00 am  Holy Communion
 10:30 am Morning Worship and Sunday School

Upcoming Dates to Remember!
March 29th -   9:00 & 10:30 am  Palm Sunday
April 2nd         -   7:30 pm               Maundy Thursday
April 3rd          -  10:30 am              Good Friday
April 5th          -  9:00 & 10:30 am   Easter Sunday

Join us for Spaghetti Church Saturday March 28th, 2015 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.
Spaghetti Church is church for families that enjoy a more informal, activity-centred and community-oriented way of worshipping together from time to time. It is held on the last Saturday of every month at 4:00 p.m., and it typically includes a craft or other activity time, a family-friendly worship and teaching time, and a simple meal (hence the spaghetti!). Please note that this is not something you can drop your kids off for; it is intended to be about families worshipping together, so all children must be accompanied by at least one parent or grandparent. Call 780-437-7231 for more information.

Friday April 10th, 2015!! MARK THE DATE!!  St. Margaret's 2nd Annual Fundraising Dinner and Silent Auction. Silent Auction starts at 5.30 p.m., dinner at 6.00 p.m. Dinner will be catered by the Sawmill and our guest speaker will be Bishop Jane Alexander! Please join us for a fun evening to help raise funds towards our building expansion project. Tickets are on sale now and are $60 each, or $100 per couple. Cash or cheque only. To order tickets by credit card please use the link http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/st-margarets-fundraising-dinner-silent-auction-tickets-15860792056. We are still in need of items for silent auction. Please call Jen at 780-437-7231 if you have any questions. See you there!!

Evangelism Training WorkshopHow to Help New Disciples Grow: What are the practices and disciplines that have helped you to grow as a disciple of Jesus? How did you learn them? What are the best ways of passing these practices and disciplines on to new disciples? How could you help? In our next ‘Evangelism Training for the Diocese of Edmonton’ workshop, we will focus on helping new disciples grow. How can we grow (1) in our relationship with God, (2) in our participation in the family of God, (3) in the new way of living that Jesus wants to teach us, and (4) in our participation in his mission to the world? We will look at some practices that help us in each of these areas, and we will consider how, as churches and as individuals, we can help new Christians learn these vital discipleship skills.
Saturday, April 11, 2015, 10 am to 4 pm.
St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, 12603 Ellerslie Road SW, Edm., 
Workshop leader: Tim Chesterton.
Please bring your Bible, a notebook, a bag lunch, and (if you like) a favourite coffee mug. Coffee and tea will be provided.
Register through the Synod Office (churched@edmonton.anglican.ca) or by contacting Tim Chesterton (stmrector@gmail.com); registration deadline is Wednesday, April 8th at noon. Maximum of 20 participants for this workshop, so please register soon.

You can help prevent homelessness
Join the Interfaith Habitat Works March 26th to June 25th

How?
·      Spend a day with Habitat for Humanity at their largest build in Canadian history.
·      You will help provide desperately needed affordable housing that prevents people from sliding into homelessness.

Where?
·      The build is at the Neufeld Landing site at 11403 17th Av. SW.


Register Individually:
·      Contact Kim Dedeugd at kdedeugd@hfh.org or call (780)451 3416 ext. 232
·      Kim will arrange the best available day for you to volunteer.
·      Build dates are filling up so register soon!
·      If building is not your thing there are other opportunities at the Habitat ReStore or to help with lunch – just check with Kim!
·      For further information you can contact Fraser Williamson: (780)468 5278 or williamson1943@gmail.com
Note: You must register before you go to the build site.



Sunday, March 15, 2015

The School of Jesus is a School of Grace (sermon for March 15th)

This Lent we’re thinking about what it means to be disciples of Jesus, using the illustration of discipleship as being like membership in the School of Jesus, a school that is all about transformation into the image of Jesus, so that we truly become like him.

We’ve reminded ourselves that the word ‘disciple’ is the most common word for ‘Christian’ in the New Testament. The word means ‘learners’, or ‘students’, or even ‘apprentices’ – which may be a better word, because the School of Jesus doesn’t just teach intellectual truths, but lessons in the art of living as we were designed by our Creator to live. We’ve looked at two ways God shapes us as followers of Jesus: participating in the community of disciples, which we call ‘the church’, and hearing the Word of God as we read the scriptures. And we’ve looked at ‘assignments in the School of Jesus’ – specific tasks that God gives us, as we read the scriptures or as we go through the circumstances of our daily lives, to help transform us into the image of Jesus. This week is the last of our four sermons about the School of Jesus, and today I want to think with you about discipleship and grace.

As we’ve been talking about discipleship, I wonder if you might have been having this nagging little doubt: ‘But I thought Christianity was all about grace. Haven’t you often said that, Tim? Haven’t you said that God loves us so much that he accepts us just as we are? Haven’t you said that there’s nothing we can ever do to deserve God’s love, and we don’t have to do anything anyway, because God loves us unconditionally? After all, that’s what the word “grace” means, isn’t it – God’s unconditional love for us? So isn’t this whole idea of discipleship just leading us right back into legalism? When Matthew has Jesus telling us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21), isn’t he leading us right back into the idea of being saved by the good things that we do? How does this fit in with the good news of God’s grace?’

Back in the sixteenth century, when the Christian Church split into Protestant and Catholic wings, this controversy was right at the heart of the split. Martin Luther was a German monk who had gone through real torment in his soul because he despaired of ever being good enough to receive eternal life. He believed that in order to go to heaven you had to earn your ticket, and the way to do that was to obey the commands of God. This was a terrifying idea for him; the Old Testament commands were bad enough, but the teaching of Jesus just raised the bar by saying that mere outward obedience wasn’t enough; you had to be transformed inwardly as well. To Luther this was an impossible standard, and he spent months and years totally discouraged and intimidated. He was quite convinced that he was going to be damned to hell because of his many sins.

Then one day he came across two verses in the letter of Paul to the Romans, where Paul actually quotes from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. This is what it says:
‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith”’ (Romans 1:16-17).
As Luther read these words it was as if a huge weight fell from his soul. He had believed that righteousness was something we humans achieved by keeping God’s commandments, but now he suddenly saw that it wasn’t. Righteousness was a gift from God, and the way we receive it is by faith – by putting our trust in Jesus. As Paul says later on in Ephesians,
‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Those words ‘not the result of works’ became very important to Martin Luther. They made him very suspicious of another movement that was growing at the same time as his Protestant Reformation – the Anabaptist movement, which eventually led to what we call today Mennonite Christianity. The Anabaptists put a lot of emphasis on actually obeying the teaching of Jesus; “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”, as Jesus says (John 14:15). To Luther, this was a terrible idea; the teachings of Paul had set him free from the guilt and fear of legalism, and now those awful Anabaptists were building that prison all over again! ‘I was set free from the monastery’, he said, ‘but now you Anabaptists are trying to turn the whole world into a monastery!’

So, how do we resolve this contradiction? Am I saved by being good enough to receive salvation, or by trusting Jesus to do for me what I can’t do for myself? There’s no denying that this contradiction seems to be present in the Bible itself. Paul says that we’re saved by faith alone, apart from works, but the letter of James says no, faith without works is dead, so we need to be saved by faith and by works. Even Jesus seems to be caught in this contradiction. On the one hand, all through his ministry we see him reaching out to people who didn’t deserve God’s love, people who had failed to keep God’s laws – tax collectors, prostitutes and other disreputable characters. But on the other hand, he sets out these really high standards for us - “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20) - and challenges us not just to hear ‘these words of mine’, but also to act on them (Matthew 7:24).

How do we resolve this contradiction? Let me make four brief suggestions to help us resolve this conflict.

First, let’s get out of our minds the idea that the School of Jesus is about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. This was the preoccupation of both Protestants and Catholics during the 16th century Reformation – the Pope and Martin Luther were both equally preoccupied with it. And we can understand why. Medical care in those days was abysmal, and minimal. A huge percentage of children died in childbirth, and for those who survived, life was ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. Preoccupation with death, and what comes after death, was foremost in many people’s minds.

But I would like to suggest to you that the School of Jesus is not preoccupied with this issue. It’s not that Jesus isn’t concerned about it; it’s just that it’s not foremost in his mind. I’d like to suggest that the School of Jesus is more concerned with the answer to the prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”.

What’s that prayer about? It’s not about escaping from this life and going to heaven, or being punished for our sins in hell. It’s about God’s original dream for us when he created us on the first place. I think we all realize that life on this planet today is not what God originally had in mind. Evil and sin have poisoned the world, and so we live in suffering and brokenness. But the Kingdom of God, the loving rule of God, is all about healing this world of evil and sin and restoring it to God’s original intention.

How does this transformation take place? It takes place as people are transformed, as you and I learn how to live in the way God originally planned for us. That’s what discipleship is all about: it’s a school of life in the Kingdom of God. The kingdom advances one heart at a time, as people commit themselves to following Jesus and learning to put his teaching into practice. It’s not about doing good deeds so that we get a ticket to heaven as a reward. It’s not about reward and punishment. It’s about learning wisdom, so that we can live according to God’s plan for us, because in the end this will be best for the world, and best for us as well.

That’s the first thing: the School of Jesus is not about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell; it’s about ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as in heaven’ – in other words, the transformation of the world into the place God originally dreamed. Here’s the second thing – and this is where grace really comes in: the School of Jesus is a school without an entrance exam. No matter what you’ve done, no matter whether you’ve been a success or a failure, no matter whether you’ve been a believer all your life or are just starting out, you are welcome to enroll in the School of Jesus.

We see this most clearly in the Beatitudes, those famous sayings of Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. We all know that the Sermon on the Mount presents us with some challenging standards for living: turn away from anger, don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, love your enemies, and so on. This is the curriculum for discipleship, and it can be intimidating. We might even get the idea that only spiritual giants should attempt this!

But that’s not what Jesus intends; in fact, he starts his sermon by assuring us that everyone is welcome:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:3, 5-6).
You don’t ‘hunger and thirst’ for something that you already have! If you’re ‘hungering and thirsting’ for righteousness, that indicates that you are painfully aware that at the moment you aren’t righteous, and you are disturbed about the fact, and you want to do something about it!

What’s Jesus doing here? I think he’s looking around at the crowd on the mountainside: he sees rich and poor, successful and meek, sinners and saints, happy people and people who are in mourning. He’s saying, “Come one, come all! Whatever you’ve experienced in your life, whatever you’ve done, you will find the blessing you’re looking for in the kingdom of God. There’s no entrance exam. The only requirement for enrolment is a genuine desire to find the life that God planned for you when he created you. If that’s what you hunger for, come on in, because you’re going to find it as you follow me”.

The School of Jesus is about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven, and it’s a school without an entrance exam. The third thing is this: The School of Jesus is about transforming people so that we can be an influence for good in the world.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us that we are like salt and light. Salt has an influence on the meat: in the time of Jesus, it was used to preserve meat and stop it from going bad. Light also has an influence; if you bring a lamp into a dark place, it drives back the darkness and makes vision possible.

But notice this: salt and light are useful because they’re different. You don’t preserve meat by rubbing more meat into it; the salt has to be different from the meat. Light has to be different from darkness. And we, the disciples of Jesus, are absolutely no use to the world if we’re just the same as the world. We need to be different in order to have an influence. That’s what discipleship does for us: it teaches us how God wants us to be different.

This is tough for us, because deep down inside we don’t want to look weird – we want to fit in! We want to be accepted and liked by the people around us. We don’t want them to shake their heads and mutter about how crazy we are. But if we’re going to get anywhere as disciples of Jesus, we have to get over our obsession with being liked and admired. We have to live our life to please God, and do the things God is calling us to do, whether it’s popular in the world around us or not.

The School of Jesus is about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven; it’s a school without an entrance exam; it’s about transformation so that we can become salt and light for the world around us. Fourthly, the School of Jesus is a school of grace.

Think for a minute about the teaching of Jesus, and you’ll see that a huge proportion of it is about being transformed into graceful people. I mean ‘graceful’ in the biblical sense: those who live by the principle of generous, extravagant, unconditional love. If we give to all who beg from us, whether they deserve it or not, aren’t we learning to live by grace? If we forgive those who trespass against us, aren’t we learning to live by grace? If we love our enemies and pray for those who hate us, isn’t that all about grace? If, like the Good Samaritan, we stop to help the person in trouble by the side of the road, whether we know them or not, isn’t that about grace? If we invite the poor and needy to a meal in our house instead of just inviting friends and family members, isn’t that about grace?

Why does Jesus tell us to love our enemies?
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).

Here’s how it works. God is a God on grace, so he pours out his love and mercy and forgiveness on people who don’t deserve it. That’s the kind of God he is: a God who loves his enemies. This is the Gospel of grace. As Philip Yancey has expressed it, grace means that there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. God already loves you infinitely, and nothing is ever going to change that.

But that doesn’t mean that God is happy for us to stay exactly as we are. God knows that grace is the most powerful force for change in the world. How is the problem of war and violence ever going to be solved? It can only be solved as people take the risk of forgiving those who have hurt them and loving their enemies. How is the problem of poverty going to be solved? It can only be solved as people learn to be less selfish and greedy, and more generous and giving. In other words, if God wants the world to be transformed, it is vital for people like you and me to learn to live by the principle of grace. And that’s exactly what the School of Jesus is teaching us. Lives will be changed, marriages and families, will be strengthened, communities will be transformed, the world will be healed, as followers of Jesus learn the way of grace.

Someone once said, “God loves us so much that he accepts us just as we are – but he loves us too much to leave us there!” The gospel of grace tells us that everyone is welcome in the School of Jesus, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done. But the School of Jesus is a school for those who long to become the sort of people God designed us to be. In other words, God’s love for us has a goal in mind: that we also may become people who live our lives by the principle of love.

Let me close this sermon series on the School of Jesus with these words of Paul, which I’m quoting from the New Living Translation:
‘God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).

That’s what the School of Jesus is all about.