Sunday, May 28, 2017

"You Will Be My Witnesses" (a sermon on Acts 1:1-11)

Some years ago I was leading a small group Bible study in a rural parish. The folks at the Bible study were mainly older ladies, and we were talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ and what it really is. At one point in the study I asked them this question: “If you had to sum up the Christian message in no more than two sentences, how would you do it?” There was a long silence while everyone looked at the floor with frowns on their faces, and then one of them said, “You ask such difficult questions!”

But why did they find it a difficult question? After all, a good number of them were members of what was then called ‘The Reform Party’, and I suspect if I’d asked them to sum up in one or two sentences what the message of Reform really was, they’d have had no difficulty! So it was a real damning indictment against the work of the Anglican Church that after belonging to it for their whole lives, those folks found it next to impossible to sum up its central message in one or two sentences. I include myself in that, because I’d been their rector for several years at this point. What on earth had I been doing wrong, if after several years of my ministry they still couldn’t articulate the central gospel message in a couple of sentences?

So let me ask you this: in the face of all the pain and suffering in the world, do we have a message from God to share - a message that will make a difference, and bring hope to people’s lives? Because if we don’t, we really have no reason to exist, except to be a kind of spiritual country club for our members. A strong church needs a strong message to share with the world.

What is our strong message? As I listen to people in the Anglican Church talking, I sometimes get a sinking feeling about this. I sometimes get the sense that our message is ‘We have beautiful worship that dates back to the time of Henry VIII, and a nice loving community where you can get a sense of acceptance and belonging’. Well, I’m sorry, but have you noticed that not too many people are interested in Henry VIII these days? And if all you have to offer is a sense of community, there are lots of alternatives on the market that don’t require you to volunteer and tithe! So we’re going to have to do better than that!

The story of the Ascension can help us with this. What is the message of the Ascension? It’s simple and provocative: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. That’s what Ascension Day means.

We sometimes think of the Ascension as the day Jesus left the church: one minute he was with the disciples, the next minute a cloud took him out of their sight, and he was gone. But nothing could be further from the truth. Peter gives the true meaning of the Ascension in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, where he says that Jesus has been ‘exalted at the right hand of God’ (Acts 2:33). The right hand of God is the place of authority and power.

Do you know which Old Testament passage the New Testament writers quote most often? It’s Psalm 110:1:
‘The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’.
The New Testament writers believed that this is what God the Father had done for his Son Jesus Christ: he had raised him from the dead and given him ‘the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:10-11). They believed this to be objectively true: whether we acknowledge it or not, God the Father has made his Son Jesus Christ ‘Lord of all’. At the moment his rule is hidden, but one day it will be revealed to all people, on the day when ‘he will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end’.

This message is ‘good news’ because it gives us hope. So often, in the world as we know it, the forces of evil seem to have the last word. The tyrant tells us ‘resistance is futile’ – sooner or later, his death squads are going to get you. The chairman of the multinational corporation plants his business beside your small town, and within a few years all the little ‘mom and pop’ businesses go belly-up. The people of good will are working hard on a peace plan, but the terrorists on either side plant their bombs, and off we go again for another round of ‘you kill one of ours and we’ll kill ten of yours’. And so it goes on.

Ascension Day tells us that one day this endless cycle is in fact going to end, because Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and one day his lordship will be revealed to all. And this means the last word in the universe will not go to the ones who think that profit justifies walking all over the little people, or the ones who kill and murder and oppress. The last word will go to the one who taught us the way of love and compassion, the one who loved us and gave his life for us – Jesus Christ our Lord. This gives us hope for the future – and it also gives us strength for the present, as we choose to be faithful to the way of life he taught us, even though much of the world around us doesn’t think it’s such a good idea.

Jesus Christ is Lord of all; this is what the Ascension tells us. This is the message of hope that we are called to ‘declare’. Which leads us to our role in God’s plan: this passage tells us that we are Jesus’ witnesses.

How is Jesus’ kingdom spread? The apostles had a plan for this; in verse 6 we read: ‘So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”’ In other words, ‘Lord, if you will just make Israel into a superpower, then our armies will be able to enforce your authority everywhere!’ And we can understand their perspective, can’t we? If you’re going to end genocide and fight against tyranny, you need a powerful army to do it. That’s been the standard way of changing the world since day one: meet the sword with the sword.

But our reading from Acts tells us that Jesus has a different plan to change the world – the coming of the Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at verse 8: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’.

‘You will be my witnesses’ – this is Jesus’ simple plan. He calls disciples and he takes them out with him in mission. He trains them in the new way of life of the Kingdom of God, and then he sends them out to tell other people what they have seen and heard.

Do you remember right at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel when Jesus starts calling people to follow him?
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me” (Mark 1:16-17).
A lot of people would like it if the quote ended there, but of course it doesn’t. What comes next?
      And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”.

You see, ‘fishing for people’ wasn’t an added extra: it was the purpose of discipleship. We become Christians, we are trained in the art of following Jesus, for the very purpose that we can pass it on to others. This isn’t a luxury; this is the very purpose for which the Church exists. If we’re not doing this, we’re not doing the thing Jesus had in mind when he called us to follow him in the first place. This is how the kingdom of God spreads: through the work of faithful witnesses.

In fact, the work of passing it on to others doesn’t wait until the training is over. The training takes place as Jesus is spreading the message to others; he takes the disciples along with him, and while they’re doing the work with him, he trains them to follow him. In the Gospels you don’t grow as a disciple of Jesus by sitting listening to sermons; you grow by going along with Jesus as he lives and shares God’s love with others.

And that’s still true today. In the western world we still tend to see churchgoing as the non-negotiable bare minimum of the Christian life, but Jesus didn’t say ‘Go into all the world and make all nations into churchgoers’. He said ‘make all nations my disciples’ – and we’ve seen that discipleship includes joining him in the work of spreading the message. Churchgoing may be one of the things disciples do, but it’s not necessarily the most important thing. It barely gets a mention in the New Testament. Being witnesses, on the other hand – spreading the gospel to others – is mentioned many times.

So – what do witnesses do? Witnesses share the story of what they have experienced. Witnesses for Jesus tell others what they know about him, the things that are real to them, the good news about him that they have experienced in their daily lives.

One of the first recorded Christian witnesses in the New Testament is Andrew. Andrew apparently used to hang around with John the Baptist, but one day Jesus passed by, and John pointed him out. “Look”, he said, “here is the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Andrew and another follower of John heard him say this, and they took off after Jesus. Here’s what happened next:
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter) (John 1:38-42).

So Andrew gets to spend the day with Jesus, and he’s so excited about Jesus that he immediately goes and finds someone he loves – his brother Simon – and tells him about it. He’s so persuasive that his brother’s curiosity is aroused, and so he goes to meet Jesus too. And the rest, as they say, is history. On the Day of Pentecost Simon, now commonly called Peter, preached a powerful sermon and three thousand people became Christians. Andrew, on the other hand, didn’t preach a sermon – he was just a faithful witness, and the result was that one person became a Christian. But the sermon would never have been preached without that one word of witness.

How can I be like Andrew? Well, the simple question for us is, what good news about Jesus have I experienced, that I want to share with others? And if the only honest answer is ‘nothing’, then we need to earnestly pray that the Holy Spirit would fill us and open our eyes and make the risen Christ real to us. And we should not be satisfied with just praying this once and then giving up in despair. We need to keep on praying until we receive the gift the Father promised, as Jesus told us in our gospel for today.

This leads us to the third thing this passage shows us: we can’t be Jesus’ witnesses without the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:4-5 we read:
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’.

They are to ‘wait’. Only the Holy Spirit can make Christians witnesses, as we already saw in verse 8: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…’. So they need to be ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit. The Greek word ‘baptizo’ means ‘to sink’, like a ship sunk under the ocean – they need to be immersed, surrounded, and totally filled, not with water, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, like sponges soaking him up! And when this happens, it has an amazing effect on people’s lives, as we see in Acts where a group of scared disciples is transformed into a band of bold missionaries who preach and heal without fear in the name of Jesus.

The Church has always remembered that the Holy Spirit is essential to our task. In the service of Confirmation the bishop lays hands on the head of the person being confirmed, and prays, ‘Strengthen, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit; empower him or her for your service…’ The Church has always known that without the Holy Spirit, the Christian life is impossible.

But the Church has often forgotten the little word Jesus uses here: ‘Wait’. We pray the prayer, and then we move on to the next part of the liturgy, because our Sunday lunch is calling us, and we’ve got other commitments to go to! But might God be saying to us “Wait! Do you really mean it? Do you really want it? How badly? Are you willing to stop for a while? Are you willing to fast, and pray, and not to let go until you get what you’re looking for?”

So let me leave you with this challenge. The Christian Church really does have a message to share, something really good: the great news that Jesus our Saviour has defeated the power of evil, and one day in God’s good time he will bring in his kingdom in all its fulness. The world needs this good news, shared by people whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit to see Jesus at work among us even now.


So: Has the Holy Spirit filled you and made you one of Jesus’ witnesses? And if not, are you willing to ‘wait’ until he does? Are you willing to pray persistently, without giving up, until you experience what those early Christians experienced on the Day of Pentecost – a baptism, a drenching, a complete immersion, in the power of the Holy Spirit?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Upcoming events May 29th to June 4th

Upcoming events - week of May 29th to June 4th

May 29th, 2017
Office is closed
May 31st , 2017
6:00pm Ministry Planning Evening – Postponed to Jun 28th at 7:15pm
June 2nd, 2017
5:30pm Family BBQ @ church
June 4th, 2017 (Pentecost)
9:00am  Holy Communion
9:45am Combined coffee hour
10:30am  Holy Communion & Sunday School

Family BBQ and Games Night on Friday June 2nd starting at 5:30pm. Weather permitting we will have a BBQ and some fun outdoor activities for all, including planting our garden. We will move it inside if raining (not the garden J). There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer or you can email Melanie at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

Tim will be away on vacation from Monday June 5th to Monday June 26th inclusive. In his absence, The Rev. Susan Ormsbee will be providing emergency pastoral care and can be reached at 780-919-3060. Sunday services will be led by:
June 11th – Archdeacon Alan Perry, Holy Communion
June 18th – Sylvia Jayakaran, Morning Prayer
June 25th – The Rev. Scott Sharman, Holy Communion
Melanie will still be available during regular office hours of Tuesday to Friday from 9am to noon, however the door will be locked so if you want to stop by please call ahead; 780-437-7231.

St. Margaret’s Sunday School will be celebrating the last month of our school year by combining classes to learn together about all things Prayer. This will comprise the weeks of Sundays June 4, 11, 18 and 25. In this lesson series, all units will be individual so children can drop in anytime but we will review what we've learned in prior weeks as we go.

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Please feel free to bring some or all of your empty bottles (juice, milk, cans, and other beverage containers) and drop them in our bags. Please support Winnifred Stewart by making provision for this project! Next pick up should be June 8th, 2017.  Thank you!

On Saturday June 17th starting mid afternoon, we will be having our spring BBQ at the home of Lorne and Beryl Rice. Please mark your calendars and watch for a sign up sheet and more information next week.

We have received an update from our World Vision partner community in Larreynaga which you can view at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E896oCJKqfk

Please check out our monthly announcement sheet for more upcoming events. If you have not received a copy or have changed your email address, please update your email with Tim or Melanie. Extra copies are available on the table at the back of the church.



June 2017 roster

June 4th, 2017 (Pentecost)
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey / T. Wittkopf
Counter: T. Wittkopf / S. Doyle
Reader: F. Chester
(Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / D. MacNeill
Intercessor: M. Rys
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 7:37-39)
Altar Guild (Red ):  P. Major / L. Schindel
Prayer Team: No one available
Sunday School (Combined): T. Laffin / K. Durance
Kitchen: - 9:45 am: V. Harbour
Music: M. Chesterton
Altar Server: G. Durance / G. Triska

June 11th, 2017 (Trinity Sunday) Ven. Alan Perry
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Cromarty / M. Cromarty
Counter: B. Popp / T. Cromarty
Reader: N. Gutteridge
(Genesis 1:1 – 2:4, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen / T. Wittkopf
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: B. Popp (Matthew 28:16-20)
Altar Guild (White):  M. Woytkiw / T. Wittkopf, B. Cavey
Prayer Team: No one available
Sunday School (Combined): T. Laffin / M. Aasen
Kitchen: E. McFall
Music:  E. Thompson
Altar Server: No one available

Church unlocked at 8.30 by Maggie Woytkiw
Church locked after the second service by Terry Wittkopf

June 18th, 2017 (Pentecost 2) Morning Worship led by Sylvia Jayakaran
Greeter/Sidespeople: L. Schindel / B. Cavey
Counter: B. Cavey / M. Cromarty
Reader: T. Cromarty
(Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7, Psalm 116:1, 10-17, Romans 5:1-8)
Intercessor: D. Sanderson
Lay Reader: A. Jayakaran (Matthew 9:35 – 10:8)
Altar Guild (Green ) Morning Worship  
Sunday School (Combined): T. Laffin / M. Eriksen
Kitchen: F. Chester

Church unlocked at 8.30 by Sylvia Jayakaran
Church locked after the second service by Melanie Eriksen

June 25th, 2017 (Pentecost 3) Rev. Scott Sharman
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens
Counter: C. Aasen / E. Mcfall
Reader: S. Fraser
(Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Romans 6:1-11)
Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill / M. Rys
Intercessor: D. MacNeill
Lay Reader: D. Schindel (Matthew 10:24-39)
Altar Guild (Green ): M. Lobreau / J. Johnston
Prayer Team: No one available
Sunday School (Combined): T. Laffin / M. Rys
Kitchen: K. Kilgour
Music: M. Eriksen
Altar Server: No one available

Church unlocked at 8.30 by Lesley Schindel
Church locked after the second service by Lesley Schindel

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Living and Sharing Christ's Love (a sermon on 1 Peter 3:15-16)

Today I want to talk to you about living and sharing Christ’s love, and I want to begin by telling you a story many of you will remember.

In October 2006 a lone gunman called Charles Roberts entered a single schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines in Pennsylvania.  By the time he was finished that morning, five young Amish girls lay dead along with their killer. It was a scenario that has been repeated with frightening regularity in the past few years; a gunman enters a public place and starts shooting, innocent people get killed, everyone bewails the increasing violence of our society - and yet it goes on.

Except that this time, something different was going to happen. Within hours of the shooting, members of the Amish community were reaching out to the killer’s family, giving food and raising money for his wife and children. “We have to forgive,” an Amish woman told the Reuters news service; “We have to forgive him in order for God to forgive us”. Another Amish man said of the family, “I hope they stay around here and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support”. This attitude remained consistent in the days ahead. The media were fascinated with the attitude of the Amish and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not it was a good thing. The Amish themselves were clear about it; they believed their children were in heaven, they believed the perpetrator also had family members who needed care, and they believed faithfulness to Jesus meant doing the hard work of forgiveness and love in action.

Evangelism often gets a bad name in our society today, but when I watched the Amish sharing their faith and living it out with such integrity before the watching world, I saw evangelism in the true sense of the word. And it made me think of three verses from our epistle for today.
‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame’ (1 Peter 3:14-16).

In the middle of the most awful grief people could ever face - the senseless murder of their children – the Amish of Nickel Mines were able to hold onto their Christian hope. And when they were called on to give an account of the hope that is in them, they were able to do it with gentleness and respect. That’s a positive Christian witness. And as a result, light came out of darkness and hope replaced despair.

So where do actions like come from? Two things stand out for me in these verses from 1 Peter: ‘Hope’ and ‘Loyalty’.

Right from the beginning, Peter’s first letter has been all about hope. At the beginning of chapter 1 he says,
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1:3).

What’s this ‘living hope’ all about? It’s about the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. At the moment we do not always see God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. All too often, we see the forces of evil on the rampage. Yes, there is love and generosity and goodness, but all too often it gets shouted down by cruelty and hate and anger.

This must have been what it felt like to be an Israelite slave in Egypt in the time of Moses - forced by the Egyptians to do hard labour, never getting a rest, never getting a break. And then finally, when the Egyptians let them go free after the tenth plague, they got as far as the Sea of Reeds, and suddenly when they turned around, there was the Egyptian army behind them again! Pharaoh had changed his mind! There was no way out – deserts on either side, sea in front of them, soldiers behind. But then, in a miraculous act of deliverance, God opened the sea up for them and they were able to escape. What was humanly impossible was possible for God, and they were saved.

In later years the Israelites were often tempted to despair, but when they did, they looked back on this Exodus story. “God can do it again!” they thought. “That’s who he is – a God who cares for the downtrodden and delivers them!” So when they were going through their hard times, this story gave them a sense of hope.

Imagine the early disciples the day after Good Friday. They had been so excited about Jesus and his ministry, and they had begun to catch a vision of what he was up to, a vision of the coming kingdom of God. But then he had been arrested and tried and murdered by his enemies, and God had not delivered him. Surely God wouldn’t have abandoned the true Messiah? Like the Israelites coming up against the Sea of Reeds in front and the Egyptian army behind, Jesus had run head on into the immovable force of the power of the Empire, and all his wise and loving words and deeds of power hadn’t saved him. Now he was dead, and the disciples had no hope left.

Until Sunday morning, that is. Then, as the stories began to come in about meetings with the Risen Jesus, they began to grasp the enormity of what God had done. He had done the impossible! Tyranny and death no longer had the last word! And when the disciples were convinced, they went out boldly with the message of Jesus and they were totally unafraid of death. Why should they be? God had shown that he could raise the dead, and Jesus had promised that they would be raised too. So they were not intimidated; they went out with joy to spread the gospel, and when they were persecuted, they thanked God for the privilege of suffering as Jesus had suffered.

This is why the Resurrection matters! This is why we celebrate Easter, and sing Easter hymns and listen to Easter readings for fifty days, from Easter Sunday all the way to the Day of Pentecost. St. Augustine says, ‘We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!’ Because of Easter we have an indestructible hope of resurrection. And we also have an indestructible hope in the power of God to change things for the better. So when the going gets tough we don’t give up, and we don’t give up on difficult people, either. We have placed our hope in the power of God, and because of that, we can keep on going.

So hope is one of the most important forces shaping our actions as Christians. Loyalty to Christ is another one. Look at verses 14-15:
‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’.

‘Jesus is Lord’ was the basic Christian confession of faith in New Testament times. Today, it rattles off our tongues so easily, but what happens when we actually have to put it into practice? Think of the Amish of Nickel Mines again for a minute. The Amish are Anabaptist Christians, and Anabaptists put a lot of emphasis on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. At the end of that Sermon Jesus says: ‘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). To sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart means much more than just mouthing words with your lips; it means obedience. It means believing that Jesus truly has taught us the best way to live, and then setting yourself to learn to practice that way day by day.

This is the first issue for Christians: who is the Lord of our lives? Today it seems to me that we sometimes look on Jesus as kind of like a personal butler: his job is to anticipate my needs and meet them. He’s ‘my personal Saviour’, one of my accessories, a convenient aspirin to take my pain away so that I can get on with enjoying myself.

But that kind of religion would never have prompted the Amish to reach out in love to the family of the man who had murdered their children. If they had believed in that kind of religion they would have said something like “How can we even think about reaching out to others? Right now our own pain is just too much!” But because they really believed that ‘Jesus is Lord’ they were able to hear his call to be there for others as well, and as they followed Jesus faithfully they experienced his help along the way.

What’s going to happen as we Christians live out our stubborn hope and our primary loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ? What’s going to happen is that people will notice. The media noticed when the Amish of Nickel Mines didn’t react in the usual way to a gunman who killed their kids. They had noticed the same thing back in 1999, in Taber, Alberta, when the Rev. Dale Lang and his wife lost their son in a high school shooting. They also turned to their Christian faith for the strength to reach out in love and forgiveness to the perpetrator of that awful act.

I hope that you and I never have to go through such horrors to demonstrate our gospel hope and our loyalty to Jesus. But day by day we are called on to live out our hope and our loyalty before the world. Years ago when we lived in Aklavik in the western Arctic, Marci and I had a lot to do with a family in town with a long history of alcohol problems and jail sentences. One day one of the local Mounties said to me, “I think you and your wife are the only people in Aklavik who haven’t given up on that family”. I don’t share this with you to boast. I actually had never thought about giving up on them; it honestly hadn’t entered my mind. I share it with you just as an example of how, when we follow Jesus, people will notice. They might say something, or they might not, but they will notice.

What then? Peter says,
‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence’ (15-16a).
This wording in our NRSV pew Bibles actually sounds rather harsh: ‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting…’. I like the NIV better:
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’.

For most of us, that ‘reason’ will involve some kind of story; you and I are following Jesus today because of a certain series of events. Perhaps it involved parents sharing the Christian faith with us, or the witness of friends, or an experience of God’s help when we were going through a difficult time in our lives.

After the Nickel Mines tragedy, one of the leaders of the Amish Community mentioned the formative effect the Lord’s Prayer had on their life together. He said, ‘We pray it seven times a day!’ He was specifically referring to the words, ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’. But his explanation of the distinctive lifestyle the Amish were demonstrating involved telling a story about their life together and about God’s work among them.

We all have a story of faith – a story about God’s work in our lives. I am a Christian today because of the witness of my parents. They took me to church every Sunday from before the time that I could walk; they had me baptized, prayed with me and taught me the Bible stories. But they didn’t only do that. When I was thirteen my Dad challenged me to make a personal commitment of my life to Jesus Christ. I did that on March 5th 1972, and it was the beginning of my life as a conscious follower of Jesus. That life grew and was nurtured in a lively church in southeast Essex in which I learned to pray, to read scripture, to worship with others and to live as a Christian. That’s my story, and I’m excited about it. I love telling it to others.

But we don’t only tell our story; we also tell God’s story, the story of the good news of Jesus. This is the reason we have hope! We have hope because God loved our world so much that he made himself vulnerable, and came and lived among us as one of us to spread his love and light. By his life and teaching Jesus showed us what God is like and what it means to follow him. By his death he has demonstrated God’s unconditional love for all people: we can kill him, but we can’t stop him loving us. And by his resurrection he has shown us that hate and anger won’t have the final word: love really is stronger than death. God raised Jesus from the dead and so there’s no longer any need for us to be afraid.

As I talk to friends who aren’t Christians, this is one thing that stands out for me: many, many people are afraid of death. I don’t just mean ‘afraid of the act of dying’ – all of us are afraid of that, I think. I mean ‘afraid of the state of death, of the end of our lives, of non-being’. I remember a time when I was afraid of that, too, but I very rarely feel that any more. As my faith has grown, that fear has receded, and I’m very thankful for that.

So what difference does it make to you to be a follower of Jesus? How are you aware of God at work in your life? What makes it worthwhile for you to continue to practice your Christian faith? Our answers to these questions are the story that God wants us to share with others. But we aren’t to tell our stories in an offensive or pushy way. Peter says in verse 16 ‘yet do it with gentleness and reverence’. My brother used to have a humorous poster on his wall that said, “Those of you who think you know everything are annoying those of us who do!” It was a joke, but we all know there are people in the world who actually believe that! That’s not the attitude in which we ought to share our Christian stories.

Let’s go round this one last time. We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia!’ is our song. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we believe his promise that one day he will raise us too. One day his kingdom will come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And so we don’t give up on the future of the world, and we don’t give up on ourselves or other people either. We don’t give way to fear; we’re not intimidated. We commit ourselves day by day to Jesus as our Lord, and we ask him to help us each day as we try to obey him in our daily lives. And the more we do this, the more we find it to be a joy to us.

As we live like this, we find that gossiping the Gospel becomes a natural part of our everyday lives. Evangelism isn’t a scary thing; it’s not a program we run in the church or a training course we have to go on. It’s not something we have to make happen by our own efforts. Jesus makes a difference to us, and people notice that difference, and if they trust us, this leads to conversation. And in that conversation we can give ‘the reason for the hope that we have…with gentleness and respect’ (v.15 NIV).

I sometimes enjoy reading Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible that he calls The Message; it’s a bit quirky, but sometimes it has a memorable way of rephrasing the old familiar words in a way that grabs our attention. Let me close with his version of our text for today:
‘Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick’.

May God fill us with the Holy Spirit today and give us strength to put these words into practice. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.