Monday, September 28, 2020

SUNDAY SERVICES AT ST. MARGARET'S

9:00 a.m. Holy Communion (approximately 45 minutes)

10:30 a.m. Holy Communion with Sunday School (approximately 75 minutes)

The Book of Alternative Services is used at all services at St. Margaret's.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Prepare the Way (a sermon on Luke 1:57-80) by Brian Popp

Luke 1:57-80        Prepare the Way, a sermon by Brian Popp       June 24th, 2018

Today is designated as ‘The Birth of St. John the Baptist’ Sunday in our church calendar. The story of John the Baptist and his ministry can be found in all four gospels and the Book of Acts. It would take us many hours to research everything that he did during his ministry as a prophet and baptizer. I will take a few minutes to concentrate on his birth and early ministry. The rest of this story will have to wait for another time. Perhaps you want to explore this New Testament hero in your own bible study time!

The story of John’s birth is found only in Luke’s gospel. I’m sure we have all heard or read this story so I will give only a brief summary.

In the days of King Herod of Judea there was a priest name Zechariah. His wife was Elizabeth. Both of them were upright before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren and both were getting up in years. Once when he was serving before God in the temple, there appeared to him an angel of the Lord. The angel said to him:
“Do not be afraid Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power Of Elijah he will go before him (Jesus) to turn the hearts of parents to their children to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah was somewhat doubtful of what the angel had said.
“How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.”
The angel replied:
“I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you do not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak”.
After this Elizabeth conceived and remained in seclusion for five months. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourable on me and took away the disgrace I have endured (being barren) among my people”.
Luke then describes the birth of Jesus being foretold also by the angel Gabriel. Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary (Jesus mother Many) visit one another. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb. (It should be noted that we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on June 24th, and the birth of Jesus on December 24/25. John truly was the forerunner of Jesus!)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the boy (as was the custom). They were going to name him Zechariah after his father (as was the custom). But his mother said: “No, he is to be called John.” Her relatives said to her,  “None of your relatives have this name!”
They began motioning to Zechariah to find out what name he wanted to give his son. He was mute so asked for a writing tablet and wrote:
“His name is John”.
Immediately his mouth was opened and he could speak again. He began praising God! The neighbours asked: “What then will this child become, for indeed the hand of the Lord was with him!”
His father was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He praises God through Zechariah’s Prophecy, known as the Benedictus, found in the Book of Common Prayer. His extended statement of praise comes in response to his son John’s birth and the return of his ability to speak. The words of the Benedictus come from numerous passages in the Old Testament. It divides into two parts.

The first part speaks about the works of god. Here Zechariah praises God for delivering Israel from its enemies and for remembering covenants that God has made in the past. It refers to raising up a horn of salvation for them in the house of his servant David (God). Zechariah describes the current events – that is the coming of John and Jesus – as evidence that God has remembered and is acting on behalf of his chosen people.

The second part turns attention towards his newborn son John, directly addressing him. It states clearly that John and Jesus are NOT equals; instead, John is the prophet and forerunner of the Lord Jesus, who will be God’s means of bringing peace to His people. John will go before Jesus to prepare his way. Luke explicitly introduces the Benedictus in verse 67. Zechariah views the present events concerning John and Jesus through the lens of God’s faithfulness. The birth of these two babies are part of the story of a God who keeps promises and acts on behalf of the people of Israel and, indeed, all people!
John’s mission will be to bring people to an ethical, godly, way of living thus preparing the way for the Lord.
Jesus’ role will be the dawn (new light) from Heaven, the one through whom God fulfils his purpose for humanity. At a time when hopes are at a low ebb and people are particularly in need, he will be a beacon guiding them into peace. ie. wholeness, harmony, well being, prosperity and security.
We know that John spent much of his early years in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel. This covers a period of about 30 years. All of the gospels tell us that John preached and baptized beside the Jordan River in the wilderness of Judea. Thus finishes the story of the Birth of St. John the Baptist!

What lessons can we learn from this story? During the early part of this sermon I have described the birth of John the Baptist and his acceptance by his family and neighbours. I have briefly mentioned Zechariah’s Prophecy or Song also described as the Benedictus. You may recall the Benedictus is part of the Order for Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. Let us spend a few minutes pondering some lessons from Zechariah’s Prophecy. The prophecy is an introduction to Luke’s entire gospel. It creates a link between the Old Testament and transition to the New Testament by praising God for past promises and forecasting a new future vision for a life in Christ. Those lessons are:
1. John as a prophet of the most high.
2. Salvation can be obtained only through the forgiveness of sins, and
3. Jesus is the coming Messiah.

1. John as a prophet of the most high
We read in Matthew 3:1-3:
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’. This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight”.
John the Baptist, as the prophet, will go on before the Lord Jesus Christ to prepare the way for him. John’s preparation involves giving knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins to all God’s people. John and Jesus come by God’s mercy to prepare and lead God’s people. John will proclaim salvation but Jesus will take the people to it. Zechariah acknowledges this in this prophecy.

2. Salvation can be obtained only through the forgiveness of sins
God will save his people from their enemies and from all who hate them. Such salvation reflects the mercy of God and the recollection of the covenant God made to Abraham. We read in Acts 13:38:
“Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man (Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.”  or in Acts 26:18: “I (Jesus) will rescue them so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

3. Jesus is the coming Messiah
Zechariah states in his Prophecy: “He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David.” That mighty saviour is the Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth!
We read in Acts 5:31:
“God exalted him (Jesus) at his right hand as leader and saviour that he mmight give repentance to Israel and forgives of sins”.
Whatever God will do for his people he does through the Messiah. He is the one who guides our feet into the path of peace.
We also read in John 8:12:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follow me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
It is abundantly apparent that Zechariah’s Prophecy is tied to many references in the Bible – both Old and New Testaments.


In summary, I hope my thoughts this morning provide evidence that the birth and Christian life of John the Baptist helped ‘Prepare the Way’ for the Messiah. Let us never forget that Jesus is still the Messiah – God’s chosen one who came to deliver us from sin and Satan – with the help of St. John the Baptist!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events June 25th to July 1st, 2018

June 25th, 2018
Office is closed
June 26th & June 27th 2018 
Tim away on study leave 
June 28th, 2018 
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
June 30th, 2018
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
July 1st, 2018 (Pentecost 6 & Canada Day)
9:00am Holy Communion
9:45am Combined coffee hour

10:30am Holy Communion

Just a reminder that this Sunday is the last day of Sunday School until September. We hope all of our children and Sunday School teachers have a wonderful summer vacation! Thanks to our teachers for all they do!

Kids Kapers Summer Camp – Registration deadline is Friday June 29th, so if you haven’t already, please get your registration forms and payment to Melanie.

If you interested in ordering a large print bible for yourself, please let Melanie know. We will be placing and order at the end of this week. They are approximately $70, though we won’t know the exact price until we place the order.

During your travels this spring/summer, if you visit another church, please bring back the bulletin with you and post it on our “Summer Travels” bulletin board in the front foyer of the church. It’s always fun to see where people have been!

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.



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

July 2018 roster

July 1st, 2018 (Canada Day / Pentecost 6)
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Cromarty / M. Cromarty
Counter: M. Cromarty / R. Horn
Reader: T. Cromarty
(2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthian 8:7-15)
Lay Administrants: T. Wittkopf / C. Aasen
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: (Mark 5:21-43)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Woytkiw / L. Pyra
Kitchen (9:45): Woytkiws
Music: M. Chesterton

July 8th, 2018 (Pentecost 7)
Greeter/Sidespeople: Aasens
Counter: C. Aasen / M. Eriksen
Reader: N. Gutteridge
(2 Samuel 5:1-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / D. MacNeill
Intercessor: D. Sanderson
Lay Reader: (Mark 6:1-13)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Lobreau / L. Pyra
Kitchen: M. Chesterton
Music: M. Eriksen

July 15th, 2018 (Pentecost 8)
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Wittkopf / S. Doyle
Counter: S. Watson / S. Doyle
Reader:  S. Watson
(2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / C. Aasen
Intercessor: D. McCosh
Lay Reader: T. Cromarty (Mark 6:14-29)
Altar Guild (Green): P. Major / T. Wittkopf
Kitchen: M. Rys

July 22nd, 2018 (Pentecost 9)
Greeter/Sidespeople: L. Popp / S. Doyle
Counter: S. Doyle / B. Popp
Reader: D. McCosh
(2 Samuel 7:1-17, Psalm 89:20-37, Ephesians 2:11-22)
Lay Administrants: B. Popp / T. Wittkopf
Intercessor: T. Chesterton
Lay Reader: B. Popp (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Woytkiw / T. Wittkopf
Kitchen: E. McFall
Music: M. Eriksen

July 29th, 2018 (Pentecost 10)
Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey / S. Fraser
Counter: M. Eriksen / C. Aasen
Reader: S. Fraser
(2 Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen / D. MacNeill
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: (John 6:1-21)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Lobreau / B. Cavey
Kitchen: F. Chester
Music: M. Eriksen

Sunday, June 17, 2018

'The Lord looks on the heart' (a sermon on 1 Samuel 15.34 - 16.13)

‘I never knew a guy who carried a mirror in his pocket
And a comb up his sleeve just in case
And all that extra hold gel in your hair ought to lock it
‘Cause heaven forbid it should fall out of place
Oh-oo-oh you think you’re special
Oh-oo-oh you think you’re something else
Okay, so you’re Brad Pitt
That don’t impress me much
So you got the looks, but have you got the touch?
Now don’t get me wrong, yeah I think you’re alright
But that won’t keep me warm in the middle of the night
That don’t impress me much’.

Well, there’s a first time for everything, and that’s definitely the first time I’ve ever begun a sermon with a Shania Twain lyric!

And of course, what makes this song very apropos is that even after years and years of being taken in by shiny looking con artists, outward appearances still do ‘impress us much!’ The politician with the bright smile and the bubbly personality is likely to connect with people and win votes. The rock singer who conforms to the current expectations of beauty is far more likely to sell albums than the one who doesn’t. And, to frame the issue in the words of our Old Testament reading this morning, the Lord may look on the heart, but we human beings are still very, very taken with the outward appearance!

Today in our Old Testament readings we begin the story of King David, the shepherd boy who became the shepherd of God’s people Israel. Let’s give a bit of background.

For many generations after Israel entered their promised land they had no king. They didn’t even have much of a unified central government. They had twelve tribes dispersed throughout the land; in theory God was their king, and when they needed help, God sent them leaders. We’ve traditionally called them ‘judges’, and certainly hearing cases and giving judgements was part of their job. But they also led the people in battle against their enemies.

The last and perhaps greatest of those judges was Samuel, who was probably born around 1100 B.C. It was in his days that the people came and asked for a king; ‘We want a king like the nations around us, to lead us in battle’. On the face of it this was a smart request. All the other nations had kings, and that gave them a military edge: a strong central government with a unified purpose that could raise up an army and give it strong leadership.

But the request didn’t sit well with Samuel. To him, it was a rejection of God’s leadership (and his own as well). And the authors of 1 Samuel don’t seem to be of one mind on the issue too; I get the sense that the book incorporates several earlier accounts with different viewpoints on this subject. But eventually God agrees, and there’s a process by which Saul of the tribe of Benjamin is chosen as the first king of Israel. One thing we’re told about Saul is that his appearance was impressive. ‘When he took his stand among the people, he was head and shoulders taller than any of them. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the one whom the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him in all the people”’ (1 Samuel 10:23-24).

It’s not entirely clear how much territory Saul was actually king of; it may be that it was just the central area of Israel, the tribes of Ephraim and Mannaseh and their neighbouring clans. But what is clear is that he very quickly became a disappointment. His appearance might have been impressive but his heart was not obedient to God. I don’t have time to go into the story in detail this morning, and some of it is actually quite disturbing to us as Christians; it involves what appear to be commands from God to commit genocide against an enemy of Israel. These are tough passages and hard to reconcile with the teaching of Jesus.

Be that as it may, eventually Samuel speaks a word of judgement against Saul: “You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:26). But of course Saul still was the king, and so from that day forward Samuel’s position became more precarious; he was highly respected as a prophet and judge, but he was obviously on the outs with the king, and that’s never a comfortable position to be in.

And so we come to today’s passage, where God sends Samuel to anoint a new king. It seems like a foolish and dangerous mission: Saul is still on the throne, and choosing someone else to be designated as ‘the LORD’s anointed’ would be to make both of them a target of Saul’s hit squads. We can hear that fear in Samuel’s voice as he replies to the LORD’s call: “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me” (16:2). We can hear it in the voices of the elders of Bethlehem as they meet Samuel trembling: “Do you come peaceably?” (16:4). They don’t want to get involved in this power struggle!

But the narrative focus is on David, and there are four things we learn about him.

First, he was an outsider. Samuel went down to Bethlehem at God’s command, with explicit instructions to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king. God already knew who the successful candidate was: “I have provided for myself a king among (Jesse’s) sons” (16:1). But when Jesse and his sons came to the sacrificial ceremony, they didn’t even bother to bring David with them. Jesse brought seven sons – ‘seven’ in the Bible is the number of completeness, so there was no need for any more. David was outside the number – he was the youngest, and he was out in the hills looking after the family’s flock of sheep. No one thought he was of any importance. No one considered that his attendance at the sacrifice would matter one way or the other.

But the God of the Bible seems to have a soft spot for outsiders. There’s a long Bible history of God choosing the younger son over the older, or the less impressive leader over the more impressive. Even Bethlehem itself was a strange choice; it was far to the south of Saul’s domains around Ephraim and Manasseh. It was a little village in the tribe of Judah, which seems to have been only loosely connected to Israel at the time. It would be as if we were looking for a prime minister of Canada in the days before Newfoundland joined confederation, and we decided to elect someone from a tiny fishing port in Newfoundland who wasn’t even really a Canadian citizen!

In the New Testament, Mary the mother of Jesus sums this up in these words: ‘(God) has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly’ (Luke 1:51-52). So don’t ever say “I’m not important, so God wouldn’t choose me”. If the world thinks you’re not important, that makes you a prime candidate for God’s choice! God isn’t impressed with the corridors of power; that ‘don’t impress him much!’ God works from the grassroots, with ordinary people like you and me.

So David was an outsider, and yet he was also God’s choice. Second, David was a shepherd. There are actually three different stories of David’s origins in 1 Samuel and all of them mention his role as a shepherd. Today’s passage has his father Jesse saying, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep” (16:11). In the next section David is chosen to play music for the king, to calm him down when he gets agitated; Saul sends a message to Jesse saying “Send me your son David who is with the sheep” (16:19). And the third story is the well-known tale of David and Goliath, where David specifically mentions his experience of defending the flock from lions and bears (16:34-35). Psalm 78 sums up this tradition:
‘He chose his servant David and took him from the sheepfolds; from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his servant Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance. With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with a skillful hand’ (Psalm 78:70-72).

So God didn’t call David to oppress or exploit his people; he called him to care for them like a good shepherd caring for his sheep and protecting them. This is a reflection of the character of God who is sometimes called ‘the Shepherd of Israel’ in the Old Testament. Jesus, of course, says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Do you know how to care for people, to love your neighbour as yourself? In God’s eyes, that makes you a good candidate for leadership. God has had it up to here with leaders who are only in it to enrich themselves and their families; that ‘don’t impress him much’! He’s looking for people who know how to love others – not just in words but in actions.

So David is an unlikely candidate to be king – which, in God’s sight, makes him a likely candidate. David was a shepherd and he brought a shepherd’s heart to the throne of Judah and Israel. The third thing we’re told is that David’s heart was in the right place.

In the first few verses of the story there’s a funny scene as the seven sons of Jesse are brought before Samuel one by one, for all the world like a police identification parade! Samuel has apparently forgotten how easily he was misled by Saul’s impressive appearance. He sees Jesse’s oldest son Eliab and thinks “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD”. But God rebukes this thought: “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart” (16:6-7).

The implication is that David has a good heart. Nowadays, of course, we usually use the heart as a symbol of the feelings: ‘You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t’, sings Bonnie Raitt, and we know what she means. But in the Bible the feelings are located in the intestines (hence the King James Version’s lovely term for compassion: ‘bowels of mercy’!). ‘The heart’ means the inner person, the choices, the will. In this passage it probably means the inner character. Despite being the youngest and the least likely candidate, David was a boy of good character, and so God chose him to be king.

The books of Samuel never pretend that David was perfect; far from it. He was a human being with a healthy dose of the human propensity to mess things up, and he did it spectacularly on a couple of occasions. But it was not in David’s nature to be stubborn about his disobedience. When he was confronted with his sin he confessed and repented and asked for forgiveness.

So when we say God looks on the heart, we’re not saying that God is looking for a perfect heart, a perfect character. God would have no one, if that were the case. But God is looking for a loving heart, a humble heart, a teachable spirit, a faithful character. He’s looking for someone who strives to be the same person when people are watching and when they aren’t watching.

Expertise is important, but it can be taught. Character takes a lot longer. A few years ago a friend of mine was contemplating a career change, and he went to another friend who owned an oilfield service company and asked about a job. “I don’t really have much expertise, though”, he admitted. The owner replied, “Will you come to work on time? Will you give me a full day’s work for a full day’s pay? Will you show up on time after your days off – and without a hangover? I can teach you what you need to know, but I can’t form your character – that has to be present already”.

This is what God prizes. He doesn’t favour the insiders – he’s far more likely to choose people from the margins. He places a premium on for a caring and loving way with others. He’s not impressed with outward appearances: he cares about your heart, your inner character. And lastly, David is filled with the Holy Spirit.In verse 13 we read, ‘Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed (David) in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward’.

In the Old Testament there is no general promise that the Spirit of God will fill every believer. Kings receive the Spirit; so do priests and prophets and judges. The Spirit makes them God’s special servants, God’s tools, God’s mouthpieces. Ordinary people like you and me aren’t equipped with the Spirit; we experience his touch second hand, through God’s chosen leaders.

But that changes in the New Testament. The prophet Joel foretells a time when God will pour out his Spirit on everyone – young and old, men and women, slaves and free. This happens on the Day of Pentecost, when a group of a hundred and twenty believers – most of them unlikely candidates, just like David – are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak God’s word with boldness. From that point on, this becomes the birthright of the Christian: if you know how to give good gifts to your children, says Jesus, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13).

My dad was a working class boy from an industrial city in central England; he left school at sixteen and never finished a university degree. Lots of people would have dismissed him, but God didn’t; my dad was called to ordination in his thirties and became a highly effective pastor and evangelist. There are many people alive today who became committed Christians because of his ministry, and I am one of them. He was an ordinary human being with weaknesses just like anyone else, but the Holy Spirit filled him and used him to bless others, and he became a good shepherd.

Today I want you to ask yourself “What’s stopping me from hearing God’s call?” Maybe you feel like an outsider. Maybe you think “I’m no leader”. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as a particularly impressive looking person.

But in the end, none of that matters. God doesn’t look on outward appearances: God looks on the heart. God gives the gift of his Spirit to people just like you and me, so that we can do things we never thought we’d ever be able to do. Most of all, God gives us his Spirit to make us like his Son Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is always looking for willing sheepdogs to join his team, bringing his love and compassion to the world. Little David the shepherd boy became part of that team. You can be part of that team too. So don’t let a sense of fear or inadequacy hold you back. When you sense God calling you to some new thing, check it out with others to make sure you’re hearing it right, and then step forward in faith and say “Here am I, Lord; send me!”

Friday, June 15, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events June 18th to June 24th, 2018
June 18th, 2018
Office is closed
June 20th, 2018  
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church 
7:15pm Vestry meeting @ church
June 21st , 2018  
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
June 23rd, 2018 
9am – 2pm Camp counsellor training @ church
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
June 24th, 2018 (Birth of St. John the Baptist) 
9:00am  Morning Prayer
10:30am Morning Prayer & Sunday School

All parishioners are invited to join us at noon this Sunday, June 17th, for a congregational meeting where we will be voting on the next steps in our building expansion plan. Lunch will be provided.

Tim will be away on study leave from June 21st to June 27th inclusive. Melanie will be in the office, however the door will be locked so please call ahead if you plan to stop by.

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 21st. Thank you!

Daytime Lectionary Bible Study from 2pm – 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoons @ the church. Please drop in if you can! Our last study will be on Jun 20th and then we will resume in Sept.

Kids Kapers Summer Camp – Registration deadline is Friday June 29th, so if you haven’t already, please get your registration forms and payment to Melanie.

If you interested in ordering a large print bible for yourself, please let Melanie know by the end of the week, as we will be placing another order. They are approximately $70, though we won’t know the exact price until we place the order.

During your travels this spring/summer, if you visit another church, please bring back the bulletin with you and post it on our “Summer Travels” bulletin board in the front foyer of the church. It’s always fun to see where people have been!

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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

'He has gone out of his mind' (a sermon on Mark 3:20-35)

I have a high school friend who became a Christian when he was sixteen, mainly through the witness of a group of young people who went to our church at the time. He had not been raised in a Christian family and as far as I know he’s still the only churchgoing Christian among his siblings. 

My friend has always been attracted to the idea of living a simple life, uncluttered by lots of possessions, and even today, as a married man with young adult children, he still tries to practice that. His sister in law once gave him a scolding about it; she said “Your brother and I can’t figure you out. You’ve got a good job and you make enough money to live well, but you live in a tiny little house, you don’t own a car, and your best suit came second hand from the Oxfam shop. We can’t understand this; is it something to do with your religion?”

In our gospel reading for today Mark tells us that my friend wasn’t alone: people had a hard time figuring Jesus out too!

Mark has a little literary device he uses to draw attention to a theme; he tells a story within a story. He starts story number one, then pauses half way through and tells story number two. At the end, he finishes story number one. The idea is to highlight the theme the two stories have in common.

That’s what happens in this reading. In story number one Jesus has returned home and he’s immediately swamped by a crowd of people. We can read between the lines that they’ve come looking for healing, and at least some of them appear to have unclean spirits in them. Jesus’ family hear about all the things he’s doing, and they immediately decide it’s time to give him a good talking-to. So, Mark says, ‘they went out to restrain him, for people were saying “He has gone out of his mind”’ (Mark 3:21). Incidentally, where our NRSV translation has ‘for people were saying…’, the original language just has ‘for theywere saying’, and most translations take that to be referring to Jesus’ family members. In other words, they looked at all the things Jesus was saying and doing, and they came to the conclusion that he was crazy.

That’s where Mark leaves story number one. Then he inserts story number two: some of the scribes who’ve come down from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of being worsethan crazy: the reason he can drive out the evil spirits is because he’s in league with their leader! Jesus and Beelzebul (another name for Satan) have joined forces! But Jesus replies forcefully to this accusation: it doesn’t make sense! Why would Satan join an alliance to defeat Satan! Jesus is waging war against Satan’s soldiers; why would Satan help him do that? No – if you’ve broken into the strong man’s house and plundered it, that must mean that you’ve already tied up the strong man! So if Jesus is plundering Satan’s house, what does that mean?

Jesus goes on to give them a stern warning: it’s a serious thing to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. To see the Holy Spirit at work through Jesus and to be so spiritually blind that you see it as the work of pure evil rather than pure love – well, a person as blind as that has probably lost the ability to admit that they’re wrong and ask for forgiveness. That’s likely what Jesus means when he says a person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive; it’s that they have wilfully closed themselves off to that possibility.

So ends story number two, and then Jesus comes back to story number one. Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive, and the house is so full of people needing help that they have to send a messenger in to talk to him. “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you” (32). And then Jesus gives a startling reply. He looks around at the crowd and says “Who are my mother and brothers?...Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (33-35).

So a dividing line has formed. On the one hand we see the scribes and Pharisees and the religious establishment from Jerusalem; that’s no surprise. But now - to our amazement - we see that Jesus’ immediate family appear to have joined them, although their motives are different. The scribes say Jesus needs to stop what he’s doing because he’s working with the devil. His family say he needs to stop what he’s doing because he’s going crazy; he needs to come home with them and get well again, and be the nice, inoffensive religious man he used to be.

But on the other side of the line there’s a different group. These are the people who have heard Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand and have believed him. They’ve become his followers. Many of them have been healed by him. And we know from other places in the gospels that they aren’t just respectable Jews. There are tax collectors, prostitutes, maybe even people who work for the Romans. There are women and men. But what unites them is a deep desire to do the will of God, and a belief that Jesus is showing them how to do that, because God is with him. This belief has become the deepest conviction of their hearts. And because it’s their deepest conviction, they form a new set of family relationships with others who share that conviction. And these relationships quickly become deeper than anything they’ve experienced before, even in their blood families.

And the same thing happens today. People fall in love with Jesus; they hear his story and read his words and they’re captivated by his vision of God and God’s kingdom. And as long as it’s just a belief, that’s fine. But then they start practisingit! They start giving generously to the poor and needy, and even agitating for a better deal for them. They start loving their enemies and praying for those who hate them, instead of joining the warmongers who traffic in fear and hate. They start treating all people equally, whatever their race or level of prosperity or political opinions or sexual orientation. They take the side of the weak and the defenceless and the marginalized. In other words, they seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And they can’t shut up about Jesus; they’ve heard the voice of God speaking to them through him, and they’re convinced that they’ve met God through him, and they long for others to have the same experience.

So their friends and family members start getting embarrassed around them. “Religious opinions are fine, but why do you have to be so intense about them?” “You were a lot more fun before you got so holy!” “Do you realize how crazy you sound sometimes?” 

There’s hurt on both sides of this story. Family and friends feel like they’re being left behind. You used to be with them all the time, sharing their opinions and values. Now something new has come into your life and it’s stealing you away from them. They feel hurt and betrayed; what is this evil thing that’s come into your life and separated you from them?

But the new disciple feels hurt too. “Can’t you see how much this means to me? It’s not that I don’t love you, but I finally feel like I’ve found what I was created for, and I really can’t understand how you can’t see it too! Why can’t you understand how much sense Jesus makes? If we all followed him we’d have justice and peace around the world tomorrow! You call this ‘crazy’, but to me it makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard in my life”.

Why this difference? Well, let’s focus on the accusation Jesus’ family members make against him: “He has gone out of his mind” (v.21).

Sometimes this accusation is true. There are many people who suffer from genuine mental illnesses. They’re delusional about the world and about themselves. They see evils and dangers where there are no evils and dangers. They believe things about themselves that are not true. There are all kinds of clinical and psychological reasons for this, and I’m certainly not qualified to go into them here today.

But what I want to point out is that when most people say to someone “You’re out of your mind!” that’s not what they’re talking about. They haven’t sat down and done a clinical diagnosis of the other person’s mental state. It’s a lot more likely that they’ve gotten frustrated because they just can’t persuade the other person to see things the way they do. “You voted for Justin Trudeau (or Stephen Harper)! Are you out of your mind?”

What’s happening when the accusation is made in this way is that two people have completely different ways of looking at reality. We can see this with Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed that the Messiah was going to come to set God’s people free, but God wouldn’t send him until all Israel obeyed the Law of Moses and all the traditional interpretations of that Law. God is a God of Law, and when we all keep his Law scrupulously, he will reward us by sending the Messiah. And because the Pharisees believed this, they did everything in their power to encourage people to obey every little detail of the Law of Moses and their interpretations of it. They were doing it for the good of Israel, you see!

But Jesus had a completely different way of looking at reality. He believed that God is a God of grace who pours out his blessings on all people. God was not going to wait until all Israel obeyed the Law perfectly; God had already sent the Messiah, and Jesus was he! And because God is fundamentally a God of love and mercy, the heart of the Law is love and mercy. So Jesus taught people that if they loved God with all their heart and loved their neighbour as themselves – their brother or sister, or the needy person on the road, or the enemy who was trying to kill them – they were at the centre of God’s will for them.

This certainly came across as crazy to a lot of people. It still comes across as crazy to us today. “What do you mean, I’m supposed to love my enemies? Do you know what that S.O.B. did to me? Do you know how badly he hurt me? How can you possibly expect me to forgive and love him? And by the way, have you seen what the Islamic terrorists are doing to people? And you think we should just go and put flowers in their rifles? What sort of a crazy hippy are you, anyway?”

And what about Jesus’ attitude toward possessions. “Don’t store up for yourself treasures on earth”. How can I possibly live by that? Everyone around me has five or six computers and two cars and a house that cost them an arm and a leg, and if they can afford a holiday RV or a time share they go for it. Now you’re asking me to give up that dream and live a simple life? How can that possibly make sense? And you want me to give to the poor instead? Don’t you know how much those charities waste money?”

It’s not hard for us to find examples of what looks like irrational behaviour in the teaching of Jesus. And so we tone it down and make it more rational. “We’re not supposed to take him literally. He’s not really against us living comfortably. He doesn’t really want us to turn the other cheek – that was just a figure of speech. He’s not really in favour of loving the Romans – or the Russians – or whoever the latest evil people are. You know Jesus: he likes to say provocative things, but when you tone it down a bit he’s just a standard religious teacher who wants us all to be nice to each other, but in case not everyone agrees, we should hang on to our big bank balance and our firearms too”.

The problem is, that approach has never changed the world. It’s never brought us closer to the Kingdom of God. The world has never been changed by sane, moderate-sounding Christians whose message can be boiled down to ‘Let me suggest that we might all like to be a little bit nicer to one another, and then go to heaven when we die”. No: the world was changed by a Martin Luther King, who put his life on the line because he had a dream. The world was changed by a William Wilberforce, who said slavery should be abolished even if it brought the British empire to economic ruin, because it was a moral offence against the God who created all people in his image. The world was changed by a Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus because she believed in justice for black people. The world was changed by Jesus, who said and did the things he believed God was calling him to, even when people said he was out of his mind. And guess what: no one remembers the names of those scribes and Pharisees today, but around the world millions of people claim to be followers of Jesus!

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus refers to this incident; he says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25).

In other words, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you have to get over your addiction to the approval of others. People who don’t believe in Jesus’ vision are not going to be able to understand why you believe in it and work for it. But this is where the old fashioned virtues of courage and persistence come in. William Wilberforce and his friends fought for two decades to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Twelve times during those years they introduced a bill on the floor of the House of Commons, and eleven times it was defeated. British heroes spoke against it. Admiral Nelson, the famous naval hero, wrote this: ‘I was bred in the good old school, and taught to appreciate the value of our West Indian possessions, and neither in the field nor the Senate shall their just rights be infringed, while I have an arm to fight in their defence, or a tongue to launch my voice against the damnable doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies’.

What was that ‘damnable doctrine’? It was the idea that slavery was immoral and an offence against the God who created all human beings in his image. If that doctrine seems obvious to us today, it was because Christians like Wilberforce were not afraid to have people say “He’s gone out of his mind”. They weren’t prepared to be moderate; they were willing to be radical. They followed where Jesus was leading them, and they changed the world because of it.

Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (v.35). That sounds like the family I want to be in. How about you?