Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Roster Duties for April 2009

Greeter/Sidespeople Schindels
Counter: Schindels & T. Wittkopf
Reader: V. Haase
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11
Lay Administrants: A. Zinck G. Hughes
Intercessor M. Rys
Lay Reader: L. Thompson Mark 15: 1-39 (Congregational reading)
Altar Guild (Red) 9am M. Woytkiw/10:30 P. Major
Prayer Team during Communion: J. Penner, M. Chesterton
Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin
Sunday School: B. Rice
Kitchen: P. Leney

April 9- MAUNDY THURSDAY: TBD See Sign up sheet in Foyer
April 10- GOOD FRIDAY: TBD See Sign up sheet in Foyer

Greeter/Sidespeople: M. Lobreau
Counter: M. Lobreau & B. Rice
Reader: D. Schindel
Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Ps. 118:1-2, 14-24; 1Cor. 15:1-11
Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill, M. Penner
Intercessor: P. Leney (see baptism service BAS p. 155-6)
Lay Reader: E. Gerber John 20:1-18
Altar Guild (White) 9am J. Mill/10:30 Terry Wittkopf (Baptisms)
Prayer Team during Communion K. Hughes, L. Sanderson
Nursery Supervisor: G. Hughes
Sunday School: P. Rayment
Kitchen: M. Rys

April 19- Second Sunday of EASTER

Greeter/Sidespeople: Mittys
Counter: Mittys & E. Gerber
Reader: C. Ripley
Readings: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1-2:2
Lay Administrants: L. Thompson, C. Aasen
Deacon: Myron Penner John 20:19-31
Altar Guild (White) 9am M. Lobreau /10:30 am L. Pyra
Prayer Team during Communion: E. Gerber, M. Chesterton
Intercessor T. Chesterton
Sunday School: M. Aasen
Kitchen: V. Haase

April 26- Third Sunday of Easter JOINT COFFEE
Greeter/Sidespeople: Hughes
Counter: Hughes & B. Rice
Reader: Sophia Penner
Readings: Acts 3:12-19 Psalm 4; 1 John 3: 1-7
Lay Administrants: E. Gerber, D. Schindel
Intercessor: M. Penner
Lay Reader D. MacNeill Luke 24: 36b-48
Altar Guild (White) 9 am M. Woytkiw /10:30 am D. Mitty
Prayer Team during Communion: M. Rys
Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin
Sunday School: M. Cromarty
Kitchen: E. & D. Wilson

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekly Calendar for March 30-April 5, 2009

Monday, March 30th
Tim Off

Tuesday, March 31st
8:30 am Morning Prayer @ St. Matthias
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys
3:00 p.m. Corporation Meeting at Bogani Café.

Wednesday, April 1st
12:15 p.m. Tim at Deanery Clericus Meeting

Thursday, April 2nd
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café

Friday, April 3rd
Tim’s Quiet Day

Palm Sunday, April 5th
9.00 am Holy Eucharist,
10.30 am Holy Eucharist and Sunday School

Growing Prayer @ St.Margaret’s:
Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families: Fernandes Family: Lawrence, Rosalina, Peter, Daniel & Maria
Joan Finlay
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Kitchen Workers

ICPM (Inner City Pastoral Ministry) March ’09 ministry fundraiser is our current project as a church until June ’09. Our goal is to raise $5000 in this time. The current totals for ICPM are $970.00

Lenten Meditations

When the oak is felled the forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown silently by an unnoticed breeze.
Thomas Carlyle

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...
We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Mother Theresa

Advance Notice: Services for Holy Week

Maundy Thursday April 9th, 7 pm Eucharist, Footwashing, and Stripping of the church

Good Friday April 10th, 10:00 am Good Friday Service

Easter Sunday April 12th, 9:00 Eucharist; 10:30 Eucharist & Baptisms with Sunday School and Nursery

Please pray for our Easter Baptismal Candidates, their parents and grandparents: Benjamin Kelly, Sophia Pouliot, Chelsea Laffin, and Matthew Doyle.


St. Margaret’s has a new email address!
Please add this to your address book!


Our previous address stmag@telusplanet.net will no longer be used.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon for March 29th: John 12:20-33

‘Sir, We Wish to See Jesus’

I think if Jesus had been running for political office and we had been on his campaign team, there would probably have been times when we would have taken him aside and said, “Lord, you need to be careful what you say to people who are showing an interest in voting for you. No, we’re not suggesting that you stop telling the truth, but do you have to be so up front about it? I mean, that rich young man who showed an interest in following you – he would have made a very useful member of our team – especially with all his wealth! But why did you have to challenge him right from the beginning to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then come and follow you? Why couldn’t you have introduced the subject gradually to him? And what about the man who came up and told you that he wanted to follow you, and you told him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but I haven’t got anywhere to lay my head?’ Why couldn’t you have kept that information from him for a while? If you had, he might still be with us! If you keep shooting yourself in the foot like this, Jesus, you’re never going to get elected, and then what good are you going to be able to accomplish?”

Today’s gospel reading is another example of this sort of straight talk from Jesus. In the Gospel of John it comes right after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He and his disciples have come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage for the Passover festival; outside the city, Jesus has climbed on the back of a donkey and ridden in procession through the gates like a king coming into his capital, with his disciples waving palm branches and the crowd cheering and shouting “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). It must have been an impressive sight, and the enemies of Jesus found it really discouraging; they said to each other, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” (12:19).

And so we come to today’s gospel, which begins with these words: ‘Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks’ (12:20). What were Greeks doing there? Passover was a Jewish festival, celebrating the ancient story of how God had set the people free from slavery in Egypt, led them through the Red Sea under Moses, and defeated the Egyptians who tried to follow them. It was the most nationalistic of all Jewish festivals; in this story, Gentiles were the enemy, and you wouldn’t expect Gentiles to come as pilgrims to participate in it.

But in fact, all over the Mediterranean world in New Testament times, there were little pockets of Gentiles – Greeks and Romans – who had been attracted to the religion of Israel. Presumably they had become disillusioned with the traditional worship of the Greek and Roman gods; what they were experiencing in those religions was no longer satisfying them, and they hungered for something more. In the religion of Israel they found the story of one great Creator God who wanted his people not only to worship him but also to live a moral and ethical life, and many of them were attracted to this story. And so they adopted the Jewish religion, joined in the worship of the synagogues, and tried to follow the commandments – without going all the way and being circumcised, which for obvious reasons was a bit of a challenge to them! These people were known in New Testament times as ‘God-fearers’, and they were fertile ground for the Christian message as the missionaries took it out into the Gentile world.

I think we live in similar times today. For generations now, our society has been offering traditional idols for our worship and satisfaction. Advertisers have been telling us that if we just buy their products, we will be happy and healthy and young forever. Politicians have been promising that if we just elect them they will build the new Jerusalem in our country and we’ll all be happy together. National leaders have demanded our allegiance and support and told us that we’re either for them or for their enemies. We’ve been sold a bill of goods, which tells us that if we just worship the idols of money and possessions or fame or success or beauty or youth or popularity, we’ll find the satisfaction we’re looking for. But we haven’t found it, and more and more people are beginning to question the materialistic assumptions of our society. More and more people are looking for a spiritual dimension to their lives. More and more people are looking for God. They may not be ready to join an organised church or go forward to receive communion, but they are coming to believe, deep down inside, that without God there are no ultimate answers to the questions they are struggling with.

So in today’s Gospel reading, these Greek God-fearers are in Jerusalem to worship at the Passover festival, and no doubt they’ve seen Jesus’ procession into the city and the great crowd around him. They are impressed; perhaps they’ve already heard of Jesus, and now they want to know more. So they come to one of Jesus’ disciples, Philip of Bethsaida. ‘Philip’ is a Greek name, and Bethsaida is an area of Galilee where a lot of Gentiles live, so perhaps these Greeks feel a sense of connection with Philip. They go to him and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (v.21). But Philip isn’t sure what to do with their request, so he takes it to Andrew, who has developed a reputation in the Gospel of John for introducing people to Jesus. In fact, the first person he introduced to Jesus, his brother Simon Peter, has already become the leader of Jesus’ band of followers.

We need help, don’t we, when we want to get to know God better? We need someone who will introduce us, someone who will help us take the first step. Michael Peers was a student in Ottawa and Heidelberg in the late 1950s, studying languages and intending to go into a career in diplomacy. But it was not to be. Although he had been raised in a totally non-Christian household he was conscious of a growing interest in God. A student friend invited him along to a service at an Anglican church; Michael was attracted to what he saw there, and eventually he decided to become a Christian. He went on to be ordained as an Anglican priest, and in 1986, like Simon Peter, he became the leader of the band of Anglican followers of Jesus in Canada – the ‘Primate’, as we call it – a position he held until his retirement. But it would never have happened if his student friend had not invited him to church. Michael had his ‘Philip’ or ‘Andrew’, and he often told that story in gratitude for what his friend had done for him.

Well, it’s all going swimmingly, as they say, and if Jesus had been an earthly politician it might even have gone to his head! ‘The people of Jerusalem are welcoming me with open arms, and even the Greeks have started to follow me! If I just play my cards right and say the right things, I’ll have this election in the bag!” If Jesus had been a fisherman and we were giving him advice about reeling in a fish, we might have said to him, “Go gently, now, Jesus – don’t jerk the line too fast, or you’re going to lose your fish”. In other words, “Don’t hit these Greeks with a bunch of demands right off the top. Tell them about the benefits they’ll receive from following you; talk about how you’re going to enhance their lives. Keep the issue of the cost until later, when they’re already on the hook and just about landed!”

But Jesus is incapable of doing that; he’s fundamentally honest and straight in his expectations of those who are interested in following him. You can never accuse him of hiding the cost or making the small print too small to read. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945, once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”. That’s exactly right. Follow Jesus’ reasoning with me here:

He starts by telling the crowd what’s ahead for him. It sounds good: he says in verse 22, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”. But then as he goes on, we become uncomfortably aware that he has a different definition of glory than we do; his glory is all bound up with his suffering. He uses the illustration of a grain of wheat falling into the ground. It looks as if the farmer is throwing it away; it falls into the soil and is buried there, which is a kind of death; you think that’s the end of it. But a few days later a shoot springs up, and then a plant, and the plant begins to bear fruit, and suddenly the grain of wheat that died has multiplied.

Jesus is taking about himself and his death on the Cross. He’s going to be rejected by the very people he came to save, and it looks like the end of his story. The world has thrown him away and buried him. But three days later a new resurrection shoot will begin to appear, and then the message will go out, and people will begin to turn to him. In verses 32-33 Jesus says, ‘“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”. He said this’, says John, ‘to indicate the kind of death he was to die’.

For Jesus, there could be no ducking the Cross. The Cross was not a tragedy, and it wasn’t a derailment of God’s plan; rather, the whole story from the very beginning had been leading up to this moment. As God has been rejected by people all over the world, so Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, would be rejected and nailed to the Cross. The sins of the world put him there, and as he says in verse 31, ‘Now is the judgement of this world’. The best the world had to offer – the mighty Roman empire that brought peace and civilization to the Mediterranean, the exemplary Pharisees who worked so hard at being holy and good, the skilled politicians of the high priests and Sadducees, the revolutionary fervour of the Jerusalem crowd – all combined together to reject Jesus and kill him. But the very act by which the world tried to get rid of Jesus turned out to be the act by which salvation would be offered to all people. Just as, in wartime, brave soldiers will give their lives in some sacrificial action which eventually brings victory at the cost of their deaths, so Jesus offered his life willingly, as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace could be poured out on all people. And so the moment of his defeat became the moment of God’s victory. Since then, Jesus has been drawing burdened souls to himself and bringing them forgiveness and relief through the message of his Cross.

So there is good news in the Cross, but there’s also challenge, and Jesus wants to be up front with this challenge to the Greek God-fearers who are contemplating the possibility of following him. And so in verses 25-26 he says, “Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour”.

You see, the way of the Cross is not for Jesus only; it is for his followers too. Those who choose to give their first loyalty to King Jesus will always be an offence to earthly leaders who demand absolute obedience. The early Christians experienced this when they refused to offer incense to Caesar as a god; this was not just a harmless religious ceremony in those days, but a political duty, a pledge of allegiance if you like. To say, “Jesus is Lord” always carries the corollary, “and Caesar is not” – and Caesar is not pleased! Whether Caesar is our political leaders, or our employers, or the media, or the global economy that demands our absolute servitude – whatever it is, people who want to follow Jesus need to be warned, right from the start, that not everyone will be jumping for joy about this, and there will be a price to pay.

Throughout Christian history there have been those who have willingly paid the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus. But those of us who aren’t asked to do this are not thereby let ‘off the hook’. We’re all called to ‘die to self’ – in other words, to be willing to let go of our desire for recognition, for honour, for popularity – our desire to have everything that we want, to have a comfortable and easy life with ourselves at centre stage. It’s a happy coincidence that in the English language the word ‘sin’ has an ‘I’ at the centre of it; when I am at the centre of my own life, that is the epitome of sin, because the throne at the centre of my life rightfully belongs to someone else – God. Those who want to follow Jesus must be prepared to face this challenge – the call to let go of selfishness and self-centredness and to rebuild our lives around God and his will.

So Jesus is calling his followers to a different kind of glory. Today, all over the world, crosses are emblazoned on church buildings, which is a bit weird, if you think about it – imagine if we all started wearing little silver electric chairs on chains around our necks? And yet, it is true that the Cross is Jesus’ moment of glory. The one who called people to love their enemies and do good to those who hated them did just that himself, accepting the worst that the world could do to him and responding with forgiveness and grace, not anger and vengeance. The one who called people to trust God did just that himself, trusting that if he allowed himself to fall into the ground like a grain of wheat, the Father would not allow him to be trodden underfoot and forgotten. And so it was; the Father raised him from the dead, an act that galvanized his followers to spread the good news of his victory all over the world. Today, two thousand years later, we are still telling the story – glory indeed.

Are you a spiritual seeker, like those Greeks who wanted to see Jesus? Are you looking for something more than what the materialistic world has to offer, and are you beginning to think Jesus might have some answers? Indeed he does, but he will not insult you by hiding the cost in the small print at the bottom of the page. Yes, it is gloriously possible to know him, even today, and to know God through him, but it won’t be an easy road. It’s not just about discussing a book of self-help wisdom over a comfortable latté at Starbucks! There will come a point in our spiritual search when action is called for – and unless we are willing to accept that challenge and act on it, no further progress will be possible. And the action means a willingness to die to self – to take self out of the centre of our lives and put God in his rightful place, and then to humbly live for him and his will, embracing the suffering that comes our way as a result. Jesus says that those who are willing to do that will find life in the midst of death. They will gradually find a new light dawning in their lives – the light of Christ himself. As we follow him, we will indeed discover that he is with us on the journey, and as he says in verse 36, we will indeed become ‘children of the light’.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekly Calendar for March 23-29, 2009

Monday, March 23rd
Tim Off

Tuesday, March 24th
8:30 am Morning Prayer @ Holy Trinity Riverbend
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys
7:00 pm Eucharist
7:30 pm Lent Prayer Course

Wednesday, March 25th
7:00 pm Building & Maintenance Committee Mtg. @ church

Thursday, March 26th
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café
10:00 am-3:00 pm Tim @ Clergy Day @ Cathedral

Friday, March 27th
3:00 pm Congregational Care Committee Mtg. @ Bogani Cafe

Saturday, March 28th
Pancake Breakfast Team @ St. Faith’s

Sunday, March 29th
9.00 am Holy Eucharist,
10.30 am Informal Song Service, “BRING A FRIEND” and Sunday School You don’t want to miss our 10:30am song service on March 29th! Invite your friends and join us with nostalgic 1970’s choruses on the theme ‘Is it possible to know Jesus today?’(You can wear your blue jeans!)

Growing Prayer @ St.Margaret’s:
Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families: Robert Duke and Charlotte Robb
Julia Ellis
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Sidespeople and Greeters

ICPM (Inner City Pastoral Ministry) March ’09 ministry fundraiser is our current project as a church until June ’09. Our goal is to raise $5000 in this time. The current totals for ICPM are $585.00

Lenten Meditations

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. Proverbs 3:7

Advance Notice: Services for Holy Week

Maundy Thursday April 9th, 7:00pm Eucharist, Footwashing, and Stripping of the church

Good Friday April 10th, 10:00 am Good Friday Service

Easter Sunday April 12th, 9:00 Eucharist; 10:30 Eucharist & Baptisms with Sunday School and Nursery

Please pray for our Easter Baptismal Candidates, their parents and grandparents: Benjamin Kelly, Sophia Pouliot, Chelsea Laffin, and Matthew Doyle.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sermon for Lent 4: Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Outside Help

I met Allen when I was the missionary-in-charge at All Saints’ Anglican Mission in Aklavik in the western Arctic. He was a member of the Gwitchin people and a superb carpenter; after the old All Saints’ cathedral burnt down in 1973 he was one of the members of the construction team that built the new church, and he had also supervised renovations to the Anglican mission house. Whenever I needed advice about construction, it was Allen I turned to, and he always had good and useful things to say.

Well, almost always; sometimes I made the mistake of talking to him at the wrong time. You see, Allen had a problem with drinking, and in the end it ruined his life. When he was drunk, he was an entirely different person, and unfortunately he had passed the same problem on to his children. When they drank, they got violent, and their spouses paid the price. It was a tragedy, because they were all gifted and capable people when they were sober. It was as if a poison had gotten into their system, and it was slowly killing them.

I’m sure most of us have known people like that; alcoholism is a widespread problem and there can be few of us who haven’t come across its ravages at one time or another in our lives. Alcoholism also seems to defy the well-meaning efforts of friends and family members to persuade the alcoholic to sober up. The usual response to any suggestion that a person has a drinking problem is denial; the second response is ‘I don’t need help; I can get it under control by myself’. Usually the result is the same - no change. The vast majority of alcoholics don’t seem to be able to get a handle on their addiction without outside help, and by far the most effective program is a grassroots community based on old-fashioned spirituality called Alcoholics Anonymous. Right at the heart of AA philosophy is the idea that the alcoholic is powerless over alcohol, that their life has become unmanageable, and that only the intervention of God can make any kind of a difference.

It’s easy for us to see that, in the case of an alcoholic, some sort of outside intervention is necessary to save the person from themselves. But if we think about it for a moment, we’ll see that this is true in a wide variety of other cases as well. After all, alcoholism isn’t the only sort of addiction. We can think of drug abuse, gambling, internet addiction and many other similar behaviours. And the application of the principle is wider still. From a Christian point of view, sin itself is a kind of addiction. All of us have been in the habit of sin for as long as we can remember. Like any other lifelong habit, it has ploughed deep ruts in our brains, and any sort of change is very difficult if not impossible on the basis of will-power alone – as anyone who’s tried to keep New Years’ resolutions can attest. How are yours going, by the way?

And sin is a fatal addiction as well; it deals out destruction, despair and death wherever it goes. Anger and violence literally lead to death, so do hatred and prejudice. Selfishness can destroy marriages and families; greed can take over a person’s life and destroy their relationships and their health. All around us we can see the results of this fatal addiction; we see them on the news and read them in the morning paper, we hear about them in the coffee shop, and we run into them in our own lives all the time. Sin is a poison and it’s slowly killing us, and killing the world around us as well.

The Bible says that the poison got into the human race as a result of a snake bite. Well, not a literal snakebite, and probably not a literal snake either. But in Genesis chapter three we have the well-known story of Adam and Eve, and the snake who persuaded them to help themselves to fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story is teaching us that in an act of rebellion evil entered into the human family, and ever since then the poison has been slowly killing us. The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s plan to deal with that poison and restore the human race to health.

Our scriptures for today are all about this human need for help outside of ourselves – to use the biblical word, our need for salvation. Our track record of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps is not very good. The poison is too far advanced; the resources of human ingenuity are all used up. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not say ‘God helps those who help themselves’. Rather, the Bible says that we’re past the point where we can help ourselves, and if God didn’t help us, we’d have no chance.

Our Old Testament reading is a real snake bite story from the time when Israel was wandering around in the desert. They had been led through the Red Sea; they had received the Ten Commandments on the mountain, but then they had pulled back from entering the Promised Land out of lack of trust in God, and as a result they were condemned to wandering in the desert for forty years. Not surprisingly, they often grumbled about this, despite the fact that it was their fault. In today’s reading, from Numbers 21:4-9, the people grumble against God and Moses, complaining about the conditions they have to put up with in the desert. In response, God sends a plague of snakes, and many people are bitten and die. The people then come to Moses, confess their sin and ask him to pray for them. Moses does so, but instead of just forgiving them and removing the plague, God instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and set it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten should look at that snake, God says, and they will live. Moses does as he is told, and everything works out the way that God said it would. So the image of the thing the people loath turns out to be the thing that saves them from death.

Several things about this story make it very unusual. The Ten Commandments forbid the making of graven images, but this snake on a pole seems very much like a graven image. Snakes themselves are almost universally hated and feared all over the world; English is not the only language in which calling a person a ‘snake’ is one of the harshest forms of insult. And furthermore, in the biblical stories the snake was often seen as a symbol for the Evil One, starting in Genesis and going right through to Revelation where he is called ‘the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan’ (Revelation 20:2). So Moses is commanded by God to make an image of something that was hateful and fearful to the Israelites, to lift it up on a pole in plain sight, so that they could look to it and be healed.

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus makes use of this very text. In John 3:14-15 he says “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”. He’s talking about being lifted up on the cross, of course. And just as the snake was hated and feared by the Israelites in the desert, so the cross was hated and feared by the Jewish people in Jesus’ day living under the rule of the Romans. The Romans hated it too, of course; it was a form of execution that they reserved for outsiders, people who were not Roman citizens – in fact, people who were rebels against the empire. But the Jewish people took it further; to them, a person who was crucified was being hanged on a tree, and their scriptures said ‘Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deuteronomy 21:23). But the testimony of the New Testament is that by hanging on the Cross Jesus took the curse on our behalf, so that we could be healed and forgiven. And just as anyone who looked at the serpent on the pole was healed, so Jesus says that all who look to him in faith receive forgiveness and eternal life; in other words, their relationship with God is restored.

Jesus is claiming that we are all like the Israelites in the desert; we’ve been bitten by the snake, and the poison is in our system. The effects are already far gone, and the end is death. If we put our faith in Jesus, he will be the antidote that will eventually drive the effects of the toxin out of our system. But if we refuse to put our faith in Jesus, we condemn ourselves, because there is no other cure.

This is the key to understanding John 3:17-21, which at first glance sounds like a very harsh text. Verse 18 says that those who believe in Jesus are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. The passage goes on to say that God’s light has come into the world, but these folk have preferred the darkness to the light, and so they have refused to come to the light. John is talking about Jesus, who is the light of the world.

Some of us find this language to be very harsh indeed, but when we think about it for a minute, it goes along with the whole illustration of the snake on the pole in the desert. God in his grace and mercy gave a way for the people of Israel to be saved from the poison of the snakebites. All they had to do was look to the snake on the pole, and they would be healed. But of course, if they refused to look to the snake on the pole, they would die from the poison. We would never think of blaming God for their deaths; God had given a way for them to be healed, and they had refused that way.

In the same way, John tells us that God has given a way for us to be saved from the poison that infects the whole human family. The most famous verse in our gospel today says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:16-17). The verse says that God gave his son in order that we ‘may not perish but may have eternal life’. ‘Perishing’ is the natural result of the snakebite of sin; it destroys our relationships and ends up destroying our whole lives. God doesn’t want this to happen, and in fact God has given us a way to be rescued from this fate. But we need to appropriate that way for ourselves. The Israelites appropriated it by looking to the snake on the pole; we appropriate it by looking to the man on the cross, and putting our faith in him; ‘everyone who believes in him’, John says, ‘may not perish but may have eternal life’.

What does it mean to ‘believe in Jesus’? It means a lot more than just believing that he existed two thousand years ago, or even just accepting the idea that he is the Son of God. It means putting our trust in him, asking him to heal us from the snakebite of sin, turning our wills over to him and following him in our daily lives. It means admitting that by ourselves we don’t have the resources to be the kind of people that we should be, or even the kind of people we wish we were. It means asking for his help day by day to live a new kind of life, a life in fellowship with the living God.

For some people, believing in Jesus is something that is connected to a particular point in time – a moment of conversion, if you like. John Newton refers to this sort of experience in his famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, where he says, ‘I once was lost, but now was found, was blind, but now I see’, and in another verse, ‘How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed’. St. Paul had that kind of experience as well, on the Damascus Road, where he was blinded by a light from heaven and heard the voice of Jesus asking him ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ That was a moment of transformation for him; the one who had persecuted the Christian church turned to Christ himself, and later became an ambassador for the same faith he had tried to stamp out.

Many people today have a similar sort of experience, although they might not always use the same language to describe it. We Anglicans use conversion language in our baptism and confirmation services, where we’re asked, ‘Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Saviour?’ and ‘Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?’ For some people, their baptism or their confirmation become for them a very special moment of consciously putting their faith in Jesus and receiving that gift of eternal life from him. Other people go through those ceremonies in a formal and ritual way, but then later on in life have a conversion moment where the reality of what those ceremonies meant suddenly becomes real and fresh for them.

But not everyone has a crisis experience. Other people – perhaps especially those who were brought up in Christian families – find their faith in Jesus growing gradually as the years go by. They’d be hard pressed to identify a moment in time when faith first became personal for them, but they have no doubt that it is. Jesus is real to them, and faith in him is the central part of their daily life.

So I’m not going to ask you if you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal Saviour or if you have had a conversion experience of some kind. But I am going to ask you, “Do you live your life by faith in Jesus?” In other words, have you accepted the fact that you can’t get the snakebite out of your system by your own efforts? Are you turning to Jesus daily, putting your trust in him, and asking him to save you from sin and give you the gift of eternal life?

Let me close by inviting you to do this in a special way as you come to the Eucharist today. In the Eucharist, as we break the bread and pour out the wine, we can see in a special way how Jesus’ body was broken and his blood poured out for us. As we come forward and receive the bread and wine with faith in our hearts, in a special way we are fed by Jesus’ body and blood. So to receive our communion with faith is a particularly helpful way of ‘looking to Jesus’ for forgiveness and new life.

A few years ago there was a man who attended this church regularly who reminded me of that in a very vivid way. Each Sunday he would come up to the front to receive communion, but before he took the bread or the wine, I would always see him glancing up at the cross. It wasn’t an accident; he did it every week, and I knew that he was reminding himself of how Jesus had been ‘lifted up’ on the cross for him, for his forgiveness and healing. That man left Edmonton a few years ago, but I’ll always remember the lesson he taught me about the meaning of the Eucharist.

So let me invite you to come to communion this morning ready to be healed of the snakebite of sin that continues to affect us. We’re not just healed from it once; we have to constantly put our trust in Jesus to be healed from it day by day. So come to the Lord’s table and receive the bread and wine, in confident faith that God is ready and willing to pour out his healing and forgiveness on you because of Jesus and his cross, and that as you are nourished by Jesus’ body and blood God will strengthen you to be faithful to him in the week ahead.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekly Calendar for March 16-22

Monday, March 16th
Tim Off

Tuesday, March 17th
8:30 am Morning Prayer @ St. Margaret’s
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys
7:00-9:00 “Seeking the Face of God” Communion & Lent Course

Wednesday, March 18th
7:15 pm Vestry

Thursday, March 19th
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café
11:30 am Senior’s Lunch- Please join us for some relaxed fellowship and warm soup . Our own Catherine Ripley will be joining us to share her experiences as a School Trustee and information regarding education in the city of Edmonton . Everyone is welcome . Proof of age is not necessary. If you plan to attend please contact Pat Leney.

Friday, March 20th
Irish Stew Potluck Supper: THIS FRIDAY 6:30pm! Make sure to sign up! Dig out your green tweed caps and join us for a fun evening of food and music on March 20th. This will be a true “pot-o-luck”!

Saturday, March 21st

Tim Off

Sunday, March 22nd
9.00 am Holy Eucharist,
10.30 am Holy Eucharist and Sunday School

Growing Prayer @ St.Margaret’s:
Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families: Lloyd and Char Dennis
Martin, Sarah, and Matthew Doyle
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Lay Readers and Administrants

ICPM (Inner City Pastoral Ministry) March ’09 ministry fundraiser is our current project as a church until June ’09. Our goal is to raise $5000 in this time. The current totals for ICPM are $365.00

St. Margaret’s 2009 Sharing the Gospel ~ Going for Growth!

Lent Course: Making Lent more meaningful…First 4 Tuesdays in March! We encourage you to take part in this inspirational time of “Seeking the Face of God” 7pm Communion, 7:30pm Course Begins See sign-up sheet in Foyer or call the church office to attend.

You don’t want to miss our 10:30am song service on March 29th! Invite your friends and join us with nostalgic 1970’s choruses on the theme ‘Is it possible to know Jesus today?’(You can wear your blue jeans!)

Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another.
-Jean P.F Richter-

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sermon for 2nd Sunday in Lent: Mark 8:31-38

Take up Your Cross

In the early 1980s someone made a movie about the story of Eric Liddell. Eric was a devout Christian from Scotland who came to fame in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris because of his refusal to run a hundred-metre race on a Sunday; Scottish Presbyterians were all strict sabbatarians in those days. The movie dramatizes the actual story quite heavily, making it a last minute issue for Eric, whereas in real life he had known about it for months ahead of time and had made arrangements to change from the hundred to the four hundred metre race, a race which, against all odds, he actually won.

However, there’s a priceless scene in the movie in which the leaders of the British Olympic Committee, all dressed up in white ties and tails, attempt to pressure Eric into changing his mind about the hundred metre race. They do it by appealing to his patriotism, and the fact that one of the committee members is the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, only ‘ups the ante’, as they say! ‘We’re appealing to your beliefs’, they say to Eric, ‘your belief in your country’. And then one of the members of the committee, a crusty old lord who obviously has no time for all this fanatical religion stuff, says, “In my day it was King first, God after” – to which another member of the committee, rather more sympathetic to Eric, replies, “Yes, and the war to end all wars bitterly proved your point!”

Whatever you think of Eric Liddell’s strictness about the observance of the Sabbath, you have here a classic case of a confrontation of loyalties. On the one hand, you have a group of people who feel that a person’s most fundamental loyalty must be to their country and their king; to them, Eric was British first of all, and that meant putting aside his private spiritual convictions when they clashed with his public duty to his country. But on the other hand, you have a man who clearly believes that his commitment to Christ is not just a ‘private spiritual conviction’, but a public statement of cosmic reality. Jesus Christ is Lord of all - and he will continue to be Lord of all long after the current crop of politicians and tyrants and tin-pot dictators have gone to their graves - and that means that loyalty to Jesus and his laws must come before any human loyalty. Therefore if another authority commands you to disobey the teaching of Jesus, that authority must itself be disobeyed.

And this is exactly what our gospel reading for today is all about. Unfortunately the lectionary has obscured the point by missing out the earlier story, in which Jesus and his disciples discuss who Jesus actually is. We read in verse 27 that Jesus and his disciples were traveling in the region of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he was having a discussion with them. The Greek indicates that this was a continuing discussion, so we mustn’t think that Mark has given us an exhaustive account of the conversation; rather, he’s simply given us a summary. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and they reply, “Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets”. “And what about you?” he asks; “Who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks up: “You’re the Messiah”, he replies.

The word ‘messiah’ means ‘anointed one’ – in other words, king. To say ‘you are the Messiah’ was to say, ‘You are the true king of Israel, you are the true heir to the throne of David’. And of course that was a politically dangerous thing to do, because there was already a king in Galilee, Herod Antipas, and there was a procurator in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, who was running the place on behalf of the man who many believed to be the divine son of a god and true lord of all, Caesar Augustus.

To claim to be the Messiah, in that political climate, was to put yourself on a collision course with the existing powers that be. And it has to be said that many Jewish people were looking forward to that collision. They were not experiencing a great deal of blessing from the current political arrangements. Israel was an occupied nation, with the Romans running the show and the Jewish authorities collaborating with them. But many people in Israel could not believe that God would allow this state of affairs to continue. They looked back to a time over a hundred years before when another foreign tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes, had brought all the might of the Greek army and culture to bear against Israel in an effort to stamp out the worship of the one true God and replace it with Greek religion and culture. But Judas Macabbeus, a local military hero, had raised an army and defeated the Greeks, and for a few short years the people enjoyed freedom. When Jewish people thought about the Messiah, it tended to be the Judas Macabbeus model that they looked to. “God will do it again” they thought, “and we’ll be free!”

But now Jesus was changing the script, by warning his disciples that no, he wasn’t going to win military victories like Judas Macabbeus. Rather, he was going to undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes – the very people who ought to be cheering for God’s true king – and he was going to be killed. Peter, of course, is shocked - this isn’t the story of the Messiah that he’s grown up with – and he rebukes Jesus. But Jesus in his turn rebukes him – ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he says; ‘You’re just thinking human thoughts, not God’s thoughts’. And then he calls the crowd together, along with his disciples, and says something even more disturbing. ‘You say you want to follow me’, he says; ‘Well, let’s make absolutely crystal clear what that means. If you want to be my disciple you need to deny yourself, take up your cross, and come with me. If you try to save your life, you’re going to lose it, but if you’re ready and willing to lose your life for me and the good news, in the end you’ll save it. What’s the good of gaining the whole world and losing your real life? What can you give to get it back? Let’s be clear about this: if you’re ashamed of me and my words in this generation, the day’s going to come when I’ll be ashamed of you’.

Now we sometimes interpret ‘take up your cross’ in this passage to mean any and every sort of suffering that comes our way in our lives. On this understanding, my incurable cancer might be my cross – or my difficult family situation – or the relative who keeps pestering me for financial help – or even (and clergy love this one) the difficult member of the congregation who keeps causing me trouble! However, there’s absolutely no indication that this was what Jesus actually had in mind when he told his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. The cross, in the Roman and Jewish world at the time of Jesus, had a specific meaning. The Romans didn’t put just anyone on a cross; they didn’t, for instance, crucify petty thieves. The cross was a punishment they reserved for rebels against the empire, and the normal procedure for those crucifixions was exactly what happened a few months later to Jesus: the convicted rebel was forced to carry his cross to the place of execution, where he was nailed to it and left to die. So a person carrying their cross wasn’t just going through difficult circumstances in general: they were being executed by the state as a traitor and a rebel. “This is what will happen to my followers”, Jesus was saying; “You will be seen by the state as traitors and rebels, and they will execute you for it”.

When Mark wrote his gospel, this was literally happening to many Christians in the city of Rome, as I said a couple of weeks ago. Nero was the Roman emperor at the time, and he was widely believed to be off his rocker. He was also widely believed to have been responsible for starting the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D., a fire that destroyed a huge portion of the city and killed many people. In order to deflect attention from himself, Nero made the Christians the scapegoat; they were the ones who started the fire, he said. And so began the first great state-sponsored persecution of the Christian church. Christians were thrown into the arena to be torn apart by lions and dogs. They were covered with pitch and set on fire as human torches to light Nero’s processions. And many of them were crucified, as Jesus had been crucified. Tradition says that both Peter and Paul died in this persecution.

We can imagine the fear the Roman Christians felt; we can also imagine the temptation to renounce their faith in Jesus and thus avoid the torture and death. And so Jesus’ words, as Mark recorded them, would have had a very clear meaning to these people: “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…Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (8:35, 38).

Now what does this have to do with us, today, in Edmonton, where it’s very difficult to imagine anyone being executed for being a Christian? Does this mean that this passage of scripture is no longer relevant for us?

Well, it’s certainly relevant for many of our brothers and sisters around the world. It’s not many years ago that Christians who lived behind the iron curtain were going through persecution and torture and imprisonment because of their refusal to accept the absolute authority of the totalitarian state. I think of Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran pastor who was arrested in his native Romania in 1948 and spent eight and a half years in prison, during which time he was beaten and tortured. Released in 1956, he resumed his work in the underground church in Romania; he was arrested again in 1959 and spent four more years in prison. This time, after his release he was able to escape to the West, where he founded the ministry ‘Voice of the Martyrs’ to support the persecuted church behind the Iron Curtain. His is only one story among the thousands of Christians who suffered for their faith at the hands of the communist states of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China.

In other parts of the world this persecution continues to this day. I think of a Chaldean priest, Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, and three deacons from his church, who were killed in the city of Mosul in Iraq last year. They were driving in their car when they were stopped by armed men who demanded that they convert to Islam. When they refused, they were immediately shot. I think of Maher El-Gohary, who is currently on trial in Egypt for converting from Islam to Christianity; the lawyers for the prosecution have demanded that he be convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death. He recently said, “I have to go to court despite the danger. I believe God will protect me. It’s a very hard decision, but I have to go”.

And so this leads me to the question of the price I’m prepared to pay for my commitment to Christ. John Bowen likes to tell the story of a Christian friend of his who went for a job interview with a large company. At one point in the interview he was asked this question: “It’s clear from your resumé that you are a Christian. Does that mean, for instance, that you would not be prepared to lie for this company if we asked you to do it?” When the man confirmed that yes, that would be the case, the interview was concluded and he was not offered the job.

As in the story of Eric Liddell that we started with today, we have here another case of a confrontation of loyalties. This man was challenged about where his ultimate loyalty would lie – would it be to the Lord Jesus Christ, or to the company he worked for? We can imagine the inner struggle the man felt; no doubt he needed the job. However, ultimately he decided that his loyalty to Christ must come first, and he was prepared to pay the price for that loyalty.

Most of us, thinking about that sort of commitment, imagine that we would be the losers in this, but Jesus assures us that we won’t be. “For those who want to save their life will lose it”, he says, “and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (v.35). Ultimately, of course, he’s talking about eternal destiny here: those who are killed because of their loyalty to Jesus will be raised again on the last day and will live with him forever. As Jim Elliot, a Christian missionary who was himself killed by those he was trying to reach for the gospel, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”.

But there’s more to it than that. The word that the NRSV translates ‘life’ in this passage is literally ‘psyche’ – ‘soul’, but in the Bible that word doesn’t usually mean ‘the soul as opposed to the body’ – it means the whole person, our life, our very self. So in fact Jesus is giving us a choice between denying ourselves and denying ourselves! We can ‘deny ourself’ in the way that Eric Liddell did by refusing to go against his beliefs about Sunday observance, or in the way John Bowen’s friend did by refusing to put his need for a job ahead of his belief in honesty and integrity. But suppose they had made the opposite choice? Would they not also, in a sense, have been ‘denying themselves’ – denying who they were, denying their deepest beliefs in Jesus and his way? Would they not, if they had continued on this path, become really empty shells, with their deepest inner convictions gone, and nothing to take their place?

So the challenge in this passage is for us to be clear about where our loyalties lie. to take up our cross and follow him means that we make a decision to be loyal first of all to Jesus, the true King; it means to be clear and open about our commitment to him, and to be willing to take the consequences. But the good news is that ultimately we are not the loser in this transaction. Yes, in the short term there may be real pain, loss, even death. But in the long term we will save our lives – not just in the sense of our eternal destiny, but also in the sense of living in harmony with who we really are as followers of Jesus. William Barclay once said that Jesus promised his followers three things: that they would be full of joy, that they would have access to strength beyond their own, and that they would always be in trouble! May God give us the strength to accept that reality and to willingly pay the price because of the joy of knowing and following our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sermon for 1st Sunday on Lent: Mark 1:9-15

Filled with the Spirit, Tempted by the Devil

Toward the end of my time in my last parish, in the community of Valleyview, our little Anglican church held a Good Friday service together with two other local churches. No, not the United and Lutheran churches, which most people think of as being a bit closer to our Anglican way of doing things. In our case, it was a joint service with the Anglicans, the Baptists, and the Alliance Church. The service was held in our church building, and we used a simplified version of the Anglican Good Friday service. The Alliance pastor preached, and the Baptists led us in prayers at the foot of the cross. Our usual attendance on Good Friday at St. Anne’s had been in the mid-twenties, but on that day over ninety people crammed into our little church (which was comfortably full at seventy!). Afterwards we had all kinds of positive comments from members of all three congregations; it was a truly wonderful occasion.

But within a few months, conflicts in their own congregations had led to the resignations of both my pastoral colleagues in the Baptist and Alliance churches. It was as if we’d come down from the mountain of unity and love and cooperation and gone straight into the valley of darkness and conflict. And, reflecting on all this afterwards, it came to me that there might be more to that valley than most people were thinking. It reminded me of a story C.S. Lewis used to tell of his service as an infantry officer in the First World War. As a very young and green officer in the trenches, he suggested to his sergeant one day that they might do something aggressive, like tossing a grenade across into the enemy trenches. The sergeant frowned at him and replied, “Well, just as you like sir, but it’s like this, see: if we start doing that, we’re going to get something back!”

It came to me that bringing together three congregations not normally known for their closeness and cooperation was like lobbing a grenade into the enemy trenches. Yes, we definitely got somebody’s attention by doing that; somebody was not pleased to see these three congregations coming together and cooperating in such a successful way. Somebody, in fact, was determined to mess it up.

This is just one example of a spiritual principle that has been recognised by Christians down through our history: when God’s Holy Spirit is at work, the devil is never far behind. As long as you don’t make any progress for God – as long as your church is consumed with stuff that doesn’t really matter – as long as you personally aren’t growing in your Christian life – then the devil doesn’t have to worry about you. He’s got you exactly where he wants you, and there’s no need for him to take any special pains over you. But if you start to move forward, then you become a threat, and you’re going to start noticing opposition. Jesus experienced it, and his people throughout the ages have experienced it as well. I once heard Bishop Maurice Wood of Norwich say that the normal Christian life consists of these two realities: ‘filled with the Spirit, tempted by the Devil’. So there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re going through a time of testing and temptation: it’s just the normal Christian life, and the Spirit will help you to get through it.

We see this in our gospel reading for today. It starts with a wonderful experience in the life of Jesus: his baptism. Jesus’ relative John the Baptist was preaching the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God, and people were flocking to hear him from all over the country. Those who believed his message and wanted to live by it were invited to be baptised in the river, confessing their sins as they did so. Eventually, Jesus himself came down to join the people and went into the river to be baptised. But his baptism was different: ‘And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”’ (Mark 1:9-11).

We can imagine what a wonderful experience this was for Jesus. To hear the voice of his Father affirming that he was the Beloved Son; to experience the Holy Spirit filling him and equipping him for the ministry that was ahead of him – all this must have been a real ‘high’ for Jesus. But notice what happened immediately afterwards? ‘And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him’ (vv.12-13). How strange to read here that it was the Holy Spirit who led him – or ‘drove’ him, as the Bible says – into the desert to be tempted by the Devil! For Jesus, as for us followers of his, the two experiences went together – filled with and led by the Spirit, tempted by the Devil. Let’s think a bit more about this.

A famous movie maker once had a huge legal wrangle with a man who had been a long-time mentor and guide to him. The younger man couldn’t take criticism, and so he ended up rejecting the older man who had been such a strong influence on him. A close friend of both men summed up the problem in this way: ‘It was all about an ungenerous father, and a son looking for affirmation and love’.

This sort of thing happens all the time in our modern world. Many children grow up today without ever having heard a father say to them “You’re my dear child; I’m pleased with you and I’m proud of you”. In the western world men tend to feel shy about saying this sort of thing, and even fathers who feel it in their hearts often find it difficult to say it. And many kids, of course, experience the exact opposite: angry voices, rejection, and a door slammed in their faces.

In the face of this uncertainty and anxiety and fear about whether or not we are truly loved, the Christian gospel tells us about a God who sends his Holy Spirit to fill us for this very reason: to assure us that we are the children of God. St. Paul says in Romans 8: ‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (15-16). And because the Holy Spirit makes us the children of God, then what is true of Jesus is true of us as well: God looks at us and says, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter: I’m pleased with you and proud of you”.

This is the absolutely essential starting place for Christian faith. Those of us who are a bit long in the tooth will remember the words from ‘The Sound of Music’: ‘Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start!’ You don’t begin the Christian life with learning about how the church is organised. You don’t begin the Christian life by trying to obey the Ten Commandments. You certainly don’t begin the Christian life by getting a box of church envelopes, although we always like to encourage that at St. Margaret’s! No, you begin the Christian life by getting baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, who speaks to you quietly in your heart and says, “Don’t be afraid, Peter – don’t be afraid, Janet – God is your Father and you are his beloved child”.

What happens if you don’t have this? Well, every time you run into difficulty in your Christian life or you go through some sort of suffering, you’ll find yourself questioning God’s love for you. “What have I done wrong?” you’ll ask; “Why is God so mad at me?” Notice for a minute the assumption behind those words. The assumption is that you have to earn God’s love by being good, and if you don’t earn it, then God will make you suffer. But that’s not what the Christian gospel teaches. The gospel tells us that God doesn’t give us what we deserve; he gives us what we need. The gospel tells us that God’s love for us is unconditional – that God loves us, not because we’re such deserving cases, but just because it’s the nature of God to love. And if we find ourselves doubting that – if we find ourselves wondering whether in fact we are the children of God or whether in fact God loves us at all – then we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will fill us and give us the assurance that we need.

And let’s be clear that this point - lack of assurance - is exactly the point on which the enemy will attack us. Mark doesn’t give us any details about the temptations of Jesus; we have to turn to Matthew and Luke for that. And when we do so, we find them telling a story of an enemy who tries to create doubt in the mind of Jesus about his relationship with the Father. In each of the three temptations, he begins by whispering in Jesus’ ear, ‘If you are the Son of God…”, the implication being that if Jesus can’t or won’t do what the temptation suggests, then in fact he isn’t the Son of God.

This is not just an ancient episode in the life of Jesus; this is practical reality for many of us in our daily Christian walk. Our enemy knows very well how powerful this Christian assurance really is; if we are convinced that we’ve been adopted into God’s family by a gracious and loving heavenly Father who will never leave us or forsake us, then we can stop expending all our mental energy on anxiety about whether or not God loves us, and start spending our time and thought on how to make a difference in the world for Christ. That’s the last thing our enemy wants us to do! So he will be trying his best to create that nagging sense of doubt in our lives: “Is it really true that you’re a son of God, a daughter of God? Because if you really were God’s child, God wouldn’t want you to go through this particular sickness or family trial or work problem, would he? If you really were his child. he’d shield you from it. So maybe it isn’t true after all…”

Let’s remember what the Bible calls our enemy. He’s ‘the satan’, which in Greek means ‘the accuser’; he’s also called ‘the adversary’ and ‘the father of lies’. The lie is his strongest weapon, and the accusation is not far behind. We can get a bit confused about this, because sometimes the Holy Spirit points out our sins to us as well, but there’s a difference in the way he does it. When the Holy Spirit points out our sins, it’s not to condemn us, but to encourage us to repent and follow Jesus more closely. But when the enemy accuses us, it’s an attempt to make us think that we’re a hopeless case, that what we’ve just done is so awful that God couldn’t possibly forgive us – which, of course, is the father and mother of all lies.

The writers of the New Testament were well aware of this strategy of the enemy; they knew very well that he would come against Christians who were going through suffering and try to make them believe that they couldn’t possibly be God’s children if this was happening to them. The writer to the Hebrews takes the bull by the horns in chapter twelve of his letter, where he tells us that the truth is the exact opposite of what the enemy is saying. ‘Do you know an earthly father who doesn’t ever discipline his kids?’ he asks. ‘If parents can’t be bothered to discipline their kids, it’s usually a sign that the kids are not really theirs! But if Moms and Dads really love their kids, they always discipline them in order to guide them into the right path. So don’t be discouraged by the suffering that God is allowing in your life. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you – rather, it means that he does love you and wants to help you grow stronger in him’.

This was definitely Jesus’ experience. Verse 13 tells us that ‘He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan’. The word that we translate ‘tempted’ can also mean ‘tested’. A temptation is usually seen as a negative thing, but a ‘test’ isn’t necessarily negative. We think of a ship, which has been constructed and is then taken out to sea for its trials. During the trials, the ship will be put through its paces to make sure that all of the equipment is working properly; some of the trials will be stressful for the ship, but the purpose of the stress is good.

So we also will be ‘tested’. Some of the tests will indeed be temptations – temptations to fall short of God’s glorious ideal for us by not loving God with all our heart and not loving our neighbour as ourselves. We’ll be tempted to love something else more than God – whether it’s money and possessions, or success, or the good opinion of others, or anything else that can become a false god in our lives. We’ll be tempted to hate rather than love, to hoard rather than give, to lust after others rather than being faithful to our marriage partner, and so on. In all of these temptations, the answer is to look to the good example of Jesus and to pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us to be faithful to Jesus. The more we practice resisting, the stronger we will be.

But some of the tests will simply be ‘tests’. We Christians aren’t exempt from the normal trials of human beings – we get sick, we lose our jobs, we suffer bereavements, we have family conflicts, we have trouble making ends meet financially, and so on. We also face troubles because we’re Christians, because not everyone in our lives is going to be jumping for joy over the fact that we’re followers of Jesus! Jesus told us in John’s Gospel “In the world you face persecution. But take courage: I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33).

So - here’s the dual reality of the Christian life: filled with the Spirit, tempted by the devil. That’s what Jesus experienced, and we can expect to experience the same thing. Just because we’re being tested and tempted, it doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us and the Spirit has left us. This is simply the normal process of Christian growth. We might wish that it were not so. The great medieval mystic Lady Julian of Norwich once complained about her suffering to God, and it’s recorded that God replied to her, ‘This is how I treat my friends’, to which she responded in her rather blunt way, ‘Then, Lord, it’s not surprising that you have so few friends!’

Well, we probably feel some sympathy with Lady Julian, but we followers of Jesus can’t expect to avoid the way of the cross that he trod. So yes – we will be tested by suffering, we will be tempted, and our enemy will do all in his power to convince us that God has abandoned us and that we are not the children of God. But remember that our enemy is the accuser and the father of lies. God said to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”, and God sent his Holy Spirit to strengthen Jesus and equip him in his struggle against the enemy. God gives us the same gift today. In our baptism he adopted us into his family, and as we put our trust in Jesus he fills us with the same Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who assures us that we are God’s children and who strengthens us to follow Jesus.

So don’t listen to the lies of the enemy; listen rather to the voice of God who tells you, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter; I’m pleased with you”. It’s unlikely that those lies will ever completely go away, but the more we practice ignoring them and listening to the voice of God instead, the stronger we’ll be in our Christian life. May God give us strength by his Holy Spirit to resist the tests and temptations of the enemy, and to believe and follow the voice of God instead.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekly Calendar for March 9-15, 2009

Monday, March 9th
Tim Off

Tuesday, March 10th
8:30 am Morning Prayer @ Holy Trinity Riverbend
11:15 am St. Joseph’s Eucharist
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys 780-435-3488
7:00-9:00 “Seeking the Face of God” Communion & Lent Course

Thursday, March 12th
7:00am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café

Saturday, March 14th
10:00-12 noon Saturday Morning Coffee

Sunday, March 15th
9.00 am Holy Eucharist,
10.30 am Holy Eucharist and Sunday School

Growing Prayer @ St.Margaret’s:
Each week we offer special prayers for two families in our congregation.

Church Families: Lydia De Jong
Andrea Deakin
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Intercessors

ICPM (Inner City Pastoral Ministry) March ’09 ministry fundraiser is our current project as a church until June ’09. Our goal is to raise $5000 in this time. The current totals for ICPM are $205.00

ICPM Profile 2009
The Inner City Pastoral Ministry is an interdenominational Christian Ministry of Presence. In partnership with the community, and guided by the Spirit of God, we walk with the people of the Inner City of Edmonton.
The Pastoral Team consists of Pastor Rick Chapman, and two part time Pastoral Associates, Sister Marion SCIC, and Linda Winski. The Ministry Team actively seeks to engage the people of Edmonton’s Inner City community, many of whom are homeless and suffer from the effects of poor mental health and addictions. Sister Marion and Linda focus a good portion of their ministry toward women visiting in the local shelters, WEAC, Eliz House and the Federal Penitentiary. Pastor Rick is busy visiting Drop Ins, Friendship Centres, Shelters, Health Clinic, Hospitals, Remand, Addictions Rehab Centres, Rooming House and Homes; the everyday bread of this ministry. We prayerfully walk with people in difficult circumstance.

The ICPM has served the people of the inner city for more then thirty years offering:
  • Interdenominational worship services Sunday by Sunday
  • Pastoral care, spiritual support through visiting, listening, counselling, prayer and advocacy for those feeling rejected and forgotten
  • Support of food, clothing and shelter through church donations and through referrals with partnering inner city agencies
  • Opportunities for the faith community to participate in the ministry of ICPM
The Board of ICPM and the Ministry Team wish to thank you for your prayerful support for this ministry through, St Margaret’s Sunday Lunch Volunteers and the financial support of individuals and St. Margaret’s as you uphold this unique and invaluable ministry.

Pastor Rick Chapman ,ICOM Nancy Kerr Chair ICPM

St. Margaret’s 2009
Sharing the Gospel . Going for Growth!

Irish Stew Potluck Supper: Dig out your Green formal wear and join us for a fun evening on March 20th. This will be a true potluck! Sign up sheet is in the Foyer.

Lent Course: Making Lent more meaningful…First 4 Tuesdays in March! We encourage you to take part in this inspirational time of “Seeking the Face of God” 7pm Communion, 7:30pm Course Begins See sign-up sheet in Foyer or call the church office to attend.

Did you know that the old Saxon word, Lent, meant "long" and was used to describe the days that get longer? In Middle English it came to mean "spring" as in the season of spring. The fast was originally meant to be a time of light and renewal, in preparation for the breaking of the 40 day fast, at the feast of all church feasts, Easter.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I myself may always be holy.
— Augustine of Hippo