Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekly Calendar for April 27 - May 3

Monday, April 27th
Tim Off

Tuesday, April 28st
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys

Thursday, April 30th
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café
3:30 pm Corporation Meting @ Bogani Cafe

Friday, May 1st
Dessert/Coffee Newcomers’ Evening (7:00 pm)

Sunday, May 3rd
9.00 am Holy Eucharist, followed by COMBINED COFFEE
10.30 am Holy Eucharist & Sunday School
12Noon Fellowship downstairs, Church clean-up & Appreciation Luncheon for Elizabeth Bai

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

Church Families: Ronald Goss and Alex Greenwood
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Treasurer and Envelope Secretary

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 $5485.00. We reached our goal, but will continue to collect funds until the end of June!!

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

Outreach News: We want to know what you are involved in for ministry or volunteering in and around Edmonton! Please see the sheet in the Foyer and give your information. We want to build on what our parishioners are already involved in!

All Newcomers to St. Margaret’s!
Mark your calendars for Friday May 1! We will have a dessert and coffee fellowship time, give a short history of the parish and share ideas for our community at 7:00 pm.

ATTENTION ST. M’S!! On Sunday May 3rd following the 10:30 am service there will be a brief churchyard clean-up followed by a celebration luncheon downstairs in honor of Elizabeth Bai and in thanksgiving for her years of music ministry at St. Margaret’s. Everyone is invited to join in this time of fellowship and show their appreciation.

Senior's Luncheon Thurs. May 7th. at 11:30 a.m. here at the church. Virginia Haase will be sharing her special stained glass art work! Anyone of all ages who has an interest in this subject is most welcome to join us. Please call Pat Leney or Julia Holmes if you would like to attend .

University of Alberta Chaplaincy Dinner and Silent Auction: Meet new University Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Oliver, and hear about the chaplaincy ministry on campus Thursday, May 7th, 6:00 pm at the Faculty Club, U of A. Guest speaker Dr. Chris Herd, Professor of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, will share his views on academics and the Christian faith. Tickets ($45) Call Susan Fredette. Wine will be available (cash only).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon for April 26th: Luke 24:36-49.

Welcome to the Adventure!

For many years now I’ve been a great fan of the BBC science fiction series ‘Dr. Who’. I won’t attempt to describe this show for those of you who haven’t encountered it; the point I want to make this morning is that in this series the Doctor and his companions often meet beings from other planets, or even from other dimensions of reality altogether. In one episode a few years ago, the Doctor and his companion Rose arrived in nineteenth century Cardiff just in time to confront an outbreak of dead bodies which had begun to get up like zombies and walk around the city. It eventually turned out that these bodies were being animated by gaseous creatures, who were coming through a rift in the continuum of time and space. I have to tell you that the first time I saw one of those zombie-like people, the hair stood up on the back of my neck – even though I knew it was only a TV show!

And yet, the stories of Jesus’ resurrection have been so cozily domesticated among us that they don’t terrify us at all; we’ve read these stories before, we know what’s going on, and it’s very hard for us to enter into the experience of those early Christians. Imagine what it was like for them, the first time they saw the risen Jesus standing among them! What must they have thought? “Is this a ghost? Is this a zombie? Or have we all gone stark staring mad?”

Here’s a list of the reactions provoked by the resurrection of Jesus in Luke chapter 24: the disciples are described as ‘perplexed’, ‘terrified’, ‘unbelieving’, ‘amazed’, ‘foolish and slow of heart’, ‘startled and terrified’, ‘frightened’, ‘doubtful’, ‘disbelieving and wondering’, ‘worshipping’, and ‘blessing God’. It sounds to me as if their entire world had been shaken to its foundations! I don’t think it felt at all like a cosy fireside chat with gentle Jesus, meek and mild!

The days between the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completely transformed these early Christians. Something happened to take these frightened and dispirited people and galvanize them into mission. They went from hiding behind locked doors for fear of the high priest’s death squads, to being committed and persuasive evangelists who went out, seemingly without any fear at all, and boldly proclaimed that Jesus was alive and that he was God’s victorious King. What was it that had such a powerful impact on them?

First: they met the risen Lord. Look again at verses 36-40:
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you”. They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”. And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

The way a lot of Christians talk about the risen Jesus today, you’d think they have him in their back pockets, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice whenever there’s an unbeliever who needs impressing. This ‘Jesus’ seems more like the rabbit that the magician pulls out of his hat than the unpredictable and awe-inspiring risen Lord of the New Testament. But the true risen Jesus is completely outside of our control. The closer we get to him, the more we realise that we’re not in charge of things any more. You can make your plans, you can think you have reality figured out, you can deal with a troublemaker and put him in his place – with nails, if necessary – and then suddenly God acts, and everything is completely transformed.

That’s the way it was with these early disciples after Easter. They might be meeting in an upper room with the doors locked – and there he was! They might be going for a walk in the countryside – and there he was beside them! They might be out fishing on the lake – there he was again! His appearances were completely unpredictable – and completely outside the disciples’ control.

We mustn’t lose sight of the awe and fear this provoked. We tend to emphasise the joy of the resurrection, and well we might, because the disciples were indeed full of joy when they saw the Risen Lord. But at the same time we mustn’t isolate this word, and think of it as the one totally adequate word to describe their response. We read in this passage that they were startled, terrified, afraid to believe their eyes, frightened, and wondering. Apparently that’s what it’s like to have an encounter with the Risen Jesus; as C.S. Lewis said about Aslan the Lion in the Narnia stories, he’s not a tame lion - he’s not safe, but he’s good!

Now I don’t know about you, but I feel a little envious of those early apostles. I mean, even though I understand that they were terrified out of their wits when they first saw the risen Lord, I think I could live with that terror if it meant having a chance to see Jesus alive again from the dead. I’d like to have been there in the early morning when Mary and the others went to the tomb; I’d like to have been walking on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples who met him there; I’d like to have joined the disciple group for that breakfast beside the Lake of Galilee when Jesus cooked for them after they’d caught the enormous catch of fish. I’d love to have had the chance to see him alive again as they did.

The thing is, not many Christians had that experience. After Jesus ascended into heaven, those appearances almost completely stopped; even in the Book of Acts, they are almost completely absent. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus is absent; it just means that he now makes himself present to his followers in a new way, through the Holy Spirit who comes to live in them. We’ll talk a bit more about that in a few minutes, but for now I’ll just say that it’s by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and being filled with the Holy Spirit day by day, that we get to know the Risen Lord Jesus today. And it’s the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit that will transform us as those early disciples were transformed by their meetings with the risen Lord.

So those first disciples met the risen lord, and this experience had a powerful impact on them. But they were good Jewish boys, and they needed to see how this fit into the story of their people, the story they found recorded in their scriptures. And so another thing that had a powerful impact on them was the way Jesus helped them to understand the purposes of God.

These guys were completely confused after Good Friday. They had believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the King who God was going to use to drive out their enemies and set Israel free. But when they saw the Romans kill him, their faith was shaken to the core: how could God let the Messiah be defeated? And so their agenda changed; let’s just keep our heads down and try to stay out of the way, and when the dust settles we can head back to Galilee.

Jesus changes all that. Look at verses 44-47:
Then he spoke to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled”. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day…”

‘He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures’. No doubt he reminded them of passages like Isaiah 53 which speak about the Lord laying on him the sin of us all, or Psalm 22 where the Lord’s servant cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. He helped them to see that the death he’d suffered on the cross wasn’t just a tragic accident, but was part of the plan from the very beginning. And suddenly the light went on in their minds; the only way they could think of later to explain their sudden understanding was to say that he had ‘opened their minds’.

But he didn’t just change their view of God’s purposes for the past; he changed their view of the future too – their future. He says ‘Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in (the Messiah’s) name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’. It was the job of these early followers to spread this good news, and to invite people to turn to God and receive forgiveness through Christ. And of course this mission to spread the Gospel and invite people to become followers of Jesus is still given to us today. Not all Christians have the gift of evangelism, but Jesus tells all his disciples here, without exception, that they are ‘witnesses’.

Humanly speaking, I am a Christian today because a witness told his story. In my case, he told his story by writing a book about his experiences of the Holy Spirit; the book was called Nine O’Clock in the Morning, and the author was a man named Dennis Bennett. This book got my attention as a young teenager, because it described a God who could do real things in the lives of real people. I was hungry for such a God. This book prompted me to embark on a journey of discovery that ultimately led me to Christ. That’s the power of a Christian’s story.

Of course, not all of us write books about our stories! Nor do we have to. All we have to do is to make a reasonable attempt to live the Christian life in the eyes of our friends, relatives and work colleagues, pray for opportunities to put in a word of witness, and then respond faithfully when those opportunities come.

‘All we have to do?’ I hear you saying; ‘Tim, don’t you understand how terrifying that is? Don’t you understand how totally inadequate we feel?’ Well, yes, I do understand that; I suspect that those early Christians felt exactly the same way! How could they possibly face such a prospect?

They could face it because of the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says to them, “And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (v.49). In other words, Jesus’ message is “Relax, people! I know I’m giving you a big job, but you aren’t going to be alone in doing it. The Holy Spirit is going to come and live in you, and he will give you the strength and wisdom you need to do the job!” And that same word is true for us today as well.

It’s the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to know the risen Lord and to share his good news with others. And just like it was with the appearances of the risen Jesus, we aren’t in control of what the Holy Spirit will do and when he will do it. Yes, we pray that he will come and live in us, and God has promised to answer that prayer. Yes, we pray that he will fill us every day and transform us into the likeness of Jesus. But Jesus warned us that the Holy Spirit is like the wind: ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’ (John 3:8). If you like your religion under control, best to stay away from the Holy Spirit!

Let me tell you about an experience I had at Regent College a few years ago. I was sitting one evening in a circle of about thirty pastors, having what our group leader described as ‘a time of intentional listening to God’. I’ve often been skeptical of this sort of thing, and as this time began, I started to feel the same sort of skepticism. But then things began to happen. Across the other side of the circle, someone said, “I’m getting the sense that there’s a pastor here who is watching life turn into death before your eyes, and it’s tearing you apart”. And then a woman sitting two places away from me began to weep and said, “That’s me”. It turned out that she was the assistant pastor in a church; a new senior pastor had recently arrived and his misguided ministry was totally destroying the spiritual life there.

For the next hour, this sort of thing happened over and over again. I have to tell you, it wasn’t very comfortable! I was terrified that at some point God was going to reveal my secret besetting sins to someone else in the group! Afterwards I went back to my room and spent a lot of time thinking and praying about why I was so uncomfortable. Eventually I realised: it was because the whole thing was completely out of my control. I can control the preparation of a good sermon; I can control a well-run church. But I have no control about whether the Holy Spirit is going to do something obvious, in my life or in the lives of others. All I can do is hold myself in readiness, knowing that he might show up at any time.

And that’s what makes being witnesses for Jesus an adventure! It’s not about designing a foolproof program to reach every home in our neighbourhoods with the good news of Jesus. Rather, it’s about praying that the Holy Spirit will fill us and then guide us each day to the people he’s already working on, praying that he will give us ears to listen to them and words to speak at the right time. It’s a partnership with God, and anyone who’s willing can join the partnership.

So let’s take Jesus up on this promise. Every morning, let’s come to him in prayer: “Lord, please give me opportunities today to be a witness for you, and also, please fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I can recognise those opportunities and make the best possible use of them”. But if we pray like that, we should watch out! God will indeed start sending people our way; we’ll discover to our surprise that the Holy Spirit is working through us to touch peoples’ lives and bring them a step closer to Jesus.

It’s an adventure, this life with the Risen Jesus, and like all good adventures it’s got a certain amount of scariness attached to it. We never know when the Risen Jesus is going to show up. We can be quietly going about our business, and then something happens, and we suddenly realise that we’ve encountered something – or Someone – that is completely outside our control! It’s like we’re playing a game of pool, and we think we know where our ball is going to end up, but then suddenly some invisible force raises the other side of the pool table, and suddenly we’re dealing with a completely different set of circumstances.

This is not about religion. Religion is about ceremonies and rituals that are predictable and safe. The Jewish people wanted a religion; when they saw the awesome God, they said to Moses, “You go talk to him for us; we’ll do whatever you say!” They set up a religious system to keep God at arms’ length, with Moses as their priest. Today, lots of people do the same thing.

But Christianity isn’t meant to be that sort of religion; it’s meant to be a transformational encounter with the Risen Lord by the power of his Holy Spirit. It’s unpredictable and thrilling, it’s scary and exhilarating, it’s joyful and dangerous. To put your trust in Jesus is to get on board for a roller coaster ride. Where’s it going to end? I have absolutely no idea – that’s completely up to him! But don’t worry; it’s true that he’s not a tame lion, and that he’s not safe – but he is good, and you can trust him to guide you through this adventure with love.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

May Roster - 2009

May 3- Easter 4- Eucharist
Greeter/Sidespeople: C. & M. Aasen
Counter: C. Aasen & D. Schindel
Reader: B. Mirtle
Readings: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24
Lay Administrants: A. Zinck, V. Haase
Intercessor: T. Chesterton
Lay Reader: L. Thompson John 10:11-18
Altar Guild (Red) 9am J. Mill/10:30 L. Schindel
Prayer Team during Communion: M. Chesterton, E. Gerber
Nursery Supervisor: K. Hughes
Sunday School: C. Ripley
Kitchen: JOINT COFFEE J. Mill

May 10- MOTHER’S DAY!! Morning Prayer -Easter5
Greeter/Sidespeople: E. & D. Mitty
Counter: D. Mitty & B. Rice
Reader: T. Wittkopf
Readings: Acts 8:26-40, Psalm 22: 24-30, 1 John 4:7-21
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill/L. Thompson John 15:1-8
Nursery Supervisor: G. Hughes
Sunday School: P. Ripley
Kitchen: S. Gerber and friends

May 17- Eucharist- Easter 6 - Frank Wilson Guest Priest
Greeter/Sidespeople: D. & L. Schindel
Counter: D. Schindel & B. Rice
Reader: T. Rayment
Readings: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6
Lay Administrants: G. Hughes, D. MacNeill
Intercessor: P. Leney
Lay Reader: E. Gerber John 15:9-17
Altar Guild (White) 9am M Woytkiw /10:30 am P. Major
Prayer Team during Communion: K. Hughes, L. Sanderson
Nursery: M. Aasen
Sunday School: S. Chesterton
Kitchen: J. Holmes

May 24- Easter 7- Morning Prayer
Greeter/Sidespeople: S. & E. Gerber
Counter: E. Gerber & B. Rice
Reader: C. Aasen
Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13
Intercessor: M. Rys
Lay Reader: M. Penner & D. MacNeill John 17:6-19
Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin
Sunday School: P. Rayment
Kitchen: D. Molloy

May 31- Pentecost- Eucharist - Frank Wilson Guest Priest
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy
Counter: T. Willacy & G. Hughes
Reader: T. Cromarty
Readings: Ezekiel 37:l-14; Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35
Lay Administrants: M. Penner, A. Zinck
Intercessor: M. Penner
Lay Reader: E. Gerber John 15:26-27
Altar Guild (Red) 9 am M. Lobreau /10:30 am L. Pyra
Prayer Team during Communion: K. Hughes, M Rys
Nursery Supervisor: C. Ripley
Sunday School: M. Cromarty
Kitchen: P. Leney

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekly Calendar for April 20-26

Monday, April 20th
Tim Off

Tuesday, April 21st
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys

Wednesday April 22nd
(Red)imo Café Night @ St. Matthias 7:30- “coffee house” worship with the music of U2 and scripture “God in the Music of U2” All are welcome to attend this “coffee house” style worship event celebrating God in the music of U2. St. Matthias Anglican Church 6210 – 188 Street Wednesday, April 22nd 7:30 pm. A free-will offering will be taken for the Stephen Lewis Foundation which supports community-based organizations that are turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Thursday, April 23rd
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café

Sunday April 26th
9.00 am Morning Prayer followed by COMBINED COFFEE
10.30 am Morning Prayer and Sunday School

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

Church Families: The Gariepy family
Stan and Elaine Gerber
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Combined Coffee 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 $5265.00 We reached our goal, but will continue to collect funds until the end of June!!

Outreach News: We want to know what you are involved in for ministry or volunteering in and around Edmonton! Please see the sheet in the Foyer and give your information. We want to build on what our parishioners are already involved in!

All Newcomers to St. Margaret’s!
Mark your calendars for Friday May 1! We will have a dessert and coffee fellowship time, give a short history of the parish and share ideas for our community.

May 3rd Church Clean-up Day!! Bring your overalls to church and after the 10:30 service we will help clean up the church grounds!

Senior's Luncheon Thurs. May 7th. at 11:30 a.m. here at the church. Virginia Haase will be sharing her special stained glass art work! Anyone of all ages who has an interest in this subject is most welcome to join us. Please call Pat Leney or Julia Holmes if you would like to attend .

University of Alberta Chaplaincy Dinner and Silent Auction: Meet new University Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Oliver, and hear about the chaplaincy ministry on campus Thursday, May 7th, 6 pm at the Faculty Club, UofA. Guest speaker Dr. Chris Herd, professor of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, will share his views on academics and the Christian faith. Tickets ($45) Call Susan Fredette. Wine will be available (cash only).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Voices for Habitat

Voices for Habitat 2009 will take place at St. Timothy's Anglican Church (corner of 145 St. and 84th Avenue in Edmonton) on Sunday April 19th. Doors will open at 6.00 p.m. for a Silent Auction along with a Café and Wine Bar. The concert will begin at 7.00 p.m. and it's my privilege to be the MC for the evening.

The concert will feature the following musicians:

Erin Faught and Adam Buttram

Erin Faught and Adam Buttram grew up together in Beaumont as neighbours and close friends. In their high school years, both picked up the guitar and other instruments, each developing a distinct musical voice and style. Adam quickly became a proficient guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, quickly growing into a distinct artist with his percussion infused guitar style and talents on foreign instruments like the didgeridoo. Though Erin initially focused on honing her skills as a guitarist, she inevitably discovered her true musical passion in singing and songwriting. Erin’s unique voice cannot be confined to one genre, ranging from a strong, soulful blues to a soft, moving melody. Together, the two form an exciting duo, with Adam’s unique instrumental style fusing seamlessly with Erin’s strong vocals and harmonies. Never ones to fall into any category, they are always experimenting with new techniques, including their popular looper pedals, infusion of blues and rock influences into their acoustic melodies, and molding popular hits into entirely new songs, making them completely their own. Their written material is reflective of their maturity and insight, as well as the musical talent that exceeds their youth. No two of their original songs ever sounds the same.

Erin and Adam have quickly developed a loyal fan base and are constantly making an effort to let their fans feel included in their shows. Quick to develop a rapport with their audiences, their performances are intimate no matter what the venue and the two have earned respect not only because of their musical talents, but because of their sincerity and genuine caring for their rapidly growing support circle. Their onstage banter is witty and light, often downright goofy, making them an accessible and warm pair. Their passion for music is clear in every performance, and they are able to bring meaning to every song they play by being gracious and joyful. As they continue to strengthen and grow with every performance, it is easy to see that this duo has much to share and a bright future awaiting them.

Erin Faught.
Adam Buttram

Jodi Penner

It's hard to peg Jodi in a certain genre. She successfully pulls off opera, celtic, musical theatre, singer/songwriter and sacred music with little effort. Her pure gentle sound can soothe a weary soul or send earth-shattering vibrations through the walls! An active voice teacher, her personal goal is to minister to people through the gift of music. It doesn't matter if it's on stage, in a living room or church, music is a powerful way to touch people’s lives. Jodi can be seen this summer in Rosebud Theatre's production of "Man of La Mancha" running May 29-August 30 2009. You can also pick up her album from her website.

Jay Anthony Willis

Jay is an Edmonton-raised award winning singer-songwriter, whose songs are an amazingly versatile blend of latin-jazz, folk and blues. His first album titled “Jay Anthony Willis” will be officially released at the Yardbird Suite on 26 April 2009 .

Jay is a high-spirited performer, who sings like a bird, and brings the gift of love, laughter, and seriously good grooves to his audience. When he’s not doing his solo act, or playing with the Jay Anthony Willis Trio, he works as an employment specialist at On Site Placement Services, helping people with disabilities find work.

Jay Anthony Willis

The Piatta Forma Singers

The Piatta Forma singers took our concert by storm last year, and we're delighted to have them back for a second booking. They are a community choir of 40 persons, which calls Leduc, Alberta home. In its tenth year, the mixed choir grew from a small group of singers who committed to disciplined weekly practice because of their desire to sing. Under the direction of Arlene Klonteig, this small group has continually grown in number and in its repertoire of music. Present musical offerings include medieval madrigals, folksong, Canadian ballads, classical, sacred, and contemporary pieces. Winner of awards at regional and provincial level, adjudicators have commended the choir for its rich melodic and balanced sound.

While performing at a regional level, the choir is mindful of its community roots. Each Christmas season concerts are presented in various community settings. The proceeds of the concerts are given to local and regional food banks bringing thousands of dollars to those charities.

Martin Kerr

“Martin Kerr is the last person you would have expected to see on Canadian Idol. The British-born musician writes smart, Crowded House-style tunes about love, marriage and the undiscovered geniuses who don't subject themselves to the rigmaroles of a manufactured reality TV show.” (Edmonton Journal) Nevertheless, while busking one day he was persuaded to try out by an eager listener, and suddenly found himself in the Top 16, singing for 2 million viewers.

On his travels to 30 nations he has released two folk-pop albums, 'I Know You're Out There' and 'justanotherman', selling 3000 copies out of his backpack. His character education songs for children are used in schools around the world. Now settled in Edmonton, Martin mainly performs at house concerts, places of worship, charity events and schools.

Martin Kerr Music

Jeremy Spurgeon

After early studies in London, Jeremy Spurgeon won scholarships to study both piano accompaniment and organ at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, and later studied organ at the Geneva Conservatoire where he gained the Premier Prix de la Classe de Virtuosite. His teachers have been Eileen Sullivan, Eric Pask, Lorna Sergeant, Ronald Frost, Eric Chadwick, Lionel Rogg and Dame Gillian Weir.

In 1980, Jeremy took up the position as director of music at All Saints' Anglican Cathedral in Edmonton, Alberta. Since then, he has appeared in concert with many ensembles, singers and instrumentalists in Canada, the United States and Europe.

As well as his many and varied cathedral duties, Jeremy has a busy concert schedule. During the past season, he has played in performances of Britten's Canticles I and II, Britten's Winter Words, Schubert's Die Schone Mullerin, Bach's St John Passion, Dvorak's Cello Concerto, Janacek's Glagolitic Mass, Respighi's Pines of Rome, Shostakovitch's 13th Symphony, Handel's Messiah and Vivaldi's Four Seasons to name but a few. Jeremy is the resident accompanist for Pro Coro Canada, Edmonton's semi-professional choir and recently appeared on Bravo! TV with aspiring singers from western Canada. He is heard frequently on CBC radio.

His favourite pastime is cycling in rural France with the wind behind him.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith - Coming to Canada after receiving her Masters of Music from the University of Michigan, Janet Smith first lived in Toronto and was a member of both the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble and the Elmer Iseler Singers. She has done many recordings for CBC Radio, sung many contemporary music premieres, and appeared as soloist with orchestras including the Toronto Symphony, Hamilton Philharmonic, and Thirteen Strings of Ottawa.

In April 2006, she sang Bacchianas Brasilieras #5, by Heitor Villa-Lobos, with the Edmonton Symphony. The Edmonton Journal wrote, "...the most spectacular part of the afternoon came from the sound of the human voice. Soprano Janet Smith's performance - at times strikingly serene, at times strikingly passionate - was astonishing." Now living in the Edmonton area, she is a co-founder and original soprano of Alberta Opera Touring Association, a long-time singer with Pro Coro Canada, a frequent soloist with area choirs, and continues to be a specialist in contemporary music.

Tickets for the evening are $10 and are available from Tix on the Square, Myhre's Music, Acoustic Music Shop, from me, and at the door.

Sermon for Easter Sunday: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Remember the Gospel!

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of talking with someone who has completely lost their memory – either because of trauma to the head, or some sort of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m not talking about someone who just has lapses now; I’m talking about someone who has absolutely no memory of the past. Can you imagine how frightening, how totally disorienting, that must be? How do you know who you are, if you can’t remember where you’ve come from? How do you know who you can trust, or who loves you, or who your family members are? Truly, memory is one of God’s most important and most precious gifts to us.

In our first scripture reading this morning, St. Paul has some words to say to a group of Christians who were in danger of losing their memory. This reading comes from a letter St. Paul wrote to the Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth, probably around 58 A.D. The little house churches in Corinth had all sorts of problems, and Paul spends the first fourteen chapters of this letter dealing with them. But in chapter fifteen he comes back to the central issue, and he begins in verse 1 with these words: ‘Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which you also stand’.

If I feel that it’s necessary to remind someone of something, it would usually be because I think they are in danger of forgetting it. For instance, I don’t remind my son to go out and spend time with his friends, because he never seems to be in danger of forgetting them! However, I do remind him to take his house key with him when he goes out, because from time to time he has forgotten that rather important item! So if Paul feels it necessary to remind the Christians in Corinth about the good news, or gospel, that he proclaimed to them, it must be because he thinks they are in danger of forgetting it.

How could that be? How could a Christian church forget the good news of Jesus Christ, the ‘gospel’ as we call it, which is the central Christian message? Sadly, it happens all the time; churches easily get distracted. They get caught up in the propagation of Anglican tradition, or they become obsessed with single issues like homosexuality, or they get caught up in buildings and liturgies and theological controversies. Individuals forget the gospel as well; in fact, maybe they’ve never even heard it for the first time. I’ve explained the good news of Jesus to hundreds of people down through the years of my ministry, and I’ve stopped being surprised at the number of church people who tell me they’re hearing it for the first time.

So, what is this good news that Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians? First, it’s not about what people do, but about what God does for them. Second, it’s not about ideas but about historical events and what they mean. Third, it’s not just a matter of hearsay, but of personal experience. Let’s look a little more closely at this; you might like to turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, on page 176 in the New Testament.

First, then, the good news isn’t about what we do, but about what God does for us. If you think about it for a moment, you will quickly see that there’s a world of difference between good news and good advice. We parents give our kids good advice all the time – at least, we think it’s good advice! Get enough sleep, clean up your room, study hard, get a good summer job, etc. etc. – it all seems vital to us, but after a while their eyes start to glaze over, they’ve heard it so many times before! But if we share some real good news, they wake up with a start!

When I ask people what they think the central Christian message is, the most common reply is usually ‘love thy neighbour’ or ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’. But this can’t be the central Christian message, because in the New Testament the central Christian message is described as the ‘gospel’, which means ‘good news’. But ‘love your neighbour’ is not good news; it’s good advice! Very good advice, and I don’t have a word to say against it, but it’s just not the first and most important thing in the New Testament.

The good news isn’t about what we do, it’s about what God does for us. And when Paul talks about what God does for us in this passage, the word he uses is ‘saved’:
‘Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved’ (vv.1-2a).
In our society today, ‘saved’ is a word that is usually associated with a particular kind of Christian – and not a kind that a lot of Anglicans feel comfortable with – the sort of person who goes up to a total stranger on the street and asks, ‘Are you saved?’ The reason many people find that offensive is because the message they hear behind the words is “I’m better than you” – and of course, if that is the message that’s being communicated, then we’re right to feel offended.

But if you think about what the word ‘saved’ actually means, it’s obvious that the last thing that’s really being communicated is a message of superiority. Imagine if I were to get myself into trouble swimming in the ocean – perhaps through going into the water from a beach where there’s a clear sign for all to see saying, “No swimming”, because the currents are dangerous. Let’s suppose I’m being pulled out to sea by the dangerous current, and I’m on the point of exhaustion and drowning, when along comes a lifeguard boat, and I’m plucked from the sea and rescued. If I were to cry out at that point, “Thank God, I’ve been saved!” it would obviously not be a claim to be better than anyone else. Rather, it would be an admission of stupidity and helplessness: I was silly enough to swim where I shouldn’t have been swimming, and through my own fault I was on the point of drowning. I couldn’t save myself, but these lifeguards came and saved me.

That’s the situation that we’re in, according to the New Testament. The human race has rebelled against God and chosen the way of sin instead. This sin is leading to all kinds of trouble – family breakdown, hatred, prejudice, murder, greed, poverty, and so on. Furthermore, this sin has caused a breach in our relationship with the God who created us. But God in his mercy and love has made a way for us to be forgiven our sins and to be set free from the chains that bind us, a way for us to face the future with hope and not fear. This is what the good news is all about. It’s not about what we can do, but about what God has done for us.

What has God done for us then? The second thing about the good news is that it’s not about ideas, but about historical events and what they mean. Look at verses 3-7:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received; that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Paul lists four events in these verses; two of them are the central facts, and the other two are there by way of confirmation of the truth of the first two. First, he says, ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures’. Then comes ‘he was buried’, which is a confirmation of the fact of his death. Thirdly we read ‘that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures’, and this is followed by a list of people he appeared to, which is a confirmation of the truth of his resurrection. So the death and resurrection, and what they mean, are the vital things here; the other two events, the burial and the appearances, confirm them.

‘Christ died for our sins’. The death of Jesus on the cross is not just a tragedy or a historical accident; it is ‘according to the scriptures’, that is to say, it’s been part of the plan of God from the beginning of the Bible story. On Good Friday, the Roman governor released a prisoner called Barabbas because the people asked for him, and condemned Jesus to death in his place. Jesus was innocent, but Barabbas was guilty; you might say that Jesus died in Barabbas’ place, so that Barabbas could go free. And so it is with us; we are the guilty ones, but Jesus offered himself, out of love for the whole world, in obedience to his Father, so that we could be reconciled to God. Forgiveness is now freely offered to all people as the love of God is poured out into the world through Jesus and his cross.

But the death is only the beginning; the event that really transformed the early Christians was the resurrection. Before Easter Sunday they were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the authorities, but after they met the Risen Lord they left their fears behind. They had seen the rulers of this world kill Jesus, but his resurrection showed that the power of love really was stronger than the love of power – that love really is stronger than death. That’s why they went around the world fearlessly, many of them going to their deaths with joy, because they knew that the same God who had raised Jesus from the dead would one day raise them from the dead as well.

It’s understandable that many people would find it difficult to believe this story. First century people were as sceptical about it as we are today; that’s why Paul adds the confirming event of all the eyewitnesses. He lists them as people known to his Corinthian friends: Peter saw him (Cephas is another name for Peter), then the twelve, then about five hundred at once (most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote), then James, then all the apostles. It’s as if he’s saying to us, “You don’t need to be in any doubt over this; he was raised from the dead, and there are hundreds of people who saw him alive again”.

So the good news tells us that the tyrannical rulers who crucified Jesus – the Jewish authorities, and the Roman governor and the emperor he represented – are not the real lords of the world. Jesus Christ is Lord over all – even over death itself. So we can boldly go out and live in his name, confident that even death is not the end for us; that as he was raised, so one day we also will be raised from the dead and will live with him forever.

But you don’t have to settle for someone else’s testimony to the Risen Jesus; the third thing Paul wants us to know in this passage is that this is not just a matter of hearsay but of personal experience. Look at verse 8:
‘Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain’ (vv.8-10a).
Paul had a dramatic experience of the risen Christ. He was riding his donkey to the city of Damascus where he intended to hunt down Christians and arrest them. But on the way he was blinded by a great light from heaven; he fell from his donkey and then heard the voice of Christ speaking to him. From that moment on the persecutor of Christians became a Christian himself, and went on to be the great missionary of the early years of the church.

I’ve never had that sort of dramatic encounter with Jesus, but here’s what I have experienced. When I was two months old my parents had me baptized in St. Barnabas’ church in Leicester, in England, because they wanted me to grow up as a follower of Jesus. They took me to church every Sunday and they taught me the Bible stories and prayed with me. And then one evening in my early teens my father challenged me to make a decision of my own, a decision to give my life to Jesus. I went up to my room and prayed a simple prayer in exactly those terms: giving my life to Jesus. I didn’t have a dramatic experience like Paul, but I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that Christ came into my life in a new and fresh way that night, and that event has transformed my life.

So here is the good news that Paul wants to remind us about. It’s not about what we do, but about what God has done for us, saving us from the power of sin that was about to overwhelm us. It’s not about philosophical ideas, but about what Jesus did for us by his death for our sins and his resurrection on the third day. And although these events happened two thousand years ago, we don’t have to be content with second hand knowledge of them; we can know the Risen Christ ourselves today and experience the saving power that Paul talks about.

My brothers and sisters, don’t forget this good news! Don’t let anything else distract you from it! Don’t let anything else rob you of the joy it brings to us! Christians who remember the good news are joyful Christians; those who forget the good news are miserable Christians, for whom their faith is a burden to carry rather than a joy to lighten their hearts and put a spring in their footsteps.

And if you haven’t done so already, let me encourage you, on this Easter morning, to step out in faith and meet the risen Jesus for yourself. You don’t have to be content with hearsay; the risen Christ is here with us this morning, ready to come to us and fill us with his Holy Spirit. Simply put your life in his hands in faith and ask him to make himself real to you, and then wait patiently for his answer. It may not come immediately, but it will come – and when it does, like those early Christians who first met the Risen Lord, you will never be the same again.

Weekly Calendar for April 13-19

Monday, April 13th
Tim Off

Tuesday, April 14st
11:15 am St. Joseph’s Eucharist
1:30 pm Bible Study- Contact Marg Rys

Wednesday, April 15th
7:15 pm Vestry
Thursday, April 16th
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible studies @ Bogani Café

Friday, April 17th
7:00 Church Potluck Fellowship Night and Hymn Sing

Saturday, April 18th
10-12 Saturday Morning Coffee @ St. M’s

Sunday April 19th
9.00 am Holy Eucharist,
10.30 am Holy Eucharist and Sunday School
7:00 pm Voices for Habitat Concert St. Timothy’s Anglican Church

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

Church Families: Dave and Janet Fost
Corey, Lisa, Abbey, and Jonas Froese
Weekly Prayer Cycle: Greeters and Sidespeople

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 $2805.00

St. M’s April Fellowship Night and Hymn Sing!
Friday April 17th at 7:00 pm at the church.
Old-Fashioned hymn sing followed by dessert and coffee.
Please see sign-up sheet in the foyer if you plan to attend!

Saturday Morning Coffee
Coffee’s on from 10-12 on Saturday for further discussion of ‘Practicing the Hard Sayings of Jesus’. Everyone is welcome!

Voices for Habitat Benefit Concert: The 4th annual “Voices for Habitat” benefit concert for Habitat for Humanity, Edmonton, will be held on Sunday, April 19th at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, 8420-145th Street. The concert will feature a variety of performers including: Erin Faught and Adam Buttram, Jodi Penner, Jay Anthony Willis, the Piatta Forma Community Choir, Martin Kerr and Jeremy Spurgeon. The doors open at 6 pm for a silent auction, coffee and wine bar. The concert will begin at 7 pm. Tickets are $10. For further information contact The Rev. Tim Chesterton at or call (780) 437-7231.

All Newcomers to St. Margaret’s!
Mark your calendars for Friday May 1! We will have a dessert and coffee fellowship time, give a short history of the parish and share ideas for reaching our community.

Friday, April 10, 2009



7:00 p.m.
Holy Communion in remembrance of the Last Supper, including washing of feet (optional) and stripping of the church for Good Friday.

10.00 a.m.
Good Friday service, including dramatic reading of the story of the death of Jesus from John's Gospel, and prayers at the foot of the cross. There will be 'Sunday' School at this service.

9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist

10.30 a.m. Holy Eucharist and Sunday School, with special music for Easter. There will be baptisms at this service, and coffee hour afterwards.

Sermon for Good Friday: Hebrews 10:19-23

Access to God

I’m naturally a rather shy kind of person, and one of the most difficult things I have to do in my work as a pastor is to visit people I don’t know, or don’t know very well. At the back of my mind the same questions are playing themselves out over and over again: “Am I welcome? Do they really want me to come? Will they like me? Will they really enjoy our visit, or will they just pretend to enjoy it to humour me?”

Probably some of you feel the same way as I do and will recognise the questions I’ve shared. And of course the situation is even more complicated when we’re going to call on someone with whom we have a problem relationship, especially if we’re the ones who are at fault. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a situation like that I practise my speech carefully to make sure that when the other person opens the door and frowns at me I have the words exactly right!

Let’s explore this a little further. Let’s put ourselves in the situation of a person who has hurt another human being deeply, but is now penitent and wants to do all they can to rebuild the relationship. Naturally, this person feels ashamed and guilty for what they have done, but they also feel anxious and afraid when they contemplate taking the first step toward reconciliation. If this person is wise, they might consider doing two things. First, they might ask someone to be a mediator between them and the person they have offended. Second, they might try to find some way of making amends for the wrong they have done.

When the Old Testament Hebrews approached God, they did both these things: they used a mediator between themselves and God, and they tried to make amends for their sins. The mediator was the priest, and his number one job was to be a go-between, to bring God and the people together. This started right back on Mount Sinai when God gave the people the Ten Commandments; we’re told that the people were so afraid of the thunder and lightning and other signs of God’s presence that they said to Moses “You go talk to him for us, and tell us whatever he says!” This role continued in the priesthood throughout the Old Testament.

The way the people made amends for their sins was to bring a sacrifice to God, usually a goat or a lamb. You brought your sacrifice to the mediator, the priest, and he took it to God and offered it on your behalf, so that your sins could be forgiven. Offering the sacrifice in this way was called ‘Making atonement’.

This idea is right at the heart of our reading from Hebrews today. The teaching of the New Testament is that, like the prodigal son, we human beings have rebelled against our Father’s love, left our home with him and gone off to a far country, where we have lost everything. Our only hope is to come home to God’s house and start again. But how can we come home, after what we have done to him? The answer we find in the entire New Testament is that we come home through Jesus, who is both our great High Priest and also the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Look again at four verses from our Epistle for today, Hebrews 10:19-22:
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let’s ask this passage two questions: Firstly, ‘What did Jesus do for us on the Cross?’ and secondly, ‘What difference does it make?’

What did Jesus do for us on the Cross? In this reading we can see two great truths that the writer to the Hebrews wants us to know: that Jesus has offered himself as a sacrifice to make a way back to God for us, and that Jesus is the mediator who can bring us into God’s presence again.

Let’s start by thinking about Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. We’ve said that the offering of a sacrifice was a way for the people to make amends to God for their sins. But there was more to it than that. In some of the Old Testament texts there’s a sense that the sacrifice is actually being substituted for the one who offers it. And one of the strangest texts in the Old Testament seems to actually apply that idea to a human being:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
Without exception, the writers of the New Testament saw this passage as referring to Jesus; he is the innocent one who has taken the sins of the whole world on himself, and in some way this suffering of his has healed us.

Let’s remind ourselves of the architecture of the Temple in Jerusalem. Right at the centre of the Temple was the room known as the ‘Holy of Holies’, the one place in the whole Temple where the Presence of God was to be found. The entrance to this room was covered by a thick curtain sixty feet high. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, taking with him the blood of the sacrifices he had just offered for the sins of the people.

The Gospels tell us that when Jesus died, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This was a dramatic action telling the people very clearly that since the perfect sacrifice had now been offered, there was no longer any need for them to be afraid to come into the presence of God. This is what the writer to the Hebrews has in mind in our scripture for today when he says in verse 19 ‘Therefore, my friends...we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)’ (Hebrews 10:19-20). The perfect sacrifice has been offered; Jesus has made amends on our behalf for all that we have done, and the way is now open for us to come home to God.

But not only does the writer want to show us Jesus as the perfect sacrifice; he also tells us that Jesus is the perfect priest. Now I suggest to you that we in our culture today know very well what the role of a priest is. In industrial disputes we know all about the appointment of an arbitrator, an impartial third person to act as a go-between and to negotiate an agreement between the two sides. We are also familiar with the breakdown of marriage and family relationships and how sometimes a skilled counsellor can come in and sit down with two people who are estranged from each other and bring them back together again. Our culture has many examples of a mediator, an arbitrator, a go-between - in fact, a priest.

We’ve said that the work of an Old Testament priest was to go between God and the people, to speak to God on behalf of the people - mainly by offering sacrifices for them - and also to speak to the people on God’s behalf. But the problem with the Old Testament priests was that they too were sinners like all the rest, and so they themselves needed mediators with God on their own behalf! A perfect priest, a perfect mediator, would need no further go-between; he would be free from sin. Also, he would have to have an obvious connection with both sides, not just one.

The Letter to the Hebrews points out in many places that Jesus fulfils these conditions for us, and so he is the perfect priest. Hebrews 4:14-16 says:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This language about priests and sacrifices is strange to us today, and we may well ask ourselves ‘What’s the writer to the Hebrews trying to say here?’ Well, he’s speaking the language his Jewish listeners would understand, but what it boils down to is this: You don’t need to be shy! You can come boldly up to God’s house, knock on the door and be sure that you’ll get a warm welcome. Jesus has made amends for all your sins, and Jesus will be there at the door every time to welcome you and to take you right into the Father’s presence.

And this leads us to the last question we wanted to ask: What difference does the Cross of Jesus make to us? Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, probably the largest church in North America. He is also an internationally-known speaker and author who often travels around the world to conferences and meetings. So you can imagine that Bill Hybels is a very busy man. Nonetheless, on his desk in his office at Willow Creek Community Church is a special direct-line phone. Three people have the number for that phone: his wife Lynne, his son Todd and his daughter Shauna. Everyone else has to go through the secretary, but those three people have immediate access to Bill Hybels. Furthermore, he has assured them that whatever he may be doing when they call, he will always try to make time to talk to them.

This is the difference the Cross of Jesus makes for us. It means we have a direct connection with our heavenly Father; we are guaranteed access at all times. Or, to change the illustration, we have an automatic backstage pass into God’s presence. Sometimes after a musical performance or a play, a few very lucky people are able to obtain a ‘backstage pass’ to actually go and see the great actor or musician. Well, Hebrews tells us that we have such a pass. It has two sides to it: one side is marked ‘faith’ and the other is marked ‘baptism’. You think I’m joking? Look at Hebrews 10:22: ‘Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith’ - that’s the ‘faith’ side of the pass - ‘with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water’ - that’s the ‘baptism’ side of the pass.

This is how you take advantage of what Jesus did for you as the perfect sacrifice and the perfect priest. This is how you come boldly into the Holy Place - in other words, into the presence of God. You do it by being baptised, and by putting your faith in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You need both sides of the pass in order to get in.

Let’s imagine that you open your mail one day and there is a letter from the Queen’s secretary. It says “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth requests the pleasure of your company at a private dinner at Buckingham Palace on June 2nd. All travel arrangements have been made; simply contact British Airways and they will forward your tickets”.

“Wait!” you think, “there must be some mistake! I’m no-one special! I haven’t done anything to deserve this! The Queen must have me mixed up with someone else!” So you call her secretary and express these doubts. “No”, he says, “there’s been no mistake. The Queen isn’t doing this as a reward for anything you may have done. She simply wants to get to know you better. Please pick up your tickets as soon as possible; Her Majesty is looking forward to your company on the 2nd”.

So you pick up the tickets, and on June 1st you wing your way across the Atlantic in the first class section of a British Airways jumbo jet. The next evening you take a taxi to Buckingham Palace. You stop at the gate, and at this point your doubts return in full force. ‘This is absolutely crazy! It has to be a mistake! I’m going to get in there and she’ll realise when she sees me that I’m the wrong person’. However, you manage to quieten your fears; you present your letter of invitation at the gate, and to your amazement the guard smiles at you and says, “Her Majesty is expecting you”.

And so you are ushered into the dining room. The moment has come; this is when she’s going to realise she’s got the wrong person! But it doesn’t happen. What does happen is something that takes you completely by surprise. In the dining room of Buckingham Palace you see a friend you’ve known for years. He comes up to you with a smile and says, “Welcome to Buckingham Palace!” You look at him in amazement and ask, “What are you doing here?” He replies “Didn’t I tell you? The Queen and I have been friends for years. I’ve told her all about you, and she’s anxious to meet you and get acquainted with you. Come over and meet her for yourself”. He takes you by the arm and ushers you over to the table where the Queen is seated; he introduces you to her, she greets you with a smile and invites you to be seated beside her, and for the next hour she plies you with questions about yourself and your life in Edmonton.

At the end of the evening, as you and your friend are leaving, you say to him “Is this for real? Is she really that interested in me?”

“Oh yes”, he assures you. “She’s very interested in you. What’s more, she wants you to come back as often as you want. She has assured me personally that any friend of mine is a friend of hers too. Whenever you want to get back into the Palace to see her, just mention my name; the staff will have instructions to show you straight into her presence”.

And that’s the difference the Cross of Jesus makes to us. Jesus has made amends for all our sins, and he is our Mediator, our friend in heaven who ushers us into God’s presence. So let me close this morning by saying to you: Don’t be shy! Don’t believe that voice in your head that says “God could never welcome me after the things I’ve done” or “I’m no-one special; God wouldn’t be interested in me”. God is interested in you; that’s why Jesus came and gave his life on the Cross for you. So don’t refuse the invitation because of fear or shyness. Rather, remember the words of Hebrews:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday: John 13:1-17, 34-35.

A New Commandment

This day in the Christian year is called ‘Maundy Thursday’; the word ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin word ‘maundatum’, which means ‘commandment’. This day is called ‘Maundy Thursday’ because on it we remember the new commandment that Jesus gave us – the commandment to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ – and his dramatic demonstration of that commandment when he washed his disciples’ feet. We can find that commandment in the gospel reading we just heard:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

We might be a little puzzled to hear Jesus referring to this as a ‘new’ commandment’. Surely the command to love is not new? After all, in the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’, and Jesus has already confirmed this as one of his two great commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. So how is this a ‘new’ commandment?

There are two things that are new here. The first is that this is not just a general commandment to disciples to love their neighbour; it’s a command about the love that is shared in the disciple community. This is a commandment that the Christian community is to be characterized by love for one another, and this love should be obvious and visible to outsiders: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. The second new thing is the example of Jesus; he doesn’t just tell us to love each other in any old way, but ‘just as I have loved you, so you also should love one another’. Let’s think about these two distinctives for a minute.

First, then, Jesus tells us as Christians not just to love our neighbour as ourselves, but to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. In other words, this love for one another is meant to be the family characteristic of Christians. When people think of the Christian church, the first thing that comes to mind should be the visible love between members of the Christian community.

When I think of my family of origin, and I ask myself ‘what are our family characteristics?’, two things come to mind immediately. The first is that we seem to have rather large heads – I mean that in the physical and not the metaphorical sense! The second is that we share a love of a good argument. We can’t resist it, and once we’re in it, we can’t let it go. As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed the second characteristic receding a little in me, but I’ve still got the big head!

I wonder what family characteristics come to mind when people outside of Christianity think about the Christian church? Do you ever ask them? The famous evangelical Christian writer Philip Yancey once made a practice of asking strangers on airplanes what first came to mind when they heard the words ‘evangelical Christian’. The answers varied, but they tended to be things like ‘They’re the people who hate gays’, or ‘they want to have prayer in schools’ or ‘they bomb abortion clinics’. Not once, in all the times he asked, did he get the reply, ‘They’re the people who love one another so much’.

This is serious, because in this verse Jesus has given the world the right to judge whether or not we are his followers on this one point. The world has a right to see visible love between members of the Christian community, and if it doesn’t see that love, it has the right to judge that the people in question are not Christians. That judgement may be wrong, but according to Jesus, the world has a right to make that judgement.

The church, you see, is called to be a ‘city set on a hill’. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said:
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:14-16).
The light of love is meant to shine from the church into the whole world, so that everyone can see what God is like by watching the way we behave toward one another. In earlier times this was so. In the Roman world there was a saying about the church: ‘See how these Christians love one another!’ I wonder if they would say that today, when we are often so busy that we don’t even seem to be able to make time to get to know one another’s names?

So the first distinctive is that we are meant to be a community of love for one another. The second thing is that Jesus tells us ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’.

This is important, because the world today is so confused about what love actually means. When we use the word ‘love’ we tend to be describing a feeling; “They’re so in love with each other”, we say, meaning, “the feeling of love they have for each other is overwhelming”. If we’re defining love in this way, we’ll find it very difficult to understand Jesus, because it’s usually very difficult for us to make ourselves feel something.

That’s why it’s important for us to remember that when the Bible talks about love it’s almost always talking about choices and actions, not feelings. To love someone, in the Bible, means to choose to bless them; it means to serve them in humility, in practical actions. And this is made very clear by the example of Jesus, because when we ask ourselves ‘How did Jesus love his disciples?’ two answers come to mind immediately: by dying for them on the cross, and by washing their feet.

Dying for them on the cross is perhaps the main thing that John has in mind in this passage; in verse 1 he says, ‘Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’. ‘Loving them to the end’, of course, meant loving them all the way to death, even death on a cross.

This shows us that an essential characteristic of Christian love is sacrifice. There were no limits to Jesus’ love for his disciples; he literally loved them more than he loved his own life. What would it mean for us to follow that example? The story is told of Christians in the early church who would risk their own lives smuggling the bread of the Eucharist into prison where their brothers and sisters were awaiting execution for their faith in Jesus. This shows us incidentally how important the Eucharist was to them, but also that they had grasped the sacrificial nature of Christian love.

The chances are that you and I will probably not be called to die for our fellow-Christians, although we might do well to ask ourselves what it says about us that we can’t even make time to have coffee with one another and get to know each other a little better. But the second example perhaps cuts closer to the quick for us: the example of the footwashing. This was a thoroughly practical action: the roads of Judea were dusty and muddy, and people walked in open sandals, so their feet got filthy and smelly. At the door of the house was a container of water, and when a guest came into the house, the first thing that happened was that a servant would wash their feet and dry them with a towel. For some reason, on the night of the last supper this had not happened; perhaps there was no servant there that night. And the fact that it had not happened became painfully obvious to the disciples, because in those days people didn’t sit down to eat on chairs as we do; they reclined on couches around a low table, and their feet would literally have been in their neighbours’ faces!

By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus radically redefined the social structure of the Christian church. It wasn’t to be a church where some were lords and some were servants. ‘If I, your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done for you’ (vv.14-15). No one is too important to do the servant jobs; everyone is called to acts of practical care and compassion for one another. This is what it means to love one another as Jesus has loved us.

We might ask ourselves today what practical acts might be the equivalent of footwashing. Tonight we will be washing feet as a symbol of practical love, but the fact is that, in our day and age, this is no longer a pressing need! It would be good for us to ask ourselves what essential and practical tasks we need to be ready and willing to do for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

For me, this is often a painfully revealing exercise. I remember when I was living in Aklavik, and local native people sometimes asked me if I would do their income tax returns for them. I always refused; I was too busy, I said, which was a lie. I wasn’t too busy; I just didn’t want to be bothered. But I knew how to do tax returns, while for many of them, tax returns were absolutely incomprehensible. One of my predecessors, Tom Osmond, had done dozens of them each year. He understood what the command to love one another was all about; it meant doing practical acts of love, even when you don’t feel like doing it. I was a long way behind him.

In the 1970s we used to sing a worship song called ‘We are One in the Spirit’ which had the chorus: ‘And they’ll know we are Christians by our love’. This of course is based on today’s gospel: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’. This is the sort of community Jesus wants us to be. This is the great commandment we are celebrating in this service tonight. But let’s not just stop with the celebrating; as Jesus says in verse 17, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them”.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sermon for April 5th: Mark 15:1-39

Jesus or Barabbas?

In today’s gospel Pilate asked the crowd which of the two condemned prisoners they would prefer to have released to them – Jesus, or Barabbas. The crowd rejected Jesus and chose Barabbas. Unfortunately, throughout Christian history, many followers of Jesus have made the same choice.

What do we know about Barabbas? Mark tells us that he was ‘in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection’ (v.7). He was likely a zealot – one who believed that loyalty to God involved taking up armed revolt against the Roman state. The Romans would probably have called him a terrorist, but to many Jewish people in the time of Jesus he would have been seen as a freedom fighter.

At the time of Jesus, of course, the Jewish people were subject to Roman rule and Roman occupation; the Romans believed that they had brought the blessings of peace and order and good government to the conquered peoples of their empire, but of course that wasn’t the way the conquered peoples saw it. The ordinary peasant farmer in the time of Jesus lived under a crushing tax burden, not only from the Romans but also from their own local government, and they longed for someone who would set them free from the oppression and injustice. Surely, they thought, it couldn’t be God’s will for his chosen people to be subject to pagan rule; surely God would rescue them again, as he had done in the past.

And there were precedents. The most recent one was Judas Maccabeus, who had led an armed revolt against the rule of the Greek Seleucids in the 2nd century B.C. He had won a great victory against the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes – a victory that is commemorated in the Hannukah celebrations to this day – and for a few years the people had been free. Judas Maccabeus provided a ready template for Messianic expectations in the time of Jesus. This is what a Messiah would do – lead an armed revolt and win victory over the hated Romans!

This was Barabbas – the champion of the people, the freedom fighter who used bloodshed and violence to try to overthrow the oppressor. He’s the crusader trying to drive the Turks out of Jerusalem, the American revolutionary killing redcoats to set the colonies free, the brave French resistance fighter cutting the throats of German soldiers in World War Two. This was the sort of Messiah people could believe in – the one who actually gets his hands dirty doing something practical to help people in this cruel world. This is the one the crowd chose to set free on Good Friday.

The irony is that Jesus was condemned by Pontius Pilate for being exactly this sort of rebel against the empire. The first question that Pilate asks Jesus is “Are you the King of the Jews?” This is evidently the charge the Jewish authorities had brought against him, and it’s an obvious attempt to paint him as a dangerous and violent Messianic pretender, a potential rebel against the Empire. But is there a grain of truth in the accusation? Was Jesus in fact, a King? Did Caesar have anything to fear from him?

Mark’s answer is deliberately ambiguous. When Pilate asks Jesus, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus replies, ‘You say so’ (v.2) or, as the New English Bible puts it, ‘the words are yours’. In other words, we might paraphrase, ‘It depends on whose definition of king you’re using’. Jesus consistently refused to take up arms or even rebel against Roman tax law; he taught his disciples to love their enemies and do good to those who hated them, and in the context he was living in, no one can have been under any doubt as to who he meant by ‘enemies’. There’s a wonderful scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s movie ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ where Jesus and Barabbas actually meet before Good Friday; Barabbas thinks Jesus is a zealot sympathizer and asks Jesus to tell him what to do. Jesus replies, “Love your enemies and forgive them”. Barabbas shakes his head and says, “Love the Romans? But they’ve butchered people without mercy and without trial. Surely you can’t mean to love them, Master?” Jesus nods; “Love them all”, he replies, and Barabbas shakes his head and goes away.

So in one sense, Caesar’s empire had nothing to fear from Jesus. And yet, in another sense, Jesus was a threat to everything Caesar stood for. He taught that the kingdom of God was at hand, and that meant that only God, and no human authority, could command people’s ultimate allegiance. He refused to recognise distinctions of class or race or economic status; he told the rich and powerful who wanted to follow him to abandon wealth and status and share freely with the poor and humble. His philosophy was based on the seemingly romantic notion that the power of love is stronger than the love of power. It seems a weak and ineffective philosophy, and indeed when Mark wrote his gospel thousands of defenceless Christians were being slaughtered by the mad Roman emperor Nero.

So the crowd was asked to choose between these two ways. On the one hand, they had Barabbas’ way of fighting for freedom against the oppressor, of violent rebellion in the cause of justice. On the other hand, they had Jesus’ way of love and nonviolence, and of loyalty to God as king above any earthly ruler. The crowd chose Barabbas, and sent Jesus to his death. And as I said, throughout our history, Christians have done the same thing, blessing the way of violence and turning from Jesus’ way of love as weak and ineffective.

And why not? After all, what did the Cross achieve? People might well have asked Jesus that as he contemplated his upcoming death. ‘Lord, what will be gained by this? After you’re gone, what will we do then? How will God’s kingdom be advanced? It doesn’t make sense’.

Again, the symbolism of Jesus and Barabbas is very powerful here. The fact is, the cross Jesus died on was the cross Barabbas should have had. Barabbas was gulty of murder and insurrection against the Empire; he was guilty of being a rebel. And insurrection was the exact charge on which Jesus was crucified; that’s what ‘King of the Jews’ means. Caesar was the one who claimed to be King of the Jews; anyone else who claimed that title was a rebel. Barabbas was guilty of rebellion, and Jesus, who was not guilty, was crucified for Barabbas’ crime.

For Mark, Barabbas is undoubtedly a symbol of rebellious humanity. Throughout our history, we humans have rebelled against the kingdom of God. We’ve preferred to substitute our own kingdoms based on power, selfishness, greed, and violence. And what is God’s response? The Cross is God’s condemnation of this entire agenda, but who does the condemnation fall on? Christian theology teaches that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. God comes among us in Jesus and takes our charge, just as Jesus took Barabbas’ charge. We are guilty, but Jesus suffers in our place. Unlike Barabbas and his kind, God doesn’t wipe out his enemies; rather, he suffers in his own person the consequences of their rebellion, and offers them forgiveness and love instead. Because Jesus died, Barabbas could go free. And because Jesus died, we can go free too.

So the cross has good news for us, but also a challenge. The good news is that because of the cross there’s an amnesty for rebels like us. The penalty has been paid by someone else; Jesus has died for our sins, and now forgiveness and freedom are offered to all who will come to the cross, lay down their arms, and follow the way of Christ instead. Forgiveness is offered, forgiveness can be received, and forgiveness has to be passed on to others as well.

And that’s the challenge; Jesus calls his disciples to take up their own cross and follow him. In other words, don’t follow the way of Barabbas – the way of violence and coercion. Violence only leads to more violence, revenge only leads to more revenge, hatred only leads to more hatred; it never ends. We’ve seen that so many times, and yet we continue to believe that the way of Barabbas works. But Jesus challenges us to reject that way and choose his way instead – the way of suffering love. Only in that way is there hope for lasting change. Only in that way is real transformation possible.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? And if you had been there, who would you have called for – Jesus, or Barabbas? And in your life, in your choices, in your loyalties, who are you calling for today?