Thursday, April 28, 2011

May Calendar

St. Margaret’s Anglican Church

Calendar – May 2011

Office Hours: Tuesday - Friday 9:00 am - Noon

Sunday, May 1st Easter 2

9:00 am - Holy Communion


10:30 am - Holy Communion and Sunday School

Tuesday, May 3rd

12 - 2:30 pm Deanery Meeting

8:00 pm BARDS Meeting

Thursday, May 5th

7:00 am Men's and Women's Bible Study at Bogani Cafe

11:30 am Seniors Lunch

6:00 pm University Chaplaincy Dinner

Sunday, May 8th Easter 3

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am - Holy Communion and Sunday School

12:00 noon Mother's Day Tea

Wednesday, May 11th

7:00 - 10:00 pm Vestry Planning Event

Thursday, May 12th

7:00 am Men's and Women's Bible Study at Bogani Cafe

Friday, May 13th

7:30 - 9:00 New Member Orientation

Sunday, May 15th Easter 4

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am -Holy Communion and Sunday School

Tuesday, May 17th

11:15 am Holy Communion @ St. Joseph's

Wednesday, May 18th

7:15 pm Vestry Meeting

Thursday, May 19th

7:00 am Men's and Women's Bible Study at Bogani Cafe

7:00 pm Diocesan Executive Meeting

Sunday, May 22nd Easter 5

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am - Holy Communion and Sunday School

Tuesday May 24th

Office closed in lieu of Victoria Day

Thursday, May 26th

7:00 am Men's and Women's Bible Study at Bogani Cafe

Saturday May 28th

3:30 pm Spaghetti Church

Sunday, May 29th Easter 6

9:00 am Holy Communion and Child Dedication

10:30 am Morning Worship and Bring a Friend Service

May Roster

May 1st, 2011 Easter2

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels

Counter:D. Schindel/D. Sanderson

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Acts2: 14a, 22-32,Psalm 16, 1Peter 1: 3 - 9)

Lay Administrants: V. Haase/E. Gerber

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (John 20: 19 – 31)

Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau/L. Schindel

Nursery Supervisor: S. Chesterton

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: B & M. Woytkiw

Music: Wayne Pyra

May 8th, 2011 Easter 3

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/B. Popp

Reader: S. Watson

(Acts 2: 14a, 36–41, Psalm 116: 1–3, 10–17, 1 Peter 1: 13-25)

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/V. Haase

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Luke 24: 13 – 35)

Altar Guild (White): M. Woytkiw/P. Major/ A. Shutt

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/ S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: M. Chesterton

Music: Eva Thompson

May 15th Easter 4

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/B. Cavey

Counter: A. Shutt/ B. Popp

Reader: B. Popp

(Acts 2: 42 – 47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2: 1- 10)

Lay Administrants: L. Thompson/C. Aasen

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 10: 1 – 10)

Altar Guild (White): J. Mill/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/ S. Jaykaran

Nursery: S. Chesterton

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall

Kitchen: J. Holmes

Music: M. Chesterton

May 22nd Easter 5

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/A. Shutt

Counter: T. Willacy/ D. Sanderson

Reader: S. Doyle

(Acts 7: 55 – 60, Psalm 31: 1 – 5, 13 – 16, 1Peter 2: 11 – 25

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (John 14: 1- 14)

Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau/P. Major/A. Shutt

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/L. Sanderson

Nursery: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): P. Rayment

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Music: M. Eriksen

May 29th Morning Worship Easter 6

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/B. Rice

Reader: V. Haase

(1Peter 3: 13-22)

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 14: 15-21

Altar Guild (White): M. Woytkiw/MW

Nursery Supervisor: M. Aasen

Sunday School (School Age): B. Rice

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: Special Band

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sermon for April 24th (Easter Sunday)

The Christian Adventure

One of my favourite movies about the life of Jesus is Franco Zeffirelli’s ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, which was first shown on TV on Easter weekend of 1977. Near the end of the movie, there’s a wonderful scene in which one of the Jewish religious leaders – the people who have been Jesus’ enemies – goes down into the empty tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid. He looks around him, shakes his head, and says to himself, “Now it begins! It all begins!”

At first that may seem a very strange thing to say at the end of the movie, and at the end of the story of Jesus. But the scribe was right. He and his colleagues had tried hard to stop Jesus and to stamp out his message, but the empty tomb spelled disaster for their efforts. He knew that once the word got out about this, the movement would spread like wildfire; hence his words: “Now it begins!”

And so it’s true, you see, that although the story of the resurrection of Jesus comes at the end of each of the four gospels, it’s really not the end, but the beginning. We Christians read the stories of the things Jesus did and said long ago when he walked the earth as a human being who could be seen with the eyes and touched with the hands, but those aren’t the only stories about Jesus we celebrate. We believe that this Jesus has been raised from the dead and is seated in power at the right hand of God the Father, and that he continues to work in the lives of men and women and children by his Holy Spirit. Those stories began on the day of Resurrection, Easter Sunday, and have continued right through to today.

And those stories will continue in the lives of Michael and Joshua, who are going to be baptized today. Our risen Lord Jesus Christ is in the business of transforming lives, bringing us forgiveness of sins, a living relationship with God the Father, and the power of his Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out. Baptism and faith is how all that comes into our lives, and so today as Michael and Joshua are baptized they are at the beginning of a brand new adventure of learning to know and love and follow Jesus. What a great day for them!

Let’s go back in our minds to the evening of Good Friday, and let’s think about those scattered and shattered followers of Jesus, Peter and John and James and Mary Magdalene and the rest. They had firmly believed that Jesus was the Messiah – that is, the King like David who God was going to send, the one who would drive out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders and set up God’s kingdom on earth, his kingdom of justice and peace. The old prophecies had said that the Messiah would defeat his enemies through the power of God, but something had gone horribly wrong with that picture: Jesus had not defeated his enemies, but had been crucified by them. This was not something that the disciples had been expecting. In their minds, this could only mean one thing: they had been wrong about Jesus, and he was not God’s promised Messiah after all. They had wasted the last three years of their lives on an imposter. The best thing for them to do was to keep their heads down in the city until the dust settled, and then slip off quietly back to Galilee, resume their lives as before, and chalk this one up to experience.

But then the stories began to come in. Some of the women went to the tomb on the Sunday morning to finish the job of anointing the body (which the arrival of the Sabbath had interrupted). Tombs in those days were not like graves today – they were family affairs, usually caves in which the bodies were kept until they had decayed and all that was left were bones. Then the bones would be collected and placed in an ossuary for posterity, and that particular place in the tomb would then be available for another family member when it was needed. That’s why John’s gospel specifies that this was a ‘new tomb in which no one had ever been laid’ (19:41), made available to Jesus by a rich man who had been one of his secret followers.

But when the women got to the tomb they had a shock; the huge stone across the entrance had been rolled away, and when they looked in, they saw that the body was gone. So they ran to the place where the disciples were hiding and told them about it. Peter and John decided to investigate; they ran back to the garden, and one of the women, Mary Magdalene, followed them. Peter and John found everything as Mary had said – the body gone, the linen cloths lying where it had been, with the turban for the head lying a little way away, neatly folded. Puzzled, not knowing what was going on, but beginning to hope, Peter and John slipped away.

Mary, however, stayed at the tomb, and so became the first person to actually see Jesus alive after his resurrection, as we heard in our gospel reading this morning. I want to point out to you that if a fiction writer in first century Jerusalem had been making this story up, there are two details he would definitely have left out. First, in the culture of that day women were considered to be unreliable witnesses; their evidence was inadmissible in a court of law. So if you were making this story up and wanting to convince people that it was true, you definitely wouldn’t have a woman as the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Secondly, you definitely wouldn’t include a story about how sometimes people didn’t recognize Jesus at first; you would want to get across the idea that there was absolutely no doubt about his identity.

The gospel writers, however, were not quite so creative with the truth as some modern skeptical scholars would have us believe. They tell us that a woman was the first witness of the resurrection because they knew that that is, in fact, what happened. And the fact is that there was something very mysterious about the risen Jesus, and people didn’t always grasp right at the beginning that it was him. This was the story that the witnesses remembered, and because they were honest, they told the truth.

So Jesus appeared first of all to Mary by the tomb early on Easter morning. Later in the afternoon two followers of Jesus were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, seven miles away; they were talking sadly about what had happened, but then a stranger came and joined them as they walked along the road. He asked them what they were talking about, and out came the whole story. “How dull you are!” the stranger said: “Don’t you know the scriptures predicted this?” And he proceeded to give them a guided tour through all the prophecies and explained how they had been fulfilled in Jesus.

Eventually they reached their destination and invited him in for a meal. There he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened and they realized it had been Jesus all the time. He vanished from their sight, but they ran all the way back to Jerusalem, went to the upper room and told the disciples “We’ve seen him!” The others said, “Yes, we know – he’s appeared to Peter as well!” – a meeting we know nothing about beyond the fact that it happened some time during the day. But as they were talking together, Jesus appeared among them! They were afraid and some found it hard to believe, but when he invited them to touch him and asked them for something to eat, they realized it was true.

And so it continued for the next six weeks. Sometimes Jesus appeared to individuals, sometimes to groups; at one time, to a group of more than five hundred of his followers. Sometimes the appearances were in Jerusalem, sometimes back in Galilee. Sometimes people recognized him right away, at other times it took longer. It was wild and unpredictable and scary and exciting; the disciples knew that God’s power had broken into their world as never before. The story of Jesus wasn’t over after all: the adventure had just begun!

If it’s true, what difference does it make for you and me?

First, it means that Jesus was right. Jesus, you know, wasn’t just a nice mild-mannered person who had gone about helping people everywhere. He had also said and done some pretty puzzling things that seemed rather bigheaded and even blasphemous at first glance. What sort of humble and godly preacher says to his followers, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God the Father?” and “I and the Father are one?” What sort of genuine religious leader tells people that if they believe in him he will give them eternal life? What kind of a crank assumes that he has the power to forgive people’s sins, and makes a habit of doing it on a regular basis? Or claims to be the one who had been sending the prophets and preachers to Jerusalem for the last few centuries? Or, when one of his followers kneels before him and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” accepts it and says, “You believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe!”

When I read about some of the words and actions of Jesus, I can’t avoid the impression that if he had appeared today, we would have seen him as a cult leader or a candidate for permanent residence in a psychiatric ward. Certainly that is the way that some of the people in his day saw him – the religious establishment thought he was a dangerous charlatan, and at one point his family tried to take him home because they thought he was off his rocker!

But then came the resurrection, and suddenly Jesus’ followers realized that in fact God had vindicated him. He is the Son of God; he is the way, the truth, and the life. His death wasn’t just a cruel travesty of justice, but was somehow a fulfillment of God’s purposes as the blood of the lamb of God was shed for the sins of the whole world. And now God had raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place, higher even than Caesar off in Rome – because everyone knew that Caesars lived and died, but only Jesus had been raised from the dead. And so, they said, God had made him ‘Lord of all’ – an amazing title for a Galilean carpenter, and only possible because of the resurrection.

So the resurrection means that Jesus was right – that he is the Son of God, the Lord of all, the one who died and rose again for us and now calls for us to give him our allegiance and follow him. Second, it means that Jesus is on the loose! You can’t nail him down any more! The world will never be safe from him again; you never know where he is going to show up.

Some years ago a man named John Sherrill was lying in a hospital room having had cancer surgery that day. He was experiencing some pain, and he also had a room-mate, a boy who was moaning in his sleep from the pain of his own surgery. Sherrill tells of how, as he was lying in the darkened room, he gradually became aware that there was a light in the corner – not coming from a lamp or from the corridor, but mysterious and real. He said, “Christ?” and it was as if the light, without moving, suddenly enveloped him, and his pain disappeared. After a moment he glanced at the sleeping boy in the other bed, still moaning in pain, and said, “Christ, could you help that boy?” At once the light seemed to envelop the boy too; he gave a sigh, and his moaning stopped. And then the light disappeared.

These sorts of dramatic stories, of course, don’t happen to everyone, but they are more common than we modern people think. And there are other stories, less dramatic, perhaps, told by millions of Christians around the world, stories of how the presence of the risen Jesus has brought them forgiveness and peace, and a strength beyond their own. I would not be standing in front of you as a preacher this morning if I could not tell a story like that about my own life.

The resurrection means that Jesus was right – he is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. It means that he is on the loose, doing real things in the lives of real people, not just long ago in Bible times, but even today too. And thirdly, it means that Jesus is calling for our allegiance. He said to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20a).

That’s what baptism is, you see – it’s a transfer of our allegiance. From now on, we acknowledge that our lives don’t belong to ourselves, and they certainly don’t belong to our employers or to the leaders of our country. Above all other rulers, Jesus Christ is Lord of all. To be baptized is to acknowledge him for who he is and to commit ourselves to serving and following him as our Lord. That’s what Michael is saying today by being baptized: he is committing himself to following Jesus as Lord above all others. Jeanette and Brad are bringing Joshua to baptism, saying, “Yes, Jesus is our Lord, and we want our son to grow up to follow him too”.

And what about the rest of us? Have we given him our allegiance? One of the pitfalls of formal liturgical worship is that it’s easy to mouth written words without really meaning them. Many people have come for baptism and confirmation, or brought children for baptism, without really meaning what they are saying. But today, perhaps, is an opportunity for us to really mean it. Perhaps the risen Jesus is speaking to you this morning as you listen to the message of the scriptures. Perhaps you realize, maybe for the first time, that he really is alive and is calling you to believe in him and follow him. If that’s so, don’t put him off; rather, turn to him in your heart and respond to his invitation. The exact form of words isn’t important; simply put your life in his hands and ask him to forgive you your sins and help you to follow him from this day forward. And then step out in the joy of his resurrection and begin to live the Christian adventure!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter 2011 at St. Margaret's

Easter Sunday, April 24th

On this day we give thanks to God for the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ who is Lord of all! Alleluia!

At the 9.00 service we will have Holy Communion with readings from Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24, and John 20:1-18.

At the 10.30 service we will read Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2 and 14-24, and John 20:1-18. There will be special music, including cello and trumpet, and we will also be celebrating the baptisms of Michael Mailman and Joshua MacDonald. There will be a coffee hour after the service, including a baptismal cake!

Sermon for Good Friday (by lay-reader Brian Popp)


Have you ever considered what difference the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday has made in your life? Has it changed the way you practice your faith? Is it a contributing factor to how you view life after death? Do you truly believe the story of Jesus death and resurrectio and its meaning to our Christian faith? How confident are you in your eternal future?

Our gospel reading from John this morning encompasses the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus. It is an amazing story about the VICTORY of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and Son of Man. It includes the last days of His life on earth including the denial of Him by Peter to His horrible suffering and death at the hands of an unruly Jewish mob and corrupt, if not cowardly, leaders like Annas, Caiaphas and Pilate who feared Him and weren't quite sure how to handle Him! Pilate finally bows to the mob and Jesus is crucified on the cross at Golgotha.

I have had a challenging time trying to decide what topic to speak to this morning because of the many themes in the Bible readings for Good Friday. After considerable thought and prayer I have decided to spend a few minutes discussing Jesus' last words on the cross before he gave up the spirit - IT IS FINISHED! The meaning of these words has always intrigued me so I decided to do some research! It is worth noting that these words are only found in John's Gospel. They are not contained in the gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke. The Apostle John may have been an eye witness to the crucifixion of Jesus! (John 19:35 "He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.")

Together we have just read the entire story from John's gospel describing the sequence of events leading up to Jesus final words on the cross when he shouted " IT IS FINISHED". Then He bowed His head and gave up the spirit. These final words are a CRY OF VICTORY!

John 19:28 states : ” Jesus knew that all was now finished”. He was aware of every Scripture that spoke of His atoning death as the promised Messiah. In the last few weeks of His life Jesus had been orchestrating events so that His death would fulfill all prophecies. For example, he fulfilled the ultimate commitment to reconciliation through sacrifice. He willingly gave His own life so that we might live! As Isaiah 53:6 states:

"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."

Let us now consider three main themes underlying the actions Jesus took to help fulfill the promise made about his crucifixion and subsequent death on the cross.

The first of these themes is His obedience to His Father.

As a child growing up in rural Saskatchewan I followed my father's direction and advice on most things. I remember him telling me not to become a health care administrator - my chosen profession for over 40 years! I wasn't always an obedient son!

Jesus knew His role in life from a very young age. Matthew 1:21 states that

"She will bear a Son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Our reading from Hebrews 5 this morning also tells us in verse 8

"Although He was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."

His life on earth was spent teaching and preaching the word of God. There was no doubt about the Father's expectations. He knew what his demise would be. Every part of Jesus' life and passion was not only the Father's plan of redemption but a consequence of the Son's obedience to it. Jesus was crucified with prior knowledge of the Father.

Jesus’ knowledge that all was now completed in John 19:28 was His awareness that all of the steps that had brought Him to the point of pain and impending death were in the design of His Heavenly Father. The completion of Jesus work is the fulfillment of Scripture and the performance of the Father's will." IT IS FINISHED" in John 19:30 represents the triumphant completion of Jesus' work here on earth, not a moan of defeat. The death of Jesus is His own act of love and obedience to the Father. It is the "finishing" of the work He was born to do (and died doing)!

Our second theme centers around the fact that Jesus willingly and triumphantly died on the cross for us. He lovingly accepted the role that had been given to Him by the Father at birth. As the Son of Man he willingly accepted his role as teacher and preacher. He experienced the pain and suffering of a human being and the persecution from those who would not or could not accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. He was a willing sufferer. His heart was set on the salvation of sinners.

All His suffering was endured voluntarily and of His own free will. Even when he was convicted by the mob who shouted "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" he carried His own cross like a common criminal ! He declined the sour wine offered by the soldiers to relieve His pain and suffering. He finally shouts "IT IS FINISHED" to signify the successful completion of His life here on earth and His commitment to save sinners and dies on the cross for us! These final words were a cry of VICTORY - not defeat!

The third theme confirms for us that His death on the cross affords us the opportunity for eternal salvation. Hebrews 5:9 says,

"And having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him"

Jesus suffering and death on the cross was necessary for our salvation. We must trust and believe as Christians that there was a purpose behind the sacrifice of God’s only Son for our salvation. I’m certain many of us remember learning and memorizing John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”.

The terror of death has been defused by God’s love for us. As believers we have a unique opportunity from God but we must receive and appropriate it for ourselves. Jesus says in Matthew 10:38 :

"Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me!"

Therein lies the challenge - how do we become worthy of Him? Surely it is by turning to Him in gratitude for what He has done for us on the Cross, and in putting our trust in Him to save us, and in taking His love and obedience on the Cross as the pattern for our daily lives!

I have shared with you my understanding of what Jesus encompassed in His final words from

the cross - "IT IS FINISHED".

While His life here on earth was finished because He had accomplished His role as given to Him by His Father our role may only be starting! We have much to do to become disciples here on earth and teach the true meaning of the crucifixion.

Have you contemplated the questions I posed at the beginning of my sermon? What difference has Jesus death on the cross made in your life? I'm not sure there are any easy answers. Let me suggest something in closing. Proverbs 3:5 offers:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight!"

Pray that Jesus final words on the cross - "IT IS FINISHED" may kindle hope and joy in your heart that your renewed faith journey might begin !

Finally, in the words of the first verse of an 18th century hymn :

"Tis Finished! so the Saviour cried,

And meekly bowed His head and died;

"Tis Finished - yes the race is run,

The battle fought, the Victory won."


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sermon for April 17th: Matthew 21:1-11

The Power of Love

I once heard a story about a city in South America with a fourteen-lane highway running through the middle of it. Scary as it may seem, there were no traffic lights to regulate this highway. Instead, at various points along the road there were police towers. Policemen would stand in these towers to regulate traffic, and whenever they raised a hand, the traffic would screech to a halt. The story is told that one day a small boy happened to get up into one of those towers when there was no policeman in it. He raised his hand as he’d seen the policemen do, and sure enough, the traffic screeched to a halt. The drivers were so used to obeying the occupants of those towers that they didn't stop to see if the boy was legitimate or not!

Imagine the thrill in that small boy’s heart. “All I have to do is raise my hand just so, and look - fourteen lanes of traffic grind to a standstill!” But unfortunately, what that small boy was probably feeling was in fact his first experience of an emotion that has caused trouble throughout human history; I’m referring, of course, to the love of power.

Whoever said ‘All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ has been proved right over and over again in human history. Some people, of course, enter political office already corrupted. A few years ago I attempted to read Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. I didn’t finish it, but I read enough to convince me that here was one human heart that was corrupted by the lust for power long before he achieved high office. But others start out with the best of motives - the desire to do some good, and to serve their fellow human beings. Sooner or later, however, the seduction of power begins to work its evil spell, and it’s a rare person who can resist it. It’s not that politicians are any worse than the rest of us, of course. It’s just that the lure of power is so attractive that we poor sinners find it desperately hard to stand up to it.

Christian churches are not immune to this. I once heard Terry Dunn say “There's a game people play called ‘Church’; it consumes enormous amounts of money and energy, it’s all about power and control, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian Gospel!” I've watched people play this game all my life as a Christian; indeed, I must confess that I’ve played it myself at times. I too have been corrupted by the love of power; my heart isn’t yet fully converted to the Way of Jesus, which of course is a very different way.

The Palm Sunday story, which we read in Matthew 21:1-11, is all about the tension between two ways of living - living by the love of power, or living by the power of love. Let's think first about living by the love of power, and the temptation this posed for Jesus and his followers.

Jerusalem in the time of Jesus was ripe for a Messiah to come and set it free. The city was under the thumb of the Roman occupation armies. Powerful people in high places had made their peace with the Roman regime and were now doing quite well by going along with its cruelty and corruption. And all the time ordinary people – the majority, that is - were living in poverty and oppression. What the city needed was a strong King to raise an army in the name of God, kick out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders, and clean things up by force. This was a role that many people wanted Jesus to fulfil.

In the time of Jesus, you see, many Jewish people were waiting for their Messiah. They believed that he would be a descendant of their greatest King, David, and that like David he would be a man after God’s own heart. He would come in the name of God, drive out oppression and corruption, and establish the kingdom of God on earth. And so would come about the perfect society, with peace, prosperity and equality for all.

Jesus lived out his life and ministry against the backdrop of this expectation, and some would say he would have done better to go along with it. But if we look closely at the Gospel stories we can see that the corruption was already creeping into the hearts of Jesus’ team as well. In the chapter before today’s reading we see the mother of James and John coming to Jesus to ask a favour: “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). She isn’t talking about life after death here - she believes that Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem to become king by force, and she wants to make sure that James and John will be his chief ministers and get the most glorious positions in that kingdom. Like all moms, she wants the best for her children - but of course, that involves them getting more recognition than the children of other moms! See how seductive the love of power can be, even in people who are committed to Jesus’ mission!

Jesus chose not to take the route of power; he chose the way of love instead. He was a king, yes, but he chose to be a different kind of king - a servant king. He turned away from the temptation to live by the love of power, and chose instead the way of living by the power of love.

This story Matthew tells us has been structured around an Old Testament prophecy from Zechariah. Matthew quotes from it in verses 4 and 5, where he says, ‘This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey”’. In its context in the book of Zechariah this is a Messianic prophecy with a difference, because the king is not coming to lead armies and wipe out the enemies of Israel. Rather, he’s coming to bring peace and justice to all nations on earth.

Kings in the time of Zechariah did in fact ride on donkeys at times, and when they did so, it had a specific meaning. A king who rode a war-horse was coming in battle or in victory. But a king who came riding a donkey was coming in peace. Matthew is emphasising this meaning. The NRSV isn’t quite accurate in its rendering here, because the Greek suggests not ‘humble’ but ‘gentle’ as the characteristic of the king.

Zechariah foretells the Messianic king coming to Jerusalem to claim his kingdom. In our reading, Jesus seems to be intentionally acting out this prophecy. Have you ever noticed that this is the only occasion in his life on which Jesus is recorded as riding a donkey or a horse? Normally he walked everywhere, but now he borrows a donkey and rides into the city. His disciples walk with him, and acclaim him as ‘the Son of David’ - a title for the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus enters Jerusalem, where he heads straight to the Temple and drives out the moneychangers and animal sellers. He and his followers then take possession of the Temple courts. This all seems very regal! His disciples must have thought, “This is it! He's finally going to do it!” They must have been able to practically smell their places at the new royal court - heady stuff for ordinary Galilean fishermen!

But then comes the anticlimax. Jesus doesn’t seize power and begin the violent revolution. Instead, he comes to the Temple each day to do what he’s always done - teaching the people, healing the sick and holding debates with the religious establishment. Then at the end of the week he practically hands himself over to be unjustly tried, flogged and crucified, and he forbids his disciples to resist in the strongest possible terms.

Why did Jesus choose this route? Because he knew that driving out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders wouldn’t solve the real problem. They weren’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the evil, the sin, the corruption that infects the heart of every human being. This is the enemy that breaks our relationship with God and with other human beings. And this is the enemy that must be defeated before injustice and oppression can be broken forever.

The way that Jesus chose to defeat this enemy was the strange way of giving himself to death on the Cross. The Scriptures strain human language to try to describe exactly how the Cross accomplished this. It’s like the Old Testament animal sacrifices, they say, except that Jesus offered himself as a willing sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Or, it’s like Jesus taking our place, the innocent dying instead of the guilty, so that we could go free. Or again, it’s like we were slaves to sin and evil and Jesus’ death was a ransom price paid to set us free. Or again, just as sometimes the sacrifice of some soldiers in battle brings a tremendous victory over the enemy, so Jesus’ death was the decisive victory over the forces of evil.

The reality of what the Cross means, of course, is far beyond our human understanding – that’s why the writers of the New Testament struggle so hard to describe it to us. What is certain is that the power of the Cross of Jesus to bring healing and change to our world is cosmic. But note what kind of power it is - the power of love. Rather than using his power to inflict suffering on others and coerce them to do what he wanted, Jesus chose to accept the suffering and death they inflicted on him. And because he did that willingly, you and I can be forgiven, reconciled to God, set free to be all that God dreams for us to be.

When the great victory had been won on the Cross, King Jesus did indeed send his armies out into all the world. But he sent them out with no weapons other than the message of the Good News and the command to love others as they had been loved by him. This was the only force that spread the Christian message, and yet in the book of Acts even the Church’s enemies said that the Christian missionaries had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6 KJV).

However, before we get too smug about this outstanding success, we need to ask ourselves an uncomfortable question. Has the world, in fact, returned the compliment and turned the Church upside down? Has the love of power crept quietly back into the Church and corrupted us?

Unquestionably, the answer is sometimes ‘yes’. Of course, it’s all too easy to point to others as examples of this. My grandfather used to scoff at the English bishops who lived like little lords in their palaces. Or we could think of the Crusades, or the Spanish conquistadors who forced the South American native people to accept Christian baptism at the point of the sword.

But what about ordinary Christian congregations? I can think of many local churches that have been marred by fights between different factions, each one struggling to enforce their vision of the way the church ought to be. It’s all for a good purpose, of course - but notice how easily the love of power creeps back into the Christian community!

What would it mean for us to truly follow the example Jesus gives us? It would mean that we’d start out as God does - by respecting the free will of every other human being and refusing to coerce others to do what we want. It would mean that instead of trying to force our agenda on the church, we would join with our fellow Christians in listening together for God's will. It would mean that we would always be more willing to accept suffering from others than to inflict it on others. It would mean that we would be continually reaching out to those who have rejected us with the healing love of God in Christ. It would mean that we would take the hard road of sacrificial love instead of the easy road of playing power games.

Do I hear you say, “That's a tall order”? Of course it is! Jesus never said that Christianity would be easy. He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The way of the cross is always hard - but it’s the only way to spread the Kingdom of God. So let us resolve today that we will follow the example of Jesus. Let’s speak the truth in love as he did, and let’s be willing to walk the hard road of the cross in love for others. When we Christians truly learn to do that, we’ll see the power of God's love unleashed in a new way to transform the world. That can begin today, in the places where we live, through you and me.

Sermon for April 10th: John 11:1-45

Adding Life to Your Days

Like many of you, I’ve attended my share of funerals over the years, and of course as a pastor I’ve conducted lots of them as well. I know the reactions that death tends to provoke in people. No matter how strong our Christian faith is, we all find death difficult to deal with. This is even true when the person has died a natural death, full of years and ready to meet their Lord. It’s even harder when it is the death of a friend the same age as ourselves, a person who had died before their time, or the death of a brother or sister or even, worst of all, of one of our own children. When death strikes, it raises urgent issues in our minds: Why has this happened? Where has she gone? Why did God let this happen? Where is God in all of this? And perhaps most threatening of all: What will happen to me when I die?

We can see people dealing with these sorts of issues in verses 36-37 of our gospel reading. There we read that when the people at the tomb of Lazarus saw Jesus weeping, some said, “See how he loved him!” And still today, at the graveside of a friend, some will say wistfully, “God really loves us – he’s weeping with us now, sharing our grief”. Some indeed will go further, and say that weeping is all God can do in the situation – God is not all-powerful; he would like to prevent evil in the world, but he can’t. That’s the view that Rabbi Harold Kushner takes in his bestselling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Other people at Lazarus’ graveside commented “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” And in the same way today, in the face of death, skeptics will ask “If there’s a loving God, why couldn’t he stop this from happening?” Their conclusion is that God doesn’t exist, or that he doesn’t really care, or even that he is punishing the one who has died, or their family.

In this passage Jesus is leading us to a different view, a view that sees death as an enemy, but a temporary enemy. But he isn’t just talking to us about death in this passage; he’s talking about life, too. John Henry Newman once said, “Fear not that your life will end; fear rather that it might never begin”. We know what he’s talking about, because we sometimes look at people and say to them “Get a life!” We understand that there’s more to real life than just biology; that it’s possible to be alive physically and yet not be ‘living’ in the full sense of the word.

But what exactly is ‘real life’? How do you get it? Does Jesus have anything helpful to say on this subject? In fact he does, and in this passage he talks about both life before death and life after death – what we might call the two issues of ‘adding days to your life’ and ‘adding life to your days’.

Let’s start by thinking about our future hope. And at the outset we need to remind ourselves that Jewish beliefs about life after death were very different from the popular beliefs of most people today. Jews in the time of Jesus didn’t put so much emphasis on the immortality of the soul as on the resurrection of the body. For them the issue was not individuals going to heaven after they die, but rather the coming of heaven to earth, the coming of the kingdom of God.

Jewish people in the time of Jesus believed that when God’s kingdom came in all its fulness, evil would be finally defeated forever and life on earth would be renewed as God had originally planned it. Some of them also believed that God would work through the Messiah, a King like David, to bring about this kingdom. But the question then arose, “What about the many righteous people who have worked and prayed for that day, but who died without seeing it come to pass. Have they lost their chance of participating in it?” Not at all, came the answer – God will raise them from the dead so that they can join with us in the joy of his kingdom on earth.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus clearly accepts this Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead. However, he makes one important modification: the way to the resurrection is to believe in him. And so he says to Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (vv.25-26). The Jewish belief was that ‘the righteous’ would be raised from the dead, but the New Testament authors realised that in fact none of us is righteous. As Paul says, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Therefore it was necessary for Jesus to give his life for the sins of the whole world, so that all who believe in him could receive forgiveness and the hope of resurrection.

In this passage Jesus refers to death as ‘sleep’; he says “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him” (v.11). This language is used for the death of Christians throughout the New Testament. The reason is surely that sleep is a temporary state; one who sleeps is going to wake up again. And so for the Christian death is temporary; all who are joined to Jesus through faith and baptism will one day experience the resurrection just as Jesus did. The raising of Lazarus is a visual aid to help you and I understand our future – with the important difference that his resurrection was only temporary, whereas ours will be permanent.

As he faced his execution at the hands of the Gestapo the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life”. Like Bonhoeffer, we can face death with confidence, knowing that the time will come when God will add ‘days to our life’ – endless days, in fact! This is what we believe for those who have gone before us: the resurrection morning will come for them, and for us, and we will share together in the glorious coming of the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.

But that’s not all; this passage is pointing to something deeper still. If we look closely we see that in fact two people are given life in this story – Lazarus, but also his sister Martha. Martha begins to experience eternal life, not just as a future hope, but also as a present reality. Let’s think a bit more about this.

In my files I have a Beetle Bailey cartoon in which the old colonel’s wife comes to him and says “I’ve mapped out a new regimen for you”. He asks, “Why?” She says “Everyone should try to get rid of their bad habits and replace them with good ones. Diet, exercise, moderation in all things – that’s the key! Avoid alcohol, rich food, unsafe sex, exposure to sun on the golf course…”. Again he asks “Why?”, but she’s still reading from her list: “…avoid prolonged TV sports viewing, boozing with your buddies”. He cries out “Why?” “So you can live longer”, she replies, and this time he yells out “Why?”

I call that a ‘God-shaped question’. Why would you want to live longer if you can’t enjoy your longer life? There’s more to life than just physical existence lasting as long as possible. And so in this gospel Jesus talks not just about adding ‘days to our life’, but also adding ‘life to our days’.

Somebody once asked Jesus ‘”What are the most important issues in life?” Well, the actual question was ‘Which commandment is the greatest?” but the meaning is the same. Jesus’ response was that the most important issues in life are our relationships with God and with other people; he commanded us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. “Do this”, Jesus said, “and you will live”. But the converse is also true: miss this, and you will miss out on the whole point of life. Even though your heart will still be pumping blood around your body, you will not be alive in the full sense of that word.

This is the new kind of life Jesus came to give us. He says to his Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3), and of his disciples he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

To be a Christian, in the New Testament, is to learn to live in a way that is so powerful and real that what came before seems like death in comparison. This was the incredible discovery that the early Christians made. One of them reflected on this experience and wrote these words: ‘You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived… but God…made us alive together with Christ’ (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

If this language seems extreme to you, think of the words people sometimes use to describe the experience of falling in love. In the movie Shadowlands the filmmaker puts some words into C.S. Lewis’ mouth. Lewis says to his wife Joy, “I began to live the day I met you”. Now, let’s remember that he was in his fifties when he met her! He had thought that he was alive all that time, but looking back he sees that his former life was so empty and drab compared to what he was now experiencing that it was like not being alive at all. And what had caused this incredible new quality of life he was experiencing? It was caused by a love relationship with another human being. Lovers speak like this all the time, and we know what they mean. How much more, then, will the discovery of a love relationship with the living God raise us up from mere biological life to the abundant life Jesus promised us!

In some people’s lives this is very dramatic. Here’s one such story that I found in a book by William Barclay:

He was an American army chaplain on a troopship in which 1,500 marines were returning from Japan to America for discharge. Greatly to his surprise he was approached by a small group to do Bible study with them. He leapt at the opportunity. Near the end of the voyage, they were studying this chapter (the raising of Lazarus) and afterwards a marine came to him. “Everything in that chapter”, he said, “is pointing at me”. He went on to say that he had been in hell for the past six months. He had gone straight into the marines from college. He had been sent out to Japan. He had been bored with life; and he had gone out and got into trouble – bad trouble. Nobody knew about it – except God. He felt guilty; he felt his life was ruined; he felt he could never face his family although they need never know; he felt he had killed himself and was a dead man. “And”, said this young marine, “after reading this chapter I have come alive again. I know that this resurrection Jesus was talking about is here and now, for he has raised me from death to life”. That lad’s troubles were not finished; he had a hard road to go on; but in his sin and his sense of guilt he had found Jesus as the resurrection and the life.

Perhaps your discovery of new life in Jesus hasn’t been so dramatic as that. The drama isn’t important; what is important is the reality of our connection with the living God through his Son Jesus Christ. This relationship with Christ is the ultimate way to ‘add life to our days’.

In this passage, you see, a two-part invitation is being given to us: an invitation to be raised from the dead in the future, and an invitation to live an abundant life in the present. Of course, the two are connected; it’s precisely because God’s life can come into us in the here and now that our life with him will never end.

So the question this passage puts to us is “Are we experiencing this reality?” And if we want to know how to experience it, the passage doesn’t leave us in the dark. Jesus says to us as he said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv.25-26).

That’s the question for us: ‘Do you believe this?’ This isn’t just a question about intellectual beliefs but about trust and commitment. Am I willing to stake my life on Jesus? He is inviting all of us to come to him, to put our lives in his hands in faith, and thereby to discover the abundant life God planned for us from the beginning.

In a few moments most of us will all come forward to receive Holy Communion. In our church, when I say the words ‘The body of Christ broken for you’ and ‘The blood of Christ shed for you’, we are invited to reply, ‘Amen’. ‘Amen’ is a Hebrew word that means ‘I agree’, or ‘Yes, I believe this’. Let me suggest that as we come forward to receive communion today we remember Jesus’ question to Martha, “Do you believe this?” Let’s also remember that Holy Communion is one of the ways we are offered assurance of eternal life; as Jesus says in John 6, ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day’ (John 6:54). So as you receive your communion today, let me suggest that you take this opportunity to reaffirm your faith in Christ with a wholehearted ‘Amen’. Jesus says to us as he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Let us reply, in spirit and in truth, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world to save us’. And all the people said…Amen!