Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon for May 29th: 1 Peter 3:15

What Does it Mean to be a Christian?

When I was in my early teens I remember having a conversation with a friend at school about the Christian faith; I had recently given my life to Christ and was very enthusiastic about sharing my faith with other people. I remember at one point in the conversation asking this friend of mine, “Are you a Christian?” He replied with some indignation, “Well, I’m not a Buddhist, am I?!” Notice the assumption in that reply – a Christian is someone who is not ‘something else’! I think most of us here would recognise that there must be more to it than that!

So I want to think with you this morning about what it actually means to be a Christian? Are you a Christian because you’ve been born in a so-called ‘Christian country’? Are you a Christian because you’ve been baptised as a baby, even if you’ve never given it a moment’s thought since then? Are you a Christian because you believe in God and live a good life? What exactly is a Christian, anyway?

Our first reading from the Bible this morning comes from a letter written by the apostle Peter towards the end of his life, probably sometime between 60 and 70 AD, to a scattered group of Christians living in what is now northern Turkey. I want to focus with you this morning on one sentence from our reading, in 1 Peter 3:15, which you can find on page 234 in the New Testament, where Peter writes:

‘Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’.

What I want you to notice in these verses is that Christians are people who have a primary loyalty, or allegiance, to Christ as Lord. In other words, Christianity is not just about some sort of vague ‘belief in God’. The vast majority of Canadians say that they ‘believe in God’, but many of them don’t have a very clear idea of what the God they say they believe in is like. And in Peter’s day, too, belief in God, or gods, was not the issue. Few - if any - in the ancient world would have identified themselves as what we would now call atheists. The issue was not, ‘Do you believe in God?’ but rather, ‘What is your god like?’ And we Christians would reply, ‘We believe that God is like Jesus’. So if you are thinking of becoming a Christian, the primary issue is, ‘What is my attitude to Jesus?’

In that respect, this word ‘Lord’, is an interesting one. When used as a title, as Peter is using it here, it would have carried two connotations to the people Peter was writing to – one political, and one religious.

To start with the political connotation, the Greek word ‘kyrios’, which our English Bibles translate as ‘Lord’, was one of the official titles of the Roman emperor. To put it bluntly, the job of ‘Lord of all’ was already taken in the Roman world, and not by some Galilean carpenter from the edge of the empire, either, but by the son of a god, the Caesar, the emperor, the ruler of the known world, the one who had absolute power of life and death and could enforce his will with all the power of the legendary Roman legions. This was what the word ‘kyrios’ meant to the people in Peter’s world, and so it would have seemed to many of them to be a very audacious and unlikely claim to say that ‘Jesus is Lord’ – which was the basic early Christian confession of faith.

So the phrase ‘Christ is Lord’ had a political meaning, and to acknowledge Christ as Lord was an act of political allegiance. Put simply, there can only be one ultimate ‘Lord of all’; if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not – and neither is the Queen, or Stephen Harper, or Barack Obama, or any of the other political leaders in the world today – not to mention the faceless kings of the multinational corporations who actually exercise such huge power over the daily lives of millions of people on earth. All of them, in the last analysis, are answerable to God’s anointed King, Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. And that, by the way, is good news, because it means that the last word is not going to go to merciless tyrants or self-serving plutocrats, but to the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

So that’s the political connotation. But to Jewish people in particular, this title ‘Lord’ or ‘kyrios’ had a religious connotation as well. Let me explain.

In the Old Testament book of Exodus, God does actually give himself a name: he says that his name is ‘I am what I am’, or ‘I will be what I will be’: the Hebrew word is ‘Yahweh’, which in days gone by was traditionally but erroneously read as ‘Jehovah’. ‘This is my name forever’, God says to Moses, ‘the name that you shall call me from generation to generation’ (Exodus 3:15).

But in fact the people didn’t call God by that name from generation to generation; by the time of Jesus it was felt that it was somehow disrespectful to the majesty of God to actually speak his name. And so the word ‘Adonai’ – the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’ – was regularly substituted for the name of God, as it is in fact in our English Old Testaments today. When you read the Old Testament, every now and again you’ll see the word ‘LORD’ written entirely in capital letters, and what that means is that the original says ‘Yahweh’, the name of God. This practice goes right back to the first translation of the Bible ever made, the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was made in the century before Jesus. In the Septuagint, when the translators found the Hebrew name ‘Yahweh’ they usually substituted the Greek word for ‘Lord’ – ‘Kyrios’.

So if you were a Greek-speaking Jew in the first century, familiar with the Greek Bible, and you heard Peter say ‘In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’, you would not have heard only a political meaning – ‘Christ is the supreme ruler, the real emperor’, but also a religious meaning – ‘Christ is God’. And this is a stupendous claim. Remember, these were Jewish people making this claim – people who believed without question that there are not many gods, but only one God, Yahweh, who created everything that exists. And yet these same Jewish people had encountered something so powerful, so compelling, in Jesus of Nazareth, that the only language they could use about him that felt adequate was God-language.

You’ve probably heard the story of the little girl who was drawing a picture of God in Sunday School. When she told her teacher what she was doing, the teacher said, “But no one knows what God looks like?” The little girl replied, “They will when I’m done!” And the central Christian claim is that, now that Jesus of Nazareth has lived and died as one of us, we know what God is like.

Now it is possible that there might be someone here in church this morning who would say, ‘You know, I’m not really a Christian – not yet, anyway. I’m not hostile, in fact I’m quite interested, but I’m not there yet. Can you tell me what the real issues are, the things I need to think through?’ And I want to make it plain that this is the big issue: who is Jesus? True biblical Christianity can never be satisfied with just giving Jesus polite deference, or respect as a great religious leader. The claim of the New Testament is not that he is a ‘great religious leader’, but that he is ‘God with us’. We may have a great deal of difficulty swallowing that idea – fair enough – but let’s be under no illusion that the truth or falsehood of that claim really is the central issue.

Let me also say very clearly that our response to this claim can never be purely intellectual or theoretical. Whatever else it may mean, surely the word ‘Lord’ means ‘one who has authority, the right to command and to expect to be obeyed’. Jesus was quite clear about claiming that sort of authority; in Matthew 28 he says to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v.18), and in today’s Gospel reading we heard him say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). So to acknowledge that Christ is Lord surely involves a commitment to obeying his teaching and putting his example into practice in our daily lives.

Why is Jesus asserting this claim over us? Is he just another one of those power-hungry tyrants who get their kicks out of forcing people to obey them on pain of death? Not at all. What kind of power-hungry tyrant washes the feet of his disciples? Or allows himself to be crucified and responds, not with revenge, but with a prayer that his enemies will be forgiven?

In his earthly life Jesus’ disciples often called him ‘Master’. What do we mean nowadays when we call someone a ‘master carpenter’, or talk about someone leading a ‘master class’? We mean that this person has mastered a particular trade or skill, and so can teach others that same skill or trade in an accurate and reliable way. And so we Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth has mastered the art of living as God intended it. He demonstrated for us a life of loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. His example and his teaching are a thoroughly accurate and reliable guide for us in the art of living as God intended.

What we are discovering this morning is that to become a Christian has both an intellectual and a practical side. Intellectually, it means that we acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is not just a first century Jewish rabbi, but is in fact the Lord of all, God come among us as one of us, to reveal God to us and show us the way back to God. And if we believe this to be true, there is a practical implication: to become a Christian is to commit yourself to a life of learning to put the teaching and example of Jesus into practice.

What difference does this make in our daily lives? Well, Jesus has made this very clear to us in the gospels. It means making the will of God our number one priority, above wealth or success or popularity or any other false god that rises up to claim our allegiance. It means turning away from anger and hatred, and taking the way of love for God and love for others. It means forgiving those who sin against us, just as God has forgiven us. It means caring for the poor and needy. It means not piling up luxuries while the majority of the world lives in poverty, but living a simple life with few possessions so that we can focus our lives on God and others. It means keeping our marriage vows and turning away from the temptations of adultery and sexual immorality. It means being real and honest before God and others, not pretending to be something that we’re not in the effort to impress others.

Not that we can promise perfect obedience; of course not! That’s why the word ‘disciple’ is so important; a disciple is a learner. To become a Christian is to enrol in the school of Jesus, in which every day is given over to learning the way of life Jesus is teaching us – and learning it in the context of our ordinary daily lives, in our homes or at work, in our families and amongst strangers. We’re never going to get it completely right, but we go on learning day by day with the help of God’s Holy Spirit who lives in us and gives us God’s strength for daily living.

Above all, it means living in grace and practising grace. ‘Grace’ is a Bible word that means ‘love that you don’t have to earn’. It’s not about feelings but actions; it’s about choosing to live your life in such a way that you are a blessing to other people, whether you like them or not, whether they respond or not. This is how God acts toward us: he has poured out his forgiveness and love on us in Jesus, despite all our sins and failings. Now he calls us to practice that same grace in our relationships with others; ‘Forgive us our trespasses’, we’re told to pray, ‘as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

Let me close with a story Marci and I read this past week in Brian Zahnd’s great book Unconditional.

During the Armenian genocide of 1915-1917, one and a half million Armenians were murdered by Ottomon Turks, and millions more were raped, brutalized, and forcibly deported. During this time there was a Turkish army officer who led a raid on the home of an Armenian family. The parents were killed and their daughters raped. The girls were then given to the soldiers. The officer kept the oldest daughter for himself. Eventually this girl was able to escape and later trained to become a nurse. In an ironic twist of fate, she found herself working in a ward for wounded Turkish army officers. One night by the dim glow of a lantern, she saw among her patients the face of the man who had murdered her parents and so horribly abused her sisters and herself. Without exceptional nursing he would die. And that is what the Armenian nurse gave – exceptional care. As the officer began to recover, a doctor pointed to the nurse and told the officer, “If it weren’t for this woman, you would be dead”.

The officer looked at the nurse and asked, “Have we met”? “Yes”, she replied. After a long silence the officer asked, “Why don’t you kill me?” The Armenian Christian replied, “I am a follower of him who said, ‘Love your enemies’”.

This is what it means to be a Christian. Peter says, ‘In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord’. The central Christian belief is that Jesus Christ is Lord of all – not just a great religious leader, but God come among us as one of us, the one to whom all authority on earth and in heaven has been given. To become a Christian is to give him our allegiance – to commit ourselves to him as our Lord – and then to ask his strength each day to put that belief into practice in our daily lives. And we do this, not out of fear, but out of love and gratitude, knowing that his love reaches out to us without thought as to whether or not we deserve it, and that we are called to follow him in extending that same unconditional love to our families, our friends, our neighbours, and even our enemies. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sermon for May 22nd: 1 Peter 2:11-25

Us and Them

I’m not a big fan of science fiction, but I’ve dipped into it a little over the years, in both book and movie format. I’ve come to the conclusion that science fiction stories – and even more clearly, science fiction TV series’ – can be divided into two categories based on their attitude toward aliens. In some shows, the basic rule is ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ because the aliens are always assumed to be hostile. But other shows take a more conciliatory attitude: the aliens are assumed to be friendly unless they show evidence to the contrary.

Now the interesting thing that you may have noticed over the past few weeks, as we’ve been going through the first letter of Peter, is that we’re the aliens, and some people definitely don’t think we’re friendly! As we’ve already said, Peter wrote this letter to a group of Christians in what is now the northern part of Turkey, Christians who were beginning to get into trouble because of their allegiance to Jesus. Many people saw them as a dangerous antisocial sect, because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Emperor by sacrificing to him as a god, and they took two of the Emperor’s official titles – Saviour and Lord – and gave them to the crucified Galilean rebel who had started their movement. Also, they refused to take part in the worship of pagan gods that was an integral part of trade guild meetings. They wouldn’t do their civic duty of helping to keep the gods happy by participating in community sacrifices. They were rumoured to practice incest – after all, didn’t they talk about loving their brothers and sisters? – and it was said that their secret meetings included cannibalism, because they talked about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their dead leader, Christ.

Today, also, Christianity and the institutional church are often the subject of slander and gossip, some of it well deserved. I feel sorry for most Roman Catholic priests, all of whom are now tarred with the same brush and suspected to be sexual abusers, despite the fact that the majority of them are not. Likewise, if you are a person who taught in a residential school, it is assumed that you took part in abusive behaviour. And then of course there are the folks who predict that the world is going to come to an end on such and such a date; every time one of their predictions fails, the world is confirmed in its opinion that we Christians are a group of unbalanced nutcases!

What should we do about that? Or, to ask a broader question, how should we relate to the people around us who don’t share our Christian faith? Should we be afraid of being infected by their wickedness and separate ourselves from them as much as possible – as some Christian groups have done throughout our history? Should we take an antagonistic attitude toward them? How should we respond if the media slanders the good name of the Christian church, or if Christian people are murdered because of their commitment to Christ, which, as I said, happens frequently in other parts of the world?

This is the issue Peter is addressing in our passage for today. Having spent the first part of the letter establishing our distinct identity as a people who give their primary loyalty to Jesus, he now turns to the subject of our relationship to the non-Christian world, whether it’s merely apathetic (as is so often the case in our culture today), or openly hostile (as it was in his day). And he has three basic pieces of advice to give to us: live honourably, be good citizens, and love your enemies. So turn with me to 1 Peter 2:11-25 on page 233 in the New Testament.

First, in verses 11-12, live honourably.

‘Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they may malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge’.

So we may be aliens, but Peter wants us to be honourable aliens!

This word ‘honourably’ is actually a rather unusual word in New Testament discussions of Christian lifestyle; it’s more common for us to hear phrases like ‘walk in love’ or ‘be holy’. The idea of ‘being honourable’ was much more common in Greek and Roman philosophy than it was in Jewish or Christian thought. And I’m guessing that this is exactly the point Peter was making. Let me explain to you what I mean.

When we put Christian and non-Christian approaches to ethics and morality side by side, there are always going to be some pretty sharp differences. For instance, we Christians are commanded to love our enemies, not to store up riches on earth, not to love money or the things that money can buy, not to engage in sexual activities outside of marriage, and so on. If we are faithful to the teaching of Jesus, there’s no way of getting around the fact that we’re going to look a little weird in the eyes of the world!

However, as well as divergence, there are also areas we have in common, and by using this word ‘honourable’, which was more of a pagan word, Peter was advising his hearers to find those common areas and live them out. As we’ve said, Peter’s readers were the subject of vicious gossip, but he tells them here that one way they may be able to silence this gossip is to be people of good reputation, people who practice the virtues that everyone could admire.

How would we put this into practice today? We can do it by finding those agreements, those commonalities, between Christian values and the values of the world around us, and then living them out. For example, we live in a time when there is a lot of emphasis in the world around us on caring for the poor and needy, ending injustice, protecting the vulnerable and so on. And these are biblical values too – especially in the Old Testament prophets. I have discovered from my own experience that if we Christians get involved in movements that seek to care for the poor - working shoulder to shoulder with our non-Christian friends, and even exercising leadership when we have the opportunity to do so - this can do a lot to alleviate the negative press that the Church gets over other issues.

So Peter’s first piece of advice about how we get along with our non-Christian neighbours is all about character: don’t live lives of unbridled selfishness, but instead practice the virtues that are admired by all people of good faith. The second thing he tells us is to be good citizens. Look again at verses 13-17:

‘For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor’.

When we examine the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, there’s one thing that’s very clear: all earthly authority is relative to the authority of God, and of God’s anointed King, Jesus Christ, who is described by Peter in Acts 10:36 as ‘Lord of all’. So we Christians cannot possibly give unconditional obedience to any earthly government, or any human political ideology. All earthly governments and all political ideologies will diverge from God’s will at times – some of them more so than others – and if so, Peter himself says in the book of Acts that we are to ‘obey God rather than any human authority’ (Acts 5:29).

But this is not a general call for rebellion against the powers that be. Some people who are of a more nonconformist character would like it to be so, perhaps; the Zealots in Palestine in the time of Jesus taught that the only way to be loyal to God was the way of violent rebellion against the Roman empire. But Jesus showed a different way; he spoke the truth fearlessly to those in power, but he also refused the way of the sword, choosing instead to love his enemies and pray for those who crucified him.

And so Peter says that for the Lord’s sake we are to ‘accept the authority of every human institution’ – that is, every governing authority. Peter recognizes a legitimate role that they exercise on God’s behalf: ‘to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right’. He is of course well aware that they do not always fulfil this role; it would have been impossible for him to be unaware of monsters like the emperors Caligula and Nero, and of course there have been many more like them since then. But nonetheless, order and justice are part of God’s will for society, and civil authorities have a legitimate role in this.

Notice that Peter isn’t just concerned that Christians avoid persecution: he’s concerned for the reputation of the Christian movement as a whole. ‘For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish’ (v.15). In other words, when some unbelievers begin to spread slanders about Christians, others will say, ‘but look, our neighbours Jack and Helen are Christians, and they’re not like that –they’re law-abiding citizens and they’re always the first to help when neighbours are in need’.

So we’re to live honourable lives, practicing the virtues that all people of good will can believe in, and we’re to be good citizens, obeying the laws of our nations wherever those laws do not contradict the law of God and the teaching of Jesus. The last thing Peter talks about is loving our enemies; look with me again at verses 18-25.

The context of these verses is a particularly difficult issue at the time – the issue of the vulnerable position of Christian slaves. It was always assumed in the ancient world that a household, including not only wives and children but also slaves – would practice the religion of the head of the house. But Christians challenged this assumption: they evangelized amongst the slave population, and slaves were seen as sisters and brothers on an equal footing with non-slaves in the Christian Church. And there were undoubtedly times when Christian slaves felt that they should not obey the instructions of their pagan masters – a dangerous decision, given that masters had power of life and death over their slaves.

Let’s be quite clear here that Peter is not addressing the issue of whether or not there should be slaves in the first place. It has been calculated that there were 60 million slaves in the Roman empire, and society was totally dependant on the work they did. To try to abolish slavery overnight in the Roman empire would have had the same sort of effect as trying to abolish technology overnight today. It was not within Peter’s power to end slavery anyway; a later generation, thank God, was able to do that, based at least partly on the biblical teaching that all people are made in the image of God.

But this option was not open to the slaves in Peter’s churches. When they were beaten unjustly by their masters, their main options were to cower, to fight back, or to run away. But what Peter tells them is something different: follow the example of Jesus and love those who persecute you. Look at verse 21:

‘For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps’.

The Greek word for ‘example’ here is an unusual one: hupogrammos. Children who were learning to write in Peter’s day were often given a sample of perfect handwriting at the top of a page. They then had to practice the letters, copying them underneath the original over and over again until they got it exactly right. That sample of handwriting was called a hupogrammos. In other words, Jesus’ life is like that perfect sample of handwriting; our job is to practice imitating him over and over again until we get it right. And this is particularly so, Peter is telling us, in the way we respond to insult and injury that comes our way because we are Christians. We are not to respond it kind; we’re to trust in God the righteous judge, and respond with love as Jesus did.

This principle is applied here to Christian slaves responding to the abuse they get from their masters, but it’s not only applicable to this situation. Later on in chapter 3 Peter says to all of us,

‘Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing’ (3:9).

This is simply the teaching that Jesus gave us in the Sermon on the Mount, that we should love our enemies, pray for those who mistreat us, and bless those who persecute us. Peter is not guaranteeing that this will get us out of trouble – far from it. But he has something even more important in mind. Look at verses 24-25:

‘(Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls’.

In other words, because Jesus accepted the unjust suffering that was meted out to him, people who were going astray have now come back to God through him. And this may well happen through you as well, Peter is saying. If we hate our enemies and ‘take them out’, they will have no opportunity to repent and turn to God, so in the end the Kingdom of God is harmed by our actions. But if we love them as Jesus loved them, then the Holy Spirit can work in their hearts, and who knows what might happen as a result?

I began with an illustration from the world of science fiction: are the aliens friendly or not? But in the case of us modern Christians, we are the aliens and we are definitely called to be friendly! We’re called to live honourable lives in the sight of all; we’re called to be good citizens, and we’re called to love our enemies, following the good example of Jesus.

Let me close with a true story of what can happen when we love our enemies. Many of you will have heard me tell this story before, but I think it is a good one so I don’t apologise for repeating it. It concerns a friend of mine, Tom, who once served as the rector of four rural congregations, two of them on a First Nations reserve. One night he had a call from a woman on the reserve. “My husband is drinking in the bar in town”, she said. “Could you go over and bring him home?”

Tom was young and a bit rash in those days, and so he agreed to her request. He went over to the bar, found the man and began to talk with him. But while he was there he was accosted by another man, Delbert, who had been drinking quite heavily. Delbert began to punch Tom and make fun of him; “Hey, preacher, is God going to help you now?” Tom did his best to ignore Delbert; he managed to get the other man out of the bar and over to the rectory, where he pumped in a gallon of coffee to try to sober him up.

After several hours, Tom put the man in his car and headed out for the reserve. It was the dead of winter and very cold, and the gravel roads were extremely icy. As they drove onto the reserve, Tom noticed a car in the ditch, up to its windows in snow, and he began to slow down to see if the passengers needed some help. It turned out that the driver was Delbert. Tom stopped, and when Delbert rolled down his window Tom said, “Do you want some help?” Delbert, totally inebriated, could only splutter, “Are you for real?” So Tom dug him out and gave him a ride home.

For months afterwards, whenever Delbert was drinking with friends and saw Tom he would say loudly “Thish man’sh a man of God!” Eventually he sobered up, gave his life to Christ and began to learn to live as a Christian; eventually, he became a pastor himself. But it all began the night an Anglican priest paid him back good for evil, and loved him instead of taking revenge on him.

So let us pray that the Holy Spirit will give us also the strength to walk in the footsteps of Christ.

Friday, May 20, 2011

May 24 - 30

Monday May 23rd 2011

Tim’s day off

Office is closed

Tuesday May 24th, 2011

Office is Closed in Lieu of Victoria Day

Thursday May 26th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s Study at Bogani CafĂ©.

Saturday May 28th, 2011

Spaghetti Church #5

Sunday May 29th 2011 Easter 6

9:00am Holy Communion and Child Dedication

10:30am Morning Worship and Bring A Friend Service

Thursday, May 19, 2011

June Roster

June 5th, 2011 Easter 7

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels

Counter: D. Schindel/B. Rice

Reader: C. Ripley

(Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68: 1-10, 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14,5: 6-11)

Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/ E. Gerber

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 17: 1-11)

Altar Guild (White) J. Mill/K. Hughes

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/ L. Sanderson

Nursery Supervisor: M. Aasen

Sunday School (School Age): B. Rice

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: - 9:45 am Martens

Music: W. Pyra

June 12th, 2011 Pentecost

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/ V. Haase

Reader: M. Rys

(Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104: 25-35, 1Corinthians 12:3b-13)

Lay Administrants: V. Haase/D. MacNeill

Intercessor:M. Rys (use Baptismal intercessions only p. 155-156)

Lay Reader: B. Popp (John 7: 37-39)

Altar Guild: (red) M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor: S. Chesterton

Sunday School (School Age): P. Rayment

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: J. Holmes

Music: E. Thompson

June 19th, 2011 Trinity

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/E. McDougall

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2Corinthians 13: 11-13)

Lay Administrants: M. Rys/L. Thompson

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: L. Thompson (Matthew 28: 16-20)

Altar Guild (White) M. Woytkiw/L. Schindel

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/ S. Jayakaran

Nursery: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Music: M. Eriksen

June 26th, 2011 Pentecost 2 (Morning Worship)

Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey/ T. Willacy

Counter: T. Willacy/D. Sanderson

Reader: S. Watson

(Genesis 22: 1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6: 12-23)

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (Matthew 10: 24-42)

Altar Guild (Green): J. Mill/MW

Nursery: K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: A. Shutt

Music: M. Chesterton

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon for May 15th: 1 Peter 2:1-10

Is What We Do Important?

Let me begin today by asking you to think about this question: are the things that we do as a Christian church here at St. Margaret’s important? I don’t just mean “Are they enjoyable?” I mean, in the great big scheme of things, are they important? Or, to put it the other way around, if we weren’t here to do the things we do, would the people who are not Christians miss us? Would they notice that something important was missing in the life of the community?

I suspect not. I suspect that most people would see hospitals and schools and police and fire stations as being vital institutions making an obvious contribution to the life of their communities. But churches? Why are they important? Let’s be honest here: to most people, what we do is completely irrelevant.

Now let me tell you something that’s even worse than that. It doesn’t really matter to me, in the great big scheme of things, if people who are not Christians think that what we are doing is irrelevant. But what’s really deadly, in my experience, is when we think we’re irrelevant. It’s when we see ourselves as a marginalized community, of no importance to God or to anyone else – that’s when the battle is really lost. That’s when we start thinking of Sunday worship as something we do unless we have a better offer on Sunday mornings. That’s when we start thinking about Christian mission as something we do in our spare time, instead of something we sacrifice time and money for. That’s when we see Jesus as one of our personal growth accessories, instead of the Lord of the universe who has sent you and me out into the world to call all people to trust him and obey him.

If that’s the way you’re feeling – if you’re feeling that what we do as a church here at St. Margaret’s is unimportant and irrelevant, to God or to anyone else, than the apostle Peter has a word for you in our epistle reading for today. So please turn with me in the church bibles to page 233 in the New Testament section, very near the back, as we take a closer look at 1 Peter 2:1-10.

Remember, as we’ve said over the last couple of weeks, that this letter was written to Christians in what is now northern Turkey who were increasingly coming under fire from their neighbours because they were followers of Jesus. They weren’t just being seen as irrelevant; they were being seen as a dangerous antisocial sect who refused to do their civic duty by worshipping the emperor and taking part in the ritual sacrifices in the trade guild meetings. They were rumoured to practice incest and eat flesh and blood when they met together for their secret Eucharists before dawn on Sundays. Increasingly, they were being ostracized and pressured and arrested and even, in some cases, executed for their allegiance to Jesus. And in this situation what they needed to know, more than anything else, was this: “Is this worth suffering for? Is this worth dying for? Is this important to God?”

Look at what Peter says in answer to this question. First, look at verse 4:

‘Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight’.

Who is this ‘living stone’, chosen by God but rejected by mortals? The answer, of course, is Jesus. In the gospels Jesus tells a story about how a landowner rents out his vineyard to some tenants, who refuse to pay him the proper rent. After sending them several messengers who they ignore or beat up or kill, eventually he sends his Son, and they reject him and kill him. But Jesus then quotes from Psalm 118:22: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’. In the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic, he was making a pun: the word for ‘son’ is ‘ben’, and the word for ‘stone’ is eben’.

What’s the quote from the psalm all about? Imagine a group of builders looking around a quarry for bits of stone to use in their building project. The quarry is littered with rocks, and some of them are obvious fits. But there’s one piece that they all reject; it just looks wrong, and everyone can see it won’t fit. But then along comes one builder who is willing to take a closer look; he picks up that rock and takes it to their building project, and to everyone’s surprise it turns out to be just the shape they need for the cornerstone of the building.

And that’s what Jesus is like. Jesus is God’s Son, the one God sent into the world to save us and to call us all back to him. But the religious establishment of the day didn’t like what he had to say; they couldn’t see how he fit in with the way they understood God and what God was doing, and so they rejected him and handed him over to the Romans to be crucified. However, that turned out to be the biggest mistake they ever made, because, says Peter, this ‘stone’, this ‘eben’, was ‘chosen and precious in God’s sight’. He wasn’t just a failed messianic pretender, crucified in a backwater at the insignificant edge of the Roman Empire. No; his death and resurrection were the central events in God’s plan to save the world.

And now Peter invites his hearers to put themselves into that picture. He uses three illustrations – illustrations that would have made sense to people with any knowledge of the Old Testament - to show them that they too have a vital place in God’s plan to heal the world and bring the people of the world back to him.

He starts with this idea of builders building a house. Look again at verses 4-5:

‘Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…’

Peter is alluding here to the Temple in Jerusalem - the place where God was thought to live among his people, the place where people could come and meet with God and pray to him, and be assured that God would be present, and would hear them. But now, says Peter, you are the temple of the living God. God does not live in houses made of wood or stone. No – in our New Testament faith, God chooses to live among a community, a particular group of people who are called by the name of Jesus. ‘Do you not know’, asks Paul in 1 Corinthians 3, ‘that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’ (1 Corinthians 3:16). The ‘you’ in that verse is plural: God’s Holy Spirit lives in us as a community.

So, you little groups of marginalized Christians on the edges of modern society: you are a community in which God chooses to live! Small and insignificant though you may be in the eyes of the movers and shakers in Edmonton society, you are in fact the royal palace of the King of the Universe. He could have had anywhere in the entire universe as his royal palace, but he chose you!

That’s great, but it’s just the beginning. The second Old Testament illustration Peter uses is the holy priesthood. Look again at verse 5:

‘…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’.

Most religions of the world have priests of one sort or another. Their job is to be a go-between: they pray to God on behalf of the people, and they speak to the people on behalf of God. People feel that God is too scary to approach, or it’s too time-consuming to get to know him, or they feel unworthy to approach him because of their sins, and so they appoint someone to do their praying and repenting and listening for them. ‘You speak to God for us, and we’ll say amen at the end of the prayer. You take the time to listen to what God is saying and pass his message onto us, and if you’re lucky we might even take a blind bit of notice of it!’

Let me tell you a little-known secret: there are no priests in the New Testament! Not, that is, in the sense of ‘professional Christians, set apart from other church members to pray to God on our behalf, and speak to us on God’s behalf’. The word ‘priest’ is used in the New Testament in two main senses. First, it’s used for Jesus, who is the mediator of the new covenant: he offered the perfect sacrifice by dying for us on the cross, he is God’s word to us, and he prays to the Father for us. Second, it’s used for the whole Christian church: we are a priestly people – all of us – you as well as me. We pray to God for the world, and we take the message of Christ to the world.

That’s what you are. You may feel unimportant and insignificant, but it is your Christian privilege to lift up the needs of the whole world to God in prayer, and it is your Christian privilege to take the words of life that Jesus gave us and to pass them on to those who do not yet know him, so that they also may become his followers. No one else is doing that; if we stop doing it, it won’t get done.

One more illustration: look at verse 9:

‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’.

Who are the chosen people in the Old Testament? Israel, of course. But why did God call them? Was it because he only loved them and no one else? Not at all – he called them to be a blessing to all the nations. Way back in Genesis chapter 12, when God calls Abraham and his family to be his chosen people, he says to them, ‘in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3). And in Isaiah this imagery of light and darkness is used to describe the way that Israel will spread God’s light to the nations around them: ‘I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6b).

Now, you little scattered communities of Christians in northern Turkey and southern Edmonton, you have been included in that job description. Jesus is the light of the world; he has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. What’s your job now? To tell others about that; to ‘declare God’s mighty acts’, as Peter says. No one else is doing that, and if you don’t do it, it won’t get done, and a whole generation will spend their lives without ever discovering the light of Christ.

What do these Old Testament illustrations say to us today?

First, they tell us that Jesus is central in what we are doing here. Many people would like us as Christians to shift our emphasis to what I call ‘No-name spirituality’. My friend Harold Percy was leading a Christian Basics course once and a woman in the group made this comment. “I don’t like it when Harold talks about Jesus. I don’t mind it when he talks about ‘God’, because that’s inclusive; I can make that word mean whatever I want. But Jesus is too specific”.

Yes, many people in our society would feel a lot better about what we were doing if we’d just stop talking about Jesus and concentrate on no-name spirituality. But we can’t do that and be faithful to the call God has given us. We believe that Jesus is not just a prophet or a great religious teacher. We believe that he is the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, who existed from all eternity with the Father and came to live among us to save the world. The New Testament does not teach that Jesus is just an optional extra who we can leave out without affecting the program too much. No: he is the stone the builders rejected who turned out to be the cornerstone, the most important stone in the building. Reject him, and the whole building comes tumbling down.

So these Old Testament illustrations tell us that Jesus is central to what we’re doing here. Second, they tell us that Christian community is vital. What use is a brick if it’s not part of the wall? If it’s lucky it might get used as a bookend on someone’s desk! But the reason Jesus is making us into living stones is so that we can be ‘built into a spiritual house’ (v.4). Staying away from the community is not an option. In the New Testament, there’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t participate in the life and work of the Church.

Did you notice the sins that Peter told us to leave behind at the beginning of our reading today? Look at verse 1:

‘Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander’.

Let me ask you: what do all these sins have in common? The answer is, these are the sins that destroy community. Malice towards one another, deception, pretending to be what you’re not, being jealous and envious of one another, slandering one another – this is the poison that kills community. And when the world is ignoring you and marginalizing you and even trying hard to destroy your community, you don’t need to help them do it! What we need from one another in times of hardship and discouragement is love and support, not malice and slander and envy and deceit. So turn from all this, says Peter, because that’s not what this new community is all about.

We’ve seen that Jesus is central in what we do here, and that community is vital. Lastly, let me point out to you that a personal response is called for. We are invited to be part of God’s temple, to be a member of the royal priesthood, to be one of God’s chosen people. What’s our response? It’s to ‘come to him’, as verse 4 says, and in verse 2, ‘Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation’.

To be properly related to Jesus is to be properly related to the Temple, because he is the cornerstone. The most important question in scripture is the one that Pontius Pilate asked the people in Matthew’s Gospel: “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (Matthew 27:22). One day, Paul tells us, every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But we Christians don’t wait for that day; we do it now, putting our trust in him as our Saviour and giving him our allegiance as our Lord. That’s how we ‘come’ to him; that’s how we are transformed into living stones in the temple of God.

And we don’t stop there; we grow up in him. We start as newborn babies in Christ, but he wants us to grow into mature adults, and so we’re told to thirst for the pure spiritual milk, which is a metaphor for the Word of God, the message of Christ. In other words, we feed our minds on the Christian message, meditating on it and dwelling on it and thinking it through and putting it into practice in our lives. That’s how we grow into our new role as part of God’s temple, as members of God’s priesthood, God’s chosen people.

Let me close with this well-known imaginary story.

It’s said that when Jesus ascended into heaven at the end of his mission he was met by Gabriel and the other angels. “Lord”, they said, “what you’ve done is amazing – teaching, healing, giving your life on the cross for the sins of the whole world, reconciling the whole human race to God, rising from the dead victorious over evil. It’s truly amazing! But what’s next? What’s the next stage in the plan?”

“Ah”, said Jesus, “Didn’t you notice? I spent a lot of my time down there gathering a few people together and teaching them what the kingdom of God is all about. Now I’m going to send the Holy Spirit on them and they will go out into the whole world and spread my message so that everyone in the world can have the opportunity to turn to me and be saved”.

Gabriel frowned. “Far be it from me to criticize, Lord’, he said, ‘but have you noticed that the track record of the human race isn’t very good? Surely you must have a backup plan?”

“No”, Jesus replied; “there is no backup plan”.

And that’s why what we do as the Christian community of St. Margaret’s is important.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sermon for May 8th: 1 Peter 1:13-25

Who are we?

Many of you have heard me say that when the early Christians went out to spread the Christian message, they always began by announcing good news, not by giving good advice. It’s not that they never gave good advice; it’s just that they were very clear about the proper order of things. Speaking grammatically, we might say that they always put the indicatives before the imperatives – the announcements before the commands. Before telling people what God wanted them to do, they first announced the wonderful news of what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Our passage from 1 Peter today contains a lot of imperatives: we have commands like ‘be holy’ and ‘fear God’ and ‘love one another’. Peter makes no apology for this, and I don’t want to apologise for it either. But what we often miss is that this text is also full of indicatives: joyful announcements of what God has done for us. I want to emphasize this today by asking, ‘What sort of a people are we - we Christians, that is? What does Peter tell us about ourselves in this passage?’ Three main ideas dominate this reading: we are a newborn people, a liberated people, and a people living in exile.

I’ve put ‘a newborn people’ first, although it comes last in this reading. I’ve done this because this refers back to something we saw last week. In 1 Peter 1:3 we read: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. And then in today’s reading, in verses 23 and 25, Peter goes on to say, ‘You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God… That word is the good news that was announced to you’.

After Jesus’ death on Good Friday, his story was over, and his disciples were cowering behind locked doors for fear that the authorities would soon arrest them as well. It looked to them as if the power of love had confronted the power of evil and been decisively defeated by it. Rome had hung Jesus up on a cross, and as in all crucifixions the message came through loud and clear: ‘We’re in charge here, so do as you’re told, scum!’

But that wasn’t the end of the story. On Easter morning, God demonstrated once and for all that the power of love is stronger than the love of power; he demonstrated that good, and not evil, has the last word. The one who loved his enemies also triumphed over his enemies without a shot being fired. Where there was death, there was now life; where there was despair, there was now hope; where there was sadness, there was now joy. In short, God worked a miracle.

Peter wants us to know that just as God has worked a miracle in raising Jesus from the dead, so God has also worked a miracle in bringing us to a new birth. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead has now given us new life as well. ‘New birth’ is of course an image that comes directly from Jesus himself; in John chapter three, he tells Nicodemus that anyone who wants to see the kingdom of God needs to be ‘born from above’ or ‘born again’.

What the scriptures are telling us here is that the process by which you and I become Christians isn’t just about human activities and decisions. We’re not just ‘going through a religious phase’; rather, the Holy Spirit is doing something miraculous in us. Something in us that was dead has now come alive; the Holy Spirit has breathed life into us and we have been born from above.

How did this come about? Peter says we’ve been born again ‘through the living and enduring word of God’, which he says ‘is the good news that was announced to you’. (vv. 23, 25). This makes sense to me when I think of my own spiritual journey. As a child I heard the word of God – that is, I heard the gospel stories as I was taken to church week by week and as my Mum and Dad read Bible story books to me. Later on, in my early teens, I read books like The Cross and the Switchblade and Nine O’Clock in the Morning in which I heard a lot of ‘good news stories’ – stories about the power of God at work changing people’s lives. This message of good news led directly to my own response of faith on the night when I first gave my life to Jesus.

Let me give you another example of this. My friend Christobel Lines, who used to be the chaplain at the Edmonton Young Offender Centre, was brought up as a churchgoer but hadn’t discovered a personal connection with God through Jesus. Then someone gave her a copy of William Barclay’s little commentary on the Gospel of Luke. She read it all the way through, and the word of God, the good news she read in that book, brought her to a personal faith in Jesus.

There are many ways in which this word of God, this good news, might come to us. It might be through a conversation with a friend. It might be through reading the scriptures or hearing a sermon. It might even happen through an experience of the liturgy! However it happens, the God who worked a miracle in raising Jesus from the dead works a miracle in us too, as the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us and brings us to new birth into the family of God.

We are a newborn people, a people who have heard the wonderful news of Jesus’ resurrection and who are being transformed by it. The second idea we see in this passage is that we are a liberated people, or perhaps we might want to say a ransomed people.

Let’s imagine a slave about to be sold in the slave market in one of the cities where Peter’s hearers were living. Perhaps this young man’s family had gotten into serious debt and was unable to satisfy their creditors. In this kind of situation, the law allowed for the debtors to be sold into slavery in order to help pay back the money they owed. So here’s this young man who may well have had glorious dreams for his future, but now he’s a slave. He’s standing naked on the auction block and the auctioneer starts the bidding off. But suddenly the young man hears a voice that sounds vaguely familiar. He looks up and sees a distant relative standing in the crowd. The relative claims the right to redeem him, a right recognised by law. The relative comes forward, pays the price of buying a slave, and then sets the young man free to go back to his own family. He has been ransomed, or redeemed.

In verses 18-19 Peter says: ‘you know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish’. The Cross, in other words, is the ransom price that has been paid to set us free.

But free from what? Free from ‘the futile ways inherited from your ancestors’. Now I don’t know about you but I’m not used to hearing the ways of my ancestors described as ‘futile’! Today in Canada we’re conscious of living in a multicultural society, and we want to show respect for the ancestral traditions of others. But Peter is reminding us that customs and traditions centred on false gods are futile – because those gods are false and so are not able to give us the help they promise.

A few years ago in the Edmonton Journal I read an interview with Jody Foster. She is surely one of the most respected actors in the world today, but in that interview she said that she couldn’t find one good thing to say about fame. If she’s right, then a lot of ambitious young actors are embarking on a futile quest, because even if they do succeed in finding fame they’re going to discover that it doesn’t deliver the satisfaction they think it will. So the quest for the false god of fame turns out to be one of those ‘futile ways’ Peter is referring to.

Someone once asked “If money can make you happy, why are so many rich people snorting cocaine up their noses?” The answer of course is that they’ve discovered that their false god can’t deliver what it promised them, so they’re now looking somewhere else. And millions make the same kind of discovery about other false gods such as sex, youth, popularity, or alcohol. When we look to them as gods, all they leave us with is emptiness. This is what Jesus has ‘redeemed’ us from. He has set us free from this futility by connecting us to the true and living God.

So we’re a people, firstly, who have been born again through the power of the resurrection of Jesus; we’ve heard the joyful news of what God has done for us through Jesus, and it’s transformed our lives. And secondly, we’re a people who have been set free from a life based on misplaced hopes; instead we’ve learned to put our hope and trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead. But the third image isn’t quite so cheerful: we’re not only a newborn people and a liberated people, but we’re also an exiled people. In verse 17 Peter tells us to ‘live in reverent fear during the time of your exile’. What’s that all about?

Let me give you an Old Testament illustration. In 597 B.C. many of God’s people were taken away into exile in Babylon. They lived there for about seventy years, and some of them did very well for themselves. People like Daniel rose in the service of the Babylonian Empire and exercised great influence on the land where they were now living. But nonetheless, they never forgot that Babylon was not their real home. They collected the writings of the prophets and historians of Israel into something resembling the Old Testament that we have today. They created the institution of the synagogue, where they gathered week by week to hear those scriptures read and to pray. They preserved their language and their faith in the one true God over against the many gods of Babylon. In short, they lived as resident aliens in a foreign land.

You and I are also called to live as resident aliens in a foreign land. God loves the world, so we love it too, but we also realize that it’s not yet the sort of place God wants it to be. We’re citizens of the kingdom of heaven; one day that kingdom will transform the whole earth, but that day has not yet arrived. So we’re like those old Jewish believers, called to be a distinct society, with our own values and customs which we learn, not from the world around us, but from the gospel of Jesus.

What are some of those values and customs? Let me briefly point out four to you. They include, firstly, longing for the right things. Peter tells us in verse 13 to ‘set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed’. In other words, don’t set your sights on getting rich or being successful or being forever young or anything like that; rather, recognise those things for what they are, ‘the futile ways inherited from your ancestors’ that we’ve already talked about. Rather, as Jesus would say, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’; long for the day when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, and don’t settle for anything less than that.

So we’re to long for the right things, and we’re also to copy the right person. In verses 15-16 Peter says, ‘Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct, for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”’. The Bible words for ‘holy’ mean ‘to be set apart from ordinary use for a special purpose’. God himself is completely set apart from all evil and sin, and so God’s holy people are also set apart from evil and sin for the special purposes that God has in mind for them. So we are called to imitate the holiness of God.

For us Christians, of course, this means imitating Jesus. We believe that Jesus is the best possible picture we can have of what God is like; he models for us the characteristics that God wants to see in us – things like love for God and neighbour, single-minded determination to do what his Father wanted, care for the poor and the outcast, living a simple life uncluttered with lots of possessions and so on. To follow Jesus and put his example and teaching into practice is to walk in the way of holiness. So let’s choose the right person to copy! All our human heroes have feet of clay, including and perhaps especially the fallible human beings who we have this week elected as our new members of parliament! But Peter will tell us later in this letter that Jesus has left us an example, ‘so that you should follow in his steps’ (2:21) and the aged apostle John tells us in his first letter that ‘Whoever says, “I abide in (Christ) ought to walk just as he walked’ (1 John 2:6).

So we are to long for the right things, and copy the right person. The third of these values and customs we learn from the gospel of Jesus is to fear the right person. Peter tells us in verse 17 to ‘live in reverent fear’, and in the context this of course refers to the fear of the Lord.

I expect you’re surprised to hear Peter encouraging us to fear God. We’ve often heard that this is an Old Testament concept, which Jesus and his apostles have thrown out. But I would like to suggest to you that an enormous number of people today do live in fear – not the fear of God, but the fear of the opinions of others. We crave the acceptance and approval of others, and we dread their rejection and disapproval. When Peter encourages us to fear God, what he’s saying is ‘Decide now whose good opinion matters more to you – the world’s, or God’s’. There’s an old Anglican hymn with this line in it: ‘Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear’. In other words, Peter is encouraging us to play our lives for an audience of one – God. We want to grow to the point where his applause is the only applause that ultimately matters to us.

So we’re to long for the right things, copy the right person – Jesus - and fear the right person – God. Finally, in verse 22 Peter tells us to love one another: ‘Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart’. Peter is actually using two different Greek words for love here. When he says ‘you have genuine mutual love’ he’s using a word meaning ‘friendship’ or even ‘brotherly or sisterly love’. He’s saying “You Christians are already friendly toward each other and treat each other like family. That’s good, but I want you to go further yet. I want you to ‘love one another deeply from the heart’. The word he uses is ‘agapĂ©’ which means the sacrificial love that Jesus showed by giving himself for us on the Cross. It’s not about feelings, but actions. To us ‘the heart’ means feelings, but it didn’t to the ancient people: it meant ‘the will’, the place we make choices about our actions.

I believe God wants to speak to us, here at St. Margaret’s in the year 2011, through these ancient words of scripture. How would we describe ourselves as a parish community? What would be the most important things we would think of? Peter suggests these three images for us. God wants us to rejoice that we are a newborn people: the same God who raised Jesus from the dead has breathed new life into us as well. We are a liberated people, set free from the old ways of futility. And we are an exiled people, citizens of another place, living a distinct lifestyle in this world that God loves so much.

But we do that, not to withdraw from the world, but to transform it. God wants to colonize this world with citizens of his kingdom, so that this world will be changed by the gospel of Jesus. And when, in the here and now, we live by the values and customs of the kingdom to come, that transformation can go forward. May it be so, through you and me, as we learn to live as the people God has made us to be.