Friday, September 30, 2011

October Calendar

St. Margaret’s Anglican Church

Calendar – October 2011

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

Sunday, October 2nd - Pentecost 16

9:00 am - Holy Communion


10:30 am - Holy Communion & Sunday School

Monday, October 3rd

Office Closed

Tuesday, October 4th

7:30 pm Book Study #3

"Out of the Saltshaker"

Wednesday, October 5th

3:30 pm Corporation Meeting

Thursday, October 6th

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

2:00 pm Women's Bible Study @ M Rys Home

9 - 4pm Clergy Day

Sunday, October 9th - Thanksgiving

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am - Holy Communion & Sunday School

Monday, October 10th

Office Closed

Tuesday, October 11th

7:30 pm Book Study #4

"Out of the Saltshaker"

Thursday, October 13th

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

2:00 pm Women's Bible Study @ M Rys Home

11:30 am Seniors Lunch @ St. Margaret's Church

Sunday, October 16th - Pentecost 18

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am - Holy Communion & Sunday School

Monday, October 17th

Office Closed

Tuesday, October 18th

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

7:30 pm Book Study #5

"Out of the Saltshaker

Wednesday, October 19th

7:15 pm Vestry

Thursday, October 20

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

2:00 pm Women's Bible Study @ M Rys Home

Friday, October 21st

7:30 pm Christian Basics Weekend Course

Saturday, October 22nd

9:30 am - 4:30 pm Continuation of Christian Basics Course

Sunday, October 23rd - Pentecost 19

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am - Morning Worship & Sunday School

Monday, October 24th

Office Closed

Tuesday, October 25th

7:30 pm Book Study #6

"Out of the Saltshaker

Thursday, October 27th

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

2:00 pm Women's Bible Study @ M Rys Home

Saturday, October 29th

3:30 - 5:30 pm Spaghetti Church

Sunday, October 30th - Pentecost 20

9:00 am - Holy Communion

10:30 am - Holy Communion & Sunday School

Trunk or Treat Event

Good Works Fair Event Both Events after service @ St. Margaret's church

Monday, October 31st Office closed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

October 3 - 9

October 3rd, 2011 Office is closed.

October 4th, 2011

7:30 pm “Out of the Saltshaker” Book Study #3

October 6th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani CafĂ©

9:00 – 4:00 Clergy Day – Tim is not in the office.

2:00 pm Afternoon Bible Study @ M. Rys’ home

October 9th, 2011 17th Sunday after Pentecost

THANKSGIVING – Please bring a non-perishable donation

for the Food Bank!

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

October Roster

October 2, 2011 Pentecost 16

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes’

Counter: G. Hughes/ D. Sanderson

Reader: S. Watson

(Readings: Exodus 20: 1-20, Psalm 19, Philippians 3: 4b-14)

Lay Administrants: M. Rys/C. Aasen

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Matthew 21: 33-46)

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

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/E. Gerber

Nursery Supervisor: M. Aasen

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: The Woytkiws

October 9th, 2011 Thanksgiving

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps

Counter: B. Popp/A. Shutt

Reader: S. Jayakaran

(Readings: Deut. 8: 7-18, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15)

Lay Administrants: G. Hughes/ E. Gerber

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: L. Thompson (Luke 17:11-19)

Altar Guild (White): M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/L. Sanderson

Nursery Supervisor: K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): J. McDonald

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall

Kitchen: K. Goddard/E. McFall

October 16th, 2011 Pentecost 18

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Cromarty/A. Shutt

Counter: T. Cromarty/ B. Cavey

Reader: C. Aasen

(Readings: Exodus 33: 12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thess 1: 1-10)

Lay Administrants: V. Haase/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (Matthew 22: 15-22)

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

Prayer Team: S. Jayakaran/ M. Rys


Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): S&M Doyle

Kitchen: B. Cavey/J. Johnston

October 23rd, 2011 Pentecost 19

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. MacNeill

Reader: C. Ripley

(Readings: Deut. 34: 1-12, Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17, 1 Thess. 2: 1-8)

Lay Administrants: D. Schindel/L. Thompson

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Matthew 22: 34-46)

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

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/L. Sanderson

Nursery: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: The Popps

October 30th, 2011MW Pentecost 20

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels

Counter: D. Schindel/ V. Haase

Reader: R. Goss

(Readings:Josh.3: 7-17, Psalm 107: 1-7, 33-37, 1Thess 2: 9-13)

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Matthew: 23:1-12)

Altar Guild (Green): M. Woytkiw/ MW

Nursery Supervisor: G. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): P. Rayment

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall

Kitchen: V. Haase/V&J Goodwin

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sermon for Sept. 25th: Matthew 21:23-32

What Back to Church Sunday is All About

Today, in many different countries around the world, thousands of Christian churches are observing ‘Back to Church Sunday’. The idea behind the day is simple: regular churchgoers invite friends, who are not normally in the habit of churchgoing, to come and join them for worship. It’s not meant to be a big song and dance, and we’re not meant to put on a show that’s hugely different from what we normally do on a Sunday. It’s simply an invitation for people who may be standing on the edge of the swimming pool to put their toe in and see if they like the temperature of the water. Some might decide they like it, and dive right in. Others might say, “No thanks”, and turn away instead.

But some may well ask, “Isn’t this really just about recruiting? Aren’t you just trying to get more people to come to church and put more money into the collection plate? After all, we’ve all heard the statistics about how church attendance is declining; isn’t this ‘Back to Church Sunday’ just a desperate attempt to reverse those statistics so that you won’t have to close down more struggling churches?”

Well, I can’t speak for other churches and what they may or may not be trying to achieve today. But as for this church, I have to say that we’re not in decline; in fact, our average Sunday attendance grew by 15% last year. And far from wanting more money on the collection plate, we’d like those of you who are our guests today to just ignore it when it comes your way. When you invite guests for supper you don’t normally make them pay for their meal, and the same is true here. The collection plate is the main way that we, the members of this church, support its ministry, but we don’t want you, our guests, to feel you have to contribute to it.

But this does beg a further question: What is it that we actually want to see happen in the lives of those we have invited to come to church with us today? That’s a fair question, and we need to be up front about the answer. Is it just about persuading more people to join us for services each week? Is it just about getting more volunteers to help out with our job roster and more money to help us meet our budget? Or is it deeper than that? Is it in any way about God, and about Jesus, and about the enrichment and transformation of our daily lives?

To answer this question we need to think about the reading we just heard from the Gospel of Matthew, and I need to start by filling in some back story for you.

Today’s reading comes toward the end of the biography of Jesus that Matthew wrote. Jesus and his followers have made a pilgrimage from Galilee in the north, where most of them live, down to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Passover. We who know the whole story of Jesus know that this story is going to end a few days later with his death and resurrection, but of course most of those who are actual participants in the narrative don’t know that yet.

At this time of year crowds of pilgrims were streaming into Jerusalem for the festival, but when Jesus and his followers arrived they did something unusual. One of the prophets of the Old Testament, Zechariah, has a passage in which he talks about Jerusalem’s king coming to the city in humility, riding on a donkey. And so Jesus, who had walked everywhere he went up ‘til now, took a donkey and rode it into the city; his followers waved palm branches and shouted ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. The title ‘Son of David’ was another way of saying ‘The Messiah, the anointed one’ – that is, the king God was going to send to set his people free.

When he arrived in the city Jesus went straight to the Temple. In the outer court he found the place full of merchants who were changing money and selling animals for sacrifices and so on. Jesus drove them all out, kicking over the tables and acting as if he owned the place. “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’”, he told them, “but you are making it a den of robbers” (Mt. 21:19). Jesus then say down in that very place; crowds of people surrounded him, and he taught them and healed the sick.

Now, how would you feel if you were one of the legitimate authorities in the temple – one of the chief priests and elders of the people – and this upstart with a funny northern accent, who was not a properly trained rabbi and had no connection with any recognized authority, had come charging into your domain and taken over the facility? More than that, to Jewish people it would have been clear that Jesus was acting as if he was the Messiah – the one God had sent to be the king who would set his people free. That would be a clear challenge to the existing authorities, and they didn’t like it.

And so, in today’s reading, the leaders come to Jesus and challenge him: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (v.23). In other words, “Uh, remind us of who you are, exactly? Who signed your ordination certificate? Who made you the boss of the Temple? Which royal court were you born in? A manger in Bethlehem, you say?!!!”

Jesus’ reply sounds strange to us, as if he’s avoiding the question, but in fact it would have been crystal clear to the original hearers. “I’ll ask you a question first; if you can answer it, then I’ll answer your first question. Tell me - when John the Baptist came preaching about the Kingdom of heaven and baptizing people who repented of their sins, where did he get his authority from? Was it from God, or was it just an idea he and his followers dreamed up out of their own heads?”

Now the leaders were in a tight spot. They were standing in the Temple surrounded by a mob who venerated John the Baptist – who had since been executed by King Herod Antipas – as a true prophet of God. If they said what they really believed – “We think he was a fake” – the crowd would probably riot. If they lied and said, “Of course we believe he was a true prophet”, then they would be admitting that Jesus was also a true prophet, because, you see, it was John who had baptized Jesus! At that baptism, the Holy Spirit of God had filled Jesus, and a voice from heaven had said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”.

Now some of you are sitting there in your pews listening to me impatiently and thinking, “This is all very interesting, but what’s it got to do with the question of Back to Church Sunday and what you want to see happen in our lives?” Well, the moment has arrived to give the first part of the answer to that question!

Here’s the issue: ‘Who does this Jesus think he is?’ The chief priests and elders asked it because he rode into their city like a king, marched into their Temple, chucked out the legitimate businesses they had licensed to be there, and took it over as a teaching facility! But if you hang around a Christian church long enough, you might ask it for a different reason. You might notice that we call Jesus ‘Lord’, that we bow at his name, that we venerate his words over all the other words in the Bible. You might notice that we pray our prayers ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ and that on most Sundays we remember his death by enacting a ceremony with bread and wine as he told us to. And you might well ask, ‘Who do these people think Jesus is?”

The answer is, we think he’s not just a great religious teacher or a prophet, on a level with all the others of that ilk. We think he’s God. We think that, in some mysterious way, the God who created everything that exists actually came to live among us as a human being on this planet. He was like an author writing himself into his own story, while at the same time continuing to exist outside the story as the supreme originator of the whole narrative.

Now you might find this an outrageous idea. You might think, “How could a human being be God? And if it’s true, when they nailed him to the cross, who was looking after the universe at that time? And isn’t it arrogant to think that the founder of one religion of earth was somehow better than all the other great religious leaders who have ever lived?”

Those are really good questions, and unfortunately I don’t have time to answer them today. What I do want to say is this: this is one of the things we want to see happen in the lives of the people we’re trying to reach. We want to help you grapple with the question of who Jesus is. We want to help you look at the story of his life, the sort of person he was, the way he reached out to the poor and marginalized, the women and children, the lepers and the ones no one else had time for, the way he related to ordinary people and the things he taught about what God was like and what life was all about. But we also want you to come to terms with some of the things he said about himself: the way he assumed he had authority to forgive sins, for instance, or the way he claimed to be the one who had sent the prophets and preachers of hundreds of years ago, or his claim that he and God the Father were one, and if you had seen him you had seen the Father.

How do we make all this fit together? What do we do with a man who lives such an attractive and godly life - who says such wise and powerful things - and yet seems to have this fundamental megalomania about his own identity? What if the answer is that his claims – his direct and indirect claims – are true? ‘What if God was one of us - just a slob like one of us?’ What if God has come among us to show us the way and to save us from ourselves? Well, then, I’m sure you’d agree that if that is who Jesus is, it would be important for us to listen to him, and to follow him.

You might say, “Well, I’m not there yet. I’m prepared to consider the question, though, so what’s the next step for me?” Well, let’s read on in the gospel text for today.

Even though the religious leaders took the safe way out and refused to answer Jesus’ question, Jesus wouldn’t let the matter rest. He told a story to make a point (if you start looking into Jesus you will find that this is something he does quite often!). In this story, a man told his two sons to go and work in his vineyard. The first said, “I don’t think so”, but later on he changed his mind and went. The second said, “Sure!” but then did nothing about it. “Which of the two did the will of his Father?” Jesus asked. The answer was obvious and the leaders couldn’t avoid it: it was the first.

Jesus’ reply was devastating:

“Truly, I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him” (vv.31-32).

To the surprise of the chief priests and the elders, Jesus had them pegged as the ones who said they would work in the vineyard, but then didn’t! But when John had preached his message, hundreds of so-called ‘sinners’ – traitorous tax collectors who worked for the hated Romans, or prostitutes and people like them – had listened and believed and changed their lives. They were like the son who at first had refused to work in the vineyard, but had then repented and done what his father asked.

This is what Jesus wants – he wants people not just to think or talk about doing the will of his Father in heaven, but to actually roll their sleeves up and get busy doing it. And if we ask “What is the will of the Father in heaven?” Jesus is not shy about answering our question. The big picture is that we are to love God with everything in us and love our neighbour as ourselves. The detailed picture involves not accumulating lots of luxuries, but living simply and giving to the poor instead. It involves forgiving those who sin against you and learning to love not only your friends but also your enemies. It involves turning away from lust and being faithful to your marriage vows – keeping your promises and being a person of your word – looking out for people in trouble and helping them – living to please God instead of trying to be popular with everyone else – and so on, and so on.

You see, coming to church is the easy part. We’d love to think that some of you who are our guests today would come back and join us on a regular basis, but that’s only the beginning. What we’re really about is helping people figure out who Jesus is, and then helping them to follow Jesus by learning to do the will of the Father in their daily lives.

So let me close with a suggestion. I make this suggestion not just to our guests, but to our regular members too, because I’ve learned over the years that regular churchgoers aren’t always as sure about Jesus as I’d like to think they are!

Here’s my suggestion. Maybe you’re not sure you believe in God. Maybe you believe in God but you’ve always thought Jesus is just a human being, not the Son of God or anything like that. Now today you’ve heard me say that it really matters who we think Jesus is, and this has got you wondering whether or not there’s more to Jesus than you thought.

I suggest you do two things. First, pray to God for help. Maybe you’re not even sure God is there; that’s fine. A prayer something like this would be good.

“God, I’m not even sure whether or not you exist, and if you do, I’m not sure whether Jesus is your Son – whatever that means – or if he’s just an ordinary religious leader, or if he’s a charlatan or a lunatic or something worse. But I really want to know. So I’m going to try to find out, and I want you to make it clear to me. Please help me to know whether or not you are real and whether or not Jesus is your Son. Amen”.

The actual words aren’t important – God knows what’s on your heart – but something like this will do the trick.

Here’s the second thing. There are four biographies of Jesus in the Bible – the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John is a bit harder to understand, but the first three, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are very accessible. Pick one of them – it doesn’t matter which one – and commit yourself to reading from it every day. But here’s the catch. I can guarantee you that on some days, in the bit you read, there will be some command of Jesus that jumps off the page and hits you between the eyes. If that happens, stop reading right away, think about what it would mean for you to obey that command, and then ask God to help you obey it.

Sound radical? I believe that anyone who starts making a serious attempt to actually put the teaching of Jesus into practice will sooner or later discover for themselves that Jesus is in fact who Christians say he is – the Son of God. And on the other hand, I think that people who are only willing to study Jesus on an intellectual level, or are only willing to become churchgoers and nothing more, will not be in a position to receive any sort of revelation from God about who Jesus is. They’ll be like the son who said he would go and work in the vineyard, but then didn’t.

So this is what we want to see happen. We don’t just want more people to come to our church, although we’d be glad if that happened. We want more people, in and outside the church, to understand who Jesus is, and to commit themselves to doing the will of the Father as Jesus has explained it to us. We believe that’s how God is changing the world, one life at a time. That’s what Christianity is all about, and that’s what Back to Church Sunday is all about too.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Concert for World Vision September 23rd 2011

Left to right: Caleb Caswell, Alex Boudreau, Tim Chesterton, Marty Pawlina.

This event was a fundraiser for World Vision's Cambodia Trauma Recovery Centre. The final take was about $1650. Well done, everyone!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sermon for September 18th: Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20:1-16 September 18th 2011

‘Unfair’ Grace

I’ve heard it said that there are more people who know the words to ‘Amazing Grace’ off by heart than know our national anthem. Isn’t it incredible that a hymn written in the eighteenth century still has such staying power today? And what’s even more incredible is the fact that ‘Amazing Grace’ is one of the most requested hymns at funerals! Why is that incredible? Well, at funerals most people want to talk about how good the dead person was, and how they’re now being rewarded in heaven for the good life they’ve lived.

It’s amazing the lengths to which people will sometimes go to give this impression. The story is told of the children in a prominent family who decided to give their father a book of the family’s history for a birthday present. They commissioned a professional biographer to do the work, carefully warning him of the family's ‘black sheep’ problem - Uncle George, who had been executed in the electric chair.

“I can handle that situation so that there will be no embarrassment”, the biographer assured the children. “I’ll merely say that Uncle George occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution. He was attached to his position by the strongest of ties and his death came as a real shock”.

That’s the kind of thing that often happens at funerals! How incredible, then, that more often than not people want to sing a hymn by John Newton, a converted slave trader. Newton wanted the world to know that even though he had been an undeserving wretch for the first twenty years of his life, God had reached out to him and given him a free gift which he did not and could not ever deserve! His life was an illustration of a saying of Jesus’ that is repeated more often than almost any other in the gospels, and is in our Gospel reading for today: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). In other words, don’t think you can predict who will be the first in the Kingdom of God by outward appearances, because this isn’t about human achievement; it’s about God’s free gift.

To illustrate this point, Jesus told the story of the workers in the vineyard. Some of the details in this story seem very strange to us, but in fact this is just the kind of thing that could happen regularly during the grape harvest in Israel. Storms could easily ruin the crop and it was important to get the harvest in as quickly as possible. So for a time, anyone who wanted a job could have one. The work was hard; working hours were from dawn to sunset, which in a Mediterranean country means a twelve-hour day. The wage was a standard one, a ‘denarius’ or silver coin. A denarius was the average daily wage for a worker, but it’s important to know that it was also the average cost of surviving per day for the masses of poor families in Israel. It didn’t allow any room to manoeuvre; a denarius would buy your family what they needed to stay alive, no more and no less. It would get you basic food on the table, but not Shaw cable or Internet service!

During the grape harvest, men who wanted to work would go to the marketplace and stand around; it was like going to an employment centre in the morning to look for a job for the day. They would work the twelve hours, and then they would be paid at the end of the day so that each man could go home with money to buy food for his family. If a man was unable to find work on a particular day, then his family would not eat. If he found work for only a part of the day, and thus was unable to earn a whole denarius, his family would eat, but not enough to stave off hunger pangs.

Thus far, there are no surprises in Jesus’ story. But now come a couple of unexpected twists, and these are the details that would have stood out for the people who first heard the parable. So let’s spend a few minutes looking at these unexpected features in the story.

First surprise: It was not the custom for the owner of a vineyard to go himself into the marketplace to hire workers. The usual practice would be for the owner to send his manager or some other employee. In fact later on in the story, when the time comes to pay the workers, we do see the owner working through his manager in this way; if you look in verse 8 we read ‘When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay”’’. But when it came to the actual hiring, he went out into the marketplace and looked after it himself.

So what we have here is a very unusual boss. He actually cares about the down-and-outs in the marketplace who are desperate to earn a silver coin so that they can feed their families for the day! He cares about them so much that he goes out, not once, but five times during the day to see if there is anyone there standing around looking for work.

What is this telling us about God? The gospel teaches us that God doesn’t stay safely in heaven, insulated from the pain and sin of a broken world. Jesus told us that God is like a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep who are safe in the fold and goes out into the wilds to look for the lost one. And of course in that story Jesus is describing himself. In Jesus, God has come among us to search for the lost. He cares about every human being in this world, and so he has come among us to live and die so that we can come home to him.

Archbishop Ted Scott liked to tell the story of how, when he was a minister in Winnipeg in the late forties, he helped to fill sandbags during a major flood. Someone recognised him working there, came up to him and said “You don’t look like a minister today!” To which Ted replied, “What does a minister look like?”

And this of course is the problem a lot of the Jewish people had with Jesus. He didn’t look like God; he looked like an ordinary wandering preacher who spent time with the wrong people. But if they had come to him and said “You don’t look like God today!” I wonder if he would have replied, “What does God look like?” Maybe it’s our image of God that is wrong. Maybe we’ve pictured him too far away and have never imagined him getting involved in the dirt and pain of everyday life. If he’s like the vineyard owner in Jesus’ story, then he certainly does get involved in it. And that’s the first surprise.

Here’s the second surprise: Everyone, even the latecomers, gets a full day’s pay. Of course, that was what the contract said. They’d all agreed to work for a denarius. But when the ones who had worked all day long saw the eleventh-hour types getting a denarius, they naturally thought that they themselves would get a lot more. After all, they’d worked twelve times longer!

We can certainly sympathise with their thinking. In fact, a few years ago there was a very similar story in the news in Canada. A lawyer who divorced his wife had agreed to a certain level of child support for each of his two children. However, he had then gone on to become extremely wealthy, to the point that he could well afford to give much more than the legal agreement specified. He refused to do so; he argued that he was not breaking the law, he was giving exactly what he had agreed to give, and they should be satisfied with that. But we might well agree with his ex-wife and children when they argued that a man making over a million dollars a year ought to give a lot more than he had originally agreed to. And that’s the situation these workers were in. Of course the owner had a contract with them for a denarius a day, but surely if he was going to give the latecomers the same wage, then he was morally obligated to give them a lot more, wasn’t he?

Their problem was that they were understanding the money in terms of wages. But a landowner who pays a full day’s wage to someone who has only worked for one hour is obviously not paying a wage; he’s giving a gift. Paying them all at prime rate was not an economic decision; it was an act of grace.

And it’s the same with our place in the Kingdom of God. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God today, not because of anything good we have done, but because of God’s free gift of grace to us. It was secured for us long before we were born, when Jesus gave his life on the Cross for our sins. What he did there for us was a perfect work, to which nothing needs to be added. We don’t have to earn it; in fact, nothing I could do in my entire life would ever be enough to earn it.

I once heard a story about a man who had been the churchwarden at an Anglican cathedral in Texas for over thirty years. He died and arrived in due course at the Pearly Gates. Peter met him there and said, “You need to have a hundred points to get in here. Tell us the reasons you think you should get in, and we’ll start adding up the numbers”.

The warden was a little surprised, but he began. “I was the warden of the cathedral in Dallas, Texas for over thirty years”. “Very good”, Peter replied; “One point”.

The warden was more than a little alarmed when he heard that that was only worth one point, but he pressed on. “I was baptised when I was a baby and confirmed when I was a teenager”. “Very good”, Peter replied; “That makes two points”.

“Er – I tried to live a good life and keep the commandments”. “Excellent: three points”.

Well, he tried hard to think of anything else, and he was able to name a few other things, but after he got to seven points he just couldn’t get any further, no matter how much he wracked his brains. Eventually he cried out in frustration: “It’s no good, Peter – I can’t think of anything else! If it’s not for the grace of God I’ll never get in here!”

“That’s a hundred points”, Peter replied; “Walk straight through!”

So let’s get out of our minds the whole concept of what we deserve; the kingdom of God does not operate on that basis. C.S. Lewis once received a letter from someone who was complaining about an evil act that had been done to them, and was praying that God would give the perpetrator his just deserts. Lewis replied gently “I would rather pray for God’s mercy than God’s justice, for my enemies, my friends, but most of all for myself”.

The good news is that God doesn’t give us what we deserve - he gives us what we need, whether we deserve it or not. And that’s the whole point of the fact that every worker was given a denarius. As we said, a denarius was what a family needed in order to survive. Those who had worked only for an hour may not have deserved a denarius, but if they didn’t get it, their families would go hungry that night. So the owner gave them what they needed. And that’s what God has done for us in Jesus.

In the first half of the twentieth century a Church Army officer called Sister Doreen Gemmel worked for many years in central London among the prostitutes. When the respectable people in the London churches asked her how she could do it, she always replied “I keep reminding myself of this one truth: the ground is level at the foot of the Cross”. In other words, none of us comes to Jesus at a higher level than anyone else. At the end of the day - at the end of every day - all I can do is come to him with the words of the confession: “I have not loved you with my whole heart, and I have not loved my neighbour as myself”. The miracle is that when we come to him day by day, asking for mercy, forgiveness and grace, we receive it - over and over and over again. But the catch is that we all receive it in exactly the same way - not because we’ve earned it, but because of God’s generous love. ‘The first shall be last, and the last first’. The ones who you think would deserve more end up receiving exactly the same gift as the ragamuffins and scumbags who sincerely cry out to God for his mercy and grace, because God has the generosity to give us, not what we deserve but what we need. That’s what grace is all about. And I, for one, am very thankful for it.