Friday, November 25, 2011

Nov.28 - Dec. 4th

Nov. 28th, 2011 Office is closed.

Dec. 1st, 2011

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies @ the Bogani Café

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

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

December 4th, 2011 Advent 2

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion, Wreath Liturgy & Sunday School

7:00 pm St. Margaret’s Christmas Concert

December 14th, 2011

Seniors Lunch

December 14th, 2011 @ 11:30 am


Sign up sheet available at the church

or by contacting Jen @ 780-437-7231


December Roster 2011

December 4th, 2011 Advent 2 (Rev. S Oliver)

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/V. Haase

Reader: S. Watson

(Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3: 8-15a)

Lay Administrants: L. Thompson/ C. Aasen

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: (Mark 1: 1-8) B. Popp

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

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: - 9:45 am J. Johnston

Music: W. Pyra

December 11th, 2011 Advent 2 (B. Popp/lead)

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Cromarty/T. Willacy

Counter: T. Cromarty/T. Willacy

Reader: C. Ripley

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thess. 5: 16-24)

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: (John 1: 6-8, 19-28) E. Gerber

Altar Guild (White) K. Hughes/ MW

Nursery: K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Doyle

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: E. Thompson

December 18th, 2011 Lessons & Carols

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels

Counter: D. Schindel/ D. Sanderson


(Lesson 1) Isa 9:2-7 C. Aasen

(Lesson 2) Micah 5:2-5a G. Hughes

(Lesson 3) Luke 1:26-38 M. Rys

(Lesson 4) Mt 1:18-25 A. Jayakaran

(Lesson 5) Luke 2:1-20 B. Popp

(Lesson 6) Mt 2:1-12 T. Cromarty

(Lesson 7) John 1:1-18 T. Chesterton

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Altar Guild (Purple) J. Mill/Lessons & Carols

Nursery: M. Aasen

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: E. McFall

Music: M. Eriksen

PLEASE SIGN UP FOR ROSTER DUTIES FOR THE FOLLOWING DAYS: (Sign up sheet will be available in December in the foyer!)

December 24th, 2011 Christmas Eve 7:00 pm & 11:00 pm

December 25th, 2011 Christmas Day 10:00 am only

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon for Nov. 20th: Matthew 25:31-46

Be a Neighbour to Those in Need

Today at our 10.30 service we are baptising two young children, Sophia and Maria. I must admit that when I was thinking about today’s gospel reading in relation to our baptism service I was more than a little nervous. ‘How am I going to connect the baptisms of Sophia and Maria with the parable of the sheep and the goats?’ On the one hand we have this joyful family occasion, with parents bringing their beloved children to Christ to receive a new birth by water and the Spirit into the family of God. On the other hand, we have Jesus dividing the entire human race into two groups and sending one group to heaven and the other group to hell. One theme is all about God’s love and joy coming into our lives by grace; the other theme seems to be all about the threat of judgement. How are we going to bring these two themes together?

Well, let’s see what we can do, shall we?

When you and I were baptised, God did something for us that we can’t do for ourselves. The Bible uses many different images to describe the miracle that God accomplishes in baptism. It’s like having our sins washed away and walking clean into a new life. It’s like being born again. It’s like being adopted into the family of God as a son or daughter of God. It’s like dying with Jesus on the cross and rising to a whole new life. It’s a sign of the Holy Spirit coming into us and giving us new life and new strength to follow Jesus. None of these things are things we do for ourselves; they are all acts of God. So baptism is all about grace – God’s love that we don’t have to earn, it comes to us as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ.

So much for God’s side of the baptismal covenant. Now – what about our side? We must remember that pretty well everyone who was baptised in the New Testament was baptised as an adult convert. They had heard the gospel message about Jesus; they had been persuaded by it; they had decided they wanted to be part of it, and so they had come forward and asked ‘What must I do to be saved?’ The usual answer was some variation on ‘Turn away from your sins, put your trust in Jesus, and be baptised so that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and be able to follow Jesus as your Lord’.

We see these things reflected in the questions that I will ask the parents of our baptismal candidates in a few minutes. I’m going to ask them three questions about the life that Christians leave behind: will they renounce Satan, the evil powers of this world, and the sinful desires in themselves that draw them away from God’s love? I will then ask them three questions about the life that Christians embrace: will they turn to Jesus Christ as Saviour, trust in his grace and love, and obey him as their Lord?

That last question is the crux of the matter. Baptism, on the human side, is a free will decision to put ourselves under the authority of a new Lord. Jesus is going to start from this theme at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he gives his apostles instructions about baptism:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).
So to make a decision to be baptized, or to bring a child for baptism, is something we do, first and foremost, because we recognise that Jesus is not just an incredibly smart human being or a wise religious leader: he is the one to whom God the Father has committed all authority in heaven and on earth. To say ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not just to say something about how I feel in my heart; it is to acknowledge something that is a cosmic reality: it’s true here in Edmonton, it’s true in Beijing and in Djakarta, it’s true on Mars and on Alpha Centauri and in the middle of the Crab Nebula.

And this is where our gospel reading starts:
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory’ (v.31).

‘Son of Man’, of course, is a title that Jesus has been using for himself all through his ministry. By itself it’s just an Aramaic phrase that means ‘human one’ or ‘human being’, but when Jesus calls himself, not ‘a’ son of man, but ‘the Son of Man’, he is making a specific reference to the Bible. He’s making a reference to the book of Daniel, one of the weirdest books of the Old Testament and as mysterious as the Book of Revelation in many ways.

In the seventh chapter of Daniel we read about four weird beasts who represent four empires that will bring suffering to the whole earth. But then the scene changes. An awesome and majestic throne is set up, and the Ancient of Days – that is, God - takes his place on it; books are opened, judgement is pronounced, and the beasts are killed and their bodies are burned with fire. And then follows this passage:
‘As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man (NRSV: ‘like a human being’) coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient of Days’ (NRSV: ‘the Ancient One’) and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed’ (Daniel 7:13-14).

Biblical scholars are divided about just who exactly Daniel thought he was writing about when he mentions this ‘one like a son of man’. But everyone knows that when Jesus called himself ‘the Son of Man’, this was the biblical passage he had in mind. And so, in a twist of irony, a phrase which sounds really humble actually becomes a claim to have great authority: Jesus was saying, “I am the one to whom God the Father has given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples and nations and languages should serve me. My dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and my kingship is one that shall never be destroyed”.

It’s a breathtaking claim, but this is who Jesus thought he was. And to be a baptised Christian is to be a person who has accepted that claim. We have to be quite clear about this. Sometimes evangelical Christians talk about ‘making Jesus the Lord of your life’. That’s rather pretentious, I think. Poor little Jesus has no authority, but then I make him the Lord of my life and now he has authority because I’ve given it to him! No – Jesus is Lord of my life whether I choose to make him Lord or not; his Lordship does not come from me, it comes from his Father, who has given him all authority in heaven and on earth. In baptism, I choose to accept that authority over myself, and over my family as I bring my children for baptism.

Now – how does that work itself out in our daily life? What are the things that we do because we acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Our baptismal service in a few minutes is going to name some of them. We continue to participate in the worship of the Church week by week, listening to the biblical teachings, sharing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and joining in the prayers. We do our best to resist evil and to repent of our sins.  We share the good news of Christ with others, both by our words and by our example. We work for justice and peace and we respect the dignity of every human being.

These are some of the things we do – this is a partial description of the way of life that we followers of Jesus are learning. But I want to focus for a moment on the one promise that I haven’t mentioned so far. In a few moments I will ask the parents and godparents, and all of you who want to renew your baptismal commitment, this question:
‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?’
And you will reply,
‘I will, with God’s help’.

It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? ‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?’ It’s as if we’re on a search for Jesus. Where can we find him? Can we find him today as we break the bread and pour out the wine and share the meal he gave us? Definitely. Can we find him as we listen to his Word? Certainly. Can we find him each day as we pray, by ourselves or with others? Of course.

But there’s another, one hundred percent reliable way of finding Jesus in our daily lives today. The place he spends his working week, apparently, is among the poor and needy. If you want to experience the presence of Jesus in your life, one of the most reliable ways of doing that is to go and find someone who is suffering and to help them, because Jesus graciously accepts all such service as if it was done to him. Listen again to what he says in today’s gospel:
‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’” (vv.34-36).

The ones who Jesus refers to as ‘the righteous’ express some surprise over this; they don’t remember doing any of this for Jesus:
‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”’ (vv.37-40).

Here are our instructions. Do you want to know what you should be doing as baptised Christians, as followers of Jesus in the world? Well, this is a big part of the answer. Those of you who have brought children for baptism, today and at other times, do you want to know how to teach your children to follow Jesus? Don’t leave this part out, because Jesus says it’s crucial: teach them that when they see the face of a suffering person, they are seeing the face of Jesus. The poor and needy are not an embarrassment or a nuisance; they are an opportunity to serve Christ.

This statement confers an incredible dignity on the poor and the suffering! The wicked people in Jesus’ parable don’t recognise that dignity. “When, Lord?” they ask; “When was it that we saw you in trouble and refused to help you?” No doubt their plea is, “If we had known it was you, we would have helped immediately, but we didn’t think it was anyone important!” Jesus, however, sees everyone as important, even ‘the least of these who are members of my family’; each of them has the dignity of representing him to us, his followers. To serve them is to serve him.

Where do we start? Well, the opportunities are endless. Every three seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies of hunger-related causes. One third of the world’s population lives on less than three dollars a day. 29% of the world’s population has 80% of its wealth. There are over 50 million refugees in the world. There are at least two thousand homeless people in the city of Edmonton. And even here, on the prosperous south side of the city, there are senior citizens on fixed incomes who need to ask the Food Bank for help every month because they are having difficulty making ends meet.

And of course there are other kinds of needs too. What about those who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or gambling? What about those with mental illnesses? What about those who are chronically ill? What about those who are at the end of their rope because of the stress of modern life?

So this is part of our job description as baptised followers of Jesus. God has poured his love into our hearts, freely and without reserve. Our sins have been forgiven, we have been adopted into his family and given the gift of the Holy Spirit, all by God’s grace. Every one of us here today is a beneficiary of the generosity of God our Saviour and our Father. His compassion for us has no limits.

Well, we are called to imitate the limitless compassion of our heavenly Father. Jesus our Lord calls us to follow him by serving all who are in need. Day by day, as we move through our daily lives, we are to keep our eyes open to the needs of those around us. Jesus won’t ask us to do what we can’t; he’ll ask us to do what is within our power to do. And all that we do for those in need, we will be doing for our Lord himself. This is our way of life as followers of Jesus, so when we leave this place today, let’s get busy about it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sermon for November 13th: Matthew 25:14-30

Be Faithful Stewards

Today we’re going to talk about stewardship. I suspect that the main reason we’re nervous about this word is that we’ve heard it used so often in the context of fund-raising and we think it’s just a nice theological cover for a pitch for more money. It’s true that stewardship does include money but it includes much more than money, and our gospel reading for today spells it out in some detail.

As we move toward the Advent season we find that our readings in the lectionary are looking forward more and more toward God’s future kingdom and the return of Christ in glory. The issue that comes up over and over again is ‘How do we get ready for Christ’s return?’ This is the subject of the three parables in Matthew chapter 25. The first story tells us how important it is to be ready at a moment’s notice so that we don’t miss the enormous party God is getting ready to throw. This week’s gospel goes on to address the issue of what we should be doing while we’re waiting.

The story is a very simple one. A man, presumably a rich landowner, is going away on a journey, so he calls together his trusted slaves and commits his property into their care. The word ‘talent’, which is used in our translation, does not mean ‘natural abilities’ as it does to us today; rather, in those days a ‘talent’ was a sum of money, a very large sum in fact: it was approximately what a labourer might hope to earn in half a lifetime! The ‘talents’ are not distributed equally; one slave receives five, another two, and a third one, ‘each according to his ability’ (v.15). The obvious intention is that the slaves put the money to work so that when their master returns he will receive a profit.

And this is in fact what happens with the first two slaves; they each put the money to work, and by the time the master returns they have doubled it. But the third slave is a little more timid, perhaps overawed by the huge amount of money entrusted to him and terrified that he might lose it, so he buries it in a hole in the ground and then gives it back to the master when he returns. The master is pleased with the first two slaves because they’ve done well with what was entrusted to them, but he’s not pleased at all with the third slave.

There are three things I want to point out to you about what this parable teaches us.

Firstly, everything in life is entrusted to us by God. In medieval times the steward of a castle and of an estate was a very important official. It was his job to run the estate on behalf of the lord of the manor, and he was responsible to the lord for seeing that everything was in good order and turning a profit. If the lord of the manor went away - for instance, to take part in the king’s wars - the steward would be left in total charge of the estate and to all intents and purposes he was the lord of the manor to the tenants and employees. But of course there was one important distinction. None of it actually belonged to the steward. It had been entrusted to him by the lord of the manor, and it was the lord’s plans, not the steward’s, that were the deciding factor in how the estate was actually run.

The Bible teaches that human beings are God’s stewards here on earth. At the very beginning of the Biblical story, God put people on the earth to take care of it, protect it and use it according to God’s purposes. We were given permission to eat from any tree in the garden - in other words, we could use the good things of the earth with a clear conscience because God put them here for us to enjoy. But this was not blanket permission; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was forbidden to us. Whatever else that may mean, it certainly means that our freedom to do what we like was limited by God’s will and God’s plan. We are his stewards, and as his stewards we have the right to enjoy the good things of his creation, but we do not have the right to plunder and destroy it and we do not have the right to use God’s gifts in a way that God would not want. We do not own anything. It all belongs to God, and he has lent it to us - just like the master in the story lent the money to his servants. He has lent it to us to use according to his will, not ours.

The human tragedy, of course, is that we see ourselves as the owners, not the stewards. So often I act as if my life belongs to me, and it is for me to use it as I see fit, for my own happiness. I act as if my money and possessions are my own, to use as I like, without any reference to God’s preferences.

But the truth is that we are the stewards of God’s good gifts, not the owners. Everything in life belongs to God and is entrusted to us for doing God’s will in the world. What are some of the things he has entrusted to us - the things that correspond to the ‘talents’ in the parable? They would include our life, health and strength, our talents, abilities and interests, our time, our job and our leisure. Our children are entrusted to us by God. Our knowledge and influence are gifts we can use for him. Our money and possessions are a trust from him. Even the gospel message itself has been entrusted to us, not to hoard, but to pass on to others.

We aren’t to think that God only wants us to use these gifts for ‘churchy’ things. God is actually far less interested in church than we are! But God wants the poor to be fed, the weak protected, the suffering helped. God wants our families to be strong and our children to grow up knowing and loving him. God wants communities to be strong and full of individuals who care not just for themselves but for the good of everyone. God wants churches to be healthy so that they can be models of his kingdom and centres for mission. God wants the message of Jesus to spread to the ends of the earth and the ends of our communities as well. These are some of God’s purposes for the world. And we are to use the gifts he has entrusted to us to help those purposes come about.

It is God’s desire and joy to see us using all of the gifts he has entrusted to us to the full, for his glory and for the well being of others. In the 1980’s movie ‘Chariots of Fire’, the sprinter Eric Liddell is explaining to his sister how he balances his love for competitive running with his sense of call to be a missionary to China. He says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure”. Liddell understood that his athletic ability had been given to him by God, and that in using his gifts to the full, and not denying them, he was bringing joy to the God who created him.

So the first thing is that everything in life is entrusted to us by God. The second thing we learn from this parable can be summed up in some words of St. Paul: ‘It is required of stewards that they be found faithful’. And faithfulness for these three servants didn’t mean taking no risks and hiding the money in a hole in the ground. It meant using the money according to the purposes the master had in mind when he entrusted it to them.

In verse 29 Jesus says something that sounds very harsh. He says ‘For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’. This sounds like a harsh saying but it is in fact a universal law that we can see demonstrated around us all the time. If I take the little muscles God has given me and use them faithfully, eventually I will develop bigger and stronger muscles. But if I lie around and do nothing with them - ‘protecting them’ or ‘burying my money in the ground’, if you like - even the little muscles I have will atrophy and their strength will be lost to me. Likewise, if I’m trying to learn a foreign language and I take the few words I know and use them as best I can in trying to speak with people, I will very quickly learn more words and how to use them. But if I say “I don’t know enough to speak yet” and so ‘hide my talent in the ground’, I will never learn more and in fact will soon forget what little I do know.

God is not asking for star performance from us. He is asking for faithfulness. He is not interested in me envying the gifts he has given to others; he wants me to use the gifts he has given to me. He has given us the gifts and abilities we need to fulfil the mission he has called us to, and if we use them faithfully we will find ourselves growing and branching out into new areas and new gifts we didn’t think we had. The issue isn’t how many gifts we have, or which ones. The issue is whether or not we are faithful in using what God has entrusted to us for his glory.

It would be very easy, for instance, for us to say, “Because I haven’t got a degree in theology I’m never going to open my mouth about my Christian faith; after all, I don’t know enough to be able to make an intelligent comment about it”. The problem is that if only people with theological degrees are competent to comment on the Christian faith, God’s not going to have many witnesses, is he? And the truth is that all of us have something we can share with others about Jesus and who he is and what he is doing in our lives. If we don’t, then preachers are doing a bad job and you should fire us all for malpractice! But in fact none of you would be here today if your faith didn’t add some meaning and value to your life, and with a bit of faith and a bit of practice you can explain that to someone else. The Gospel hasn’t been entrusted to us to be hoarded in a hole in the ground, you see; it’s been entrusted to us to be passed on to others.

What causes us to be unfaithful in using the gifts God has entrusted to us? Sometimes it’s simple laziness. The master in the parable describes the third slave as ‘You wicked and lazy slave!’ (v.26). It’s far easier for me to sit at home and read a book than to actually go out and use the gifts God has entrusted to me to help build up God’s kingdom.

But another reason for unfaithfulness is fear - especially fear of failure. One reason I’ve never learned to skate is that I’m afraid of people laughing at me when I fall down over and over again. It’s much safer to watch on the sidelines, but I suspect that in the long run I have a lot less fun. My fear, in other words, is getting in the way of the potential for fulness of life that God has put in me. And fear doesn’t just stop people from skating but from doing all kinds of much more important things for the extension of God’s kingdom. The faithful steward has learned how to deal with that fear; he or she has learned not to let fear prevent them from trying new things, taking risks and stepping out in faith for God. And God loves to see that happen.

So the parable teaches us that everything in life is entrusted to us by God, and that it is required of us as stewards that we be found faithful in using God’s gifts. The third thing we learn from the parable is this: that there will be a day of accounting to God for how we have used the gifts he has entrusted to us.

We are used to thinking of holiness in terms of avoiding sin, and judgement has to do with the sins we haven’t been successful in avoiding. But the picture of the judgement that this parable gives us is very different; it has more to do with how we have used the opportunities God has entrusted to us. God isn’t just interested in the sins we have avoided but also in the positive good we have done. “What did you do with what I entrusted to you?” he will ask us. “What about the time you were given - did you use it to do good or to do nothing? To work for the kingdom or to work for your own selfish ends? And what about the people I gave you some influence over - your children, your friends, your fellow-workers? Did you use that influence to help build my kingdom? How about your talents? What did you do with them to help make the world the kind of place I want it to be? And what about your money - there was so much good you could have done with it. Did you?”

These are the kinds of questions this parable suggests that God will be asking us on the day of accounting. And the rule of thumb will be “To whom much has been given, of them much will be required”. God won’t ask you to produce things with gifts he hasn’t given you, but he will want to know what you have done with the gifts you have been given. In other words, as we said before, the issue is faithfulness.

We sometimes say of someone “He’s a good man - he never does anyone any harm”. Richard Baxter, a Puritan writer, once said “That’s praise for a rock, but not for a man!” Bible translator Gordon Fee adds, “A fence post can be a good Christian on that score!” The lazy servant was punished, not because he did wrong, but because he did nothing.

John Powell, a Catholic writer, taught me a great prayer: “O God, don’t let me die without having really lived and really loved”. And John Wesley used to teach the following rule to his followers: ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can’!

God longs to see you and me living as good stewards, using our time, our talents, our money and everything else he has entrusted to us for his purposes, so that the world becomes the kind of place he yearns for it to be. And God rejoices to see the work we do, the love we share, the people whose lives we touch, and the gifts and talents we use to the full. “Enter into the joy of your Lord”, said the master to the faithful stewards. And to God alone be the glory!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nov 14 - 20

Nov. 14th, 2011 Office is closed.

Nov. 15 th, 2011

11:15 am Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s Hospital

7:30 pm “Out of the Saltshaker” Book Study #9

Nov. 16th, 2011

7:15 pm Vestry Meeting

Nov. 17th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies @ the Bogani Café

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

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

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

Nov. 18th, 2011

7:30 pm - 9:00 pm New Member Orientation @ the Church

Nov. 19th, 2011

3:00 pm Cookie Exchange @ St. Margaret’s

5:00 pm Potluck @ St. Margaret’s

November 20th, 2011 Reign of Christ

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion, Sunday School & Baptisms

Stewardship Initiative; Week #3

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sermon for November 6th: Matthew 25:1-13

Be Ready

I’m not sure how many of you have seen the movie ‘Almost an Angel’ which stars Paul Hogan of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ fame. His character is a bank robber who gets knocked down by a car in the act of saving a little girl’s life. When he comes face to face with God in the afterlife, God says to him “You aren’t very religious, are you?” He replies, “I planned to get very religious – right before I died!” The problem, of course, is that he has died unexpectedly, without time to put his plan into effect. He was not ready.

The three parables in Matthew 25 all have to do with readiness. We might sum them up with three titles. The first parable, which we’ll look at today, could be called ‘Be Ready’. The second, which we’ll look at next week, deals with using our gifts for the Kingdom, and we might entitle it ‘Be Faithful Stewards’. The third is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which we might call ‘Be a Neighbour to Those in Need’.

So today we want to look at this first parable: ‘Be Ready’. And we need to start by thinking about the wedding customs in the time of Jesus, because they were very different from our own. A wedding was a great occasion and the whole village turned out to accompany the couple to their new home. The procession would take the longest possible route so that the couple could receive the good wishes of as many people as possible. The newly married couple didn’t go away for a honeymoon; instead, they kept open house for a week, and invited all their relatives, friends and neighbours to join the celebration. There was feasting all week long – which, of course, is why the wine ran out when Jesus attended the wedding in Cana in John 2.

A man called Alexander Finlay witnessed a wedding in Palestine in the early years of the twentieth century. Here’s how he describes it:
‘When we were approaching the gates of a Galilean town I caught a sight of ten maidens gaily clad and playing some kind of musical instrument, as they danced along the road in front of our car; when I asked what they were doing, the dragoman told me that they were going to keep the bride company till her bridegroom arrived. I asked him if there was any chance of seeing the wedding, but he shook his head, saying in effect “It might be tonight, or tomorrow night, or in a fortnight’s time; nobody ever knows for certain”. Then he went on to explain that one of the great things to do, if you could, at a middle class wedding in Palestine was to catch the bridal party napping. So the bridegroom comes unexpectedly, and sometimes in the middle of the night… so the bridal party has to be ready to go out onto the street at any time to meet him, whenever he chooses to come… Other important points are that no one is allowed on the streets after dark without a lighted lamp, and also that, when the bridegroom has once arrived, and the door has been shut, late-comers to the ceremony are not admitted’.
This gives us some real insight into what is going on here in Jesus’ story. The ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to come, but his arrival is delayed. Five of them are prepared for that delay, but five are not.

It’s not difficult to read the main thrust of what Jesus is saying here. In the Gospels he often refers to the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast, with himself as the bridegroom. There will come a day, he teaches us – and no one knows when it will come – a day when he will come to take his bride, the Church, and carry her off to celebrate their wedding feast. As it says in Revelation 19:9 ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’. And again in chapter 21:2: ‘And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband’. The bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable are Christian people, or at least church members. Half of them are prepared for his coming, but half are not.

Why are they not ready? It’s not hard to understand this. A certain segment of the early church seems to have believed that what we often refer to as ‘the second coming of Jesus’ would happen very quickly, within a few years of his Ascension. With this in mind the Church was very conscious of the decisiveness of the present moment, and lived every day with the thought that ‘It could be today!’ But as the years went by this hope began to fade, and some began to question it altogether. This is the situation Peter is confronting in his second letter when he writes ‘In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation”’ (2 Peter 3:3-4). And if people felt that way in the time of Peter, how much more do we feel that way today after two thousand years of Church history!

But in fact the early Christians should not have been surprised at the delay, and neither should we. Jesus foretells it quite clearly in this parable. In verse 5 he says ‘the bridegroom was delayed’. But not everyone is prepared for the delay. Some Christians have signed on for the long haul and are prepared to be faithful over a long period of time. These folk are ready when the bridegroom arrives at midnight. Others, however, are caught unprepared.

There are three important lessons for us in this parable about readiness. Here they are.

First of all, there are some things you can’t see from the outside. On the outside these ten girls all looked alike. They were all waiting for the bridegroom; they all had lamps with them; they all got sleepy when his return was delayed. But there was one important difference between them, and that difference was decisive when the bridegroom returned: five had oil in their lamps, and five did not.

What might this mean for us? Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones was a Welsh Methodist preacher who for twenty-nine years was pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. Early in his life as a preacher, in the late 1930’s, he came to Toronto for a summer to fill in at a great Baptist church for three months while the pastor was away. On his first Sunday at this church the pastor was present with him, and the pastor led the service while Lloyd-Jones preached. In those days it was still common for people to go to church twice on Sundays, and Lloyd-Jones announced that each Sunday he would be preaching two different sermons. In the morning, he said, he would be preaching to build up Christians in their faith, and in the evening he would be preaching evangelistic sermons aimed at helping those who had not yet found a personal faith in Christ to come to him and put their trust in him.

After the service the two pastors greeted the people as they left the church. A particularly well-dressed woman approached, and the pastor whispered into Lloyd-Jones’ ear “That lady is a pillar of this congregation; she’s been attending here for years, and a finer Christian you’re never likely to meet”. But the woman shook Lloyd-Jones’ hand and said “Did I understand you correctly, that you intend to preach in the mornings on the assumption that you are speaking to Christians, and in the evenings on the assumption that you are speaking to people who are not yet converted to Christ?” When Lloyd-Jones confirmed that this was his intention, she said “Well, having heard you this morning I will come again tonight”. She had never attended the evening service before; only the morning. She came every week during Lloyd-Jones’ time in that church, and admitted to him in private conversation that although outwardly she looked like a fine churchgoer, inwardly she was desperately hungry and had never discovered a personal relationship with God. Everyone assumed that since she had been coming to church for years she had oil in her lamp, but in fact she was empty inside, and willing to admit it to a pastor she came to trust.

It’s possible to sit in church week by week and wonder “Why aren’t I getting it? Why doesn’t God seem real to me?” If you are in that situation this morning, don’t just accept it. It doesn’t have to be that way! Cry out to God to make himself known to you; press on to know and love Jesus. Don’t be satisfied with just having a beautiful lamp; make sure it has oil in it as well!

There are some things you can’t see from the outside. The second thing the parable teaches us is that there are some things you can’t borrow.

Years ago I used to work on the Red Earth Indian Reserve in northeastern Saskatchewan. I taught religion classes in the school there and so got to know the teachers quite well. One of the teachers, Freeman, was a nominal Anglican although he never attended church and hadn’t for years. There was a Pentecostal church in Nipawin that was quite interested in Red Earth; they had tent meetings there and would often take converts down to the river to do adult baptisms. One day Freeman was talking to me about this and he said, “What do we believe about that, Tim?” I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t escape the irony that here was a man who was asking me to tell him what his beliefs were, instead of thinking them through for himself!

In the Old Testament we read that the people of Israel were afraid to approach God for themselves. When Moses went up the mountain and they saw the thunder and lightning they said “This god is too scary; you talk to him for us, Moses!” And this has always been one of the characteristics of religion; I call it ‘the cult of the mediator’. I don’t want to do the demanding work that’s involved in developing my own relationship with God, so I ask someone else to do it on my behalf. But what this parable is telling me is that I can’t get into the kingdom on the strength of someone else’s relationship with God. I can’t borrow someone else’s oil; I have to have my own.

That’s the explanation for a troubling detail in this parable. Weren’t the five wise bridesmaids being uncharitable when they refused to lend oil to the five foolish ones? Why wouldn’t they share? But that’s the whole point Jesus is making. There are some things it is impossible to share with others. I can tell you about my faith in Jesus, but I can’t give my faith to you. You have to find it for yourself. I can’t give you my oil; you need to ask for oil of your own from the only person who can give it to you, Jesus himself.

There are some things you can’t tell from the outside; there are some things you can’t borrow from someone else. The last thing we learn from this parable is that there are some things you shouldn’t put off until the last minute. It’s said that when Queen Mary of Orange lay dying in the seventeenth century her chaplain began to explain to her the way of salvation. She said to him “I have not left this important matter to this hour”. She hadn’t put it off until the last minute. She was ready.

The words ‘Too late’ are terrible words. The job is lost; it’s too late now to say that you’ll work harder. The divorce has come through; it’s too late now to make amends and try to heal the situation. The exam is tomorrow morning; it’s too late now to start studying for it!

I once heard Bruce Smith, the director of Threshold Ministries, tell a story of a young man who said to him “I want to become a Christian after I turn thirty – but I want to live first!” Tragically, of course, some people never reach thirty. Some people die a lot younger than that – and very few of them plan to do so. That’s why the words of Psalm 95 are so important for us: ‘O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts…’ (Psalm 95:7b-8a).

The point of this whole parable is found in the last line, where Jesus says ‘Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour’ (v.13). We don’t know the hour of Jesus’ return, and neither do we know the hour of our own death. How ought we to respond to this situation? To quote an old hymn, we ought to ‘live each day as if it were thy last’.

So let’s remember the three things this parable teaches us. Let’s not be satisfied with going through the outward motions of a religious life; let’s press on to a living relationship with God through Christ. Let’s not be satisfied with second-hand knowledge of God – ‘borrowed oil’, to use the illustration of this parable. It won’t do us any good in the end. And let’s not put this matter off until it’s too late; let’s make it a priority now to come to Jesus in faith, to commit our lives to him as his followers, and to walk in his company every day. Or, to sum it all up in the words of my title, let’s ‘Be Ready’ for the day when Christ appears!

Note: I got an unusual amount of help in the preparation of this sermon from William Barclay's 'Daily Study Bible' commentary on Matthew!

Friday, November 4, 2011

November 7 - 13

Nov. 7th, 2011 Office is closed.

Nov. 8th, 2011

7:30 pm “Out of the Saltshaker” Book Study #8

Nov. 10th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies @ the Bogani Café

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

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

Nov. 11th, 2011 Remembrance Day

Office is closed

November 13th, 2011 22th Sunday after Pentecost

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Stewardship Initiative; Week #2

Seniors Luncheon

Senior’s Lunch: The next Seniors’ Lunch will be November 17th at St. Margaret’s Church at 11:30 a.m. Everyone is welcome, Stan Gerber will be sharing a collection of his "Creative Photography" Please join us for a time of fellowship. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer or contact Julie Holmes at 435-4208 or Lesley Schindel at 989-3833 if you will be attending.