Friday, January 27, 2012

Jan 30th - Feb 5th, 2012

Jan 30th, 2012 Office is closed.

Feb 2nd, 2012

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

February 5th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

9:45 am Combined Coffee

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Roster for February 2012

Feb. 5th Epiphany 5

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Cromarty/T. Willacy

Counter: T. Cromarty/T. Willacy

Reader: A. Jayakaran

(Readings: Isaiah 40: 21-31, Psalm 147: 1-12, 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23)

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/L. Thompson

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Mark 1: 29-39)

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

Prayer Team: S. Jayakaran/M. Chesterton

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: - 9:45 am The Martens

Music: W. Pyra

Feb. 12th Epiphany 6

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/ B. Popp

Reader: M. Rys

(Readings: 2 Kings 5: 1-14, Psalm 30, 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27)

Lay Administrants: D. Schindel/C. Aasen

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: L. Thompson (Mark 1: 40-45)

Altar Guild: (green) M. Woytkiw/L. Schindel

Prayer Team: M. Rys/M. Chesterton

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool):

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: E. Thompson

Feb. 19th Last Sun. after Epiphany

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps

Counter: B. Popp/G. Hughes

Reader: D. Schindel

(Readings: 2 Kings 2: 1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6)

Lay Administrants: M. Rys/G. Hughes

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill(Mark 9: 2-9)

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

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/S. Jayakaran

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: B&M Mirtle

Music: M. Eriksen

Feb 26th Lent 1

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson

Reader: V. Haase

(Readings: Genesis 9: 8-17, Psalm 25: 1-9, 1Peter 3: 18-22 )

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: (Mark 1: 9-15) D. MacNeill

Altar Guild (Purple): J. Mill/MW

Sunday School (School Age): J. McDonald

Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin

Kitchen: E. McFall

Music: M. Chesterton

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

February 16th, 2012

Seniors Lunch

March 15th, 2012 @ 11:30 am


Sign up sheet available or phone 437 7231

January 23 - 29th 2012

Jan 23rd, 2012 Office is closed.

Jan 26th 2012

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

7:00 pm Planning & Building Meeting

January 29th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Morning Worship & Sunday School

Autumn Ballek from World Vision will preach at both services.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sermon for January 22nd: The Book of Jonah

Reluctantly Sent to the Whole World

The book of Jonah isn’t just a fanciful fairy story about a guy who got swallowed by a fish and then got burped up alive three days later. This is a story about a God who isn’t just ‘our’ God, but the God of our enemies too. It’s a story about a missionary who was told to go and spread God’s word to his enemies, but who chickened out and ran in the other direction instead – a reluctant missionary who eventually did as he was told, but then was angry when those enemies repented, because he was looking forward to seeing God wipe them out. I think you’ll agree that these themes are rather relevant to our world today. That’s why the book was written, and that’s why we read it as part of our Scriptures today.

There’s one question I’m going to set aside right at the beginning, and that’s the question of whether or not this story ‘actually happened’. This can be quite controversial, and people who are interested in the Bible often have strong feelings one way or the other. On the one hand, people point out that it’s impossible for a fish to swallow a human being and for them to stay alive for three days inside its belly. They also point out that there’s no historical record that the people of Ninevah ever turned wholesale to the God of Israel as this story says they did, nor is it true that Ninevah was a city that was so big it took three days to go from one side to the other. This story, they say, reads like a folk tale, and that’s what it is.

On the other hand, those who believe the story is literally true point out that if God can raise Jesus from the dead he can certainly make it possible for Jonah to stay alive in the belly of a fish for three days. They also point out that Jesus talks about Jonah in such a way as to give the impression he believed Jonah was a historical character.

I’m not going to take a position on this issue today, because I don’t think it affects the total message of the story. After all, we all know that Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son was a parable and never actually happened, but it can still speak powerfully to us about what God is like and what the Gospel is. And if it turns out that Jonah is also a parable, this still leaves us with the question of why this parable is included in our Scriptures; what is the Holy Spirit saying to us through it? So I will take the story as it stands in our Scriptures, leaving aside the question of historicity, and simply ask what God wants to say to us through it.

The story begins with God commanding Jonah the son of Amittai to leave Israel, go hundreds of miles to the northeast to the great Gentile city of Ninevah and try to drum up a revival by telling the people, “Forty days more and Ninevah shall be overthrown” (3:4). Ninevah, by the way, was not just another Gentile city; it was the capital city of Assyria, one of Israel’s deadliest enemies. Assyria was the nation that eventually destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in the eighth century B.C. and took its people into captivity. Imagine God sending a prophet from occupied France to Berlin in 1941, with the message that if the people there didn’t repent, God would overthrow their city – that’s the sort of commission that God gives to Jonah.

But Jonah went in the opposite direction – he took a ship across the Mediterranean Sea for Spain, trying to put as much distance between God and himself as he could. Apparently he wasn’t too enthusiastic about the call to be an overseas missionary. God responded by sending a storm to slow the ship down. Eventually the storm got so bad that the sailors began to talk about religion: “Whose god have we upset?” They did a little survey of the passengers and crew to find out about everyone’s religion, and when they got to Jonah and discovered that he worshipped Yahweh, who he claimed was the one who created heaven and earth, they got really nervous. “What have you done to annoy him so badly?” they asked, and Jonah told them he was running away from God’s call to be a missionary.

The sailors didn’t really want to harm Jonah, so they went back to their oars and tried hard to fight the storm, but when it became obvious that they were losing they came back and asked him what they should do. “Pick me up and throw me overboard”, Jonah replied; “It’s me he’s after, not you”. So they did, and down Jonah sank into an increasingly quiet ocean. That’s the last we hear of the ship, the sailors, or the storm.

Jonah probably thought it was the last of him, too, and when he saw an enormous fish approaching he must have been even more sure that this was the end of his story. But in the next few hours Jonah discovered an amazing new truth about God: God didn’t want his death; he wanted his obedience. And somehow, in an entirely supernatural way, in the belly of a fish, God saved Jonah for one reason and one reason only: so that he could have a second chance at the job he’d run away from the first time: taking the Word of God to the enemies of Israel.

Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish and we can imagine that he did a lot of praying there (his prayers are summarised for us in chapter two of the book). The writer of the book makes it clear that God was in control of how long Jonah stayed in that dark and unpleasant place; presumably he waited until he was sure that Jonah’s repentance was genuine, but at the end of chapter two we read that ‘the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land’ (2:10).

We can imagine how happy Jonah was to see the light of day again, but we can only guess at his feelings when the word of the Lord came to him a second time: ‘Get up, go to Ninevah, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you’ (Jonah 3:2). But Jonah had learned a thing or two about God, and so off he went to Ninevah, walking up and down in the streets and calling out “Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown” (3:4).

Then an amazing thing happened: instead of lynching Jonah, the people of Ninevah believed him, and they repented and turned to the God of Israel. The king ordered everyone to fast and pray and wear sackcloth and even the animals had to join in the fast - involuntarily, no doubt! And the Bible says that ‘when God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it’ (3:10).

Was Jonah pleased that the Ninevites had believed his message? He was not. He went off in a huff. “I knew this would happen!” he railed at God.  “You’re such a wimp! You always come out with these big threats but then as soon as people say they’re sorry and turn from their sins you turn into a pushover! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish in the first place; I knew you’d make a liar out of me!” And Jonah sat down on a hill outside Ninevah with his nose in the air.

After a while it got very hot sitting there in dignified disapproval, and so God (who was no doubt watching and having difficulty controlling his laughter) made a bush grow up to give Jonah some shade. Jonah was happy about that and eventually he had a good night’s sleep under the bush. But the next day God commanded a worm to eat the roots, and the bush died. When Jonah complained about what had happened to the bush God spoke to him again. “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (4:11).

And that’s the question with which the book ends. The author leaves it hanging in the air, because that’s the big issue he wants to raise. Is God only concerned for his chosen people Israel, or is he concerned for other people too – even the deadliest enemies Israel has ever faced? Is he their god too? And if he is, what should Israel do about that? The author of Jonah proposes two radical answers to these questions.

First, he is quite clear that God is not just our God; he’s also the God of everyone else – even the people we hate and fear the most. This is a revolutionary idea today, and it was revolutionary in Jonah’s time too. At the very beginning, way back in the book of Genesis, when God first chose Abraham, he said to him ‘ you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ (Genesis 12:3). Unfortunately, by the time of Jonah the people had forgotten this call to be a blessing to all the families of the earth; they had come to believe that God cared for the Jews and the Jews only, and that he had created the Gentiles for the express purpose of feeding the fires of hell. That’s why, when Jesus sent his apostles out as missionaries to preach the Good News, they had such a difficult time with the idea that it wasn’t only for the Jewish people. To them the Gentiles - especially the Romans - were still the enemy and the oppressor; God should judge them, not save them.

Luke tells a significant story about how that attitude changed in Acts chapters ten and eleven. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, had become a believer in the God of Israel and had begun to practice the commandments, but had not gone the whole way of circumcision. One day he was praying in his room when an angel appeared to him and told him to send a messenger to Joppa for a man called Simon Peter who would tell him what to do next. At the same time, Peter was having a nap on the roof of a house in Joppa. In his sleep, God sent him a dream to direct him not to call anything unclean when God had made it clean. Immediately afterwards, the messengers from the Gentile Cornelius appeared, and Peter concluded that the dream meant he was to go with them, back to Cornelius’ house.

This was a brave step for Peter to take – he was going to the house of the Roman enemy, the oppressor of Israel, and he was doing so, not with the hand of judgement and death, but with the gospel message of Jesus and his love. When he got to Cornelius’ house he began to share the gospel message, but almost immediately the Holy Spirit filled the Romans who were listening, just as he had filled the Jewish disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Peter and the others were amazed, but Peter said, “I guess we’d better baptize them, then!” And so the gospel first crossed the barrier between Jew and Gentile.

God sent Jonah across the barrier between Israel and Assyria to preach to the people of Ninevah. God sent Peter across the barrier between Jews and Romans, to share the gospel with Cornelius and his family. And today God is still calling us to cross barriers and build bridges across the divides between people, so that we can share the gospel story. I wonder which barrier he’s calling you and me to cross today? Is it a racial barrier? Is it a barrier between warring political ideologies – left and right or, as our American friends would say, red states and blue states? Is it about gay or straight, or rich or poor, or white collar and blue collar?

The first revolutionary idea is that God is not just our God; he’s the God of all people, even our enemies. But the second idea is revolutionary too. God did not say to Jonah, “I love the Ninevites, and they’re quite okay worshipping their own gods because those gods are just a different way of speaking about me”. No the book of Jonah is clearly teaching us that there are some ideas of God that are more accurate than others, and there are some ways of following God that are more faithful than others. Jesus obviously believed this too, because he sent his disciples out to spread his message around the world, to go to people who already had their own religions and their own ideas about God or the gods, challenging them to turn from their previous allegiances and become followers of Jesus. All the biblical writers are agreed that idols are a lie, and it is not an act of love to tell people that believing a lie is okay.

But before we get on our high horses about other religions, let’s look a little closer to home. What are our own ‘false gods’? What are the popular idols in our culture – the things that people prize the most, the things they sacrifice time and money and health for, the things that they use to make sense of their lives, and that they turn to when the chips are down and they are desperate? What about the false god of money and possessions? What about the idols of success, and popularity with others? What about the false god of nationalism, ‘My country right or wrong’? What about the idol of ‘the economy’, that one absolute value on whose altar so many governments are prepared to sacrifice so many other things – things that might just be more important to the one true God who Jesus revealed to us?

To be faithful to the book of Jonah means coming to see our own idolatries and turning from false gods to the one true God revealed to us in Jesus. It means being willing to reach out across barriers of race and culture and economic status, and even to reach out to those we fear and hate. It means coming to recognise that each of them is made in the image of God, and is important to God. And it means learning to share the Gospel with them, the good news that God has sent his Son to live and die and rise again for us, so that we can find forgiveness and healing and hope and new life in him. May God give us grace to be faithful to the revolutionary message we find in this wonderful Old Testament story. Amen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sermon for January 15th: John 1:43-51

A Ladder between Earth and Heaven

I wonder if you know the famous Old Testament story of Jacob’s ladder? Let me tell you the story as it appears in the Book of Genesis.

Isaac was the son of Abraham and was married to Rebekah, and they had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a few minutes older than Jacob, and there had been a rivalry between them since the day that they were born. The Genesis story suggests that this rivalry even existed at the moment of their birth; Jacob was grasping his older brother’s heel as he came out, as if there had been a kind of competition between them as to who should be born first. And so they called him ‘Jacob’ which means ‘he grasps’ or ‘he supplants’.

Esau grew up to be an outdoorsman and there was nothing he liked better than to go out hunting; his father loved him best because he loved to eat the wild game Esau cooked for him. Jacob preferred staying close to home, and he and his mother were very close. Rebekah comes across in the story as a classic manipulator, and she taught her son well. His whole life long he was trying to manipulate people to get what he wanted out of them: first his brother Esau, then his father-in-law Laban.

Esau and Jacob had a couple of scrapes when they were young men. We’re told that one day Esau came in really hungry from a day’s hunting, and he smelled a red stew that Jacob was cooking. “Give me some of that to eat!” he demanded. Jacob said, “I’ll give it to me - if you sell me your birthright”. “What good is a birthright if I’m starving?” Esau replied, and so he agreed to sell his rights as firstborn son just so he could eat what the King James Version calls ‘a mess of pottage’ – hence the old saying, ‘selling his birthright for a mess of pottage’.

But the news that Jacob now had the rights of an oldest son didn’t seem to have made it to old Isaac, his father. In those days it was a very big deal to receive your father’s blessing as the oldest son, and the time came when Isaac thought he ought to give Esau his blessing. So he told him to go out into the field and hunt some game, bring it home and cook it for him, and then he would give him the blessing of the firstborn. Rebekah was listening in and she heard what her husband said.

So Esau got his bow and arrows and off he went. But Rebekah went and found Jacob and told him what was going on. “Now listen”, she said, “let’s go and kill a goat from the flock and cook it for your father; he’s old and blind and he won’t know it’s you. That way you can receive the blessing of the firstborn”. But Jacob wasn’t so sure. “He may be blind, but he’ll be able to feel the difference – my brother’s all hairy, but my skin is smooth!” “Leave it to me”, his mother replied.

Jacob did as his mother suggested. When they had killed the animal and cooked it, Rebekah spread the skins on his arms and shoulders, and Jacob took the stew to his father. So they were able to deceive old Isaac, and Jacob received the blessing of the firstborn in place of his older brother, Esau. Esau of course was very angry when he heard about this, so angry that he threatened to kill his brother. And so Rebekah told Jacob to run away across the desert to Haran, where their family had come from, where he could find refuge with her brother Laban. So he ran away.

Now we might ask ourselves the question, “Where is God in this story?” These people seem like the typical dysfunctional family and there isn’t much of a sense that obeying God and living by God’s laws is very important to them. Isaac and Rebekah each have favourites among their children, and the boys know about this, and of course it causes trouble. Outwardly they are a religious family; Isaac is the son of Abraham, who had heard God calling him to leave Haran and find a new place to live in Canaan where his family would be God’s chosen people. But God seems pretty distant to them and they don’t seem to spend a lot of time seeking God’s will for their lives. And so it might well be said of Jacob, as it was said of Samuel in our Old Testament reading for today, that he ‘did not yet know the Lord’ (1 Samuel 3:7).

Let’s stop here for a moment and ask ourselves how many people and families we have known in our lives where something like this is going on? Children have been brought up in a family that is at least outwardly religious and goes to church on a regular basis. It’s possible that the parents have had a real experience of God at some point in their lives, but, like all of us, they are flawed and imperfect people and don’t always give the best example to their kids of what it means to be godly people. The children participate in the religious rituals of the family because ‘that’s what we do’, but for them it hasn’t yet become a personal reality; they do not yet ‘know the Lord’. In years to come, after they leave home, they will probably fall away from institutional religion altogether, unless they have some sort of a conversion experience in which their institutional faith becomes more of a personal and experiential reality for them.

That’s the situation for Jacob at this point in the story. However, things begin to change for him on his way to Haran. He is in a desolate place but he finds a patch of ground to sleep for the night, although all he can find for a pillow is a stone. He falls asleep, but he has a strange dream – possibly because of the stone pillow, you might think! In his dream he sees what seems like a ladder, suspended between earth and heaven. He sees the angels of God going up and down on the ladder, between earth and heaven. And in his dream God comes and stands beside him, assuring him that he is the God of Abraham and Isaac and that he will be Jacob’s God too, and all the promises he had made to Abraham and Isaac are good for Jacob as well. Obviously this dream has a big impact on Jacob; when he wakes up in the morning he names the place ‘Bethel’ which means ‘house of God’, and he sets the stone up as a memorial to remind him of the spot where he had first met with God. And from that day onward God begins to be more of a reality in Jacob’s life, although it will take many years for him to be cured of his trickster ways! If you want to find out more about his story, you’ll find it in Genesis 25-36.

Now why am I telling you this story? Well, perhaps you’ve often wished you could find a ladder to heaven. Perhaps you’ve had a hard time connecting with God or feeling that God is a reality in your life. Perhaps you’ve only felt the distance of God, rather than his presence. Perhaps you too grew up in a religious family but had a hard time making the faith of your parents your own. This is especially common in religious traditions like ours, where we have a lot of formality and structure to our worship and practice. Children can grow up participating in the formality and structure but not quite make the connection with God in their hearts.

In our gospel reading for today Jesus alludes to this story of Jacob’s ladder. In our reading Philip, one of Jesus’ new disciples, finds his friend Nathanael and says “Come and meet this man we’ve found – we think he’s the one the scriptures prophesied – you know, the Messiah! He’s Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” “From Nazareth?” Nathanael scoffs; “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” “Come and see!” Philip replies.

So Philip takes Nathanael to meet Jesus. When Jesus sees him, he says, “Ah – this one’s a true Israelite; there’s no deceit in him”. Nathanael is skeptical: “How do you come to know all about me when this is the first time we’ve ever met?” Jesus replies, “I saw you sitting under the fig tree before Philip called you”. At this Nathanael’s jaw drops in astonishment, because he had indeed been sitting under a fig tree, but there is no way Jesus could have known that. “Rabbi”, he exclaims, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” And then Jesus seems to smile. “Are you so impressed that I saw you under the fig tree? Let me tell you, that’s just the beginning! You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”.

Did you catch the allusion to Jacob’s ladder? In Jacob’s dream the angels were ascending and descending on a ladder, but what Jesus is saying is, “I am the ladder”. Jesus is the one who has joined earth and heaven; he has come down to us to bring heaven to us, and he will lead us to his Father, because he is the Son of God.

What exactly does it mean to be the Son of God? In Old Testament times God calls the nation of Israel his firstborn son, and later on in Israel’s history the king was thought of in those terms as well. In the earlier New Testament writings, when Jesus is called ‘the Son of God’, that seems to be the main thing on people’s minds: he’s the Messiah, God’s anointed King. We see this in Nathanael’s words: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” To Nathanael those two phrases were two different ways of saying the same thing.

But the author of the gospel of John uses the phrase ‘Son of God’ in a much more significant way. At the end of his prologue, in John 1:18, he says, ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known’ (John 1:18). Here we get the Christian idea that Jesus is not just an extra-special human being; he is in fact in some sense God, although not the whole of God. The Father is God and the Son is God, but there are not two gods, but one. The Son is close to the Father’s heart, and the Father sends the Son into the world to save the world. The Son has ‘inside knowledge’ about the Father, if you like, and so he can tell us what the Father is like, and he can take us and introduce us to the Father. In this sense, he is the one who has ‘made the Father known’ to us.

So God is no longer distant from us, because Jesus has come and lived among us. When we read the story of Jesus we are reading the story of God. When we hear the words of Jesus, it is God speaking to us. When we hear of Jesus loving his enemies and forgiving them, it shows us that God loves and forgives people too. Jesus is God with a human face.

This means that if we want to know God, the best thing to do is to follow Jesus. All through the first chapter of John people are being invited to follow Jesus. John the Baptist told the crowds that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. He told them that he had baptized them with water, and that was all he could do, but Jesus was able to baptize them – to immerse them, to plunge them in and fill them up – with the Holy Spirit of God, so that their lives would be suffused with the presence of God.

And so two of John the Baptist’s disciples followed after Jesus and asked him where he was staying: “Come and see”, he said, and they went and spent the day with him. One of them was Andrew; he went and got his brother Simon Peter and took him to meet Jesus, and the two of them became Jesus’ followers. Later on Jesus called Philip to follow him, and Philip went and found Nathanael and invited him to come and follow Jesus too. “Come and see”, Jesus said to Andrew and his friend. “Come and see”, Philip said to Nathanael. And now Jesus is inviting you and me as well: “Come and see. Come and experience the presence of God in your life. Put your trust in me and follow me, and I will lead you to your heavenly Father”.

Jesus is the ladder between earth and heaven; Jesus is the Son of God who can reveal the Father to us and lead us into the Father’s presence. But how does this become a reality for us? I’m sure that for some of you, this is the sixty-four million dollar question in your minds. Let me very briefly address it before I finish.

First, let it be said that the Holy Spirit will not be pinned down. He works as he sees fit, and if I describe for you one infallible way to get to know God through Jesus Christ, for sure the Holy Spirit will take a perverse delight in leading you by some other way! That’s the caveat I need to get out of the way before I go any further.

Still, try this. First, get off by yourself somewhere and pray. Tell God that you really want to get to know him and that the preacher said this morning that Jesus is the key to knowing him, so you want to get serious about following Jesus, since it seems he can lead you to God.

Second, begin to read one of the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark, or Luke. As you read, pray that God would reveal himself to you and that Jesus would become real to you. Don’t read quickly; read slowly and prayerfully, trying to figure out who Jesus is and what God is like.

Sooner or later you will find that some command of Jesus will just jump out at you from the page. It will seem particularly relevant and you will easily be able to make an application to your life. In fact, the application may scare you because it’s so challenging! No matter: Jesus is speaking to you through the text, so ask God to help you and then do what he tells you to do. Begin to try to put it into practice in your life, and meanwhile, read on for the next direction.

I will be very surprised if you are able to continue this spiritual practice for very long before God has begun to be a present reality to you in your daily life. Jesus will indeed be for you a ladder fixed between earth and heaven, a ladder you can climb into the presence of God.

Like Jacob the trickster, we will probably have some rough edges that need to be knocked off our lives! But God is full of grace and mercy, and he is very patient with us; he’s willing to work with us over a lifetime to make us into the people he wants us to be. So let’s thank God for sending his Son to be a ladder between earth and heaven, bringing God to us and bringing us to God. And let’s accept his invitation to ‘come and see’.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January 16-22 2012

Jan 16th, 2012 Office is closed.

Jan 17th, 2012 11:15 am Holy Communion @ St. Joe’s Hosp.

Jan 18th, 2012 7:15 pm Vestry Mtg.

Jan 19th 2012

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

7:00 pm Diocesan Exec. Council Mtg. (Tim)

January 22nd, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sermon for January 8th: Mark 1:1-11

Jesus will lead us home

Over the last few weeks we’ve been on a strange and amazing journey through the story of the birth of Jesus. We don’t think it’s strange and amazing, of course, because we’ve heard it so many times; we hear it every Christmas season, and we’re so familiar with it that we don’t even baulk. But it is strange, and it is amazing, and we need to hear it again as if for the first time and ask ourselves the question, ‘What does it all mean? What did God think he was doing?’

A young girl, perhaps only fourteen or fifteen, engaged to be married to a respectable village tradesman, has an unexpected visit from an angel. The angel tells her that even though she’s never slept with a man, she’s going to become pregnant and that the child she will bear will be holy, the Son of God, the one to whom God will give the throne of his ancestor David, and that he will rule forever. That was quite a message, and it’s not something that happens every day, is it? How often do you get an angel knocking on your door telling you that you’re going to be the parent of the Son of God?

But of course the Son of God needs two parents, and Mary’s fiancée might be forgiven for being rather skeptical when he hears the news that she’s pregnant without having slept with anyone, including himself! And so he gets a message from God in a dream, telling him that it’s okay, God did this, this child will be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about a child called ‘Emmanuel’, God with us, and he is to name him ‘Jesus’ which means ‘God saves’, or ‘God to the rescue’.

But the scriptures say that the coming king of God’s people will be born in Bethlehem, where old King David came from, and Joseph and Mary live way up in the north in Nazareth in Galilee. But at the right time, a census is announced and everyone has to go to their ancestral family home to be registered. Joseph is descended from David of Bethlehem, so off he goes, with a nine-months-pregnant wife, not exactly wonderful timing, don’t you think? Wrong – the timing is perfect. While they’re in Bethlehem the baby is born, and so on his birth certificate, if they had had such a thing, would have appeared not only that he was descended from the family of old King David, but that he was born in David’s town too. Rather neatly arranged, don’t you think? Let no one say that God doesn’t have an eye for symbolism.

But we’re not done yet, and we haven’t seen an angel for at least a paragraph, so it’s time for a few more to appear. You’d think that God would send a birth announcement to the current king and leadership of Israel, telling them that their long-awaited deliverer had been born, but apparently God thinks shepherds are a more receptive audience! So he sends first one angel, and then a whole choir of them, to visit a group of shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem, telling them that the Saviour, the Messiah, has been born and that his birth is good news for all people - including people who don’t normally get invited to royal birth celebrations – people like them, in fact. How will they know which baby is the right one? Because of the halo over his head or because ‘little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes?’ No, because he’s the only baby in Bethlehem that night sleeping in a feeding trough! A rather strange sign, but then the whole episode is strange, isn’t it? The Messiah, the king God had promised to send his people, born not in the corridors of power but with the ordinary working people. Apparently God’s idea of how you change the world is different from ours.

But God hasn’t finished inviting strangers. Apparently the holy family, as we call them now, stayed in Bethlehem for some time – long enough to move Jesus out of the manger and into the house with the relatives. In fact, it might have been as long as two years later when another group of strangers showed up in Bethlehem looking for the child born to be king of the Jews. They hadn’t had a dream or seen an angel – they’d seen an unusual star, and because they were astrologers, they interpreted it as being significant: it meant that a new king had been born for the Jewish people. But why would pagan astrologers be concerned about such a thing? Why would they go to all the effort to come on a long journey to find this king, bringing costly gifts with them? And when they saw him, obviously the child of a working family, not a royal household, why would they continue to believe that this was the one? Why would they prostrate themselves before him in allegiance to a king of a country not their own?

All very strange. And the strangeness isn’t finished yet; we’ve got more dreams coming. The wise men were warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod, so they returned to their own country by another way. King Herod was furious and sent death squads to murder all children under two in Bethlehem; he wasn’t going to have his throne threatened by an upstart claiming to be God’s anointed king! But again God sends a dream, this time to Joseph, warning him to escape, and so the holy family become refugees, going down to Egypt just like old Jacob and his family a thousand years or more ago. After the death of Herod another dream tells Joseph it’s safe to return, and so he comes back home again. He maybe thinks he should go back to Bethlehem if Jesus is to grow up to be the successor of David, but when they get there they find that Herod’s son is still ruling that area, so they go back to Galilee instead, and Jesus is brought up in Nazareth. The king doesn’t learn kingcraft in the royal courts of Herod; he learns it in the carpenter’s shop, working with Joseph. Very strange.

This is the story as we have celebrated it, and now it’s time for us to ask the sixty four million dollar question. My friend Harold Percy used to say that it might be helpful for us Anglicans to write a new liturgical response into our worship books; after we say the Creed, we should all then say together, ‘So what?’ In other words, ‘Why is this important? Why does it make a difference to us? Why are we still celebrating this story two thousand years later?’

In today’s gospel reading Mark wants to help us answer that question. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn’t tell the story of the birth of Jesus; his Jesus strides onto the stage of history as an adult, showing up at the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, appearing out of nowhere, as it were. But this doesn’t mean that Mark doesn’t root his story of Jesus in the past. Rather, he alludes to two Old Testament passages to help us answer the question, ‘So what?’

The first passage, strictly speaking, isn’t part of our gospel reading for today, which starts at Mark 1:4. But Mark didn’t start at verse 4; he started at verse 1, so I want to refer to this composite quote from the Old Testament that appears in verses 2 and 3:
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight’”.

The first half of this quotation actually comes from Malachi, not Isaiah, but the second part comes from the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. That part of Isaiah was written when God’s people were in exile in Babylon. About six hundred years before the time of Christ the Babylonian superpower had captured Jerusalem and destroyed it; many people had been killed and many more had been take away into exile in the land of Babylon, where they had lived for half a century or more. They interpreted this disaster as God’s judgement on their sins; they had been unfaithful to God, they had disobeyed his laws, they had worshipped other gods and committed acts of injustice against the poor and needy and so on. God had sent his prophets to call them to repent, but they had ignored them over and over again. So finally God had sent his judgement against them and had sent them off in exile as punishment for their sins.

But in the midst of their exile Isaiah spoke words of good news and encouragement to them. Listen to what he had to say:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken”. (Isaiah 40:1-5)

And a bit further on in the same passage:
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40: 9-11)

What’s going on here? The people are in exile in Babylon, far away across the Arabian desert from Jerusalem, and they feel as if their God has abandoned them. But now God is coming back to them. He is going to lead them home from exile across the desert, like a shepherd leading his sheep, caring tenderly for the weak and the young along the way. And in fact, not many years after this prophecy was written, God did make it possible for his people to return from their exile to their old home in Jerusalem.

So why does Mark refer to this prophecy at the beginning of his ‘gospel’ – a word that means ‘good news’? Because he believes that there is a spiritual exile that we all experience. We all have a deep sense that somehow we’re not at home yet; as Bono sings, we ‘still haven’t found what we’re looking for’.

Most of you will know that I was not born in Canada; I am from another place! I love my adopted country and would not seriously consider leaving it, for a whole host of reasons. But every now and again I just find within myself this deep longing for the country of my birth. I feel like a stranger in a strange land, and I want to go home.

Now the interesting thing is this: even though I think this is a longing for England where I was born, it actually is not. How do I know this? I know it because when I go back and visit England, the longing is not satisfied. Things have changed, and people are just as weird there as they are here, and in a hundred and one ways every day there are reminders that this is a flawed country every bit as much as any other place. This is not the home I’m longing for.

This should not surprise me. The Christian message tells us that our longing for home will not be satisfied anywhere other than in the presence of God. And since we can’t find our way back to God by ourselves, the Father has sent his Son to live as one of us and to lead us home to God. That’s what’s going on in the Christmas story; God the Son has left the safety and security of ‘God’s space’ and invaded ‘our space’, to make it his space and to lead us home to God.

A bit later on in the book of Isaiah, the prophet ends a long lament about the sufferings of his people with this cry to God:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence –
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil –
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence! (Isaiah 64:1-2)

This is Mount Sinai the prophet is thinking about, when God came down on the mountain to give Moses the commandments, and there was fire and smoke and a shaking of the ground. “Do it again, God!” Isaiah pleads; “Let us know that you are with us, and confound our enemies while you’re about it!”

There was no fire or earthquake at the baptism of Jesus, but the heavens were torn open all the same.
And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11).
Again Mark is reminding his readers of Isaiah’s prophecies. You want someone to bring you out of exile into your true spiritual home? Jesus is the one who will do it. God has torn the heavens and come down; his Holy Spirit was given to Jesus, and his Holy Spirit is now given to all who follow Jesus.

And so there is no more division between ‘God’s space’ and ‘our space’. God has invaded our space and made it his space. God has come into the real world where tyrants murder little children and families have to run away to foreign countries as refugees – where parents earn their living by hard work and teach a trade to their children after them – where children are often misunderstood by their parents and grow up to be misunderstood by their friends too. God has come into that world, the real world, and he is determined to transform it. And he’s going to transform it by transforming the people in it – people like you and me.

Perhaps this morning you feel like the people Isaiah was writing for. Perhaps you have that sense deep inside that you’re in a sort of exile. ‘This place doesn’t really feel like my home; I haven’t really come home yet. I’m looking for something and I really don’t know what it is’. Perhaps you look around at all the awful things that are going on in the world and find yourself crying out, ‘God, why can’t you tear the heavens apart and come down – do something dramatic, for goodness’ sake! Save us!’

Mark wants you to know this morning that God has answered that prayer. God has come among us in Jesus to lead us to our true spiritual home in the presence of God. God’s Holy Spirit has come on Jesus, and Jesus has promised us the same gift. God will make his home in us, so that we can find our home in God. And Jesus is the one who has made it happen, by his coming among us as one of us. So let us follow him together, so that he can lead us home.