Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sermon for February 26th: 'Lost'

Lent Sermon Series 2012 #1: ‘Lost’

According to St. Luke, one of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples before he ascended into heaven was this:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
We all know what the role of a witness is in a court of law: the witness is there to tell what they have seen and heard, and the various lawyers will then take their words and use them to help make their case, for the prosecution or the defence. And so Jesus calls his followers to share their story with others: ‘This is the good news of Jesus that I have experienced in my life’. The Holy Spirit then takes our words and uses them to make his case in the hearts and minds of our hearers, in order to lead them closer to faith in Christ.

This may seem like a strange topic to be talking about on the first Sunday of Lent. In Lent we customarily take time to examine ourselves, to identify areas in our Christian lives where we’re falling short of the call of Christ, and to make the necessary changes. We tend to think about things like prayer, and fasting, and giving to the poor. We often take on some sort of discipline such as giving up coffee or sugar or chocolate, or we might add some extra Bible reading or study or some work of service to others. But we don’t often think about our spoken witness for Christ as being a part of this Lenten discipline.

Why not, I wonder? After all, this is a command of Jesus just as much as any other. The same Jesus who told his disciples “You are the salt of the earth” also told them “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. The same Jesus who talked to his disciples about prayer and fasting and giving to the poor also told them to “Go and make disciples of all nations”. The call to be witnesses for Christ is not just an optional extra, like an elective course that you can take or leave as you wish. It’s an integral part of Christian discipleship: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. The one is obviously meant to lead to the other.

But most of us feel inadequate about this, for a whole host of reasons that I don’t want to go into this morning. I’ll simply say this: fishing can be lots of fun, but no one is born knowing how to fish; you have to learn, and when you first start learning, it’s pretty painful! But if you give up after the first time you get your line tangled up, you’ll cheat yourself out of a lifetime of enjoyment. And I would like to suggest to you this morning that fishing for people can also be tremendously enjoyable and fulfilling, but you have to be patient and learn to get better at it. So this Lent I want to give you some fishing lessons, built around six words: ‘Lost’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Conversion’, ‘Witness’, ‘Story’, and ‘You’.

We’ll start today by thinking of the word ‘Lost’. Let’s begin by reminding ourselves of the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10:
(Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Zacchaeus, we’re told, was a chief tax collector, who made his living by taking money from his own people, taking a sizeable cut himself, and passing the taxes on to the Romans. So we can assume that he was a wealthy man; the house that Jesus went to eat in was a very fine house. We can also assume that he was despised by his fellow-citizens, not just as a bloodsucking tax collector, but also as a traitor to his own nation and to his own religion. Tax collectors weren’t allowed anywhere near the Temple in Jerusalem.

I’m pretty sure, though, that no one had heard Zacchaeus described as ‘lost’ before. I can just imagine the reaction of the citizens of Jericho. “Lost? Zacchaeus? You must be kidding! He’s the richest man in Jericho! He’s not feeling any pain!” But nonetheless, Jesus does describe him as ‘lost’.

There are many people all around us just like Zacchaeus. Outwardly they seem to be sophisticated, successful maybe quite well-off financially, probably very pleasant to talk to. But inside, secretly, they are aware of a gnawing hunger for something, something they can’t even identify or define. Don’t be deceived by appearances! Do you think Zacchaeus would ever have let his guard down and let his neighbours in Jericho know how he was feeling inside? Likewise in our society today, we’ve mastered the art of projecting the proper image. We’re so used to fooling others, sometimes we even fool ourselves!

How do we get to be lost? Well, remember another story Jesus told, the story of the lost sheep. My guess is that no sheep intentionally gets lost. It happens accidentally. The sheep’s just doing what sheep do – keeping its head down, eating grass, looking up every now and again to make sure the others are still around. It goes from one patch of grass to another, sometimes without even looking up. It does this one too many times, and when it looks up, it realises two things: first, it has no idea where it is, and second, there’s no one else around!

Most of us don’t mean to get lost spiritually, either. We’re just doing what people do – working our jobs, paying the mortgage, driving the kids to hockey, trying to keep our heads above water. We want to be successful at work so we work longer and longer hours; we want to enjoy the same sort of pleasant lifestyle others around us seem to enjoy. But where does God fit into all of that? We don’t plan to exclude him, but there’s so much else going on in our lives, and without us ever knowing it, God gradually gets squeezed out to the margins. Then one day we wake up and think to ourselves, “There’s something missing from my life and I’m not sure what it is. I think I’m going in the wrong direction, but I’m not really sure what the right direction is”. In other words, we’re lost, and we need a Good Shepherd to find us and show us the way home.

This lostness often shows itself in a real yearning for wholeness and healing. If you look in Chapters, you’ll see that one of the biggest growth areas in the bookstore business over the last thirty years has been the self-help section. The shelves are groaning under the weight of the books that offer us the help we need! How to be more assertive, how to be better organized, how to be more successful. How to figure out your spouse, improve communication in your marriage, and be a better sexual partner. How to lose weight, or find healing from childhood hurts, or get free of your resentments. How to find freedom from addiction to alcohol or drugs or bad relationships or even bad religion (yes, there’s even a self-help group for survivors of religion!).

Some of these books are helpful, some are not, but what are they telling us? Who is buying all these books? Surely they are evidence of a deep hunger for healing and wholeness in people’s lives. It seems as if there’s something about the way we humans live our lives these days that just seems to mass-produce hurt and broken people, and we’re all looking for something to take the pain away. The streets are full of the walking wounded, all in need of the touch of a healer.
We Christians can’t afford to be simplistic about this; we can’t give easy promises that if you just put your trust in Jesus all your problems will be solved overnight. But we do have good news to share about what God has done in Jesus to bring healing to our world and the people in it, and it’s news that people desperately need to hear and experience for themselves.

Lostness also commonly shows itself in loneliness, which I think is one of the biggest problems in our society today Building good marriages and solid families and lasting friendships can’t be rushed; it takes time, and time is something we’re all very short of, especially here in Alberta. Did you see that survey last week that showed that we work longer hours on average than the people of any other province in Canada? Some, of course, took pride in this: “We know how to work our butts off to get ahead in this province!” But there’s a price to be paid, and its usually paid in the coin of relationship failure.

Our lives so often feel like expressways – one mad rush from one activity to another, whether it’s work, or meetings, or ferrying kids to sports and other activities. We sleep an average of two hours a night less than our grandparents did. We’re exhausted, and we’re just too tired to give the sort of quality time that solid relationships need. Hence, our loneliness.

But it’s not just loneliness for a human relationship. Deep down inside, each of us has a need for a superhuman relationship, a relationship with the One who made us in the first place for the pleasure of knowing us, and wants us to know him and enjoy his company. Asking human beings to take the place of God in our lives is a sure-fire way of destroying relationships; no human is up to the job. At the very deepest level, our loneliness can only be satisfied by God, and that’s the very thing Jesus came to do for us – to lead us home to the God who loves us.

Another way lostness often shows itself is in a sense of guilt and failure. The Christian concept of sin and forgiveness may be foreign to most people in our society today, but many people are very conscious of a sense of failure nonetheless. Some people have acted dishonestly or violently and deep down inside they feel ashamed of themselves. Some people have broken vows of fidelity to a spouse or someone else and have caused deep pain in that person’s life. Some people have done things they think they can never be forgiven for. And some people just can’t forgive themselves.

Over my years as a minister it has been my privilege to listen to many members of Alcoholics Anonymous as they go through their Fifth Step. People working the Twelve Steps are required to undertake a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves, to make a list of all the wrongs they have done, and to admit to God, to themselves, and to one another person the exact nature of their faults. The  ‘admitting to one other person’ is the Fifth Step, and I’ve heard many of them over the years. It’s very clear to me that many people feel a deep sense of shame and guilt about the pain they have caused, and are anxious to know whether God can forgive them.

Often, they aren’t too hopeful about that; we don’t live in a very forgiving society, and our usual response to injury is to sue someone, not to forgive them. So it’s wonderful news that the God who created us is a God who loves his enemies; he wants to forgive us and restore us to relationship with him. That’s what the Cross of Jesus Christ is all about – Jesus giving himself for the sins of the whole world, so that we can receive God’s forgiveness and the gift of a new relationship with him.

There are many other forms that lostness takes in our modern world, but I’m running out of time, so let me just mention one more: the fear of death. Have you noticed how we try to ignore death in our society? We disguise it linguistically: no one says “My Mom died”; they all say “My Mom passed away” or “passed on” or even “expired” (like a driver’s license!). We disguise it cosmetically; we pay funeral directors thousands of dollars to hide the ravages of death on dead bodies, and we pay the cosmetic industry millions of dollars to do the same thing on living bodies. And so many people live in denial of this basic fact of human experience: the mortality rate is 100%. Everyone dies.

To some people, this is fearful because it seems to make their lives meaningless; what’s the point of working hard and getting ahead, building a business and raising a strong family with lots of love, if it’s all going to end in death? To others, it’s the prospect of separation from loved ones that is so awful; those of us who have good marriages are particularly terrified of this, I think. And for others, it’s the fear of what might lie on the other side. Is it extinction? Or is it something worse?

One of my favourite Bible passages is this one from the New Testament letter to the Hebrews:
‘Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, (Christ) himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).

That’s what the Christian gospel can do – set us free from fear. The Good News tells us that Jesus has won the decisive victory over death; for a Christian, it’s only a temporary state. The day is going to come when we are raised from the dead as Christ was raised from the dead, and we will live with him forever in a creation set free from all evil. That’s our Christian hope, and people need to hear it and believe it.

Well, there are many more things that could be said about lostness, but these will do for now. All of this serves to underline the point that spreading the good news of Jesus is an act of love for a hurting world. People have a sense that they’ve lost their way in a busy and confusing world; people are looking for healing and wholeness; people are lonely, guilty, and afraid of death.

How does Jesus see these people? Listen to Matthew 9:35-38:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

Jesus has compassion on the people because they are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who can lead them home to God, but he needs help in getting the word out. And so, to change the metaphor, he longs for more labourers in the harvest – more people who will share the good news with their friends and families and work colleagues and help them to find the Good Shepherd. I know that he is calling all of us here to join him in that work.

But what exactly is the Gospel, the good news that he wants us to share with others? Stay tuned – next week we’ll explore that question together!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Feb 27th - March 4th, 2012

Feb 27th, 2012 Office is closed.

Feb 29th, 2012

7:00 pm Planning & Building Meeting

March 1st, 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

March 3rd, 2012

1:00 pm Faith Sharing Workshop

March 4th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

9:45 am Combined Coffee

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Roster for March 2012

DATE March 4th, 2012 Lent 2

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/T. Cromarty

Counter: A. Shutt/T. Cromarty

Reader: C. Aasen

(Readings: Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22: 22-30, Romans 4: 13-25)

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/ G. Hughes

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (Mark 8: 31-38)

Altar Guild

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: - 9:45 am J. Johnston

Music: W. Pyra

Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

DATE March 11, 2012 Lent 3

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps

Counter: B. Popp/S. Jayakaran

Reader: R. Goss

(Exodus 20: 1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Lay Administrants: L. Thompson/ E. Gerber

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 2: 13-22)

Altar Guild:

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/L. Sanderson

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Music: E. Thompson

Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

DATE March 18th, 2012 Lent 4

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/L. Schindel

Reader: A. Jayakaran

(Readings: Numbers 21: 4-9, Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2: 1-10)

Lay Administrants: D. Schindel/C. Aasen

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 3: 14-21)

Altar Guild

Prayer Team: S.Jayakaran/E. Gerber

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: V. Goodwin

Music: M. Eriksen

Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

DATE March 25th, 2012 Lent 5

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindel’s

Counter: D. Schindel/M. Eriksen

Reader: S. Watson

(Readings: Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Psalm 119: 9-6, Hebrews 5: 5-10)

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: B. Popp (John 12: 20-33)

Altar Guild

Sunday School (School Age): J. McDonald

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Doyle

Kitchen: A. Shutt

Music: R. Mogg

March 2012

Thursday March 1, 2012

Men/Women's Bible Study @ Bogani Cafe

scheduled March 1, 2012 from 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM

Women's Bible Study @ M. Rys Home

scheduled March 1, 2012 from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Music Rental

scheduled March 1, 2012 from 3:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Anglican. Mennonite Dialogue

scheduled for March 1, 2012 at 7:30 PM to March 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Location: Holyrood

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Faith Sharing Workshop

scheduled March 3, 2012 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Lent 2

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

Holy Communion

scheduled March 4, 2012 from 9:00 AM to 9:45 AM

Combined Coffee

scheduled March 4, 2012 from 9:45 AM to 10:15 AM

Holy Communion and Sunday School

scheduled March 4, 2012 from 10:30 AM to 11:45 AM

Office Closed

scheduled for March 5, 2012

Tuesday March 6th, 2012

Whitemud Deanery Clericus

scheduled March 6, 2012 from 12:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Men/Women's Bible Study @ Bogani Cafe

scheduled March 8, 2012 from 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM

Women's Bible Study @ M. Rys Home

2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Music Rental

3:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Anglican. Mennonite Dialogue

scheduled for March 1, 2012 at 7:30 PM to March 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Location: Holy Trinity

Daylight Savings Time March 11, 2012

Lent 3

Holy Communion

9:00 AM to 9:45 AM

Holy Communion and Sunday School

10:30 AM to 11:45 AM

Office Closed

scheduled for March 12, 2012

Thursday March 15th, 2012

Men/Women's Bible Study @ Bogani Cafe

7:00 AM to 8:00 AM

Seniors Lunch

scheduled March 15, 2012 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM

Location: St. Margaret's Church

Women's Bible Study @ M. Rys Home

2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Music Rental

3:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Anglican. Mennonite Dialogue

scheduled for March 1, 2012 at 7:30 PM to March 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Location: Holyrood

Irish Stew Supper with Celtic Music

scheduled March 17, 2012 from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Location: St. Margaret's

Lent 4

Sunday March 18th, 2012

Holy Communion

9:00 AM to 9:45 AM

Holy Communion and Sunday School

10:30 AM to 11:45 AM

Holy Communion @ St. Joseph's Hospital

scheduled March 20, 2012 from 11:15 AM to 12:15 PM

Vestry Meeting

scheduled March 21, 2012 from 7:15 PM to 9:00 PM

Thursday March 22nd, 2012

Men/Women's Bible Study @ Bogani Cafe

7:00 AM to 8:00 AM

Women's Bible Study @ M. Rys Home

2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Music Rental

3:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Anglican. Mennonite Dialogue

scheduled for March 1, 2012 at 7:30 PM to March 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Location: Holy Trinity

Lent 5

Sunday March 25th, 2012

Holy Communion

9:00 AM to 9:45 AM

Morning Worship and Sunday School

10:30 AM to 11:45 AM

Office Closed

scheduled for March 26, 2012

Thursday March 29th, 2012

Men/Women's Bible Study @ Bogani Cafe

7:00 AM to 8:00 AM

Women's Bible Study @ M. Rys Home

2:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Music Rental

3:00 PM to 7:30 PM

Anglican. Mennonite Dialogue

scheduled for March 1, 2012 at 7:30 PM to March 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Location: Holyrood

Spaghetti Church

scheduled March 31, 2012 from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM

Seniors Lunch

scheduled March 15, 2012 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM

Location: St. Margaret's Church

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 20th, 2012 - February 26th, 2012

Feb 20th, 2012 Office is closed.

Feb 21st, 2012

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

5:00 & 6:00 pm Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper

Feb 22nd, 2012

7:00 pm Ash Wednesday Holy Communion

Feb 23rd, 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

7:30 pm Anglican/Mennonite Dialogue @ Holy Trinity SC.

February 25th, 2012

3:30 pm Spaghetti Church

February 26th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Morning Worship & Sunday School

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sermon for February 12th: Mark 1:40-45

Does God Care?

I want to start my sermon this morning by telling you a story I heard a few years ago, from a girl called Jocelyn. Here’s how she tells it:
I was born with a disability - I was born with a fatty tumor on my spinal cord. I use a wheelchair full-time, and though I walked a little as a child, I had complications from my disability that caused scar tissue to damage my spinal cord (called “tethering”), which caused repeated problems for me as I grew up.

About three years ago, I had taken some time off of school, done a mission trip to Ireland and eastern Europe, worked for a while, and then gone back to school. I had only been back for about a year, when very suddenly I started to have pain in my legs. I’d never had pain before, and this was really bad. It deteriorated really quickly, and within six months I was completely incapacitated. I was twenty-four. It turned out in the end that all the surgery I had had as a kid to correct the tethering had damaged the tissue around my spinal cord and caused a crazy condition called arachnoiditis. I was told it wasn’t treatable, they couldn’t do anything about it and that I would have to live with it. I was devastated and lost hope.

I had countless tests and procedures, and was on every kind of medication imaginable (it actually felt like I had cancer - the drugs made me sick so I couldn’t eat at all. I lost weight, my hair started falling out, my memory deteriorated). My church was so great to me: people drove me to my appointments, they fed me, stayed with me, encouraged me. Spiritually it was impossible for me to reconcile with my faith. The suffering of the situation was not as much in the pain itself, but the feeling that God had abandoned me to it - that either he had caused it, or allowed it and then left me to it alone. The Bible seemed to be full of pretty verses and promises that were so completely divorced from my reality that I felt excluded. I begged God to let me die a few times, and there were times I was afraid I would go a little crazy and attempt suicide, but thankfully I had the watchful eyes of my entire church community and my campus ministry on me, and that never had to happen.

I’m sure we can all understand how, in the situation Jocelyn found herself in, the idea of God’s love didn’t seem to make much sense to her. She was faced with the reality of daily pain – awful, debilitating pain, day in and day out – and nothing in her Christian formation to that point had helped her to deal with it and still cling to her faith in God.

If you can imagine for just a moment what it might feel like to be Jocelyn – and I suspect that a few of you can relate very directly to what she was going through - then you can imagine the world of the leper we read about in our Gospel for today. He would really like to believe that God loves him, but he’s having a tough time reconciling that idea with the cold hard reality of life as he lives it. And so he comes to Jesus in a very hesitant manner, and he says in verse 40, “If you choose, you can make me clean”. “If you choose”; what on earth would give him the idea that Jesus would not choose to make him clean?

Well, to understand the answer to this question, let’s first of all think about the suffering this man was going through. Nowadays when we use the word ‘leprosy’ we mean Hansen’s Disease, a disease that attacks the nervous system in such a way that the sufferer loses feeling in the extremities of the body. Think how important that feeling is. If you’re lighting a fire and you accidentally burn your finger, how do you know what’s happened if you can’t feel pain? If you’re asleep in a village in India and a rat sneaks into your hut and starts chewing on your toe, how do you know what’s happening if you can’t feel pain? In genuine Hansen’s Disease, this is what causes the sufferers to lose fingers and toes and to experience increasing disfigurement. It’s not that the disease itself rots the skin; it’s that the disease dulls the pain sensors and allows other things to attack without the sufferer knowing about it.

True Hansen’s Disease is not contagious; however, in the time of Jesus the word ‘leprosy’ wasn’t used only for this disease, but for many other skin conditions as well, some of them highly contagious. There is a great fear of these skin diseases in the Bible, and in the Old Testament book of Leviticus God’s people are given specific instructions about how to deal with them. A person who is believed to be developing one of these diseases is to be taken to the priest, who will act as a sort of medical examiner, inspecting the infection and doing some tests to discover the true nature of what is happening. If the priest decides that yes, this is indeed what the Good News Bible calls ‘a dreaded skin disease’, then drastic measures need to be taken to protect the rest of the community. Listen to Leviticus 13:45-46:
‘The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp’.

So there were enormous consequences when you had one of these dreaded skin diseases. Of course, the disease itself was bad enough, whether it was true leprosy as we understand it, or some other disfiguring and painful disease. But the physical suffering was only the beginning for these people. They were cut off from their communities and their families; they were unable to do their work; they had to live alone – or, increasingly, in colonies where they grouped together and tried to help each other. Everyone who saw them would be afraid of them and would try to keep as far away from them as possible. For some of them, it would have been decades since they had felt the touch of another human being.

But this was not the end of it yet. There was also in biblical times a strong theology of suffering being a punishment sent by God. If you obeyed God’s laws, then God would of course reward you by sending you health, prosperity, and general good fortune. On the other hand, if you were disobedient, God would respond by punishing you with illness, poverty and general bad luck. Of course, this idea has not completely died out in our own day. Often when people experience some awful tragedy, their instinctive cry to the heavens is, “What have I done to deserve this?” Note the worldview expressed by that question: God sends good or bad events as rewards or punishments for good or bad behaviour.

Notice the language that is used for the healing of the leper in this passage. In most cases where Jesus heals someone, the words used are ‘healed’ or ‘cured’ or ‘made whole’. But in most cases where he is healing a leper, the word used is ‘cleansed’ or ‘made clean’. This is not just because the disfigurement of the disease was seen as a sort of dirt that needed to be washed away; it’s also because in biblical times this disease was seen as making you ritually unclean. Ritual uncleanness had nothing at all to do with germs; what it meant was that the person was disqualified, for one reason or another, from entering the presence of God.

So – here we have a man who is suffering from a disease that has isolated him from all of human society, perhaps for decades. His culture has also told him that the reason he is suffering from this disease is because he’s a particularly vile form of sinner, and God is punishing him for his sin by sending this disease. You can understand, then, why he feels a little hesitant about approaching Jesus and asking for help. After all, whatever he thinks about Jesus, he must see him in some sense as God’s representative. But if Jesus represents the God who is punishing him by sending him this disease – well, Jesus might not be too eager to heal him after all.

Now, notice the three things that Jesus does in verse 41 in response to the man’s hesitation. First, we read that Jesus was ‘moved with pity’. Well, at least, that’s what the New Revised Standard Version says. But in fact there is a significant manuscript difference here. I should explain that we have literally thousands of manuscripts of the books of the New Testament, and the vast majority of them agree on the vast majority of the text. Every now and again, though, you’ll come across a difference, and translators have to figure out which variant they think represents what the document originally said. And in the case of this verse, a significant minority of early manuscripts say that Jesus was moved by anger or indignation, not pity or compassion. And so the NIV 2011 translates this passage: ‘Jesus was indignant’.

I happen to think that this is probably what Mark originally wrote, and I’ll tell you why. I can well understand how some second century copyist might have been reading Mark’s Gospel, come to this passage, and thought, “That can’t be right! Jesus, moved by anger or indignation? Surely not!” And so he might have decided to put in the words ‘pity’ or ‘compassion’ instead. But if the original was ‘pity’ or ‘compassion’, why change it to ‘anger’? It makes no sense.

So if the NIV 2011 is correct, what is it that Jesus was indignant about? I’ll tell you: it was the theology that had told this man he was unloved by God and unworthy of entering into God’s presence. Jesus was angry that human beings had developed a religious system that prevented this man from coming to God for help. He was indignant that a man made in the image of God had been led to believe that the best thing for him to do would be to stay out of God’s way, because if he dared to draw close to God, all he could expect would be punishment and damnation, not healing and blessing. That’s what made Jesus indignant.

So – Jesus was indignant. The next thing we read is that Jesus ‘stretched out his hand and touched him’. Remember – this man had not been touched by another human being since he was diagnosed with his skin disease. Rather, he was used to seeing people shrink back from him in fear. Mark emphasises the action of Jesus in touching the man here; he doesn’t just say, ‘Jesus touched him’, but ‘Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him’. We can imagine the astonishment of the man as he watches Jesus stretching out his hand toward him. ‘No – it can’t be true – is he actually going to touch me – Oh my God – I can’t believe it!’ Imagine the comfort, and the healing power, in that touch of Jesus!

Thirdly, Jesus speaks a word of command, just as God spoke his word of power when the world was created. ‘“I do choose; be made clean”. Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean’. Not just healed, remember, but restored to relationship with God, with the community of faith, and with his family and friends.

So, what might this story be saying to us today? Two things.

First, perhaps you’re like my friend Jocelyn when she was going through the awful pain and found it impossible to reconcile with the idea of a God who loved her.

Listen carefully to this. Suffering is a mystery, somehow bound up with the invasion of God’s good creation by evil. But Jesus is indignant at any religious system that tells you that the suffering you’re going through is punishment sent by God. And he’s indignant when a religious system has the effect of keeping people away from God, and preventing them from coming to God to ask for help. The God we see in the face of Jesus Christ is a God who always works to alleviate human suffering; he doesn’t send it as a punishment. It may be true that since the time of Jesus our prayers for the alleviation of human suffering have not always been answered in the way we would have liked; this again is part of the mystery. But it should not cause us to doubt the basic desire of God to deliver us from evil, not to inflict it on us.

The second message of this story is to you and I as a Christian community. It’s our job to do what Jesus did in this passage: to stretch out our hands and touch people with the love of God – especially people who’ve been told they’re particularly vile examples of human sinfulness, or people who have been consigned to the margins of our society. I remember a family in Aklavik in the Northwest Territories who were almost all horrendous alcoholics; violence and petty crime were a regular feature of their lives, and the adult sons in the family were in and out of jail all the time. One day the corporal in charge of the RCMP detachment said to me, “I think you and Marci are the only people in Aklavik who haven’t given up on that family”. That was one of the biggest compliments I ever received.

So, to sum up, there are many things about human suffering that are too big for us to understand; I certainly don’t have all the answers about it. But there are a couple of things that we can be sure of.

First, the God we see in the face of Jesus is a God who loves us, who comes alongside us and shares our suffering, and who is working in his good time to deliver us from it, not to inflict more of it on us. In a broken and imperfect world, that final deliverance may not come to us until we see God face to face, but never doubt for a moment that it is God’s desire for us all.

Second, as God loves us and reaches out to us in our suffering, so we are to reach out to other human beings whose suffering has isolated them from God and from others. Philip Yancey wrote a book many of you have read, ‘Where is God When it Hurts?’ At one point in the book he said that he realised what that question often meant: ‘Where is the church when it hurts?’ One of the striking things about Jocelyn’s story, which I told at the beginning of this sermon, was the practical love shown to her by her church family when she needed it the most. Let’s pray that God will give us the compassion to love others in this way, so that they will never have to feel that they are suffering alone, but will always be aware that they are loved by God and by the people of God.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Feb. 13 - 19, 2012

Feb 13th, 2012 Office is closed.

Feb 13 – 15 th, 2012 Tim is away at the Clergy Retreat

Feb 15th, 2012

7:15 pm Vestry Meeting

Feb 16th, 2012

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

11:30 am Seniors Lunch with Guest speaker Louise Barr

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

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

February 19th, 2012

9:00 am Holy Communion: Guest speaker is Lynn Wade from

Winnifred Stewart.

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School: Guest speaker is

Lynn Wade from Winnifred Stewart.

12:00 noon AGM

7:00 pm Ordination @ the Cathedral

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sermon for February 5th: Psalm 147:11

To Fear and Trust the Lord – Are They Incompatible?

I want to direct your attention this morning to a verse from our psalm for today. In the Book of Alternative Services it is Psalm 147:12, but the BAS has renumbered the verses and in fact in the original it’s verse 11. In the translation used in the BAS it goes like this: ‘But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favour’. However, I think the translation in the NRSV pew Bibles is much better: ‘But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love’.

Now you may have noticed two words here that we aren’t used to seeing in close proximity to each other: fear and love. To us, the two are mutually incompatible. How can you fear someone and trust in their love for you at the same time? If you fear someone, that means you’re afraid they’re going to hurt you, right? So how can you also hope in their steadfast love for you?

Let’s look at the psalm as a whole to try to get an answer for this. Let’s start by asking ‘What kind of God are we talking about here? What can we say about God?’ Let me point out three things for you.

First, God created everything that exists and continues to care for it. The writer of the psalm points to God’s activity in the natural world; God is the one who ‘determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names’ (v.4). ‘He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry’ (vv.8-9). ‘He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down hail like crumbs – who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow’ (vv.16-18).

So if we want to get a sense of who God is, we need to look at the greatness and wonder of God’s creation. We need to think about what Eucharistic Prayer #4 calls ‘the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home’. We need to think about the enormous expanse of time – scientists think it is over 14 billion years since the big bang, and our earth is only 4 billion years old, and if the days of the earth were compared to a 24 hour clock, we human beings first appeared on the earth at 3 seconds to midnight. We need to think about the incredible diversity of creation, the miracle of DNA coding and how it makes life possible, the intricacy of the human eye, the amazing colours of a sunset. Climb a mountain and look down at the vastness of the world below you; watch a prairie storm in the summer time; look up at the night sky and try to count the number of the stars. Whatever else we can say about God, we have to say this: God is big!

God is God and I am not; this is one of the fundamental principles of biblical spirituality. In several places the Bible compares us human beings to grass – we’re here today and gone tomorrow. Our life passes in the blink of the eye compared to the years that the universe has existed, and the universe has passed in the blink of an eye compared to the infinite existence of God. God’s power, God’s wisdom, God’s sheer creative skill – all are immeasurably greater than anything I can achieve. As our reading from Isaiah says,
‘It is (God) who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in:
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing’ (Isaiah 40:22-23).

Kind of comforting in a way, isn’t it - especially if you’re old enough to remember the TV series ‘Kung Fu’ – ‘Hello, young grasshopper!’ But seriously, I think this is part of what is meant by ‘the fear of the Lord’ – it means recognizing that in this relationship, God and I are not equals. God is infinitely greater, infinitely mightier, infinitely wiser, infinitely more patient and loving, infinitely more holy and awesome and good, than me. God is the creator, and I am the creature. God made everything that exists, including me, and therefore I belong to him. God does not exist for our benefit; rather, we exist to fit into his plan for us. And this is not an oppressive thing, because his love for us is infinite and his plan for us is good.

Secondly, God is the Saviour and Rescuer of his people. The psalmist says,
‘The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds’ (vv.2-3).
‘The LORD lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground’ (v.6).
‘Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates,
he blesses your children within you.
He grants peace within your borders’ (vv.12-14a).

Many biblical scholars think that Psalm 147 was written after the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon in the period 538-445 B.C., and it is probably the events of that return that the author has in mind. In 587 B.C. Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonian empire, the city had been burned, and many of its people had been taken away into captivity in Babylon, where they lived for over half a century. But in time, the Babylonian empire itself was overthrown by the Persian empire, and it was a decree of the Persian emperor Cyrus that allowed the Jewish exiles to begin to return home. There were probably several waves of returning exiles over the eighty year period 538-445 B.C., and life was not easy for them as they tried to rebuild their ruined city and nation. Still, they celebrated the goodness of God in changing the political situation to allow them to return to their own land, and that’s probably what this psalm is all about.

To the Jewish people it was almost like a second Exodus. Their history told them that God had found them as slaves in Egypt, unable to help themselves, but he had rescued them, delivering them from the hands of their enemies at the Red Sea, leading through the desert and giving them a land of their own to live in. And now he had brought them back from their captivity in Babylon to a place of safety in their own land.

For us New Testament believers, Jesus is the Saviour who has rescued us from the slavery of sin and death and brought us into our promised land, the place of relationship with God. The powers of evil appear to be strong, but Jesus in his life and ministry made war on them – we saw that in our gospel reading for today - and the Bible tells us that he defeated them through his death and resurrection. It looked like a defeat, but in fact it was a victory, because God’s plan was perfectly fulfilled there. Jesus’ death made it possible for you and I to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit and a new relationship with God, and his resurrection assures us that God’s love is in fact stronger than death, so even death, our last and greatest enemy, is not to be feared any more. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this:
‘Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, (Christ) himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Furthermore, Christian believers down through the centuries have testified many times that when we are desperate, when we reach the end of our rope and have nowhere else to turn, that’s often when we discover God’s love and power in a new way. Not that God always delivers us from our circumstances, although sometimes he does; more often, though, we discover within ourselves resources that we didn’t know we had, and we find that we are strengthened and can go through things we thought would overwhelm us, because we know God is with us. God is our ‘rock’ – that’s the most common metaphor for God in the Book of Psalms – a firm place to stand in the midst of the storm.

Our psalm says that God takes pleasure ‘in those who hope in his steadfast love’ (v.11b). The word for ‘steadfast love’ in Hebrew is ‘chesed’; the King James Version translated it ‘loving kindness’, which is quite beautiful, and the NIV just uses the word ‘love’, which I find a bit weak. I like the NRSV ‘steadfast love’; it means ‘love with muscles’, love you can count on, love that’s always there because God has committed himself to making sure it’s always there. God is the Saviour and Rescuer of his people, and we can put our hope in his steadfast love for us.

So we’ve seen that God is the creator of everything and that he continues to care for his creation, and we’ve seen that God is the Saviour and rescuer of his people. We might say that these two themes talk to us about the power of God and the love of God. The third theme might be related to the wisdom of God; the psalmist rejoices in the fact that God guides us through his Word. Look at verses 19-20a:
‘He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances’.

We might think that Israel might find the law of God to be a burden, but that’s not the way this writer sees it. Rather, he’s full of gratitude for the fact that God has not left his people to wander in the dark without guidance. The all-wise and all-loving God who created everything has given his people the wisdom they need to be able to live the life they have been given, and that wisdom comes to us through his Word. This is the same word that God spoke at creation to call everything into being, and the same word that he continues to speak to order the forces of nature. And now he has spoken it to us as well. Think of it: remember how enormous the universe is, and how many billions of years it has existed, and how short is the life of our species on this tiny planet, but the Creator of all has cared enough to speak a Word of guidance to us!

How does this Word come to us? In the Old Testament it was always a dynamic thing – God spoke to his people through his prophets. Moses and Elijah, Amos and Micah and the rest: most of the time they weren’t expecting it, but ‘the Word of the Lord came to them’ like a burning fire in their heart, and they had to speak.
But the Word he has spoken to us is even greater. Remember what Hebrews says:
‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word’ (Hebrews 1:1-3a).

Sometimes we speak about the Bible as the Word of God, and indeed we do find words from God written for us in the Bible. But the Bible itself tells us that it is Jesus who is the Word of God in the highest sense: his life and teaching, his death and resurrection, give us the clearest picture we have of what God is like and what his will for us is. And so if we want to sum up God’s will for us in one word, we could use the word ‘Christlikeness’; God wants us to be like Christ, because that is the way of true wisdom.

So let’s return to the question we started with: How can we both ‘fear the Lord’ and also ‘hope in his steadfast love’? Doesn’t fear mean we’re afraid God is going to hurt us? And how can we hope in his steadfast love for us if we’re afraid he’s going to hurt us?

No, fear doesn’t mean we’re afraid God is going to hurt us. It means that we recognize that God is God and we are not. We have lived for only a few short years, but God has lived forever – not only the fourteen billion years the universe has existed, but infinitely longer, because he existed before time began and he will exist beyond the end of time, if such a thing ever happens. With all our scientific advances we are still helpless against some of the most dangerous and powerful forces that threaten to overwhelm us, and against our own inner demons that threaten to destroy us. But God is not helpless; the God who created everything is also stronger than everything that he has made. Our wisdom and knowledge are limited, but God’s wisdom and knowledge are infinite.

To fear the Lord, then, means to give up our human desire to be the god of our own world, and to quietly and willingly taken our rightful place as God’s creatures before our loving Creator. As we do this, we put ourselves in the place where we can indeed hope in his steadfast love. We will acknowledge him as God of all creation; we will call on his help as our Saviour in our time of need; we will listen to the Word he has spoken to us in Jesus and we will shape our lives by it. And the psalmist tells us that the Lord will see that and take pleasure in it. And that’s got to be a good thing!