Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sermon for Feb. 24th 2013 - 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (by the Rev. Susan Ormsbee)

Encouragement to be Generous
24 February 2013 (Lent 2 Year C)
2 Corinthians 8:1-7

The season of Lent is a period of forty days intended as a time for us to deepen our relationship with God.  On Ash Wednesday the Gospel spoke about three kinds of disciplines – prayer, almsgiving and fasting which may help to deepen our relationship with God.  The Lenten sermon series this year is focusing on giving. 
Last week, Tim talked about the joy of generosity; of a way of life where giving is an act of grace, a way of unconditional love.  This is a way of life that Jesus modeled for us; he emptied himself, giving up his divine rights, so that he could come among us and make us rich.  How can we learn this way of life?  How can we live as Jesus showed us?

I have often watched hummingbirds at a feeder in the summer.  One bird would feed and then “guard” the food; if another bird came to feed, it would swoop down and attack, chasing the other away from “its” food.  This is part of the hummingbird’s nature to survive but it is not to be our nature as followers of Christ.  We are not to have the mindset of “me, me, me” or “mine, mine, mine” but rather we are care for others.  We are to have the JOY principle – Jesus first, Others next, Yourself last.  This is what Jesus modeled; it is expressed in the summary of the commandments – We are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Remember the story of the widow who shared generously?  The Message renders it like this: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”  Jesus is saying that we are to share all that we have; no sum is too little to share.

Paul suggests to us that if we commit to following Jesus then giving will become a part of our lifestyle.  In chapter 8 of his second letter to the Corinthians Paul talks about the Macedonians who were followers of Jesus, a part of the church.  Paul says that the Macedonians gave beyond their ability to the relief effort for the Jerusalem church because they had first committed themselves to Jesus.  By believing in Jesus and following the life that he modeled for them, they were able to give generously to others. 

When I think about this I wonder why?  Why does following Jesus allow us to give generously?  

Jesus models unconditional love and kindness for us.  He gave himself as a sacrifice for us; he died upon the cross so that we could be reconciled to God.  He showed grace to us and therefore we are to show this love to others.  This type of love comes from the heart; it is not just a duty as in the Old Testament practice of tithing but something motivated by agape love.  This is grace, love that is freely given.

The Macedonians desire to serve and follow Jesus was so important that they didn’t allow their economic limitations to keep them from being involved in the work of the Kingdom.  By giving sacrificially, they turned their financial efforts into service and devotion towards God.  Their daily work became a prayer as they were constantly working so that they could have the financial ability to give to others in need as Jesus had given to them.

Giving in this way is a response to what God has done in our lives; to his grace given freely to us.  In Matthew 10:8 Jesus said “Freely you received, freely give”.  The Message uses the word generously in this passage: “You have been treated generously, so live generously.”  This is what the Macedonians did; they gave freely and generously.  They committed themselves completely to God, recognizing that everything they had came from him.  When we believe this then giving becomes a natural outcome – material items are not mine.  This knowledge that all you have belongs to God can affect your life in many ways.  When this truth is accepted then you are not as attached to material possessions and thus are able to be more generous with others.

Jesus modeled a simple life style; he had few possessions.  Remember when he sent out the seventy?  He told them to take no purse, no bag, no sandals but to rely on the hospitality of those they met.  This is the lifestyle he modeled for us.  Not one that I am very successful at accomplishing!  But, when we turn away from our continual consumption of material things we are able to be more generous with others.  When we steward our resources we can become free from the toxic disease of affluenza.  I wonder what would happen if we generously shared all we have with our brothers and sisters in the global church? 

In the last part of today’s reading Paul challenges the Corinthians to do as well in their giving as they do in their faith, speech, knowledge and love.  He challenges them to be balanced in their Christian life.  How balanced is your spiritual life? Are you as committed to giving as to worship or Bible study or prayer or fasting?

Are you willing and able to share the blessings God has given you with others?  With what are you generous - money, time, talents, or toys?  With what are you stingy?  It requires great faith and love for God to give as Jesus modeled for us. 

Take a look at the people who are regularly in or out of your life.  Do you feel any sort of responsibility to know their needs?  How does knowing need affect you?  Do you show generous hospitality to those who are in need?  A person can be poor in many ways; perhaps they need money or maybe they need time; some may need a relationship with someone who has similar values or who cares for them; maybe they need help in starting a relationship with God; but most importantly all people need unconditional love.  How could you be the loving hands of God’s provision to someone you know? 

For monetary need you might want to start simply.  Maybe you could set aside a “shepherd’s purse”.  Collect all your quarters and put them in a purse.  Then when you hear of a need, offer what is in your shepherd’s purse.

For time you might want to simplify your life so that you are available.  This might mean spending more time with family members building relationships.  As a chaplain the most pressing need I see is that of being present for another person; of just being with them and providing acceptance – this is generous giving.

I would like to close with the following quote from C.S. Lewis.  “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other word, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving too little away.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.” 

Friday, February 22, 2013

February 25 - March 3rd, 2013

This Week at St. Margaret’s..

Okay, so I lost the Parish List somewhere in the confines of this computer and just spent the morning inputing it all back, so……
if your e-mail is the one you don’t use or not right or would rather it be something else or a family member got missed …ect, ect. please let me know and I’ll fix it. TKS! jen

Weekly Calendar
February 25th, 2013
Office is closed.
February 25th – 27th, 2013
Clergy Retreat
February 28st, 2013
7:00 am Men and Women’s Bible Study at the Bogani Café.
11:30 am  Lunch Bunch Lunch (Seniors’)
2:00 pm  Women’s Bible Study at M. Rys home.
7:30 pm 1st Lent Course starts
March 3rd, 2013   Lent 3
9:00 am Holy Communion
10:30 am Holy Communion with Sunday School
4:00 pm  Sundays@ 4 Worship Service with Sunday School

The next Lunch Bunch will be February 28th, 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret's Anglican Church. The theme will be:
Tea Towels and/or other holiday trivia
 everybody has some
bring them along
tell us the story
 of where they belong.
Everyone is welcome.  Please sign the sheet in the front foyer or contact Julie Holmes at 435-4208 or Lesley Schindel at 989-3833 if you will be attending.

The start date for the Lenten Course has been moved to the 28th of February and will be only four sessions long. There is still room available so please sign the sheet in the foyer if you’d like to attend.

World Day of Prayer Service
Friday, March 1st at 6:30 p.m.
Holy Trinity Riverbend Anglican Church
1428 – 146 Street
Edmonton, AB
This year’s service was written by the women of France
All are welcome – come and bring a friend

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Example of Jesus

2 Corinthians 8:9                                                                                                      Feb. 17th 2013
The Example of Jesus

The purpose of this Lenten sermon series is, quite frankly, to change your life. Well, let me rephrase that, and say that as Susan and I prepare these sermons for Lent, my first objective is to change my life! What do I mean by that?

We’re not accustomed to thinking of ourselves as idol worshippers. We think of idols as false gods made of wood and stone, and since we don’t worship those gods, we think we’re in the clear. But a false god can be anything that we ask to fulfil the role of the one true God in our lives – anything that we look to for security, for ultimate happiness, anything that we make sacrifices to. For instance, I’ve known people who’ve sacrificed the happiness of their families to move across the country so that they can get a better-paying job. Truly, money and possessions can be a powerful false god. Jesus agrees: he tells us ‘You cannot serve God and wealth’.

But our culture is out to prove him wrong. The idol of materialism is all around us. We’ve been formed by the expectation that, year by year, our income will increase and our standard of living will increase along with it. Every year, a few things we used to call ‘luxuries’ get added to the list of ‘necessities’ that we just can’t live without – desktop computers, laptop computers, iPads, iPhones, surround sound TV, SUVs, holidays in the sun – the list goes on and on. Please understand, I’m not pointing fingers here. I live in this culture, and it forms me just as much as it forms you. This is my struggle. Money and possessions are my drug as much as anyone else’s, and the battle to get free of my addiction is very real for me, as much as for anyone else. That’s why I say that my first objective in these Lent sermons is to change my life.

And because this is my struggle as well as yours, I am aware that there will be some resistance to this idea. As I look back over the years of Lent sermons I’ve preached, I see that I’ve done series’ on the meaning of the Cross, on basic Christian disciplines, on prayer, on the Lord’s Prayer, and even on the spirituality of Narnia. But I’ve never preached a sermon series about the Christian discipline of generosity, despite the fact that Jesus had more to say about money and possessions than almost any other subject. This would seem to indicate to me that I might be afraid to address this issue. I know how deeply rooted the love of money and possessions is in my life; I would prefer it if Jesus did not challenge me on this subject. I suspect I’m not alone in that.

So this Lent we’re going to take a look at one of the major passages in the Bible about Christian generosity. It’s found in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapters eight and nine. We’re not dividing it up into five equal sections; rather, we’re picking out five shorter ‘theme passages’ from this one larger passage, and focusing on one each week. You might notice some repetition in our Sunday readings as we do this, because some of the theme verses come from the same paragraph of this passage.

Today our theme verse is 2 Corinthians 8:9, but before we read it, let me give you a little background. At the time this letter was written, the Church in Jerusalem was going through a time of extreme poverty. By that, I don’t mean that their buildings were in disrepair and they couldn’t afford to pay their ministers; in those days Christians had no buildings and very few paid ministers! What I mean is that people were living in destitution, with no food to eat. We don’t know why this happened, but what is clear is that Paul and his friends in the Gentile churches felt a great sense of responsibility for the well-being of their fellow-Christians in Jerusalem. So Paul started a huge collection project for their benefit among the Gentile churches, and it’s that project that he’s referring to in this passage. It’s actually referred to in several other places in the New Testament as well, but we don’t often hear about it today; in fact, it might be one of the great ignored themes of the Bible!

It’s important to remember this background. Nowadays in the Christian church we have paid ministers, dioceses, buildings that need upkeep, and when we appeal for money, it’s often to meet the running expenses of our churches. I’m not apologizing for that; these things do need to be paid for. Neither am I saying that what Paul has to say in this chapter has nothing to do with our regular expenses as a modern Christian congregation. But it’s important to remember that when these words were first written, the context was an appeal to raise funds to help the poor.

So with that said, here’s the verse we’re going to focus on today, 2 Corinthians 8:9: ‘For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’. In the context of the passage, Paul is appealing in this verse to the example of Jesus. Jesus himself was not stingy: he voluntarily gave up all he had a right to, out of love for the people he came to save, so that they might become ‘rich’ in a spiritual sense. This, Paul is saying, is the example we Christians ought to be following. Our giving to the poor is not a random thing, or something we do because it’s a nice gesture. No, our giving to the poor is part of our Christian discipleship; it’s a concrete way of following the example of Jesus.

When Paul talks about the ‘generous act’ of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Greek word he uses is ‘charis’. This word is often translated as ‘grace’, and in fact several Bible translations do translate it that way in this passage: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (NIV). The word ‘grace’ means love that you don’t have to deserve or earn; it comes to you as a free gift, with no strings attached. God pours out his grace upon us, not because we’re particularly loveable, but because God is love.

There is no record in the Bible of Jesus giving money to anyone, but there are lots of records of him pouring out unconditional love – love with no strings attached, love that did not require payment. For instance, we can think of the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, a corporate criminal if there ever was one, who had been ripping off the godly citizens of Jericho for decades. He was a thoroughly disreputable character, and no doubt he was seen in the same light as the bank executives who continued to get huge bonuses while the crash of 2008 was destroying the life savings of thousands of people around the world. But Jesus went to his house, accepted his hospitality, and showed him by his actions that the love of God reaches out to everyone, even people despised as bloodsucking profiteers by everyone else in town.

Jesus was known for this sort of thing. The religious establishment accused him of being ‘a friend of sinners’, a category that they apparently did not put themselves in. He was happy to hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes, but he was equally happy to associate with Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. His attitude is well summed up in some words put into his mouth in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 movie ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. In the movie, Jesus is on his way to eat at the house of another tax collector, Matthew. Peter is astounded, and he says, “You would go into the house of a sinner?” Jesus replies, “I would go into any house where I am welcome”.

Paul sees this as the defining characteristic of Jesus’ life, to the point that ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ becomes a catch-phrase in his writings. Jesus lived his life on the principle of unconditional generosity. His love had no strings attached, no conditions. Yes, he called people to follow him and to put his teaching into practice, but he did not make that a condition before he would love them. ‘We love’, says John, ‘because he first loved us’.

So if we are following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, our generosity will also be unconditional. It won’t just be financial generosity; it will include being generous with our time, spending time with people who need our support whether they are particularly likeable or not. It will include hospitality too; I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching that when we give a banquet we shouldn’t just invite our family members or friends or rich neighbours, who can repay us, but we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and we will be blessed, precisely because they cannot repay us.

So this is the first thing this verse teaches us: if we follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will be learning not to be a stingy, Scrooge-like person who begrudges every penny we’re asked to give. Rather, we will be learning the joy of unconditional generosity. Do you doubt that Jesus was a happy person? That he lived a life of joy? I’m sure he did – and part of it was the joy of giving of himself to all who needed his help, whether they deserved it or not.

But there’s another phrase we need to take note of in this verse: ‘though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’. This would seem to indicate that Christian generosity involves the expectation that our giving will have a negative impact on what the world refers to as our ‘standard of living’. C.S. Lewis puts it bluntly somewhere in his writings, where he says “There should be some things that we’d like to do that we can’t afford to do because of our giving; if we haven’t reached that stage yet, we haven’t yet learned what Christian giving is all about”.

But don’t we have a right to those things? How dare God ask us to forego things we enjoy and give that money away to others? Well, God is not asking of us anything that he himself did not do. Listen to these well-known words of Paul:
‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:5-8).

It would seem to me, to put it bluntly, that the Incarnation involved a major reduction in Jesus’ standard of living! This passage portrays him as being ‘in the form of God’, and yet being willing to let go of the joys and privileges that were his by right. He ‘emptied himself’, says Paul; he was willing to give up the power and glory and be born as a human being on one of the worlds he had made. And he was willing to go even further: not to be born as a monarch or a celebrity, but to live the life of a doulos, a slave, one who spent his life serving others.

As I said at the beginning, our culture has formed us with the expectation that as our lives progress we will have a steadily increasing income and will be able to accumulate more and more possessions. But Paul is challenging that idea. He wants us to know that following Christ will mean we have less disposable income, because we’re learning the joy of generosity. I would lay this down as a basic principle of Christian discipleship: we Christians ought to be poorer than our neighbours, even if we earn the same salaries they do.

And this is not a dreary thing. I remember many years ago I knew a man called Marvin, who ran a Christian bookstore in Carrot River, Saskatchewan. I drove through Carrot River at least three times a week, because it was on the road between Arborfield, where we lived, and the Red Earth and Shoal Lake Indian reserves, where I also served churches. Quite often when I was on the way home from the reserves I would stop at Marvin’s bookstore; long before Chapters or Indigo were thought of, Marvin had hit on the idea of having coffee available in the store so that people could relax and enjoy their visit. But the thing I remember most about Marvin was that he was always giving books away. This was the hilarious thing; he was in business to make money, but he kept defeating the purpose by giving books away without charging for them. I remember saying to him once, “Marvin, you’re never going to make any money if you keep giving me books”. He replied, “Yeah, but I’m having a lot of fun!” He had learned the joy of generosity, you see! And I knew him well enough to know that this was not just a financial thing; it was the way he lived his whole life.

So this is where we start our consideration of the joy of generosity: with the example of Jesus. ‘For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’. Jesus’ generosity was an act of grace: it had no strings attached to it. He didn’t give to people because they deserved it, but because they needed it. And Jesus’ generosity was truly sacrificial: he emptied himself, gave up his own rights, accepted a major reduction in his divine standard of living, in order to come among us and make us rich.

Are you learning this way of life? Am I? As we give of our time, our talents, our money, is our giving truly an act of grace, of unconditional love? And is it truly sacrificial: is our generosity having a significant impact on the amount of time and money we can spend on ourselves? Let’s think about these things as we go into this first week of Lent.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February Roster

February Roster

Feb. 10th, 2013   Last Epiphany
Greeter/Sidespeople:  The Aasens           
Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson                                   
Reader:  D. MacNeill                                   
(Isaiah 6: 1-13, Psalm 138, 1 Corinthian 15: 1-11)
Lay Administrants:  M. Rys/ G. Hughes                                               
Intercessor: B. Popp                       
Lay Reader: L. Thompson              (Luke 5: 1-11)           
Altar Guild: (green): M. Woytkiw/P. Major
Prayer Team:  L. Sanderson/   K. Hughes           
Sunday School (School Age):  C. Ripley
Sunday School (Preschool):  M. Eriksen
Kitchen:   M. Chesterton
Music:  Eva Thompson           
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

Feb.17th, 2013   Lent 1
AGM Meeting after service
Greeter/Sidespeople:  B. Cavey/T. Cromarty
Counter:  B. Cavey/T. Cromarty                       
Reader:  M. Rys                       
(Deuteronomy 26: 1 1-11, Psalm 91: 1-2, 9-16, 1 Corinthians 8:1-9
Lay Administrants: L. Thompson/C. Aasen                       
Intercessor:  D. MacNeill                                   
Lay Reader:  E. Gerber            (Luke 4: 1-13)           
Altar Guild (purple): J. Mill/L. Pyra
Prayer Team:  M. Chesterton/ S. Jayakaran                                      
Sunday School (School Age):  M. Cromarty           
Sunday School (Preschool):  A. Dunford-Verrill
Kitchen:  E. McFall                       
Altar Servers:  A. Jayakaran

Feb. 24th, 2013  Lent 2
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels           
Counter:  D. Schindel/S. Jayakaran                       
Reader:  R. Goss                                               
Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27, 1Corinthians 8: 1-7
Intercessor: T. Chesterton                       
Lay Reader:  D. MacNeill            (Luke 9: 28-36)           
Altar Guild (purple): M. Lobreau/MW/K. Hughes             
Sunday School (School Age):  M. Cromarty
Sunday School (Preschool):   T. Laffin
Kitchen:  Wendy Mogg
Music:  R. Mogg                       

February Senior's Lunch

Lunch Bunch
February 28, 2013 @ 11:30 am
Sign up sheet available in the foyer

Senior’s Lunch has been moved
 from the 21st of February to the
28th of February, same time, same place!

February 11 - 17, 2013

Weekly Calendar

February 11th, 2013
Office is closed.
February 12th, 2013
5:00 & 6:00 pm  Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper
February 13th, 2013
7:00 pm  Ash Wednesday Service
February 14th, 2013
7:00 am Men and Women’s Morning Bible Study at the
Bogani Café.
2:00 pm  Women’s Bible Study at M. Rys home.
February 17th, 2013
9:00 am Holy Communion
10:30 am Holy Communion with Sunday School
12 noon  Annual General Meeting
4:00 pm  Sundays@ 4 Holy Communion with Sunday School

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Offensive Jesus (a sermon for Fev. 3rd 2013)

Luke 4:21-30                                                                                                      February 3rd 2013
The Offensive Jesus

When I was a little boy I used to sing a children’s hymn that went like this:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child.
Pity my simplicity
Suffer me to come to thee.

It was a comforting sentiment, but when I got older and started reading the Bible for myself, I began to wonder where this meek and mild Jesus came from. If Jesus was so meek and mild, why did he annoy so many people? You don’t get yourself crucified by being mild-mannered and inoffensive! Yes of course, Jesus had compassion for people, reached out to the marginalized and healed the sick and so on, but he also spoke hard truths and was in fact quite talented at offending people! Today’s gospel reading is a good example of that. In last week’s passage we heard Jesus preaching a sermon in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. In those days the elders of the synagogue were responsible for making sure there was someone there each week to read the scriptures to the people and to explain the meaning to them. Presumably the elders saw that Jesus was in the synagogue, and because they had heard of his growing reputation, they asked him to read and speak that day. The passage he was given was Isaiah chapter 61, and he probably read the whole chapter, although Luke only gives us the most important excerpts:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).
Then Luke tells us what happened next:
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (20-21).

What an astounding thing to say! Imagine if I got up here on Sunday, read a Bible passage about the coming of the Messiah, and then said to you all, “This passage is really all about me, you know!” At first the people were impressed with Jesus – “All spoke well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (v.22). But then they had second thoughts: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” In other words, “Who does he think he is? We know his Dad and his family, and they’re nothing special!” But what made them really angry was when he went on to talk about God’s love and compassion for the enemies of Israel, the Gentiles; then, Luke says, ‘they were all filled with rage’ (v.28) and tried to stone him to death.

It’s clear from this passage that there were two things that offended the people in the Nazareth synagogue. First, they were offended because Jesus was getting big ideas about himself. It’s helpful for us to flip over to Mark and notice the complimentary way he tells the same story, in Mark 6:2-3:
‘On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him’.
Mark, as you see, goes into more detail about the negative reaction of the crowd. Jesus was getting ideas above his proper station in life. He wasn’t a proper ordained rabbi – he was just a carpenter, a construction worker, and they knew his family and no doubt remembered the pranks he had gotten up to as a kid. “Who does he think he is?”

Luke adds the detail that they were offended because Jesus put himself right at the centre of the story the scriptures tell. Isaiah 61 is one of the prophet’s so-called ‘Messianic passages’ – about the servant of the Lord who will be anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring justice and peace to Israel. These passages were written hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, so Israel had been waiting for centuries for them to be fulfilled. Now, with breathtaking egoism, Jesus says, “Today in your hearing the scriptures have been fulfilled”. “I’m the one the prophet was writing about, folks; the whole story up ‘til this point has been leading up to me!”

Today the Christian faith continues to offend people at precisely this point. Judaism has expounded Isaiah 61 for two thousand years without mentioning Jesus at all: it’s seen as being about the vocation of Israel as a nation, not just about one person. But New Testament Christianity teaches that Jesus was the whole point of the story from Day One. In one of the earliest New Testament letters to be written Paul says, ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children’ (Galatians 4:4). We get the sense here of God working quietly, guiding the course of history, until the right time came for the climax of the story, the coming of his Son Jesus Christ to save the world.

But many people today would be happier if we stuck to a no-name spirituality that doesn’t mention Jesus and leaves the idea of God vague as well. I remember my good friend Harold Percy telling me about a time when he was leading a Christian Basics course. A young woman in the group said, “I don’t like it when Harold talks about Jesus. I don’t mind him talking about ‘God’, because I can make that mean anything I want, but Jesus is too close and too specific”. Apparently, in her mind, Jesus is still getting ‘ideas above his station’. She wanted him to be content to be just another great religious teacher, not the Son of God who came not only to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God, but also to be God’s anointed King (which is what the title ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ means).

So this is the first way Jesus offended them: he claimed to be more than just a smart carpenter or even a very good rabbi; he claimed to be the one the scriptures had predicted who would come as Messiah to set God’s people free. As we have seen, Jesus continues to offend people at this point; they’re quite happy for him to be the founder of Christianity, as long as we don’t claim there’s anything unique or divine about him. But we can’t tone down the message to avoid offending people; if we do, it becomes something other than the gospel the New Testament teaches.

Secondly, they were offended because Jesus talked about a God who loved the enemies of Israel. In those days there was a lot less respect for preachers! Sermons weren’t just monologues; there was a lot of back and forth between the rabbi and the crowd, with questions being asked and objections raised and so on. We get the sense in this passage that the crowd is actually taunting Jesus: “Come on, Jesus – show us some miracles like you did in Capernaum! After all, you’re our boy and we’re your home crowd; you should give us a better show than you did over there!” But Jesus uses their objection to illustrate a central truth: God is not just concerned for our people; he wants to reach out to our neighbours, and even to our enemies, as well. Jesus reminds them of two biblical stories to back up what he’s saying.

The first one is found in 1 Kings 17. Elijah the prophet lived in the time of King Ahab, and Ahab was married to a Sidonian princess, Jezebel, who led the people away from the worship of the one true God and persuaded them to worship the Sidonian god Baal. In response to this, God sent a drought on the land that lasted for three years. During this time, God sent Elijah to live with a widow in the village of Zarephath in Sidon, and God provided food for them supernaturally while he was there. Jesus points out that God could have sent Elijah to any one of a thousand Israelite widows, but he chose to have mercy on a Sidonian enemy instead.

The second story is the well-known story of the healing of Naaman. This is even more striking, because Naaman was an Aramean general who had won great victories in battle against Israel. Sadly, Naaman was a leper, but his wife had an Israelite slave girl who told him that the prophet Elisha could heal him of his leprosy. 2 Kings 5 tells the story of how he came to Israel, was healed by God through Elisha, and as a result became a worshipper of the God of Israel. Once again, Jesus points out, God chose to reach out and bless the enemy of Israel, while apparently ignoring many Israelite lepers who also needed healing.

The people were furious when they heard Jesus talking like this. What sort of Messiah was this? They needed a king like David who would destroy their enemies and lead God’s people to victory! Loving enemies was not in the script!

And this continues to be a challenge for Christians today. Back in the Fall we did a book study here at St. Margaret’s using Brian Zahnd’s brilliant book Unconditional: the Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. In the book, Brian made this statement:
'I have found it very interesting to ask non-Christians what Jesus taught. Nearly without exception they will mention that Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Among nonbelievers, Jesus seems to be famous for teaching that his disciples should love their enemies. Yet when I ask Christians what Jesus taught, they very rarely bring up this commandment'.

I think this is very true. People don’t want a Jesus who tells them to love their enemies; they want a Jesus who will pray for the troops and tell them that in killing their enemies they are doing God’s work. I note that soldiers on both sides in World War One were told that they were fighting ‘for God and country’, and German troops even had it engraved on their belt buckles. But the real Jesus of the gospels doesn’t fit into this picture. Remember what he said?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45).
So Jesus makes the outrageous claim that the God of Israel is an enemy-loving God. He doesn’t want to ‘take them out’ or ‘nuke them’; he wants to love and forgive them. This was outrageously offensive to Jews who were under the thumb of the Roman oppressor, and it still offends many Christians today.

The people of Nazareth were so offended by Jesus that they formed a lynch mob and tried to stone him. It seems unbelievable that a man who had just taught about the gentle love of God for his enemies could provoke such violence, but even this rings true. In the sixteenth century, the Anabaptists were the only Christians who taught that Christian discipleship involved putting Jesus before your country and refusing to kill others in the name of the king. What was the result? The Anabaptists were viciously persecuted as traitors by both Catholics and Protestants. They never made up more than 10% of the population, but they made up more than 50% of those who were killed for their religious beliefs in Reformation Europe. Then, as now, the gospel of love for enemies offended people, even Christian people.

This gospel reading is not calling us to be rude or ignorant, but it is calling us to be faithful. If the Christian message proves to be unpopular and not many people want to hear it, we shouldn’t draw the automatic conclusion that we must be doing something wrong. We need to remember that Jesus offended people, and he lost disciples sometimes because of the hard truths he spoke. We may have an easier life if we soft-pedal some of the hard truths of Jesus, but in the long run we won’t achieve anything, because the message we share will not be the New Testament gospel.

So this part of Luke’s gospel reminds us that Jesus is God’s Son, the Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the whole world.  But that doesn’t mean he wants to wipe out his competitors – rather, he wants to reach out in love to all, so that he can draw them into a family of sisters and brothers, reconciled to God and one another through him. We are called to believe in this Jesus, to follow him, and to tell other people about him. God is not just sending us to our own people, but to all people, until our friends, our neighbours, and even our enemies hear of God’s love, believe in it, accept it, and are transformed by it. This message will not always be popular; in fact, it will often be offensive. But we must not stray from it; we must continue to believe it and live it and share it with others, because this is the way that the light of Christ continues to shine throughout the world.