Sunday, July 21, 2013

First You Sit Down and Listen! (a sermon for July 21st on Luke 10:38-42)

The sisters Martha and Mary are mentioned in several places in the gospels. They lived in Bethany with their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus was to raise from the dead while he was on his last journey to Jerusalem. The home seems to have been quite wealthy, and Jesus seems to have become a regular guest there. It was a kind of oasis in the storm for him; he came to know these three people well and enjoyed their hospitality.

There are two stories in the gospels that bring out the differing temperaments of Martha and Mary. The first is our gospel for today, and it sounds as if this may have been the first time Jesus met the two sisters.

I don’t know about you, but I get the sense as I read between the lines that Jesus isn’t the first rabbi Martha has hosted at her house! And she knows how to do it well. She knows that the important thing is to create a space where the rabbi can meet with his disciples and others and discuss the scriptures. In this setting, in the culture of the day, the job of the women is to stay in the kitchen and help get the meal ready while the men debate theology in the living room!

But Martha’s sister Mary isn’t prepared to go along with this tradition. She goes right on into the living room and sits down at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples - almost certainly the only woman in the room. Not only is she leaving all the work to her sister; she’s also bringing disgrace on the house by stepping outside the accepted role for a woman. Eventually Martha loses her cool, comes in herself and asks Jesus to give her sister a good telling off. Jesus responds: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her”.

The other story is in the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel. It’s not long before the death of Jesus. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, and he stops for a visit in Bethany, where the family gives a dinner in his honour. John tells us that ‘Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him’. So far things are true to form; Martha is in her familiar, comfortable role, and Lazarus and the guys are at the table. But once again Mary does the unexpected. She takes a pound of costly perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet with it and lets her hair down to wipe them dry. Once again she is criticized, this time by Judas Iscariot. “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” But Jesus replies, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:5, 7-8).

The character of the two sisters is consistent in these two stories. Martha is comfortable in the traditional role for a woman in her society. She’s a practical woman, good at getting things done, the kind of person you can ask to organise an event with confidence that it will be done well. Mary is more intuitive, and she exercises her love for Jesus in impulsive ways. On both occasions she is criticised by practical people - Martha and Judas - and on both occasions she is defended by Jesus. She reminds me of one of the ‘For Better and for Worse’ cartoons I read a few years ago: Elizabeth is criticizing the way her boyfriend looks after their bedroom, and she says, “How can you find anything in this room?” He replies, “The only thing I want to find in here is you!”

So what’s Jesus saying here - that practical organizers are bad and romantic artsy types are good? Is Mary better than Martha? Not at all. Jesus gives every indication in the gospels that he enjoyed the hospitality of their home, and his visits would have been impossible without Martha’s spirit of practical caring. Furthermore, in Luke chapter ten this story comes right after the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is all about how to be a neighbour by showing practical love to those who need it. So Jesus is definitely not against practical love!

Considering the passage in its context might give us a clue as to how we are to understand it. Last week’s reading needs to be taken together with this week’s. First we have the two great commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. Then the lawyer asks Jesus for help in understanding the second commandment: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, which tells us how to be a neighbour to those in need. The second commandment is important, but it’s vital to remember that it is the second, not the first. The first commandment - to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind - takes precedence over it. Can it be that Luke intends us to see the story of Mary and Martha as an illustration of how we obey the first commandment?

We Christians believe that God has come to us uniquely in Jesus. So in Jesus, God has come to visit the home of Mary and Martha, and here is Mary, sitting at his feet, showing the devotion of her heart, exercising her mind in trying to understand his teaching. Surely Luke intends us to understand her as an example of how to obey the first commandment. And the first commandment takes precedence over the second.

So when God comes to visit, how do you welcome him? How do you love him? Martha assumed that she knew how. Her culture told her how. When a rabbi comes to visit, your job as a woman is to make sure the house is clean, put food on the table and then stay out of the way so that the men can discuss theology.

Mary, on the other hand, did not assume that she already knew how to love God. She accepted the possibility that maybe her culture and preconceived ideas might be wrong. That being so, she realized that the most important thing was to sit at Jesus’ feet, listen carefully, and try your best to understand what he was saying. In other words, before you work at loving God, it’s a good idea to listen to God first to find out how he would like to be loved.

Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the monk who was sent down into the cellar of his monastery to clean out a bunch of old manuscripts. While he was down there he discovered the original copy of the rule of his Order, written hundreds of years before in the handwriting of the founder. He began to read it with great interest, forgetting all about his work. A few hours later his fellow monks came to look for him, and they found him in tears. “What’s wrong?” they asked. He pointed at the manuscript: “He didn’t say ‘celibate’, he said ‘celebrate’”.

We’d better listen carefully to Jesus and make sure we know what he has in mind!

If we take the stories of the Good Samaritan and of Mary and Martha together, we might say that the way to obey the two great commandments is by keeping your eyes and your ears open. In the story of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite walk past the injured man on the roadside and don’t notice him there. But the Samaritan has his eyes open; he sees the needy person by the road and does what he can to help. Loving your neighbour as yourself, Jesus is saying, means keeping your eyes open, noticing the needy people around you, and doing what you can to help.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha has her ears closed. She assumes she already knows all she needs to know about serving God; there’s nothing new for her in what Jesus is saying. But Mary on the other hand has her ears open, ready to listen. That’s how you love God with all your heart: by keeping your ears open, listening to what Jesus says, and then putting it into practice.

How do we do that today? Well, surely one of the major ways is by going back and reading the scriptures, especially the Gospels, with the prayer “Lord Jesus, teach me to see life as you see it and to live life as you taught it”.

In Becky Pippert’s wonderful book Out of the Saltshaker she tells the story of a university student named Sue, an agnostic who was interested in Christianity but had many intellectual questions about faith. So she came to Becky and said to her, “I’m plagued with doubts; what should I do?” Becky said, “Tell God - or the four walls if that’s who you think you are speaking to - that you want to try to find out if Jesus is truly God, and that if you could feel more certain you would follow him. Then begin to read the gospels, every day. Each day as you read, something will probably hit you and make sense. Whatever it is, do it as soon as you can”.

Sue gulped and replied, “That’s radical. But I’ll do it”. So she started having what she called ‘pagan quiet times’, praying to the four walls of her room and then reading her Bible. In her own words, this is what happened:
One day I read in the Bible, “If someone steals your coat, don’t let him have only that, but offer your cloak as well”. For whatever reason, that verse hit me between the eyes. So I said to the four walls, “Listen walls - or God if you’re there - I’m going to do what this verse says if the opportunity arises today. I want to remind you that I’m trying to do things your way in order to find out if you exist and if Jesus is really who he says he is. Amen”.

The day went by and I forgot the verse. Then I headed to the library to continue working on my senior thesis. Just as I sat down at my designated thesis desk this guy comes up and starts yelling at me. He told me the school hadn’t given him his thesis desk so he was going to take mine. I started yelling back and pretty soon we caused quite a ruckus. It was when he glared at me and said “Look, I’m stealing it from you whether you like it or not”, that it suddenly hit me.

I just looked at him and moaned: “Ohhhhh, no. I can’t believe it! Look, God, if you’re there, I do want to know if Jesus is God. But isn’t there some other way of finding out besides obeying that verse? I mean, couldn’t I tithe or get baptised or give up something else? But don’t take my thesis desk! I mean, with my luck I’ll give up the desk and then discover you don’t exist!”

But I couldn’t escape the fact that I had read the verse the very same day that someone tried to rob me.  Before, I’d always been amused to see how Jesus aimed for the jugular vein in his conversations with people in the Bible. But now it didn’t seem so funny. I took a deep breath, tried not to swear and said, “OK, you can have the desk”.

He looked bewildered. He grabbed my arm and asked me why in the world I was going to let him have it. I told him I was trying to discover if Jesus was really who he claimed to be. And I was attempting to do the things he told us to do. “And today I read that if somebody tried to rip me off I was supposed to let them and even throw in something extra to boot. So I’m giving you the desk but don’t press your luck about the something extra”. Then he asked, “Why in the world would Jesus say such a crazy thing?” I said, “Hey, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading about Jesus and meeting some Christians, it’s that Jesus would give you a whole lot more than a thesis desk if you’d let him. I know Jesus would give it to you. So that desk is yours”.

As I said those words I just simply knew it was all true. I kinda felt like God was saying “Well done. That’s the way I want my children to behave”.

You see this is how we need to read the Gospels - with our ears open, ready to obey the things Jesus tells us there. This is the sort of thing Mary was doing when she sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to what he was saying.

Someone has said “Don’t work harder; work smarter!” Martha was a hard worker, but she needed to work smarter. Her mistake was in thinking she already knew how to love God. The lesson of this story is this: if you want to love God, first you find out how God wants to be loved. You do that by listening to the voice of Jesus, in the scriptures and in prayer, and by putting into practice what he tells you. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we listen to the teaching of Jesus, and may he give us wisdom and strength as we put it into practice.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

'What's Really Important?' A sermon for July 14th on Luke 10:25-37

In the summer of 1977, when I was a student, my friend Eddie Keeping and I were travelling around southern Ontario doing Vacation Bible Clubs in small rural communities. We were working with local Anglican churches but we also made contact with churches of other denominations along the way, because we tended to get kids from all churches at our Bible clubs, and of course some who didn’t attend church at all.

One Sunday night in a small Ontario town we decided to go to the prayer meeting at the local Baptist church. When the pastor found out who we were, he sat down with us and started to ask us questions: ‘Now, you do both believe in the full divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you? You do both believe in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures? You do both believe in the substitutionary atonement made by Jesus on the cross for the sins of the whole world? You are both sure that you have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ?’

Eddie and I were a bit taken aback; it took us a minute to realize that we were being given a theological test, and if we didn’t answer all the questions quite right, we might not be allowed to pray with the assembled believers. Neither of us had experienced anything quite like it before. As it happened, the pastor didn’t discover any dangerous heresy in either of us – although he still couldn’t quite understand why we were happy to be Anglicans – and so we were allowed to pray with the others. But looking back on the experience now, the thing that stands out the most for me is what we weren’t asked. At no point in the conversation were we asked, ‘Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and do you love your neighbour as yourself?’ The questions were all about beliefs and ideas; none of them had anything to do with actually putting our faith into practice.

I thought about that pastor again this week as I was reading today’s gospel reading. You see, the lawyer in our gospel for today was a bit like that pastor. Luke begins the story by telling us that ‘Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”’ (Luke 10:25). The context makes it clear that the lawyer was not asking a genuine question. In other words, he wasn’t coming to Jesus as a sincere seeker, one who really wanted to know how to receive eternal life. No, this lawyer wanted to ‘test’ Jesus; in his own mind, he already knew the answer to his own question, and he wanted to see if Jesus would give the correct reply. He had a sort of checklist in his head – just like that Baptist pastor Eddie and I ran into – and he wanted to run Jesus through his little doctrinal test and see if Jesus came out smelling orthodox enough. But unfortunately for him, Jesus wasn’t prepared to play that game. He pretty soon took control of the conversation, and then it wasn’t the lawyer asking Jesus questions to test him; it was the other way around! Jesus was the one who was testing the lawyer, and he didn’t come out of the test very well.

As we think about this passage, we perhaps need to start by asking the question, ‘What do we mean by eternal life?’ Nowadays if someone asked the question, ‘What must I do to receive eternal life?’ what they would actually be asking, in plain English, would probably be, ‘How can I be sure I’m going to go to heaven when I die?’ But that wasn’t quite what the lawyer was asking; in fact, his question says nothing about death and nothing about heaven. Luke wrote these words in Greek, and what the Greek actually says is ‘What must I do to inherit the life of the new age?’

What’s this ‘new age’? It refers to the old Jewish belief that the day is finally going to come when God sets the world to rights. The day will come, the prophets said, when the lion will lie down with the lamb and the child will play around the snake’s nest – the day when soldiers will beat their swords into ploughshares and the nations will stream to Jerusalem to learn from the God of Israel. Future hope, for a godly Jew, didn’t mean dying and going to heaven; it meant dying, and then being raised from the dead at the end of the age, so that you could join in the life of the new age, on a healed earth, with all the evil removed and God’s will finally being done on earth as it is in heaven.

The New Testament takes over this Jewish belief, with one major modification. Jewish people believed that the end of the age would come some time in the future, with a clean break between the old and the new ages. But when Jesus began his ministry by saying, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand’, what he meant was, ‘The new age of the kingdom of God has already begun, but it isn’t fully here yet; the two ages are running in parallel for a while, and you can choose which age you want to belong to’. When he called people to repent and believe in him, he was challenging them to leave the old age of sin and evil and give their allegiance to the kingdom of God, in which they would learn to live by the values of the new age.

The lawyer is still thinking in terms of the old Jewish view; he thinks eternal life is a reward for godly living, and he’s asking Jesus what he has to do to earn it. But Jesus doesn’t think God’s commandments are an entrance exam you have to pass in order to enter the future kingdom of God; rather, he thinks that the kingdom is already here, and if you’re in it, your life will show it, because you will love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. This is what the kingdom looks like, so if you want to enjoy life in the kingdom, you need to start practicing these things as soon as possible!

So, while the lawyer asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ we might reasonably paraphrase that today as, ‘What are the most important issues in my life with God? What are the first things, the things I should give my best attention to? In fact, what are the things that should be on my bucket list?’ And it turns out that the most important issues in the eyes of Jesus are not to do with wealth or popularity or business success, but relationships. This, of course, isn’t entirely a surprise to us! Very few people at the end of their lives feel compelled to finish off one last business project, but on the other hand many people have a sense that it’s important to put things right in a difficult relationship before they die. Instinctively, we all know that love is the most important issue.

But having said that, let’s remember that ‘love’ in the Bible usually carries a different meaning. Today love is mainly an emotional word; ‘falling in love’ with someone is something that happens to you; it describes an emotional state and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it except pray as hard as you can that it lasts forever. But love in the Bible is not passive but active, and it’s not primarily about emotions but choices and actions. In the story of the Good Samaritan we aren’t told anything about whether the Samaritan felt love for the man, but we are told in great detail about his actions. Just look at all the active verbs in verses 34-35: ‘(The Samaritan) went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to the inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend”’. Love, you see, is not primarily a feeling: it’s action.

So Jesus speaks about our primary relationships: with God, with our neighbour, and with ourselves. “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (v.27). These two great commandments are found in different places in the Old Testament, but as far as we know, no one had brought them together before and singled them out as the most important commandments, the commandments above all that you needed to follow in order to experience life as God planned it. This passage is sometimes referred to as ‘Our Lord’s Summary of the Law’: not that it replaces the other commandments, but that all the other commandments are summed up in these two and should be interpreted in the light of these two.

So there is to be no part of our being that isn’t fully occupied with loving God in action. The ‘heart’ in the Bible doesn’t mean the feelings but the will, the choices that we make. The ‘soul’ refers to the whole person; we’re told in the symbolic language of Genesis that God took some soil from the ground and formed it into a man; he breathed his breath into it, and ‘the man became a living soul’. Our ‘strength’ refers to the fact that this is going to take effort on our part, because loving God in action is often not easy, and we’ll need all our resources of energy and resolve and strength and what’s sometimes called ‘stick-to-it-iveness’. And we’ll need to think carefully and clearly too; God gave us our brains and he expects us to use them, so we’re called to love him with our minds as well. So no part of ourselves is withheld; we give ourselves totally to God in loving service.

But if we ask how we are to follow this commandment in our daily living, the truth is that it’s often the second commandment that actually puts it into practice: it’s often true that we love God with everything in us by loving our neighbour as ourselves. Let’s note here that Jesus assumes that we love ourselves: not, that is, that we necessarily always have good feelings about ourselves, but that we love ourselves in action: looking after our own needs, feeding and clothing ourselves, keeping ourselves warm and comfortable, looking after our own best interests and so on. We all know how to do this for ourselves, and so Jesus can use it as the standard by which we love others as well. “You know how you look after yourself? Well, look after your neighbour in the same way”.

But here the lawyer, like any good barrister today, asks a supplementary question: “And who is my neighbour?” Once again we note that he was not sincere in his question; Luke says that he wanted ‘to justify himself’. It seems that he wasn’t comfortable with the way Jesus had taken control of the conversation and turned the questions around on him.

But still, even though this wasn’t a sincere question, we need to think for a minute and ask why the lawyer chose this question to challenge Jesus. Why would he want to know who his neighbour is? The answer is that the lawyer still has his own self-interest at heart. Remember, he sees the two great commandments as a sort of entrance exam for the kingdom. One of the commandments is to love your neighbour, and the lawyer wants to know who exactly is his neighbour. After all, if there are fifty people living in his village and it turns out that only thirty of them actually qualify as being his neighbours, why would he bother loving the other twenty? What’s in it for him? Why shoot for 75% if the pass mark is fifty?

But Jesus doesn’t accept the premise of the question; in fact, he doesn’t answer the question at all. The parable of the Good Samaritan does not tell the lawyer who his neighbour is; rather, it tells him how to be a good neighbour himself. The issue isn’t whether or not the man who had been robbed was a neighbour to the Samaritan. Rather, as Jesus points out, in caring for the man’s needs the Samaritan acted in true neighbourly fashion toward him, whatever might have been the state of feeling or prior relationship between them.

It’s actually very interesting and significant that Jesus chose to make a Samaritan the hero of his story. The Samaritans were people of mixed race who followed many aspects of Judaism, but in the eyes of the Jews of Jerusalem, they had also mixed in some doubtful ideas and practices of pagan origin. To the Jews, the Samaritans were not real followers of the one true God; the lawyer who questioned Jesus would definitely not see them as ‘orthodox’. Nonetheless, the Samaritan shows by his actions that he understands God’s priorities better than many who are much more orthodox in their belief than he is.

How did the Samaritan love God? He did it by moving through his normal day with his eyes wide open to the needs of others. He reminds me of a Texas oilman called Keith Miller, who was learning to live as a Christian in an oil company office. He decided that every time he went for a drink from the water fountain he would pray for the other people in his office. However, he found out that he didn’t know enough about them to pray for them. So he started inviting them out for coffee and listening to them, and gradually as they got to know and trust him they opened up to him about their problems. He soon discovered that there was a Christian mission field right there in his oil company office!

The chances are that in your office, or on your block, there is someone whose marriage is ending, or someone who is struggling to pay their bills, or someone who has an illness that causes them a lot of trouble, or someone with an addiction problem of some kind. Living the life of the kingdom of God simply means noticing these things, and doing what we can to help. That’s what the Samaritan did.

And let’s remember the importance of the issue. None of us wants to reach the end of our life and then hear God say, “Brilliant performance, but you missed the whole point!” So let’s pray that God will guide us to make the right choices, to set the right priorities, to make first things first. Let’s give our best energy to learning how to love God with everything in us, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus says, ‘Do this, and you will live’. I think we can paraphrase that as ‘Do this, and you will discover that this is really what life is all about’. May it be so for us. Amen.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This Week at St. Margaret's - July 14, 2013

This Week at St. Margaret’s..

Weekly Calendar

July 15th, 2013
Office is closed.
July 18th, 2013
9:00 am  Jen in office
July 19th, 2013
6:00 pm  Simon/Wurtz Wedding Rehearsal
July 20th, 2013
9:30 am ICPM sandwich making
1:00 pm Simon/Wurtz Wedding
7:00 pm  Malankara Church Rental
July 21st, 2013   Pentecost 9
9:00 am  Holy Communion
10:30 am  Holy Communion and Sunday School
ICPM extra lunch

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Next pick up is August 2nd, 2013

Back to Church Sunday!      September 29th, 2013

Back to Church Sunday is an opportunity to invite someone who does not normally attend church to come to church with you and experience the difference the Gospel of Jesus Christ can make to a community of people!

Michael Harvey, founder of Back to Church Sunday, says that when he is making phone calls to ask clergy if he can come and talk to them about it, he usually has to go through nine ‘no’s’ before he gets to a ‘yes’. How many ‘no’s’ are you willing to go through before you get to a ‘yes’?

Donate a Chair . . . If you wish to make a special contribution to cover the cost of our new sanctuary seating each chair is $75.00. Chair donations can be made through your regular offering envelopes.

Inner City Pastoral Ministry Lunch
St. Margaret’s in partnership with Annunciation RC Church will be providing and serving lunch at the Bissell Center on Sunday July 21st. We normally serve about 300 people. A sign up sheet will be at the back of the church for those wishing to serve.
We require . . .
Desserts – finger desserts such as squares or cookies.
Prepared raw vegetables – carrots, celery, cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers or cherry tomatoes. (Do not include dips.)
Fruit – bananas, apples, oranges, melon or grapes
Please indicate the amount of food you will be providing. If you prefer to make a donation, please enclose it in your Sunday offering and mark it ICPM. The last few years our expenses have exceeded our donations. We will purchase all the sandwich ingredients as well as pickles, coffee, sugar, juice crystals, paper products, ect.
On Sat. July 20th, 2013 we will be making the sandwiches in the Church basement (10:00 am ) and will required 10 people. If you have extra plastic grocery bags could you leave them in the church kitchen. We require about 100 to send out extra sandwiches to the homeless.
On Sunday July 21st we require 10 people at the Bissell Center to prepare, serve lunch and clean up ( 9:00 am – 1:30 pm). The Bissell Center is located at 10503 96th Street with parking and access at the back.
We have quite a few volunteers but still require 3 – 4 additional ones for each day. If you are able to help please contact M. Woytkiw @ 780-434-0311 or M. Chesterton @ 780-432-2255.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

'Sent out by Jesus': a sermon on Luke 10:1-20 for July 7th 2013

In our gospel reading for today Jesus sends out seventy disciples to spread his message and invite other people to become his followers. I’m not sure how they felt about this commission, but I’m quite sure that many Anglican people today tend not to be too comfortable with the thought of being sent out to share the Christian message with people who are not Christians. It smacks of the idea that there is only one true religion, and that doesn’t sit easily with our Canadian ethos of multiculturalism and respect. And so we tend to say things like, ‘Some people talk about their faith; I just live mine out, and let people draw their own conclusions’.

It sounds very spiritual and respectful, and it has a grain of truth about it: of course we’re called to live our faith out, and if we don’t put it into practice – if we don’t live lives that remind people of Jesus, in other words – the chances are that we won’t get very far in trying to talk to people about the gospel message. But we should not draw the conclusion that we don’t need to talk about our faith at all. After all, the early Christians didn’t just invite the world around them to watch while they silently lived out the teachings of Jesus. If they had, we’d probably be painting ourselves blue with woad and worshipping oak trees today! No, at the beginning of the gospels Jesus went into Galilee with a message to proclaim; he proclaimed it and invited people to become his followers. At the end of the gospels, he sent those followers out into the world to share the message with others, and in between those two bookends he was teaching them how to live it out and how to share it. Mission – sharing the love of Christ, not just in actions but also in words – was an integral part of Christian discipleship, right from the beginning.

So in today’s passage Jesus sent out seventy of his followers on a missionary journey to share his message and heal the sick. These seventy were not the inner circle, ‘the Twelve’; they were a wider group, who may or may not have had the same sort of intimate contact with him that the Twelve enjoyed. But he had a message that he wanted to communicate to the world, and he had a sense that the time was short; conflict with the authorities had already begun, and he could already see the shadow of a cross looming over his future. So he sent out this group to prepare the way for him in all the towns and villages he was planning to visit.

As we read this gospel passage today, some of the things we find in it don’t apply so readily to our situation. Jesus was sending out his volunteers on a project that would require them to leave their homes and families for a while, and give their whole time to the work of sharing the gospel. And the setting was urgent, because the cross was looming and Jesus wanted to reach as many people as possible before he went to his death. Our situation is also urgent, but for a different reason – none of us knows the day of our death, and, as Jesus says in the gospels, this night our life may be required of us. But most of us are not contemplating leaving our homes and families and going on a short term evangelism trip; our witness is taking place in the context of our normal everyday lives, at work, amongst our friends and families, in the coffee shops we frequent and so on.

So there are some differences between our situation and that of these early disciples. But this doesn’t mean the passage has nothing to say to us. I want to point out to you four connections we can make between the message of this gospel reading and our own call to be witnesses for Christ today.

First, Jesus is quite clear that people are hungry for this message. Look at verse 2: ‘(Jesus) said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”’. This illustration seems to have been a common theme in the teaching of Jesus; it’s mentioned a couple of other times in various gospel passages as well. He sees the world as like a field of wheat, full grown and ready to be harvested for the kingdom of God. In other words, there are plenty of people out there who are hungry for the very message that the missionaries are bringing; all they have to do is to find those people and share the message with them.

Many today seem to be skeptical about this idea. There seems to be a great deal of apathy out there toward Christianity and the Christian Church, and in some quarters the apathy is turning into determined opposition, with the growing popularity of the new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and their message that ‘religion poisons everything’. So is it really true that the fields are ripe for the harvest, or did that just apply to the time of Jesus?

I think there is definitely apathy and opposition, but a great deal of it is directed at the institutional church, not at Jesus and his message. For a variety of reasons, the church has not always been seen in the eyes of the watching world as a good advertisement for Jesus, and so our message is not always able to get the fair hearing it deserves.

But I have to say that, in my experience, the idea that people are not interested in spirituality - in making contact with God, in authentic community, in spiritual wisdom – well, that’s just false. There’s been an explosion of interest in spirituality in the last decade or two, and all the rantings of the new atheists don’t seem to be able to quench it. If you have had a genuine experience of God, and if that experience is helping you to make sense of your life and live accordingly, many people are more than ready to hear about it. And if the conversation takes place in the context of a genuine friendship, where you have some credibility with the other person, it’s likely to be even more effective.

So yes, I believe that the harvest is still plentiful, but, as Jesus said, the labourers are few. So, Jesus says,  ‘ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more labourers’. But then, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye, he turns to the seventy and says, ‘Off you go!’ So they aren’t only to pray that God send out more messengers: they themselves are to be part of the answer to their prayers. And the same applies to you and me today!

People are hungry for this message. The second connection we can find with this gospel passage is this: Jesus sends us out in vulnerability and weakness, not in superiority and power. He says in verse 3: “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves”. He also tells them to carry no purse, no bag, and no sandals, to accept hospitality from people on the way, and to eat whatever is set before them.

In the early years of Christianity, of course, this is exactly how missionaries went out; they had no worldly power, no powerful organisation to back them up, no imperial armies to protect them. They walked the roads of the Roman Empire, in danger of their lives from mob violence and the Roman magistrates, and they were commanded by Jesus not to retaliate, but to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them.

But after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD, the picture changed. Very quickly the Empire was seen as officially Christian, and the pagans were beyond the borders. And by the time we get to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we see military and political power and missionary effort going hand in hand. The Spanish conquistadores went to South America, offering the local tribes the choice of baptism or death. Missionaries went to foreign countries in great wealth, provided by people back home, able to dole out all kinds of goodies in order to get a hearing for their message. No longer did the messengers come in weakness and vulnerability; in fact, in some parts of the world they lived in missionary compounds, with fences and armed guards to protect them.

I believe that if we are to be effective in our work of mission today we have to look more like Jesus, and this means vulnerability. Jesus came not in power but in weakness; as I’ve often said before, he wasn’t interested in the love of power, but rather in the power of love. He paid the price for that vulnerability when he went to the cross, and he calls us to take up our cross and follow him, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. So any use of violence or force or coercion of any kind to spread the gospel is completely antithetical to these words of Jesus.

We’ve seen, first, that people are hungry for this message, and second, that we’re to come in vulnerability and weakness, not superiority and power. Third, we see in two places in this passage the actual message that the disciples are told to proclaim. In verse five Jesus says, ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”’ Then in verse nine he adds, ‘Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”’. So we go out to share the message of God’s peaceable kingdom. Jewish listeners who knew their scriptures would have been reminded of Old Testament prophecies of the lion lying down with the lamb, a little child playing over a snake’s nest, people beating their swords into ploughshares and the world streaming to Mount Zion to hear the teachings of Israel’s God.

And the message is the same today. When Peter summed it up for Cornelius and his family in the book of Acts, he said, “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). In other words, God is a God who loves his enemies, and he proved it by going all the way to the Cross for us. When the world rejected him, he did not reject us back – in a sense, he rejected our rejection, which is another way of saying that he loves us with a stubborn and indestructible love. Jesus tells us that this is what God is like. And this God is now at work in the world, healing the sick and transforming people’s lives, helping those who find peace with him also to live in peace with one another, so that the whole world is changed by the power of his love.

This is the message we are called to share with people today. The exact words aren’t always that important, and anyway the Holy Spirit will guide us when the time comes. But people’s response is important. There’s a note of urgency in Jesus’ commission here; he wants his messengers to contact as many people as possible, so that they will have the chance to hear and respond before it’s too late. The same note of urgency runs throughout the whole Bible; Psalm 95 says, O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts…’ (vv.6b-8a). People are called to respond to the message of God’s kingdom by turning from their previous allegiances, putting their lives in the hands of Jesus, and learning to live as his disciples. That’s what we want to see happen on the lives of those we are trying to reach.

One last thing: this is not just about humans talking to humans; there’s a spiritual struggle going on too. After the seventy came back enthused about how well their mission had gone, Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” (v.18). In other words, when the disciples saw people turning to God in response to their message, Jesus saw more: he saw the advance of the kingdom of God and the defeat of the kingdom of evil.

There’s a spiritual struggle going on, and you and I are part of it. No wonder Jesus speaks with such urgency when he sends the seventy missionaries out! This isn’t a garden party he’s starting here; it’s a campaign in the struggle to set the world free from evil. The weapons are not bombs and tanks, but truth and love. People are not the enemy; the forces of evil are the enemy, and Jesus our captain has won the decisive victory over them on the Cross. You and I can walk the daily road of discipleship in the power of that victory, doing our bit to make it real in our own lives and in the lives of the people we touch.

Let me close where we began: Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few” (v.2). Here at St. Margaret’s, God has put us in the middle of a cluster of growing communities in south Edmonton. All around us are twenty-first century people, working their jobs and paying their mortgages and taking their kids to sports and trying to fit thirty hours into every twenty-four hour day. And some of them have been quietly wondering to themselves for some time, “Is this it? If this is the Alberta Advantage, how come it doesn’t feel like much of an advantage? If this is success, how come it’s not all it’s cracked up to be?”

You know some of those people; so do I. We are their friends, their family members, their fellow-workers. And if we are followers of Jesus, then minding our own business is not an option. Silence is not an option. The Lord has commanded us – not suggested to us, but commanded us – to speak. So let us pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out more labourers, yes – but let’s pray that on the way out to the harvest fields ourselves, with our tools in our hands, ready to be used by the Holy Spirit to share the good news of Jesus with all who are ready to hear it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

This Week at St. Margaret's - July 7, 2013

This Week at St. Margaret’s..

Weekly Calendar
July 8th, 2013
Office is closed.

July 12th, 2013 
3:00 pm   Corporation Meeting @ Bogani’s

July 13th, 2013 
7:00 pm  Malankara Church Rental

July 14th, 2013   Pentecost 8
9:00 am  Holy Communion
10:30 am  Holy Communion

Jen is away on holidays from June 30th, 2013 until July 16th. Brenda Schimke will be filling in on Thursdays if you need admin help.

Back to Church Sunday!   Sunday September 29th, 2013
Back to Church Sunday is an opportunity to invite someone who does not normally attend church to come to church with you and experience the difference the Gospel of Jesus Christ can make to a community of people!

Some people get the wrong idea about ‘Back to Church Sunday’ because of the name: they think we can only invite people who used to be churchgoers but for some reason have stopped going.  This is not the case. ‘Back to Church Sunday’ is for former churchgoers, people who have never attended church, people who say they are ‘spiritual but not religious’, people who believe in God, and people who aren’t sure whether they believe in God or not. If someone is your friend and you think God is guiding you to invite them, do it—you might be surprised at their response!

Inner City Pastoral Ministry Lunch:
St. Margaret’s in partnership with Annunciation RC Church will be providing and serving lunch at the Bissell Center on Sunday July 21st. We normally serve about 300 people. As in the past a sign up sheet will be at the back of the church for those wishing to help out. We require:
Desserts – finger desserts such as squares or cookies.
Prepared raw vegetables – carrots, celery, cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers or cherry tomatoes. (please do not include dips.)
Fruit – bananas, apples, oranges, melon or grapes
Please indicate the amount of food you will be providing. If you prefer to make a donation please enclose it in your Sunday offering and mark it ICPM. The last few years our expenses have exceeded our donations. We will purchase all the sandwich ingredients as well as pickles, coffee, sugar, juice crystals, paper products, ect.
On Sat. July 20th, 2013 we will be making the sandwiches in the Church basement (10:00 am ) and will required 10 people. If you have extra plastic grocery bags could you leave them in the church kitchen. We require about 100 to send out extra sandwiches to the homeless.
On Sunday July 21st we require 10 people at the Bissell Center to prepare, serve lunch and clean up ( 9:00 am – 1:30 pm). The Bissell Center is located at 10503 96th Street with parking and access at the back.
We have quite a few volunteers but still require 3 – 4 additional ones for each day. If you are able to help please contact M. Woytkiw @ 780-434-0311 or M. Chesterton @ 780-432-2255.

Pre-authorized Giving: The Diocese of Edmonton has  established a Pre-Authorized Giving Program using automatic account debit to assist you in supporting your own parish ministry.
Why Should I Participate?  
Convenience. Your offering is
received automatically every month.
 Continual support of you church
when you are away.
 Continual support of ministries and
 Changes may be made any time with
written notification.
 Regular, dependable flow of
contributions to the parish.
Reduction of paperwork and book-
When you participate in pre-authorized giving your bank account will  automatically be debited. This amount will be credited to your parish’s account.
How Do I Enroll?
 Obtain an authorization form from your
parish representative or the parish office.
 Put the form along with a void cheque in an
envelope for the offering plate.
Who  Looks  After  The  Program?  
The Diocese of Edmonton  administers the pre-authorized giving  program  on behalf  of  your parish. The full amount of the donation  is  transferred  to  your parish’s bank account. 
How will charitable donation receipts be handled?  
Each  charitable  receipt  will  credited to you by your parish and a receipt for the donations received  will  be  is sued  by  the  parish  at  the  year  end. 

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Please feel free to bring some or all of your empty bottles (juice, milk, cans, and other beverage containers) and drop them in our bag. We have special bags to take home if you wish or you can bring your empties in plastic bags! Please support this project supporting Winnifred Stewart! Next pickup dates are July 12th & August 2nd.