Friday, January 31, 2014

February 3rd - February 9th, 2014

February 3rd, 2014
Office is closed.
3:30 – 7:30 pm  Loshbough Music Rental
February 4th, 2014
7:30 pm  ‘Meeting Jesus’ Bible Study #2
February 6th, 2014
Tim’s Sermon Preparation Day
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies at the Bogani Café
2:00 pm Women’s Afternoon Bible Study @ M. Rys Home
February 9th, 2014  Epiphany 5
9:00 am Holy Communion (Reed Fleming – Preaching)
10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School  (Reed Fleming – Preaching)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Following Jesus: A Sermon for January 26th on Matthew 4:17-20.

This morning I’d like to draw your attention to four verses from our Gospel reading for today, Matthew 4:17-20:
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

Now I don’t know about you, but I ‘follow’ quite a few people on Facebook. This following is not very demanding. Each morning when I turn my computer on and log in to Facebook, I see their status updates. I keep up to date on what they’re doing, I see pictures of their kids, occasionally I read their political rants, and if I’m lucky, I might even see funny pictures of cats that they post. But this ‘following’ doesn’t make many demands on me. I can do it quite comfortably from my chair, without changing a thing about my ordinary daily behaviour.

And you and I could easily get lulled into thinking that ‘following’ Jesus is like that – we check in with him week by week and see what he’s up to. We hear the gospel reading, we note that this week he performed an amazing miracle, or used a particular clever saying, or gave some particularly helpful insight. But we might not feel especially compelled to change anything about our plans for the rest of Sunday because of what we heard. We’re just ‘following’ him, after all; we’re not signing up for anything demanding!

I suspect that many churchgoers down through the years have seen following Jesus precisely like that. But if you look at these verses from Matthew, it’s obvious that the early followers of Jesus, the early disciples, couldn’t possibly have seen the command ‘follow me’ in that way.

There are two ways they could have seen it. The first was quite literal: Jesus was on a journey from one place to another, and he wanted them to come with him. He had taught and healed in one town, now he was travelling to the next town, and he wanted them to walk behind him on the road and go where he went. And there was a cost attached to this: ‘Immediately they left their nets and followed him’ (v.20). A few verses later we read that the two brothers James and John abruptly left the family fishing business; they left their father Zebedee in the boat, and followed Jesus.

So this was a challenging summons, and there was a cost; following Jesus was a clear priority, and even making a living came second to it. Nothing – not work, not family, not security – could come before this call. “Follow me”, said Jesus, and he was the one who had the right and the authority to give that summons, so they left everything and followed him.

But there was a second meaning too: ‘Follow me’ also had the technical meaning, ‘become my disciple’. Discipleship was the accepted way of passing on teaching in the time of Jesus; if you wanted to learn, you picked yourself a teacher, and if he was willing to take you on, you went and lived in his house. This was important, because they didn’t see teaching as only an intellectual pursuit – the transferring of the lecturer’s notes to the student’s notebook without it going through the brain of either of them. No – in the time of Jesus, the goal of learning wasn’t just to know what the teacher knew, but to become like the teacher. So you listened to the teacher’s instruction, yes, but you also watched his way of life and imitated it. How did he treat his family? How did he handle his money? What did he do when people got angry with him and mistreated him? What did he do when people asked for his help? You watched all this carefully, and you patterned your life after your teacher’s life.

Now obviously, for us today, we can’t literally ‘follow Jesus’ in the first sense: we can’t walk behind him on the road. But the first sense does still have something to teach us: it reminds us that following Jesus can’t take second place in our life. If we put Jesus in second place, then we’re not following him, because he said, ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:33). Not second, but first. So for us today, just as much as for Jesus’ early disciples, there’s a challenge to make our discipleship the number one priority in our lives.

But of course, the second sense of ‘follow me’ is the main one for us today. Jesus is calling us to be his disciples; that’s the most common word used for ‘Christian’ in the New Testament. A disciple is an apprentice in the art of living in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus offers himself as our master, our teacher, our example and our guide. So our goal as disciples is to learn to see life as Jesus sees it and to live life as he taught it.

There are three components here, that this Gospel reading sets out for us. The first is the way Jesus sees the world: he sees it through kingdom eyes. His challenge to all people is this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Let’s be clear that Jesus is not talking about dying and going to heaven here. Matthew is using the words ‘kingdom of heaven’ in exactly the same way that Mark and Luke use ‘kingdom of God’; the reason for the different wording is that Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience, and some Jewish people were reluctant to actually say the word ‘God’, because it was too holy to pronounce. You see this today, where some Jewish writers will write the word ‘God’ as ‘G_d’ to avoid actually spelling the word.

So when Matthew says ‘kingdom of heaven’ he means ‘kingdom of God’, and Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of God is all about in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”. The kingdom of God isn’t about dying and going to heaven: it’s about God’s will being done on earth. The kingdom of God is a promise that God hasn’t abandoned this tired and hurting world. It’s a promise that one day, evil and sin will come to an end, and God will establish a world of compassion and justice and peace and love. Jesus gives us a picture of that world a few verses further on: the mourners will be comforted, the meek will inherit the earth, the merciful will receive mercy, the pure in heart will see God, and those who have been rejected and persecuted for doing the will of God will receive the kingdom of God.

This is Jesus’ worldview: God’s kingdom is coming, and in fact it has already begun to arrive. At the end of our Gospel we read about him healing ‘those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics…he cured them all’ (v.24). These healings were signs of the kingdom: sickness and disease are not part of God’s original plan for his creation, and one day they will be past history, when God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.
Now we might look around us at the world today and see it as an absolute truth that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, that the strong oppress the weak, that human beings tend to do the selfish thing, that might is always right, that ‘God is on the side of the big battalions’, and so on. We might see it as the height of foolishness to sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, or to love your enemies and turn the other cheek. But to Jesus, it’s not the height of foolishness; it’s a wise investment. What do I mean by that?

Well, here’s an illustration I’ve used before. Those of you who are old enough to remember VCRs, do you remember the battle between VHS and Betamax formats? When Marci and I first moved to Aklavik in the western Arctic in 1984, Betamax was king. All video players in the community were Betamax players; all the movies you could rent from the stores were Betamax movies. If you went out and bought a VHS machine, people thought you were crazy. And yet, with hindsight, those of us who bought VHS players were the smart ones. We weren’t living out of the past; we were living into the future.

And that’s what it means to choose to live now on the assumption that the Kingdom of God is a reality. To many people, that’s as unrealistic as the demise of Betamax, but we know better, because Jesus has told us that one day, the will of God will be the only reality in the universe. So we choose to live into the kingdom of God rather than living out of the kingdom of selfishness and greed and oppression and violence. It’s like moving to a new country: you’re foolish if you think you can do this and continue to live by the same customs as you left behind in your old country. You need to learn the way of life of your new home. But in our case, we aren’t moving to a new country; the new country is coming to us! So we’re wise to start learning what life will be like when it arrives.

And that leads us to the second thing, the meaning of discipleship: ‘Follow me’, says Jesus. Learning to follow Jesus is learning to live the new life of the Kingdom of God. It’s learning to put legs on our prayer, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’.

It’s no accident that the next section of Matthew’s Gospel is the Sermon on the Mount. You want to know what it means to follow Jesus? Here’s the most sustained teaching on the subject in all of the Gospels. It’s about influencing the world around you rather than being influenced by it, acting as salt to stop the world going bad, and light to light up the dark places. It’s about turning away from anger and being reconciled to one another, turning away from adultery and building strong families, learning to tell the truth at all times, turning the other cheek and not turning away those who ask for our help. It’s about loving your enemies, not just your friends, because that’s what God does.

What’s this kingdom about? Jesus goes on to tell us that it’s about not worrying about what other people think about you, but fixing your mind on one thing: pleasing God. It’s about learning generosity, prayer, and fasting, it’s about not storing up material possessions for yourself, but concentrating on doing God’s will instead. It’s about not judging others, but concentrating on fixing your own life first. It’s about doing to others as you would like them to do for you.

This is vital, Jesus says, because it’s not just the ones who call him, ‘Lord, lord’ who will enter the Kingdom, but only the ones who do the will of his Father in heaven – in other words, the will of the Father as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. They are the wise people who are building their house on the rock; if we refuse to do that, we’re like a foolish builder who builds a house on a poor foundation.

So this is what it means to be a disciple; this is where the rubber hits the road. Jesus is setting before us a challenging new way of life, where we don’t concentrate on getting rich or being popular, but on loving God, loving our neighbour, and even loving our enemies. And, sisters and brothers, this is what we signed up for when we were baptized and confirmed. We became Christians in order to learn to be Christian: the Sermon on the Mount teaches us how to be Christian.

Don’t be intimidated by this. Yes, the Sermon on the Mount is challenging, but it’s not the entrance exam in the School of Jesus, it’s the curriculum! We will spend the rest of our lives struggling with it, figuring out how to put in into practice, failing at it, and getting up and trying again; that’s totally okay. What’s not okay is to ignore it, and to sideline it and concentrate on something else. The goal of becoming a Christian is to become like Jesus; the Sermon on the Mount is the curriculum that teaches us how to do that.

But there’s a third thing here: Jesus says “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (v.19). Discipleship has an outward focus: disciples want to make more disciples. If we don’t, then we’re not being faithful to the mission God has given us. I know this is hard for us to hear, because we’re Anglicans and the idea that we might be asked to speak a word for Jesus is scary to us. But we will not experience true spiritual freedom unless we do it. You haven’t truly learned something until you can teach it to someone else.

Members of Alcoholics Anonymous know this. They use the Twelve Steps, which are a powerful program of spiritual conversion: admitting that they are powerless, asking for God’s help, examining themselves, making amends to others, asking God to remove their faults and so on. But the whole process leads to Step Twelve: ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs’. Wise A.A. members have told me that they know this is an integral part of their recovery: until they become evangelists for AA, spreading the word about the Twelve Steps and inviting other alcoholics to practice them, they won’t really be in recovery.

And the same is true for us: fishing for others is an integral part of following Jesus. We might wish that Jesus had given us a program of discipleship that meant we never had to open our mouths about him, but he didn’t. The Kingdom of God grows one heart at a time, as disciples of Jesus pass the message on to others and encourage them to become disciples as well. If we get everything else right in church life, but miss this out, we’re missing out the goal of the whole process.

Let me close by saying that today’s Gospel is not marginal; it’s the central and essential theme of being a Christian, and being a Christian church. And this is something that mainline churches have tended not to give much attention to.

In 1985 the Anglican Church of Canada published the Book of Alternative Services. It was the end result of years of experimenting with new services and trying out new drafts; someone who had been involved in the process told me that he thought our church had probably put a million dollars into producing this book. And we Anglicans are comfortable with that priority, because worship is important to us. But I would ask, do we have a comparable commitment to making new disciples and helping Christians to grow as disciples? I suspect not.

So let me close by asking you these two questions. First, given that Jesus shows us that discipleship is essentially about mentoring: who is your mentor? Who is the older and more experienced disciple of Jesus who you have gone to and asked, “Will you please let me come alongside you and learn from you how to follow Jesus?” And please don’t all look at me and say, “My priest is my mentor”, because even Jesus only discipled twelve people at once! No – we need to get serious about this, and the New Testament would seem to indicate for us that it doesn’t happen in an academic way – it happens through mentoring relationships.

But here’s the second question: who are you mentoring? How is the younger generation of Christians going to learn how to follow Jesus? Sermons are important, Bible studies are important, but by themselves, they aren’t going to do the job. Those of us who have been Christians for a long time are called to be intentional about looking for newer Christians and taking them under our wing, offering our help and guidance and wisdom in the practical details of daily discipleship. This is not an optional extra for those who like that kind of thing; this is an integral part of being a follower of Jesus. This is the way that Jesus wants to change the world, and every single one of us is called to be a part of it. So let’s pray for God’s guidance and strength, and then let’s get on with it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 27 - February 2nd, 2014

January 27th, 2014
Office is closed.
3:30 – 7:30 pm  Loshbough Music Rental
January 28th, 2014
7:30 pm  ‘Meeting Jesus’ Bible Study #1
January 30th, 2014
Tim’s Sermon Preparation Day
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Studies at the Bogani Café
2:00 pm Women’s Afternoon Bible Study @ M. Rys Home
Februry 2nd, 2014  Presentation of the Lord
9:00 am Holy Communion
9:45 am Coffee between Services
10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School

Evening Bible Study Series: ‘Meeting Jesus’ – will start this Tuesday for 13 weeks. This study looks at thirteen key episodes in the life of Jesus to try to get a rounded picture of who he is. It’s a good study for absolute beginners as well as seasoned Bible studiers! Each week we will look at one key passage from the Gospels. Studies will run from 7.30 – 9.00 p.m. at St. Margaret’s Church. The sign up sheet is on the table in the foyer. Everyone is welcome.

Upcoming Events:

Feb. 9th: Reed Fleming of Street Hope St. John (supported through our Cell Tower giving) will speak at both services.

Feb. 16th: Annual General Meeting at noon

NOTICE is hereby given that the Annual meeting of Parishioners will be held on the 16th day of February A.D. 2014 at 12 o’clock pm, in the basement of St. Margaret’s at which time all baptized persons regularly attending Services of worship in this Parish or otherwise regularly receiving the administrations of the clergy of this Parish are entitled to attend.
Dated this 26th day of January, A.D. Year of Our Lord 2014
Tim Chesterton (Rector)

The Lunch Bunch .
Thursday February 13th, 2014 @ 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret's Church! Bring your sweetheart along for a Valentine’s lunch.  Everyone is welcome.  Please come and join us for a time of fellowship and a hot bowl of soup.  There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer or call Julie Holmes at 435-4208 or Lesley Schindel at 989-3833 if you will be attending

February Roster

February 2nd, 2013  The Presentation of the Lord
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople:  The Aasens
Counter: C. Aasen/ L. Schindel
Reader: T. Cromarty
(Malachi 3: 1-4, Psalm 84, Hebrews 2: 14-18)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys/ T. Wittkopf
Intercessor: D. McNeill
Lay Reader:  B. Popp   (Luke 2: 22-40)                    
Altar Guild (white) P. Major/L. Schindel
Prayer Team:  E. Gerber/K. Hughes
Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty
Sunday School (Preschool):  T. Laffin
Kitchen: - 9:45 am B&M Woytkiw
Music: M. Chesterton
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

February 9th, 2014  Epiphany 5
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels
 Counter: D. Schindel/B. Popp
Reader:  G. Hughes
(Isaiah 58: 1-12, Psalm 112: 1-10, 1 Corinthians 2: 1-16)
Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/E. Gerber
Intercessor:  C. Aasen
Lay Reader: L. Thompson  (Matthew 5: 1-20)
Altar Guild: (green) M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra
Prayer Team: K. Hughes/S. Jayakaran
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen
Sunday School (Preschool):  M. Rys
Kitchen:  M. Chesterton
Music: E. Thompson
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran
 February 16th, 2014 Epiphany 6 (AGM)
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/ T. Cromarty
Counter:  T. Willacy/L.L. Kalis
Reader: D. MacNeill
(Deuteronomy 30: 15-20, Psalm 119:1-8,
1 Corinthians 3: 1-9)
Lay Administrants:  G. Hughes/L. Thompson
Intercessor: B. Popp
Lay Reader:  E. Gerber  (Matthew 5: 21-37)           
Altar Guild (green) M. Lobreau/A. Shutt
Prayer Team: M. Rys/M. Chesterton
Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty
Sunday School (Preschool):  T. Laffin
Kitchen:  Hospitality Team
Music: M. Eriksen
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

February 23rd, 2014  Epiphany 7
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes
Counter: G. Hughes/D. Sanderson
Reader: M. Rys
(Leviticus 19: 1-2,9-18, Psalm 119: 33-40, 1 Corinthians 3:10-23)
Intercessor: L. Thompson
Lay Reader:  D. MacNeill      (Matthew 5: 38-48)           
Altar Guild (green)P. Major/MW            
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen: M & A Rys
Music: R. Mogg

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jesus is Good News: a Sermon for January 19th on John 1:29-42

If you’ve been coming to this church for any length of time at all, you’ll have heard many times from this pulpit that the Christian message is about good news before it’s about good advice. That’s what the word ‘Gospel’ means: good news. Not that there isn’t good advice in the Christian message as well - there’s lots of it, in fact – but the good advice doesn’t come first. Let me put it another way: before God asks us to do anything for him, first of all there are some pretty amazing things that he has done for us, and wants to continue to do for us. And Jesus is right at the centre of that.

Today’s gospel passage contains good news about Jesus, and it comes through mainly in the names and titles that are used about him. I want to concentrate with you on three of them – Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus as the Lamb of God, and Jesus as the one who baptizes us in the Holy Spirit. Of course these are Jewish ideas, and so they were very accessible to people when the Gospel of John was first written, but they might not be so accessible for us today. So let me try to translate these names and titles into language that makes sense for us in the culture we live in today.

So let’s start with this one: in Jesus, God has finally given us a leader we can believe in.

We’ve become totally jaded on political leaders, haven’t we? We’re so used to being disappointed by them. Of course, all the hype during election campaigns doesn’t help; one of the shortcomings of democracy is that it’s necessary to get elected, and the temptation to promise the impossible in order to get elected is so strong as to be almost irresistible. How many times have we seen political leaders swept into power on a wave of optimism and enthusiasm, but then, a few short years later, they turn out to be just as flawed as the people they replaced, and everyone is disappointed yet again?

Love of power is one of the most potent forces in human history, and very few leaders are entirely devoid of it. That’s true today, and we see it in the Bible as well. The Old Testament tells the story of David, the shepherd boy who was chosen by God to be king of Israel, and yet the Bible refuses to whitewash him; it tells his story warts and all. In his case, the bad things didn’t outweigh the good qualities; he had a heart to seek the Lord and try to serve God, and he did try to lead Israel in the ways of God. But the kings who followed him were very much a mixed bag, and the mix was weighted far more toward the side of failure than success. By the time of Jesus, the sons of Herod the Great were ruling Israel, cooperating with the Romans to keep the wealth and power as much in their own hands as they could. I suspect that by then, very few people in Israel expected anything good to come out of their political leaders.

But the prophets of Israel told the people that this would not always be the case; God would send them a leader, a good king like David, from the royal line of David in fact, who would rescue them and set them free. Kings and priests in those days were anointed with olive oil as a sign of the power of God coming down on them to equip them for their work, and so they called this promised king ‘the Anointed One’ – in Hebrew, ‘the Messiah’, and in Greek, ‘the Christ’. And in today’s gospel reading, Andrew tells his brother Simon Peter that Jesus is that promised king: he says, ‘“We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed)’ (John 1:41).

But of course, Jesus refused to act like a worldly king. He didn’t try to form a government. He didn’t try to raise an army to drive out the Romans and liberate the people from their oppressors. He knew that the whole system of power politics and military confrontation was rotten to the core, and he had no desire to compete in that arena.

What Jesus did was what good leaders always do: he cast a compelling vision, and he inspired people to join him in celebrating it and living by it. He called that vision ‘the Kingdom of God’. It’s a vision of a world of justice and compassion, a world of equality and mercy, a world where the poor are satisfied, the mourners are comforted, and the meek inherit the earth. It’s a world where love is the highest value, and everyone lives by it, a world where we’re satisfied with what we have rather than continually wanting more, and where those who have share with those who don’t have, so that all have enough and no one has too much. It’s a world ruled by a king who chose to let his enemies kill him rather than killing them, because the one thing they could never destroy was his love for them.

How was this vision going to become a reality? Not in the usual way, through power and coercion. Jesus said that the kingdom of God was like yeast working its way through a lump of dough, or like seeds being scattered in the field. To spread this kingdom, he didn’t start a political party or send armies out from Jerusalem to conquer the world; what he did was to send out missionaries armed only with the power of love, and he told them to call people everywhere to become his followers and to teach them the way of life of the Kingdom of God.

You and I are probably Christians today because we have been captivated by this vision of Jesus, the message of God’s Kingdom. We come to church week by week because the words of Jesus inspire us; they give us hope that the future doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of the past. And week by week, we stand up and make our pledge of allegiance to God’s anointed King, God’s Messiah: we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord”. We look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And even though it seems crazy in the convoluted value systems of this world, we choose to live each day of our lives by the teaching of our true King, Jesus, because in him, God has finally given us a leader we can believe in.

That’s the first piece of good news I want you to notice in this passage. The second is this: in Jesus, God promises to forgive us our sins.

The funny thing about the modern world is that even though there has been a mass rejection of the idea of ‘sin’, we don’t seem to have been successful at getting rid of guilt. I don’t know about you, but I live with a sense of failure all the time! Never mind God’s standards or society’s standards: I don’t even live up to my own standards! Imagine how terrifying it would be if God had a voice recorder on which he had recorded all the judgements I’ve made of others and all the times I’ve criticized others for failing to live up to my standards. What if, on the Day of Judgement, all God did was to press ‘play’ and let everyone hear what I had said? I think I would have to hang my head in shame at how far short I had fallen.

We do not live in a merciful world. We live in a world where journalists are ready to pounce every time a politician makes a single mistake. We live in a world where the media holds out an impossible ideal of what life is all about, and then tells us to feel guilty because we don’t measure up to it. And for people of faith, we’re all too aware of the truth of the words we will speak in a few minutes:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you by thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have failed to do. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves’.

Is it possible for God to forgive us? The Old Testament answer was, ‘Yes, it is, and he’s given you a system to make that happen’. Here’s how the system worked. You went down to Jerusalem, where the Temple was located – the one place on earth where you could be sure to encounter the presence of God. There you spent your hard-earned cash on a lamb with no blemish. You took that lamb to the priest, laid your hands on its head and confessed your sins, transferring the guilt to the lamb. Then the priest took your lamb and killed it by slitting its throat, offering it as a sacrifice for your sins. The lamb died in your place, and because of that you could go home, knowing that God would no longer keep a record of your sins or hold them against you.

This is a foreign idea to us today, because we aren’t in the habit of offering animal sacrifices like the people who lived in Jesus’ day. But we need to see that this is all about forgiveness, and how we can be assured that our sins are forgiven. And this is what John the Baptist is talking about in today’s Gospel, in verse 29:
The next day (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
And in verse 35:
The next day John was again standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God”.

John the Gospel writer is teaching us that this is what the Cross of Jesus is all about. It’s not a derailment of the plan, and it’s not a failure; it’s Jesus offering his life as the perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice that all the Old Testament animal sacrifices had been pointing to.

Think of what happens on that Good Friday. God comes to us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, and the representatives of the human race, the religious establishment, the political power structures of his time, all reject him and nail him to the Cross. How is God going to respond to this? Surely by taking vengeance on them and punishing them, don’t you think? No - he’s going to respond by loving his enemies and praying for those who hate him: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’. The Cross, in other words, tells us that right at the heart of the Gospel is a God who loves his enemies, and forgives them, rather than taking vengeance on them and punishing them.

That’s good news for you and me. I fall short every day, and so do you. That is who I am, and God knows it, and yet Jesus prays for me as he prayed for his murderers, “Father, forgive”. And so, day by day, I can go to God and ask for a clean slate, and day by day, God gives me what I ask. As John says in his first letter:
‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:8-9).

So John the Gospel writer is announcing good news to us. He’s announcing that in Jesus, God has finally given us a leader we can believe in. He’s telling us that in Jesus, God offers free forgiveness to all who will turn to him and put their trust in him. Thirdly, let me point out that in Jesus, God gives us the strength to do the impossible.

We often hear that the Christian life is difficult, but a pastor friend of mine used to say, ‘the Christian life is not difficult – it’s impossible!’ You think he’s wrong? Try it and you’ll see! It is impossible for us to live by the teaching of Jesus if the only resource we have is our own strength and ingenuity. That’s because the Christian life is not designed to be lived that way. It’s designed to be fueled by a fire that we don’t light ourselves: the fire of the Holy Spirit. And so John the Baptist gives us this third piece of good news about Jesus:
“I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (v.33).

John’s baptism, of course, was very important. People heard his message about the coming of the kingdom of God; he called them to repent – to turn away from their sins and to live a new way of life – and as a sign of that decision, he called them to be baptized – to be plunged under the river Jordan, a symbolic drowning of the old life and coming up to the beginning of the new.

But now John is saying, ‘Folks, it’s just water. What Jesus has to offer is far better than that. He will plunge you, immerse you, fill you, and totally surround you with the power of God, the Holy Spirit’. And because of this, you will find yourself doing things you never thought you could do, saying things you never thought you could say, and changing gradually into a person you never thought you could be.

In the New Testament, this was something real and tangible, something people could see. In Ephesus Paul found some people who said they were followers of Jesus, but he immediately noticed something missing. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked, and they replied, “We’ve never even heard of the Holy Spirit”. And to the Christians in Galatia he posed this question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Jewish Law, or by hearing the Gospel and believing it?” That would have been a nonsense question unless the Galatian Christians had experienced the Holy Spirit in a tangible way.

The good news is, that offer still stands. Jesus says that the heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. Ask and you will receive, he says; keep on seeking, and you will eventually find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. You and I, too, can experience the power of God filling us and giving us the ability to do things we could never do by ourselves.

So in Jesus God has finally given us a leader we can believe in. In Jesus, God has promised to forgive our sins and wipe the slate clean. And in Jesus, God has given us the power to do the impossible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

So what do you need to take home from this text today?

Maybe you are a person who has become jaded on empty promises and tired of leaders with feet of clay. Maybe you’ve given up looking for a vision that can fire you up and get you excited about the future. If so, maybe you need to take a fresh look at the King God has sent for us, a leader we can finally get excited about. Maybe you need to go back to the gospels and read them again, and ask God to give you a clearer picture of this strange and compelling and disturbing person who calls us, every one of us, to take up our cross and follow him.

Or maybe you are tired of feeling guilty. You are very well aware of your own failures, and you find yourself wondering whether God can have any patience left with you. Maybe you need to hear again the wonderful good news that Jesus’ prayer for you is ‘Father, forgive’. He says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You don’t need to carry that burden of guilt a moment longer. You can lay it down at the foot of the Cross where the Lamb of God died for you, and you can receive God’s forgiveness through him.

Or maybe you’re tired of personal failure; you know very well what it is that you’re supposed to be doing, but you just don’t have the resources in yourself to do it. If that’s you, then perhaps you need to tell God exactly how powerless you feel, and ask God every day, and maybe several times a day, to give you the power of the Holy Spirit to put gas in your tank, so that you have the fuel you need for this journey of discipleship. Jesus encourages us not to give up on this prayer: keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him, but sometimes the answer to that prayer is on his schedule, not ours. But we’re told to keep on praying and not give up, knowing that God is faithful and he will keep his promises.