Friday, July 25, 2014

July 28th - August 3rd, 2014

Events This Week
July 28th – July 31st, 2014
  Office is closed

The office will be open Friday.

August 3rd, 2014   8th Sunday after Pentecost
   9:00 am  Morning Worship (D. MacNeill)
 10:30 am  Morning Worship (D. MacNeill)

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 pick up is August 8th, 2014!

Justice Camp 2014: Taking place August 15-21, this camp is designed to engage and challenge people to live out God's heart for justice. Seven plenary streams are offered, as listed below:
The Arts and Social Change, Inter-religious Perspectives,
Food Ethics, Ecology and Conservation, Aboriginal Reconciliation, Urban Poverty, The Oil and Gas Industry.
Through immersion experiences and hands-on workshops, participants will develop skills to become effective social justice leaders within their own local communities. Note: a non-resident option has been added to the registration page for those who have their own accommodation. Register today at  

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why doesn't God do something now? (a sermon on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ 
 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

Tuesday morning when I checked the news headlines on my computer, I realized it wasn’t going to be a particularly inspiring day for those who want to believe in the basic goodness of the human race. In Kabul, a suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives near a busy market, killing eighty-nine people and wounding more than forty in one of the deadliest suicide attacks since the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan. Israel and Hamas continued to shoot at each other, and hopes for a peace settlement brokered by Egypt were dashed as the terms were rejected by Hamas. Calgary police announced that their investigation into the disappearance of a couple and their grandson has now turned into a murder investigation. And a sentencing hearing was held for the mayor of a city in Ontario who has been charged with corruption dating back to his days as a federal cabinet minister.

There seems to be no end to the corruption and violence human beings are capable of. If you’re like me, you sometimes find yourself crying out to God: “How long? Why don’t you do something about all this? Why don’t you stop these people?”

Of course, the evil events I’ve mentioned are far from isolated. Every three seconds a child dies of starvation, while much of the land in their countries is used for cash crops to benefit the people of richer nations, including ours – so that we can have cheap coffee, for instance. Women and children are exploited by pornographers, and the evidence suggests that Christians get addicted to Internet pornography every bit as much as non-Christians. Unelected dictators impose their will on nations for the benefit of themselves and their families, and heads of corporations impose their will on millions of people to benefit their shareholders – many of whom are good churchgoers.

Would people really like it if God ruled the world directly and immediately, in such a way that every evil thought and action was instantly judged and rewarded? Where would God draw the line in punishing evil? Would he include the evil of parents losing their temper at their children, or ordinary middle class people sipping coffee grown by workers living on starvation wages? Do we really believe in a God who would restrain wickedness when it seems wicked to us, but who would back off from restraining it when we benefit from it?

In contrast to this desire to see instant judgement, the parables in Matthew chapter thirteen are all about waiting. A farmer waits for harvest time; birds wait for a mustard seed to grow into a bush big enough for them to nest in; a woman waits for the leaven to spread through the whole loaf of bread. That’s what God’s kingdom is like. God is planting seeds and waiting patiently for them to grow. Now is not the time for harvesting; now is still the time for planting and nurturing the seeds. We have to wait patiently for the time of harvest to come.

The problem, of course, is that Jesus’ followers don’t want to wait. Notice what the slaves of the householder say in verse 28 of today’s gospel: ‘Then do you want us to go and gather (the weeds)?’ They want to go out right away and root out the weeds from among the wheat. But the farmer restrains them; if they do that, they may well root out some of the wheat as well. The Greek word for ‘weeds’ used to be translated as ‘tares’ or ‘darnel’; it refers to a mongrel form of wheat with smaller leaves, not suitable for human consumption. However, in the early stages of its growth, it’s very difficult to distinguish from genuine wheat. Who can judge infallibly whether any given plant is wheat or tares? Only a very good eye can be certain of making the right decision in every case. Jesus would say: when it comes to people, only God can make that judgement.

The basic error Jesus points out here is the error of trying to impose on God our timetable for judgement. “God, now’s the time for you to act and wipe out those wicked people!” What Jesus is telling us is that God is working on a different timetable; in God’s timetable, we aren’t at harvest time yet.

At present, in God’s timetable, we’re at planting and nurturing time. The planting of the seeds began in biblical times, when the seed of God’s word was sown by the prophets and came to us in its fulness in Jesus, the Word of God. Jesus sowed the seeds of the kingdom, people responded, and the plant began to grow. He sent out his apostles to continue this process of sowing and nurturing as the Gospel spread, people came to faith in Jesus, and began to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. That process is still going on today as the Gospel spreads all round the world. And while that planting and nurturing process goes on, the lines between good and evil, between Christian and non-Christian, are fuzzier than I would like to think.

There’s a myth that it’s an easy thing to divide people into the good and the bad, the Christian and the non-Christian. We might say that Jane is a good person and Peter is a bad person. But we don’t know what kind of start Jane and Peter had. Perhaps Jane was gifted with a good family; perhaps she enjoyed a privileged upbringing and had a naturally sunny disposition. But perhaps she hasn’t done much improving on all these good things she started with. Perhaps Peter started much further back; if you think he’s an awful person now, you should see what he used to be like! If you take into account the places they started, Peter has actually come a lot further than Jane.

By the same token, we might say that Jim is a Christian and Phil is not. But what if Jim grew up in a Christian home, was taken to church and taught the Christian faith, and still goes to church each week – but in reality he has very little love for Christ in his heart, and only goes because he has a position of respect in the congregation where people look up to him and he feels important? And, on the other hand, what if Phil, our non-Christian, doesn’t go to church yet, but is intrigued by Jesus, is attracted to his message, and is quite willing to admit that he himself has unmet spiritual needs? Who’s in and who’s out? Which direction is Jim moving in? Which direction is Phil moving in?

Sometimes things aren’t as black and white as they seem.

Jesus wants us to know that our present age is a time for sowing seeds, nurturing them, and waiting for the growth. It’s a time for patient waiting, letting God do his work, while we get on with ours. To us, it might seem as if we’re waiting for a long time for the final harvest. From God’s perspective it might look very different.

So all necessary time will be given for the crop to grow and bear fruit. However, Jesus also wants us to know that the time given will not be unlimited. In the future, harvest time will come. And to help us understand it, Jesus changes metaphors for a moment.

Most of us love nice sunset photographs. I have one that I took on Sauble Beach, on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, in the summer of 1977. The sun is going down over the lake; the sky is all reds, yellows and golds – it’s very spectacular. And when I read in verse 43 “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father”, I tend to think of that gentle sunset image.

But the sun in the Middle East is very different. There’s no gentle sunrise and sunset; sunrise is a sudden onslaught of light and heat. When the sun comes up in the morning, it’s a threatening thing; people hide from it, find shady corners to escape it, and wear hats and veils if they have to go out in it. That’s the kind of sunlight Jesus’ followers were used to. What did he mean, in that context, when he said that ‘the righteous will shine like the sun’?

In a famous sermon, C.S. Lewis once said that every man, woman, and child in the world is moving in one of two directions. If we saw them today as we will one day see them, he said, we would either recoil in horror at the sight, or we would be strongly tempted to fall down and worship them. One day, God’s people will share the glory of God in such a powerful way that we might be tempted to think that in fact they are God; when the work of the Holy Spirit is complete in their lives, then each one will be fully capable of reflecting the brightness of God to others.

But some refuse to reflect the brightness of God; they are too full of themselves. Their own selfish needs and desires are the central theme of their lives. They put themselves at the centre of the world, and see other people as merely ‘supporting actors’ in a play that’s all about ‘me’.

These folks are not hopeless cases, or not yet anyway. After all, God is a God who works miracles. In the Bible, God was able to transform the lives of several people who were considered hopeless cases. So we can expect that, given time and a lot of prayer, some of these folks will respond to the Gospel message, come to Christ and put their faith in him.

Some – but not all. The plain meaning of scripture is that not everyone will respond positively to God’s invitation. And for those who persist in their refusal, harvest time will be the end of their opportunity to inflict their evil on others. Jesus says,
‘The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (vv.41-43a).

This is a hard teaching. There are two caricatures we need to avoid here. On the one hand, we have the caricature of God the sadistic monster, the one who gleefully consigns his beloved creatures to eternal fire and suffering. On the other hand, we have the caricature of God the indulgent grandparent, who is determined to spoil the kids, let them get away with all the wickedness they like all day long, and still give them candy at the end of the day. Both of these caricatures do violence to the plain meaning of the words of Jesus.

We’d all like to think that sooner or later, everyone will turn to God; I would certainly prefer to think that! But Jesus and his apostles are more realistic. They indicate that if time is needed, time will be given, but even with all the time in the world, there are some who will still reject God, because they can’t bear not to be ‘god’ themselves. And in their case, God will respect their rejection of him, but will refuse them the continued opportunity to inflict evil on others.

So, what’s Jesus calling us to in this passage? He’s calling us to persistence in doing our work, and patience not to try to do God’s work.

Deciding when the judgement should take place, and who should be judged, is not my work – it’s God’s work. That applies whether I’m thinking about a terrorist, a person who runs a corporation that exploits people in the Third World, or an ordinary sinner like me. It takes an expert eye to be able to tell wheat from tares; only God knows enough to make that judgement. And in God’s wisdom, he’s decided that the time to make that judgement has not yet arrived. Time is still necessary for the nurture of the plants – or even for the miraculous transformation of a weed into a stalk of wheat.

Please note that when I say this, I am not making any comment on the responsibility of human governments to restrain crime in this present age; our lawmakers and police forces may well have to use all their resourcefulness to do this. But we Christians will not join in the simplistic view of the world that sees it made up of ‘those evil people’ on the one hand, and ‘us good folk’ on the other. We know that reality is much more complicated than that. That kind of judgement is beyond our scope; only God can see all things, so only God can make it.

We won’t try to do God’s work for him. Rather, we will concentrate on our work, which is to spread the seed of God’s message and help it to grow in the lives of people. To be plain, we will first do all that we can to be good advertisements for the Gospel of Christ by the way we live our lives. Secondly, we will take every opportunity to do some good in the world in the name of Christ. Thirdly, we will take advantage of every opportunity we get to speak a word for Christ and his Gospel, and to invite others to be his followers. We will do this faithfully, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we will leave the results in the hands of God, who will bring the seeds to harvest in his good time.

So let us pray that God will grant us the persistence to do our work, and the patience not to try to do his. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2014

July 21 - 26, 2014

Events This Week

July 21st – 23rd , 2014
  Office is closed

The office will be open Thursday & Friday

July 26th , 2014
  7:00 pm   Malankara Church Rental

July 27th, 2014   7th Sunday after Pentecost
   9:00 am  Holy Communion with Rev. M. Oliver
 10:30 am  Holy Communion with Rev. M. Oliver

Justice Camp 2014: Taking place August 15-21, this camp is designed to engage and challenge people to live out God's heart for justice. Seven plenary streams are offered, as listed below:
The Arts and Social Change, Inter-religious Perspectives,
Food Ethics, Ecology and Conservation, Aboriginal Reconciliation, Urban Poverty, The Oil and Gas Industry.
Through immersion experiences and hands-on workshops, participants will develop skills to become effective social justice leaders within their own local communities. Note: a non-resident option has been added to the registration page for those who have their own accommodation. Register today at  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Growing a Crop on the Family Farm: a sermon for July 13th 2014 on Matthew 13:1-23

I’ve been interested in evangelism ever since I was a young teenager, when I was evangelized myself by my dad. Yes, I’d been brought up in a Christian family, and yes, I’d been taken to church every week, and yes, I believed in God and I’d never really rebelled against my church upbringing. But to tell the truth, I wasn’t really that interested in it, and God certainly wasn’t personal to me. I never thought of myself as being in a relationship with God, and there were many things in my life that were more important to me than Jesus Christ.

As I said, I was evangelized by my Dad. He knew I liked to read, so he lent me Christian books, and one of them was very influential for me. It was called Nine O’clock in the Morning, by Dennis Bennett, a story of an ordinary Anglican priest in the late 50’s and early 60’s who experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in a remarkable way in his life and ministry, including miracles and healings. It got my attention, because it told of a real living God who did real things in people’s lives. So I got curious, and went into a process of searching that I won’t describe in great detail right now, except to say that it led to an evening in March 1972 when my dad said to me, “You’ve never given your life to Jesus, have you?” And he was right, and that question was the tool that the Holy Spirit used to help me begin a conscious walk with God. I remember going to my room that night, sitting on my bed, and praying a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus. Not long after that, my dad gave me a little booklet that taught me how to have a daily time of praying and reading the Bible, and so I got started on a habit that’s been with me now for over forty years.

That’s how I was evangelized, and it was a wonderful thing for me. I found a real relationship with God that changed my life, and I was keen to pass this on to others as well. I was quite open with my friends about what had happened to me, even though I was a shy young teenager, and a couple of years later my best friend began to get curious. We were both guitarists and I had invited him to play guitar in the worship band at our church. He had never been a churchgoer, but some of his other friends went to our church too, and so it wasn’t hard for him to slip into the community. Eventually the time came when he decided he wanted to be a Christian too, and since he’d never been baptized, I got to stand beside him on the day when, at the age of sixteen, he gave his life to Jesus in baptism.

So I’ve been on both sides of this process. I’ve been the soil that the Word of God is planted in, and I continue to be that soil today, as I read the Bible and think about it and try to put Jesus’ message into practice. And I’ve also been a sower of the seed, sharing the good news with others and hoping for a harvest. All farmers hope for a harvest, of course. Stan Rogers had a great line in a song he wrote about farming: ‘Watch the field behind the plough turn to straight dark rows, put another season’s promise in the ground’. That’s what we Christians are called to do: put another season’s promise in the ground – in other words, plant seeds of the Word of God wherever we can, in the hope that some of them will come up and we’ll have a good harvest.

But of course, that doesn’t always happen. I have talked about the good news of Jesus with many, many people over the years. Some have not been interested at all, and some have been interested, but not ready for a commitment. Some have just been too busy to add one more thing to their lives, and some have responded and turned to Christ in faith. That’s the way it goes: the seeds are scattered, some of them bear fruit, and others don’t.

This was Jesus’ experience too. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is describing his own ministry; he’s been travelling around Galilee and Judea, scattering the seed of the Word of God – that is, sharing the message of the Kingdom and calling people to put their faith in him and to follow him. Huge crowds have been attracted by his healing miracles, and have stayed to listen to his teaching. But, contrary to what people often think, the response to his preaching isn’t always a stunning success story.

Some people hear the message and can’t make sense of it; Jesus says that it’s as if the devil comes and snatches it away from their hearts, and so they don’t believe.

Some people are wildly enthusiastic about the message when they first hear it; they seem to be thoroughly converted and follow Jesus enthusiastically. But after a while they start to run into opposition, and perhaps even persecution, because of their newfound faith in Jesus. They hadn’t bargained for this; they thought it was going to be plain sailing all the way, and so they get discouraged and give up.

Some people hear the message and believe it, but they’ve got too much else going on in their lives, and their love for their material wealth is like a chain around their hearts. So the word of God doesn’t produce a harvest in their lives; there are too many weeds growing up along with it, and the weeds drain the life out of the soil.

But some people hear the word and understand it, and put it into practice in their lives. The word bears fruit in them; their lives are transformed and they are able to share the message with others also.

Let’s think of this parable from two points of view. First, let’s see ourselves as the recipients of the seed of the Word; how do we make sure that we are like the good soil that bears a rich harvest? Second, let’s see ourselves as joining Jesus in the business of scattering the seed of the Word. What might we learn about that work from this story?

How do we produce a rich harvest in our own lives? Jesus tells us that we do this by paying attention, by listening carefully to what he has to say, thinking it through and working out what it means for us to practice it.

In verse 9 Jesus says, ‘Let anyone with ears listen!’ As you know, not all listening is attentive listening. A runner says “I was listening to my mp3 player while I was jogging’; a mother says, “My three-year old just won’t listen to me!” They aren’t describing exactly the same kind of listening, are they? Jesus calls us to a careful and attentive listening to him. He says, “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, in another thirty” (v.23). This is not just hearing the words of Jesus as background noise; this is pondering them, thinking through how we might actually obey them in our daily lives, and then putting them into practice. If we do this, Jesus says, we will produce a wonderful harvest.

So we have to think carefully about Jesus’ teaching and what it might mean for us to live by it. For instance, what would it mean for us to be so habitually truthful that no one would ever think of asking us to swear an oath; they’d just know that we never lie? What would have to change for us to obey Jesus’ teaching about turning away from anger and loving our enemies? What would our lives look like if we truly did not store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but concentrated instead on the kingdom of God and his righteousness? When Jesus tells us to sell our possessions and give to the poor, how do we put that into practice in a world where we need to provide for our families in a cold northern climate?

There are legitimate questions and disagreements about the meaning of Jesus’ teaching, and so we need to think hard and pray honestly about what obedience might look like in our daily lives. What is not an option for us, if we’re Christians, is to say, “I just never think about obeying Jesus in that area of my life”. Remember what happened to the foolish man who built his house on the sand? And Jesus says that the foolish man represents the one “who hears these words of mine and does not act on them” (Matthew 7:26).

So much for our responsibilities as the recipients of the seed of the Word. Now, what about when we take our place on the other end of that process – when we join Jesus in the family farming business, so to speak, helping him to spread the good seed of the Word of God? In the parable, of course, Jesus was talking about his own ministry, but at the end of the gospels he tells his church to join him in this work; he calls all of his followers to go out and spread the good news, to make new disciples for him, and to teach them to obey his commandments. To him, this is part of the normal Christian life.

There are many different ways to be a witness for Christ. Thankfully, God doesn’t call everyone to go up to total strangers on the street and ask them if they’re saved! We’ve been created with different temperaments, and there are ways of being witnesses that ‘fit’ for us.

Perhaps you put a church calendar or a Christian poster up on the wall of your office. Maybe one day someone makes a comment or asks a question about it, and you share briefly about what it means to you.

Or perhaps a fellow-worker finds out that you are a Christian and goes out of her way to tell you that she thinks Christianity is an emotional crutch for weaklings. You listen and you say that you have known others who shared that opinion. Then you go out of your way to care for that person, not because you’re trying to prove her wrong, but because you have a hunch she needs some extra love in her life.

Or perhaps, in conversation with a friend, both of you are talking about difficult times you have gone through. You don’t try to pretend that Jesus took all your pain away, but you do say a bit about the help you found in your faith and your church.

Or maybe a friend shares with you that her daughter’s new baby has some serious health issues. You reply, “Would it be okay for me to pray for them?” By the way: if you’ve never done this, you will be totally amazed at how appreciative most people are when you make this offer! This is perhaps one of the easiest ways for most Christians to start sharing their faith with others, and over time it can lead to all sorts of opportunities for conversations about God.

Or perhaps a friend who knows you are a Christian asks you about Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and other books like that by well-known atheists; don’t those books prove that the Christian faith isn’t true? You tell your friend that you don’t know much about it, but you’ll try to find out. So you ask your trusty parish priest to recommend a couple of good books on the subject, and then you get together with your friend again and talk about what you’ve learned.

You see, these are all examples of ways in which we can help to scatter the seed of the word. We aren’t responsible for results; as Paul says in one of his letters, “I planted the seed, someone else watered it, but God is the one who made it grow”. And believe me, if you start being more intentional about scattering the seed of the word, you are going to see some of those seeds growing!

Of course, not all of them are going to come up, and not all of the ones that come up are going to last. Every gardener knows that. We plant peas or beans, but not every seed produces fruit, and not every pea or bean plant survives to produce a harvest. In the same way, not every conversation we have with a friend leads to a new disciple for Jesus, and not every new disciple of Jesus sticks with him forever. But some do, and for them the result is tremendous blessing.

Let’s go round this one last time. Jesus is in the farming business, sowing the seed of God’s word in people’s lives. The purpose of the seed is to produce the blessing of a good harvest – the transformation of lives by the love of God, and the sharing of that love with others so that they too can experience God’s transforming power.

So let’s receive the good seed of the Word of God, and let it produce a harvest in our own lives. Paul says, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). Those are good things, aren’t they? Those are wonderful things; I’d love to be that kind of person, and to live in a world full of that kind of people. And Jesus tells us that the way to do that is to listen carefully, to try to understand his message, and to learn to live by it. Let’s resolve to bring forth that kind of good fruit in our own lives, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

But the other side of this is that we, too, need to be scattering the seeds of the Word of God. In our daily lives we have all sorts of opportunities to speak a word for Christ, and I’ve given some examples of ways we might do this. There are many other ways as well. One of the most wonderful experiences a Christian can have is to speak the right word at the right time to the right person, and see that word starting to bear fruit in people’s lives. I’ve had that experience, and if you haven’t had it, then let me encourage you to start looking out for opportunities to spread some seed around. Believe me, the Holy Spirit will use the words you speak in the most unexpected ways, and the harvest will be wonderful! So, as Stan Rogers would say,
‘Watch the field behind the plough turn to straight dark rows,

Put another season’s promise in the ground’.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Events This Week 
July 14th , 2014
Office is closed 
The office will be open Tuesday through Friday
July 19th , 2014
7:00 pm   Malankara Church Rental
July 20th, 2014   6th Sunday after Pentecost
9:00 am  Holy Communion
10:30 am  Holy Communion

Sunday September 28th is 'Bring a Friend Sunday'
(‘Back to Church Sunday’)

Our services on this day will be Holy Communion at 9.00 and Gospel Music Service at 10.30.
By far the most effective method of spreading the Good News of Jesus is friend to friend; this has been proved over and over again. In preparation for Bring a Friend Sunday:
Ask God to guide you about which friend(s) (who do not normally go to church anywhere) you should invite to come to church with you on that day. Pray for them, and pray for the wisdom to know the best way to invite them.
Don’t be afraid: this is the command most often repeated in the Bible! The words are very simple: ‘Would you like to come to church with me?’ It sounds scary, but it’s far less scary than ‘Will you marry me?’ and many of us have managed to survive that one! Simply give your invitation and then leave the results in God’s hands.

Tim's Holidays
Tim will be on holiday from July 21st - August 18th inclusive.
We’re very happy to have the Rev. Matthew Oliver leading worship for us on Sunday July 27th and Sunday August 10th. Matthew is no stranger to our parish, having helped us out before from time to time.
Morning Worship will be led on August 3rd by Doug MacNeill and on August 17th by Brian Popp. Our lay readers put a lot of work into preparing for the Sundays when they lead worship; please support them in this ministry by continuing to come together as the family of God to worship under their leadership.
Emergency Pastoral Care while Tim is on holiday:
*  July 21st – July 30th: The Rev. Sheila Hagan Bloxham
*  July 31st – August 7th: The Rev. Alexandra Meek Sharman
*  August 8th – 16th: The Rev. Sheila Hagan Bloxham
*  August 17th to 18th: The Rev. Susan Oliver Martin 
If you are experiencing a pastoral emergency and you need the services of a priest, please contact one of our churchwardens: Brian Popp (780-430-4734), Doug Sanderson (780-430-7812), or Sally Floden (780-434-4173) and they will put you in touch with Sheila or Sue.    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Kind Yoke of Jesus (a sermon for July 6th on Matthew 11:25-30)

It’s often been said that your own home is the most difficult place to be a Christian. That’s because there’s no pretending there. Outside the home – with friends and work colleagues – you might be able to do a good job of hiding your weaknesses and besetting sins, but in your own home, with the people who know you best, that’s a lot harder.

I sometimes wonder what my kids will say about me at my funeral. They’ve definitely seen the truth about me, warts and all; they know my strengths, and they know my weaknesses as well. And I wonder how they’ll feel when they hear what other people, who maybe don’t know me so well, will have to say. Will they perhaps find themselves thinking, “Well, yes, I can see how you would believe that about my Dad, but then, you don’t know the whole story, do you?”

Maybe this illustration can give us some insight into what it felt like to be Jesus, walking around on the earth, hearing people saying things about God, and thinking to himself, “Well, yes, I can see why you might believe that, but you don’t know the whole story, do you?” Because of course Jesus, the Son of God, came to live among us to ‘show us the Father’ – to share the truth about God with human beings. And not just with any human beings: with God’s chosen people Israel, who had been learning about God’s ways for over a thousand years.

Was Jesus perhaps surprised by their lack of interest in the message he brought? It seems that he was. In Matthew 11:21 he reflects back on some of the cities in Galilee where he has been preaching and healing the sick. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes”. In other words, “If I did things like this among the pagan nations, they’d be turning to God by the thousands! So how come you folks don’t seem to be interested? How come you’re snoring through the whole thing?”

The problem, of course, was that God’s people didn’t think they needed any help learning about God, and they certainly didn’t need it from an amateur! Who did he think he was, telling them about God? They’d been studying the Torah all their lives, and they knew all the explanations the rabbis had given down through the centuries applying each general law to specific situations. And then along comes Jesus, an uneducated upstart with a strong Galilean accent, and presumes to instruct them about God. They must have thought, “Go away to rabbinical school for a decade, Jesus; then when you come back, we’ll talk!”

But Jesus’ knowledge of God came from a completely different source. Jesus had learned about God the way a son learns about his father – by living with him, by watching him at work and at play, by imitating him and learning to be like him. He was like an instinctive musician with perfect pitch, walking around among people who knew all about the history of music, but were entirely tone deaf themselves.

Think about how frustrating this must have been sometimes for Jesus! I’m a musician myself, and I have a pretty good ear as well. I can tell when my guitar is in tune or out of tune, even when no one else can hear it; I can tell when a singer is bang on, or flat or sharp. This isn’t something I’ve achieved by hard work, so I can’t take any credit for it; it’s something I was born with. And I often forget that other people don’t have it. It surprises me that they can’t hear the things that I can hear.

That must have been what it was like for Jesus to be walking around on this earth. We talk about people taking time to ‘discover who they are’. For Jesus, part of that process involved discovering that other people didn’t have the same kind of intimate knowledge of God that he had. There are some things about a father that only his child can know.

And so Jesus said these words in today’s gospel reading which sound so arrogant and shocking and exclusive to us: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). The word for ‘handed over’ refers to the formal handing down of religious traditions from generation to generation. We would say, “The Anglican tradition has been handed down to us from our ancestors”. But Jesus speaks in a much more direct way: “I didn’t get it from my ancestors; I got it from my Father in heaven”.

If you don’t accept this view of the relationship between Jesus and God, then you’re going to have a hard time with what Jesus says here. Matthew, and all the writers of the New Testament, don’t see Jesus as just one religious teacher among many. They see him as having a unique relationship with God that no other human being can claim: Jesus is the Son of God in a unique sense. Yes, of course, the Bible talks about us being the sons and daughters of God, but its clear from this passage that Jesus can use that description of himself in a way that we can’t. He is ‘the’ Son, “and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”

There’s a paradox in these words of Jesus. On the one hand, there’s an exclusive claim Jesus makes: he has inside knowledge about God that no one else has ever had, before or since. But then immediately afterwards comes this wonderfully inclusive invitation: the Son has no interest in keeping his knowledge of the Father to himself. He wants to share it with everyone. He invites everyone to come to know God as he knows God, and so to find rest and release from the burdens they are carrying. And so he says,
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (vv.28-30).

It’s tempting for me to preach on this passage of Scripture in such a way as to offer you Jesus, the ultimate stress reduction specialist! But if I was to do that, I wouldn’t be faithful to the text. Why? Because the kind of burdens that Jesus has in mind here are primarily religious burdens. Jesus is saying to his hearers, ‘The kind of religion you’ve learned from the experts doesn’t take the load off your shoulders; rather, it increases it. That’s not what I’m offering you today. I’m offering you a relationship with God that can give you rest from the burdens religion has laid on your back’.

What are these burdens? I think of people who live in fear that, no matter how hard they try to keep God’s commandments, they’re never going to measure up. They’re never going to be good enough. They see God as a cruel taskmaster standing over their shoulders laying the burden of commandment after commandment on them, and if they slip up and don’t pull their weight - no heavenly reward for them! Some people are so scarred by this kind of religion that they turn away from God for the rest of their lives, never suspecting that the God they are turning away from is not the God Jesus told us about.

Many of Jesus’ contemporaries were probably tired of the weight of the religious traditions they’d inherited from their ancestors. What was the specific way in which an animal should be sacrificed? The Jewish Law said not to work on the Sabbath, but what exactly was ‘work’? Was walking ‘work’, and if so, how far could you walk before it became work? What was the exactly correct way of washing your hands in order to be ritually clean before a meal? And so it went on – hundreds of ritual laws which had very little to do with loving God and loving your neighbour. But if you were a shepherd and had sheep to look after, how could you avoid breaking the Sabbath? Or if you didn’t have access to clean water, how could you do the correct ritual washings? And so, for some people, the law stopped being a road to God, and became instead a roadblock.

Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (v.30). Think about this word ‘yoke’. We’re talking about oxen here, and the wooden contraption that binds two of them together and allows them to cooperate in pulling a plough. Jesus was a carpenter; he’d probably made a good few yokes in his time, and he might even have advertised them with a slogan like “My yokes fit!”

This helps us to understand another paradox in these verses: in verse 28 Jesus promises us rest, but by the end of the passage he’s talking about us bearing his yoke, and that doesn’t sound like rest! But a point of translation might help us here. Verse 30 in the NRSV reads, ‘my yoke is easy’, but the original Greek that Matthew wrote literally means, ‘my yoke is kind’. Some translators have suggested that it might better be translated as ‘my yoke fits well’. In other words, the yoke of discipleship Jesus lays on us is something that is suited exactly to us, and our condition. It’s not a way of life that adds to our burdens of guilt and fear and tiredness; rather, it sets us free, because it teaches us the way God designed for us to live in the first place.

How does this work? Well, it might be interesting to contrast the approach Jesus took with that of the Pharisees. As we’ve seen, the Pharisees were the great embellishers of the Law; they added thousands of traditional interpretations to help people apply the commandments to their daily lives. Jesus took the opposite approach: he was the great simplifier. He pointed to the heart of the Law, the most important commandments, within which the others were to be interpreted. In Matthew 23, for instance, he says,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).
And of course, most famously of all, he summarized the Law in terms of the two greatest commandments:
“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus teaching doesn’t always lighten the demands of the Law; anyone who reads the Sermon on the Mount knows that at times he makes even greater demands - not just no committing adultery, but no lust either; not just no murdering anyone, but no getting angry with them either. But always his teaching focuses on the transformation of the human being into the image of God, or what Paul called ‘the new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). And the heart of all of that is love – God’s love for us, first of all, and then our love for God and our neighbour.

I’m reminded of the story of John Wesley, who started the Methodist movement in the eighteenth century. He had been brought up as a very religious person and devised all sorts of rules for himself. He was even ordained as a minister and went to the American colonies as a missionary. But his legalistic religion was a complete failure: it didn’t attract converts, and he was beginning to realise that it wasn’t working for him, either. And so he returned to England feeling like a failure.

But that wasn’t the end of Wesley’s story. On the ship he met some Moravian Christians who impressed him with the joy of their faith, which seemed very far removed from the legalistic religion Wesley knew. Back in London, in May 1738, he attended a prayer meeting of Moravian Christians. Someone was reading a passage from Martin Luther’s commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, and the light went on for Wesley: he realised that Christianity wasn’t a scary religion of rule-keeping but a celebration of the love of God in Christ. He said that he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’. Years later, he would describe it as ‘exchanging the faith of a servant for the faith of a son’.

That can happen for you and me as well. We can discover a Christian life that’s not about keeping rules out of fear of God’s punishment; rather, it’s about learning to follow Jesus joyfully, in gratitude for the love of God that has been poured out on us through Christ. It’s about knowing that we are loved by God, adopted as God’s children, gifted with God’s Holy Spirit – not because we earned it, but because God loves to give his gifts to his sons and daughters. Legalistic religion can’t give us that assurance, but the true gospel of Christ can do that, because it lifts our burdens and puts a song in our hearts.

Do you have that song in your heart this morning? Let’s close by listening again to these words of Jesus, these words of invitation that go out to everyone:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is kind, and my burden is light”.

So as we come forward to receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion this morning, let’s lay down the burdens that false religion might have put on our shoulders, and let’s thankfully accept the kind yoke of Jesus, so that we can learn from him, and find rest for our souls. Amen.