Sunday, November 30, 2014

'Cast Away the Works of Darkness': a sermon for the first Sunday of Advent.

We’re in the middle of a season of getting ready right now, and if you’re taking your cues from the retail industry, your mind has been on Christmas since before Remembrance Day. The joys of Christmas are on everyone’s mind, of course: presents to buy, cards to send, parties to arrange, visits to plan, food to prepare, turkeys to stuff and so on. Personally, I love Advent and Christmas, so I’m a sucker for this time of year.

However, if we’re taking our cues from the scriptures and from our church calendar, there’s another type of preparedness that should also be on our minds. It tends to get lost these days, because the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier, and so we forget that Advent is not the same as Christmas. Advent isn’t just about looking forward to the manger at Bethlehem, and the shepherds and the wise men and the little drummer boy. In Advent we’re not just putting ourselves back into the Old Testament and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah; we’re looking forward to our own future, too. The Creed says, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end’. The Christian church teaches us that if there’s a judgement coming, then it’s wise to spend some time getting ready for it. And it’s wise not to put it off; usually it’s not smart to start your studying for the final exam the night before!

This Advent, when I’m preaching, I want to spend some time thinking with you about the prayers we pray each Sunday. We call them ‘collects’, because they collect together the themes of our scriptures into short little prayers that we can easily memorize. It used to be the tradition in the Anglican Church that the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent was repeated on every Sunday of the Advent season until Christmas Eve, and so it was especially easy to memorize, as you heard it again and again through the four weeks of Advent, year after year. I’m going to read it to you again, but I’m going to use the version found in the old Book of Common Prayer, which is slightly different from our B.A.S. version.

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.  (BCP)

This prayer helps us think about two questions, and you might at first think they’re a little strange. The first question is, ‘What time is it?’ We have to answer that one first, because the second depends on it: ‘Okay, given the time, what should we be doing about it?’

The answer to the question ‘What time is it?’ is ‘It’s in-between time’. In between what? In between two comings of Jesus. The Collect describes them for us. There’s his first coming, which of course is the theme of Christmas; the Collect refers to this as ‘the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility’. Viewed chronologically, of course, that coming is behind us, in the past. But there’s another coming, which is still ahead, on ‘the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the living and the dead’, the time when ‘we may rise to the life immortal’. The Collect contrasts these two comings: long ago, Jesus came to visit us ‘in great humility’, but when he comes again, it will be ‘in glorious majesty’. Furthermore, at his first coming, he entered ‘this mortal life’, but at his second coming we will ‘rise to the life immortal’.

What does the Collect teach us about these two comings? One of the reasons I like the old prayer book version is that it uses the word ‘visit’. The B.A.S. says ‘when your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility’, but the prayer book has ‘in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility’.

Why is this important? Well, if you read the Bible, especially in the King James Version, you’ll notice that a visit from God is always a significant thing. He never shows up empty-handed; he always brings something with him. It might be plague and suffering and judgement, or it might be blessing and salvation. So in Jeremiah 9:9 the Lord sees all the wickedness of his people and says, ‘Shall I not visit them for these things, says the Lord? Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?’ And in Ruth 1:6 old Naomi hears that the famine is over in Israel, because the Lord has visited his people and given them bread.

So what’s this visit at Christmas time all about? Well, in Luke 1:68 old Zechariah reflects on it; he says, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people’, or, in a modern version, ‘he has come to his people and set them free’. This is definitely a visit to bring blessing. This is a wonderful visit!

But how did he come? The Collect says, ‘in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility’. This reminds me of what Paul has to say in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians:
‘Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (vv.5-8).

This is what Christmas is about: Jesus shares the divine nature – he is equal with God – but he lays aside all his divine prerogatives. The one through whom all things were created humbles himself to become part of his creation; the one who is immortal by nature puts on mortality, and goes on to become obedient to the point of death on a cruel cross. And he does all this out of love, to serve his creation, to show us what God is like, to show us God’s will for our human life, and to deliver us from sin and death.

So we stand in time after this first great event; we live on what C.S. Lewis calls ‘the visited planet’. But we also look forward to a future event. The collect speaks of ‘the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the living and the dead’.

This is a message of hope. We live, as human beings have almost always lived, in a time when the power of evil seems enormous. I’m not just talking about the fact that terrorists can behead people or fly aircraft into tall buildings and kill thousands of people in one go. I’m talking about the fact that the world economic system seems to be set up in such a way as to provide cheap goods to the richest people on the planet, while denying the poorest people on the planet the right to a fair living wage. I’m talking about the fact that in the average multinational corporation the highest paid individual in the company earns more than three hundred times what the lowest paid individual earns. I’m talking about the fact that the single most common category of websites on the Internet is pornography.

These are just a few of the symptoms of the power of evil in the world today. In the face of such great evil, I’m always surprised when people tell me that they don’t like the message of God’s judgement. Surely the message of God’s judgement brings hope! It tells us that the day is going to come when God will bring this evil to an end. God cares! He cares about the children who have been stolen from their homes and forced to become child soldiers; he cares about the children who never had a chance because they were born in refugee camps where there was never enough food to go around; he cares about the people who spend their lives slaving away for starvation wages growing cash crops for people who live thousands of miles away.

God is not prepared for this state of affairs to continue. As we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, the day will come when the king will sit on his glorious throne and gather the nations before him, and he will separate them into two groups as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. On one side will be those who recognized Jesus in the hungry and thirsty, in those who have no clothes to wear, in those who are sick or are refugees or immigrants or prisoners; their conduct will be affirmed and rewarded. On the other side will be those who had the opportunity to do good for all these people and refused to do so; their conduct will be judged.

This is our Advent hope: that the last word will not go to the forces of cruelty and hatred, selfishness and prejudice. The last word will go to God, and Jesus would seem to indicate that the vital evidence of our faith in him will be practical love. And so the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed will be the only reality in God’s creation, and the prayer we have prayed for the last two thousand years will finally be fully answered: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

So this is the in-between time we live in. We look back on that first coming, when God’s Son Jesus Christ ‘came to visit us in great humility’. And we look forward to ‘the last day, when he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead’. On that day, every one of us hopes to be among the number of the saints who will ‘rise to the life immortal’, as the prayer says.

So as we look back on Christ’s first coming and look forward to the day when ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end, what should we be doing’? The prayer says, ‘Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light’. What’s that all about?

When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote this prayer for the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, it was immediately followed by an epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 13, verses 8-14. Here it is in full:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

So you can see where Cranmer got the language about casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light. I like the way the New Living Translation puts it: ‘So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armour of right living’.

The dirty clothes are plain enough: again, here they are in the New Living Translation: ‘Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarrelling and jealousy…Don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires’ (vv. 13b, 14b). But the armour turns out to be a bit of a surprise. ‘Armour’ is a military image, so we might think of it as being something like courage, or strength, or self-discipline. But once again, what Paul actually focuses on is love. All the commandents, he says, ‘are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law’ (vv.9-10).

We’re back with the sheep and the goats, aren’t we? As Bishop Jane reminded us last week, the sheep are the ones who notice the suffering of others, and then do what they can to help. Love isn’t just a warm fuzzy and it’s definitely not just words; it’s being there for others, spending time with them, doing what we can to be a blessing to them, whether we especially like them or not, whether we feel like it or not. This is what God is like; the Old Testament talks about his chesed, a Hebrew word that our New Revised Standard Version translates excellently as his ‘steadfast love’. I like that word ‘steadfast’: love with muscles on it, love you can depend on, love that’s unconditional, love that never gives up. That’s what we’re called to imitate.

Shall we pray this prayer through the Advent season? Shall we remember how God’s Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility? Shall we look forward to the day when he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead? Shall we ask God to help us to cast away the works of darkness like dirty old clothes, and put on the new life of steadfast love? Are you ready to pray that prayer, and to expect God to answer it?

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

December 2014

December 7th, 2014  Advent 2
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Schindels           
Counter: D. Schindel/D. Sanderson                                   
Reader: S. Jayakaran                                   
(Isaiah 40: 1-11,Psalm 85: 1-2,8-13, 2 Peter 3: 8-15a)
Lay Administrants:  C. Aasen/G. Hughes                       
Intercessor: B. Popp                       
Lay Reader: L. Thompson     (Mark 1: 1-8)           
Altar Guild (purple)M. Lobreau/K. Hughes
Prayer Team:  E. Gerber/K. Hughes                                   
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen: - 9:45 am – M&B Woytkiw                       
Music: R. Mogg
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

December 14th, 2014 Advent 3
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/T. Cromarty           
Counter: T. Willacy/D. Sanderson                       
Reader: D. MacNeill                                   
(Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys/T. Wittkopf                                               
Intercessor:  L. Thompson                                   
Lay Reader: E. Gerber      (John 1: 6-8, 19-28)           
Altar Guild: (purple)M. Woytkiw/A. Shutt
Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/ S. Jayakaran           
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance           
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: R&W Mogg
Music: E. Thompson           
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

December 21st, 2014  Lessons and Carol Service
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes           
Counter: G.Hughes/B. Cavey                                   
Intercessor: C. Aasen                       
Altar Guild (purple): P. Major/Lessons&Carols             
Sunday School (School Age): E. McDougall
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Rys
Kitchen: E. McFall
Music: M. Eriksen            (w/others)           

December 28, 2014  1st Sunday after Christmas
Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps           
Counter: B. Popp/R. Mogg                                   
Reader: D. Schindel                       
(Isaiah 61: 10-62:3, Psalm 148, Galatians 4: 4-7)
Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/D. Schindel                       
Intercessor: D. MacNeill                                   
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill       (Luke 2: 22-40)           
Altar Guild (white)M. Lobreau/L. Schindel
Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/TBA                                      
Sunday School (School Age): T. Laffin           
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: B. Cavey                       
Music: The Band
Altar Servers: A. Jayakaran

December 1st, 2014 - December 7th, 2014

Events This Week

December 1st
  Office is closed.
December 3rd
   3:00 pm  Corporation Meeting @ the Bogani Cafe
December 4th – 6th
   Tim is away at a Threshold Ministries Board meeting, Toronto
December 4th
   7:00 am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café
December 7th    Advent 2 & Commitment Sunday
   9:00 am  Holy Communion
   9:45 am  Coffee between services
  10:30 am Holy Communion and Sunday School

The next "Lunch Bunch" will be December 11, 11:30 a.m. at St. Margaret's Church.  Everyone is welcome.  Please come and join us for a time of fellowship and Christmas singing.  Tim will leading us by playing a variety of Christmas songs. We will also be having a fun gift exchange.  If you would like to participate, please bring a wrapped gift for around $5.00. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer or contact Julie Holmes at 435-4208 or Lesley Schindel 989-3833 if you would like to attend.

‘When Christmas Hurts’. Christmas is not a happy time for everyone. Our ‘When Christmas Hurts’ service is designed to provide comfort and healing; it will be held on Friday December 19th at 7.30 p.m.

Saturday Dec. 13th 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.: Advent Quiet Day at St. Matthias’. Suggested donation is $10. Bring yourself, a pen, notebook, Bible and perhaps a small shawl. RSVP:  Location: 6210 188 St NW, Edmonton, AB T5T 5T4, (780-487-0324)

Spaghetti Church Saturday November 29th, 2014 has been cancelled!!!!
Our next one will be on January 31st, 2015.

St Margaret’s Christmas Concert will be held Tonight November 30th at 7:00 pm. All proceeds will go to World Vision. We hope you will join us! Please see Eva Thompson for tickets.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Help New Disciples Grow

  • What are the practices and disciplines that have helped you to grow as a Christian disciple?
  • How did you learn them?
  • What are the best ways of passing these practices and disciplines on to new disciples? How could you help?
The second in our ‘Evangelism Training for the Diocese of Edmonton’ workshops will focus on helping new disciples grow. We will start with Jesus’ invitation ‘Follow me’ and will consider the question ‘Where to? Where is Jesus leading us?’ We will consider three responses to that question: (1) Into a new relationship with God, (2) Into the family of God, and (3) Into a new way of living. We will look at some practices that help us grow in each of these areas, and finally we will consider how, as churches and as individuals, we can help new Christians learn these vital discipleship skills.
  • Saturday January 10th 2015 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, 12603 Ellerslie Road SW, Edmonton, AB T6W 1A3
  • Workshop leader: Tim Chesterton
  • Please bring your Bible, a notebook, and a bag lunch. Coffee and tea provided.
  • Register through the Synod Office (; registration deadline is Friday January 9th at noon.
  • Maximum of twenty participants for this workshop, so please register soon!

Friday, November 21, 2014

November 23rd - 30th. 2014

Events This Week

November 24th
  Office is closed.
November 27th
   7:00 am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café
November 29th
   4:00 – 6:00 pm  Spaghetti Church
   7:00 pm  Malankara Church Rental
November 30th    Advent 1
   9:00 am  Holy Communion
  10:30 am Morning Worship and Sunday School
   7:00 pm  St. Margaret’s Christmas Concert

Bishop Jane will be with us this Sunday November 23rd to preside and preach at both 9.00 and 10.30 services. At the 10.30 service she will re-licence L.Thompson and E. Gerber as lay readers. We're looking forward to having our Bishop with us again, and as St. Margaret's was her home church before she was ordained, it's probably special for her too!

We are inviting you and your children to join us for Spaghetti Church Saturday November 29th, 2014 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm.
Spaghetti Church is church for families that enjoy a more informal, activity-centered and community-oriented way of worshipping together from time to time. It is held on the last Saturday of every month at 4:00 p.m., and it typically includes a craft or other activity time, a family-friendly worship and teaching time, and a simple meal (hence the spaghetti!). Please note that this is not something you can drop your kids off for; it is intended to be about families worshipping together, so all children must be accompanied by at least one parent or grandparent.
We do have a signup sheet policy as food is prepared for all who will be coming, so please let us know if you plan to come (including the number of people who will be coming and, if you have not attended before, the ages of the children), or sign up on the sheet at the back of the church.

St Margaret’s Christmas Concert will be held on November 30th at 7:00 pm. All proceeds will go to World Vision. We hope you will join us! Please call the office for tickets, 780-437-7231.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

St. Margaret of Scotland (a sermon for Nov. 16th 2014)

Scripture referred to is Luke 10:25-42

Many of you will have heard me tell the story of Queen Margaret of Scotland in years past. Some of you, however, have joined us since the last time we did this, and many of you will have been away on this Sunday in previous years, for one reason or another. So I’m going to briefly tell the story again this morning, and then I’m going to lay it beside our gospel reading for today, to draw some lessons for us as we join Margaret in following our Lord Jesus Christ.

Margaret died on November 16th 1093, nine hundred and twenty-one years ago today. She was a member of the aristocracy, and she came into a position of great influence as Queen of Scotland, but she is not remembered today because she was a person of power; rather, we remember her as a person who lived a balanced life of prayer and service to others.

Margaret was the granddaughter of the English king Edmund Ironside, but because of dynastic disputes she was born in Hungary, in the year 1047. She had one brother, Edgar, and a sister, Christian, and many people in England saw her brother Edgar as the rightful heir to the throne of England. In 1054 the parliament of England decided to bring the family back from Hungary so that they could inherit the throne when King Edward the Confessor died, as Edward had no children. So Edgar, Christian and Margaret were brought up at the Anglo-Saxon court under the supervision of Benedictine monks and nuns.

The influence of these Benedictines was tremendously important in Margaret’s life. She learned from them the importance of balancing times of prayer and times of working for the good of others; this would be a good description of her later life as Queen of Scotland. They taught her to read the scriptures in Latin, and she also knew the teachings of the church fathers from the early Christian centuries. Her sister Christian went on to become a Benedictine nun herself.

Eventually King Edward the Confessor died, and soon afterwards William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 and claimed the throne for himself, so Margaret’s brother Edgar didn’t get to become king after all. Edgar and his sisters were advised to go back to Hungary for their own safety. However, the ship carrying the three young people was blown far off course by a fierce gale. They spent some time in northern England and then sailed up the coast to the Firth of Forth in Scotland, where King Malcolm gave them a warm welcome to his court at Dunfermline – a little more rustic, perhaps, than the English court, but I’m sure they were glad of the hospitality.

Margaret was now about twenty years old; King Malcolm was forty, and unmarried, and he soon became attracted to young Margaret. However, she took a lot of persuading; she was more inclined to become a nun, and Malcolm had a stormy temperament, despite his other virtues. It was only after long consideration that Margaret agreed to marry him, and their wedding took place in the year 1070, when she was twenty-three. In the end, although she was so much younger than him, she was the one who changed him; under her influence, he became a much wiser and godlier king.

Margaret was now in a high position in society, and very wealthy according to the standard of the day, but she lived in the spirit of inward poverty. She didn’t see her possessions as really belonging to her; everything was to be used for the purposes of God. As Queen, she continued to live the ordered life of prayer and work that she had learned from the Benedictine monks. She was only the wife of the king, but she came to have the leading voice in making changes that affected both the social and the spiritual life of Scotland. She had this influence because of the depth of her husband’s love for her. Malcolm was strongly influenced by her godly character, so he tended to follow her advice a lot – not only for his own life, but also for the life of the church and people in Scotland. It’s actually quite remarkable that the Scots accepted the church reforms that this foreign queen proposed, but she herself lived such a simple and Christ-like life that they seemed to feel instinctively that her way must be a good way.

We’re told by her biographer that Margaret would begin each day with a prolonged time of prayer, especially praying the psalms. After this, orphan children would be brought to her, and she would prepare their food herself and serve it to them. It also became the custom that any destitute poor people would come every morning to the royal hall; when they were seated around it, then the King and Queen entered and ‘served Christ in the person of his poor’. Before they did this, they sent out of the room all other spectators except for the chaplains and a few attendants; they didn’t want to turn it into what modern politicians would refer to as ‘a photo opportunity’.

The church in Scotland at that time looked more to the old Celtic way of Christianity than to the way of Rome. Margaret had been raised in the way of Rome, and was keen to bring Scotland into unity with the rest of the world, but she didn’t do it in an overbearing and proselytizing way. She often visited the Celtic hermits in their lonely cells, offering them gifts, and caring for their churches. But she also held many conferences with the leaders of the Church, putting forward the Roman point of view about things. Eventually she convinced them, not because of the strength of her arguments so much as by the power of her holy life.

In those days many people in Scotland used to go on pilgrimages to see the relics of St. Andrew at the place now called ‘St. Andrew’s’, just north of the Firth of Forth. Margaret wanted to help the pilgrims, so she had little houses built on either shore of the sea that divided Lothian from Scotland, so that poor people and pilgrims could shelter there and rest after their journeys. She also provided ships to transport them across the water.

I think it’s fair to say that most people recognized as saints by the Catholic Church were monks and nuns who lived lives of celibacy, far removed from the demands of the world and the pressures of family life. Margaret, however, is remembered as having a happy family life. She had eight children, six sons and two daughters. Her oldest son Edward was killed in battle, Ethelred died young, and we’re told that Edmund didn’t turn out too well. But the three youngest, Edgar, Alexander, and David, are remembered among the best kings Scotland ever had. David I, the youngest son, had a peaceful reign of twenty-nine years in which he developed and extended the work his mother had begun. The two daughters, Matilda and Mary, were both brought up under the guidance of Margaret’s sister Christian in the Abbey of Romsey, and both went on to marry into the English royal family. All of them we’re told, were also taught to follow Christ first – although I find it a little reassuring that even a saintly parent like Margaret didn’t have a 100% success rate with her kids!

Margaret was not yet fifty when she died. As she lay dying, her son Edgar brought her the sad news that her husband and her oldest son had been killed in battle. Despite this grief, we’re told that her last words were of praise and thanksgiving to God, and her death was calm and tranquil.

So what does Margaret have to say to us today? To answer this question, I want to turn to our gospel reading, where we hear two famous stories about Jesus.

In the first story, a lawyer comes to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says to him, “You’ve read the Law of Moses, haven’t you? What does it say?” The lawyer replies, “You shall love the Lord your 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” (Luke 10:27). “That’s it”, Jesus replies; “Do that, and you’ll live”.

“But who is my neighbour?” the lawyer replies – a funny question until you realize that his focus isn’t on helping other people, but on inheriting eternal life for himself. After all, if there are fifty people in his village and it turns out that only twenty of them are actually his neighbours, why should he go to all the effort of loving the other thirty? There’s nothing in it for him!

Jesus replies with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan, about a man who is beaten up by robbers and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and a Levite pass by on the other side and refuse to help him, but a Samaritan stops to help him, binds up his wounds and arranges medical care for him. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy”. Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (vv.36-37).

I find it interesting that Jesus never actually answered the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbour?” What he did instead was to teach the lawyer how to be a neighbour. It’s not complicated; it just means walking through our day with our eyes wide open, so that we actually see the people in need around us and do what we can to help them. Nowadays, of course, with modern communications technology, we can ‘see’ a lot further, and so we have far more opportunities to help, but let’s remember that this is not just about giving money; it’s about being willing to be interrupted in the course of your day, and to invest your time in helping another human being.

This is what Margaret did. Her situation was very different from ours; she was the Queen of Scotland, we’re just ordinary people, working our jobs, raising the kids and grandkids, paying the mortgage, trying to put a bit of money in our RRSPs. But no matter whether we have power and influence or not, we’re all called to invest our time and resources in helping those who are less well off than we are. And let’s remember that the right question is not ‘Who is my neighbour?’ The right question is, ‘How can I be a good neighbour to those who need me?’

So Margaret undoubtedly sets us a good example of helping the needy. But that’s not the end of today’s gospel reading. Luke goes on to tell us the well-known story of Mary and Martha. They are sisters, and we know from John’s gospel that they live in the village of Bethany, near Jerusalem. Jesus comes to visit, he’s sitting in the living room with the people who’ve come to discuss things with him – probably, in that culture, all men. Martha is the capable host, she’s out in the kitchen getting everything ready to give Jesus the kind of meal he’ll remember for the rest of his life. But what’s Mary up to? She’s invaded the men’s space! She’s in the living room, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say. Eventually Martha gets frustrated and asks Jesus to tell her sister to smarten up. But Jesus refuses to do that; “Mary has chosen the better part”, he says, “which will not be taken away from her” (v.42).

There’s a time for doing, and being busy, but there’s also a time for sitting quietly and listening to Jesus. The Benedictine monks and nuns taught Margaret that balance: the day should include acts of mercy to the needy, but it should also include times of meditation and prayer. Today we live in an activist world, and I’d be surprised if the average amount of time spent in prayer per day in our church was more than about five minutes per person. So we need to recover that balance.

Speaking for myself, I can say that starting each day with a time of prayer together is a real blessing for Marci and me. We read scripture together and talk about it; we pray for family and friends, for people in our church, and for those who are in special need. We bring the work of the day before the Lord before the day starts. And doing it together helps to keep us steady in prayer; when you’re committed to praying together with someone else, you’re less likely to skip it because you ‘just don’t feel like it today’. Our time of prayer isn’t long - probably only about twenty minutes - but it sets the tone for the whole day.

So Margaret can remind us of the important of keeping things in balance. We’re called to follow Jesus in caring for the poor and needy, but we’re also called to spend time listening to God’s word and praying. Of course, there was a third thing for her too – the work of being a wife to Malcolm and a mother to their eight children, which was no doubt a demanding job as well. These three things are all part for our lives as Christians today, too: providing for our families, caring for the poor and needy, and spending time in scripture reading and prayer.

How is that balance in your life? Does it need a little adjusting? Why not pray about that, and ask God to guide you about getting a better balance?

So let’s remember with thanksgiving today our patron saint, Margaret, a woman of prayer, a woman who lived a holy life, a woman who loved her family and served the poor, a woman who used her influence in a Christlike way to do good for all people.  As a congregation, let us pray that God will give us the strength by his Holy Spirit to live up to the name we bear. Amen.