Sunday, April 29, 2018

'On His Way Rejoicing' - a sermon on Acts 8:26-40

A man came to a church one Sunday morning in a time of great need in his life. He’d had a well-paying job with an oil company, but had recently lost it to downsizing, and was now trying to make a living as a farmer. At about the same time, his wife had left him. He was feeling lost and alone in the world, and he knew he needed help.

He hadn’t been near a church for a long time, but he had a friend who was a churchgoer, who had once shared with him the story of his own spiritual journey home to Christ. So he decided to take his courage in his hands and go to the little Anglican church his friend attended. Now it so happened that there was a guest preacher at the church that day. One of the readings set for that Sunday was Jesus’ story of the lost sheep, and that’s what the guest preacher spoke about. The man said afterwards, ‘That was me; I was the little lost sheep, and I was coming home’. And so began a process that eventually led to this man becoming a Christian.

I know this story because I was the minister at that church – although not the preacher that Sunday – and I was the one who eventually baptized this man and became a spiritual mentor to him. But as I look back on that experience, what stands out for me is how God was at work. God worked through the friend who shared the story of his faith journey. God worked through the timing – having the man come to church on the exact Sunday when that lost sheep story was being read, and then having the preacher speak about that story. The timing was right, the Holy Spirit was at work, the people who needed to speak said what needed to be said, a welcome was offered, and a connection was made. And months afterwards, when we all gradually realized how beautifully it had been arranged, we shook our heads and marvelled at the way God works.

That reminds me of today’s reading from the book of Acts.

Let’s set the scene. At the beginning of Acts chapter 8 Saul of Tarsus arranges the violent death of Stephen – the first martyr, the first person to give his life for his faith in Jesus. Stephen was a member of a group of seven ‘deacons’ who served the Jerusalem church. His death marked the beginning of a time of persecution, and the majority of the early followers of Jesus fled the city for their lives. But they didn’t do what we might expect – they didn’t keep quiet about their faith. No: Acts tells us ‘Now those who had been scattered moved on, preaching the good news along the way’ (Acts 8:4, CEB). Please note: these weren’t professional preachers. They were ordinary Jesus-followers, moving to new towns and villages, setting up their businesses, and gossipping the gospel wherever they went.

Philip was one of these. He had been another of that group of seven deacons in Jerusalem. He went beyond the borders of Israel to Samaria. Samaria was suspect. The people there were partly Jewish but their bloodline wasn’t pure, and their religion was seen as heretical by the Jewish people in Judea and Galilee. But Philip had a huge impact there as he proclaimed the Good News of Jesus and healed the sick, and a large group of Samaritans became believers. You can read that story in Acts 8:4-25, just before our reading for today.

But then something strange happened; God told Philip to move on. I’m sure Philip must have been very surprised when he heard the voice telling him to leave the amazing work that was going on in Samaria, and go down to the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. Why would he leave a place where there were many people wanting to learn about Jesus, and go off to a place where there was nobody? But nevertheless, off he went.

And what did he discover? The desert road wasn’t deserted after all. I imagine Philip walking along the road, and then hearing the noise of a carriage, or chariot, behind him. Riding in it is a man who’s obviously a person of some importance. The word ‘Ethiopian’ was often used in the ancient world to describe a black person, but in this case he seems to have been ethnically Ethiopian too. Being an important official, I expect he probably had some servants and guards travelling along with him.

Acts tells us    quite a lot about this man. Apparently he was an important official of the Kandake, or Queen, of Ethiopia; he was in charge of her treasury. So we can imagine him as a person of some wealth and power. But he’s also described to us as a ‘eunuch’. Eunuchs were often employed as government officials or servants in court circles in the ancient Near East; there was less risk of them getting up to mischief with women in the royal families. Also, since they couldn’t have children, there was less risk of them trying to overthrow their kings so they could establish their own dynasties. 

So this man was a powerful royal official of Ethiopia, and he was a eunuch, deprived of the opportunity to establish a family and a household for himself. The third thing that’s very clear is that this man was spiritually hungry. We’re not told whether or not he was Jewish; we know that at that time, Jewish people could be found in many countries in the ancient near east. But we also know that there were non-Jewish people who had been attracted to the Jewish belief in the one creator God. They were called the ‘God-fearers’. Some of them went the whole way, allowed themselves to be circumcised and took on the whole Jewish law; they were called ‘proselytes’.

Perhaps this man was a God-fearer or a proselyte; we’re not told. But he had made the long journey from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. When he got there, he may well have been disappointed. The law of Moses has a rather disturbing exclusive streak in it; Philip Yancey calls it ‘oddballs not allowed’. Eunuchs were among those oddballs; Deuteronomy 23:1 says they can’t be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, and Leviticus 17 says they can’t take part in offering the sacrifices. So the eunuch would have made the long journey from Ethiopia to worship at the temple, only to discover that he wasn’t allowed to worship at the temple. Can you imagine how that must have felt for him?

But he was determined. The text doesn’t tell us specifically that he purchased a scroll of the book of Isaiah while he was in Jerusalem, but he was obviously reading it for the first time on his way home, so it seems likely it was new to him. That scroll would have cost him an enormous amount of money – far more than a year’s wages for a day labourer. Nowadays people buy Bibles and then don’t bother to read them. Not this man! He believed this scroll was scripture from the God he was seeking, so he was reading it out loud in the chariot on his way home, trying to make sense of it. No one read silently in those days; everyone read out loud.

Wow! How nicely God had arranged everything! But it was going to get better still.
The Holy Spirit whispered in Philip’s ear ‘Approach this carriage and stay with it’ (v.29). We might have expected Philip to approach cautiously, taking his time, unsure of his welcome. Not Philip! Acts says, ‘Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah’ (v.30). He was reading from chapter 53, the Suffering Servant passage that we read every year on Good Friday. Such a good thing that Philip ran! If he’d walked, the eunuch might have been in chapter 55 by the time he got to him!

Philip and the eunuch got talking, and the eunuch asked Philip to help him understand what he was reading. This was where he’d got to in the passage:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent
so he didn’t open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.
Who can tell the story of his descendants
because his life was taken from the earth?’ (Acts 8:32-33).
‘Who is the prophet talking about?’ asked the eunuch, ‘himself or someone else?’ Well, that question was a real gift for Philip! So he started from that passage, and shared with the eunuch the gospel, the good news of Jesus.

Looking at those verses we can see how good that news was for the eunuch. Isaiah 53 was understood by Christians very early on as a prophecy of the death of Jesus on the cross. It talks about the Lord’s servant being despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. It says that all of us have gone astray like lost sheep and the Lord has laid all our sins on his servant. The passage has been a rich source for Christians to meditate on the meaning of the death of Jesus.

But the section of the passage the eunuch was reading refers specifically to the ‘humiliation’ of the Lord’s servant: ‘In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.Who can tell the story of his descendantsbecause his life was taken from the earth?’ (v.33). Think of the man who had probably been made a eunuch forcibly, being robbed of his ability to have a family: ‘Who can tell the story of his descendants?’ What a humiliation for him! And then to go all the way to the Temple in Jerusalem only to be excluded, kept away from the worship of the God he’d come all that way to seek. Another humiliation!

Acts tells us that ‘starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him’ (v.35). It’s not hard for us to guess what good news about Jesus Philip would have told him. The death of Jesus was a sign of God identifying with sinners and sufferers all over the world. The Old Testament might have said ‘oddballs not allowed’, but Jesus appears to have believed the reverse: ‘oddballs especially welcome’! One of his favourite sayings was ‘the first shall be last and the last first’. The eunuch might have been turned away at the Temple in Jerusalem, but at the cross the arms of Jesus were opened wide to welcome allpeople back to God!

Well, this message obviously fell on fertile ground. This was what the eunuch had been looking for! This rich and powerful man had a great big empty space in his heart and he was seeking a true and living and loving God to fill that space. He didn’t need telling twice! And somehow, in all that desert, at just the right time, they came to a patch of water. “Look - water! What’s to prevent me being baptized?” So they stopped the carriage, and down they went into the water, and Philip baptized him, and then the eunuch went on his way rejoicing.

This is one of the most wonderful stories in the book of Acts, and it’s full of meaning for us today. What can we learn from it?

First, what’s God up to? The baptism of this eunuch comes a few verses after the baptism of the Samaritans who became Jesus-followers. A couple of chapters later, we have the first baptism of a Roman, Cornelius – we’ll think about him next week. The message of Jesus is spreading; it started with the Jewish people, but it didn’t stop there. It went on to those heretics in Samaria – and then to a spiritually hungry eunuch from Ethiopia – and then to the enemy, the hated Romans, Centurion Cornelius and his household. And within a few chapters Paul and Barnabas are taking the Christian message far beyond the borders, out among the Gentiles who worship idols of wood and stone. And everywhere the message goes, it finds a ready hearing in the hearts of people hungry for spiritual reality.

That’s what God’s up to. We make a border and say, ‘This far the gospel can go, and no further’, but God delights in going beyond that border. People who’ve been marginalized and humiliated and excluded – sometimes by the very churches they’ve come to in their search for spiritual reality – God is reaching out to those people. On Easter Sunday we heard how the angel said to the women at the empty tomb, “(Jesus) is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 6:7 NRSV). We’re always playing catch up with Jesus. We’d like to keep him in the nice, safe circle of long-time followers, but he’s always reaching out beyond the borders to the outcasts and the humiliated and the marginalized and the sinners.

And some of them are willing to go to great lengths to learn about him. The three wise men came looking for the newborn king; they’d made a long journey from the east and may have been on the road for as long as two years. Even if you didn’t have to leave home, would you put two years of your life into a demanding spiritual journey? The eunuch had come all the way from Ethiopia; that’s two thousand five hundred miles, on a dangerous road, travelling by horse carriage or chariot. You’d be surprised to discover how spiritually hungry some people are, even in today’s world. When I let them ask me their questions, instead of presuming I know what their questions are going to be, I’m often amazed at the things that come up.

I teach a one-day workshop called ‘How to Relax and Enjoy Evangelism’. I’m very serious about the title. If we understand what Luke is telling us in today’s gospel, we’ll know there’s no need to get uptight about it. God is at work in people’s lives. What we need to do is learn to walk closely with God, so that when God gives us little nudges, we’ll be able to pick them up. God knows what he’s up to in the lives of our friends and family members and acquaintances. He knows the ones whose hearts are ready for a significant conversation. It doesn’t need to be a long one; in fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t. It’s always better to end the conversation while people are still wishing you’d keep going, rather than go on and on until you’re long past the point where they start wishing you’d shut up!

Likely you won’t very often get to be the last link – the one who leads them across the threshold to faith in Jesus. More likely you’ll be a link in the chain. But if you listen to the Holy Spirit and let go of your fears, you’ll be able to be the link you need to be. And who knows; one day you might help someone to the point where they go on their way rejoicing because for the first time in their lives they’ve come to know the joy of Jesus. And if you stand close enough so that some of that joy can spill over on you – well, that will be an experience you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Upcoming Events April 30th to May 6th, 2018

April 30th, 2018
Office is closed
May 2nd, 2018 
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
May 3rd, 2018 
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
12:00 noon Corporation meeting
7:00pm Provincial Synod Opening Eucharist @ Cathedral
May 5th, 2018 
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
May 6th, 2018 (6th Sunday of Easter)
9:00am  Holy Communion
9:45am Combined coffee hour
10:30am Holy Communion & Sunday School
12:15pm Spring Yard Clean up

After church next Sunday, May 6th, we will be having our annual spring clean up. If you are able to stay and help, please bring some work clothes and gloves. Since there is no ‘coffee hour’ after church this day, please bring a lunch with you. We will still put some coffee on!

10th Anniversary Celebration
of the Consecration of Bishop Jane Alexander
Please join in celebrating with the Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander the 10th anniversary of her consecration as Bishop of Edmonton. A festive eucharist will be held the evening of May 18th at 7:00 pm at All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral: 10035 103 Street, Edmonton. Reception to follow.

What’s the next step in St. Margaret’s building redevelopment plan? We are ready to move forward and need your input!! PLEASE plan to join us for an informal discussion after church on Sunday May 27th. More information will be sent out the beginning of May. On Sunday June 17th there will be an ‘Extraordinary Congregational Meeting’ at 12 noon – 1:30 p.m. (approximately) at which motion(s) will be presented and debated, and a decision made about the next step we will take in this process.

Social Justice Workshop, ‘Jesus Shaped Justice’, June 2nd @ 9am at St. Faith’s Anglican Church.  Are you currently involved in social justice ministries, or want to become more involved? Join the Diocese of Edmonton Social Justice Committee for this planning workshop with guests Bishop Jane Alexander, Jim Burnett and keynote speaker Gary St. Amand, executive director of the Bissell Centre. The workshop is free however you need to register by email at socialjustice@edmonton.anglican.org. There is a $10 charge for lunch. See the bulletin board for more information.

Save the Date for St. Margaret’s annual church BBQ at the home of Lorne and Beryl Rice – Saturday June 16th after 3pm. Watch for more information to come.

As follow up to our AGM, vestry has made a decision to donate $5000 from our cell tower revenue to The Pikangikum Water Project. This is a project of the PWRDF which aims to bring clean water to the First Nations Community of Pikangikum in northwestern Ontario. You can find more information at https://pwrdf.org/our-work/pikangikum-water-project/, and there is also an info sheet posted on the bulletin board in the foyer.

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 bags. Please support Winnifred Stewart by making provision for this project! Next pick up should be May 10th. Thank you!

Daytime Lectionary Bible Study from 2pm – 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoons @ the church. Please drop in if you can!





Thursday, April 26, 2018

May 2018 roster

May 6th, 2018 (6th Sunday of Easter)
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey / S. Doyle
Counter: B. Cavey / R. Horn
Reader: C. Aasen
(Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen / T. Wittkopf
Intercessor: D. McCosh
Lay Reader: S. Jayakaran (John 15:9-17)
Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau / T. Wittkopf
Prayer Team:
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen
Sunday School (Preschool): K. Ewchuk
Kitchen: - 9:45 am: J. Johnston
Music: M. Eriksen
Altar Server: A. Jayakaran

May 13th, 2018 (Ascension Sunday)
Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Wittkopf / D. Legere
Counter: S. Doyle / D. Legere
Reader: D. Sanderson
(Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23)
Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill / G. Hughes
Intercessor: S. Jayakaran
Lay Reader: B. Popp (Luke 24:44-53)
Altar Guild: (White): P. Major / L. Pyra
Prayer Team: S. Jayakaran / L. Sanderson
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance
Sunday School (Preschool): A. Jayakaran
Kitchen: F. Chester
Music: E. Thompson
Altar Server: G. Durance

May 20th, 2018 (Pentecost) (Baptism)
Greeter/Sidespeople: M. Cromarty / T. Cromarty
Counter: M. Cromarty / D. Legere
Reader: T. Cromarty
(Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104:25-35, Acts 2:1-21)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / C. Aasen
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15)
Altar Guild (Red): M. Woytkiw / A. Shutt
Prayer Team:
Sunday School (School Age): E. McDougall
Sunday School (Preschool): D. Legere
Kitchen: Goodwins
Altar Server: G. Triska

May 27th, 2018 (Trinity Sunday)
Greeter/Sidespeople: L. Schindel / L. Popp
Counter: L. Popp / H. Seggumba
Reader: B. Popp
(Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17)
Lay Administrants: B. Popp / D. MacNeill
Intercessor: T. Chesterton
Lay Reader: D. Schindel (John 3:1-17)
Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau / J. Johnston
Prayer Team: M. Chesterton / M. Rys
Sunday School (School Age): M. Rys
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: Hospitality Committee
Music: M. Eriksen

Altar Server:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Salvation through Jesus (a sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter on Acts 3 & 4)

Today’s reading from Acts contains a verse which some people will have found so disturbing that they probably didn’t hear anything else that was read after it. In Acts 4:12 Peter, speaking about Jesus, says “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved”.

Many people, listening to that verse, think it means “When we die, unless we have made a decision to accept Jesus, we will not go to heaven”. Apparently God has made a totally arbitrary decision to ignore all the good Muslims and Jews and Buddhists out there, and to focus instead on whether a person believes in Jesus or not. Understandably, in these days when we’d all like people of different religions to get along better with each other,  some people don’t see that as a positive message.

I actually find it quite surprising that people would interpret this verse in this way - for two reasons. First, if you take this passage in the context of the total story of Acts 3 and 4 the issue of dying and going to heaven is not mentioned at all. The word ‘heaven’ is mentioned three times in this story, but in two of them it just means ‘the sky’, and in the third one it’s the place God will send Jesus from– in what we nowadays usually refer to as ‘the second coming’ – when the time of universal restoration finally comes.

The second reason I find this interpretation surprising is the way we hear the word ‘saved’ or ‘salvation’. Again, we’ve got a long history of interpreting that to mean ‘saved from going to hell’. But that’s not the most common meaning of it in the Bible. In the Old Testament the word ‘salvation’ is almost always used in a military sense – it means ‘to be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us’, as Zechariah says in Luke 1:71. The Israelites are slaves in Egypt – they’re under the thumb of an enemy far too powerful for them – but God rescues them miraculously and leads them to freedom, and they give thanks for his salvation.

In the Gospels the word is often translated as ‘healed’ or ‘made well’. For instance, in Luke 17 Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one comes back to thank him. Jesus says to the man “Get up and go on your way; your  faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). It’s the same word root in the original language as ‘be saved’ in our passage for today. And of course in our passage the immediate context is healing; in Acts 4:9 Peter says “If we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed…”, and the word used in the original Greek for ‘healed’is the same as ‘saved’. So we could translate 4:9 as ‘how this man has been saved’. In other words, the kind of salvation most immediately in view in this passage is healing, not dying and going to heaven.

Okay – before we go any further, let’s remind ourselves of the big picture, because our reading gave us only a part of it. This story takes place not long after the day of Pentecost. There’s great excitement in Jerusalem; the disciples are claiming that Jesus has been raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit has come, thousands of people have become believers, and there’s a real sense of the presence of the risen Jesus in the disciple community, even though he can’t be seen.

One day Peter and John go up to the temple for the daily prayer service. They enter by a gate called the Beautiful Gate, and sitting there is a man who has been lame from birth; he’s shouting out, asking people for money. Peter says to him “I have no silver and gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (3:6). He takes his hand and helps him up, and the man’s feet and ankles are strengthened and he starts walking and jumping and praising God.

All the people see the man, and they recognize him, and they’re full of awe and amazement.  A crowd gathers, and Peter immediately speaks to them. He makes it quite clear that this is not due to any power of their own. No, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has glorified his servant Jesus – the one they had rejected. They had asked for a murderer to be released to them and killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead. The resurrection proves that Jesus is not only the true Messiah – he’s also the true prophet Moses promised, the one God would send to speak to the people on his behalf. It’s in the name of this Jesus – the true prophet, the true Messiah - that this man has been healed. So Peter invites the people to repent and turn to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and what he delightfully calls ‘times of refreshing’ from God.

At this point the Temple authorities arrive and promptly arrest Peter and John, ‘much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead’ (4:2). The next day they haul them up before the Sanhedrin – the Jewish ruling council, including Caiaphas the high priest and Annas his father-in-law – the very same council that a few weeks before had condemned Jesus to death. The Council asks them by what power or authority they have done this deed - by which they mean ‘Who do you think you are, preaching and healing our peoplein our Temple?’ Peter replies again that “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (4:10). “There is salvation…” (deliverance, healing) “…in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (4:12).

The next verse is interesting: ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus’ (4:13). But the man who had been healed was standing before them too – no one could deny that fact – and so all they could do was let Peter and John off with a strict warning – “No more preaching in the name of Jesus!” But Peter replied immediately, “You must judge whether it’s right for us to obey you rather than God. As for us, we can’t stop talking about what we’ve seen and heard”. After they were released they went back to the other disciples, and they all prayed to God to give them boldness to preach the Gospel, while he kept on doing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. The answer they received was a repeat of Pentecost – the house was shaken as if by a violent wind and ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (4:31).

So what’s going on in this story?

Firstly, let’s be clear: for Luke, this story is a continuation of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus. This healing of a lame man was exactlythe kind of thing that Jesus had done. And Peter had done it in the waythat Jesus did it! He hadn’t prayed to God that the man would be healed. Rather, in what appears to be perfect trust in God, he’d simply commanded the man in the name of Jesus to rise up and walk, and then lifted him to his feet. And the man had been healed, and everyone who saw it was ‘filled with wonder and amazement’.

The people would have seen the connection right away. “That prophet from Nazareth who we crucified a few weeks ago – he used to do this kind of thing, didn’t he? Now his followers are doing it in his name!” The leaders make the same connection in 4:13: ‘Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed…’ (there’s that word again!) ‘…and recognized them as companions of Jesus’. This is the power of the resurrection of Jesus: this band of ordinary, uneducated followers of Jesus continues to do and say things that remind people of what Jesus himself had said and done.

We have to be careful about applying this to our own situation today, because, quite frankly, very few Christians seem to have been given the power to do what Peter did: to speak a word of declaration in the name of Jesus, which instantly heals a person who has been lame from birth. We do hear of these things from time to time, but they are rare. But if the resurrection of Jesus is true, then it is absolutely essential that the life of the Christian community – the Church – reminds people of the life of Jesus. The love of Jesus needs to be tangible among us, so that people can see it in concrete ways. As John says in his first letter: ‘No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us’ (1 John 4:12).

Is this true for the Church today? To be frank again, there are a lot of things done in the name of Jesus today that seem totally contrary to the teaching and example of Jesus. In the name of Jesus, Christians have blessed weapons of war. In the name of Jesus, Christians have given support to authoritarian governments – whose leaders live in power and luxury and do all they can to keep the poor in their place. In the name of Jesus, Christians have taken children away from their parents, stripped them of their language and culture and tried to remake them in their own image.

So what would it take in our Christian community here, for people on the outside to see the things we do together, and be amazed, and recognize us as companions of Jesus? Well, you might be surprised to know that this is already happening. People are already commenting on the practical love that happens here in this community. But let’s press on, and never tire of asking ourselves the question “What can we do to be more like Jesus? How do we put the two great commandments into practice – loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbour as ourselves – so that people have a sense that Jesus is alive, and present among us?

I’ll tell you one of the answers to that question: The Jesus of the gospels is constantly spreading the good news of the kingdom of God and calling people to believe in him. And this is what Peter and John were doing in this story. Having healed the lame man in the name of Jesus, they then told the crowd boldly that Jesus was alive and was the true anointed king sent by God to bring salvation to everyone. So if we want to be like Jesus, we will also be spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God and inviting others to put their faith in him and follow him.

Note that this is not about spreading a religious system. The Temple was a very elaborate religious system, built at huge expense by Herod the Great. Every day at the Temple prayers and sacrifices were offered. Sinners came to receive forgiveness for their sins. People came to pray for God’s help. Money changers changed the unclean Roman and Greek coins into good Jewish money so that sacrificial animals could be bought. Priests and scribes instructed the people in the name of God. It was a splendid system and no doubt Annas and Caiaphas were proud of it.

Except for this: outside this temple, at the Beautiful Gate, a beggar had been sitting for a lifetime, and the religious system had been unable to help him. Religious systems are like that: over time, they tend to take on a life of their own, entirely separate from the power and love of God. And then along comes a prophet, a rabble-rouser, a person who claims God has spoken to them. Do the leaders like this? They do not! This man is threatening their authority! He’s misleading the people! We must do away with him! Nevertheless, it’s this man, not the leaders, who seems to be able to heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, and make the lame walk.

So spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God isn’t about spreading the Anglican brand name. It’s not about ‘my God is better than your God’. It’s about the one shining fact that the New Testament proclaims from start to finish: ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

This is not about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell – we can leave that issue in the hands of a just and loving God. It’s about the fact that the same God who has spoken to everyone in every age through wise teachers and prophets has chosen at one point in history to come among us as one of us, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. So if we want to see the face of God and hear the word of God most clearly, it’s to Jesus that we must come.

Note: the word of God that we hear from Jesus will not always be a comfortable word for his followers! In one place in the gospels Jesus warns his disciples that because they have heard his teaching and come to know God’s will, the consequences for them if they don’t put it into practice will be much more severe. In other words, as C.S. Lewis once put it, ‘Christians are playing for higher stakes!’ And let’s not forget that in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, there were surprises about who turned out to be a sheep and who turned out to be a goat.

So as followers of Jesus we need to be content to leave the issue of people’s eternal destiny in the hands of a just and loving God. But as followers of Jesus, we’re also called to be obedient to his command that we share the good news of the Kingdom at every possible opportunity and invite people to become his disciples. Through him the salvation – the forgiveness, the healing, the deliverance – of God is poured out on all people. Like Peter and John, we get to be part of that amazing story. And two thousand years later, we’re still doing it, because we believe that Jesus is alive and that in his name everyone can receive salvation, and wholeness, and life in all its fulness.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events April 23rd to April 29th, 2018

April 23rd, 2018
Office is closed
April 24th, 2018
11:00am Holy Communion @ Rutherford Retirement Residence
April 25th, 2018 
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
April 26th, 2018
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
10:00am Set up for World Vision Leader’s Forum
6:00pm – 9:00pm Rental
April 27th, 2018 
9:30am – 12:30pm World Vision Leader’s Forum @ church 
1:00pm Clean up after Leader’s Forum
6:00pm Friday Night Church
April 28th, 2018 
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
April 29th, 2018 (5th Sunday of Easter)
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion, youth/child led service & Sunday School

Join us for our next Friday Night Church on April 27th from 6pm to 8pm. This is a family friendly evening which includes a meal, story/songs/activities/prayer and then hot chocolate. There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. For more information, please contact Melanie at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com, or 780-437-7231.

Daytime Lectionary Bible Study from 2pm – 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoons @ the church. Please drop in if you can!

St. Margaret’s is privileged to host the World Vision Church Leaders Forum on Friday April 27th from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. There is going to be some set up (moving chairs around) and then take down required to host this event. If you are able to help set up on Thursday April 26th at 10am, or to help with take down on Friday April 27th at 1pm, please let Melanie know.

This month, a new NRSV Large-Print Text Bible is being printed by Cambridge. St. Margaret’s would like to purchase some of these to use for various Bible study groups. The cost is approximately $80 per Bible. If you would like to contribute to the cost of these, please include this in your offering marked ‘Bibles’.

What’s the next step in St. Margaret’s building redevelopment plan? We are ready to move forward and need your input!! PLEASE plan to join us for an informal discussion after church on Sunday May 27th. More information will be sent out the beginning of May.

Social Justice Workshop, ‘Jesus Shaped Justice’, June 2nd @ 9am at St. Faith’s Anglican Church.  Are you currently involved in social justice ministries, or want to become more involved? Join the Diocese of Edmonton Social Justice Committee for this planning workshop with guests Bishop Jane Alexander, Jim Burnett and keynote speaker Gary St. Amand, executive director of the Bissell Centre. The workshop is free however you need to register by email at socialjustice@edmonton.anglican.org. There is a $10 charge for lunch. See the bulletin board for more information.

Save the Date for St. Margaret’s annual church picnic at the home of Lorne and Beryl Rice – Saturday June 16th after 3pm. Watch for more information to come.



A note from the Rector, the Rev. Tim Chesterton, regarding water damage in his office

Hi Folks. This is to let you know that due to recent water damage in my basement office at the church, I have now moved all my books to my house. Since I need to be with my books when I am preparing sermons, studies etc., I will be spending a lot more time in the foreseeable future working at home . Messages left for me at the church will be answered as promptly as possible.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What Does the Resurrection Mean? (a sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter on Acts 2:36-41)

We have an embarressing largesse of materials to help us piece together the movements of the apostle Peter from the Thursday evening of the Last Supper to the day of Pentecost seven weeks later. He’s mentioned in all four of the gospels and the Book of Acts, and even though these eyewitness accounts don’t agree in all the details, the general outline is pretty clear. I want to start this morning by just reminding you of the gist of that story, because it bears on our reading from Acts today and the things I want to say about it.

First, we need to remember the extravagent vow that Peter made on Thursday evening. At the last supper Jesus shocked all his disciples by foretelling that one of them would betray him. But he didn’t stop there; he said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’…Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not”. Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times”. But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you”’ (Mark 14:27, 29-31).

We all know what came of that vow. Let’s give credit where credit is due: Peter did better than all the rest of the male disciples. In the garden of Gethsemane, after Jesus was arrested, everyone else ran away in fear. But Peter followed at a distance; he followed all the way to the courtyard of the high priest’s house, where the hearings were taking place. There his courage failed him. He was recognized by some of the people there, and challenged three times: “You’re also one of this man’s disciples!” And each time he denied it: “I am not!” And then he realized what he had done, and he went out and wept.

That’s the last we hear of Peter until Easter Sunday morning, but it’s not hard for me to fill in the blanks. Peter had made his promise before all the other disciples; they had all heard him. I’m guessing that after his failure, it took a long time for him to work up the courage to rejoin the others. Maybe he hoped they hadn’t heard what had happened in the high priest’s house, but he couldn’t be sure. Likely it was only the fact that they had failed just as spectacularly as he had, that made it possible for him to show his face among them.

And so comes Sunday morning. They’re all together in the upper room when a knock comes on the door. I can imagine their fear; is is the police, come to arrest them? But no, it’s Mary Magdalene, and maybe also some of the other women; they’ve been to the tomb and found it empty, and a young man or an angel has told them that he has risen. Peter and John look at each other, and they’re off. John’s younger and he runs a little faster; Mary Magdalene follows behind. John gets to the tomb, looks in and sees that the body is gone, although the linen cloths it was wrapped in are still there. Peter arrives and goes boldly into the tomb. They see, and they remember what Jesus said, but they go back to the upper room. Mary stays, and so she’s the first one to see the risen Lord alive. Back she goes to the upper room again, and we can imagine the glow on her face as she says, “I’ve seen the Lord!”

Later that afternoon, Jesus appears to Peter by himelf. We have absolutely no idea what happened at that meeting, because it isn’t described for us in the gospels; it’s only mentioned briefly in Luke, when the couple who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus come back with the news that he is alive. But the others aren’t surprised, because they’re saying to each other, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34).

I would love to know what happened at that meeting! Did Peter apologize and ask Jesus’ forgiveness? Did Jesus speak individual words of forgiveness to him, “Peace be with you?” We don’t know. But we do know that after the two from Emmaus came in, suddenly Jesus was standing among them, as we heard in our gospel reasing for today. He gave his greeting of peace; he showed them his hands and side. And just in case they thought they were seeing a ghost or spirit, he ate a piece of fish in their presence.

And so the resurrection stories continue. There’s another one mentioned in John’s gospel; it takes place back in Galilee, at the lake. The disciples have gone fishing and caught nothing, even though they’ve worked all night. In the dim light of morning they see a figure by the lakeside; “Any fish, boys? Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some”. So they do, and immediately their nets fill up. No doubt Peter and Andrew remember the same thing happening right back at the beginning of the gospel story when Jesus first called them; John was there too, and he realizes who it is by the lakeshore: “It’s the Lord!” Peter is so excited that he jumps into the lake and swims to shore, and sure enough, it isthe Lord!

After breakfast Jesus does some personal mnistry with Peter. Peter had denied three times that he even knew Jesus; now Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” And when Peter affirms his love, Jesus gives him a new commission – “feed my sheep” – as well as warning him that one day he will pay the ultimate price for his commitment to Jesus. ‘After this he said to him, “Follow me”’ (John 21:19).

And so Peter is again the leader of the little apostolic band. After Jesus ascends into heaven, Peter is the one who presides when the goup chooses another person to take the place of Judas. The disciples heard Jesus’ command to wait in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit, and so they do. And on the Day of Pentecost Peter and his friends receive the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary way. They hear a sound from heaven like a hurricane. They see a vision of little tongues of fire resting on the head of each believer. And then their mouths are opened and they begin to speak about the mighty acts of God in languages they haven’t learned!

A crowd gathers – some say “They’ve been drinking, that’s for sure!” And so Peter is the one to step forward. He points out an old prophecy in the book of Joel; in the last days God will pour out his Spirit on everyone – not just leaders and prophets, but young and old, men and women, slave and free. That’s what’s happening here, Peter says; these are the days Joel was talking about.

Then he reminds them of the story of Jesus, and especially how ‘you’ - that is, the leaders and the crowd) - crucified him, but God then vindicated him by raising him up. Now he’s been exalted to the throne of heaven and he’s poured out the Holy Spirit on ordinary people – not just prophets and priests, but fishermen and tax collectors, men and women, slaves and free.

I find it helpful to remember that this event takes place only seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, it’s still news! Peter’s still waking up in the morning and pinching himself to see if he’s dreaming! And so when he talks to people about the gospel, he goes straight to the resurrection! It’s only in the light of the resurrection that everything else makes sense to him!

But he’s had seven weeks to think about it, and he’s begun to realize what it means and why it’s so important. Look at today’s passage from Acts, which comes from the end of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. After describing the resurrection of Jesus and quoting the Old Testament scriptures, Peter says, “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

This is the first thing the resurrection means: it means that Jesus’ claims are true.The Messiah is the king God is sending to set his peope free and usher in the reign of God on earth. Many people in the first century A.D. came claiming to be the Messiah; they raised armies, rebelled against the Romans, and all of them were wiped out and forgotten. And for forty-eight hours, it looked like Jesus was going to be just another like them. Certainly when the disciples saw him die, they must have begun to doubt. The Messiah’s supposed to win victories over God’s enemies! He’s not supposed to be killed by them!

But the resurrection changed all this. God had vindicated Jesus! Jesus had loved his enemies, prayed for those who hated him, given himself over to death and trusted that his Father would not abandon him – and God had come through for him in an extraordinary way.

‘God has made him both Lord and Messiah’ (2:36). As I’ve said many times before, ‘Lord’ was one of the official titles of the Roman emperor. If one of Jesus’ apostles stood up today and said, “God has made him leader of the free world, this Jesus whom you crucified”, everyone would know which particular political leader they were talking about! Caesar was the most powerful leader in the world at that time, but Jesus is above him. He’s above every rival authority, every president, every tyrant, every business leader, every celebrity. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel he says to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

So today, two thousand years later, the resurrection means that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. We Christians believe that God is gathering together a new people, a people who acknowledge and confess that Jesus is Lord, and commit to being his citizens and living by the laws of his Kingdom. We refuse to let any other Lord usurp his position. He comes first. We believe that he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. And so we believe that our response to him matters. Following him isn’t just a matter of adding a few Sunday mornings a year to our busy social schedule. It’s about totally reshaping our lives around his leadership. That’s the first difference the resurrection makes.

Here’s the second thing. In verse 38 Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. The resurrection means that our sins can be forgiven. Why? Because before he died, Jesus prayed for those who executed him: “Father, forgive them”. That might just have been a nice inspirational quote if death had been the end for Jesus. But death was not the end; God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.

Think of those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). We can imagine the disciples shaking their heads; “Is he comparing himself with an animal sacrifice? How weird is that?” But after the resurrection it was no longer weird. We’re told in several places that Jesus explained to them all the Old Testament scriptures concerning himself. No, this death was not an accident; it was the ultimate example of how God treats his enemies: loving and forgiving them. The resurrection validates all this.

If I was Peter, I’d have been particularly interested in this. After all, he had failed Jesus spectacularly! He must have thought that any hope he might have of further ministry for Jesus was over, dead and gone, buried in the tomb with Jesus. But now Jesus is raised, and his words are not “You really blew it, didn’t you?” but “Peace be with you”. 

What about you and me? We’re ordinary, fallible human beings. We’ve all got things we’re ashamed of – words we’ve said or left unsaid, actions we’ve done and left undone. But the resurrection tells us that love wins over hate, mercy triumphs over judgement. You can come – I can come – all who are willing to repent and believe can come and ask for forgiveness, and receive it. And then, of course, we’re commanded to pass it on to others too.

One more thing. The resurrection not only means that Jesus’ claims are true and that our sins can be forgiven; it means we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

This is a big deal. Nowadays people tend to believe that priests and ministers get a special dose of the Holy Spirit that’s not available to everyone else. In Old Testament times the Spirit was given to special people – prophets, kings, priests – but not to everyone. That’s why the prophecy Peter quoted from Joel on the Day of Petnecost was so important: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those  days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy’ (Acts 2:17-18).

Please don’t miss how radical this was. Women were not usually seen as spiritual leaders; slaves would not have been allowed to speak in the assembly; old people were venerated but young people would not generally be respected in the same way. But now all these groups are included in this radical new vision. Every single believer will receive the gift of God’s Spirit. All of you here – every one of us – no matter what gender we are, no matter how rich or poor we are, no matter how old or young we are – every one of us is offered the joy of having God live in us by his Holy Spirit, and so we will be able to speak in his name.

That’s what was happening on the Day of Pentecost. Please don’t think of Pentecost as being the day when twelve venerable old bishops received the Holy Spirit! These are uneducated Galilean fishermen, people who would never have gotten a look in when the priests were discussing the scriptures. And let’s not forget the women! Acts chapter one says that there were about a hundred and twenty disciples of Jesus in the gathering, and in thst group were ‘certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1:14). I’m guessing Mary Magdalene - the first witness of the resurrection – would have been there, and Mary and Martha of Bethany too.

Peter explained the coming of the Holy Spirit in his sermon: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, (Jesus) has poured out this that you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Jesus is risen, he has the place of authority in heaven, and as the King of all Kings he can give kingly gifts to his people. Chief among those gifts is the gift of the Hoy Spirit.

So let me announce to you again the good news that we have received. We humans rejected Jesus and crucified him – surely the most heinous act we’ve ever committed. But God rejected our rejection; God forgave us our sins and raised Jesus from the dead. God has made him Lord of all, high above any other power and authority; Jesus is the true Lord of heaven and earth. And this is good news for us, because his character hasn’t changed: the Lord of heaven and earth is still loving and merciful, loving and forgiving his enemies and his weak and fallible friends. So whatever you’ve done that troubles your conscience, don’t let it keep you away. Come and ask for forgiveness, and receive it with joy. And then come and pray again to be filled with the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39).