Friday, July 27, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events July 30th to July August 5th, 2018

Our Kids Kapers summer camp will be running daily from 9am to 4pm Monday to Thursday, and 9am to 1pm on Friday.

July 30th, 2018
Office is closed
August 3rd, 2018
9am – noon Morgan in the office
August 5th, 2018 (Pentecost 11)
9:00am Holy Communion
9:45am Combined coffee hour
10:30am Holy Communion


Please stay for a few minutes after church, if you are able, to help stack chairs in preparation for our Kids Kapers camp this week. Also, if you are able to help on Friday to put them back, please come around 1pm.

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 August 2nd. Thank you!

Anglican Marriage Encounter Weekend 
November 2-4. 2018 – Providence Renewal Centre
“Take your Marriage to a whole new level”.
For more information please contact Gary & Kathy Hughes at 780-435-3862 or at gary.kathy@shaw.ca

If you attend another church in your travels this summer, don’t forget to bring the bulletin and hang it on our ‘Summer Travels’ bulletin board.



Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sheep Need a Shepherd ( sermon on Mark 6:34)

It’s a sure sign to us baby boomers that we’re getting older when we realize how many of our favourite musicians are either dying or retiring! When I was a teenager I became a big Simon and Garfunkel fan, so I was particularly struck by the fact that Paul Simon is officially retiring from touring this year, at the age of 76. I’ve always admired his ability to write a good song, and one of my favourites has always been ‘America’. Some of you know that it describes a bus trip across the continent in search of ‘America’, and toward the end we hear these poignant lines:
‘Kathy, I’m lost’, I said, though I knew she was sleeping;
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.

At the time he wrote these words Paul Simon was already an enormously successful songwriter. And yet, in the midst of his success, he confessed that he was empty inside, that he was lost and couldn’t find his way. I suspect that there are many more people like him: financially comfortable, competent, successful, but inwardly empty and desperately trying to find a way to fill that emptiness.

I think that’s the sort of thing Mark had in mind in our gospel reading for today when he wrote these words:
As (Jesus) went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6.34)

Jesus saw the people he met as being ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ – they had no leader, no guide to show them the way. I suspect things are not so very different today. But what happens to sheep without a shepherd? Let’s think about this for a minute.

First, sheep without a shepherd can’t find their way.I didn’t see too many shepherds where I grew up in inner-city Leicester, but of course we all knew about how shepherds used sheepdogs – often border collies - to drive their sheep in the right direction. However, in the time of Jesus shepherds didn’t drivetheir sheep, they went out in front of them and ledthem. Without the shepherd, the sheep would start going off in all sorts of different directions and getting lost. And that’s true of people too: we go off in all sorts of directions and get lost, and we desperately need a wise shepherd to show us the way.

Life today is like a gigantic multiple-choice question; there are so many choices open to us and it’s so difficult to choose the ones that seem right for us. We can make choices about our values: what’s really important in my life? Is my life about getting as wealthy as possible? Is it about success in business? Is it about experiencing the greatest possible degree of happiness or pleasure? In other words, what’s the goalof my life, and how do I know I’ve chosen the rightgoal?

Is there a way to live my life in such a way as to be in harmony with what I was created for? In other words, are there ethical standards, moral laws, rules or guidelines to follow as I go through life? Are there right things to do, and wrong things to avoid? How do I know which is which, and where can I find a reliable guide to choosing one from the other?

And what about God? Churchgoing may be on the wane today, but spirituality certainly isn’t; many people are fascinated with it and are intensely interested in finding a way to connect with the spiritual world and with God, whoever God may be. But how can I findGod? There are so many paths on offer; are they all equally valid? If I think so, what do I make of the fact that some of them tell me that I can serve God by flying planes full of people into tall buildings, or by bombing abortion clinics? How can I find a true path through this maze, a path that will help me to connect with the true and living God and find his will for me?

We all need shepherds to guide us in finding answers to these questions. But who are our modern shepherds? Who are the voices we turn to for guidance? Newspaper columnists? Political leaders? Celebrities? Motivational speakers?

I have a friend who is an Alliance Church pastor. A few years ago he left pastoral ministry for a while and began to travel across the country as a motivational speaker. When he was on his way through Edmonton once we met for breakfast, and he told me that a lot of his Christian ministry these days was to other motivational speakers. “It’s pretty sad, really”, he said; “They stand up before large audiences and share their five steps to a successful life, but when you get to know them as individuals you discover that a lot of them are as messed up as everyone else!”

So where do we go for help? We go to Jesus. In all of this confusion, the clear voice of Jesus speaks to us from the pages of our scriptures: “Follow me”. God has not left us shepherdless; he has come among us in the person of Jesus to show us the way. Jesus said, “I am the Way”. God’s revelation to us in the pages of the Bible comes to its clearest focus in Jesus as we read about him in the gospels. Jesus promises to lead us to the Father, and to guide us about the sort of life we should be living in God’s world. I find it interesting that in today’s gospel, Jesus’ response to the people’s shepherdless state was instruction: ‘he began to teach them many things’. Still today, if we follow his teaching, we will find our way.

For many years now I’ve been suggesting a prayer that I think gets right to the heart of what being a disciple is all about. It goes like this: ‘Jesus our Master, teach us today to see life as you see it, and to live life as you taught it’. I think if we live our daily lives in the spirit of that prayer, God will honour our request, and Jesus will show us the way.

First, then, sheep without a shepherd get lost and can’t find their way - but Jesus says “I am the way”, and he promises to guide us to the Father and to the way of life that is the Father’s will for us. Secondly, sheep without a shepherd can’t find pasture and food.A big part of the shepherd’s job is to make sure that the flock gets adequate nourishment. Nowadays most sheep live their lives behind fences, in fields belonging to their owners, but that wasn’t the case in the time of Jesus; in those days sheep were pastured on the open range. It was the shepherd’s job to lead them to fresh pasture where they could find the food and water they needed.

Speaking of food, I’ve seen statistics claiming that the average Canadian goes out to eat more than anyone else in the world. Today in Canada we are experts at feeding our bodies with the most varied and delicious foods – some of them nutritious, some of them perhaps less so! But have we lost the skill of nourishing our souls?

Physical food gives us the strength to continue our bodily existence, but we are not only physical people – we are also souls, people with minds and hearts and emotions. ‘Soul food’ is food that feeds our inner life, food that gives us the strength to be the people we want to be and know we should be. Where do we find this food?

Over the next few weeks our gospel readings will be addressing this issue as we read through the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. In John 6:35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”. In some mysterious sense, Jesus himselfis our soul food; Jesus lives in us, by his Holy Spirit, and nourishes our inner life. Our conscious faith and dependence on him every minute of the day is what keeps us going as Christians. Coming to him and believing in him is what satisfies our souls.

Do you find this idea difficult to grasp? You’re not alone; many people find it hard to get their head around this. It’s a bit too abstract for us, so God in his compassion gives us a concrete sign of it: the sacrament of Holy Communion. The old Anglican prayer book uses the phrase, ‘feed on him in your heart, by faith, with thanksgiving’. That’s hard for me to do in an abstract way, but I hear those words, in the prayer book, when I’m actually holding out my hand to receive the bread of Holy Communion. Scripture teaches us that as we receive the bread and wine with faith in our hearts, so we are fed spiritually by the life and power of Jesus. We are coming to his table to receive our spiritual food. This isn’t the only way that he comes to us, of course, but he has promisedto meet us here. Are you spiritually hungry, thirsty, tired, burdened? Come to the Lord’s Table and be refreshed!

So Jesus our shepherd is leading us into God’s will for us, and he’s nourishing us so that we can have the strength to do it. But there’s one more thing about sheep without a shepherd: sheep without a shepherd have no defence against danger.

Sheep grazing out on the free range are exposed to many different dangers. There are steep cliffs and ravines; there are wild animals out to kill and eat their prey; there are thieves and robbers out to steal the sheep for themselves. And we as human beings and Christians are also exposed to spiritual dangers. In the first letter of Peter we read these words:
‘Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).

The New Testament writers assume that there is an enemy of our souls who wants to separate us from God forever. He does this by tempting us to leave the path Jesus is leading us along and to take a path we’ve designed ourselves. Right at the beginning of the biblical story he tempted the first humans to ‘be like God’ – in other words, to choose their own path rather than sticking with the one God had chosen for them. That temptation continues to be a powerful one today.

In this situation, where is the safest place for me to be as a sheep? The answer is, inthe flock, behindJesus my shepherd, doing exactly as he tells me to do. When I do that, I put myself in the position where he can defend me; otherwise, I’m all alone. That doesn’t mean our shepherd never comes to look for the ones who stray – the gospels assure us that he does. But it would be much better if we didn’t stray in the first place.

So we need to stay in the flock with the shepherd. In other words, we need to be part of the Christian community, and fullya part of it - not just half-heartedly, when it’s convenient, when it doesn’t clash with our busy schedule. It’s here that we listen to the word of the Good Shepherd, here that we experience his presence together and are fed with his body and blood. We are a community of people following Jesus together, and inthat community is the safest place for us to be.

Let’s go around this one last time.

Jesus looks out on the world and has compassion for everyone he sees, because so many are like sheep without a shepherd. He wants to be our shepherd. How do we take advantage of this?

First, Jesus leads his flock to the Father and teaches us how to live, so we need to learn to listen to his voice and practice what he says. So our prayer is, ‘Lord Jesus, help us know the Father as you do. Help us listen to your words. Help us to see life as you see it and live life as you taught it’.

Second, just as the shepherd leads his sheep to pasture, so Jesus is the nourishment we need for our souls. So we learn to depend on him day by day, and to rely on his presence to sustain us on the way. Most especially, we come to his Table regularly to receive the spiritual food he offers us here.

Third, just as the shepherd protects his sheep from danger, so Jesus protects us from the attacks of the evil one. And we make it easier for him to do that by staying close to him and to his flock – his Church.  The closer you are to Jesus and his community, the safer you are from the attacks of the enemy.

Let me close with some more words of Peter. In his first letter he writes:
‘For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls’ (1 Peter 2:25)
May this be a living reality, for all of us, as we follow our Good Shepherd.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Morgan Cromarty visits Street Hope Saint John

Our deputy churchwarden, Morgan Cromarty, is currently holidaying in the Maritimes. Today she was able to visit our good friends Reed and Linda Fleming at Street Hope Saint JohnWe're so glad you were able to make that connection Morgan!



Upcoming Events July 23rd to July 29th, 2018

Tim is away on vacation from July 23rd to July 30th inclusive.
If you are in need of emergency pastoral care, please contact Rev. Susan Ormsbee @ 780-919-3060.

July 23rd, 2018
Office is closed
July 24th, 2018
Office is closed
July 25th, 2018
Office is closed
July 26th, 2018
10am – 1pm Melanie in the office
July 27th, 2018
10am – 1pm Melanie in the office
4pm – 6pm Rental
July 28th, 2018
4pm – 6pm Rental
July 29th, 2018 (Pentecost 10) (Rev. Joanne Webster)
9:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion


Our Kids Kapers summer camp is fast approaching! We are looking for helpers after church on Sunday July 29th to move and stack all the chairs, and then on Friday August 3rd at approximately 1pm to move the chairs back. Please let Melanie know if you are able to help out.


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 August 2nd. Thank you!

Anglican Marriage Encounter Weekend 
November 2-4. 2018 – Providence Renewal Centre
“Take your Marriage to a whole new level”.
For more information please contact the church office at 780-437-7231, or email stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

Bishop Sixbert Macume of our partner diocese of Buyé in Burundi and his wife Clotilde will be visiting Edmonton. Everyone is invited to attend the following events:

Tuesday July 24: 5-8PM
Sue Oliver and the crew at Christ Church (12116 102 Ave.) have generously offered to host a family BBQ Potluck! Please be sure to invite your family, friends, friends' families, and anyone in between. Sue will have the BBQ going with some burgers and hotdogs, so we would be thrilled if you could bring salads and sides and desserts! There will be a bouncy castle for the children, so you really don't want to miss this event! While you don't need to formally RSVP to this event, we would be very happy if you could provide us with an rough idea of how many people will attend from your parish so that we can make sure we have enough food for everyone. If you know what you're bringing, that would be great to know too!

Wednesday July 25th: 10AM-12PM
Holy Trinity (Strathcona – 10037 84 Ave) has generously given us space to have a coffee morning, where you can come and speak with Bishop Sixbert about the Diocese of Buye and your partner parish! It's strongly recommended that you use this time to catch up on your partner parish, and for those who are new in our diocese, learn all about the Diocese of Buye! Bishop Sixbert would love to see you all again and to meet any fresh faces! We'll have some delicious baked treats and the coffee will be nice and hot!

Please check out our monthly announcement sheet for more upcoming events. If you have not received a copy or have changed your email address, please update your email with Tim or Melanie. Extra copies are available on the table at the back of the church.



Sunday, July 15, 2018

'The Challenge of Costly Discipleship' (a sermon on Mark 6.14-29)

It will be nineteen years next month since I was interviewed by the search committee for the position of rector of St. Margaret’s. It was a memorable interview in many ways, but one thing I especially remember was a question I was asked by Murray Tait, who was People’s Warden at the time. He said, ‘Do you consider it to be part of your job as a preacher, not just to comfortus, but also to challengeus?’

Preachers often have difficulty with that question – after all, we’re dependent on our congregations to pay our salaries, and it can be so tempting just to tell people what they want to hear! And yet we know that passing on the challenge of Jesus is also an important part of our calling. The message of Jesus won’t always sound like good news, especially when he calls us to leave selfish ways behind and put God’s word into practice in our daily lives. How do we react to that challenge? Today’s gospel tells us about two people who were challenged by God’s message, and how they reacted to it.

I need to clarify that the Herod in this story is not Herod the Great, the one who tried to get the wise men to lead him to the baby Jesus in the Christmas story. Our Herod is his son, Herod Antipas; Herod the Great had divided his kingdom between his sons, and Antipas got Galilee, where Jesus was brought up.

There are two things you need to know about Herod Antipas. First, he was a puppet ruler; he kept his throne because it suited the Romans to have him there. Because of this, keeping the peace with Rome was always a priority for him. But secondly, like his father, he really wanted the people he ruled to recognize him and accept him as their legitimate king. You see, the Herod family weren’t really full-blooded Jews – they were Idumeans, and this was one of the reasons they were very unpopular with the Jewish people; how could God’s true anointed king not be one of God’s chosen people, the Jews?

And the choices Herod Antipas made in his personal life didn’t help the situation. Herodias had been the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had met her at his brother’s house; the two had become infatuated with each other and had left their previous spouses to marry each other. It’s actually not clear whether a formal divorce ever took place between Herodias and Philip; in Jewish law a woman had no right to divorce her husband, and there was a lot of controversy at that time about the proper legal grounds for a husband to divorce his wife. It’s fair to say that a large percentage of the population of Galilee saw Herod and Herodias as living in sin – and, to them, this was further evidence that Herod Antipas simply could notbe God’s true anointed King.

And this was why Herod Antipas hadto arrest John the Baptist. Our text says ‘John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife”’(v.18). We shouldn’t understand from this that John and Herod had enjoyed a quiet fireside chat over a glass of wine, discussing Herod’s matrimonial woes! No – when it says ‘John had been telling Herod’, it means, ‘telling in public, in his sermons’. And if John was saying this about Herod’s marriage, the people would have understood him to be denying that Herod could be God’s true anointed king - which, of course, would have been an act of sedition on John’s part. At this point - as a ruler interested in keeping his throne - Herod had to arrest John.

But now comes the curious twist: Herod had a soft spot for John, too! In fact, he was more than a little afraid of him, knowing that ‘he was a righteous and holy man’ (v.20). Even more curiously, we read that Herod ‘liked to listen to (John)’(v.20). It sounds as if there was an internal struggle going on in Herod; he was angry at what John was saying, and yet deep down he knew there was truth in his words.

But Herod and John were no match for Herodias; she was a manipulator, determined to get what she wanted, and she wanted the Baptist dead. A dance on Herod’s birthday gave her the opportunity to get what she wanted. Our NRSV translation opts for a minority reading of the text and identifies the dancer as ‘Herod’s daughter Herodias’. However, this makes no sense; there is no evidence that Herod had a daughter who was also called Herodias. The majority of manuscripts identify the dancer as ‘the daughter of Herodias’ – presumably by her marriage to Philip. The Jewish historian Josephus gives her name as ‘Salome’. Herod, an impetuous man, was so infatuated with her dancing that he made a rash vow promising to reward her with anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. This was Herodias’ opportunity; the girl asked for advice from her mother, and her mother had no hesitation about using her daughter as a pawn: she was to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. ‘The king was deeply grieved’, but felt bound by his oath, and that was the end of the matter.

Now - what can we possibly learn about Christian discipleship from this grizzly story?

Well, let’s look at the three main characters. Let’s start with Herodias. Here’s a woman who sets out to get what she wants and doesn’t mind who gets hurt along the way. She’s not afraid to use power to better her own position, and if people try to stop her, she crushes them mercilessly.

It’s possible that her own personal insecurities were fuelling her determination to have her own way. She knew her marriage to Herod was doubtful in the eyes of the people, and she knew Herod was hungry for their approval. She knew he had a soft spot for John the Baptist. And she knew if he chose to listen to John’s message, she stood to lose her marriage and her position as the wife of the Tetrarch of Galilee. You can imagine how she must have felt.

Of course, that’s often the way it is with bullies - they often have a deep-seated insecurity inside, an insecurity they’re determined not to reveal to anyone. So they overcompensate; they come across as forceful personalities, and if you dare to stand in their path, they trample you down without mercy. To them, the world’s a ‘dog eat dog’ sort of place, divided into winners and losers, and they’re determined to be the winners every time.

The lengths Herodias was prepared to go to in order to get what she wanted are quite shocking when you think about it. Do you think it was a pleasant experience for a young girl to be presented with the head of John the Baptist on a plate? But Herodias was quite prepared to put her daughter through this trauma in order to get what she wanted. Apparently she saw people, even people she loved, as pawns to push around so she could get her own way.

Sad to say, this sort of thing isn’t unknown in the Christian church. We Christians can be just as determined as anyone else to get our own way, and I sometimes think Christian congregations are particularly vulnerable to the activity of bullies. This is because we try to be kind to everyone, and so bullies can throw their weight around in a church for a long time before someone confronts them with their behaviour and challenges them to stop it.

And of course, if we’re ever going to grow as Christians, we dohave to stop. Herodias saw herself as the lead actor in her own play; everyone else existed for her benefit alone. But if we’re ever going to grow in the Christian life, we have to learn to take ourselves out of the centre of our own universe and give that place back to the one to whom it rightfully belongs.

So Herodias exemplifies the person who uses power to get what they want. But now let’s turn again to her husband, Herod Antipas. He’s a fascinating character! If ever there was a man with conflicted emotions, it was Herod! Deep down inside, he knew what was right, but over and over again he showed himself unable to do it.

It started with the arrest of John the Baptist. As a shrewd politician, Herod knew that if he was going to keep his throne he had to arrest John, but he seems to have felt guilty about the fact. He liked to listen to John! No doubt John talked about the things he’d always talked about – the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the need for people to turn their lives around so they could get ready for that Kingdom. John had never shied away from spelling out specifics, and no doubt he continued to do so when he talked with Herod; no doubt he told Herod “It’s wrong for you to have your brother’s wife”. We read that Herod was ‘perplexed’ about this, but I don’t think this means he was ‘perplexed’ about what John meant. No one could miss John’s meaning! No - he was perplexed about his own responseto the message he was hearing: would he obey, or not? He knew what he shoulddo, but he couldn’t summon up the moral courage to actually doit.

And of course the same thing happened when Herodias’ daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist. No doubt Herod saw immediately that he’d been in the wrong in making such a rash oath, but he cared too much for the good opinion of those around him to retreat from it. Once again, he knew what he ought to do, but he didn’t do it.

Most Christians will recognise themselves in Herod. We all ‘like to listen’ to Jesus and his message – we do it here every Sunday - but we’re often ‘perplexed’ about putting it into practice. It seems so costly! It’s so hard to actually dothe things Jesus says. Nonetheless, if we’re going to grow in our Christian lives, we have to face the fact that it isn’t enough just to ‘enjoy listening to’ the Christian message. Jesus told us that if we do that, we’re like a person who builds their house on the sand: the rains come and the floods rise and beat upon the house, and down it comes. Obedience in theorywon’t help us build a life that can stand up when the storm comes; only obedience in practicewill do the job.

So the story’s telling us we have to be willing to take ourselves out of the centre of our own lives and commit ourselves to following God’s anointed king, Jesus. It’s telling us we have to be willing to put Jesus’ teaching into practice, rather than just listening to it and agreeing with it in theory. And the story’s warning us: if we do this, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a happy ending for us.

John the Baptist was a faithful and honest man of God. He’d given his entire life to the proclamation of God’s message. He’d spoken the truth fearlessly and seen huge crowds responding to his words, accepting baptism as a sign of repentance and commitment to God’s kingdom. He’d pointed to Jesus, the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. And then he’d followed God’s call to speak the truth to powerful people, and he’d come to a sticky end.

Mark - and the early Christians who read his gospel – didn’t see this as something strange. Mark wrote for Christians in Rome who were being savagely persecuted by the Emperor Nero. They understood that this was part of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. Two chapters later in Mark, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In all likelihood Jesus meant this saying literally; many of those who followed him would take up their crosses and go to the place of execution, just as he had. To be a Christian meant being unafraid to nail your colours to the mast, identify yourself publicly as a follower of Jesus, and accept the consequences.

Of course, we know the final outcome is very different. In the short term, Herodias is victorious and John is dead. But a decade later Herod was deposed from his throne by the Romans and ended his life in exile in Gaul, while John was already looked on as a hero by the growing Christian movement. Even more than that, as Jesus said, “those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (8:35). John lives in glory today, and one day he’ll be raised to live with Jesus forever, and I’m sure he has no doubt that he made the right decision. But - when he was looking at the executioner’s axe, I’m sure he was just as scared as we would have been in his place.

Speaking of fear - one last thing. In his brilliant little book Mere Christianity,C.S. Lewis says that the virtue of courage – which he calls ‘fortitude’ – is something we need whenever we try to practice one of the Christian virtues. Here’s what he says:
Fortitude includes both kinds of courage – the courage that faces danger as well as the kind that sticks to it under pain…You will notice, of course, that you cannot practice any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play.

I know what he means. You believe God is calling you to do something, but you can see the possible negative consequences. You might not literally lose your head as John the Baptist did, but you might lose some financial security, or some comfort, or the good opinion of your friends. You can’t help feeling some fear and anxiety about that. So are you going to let the fear control your actions, or are you going to do what’s right? That’s where the rubber hits the road!

Don’t make the mistake of praying that God will give you a feelingof courage. Courage isn’t a feeling; courage is the habit of doing the right thing, even when you’re afraid of the consequences. There’s an old saying: “Courage is fear that has said its prayers”. And the content of the prayers is simple: “God, you’ve called me to do this difficult thing, but I can see the path ahead is going to be hard. Quite frankly, I’m scared. So can you please help me not to let fear control me? Help me do what you’re calling me to do, and give me a sense that you’re with me in it”.

I can’t begin to count the number of times in my Christian life I’ve had to pray a prayer like that. And I’ve learned from experience that the prayers don’t take the difficulties away, but they do give me a sense that I’m not alone. “I am with you always”, says Jesus, “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He was with John the Baptist, and he’ll be with us too. So let’s pray for the courage to follow him as faithfully as John the Baptist did.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

'Are We Too Familiar with Jesus?' (a sermon for July 8th on Mark 6.1-13)

When families get together, sooner or later the legends start coming out. Perhaps one of the family members has done quite well for themselves in the world – made a real success of their career, or become a well-known politician, or something like that. If that’s the case, it’s quite likely that at some point during the family gathering someone with a wicked sense of humour is going to say, “Do you remember that time when Jack did ____?” Everyone will collapse in fits of laughter, the person in question will be suitably humiliated, and the family gathering will continue!

There’s a story about me that used to get regular airings at family gatherings years ago. It concerns a time in my mid-teens when I was sent down to the local laundromat to take some dry-cleaning to be done; it included stuff like the blazers and dress pants my brother and I had to wear for school uniform. Now, to be quite honest, at that time I was completely oblivious to the distinction between laundry and dry cleaning. And I must have been incredibly dense, too, because I never stopped to ask myself why I would be sent to the laundromat to do ordinary laundry, when we had a perfectly good washer and dryer at home. But anyway, I stuffed all those clothes that needed dry cleaning into the washer and dryer at the laundromat, took them home afterwards, and then experienced a rather spectacular family explosion. I didn’t do too badly out of it in the end; I got a new school blazer. My brother didn’t do quite so well, he got to wear my shrunken blazer, with black leather extensions to make the arms a little longer. I don’t think he’s ever forgotten that.

I expect that’s the sort of story the people of Nazareth were remembering about Jesus when he came to preach in their synagogue:
‘They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2b-3).
“This is just Mary’s boy? Do you remember the time Joseph sent him to drop off a plough at Avram’s house, and he went dreaming his way through the field and dropped it off at Amminadab’s instead? Do you remember when he was little and he looked so cute? Do you remember the scrapes he got into? Too bad he’s gotten big ideas about himself now; I wonder where all thatcame from!”

In Mark’s story, this passage comes at the end of a section about the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee. It started in chapter three, when Jesus chose the Twelve. Immediately following that, we heard about how his immediate family were so worried by the things they were hearing about him that they came to take him home, because they were convinced he’d gone out of his mind. Then we had a chapter of parables, like the farmer scattering seed in his field, and a number of miracle stories, like the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the stilling of the storm on the lake. Now, at the end of the section, we’re back to the same two themes: those who have known Jesus since he was a child don’t believe in him, but his disciples dobelieve in him. Consequently, he sends them out on a mission in which they are able to do some spectacular things because of their trust in him.

The theme of faith and unbelief has been simmering all through this section of Mark. Jesus is the farmer who is scattering the seeds of God’s message wherever he goes, but not all of them come up – in other words, not everyone hears with faith. The disciples and Jesus get caught in a storm on the lake; the disciples are afraid, but after Jesus stills the storm he says to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (4:40). Jesus delivers a man from the power of evil spirits by casting the spirits out of him and into a herd of pigs. The pigs run off the cliff and drown in the lake, and immediately the people of the area beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood! Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood, who we heard about last week, are able to believe in Jesus and experience his healing power, but the people of Nazareth won’t believe, and as a result Jesus can’t do much to help them.

Let’s look at little more closely at this. What does it mean to say that the people in Jesus’ hometown didn’t believe in him? What exactly were they saying about him? In a nutshell, it was this: “He’s nobody special! We’ve known him since he was a child; why does he suddenly think he’s better than we are?”

I think this attitude to Jesus is alive and well in the contemporary world: “He’s nobody special!” Many of the people I meet in non-Christian circles feel the same way about Jesus. I was having coffee with a friend a while back, and we got talking about the Christian message. My friend has no patience with the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. He said, “Christ makes much more sense to me when I think of him as a man”.

I didn’t have time to give an adequate response, but what I wanted to say was something like this: “You know, I have exactly the opposite experience. When I read the Gospels, it’s when I try to think of Jesus as just an ordinary man that he makes nosense to me at all!”

What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus wasn’t just a first century self-help guru wandering around giving sage advice about how to live. Jesus actually believed some very weird things about what was happening through his ministry! The heart of Jesus’ preaching was not ‘love your neighbour as yourself’; rather, it was an announcement that because he was present, the Kingdom of God was at hand.

In other words, Jesus believed God was working in a unique way through his ministry to set the world free from the dark forces of evil. He believed God was working through him to establish a kingdom of justice and peace, in contrast to the kingdoms of exploitation and violence and injustice that everyone was so familiar with. Not only that, but he also believed some very strange things about his own coming death – which he seemed to know was coming. He said he was going to give his life ‘as a ransom for many’, and his blood would be ‘the blood of the covenant’ – which was the sort of language Jewish people used when they offered animal sacrifices to atone for their sins.

Speaking of the things he said, what about this sort of stuff: “My friend, your sins are forgiven”? In Judaism there was a clearly defined way of receiving forgiveness for your sins: you went to the temple and you offered a sacrifice. Now here is Jesus acting and talking as if his presence makes the temple unnecessary! And, of course, that wasn’t the only strange thing he said. He claimed to be the one who had sent the prophets and preachers of the Old Testament. He said that if you had seen him, you had seen the Father. And so it goes on.

What I wanted to say to my friend was this: ‘When I think of Jesus as just a man, he doesn’t become a good man in my mind: he becomes either a bad man or a lunatic. Today, a man who was just a man, but who said and did the things Jesus said and did, would be referred for psychiatric attention. We certainly wouldn’t have trusted him as the pastor of a church; he was far too unbalanced for that!’

So it seems the people of Nazareth were correct: if Jesus really was just the hometown boy, and nothing more, then they were right not to be impressed. Religious fanatics were two a penny in those days; they arrived on the scene, and before too long they were put in their place - usually by the Romans, with nails.

I want people to take the New Testament picture of Jesus seriously – to realize that if he’s just a man he makes no sense at all. He only makes sense if he’s morethan just a man – if he’s a prophet, or even, dare I say it, the Son of God. If Godhas come among us in Jesus to show us the way, and to live and die for us, thenJesus makes sense. Of course he still challenges us, and turns our notions of what’s real and what’s not upside down - but then, if God is coming to us in him, we’d expect that, wouldn’t we?

But I can’t stop there. So far this reading of the text has been very comfortable for me, hasn’t it? In this interpretation,I’mthe faithful one, and my friend is one of the faithless Nazarenes who didn’t accept Jesus’ authority. But that’s a slightly inaccurate way of reading the text. After all, the whole point of the story is that the Nazarenes were Jesus’ own people, his flesh and blood: they oughtto have been the ones to recognize him and welcome him. But that’s exactly the opposite of what actually happened; as John says in his Gospel, ‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him’ (John 1:11).

Who are Jesus’ family today? Who are the ones who ought to be the closest to him? Surely it’s us, his church? In Mark 3, when Jesus’ family came to take him away, he looked around at the disciples and the people sitting listening to him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34b-35). So perhaps we need to ask the question, have webecome too familiar with Jesus? Are we so comfortable with his story that we don’t see it for the dynamite that it really is?

Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God, an upside-down kingdom where the little people would be honoured and the proud tyrants brought down. He taught his followers not to accumulate money and possessions, but to give generously to the poor and needy instead. He told them to love their enemies and do good to them, and to pray for those who hated them. He told them that the point of life wasn’t riches or success or popularity, but learning to love God with all their heart and love their neighbours as themselves. He told them to be a people who were known for their honesty and integrity. He reached out to lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors and Samaritans – the people on the margins of society – and he taught his followers to do the same.

So often, we Christians miss all this. So often, our way of life bears little resemblance to the way Jesus taught us to live. Could it be that we’re just too familiar with this stuff, and so subconsciously we screen it out? Jesus was quite clear that he had come to show us the way, but it sometimes seems that in the past two thousand years we’ve been so busy building impressive churches for him that we’ve got no time to actually followthe way he showed us!

And what’s the result? In Mark 6 we read, ‘And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them’.Now that’s a rather strange sentence! I don’t know about you, but if I could lay my hands on a few sick people and heal them, I’d think of that as a pretty impressive deed of power! So what did Mark mean when he said that Jesus could do ‘no deed of power there’?

Here’s what I think he meant. The gospels are clear that Jesus’ miracles are signs pointing to the coming of the Kingdom of God. When the kingdom comes in all its fulness, evil and sickness and injustice and death will be no more. The miracles point to that future reality.

What would have happened if the people of Nazareth hadbelieved in Jesus? Would there just have been a lot more healings? No – the entire community would have been transformed. People with resentments would have forgiven each other. Rich people would have given away most of their wealth to people who didn’t have enough. Some impending divorce actions would have been cancelled. People would have stopped hating Roman soldiers and started inviting them for meals in their houses. The whole community would have started practicing love and contentment and reconciliation and peace and justice. Now there’sa deed of power for you!

And here’s the tragedy of what we’ve often done to Christianity in the western world. Because of our lack of faith, we haven’t actually donethe things that Jesus told us to do; we’ve tamed Christianity down, and the result is that all he can do is lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. In other words, yes, some people do come to church, and they are helped by what they find there, but the world isn’t transformed as Jesus had intended when he started his Kingdom revolution in the first place. The world stays pretty much the same.

So here’s the challenge of this text: we, the church, have often become like the Nazarenes in the time of Jesus. We think we know him well, but we’ve dulled the sharp edges of his message and avoided the challenges. So this text is calling us to faith – realfaith, faith that trusts Jesus so much that it follows his example and obeys his commands. When we do that, then Jesus is able to do the ‘deed of power’ he wants to do – transform the world into a place of compassion and justice, a place of reconciliation and peace.

So – have we become too familiar with Jesus? If so, maybe it’s time for us to take a fresh look at the gospels and think about what Jesus was really up to when he sent his followers out to announce that the Kingdom of God was at hand. One Mennonite author says that the movement Jesus started was ‘the original revolution’ – a nonviolent revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. Let’s not allow familiarity with Jesus to dull the sharp edges of that revolution in our lives. Let’s pray for the courage to trulybelieve in Jesus, and to show our belief by doing the things he taught us to do.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events July 9th to July 15th, 2018

July 9th, 2018
Office is closed
July 12th, 2018
10am – 1pm Melanie in the office
July 13th, 2018
10am – 1pm Melanie in the office
July 15th, 2018 (Pentecost 8)
9:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion


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 August 2nd. Thank you!

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Poverty doesn’t take summer vacation. 
The Mustard Seed’s Evening Meal Program feeds 300-350 people each night, Monday through Saturday. However, with summer being so busy, we are short on volunteers. We are in urgent need of groups who are willing to prepare and serve dinner to those facing poverty in downtown Edmonton.
Consider getting a group of friends, family members, or coworkers together and volunteering with us on any of the following dates:
July 7, 21, 30, and most of August.
For more information, please contact Volunteer Services at 780-426-5600 or VolunteerEdmonton@theseed.ca.