Tuesday, January 29, 2019

February 2019 roster

February 3rd, 2019 (4th Sunday after Epiphany)
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: L. Schindel / B. Cavey
Counter: M. Cromarty / B. Cavey
Reader: T. Cromarty
(Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen / T. Wittkopf
Intercessor: T. Chesterton
Lay Reader: B. Popp (Luke 4:21-30)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Lobreau / J. Johnston
Prayer Team: M. Chesterton / M. Rys
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: - 9:45 am: Woytkiws
Music: M. Eriksen
Altar Server: G. Triska

February 10th, 2019 (5th Sunday after Epiphany)
Greeter/Sidespeople: Aasens
Counter: C. Aasen / R. Horn
Reader: S. Fraser
(Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / G. Hughes
Intercessor: S. Jayakaran
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Luke 5:1-11)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Woytkiw / B. Cavey
Sunday School (School Age): M. Rys
Sunday School (Preschool): D. Legere
Kitchen: B. Cavey
Music: M. Chesterton
Altar Server: G. Durance

February 17th, 2019 (6th Sunday after Epiphany) (AGM)
Greeter/Sidespeople: Hughes
Counter: G. Hughes / H. Seggumba
Reader: S. Watson
(Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20)
Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill / B. Popp
Intercessor: D. MacNeill
Lay Reader: S. Jayakaran (Luke 6:17-26)
Altar Guild (Green): P. Major / T. Wittkopf
Prayer Team: L. Sanderson / M. Chesterton
Sunday School (School Age): T. Laffin
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen: Hospitality committee
Music: E. Thompson
Altar Server:

February 24th, 2019 (7th Sunday After Epiphany)
Greeter/Sidespeople: S. Doyle / J. Durance
Counter: J. Durance / B. Popp
Reader: F. Chester
(Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42, 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / T. Wittkopf
Intercessor: M. Rys
Lay Reader: B. Popp (Luke 6:27-38)
Altar Guild (Green): M. Lobreau / L. Schindel
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance
Sunday School (Preschool): G. Durance
Kitchen: E. McFall (Possible lunch for meeting)
Music: M. Eriksen

Altar Server: G. Triska

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Shaped by the Scriptures (a sermon for January 27th on Nehemiah 8.1-10 and Luke 4.14-21)

Our scripture readings today connect us with some of the most significant moments in the story of God’s people down through the years. Two of them are mentioned in today’s scriptures, and a third one is in the background, even though it’s not mentioned in the text. A fourth one can be brought in to complete the picture. Are you with me so far? Good!

Moving in chronological order, the first moment isn’t specifically mentioned in today’s text, but I would argue that it’s present in the background. God has led his people out of slavery in Egypt, with Moses as their leader. They’ve come through the Red Sea where God has delivered them from the Egyptian army. Moses then leads them out into the desert, down to Mount Sinai where he first met God in the burning bush. The people gather at the foot of the mountain, and then Moses goes up to meet God. There’s thunder and lightning and all kinds of awesome displays of God’s power.

What happens on top of the mountain? God gives Moses laws or teachings that will shape the life of the community together. The most important ones, the Ten Commandments, are actually carved into two stone tablets that will be kept in a special box, the ark of the covenant. Those ten commandments are the central obligations of Israel under God’s covenant with them. But there are other commandments too. We’re not sure just how much of the content of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, actually goes back to the time of Moses, but some of it does anyway. Moses brings this Law down the mountain and reads it to the people, and they accept their obligation to keep it. These are the teachings that will shape their lives as God’s holy people.

Now, fast forward a thousand years to the events described in today’s reading from Nehemiah.

In 597 and 586 B.C. the Babylonians took huge numbers of the people of Judah and Jerusalem into exile in Babylon. Jerusalem was destroyed, most of the educated classes were deported, and people from other parts of the empire were settled in Judah, where they mixed in and intermarried with the locals. 

The exile lasted for about fifty years, and then over a period of about a century groups of people began coming back from Babylon. The first wave, in 537 B.C., started rebuilding the Temple. The second wave completed that job in about 515. The third wave, under the priest Ezra, established the Law or Torah of God as the shaping force in the life of the community. That took place in about 458 B.C. A few years later Nehemiah led another wave back, and they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

So our reading from the book of Nehemiah describes something that happens during the third wave, in about 458 B.C. Ezra the priest calls a huge public meeting of what he calls ‘the assembly’. At this meeting he spends several hours reading to the people from the law of Moses. He has help with this. Some Levites work with him, and one of their jobs is translation, because the Law is written in Hebrew, but in Babylon Aramaic has become the first language of a lot of the Israelites. So the Levites translate, and they also explain the Law and help the people understand it.

It’s likely that this is a much bigger and more complicated document than the one given to Moses a thousand years before. Many modern scholars think the Law evolved over the years as Israel found itself in new situations, and new traditions were collected and added to it. This doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit wasn’t involved. It just means we have to take the human origins of the book very seriously.

So this is like a second Mount Sinai experience, a thousand years after the first one. God’s people are gathered in the presence of God, with their authorized leader and his disciples in front of them. Ezra gives them the Torah, just as Moses did, and the people pay close attention; ‘the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law’ (Nehemiah 8.3). Just as the Law of Moses shaped the life of the Israelite community, so this renewed and expanded law is going to shape the life of the returned exiles in Jerusalem and Judea.

Now fast forward another five hundred years to the third and fourth events. The third event is recalled in today’s gospel, from Luke 4.14-21. Jesus has been baptized by John the Baptist at the river Jordan. The Holy Spirit has led him into the desert where he’s been tested by the devil. The twelve tribes of Israel were in the desert forty years. Jesus is in the desert forty days, and soon after he emerges, he chooses twelve disciples.

Luke tells us that Jesus returns to Galilee full of the Holy Spirit, and goes to worship in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. There’s always a scripture reading, and any man in the congregation can be called on to read it and then interpret it for the people. Jesus is called on, and the reading for the day is from Isaiah 61. It talks about the Lord’s anointed servant who will come to bring good news to the poor, deliverance for the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. 

Interestingly, Jesus seems to omit one sentence from the reading. After the phrase ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’, Isaiah adds, ‘and the day of vengeance of our God’. But Jesus leaves this out. This is an example of the way Jesus relates to the Old Testament revelation. He’s a faithful Jew, keeps the Law and practices the traditions. He stands in continuity with the story of God’s people recorded in the Old Testament. But he doesn’t necessarily endorse everything in it, especially the violent and vengeful bits.

So here once again we have God’s people gathered, and God’s anointed leader stands up in front of them. Perhaps he has some of his future disciples with him already; we aren’t told. He reads out to them from the Law and the Prophets, the books that shape the life of God’s people. And then he adds one vital interpretive detail for them. He says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.21) In other words, “This person Isaiah was foretelling, the one who would bring good news to the poor and set the captives free? I’m the one. I’m the one the story was written about.”

So we’ve had Moses giving the Law at Mount Sinai in roughly 1500 B.C., Ezra giving the Law to the returned exiles in Jerusalem in roughly 500 B.C., and Jesus claiming to be the fulfilment of the Law as he reads it in the synagogue in Nazareth in roughly 26 A.D. About the same time as that, give or take a few months, Jesus gathers another community together. Just like Moses on Mount Sinai, Matthew tells us Jesus took this community up a mountain, and then he gave them his teaching, the teaching that would shape the life of his disciple community. We call it ‘the Sermon on the Mount’. 

The Sermon stands in continuity with the Old Testament story, but it goes further. Jesus says it’s not enough just to obey the letter of the Law. Our lives have to be shaped by the spirit of love and reconciliation and faithfulness and simplicity and generosity, all the things that are at the heart of the Law. Once again, Jesus doesn’t unconditionally endorse everything in the old covenant. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5.43-44). It’s paradoxical. Sometimes Jesus seems to be placing himself under the Law, but at other times he’s claiming authority over it. He assumes he has the right to do that. He assumes he’s allowed to interpret it for us, telling us how to understand it, and which commandments still apply and which ones are no longer valid.

I said at the beginning that I was going to talk about four significant events, but now I have to add one more. It’s the one that’s happening right now, as I’m standing in front of you this morning.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to compare myself to Jesus, or even Moses or Ezra! But I’m struck by the parallels between us as God’s people today and the people who have received God’s Word in time past.

We in the Church have been formed by the message of the holy Scriptures. These books have shaped our life together as a community for centuries. We’ve read these stories, sung them, acted them out in plays, studied them, tried to understand them, seen ourselves in them, struggled with them, got mad at them, rejoiced in them — all that, and much more. Our Jewish friends passed the Hebrew scriptures on to us. Our Christian forebears passed on the New Testament books. All through our life together, God has spoken to us as these books have been read.

This continues today. Let me point out the ways.

I mentioned the biblical scholars who think the Law of Moses grew and developed over the thousand years from Moses to Ezra. Scholars today have continued to study the biblical texts. We know much more now about the ancient languages than the men who translated the King James Version in 1611. We know a lot more than they did about ancient history and the way of life of the ancient people. We know that the process by which the Holy Spirit gave us these books was long and complicated. We can see different traditions and different points of view in the pages of these books. 

There are two advantages we have today over Moses’ people, over Ezra’s people, even over Jesus disciples: literacy and printing. Most of us can read. And printed books are now cheap. Anyone can own a Bible. And if you shell out a few extra bucks and buy a big fat study Bible, you’ve got the best of modern scholarship helping you understand the Scriptures, all in one volume.

But still, we gather together and read them. In our Anglican service, the reading of the scriptures is one of the central actions. Old Testament, psalm, New Testament, Gospel. We even stand for the reading of the Gospel, which reminds us of how God became a human being and lived among us. Then follows the sermon. I attempt to help you understand what we’ve read and apply it to your lives and our life together as a community. Once again, we want to be shaped by God’s word to us.

Just like in the time of Ezra, there needs to be some translating. The scriptures are written in Hebrew and Greek, and a bit of Aramaic. I don’t know if anyone here speaks any of those languages! So biblical scholars have tried to translate, which is a tough job. Different scholars have produced different attempts. We read from the New Revised Standard Version, which is reasonably good. But there are other good ones too: The Revised English Bible, the New International Version, the New Living Translation. It’s good to own three or four, so we can compare.

And then, like Ezra’s friends the Levites, the preacher gets to work. I spend about six hours a week preparing for this work. I’m grappling with the text. What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean for us, for our daily lives? How can we live by it? How can we let it shape our lives?

But it all leads inexorably to the last point. Jesus says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. We don’t worship the Bible. We receive it gratefully, but we let it point us to Jesus. This is a big library with hundreds of thousands of words. Who is the authorized teacher? Jesus is. John’s Gospel says that he is ‘the Word of God’. He is the embodiment of God’s message to us. If we get confused about some other part of the Bible, we refer it to Jesus. We check with his teaching. What would he say about this subject? The Old Testament psalmist says ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalm 119.105). But Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12) 

Let me sum up.

As you and I listen to the Word of God this morning we stand in a long tradition going back all the way to Mount Sinai, fifteen centuries before Jesus. We are God’s covenant people. God teaches us the way of life of his covenant people. That’s what the Scriptures do: they teach us what sort of community God wants us to be.

But it’s not always easy to understand the scriptures. Even in Ezra’s day, a thousand years later, interpreters were needed to translate and explain. Communities of faith in the Jewish and Christian traditions have a long history of setting people aside for this role. “Please study these things”, we say to these people. “We know we need to read them for ourselves, but we need some help. So please take all the time you need to understand them accurately, and then add that learning into the mix when our community discusses the scriptures together. We need that.” I’m not just talking about preachers here. I’m also talking about the biblical scholars who give their whole lives to understanding these texts.

But the most important interpreter is Jesus. John Stott was a great Anglican preacher who died a few years ago. He was the vicar of All Souls Langham Place in London  for over fifty years. On his pulpit he had inscribed these words from the gospel of John: ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’. I love that! Whatever else you hear from me week by week, I hope you’ll always hear the words and actions of Jesus. He’s the heart of God’s revelation to us.
And what’s it all about? Our psalm for today talks about God’s laws:
‘More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward’ (Psalm 19:10-11).

Note the wording carefully. ‘In keeping them there is great reward’. Not ‘for’ keeping them, but ‘in’ keeping them. We don’t follow God’s instructions because he’s going to give us some other reward for it. The following of God’s instructions isits own reward. The way of life they teach us is the best and wisest and most joyful and most rewarding life. So we thank God for giving us these books, and we thank God most of all for giving us Jesus to explain them and embody their message for us, so that we don’t have to walk in darkness, but can have the light of life.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Upcoming events Jan 28th to Feb 3rd, 2019

Events This Week

January 28th, 2019
Office is closed
Jan 29th, 2019
Tim away at Clergy Retreat
Jan 30th, 2019
Tim away at Clergy Retreat
2:00pm – Lectionary Bible study @ church
Jan 31st, 2019
Tim away at Clergy Retreat
8:00am Women’s Bible study @ Bogani Café (Men’s cancelled)
Feb 1st, 2019
6pm – 9pm Rental
Feb 3rd, 2019 (4th Sunday after Epiphany)
9:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion and Sunday School

Tax receipts for 2018 will be at the back of the church, so please remember to take yours. Any remaining after Feb 10th will be mailed, so please ensure you have provided us with any changes to your mailing address.

NOTICE is hereby given that the Annual Meeting of Parishioners will be held on the 17th day of February A.D. 2019 at 12 o’clock pm, in the basement of St. Margaret’s at which time all baptized persons regularly attending services of worship in this Parish or otherwise regularly receiving the administrations of the clergy of this Parish are entitled to attend.

Child Sponsorship
World Vision representative Tim Schultz will be our guest speaker at St. Margaret's on Sunday March 3rd. He will be receiving our annual cheque for 'Raw Hope' and also giving us an update on the program.

We have asked Tim to bring some more children for sponsorship. In order to promote this, during the month of February we would like to promote child sponsorship. Many people at St. Margaret's sponsor children through World Vision. If you would like to stand up during announcement time and speak for two or three minutes about your sponsor child, telling us about them and what you enjoy about sponsoring them, that would be excellent. Please email Tim at stmrector@gmail.com or call him at 780-437-7231 if you are willing to do this.

P.S. We are also hoping that Tim Schultz will lead a one day pre-Lent quiet day at St. Margaret's on Saturday March 2nd. The theme will be 'A spirituality of Justice and Compassion'. We will confirm this as soon as possible.

During Lent, Tim will be doing a sermon series on the ‘Spirituality of Narnia’. C.S. Lewis’ beloved children’s books can be read as entertaining stories, but they can also be mined for spiritual insights about Christian faith and life. There is a list in the monthly announcement sheet of what the theme for each Sunday will be.
The school age Sunday School class will also be doing lessons based on the The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. To kick this off, we are planning a Friday Night Church on March 8th to watch this movie. Save the date and stay tuned for more info!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Water into Wine (a sermon for Jan 20th on John 2.1-11)

A lot of people in the world around us think Christianity takes things away from your life.  They look at us Christians and they think ‘anti-sex, anti-gay, no parties, no drinking, gloomy thoughts about death and judgement, no leeway for having fun.’

Of course Christians haven’t always helped. I can’t say this for sure because I haven’t read it in the writings of St. Augustine myself, but  I’m told he did allow that on certain days of the year — days that weren’t especially holy in the church calendar — it might be okay for a Christian married couple to have sex together, as long as it was strictly for procreation and they didn’t enjoy it. Honestly, with quotes like that, the world doesn’t notice a thing that you say on other subjects!

C.S. Lewis uses a lovely illustration in one of his books. Imagine a colony of shellfish, clinging underwater to the side of a dock, living their lives with no idea of what happens above the surface of the water. Then one day a particularly adventurous shellfish lets go of the dock and drifts up to the surface of the water. He spends a long time floating there, watching all that happens on the dock. Finally he sinks down again and rejoins his fellow-shellfish. They crowd around and ask him what he’s seen and what the people are like up there. He says, “Guys, you’re never going to believe this! I couldn’t believe it myself when I first saw it! Their bodies are unprotected; they don’t have shells!”

It would never occur to a shellfish that a shell might be a limitation rather than a protection. They wouldn’t understand that we humans are free to do so much more with our bodies because we don’t have shells! The only thing they would see is that something essential to life is missing from us humans, and the thought of living as we live would fill them with fear (if a shellfish can feel fear).

That’s the way it is sometimes when people who aren’t Christians think about the way we Christians live. All they can see is the things they think we have to give up. But what they don’t see is the things we gainfrom our faith in Christ. They don’t see the sense of joy we get from the presence of God, or the sense that we’re discovering the life we were created for in the first place. They don’t see our relief at being able to lay down our guilt and ask for God’s forgiveness, or the comfort of knowing that we’re not alone when times are tough. They don’t see the sense we have of being part of a church family where people love us and support us through the struggles of life. These are just a few of the things Jesus means when he talks in the Gospel of John about giving us ‘abundant life’.

Jesus uses these words in John 10:10, the passage about the good shepherd. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’. That’s what we’re discovering in Jesus: not less life, but more life, abundant life. It’s as if someone took the glass of water you were drinking and turned it into the most delicious glass of wine you’d ever tasted.

Which is what today’s gospel is all about. John’s was the last Gospel to be written, probably about sixty years after the events of Jesus’ life. John had spent many years thinking about the story of Jesus and what it meant. He writes his book on two levels. On one level, it’s a true story about events that really happened. But on a deeper level it’s like a parable, and each story has a deep spiritual meaning.

This is especially true of Jesus’ miracles. John doesn’t actually call them miracles. He calls them ‘signs’, because each one points us to something about Jesus. For instance, after he tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand, he goes on to say that Jesus is the real Bread of Life. If we come to him we’ll never be hungry, and if we believe in him we’ll never be thirsty. Or again, after he tells us how Jesus healed a blind man, he goes on to talk about what it means to be spiritually blind and how Jesus can restore our spiritual sight.

So here we are, right near the beginning of John’s Gospel. He says in verse 11 that turning water into wine was the ‘first’ of Jesus’ signs. He doesn’t only mean ‘first’ in the chronological sense. He also means that this sign is the ‘basic’ sign, the one that controls all the rest or explains all the rest. So what exactly is this sign teaching us about Jesus?

Let’s look at the basic story first. Jewish weddings in Jesus’ time were different from the ceremonies we know today. A newly married couple didn’t go away for their honeymoon; they stayed at home and kept open house for a week. In a life where there was so much poverty and hard work, this week of festivity and joy would have been a highlight of the year in a small village. It was a week-long feast!

For a Jewish feast wine was essential. There wasn’t a lot of drunkenness. Drunkenness was actually considered a great disgrace, and they actually drank their wine in a mixture of two parts wine to three parts water. Hospitality was seen as a sacred duty and failure of provisions would have been a problem at any time. But for the provisions to fail at a wedding would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and bridegroom.

The six stone water jars were there to provide water for Jewish purification ceremonies - things like washing hands before meals and between each course of a meal, and ritual washings of dishes and plates. This was nothing to do with biological cleanliness; it was about ritual purification. People would actually wash their hands like this before praying to God. Not to wash your hands before you prayed was almost like refusing to confess your sins.

So this water standing there would remind everyone of the ceremonies of the Jewish religion. This was the water Jesus used to replenish the wine supplies at the feast. John tells us that the servants poured out the new wine and took it to the chief steward, the man in charge of the feast. When he tasted the wine the servants brought him, he could hardly believe his palate! He tasted it again and then went to the bridegroom and told him off. “Why didn’t you serve this stuff first? This is the best wine I’ve ever tasted!” 

This is the basic story. Out of his love and concern for this young couple, Jesus performed an act of kindness for them. But what’s going on at the second level, at the level of the deeper meaning? We have to dig a bit for this. The key to it is the six stone water jars. As we said, they were used in Jewish purification ceremonies. You might say that they represent the Jewish religion. There’s nothing wrong with religion; believing in God, trying to be good and performing correct rituals are probably good things to do. But we can notice two things about these water jars.

Firstly, the number six. To the Jewish people, seven was the number of perfection, so six was one short of perfection. It’s as if John is saying to us ‘Religion by itself is incomplete; without Jesus you still haven’t got everything you need’.

Secondly, the liquid in the jars was water; useful, essential, refreshing, but no Jew would prefer water to wine! Water is flat and uninteresting, while wine is tasty and exciting! It’s as if John’s saying to us “Without Jesus your life may be alright, but it doesn’t have that extra quality to it. But Jesus can transform your life into something wonderful, something quite intoxicating!” Remember that on the Day of Pentecost people thought the Christians who had been filled with the Holy Spirit were drunk.

Transformation - that’s what Jesus is all about. Millions of people get up in the morning, drink their coffee to zap themselves awake, go to work and function all day. They come home in the evening tired out, and after a bite to eat they watch TV or play video games or do housework until it’s time to go to bed. They do this for five or six days a week. Now and again they go out to the gym or take in a movie or play some golf. They have a few friends, and they might visit with them from time to time. They bring up children and put them through education so that they’ll be able to do the same thing.

But deep inside, many of them are wondering, “Is this it? Is this all there is to life? Surely there’s got to be more to it than this!” It doesn’t seem to matter how much money they make, how many things they buy, how many friends they have - something still seems to be missing. Their life is ‘just one water jar short of perfection’.

John is telling us “Jesus and his gift of eternal life — that’s what’s missing”. Later on in John’s gospel Jesus uses the illustration of being born again. Birth isn’t the beginning of life. The baby is alive before, in the womb, but it’s a very limited kind of life. There’s not much room for growth or achievement or relationships. But after birth there’s a whole new world out there, with all kinds of possibilities for growth and new experiences and freedom. In the same way, life without Jesus is limited, but when Jesus connects us to the God who made us, he opens up a whole new world for us. To be in conscious contact with the God who created you is the most satisfying experience you can ever have. It transforms your whole life.

So how do we experience this transformation that John is talking about here?

Well, one thing’s for sure – if we believe this gospel reading, we won’t expect to find what we’re looking for in religious ritual alone. Religious rituals and ceremonies can be wonderful ways of deepening our relationship with God. But if we don’t have that basic connection with Christ, they’re just human activities, initiated by humans, controlled by humans, and totally explainable on the human level. It’s a sad fact that many, many Anglicans have been baptized as babies, confirmed as teenagers, and come forward every week to receive communion, but if you get into an honest conversation with them, they’ll admit that they’ve never experienced anything like a sense of connection with the living God. I know, because I’ve had those conversations.

At the end of today’s gospel, in verse 11, we read these words:
‘Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him’.

From start to finish, the purpose of the gospel of John is to help us come to believe in Jesus so that we can find life in his name. It seems such a lame thing, really; what’s so special about ‘believing in Jesus’? Census questions routinely ask if people ‘believe in God’, and routinely large numbers of people reply that they do. But when you question them a bit more closely about what they mean by that, most people really only mean that they believe there is a God of some sort, somewhere.

But believing in someone is far more than just believing that they exist. If I were to say to you, “I believe in Brian Popp”, you would know that I meant far more than “I believe that Brian Popp exists”. I’d mean, “I’ve been getting to know Brian for a few years now, and we’ve had some long conversations, and I’ve asked him for his help a few times and he’s always come through for me, and I’ve come to trust him, because I know he won’t let me down”.

In other words, believing in someone is a relational thing, as when a man and a woman commit themselves to each other in marriage. So much of the future is outside our control, but on my wedding day, for me to say, “I will” meant saying to Marci, “I’m taking my life and putting it into your hands”. That’s an act of faith, and that’s what ‘believing in Jesus’ means.

What does believing in Jesus look like in our daily lives? Let’s listen to Mary here. What does she say to the servants in our gospel today, after she has her little conversation with Jesus? She says, “Do whatever he tells you.” (v.5) That’s what believing in Jesus looks like. If I trust my doctor, I follow his instructions. If I don’t follow his instructions, it would be reasonable for people to conclude that I don’t really trust him. In the same way, we believers in Jesus are learning each day to put the things he taught us into practice. That’s what faith looks like.

John is calling us this morning to do as the first disciples did, as Mary did. He wants us to see this sign that Jesus performed, to understand what it means, and to put our trust in him — for the first time or the thousandth time. Our life may feel dull and uninteresting, like stagnant water, but Jesus holds out the promise of abundant life, like the best wine imaginable. And he invites us to believe and trust in him, to put our lives into his hands in faith, and to live in obedience to him, because this is the way to experience abundant life. The invitation comes to you and to me and to every human being, every day. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 34:8).

Friday, January 18, 2019

Upcoming events Jan 21st to Jan 27th, 2019

Events This Week
January 21st, 2019
Office is closed
Jan 22nd, 2019
11:00am Holy Communion @ Rutherford Retirement Residence
7:30pm – ‘Why on Earth’ group discussion @ church
Jan 23rd, 2019
Melanie not in the office
2:00pm – Lectionary Bible study @ church
Jan 24th, 2019
8:00am Men’s and Women’s Bible study @ Bogani Café
Jan 27th, 2019 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)
9:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion and Sunday School

Tax receipts for 2018 will be ready for pick up next Sunday, Jan 27th. Please remember to take yours so we don’t have to spend money on postage. Any left after a few weeks will be mailed, so please ensure you have provided us with any changes to your mailing address.

Child Sponsorship
World Vision representative Tim Schultz will be our guest speaker at St. Margaret's on Sunday March 3rd. He will be receiving our annual cheque for 'Raw Hope' and also giving us an update on the program.

We have asked Tim to bring some more children for sponsorship. In order to promote this, during the month of February we would like to promote child sponsorship. Many people at St. Margaret's sponsor children through World Vision. If you would like to stand up during announcement time and speak for two or three minutes about your sponsor child, telling us about them and what you enjoy about sponsoring them, that would be excellent. Please email Tim at stmrector@gmail.com or call him at 780-437-7231 if you are willing to do this.

P.S. We are also hoping that Tim Schultz will lead a one day pre-Lent quiet day at St. Margaret's on Saturday March 2nd. The theme will be 'A spirituality of Justice and Compassion'. We will confirm this as soon as possible.

Pre-authorized Giving: The Diocese of Edmonton has a Pre-Authorized Giving Program using automatic account debit to assist you in supporting your own parish ministry.
 Advantages for the donor:
Convenience. Your offering is received automatically every month.
Continual support of your church when you are away.
Continual support of ministries and programs.
Changes may be made any time with written notification.
 Advantages for the parish:
Regular, dependable flow of contributions to the parish.  
Reduction of paperwork and book- keeping. Donation to be made on the 1st or 15th of the month.
There are forms on the table in the front foyer if you are interested in signing up.

Wednesday afternoon lectionary Bible Study. This group meets at the church from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays. We read the four scripture passages set for the coming Sunday and then choose one of them to explore together. Please bring your favourite Bible.
Thursday morning Bible Studies. For many years our parish has been holding early morning Bible Studies at the Bogani Café (beside Sobey’s on the corner of 23rd Avenue and 111 Street). There are currently two small groups meeting there at 8 a.m., a men’s and a women’s group. The men’s group runs 8 – 9 a.m., the women’s a little longer. Both use Bible study booklets to go through a book at a time. Please bring your favourite Bible.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

'Led by the Spirit of God' (a sermon for January 13th on Luke 3.21-22)

The way we understand the words we hear has a lot to do with our life experiences. I might hear a word and get a certain picture in my head. You might hear exactly the same word and get a completely different picture.

For instance, I was brought up in England, and so for me the phrase ‘cup of tea’ brings two main pictures to my head. The first is the well-known English stereotype of sipping tea from a china cup and saucer with your pinkie held out straight. The other is drinking strong tea from a big mug, preferably one that’s rounded and curves in a bit at the top to help keep the tea hot.

But the great Jewish writer Chaim Potok gave me a third picture of drinking tea, from the German and Russian Jewish immigrant families who feature highly in his stories. They would pour hot clear tea into a glass. They would then take a cube of sugar, hold it between their teeth, and sip the tea through that cube of sugar. When one of them heard the phrase, ‘cup of tea’, that’s what they would think of.

Today in the Christian year we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Baptism is another of those words that’s coloured by the context we’ve heard it in. Most of us in this church were baptized as babies or very young children. We don’t remember our baptisms. And when we see people being baptized here, nine times out of ten they’re babies or very young children.

The first readers of the gospels would have had a very different experience. The vast majority of them would have been baptized as adults, because that was the norm in the early church. They would have started out as Jewish people who worshipped God but didn’t believe in Jesus, or else they would have been Gentiles who worshipped many gods like Zeus and Apollo and Artemis and all the rest. Somehow they’d heard the gospel and been attracted to Jesus. They’d decided to leave behind their previous allegiances and commit themselves to Jesus as his followers. And so they’d been taken to a body of water, gone down into it and been baptized, either by pouring or full immersion. For them there was almost no time break between coming to faith in Jesus, being baptized, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those three things were all tied together as parts of the same event.

The baptism of Jesus is very much like this. Luke tells us that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. Up until now, we assume, he’d carried on his father’s carpentry business. His father isn’t mentioned in the gospels after Jesus becomes a teenager, so most Christians assume Joseph died while his children were still young. According to the gospels, Jesus had brothers and sisters, and a mother to support. He probably had a good business as a jobbing carpenter in Nazareth. 

But then along comes John the Baptist, and something stirs in Jesus. He’s been aware for a long time that he has a special relationship with the God of Israel. In the Old Testament the title ‘father’ for God tends to be used by the nation as a whole – ‘You are our father’ – not by individuals in it. But Jesus has a strong sense of his individual relationship to God as his father. At the age of twelve he says to his mother, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2.49)

So now he hears the Father’s call and he makes the journey to the River Jordan, where John the Baptist was preaching the kingdom of God and telling people to repent and be baptized. Luke tells the story with the bare minimum of detail:

‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well please.”’ (Luke 3.21-22).

This baptism seems a lot closer to the early church experience. Jesus isn’t a little baby with no later memory of the event. He’s an adult with a sense of God’s call on his life. And his life is going to change from this moment on. He’s going to leave his home town and his business and his family. He’s going to start travelling around, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and calling disciples to follow him. This is a decisive moment for him.

Curiously, Luke seems to be less interested in the baptism itself than in two things that followed it. First, after Jesus had been baptized and was praying ‘the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove’. Second, he heard the voice of God speaking to him. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (v.22). 

The language about heaven being opened comes from Isaiah 64. The prophet has been lamenting God’s absence from his people and all the hardships they were going through, and then in 64.1 he prays ‘O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.’ Luke wants us to know that Isaiah’s prayer was answered. God came among us in Jesus, and at his baptism heaven was opened and the Spirit of God came down to fill him and guide him and strengthen him for what lay ahead.

And then there’s the voice. Remember, at this point in time Jesus hasn’t done anything spectacular. The miracles and healings, the teaching and the exorcisms, the cross and resurrection are all still ahead. The voice of God isn’t a reward for a job well done. It’s a gift, an affirmation, like a word from a loving parent who looks at their daughter or son and sees the one they love more than they ever thought possible. “You’re my son and I love you! You’re my daughter and I’m proud of you!” How many men and women go through life emotionally crippled because they rarely if ever heard words like that! But those are the words Jesus hears from his heavenly Father.

So what does the Baptism of Jesus mean for us today?

I actually hesitate to raise this question. This passage isn’t first of all about us and our baptism — it’s about Jesus and his baptism. We’re not Jesus, and so not everything that applies to us will apply to him, and not everything that applies to him will apply to us.

For instance, a central theme of John the Baptist’s ministry was repentance and forgiveness. Luke 3.3 says ‘(John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.' This was an important theme in the early church too. People took off their old clothes, like taking off the old sinful life. They went down into the water and were washed from their sins. They came up again and put on new clothes, like putting on a new way of life.

But this didn’t apply to Jesus. The New Testament writers tell us that he was without sin. Hebrews says of him, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.25). So for Jesus, the forgiveness aspect of baptism wasn’t important. But other things – the call of God on his life, the declaration of his sonship, the gift of the Holy Spirit – they were vitally important.

As we think about how this applies to us today, let’s remember these words from Paul’s letter to the Romans: ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’ (Romans 8.14). This is something Jesus definitely experienced after his baptism. Luke 4.1-2 says, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil’. And at the end of the temptation story Luke says, ‘Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee’ (Luke 4.14).

‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God’. Paul might just as easily have said, ‘For all who are children of God are led by the Spirit of God’. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Because we’re God’s children, he gives us the Spirit to lead and guide us. And when we follow the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we get an even stronger sense of our relationship with God as his daughters and sons. As Paul goes on to say, ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Romans 8.15b-16).

So this is what your baptism says to you: you are the beloved child of God, and God has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. And those two experiences go together and build on each other.

We live in a world where a lot of people are telling us who we are. Our bosses tell us we’re employees. The retail industry calls us ‘consumers’. Politicians are fond of describing us as ‘Albertans’ or Canadians’ or even as ‘taxpayers’! Some people tell us we’re heroes. Some people tell us we’re failures. We don’t measure up. We’re not good enough. And maybe over the years we’ve internalized those voices. Maybe those tapes play in our heads now. This is how we see ourselves.

And maybe this colours how we see God. God is the Creator of the Universe. God is far beyond any words or pictures or images we could possibly use. God is so big and we’re so tiny and insignificant. How could such a God even notice us, let alone value us and love us?

But this is the unconditional gift God gives to us: God adopts us as beloved daughters and sons. God is the most perfect parent we could possibly imagine. God provides for us, protects us, teaches and guides us. And God loves us with an indestructible love.

So try this on for size. When you hear those voices telling you who you are, remind yourself there’s a much more fundamental thing that can be said about you. In your baptism God says to you, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased”. Let me say it to you again. God says to you, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased”. 

If you believe that, you can leave this place this morning with your head held high. And just like a child of a good parent, you can be bold about turning to your heavenly Father for help and guidance. You don’t need to be shy. You don’t need to wonder if you’re important to God. You’re important. You’re family. So don’t be afraid.

And then there’s the Spirit. I love these words of Paul, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. Some people tell of amazing experiences of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Our dear friend Joe Semeniuk, who died a few years ago, told me about an experience like that. When he was confirmed in this church and Bishop Jane laid her hands on his head, he told me he felt the Holy Spirit coming into his body and filling him from top to bottom. He said it was such a powerful experience that every time he came up for communion he tried to stand in the same spot!

I haven’t had that kind of experience, or at least, not as powerfully as that. What I have experienced from time to time is the leading of the Holy Spirit. I get hunches: ‘Write that email’. ‘Pick up the phone and call so and so’. ‘Go and visit so and so’. ‘You need to apologize to that person’. Over the years I’ve learned to trust those hunches. I can’t claim I’ve always obeyed them. Sadly, sometimes I haven’t. But when I have, things have almost always worked out well. Good things have happened. People have been blessed.

The Spirit leads us through the words of Jesus and the words of scripture. He leads us through wise teachers. He leads us as we talk together with sisters and brothers and seek the will of God together. And he also leads us as that quiet voice in our hearts, nudging us in a certain direction. So, as Paul says in Galatians, ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5.25), or, as the NIV says, ‘let us keep in step with the Spirit’. 

This is our legacy as baptized Christians. God calls us his children and we can call on God as our wise and loving Father. And God has given us the Spirit to guide us. Let’s follow that guidance and live as children of our heavenly Father. In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.