Sunday, February 24, 2019

Imitating the God who loves his enemies (a sermon on Luke 6.27-38)

I want to begin this morning by reminding you of two stories from our faith history.

The first story is the one mentioned in our Old Testament reading for today. Joseph was the son of Jacob and the great-grandson of Abraham, the founding father of the people of Israel. Joseph’s father Jacob had two wives and two concubines, and from those four women he had a total of twelve sons. But his two favourites were the sons of the wife he loved the best, Rachel. Those two boys, Joseph and Benjamin, were the apple of their father’s eye. Joseph was older, so there was a time when he was his mother’s only son. You can just bet that went to his head, can’t you? You just know this isn’t going to end well!

And it didn’t. Jacob showed such obvious favouritism toward Joseph that his brothers hated him, and eventually when he was seventeen, they found a way of getting rid of him. Out in the wilderness, far away from their father’s eyes, they sold Joseph to some slave traders, took his clothes and dipped them in blood, and then took them home and showed them to Jacob. Jacob was convinced Joseph had been killed by a wild animal, and he was heartbroken.

The next thirteen years were tough for Joseph. The slave traders took him to Egypt where he was bought by an Egyptian general, Potiphar. Amazingly, Joseph was a good worker with a positive attitude and a strong faith, and he quickly rose to be a sort of butler in Potiphar’s house.

But then Potiphar’s wife took a fancy to Joseph and tried to persuade him to go to bed with her. Joseph refused. This happened several times, and eventually the lady got frustrated and told her husband Joseph had tried to rape her. Before you knew it, Joseph was back in prison.

But even in prison, Joseph maintained a positive attitude. He also developed a reputation for interpreting dreams, and eventually word of this got to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who had a particularly puzzling dream. He sent for Joseph and was impressed with his interpretation. There are going to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, Joseph said, so you’d better appoint a capable man to collect supplies during the years of plenty so there will be enough to see you through the bad years. “Sounds like a good job for you!” Pharaoh replied.

So Joseph became one of the most powerful men in Egypt. Eventually the famine came, and people came from all over the world to buy food in Egypt. Among those who came were Joseph’s brothers. They didn’t recognize him, but he recognized them. Can you imagine his feelings? These were the brothers who were responsible for the last thirteen years of suffering and separation from the father he loved! Now he was in power and they were helpless!

Would you be tempted? I know I would! You’ve got the chance to take revenge, to make them pay! But Joseph didn’t do that. Yes, he made them jump through some hoops, but eventually he forgave them, rescued them from their trouble and brought them down to Egypt to stay with him. Fifteen hundred years before the time of Jesus, Joseph loved his enemies, forgave his persecutors, and gave to those who asked of him. That’s the first story.

The second story takes place in 1569, and some of you will remember it. It’s the story of a young man named Dirk Willems.

When Dirk was a teenager, he met some Anabaptists. In the 16thcentury, these were the Christians who opposed having a state church and assuming that people were Christians just because they were citizens of a ‘Christian country’. Anabaptists believed that you had to choose for yourselfto become a follower of Jesus, that you should be baptized as an adult as a sign of this commitment, and that you then became part of a fellowship of people who were learning how to put Jesus’ teaching into practice. In particular, most Anabaptists believed followers of Jesus shouldn’t participate in war and should love their enemies as Jesus taught us. The state churches considered them a threat to their power, and so hundreds of Anabaptists were horribly tortured and executed.

Dirk was attracted to these ideas and he was baptized as an adult in Rotterdam. He then returned to his home town of Asperen and quietly began to host illegal church meetings in his house. Eventually he was arrested and imprisoned, but he managed to escape from the prison by climbing out of the window and clambering down a rope made of knotted cloths, and he ran for safety. However, he was seen from the prison, and a guard ran after him. It was early spring. Dirk approached a frozen pond, but he had been eating the meagre prison food and didn’t weigh very much, so he made it across the thin ice. The guard, however, had been eating rather better, and he broke through the ice. In terror of drowning, he cried out for help.

What would you have done, in Dirk’s shoes?

Dirk turned back. At great risk, he reached across the ice to rescue his pursuer. When the guard was safely on dry ground, he promptly re-arrested Dirk and incarcerated him in a more secure prison — the tower of the Asperen parish church. This time there was no escape. Dirk was tried for heresy, and was condemned to be burned to death at the stake. The execution was exceptionally painful. The wind blew the fire away from his upper body and so he died very slowly. Witnesses are recorded as having heard him cry out many times, “Oh Lord, my God!” as he was being burned.

Was Dirk right to do what he did?

Christians have disagreed for centuries over the issue of war. Is it right for Christians to participate in wars and to kill the enemies of their country? Those who say it is right have argued that Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies was intended to guide personal behaviour, not state policy. Be that as it may, what we have in both the stories I’ve told you today are preciselystories about personal behaviour, and so, at least in theory, all Christians are agreed that we can’t wiggle out of this one. Joseph and Dirk did as Jesus commanded in our Gospel for today. It turned out well for Joseph, but not for Dirk; Dirk suffered horribly for his decision. Why did he do that? And why did Jesus command us to do this?

The reason Jesus commanded us to do this is because this is the way God behaves.At the heart of the Christian Gospel is the story of a God who loves his enemies. Listen again for a moment to the outrageous things Jesus tells us to do.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you…

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:27-31, 35-38a).

How can Jesus possibly demand such a thing? Surely this will just reinforce people’s evil behaviour, won’t it? Is Jesus being impossibly idealistic here? I’m reminded of the story of a young pastor who was preaching a sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. An old lady objected to one of his talks, and when he replied that he was simply quoting the words of Jesus, she replied, “Yes, but he was a very young manwhen he preached that sermon!”

Let me ask you this: Don’t we assume, every one of us, that Godwill treat us this way? The God Jesus tells us about is constantlyloving his enemies, doing good to those who hate him, and blessing those who curse him. As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, God doesn’t check to see if you believe in him before he lets you benefit from the sunshine. He doesn’t check to see if you’ve obeyed the Ten Commandments before he decides whether or not it will rain on you. No, ‘he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (Matthew 5:45).

God is constantlylending things and not getting them back. He lends us talents, and hopes we’ll learn to use them for the good of all, but instead we hoard them for ourselves and use them for our own selfish pleasure. He entrusts money and wealth to us, hoping that we’ll use it carefully, not just to meet our own legitimate needs but also to further his kingdom and bless the needy. Does he get the return he wanted on that investment? Nine times out of ten, no. He lends us the very earth he created, and asks us to take care of it for him, but we assume it belongs to us to rape and pillage as we please.

The God we read about in the New Testament is constantlyforgiving people who don’t deserve to be forgiven. How are you doing in the battle against your favourite sins? I have to say, I’m not doing too well. I’ve made progress in some areas, but in others I’ve gotten nowhere at all. Sometimes I put in an honest effort to change, but at other times to be honest, I find a particular sin just too enjoyable to give up. And yet, day by day, I go to God and ask him to forgive me. I never think of saying to him, “I don’t think you’d better forgive me for this, Lord — if you do, you’ll just reinforce my bad behaviour.” No, I ask for forgiveness, and I know I’ve received it, because he continues to bless me with a sense of his presence and an awareness of his mercy and grace.

The God we read about in the New Testament is constantlyturning the other cheek. And in this case, it’s like Father, like Son. Jesus was the ultimate practitioner of his own sermon. He loved his enemies, blessed those who cursed him, and prayed for those who abused him. When the soldiers were nailing him to the Cross he prayed for all who were involved in his execution, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” His death was the ultimate example of how God treats human sinfulness. God chose not to take vengeance on the entire human race for our rebellion against him. Instead, he came among us in Jesus and took the sins of the world on his own shoulders. Rather than making us suffer for our sins, he chose to bear the suffering himself, so that we could be forgiven.

Today’s Gospel reading is rooted in the good news of God’s grace. Remember that grace is a Bible word that means ‘love you don’t deserve’. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to do something to purchase it, it just comes to you for free, because God is that kind of God. God doesn’t love us because we’re loveable. God loves us because he is love, whether we’re loveable or not. And that’s the wonderful good news that Jesus has commissioned us to announce to everyone, everywhere. You can be the older brother who never left home or the younger brother who squandered his father’s property with prostitutes. You can be a self-righteous Pharisee or a tax collector who’s broken every rule in the book. God’s not choosy – if you turn back to him and put your life in Jesus’ hands, you can be forgiven. 

But if you want to take advantage of God’s grace, you have to commit yourself to living by that same principle of grace in your own life. Jesus spelled it out for us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Or, as he put it in our passage today, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (v.37) We were God’s enemies, but fortunately for us God is in the habit of loving his enemies, and so instead of being cast into the outer darkness we were welcomed home to the Father’s house. Very good, Jesus says. Now: go and do likewise.

The way Jesus sees it, children who have good parents should want to be like them. If they don’t, there’s something wrong. So often, when we are confronted with some piece of sinfulness in ourselves, we say, “I’m only human, you know!” And of course God understands that, which is why he is so patient and merciful with us. But he longs for us to aim higher. He longs for us to look up to him and say, “When I get older, I want to be like my Dad.” Or I think of a younger sister who looks up to her older sister and says to herself, “When I’m a big girl I’m going to be just like her.” And we Christians also have an older brother to imitate. As Paul said, ‘For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family’. (Romans 8:29)

No one ever said this would be easy. No one promised it would never get us into trouble. Dirk Willems knew very well that turning back to help his enemy would probably mean his death. But he did it anyway, because he wanted to be like his big brother Jesus. Followers of Jesus are content to do as Jesus says, and trust that the same God who vindicated him will one day vindicate us as well. And so, as he commanded, we take up our cross and follow him, in faith that the way of the cross will turn out to be not just the way of death, but also the way to resurrection.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Upcoming events Feb 25th to Mar 3rd, 2019

Please note that the extraordinary congregational meeting originally scheduled for this Sunday, Feb 24th, has been postponed until further notice.

Events This Week
February 25th, 2019
Office is closed
February 26th, 2019
11:00am Holy Communion @ Rutherford Retirement Residence
7:30pm ‘Why on Earth’ group discussion @ church
February 27th, 2019
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
February 28th, 2019
8:00am Men’s and Women’s Bible study @ Bogani Café
March 2nd, 2019
9:30am – 3:30pm Quiet Day with Tim Schultz @ church
March 3rd, 2019 (Last Sunday after Epiphany) (Tim Schultz from World Vision will be preaching at both services)
9:00am Holy Communion
9:45am Combined coffee hour
10:30am Holy Communion and Sunday School
11:45am Coffee hour

If you have any palm crosses at home, please bring them to church with you so that they can be burned for the Ash Wednesday service.

Pre-Lent Quiet Day: ‘A Spirituality of Justice and Compassion’
Tim Schultz will be leading a pre-Lent Quiet Day on Saturday March 2nd from 10:00 – 3:30 (coffee is on at 9:30) at St. Margaret’s. The day will include three talks by Tim, as well as times of corporate worship, private prayer and reflection, and sharing what we have heard with one another. Please bring a bag lunch. We are suggesting a donation of $20 per person to help cover Tim's honorarium. There is a sign up sheet on the table in the front foyer.

Tuesday March 5th: Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. There will be two sittings, at 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Please sign up on the sheet on the table in the front foyer of the church, or call or email the church to let us know which sitting you will be attending. There is a ‘suggested’ donation of $5 per person or $20 per family, and any excess money will be donated to World Vision

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6th, and we will celebrate Holy Communion with the Imposition of Ashes at 7:00 p.m.

Friday Night Church March 8th @ 6pm
In preparation for our Lent reflection, we will be showing the original movie, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, based on C.S. Lewis’s book. Pizza will be served at 6pm sharp so we can start the movie by 6:30pm. Bring your favorite blanket or stuffy to cuddle up with during the movie. Everyone is welcome! There is a sign up sheet on the table in the front foyer.

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Please feel free to bring some or all of your empty bottles (juice, milk, cans, and other beverage containers) and drop them in our bags. Please support Winnifred Stewart by making provision for this project! Next pick up should be February 28th. Thank you!

Retrouvaille - A lifeline for troubled marriages! Is your marriage in crisis? Communication problems? You are not alone. helpourmarriage.com, 587-598-4357, info@helpourmarriage.ca
Next Edmonton Retrouvaille Program starts March 15-17, 2019

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 in the foyer.



Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Following Jesus through Narnia



This year in Lent Tim is going to be preaching a series of sermons based on characters from C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories. He did this about twelve years ago and they went down very well, so he's decided to give it another try. Here are the themes, along with the Narnia books they're based on:

MARCH 10TH (LENT 1): ‘Aslan - not a tame lion’ (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, the Horse and His Boy, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

MARCH 17TH (LENT 2): ‘Eustace: Changed by the Power of Aslan’ (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

MARCH 24TH (LENT 3): ‘Bree and Hwin: It’s Not About You!’ (The Horse and His Boy)

MARCH 31ST (LENT 4): ‘Puddleglum: Faithfulness’ (The Silver Chair)

APRIL 7TH (LENT 5): ‘Lucy: Childlike Devotion’ (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian, The Last Battle)

APRIL 14TH (PALM SUNDAY): ‘Edmund: He Died that We Might Live’ (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

APRIL 21ST (EASTER): ‘Aslan: Death Itself Begins to Work Backwards!’ (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

An Upside-Down kingdom (a sermon For Feb. 17th on Luke 6.17-26)

When I was in high school, I had the experience many times of being the last to be picked for a soccer team. In our games classes we played soccer for half the year, and the usual practice was for the teacher to pick the two captains and then let the captains pick their teams. Of course the captains chose the best players first, and I was a terrible player, so I was always one of the last to be chosen. This has probably done me irreparable psychological harm. I should probably hire a lawyer and launch a million-dollar lawsuit against my high school!

Our Gospel reading for today comes right after Jesus has picked his team – not eleven, like a soccer team, but twelve, the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. This was not an accident. Jesus was picking an ‘Israel’ team, as Tom Wright puts it. He was reconstituting God’s chosen people under his own leadership, and everyone would have understood what he was doing. But he wasn’t acting like the captains in my high school. He wasn’t picking the people who were obviously the most qualified, the leadership candidates, the ones who had taken proper rabbinical training, the movers and shakers. His team was made up of working-class people, fishermen, tax collectors, and even a former terrorist. What was Jesus thinking?

Then, having chosen these apostles — the ‘sent ones’, that’s what the word means — he leads them down the mountain and begins to speak to the people waiting there. There are disciples there too — not just the twelve, but what Luke calls ‘a great crowd of his disciples’. There are also a lot of curious people who have come a long way to hear Jesus and to be healed. Jesus starts by healing those who need it, and then he turns to the disciples — again, not just the twelve, but the larger crowd — and begins to speak to them, telling them what life in his new Israel is all about. Listen again to his shocking words:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6.20-26)

I suspect there are few passages in scripture that have been more misunderstood — and more ignored — than this one.

Throughout much of Christian history this passage was ignored. The popular hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ originally included these words: ‘The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, (God) made them, high or lowly, and ordered their estate’. So instead of Jesus’ revolutionary challenge to the social order, we have Christian faith used to prop up the class system. Jesus’ words ‘The poor you will always have with you’ have been taken as permission to do nothing about poverty. On the other hand, some people have chosen to spiritualize these verses, following Matthew’s version which talks about the ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’. The problem is, that’s not the sermon Jesus preached here. Here he speaks about literal poverty and hunger, and we have to take Luke’s text seriously.

Another way this passage is often misunderstood is to romanticize or idealize poverty. Let’s be clear about this. When Jesus talked about the poor, he didn’t mean those who live what we now call ‘a simple life’, with a few less possessions and a bit more generosity. He was talking about not having enough money to buy the basic necessities of life, so that starvation is a real possibility. It’s important to remember this, because some people have interpreted this passage to mean “Blessed are the poor — so you need to be poor in order to be blessed.” But if that’s true, then why was Jesus constantly telling us to giveto the poor? If poverty is blessedness, aren’t we taking away their blessedness by lifting them out of it?

So what on earth is Jesus saying here?

We need to read the text carefully. Jesus does not say that the poor, the hungry, the mournful and the persecuted are blessed becausethey are poor, hungry, mournful, or persecuted. No, the reason they are blessed is because God is going to changetheir situation! The poor will possess the kingdom of God, the hungry will be filled, the ones who weep will laugh, the persecuted ones will receive the same reward the prophets did when they were persecuted.

Jesus is standing in a great prophetic tradition of ancient Israel, which sees the coming ‘Day of the Lord’ as a great reversal. Standing in front of Jesus in the crowd are the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and those who are persecuted. In the broken state of the world at the moment, these people are the ones who suffer. They are the marginalized, the ignored, the exploited, the ones who get picked last for the soccer teams and get ignored when religious leaders pick their disciples and so on.

But the good news for them is that the kingdom of God doesn’t follow those rules. The kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. Or perhaps it’s a right-side-up kingdom in an upside-down world. It’s a kingdom where, as Jesus liked to say, the first are last and the last first.

But on the other hand, there are also those standing in the crowd who have selfishly hoarded their riches. They’ve gorged themselves in the five-star restaurants, spent their lives in laughter and partying and making merry. They make the pages of ‘People’ magazine and they frequent the corridors of power in the local community. In the present state of affairs in the world, they get all the attention. But Jesus warns them that when the kingdom of God comes, they will find themselves the losers. He says to them in verse 24: “You have received your consolation.” The word in the original language for ‘receive’ means ‘the payment of an account in full.’ In other words, Jesus is saying, “You’ve received all you’re ever going to get.”

Let’s think about this a little more. Let’s remember that when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God he’s not talking about ‘what happens after we go to heaven when we die.” The Christian hope isn’t a lifeboat to rescue people from a sinking earth and take them off to another place. The Christian hope is that God loves this beautiful but broken creation of his, and he is going to heal it and remake it according to his original plan. The New Testament writers all believed that one day God’s victory over evil through Jesus will be complete. When that day comes we’ll see life on earth as God intended it, free from the ravages of evil and sin.

But in this passage Jesus reminds us of the present unjust reality, in which the world is divided into haves and have-nots. This is one of the ways the disease of evil manifests itself in the world. It’s a world in which the CEO of a multinational corporation can earn three or four hundred times as much as the people working on the shop floor in that company. It’s a world in which the average household income in our part of Edmonton is over $80,000 while much of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. That sort of world is a sick kind of world. But the coming of the kingdom is going to change that. The kingdom of God is a society in which those who are needy will receive what they need. It’s a society where everyone will have enough and no one will have too much. It’s a society where we will truly love our neighbours as we love ourselves, and because all love to be generous to each other, everyone will be cared for.

So Jesus’ point is not that when the kingdom comes, the rich and powerful will finally get what they deserve. This wouldn’t jive with the whole teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, and the fact that he had rich friends and enjoyed their company. So it’s actually a bit more nuanced than we might think at first reading.

Before Jesus was born, Mary sang these words:

“(God) has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, 
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51b-53)

The problem is that in human revolutions, after the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up, the lowly then become the new powerful. And they quickly learn to be just as cruel and oppressive as their predecessors!

That’s not what Jesus has in mind here. His point is that in the kingdom there won’t be any mighty at all. No more rich and poor, no more powerful and underdog. There will be no poor because all will share, and so all will have enough. There will be no hunger, because people will care for one another spontaneously and joyfully. There will be no question of the poor taking vengeance on the rich or the oppressed rising up and murdering their oppressors. No: the law of the kingdom is the law of love for your enemies. That’s what Jesus told us.

But here’s the catch. All are welcome in God’s kingdom, but you have to accept the kingdom lifestyle. So we who are rich will not be able to enter the Kingdom and at the same time hang onto our opulent lifestyle. We are challenged to learn the joy of generosity. We are challenged to drastically lower our own standard of living — and to learn to enjoy doing so — so that all may enjoy the basic necessities of life.

The powerful will not be able to hang onto their prestige and power in the kingdom. They will have to be willing to embrace the underdog as their equal. Those who are not willing will not be able to participate in the kingdom. That’s why there will be no comfort for them. It’s not that they aren’t welcome in the kingdom. It’s that they aren’t prepared for everyone else to be as welcome as they are. They aren’t prepared to give up their seat at the front of the bus and embrace the other passengers as their equals.

Two last points here. First, is this kingdom of God meant to be present or future? Obviously a large part of it is still future. Jesus came two thousand years ago and announced that the kingdom of God was at hand, but there is still poverty and sickness and injustice and oppression. Obviously, we still have to look to the day of resurrection for the fulfillment of a lot of these promises.

On the other hand, we have a lot of evidence that the early Christians caught Jesus’ vision and tried to live it out in the present. The early Christians in Jerusalem pooled their possessions so that everyone had what they needed and no one had too much. Not every church in the New Testament went that far, but it’s clear as we read the book of Acts and the New Testament letters that generosity was a major Christian value, and luxury and selfishness were frowned on.

And this leads to my last point. The church of Jesus Christ is called to be a signpost of the kingdom. We’re called to live into God’s future, rather than living by the values of this present age. Jesus said that God had sent him to announce good news for the poor, but the Gospel can only be good news for the poor if we’re willing to live by it ourselves, so that there are no poor among us. In other words, Jesus’ love and generosity is meant to infect the church, so that those who have in abundance share with those who don’t. This isn’t meant to be a legalistic thing we do because we’re forced into it. No, when Paul was raising money for poor Christians he told his friends in Corinth that ‘God loves a cheerfulgiver.’ (2 Corinthians 9:7)

And of course, God isa cheerful giver. Paul ends that chapter about giving with the words ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Corinthians 9:15) The love of God sent Jesus to the Cross for us, freely and willingly. We followers of Jesus are called to learn the same generous and sacrificial lifestyle. St. Francis summed it up years later when he said, ‘It is in giving that we receive.’ Let us pray that God will help us learn this lesson well, so that we can truly mean what we say when we pray day by day, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Upcoming events Feb 18th to Feb 24th, 2019

Events This Week
February 18th, 2019
Office is closed
February 19th, 2019
7:30pm ‘Why on Earth’ group discussion @ church
February 20th, 2019
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
7:15pm Vestry meeting @ church
February 21st, 2019
8:00am Men’s and Women’s Bible study @ Bogani Café
10:30am Holy Communion @ St. Joseph’s Hospital
February 24th, 2019 (7th Sunday after Epiphany)
9:00am Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion and Sunday School

Please join us immediately following the 10:30am service on Sunday Feb 17th for lunch and our Annual General Meeting, which will begin at noon.

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, we’d like to hear about your sponsor child! If you would like to share about your child at the end of the 10:30am service on Feb 24th, please let Tim know.

Pre-Lent Quiet Day: ‘A Spirituality of Justice and Compassion’
Tim Schultz will be leading a pre-Lent Quiet Day on Saturday March 2nd from 10:00 – 3:30 (coffee is on at 9:30) at St. Margaret’s. The day will include three talks by Tim, as well as times of corporate worship, private prayer and reflection, and sharing what we have heard with one another. Please bring a bag lunch. We are suggesting a donation of $20 per person to help cover Tim's honorarium. There is a sign up sheet on the table in the front foyer.

Friday Night Church March 8th @ 6pm
In preparation for our Lent reflection, we will be showing the original movie, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, based on C.S. Lewis’s book. Pizza will be served at 6pm sharp so we can start the movie by 6:30pm. Bring your favorite blanket or stuffy to cuddle up with during the movie. Everyone is welcome! There is a sign up sheet on the table in the front foyer.

Tuesday March 5th: Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. There will be two sittings, at 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Please sign up on the sheet on the table in the front foyer of the church, or call or email the church to let us know which sitting you will be attending. There is a ‘suggested’ donation of $5 per person or $20 per family, and any excess money will be donated to World Vision

Do you need help around the home, but don’t know who to call?
The Seniors Home Supports Program gives Edmonton seniors referrals to service providers offering snow removal, yard help, housekeeping, minor home repair and maintenance, personal services, and moving help. Six seniors organizations screen businesses, community groups, and individuals and provide referrals. Referrals are free, but seniors pay for the work that is done. Visit www.SeniorsHomeSupports.com or call 211 to find out which organization serves your area of the city.

Retrouvaille - A lifeline for troubled marriages! Is your marriage in crisis? Communication problems? You are not alone. helpourmarriage.com, 587-598-4357, info@helpourmarriage.ca
Next Edmonton Retrouvaille Program starts March 15-17, 2019

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 February 28th. Thank you!

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 in the foyer.


ST MARGARETS' LENT COURSE 2019:

PRAYER SMORGASBORD (5 Tuesday evenings starting March 12th)
'Lord, teach us to pray', said Jesus' disciples. We've all felt that need! Sometimes prayer seems so difficult. Are there different ways of praying that would work for us? This five-week Lent course will help us explore.

March 12th: Simple Prayer. This is just the basics: How to have a daily prayer time, reading the Bible and responding to God with worship, thanksgiving, penitence, and bringing our requests.

March 19th: Prayers that Speak for Us. The Church has a long tradition of written prayers, going all the way back to the book of Psalms in the Bible. In this session we'll explore the 'Daily Office' - Morning and Evening Prayer - and how it might help us.

March 26th: Writing a Letter to God. Some people find writing their prayers down to be a real help in concentration. How might prayer journalling fit into our 'prayer smorgasbord'?

April 2nd: Listening to God Part 1. Another old Christian tradition is 'Lectio Divina' ('divine reading'). In this session we'll discover a way of reading the Bible that helps us listen for the voice of God and respond to what we hear.

April 9th: Listening to God Part 2. Keeping silence before God can be a powerful way of experiencing God's presence. In this final session we'll explore 'contemplative prayer' and how it might help us draw closer to the heart of God.

To register, sign up on the sheet on the table in the foyer, email Tim at stmrector@gmail.com, or call the office at 780-437-7231.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

“Oh, my God!” “Oh, NO! My God?” “Oh! Yes, my God.” (A sermon by Doug MacNeill)

A sermon by Doug MacNeill February 10th, 2019
“Oh, my God!” “Oh, NO!  My God?”  “Oh!  Yes, my God.”

The Revised Common Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany in Year C--the third year of the three-year cycle of Bible readings used by many denominations--prescribes Isaiah 6: 1-9 as the Old Testament reading, 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 as the Epistle reading, and Luke 5: 1-11 as the Gospel reading.  During my preparations to present this sermon, I was thunderstruck to find that these three readings share a common theme, a theme that can best be expressed in three short sentences.  The first sentence is “Oh, my God!”  The second is “Oh, NO! My God?”  The third, and last, is “Oh!  Yes, my God.”  This sermon will introduce us to each of these sentences in its turn, and conclude with something for us to take away from these readings and apply to our own lives.  Let’s begin, then, with “Oh, my God!”

Isaiah’s first encounter with God, the moment when he says the words “Oh, my God”, is recorded in Isaiah 6, verse 1:  “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty, and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”  In the epistle for today, Paul tells the Church in Corinth about his own encounter with God.  After reminding the Church at Corinth of all the other apostles and disciples to whom the risen Jesus had appeared, Paul says these words in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 8:  “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” Finally, Jesus had just finished addressing crowds who came to see him from a boat on the Sea of Galilee; the Gospel passage continues, starting at Luke 5, verse 4:  “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’  Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.  Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ ” (Luke 5:  4-5)  The next thing Simon knows, he has to frantically wave for help to his partners’ fishing boat to help them land the catch; only then does he begin to recognize that his friend Jesus is...to put it mildly...a little more than he appears to be.  Well he might say then, “Oh, my God!”

But the passage from Luke tells us that Peter does not say, “Oh, my God!”  Rather, Luke 5, verse 8, tells us “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, for I am a sinful man!’ ”  Peter has progressed in his journey from “Oh, my God!”, to, in effect, “Oh, NO!  My God?”  He has come to recognize who and what he himself was on the one hand, and whose presence he was in on the other hand.  Likewise, Isaiah progresses in his journey from “Oh, my God!” to “Oh, NO!  My God?”  As Isaiah himself says in Isaiah 6,verse 5: “And I said, ‘Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Paul, too, can only look back in horror at what his encounter with God has shown him about himself; Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 9:  “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”  In so doing, Paul acknowledges his own moment of “Oh, NO!  My God?”

Let’s recapitulate this far:  Our Old Testament reading, our epistle reading, and our Gospel reading each begin with an encounter with God, an “Oh! My God” moment for Isaiah, for Paul, and for Simon Peter.  But it does not end there:  Each one of Simon Peter, Isaiah, and Paul continues the journey to a recognition of who God is and of what they are compared to God.  This recognition is encapsulated in the phrase “Oh, NO!  My God.”  Paul, Isaiah, and Simon Peter: For each of these persons, the encounter with God and the journey toward recognition of their separate plights leads to recognition of their call to serve God and their people, a recognition that expresses itself as “Oh!  Yes, my God.”

Paul’s call to serve God is best stated by the Source and Origin of that call in Acts 9, verses 15 and 16:  “But the Lord said to [Ananias of Damascus], ‘Go, for [Saul of Tarsus] is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ “ 

Ananias obeyed these words, and laid his hands on the eyes of Saul of Tarsus; the passage continues:  “And immediately, something like fish sales fell  from his eyes, and his sight was restored.  Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.  For several days [Saul] was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in their synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ “ (Acts 9: 18-20)  Paul has recognized at last that no one less than the Almighty, in the person of Jesus the Christ, showed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus as Described in Acts 9, verse 1 to 9.  Peter too, in our Gospel reading, experiences the call to serve God and his people:  “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’  When [Peter, James, and John] had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”  (Luke 5: 10b-11)  Likewise, the seraph has touched Isaiah with a coal from the altar as a sign that God has cleansed him of sin and guilt;  the passage from Isaiah continues:  “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for [my angels and me]?’  And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ “ (Isaiah 6: 8-9)  

Good storytelling technique advises the storyteller to present the character in action to show that character’s traits instead of telling the audience what traits the character possesses. For that reason, the passages show Paul proclaiming Christ in the synagogues of Damasus; they show Isaiah volunteering to present God’s message to the people of Judah; they show Simon and the sons of Zebedee leaving everything from their time as fishermen behind in order to become fishers of men.

Once more, let’s recap our story.  First, “Oh, my God!” Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter, each after his own fashion, have encountered the Almighty. Second, “Oh, NO!  My God?”  Simon Peter, Isaiah, and Paul each recognize who they are and what they are in comparison to the Almighty.   And thirdly,  “Oh!  Yes, my God.”  Paul, Simon Peter, and Isaiah recognized and accepted that their separate calls came from the Almighty.


“Oh, my God!”  “Oh, NO!  My God?”  “Oh!  Yes, my God.”  Now, where and how do we take it from here?  How do we recognize that when we are in the presence of the people whom we meet, we are in the presence of the Almighty Godself?  How do we recognize that we have fallen short of God’s hopes and dreams for us so often, and in so many ways, that we can only look on ourselves with remorse and disappointment?  And finally, how do we recognize that God has called us--us, as unworthy as we are and in spite of ourselves--to serve Him and his people in this world where we live?  We can answer by leaving everything behind and following our Lord.   We can answer by saying “Here am I, Lord; send me!” We can answer by proclaiming Jesus in word and deed across all our daily activities.  Very well, Lord; we’ll take it from here!