Sunday, April 28, 2019

Good News About Jesus (a sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter on Acts 5.27-32)

I’ve often noticed that when a new baby is born, no one in the family has to be reminded to spread the good news! The parents make the initial announcement and then the word just seems to mysteriously travel. The parents maybe make a few phone calls and then, just when they think they’re finished, one of them says, “Oh, we forgot about Auntie Susan—you know, the one who’s not really related to us, but we always call her ‘Auntie’ anyway!” So they pick up the phone and call Auntie Susan, and she says, “Oh yes, I already heard—your mom called me an hour ago!”

That’s how it happens with good news—no one needs to tell us to spread it. When we’ve had a wonderful experience that enriched our lives, no one has to tell us to share the story. We can’t keep it to ourselves. “The Edmonton Symphony was fantastic last night. Are you a subscriber? Well, you really should be—I know you’d enjoy it!” “We went to that new Indian restaurant the other week and it was fantastic. Have you ever been there? We would really recommend it!” “I just read the new book by J.K. Rowling. You know about her, right? No! Wow! Well, let me tell you…!” And so it goes on.

We sense that excitement in the Book of Acts. Acts is a collection of stories from the early church, from just after the time of the resurrection of Jesus until about thirty years later, when Paul made it to Rome as a prisoner and began to preach the gospel there. I’ve heard Doug Sanderson describe Acts as the most exciting book in the Bible, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that point of view. What we see there is the overwhelming sense of joy of those first disciples, who had seen the risen Lord after his resurrection. They thought it was all over, but then to their amazement they discovered it was just beginning! Jesus filled them with the Holy Spirit and gave them a deep sense of wonder at his continuing presence with them, and they just couldn’t keep it to themselves.

It’s appropriate that every year in the Easter season our lectionary gives us readings from the Book of Acts. These readings are very significant for us. Like us, the Christians in Acts no longer had access to Jesus as a physical presence in their lives. Like us, many of them hadn’t actually seen him when he walked the earth, and they came to believe the stories of his resurrection on the testimony of others. But also like us, they were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and they experienced him as a living presence in their lives when they went out to share the gospel with others.

Our Acts reading today is from chapter five, but the lectionary only gives us a snippet of the chapter, so let me set the scene for you. This story probably takes place several months after the Day of Pentecost. The Church’s mission is going strong in Jerusalem: sick people are being healed and the number of new believers is growing rapidly. But the members of the religious establishment are getting jealous. So they have the apostles arrested and throw them in jail overnight, intending to bring them before the ruling council the next day. However, during the night an angel lets them out of the jail and tells them to go back to the Temple and keep spreading the word of the new life in Christ.

Morning comes and there’s consternation in the ruling council: where are the apostles? Apparently they’re back in the Temple, preaching about Jesus! The council sends guards to bring them in, and when they arrive the High Priest gives them a tongue-lashing: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!” (v.28).

This context is important. When Peter explains the Gospel in this passage he isn’t speaking like Billy Graham at an evangelistic crusade after months of prayer and hours of careful preparation. He’s on trial, possibly for his life, and he only has a few minutes to make his points. He chooses to use those few minutes, not to save himself, but to summarise the Christian message, the Good News. What does he have to say?

First, he affirms that Jesus is Lord. In verse 31 he says, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour”. The word translated in the New Revised Standard Version as ‘leader’ often means ‘Prince’ or ‘Ruler’. So the good news Peter proclaims is that Jesus is the true Ruler of the world.

Around the world today many people feel as if they have no control over their own lives. They feel helpless in the face of what are often called ‘forces beyond our control’. They might be workers who’ve lost their jobs because of corporate downsizing, or citizens under a tyrannical government, or small business owners whose businesses are closed down because of ‘the realities of the market’. Many of us know the feeling of being powerless, of having our lives controlled by someone else, maybe someone without a face or a name.

In the time of Jesus that ‘someone’ had a face and a name: he was the Roman emperor. His armies were all-powerful and his cult was spreading around the Mediterranean world. He claimed the titles of ‘Saviour’ and ‘Lord’: after all, he was the Lord of the known world and could save any who called on him if he chose to do so. His puppets in Judea were the Sadducees: the rich families who had compromised in order to win a share of the power from their Roman overlords. Most of the members of the ruling council—the people who had arrested Peter—were part of that group.

Now, in this context, Peter and the other apostles made this great Gospel announcement: “The world has a new King, Jesus the Messiah, the one who will bring justice and peace for all. He’s seated at the right hand of God, the place of authority. It’s true his rule is hidden at the moment, but don’t be deceived by appearances: he will have the last word! Not Caesar, not the Sanhedrin, not the High Priest, but Jesus! At his name every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”

The true ruler of the universe is Jesus, the Son of God, the one who lives not by the love of power but by the power of love. We Christians have come to believe this message, so we’ve have turned away from our previous allegiances and pledged ourselves to Jesus, the rightful King. That’s what it means to be a baptized Christian. Our baptism is our citizenship ceremony, the moment we placed ourselves under the authority of this new King. Or, for most of us, the moment our parents placed us under his authority—an authority we accepted for ourselves when we were confirmed. 

What does that mean for us? It means no prime minister, no premier, no multinational business, no philosophy or ideology, can have more authority over us than Jesus. Following his teaching, seeking first the Kingdom of God—it’s our joy and delight to make these things the highest value in our lives. That’s what it means to be a baptized Christian.

But we might ask, “How do we know all this? How do we know Jesus is Ruler and Saviour of all?” And the answer is, we know because God raised him from the dead.In verse 30 Peter says, “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.”

Peter was there, of course. He was one of the first to be called to follow Jesus. He’d spent three years following him around the country, getting to know him better, sharing in his mission. He’d come to believe Jesus was the Messiah: the king like David who God had promised to send, the king who would set God’s people free from foreign oppression and establish the earthly kingdom of God. And what would be the sign of this? The sign would be that God would give the Messiah’s armies victory against God’s enemies.

But this didn’t happen. Jesus showed no interest in military or political power. And when the time of the great confrontation finally arrived, God didn’t deliver him—God abandoned him. At least, that was how everyone saw it. Instead of leading a victorious army in the name of God, Jesus was hanged on the cross, the symbol of Roman oppression. When the apostles saw that, there was only one conclusion they could draw: Jesus was a false Messiah and they’d been wasting their time.

But then on Sunday morning the reports began to come in. The women went to the tomb and found it empty. Peter and John confirmed it. Later on, Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus alive, and she brought the message back to the astonished apostles. That afternoon a couple walking out to the village of Emmaus met Jesus on the road. In the evening ten of the eleven were gathered in the upper room where they’d eaten the last supper, and suddenly there he was among them! They knew he wasn’t a ghost, because they touched him and saw him eating a piece of fish. 

And so the appearances went on for the next seven weeks, and the apostles gradually realized what it meant: God had vindicated Jesus. Jesus was the true King. Jesus was so powerful that even death couldn’t keep him down. And now all who followed him were promised a similar resurrection. So they had no fear of death: why would they? They ignored the threats of the rulers and told everyone they met that Jesus was alive and was Lord of all.

Jesus is alive from the dead. He’s won the victory over the ultimate weapon used by all oppressors to keep people in their place: death itself. God has made him the true Ruler of the world and Lord of all. Now: what does that mean for us? Two things: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Look at verses 31-32:
“God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Forgiveness of sinsis the central message of the Gospel. It’s what scandalized people about Jesus when he walked the earth: the fact that he wandered around announcing forgiveness to the most unlikely people, the rich and the poor, respectable and outcast, great and small. The message of the Cross is that God loves his enemies and refuses to take revenge on them. All who repent can be forgiven. All they need to do is turn to God and ask.

At first the apostles didn’t realize how wide this was meant to be. Peter talked about Jesus giving ‘repentance to Israel’. But gradually as time went by the apostles became convinced that God had a much wider group in mind. Jews and Gentiles—worshippers of the God of Israel and worshippers of the Greek and Roman gods—the message was meant to go to everyone. God wanted everyone to have the chance to hear this good news and experience the joy of Jesus for themselves.

Forgiveness of sins is still central. Many people today are burdened by their guilt. It’s like a huge weight on their backs, bearing down on them. Never mind God’s standards: they can’t even measure up to their own standards! “How can God ever love me? How can I be sure God would forgive me?” The Christian answer is clear: Jesus said it, and God confirmed it by raising Jesus from the dead. So you also can be raised from the deathly hand of guilt to the new life of forgiveness and peace with God.

And you can also experience God’s presence in your life today. That’s what the Holy Spirit means. Ancient Israelites may have seen the wind as a sign of God’s presence. And so when they looked for a word to convey their sense of God’s presence with them, they found the Hebrew word ‘ruach’, which means ‘wind’ and ‘breath’. Their scriptures told them that at the moment of creation a wind from God moved over the waters, and when God created humans he breathed into them the breath of life. The Spirit is God’s breath. He lifts us up from spiritual death and breathes God’s new life into us.

Today I want to invite you to take a deep breath! Jesus Christ is the true Ruler of the universe. God has shown this by raising him from the dead. He is alive forever and is longing to pour out the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who will believe in him. Today Brad and Lizelle are going to stand up and profess their trust in God and their desire to live this new life. They want Blake and Sophia to experience it too, which is why they’re bringing them for baptism.

But the promise isn’t just for Blake and Sophia and Brad and Lizelle: it’s for all of us here. Your sins are forgiven! God’s Spirit is the breath of life in you! Jesus is alive forever, and so there’s no need to fear the power of death. We can go boldly from this place, full of joy in our Risen Saviour, full of confidence in his Holy Spirit who lives in us. So take a deep breath, and then go and share this good news with someone who needs to hear it!

Friday, April 26, 2019

May 2019 roster

May 5th, 2019 (3rd Sunday of Easter)
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople: Hughes
Counter: G. Hughes / E. McFall
Reader: D. McCosh
(Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / D. MacNeill
Intercessor: S. Jayakaran
Lay Reader: B. Popp (John 21:1-19)
Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau / L. Schindel
Prayer Team: S. Jayakaran / L. Sanderson
Sunday School (School Age): M. Rys
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen: - 9:45 am: Woytkiws
Music: M. Eriksen
Altar Server: E. Jayakaran

May 12th, 2019 (4th Sunday of Easter)
Greeter/Sidespeople: D. Legere / T. Wittkopf
Counter: D. Legere / R. Horn
Reader: F. Chester
(Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys / G. Hughes
Intercessor: T. Chesterton
Lay Reader: B. Lindseth (John 10:22-30)
Altar Guild (White): M. Woytkiw / B. Cavey
Prayer Team: M. Chesterton / L. Sanderson
Sunday School (School Age): K. Durance
Sunday School (Preschool): G. Durance
Kitchen: E. McFall
Music: E. Thompson
Altar Server: G. Triska

May 19th, 2019 (5th Sunday of Easter)
Greeter/Sidespeople: Aasens
Counter: C. Aasen / H. Seggumba
Reader: D. Sanderson
(Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6)
Lay Administrants: T. Wittkopf / G. Hughes
Intercessor: D. McCosh
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (John 13:31-35)
Altar Guild (White): B. Kavanaugh / J. Johnston
Prayer Team: 
Sunday School (School Age): T. Laffin
Sunday School (Preschool): D. Legere
Kitchen: F. Chester
Music: M. Chesterton
Altar Server:

May 26th, 2019 (6th Sunday of Easter)
Greeter/Sidespeople: L. Schindel / D. Schindel
Counter: D. Schindel / M. Cromarty
Reader: B. Popp
(Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen / B. Popp
Intercessor: C. Aasen
Lay Reader: B. Lindseth (John 5:1-9)
Altar Guild (White): M. Lobreau / T. Wittkopf
Prayer Team: 
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen
Sunday School (Preschool): K. Ewchuk
Kitchen: Hospitality committee
Music: M. Eriksen
Altar Server: G. Triska

Upcoming events Apr 26 to May 5th, 2019

Events This Week

April 29th, 2019
Office is closed
April 30th 2019
11:00 am Holy Communion at Rutherford Residence
May 1st, 2019
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
May 2nd, 2019
8:00am Men’s and Women’s Bible study @ Bogani Café
May 5th, 2019 (2nd Sunday of Easter)
9:00am Holy Communion
9:45am Combined Coffee and fellowship
10:30am Holy Communion and Sunday School
12:00 pm Spring Yard/Church Clean Up

Spring Yard /Church Clean Up: If you are able to stay after church on May 5th, 2019 for spring clean up please bring gloves and a bag lunch. We will also need a few people to remain indoors and help straighten up chairs.

Save the date! On May 26th, 2019 we will be having a Special Congregational Meeting to make a decision on the next steps in our building expansion project. More information will be sent prior to that meeting, however if you would like to have a look at the design of the proposed addition, the drawings are posted on the bulletin board in the basement. Feedback is welcome; please speak to any member of the building committee (names posted on bulletin board) or send comments in writing to Brian Popp @

It’s That Time of the Year Again - Grass Cutting Volunteers Needed!
St. Margaret’s is again looking for members who enjoy being outside, summer exercise, getting a tan and would like to be a part of our 2019 Grass Cutting Team.
There will be a get together for ALL (new and previous) volunteers, most likely, the last Saturday in May. If you have any questions before then, please contact the church office at 780-437-7231.

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Please feel free to bring some or all of your empty bottles (juice, milk, cans, and other beverage containers) and drop them in our bags. Please support Winnifred Stewart by making provision for this project! Next pick up should be May 23rd. 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.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

'Death Itself Begins to Work Backwards' ('Following Jesus through Narnia' #7)

Many years ago when you still bought music on circular pieces of vinyl called ‘LP records’, the story went around that some rock bands had started putting secret messages about death and suicide and drugs and that sort of thing on their recordings. The trick was that you had to play the songs backwards to be able to hear the messages. Then someone with a low opinion of country music came up with a joke about this. “What happens if you play a countrysong backwards?” Answer: “Your wife comes back to you, your farm is rescued from bankruptcy, the kids get free of drug addiction,” and so on, and so on…!

It’s a joke, but I suspect many of us wish we could find a way to do that. We’ve all made foolish choices from time to time, and now we find ourselves living with the consequences of those choices. If only there was some way of playing the record backwards—going back to the place where things started to go wrong and starting all over again!

I’ve called today’s sermon ‘Death Itself Begins to Work Backwards’. This title comes from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.In this story, Aslan the Lion, the Christ-figure of the magical country of Narnia, is explaining to the children what they have just seen. He says:

‘If (the White Witch) could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before time began…she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start to work backwards.”

What on earth is Aslan talking about? Well, let me tell you the story.

All through Lent, here at St. Margaret’s, we’ve been using C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories as our spiritual guide. We’ve been looking at some of the characters in the stories each week, asking ourselves the question, “What do these characters teach us about following Jesus?” We’ve met Aslan the Lion, the Christ figure of Narnia, who has come to rescue his country from evil. Narnia is under the reign of the tyrannical White Witch, who has put a powerful enchantment on the whole land, so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. One of the ways she enforces her power is by her ability to turn people into stone. Over time, the courtyard of her castle has become filled with statues: people who used to be her enemies.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobestarts when four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, are evacuated from London during the blitz. They find themselves at the house of an elderly professor out in the country, and Lucy, the youngest, finds her way into Narnia through an old wardrobe in a spare room.  Eventually her brother Edmund gets into Narnia too. There he happens to meet the White Witch. She knows about the old prophecy, which says that when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sit on the four thrones of the castle of Cair Paravel, her reign will be over. So when she hears that Edmund is one of four, she immediately sets out to entice him to her side. She gives him enchanted Turkish Delight to eat, and she goes on to appeal to his pride: she wants a nice boy, she says, who can be king after she is gone. But the king will need servants, so he should bring his brother and sisters back to Narnia and bring them to her house, where he will rule over them.

So Edmund is deceived and he becomes a traitor. When all four children get into Narnia, Edmund slips away to the White Witch’s castle and tells her where the others are. But to his surprise, he isn’t treated as he expected. Gradually he comes to realise that the Witch is evil; she’s been using him to trap his sisters and brother, and she intends to kill them all.

Aslan’s forces rescue Edmund and restore him to his brother and sisters. However, his troubles are not yet over. The Witch asks for a meeting with Aslan, at which she reminds him of a law put into Narnia at the very beginning by the Emperor: the law that says every traitor belongs to her, and for every act of treachery she has a right to a kill. So Aslan sends the others away and talks privately with the Witch. Eventually he announces to everyone that he’s settled the matter, and the Witch has renounced her claim on Edmund’s blood. The Witch then leaves Aslan’s camp.

But Susan and Lucy notice that Aslan seems sad and distracted. His army moves camp, and later on that night he sneaks away by himself. Susan and Lucy see him and follow him. He goes to a place where there is a great stone table. There we see the Witch and all her evil followers waiting for him. Aslan allows himself to be tied up, and the Witch’s servants shave off his magnificent mane and drag him up onto the Stone Table. There the Witch kills Aslan with a terrible stone knife. She and her followers then leave to attack Aslan’s army.

Susan and Lucy come out of hiding and throw themselves on the body of Aslan, crying bitterly until they have no tears left. They spend the night keeping vigil at the Stone Table. When dawn comes they both feel very cold, so they get up and walk around. Suddenly, when the first ray of sunrise comes over the horizon, they hear a great cracking sound. They turn and see that the Stone Table is cracked and the body of Aslan is gone. 

      “Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”
      “Yes,” said a great voice behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked around. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane… stood Aslan himself.

It doesn’t take long for Aslan to convince the girls that he’s alive, and they have a wonderful romp around the Stone Table together. But eventually, after giving an earth-shaking roar, Aslan tells the girls to climb onto his back. He then races across Narnia to the castle of the White Witch. She and all her armies are gone, and Aslan jumps the wall and lands in the courtyard, which is full of the statues of people she has turned into stone. As the girls watch, Aslan runs around the courtyard and begins breathing on the statues. Gradually, by the breath of Aslan, the whole courtyard comes alive again. Aslan’s breath creates colour, where before there was only the deadly grey of the stone. Where there was only silence, now Aslan’s breath sets voices free: “happy roarings, brayings, yelpings… shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.” Aslan’s words are coming true: death itself is working backwards.

I won’t tell you the rest of the story; if you’ve already read it, you don’t need me to remind you of it, and if you haven’t—well, what are you waiting for? But you may be asking “What’s this got to do with us today, on Easter Sunday at St. Margaret’s?”

Today we’ve heard once again the story of the resurrection of Jesus, which was as much of a surprise to his followers as the resurrection of Aslan was to Susan and Lucy. The first disciples of Jesus were hiding behind locked doors on the evening of Easter Sunday, for fear they would be arrested and crucified in their turn. They were terrified that Jesus’ death would lead to their own deaths. They didn’t dare hope that in fact Jesus’ resurrection would one day lead to their own resurrections.

But this is in fact what the New Testament tells us. Let me quote again to you the words of Aslan with which I began this sermon:

“If (the White Witch) could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before time began…she would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start to work backwards.”

This is exactly what the death and resurrection of Jesus mean for us today. You and I are Edmund—we have believed the lies of evil and so we’ve turned away from our true King and become traitors to him. But our acts of treachery have been laid on Jesus. Out of love for us, God sent his Son into the world to take our place and die our death, so we could go free.

But death was not the end for Jesus. I once heard a story of a spider spinning a magnificent web across the mouth of a railway tunnel in an attempt to derail a train. That spider was suffering from a case of hubris, wouldn’t you think? And in the same way, for Herod and Pilate to think they could derail the love of God in Jesus turned out to be a similar case of hubris. “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,” says Peter, “but God raised him on the third day.” (Acts 10:39-40)

This is wonderful enough, because it means the Saviour of the world is not dead but alive, and he can still act in the lives of men and women today. But this isn’t the end of the story. The New Testament doesn’t see the resurrection of Jesus as an isolated event. Rather, Jesus has started a resurrection movement. Here’s how Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 15, as translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

But the truth is that Christ hasbeen raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries. There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man. Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ. But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-24)

Imagine being a participant on the most incredible Caribbean cruise, on the most wonderful luxury liner afloat. Imagine on the first night out, as you sit in the dining room, hearing the captain describe all the pleasures that are in store for you—beautiful islands, warm weather, swimming, luxury dining and entertainment and so on. But then imagine the chill that would fall on the room if the captain then said, “But of course, it’s not going to end well. We know that before the cruise ends the ship is going to be involved in a collision and all of us are going to drown. So, let’s do our best to have a good time while we can.” I think that would cast a pall over the proceedings, don’t you?

That’s a bit like our human situation. We may try hard to keep our bodies fit, but they’re still going to die one day. We work hard to earn money, but we’re going to leave it all behind one day. We can try to make good marriages and raise good families, but death will still separate us from them. We humans might prefer to forget this, but it’s the indisputable fact that lies behind our entire existence.

And then Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (John 11:25) He’s talking about our being raised from the dead, with new physical bodies like his resurrection body, no longer subject to illness or decay or death, but living forever with him. Just like Aslan breathing on the statues in the White Witch’s castle, Jesus is going to breathe new life into us one day, and we will share in his resurrection.

This hope affects every moment of our present lives. If you know you’re going to live forever with God, if you know that when you read about Jesus’ resurrection body you are reading about what you are going to be like some day—well, that changes everything. You’re going to live forever, so it makes sense to ask God to help you be the best possible person you can be—forever! You can do things and say things now that will have an eternal effect. Nothing will be lost, nothing will be wasted, every good deed will be remembered as significant.

So you see, it’s not just our future that’s transformed by Jesus’ resurrection—it’s our present too. You know how we sometimes say to people, “Get a life!” Most of the people we say this to are, in fact, biologically alive! But we know instinctively that there’s more to life than biology. It’s possible to be biologically alive and yet still be missing out on life in all its fulness.

The way to discover life in its fulness is to live by faith in Jesus. The author of John’s Gospel explains to us why he wrote his book: “…these (things) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) According to John, the way to ‘get a life’ is to bet your life on Jesus, to trust him enough to be willing to gather up your life in your hands, give it to him, and live as his follower for the rest of your days.

That’s the invitation Easter is giving us. Jesus has been raised, so death itself has started to work backwards, and this changes everything. Don’t waste your time on stuff that’s not going to last forever. Put your trust in Jesus, put your life in his hands, and ask him to breathe new life into you. And don’t put it off—take the next step today.

Friday, April 19, 2019

'It Is Finished!' a sermon for Good Friday by Brian Popp

a sermon for Good Friday, April 19, 2019 
by Brian Popp

Have you ever considered what difference the death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday has made in your life? Has it changed the way you practice your faith? Is it a contributing factor to  how you view life after death? Do you truly believe the story of Jesus death and resurrection an its meaning to our Christian faith? How confident are you in your eternal future?

Our gospel reading from John this morning encompasses the arrest, trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus. It is an amazing story about the VICTORY of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and Son of Man. It includes the last days of His life on earth including the denial of Him by Peter to His horrible suffering and death at the hands of an unruly Jewish mob and corrupt, if not cowardly, leaders like Annas, Caiaphas and Pilate who feared Him and weren't quite sure how to handle Him! Pilate finally bows to the mob and Jesus is crucified on the cross at Golgotha.

I have had a challenging time trying to decide what topic to speak to this morning because of the many themes in the Bible readings for Good Friday. After considerable thought and prayer I have decided to spend a few minutes discussing Jesus' last words on the cross before he gave up the spirit - IT IS FINISHED! The meaning of these words has always intrigued me so I decided to do some research! It is worth noting that these words are only found in John's Gospel. They are not  contained in the gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke. The Apostle John may have been an eye witness to the crucifixion of Jesus! (John 19:35 "He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.")

Together we have just read the entire story from John's gospel describing the sequence of events
leading up to Jesus final words on the cross when he shouted " IT IS FINISHED". Then He bowed His head and gave up the spirit. These final words are a CRY OF VICTORY!
John 19:28 states :

” Jesus knew that all was now finished”.

He was aware of every Scripture that spoke of His atoning death as the promised Messiah. In the last few weeks of His life Jesus had been orchestrating events so that His death would fulfill all prophecies. For example, he fulfilled the ultimate commitment to reconciliation through sacrifice. He willingly gave His own life so that we might live! As Isaiah 53:6 states:

"All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on Him
the iniquity of us all."

Let us now consider three main themes underlying the actions Jesus took to help fulfill the
promise made about his crucifixion and subsequent death on the cross.

The first of these theme is Jesus Obedience to His Father.

As a child growing up in rural Saskatchewan I followed my father's direction and advice on most things. I remember him telling me not to become a health care administrator - my chosen profession for over 50 years! I wasn't always an obedient son! Jesus knew His role in life from a very young age. Matthew 1:21 states that

"She will bear a Son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Our reading from Hebrews 5 this morning also tells us in verse 8:

"Although He was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."

His life on earth was spent teaching and preaching the word of God. There was no doubt about the Father's expectations. He knew what his demise would be. Every part of Jesus' life and passion was not only the Father's plan of redemption but a consequence of the Son's obedience to it. Jesus was crucified with prior knowledge of the Father. Jesus’ knowledge that all was now completed in John 19:28 was His awareness that all of the steps that had brought Him to the point of pain and impending death were in the design of His Heavenly Father. The completion of Jesus work is the fulfillment of Scripture and the performance of the Father's will." IT IS FINISHED" in John 19:30 represents the triumphant completion of Jesus' work here on earth, not a moan of defeat. The death of Jesus is His own act of love and obedience to the Father. It is the "finishing" of the work He was born to do (and died doing)!

Our second theme centers around the fact that Jesus willingly and triumphantly died on the cross for us. He lovingly accepted the role that had been given to Him by the Father at birth. As the Son of Man he willingly accepted his role as teacher and preacher. He experienced the pain and suffering of a human being and the persecution from those who would not or could not accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. He was a willing sufferer. His heart was set on the salvation of sinners. All His suffering was endured voluntarily and of His own free will. Even when he was convicted by the mob who shouted "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" he carried His own cross like a common criminal! He declined the sour wine offered by the soldiers to relieve His pain and suffering. He finally shouts "IT IS FINISHED" to signify the successful completion of His life here on earth and His commitment to save sinners and dies on the cross for us! These final words were a cry of VICTORY - not defeat!

The third theme confirms for us that His death on the cross affords us the opportunity
for eternal salvation. Hebrews 5:9 says,
"And having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him"

Jesus suffering and death on the cross was necessary for our salvation. We must trust and believe as Christians that there was a purpose behind the sacrifice of God’s only Son for our salvation. I’m certain many of us remember learning and memorizing John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”.

The terror of death has been defused by God’s love for us. As believers we have a unique opportunity from God but we must receive and appropriate it for ourselves. Jesus says in Matthew 10:38 :

"Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me!"

Therein lies the challenge - how do we become worthy of Him? Surely it is by turning to Him in gratitude for what He has done for us on the Cross, and in putting our trust in Him to save us, and in taking His love and obedience on the Cross as the pattern for our daily lives! I have shared with you my understanding of what Jesus encompassed in His final words from the cross - "IT IS FINISHED".

While His life here on earth was finished because He had accomplished His role as given to Him by His Father our role may only be starting! We have much to do to become disciples here on earth and teach the true meaning of the crucifixion.

Have you contemplated the questions I posed at the beginning of this sermon? What difference
has Jesus death on the cross made in your life? I'm not sure there are any easy answers. Let me
suggest something in closing. Proverbs 3:5 offers:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight!"

Pray that Jesus final words on the cross - "IT IS FINISHED" may kindle hope and joy in your
heart that your renewed faith journey might begin !

Finally, in the words of the first verse of an 18th century hymn :

"Tis Finished! so the Saviour cried,

And meekly bowed His head and died;

"Tis Finished - yes the race is run,

The battle fought, the Victory won."


Thursday, April 18, 2019

'Sent to Serve' (a sermon for Maundy Thursday on John 13.34-35)

A Rule of Life is a tool some Christians use to become more intentional about their plans for following Jesus in a practical way. Some rules are large and detailed, like the one St. Benedict developed for his monks in the sixth century, which is still used in Benedictine monasteries today. It dots every ‘i’ and crosses every ‘t’ and doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation and adaptation. Other rules are more like general principles and guidelines, giving a lot of leeway for individual Christians to figure out how to apply them in their daily lives.

Last year in the Diocese of Liverpool in England, Bishop Paul Bayes introduced a Rule of Life like that. He challenged all Christians in his diocese to take it and think about how they would live it out in their own lives. This is a bare bones Rule that asks for a lot of thought and prayer on the part of those who use it. It’s simply this: ‘Called to pray, read, and learn. Sent to tell, serve, and give’.

I like this Rule because it gives lots of leeway for everyone using it to try out different ways of applying it, ways that work for them. We can easily see that praying, reading and learning are three avenues of receiving strength and wisdom from God—that’s the ‘input’ side. And we can easily see that telling the good news, serving others, and giving generously are integral parts of active discipleship—that’s the ‘output’ side. But each of us needs to decide for ourselves exactly what that looks like in our daily lives.

Now you may be thinking, this is all very well, but what’s it got to do with the Maundy Thursday story? 

Simply this: When Bishop Paul first proposed this Rule for Liverpool diocese, some people criticized him because the word ‘love’ doesn’t appear in it anywhere. Surely love is the centre of the Christian life, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we name it, then? Shouldn’t we specifically mention ‘love’ as one of the ways we’re called to follow Jesus? After all, in our gospel for tonight we heard Jesus say, 
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13.34-35).

This is it, says Jesus! This is the essential sign of true Christian faith—loving one another as he has loved us. And if this is so important, why wouldn’t we name it as a central part of our practical, daily discipleship?

In principle I agree with this, but nonetheless I’m going to support Bishop Paul here. My reason is that ‘love’ is an English word, and the Gospel of John wasn’t written in English. It was written in Greek. And one thing linguists will tell you is that no word in one language is ever the exact equivalent of a word in another language. The donor word will have additional shades of meaning that can’t be captured by any single word in the receptor language, and vice versa.

In modern English the word ‘love’ is used in all kinds of ways. Some people love hip hop music and listen to it all the time, to the great annoyance of their friends! Some people love curry. Some people love the poor and demonstrate it by volunteering in soup kitchens. Some people love elderly relatives and give hours each week to serving them. Some people love their spouses or romantic partners. Some people love their old jeans. Some people love their favourite political party.

Are we using exactly the same concept here? Of course not. None of the situations I described above is exactly equivalent. Some of them are vastly different from each other. And yet we use the same English word for them.

But one thing many of them have in common is an emotional component. Love is a something we feel. We may do something active because of our love, but our love itself isn’t an action. It’s not a verb. It’s an emotion, often located in our ‘hearts’.

Greek has a word like that: eros. Eros is desire for something wonderful. You can feel eros for a beautiful person, or a sumptuous meal, or even for God. But eros isn’t about helping or serving. It’s desire for an experience of participation. Today we use ‘eros’ primarily to describe sex. In the ancient world it was a wider word, but the basic principle is still true.

But when the New Testament writers talked about love, they used the word ‘agapé’. Agapé means love in action. It’s something you do, not something you feel. When you visit elderly relatives, clean up for them, drive them to medical appointments and so on, what you’re doing is agapé. Agapé isn’t what you’re feeling (there’s another Greek word for family affection!)—it’s what you’re doing. Likewise when you hammer nails at a Habitat for Humanity building site, or give to World Vision, or stick with a friend who’s struggling with addictions even when they’re a nuisance. No matter what you feel, you are living agapé.

Jesus is the prime example of agapé for us. In our Gospel he says “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. How does he love us?

This weekend gives us two examples of the way he loves us. The most dramatic way is by going to the Cross and dying for us. Jesus’ love is absolute and complete. There’s nothing he won’t sacrifice for us, even his own life. He loves not only his friends, but also his enemies. When his enemies whip him and spit at him and nail him to the Cross, he refuses to fight back or retaliate. He will die himself rather than act out of hatred or revenge.

You and I may be called to do that. Certainly around the world today there are Christians who are called to do that. They live in places where it’s dangerous to be identified as a Christian. But they do it willingly, and many of them give their lives, sometimes in very painful ways.

Of course, there are other ways of giving your life than dying. Some people leave lucrative careers to give themselves in Christian service in poorly paid jobs in obscure parts of the world. I think of people with Ph.D.s in linguistics who are spending their lives in the jungles of South America working for Wycliffe Bible Translators, translating the scriptures into languages spoken by only a few hundred people. I think of colleagues of mine with seven years of university and master’s degrees under their belts, who’ve moved away from family and friends to the far north to serve in the most isolated and poorly paying churches in the Anglican Church of Canada.

These are dramatic examples of taking up your Cross and following Jesus. We Christians are challenged to be ready to do that if we sense God is calling us to it. But most of us probably won’t be called to do it.

All of us, however, are called to follow the other example Jesus gives us: foot washing. This was not a spectacular job. It wasn’t anything romantic. It was a practical necessity. People wore open sandals, roads were dusty and muddy. They then came in for the evening meal. It wasn’t served at tables like ours with people sitting upright in chairs. Michelangelo’s ‘Last Supper’ gets it all wrong! There would be a central table with the food on it, and then people would recline in angled couches all around that table. They would recline on one elbow and use their other hand to help themselves to food. And when they did that, their feet would be in very close proximity to their neighbours’ noses!

That’s what footwashing was all about. Usually the servants or slaves did it when people came in for the meal. But on that night, for some reason, no one had done it. Maybe there was no slave or servant. We don’t know. But we do know that eventually Jesus got down, removed his outer garment, took a basin and went around washing the feet of his disciples.

What does he say next?
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13.12-17).

And this is where we come full circle to Bishop Paul’s Rule of Life. “Servants are not greater than their master,” says Jesus. Agapé is about serving. It’s not about emotions but actions. Bishop Paul’s Rule of Life says we are ‘sent to serve’. That’s where agapé fits in. I would argue that ‘serve’ is actually a better word than ‘love’, because in modern English ‘love’ is such an emotionally loaded word. ‘Serve’ makes it clear we’re talking about actions.

And this is something we’re all called to do in very down to earth ways. The danger of a footwashing service is that we can sometimes forget this. Footwashing isn’t a normal part of our daily lives. But dishwashing is. Clothes washing is. House cleaning is. Shovelling snow from an elderly person’s walk is. Volunteering at a soup kitchen is.

Tonight we serve one another symbolically by washing each other’s feet and hands. But let’s not forget that we have to make the symbol a reality in our daily lives. We do that by looking for practical ways we can serve one another, and then doing it willingly.

And let’s not forget that we need to be willing to receive service as well. So often in the Christian community we’re cheated out of the opportunity to serve because our fellow Christians won’t admit they need help. We need to be willing to be vulnerable, to admit we can’t do everything. We need to be willing to ask for help when we need it. And then, as a community, we need to be faithful to Jesus’ call to serve one another as he serves us. That’s what it means to love. And that’s how people will know we’re Jesus’ disciples.