Sunday, May 20, 2018

'I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh' (a sermon on Acts 2:17-18)

One of my favourite movies is an old 1990 flick called ‘Almost an Angel’; the main character, Terry, is played by Paul Hogan, of ‘Crocodile Dundee’ fame. Terry is a criminal, but on the way out of a bank heist he sees a little girl about to get hit by a car, jumps into the road to save her and gets hit himself. To his surprise he finds himself in heaven talking to God – who looks remarkably like Charlton Heston. God seems to be a little surprised to see Terry – ‘It’s a long time since we’ve had a scumbag here’, he says – and then he tells Terry he’s being sent back to earth.

So Terry’s life changes as he sees himself as ‘almost an angel’ – “I haven’t got my wings yet”, he says. At one point later on in the movie someone asks Terry to pray for him. Terry frowns. “I could”, he says, “but it might not do any good. Last time I was talking to God, he called me a scumbag!”

I have to say as a clergy person that I gave a grunt of recognition when I first heard that line! I often get asked to pray for people! Many people seem to think that the prayers of a priest or pastor are automatically more effective than theirs. But we clergy know our own hearts, and so does God!

There’s an interesting story in the Old Testament book of Exodus. The Israelites have escaped from slavery in Egypt and have arrived at Mount Sinai where Moses first met God. God gives a dramatic display of power as he comes down on the mountain – lightning, thunder, billowing smoke, the earth shaking and so on. The Israelites are terrified, so they turn to Moses and say “Yougo up there and talk to him for us. We’ll wait for you down here! When you come back, we’ll do whatever he’s told you!”

I sometimes refer to this as ‘the cult of the mediator’. A relationhip with the living God is too demanding, too scary for ordinary people, so we set aside special, holy people and get them to do the hard work of relating to God on our behalf. They’re our ‘go-betweens’ - that’s what the word ‘priest’ means in many religions, including the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament there’s little expectation that ordinary people can know God: they’re just told to obey his commandments and show up to offer sacrifices – that’s it. Special people – kings and warriors like David or Samson, prophets like Moses and Miriam, priests like Aaron – they’re the ones who receive the Spirit of the Lord (by the way, ‘spirit’ in Hebrew is ‘ruach’ which also means ‘wind’ or ‘breath’). Kings and priests were exclusively male in Israel, and were appointed by their bloodline – a hereditary power structure. Prophets were more of a wild card – God called who he wanted, men or women, rich or poor, scholars or farmers – and they spoke the word of God in God’s name.

The cult of the mediator is still strong today. Many people think it’s Christian, but it’s really not. Interestingly enough, the word ‘priest’ is never used for Christian ministers or pastors in the New Testament. Congregations are cared for by people called pastors, or overseers, or elders. But the word ‘priest’ is used in the Church in two senses: for Jesus, our great high priest, and for the whole Christian community together. The message is clear: This is not just for the lucky few! Everyoneis invited to know God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We see this on the Day of Pentecost which we read about this morning. It seems as if a hundred and twenty believers were gathered together in one place, and we don’t read of there being any kings or Jewish priests among them. They are male and female, blue collar and white collar – all social classes. Suddenly the Holy Spirit fills them – God breathes his new life into them, and they’re aware of his presence in them in a new and amazing way. This new life overflows with joy; they begin to praise God in languages they’ve never learned, languages the people around them can understand. And this new life also overflows in witness: the crowd gathers, and Peter begins to explain to them about Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts chapter 1 Jesus had promised them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (1:8) – and that was exactly what was happening to Peter.

Our first reading gives us the first part of Peter’s sermon. The believers had been accused of drunkenness because of the joy of the Holy Spirit, but Peter offers an alternative explantion. Look at Acts 2:16-18:
“No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy”.

‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh’ (17). This doesn’t mean that everyone will automatically receive the Spirit; our God never forces himself on anyone against their will. What it means is that all mayreceive the Spirit if they choose. No one is barred because of their gender, their social status, their status as priest or lay person, their level of education and so on. All are now invited into that most intimate of all relationships – having the ‘Breath of God’ breathing in you.

The fact that this applies to both men and women is especially emphasized in Joel’s prophecy. We know that women were present on the Day of Pentecost; Acts 1 lists the male disciples and then adds ‘…together with certain women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus…’ (1:14). Joel had foretold this - a day when the ministry of prophecy would be exercised equally by men and women – ‘…your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour our my Spirit, and they shall prophesy’ (17-18). 

We have to admit that this equality was only partially achieved in Bible times. In a patriarchal society it was natural that people saw what they expected to see, and so we don’t see an absolute equality of partnership of men and women in this minstry of declaring the word of the Lord. But we do see signs of it, and Luke, the author of Luke’s gospel and Acts, seems to have particularly rejoiced in it. It’s clear in this text that gender makes absolutely no difference when the Breath of God comes down!

Let me say one more word about what this means. Our Anglican Church is a structured church with clear lines of demarcation between ordained and lay people. So it’s natural we should think in terms of ‘who can get ordained’. For myself, I’m happy and proud to be part of a Church that ordains men and women equally, and I’m happy to argue the case with anyone who disagrees.

But this text goes far beyond that issue. To ‘prophesy’ in the Bible doesn’t mean ‘to foretell the future’ (although prophets do sometimes do that). Fundamentally, it means to be given a messge from God to speak to others in God’s name. Joel is saying that the day will come when allpeople can do this – men or women, young or old, slave or free – simply because God’s Breath, God’s Spirit, is in them. There is no hint of a difference here between clergy and lay people: the Spirit is given to all, so all can speak God’s word to one another.

Note that we’re not talking about lone rangers, people going off on their own to enjoy a one-on-one ‘me and God’ experience. We’re talking about the whole community gathering together in ministry, listening to the Word of God together, weighing up what’s said together, submitting to each other, serving together – because everyone shares in the gift of God’s Spirit.

Even slaves! Verse 18 says, ‘Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy’. Slaves were the lowest social class – they were possessions, or tools, owned by others. But God values them as individuals, God breathes his Spirit into them, God makes them ministers!Imagine a first-century Christian aristocrat receiving a word of prophecy from his slave! That’s revolution! As Mary had foretold in Luke 1, ‘He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly’ (Luke 1:51b-52).

This is God’s intention: that the Gospel should go out to all people – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. This message is not just about having your sins forgiven and being adopted as God’s daughters and sons, although that’s wonderful enough. No: it’s also about indwelling– about God being with us and in us. God’s breath, God’s wind, God’s Spirit will live in the whole Christian community, and all can minister in God’s name. There’s no hint of the cult of the mediator here. No one else can do the hard work of relating to God for you.Youare called to be filled with the Spirit, to learn to pray, to learn to listen to God’s voice in the scriptures, and to step out in witness for him. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). That’s your birthright as a baptized Christian.

A bit later on in the chapter, in verses 38-39, Peter gives the crowd an invitation:
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him”.
The promise of the Spirit is for allwho believe and are baptized. In Old Testament times the sign of God’s covenant with his people was circumcision, which was fine as far as it went, but it only went as far as half of the human race. In the New Testament the sign is baptism, which is offered to men and women alike. All can receive the Spirit and be included as equals in the covenant community.

The New Testament tells us the story of the first generation of Christians. Most of them heard the Gospel as adults; the Spirit worked in their hearts, and they put their trust in Jesus and committed themselves to him. They were baptized as adults and the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them.

There are very few stories in the New Testament of Christian families applying this to the upbringing of their children; this came later. Gradually, most Christians came to believe that it was right for children of Christian homes to be received into the community by baptism. The model here is of the community as a school of disciples, wth baptism as enrolment, even at an early age. Jesus told us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name  of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). So we baptize our children and enroll them as Jesus’ disciples so we can teach them to follow Jesus. The promise of the Spirit is given in baptism, but it also needs to be ‘lived into’ as we pray each day to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Today we include little Alex in this promise. As Ryan and Jenny bring him for baptism, he will take his place with us as a full member of the community that St. Paul calls ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. And when he’s been baptized we’ll pray for him in these words: ‘Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin, and have raised him to the new life of grace. Sustain him, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit’. We’ll also say ‘Give him…a spirit to know and love you’. In other words, he will need to learn that Christianity isn’t just about going to church and learning Bible stories. It’s about living in relationship with God – receiving power to live for God – finding joy in witnessing to others about God’s work in our lives. AllChristians are called to these things.

Including you and me. What is this saying to us as baptized Christians?

It’s reminding us that the Breath of Godis in us– but we need to breathe it in daly! It’s not enough just to breathe once – you have to breathe over and over again! So: let’s pray daily, even hourly, that the Spirit would fill us and strengthen us and guide us to live for God.

It’s reminding us not to settle for the cult of the mediator.That’s paganism, and even Old Testament Judaism, but it’s not Christianity. You’ve been offered the Breath of God – the very life of God in you. Why would you settle for an oxygen tank brough to you by someone else? Peter says, “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39).

It’s reminding us that the Church is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit.The English word ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’ translates the Greek word ‘koinonia’ which means ‘to have something in common’, ‘to share together in something’. In the early chapters of the Book of Acts we don’t see lone ranger Christians going off on private projects for God. We see a joyful community doing God’s work together. By ourselves we don’t always find it easy to discern what God is calling us to. But the Holy Spirit is strong in the community,  so we come together, we talk things through, we pray, we wait on God, and the Spirit guides us. So we’re called to commit ourselves to this fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

We’ve seen that the passage is reminding us that the Breath of God is in us. It’s reminding us not to settle for the cult of the mediator. It’s reminding us that the Church is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And finally, it’s reminding us to remember our call to be a ministering community, a serving community. Men and women, rich and poor, young and old, people of all backgrounds and races and classes: we’re all joined together as priests, prophets, witnesses, servants and ministers of Christ.

A pastor called Jon Wimber told a great story about this. He was the founder of the first Vineyard Church which became a community of thousands of people with a large staff and structure. One day a person called him in a state of some agitation. “Where is everyone? I’ve been trying to get hold of someone at the church for days! I met this man who was homeless, and we got talking, and I realized he really needed a place to stay and some food. So I called the church several times, but no one answered. Eventually I had to take him home to stay with me and give him some food myself. Don’t you think the church should help people like that?”

Wimber was quiet for a moment, and then he said one simple sentence: “Sounds like the church did”.

If you are a Christian, then you are the Church, together with all Christians. The Spirit - the Breath of God – lives in you, connects you to God, and equips you for the works of service he’s called you to. So: take a deep breath, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, and then step out in faith to follow Jesus wherever he leads.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Upcoming events

Upcoming Events May 21st to May 27th, 2018
Tim will be away at Clergy Conference from noon on Tuesday until end of day Thursday. 

May 21st, 2018
Office is closed
May 23rd, 2018  
Office is closed
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
May 24th, 2018  
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
May 25th, 2018  
6:00pm Friday Night Church wind up BBQ
May 26th, 2018  
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
May 27th, 2018 (Trinity Sunday) 
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion & Sunday School 
12:00 noon Discussion on Development Process, lunch will be provided

Our final Lunch Bunch until September is Thursday May 24th at the church beginning at 11:30am with lunch starting at 12:00 noon. Everyone is welcome to join us for this time of fellowship. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer. For more information please contact the church office at 780-437-7231, or email stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

We will be having our wind-up BBQ for Friday Night Church on May 25th from 6pm to 8pm. Weather permitting we will BBQ and have outdoor activities.  There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer.  Please RSVP by Tuesday May 22nd to Melanie at 780-437-7231, or email stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

PLEASE plan to join us to discuss the next steps in St. Margaret’s development plan, next Sunday May 27th starting at noon. Lunch will be provided. You should have received more information on this by email, and there are hard copy information packages on the table in the foyer as well. 

On Wed June 6th at 7:15pm, our City Councillor Tim Cartmell will be visiting St. Margaret’s to talk to us about the future development of Ellerslie Road and area. If this interests you, please plan to join us. There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer so that we can let him know how many people to expect. There is also room on the sign up sheet to add any specific questions you may like answered in regards to this.

Our annual church picnic at the home of Lorne and Beryl Rice is coming up on Saturday June 16th starting around 3pm. There will be fun for all ages! Bring your own meat and beverages, and one item for sharing. Watch for more information over the next few weeks.

Registration forms for our Kids Kapers Summer Camp are now available. The camp will run from July 30th to Aug 2nd from 9am to 4pm, and Aug 3rd from 9am to noon with a BBQ to follow. Cost is $60 per child and is open to children in grades 1 to 6. There are only 25 spots available, so please register early. If you have any questions, please email or call Melanie. 780-437-7231 or stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

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

Friday, May 11, 2018

Upcoming Events May 14th to May 20th, 2018

May 14th, 2018
Office is closed
May 15th, 2018 
2:00pm Funeral of Doug Harris @ Glenwood Funeral Home
May 16th, 2018 
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
7:15pm Vestry meeting @ church
May 17th, 2018 
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
11:15am Holy Communion @ St. Joseph’s Hospital
May 18th, 2018 
7:00pm Bishop Jane’s 10th Anniversary Celebration @ Cathedral
May 19th, 2018 
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
May 20th, 2018 (Pentecost)
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion and Baptism & Sunday School

Our final Lunch Bunch until September is Thursday May 24th at the church beginning at 11:30am with lunch starting at 12:00 noon. Everyone is welcome to join us for this time of fellowship. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer. For more information please contact the church office at 780-437-7231 or stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

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

What’s the next step in St. Margaret’s building redevelopment plan? We are ready to move forward and need your input!! PLEASE plan to join us for an informal discussion after church on Sunday May 27th. You should have received more information on this by email, and there are hard copy information packages on the table in the foyer as well.
On Sunday June 17th there will be an ‘Extraordinary Congregational Meeting’ at 12 noon – 1:30 p.m. (approximately) at which motion(s) will be presented and debated, and a decision made about the next step we will take in this process.

We will be having our wind-up BBQ for Friday Night Church on May 25th from 6pm to 8pm. Weather permitting we will BBQ and have outdoor activities. Please plan to join us! There is a sign up sheet on the table in the foyer. For more information, please contact Melanie at stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com, or 780-437-7231.

The St. Margaret’s Grass Cutting Team (SMGCT) 2018 will be starting up again this June, with a get-together-training in late May.  We are looking for volunteers to be a part of the SMGCT!!  If you like fresh air, getting a tan and fun exercise, please contact the church office at 780-437-7231 or stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.  No experience necessary!

Thank you to all who donated money towards purchasing some new NRSV Large-Print Text Bible. 5 of these have been ordered.

Registration forms for our Kids Kapers Summer Camp are now available. The camp will run from July 30th to Aug 2nd from 9am to 4pm, and Aug 3rd from 9am to noon with a BBQ to follow. Cost is $60 per child and is open to children in grades 1 to 6. There are only 25 spots available, so please register early. If you have any questions, please email or call Melanie. 780-437-7231 or stmargaretsedmonton@gmail.com.

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




Sunday, May 6, 2018

Seeking God and Finding Jesus (a sermon on Acts 10)

C.S. Lewis tells a story of how one day he had a persistent feeling that he ought to go and get his hair cut, even though it was not very long since the last time he had done so. Eventually he gave in and walked down to his local barber. When he entered, the barber looked at him with surprise and said, “You know, I was especially praying that you would come in today; there’s something really important I was hoping to talk to you about!”

I suspect many followers of Jesus will be able to tell stories like that. But there are times when the guidance from God is even more spectacular. We read of one of those times last week, in the story of Philip and the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8. We had another one today, with the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. In our first reading we heard only the last few verses of this chapter, so I’m going to start by telling you the whole story. And I want to say right from the start that this is a story of twoconversions, not just one. On the one hand, a Roman centurion called Cornelius - already a believer in the God of Israel - is converted by the power of the Holy Spirit and becomes a Jesus-follower. But on the other hand, Peter and his fellow-apostles - who up until now have concentrated on Jewish people in their work of spreading the Gospel - are beginning to be converted to the idea that God wants them to reach beyond the borders of Israel to the Gentiles as well - in other words, to people like you and me.

Let’s set the scene. Peter and the other apostles have preached the Good News of Jesus in Jerusalem and Judaea and as far as the borders of Israel. They’ve even been adventurous enough to go to the Samaritans! Everywhere they’ve gone, people have heard them with joy and turned their lives over to Jesus. Little communities of ‘Followers of the Way’ are springing up all over Israel - people who believe Jesus is the Messiah who has come to set Israel free.

But up ‘til now the message has only gone to Jewish people, or people like the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch who have some kind of connection with Israel. And the early disciples probably see that as a natural thing; after all, Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, the one God was going to use to set Israel free. The idea that Gentileswould be included in that plan might never have occurred to them.

However, as I mentioned last week, some Gentiles had become veryinterested in Israel. Throughout the ancient world at this time there were a number of people who’d become disenchanted with the traditional gods of Greece and Rome. They were attracted by the monotheism of Israel and the high ethical standards of the Ten Commandments. Some of them had begun to attend synagogues and practice the three duties of godly Jews - prayer, fasting, giving to the poor. They hadn’t taken the step of becoming full Jews by circumcision, but they hadcome to believe in the one creator God and were trying to obey his commandments.

Cornelius, the Roman centurion who lived in the town of Caesarea, was probably one of these ‘God-fearers’. And we read in Acts 10 that one day he was praying at three o’clock in the afternoon when an angel appeared to him: “Send for a man called Simon Peter; he’s staying in Joppa at the house of Simon the Tanner”. So Cornelius sent messengers to fetch Peter. That’s the end of scene one.
Scene twoopens the next day in Joppa. Peter is at Simon’s house, and towards noon he’s gone up to the roof to have some prayer while he’s waiting for the mid-day meal. Suddenly he has a vision. He sees a great sheet let down from heaven, full of all kinds of animals, including ones like pigs and other animals that Jews considered unclean and were not allowed to eat. A voice from heaven says “Get up, Peter; kill and eat”. But he recoils from the idea: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean”. The voice replies, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (vv.13-15). This happens three times, and Peter is confused; is God telling him to break the Jewish food laws?

As he’s still thinking about this the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and as they pass on their message he begins to think hard. Can it be true? Is Godcalling him to go to the house of a Gentile? Jews wouldn’t do this, because of the danger of eating unclean food, but Peter begins to get the idea that God is leading him somewhere new. So off he goes with the messengers. That’s the end of Scene Two.

The next day they get to Caesarea, and when they arrive at Cornelius’ house Scene Three begins. Cornelius has gathered his friends and relatives there to hear what Peter has to say. He tells Peter the story of his vision, and now Peter begins to understand what God’s up to. He says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (34-35). He then begins to preach the good news to this Gentile crowd. He gives them a thumbnail sketch of Jesus’ life and ministry, how he went about teaching, preaching, doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil. He tells of how Jesus was crucified, but God raised him from the dead and the disciples are all witnesses of this. He tells them that Jesus is now ‘Lord of all’, and one day will be the judge of the living and the dead. And he tells them that everyone who puts their trust in Jesus receives forgiveness of their sins.

And now the amazing thing happens. As Peter is speaking, suddenly the Holy Spirit falls on the people who are listening to him! Peter isn’t even able to finish his sermon, because the congregation starts speaking in tongues and praising God! The disciples who’ve come with Peter are amazed that this kind of thing is happening to Gentiles - exactly the same as they themselves had experienced on the day of Pentecost! So Peter shrugs his shoulders and says, “They’ve received the Holy Spirit just as we did - I guess we’d better baptize them!” And when the baptisms are over he stays with Cornelius for a few days, no doubt to give him more instruction about what it meant to be a follower of the Way.

This story in Acts 10 had an enormous impact. Of course, it had an impact on Cornelius and his family and friends - they had finally found in Jesus what they’d been looking for all this time. But it also had an impact on the early Christians. You see, not everyone was happy with this idea of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles, and for the next four chapters in Acts an enormous controversy rages on this very subject. But eventually those who are in favour of the Gentile mission win out, and the way is paved for the Christian message to spread around the world.

But what about us today? What is this story telling us about our mission as followers of Jesus? Three things:

First, God is at work.Nothing in this story happened by human initiative; God guided Cornelius to call for Peter, and God guided Peter to go to Cornelius. God is taking the initiative, leading people to faith in Jesus and leading his followers to those people to help them in their journey.

In fact, God had been guiding Cornelius for a long time. What was it that caused Cornelius to lose faith in the ancient gods of Rome? It must have been a shattering experience for him to realise he no longer believed in them, when he’d heard their stories from childhood. But somehow, he came to realise these false gods were unable to meet his deepest needs, and he began to look elsewhere for help. Somehow – we don’t know how - he found out about the God of Israel and was attracted to him. So Cornelius began to put his faith in this God and tried to practice his commandments. And now God was leading him even further, to faith in Jesus who is Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.

This same kind of thing is happening today. All around us there are people who are discovering that the false gods we worship in our modern society – money and possessions, success, youth, beauty, power, popularity, and so on - are not delivering the lasting happiness and fulfilment they promise. Some years ago, a British newspaper columnist named Bernard Levin wrote these words:
Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire - together with such non-material blessings as a happy family - and yet lead lives of quiet, and sometimes noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them, and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well-balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it...it aches.

He’s talking about the failure of false gods- and even though this can be a frightening and disorienting experience for people, it’s also a sign that God is beginning to lead them to himself. When people begin asking questions like “Why isn’t my success making me happy?” or “Why can’t I be the kind of parent I want to be?” or “What’s going to happen to me when I die?” - then we know the Holy Spirit is working in their lives. And the same Spirit is just as able to lead us ordinary Christians to these people as he was in the days of Acts. Our job is to listen to the guidance of the Spirit and let him lead us to these people. That’s the adventure of Christian mission!

So this story is telling us that God is at work, leading people to Jesus and leading his followers to those people. And this leads us to the second thing the story tells us: Jesus is the issue.Our mission is notjust to persuade people to ‘believe in God’. Cornelius alreadybelieved in God. He had already turned away from the idols of Rome and put his faith in the God Israel believed in, and he was already doing his best to live a godly life. But from God’s point of view, something was still missing.

Peter believed this strongly, and so in his sermon to Cornelius and his family he emphasises the central place of Jesus. It’s through Jesus’ death and resurrection that we’ve been reconciled to God. Jesus, he says, is Lord of all - the one through whom God’s healing and liberation come to people - the one who one day will judge the living and the dead. Peter is not saying that Cornelius’ faith in one God is wrong; far from it! He’s saying it’s incomplete; if Cornelius wants to experience the full salvation that is God’s will for him, he needs to put his faith in the one who God has sent as Messiah and Lord - Jesus.

A friend of mine was teaching a ‘Christian Basics’ course once when a woman made this comment to him: “I don’t like it when you talk about Jesus. ‘God’ is safe; I can make that word mean anything I want, but ‘Jesus’ is far too close and specific”. That’s exactly the point! In Jesus, God has come close and become specific. At a certain point in history God came to live among us in Jesus, and at the end of his life he sent out his followers to all people - many of whom already believed in God - to tell them to trust in himand follow him. Our mission today is to help people come to faith in Jesusand learn to follow him.

We’ve seen that God is at work, and Jesus is the issue. The third thing we see here is that the Holy Spirit ‘seals the deal’.When Cornelius and his family hear the message of Jesus, God does something supernatural in them. The Holy Spirit comes to live in them and fills them with new joy, and they begin to praise God and worship him in a new and living way. Jesus is no longer past history; the Holy Spirit has come to live in them and makes Jesus real to them.

This is what our mission is about today as well. It’s not just to get people to believe in God, and it’s not just to give them historical information about Jesus either. Rather, the Holy Spirit wants to help people connect with Jesus in a personal and experiential way.

In the story of Cornelius this personal connection was entirely at God’s initiative. Sometimes you hear stories about that today, too. Some people say, “Jesus has always been real and close to me; I never remember a time when I didn’t know him”. But there are also many people who haven’tyet found their way to a living faith in Christ. We have to help those people find what they’re looking for as they learn to follow Jesus.

So in this story we learn that God is at work, Jesus is the issue, and the Holy Spirit ‘seals the deal’. Let me close with one final comment.

The Church – and that means you and me, and all who call themselves followers of Jesus - must help Cornelius.We live in an age of great spiritual hunger. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). These are the words of our Master. Do we believe them? If we do, how can we fail to help people connect with the one who can satisfy their spiritual hunger?

But here’s the thing: We must not miss the fact that, humanly speaking, Cornelius was Peter’s enemy. He was a soldier of the occupying army, the invaders of Israel, the ones who were oppressing Peter and his countrymen. So even though Cornelius had shown unmistakable signs of genuine interest in the God of Israel, there would be a huge psychological barrier in Peter’s heart when it came to sharing the Good News with him. The Good News told Cornelius his sins could be forgiven. Do you think Peter wantedCornelius’ sins to be forgiven? Do you think Peter wantedto have to share the Lord’s Supper with this enemy soldier? I doubt it.

I wonder where you draw the line? Who are the people you’re reluctant to share the gospel with, because you assume they won’t be interested, or because you have a problem with their race or socio-economic group, or sexual orientation, or the way they dress, or the politics they believe in, or the sort of music they blare out at everyone else? “I want the luxury of continuing to be mad at their group, thank you very much; I don’t wantto share the gospel with them”.
Which barrier in your own heart is God calling you to cross – like he called Peter to cross the barrier of going to the house of the enemy, the Gentile, the oppressor? We’re called to share the good news of Jesus with everyone, by our words and our actions. If you’re honest, what are the current limits of ‘everyone’ for you? And what’s the Holy Spirit saying to you about that?

The Book of Acts is all about evangelism – but it’s not about the kind of reductionistic evangelism in which individual people give their hearts to Jesus and then carry on much as before, with Jesus as one of their accessories. That’s not what God’s doing. God is spreading the Kingdom one heart at a time, as people are captivated by the way of Jesus and learn to live it together. Different people – young and old, rich and poor, men and women and everything in between. Jews and Gentiles, Africans and Europeans, Asians and North Americans. Left and right. Liberal and conservative. Jesus is inviting them all into his new community, the community of disciples. Together this community is learning to pray: ‘Lord, help us to learn to see life as you see it and live life as you taught it’.

The Holy Spirit is leading people into this community. He’s led us into it. Now he wants to use us to reach others. The others will probably not look like us, but that shouldn’t surprise us. That’s how God works. And you and I, like Peter, are called to be part of that work.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Upcoming events

If you are able, please join us after church this Sunday for our spring yard clean up. Please bring some gloves and pack a lunch.

Upcoming Events May 7th to May 13th, 2018

May 7th, 2018
Office is closed
May 9th, 2018 
2:00pm Lectionary Bible study @ church
May 10th, 2018 
8:00am  Men’s and Women’s Bible Study @ Bogani Café
May 12th, 2018 
4:30pm – 7:30pm  Crosslife Church rental
May 13th, 2018 (Ascension Sunday)
9:00am  Holy Communion
10:30am Holy Communion & Sunday School

The shingles on the church are being replaced during this upcoming week, May 7th to May 11th as they are quite old and due for an upgrade.

What’s the next step in St. Margaret’s building redevelopment plan? We are ready to move forward and need your input!! PLEASE plan to join us for an informal discussion after church on Sunday May 27th. You should have received more information on this by email, and there are hard copy information packages on the table in the foyer as well.
On Sunday June 17th there will be an ‘Extraordinary Congregational Meeting’ at 12 noon – 1:30 p.m. (approximately) at which motion(s) will be presented and debated, and a decision made about the next step we will take in this process.

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

The St. Margaret’s Grass Cutting Team (SMGCT) 2018 will be starting up again this June, with a get-together-training in late May.  We are looking for volunteers to be a part of the SMGCT!!  If you like fresh air, getting a tan and fun exercise, please contact the church office at 780-437-7231 or stmargarestsedmonton@gmail.com.  No experience necessary!

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Please feel free to bring some or all of your empty bottles (juice, milk, cans, and other beverage containers) and drop them in our bags. Please support Winnifred Stewart by making provision for this project! Next pick up should be May 10th. Thank you!

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

Winnifred Stewart: Empties to Winn Project
Please feel free to bring some or all of your empty bottles (juice, milk, cans, and other beverage containers) and drop them in our bags. Please support Winnifred Stewart by making provision for this project! Next pick up should be May 10th. Thank you!




Sunday, April 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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