7th Sunday of Easter

21st May 2023

Reflection (readings are below) 

On Thursday, Ascension Day, I took part in a fund raising event for Glassdoor, in which we took the lift to the top of the Arcelormittal Orbit (an 80+m tall sculpture cum icon). The view from the top was stunning, looking out over the immediate locality of the Olympic Park and all the new local developments colleges, a new V and A, sports facilities. Then to the south the Canary Wharf development, and to the west the city where St Paul’s dome was visible as a little blip between tower blocks, whilst to the north the landscape was more open. Fundraisers have to involve some sort of challenge and this one was to abseil down. Helmeted and harnessed, you have to throw off your inbuilt fear and lean back over the void and begin to walk down. There is only 3 foot of vertical surface before you have only thin air. At this point you have to push off with your feet, tip forwards and belay the rope to lower yourself down. You have to trust that all that has been put in place to ensure your safety will do just that!

The high level view distant landmarks stayed with me for what seemed like along while – perhaps because I wasn’t daring to look down! As I neared the ground however,  roads, people, trees  etc resumed their more normal size and filled once again my frame of vision. It was, in a sense, coming back to earth – ie reality – with a bump! The excitement of the descent (even it had had its moments of fear) was over. I wonder if that is how the disciples felt when the angels tell them to stop looking up to heaven and get on with life where they are. 

I think ascension-tide was tough for the disciples. They have been on such a roller coaster. For a couple of years they have been on a mission with Jesus, treading the roads up and down between Galilee and Jerusalem, watching Jesus heal people, perform miracles and outwit legal-minded scribes; putting up with with no regular place to sleep or eat just so that they can be constantly in his presence, soaking up his wisdom and teaching; beginning to grasp at the enormity of who Jesus was – the Messiah, the Son of God. Then overnight their hopes had been dashed as they saw Jesus arrested, tried and executed. In fear they had tried to hide away. With disbelief they were asked to accept that the Jesus who had died, had also risen from the dead. With increasing joy and hope they began to understand that they did have a future, that Jesus was their conquering hero, that this time there would be no turning back! And yet, only forty days later Jesus is once again confusing them with his words. No, he can’t predict the future for them; no he doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be, nor the timescale – that bigger picture is all in God’s hands. Instead Jesus is telling them that they are going to  receive – at some as yet unspecified time in the future – new powers with which they (not Jesus) will bear witness to the gospel to the ends of the earth. And with that, Jesus once more disappears from their sight. 

The disciples are being asked to take a lot on faith! They are to carry out a mission without knowing the final outcome. They are going to be equipped with an as yet unknown power. They have been given a taste of heaven, and yet they are being asked to return to their old room back in Jerusalem. 

The nine days between Ascension day and Pentecost, is a time of uneasiness, of uncertainty but also of expectation. A time when the bigger picture is not yet apparent, when the final outcome is not yet known. 

I find similar mixed emotions when I try and get my mind around the climate crisis. I know enough to know that it is a big problem. I know enough to know we could as human race, rectify damage we have caused but only if we all act together to change the way we live at a global level. And I know that as one individual I cannot effect that global change. I can only make changes at the level of the individual. Yet I also believe that God desires salvation and fullness of life for creation. I have to trust that God sees and knows the bigger picture. I have to trust that God can use my efforts, however small, to good effect. I have to accept that I am not called to be the total solution but rather I am called to live and work alongside my fellow beings – and to do so not in my power, but in the power that God gives.

Acts 1:6-14

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

1 Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; *
let those who hate him flee before him.

2 Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; *
as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

3 But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; *
let them also be merry and joyful.

4 Sing to God, sing praises to his Name;
exalt him who rides upon the heavens; *
YAHWEH is his Name, rejoice before him!

5 Father of orphans, defender of widows, *
God in his holy habitation!

6 God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; *
but the rebels shall live in dry places.

7 O God, when you went forth before your people, *
when you marched through the wilderness,

8 The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain,
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, *
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

9 You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; *
you refreshed the land when it was weary.

10 Your people found their home in it; *
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.

33 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; *
sing praises to the Lord.

34 He rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; *
he sends forth his voice, his mighty voice.

35 Ascribe power to God; *
his majesty is over Israel;
his strength is in the skies.

36 How wonderful is God in his holy places! *
the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people!
Blessed be God!

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

John 17:1-11

Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Fourth Sunday in Advent

18th December 2022

Reflection (the readings follow on below)

Ahaz was king of Judah, the southern half of what had been the unified Israel. The kings of the adjoining lands of Israel (the northern kingdom) and of Aram (a western neighbour) wanted Ahaz to join forces with them and overrun the larger – richer – Assyrian nation. Isaiah’s counsel had been that Ahaz should not join the conflict but place his trust and the safety of Judah in the hands of God. Ahaz decided ask for help of the Assyrians, who did then rout the kings of Israel and Aram but in return demanded Judah became one of Assyria’s vassal nations. 

Ahaz was unwilling to ask help from God, and unable to choose between good and evil. 

That the  stories we read of in the Bible are rooted in real history is important. It certainly is for Paul who, in his letter to the Roman congregations, is keen to remind them that Jesus was descended from David, ie that there was a human earthiness or rootedness to Jesus. And then with equal historical certainty, he talks of that same Jesus as the one resurrected from the dead through, as the one who is the Son of God. And further that that same Jesus fills his followers with grace. This is the mystery of Christmas: that Jesus, who is of God, is also of humankind, and is God with us, and God in us. 

Another message that today’s readings give us is about being open to God, willing to hear and receive God’s word – indeed God’s Word. Ahaz is reluctant to listen to either God or God’s prophet. He is reluctant to place his trust in God. Paul, in contrast, has learnt to trust solely and absolutely in God, to be ever open to God’s will, ever open to receiving power and grace from God, through Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel both Mary and Joseph are open to trusting in and doing God’s will – whether that be  bearing a child  or being seen as a cuckold. I am particularly intrigued that is through the medium of a dream that Joseph hears God’s word. Prayer is  about openness, about clearing one’s mind of chit chat and buzz, which is also what one does before falling asleep. Both now in Advent and in the busy season of Christmas, it is good to clear our minds and make time for God.

Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.

3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbours, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.