Sunday 4th August ~ Rev Linda Watson
‘One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’
Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:13-21; Psalm 49:1-9; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21 (Bible readings)
Today’s three readings are just so depressing, so brace yourselves!
It’s partly because the image of the virtuous life that they present is so obviously unattainable and partly because they seem to symbolise the world-hating morality (ethics) that Christianity has so often been accused of.
The author of Ecclesiastes can see no point in life.
Everything we do is annulled for him by the unavoidable fact of death.
Nothing is worth enjoying because it cannot be enjoyed for ever.
This is similar to how John Wesley led his life.
His rule that he set himself was: ‘Save what you can and give away what you can.’
At first Wesley had an income of £30 a year.
He then lived off £28 and gave £2 away each year.
When his income rose to £60 a year he lived on £28 and gave away £32.
As his income rose to £60 and then £120 a year, he still lived on £28 and gave the rest away.
The Accountant General for Household Plate (that’s a sort of tax collector) asked for a return from Wesley supposing he should have a good deal to show.
Wesley replied, ‘I have two silver teaspoons at London and two at Bristol.’
‘This is all the plate which I have at present; and will not buy any more, while so many people around me want bread.’
Can you image today living off of £28 a month never mind a year!
It just doesn’t bear thinking about, but think about it we must.
The author of Ecclesiastes however, assumes that nothing is worth enjoying so you might as well simply concentrate on the superficial, since everything is ultimately superficial and ephemeral.
What’s more, he assumes that this is God’s doing (Ecclesiastes 1:13), so even the thought of God’s eternity is no consolation.
And what’s worse is that Jesus’ words in Luke seem to endorse this gloomy viewpoint.
Here again in our Gospel reading, the emphasis is on death as the ultimate goal, that creeps up on you and makes all your efforts worthless.
And the remedy that Colossians suggest for this state of affairs is hardly more cheering than the ailment.
In Colossians there is a long list of ‘vices’ which we have somehow to get rid of, or risk the wrath of God (Colossians 3:6).
Unfortunately, although we may not have done all the things on the list, we will certainly have done some, and we can have no certainty that we will never again feel anger or greed.
So, how do we ‘put to death’ what is earthly?
And how is that a positive thing to do, one that affirms the goodness of God’s creation?
Firstly, let’s not be quick to just gloss over what these readings are saying.
We can be so eager to persuade people that you can be a Christian and still have a good time.
That some things are incompatible with choosing God.
That somethings will dull our appreciation for God.
That this will make us believe that we can be satisfied with less.
Now, this is actually the point of what Jesus’ saying in Luke.
Someone has asked him to arbitrate over a piece of property and we cannot miss the impatience in Jesus’ voice as he gives his answer.
So, is Jesus, who’s the one who, ‘will come again and judge the living and the dead,’ really saying he’s no right to judge in this case?
Now, the story he tells suggests that isn’t the point being made here.
The rich man has already decided what’s important, and he’s lived his life by that decision.
The ‘judgement’, then, is one that he’s already made.
And this is what Jesus wants his listeners to understand.
We decide now, day by day, what to value, what to give our heart to.
The brothers, in our reading who are fighting over their inheritance, have come to the Judge of all the earth.
They have a chance, now, to listen to Jesus and choose the kingdom, or to allow the squabble about money to distract them.
The verses from Colossians then move the argument on a stage.
The people who’re reading this letter have already made their choice.
They have chosen the new life of Christ, to the point where they can emphatically say that the old life is dead (Colossians 3:3).
And yet it clings on to them with ghostly and terrible fingers.
Despite the choice they’ve made, both costly and joyful, they are still unable to live Christ’s risen life.
Over and over again, in all that they do daily, they have to go on making that choice in the small things.
That one great decision, to live in Christ, then has increasingly to shape all the smaller decision, so that each part of their lives demonstrates what they value.
Like, John Wesley, who made the heart-felt decision that the two silver teaspoons at London and the two at Bristol were all that he needed to eat his food with, other spoons would have been extra, surplus to requirements and therefore, he had no need of them.
The two lists in this reading from Colossians are interesting.
The first one (v 5) seems to concentrate on the big things, the ones that anyone would agree were signs of an immortal life, while the second one (vv 8-9) goes on to the smaller things, that are easier to forgive ourselves for, but that actually have an insidious and creeping effect on our judgement and on our life together.
Colossians makes a forcible connection between these smaller choices and the huge choice for Jesus.
Every time we resist anger or malice, the image of God becomes a bit clearer in us (v 10).
So the choice we are being offered isn’t between a harsh and world-denying morality or a holistic and world-affirming one, but between reality and illusion.
The reality is that the world was made by God, and is utterly loved by God.
To choose Jesus is to choose to be part of what the world is actually for.
It’s to choose to be part of God’s image, his life that fills the world and redeems it.
Sources: David Adam; Jane Williams
Sunday 28th July ~ Rev Linda Watson
‘How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
Readings: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13 (Bible readings)
Each one of us is a unique child of God.
So, each of us prays in our way – expressing our own relationship to God, in the way that comes most easily to us.
People sometimes go to special places to pray: church, synagogue, mosque.
Some find it easier to pray in the open, when they are walking, or sitting in a quiet place.
Some people even use special aids to help them to concentrate, such as a prayer mat or prayer wheel, a rosary or even holding a special object like a stone.
Some people like to focus on a candle, a cross, an icon or some beautiful flowers.
Some people even take up a special position to pray, like kneeling, meditation poses, etc..
And yet, with all of these places for prayer and objects to help us focus, we find we can still be lost for words.
This happens when we’re sometimes depressed, not sure of ourselves, anxious, fearful.
And yet, we do know how to pray, we just find we can’t.
It’s then that the promise mentioned in the letter to the Romans comes to our rescue (Romans 8:26).
‘Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
What this means is that the Holy Spirit of God dwells in us, so we can let the Holy Spirit pray in us.
Jesus himself shows us the way.
And when the disciples need to know more, he teaches them how to pray.
Today we hear about Jesus leading his disciples into greater awareness of discipleship.
They were with him, talking, listening, eating, sleeping in his company, but they understood prayer to be something different from their direct interaction with him.
They had a model of prayer which fitted their Jewish culture and time; which was, formal, precise and fitting a required format.
They were even familiar, like Jesus was, with the prayers of the psalms.
However, with Jesus they were made to understand that God is flexible in his listening and that presence is as importance as words.
Here they were, in Jesus’ company and yet did not recognise this as prayer.
They were preaching the good news and healing but still they wanted what John’s followers had: a formula, a set of words which said what they thought was missing from their lives.
They were searching for something lost, or not yet discovered.
As usual, Jesus offered them much more than they expected.
He didn’t give them a theory about how to pray, or a lecture on the nature and purpose of prayer.
He didn’t rebuke them for their lack of insight into the nature of their fellowship with him.
He didn’t give them techniques for breathing and for concentration, or ways of avoiding distraction, so that they could become ‘professional’ in their prayers.
Instead, he introduced them into his own relationship with God.
He gave them a new insight into the nature of our God, he called his Father, ‘Abba’ which means daddy, in place of the formal term for a mighty and distant God.
He showed them a side to the Almighty, to his relationship with God and their own.
This was something that they had never before experienced.
It was one of intimacy and intensity and all-embracing love, the kind of love and sacrifice, that a loving parent gives to a beloved child and much greater than that, which friends share.
The prayer he gave them contains everything which human beings need for their well-being, but which God knows even before we utter it.
In their search for God, Jesus gave the disciples the perfect formula until they fully recognised the full reality of who it was that gave it to them.
To want to search for God is, in itself, a gift of God.
To search is to find, because Jesus, who is the bridge between heaven and earth, and with the Holy Spirit, at the heart of all prayer, will provide the practical teaching and the spiritual inspiration which draw us towards the truth.
We often search in the vain hope of finding our lost something when the uncertain world cannot provide the security we need.
Frequently, it’s in this state of vulnerability that we find God, because our reaching out is sincere and usually in the complete faith which can risk everything, because there’s nothing to lose.
It’s for times like these that we were given what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
It’s all we need, if needing words at all.
For it’s been said that one minute with our full attention given to God with our whole presence is enough; God’s not limited by our notions of time.
Jesus understood our reliance on concrete terms, the recognisable formula and our need to express our yearnings in ways which convince us – and it’s our needs that we’re thinking of.
The Lord’s Prayer says everything we need to say in words and brings us into God’s presence as surely as the disciples were present to the person of Jesus.
We can pray with confidence, certain that our prayer is heard.
Sources: Jane Williams
Sunday 21 July ~ Rev Linda Watson
‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me’
Readings: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42 (Bible readings)
I’ve found a kitchen prayer in the Kevin Mayhew Summer catalogue. There are some interesting books and things in it, so I thought I would share this kitchen prayer with you.
Lord of pots and pans and things,
since I’ve no time to be
a saint by doing lovely things
or watching late with thee,
or dreaming in the dawn light
or storming heaven’s gates,
make me a saint by getting meals
and washing up the plates.
Although I must have Martha’s hands,
I have a Mary mind;
and when I black the boots and shoes,
thy sandals, Lord, I find.
I think of how they trod the earth,
each time I scrub the floor;
accept this meditation, Lord,
I haven’t time for more.
This is about Mary and Martha and their very different characters.
However, if we take today’s gospel reading, it suggests that the learning is all one-way: Mary is right and Martha is wrong.
But probably most of us, particularly, perhaps, the women here today, have a sneaking sense of sympathy for Martha and a feeling that Jesus is being a bit unfair.
After all, somebody’s got to prepare for guests, get the dinner ready, clean up and so on.
We can’t all sit about in a contemplative daze.
This story about Mary and Martha is one that we think we know quite well, only to realise that what we think we know is actually a mixture of several different stories.
We tend to associate Mary with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus with costly perfume, and who’d had a brother called Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
But Mark’s gospel tells us the bare facts that a nameless woman anointed Jesus’ head; Luke 7, has her as a sinner and anointing his feet, but still gives no name and John 11 tells us that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, but says nothing about her sinfulness.
It’s also John who tells us about Lazarus.
So, let’s look with more care at the passage set for us today, and see what it actually says, rather than what we think it does.
It says, for one thing, that this all happens in Martha’s house.
There’s no mention of any male relative.
All Luke’s first readers would have known instantly that this was an example of Jesus’ famed radical stance towards women.
He’s doing something very daring by being in that house at all, when they’re not his family.
But Martha and Mary are also doing something daring by welcoming this man into their home.
Their reputations are definitely going to suffer.
No wonder Martha is in a bit of a flap: if it’s her home, she’s the one who has taken the bold decision to invite Jesus in.
If Paul’s letters are anything to go by, Luke’s first readers, the earliest Christians, would have been meeting in just such homes and would have been debating whether or not women could be hosts and leaders of their gatherings.
Luke, with his well-known interest in women, is suggesting that Jesus set them as a precedent here.
Luke goes on to show Jesus specifically commending Mary for sitting at his feet and listening to him.
Students might sit at the feet of rabbis to learn, but women didn’t.
If women were present at all, it was simply to provide food and drink, and to remain quietly out of sight.
Once again, for Luke’s first readers this would have played into the discussion about women disciples.
Were they just here to enable and facilitate the men’s vocations, or could they be true disciples themselves?
Luke’s saying that Jesus has already answered that question.
It’s ironic that this story of the full participation of women in the mission of Jesus should have turned into a story about a fallen woman and her harassed sister!
If we take the context seriously, Jesus’ words to Martha are a clear call: women, like men, need to put discipleship above everything else.
And that’s surely the point.
Women, like men, need to put discipleship above everything else.
Like Martha, we’re all ‘worried and distracted by many things.’
There’re so many things that have real claim upon our time and our hearts, where we feel justified in saying with indignation, ‘we can’t all be contemplatives.
Someone has to do the work!’
And of course, that’s true.
But we mustn’t let our worries and duties mask our real nature, or most important task, which is to be disciples of Jesus.
Like this prayer even Martha in her busy-ness was also contemplating God. We too can do this.
Sources: Jane Williams
Sunday 16th June ~ Rev Linda Watson
’The Mystery of the Almighty’
Readings: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; Psalm 8; John 16:12-15 (Bible readings)
I don’t know about you but I do love a good detective story, or watching one on unfold on the television. These kinds of stories are where clues are carefully laid out, one by one, until the mystery is eventually solved. I must admit that they appeal to my scientific mind and one of my favourite authors of the ‘who done it’ is Colin Dexter of the Morse mysteries. Morse will even, during an intense case, try two or three different scenarios before getting to the correct solution.
And in many ways the Bible’s just such a mystery story. The mystery of the Almighty. So, let’s have a look at the Bible clues and see where they lead.
In the Old Testament the focus is mainly on God the Creator as this is where we only get the merest hints about the Son and the Spirit. For example, in Genesis 1:1-2 God is Creator and Spirit as ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.’
In our Proverbs reading the Wisdom of God appears as the first born of all creation: this is seen as a glimpse of Jesus, like Isaiah’s suffering servant?
In the Old Testament we also see the Spirit of God, occasionally active in the chosen people for special tasks, for example Moses and Isaiah.
On the whole though, the first person of the Trinity takes centre stage in the Old Testament.
Now let’s take the New Testament.
In the New Testament, we discover God who made the world
He loves us so much that he sent his Son to be born as a human baby, to share in our human life.
God the Creator is also God the Father. In this we learn that, in Jesus, God loves us so much that he was prepared to die for us: a death that wasn’t an end but a beginning, a doorway into eternal life for all of us.
Therefore, God the Son is God the Redeemer.
Pentecost, which we celebrated last week, reveals yet another aspect of God’s character – another dimension of his love. At Pentecost, God shared that love with us in a way that enables us to communicate with him and with one another, which in a way make us holy, too!
Consequently, God the Holy Spirit is God the Sanctifier.
With the New Testament, the early Church engaged fully in this mystery, having a go at taking all the clues they had and tried to solve it.
They agreed that there’s One God, who’s also three. And yet, the word ‘Trinity’ doesn’t appear in the Bible. So, later centuries of Christians invented it to describe the idea of the three-in-one God.
What does emerge however, in the New Testament, is a simple acceptance that there is one God, yet there are three distinct characters who each seem to be God.
A simple acceptance that these three Persons relate to one another, communicate with one another and also with us, and yet they are one.
Today’s Gospel reading hints at a complex relationship between the Persons of God …. and us.
Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth would come, to tell his disciple’s things that he wanted them to know, but for which they were not yet prepared.
And the words of Jesus, which the Spirit would declare are actually the Father’s.
Our reading also tells us, that we, disciples of Jesus, prepared by Easter and Pentecost, are on the receiving end of something which is continually being given to us by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, all working together.
The loving, dynamic relationship, which is the Trinity, includes all of us, individually and as a Christian community.
The Bible, like the Morse novels is a mystery story, ‘The mystery of the Almighty’. Unlike the Morse novels though, this mystery cannot be fully solved.
Whilst at college we students took a module called God as Trinity. We all tried to grasp the mystery of the Almighty. Did any of us manage it? No, just when someone thought they’d mastered it, it all went pear shaped!
What the Bible’s mystery story turns out to be is the first volume. There are still many things God still wants to tell us. The sequel involves all of us, as we seek the Spirit’s guidance in our everyday lives, in a world so different from the first century Palestine.
And you know what?
There’s to be a further episode, too. And this is even more awaited for than the spin-off of Lewis. There’ll be a time when all the clues in The Trinity Trilogy make sense, when we see in full, though now we see only in part, through a glass darkly. But for now, what’s wrong with a bit of mystery? Why not simply accept that God’s essential nature is a mystery? Each of us, at our baptism, became part of that mystery. And those of us who receive Holy Communion can share in that mystery, which is the love of God.
Simple acceptance of mystery: now, isn’t that what faith’s all about?
Sources: Jane Williams
Sunday 9th June – Pentecost Sunday ~ Rev Linda Watson
’He will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth.’
Readings: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-36; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17 (Bible readings)
It was to Britain that the world’s attention was turned on Wednesday for a moving – and at times joyous – celebration of D-Day in Portsmouth.
The world’s heads of state, at the forefront the Queen, flanked by the Prince of Wales and President Trump, gave standing ovations to the 10 veterans, half of them with walking sticks to steady themselves, who made their way onto the giant stage, signalling the start of two days of commemorations.
The Queen, a teenager when Operation Overlord was launched, pointed out in her closing speech that nobody had thought the survivors of D-Day would make it this far; many had said the 60th anniversary would be their swansong. But these veterans – the Queen’s generation – are made of tough stuff.
Her Majesty explained that ‘The wartime generation – my generation – is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today.’
She then quoted her own father, George VI, from a national broadcast at the time, saying, “What is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance, we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve.”
I’ll say that again, ‘What is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance, we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve.’
This message, given 75 years ago, rallied the troops to war. And it was, said the Queen, “exactly what those brave men brought to the battle … many of them would never return, and the heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten.”
In our Acts reading we hear about the first noticeable effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The realisation by Peter and the other apostles to what Jesus had said to them before he ascended to the Father, now made sense. As Jesus had said, ‘He will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth.’
These words finally helped to rally Peter and the other apostles, to know that they were not alone in their ministries because they were all in it together. That, what was demanded of them, was something more than courage and endurance, it was the Holy Spirit, a new unconquerable resolve.’
They were finally able to come out of hiding and to communicate their Gospel message, not just in their own language but in other languages too.
Their Gospel message moved across language barriers. And to the long list of their languages, we can also add, English, Welsh, French and German to name but a few.
Spirit speaks to spirit, God’s people understand one another, because the Spirit is in them.
It seems the resurrection wasn’t enough in itself to get Peter and the apostles going. This wonderful event didn’t seem to make them braver or stronger. There was still an emptiness within.
George the VI, like Jesus, had understood this completely.
Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem where they would be baptised by the Holy Spirit (Act 1:4-5) and then they would receive power to become witnesses (Acts 1:8).
What exactly had happened at Pentecost we’ll never know. The apostles could only describe their experience in terms of wind and fire, two of the strongest elements of the world.
John Jenkins MBE, who, as a young man, a platoon sergeant in the Pioneer Corps had landed on Gold Beach on June 8th 1944, D-Day plus 2, described his own experience of war as best as he could.
“I was 12 years old he said, when I landed on Gold Beach. Sorry, 23 years old – I put my age back a bit,” he joked. But then came the truths. “I was terrified; I think everyone was,” he recalled.
At that point the veterans – those who still could – rose to their feet.
He epitomised their remarkable spirit.
Many veterans, who had gathered to share similar tales of bravery and distress, wept as they looked on.
“You don’t show it, but it’s there,” said Mr Jenkins. “I look back on it as a big part of my life. It changed me in a way; but I was just a small part in a very big machine.”
He paid tribute – as they all did – to the soldiers who didn’t make it.
“You never forget your comrades because you’re all in it together.
In today’s Gospel reading from John, the basic message is clear enough, the apostles are all in it together.
Jesus’ departure from the world doesn’t mean that God’s no longer present with his followers, because God will send ‘another Advocate,’ ‘the Spirit of truth,’ who will be with them and in them.
They will experience the intimate presence of God still, no longer external to them, but in their very beings.
They will be held together as a community of believers, by the Spirit they all share.
The challenge of Pentecost for us is the recognition that God’s Spirit lives in all of us.
If we want to find God, we must look not only outwards, to the world he created, but inwards, into our own hearts, our very souls.
And we must also look into the eyes of our fellow believers, and see God there.
We belong together because of the Spirit we share.
If we allow spirit to speak to spirit, we will be given a new unconquerable resolve to go and spread the Good News, that, with the Holy Spirit, the crucified, risen and ascended Lord loves us and cares for us and communicates to us that we’re all in it together.
Sources: The Telegraph; David Adams; Jane Williams
Sunday 2nd June ~ Rev Linda Watson
’ As you, Father, are in me and I also am in you, may they also be in us.’
Readings: Ezekiel 36:24-28, 97; Acts 16:16-34; John 17:20-26 (Bible readings)
On Friday morning we shared Morning Prayer together at St Matthew’s. We lit the Paschal candle, known also as the Christ light, especially as during Eastertide we are reminded of what Jesus did for us in his death, resurrection and ascension. The service proved a very prayerful, peaceful and reflective time, as we held not just the Colwyn Benefice in our prayers, but also those who visit, work and worship among us.
Prayer we could say is the mainstay, the lifeblood of the Church.
Many Christians pray a morning prayer when they awake and an evening prayer before they go to bed.
Christian children are often taught to “say their prayers” before they go to bed every night as a way to honour God and nurture their spiritual development.
Many Churches, such as the Church in Wales, hold morning and evening prayer which are prayers that are offered to God at specific times of the day.
Let me give you a bit of background about our prayer books.
The Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552 from which todays Book of Common Prayer comes from, were written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, as he believed that the restoration of Scripture as the heart of worship was above all for teaching and instructing, not just the laity but also the clergy.
His ideal was that its central element should be the regular and comprehensive reading of the Bible, primarily by means of the two lessons at Matins (morning prayer) and evensong.
Historically, Morning Prayer was the main Sunday morning service on most Sundays in all Anglican parishes, with Holy Communion being celebrated after Morning or Evening Prayer (typically once a month, on the first Sunday).
In the twentieth century, Holy Communion became the main Sunday morning service once or twice per month.
With the revival of the Eucharist as the principal Sunday service during the second half of the twentieth century, Morning Prayer has been the principal Sunday service less frequently.
In our Gospel reading we hear prayer being offered by Jesus. These are his last words before he goes out to the Garden of Gethsemane, to his arrest and crucifixion.
The theme of his prayer is the indivisible unity between Father and Son. And this unity is characterised by love.
Jesus prays that the glory of this loving unity will draw into itself his disciples, and those who become believers, because of their witness, so that they will be one with Father and Son. Now how amazing is this, we of course, are included in this prayer since we have come to believe because of the witness of his first disciples. That means that Jesus prayed for us 2,000 years ago!
Jesus’ prayer shows the trust that he has put in his disciples and in us.
As I said at the Ascension service: He knew the frailty of the disciples and that they hardly understood what he was saying. And yet, he still handed his work on to them. He had put his hope and confidence in them, as he does in us.
Jesus prays that we will grow into unity with him and the Father for our own sakes, that we will be at one with the God who is the source of our being. He also prays for this unity because it’s through our manifestation of God’s love and unity that others will come to believe in Jesus and in the Father, who sent him.
It’s a unity of love, that we love each other as Jesus loves us. This unity comes, not through schemes and meetings but through heart-to-heart relationships.
Jesus prays, ‘As you, Father, are in me and I also am in you, may they also be in us.’
The great gift of God to us, is that we dwell in him and he in us.
We’re never without the presence of God, for in him we live and move and have our dwelling.
This is expressed very well in the ‘Prayer of Seven Directions.’
It’s a good prayer to start and end the day with and it goes:
God before me: God behind me.
God on my right and God on my left.
God above me: God beneath me.
God, this day within and about me.
This is the Glory and the love that we share; we can meet God in others and be God to others too.
The unity that we have is God-given.
Our prayer life then, is important for us, it allows us to stay, as someone once said, plugged into God.
So, how do we stay plugged into God?
Thursday 30 May ~ Ascension Day ~ Rev Linda Watson
And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
Readings: Daniel 7:9-14; Psalm 47; Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53 (Bible readings)
The biblical versions of the ascension of Jesus leave him disappearing from the sight of the disciples. But what happened next?
One imaginative account runs as follows:
As Jesus arrives at the gates of heaven, the angels are waiting to welcome him. Gabriel steps forward and says: ‘Lord, we’ve so admired everything you did down there. You revealed the kingdom of God; you healed the sick; you showed compassion to everyone in need; you suffered so much … But we were wondering: who’s going to keep your wonderful work going?’
Jesus replies; ‘I’ve given that job to my eleven followers, and to whoever joins them.’
There was shuffling and coughing among the angels.
Finally, Gabriel speaks again, looking very troubled: ‘But Lord, do you really mean Peter, who’s useless under pressure; and James and John, who’re so obsessed with status; and Thomas, who’s so sceptical; and Philip, who’s so slow? None are reliable, well-educated or well connected …’
‘Yes’, replied Jesus, ‘I’ve given them the job.’
‘Lord, is this wise? Their bound to make a mess of it. At least consider a back-up plan!’
‘No’, said Jesus firmly. No other plans.’
You won’t find that story in any of the Gospels, but it reminds us as we celebrate the ascension of our Lord that we are now trusted to be his body here on earth.
Just as he has already done on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:27), the risen Jesus opens the scriptures to his disciples.
He shows them that all that had happened to him, culminating in his death and resurrection, was no accident but rather fulfilled the deep purposes of God as these had been expressed throughout the scriptures.
Going further, Jesus also teaches the disciples that the scriptures look ahead to all the nations of the world hearing of the love of God revealed through his Messiah.
No details are given, but it’s natural to think of passages such as Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6.
For the good news about Jesus to be taken out from the immediate context of Jerusalem and Judaea across frontiers of various kinds to ‘Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8) two things will be necessary: divine empowerment and faithful human witness.
Jesus promises that God will provide the power necessary for this task in the gift of the Holy Spirit (Act 1:4-5, 8), and because the Spirit is sheer gift the disciples can do nothing to trigger or prompt it beyond passively staying put and waiting.
But this gift will not override their humanity, which will be very much at work in the acts of courageous witness described in Luke’s second volume.
The minds of the disciples have been opened to grasp what God has already done through Jesus and to see that God has further work for them to do when the Spirit comes upon them.
So rather than being devastated by Jesus’ departure from this world, they can experience this event in a spirit of joyful trust, even worshipping him as Lord.
The biblical writers say little that will satisfy human curiosity about what happened to Jesus’ physical body when he ascended into heaven; rather they tell us that the one who was crucified is now joined to God, sharing in his authority, sitting at his right hand.
And their thinking seems always to move directly from there to the implications for us, the Church.
Thus, in Ephesians the vision of Christ in all his ascended glory moves on naturally to the description of the Church ‘which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’ (1:23).
So where does the ascension leave us?
St Teresa, addressing the ascended Lord, puts it perfectly: ‘You have now no body on earth but ours; no hands but ours; no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes showing your compassion to the world; ours are the feet with which you go about doing good; ours are the hands with which you are now to bless the world.’
Ascension Day reveals the full extent of God’s reckless plan to give his love bodily form in this world.
He did this perfectly and at great cost in Jesus; but even more recklessly – and certainly less perfectly – he does so in those who try to follow Jesus.
If we say ‘yes’ to our part in God’s plan we will discover that the ascended Jesus, now no longer physically visible in this world, is at work in and through us, because we are his body.
Sunday 17 March ~ Rev Linda Watson
‘Inner Strength and Courage’
Readings: Genesis 15:1-12, 17,18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13: 31-35 (Bible readings)
God will always hold us together, and no matter what happens he will hold us together and give us inner strength to face what life throws at us. How do I know this? Because if we look a little deeper into the human body we discover a little protein molecule called Laminin. Laminin is a cell adhesion molecule that’s made up of proteins.
Let me introduce you to a little bit of molecular biology. Cells organise themselves into certain molecular structures that determine what proteins they are. There are between 10 and 60,000 proteins in the human body. And each protein has a specific job to do.
The job of Laminin, being a cell adhesion molecule, is to hold everything together. We therefore need Laminin in our bodies. Because without it we would all fall to pieces. We could say it’s like the steel that they put into the concrete when they lay the foundations of buildings. So what Laminin does is hold our membranes together. In fact, it’s the glue of the human body. It gives us the strength to function. It makes us who we physically are.
During Lent and Passiontide, we’re asked to think about Jesus and what he did for us in the lead up to Easter. I don’t know about you but I’m always amazed by the integrity, strength and courage of Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and of course during the events of Holy Week. I sometimes wonder if this strength and courage are aspects of Jesus that are not always recognised or thought about in depth.
This morning we hear about inner strength.
In our Old Testament reading Abram sees God as his strength and shield. And Paul in Philippians tells us that we have to stand firm in the Lord. The inner strength, integrity and courage of Jesus comes across to us by hearing about some of the dangers Jesus faced in our Gospel reading.
Let’s begin with some sympathetic Pharisees who approached Jesus to warn him about Herod. Now this Herod is Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great who sought to kill the infant Jesus when he learned of his birth as the one who was ‘King of the Jews’. Herod Antipas ruled the region of Galilee and was tolerated by the Romans because he kept control over his subjects by dealing ruthlessly with his enemies.
It was also Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist arrested, imprisoned and then beheaded just because he’d spoken up against Herod’s sleazy private life.
So, when Jesus was warned that Herod wanted to kill him, we know that this was a very serious threat. This may well have scared off some of Jesus’ followers, but Jesus refuses to be discouraged by this news, he even refers to Herod as ‘that fox’. He’s even more determined to continue his ministry of healing, preaching and teaching. And says, ‘it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem’.
This then leads us into the second danger that Jesus is facing: Jerusalem. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem’ says Jesus, ‘the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it’. There’s no doubt from this that Jesus identifies himself with the son of the vineyard owner who was killed by the tenants, because they thought that by doing so the vineyard would become their own. This son was sent by his father in the hope that he would be accepted where others had been rejected. Therefore, Jesus knew that when he turned towards Jerusalem, he would be in very serious danger and yet he was going anyway.
We now come to the third risk that Jesus took and had been taking ever since his time of temptation in the wilderness. This risk required more strength and courage than any physical danger. And that’s the risk Jesus takes by walking in the way of love. Perhaps many of us here this morning have known the pain of unrequited love, or have experienced the rejection of a much-loved friend or relative who’s suddenly shutting us out. It takes courage to go on loving and trying to express that love, in the face of what feels like a brick wall. We might decide it’s easier to block out love and forgiveness and respond with anger, hatred or bitterness for our own protection. Jesus though, just goes on loving: in good times, the bad times, in danger, in distress, in tragedy and despair and on the cross. He’s a man of extraordinary integrity, strength and courage.
And today we’re lucky to be able to worship God without fear of modern-day Herod’s. Yet there are Christians in other parts of the world where it’s still dangerous to follow Jesus; places where Christians need strength and courage in the face of oppression, persecution and even the possibility of death for their faith.
We may find though that there are situations in our lives which require us to face a different sort of danger. The danger of being ridiculed or criticized for our faith as Christians. Of being shunned by colleagues when we take a lonely stand on some issue which differs from their views.
Perhaps though, the biggest challenge to our strength and courage is to do with our inner lives. I wonder about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and whether he heard again the temptations of the devil, in the wilderness. Does Jesus battle again with the temptation to overthrow Herod and take control of the region and then the world? If Jesus was tempted again like this, he once again has the integrity, strength and courage to resist and remain true to his calling.
Traditionally Lent is a time of self-examination, penitence and prayer. We all have our failings and fall short of what love demands from us. And like Jesus we too struggle with our own particular temptations which are tailor made to fit our own particular weaknesses. It takes a lot of inner strength and courage to be truly honest with ourselves and with God.
At the very begin I introduced you to the cell adhesion protein called Laminin that holds all our membranes, all our stuff together. It gives us strength and allows us to be physically who we are.
Abram and Paul tell us how God is their inner strength. Paul in Philippians tells us that we need to stand firm in all that we do. However, in Colossians he goes one step further and tells us that; Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible ……. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
To see Laminin, this molecule, this glue that hold us all together, that gives us strength to be us, well you have to see it to believe it! So, what’s the shape of this molecule that holds us altogether as Christians? It’s the same shape as the Laminin molecule. It’s the cross! Amen.