Seventh Sunday of Easter

Image by Sophie Janotta from Pixabay

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Readings

Acts 1:6-14 (NLT)

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. 13 When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.

Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), and Judas (son of James). 14 They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.

John 17:1-11 (NLT)

After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Sermon – by Rev’d Jo Joyce

What does it mean that God understands humans and was fully human?

What does it mean for Jesus to pray for us as he does in this prayer for all believers?

What does it mean to belong? How often do we spend our time looking up at the sky expecting God to miraculously step in, when we need instead to get on with things ourselves?

All of these things struck me as I read our readings today…

I wonder how you approach bible readings? There are lots of ways; we can read reflectively asking God to speak, we can read for understanding or for study, we can read for worship. I often find though that bible readings make me think, and bring to mind loads of questions. What did it mean for those who originally heard these words? Why did the early church decide they were important enough to write down and protect? What might it mean now? What is God saying through this passage?

It is good to ask lots of questions, and not to always take the first answer. The more we think of a piece of scripture, rolling it around in our minds like a Rubik’s cube, the more we can discover – and a bit like me and Rubik’s cubes, the more questions can be raised!

But, that is a good thing! I don’t think scripture was ever meant to be easy. In Jewish culture there is a whole oral tradition that accompanies their written scripture; the word of God is designed to be wrestled with and debated, because as we engage our mind so we begin to learn more about God and more about those things that shape our original questions. And there are some big questions in these readings!

In our readings today we have ideas about the humanity of God and our own humanity. The ascension of Christ and the gathering into the Trinity of his humanity speaks of the incredible mystery of God, that Jesus fully God and fully man ascended to God and drew that humanity ‘up’ into heaven.

But also, we have ideas of belonging – that if we belong with Christ, in Christ we too somehow belong with God. This too is an enormous theological concept which it’s hard to get our minds around. How do we belong in God, does this, should this affect how we behave, how we live?

I wonder how my life might change if I remember that Jesus is praying for me, and for all believers. Does it bring a fresh confidence and an encouragement to know that? How might we all behave together towards each other and our neighbour if we had a fresh confidence that we belong with God? Does that bring new hope, drive out fear, bring comfort or peace, or does it challenge is to behave differently? What does it mean to belong with God – is it about being loved and feeling secure, or is it something more than that?

I think it is it kind of harsh that the disciples, left staring up into the clouds after the ascension, were asked what they were looking at, but I suppose we could think it was that more of a prompt, “and over to you now” sort of statement. How did they respond? After all they just witnessed something awe inspiring, and difficult to understand or explain. Were they galvanised into action? Into being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world? Should we be? We know that following the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost just a short while later the church began to grow exponentially. Sometimes I wonder what it would take to draw me to that level of action and engagement.

So many, many questions. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of them, yet this must never put us off trying. If we are to learn from scripture, we need to recognise that this enquiring mindset will stand us in good stead. It will protect us from automatically taking the first interpretation given, it will help us understand scripture for ourselves, it will help us remember, reflect and draw out meaning and understanding. It’s always good to seek answers from those with more experience, and a range of interpretation of you can. It’s always good to recognise our own prejudices, our hopes our mindset that we bring, and its always important to pray that we might grow in understanding and hear God through the scriptures afresh. But by God’s grace, with an enquiring mind there is so much we can learn from and wonder at in these passages, and by doing that we can grow in faith and awe at the greatness of God.

I wonder what questions these passages bring to mind for you?

Intercessions

We bring before God our concerns for our world:
where there is war we pray for peace;
where there is sickness we pray for health;
where there is despair we pray for hope.
Cast all your anxiety on him,
because he cares for you.

We pray that you would be active in health care:
in the work of doctors and dentists, psychiatrists and psychologists, nurses and administrators, pharmacists and researchers.
Cast all your anxiety on him,
because he cares for you.

Guide our activity in the church:
may we find ways to grow;
may we always honour you;
may we serve our communities.
Cast all your anxiety on him,
because he cares for you.

We hold in your love those whom we love:
those who are sick;
those who are sorrowful;
those who need guidance and direction.
Cast all your anxiety on him,
because he cares for you.

Come to us, God of glory.
Hear us, heal us and shine through our lives.
Cast all your anxiety on him,
because he cares for you.
Amen.

(taken from the Roots website https://www.rootsontheweb.com/ )

A closing hymn as we pray and prepare for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit…

As we wait in silence,
make us ready for your coming Spirit.

As we listen to your word,
make us ready for your coming Spirit.

As we worship you in majesty,
make us ready for your coming Spirit.

As we long for your refreshing,
make us ready for your coming Spirit.

As we long for your renewing,
make us ready for your coming Spirit.

As we long for your equipping,
make us ready for your coming Spirit.

As we long for your empowering,
make us ready for your coming Spirit

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