The link to the reflection video is: https://youtu.be/r16Dxtgldm8
Acts 1:15-17, 21-end, John 17:6-19
In the name of the living God, Heavenly Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit.
We tune into the disciples this morning in the between times – Jesus has ascended back to the Father, and they are awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the day of Pentecost. They have gathered together and devoted themselves to prayer, and this is the basis of setting aside the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost as a special time of prayer – the modern ‘Thy Kingdom come’ initiative, which we may have heard of mirrors this approach.
The disciples and Jesus followers took time out to pray with the final words of Jesus ringing in their ears – where he said as he ascended. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They gathered to pray and through the next 10 days – they prayed frequently.
I can’t speak for all of us but I am not sure my first instinct is always as spot on as this…. None of our more worldly responses to a lull in the action, will get us as far as praying does. Those worldly responses might well include:-
Have a good panic!
Letting anxiety get the better of us
Or wallowing in some guilt about something we have not done (or not done as well as we wanted)
Another favourite in a lull is ‘ostrich behaviour’ putting our heads in the sand and trying to ignore the present reality (or elephant in the room!)
Praying and praying frequently needs to be high up on the agenda of our hearts and lives…. The life of discipleship is about developing first rather than last instinct prayerfulness! The example of the disciples, the women and Jesus family is definitely an example of first instinct prayerfulness. It said in our reading the crowd gathered for prayer was around 120! Something exciting is coming – what shall we do – their answer and ours should be PRAY and rest in God’s presence.
So, the first and repeated thing the disciples did after the ascension of Jesus was pray. No doubt first instinct prayerfulness is the way to go for us too! There are lots of things to pray about at the moment. In a way I hope we are on the cusp of more exciting times as well, which in the same way as it did for the disciples, makes the prayer all the more important.
We need to pray for wisdom in all those leading our country for the changes ahead and how organisations will implement them wisely.
We need to pray for the team who develop the Government guidelines for places of worship to fit how the Church works.
We need to pray for all people all impacted by recent times in different ways – from those who are ready to go and get on with it – to those who for good reason have hardly left their houses for 16 months
We also need to pray for our world particularly for the covax scheme and for an equitable distribution of vaccines, and for those countries at the moment experiencing peaks, huge difficulties and death rates. As a world living so closely inter-related with one another, we need a global solution moving forward.
We also need to pray for this town that we serve, and our fellowship how we respond and build up our worshipping life together.
During the pandemic days I have been working primarily with small working groups in both churches, individuals to whom we owe a huge debt. We have worked with the PCCs as best as we have been able to and we have been unable to use the volunteers for various things we would usually do for a selection of good reasons. As we open out, I very much hope we will be able to share the load more widely once again. Naturally, as we approach our annual meetings – this is also a time for some responsibilities to shift and new members of the teams to emerge. Please pray we find a way through this with a full team in place
The Church is designed to be a team effort not the endeavours of a few. Stopping sharing the load more widely – is very much against the grain for me, and is what church should be about. This was forced upon us by the circumstances we found ourselves in. It is absolutely not my usual starting point, which is much more biblical. We remember that in the 1st Letter of Corinthians – St Paul uses the parts of the body to describe this. So that the church as a whole is the body of Christ – with each member representing a different part we need. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20
14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.
Paul goes on to address that he needs everyone from the weakest to the strongest and that all have something important and unique to contribute. That was true then and just as it is so very true now.
Returning to Peter and the apostles in Acts into this period of praying, they had a meeting and Peter addressed all the gathered believers about filling the gap in the team left by Judas. There is no question in his mind that the gap needed to be filled and this represents an understanding of our approach needing to fill the gaps in our team moving forward. Pray please for our annual meetings in the days ahead –which is fulfilling this same purpose.
Moving on to our gospel reading – this is amongst the last words Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper. Judas has already left the room and he is trying to prepare them for the days ahead. I have little doubt the original hearers would have not completely understood what Jesus was getting at in the moment, but subsequently remembered his words and been empowered by them.
Jesus is praying in this reading and in a way in this prayer, Jesus summarizes the message of the whole Gospel: Which is that what Jesus has received from his Father, he has given to his friends (ie us). And as Jesus entrusts the disciples and therefore us to the Father’s care, he reminds them and us that he has sent us all into the world, as the Father sent him. Effectively all of this has a purpose that as Jesus friends we should share his message whenever, wherever or however we can.
One verse within it really struck me and it is Jesus saying and praying the words – 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I was very concerned when we began to worship again last summer. How this was going to be with all the restrictions and having to do so many thing so differently and omit things I didn’t want to omit! Also knowing that some could come and some could not or should not. Therefore also not being able to give the welcome and fellowship readily we have hitherto taken for granted. Yet God was still in the heart of what we were able to do, and his presence with us has been tangible. It has been different obviously, yet God has been with us in it all – very much so – over and against and through any misgivings I may have had!
As a church we are first and foremost in the loving business – to love God and reach out with that love to others. Moments of joy – which is a fruit of the Spirit have still enriched our walk with God in these days. Joy is a funny and surprising commodity – we can be joyful (and yet still very sad). We can be joyful with the tears streaming or with love and laughter abounding or all of the above. Our final need for prayer today is to pray for the spiritual fruit of joyfulness in ourselves and those around us.
In a way the pandemic has taught us to be more thankful and joyful in the every day. Each small thing we can renew or revive should bring us this Joy. Jesus prayed for his disciples and prayed for us that his joy may be made complete in us. If we are reading this I want us to reflect on the hymn Crown him with many crowns – associated with this time of year in the Church (there is a link to a video version). It reminds us of the wonder and joy of our faith. Through the verses we crown him the lamb upon the throne, the Virgin’s son, the Lord of love, the Lord of peace and the final magnificent verse the lord of years, the potentate of time. I think that gets across the joy we need to concentrate on and cultivate in this next period alongside the need to pull together to serve God as only we can. Amen
A video link to the hymn Crown him with many crowns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vWRXvWZPUQ
CCLI – Song reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989