7th Sunday after Easter – 24th May 2020

What is your life’s destination?  For some people the answer to this question is to live a long and fulfilled life.  For others, it may be to earn lots of money to leave for their children or to leave some other form of legacy of achievement or, more simply perhaps, to leave the world a slightly better place than they found it.  What about us?  Where are we try to get to in our life?  In the Gospel reading assigned for this week, Jesus prays for all his followers that they may know eternal life with the only true God. Eternal life is not seen as only a future destination but also as a present experience.  Our destination is that we might move closer towards, and deeper into, the Father’s presence.

Our human response to this destination is, where is it?  Jesus doesn’t give a geographical place.  All people at the time believed God was above the sky.  That is why the Gospel account starts with Jesus looking up to heaven.  It is why Luke’s account of the ascension in the book of Acts has Jesus being taken up into the sky and disappearing into a cloud.  It is why the psalmist writes, “sing praises to him who rides the clouds.”  Sensibly Jesus never tells the people that they were looking in the wrong place because these were all comforting and helpful images for people to hold at the time.

Similarly, Jesus never puts a time limit on when the journey to heaven will start and when it will end.  Again, in our limited understanding we seek exact times for our journey to our ultimate destination.  We are bound to our own concepts of time and space.  In our New Testament reading, the Apostles want to know times when the kingdom of God will be established.  Jesus’ response is that it is not for you to know.  No doubt, Jesus could foresee problems if this sort of information was spread abroad.

In the Epistle reading, Peter spells out what is more important than knowing the time and place of our life’s journey.  Peter says, be careful!  The devil is prowling around.  Endure trials and then, in his kindness God will call you to your eternal glory.  That is your life’s destination.

New Testament reading for this week: Acts 1:6-14

Gospel reading for this week: John 17:1-11

Epistle reading for this week: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Psalm for this week: 68:1-10, 32-5

6th Sunday after Easter

What leaving gift would you give to your friends and family?  For many people they would leave something physical, some item of memorabilia.  For others they would leave them with amusing or poignant stories and happy memories of times spent together.  The Gospel story for this week is an account of what Jesus left for his followers.  No doubt Peter, James, John and all the disciples would have had many treasured memories of Jesus, but Jesus left them so much more.  The amazing truth is that this is also true for us, his latter-day disciples.  Yes, we have great stories of Jesus to read.  We have all the Scriptures to read.  We have the traditions of the church as well as faith and reason to draw us closer to Jesus, but we have much much more besides.  Jesus left us Himself, through the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.  Jesus says, “the Father will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit….He lives with you now and later will be in you.”  To understand this complex teaching, we must look at what came before and what came after.

In the Old Testament, there was an unshakable belief that God was with his people corporately and individually.  The psalmist writes, “GOD DID NOT WITHDRAW HIS UNFAILING LOVE FROM ME.”  As we journey into the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul begins to unpick what Jesus meant: “All nations should seek God and feel their way toward him….For IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND EXIST.”  In the Epistle reading for this week this is further emphasized.  Peter writes, “If people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live BECAUSE YOU BELONG TO CHRIST.  The message of Scripture is that God is with us.  He lives in us by the power of His Spirit who constantly reveals Jesus to us.  Wow!  I am reminded of that great prayer from St Patrick’s breastplate.  Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit we can declare: Christ be with me, Christ within me; Christ behind me, Christ before me; Christ beside me, Christ to win me; Christ to comfort and restore me; Christ beneath me, Christ above me; Christ in quiet, Christ in danger; Christ in hearts of all that love me; Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.  AMEN.

New Testament reading for this week: Acts 17:22-31

Gospel reading for this week: John 14:15-21

Epistle reading for this week: 1 Peter 3:13-22

Psalm for this week: 66:8-20

5th Sunday after Easter

How good does it feel to be chosen?  How good does it feel to be selected to represent your team, your county or even your country at competitive sport?  How good does it feel to be appointed to that job that you have always wanted?  How good does it feel to be promoted within your organisation?  How good does it feel when someone asks you to marry them?  How good does it feel to be chosen?  However wonderful all these experiences might be, they all pale into insignificance when compared with the all surpassing knowledge that we are called by God.  It is worth pausing at this point just to try and grapple with the enormity of what that means.  In the Gospel reading assigned for this week, Jesus tells his disciples that they are all special and chosen for a place in heaven.  He says that He is going ahead of them to prepare a room for each one of them and, by implication, for every one of us!  Jesus says, “There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place FOR YOU.

Throughout history, God’s people have trusted in God’s saving power.  The psalmist writes, “Rescue me…In your unfailing love, save me!”  This trust has been met with God’s assurance of salvation.  In the New Testament reading for this week, we encounter the story of Stephen’s stoning.  Before he passes through this temporary agony, God shows him His glory in the heavens as Stephen looks upward.  Stephen exclaims, “Look, I see the heavens opened.”  Opened for him.  In the epistle reading for this week, this sense of being chosen is beautifully captured by Peter: “You are a chosen people.  You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his very own possession.”

Once this terrible corona virus disease has been brought under control and life has returned to something more like normal, we will be chosen for jobs.  When we experience the thrill of being selected by someone for some important task, perhaps we can reflect on our higher calling.  God has chosen us for His Kingdom, for His work and His purposes for which we will ultimately receive our own room in heaven, prepared by Jesus.  Of course, we don’t have to wait until then to meditate upon this phenomenal promise.

New Testament reading for this week: Acts 7:55-60

Gospel reading for this week: John 14:1-14

Epistle reading for this week: 1 Peter 2:2-10

Psalm for this week: 31:1-5, 15-16

4th Sunday after Easter

Who, or what, should we be like?  In a study group recently, this question was posed.  Someone said we should be like Jesus, after all the word ‘Christian’ means ‘little Christ’.  We should strive to emulate his humility, love and compassion.  Someone else said that we should be ourselves more.  God does not call us to be like Moses or Elijah or Paul but rather we are called to be the person that God intended us to be.  A third person said that we should be more in relationship with God.  If we love Jesus and grow in our relationship with Jesus, then all these character traits will automatically spill out into our lives.  Who is right?  Are they all right?  In the Bible readings this week we get another insight into what we should be like.  In the book of Acts, we read about the importance of community.  All the believers worshiped together, prayed together, ate together and shared everything that they had.  As a result of this, they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people around them. Of course with the present lock-down we cannot do this in a physical sense but we should not stop phoning, emailing, texting and zooming.  We can still build community – a virtual community.  But there is more.  The reason they were together was because they were focused on one leader, one guide, one teacher.  They followed Jesus’ teaching, from the Apostles, in everything they did.  It was this Guide that looked after them.

A common analogy used throughout the Bible for the care that God gives to His community is shepherd.  God is that shepherd.  The most famous of all the psalms starts with the words, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd.’  In the Gospels, Jesus elaborates on this concept.  He describes Himself as the one who really looks after the sheep and even lays down his life for them – nobody else will do this.  In the Epistle reading, the Apostle Peter further notes that this Good Shepherd is the Guardian of our souls.  Christians in North Africa (and elsewhere) who come from Muslim families face two significant challenges at the present time.  The observation of Ramadan and the corona virus lock-down means that they are isolated and quite probably persecuted.  More than anything they need to be in community.  They need support in setting up some form of virtual community.  They also need our continued prayer at this time.

Who, or what, should we be like?  The answer is multi-fold, but a good starting point is to be in community, virtual if not physical.  To acknowledge that we are all united under the common love of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for us, His sheep.

New Testament reading for this week: Acts 2:42-7

Gospel reading for this week: John 10:1-10

Epistle reading for this week: 1 Peter 2:19-25

Psalm for this week: 23

3rd Sunday after Easter

Do you always want a quick answer?  Our society wants instant solutions to our questions, but is this always good?  In the teaching profession there is an oft quoted phrase: ‘learn as if you are going to live forever’.  If a student gets an instant answer to their question from the teacher, then they will stop thinking about that problem and not take the opportunity to deepen their understanding.  Jesus was a great teacher.  Have you noticed how often he responded to a question or statement with another question?  For example: ‘Why do you call me good?’; ‘Who do you say that I am?’; ‘What does the law of Moses say?’; ‘How do you read it?’; ‘Which of these was a neighbour to the man?’  In the Gospel reading assigned to this week, we have another incidence where Jesus asks a question before giving any answers.  On the road to Emmaus, one of the travellers, Cleopas, asks Jesus, ‘Are you the only one who hasn’t heard all about the things that have happened in Jerusalem in the last few days?’  Jesus’ reply is simply, ‘What things?’  On the face of it, it is an extraordinary question, since Jesus knows, better than anyone, what the things were.  Why does Jesus ask this question?  Is it because Jesus wants them to articulate their thinking and so consolidate, or deepen, their understanding of the whole resurrection event?  In a sense, our response to the resurrection is the most important question in history.  Our response to the resurrection is what has divided humanity throughout history and still does today.  Do we ignore it, reject it or accept it?

In this, the third Sunday after Easter all four Bible passages assigned to this week focus on the resurrection and our response to it.  In the New Testament reading, Peter says we must ‘turn from our sins (repent), turn to God and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’.  In the epistle reading, Peter again, speaking later, says, ‘we can place our faith and hope confidently in God’.  Of course, there is much more to be said.  We can only scratch the surface of what the resurrection means for us today.  The answers can be found in Scripture, tradition, experience and reason.  In order to get to these answers, and so grow in our faith, we must continually ask questions and not always seek an instant solution.

 

New Testament reading for this week: Acts 2:14, 36-41

Gospel reading for this week: Luke 24: 13-35

Epistle reading for this week: 1 Peter 1:17-23

Psalm for this week: 116:1-4, 12-19

 

2nd Sunday after Easter

The Bible reading appointed for this week is the account of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in the upper room, following his resurrection.  Let’s try and capture how they must have felt.  They must have been terrified about what would happen to them.  The Jews had crucified Jesus and the disciples had every reason to believe that they would be hunted down and crucified themselves.  It is for this reason that they had locked the doors and, no doubt, listened with fear to every knock on the door and every foot on the steps to the upper room where they were hiding.  Then, it happened.  Jesus appeared supernaturally in their midst and said, “Peace be with you”.  This means so much more than don’t worry.  It means, ‘may God give you every good thing’.  Today, Christians in the UK and all over the world are living in fear.  Fear for their (elderly) relatives, their jobs, their livelihoods and their futures.  It is precisely in this moment that Jesus wants to speak those words into our lives, “Peace be with you.”