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Monday, 6 June 2011

5th June 2011: Ascension

Sunday 5 June 2011
Easter 7/ Ascension
note: tea-light candles need to be handed out as people arrive


Call to worship (based on psalm 68)
Sing praises to God
who is strong and powerful
and beyond our understanding
Yet is gentle with those who hurt
and compassionate towards our needs.
Sing praises to God
who turns the world rightside-up
and sides with the weak and the poor
against the powerful and rich.
Sing praises to God.

Hymn Together in Song 156 Morning has broken

Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Loving God
we thank you for the new day
a day full of challenges and possibilities
a day which will bring anxieties and hopes
a day which will show some of our strengths
and some of our weaknesses,
a day in which we will need
to draw strength from your Spirit

We confess
that we need to draw our strength from your Spirit every day.
But some days, we try to get by on our own.
We confess
that Jesus sent us into the world as his witnesses
But sometimes, our witness is not only silent, it's non-existent
We confess
that we are Christ's body living in the world
But sometimes we seem no different from the rest of the world.

Forgive us our failure to rely on you
Fill us with your Spirit, we pray,
Empower us to be the people you call us to be.
In Jesus' name.
Amen.


Declaration of Forgiveness

Kids' Time

Hymn Together in Song 376 I know that my Redeemer Lives

Scripture
Acts 1:6-14
John 17:1-11
Sermon
The problem with the ascension reading from Acts is it tells us Jesus has left. Left and gone where? And are we abandoned and left alone in the world?

As we grow, from childhood, into adulthood, and through various stages of life in adulthood, we often have to give something up as we move on into something new. Sometimes that's difficult and painful, such as a change of career, giving up income while retraining, beginning at the beginning again. 
We give up things to get married or have children; giving up some of the freedoms and control we have with finances and time, for a life which requires us to take into account others. We give up things when retiring, giving up income, and a degree of financial stability, giving up the reliability of having a job to go to each day and always knowing what we are to do with our time.
At each stage of life, we leave something behind, so as to be able to take on something new.

Jesus' earliest followers had him present with them for three years. They had been through the shock of him being removed from them through the crucifixion, and had received him back in the resurrection. Over about 40 days, they had seen him again and again. Now he was leaving, apparently, finally. To return to where he had been before he became human... He was leaving them, leaving behind his relationship with them.

Yet this wasn't an abandonment... The fact that Jesus was going, didn't mean he was leaving them. Indeed he had promised (as we read in last weeks' readings) that he would never leave them alone.

So how can Jesus have left, and yet not left them alone?

Jesus' disciples were moving into a new stage of their own lives, and a new stage in the life of the community of the church.

Jesus was going to be physically absent, just as he had been before the incarnation. He would be present with his father – in the relationship he had always had with his father. But he would also be present with his followers in a new and different way.

Jesus' physical departure would leave the way open for Pentecost, the point from which Jesus would be present with the church through the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, when we grow through the various stages of our lives, giving up things is quite painful.

It's hard to give up things which are comfortable and familiar – if you've ever moved house, you will have probably gone through the stage of wishing you weren't moving. Of realising the things you'd miss – if moving towns, the people you'd miss. Perhaps you've had a degree of anxiety about what was coming that was new and as yet unknown.

If just moving house can cause anxiety for us, we could probably imagine that Jesus' followers might have felt a fairly intense degree of anxiety, as they saw him disappear into the unknown. It was probably not wonderfully alleviated by the men in white who assured them Jesus would return.

I wonder how many of us have felt that same anxiety at times; feeling alone, that even Jesus has abandoned us? Most people have times in our lives when we feel that we are lost, abandoned, alone. When we feel our prayers are not heard, let alone answered.

This may be how they felt, but, in truth, Jesus had not left them. Certainly he was no longer with them physically. If Jesus had remained with us physically, he could only be in one place at any one time. He could only be with one group of people at any one time. This was fine at the beginning of his ministry in the world – but for the church to grow, it was important that he be present with his followers in a very different way. Quite apart from that, the point of his incarnation was that he would share our ordinary existence – and had he lived this life for the past 2000 years, that would not have been very ordinary.

Jesus, had in fact, told his disciples of two ways he would always be with them, and with us. One is as we celebrate communion: we celebrate that Jesus is truly present with us, and with every group of Christians, wherever and whenever we share his body and blood. The other way Jesus would be present with them and with us, would be by the Holy Spirit. His going away, allows for his presence with us in a very new and real way – and we will celebrate that at Pentecost next Sunday.

So Jesus did, in fact, go away. He went to be with his father, and to continue to pray for us, and we have a promise that he will return. But in another way, Jesus has stayed with us throughout time, and will always continue to do so.

What, then, are we meant to do with this knowledge that we are not alone in this world – that God's Spirit is with us.

We don't to just leave this Earth as Jesus did – he prayed on his last night before the crucifixion – not for us to be taken out of the world, but to live in this world as Christ's people.

What does it take to live in this world and maintain our integrity as Christians?

Let's start with what being a Christian is NOT:
It's not a particular moral code (there's lots of moral codes – and lots of people who aren't Christians have a sense of right and wrong.)
It's not being a “good citizen” (if we follow Jesus' example, sometimes our faith could even mean breaking the rules and being unpopular with national authorities.)
It's not an awareness of “spiritual” realities or needs. (I actually did a couple of subjects from a University of Queensland course on pastoral care, which didn't mention Jesus at all – I had a lot of trouble with “spirituality” without the “Holy Spirit”, but lots of people have a sense of the spiritual, without it having anything to do with Christianity. After a couple of subjects I decided I didn't need a second masters' degree after all.)
Being a Christian is not to believe in God, or even to pray (people of lots of religions believe in god or gods, and pray faithfully.)
It's not to care for the poor and feed the hungry (lots of groups in society do that).
It's not to provide healthcare, education, and all those other services the church gets involved in (governments and all sorts of other organisations all do this as well.)
It's not our concern for social justice (even political parties can do that.)
It's not even our concern for faithful stewardship of God's creation (there's a lot of environmental groups that do that.)

All of those things are good and useful, and all can be a part of the way we live out our Christian faith. But none of those things make us uniquely Christian. Those things are not what make us different from the world we live in.

So what makes us unique? What says we are Christian? What is it that Jesus asks God to do for us, while we are in this world.

Well, in the Acts reading, Jesus told his followers – the Holy Spirit would come upon them. They would receive power. And they would be his witnesses to the end of the Earth.

We don't always feel powerful in the world. Over the past couple of centuries we have seen the demise of the Christendom world-view (Christendom was that world-view view that prevailed through the medieval period, where being a good Christian and being a good citizen were considered the same thing – when the church shared power with the state.)

Now, it's not automatic that everyone is a part of the church. Many people have rejected Christianity (some without even understanding what Christianity actually is). A multi-cultural, multi-faith nation can seem strange, and even alienating, to many who have lived their lives in the sheltered community of the church. Some people find their work-places don't make it easy to exercise their faith in terms of using Christian ethics. Privacy legislation has made religion a “sensitive” thing – religion is officially a private or personal thing, whereas Christianity is a public faith, lived as part of a community of faith.

So much seems to seem to work against us feeling that we are in any way powerful. Yet, Jesus has promised us the power of the Holy Spirit, to enable us to be his witnesses throughout the world.

He expects us to trust in that power and get on with it. This means that we need to choose our all thoughts and actions, and words, in response to the question: “What will glorify God and witness to the presence of Jesus?”

Jesus prays for each one of us as we live out our faith in this world. And Jesus says to each one of us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”


Hymn Together in Song 440 Christ, from whom all blessings flow


Notices
Erica: What does it mean to you to be an elder?

Offering

Prayers of the People

Loving God
Just as Jesus prayed for the church,
we pray for the church
may we be one, as you and he are one.

May we who have received the gift of your Spirit
know the strength and power of the Spirit
may we know the wisdom of the Spirit
may we faithfully be your witnesses in this world.


Prayer points from newsletter.


We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 571 Forth in your name, O Lord I go

Words of Mission: Candle reflection
This is a story I heard once when I was a little girl. I don't know who wrote it, or indeed if it has ever been written down. I haven't heard it retold for many years – but you may have heard it at some time.

The story takes place about 2000 years ago, as two angels look at the Earth from the darkness of space.

Earth is covered in darkness.

A single light appears. Over time the light grows in intensity.

The younger angel asks what the light is. The older angel says it is the light of God's love shining in the world. The younger angels notices that although the light is getting bigger and brighter, it is only in one small part of the Earth. The older angel simply says, “Wait.”

Suddenly, the light flashes blindingly bright and then disappears completely.

The younger angel says anxiously, “The Light's gone. God's love is gone.” The older angel says, “Wait.”

Then one small light, far smaller than the first appears. Then another and another. One light lights another (light a tealight from the Christ candle – light the candles of the people on the ends of the pews, indicate to them to light the candles of the people next to them, to pass the light along the rows.)

The little lights spread, each one lighting more. Soon hundreds of tiny lights are spreading out over the face of the dark Earth.

None of the little lights is ever as bright and strong as the first – but from space, the angels see that the tiny lights, because there are so many, and because they travel so far, spread the light throughout the Earth.


You are the light of Christ. You are his presence in the world. Wherever you go this week, whatever you do, remember this. You are his hands, you are his feet, you are his voice. You are called to be the light, and to share the light, to love this world as Jesus loves it.


Benediction

Three-fold Amen.

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