Get on with it!
Sermon St Chad’s May 28 Rev Felicity O’Brien
The disciples knew something was going to happen. They asked Jesus if this was the time, the time when he would restore the kingdom to Israel. Maybe they were expecting hosts of angel soldiers to sweep through their occupied land, driving out the Romans. But then Jesus told them that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. This statement told them that they were not to wait passively for angels to bring about the kingdom of heaven on earth, but that they had a job to do. Not only that, but that God’s Holy Spirit power would enable them to do that job, and that they would take the kingdom to the ends of the earth. This was hopeful – they were not in imminent danger of persecution and death. The Jesus cult would go on.
Imagine their surprise, however, when as they were pondering these words, in trepidation but also feeling a bit braver than before, to see Jesus lifted up to heaven, watching the soles of his feet disappearing through the clouds!
There are many vivid artworks on this theme, and there is even a chapel in Italy where there are ceramic feet protruding from the ceiling which is painted like the sky!
The disciples were obviously standing dumbfounded, their mouths gaping open, as they wondered, What on earth is this? Two men in white appeared. – maybe they were the same angels we heard about at the empty tomb. The disciples knew they were not mere mortals, – no one could stay clean and gleaming in white robes for long. The angels don’t have anything very useful to tell them about what had just happened, just that Jesus will return the same way, from heaven. Presumably feet first.
The angels were really saying to them, well, he’s gone now, it’s up to you lot, get on with it!
The very next bit of our acts reading tells us that they did just that. Life resumed as normal, and they sorted out a vacancy that needed to be filled, and, most importantly for us, they prayed. They didn’t write action plans or values statements, they didn’t commission surveys. They talked and listened to God.
Not only the male disciples either – there were women with them. Men and women have always worked together for the kingdom of God, and even though church hierarchy has pushed aside the role of women in centuries past, we see clearly written here in the Bible a pattern for men and women doing the real work of prayer for the kingdom together.
The disciples knew that life would not be easy. The Bible never promises us a life of leisure as a Christian– after all, the word Christian can mean ‘slave of Christ’, not ‘pampered amateur of Christ’. It implies work, following orders, and maybe even hard times. We are lucky here in NZ that we are free to worship without fear, free to declare our faith. It fluctuates a bit, but we must be brave, knowing that there are many braver than us who do risk real persecution for the sake of the gospel.
The reading from 1 Peter warns the new Christian church that there is a real adversary, the devil, prowling around us like a hungry lion, looking for someone to devour. But Peter also tells us what to do about this – we are to cast our anxiety on the Lord, trusting him with our burdens. Dear friends, do you cast your burdens on the Lord? Do you talk to God when life gets too hard? You can tell God anything, no matter how awful. No matter how bad it makes you look, or how foolish. Our God is always ready and willing to hear us, and to talk to us. Prayer need not be only thanksgiving for the good things and praying for the needs of others, we can ask for help for our own difficulties. We don’t need to go all Kiwi and be staunch all the time. Our beloved Parent wants to share all our life with us, the good, the bad and the downright embarrassing. God will support and restore us, and as we pray and are aware of others praying around us, we may come to a sense of all our brothers and sisters in Christ praying in unity.
This week on Wednesday there is an ecumenical service at the cathedral, where Christians from different denominations can come together to pray and worship. It can be easy to just think about fellow Anglicans as our family members in Christ, but anyone who calls Jesus Lord is family.
Family can be wonderful – knowing someone has your back, that there’s always a loving hug or a cup of tea, or someone to share your tears. Families in the world can also be awful, – those we are closest to know best how to wound us, where our trigger points are. The family of Christ may also have its differences, but blood is thicker than water. Not our blood, but Jesus’ blood, shed for us all, so that the kingdom of heaven may rule on earth as in heaven.
The last line of today’s Gospel reading is “Holy Father, protect [my followers] in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” As the church throughout the world shows unity, others may be drawn to faith. Whenever there is disunity in a church, any scandal, any split or even disagreement, those observing are quick to point it out, never seeing the joy and unity on the other 90% of the time. Actually I don’t know what the statistics are,maybe 90% unity is a bit aspirational?
We live in a city that seems to be divided over a church issue, that of a building that fell down part-way. I’m talking of course about the cathedral. Whenever a decision is made about its future someone else challenges it. It is only in unity that the church will solve the problem of the future of this building, remembering too that the Church is the people, and the building keeps the rain off.
That’s why the Bishop’s decision to ask Synod to decide how to proceed is a Biblical one – unity is a kingdom value.
There may be times in our church when we cannot find unity. There are discussions from time to time over controversial issues – divorce, ordination of women, gay marriage, euthanasia, there’s always something on the agenda. We may in all good conscience not be able to agree over some of these issues, as we work out what it means to be in the world, but not of the world. How do we bring kingdom values when the world seems to scorn them? My friends, we don’t have to strive on our own. Not only do we have each other, over 1 billion praying Christians in our family with us, but remember what Jesus told the disciples just before he was taken up into heaven?
‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you’. This power, this Holy Spirit, is one of the three persons of the trinity, one of the parts of an indivisible God, and Jesus has promised it to us! Yay! I don’t have to struggle in my own strength any more! And neither do you.
This week, as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost, invite the Holy Spirit to fill you more and more.