Seventh Sunday of Easter

SUNDAY 24 MAY 2020 

Sunday after the Ascension of the Lord

Welcome and Introduction

Dear friends

Through these weeks of necessary restrictions on our normal living  – on our movement and our meeting together – I have been conscious of thoughts about time – thoughts which on the face of it – would seem to be opposing thoughts.

On the one hand – it seems like such a very long time (maybe even longer than it actually has been !) since we were able to spend “real-time” company with our families and friends – or since we last met together in community to share worship in the Church building.

And yet in what are the recurring activities and disciplines of life (such as going shopping – or as I prepare our weekly services of worship etc) – it hardly seems like a week or so since last these things had to be done.

Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season – and it is the Sunday following the “Ascension of our Lord” which is always on a Thursday because it is 40 days after Easter.  Our service today will reflect on the Ascension and an aspect of it which is particularly relevant to our current situation.   

So wherever you are – welcome to worship 

Call to Worship

Come – now is the time to worship

Come – now is the time to give your heart

Come – just as you are to worship

Come – just as you are before your God 

Come – let us worship the living God

Praise

Our first hymn today is well known and I am sure well loved

“The Head that once was crowned with thorns – is crowned with glory now”

1.            The head that once was crowned with thorns – is crowned with glory now;

a royal diadem adorns – the mighty Victor’s brow.

2.            The highest place that heaven affords – is his, is his by right,

the King of kings, and Lord of lords – and heaven’s eternal Light;

3.            The joy of all who dwell above – the joy of all below

to whom he manifests his love – and grants his name to know.

4.            To them the cross, with all its shame – with all its grace, is given,

their name an everlasting name – their joy the joy of heaven.

5.            They suffer with their Lord below – they reign with him above,

their profit and their joy to know – the mystery of his love.

6.            The cross he bore is life and health – though shame and death to him,

his people’s hope, his people’s wealth – their everlasting theme.

Prayers of Approach & Lord’s Prayer 

Let us pray

Lord God

                as today we reflect on the mystery of the Ascension of Jesus

                we are acutely aware that our Christian faith has

                                depth which we may never fully fathom

                                breadth beyond the limits of human understanding  

                                treasures more precious than anything tangible  

                 but still – we long

                                to have the courage to plunge ever deeper into the divine mysteries

                                to have the limits of our understanding stretched

                                for deeper faith and a stronger relationship with Christ

Great God

                the Ascension following on from the Resurrection of Jesus –

                reminds us of

                                your greatness and your glory

                                your sovereign power and your eternal purpose

                it tells us of Jesus’ complete unity with you – his Heavenly Father

                                that he is no longer bound to a particular place or time

                                but is with us always – in every place and situation

                it assures us

                                that our Lord will continue to be with us through his Spirit and in his church

                                and that – he will come again in glory 

God of mercy

                in the midst of our longing and our yearning

                we so easily fail to do what we ought – or what would bring us ever closer to you

                                when our focus is only on the immediate – and does not look towards the eternal

                                when our vision is constrained by our understanding – and is not set free by the potential we have in you

                                when we want you to fit in with us and our agenda – and not the other way around

                                when our call to step out in an adventure of faith – is resisted by the draw to remain in the assumed comfort and security of familiarity and limited experience

                                when our concern is more about self – than about service to others                              

God  – forgive us for every way and time in which we fail you

                                                when our lives reflect so much more of our human weakness 

                                                than of the strength which you give us through your Spirit

                                and in your forgiveness, mercy and grace – may we be led to

                                                wider and clearer vision

                                                deeper faith and more committed service

These prayers we bring in Jesus’ name and we continue to pray as he taught us :

                                Our Father, who art in Heaven : hallowed be Thy name

thy kingdom come : thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our debts : as we forgive our debtors

and lead us not into temptation : but deliver us from evil

For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory : for ever.   

AMEN

Scripture Readings

A few weeks ago, we reflected on an encounter which took place on the road to Emmaus as Jesus met with two believers going to that village.  Throughout the account of what happened, Jesus identified himself in several ways – the first of which was to direct them to the places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures which referred to himself.  Very quickly the believers returned to Jerusalem and met up with the eleven disciples and others and into that company Jesus appeared again – identifying himself in various ways – which again included reference to the ancient Scriptures

Please read on in the story as it is found in Luke 24 : verses 44 to 53 and then read the first eleven verses in Acts 1 : verses 1 to 11  

Praise

Having confessed our failings and having sought God’s forgiveness – we now share and reflect on a hymn which challenges us to go forward in the power of that divine forgiveness  

“God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name”

God forgave my sin in Jesus’ name – I’ve been born again in Jesus’ name

and in Jesus’ name I come to you – to share his love as he told me to

He said :

“Freely, freely, you have received – freely, freely give

Go in my name and because you believe – others will know that I live”  

All power is given in Jesus’ name – in earth and heaven in Jesus’ name

and in Jesus’ name I come to you – to share his power as he told me to

He said :

“Freely, freely, you have received – freely, freely give

                Go in my name and because you believe – others will know that I live”  

REFLECTION

In my comments to introduce this service and welcome you to it – I made reference to the passage of time.

In some senses – time can seem to fly past and in other circumstances, the converse can also be true.  No doubt many of us are currently feeling that the weeks are long – that this period of restriction when our lives cannot follow their normal pattern of activity is lasting forever.

Although I understand and accept completely, the necessity for the restrictions, I certainly have that feeling about not being able to be with you on Sundays at Glenburn  – as one week moves on to the next week.

It has been so long —-we wonder how much longer ?.

As I write this reflection, Nicola Sturgeon MSP (the First Minister) has today (Thursday 21/05/2020) made announcements which bring to us some hope of impending relaxation of the restrictions, as they are evidenced of being effective.

For several weeks now – we have been going through a time of waiting – but you know what – such times of waiting are nothing new.

In our reading from Luke’s Gospel – when the disciples and other believers were in Jerusalem and were discussing the events of the Resurrection and the days and weeks which followed it – Jesus came among them and said (among other things) – something which pointed towards the coming days – when they would be “clothed with power from on high” (verse 49) – which we will celebrate next week as Pentecost

But until then – Jesus told them to “stay here in the city”

he told them to wait !

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke also records that Jesus instructed the apostles “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father” (verse 4) 

he told them to wait !

Waiting is something which our society and current fast-pace way of life is not very good at accepting – in fact  waiting is something it tries to resist as exampled in

                prompt replies to emails are often expected

                calls made – or texts sent to mobile phones – immediate answers are anticiapted

                delivery of goods ordered on-line can be made next-day

                orders for cooked meals can be “phoned in” and be delivered in only a few minutes

Is waiting a bad thing ?  Yes – it can be frustrating, but does that make it bad – or does it have a beneficial purpose ?

“Waiting” is mentioned several times in the Bible, but particularly in the Old Testament where it is first recorded in the story of Noah and the ark – when Noah waited seven days between each time when he sent the dove out of the ark – and indeed before that – God too waited patiently as the ark was being built. 

Although at best, we maybe see waiting as an inconvenience or worse, as a waste of time –  “waiting” should not be without purpose.  Waiting can be a positive use of time which God builds into his plans – the purpose of which is preparation.

God sent Jesus into our world for a very specific purpose – but there was an extensive period of waiting before Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan and he began his work of teaching and healing and announcing the coming of God’s kingdom.  This extended period of 30 years was a time of waiting and of preparation in which Jesus lived an “ordinary life” as a child, a youth, a young man and a tradesman.                    

Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem – to wait there “for the promise of the Father”.  Throughout the three years of his ministry, Jesus had been preparing his disciples for their role in taking over his mission and his work – as he taught them and as they heard him teaching the crowds – as they witnessed his miracles – as he “practised what he preached” – but Jesus  knew that the final and very necessary part of their preparation would be the gift which his Heavenly Father would give them – the gift of the power of the Holy Spirit – a gift  for which they would need to wait – not as an inconvenient delay to their getting on with the job – but which would be given at the right time –  and the right time would be God’s time !

We don’t like having to wait – and the current situation certainly proves that beyond doubt.   We get frustrated having to stand in a long, slow-moving queue outside a supermarket – don’t we ?  But there is a purpose in that time of waiting – a purpose which is about minimising risk and as far as possible – ensuring safety.

We like waiting even less when we don’t know when it will end – or what the final outcome is likely to be.

In 2019, the Church of Scotland embarked on a programme of significant reform across all aspects of the organisation – and this will affect us in Glenburn Parish Church, just as it will do in many other congregations. 

Much of this process at the local level (the things we would want or need to do) is in abeyance due to the restrictions of Covid-19 – and we are frustrated

                we can’t meet as we would wish

                we can’t get on with planning and discussions

                we can’t begin any major new initiatives or projects  

Is it just a co-incidence that when we expect that this process of reform in our Church should be “ramping up” – we are now caught in a period of restriction and lock-down ?  Or is there something really positive in it – for us ?

The disciples having to wait in Jerusalem was a time of preparation to equip them to go out into the world to spread the Gospel – to live in and show the love of God – to enable the church to grow.

This time of restriction and lockdown may be for us – a time of preparation to equip us to go out into the world to spread the Gospel – to live in and show the love of God – to enable the church to grow.

Luke records in the Acts that during this period of waiting – the disciples spent the time praying –which of course was part of their preparation.

During this time of restriction and lock-down when we must wait – we are given particular encouragement to prepare in prayer – through following the ecumenical and international; “Thy Kingdom Come” initiative which runs from Ascension to Pentecost – the details of which I sent out yesterday

https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

In an on-line event in which several members of our Presbytery took part this week – the speaker said that our job is not to “take God out to people” – our job is to join God in what he is doing.

In other words – God is waiting for us to join him – and when we are called to a time of waiting – it should be for us – a time of preparation     

As we continue through this time of waiting – both in respect of the pandemic and also the changes which are necessary in the ways in which “we are and do church” – the ways in which we live out and share our Christian faith – may we do so recognising that it could well be a gift of time for us to use in preparation

And may we see in it – the confidence of the Psalmist – as he recognised the hand of God in his time of waiting

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry

He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog

and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God

many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord

(Psalm 40 : 1-3)

AMEN

Prayers of Thanksgiving and for Others

Let us pray

Heavenly Father

                thank you that although we are living through challenging and uncertain days     

                you have always been there with us – in fact where we are –you are there before us

                thank you for the support which you have given us

                                when we have felt disheartened – you have given us courage to keep on believing

                                when we have been tempted to doubt – you have given us strength to persevere

                                when we have needed to prepare – you have told us just to wait and given us time

                whenever and however we have needed you – you have been there for us and with us  

                Lord – from the depths of our hearts – we thank you

                thank you for all the many and varied blessings of our daily living

                                the gifts of love – for and from family and friends

                                the gifts of security comfort and nourishment

                                the gifts of talent, purpose and meaning

                Lord – from the depths of our hearts – we thank you

                thank you for all the many and varied blessings of our faith

                                the gifts of promise and assurance

the gifts of grace and love

the gifts of peace and joy

                Lord – from the depths of our hearts – we thank you

As we give you thanks Lord for the blessings in our lives 

we continue to pray for people in their situations

                for healing from illness

for relief from pain

for assurance in death

for comfort in bereavement

we pray especially today for the success of Mental Health Awareness Week

                that the message that “it is OK not to be OK” may be widely heard and accepted – and may it lead to release and freedom

                that mental illness may cease to be a cause of discrimination and be understood just as much as  is physical illness

                for people whose lives are limited by mental illness

for all who support them in the provision of medical help – and every other  means of concern and care 

we continue to pray for people whose lives are severely constrained in other ways

                                by poverty and debt

 by homelessness and hunger

by persecution and hatred

by rejection and loneliness

by the feeling that they are of little worth and their lives have little meaning

                we continue to pray for people in leadership

                                for understanding of the position and concerns of others

for compassion in that understanding

for wisdom in decision making

                 we continue to pray for the Mission of Christ in our world

                                that your people would be led by your Spirit

                                that they may be disciplined in preparation

                                that they may be visionary in planning

                                that they may be faithful in waiting

that they may be bold in service

                                that they may be strong in faith

                                that they may be deeply rooted in love

As we have prayed for others – we are bold to pray for ourselves

and to share with you the deepest and most personal concerns of our hearts and lives

These and all our prayers we bring to you Lord

in faith and in the name of Jesus – Lord and Saviour   

AMEN

Praise

I am sure that for each of us – there is a particular hymn which has a special significance in our lives.

So rather than me specify a hymn for the close of our service – I invite you to think of a hymn which means a lot to you – perhaps one that may fit with the theme of this service – and which within the privacy of your home and before God – you can recall – read – recite or even sing aloud.   

Blessing

May the blessing of the God who holds all time

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

be with us

and with all for whom we have prayed

now and always

AMEN