Church of England Diocese of Birmingham St. Matthew with St. Chad, Smethwick

Sermon and Readings

24 May 2020, midnight

Lectionary Readings: Acts 1v6-14; Psalm 68v1-10&33-36; 1Peter 4v12-14 & 5v6-11; John17v1-11

Let us pray: Dear God, may we hear what you are saying to us today. Amen

On Thursday last, we remembered the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. This Sunday, which follows, we hear the re-telling of this occasion in the Book of Acts. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, the disciples are gathered together with Jesus. They are in a place called Olivet, a place that is a day’s journey from Jerusalem. In the account we hear, the disciples asking Jesus whether this is the time when the kingdom of Israel will be restored. Jesus tells them that “this is not for you to know” and instead instructs them to be His witnesses first in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria and finally to the ends of the earth. After telling them this, Jesus is lifted up and disappears from their sight, leaving them gazing heavenwards. After Jesus ascended, the disciples found themselves being questioned by two men in white robes. First, they were asked why they were looking heavenwards and then they were told that Jesus would return in the same way as he had left. Following this, the disciples returned to Jerusalem, went to the upstairs room where they were staying and devoted themselves to prayer. Those mentioned included: Jesus’ mother, Jesus brothers, some women, Judas (son of James), Simon (the Zealot), James (sone of Alphaeus), Matthew (Levi), Bartholomew, Thomas, Philip, the brothers James and John, Andrew and his brother Peter (also known as Cephas, the Rock and Simon Peter).

To me, this feels like a fulfilment of a prayer that Jesus prayed in the gospel, from the time before He died. For, as Jesus prepares to die on the cross so that eternal life can be given to all that the Father gave him, he prays for the disciples. Jesus asks for them to know the one true eternal God, for them to know that Jesus was sent by God and for them to be protected, so they will have eternal life and be one with God and Jesus his son. Jesus’ prayer in the gospel feels like an echo down the ages from the psalm for today because it calls God’s people to sing praises to the Lord for His great goodness. For in His great goodness God cares and provides for people who are poor, oppressed and in need. God expresses His care for the world in which we live. God strengthens and gives power to His people. It therefore comes as no surprise that after they began their mission of witnessing and found themselves suffering for it that Peter should write a letter telling them to give all their anxiety to God as they humble themselves under the mighty hand of God; alongside warning them to keep alert, be disciplined and resist the enemy because the God of all grace will restore, support, strengthen and establish them. Peter was so confident about this that he encouraged them to rejoice, be glad and shout for joy because God cares for them.

From these readings I learn so much about what God wants for us and from us. From the psalm, I learn that all of God’s people are called to sing praise to God in all times and places because of all the good things that God does for His people. Later in the gospel account, I learn that Jesus is praying for everyone His Father has given to Him to be protected, to have eternal life, to be unified in knowing the one true God and His son Jesus. Then in the Book of Acts, I learn that Jesus wants the whole world to be included because His final instructions to his disciples is to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. Finally, from the Book of Acts, I learn that the first disciples took their calling seriously because, before taking up their mission and ministry, they devoted themselves to prayer; and, from the letter of Peter, I learn that, in witnessing as called, the disciples grew in their ability to live during difficult and challenging times.

Let us pray: Eternal God, giver of love and power; send your holy spirit to comfort, strengthen and confirm in us: Jesus’ mission to go out into the world to preach the gospel of His kingdom; and to live the good news we proclaim. Amen