Sixth Sunday of Easter
Introduction and Call to Worship
In God “we live and move and have our being”. Let us worship the Lord and dedicate our lives to the one whose love we are commanded to share with all creation by offering back to God our gifts of time, prayer and money.
First Reading Acts 17:22-31
Paul exhorts the Athenians to discard idols, whose enslaving appetites can never be satisfied, and to worship the God who dwells in every breath of creation, including our own.
Second Reading 1 Peter 3:13-end
Peter instils confidence into fledgling Christian communities, encouraging them to hold firm to Christ’s teaching and example in the face of antagonism from their contemporaries.
Gospel John 14:15-21
Jesus assures his disciples that, through the comfort of the Spirit and obedience to his word, they will never be alone or abandoned in a hostile world.
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21)
Our new Parochial Church Council met on Monday and we began, as always, in prayer and thanksgiving. And we have so much to be positive about and celebrate here at St Mary’s as we strive to grow together – transforming lives. And it is right that, as Christians, we start every gathering with prayer. It is also right that we grow together setting the right priorities for the future; recognising the great catholic-Anglican tradition from which we come and reaching out to people and networks wherever they are. We are called to be disciples to a new generation; sharing our faith with confidence in the joy of the Gospel. For this to be successful, we can’t speak in isolation – our challenge, our engagement must relate to the people around us. History shows that when the church meets people where they are, it flourishes. Our forebears at the time of the Oxford Movement, of which this church was a part, understood the need to be relevant, and when we look at the scriptures we find this has always been the case.
The speakers in all three of today’s readings are listening carefully to the needs and situations of their audiences. The Common Worship lectionary that we use at St Mary’s for our Sunday readings, cleverly places today’s three bible passages together at this precise point in the calendar as we move towards Ascension and then onto Pentecost – a time for the early Church of great change, indeed transformation. We started with Saint Paul speaking to the Athenians about matters of faith; relating his Christian principles to their own lives and values: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17: 23) Then in the first letter of Peter we hear of confidence as the churches grow in faith and number, even in the face of great persecution: “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”, he teaches them. (1 Peter 3:13)
The Gospel passage looks forward to what is promised by Jesus, while also addressing the real fears of the disciples at the Last Supper. They fear something cataclysmic is going to happen; they have sensed the hostility of some in religious circles in Jerusalem, but they don’t know when, or how, this change will occur. They are afraid of change; they are concerned that they don’t have the tools, abilities, patience – even faith, to cope with the demands upon them. Does this not sound familiar? We too live in a turbulent time of incalculable change and transformation. Values we held dear are shifting like the sand on a beach. The way we communicate is changing – people and their priorities are changing also. In contrast to this fear of change and challenge, Jesus reminds his followers, and all of us today, that if we keep his commandments then we are well equipped – for everything. When they adopt his own model of service and love then it will be possible to break the bounds of expectation.
This is difficult for our Lord’s disciples to understand. They wonder – how can they achieve anything without Jesus leading them, his physical presence guiding their every step? But Jesus promises something wonderful: the Holy Spirit that will ensure their relationship with him continues, grows and strengthens. Indeed, the Holy Spirit will transform them from a few disciples into the leaders of a fledgling church and international movement.
The same is true for us today – whatever age we are or stage in our life and faith journey. We are called to be disciples today, who live in the presence of the love of God and engage fully in the life of the wider community. Bound up with this is Jesus’ promise of the Paraclete – God’s Spirit blowing through our lives individually and collectively as the Ecclesia (the Church), giving all within the body of Christ comfort, energy, aid and advocacy. It is the Spirit that equips us for the challenges ahead. But are we good at praying, in love, for the gift of the Holy Spirit? Or rather than praying are we more inclined to worry? Truth be told, fear continues to be a great driver in the world today, one which affects individuals and communities in equal measure.
The general election has now moved into the last three weeks of campaigning and manifestos are being poured over for any sign of mistake. Sadly, every opportunity is being taken for political point scoring. And some people are feeling, well…gloomy. There is fear – doubt – unease. It is to this world, this challenge that we have a Gospel that speaks of hope, love and anticipation! Jesus’ words addressed to his disciples cut through the gloom and offer transformation!
So friends, as we look towards Pentecost, we pray for transformation – praying with Christians all around the world: “Thy Kingdom Come”. We must reject the temptation towards negative thinking as we place our trust in the Lord of life and love who is calling us to be his active disciples in the world today. And we begin his work as disciples by listening, loving and allowing the Spirit of the Gospel to mould and shape us personally and corporately. This transformation of our Church is vital if we are not to be orphaned by fear. It is what our forebears did at the time of the great Oxford Movement. It is what we must be about now in 21st century Thorpe: making the Lord and his kingdom known to a new generation and the many who missed the Good News in the past. If we take steps to live by moving and listening truly attentively to each other, to the pattern of the seasons, to the Gospel, to the Holy Spirit – and only then acting – we will become more effective as a community that reveals God’s love to others. How exciting that is, to be a church that disciples Thorpe, and builds God’s kingdom in this place. Alleluia!
Fear can be a key driver of our attitudes, actions and beliefs.
All three speakers in our readings remind us, not only to listen to our fears, but also that God provides the tools to step beyond fear into a life of transforming love.
Jesus has given us the Gospel, the Spirit and the promise of his return. It is up to us how we make them central to our discourse and actions.
St Mary’s Church is a place for discipleship – resourced through prayer and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We need not fear as we walk with the Lord of life and love.