Scripture Readings: Acts 1:1-11 | Psalm 47 | Ephesians 1:15-23 | Luke 24:44-53
“You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:48-49.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
It feels a bit like the winds are changing… like a fresh breeze is blowing in.
On Friday we had one of the hottest days here in the Kennebecasis Valley so far this year. As it was combined with our Province’s decision to open us up of the next phase of the COVID-19 recovery plan (the “Yellow Phase”, to be precise), it seemed to me that a lot of people were getting excited about enjoying this new sense of freedom, as well as making the most of what felt like the first day of summer. We know the pandemic and its many effects are still far from over, but there is also a new sense of energy and excitement at work here too.
I mean really, a lot of us were getting pretty sick of ‘staying in’. We’re getting antsy… we want to get on with things again… Perhaps the impulse to throw caution to the wind and ‘get back to business’ quickly is growing more and more tempting in our eager minds, and the remaining safety measures and guidelines are starting to seem less and less essential. At this point though, maybe we need to ask ourselves again: why are we waiting? What is really at the root of our need to move ahead with caution and patience?
Put simply, we ‘wait’ because we are called to love our neighbours: To care for them, and for each other, by exercising self-control… and patience, and gentleness, and peace… by seeking the protection and well-being, both physically and mentally, of the people God has placed with us in the wider community. As Christians especially, we need to be as prepared as we can be for the days ahead, so that we can better show all those around us God’s long-suffering love through what we do. This is not living in fear, it is a choice to act with humility: of acknowledging our limited expertise of what the future may hold, and perhaps setting aside our own desires for the sake of loving others. As much as we may want to rush ahead, we are being called, with good reason, to wait.
In our Scripture readings today, we can get a sense of this same sort of tension at work. We can almost feel the anticipation and eagerness in the words of Christ’s disciples: “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”” (Acts 1:6). This question was asked at a turning point in the story of our Lord: He had just spent 40 days with His disciples after His suffering, death, and resurrection… convincing them of the amazing reality of His tangible victory over death, “and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the long-awaited reunion of heaven and earth envisioned by the ancient Hebrew prophets, and which the risen Jesus had identified with Himself and His mission. The disciples were eager to experience the fullness of this Kingdom for themselves, to taste God’s New Creation, kick-started when Christ was raised from the dead… rescuing His people, and restoring His broken creation at last, and I think that’s understandable. I mean, if not now, in the wake of their beloved Master’s resurrection, then when? At least He could let them know a bit of the timeline.
Rather than satisfy their curiosity, and appease their anticipation of the coming of God’s kingdom, Christ instead reminds His disciples that they have a job to do: They are now tasked to be His apostles, that is, ‘the ones who are sent’ as His witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord with all the world… a task that would firmly take hold of their lives, and which has been handed down to all believers.
But first… they must be patient. Jesus commands His followers first to wait in the city of Jerusalem until they receive “power from on high”: the Holy Spirit of God. As important and urgent as their mission, as the Church’s mission was, they were commanded not to rush ahead, but to wait for the Spirit.
Why? What could be so challenging about being Christ’s witnesses that they needed some sort of external, heavenly support? Isn’t it all fairly straightforward? Something anyone could do? Why was it so important for the apostles to wait?
A few weeks back, I shared a bit about what it means to be a witness for Christ (See “All of Us Are Witnesses” - Easter II - April 19 2020), and how, among other things, it entails not simply the passing on of information about the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and God’s Kingdom at work in Him, but of “living in such a way that its truth becomes believable”. Of our lives being shaped and transformed by the Gospel… by God’s new creation tangibly taking root in our day to day existence, intentionally opening us up to our Lord’s continual guidance.
And that is something we cannot simply create in ourselves… it is a way of life dependent on the power and grace of God. One scholar puts it this way: “Jesus appoints his followers to be “witnesses” or testifiers to the truth. Sharing personal opinion with others would not suffice. Dispensing tidbits of worldly wisdom was not their task. This was to be a mission guided by God, not one where they would proceed on their own terms. They were to be clothed with power from on high… The church is powerless on its own without the Spirit. Anyone serving in Jesus’ name would need to be guided by the strength of the Spirit.” As the rest of the story of Acts, and the history of the Church unfolds, we can see the truth of this statement again and again. Where we Christians rush ahead and neglect the guidance and power that comes from God, we fall. When we wait on Him, and lean on Him, His New Creation abounds.
Before Christians can be sent out to truly reveal the Living God’s redemptive work to the world… they must first be empowered by the Living God at work in them.
Here in New Brunswick, in Gondola Point, today’s Scripture passages speak to us as well: Through them, God is affirming that we too have a mission… a task set before us: to make the Good News of Jesus Christ known to our world in all we do. There are many ways we can do this, but ultimately THIS is why we are here! Sharing in God’s new creation in Jesus Christ, living in His self-giving love, so those all around us can share in it too.
But first… we too must be patient… we too must learn to look for, and wait for, our Lord… to recognize that we cannot really do this mission apart from God’s power at work in us… apart from the Holy Spirit… anymore than a candle can illumine a darkened room without its first being lit. The temptation to rush off and start “getting things done” can be a strong one. Yes, we have a mission, we have important work to do, but not on our own. Our Lord intends to accomplish it by His power at work in and through us.
Because, after all, the Good News is not primarily about us and what we are doing… it is about the Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… and what this God has done and is completing even now. Ascension Sunday celebrates, not first of all Christ’s directions for us His followers, but His enthronement as the Anointed Ruler of all creation, who is now victoriously seated at the right hand of God the Father. Today “He is announced as King and Lord,” another scholar maintains, “not as an increasingly distant memory but as a living and powerful reality, a person who can be known and loved, obeyed and followed, a person who continues to act within the real world.” We are called to be His witnesses, sharing in His gracious Kingdom and making it known by His Spirit at work in us. The only way forward for the Church is to faithfully follow, and wait for Him.
Next Sunday is Pentecost, when Christians all around the world commemorate the sending of the Holy Spirit on the first believers, when God first empowered them to truly take part in and make His Kingdom known in the world. Today, Ascension Sunday, may we lay all our plans and desires again at the feet of Jesus, our Risen and Reigning King and Lord, and moving forward may our lives be shaped by an eagerness to wait for Him, and to find our true mission and power by patiently looking to Him. Amen. Alleluia!
 Marty, P. W. (2001). Ascension of the Lord, Years A, B, C. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The lectionary commentary: theological exegesis for Sunday’s texts, volume three (p. 470). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (p. 2). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Scripture Readings: Acts 17:22-31 | Psalm 66:8-20 | 1 Peter 3:13-22 | John 14:15-21
“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
“I just can’t wait until we can go back!”
I wonder how many times over the last two months we have heard, spoken, or thought these words? Whether we’re referring to a particular place, a favorite event, or a familiar pace and pattern of life, for many of us the urge to ‘return’ has become a persistent and growing companion. Just recently, our Province decided to allow small religious services to take place again, providing they carefully follow the government’s public health guidelines, and many other businesses and organizations are again being permitted to stir from their pandemic-induced ‘slumber’. Our parish is in the process of creating our own Operational Plan right now, which is required before we officially open up our doors again, and it seems likely that in some form or another we will be able to physically gather again soon for worship at St. Luke’s Church. But along with people all over New Brunswick, and Canada, and across the world, who are trying to figure out how we are supposed to ‘do things’ moving forward, it is becoming clear that it won’t be as simple as going back to the way things were. Though we may still hope and long to ‘go back’, the world we are ‘returning’ to is simply not the same anymore; for better or for worse, things really have been changed.
That sounds pretty bleak, I know, but there is good news all around. There is hope on the horizon, and quite a few dark days are behind us. After all, not everything in our ‘old ways’ was good, for us or for our world… and the most vital thing of all can never be taken away.
In our Gospel reading today, we heard Jesus’ words to His disciples as they were gathered together on the eve of His arrest and crucifixion. We hear Him reassuring and comforting them ahead of the trials to come, but not by pointing them back in the hopes or reclaiming their familiar pattern of life. Christ does not say to them “Don’t worry friends, this painful struggle will be over soon, and then we can all get back to the way things were before.” The hope He is offering is not about re-establishing the status quo. Instead Jesus directs their attention forward, beyond the dark days ahead, and towards the new reality that the Living God had in store for them. Through Him, Jesus promised them, His disciples will share in the life of God more intimately and powerfully than they had every imagined before.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” The promise is of His enduring presence, and of taking part in the life of God! Not only is Christ revealing His own intimate connection with God the Father, He is also showing them that, in Him, they too are invited into this communion; that as confused and frightened as they were, they would never be left alone. Jesus their beloved Master was going to share His life…God’s life with them, and all that this entails. How? By sending to them the Advocate… the Comforter… the Helper… that is, the Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Trinity, whom Christ promises will come to abide with and in His disciples forever.
This must have been miles, light-years away, from what the disciples had first thought they were signing up for. I mean, they could probably have wrapped their heads around following a holy teacher, and even a miracle-working one believed to be God’s Chosen Messiah. But it’s a huge leap to go from there to having the Holy Spirit of God indwelling a bunch of ordinary people like them. Even so, this was the world-changing reality Jesus was at work bringing about, all throughout His life, but most of all through His death and in His rising again: reconciling and reuniting humanity with the Living God, and opening up the way for God to share His everlasting life with us. The hopeful message of Easter is that Christ didn’t come simply to smooth out a few of our troubles, or to help us figure out how to become better people… that is, to help us get along a bit better in the midst of a broken world. No, He came to rescue His beloved but broken creatures, once and for all, and to bring about in us God’s new creation, by sharing His resurrection life with us.
One scholar puts it really well: “with the resurrection of Jesus God’s new world has begun; in other words, his being raised from the dead is the start, the paradigm case, the foundation, the beginning, of that great setting-right which God will do for the whole cosmos at the end. The risen body of Jesus is the one bit of the physical universe that has already been ‘set right’. Jesus is therefore the one through whom everything else will be ‘set right’.” In the Risen Jesus, we have been given a much brighter future than simply ‘going back’ to the way things were before. In Him, God is really at work recreating us and our world. In Him, things really have been changed… but ultimately for good.
So how do we move forward into this new creation God is bringing about? What does it look like to believe this Good News, and have our lives actually transformed by it?
Let’s be clear: we are talking about God’s gracious gift to us… something offered to us because of what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf. Last week, we heard Christ spell this out for us plainly when He says: “Believe in me” (see John 14:1-14). Ultimately, we are being called to continue to trust in and follow Jesus, who tells us Himself what this kind of faith looks like in practice: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… 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 14:15, 21). There is no sense in saying we believe in Jesus, that we love and are devoted to Him, if we persistently turn away from obeying His commands. To believe in Jesus means to also let Him rearrange our lives… as we, step by step, learn to walk and live in obedience to Him. This is how we begin to share in God’s eternal life: by trusting Christ and, with the Holy Spirit’s aid, obeying Him.
This is not new information for many of us, I’m sure, but no matter how many times we have heard it before, this calling lays a new claim on our lives every day. There is, after all, no question of ‘going back’ in this journey of faith… in God’s new creation at work in us; we are constantly being invited further and deeper into communion with our gracious Saviour… to experience and know God’s goodness, and love, holiness, and fellowship, more and more. Christ has promised to be with us forever, abiding in us through His Holy Spirit. So with this as our comfort and Him as our guide, let us take courage and go forward. Amen. Alleluia.
 Wright, N.T. (2008). Acts for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 13-28 (p. 93). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
It has been two months since we have been able to physically gather together for worship here in New Brunswick. This has been a challenging season, of course, and there is a deep longing to leave these days of separation behind us and return to our old ways of life.
There are indeed some signs of hope here: the Provincial government has begun to allow some small gatherings for worship (10 people or less), provided they have an Operational Plan in place to insure proper safety precautions are consistently being followed. Also, Bishop David and the Synod Staff have been supporting local clergy and parishes as we all try to prepare to safely open our doors again.
Here at Gondola Point, the Wardens, Vestry, and I are currently working on our parish's Operational Plan, and we hope to have this all in place in the coming days, though there is much to be done. While the easing of restrictions means the possibility of gathering together in person again, it also means we will have to make some big adjustments in how we do so.
Please keep us in your prayers, keep looking for ways to encourage and support each other as well as our neighbours, and stay tuned for more information coming soon.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon for this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 7:55-60 | Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 | 1 Peter 2:2-10 | John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Do not let your hearts be troubled? Really? How can we follow these words of our Lord today?
There’s a whole lot of troubled hearts today, for a whole lot of good reasons. Not long ago, we can remember how each ordinary day already had enough worries of its own, but as ‘the Virus’ spread across the world over the last three months, people everywhere have been struggling to cope with the emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual weight of all that has happened. Even though our province of New Brunswick has mercifully been spared the worst of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic so far, we know the path forward for Canada and the rest of the world is one that needs to be traveled cautiously. This is no time to be cavalier and careless, wisdom tells us, especially if we take seriously our calling to love and look after our neighbours.
So how are we to understand these words from our Lord? “Do not let your hearts be troubled”? Is this just a piece of trite advice? A simplistic call for optimism and positivity? The theological equivalent of Bobby McFerrin’s tune: “Don’t worry, be happy”… meant to take our mind off the hard things in life so we don’t get overwhelmed, but unable to offer real confidence or hope?
As with any passage of Holy Scripture, if we simply pull it out of its place and try to make it stand all on its own, we will struggle to understand its purpose and significance. In a vacuum, these words alone don’t offer us much hope worth holding onto.
But thankfully, we know Jesus’ words were not spoken in a vacuum; they were spoken in the middle of God’s great rescue story coming to fruition… on the very night of His betrayal and unjust arrest, the night before He was condemned to death, and brutally hung on a cross. Jesus knew that this was His path; He new the trials and suffering ahead, and so He urged His disciples beforehand to not despair of their faith in Him when He would soon be taken away from them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He said, but He did not stop there. He showed them why and how to do this: “Believe in God, believe also in me.”
In the midst of trouble, Jesus urges us to trust in God… and trust in Him.
The confused disciples struggle to make sense of what their Master meant, leading our Lord to make this bold statement about Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” In all their confusion and fear, Christ tells them (and us): trust in Me! When you feel lost, don’t seek another way… come to Me. When you doubt, do not go seeking truth elsewhere, believe in Me. When you are despairing, do not give up, or look for fulfillment in some other source… I am the true Life of God in the world.
With these words Christ sought to comfort them, and to assure them in the very troubling times that lay ahead, that rather than fail or abandon them He is going to prepare a place for them to be with God forever. Though He, and they, will suffer for a time, Christ knows that He is securing eternity for those who will trust and follow Him. But for now, what will help them to endure is to hold on in faith. “Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Within 24 hours of hearing this, the disciples would see their beloved Master betrayed, arrested, tortured, executed, and buried. It would seem that they had plenty of reasons to let their hearts be troubled. But then, resurrection! God’s new creation bursts into the scene, completely unexpected: Jesus is raised again from the dead, and appears to His disciples! Sorrows are turned to joy, hope unlooked-for comes to them, and the one they had thought was overcome by death was now standing alive in their midst. Trust placed in this Jesus, who endured and conquered the grave for us, is not mislaid… no matter how truly troubling our situations may be.
In our passage from Acts 7 today we see this trust in the Risen Lord lived out in the lives of the earliest believers. We heard the account of St. Stephen, the first person to be killed for their devotion to Jesus Christ. Stephen was a deacon, set apart by God through the Apostles to care for the poor and defenseless among the Christian community in Jerusalem, but he soon became a powerful proponent of the Good News: the message that Jesus was indeed the risen and reigning Messiah, God’s chosen Saviour. Sharing this message put him into conflict with the religious authorities, who falsely accuse him of blasphemy against God, as well as speaking against Moses and the Temple. Essentially, they saw Stephen, a humble servant of Jesus, as a threat to their own power and status.
Stephen answers their false charges by recounting the wider story of the Living God, and of Israel’s checkered history as His chosen people… culminating with a bold response to his accusers: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53). Stephen confronted their lies with a very troubling truth, but rather than heed his words, they became enraged. Unfortunately, we know this is not an uncommon response to hearing troubling truths… and too often those who speak up for the truth end up facing real trouble themselves. By following the way of Jesus and not shying away from speaking the truth, Stephen’s life was now in jeopardy.
Yet in that fateful moment, we are told, Stephen’s faith in God, and in Jesus his Lord did not waver. Instead, “filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” And seeing the Risen Lord standing in heaven for him, Stephen was able to be faithful and follow the way of Jesus to the very end… even faithfully echoing his Master’s words of forgiveness uttered on the cross (Luke 23:34) with his own dying breath: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Though we’re not used to seeing of this kind of end as a victory, that is because we keep forgetting that Stephen’s story did not end there. For just as he committed his life (and death), to Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, Stephen will share in Christ’s final resurrection-victory over the grave. Believing in God, believing in Jesus, Stephen’s story ‘ends’ in life. The troubles came, true enough, but they could not overcome.
I hope that none of us will face martyrdom as St. Stephen did (or, for that matter, as countless of our sisters and brothers in Christ are facing even now in various corners of the world. Lord have mercy; strengthen and sustain them.). Yet likely none of us will be strangers of times that are deeply troubling, which can put our faith under enormous pressure and strain. Some of us may even be in the midst of those times right now; the way forward seeming to be lost, unsure of who or what to trust, and feeling just about ready to give up on it all.
But the Good News for us today is that even in the midst of serious trouble the risen Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour stands with, and for, us. Christ lives and reigns even now, and remains the Way, the Truth, and the Life… the One to whom we can truly entrust our lives, our loved ones, and our world. Though we may not yet see Him with our eyes standing at the right hand of God, we can have faith, and find in Him the courage and strength to faithfully face any troubles that come… confident that in Him we too will share in God’s eternal life.
Like St. Stephen, we have been called not only to place our faith in Jesus, but to live for Him too: to serve Christ both in active love, like caring for those around us in need, but also in our commitment to the truth of the Good News, which every disciple of Jesus has been entrusted with sharing. May the Holy Spirit of God equip and empower us to live as Christ’s faithful people; signs and agents of faith and hope in our troubled time. And trusting Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of God, may we lovingly and boldly follow in His blessed footsteps, sharing the Good News with the world He died and lives to save. Amen. Alleluia.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Today people all over our country are celebrating Mother's Day: remembering and honouring their mothers who have loved, cared for, guided, and raised them up. For many of us, this is a day of thankfulness and joy, and we do well to give thanks along with them for those who truly embodied the gift of motherhood.
For some of us today is much more complicated, and indeed painful... perhaps due to difficulties or losses in one's parental relationships, or for those whom the experience of pursuing motherhood has been one of sorrow and disappointment. Along with them, we do well to acknowledge that family life is often a challenging road, and to listen to and honour their sufferings, which are also known and shared by our loving God.
Whether today is a day of joy for you, or a day of pain, or some mixture of both: may you receive God's blessing today exactly as it is needed. May God surround you and those you love, as well as all those who have loved and nurtured you, with peace, hope, fellowship, kindness, and understanding.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon for this week can be found here:
And our songs this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:42-47 | Psalm 23 | 1 Peter 2:19-25 | John 10:1-10
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
Please forgive me for starting off by stating something really obvious: Over the past several weeks a lot of us, all around the world, have had to make some major changes in our daily routines. Because of events and happenings well outside of our personal spheres of control, we have been required to live very differently than we had not all that long ago. This disruption has brought us many challenges (some that are well known, and others which are much more hidden), as well as some blessings too, the most apparent being the preservation of many lives. In this time we have been made well aware that how we live has implications… for us and those around us… and how blessed it is to have wise leaders who can help us find our way forward together. By all accounts we know that we still have a long and challenging road ahead of us, but we also have some good reasons to be hopeful too.
Today is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday, as the Scripture readings for the day bring that beautiful image to mind. Psalm 23 bids us look to the Living God as our gracious Shepherd, who abides with and leads His people all along the way. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus our Lord takes up this same pastoral to image to reveal Himself: as the shepherd of the sheep who “goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). At its heart, it is an image of trust. Of the Lord’s trustworthiness, first of all, but also of the trusting response asked of those who would follow Him. In order to benefit from the guidance of the Shepherd, the sheep need to stay close and listen to His voice. For He is ultimately striving to care and provide for His sheep… as Jesus said, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Abundant life. That sounds pretty good. Not just eking out an existence, but abundantly living. That certainly sounds like the destination I’d want to be heading towards. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, maybe we should take a second to ask what we mean by abundant life.
This seems to be, after all, what so many of us have been chasing all our lives, and what our whole society has been driven by for quite a long time: pursuing ‘the Good Life’ is what we’re told ‘its all about’, even if we can’t always agree about what ‘the Good Life’ actually is. Some see it as success; be it in business, relationships, or other notable goals. Some see it more as security; keeping healthy and stable, trying not to make any waves, and avoiding as much pain or suffering as possible. Some see it as ‘seizing the day’; filling up on meaningful or fun experiences, pushing the limits of what we thought possible… or simply enjoying life. No doubt there are more variations we could discuss, but I think you get my point. Importantly, what our vision of ‘the Good Life’ happens to be will play a big part in guiding and directing the choices we make to attain it. What we are pursuing in life will in fact shape our life.
This is the kind of thing we often think of when we hear the words “abundant life.” I mean, there are even those who in the name of Christ boldly claim that this is really what God wants for all of us: to simply be healthy, happy, successful, rich, and so on… and that if we’re suffering or struggling, we just need to “have more faith.” Following Jesus, for them, seems to mean getting whatever we want.
But for Christians, we are called to set aside our visions of “abundant life”, whatever they may be, and instead seek to know above all else what our Saviour Jesus means when He says “abundant life”… to entrust the direction, and shape, of our lives to our Good Shepherd.
Thankfully, this isn’t exactly a mystery for us to solve, for our Lord wants us to know where He’s taking us, and how we are to get there, and our Scriptures today give us more than a glimpse about the true meaning of ‘abundant life’.
Quickly turning to 1 Peter and our New Testament passage today, we can write off from the start one of the most common misunderstandings about ‘abundant life’: that is, it is NOT the avoidance or absence of suffering. Writing to fellow Christians who were well acquainted with harassment, pain, and tragedy, St. Peter reminds them that this is precisely the path that our Saviour walked as well, and that living God’s way in the world is bound to bring its share of suffering. Instead of crushing us though, St. Peter points out that Jesus shows us how to go through the darkest times of life: entrusting our futures and our present to our Heavenly Father, and not letting ourselves be drawn off of the way of righteousness, which has been made possible for us by the sufferings of Christ. Whatever else that the ‘abundant life’ of Jesus may be, St. Peter reminds us that we can expect that it not always to be easy (which, when we think about it for a second, is true for most of the best things in life.)
So, from St. Peter we can see that for Jesus ‘abundant life’ is not simply avoiding suffering. But what is it then? Again, the Scriptures have much to show us, and our first reading from Acts chapter 2 gives us in a few brief words a wonderful example of Christ’s abundant life at work.
In these five verses, we are given an inspiring picture of the life of the first believers; those who believed the Apostle’s message about the crucified and Risen Jesus on Pentecost, who had received the Holy Spirit of God, and had become the brand new community which would one day be called the Church. Though there’s much that we can (and probably should!) say about this important passage, I’ll get right to the point: we can notice two vital connections in their pattern of life. First, their lives were firmly centred on the Living God; worshiping, praising, and praying to Him, and learning from the Apostles all about the Good News of Jesus, God’s Son. Second, (rather than turn them into pious, self-righteous snobs), the love of God compelled them to love each other too… and in very practical, down to earth ways! Though they had been strangers before they came to Christ, now they were God’s family, and so they provided for and supported each other so that no one was left in need. And this way of life was open for others to take part in as well… they were not self-focused but welcoming and generous, so that many were drawn to join them, and began to participate in this beautiful way of life as well.
The first followers of Jesus here in Acts chapter 2 were living out… embodying God’s abundant life the way God has always intended humans to exist together… which was summed up by our Good Shepherd as the two greatest Commandments: they were loving the Lord their God with all of their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and they were loving their neighbours as themselves.
This is the abundant life that Jesus is in Himself, which He came to bring to us, and enable us to share in. Abundant life is partaking in the self-giving love of the Living God.
This love is not only where He is leading us, it’s also how He’s leading us too… by the Holy Spirit at work in the Church, God’s self-giving love is meant to be the very shape of our lives all along the way as we follow in the steps of our Shepherd, and share His way of life, and re-organizing our lives, even make major changes, to faithfully go where He’s leading us.
We have heard this many times before, but so often we struggle to do it. Again and again, we can find ourselves following other guides, listening to other voices, and pursuing other tempting visions of so-called ‘abundant life’. But again and again, we are also urged to turn and draw near to our Good Shepherd, and we find as we do so that He has not left us behind… no, He has been the One searching and striving for us all along.
So may we come to trust the voice of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and draw nearer to Him, especially when we are tempted to turn aside from His way. May we follow His lead, away from our self-centredness and fear, and into the self-giving love of our Heavenly Father. And may the Holy Spirit help us to embody God’s love right where we are, that those around us might see and share in God’s abundant life today. Amen. Alleluia.
Alleluia! Jesus Christ is Risen!
Today (Easter IV) is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday (inspired by the content of our Scripture readings for the day), reminding us that the Risen Lord still lovingly leads and cares for His people, and bidding us to come to Him for God's abundant life.
Our service of Morning Prayer and Bulletin, and Sermon for this week can be found below.
Have a blessed week everyone!
And the songs to go with our service can be found here.
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41 | Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 | 1 Peter 1:17-23 | Luke 24:13-35
They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Our Gospel passage today starts on a pretty low note: Two of Jesus’ followers were leaving Jerusalem. They were heartbroken by the sudden, cruel death of their beloved master, and confused by the strange, unbelievable story told by Mary Magdalene and the others. It was all too much… too disorienting, too overwhelming to take in. The horror of the cross still fresh in their minds… their hopes that Jesus was the Redeemer sent by God so visibly dashed and hung high for all to see… how could anything good come from all these ‘things that have taken place’. Their world was shattered, and they were going home, alone it seemed, to pick up the pieces.
But then, we find they are not alone. A stranger shows up on the road and joins them on their journey, and when he asks they share with him their sorrowful story.
After listening, we’re told, this stranger then begins to share a story with them. The same story, actually… one which also told about these horrible ‘things that have taken place’, but then suddenly, instead of a tragic failure and the end of all they’d hoped for, these ‘things’ were becoming the climax of the story of God’s redeeming love. The stranger, “beginning with Moses” and the very first Exodus… the grand rescue of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, “and all the prophets,” who shared the message of warning, yes, but also the message of hope that the Living God would ultimately end Israel’s sufferings, and rescue them again from their enemies and their sins… the stranger unpacks God’s Story for them, helping them see that the Messiah, the Chosen One, had to “suffer these things… and then… enter into his glory.”
It was a story they had heard the pieces of probably hundreds of times before, but now this stranger was putting the pieces together again in a whole new way; helping them to see a unity and purpose, which had always been there, but which until that very moment they had not recognized. Listening to him, their peoples’ Scripture Story was connecting with their own, and their hearts began to burn with a new sense of hope and expectation.
By the time they had reached the village, they were not ready to say goodbye to the stranger. They urged him to join them for dinner, and to spend the night as well. They opened up their home to him and invited him to stay with them, and found as they did so that their whole world was about to be upended again, this time for good.
As they sit down and share a simple meal, this stranger took the bread… he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them.
Suddenly they recognize Him! Suddenly they see! It’s Jesus, their beloved Master, now living once again! All this time He had been with them, but now He’s made His presence known! And then, just like that, He vanishes right before their eyes. He was gone, in a way… but now they knew to be true what that had just before been unbelievable: He was back!
Despite the late hour, and with their hearts still burning with hope powerfully rekindled, they race back to Jerusalem to share their joyful story, and find that others too have found “The Lord is risen indeed!”
This part of the story of the appearance of the Risen Lord may be fairly familiar. It is read and talked about each year, on the Third Sunday of Easter, taking its part in the regular rhythm of our annual journeys through the Scriptural Story in our worship.
But like the two sorrowful travelers at the beginning of the passage, sometimes we fail to see how this Story all fits together, and all we can see are the shattered pieces that we had hoped would help us, and we find ourselves discouraged, disorientated, and overwhelmed.
But even then… even now… St. Luke wants to remind us, that like those two travelers we are not left to journey on alone. We are reminded that this is our story too… that even when we cannot recognize the presence or purposes of our Redeemer, the Risen Lord remains with us, and is eager to open our eyes.
The two travelers could not see Jesus at first, only the confusion and pain they were experiencing when their hopes in God’s rescue had seemed to fail. But like them, we need to be reminded of the heart of the Story of the people of God. As one scholar puts it “[t]hey had been seeing it as the long story of how God would redeem Israel from suffering, but it was instead the story of how God would redeem Israel through suffering; through, in particular, the suffering which would be taken on himself by Israel’s representative, the Messiah.” The suffering of Jesus on the cross, His crucifixion and death are the means by which the Living God ultimately redeems us, and in His rising from the grave to new and everlasting life, Jesus draws us in to God’s new creation as well: sharing with us the final hope of resurrection from the dead, as well as lives transformed and freed to serve Him without fear today.
So we continue to turn to all of Holy Scripture and seek the face of our Redeemer, letting our own small stories find their proper place within its message of hope and joy. When we can gather together in worship, we will again break blessed bread in remembrance of Him, and find ourselves rekindled and nourished by His gracious presence. In both word and sacrament, in story and mystery, we find that Jesus is right here with us. And we are reminded that He is present, even when we cannot see or feel Him near.
Even in those dark, confusing, painful times, when we feel like we are travelling alone, there is always one more thing we can do: we can simply cry out in prayer. We can share our sorrowful stories with God, inviting Him into the ‘things that have taken place’ in our lives, and trusting that He has taken on Himself our sufferings too. And that in time, He may rekindle our hope, and help us see His redemption at work, putting even the most shattered pieces of our world back into place, as surely as Jesus Christ our Lord is risen from the dead.
 Wright, N.T. (2004). Luke for Everyone (p. 294). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Italics in the original.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Blessings on this the third Sunday of the Easter Season.
This week has been an eventful one, with some ups and some deeply tragic downs.
One the upside, here in New Brunswick we are no doubt excited and relieved to hear that some early steps are now being taken to ease our Provinces restrictions due to the pandemic. While we know it will still be some time before things like public gatherings for worship will be able to resume, and that we all still need to be cautious in order to care for the vulnerable in our communities, it is still a welcome sign that we can certainly rejoice in. Here at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and all across the Diocese of Fredericton, we will be closely following the guidance of the Government regarding all our activities, and we encourage everyone to stay safe and look for ways to safely bless and care for our neighbours.
Of course on the downside, our hearts ache at the tragic loss of life and senseless evil that took place in Nova Scotia last weekend. Our prayers are with all those who are grieving and suffering, and along with the rest of our Country we also "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15).
We know that no matter what may come our way in the days and weeks ahead, the Risen Lord Jesus remains with us whether we can feel His presence or not. May our hearts be kindled today by this hope, and help us to share His peace.
Our service of Morning Prayer and Bulletin for this week can be found here:
Our three songs this morning can be found here:
and our sermon this week can be found in another post on our St. Luke's GP Blog:
God bless, and have a good week.
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22–32 | Psalm 16 | 1 Peter 1:3–9 | John 20:19–31
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
In this brief sentence from the book of Acts, St. Peter actually offers us an excellent account of what it means to be the Church: that is, to be a community of witnesses in the world of God’s raising up of Jesus. There are of course many things we do as the Church, many worthwhile and essential activities that Christians regularly take part in, such as worship, prayer, compassionate service, fellowship, and so on. But all of these activities, all these ‘things we do’ as the people of God find their deep unity and purpose just here: in forming us to be witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, and the new creation the Living God is bringing about in Him. From the day of Pentecost, when St. Peter first uttered these words, all the way to today, the Christian Church exists in order to bear witness. Its more than what we do, it is really who we are.
But what does it mean for us to be this kind of a witness?
One helpful way to unpack this might be to compare the difference between a ‘witness’ and a ‘bystander’. At a basic level, to be a witness means to testify… to tell the truth about something that one has come to know. And in so doing, their own story gets tied in and tangled up with this wider story. What they have experienced and come to know has made an impact on their life, and they are now compelled to share it as truthfully as they can.
A bystander, on the other hand, may have shared the very same experiences, may have seen and heard the very same things as our ‘witnesses’, and yet for whatever reason the event does not take hold of them in the same fashion. For the bystander, it all remains a private experience. It may end up being a profound, disturbing, or inspiring experience, to be sure, but they are not compelled to share in, and share, what has happened with others, and so it remains an isolated and incidental part of their history. In short, unlike the ‘witness’, the ‘bystander’ remains outside of the story.
This is a very rough sketch, I know, but I believe it can help us clarify something that has often been muddied in our society. By and large we have become used to thinking about and living our faith in essentially private ways, and the idea of being more ‘public’ with it makes many deeply uncomfortable. Images immediately come to mind of pushy, arrogant, and self-righteous know-it-all's, or those who use religion for political or selfish gain. Clearly, this kind of ‘public faith’ is miles away from the Way of Jesus, and thankfully there are much more faithful ways to live Christian-ly in the world. But as comfortable as we might feel living as spiritual bystanders, to follow the Way of Jesus Christ is to become a witness: one whose whole life is draw into the Story of what God has done in raising Jesus Christ from the grave, and who is tasked with making this known to the world as truthfully as they can.
Our Scripture readings this morning talk much about believing and faith, and the narratives (both from Acts and John’s Gospel) tell of the early disciple’s first steps as a witnessing community. In our Gospel reading the story picks up on Easter evening. Just before our reading, in verse 18, we can find the very first account of someone being sent as a witness with the Good News: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” And in response… they gathered together and locked their doors in fear of persecution.
Maybe not the most courageous or noble first step, I know, but that didn’t stop the Lord’s world-changing plans for them. And maybe we can identify with their fear and hesitancy too. Maybe we can easily see ourselves following their early ‘lead’. But the same Lord who transformed these fear-filled disciples back then remains the Lord of the Church today, and that should give us hope. For rather than leave His people to fend for themselves, the Risen Lord arrives. The Good News they’d hear from Mary is suddenly present in their midst: Jesus really has risen!… and although that means re-imagining the entire story of the world, they come to believe and know this to be true.
Well, most of them did at least. Poor Thomas missed the party that night, and now he finds all his friends backing up Mary’s story… all claiming to have seen their beloved master Jesus alive again. But rather than take them at their word, Thomas responds by demanding the same experience the rest of them all had: to see for himself the presence of the Risen Lord. Despite the best attempts of the rest of the witnessing disciples, Thomas remains resolute in his resistance.
But then, just as before, when they had all gathered together, the Risen Lord shows up and graciously comes to Thomas, inviting him to stop doubting and believe. Christ does not turn Thomas away for not believing until he had seen Him raised for himself, but along with Thomas we are told: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now turning to our reading from Acts, we hear a portion of St. Peter’s speech to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. This is the same St. Peter who, not long before, was resistant to Mary’s message until the Risen Lord Himself appeared among them alive. This is the same St. Peter who, along with the others disciples, could not convince Thomas, one of their own number, that the Good News was true… until the Lord again showed up and stirred up Thomas’ faith. This same St. Peter now stands in front of thousands of faithful Jews, from all over the ancient world, and tells them the truth about Jesus. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, he tells them the story of how the One they had crucified was truly their Messiah, and that God had raised Him from the dead, and raised Him up in glory. This time we are told, if we read a bit further, that about three thousand people believed (verse 41), and stepped into the Church’s story with their lives as well. From there, the Church continued to grow and spread all through the world, as more and more people believed the Good News of the Risen Lord, and shared what they had come to believe and know with their world.
There are just a few points I think I should highlight before drawing to a close. First of all, witnessing to the reality of the resurrection is not simply about sharing information, but rather of living in such a way that its truth becomes believable. We can say all the ‘right things’, but if our choices and actions and lives don’t line up, we are undermining the message we have all been entrusted to share. On the other hand, if our lives are in line with the world-changing reality of Christ’s resurrection, then our words will be too, and will also likely be needed to help others understand why we now live the way we do. It’s not a question of prioritizing resurrection ‘words’ or ‘deeds’; they both belong together, like so many things in life.
Second, though we’re all called to be witnesses, to tell the truth about the Risen Lord through our entire lives, it is ultimately God who makes use of our witness to enable people to believe. As our Scripture texts today attest, faith is not always a straightforward path, and those that eventually believe may still have a long journey ahead. The disciples first doubted Mary, then Thomas doubted the other disciples, but the Risen Christ still used their faithful witness. True faith cannot be forced, for it is a gift from God, and each of us may arrive at that gift and receive it in a different way. After all, how did we first come to the Church? We each have a unique story, but in some way each of us responded to the message of Jesus Christ as it was expressed and lived out by others in our lives. We believed their witness, and joined in this Story along with them, and have each grown and learned a whole lot along the way. Though we did not see the Risen Lord with our own eyes as the first disciples did… we believed their testimony, which has been the story of the Church’s life throughout the centuries. And now we too are witnesses… our lives now have this purpose: to point to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, and to help others to share in the New Creation that the Living God is bringing about through Him.
And finally, for most of us this won’t mean standing up in front of a crowd of thousands… but what about a crowd of one… or two, or three? Honestly, what would it look like to be faithful to our calling to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ first of all in our own homes? With our next-door neighbours? Our closest friends? Our spouses? Ourselves?It certainly doesn’t look like being pushy, or arrogant, self-righteous, manipulative, or defensive… but what might it look like to live as those who believe the Good News of Jesus?
Patience? Forgiveness? Asking for forgiveness? Gentleness? Courage? Hope? Trust?
In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is bringing about His New Creation, and He offers us His Holy Spirit to bring it to life in us. Like St. Peter and all the rest, though we stumble, and struggle along the way, our Risen Lord is still with us as we seek to make Him known.
So may we continue to believe, and hold fast to the hope we’ve been given, and may we discover anew what it means to take part in this Story with our whole lives… so that our world “may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing” they too “may have life in his name.” Amen.
Songs for Easter II - April 19