Scripture Readings: Isaiah 6:1–8 | Psalm 29 | Romans 8:12–17 | John 3:1–17
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
First impressions are funny things.
Sometimes they give us a pretty good glimpse about part of the picture… but rarely do they go deep enough for us to truly understand… to truly know who we are dealing with in any meaningful sense. I’m sure we all have an experience or two in this department, but this morning I’ll share just one example with you from my own past.
When I was growing up, I was afraid of my Grandpa.
Although I knew that he was good… he was an upright hard-working Christian, who cared a lot about doing things right… I remember being pretty uneasy and intimidated by him. Granted, I was a pretty sensitive and timid child, but I still believe there were some good reasons that I was afraid of him. He could be pretty gruff and impatient, and often erred on the stricter side of things. To my child’s eyes he seemed like someone I dared not disappoint.
But thanks be to God, I was given the gift of a closer look at my Grandpa. As a young adult, he hired me to work for him, and I started to see a whole new side of this man that I once had feared. Up close, I saw his deep devotion, to God and to his family. I saw his generosity, his creativity, and to my great surprise he even revealed great gentleness, tender-heartedness, and sacrificial love.
Over the years I worked with him, my Grandpa opened up his heart to me, revealing a side of himself that changed our relationship forever. Not only did I have to alter how I thought of him, but how we related to each other changed forever too. My first impressions of him were incomplete; I didn’t have the whole picture of who my Grandpa really was until he started to show me. By truly getting to know him more, we were brought much closer together, and now I’m so grateful for the gift of his friendship and love.
Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Christian Church celebrates God’s gift of revealing to us His own character and nature as eternally Three in One, and One in Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Three Persons, One God.
We know we’re speaking of a mystery when we talk about the Trinity. We’re not mastering or explaining, or nailing God down with our human words… rather, we’re trying to faithfully share what God has shared with us. We’re trying our best to be true to how God has made Himself known to us, even if that makes things more complicated than we first imagined.
The Trinity… the Three-in-Oneness of God is the way we can speak truthfully about the Living God, Who is way beyond our abilities to understand, but Who nonetheless longs for us to grow closer to Him in knowledge and in love. Contemplating the Trinity is an invitation to get past our first impressions about God, and explore the mysterious, and complex goodness of God’s heart…
And it’s an invitation to renew, not only our thoughts about God, but to have our whole relationship with Him renewed as well.
In our Scripture readings today, God’s word opens up this path for us to get to know the Living Triune God, and come to love Him more.
In our reading today from Isaiah, we heard an account of the prophet’s vision of an encounter with the Living God that changed his life forever. “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,” he tells us, “high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Far from a joyous moment, Isaiah’s first impression is terror, and for good reason: he knows that God is holy, pure goodness… and he knows that he himself is not. Isaiah cries out “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). This is all true, of course, but it’s also not the whole picture. The vision continues, giving Isaiah, and us as well a glimpse into the heart of the Living God through what He does for Isaiah.
A Seraphim, a spiritual being serving in God’s presence brings a holy coal from the heavenly altar, and purifies Isaiah, touching it to his unclean lips, in order to offer forgiveness… to make this sinful man holy. Sharing with him God’s holiness, and making him able to stand before the Lord with no reason to be afraid any more. Rather than end Isaiah’s life the Lord renews it instead.
But even more than that, God draws Isaiah into His own mission… empowering him to respond to the questions: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” with the faithful, and fateful words “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). Despite Isaiah’s terrified first impressions of what it means for him to draw close to the Lord, the Holy One, Most High, God blesses him instead… and brings about everything that Isaiah needs to serve Him faithfully in the world without fear. Through this vision of God, Isaiah’s mind and heart was changed for good, reshaping his whole life, and preparing him for what was to come.
Moving forward a few hundred years, we come to the Gospel of John, where we hear the story of Nicodemus coming to meet with Jesus. In this passage we catch a glimpse of what this Pharisee and Jewish leader, first thought of Jesus, both by what he says and when he says it: “Rabbi,” he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (John 3:2) His first impression: Jesus is a godly teacher… but a dangerous one. At least, he thinks it’s dangerous to be seen with Jesus publicly.
And again, Nicodemus isn’t wrong… about either of his hunches. After all, the Gospel of John goes on to tell of the consequences others would face for openly supporting Jesus, like being kicked out of the synagogue community. And Jesus was a teacher sent from God. But this is not the whole picture: Christ is much more than a teacher. He is the Son, sent from the Father in heaven to fix the world’s deepest problem: not simply offering new information from God, but new Life! “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus said, “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5) “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15).
This response throws Nicodemus for a bit of a loop. He can’t quite wrap his head around what Jesus is saying to him… and for us as well, his words are puzzling, complicated, and mysterious, but are also meant to draw us deeper into the story made known in John’s Gospel, and all throughout the Scriptures. But even here Jesus reveals what He is truly up to… and what lies at the heart of the mission of the Living God… that is, God’s rescuing, life-giving love for our broken world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17).
Jesus is not simply someone speaking to us about God, some teacher, prophet, or even some kind of angelic messenger. He is the Living God Himself, God the Son taking on human life, revealing God’s own character and heart to us in action; all throughout His earthly life, especially at the cross… giving His life to suffer and die to share His life with us all.
Far beyond anything Nicodemus expected to find that night, He had in fact drawn near to the Holy Lord, Most High… for to see Jesus Christ is to see the Living God. So often we can forget this truth that the Trinity reveals to us… that there is no division between Christ and the Father. Again and again, our fears can drive a wedge between what we think God is really like, and the heartbeat we see at work in Jesus Christ. Jesus give us the complete picture of God’s heart.
I’ve shared this quote before, so you may remember it, but I think it powerfully captures what the Trinity shows us: “The Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance tells how, as a young army chaplain, he held the hand of a dying nineteen-year-old soldier, and then, back in Aberdeen as a pastor, visited one of the oldest women in his congregation - and how they both asked exactly the same question: ‘Is God really like Jesus?’ And he assured them both, Torrance writes, ‘that God is indeed really like Jesus, and that there is no unknown God behind the back of Jesus for us to fear; to see the Lord Jesus is to see the very face of God.’” To recognize the face of God in Jesus is the response of faith, which is itself the result of the Holy Spirit at work in us… opening our eyes to see what we otherwise would miss… and opening our hearts to say yes the New Life Jesus shares with us.
Belief in the Trinity affirms that the Three we know as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the One God… that for all time they share in everything it means to be the Living God, and that they are united in drawing us closer to Him. From their shared self-giving love, God the Father sends God the Son into the world to save us… and to share with us His own eternal life, through God the Holy Spirit… who draws us by faith in Jesus into God’s family, as St. Paul says in Romans, with the Spirit of adoption… transforming us from rebels into true children of God. The Gospel, the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ, is the story of the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all together inviting us into God’s own life. Inviting us to go beyond our faulty first impressions, our fears, and failures, to truly come to know and love the Living God, all so that we too can share in His unending holy love.
Today, may we be open to the truth of the Trinity. May we say yes to God’s invitation to draw closer to Him… to let Him mercifully deal with all our faulty first impressions, our fears, our failures, and instead draw near to Him in faith. May we grow to truly know His holy, life-giving love, and may that love transform and deepen our love for God, for His world, and for each other. Amen.
 T.F. Torrance, Preaching Christ Today, 55. Quoted by William C. Placher in The Triune God: An Essay In Postliberal Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 139.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty: O come, let us worship.
Today is Trinity Sunday, where we celebrate God's self-revelation to us as Father, Son, & Holy Spirit; One God, Three Divine Persons.
The understanding of God as Trinity can be hard to wrap our heads around, but it is the Church's way to truthfully speak about and share what we believe God's shared with us throughout the story of Scripture.
While not "explaining" the Trinity, this video from the Bible Project does a great job of exploring the Biblical basis for this central part of the Christian faith.
I invite you to join us as we continue to pray together as a parish that the Holy Spirit would guide us in our life together as His Church, and as we discern how best to share in God's loving care in our community.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | Psalm 104:24–37 | Acts 2:1–21 | John 15:26–27, 16:4b–15
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
One of the joys of moving somewhere new is that you get to experience each season of the year with a renewed sense of adventure. What will winter feel like here? How hot will it be in August? What will the leaves look like in the Fall? What’s going to grow here come Spring?
This is our first Spring in our new house, and so far it’s been a great adventure… especially as the weather’s warmed up, and our yard’s begun to bloom. We’re practicing ‘No Mow May’, where people delay cutting the grass in their yards until June begins, to give the bees and other pollinators something to sustain themselves after the long wait of winter. We thought we’d just see dandelions having a field day, so to speak, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the variety of flowers… of new and unexpected life that has sprung up all around us.
Wide patches of white Canadian violets, and wild-strawberries… all sorts of scattered Johnny jump-ups, forget-me-nots, and daffodils, and not to mention the host of others whose names we don’t yet know, and whose shapes are unfamiliar. Together, along with the dandelions of course, they make a beautiful but unexpected garden… a blessing, both to us, and hopefully to the bees… and a reminder that new life often comes as a surprise.
Today the Church celebrates the holy day of Pentecost, which for thousands of years had been an ancient festival for Israel, but which had been given new life and meaning for those who trust in Jesus Christ, as this was the day God’s Holy Spirit was poured out into our lives. As we heard in our reading from Acts Chapter 2, at Pentecost, God was fulfilling His promise, made through the prophets long ago, to fill up His people… old and young, women and men, slaves and free… with His own Divine presence and power… so they could all together take their part in His great mission to bring salvation to our world. To reconcile and rescue us, to restore us in His righteousness… to share His life of holy love with all who will call on His name.
At Pentecost, the Spirit of God at work in the life of Jesus… from His birth and baptism, all throughout His faithful life, in his trials, suffering, and death, and in His rising from the dead… this same Spirit was given to us, to Christians… in order to fill, empower, and lead ordinary people like you and I. To bring God’s New Life in Jesus Christ to birth in and through believers… guiding us deeper into lives shaped by the truth of God’s Good News.
All this and more is packed into the meaning of Pentecost. It’s an unexpected, easy to misunderstand part of our story, one we might just be tempted to skip on past as soon as possible. But to do so cuts us off from seeing how God’s Spirit’s at work even today; bringing new life and power, and hope, both to and through His people.
Before our reading today taken from the book of Acts, the entire Christian movement could have fit inside this room (that is, St. Luke’s Church). Maybe not with COVID-19 social distancing measures in place, but in Acts 1:15 we’re told there were only about 120 believers at this point. Picture that for a second. All those who had come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Risen and Reigning King of heaven and earth… who were also called to share the Good News of Jesus with all the world… they could all fit inside these walls… with all the world outside their doors. Talk about a daunting, seemingly impossible task. How could a group of 120 ordinary men and women even start to take their message and share it in a meaningful way? Especially as they were still at risk of being arrested by the very same people who had arrested and crucified our Lord? All they had to go on was the promise Christ had given them: that He would send them an Advocate, Someone to take their side who would fill them with God’s power, and truly lead them on. In the mean-time, they were to wait, to trust the LORD, and seek His will. Which we’re told they did, gathered all together in constant prayer.
Throughout the centuries, this is what God’s people have been called to do: to gather together, to trust in the LORD, to wait, and to pray… not because there is nothing else to do, but in order to be prepared, ready to take our part when God’s unexpected, powerful New Life breaks through, even when it seems like the time for hope is over. When it seems like there’s no way forward, and that the end has come.
This was the kind of situation faced by the people of Judah when Jerusalem was conquered, and they were taken off into Exile. They had seen their entire homeland, their whole way of life, overthrown and ruined by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. Though the prophets of YHWH, the LORD, had long been warning that this would be the result if the kingdoms of Israel and Judah continued on in their unfaithfulness, God’s people had not turned back to Him, and so they lost everything. They were as good as dead. At least, that’s how they saw things: “Our bones are dried up,” they said “our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Yet the Living God was far from done with His beloved people. Despite their fears and failures, God would not abandon them, and as the vision of the prophet Ezekiel makes plain, God’s life-giving Spirit is full of powerful surprises.
Our reading today from Ezekiel 37 stands out as one of the most striking images of hope in the entire Bible, pointing us towards God’s faithfulness even beyond death… which would come fully to light in the resurrection of Jesus. Though the people had given up, God Himself would have the final say. The Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay, sums up God’s response like this. “They feel like a people who are dead and buried. OK, says God, I shall open your graves and bring you back to life… When the people of God seems to be finished, it’s not finished.” Just as in the vision the dry and scattered bones were gathered together, and the Wind, the Breath, the Spirit of God restored the bones to full life, God promised to gather His people again, restore them to their homeland, and put His own Spirit within them, so they might truly live… that is, so that their lives might fully share in God’s own life… taking their part in His life-giving holy love for our world.
Back in the book of Acts, at Pentecost, over 500 years later, God’s promise through Ezekiel was bearing surprising fruit. Those 120 believers, waiting and praying together, found themselves caught up in God’s New Life breaking out, both for Israel, and for all nations.
“[S]uddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” In an instant, waiting gives way to God’s Spirit filling Christ’s followers, enabling them to speak in tongues they did not know before. This would no doubt be a blessed, unforgettable experience, one which would strengthen their faith, and draw them closer to God and each other, even if it only involved the 120 gathered together. But of course, the whole point was God’s Spirit was moving in their midst to empower them to share the Good News of Jesus with the world! And that is exactly what happened… which is why we’re here today.
After the Exile, Israelites and Jews were scattered all through the ancient world; living among all sorts of communities, speaking all sorts of languages, far from their homeland, but holding onto God’s promise to restore them. Many would come on the holy festivals, like Passover, and Pentecost, to worship at the rebuilt Temple of God in Jerusalem. And suddenly, this multitude of pilgrims, gathered in their homeland once again, heard this small group of believers sharing the Good News of God in their own scattered languages... reaching out to each of them in ways they could clearly understand. And though our reading today doesn’t let us hear the whole story of Pentecost, Act 2:41 tells us the message was received: “So those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
From 120 to over 3,000… a surprising new community made up of Jews from Galilee, Jerusalem, and all over the ancient world… and this was just the beginning, the first-fruits of God’s rescue mission to reach out to all people with the Good News of Jesus… so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21). The book of Acts recounts how this community grows, gathering together Jews and Gentiles, and spreads throughout the world. And over the centuries, it’s still growing! The Good News of Jesus is still reaching out and transforming our world today, renewing lives, restoring hope, and reconciling us with God and each other… bringing God’s New Life to birth even here in Gondola Point.
You and I are part of the evidence of God’s faithfulness and power, gathered together in worship, prayer, and holy love in Jesus’ name, thousands of years after the Spirit was given at Pentecost, and part of a worldwide family, the Church, with billions of sisters and brothers!
I don’t know if any of the 120 believers who had got up that Pentecost morning could have possibly imagined what God’s Holy Spirit was about to begin through them, but you and I have plenty of reasons to hold onto hope in what God is up to. Not because there are no challenges ahead, or failures behind us. Not because we have it all figured out, or have all the needed expertise. No, our hope is that the Living God we’ve come to know in Jesus Christ, loves to draw ordinary people like us into His own surprising story of worldwide salvation, through His Holy Spirit at work in us.
The Anglican priest and theologian John Stott sums up how indispensable the Holy Spirit is for the life of the Church with a particularly forceful point: “Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.” The Holy Spirit isn’t an extra, optional part of the Christian faith. The Spirit is God’s own life giving presence and power among us, and out in our world… drawing us into the resurrection life of Jesus our Lord, and working through us in surprising ways to share His saving love with all.
Here at St. Luke’s, may God’s Holy Spirit come powerfully among us. May He share God’s hope with us when we are feeling broken, lost, and alone. May He draw us deeper in our devotion to Jesus, helping us seek His face in prayer, and follow in His ways. May the Holy Spirit convict and challenge us when we need it, leading us back to the truth, and restoring us in God’s mercy. And may He open our hearts to be ready and able to take our part in Christ’s mission, to share the New Life of God… even in ways that might be full of beautiful surprises. Amen.
 John Goldingay, Lamentations and Ezekiel for Everyone, Old Testament for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 184.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 60.
Alleluia! The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth:
O come, let us worship
Today we celebrate the coming of God's Holy Spirit at Pentecost, filling the Church with God's presence and power to share in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.
On this sacred day, and in the days to come I invite your prayers for our Parish of Gondola Point:
That the Holy Spirit would guide us in our life together as His Church, and as we discern how best to share in God's loving care in our community.
For those of us unsure of what the Spirit is all about, here is a great video from the Bible Project to help us explore how the Holy Scriptures speak about the Holy Spirit of God.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 1:1–11 | Psalm 47 | Ephesians 1:15–23 | Luke 24:44–53
“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
Who’s really in charge?
Just over four months ago, nations around the world were in shock: violent protesters had stormed the US Capitol Building in Washington, in order to disrupt their country’s transition of power. Egged on by then President Trump, who claimed that the election was stolen from him (a claim he maintains to this day despite the persistent lack of proof) … chanting his name, this massive gathering tried to seize control of their nation’s future… to force their political will to be done.
As shocking as this event was, it’s shockwaves are still ongoing, with many still choosing to perpetuate what is being called “the Big Lie”, the claim that Trump actually won their election, and that he’s the one that truly deserves their ultimate loyalty. Clinging to his claims of power, and desperate to avoid what he sees as the humiliation of defeat, Trump keeps grasping after the influence and attention that he craves… and all kinds of people are eagerly following his destructive lead.
Sadly, we know this kind of behaviour, though shocking, is not unique. History has many stories to share of ruler’s desperately clinging to power, and perpetuating all sorts of lies and atrocities to do so. Again and again, people have sacrificed their integrity, the common good, and the lives of others in order to be in charge: to be the ones who get to say “my will be done on earth.”
But this week, Christians around the world tell a very different story, we offer a different account of who’s truly in charge. This week we mark the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, and celebrate the ‘Big Truth’ that Jesus is Lord of all. That he has been lifted up above all earthly authority, and reigns over heaven and earth, at the right hand of God the Father.
Of course, from the very beginning, this message has been a contested claim. There are many who argue that our devotion and loyalty should lie elsewhere, and even those of us who claim to believe in the truth of the Christian faith might still find ourselves serving other so-called ‘lords’ in our daily lives. How much are our actions and choices driven solely by things like power, or pleasure, or money, or security, or personal freedom, or family? All things created to be good, and to be received with gratitude, but that can also be turned into idols… into objects of worship, commitments that can end up consuming our lives instead of building them up.
Truth be told, if we are to step back and look at a lot of our own motivations, we might be more than a little shocked to see how little God’s kingdom factors in. We might see within our own hearts that craving to be the one in charge… to get to say, at some level, “my will be done on earth.”
But the Good News we Christians celebrate today calls us away from that impulse… from the seduction of the self-centredness we see at work in the world. This Good News speaks of a Saviour who has come to lead us another way… to rescue us, and reign forever as our Risen King of Kings. The central claim of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, is that the One who gave His life on the cross to save the world has been raised from the dead, and now been given all authority on heaven and earth. That His kingdom has begun, even if our world refuses to recognize it. And that His kingdom is at work even now in the lives of His people, empowering us to live God’s way… and enjoy the blessings of His reign.
In a very real sense, the Ascension is the completion of the triumph of Easter; the overcoming of death, with humanity now sharing in the life of God… united together once and for all in the risen body of Christ. It is the final step of Jesus in His journey of redemption: The One who came down from heaven, who humbled himself and took on our human existence, who willingly gave Himself to suffer and die for us all… was raised from the dead as the firstborn of God’s brand new re-creation, never to die again, and bringing up His resurrected body to the right hand of God… ruling as the Son of God, and the Son of Man. Without His ascension, His resurrection would not have fulfilled it’s full purpose, not simply to undo the cross, but to fully overcome death itself, and reconcile us to the Living God.
The theologian (and one of my old professors) Tim Perry puts it this way in his book He Ascended Into Heaven: “The Ascension is the sign of Jesus’ victory - his exaltation… Luke wants to leave his readers in no doubt about one simple fact: Jesus left his disciples not through death on the cross, but through conquering death on the cross. The proof of his victory was not only his Resurrection but also his Ascension. It’s not that the Resurrection is less important than the Ascension. It is that, in some way, they are one continuous divine act. Resurrection is the beginning of ascension; ascension is resurrection completed.” The purpose of Easter morning was for God’s new creation to begin in the body of Jesus, and from there to spread out into all of creation. He was not raised just to bring a godly man back to earthly life, or so He could one day escape this broken world, and leave His body behind… He was raised so that heaven and earth might be united forever, first of all in the flesh of the Risen Lord Himself.
This longish quote from NT Wright might help to shed some light on the significance of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus: “People often think that ‘resurrection’ simply means ‘life after death’ or ‘going to heaven’, but in the Jewish world of the first century it meant a new embodied life in God’s new world; a life after ‘life after death’, if you like. But the new body which will be given at the end is not identical to the previous one. In an act of new creation parallel only to the original creation itself, God will make a new type of material, no longer subject to death, out of the old one. In Jesus’ case, of course, this happened right away, without his original body decaying, so that the new body was actually the transformation of the old one. For the rest of us, whose bodies will decay, and whose bones may well be burnt, it will take a complete act of new creation.
The new body—and this is the point—will belong in both the dimensions of God’s world, in both heaven and earth. (At the end of the book of Revelation, heaven and earth will finally be joined together into one, so there won’t be any shuttling to and fro; the two dimensions will be fused together at last.) At the moment our bodies are earthly only; Jesus’ new body is at home in both earth and heaven.”
I know that’s a lot to take in, especially if we’re not used to thinking about these kinds of things, but this claim is the heart of the Good News of Jesus that the Christian Church has proclaimed from the beginning: in Jesus, the Risen Lord, God’s new creation has begun, reuniting heaven and earth once and for all.
In his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension Jesus Christ has won the ultimate victory: He has conquered death, the powers of sin, and the forces of spiritual darkness, overcoming the divide between the Living God and His creation… reconciling all things together in Himself… who was raised to begin His reign as the King of Kings.
For that is the other side of the message of the ascension: the One who was raised has been given all authority in heaven and earth… who did not cling to power, or flee from humiliation, suffering, or even death, but faithfully said to His Father in Heaven “not my will, but yours be done”. The One that Christians claim is truly in charge, who deserves all our love and loyalty, is our Risen Redeemer. The One who came not to be served, but to serve, and to save.
How do we begin to talk about and respond to His reign? What are some ways we can take part in Christ’s Kingdom here and now? Our Scripture readings today, in speaking of His ascension, can help us start to wrap our heads around this wonderful truth.
The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are meant to go together: they’re two parts of one narrative, written by the same author, and the story of Jesus begun in Luke finds it’s fulfillment in Acts, with the ascension standing as the bridge between the two halves. In Luke, Jesus fulfills His earthly ministry and mission, and ascends to heaven not in order to rest, but to rule… to continue the work of God’s Kingdom through His faithful witnesses, believers empowered by the Holy Spirit to share His Kingdom with the world… the story which unfolds all throughout the Book of Acts.
But the ending of Luke’s Gospel, and the beginning of Acts, would have us remember that this is all a part of God’s Great Rescue Mission at work all throughout the Scriptures, and from the very beginning. That the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises to people like Abraham, Moses, David, and that we cannot cut off the story of Israel from the life of the Church. Living in God’s Kingdom calls us to step into the story of Scripture… to seek to understand what God has been doing all along, and opening our hearts to listen to His Holy Word, as His Kingdom spreads from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
These same Scriptures, both old and new, will also remind us that the claims of God’s kingdom remain contested claims. Both Israel, and the New Testament Church faced all sorts of temptations to follow after other forces claiming their allegiance, and so we too will have our own temptations in our turn. The Scriptures remind us as well, that if we stand firm in our faith, we’re likely to face not just temptation, but opposition. As Jesus Himself was rejected, persecuted, and put to death, those faithful saints in Israel and in the New Testament all had their share of sufferings too. We also can expect times of conflict and trouble will arise if we push back against the ‘so-called lords’ fighting for our loyalty… if we choose to be true to our Risen King, and don’t go along with the crowds.
We’re also reminded that we are not left to stand for God’s kingdom on our own strength: in Christ, God’s Holy Spirit has come to protect and empower us… enabling us to endure even the darkest times we may face, guiding us when we can’t seem to see our own way forward, and filling us with the abundant blessed life of God: the power of His holy love; the joys that outlast our sorrow; the riches of God’s mercy and grace, the comfort and peace of His presence; the freedom from the fear of death, and from the grip of sin; the knowledge that we belong forever in the family of God.
Next Sunday’s the Feast of Pentecost, when we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit, to unite us to Jesus, our Saviour King, and empower us to share in the life of His gracious Kingdom.
But even today, may God’s Holy Spirit fill us with the hope that builds up our faith. May we take up our part in the story of His Kingdom, revealed in the Scriptures and at work even now. May we serve as faithful witnesses to all that He has done to bring God’s mercy, forgiveness, and new life to the world. And may the way we live each day point to the One who’s truly in charge: to Jesus Christ the Risen and Ascended Lord of all. Amen.
 Tim Perry, He Ascended Into Heaven: Learn to Live An Ascension-Shaped Life (Paraclete Press: Brewster, MA, 2010), 7.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 300.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed: O come, let us worship!
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when the Risen Jesus returned to the right hand of the Father in order to reign as Lord of heaven and earth even now.
There is so much about the story of Christ's Ascension that can seem strange to us, but it is a vital part of His mission to rescue our broken world. Here is a short video from the Bible Project that can help shed a bit of light on what the authors of the Bible had in mind when they spoke of the Risen Jesus being taken up in a cloud to sit at the right hand of God the Father.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 10:44–48 | Psalm 98 | 1 John 5:1–6 | John 15:9–17
We have some exciting days ahead of us here at St. Luke’s, Gondola Point. The pieces are now in motion for our Building Restoration Project to begin the needed repair work on the exterior of St. Luke’s Church. Of course, plenty of work has already been going on for years now: our Parish family has long been consulting, planning, and fundraising in order to preserve our beloved building, hopefully for years to come… not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
Admittedly, it hasn’t gone quite the way we had expected. When this Project began, no one had imagined it would be unfolding during a global pandemic. But as odd as it seems, the time is now: the work is much needed, and we won’t delay. And thankfully, we don’t have to shoulder all of the financial burden ourselves. With the help of some grants from Parks Canada, due to our building’s National Historic Site status, we’ll have some significant assistance in raising the necessary funds. I think we can all be grateful that we’re not the only ones invested in the future of St. Luke’s Church by helping to restore it to it’s true essence and shape.
Our Scripture readings today might also invite us to think about Church restoration… that is, not restoring a building, but rather the Christian community. Of coming to recognize what lies at the heart of our life together as God’s children… highlighting the essence, the core of what the Church is, what it is meant to become, and drawing our attention to the necessary work that lies before us.
It should come as little surprise that in thinking about what lies at the heart of the Christian Church, we simply have to begin with faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. He is Himself the foundation for absolutely everything else. He is the cornerstone of the Church. Without Jesus, and what He’s done, there’d simply be no Church, and from first to last faith in Him is what makes us what we are. The author of 1 John grounds our ongoing connection to the Living God, and our hope for the future in our faith, our trust placed in Jesus. 1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”, and in verses 4 & 5 it says that “this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” For the author of 1 John, our faith in Christ is top priority.
And in the book of Acts we see the fruit of faith in Jesus… what happens when we hear and believe the Good News of the Son of God. Our reading today from Acts takes place right after St. Peter speaks to his host Cornelius, a Roman army officer, sharing with him and his family this message of hope. Acts 10:34-43, “Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’”
St. Peter sums up the story of Christ with an invitation to faith. We’ll come back to what happens next in just a few moments. For now, it’s enough to say that from it’s very earliest days, the Christian Church has been built on belief in Jesus Christ: who He is, and what He came to do.
But just like a building needs more than a foundation, faith in Jesus is not meant to stand all alone. It’s meant to enable, to give rise to a particular way of life. Faith in Jesus, trust in Him is meant to take the form of faithful love. Directed both to God, and to one another too. “As the Father has loved me,” Jesus said, “so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:9-12).
Far from the self-centred, so-called love all too common in our world, God’s love calls us to set aside our own agendas and care for each other, even if it means making pretty big changes to do so. As one ancient writer puts it: “If we love God, then we must also love those whom God has brought to birth and who have become our brothers and sisters. Loving one another is a sign of how much we love God.”
Again, we can see this love at work in our reading from Acts chapter 10. In verse 48, St. Peter does something truly ground-breaking among God’s people: he embodies God’s love simply by “staying with” these new Gentile believers. Being a faithful Jew, St. Peter was never supposed to even enter the house of a non-Jew, that is until the Holy Spirit led him to do exactly that. And now, after Cornelius and his family all believe, St. Peter breaks down all the barriers between Jews and non-Jews. He accepts their hospitality, shares their home, their meals, their lives. No longer as strangers, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Just like Jesus embodied God’s love by eating and spending time with Israel’s outcasts, now St. Peter embodies God’s love by entering into the life of Cornelius. In this simple act we can see the Living God at work, forming out of two hostile worlds one new family, united by faith in Jesus Christ, to love God and each other. Love is the structure, the essential shape of the Church community; itself resting secure on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith and love. To indispensable elements of the Church. The heart of our life together as the family of God. So easy to talk about, so much harder to put into practice. Thank heavens we don’t have to try to be the Church all on our own: this community, this way of life is God’s gift to us in Jesus. It’s the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to truly trust in God and share in His love. The Living God Himself has been building and re-building His Church, doing things with us that we would never have imagined.
We can see the Spirit of God at work doing this all through the book of Acts, as the Church community keeps on growing in surprising ways. Today we heard, in Acts chapter 10:44-48, through St. Peter’s message the Holy Spirit of God strikes again. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Long before St. Peter stepped into the house of Cornelius, the Living God was preparing to share His Good News with all peoples. Though St. Peter and those with him could not have imagined where the Holy Spirit was leading them, and the world-changing story they would take part in, God was at work through them building His Church big enough for the world. The Spirit drew these strangers together, the Spirit helped St. Peter find the words about Jesus, the Spirit helped Cornelius hear and believe, and this same Spirit came to dwell in them all, uniting them in God’s great love. If faith is the foundation of the Church, and love is what’s built up on top of it, the Living God is the architect, the builder, and what holds it all together.
It can be tempting at times to get discouraged when thinking about the Church… about how far God’s family seems to have strayed from our true essence… from the faith and selfless love that’s supposed to shape all that we do. Just as our Church building here in Gondola Point stands in need of some restoration, so does the Church community all over the world today. But instead of pointing our fingers at our brothers and sisters in Christ that we suspect are messing things up, let’s humble start with ourselves.
Is our life together as Christians firmly rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ? Are we seeking to trust Him in all areas of our lives? Not only our eternity, but our every day?
Does our faith give rise to active love? To caring for one another? Are we embodying the way of Jesus in how we treat those in our lives? Our families? Our friends? Co-workers? Neighbours? Strangers? Enemies?
I suspect both as individuals, and as a Parish family, there’s likely a fair amount of restoration work ahead of us, work which we dare not delay. But the Good News is we’re not bearing the burden of this work alone! The Living God is deeply invested in the life of the Church, found both here at St. Luke’s, and all throughout the world. God is at work restoring and extending it far beyond anything that we have yet achieved, or imagined. Not simply returning to the past, but making all things new. Not crafting our community into what we might want it to be, but letting it be re-created in line with the LORD’s designs. Of course, we don’t have to be open to this restoration work. We can resist the Spirit of God, and try to go our own way. But the Gospel hope… for St. Luke’s, for the wider Church, and for the world… lies in humbly saying ‘yes’ to the work of the Living God. Echoing the words of our Saviour: “not my will, but yours be done.”
In two weeks time, at Pentecost, I hope to start something new here in our Parish: a Mission Visioning group for our St. Luke’s community. It won’t be a formal committee, but simply a group of us here at St. Luke’s who want to commit to praying together, listening together, and trying to discern God’s will both for our Parish life, and for our role in His mission outside of our walls. If you feel draw to take part in this Visioning group, or simply have questions about it, please come and talk to me.
But whether or not we’re a part of a group like this, or a more formal leadership role, all of us as brothers and sisters in the family of God have a part to play in God’s ongoing Church Restoration Project. We’re all called to be open to the Holy Spirit’s voice: His assessment of our current situation, and future direction. We’re all responsible for nurturing a living faith in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, and building our lives on the Gospel. We’re all to take up the call to embody the self-giving love of God, so that He might move through us and draw all people into His family.
We have some exciting days ahead of us here at St. Luke’s. The Living God’s at work in us to build up His Church. Let’s not delay, and invite Him to start His restoration in us… not only for our own good, but for all who follow after. Amen.
 Theophylact, Commentary on 1 John, in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle B (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011), 127.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed: O come, let us worship!
Our service of Morning Prayer and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 8:26–40 | Psalm 22:25–31 | 1 John 4:7–21 | John 15:1–8
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
This past year, for better or worse, we’ve had to get used to “staying put”. To staying at home most of the time, for our own sake, and for our neighbours too. For some of us, this has been a blessing: a chance to re-connect with those closest to us… a chance to rebuild our home-lives and hopefully make them stronger. For others, this year has been a whole lot more difficult… even heartbreaking. For starters, there are those of us forced to “stay put” all alone… who are facing much more isolation these days, and are understandably feeling cut off from their loved ones and their community. But there are also those who are finding themselves trapped in tense, broken, and unsafe situations, forced by the pandemic to ‘stay put’ in painful and destructive environments. Especially for those most vulnerable… children, women, and our elders… the dangers of facing domestic abuse during the pandemic has been rising. If you find yourself in need of help, please find the courage to let someone know. If you know of someone who might need help, please find the courage to reach out. But even without getting to the point of outright abuse, many are finding it very hard these days, for all sorts of reasons, to keep on ‘staying put’ together with those around them, and even quite solid relationships are under a great deal of strain.
And yet, in this very moment, when what we might dream of most is to run away… to escape the confines of ‘staying put’… we are being offered a hope that is firmly rooted in one place… or rather, in one Person. Someone who is calling each of us to abide in Him.
In our Gospel reading this morning, these are the words that Jesus Christ our Lord spoke to His disciples just before He would be betrayed by one of them, abandoned by all of them, and crucified for us all, bringing God’s great rescue mission to it’s ultimate focal point at the cross. “Abide in me”… remain in me, stay firmly rooted in me, Christ said as He prepared to give up His life to save our estranged world, as He gave Himself to be broken and offered up as a gift of love to reconcile us to God once and for all.
As the author of 1 John puts it, this is where God’s love is most clearly shown: “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10). This is the heart of the Good News: that in Jesus, God has embraced us. That He has dealt with all our sins, and now draws us into His own blessed life.
And so, in response to all Christ has done, He invites us to do something that He sees as absolutely vital: He calls us to abide in Him. To ‘stay put’ in Him.
What exactly does this look like? How do we actually abide in Christ? As important as this question is, at this point I think it’s wise for us to resist the urge to oversimplify. To try to reduce a unique relationship to a few spiritual practices or formulas. That would be like asking “how do you raise a child?”, or “how do you build a friendship?”, and expecting a simple straightforward checklist to follow. Abiding in Jesus, sharing in the life of the Son of God, is not a method that we can figure out ahead of time, and then apply. It’s a connection, a communion that we are invited into.
That said, our second reading today, from the letter of 1 John, gives us some essential elements of what this connection looks like. According to 1 John chapter 4, there are three things about abiding in God that are all bound together: First off, abiding in God involves receiving God’s own Holy Spirit: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). Sharing in the life of the Living God is not something that we can make happen all on our own. It’s the result of God graciously giving Himself to us, and dwelling in us. A gift we receive through placing our faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
Which is the second facet of abiding in God: “And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God” (1 John 4:14-15). Sharing in the life of the Living God means placing our faith in God’s Son, trusting that in Jesus we are truly in touch with God’s own saving presence and power. That through the Son, the Father is drawing us into His divine family.
And finally, abiding in God takes on the shape of His self-giving love: “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16). This love is not simply some kind of spiritual experience or ideal, but a way of living that flows from God that’s meant to shape all our human relationships too. 1 John 4:19-21: “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” The self-giving love of God embodied by Jesus Christ on the cross is meant to take tangible form in the lives of His disciples… in how we live each day, and how we relate to those around us, especially, how we relate to our brother and sisters, in God’s family.
These three elements, receiving God’s Spirit, believing in Jesus, God’s Son, and enacting God’s love, are all essential parts of abiding in God. Of answering the invitation to share in the life of His kingdom, even now, in our everyday world. A world that often does not understand it. A world where many may well reject it, but where many more are longing for it, thirsting for it. Our world, where the Living God is still actively at work reaching out, drawing in, abiding with… and sending.
Sending who? Sending us. Sending those who abide in Him to share the life He gives us with the wider world. Far from an excuse to hide ourselves away from the messiness of life, ‘staying put’ in Jesus, abiding in Him, means taking part in His worldwide rescue mission. It means being led by His Spirit to do whatever God would have us do, even if it takes us in some surprising directions. It means growing deeper in our faith, and understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that we can help others understand it as well. And it means letting our lives be shaped by God’s self-giving love, reaching out to those who are cut off, hurting, estranged, confused, and alone, and caring for them in ways that bring God’s good kingdom to light.
In our reading today from the book of Acts we can see this kind of abiding in action in the story of St. Philip, known as the Evangelist.
There was another St. Philip among the earliest Christians: St. Philip the Apostle, one of the Twelve chosen by Christ in the Gospels. He has his own unique story, but the St. Philip we hear of today was actually one of the first deacons: Christians set apart to serve the tangible needs of the poor in the early Church, like making sure food was being shared equally among widows from different backgrounds, so that the Apostles could focus on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Along with others like St. Stephen, St. Philip was called to active service… caring for the basic needs of the growing family of God.
And yet, as the book of Acts plays out in Chapters 6-8, the lines start to get blurry, and deacons like St. Philip and St. Steven take on significant roles in telling others about Jesus and what He has done. They too become witnesses, heralds of God’s good kingdom. Soon St. Stephen becomes an outspoken evangelist, which leads to him following Jesus faithfully to death, becoming the first person executed for sharing the Good News of Christ.
This leads to the early Church being persecuted in Jerusalem, and so they begin to scatter, which takes St. Philip to Samaria, to a community of distant relatives of the Jews, descended from the Northern tribes of Israel, but who had been estranged for centuries from their Jewish cousins for a whole host of reasons. For an idea of how divided the Jewish and Samaritan communities were, think of the tensions at work between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, around the time of the ‘Troubles’: with religion, race, and politics all wrapped up into one conflict, and boiling over at times into violence and bloodshed. They had a lot in common, and were close neighbours, but they were cut off from one another. Estranged, that is until St. Philip ends up on the scene, and begins to share the message of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah raised from the dead… and many Samaritans, begin to believe. They too were being drawn into this new community that was coming to life because of God’s kingdom at work. They too received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized into God’s family. United by their faith in Jesus, despite their long history of hatred and division, now Jewish and Samaritan believers were beginning to learn to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s reconciling love was taking shape, and changing their world.
Remember, none of this was part of St. Philip’s official ministry, but it came about because of his deep connection with the Living God. It was not his ‘job’ to spread the word of the Gospel, but still God’s Spirit drew him beyond his obligations to take part in sharing the Good News with those who needed it. He was actively abiding in God; open to the Spirit’s leading, driven by his faith in Christ, and eager to share God’s reconciling love with everyone.
Which leads us at last to today’s text: where St. Philip is sent by the Spirit, to travel down an empty road, where he meets an Ethiopian Eunuch. Twice we are told that the Holy Spirit prompts St. Philip to action, which leads to a conversation that seems like it was meant to be. St. Philip does not approach them with a pre-rehearsed evangelistic formula, or set of arguments, but with a genuine openness to the person God had led him to; coming alongside them and listening to them, then helping them understand the message of hope they were searching for, and were on the verge of finding. We’re told the eunuch believes St. Philip, and like the Samaritans before him, they’re also eager to be baptized, and brought into the family of God… receiving the Holy Spirit, and embraced in God’s love, which they then brought back to their own community, to share with others.
St. Philip’s story shows us that abiding in Jesus is not about sitting idle, or serving only our own interests… it’s about becoming saturated with the life of the Living God: firmly rooted by faith in Christ, the Risen Son of God; responsive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our daily lives; and empowered to put into action the reconciling, self-giving love of God, offered to us at the cross, and intended to be shared with all.
So may we all actively abide in Jesus, more and more each day. May we be led by His Spirit to take part in His kingdom at work. May we grow deeper in our faith, and confidence in our Risen Saviour. And may His love take root in us, transforming all that we do, so that the fruit of His reconciliation, healing, and hope can flow through us and out into our homes, our neighbourhoods, and our world. Amen.