Scripture Reading: 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.”
This year is a pretty significant one for us members of the British Commonwealth: as we know, Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her 70th year on the throne. At the moment, she is apparently the third longest reigning monarch of all time, and in a few weeks she will be moving up to second place… but Louis the XIV of France still has a two-year lead on her. Still, 70+ years as Queen is a tremendous feat: a lifetime spent on the throne, with millions of citizens from all around the globe living under her authority.
But as remarkable as the reign of our country’s Queen has been, today we celebrate the reign and rule of One who is higher still… One whom Queen Elizabeth II herself acknowledges as the King of kings.
This week, Christians around the globe are celebrating the Ascension of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Our readings today from Acts and the Gospel of Luke recount how after His resurrection, the Risen Christ took leave of His disciples, in order to claim His cosmological kingship… to reign with God the Father as the ultimate authority in heaven and earth. We Christians publicly pay our allegiance to our King each week as we recite the Creeds, proclaiming our faith that Jesus “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father…” and when we claim that “His kingdom will have no end.”
But looking around our world today… at the various leaders of the nations with their wars and constant power games… at the horrific ways we humans treat each other, thinking especially this week of the murder of those schoolchildren and teachers in Uvalde, Texas… as we see the seemingly unending lists of injustices, tragedies, and disasters… it can be easy at times to imagine that our world’s out of control. That God must be unwilling, or unable to stand up against all this evil. That He either doesn’t care, or that He can’t do anything. I mean, why else would He allow His faithful subjects to suffer? When it looks like evil is calling the shots, what else are we supposed to believe?
But it’s precisely when the darkness is deepest that the light is most needed… and that is when our faith in Christ as King of Kings matters the most.
Without discounting the fact that we have been witnessing some truly horrible tragedies these days, and seem to be facing a season of increased fear and insecurity… this isn’t actually a new situation for the Church. From day one, Christians have been proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord of all in a world that constantly seems to be run by despots and warmongers, and those who stand opposed to the way of Jesus Christ.
In a word, we do not claim that Christ is King of kings because the world is already put to rights… but because we believe in, and know the One who already suffered in order to save it… and who is at work even now to bring about God’s Kingdom. We’ve been entrusted with the Good News of Jesus Christ, the crucified and Risen Lord, and it’s our mission to live as those who know who’s really on the throne.
In our reading today from Ephesians Chapter 1, the Apostle Paul, who faced his own fair share of discouragement and sufferings, writes to the Church in Ephesus, and highlights two gifts from God meant to enable them, and us, to stay true to our Christian calling: the gift of hope and the gift of His power. Ephesians 1:18-21 says, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:17-19).
Hope and power. But not the kind of hope that our world’s drawn to… the hope that’s built on visible success, and constant progress… the optimism that occurs when ‘everything’s going my way’. And not the kind of power our world craves either… that is, the power to force others to do our will, the power to take what we want, when we want it… and to crush those who oppose us.
No, to understand the gifts of hope and the power of God that St. Paul has in mind, we also need to have the “eyes of our hearts enlightened”… we need to come to know God’s character and heart, and how He’s chosen to reveal Himself and His Kingdom to the world. And where better to look to understand how God’s hope and God’s power enable us to fulfill our calling than to the examples of the early Christian witnesses, also known as the martyrs.
After the Lord Jesus ascended, and the events of Pentecost, the disciples began to proclaim the Good News that God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that through Him, the reign of God, His Kingdom, has won the eternal victory over all the forces of death, sin, and spiritual darkness. As such, all peoples everywhere were now called to repent… to turn their lives towards God’s Kingdom, and to place their faith in the One who conquered the grave. To set aside old ways of life and old commitments that might have made sense if Caesar in Rome was truly king of kings, but which made no sense at all if the crucified and Risen Christ is truly Lord of all.
Many believed the Good News that they shared, and were drawn into the Christian community, sharing a whole new way of life devoted to God and one another in holy love… practicing things like forgiveness, generosity, and compassion in ways that often made their neighbours stop and take notice. Something about the Christian faith was out of sync with the rest of the world. Some were drawn to their strange way of life… while others tried to destroy it.
Time and again, the leaders of the nations, both great and small, found the message of Christ’s Kingdom and His way of life to be a threat, and so many Christians were publicly persecuted, arrested, tortured, and brutally executed… following in the footsteps of their Lord to the end. This story still continues in many places around the world today, with our Christian brothers and sisters having to practice their faith in secret just to survive.
And yet, in these very dark times, when the whole world seemed to be dead-set against them, many Christians stood firm in the faith, and refused to turn from the way of Christ… even if it cost them their life, or the lives of those they loved.
These brothers and sisters all came to know up close the evil at work in the world… but rather than giving in to their doubts, or the horrible pressures they faced, they held firmly onto the hope they had found in Jesus, the Risen Lord, and through His power at work in them, they found the strength to stay true. To lay down their lives like Jesus did, trusting that just as God had raised Him from the dead, they too would one day share in God’s New Life forever.
They knew, in other words, that no matter how hard those in power here on earth tried to secure their own place ‘on top’, Jesus the Risen Lord is the One who’s on the throne, and unlike even the longest-lived monarchs and dynasties, Christ’s is the only Kingdom that will truly have no end.
Ultimately, the Christian hope St. Paul speaks about is not about us… our strength, our circumstances, or even our survival. Our hope is in Jesus, the crucified and Risen One, who, though He reigns on high as King of kings, came first of all to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
We know the One who sits at God’s right hand in heaven cares deeply about our broken world, and that He is willing and able to do something about it… for He is the One who went through hell Himself at the cross to disarm the powers of darkness… to set us free from it’s horrible grasp, and set us free to share in His life forever.
Our hope rests on Jesus Christ our King, and this hope enables us to endure… to be faithful witnesses of God’s kingdom at work here and now, to let the whole world know by our words and our lives who’s really on the throne, and letting them know of His saving, self-giving love by putting it into practice.
This is the message of hope that the Ascension of Jesus calls to mind. But what about the power of God that St. Paul also spoke about?
Both our readings today, from Acts and the Gospel of Luke, point us in the same direction: to the coming of Holy Spirit, God’s own personal presence and power at work in His people. We’ll look a bit more into this next week as we celebrate Pentecost, but for now I think it’s enough to say that it’s through the Holy Spirit that our King Jesus brings His reign to life… in the lives of His people. As St. Paul said, the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead, and set Him “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…” is the same life-giving power of God at work in us who believe… enabling us to share the light of God’s good kingdom today.
It’s pretty unlikely that we will face outright persecution here in Gondola Point, but whatever pressures, darkness and doubts we face today, or in the days to come…
We can hold onto hope, and share this hope in our everyday lives... in what we say and do, in how we treat each other and all those around us. We can hold onto hope in the darkness, knowing that our Saviour’s on the throne, and He will reign forever. Amen.
 From the Nicene Creed, as found in the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada (Toronto, ON: Anglican Book Centre, 1985), 189.
The Lord is risen and reigns on high! Alleluia!
Today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus the risen Lord to the right hand of God the Father to reign forever and ever. But what does Christ's reign look like?
Here is a great video from the folks at the Bible Project that helps explore what it means for Jesus, the Son of Man, to reign at God's right hand.
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 16:9–15 | Psalm 67 | Revelation 21:10, & 22–22:5 | John 14:23–29
“the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27)
Last week we spent some time looking at the ‘Big Picture’ of God’s love, and how the whole story of God’s salvation is headed towards a New Creation: the restoration and reunion of Heaven and Earth, drawing all peoples and nations together into one family in Jesus Christ.
And today, our reading from Revelation gives us another glimpse of this glorious destination that the LORD is leading us to: a New Jerusalem descending from Heaven where God’s people will dwell with Him forever… where the light and life of God shines out, and flows into all the world… bringing about the healing of the nations, who are all drawn near to share in the joy of God’s eternal reign.
This vision, again, is of the fulfillment of the entire story of God… the culmination of the work of the Risen Christ. But it is not simply about some distant horizon… it’s meant to help us understand our place in the story here and now. N.T. Wright words it well, when he reminds us that “Images of the future are vital to beckon us along the way. But they do more: they work backwards, as it were, towards us, shedding light on our present darkness. Jesus promises a peace which nothing in the present world can provide, a peace which comes from, and points to, God’s future.”
In the light of this ultimate peace which Jesus the Risen Lord will one day bring to complete consummation, we can take heart, and hold on confidently to hope. Even when the world around us seems dark and dangerously off track… when we feel isolated, vulnerable, small, and uncertain of what to do… the Risen Jesus calls us to trust Him. We do not need to be afraid. He sees and knows all that we need. And one day, we who stay true to His love will reign with Him forever.
This all sounds great, this ‘Big Picture’… but how do we get there from where we are today? How are you and I, and our small Parish family here in Gondola Point supposed to play a significant part in bringing this glorious vision to light? How do our ‘little lives’ fit into the ‘Big Picture’ of God’s plans?
What gives me hope is that no matter how ‘Big’ God’s picture and plans may be… and we’re talking BIG… the Living God seems to absolutely love starting small. And our reading today from the Book of Acts affirms this hope.
At this point in the Book of Acts, the author is recounting the second missionary journey of St. Paul the Apostle, whose ministry has been to share the Good News of the Risen Christ far beyond Israel’s borders… both to his fellow Jews, and to Gentiles as well… to those who knew little or nothing at all of the story of the Living God. Paul shared this ministry with a small team committed to this same mission, including at times, our patron, St. Luke, a prophet named Silas, and a younger disciple named Timothy. Together, they’d go from town to town in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, preaching the message of Jesus, gathering those who believed into the first Christian Churches, (which often simply gathered for worship in one another’s homes), before moving on to the next community, to start all over again.
At times Paul would write to these communities, and offer some guidance and direction, and often they would appoint leaders to take care of these brand new Christian Churches, but it’s clear that Paul and the others trusted God Himself to continue to care for His children… to trust that the Holy Spirit would be at work in the midst of these little Churches, just as Jesus had promised: teaching them to follow the ways of Christ that Paul had passed onto them.
Paul could trust God’s Spirit to guide these Churches because time and again, God’s Spirit had guided him… bringing him through all sorts of challenges. But right before our reading today begins, St. Paul and company run into a new problem: they are unsure of where God was leading them next.
A few times, they had started to make plans… good, and God-honouring plans at that… but the doors kept slamming shut in their faces…. by God Himself. Acts 16:6-8 says that “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. [What is now Western Turkey.] When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.” Without a clear plan, Paul and company had to just keep going, and trust that the LORD would make plain what He had in mind for them to do in His time.
How often have we felt like this? Unsure of what God has in store for our lives, or how we are to take part in His ongoing mission. We Christians talk a lot about trusting God, and asking for Him to lead us, but as N.T. Wright puts it, “It’s one thing to trust God’s guidance when it’s actually quite obvious what to do next. It’s something else entirely when you seem to be going on and on up a blind alley.”
Sometimes it’s not just as individuals, but whole Church communities can have these times of uncertainty… of knowing that God has already led us through all sorts of challenges in the past, and has helped us share in many years of faithful ministry… but now we may face a moment when we need a fresh vision of God’s plan for us.
At times like this, it’s easy to feel vulnerable… and small. Like Paul and his Christian companions, seemingly adrift alone in the largely pagan Roman world. But just like them, we too can trust that God is still with us… that His Holy Spirit still guides us in the way of Jesus, the Risen Lord, bringing us His precious peace that the world can’t give.
And as our reading today reminds us, it was in that time of uncertainty that God sends them the guidance they needed. Acts 16:9-10 “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.”
In His good time, God sends them in an unexpected direction: no longer spreading the Good News in Asia Minor, they were being sent to preach in Macedonia in Europe… to head deeper into the heart of the Greco-Roman world.
What would await them there as they approached the great Greek cities of commerce, culture, and influence? As our passage reminds us today: God seems to love starting small.
Not that Philippi, the city they ended up in, was all that small. We’re told it was a noteworthy community in the area, and a Roman colony to boot: a city with special connections to the Capital… a mini-Rome, meant to spread Rome’s values, culture, and way of life in the conquered lands of the wider world.
And so, Paul and company arrive in Philippi, and “remained in this city for some days.” (Acts 16:12). Typically, when Paul would go to a new city, one of his first stops would be the local synagogue: to first share the Good News about Jesus the Messiah with his fellow Jews in their places of worship… to start with those who at least knew something about the story of God’s saving love.
But this time, we’re told by the narrator, likely St. Luke himself, that “On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.” (Acts 16:13). This odd note tells us something significant about Philippi at the time: there likely was no synagogue in the city… no place for Jews and Gentiles who feared God to gather for prayer and worship… except outside the city limits. According to custom, a synagogue needed at least 10 Jewish men, and the gathering that St. Paul attended only mentions women being present… so it seems very likely that the Jewish community in Philippi was just a tiny minority literally on the outskirts of that local society.
This was a very small and vulnerable community of worshippers of the Living God, and it seems really unclear what kind of a difference they could hope to make in their world, aside from seeking to live lives of simple obedience and faithfulness to the LORD. And yet, they were precisely who the Living God had sent Paul and company to see. God had big plans to start His work in Philippi with this small gathering.
The scholar John Rottman points out that “it looks for all the world that God has diverted Paul and Silas to meet with Lydia and her obscure little group of women in Philippi. Notice the trouble to which God goes to initiate this personal meeting between the missionaries and the women’s prayer group that Saturday down by the river. God seems to have diverted the apostle Paul hundreds of miles, to have stopped him from preaching in Asia and from entering Mysia, all so he would be right on time to preach that day to that handful of women down by the river in Philippi.”
And God’s plans were not wasted: a Gentile worshipper of God named Lydia was part of the prayer gathering that day and we’re told “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14). One heart was opened. God led Paul and his fellow missionaries hundreds of miles to start with this one heart He had opened.
God loves to start small, doesn’t He?
Of course, from that small start, that one open heart, things begin to grow. Lydia and her whole household believe the Good News about Jesus and are baptized into the Church, becoming a seed of God’s New Creation taking root in Philippi… a tiny colony of Christ’s Kingdom, spreading God’s life and light in the midst of the Roman Empire.
The story of Paul’s ministry in Philippi goes on from this small beginning, and quickly he encounters resistance, hostility, persecution, as well as surprising new life as the Holy Spirit continues to guide and work through his small life, his small group of friends, and the small Christian family they had been a part of bringing to life.
And this same kind of story has happened, again and again, all throughout the history of God’s people: a handful of people believe the Good News of Jesus, and through their seemingly small lives, God brings Christ’s kingdom to life in our world. The Holy Spirit continues to work in the Church, whether our gatherings are big or small, to draw us into the ‘Big Picture’ and the plans He has for our neighbourhood.
It's easy for us to feel discouraged at times… to let our hearts be troubled when it feels like God’s is absent… our way forward uncertain… and we are too small to make a difference. But God loves starting small! His eyes are on all His children, day and night, and He’s near to all who turn to Him in faith. Like Lydia, the LORD knows us all intimately, and He longs for us all to come to know Him intimately, and to share in His blessed life. For our hearts to be open… for our Parish family, and households, and our little lives to become the seeds of God’s New Creation… sharing the life and light of Christ any way we can.
Next week is Ascension Sunday, when the Risen Lord returns to the right hand of God the Father to reign forever. In two weeks time, we’ll celebrate the story of Pentecost, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, empowering us to faithfully follow God’s ways in the world.
But today, as we remember our little place in the ‘Big Picture’ of God’s story, let us take to heart the words of Jesus our Lord, especially when we feel small, and unsure of what to do:
“the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27).
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year C (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), 65.
 Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 13-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 59.
 John M. Rottman, “Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 578.
The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!
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 11:1–18 | Psalm 148 | Revelation 21:1–6 | John 13:31–35
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
Today’s Scripture passages are some of my absolute favorites. I’m especially drawn to our reading from the book of Revelation: to the words of comfort and hope that it gives us, no matter what troubles today may bring our way.
After all, the book of Revelation is not simply about the future… it’s actually a vision of the entire scope of human history… the future, yes, but it also helps us understand the past, and the present too… offering a heavenly perspective on our whole story.
Writings like Revelation offer us a sense of the bigger picture: it’s kind of like stepping back from a massive mural we’ve only ever looked at up close with a magnifying glass… stepping back far enough to take in the whole scene of life at once… where we can see that the beautiful ending flows out from all that has come before it… and that every step along the way, no matter how small it may seem, plays a vital role in reaching the destination.
And what is the beautiful vision of life’s destiny that Revelation offers to us? The complete union of Heaven and Earth… God and humanity at one forever. Every wound healed, every tear dried, and every sorrow turned to joy.
These words remind me of Julian of Norwich, an anchoress (sort of a Christian hermit), who in the 1300’s received a series of visions where she encountered the Risen Lord. She recounts that at one point, during these visions, she had been deeply troubled by the destructiveness of sin and all the sufferings it causes in the world… but in that moment, she was assured by Christ, that though sin must persist for now, “all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” This hope-filled promise echoes the words of God in Revelation which we just read: “And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5).
This is the ultimate hope of the Gospel: God’s new heavens and earth… a whole New Creation… united forever by Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain, and yet lives again. This is the ‘big picture’ that the Christian faith is all about… and has been since the beginning, which we are all taking part in today.
But one of the details in this ‘big picture’ often gets overlooked, and so we don’t always appreciate its implications for our daily lives. I’m speaking of the radical claim that God’s complete reunion with humanity… involves the human family’s complete reunion with itself! That is, people from every nation… no longer at odds with each other… retaining their own unique identity, but no longer divided from each other by culture, or sex, or status. Full fellowship with one another in Christ… that is an essential part of the Christian hope. The destiny we are headed to, and which guides our steps today.
Now this probably doesn’t sound all that shocking to us these days. After all, here in Canada, we’re used to hearing about the benefits of multiculturalism… the need for inclusion… and that our differences make us stronger. This is kind of the air we breathe today. Even if its not always how we behave towards one another, it’s at least a common enough vision of life in our society.
But what we are talking about, and more importantly, what our Scripture passages are talking about, is not simply a repetition, of our culture’s concern for inclusiveness. No, what we are invited to contemplate today is the very nature of the saving love of the Living God, and what this love means for you and I as followers of Christ today.
The claim that God intends to reunite all of humanity again may not seem that out of place to us, but for the early Church this claim required a radical re-imagining of what the Kingdom of God was all about… having to wrap their heads around the new and surprising welcome that Israel’s God was now giving to the wider Gentile world.
For the first Christians, coming exclusively from the Jewish community, understood the story of salvation to be centred completely on Israel. On their own people’s unique relationship with the Living God.
As we may remember, back in Genesis God met with a man named Abram, (later renamed Abraham), and entered into a Covenant with him: a formal relationship, kind of like a partnership, or marriage. Out of all of the families and nations of the world, Abraham and his descendants would be set apart to share in God’s mission to save His creation… to undo our deep divisions and the destruction we humans have wrought, and bring back the blessings of life humanity was created to share.
This promised plan was reaffirmed by God to several generations of Abraham’s family, until centuries later, after the Exodus from Egypt, God calls what is now the whole nation of Israelites into a deeper and much more deliberate way of life through the Covenant at Mt. Sinai, where they receive the Ten Commandments, and a whole host of other laws to guide God’s people as they live together in His holy presence. Chief among the laws that set Israel apart from their Gentile neighbours was the practice of circumcision, and laws around what foods they could eat… what would be considered clean for them, and what would be unclean.
Throughout the story of Scripture, though, we hear that God’s people were increasingly unfaithful to the covenant laws, and to their unique relationship with God that these laws were intended to support. Eventually, after centuries of walking away from God’s ways, Israel is shattered by civil war, with the ten Northern tribes cutting themselves off from Judah. Violent wars are fought both with their neighbours, and with each other, until both nations are finally overthrown and carried away into Exile.
Those descendants of Judah who survived, and who one day returned to the lands around Jerusalem, now had to exist under enormous pressures to assimilate to the cultures and ways of life of their Gentile overlords… fighting, and often dying, in order to not give up their Jewish traditions. Under these harsh conditions, many held tightly onto the practices that kept them distinct… like circumcision, dietary laws, and avoiding contact with Gentiles as much as possible… in order to preserve their own unique identity as God’s chosen people, striving to remain faithful to the LORD, unlike their forefathers.
Then maybe God would finally send them the Messiah, the Saviour, to rescue them. To set them free from the Gentile nations that were making life miserable, and to restore their family’s destiny to share in God’s love forever.
The first Christians held this same assumption: that Jesus had come as Israel’s Messiah… to save them and their people from the hands of their Gentile neighbours.
And many Christians today still hold these same assumptions… seeing Jesus as simply our Saviour… sent to deliver folks like you and I… but one who is not very interested in rescuing those other kinds of people… whomever they may be. God’s love, in other words, is only meant for us… it’s rescuing power is ours to enjoy and possess. What matters most is our place in God’s story.
Who do we see as being beyond God’s care and concern? Who are those that we assume have no place in His plans?
Against these assumptions, today’s reading from Acts makes plain that God does not play favorites… with Peter helping his brothers and sisters step back and take in the ‘bigger picture’.
In our reading, St. Peter is confronted by some Christians in Jerusalem who disapproved of his recent dealings with Gentiles, blurring the distinctions between God’s chosen people and everybody else. In Acts 11:3 they say to him: “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” In there eyes, Peter was being unfaithful to God’s will for His chosen family. Peter response is to retell the story of how God sent him to visit Cornelius, a Gentile army officer… the very embodiment of the hostile Gentile forces holding the Jewish community under their thumb.
But as he tells the story, Peter is adamant that the Holy Spirit sent him to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord to this Gentile army officer and his family. And as Peter obeyed, the Holy Spirit came in power and filled these Gentiles with the life of the Lord. Acts 11:15-17, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
Peter proclaimed that God Himself was reaching out… to save those God’s people had thought unsavable. Those they considered beyond the boundaries of His love.
God Himself was making no distinction between Jew and Gentile anymore, but making a new family, united by faith in Jesus Christ. The same gift of the Holy Spirit, the same fellowship with the LORD, the same hope of salvation, and share in God’s mission was now being given to all nations. God Himself was re-uniting the whole of humanity in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. So Peter replies ‘who am I to try and get in God’s way’?
This was not at all what Peter’s Christian sisters and brothers had ever imagined. This wasn’t where they had thought God’s story was headed at all. But their response was wonderful: Acts 11:18, “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
They were caught off guard… confused at first, but they were willing to let the Lord lead the somewhere new. To be faithful… not just to their traditions, or their assumptions, but to the saving hand of the Risen Lord at work.
They were open to a new vision of what God’s kingdom was all about… and so new possibilities were opening up before them. The old days of Jews and Gentiles being held apart had come to an end… and now God’s New Creation was coming to life in Jesus Christ: a new world-wide family of God… the Church… made up of every tribe, and tongue, and nation, was beginning to blossom… a new community where all are called to be bound together in the holy love of the LORD. ‘I guess God wants to save the Gentiles too…’ they came to understand. ‘And I guess that means if God loves them, we’ll need to learn to love them too.’
Of course, that wasn’t an easy process. It took the early Christians a whole lot of prayer, patience, pitfalls, and even open debates and disputes in order to fully appreciate the ‘bigger picture’ of God’s saving love, not just for them, but for the world. And it is a lesson that followers of Christ must relearn again and again.
Learning that Christ’s command to love one another as He has loved us is not just a commendation to be nice to our friends and our family… to people like us… but to embody a whole new way of life which sees no one as beyond the rescuing love of God in Jesus Christ. One which is willing to let go of our old ways of seeing the world, and to be surprised by the way the Holy Spirit wants to work through us to bring forth the fruit of God’s New Creation in our community.
Because Jesus the Risen Lord has revealed God’s ‘bigger picture’… because we now know how our human story is going to end… because we know God’s heart is to draw all creation into His fellowship… embracing our broken world, and making all things new in His saving love.
Because of all this, we can take the risk of learning to love one another. We can welcome anyone to come and share Christ’s love with us. We can live today in the light of eternity: in the blessed way of God’s kingdom… where death will be no more… mourning and crying and pain will be no more… where God Himself will wipe away every tear from all eyes, and truly make all things new. Amen.
 Julian of Norwich, Julian of Norwich: Showings, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 225.
The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!
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 9:36–43 | Psalm 23 | Revelation 7:9–17 | John 10:22–30
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28).
Today is Mother’s Day, when many of us celebrate the mothers, grandmothers, wives, daughters, friends, and others that we know who have nurtured us, and helped us to grow in many ways. It’s a day that many look forward to each year, lifting up the women in our lives, and expressing our gratitude to them for sharing with us all the gift of life itself.
But as we know, for some of us, Mother’s Day is complicated… stirring up all sorts of painful memories or feelings. For some, it is the pain of not being able to be a mother. For others, it’s a reminder of parents, or children we have lost. Mother’s Day can also highlight the strained parental relationships that some of us face… or the pain of long separations made much worse by the pandemic.
For all these reasons and more, days like today remind us that life is not always that easy to navigate. And yet, life remains a gift that all of us have been given. So whether today brings us joy or pain, or some combination of both, I pray we can all give thanks for the gift of life, and for those who have shared it with us.
In the yearly life of the Church, today is also Good Shepherd Sunday, where our readings remind us of Jesus Christ, who is both our Good Shepherd, who guides and guards us into New Life, and the Lamb of God who laid down His life to take away the sins of the world. Today, the Church calls us to remember that Christ Himself is the ultimate source of our new life with God, and that He continues to nurture and care for us every day… and one of the most common ways He does so is through people like you and me.
Last week, we explored the ways in which God’s forgiveness and new life, made known in Jesus the Risen Lord, is meant to re-shape and guide our lives. That is, God forgives us for a purpose: to draw us into His family, and then to share His forgiveness and holy love with those around us in the world. This forgiveness takes shape in each of our lives in different ways. For St. Peter, we saw God’s grace turned him from a fisherman into a shepherd of the growing Christian community called the Church. Today, in our first reading from the Book of Acts, we get to see an example of how through Peter’s care for Christ’s flock God brings about new life.
The reading today introduces us to a disciple named Dorcas, or Tabitha… who we are told was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36). Not much else is known about Dorcas, aside from the fact that she was well beloved by her Christian brothers and sisters in Joppa, and that she used her talents to make clothing. But this simple picture of a life of faithfulness, generosity, and genuine love is a beautiful example of someone walking in the way of Christ. As N.T. Wright points out, Dorcas “stands as it were for all those unsung heroines who have got on with what they can do best and have done it to the glory of God. Had it not been for Peter, she might never have made it into the pages of the New Testament, and we have to assume that there were dozens in the early years, and thousands in later years, who, like her, lived their lives in faith and hope, bearing the sorrows of life no doubt as well as celebrating its joys, and finding in the small acts of service to others a fulfilment of the gospel within their own sphere, using traditional skills to the glory of God… these are the people who form the heart of the church”. In her own ways, Dorcas embodied Christ’s love and gift of new life. And the Christians in Joppa are deeply grieved when she grows ill and dies.
Here the Scriptures remind us that even after the resurrection of Jesus, and the beginning of God’s New Creation in Him, life is still hard to navigate. Devoted followers of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord still face illness and suffering. We all still face the pain of death. Even a few short years after the first Easter and the empty tomb, Christians have understood the Gospel does not make us immune to grief.
But the Gospel does promise us that in Christ, God has forever broken death’s terrible grip on us, and that in Christ, God has given us the hope of the resurrection… the hope that just as Jesus passed through death, once for all, and was made new by the life-giving Holy Spirit of God, so too we who trust in Him will share in His new life forever. Death and separations are still a sorrow we all must face, but they are temporary: because of the Risen Christ we know not even death can snatch us from God’s hands.
In fact, long before the first Easter, Jesus had already been pointing us to God’s life-giving power: the Gospels all recount how Jesus raised others from the dead. The stories of the widow’s son… (Luke 7:11-17), Jairus’ daughter… (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44) all show Jesus restoring these people who had died to full and natural life. And though they would all one day again face death, Jesus had transformed their stories into signs of hope… giving us glimpses of God’s great gift of New and Unending Life that was to come… that came into the world through the cross and empty tomb.
So while from the first days of the Church to today, we Christians know that we still must die, we now do so trusting that in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death… and Christ Himself will lead us into life forever.
This is what the vision from the Book of Revelation reminds us: that even though followers of Jesus face suffering and death for His sake, the Lamb of God who gave His life for them will never forsake them.
John recounts this image from his vision: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, fully embodied God’s power over death: as He first restored life to others, and ultimately in His own resurrection to eternal life. And in our reading from Acts, today, we see Him continuing His mission of guiding and caring for His flock… and bringing life to God’s children… through Peter, who was now empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. To follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, wherever He will lead.
Today we hear how Peter is called to the deathbed of Dorcas, invited by the other disciples to be with them in their time of grief. And Peter comes without delay, much like His Master had done before… and going into the room, alone with God and the body of Dorcas, Peter prays. Then he calls her by name, tells her to arise… and she opens her eyes, and lives again.
How did Peter do this? How could he raise someone to life? The answer can be found in Peter’s own words, time and again, throughout the Book of Acts whenever he’s part of the wonderous happenings that fill its pages. In fact, right before our reading today, in Acts 9:32-35, Peter visits a man who had been paralyzed for eight long years. But as he seeks to help, Peter says to the man: “‘Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!’ And immediately he got up.” (Acts 9:34).
‘Jesus Christ heals you’. This isn’t a magic formula or a spiritual healing technique… it was simply the reality of what was happening in these miraculous moments: Jesus the Risen Lord Himself was at work in Peter… through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was making His own healing power known through the hands of His disciple. Peter knew full well that on his own he had nothing to give that could help bring Dorcas to life… but he also knew that Jesus the Good Shepherd was working through him to care for His sheep… and bring them signs of new life, and draw others to believe.
This leads us to our Gospel Reading for this morning, where Jesus speaks of His care for those who believe and trust in Him… as an embodiment of the love of God the Father. Far from the idea of God as a distant, disapproving parent on the one hand, and a friendly sympathetic saviour shepherd on the other, Jesus identifies His own care and compassion for His flock as fully united with the Father. “My sheep hear my voice.” Christ says, “I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30).
Again, Jesus our Good Shepherd is fully united with God the Father. Everything flows from the self-giving, holy love that they share. In Jesus, we are embraced by the arms of God, and no one, can snatch us away from His side. As St. Paul so beautifully writes in his letter to the Romans:
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39).
Jesus the Good Shepherd shares God’s saving love with us, and there is nothing, not even death, that can cut us off from Him. But as I said before, one of the main ways He shares God’s love with us is through our love for one another… through the ways we are to embody Christ’s care and compassion… His devotion, and generosity… His forgiveness and grace… loving each other as Jesus Christ the Lamb of God has first loved us.
As your priest and pastor (which is simply an ancient word meaning ‘shepherd’), I’ve been called to put this love into practice in a particular kind of way within the life of our parish. But shepherds don’t need to be ordained in order to tend their sheep. And mothers are not required to take formal training to raise their kids. What both shepherds and mothers need most of all is love for those in their care. In the same simple way, all of us are called, regardless of the shape or form that it takes, or of the particular roles that we play… all of us are called to share God’s love with one another: to seek the wellbeing of all Christ’s sheep, and care for all God’s children.
Whether we spend our days in quiet devotion, and humble acts of kindness, or are charged with faithfully nurturing and guiding a community of faith, the Risen Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is eager and able to share His saving love through our lives. Making His voice known through our words and actions as we follow His way. Drawing others into His flock through His grace at work in us. Offering signs of hope and new life through how we treat one another, as He leads us into the green pastures and still waters of God’s eternal life.
I’ll end now with the words of an ancient prayer:
“O sovereign and almighty Lord, bless all thy people and all thy flock. Give peace, thy help, thy love to us, thy servants the sheep of thy fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, one body and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, in thy divine and boundless love; for the sake of Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep. Amen.”
 Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 154.
 Acts 9:41-42 “He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
 Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle C (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 116.
The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!
Today people all over our country are celebrating Mother's Day: remembering and honouring the 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 our parental relationships, especially these past few years, as many families have been separated due to the pandemic. We remember too, and grieve with those who's experience of the pursuit of motherhood has been one of sorrow and disappointment. Along with them, we do well to acknowledge that family life is often a challenging road, as well as to listen to and honour their sufferings, which are also known and shared by our loving God, as well as many others.
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 this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Acts 9:1–20 | Psalm 30 | Revelation 5:11–14 | John 21:1–19
“After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 21:19).
Last week we spent some time reflecting on the New Creation reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and God’s gift of forgiveness of sins through His blood. This forgiveness has been at the core of the Christian message from the very start… flowing from everything that Christ has done, especially the cross. It is a central tenet in the great Creed’s of the worldwide Church, the foundation of everything the Christian faith proclaims. As the theologian Ben Myers unpacks in his book on the Apostle’s Creed, we Christians believe “that we stand not by our own achievements but by the achievement of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We believe that the spiritually strong and the spiritually weak are both sustained by the same forgiving grace. We believe that we rely solely on grace, not only in our worst failures but also in our best successes. We believe that if ever we should turn away from grace, if ever our hearts grow cold and we forget our Lord and become unfaithful to his way, he will not forget us. His faithfulness is deeper than our faithlessness. His yes is stronger than our no.” In short, there simply is no Christian faith without forgiveness. But how often do we stop to ask what we’re forgiven for?
That is, to what end? What purpose and what plan does this forgiveness point us to?
Our Scripture readings this morning offer us two stories where people who come face to face with the Risen Lord, and find forgiveness are drawn into a whole new life, beyond anything they would have imagined.
Turning to the Gospel of John, we hear the story of St. Peter, who had been a disciple of Jesus from the very start. Peter stands out in all of the Gospels for his eagerness to be the first… to push ahead, to speak up, and to jump in with both feet… a tendency which more often than not got him into trouble. But think of some of the amazing moments Peter had experienced by following Jesus: stepping out of the boat and walking on water… even if his fears and doubts got him wet in the end; getting the chance to see the Lord revealed in glory on the mountain top, with Moses and Elijah… even though he put his foot in his mouth by blurting out silly suggestions; Peter even has the honour of being the first follower of Jesus who publicly called Him the Christ… even if he had the wrong idea of what the Christ had come here to do.
But for our Gospel reading today to truly hit home, we do well to remember one other moment from Peter’s story on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. At the last supper, Jesus was trying to prepare His followers for what was to come: “Little children,” Jesus said, “I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” (John 13:33-38).
And that’s just what happened. At the crucial moment, when the chance to lay down his life for his Lord finally came, Peter’s resolve crumbled. He denied that he even knew Jesus three times, and abandoned his Lord to die.
But three days later, Peter was racing to the empty tomb, and was part of the surprising Easter party when the Risen Lord popped in on His frightened disciples… granting them peace, and giving them His Holy Spirit. Peter was part of those days of excitement, wonderment, and joy as the new reality of the resurrection of Jesus, and all that went with it, started to sink in.
And yet… today’s Gospel reading finds Peter following a different path. Sometime after all the events of Easter, we’re told Peter returns to his roots: “I am going fishing.” He says to six other disciples who were with him, and together they “went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:3)
Peter had led his fellow disciples back to their old familiar lives… their old work… their old world, as if nothing had really changed. But this is exactly where the Risen Lord shows up in Peter’s life to renew both His gift of forgiveness, and His call to follow.
Just as Peter had once denied that he was with Jesus three times, Christ now asks Peter three times the question: “Do you love me?” Each time, instead of his typical boldness, Peter timidly answers “yes”… and each time he does the Risen Lord affirms Peter’s new mission: “Feed my lambs… tend my sheep… feed my sheep.”
There is too much going on in this exchange to touch on right now, but the overall picture John is painting for us is one of restoration and commission. Of Peter being invited into a renewed relationship with his beloved Rabbi, whom he had denied, but who had still forgiven him… and not only that, who had entrusted him with work to do: to care for Christ’s ‘flock’, that is, the Church… the new community of believers, who would need someone to love and guide them in the days to come.
This mission would not be easy. In fact, it would eventually call Peter to lay down his life… dying for the sake of his Lord as he once claimed he was willing to do.
But now Jesus says to him, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19).
From that day on, Peter the fisherman became Peter the shepherd… the pastor of the newborn Church, sent to help them faithfully follow their Lord.
I think it’s time to turn now to another story of someone who finds forgiveness and a whole new future in the face of the Risen Christ.
Acts Chapter 9 tells the story of the transformation of Saul, better known by his Greek name Paul, which he will adopt much further down the road.
We are introduced to Saul as a persecutor of the disciples of Jesus from the very start… standing by and watching with approval as Stephen, the first Christian martyr is stoned to death at the hand of his fellow Jews. We quickly learn that Saul is a Pharisee, a zealous member of this religious movement committed to keeping the laws of the Covenant, and to keeping God’s people on the right track. As we know, the Pharisees were often seen as the moral police of their day, pressuring their fellow Jews to follow their vision of what it means to be holy in the eyes of the Living God… a vision, we also know, that often conflicted with what Jesus our Lord was up to.
Now, long after Easter and Pentecost, as the Christian community, empowered by the Holy Spirit, was spreading like fire in Jerusalem, Saul took it upon himself to try and silence their message about the Risen Lord forever. Saul stands out in the story as a driven enemy of the Church, eager to put an end to any who spread the word about Jesus. Acts 8:3 says “Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” His actions help to scatter the Christians from Jerusalem into the surrounding region, but this is not enough for Saul. Next, he seeks out authority from the chief priests to hunt down Christians in other cities too, starting in Damascus.
But while he was on the way, Saul has his very own encounter with the Risen Lord, and ends up blinded, bewildered, and suddenly unsure of what to do. Led by hand to Damascus, Saul has to wait there, unable to see, fasting for three whole days… until the Risen Jesus comes to him again. Or rather, until the Risen Jesus meets Saul through one of His followers, a man named Ananias.
But before this fateful meeting takes place, Ananias has his own life changing meeting with his Master. In a vision, the Lord tells Ananias to go find Saul and lay “hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:12). Now Ananias knew all about Saul of Tarsus, and how dangerous he was… how much evil he had done, and how much more he still could do. But the Risen Lord knew all this too, and He still had chosen to forgive… and to draw Saul into God’s plan to bring His forgiveness to the world. So, when Ananias tried to resist Christ’s mission of mercy for him to deliver, the Lord replied “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
And that’s just what happened. Ananias goes to Saul, embodying the forgiveness of His Lord, and God’s grace starts to pour into Saul’s life… transforming him from an enemy of Christ and the message of the cross, into one of our Lord’s most dedicated messengers of the Good News, sharing the Gospel of Jesus, the Risen Lord, to the nations.
Of course, this mission would not be easy either. Jesus Himself says that Saul “must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16), but as Saul would later come to understand, his own sufferings were simply a part of sharing the Living God’s self-giving love with the world… a sharing in the sufferings of Christ, who calls us all to pick up our own crosses and follow Him… and find true life.
Both Peter and Saul have dramatic stories of finding forgiveness in the face of the Risen Lord, who then called them both to follow Him and share in God’s work in the world. They both had been forgiven, but not just for themselves, they were forgiven in order to share this New Life they had received with others.
Peter’s forgiveness turned him into the shepherd of God’s family… called to care for, guide, and lay his life down for their sake.
Saul’s forgiveness turned him from a fearful enemy into a faithful messenger, sent out into the world to bring the Good News of the Risen Lord beyond the borders of Israel, and draw all people to Christ.
And even Ananias had his life turned upside down by God’s forgiveness… called to embody God’s love, even for His enemies, and taking the risk to invite them to find reconciliation and New Life in the Risen Jesus.
So, our question today is: what have you and I been forgiven for? What does the love of the Risen Lord have in store for us and for our Parish?
Whatever it is, it probably won’t be easy. Changing the world for good never is. There will be times when we will be tempted to stick to what’s familiar, like Peter was. Or to get caught up in our own agendas, like Saul was at the start. Or to resist the risks of putting this Good News into practice, like Ananias. Or any number of unknown challenges, that may come our way.
Yet even so, the Risen Christ has called all of us, Peter, Saul, Ananias, you, and I to follow Him. And as we do so, we can trust that in His time, He will show us what we have been forgiven for, and He will empower us to accomplish it through His Holy Spirit.
We all have our own stories, our own ways that God has been at work in our lives, bringing His mercy, and grace, and forgiveness to life in and through us. But as different as our stories may be, one thing is for certain: we have not been forgiven for nothing. Amen.
 Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, ed. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 116.