Scripture Readings: Acts 1:6–14 | Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35 |
1 Peter 4:12–14, 5:6–11 | John 17:1–11
Why is it exactly that we Christians celebrate the Ascension?
The story itself is strange enough: forty days after the miracle of Easter, when Jesus Christ overthrew the chains of death, becoming the firstborn of God’s New Creation, the Risen Lord is lifted up as His disciples gaze in wonder, until a cloud finally takes Him from their sight. It all seems so odd… so otherworldly… so disconnected from our day to day lives, even as we strive to live as Christ’s disciples today.
Why should we spend our time reflecting on this confusing part of Christ’s story? Surely there must be other, more pressing concerns for us to deal with?
And I mean, wouldn’t it be better for us if Jesus had just stuck around? It seems strange to celebrate His mysterious disappearance… especially with all the trouble down here on earth to attend to.
But for the first Christians, and for us today, the Ascension of Jesus the Risen Lord is actually an incredible gift of hope for our world that seeks to transform how we live today.
From the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Ascension of Jesus has been at the core of some of the most radical, and revolutionary claims ever made. And far from being seen as irrelevant, the Ascension was significant enough of an event to be included in both the Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Creed: the early Church’s attempts to define the heart of the Christian story for ages to come.
Just think, every week, millions of Christians around the world and throughout history have proclaimed their faith, affirming that after His resurrection, Jesus Christ: “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
So as strange as the Ascension might seem to us, perhaps we should spend some time trying to understand exactly what it means, for us and our world.
But to do that well, we need to turn to yet another part of the story of Jesus: the strange nature of His birth. Or as the Nicene Creed put’s it: His incarnation.
We say this word every week as well… but let’s stop and think about what it means. It comes from the Latin words “in” meaning “in”, and “caro” meaning “flesh”, the same word at the root of “carnivore”… that is, “flesh eater”, or “carnal”… meaning “mortal”. So “incarnate” means “in-the-flesh”: Jesus Christ “became in-the-flesh… and was made man.” Seems straightforward enough, I suppose.
That is, until we think about who it is exactly we are saying has become “in the flesh”! The “only Son of God”, we say with the Creed: the One who was “eternally begotten of the Father”… in other words, there was no such thing as time before Him! He is the One who is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”… everything true of God is true of Him. He was “begotten, not made,” that is, He is not a Creature, a part of Creation, but the One through whom “all things were made.”
And yet this One who was of “one being with the Father” became a human… stepping into Creation and taking on the reality of Creaturely life.
This may not sound all that strange to us, as we say these words week after week when we gather for worship… but to make this claim was to completely mess with how the universe was understood.
Think of it like this: imagine going to a movie, and watching the actors playing out a scene on the big screen. We can simply get caught up in the story the actors are playing out, or maybe we might start to think about all the work that went on behind the scenes… the writers, the producers, the directors who all played a part in creating the story, but did not step in front of the cameras and become a visible part of the film.
Now imagine as you sit there in the movie theatre, the sole writer, director, and producer of the film suddenly walks down the aisle, and somehow steps through the screen and starts taking part in the scene along with the other actors!
This is the kind of beautiful madness and mystery we’re talking about: God breaking down the walls we assumed were unbreakable. In short, in the very person of Jesus Christ, both the Creator and the Creation are now united. The beautiful truth of the incarnation is that Jesus Himself is God-and-Humanity… Heaven and earth… bound together… forever! If that blows your mind, you’re not alone.
And this is where the radical nature of the Ascension of Jesus fits in… with that little word: “forever.”
It’s not at all about Jesus leaving our world behind. The Ascension is about Jesus lifting up our world with Him.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ means that our Creator and His Creation are still united… and always will be.
After all, we Christians believe in the “in-carnation”… but there’s no “out-carnation.” Not stripping off of His humanity. Christ didn’t just ditch His resurrected body somewhere in the atmosphere. Whatever it means for Jesus to Ascend to Heaven, it doesn’t mean that.
Christ was raised to new life… not to become a disembodied spirit, but as the firstborn of God’s New Creation… with a resurrected body, still bearing His scars, and yet more real… more alive… more filled with God’s life-giving Spirit than ever before. Christ has passed through death, and come to life, not as a ghost, but as the start of a renewed Humanity, united to the life of the Living God.
The beautiful bond begun at His birth… in His incarnation… the bond between Heaven and earth was not broken by His death, nor was it set aside as He Ascended.
None other than Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, God-in-the-flesh, sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. And He will reign that way forever.
Ok… I’ll admit that was not all that straightforward, was it? But then again, most of the deepest truths we encounter in life are not straightforward either. Beauty can be complicated… confusing even, and yet still draw us in deeper into it’s mystery. We need not comprehend it completely to be moved by it… or even be transformed by it.
If there’s one thing you get from what I’ve said so far, I hope it is this: in Jesus Christ, the Living God has not abandoned the world but has bound Himself to His beloved Creation… and because Jesus is alive and will be forever, that bond will never be broken.
The Ascension of Jesus is not about Jesus stepping out of the world, it’s about Him raising it up! And reigning at the right hand of God the Father as the Saviour King of Creation.
If we simply think of the Ascension as Jesus leaving, we miss the point… which is where He is headed! He’s being lifted up… glorified… the Son of God, faithful even unto death, has now been highly exalted.
In a sense, the Ascension is like Christ’s cosmic coronation. The moment when His Kingship over God’s Creation was made clear to His disciples… and challenging what they expected God’s Kingdom to look like.
In Acts Chapter 1, the disciples had been hanging around with the Risen Jesus for some time now. Forty days, to be exact. But in that time, they still had their old assumptions about what Christ was doing, and what He had in store for them.
Acts 1:6, “when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’”
They expected the Kingdom of God to arrive in an instant. For the redemption of Israel, and the fulfillment of all the promises God had made through the prophets to suddenly transform the world. They were anxious to see what the Risen Christ would do to set the world back on track.
But Jesus had other plans… bigger plans… plans to not only bring God’s Kingdom to Israel, but to the whole earth… and to send out His disciples as His witnesses to bring this about. Acts 1:7-8, Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
They were to bear witness by the words they spoke and the lives they lived, that Jesus Christ really is the Risen Lord of all Creation. Like royal ambassadors, and heralds, proclaiming the beginning of a new King’s reign, Jesus would send His disciples out into the wide world to make His Kingdom known… to help His world that does not yet see Him as Lord to believe the Good News, and to share in the life of His Good Kingdom, which has already begun.
And this remains the calling of every Christian, including you and I: to speak and live each day as witnesses of the Risen Lord Jesus… sharing in the life of His Good Kingdom even now, and helping our world do the same.
And this is possible for us because our Lord Jesus Christ Himself remains with us through His Holy Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit’s power that the work of God’s Kingdom continues today.
The authors and theologians, Dr. Tim and Dr. Aaron Perry point this out in their book on the Ascension: “The promise of the Father, the gift for which [St. Luke tells us the] disciples are to wait, is revealed to be the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who will come in the end time to set all that is wrong to right, to pacify the warlike, and to render the land fruitful once again. This wonderful universal renewal of creation, Luke tells us, is now possible because of the ascension of Jesus.
Luke wants us to comprehend the coming of the Spirit as the earthly echo of the heavenly enthronement of the victorious Son. Jesus is the heavenly King and as such, he is absent. Through the coming of the Spirit, though, he remains present to his followers. The coming of the Holy Spirit, the promised power from on high, is the sign and guarantee of Jesus’ reign and the manner of Jesus’ continued presence.”
When we are tempted to think of Jesus our Lord as completely absent… as disconnected and detached from the cares of the world, and of our own struggles… when we can’t seem to see any signs of His Kingdom at work, remember His Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” Remember the gift of His holy presence and power, poured out on God’s people… a precious gift made possible because Christ has been lifted up.
We’ll have more to say about the Holy Spirit next week, as we celebrate Pentecost. But for now, it’s enough to remember that it’s through the Holy Spirit that Jesus our King reigns on earth… and it’s through the Spirit that His presence and power are made known in the lives of His people.
So how are we living by God’s Holy Spirit today? How are we bearing witness to His rule, here and now in Gondola Point?
We might not be sent across the world… but maybe we could go across the street? Or even start across the table?
For those of us who feel unsure of what we could do… can we start by devoting ourselves to prayer, and then let God’s Holy Spirit open up doors and lead the way?
The Ascension of Jesus is a message of hope for our world: that no matter how broken and dark things might get, God will never abandon His Creation. It’s future… our future rests firmly in the nail-pierced hands of the One through whom all things were created, and who through His resurrection power at work is making all things new.
So let us take courage. Christ Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth right hear and right now, even when we can’t see Him… and through His Spirit at work in us, we get to share in the life of His Kingdom, right hear and right now. Amen.
 The same wording is found in both the Apostle’s & the Nicene Creeds. Quoted from the Anglican Book of Alternative Services.
 Tim Perry & Aaron Perry, He Ascended Into Heaven: Learn to Live an Ascension-Shaped Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010), 45-46.
(Photo of Risen Christ taken at Rothesay Netherwood School, Rothesay, New Brunswick)
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, to the throne of Heaven, reigning forever at the right hand of the Father.
Here is a great video from the Bible Project that explores what it means for Jesus to be the Son of Man, ruling over God's good Creation even now.
If you want to dig a bit deeper, here is a nine part Podcast Series by the Bible Project on the same theme:
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
(Photo of the Ascension Window taken at St. Paul's on the Common, Rothesay New Brunswick)
Scripture Readings: Acts 17:22–31 | Psalm 66:8–20 | 1 Peter 3:13–22 | John 14:15–21
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:18-19)
One of the biggest challenges we face in the West today is loneliness… isolation… the ongoing lack of connection.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, made the striking claim that their country is facing a “loneliness epidemic”… a serious and a growing breakdown of people’s general sense of togetherness, that has dramatic implications for everyone’s wellbeing.
He writes that “Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity. And the harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.” And as much as we might like to draw a line between ourselves and our neighbours to the South at times, this same story is playing out all over Canada as well.
Loneliness is just as much a problem for us and our communities.
In many ways, this isn’t a new problem. All throughout the human story, we people have had to search for ways to belong… to be surrounded by others we can share life with, in all it’s ups and downs.
In fact, overcoming isolation was one of the first acts of compassion and rescue in the story of the Holy Scriptures. In Genesis Chapter 2:18, the very first thing in all of creation that the Living God says is not good is that the human He made should be alone. To remedy this, God creates a community… created to share life side by side. From the start, the Living God longs for us His children to belong together.
And yet, here we are, so far from that gathering in the Garden… cut off in so many ways… and unsure how we are supposed to come together again. The question before us calls to min the words from the Beatles’ song, Elanor Rigby: “All the lonely people… where do they all belong?”
No doubt, all of us have stories of when we felt isolated and alone. And maybe some of us are feeling this way today, and are longing for something more… somewhere to belong.
Before we turn to our Scripture readings this morning, I just want to take a moment and share a small part of my story… from when I was a small and lonely boy, and someone saw me and stepped into my life.
I have a vivid memory from my very first day of school… in part because it was everyone else’s second day. I had missed that crucial first day of Jr. Kindergarten when everyone else came together, made new friends, and found out what school was about… and so when I arrived, a timid and socially unsure child at the best of times, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that everyone else already belonged, and I was stranger. When it came time to play, I remember just standing there all alone, while everyone else knew what to do, and could easily join in the fun with their newfound friends.
Mercifully, this moment did not last too long. Another boy saw me standing their, and came over to me, and in a friendly voice he simply said: “Do you want to play?” And suddenly I belonged. I was welcomed… invited in. Able to share in the fun that was happening all around me, but that seemed so far away.
Now I was supposed to belong there already. After all, I was a student not really all that different from the rest, but that’s not how it seemed to that frightened and isolated little boy. As far as I could understand at the time, I really was alone… until this other boy came and found me and befriended me. And from this simple invitation to play, a lifelong friendship has grown. It was such a simple gesture, a simple act of kindness and hospitality… but even so, it truly changed my life.
I know this story might seem pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but just remember: everyone is capable of feeling cut off and alone, no matter their age, or stage of life. Everyone has times when they feel lost and don’t know what to do. Everyone can lose sight of where they truly are meant to belong, until someone else invites them in. And everyone can play a part in helping others discover that they don’t need to be alone.
We often hear that God loves everyone… that everyone belongs by God’s side… but what does that love really look like? How can we come to know the power of this love that truly changes lives?
Does God’s love for everyone mean, that basically, everyone can just keep doing their own thing? That because God loves everyone, there’s no need to bother about actually letting them know? In other words, does it really matter that everyone comes to know the Good News of the Living God?
Our Scripture readings today teach us to say “Yes!” It matters so much! More than we often realize… though perhaps for different reasons than we might usually assume.
Our first reading today from the Book of Acts Chapter 17 tells the story of the missionary Apostle, St. Paul, and his time in the city of Athens. One of the great centres of Greek culture and civilization, that had spread all across the Mediterranean world and beyond, Athens had a history of great thinkers and philosophers… not to mention a very diverse religious life as well.
But then St. Paul, this Jewish stranger from the backwater regions of the Roman Empire arrives… someone who could not have felt more isolated and out of place in Athens. Acts 17:16 says that St. Paul “was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols”, which for someone raised on the Ten Commandments, never mind the rest of God’s Law, would have been a major obstacle. For the Jews, idolatry… worshipping statues, or anything other than the Living God alone was unthinkable, and the source of all kinds of wickedness and sin. And yet, despite his isolation, St. Paul stays in Athens a while, where he begins to get into some debates with his fellow Jews and Greek philosophers about the Good News of Jesus.
Unsure about the message this stranger was trying to share, the Greeks invite St. Paul to say more in a more formal setting at the Areopagus, where these kinds of discussions were held for a crowd to hear. And put on the spot, St. Paul starts to share the Good News about the Living God with these people who in some ways seemed so different from him, but who he knew God still loved.
St. Paul, this Jewish Christian, a stranger in Athens so many ways, invites his listeners to come to know the Living God, who is so unlike anything they had yet imagined. Acts 17: 24-28,
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’”
St. Paul points out on the one hand that the Living God is not like the other spiritual beings they worship through idols, and living for this God looks very different as well. But on the other hand, he claims that the one true God has always been reaching out to them in love… graciously providing everything they need, and longing for them to truly come to know Him too.
I suppose St. Paul could have left it at that. Encouraging his listeners with his message of this unknown God’s love for everyone… But St. Paul knew that coming to know the Living God and the reality of His saving love makes all the difference in the world! Acts 17:29-31,
“Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
What does St. Paul think it means for the Living God to love everyone? It’s an invitation for everyone to repent… to turn around… and turn away from everything that keeps us from Him, and to place our trust in the love of the Living God made known to us in Jesus Christ… the One who was raised from the dead, and who will reign over God’s Kingdom forever… sorting out all of the messes we humans have made that cut us off from one another and from our Creator, so that God’s good justice and peace will fill all the earth.
St. Paul’s point is that God longs for us all to belong, and be right with Him. In love, God has reached out to find us all in Jesus Christ, no matter how far off we may be… to bring us all home. To draw us together to His side, and share His New Life with us.
Through the strange words of this stranger, God Himself was speaking to the people of Athens, inviting them to draw near to the One who had been right there all along, and let Him change their lives for good… helping them find their own place in the world He created for them to share.
Turning now to our Gospel reading, we hear the words of our Saviour, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, on the night He would be betrayed. Christ speaks words of comfort to them, knowing full well the horrors of the cross that the next day would bring… reassuring them, that He would never abandon them… even in death. That even if the world could no longer see Him, Jesus and His Heavenly Father will not leave them all alone.
John 14:18-21, Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Jesus wants them, and you and I, to know and share in the love and life of the Trinity, the Living God… Father, Son, and Spirit, holding onto His holy ways, and knowing we truly belong in Him. This is an image of community… of sharing in a deep relationship… and fellowship… of knowing, and being known, and having our lives transformed by the presence and influence of the other.
At this crucial moment in His life, and the life of His followers, Jesus invites them to trust in His love for them… a love they have come to know through His whole life… through the things that He said and did… a love that He ultimately shares with God the Father, and with God the Holy Spirit, and which He was about to share with the whole world, offering His life upon the cross for everyone.
We come to know the power of God’s saving love… a love that truly changes lives through Jesus Christ on the cross. Dying and rising again to reconcile us all to God, and give us New Life… breaking down every barrier that keeps us apart from God, and from one another.
And even more than that, this love show us where we belong in His great rescue mission too… serving as God’s partners as He keeps seeking and saving all who are lost.
“In a little while” Christ said, “the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
As Christ’s followers today… as the community who has already come to know Him, and through Him has come to know God’s saving love… we find our sustenance and strength from our ongoing connection to Jesus.
And though the world today may not see Jesus… the world does see us! So if they can see the life of Jesus at work in us, through the Holy Spirit, the whole world can catch a glimpse of the Living God and His life-changing love through us as well.
This is why how we live our lives as Christians really matters. It’s not to prove how morally superior we think we are, but to mirror God’s own character… His mercy and compassion, His justice and peace… His holy, life-changing love… so that through you and I, the Living God can reach out to everyone… inviting them to draw nearer and come to know that in Him, we all truly belong.
In Jesus Christ, God has made Himself and His love known to the world in a unique and ultimate way… and His Holy Spirit has been at work in all the world, seeking us out and drawing us all to the Father’s side through Jesus His Son. And now we all get to be part of His great invitation… our simple, everyday lives shaped by God’s love are how others will come to know where they too belong.
The story of my friend’s invitation to play has a sequel to it. Two years later, I missed the first day of Grade 1. But this time, instead of just being a stranger in my classroom, I was lost in a strange new part of the school, wandering the halls alone after the first bell range, without a clue where I was supposed to go.
As I wiped the tears from my eyes, and walked back and forth, looking for anybody who might help me find where I belonged, that very same friend saw me, left his classroom, and stood there with me… and again, I was no longer alone. On his own, this little boy helped me discover that I was actually supposed to be in his class again too! Such a simple, beautiful thing… to be together with friends… to belong.
God loves everyone. God is seeking out everyone. God came to us in Jesus so that all of us might come to know Him and His saving love.
It doesn’t matter what age we are, or where we come from, we get to be part of God’s gift of love to everyone. So, like my friend all those years ago, let’s not hesitate to step out and share God’s welcome with the world. To help those around us come to know the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord… to draw near and share in His New Life… and find our place together by His side. Amen.
 Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community (https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf)
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
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. We remember too, and grieve with those who's experience of the pursuit of motherhood has been one of sorrow, pain, 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 stories and 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 7:55–60 | Psalm 31:1–16 | 1 Peter 2:2–10 | John 14:1–14
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
What does it mean to be a success in the Kingdom of God?
Over the past few weeks, as we have been moving through the season of Easter together, our readings from the Book of Acts have followed the remarkable sermon St. Peter delivered at Pentecost. That morning, filled with the Holy Spirit, St. Peter offered to God’s people a dramatic call to repent, resulting in the eager reception and open hearts of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean world. As far as sermons go, this one clearly made an impression, and we’ll say a bit more about its significance when Pentecost comes around in a few weeks. But by all accounts, St. Peter’s first message was a massive success! A dramatic and dynamic first step for the Church of the Risen Christ.
But then today in our reading from Acts Chapter 7, we heard about a very different sermon in the early days of the Church with a very different result.
We heard the end of a message from St. Stephen, one of the first deacons in the Church, who had boldly proclaimed the truth about the Risen Lord Jesus to his fellow Jews in Jerusalem, only to be stoned to death by them… accused of blasphemy and murdered by an angry mob.
It's hard to imagine a more opposite, not to mention undesirable, response, especially compared to St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon, where thousands of people responded in faith. And yet, the public witness of St. Stephen about the Good News of Jesus, the Risen Lord, has, from the very beginning, been seen by believers as a massive success as well.
But in order to see why it’s a success, we need to get a better sense of the bigger picture… and wrestle a bit with what it actually means to succeed in the Kingdom of God. Let’s start with a closer look at the speaker who gets rejected: St. Stephen.
As I mentioned before, St. Stephen was one of the first deacons… set apart for the ministry of service within the Church, and caring for the practical needs of Christians, so that the Apostles could focus on preaching and teaching. And yet, even though it was not his job, so to speak, the Book of Acts recounts how God’s Holy Spirit empowered Stephen to speak about the Good News of Jesus in ways that many responded to… helping them come to know the Risen Lord through Stephen’s words and his deeds… but also drawing the attention of those who stood opposed to this message. Acts 6:8-14,
“Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’”
Because of his Christian ministry, St. Stephen got into conflict with some of the Jewish factions in Jerusalem, who seized on his connection to Jesus in order to drag him to court to silence him. They claimed that St. Stephen and his message about Jesus was a threat to the Temple of God, and to all they held dear… and that he was promoting blasphemy, and so was deserving of death.
What’s clear is that St. Stephen had challenged their understanding of what it meant to be faithful to the Living God… calling them to change course… to reconsider what they believed about God’s Kingdom, and how to live in it.
To be fair, that was also what St. Peter had said to the crowds in his sermon on Pentecost. He didn’t mince words in an attempt to appease his audience, or worry about the backlash he might receive… he simply told them the story of Jesus’ betrayal, unjust arrest, and cruel crucifixion… rejected by the very people He had come to save.
St. Peter had boldly proclaimed that God’s people had failed to believe in… to trust in their Messiah, rejecting the Saviour God sent to them, and so they all shared in the blame for His death.
Sounds like a harsh sermon. But remember: no one would know more about failing to be faithful to God’s Messiah than St. Peter, who had been so close to Jesus, and had even bragged about remaining steadfast by Christ’s side, even if he would have to die with Him… and yet, before the night was over, St. Peter would betray His Lord three times over.
St. Peter knew all about failing to follow the Way… failing to trust in the Truth, and failing to cling to the One who is truly Life. Yet he had also come to know the forgiveness and the freedom that the crucified and Risen Christ offers to all: he knew that God calls everyone to repent… to turn around and turn to Jesus in faith, and find in Him God’s Way, God’s Truth, and God’s Life… no matter how lost, deceived, or dead in our sins we may be.
St. Peter’s message was that despite everything we have done to mess things up… Jesus Christ has died and risen again to pardon and to save us all. To turn us all around from our old lost ways, and all of the lies that bring death… and to lead us into life instead.
This is the Good News the first Christians dedicated their lives to sharing with those around them: retelling the story of Jesus the Risen Lord with their words and with their lives.
And this is what St. Stephen had dedicated his life to as well… putting into practice the self-giving love of God he learned from his Master, and helping others do the same… living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ… even if others would end up rejecting him for it too… which is of course, what happened.
St. Stephen’s life and message challenged and confronted those who refused to believe that they had had a hand in the death of God’s Messiah… and who were convinced that Jesus and all who followed Him were just deceiving God’s people, and trying to lead them astray.
So, they had St. Stephen arrested, and just like Jesus, accused him of blasphemy. And there, before the court, St. Stephen was given the chance to defend himself.
But what would he say?
Would he listen to the temptations to compromise his message, twisting it around to conform to what he thought others wanted to hear? Maybe he could convince them too if he made his message a bit more appealing?
Would he listen to the temptations to make the Gospel’s claims less shocking… less challenging or confrontational, in order to get others to accept it? Maybe he could avoid risking his neck if he just toned it down a bit?
But the truth is, the Good News of Jesus can be hard to hear, because the Good News of the Risen Lord brings to light and exposes how frequently lost we are… how often we fall for and even spread lies… how much of what we think will guarantee our survival only leads to death.
The Good News of Jesus calls us all, no matter who we are, or how close to God we might believe we are, to repent… to turn around, again and again, and draw nearer to the One who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Gospel calls us to cling to Jesus Christ… to trust in Him, and follow Him wherever He may lead us. And St. Stephen wholeheartedly answers this call… even though it would cost him his life.
Standing in front of the court, after retelling the long story found in the Scriptures of the faithfulness of the Living God, despite the deep unfaithfulness of His people, St. Stephen responds, in Acts 7:51-60, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.’ ”
Like Jesus, St. Stephen was slandered and falsely accused. Like Jesus, he remained faithful in the face of temptation, and certain death. Like Jesus, St. Stephen embodied God’s great mercy and self-giving love, pleading for the forgiveness even of those who were murdering him. In life and in death, St. Stephen walked in the footsteps of his Saviour.
And because Jesus Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life… what it means to succeed in God’s Kingdom is to stay true to Jesus… no matter how others around us respond.
That’s why St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon was a success… not because thousands of people believed it, but because by the Holy Spirit’s power, St. Peter spoke faithfully about the Risen Lord, and invited his hearers to trust in Him too.
That’s why St. Stephen’s final words in the witness stand were a success… because, even in the face of violent resistance, and incredible pressure to back down, the Holy Spirit of God empowered St. Stephen stayed true to His Lord… to remain faithful to Jesus, not just by the words that He spoke, but by the way His life, his actions lined up with those of His Lord.
St. Stephen was a success in God’s Kingdom because He entrusted His life to the Risen Lord, and stayed true to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
So, for you and I today, hear in Gondola Point, what does it look like for us to be a success in the Kingdom of God?
We won’t likely have the opportunity like St. Peter to speak to thousands of pilgrims all at once, or like St. Stephen to be surrounded by those accusing us of blasphemy, ready to strike us dead… although many of our brothers and sisters in the Church around the world do face these challenging situations.
But what are the ways that we can be tempted in our lives to step aside from the Way? Or to distort the Truth? Or to give up on the Life that we have been invited into, and entrusted to share with the world?
As individuals and as a Church family, we too face the temptations to change what we say and do to attract those around us, or to avoid suffering rejection.
We too can be easily tempted, like those who opposed St. Stephen, to try to hold onto our old ways. To resist Christ’s call to let go and turn away from the ways of life that are keeping us from staying true to Him… and holding us back from where He wants to lead us.
But even when we stumble and fail to stay faithful, Jesus, our Risen Lord remains true. He stands steadfast for us. He took up His cross, and gave up His life to bring us God’s forgiveness and freedom… and He calls us to follow Him, filled with His Holy Spirit who gives us the grace we need to stay true to Him too.
In short, success in God’s Kingdom, does not depend on the immediate results that we can see or achieve… but ultimately on the faithfulness of our Saviour, Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, and the renewal of our lives… our words and actions, to stay true to Him no matter what.
So, whether we find people flocking to our words of hope, and joining in the life of our Christian community… or if they turn against us, and we find ourselves seemingly alone… Remember what St. Stephen saw!
Jesus Himself, at God the Father’s right hand, standing up for his faithful servant… welcoming him into the joys of heaven, and reminding him that no matter what others may do, if the Living God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is with us, our success is assured. And we too will share in the victory of the Kingdom of God forever. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
The coronation of King Charles III took place this weekend, and so we lift him up in prayer,
inviting God's blessings and grace upon him and all the peoples under his reign.
Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour:
look with favour upon thy servant Charles our King,
and bestow upon him such gifts
of wisdom and love
that we and all thy people
may live in peace and prosperity
and in loving service one to another,
to thine eternal glory;
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
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 2:42–47 | Psalm 23 | 1 Peter 2:19–25 | John 10:1–10
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)
As some of you know, when I was growing up my family had a bit of a hobby farm: over the years we had chickens, rabbits, ducks, as well as some sheep and goats, and as a youth, part of my chores were to help take care of them. I wouldn’t say this was my favourite job in the world… in fact, it was often pretty frustrating. Especially when they would get themselves or each other into trouble. But now, many years later, whenever I think of shepherds, I feel like I have at least a bit more empathy, and insight into how hard is must be to devote one’s days to making sure your sheep have what they need to keep the whole flock healthy, and safe from harm.
One thing that stands out when I think about the challenges of caring for sheep and goats would be their basic selfishness. They would tend to fight over their food, pushing each other, even their own kids, out of the way to get at their manger, even though there was plenty of food for all… driven by the desire to fill their own stomachs, or maybe the fear of missing out on the meal, and not getting what they needed.
Now normally, these tendencies would not be too much of a concern. Eventually, every sheep or goat would get their share, and that would be that. But there was one time when this drive to take whatever they could get led to tragedy. Our first pair of sheep had a lamb when the weather was still wintery, and so we moved the mother and lamb to an alternate, and warmer place in the barn, separate from the ram. Unfortunately, the mother sheep then got into some grain, and gorged herself on it… overeating to the point of making herself sick, and dying a short time later… leaving the lamb alone.
Thankfully, we were able to care for the lamb, and it grew up to live for many years. But this memory has always stuck with me as a sad reminder that what seems good in the moment might actually lead to death… and leave others to suffer.
Now I don’t blame those sheep for acting the way they did. They were just doing what came naturally to them, living by their instincts, and trying to make the most out of life. But it’s clear to me now that to survive and thrive, they would need a lot of help.
In so many ways, sheep need their shepherd to lead them into life. And if we think about it, we aren’t all that different, are we?
Left to ourselves, we too can be easily driven by our own desires, or by our fears, in ways that end up hurting, not only those around us, but ourselves too.
Often our instincts are to just fend for ourselves, or those closest to us… to grasp and go after what we need, not knowing when to stop.
In the Holy Scriptures, God often speaks of His chosen people as sheep… as a flock that is under His special protection and care… but which also frequently forgets the One who is with them, wandering away, and falling prey to their fears and to their selfish desires. But these same Scriptures teach us to turn and look to to God in hope, trusting that He will be faithful to His wayward flock, and give us the guidance and care that we all really need.
As you may know, this Sunday is often called Good Shepherd Sunday, and our readings today call us to reflect a bit more on this image and what it means for us: how Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd, has come to lead you and I… to lead us all into abundant life.
Our Gospel reading today from John chapter 10 has Jesus evoking this image: likening Himself and His mission to that of a shepherd, leading His flock by their trust in His familiar voice. John 10:1-5,
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
This image drives home the point that the shepherd is trusted by the sheep, and is trustworthy, seeking to keep the sheep safe, unlike all the others that seek to sneak in and selfishly steal them away.
Christ is here calling God’s people to trust Him, to listen to His voice, comparing His care and concern for them… for us, with others claiming to be faithful guides, yet who were far from God’s heart.
Sadly, we know that there are many today… even inside of the Church… who also claim to be trustworthy guides… able to provide the guidance and care that we all need, and yet they’re just bandits and thieves… selfishly using the people who trust them, to get what they want: influence, power, money… whatever. And when we consider how many conflicting voices we are confronted with every day… each promising us security, fulfilment, peace, if we’ll just follow after them, it’s clear Christ’s warning is just as relevant today as when it was first spoken two thousand years ago.
So how do we avoid being led astray? We have to do everything we can to get to know Jesus our Shepherd’s voice!
A few years back, before COVID, our Diocese encouraged us all to read a book called Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost. It’s a great book with lots of important things for us to put into practice both as individuals and as a community of believers. But one of the things Frost challenges his readers to do is to “Learn Jesus”… to regularly set aside time to devote ourselves to being steeped in Christ’s story… what He has said, what He has done… so that we become so familiar with Him that His story shapes our own.
If we want to know how to recognize Christ’s voice, and follow Him instead of all the imposters out there, the first step is to draw near to Jesus… to pray to Him, to read and re-read the Gospels, to study His story together… making it a priority in our lives to hear and follow the voice of our Good Shepherd… who alone leads us to life.
John 10:7-10, “So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus our Good Shepherd came to lead us to abundant life. But He knew from the start how hard this would be, and all that saving us would require. In John 10:11, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Which is of course exactly what He did for us all at the cross. As St. Peter said in our second reading:
“ ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. [That is, God.] He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:22-25)
Christ Jesus laid down His life to give God’s life to us… to bring us forgiveness, and freedom, and to transform our old selfish selves into His image, learning to live like Him.
Reflecting on Christ’s suffering for our sake, St. Peter could see that this was now our calling too: that Jesus had given us a clear example to follow… that we too might have to endure suffering, mistreatment, and hardships, and that like Jesus, we should do so by not lashing out and at those who hurt us, but peacefully, in the confidence that the Living God has got our back. That the Lord will guide and protect us, and that, even if we must suffer like Jesus and lay down our lives, God is still with us, and will uphold us, and raise us up to share in His life, which is something no human cruelty, injustice, or even death can ever take away.
What this means is that by laying down His life for us, Jesus was not really sparing us from having to face suffering. Jesus was bearing our suffering for us on the cross out of God’s own self-giving love, and making it possible for us to have this same longsuffering, self-giving love begin to shape us too. Filling us. Forming us. Guiding us. Making us more and more like Him.
As Jesus Himself will say later on in St. John’s Gospel: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13).
God’s holy love is what guided Jesus every step of the way. And this same love is what Jesus laid down His life to give to us… poured into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. This self-giving love now at work in those who trust and follow Him is the heart of the abundant life that Christ died to bring to us, and to the world. Drawing together His scattered people to share this love with one another.
This is what we see going on in our first reading today from Acts Chapter 2: the new community of Christians learning to live together by God’s holy love.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47).
What do we see here? Not some new social program, or idealistic dream, but a whole new community putting God’s holy love into practice together. Everyone had what they needed because, rather than being driven by fear or selfishness, they were led by God’s self-giving love… laying down their own lives for one another in practical ways… and finding themselves filled up with joy and generosity.
And where did this self-giving love come from? Not from their old ways of life… but from their connection to Christ’s life… to Christ’s story… and Christ’s Spirit at work in them.
We’re told after St. Peter’s sermon on that first Pentecost thousands of people responded to the Gospel, and that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” about Jesus, helping them to learn to hear His voice… and they were devoted to “fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).
Learning the story of Jesus, prayer, fellowship, breaking of bread… these practices have been at the core of the Christian faith since the very beginning, drawing us near, and helping us stay near to our great Shepherd and to each other.
But we’re not simply being given a technique to follow, or a set of practices to pick up, as important as they may be. This passage shows us that the abundant life that Jesus our Good Shepherd laid down His life to lead us into starts here and now in the lives of His people, being transformed together by God’s love.
The Gospel of Jesus calls us to live differently. To love differently. To not simply keep wandering through life, chasing after our desires, or running away from our fears… but to be drawn together by our Good Shepherd and learn together from Him how to truly live. And with His Spirit at work in us, putting it into practice.
What do we think it looks like to follow Jesus into God’s abundant life here in Gondola Point? What might it look like for us to put His self-giving love into practice?
How would it change our time together?
How would it change how we interact with our neighbours?
How might the self-giving love of God at work in us change everything?
It’s easy for us to turn back to our old ways of doing things. To let ourselves be led away from the things that scare us… or towards the things that excite and entice us… even if they only end up leading us to tragedy.
But our Saviour Jesus, our Good Shepherd is calling us to draw closer to Him and to one another… to share in His abundant life.
Let us then listen closely to His voice… letting His faithful, self-giving love take shape in our lives… and in the power of the Holy Spirit, let us put it into practice… first of all with our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters… our fellow sheep… so that together we can welcome others into Christ’s flock, and to draw near with them to the One Good Shepherd: our Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
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 2:14a, 36–41 | Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19 | 1 Peter 1:17–23 | Luke 24:13–35
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21).
“We had hoped…”
What was it that we had hoped for… and that has not come to pass?
I know it’s the season of Easter. A season of wonder and unexpected joy… of celebrating the world-changing news that Jesus Christ is alive!
There is so much for us to be thankful for. There are so many reasons for us to rejoice. God has been incredibly gracious to us, both as a church, and as his children.
But our readings today from the Scriptures, especially our reading from the Gospel of Luke, don’t jump straight to joy and celebration. Instead, they deal with the turning point… the transitions… the moments when the way forward doesn’t seem so clear… when the dawn is just beginning to break, but we can’t yet see the light.
Such times call for hope. For the conviction that the new day is on it’s way. But no one waits eagerly for the dawn after the sun is risen. To understand hope we have to acknowledge the times that seem darkest of all.
The story of Scripture give us plenty of examples of times when people have needed to sit with their disappointment for a while… to recognize their pain, their fears, their frustration… to not just rush past the darkness, but face these things head on… and face them together. After all, it’s good to have company when we are struggling to make sense of where we have been, and of what comes next.
Our Gospel reading today gives us a good example of this: two confused and grieving disciples, were on the way to the village of Emmaus together. But their story is a gift to us in other ways as well. Beyond simply sharing the burden of those dark times together, these two disciples serve as signs of how the Living God is at work in our lives too… showing up and sharing hope even when we cannot seem Him.
“We had hoped…”
Can you feel the heartbreak behind these words? So much of their lives had been tied up with the trust they’d placed in Jesus of Nazareth… in what He would do, not just for them but for their people… and for their world. But now, they didn’t know what to believe, or who they could trust anymore.
They both knew quite well what had happened on Good Friday. They knew there was no hope for those who are lifted up on a cross. They knew that, whatever they had hoped for, was now gone for good. And yet… reports had reached them that Jesus’ grave was empty. Rumours of angels, and claims of resurrection had started to shake up even what they knew about life and death.
Would it have been it too much to hope for to get a clear sense of closure to this sad story? A definite end, even if it had to end in disaster? What should they do now when their whole world had just been pulled out from under their feet?
We’re not told why these disciples were headed to Emmaus, but maybe they just felt they needed to get away for a while. Maybe they wanted to step back and sort out what comes next with a bit of breathing room.
There are times, of course, in our lives when it seems like the right thing to do is to walk away. To get some distance from the confusing and painful parts of our stories, and search for peace elsewhere. Sometimes that can be and important part of the healing we need. Sometimes we’re trying to run from the darkness… and outrun our despair.
Whatever the reason for their journey, and despite the distance they planned to put between them and the heartbreaking confusion back in Jerusalem, the Living God had other plans.
“And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’” (Luke 24:17)
He would not leave His grieving children simply to wander off alone. The Lord was right there with them, even in their doubts and despair, even when they could not see Him.
The risen Jesus, the very one they had placed all their hopes in, was right there beside them… inviting them to share with Him everything that was on their hearts, and troubling their minds.
We might have wanted Him to just walk up and say: “Hey guys, cheer up, it’s Me!” But no, He comes gently, quietly, even secretly to them in the midst of their grief, and He makes space for them to share their sad story… He makes time to listen to them… even though He knew all along that their sorrow would soon turn to joy.
Together, they tell Jesus the tragedy of His own demise. How they had been convinced that Jesus was God’s Chosen One, their rescuer… but how their own people had handed their Messiah over to be crucified.
“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21). The story of Jesus had not turned out at all the way they had hoped it would.
What are we hoping for Jesus to do in our stories? In our communities? In our world?
Are we hoping for freedom from the things that bind us? From fear, pain, heartbreak?
Are we hoping for forgiveness? For a new start? For a return to the familiar? A place to find some peace? For someone who will welcome us in?
How do we respond when it seems like the hope we have placed in Jesus has let us down? What do we do when we don’t see Him, and only the darkness?
So many today are walking away from their faith in God, and from His family, the Church. There’s too much pain there… too much confusion… to many things we’re called to believe that just seem too good to be true. At times, for some it can all just seem simpler to walk away.
And those of us who have not walked away are still left to struggle with wounds, with fears, with uncertainty, and disappointments that we don’t always know what to do with. Sometimes we’re told to just ignore all this stuff, and to focus on the bright side. So sometimes we turn a blind eye to our burdens, until they’re too heavy to bear.
But maybe instead we need to learn to just be honest with God… even about how our hopes have been dashed… about how we feel let down, and don’t know how to turn things around again.
Maybe we can take a moment right now to do just that: to tell God, right now, what you had hoped He would bring about… but that has not happened.
[You are invited to take as long as you need right now to share what’s on your heart with the Lord today.]
Do we believe that God hears these prayers too? Do we believe that He is listening to our hurting hearts?
Jesus shows us that God listens to even our prayers of discouragement and despair… and He took the time to listen to those two disciples, on their journey away from Jerusalem.
But as important as it may be to listen to us in our pain, God does not simply leave us in our sadness… no, He shows us where to look for hope.
Imagine Jesus responding to His disciples, His friends with a grin and a shake of his head: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27).
Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, points them to the Old Testament Scriptures to understand the meaning of their own story, and which turn out to have been pointing right back to Him all along. From Moses and the Pentateuch, to the Prophets, the story of God redeeming Israel had always been about their Messiah being rejected by them… suffering for their sins, dying to atone for all the evil that they have done, and so to bring them life! Setting them free, not simply to fulfill their expectations, or to accomplish their plans, but to share in the hope of God’s New Creation together with Him their crucified and risen Lord forever.
But as they talked on the road to Emmaus, Jesus was doing more than revealing information to them, He was revealing a new way forward for them as well. This whole turn of events is not just another event in the history of the world… it calls for us all to respond… and to have our lives turned around by it for good.
That’s what happened in our first reading today from Acts Chapter 2, as St. Peter proclaimed to those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost, that the Messiah, the one they had all been hoping for, had already come, and that they had rejected Him. Acts 2:36-37,
“‘Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’”
Good question. What would any of us do if we were to suddenly realize that our own choices have actually destroyed all that we had hoped for?
Thankfully, St. Peter doesn’t leave them hanging. Acts 2:38-39,
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Turn around, he tells them, and receive the New Life of Jesus… dying and rising again with Him in baptism… receive from Him forgiveness of sins… and God’s Holy Spirit. A gift not just meant for you… but for your families… for “all who are far away… everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Even after they had taken part in the betrayal and brutal death of the Messiah, their own Saviour, St. Peter tells them that there’s still hope for them all, because Jesus Himself is our hope! And Jesus lives!
The Risen Lord, God’s chosen Messiah, has faced and conquered death forever, and He is the source of all our confidence, all our security and strength. It is Jesus Himself that we need, and with Him, we have everything… far beyond what we could ever possibly hope for alone.
We forget this all the time. We constantly fail to see the hope that He gives us. But even so, the risen Lord remains right there… right here with us… ready to reveal what He knows our hearts are burning to receive.
Our Gospel reading goes on…
After the still unrecognized Jesus unpacks the story of hope through God’s suffering Messiah, found throughout the Old Testament, the three travelers finally arrive at the village of Emmaus just as it was getting dark. The two disciples knew the importance of shelter, and just how dangerous it can be for those who are left outside and alone, and so when this stranger seems about ready to leave them and carry on down the road, they strongly urge Him to stay with them instead. They welcome Him in, and set food before Him, offering whatever hospitality they could. And in return, they receive another surprising revelation. Luke 24:30-31,
“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”
Just a few nights earlier, their last time together with their Rabbi before His crucifixion, Jesus had blessed and broken bread with them in the upper room… sharing a sacred meal, which for centuries had kept alive the hope-filled story of God’s miraculous redemption of Israel from slavery… and which now Jesus said was taking on a whole new meaning: the bread and the wine were His own life… His own broken body and blood, shed for them.
Now in Emmaus, it all comes rushing back. And in this simple act of receiving this blessed and broken bread, they recognized that Jesus was right there with them.
Then in an instant, He vanishes. And they are left with a choice: What do they do now? Do they just carry on with life as usual? Or do they let this experience of Jesus, which they still struggle to understand, turn their lives around?
Despite their tired legs and feet, despite the time of night… despite their questions and doubts… these disciples get up and run straight back to Jerusalem… to gather with those who knew Jesus, and share with them the hope that they just received.
This is a wonderful story of how Jesus shows up for His disciples on that first Easter, turning their sorrows to joy, and turning their lives around by His risen life right there with them.
But this story is also a gift for us too: it shows us where we are to look for the risen Lord’s presence in our lives… where He shares His hope with us… especially when we cannot see Him:
His hope finds us when we draw near to fellow believers… sharing each other’s burdens, wrestling with our confusion and questions together, seeking to find the way forward, walking side by side.
His hope finds us when we share our hearts with God… when we pour ourselves out to Him in prayer, knowing that He is listening patiently to our words, and eager to turn our sorrows into joy.
His hope finds us as we listen to His words to us in the Holy Scriptures, drawing us into the story of God’s Good News, which weaves all of history into the rescuing work of Jesus.
His hope finds us as we extend hospitality to those we meet along the way… welcoming those outside into our lives, as Christ Jesus welcomed us… without prejudice or pride, but in humility, compassion, and love.
His hope finds us as we draw near to His table… as we share the blessed food that Jesus gives to us: His own body, broken… His own blood shed… His life, freely given to save sinners like us… so that we too can be filled with His new life, and share in its blessings together.
And His hope finds us when we choose to turn around, and seek out the rest of our brothers and sisters in God’s family… when we come together in wonder, mystery, and joy to worship our risen Saviour… to retell the stories of what He has done… to comfort, forgive, and encourage one another.
Jesus is risen. Jesus is right here with us. And He is everything we had hoped for and more.
May the Holy Spirit of God continue to open our eyes and hearts to see His New Life at work… and may He keep turning our lives around as we share in this hope, with one another… with our communities, and with our world. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Jesus Is Risen! Believe, Even When You Don't See - Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (April 16, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Acts 2:14a, 22–32 | Psalm 16 | 1 Peter 1:3–9 | John 20:19–31
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29).
Jesus is risen!
It’s hard to imagine three words that have had a more profound and lasting impact on our world… transforming a few humble fishermen, tax-collectors, and other misfits into bold heralds proclaiming to all the world the Good News that God’s Chosen King has conquered death… and that His good Kingdom is here to stay.
Jesus is risen!
These three words are at the heart of everything. Our understanding of the past. Our present practices. Our anticipation of what’s to come. Believing the Good News that Jesus is risen brings it all to life.
Can you imagine just how exciting it must have been for the disciples on that first Easter day all those years ago? To be among the first to see that Jesus really is risen?
Can you imagine missing out on that moment???
Can you imagine seeing your friends so excited… and hearing them tell you news far too good to be true? Telling you that what had seemed like the end of the world had been turned upside down to a brand new beginning… but you have to take their word for it.
Imagine you don’t get to see with your own eyes.
How hard would it be to believe? How many of us might have responded like Thomas: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25).
Many today still struggle to believe. Not only in the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning, but in God’s whole intention and ability to bring His good Kingdom to life.
There’s lots of confusion, discouragement, and even despair in our world… both inside and outside the Church… people longing for hope they can really believe in, and not just empty promises. People asking: ‘If God is still showing up in our world today, why can’t we be the ones to see it? Why can’t we see God’s good Kingdom at work? All we see is the world falling apart.’
From the very start, the story of Easter has been meant for people asking those very questions. It’s an invitation for all of us who struggle with doubts to still choose to believe that even when we cannot see the New Life of God’s good Kingdom at work, we can still trust Him to bring it about.
Easter invites us to trust that the Living God will never abandoned us, or His world… to trust that Jesus the Risen Lord will not leave you and I behind.
To hear this invitation, I think it’s important for us to look at how the first Apostles understood and spoke about the hope of Easter: which involved looking back at how the Living God had been at work in the story of their ancestors all along.
Our reading today from the Book of Acts tells the story of St. Peter addressing a crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost, after receiving the Holy Spirit. In this first public announcement of the resurrection of Jesus, St. Peter turns to the Holy Scriptures, and connects what had happened to Jesus with God’s promises in the past, especially the hope given to God’s people that a King from David’s line would reign forever.
Long ago, when the Israelite tribes had been united in a single nation, God had made a covenant… a sacred bond with King David: the Lord would establish an everlasting Kingdom for one of David’s descendants. Psalm 132 articulates the hope this gave, not just David and his heirs, but their whole nation. Psalm 132:11-18:
“The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
‘One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.’
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
‘This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”
Such a promise of security and prosperity filled God’s people with great confidence. But in the centuries after King David, their Kingdom was in complete jeopardy.
The Northern half of the Kingdom had already been overrun, and its people scattered among the Gentile world. And Zion, the city of Jerusalem, was now besieged by Babylon, with its people struggling to find hope.
Many people claiming to speak for God sought to reassure those living in Jerusalem that things would turn out for the best. That they would be spared the horrors of Exile because of their status as God’s chosen ones. They had the Holy Temple. Theirs was the city where God Himself chose to dwell.
But one prophet, a man named Jeremiah, had been entrusted with a very different… and difficult message for God’s people: that unlike times gone by, the armies of Babylon would not be turned away… that they would be instruments used by God to bring about justice upon His people, who had time and again betrayed Him, and broken their covenant to be His people in the world.
According to Jeremiah, faithfulness to God in this crucial moment meant surrendering to the Babylonians… it meant accepting this humiliating defeat, and in repentance trusting in God to be merciful… believing that somehow the Lord would not abandon them to destruction, despite their unfaithfulness.
Unsurprisingly, Judah’s King and leadership did not listen to the warning from Jeremiah, and they refused to humble themselves and accept defeat… which ended up leading to the complete devastation of Jerusalem. The people were slaughtered, scattered, and enslaved. The Holy Temple was torn down. They saw the entire world they had believed in die before their eyes.
It's hard to imagine the kind of heartbreak and despair they would have faced.
But again, along with the warning, God had entrusted to Jeremiah a word of hope, even before all this devastation took place. A word calling for God’s people to trust in His divine mercy and everlasting love, no matter what may come… to believe that even despite all their unfaithfulness and humiliating defeat, the Lord would never abandon them. Jeremiah 33:19-21, 24-26,
“The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne…
Have you not observed how these people say, ‘The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,’ and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? Thus says the Lord: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.”
And God did have mercy on His people. Despite their devastating journey into Exile, God did not abandon them. Instead, God went with them… in their suffering, confusion, humiliation, and despair, God was with His children through it all. And at the right time, He brought them back out of Babylon… back to their own land. True, things were never the same as they were before, but they had a renewed sense of hope that the Living God could be trusted to stay true to His word… that one day King David’s descendant would reign again, and their future would be secure.
No matter how bad things might get, now they could believe that God’s good Kingdom would one day be raised up, even from the ashes of despair, and that it would endure forever.
Centuries after the Exiles returned from Babylon, our story picks up again in Jerusalem: with St. Peter telling the crowds at Pentecost that their King has finally come. Telling them that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised One, crucified by His own unfaithful people, but never abandoned by God… who raised Him to life again against all expectations and beyond all hope.
Jesus is risen! St. Peter told them. And the world has never been the same.
But for St. Peter, the resurrection of Jesus was far more than just a glorious victory for God’s Chosen King, a great thing for Christ alone… St. Peter sees what happened at Easter as the unexpected and undeserved triumph for all God’s people. The ultimate gift offered to all who place their trust in the Risen One.
In our New Testament reading today, we heard St. Peter say as much to his fellow believers. 1 Peter 1:3-5,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
St. Peter knew firsthand that God has not abandoned Jesus His Son to the grave, but has raised Him up, beyond all hope. And in His great mercy, God will not abandon those who cling to Christ in faith, but will raise us up with Him to share in His blessed life as well!
Because Jesus is risen, we too who trust in Him will rise!
Of course, this does not mean that the road ahead will be easy. In fact, St. Peter says quite the opposite! 1 Peter 1:6-7,
“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
St. Peter encourages his fellow Christians, including you and I today, that our sufferings and trials are not simply signs of defeat, or reasons for us to despair… imagining that somehow God has abandoned us to fend for ourselves, or that His mercy and grace are unable to see us through.
Rather, our times of suffering, are opportunities for us to exercise our faith… to practice trusting in God, and clinging to Jesus Christ our Saviour… to humbly look to Him always, especially when it’s hard to see Him at work. 1 Peter 1:8-9,
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
St. Peter offers us this encouragement, confident in God’s mercy and everlasting love made known to us in Jesus, the Risen Lord, who humbly surrendered His life over to death in order to bring life to His frequently unfaithful but yet still beloved people.
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate sign of the faithfulness of God… of His amazing mercy, which longs to embrace us all, even when we completely fail Him… to offer true hope to the hopeless… true love to the loveless… true faith to the faithless… turning us back to Him and raising us up with His Son, King Jesus, to share in His Kingdom forever.
One week after that first Easter, the disciples had gathered together again. It had been a week since the Lord had surprised them. Seven days since their world had been turned upside down. And despite all his doubts, Thomas was right there with them… which is, by the way, the perfect place for anyone who has doubts about the Risen Lord and His Kingdom... wrestling with these questions alongside brothers and sisters also seeking to understand.
And right there, Jesus again makes His presence known… and this time He comes straight for Thomas.
In mercy and love, the Risen Christ turns to His beloved but struggling student, and Jesus answers his prayer for a reason to truly believe: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (John 20:27). Believe.
In the blink of an eye, Thomas is convinced. Seeing Jesus alive again, he cries out: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:28-29)
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
The whole of John’s Gospel has this intent: that we too who have not come face to face with the Risen Lord would come to see Jesus with the same eyes of faith as Thomas… that we too would come to believe the Good News that He truly is the Son of God… raised from the dead, even though our own eyes have not seen Him… yet.
John’s whole Gospel, leading us as it does to the wonderful news of Easter, is an ongoing invitation to trust that, just like He came to Thomas, the Risen Lord will not just leave you and I behind!
God has not abandoned Jesus His Son to the grave, but has raised Him up to reign forever.
God will not abandon those who cling to Christ in faith, but will raise us up too, to reign with Him.
And God knows sometimes we find it really hard to believe. He knows all the reasons we struggle. He understands and He shares in our sufferings… be they in body, mind, or spirit. And He longs for us to lean on His love, and to trust that He’s right here, unseen but always near.
Whether or not we are struggling with doubts about God’s mercy, or faithfulness, or resurrecting power, Jesus invites us all to place our trust in Him today: To continue to gather along with our brothers and sisters… to humbly seek His mercy, forgiveness, and grace… and extend it to each other too… to draw near together to His table and receive from Him the New Life of God’s good Kingdom… and to share the Good News that Jesus, the Saviour of the World is risen… and that He will raise us up to be with Him and share His reign forever. Amen.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School