Ascension – A chapter closes

(Gather 2 volunteers from each year group present. Divide them into teams to do a relay race. I did year 7 & 9 at the east end of the aisle and year 8 & 10 at the west end. They used a tie for a baton)

We’re going to start with a relay race.

Starting with the year 7s their going to run up the aisle, and pass these batons onto the year 8s who will run down and pass them to the year 9s and so on.

3,2,1 GO!

Well done. Thank you.

 

Today is ascension day, and Ascension means to go up.  It can also describe when someone gets more power or more responsibility.  Kings and queens ascend to the thrown when they are crowned. And today we hear of Jesus’ ascension. It’s been 40 days since Easter, and after the resurrection, Jesus continues to work with his disciples and makes sure they are ready for this point.

Because when Jesus ascends, he passes on something very important to the disciples.

St Luke tells us that Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the scriptures.’ If you remember, one of the titles Jesus had was Rabbi, teacher, and this is what he had been doing with the disciples, right until the end. They have all their teachings, learnt their lessons and Jesus gave them the power and blessing they needed to do what they had been prepared to do.

A little like the baton that was passed between our races, the disciples are given a baton from Jesus to continue the work he started. It’s over to them.

And so when Jesus leaves the disciples, he hands over the responsibility of what happens next to them.

And so today is an odd mix of endings and beginnings, as one chapter closes and another one opens.

And we can understand how the disciples felt.

Because we all go through a similar transition. All of you will be moving soon. Moving into a new year, moving to new classes, moving into GCSE or A-level years, moving away to college or university or moving from school to work.

Especially for our upper sixth and some of our year 11s the end of this term will mark a dramatic change as their time at Townsend comes to an end, the teachers have taught all they can and it’s time for them to ascend take everything they know and to go out into the world and use it.

And these movement our often met with a mixture of excitement, fear, grief, anticipation, joy and dread. Just as the disciples would have felt on that Ascension day.

The disciples went out, and found their way to doing all sorts of works for God, from sharing all they knew about God and telling people the gospel of Jesus, to baptising, healing the sick and travelling all over the world.

And who knows where your journey will take you, but like the disciples, you will not be unprepared, and you will not be alone as you are send out with the blessing of God and the blessing of the school to go and do the work you have been prepared to do.

The Ascension is an odd mixture of endings and beginnings, as one chapter closes and another one opens and as the baton is passed to us. What are you going to do with it?

Sermon John 5. 30-end

In my two years here as Youth Chaplain, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had two children in front of me going ‘He hit me’ ‘He called me a name’ ‘I was using that colour and she stole it’ Dealing with children can be a joy, but dealing with the squabbles and disagreements of the kids, especially when it’s one against the other, can be an absolute nightmare. And it’s in times like this that I really appreciate the method of dealing with situations as it is in Deuteronomy.

And we come across it in action in our second reading tonight as Jesus faces some of the Jewish leaders.

To put this in context. Jesus has just healed the paralyzed man at the pool, and it’s the Sabbath. So Jesus was in trouble with some of Jewish Leaders for doing what was not allowed on the holy day. But Jesus is also accused of claiming to be equal with God which causes some serious questioning.

It’s clear they don’t believe in him, and they are asking why they should. Which is fair enough. We all go through a time of questions about who Jesus really is and we all question if he is someone we should believe in, and follow in our lives. So this is the Jewish leader’s time of questioning.

Now I admit these issues are more important then who used the last of the glittery sticker stars or who pushed who when playing a game of football. But the Jewish law concerning accusations and witnesses says that ‘a single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. Which is what Jesus is saying when he tells them ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true’. It is not that he is unreliable or a lair, but the evidence of one is not good enough.

Everything needs to be verified by two or more people before it can stand up.

And so Jesus brings to the leaders four witnesses which can speak in his favour.

The first witness that Jesus mentions is John the Baptist. They liked John. He preached well and brought people back to God through the baptism he offered. But John also spoke a lot about Jesus and said many interesting things, such as. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “He must increase and I must decrease” “He is the one coming after me, whose sandal I am not fit to untie”.

Jesus calls John a burning and shining lamp

But Jesus has greater testimonies to offer.

The second witness he brings forward are his works, which are the works of the Father, and proof that God sent Jesus. I can imagine Jesus turning round and saying to them, with a little bit of attitude, ‘Look! Do you see anyone else round here healing the sick, or performing miracles and teaching with divine authority? No? I didn’t think so, so you should listen to the one who does. Me!

Thirdly, Jesus calls on God himself. Jesus says “You have never heard his voice, or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent” … which I don’t think would have convinced the Jewish leaders too much. This is a statement rather than an argument, and this could go round in circles for a while. But the point that Jesus is trying to get them to understand is that if they believe in the Father, they must believe in both.

And finally he brings in the scriptures as evidence for him. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me and have life.” Jesus tells them if they want to understand who he is, they have to read their scriptures. They have to go back in the Old Testament to learn about him. They would have to go back to Moses, who predicted the failure of the Israelites and promised a Saviour who would led them, if they paid attention and recognised the signs.

Unlike my kids who come telling tales with only their word against another’s. We have four witnesses to testify for Jesus, and to tell us who he really is. And yet the Jewish leaders still reject him, because of their pride, and their unwillingness, and their ignorance to what has been laid out for them to see. They see and they hear, but they reject it.

And there are many today who still do not believe in Jesus. And so here are Jesus’ four witnesses. But we have many more today, from the church and the saints, to the New Testament, the sacraments and the continuation of God’s works. These all speak to who Jesus is, if we but take the time to explore and learn.

The Jewish Leaders did not know Jesus, because they hadn’t given time to get to know him through the witnesses they were presented with.

How much time do you give to these witnesses? How much have you learnt from them about Jesus?

It’s easy to listen to one voice and follow it. It would be easy for my just to accept the first version of events that is presented to me by one of our kids. But it is not always right.

We have so many ways we can learn and explore the Son of God, and to understand who he is and what he did and how we are to respond. Give yourself some time to get involved in them, and find out for yourself.

 

Wedding of Sebastian and Carlein

There are lots of things that make a marriage work. Some of them you will already know, some of them you may learn today, and many of them you will learn in the months and years to come.

But, as I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t see into the future, we will have to make do with what today can teach about long and happy marriages.

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians suggests some of the qualities you are to wear if your marriage is to be long and most importantly, happy. He says, ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity’.

Love, the unifying factor, which makes everything perfect.

Part of what we are doing today, is praying for Sebastian and Carlein’s love. The love they have for each other, the love they have for God, and the love God has for them. Because we heard at the beginning of the service, that God is love, and those who live in love, lives in God and God lives in them. A simple line, until you start to think about it further.

God is love, and if he didn’t love us, we wouldn’t be able to love others.

God is love, and it’s love like God’s that we try to embody because his is a love that is perfect and eternal and will pass the test of time.

Sebastian and Carlein, we pray for you today, that you will grow in the love that you share, and that your love may be perfect like God’s love for you. And in the times when your love is tested, you will remember the words of St Paul, and you will find that your love is the kind described in our first reading from Captain Correlli’s Mandolin,

“Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two”.

All age – Blessed Virgin Mary

Have any of you ever been asked to do something, or go somewhere, but you really REALLY didn’t want to? (Take answers)

Clean your room, do the washing up, go to visit someone you didn’t like, have to go see family rather than play out with your friends, do your tax return, fill out paperwork, had to give up meeting friends to do work?

What do you do? What do you do when you really don’t want to do something? (Take answers)

You start making excuses

I’m too busy, I can’t, I don’t know how to, but they’re much cleverer, faster, better than me, they should do it!

We all do this from time to time, especially with the small stuff in life.

But, sometimes we’re asked to do something huge! Has anyone been asked to do anything huge and important? (Take answers)

Well, I have someone with me who was asked to do something very, VERY important. Can anyone remember our gospel reading, or guess at who I might have here who was asked to do something VERY important?

(Uncover statue)

MARY

Mary was given a very important task, what was Mary asked to do?

Be the Mother of Jesus.

This was HUGE. And would have been very difficult for her and others to understand and accept.

She wasn’t married.

She lived in the wrong side of town.

She was poor.

And she could have come up with LOADS of excuses for NOT being the Mother to Jesus.

I can’t, I’m planning my wedding.

I can’t, what would people think of me?

I can’t, what do I tell my parents?

I can’t, what do I tell Joseph? He’ll think I’ve been seeing someone else.

I can’t, I’m too poor to look after a baby.

I can’t, I’m too young to be a mother.

I can’t, I’m not important enough for God to be bothered with me!

But did she say any of these? (Take answers)

No. After she had spoken to the angel, she is so excited she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting a baby. And she said something amazing. She said something so wonderful, that we repeat it every day in the cathedral. And in every cathedral, and in every church it is sung, and said and prayed.

And its known as the ‘Magnificat’ which is the first word of Mary’s praise in Latin.

It’s become for us, a song of joy, and has been set to music more times than I can count.

Because this girl who must have thought that she couldn’t, God did not say ‘she is just a girl’. God took Mary seriously, trusted her and put her to work. And when she believed she could do God’s work, it was the most joyful thing she had ever known. And so she said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour’  and she talks about what God has and will do for his people.

“I praise the Lord with all my heart.

    I am very happy because God is my Savior.

I am not important,

    but he has shown his care for me, his lowly servant.

From now until the end of time,

    people will remember how much God blessed me.

Yes, the Powerful One has done great things for me.

    His name is very holy.

He always gives mercy

    to those who worship him.

He reached out his arm and showed his power.

    He scattered those who are proud and think great things about themselves.

He brought down rulers from their thrones

    and raised up the humble people.

He filled the hungry with good things,

    but he sent the rich away with nothing.

God has helped Israel—the people he chose to serve him.

    He did not forget his promise to give us his mercy.

He has done what he promised to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary shows us what is possible when we say Yes. When we say Yes to God, wonderful things can happen. Even world changing things. And he doesn’t just use the clever or the important. He can use all of us.

So next time you’re asked to do something, think, am I going to make an excuse, or should I joyfully say yes, because there is the potential in all things for God to do his wonderful work.

Good things come to those who wait -Genesis 41: 1-16, 25-37

Good things come to those who wait. Many of use have found that to be true in our own lives.

This saying is especially true for all of you currently playing ‘Pokemon Go’ on your smart phones (Mr Sub Dean).

But ‘Good things come to those who wait’ can also be applied to Joseph.

Our reading from Genesis, brings us back to the story of Joseph. Most of us are familiar with the story of his brothers selling him into slavery because of their jealous feelings towards him but I feel the need to re-cap what’s happened to him since then so we’re all on the same page.

When Joseph was sold he was taken to Egypt to work for an Egyptian official who served the Pharaoh. Joseph was blessed by God and he found favour and was given positions of responsibility by having charge over the running of the house, but this all suddenly changed when he was falsely accused of having inappropriate dealings with his master’s wife, and was thrown into prison.

But even in prison, God was still with him, and Joseph again was able to find favour and was put in charge of the other prisoners. While here, pharaoh’s cupbearer, and the baker both had dreams which Joseph helped interpret and in the end, Joseph asked the cupbearer, ‘mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of prison’. But he didn’t, he forgot, and this is now two years later.

Two years after being forgotten by the cupbearer, and 13 years since his brother’s betrayal, it’s a long time. And you have to wonder how Joseph got through this all.

What questions must he have asked? We’re not told but during all that time, there must have been moments of despair, and wonder, and depression? How could you go for those years without becoming bitter and angry?

But we don’t get any sense of this when Joseph’s story continues. After all this, he still has confidence in God and he is still full of faith.

And so we have Pharaoh, and he is having bad dreams. And it seems like everything that Joseph has gone through, has been preparing him for this encounter with Pharaoh.

After these disturbing dreams, Pharaoh becomes desperate to find some meaning behind them. He consults with all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men.

And nothing.

They cannot help.

Not one little bit.

And it is at this point the cupbearer remembers Joseph.

If this had been me, knowing Pharaohs desperation, I would have used it to my own advantage, I would have used it to declare the injustice I had been through, to ensure my freedom after I had helped. And if things were going well, to ensure I’d be made comfortable.

Which shows what a better person Joseph is. Because he doesn’t take advantage of this situation. Not at all. Joseph’s first concern, is not for himself, but to ensure that Pharaoh knows that it is God who holds the power here.

“It is not I: God will give you a favorable answer”

Joseph gives the interpretation, and adds to it instructions on how he can avoid the oncoming disaster and still, never once promoting himself. However in bringing honor to God, and acting in humility God in turn honors Joseph.

Pharaoh was pleased with Joseph’s words, the interpretation of his dream and recognizes that God is at work in Joseph, he sees there is a relationship and knowledge shared between Joseph and God and so Pharaoh goes on to appoint him in charge over the plan, to get Egypt through the famine and into prosperous times again.

Good things come to those who wait, and this part of Joseph’s story shows what we need to work in God’s time, not our own time.

Even after his years of long waiting where I’m sure he must have had some doubts and uncertainties, Joseph remained faithful to God and waited for God, and in return God remained faithful to Joseph

Good things come to those who wait, after years in slavery and imprisonment Joseph is transformed from rags to riches, from a common criminal to the second most important person in Egypt.

Good things come to those who wait, but waiting is not easy.

Especially in our time when we can have everything instantly.

Waiting is hard.

But the best things in life are worth waiting for.

Good things come to those who wait, and this is the example that Joseph gives us today. He know his life was dependent on God, and his future rested in his hands. He waited and watched and was rewarded, not just in a radical changing in his situation, but also with the opportunity to change history by saving a whole people from the famine to come.

Good things come to those who wait for God, are you going to wait?

Who is my neighbour? Luke 10.25-37

I wonder how many of you have been paying attention to the news broadcasts coming from the UK over the last few weeks. On TV, in newspapers, on news websites, on Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites, there has been story after story of hate crimes happening in this country.

You can over hear conversations in the pubs and coffee shops, people talking about the events that have taken place over the past few weeks.

In the short time since the referendum to leave the EU, the police have stated that compared to the figures from this time last year, reports of hate crime, racism and xenophobia have increased by 42%.

Ethnic minorities and immigrants have increasingly become targets for racial abuse.

Hate letters, graffiti of homes and businesses, comments at work and on the streets, physical attacks, arson, destruction of property, examples of all these can be found in most papers and news websites.

It feels to me that our country is falling apart. Because this isn’t the Britain I know.

And I think our current situation in this country makes today’s gospel all the more important.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is up their with our best know, well loved parables. And because it is one that we know so well, we are in danger of missing the point.

We have a lawyer. He knows and lives by the law. So we may be surprised when he asks Jesus ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ because he already knows the correct answer, and so Jesus replies, ‘you know the law, tell me yourself.’

The lawyer replies by quoting the law. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

But quickly presses on, ‘But who is my neighbour?’

Now things get tricky, because tradition requires the answer to be ‘other Jews’, and if that is the case then the gospel becomes redundant. However if Jesus answered ‘everyone, regardless of any difference you can come up with’ he would have become as self-convicted heretic.

And so Jesus tells a parables.

The setting for the parable is the narrow, rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A well know danger hot spot with a reputation for muggings and murders. And there is no surprise for the crowd when they hear a mugging has taken place.

Now we don’t know much about the victim, other than he was robbed, stripped, and beaten. We do not know his race or religion or social standing, we don’t know his political views or even if he was a good person. All we know is that he was vulnerable and left for dead.

We know more about the passers-by than about the man himself.

The first was a priest. The most knowledgeable in society about the law. And he knew too well that the law forbids him from touching a dead body. Doing so would have made him unclean and he would have lost his role in the Temple. He is a strict follower of the does and don’ts of the law and this was a definite don’t. He may have felt compassion but his role and security meant more than acting on behalf of this man. So the priest crossed the road and kept on travelling.

The second passer by was a Levite. Now the Levite didn’t have quite as many restrictions on him as the Priest did. And he could have given aid without risking any legal ramifications. But he doesn’t. Maybe he didn’t want to risk falling to the same fate or possibly the injured man’s lack of identity got the Levite thinking that this man is not his neighbour, why then should he help?

We don’t know why, but the Levite too crossed the road, and passed by on the other side.

Then comes the Samaritan. We know the Samaritans where not favoured people. Actually they were considered less the scum in society. Long running hostility and hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans put the Samaritans at the very bottom of the pile.

Prayers were often offered in the synagogues against the Samaritans praying that they would not take part in the eternal life promised. There has to be a significant amount of hated there if you’re praying for a people to go to hell.

But this Samaritan goes above and beyond to help this nameless man. Being moved with pity, he treated and wrapped up his wounds. Put him on his own animal, took him to an inn and paid for all the bills until the man was well enough to leave.

Coming to the end of his story, Jesus returns to the lawyer and asks him to identify the neighbour. Who was the neighbour in this story?

The lawyer can’t bring himself to say the word Samaritan, and so replied, ‘the one who showed him mercy’.

Now one of the misconceptions of this parable is that it’s about being nice and good to each other. Just another one of Jesus’ nice stories.

But this is not a parable about niceness. This is about how we are to respond to the world around us and to the law.

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

There is a different between knowing the right thing, and doing the right thing. And although the lawyer is being condescending in his questioning, Jesus pushes him to reach the conclusion that to claim to love ones neighbour and yet do nothing when they are in need is hypocritical. That a love which has no action is not love. That love needs to have action in the world for it to mean anything.

Who is your neighbour?

This is a question we are being asked over and over again, as individuals, in our communities, in the media and in politics, and it’s a question that will keep being asked as our politicians and our nations find our way forward.

This parable is so important to understand and live out. It is through this parable with its summery of the law where we can learn and relearn what it means to be children of God. And from what I see in the media around me, we’re not doing a very good job of being neighbours.

The challenge presented here is hard to hear, and even harder to live out – but, there is no greater thing, then to love God and to love our neighbour.

‘Who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’

The lawyer replied ‘The one who showed him mercy’. Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Two debts forgiven – Children’s sermon

Luke 7:36-8:3

(Two volunteers for props. Get them to stand, arms out holding the bags, one heavy, one light. Get the rest of the children to keep an eye on them to see if they drop their arms all the bags at any time while I’m talking.)

Our readings today give us an important message. It’s a message about living The way that God wants us to live, and what happens if and when we break the rules.

In the gospel Jesus is at a party and a woman has come in, she has done things wrong in her life and the man throwing the party, Simon, was not happy she was there. He didn’t think she was worthy to be near Jesus, or at his party.

Now, there is a lot written in the bible about how we are to live our lives. There are rules written down and there are stories to give us examples. Can anyone think of any rules or commandments they know, any stories they give a message about how we are to live our lives?

Examples – the 10 commandments, the great commandment, parables, letters.

Jesus said that the most important of the commandments were to love God and to love other people. But we know we don’t always treat each other like we love them. Sometimes we cause hurt by the things we say or the things that we do.

And what happens when we break these laws and commandments? What happens when we don’t live like God wants us to live? What happens when we don’t love like God wants us to?

We become sinners. We hurt ourselves, others and God.

And sometimes those things get in the way of our relationship with God. They can create a barrier between us and God, a wall between us and God.  And sometimes other people don’t want to be around us because of the wrong things we have done.

And sometimes the wrong things we do we end up carrying around with us. We keep thinking about them, the shame and disappointment we have in ourselves and the consequences that they had. They become a burden, a heavy weight that we carry around with us. Sometimes the wrong things we do can get in the way of the things that we really want to do. Sometimes the wrong things we do can stop us living. And this is like the woman at the party, whose host didn’t want her their either, because of the things she had done

But God does not want us to live like this. He doesn’t want us to carry a heavy weight around with us. And God certainly doesn’t want us moving away from him or other people. So he tells us that whenever we do something wrong if we admit it and say sorry then we are forgiven. And when we are forgiven we no longer have to carry that weight around, we no longer have to be separated from each other, and we no longer need to be separated from God.

This is what Jesus teaches Simon at the party. He tells the story of two men Who owed money. One owed lot of money, and one owed a little and neither could pay off their debt.

When you’re older and when you owe a debt to somebody else, like when you owe a lot of money, you will learn this can feel like a heavyweight, a bit like the heavyweight of knowing you’ve done something wrong. They are both things you think a lot about and worry about and get nervous about.

Which is why I think Jesus used this image of a debt owed being like sin to teach about forgiveness.

And we have two people who have been holding a heavyweight for a little bit of time now. One holding a lot, and one holding a little. How are you feeling? Are your arms aching? Would you like to let go of your heavy weight?

(Take the bags off the volunteers but ask them to keep standing on their chairs)

Ask them how they feel now? Are they happier? More comfortable? Relieved? Lighter?

Jesus asked which of the two will be most relieved to have the debt paid off, which will be most relieved, to have the burden taken away?

The person who throw the party for Jesus answered, the one with the heaviest weight will be the most relieved.

And he was right.

Jesus then talks about the woman again, because she had sinned, she has done many many things wrong, and this had made her feel guilty and separated from other people. But she wasn’t sinful forever, she was forgiven. Jesus said ‘I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love to me’

We all do things wrong sometimes, we all say and do things that hurt ourselves, that hurt other people and that hurt God.  And the wrong things we do can have serious effects. But when we say sorry, we are set free to do all the good things again, without carrying a heavy weight of guilt and shame around. We are free again, like the woman to Jesus to show each other love.

Let us pray: God help us to love you and each other as you taught us through the Bible. And when we do things wrong, help us to say sorry and receive forgiveness so we don’t have to feel weighted down and so we can love again like you taught us. Amen.