Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Sermon preached by Vicky Falvey on Sunday, 24th May 2020 via Zoom

Please click below to listen to an audio recording or continue scrolling to read.

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for this time, for your Word and for this time
together. May our hearts and minds be open to hear you speak to us this morning, Amen.
Have you ever been on a car journey with a young person, maybe it was your own children or
grandkids, Can you picture the scene, you have set off on the journey and at some point from
the back of the car you hear “Are we nearly there yet?” Sometimes this is asked even before
you have left the driveway!
Do you resonate? It’s the tone of the question, and the frequency, and the lack of contentment
at your first answer, that is possibly the most frustrating.
I remember being on holiday in America for Christmas and we had been told that we were going
to see lots of huge houses decked out from head to toe in Christmas lights and reindeer statues
and singing santas and anything else you can imagine. I was beyond excited, but the car
journey took what felt like ages. Yet, when we arrived, the mesmerizing sight of the lights, the
singing of Christmas carols and the joyful atmosphere meant I had totally forgotten about the
drive and the journey home my sister and I stopped asking ‘are we nearly there yet?’ because
we were so fixated on what we had just experienced.
On Thursday, we celebrated Ascension, when Jesus ascended to heaven and this is what we
have just read in the passage from Acts. Time and time again in the Bible God’s plan is for a
‘new heavens and new earth,’ and for them to be joined together in that renewal once and for
all. In Acts verse 9 we read Jesus is ‘lifted up, and a cloud hid him from sight’ indicating to the
disciples that Jesus was not heading to somewhere beyond Mars or the moon but that he was
going to God’s place. The cloud is often seen throughout the Bible as a sign of God’s presence
(think of the pillar of cloud as the Israelities went through the desert, or the cloud that filled the
Temple when God became suddenly present in a new way). Jesus has gone to God’s
dimension of reality; but he will be back, what we mean by the second coming, when God’s
dimension and our present one are brought back together for eternity.
How do we respond to this extraordinary and still hard to describe event? I believe the answer is
to worship, which means to show reverence and adoration. One of the main forms of worship is
prayer. Luke often tells throughout Acts about the early Christians devoting themselves to
prayer. We see in John 17, the Gospel reading for today, Jesus praying for the disciples,
petitioning and interceding on their behalf to God the Father. Prayer is important, it is through
worship and prayer that we, while still on ‘earth’ find ourselves sharing in the life of ‘heaven’
which is where Jesus is. It is how we can communicate to God, Abba Father, to join in with the
divine dance of the Trinity.
N.T. Wright says “ The constant references to prayer in Acts are a sign that this is how these
very ordinary, frequently muddled, deeply human beings, the apostles and the others with them,
found that their story was being bound up with the story of ‘what Jesus was continuing to do and
to teach.”
There is a 5th Century icon called The Trinity by Andrei Rublev, you might recognise it. This
icon attempts to point beyond its artistic structure, instead wanting to invite in the viewer a
sense of the beyond and the communion that exists in our mindset. In the icon there are 3
colours that are most evident. Rublev considered gold the colour of ‘the Father’- representing
perfection, fullness, wholeness. He considered blue the colour of “Jesus. The Human” both sky
and sea mirroring one another and representing God in Christ taking on the world in the form of
human flesh. The green represents ‘The Spirit’, the divine photosynthesis, that grows everything
from within by transforming light into itself- precisely the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy One in the form of Three- eating and drinking, in hospitality and total enjoyment
between themselves. As you gaze more on the icon we notice the gaze between the Three and
note the hand of the Spirit pointing towards the open and fourth place at the table- inviting,
offering and making space. But for what?
If you look on the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole painted there, art
historians say that there are remains of glue in this place, indicating perhaps once a mirror
glued to the front of the table. (not a normal feature for an icon). A mirror pointing at the viewer,
an invitation for the observer to sit at the table, to join in and to feast. To not remain static,
outside but to participate in the dynamic, loving actions of the Godhead. We are called,
welcomed to partake in this fellowship and to direct others towards wonder, to partner in God’s
eternal love and communion.
We are entering week 9 of lockdown, many things have changed, knowing what day of the week
it is has become a blur to me, some of us might be thinking ‘are we nearly there yet’ for things to
return to some kind or normal. Yet, in the midst of all the uncertaining, changes, new ways of
living, one thing that hasn’t changed in prayer.
Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, tweeted the other day “ I’m grateful that prayer does not
require Zoom, Skype or anything else. It’s the one bit of communication that remains the same
as it has always been and is not subject to the signal cutting out, trying to get a word in
edgeways or giving you a headache.”
In verse 12 of Acts we see the disciples returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives where
they saw Jesus ascend, they return to an upper room and join together in constant prayer,
joined by others including Mary, Jesus’ mother. In all the confusion of what they had just
witnessed in the last few weeks; Jesus’ crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension they
gather to pray and to wait. In Acts verse 8 Jesus tells the disciples that they ‘will receive power
when the holy spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in all Judaea
and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.” As God’s people we are promised power, the
word used here is dynamis from where we get the word dynamite. We need that power, just as
Jesus’ first followers did, if we are to be his witnesses to the world. Jesus also gives an agenda
to his disciples, once they have received this power to witness in Jerusalem, where they are
currently then to Judaea, the surrounding countryside then Samaria and then the ends of the
earth. We have the same journey to join in with. One day Jesus will come again, fully and finally.
In the meantime, we have a job to do.
Since Ascension until Pentecost we are joining in with Thy Kingdom Come, a global prayer
movement, praying for the Spirit to come, to inspire us to pray, to go deeper with God.
Throughout the nation people are praying for 5 people they know to come to faith in Jesus, what
would it look like if we were each to commit to praying for 5 people we know over the next week
to encounter Jesus?
As I draw to a close I am very aware that there are many ways of praying, and we all have our
own ways, times and even places in which we find it easiest to pray. One thing I acknowledge
in my own prayer life is that I can be quick to ask God for things that I need or want, when I
know there is so my to thank Jesus for, to pray in adoration, I am also aware that I can get
distracted during praying, especially when I am praying on my own. One way of praying I have
been using recently is ‘breath prayers’ using the Jesus prayer. The Jesus prayer is a short
invocation, frequently repeated in the form of “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on
me.” To breathe in “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” and to breathe out “have mercy on me”. And
repeat this phrase, noticing your breathing as it might slow, to bring your focus and attention
onto God. I have found this prayer really helpful recently, to bring stillness, to slow the pace of
the day down and to allow God to speak to me.
So, as I close I want to spend just a minute or so using the Jesus prayer together. So we
breathe in (as we say in our minds) “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” and breathe out “have
mercy on me” and let’s just do that for a short while. I will close our time saying Amen and then
Mark will know to continue.
Let us pray.