Easter 7: Ups and Downs


Acts 1:6-14
John 17:1-11

Life and the world can often feel up and down. Prices are up, spirits are down. Interest rates are up to try to keep inflation down. We can be happy one minute and weeping the next. In our Gospels since Easter there have been many ups and downs. Jesus was lifted up onto the donkey and hailed as a hero. Next he was beaten down and lifted up onto the cross. To be brought down and put into the tomb. We are told he descended to the dead and rose again on the third day. According to the end of some of the Gospels and the opening verses of Acts, Jesus has been travelling around in human form meeting and eating with people. Seemingly appearing and disappearing at will.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day. Ascension was the final act of Jesus’ ministry on earth, his return to heaven. Jesus ascending into heaven has been depicted in many pieces of art – often with his dangling feet at the centre while a crowd of baffled onlookers look up. Many poets have tried to capture the meaning and feeling of this rather odd event.

Jesus made it as clear as he could that he was going up to be with God in heaven and would send down the Holy Spirit; the Counsellor to be with us always.

One cannot help but to think about his disciples. Poor men! They had been through so much in the last few weeks! The Bible is not clear exactly how long it was between the resurrection and ascension. The Church year says a few weeks. However long it was, the disciples are imagining that life might go back to the way it was, only better. They ask Jesus, in verse 6 of Acts: ‘Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’

They seem to have gone back to old assumptions that Jesus was going to kick out the Romans and set up a new Jewish kingdom and they would be part of the ruling party. Yes! However, in the next moment, they realise that is not what is happening. Jesus is not staying with them as he was ‘lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.’

Maybe to the disciples the dream really was over. Jesus refused to tell them what was going on. Instead he left them with a job to do; to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. It is worth giving some thought to what the walk to Jerusalem would have been like for them. Acts does not give away any emotion or descriptions. They watched Jesus go up and now they are left feeling down.

The disciples were left, however, with two valuable lessons after all they have been through. The need to stick together and the need to pray.

When they returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room where they were staying, they prayed together. No one wandered off to do his own thing. They still needed to be unified. We need to remember and remain rooted in Jesus and to each other. We can desire to go our own way when uncertainty comes, when the ups and down of life get too much. As churches it can be tempting to flop back into our tribes and carry on as we scrabble for something that looks like the normal we once knew. I know there is a desire to ‘go back to the way things were’ – but friends we are not. Nothing in the world is. This is not all bad!

The second lesson was about prayer. Jesus prayed. Jesus prays.

In John 17, after washing the disciples feet and before his arrest, Jesus prayed. He spent the last few precious hours of his life praying. For the disciples and for us. He continues to pray for us. In the Acts and Gospel readings this morning we see examples of how the Apostles prayed in the early church and how Jesus prayed just before his death.

I am making some assumptions here that I assume are right: first is that you do in fact pray. Secondly that you do think about prayer and praying. I think that this is an important question to ask ourselves this morning.

What do you think you are doing when you pray?

Are we telling God what to do?

Giving him information about a situation, a person or ourselves – information that he already knows and then offering suggestions on what the Almighty might like to do about it?

Are we presenting a laundry list of ills and complaints?

Are we praising and thanking?

Are we pleading and begging?

What do you think you are doing?

I suspect it is a combination of all the above things! God knows everyone’s heart. Every thought, the deepest secrets and hurts, the highest highs and joys, He knows every crack and break. God knows before we even utter a word from our mouths what the condition of our hearts are. There is no fooling him!

Do you expect an answer? I do not think I could pray with no expectation that God is going to do something. I have to be willing to wait and trust. Wait to see what the answer is and not rush off in fear that I won’t get what I want or worse, no answer at all. I also have to trust that even if I don’t see a clear answer (ie: voice from heaven, message written in the clouds) that God has heard my prayer and will do as He sees fit. Even if – even if – I don’t get the answer that I want.

Jesus is also praying for some very specific things for the disciples with the underlying message of unity in God and Jesus. We are all bound together in love.

Helpfully, if we find ourselves stuck on what to pray for, Jesus also gives us some ideas. In John, verse 12 he talks about protection. Jesus asks God to protect the disciples with the same power that God has already given to Jesus. This is what ‘in your name’ means. He guarded them while he was with them. Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned to him: to keep and protect those God has given to him.

This is an important thing to do for those given to our care; pray for God’s protection on them. Not only from physical dangers, illness and all the other bad things that can happen. But they will stay under the spiritual protection of God that comes from staying close to Jesus.

The next thing that Jesus prays for is joy; this means rejoicing, celebrating, enjoyment, bliss. So often our joy in a worldly sense is never quite complete. It is only in Jesus that our joy will ever be complete. It is only the love of God that brings us joy, brings us salvation.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed that the disciples would know the truth and be sanctified by it. Sanctify here means to be set apart for God and God’s purposes alone. It does not mean that someone is better than anyone else, but they are different. Jesus is praying that the disciples will be set apart to do only what God wants them to do. Jesus was sanctified, set apart by God to fulfil his purposes.
For us, we can pray that our people will know the truth of God and go into the world to live and share it.

Of course there are many more ways and things to pray about for those we are called to pray for. I think that protection, joy and truth are very good places to start. Remember that He knows the condition of our hearts. We also need time and preparation for the answer even if it seems hard. God is faithful!

Jesus sets an example of how and what to pray as He prayed for his disciples right before his death. He prayed for protection, joy and truth.
Leave some space for you to think about the people who know and love who could use protection, joy and truth today.

Hope on the Road to Emmaus

Easter 3 – April 26, 2020: ‘Hope on the Road to Emmaus’

Acts 2:14a,36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

As I continue to grow in my faith and ministry, I find that I come to love the season of Eastertide more each year. With every new season I come to greater appreciation of the early church and the struggles it faced, the stories of Peter, Paul and the disciples (now apostles) as they grew and spread the Good News of the Risen Christ. This new church faced great conflict, it had to wrestle with the issues of doctrine that we take for granted and it also had to contend with deadly persecution. Christianity could well have died in infancy if not for the bold and brave convictions of the early apostles.

Over the next few weeks, we will be reading various parts of Acts and all of 1 Peter (hint- hint…if you have got some time and a Bible!). These readings speak to new beginnings, fresh starts for Peter and Paul and the gatherings of the first church; all underpinned with a sense of hope and purpose. My hope is that we can see links between then and now.

Where is our Hope?

The Road to Emmaus is a familiar story. Luke includes it in his account of that first Easter Day and there are many threads one can pull out of this story. If you remember the Seriously Surprising Story video that we showed last week, it was a fairly cheery telling of the story. While it does end well, the start – well – was not as cheery.

Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple are walking away from Jerusalem, walking away from the disciples, walking away from their faith, their beliefs, potentially their families, jobs. They are without hope and they are sad. To be a fly on the shoulder of Cleopas for that conversation! There was such overwhelming grief that when Jesus came near to them their eyes were kept from recognizing him. I think that many Christians might be confident that they would recognize Jesus if/when he comes to them. But here we have disciples, who were with him all the time, who did not recognize him!   

As I read and re-read this passage, the same five words from verses 21 kept leaping off the page at me: ‘But we had hoped that…´ Notice the past tense of hope – they had hoped. Their hope, whatever it was in, was gone. When Jesus died, so did their hope.

I think that many people right now are without hope, ‘but we had hoped that…’ What about you? Have you hoped in something, someone that will not now come through? Where is your hope today?

As Easter people, we are to be people of hope even in the most trying of times. As impossible as that might seem right now! If you find that you have lost or are losing hope – take comfort and take heart. Jesus understands. He wants nothing more than to restore our hope.

How do we know that Jesus understands? His actions towards Cleopas and the other disciple tell us. Before he died, Jesus had expressly told the disciples that He would send the counsellor, the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. All they had to do was wait. It could be assumed that the disciples were meant to wait together. These two have seemingly forgot about this promise; so instead of waiting are walking away.  

Now, Jesus could have washed his hands of them, let them go. But he doesn’t. He goes after them. Not in an aggressive or pushy way, He does not chase them down or yell and scream. He meets them where they are at – going the wrong way, down the wrong road. As the disciples talk to Jesus, listen to him, they begin to see beyond themselves, they decentre from their own issues and problems.  

In that meeting with Jesus, Cleopas and the other disciple turn around and head back the right way, back on the right road, back to life. Hope is restored, hearts are burning in the breaking of the bread. Many people need to have their hope restored. Some of us might need to be turned around in our thinking, some might need to ask for strength in the waiting, and many likely need to find their hope again.

How can we find our Hope again?

One of the things I love about Eastertide is the renewal of baptismal vows. I would have done this on Easter Sunday in whichever service I would have taken. I would love to do this on our first Sunday back in churches. There is something in the renewal of promises and the sprinkling of water that makes all things new again and restores hope. For those of us baptised as babies, we didn’t have the opportunity to make those promises for ourselves, although maybe in confirmation we did. Either way – it is a restorative thing to do.

Peter, in Acts 2, is calling for people to repent and be baptized. Our sins have been forgiven and the gift of the Holy Spirit has been given! This is the great Christian hope! Wonderful news and a wonderful starting point for reclaiming any lost hope. The first step, according to Peter, is to repent and be baptised. Remember the promises made:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?              I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?                 I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?       I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?             I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?              I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?           I come to Christ.

In his first letter, Peter was writing to the scattered Christians throughout the middle East who were facing persecution. I am sure they needed to know that they were not forgotten or beyond the reach of God. Peter is imploring these Christians to love each other deeply from the heart, they have been born anew and nothing can take away the hope of the final redemption and resurrection.

Peter knew this first-hand – Peter the one who denied Jesus three times and was restored three times. If anyone thought they were beyond hope, Peter is a prime example. Yet Jesus meets Peter on that first Easter, on the shores of Galilee as Peter too is attempting to go back to his previous life as a fisher of fish. In a conversation with Jesus, Peter is restored.

Remembering our baptismal vows, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the great love and long reach of God for each of us seems to me a place where we can recover our hope.

It was in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the other disciple had their eyes opened and recognized Jesus. Although we cannot be together in the traditional way when the bread is broken this morning, my prayer is that we will each recognize Jesus once again in the situations and circumstances we find ourselves today so that we too can be restored and have our hope renewed.

Harvest: Be Thankful for the Change that Harvest Brings

I have been negligent once again in posting sermons. Will blame a busy summer season and September. I have decided to re-start my autumn now at the beginning of October so will try to do better! So much so that this is tomorrow’s sermon for St Anne’s Dropmore & St Nicolas Taplow. I haven’t been there before – will see if they invite me back!

Galatians 5:22-26 & Luke 5:1-11

I grew up just outside of Calgary, Canada between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the Canadian prairies to the east. I can picture in my mind the combines and harvesters in the fields cutting and collecting the wheat and oats in the fields around my town.

Autumn has always been my favourite season of the year – I love the smells, the colours, the change of light and mood. This weekend is also Canadian Thanksgiving, sort of like Harvest but with full-on family gatherings with turkey dinner and pumpkin pie.

I also love the change that autumn brings to life more widely as activities and programs start again, kids back at school. I think that autumn brings more change than even January does. Daylight starts to shorten so the mood changes. Our bible readings in church bring stories to challenge us and stories of celebration. At Harvest, we have opportunity to give thanks in this season of change.

Harvest is a time of change as well as a time of giving thanks. These are the 2 things I want to talk about this morning. Change and thanks. Both the readings that I chose this morning have the harvest theme of change and thanks in them.


How many of you are good with change? Some of you might embrace and others might be slower to embrace. I am good with change – I was a nurse before I was a Priest and as a nurse you learn quickly that sometimes things change quickly, and you need to response to change really fast.

Not all change is bad either or negative. Sometimes change is actually a very good thing – we may not see it at the time though. I also find that those things I want changed – never seem to change. And the things that I don’t want to change – always do!

In the Gospel story this morning we see Jesus beside a lake with a crowd of people pressing in to hear what he was saying. So much so that Jesus had to get into a boat, so he could see them all! Jesus’ teaching was gaining popularity and attention. Jesus was in the business of changing people’s lives. That is what he came to do. On this day, Jesus is going to really change the lives of his first disciples Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus invites these four ordinary fishermen to a specially favoured place beside him.
They are not going to be fishermen anymore but ‘fishers of men.’ Or people – just to be gender neutral!

Jesus wants them to stop their fishing for fish and instead go with him to tell people about God’s kingdom. This is a huge life changing event for Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. They left everything and followed Jesus. So much to gain but so much to lose! These four were business partners along with James and John’s father Zebedee. Think of old Zebedee for a moment! He was probably banking, like most Jewish father’s did, that his boys would take over the fishing business when he was done working. Even better there were 4 young, strong men to take over – his retirement is sewn up!

But then one day this Jesus comes and stands beside the lake and everything gets thrown up in the air! Retirement plans up in smoke, his sons and business partners have turned in their oars, left everything to follow this guy! I don’t know how you do when change comes likes this! I would struggle with this.

The question that gets me though: is what was so attractive about Jesus that made these four, ordinary fishermen leave their nets and boats to follow him?
Give up fishing – a lucrative family business, where you always have something to eat and not to mention the shame they would have brought on their family by leaving Zebedee literally holding the net. Was Zebedee thankful for this change? How did he adjust?

We see Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John change and grow in the Gospel stories as they follow Jesus, but we never hear about what happened to old Zebedee! Trust he was taken care of.

Anyway, being a Christian is about being changed. We are to be more like Jesus and for many of us we have things in our personalities and characters that need to change to do that. Sometimes these changes happen more slowly – over the course of many years or decades. This is the slow work of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

What is the fruit of the Spirit? Two answers to this: the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Spirit. The second is that the fruit of the Spirit is the living proof that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is one fruit – not fruits – with nine different qualities.

Think of three or four of your favourite kinds of fruit.

Now imagine one, incredibly perfect fruit that combines that best characteristics of your favourite kinds of fruit. Maybe a seedless fruit like a banana, nice and crisp like an apple, bursting with the flavours of strawberry or raspberry or nectarine – you get the idea. God is developing a fruit is His children, in us. This is what he plans to harvest! The fruit has the characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness/generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the fruit that needs to be harvested in this world of ours!


In this Harvest season of change we also need to remember to be thankful. We are to be thankful for all the God has provided for us. We need to look beyond ourselves to the world around us: for the food that is grown, the fish that are fished, the beds that we sleep in, the clothes that we wear, the schools we go to, the jobs we have, the time and money we have to spend on ourselves and others.

We also need to remember to give thanks for the people that prepare our food for us. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t grown or milled any grain, picked an apple, plucked a chicken or milked a cow or an almond recently! Let’s be thankful for the Harvest and all that it involves.

If the seasons didn’t change we wouldn’t have enough to eat. If Jesus hadn’t come to save us, to live in us, to change us – we wouldn’t be the people we are meant to be.

This is other Harvest we need to give thanks for – that is the Harvest that God is producing in our lives with the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit that is made up of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness/generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

We might not be able to harvest food, but we can harvest the fruit of the Spirit! How do we harvest this fruit? By following Jesus. The disciples dropped everything to follow him – are we willing to do the same?

Are we harvesting what we should in our lives? Or do we need some changes in the field?

In this Harvest season, let’s be reminded once again of the change the comes with the changing of a season and the good things that change brings. The physical harvest of the trees and fields makes way for new crops next season.

So it is with us – as God changes us, we produce new and better fruit in our Spirit. The fruit that is needed in our families, communities, church and world.

Change can come really quickly – like for those first disciples who gave up everything to follow Jesus. Are we ready for change like that? Change also comes more slowly in the way that fruit grows.

Be thankful for the changes that comes with a new season and for the Harvest that is gathered. It is not our doing but God’s. Being thankful for the seemingly small things make us thankful for the bigger things. Be thankful for the love of God – the love that transforms and changes us for the better as his perfect fruit grows in each of us.