I Love Gardens

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I Love Gardens
Easter Sunday
20th April 2014
by Rev Charmaine Braatvedt

John 20: 1 – 18
I love Gardens. I am not a very good gardener, but I do appreciate having a nice garden and one of my favourite people is Jim Hoole, who is the man who tends my garden at home for me.

In today’s reading Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener as she tries to process the the fact that his body is missing from the tomb in the garden.

There is a lovely poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney called God’s Garden and the last verse of this poem is on a plaque hanging in the Garden of Remembrance next to the Church.

The verse reads as follows:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

Why are gardens so special?

Perhaps they enable us to be creative as we have been born in the creative image of God.

Perhaps because they are places where we are at one with nature

Perhaps because they are places where we are able to be nurturers and to be nurtured

Perhaps because they are places where we see the full cycle of life played out for us before our very eyes.

Life, death and new life.

Easter is a time when we reflect on life, death and new life and the role that Love with a capital L plays in that cycle.

The biblical narrative is neatly supported by three gardens and I would like to look at the meaning of Easter in terms of these three gardens:

· The Garden of Eden

· The Garden of Gethsemane

· The Garden of the empty Tomb.

1. The Garden of Eden is the biblical garden of God described in the book of Genesis chapters 2 and 3. The word Eden means fruitful and well watered in Aramaic. So in love, God created a beautiful garden which he intended to share with the human beings he had created and whom he loved. Here we discover the creative and constructive nature of love. This garden was watered by the rivers of life and love. In this Garden people were free from sin and it was a place of innocence. Here God ordained that people would be loved by him and would live a free life, untainted by any knowledge of evil.

However we all know how the story goes. Humans having been created with the ability to love were also given free will. Love by its nature cannot be forced and so along with love must come free will.

Perversely humans chose to use their free will to explore evil and so Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the forbidden fruit. This left the world with the corrupting problem of sin and evil.

With the demise of their innocence Adam and Eve were forced to exit the lovely garden God had created for them.

Outside of this idyllic state of innocence, humans found themselves struggling to remain in right relationship with God, the author of Love. The choice they had made meant that they were no longer in right relationship with God. It meant that they had forfeited their place in the royal Garden and they had lost their inheritance of eternal life.

2. This brings us to the second Garden. The Garden of Gethsemane. Here in this Garden we find Jesus the Christ, the one sent by God to save humans from the corruption of sin, love made flesh and dwelling amongst us, God incarnate.

Sin is present in this garden also, for it is here, on the Mount of Olives, that Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. A kiss is normally a sign of love. Judas not only betrays Jesus but also betrays love with that kiss. Yet unlike the Garden of Eden, in this garden sin is defeated by love. In this garden we see the sacrificial nature of love. Jesus, faced with the pain and suffering of his immanent passion and death, is literally sweating blood from anxiety until he finally chooses to use his free will to sacrifice his own life in the interests of restoring a right relationship between God and humans. “Father let this cup pass from me, but not my will rather thy will be done.” This decision leads to the crucifixion and death of Love at the hand of the destructive forces of evil.

3. The third garden is the Garden of the Empty Tomb. Here after three days, love is resurrected for all those who choose to believe and to follow Jesus. Here in this garden we see love conquering death and the legacy of the Garden of Eden has been overcome. So we see the power of love in this garden.

Herein lies the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, because here in this garden, Jesus offers new life to those who choose to follow him.

This is the story of redemption. Herein also lies the meaning of Jesus’ death and passion.

These three gardens hold the key to God’s plan to restore right relationship with humanity.

In these three gardens we see the struggle between love and death, good and evil and in the resurrection of Jesus, we see love triumph over death.

So in each Garden we discover a vital characteristic of love and we see God’s love for humankind to unfold.

In the first garden, the Garden of Eden, we see the creativity of love and God’s plan for a perfect environment for humans and his creation to flourish. This plan is railroaded by evil.

In the second garden, the Garden of Eden we see the solution to the problem of evil and the sacrificial nature of love as Jesus offers himself to be a living sacrifice in the interests of love.

In the third garden, the Garden of the Tomb we see the power of love to overcome death and evil and God’s promise of eternal life is manifest.

So, God the author of love, outworks his loving plan to save humanity on the stage of these three gardens.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth.

How will you choose today?

It is a time-honoured tradition for Christians, the followers of Christ to renew their Baptismal vows on Easter Day.

In doing so we once again choose the path of Love, we choose to be in right relationship with God and we choose as followers of Christ to be inheritors of the eternal life he promises us in his death and resurrection.

How will you choose today?

At our Baptism we responded to God’s love and were through the sacrament of Baptism, made to be children of God, followers of Christ as the way the truth and the life. It is fitting on the day when we remember the resurrection of Jesus to renew that commitment to following him. So I ask you who feel the call of Christ on your life to stand with the rest of your church family and together let us renew our Baptismal vows.

AMEN.

A Revelation Of God’s Love

A Revelation Of God’s Love
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Sunday 8:00am service

4th May 2014,

Acts 2: 14a, 36 – 41
Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them:

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

The First Converts

37 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?’ 38Peter 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. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Luke 24: 13 – 35

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

***

Most of us with English backgrounds have embedded in our literary and religious psyches the words of the King James Bible and one of the Scriptures that has come down in popular parlance is Proverbs 29: 18 that reads Where there is no vision, the people perish

However, a more accurate, if less entertaining translation is the NIV (New International Version): Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, reveals himself to two disciples, doesn’t he?

Revelation, the flow of communication from God to each one of us, is critical to our well-being. It is our life-blood. Without it we indeed perish. We are as good as dead – or we cast off restraint, which by implication means we adopt ways that lead to death; and not just spiritual death.

And revelation is not simply cognitive. It is a heart understanding, or more accurately a profound enlivening of our spirits by the presence and insight granted us by God’s Holy Spirit within us.

And you reveal yourself to someone you love, don’t you?

Which calls to mind our reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost.

I’m not sure about you but there are times in my life when I wonder what this obsession with sin is all about. And no, I’m not casting off restraint and about to perish. There really is a danger that our view of salvation can be limited to forgiveness for our transgressions, our misdemeanours; that pleasing God is simply a matter of sanitised behaviour.

I think this tendency is fuelled by an over-reliance on The Book of Common Prayer – on Archbishop Cranmer’s theology that careers at times between early sixteenth century Catholicism and the Puritanism of his time. That of course is a gross simplification of both Cranmer and the Prayer Book but then as people we do gross simplification all too well.

The problem lies in our understanding of sin. Terms like miserable offenders do not help. Sin at its heart is separation from God, whatever its cause. Its most likely cause, if we carefully examine the story of the Fall, is our playing God, whether that is declaring independence from God or manipulating the world for our own advantage – not giving God room to act but believing that our responsibility is to make decisions on his behalf.

Sin is so much broader than the transgression of a moral code.

Which means salvation is much broader than forgiveness of sin and a ticket to heaven. Salvation is broader too than healing of body, soul and spirit. It is more too than an assurance of communal well-being for the people of God. Broader even than the vision of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus who said, (Vs 21 we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.)

In fact the resurrection of Jesus – the reversal of death (which as we all should know is caused by sin) hails the restoration of the whole of creation. The resurrection of Jesus is a mighty signal from God that everything he has created is loved passionately by God and is to be rescued from degradation and returned to the state for which he created it in the first place. That is why Paul links the eventual physical resurrection of the believer to Christ’s physical resurrection. God eventually wins and has his way.

This too is why Jesus came, not as a ghostly spirit figure, but as a flesh and blood person who fully shared our humanity. His sharing our physical humanity was a sign that God is interested in more than just our souls.

In fact God is interested in every part of us, warts and all.

Jesus came bodily into our midst. God became flesh – was incarnated in the world.

And while Jesus may now be seated at the right hand of God, by the Holy Spirit he remains here as the head of the church. The church – his body on earth. We are in a very real sense the hands and feet of Christ here on earth.

And Jesus left us with a command that In the Eucharist we ingest him body and blood, substantial and life-giving.

From 1 Corinthians 11: the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

He’s coming back, not simply to reveal himself to one or two, as he did on the road to Emmaus, but to all humankind – because he loves everyone – and to restore all things.

Yes, when the assembled crowd on the Day of Pentecost asked, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter 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.

Individual repentance and salvation are important because our sins – the things we do wrong – are evidence of a life moving away from God, evidence of a sinful state, our playing God every now and again.

But those who were individually saved formed themselves into a community – the church – and it is in the context of the church – God’s hands and feet in the world – that we make Eucharist together.

It is no co-incidence that in Vs 35 we read how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Spiritual truth is not divorced from spiritual action.

The breaking of the bread. There is a mystical link between our eating the bread – the body of Christ – and our being the Body of Christ (the church) together.

But notice how Jesus prepared the two travellers: Vs. 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

And Vs. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

Jesus spent time opening up the scriptures to the two travellers because the scriptures testify about him. Scripture is vital for revelation, but it is in the breaking of bread that their eyes are opened. Full revelation comes in a practical context – not simply a head space.

But one final point. The real reason Jesus joined these two travellers to Emmaus in the first place was because they had their minds on him. Vs. 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.

Revelation follows meditation.

May our minds be on Christ. When you’re in love your mind constantly moves towards your beloved. Nobody loves us like Jesus does. And as I said earlier, he loves us warts and all.

So to summarise, Jesus comes alongside the disciples when their minds are on him, when they are discussing the events of the last few days. That’s the first stage of revelation. He then opens the Scriptures to them, explaining how they testify of him, and their hearts burn within them as the revelation goes up a notch. It is finally when they break bread together that the full realisation hits them. They are with Jesus.

That’s a little like our services, isn’t it? We arrive and focus our minds on Jesus. Then the word is opened to us in the sentence, the reading of the Scriptures and the sermon. And finally we break bread together and we fellowship, mystically, with both God and one another.

John Legend has a song out at the moment called All of Me. The words of the chorus go like this:

‘Cause all of me

Loves all of you

Love your curves and all your edges

All your perfect imperfections

Give your all to me

I’ll give my all to you

You’re my end and my beginning

Even when I lose I’m winning

‘Cause I give you all of me

And you give me all of you,

He doesn’t place conditions on his love. He doesn’t wait for us to co-operate with him or to declare ourselves for his purposes. He gives all of himself to us because he loves all of us. He loves us and therefore reveals himself to us.

His mind is on us.

Let our minds be on him.

AMEN.

Handling Disappointment

Handling Disappointment
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Sunday, Evensong
Sunday 4th May, 2014

Haggai 1: 13 – 2: 9
13Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message, saying, I am with you, says the Lord. 14And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month.

The Future Glory of the Temple

2In the second year of King Darius,1in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. 8The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9The latter splendour of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 17

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

***

After the reign of King Solomon the Kingdom of Israel split in two – the ten northern tribes taking the name Israel, and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south taking the name Judah.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and most of the able people deported to Nineveh in about 721 BC. The descendants of the remnant left behind were known in Jesus’ day as the Samaritans.

The Southern Kingdom of Judah succumbed to the power of the Babylonian Empire and was exiled to Babylon in about 586 BC for a period of more or less 70 years. The Jews, as they were now known, unlike their northern counterparts, returned to Israel under the leadership of people like Ezra and Nehemiah. Out of the ruins of Jerusalem the walls of the city were rebuilt and finally a second temple was constructed – a very disappointing structure compared to the original temple built by King Solomon.

We read in Ezra 3: 12 – 13 But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

Those who knew the former temple wept aloud with disappointment.

Disappointment is a difficult thing to handle. Whether you have let yourself down or whether you have been let down by someone else, it is tough to ride out disappointment.

Disappointment not only shatters one’s dreams in the feelings of loss it engenders, but leaves the ashes of bitter experience in one’s mouth: an unpleasant situation which is the unexpected reality one has to deal with on an ongoing basis.

The people of Judah had always been proud of the first temple. God had blessed it with a glorious sense of his presence. It had been the centre of their universe – the home of God amongst the people of God – a situation unique in all the earth. The temple had given them a sense of being a special people with a special mission but all that lay shattered before them as they viewed the paltry house of worship we know as the second temple.

Disappointment can be a lonely experience too because not everyone sees or experiences it the way you do. They may have had lesser expectations. We read, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.

Some were ecstatic. They were blind to what those weeping could see – namely that the second temple was a sad reflection of the first.

I think the most pertinent example of this kind of disappointment is experienced by people in abusive relationships, where nobody else can see or understand what they are going through. This can affect human relationships in marriages, in the workplace – anywhere where people come together for a greater purpose.

How disappointing it is for the battered woman whose dreams of a godly and happy marriage founder on the rocks of an abusive man who has never resolved the power issues he first faced as a child. Especially when no-one else sees the dark side of his behaviour.

How disappointing it is for a principled worker whose dreams of a life of meaningful and honest employment are shattered by an employer whose private fears and insecurities lead him to carry out a double life – respectability in the face of the public and a manipulative lack of integrity in the workplace itself. Especially when no-one else suspects that there are cracks under the façade.

But next to the disappointment people feel when let down by the members of their family, is the constant and nagging disappointment we feel when we have let ourselves down; whether it be in not reaching our potential, in unwise decision-making, in moral compromise or in a poor response to an unfortunate turn of events.

Letting oneself down is the bitterest pill to swallow, because we have no-one to blame but ourselves.

But what does God have to say about this? Well, in our reading this evening from the prophet Haggai, quite a lot.

The first thing to do is not to try and paper over the truth. Face the situation squarely. God speaks through Haggai to the leaders of the new community and says 3Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?

It is difficult to admit these things. But whether you are victim or perpetrator, it is essential for healing.

In the very next verse Haggai proclaims, 4Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord;

Courage. Three times in one verse they are enjoined to take courage. Achieving anything takes courage because in any endeavour there is the risk of failure. But with God in the picture we can happily take courage if we’ve taken the first step of honesty. Courage is important because without it we will remain inactive, and as we will see in the very next word uttered by the prophet, there is a call to action.

take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,

Work. Do something. Some have said doing something – anything – is helpful. But God encourages them to work – to continue with the task in hand, no matter how disappointing the situation appears to be. Life is not perfect and it is normally people who are the fly in the ointment. Never allow that to discourage you: work, for as the prophet says, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,

God seldom promises to rescue us from tough times, but he always promises to be with us in them. That is so important to remember. God does not abandon us. As David famously said, Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

And God is with us, as Verse 5 says, 5according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt

The reason we can move forward without fear is because God is a promise-keeping God and has promised to be with us. My spirit abides among you; do not fear

And finally, whether in this life or the next 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.

This is a promise worth recalling. At some point all will be made well.

When disappointment comes – as it surely will – we need to acknowledge that in a fallen world these things are bound to happen. We need to face up to the reality of our situation, take courage because God promises to be with us in all that we do, and move forward.

The most important thing is to learn from our mistakes, whether we have made them or they have been made by others to our disadvantage. Paul in 1 Corinthians gives us a clear steer that we need to be careful how we build. The foundation is Christ and so our building must be Christ-like.

But God is merciful and where we have built inadequately, the fire of testing will destroy the un-Christlike work but the builder will be saved.

However, there is a stern warning for the abusive. Let us be scrupulously honest as to how we relate to other people. We are not the only people God cares for and that means we need to tread carefully when it comes to the abuse of others. Our reading from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth ends, 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

As Christians the hallmark of our lives should be love. William Vanstone, in his book Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, suggests we use three marks as a touchstone to measure whether we are compromising love.

The mark of limitation. This is when we limit the love we are prepared to give someone. Love is conditional or at best it is downgraded to kindness that costs little. In effect love is withdrawn when we lay down conditions as to the circumstances under which we are prepared to love.

The second is the mark of control. This is where the one who professes to love is in control of the person loved. Love is not self-seeking and control whether by manipulation or more direct methods is not loving.

The third is the mark of detachment. This is where one withdraws emotionally from the person we profess to love, where we are not prepared to be vulnerable.

All these marks – things that deny the authenticity of love – are a destruction of the temple of God: of another person made in the image of God. They deny freedom and freedom is the essence of love. We do not love expecting something in return – not as Christians we don’t.

When we limit the love we are prepared to give, when we seek to control someone, when we detach ourselves from them – no matter how we try and hide it – they have an uncanny ability to sense what is happening. We are very good at fooling ourselves in these matters but we seldom fool those affected by our false love.

But let’s not let disappointment overwhelm us. When we feel our love fading, the voice of Haggai should ring clear, “Courage, courage, courage … and work.”

And when we do, let us walk carefully, preserving the holiness of our fellows – especially those over whom we have power – for God’s care for them is fierce.

Sgt. Phil Esterhaus, on the TV police programme Hill Street Blues, ended the introductory roll call to each week’s show with “Let’s be careful out there”.

Let’s do so indeed.

AMEN.

Answered Prayer

Answered Prayer
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
1st June, 2014

Acts 1: 6 – 14
The Ascension of Jesus

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.’ 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

John 17: 1 – 11

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

***

If your billionaire uncle, who loved you very much, was about to jump on a plane, and you knew you’d not see him again, what would you ask him for? I’m willing to bet it would probably be the thing uppermost in your mind that would pop out.

On resurrection day, as Jesus listens to the two disciples (who as you recall didn’t recognise him on the road to Emmaus), they express their biggest disappointment to him. “ … but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” they say (Luke 24: 21)

In our reading from Acts 1 Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, (I mean he’s literally about to take off), and the apostles get in a last request, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’

It’s certainly clear what they want, isn’t it? It’s presented in the form of a question but we know it’s a request really!

7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.’

Jesus distracts the disciples. He changes the subject, and he tells them to expect the Holy Spirit and then get on with the real task – witnessing to him to the ends of the earth.

Being given a job to carry out to the ends of the earth quickly changes things. In essence they are given an answer that represents something other than the thing they long for, something God wants and which he knows is a far better thing; better for them and better for humankind. He will empower them for service in the Kingdom of God.

Beverly and I have been asked to share with you an example of a prayer request being answered by God and what I share illustrates that God answers prayer but, just as for our nationalistic disciples, it’s not necessarily what we expect: it’s normally better for us and for humankind.

The story begins with someone I know very well indeed. Henry is Faith’s Zimbabwean cousin and a remarkable man of God. Through sheer hard work Henry had saved up and bought a small farm that he believed God would use as a base to do great things for God.

All was going well until a group of politically and criminally motivated thugs arrived and informed him that they were taking his farm. He had two hours to get off. It was illegal but that’s what happens in Zimbabwe and the courts are so corrupt, fighting these land invasions is a waste of time.

Henry addressed the man they identified as the new owner and said, Philemon, as much as I have nowhere to go, and you have taken my life-long dream away from me in one day, I am not going to be bitter or angry with you. I want to bless you as you come onto this farm. I will assist you wherever I can. I want you to enjoy this farm as I have enjoyed it.

As a result he was given three months to vacate the land.

At the time Henry wrote, So to those who have heard about our farm grab. Please don’t on my account fan the flames of racial hatred and bitterness. Rather put your own trust completely in our dear Heavenly Father, and wait to see how wonderfully He is going to turn this situation for His glory!!

It was at this stage as I recall that Brecon’s Home Group began to pray for Henry and his wife Mandy.

Henry then heard that Philemon was ill. He offered to pray for him and he was healed! He then began to back off the farm grab. It looked as though Henry might be able to keep his farm.

However, the evil that is afoot in Zimbabwe was not about to abate. Others in the group brought what amounted to trumped up charges against Henry and a draining legal battle began. It became clear that Henry was facing a seven year jail term. Mandy suffered a breakdown and the couple fled the country with only the clothes on their backs and their suitcases.

To their credit, Brecon’s Home Group were praying regularly for Henry during the long court case and I was able to give them the occasional snippets of feedback, but the picture grew murky around the time of their escape from Zimbabwe for obvious reasons.

But the prayers continued and the Afrikaans press in South Africa publicised Henry’s story widely.

A group of people in Bloemfontein took Henry and Mandy under their wing, and provided them with a fully furnished home and a vehicle. Henry grew to be in great demand, especially in rural areas, as a preacher. Literally thousands of farmers in South Africa have been murdered since the ANC came into power and people wanted to hear from Henry. His loving response to aggressive hatred drew people to hear him minister. Henry’s ministry mushroomed and the demand has not abated after many months.

Initially Henry longed to keep his farm. But as things seemed to go from bad to worse, as prayers went up for him and Mandy from various corners of the world, God answered his prayer by giving them something far better; better for them and better for the many people who are being reached by his ministry.

About a month ago Henry was preaching in Auckland and popped along to Holy Trinity just in time for a cup of tea outside the hall. He wanted to thank the people who had prayed for him. I arrived back from Helensville and joined Faith, Henry and Mandy at the Navy Museum for lunch. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the love of Christ he exudes.

The ministry of prayer which we offer at Holy Trinity had much to do with enabling Henry and Mandy to experience God’s goodness in a remarkable way. Our prayers are still blessing hundreds of people in the ministry Henry now exercises in South Africa and beyond.

God answers prayer.

Amen.