From Acts of the Apostles
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
1 The Lord is king: let the earth rejoice; •
let the multitude of the isles be glad.
2 Clouds and darkness are round about him; •
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him •
and burns up his enemies on every side.
4 His lightnings lit up the world; •
the earth saw it and trembled.
5 The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, •
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
6 The heavens declared his righteousness, •
and all the peoples have seen his glory.
7 Confounded be all who worship carved images
and delight in mere idols. •
Bow down before him, all you gods.
8 Zion heard and was glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoiced, •
because of your judgements, O Lord.
9 For you, Lord, are most high over all the earth; •
you are exalted far above all gods.
10 The Lord loves those who hate evil; •
he preserves the lives of his faithful
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light has sprung up for the righteous •
and joy for the true of heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, •
and give thanks to his holy name.
‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’
Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
‘It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.’
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
Sermon for Easter 7
You couldn’t ignore the football news lately, could you? Even my favourite Radio 3 nodded in that direction – over half the news bulletin was taken up with it and during the morning programme they were even asking for suggestions of music reflecting the significance of Leicester. It seems Jamie Vardy is everyone’s hero at the moment, isn’t he? Why? What can we learn from a footballer?
Vardy is hardly a saint or divine, so it may be inappropriate to consider him here in church, but I think we can learn something from him, if we try. Have any of you watched Leicester play in the premier league? I was always amazed at the hard work Vardy put in during a game, always chasing down the ball in the other half. Sadly he spoiled his good impression just a few games ago by getting two yellow cards and consequently he received a red card. It all points to the passion he has for the game. We all make mistakes in the heat of the moment, and so did he. Vardy points me to the manager who is ever so understated in his interviews with the press. Ranieri always accepted the referee’s decisions and he was happy at the performance of all his players.
All that Leicester showed us was the best of the beautiful game. They never stopped working hard for each other. Ranieri supported his men all the time. I enjoyed watching Leicester in their few minutes of fame on Match of the Day – those moments were inspiring. For those of us who enjoy watching football played at its best, the Leicester team was heroic. So what can we learn from these men as they pass by on our screens so late at night?
I am reminded of Paul’s saying that we are athletes setting out on preparation for a great race – we need to pommel our bodies into submission, to get them to peak fitness. We might shadow-box to improve our reflexes. All of this is because we have a great prize ahead of us – the one prize which surpasses all others, the one prize for which we would forsake all else to obtain, Jesus’ pearl of great price. That sounds like all my Leicester team, doesn’t it? They have risked all for the Championship, haven’t they? They have overcome injuries and trained and studied their game in order to win their prize.
There is a difference, though, isn’t there? The prize we seek has nothing to do with the world around us – but it has all to do with the world in which we live and move and have our being. Even the soccer stars admit to brotherly love toward each other. How different is that to our love toward one another here in this stadium of worship? We all love one another just as Jesus asked us, don’t we? We all show that love and the world scoffs.
Jesus says, “‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.’” This is what we know to be the case. The world of champions and stars has no idea that money and adulation all fade to nothing once they are traded or the team is relegated. We have a consciousness of something remote from our everyday pursuits; we look for something longer- lasting than all those things we can’t take with us. We are happy to be poor and meek. We have been blessed by Jesus, haven’t we? The race we run is long term – we contend for the Kingdom of Heaven, an eternity, not the fifteen minutes of fame our contemporary celebrities attain. We are competing against our selves for the greatest prize of all – salvation – and, I would say, no one immersed in the world looks for that. Or am I wrong?
The world does not comprehend the message of salvation, I say. Perhaps I don’t either, but my reading of the gospel lesson today sends me in the right direction – at least I hope it does.
I have been listening to the preaching and teaching of Jesus and these words give me hope. “‘I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’”
This morning’s reading is taken from the section in the Gospel of John called “The Farewell Discourses.” I think it is right that we are reading it today, for in the liturgical year we have just celebrated the Ascension, when Jesus has risen up to heaven after his harrowing of hell. We are being addressed again by Jesus as he leaves us to carry on with the commandment he gave us – that we love God and one another. All through the Easter season, love has made itself known.
Just last week we were reminded that we need to show that we are Jesus’ disciples by living out the love of Christ with one another, else how would anyone know that we believed in God through Jesus Christ? How would the world know anything about the contest we undertake?
This week we are given a promise that the love of Father to Son will be part of our lives, that God in Christ will be in our lives. He promised the paraclete who will comfort us and keep the teachings of Jesus to the front of our minds. What a promise! Has anyone else made such a pledge to us?
However, to understand that prospect means that we have to comprehend something the world does not – something we don’t usually think about. Right from the beginning of the gospel, John tells us that the divine is not grasped by or in the world. Here we have in Jesus’ words of farewell, a warning of that same egregious position of humanity. This Farewell Discourse is not one to make us anxious or despondent. Jesus relates an expectation of life in all its fullness, a life underpinned by his teachings, a life experienced in love, a life for which we are truly thankful and ready to stake all on the race we are running to that ultimate prize which only I know as I pound through the pain barrier to the finish line, completing the life of belief here and now in anticipation of heaven.
This is a real experience of that timeless reality of faith, hope and love. The greatest of these gifts is eternity in itself, especially when it is a love that turns us from God to our fellows and our selves, especially when we turn from our selves, to our fellows and to God. When we practice this love in our race, that race to the ultimate championship, we know what the world doesn’t – that love itself is its own reward and sets us in a time and space where God is here and now. When the sacred pierces the appearance of the profane to reveal holiness all around us, the uncomprehending world gives way to the wisdom of the sacred Kingdom of Heaven where we will be at rest with Jesus.