3rd May 2020 - Ascension Day
Good morning to you all. I hope you are managing well in these difficult times. It is good to worship together and you have the opportunity to praise God by singing “I know that my Redeemer lives”.
I KNOW that my redeemer lives,
What joy the blest assurance gives!
He lives triumphant o'er the grave,
He lives omnipotent to save.
And above the rest this note shall swell,
This note shall swell, this note shall swell;
And above the rest this note shall swell,
My Jesus hath done all things well.
He lives to bless me with His love,
He lives to plead my cause above,
He lives to silence all my fears,
He lives to wipe away my tears.
As we prepare for prayer let us listen to the wonderful song by Tom Fettke based on the words of Psalm 8.
We thank you for giving us Jesus, for his life death and resurrection whilst here on earth as a man. We thank you and praise you for all that this means to us:- for his example in showing us how to live, for his dying so that we might find salvation, for his rising to confirm our salvation and to confirm our hope of eternal life with you. As we pray today we praise you that Jesus is interceding on our behalf and so we can confidently before you with our prayers.
We pray for our world with all its potential and yet so beset with problems. Lord we thank you that you have the ultimate victory and that your plan is enfolding itself. We would, however, pray for those suffering for whatever cause and that they will feel something of your love at this time. We think of all those involved with COVID-19 virus:- those going through it and those who are fearful of their lives, those working with patients in hospitals, care homes and in the community, other front line workers who also at risk, and those who are bereaved of loved ones of loved ones. We pray that all may know something of your comfort at this time. At this moment we bring to you those we know who need your protection and so we spend a moment in silence whilst we think of those we know and bring them to you in our silence…….
We think of those in our corps fellowship who need our prayers in a special way….
Now we bring our worship before you and ask that although separated physically we will be united with each other because we are of one mind and purpose. May we feel your holy Spirit filling each of us anew, find encouragement in you and be challenged to me more like you adorned with your holiness. At the same time we pray for our Salvation Army. May we focus on our mission during these difficult days, wait on you, and we pray that you will raise up leaders both locally, nationally and internationally.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus.
Part 1 Introduction
The Western Church recognises Thursday, 24th May, as Ascension Day. But it is probably the least celebrated of the special dates in the Christian Calendar. Many denominations tend to give some thought to the significance of the day on the following Sunday and it is also a moveable feast just Like Easter and Pentecost Sunday. The Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate these days in different weeks but follow the same pattern that Ascension Day is 40 days after Easter and Pentecost is 50 days after Easter. At this point I should mention that The Salvation Army, in common with other denominations in Switzerland, celebrates Ascension Day in a much more significant way, because Ascension Day is recognised as a public holiday
In the past, however, much more attention was given to the celebration of Christ’s ascension to Heaven. It was a time to worship but there arose a ritual called “Beating the Bounds”. Each parish boundary was marked out by the boys of the parish being chased round the parish boundaries by some of the men who bearing sticks beat the boys when they caught up with them. The idea behind this was probably twofold:- to teach the boys how far they could wander within the bounds of the parish, but I suspect also to teach the boys not to push too far the limits of misbehaviour, thus we have the term “pushing their boundaries”. I wonder if the idea of a policeman doing his beat also comes from this custom. This ritual is still carried out in some parishes today but the sticks are used to beat the ground not boys,
When I was teaching at Holy Trinity School in Southport, it was the custom that the school choir went to the top of the church tower to sing ,:-
Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia!
To his throne above the skies. Alleluia!
Christ, the lamb for sinners given, Alleluia!
Enters now the highest Heaven! Alleluia!
I need to say that there were approximately 40 children in the choir and they had to climb about 150 steps to the top of the tower and were accompanied by the Vicar, the headteacher, the choir pianist and myself. The stair way was uneven and exposed the only barrier to keep people from falling was a cord supported by posts placed at irregular intervals. Nevertheless, the Vicar had carried on this tradition for many years and thankfully no accident had occurred. This year was no exception but many of the choir were rather breathless. I was accompanying the singing on my cornet and had decided to play in the key of G but instead of playing G as the first note, I pitched the C above so nothing daunted I carried on in this key which meant that the top note in concert pitch was G. All went well for the first verse but as the song went on for 7 verses the strain began to tell on us all. So great relief was had by all when the singing had finished. Following the singing there was a time to take in the view. From the tower could be seen some of the hills of the lake District, the Pennines, the Forest of Bowland and Snowdonia. The Ilse of Man was also clearly visible on that day along with 2 oil rigs in the Irish Sea. Needless to say, the rest of the day the children were exceptionally quiet. The Vicar retired that year and the new Vicar decided that this venture was too dangerous to continue so at least I was not blamed for the fact that this celebration was discontinued!
The event had proved to be a positive witness for the fact the Christ is alive in Heaven for many passers-by could hear the singing and had commented about it to the Vicar or the headteacher.
Part 2 What the Bible says
Let us turn to the Bible to remind ourselves what Scripture says about the first Ascension Day. Matthew concludes his gospel with the the great commission
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 1Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Mark 16: 15-21 gives a slightly different stance but essentially the commission is the same:-
He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on people who are ill, and they will get well.’ After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 2Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
John refers indirectly to the Ascension when he rebukes Peter when Peter tries to find out what God’s will is for John, Jesus emphasises the need for each of us to follow him in the way God’s will is for us. In other words we each have a unique purpose ii God’s plan and should concentrate on accomplishing it, but we should encourage each other in God’s service.
John 21:20-23 says:-
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’) When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’
Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.’ Because of this, the rumour spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?’
Luke mention the Ascension in his Gospel and gives a clue as to where it took place but gives more information in Acts 1:6-11.
Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
7 He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 1 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Two important points from this passage are that God’s work on earth did not finish with Jesus’ ascension to heaven but there was a promise of greater things to come. So what was to come and what was the condition that the disciples had to obey?
They had to be obedient and return to Jerusalem. This place seethed with danger for them because the Jewish authorities were still concerned about what had happened to Jesus and did not want rumours that he was still alive spreading. There they engaged in in prayer with some of the prominent followers of Jesus and also with Jesus’ brothers. The promise was fulfilled in God’s own time - the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. This, of course had been established by God himself through Moses (Deuteronomy 16). This feast was originally called the Feast of the weeks but the Greek translation of this was Pentecost and was one of the celebrations of harvest. It was a must for all Jews to attend. What a harvest this was to be! The constant prating to this day brought the group to be as one in their hearts and minds, This led to transforming them to people filled with the Holy Spirit and able to work miracles in God’s name, beginning with the conversion about three thousand souls. So the disciples were filled with new power.
Part 3 What is the significance for us?
At the beginning of this message I referred to the custom of “beating the bounds”. I ask myself, “Just what are my boundaries?” “Are they the boundaries God has set for me or are they of my own making or even what others expect of me?”
It is so easy for us (me included) to live within our comfort zones and thus fail to reach our spiritual potential. We may say that we have clear boundaries regarding sin, but the world has often blurred these boundaries by modifying what was once was clear. Sometimes are boundaries are artificially created to suit a particular culture. I remember the time when I was holidaying with my parents at a Salvation Army holiday home. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon and cricket was on television. Many of the male and some female officers were watching it and I was also amongst those present. There was nothing wrong with that! But, o dear, in the evening Football was being shown and I dared to watch it. From the officers’ reaction I had committed a mortal sin! Sometimes tradition plays a part in deciding what is correct. I wonder how old time salvationists would feel about the modern practice of having only one or two meetings on a Sunday? I expect we can all think of examples of tradition which have set artificial boundaries. There are boundaries set by outside agencies. I think of gambling as being legal, and new forms of gambling being legalised and even encouraged without regard for the consequences which affect many people either directly or indirectly and so the list can go on.
God, however, has set his own boundaries for our good. Not all these boundaries are negative “Thou shalt nots”, but there are many positive boundaries which give us extraordinary freedom and power. We must not set limits on these boundaries. The greatest example we have is God, through Jesus providing a way back to him by Jesus’ death on the cross – his resurrection giving us real hope for eternity and his promise of the continued help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s power offers an almost infinite or should I say infinite source of spiritual help. Do we use this resource, or our lives limited by our own imposed limits? What a wonderful future lies before us if only we can truly trust and go his way! Today is Candidate’s Sunday within the Salvation Army and whilst most of us are too old to contemplate officership we can all be challenged in our service for God. There are some young enough and with lots of potential, Others of us can consider how we are serving God , not only in quantity of service but in quality of service. God gave his all for us. No one can out give God, but we can all respond positively to want He wants us do and be for him. Let us, therefore, walk the beat that God has planned for us! Go in the strength of the Lord!
MY ALL IS ON THE ALTAR - listen here
Father God, We pray that you give us all the patience and wisdom we need to keep us safe during this pandemic, but more than that, may we learn spiritual patience and wisdom to wait on you for all that you want us to have. Help us to set your boundaries for our lives and not to hinder you in developing our spiritual potential. May we enjoy complete freedom in you. We ask that people respond to your call, confident in your will for them and that they may know your seal of your purpose in their lives. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BENEDICTION: listen here
Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing,
God never changeth!
Patient endurance attaineth to all things,
Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.
Thank you for reading
Written by Major Peter K
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