Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 21/05/2020
Hello everyone, welcome to video no. 10. This will be released on Ascension Day, one of the great festivals of the Christian year. I thought I should go up a little higher to mark the occasion, so I’m here on the Palace roof. I say, “great festival,” although often we don’t quite know what to do with it. I have to confess, when I was a parish priest one year it slipped off the service rota and I only realised two days later. No-one complained – although if any of you would like to you’re too late for a CDM, its out of time!
Artists have portrayed it in various ways. I believe the Sistine Chapel has a section of two feet disappearing in to a cloud. For the NT writers, the ascension is highly significant. In Jewish culture, to be crucified was a sign of shame and divine disapproval. They therefore saw the ascension as a vindication, almost an enthronement. Jesus affirms this in his post resurrection appearance recorded at the end of Matthew’s gospel – “all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Paul’s letter to the Philippians talks of Jesus being exalted by God to the highest place and the book of Revelation is full of throne imagery, occupied by Jesus as a little lamb. Once again, Jesus’ view of authority and ours are very different.
To talk about God’s authority over the world is hard to do in this time of Covid-19. In this, we find ourselves in the same place as many of the Bible’s writers. Their thoughts are recorded with brutal honesty. I paraphrase somewhat, “we believe you are in control, but forgive us if we feel it doesn’t much look like it!” Some theologians have sought to qualify this sense of God’s sovereignty, limiting it. That has never seemed to me to sit very well with the Bible’s claim that the unfolding of events has God’s hand upon it, without overriding human free will and responsibility. In a time of global catastrophe saying God is in control is hard, but saying he isn’t seems to me even worse. If we believe the former, we have enough unequivocal evidence of God being for the world and loving it to the uttermost, at least to trust something meaningful is going on. If we say he isn’t, then all we can say about him is that he’s wound the world up like a clockwork toy and left us to get on with it. Intercessory prayer would just be futile.
Surely, the story we have been telling since Advent in our services is of a God who intervenes by becoming a human being and dying to change the world. We pray in the Lord’s prayer, your kingdom come, which presupposes it hasn’t come yet and that our praying might hasten the process. We pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” which presupposes our dependence on God to provide for us. In Britain’s darkest hour in 1940 the King called the nation to a day of prayer and fasting. We may be embarrassed as a nation to talk about that now, but less so the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk which happened very soon afterwards. God’s sovereignty and the exact relationship between his action and our praying is a deeply mysterious thing. The scriptures are maddeningly silent. But they do encourage us to pray. Jesus encourages persistence; Paul suggests we pray continually for more or less every subject under the sun. They all encourage us to pray with the expectation that such prayer will make a difference to circumstances.
This is not a simple commercial transaction: put in 15 units of prayer and you should expect 15 units of blessing out. Jesus is not at our beck and call, but he seems to like it when we show up. The fact that we make prayer a priority says something about our sense of dependence. We recognise that the building of the kingdom of God isn’t simply a matter of our strategic thinking, inspirational leadership, beautiful worship or eloquent and convincing apologetics, important though those things are. Ultimately, people come to faith when the Holy Spirit stirs their hearts, opening them up to their need for God. It happens when the right juxtaposition of circumstances opens their eyes to the possibility that they might be loved more than they can imagine. These are things we can’t engineer or manipulate. Every great revival in the church in our nation over the last 200 years has been preceded by a wave of passionate praying.
This week is the Thy Kingdom Come week. It’s an international campaign of prayer from now until Pentecost. There are plenty of resources to help you pray, and opportunities to sign up to a continuous cycle of prayer during this period. The main goal is to pray for people to come to know Jesus. Archbishop Justin has said that in all his ministry this campaign has had the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit over it more than any other.
So, can I encourage you to pray. Pray for an end to this COVID crisis. Pray for the healing of the sick. Pray for comfort for those who grieve, either for lost loved ones or lost jobs. Pray for those who are working on vaccines and cures. Pray for our diocesan family as we chart a course out of this. Pray for our own spiritual reviving and for the revival and renewal of the church. Pray for those who don’t know Jesus to find him. Pray expecting that these prayers are not empty aspirations or hot air bouncing off the ceiling. Pray because there is a throne in heaven and Jesus is sitting on it.
And as you pray be open to the possibility that it might change you as well. Praying for Gods kingdom to come might release the resources from you to fund such expansion. Praying for comfort might turn you into a comforter. Praying for folk to come to Christ might release you to tell your own story of the difference Jesus makes in your life.
In our diocese, in the week to come. Let us pray and may God bless us in the praying.