Seventh Sunday of Easter (the Sunday after Ascension Day), 24 May 2020

 

Collect for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

O God the King of glory,

you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ

with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:

we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,

but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us

and exalt us to the place where our Saviour Christ is gone before,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

 

Gospel Reading – John 17.1-11

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

Glory to you, O Lord.

After 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, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for 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. I 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. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And 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.

This is the gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you, O Christ.

 

Reflection, given by Becky Minta

“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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for 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.  I 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."

Thursday was Ascension Day, and at 8:15 in the morning, I found myself up the top of the tower of St Peter Mancroft ready to stream a live service with Edward. I won’t sugar coat it; I was terrified. To start with anyway. Once I’d got comfortable, I had a look around and honestly, the view was amazing. It was almost as though I could see the whole world from where I stood.

There are two types of people that almost every Christian will know. We will probably all know someone that says they don’t believe in God, but asks an extraordinary amount of questions, which are usually quite difficult to answer. They are often about what happens when we die, or why only some people go to heaven, but others don’t. We will most likely also all know someone that we wish would come to know Jesus. They may have once believed and lost their faith, or they may have never believed at all. We may even worry about what will happen to them when they die. Will they or won’t they be saved through Jesus? How does Salvation work, really?

“I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me”.

This is verse 9 of our Gospel reading today. This phrase stuck with me and brought up a number of questions in my mind. Does “the world” not include everyone? Is salvation then, as many believe, only for a chosen few? Is it really an “us and them” situation? And what exactly does John mean by “the world”? At first, I thought that these were silly questions, something that I should have known inherently or something so basic that I should have been taught it years ago, in Sunday School. In actual fact, I had apparently inadvertently stumbled across one of the biggest theological debates.

In John’s Gospel, the phrase “the world” appears 78 times, with a number of slightly different meanings. 

So, what does “the world” mean here, in terms of salvation? Does God see everything, as I seemed to from the tower? Or does God only see the churches, and the people who worship in them?

I had always assumed that salvation was universal. In my mind it just had to be. Otherwise, what would happen to the people that had never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus? Are they not saved? This seems a little unfair. It also then begs the question, if salvation isn’t universal, why do people try to do good? If people only do good things to be saved or to “get into heaven”, then surely they can no longer be classed as good deeds as they have an ulterior motive? If Salvation is universal, then good deeds stay simply as good deeds, done just because it was a nice thing to do.

Every month, my colleague Michael and I have a theological study afternoon with Sam Wells, the Vicar at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, where we have an in-depth discussion about one of his books. We are currently reading “Incarnational Mission”, which opens with a sermon from 2012, wherein he offers his own perspective on John’s use of “the world” and the following connotations about salvation.

He suggests that we should start by turning to John Chapter 10 which reads, “I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Wells believes that this is an explanation of what John means in verse 9 of our Gospel reading (“I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me”), that we are all sheep – equally lost and equally loved by Jesus, our Shepherd. But Jesus doesn’t pretend that everyone belongs - Wells suggests that the people that do not belong are those that may not have heard of, or who have turned away from Jesus.  In chapter 10, Jesus says, “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice”. Wells goes on to say that this is the main purpose of Jesus’ life, that it is his mission, his identity.  Like Mary in the garden, when Jesus calls her by name and she recognises him, those that do not belong will listen to his voice, and all things will fall into place.

One of the things my agnostic and atheist friends often tell me that they find off putting about Christianity is the “us and them” attitude held by some members of the Church. The very nature of the elitist view in which only members of the church will be saved is unattractive to them.  Sam Wells’ explanation of “the world” and salvation is the one that I find most appealing as it brings us a great deal of comfort. It gives us hope that those we love who may not believe will one day be brought into the fold when they listen to his voice.

My experience with the view from the tower is a little like this I think. God can see everything and everyone, not just patches here and there of those that decided to follow God’s ways, but all the people in the world. They all belong to God. They will hear God’s voice. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but they will hear it one day.

This is just one of the times that John uses the phrase “the world” in his Gospel. I wonder what you think of when you hear or read the phrase “the world”? Do you think of Earth, or of the people on the Earth? Perhaps even both. Or maybe something entirely different. I wonder how you interpreted today’s Gospel, what effect it will have on your journey as a Christian, and how you will approach your understanding of salvation. I wonder how you will respond to the friend that is always asking questions, and if you will reach out to the person that you wish would come to know Jesus.

 

Intercessions, prepared by Joel Halcomb

Heavenly father, we join together this morning to glorify your name and to sanctify you in our worship. We give you thanks and great praise for your creation, for our lives, and for your immeasurable mercy in sending us your son, through whom you have given us eternal life. Through him we have come to know you.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

Father, we bring before you all those in education at this time: the teachers who have such difficult decisions to make for managing their schools and classrooms safely; parents nervous about sending their children back; and students who have had their education so profoundly disrupted. Guide and protect them in your wisdom.

 

We also bring before you the many refugees, asylum seekers, and homeless peoples around the world whose precarious lives this pandemic has made even more dangerous and uncertain. Provide them strength and safety in their troubles and make the communities around them compassionate and merciful.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

Lord we thank you for your church. And especially, during this period of lockdown, for our community here at St Peter Mancroft and for all those who have worked so hard to keep us connected online and over the phone. We pray for those we miss and hope that we might safely see our family and friends soon in person.

 

We ask that you continue to guide our ministry team in their efforts to adapt their ministry to these new circumstances. We are very grateful for Graham and his time training with us at Mancroft, which has been a blessing to us. We also pray for our bishops, Graham, Alan, and Jonathan; for the United Reformed Church, and its Eastern Synod Moderator, Paul Whittle; and for the Anglican communion around the world.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

As we pray for safety and healing we remember all the infirm and unwell in body or mind, especially all those whose difficulties are made even more challenging by this period of isolation.  We offer to your care those on our prayer list: Pam Cooper, Simon Crosse, Janet Hemsley, Angela Panton, Martin Pointer, Nina Prior, and Val Rope. In a moment of silence we bring before you those closest to our own hearts at this time.

 

We pray for all those who have passed recently, including Richard Jarvis, and Andy Pot. Comfort all those who grieve in these difficult times. We also remember those whose years mind falls at this time: Stanley Kerry, William Noble, Arthur Pearce, David Cubitt, Mabel Payne, Paul Frost, Kenneth Ryder, Alice Benns, and Caroline Harris.

May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

 

Finally as we remember Christ’s ascension and look towards Pentecost we pray that you will send us your Spirit that, in this troubled world, we may be guided by your wisdom and comforted by your peace.

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.