The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer online      24th May 2020
Living Differently
Jan Rushton

2 Sam 23.1-5  The Last Words of David; 
Eph 1.15-end Paul’s Prayer
There is a trope going around the Internet:  Never waste a good crisis!
Attributed to Winston Churchill - I think, to give it gravitas!
Maybe, maybe not!  Though it does, I am told, reflect a certain outlook on life which he espoused!
In the face of very real crisis - and tragedy for many, 
it can seem a flippant, possibly an unkind thing to say!
Yet it is a wise piece of advice .....
The ending in the twentieth century, of both world wars, 
opened the door to dramatic social change which has benefited many people. 
After the first world war women were finally given the vote - if you were over thirty that is!
The end of the second world war saw the birth of a proper welfare state - 
with particular emphasis on access to education and health care.
Change.  A few among us feel that inexorable drive, no matter what we must leave behind, 
to reach for the heavens in all we do!
Most of us, as our lives jog along happily enough, 
we are somewhat fearful of change - and resistant to too much of it!
On Thursday we celebrated Ascension!
Jesus’ final departure from this earth, from his friends and followers.
They have been willing to have their lives turned upside down!
They have given up much to be with him, journey with him across the land.
Risk ridicule and worse - because this extraordinary man 
raised in them the hope of a different life.  
Their freedom had been taken from them by one tyrant after another. 
For a while now it had been Rome - and the elite of their own nation, 
willing to collaborate with this enemy for personal gain.
Hadn’t God promised to send a Saviour?  They are waiting!
Waiting for God’s Messiah who will throw off the yoke of the oppressor!
As promised in the Book of Daniel, 
the breaking in upon earth of the kingdom of God - as it is in heaven!
In the telling of the gospels we catch only glimpses 
of the devastating catastrophe that Jesus’ crucifixion 
must have been for his disciples.    A crisis of gigantic proportions.   
Then unexpectedly, in the aftermath of their friend’s death 
they experience his presence with them.   ‘Lord,’ they cry out, 
‘Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’
But he is lifted into heaven.  Gone from them once more.
Astonishingly, despite all their dashed expectations, 
such has been their experience of the risen Christ, 
these men and women do not give way to despair, do not give up!
They embrace the life Jesus had taught them!
Life driven by love, social justice - and forgiveness of one another.
A different life - so different and attractive, many are drawn to join their new community.   
Peter and then Paul, carry the gospel of Christ out to diaspora congregations.
New Christian communities are formed, and begin to grow -
attracting many of the god-fearing gentiles who attended the synagogue.
And the gospel spread across Asia Minor, even to Rome.
Paul in his letters, especially in those to the Corinthians, 
continues to expect the second coming of Christ at any moment, and within his life-time.
He has established a thriving Christian community in Ephesus, 
community with a large gentile contingent, and where, 
according to the Book of Acts, he stayed for three years.
This city port with its cultured population with its extraordinary library,
proved fertile ground from where the early church could expand its mission!
And incidentally, where it is believed, the gospel of John was written.
Decades have now passed, and Christ has not returned.  
How are Jesus’ followers doing in this multicultural church - 
as their lofty expectations fail to find fulfilment?  
Divisions within the church become sharpened .....
There is a certain elitism abroad .....
A letter is sent to the church which opens with our beautiful prose!
Jesus is indeed, God’s Messiah, seated at God’s right hand, 
far above all power and dominion, seated in heavenly places!
He is head of the Church which is his body, filling it with all his fulness of life!
The author commends their faith and love. 
And prays that these young Christians may receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation. 
That their hearts may be enlightened, filled with hope of an inheritance with all the saints!
Here indeed, is nothing less than the fulfilment of God’s covenant with David!
But there is a key concern running throughout this letter. 
Summed up in this epistle’s much repeated verse 3.28:  
there is neither Jew nor gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus!
The author pleads for unity with one another across those multicultural divides!
Out of the crises of division we have this beautiful epistle!
So what are we doing with our personal ‘shut-downs’, our crises?
What have we learnt about ourselves?  About each other?  About our world?
Are we thinking through how we might do things differently, 
live differently, as our lockdown is slowly lifted, 
as we engage again with our wider community?
What new unity will we seek to establish with one another?
What new vision of change will fire our doing in the twenty-first century?  
The environment?  Climate change?
What are the measures needed to eradicate world poverty, 
for we surely know in the face of this pandemic, we, all peoples, 
regardless of creed or class or race, we live - or we die, together.
Next Sunday we celebrate God’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit, 
the gift of  wisdom as we make our decisions, 
the power to live those decisions, those changes we seek.
Let us not waste the crisis through which we are now living!  Amen.  

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