Ascension Day 2017
By porthkerryandrhoose, May 31 2017 09:16AM
Manchester is a place close to my heart. It is the city where I grew up, it's where I went to my first pop concert and it's where 3 of my dearest friends still live with their families. My best friend Lisa has a 13 year old daughter whose favourite singer is Ariane Grande. For an hour or so on Tuesday morning I didn't know whether they were alive or dead. When I finally heard that they didn't go to the concert on this occasion there was no real sense of relief from the worry, as I knew that other children and their parents were there and their lives would be changed beyond measure.
It is very timely then, that today marks the first day of a prayer initiative coming out of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church and endorsed by our own Welsh bishops, called Thy Kingdom Come. It is a phrase that many of us would have prayed many thousands of times over the years, coming as it does, near the start of the Lord's prayer. It's a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they were confused about how to pray. Luke 11:2 "Jesus said to the disciples, 'when you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.' Praying for the coming of the kingdom of God was right at the top of Jesus' priorities when it came to prayer, coming only just below praising the holiness of God.
Why do you think that was? We're not given the reasoning behind it, but surely it's because the world that we live in can be a very difficult place. It's a place where men do strap bombs on themselves and then walk to a place where thousands of women and children are gathered before blowing themselves up. It's a place where parents punch and shake their babies so much that they die, and then try to cover up their cruelty by pretending the baby has died on a bus. It's a place where an uncle can kill his daughter and refuse to tell her grieving parents where he has buried her, even after he is imprisoned for her murder. Jesus knew that living in this world was tough. He said "In this world you will have trouble" and he faced that trouble head on as he was beaten and nailed to a cross. This is the world that we live in. But Jesus said 'Pray Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.' God has promised to bring his kingdom to earth when he makes all things new, and we are to pray for that day.
As we pray, there are 2 pitfalls we must avoid. The first is assuming that God's kingdom will come just by him tidying up a few things here on this earth. If we're honest, that's what we want God to do. To fix this broken planet. It's what the disciples wanted too. In the account of Jesus' ascension in Acts 1 they asked 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'. They thought God's kingdom would come on earth if Jesus dealt with the Romans who were terrorising them. Do we think God's kingdom would come on earth if only he got rid of all the terrorists and 'bad' people? Jesus said that wasn't the way it would be Acts 1:7 "It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by his own authority." It wasn't yet time for God's kingdom to come in all its fulness, and it hasn't been the time yet. But that doesn't mean that we don't see glimpses of God's kingdom breaking through as we pray. In the midst of the terrible tragedy there were also stories of great bravery and kindness. The homeless man who held a woman as she died, the Muslim and Sikh taxi drivers who spent the night driving people to safety, the woman who gathered up scattered children and led them to a local hotel. They are just tiny glimpses of what God's kingdom will look like when it comes. And as we pray 'thy kingdom come', we look out for these glimpses of God's kingdom in our own lives. God isn't a distant deity cruelly holding back his power while he waits for the right time to show it. He is our loving heavenly father who hears the prayers of his children.
The other pitfall to avoid is losing hope. It can seem such a distant dream, that Jesus will return and make all things new. It has been almost 2000 years since he left. But Ascension Day is the reminder that it will happen. In Acts 1:11 the angels say "Men of Galilee, 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". In his old age, Peter reflected on the promise saying "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance". The delay isn't a cruel disinterest, but a patient kindness, waiting for people to turn back to him. Don't give up hope, the Ascension is the promise of the return.
So let me encourage you over the next 10 days to spend just 10 minutes each day praying. Many of you will have had these little leaflets on Sunday, and I have more here. The idea is that you find a quiet place and time where you can sit and be still. You read the Bible verse for the day off the card and reflect on it, asking yourself the question which is written next to it. Then you pray the special 10 day prayer followed by the Lord's Prayer. Pray and watch to see what God will do, in your heart and in the world around.
I'll pray the 10 day prayer now: Father God, your Son taught us to pray for the coming of your Kingdom. teach us how you are leading us, strengthen us for bold service, unite us in love for your Son and the world. Amen.