Today we start our new series on 1 Peter. Peter specially highlights the great themes of the Christian gospel, It is a letter full of certainty about our inheritance and our home, pointing us to the day when Christ will be revealed in glory and reminding us that ‘the end of all things is near’, but in doing so he is concerned that we also live the life of heaven here and now. We should have our eyes on the horizon, but our boots on our feet!
Living Hope that gives great encouragement and joy
By ‘hope’ Peter does not mean something we merely wish for, or would like to happen in the future. It is much more definite than that. It is our inheritance – our new birthright -preserved for us and indestructible. The hope is of eternal life with God, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It takes real faith to focus on this hope when we are going through periods of struggle and difficulty. Peter is so aware that Christians may well have to face all kinds of sorrow, yet believes this need not defeat our faith; it can refine it. Peter encourages us to trust in Jesus and to ‘rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy’. 
1 Peter 1.8
The blessing with the greatest reward…. ….is the one attached to persecution and suffering for the sake of Christ! Very strange. Does it mean that those who seriously suffer persecution have some kind of special reward tucked away in heaven that somehow makes it all worthwhile? You might think so, for the reward Jesus mentions is: ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs’. But then Jesus also said that the Kingdom of Heaven is already among you. Perhaps we can experience that Kingdom among us even now, and find that the joy of that Kingdom is far more special than we thought…..? Jesus makes it plain – his Kingdom is the main thing. Rather shockingly he suggests that other things really are much less important (‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ and so on ).
So, what is the cost of following Jesus to you? Perhaps it’s just that lies are told about you? (that’s the one Jesus mentions). I don’t know. We had some moving answers to the question of the cost from our Small Group leaders at a recent session – it’s OK we won’t share them – and they were different for each person. So what do you make of these questions? What is the cost to you of following Jesus in your time and place? What do you think others will say when they come to hear about the cost of going Jesus’ way? I can only say there is no other way as amazing as Jesus’ way, full of his life, his joy, his peace – in whatever circumstances. As St Peter put it, ‘In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus’ 
[ ]1 Luke 9.57-62  1 Peter 5.10
Look at this!
Just one seed, yes one seed, produces a flower head with over 20 petals (I tried to count!); and well, how many seeds do you reckon!? (answers please!)
Today’s theme is seed planting – one of Jesus’s own favourites. For the truth is unless we plant seeds nothing grows – it’s no use leaving the seed bag on the shelf! Today we celebrate the raising of £300 by our young people over the last many months to go via the locally based charity ‘Send-a-Cow’ (welcome Alan!). It’s in support of 10 African families to help get going with farming that is sustainable for them. We think it’s also a visual illustration of a very different kind of seed planting that we all need as human beings. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens.”  But happen it does! His apostle St Paul also wrote, ‘Remember – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.’  The true fruits of God’s Kingdom are beautiful, ‘love, joy, peace…..’  . Jesus Christ came to bring us new life, new hope, new fruit. Those African families will be planting seed – will you plant in Jesus’s Kingdom, in his ground, his seed in your life?
Mark 4.26-27  2 Corinthians 9.6  read a whole list in Galatians 5.22-23
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God’  Quite a calling!
When asked what someone really wants to pray for, one of the most frequent answers is ‘Peace’. People may mean everything from world peace, through peace in their relationships, to peace within themselves – there are so many areas of life where there is no peace! But almost weekly at our Communion services we pray, ‘Let us pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.’ I’m not sure how seriously we take that as we say it! Sure, the practicalities and dynamics of being peacemakers are tricky! (sometimes to say the least!) But the Christian message is at its deepest root one of peace and reconciliation – of all that makes for peace. St Paul wrote that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.’ And that ‘God has given us the ministry of reconciliation’ . And Jesus beautifully explained how if we do this we will ‘truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.’ This desire for peace is quite simply on the Father’s heart. And if we will learn to find out what it takes, and by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit practice and pursue it, we will follow the very calling of His heart.
 The 7th Beatitude from Matthew 5.9  Romans 14.19 (and the Common Worship Prayer Book!)  2 Corinthians 5.18-19  Luke 6.35
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ 
The interesting thing is that so many people say that they want to see God but they don’t know how. Here, in Matthew, Jesus tells us that those who are pure in their hearts will see God.
However the problem is often no one understands what being Pure in Heart means.
Jesus had made it clear in other places we have pure hearts when we put Jesus at the centre of our lives and treat others as He would and as He does treat us. It’s not about making sure we look good to others, or taking part in the rituals of church, or even being seen to do good works. No it is about what is important deep in our lives.
So today’s question is, what is your heart centred on, is it family, career, hobby, money, enjoyment, something else or as Jesus said – Him!?
I have found that when my heart is pure, aligned with, centred on, Jesus then I see and hear God around me and in others and when I let my heart slip away then I lose that sight.
 Matthew 5 8
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy .
The Bible is packed full of mercy, of undeserved mercy to boot. The Lord God shows himself time and time again as the one who loves beyond anything we expect, or have any right to expect. And giving mercy is costly, it means bearing some of the pain ourselves (but then just think of the Cross!). One of Jesus’ key teachings was to show mercy, given that the amount of mercy each of us receives from his Father in Heaven is always way beyond the mercy we manage to show others! But nonetheless, we are called to show it. And if you think about this Beatitude carefully, it is a bit surprising – it half suggests that those who don’t show mercy to others won’t receive mercy themselves. Perhaps it is can’t, not won’t!? Someone wrote, ‘The truth is, if we do not show mercy, we are unlikely to be able to receive it’. Put simply, Jesus taught that we should be merciful, because God is merciful to us. He always has been! Now this is not just theory! This is the first of the Beatitudes to call for direct action, not just about the attitude of our hearts (although that’s vital – for it is from our hearts that all our actions spring). So when we hear Jesus telling stories about forgiving debts, or helping the wounded by the roadside, we start to ask where can I show mercy? Certainly not because we’re better than anyone else, but because we know what it is to receive God’s amazing love and mercy towards us. And I would like to suggest that if you’ve not yet discovered that amazing love and mercy of God towards you, now may be the time! And after that, as Christians, we are called to ‘go and do likewise’ .
1 The 5th Blessing (Beatitude) from Matthew 5.1-12
2 The last line from the parable of the Good Samaritan
This week the church has been full of excited children from our local infant and junior schools (and thank you to all who have helped!). They’ve come to ‘Explore Pentecost’ – a series of investigations into why Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit is so important to Christians. And you have a chance this morning to join in those explorations a bit for yourselves! To be honest, I was a bit uncertain as to whether there was enough to explore! How wrong could I have been! The week has been a refreshing window into the amazing extent of the work of God’s Holy Spirit, now spread right across the world: The Good News that has spread so far and wide, the significant changes in Jesus’s disciples, the courage love and compassion the Spirit enables, the shared life of Christians, the sheer joy and hope (even though we often have to wait!), the deep peace that the Spirit brings in an often difficult world – I could go on! 5 people from Ascension also got confirmed at St Barnabas this week, committing themselves to being part of this movement of God’s Holy Spirit and asking for His strength to do this. You may long for God to work in your life too! Good, let’s long! And today, let’s all pray that we too may discover, experience, explore more of the power of Pentecost!
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
‘Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good’ – in this way St Paul summarizes his teaching on the way to live as a Christian in Romans ch. 12 (read it all!). It speaks of a hope that with God’s strength, good can indeed break through and win over evil. What a perspective – a perspective that speaks of the Kingdom of a King where our Father in heaven’s will is ‘done on earth as it is in heaven’  . We sing, ‘Saviour, You can move the mountains’  . And God himself, by the power of His Holy Spirit, the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, wants to see this Kingdom come among us – particularly for those most in need (whose ‘very blood is precious in his sight’  ). The promise of Jesus is a deep satisfaction of our spirits as we see these things happen – in whatever area of life we seek that Kingdom, be it loving our neighbour, through an integrity brought to your work place, working for change in our community and society, or ‘just’ answered prayer.
 Romans 12.21  The Lord’s Prayer  Song: ‘Everyone needs compassion’  Psalm 72.14
Blessed are the humble and meek, for they shall inherit the earth Matthew 5.5
In the film ‘The Life of Brian’, set in Jesus’ day, John Clees plays the part of the leader of a Jewish underground party plotting against the Romans (a totally ineffective group always bogged down into inaction). Early in the film he and his gaggle of followers march by the back of the crowd listening to Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has just got to today’s line, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ “Harrumph,” says John Clees, “it’s the meek that are the problem!”
What do think?
What makes for a truly great leader, or human being for that matter?
Jesus described himself as meek, was known as humble, yet he was no pushover, indeed he has changed the world! He held to the truth of the love of His Father in heaven through thick and thin. Someone said ‘he was gentle in the face of their wrath.’ And what about us then? Do you need to push to get your way? Is getting one up on the next guy the only way to survive? Or does Jesus offer a different way…….?
At Baptism today we’ll hear the image of being clothed with the new things of Christ – 10 clothes are named: Mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, making allowance for others, forgiveness, love (above all else), peace and thankfulness. Which do you long to be shown to you? What in the depths of your being do you want to ‘cloth’ you? And in the end, what is truly powerful? As Christians we proclaim, these things are found in Christ.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted”
At the start of his ministry Jesus said part of what God sent him to do was ‘to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favour has come’1. The passage in Isaiah he was quoting from went on to say how, ‘To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.’2 Indeed, the people of God’s kingdom would be ‘like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.’2 There are many who mourn in our world, mourn for many things. What do you mourn for?
Today we’ll hear part of the story of the ultimate mourner – Job! The man who literally lost everything! We’ll also read God’s reply to his ‘complaints’!3 It is clear from what God says to Job, we will never fully understand why we suffer so much. True as that may be, it is also profoundly true that in the Kingdom Jesus brought among us, we shall be comforted in a way that is beyond our understanding too. A comfort that speaks of beauty, brings unexpected joy, and draws out praise from our hearts. Pray that each of us may be wise enough to believe what Jesus says in our hearts, to go his way, to bring all our mournings to Him. Those that discover this truth of the risen Jesus’ Kingdom will indeed start looking like ‘great oaks’ among us, a witness to his glory in a world that mourns so much. A testimony to the fact that Jesus is indeed the light that shines in the darkness.4
1Isaiah 61.2 & Luke 4.19 2Isaiah 61.3 3Job chapters 38-41 4 John 9.5
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’
Today we start a series on the 8 Beatitudes, or Blessings of God, from Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’  . In Bishop Steven Croft’s first reflection  on these 8 blessings he uses these words, ‘These eight blessings will give us a vision for what it means to be fully alive, to live as God intends, both as individuals and as a community’. How can this be when Jesus gets talking about those who are poor in spirit, or mourn, or hunger and thirst, or even suffer persecution?! It is because Jesus also promises for such people ‘the Kingdom of Heaven will be theirs’, that ‘they will be comforted’, ‘they will be satisfied’. You see in some way, Jesus says that in facing these things about ourselves, the truth about each of our hearts, we will open a gate to blessing from our Father in heaven. As Bishop Steven says, promises are attached! I pray that as we work through each of these blessings, that’s exactly what they’ll become – gateways to the realities of God’s promises. Discovering that the Kingdom of Heaven, which as Jesus said “is among you”, is the most amazing place, a place where blessings will be released, even among those who are poor of spirit, who mourn, and so on – indeed especially so!! So to start with the 1st one, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’: as someone said to a few of us this week, “My husband and I discovered years ago that we could be so busy doing things for God we didn’t have time for Him!” You may not be taken up with ‘doing God’s work’, but you may just as easily be taken up with something else…. I hope all of us today can unpack something of how real is our deep need for God himself – so that out of the poverty of our own spirits, we can discover what we really need to help us ‘be fully alive’ under God’s hand, ‘to live as He intends’.
 Matthew 5.3  Matthew 5.1-12  Many of you used Bishop Steven’s booklet ’40 days reflections on the Beatitudes over Lent and Easter’ quote from p11
Carry on Loving
No, it’s not the title of a 1970s film! But if there were a film of our lives, how much loving would it show? St Peter encouraged 1st Century Christians, who were suffering much, with these words: ‘You love him even though you have never seen him’ and, ‘Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy!’1
St Paul famously wrote, ‘Without love we would be just ‘a noisy gong or a clanging symbol’ 2 It is a joyful thing indeed to see life springing up in our life as a Church here at Ascension, someone likened it to spring growth, new shoots! Thank you to all who have joined in this life, in many small ways and in large – we hope seeing new life encourages you as it does me, and calls others forward. We also hope and pray that the witness of this new life will speak of God’s immense love to those who do not yet follow Jesus, a love that speaks so that it cannot be denied. But let us remember the Lord we follow, one who stooped and washed his disciples feet, one that ‘loved them to the end.’3 One who gave us a new commandment, ‘Love each other. Just as I have loved you.’4 He even went on to say, ‘Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my
disciples.’4 So in all our business as a Church, perhaps in the struggles we may yet have to face, let us remember only to know that first, we are loved (‘it’s who we are’ as the song put it on Easter Day); and that second, the measure of all we do must be ‘to love as He loved us’, for without love we are nothing.
1 1 Peter 1.8 2 1 Corinthians 13.1 3 John 13.1 4 John 13.34-35