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
Surprised by Joy
Life is ‘normal’ no longer. Or is it more normal than you ever imagined?!
Jesus is alive, risen from the dead!
But before we go there, take a step in your imagination to that first Easter Sunday morning – the first day of a new week. Those first disciples, men and women, followers of Jesus, had seen the most horrendous events take place just that Thursday and Friday – happening to the one they had loved and followed, in whom they’d placed so much hope. And what’s more someone who knew and loved them more than anyone they’d ever known. And all this compounded by how they’d let him down over those days, even betrayed him.
I struggle to imagine where they were in their grief that Sunday morning! But Jesus is his own man, he holds none of this against them. Piece by piece, event by event, he appears and shows them his nail-pierced hands and his feet, he explains. He calls the first to see him by name, “Mary”; he comes among them in a locked room and says, “Peace be with you”; he asks one of them, “Do you love me?”, knowing that this disciple does indeed love Jesus with all his heart despite how he’d let him down. Here is a man, the man, who knows all we can throw at him, and loves us still! He opens new doors to a life that, even with many hardships to come, is full of joy, of hope, of love beyond all loves. Such is the joy every new Christian is surprised by and, for someone like me who’s been a Christian nearly 50 years, takes my breath away fairly frequently as I am once more surprised by his joy over me, those around me, and indeed his world.
When Jesus speaks how do you answer?
In the Jungle book the nice snake Kaa sings a song to Mowgli:- Trust in me – Just in me – Shut your eyes – Trust in me – You can sleep – Safe and sound – Knowing I Am around…… Now of course you should not ever trust the snake but this song came to mind when I was thinking about this week’s talk. Do we treat God’s words to us as though they come from Kaa or Bagheera, as something we can take notice of or not?
Mowgli didn’t always know who to trust and listen too, so got into difficult situations. We however have Jesus to guide us, but do we trust Him enough to obey?
If we trust God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit then why wouldn’t we do as He asks? His disciples learnt to trust Jesus and went to get somebody’s donkey when asked to do so. Maybe that’s the question for each of us today: Do we trust Jesus? Do we believe God when He says I will only bring good things to you?
Generosity and Equality
Today, for the first time in a while, we look at the New Testament attitude to the giving of our money. It’s very interesting how little Jesus says about it! What he does speak a lot about is generosity of heart, and how what we are like inside reflects on what we do on the outside! So, yes, this is about our hearts! The other word in our readings that struck me today is ‘equality’. St Paul writes, ‘I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality.’1 As you read more, you’ll find he’s certainly not talking about everyone giving the same – no, he says, ‘Give in proportion to what you have.’2 But I sense he means all of us as Christians are called to bear the load of what is needed for the ministry of the Church and for those in need, together. So the need for generosity of heart and each responding in their own way is something we all share – as he famously goes on to say, ‘for God loves a cheerful giver’3We all need to find that cheerfulness in our hearts that only comes from a heart set free towards God and towards our neighbour. This is a wisdom found among us which I believe is in itself a gift to those around when times seem to be shaking. For as the New Testament affirms, ‘for we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken; solet us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe’4 May you discover the Lord’s grace to you, and build the house that is your life on the rock that is Christ.
1 2 Corinthians 8.13 2 8.11 3 9.7 4 Hebrews 12.28
Discovering a new joy
Today we want to affirm the care and tenderness that can be found in families, especially in the Lodder and Bell families as they bring Ash with great thankfulness for Baptism (it’s OK guys, we know it’s not always perfect!). In a world of much difficulty, troubles, indeed suffering we wonder how this can be?! And yet this care and tenderness is found among us, and not just in married families, but between friends and in many places – and very much so among the family of God’s people which is absolutely open to anyone – as Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” 
Now many people ask, in this world of so much suffering, how can there possibly be a God, let alone a God of love? Well, here’s something strange to think about – that God really does know all our sufferings (think of Jesus ordeal on the Cross for starters!), but He also has a care and tenderness towards us that is not defeated or in any way falls short of what we need in any struggle. It is a remarkable revelation when you discover this care, and full of a joy that is far more than you ever expected. But let me finish by saying, at root many of us feel forgotten – “what you’ve said may be something others have found, but could never be for me.” On this Mothering Sunday let me end with the Lord’s words from one of our readings: ‘Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.’
 Matthew 11.28  Isaiah 49.15-16
What’s worrying You?
Do you ever lay awake at night worrying? Jesus tells us, ‘not to worry about everyday life.’  That’s hard especially if you’re struggling to make ends meet – think of the growing numbers of people reliant upon foodbanks. Even if we’re financially solvent there’s still plenty to worry about our families, our future, our career success, what others think of us, are we popular (how many likes do we get on social media) – the list is endless. We can become so hooked on worrying, that we worry about having nothing to worry about. What did Jesus mean when he told his followers not to worry about tomorrow?
Tom Wright says, ‘We must assume he led them by example. He wasn’t always looking ahead
anxiously, making the present moment count only because of what might come next. No: he seems to have had the skill of living totally in the present, giving attention totally to the present task, celebrating the goodness of God here and now.’  Jesus’ answer to worrying, ‘Seek the
Kingdom of God above all else’  , that should be our top priority, as it was for Jesus himself. When we put that first, praying the Lord’s Prayer and living according to the pattern he sets out here, food and drink and clothes look after themselves. So when you next find yourself worrying remember the advice of Peter, ‘Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.’ 
 Matthew 6.25,  Matthew for Everyone. Tom Wright,  Matthew 6.33,  1Peter 5.7