Note to reader. I included this story in an article I wrote for the Contact Magazine back in 2017, and on here for an Advent reflection in 2016. I like it because it helps me understand the love that inspired the Incarnation, and why we should celebrate Christmas. I know… its June… just bear with me.
A grandfather found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.” It was only natural for the Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehaviour must not be lightly taken. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way. The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
The only problem with this story is that it is unfinished. At some point the grandfather must leave the playpen, and Johnnie must grow up, learn from his mistakes and move on. So, you’ll be pleased to know I’m not 6 months behind, I’m not calling for a second Christmas to be added to our calendars, no matter how much I love the Australian tradition of a good BBQ on Christmas Day. Instead I’m suggesting we make more of the Ascension of Jesus in our lives.
The Church marks and celebrates the Ascension this year on the 30th May. We do so to remind ourselves that Jesus is indeed still with us, whilst knowing that it is now our task to mature in faith, and to take our role as Christians in the world seriously.
I agree that Ascension Day is an obscure Christian holiday. It celebrates an event that is difficult for the modern scientific mind to take literally, and the truth that Jesus ascended to heaven when he could have stayed, is quite unhelpful to Christians more generally. I mean let’s be honest – if the resurrected Jesus was still with us in person, spreading the Gospel would be a whole lot easier. He’d be very popular on YouTube for a start. Jesus ascending into heaven was like our best player being substituted off the pitch in extra-time, at the very moment we needed him the most.
Despite this, we declare in church that the Ascension is central to our faith.
We publicly state it every week in our creed. Why? Well, its because we know we must grow in our faith, grow in life, remain dependent on the love of God in Jesus but free to exercise our faith in the world. Here are three reasons why should keep the Ascension high up in our lives.
The Ascension is a call to worship.
In Acts 1:9 it says that Jesus was ‘lifted up’, he didn’t get taken up on some divine hoist, or sky elevator. He was lifted up. The first thing to note here is that the original Greek text conveys an earthly perspective not a heavenly one. It literally means the world ‘lifted’ Jesus toward his Father, which conveys the ascension as a moment of glory. The Ascension is therefore a call to worship. When we meet in church and remember the Ascension, we lift Jesus to his rightful place as having authority in our lives.
The Ascension is a reminder that it is good for us that Jesus returned to the Father. One way of seeing the Ascension is like it’s Christmas in reverse. God comes down to be with us, and then God returns, to remain in us. Teresa of Avila writes, ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is to look out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.
The Ascension was the moment the Church became the Church. One of the many privileges of being vicar of All Saints Highertown is my seeing all the amazing people that are involved in community run projects, such as resident’s associations, community choirs, and the many support groups that use the church. I am proud that they are part of our life, and that the body of Christ is rich and varied. And this is the point. The Church is not a community organisation, it is not an institution, it is not a religion. The Church was always meant to be body of Christ, the person of Jesus to the rest of the world. In so many ways we have lost our way, but there are equally ways in which we have lived out this identity with all we can offer. And so here is the task we are reminded of on Ascension Day. Our greatest task of all is to be what we are meant to be. To be like Him who saved us.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Image is of the Bricklayers Hut in Jakarta.
A man who had been stranded on a deserted island for two years was at last found. The media accompanied the rescue team, and when they arrived they saw that the man had built three huts. When asked what the huts represented, the man explained.
"Well, this hut is my home. And that hut over there is where I go to church."
The reporters seemed moved by the revelation that he had a place of worship. But then one asked, "What is that hut over there?"
"That's the church I don’t go to!”
Life is full of preferences. Some more obvious than others, like choosing our favourite ice cream flavour, or watching our preferred rugby team. Some are more deep-rooted, predilections that we don’t even know we have. These are the kind that influence our judgements, decision and yearnings without us even noticing. Over time our environment and upbringing has its way of honing a ‘comfortable place’ for us. Consequently, as we go about our daily lives, we tend to look for reminders of our comfortable place; subconsciously searching for familiarity, comfort and safety. In many ways, this is a good thing, it can help us ‘get on with life’, without getting bogged down by decisions that in the great scheme of things aren’t that important. In other ways, it can be harmful.
Unchecked partialities and bias can lead us to become insular and narrowminded. In the worse cases, it can lead to the exclusion of others because they seem different, odd or even ‘wrong’ to us. This is where the tension and dynamic of life occurs, in all its complexity, diversity and colour. So how do we avoid the sinful reaction to the other’s uniqueness, and reflect something of the impartiality and generosity of God in our daily lives. In the Epistle of James (ch 3.17) we are reminded that there is wisdom in these things that we long to see, “but the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
One of the things I have delighted in recently is seeing the enthusiasm from all churches in Truro to be more aware of the differences between our churches, but at the same time acknowledging that our preferences are secondary to a more important shared truth. That we all find our identity in Christ. And that we confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
In c.62AD Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus saying “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul’s letter is a wonderful reminder that the most important thing for churches is to proclaim aloud that we are united under one Lord – we may have a difference in worship style and practice, some will prefer drumkits, and others prefer robed choirs, some will cope with a 10min sermon, and others anything less than a 30min preach feels like being short-changed – these things only go to reflect God’s blessing, to be ourselves under God. Behind it all is the truth that Paul wrote in his letter.
On November 30th at 7.30pm all Christians in Truro, from all denominations and none, will descend upon Truro Methodist Church to pray and worship together. Witnessing to our single universal statement of faith that Jesus is Lord. I am absolutely thrilled that this is happening, and that it lights the second beacon for us in this year of prayer for a shared vision under Christ for our city.
I really want to encourage you to come. I’m telling you now, well in advance, so we can all make sure it’s in our diaries. Please come. Don’t let this be the hut that represents “… the church I don’t go to!”
Yours in Christ
For more information about Churches Together in Truro go to our new website www.churchestogethertruro.co.uk
The laws of maths and geometry teach us that the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. If only the Israelites had paid attention to this when leaving Egypt, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken them 40 years to arrive in the Promised Land!
These days when we take a long journey we use the likes of Sat Nav or Google Maps, plotting our course based on a number of factors, such as distance, traffic and weather conditions. In Moses’ day they just had the stars - which was in a way, a kind of Sat Nav - but it certainly wasn’t the voice of Google Jane reading out the instructions en-route, “You have wandered too far into the wilderness turn around when possible.”
Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we had a GPS device for faith, and hear the voice of God as clear as our mobile phones, handheld GPS devices and TomToms, helping us to stay fixed to the right path?
The psalmist wrote (Ps 119:105) “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Trying to articulate God’s vision for the church without listening for his Word is a bit like waiting for the Sat-Nav to give directions only to find you’ve locked it in the boot of the car because you thought you wouldn’t need it. The Word of God is what fuels the fire in our hearts, it is what fills the Church with passion, hope and Godly ambition for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A vision without the Word of God is a vision that has only an earthly sense of place and direction, and therefore we are left with a simple and logical utility like ‘The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line.’
But as the Israelites showed, sometimes the shortest route is not the best route.
Our obedience to the Word of God may well take us on a slower and more challenging route, as it did the Israelites. In his poem “The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverge in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I think that there is something to be said for taking the easy route because it makes us feel safe. On the other hand there is something profound in taking the road less travelled, even if longer, windier and more dangerous along the way, because in doing so we venture through new territory, experience life and grow in unexpected ways.
God has a habit of working out his plan over the course of time. Very rarely does he call for the ‘quick fix’, or the ‘easy win’. As you read through this vision document you may feel that there is a lot to take in; we have time for this. This is a plan for the next 3-5 years so that we have the freedom to do this on God’s terms, and in His way.
The reason why the Israelites took so long over their trip to the Promised Land is because God wanted them to grow and to learn about the wisdom and grace of God, learning to live with a provisionality and dependency on his Word. We must do the same if we are to see the Gospel prosper and our Lord glorified. We must do the same if we are to see God’s purpose fulfilled in us and the church. Lifelong and meaningful change in the world can only occur through a lifelong and meaningful commitment to the Word of God, Jesus Christ. So my friends, here it is, our chance to make a difference, to grow in faith, to grow in number, to live for Christ and to seek his Kingdom.
Let’s do this together.
Yours in Christ
I can’t prove it but I reckon there is always someone somewhere thinking about the next big thing. You know, ideas like the iPhone, or the electric car. Whether it be think-tanks, boardrooms, or the dreamer in the bath; someone somewhere is pondering on what the next and new big idea will be.
Grace is God’s best idea. Imagined and designed in the timeless think-tank of our Triune God, grace is the newest and the oldest idea on the block. If you’ve ever received grace then you’ll know what I mean when I say that it is the greatest gift. Grace is limitless, unlike the battery in your iPhone. Grace is unparalleled and unprecedented, it is available 24-7, more relevant than any human idea, more ‘in’ than any of the latest fashions. Grace is God’s trending tweet, the top result on the Divine search engine; and what’s more you and I have an equal amount of grace available to us, since grace is unmeasurable and unquantifiable. No matter where we find ourselves, what our needs are, what dreams we have, what mistakes we’ve made, what decisions we took, God is willing to bless us with his gift of grace.
In the midst of my final preparations for the move to Highertown I’ll have the opportunity to reflect on the grace I have received from the church in Portishead, and also the grace I have received from you. I thank God for your faithfulness to the task He has set before you, and I thank Him for your patience in this time of transition. I regret I cannot be with you today but I know the APCM will be a wonderful celebration of what you have achieved in 2014. Transitions and vacancies can so easily become a rather testing period in the church’s life, and a time when reduction and consolidation become the key phrases. For All Saints this couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems to me that due to the passion and hard work of folk at All Saints 2014 can be seen as a time of growth and progress. I’m sure taking stock has been part of it, but what has come through loud and clear is your continuing desire to serve God and to grow in faith.
I pray that tomorrow you will have a tangible sense of God’s presence as you meet, and that his abundant grace will fill your hearts as you celebrate a year well served. Most of all I will be praying that we will all know the grace of God as we continue this new journey together.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore. Amen.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.