Sunday 3rd May 2020

Today we focus on and celebrate the Ascension. Christ is risen, ascended, exalted and sits at the Father’s right hand. Our call to worship begins our service with a note of praise:

From Psalm 47: Clap your hands, all you nations; Shout to God with cries of joy…God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.

Praise: Listen to or sing a hymn or psalm of praise.

Prayer: Loving God, As we draw near to you in this simple act of worship, draw near to us we pray. As we ponder Your Word, speak through it into our lives. As we confess our shortcomings, have mercy on us and as we acknowledge the weakness of our discipleship, cleanse and renew us through the saving love of Christ. Guide us in all we do and inspire us by the work of Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ precious name we pray, the One who taught us to pray as we say, ‘Our Father…’

Readings: John 14:15-21, John 16:7-16 & Acts 1:1-11 These readings focus on the promise of the Holy Spirit – the One who comes alongside, the Counsellor, Spirit of Truth, the One who guides, empowers, comforts, makes us holy, gives us joy.

Prayer: Take time now to pray for yourself, your family, our community. Pray for our church, that we would continue to grow in our faith and thank God for opportunities during this crisis to help, encourage and pray for one another. Keep praying for all who work within our NHS and Care system and for all who have been bereaved, who are unwell, who are vulnerable, lonely or anxious at this time. Pray for our leaders as they make important decisions on a daily basis. Take your time, there is much to pray for; don’t be in a hurry to leave the place of prayer.

Reflection: Acts Chapter One. If you are a film/ movie fan you’ll be used to the idea of the sequel; Toy Story 1,2,3,4, the Jason Bourne films, Star Wars, with more sequels than any of us can keep track of! A sequel by definition tells us that something has gone before, and we are now to focus on ‘What happened next’…… Today, we begin a journey through the Bible book known as ‘Acts’, a book that is one of the Bible’s sequels; one of the Bible’s, ‘What happened next…’ The Gospels give us the account of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and appearances to His followers…..but in Acts the time has come for Jesus to physically leave this earth, but His work goes on, and that’s what the sequel is all about; Christ’s mission wasn’t over with His departure, instead for the disciples it was a new Christ-directed phase….So, we focus today on the mission Christ gave to His followers, for that is still our mission and our calling today…

Between Christ’s resurrection and ascension was a period of 40 days, a number in Scripture often associated with a time of preparation and change. During this time the Risen Christ continued to teach and prepare His disciples and He gave them some specific instructions in the form of a command, a promise and a mission. Firstly, the command, and it was a simple one: wait. The believers were not to leave Jerusalem, they were to sit tight. There was a mission, but not yet, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait…’ (Acts1:4a) Then the promise, a very special promise indeed, the promise of the Holy Spirit, ‘…wait for the gift my Father promised….you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ (1:4b-5) The promise was they would receive power (1:8a)…the Greek word used for ‘power’ is ‘dynamis’, from which we get the word ‘dynamite’. Now that is a promise of power! A power that would not only change them but change the world….the Holy Spirit….spiritual dynamite! And then the mission, ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts: 1:8b) Their mission was to go into the world with the good news, beginning with their own community and spreading outwards….And having delivered the command, the promise and the mission, Christ was taken up before their very eyes (1:9). Jesus was physically gone but He would be back at a time set by the Father’s authority…..

So, the band of believers in Acts had to wait, to be patient, and as such they entered a temporary lockdown of their own – and what they did during their lockdown remains a helpful blueprint for us in our lockdown of today. So, how did they wait and how should we wait? They waited prayerfully (1:14), they waited while seeking the guidance of Scripture (1:15-17& 20), and they waited in fellowship (1:14-15). Let’s look at those one at a time…

Prayerfully: If there’s one sure thing about these days in which we live, it’s that there’s plenty of time to pray. So, how are things going in your prayer life? Are you spending that extra prayer-time in what the Bible calls ‘the quiet place’ (Matt 6:6)? And what about creative ideas when it comes to prayer with others? Have you tried praying over the phone with someone, or what about a WhatsApp prayer group or partner? Are you using PCI’s ‘Let’s pray’? It provides a great way for us all to pray together while apart! Whatever resources you’re using or time you’ve set aside – keep praying….

Guidance from Scripture: God speaks through His Word – read, read and keep reading your Bible and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you and speak to you as you read. You may find a reading plan helpful and there are lots available; I have ‘Bible Gateway’ on my Ipad but there are any number of good apps and devotionals. If you’re not sure, why not ask others what they’re using?

Fellowship: How are you keeping in contact with others? On the phone/ Internet/ through people chatting to you through an open window? It’s so important to find ways to keep in contact with each other, to encourage each other and care for each other and that’s what fellowship is all about. Remember the social distancing rules but do try to keep in touch.

Let’s pull our thoughts together: When Jesus left this earth the sum total of the Church was just 120 people (1:15)….Before they set off on their exciting and challenging Christ-given mission they went into lockdown – prayerfully, in study of Scripture and with a sense of fellowship; and today we have the opportunity to wait well with those same three priorities. They were promised the Holy Spirit – as believers we already have the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14). When their lockdown was lifted the gospel message exploded into a waiting world – when our lockdown is over that must be our prayer too – for the message of Jesus to spread from Donaghadee to Ireland and the ends of the earth. In these days of 2020, the baton is now in our hands….and we all have a part to play, so wait patiently and well, and who knows how God will use you in the days to come and to Him be the praise and glory.

Praise: Close your worship by singing or listening to a hymn of praise. (Suggestions: In Christ Alone/ There is a Redeemer/ Christ triumphant/King of kings, majesty/ Rejoice, the Lord is King!)

Benediction: May the God of all grace breath love into our hearts, peace into our minds, and joy into our spirits. May our lives be filled to overflowing and be poured out in His service. Amen