As most of you will know the Archbishops have called for a week of prayer, focused on the Lord's Prayer,  in the week running up to Pentecost and that this benefice have decided to make a positive response. I am pleased that we have. I firmly believe that prayer should be the 'axis of our lives.' I believe that prayer really does change things. But, most of all I believe that prayer changes us. It is through prayer that God aligns us with his intentions or plans. To pray properly is to fully cooperate with God.

On Tuesday night I will talk a little bit more about prayer in general and the Lord's Prayer in particular. I am also happy to answer any questions about prayer in general, or my own prayer life.

On Wednesday I will lead us in short mediation on the Lord's Prayer and, on Thursday we have the opportunity to listen to some beautiful Taize chants and pray the Lord's Prayer.

The Gospel reading we have just heard (Luke 11, 1-13) is of course all  about prayer and so this morning I would like to identify four values, or virtues that I think can inform and guide our prayer lives. I am going to focus on these values, today rather than the specifics of the Lord's Prayer. These values or virtues are: humility, intimacy, simplicity and perseverance.

The Gospel passage starts with one of the disciples asking Jesus to 'teach us to pray.' At one level this is a strange request. You would have thought that a good God fearing Jew would know all about prayer, After all they would have spent a lot of time in the temple and synagogue, sat at the feet of the Rabbi and Priest. So I guess what is going on here is that the disciple is saying to Jesus: 'for whatever reason my prayer life isn't quite working, its a bit arid and dry.' I suspect that sometimes we all feel a bit like this. So we like the disciple need to have the humility to ask how to pray.

Jesus response is so radical as to beggar belief. He says that we must start with intimacy: Our very first words should be 'Our Father,' yours and mine. Abba, Daddy.  There is a robust theological logic to this: what on earth would be the point of praying to an entity that we can't relate to; such an entity would be bound to be a false god.

And, of course through using the word 'our' Jesus is stressing our interdependency and our equal status as children of God. Prayer is from now on to be warm and relational; intimate. Prayer is to be collective as well as personal. Whenever we pray the Lord's Prayer, even when we do so by ourselves we are praying the Prayer of the Church, alongside countless others doing the same thing at the same time. The intimacy of the Lord's Prayer brings us into relationship with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Then we move onto simplicity. The Lord's Prayer is nothing if not brief. It has no empty words and no unnecessary words. All it contains are the right words: words of gratitude, words of hope, words of forgiveness and a request for deliverance or protection from all that stops us being the image of God in and for the world.

Finally, the second part of the reading reminds us of the importance of perseverance. Prayer is not simply something we do as a one-off, or on a Sunday by Sunday basis, as I have already suggested prayer should be instead the axis of our lives. And, when we pray we trust in the goodness of God.

So this week we are asking you all to pray the Lord's Prayer twice a day – we have even provided some prayer cards. As you do so, please allow yourselves to be guided by these four virtues: humility, intimacy, simplicity and perseverance, because it is these four that I suggest make the phrase, 'thy kingdom come, thy will be done,' a living reality, Amen.

Well, I don't think I have ever before preached at just gone six in the morning! And, although I am happy to be here, I suggest we don't make a habit of meeting so early. As Sallyanne will tell you I am not a morning person; I can be a just a tad grumpy first thing.

But, I am really glad we are here. I think it is really important that we celebrate the Ascension and, for two reasons:

First, it reminds us of Jesus' real status as both fully human and divine. The God made flesh, becomes the one that goes to sit at the right hand of His Father. And in doing so reminds us – because we have a common Father – of our eventual destiny. This is good news indeed. The Ascension validates Jesus claims that we may also get to dwell in the House of the Lord forever. The Ascension also makes sense of the Resurrection. Without the Ascension it would be very hard to see the point of the Resurrection.

But, secondly the Ascension reminds us that the baton has now been passed on to us. The mission of the Church and the spreading of the Gospel, is now, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our responsibility.

Jesus through his earthly life characterised for us the Kingdom of God; he showed that the kingdom is concerned above all else with with justice, peace, love and joy in the Holy Spirit.

He showed us through parables how to live the Gospel in the here and now.

For some living the Gospel, bringing something of the Kingdom of God, to 'earth as in heaven,' may mean doing something really big and significant; just like Desmond Tutu has done in leading the reconciliation process in South Africa, or Mother Theresa through her works of charity amongst some of the world's poorest people.

But, for most of us, it will simply mean being Christian, or as Christ, in the place we find ourselves in; this is the genius of the parish system.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this:

'One's task is not to turn the world upside down, but to do what is necessary at the given place with a due consideration of reality.'

And, if enough of us do this our all the individual acts of love will 'converge to form the mosaic of charity which can change the task of history.'

The Ascension reminds us to remember that our task, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to be the contemporary representatives of Christ, 'risen, ascended, glorified.'

 

Amen.

I wonder what your favourite nursery rhyme was when you were growing up? Any suggestions?

Well, I don't know if it was my favourite but the Grand Old Duke of York is always one that has stuck in my head. If you remember he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again; very possibly for no apparent reason!

Well, this week on Thursday morning, we celebrate Ascension Day – the day that Jesus ascends to heaven, not to be seen again. But unlike the soldiers in the Grand Old Duke of York nursery rhyme he is to go for a reason, to be with his Father, and ours – think of the words at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer – in heaven. In doing so, he passes the baton onto us; it is now our job to bring something of the kingdom of God, in heaven down to earth. He has shown us the way and, through his very persona, he has revealed what the Kingdom of God is like: a place of justice, peace (note the words from the Gospel – 'my peace I leave you,) love, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus last promise before his ascension is the Gift of the Holy Spirit, which the apostles have already received and, the wider group of worshippers is to receive at Pentecost. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is saying to us: 'even though I am to ascend I will never leave you.' Of course the purpose of the Divine Gift is to equip us to carry on working for the kingdom, to become as Christ in a deeply shattered and broken world, to show Jesus to the world as 'the way, the truth and the life.' And, of course by following in Jesus' footsteps we hope one day to dine with Him in paradise.

But, here is the nub of the issue: in order to ascend, we have to first descend; just as Jesus did. Jesus the ascending God was also, in the words of Henri Nouwen, the 'Descending God.' What does it mean to descend and how can we do it? Again, I think Henri Nouwen provides some insights. Nouwen suggests, and this has been my own experience, it means abandoning false perceptions of our own self-worth, Nouwen wrote: ' I get the impression that under the blanket of success, a lot of people fall asleep in tears.'

To descend means to get over ourselves and throw away the illusionary, to recognise that my self-worth and yours is simply this: that we are children of God: 'The descending way of Jesus, is the way to find God. Jesus doesn't hesitate for a minute to make that clear. Soon after he has ended his period of fasting in the wilderness and called his first disciples to follow him, he says; how blessed are the poor in spirit.' Spiritual poverty means taking a realistic view of ourselves, and learning to love ourselves for who we are. And when we have done this, we can descend to help, or love, our neighbour because we then start to see our neighbour as our equal: 'the descending way of love, the way to the poor, the broken, the oppressed becomes the ascending way of love, the way to joy, peace and new life.'

So if we are serious about our faith, before we even begin to think of ascending we need to learn to value ourselves properly through the eyes of God, and then we need to value others likewise. Only under these circumstances do we experience peace, Shalom, right relationship. And, we will never get their under our own strength, only in the power of the Holy Spirit; Jesus' final gift to us.

Of course this gift is made present to us in the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist we are fed to become the sort of people who make Jesus' 'joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind.' If we expect God, through the Holy Spirit, to be at work in the sacrament of the Eucharist, it is reasonable for us to expect that we might become the type of people where 'nothing is done out of jealousy or vanity; instead out of humility of mind' and where we descend into a state where 'everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others.'  

The logic of the Gospel is that this is the only real way to ascend; let’s do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.