In the Between Time – a sermon for the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost

13 May 2018

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” John 17.6-8

 

I know it’s hard to believe now, but when I was 14 I was the fastest boy in our year at school over 100m.

In fact I was the fastest across all the schools of Cannock Chase all 8 or 9 of them.

I thought I was the bee’s knees, or, to be more precise at 13.1 seconds over 100m, a formula 1 grand prix car.

So I went on to the Staffordshire County Schools Athletics Championships.

I took time to warm up and looked around for those who I would leave in my tracks.

I kept looking at the older lads looking cool, relaxed and confident. They were from Wolverhampton & Bilston, Kidderminster and Stourbridge, towns with great athletics clubs. Their more mature stature intimidating. But those in my age group didn’t seem to turn up.

Where were they?

The minutes were ticking away.

The scheduled start time nearing.

Other age groups below me running their races.

Then it was our turn and I looked at the competition.

The apparently older lads were 14 too!

Oh my goodness – I wanted someone to check their birth certificates.

Some had moustaches for goodness sake.

Needless to say I was trounced and county champion remained a forlorn hope.

But then we came to the 4×100 relay.

Our squad practised and practised.

Working out the distance the previous runner would be before the next set off.

Placing a coin on the track so that when that runner reached it the next could spring away. The one with the baton would shout ‘now’ the moment they were in reach and the recipient would extend an arm and open hand behind them so that it would pass from left to right, right to left to optimise the timing. Passing the baton at full speed was the trick.

We breezed it.

It was clear that the other squads had not been taught the technicalities nor had they practised.

Knowledge and practise had overcome power.

But only when the baton was passed on effectively.

 

Today is the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost.

Last Thursday the Church across the world remembered and celebrated the Ascension of Jesus.

Ascension is the occasion to recognise that earthly ministry of Jesus was at a close.

He had run the course, completed what he had to do and was raised to heaven.

But he made a promise to his bereft disciples.

Another would come to be of assistance and guidance.

Even though they felt alone, they would not be alone for long.

The Spirit would come upon them and they would do even greater things than he.

The baton would be passed on.

 

This Sunday is an in-between time.

We are between Ascension and Pentecost.

It can be a day we recognise our lone-ness in the world.

When we reflect on the distance that sometimes comes between us and God.

Jesus has risen but his Spirit has yet to lift us.

 

How many times now have we wondered about God’s love for us or questioned his presence in the world?

Natural disaster, war, persecution and personal issues in our lives can all bring us to appoint where we cry out to God:

God show yourself.

Reveal your purposes.

Fill me with reassurance and peace.

 

In the lonely night hours, at a hospital bedside or with the mourners our anxieties and aloneness may increase.

Our doubts assail us. Our fears multiply.

It is as if the baton is still being passed on – it has left the hand of God but has not quite rested firmly in our own.

 

I recall the moment David, our elder boy, was born.

I looked at him lying there, exhausted but determined after his somewhat lengthy arrival. Karen was pretty done in too.

I was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility.

Here was a new generation before my very eyes.

Having never known my own Father, who never lived to see me born, this was a moment that deeply affected me.

Now I would have the opportunity and the responsibility for knowing my own son.

I actually felt that something of me was being passed on to him, as young and vulnerable he was.

The baton would indeed be passed on.

Not at that moment, for it would have been dropped, but the process leading to its final handover has got underway.

 

As the years progressed the baton is slowly moving ever closer to the hands of David and Robert, their grip of it strengthens as time goes by, one day they will take it from me forever.

When I see their achievements as young men I take pride in all they do.

There is a coming to terms with that moment when the job will have been done well, or not as the case may be.

 

One thing Jesus reinforced amongst his followers was the intimacy between God and his children.

While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them.’ John 17.12

The bringing to birth, the nurturing, the forgiving, the protecting and the letting go that is all so natural in life.

 

I once read that true love is being close enough to touch and far enough away to allow for growth.

God is near but at times seems far from us.

 

In Jesus he has held the baton firmly and is now passing it on to us.

We are between Ascension and Pentecost, we have set off and not yet arrived.

 

This is so for the Church today.

Indeed one could say it was ever thus.

But this is our time.

This is the Church we know:

  • One that sometimes struggles to make an impact on the world.
  • It is misunderstood, pushed to one side in the great debates of our age.
  • We are concerned, and we are right to be concerned.

We have the baton in our hand – to whom will we pass it?

Well I have realised something in recent months.

Having spent much of my ministry trying to ‘grow the church’ God expects a different approach to living out our discipleship.

It’s not about saving the Church it’s all about loving our neighbour.

 

Standing here now and thinking back to the Staffordshire Schools Athletics Championship in Aldersley Stadium in the summer of ’74 I know much has changed.

The formula 1 grand prix car has, as you can see, given way to a family saloon.

I am now in a different world, physically for sure.

What drives me now is not what drove me 44 years ago.

We should never give up on changing with the times, adapting our approach to the world, refreshing our beliefs in ways that are real to those about us.

I have said recently that in a world of fake news the Good News has to stand up to scrutiny. It has to be authentic for its hearers.

There is as a saying that when we are born those around us are full of smiles, we should live our lives in such a way that when we die those around us cry.

I thought that was how it should be for many years.

But now I am not so sure.

You see having lost my father 7 months before I was born I don’t think I was born into a smiling home – I was probably born into a family of grief.

When I was born I think those around me must have been crying – I would like to live my life in such a way that when I die, those about me won’t be crying but smiling for what they have received. That would be the noble path.

It is a tall order – I have no idea if it can be achieved, probably not in my case, such is the complexity of life.

One thing is for sure, when I stand before my maker in judgment he won’t ask me what I did to save the Church.

He will ask what I did to love my neighbour.

 

In this in between time we call life may we dwell on the words of Jesus to love one another as he has loved us.

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