Video for 18th May, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Back to normal life this week, and the wisteria are looking rather lovely, so I thought you’d like to see that.
In this year of prayer, we have been holding a number of communion services on some of the hills around our beautiful diocese. Do check out the diocesan website for details. Some of them are quite strenuous – well they are high places, but others are accessible from nearby parking.
Throughout the scriptures, high places have a special place in encounters with God. Abraham received the revelation that God was not at all like the pagan gods when he took Isaac up a mountain thinking God wanted him to sacrifice his son. Moses received the ten commandments at the top of Mount Sinai; Jesus did battle with Satan at a high place at the beginning of the Gospels and won. He was revealed in his glory to Peter and John on top of a mountain. The disciples received their call to make other disciples and preach the gospel on a mountain.
But they have a negative connection as well. Throughout the old testament they are places for alternative pagan worship of the worst and most demeaning kind, up to and including child sacrifice. God’s insistence that they root such practices out of their national life wasn’t a sort of spiritual imperialism. It recognised that idolatrous worship had disastrous and corrupting effects on their national life. The insistence that the Israelite focus of worship should be the Temple is about ensuring people’s natural spiritual sensitivities are properly channelled. It was to guarantee that worship was not merely a subjective response to the natural world, but an encouragement to holiness rooted in the teaching of the law. Jesus says as much in his encounter with the woman at the well. “the time is coming when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” We can only know so much about God through the clues he leaves in creation. The natural world is a source of revelation, but God’s fullest revealing of himself is in the person of Jesus.
Many of the high places in our diocese will have been used over time for a variety of different spiritual purposes, only occasionally Christian ones. Celebrating communion is a way of declaring – as the psalmist said, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” There is something powerful about looking out over the parishes of our deaneries from on high and praying for God’s blessing. The work of the gospel is not just held back by sociological and cultural factors. There are intangible spiritual forces at work for which grappling in prayer is the most fruitful strategy. Hearts are changed primarily by an inner work of the spirit and the Lord seems to associate that work with the faithful and persistent prayers of his people. Our work is not just material but spiritual as well. This is deeply mysterious, but in praying like this we are recognising there are so many things over which we have limited if any agency.
This video is released on Ascension Day, the time when we celebrate that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus Christ. But Jesus’ power and authority is always ambivalent. The most utterly transforming moment in history is a man crucified on a cross. The resurrection was done too Jesus from outside, not something he did for himself. We always (after this pattern) move in his authority from a place of weakness and inadequacy. Sometimes it seems like the time we most need Jesus is the time he pushes off! That was certainly the disciples’ experience at the Ascension. But the absence and the waiting were only for a brief time. Pentecost was coming and with it the experience of a genuinely empowered life. It is that power that transforms the world. It is that power we have been praying to be poured out afresh on our diocese to renew us, that we might be agents of renewal in a broken and hurting world.