There is a longstanding tradition of seeing the days between the Feasts of Christ’s Ascension and the Day of Pentecost as a time of prayer looking forward to the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of watching and waiting patiently on God and this is the heart of prayer. Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury invited everyone to join him in praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ during these ten days and he has issued the same invitation again this year. Ascension Day is on Thursday so this sermon is a warm up act to prepare for the ten days that begin later this week. With your books this morning you have a prayer card with four prompts for prayer each day. This is a gift for you to take away and keep. There are a few spares, take one for a friend. Some of you may have learnt these themes under the acronym ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
It begins where all prayer should begin, with praise; singing or saying words of adoration towards God. Created honours Creator. We recognize that we are utterly dependent on God for all things. God is the source of life, the goal of life, the one in whom we exist and have our being. It is right to begin each day by acknowledging our place in a world which is God’s world; to restore our trust in God who never lets go of the world he made and in whom we can have complete confidence whatever happens. God loves us so much that he came among us in Jesus Christ, who shared our life, taught, died and rose that we too may have the hope of salvation. Praise and adoration change our mood, lift our spirits and restore us in the grace and peace which can only come from God.
The prayer card puts ‘thanksgiving’ next. Thanksgiving matters enormously. It is the response to a gift and everything is gift. God is generous and shares of the bounty of his love. We share in that, in our existence and in the loving and living that fills us with joy. When we see the world as gift we view it differently. We see it as being special and don’t just take it for granted. When we see everything as gift it changes how we view those around us and with whom we interact during the day. From shop workers, to call centre staff, other drivers on the road to officials administering public services, even MPs and those standing for election. It is the foundation of respect and dignity accorded. Thanksgiving changes us. The word Eucharist means ‘thanksgiving’, so this service is a great celebration of thanksgiving. When we take bread and wine it is in the great prayer of thanksgiving that they become for us tokens of Christ’s body and blood, his life and spirit, passion and redeeming love.
Mindful of all God gives and our place as created, we become aware that we fall short of that image in which we are made. We are part of a fallible and wounded world and so the third encouragement is to confession. We know our need of healing and redeeming love. Facing our crimes of commission and omission – what we have done and what we have failed to do, the things which are too strong for us and with which we need help – facing up to these is the beginning of finding a new life in the grace of God. Sometimes general confessions are too general and we need to concentrate on something specific that needs to be addressed. Confession can be a moment of realization that we need help and that might require going to someone skilled and specialising in a particular area. The purpose is to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, to be shaped more in his likeness, because that is how we become all that God wills us to be. This is why I often leave a pause between the words introducing the confession and beginning the prayer – we need time to arrive, to focus, to bring before God the life in need of help. As we confess so we seek to live the life of grace, of gift.
Finally the prayer card suggests that we bring the concerns on our hearts. Who would you like to pray for? What situation comes to your mind? We bring in prayer the longings of our hearts for people, near and far, for situations, events, for those we elect to make decisions on our behalf, for those who are ill, grieving or have died. We place the concerns of daily living and global politics before the throne of grace. We pray that the rule and purposes of God will shine and bless the concerns we lay before him. We do not do this to inform a God who hasn’t noticed. God has noticed and knows before we do and more than we do. But we hold the whole of life before God’s loving purpose and in so doing we may find that we are aided to see it more clearly. The change that comes might well be a change in us.
Prayer is not magic. With magic the power rests with the magician and none of us are magicians, however much we might wish we were. God is not a force to be manipulated and directed. But in praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ we align our lives with the purpose of God and renew our trust, restore hope and respond with our assent to the power residing with God. This is God’s world; we are his creation. It is only in placing our lives before the grace and love of God that we flourish. Praying every day changes us and changes the world around us because God’s glory has been affirmed and lived. We praise, we give thanks, we seek forgiving release and we intercede. Make this period between Ascension and Pentecost a time to be renewed in prayer as we join a global movement praying for God’s kingdom.
Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church, Easter 6 – Sunday 21st May 2017