When God’s Kingdom comes to Manchester

May 28, 2017

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Preached by Canon Mark Collinson using Acts 1.6-14, John 17.1-11 at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 28th May 2017, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

Acts 1.6-14  Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’

Matthias chosen to replace Judas

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[c] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

John 17.1-11  After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed:

‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

Jesus prays for his disciples

‘I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

I wish I was standing here and that I didn’t have to talk about Manchester. Because talking about Manchester is painful. It means telling you about Chloe, 17, and her boyfriend, Liam, aged 19, both from South Shields, who are killed together. 14 year old Sorrell didn’t go to the concert but just went with her family to pick up her sister, who was safe. Jane, aged 51, was simply there with a friend to pick up her friends daughter, but she lost her life, because she was with her friend. These are the stories of Manchester, together with a total of 22 stories of people who lost their lives, and sixty people injured. To talk about Manchester also means talking about the man, Manchester born and bred, who was a victim of hate crime, verbally abused by a man a van, because of the colour of his skin. This happened after he had spent the past 48 hours treating the injured as a doctor in Salford General Hospital.

The Archbishop of Canterbury says,

‘The terrorist aims to cause division and disintegration, with fear and horror to separate us from our fellow human beings. Yet we must share the reality of suffering as well as proclaim the power of God.

I wish I didn’t have to talk about Manchester, but because we do have to talk about Manchester, we need to talk also about how to make sense of what happened in Manchester. The Archbishop’s suggestion is that we should proclaim the power of God, alongside the reality of suffering. That’s why it’s appropriate for us to respond by saying the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven. When we pray the Lord’s prayer we’re asking God to put things right, to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

Praying ‘Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven’ is a cry for justice for the lives of Chloe and Liam, Sorrell and Jane and the 18 others who lost their lives.  It’s a cry to God to make things right in the midst of terrible tragedy and evil.

I wish I didn’t have to talk about Mancheste because I’d rather talk about ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Thy Kingdom Come is the Archbishop’s invitation for Christians around the world pray that we will bear effective witness to Jesus Christ.

Last year you may remember that we embraced that invitation with nine days of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost, with activities outside in the Outer Close and a prayer concert here with Matt Redman and Bishop David baptising and confirming various people from around the diocese.

This year we’re seeing more churches involved, not just Anglican churches, but Baptists, Methodists, URC, Pentecostal churches, Roman Catholic Churches, Orthodox churches, everyone in the household of God. Every one who dares to call God ‘Father’, is joining in prayer. And the prayer is not just happening here in the UK, it’s happening all over the world. We’re praying with our mission partners in Myanmar and Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. And they are praying for us to be effective witnesses for Christ.

We are privileged to have the archbishop join us next week for our Sunday evening service at 7pm. If you’d like to join us, we have reserved some tickets for you. Please see the curate, Katie Lawrence after the service if you would like one. There’ll be a queue to get in, and it’s standing room only, as we’ll have 2,000 people packed in here, and possibly 2,000 people watching via a big screen in the Inner Close.  Thy Kingdom Come is about seeing the whole people of God gathering in unity to be witnesses to Christ in our suffering world.

I wish we didn’t have to talk about Manchester, but we’re living in strange times, in-between times. The army were put on the streets to reassure us; I chatted to armed police who patrolled the Outer Close on Thursday. We’re in inbetween times as we wait to hear what Brexit means. We live inbetween governments as we wait for the day of the General Election.

Ascension introduces to an inbetween time. After the glorious forty days of Easter, Jesus tells his disciples to wait. The disciples have asked him, ‘Are you going to make things right? Are you going bring justice? Are you going to bring in your kingdom?’

And do you know what Jesus’ answer is? He says, ‘I’m not going to do it. You are. You’re going to bring justice, and righteousness and peace, and unity amongst the nations. You’re going to govern well, to bring strong and stable leadership in the interests of the many, not just the few. You’re going to be open, tolerant and united.

‘So’, Jesus says, ‘Do you think you can do that?’

Do you think you can build a strong nation that isn’t divided down the middle, where citizens are safe and secure from evil people, where there is tolerance, love and compassion for the outsider, where there is opportunity for all?

I think we can try, but we will fail unless we take hold of the message of Ascensiontide: wait for the Holy Spirit to guide you so that you walk in the way of Christ and see his kingdom come.

We need to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to act when we hear his voice. I failed at that recently. A couple of weeks ago I had a strong sense of being reminded about friends that we got to know in Amsterdam. They now live in Malta, and I realised I had to pray for them, and I thought that I should get in touch with them to encourage them. Sadly I didn’t contact them, only to find out this week that they’ve got major changes coming their way. I heard the voice of the Spirit, prayed (which was good) but it would have meant more to them if I’d been in touch with them whne the Spirit prompted.

So we do have to talk about Manchester, and we need to pray. We need to pray for God’s Kingdom to come. We read in Acts that ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer. So I encourage you to pray this coming week, for the remaining six days of this Novena of prayer. Pray with all God’s family, the Lord’s prayer, Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven.