From The Manse Sunday 24th May 2020

Dear Friends,

Our congregation has actively supported the work of Start Up Stirling, a charity that has been supporting local people in need since 1994. Financial donations can be given online via Start Up’s website and non-perishable food, pots, pans and cooking utensils, toiletries and cleaning items can be left at the donation stations in supermarkets. The need for our support is greater than ever. Be assured that whatever you give will make a real difference to those who are struggling within our community.

Next Sunday there will not be a service from St Ninians Old. Instead, we will participate in a service led by the Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly. The service will celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the church and will be streamed on the Church of Scotland website and Facebook page from 10—10:30am.

This is the Sunday when we remember Jesus ascension to heaven. Many of us find it difficult to understand the ascension, and for that reason, I was heartened to come across this comment by Professor William Barclay; ‘The ascension must always remain a mystery. It attempts to put into words what is beyond words, and to describe what is beyond description’.

That being said, we must endeavour to understand something about the ascension and so I tried to imagine the mindset of the disciples as Jesus journeyed with them to Bethany, where he blessed them and then ‘parted’ from them.

It is always difficult to say goodbye to people we love. Those of you who have family members or friends in other parts of the world will know this only too well. Bidding them farewell can be heart wrenching and tears can often flow as you wonder when you will see your loved ones again. 

I wondered if this was how the disciples felt but when we read Luke’s account of the ascension, we are told that after Jesus left them, they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. It is not quite what we would have expected and therefore something must have happened for the disciples to react in this way.

Can I put it to you that when Jesus blessed them, he imparted a gift to them and that gift was the gift of peace.

Many of you will recall the old hymn ‘Peace, perfect peace’. It is not in the current hymn book but some of its verses are particularly apt for these days; ‘Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round? On Jesus’ bosom nought but calm is found’, ‘Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away? In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they’, ‘Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown? Jesus we know, and He is on the throne’.

Peace. It is what we long for and it is what we need. This peace Jesus gave to the disciples before he ascended to heaven and this peace enabled them to cope. More than that, it empowered them to move on and enter into a new sphere of service.

A man recalled how when he was a young boy, his grandmother would lovingly take him in her arms and feed him. When she was old and in hospital, incapacitated by a stroke, he went to visit her. It was meal time but she couldn’t feed herself. Looking at her grandson she said, ‘Now it’s your turn’. He fed her. There’s a sense in which, as he left the disciples, this was what Jesus said to them. ‘I have accomplished what I came to do. Now it’s your turn. You have to continue my work’. And he reassured them that they would not be on their own. Through the Holy Spirit, he would be with them as they told others about him and witnessed to him in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and even in the farthest corners of the earth!

What a comfort and what a blessing! And there is more. With the peace of God in their hearts the disciples also knew a great joy! Now they knew they had a Master from whom nothing could separate them!

I recall sharing with my congregation this quote; ‘Good deeds aren’t done by walking into a church. They’re done by walking out and helping others’.  We are called to go out, as the disciples were called to go out, and in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a deep joy in our hearts which comes from knowing that Jesus lives, we are to continue his work and this we can do by supporting charities like Start Up Stirling, Christian Aid and WaterAid but we can also do it by looking out for one another, and I am heartened that this is something that is happening in communities throughout our country at this challenging time. Neighbours are checking on neighbours, people are offering to get essential supplies for those unable to leave their home, and phone calls, texts, video calls and the like, offer uplift and reassurance, both of which are much needed for our mental well-being. As Mother Theresa put it ‘We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love’.

Psalm 47 is known as an enthronement song. It celebrates the universal Kingship of God. It was a song the people of Israel would sing as they went to worship and as they sang it they were uplifted and reassured. No matter what their circumstances were, no matter what challenges they were facing, God is King and with him on the throne, they knew that all would ultimately be well!

As I was writing this a good friend and colleague phoned and asked what I was up to. I told him I was writing something about the ascension. He responded by saying ‘Three points – Jesus went up, the Spirit came down and the disciples went out’. I couldn’t put it better myself!

Every blessing,

Your Friend and Minister,

Gary J McIntyre