Sermon for fifth Sunday of Easter

10th May 2020


Acts 7. 55-end; John 14.1-14

I thought I would try something a bit different this Sunday, so I am inviting you to look at the orchid on my kitchen windowsill. This is the orchid that you, the community of St Anne's, gave me when I was licensed to the benefice five years ago. For the past two seasons it hasn't flowered, and I was beginning to lose hope that it ever would again. But this spring it has produced a spectacular display - twenty-three flowers at the last count. Changing its growing conditions - adding a bit more drainage and a new fertilizer - has had dramatic results. I think my orchid gives us a way to think about that difficult verse at the end of our Gospel reading - 'Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it'. It's difficult because we know from experience that our prayers are not always answered in the way that we would wish. That was true even for Jesus, who prayed passionately in the garden of Gethsemane that he might be spared his forthcoming agony on the cross. So what does this promise mean? One answer, I think, is that God looks beyond what we ask and gives us what we need. Just as my orchid needed a change in its growing conditions to flourish, so God changes us when we pray. The situation may not change, but we do. What we are promised is not a particular answer to a particular problem, but something much more fundamental - the living presence of God with us, through the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. It was this assurance of God's presence that Stephen is given in our reading from Acts, even as he is dying: 'Look,' he says, 'I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'. One of the many challenges of this pandemic is that it is so overwhelming, so far beyond our control, that we find it hard to know what to pray for. But I don't think we need worry about this. In our reading, the ever-practical Thomas says to Jesus, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' and Jesus replies, 'I am the way, the truth and the life'. We can entrust our fear and our bewilderment to him. This week I have been in touch with a college friend who has been in hospital with the virus and is now slowly recovering. He told me that what had helped him most was a verse from Psalm 55: 'Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you'. So I pray that we will be able to let God carry our burdens and that he will sustain and nourish us, so that we may grow and flourish even in these anxious times. Amen

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