Sermon, Ascension Day, Sunday May 28, 2017
St Petri (Pastor Adrian Kitson)
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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.”
9 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.”
What so many Lutherans folks in the Valley fear so much about their church happened to me, my family and a lot of other people this week. A decision was made to close a church we belonged to.
The closure was in WA. It was not only a congregation but a Lutheran school to which it was attached.
For 8 years before coming to serve at St Petri, we and several Lutheran families, Principals and Lutheran teachers put our heart and soul into the exhausting but truly exhilarating work of church planting and school building work.
We began with a handful of Lutherans, and at one stage had around 100-120 people gathering to worship Jesus Sunday mornings. We had whole families being baptised multiple times. The school grew from 58 to 570 in 6 years.
We gave it our all. We did it gladly in the belief that it was Jesus’ mission work; the very same he announced to his disciples up there on that hill of ascension.
We heard news this week that the congregation and school is to close at year’s end. It felt like it had all been for nothing.
What do you do when this kind of thing happens? Your dreamed of business fails. Your planned retirement never happens. Your hopes for your kids do not come to fruition. Your parents let you down. Your prized health fails. Your marriage fails. Your body begins to slow down.…….
The disciples know. They had experienced all of this disappointment and grief in the recent past. It looked like their friend and Saviour had failed on that cross. But then he amazed them with a second wind.
Then in the last gathering they will have face-to-face with him, he is leaving again. This is cruel. All these disciples on the hill can do is stare into the sky and wonder what the heck they are supposed to do now.
They get some direction from their Teacher.
“Wait”. Wait together; wait on the Lord. When you are disappointed and hurting or not sure of Jesus’ call and the effort you have put in or are putting in is really worth it; “Wait”. Wait on the Lord.
More direction too……
Wait for the gift.
This calling , this church, this family, this business, this farm, this health, this marriage, this mission, this future is ultimately not in our hands as followers of Jesus.
How things move, how things grow and then whither, how people come and people go, how churches grow and diminish and grow again, or even end in a place is not for you to know or have control of.
Wait for the Gift. Wait and Trust. The Spirit, the Counselor, the Word of God the Breath of God the power of God. He will restore, bind up, teach, call, gather and enlighten your troubled mind and dull eyes of the heart.
Wait. Wait for the Gift and his gifts. That is what you do when you are disappointed or unsure or both.
Here we are in the ascended Jesus’ presence and his loving call to serve his world in this locality. We have been here for 150 years.
It seems much safer here than it was being a church planting community. We are sort of insulated against change and its direct effects by size and longevity.
Our challenge is tending to believe that engaging in giving our all in the work of welcoming the stranger might seem less necessary here. I hear today from the ascended Lord that it isn’t less necessary.
We are living among a shifting community, shifting church, shifting families, schools and population. This town grew by 3% in the last few years. There are around 200 new people living in the 5355 postcode. The town itself is changing before our very eyes. We have a key role in serving this community in many ways – all in Jesus power, promise and presence.
Wait and receive the gift, says Jesus. And then he calls them to one more thing. It is not optional.
There is only one way we are faithful to who he is and who he has wonderfully made us to be, according to the ascended Jesus – Witness. We are living witness to him in life. Live in his promises, his grace; his deep love; his vision for his world and this town.
Good or bad, faithful or faithless, we are witnesses, right here and now for the gospel of Jesus. That is Jesus’ program for us, his call to us, his way to follow. It is not optional.
Instead of waiting on his Word, receiving his gifts and bearing witness to his grace we could go it alone, trust ourselves, develop our own gifts and stick our head in the sand and not say a word. This is always the temptation for the Christian.
We could take the comfort of size of St Petri and the Barossa Lutheran church and leave this waiting, receiving and witnessing to someone else.
We could settle for the comfort of treasuring memories of past great moments and leave it at that, telling ourselves it is not worth it, it is too hard, it is not necessary and that it unreasonable for the church to expect me to give more, give again, serve with everything not just some things.
We could avoid as much risk as possible, doubting that the effort, the money and the time would be worth it in the end. After all, we might ‘fail’ like that school and congregation have.
By the way, I do not believe that they have failed. I would do it all again. The church was bold. It took a risk and hundreds of people came into direct contact with Jesus. Some were changed forever by his grace.
The church needs to take more risks in this country and this Valley, not less. Jesus says his Word would remain forever regardless of any perceived ‘failure’ it is his promises, his love, his plan that stick – not our buildings, names or particular endeavors. He is our only safety net.
With him as our security, identity and power, we could do what Jesus directed his grieving and puzzled friends to do – wait, receive and witness.
- Regularly go into the upper room and wait on him – his presence, his word, his Spirit.
- Wait on him for everything.
- Receive the gift of gifts: the Spirit; THE gift of my presence. He is living water springing up, effective words in your mouth, tireless bodies, renewed youthful drive and commitment. He is peace beyond yourself or what anything else can give –
- Gifts – special gifts for serving, loving, teaching, speaking, sharing, doing…. Seek the gifts so you bear the fruit.
- You don’t need special words that are always 100% correct. Those apostles did not have them and neither did we in WA, but God gave the growth. You just need his words in your words in the best way you can when called for.
Friends, we are here now.
The Spirit is still working the kingdom of grace out among us here, in Gentile territory at ‘the ends of the earth”. The Ascended Jesus is here as he said he would always be.
The time for playing it safe is not now. The local church begins to die if it does not wait on God’s word, receive his gifts and leaves witness to someone else.
Now is not the time to rest on our 150 year old laurels. Now is the time to wait, receive and witness to his grace.
If St Petri exists in 50 years or a 100 is not our call, or even our concern.
Whatever happens, the ascended Lord Jesus will come back the same way we saw him go. Our place is to wait on him, receive from him and bear witness to him among people here. Everything we own, have, pray, want, love and understand is shaped by him, his call, his gifts and his promises to be with us to the very end of the age.
So as they did: We go and we do and we love and speak and care and pray and he is with us in it all, buildings open or closed, increasing in number of decreasing, long-term member or stranger connecting.
Wait for him. Receive everything from him. Speak and do in his way.
He is present.
Reflect on a time when something you were heavily invested in came to an end and what that felt like. What did you believe God was doing at that time?
Read the text deliberately seeking questions it raised for you and the things that cause you to wonder/imagine what it was like for Jesus, for the disciples, and for those to whom this Book of Acts was first written. Share your insights.
What does this text teach us about God, about ourselves, about being a Christian, about the church, about God’s intentions/mission in the world, and about the end of the world?
What do sense the Spirit prodding you to seek forgiveness for as you hear this text? What would you confess about how you have not faithfully trusted Jesus as you hear his words here?
As you ponder this word of God, what are you thankful to him for?
What does this text make you want to pray for – for yourself, our church, our community, your family, your work, your relationships, for friends of yours.
PRAY (from Hymn 115 and 113)
We rejoice in you for you are King.
We adore your holy name Jesus.
We crown you with many crowns
You have triumphed over the grave.
You know all grief and sorrow that live in our human breast.
You bear them for us all.
We crown you the King of kings. Amen.