Tag: Ascension Day

Long Live The King!

Sermon, Ascension Day, June 2, 2019, St Petri

Acts 1:1–11 

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 baptised with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptised with[b] the Holy Spirit.’

6 Then they gathered round 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.’

I am not sure we know what to do with Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ birth, miracles, teaching and his death and resurrection get big coverage, and rightly so. But not his ascension. Ever tried finding an Ascension Day Card? You won’t find one among the crowded shelves of Easter Cards and Christmas Cards.

Why does this final moment get left off our calendar and left out of our hearts?

Maybe we just believe that the Resurrection is the final triumph and is all we really need. Death is dead. Jesus is alive. Our future is secure in him by faith. Why bother with this last little bit that kind of serves as an ‘ending for the Resurrection story’?

Question: If that is all the Ascension is – the bit that ends the Resurrection story, then why does Luke begin his next Book of Acts with it?

Maybe we think that the Ascension just spells the end of Jesus actually being with us? We think that maybe he is like one of those helium balloons. He just floats off up into the clouds never to be seen or heard from again until the end.

For now, it seems best to stay with those first things we know of Jesus, not this strange final bit. We resign ourselves to hanging on until we all “go to heaven with him when we die”.

And what about that ‘heaven’? So many of us believe that ‘heaven’ is this whole other place where only spirits go. So, the Ascension is Jesus’ spirit going to this other spirit place. Our eternal soul will go there too. So, Luke’s accounts of Jesus, seeming to go to this other place somewhere as a spirit does not really seem too helpful for living life on this human and earthy planet earth now.

Maybe we are not quite convinced about how Jesus was resurrected either.

There is a well known song by Keith Green we have often sung here: ‘There is a Redeemer’. The chorus gives it away.

“Thank you, O my Father, for giving us your Son,

AND LEAVING YOUR SPIRIT ‘TIL YOUR WORK ON EARTH IS DONE.

So, Jesus has gone to some other place. Only the Holy Spirit is left here. One day Spirit Jesus will come back again and take us eternal spirits to this other spirit place called ‘heaven’?

This flies in the face of the New Testament witness and this Ascension moment. Jesus was not just a divine spirit who entered a human body to get the job done and flew the coop back to his heavenly spirit place. Once resurrected, he spoke, he ate, he let them touch his wounds. Remember the wise guys in white?

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’.

Jesus is still Jesus after his defeat of death. Jesus was not a floaty non-human eternal spirit. Luke, John and Paul especially, speak much about this. Jesus was resurrected still human. He is still the one they know. He will be the same Jesus we know.

Friend, what if Ascension is the BEST thing, the fullest thing, the most complete thing in the whole account of Jesus? What if it wraps up Christmas and Easter and everything else Jesus achieved for us and puts it to work – here and now?

This Ascension moment is like a detonator. The birth, the life, the teaching, the miracles, the cross, the resurrection are the TNT waiting to be set offafter the resurrection; waiting to be set in perpetual motion, and the Ascension is the detonator that set them off; the thing that sets them off into explosive action (eg, Book of Acts).

Luke tells of the Ascension twice – once to end the telling of the gospel: the beginning of Jesus’ work, and once to tell of the beginning of the future of Jesus’ work in the Acts.

The ascension is both the crescendo of the whole symphony of grace already played, and the first note that sets off ongoing grace playing in a thousand places in the world; playing at a theatre near you!

The Ascension triggers everything that Jesus “did and taught from the beginning” into this now new era when he ‘continued to do and teach’ as his new creation; new kingdom; new sky and ground; new city and garden; new community come into existence, right in the middle of the old dying creation?

Can we give each other Ascension Day cards now?!

Why? To share the good news that Jesus never left and is always human as he is divine – with us that way now, and that he is available to all humans as the new way to be human now.

And even more: Because Jesus is doing something: he ascended to rule. Jesus does not ascend to the glory cloud to hang around in the clouds for ages doing nothing in particular. He has ascended to do something – to RULE this world, and to do so with us, who are named “co-heirs in Christ” (Romans 8:16-18).

The Ascension reveals that Jesus is active: active through us; not just hanging around doing a few odd jobs, waiting for the guests to arrive, but ruling this new creation, seeking his guests, tending his new creation right in the middle of the old one.

And by ruling, he does not mean by power or politics or war (as the disciples wish he would) but by grace and with suffering

17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Friend, the Jesus you know is the Jesus available to you everywhere always. He is all in all (Col 1:17, 3:11). His glorious cross fills your sky and all of his gifts of presence, wisdom, direction, healing, love and victory are yours today.

How do you know? How can you trust that this is you, and this future is you now? Baptism. You have died and risen with him.

“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him”. (2 Timothy 2:11–13)

You are not just hanging around doing nothing in particular either! You, as a baptised person in Christ are involved in what he is doing. You fulfill the prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles for which Jesus has been sent and ascended and now rules through us his body on earth (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 4:1–7).

We are all prophets called to proclaim God’s Word, priests ordained to offer ourselves as sacrifices, and heirs resisting the Lord’s enemies as he expands his gracious rule (Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 12:1–2; Rev. 17:1–14).

Let him set you off this morning! “Lord, light us up, set us off!”, we pray.

Pledge yourself to your King not from fear but pure joy. This life you have and this life we share as his body is not about us but about him. We are called into His Majesty’s Service to be his prophets proclaiming, priests praying, and co-hears resisting enemies of Jesus within us and in the world as the King expands his gracious rule.

Long live the King!

 

 

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Sermon, Sunday May 13, 2018 Ascension Sunday

Walking people. Lifestyle.

St Petri

 Luke 24:44-53 

44 He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, that old spiritual from so long ago, penned by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson expressed the faith and the need we have.

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

But how do you get it? How do you get close to God and walk with Jesus more closely? Why would you pray this and seek this closeness anyway? Maybe those people up on the hill who saw him go into the air might have something to say this …

This Ascension moment is a final departure. Final departures are often very hard. A part of us is being removed, not by surgeon’s knife, but by grief’s affect.

These people lived in the presence of a great person who marked their character and shifted their jobs, families, understanding and hopes forever.

But Instead of being lost in heart-felt grief because the loss of their friend and mentor, they are charged up by his departure! They move from aimlessness and confusion and the temptation to give up and scatter, to great joy and sticking together in praise of God! They somehow seem to believe that they indeed now have “a closer walk with thee”!

What would make you glad at the departure of a loved one? Either you are glad the person’s suffering is over, or, you found great pain and discomfort in their presence and now that pain and discomfort is over, or, the person imparted a great inheritance that will help you greatly.

There is no hint that any of those gathered up on the hill were full of joy because Jesus’ suffering was finally over. Yes, he suffered alright. They saw it and felt it and grieved for him, but then he appeared and showed he had triumphed over all of that. So, they are not joyful because his suffering is ended.

There is no hint that they are glad the guy is finally gone because of any ill-treatment or injustice done to them. So that can’t be the reason for the praise and joy.

It has to be that they are full of joyful words about their God and wanting to be together because they have recognised the full extent of the inheritance he has left them! It is an inheritance better than anything money can buy.

The inheritance is his presence still; it is a possible “ closer walk with thee”; not because they earned it or achieved it or paid for it but because he simply gave it.

The gift of his loving presence always is a free gift. It is not that they have to find a way to be close to him but that he now become close to them and promises to remain so.  “I am with you always to the very end of the age”. “Wherever even two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there …”.

But we have trouble with this. Someone has said that we Christians are often “practical atheists”. That is, we say we believe in Jesus but practically live as if he is not really present – as if we have to manufacture a ‘closer walk with thee”; as if he went into that cloud never to return.

Funny how we seem to believe that “we are only as close to God as we choose to be”, as I read on a church website this week. It is as if we have to try and make ‘a closer walk with thee’ happen by our making, our will, our goodness. We have to reach out to him and win him closer.

As a result, when it comes to making a life for ourselves, making decisions, setting direction as a parent, making decisions about marriage, family, business, and all else, we PRACTICALLY rely on ourselves more than the very-present person and word of Jesus.

This all goes OK, we think, until one or two of four things happens: Money gets tight, health breaks down, death breaks in or someone calls our reputation is threatened.

Then the practical atheists become divine prayers! We sing that song!

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be

We call out the Jesus asking him to help us. We may even make a bargain or two with him. We might even clean up our act and stop doing some things or take on some spiritual things just to make sure God comes through…..for a while, until it all leaks out of our hearts and we carry on as practical atheists.

What’s Jesus’ solution to our leakage problem?! What will enable us to have a closer walk with thee?

How will he respond when we call out

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea

Will he say, “you are only as close to God as you choose to be”, so choose! You make it happen, you do it!

No way. We are only as close to God because he chooses to be close to us – VERY CLOSE, UNSHAKABLY CLOSE!

It is HIS reaching out to me that makes me “close to thee” not me.

Friend, there is no need to plead, no need to beg, to steal his closeness. The only need is to trust this present ascended Jesus and his promise to be close to you near and far, here and there, there and then.

What does he give to help us live in his closeness? What will he give us when we are so close that enables us to live with all the confidence, hope and love for which we long?

Three things which are really the same person.

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures

My word will sustain you and make you all you need to be, says the Ascended Jesus. My word will shape you, help you trust my presence any day of the week, any room in the house, any place in the community. I will keep showing you who I am and what your life really is in me.

but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high

You will receive spiritual power that will transform your body, your mind and your spirit daily for the task of speaking and doing what you saw and heard me do and say.

….he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

My blessing, empowering, loving, calling, shaping hands will never cease. They are the wounded hands that bless you. By my wounded hands you are blessed, you are healed – everyday.

Friends, let’s bless each other into;

  • Understand the Scriptures in the joy and sorrow, in the confusion and clarity of life..
  • Receive the Spirit when you feel dead and when you know you are alive
  • Be blessed and bless others – and never stop both. It is his presence, his breath, his wounded hands blessing you to be healing, breathing, moving blessing to the wounded, the broken and the prideful.

His final departure was not final. Neither will yours ever be.

His Ascension brings his presence.

He never left you. He never will.

Praise him with every breath you speak, every day at work, every time with family, every time you use his gifts he has given, with everything you own.

Speak good words of him to others.

We do this together as his church and he is here.

Jesus, move us from self to you; from confusion to you, from death to you, from practical atheism to you in all the fullness of your presence.

Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Pray: Spirit of Jesus, speak, for your servant is listening.

Read the text out loud slowly taking note of who says and does what, and noting questions that come of where your mind dwells/wonders as you go.

Embedded in this simple account of this seeming final departure of Jesus are things that say it is not. This is not Jesus final departure but his beginning arrival in a new way.

  1. Everything is fulfilled. This is the whole biblical story coming to its full fruition. The Messiah is taking up his everlasting reign. All the promises of the Old Testament have been fully kept by God in his Son, Jesus and Jesus will live after this day – always.
  2.  You are witnesses. So, the show goes on. The story is not finished. There is no end here. This is the beginning of the rest of God’s work, and these ordinary folks are involved. They are named one thing – “Witnesses”. They have the calling to bear witness to what they have see and heard.
  3. They will not and cannot do this under their own human power. This new beginning and their calling in it with Jesus can only be done with gift he promises to send soon – the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day (50 days away). Jesus will remain present.
  4.  The last thing they hear and see is a word of blessing from Jesus and his raised wounded hands and rising wounded body and feet over them. The tense of the Greek verb here is not final. it is ongoing. Jesus’ blessing does not come to an end. it goes on. it is still going for these 12 people and for those to whom they bear witness – your and me

I suggest that this is not a sign of Divine Absence in your life but a sign of Divine presence in your life and that jesus is not some spirit floating around the clouds somewhere playing a harp sitting on a cloud, or even some spiritual force that you have to find by some means – be it emotions, or songs or rituals or right therology and anything else. Jesus remains human for humans. The last thing he is is human. The last thing he does is speak human words for humans to hear. We have a human Saviour still. He has not morphed into some spiritual force in our lives. “This same jesus whom you saw go into the skies will return the same”.

What does this mean for you?

The Lutheran community, like all mainline communities has this belief and it shapes their worship life. Why is it that Lutheran can put such a high premium on the gifts of baptism and holy communion and the words of scripture formed into a pattern or rhythm done over and over again? because Jesus is present (where two or three are gathered in his name) even physically and through normal, everyday physical means. When that person is baptised it is Jesus, the living Word present and active using water to discharge his spiritual filling of that new Christian. When that brad and wine is eaten and drunk, it is his body and his blood for his forgiveness and his life now. That is why Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic worship is like it is. it is all based on the belief that Jesus is till present and that the gift of the Spirit is given by him through ordinary means – human words, humans hands, humans bread wine, bodies, prayers songs and etc …

What do you make of all of this? Does this challenge you or comfort you or both?

It is absolutely no problem for me to believe that I partake of Jesus physical body in that bread and his blood by that wine. it is still bread and wine but his word spoken with it make it spiritual and real and healing and life-giving. How about you?

As for who makes a ‘closer walk with thee’ really happen, it is not me. He does. He remains present when he does not have to. He draws close when he has every right to leave me for dead. He loves first, he blesses first, he calls first, he sends me first. I don’t earn it, achieve it, deserve it and even understand it, but he understands these 12 individuals and those who came after them (you!).

We are only as close to God because he chooses to be close to us”.

What do you make of that?

As for our working life, marriage life, relationships and skills, they all count here too. He calls these ordinary people into his global kingdom work of bearing witness and promises to give them the words to say and the places to be. The Book of Acts is the outworking of his promises and it is still going on through all of us today. So we Christians never ‘work for the weekend’, we work in Jesus when we are at work and our work is a gift from him. How I treat my partner is how I treat Jesus and reflective of how he treats me. It all counts and it all bears witness – good or bad.

But yet, we get  guilty about our failing to witness well. Not to worry, there is always another day tomorrow and a forgiving, life-giving ascended Jesus calling us, sending us, trusting us with his words and story.

Pray

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee