Tag: Ascension

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SermonAscension Day, May 24th, 2020St 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 worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. 

Friends, we, as church, may have ‘left the building’ for a time, but Jesus has not ‘left the building’ of planet earth or our lives. That is the grand good news of Ascension Day.   

If there was ever a moment to listen to the man up on the hill speaking final words to his soon to be church as he shifts places from seen to unseen, from only one place and time to all places and times, it is now.   

Jesus now switches places from filling one city to filling all cities; from filling one human life to filling all human lives, from being present in one place and time in history to being present across all time and places in time, including ours.   

This is why he says to his friends before the whole crucifixion and resurrection event even happened: 

28 ‘You heard me say, “I am going away and I am coming back to you.” If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:28-29) 

He tells again that he is not seen as he once was, and that this is good for us. Because even more than this COVID virus, Jesus ‘goes viral’ as he takes up his reign high on that ascension hill, and unlike this COVID virus, his rule brings new life and heals our bodies and our world.   

Unlike us, Jesus is now unrestricted; hidden and yet heard and known by his voice to the eyes of faith – our faith.   

How can you put your faith in his presence and all his words to you? Hear how Luke tells us of the moment: Three things tell you that Jesus has not left us.    

CLOUD 

Jesus ascends and is hidden in a cloud, says Luke. This is no mere fluffy white cumulonimbus cloud or some mere foggy misty cloud. This is the ‘Glory Cloud’, the visible sign of God’s presence. Just like in the OT where God dwelt with his people in the “glory cloud” on My Sinai or on the desert journey or in the tabernacle and then the Jerusalem Temple, the cloud is a sign of God’s presence not his absence. Jesus is not alone. He is enveloped by the Father. He is not leaving but is shifting to be being present in a different way – a much more complete way.   

BLESSING 

To bring that same truth home Luke tells us that Jesus is doing something as he is moving – Jesus is blessing his people as he ascendsThe God-given gift in which Jesus ascends; the last word that he speaks that changes the human heart is blessing. Not goodbye”, or “I’ll be back”, or all the best as you figure out how to be good enough or do enough and be enough to please me, but “Bless you…”.   

And the tense of the Greek words is a never ending present. “The Lord is blessing you and will bless you forever, the Lord is making his face to shine upon you and will forever, the Lord is looking with favour upon you, and will forever….”  

JOY FILLED PEOPLE 

From gloomy fear and doubt to unrestricted hope and joy! These once fearful and disappointed people are jumping for joy. Like when you experience something good you never thought possible or even knew existed before the moment happened, their inner being is on fire.   

With all this COVID stuff and reflections on WWII it inspires, I think of that famous footage from 1945 of the guy in a suit and a hat dancing and jumping on a city street in Melbourne as the tram rolls behind him with thousands of fellow Aussies experiencing a joy they never thought would come as the announcement comes that that terrible war is finally over.   

The disciples are like that hopping, skipping man. They know his love, his peace in a Holy Spirit driven way. They are become unstoppable as they live together worshiping in the ancient worship of God at the city Temple and sharing their lives together in their homes and streets from this moment on.    

So, can you see, the Ascension is all about Jesus’ being fully present in every way in blessing which creates joy and hopeHe ascends to be fully present in every dimension – spiritual, physical, psychological, emotional…..and his presence is one of blessing for his people.   

Is this why Paul can lead us in this prayer   

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21). 

Friends, Jesus rules. How? He rules in mercy and forgiveness by his Word. By his Spirit Word he gives an everlasting inheritance to any sinner who calls on his name in repentance and faith.    

Surely this gives us confidence and hope for now in this restricted time and later when it is not., because he is unrestricted in both.   

 Our faith, our hope, and our love are never restricted because the Spirit of Christ is not restricted by anything. He reigns in peace and blessing when we are together or alone, gathered in one big church building or being little churches in our homes. 

Jesus still has church gathered small for his mission  

I believe he is rebuilding our relationships and taking them to a deeper level in this restricted time  

We might be becoming a church that is shaped like a network of smaller ‘little churches’ gathered around our area where nurture, care, fellowship, learning and witness fan out in even more ways in our streets.   

Maybe this COVID time is the Spirit making us a bit like Jesus when he ascended –  Jesus not merely in one place and time, but across all places and times. We are moving from gathering in one building at one time to gathering to in buildings at different times as Jesus continues to call us to participate with the Spirit in the same mission – to share the love and hope of Jesus.  

I wonder. ….. i wonder whether you wonder? 

Whoever you are, however you are, wherever you are, there is the Spirit calling, gathering, enlightening you today by the powerful word of this hidden yet gloriously ruling Saviour  

Jump for joy today, like they did when the War was over; like the Apostle’s did as they came down from the mountain to gather together and praise God whom they now knew as so much more than they previously knew – now a kind and loving Father, a Ruling brother and Saviour, a calling and enlightening Spirit always with them.  

Presence

Sermon, Ascension Day, Sunday May 28, 2017

St Petri (Pastor Adrian Kitson)

Acts 1:1-11

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 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. 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. For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around 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.”

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.

Wait

  • Regularly go into the upper room and wait on him – his presence, his word, his Spirit.
  • Wait on him for everything.

Receive

  • 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.

Witness

  • 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.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

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.

Instruction

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?

Confession

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?

Thanksgiving

As you ponder this word of God, what are you thankful to him for?

Supplication.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s Jesus?

Sermon, Ascension Day
May 27th, 2015
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 worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

PRAY: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, that we may know you better (Ephesians 1:17-18)

There was this old 90’s movie starring the American funny man, Billy Crystal, called “City Slickers.” Billy played a bored middle aged baby boomer. He is fed up with his job, generally grumpy and feels locked into an endlessly predictable and unhappy life that will be this way until he finally dies – which will be a relief because the boredom and grumpiness will be over! Ever met anyone like this? Ever been like that yourself?

He sells radio advertising time. He has couple of school aged kids. One day he visits his son’s grade 4 class. The teacher has lined up lots of Dads to come in and tell the kids about each of their occupations. This worried and unhappy man starts out quietly – quite boring….. only to suddenly let loose a long and depressing deadpan monologue that bewilders these youngsters:

  • “Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. It goes by fast.
  • When you’re a teenager, you think you can do anything and you do. Your twenties are a blur.
  • Thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?”
  • Forties, you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud, one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother.
  • Fifties, you have a minor surgery — you’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery.
  • Sixties, you’ll have a major surgery, the music is still loud, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway.
  • Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, you have lunch around 10:00, breakfast the night before, spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, “How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?”
  • The eighties, you’ll have a major stroke, and you end up babbling with some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but who you call mama.

Crystal then looks at the young kids and asks, “Any questions?”

Monologue taken from Billy Crystal in the movie “City Slickers.”

Any questions about this kind of life?! Yes!

Switch now to another man in front of a class of students, but not in a school building.

This man is on a hill – he is a younger man and his is full of life. He is scarred but joy-filled, once defeated but now triumphant. He is open, loving and engaging and it is his final Word to those who have lived the journey with him. They hang on every word he speaks. They love him because he loves them and they know it.

This is Jesus before he “departs”.

Now at first look, it seems that Jesus is leaving the planet. He is taken from his disciples into the clouds. On face value it seems the last word is that Jesus has left the world and left his disciples there alone. It has been that way and will stay that way until he comes back.

But there are three giveaway signs that call out to us Christians that there is much more to this seeming departure.

This is no departure if a hero but an infilling of his presence in a new way!

How can you trust this? Three things tell you that Jesus has not “left your building”, and that this life with all its decisions, directions and doubts is NOT totally “all on you”.

1. CLOUD
Jesus ascends and is hidden in a cloud, says Luke (Acts 1:9). Just like in the OT where God dwelt with his people on mount Sinai in the “glory cloud” and in the tabernacle – the cloud is a sign of God’s presence not his absence. Jesus is not leaving but is being present in a different way – a much more complete way.

2. BLESSING
To bring that same truth home Luke tells us that Jesus is doing something as he is moving – Jesus is blessing his people as he ascends – he is blessing them. The God-given gift in which Jesus ascends; the last word that he speaks that changes the human heart is blessing. Not good bye. Or “I’ll be back” or all the best as you figure out how to be good enough or do enough and be enough to please me, but “Blessing you…”.

And the tense of the Greek words are never ending present. “The Lord is blessing you and will bless you forever, the Lord is making his face to shine upon you and will forever, the Lord is looking with favour upon you, and will forever….”

3. JOY FILLED PEOPLE
These students of the Master are jumping for joy. Their inner being is on fire. They know his love, his peace in a Holy Spirit driven way. They are unstoppable as they live together worshiping in the ancient worship of God and sharing their lives together in their world.

So, can you see, the Ascension is all about Jesus’ being fully present in every way in blessing – all for his glory? He ascends to be fully present in every dimension – spiritual, physical, psychological, material…..and his presence is one of blessing for his people.

Is this why Paul can lead us in this prayer – from our home text for 2015…

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule, authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21).

Yes, the human and divine Jesus Christ rules and he is present for us – his body the church – for you.

Friends, where’s Jesus? Here! Jesus rules. How? He rules in mercy and forgiveness by his Word and by his Word he gives an everlasting inheritance to sinners.

What does this all mean for today?
This means that life does not have to go as Billy Crystal suggested!

We are not cold or bored or lost in our own naval gazing. We are alive and we have a purpose because He has a mission – to bless the world through his body, the church – his community through whom He is still about, making more disciples of himself. Our privilege is to be empowered by his Spirit to help people encounter this loving man and be filled with the joy the Holy Spirit brings to bear on our lives – to share the love and hope of Jesus with everyone.

Friends, surely this gives us confidence and hope for now and the future as everyday [people who live and work in God’s world. We are his local church – his body whom he fills with life and light and he overcomes darkness and death we face through us.

Surely in the face of growing antagonism and dismissal for our faith in our Australian society, and in our own circle of people, we have the joy, the hope, the life, the meaning for our work, the purpose for our gathering, the fire in the belly to live in his blessing and share him with others.

Yes, the world will end in the way and when Jesus deems it to be so, not when human beings in greed and lust for power decide.

My life will end and my ascension to glory will be at the Saviour’s authority and decision. Just like him, I will be bodily resurrected. Until then it is hand the wheel with you as we give our lives to his continual blessed working here.

Receive the joy of his blessing, his glory at work in you today. You need it to live faithfully and fully in him. Ask the Spirit for the joy of these Apostle’s. He gives it. You need it. We all do.

Friends, may the eyes of our hearts be opened today to joy of Jesus’ presence and blessing in your life and may he enliven us as a church to be his blessing and glory in our place.

May we receive the riches of his grace by the mighty power of his Word so that we continue to live in the calling we have received. Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS.

Share or reflect on how your week has been and how God has been present with you.

Ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of yur heart that you may know Jesus better through this reflection.

Read the text through carefully/slowly and pick up those three signs that Luke places in this account of Jesus resurrection to show that Jesus not going away for good, but staying with his disciples in a new way – Cloud, Blessing, joy of the disciples.

If you have time have a look at Exodus 24 for the background to the Glory Cloud – the visible presence of God acting in his grace with Moses and the 70 Elders of Israel on Mt Sinai…

Jesus, the new Moses, who does not reign by the Law but by the good news of forgiveness by his own sacrificed blood on the doorposts of our hearts first given in Baptism and re-confirmed in the Lord’s Supper now gives his disciples his glory as he fills the universe with his presence…

Share your reflection on what Jesus is doing here as it related to Exodus and what I have just said…. What links can you make between the Old Testament account of the Covenant in Exodus 24 and Jesus on the mountain with his disciples here – share your thoughts……

How do you think most people you know answer that question, “Where is Jesus?” Share your thoughts…

it seems that many people don’t believe he is anywhere. Other believe that he is only present when it feels good or when they personally sense his presence. others believe he is present everywhere in everything and so, worship and sacraments and the like are unnecessary. Other believe that Jesus is not present but that he has “left his Spirit here until he returns again at the end”.

Where do you think Jesus is?

Luke seems to proclaim that Jesus is both everywhere and yet not too heavenly that he is out of touch with the earth. He is still human after his resurrection. He is still divine and human before his death and after. So this “human Jesus” is still present as much as a divine Jesus – he can’t be separated.

This is why Lutherans (and others) have no trouble believing that Jesus, the man and God’s son at the same time can easily be phyisically present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion for us to eat and drink so that we receive his forgiveness and new life over and over again. This is why Holy Communion is such a central and special gift of God’ s grace for us.

This is also why Lutherans (and others) see that God is at work in the human things as much as the heavenly miraculous things. Everyday work, conversation,; human hands, mouths and feet, vocations of family, work, recreation are all God’s domain because Jesus is in them and works through them and us.

Chat about this belief and how it matches your experience/belief.

Notice the great joy those disciples had in this moment. They could only fall on the face on the ground (what the word “worship” literally means here in the original Greek language) and thanks and praise God for all that he had done and was doing right there and then. They ended up enjoying their worship life in the Jerusalem Temple a lot! Have you known joy like that? – so much joy that you overflow with thanks to the Lord for all his goodness shown to you? Share your story on this…..

PRAY: Spirit of Christ give me the joy of being saved, the joy of being at one with him and fellow Christians; the joy of being in a local community of faith in Jesus; the joy of working, studying, living in his grace and love…..

Inside Out

Sermon, Ascension Day, Sunday May 25, 2014.Pantor Crator
St Petri

Inside Out

Luke 24:44-53
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

And Acts 17: 16-34
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[c]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

If I wanted to make a group of Christians feel totally inadequate, scared, confused and guilty I would only have to use one word and the job would most times be done.

Now I don’t want t make anyone here feel like that! But this text from the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts raises the word that has this effect. What’s the word? ……..Witnessing!

Yes, there it is: “Witnessing to others”: Bearing witness to the gospel among other people who don’t believe in Jesus. Fulfilling the great commission of Jesus to preach the gospel to all the world….

If there is one area of the Christian life that we know we need to do but struggle so much to have any freedom in and joy in it seems to be this one.

We hear this great commissioning text and shudder in our boots a bit because we hear as being a challenge that seems totally dependent on us!

“….that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things…”.

When I think of “witnessing” I think of “Mission” and then i think of THE great missionary, Paul.

I think of him boldly showing us how it is to be done as he mixes it with the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17! The model of witnessing?!

Paul does have demonstrate the courage to stand up in public and launch the case for the Christian faith right in one of the leading cities of the world, and in the leading place of that city! Can you feel your flimsy witnessing courage ebbing away already?!

Is this where the guilt and the fear come from when it comes to our calling to bear witness to the gospel among people we know? Are we scared because know we are not Paul and guilty because we just don’t say anything much as a result?

Or is it that we, unlike Paul, just have no confidence to say much about our hope? Here Paul is using the rhetorical skills of the day to provide a strong case for repenting before God and receiving God’s forgiveness in the resurrected Jesus. Are we all meant to be able to do that? Is that why we just find witnessing so scary and something to suffered at best – if we ever pluck up the courage to say anything?

Or is because we are just scared messing it up? We have had a go with family members and we just end up in a bad place. It seems to turn into an argument and no one enjoys it and we feel like we have failed. So we have put the witnessing thing back in the box and left it there for the Paul’s of the world, or the pastors or the church staff or anyone but me!

I found some good news on this recently.

I heard someone say that the whole thing of witnessing to others need have no fear for us at all and that in our culture, in our time, there are ways to approach it and actually do it that are quite natural and actually quite easy. Even in this Ascension moment when Jesus commissions us he gives the good news that this work is his from start to finish
• “These are my words that I spoke to you”
• “to be proclaimed in his name”
• “clothed with power from on high.”
• “lifting up his hands, he blessed them”

I heard someone say that the whole thing of witnessing to others need have no fear for us at all and that in our culture, in our time, there are ways to approach it and actually do it that are quite natural and actually quite easy.

See, the gospel will sound different in every different situation and with every different person. And that is because the gospel of Jesus’ forgiveness is not some set text or formula that you just have to slavishly work into any conversation to achieve your goal of witnessing!

As an example….., on a few occasions in my life a friend has dared me to cleverly find some way of saying a weird word in a conversation with someone (stranger or friend) – just for fun. So the dare is, “I dare you to use the word ‘perfunctory’ (or some such other hardly used word) in a conversation with say “a taxi driver”.

So you jump in the taxi together. You have the word in your head and the conversation is going on and your friend who dared you to do this is keeping the score and you get nervous and your don’t know how to use the word and your scared of confusing the person or offending them (It could be his Indian grandmother’s name or something!)….

And now we are in the space we might find ourselves in if we thought that witnessing was using some set formula that we have to cleverly slip into to a conversation to pat ourselves on the back that we have won Jesus’ dare.

Well, Paul does not do that. The gospel comes out uniquely here because he is in a unique situation and he listens to the situation first.

In the particular situation he finds himself, he responds to the call of Jesus to bear witness for THAT situation. Here he uses all his awareness of the city and the people to invite people into the good news of the “unknown god”, whom he names as the righteous man whom God the creator has raised from the dead to give assurance of his love for the world to all (Acts 17;30-31).

Paul has a story, a nationality, a time and he has skills. He is steeped in the academic rigour of his day. He has rhetorical skills that fit this crowd. He uses them accordingly. I doubt whether Peter could have done this in this place. He has another background. Put Peter on the shore line with beefy blokes sharing a BBQ ad talking fishing and he could speak of faith in Jesus that would bear fruit. Then Paul would be out of his depth.

The good news comes out differently all the time.

OK. So this morning if can you accept that;
• You don’t have to be anyone else or
• You don’t have to use the magic word perfectly or set formula
• You don’t need to speak like someone else

Can you also just for a minute at least allow that
• You are free in your baptism into Christ to be yourself,
• Listen carefully and notice the other person,
• and when invited or when appropriate give YOUR account of the hope that is in you?

If so, then we might be able go a little further and can hear about a way to do this in much more natural ways, free from guilt or fear, express the “reason for your hope”.

“Inside Out” is the name for the way to be yourself, share your faith whenever and with whoever is appropriate.

Start from the ordinary things we already have inside of us to share then move on to those heavenly things of God with the person outside us – “inside out”.

Conversations about ordinary things and everyday concerns using Jesus own words for the moment is bearing witness inside out. His words are inside our hearts and minds and they simple come out for the moment as they are brought to mind by the Holy Spirit in that moment.

Jesus spoke about wheat and vines and water and business people and church buildings, and the like.

And we can do it like this…

You are chatting in the street with a person you know who is telling you about a really difficult situation they are having with their grown-up daughter. She is off the rails and this person is worried and a little bit angry and just wanting the daughter to come back home and talk about it.

What Jesus stories are in your mind now? I know which one comes to my mind straight away: the story about the prodigal sons – especially the young son.

How would it be that you simple said that this situation reminds me of a story Jesus told about a Father who also lost his wayward son….. Tell it your way how you remember it in whatever time you have.

And here is the best thing about this “inside out” way of bearing witness. You really don’t need to say anymore.

You might be tempted to go on and try and make all those links you know: God is our Father and he accepts us all and welcomes us back and calls us to do this for others and etc, etc…OR NOT.

What if you just related a story of Jesus or of any Bible story if it fits the conversation and trusted the Holy Spirit to make all the links for that person in his time and way?

I reckon we can trust the Holy Spirit to do that.
After all, doesn’t Jesus tell us that the Holy Spirit is the Director of mission?

‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me so I send you. …Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven” (John 20:21-23).

When Jesus sends out the 70 to the places he intended to soon go, he encouraged them to “pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into His harvest. (Luke 10). This conversation and the story and you are the Lord’s right there and then.

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said. Peace I leave with you….” (John 14)

Is witnessing less scary now and less about you knowing how to say thing right, and less about getting it right, having all your questions and answers right?

Isn’t it more about conversations about ordinary things and everyday concerns using Jesus own words for the moment? I reckon so and I am trying it. It is much easier and I am not so scared anymore.

Trusting the Holy Spirit is in our conversations and our simple talking about everyday things and concerns and offering the story of Jesus we know already that seems to match our Areopagus, our town square, our Valley, our skills and understandings and our century.

And one more freeing thing I notice with Paul and with ourselves….

If while you are talking to your friend in the street and nothing comes to mind, no story of Jesus appears, or his lift arrives and he has to go or you sense that the time is not right, you can stop it right there. Leave it to the Holy Spirit for another time.

Right at the end we hear this:

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

And that is always the way. This is the Holy Spirits work. We hand our conversations to him and ask him to help us recall Jesus and tell of him when and where we can, but he has the final say.
Amen

 

CONVERSATION STARTERS

Read the texts out loud in some way carefully, noting what questions come to mind and what makes your mind wander into thought…

Share you initial reactions to the Word for a short time…

What makes you scared or intimidated with the action of witnessing? Make a list together…..

Share a bad experience of witnessing to Jesus and a good one.

What makes us tentative about sharing our faith? Which one is more a concern for you:

  • Don’t know what to say about Jesus
  • Scared of a negative response
  • Might lose a friendship
  • Might say something wrong – tell the person a wrong thing about God
  • Might say something wrong – something that offends the person.

Are you convinced that it is your responsibility to bear witness in words (and actions) or is this something you are unsure of?

Talk about people’s responses and experiences…

 

I suggested that this task Jesus gave his people (his church) is his work and that there is a way to bear witness to the hope we share in Jesus’ forgiveness and peace that fits our culture. I called it “Inside Out”. The letting what you already know – particularly the stories you know of Jesus and simply relating them in your own words to fit the situation as it presents itself – So moving from what God has already placed inside you to letting that outside of you in conversation.

I also suggested that telling of Jesus and the stories that reveal who he is and what he has done for people in OUR OWN words is certainly good enough. Ho to do feel about this idea? What would it require of you to engage in more often/ Share your thoughts….

Paul is the great model of mission mindedness and that is great, but we are not Paul. But we can do what Paul did to begin the conversation about God’s grace and the hope we have in his Son. he watched and listened to the people and the town and their idols and values and simply told of God’s creating all things and giving of his Son and raising him from the grave so that all could live at peace with the God of the universe. Is this something you think you could do for a friend as the opportunity comes – in your own words and way – why/why not?

I said we are free to be ourselves in this and if the conversation does not have time to develop or we just cant think of a Jesus story or whatever, that is OK because this is the Holy Spirit’s work and he is the “Director of Mission”. However, I guess it does mean that we need to know stories of Jesus and be able to share the hope we have in him. That’s our “homework” and yet, it is still the Holy Spirit’s work from beginning to end.

Would you think of a person with whom you are in a relationship now who is searching for help or advice or even faith and with their situation in ind, try and think of a bible story that relates to their situation and ponder how you might go about simple speak about that story as a gentle and friendly way of bearing witness to Jesus’ hope with that person. Take a few minutes individually and then share your thoughts.

 

PRAY

Lord of the Church, help us to bear witness to you in the ordinary things of life and the stories of your Word as we are able and as you decide so that more people move from worshiping unknown gods to knowing and loving Jesus. Amen.

 

Jesus Rules!

Sermon, Ascension Day, May 20, 2012 

Luke 24:44-53

Jesus Rules

The grace and mercy of the Lord of all be with you.

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 worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

PRAYER: Lord of all and King of kings, speak to our listening hearts so that we may be wise to your ways and gracious to each other. Amen.

You know, Elvis Presley must have packed a punch. He still has a world-wide following of strange devotees! There are those massive Elvis gatherings in Las Vegas where you can run into a thousand Elvis look-a-likes. Elvis has the huge mansion called “Graceland” open to throngs of tourists every day. The man and the music have lasted and spawned a whole genre of music and a whole generation of beefy guys dressed in ridiculous white diamante studded one-piece suits singing “Step on my blue suede shoes”!

Of course for a long time there was a rumour that Elvis was alive and well and eating burgers in suburbs of Florida or somewhere! Elvis has “not left the building” for some….

Well for many people this account of the Ascension of Jesus says that Jesus has “left the building”. For many, and on face value, this bible account of a very supernatural kind of moment indeed seems to say that Jesus is now absent from our human lives in a humanly real way.

So much had happened to this trusty band of followers. They had shared their lives together with the most influential, wise, self-giving man they had ever known. They had seen the worst and the best. They thought it was “all over” on that cross. They were amazed time after time when he appeared and spoke and ate and lived with them in his glorious way – still human but very divine.

And now, instead of being heart-broken, as they had been on a few occasions before when he said he was leaving them, they are not sad at all. In fact, the text says,”Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God”. No grief and sadness here – praise, joy, new hope, new possibilities, new focus, new mission, new hope……

They obviously did not believe that Jesus has “left the building” at all! Why would they. He promised them his continuing presence. He was blessing them as he was enveloped in cloud. His blessing never ended. Jesus rules! He rules in blessing and life. Now it was their turn to do what they witnessed him do and spend their life serving him as they served others in joy and saw the kingdom of God change their world!

But they were there and we are here. It can be quite hard to sense this joy about our lives and about Jesus rule in our lives.It is especially hard to believe that Jesus rules when we are defeated by that same sin, that same issue, that same trouble. It is hard to “live as in God’s very presence and strive each day to live a God pleasing life” when evil comes or disease, or tragedy or doubt or confusion about who we are and what on earth we are supposed to do with our lives. It is not that hard to actually believe that Jesus has really “left the building” – left us to it.

And if we believe that Jesus actually is quite absent from our human life down here, then those of us who want to be Christians and love the church and want to be faithful followers of Jesus can easily stand around looking upwards into the skies, wishing for the presence of Jesus to touch us or some divine sign to appear or some miracle to happen to make it all go away and make our life easier.

How do you seek an absent God? How do you find God’s presence? Where do you look and invest yourself in to connect with God in your life?

For many, it is not in the everyday things of life. Jesus is absent from that. He is up in the heavens in glory and power and majesty. Jesus ceased to be human and ceased to be understandable and relatable in the everyday goings on of life and the everyday things of the church when he exited planet earth.

In this scheme of things with a more absent Jesus, all we have here are symbols of him. Things that help us remember him. With a more absent Jesus who ceases to be present in an ordinary/human way, the stuff we do at church is only symbolism. Worship is optional and only an idea, not a present reality of God’s grace and power…..

Baptism becomes quite inconsequential because it is only a church ritual. Holy Communion is important, but not because Jesus is actually present in love and mercy, but because it helps us experience unity and remember him. Stuff that the church has said together for ages also becomes of little use because they are just words that keep the memory alive – they actually don’t do much – they don’t actually do what they say they do, here and now.

EG.

  • When we hear those words, “I baptise you in the name of Father, Son and Spirit”, with an absent Jesus they are nice thoughts that we hope do some good.
  • When those words, “The Lord bless you and keep you”…are said – again they are nice words….. They help keep Jesus up there as a fine example of how to live a meaningful life… and so it goes.

With a more absent and less human Jesus who has floated off to the heavens to not do anything in particular, it gets a bit tough to know what to do with suffering and pain we face. You have to try and call him down more. You have to do what you think he likes in order to interest him, move him and get him to give what you need.

You can see where believing in a non-human, un-present Jesus leaves you…… on your own. It leaves us either trying to earn a way into his presence which is away from us somewhere or giving up on the whole thing and just go it alone in life.

Which are you or which have you been? Which are your friends? Earners of spiritual connections with an O so heavenly Jesus that he is of no earthly place or loners living it their way despite what they once knew of him?

What if you did not have to earn your spiritual moments or reach up to a heavenly Jesus in whatever way? What if you did not have to give up on a real earthly Jesus who lives and breathes in your ordinary?

Bingo! We have hit the jackpot today! It is Ascension Day. This is the day when Jesus fills life with his presence.

Jesus has not left the building. He is more present in it and in the building of his church and in his temples, called people, than he could ever have been before he ascended to rule the world in grace, power and glory.

Can we hear today that Jesus’ ascension to his Father is not anything to do with his absence but with his presence – real presence?

Can we who are always struggling with earning our spiritual stripes and trying to find a spiritual connection with an ‘other worldly’ God finally rest in the trust that Jesus has not left the building at all but completely filled it and us with his presence?

Can we who have been on the edge of giving up on a real Jesus because he is not  connected enough to our humanness, let that go and know him in the very ordinary everyday stuff contained in this very super natural event.

He does not depart to disconnect but he connects as he departs – he shifts to rule; to connect with us in a way that is full and real and now.

Jesus is present. He is “all-in-all”.  He is in the world. He is in the ordinary. He is in his people. He is in his powerful Word. He is in his gifts to his holy community. They are not mere symbols or lovely things that help us recall a great man – he is in them and does things as these things are done.

EG.

  •  Baptism is not a church ritual but a life-shaping reality that rips a condemned sinful person out from that dark power into the grace and light of Jesus’ glory on a daily basis.
  •  The Lord’s Supper is not a mere ritual that is nice to be a part of because it makes us feel like family, it is the ingesting of the mighty glory of Jesus for new life and forgiveness and power over death in our own bodies and hearts.  It is a foretaste of our ascension to be with him. It is our life line and link to Jesus’ ongoing presence in the most intimate way.
  • Those words of blessing we hear which sustained a people for generation upon generation first given to Moses and Aaron, do what they say – not because you or I say them but because the glorious ascended victorious Lord of lords and King of all kings speaks them. When he says “Bless you”, consider yourself blessed!

Can we see that we don’t need to look up into heaven to earn Jesus or find Jesus? He is already found! He has found us. He never leaves us. He fills us with his grace for giving, his power for living and his glory for singing.

He’s is here. He is down here. He is at work. He is at home. He is among your friends. He is in his church. Earth is our home, it still is his. He rules the place in grace, power and glory. We rule with him in his mission to fill the world with his love and hope, beginning in Nuriootpa……

Jesus has not left the building, friends, he fills the building.

Jesus rules!