Sermon, Ascension Day
May 27th, 2015
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”.
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.
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.
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…..
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