Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Encounters with Jesus: the ascension (#5)

Encounters with Jesus: the ascension (#5)
June 1, 2014
The story is told about the Ascension Day celebrations at a particular seminary. A special Ascension Day service was held and the whole seminary in robes and regalia gathered for the big celebration. It was quite an event. The service ended and, the assembly emerged from the chapel singing some great ascension hymn. Unknown to the worshippers, a somewhat creative student had found a life-size statue of Jesus - the hollow, plastic painted kind - and stuffed it with fireworks – the skyrocket type. As the procession marched into the courtyard, the student lit the fuse, sending the statue soaring up out of the shrubbery through a cloud of smoke and sparks. It buzzed over the scattering members of the procession, finally taking a nosedive on to the roof of a nearby building. There the rocket Jesus sputtered and died. The dean of the seminary was not impressed when the student explained that he was simply trying to dramatize his faith in the ascension of Jesus.
Whatever you may think of the student’s method, I have to say one thing. I bet no one ever forgot that Ascension Day.
For the most part, however, Ascension Day is barely remembered. There is no special holiday to mark the occasion, no three-day weekend, and no parades. It was work as usual for most of us on Thursday. I have to admit that it didn’t occur to me until Friday that Thursday had been Ascension Day. Not very many Christians remembered Christ’s ascension to heaven as they went about their busy lives.
We hardly even talk about Jesus ascending to heaven very much anymore because to our modern minds the image of a man suddenly lifting off the ground and disappearing behind the clouds conjures up images of Superman who had the ability to just lift up his arms and take off into the sky.
That’s not the way the world works. As some have said, "Nothing in our world goes up except rockets, the cost of living, and unemployment statistics.”[1]…oh and Jesus on Ascension Day.
The whole prescientific concept that Jesus went up to heaven defies modern understanding of the universe. "Up where?" people ask. "Into outer space, a planet, a star?" The ascension story doesn’t fit into modern thinking anymore; it’s not mentioned in the Bible very much and anyway, it falls on a workday. Who needs it?[2]
Let me tell you who needs the ascension of Jesus…we do.

This is the last week of the series about post resurrection appearances of Jesus called “Encounters with Jesus.” We have been looking at original art created by some of our friends. We have looked at
1.     the resurrection,
2.     the appearance in the garden,
3.     the appearance to doubting Thomas,
4.     and the appearance by the sea.
This week, I have to admit that I don’t have an original piece of art. It didn’t occur to me to ask specifically for one for the ascension. I found a work that I love though. It is called “Ascension of Christ” by Salvador Dali.[3] I will post it on the side of the sanctuary when we are done today, but since the original is about four feet square, the screen is the best place to view it.

Let’s look at the story. There are actually two stories of the ascension in Dr. Luke’s work. One at the end of the Gospel of Luke, the other at the beginning of the book of Acts. The two stories, however, have completely different purposes. In Luke, it draws the ministry and mission of Jesus to a close, and in Acts, it opens the age of the church. There are, therefore, some important differences between these accounts of the ascension.
There is, however a common thread woven into each of the stories. Actually, I think there are three common threads in the stories and together they point to the reasons that the story of Christ’s ascension is important to us today.

First, and most obviously, in both stories Jesus RISES TO REIGN. In Luke, Jesus does the superman thing, you know “faster than a speeding messiah.” In Acts Jesus takes a cloud elevator and heads for home. The effect is the same. The Disciple’s last view of Jesus would have been something like Salvador Dali’s perspective. The last thing the disciple saw was the bottom of Jesus dirty feet.
In the ascension, Jesus is both returning home and taking his work to the universe.
The ascension is the completion of the incarnation story. Jesus emerges from heaven via the womb and returns to heaven via the empty tomb.
St Augustine expressed his opinion about Ascension Day like this: "This is that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together … For unless the Savior had ascended into heaven, his Nativity would have come to nothing ... his Passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy Resurrection would have been useless." 
The ascension is the affirmation of all that has come before. If you were still in doubt after the miraculous conception and birth; if you were still in doubt after the mysterious magi; if you were still uncertain after all the healings and miracles; if you were still undecided after the fulfillment of the prophecy in the crucifixion and resurrection; if you were still doubting after Thomas touched his hands and after brunch on the beach… this ascension was intended to seal the deal that Jesus really was who he said he was. He really was God himself in human skin come to love and save people from their sin. He really was the Son of God risen to reign at God’s right hand for all eternity.

The second thread running through both accounts of the ascension is Jesus’ Promises of power.
·        In Luke Jesus says, “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.”
·        In acts Jesus says, “You will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Both of these references point to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit of the high God, which hovered over the waters in creation, will make a home the disciple’s hearts and the church. From that indwelling will flow the power of the Holy Spirit to do as Jesus said, “even greater things than I do.”[4]
This promise of power comes to a church that faces a future without Jesus’ physical presence. The Feast of Ascension doesn’t get the attention that Pentecost gets, but it is a pivotal moment in the gospel story. Without it, there is no Pentecost.
The ascension is a reminder that there is a separation between God and us. After all, Jesus did go “up” or “away” from the disciples. This language of transcendence reminds us that God lies beyond our control. We can’t manipulate God with our rituals and our words, but God can and will empower us to be the church God needs us to be.

Jesus is risen to reign. He promises power to his people. Finally, he “Challenges them to change the world.”
In Acts, Jesus says, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In Luke, he says, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus was taken up into heaven, his earthly mission was completed, but that does not mean the mission of God is completed. For with Jesus’ departure – the accounts in Luke and in Acts agree – the disciples (which includes us) were to become witnesses to what they have seen and heard.
Witnesses have a story to tell – a story with meaning. The story tells about the events of Jesus’ life – and points to repentance and forgiveness.
·        We are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives and in the life of the world bringing repentance and forgiveness.
·        We have stories to tell of the power we have received from him to do things we could never do on our own.
·        We have stories to tell. Stories of forgiveness.
·        Stories of healing.
·        Stories of love.
·        Stories of Hope.

·        We have stories to tell in the way we forgive and accept forgiveness.
·        We have stories to tell as we witness to the healing power of God in our lives bring others into the great physician’s healing light.
·        We have stories to tell of being loved when we were sure we were unlovable.
·        We have stories to tell by loving those who are so beaten down by life (and the people around them) that they can’t even dream of being loved.
·        We have stories to tell. Stories of “hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, and love for the broken hearts.”[5]
·        We have stories to tell of lives changed,
o   relationships restored, c
o   ommunities transformed,
o   families strengthened, and
o   death defeated.
·        We have stories to tell … stories of loving the unlovable,
·        remembering the forgotten,
·        feeding the hungry,
·        lifting up the poor,
·        helping the crippled,
·        surprising the disheartened,
·        clothing the naked,
·        refreshing the thirsty,
·        freeing the prisoner,
·        strengthening the weak,
·        giving joy to the depressed,
·        comforting to the sick,
·        giving a smile to the embittered,
·        mentoring the young,
·        caring for the aged,
·        challenging the comfortable,
·        confronting injustice,
·        correcting the deceived,
·        bringing down the haughty,
·         building bridges for the disenfranchised,
·         offering justice instead of judgment,
·        healing instead of hatred, and
·        acceptance to the unacceptable.

·        We have stories to tell, by the way we live to change the world.
This third thread is Jesus’ command to go out and change the world for Jesus Christ. What have you done to change the world this week?
·        If you have touched a life and made a difference bless you… Bless you.
·        If you have thought only of yourself and no one is better off because they met you this week, shame on you… Shame on you.

·        If this community (which is our Jerusalem) and the world for which God has made us responsible are better or different this week because this church is here, thank God… thank God.
·        If we have failed to reach out to even the people who are like us and near us, let alone those who are far away and very different. God forgive us. … God forgive us.

In his poem “Beginning in Jerusalem” Andrew King writes
Begin in the brightly painted kitchens.
At the table set for supper and on the wide couches
where we watch TV. Begin while we are sorting
the laundry, writing out the shopping list.
And in front of our bathroom mirrors.
Begin in the barns among the warmth of animals
and the smells of grain and manure.
Begin in the growing fields, and in the flooded
pastures, and where the rains have not come
and the soil is cracked and hard.
Begin in the gleaming office towers, the shiny
shopping malls, the sweaty factory floors.
Begin on crumbling sidewalks and amid
the rumble of subways. At machines, at our desks,
by the coffee makers and computers.
Begin with the rich, the comfortable.
Begin with the poor, the desperate.
Among the successful, the self-assured.
Among the failed and the floundering.
In the glitter of the halls of power,
and in the cold and shadowed corners
of tragedy and defeat.
Begin on a day when the sun is brilliant;
on a day when the sky is gray.
In a time when economies are favorable;
in a time when all is rust;
at the moment when leaders are caring;
or amid indifference, hostility, despair.
Let us begin beginning again. And whether
we have begun and triumphed, or begun
and struggled and faltered, we will continue
our beginning, as we have from our beginning,
at Jerusalem,
which is wherever
and whoever we are.[6]
Go Change the world for out risen and ascended Christ.

[1] © Pastor Vince Gerhardy, St Luke's Lutheran Church, Nambour - 12th May, 2002, E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 
[2]  © Pastor Vince Gerhardy, St Luke's Lutheran Church, Nambour - 12th May, 2002, E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

[3] “The ascension of Christ” 1958 Salvador Dali
[4] John 14:12
[5] “cry out to Jesus” third day

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