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Hymn # 8 Eternal Father, Strong to Save
Prayer of Invocation
Holy God, creator of all,
the risen Christ taught from Scripture
of his death, resurrection,
and ascension into your glorious presence.
May the living Lord
breathe on us his peace,
that our eyes may be opened to recognize him in breaking bread
and to follow wherever he leads,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Call to Confession
Prayer of Confession
Almighty God, you have raised Jesus from the grave
and crowned him Lord of all.
We confess that we have not bowed before him
or acknowledged his rule in our lives.
We have gone along with the way of the world
and failed to give him glory.
Forgive us and raise us from sin,
that we may be your faithful people,
obeying the commands of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who rules the world and is head of the church, his body. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
God, who is rich in mercy,
out of the great love with which he loved us
even when we were dead through our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
and raised us up with him and seated us with him
in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the ages to come he might show
the immeasurable riches of his grace
in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Passing of the Peace
Prayer for Illumination
God of life, your Spirit raised Jesus from dead.
Your Spirit inspired the prophets and writers of Scripture.
Your Spirit draws us to Christ and helps us to acknowledge him as Lord.
We ask that you will send your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith, and hope through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Sermon: New Possibilities
Good morning. This past Thursday was an important date on the liturgical calendar; it was the Feast of the Ascension. This is the celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, as described in our reading from the Book of Acts. I imagine that many of us think of the Ascension—if we think of it at all—as a Roman Catholic celebration. But the truth is, it belongs to all Christians, the Catholics are just a little bit better at remembering it every year.
Similarly, I don’t think we spend enough time with the Book of Acts. The full title is The Acts of the Apostles; it tells the story of the early Church and how a small group of Jesus’ followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, changed the world. We can learn a lot from Acts.
The story begins with some basic information. The resurrected Christ appears to the disciples—who are now called apostles—and dwells among them for forty days. He tells them that they’re about to be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days. Then Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. In other words, Jesus is now working from home.
In our Koinonia classes this week, a lot of people wondered what the apostles must have been thinking and feeling during those forty days between Easter and the Ascension. I imagine it must have been an emotional roller coaster ride for them. Consider what they experienced in about a two-month span.
First, they witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.
They watched Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
They stood by as Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. The man whom they had hoped was the Messiah didn’t lead a revolt; he suffered and died. While they watched. They’re distraught. They’re frightened beyond words. They have no leader and their lives might be in danger.
Then the risen Christ returns! They must have gone from depression to elation in record time. They got to be with him and share meals with him. They knew that the time they had spent following Jesus was not wasted. They got to be in a direct relationship with Jesus a little while longer; they got to dwell with him, abide with him.
But Jesus doesn’t lead them back out into the world. Instead, Jesus tells the apostles to wait in Jerusalem—it’s their own sort of shelter-in-place order. And what do the apostles do? They ask Jesus for more information. They ask when he’ll restore the kingdom to Israel.
Jesus puts them back in their place, saying: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” It’s not about knowledge; it’s not about having secret information.
At this point it would be really easy to do a facepalm and say to the apostles: What’s wrong with you guys? Don’t you get it? Are you ever going to get it? I mean, this is one of the recurring themes in the gospels: the disciples don’t quite understand who Jesus is or what the Messiah is supposed to be.
And now that they’re apostles, they still don’t understand! Jesus ascends into heaven and they keep staring at the cloud, as if he might return right away. Fortunately, there are two men there, in white robes to tell them they’re looking in the wrong place: “Men of Galilee,” they ask the apostles, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” The question echoes the angel, outside of Jesus’ tomb who asks, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
It’s easy to laugh at the apostles’ shortsightedness. But the truth is, humans always get it wrong. Including us.
I think this story speaks to our current situation. Much like the apostles, we are chafing under our shelter-in-place orders. We want information. We want to know when the quarantine will be over. We want to know when we can resume our lives. And most of all, we want to know when we can go back to church. These are all normal questions, though I don’t have any quick or easy answers.
Of course, there is still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus. And we have a lot more time on our hands and a lot more anxiety in our hearts than usual. Some people go off in search of secret knowledge. Conspiracy theories are everywhere. We’re like the apostles, asking when God will come and restore the kingdom to Israel.
Jesus is also telling us to sit tight. Jesus is telling us to watch and wait, to pray, and to be in relationship with one another.
In God’s created world, Jesus was something entirely knew. Jesus was, and still is, Emanuel, God with us. The incarnation was a brand-new thing, a completely different thing. In Jesus, the disciples, now apostles, were in direct relationship with God. They couldn’t quite appreciate what that meant, so long as the human Jesus was with them.
The Ascension isn’t the end of the story. No! It’s the beginning of a new chapter in a much larger story. Something new is happening! The apostles can’t grow in their roles—or in their faith—while the human Jesus is in the world. Remember, Jesus has told them that they’ll do greater works than he has. He also tells them that they’re about to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. We’ll hear that story next Sunday, but I’ll tell you right now, the Holy Spirit is the missing piece of the puzzle; the Spirit is how the apostles can continue Christ’s work in the world. The Holy Spirit is what keeps the apostles in a relationship with God, with Jesus, and with one another, and it’s through that relationship that they are sent out into all of Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Beloved, we are reaching more people online that we used to reach in person on most Sundays! It is not for us to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority. Instead of looking for knowledge, instead of looking for that spot where Jesus vanished in the air, look for where Jesus is calling us to go. Look for the relationships into which Jesus is calling us.
There are a lot of people out there who are struggling to get through this time. Some of them are in this congregation, yet many more do not have this church family to lean on in times of trial. Beloved, we are called to seek them out. We are called to share God’s love with them. We are called to bring light into their darkness. Instead of looking for secret knowledge, we need to look for those who are suffering in silence and isolation. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn # 246 Christ Is Alive!
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure.
Thanks be to God; whose love creates us!
Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us!
Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.
Prayers of the People
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn # 275 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God