May 13, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Acts 1:1-11; John 17:6-19
One of the most important events recorded in the Bible is Jesus’ Ascension, which takes place in the liturgical calendar 40days after Easter. That means it always falls on a Thursday. We live in a time when people do not generally set aside that day for worship. This key event gets lost, except for the congregations that have Ascension Sunday worship as an alternative to Seventh Easter. It is an important event it marks the conclusion of Jesus’ incarnation on earth. It is the last time Jesus’ disciples see him in the flesh. It starts the time his followers face the world without him standing as a physical buffer and lightning rod between them and those threatened by Christ. At the same time the Ascension of Jesus Christ carries powerful, positive messages.
One: it points to Jesus being God’s anointed Christ. There are only a couple of people mentioned in the Bible that get carried up into Heaven. The Bible implies Enoch in Genesis receives special recognition and avoids a regular death. “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” Elijah in 2 Kings is walking with Elisha when “suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” Elijah avoids a regular death. Jesus is the first one to die, rise, and also ascend. Jesus must stand in a special relationship with God like no other. It is strong action that confirms Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning that he would ascend to the Father and his words to his disciples on the night of his last Passover with his disciples that he was going to a prepare a place for them in his Father’s house.
Two: if Jesus is correct about how his life would on earth would end with his Resurrection and Ascension, we are given another reason to believe him and the angels when he says he will return. When promising he was preparing a place for those who believed in him he concluded, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” After Jesus ascended God’s messengers told those present, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into Heaven, will come back.” If he lived among us, died, rose from the dead, and ascended, we can trust his promise to return.
Three: between the bookends of the Ascension and the Return of our Lord all Christians after the former become important agents for Jesus, sort of like the characters in a novel who carry a story forward that opens with the death of their leader who has left them instructions to carry on. Before he ascended Jesus told the eleven and their companions that they were witnesses to Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection and they were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.
It is a most important mission. As C.S. Lewis wrote in the Weight of Glory, “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
That places believers in the position this message began. We are people who are called to be in the world but not of the world with an important mission without Jesus’ powerful personal physical presence for protection, like the disciples had when harassed by Jesus’ opponents.
The reality is that at all times some people will find the Good News an unwelcome threat to their personal or their larger social and political values. In some eras and some places many to most will find the life and commands of Jesus Christ are threats to avoided, minimize, or eliminate.
In many ways we are living in the latter situation in many places. In this country, if aimed at the proper persons and groups, I can say things that used to be considered profanity and do it in a way that would have been considered rude or disrespectful easier than I can speak of God, much less Jesus. In some places faith in Christ Jesus is downright dangerous. The other night Linda and I were watching a series on the events in the Bible after the Gospels. The episode focused on what was taking place before Paul’s conversion. The credits highlighted a statistic that in the last 10 years 900,000 Christians have been killed for their faith around the world.
God is aware navigating the hostility of those opposed to God’s Word while continuing to love and engage them is difficult. God does not leave us to face this alone.
In this morning’s Gospel lesson Jesus prays about this most directly. On the evening of his last Passover supper with his closest companions and followers, knowing that his death is imminent, Jesus prays for his disciples in the coming reality. He states that he protected and guarded them, but now he would be coming to his Holy Father. He asks the Father to protect them in his name. In the times to come he prays that they may be one as he and the Father are one. He knows protection is necessary because they are hated by the world they do not belong. Jesus concludes his prayer stating their position in the world, broadening the request for protection, and confirming their place with him. “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth, your word is the truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also will be sanctified in truth.”
The following verses after the lesson expand the good news to all subsequent believers in Christ Jesus. “I ask this not only on behalf of these, but also those who will believe in me through their word, that they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
While the mission continues until Christ’s return, the support from and connection with God also continues. The navigation of witness in the world is less daunting when we remember that we belong to God and one another in Christ. Living in that awareness is the heart of Jesus prayer.
Thank God for making us God’s. Trusting in Jesus’ prayer on our behalf, look for ways to be sent into the world we live with God’s love. Amen.
conduct all our dealings with one another….
Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-
these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is
immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit- immortal
horrors or everlasting splendours….
If he is your Christian
neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ is truly
We see the importance of Ascension Day and its message that we are in the times between Christ’s rising and Christ’s return. We are the witnesses to what Christ has done, is doing, and continues doing, working for each person’s eternal life with God. The Ascension is an important event. AMEN.