Sermon for May 13th

Old Testament Reading Psalm 47

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

Gospel Readings: Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11

Sermon: “Questions and Answers”

Are we there yet? Are we almost there? How much longer? Are we there yet? Anyone who has taken a car trip with children is very much aware of that set of questions. Even we adults feel the impatience, even if we are able to suppress repeating the words ourselves. You can hear something very like it in the disciples question from beginning of the Book of Acts. Actually, the Scripture lessons today let us hear a transition we don’t often appreciate – The final words of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning words of Acts. Both books written by the same author to the same audience. The Gospel telling us about the life and deeds of Jesus and Acts telling us about the early life and deeds of the church.

Jesus’ resurrection (which we have been celebrating the last 6 weeks), and Jesus’ ascension mark the end of Luke while the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit (which we celebrate next week) mark the beginning of Acts. In the middle, there is this time of preparation: of final instructions and old lessons revisited, and a familiar presence preparing to leave that results in the disciples being somewhat confused and impatient. So they ask in a way “Are we there yet?” – Well, actually what they asked was more like “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” If you recall, the followers of Jesus have a long history of asking questions that were somewhat off the mark and needing to be redirected.

The question follows a line of Prophetic promise – such as (Mal 3:1)

[1] “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. It basically asks if this is the time that all of creation will be set right, evil will be banished and God will reign on the earth. But Jesus says, that is a question that is out of bounds for them. Instead, his word for them is that there is work to be done and power from God to accomplish it. Jesus tells them: (Acts 1:7-8 NLT) “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere-in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I really can’t blame the disciples at all, I would probably have been wondering the same thing – and Christians have continued to wonder and guess about that time ever since, in spite of Jesus’ rather blunt statement that such things are above our pay grade. We want to know the path ahead, all the twists and turns and stops along the way. God merely says – that’s for me to worry about – you have other, much more immediate, responsibilities. It is likely meant to remind us of the story of Elisha back in second Kings 19. As you may recall, Elijah was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel during the prosperous but very idolatrous reign of King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel. Elijah had challenged the priests of Baal to a contest on Mt Carmel to see whose God was real and powerful. After the dramatic conclusion of the contest where God sent fire from heaven to consume the water drenched sacrifice of Elijah, including the stone altar, and the priests of Baal had been slain, Elijah found himself wondering what was next.

Jezebel was hunting him and the people had not responded to the mighty demonstration of God’s power. Elijah was depressed, thinking he was the only faithful one left in all of Israel. So he journeyed out into the southern wilderness and after being fed by angels, he journeyed all the way out to Mt Sinai. It took him 40 days to get there. Once there, he was confronted by a earthquake, fire and wind and finally was invited to enter the presence of God by a still small voice. Just like the disciples facing Jesus, he got few of his questions answered. Rather he was told that the mission was not yet done. He was given more responsibilities to carry out and a successor, young Elisha, to train. Eventually, he was swept up to heaven in the whirl wind in Elisha’s presence, and so the mission was passed on.

That’s seems to me what the ascension of Jesus is all about. Its a moment of transition and a passing on of responsibility. The disciples had seen the stupendous miracle of the resurrection. They had been fed and taught and reassured by the risen Christ. They had seen him and touched him and heard him in a powerful way and then suddenly he is taken up into that cloud – into the presence of God and they were left there with their mouths hanging open, wondering what was next. It must have been like that first Easter morning at the empty Tomb, when the women were standing there amazed and perplexed and the two young men asked them – “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen from the dead!”

In the same way, here at the ascension, the puzzled wonderment is broken again by two men in white robes who asked them a similar question: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” The implication is the same – go on!, get going – you have a mission to fulfill. Remember? He told you he was leaving, physically at least. In Matthew’s version, Jesus is recorded saying “Lo, I am with you to the end of the age.” In Luke, he assures them of the coming of the Holy Spirit – an even better abiding presence than his physical body – unlimited in time and space. Don’t just stand there disciples – its your turn now. You have been trained for the job, now its time to do it!

Moses was up on Mt Sinai forty days receiving the law, Elijah was 40 days journeying to meet God and be redirected and in our readings, it’s now 40 days after the Resurrection and it’s the disciples turn to enter the next phase. Well that a lot of 40 days isn’t it? So now, how about after some 2000 years? Let’s see, that would be almost 750,000 days. Perhaps it’s time for that question to be asked again “Why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” There is a job to be done and responsibilities to be seen to!

There is a poetic prayer that is attributed to Theresa of Avila who lived in the 1500’s that puts it better than I can. It goes like this:

God of Love, help us to remember

that Christ has no body now on earth but ours,

no hands but ours, no feet but ours.

Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.

Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now.

Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.

This day, this moment, this church, this part of the body of Christ is called onward into the places where the world needs Jesus. Where might that be? Better question: where isn’t it? Thesesa got it right 500 years ago and the truth of it has not changed since – we are indeed called to be the hands feet, eyes and voice of Christ. He is not here physically right now, though his Spirit certainly is, but he is returning surely, in God’s own good time. It is natural to yearn and desire for that day, but it is mistaken to sit and wait for it, or to stand and gaze serenely off into the clouds until it happens.

If you are like me, its possible you crave certainty and hate waiting. Well, if so, this message is for you. The message of the Ascension is that we have work to do – right now, and the joyous thing about it is that we don’t have to wait for the return of Christ. God is with us right now. The gifts of God are given – now and the need for their exercise is immediate as well.

Paul begins his letter to the Church at Ephesus with the glorious prayer you heard read earlier. It ties in closely with this message. Pauls writes to the church: (Ephesians 1:19-23 NLT) “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else-not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”

The gifts have been given, the commission is clear, the needs are everywhere, our leader is Christ alone. So… what are we waiting for?

To Jesus Christ, who loves us

and freed us from our sins by his blood

and made us to be a kingdom,

priests of his God and Father,

to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

Amen.