Sermon for May 16th

First Reading Acts 1:1-11

Second Reading Ephesians 1:15-23

Gospel Reading Luke 24:44-53

Sermon “Watch, Try, Do, Teach”

Today we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord, one of the great feasts of the church. It always falls on a Thursday, but which we are marking today. It marks the end of 40 days of post resurrection appearances by our Lord. The Ascension is a very important event for we Christians. It is what Paul is talking about in our passage from Ephesians this morning when he tells us: Ephesians 1:20-23 NRSV

[20] God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, [21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. [22] And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Christ return to heaven places our redeemer in the seat of ultimate authority. That authority was what Jesus himself proclaimed at his trial before the Sanhedrin. There Jesus himself declared who he was and what his future role would be when he answered the key question of the age: (Mark 14:61-62 NRSV) “…the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

With this statement, Jesus declares to all that he is the Divine son of God depicted ion the prophesy of Daniel – the one to who all authority in heaven and on earth is given – on who is seated in power and authority at the right hand of God until he will come again to restore all things and judge the earth. In the meantime, scripture assures us that Jesus looks out for us, sends his Holy Spirit to guide and sustain us and prepares a place for us so that we might spend eternity in loving fellowship with him. So yes, the ascension of our Lord is a wonderful thing, worthy of celebration and thanksgiving.

Also significant to us is that the ascension signifies a time of transition and a handing off of responsibilities. It is both an ending and a beginning. An ending, in that this Sunday concludes the Easter season – the period remembering the 40 days following the resurrection when Jesus appeared to his disciples, reassuring them, teaching them and preparing them for the time when he would no longer be visibly present with them. It is also a beginning in that it marks the time when the disciples would take up the ministry of Jesus and become witnesses themselves to the power of God in their lives that they had been experiencing with Jesus and would continue to experience after his ascension. It looks directly forward to 10 days later when the Holy Spirit came in power to the disciples at Pentecost and the Church was born; This is the event that we will celebrate next week.

You may remember that when Jesus called his disciples, he just said come and follow me. Come and see what this is all about. Come and learn who I am and see what God is doing through the Son. They got to witness miraculous healings and even resurrections. Later, he sent them out ahead to prepare the way for his ministry. But he was always near. He continued to teach them and prepare them for the time that begins with the ascension, the time when they would need to be able to figure some things out for themselves, but always with the presence of the Holy Spirit, powerful, though unseen. The Ascension begins a final phase where they were to be the primary instruments of The Kingdom of God here on earth. They were to recruit and train other disciples.

As many of you know, I worked as a Research Engineer for Conoco ConocoPhillips and finally Phillips 66. In that capacity, I would work out a new process with the chemists and figure out how to translate their method for making useful materials from petroleum at the lab scale – often just a little bit in some glassware, into a process that could make it by the hundreds or even thousands of pounds a day. It was very satisfying work most of the time, but it did have it challenges and frustrations. Accurate and effective communication of essential principles was really, really important when a program was passed from one team to another. First between the chemists who came up with the idea in the first place and the engineers trying to implement it in a full scale process. And second – and sometimes even more difficult with the technicians who were tasked with trying to operate that new equipment and make something useful.

Part of my responsibilities included training new people to operate equipment that was unfamiliar to them. It is a difficult moment, when a brand new person or worse a whole new set of people come into a situation that they are not prepared for. They must be taught, but just classroom instruction is not nearly enough. It is one thing to listen to somebody describe how to do something, it is a very different thing to do it yourself. So we had a pattern for this, one that is commonly used in many settings: First you watch someone else do the task, then you try to help an experienced person. Next you try to do it with an experienced person helping you, and then you are allowed to do it alone. Assuming all this has gone well, eventually you find yourself teaching the next person so you can go on to learn yet another task. Transition after transition, it is the way things progress.

Consider an example from the realm of education. A popular quote says “We learn… 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we discuss with others, 80 percent of what we experience, and 95 percent of what we teach to someone.” So an important point to consider is where you are in that progression of competence. What might be holding you back? So here is an invitation to a gracious cycle: come and see, learn and practice, go and do – experience the grace of God in action and then come and teach and help others grow. That’s the way it works best. It the way that Jesus did it.

As you may know, Luke and Acts are volume 1 and 2 of a continuing story, written by the same author to the same patron – to one called Theophilus (which means Lover of God). The ascension of Jesus is the closing scene of the Gospel of Luke, which tells of Jesus’ Birth, ministry, death and resurrection and it is the opening scene of Acts. Acts describes the Birth of the church, its initial ministry and its expansion into the gentile world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The story of course doesn’t end, the Book of Acts has 28 chapters – but some like to say that the 29th chapter of Acts is still being written today.

Even after his resurrection told in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is still teaching and reinforcing important things: Luke 24:44-48 [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.”

The job of witnessing is an important one. Witnessing to the truth of the gospel: telling about the wonderful grace of God’s love and redemption with words yes but also with our actions: loving our neighbor and even our enemies because Jesus asks us to do so, caring for the sick, the poor, the hungry, those without shelter, those without justice also because that’s what Christ commands.

In Acts, Luke summarizes this and then gives us a clue that those first disciples still had not figured it all out. Listen to Acts 1:3-6 [3] After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. [4] On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. [5] For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [6] Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus has to set his disciples straight: ” [7] He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. [8] But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” [9] After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

You see the disciples still had not gotten the idea that responsibility for carrying on the ministry of the gospel was about to be shifted to them. There was work to do – they were being commissioned and sent out. You see, they still expected the Messiah to be the hero. But this was to be their time – our time, until at last Christ will return. But neither they or we are to merely sit around and wait.

They were still standing there looking up, probably with their mouths hanging open as Luke tells us what happened next: Acts 1:10-11[10] They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. [11] “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

You know, angels ask hard questions! Perhaps these were the same two angels that were at the tomb that Easter morning who asked “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The implication is pretty clear – Don’t just stand there – get busy! There is work to be done! You have been taught and trained, now it is your turn. The very power of the Holy Spirit will be given to them as we will celebrate next week. And – They did indeed get busy. First as Luke concludes his Gospel : Luke 24:52-53 [52] Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. [53] And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

In just a few years, they were fulfilling the last part of the commission too, the part about going to the ends of the world. Each generation has the responsibility to train the next and pass on the task until Christ comes again in final victory. He has ascended to his Father in Heaven as Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus [22] “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” You are witnesses of these things, first in Newkirk, then in Kay county and Oklahoma, then into the whole world.