Posts Tagged ‘Ascension of Jesus’

Between the Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus’ followers sat together in uncertainty.  The promises Jesus made to them hold for us in this uncertain time.


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This Time In Between

A Sermon on Acts 1:1-14, with Allusions to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jesus’ followers were like people on a long journey, wondering when are we going to get there.  Since the resurrection Jesus had been coming to them and patiently instructing them about the kingdom of God.  But when was something going to happen?  Finally somebody got up the courage the ask the “Are we there yet?” question.

“Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus’ followers were imagining that this journey with Jesus was going to take them back to the golden years of the kingdom of David, a time they remembered as the high point of the nation’s history.  No more Roman oppression! Freedom and self-determination at last.

But Jesus made it clear that there would be no return to the way things were.  What’s more, the timetable is God’s alone.  They could not know how much longer this in between time was going to last.

Nobody knows how long this in between time is going to last.  Many are anxious to get back to normal, but nobody knows what the timetable on this virus is.

Time itself feels somehow different.  My sense of time is really off.  I don’t have a good sense of what day of the week it is.  One day is pretty much like the next.  There’s almost nothing on the calendar.  One of biggest questions for me right now, and I imagine you, too, is not just what our steps towards safely gathering in person should be, but mainly when.  How will we know when?

We don’t know that time yet, but there are some things we can say about this time.  For some it has literally been a time to plant, and it is a joy to see gardens coming along.  We look forward to harvest time, which is also sharing time.  For others it has literally been a time to sew as they work hard to make sure everyone is equipped with a mask.  It’s a time of preparation for the baby who is joining us in September.  Now the the official school year is ended, students and their families must figure out what to do with this time.  One parent in our congregation said the other day, “It feels like summer is already half over.100515881_10152332401219999_6715839918926462976_o

This is definitely a time to refrain from embracing, except inside our households.  It is also a time to mourn with deaths in the United States approaching 100,000, almost a third of the world’s total.  This morning’s New York Times is covered with the names of 1000 of the victims, along with something about who they were.  So Lord, when are we going to get back to something approaching normal?

Jesus’ followers asked, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”

Jesus replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.  Instead, you must stay put in Jerusalem and wait.  Then you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and then you will be witnesses for me everywhere, starting at home, and moving out to the very ends of the earth.” With that, Jesus was lifted up from their sight.

Jesus did not give them a detailed timetable, but he did give them a promise and a mission.  Wait patiently: the Holy Spirit is surely coming to you, giving you power.  And then you will take action.  

The Holy Spirit will give them the clarity and the power to take their first step towards the ends of the earth.  But for now, they had to wait.

Jesus’ followers returned to Jerusalem and spent a lot of time sequestered together in the Upper Room, perhaps the same room where they had experienced the last supper.  The roll call of those gathered included the apostles, along with a number of women, perhaps those same women that followed Jesus from Galilee and provided for him along the way; plus the roll included Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers.

They didn’t just twiddle their thumbs while they waited.  At the top of their agenda was prayer.  They also took care of people’s needs, and the needs of the congregation.  The Apostle Peter took the lead and recommended that the fellowship choose someone to fill the place among the twelve that had once belonged to Judas Iscariot.  When the Day of Pentecost arrived, it found the church faithfully, prayerfully, actively waiting, just as Jesus had instructed.

As we wait, we cannot safely assemble in person inside, and yet we surely are together in heart and mind; and we’re not twiddling our thumbs, either, as we wait.  Morton Church is not closed.  We’re just not in the building.  There’s a bunch of praying going on.  As always prayers flow on in loving support of people in need, and of a world in need.  But our prayers are also searching, questioning, opening to what God will say to us and teach us in this time in between.  We listen with our minds, our sense, as well as our hearts.

During this time in between, we have the time to think about what we want a new normal to be like.  A writer named Dave Hollis put it this way, “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”  (On Being Newsletter The Pause , May 23, 2020.) The pandemic makes our society’s problems even more glaring.  I don’t want to go back to a normal where millions and millions of Americans cannot afford health and dental care.  This is a moral issue.

Between the Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus’ followers sat together in the uncertainty, but they weren’t passive.  They waited prayerfully, expectantly, for the Spirit to show the way and empower the way.  Maybe they weren’t out in the open, but they were most certainly open: open to God through the Spirit.

On Friday one of my colleagues, Ed McLeod, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh posted this reflection:

Our church is already open. 

We are open to the Spirit’s leading.

We are open to new opportunities for mission.

We are open to the stirring challenge of the call to discipleship.

We are open to anyone who wants to join us on the journey of faith.
We are open to learning new ways to tell our old story.
We are open to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
We are open to criticism when we fall short.
We are already open.
We just happen to be worshiping in our homes, for now, as a way of promoting safety and mitigating risk, as an expression of the love we have for our neighbors, and as an acknowledgment that any reckless behavior on our part could have a devastating effect on others. And we are grateful for the technology that makes this possible, aware that we are richly blessed.
But we are already open. (Ed McLeod, facebook post May 22, 2020.)

Open to the Spirit and wait patiently, beloved.  You’re doing a good job.  Hang in there.  The Holy Spirit is on the way to give us clarity, to show us the next steps ahead, and to give us the power to be Jesus’ witnesses.  It will come in its time.  It will come in God’s time.  



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'Open Ye Heavens' photo (c) 2011, Brendan Riley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is a sermon from the archives about Jesus’ ascension:

Out of the Picture?

A Sermon on Acts 1:1-11

In the Presbyterian Church, before you can be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, you have to pass written examinations and an oral examination given by a committee of the Presbytery. In my case it was the examinations committee of New Hope Presbytery, and they met in Rocky Mount. In the weeks leading up to that exam, I just knew the committee was going to ask me something obscure, like, “What does the statement ‘he ascended into heaven’ mean?” I couldn’t recall talking about the ascension in any of my classes, and I couldn’t remember any sermons I had heard on it. About all I could say about it was that it was a way to tie up the loose ends of the story of Jesus’ life on earth.

Now I knew that answer wouldn’t cut it with the committee, so I had to study up on it. As it turned out, the committee didn’t ask that question, and I was off the hook.

But it’s a question that demands attention. Every year, forty days after Easter, Ascension Day appears on the Christian calendar. But even more than that, for over a thousand years, the church has stood every Sunday, and repeated these words: “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.” What does that mean? If it’s in the creed, it’s important. But why?

In a book called The Creed in Christian Teaching, James Smart says that Sunday Schools have been known to use a series of slides to picture the ascension. The first slide shows Jesus hovering in the air just above his disciples’ heads. He looks big. Then each slide shows him higher up and getting smaller and smaller, until Jesus is out of the picture altogether. (In Winn, A Christian Primer, p. 140.)

Now I know that the story can lead people to picture the ascension that way, as if Jesus takes off from the earth like a rocket and disappears above the clouds. But there’s a problem with that picture. The main point of the story is not to move Jesus out of the picture. The point isn’t that Jesus got smaller and smaller until he disappeared. Isn’t the point really that Jesus got bigger and bigger? The point of the story is to help Jesus’ disciples to see with the eyes of faith a much greater, grander picture of the way things are, a great vision of where Jesus is and what Jesus is doing.

Sometimes it certainly feels as though Jesus is out of the picture. Where can Jesus be when every day there are new reports of atrocities? Where can Jesus be when so few people consult him in decision making, whether it’s on a small scale or a large scale? Where can he be when everybody seems to be going their own way, people, families, nations going their own way, and so much of what is happening is not God’s will or way? Where can Jesus be when there’s all this hurt? He seems out of the picture, and even worse, there are those who want him out of the picture. (more…)

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