Parting words and Commission – Ascension Day
soNormal>Let us pray… May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, Lord Jesus Christ. …Amen.
On Friday morning I awoke about 4:30 after having a disturbing dream.
I dreamed that I was dieing, that I had been told by the doctors that I had a limited time left.
That in itself is disturbing dream, but despite being generally at peace with it, and in my dream believing in the promises of our Lord, that a place is prepared for all of us, the dreamed finished with me carrying something heavy rested over both shoulders, unidentifiable, but with a sense of it being some unresolved burden.
I woke feeling very unsettled for some time
Now I believe that Dreams CAN be foreshadowing, can be a way which God speaks to us and tells us messages that we need to hear…
We certainly have many examples of this in scripture; consider how Jesus, as a new born was spared because an angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to `head out of dodge`
But generally, I think those situations are really quite rare, and generally our dreams are our sub-conscience workings of what is going on in our conscience or daily lives.
But I lay there for some time unsettled
Until my conscience mind caught up to speed and I remembered that I had watched a movie right before bed
It was “The Bucket List” – where Morgan Freedman and Jack Nicholson are two patients that find themselves in a hospital room together after both have been given terminal diagnosis – and they go about fulfilling all the things on the list, before they ‘kick the bucket’
…So that explains the subject of my unsettling dream – problem solved, right?
Well not entirely, you see I still had sense of the burden that I was left carrying
Over the course of day, I came to the resolution that the burden is unfinished business – that I have more work, more ministry to do before my time is up – good news for you, I guess, since I have just started here...
Over the course of the day I came to the belief that the other thing I had been thinking about before going to sleep was my sermon and what the scripture was telling me
And that I will explain as we go
Today we celebrate the accession of our Lord
Today we remember a often glanced over aspect of the life of Jesus
Glanced over - why?
Well, there are likely many reasons, but I think one of them is that we haven’t figured a fun way to commemorate it, think about it:
o At Christmas, with the birth of Jesus, we have developed a wonderful tradition that marks God’s gift with the giving of presents to each other
o On Palm Sunday, when people saw clearly ‘as a group of followers’ that Jesus was the triumphal King - we wave palm branches and make palm crosses
o At the end of Lent - the triumphal moment of Easter when our Lord defeated death and rose from the tomb, we have several ways in which we celebrate this event… not in the least of it - with a lot of chocolate…
o But the ascension of our Lord... well we have nothing special really
It was then that I thought ‘we need a special occasion to mark this final nail in the coffin of Christ’s victory over death’ (to mix some metaphors)…
The moment after Christ rose from the dead, defeating death on Easter, appearing in bodily form to many, then leaving his final earthly instructions and ascending into heaven.
We need to figure out a tradition for this ‘glanced over’ event…
But then it also occurred to me that maybe we don’t need to commercialize every major Christian event
Maybe the ascension is better left as one of those days in the Christian calendar that sneaks up on you every year
Jesus Christ rising into Heaven was, I am sure, a shock for the first disciples …and maybe it should be a surprise for us each year
But surprise or not, let’s not lose sight of the incredible importance of it
It is Christ’s final moments on earth …
and consider the incredible parting gift He leaves with us
In this moment that Christ accomplishes His mission… He sets a mission for us
What has been called the “great commission”
Today we have Luke’s account - but it is told in all four gospels
Let’s consider ‘what we are told’ and what we are commemorating today
Jesus spoke to them and told them that all scripture is written about Him,
In fact to make sure His point is heard ‘he says it twice’ and then explains
That the law, the prophets and the psalms - all were about Him
In Our Lord’s parting gift
He opened the disciples’ minds (and ours) so we could understand the Scriptures
So that we could see God’s true purpose in scripture - which is to point to the Christ - to Jesus
Then see how our Lord speaks about his own death on the cross
Not as the world would see it …but as victory
Christ’s death was necessary for our salvation.
His flesh and blood offered in sacrifice on the cross were:
“the life of the world” (John 6:51).
Without the death of Christ, so far as human logic would dictate,
- God’s law could never have been satisfied,
- sin could never have been pardoned,
- we could never have been justified before God,
- and God could never have shown mercy to us.
Christ’s cross is the solution to a great difficulty.
- It untied - a great knot; * it enabled God to be just
and yet be the ‘justifier of the ungodly’
Christ teaches how to rightly understand the cross
“that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations”
The message our Lord told his disciples to preach … Repentance and forgiveness of sins: are inseparably linked together.
In His name
For all nations…
Repentance and forgiveness of sins
This message is clearly found in each of the gospel accounts
Matthew presents it gently in chapter 28
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18b-20a)
Mark and John are more direct in telling of the commissioning and the full ramifications
In Mark 16: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)
And John 20: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When Jesus had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21b-23)
This commissioning carries a shocking undertone
It is not only a message of goodness and light – but of a responsibility and the way in which we are to lead our lives – in Going, doing, repenting (turning away from, and turning towards God) in obedience
The other detail that would have been shocking to the disciples
This group of Jews - who would have been raised with a very specific identity
“The chosen people”
Christ commissioned them into all world, or all the nations…
No longer was this to be an exclusive group - but a group that was to look beyond their racial upbringing
They were to start in Jerusalem to be sure
But as our reading from Acts today puts it
In Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth
We are given ever increasing circles of influence
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth
all world, or all the nations
Christ calls them special believers in the world - He says “You are witnesses”
…One is only a witness if they tell someone else…
This is what the lingering aspect of my dream Friday morning was all about – I still have the responsibility to proclaim the gospel to people in the church and beyond these walls
And I believe that, it is the responsibility of all who are baptized in the name of God to fulfill the whole of the great commission and to serve all, as Luther put it – the role of `the priesthood of all believers`
If that were not enough – there is more…
As we contemplate our reading for ‘the ascension of our Lord’ consider this pattern
Consider the pattern of Jesus’ actions in the last moments
He Spoke to them…
opened their minds to understand scripture…
claimed the repentance for the forgiveness of sins, proclaimed in His Name and to all
And they worshipped - praising God
And consider the pattern of our service today
God speaks to us through ‘the divinely inspired’ scripture…
The word is expounded on during the sermon, in both the hearing and telling…
We as the church, the body of Christ, repent and ask for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus Christ during our general confession…
There is a parting blessing…
We all worship - praising God
In the ascension not only do we see:
- The ultimate moment of Christ’s triumph over death * That Jesus is truly God as he is taken into Heaven
- The mission set out for all of us in what is known as ‘the great commission’
- The expanding of God’s people to all nations
- A summary of the gospel - the good news - of repentance for the forgiveness of sins
- But the added bonus of a pattern of worship for us
The Ascension reveals God’s glory to us in so many ways
Consider this also
That the Ascension of our Lord helps us find joy in what had terrified us before
God takes our understanding of the world and transforms it
… Takes the fear out of it…
The disciples who (as John’s gospel so dramatically portrays) had before been hiding out, in an upper room, behind a locked door ‘for fear of the Jews’
Now they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.”
…When you believe in the one that has defeated death - your fear is transformed to Joy…
This fact was brought home to me beautifully recently
As I am on an email prayer list, I was blessed on with the request for prayer and the story of one of our brothers in Christ who has been on death’s door waiting for a liver transplant, and I quote:
We received the call at 6 a.m. to come in as quickly as possible, as they had a liver for him. Praise God!
As he was wheeled down the hall to the surgical suite, with me walking alongside as far as the door, he grinned and sang "I live, I live, because He is risen...."
And so as not to leave you hanging - I heard the outcome a day later
He spent nearly seven hours in surgery, and has come through well. The surgeon was pleased with every aspect. He is in ICU, exhausted, uncomfortable, but beginning the first day of his life with a new liver.
This was an unknown accidental donor, whose family will have lost a loved one while their generous gift has saved his life, and we pray for peace and comfort for them
Our fear of death, is transformed to Joy – testified by our brother in Christ `I live, I live, because he is risen`
Today as we commemorate and celebrate the ascension of our Lord,
We know that Christ’s finishing act, Christ’s closing message on earth;
is in fact… our beginning – is our commission!
Today we mark ``A mission accomplished; a commission to be accomplish``
Lord, may our ears be open to hear you, our eyes open see you, and our hearts be open to receive you and your transformative message - from sin into forgiveness. And may the witness of our lives, in word and deed - proclaim you; Lord of all, in heaven and earth. - Amen -