ss=MsoNormal>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
Today we celebrate the Accession of our Lord
Today we remember a often glanced over aspect of the life of Jesus
Glanced over - why?
One reason might be that, although The Ascension of Jesus is a great story, it is grouped together with the Cross and the Resurrection
But taken by itself it is indeed a great story - Like the parting of the Red Sea, or the sling-shooting of Goliath by David, or the feeding of the 5,000,
You can see the Ascension in your mind. You can use your imagination and fill in the details.
And maybe its familiarity or its grouping with the rest of the Easter story breeds something in us that we fail to consider the deeper relevance of it.
Another reason, might be because many ‘in our modern world’ greatly value the need to understand and prove everything
According to some of the people who are intent on recovering the "historical Jesus," the church is encrusted with outdated, pre-scientific gunk.
They will be quick to tell you that the Ascension never happened.
It was a story, they say, that the church made up, based on even earlier stories in the Hebrew Scriptures of prophets ascending into the clouds.
If you had been there with your camcorder with the disciples on that day, there would have been nothing to record, no Jesus getting ever smaller as He rose away into the sky.
So the question arises, is it the role of the preacher and the role of the sermon, to follow the lead from the scientific world and look for answers for all of the Bible's mysterious stories and make sense of them
To get rid of the strangeness or the wildness or the unpredictability
For many of the mysterious stories – I would say simply – No.
First off; the meat of the message for most of the miraculous stories are not so much about the miracle or mystery – but what it teaches us about God or what it teaches us about our relationship with God.
Jesus was not some great magician, some Houdini, there for our entertainment and where the message is the trick itself…
If place our faith merely on the signs and wonders of our Lord, we also run the risk of promoting a rather dangerous strategy of declaring that God is ‘the God of the gaps’
The God of what we don’t understand.
We become vulnerable to every passing theory, be that scientific or just mere folly, every new explanation of the biblical stories.
And God gets diminished and reduced to just the things that we don’t have a theory about.
If a story is mysterious… then the church needs to practice being mystified,
Not jump as quickly as possible to some explanation that removes all the shadows …
And not only the shadows, but also ‘the light’
So we are not going to spend any time today wondering about the "how" of the Ascension
Whether Jesus rose into the sky like a helium balloon
Instead, we're going to look at different gifts in the story;
And to receive the gift, we have to think about the story in a new way
We celebrate the Ascension because we are no different from the early church who gathered around this story from the beginning to hear what they needed
It was the news that they were going to receive power
And perhaps even more importantly, we celebrate this day to be reminded that we have no power of our own and never have. 
That everything… is all a gift from God
Life, Love, Faith, the power to shape our world – all gifts from God
When talk about the Ascension of our Lord, our minds move to the subject of heaven and there are challenging aspects of what heaven has become over 2000 years. For many, heaven is understood as another place, a place somewhere in the skies
In Luke’s Gospel, the Kingdom of God, also known as heaven, can be understood more like it is God’s future… that in Christ’s death and resurrection has broken into the present.
Understood this way, we have a new possibility, even for such an ancient thing as the Ascension of our Lord
If, as many theologians have rediscovered, the risen Jesus belongs to the future, or maybe a place beyond the confines of time, a reality beyond our worldly parameters
Then we can understand that He has also ascended to that same reality
The language of our liturgy and song, the language of the apocalyptic writings like the book of Revelation, the language of our creeds, and our experience all now begin to converge.
We experience in worship a “foretaste of the feast to come” because we understand how God’s future banquet has broken in upon our present world of famine.
Though we suffer, as did the people in Revelation
We understand that in God’s reality the victory is certain.
When we proclaim our faith in the ascended one, we are proclaiming that despite events that seem to contradict it, we can see and participate in the future Reign of God with Jesus in the here and now.
We experience, not the absence of our Lord, but His real and life transforming presence.
The marvel of this is that if Jesus goes ahead of us, then there is no place in our journey that we now go where Jesus is not there to greet us.
The ascension connects Jesus to life in the here and now.
It establishes Jesus as Lord of all… and calls Christians to participate boldly--yet attentively--in his ongoing presence among us.
Once upon a time a father and son went to the park to fly a kite. The kite was carried aloft by a good wind. Higher and higher it soared until it to the naked eye it disappeared from sight.
“Is the kite still up there?” asked the little boy. “I can’t see it.”
“It’s up there alright,” said the father. “I can feel the tug on the string.”
That was the idea Luke seemed to be conveying with the Ascension.
The disciples could know Christ was “up there” at the right hand of God because they could feel the tug on their hearts strings.
Jesus' promises affirm that His ascension is not the end of a story; rather, His departure initiates the next chapter in the story of God's salvation.
Ascension Day is the day to remember that it's the Spirit at work in the church that makes all manner of impossible things possible--things a good deal more mystifying than Jesus rising into the air.
Things like the woman who knew she couldn't face it when her husband became critically and terminally ill,
Who woke each morning for months wanting to fall apart and disappear
But she didn't. She survived and met what came each day.
And not only that, when she looks back, she knows she didn't do it alone because facing her husband's death was not something she could possibly have done.
By the power of the Spirit of God, a man who had been addicted to alcohol for more than half his years stopped drinking and stayed sober.
And when peopled asked him how he did it, the first thing he says is he didn't.
There is a “Peanuts” comic strip that comes to mind.
Linus is meditating having just seen Lucy fall down and come up crying.
He reflects: “For hundreds of years there have been sidewalks, for hundreds of years there have been little girls. The little girls are always falling on the sidewalks. The sidewalks always win.”
The gravity field always wins. We’re always “falling down.”
But we’re always getting back up too. We rise as often as we fall.
That is the strength of religious faith – And for us by the power of the Holy Spirit and the victory of our Lord Jesus we are given a share in that victory – we too can ascend.
Love lifts us up.
Today we are marking Christ’s final moments on earth … we are given an incredible parting gift
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,
He 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 Jesus Christ
Scripture opened up by the gift of Jesus reveals 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:
As John’s Gospel declares “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 gives us the gift by teaching us how to rightly understand the cross
Then He says “that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations”
There is 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
All the world… All the nations
Christ calls them special believers in the world - He says “You are witnesses”
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…
We are given 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
And we are also given a clear summary of the gospel - the good news - of repentance for the forgiveness of sins
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’ [the Jewish religious authorities]
Now they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.”
O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)
…When you believe in the one that has defeated death - fear is transformed to Joy…
Our fear of death, is transformed to Joy
Today as we commemorate and celebrate the Ascension of our Lord,
We know that Christ’s finishing act, Christ’s closing message on earth;
While it may be the end of one chapter – but it is also the beginning of a new one
It is… in fact… Our beginning – is our commission!
As St. Paul write in Ephesians (read today) 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Eph 1:18-19)
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 -
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