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  • The Big White Inspirational Church. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.
  • The Big White Inspirational Church. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.
  • The Big White Inspirational Church. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.

Sunday Message – Ascension Sunday       May 24, 2020

7 Easter 20       Acts 1:1-11

                Today, we celebrate Ascension Sunday. The lectionary reading tells us a story about the final moments Jesus spent with his disciples. Unlike Easter Sunday, this is an inside story if there ever was one. Just think about it. Have you heard any ads about Ascension Day Sales? Or have you seen any special documentary about “What happened that day when Jesus disappeared into the clouds?” on the History Channel, like we do for Christmas and Easter? No, Ascension Sunday is only for people of faith who know the story and live it out.

                For 40 days, Jesus has been popping up at different times and in different places. And now, Jesus has taken the disciples to a hillside on the Mount of Olives for a final talk. And depending on your perspective as either a member of the inner circle or a rookie within the extended family, everything either becomes incredibly final or extremely complicated. One second, Jesus was there. And then depending on your perspective, he was either gone or rising to new heights. Only those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah heard the voices of the two men or saw Jesus disappear into the clouds. But the end result was the same for all of them. The Jesus they knew was really once and for all…gone.

                As we look at our scripture passage today, there are unspoken questions in this first chapter of Acts. The early church is trying to struggle its way to voice a reality that was beyond words. The initial response was wrapped around two questions: Why did this happen? (What does this Easter thing really mean?) And what’s going to happen next? And that was the easy part.

                Now, the uncertainty really begins and the harder issue to live through takes center stage. “How do we continue without Jesus here?” So, they just stood there. Some were looking up. No one was moving. And they would still be waiting if those two men hadn’t told them to get a grip and to look at the world around them. “What are you staring at? Listen up! When the Holy Spirit (the Kokua, as I mentioned in last week’s sermon) comes, get ready to do what Jesus had asked: be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and go to the ends of the earth with the good news.”

                Don’t look up, look around. It’s so much easier, isn’t it, to look up or look back? It’s so much easier—to look where our imaginations can create a world that’s different from the reality in which we have to live. It’s comforting to look to the past and remember our supposed “good old days” or to relive a special time or experience. We do it all the time, maybe especially in the church. But the instruction is clear. You can’t stand still as though the work of God is over and the glory days are gone. The Ascension marks the end of a chapter, not the end of the story.

                At this point, the disciples are a fearful, waiting community, knee-deep anxiety, and bewilderment, without any power of its own. It has no sense of wholeness or identity; it’s helpless beyond description. Empowerment of any kind, spiritual, inward, or otherwise does not exist for them. There is nothing they can generate within themselves to carry them through.

                And yet, the power does come. And as it does, a fragile little community finds courage, energy, imagination, and resources that radically changed everything about their lives individually and as a community. If you compare the gospels, the Ascension is hardly mentioned in the New Testament. Acts 1 is more concerned about what is about the happen in the lives of the earliest Christians than the event happening to Jesus.

                Twice in these verses the declaration is made that the Holy Spirit is about to inhabit the life of the church in new ways. Just how the Spirit finds expression the disciples are not told. That’s going to remain a mystery until Pentecost. In the meantime, they’re supposed to get moving.

                So, in the New Testament perspective, Ascension is an interim time. It’s a period between promise and fulfillment. The disciples of Christ are called to live differently in the world. Little do they know that as they try to move beyond themselves into a new dawn they have yet to see, the Spirit of God is already blazing the trail ahead of them, waiting to transform all that they do into moments of God’s outpouring love.

                Luke is using the book of Acts as a foundation for the development of the Holy Spirit. The central point is that the Holy Spirit, which has empowered the ministry of Jesus, will now empower the ministry of the disciples, but only after Jesus leaves them. To me, the imagery of this story reveals a timeless truth. As the earthly chapter of Jesus’ life and ministry comes to a close, the truth of the Living Christ begins.

                The Ascension locks the Christian Church into God’s movement into the future, walking in Jesus footprints, going to the places he’s gone, to the people he’s touched and beyond.

                This story of an interim time in the life of those first disciples/followers really speaks to me today. All of us have been living in what we’re calling a “new reality” with masks and physically distancing ourselves from each other. It’s hard not to be scared, or at least worried, even as we take the safety precautions we’ve been asked to use. I hear some people complain that they “want to go back to the way it was.” Well, our “new reality” is that we can’t do that and, even when a vaccine comes along, we still won’t be able to do that. And I hear the message of this scripture speaking to you, to me, to all of us, telling us to stop looking back, stop wishing for the “good old days” because those days are gone. Instead, keep looking around and seeing how you can help, whom you can serve, and keeping pushing forward.

                To be entrusted with the message of the Gospel is to live as people who know we are loved. Over and over again the witness of scripture is that people were drawn to Christianity because of how Christians lived and what they did – not by what they said or how they said it. The stories of Easter were stories of people JUST LIKE US who were empowered by the Spirit of God to act in new and life-giving ways. Life in the Spirit involves a process of transformation of individual lives and creating communities that turned and continues to turn the world upside down.

                The story of Acts is unfinished, because the story of the Church continues with you, with all of us. We live in a future that is enfolded and unfolding in God’s hands. It is an unfinished story of sacrifice, hope and joy; of wearing masks and washing hands; of contactless delivery and figuring out new ways to stay safe, yet connected. Living in the middle of this unfinished story is a gift of love and trust that Jesus has promised to us. The choice of living within this mission, of walking in his footsteps, and accepting new life is ours. May we choose wisely. May God make it so for you and for me.

                                                                                                                Amen

 

I hope you have a fun and safe Memorial Day weekend. Please remember to take time out this weekend, though, to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their very lives, in service to our county in our Armed Forces.

We end the Season of Easter next Sunday, May 31st, as we celebrate Pentecost. We will gather together at church as we reopen, safely and perhaps a little cautiously. I hope to see you there, wearing a mask and sitting 6 feet away from those not living with you. You will be receiving a letter from me, as I’ve promised, verifying our reopen date and giving you some new information about another change I need to make in our worship service, based, as always, on CDC guidelines and recommendations. Remember to wear red!!!

 

 

 

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First Congregational United Church of Christ
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Berlin Heights, Ohio 44814
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