Luke 24:44-53 (CEB)
Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending to you what God promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”
He led them out as far as Bethany, where he lifted his hands and blessed them. As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. They worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem overwhelmed with joy. And they were continuously in the temple praising God.
May 27-28, 2017
“Overwhelmed With Joy”
At this point in the church year, we are nearing the end of the Easter season…which is called the Great 50 Days of Easter.
This past Thursday was what we call the Day of Ascension, which is 40 days after Easter and 10 days before Pentecost…bringing us to the Great 50 Days.
Ascension in the church is our time to remember when Jesus promised his disciples that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them and then he departed from them.
The Ascension is not a well-known or popular church celebration, but it does bring closure to the earthly ministry of Jesus and is a hinge between the Easter season and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Day of Pentecost, which is next Sunday, June 4th, is the day we celebrate the coming of the Spirit’s power and the birth of the Church.
The Gospel of Luke ends with the story of the Ascension of Jesus and the Book of Acts, which is a continuation of Luke’s gospel about the early church, begins with the story of the Ascension.
The Gospel of Mark offers just two verses about the Ascension at the end of that gospel, but almost as an add-on after the author has concluded his writing.
I invite you to hear the Ascension story as recorded in the Gospel of Luke.
(Read Luke 24:44-53)
The setting for the Ascension of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is the village of Bethany, which was located on the southeast side of the Mount of Olives, about 2 miles east of Jerusalem.
Bethany was the scene of some of the most important events in Jesus’ life. It was the home of his friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus. It was also the place where he raised Lazarus from the dead; and the place where a woman anointed Jesus with expensive ointment at the house of Simon the leper.
In the Gospel of Luke, the Ascension of Jesus takes place on the evening of Easter, whereas the Book of Acts has the Ascension happening 40 days after Easter on the Mt. of Olives.
Setting the when and where and physics of the Ascension aside, Jesus helps the disciples see that his death is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new mission and responsibility for them; of recognizing and bringing the kingdom of God into their everyday lives.
Go out and be witnesses, Jesus says, fueled by the power of the coming Holy Spirit. And that’s really the point of the story…get out there and recognize that the kingdom of God is all around us…share the Good News of God’s love and mercy in our words, our actions and in all the ways and places we communicate.
This Gospel story tells us that the final gift Jesus gives his disciples before leaving them is a blessing…Jesus lifts his hands and blesses them, the scripture says. Then, “As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven.”
Following the blessing and departure of Jesus, the disciples worshipped God and were overwhelmed with joy. In other words, their response was gratitude; and from their gratitude came worship and more gratitude.
Even with Jesus gone—taken out of sight—the disciples had enough faith and enough strength to be joyful and to continue to worship God. What an example for us…to take heart, to press on, and to stay the course, even when God seems somewhere just out of sight.
The Ascension marks the moment we pass from Jesus’ time into our own time.
The disciples were left to be witnesses to what they had seen in Jesus and what they now understood in Scripture. They were left to see and live the kingdom of God in their present circumstances without Jesus physically with them.
Now we are the witnesses. We are the hands and feet of Christ…the body of Christ in our time and place. Like the disciples, we are called to figure out how to be witnesses to God’s love and grace and mercy, and how to recognize and live the kingdom of God.
But, before we can bring the message of the Gospel to everyday life, the scripture says we must wait and watch for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. If we try to be the witnesses or be the church without the power of the Holy Spirit enabling our ministry, we run the risk of expending a lot of energy and activity, without a lot of results.
And so we wait and watch, but we wait with the full expectancy that the power will come…that the Spirit will enable and empower us to boldly bear witness to the message of God’s love as we live with courage and perseverance.
Our task…our responsibility is to tell God’s story and to recognize God’s story being told and lived out in us and in others.
In these post-Ascension days, our task and responsibility is to offer Christ, which is what we are reminding ourselves to do in this year of Offering Christ as part of our four-year Ministry Plan of H.O.P.E.
A pastor tells the story about a 9-year-old girl named Susie, who was filled with joy when she came to know Jesus…so much joy that she insisted that all her friends know Jesus too.
One day, the pastor says, “She took me to her neighborhood to invite the children to a vacation Bible school our church was having.
We went with colorful flyers in hand. I expected that we would tell the children and their parents about the dates and time and place of the VBS, leave them a flyer as a reminder and be on our way.
Susie saw her job differently. When we got to the first house and the door was opened slightly, she stepped right in and said to the neighbor, ‘We’ve got great news about Jesus and my pastor will tell you all about it!’”
The pastor says, “I stood there flabbergasted, but she was right. Our job was first and foremost to proclaim the Good News, and tell others about the risen Christ.
Susie and I worked hard that day because she did not want any child in her neighborhood to miss out in hearing about Jesus and the vacation Bible school. Susie knew in her own way, Jesus’ claim on our lives and the magnitude of that claim. We are Christ’s witnesses and those who need to receive our witness are first those near to us and then we branch out from there.”
The story of Christ’s ascension is a story about what the church, as the body of Christ, is to look like when the followers of Jesus believe the Good News is news for all and are continuing his work wherever we are.
We can spend our time wishing and dreaming of a different life or country or world where God is more recognizable or involved, or we can see what is right in front of us. We can look up, or we can look around. We can hope for and wonder about the kingdom of God, or we can realize that the hope and wonder of God’s kingdom is already in our midst.
Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to the scriptures. Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus also opens our minds to the scriptures. And through that same empowerment, we are to share the kingdom of God in our everyday lives.
The gospels are full of ideas about what the kingdom of God looks like and they are all stories that come out of every day, ordinary life.
The kingdom of God, scripture says, is like…A mustard seed; like yeast mixed with flour; like a woman searching for a lost coin; like a treasure hidden in a field; like a net thrown into the sea; like a merchant in search of fine pearls.
In Luke’s gospel, the kingdom of God is portrayed not so much as somewhere out there or up there; but rather as God’s presence breaking into the present moment.
When we can allow our minds to ascend to a higher understanding of God with us, we will be filled with the mystery and wonder that acknowledges the kingdom of God really is everywhere.
As I held this Ascension scripture with me this past week, I set out to intentionally notice the kingdom of God everywhere. It was an amazing exercise.
I found that the kingdom of God is like…
A husband at the care center sitting in worship with his wife of many years, still lovingly caring for her spiritual needs, even though he has become a stranger to her.
The kingdom of God is like…a health care worker going against hospital policy and praying with and singing hymns with a dying patient and his family.
The kingdom of God is like…the young person in the car in front of me at the MacDonald’s drive through paying for my meal.
The kingdom of God is like…the school crossing guard who stops traffic for me to get across the street when I’m out running and greets me with a smile and an encouraging word.
The kingdom of God is like…seeing young adults, who have grown up in the church, renew their friendship and fellowship by sharing a meal together.
The kingdom of God is like…holding a baby as I talked with her parents about baptism and realizing for a moment the peace that surpasses understanding.
The kingdom of God is like…surrounding one another with our care and prayers and knowing that it makes a difference.
With most of my kingdom of God observations last week, I was not in church, but the kingdom of God was happening.
When we allow God to open our minds and hearts; and our eyes and ears; the kingdom of God happens.
Perhaps the Ascension teaches us to trust the ordinary moments of life as ‘kingdom of God’ moments that can overwhelm us with joy!
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.