Ascension

Sermon May 24 2020

Acts 1:6-14

1 Peter 4:12-14

1 Peter 5:6-11

John 17 1-11

Our readings today attest to the awesome power of God, the supernatural, beyond human comprehension, incredible nature of our God. We see the picture of Jesus glorified, and ascending into heaven in a cloud! That’s not an everyday sight is it?

These are difficult times we have been going through, and we need to be reminded about how mighty God is, just how powerful and on top of this is our Lord.

This picture of Jesus too reminds us that even though Jesus is fully human, he is also fully divine, and has all the power of the God-head within him.

During Lent and Passiontide we saw the very human, frail nature of Jesus, and we knew because of this that he is well qualified to understand what our lives are like. But with Easter, when Jesus broke through his human nature to reveal the divine, and now with Ascensiontide, we can see more of His divinity.

Can you imagine what the disciples would have been thinking? They had just got used to Jesus being back with them, but somehow different. They were going about business as usual, wondering what it all meant, when he disappeared! They stood looking up, gob-smacked, and two angels – it has to be angels – said to them,

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

This is reassuring that Jesus will indeed return. It means that they don’t need to keep looking up, wondering where he has gone. But it also gave them an impetus to get off the mountain and Do something. Why stand staring up in the clouds?

They knew that they could not expect Jesus to pop straight back and say, ‘oh sorry, I just had to talk to my Father in heaven for a bit. Now, where were we?’

The disciples were on their own! Help!

But then they must surely have remembered that Jesus had only just told them what would happen next.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Oh, okay, they said to one another. We will receive power. That’s good, isn’t it. We will be okay without Jesus, the Holy Spirit will help us. Wow! They remembered what the Holy Spirit had done in the stories of their scripture. They felt humbled that they would have this wonderful Holy Spirit with them!

But hang on, Jesus said something else, didn’t he?

‘You will be my witnesses, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

The disciples knew that they would be telling everyone all about Jesus when the power came upon them! They didn’t have the power yet though, so it was still with some fear that they contemplated telling others. As for ‘all the ends of the earth’ ! How could they go anywhere under Roman rule? How would it even be possible?

At this point they just needed to trust the words of Jesus. They are still in a sort of limbo, in between business as usual and something wonderful. We’re a bit like that too, aren’t we? We have been in extraordinary times, but things are starting to come back to normal, except they’re not, are they? Maybe business as usual will never happen the same way again.

We, like the disciples are facing a somewhat uncertain future.

What can scripture tell us about it?

Let’s look at our reading from 1 Peter.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

Wow, he could have written it for us! There have always been periods of human history when Stuff was happening, when people were under stress. We know from this reading that we can be encouraged not to lose heart.

Remember, Peter who wrote this was the same disciple who denied he even knew Jesus, just before Jesus’ death on the cross. Peter was cast so low that he wept bitterly and didn’t even know if he would be accepted as a disciple after Jesus’ resurrection. That’s why Jesus told the disciples and Peter to come. He wanted Peter to know that whatever failings he may have had he was still loved.

Now Peter is bold and forthright in proclaiming Christ Jesus, and encourages us to trust him too. We can rejoice, knowing that God is in charge.

The next verse of our reading could have been written last week!

‘Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.’

All the world is suffering at this time. It is natural to be anxious, whether staying at home or venturing out for the first time.

Peter talks about the devil, prowling around like a lion, looking for someone to devour. Perhaps we could see despair as this lion, wanting to pull us under. Resist it! Be strong because God cares for you!

We do indeed know that our brothers and sisters all around the world are suffering the same kinds of suffering. Indeed, many have it worse than us. But this reminds us that when one is hurting, all are hurting. We can resist despair for their sake, embrace the new normal and continue to pray for those who are still in the midst of the pandemic.

In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus asks for a final layer of protection for the disciples. That’s not just the guys from 2000 years ago, that’s us. Jesus has prayed for our protection, so that we can go about the work He has set for us – the work of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to nations near and far, to those closest to us, like our families, or Judah, to those we don’t even like, or Samaria. We are encouraged to do this, but before we stop and quake in our boots, wondering how on earth to do it, remember what Jesus told the disciples- ‘I am sending the Holy Spirit to you.’

Now most of us heard this reading last year and the year before, and probably for a fair few years before that, so we know about the Holy Spirit. But maybe this is a time for a reminder about God’s amazing power, and how God helps us with that same power that made the universe! This week, we are preparing for the great Feast of Pentecost, for commemorating an outpouring of the Holy Spirit throughout the world. Let’s take some time as we pray this week to ask God to show us our next steps, and to fill us again with that power.