Monday, June 13, 2011

Sermon for Ascension Day

Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53

Watching television can teach you a lot of interesting – if erroneous – things.

The most common illness is not the common cold, it’s retrograde amnesia.

Most babies are born in elevators or the back seat of taxicabs.

If you invite Jessica Fletcher to stay with you for a weekend, you or someone close to you will end up murdered.

And there is a whole genre of movies and television shows built on the premise that if parents go away for a trip and leave their teenagers alone unsupervised, a very wild and destructive party will take place in their absence. Sometimes, the damage is repaired before the parents return and the parents remain in the dark, sometimes not. Sometimes, there is a responsible child who objects to the party, but this child’s opinions are always ignored. But regardless, if parents make plans to leave town, you can be assured that mayhem will ensue in their absence.

Today, we celebrate the Ascension. Like the parents in the movies and television shows, Jesus is leaving and is putting us in charge while he is gone. We know Christ is coming back, although we don’t know when, despite the many failed efforts of some to determine the exact date. Some of us may still be here when he comes for the second time – or, more likely, we will go to meet Christ at the end of our lives, when our eyes close in death. In any event, like the teenagers left to their own devices, there will be a day of reckoning to determine how we’ve done with Christ’s house in his absence.

In today’s Gospel, from Luke, we hear the disciples being told by Jesus that they will be “clothed with power from on high” and that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations” and that the disciples are Christ’s “witnesses”. We hear similar charges in the other synoptic gospels’ accounts of the Ascension, as well as in the account in the Acts of the Apostles. In John 14:12, Jesus tells the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

As wonderful as it was for the disciples to have Jesus in an incarnate body with them during his sojourn on earth, it was necessary for their growth into Christian maturity – and OUR growth into Christian maturity – for him to ascend into heaven, so that we might have a chance to do the works he had been doing, and even greater works.

What are the works of Christ’s we are called to continue and build upon?

Jesus came teaching and preaching the kingdom of God, and it was not what many expected – a military overthrow of the oppressors who occupied the land. No, building the kingdom of God means loving one’s neighbor as oneself – both the neighbors that are easy to love and the ones who are our enemies. Building the kingdom of God means embracing the paradox that true riches come from being poor in spirit, that the meek shall inherit the earth, and that those who mourn will be comforted. We are called to continue to teach and preach this message, and all of the things which Jesus taught and preached, and to do so both with our words and with our lives.

Jesus also came to heal the sick – both those sick in body and those sick in their souls. We most likely will not have the gift of miraculously healing the sick, but we are called to work to heal the bodies of those who are sick and cannot find healing, to work to heal our communities so that they become places which promote the health and wellness of people in all aspects of their being, and most importantly, we are to work to help people find that spiritual healing that can only come through repentance from sin and turning to God as Savior and Lord.

Most importantly, Jesus gave up his life for us on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day, so that we, too, might know new life, both in this world and in the world to come. And we are called to offer our lives in sacrifice in union with Christ as well, and to preach the redemption that comes from trusting in the risen Christ.

We have been given a great work to do by Christ as he ascended into heaven. When he comes again, what will he find? Will he find that we have been faithful in doing the works he did, and even greater works? Or will he find that we have trashed his house like spoiled teenagers?

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