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East Harwich, MA 02645
Acts 1:1-11 New Revised Standard Version
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Ascension of Jesus
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But 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.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “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.”
Ephesians 1:15-23 New Revised Standard Version
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[a] toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God[b] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Luke 24:44-53 New Revised Standard Version
44 Then he 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 of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[a] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses[b] of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.[c] 52 And they worshiped him, and[d] returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.[e]
16 May 2021
Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
The Rev Dr Dianne ES Carpenter
Ascension Day is one of the few remaining festivals of the Christian Church year that isn’t really being touched by our secular American society. I’m guessing none of you sent or received “Happy Ascension Day” cards in the mail this week or went out for dinner for Ascension Day. None of the stores had a big “Ascension Day Sale”, nor do we have some character like Santa Claus or the Easter bunny that’s associated with Ascension Day.
40 days after the celebration of Easter is Ascension Day, so it’s on a Thursday each year. The 40 days represent the 40 days that Jesus walked the Earth after His resurrection before He ascended into heaven. Though it is actually on the Thursday coming, it is a major even in the life of our Savior and the life of the church and so we celebrate today while we are together!
There were 2 brothers ages 8 and 10 who were excessively mischievous…. The two boys were always getting into trouble and their parents could be confident that if any mischief occurred in their town, their sons were involved in some way! The parents were at their wit’s end as to what to do about their sons’ behavior.
Now it was rumored that there was a clergyman in town who had been successful in disciplining children in the past, so they contacted hi, and he agreed to give it his best shot. He asked to see the boys individually, so the 8 year old was sent to meet with him first. The clergyman sat the boy down and asked him sternly: “Where is God?”
The boy made no response so the clergyman repeated the question in an even sterner tone: “Where is God?”
Again the boy made no attempt to answer, so the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy’s face:
“Where is God?”
At that the boy bolted from the room, ran directly home and hid in his closet. His older brother followed him into the closet and said
The younger brother replied: “We are in BIG trouble this time, God is missing and thy think we did it!”
This is the story of the “Missing God.” – Ascension Day
One of the things that makes this day unique is that it’s the last time recorded in Scripture that Jesus is seen on Earth. St Paul does encounter Jesus on the road to Damascus later in the Book of Acts, but Paul doesn’t see the actual, physical, resurrected body of Jesus, he sees a bright light and hears a voice. In the Book of Revelation, St John tells us he hears Jesus, but again, it’s not a physical body on Earth that John sees, it’s a vision. So this account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven is rather unique in that it is the last time that Jesus is physically seen in his resurrected body on Earth.
Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and appeared to His disciples for 40 days. It’s no big secret that he’s risen from the dead at this point… In the Gospels it is recorded that one of His appearances was to more than 500 people at once!
Jesus has restored the disciples, the 11 men who had cowardly – or wisely (never know which) run away and hid during His crucifixion and death, even restoring Peter who had denied Him 3 times… Even though a little over a month had passed since that truly Holy Week in Jerusalem, it probably still seemed so amazing, unreal, that Jesus was alive! No doubt, they had to wonder at some point how long Jesus would be with them. Perhaps they thought He was there to stay, to fix their problems and protect them from what would happen next.
As it turned out that would not be the case. Jesus, as He had done for the three years He spent with His disciples prior to His crucifixion and his appearances to them in the 40 days since His resurrection, is teaching His disciples. But the tone of this teaching sounds a bit different from anything they’ve heard. The topic is the same: the Kingdom of God… but Luke records…
These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
That everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, And the Psalms must be fulfilled.
At this point Luke tells us that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” If you recall, quite often when Jesus was teaching about something that was going to happen to him, or what the Kingdom of God was like, he’d have to interpret what He was saying to them. This time, He opens their minds so that they can understand what everything was all about. We’re told He says,
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah[a] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
He calls them witnesses of these things and promises them help from above.
Eye witnesses used to need to be within 20 feet or so of an event. Today we have all sorts of video records of people and events… Jesus had understanding and opening of their minds.
He then tells them to stay in the city until they are clothed with power from on high.
Finally, they understood the Why of the crucifixion… it was all part of God’s plan to save the world. “Ah hah!” It was a confusing concept until Jesus took them by the hand and put all the pieces together… We don’t automatically understand God’s plan unless we hear and have the Holy Spirit bring us to understanding and faith. The world needs our witness as well.
Besides the joy and understanding there were probably questions… Why should we stay in the city? Isn’t He coming with us? Why would He leave now?
So Jesus led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up His nail-pierced hands to bless them He suddenly ascends! Acts says a cloud took Him out of sight! Where did he go? Why did He go –they were asking and so might we…
Some might say that Jesus’ earthly life was his state of humiliation. Jesus –true God and true human – chose not to use some of His divine qualities… Imagine being the all powerful God, creator of heaven and earth, and willingly choosing to limit yourself to a human body. One of these limitations is that a human body can only be in one place at a time. Some of us try to be several places at once, but it isn’t really possible! As a human being Jesus was limited to one situation at a time…. He could only be in one place at a time even if there were many people in need of His strength and wisdom. If you need God’s help – you better hope a limited God was available to you and not busy somewhere else.
Someone has done the math that if Jesus had not ascended and spent only 20 seconds per person at a time 24/7 he’d only be able to be present with 4,320 people in a day. Only a small percentage of Christians would get attention on any given day. As the ascended Christ God is omnipresent – available in every Church and golf course and crisis – God is listening to the prayers we utter and to the prayers in Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, China, etc…
When you think about it, the presence of our Ascended Lord is certainly better than hoping you’re one of those lucky 4,320 people that get 20 seconds to be with Jesus in any given day, had He not ascended into heaven.
So, the disciples are eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ascension and who appears next? Two men in white robes appear and say
“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.”
They heard that although Jesus had left them physically, not only would He still be with them spiritually, He’d return one day. They were not left orphans, but as a people with hope of reunion and reconciliation!
RECAP: The Disciples on that first Ascension Day had their minds opened to the Scriptures, they had a promise of his presence with them always and they were charged to be His witnesses. These things caused them great joy! It caused them to worship the Lord and continually bless God… Even more He gave them a fellowship to belong to – an identity. He gave them each other. By staying together and worshipping together they could encourage each other to be the kind of witnesses that Jesus had prepared them to be. No doubt, they talked about the things that they had seen, heard and learned while they were with Jesus. They studied His Words that he had revealed to them and they did so with Great Joy!
It sounds like what Harwich UM C exists for. When we gather together as a congregation it is to encourage each other by our presence here in our endeavors to follow Jesus. As He said: when 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus’ name He is there among them. It is the Holy Spirit preparing us to be the most powerful witnesses we can be!
Jesus did not do His greatest preparation in large groups – Only a few disciples saw His transfiguration. Only 12 are named to travel with Him. Only a few see His ascension. Witnessing is strengthened in small groups.
Jesus says He will give them what they need to be powerful witnesses. He will provide the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will come to them on Pentecost. Likewise, in our gathering this morning, through hearing the Word you’ll be strengthened and equipped to go out into your daily lives and share that very message with the world. You are witnesses of the Jesus who set you free and opened your minds to Jesus’ love and the mission that “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”
For us that work begins not in Jerusalem but right here on Cape Cod – in Harwich and Brewster, Orleans and Chatham, Massachusetts. We’re charged with sharing the message that Jesus Christ is the Way, The Truth and the Life. We’re to tell others the word of God’s law, that none of us can live up to what God expects from us and that we sin daily. Sometimes that means we have to get specific about certain sins – sins of privilege, sins of looking down on our brothers and sisters, sins of blaming the victims of our life styles and prejudgments. But then we can announce to them that Jesus Christ has gone to the cross to die for that sin and then left that sin in the grave when He rose again from the dead. We can tell them that because He is now ascended He’s with us always, even to the end of the age.
There are other interpretations – some will try to use Jesus as a psychological crutch – as something to make you feel better now… some will try to tell you “if you follow these 12 steps Jesus will bless you with material wealth beyond your wildest dreams!” But that’s not what we have witnessed in the Word. When Christ calls us to be witnesses, we’re only to share what we have learned from the Scriptures as truth, not what the world wants us to say.
To return to our story… In the most serious of situations people often ask: Where Is God? God is ascended and that’s a Good Thing
Ascension Day is a very important day in the life of the Christian church.
First, it’s the day Jesus goes from being limited to being present in one place at a time, to being everywhere, for us.
It is also the day that He opens the minds of His disciples and encourages them to be His witnesses. Today we experience the same thing. Our minds are opened through the preaching of the Word to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. And we’re told we are to be His witnesses, starting right here where we live and work.
Mission work doesn’t start overseas, it starts right here, right now. It happens in your conversations at the store, on Main Street, at coffee, with friends, in our everyday lives. You don’t have to be a powerful speaker, or feel a call to a foreign country to be a powerful witness of the love of Christ. It’s simply about sharing the Gospel you hear in this place with those you come in contact with. May God make us His powerful witnesses in this community for Jesus’ sake.