Does Ascension Matter?


So, I have to start this sermon by admitting that the Ascension is not something that I really ever talk about… I mean, sure, we mention it every week in the Creed when we confess our faith that Jesus ascended into heaven, but, ascension has never really been an important word in my faith vocabulary.

I know Jesus is not still present in the body on earth, and I believe that he still lives and reigns and loves us, so the ascension gives an explanation of how that all works… but I just had never really put that much thought into why the Ascension matters.

Until this week (when I had to preach on it). This week, in my study of today’s texts, I ran across a powerful poem by contemplative author Christine Sine.[1] This is what she writes in response to the Ascension:

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

a new world has broken into ours.

Justice will come for the poor,

freedom for the prisoners,

healing for the sick.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

a new community has been formed.

Love and caring will flourish.

The abandoned and rejected will be welcomed.

All people will find a place of belonging.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

a new creation has begun.

All that was distorted is being restored,

all that was corrupted is being renewed,

all that was broken in being made whole.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

God’s new world has begun.

“Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God”… This phrase makes a claim about causality; an affirmation that the Ascensions started something; an assertion that something new and different is happening as a result of the Ascension.

This a bold claim that drew my attention to a story I have always just accepted and moved on from. It also begs the question, what is this something that the Ascension started?

The account in Acts helps as to set aside one WRONG answer to that questions. The disciples had hoped Jesus’ resurrection was going to trigger the coming of God’s kingdom as a political reality… Jesus finally living up to the Messianic expectation to overthrow the Romans and “restore the kingdom to Israel(Acts 1:6). But Jesus quickly corrects that expectation. “It is not for you to know the times” (Acts 2:7). A political kingdom is not what Jesus has been preparing them for, nor do they get to know when God’s rule will be realized.

But, if not a new political order where God’s law is rule, and God’s people are on top, then what did the Ascension begin? What was it that Jesus was preparing his disciples to do? Because, he HAD been preparing them for kingdom work. In verse three of our Acts reading, Luke tells us that during the 40 days that Jesus spent with his disciples after the resurrection, he was “speaking about the kingdom of God.

This is the set-up for the ascension, and for the whole book of Acts. This commissioning of the disciples to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth… witnesses who have been instructed about God’s kingdom.

So, what is the work of God’s kingdom to which they are to witness?

We don’t get many details about the kingdom in today’s readings, because Luke has already given us a full gospel to refer back to, since Luke and Acts are really a 2-volume set.

And Luke’s gospel is the gospel in which Mary’s Magnificat rejoices that God lifts up the lowly and scatters the proud (Luke 1:46-55);

And it is the gospel in which Jesus’s first public sermon declares that God has anointed him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18-19);

And it is the gospel in which Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain declares blessing for those who suffer, but woe for those are rich, and full, and laughing when others are poor, hungry, and weeping. (Luke 6:20-26)

In other words, this is a gospel in which Jesus announces a kingdom of reversal – where the inequities of power, and privilege, and benefit get redistributed, and those who have been hurt by this world’s way of doing things are healed.

It is clearly THIS gospel that Christine Sine described in her poem about the consequences of the Ascension:

With its descriptions of a new world of justice, freedom, and healing;

and a new community of love, welcome, and belonging; and

a new creation of restoration, renewal, and wholeness.

In her poem, Sine offers us a beautiful description of the kingdom of God for which the Ascension jumpstarts our call to be witnesses…

But this description can be painful and disheartening for us, because the Ascension does not seem to have actually initiated all of those things. The poem does not describe the world, community, or creation that we see most of the time. Instead, if we are paying attention, most of the time we see a world that still needs healing and restoration. We see hunger, and cancer, and opioid addiction, and climate change, and children ripped from their mothers’ arms by misguided “deterrent” immigration policies.

We see a world that does not reflect the gospel message of God’s kingdom.

The truth is that it’s hard to believe that the world was fundamentally transformed “because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God.” It’s easy for us to fall into the disciples’ error of believing that our hope lies in an act of Messianic Power; and to see anything short of that as a disappointment.

But ESTABLISHING God’s kingdom by rule is not what Jesus commissions his followers to do. He commissions us to WITNESS.

Our job is not to coerce change in the world by the imposition of power, but to tell the story of what God INTENDS for creation, and community, and the healing of the world. To tell the truth about the ways that the realities of our world stand in opposition to God’s kingdom way, and to commit OUR lives to serving and living in the kingdom way, even when that kingdom vision looks impossible.

At Synod Assembly this weekend we heard from Mikka McCrakken, the Director of Planning and Engagement for ELCA World Hunger, and she opened her talk by boldly stating that she believes we CAN actually end hunger in the world. She then proceeded to tell the truth about what a daunting task such world change is, as well as telling the story of how the ELCA is taking on the challenge of moving forward into this reality.

She concluded by challenging us to actually believe in the kind of God who can do impossible things – which, I imagine, would include things like raising Jesus from the dead and then raising him bodily into heaven, and then even changing the world through the church.

She said “If we don’t believe in impossible things like ending hunger, no one else will…. Our hope is in resurrection; in a God of abundance and a God in whom all things are possible.”

Believing in a God in whom all things are possible and, moreover, believing that God calls us to witness to a kingdom that looks impossible, is – I have come to believe – a powerful message of the Ascension.

This is why the Feast of the Ascension is the perfect way to conclude our Easter-season focus on our Synod’s core values,[2] core values that challenge us to live lives of witness to God’s kingdom, through: Faithfulness, Change, Generosity, Diversity, Interdependence … and, finally Respect.

Respect is the sixth and final core value, which our Synod describes this way:

This is about justice: justice for each child of God, honor especially for the least, and respect in all relationships so that they are life-giving, grace-filled, safe, and create peace, as the Creator intended.

That’s a description of the Kingdom. Our responsibility to WITNESS is about reflecting life as the Creator intended. With justice, and honor for the least, and relationships that are life-giving, grace-filled, and safe; where peace is created.

I won’t try to pretend that is our reality, and I can’t tell you why the world is still so broken nearly 2,000 years after Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father. Ours is not to know the time.

But I can tell you that the ascension matters, because it is our reminder that God can do impossible things… especially when our world still looks nothing like God’s kingdom.

We need to know that our Risen Savior is sitting at the right hand of God. We need to know, because, when we witness to God’s intention for the world – as impossible as it might seem - and when we live according to THAT model…. we are witnessing to the hope of what the Ascension started.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

a new world has broken into ours.

Justice will come for the poor,

freedom for the prisoners,

healing for the sick.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

a new community has been formed.

Love and caring will flourish.

The abandoned and rejected will be welcomed.

All people will find a place of belonging.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

a new creation has begun.

All that was distorted is being restored,

all that was corrupted is being renewed,

all that was broken in being made whole.

Because Jesus ascended and sits at the right hand of God,

God’s new world has begun.

To that we are witnesses. Thanks be to God.

[1] http://godspacelight.com/2016/04/27/resources-for-ascension-day-2016/

[2] http://www.njsynod.org/core-values

Recent Posts
Archive
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square

© 2016 by Abiding Peace Lutheran Church.

To request permission to use site content, please contact Abiding Peace Lutheran Church in writing at 305 US Highway 46, Budd Lake, NJ 07828