Ascension Sunday Sermon 2013

He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Familiar words spoken almost every Sunday when we join with Christians throughout the world as we affirm our faith with the Apostle’s Creed.  A statement of faith almost as old as the faith itself.  Designed to combat the heresy that Jesus was only a spiritual being, that he never lived as a human being and that he could never have died for us because a spiritual being cannot die.  This phrase from the Apostle’s Creed speaks directly to the day that we celebrate today.

Today is Ascension Sunday.  This past Thursday marked the Feast of the Ascension.  On the 40th day after the resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples one final time.  His final words to them are reported with minor variances in the four Gospels, but there is a common theme.  In his final words, Christ commissions the disciples to go and preach repentance in Jesus’ name to all the nations.  In our Gospel lesson from Luke this morning, we hear:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father has promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Parallel texts can be found in all of the Gospels and in the opening of the book of Acts.

In John, we hear “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

In Mark, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation.”

At the opening of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

But the description of the final words of Christ that we know best are found in the Gospel according to Matthew:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This Great Commission, as it has come to be known, along with the other scriptures, call all of us to a life of action.  Hear again the action words in the Great Commission:

We are to go.

We are to make.

We are to baptize.

We are to teach.

And, we are to remember.

When Jesus ascended to the Father as it is described in Acts 1, we hear these words: While he was going and they (the disciples) were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  The angels were telling them to get off their duffs and that the time was now to stop looking and start living; living the life that Jesus had called them to live and living into the commission that he had given to them.

Ours is a faith that cannot be contained or repressed.  We, who call ourselves followers of Christ must reach out to others in the name of the very Christ that we claim to follow to preach, to teach and to remember.

We are called to love one another as Christ loves us.

We are called to care for widows and orphans.

We are called to visit the sick and the prisoner.

We are called to provide food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing and shelter for those who have neither clothing nor shelter.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

As followers of Christ in the Wesleyan tradition, we believe that our greatest task is in reaching out in Christ’s name to the local community and to the entire world and to share the message that God loves us, that he cares for us and that he is there with us each and every moment of our lives.

John Wesley believed that there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.  It is through our work as a community of faith that the Methodist movement has been known.  Throughout the history of the Methodist movement, we have advocated in favor of:

•         Better working conditions for the poor and oppressed

•         Educational opportunities for all

•         Compassion for the poor and needy

•         Care for widows and orphans

•         Dignity of life for the elderly and those who are physically challenged

Through the connectional system of the United Methodist Church, we continue to do these things in the local community and throughout the world.  Our work through the Tri-State Food Pantry, our support of Holston Home and Camp Lookout, our support of initiatives such as the Imagine No Malaria campaign, our collection for Change for Children and the collection of the food buckets for Zimbabwe are examples of how we try to fulfill the commission that we have been given by Christ.

We Methodists are known for our good works and we are sometimes criticized by others who say that we believe that Good Works will lead to salvation.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Good works are not the cause of salvation – good works are our response to the grace of God working in us to move us toward sanctification and perfection in love.

We move on toward perfection as we dive deeper into the scriptures and as we work to develop our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  As we move toward perfection in this life, we find that many of the old things that used to interest us are no longer of any value to us.  We begin to move from faith in God to trust in God.

Does this mean that the life of one who professes Christ as their savior suddenly becomes easy?

Does this mean that all of your troubles and concerns will magically disappear because you have declared to follow the one who was crucified, died and was buried but who rose again in victory over sin and death and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty?

Does this mean that all of us who claim to follow Christ can put on our rose colored glasses and declare that the world is fine and just ignore the suffering of the world around us?  Not on your life!  The devil would like for us to think that way.  The devil would hope that we would think that “we’re saved…nothing and no one else matters.” Anyone who would believe that lie plays right into the devil’s hands.

Remember, of whom much is given, much is expected.  We have been given the greatest gift of all…the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.  It is our responsibility to share that gift with everyone that we meet.  In fact Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with every fiber of our being and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

And let’s be frank.  This loving your neighbor business isn’t the easiest thing to do.  As a matter of fact, I’m not called to even like my neighbor, let alone approve of his or her laundry list of sins.  But regardless of who they are, where they are or what has happened to them, it seems that we all are called by God to heal wounds, provide food and lodging and comfort to those who are hurting and to show mercy to those who stumble or who have been knocked down.

I’m not called to like it.  I’m called to do it.  Whether I like it or not.

As we grow in our faith…as we grow in our love of Christ and one another, we will find that the service that we give to others will be the greatest gift that we give to ourselves, because we are enriched by the experience.

How can we accept the gift and not give thanks to the giver by living out the risk taking love that is expected of us?

All that we are and all that we can hope to be is the direct result of the Amazing Grace that God has showered upon us.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he gave us our marching orders.  Orders that call us all to a servant ministry that puts others first and calls us to love one another.  Orders that we cannot accomplish on our own.  Orders that can only be executed when we turn to the source of those orders and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us to accomplish the ministry objective.

Because he lives, we can face tomorrow, freed from the fears that hold us back and prevent us from becoming the people that God wants us to be:  People who joyfully share the amazing love and the amazing grace of God with everyone that we meet.

It is a ministry that we all share.

We have our marching orders.

It is our bounden duty to accept those orders and go forth in his name.

Why?  Because it’s just what we’re supposed to do.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.