Heavenly Minded – a sermon for Ascension Sunday

The First Reading from the book of Acts 1-5 Dear Theophilus, in the first volume of this book I wrote on everything that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he said good-bye to the apostles, the ones he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. After his death, he presented himself alive to them in many different settings over a period of forty days. In face-to-face meetings, he talked to them about things concerning the kingdom of God. As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but “must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”  When they were together for the last time they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?”  7-8 He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”  9-11 These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared—in white robes! They said, “You Galileans!—why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly—and mysteriously—as he left.”

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke 24:44-5344Then 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.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And 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.”  50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Heavenly Minded – a sermon by Mother Beth

Have you heard the expression, “She’s so heavenly minded she’s no earthly good?”  This often refers to someone who has their head in the clouds – unaware of what is going on around them.   Sometimes it is difficult to balance ourselves between the now and the not yet but that is the tension that we live in as Christians.  We live in a world we can see but we live for a God that we cannot see.  I’ve mentioned before it is like straddling between two camps.  We have one foot in the world and one foot in the next world – we are here now but we know that we are promised life beyond this physical world.

Each week we are bombarded by some pretty horrific messages –  the news is almost overwhelming.  Some weeks, word of the bad news outweighs the good.  That is the time when I am tempted to just turn it all off and think about my heavenly home.  I might reassure myself by saying – “it’s ok, this world is not my home” or I might say “sometimes I hate this place – this world – this culture that allows such injustice and brokenness to reign”.

Today in the both the gospel of Luke and the Acts reading we hear about the ascension of Jesus Christ.

*A side note here is that Luke and Acts are written by the same author and they work together like a two-part book.*

The gospel passage picks up right after the resurrection of Christ.  Jesus has appeared to the disciples, and the two on the road to Emmaus and now he meets again in the upper room with the disciples.  They have seen his hands and his side – he still bears the scars from the crucifixion and now he explains to them once again how he is the fulfillment of all of the scriptures.

Jesus explains that the things that they have just witnessed – the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ were planned from the beginning – they had to happen.  He is connecting all the dots for them; reassuring them about the events so that is his absence they can know for sure that salvation could not have come some other way.

Jesus knows that as humans we second guess ourselves – once he leaves if they are not convinced, they will question whether or not it needed to happen.

By directing them back to scripture – in verse 44 he refers back to the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms –  he is giving them the tools to reassure themselves about the outcome.  Jesus does not just tell them the answer he equips them to find the answer – to retrieve the answer should doubts arise later.

How often have you been in conversation with someone and they have tried to derail you – maybe you have been talking about your faith and

someone has an argument about what you have said.  They try to confuse you.  The good news is that scripture has a response for that.  You may not know the answer right in that moment but you can go and find it.  The scriptures provide for us a place to seek the answers – a place to hear the truth and Jesus assures us that the scriptures point us to him.

After assuring them, Christ commissions them; sends them on a mission – as witnesses – they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit – and then they are to witness to what they have seen and heard and learned.  Where are they to be witnesses?

In Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea and the outermost parts of the earth.

Why Jerusalem first?

That is where they are right now – so we need to start in our own backyard – but also it is important to remember that it would be difficult for the 1st century Jews to testify about Jesus in their own backyard.

Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was killed – and they have been very afraid.  So Christ does not send them out to do what will be easy for them but he empowers them to do what needs to be done so that others will see that the power is not in them but from God.  If we only do the things that we have always been comfortable doing or naturally able to do, how will that reveal Jesus Christ?  God is revealed in us as we are empowered to do those things that are “supernatural” or not what we would be able to do on our own.

For the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem in the face of fear – in the face of Roman persecution – is for them to demonstrate changed lives and to demonstrate the power of God working in them.

For you and I to witness to the changes that God has made in our lives at home and in our communities – where we are known so well – where we have made mistakes in the past – where others have seen the messes we have created – is to testify that the good news of Jesus is not about you or me but about Jesus – about God and what he wants to do in each person’s life.  I do not testify that I am perfect but rather that I have met the one who is perfect and His grace extends towards me.

Once they have been witnesses in Jerusalem then they will be sent out to Samaria – the next territory – then Judea – the next country and then the outermost parts of the earth.  I have tremendous respect for people who have left everything and gone to do mission work around the world but, I also recognize that sometimes it might be easier to step out of the broken life that surrounds me and go and be someone else someplace else.  To go where someone does not know you or the problems or weaknesses in your life and to testify about the change that God has done without first being a witness at home is to leave out the miraculous parts.  To stand in the middle of the community where you having been living your life and to witness to the faithfulness of God is to acknowledge the power of God in your life.

After all of the reassurances that Christ provides to his followers – he departs – he ascends into heaven and they stand there watching.  It is important that they get the opportunity to see him go.  This is the final act for them to witness – it will be an important part of how they tell the story to others.  They will be able to refute anyone who would come to suggest that Jesus was not in fact raised from the dead and that is why he is no longer here.  They will testify not only that they saw him after he died and was raised but that they also saw him ascend.

Two men appear and ask, “Why do you stand here watching?”  Once they know that Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, they do not need to stand there looking into heaven.  What are they waiting for?  Christ’s return?  Well certainly they were told by the two men – he will return in the same way that he left.

Be assured of that.  We can be assured of that too and we watch for that day.  It is not for us to just stand and watch – we have been given a role to play in this world – and as much as I mentioned at the beginning of this homily that there are times when I look longingly toward heaven because I am tired of the horrific things in this world.  It does no good for me to be so “heavenly minded”.  There are things to be done here.  I am a witness to the grace and love of God in this world.  There are people in my life who need to know that God loves and cares for them.  There are political systems in this world that need to be countered and fought against – there are broken systems that keep other people oppressed and imprisoned – there are injustices that need to be corrected.  All these things are yours and mine to minister to – to rally against.  There are individuals around us who need to be assured of God’s love and presence in this world.

What are we waiting for?  May God give us the boldness and the grace to be witnesses of his Love in our homes, our communities, the country and to the outermost parts of the earth.  Amen.

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revbethpessah

A transplanted Canadian living in sunny Florida. An Episcopal priest, wife, mother, dog lover, story teller and avid movie watcher.

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