“You Don’t See That Everyday”
March 8, 2016 – Ascension of the Lord
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 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, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God 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, 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. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
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.” 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 promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Whenever my father saw something interesting
Or, whenever he was intent on teaching me something,
He’d say “lookie here, lookie here.”
I can imagine Dad looking up at Jesus
Being lifted high into heaven,
Pointing with one hand
And grabbing me with the other, saying
“lookie here, lookie here, Todd.
That’s Jesus flying away.”
“Well, there’s something you don’t see every day,”
Would be my response.
Other than the Frenchman the other day,
Who set the new distance record for riding a hover board,
Seeing Jesus would be amazing – one.
And two – seeing him fly up into heaven,
Would be totally awesome;
Something one just not see very often in a lifetime.
The early disciples of Jesus expected his imminent return;
Like, they were counting the hours and the seconds
Until Jesus returned and launched his kingdom.
The clock was set at Defcon 11:59 and 59 seconds for Jesus to return,
So their preparation was set
And their posture was expectation.
Jesus’ physical return was delayed;
First, for days at a time,
Then, second, weeks stretched into months,
And before anyone knew it,
Months stretched into years.
Yes, they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost,
But the physical Jesus failed to make a repeat appearance.
This was the first and one of the biggest crisis of the First Century Church:
Where was Jesus?
And when will he return?
The problem went on for centuries
And it continues today.
Lots of people spend lots of time trying to figure out
The time and place of our Lord’s return.
You’ve seen the billboards.
You’ve witnessed the hysteria.
We’ve all had the Jehovah Witnesses pounding on our front door,
Frightening us with their crazy-as-a-bed-bug Watch Tower pamphlets.
Never mind the fact that Jesus told us that
His return would be like a thief in the night
And no one would know the hour or the location of his return.
All the while, this rapture obsessed faction of Christianity
Is chasing its theological tail,
Resulting in no good theological advancement,
Most of the rest of us disciples of Jesus have completely failed
To listen to or carry out our Lord’s commands and will
Spoken at his ascension
And elaborated by the Apostle Paul.
Let’s start with the Apostle Paul;
And his little sliver of Gospel elaboration
Served up to us today:
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, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
- Ephesians 1:17-19
1. First, Paul prays for the early disciples of Jesus in Ephesus
That God may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation.
May God make you smart,
So that you’ll make smart decisions,
To grow in numbers,
To grow in love with God,
And to grow in love with your neighbors.
May God also reveal to you the Gospel,
Such that, you and I might be so learned in the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
That we can proclaim it,
Witness to it,
Far and wide,
To all the nations of the earth.
So while you and I are eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus,
How about we roll up our sleeves and get to work?
If you don’t know the Gospel, learn it.
Where do you learn it?
Right here in worship.
This is where every preacher worth their salt teaches the Gospel.
This is where I teach it.
Once you know the Gospel, witness to it.
2. Secondly, the Apostle Paul prays that
You may know what is the hope to which he has called you.
Yes, Jesus has called you.
It is his hope that you witness the Gospel
This is why we do what we do:
To fulfill the hope of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We invite and we welcome.
We learn and we, in turn, teach what we’ve learned.
We witness to the fact that
Jesus was dead and is now alive.
We witness to the fact that
Sins have been forgiven and eternal life is waiting to be claimed.
We know because we’ve received the revelation.
We know because we’ve been taught the Gospel.
We know because the Bible tells us so.
So stand firm in your faith.
And, most importantly, speak out.
3. Lastly this morning, Paul prays that you may know … the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
We’d all like to come into a big inheritance,
We’d all like to get that letter in the mail from an attorney
That tells us that some previously unknown relative
Died and left you a fortune, wouldn’t we?
Works don’t earn salvation;
That being said,
A life time of learning the Gospel
And proclaiming the Gospel
And witnessing to the reality of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension,
Does result in an inheritance.
Inheritances are not earned.
An inheritance is a gift of grace.
There is no one better at grace
Than the Lord, our heavenly Father.
Let’s move on to our ascension witness for today,
Taken from Luke 24: 45-48
“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.”
This is the revelation which the Apostle Paul speaks about.
4. This, then, is the central message of the Gospel:
Repentance and forgiveness of sins
Are to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.
We aren’t to ask or debate about why repentance and forgiveness of sins
Is so central to the witness
To which we are called,
But I’ll tell you anyways:
The world is broken.
God wants it to be healed.
American politics is a mere symptom.
ISIS is a mere symptom.
Greed is a mere symptom.
I’d even suggest competition is a symptom of a broken world.
Competition implies the victory of one and the defeat of another.
Do we want people to be beaten, defeated, and vanquished?
Be it business or sports,
Be it music or performance,
Be it medicine or research,
Be it denominations or local churches,
We do not exist to be the victor,
If the result is our foe’s defeat and vanquish into poverty, oppression, or hopelessness.
We exist to bear witness to Jesus Christ.
The best way to do this
Is to live by his example
To lift up the broken, the last, the least and the lost.
A sculpture at Burning Man recently
Summed up the brokenness of the human condition.
Too fractured individuals
Stubbornly sit back to back
Refusing to take the initiative to end the hurt.
Both are longing, yearning, seeking, hoping
To reach out to each other,
Healing the broken relationship.
I know what this feels like.
I’ve been there,
And my guess is, so have you.
In the absence of Christ
Healing is nearly impossible.
Oh, there are counselors, therapist, and psychiatrist
Who are skilled at coaching people to come back together.
There certainly are other spiritual traditions that take a different path towards God,
Yet, as for our house,
According to our revelation,
According to what God has made known to us,
His Son’s death upon the cross was a gift of forgiveness,
And his Son’s resurrection from the dead was a gift to all the world of eternal life.
Christ calls us to travel towards forgiveness,
Requires us to repent of our sins.
This is the necessary first step at healing.
This is required to break the ice.
Stopping the sin,
Making repairs due to the sin,
And vowing to never sin again,
Is the path that leads us to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ
Where we are washed clean by his blood.
Our witness is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name,
In the name of Jesus, to all the nations.
This subtle detail
That sin is not only individual.
Sin is also collective, corporate, cultural.
Sin is like seasonal flu;
It effects large groups of people,
Spreads like wildfire,
And requires the sustained effort of the larger community
To overcome and overwhelm it.
It is only by the grace of God
And the death of Jesus Christ
That makes possible the repentance and forgiveness of the world.
6. As if the Gospel message hasn’t been obvious enough,
Jesus concludes, “You are witnesses of these things.”
And off he flies.
What have you seen?
What have you heard?
What is it about Jesus Christ that changed your life?
Bear witness to it, or die.
I have a dear friend,
Who has now moved back to Indianapolis.
During his 20 or so years he lived in Rochester
He served as the chair of the Deacon Board of the
Mt. Olivet Baptist Church downtown.
Ralph taught me much
About life, faith, and the value of testimony.
Testimony is central to the tradition of African American communities of faith, especially for Baptists.
Testimony is a skill often considered foreign in United Methodist circles.
Yet, Ralph was able to bring me into events and circumstances
To witness firsthand the power and persuasiveness of testimony.
This is where I was.
This is how I reached out to God.
This is what God did in response.
And this is how my life has been healed.
Now I am compelled to share my witness with you.
It’s a simple recipe, to be sure.
Yet, it is a dish that takes practice and repetition
To become worthy of our King.
Witness to the world about Jesus Christ,
Or risk death.
Our Lord has many means to further his kingdom,
And if we are working without witnessing,
Like chaff that is separated from the grain,
We may be metaphorically tossed into the fire and burned.
It has to be Jesus First,
And the proclamation to the world that Jesus comes first,
Or we need to lock the doors and hand over the keys
To others who will be faithful in witnessing
To the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The world is broken
And God wants it to be healed.
This is why God has gone to such extraordinary effort
- giving us the Law, made Covenant, sent us prophets, giving us Jesus, and supporting us with his Holy Spirit –
God has gone to such extraordinary effort
To bring healing,
Forgiveness of sins
And salvation for our souls,
To you and me, and to all creation.
Fly away with me.
Let us be so transformed by God’s desire,
That we testify to the Gospel,
That we witness what we have experienced,
In the name of Jesus Christ,
Of our resurrected and ascended Lord.