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Receiving the Spirit of Repentance and Forgiveness: Ascension Sunday, June 5th, 2011 in Immanuel Lutheran, Alameda, CA

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Immanuel Lutheran Church Ascension Sunday June 5th 2011

Acts 1:1-11 Psalm 47 Ephesians 1:15-23 Luke 24: 44-53

Receiving the Spirit of Repentance and Forgiveness

Thursday was Ascension Day, marking the fortieth day after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – when Jesus withdrew from the disciples with a cloud carrying him up into Heaven. There he is seated at the right hand of the Father in that heavenly place, where he is far above any rule, authority, power, and dominion, with a name above every name that is named in this age and the age to come, as written in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

I translated a little Ascension song:

The Lord Christ Jesus rules from heaven

To him all power and glory are given.

The whole world is his footstool (repeat).

Let all tongues on earth confess him.

He comes to us with crowns of blessing.

His dominion he shall rule (repeat).

Now in Germany Ascension Day is a festival day celebrated by the church and the people have a day off from work.

Here in America not much is made of the day. I remember a story my father told that when our family lived in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He was really shocked when he saw the pastor mowing his lawn on Ascension Thursday. He went out to him and said, “Don’t you know this is Ascension Day?” He didn’t know, let alone have a service.

My father had been the pastor of the church, but the anti-German sentiment after World War I and his being a Herr Pastor made him have to give up the pulpit. He then worked in a steel mill there throughout the Depression. They would go to work in July, he said, and the foreman would come out to the gate and say, “Sorry, no work. Come back Christmas!” We are in a slowdown not quite as bad as that right now today. But we have 13 million unemployed and millions more who have stopped looking for work.

Before we look down and around to the mission Christ is sending us on, let’s still look up at the ascension of Christ a while longer to understand what it is about.

The glory of Christ is enclosed in his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples again and again for forty days, promising them that he would not leave them like orphans, but that the Holy Spirit would come upon them with power from on high.

Like St. Paul says, we once considered Christ from a human point of view, but we consider him that way no longer (2 Cor 5:16). Christ is now at the right hand of God, which means that he intercedes for us before our Father in Heaven and that makes it possible for us to be received and accepted as well as for our prayers to be heard.

When you read the gospels closely, you discover that Jesus did not baptize those who believed in him, but that his disciples did. And they baptized with water, while – as John the Baptist said, Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit! The Gospel of Luke says, “the Holy Spirit and fire”! (Luke 3:16)

Those who encountered Jesus discovered that he had the spirit world at his beck and call. At his command angels would carry out his bidding. Thus he could heal the son of an official, as recorded in the Gospel of John, in a far off and distant place (John 4:50-53). This was his second sign and wonder after his changing the water into wine at the Marriage of Cana.

But during Jesus’ ascension, he promised that the disciples would receive wonderful power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8) and in Luke, Jesus says, “Stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (24:49).

Remember when the temple police were sent to arrest Jesus and they returned to the authorities, who asked: “Why didn’t you arrest him?”

And they answered, “Never has anyone ever spoken like this!” (John 7:45-46) Jesus was already filled with the Holy Spirit and he taught with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees.

So while Jesus is being taken up into heaven and his resurrection appearances draw to a close, he said to his disciples, “You will not be alone. The Father has promised to send you the Holy Spirit, who will instruct you in everything you say and bring to mind everything I have taught you.” Thus what those who met Jesus understood, because they experienced the Holy Spirit in him, now had a promise that the Holy Spirit would come upon them all – in the great event of the Pentecost, when the Spirit came in like a rushing wind and placed fiery tongues upon the disciples’ heads, so that they would confess Jesus in every language of the world and spread the gospel of repentance and forgiveness in the glorious name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

So as Jesus is departing from his disciples, he promises them this wonderful gift, which we all also inherit in his name: that we can be filled, baptized by the Holy Spirit and we can have our tongues loosened, nay, set on fire to confess our Lord of Love and peace and joy and forgiveness!

In the days when I was a mission developer, our trainers, who fretted about the apathy of congregations, asked, “How do we get a congregation to really come together with the kind of urgency like when the church is on fire; that is, without really setting the church on fire?” and the answer is in this promise of God the Father and his beloved only Son, Jesus: that the Holy Spirit would come and set our hearts on fire, place tongues of fire on our heads, so that the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness would spread like wild-fire throughout the world, i.e., from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to all the ends of the earth. You see, the fire has spread even to this out of the way place in Alameda, to the people in these striking white buildings that house Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Now the buildings are not supposed to catch on fire, but your hearts are supposed to: they should start becoming strangely warmed, by the love that comes down from on high, by a spirit of repentance and forgiveness that just adds to your number day by day, all of those being saved.

Can you see how Ascension Day places us between Resurrection Day and the Day of Pentecost? Thursday we were forty days away from the resurrection and Pentecost comes after ten days more, that is, fifty days after it. Fifty days contains a week of weeks and a week of Sundays: 7 X 7 makes 49 days, plus one. Thus fifty days will have gone by before we have Pentecost next Sunday, where a harvest takes place, not of mere earthly bread and wine, grain and grapes, but a harvest of people caught up in the salvation that God is planning for this world – when the disciples reaping the harvest overtake those planting the seeds and the reapers and planters rejoice and celebrate together.

That’s what Jesus said when the Samaritan woman brought her whole town up to Jacob’s well, where Jesus was sitting and had been talking to her. They came to that old well, but there they experienced Jesus, who resembled a spring of water gushing up into eternal life. After they experienced our Lord they said, “Now we don’t believe in him because of what you told us, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that [Jesus] is truly the Savior of the World!” (John 4:42)

But like the two angels said to the disciples gazing up into heaven: “Why are you looking up there? Jesus is coming back down the way you saw him ascend!” So we have to get to work in the gospel stories that our lives are going to write. How can our hearts be transformed? How can Jesus be born in our hearts again? How can we be filled by the Spirit of repentance and forgiveness?

As Lutherans we have often been afraid to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. I have to speak for myself. Once when I was in the seminary a college chaplain intern asked me if I wanted to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. I said, “No thanks!” I’ve been afraid of it. I don’t like to lose control; perhaps you don’t like to either. We like to put down our emotions, we like to be very proper and reserved and sound intellectual. When it comes to baptism, we want only a little sprinkling of water – forget about a whole bath up here and total emersion.

Yet and still, whether we sprinkle water of totally immerse someone under water, it is only the fullness of the sign. That means that you can dunk a devil in and a devil comes back out of the water. Whether we sprinkle the water and suggest the sign of washing or use total immersion and suggest the sign of drowning and dying and being raised back up to life – these meanings only relate to the fullness of the sign. What we really need is the Word of God in, with, and under the water! We need total immersion in the Word of God, so that the fire of the Spirit fills us and we live, move, and have our being inside the Word of God, inside of the Gospel, so that our lives become filled with the power from on high and we reach out to each other as never before, we do things for our neighbors that they realize nobody ever does, unless a new spirit of repentance and forgiveness is inexplicably moving them, and they ask, “Why do you care? Why don’t you accept that there is nothing that we can do?”

They will see this burning love that the Holy Spirit has turned on in your hearts, and you will say, “You know, Jesus Christ is the light of the world! My whole life is made out of promises, because he died on the cross for me. And, you know, you need him in your life as well! Come and worship with us.” And you too will be filled with new hope, a certain faith, and God’s wonderful love. Let’s look forward to Pentecost and may the Holy Spirit bring you that kind of a harvest! Amen.

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Written by peterkrey

June 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

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