The Ascension of Our Lord, Sunday May 8, 2016
Ascension Sunday May 8, 2016
Acts 1:1-11 Psalm 47 Ephesians 1:15-23 Luke 24:44-53
The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday was Ascension Day. My sons, Joshua, Mark and I ascended Mount Tamalpais (2571 feet) and God watched out over us, so it was a beautiful experience. It is wonderful seeing clouds up there drift in. you walk right into the mist of a cloud and it is like walking into a different world. Think about the transfiguration of Jesus. The scripture says, a cloud overshadowed them, that would be Peter, James, and John and above them, higher on the mountain, Moses, Jesus, and Elijah, and a voice from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, Listen to him.” In the ascension story, a cloud took Jesus out of their sight. Up there on the mountain that is easy to explain: you’re in the cloud and the mist thickens and someone can no longer be seen.
Now I always thought that the Ascension marked the end of the appearances of the risen Christ bodily, which is also true. But this time I noticed the 40 days – a number that always marks suffering of some kind. So Jesus did not immediately ascend into heaven, but had to stay with his disciples, transform them into apostles, to send them out to witness to his name. After the Ascension Jesus took his seat at the right hand of God the Father Almighty up in heaven, while promising that he would always be with us in the Holy Spirit that he and the Father would send to us. The Holy Spirit would clothe us with power from on high and we’ll celebrate the Pentecostal rush of the Holy Spirit’s mighty wind in the temple and the fiery tongues alighting on the apostles’ heads next Sunday at the seminary. Sophia will also be confirmed and Soren a little later.
But today we celebrate that Christ ascended into heaven and is sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. As we sang in the Psalm: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy. O sing your praises to the Lord!”
I translated a German Ascension song that has a swinging upward and ascending note. You’ll hear it:
- 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)
Many of course resist the rule of Christ, but for those who receive him, he gives a new birth of freedom.
We could speak about our own experiences, the ways that we could speak of being more than victorious – but let me just relate the story of St. Paul, which we would have read in Acts chapter 16 if we had not substituted the Ascension lessons.
On the road to Damascus Paul did a 180 degree turn, an about face, so to speak. As Saul, who persecuted the Christians, he became Paul, the little one, himself, the Apostle, a missionary to us Gentiles, and now himself persecuted. Last week we heard how Lydia, a merchant of purple cloth, received God’s Word, and was baptized together with her whole house. Her house became the first church in the city of Philippi, the capital of Macedonia. And using her house as a base from which to evangelize people in the streets of Philippi, Paul and Silas were followed by a slave-girl, who for many days continually shouted from behind them, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” She was really aggravating. Her handlers were making money with her because she had the powers of divination – people had her tell them their fortunes. Paul turned around and exorcised that spirit out of her and that made her handlers very angry. They got the people to riot against Paul and Silas and they were flogged and clapped into jail. Sitting there in prison with their hands and feet locked into stocks, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, making the whole jail into a church. Then an earthquake struck, shaking the foundations of the prison, the doors swung open and their stocks broke open as well. The Roman jail warden saw the open doors and assumed the prisoners had escaped – for a Roman his life was now a forfeit for his prisoners and he was about to fall on his sword. He didn’t realize, however, the freedom Paul and Silas really had and that his jail had become a church. Paul shouts, “Don’t harm yourself! We are still here.” The jail warden is amazed. He had never experienced the freedom of Christians before. He takes Paul and Silas, washed their wounds, feeds them, and then gets baptized with his whole house, his whole family. When St. Paul writes the letter to the Philippians, he is writing to Lydia and this warden among others, and a dear shut-in to whom we bring communion, read me passages from Philippians recently, showing me that Paul’s letter is filled with loving passages. She just loves Philippians. It is only seven and a half pages. Check it out!
These are the wonderful stories that make up the music of Paul’s witness, and also add music to our own witness when we confess Jesus Christ our Lord, who sits at the right hand of God the Father and who will come one day to judge the living and the dead.
Just two footnotes, one a warning and one a celebration: One: In an email from a member of our congregation I was asked to be mindful that it is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Hitler brought prosperity to a very depressed Germany with his new design of the Volkswagon (the VW) and a new national highway system throughout Germany. Economically he put Germany back on its feet. But as promised he tried to rid Germany of six million Jews and after no country would take them, he went to the final solution, the Holocaust. We have someone who has gotten to edge of the most powerful office in this country threatening to rid our country of 11 million people. As Christians we will have to protest or betray Christ. This has nothing to do with party affiliation, but a moral issue that requires taking a stand. As in Germany, it could come to a status of confession. A night could come in which no one can work. A wave of racism could hit us like a Tsunami.
Secondly, celebration: let us lift up our mothers. An intimate, intense, and unconditional love is what so many of mothers demonstrate, that we can do nothing less than just thank God from the bottom of our hearts for them. Can we just shout the names of our mothers out loud? Yes, we thank God for them. Without them, next to God, we wouldn’t be here. Amen.
A Blessing for Mothers, spoken after the prayers:
Bless, Oh Lord, mothers-to-be, who are about to bring new lives into the world, blessed children, your gifts from heaven. Be the strength of their strength and at birth protect both mother and child from all harm. Bless all mothers as they continue to love, nurture, and nourish their children in all the many ways that children need to be cared for. We thank you for the strength of their love, which mothers must receive from heaven. There is no other explanation. Make them aware that you are always with them only a prayer away and that they can call upon you in any time of trouble, you will deliver them, and they will glorify you. We thank you as well for mothers who have fulfilled the full measure of their devotion and who now reside with you in heaven. We thank you for them and all the blessings which they bestowed upon us their children, blessings that we can never repay, but you O Lord, can reward abundantly for ever and ever and ever. Amen.
 Acts 16:16-34.
 Paulus-a-um in Latin means small or little. King Saul, who preceded David, was six inches taller than any other Israelite.