Ascension Day 2012

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Ephesians 1:15-23 & Acts 1:1-11
SMAS 7.30pm
(17.05.2012)

Thursdays. What happens on Thursdays? Sometimes they can change the world. My birth, daughter's birth. They can change our country when we have elections and can therefore change the country’s political stance.

And what about today - this Thursday - Ascension Day. It might be a Thursday that almost passes us by. But we mustn't let Ascension pass unnoticed, because when Jesus ascended in the clouds, things changed in this world of ours, forever. The Ascension transformed the world in a big way.

We don't pay much attention to Ascension, it’s not like Christmas or Easter - thank goodness you might say - don't tell Clinton Cards whatever you do! Perhaps it’s because there's not much written in the Bible about it? We only really know that while the disciples were watching, Jesus was lifted up into the clouds.

The lack of information about it probably points to the fact that what physically happened on that mountainside is not as important as the effect it had. The effect that Jesus' Ascension had on those left behind is considerable: for them and for us.

For them it was truly a moment of transformation. They'd seen death, they'd seen resurrection. Amazing things. To see Jesus walking about amongst them must have been wonderful. No wonder they asked: 'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?' On Ascension Day, the disciples' world was transformed. But not politically.  He replied, 'It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority...'

Jesus' Ascension message seems to suggest that his followers should put aside such political ambitions. Politics can indeed change things for a time. But God transforms things. They needed to see that their understanding of His purpose was too narrow. He came not just to restore Israel but to redeem the world, not to rule on earth but to be enthroned in heaven.

Fortunately God can open our eyes to see the world in new and liberating ways. That process for the disciples was just about to begin big time.

On Ascension Day, the disciples' minds were transformed like the couple on the Emmaus road. They had their minds opened, to understand the scriptures. Now at last they understood who Jesus was. The Christ who suffered and rose from the dead on the 3rd day.

They see that their picture of Christ had been far too small - yes they had glimpsed the man but not the face of God beneath. They thought they saw the whole picture but really they had only seen one piece of the jigsaw. They had to think again - for Jesus was greater than they had begun to imagine.

Their lives were transformed. They began to understand who they had become: the people who would be his witnesses, preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. The kingdom of God would come through his followers' testimony to the world:

'...and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'

The proclamation of the good news would no longer be through Jesus, but through these disciples as they lived out the faith he had brought to them. By their witness, the word would begin to spread in and around Jerusalem, and then finally to reach the ends of the earth.

To do this their spirits would need to be transformed 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you... ' Jesus said. They had to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. But their spirits were already changed. Why else would they have gone down from the mountain back to Jerusalem and in the days which followed, 'constantly devote themselves to prayer'?

And this prayer was effective, this prayer meant that they were waiting and opening themselves up to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And even
though there were just a few witnesses to this Ascension event, it had great implications for they were about to help give birth to the church. The church that continues to the present day. Up until that moment, Jesus was seen only where he was, in and around the towns surrounding Galilee. Now, with his Ascension to sit at the right hand of the Father, Jesus was Lord of heaven and earth, present to all believers.

This is the great paradox of the Ascension. By removing himself from the world, he would no longer be confined to a single place or a single moment, but he would be alive in the Spirit to all people for all time.

While it seemed at first glance to be an isolated heavenly event, in truth that moment opened the way for his message to spread throughout the world forever, wherever people live in his Spirit even as his Spirit abides in them.

Today the church is literally the Body of Christ, his presence in the world, and it is only as we live out that truth in our lives that the good news of the Gospel can continue to be spread throughout our neighbourhoods and throughout the world. We are his presence in the world today. Seen by all in our relations with one another, in our work and in our worship. This should bring to all of us who call ourselves by his name, who call ourselves Christians, an awesome sense of responsibility.

We may know people who live it out faithfully day after day, showing grace and humility in the world in really lovely or special way. For some it seems to come so naturally, while for most of us it is an ongoing struggle.

But we must take heart from those disciples. A bunch of ordinary everyday people who empowered by Christ were able to begin living in a very effective way. Powerfully, gently living out the Gospel. Empowered from on high. We must take heart from this event that changed them for it can do the same for us.

One example of someone who lived out the life of the Spirit on a daily basis in our time was Mother Teresa. She was someone who understood fully the message of the Ascension. She knew that in her earthly pilgrimage, it was her responsibility to be the Lord's hands and feet in the world. Placed on this earth in a certain time and place, it fell to her to live out the Gospel message as best she could, one person at a time.

She said: "I believe in person-to-person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment."

For her, it was not necessary to do great things in the world, but only good things that brought the message of Christ's love to every person she met.

We might not be that excited by any of the recent ‘changes’ in our political system. We hope and pray that new Parish Councils will go about their business with integrity and creativity and in the service of the most vulnerable people in society.
We should get excited by changes in church that help and encourage us to grasp the power of the Ascension. As it transformed the disciples it can transform us too. The celebration of Ascension Day is in danger of becoming a forgotten practice. But the message of it must continue.

We need the power of the Ascension in our church. We need the power of the Ascension in our nation. We need the power of the Ascension
in our world. And in order for that to happen we mostly need the power of the Ascension in our hearts. Too easily our God is so small or seems to be not there at all. Like the disciples we find ourselves sometimes staring at the space where Jesus used to be in our lives.

Too easily we don't expect Jesus to be present in our worship, to speak in our hearts, or to change anything in response to our prayers. Too easily we remember our weakness, and forget His strength.

When this happened to the disciples, unsure as they were, they mustered their strength and went forth, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit to do the Lord's work. We can all have that same Spirit, and like the disciples we must devote ourselves in prayer now that it is our turn to proclaim the Gospel today.

Ascension must make us lift up our eyes.

On Ascension Day, the disciples' world was transformed; the disciples' minds, lives and spirits were transformed. Things would never be the same for them again. May that be true of us here this day. Amen.