Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Sermon: Acts 1:1-11, the Ascension of or Lord

I mourn for you, having to listen to me on the Feast of the Ascension. In my own brief experience in ministry, I have heard Matt preach three phenomenal sermons on the Doctrine of the Ascension. I commend them to you, I hope he'll gather them together and post them online. Indeed, I took copious and detailed notes of his sermon last year and if you did also, then you will recognize a lot of what we're about to discuss together.

There is an old old story,
told in West Africa,
that god, or sky,
Clé,
used to live very close to the earth.
He lived so close that you could even bump your head on him.
And god and man got on well together and were able to communicate directly.
You might be able to guess what happens next.
Woman, one day,
for no reason that any one knows,
became irritated and took her pestl
e, her stick she uses to pound grain,
and poked god very hard.
Not surprisingly,
God became angry and retreated a little distance.
But woman was still irritated,
and so she lifted up her pestle and poked God again.
And he retreated even farther.
At which point woman,
with all the fury of woman,
climbed up on her roof
and lifted her pestle high
and poked God a third time.
God then became more angry than you can imagine
and retreated very far up on high,
so far that we cannot communicate with him directly anymore.
Now, to talk and be with God,
you have to go through a jinn or a spirit or even an ancestor to ask God for what you want.

Those of you who know your Bibles should be able to recognize some nuggets of truth
in this old story that tries provide an explanation for why there is evil and brokenness in the world,
how it is that we know there is a great divine ultimate being
with whom we have so little contact
but whom we long to know
and about whom we wonder and make up systems to try to approach,
elaborate systems by where we might get God's attention.
One such nugget of truth is that we,
of our own free will,
offend God,
we push him away, as far away as we can.
We don't want his interference in our daily affairs,
we don't want a relationship with him until something goes wrong.
And here is the second nugget of truth.
Because we have offended God,
we can no longer approach him directly, without an intermediary.
He is so holy, he is so perfect,
that were we to come directly into his presence we would be rent,
utterly torn asunder,
destroyed.

At this point you may be worried that I am going to lovingly and slowly unfold the wonders of the whole of salvation history--
how it was that Adam and Eve pushed God away,
rejected him
how, rather than rightfully and truly destroying them then and there
God set in motion a long and perfect plan to restore the brokenness,
to be able to come back close and speak and live and dwell with them, with us.
Don't worry, I'm skipping to the end of the story.
Today is the celebration of the culmination, the finishing, the completion of that work.

Turn, if you would, to Acts chapter one.
Jesus, you might remember,
is a particularly special and amazing person.
He has two natures
he is both fully God, completely and completely
not the sky come down to hover next to us,
but God himself as God
and,
in his second nature,
fully human,
not a sort of spirit or ghost or jinn.
Jesus laid aside the glory of heaven
to come down here and muck around with us,
to eat with us, our best meals and our worst.
He heard our high ideals and our low maligning gossip.
He heard our high hopes and cowardly longings.
He saw all that we did and said.
And ultimately,
when the time was right,
he gave himself up to die the death allotted for us--
the sure and just punishment for our rejection of God,
our willful rebellious sin,
the fair and right punishment of that action is death.
Jesus stepped into that space,
in that moment
and became the one perfect complete atoning sacrifice for sin.
He could do this, you remember,
because he was perfect in his humanity,
and in his divinity he was strong enough to bear the sin of any and everyone who puts their trust in him.

We tend to stop there. Praise God, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Its the right answer to every question asked in church. Jesus died.
But that was only part one of three.
The dying was important,
but if Jesus had only died we wouldn't all be here this morning.
The second part was that he rose up, he is risen, he is alive.
Death couldn't hold on to him, it wasn't strong enough to destroy.
On the contrary, Jesus destroyed death.
Sure, we die,
but not forever.
He destroyed death for ever.
Anyone who trusts in Jesus, hopes in Jesus, loves Jesus,
that person is not bound by death.
That person is alive forever in him, both spiritually
spiritually we shouldn't ever be dead, or dying,
spiritually we should be maturing and getting stronger and less broken and less dead every moment,
but also physically.
Your body will die,
but on the last day
your body will be raised up,
just like Jesus here, in this text.
Same body but new, better, glorious, complete,
not broken,
not in pain,
not showing the signs of 5 babies and counting,
talk about broken.
That was the second part,
he rose.

The third part right there in your text.
As he was talking to them,
he was raised up on a cloud and removed from their sight,
and two men in white said, get it together, obviously your plans are not his plans.
He is not going to be King of Israel,
he already is King of the Whole World
and you have a lot of work to do for him,
as his brother,s his friends, his body, the sign of his presence on earth.

Now, many of you might think,
what's the difference between Clé retreating up into the sky out of anger,
and Jesus disappearing in a cloud,
abandoning, for all its looks,
his friends to a life of hard work and suffering
I mean, look around, if this isn't suffering, I don't know what is.

Is it the same thing? No.
Clearly no. It is not abandonment, nor retreat. Jesus' Ascension into heaven is,
at the very least,
three vitally important things for us.
Obviously more, so many more that I wish we had time to talk about.

First, Jesus ascends to heaven, not just goes up in the air but spiritually ascends into heaven, to sit,

that means that the work is done, you sit down when you've completed something

Jesus accomplished the salvation of all who believe and hope in him,

he conquered death,

therefore he sat down

at the right hand of the Father. He ascends to heaven to rule and direct the church which is his own body.

Ephesians 1 verse 20 "and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, above every name for ever and in every age and place and time

verse 22 and put all things under his feat and made him head over the all things for the church

verse 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
In other words, Jesus, from the right hand of the Father, is directing and moving the church through the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work of spreading the Kingdom of God, of filling up the earth with the good news and the love of Jesus.

Second, he ascended and sits at the right hand of God the Father
so that He might reconcile all things to the Father

Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
As the Accuser accuses and tries to destroy you,
Jesus is there,
at the right hand of God,
giving you to the Father
if you are found in him,
you are covered with his blood,
you are clean
you are therefore reconciled,
Jesus is reconciling you.
Do you feel awful when you sin?
Do you feel God's call to do something difficult and unpleasant?
That work is being done by Jesus
through the Holy Spirit
in the presence of the Father.

Which brings us to third and most strange thing that Jesus does.
Hebrews 4
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
So far from retreating from us,
in Ascending into heaven,
Jesus draws us up into heaven with him to the very throne of God,
the presence of the Father, to live with him there.
Now, I know its sort of hard to see that this is the case.
When I am drifting around my house,
shouting at my children to stop dithering and Pick Up,
you would probably not think,
she is here,
but she is also in heaven with Jesus at the right hand of God
enjoying his perfect love and grace and mercy,
reveling in his holy and life giving will,
but it would, in fact, be the case.
Now, we don't often revel in the presence of God
and enjoy him
and live as though this were true,
which is sad, because it is.
We can live this way.
I've been trying to lately.
There are a whole lot of places in Scripture where we are commanded not to worry,
or be anxious,
places where we are commanded not to be angry,
where we are commanded to love everybody,
especially those who are difficult to love.
We don't do any of those things but that the Holy Spirit lives in us and does them in us,
but we also do them because we are spiritually in heaven with Jesus
when you whisper, 'O please God, help me' that prayer is spoken to God the Father
Its not a shout into the void.
Why then
for heaven's sake,
wouldn't you pray?
Why wouldn't you live cheerfully and joyfully
with confidence and contentment?
We are not abandoned. God has not retreated from our sin and trouble.
He has come to save us,
to redeem us,
and to draw us up into his presence.
Draw near to the Glory of God.
Approach his throne with confidence.
Let your heart be rend open before him.
Give him the desires of your heart.
Come and worship the King.
Amen.


2 comments:

Former Atheist said...

What a wonderful sermon! Thank you for sharing it. Your congregation is doubly blessed. Not to mention your passel of cute kids!

Kevin Seaver said...

Lovely, Anne. Your mourning is misplaced.