Welcome (Psalm 68:32-35)
O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!
Preparation: Come, let us sing to the Lord our song
Call to Worship (Psalm 68:1-4)
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God. But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy. Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds--his name is the LORD-- be exultant before him.
Hymn: Crown him with many crowns
Gracious and merciful God, on this day as we remember the ascension of our Lord, we come to worship and praise you. In you we find who we are and why we are; for you fill us with your Spirit to gain your will for us. Come to us now. Open our eyes, minds and hearts to see, understand and know fully your will that calls us into being the body of Christ here and now. Receive this worship. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture: Acts 1:6-11
So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Sermon: Here and Now
Poor disciples. In this passage, we are seeing Jesus going away from them again. They were decimated when the Romans put him on the cross and killed him. Now even before they can figure out anything about Jesus they are losing him again. Since the resurrection, they have been very timid. They were meeting in rooms with closed doors. They were avoiding the public as much as they could in order to remain hidden. With Jesus appearing and disappearing, they were confused and lost as to what to think of Jesus. As they began recovering from their grief experience of losing him, this time, Jesus left them for good.
Leaving, in a way, is an act of abandoning. For those who are staying, they experience the loss and grief that comes from the loss. Having Jesus leave so soon after the trauma of losing Jesus on the cross and getting him back in a very precarious way is doubly difficult. The disciples were already stung once. Twice would be devastating. Yet, here, we see Jesus definitely leaving them once again. It is hard to know what was more difficult for the disciples: Jesus being killed on the cross or Jesus suddenly taken away into the cloud.
Yet, the Gospels make it clear that Jesus prepared them for his death on the cross. If they paid attention closely, they would have heard Jesus predicting his death three times before his arrest. Jesus constantly prepared them for his death and resurrection. With all those warnings, the disciples could not comprehend what happened to Jesus. On the day of the resurrection, they were thoroughly confused and could not grasp the meaning of his death, let alone his resurrection. They were completely in fear even when some of their people reported to them about the empty tomb.
How much more difficult was it for them, then, when Jesus was going away again? Is it any wonder that they look bewildered and confused as Jesus disappeared from them? Were they sufficiently ready to leave the risen Jesus? Were they mature enough to overcome their fears? Were they ready to step up and bring the Gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth? Were they strong enough to withstand any persecution they would face? Of course, by the way their eyes were focused on Jesus, we know they were not.
They might have thought that they were not ready to be independent from Jesus. However, the risen Jesus and God seemed to know otherwise. According to this passage, Jesus stayed with them for forty days. It is the same number of days that Jesus prepared for ministry after being baptized in the wilderness. In a way this forty day period that the risen Jesus spent with the disciples seemed to be similar to Jesus’ preparation for ministry in the wilderness for forty days. Instead of being in the wilderness, the disciples were in the very hostile world where they feared for their lives.
How was it that the disciples were in fear? Why did they not get strength and joy from having the risen Lord with them? Why were they acting like a group of lost souls clustered around the risen Jesus without much enthusiasm? Were they really being prepared for anything? Definitely we know that they were waiting. The risen Jesus told them about the kingdom of God. At the same time, they were told to stay in Jerusalem until the coming of the Spirit. Yet, we would have thought that having the risen Jesus among them would have energized them.
Now they stood as Jesus once again left them. They seemed to be in this stunned mode. Now what? What would they do without Jesus? They had no idea. They were looking into the direction of Jesus’ ascension. Without Jesus they once again became people of little confidence. Without the risen Jesus they seemed to be resigned to the life of loss and confusion. They did not remember what Jesus told them about the Spirit and that they had to stay in Jerusalem. In this loss, they encountered two men in white again.
Something unfamiliar was said by these two men in white. The first part was particularly strange, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” “Huh?” Didn’t they know that Jesus was taken up into heaven? Looking up towards heaven was a natural response because they were following Jesus. If they could, they would have gone up to heaven with him. What an odd question this was. It was just mere seconds ago that Jesus disappeared into the clouds. Besides, should not these disciples think about what it meant for them to witness Jesus’ ascension?
The second part of what these two men said gave a clue, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” In other words, they ought to realize that Jesus who left them would return. In the meantime, they ought to focus on what they were to do while Jesus was away from them. They were to focus on what Jesus left them to do. Jesus left them instructions on what to do and it did not say that they were to gaze into the sky continually.
In a way, they were to wait–wait for the coming Spirit. They were to stay in Jerusalem and wait. Obviously, they were not ready to understand fully the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In waiting, they were to ponder about all these things, including the way Jesus left them and the way he will return. They were still in the dark, however. They had no idea what it meant when Jesus told them that the Spirit would come to them in Jerusalem and that they would be witnesses to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
In spite of the amount of time they spent following Jesus, seeing Jesus do God’s work and learning from Jesus, they were lost. They had no idea what was going to happen and what they were to do. We may ask, how could this be? Yet, if we think about our situation we are no better than them when it comes to figuring out what we are to do. We stand as if we are still looking up towards the sky hoping that Jesus will return soon. We are as lost about what we are required to do as long as we keep looking up towards heaven.
Thankfully, if we review and remember what Jesus left us, we find there are many things Jesus instructed us to do. From the very reason of Jesus’ coming and eventually to his return, we know what God did through Jesus. We also know that we are called to be his witnesses as well as share God’s love with the world. It is no coincidence that our faith stems and extends from the command to love God and neighbours. Through living the life in God’s love, embodying God’s love to the world as the body of Christ, is what we are to do. In being the body of Christ, we fulfil his instructions to witness Jesus to the ends of the earth.
Yes, we are not to look heavenwards with longing eyes of Jesus’ return. We are to let the risen Jesus to ascend and return to be the very body of Christ on earth so that all may experience, be challenged and encounter God’s gracious love for all living things. Along with the disciples, we ought to heed to what these two men in white said. We trust Jesus to return to us the same way he ascended away from us and get back into our lives being the very people of Jesus witnessing beyond our borders to the ends of the earth by words and deeds.
O Lord God,
We thank you for your Son whose ascension we remember. In our daily chores, we tend to forget to be the body of living Christ here and now. We live according to our wishes instead of your will. We choose to fulfil our desires before we think of your call. Forgive us and make us yours. Bless us in ways that we may be your people loving you and neighbours.
Today we bring the concerns of our community. Many are homeless. Some are struggling with addiction. Others are struggling to find enough to eat. In our world of plenty, so many are unable to live in health and comfort. We pray that you will be with them all, guiding and protecting them.
We remember before you those who are searching for jobs and for permanent homes. It is difficult at the best of times, but today with a weak economy and too few jobs, it is even more difficult for so many people. Be with everyone who is searching for jobs. Be with everyone who is looking for a place to call home. Be with everyone who is trying to find their way in this very difficult world.
We ask your blessing upon all those who belong to this congregation. As we face more and more difficulties, we need your guidance and love. With many challenges we face, we become discouraged often. When things do not go our way, we easily become upset. In no time, we feel powerless. Keep our eyes on you, O Lord. Bring us into your presence. Keep us as your children. Give us wisdom to participate in your will.
All these we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Please remember that we are starting our Cinnamon Bun Tuesdays at 10 am on this coming Tuesday.
Our communion service of worship will take place on the first Sunday of June.
Hymn: More love to thee