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“Goodbye . . . no one is leaving,”  June 5, 2011

Text:  Acts 1:6-14

 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.”

9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward 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.”

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.


 

 

“Goodbye . . . no one is leaving,” Acts 1: 6-14, June 5, 2011

Rev. Paula Claire Hall, at St. Alban Episcopal Church in Monroe presented a profound Ascension Day message titled, “Good Bye, , my love, no one is leaving.

A mother and a son found themselves in a new town where they knew not one soul. As the mom dropped off her boy at the bus stop to go to his new school in this new town all alone for the first time, she said to him, “good bye, my love, no one is leaving.” She wanted her boy to know she would be there for him at the end of the day.

Throughout the years, mother and son used this phrase whenever they parted company. Eventually the mother in her old age went to a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. There was no recognition when her son came to visit until she heard him say the familiar words, “good bye, my love, no one is leaving.” As he walked out the door, a tear trickled down one eye.

Jesus says something very similar to the disciples and to us.

On that first Ascension Day, the disciples watch as Jesus goes up and off into the heavens apparently abandoning his disciples. But is that what happened?

The Ascension was a catalyst for the disciples to get to work on the mission Jesus had left them. The days prior to Jesus' crucifixion had been shocking for them. They scattered and hid out. Imagine the confusion and despair. Were their last three years a big mistake? If they weren't killed, too, what would they do next? Fish again? Collect taxes?

But the resurrection had changed everything. The disciples' mission was on again. "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (v. 8).

Jesus was echoing the sentiments of the prophets before him. Israel had always been a bit too myopic. They forgot that Abram's blessing was to go to all people. They forgot that the temple was for all nations. They were passionate about being God's people in God's land but often neglected God's mission and justice. Jesus was perfectly clear in his last earthly words: advance the gospel to the ends of the earth!

One can compare the 40 days of instruction the disciples receive from their risen Lord to the 40 days Moses spent on Sinai. Just as God spent 40 days with Moses to effect the creation of a people, so Jesus spent 40 days with his disciples in order to create the church. The apostles, like Moses, are fully instructed and informed.

In Acts, Jesus' Ascension at the end of this period does not represent a glorious ending to his life here on earth. Rather, it inaugurates a new beginning - the beginning of Christ's church.

And then Jesus disappeared!

And while the disciples were craning toward the sky, angels appeared to get their gaze back on the earth. Jesus will come back from the skies just like he left, they said. Now stop staring! There's work to be done.

Luke, the only New Testament writer to give us a detailed account of the Ascension, also points out that after the event Christ was working with his apostles (Acts 14:3).

For Luke, the Ascension did not mean that Jesus was no longer with them. For the early church, the Ascension of Jesus was a further step in his glorification. Good bye for now, no one is leaving.

In describing the Ascension, Luke gives no indication that the disciples were in any way saddened or disappointed. On the contrary, they were elated and glorified God. The Ascension did only mean that Jesus had entered a new dimension. It also meant that they were going to participate in Christ's universal reign.

What God had been doing through Jesus, in calling men to repentance, God was now going to do through them. It is the Lord himself that pointed the way forward for the church.


As amazing as the ascension must have been, even more amazing was the unlikely lot with whom Jesus left the mission.
They grew up cleaning fish and collecting taxes - not as religious leaders. They'd misunderstood parables; fought over who was the greatest. They fell asleep in the garden and denied Jesus in his last days.


The ascension was the powerful hinge of the apostolic mission. Take the Resurrection and Pentecost: the hinge holding the two together is the Ascension. It clearly told the disciples that Jesus' mission was now their mission. And that made an impact. Far from feeling abandoned, they felt empowered. His mission was theirs. For the first time, they took ownership of the mission.

Ascension Sunday is a time to reflect on how we partner with Jesus in life and faith. Do we have a clear sense of personal mission? Do we feel empowered as we should? Do we see the gospel as church work or as a life-long commitment to live out the gospel message?

Jesus’ Ascension impacts our Christian walk and witness in many ways. I’ll mention just four.

1: It's up to us. Didn't the disciples have plenty of excuses to avoid the mission? Like them, don't we have a lot of excuses? Perhaps it's, "I'm not trained or haven't been to seminary," or "Someone might ask a question I can't answer." But then, like now, imperfect people are God's primary plan - not a backup plan - for sharing the gospel.

2: We aren't alone. The disciples were told they would have Help. They just needed to go to Jerusalem and wait for him. As post-Pentecost Christians, we have been given the same Spirit the disciples received in Acts 2. That means our limitations, like theirs, need not stand in the way.

3: We're in a partnership. Paul didn't go preaching with persuasive words but with a demonstration of the power of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4). We're no different in our gifts and passions. We need to understand our mission as a partnership with God's Spirit. We aren't alone. So let's pray with purpose. Where do we see God working, and how can we join God there?

4: The time is now. The angels issued a clear warning that we rarely think about: Jesus is coming back the same way he left.

Jesus didn't let the disciples be content with Israel alone. They were to go out to Samaria and the ends of the earth. All Christians have natural spheres of influence around them, and we can find need in every one of those places.  

Home first – for some, it’s as far as they can go . . . care of homebound, children, grandchildren, being the only family peace-maker, etc.  No one can save the world alone (but Jesus) that’s why it’s important to “work in our own field” and not worry if we’re doing enough for the kingdom.  It may be that we are called; in fact, most people are called, to spread the love and truth of Christ in their own unique circumstances.
 

This kind of Christianity is that to which the ascension calls us. Ascension Day is a natural time to take a look at our spheres of influence and ask, "Am I advancing or abandoning my calling?"
Amen. 

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