Witness and worshipAn Ascension Sunday sermon May 24, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
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- Pr. Sebastian
Our Gospel text from the very end of the Gospel of Luke,
tells of the last appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples.
It's the last time he'll really be seen by them
in a more or less material-physical sense
before he disappears and says goodbye to them.
He then “ascended into heaven,”
as we testify in the Creeds.
There are two main points in this text:
First, Jesus tells us that the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled through him
and second, he commands that we should proclaim repentance and grace, that is, we should spread the good news of Jesus to all people.
Jesus explains to the disciples:
“everything must be fulfilled that is written of me,
in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and the Psalms.”
And he opened their understanding
so that they could comprehend the Scriptures.
Before Easter, the disciples were frankly pretty dense
and understood almost nothing of Jesus' goals and tasks.
They didn't understand
that Jesus was a different kind of Messiah,
not a soldier king, but a servant,
That he was a suffering son of God.
Before Easter, the disciples' brains were clogged and closed-minded.
But after Easter, finally, they understood much more.
But for that they needed Jesus.
Jesus himself explained the Bible to them,
and explained to them how all the Jewish Scriptures foretold his mission and his way of life, his suffering and also his resurrection.
It wasn't just the 11 disciples back then who needed enlightenment, who needed a new, renewed spirit to understand Jesus' work.
We need this too.
Our spirits and minds must be opened by the Holy Spirit and by Jesus, otherwise we would not understand the good news either.
Otherwise it would just seem too ridiculous.
To open our minds:
we must first empty ourselves of all our prejudices,
Rid ourselves from worldly wisdom, from our pride
So that we can then be filled by Jesus.
Look at my hands.
They're all bunched up and clenched tight.
I can't receive anything.
But if I open my hands up , and out (ORANS)
I am ready to receive.
When my hands are open
then I can receive gifts and blessings from God and from other people.
That's how our spirit should be
we must have an open mind
to receive the Holy Spirit
we must have a willing soul
to receive the teachings of Jesus and his commission.
Jesus gave to the disciples then and to us today:
A commission, a homework so to speak;
to preach “repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all peoples”,
to proclaim the good news
and to be witnesses, to testify.
We should be witnesses!!
We are to proclaim, to make known,
that people should repent of their sinful behavior.
Sinful behaviour including for example: pride, prejudice, and selfishness.
That is our task as Christians!
It is an open-ended mission,
to all: men and women, cis and trans, all ethnicities and races.
And this commission is grounded in the Temple, in Jerusalem,
That is: coming from Jewish roots,
the promise of Abraham is the basis of our faith.
we are implanted in the Old Testament, in Judaism,
And God’s promise to the people of Israel.
How does this affect us today?
This is a major challenge, that we sometimes forget as mainline Christians these days:
That we are to spread the good news of forgiveness and God's mercy and love,
And not just live in our own little church corner.
The story of God's eternal faithfulness,
his justice and mercy
is entrusted to the disciples and also to us.
We are commissioned and authorized to witness.
We all have a calling to be disciples of Jesus (not just pastors, but all Christians!)
It's a big challenge!
We are to tell other people about our experiences with Christ in our lives.
We should tell our friends and relatives where we in our lives have seen Jesus.
in the last week:
where have you seen sacrificial love?
where have you seen people who stand up for the truth?
where have you seen or felt forgiveness?
Go tell it on the mountain!
But there is also a promise to help us out in this challenging homework: the Holy Spirit is with us.
“Armed with the power from on high”
we have energy for the tasks of the church.
As people of St. Matthews, in partnership with other area Lutheran churches, like St. Peter’s, St. Stephen’s, St. Lukes’, Mt. Zion, as well as our in-building siblings: Trinity United, UNA, Church of Christ,
how can we be witnesses in our neighborhoods?
And how can we, with God's love and mercy,
that can already be felt in our neighborhoods, work together?
“And Jesus led the disciples to Bethany, blessed them,
Withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven”
Jesus is no longer there in the flesh, but he is there in the spirit.
Jesus can no longer be seen directly with our physical eyes,
but now only with our spiritual eyes.
The meaning of the Feast of the Ascension is that communication is open,
between us and God.
The way to God is free, there is nothing between us and God,
through Christ we have a direct connection
to the highest.
Jesus (also his human part) is with God,
and God is with us.
We can see God working in the world
and can say:
we are blessed and we can now be a blessing to others.
After Jesus disappeared
“the disciples worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”
We should also, like the first disciples
worship Jesus in our services,
meet with joy in our assemblies
and praise God together in song and prayer and in the Lord's Supper.
And these are our two main tasks today:
to be witnesses of the love of God
and to praise God all together with our whole being.
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