Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sermon: Ascension

13 May 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Acts 1:1-11 (Mark 16:14-20)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

This is the time of year for graduations. And in those ceremonies, we often hear the same things over and over. We hear the explanation that the word “education” is based on the Latin words for “to lead out of” – as in leading someone out of ignorance to knowledge. We also hear that graduation is a commencement – not an end, but a beginning. And at a point in the ceremony, the graduates may move their tassels from one side of their hats to the other to indicate that one chapter in their lives has ended, and a new one is beginning.

And when it is all said and done, when the cake has been eaten and the last picture snapped, the graduates scatter from their alma mater and go on to other schools or to different stations in life.

This is also the time of year for the Church to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus. It is a kind of graduation as well – not for our Lord, but for His students, His disciples. We don’t know all the details of what Jesus said to them on this august occasion, but Scripture reveals some of the words and deeds of our Lord to His students.

We know that they were told not to scatter from their mother city of Jerusalem until the fulfillment of “the promise of the Father,” of which the Son says “you heard from Me.” That promise is to be fulfilled in a baptism of the Holy Spirit in just a few days. The disciples (students) are not to become apostles (those sent out to preach) until the Holy Trinity has declared them to be ready and has ordered the commencement of their ministries.

Like many students of the Bible and disciples of Jesus today, there is a great curiosity among the Lord’s first graduating class of the Eleven about the future: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” But not every question is to be answered by their Divine Professor. The Lord rebukes them gently with a reminder that not all things are a matter for their knowledge and education. Their task and calling is not to know the hidden details of the Lord’s plan for the world, but rather to first “receive power” from the Holy Spirit, and then to be His witnesses in an expanding series of concentric circles, beginning from their place of learning at Jerusalem, throughout the region of Judea, moving outward among the Gentiles in Samaria, and finally among all nations to the very ends of the earth.

Rather than seeking inside information about the Lord’s second coming, they are rather to turn the world inside out with the proclamation of His first coming. They are to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation,” and “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

And though the Lord will not be visible with them while He sits at the right hand of the Father, He will surely be with them unto the end of the age. And this will be manifest from the signs the Church will demonstrate in her Master’s name, as He Himself prophecies: they will “cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” For wherever the Gospel is preached, miracles will follow. Devils will flee. The good news will be proclaimed in every language of the globe. Christians will be supernaturally protected from all harm and danger. And healing and forgiving hands will be laid on the sick and sinful who will repent and be restored to life.

And indeed, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.”

But before working any of these signs, the Lord handed authority over to the Eleven and was taken from their sight and lifted in to a cloud. He was taking His place of heavenly glory. And He sends forth His disciples to carry out His divine mandate to do His work as His servants and preachers.

And like many students who have just graduated and are filled with a sense of both excitement and dread, asking themselves: “What now?”, so too are the apostles gazing aimlessly at the sky. They are called out of their daydreams by a couple of fellow servants of the Lord, two angels in white robes who essentially tell them that it is time to go to work now.

The Lord Jesus, who was addressed as “Rabbi” (meaning “Teacher”) by His “disciples” (meaning “students”) had spent three years educating these men. It was not for the sake of a piece of paper or even for the purpose of getting a good job. But rather they were being trained to preach and teach, to baptize and to forgive, and to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. The Lord established the Church on this apostolic foundation, and the Church finds her commencement with the Ascension of the Son to the Father and the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. The Church finds her very life in the most holy and blessed Trinity.

And, dear friends, this education of the apostles was not at an end. We never run out of learning in matters of the Lord and His kingdom. For the life of the Church was only beginning. And even for us, we who have been baptized and taught by those who would come after them, the consummation is yet to come.

The Ascension of our Lord is not the end, but the beginning. For He is the Alpha and the Omega. And as time marches onward, as the Gospel makes its way among every people and nation, as new disciples are baptized and taught, as signs continue to mark the Church’s hopeful work in this dismal world, we wait expectantly for the Lord to return as He has promised. We don’t know times and dates, but we do know the promise. We do not wear scholars’ robes and mortar-board hats, but rather baptismal gowns and the crown of life given to us by our Great Teacher and Master.

Like all Christians who have come before us and all who will come after us – one chapter in our lives has ended, and a new one is beginning. And having been led out of darkness into light, we look to a future so bright there will be no need of sun or moon, as the commencement gives way to consummation and communion that will have no end. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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