Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sermon: Ascension Eve – 2011

1 June 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Acts 1:1-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

One of the signs of our broken and fallen world is our impatience. We don’t like to wait for anything. We know what we want, and when things are not the way that we want them, we want things to change, and we want them to change right now.

In the Garden of Eden, there was no reason for anything to change. There was contentment (at least until the Serpent appeared as the first expert in the field of marketing, to convince Eve of her own discontentment with her life). When all things were perfect, there was no reason for impatience.

But in today’s world, after 6,000 years of decay and corruption, and in a day and age of expected instant gratification – we want what we want, and we want it in nanoseconds.

The original apostles of Jesus had been His students for three years. After going through the agony of helplessly watching the Lord’s crucifixion, and joyously spending 40 days with Him in His triumphant resurrected state (“presenting Himself “alive to them after His suffering by many proofs”) – it was now time for the Lord to leave them and to send them into the world. They were ready to make disciples of all nations, going forth baptizing and teaching. It was time for the training wheels to come off, time for the tassel to be moved to the other side of the funny square hat, time for the next phase in the history of the world.

But not so fast! For Jesus “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait…” They were being reined in, told to hold their horses, they were like soldiers familiar with the old saying: “hurry up and wait.” Although they thought they were ready, there was still one more thing they lacked, and that was the “promise of the Father” which Jesus repeated: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

But the disciples were eager. After 400 years of waiting for the last words of the prophets of the Old Testament to be fulfilled by the King and the kingdom, the disciples were in no mood to tarry.

And so, “they asked Him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’”

“At this time” means “right now.” It reflects the same impatience of a child who wants the toy now and not after the eternity of eternities that is the time until Christmas or one’s birthday. And granted, the disciples were not asking for a toy or a truck or a trinket or a treasure – nevertheless, they longed for the kingdom and they did not want to wait for its appearance.

Dear friends, longing for the kingdom is no sin. In fact, what Christian doesn’t yearn for the coming of a new paradise of perfection, joy, and eternal life, a new heavens and a new earth, a Paradise Restored? Who doesn’t earnestly desire to see an end to all sickness, sadness, pain, suffering, anxiety, wars, hatreds, sin, and death itself? But what is sinful, brothers and sisters, is to impose our own will on God instead of, in the words of Dr. Luther, “letting God be God.”

Well-meaning Christians, eager for the Lord’s return, force the square peg of biblical prophecy into the round hole of their own misinterpretations and desires. And when these forecasts fail (as our Lord promises they will), the Church suffers and the faith of many falter.

The disciples have been commanded and exhorted to “wait” – and so must we. For “it is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”

And yet, our Lord doesn’t leave us helpless. Look at the promise the apostles wait upon, the promise given to the Church, the promise we who have been redeemed and renewed lay hold of: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit was given to the Church at Pentecost. And the Word was preached, sins were forgiven, demons were cast out, and eternal life was given to the people called out of darkness into the marvelous light. The Holy Spirit was given to the pastors of the Church of every age when they were called to forgive the sins of those who repent and to retain the sins of those who do not. And the Word is preached, sins are forgiven, demons are cast out, and eternal life is given to the people called out of darkness and into the marvelous light. And do not forget, the Holy Spirit was given to you at your baptism. And you hear the word preached. Your sins are forgiven. Your demons are cast out. And eternal life is yours as people called out of darkness into the marvelous light.

This promise is why we can wait, dear friends. And make no mistake – our waiting is hard. Just as the children of Israel waited through centuries of occupation and oppression. Even as generation after generation rose and fell with not a peep from God, no hint of the Messiah, and for all the world, the appearance that God had either forgotten His promise, or didn’t exist at all. And yet, the remnant of Israel held onto the promise for dear life, not knowing how or when the Lord would deliver.

But when the time was right, when their wait was over, according to the great and merciful will of God, the Lord Jesus took flesh, dwelt among us, preached, taught, gave us Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper, took our sins to His cross, gave His life for us, and rose from the dead to demonstrate His victory. Then He rose to take His place of honor at the Father’s right hand. And He has commanded us to make disciples, to preach the Word, to travel to the end of earth to declare this Good News and to spread the Kingdom. And yet, we wait. It is good to wait patiently for the Lord, for we know the promise and we know He will deliver on that promise. And when He does, it will be sudden, glorious, decisive, and final.

The disciples were left speechless when Jesus ascended into the heavens. For a while, all they could do was just stare into space. Sometimes we, overwhelmed by the changes and chances of life in this fallen world, can merely stare into space and wonder what we should do next, hopelessly trying to figure out God’s will and God’s schedules.

But listen anew to the angelic message to the apostles, to the Church of every time and place, and to all of us here in this holy house at this holy time: “Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”

That is the promise that gives us hope, even as the Holy Spirit gives us power, the cross gives us the kingdom, and the Word of God gives us the faith by which we are saved. We confess with St. John the apostle “Maranatha!” He is coming soon. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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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