Filed under: Sermons
On this last Sunday of the Easter season, we celebrate Jesus’ Ascension. We read from Acts that, after a period of further preparing the disciples, and reminding them that he will send the Holy Spirit, Jesus is raised up into heaven with the clouds, to reign at the right hand of God. Ascension has to do with going up.
Jesus goes up. The disciples are still on the ground. Jesus is supposed to be coming back sometime, in the same way that he left. So, the disciples just stand there, and continue staring up into heaven.
Have you ever heard the expression, “A watched pot never boils?” Pastor Jeff and I have watched a lot of Star Trek. In one episode, the scientific and literally minded android character Data puts the same amount of water in the same pot on the same heat and finds that the water does indeed boil after the same amount of time, no matter if he stands over it and watches, or ignores it. He doesn’t understand the saying, “a watched pot never boils” as it expresses the watcher’s own impatience. Of course the right conditions will always lead the water to boil, but the watcher’s attentiveness is not one of those conditions.
Two men, messengers from God, maybe angels, maybe prophets, stand with the disciples as they stare up into heaven. Basically, they remind the disciples, “a watched pot never boils.” Jesus promised to send the Spirit, he will restore the kingdom, Jesus will do more when the time is right. Standing frozen, waiting for something to happen, isn’t going to make this final restoration come any faster!
In the meantime, there’s important work to be done! Jesus hasn’t been teaching and preparing the disciples for nothing! They will be given the Holy Spirit so that they can do the work to which Jesus has called them: to be witnesses. They will be empowered to be witnesses, not only in familiar neighborhoods, but in all of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and out to the ends of the earth.
The men’s comments seem to stir the disciples, and they move along. When the disciples leave the place of Jesus’ ascension, they gather with the rest of the community to pray. They center themselves in actions of listening for God. They wait just a little longer, and Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit is fulfilled. Then their work really begins! They move from being stuck in place, staring up into heaven, waiting for God to act, into people inspired by the Holy Spirit, going out into the world as Jesus commanded, living and preaching the good news.
As we consider our own community, I wonder if we ever get stuck? As the people of Trinity, and the community of Ayr, when have we stood still and looked up to the clouds, waiting for God to take care of things? We might be waiting and watching for the pot to boil, without remembering that we have a job to do in turning on the heat.
Sometimes, we forget that we, too, are commissioned and called. Jesus may have ascended, but Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit upon us. God has given us all we need to continue Jesus’ work right here and right now.
Martin Luther wrote a piece called “The Freedom of a Christian.” In it, he declares, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
Jesus Christ has freed us from fear of death and sin, because in Jesus, we are made right with God and given eternal life. That’s all Jesus’ doing, and nothing is going to take away his faithfulness in gifting us with forgiveness and life. So, we’ve been freed from fear, sin, and death. We are free men and women! But what’s the point in spending our lives staring up into heaven? We’re here, now.
Luther writes, “Although the Christian is thus free from all works, (free from trying to earn his own salvation), he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of the servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and deals with him.” This is Luther’s call for us to be like Jesus, as Paul describes Jesus in Ephesians chapter 2.
We’re freed in Christ, freed FOR our neighbors. We’re called to look around us and do what Jesus would do for our neighbors, our communities, and all of creation.
At a synod assembly I attended in Wisconsin, I heard a wonderful speaker from Palestine. Pastor Mitri Raheb said this, “Since we do not have to do anything to earn our salvation, we have time to go out into the world to share God’s love with others.” It made so much sense to me! Of course, if we are worried about our salvation and securing our own lives, we might find ourselves stuck, staring up into heaven, caring little for what is going on around us! But if we trust in God’s faithfulness, if we trust that God’s promises are true for us, then we know that God gives us life. We don’t have to worry about it. Our lives and our time is freed up for other things. Our efforts can be directed towards joining God in the work God is already doing, to bring healing, love, and good news to all the world.
It’s not easy work, to join with God in serving our neighbors. It wasn’t easy for those early Christian communities, either. The community to whom Peter writes knows that this meantime work is difficult and dangerous! But we’re here today because they went forward in proclaiming the good news, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry, despite the dangers and sacrifice they each experienced.
Today, as we gather as the community of Ayr, celebrating memories, I hope that you also look forward to the future of this community. A lot has changed over the years, and I know sometimes it can feel like there isn’t much of a future as places of learning, worship, and business have closed and people have moved away. But I don’t think that we need to be stuck in our nostalgia or our fear. We can envision a restored Ayr. What would this community look like if it were to be a place where we were all fed and welcomed? What are those things we need in a community so that we can take care of each other, celebrate together, and always be open to the new people among us? How might God be calling us to tear our eyes away from visions of the past and see the new reality of this town and the ways in which God is calling us to work for our neighbors today?
This congregation is the only place of worship in this community. It’s up to us to center ourselves in listening to God through our weekly worship and Bible studies. It’s up to us to take the compassion and the hope we have through Jesus out into this community, so that even with a small population, this would be a community of welcome, hospitality, and renewal.
We do difficult work in this present, not always seeing the fruits of our efforts. Whatever we do may not feel like enough, but we do it, and trust that at least it points to God, who will bring a final restoration: life and healing to all creation. Our hope and trust is that Jesus will come again. This faith moves us into action. We need not be stuck in fear or overwhelmed, either looking up into heaven or with faces downcast. We look around us and find that Jesus is already at work by our side.
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