Sermon, Ascension Day, May 20, 2012
The grace and mercy of the Lord of all be with you.
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
PRAYER: Lord of all and King of kings, speak to our listening hearts so that we may be wise to your ways and gracious to each other. Amen.
You know, Elvis Presley must have packed a punch. He still has a world-wide following of strange devotees! There are those massive Elvis gatherings in Las Vegas where you can run into a thousand Elvis look-a-likes. Elvis has the huge mansion called “Graceland” open to throngs of tourists every day. The man and the music have lasted and spawned a whole genre of music and a whole generation of beefy guys dressed in ridiculous white diamante studded one-piece suits singing “Step on my blue suede shoes”!
Of course for a long time there was a rumour that Elvis was alive and well and eating burgers in suburbs of Florida or somewhere! Elvis has “not left the building” for some….
Well for many people this account of the Ascension of Jesus says that Jesus has “left the building”. For many, and on face value, this bible account of a very supernatural kind of moment indeed seems to say that Jesus is now absent from our human lives in a humanly real way.
So much had happened to this trusty band of followers. They had shared their lives together with the most influential, wise, self-giving man they had ever known. They had seen the worst and the best. They thought it was “all over” on that cross. They were amazed time after time when he appeared and spoke and ate and lived with them in his glorious way – still human but very divine.
And now, instead of being heart-broken, as they had been on a few occasions before when he said he was leaving them, they are not sad at all. In fact, the text says,”Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God”. No grief and sadness here – praise, joy, new hope, new possibilities, new focus, new mission, new hope……
They obviously did not believe that Jesus has “left the building” at all! Why would they. He promised them his continuing presence. He was blessing them as he was enveloped in cloud. His blessing never ended. Jesus rules! He rules in blessing and life. Now it was their turn to do what they witnessed him do and spend their life serving him as they served others in joy and saw the kingdom of God change their world!
But they were there and we are here. It can be quite hard to sense this joy about our lives and about Jesus rule in our lives.It is especially hard to believe that Jesus rules when we are defeated by that same sin, that same issue, that same trouble. It is hard to “live as in God’s very presence and strive each day to live a God pleasing life” when evil comes or disease, or tragedy or doubt or confusion about who we are and what on earth we are supposed to do with our lives. It is not that hard to actually believe that Jesus has really “left the building” – left us to it.
And if we believe that Jesus actually is quite absent from our human life down here, then those of us who want to be Christians and love the church and want to be faithful followers of Jesus can easily stand around looking upwards into the skies, wishing for the presence of Jesus to touch us or some divine sign to appear or some miracle to happen to make it all go away and make our life easier.
How do you seek an absent God? How do you find God’s presence? Where do you look and invest yourself in to connect with God in your life?
For many, it is not in the everyday things of life. Jesus is absent from that. He is up in the heavens in glory and power and majesty. Jesus ceased to be human and ceased to be understandable and relatable in the everyday goings on of life and the everyday things of the church when he exited planet earth.
In this scheme of things with a more absent Jesus, all we have here are symbols of him. Things that help us remember him. With a more absent Jesus who ceases to be present in an ordinary/human way, the stuff we do at church is only symbolism. Worship is optional and only an idea, not a present reality of God’s grace and power…..
Baptism becomes quite inconsequential because it is only a church ritual. Holy Communion is important, but not because Jesus is actually present in love and mercy, but because it helps us experience unity and remember him. Stuff that the church has said together for ages also becomes of little use because they are just words that keep the memory alive – they actually don’t do much – they don’t actually do what they say they do, here and now.
When we hear those words, “I baptise you in the name of Father, Son and Spirit”, with an absent Jesus they are nice thoughts that we hope do some good.
When those words, “The Lord bless you and keep you”…are said – again they are nice words….. They help keep Jesus up there as a fine example of how to live a meaningful life… and so it goes.
With a more absent and less human Jesus who has floated off to the heavens to not do anything in particular, it gets a bit tough to know what to do with suffering and pain we face. You have to try and call him down more. You have to do what you think he likes in order to interest him, move him and get him to give what you need.
You can see where believing in a non-human, un-present Jesus leaves you…… on your own. It leaves us either trying to earn a way into his presence which is away from us somewhere or giving up on the whole thing and just go it alone in life.
Which are you or which have you been? Which are your friends? Earners of spiritual connections with an O so heavenly Jesus that he is of no earthly place or loners living it their way despite what they once knew of him?
What if you did not have to earn your spiritual moments or reach up to a heavenly Jesus in whatever way? What if you did not have to give up on a real earthly Jesus who lives and breathes in your ordinary?
Bingo! We have hit the jackpot today! It is Ascension Day. This is the day when Jesus fills life with his presence.
Jesus has not left the building. He is more present in it and in the building of his church and in his temples, called people, than he could ever have been before he ascended to rule the world in grace, power and glory.
Can we hear today that Jesus’ ascension to his Father is not anything to do with his absence but with his presence – real presence?
Can we who are always struggling with earning our spiritual stripes and trying to find a spiritual connection with an ‘other worldly’ God finally rest in the trust that Jesus has not left the building at all but completely filled it and us with his presence?
Can we who have been on the edge of giving up on a real Jesus because he is not connected enough to our humanness, let that go and know him in the very ordinary everyday stuff contained in this very super natural event.
He does not depart to disconnect but he connects as he departs – he shifts to rule; to connect with us in a way that is full and real and now.
Jesus is present. He is “all-in-all”. He is in the world. He is in the ordinary. He is in his people. He is in his powerful Word. He is in his gifts to his holy community. They are not mere symbols or lovely things that help us recall a great man – he is in them and does things as these things are done.
Baptism is not a church ritual but a life-shaping reality that rips a condemned sinful person out from that dark power into the grace and light of Jesus’ glory on a daily basis.
The Lord’s Supper is not a mere ritual that is nice to be a part of because it makes us feel like family, it is the ingesting of the mighty glory of Jesus for new life and forgiveness and power over death in our own bodies and hearts. It is a foretaste of our ascension to be with him. It is our life line and link to Jesus’ ongoing presence in the most intimate way.
Those words of blessing we hear which sustained a people for generation upon generation first given to Moses and Aaron, do what they say – not because you or I say them but because the glorious ascended victorious Lord of lords and King of all kings speaks them. When he says “Bless you”, consider yourself blessed!
Can we see that we don’t need to look up into heaven to earn Jesus or find Jesus? He is already found! He has found us. He never leaves us. He fills us with his grace for giving, his power for living and his glory for singing.
He’s is here. He is down here. He is at work. He is at home. He is among your friends. He is in his church. Earth is our home, it still is his. He rules the place in grace, power and glory. We rule with him in his mission to fill the world with his love and hope, beginning in Nuriootpa……
Jesus has not left the building, friends, he fills the building.