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Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Sermon, Sunday May 13, 2018 Ascension Sunday

Walking people. Lifestyle.

St Petri

Luke 24:44-53 44 He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’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 worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, that old spiritual from so long ago, penned by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson expressed the faith and the need we have.

Just a closer walk with Thee Grant it, Jesus, is my plea Daily walking close to Thee Let it be, dear Lord, let it beI am weak but Thou art strong Jesus keep me from all wrong I’ll be satisfied as long As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

But how do you get it? How do you get close to God and walk with Jesus more closely? Why would you pray this and seek this closeness anyway? Maybe those people up on the hill who saw him go into the air might have something to say this …

This Ascension moment is a final departure. Final departures are often very hard. A part of us is being removed, not by surgeon’s knife, but by grief’s affect.

These people lived in the presence of a great person who marked their character and shifted their jobs, families, understanding and hopes forever.

But Instead of being lost in heart-felt grief because the loss of their friend and mentor, they are charged up by his departure! They move from aimlessness and confusion and the temptation to give up and scatter, to great joy and sticking together in praise of God! They somehow seem to believe that they indeed now have “a closer walk with thee”!

What would make you glad at the departure of a loved one? Either you are glad the person’s suffering is over, or, you found great pain and discomfort in their presence and now that pain and discomfort is over, or, the person imparted a great inheritance that will help you greatly.

There is no hint that any of those gathered up on the hill were full of joy because Jesus’ suffering was finally over. Yes, he suffered alright. They saw it and felt it and grieved for him, but then he appeared and showed he had triumphed over all of that. So, they are not joyful because his suffering is ended.

There is no hint that they are glad the guy is finally gone because of any ill-treatment or injustice done to them. So that can’t be the reason for the praise and joy.

It has to be that they are full of joyful words about their God and wanting to be together because they have recognised the full extent of the inheritance he has left them! It is an inheritance better than anything money can buy.

The inheritance is his presence still; it is a possible “ closer walk with thee”; not because they earned it or achieved it or paid for it but because he simply gave it.

The gift of his loving presence always is a free gift. It is not that they have to find a way to be close to him but that he now become close to them and promises to remain so.  “I am with you always to the very end of the age”. “Wherever even two or three of you are gathered together in my name, I am there …”.

But we have trouble with this. Someone has said that we Christians are often “practical atheists”. That is, we say we believe in Jesus but practically live as if he is not really present – as if we have to manufacture a ‘closer walk with thee”; as if he went into that cloud never to return.

Funny how we seem to believe that “we are only as close to God as we choose to be”, as I read on a church website this week. It is as if we have to try and make ‘a closer walk with thee’ happen by our making, our will, our goodness. We have to reach out to him and win him closer.

As a result, when it comes to making a life for ourselves, making decisions, setting direction as a parent, making decisions about marriage, family, business, and all else, we PRACTICALLY rely on ourselves more than the very-present person and word of Jesus.

This all goes OK, we think, until one or two of four things happens: Money gets tight, health breaks down, death breaks in or someone calls our reputation is threatened.

Then the practical atheists become divine prayers! We sing that song!

Just a closer walk with Thee Grant it, Jesus, is my plea Daily walking close to Thee Let it be, dear Lord, let it be

We call out the Jesus asking him to help us. We may even make a bargain or two with him. We might even clean up our act and stop doing some things or take on some spiritual things just to make sure God comes through…..for a while, until it all leaks out of our hearts and we carry on as practical atheists.

What’s Jesus’ solution to our leakage problem?! What will enable us to have a closer walk with thee?

How will he respond when we call out

Just a closer walk with Thee Grant it, Jesus, is my plea

Will he say, “you are only as close to God as you choose to be”, so choose! You make it happen, you do it!

No way. We are only as close to God because he chooses to be close to us – VERY CLOSE, UNSHAKABLY CLOSE!

It is HIS reaching out to me that makes me “close to thee” not me.

Friend, there is no need to plead, no need to beg, to steal his closeness. The only need is to trust this present ascended Jesus and his promise to be close to you near and far, here and there, there and then.

What does he give to help us live in his closeness? What will he give us when we are so close that enables us to live with all the confidence, hope and love for which we long?

Three things which are really the same person.

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures

My word will sustain you and make you all you need to be, says the Ascended Jesus. My word will shape you, help you trust my presence any day of the week, any room in the house, any place in the community. I will keep showing you who I am and what your life really is in me.

but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high

You will receive spiritual power that will transform your body, your mind and your spirit daily for the task of speaking and doing what you saw and heard me do and say.

….he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

My blessing, empowering, loving, calling, shaping hands will never cease. They are the wounded hands that bless you. By my wounded hands you are blessed, you are healed – everyday.

Friends, let’s bless each other into;

  1. Understand the Scriptures in the joy and sorrow, in the confusion and clarity of life..

  2. Receive the Spirit when you feel dead and when you know you are alive

  3. Be blessed and bless others – and never stop both. It is his presence, his breath, his wounded hands blessing you to be healing, breathing, moving blessing to the wounded, the broken and the prideful.

His final departure was not final. Neither will yours ever be.

His Ascension brings his presence.

He never left you. He never will.

Praise him with every breath you speak, every day at work, every time with family, every time you use his gifts he has given, with everything you own.

Speak good words of him to others.

We do this together as his church and he is here.

Jesus, move us from self to you; from confusion to you, from death to you, from practical atheism to you in all the fullness of your presence.



Pray: Spirit of Jesus, speak, for your servant is listening.

Read the text out loud slowly taking note of who says and does what, and noting questions that come of where your mind dwells/wonders as you go.

Embedded in this simple account of this seeming final departure of Jesus are things that say it is not. This is not Jesus final departure but his beginning arrival in a new way.

  1. Everything is fulfilled. This is the whole biblical story coming to its full fruition. The Messiah is taking up his everlasting reign. All the promises of the Old Testament have been fully kept by God in his Son, Jesus and Jesus will live after this day – always.

  2.  You are witnesses. So, the show goes on. The story is not finished. There is no end here. This is the beginning of the rest of God’s work, and these ordinary folks are involved. They are named one thing – “Witnesses”. They have the calling to bear witness to what they have see and heard.

  3. They will not and cannot do this under their own human power. This new beginning and their calling in it with Jesus can only be done with gift he promises to send soon – the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day (50 days away). Jesus will remain present.

  4.  The last thing they hear and see is a word of blessing from Jesus and his raised wounded hands and rising wounded body and feet over them. The tense of the Greek verb here is not final. it is ongoing. Jesus’ blessing does not come to an end. it goes on. it is still going for these 12 people and for those to whom they bear witness – your and me

I suggest that this is not a sign of Divine Absence in your life but a sign of Divine presence in your life and that jesus is not some spirit floating around the clouds somewhere playing a harp sitting on a cloud, or even some spiritual force that you have to find by some means – be it emotions, or songs or rituals or right therology and anything else. Jesus remains human for humans. The last thing he is is human. The last thing he does is speak human words for humans to hear. We have a human Saviour still. He has not morphed into some spiritual force in our lives. “This same jesus whom you saw go into the skies will return the same”.

What does this mean for you?

The Lutheran community, like all mainline communities has this belief and it shapes their worship life. Why is it that Lutheran can put such a high premium on the gifts of baptism and holy communion and the words of scripture formed into a pattern or rhythm done over and over again? because Jesus is present (where two or three are gathered in his name) even physically and through normal, everyday physical means. When that person is baptised it is Jesus, the living Word present and active using water to discharge his spiritual filling of that new Christian. When that brad and wine is eaten and drunk, it is his body and his blood for his forgiveness and his life now. That is why Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic worship is like it is. it is all based on the belief that Jesus is till present and that the gift of the Spirit is given by him through ordinary means – human words, humans hands, humans bread wine, bodies, prayers songs and etc …

What do you make of all of this? Does this challenge you or comfort you or both?

It is absolutely no problem for me to believe that I partake of Jesus physical body in that bread and his blood by that wine. it is still bread and wine but his word spoken with it make it spiritual and real and healing and life-giving. How about you?

As for who makes a ‘closer walk with thee’ really happen, it is not me. He does. He remains present when he does not have to. He draws close when he has every right to leave me for dead. He loves first, he blesses first, he calls first, he sends me first. I don’t earn it, achieve it, deserve it and even understand it, but he understands these 12 individuals and those who came after them (you!).

We are only as close to God because he chooses to be close to us”.

What do you make of that?

As for our working life, marriage life, relationships and skills, they all count here too. He calls these ordinary people into his global kingdom work of bearing witness and promises to give them the words to say and the places to be. The Book of Acts is the outworking of his promises and it is still going on through all of us today. So we Christians never ‘work for the weekend’, we work in Jesus when we are at work and our work is a gift from him. How I treat my partner is how I treat Jesus and reflective of how he treats me. It all counts and it all bears witness – good or bad.

But yet, we get  guilty about our failing to witness well. Not to worry, there is always another day tomorrow and a forgiving, life-giving ascended Jesus calling us, sending us, trusting us with his words and story.


I am weak but Thou art strong Jesus keep me from all wrong I’ll be satisfied as long As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

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