Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/20/12 Sermon

Acts 1:1-11

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

 

A couple of years ago, Stephen Hawking, the physicist-mathematician-cosmologist with credentials longer than the alphabet soup made news when he said we human beings need to abandon earth or face extinction.

He stated, "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. Therefore the human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket… we need to get out of here. Find a new planet to colonize. Start from scratch without the mess we've made”.  Of course given the hoopla growing about 2012, and the fear of EMP’s (electromagnetic pulse) that might occur from a rogue nuclear attack or Solar storm some people are thinking Hawking’s right.

Perhaps it is time we looked to abandon Mothership earth.

Maybe we need to ascend into the heavens like Jesus and get out while we can………..

Today----In the life of the church we are remembering and celebrating the Ascension of Christ.

It’s a day when we remember Jesus leaving planet earth not to abandon ship but rather to go and take his place at the right hand of the Father in a place called heaven.

Still as we read this scripture you can’t help but wonder what the disciples were feeling and thinking when Jesus was whisked away into heaven.-----They must have had feelings of being abandoned by Jesus.  Clearly they were disappointed. We see in the scripture that they were hoping that Jesus was going to restore the kingdom of Israel.  They thought they would be part of his cabinet. 

Instead we see that Jesus shoots their hopes down, gives them some instructions and disappears off in the sunset.

No wonder we reed that they were staring up into the sky. They must have been in shock.  Clearly I would have been in shock. I mean this whole story of Jesus’ ascension is pretty shocking to me.  I don’t know about you but when I read the story of the Ascension I can often wonder what to make of this story….

I mean the story itself can seem pretty far fetched for our rational, enlightened minds today.

And I’m not the only one---Theologians over the centuries have tried to make sense of this story and its implications. On the one hand, liberal, skeptical theologians have doubted the legitimacy of a physical Jesus being whisked away up into the clouds (they also doubt the validity of a bodily resurrection).

Then there are the more conservative theologians who reed this and take a very literalistic view that has Jesus did indeed physically float upward in the sky--- his feet dangling from the clouds.  Many of us have embraced this understanding. From the very earliest times, people have seen the world in a triple-decker way……………….heaven, earth and hell.

But what if you’re in Argentina?---From where I’m standing their heaven is pointing toward hell to me…

But does it really matter what we believe about the ascension of Jesus?  Maybe it’s best to just skip this story and move ahead to Pentecost which is next week.  But then again before we give up and abandon this story of the Ascension perhaps we should try to better understand it.

Maybe the Ascension has important implications for Christians.

In fact, Professor Douglas Farrow of McGill University in Canada, wrote in his work the Ascension and Ecclesia that “if one misunderstands the Ascension, they can slide into muddled and even dangerous practices as Christians”.

But how?

Well, one problem is that it can affect how you view the world we live in right now.  For example, if you believe that Jesus’ ascension was only spiritual (a ghost floating off) OR if you believe it in a literal way where Jesus was whisked far away to the triple decker place called heaven, it’s easy to see how we can view the earth as a place that we want to abandon.

Both of these views can reinforce the mentality that this world has little value and therefore a hopeless place that needs to be abandoned.

And I think we see this mindset in many Christians today who seem to be looking up to the sky like the disciples were---just waiting on Jesus to whisk them away.

Especially those who are experiencing difficult times. I often talk to people who are struggling who just pray: “please God, take me away from here”. (Calgon bath products---take me away!)  They’ve had enough of this world (loss of a loved one, failing health, broken relationships, depressed, anxious, afraid and hopeless).  People have had enuf-- they want to go home. They read the Easter story and the resurrection and they are ready to ascend up to heaven to be with Jesus.

But besides these Christians living in despair there are others who can have their heads up in the clouds in another way---these are Christians waiting on Jesus to return so they can be raptured.  There’s of course a huge business of end time prophecy that people get caught up in.

I’m reminded of a theologian who went to speak at a conference about being good stewards of the earth. But at the conference there was a huge contingency of evangelical Christians who said that since we were living in the End Times there was no point trying to stop polluting the planet.

They said in fact that it was unspiritual and a lack of faith to think about such things.  After all, since God is intending to bring the whole world to an end what difference does it make if we pump poisonous gases in the atmosphere? (Wright, Surprised by Hope)

The point in both of these cases is that the lack of understanding of the Ascension can leave you with a mindset like Hawking that it’s best to abandon ship.  This life isn’t worth living and so we’re just waiting on our lifeboat or spaceship to take us away from this God forsaken place.

Clearly we desperately need a better and fuller understanding of the Ascension.

So what is a proper understanding of the Ascension and how does it impact our faith as Christians?

Well a more complete understanding of the Ascension begins by examining what really took place when he left the disciples.

N.T Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham England writes extensively about the Ascension in his book Surprised by Hope.

Wright affirms that when Jesus ascended into heaven it was indeed a physical ascension---- but he didn’t go flying off to some far away place in the solar system up there.

Instead Wright believes that Jesus entered into another dimension known as heaven. (Our scripture today says Jesus entered into heaven not up to heaven).  The symbolism of the clouds in scripture refers to the presence of God. (In Exodus the pillar of cloud and smoke that protected the Israelites and the cloud in the inner sanctum of the Temple….NT Wright, Surprised by Hope)

With this understanding, the upward language is more in line with an “ascending” to a higher level in a way that you move up in school from the 3rd grade to the 4th grade.

You don’t literally move up to a higher level in the building.

The ascending is deeper and more meaningful than that.

The point here is that Jesus’ ascension means that he isn’t in some far off place way up above the rainbow.

It rather means that he is very close by. He is in a physical reality known as heaven that is interconnected to God’s created world. Like a tangent line in geometry.

Jesus is able to be present in both dimensions. He is available and accessible to us.

And it also means that he rules both realities (heaven and earth)

This world is not a throw away ship to abandon. One day the two will be one together. Jesus will come again as he is able to move between the 2 dimensions.

All will be as it ought to be. We will live physically and spiritually in joy and peace and justice with no more death and dying.

Now this has a huge impact on how we live in the present.

Because Jesus is the captain or CEO of the earth and of heaven, we need not live in despair or ask God to take us away.

When we die we will go to the dimension of heaven with Jesus. But that is our temporary home. Our permanent home will be this restored world.

That means we don’t have to live in fear or hopelessness about this world.

It means we aren’t living in a forsaken place that we need to get away from.

Instead it means we have a job to do while we are here.

Now clearly things look like a mess here.

But as Will Willimon, a United Methodist bishop states, things are in such a mess because God is still working and God is still allowing time to accomplish what began in Jesus when he first came.

God is working to reconcile all of His creation and is patient in doing so. 

And he is using us to bring about this reconciliation.

Now that is another very important meaning about the Ascension that we Christians need to understand.

A fuller understanding of Jesus’ ascension means that instead of abandoning mothership earth we actually have a job to do—

In verse 8 Jesus told the disciples that they were to be his witnesses to the world.

It’s interesting that the 2 angels who come to the disciples after Jesus has ascended told them that they needed to stop looking at the sky and get to work.

Those angels are telling us the same thing--- we need to stop focusing so much on the sky when Jesus will return or praying to be whisked away because we’ve had enuf and start getting focused on our call to witness to others.

We are Jesus’ physical body in this dimension called earth. We are his hands and feet to bless others and do good.  We are his eyes to see the world’s needs, his voice to proclaim the good news.

We are heralds to the king announcing that he reigns………that’s what happened in Jesus’ day when a new king took over.

A new king had heralds that went to the countryside and villages to inform the people that a new king was in power.

You and I are his heralds in this world; we are citizens of both this world and the other dimension called heaven who are proclaiming that Jesus is the king by witnessing to his ways into this earth.

We aren’t looking to abandon earth--- we instead are bringing forth what Jesus began and will complete when he returns and restores his kingdom completely.

But how do we go about doing this?

Well there is one more very important meaning of the Ascension for Christians to understand. 

And that is the message that Jesus gave to his disciples in verse 8.

Jesus told them that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit to do the job.

We aren’t left in this world without power. Jesus didn’t abandon us with instructions to try and do by our own power.  Jesus enabled and empowered us to be his heralds to carry out his purpose.

As Christians our time on earth is not some boring, legalistic chore of duties. Nor is it a fatalistic life where we’re looking up to the sky begging for Jesus to come rapture us or whisk us away.

Instead we are empowered to have an enchanted, purposeful journey in this life that isn’t wandering around aimlessly whining all the time.  We have a calling bigger than our job at work or even our family life. We have a bigger purpose that overrides and affects everything we do.

And that is to receive the power of the Spirit thru a life of prayer and communion where we are being transformed more and more into ascended creations ourselves.

Thru that power we are energized to do the work that Christ calls us: to witness to the ends of the earth that Christ’s great kingdom has come to the earth and one day it will come completely……………………………..

In closing this morning, you and I are being called to a fuller understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ ascension.

We’re being reminded that Jesus isn’t far away nor is he powerless in this seemingly forsaken world.

Instead He is the ruler over heaven and earth.  We need not be afraid or desperately desire to abandon mothership earth.

Instead in the assurance of the Ascension and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are called to witness to others of the coming kingdom of God.  Today let us more fully understand the ascension. Let us rejoice and live in hope.

For Christ is the king over all things. He will never abandon us…. Let us not abandon him. 

 

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen