“Authority and Power”


Ascension of the Lord

May 8, 2016


Text: Acts 1:1­-11; Luke 24:44­-53; Ephesians 1:15-­23


Scripture tells us that Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after he rose from the dead. So the church has long commemorated Jesus’ ascension on the 40th day of Easter, which always falls on a Thursday (this year it was this past Thursday, May 5). Now I have never known of a United Methodist church that held an Ascension Day service on the actual Thursday. In fact, I don’t remember the Ascension of the Lord even being observed until I was working in a church when I was in seminary, and in my experience it has always been observed on the following Sunday, as we are doing today. But there are Christian communions for whom Ascension Day is a big deal. Last Sunday following worship Janet Schlichter told me that in the predominantly Mennonite community in southern Missouri where Susan and Dennis DeGroote now live, Ascension Day is observed fervently

on the proper Thursday. Stores close, and the people spend much of the day in worship.

You might say that the Ascension is a neglected part of the story of Jesus. We give plenty of attention to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and in recent years the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has started getting attention again. But Jesus’ ascension into heaven often gets little attention.

I think that is unfortunate. We could learn a few lessons from those brothers and sisters in Christ do take the ascension seriously. Let’s consider some things:

● Jesus ascended to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God.  This is the Bible’s way of saying that Jesus has the full power and authority of God. We are under that authority. In Ephesians Paul reminds us that in his ascension Christ has been given authority far greater than any power in heaven or on earth. He is greater than any nation, any government, any tradition, any human expert. He is also head of all things for the church.

● Jesus’ ascension means we have been given power. God’s power raised Jesus from the dead. God’s power working among us enables us to witness to God’s love in the world. Before he ascended, Jesus told his disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples just ten days later at Pentecost, and they did receive power. They were transformed from a group of frightened people hiding in a locked room for fear of the authorities to people who boldly bore witness to the resurrection, even when doing so meant ridicule, persecution, and death.

● In the ascension we are given our marching orders. As Jesus ascended into the sky, the disciples stood there gawking at him as he disappeared from sight. Just about then, an angel stood with them and said, “Why are you standing around gazing into heaven? This Jesus, whom you saw go into heaven, will return in the same way.”  Implied in this statement is another: “In the meantime, you have been given your instructions. Go wait in the city until the power has been given to you from on high. Then go be his witnesses as he told you to do.”

We are a people under authority. Christ is the ultimate leader of the church. We are accountable to him for how we live and serve as individuals and corporately as the church. Always we need to ask ourselves, “Is this what Jesus wants and expects of us?” And if not, what do we need to change?

Further, Jesus used his authority to tell his disciples to go and bear witness to him in the world­­--in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Translated to our own context, we are to bear witness to the love of God and the resurrection life offered through Christ in our own community (Jerusalem), in places that are nearby geographically where the people are a lot like us (Judea), in nearby places where people seem to be very different from us (Samaria), and in places that are far away (the ends of the earth). Notice Jesus did not say we should wait for people to come to us. He told us to go to them. He also did not say we should delegate this responsibility to a group of professionals. He gave the job to each and every one of us. But he didn’t give us only the responsibility; he also gave us the power. We do not have to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit to come upon us. It has already been given to the church at Pentecost. It is given to us in our baptism.

There are many ways to bear witness to God’s love in the world. Not everyone is good at speaking or writing. But there are other ways. A few weeks ago we read from Acts about Dorcas, who Peter raised from the dead. Her witness was making clothing for women living in poverty. Last week we read about Lydia. Her witness was in showing hospitality to Paul and his companions. The Apostle Paul went traveling around the Roman Empire risking his neck to spread the Good News of Christ. However, we often forget that he had many others supporting him in that effort:  companions who traveled with him; people in the places where he preached and started churches who kept the work in their communities going after he moved on; people who prayed for him; people who supported him financially. All of these found ways to bear witness to the Risen Christ in accordance with the gifts they were given.

We are under the authority of the Risen Christ. We have been given power to witness to God’s love in Christ in the world through the Holy Spirit.  I join with the Apostle Paul in praying:

● That God will give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God better known to us;

● That our spiritual sight will be enlightened to see the hope to which God is calling us, the richness of God’s inheritance to those who believe, and the overwhelming greatness of God’s power working in us who believe.

Let us live under God’s authority and according to his power to bear witness to the resurrection life that is ours through Christ, the crucified, risen, and ascended One. Amen.

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