Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter



            Prayer

Most High God, we are witnesses to the life of Jesus Christ:
written in the Law,  promised by the prophets,  sung by the psalmists;
given in love for the world,  risen from the dust of death,  lifted up in heavenly glory.
Let our lives proclaim Christ’s life.
Wrap us in your power and presence so that we may worship you always,
continually blessing your name...
God of everlasting life,
we confess that we continue in the ways of death.
While Jesus was with us on earth, we dismissed him as a heavenly dreamer.
Now that he reigns in heaven, we forget that he is Lord of all the earth.
Forgive us, God of grace.
Be the sovereign of our lives and make us always ready
to welcome your return in glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit,
          One God, forever and ever.  Amen.

Acts 1:6-14
 
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"  He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away.
When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Reflections
 
Ascension Sunday.  

This Sunday holds great meaning for me...  20 years ago, I preached for the Call in Walkerton just a week after water had poisoned many in the town.   And as I stood and looked out across the congregation, the readings took on a new import:  What do you do when Jesus, God seems to have left the building?  

Consider that the disciples have had a rather traumatic few months.  Only 40 days ago, their dreams and hopes had been crushed as their leader, Jesus, had been cruelly and unjustly crucified and buried.  That he was resurrected... that was a bit of news that took some time to sink in.  And I wonder if the resurrection fully drained the fear from their hearts.  There was still so much to do... so much to be accomplished.  To see Jesus rise up and vanish...  did their hearts once again tremble with fear?  Who would be the one who would lead them forward?  Who would be the one to show them what had to be done?

But today, this reading holds another message for me.  As Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, listen to their conversation... listen to their questions...  "Lord, when are you going to restore our kingdom?  When will you set us free?"

I wonder if it caught you as much as it caught me?  "Our Kingdom"?

For three years, these men had listened to the master teach...  teach about the Kingdom of Heaven, God's Kingdom.  They had heard the messages about having to lay down their lives and picking up their crosses and following Jesus...  yet, here they are asking about Their Kingdom.  

But I can't be too hard on them...  because how many times do I focus on my own Kingdom instead of God's?  My attention is misplaced on my wants and desires...  I find myself trying to dictate what is right and wrong based on my own opinion.  I plot the course of my life with great certainty because... it is My life.  Am I really any different from those early disciples?  Too quickly I lose sight of the things of God and become fixated on the things of my own making...  

Jesus' answer is another troubling statement:  "The Father sets those dates... it is not for you to know..."

Oh, that chafes more than a little.  Because we want so desperately to know...  We crave answers.  We hate questions that defy solutions.  It's why we spend billions on research for incurable diseases, and why we sought to travel to the moon, and Mars, and someday... the stars.  It's why Google and the Internet have such a hold on us... because we want answers at our fingertips!  And as to the times and hours set by God?  Well, countless books and theories have attempted to unravel that mystery... because we hate not having an answer.  But Jesus meant it when he told us. "It's none of your business!"

What is our business?  Jesus tells us that we are to be his witnesses... starting close to home, and then moving ever further out into the world.  Now remember...  we are not going to have all the answers.  We are there to share a person...  Jesus!  That is our mission!

And Jesus tells us that we are not to do this alone, but to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit who will enable us to actually perform this mission.  We are not to do this alone because... well, simply because we can't!  We receive the power to witness from God, from the Holy Spirit... who continues to teach us, and lead us into truth.  And who tells us what to say when we are brought into difficult places and face difficult people.

As this ascension story continues, Jesus rises in the air and his disciples stand there staring...  And I can imagine myself doing the same.  It's not everyday that you see someone float away!  But there is something more here...  The angels that come ask the disciples why they are standing and staring.  There is meaning behind this question!  The disciples are stuck on the person of Jesus... on having his physical presence right there with them.  Having his go leaves them... diminished.  Impoverished.  Uncertain.  These feelings distract them from the mission at hand...  "Go and wait for the Holy Spirit, then witness!"

Again... isn't this my story?  How many times have I been caught up trying to feel... sense God's closeness... and until I do, I cannot do the very thing he has told me to do?  How many times have I imagined that God has withdrawn from me... and the mission of God becomes shelved as I wonder where God has gone?

The Good News, the Grace of this story is the repeated redirection the disciples receive...  time and again their are pointed back to where they need to be.  And the mission they are given is accomplished... not so much because they are good, but because God is gracious.

The last thought that rumbles through my mind is the question, "How do we witness?"  And I suggest that the answer is given in the story:  "All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer."  The best witness to the reality of Jesus is a life of prayer and worship, lived daily, lived communally.  So shall the world know that we are His!



Benediction

As you go from here into the coming week,
may God open your mind to His presence,
so that you may truly come to know Him;

may He open the eyes of your heart
so that you can experience the hope he offers
to all who follow Him;

and may you come to understand
the full extent of God’s power at work in your life—
the very same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead,
and seated him at the right hand of God.

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