We don’t look up to the skies for God to save all things; we look around at each other, filled with God’s Spirit, and see God bringing healing and hope to all through us.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Ascension of Our Lord
Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:44-53, plus John 16:7
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away.” (John 16:7)
Much of what Jesus says in John’s Gospel on the night of his betrayal is words of encouragement to these women and men who follow him. He tells them he’s leaving them, but they’ll be alright. The Spirit will be with them, they will be one with the Father and the Son, they will not be orphaned.
But in the midst of that encouragement are these strange words, that Jesus leaving them is to their advantage. Not just “you’ll be OK when I’m gone,” but, “you need me to go.”
And that’s hard for us to understand, much less to trust. It was hard for this group of followers, too. In fact, angels feel compelled to appear and ask them just why they’re standing there, gazing up to heaven. They’re looking where Jesus disappeared because they don’t understand it yet.
We’re not that different from the disciples, or anyone expecting help from God.
Don’t we look up to the heavens – if not literally then spiritually – when things go wrong, wondering where God is, why God allowed this or that, what God intends to do to make things right? Like most humans throughout history, we tend to hope for magic more than relationship from God. Prayer is a way to get God to do what we want.
Some of the Jewish people expected a Messiah who’d restore Israel, end oppression, kick out Rome, and Jesus didn’t do any of that. But we who follow the risen Christ didn’t really learn from that.
Even after they faced the reality of Jesus’ death, once he is raised, Luke says, the disciples ask, “Now will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” It’s as if they’re saying, “OK, we missed that part where you were going to die. That’s our bad. But now that you’re alive again, we’re back to you fixing all our problems, right?
Little wonder they gaped at the sky when he left.
But we should answer the angels’ question, too.
Why would we stand idly in the world wondering why God isn’t fixing all the oppression and suffering, ending the rise of authoritarianism and fascism, bringing all peoples together as one? Wondering when God’s Son will return to fix things? Jesus says leaving us to deal with this ourselves is to our advantage.
This is the heart of Luke’s theology of today. He ends his Gospel with this story, and begins the sequel, Acts, with this story again.
Because in the Gospel, he tells of God’s Son, who, filled with the Holy Spirit, did amazing wonders, taught of God’s love and unlimited grace, sacrificed himself in love and rose to new life. The world began to be changed in this Spirit-filled Son of God.
And in Acts, Luke says we’re the same as Jesus. We’re promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and become, like Jesus, like the first believers, Spirit-filled children of God who change the world. Who do wonders in Christ’s name. Who love the world with vulnerability and so transform death into life, make God’s reign happen here. All with the power of God’s Spirit.
Jesus had to return into the life of the Trinity, or we’d just keep looking in his direction every time something needed doing.
After all, he’s the Son of God. He’s got all the power and ability.
But tonight it becomes clear: God’s transformation of the world will happen in the same way Jesus began, continued in us, through self-giving love, through re-creating relationships between the people of the world and God. As more and more of God’s children are transformed in that love, all the broken things, the oppressive things, the evil things, all that work against God, will crumble and fall. Unless we all just keep looking up at the sky.
It’s not terribly efficient, but the means are as important as the end to God. Forcing the world to love each other and God wouldn’t be worth anything. Jesus showed the power of God in his sacrificial love. And now for us in the world, the only way to show God’s power is by our sacrificial love. By the Spirit making us new from within so that we can love others, because in that love everything can be changed.
Tonight Jesus says, “tag – you’re it.” Or, “keep up the good work I started.”
Jesus promises that if we trust in him, if we abide in him and so in the life of the Triune God he’s opened up for us, we’ll do even more amazing things than he did. Because spread throughout all God’s children, the Holy Spirit can be working in every corner, every crack, every broken place in this world, bearing God’s redeeming, vulnerable love for the healing of all.
Because Christ has ascended, we don’t look up for God to fix everything. We look at each other, filled with God’s Spirit, the power of God, and say, “What can the Triune God do through us, now that we are Christ, now that we are called, now that we are sent?”
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen