Sunday, 5 June 2011

Series on Acts 1: Ascension

Easter 7 year A Sermon 
Title slide
Imagine… we’re standing there on that hilltop called the Mount of Olives…standing with Jesus and his friends

and waiting just beyond… and invisible to us…
the author of all creation
is the source of the river of life…
waiting for Jesus as he says his goodbyes to his disciples.

And then mysteriously Jesus moves from our dimension of time and space…into another reality… beyond Creation
where the Creator and Source of love is waiting. [pause]

This movement is Jesus Ascension…the ascension of the Christ…and today is Ascension Sunday.

As Jesus leaves his friends behind
he joins the source…the one he calls Abba… Father
and in a few days to come…the Holy Spirit will pour out from them both…just as Jesus promised

And from the flowing of the Spirit…
there will grow the great… wide…. braided river
of the witness to Jesus…with wide banks and many streams

This river of witness will flow…from the mountain of the LORD to the East and to the South into India
through the witness of the disciple Thomas…
And this river will flow out from Jerusalem
to the west and to the north
through the witness of Peter and Paul… and others
through the Greek speaking regions of northern Africa
and Europe…and up into the Celtic speaking northern isles…

Down through the years…empowered by the Spirit
this river of witness to God’s love
will weave its way ‘round mountains of resistance where the good news of forgiveness and grace
were not welcome

Down through the centuries this… flowing of the Spirit
will gouge out… new streams… where there’s fertile ground… for the good news of Jesus Christ…
and it will open up new channels
through which can flow the peace Jesus taught…
peace with justice and compassion and mercy and wellbeing for all humanity.

A river of witness to Jesus and his teaching
flowing on and on just as he commanded ...
a river empowered by the Holy Spirit
working in the lives of his followers.

Slide words
from Jerusalem, and all Judea and into Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth …[pause]

and here we are… at the ends of the earth
not a building called a church…
but a community of witness to Jesus Christ

Blank slide
Of course on that day when Jesus left his disciples
they had no idea how long and how wide…
this river would actually be.

To all intents and purposes… this handful of men and women were all that existed of a church
yet to be born…They had no doctrine of the Trinity… nor the Apostles Creed

no gathering places but their homes…and maybe their synagogues…the Gospels and Paul’s letters…
hadn’t yet been written…[pause]

But one thing they do have… is the certainty
of their experience with the Risen Christ
and what they know…beyond a shadow of a doubt
is that now…post resurrection…they can absolutely trust what Jesus said… even if they don’t fully understand.

Having walked and talked and dined… with the
Risen Christ…they can take Jesus at his word

Somehow they would be…his witnesses
to the ends of the earth…somehow this small band of once fearful and… unfaithful followers would become Apostles…sent out from Jerusalem by Jesus …
and empowered by the Holy Spirit… [pause]

Ascension slide
So when Jesus leaves them…there’s no mention at all
of panic or grief
they only stand there stunned until…
two strangers in white shake them out of it.
And they remember what they have to do

Prayer slide
For this is the in between time…the waiting time
And Jesus had instructed them not to set one foot
out of Jerusalem…till the out pouring of the Holy Spirit

For now…they have to wait patiently in faith and pray …and I tell you what…if the risen Christ asks you
to wait patiently and pray…you do

Parchment slide
How the disciples finally get the good news out of Jerusalem is such an complex and amazing adventure
that a Greek speaking Gentile doctor named Luke
decided to write the whole story down in Greek
beginning with the birth of Jesus…in an ancient form of biography we now know... as Luke’s Gospel. As he writes in the introduction

slide words
"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who…from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word."

Luke uses Marks Gospel like Matthew did …
and some sources of his own.  

New parchment slide
And there’s a sequel…the story isn’t over…
and the sequel is about what happened
from that day Jesus left his disciples behind.
This… development of Jesus’ story… comes to be known as the Acts of the Apostles…And we know it’s a sequel… because of Luke’s opening line…

Word slide
Dear Theophilus, the previous book which I wrote
had to do with everything Jesus began to do and teach.
I took the story as far as the day when he was taken up … once he’d given instructions through the Holy Spirit … to his chosen apostles.

Slide words
He showed himself to them alive after his suffering
by many proofs. He was seen by them for forty days
during which he spoke… about the reign of God.

Slide words
As they were having a meal together…
he told them not to go away from Jerusalem,

Slide words
but to wait, as Jesus put it, ‘for the Father’s promise, which I was telling you about earlier. John baptised with water, you see, but in a few days from now you
will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.

Blank slide
With his opening sentence… Luke’s telling us one of the most important things about the book he’s writing.
This book is all about what Jesus is continuing to do and to teach.

The mysterious presence of Jesus fills the whole book of Acts… Jesus is proclaimed as King and Lord…
not as an increasingly distant memory
but as a living and powerful reality…a person who can be known and loved…and obeyed and followed…A person who continues to act in the dimension of time and space.

And Luke wants us to know right up front
that this sequel… has to be read on many levels.
Yes on one level its

Text words [reveal]
the story of the early church…but it’s also clear in Luke’s introduction… that he wants us to read it all the way through… as the story

reveal words
of what Jesus is continuing to do in the world…

And there’s another level…a third level …for the reader… from the very opening scene Luke wants us to know it’s our story too…it’s a story in which

Reveal words
we are called to take part.  
So we can read the book of Acts on three levels.
As Church History, as Jesus’ continuing story
and… as our story.

Blank slide
And Luke is also keen that we get two things right
from the very start.
Two things that are fundamental not only to the book of Acts but to Luke’s whole view of reality.

First… the sequel to Luke’s gospel… we call

Slide words reveal
The Acts of the Apostles…is all based on the resurrection of Jesus…

and second
Slide words reveal
It’s all made possible by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Blank slide
Already in the first lines… Luke wants us to recall
that the spirit is present when Jesus teaches
about what is to come…and how the spirit
will be a new and powerful reality in their lives.

Remember that Jesus says instead of being plunged into water you’ll be plunged into the Holy Spirit.  Instead of a renewal restoring Israel to its rightful power
with God as its King… you’ll experience a renewal which will form you as restored humanity
celebrating God’s reign over the whole world.

And remember…that as channels for the work of the Holy Spirit…as channels of God’s love for the world…
you will recognise this reality within your own being.

River slide
In the river that flows from the mountain of God…
Jesus followers would be channels
of God’s love for the whole world. [pause]

At the very heart of the Acts of the Apostles
is that one day… this powerful movement…will catch up in its flow…every man every woman and every child …in its stream.

That’s why today I’ve chosen the biblical image of a great wide braided river flowing from the mountain of the Lord… to help us better imagine the global community of witness to Christ of which we are a part…

And what about us slide
And what about us…well…this river of grace still
flows freely here… beneath these mountains and beside these lakes and we’re invited by Jesus to get in on it…
and we’re instructed like the first disciples…
to wait and to pray for the pouring of the Holy Spirit into our lives...that we too might become channels of grace … in witness to the Christ...

Let us pray our prayers of confession.