Friday, May 26, 2006

Ascension, Acts 1:1-11, May 28, 2006

Ascension, June 28, 2006
St.  John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.  To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed 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 and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  
You know, I’ve said it before,  and today I’ll have to say it again.  I hate to wait for anything.  How about you?  You’re probably like me.  You order something maybe over the telephone or on the net and you can’t wait for it to arrive.  I’m often tempted to pay extra for “express shipping” even though there’s no good reason to get the thing faster, and it practically destroys any price advantage I got by mail order.  Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for an appointment is excruciating, I keep thinking of all the other things I could be doing.  You may chuckle at me but you know you do it too.  You wait anxiously for the Pioneer wanting to find out what’s been happening in the Miner County.  It can be especially difficult to wait when you want to know about something that happens on Friday.  Waiting for phone calls you pace around the kitchen.  The commercial during the two-minute drill is maddening, and even though it’s 30 seconds it seems like thirty hours.  The microwave is faster than the conventional oven but the timer sure seems to be getting slower all the time.
Waiting isn’t the National Pastime.  Impatience is.  There used to be a commercial for ketchup where they sang the song “Anticipation.” The message was that the ketchup was of such good quality, that it was very thick.  It was worth waiting for it to come out of the bottle.  The anticipation heightened the experience; the ketchup actually tastes better because you have to wait for it.  A few years ago they re-did the commercial.  It begins with a man waiting patiently for the ketchup to come out.  He’s got his burger ready.  You can see the anticipation in his eyes; the song is running in the background just like before.  Then his wife saunters into the room, the song comes to a scratching halt as she squeezes the bottle and out pops the condiment.  You don’t have to wait for it anymore.  Anticipation isn’t necessary.  The ketchup is just as good as it ever was but now it comes in a plastic squeeze bottle!  No more waiting!  You can have it right now.  
The commercial tells us a lot about ourselves.  We don’t want to wait for anything anymore.  Instant breakfast, instant postage, instant Internet.  What ever happened to “Good things happen for those who wait?” Now it’s more like, “Good things happen for those who never have to wait for anything!”
Even here in our church we’ve been affected.  We don’t want to anticipate any more here either.  The most prevalent example comes just before Christmas.  Advent, those four weeks before Christmas, is supposed to be a season to anticipate the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.  But our society has Christmas beginning the day after Thanksgiving (and it seems to be moving closer to Halloween every year!).  Advent hymns are replaced by Christmas Carols.  And if the pastor doesn’t want to sing Christmas carols in church, he’s accused of being some kind of a scrooge.  Advent is all about the anticipation; it’s all about the waiting.  If we start celebrating Christmas in November, the anticipation is short-circuited.  But that’s the society we live in, and its influence on the church.  We don’t want to wait for Christmas or anticipate it anymore.  And if the culture has anything to do with it we won’t have to.  Christmas comes early every year.  
“Lord, give me patience!  And I want it now!” We laugh when we say that line, but the truth is that’s exactly what we want from God.  And we think if we push just the right buttons, say just the right prayers, God’s gotta do what I want and do it right now.  If we don’t like the way He wants things done we’ll just go to a different church.  It’s not hard to find a church that conforms to human thinking instead of what the Bible actually says.
We are hardly alone in our lack of wanting to wait.  Think of Abraham.  He is a great example of faith for us.  He believed in God’s promises.  God told him, that he would have a son, and through him the entire world would be blessed.  Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old.  Obviously this paragon of faith waited patiently for the blessed event, right?  Well, not exactly.  Sarah and Abraham decided that they should hurry things along.  “Take my servant Hagar to be your second wife and have a child with her.  I’m tired of waiting!  The anticipation is too much for me.  Let’s see if we can get God to move a little faster.” A short time later Ishmael was born.  But he was not the one that God promised to Abraham.  Abraham and Sarah learned the hard way.  Their not wanting to wait caused no end of problems in the family.  God’s promise would have to wait 14 more years.  
In our text for Ascension, the account of Jesus speaking to His disciples on the mountain just before He “went up into heaven” shows us that the disciples had a difficult time waiting, too.  “Lord is it now!  Are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel now?” They were impatient.  The whole time as they walked and talked and ate and laughed with Jesus, in a way, they were waiting for Him to restore the kingdom.  The Kingdom was in fact a frequent topic of Jesus teaching.  He gave examples.  He spoke to them about it in parables and stories.  They expected it to happen.  That day standing there on that mountain after hearing all they had heard, and seeing all they had seen, the miracles, the feedings, the healings, the crucifixion, and of course the resurrection, they knew that nothing impossible for Jesus.  Jesus stood there glorified, perfect, God and man.  Surely everything that had happened was leading to that very moment.  It was the perfect time for everything to come to its conclusion.  They had waited long enough, now was the time.  “Lord is it now?  It is now right?”
This is where the text gets interesting.  Jesus doesn’t tell them that they’re wrong for being impatient.  He doesn’t tell them that it’s foolish to anticipate what he’s been talking about.  He just tells them that they have to wait longer.  “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons… You just have to wait.  But…” he says, “I’ve got something for you to do while you wait.”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And it wasn’t a suggestion that they would be witnesses to all that Jesus had seen.  It wasn’t a command either.  It was a promise!  You will be my witnesses… You will tell the story of God’s great love for people.  You will tell of my life here among you.  You will tell of my death and you will tell of my resurrection.  St.  John wrote about it this way: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.  (1 John 1:1-4, ESV) They weren’t going to be idle in their waiting.  And thank God they were not, because somewhere between “Samaria” and the “end of the earth,” through the ministry of the Apostles, Jesus brought His message to you.
The Good News of Jesus came to you through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The things that the disciples saw weren’t just for their benefit.  They were for your benefit.  Jesus Christ didn’t walk the earth just for a handful of Jews who lived in an out of the way stretch of land around the Dead Sea.  He lived for you, too.  His whole life, from the time He was conceived in Mary’s womb, to the time He wore diapers, from His first steps, to standing before Pilate, it was for you.  All the words He spoke there and the words that He spoke hanging from the cross.  His bloody painful death, His victory march into hell and His triumph over the grave, and even when He stood on the mountain and vanished into heaven, all of it was for you.  Peter, James, John, and all the other disciples witnessed it all.  And Jesus did it all in anticipation of calling you His own child, because He wanted you to be with him forever.  He ascended to heaven and He’s waiting for just that very thing.  That’s what His promise to return is all about.  He’s coming again for you, so that you can be with Him forever.  And you know what, it’s ok to be impatient for that.
But being impatient doesn’t mean doing nothing.  The disciples weren’t idle while they waited.  Jesus gave them something to do while they were waiting.  They were to be witnesses to the whole world, beginning right where they were in Jerusalem.  And that’s right were we can start, too.  No we don’t have to get a special price on airfare, and hop an excursion flight to the Holy Land.  (That would cost you about $1,100).  Our Jerusalem is right here.  Right here in Howard, and Miner County.  While we are waiting, Jesus promises that we to will be witnesses.  Remember it wasn’t a command for the disciples it was a promise.  It’s that for us too.  The Holy Spirit that Jesus promises is here with us right now.  He comes to us in baptism and lives and works in us every day.  He turns our hearts to Jesus.  He reminds us of what Jesus did for us for our forgiveness.  He promises to make our waiting time productive.  
So how about this… Jesus promises that we will be witnesses while we wait for His return.  Maybe all the other waiting we do in life can remind us of that.  Maybe all that other waiting can be productive, too.  After all God didn’t just promise the Spirit to us part time He’s with us always.  So because of His promise, you will be productive.  You just need to be reminded ofit from time to time.  So, the text time you’re waiting for a phone call, turn your heart toward Jesus.  Remember what He did for you, and what He did for the person on the other end of the phone line.  Talk to Jesus about them.  When you’re suffering through that commercial break think about Jesus suffering and what His suffering, death and resurrection means to you.  Remember all those people who you know who are watching that very same commercial.  Ask God to show you ways to make their lives better by bringing the message of Jesus Christ to them.  When your waiting for the Pioneer, remember the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And ask Him to be faithful to His promise to make you productive while you wait.  Ask Him to show you ways to deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ to your community.  It is ok; Jesus has promised that your waiting will be productive.  He will gladly keep His promise, just as He kept His promise to live and die and rise again for you.
I hate waiting, especially when it’s for something really good, something that I really want.  I’m impatient… it’s not always bad to be impatient.  Like when we’re impatient to see Jesus when He comes again.  But Jesus promises that that waiting, even though I’m impatient, will be productive.  He promises that to you, too.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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