Ascension Sunday Sermon 2017

‘Men of Galilee, they said, why do you stand looking up towards 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.’

 

I feel really sorry for the disciples this morning…

 

They’ve been through a hell of a lot this past few weeks.

 

A whole range of emotions to have to deal with. A great deal of personal and spiritual journeying to do – they’ve had to grow up pretty quickly!

 

First of all the horror of Good Friday, with the anguish they felt for Jesus, the fear for themselves, the guilt over what they had or hadn’t done. The Confusion about their future now that Jesus’ ministry had apparently failed.

 

And as they stand there looking up at the cross,

They then have to make the journey away from the cross – and look out into the world…

 

Then the beginnings of the rumours that their Jesus was alive, with all the hope, terror and sheer perplexity of all of that.

 

And then, at last, normality again, though a much more wonderful normality than before, with Jesus back among them, talking, teaching, walking with them – making them feel at the centre of God’s world, as he always did.

 

But now, they suddenly find that he is not going to stay, and that he expects them to carry on without him. They didn’t have the privilege like us, of knowing that without the Ascension which we remember today, Pentecost the coming of the Holy Spirit when the early church receives tongues of fire….could not take place. Neither did they know fully that without the cross there could be no empty tomb –  and without the shedding of blood there could be no redemption for the world. Christ’s mission, in becoming God incarnate only makes sense when he is taken up (physically into that  heaven from where he came!) And so they wait…waiting for whatever it was that Jesus said he would send to help them, though they are not even sure that they will know it when it arrives.

 

So, one minute they are the inner circle, waiting to hear about the plans for the kingdom of Israel and their central part to it all…and the next minute they are a leaderless, purposeless group of people.

 

And with this enormous task they have been left to do, not just an enormous task but a baffling and daunting one too – this Holy Spirit, whatever it is, had better be good if it’s going to get this physically and emotionally drained bunch of waifs and strays going once again!

 

They have been told, even in their tiredness:

To look up, and then to look out!

 

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

Now, could you imagine being those disciples – they’d seen all that God had done through Jesus, and now he’s off.

 

Beyond the clouds, to another time and place, they know not where or when.

 

And Jesus leaving the earths is absolutely nothing like his coming into the world.

 

Jesus comes into the world, via the womb of Mary, – fairly usual, fairly mundane, it’s pretty ordinary….in a way.

 

But Jesus leaves the world, via the skies. Not very usual, not very mundane, not very ordinary at all.

 

 

As I think of the events which took place in Manchester the other day, I begin to wonder what might it have felt like to those disciples knowing that Jesus in his bodily form was leaving the world…..

 

It was Jesus who reminded that group of disciples not only of their possibility for holiness, but also of their possibility for deep humanity. Jesus reminded them that it was OK to be human – to have faults. And one of the scariest things about those who commit acts of terror in our world today, isn’t that they have lost touch with the humanity of those around them, but infact that they have lost touch with their own humanity.

 

They become not just tribalistic, but animalistic as they forget completely what it means to be human. And we might forget too what it means to be human, and our capacity to be holy if we forgot about Jesus….and all that he brings.

 

There is a sense in which, like Jesus we are called to be both human and divine.

 

To not just look up –

But to look out.

 

To look up and see the risen Christ,

And to look out into the world, and see and find him at work – and receive the invitation to join in.

 

I often wish it was as simple as looking up, and looking out….

 

But at the same time I’m lead to wonder what is really going on with the world?

 

Whether it is Paris, or London, or Manchester or Syria….I see situations of absolute horror – which human beings have done to other human beings.

 

For me the religious aspect is just another political dimension to it all, but is actually less central than any of us care to believe I think. We like labels, because labels help us imagine that deep down we do know what is going on.

 

But I prefer simply to name evil as evil, rather than to name it a specifically Islamic Evil, or Jewish Evil, or Christian Evil…and believe me we haven’t had the rosiest of pasts in the history of the world…
The older I get, the more I find myself staring up at the sky like those in the reading from Acts, looking for the Lord – asking myself where it is that God actually is?

 

God where are you?

God what are you doing?

God where are you at work?

 

And it can be tempting to spend our time gazing up at the sky, like those disciples and the mother of Jesus….and perhaps we need the Angels to come to us and say:

 

“Men of Galilee,”, Men and Women of Rumney….“why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

We cannot simply stare into the sky looking for God to do something. Because God is staring back at us – saying I’ve given you all you need to love each other….it really doesn’t have to be that difficult.

 

Because what we need to realize is the same thing the two men dressed in white are trying to get the disciples to realize….which is that the solution to every human ill has occurred. God in Christ is the something that you have are waiting for.

God in Christ is the thing you’re staring at the sky for.

Christ is the solution.

 

So look up, by all means –

But for heaven’s sake…..literally for heaven’s sake….look out!

 

What we see when we look out is a broken world.

What we see when we look out is a world set against itself.

What we see when we look out is a world ruled by Money, Sex and Power.

What we see is a world crying out for Jesus Christ….little does it know it.

 

And what we must be bold to say to folk is that there is nothing any of us need more desperately in the whole universe than an encounter with Jesus Christ.

 

As we look up,

We are reminded of what that encounter is like.

As we look up,

We are reminded of all that that Jesus has done and has promised to do.

As we look up,

We see the glory of that heavenly kingdom.

 

Yet as we look out,

We see to our surprise a God who in Jesus and the Holy Spirit is still making himself known.

As we look out,

We see a God who in Jesus Christ is still active, and still at work in the tragedy of human life, in paramedics and taxi drivers and police officers responding to human suffering…

As we look out,

We see a God inviting us to get stuck in in making the world a better place.

 

St Teresa of Avila said those powerful words:

 

‘Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
you are his body.’

 

When you look up, and when you look out,

When you are tempted to ask God what God is doing – or why God allows this or that.

 

Be bold, and ask yourself too, what you are doing about it?

 

Are we content just to look up, and never to look out?

Are we content just to look out, and never to look up?

 

If we are to be God’s hands and feet, and eyes and body in this world – we will have to do both, and do both with courage.

 

Because the message of the Ascension is Yes Jesus has left you in body, but there is still work to be done. So for God’s sake, get on with it!.

 

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

And when he comes, may he not find us being idle – staring up at the sky, but working for the purposes of the Gospel, doing the work he has called us to do.

 

Amen.

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