Elim Lutheran Church, Ogden, UT May 29, 2022
Luke 24:44-53 & Acts 1:1-11. (Jesus’ Ascension)
It is probably safe to say that most of us have never had to hear the words, “abandon ship!” Imagine the range of emotions we’d experience if we were onboard a ship when we are forced to do just that—abandon ship!
The sinking of the Titanic happened in April of 1912. You may recall the excellent movie, “The Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. You may also recall the band playing “Nearer My God to Thee” as the ship went down.
There are times when we feel as though the world is crashing in around us, that everything that could go wrong has gone wrong or will go wrong. There are times when we want to “abandon ship” so-to-speak but cannot find the escape hatch.
That is what amazes me about our readings today. The disciples have experienced fear. They watched Jesus die. They experienced the jealousy and hatred of the ruling religious right. They have heard that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and had even witnessed His being alive. And they couldn’t wrap their heads around life being more powerful than death. They are still struggling with doubt—read the verses immediately before our passage from Luke 24. And now Jesus is getting ready to leave them again. We would expect them to be sad and afraid. We would expect them to feel abandoned and that life was again out of control.Yet, consider the last several verses of the Gospel of Luke. As Jesus is carried into heaven and out of sight He blesses them and they worship Him. They return to Jerusalem with great joy! Let’s unpack that a bit.
Abandon ship. Did you know that there are a few scientists that are telling us the day will come when we will have to abandon earth and find a new planet to live on.
Stephen Hawking is the physicist-mathematician-cosmologist with longer alphabet soup credentials on his business card than any living human. One needs an advanced degree just to understand Hawking’s areas of research. He’s written many books, including the international best-selling A Brief History of Time. And whenever the boundaries of human potential are discussed, a sound bite from Hawking is a certainty. From human space flight to alien life to theoretical physics, Hawking taps out mind-blowing ideas.
He is telling us that if we don’t abandon earth we will face extinction as a human race. Elon Musk is pushing for space exploration and travel to Mars for similar reasons. Maybe space exploration is in our future.
Our small band of timid disciples are no longer hiding in fear. They are no longer thinking of escape at all costs. Something has changed! They are different! Changed. Different.
This change has not come about because the disciples were finally able to get ahold of themselves and make better choices. This is not a change brought about by will power or human determination. It is a God thing—God was working in their hearts and minds.
Jesus tells them to “wait for the promise.” He means wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them. They waited ten days from Jesus’ ascension into heaven for Pentecost—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells this small band of followers that everything written about Him needed to happen so that forgiveness and repentance could be proclaimed to all people. It has happened just as it was foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. It happened just as Jesus Himself said it would. And now the cross and resurrection are accomplished. Jesus’ task on earth is completed. Our salvation has been won. Heaven is open. Our broken relationship with God is restored and healed. Our sin has been removed! Jesus summarizes all that and is visibly taken up from them and disappears into the clouds.
Can’t you imagine Jesus’ followers staring with mouths agape—their heads bent back as they stare in amazement. Then two angels appear, telling them that this same Jesus will return again someday in the very same fashion at what we call, “the Second Coming.”
They don’t feel abandoned. They are overcoming their timidity and fear. They could be sad that Jesus is leaving them and going back to heaven. Instead they worship Jesus. They return to Jerusalem with great joy!
Our reading from Acts, which many theologians understand as volume 2 of Luke’s Gospel, records that Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God for the period of forty days between His resurrection and ascension. Now, as He gets them ready for His return to heaven they ask will He finally restore the kingdom to Israel. In other words, isn’t it about time that God finally fix this broken mess of a world?! If you cannot take us out of this mess, at least fix it—fix this broken world!
Jesus’ response, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority…” Jesus’ answer seems to be “not yet.” Don’t be clock watchers. Focus on the task at hand. You have work to do in building the kingdom. This work of witnessing is not merely a human effort of telling others about the Good News of Jesus. It is a spiritual work that the Holy Spirit empowers us for. The book of Acts (the Acts of the Apostles) records how that small band of followers exploded with growth eventually filling the world with the news of God’s gift of salvation and life in Jesus.
God is in the people changing business. He is changing me. He is changing you. He is transforming us and changing the world. Even now. Even in the midst of a violent, unjust war in Ukraine, even while so many families are morning the violent, non-sensical deaths of their children and loved ones—a cycle that does not seem to end. A world that makes us cry out in anguish and frustration wanting to abandon ship. A world that makes us wonder where God is?
God is in the mix. God is in you and me. God is at work changing and transforming lives and building that kingdom of love, grace, hope, forgiveness and new life through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the power of God’s love in Jesus.
The challenge is, will we yield to God’s working in us? Will we resist evil by doing good? Will we intentionally and deliberately turn from hatred, greed, power struggles and self preservation to being servants of love and grace?
Our goal is not to abandon earth, but to fill the world with God’s love and the news of life and forgiveness in Jesus—proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all! And it starts with our repentance and forgiveness as God’s forgiveness flows through us. We are learning how to let go and forgive. We are Easter people, people of the resurrection, followers of Jesus who filled with God’s Spirit for the sake of the world!
In Jesus’ name. Amen.