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Ascension Sermon: Things Are Looking Up. May 21, 2020

May 22, 2020

This is the sermon I preached at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL, for the Ascension of Our Lord, May 21, 2020. The texts on which I preached are Acts 1:6-14 and Luke 24:44-53. The image is Ascension, by John Singleton Copley, 1775 (public domain). Be well, friends. You are loved.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

  1. Why? That’s the question that drives the narrative for this Ascension Day. Jesus has just left the disciples and there they stand, slack-jawed and confused. “Why,” two men ask them, “do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Well, they might say, because our friend who was dead is alive again and, if that weren’t enough, we just saw him go up through the clouds as if he were riding an anachronistic elevator. Fair enough. The reason why the disciples are staring up into heaven is pretty clear. The question asked by the two men – angels, it seems; perhaps the same who greeted the women at the empty tomb on Easter morning – is not one of curiosity. It is a question meant to reorient the disciples’ point of view. Yes, they might have responded, we know why you’re looking up toward heaven. Our point is that you shouldn’t be. There’s work to do down here.
  2. I imagine that “why” questions have crossed your mind more than once during these past few months. Why has this virus come upon us? Why haven’t we mastered it yet? Why must so many suffer so much in the meantime? These are good questions to ponder, but they don’t really get us anywhere. They just sort of leave us standing around, wondering what to do. For one thing, why questions don’t always have answers. For another, even when they do, the answers don’t necessarily lead us to someplace new.
  3. The two men ask their why question to the disciples, who seem caught up in the wrong questions. Two of the other five “W” questions, as it happens. In the Acts text in particular, the disciples are focused on the questions of when and where. When, they ask Jesus, will the Kingdom be restored to Israel? And where, their long stares imply, did Jesus get off to when he flew up from the earth? These are the wrong questions. The first is answered with a bit of divine “none of your business.” The Father is working out the plans, and they’ll come in the fullness of time. The second is answered with the promise that Jesus will come back but, again, you don’t know when and there’s no sense standing around waiting for it to happen. There’s work to be done down here.
  4. The appropriate questions of faith are less “when” and “where” and more “who” and “what.” God’s work is less about geography and more about gospel; less about chronos time as it marches on, and more about kairos, the time in which something new happens. The ascension matters not so much because it tells us where Jesus is. It tells us who he is. Jesus, this One who is the incarnate God-With-Us; this One who was crucified and whose risen body still bears the scars of nail and spear; this same Jesus of Nazareth is now the One who sits at God’s right hand as Lord of heaven and earth. “Right hand” isn’t so much a place as it is a power, a reign over creation. And because Jesus is the One who died that grace would flow, and lives that love would triumph, we apprehend that just this sort of reign has claimed the cosmos for itself. The ascension, in sort, tells us that we have a crucified King, a God who is always self-sacrificing for the sake of the world.
  5. To ask the final question bluntly: So what? In ascending into heaven, the incarnate God who occupied specific time and space for 30 years on earth is now the Holy One who plays throughout all creation. Christ departs, but the Spirit will descend, uniting us to the mission and ministry of Jesus. Giving us power. Sending us forth as witnesses. Billions of disciples bearing Christ into billions of moments, moment after moment until Christ returns. Again, there is work to do down here.
  6. As this pandemic continues to unfold, we will no doubt continue to ask our questions: Why this is happening? When will this end? Where, we may cry out, is God in all of this? Perfectly good questions, but not ones that will drive us to faith or propel us to meet the needs of our neighbors. On this day when we mark the ascension, we remember who we worship – the crucified and risen Lord, who pours out the Spirit into every nook and cranny of creation, the God who fills creation with grace and mercy. And, we ask, so what? Well, so that we would go and be witnesses to Jesus. Live in obedience to his love. Flood the world with unmerited mercy and undeserved grace, with care for all people. As the preacher Paul Lutter writes, “This is not easy, quick work,” but “the promise of presence assumes death and resurrection as the ground under which hope’s real presence is unleashed in a world where God already promises to be found.” Yes, it’s easy to feel down during these days. I can’t wait until I can look up and see planes flying more often, see flyballs hit by my son falling into my glove. Still we don’t need to look up to find Jesus; in the Spirit’s power, he is present. His call is clear. There’s work to do down here, and Jesus is with us as we get down to it. Things are looking up already. Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

From → COVID-19, Sermons

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